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Abstraction versus Contradiction: Observations on Chris Arthur’s The New Dialectic and Marx’s ‘Capital’
Dipartimento di Scienze Filosoﬁche, Università degli Studi di Bari r.ﬁnelli@ﬁlosoﬁa.uniba.it
Abstract This intervention concerns the diﬀerent statute of abstraction in Marx’s work. By means of a critical confrontation with Chris Arthur’s work, Finelli presents his thesis of the presence of a double theory and fuction of abstraction in Marx’s work. In the early Marx, until the German Ideology, abstraction is, in accordance with the traditional meaning of this term, a product of the mind, an unreal spectre. More exactly, it consists in negating the common essence belonging to labouring humanity and projecting it, as alienated universal, into the idea of philosophy, into the state of politics and into the money of the market. In the later Marx, the nature of abstraction is, rather than mental, practical. It is directly related to the quantity without quality of capitalist labour, and it is the product of the systemic connection of machines to labour-power. In contrast to Arthur, Finelli maintains that practical abstraction in the Marx of Capital is not located in the zone of exchange and the market, where there is the mediation of money. On the contrary, it is located in the zone of production, which, for Marx, is a social ensemble not mediated by money but by relations of technological domination. Keywords abstraction, formal determination, presupposed-posited, opposition-contradiction, abstractionemptying out, dissimulation.
1. Die Formbestimmung : a new category of a new Marxism ‘From the simple to the complex’: this motto synthesises the evolutionism with which Engels conceived his vision of history and the method of knowledge that follows from it. Chris Arthur correctly deﬁnes this as a ‘linear’ typology, because history, for Engels, is constituted on the basis of something elementary which, in the course of diﬀerent social epochs, is progressively modiﬁed and rendered more complex, but without ever being annulled and negated, despite development occurring through dialectical contradictions. It is easy to hear the echo of the evolution dear to positivism and of an empiricist epistemology linked to the natural sciences in this historicist continuity. For Engels, one of
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/156920607X192075
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In my words. themselves. but ‘systematic’. pp. Thus. 879. This historical period of ‘simple commodity production’ in which the measure of value is visibly the time of labour – since ‘[L]abour and labour alone: to replace tools. but. its logical method. 514. In his opinion. down to the 15th century of the present era’ (Engels 1998. Thus the expository structure of Marx’s Capital. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 its clearest examples is to be found. 881–2). . with the establishment of the capitalist economy. . . p. Engels 1969. is not expressed – in terms of spatial 1.2_f5_61-74. the time of exposition and of the succession of its chapters. . in the law of value. It is necessary to break the coupling of Marx and Engels inherited from the oﬃcial iconography and give them back all of the theoretical autonomy that is due to them. From the practical point of view. in my opinion at any rate. up to the time when the latter suﬀers a modiﬁcation through the appearance of the capitalist form of production. was that the determination of value by labour-time was no longer visible upon the surface of commodity exchange. In fact. In a word: the Marxian law of value holds generally . very naïve) that have claimed that the doctrine of historical materialism was a joint production. . based on the reﬂection of the real in the logical-mental. to money as the decisive measure and calculus of the value of commodities. the system of exposition of Capital – this is the crucial point – is not diachronic.3 Fortunately. 2. synchronic. and to process it’ is seen and perceived as a factor of production1 – progressively gives way. it is necessary to dismiss all of this from the outset. as we know. Arthur is very acute on this point. which transforms products into commodities. for the whole period of simple commodity production – that is. Engels 1998. 3. it is not ‘linear’. for Engels. p.indd 62 5/22/07 1:40:23 PM . money became the decisive measure of value. to produce raw material. only stripped from disturbing fortuities’. . ‘The most important and most incisive advance was the transition to metallic money. for that entire great historical period during which – since the worker was proprietor of the means of production. often while making a product. its validity as measure of exchange reigns from the natural peasant economies of primitive communities until the ﬁfteenth century. of the same order with which Marx supposedly constructed Capital by employing a simplistically materialist gnoseology. commodity→value→labour→money→capital is an historical progression which is mirrored in the logical progression. however.2 Thus we know that. and given the very minor scale of production and commerce – anyone had direct experience of the time of necessary labour. That is. . . in the words of Arthur. as Engels claims. that is. In order to understand Marx and his mature work. is ‘nothing else but the historical method. we need to go beyond those interpretations (which are. rather.62 R. as a (single and simple) element. the Marxian law of value has general economic validity for a period lasting from the beginning of exchange. HIMA 15. It is valid. the consequence of which. I would say that the time of Marx’s Capital.
Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 63 representation – by means of the symbol of a chain and the succession of its links. but. as Lukács taught us in History and Class Consciousness (when he wrote and thought before his capitulation obtorto collo to the Marxism of the State). articulating and connecting it according to its needs. for Marx. re-read and re-signiﬁed on the basis of the order and the arrangement of the internal. expresses the functions that come from the self-reproductive logic of the capitalist totality. iv) Capital is a complex of formal determinations abstracted from the heterogeneity of commodities and the concreteness of the diﬀerent labour processes. fundamental. rather. Formal determination. iii) Since a totality cannot be given and exhausted in a material and particular content. centripetal and centrifugal. Arthur has understood well that Marx’s Capital deﬁnes a socio-historical reality conceived as a totality. from the most evident sphere of exchange and of the commerce of goods to the more hidden sphere of the production of capital. in capitalism. it is that of the transition. it is homologous to the Idea of Hegel and articulates its development exactly like Hegel’s Science of Logic. which has as its goal only its own inﬁnite growth. Due to the fact that it is constituted by abstractions. by means of the ﬁgure of a sphere and of its double movement. And. that is. therefore. rather. because.R. Arthur thus correctly argues that Marx’s model in Capital is Hegel’s Science of Logic (it is also the Phenomenology of Spirit. In particular. he argues that: i) The transition in the ﬁrst chapters of Capital is not that historical transition from simple commodity production to capitalist production. to distinguish the ‘formal determination’ from the ‘material determination’. organises and orients all of reality. it follows that what is valid in the system of capital as a totality is form or the determination of form. HIMA 15. in order to comprehend Marx’s critique of political economy. a scientiﬁc practice that begins with the category of totality must necessarily refer to Hegel. It is. These. there is a single dominant factor. constituted by its own self-valorisation. precisely because they are relations. the ﬁrst which leads from the superﬁcial to the internal and the second which goes from the internal back to the superﬁcial.2_f5_61-74.indd 63 5/22/07 1:40:23 PM . a single Subject that pervades. cannot ever be expressed by something material and ﬁnite. ii) Capital as ‘self-valorising value’ is the total subject of modernity. It produces a single homogenous product. the totality of social relations necessary for the production and reproduction of capital. in the actuality of contemporary society. but organise and give sense to every material and ﬁnite content. the one after the other. in my opinion).
] HIMA 15.64 R. The initial categories become those successive categories by means of their internal dialectic. Chris Arthur does not truly tackle the fundamental questions. it should be added that the concept of formal determination appears only at the beginning of Marx’s work. thus the categories or initial determinations of form of Marx’s Capital must be explained by introducing subsequent and successive categories. the formal principle which is the subject of Capital is really capable of being a principle of totalisation. a totality cannot ever exhaust itself in the determinations of form with which it initially appears and is presented to the most immediate human experience. The concept of Formbestimmung re-appears in Marx’s writings only with the Grundrisse and Capital. the whole process of production and living labour counts only as a supply of working time. the initial categories are not suﬃciently determined and cannot explain themselves. After all. [Translator’s note: the adjective ‘spiritualistico’ in this context derives from the established Italian translation of Hegel’s Geist with Spirito. in as much as it concerns a form. which has very little to do with matter. unlike ‘material determination’. in the confrontation with and in the relation between capital and labour-power. the true subject of modern history and capitalist society. The fundamental reason why I am in agreement with Chris Arthur is that he has understood the extent to which Capital is not a materialist text. that is by means of the dialectic of their contradiction. precisely according to the Hegelian lesson. for Marx. for Marx. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 v) Just as in Hegel’s Logic. cancelled by the weight of historical materialism and by the claim of Marx and Engels to explain everything on the basis of matter and material production. in his doctoral dissertation (The Diﬀerence between the Philosophy of Nature of Democritus and Epicurus). because they do not succeed in coinciding with themselves and reproducing themselves. as it has generally always been interpreted (except for the structuralist exaggeration of Althusser). in spite of himself. and how much it is instead a ‘spiritualist [spiritualistico]’ text: in the sense that die Formbestimmung is. And yet.4 Formal determination. something not directly perceptible. both of which are only inaccurately rendered into English with spirit. and later disappears. when capital itself penetrates. with real subsumption. and therefore of 4. in my opinion. He does not completely understand how much. when the object of research obliges Marx.2_f5_61-74. to eclipse historical materialism and to confront a system organised by a principle of totality and of totalisation. as a quantity of abstract and socially-necessary labour. Thus the value-form and labourvalue. can be adequately comprehended only with the transition from circulation to production.indd 64 5/22/07 1:40:23 PM . is ‘invisible’. Among other things.
. being precisely a Formbestimmung. and the Subject and the world of the abstract.2_f5_61-74. Arthur aﬃrms that. p. Such a way of conceiving that nexus returns us to a Marxism of contradiction whose horizon of meaning is humanist and anthropocentric.indd 65 5/22/07 1:40:24 PM . It begins with the humanistic subject. the 5. It is a mistake is to identify the abstract labour that is the substance of value with the supposedly ‘abstract’ character of the modern labour process in its physical form. But even the simplest motion still has some quality. the relationship of abstractconcrete is not to be read in the manner of opposition-contradiction. I believe. of a struggle and of a contradiction between subjects and the world of the concrete. a social determination. which. subtracting it from the alienation to which it is submitted by the private relations of property and of distribution of wealth. all of reality with its need for production and reproduction. instead. The Marxism of contradiction (which is the Marxism of historical materialism) is founded upon the presupposition in historical and social activity of a subject very diﬀerent from the subjectivity of Capital. p. 44. that. Arthur 2002. HIMA 15. which constantly reproduces such a collectivity by means of labour. violating them and forcing them to follow its logic. That is the case with abstract labour. presupposed in history as collective human subject. it is a case forever. on the one side. and is able to re-appropriate such collectivity for itself. the substance of value. . For this position. According to this perspective. the abstract would be an hypostasis which dominates the concrete and particular subjects from the exterior and from on high. 43. In short. on the other. in Marx’s Capital. 6. the concrete. it can never be abstraction as such.6 It seems to me. in the simpliﬁcation and in the standardisation of their performances to the ‘content’ of the concept of ‘abstract labour’. in a particular physical labour.R. according to which an abstraction cannot ever be completely real.5 The diﬀerent concrete labours can come closer. fundamentally. that Arthur’s reasoning on the abstract – on the abstract as formal determination – continues to be in some way inﬂuenced by the tradition of English empiricism. proletariat or working class. that is. cannot ever be incarnated in a concrete labour. Arthur 2002. in capitalism. . is nevertheless irreducible to the abstract. matter. in some respects. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 65 pervading and organising eﬀectively.
an exterior surface of concreteness. not as rupture and discontinuity. ﬁlling it according to the exigencies of its expansive-reproductive logic.2_f5_61-74. at the more interior level of reality and of society. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 Marxism of contradiction is based on the ontological primacy of the labouring subject as concrete collective agent. Systemic logic is instead a logic of the presupposed-posited.indd 66 5/22/07 1:40:24 PM . always has to display the contrary of HIMA 15.66 R. it leaves it a semblance. there is fundamentally a deepening. does not tolerate any presupposed [Vorgesetztes] element if it is not posited [Gesetztes]. rather. in the words of the young Marx. The circle of presupposed-posited and the dialectic of emptying-out The systematic logic that Chris Arthur himself valorises. For these reasons. under the superﬁcialisation-externalisation of the world that characterises socalled postmodernity. It posits the abstract and the concrete in connection not through contradiction but through abstraction – emptying-out. it makes Marxism very relevant for interpreting postmodernity. produced and re-signiﬁed by the totalising subject. however. If they persist in some measure also in a theoretical systematic plan. The logic of totalisation. coloured and embellished. 2. but. of abstract wealth and its accumulation. because it allows us to understand clearly how. through that of abstraction-emptying out [svuotamento]: in the speciﬁc sense that the abstract occupies and itself invades the concrete. does not tolerate the existence of presupposed elements. Among other things. I believe that postmodern society should be interpreted. At the same time. I believe that the nexus ‘abstract-concrete’ in the Marx of Capital – but certainly more so in the Marx of the Grundrisse – must not be read through the category of opposition-contradiction. as the deepening and the more complete realisation of modern society. however. It is completed by means of the extension and the unfolding on the part of the subject constituted by impersonal and abstract wealth into all of the collective and private environments of life: a colonisation which is dissimulated and negated through an hysterical over-determination of the surface which. but rather. of the ‘menschliches Gemeinwesen’). they refer to merely dogmatic assumptions. that is. of a metaphysical or moralistic nature (like precisely that of the communitarian nature of homo faber. and on the irreducible opposition between the (taken-for-granted) communitarianism of the productive forces and the private restriction of the relations of production. or. in fact. This new interpretative paradigm needs to be drawn out from Marx’s texts. in which Capital is the totalising subject that progressively rewrites in its accumulative logic the entire pre-existing external world on both the historical and the natural levels.
turned upside down into its opposite of creative and personalised labour. while the elaboration of information refers in reality to the function of choosing between alternatives already preconstituted and predetermined. the active and creative participation of subjectivity is valorised and emphasised to the maximum. It is a dissimulation of the abstract in the concrete that occurs through an overdetermination of the concrete. as the subject of the economic process.indd 67 5/22/07 1:40:24 PM . the intensiﬁcation of the production of capital. in which. with all of the individuality of its psychic resources. a game of overturning of opposites. as has been said. a dialectic of essence and appearance. labour and human knowledge appear as its protagonists. how it distorts and manipulates HIMA 15. machines. completely ascribable to the nature of abstraction and to its intrinsic extra-sensoriality and invisibility. It is necessary. that is. Nor is it perceptible except through its eﬀects. as mental labour that is merely discursive-calculative and devoid of intentionality or personal appropriation. coincides with its appearance and its activity.R. given that it is essentially information which is worked on. This occurs in the case of postmodern mental-informational labour. It is precisely in this nexus of emptying-out–concealment– dissimulation (and not in contradiction. or. in an evergreater production of real abstraction. And such a process of the emptying-out of the interior and the intensiﬁcation of visibility of the exterior is. does not appear. this is the way real abstraction presents itself. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 67 that which it is. in the sense of producing conﬂict in the system of social science which he constructs by means of real abstraction and the circle of the presupposed-posited. is therefore accompanied by an eﬀect of invisibility: more exactly. but not in the sense of placing words and theoretical categories in his mouth which are not his own. to force Marx. It is also necessary to aﬃrm resolutely that the historical subject posited by Marx is a non-material subject. appearing as dissimulated in its superﬁcial appearance. a value. for which real abstraction.2_f5_61-74. through the taking up by the concrete of a dynamic. which give expression to it and which make it move in determinate ways. obeying programmes and work plans already conceived and signiﬁed by others. even though it becomes ever more real and present. and placed in that great artiﬁcial brain external to our mind that is the informational machine. liberated from and less constrained by eﬀort than has ever occurred in the history of humanity. Instead. methodological and epistemological conscience which Marx himself possesses. Properly seen. Expressed in other terms. of the relations which establish the concrete. as well as the reﬂexive. which always refers to a presupposed subject) that the true function of dialectical negation must be identiﬁed. in short. paradoxically. This is the fetishism of the concrete in as much as it is the invisibility of mediation. nevertheless. an energy which does not derive from the concrete but which. an invisible subject. rather. rather.
ever more. the quantitative multiplication of commodities and an ever-more widespread accessibility to them has been accompanied. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 the concrete world. designed not to secure satisfaction and identity for the people who consume them. with the simplicity of the eolic-constructivist metaphor of structure and superstructure. Regarding the culture of the simulacrum. but to secure the capitalist wealth which is incorporated in them and is accumulated by means of them. giving way to boredom. HIMA 15. See Jameson 1991. goods of quantity 7. Furthermore. For the commodities of mass consumption. essentially replaceable. that is. the predominance of economic relations in all societies hitherto.indd 68 5/22/07 1:40:24 PM . it is impossible not to consider Jameson’s Postmodernism: Or. of that zone which once was still deﬁned as private. of sensual emotion. as an all-too-general theory of history.68 R. by their progressive. in the capitalist intensiﬁcation of postmodernity. the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. the emptying-out of the concrete on the part of the abstract and the simulacrum-eﬀect 7 which follows from it belongs not only to the sphere of production but. that the primacy of economic relations in the determination of all these aspects of social life is valid only in modern society – and maximally in postmodern society – inasmuch as only capital is a totalitaristic subject of socialisation. thus experiences ever more the decline of feeling. inversely. like all the commodities destined for mass consumption. like the diﬀerent species of ﬁsh reduced to uniformity more by the chemical food with which they are fed than by Linnaean taxonomy. of taste. to insigniﬁcance and quantitative indiﬀerence. But we also need to argue. The sphere of consumption. Leaving behind an anthropology of precarious survival. which moves from a presupposed subject [homo faber] and which claims to aﬃrm. We cannot fail. in short. or like the fruit and vegetables. The consumption of those ﬁctions or soap-operas that make up almost all television broadcasts. to refute the materialist conception of history of the same Marx. Food commodities. removed from the alternation of the seasons and assigned to the time-withouttime of cultivation in greenhouses. for example – realising on the level of orality (in the Freudian sense) that which the theoreticians of the Frankfurt school had already perceived and comprehended ﬁfty years ago regarding the loss of the ‘aura’ – are becoming ever more tasteless and lacking in quality: like the chickens sold in supermarkets that taste like rubber. in their ever-more marked contempt for any principle of reality and of every verisimilar connection of cause and eﬀect – even in their superﬁcial brilliance and their apparent production of meaning – testify well enough to the appearance without content of the world of commodities. qualitative drying-up.2_f5_61-74. to that of consumption too. whose use is – without taste and sensuous intensity – merely repetitive.
But this signiﬁes that. 106). seeks a progressive uniﬁcation between the world of the concrete and the world of the abstract. and which expresses an immeasurably ancient relation valid in all forms of society. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 69 without quality nevertheless need to have a colour. . As we have seen. For Hegel. the cleavage opens between Being and Nothingness. exchange-value is only in the background. because the abstract is the result of the real praxis of a multitude of individuals. nevertheless achieves practical truth as an abstraction only as a category of the most modern society’ (Marx 1993. . For Marx. in as much as we are forced to be mass consumers. The non-superimposability of the Science of Logic and Capital All of what has been said up to now leads therefore to a connection between Hegel’s Science of Logic and Marx’s Capital diﬀerent from that proposed by Arthur. Consider in this respect Marx’s well-known aﬃrmation from the ‘Introduction’ to the Grundrisse (Notebook M): ‘Indiﬀerence towards speciﬁc labours corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another. 8. Arthur insists on the permanence and the eﬃcacy of contradiction. hence of indiﬀerence. “labour as such”. and that both seek progressively to ﬁnd the place of mediation and uniﬁcation of this dualism. Not only the category. The frivolous colouring of the form of commodities is accompanied therefore by a human subject ever more emptied of aﬀectivity and emotion. even more so the more mass consumption seems ﬁnally to realise the egalitarian and progressive principles of democracy. The simplest abstraction. a dualism in reality. p.R. the cleavage in the world of commodities is given between usability and exchangeability. My hypothesis is. in the sphere of circulation. namely the abstraction of the category “labour”. which modern economics places at the head of its discussions.2_f5_61-74. The place of uniﬁcation is in production where individual labour-power supplies only abstract labour and where only the composition of abstract labours under capitalist direction produces concrete use-values. HIMA 15. 3. that the analogy between Hegel and Marx is to be found in the fact that both begin from an ontological cleavage. he. pace Arthur.indd 69 5/22/07 1:40:25 PM . the point of departure of modern economics. . then. for the ﬁrst time. becomes true in practice. then.8 as Marx says. because what appears in the foreground are individuals and commodities as use-values to be exchanged. labour. too. a superﬁcial appearance in order to strike and seduce that ideological and deceitful organ par excellence which is our eye. instead. all the subsequent transitions aim to ﬁnd the place of their synthesis. labour pure and simple. and where the speciﬁc kind is a matter of chance for them. but labour in reality has here become the means of creating wealth in general. It is only in production that the abstraction of exchange-value becomes ‘practically true’. Here.
we return.indd 70 5/22/07 1:40:25 PM . that to refute the historical existence of a simple mercantile society means to refute the possibility of the single individual ever being a 9. on the other hand. the diﬀerent determinations of reality in the sphere of circulation do not mediate one another and are not synthesised with one another but leap. the analogy between Marx and Hegel stops. for Marx too. which do not have anything to do with absolute nothingness. Hegel’s Logic. Therefore. the other on the power of universalisation of the ‘abstract’. as occurs in the ﬁrst book of Hegel’s Logic (the sphere of Being). Further. like those. I believe. moves from the co-presence of the two levels of usability and exchangeability. through its initial indeterminateness. And there. it is that initial transition that Hegel does not succeed in making. because precisely where there is the one there is not the other. each passing into the other. precisely. Thus. I believe that the form of value in Marx is social from the beginning (but ‘social’ in a strong sense). in fact. because he falls back on hypostasised categories of ancient metaphysics.9 Only with abstract production does there emerge a subject that is genuinely real. 37–40. Their ﬁeld of relation refers to a connection of the concrete to the abstract. to read the sphere of the superﬁcial. Marx’s Capital. this then becomes the dynamic factor of every subsequent transition of categories. which. in as much as it is internalised in the activity of individuals. where the subjects seem to be things and individuals (sphere of essence in Hegel. through the abstract activity of the many. pp. in production. operates by means of the power of negation-contradiction: beginning with Being which. into absolute negation. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 Exchange-value appears as a mere means which must serve the primary goal: individual consumption. because the substance of value is already social: that accumulation and deposit of abstract labour. manages to realise itself as interpenetration through the colonisation and emptying-out of the concrete. that is. which is the allocation of a labour-power managed and signiﬁed in capitalist terms. from the initial ﬁssure between two principles of reality needs to posit itself as a single principle-subject. negates itself and turns into nothingness. HIMA 15. here. where profundity is dissimulated in the superﬁcial). In opposition to Arthur. It is for this reason that exchange-value is external to use-value: when there is one there is not the other. But. the concrete is produced (sphere of mediation or of the concept in Hegel).70 R. In my view. See Léonard 1974. beyond the analogy of a process of totalisation which. the diﬀerence between the theoretical paradigms of Marx and Hegel is profound and substantial: the one is based on the power of generalisation and universalisation of the ‘negative’. of Being or of absolute non-Being. departing from this new subject which is capital.2_f5_61-74.
The presupposition HIMA 15. it is the relation of domination in production. Otherwise. we go back to making the market the location of meaning and decisions. It is production that explains circulation and not vice versa. in the diﬀuse and generalised reality of everyone’s life-praxis. Rather. where there is mediation and exchange. only today is it becoming true. maintains strong characteristics of ideality. and attributes to it a formal dimension which is certainly social but which. We fall back into an individualistic contractualism and we do not see that. the supply of labour by labour-power. which explains value and not vice versa. he correctly overturns the relation between circulation and production. the sphere of circulation is the appearance of democracy which. life. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 71 protagonist of choices and personal actions in capitalism.R. to make itself fully and suﬃciently real. at the same time. But the reality of capital and its abstract wealth is labour. but a homology between the Science of Logic and Capital. This is due to the fact that Arthur wants to uphold. while the reality of the Idea of Hegel is a thought which makes itself ever more conscious and present to itself. rather. he does not allow the abstract. in the fullness of its diﬀusion and penetration into all of the areas of our individual and collective. It is surplus-value. distorts the violence of the connections of classes in the production of capital. the subject-capital. according to which ‘Capital’ is supposed to proceed and develop like the ‘Idea’ in Hegel. For this reason. Defending systematic logic. which founds and explains what further happens in the democratic sphere of circulation. the Marx who is the theoretician of the abstract and its force of universalisation – is becoming ever more the objective reality and principle of our social being. where there is not mediation and exchange. under the pressure of the activity of individual subjects. because it is precisely produced and reproduced by the eﬀective behaviour of us all. However. that is. A new deﬁnition of wealth In conclusion: I maintain that today the critical truth of Karl Marx – not the Marx who is the theoretician of ‘productive man’ and of his Prometheanism. not an analogy. as a merely mental abstraction and generalisation – is being conﬁrmed. 4. on the contrary. as an abstraction completely real rather than merely mental. but.indd 71 5/22/07 1:40:25 PM . it seems to me that Chris Arthur’s valuable and intelligent exposition stops short at a certain point and is not carried through to its logical conclusions. unintentional and imbued with meaning by the other. the theory of abstract labour and the theory of the accumulation of wealth connected to it – which many critics from diverse tendencies have held against Marx as a merely subjective hypothesis. public and private. In other words. In short.2_f5_61-74.
It therefore ended up reﬂecting. which traces the frontier of the new continent of human experience brought to light by psychoanalysis and only in part anticipated by the anthropology of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. because it is posited by the daily life-praxis of millions of human beings. ideal and real. this expression appeared in a work by W. 11. too. This vision of social being founded on the movements of a real abstraction intentionally proposes a totalitaristic theory of capital: or a vision of capital. rather. Here. This was done by Marx in his rush to commit his parricide of Hegel. begins – to be true in the light of a something like a memory of the future. precisely that same abstraction which it wanted to combat and eliminate. Bion. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 of Marx returns – or. of the whole anthropologicalnatural context within which its production is contained. in the ﬁrst instance. from the labour necessary to satisfy them. An abstractly materialist anthropology begins from the primacy of the body and of material needs in the life of the human being. In a diﬀerent context. according to its logic. Only a social subject can attempt to oppose the impersonal force of such a subject of socialisation with a diﬀerent economic and life-project.11 The class.10 according to my way of seeing things. Such an anthropology of poverty that links the evolution of human societies and history HIMA 15.2_f5_61-74. A Memoir of the Future.72 R. proposing a subjectivity whose positive value of unity and community was exposed to another degree of inarticulation and symbiotic indiﬀerentiation. conceived on the basis of the principle of abstract equality alone. in itself. due to that. relying upon Feuerbach’s much less rich and articulated humanism and delivering to the tradition of communism a simpliﬁed and abstract anthropology. of the physical neediness of the human being. the ethical-political tradition of the Left has generally remained subaltern to the domination of abstraction. the proletariat. see Finelli 2004. On this point. 12. communism have been values and locations. See Bion 1990.12 This had 10. only a totality of groups and social subjects in whose labours the demand for concreteness and individualisation is more potent than the seduction of forms of identity that are only abstractly those of the group-collective. or of an equality not viviﬁed and made concrete by diﬀerences. consequently. as a productive factor which is tendentially universalising and.indd 72 5/22/07 1:40:25 PM . which takes its cue from its being essentially quantitative. rather. It refuses to traverse and mediate the material need with that immaterial need for the recognition of the most proper and incomparable identity of every human being by another. an anthropology of poverty based on the satisfaction. or. and. starting with certain anthropological simpliﬁcations and dogmatisms of the young Marx. oriented towards the manipulation-assimilation. R.
of the human being to a mere instrument of existence. universal and free. See Rodano 1986. founded not only on the development of the capacity of production of goods but also on the liberation of the diﬀerences of individual subjectivities. particularly if the discussion is assisted and solicited by innovative and thorough texts like that of Chris Arthur.R. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 73 the consequence that the theoreticians and bureaucrats of real communism deduced from it. namely. the right of everyone to see their own strictly unrepeatable singularity recognised. Regarding all of this. The Italian theorist Franco Rodano clearly understood well this gentlemanly inﬂection of Marx’s anthropology in his Lezioni di storia possible. before the science of Capital. it did not matter if it was furnished through an authoritarian discipline and institutions like the party-state. conditioned and mediated by the relation of nonrecognition or recognition by the other.2_f5_61-74. For such an anthropology of penury. and from the consumers consumed by abstraction and the barbarisation of their conditions of life. There remain very explicit examples of this ‘gentlemanly’ perspective incidental to the materialism of the ﬁrst Marx – for whom it is really only the human being who undertakes free ‘practical-sensible activity’. and the very idea of communism and even the legality of using this term has been placed in doubt. however.indd 73 5/22/07 1:40:26 PM . respected and developed. a deﬁnition of future wealth. HIMA 15. linked to the primordial fears of humanity. inasmuch as it is an activity which degrades the essence. from the new labour-power. it was obvious that the development of the productive forces (in other words. and which is expressed – in an only apparently contradictory way and exactly in the same context in which the materialist conception of history was formulated – in an absolutely negative evaluation of labour. To rethink communism means to conceive a new anthropology which starts from the users of the abstract. the acceptance of the capitalist organisation of labour) and the extremely rigid equality and conformism in the distribution of produced goods were indispensable principles of the very concept of communism. liberated by labour – in the 1844 Manuscripts and The German Ideology. It means therefore to try to propose a new deﬁnition of wealth and of the development of the productive forces. It needs to be a new anthropology that knows how to articulate diﬀerence together with equality. because the realisation of that objective was supposed to have primed the development and maturation of the new society. on the production and distribution of possible forms of self-relation. it will obviously be necessary to discuss at length. or of the reproduction of the individual and animal body. That is. that a primary and irrenounceable condition of communism should be material equality. centred not only on the production and distribution of use-values but also. Now all that is over. and maybe essentially. Translated by Peter Thomas solely to physical-material needs is the other face of that omnipotent absoluteness of praxis which characterises the thought of the young and mature Marx.
Grundrisse. London: Lawrence & Wishart. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’. Christopher J. Roberto 2004. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. Commentaire littéral de la ‘Logique’ de Hegel. London: Karnac. in Marx and Engels Selected Works.74 R. in Marx and Engels Collected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Leiden: Brill. Karl 1993. A Memoir of the Future. ‘Karl Marx. Franco 1986. the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Finelli / Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74 References Arthur. Bion. Rodano. Il rapporto tra Hegel e il giovane Marx. Léonard. Paris: Vrin. 1990. HIMA 15. Lezioni di storia possibile. The New Dialectic and Marx’s ‘Capital’. André 1974. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 2002.indd 74 5/22/07 1:40:26 PM . Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. London: Verso. HM Book Series. Marx. Volume 37. Volume 1. Fredric 1991. Engels. Postmodernism: Or. Wilfred R. Un parricidio mancato. —— 1998 . ‘Supplement to Capital Volume III’.2_f5_61-74. Friedrich 1969 . Geneva: Marietti. Finelli. Jameson.
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