A FEW WORD OF MY OWN
I do not publish anything here unless I have read and understood it, and this explains the long delay in posting this. It is not all that difficult to follow, but it is indeed tedious, at least I found it so. Many would say this lacks a certain lack of intellectual curiosity and interest and relegate me to the moronic masses, but you do have to remember that I find things such as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason exciting and his “Practical Reason” understandable as well as somewhat lamentable. Now this is Part 2 of three that follows and, unless there is some demand or interest for book 3, the last that I will publish. If you are interested in Book 3, let me know and I will post it quickly, as it is.
The subject of alienation is an important one and we do learn a few things from this contribution. It makes an excellent case for the importance of Engels to the work of Marx. It also talks about the “Jewish Question” in a way that is not offensive. It is simply a part of the need to have the view of detachment or to see things as an outsider. Fortunately, there is none of the Zionist cant that has become so offensive.
Now, for a few things that have been irritating me: I do wish that the media and people in general would stop mis–using the word “Calculus,” whatever they mean by it, whether approach, way of figuring, whatever. Calculus in a mathematical discipline invented by Leibnitz and Newton back in the eighteenth century an has remained pretty much constant, with some improvements, mainly in proofs of the General Theory. So, unless you have done at least double integrals or taken a few derivatives, or at least know what the hell they are, STOP USING THE WORD! Learn some other word.
Actually, that is the thing that I most wanted to get off my chest. From now on, I’ll try to post more exciting or interesting things and perhaps make a few comments on things as they are today. For now, take care!
István Mészáros, 1970
Marx’s Theory of Aienation
2. Genesis of Marx’s Theory of Alienation
1. Marx’s Doctoral Thesis and His Critique of the Modern State
ALREADY in his Doctoral Thesis Marx tackled some of the problems of alienation, though in a quite peculiar form, analysing the Epicurean philosophy as an expression of a historical stage dominated by the “privatisation of life”. The “isolated individuality” is representative of such a historical stage, and philosophy is characterised by the simile of the “moth” that seeks “the lamplight of the private realm” after the universal sunset. These times which are also characterised by a particular intensity of a “hostile schism of philosophy from the world” are, however “Titanic” because the cleavage within the structure of the given historical stage is tremendous. From this viewpoint Lucretius – the Epicurean poet – must be considered, according to Marx, the true heroic poet of Rome. A poet who “celebrates in song the substance of the Roman Spirit; in place of Homer’s joyful, robust, total characters here we have hard, impenetrably armoured heroes lacking in all other qualities; the war of all against all (bellum omnium contra omnes), the rigid form of being-for-itself, nature that lost its god and god who lost its world”.
As we can see, Marx’s analysis serves to throw into relief a principle – bellum omnium contra omnes – which has a fundamental bearing on alienation. Later on, in connection with the Hobbesian philosophy, he refers to the same principle, in opposition to the romantic and mystifying approach of his contemporaries, the “true socialists”:
“The true socialist proceeds from the thought that the dichotomy of life and happiness (der Zwiespalt von Leben und Glück) must cease. To prove this thesis, he summons the aid of nature and assumes that in it this dichotomy does not exist; from this he deduces that since man. too, is a natural body and possesses all the general properties of such a body, no dichotomy should exist for him either. Hobbes had much better reasons for invoking nature as a proof of his bellum omnium contra omnes. Hegel, on whose construction our true socialist depends, actually perceives in nature the cleavage, the dissolute period of the absolute idea and even calls the animal the concrete anguish of God.” [German Ideology]
The contradictory character of the world is already in the centre of Marx’s attention when he analyses the Epicurean philosophy. He emphasises that Epicurus is principally interested in contradiction, that he determines the nature of the atom as inherently contradictory. And this is how the concept of alienation appears in Marx’s philosophy stressing the contradiction between “existence alienated from its essence”: “Durch die Qualitäten erhült das Atom eine Existenz, die seinem Begriff widerspricht, wird es als enttiussertes, von seinem Wesen unterschiedenes Dasein gesetzt.” And again: “Erstens macht Epikur den Widerspruch zwischen Materie und Form zum Charakter der erscheinenden Natur, die so das Gegenbild der wesentlichen, des Atoms, wird. Dies geschieht, indem dem Raum die Zeit, der passiven Form der Erscheinung die aktive entgegengesetzt wird. Zweitens wird erst bei Epikur die Erscheinung als Erscheinung aufgefasst, d. h. als eine Entfremdung des Wesens, die sich selbst in ihrer Wirklichkeit als solche Entfremdung betätigt.” Marx also emphasises that this “externalisation”, and “alienation” is a “Verselbstständigung”, i.e. an independent, autonomous mode of existence, and that the “absolute principle” of Epicurus’ atomism – this “natural science of self-consciousness” – is abstract individuality.
Marx’s next step towards a more concrete formulation of the problematics of alienation was closely connected with his enquiries into the nature of the modern state. The historical tendency described earlier by Marx in its generic form with the terms “isolated individuality” and “abstract individuality” appeared now not in its negativity but as a positive force (positive as synonymous with “real” and “necessary”, and not as predicative of moral approval). This historical tendency is said to give rise to the “self-centred” modern state, in contradistinction to the polis-state in which the “isolated individuality” is an unknown phenomenon. Such a modern state, whose “centre of gravity” was discovered by modern philosophers “within the state itself”, is thus the natural condition of this “isolated individuality”.
Viewed from the standpoint of this “self-centred” modern state the principle of bellum omnium contra omnes can be formulated as if it possessed the elemental force, eternal validity, and universality of the laws of nature. It is significant that in Marx’s discussion of the “Copernican law” of the modern state the name of Hobbes appears again in company of those philosophers who greatly contributed to the elaboration of the problematics of alienation. “Immediately before and after the time of Copernicus’s great discoveries on the true solar system the law of gravitation of the state was discovered: the centre of gravity of the state was found within the state itself. As various European governments tried to apply this result with the initial superficiality of practice to the system of equilibrium of states, similarly Macchiavelli and Campanella began before them and Hobbes, Spinoza, and Hugo Grotius afterwards down to Rousseau, Fichte and Hegel, to consider the state with the eye of man and to develop its natural laws from reason and experience, not from theology, any more than Copernicus let himself be influenced by Joshua’s supposed command to the sun to stand still over Gideon and the moon over the vale of Ajalon.
In this period of his development Marx’s attention is focused primarily on the problems of the state. His early evaluation of the nature and function of religion appears in this connection. Criticising those who held the view according to which the downfall of the old religions brought with it the decadence of the States of Greece and Rome, Marx emphasises that on the contrary it was the downfall of these states that caused the dissolution of their respective religions. This kind of assessment of religion has, of course, its predecessors, but it reaches its climax in Marx’s theory of alienation. At the time of writing the article just referred to, Marx’s sphere of reference is still confined to politics. Nevertheless his radical reversal of his opponents’ approach – which he calls “history upside down” – is a major step in the direction of a comprehensive materialist conception of the complex totality of capitalist alienation.
The most important work for the understanding of the development of Marx’s theory of alienation up to the Autumn of 1843 is his Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right. We shall discuss later in a more detailed form Marx’s criticism of the Hegelian view of alienation. At this point, however, it is necessary to quote a very important passage from this work, in order to show some characteristic features of this phase of Marx’s intellectual development. It reads as follows:
“The present condition of society displays its difference from the earlier state of civil society in that – in contrast to the past – it does not integrate the individual within its community. It depends partly on chance, partly on the individual’s effort etc. whether or not he holds on to his estate; to an estate which, again, determines the individual merely externally. For his station is not inherent in the individual’s labour, nor does it relate itself to him as an objective community, organised in accordance with constant laws and maintaining a permanent relationship to him…. The principle of the bourgeois estate – or of bourgeois society – is enjoyment and the ability to enjoy. In a political sense the member of bourgeois society detaches himself from his estate, his real private position; it is only here that his characteristic of being human assumes its significance, or that his determination as a member of an estate, as a communal being, appears as his human determination. For all his other determinations appear in bourgeois society as inessential for man, for the individual, as merely external determinations which may be necessary for his existence in the whole – i.e. as a tie with the whole – but they constitute a tie which he can just as well cast away. (The present bourgeois society is the consistent realisation of the principle of individualism; individual existence is the ultimate end; activity, labour, content etc. are only means.) The real man is the private individual of present-day political constitution. . . . Not only is the estate founded on the division of society as its ruling law, it also divorces man from his universal being; it turns him into an animal that directly coincides with his determination. The Middle Ages constitute the animal history of mankind, its Zoology. The modern age, our civilisation commits the opposite error. It divorces from man his objective being as something merely external and material. [Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right]
As we can see, many elements of Marx’s theory of alienation, developed in a systematic form in the Manuscripts of 1844, are already present in this Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right. Even if Marx does not use in this passage the terms “Entfremdung”, “Entäusserung”, and “Veräusserung”, his insistence on the “division of society” (“Trennung der Sozietät”) and on the merely “external determination of the individual” (“äusserliche Bestimmung des Individuums”), with their direct reference to the “divorce of man from his objective being” (“Sie trennt das gegenständliche Wesen des Menschen von ihm”) in the age of “civilisation” – i.e. in modern capitalistic society – take him near to the basic concept of his later analysis.
Moreover, we can note in our quotation a reference to the mere “externality of labour” as regards the individual (“Tätigkeit, Arbeit, Inhalt etc. sind nur Mittel” etc.): an idea that some ten months later is going to occupy a central place in Marx’s theory of alienation. Here, however, this phenomenon is considered basically from a legal-institutional standpoint. Accordingly, capitalism is characterised as “the consistent realisation of the principle of individualism” (“das durchgeführte Prinzip des Individualismus”), whereas in Marx’s later conception this “principle of individualism” is put in its proper perspective: it is analysed as a manifestation determined by the alienation of labour, as one of the principal aspects of labour’s self-alienation.
2. The Jewish Question and the Problem of German Emancipation
The Autumn of 1843 brought certain changes in Marx’s orientation. By that time he was already residing in Paris, surrounded by a more stimulating intellectual environment which helped him to draw the most radical conclusions from his analysis of contemporary society. He was able to assess the social and political anachronism of Germany from a real basis of criticism (i.e. he could perceive the contradictions of his own country from the perspective of the actual situation of a historically more advanced European state) and not merely from the standpoint of a rather abstract ideality that characterised German philosophical criticism, including, up to a point, the earlier Marx himself.
Philosophical generalisations always require some sort of distance (or “outsider-position”) of the philosopher from the concrete situation upon which he bases his generalisations. This was evidently the case in the history of philosophy from Socrates to Giordano Bruno, who had to die for being radical outsiders. But even later, “outsiders” played an extraordinary part in the development of philosophy: the Scots with respect to the economically much more advanced England; the philosophers of the backward Naples (from Vico to Benedetto Croce) in relation to the capitalistically more developed Northern Italy; and similar examples can be found in other countries as well. A great number of philosophers belong to this category of outsiders, from Rousseau and Kierkegaard down to Wittgenstein and Lukács in our century.
To Jewish philosophers a particular place is to be assigned in this context. Owing to the position forced upon them by virtue of being social outcasts, they could assume an intellectual standpoint par excellence which enabled them, from Spinoza to Marx, to accomplish some of the most fundamental philosophical syntheses in history. (This characteristic becomes even more striking if one compares the significance of these theoretical achievements with the artistic products of Jewish painters and musicians, sculptors and writers. The outsider’s viewpoint that was an advantage in theoretical efforts became a drawback in the. arts, because of the inherently national character of the latter. A drawback resulting – apart from a very few exceptions, such as the quite peculiar, intellectualistic-ironical, poems of Heine – in somewhat rootless works, lacking in the suggestiveness of representational qualities and therefore generally confined to the secondary range of artistic achievements. In the twentieth century, of course, the situation greatly changes. Partly because of a much greater – though never complete – national integration of the particular Jewish communities accomplished by this time thanks to the general realisation of the social trend described by Marx as the “reabsorption of Christianity into Judaism”.[On the Jewish Question] More important is, however, the fact that parallel to the advance of this process of “reabsorption” – i.e. parallel to the triumph of capitalistic alienation in all spheres of life – art assumes a more abstract and “cosmopolitan” character than ever before and the experience of rootlessness becomes an all-pervasive theme of modern art. Thus, paradoxically, the earlier drawback turns into an advantage and we witness the appearance of some great Jewish writers – from Proust to Kafka – in the forefront of world literature.)
The outsider position of the great Jewish philosophers was doubly accentuated. In the first place, they were standing in a necessary opposition to their discriminatory and particularistic national communities which rejected the idea of Jewish emancipation. (e.g. “The German Jew, in particular, suffers from the general lack of political freedom and the pronounced Christianity of the state.”) But, in the second place, they had to emancipate themselves also from Judaism in order not to paralyse themselves by getting involved in the same contradictions at a different level, i.e. in order to escape from the particularistic and parochial positions of Jewry differing only in some respects but not in substance from the object of their first opposition. Only those Jewish philosophers could achieve the comprehensiveness and degree of universality that characterise the systems of both Spinoza and Marx who were able to grasp the issue of Jewish emancipation in its paradoxical duality as inextricably intertwined with the historical development of mankind. Many others, from Moses Hess to Martin Buber, because of the particularistic character of their perspectives or, in other words, because of their inability to emancipate themselves from “Jewish narrowness” – formulated their views in terms of second rate, provincialistic Utopias.
It is highly significant that in Marx’s intellectual development a most important turning point, in the Autumn of 1843, coincided with a philosophical prise de conscience with regard to Judaism. His articles On the Jewish Question written during the last months of 1843 and in January 1844, sharply criticised not only German backwardness and political anachronism that rejected Jewish emancipation, but at the same time also the structure of capitalistic society in general as well as the r6le of Judaism in the development of capitalism.
The structure of modern bourgeois society in relation to Judaism was analysed by Marx on both the social and political plane in such terms which would have been unthinkable on the basis of acquaintance with the Gennan – by no means typical – situation alone. During the last months of 1842 Marx had already studied the writings of French Utopian Socialists, e.g. Fourier, Étienne Cabet, Pierre Leroux and Pierre Considérant. In Paris, however, he had the opportunity of closely observing the social and political situation of France and to some extent even getting personally involved in it. He was introduced to the leaders of the democratic and socialist opposition and often frequented the meetings of the secret societies of workers. Moreover, he intensively studied the history of the French Revolution of 1789 because he wanted to write a history of the Convention. All this helped him to become extremely well acquainted with the most important aspects of the French situation which he was trying to integrate, together with his knowledge and experience of Germany, into a general historical conception. The contrast he drew, from the “outsider’s” viewpoint, between the German situation and French society – against the background of modern historical development as a whole – proved fruitful not only for realistically tackling the Jewish question but in general for the elaboration of his well-known historical method.
Only in this framework could the concept of alienation – an eminently historical concept, as we have seen – assume a central place in Marx’s thought, as the converging point of manifold socio-economic as well as political problems, and only the notion of alienation could assume such a role within his conceptual framework. (We shall return to a more detailed analysis of the conceptual structure of Marx’s theory of alienation in the next chapter.)
In his articles On the Jewish Question Marx’s starting point is, again the principle of bellum omnium contra omnes as realised in bourgeois society (“bürgerliche Gesellschaft”) that splits man into a public citizen and a private individual, and separates man from his “communal being” (Gemeinwesen), from himself, and from other men. But then Marx goes on to extend these considerations to virtually every aspect of this extremely complex “bürgerliche Gesellschaft”; from the interconnections between religion and the state – finding a common denominator precisely in a mutual reference to alienation – to the economic, political and family relations which manifest themselves, without exception, in some form of alienation.
He uses a great variety of terms to designate the various aspects of alienated bourgeois society, such as “Trennung” (divorce or separation), “Spaltung” (division or cleavage’, “Absonderung” (separation or withdrawal), “verderben” (spoil, corrupt), “sich selbst verlieren, verdussern” (lose and alienate oneself), “sich isolieren und auf sich zurilckziehen” (isolate and withdraw oneself into oneself), “dusserlich machen” (externalise, alienate), “alle Gattungstände des Menschen zerreissen” (destroy or disintegrate all the ties of man with his species), “die Menschenwelt in eine Welt atomistischer Individuen auflösen” (dissolve the world of man into a world of atomistic individuals), and so on. And all these terms are discussed in specific contexts which establish their close interconnections with “Entäusserung”, “Entfremdung”, and “Veräusserung”
Another important study from this period of Marx’s intellectual development, written simultaneously with the articles On the Jewish Question, is entitled: Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, Introduction.” In this work the primary task of philosophy is defined as a radical criticism of the “non-sacred” forms and manifestations of self-alienation, in contrast to the views of Marx’s contemporaries – including Feuerbach – who confined their attention to the critique of religious alienation. Marx insists, with great passion, that philosophy should transform itself in this spirit. “It is the task of history, therefore once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.
The immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, is to unmask human self-alienation in its secular form now that it has been unmasked in its sacred form. Thus the criticism of heaven is transformed into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
In this study one cannot fail to perceive the “outsider’s” standpoint in relation to the German situation. Marx points out that merely opposing and negating German political circumstances would amount to nothing more than an anachronism, because of the enormous gap that separates Germany from the up-to-date nations of Europe. “If one were to begin with the status quo itself in Germany, even in the most appropriate way, i.e. negatively, the result would still be an anachronism. Even the negation of our political present is already a dusty fact in the historical lumber room of modern nations. I may negate powdered wigs, but I am still left with unpowdered wigs. If I negate the German situation of 1843 I have, according to French chronology, hardly reached the year 1789, and still less the vital centre of the present day.” The contrast between German anachronism and the historically “up-to-date nations” of Europe points, in Marx’s view, towards a solution that with respect to Germany is rather more of a “categorical imperative” than an actuality: the proletariat that has yet to develop itself beyond the Rhine.
In complete agreement with the line of thought characteristic of the articles On the Jewish Question – in which Marx emphasised, as we have seen, that the complete emancipation of Judaism is inconceivable without the universal emancipation of mankind from the circumstances of self-alienation – he repeatedly stresses the point that “The emancipation of the German coincides with the emancipation of man”. Moreover, he emphasises that “It is not radical revolution, universal human emancipation which is a Utopian dream for Germany, but rather a partial, merely political revolution which leaves the pillars of the building standing” and that “In Germany complete [universal] emancipation is a conditio sine qua non for any partial emancipation”. The same applies to the Jewish Question; for no degree of political emancipation can be considered an answer when “the Jewish narrowness of society” is at stake.
The importance of these insights is enormous, not only methodologically – insofar as they offer a key to understanding the nature of Utopianism as the inflation of partiality into pseudo-universality – but also practically. For Marx clearly realises that the practical supersession of alienation is inconceivable in terms of politics alone, in view of the fact that politics is only a partial aspect of the totality of social processes, no matter how centrally important it may be in specific historical situations (e.g. late eighteenth century France).
But the limits are also in evidence in these articles. The opposition between “partiality” and “universality” is grasped in its rather abstract generality and only one of its aspects is concretised, negatively, in Marx’s rejection of “political partiality” as a possible candidate for bringing about the supersession of alienation. Its positive counterpart remains unspecified as a general postulate of “universality” and thus assumes the character of a “Sollen” (ought). The identification of “universality” with the ontologically fundamental sphere of economics is a later achievement in Marx’s thought. At this stage his references to political economy are still rather vague and generic. Although he sees intuitively that “the relation of industry, of the world of wealth in general, to the political world is a major problem of modern times,” his assessment of the specific contradictions of capitalism is still rather unrealistic: “While in France and England,” he writes, “the problem is put in the form: political economy or the rule of society over wealth; in Germany it is put in the form: national economy or the rule of private property over nationality. Thus, in England and France it is a question of abolishing monopoly, which has developed to its final consequences; while in Germany it is a question of proceeding to the final consequences of monopoly). It is, therefore, not surprising that the element of “ought” – in want of a concrete demonstration of the fundamental economic trends and contradictions which objectively point to the necessary supersession of alienation – plays such an important part in Marx’s thought at this stage of his development. In 1843 Marx is still forced to conclude that the critique of religion ends with the categorical imperative to overthrow all those conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being and his first assessment of the role of the proletariat is in full agreement with this vision. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, however, Marx makes a crucial step forward, radically superseding the “political partiality” of his own orientation and the limitations of a conceptual frame-work that characterised his development in its phase of “revolutionary democratism”.
3. Marx’s Encounter with Political Economy
The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 are evidently the work of a genius; considering the monumentality of this synthesis and the depth of its insights it is almost unbelievable that they were written by a young man of 25. There may appear to be a contradiction here, between acknowledging the “work of a genius” and the Marxist principle according to which great men, just as much as great ideas, arise in history “when the time is ripe for them”. In fact “Dr. Marx’s genius” was noticed by Moses Hess and others well before the publication of any of his great works.
And yet, we are not involved in any contradiction whatsoever. On the contrary, Marx’s own development confirms the general principle of Marxism. For “genius” is but an abstract potentiality before it is articulated in relation to some specific content in response to the objective requirements of a historically given situation. In the abstract sense – as “phenomenal brainpower” etc. – “genius” is always “around”, but it is wasted, unrealised, or whittled away in activities and products which leave no mark behind them. The unrealised “genius” of Dr. Marx that mesmerised Moses Hess is a mere historical curiosity as compared with its full realisation in Marx’s immense works which not only did not in the least impress the same Moses Hess but succeeded only in arousing his narrow-minded hostility.
In the concrete realisation of the potentiality of Marx’s genius his grasp of the concept of “labour’s self-alienation” represented the crucial element: the “Archimedean point” of his great synthesis. The elaboration of this concept in its complex, Marxian comprehensiveness – as the philosophical synthesising point of the dynamism of human development – was simply inconceivable prior to a certain time, i.e. prior to the relative maturation of the social contradictions reflected in it. Its conception also required the perfection of the intellectual tools and instruments – primarily through the elaboration of the categories of dialectics – which were necessary for an adequate philosophical grasp of the mystifying phenomena of alienation, as well as, of course, the intellectual power of an individual who could turn to a proper use these instruments. And last, but not least, the appearance of this “Archimedean concept” also presupposed the intense moral passion and unshakeable character of someone who was prepared to announce a “war by all means” on the “conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being”; someone who could envisage his personal fulfilment, the realisation of his intellectual aims, in the “realisation through abolition” of philosophy in the course of fighting that war. The simultaneous fulfilment of all these conditions and prerequisites was necessary indeed for the Marxian elaboration of the concept of “labour’s self-alienation” at a time when the conditions were “ripe for it”.
It is well known that Marx started to study the classics of political economy at the end of 1843, but they only served to give, in both On the Jewish Question and his Introduction to a Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, a background lacking in definition to a primarily political exposition, in the spirit of his programmatic utterance according to which the criticism of religion and theology must be turned into the criticism of law and politics.
In accomplishing the transformation of Marx’s thought mentioned above, the influence of a work entitled Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy (Umrisse zu einer Kritik der Nationalökonomie; written by the young Engels in December 1843 and January 1844 and sent to Marx in January for publication in Deutsch-Französischen Jahrbüchern) was very important. Even in 1859 Marx wrote about these Outlines in terms of the highest praise.
Alienation, according to this early work of Engels, is due to a particular mode of production which “turns all natural and rational relations upside-down”. It can be called, therefore, the “unconscious condition of mankind”. Engels’ alternative to this mode of production is formulated in the concrete programme of socialising private property: “If we abandon private property, then all these unnatural divisions disappear. The difference between interest and profit disappears; capital is nothing without labour, without movement. The significance of profit is reduced to the weight which capital carries in the determination of the costs of production; and profit thus remains inherent in capital, in the same way as capital itself reverts to its original unity with labour.
The solution conceived in these terms would also show a way out from the contradictions of the “unconscious conditions of mankind”, defined in this connection as economic crises: “Produce with consciousness as human beings – not as dispersed atoms without consciousness of your species – and you are beyond all these artificial and untenable antitheses. But as long as you continue to produce in the present unconscious, thoughtless manner, at the mercy of chance – for just as long trade crises will remain”.
Stimulated by this work of the young Engels, Marx intensified his study of the classics of political economy. (A few months later he also met Engels who was just returning from England and could recall his observations in the industrially most advanced country.) The outcome of Marx’s intensive study of political economy was his great work known by the title Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. They show a fundamental affinity of approach with the work of the young Engels but their scope is incomparably broader. They embrace and relate all the basic philosophical problems to the fact of labour’s self-alienation, from the question of freedom to that of the meaning of life (see Chapter VI), from the genesis of modern society to the relationship between individuality and man’s “communal being”, from the production of “artificial appetites” to the “alienation of the senses”, and from an assessment of the nature and function of Philosophy, Art, Religion and Law to the problems of a possible “reintegration of human life” in the real world, by means of a “positive transcendence” instead of the merely conceptual “Aufhebung” of alienation.
The converging point of the heterogeneous aspects of alienation is the notion of “labour” (Arbeit). In the Manuscripts of 1844 labour is considered both in general – as “productive activity” the fundamental ontological determination of “humanness (“menschliches Dasein”, i.e. really human mode of existence) – and in particular, as having the form of capitalistic “division of labour”. It is in this latter form – capitalistically structured activity – that “labour” is the ground of all alienation.
“Activity” (Tätigkeit), “division of labour” (Teilung der Arbeit), “exchange” (Austausch) and “private property” (Privateigentum) are the key concepts of this approach to the problematics of alienation. The ideal of a “positive transcendence” of alienation is formulated as a necessary socio-historical supersession of the “mediations”: Private Property–Exchange–Division of Labour which interpose themselves between man and his activity and prevent him from finding fulfilment in his labour, in the exercise of his productive (creative) abilities, and in the human appropriation of the products of his activity.
Marx’s critique of alienation is thus formulated as a rejection of these mediations. It is vitally important to stress in this connection that this rejection does not imply in any way a negation of all mediation. On the contrary: this is the first truly dialectical grasp of the complex relationship between mediation and immediacy in the history of philosophy, including the by no means negligible achievements of Hegel.
A rejection of all mediation would be dangerously near to sheer mysticism in its idealisation of the “identity of Subject and Object”. What Marx opposes as alienation is not mediation in general but a set of second order mediations (Private Property–Exchange–Division of Labour), a “mediation of the mediation”, i.e. a historically specific mediation of the ontologically fundamental self-mediation of man with nature. This “second order mediation” can only arise on the basis of the ontologically necessary “first order mediation” – as the specific, alienated form of the latter. But the “first order mediation” itself – productive activity as such – is an absolute ontological factor of the human predicament. (We shall return to this problematics under both its aspects – i.e. both as “first order mediation” and as alienated “mediation of the mediation” in a moment.)
Labour (productive activity) is the one and only absolute factor in the whole complex: Labour–Division of Labour–Private Property–Exchange. (Absolute because the human mode of existence is inconceivable without the transformations of nature accomplished by productive activity.) Consequently any attempt at overcoming alienation must define itself in relation to this absolute as opposed to its manifestation in an alienated form. But in order to formulate the question of a positive transcendence of alienation in the actual world one must realise, from the earlier mentioned standpoint of the “outsider”, that the given form of labour (Wage Labour) is related to human activity in general as the particular to the universal. If this is not seen, if “productive activity” is not differentiated into its radically different aspects, if the ontologically absolute factor is not distinguished from the historically specific form, if, that is, activity is conceived – because of the absolutisation of a particular form of activity – as a homogeneous entity, the question of an actual (practical) transcendence of alienation cannot possibly arise. If Private Property and Exchange are considered absolute – in some way “inherent in human nature” – then Division Of Labour, the capitalistic form of productive activity as Wage Labour, must also appear as absolute, for they reciprocally imply each other. Thus the second order mediation appears as a first order mediation, i.e. an absolute ontological factor. Consequently the negation of the alienated manifestations of this mediation must assume the form of nostalgic moralising postulates (e.g. Rousseau).
The study of political economy provided Marx with a most detailed analysis of the nature and functioning of the capitalistic form of productive activity. His negation of alienation in his previous writings was centred, as we have seen, on the critique of the existing institutions and legal-political relations and “labour” appeared only negatively, as a missing determination of the individual’s position in “bürgerliche Gesellschaft”. In other words: it appeared as an aspect of a society in which the political and social spheres are divided in such a way that the individual’s position in society is not inherent in his labour. Before the Manuscripts of 1844 the economic factor appeared only as a vaguely defined aspect of socio-political relations. Even the author of the articles On the Jewish Question and on the Hegelian Philosophy of Right did not realise the fundamental ontological importance of the sphere of production which appeared in his writings in the form of rather generic references to “needs” (Bedürfnisse) in general. Consequently Marx was unable to grasp in a comprehensive way the complex hierarchy of the various kinds and forms of human activity: their reciprocal interrelations within a structured whole.
All this is very different in the Manuscripts of 1844. In this work Marx’s ontological starting point is the self-evident fact that man, a specific part of nature (i.e. a being with physical needs historically prior to all others) must produce in order to sustain himself, in order to satisfy these needs. However, he can only satisfy these primitive needs by necessarily creating, in the course of their satisfaction through his productive activity, a complex hierarchy of non-physical needs which thus become necessary conditions for the gratification of his original physical needs as well. Human activities and needs of a “spiritual” kind thus have their ultimate ontological foundation in the sphere of material production as specific expressions of human interchange with nature, mediated in complex ways and forms. As Marx puts it: “the entire so-called history of the world is nothing but the begetting of man through human labour, nothing but the coming-to-be [Werden] of nature for man”. Productive activity is, therefore, the mediator in the “subject-object relationship” between man and nature. A mediator that enables man to lead a human mode of existence, ensuring that he does not fall back into nature, does not dissolve himself within the “object”. “Man lives on nature”, writes Marx, “ – means that ‘nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous intercourse if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature”.
Productive activity is hence the source of consciousness and “alienated consciousness” is the reflection of alienated activity or of the alienation of activity, i.e. of labour’s self-alienation.
Marx uses the expression: “man’s inorganic body”, which is not simply that which is given by nature, but the concrete expression and embodiment of a historically given stage and structure of productive activity in the form of its products, from material goods to works of art. As a result of the alienation of labour, “man’s inorganic body” appears to be merely external to him and therefore it can be turned into a commodity. Everything is “reified”, and the fundamental ontological relations are turned upside down. The individual is confronted with mere objects (things, commodities), once his “inorganic body” – “worked-up nature” and externalised productive power – has been alienated from him. He has no consciousness of being a “species being”. (A “Gattungswesen” – i.e. a being that has the consciousness of the species to which it belongs, or, to put it in another way, a being whose essence does not coincide directly with its individuality. Man is the only being that can have such a “species-consciousness” – both subjectively, in his conscious awareness of the species to which he belongs, and in the objectified forms of this “species-consciousness”, from industry to institutions and to works of art – and thus he is the only “species being”.)
Productive activity in the form dominated by capitalistic isolation – when “men produce as dispersed atoms without consciousness of their species” – cannot adequately fulfil the function of mediating man with nature because it “reifies” man and his relations and reduces him to the state of animal nature. In place of man’s “consciousness of his species” we find a cult of privacy and an idealisation of the abstract individual. Thus by identifying the human essence with mere individuality, man’s biological nature is confounded with his proper, specifically human, nature. For mere individuality requires only means to its subsistence, but not specifically human – humanly-natural and naturally-human, i.e. social-forms of self-fulfilment which are at the same time also adequate manifestations of the life-activity of a “Gattungswesen”, a “species being”. “Man is a species being not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species as his object (his own as well as those of other things) but – and this is only another way of expressing it – but also because he treats himself as the actual, living species;’ because he treats himself as a universal and therefore a free being”. The mystifying cult of the abstract individual, by contrast, indicates as man’s nature an attribute – mere individuality – which is a universal category of nature in general, and by no means something specifically human. (See Marx’s praise of Hobbes for having recognised in nature the dominance of individuality in his principle of bellum omnium contra omnes.)
Productive activity is, then, alienated activity when it departs from its proper function of humanly mediating in the subject-object relationship between man and nature, and tends, instead, to make the isolated and reified individual to be reabsorbed by “nature”. This can happen even at a highly developed stage of civilisation if man is subjected, as the young Engels says, to “a natural law based on the unconsciousness of the participants”. (Marx has integrated this idea of the young Engels into his own system and more than once referred to this “natural law” of capitalism not only in the Manuscripts of 1844 but in his Capital as well.
Thus Marx’s protest against alienation, privatisation and reification does not involve him in the contradictions of an idealisation of some kind of a “natural state”. There is no trace of a sentimental or romantic nostalgia for nature in his conception. His programme, in the critical references to “artificial appetites” etc., does not advocate a return to “nature”, to a “natural” set of primitive, or “simple”, needs but the “full realisation of man’s nature” through an adequately self-mediating human activity. “Man’s nature” (his “specific being”) means precisely distinctiveness from nature in general. The relationship of man with nature is “self-mediating” in a twofold sense. First, because it is nature that mediates itself with itself in man. And secondly, because the mediating activity itself is nothing but man’s attribute, located in a specific part of nature. Thus in productive activity, under the first of its dual ontological aspects, nature mediates itself with nature, and, under its second ontological aspect – in virtue of the fact that productive activity is inherently social activity – man mediates himself with man.
The second order mediations mentioned above (institutionalised in the form of capitalistic Division Of Labour–Private Property–Exchange) disrupt this relationship and subordinate productive activity itself, under the rule of a blind “natural law”, to the requirements of commodity-production destined to ensure the reproduction of the isolated and reified individual who is but an appendage of this system of “economic determinations”.
Man’s productive activity cannot bring him fulfilment because the institutionalised second order mediations interpose themselves between, man and his activity, between man and nature, and between man and man. (The last two are already implied in the first, i.e. in the interposition of capitalistic second order mediations between man and his activity, in the subordination of productive activity to these mediations. For if man’s self-mediation is further mediated by the capitalistically institutionalised form of productive activity, then nature cannot mediate itself with nature and man cannot mediate himself with man. On the contrary, man is confronted by nature in a hostile fashion, under the rule of a “natural law” blindly prevailing through the mechanisms of the market (Exchange) and, on the other hand, man is confronted by man in a hostile fashion in the antagonism between Capital and Labour. The original interrelationship of man with nature is transformed into the relationship between Wage Labour and Capital, and as far as the individual worker is concerned, the aim of his activity is necessarily confined to his self-reproduction as a mere individual, in his physical being. Thus means become ultimate ends while human ends are turned into mere means subordinated to the reified ends of this institutionalised system of second order mediations.)
An adequate negation of alienation is, therefore, inseparable from the radical negation of capitalistic second order mediations. If, however, they are taken for granted – as for instance in the writings of political economists as well as of Hegel (and even in Rousseau’s conception as a whole) – the critique of the various manifestations of alienation is bound to remain partial or illusory, or both. The “uncritical positivism” of political economists needs no further comment, only the remark that its contradictions greatly helped Marx in his attempts at clarifying his own position. Rousseau despite his radical opposition to certain phenomena of alienation, could not break out from a vicious circle because he reversed the actual ontological relationships, assigning priority to the second order mediations over the first. Thus he found himself trapped by an insoluble contradiction of his own making: the idealisation of a fictitious “fair exchange” opposed, sentimentally, to the ontologically fundamental first order mediations, i.e. in Rousseau’s terminology, to “civilisation”. As far as Hegel is concerned, he identified “objectification” and “alienation” partly because he was far too great a realist to indulge in a romantic negation of the ontologically fundamental self-mediation (and self-genesis) of man through his activity (on the contrary, he was the first to grasp this ontological relationship, although in an “abstract, speculative” manner), and partly because, in virtue of his social standpoint, he could not oppose the capitalistic form of second order mediations. Consequently he fused the two sets of mediations in the concept of “objectifying alienation” and “alienating objectification”: a concept that a priori excluded from his system the possibility of envisaging an actual (practical) supersession of alienation.
It was Marx’s great historical achievement to cut the “Gordian knot” of these mystifyingly complex sets of mediations, by asserting the absolute validity of the ontologically fundamental first order mediation (in opposition to romantic and Utopian advocates of a direct unity) against its alienation in the form of capitalistic Division Of Labour–Private Property and Exchange. This great theoretical discovery opened up the road to a “scientific demystification” as well as an actual, practical negation of the capitalistic mode of production.
4. Monistic Materialism
In elaborating a solution to the complex issues of alienation much depends on the “Archimedean point” or common denominator of the particular philosophical system. For Marx, in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 this common denominator was, as already mentioned, the concept of a capitalistic “alienation of labour”. He emphasised its importance as follows: “The examination of division of labour and exchange is of extreme interest, because these are perceptibly alienated expressions of human activity and of essential human power as a species activity and power”.
If, however, one’s centre of reference is “religious alienation”, as in Feuerbach’s case, nothing follows from it as regards actual, practical alienation. “Religious estrangement as such occurs only in the realm of consciousness, of man’s inner life, but economic estrangement is that of real life; its transcendence therefore embraces both aspects”. Feuerbach wanted to tackle the problems of alienation in terms of real life (this programmatic affinity explains Marx’s attachment to Feuerbach in a certain period of his development), in opposition to the Hegelian solution, but because of the abstractness of his viewpoint: idealised “man” (“human essence” taken generically, and not as “the ensemble of social relations” [Theses on Feuerbach]), his position remained basically dualistic, offering no real solution to the analysed problems.
The main importance of the classics of political economy for Marx’s intellectual development was that by throwing light on the palpable sphere of economics (analysed by them, as regards the capitalistic stage of production, in the most concrete terms) they helped him to concentrate on the “perceptibly alienated expressions of human activity”. His awareness of the importance of productive activity enabled Marx to identify, with utmost clarity, the contradictions of a non-mediated, undialectical, “dualistic materialism”.
It is significant that Marx’s intense study of political economy sharpened his criticism of Feuerbach and, at the same time, pushed into the foreground the affinities of Marxian thought with certain characteristics of the Hegelian philosophy. It may seem paradoxical at first that, in spite of the materialistic conception shared by both Marx and Feuerbach, and in spite of the much closer political affinity between them than between Marx and Hegel, the relationship of the historical materialist Marx and the idealist Hegel is incomparably more deeply rooted than that between Marx and Feuerbach. The first embraces the totality of Marx’s development whereas the second is confined to an early, and transitory, stage.
The reason is to be found in the basically monistic character of the Hegelian philosophy in contrast to Feuerbach’s dualism. In the famous passage in which Marx distinguishes his position from the Hegelian dialectic he also emphasises the deep affinity, insisting on the necessity of turning “right side up again” that which in Hegel’s philosophy is “standing on its head”. [Theses on Feuerbach] But it would be impossible to turn the Hegelian conception “right side up again”, in order to incorporate its “rational kernel” into Marx’s system, if there did not lie at the basis of their “opposite” philosophical approaches the common characteristics of two – ideologically different, indeed opposite – monistic conceptions. For dualism remains dualism even if it is turned “the other way round”.
By contrast, we can see in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach his complete rejection of Feuerbach’s ontological and epistemological dualism: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing (Gegenstand), reality, sensuousness is conceived only in the form of the object (Objekt) or of contemplation (Anschauung), but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in contradistinction to materialism, was developed by idealism – but only abstractly, since of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really differentiated from thought-objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective (gegenständliche) activity. Hence, in the Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-Judaical form of appearance.” [Theses on Feuerbach]
This reference to “practice” is very similar to Goethe’s principle concerning Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject (Der Versuch als Vermittler von Objekt und Subjekt) and the second thesis on Feuerbach emphasises this similarity even more strongly. Now the lack of such mediator in Feuerbach’s philosophy means that its dualism cannot be overcome. On the contrary, it assumes at the level of social theory the sharpest possible form: “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating. Hence this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, of which one is superior to society.” [Theses on Feuerbach] This is why Feuerbach’s system, in spite of the philosopher’s materialistic approach, and in spite of his starting out “from the fact of religious self-alienation”, [Theses on Feuerbach] cannot be in a lasting agreement with the Marxian philosophy. For a kind of “materialistic dualism” is manifest in Feuerbach’s philosophy at every level, with all the contradictions involved in it. (Cf. “abstract thinking”; “intuition”; “contemplation”; “Anschauung”; “isolated individual”; “human essence”; “abstract individual”; “human species”; and so on.)
The secret of Marx’s success in radically transcending the limitations of dualistic, contemplative materialism is his unparalleled dialectical grasp of the category of mediation, for no philosophical system can be monistic without conceptually mastering, in one form or another, the complex dialectical interrelationship between mediation and totality. It goes without saying, this applies – mutatis mutandis – to the Hegelian philosophy as well. Hegel’s idealistic monism has for its centre of reference his concept of “activity” as “mediator between Subject and Object”. But, of course, the Hegelian concept of “activity” is “abstract mental activity” which can mediate only “thought-entities”. (“Object”, in Hegel’s philosophy is “alienated Subject”, “externalised World Spirit” etc., i.e. in the last analysis it is a pseudo-object.) In this characteristic of the Hegelian philosophy the inner contradictions of its concept of mediation come to the fore. For Hegel is not a “mystifier” because “he is an idealist” : to say this would amount to hardly more than an unrewarding tautology. Rather, he is an idealist mystifier because of the inherently contradictory character of his concept of mediation, i.e. because of the taboos he imposes upon himself as regards the second order mediations while he is absolutising these – historically specific – forms of capitalistic “mediation of the mediation”. The philosophical repercussions of such a step are far-reaching, affecting all his main categories, from the assumed identity of “alienation” and “objectification” to the ultimate identity of “subject” and “object”, as well as to the conception of “Aufhebung” as a merely conceptual “reconciliation” of the subject with itself. (Even the “nostalgia” for the original direct unity appears – though in an “abstract, speculative, logical form” – in the conceptual opposition between “Ent-äusserung”, alienation, and “Er-innerung”, i.e. turning “inwards”, remembering a past necessarily gone for ever.)
Only in Marx’s monistic materialism can we find a coherent comprehension of “objective totality” as “sensuous reality”, and a correspondingly valid differentiation between subject and object, thanks to his concept of mediation as ontologically fundamental productive activity, and thanks to his grasp of the historically specific, second order mediations through which the ontological foundation of human existence is alienated from man in the capitalist order of society.
5. The Transformation of Hegel’s Idea of “Activity”
Activity appeared in the writing of the classics of political economy as something concrete, belonging to the palpable manifestations of real life. It was, however, confined in their conception to a particular sphere: that of manufacture and commerce, considered completely ahistorically. It was Hegel’s great theoretical achievement to make universal the philosophical importance of activity, if even he did this in an abstract form, for reasons mentioned already.
Marx writes in his Manuscripts of 1844 about the magnitude as well as the limitations of the Hegelian achievements: “Hegel’s standpoint is that of modern political economy. He grasps labour as the essence of man – as man’s essence in the act of proving itself: he sees only the positive, not the negative side of labour. Labour is man’s coming-to-be for himself within alienation, or as alienated man. The only labour which Hegel knows and recognises is abstractly mental labour”. Thus with Hegel “activity” becomes a term of crucial importance, meant to explain human genesis and development in general. But the Hegelian concept of “activity” acquires this universal character at the price of losing the sensuous form “labour” had in political economy. (That the political economist conception of “labour” was one-sided, partial, and ahistorical, does not concern us here where the point at stake is the relative historical significance of this conception.)
Marx’s concept of “activity” as practice or “productive activity” – identified both in its positive sense (as human objectification and “self-development”, as man’s necessary self-mediation with nature) and in its negative sense (as alienation or second order mediation) resembles the political economist’s conception in that it is conceived in a sensuous form. Its theoretical function is, however, radically different. For Marx realises that the non-alienated foundation of that which is reflected in an alienated form in political economy as a particular sphere is the fundamental ontological sphere of human existence and therefore it is the ultimate foundation of all kinds and forms of activity. Thus labour, in its “sensuous form”, assumes its universal significance in Marx’s philosophy. It becomes not only the key to understanding the determinations inherent in all forms of alienation but also the centre of reference of his practical strategy aimed at the actual supersession of capitalistic alienation.
To accomplish the Marxian formulation of the central issues of alienation, a critical incorporation of Hegel’s achievements into Marx’s thought was of the greatest importance. By becoming aware of the universal philosophical significance of productive activity Marx made a decisive step forward with respect to the writings of political economy and thus he was enabled to work out certain objective implications of the latter which could not be realised by the political economists themselves because of the partial and unhistorical character of their approach. We can see this clearly expressed in the following words of Marx: “To assert that division of labour and exchange rest on private property is nothing short of asserting that labour is the essence of private property – an assertion which the political economist cannot prove and which we wish to prove for him. Precisely in the fact that division of labour and exchange are embodiments of private property lies the twofold proof, on the one hand that human life required private property for its realisation, and on the other hand that it now requires the supersession of private property”. Thus political economy cannot go to the roots of the matter. It conceives a particular form of activity (capitalistic division of labour) as the universal and absolute form of productive activity. Consequently in the reasoning of political economists the ultimate point of reference cannot be activity itself in view of the fact that a particular form of activity – the historically established socioeconomic practice of capitalism – is absolutised by them.
Political economy evidently could not assume as its ultimate point of reference activity in general (i.e. productive activity as such: this absolute condition of human existence) because such a step would have made impossible the absolutisation of a particular form of activity. The only type of “absolute” which enabled them to draw the desired conclusions was a circular one: namely the assumption of the basic characteristics of the specific form of activity whose absoluteness they wanted to demonstrate as being necessarily inherent in “human nature”. Thus the historical fact of capitalistic Exchange appeared in an idealised form on the absolute plane of “human nature” as a “propensity to exchange and barter” (Adam Smith) from which it could be easily deduced that the “commercial” form of society, based on the capitalistic division of labour, is also the “natural” form of society.
If the absolute factor is identified with private property (or with some fictitious “propensity to exchange and barter”, which is only another way of saying the same thing), then we are confronted with an insoluble contradiction between natural and human, even if this contradiction is hidden beneath the rhetorical assumption of a harmonious relationship between “human nature” and capitalistic mode of production. For if one assumes a fixed human nature (e.g. a “propensity to exchange and barter”), then the really natural and absolute necessity (expressed in the self-evident truth of the words: “man must produce if he is not to die”) is subordinated to a pseudo-natural order. (The proposition equivalent to the Marxian self-evident truth, according to the alleged “natural order” of “human nature”, should read: “man must exchange and barter if he is not to die”, which is by no means true, let alone self-evidently true.) Thus the ontologically fundamental dimension of human existence is displaced from its natural and absolute status to a secondary one. This is, of course, reflected in the scale of values of the society which takes as its ultimate point of reference the system of exchange and barter: if the capitalistic order of things is challenged, this appears to the “political economists” as though the very existence of mankind is endangered. This is why the supersession of alienation cannot conceivably be included in the programme of political economists, except perhaps in the form of illusorily advocating the cure of some partial effects of the capitalistic alienation of labour which is idealised by them, as a system, as man’s “necessary” and “natural” mode of existence. And this is why the attitude of political economists to alienation must remain, on the whole, one that cannot be called other than “uncritical positivism”.
Hegel supersedes, to some extent, this contradiction of political economy, by conceiving activity in general as the absolute condition of historical genesis. Paradoxically, however, he destroys his own achievements, reproducing the contradictions of political economy at another level. Insofar as he considers “activity” as the absolute condition of historical genesis, logically prior to the form of externalisation, he can – indeed he must – raise the question of an “Aufhebung” of alienation; for the latter arises in opposition to the original direct unity of the “Absolute” with itself. Since, however, he cannot distinguish, as we have seen, between the “externalised” form of activity and its “alienated” manifestations, and since it is inconceivable to negate “externalisation” without negating the absolute condition: activity itself, his concept of “Aufhebung” cannot be other than an abstract, imaginary negation of alienation as objectification. Thus Hegel, in the end, assigns the same characteristic of untranscendable absoluteness and universality to the alienated form of objectification as to activity itself and therefore he conceptually nullifies the possibility of an actual supersession of alienation. (It goes without saying that a form, or some form of externalisation – i.e. objectification itself – is as absolute a condition of development as activity itself : a non-externalised, non-objectified activity is a non-activity. In this sense some kind of mediation of the absolute ontological condition of man’s interchange with nature is an equally absolute necessity. The question is, however, whether this mediation is in agreement with the objective ontological character of productive activity as the fundamental condition of human existence or alien to it, as in the case of capitalistic second order mediations.)
Marx draws the conceptual line of demarcation between Labour as “Lebensiusserung” (manifestation of life) and as “Lebensentäusserung” (alienation of life). Labour is “Lebensentäusserung” when “I work in order to live, in order to produce a means to living, but my work itself is not living”, i.e. my activity is forced upon me “by an external necessity” instead of being motivated by a need corresponding to an “inner necessity” [Comments on James Mill]
In the same way, Marx makes the distinction between an adequate mediation of man with man on the one hand and “alienated mediation” of human activity through the intermediary of things on the other hand. In the second type of mediation – “in the alienation of the mediating activity itself” (indem der Mensch these vermittelnde Tätigkeit selbst entäussert) – man is active as a “dehumanised man” (entmenschter Mensch). Thus human productive activity is under the rule of “an alien mediator” (fremder Mittler) – “instead of man himself being the mediator for man” (statt class der Mensch selbst der Mittler fair den Menschen sein sollte) and consequently labour assumes the form of an “alienated mediation” (entäusserte Vermittlung) of human productive activity.”
Formulated in these terms, the question of “Aufhebung” ceases to be an imaginary act of the “Subject” and becomes a concrete, practical issue for real man. This conception envisages the supersession of alienation through the abolition of “alienated mediation” (i.e. of capitalistically institutionalised second order mediation), through the liberation of labour from its reified subjection to the power of things, to “external necessity”, and through the conscious enhancing of man’s “inner need” for being humanly active and finding fulfilment for the powers inherent in him in his productive activity itself as well as in the human enjoyment of the non-alienated products of his activity.”
With the elaboration of these concepts – which fully master the mystifying complexity of alienation that defeated no less a dialectician than Hegel himself – Marx’s system in statu nascendi is virtually brought to its accomplishment. His radical ideas concerning the world of alienation and the conditions of its supersession are now coherently synthesised within the general outlines of a monumental, comprehensive vision. Much remains, of course, to be further elaborated in all its complexity, for the task undertaken is “Titanenartig”. But all further concretisations and modifications of Marx’s conception – including some major discoveries of the older Marx – are realised on the conceptual basis of the great philosophical achievements so clearly in evidence in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.