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Idealism and Materialism in Marx's Dialectic Author(s): Louis Dupré Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Jun., 1977), pp. 649-685

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IDEALISMAND MATERIALISM INMARX'S DIALECTIC

 

LOUIS DUPR?

 

I

11

o

aspect

 

of Marx's

theory

has

received

more

attention

in

recent

decades

than

the

dialectical

method.

Yet,

Western

interpreters

 

have

mainly

restricted

the

discussion

to

those early

writings in

which

Marx

explicitly

confronts

Hegel's

philosophy,

while

socialist

commentators

 

often

hesitate

to subject

Marx's

mature

writings

to funda

mental

questioning.

In the present

contribution

I propose

to raise

 

a

number

of

questions

concerning

the

dialectical

method

as

used

in Marx's

later works

and

that

as interpreted

in those

of his

a

substantial

difference

principal

followers.

I

realize

there may be

between

 

the

two,

yet

since

the

latter,

correctly

or

incorrectly,

 

explicate

a

text

which

frequently

demands

further

justification,

they must

be consulted.

My

purpose with

this task

is hermeneutical

rather

than critical.

I feel

that,

despite

the existing

attentively

bulk of Marxist

enough

literature, we still

have

not

read Marx

critique

to be

ready for a decisive

of his work.

My own

critical

remarks

pretend

to

do

no more

than

to

allow

the

text

to

reveal

its

own

mean

ing within

its total context.

They

are part

of that internal

criticism

without

which

there

can

be

no

true

hermeneutic.

 

Up

to German

Ideology,

Marx's

dialectic

had

been

predom

inantly

anthropological.

Even

when

he

discussed

economic

ques

tions,

as

in

the

Manuscripts

of

1844,

he

did

so

from

an

anthro

pological angle.

In the writings

immediately

preceding

Capital the

anthropological

model

ceases

to determine

the critique

of economy

altogether.

 

The

dialectic

now

follows

an

intrinsically

economic

pat

tern.

Its

contradictions

result

from

internal

conflicts

within

the

economic

process,

 

not from

its opposition

to any preconceived

ideal

"nature"

 

of man.

 
 

This

is not

to

that Marx's

concerns

vanished

when Marx

say

started writing

philosophical his definitive

critique

of classical

economy.

Capital

is a "philosophical"

text

as well

as

a critique

of economic

theory,

though

the

latter

is far more

in evidence

than

the former.

The

rediscovery

 

of

the

preparatory

notes

for Capital,

the Grundrisse,

 

650

LOUIS DUPR?

clearly

indicates

the

continuing

role

of philosophy

in Marx's

work.

Yet

the Grundrisse

integrates

a dialectical

philosophy

had remained

with

an

eco

nomic theory, which

in the early writings

largely juxta

posed.1 In The Poverty of Philosophy (1846) Marx had adumbrated his own concept of the dialectical development of economic categories

while

attacking

Proudhon's.

 

Especially,

the

emerging

 

notion

of

eco

nomic

contradiction

deserves

attention.

Previously,

the

dialectical

negation

had

consisted

in the

opposition

between

prevailing

social

economic

conditions

and

an

ideal,

anthropological

model.

 

But

now,

Marx

envisions

the

economic

process

as producing

 

its

own

contradic

 

tions

and

surpassing

them

in new

economic

relations.

Such

a dialectic

of

economic

development

 

differs

substantially

 

from

Proudhon's

"Hegelian"

theory.

Proudhon

separates

the

dialectic

of

economic

categories

from

their

historical

development.

Instead

of

studying

the

actual,

historical

production

relations

from

which

economic

cate

gories

derive,

Proudhon

deals

in "immutable

laws,

eternal

principles,

 

ideal

categories."

Even

Hegel's

Absolute

Spirit

reappears

in

the

secular

genius."2

form

In

of

"humanity," decked sarcasm

heaping

on

out

as

Proudhon,

"general

Marx

reason"

is really

or

"social

settling

accounts

with

his

own past,

though

he had

formulated

his

abstract

universals

in anthropological

 

rather

than

economic

terms.

But

only in

the Grundrisse3

does

Marx

fully integrate

the

dialectical

method

within

his

economic

studies.

Marx

explicitly

warns

against

any

simplistically

Hegelian

interpretation

of economic

categories,

that

moves,

in

Proudhon's

manner,

from

the

abstract

universal

to

the

complex

concrete.4

Even

 

basic,

universal

categories

1 David

McLellan,

Karl

Marx:

His

Life

and

Thought

(New

York:

Harper,

2 The Poverty

1973),

p.

296.

 

of Philosophy

(Moscow:

Foreign

Languages

Publishing

House,

s.d.)

112.

p.

3 Grundrisse

der

Kritik

der

politischen

Oekonomie

 

(Berlin:

Dietz,

1953);

The

Grundrisse,

trans,

by

David

McLellan

(New

York:

Harper

and Row,

1971).

McLellan's

 

translation

is

only

a partial

 

one,

yet

I have

followed

it wherever

possible

because

it

renders

the

enormously

 

com

plex

style

of Marx's

private

notes

somewhat

more

readable

than

Martin

Nicolaus'

literal

one

(Baltimore:

Pelican

Books,

1973).

I refer

to

the

former

as

"McL,"

to

the

latter

as

"Nicolaus," and

to

the

German

edition

as

"Gr."

4 "Hegel

fell

into

the

error

of

considering

the

real

(das

Reale)

as

the

result

of

self-coordinating,

 

self-absorbed,and

spontaneously

operating

while

the method

of

advancing

Art

f?r

from

the

abstract

to

the

concrete

thought,

is but

the way

of thinking (die

das Denken)

by which

the concrete

is grasped

and

is reproduced

 

in our mind

as

concrete"

(Gr.

22, McL

35).

MARX'S DIALECTIC 651

such

as

production,

 

labor,

and

agriculture

 

can

never

be

considered

sepa

rately: they

are codetermined

 

by a number

of other factors and can be

fully understood only within the complex economic setting of the existing

production

relations.

 

Man

is social,

and

therefore

complex,

from

the

beginning

(Gr. 6, McL,

17).

The meaning

of terms

such as "produc

tion"

or

"population"

 

depends

 

on

specific

 

social

structures

 

and

changes

with

the

development

of

the

social-economic

process.

"Whenever

we

speak

 

therefore

of

production,

we

always

have

in

mind

production

 

at a

certain

 

stage

of

social

development,

 

a produc

tion by

 

social

individuals"

18).

Moreover,

it

is from

the beginning

determined

(Gr. 6, McL, by distribution,

exchange,

and consumption.

 

All

the

stages

of

production

 

have

certain

 

destinations

in

common,

which

we

generalize

 

in thought;

but

the

so-called general

conditions

of all production

21-22).

up

any

are

nothing

but

abstract

conceptions

which

do

not

go

to make

real

stage

in

the

history

of production

 

(Gr.

10, McL,

The

term

"production,"

 

then,

can

be

used

only

in

an

analogous

way

for purposes

of comparing

similar

(but never

identical)

functions

in

the

social-economic

 

process.

 

The

same

ambiguity

adheres

to

the

seemingly

univocal

concept

of

"population."

 

It

remains

economically

meaningless

until

specified

into the concrete

classes

of which

it consists,

 

and the composition

of

these

classes

is determined

by such varying

historical

factors

as divi

sion

of

labor,

modes

 

of

production,

and,

at

a

certain

stage,

capital,

wage

labor,

money,

etc.

(Gr.

21,

McL,

34).

Labor

presents

even

greater

complexities.

For

in

its

universal

 

form,

that

is, as

a means

of creating

wealth

 

in

general

without

 

being

specified

to

any

par

ticular

form,

it appears

only

at

the

end

of a long, historical

process

in

the

economy

 

of

advanced

 

industrial

 

societies.

 

Unlike

 

Proudhon's

 

abstract

uni versais,

 

Marx's

concrete

uni

versal

emerge at

the

end

of the dialectic.

Yet

Marx's

method

is

more

fundamentally

Hegelian

insofar as he

intrinsically

 

connects

the

various

 

aspects

of

the

economic

process with

one

another

 

and

overcomes

the

classical

 

separation

of

its stages.

Production

already

contains

consumption,

and distribution

 

itself

is a form of producing

(Gr. 11, McL,

23-24).5

This

interrelatedness

of all economic

cate

 

5 Nor

should

this

interconnection

of production,

distribution,

and

ex

change

be

interpreted

 

in

a

formalists

 

"Hegelian"

way,

as

if production

universally

appropriated

the

products

of nature

 

while

distribution

deter

mined

which

particular

 

group

were

to partake

of

those

and con

sumption

 

constituted

 

the

individual

enjoyment

(Gr.

products 11, McL, 22).

 

652

LOUIS DUPR?

gories

marks

a

clear

innovation

 

in

economic

thinking

made

under

the direct

impact

of Hegel's

 

philosophy.

 

In

his

review

of Marx's

Critique

of Political

Economy,

Engels

 

describes

the difference:

 

Political

economy

begins

 

with

commodities,

 

begins

from

the moment

when

products

are

exchanged

for one

another?whether

by

individuals

or

by

primitive

communities.

 

In exchange

 

a product

becomes

a

com

modity,

however,

a commodity

solely

because

a relation

between

two

persons

or communities

attaches

to

the

thing,

the product,

the

relation

between

producer

and

consumer

who

are

here

no

longer

united

in

the

same

person.6

Marx

uses

no

"simple"

concepts,

 

only

conceptualized

relations.

 

Each

term

must

ever

anew

 

be

defined

in

accordance

with

the

complex

web

of relations

in which

it appears.7

 

Though

the point

 

is of primary

importance,

we must

postpone

further

discussion

of

it until we

have

acquainted

ourselves

with

the

most

general

principles

 

which Marx

borrowed

from Hegel's

dialectic:

the

developing

character

 

of

reality

and

the

dynamic

nature

of

con

tradiction.

The

internal

relatedness

 

can be

fairly

evaluated

only ciples which entail

in the

it.

of the categories two more

light of those

We

find

comprehensive clearly articulated

prin

in

them most

Capital.

   
 

II

The

assumption

 

of

a

permanent,

 

internal

development

 

distin

guishes

Marx's

discussion

of economic

concepts

from

that

of

the

classi

cal

economists.8

To

Marx

the

capitalist

 

system

is

not

the

necessary

 

6 Review

anonymously

 

published

in Das

Volk

on August

20,

1859.

Karl

Marx-Friedrich

Engels,

Selected

Works

 

(Moscow:

International

Pub

lishers,

1962),

7 Bertell

Vol.

I,

p.

374.

 

Oilman

has made

 

this

interrelatedness

the

central

 

theme

of

his

study Alienation:

Marx's

 

Conception

of Man

 

in Capitalist

Society

(New

York:

8 Cambridge

University

Press,

1971).

 

That

reality

is

essentially

 

a

dynamic

 

process,

is

a principle

which

Marx

had

adopted

from

 

Hegel

at

an

early

age.

In

the Manuscripts

 

o?

1844

appears

the

oft-quoted

 

passage:

"The

outstanding

thing

in Hegel's

Phenomenology

and

its final

outcome?that

 

is,

the

dialectic

of negativity

 

as

the moving

and

generating

 

principle?is

 

thus

first

that

Hegel

conceives

the

self-genesis

of man

 

as

a

process

...

"

(Economic

and

Philosophic

 

Manuscripts

of

18Jib,

trans,

by

Martin

Milligan

[Moscow:

International

Publishers,

1959],

p.

151).

This

text,

of

course,

considers

 

only

man

as

a process

being.

But

Marx

 

regarded,

 

and

ever

more

so, man

as

the

moving

principle

of

all

reality.

 

MARX'S DIALECTIC

product

of

common

sense

and Western

inventiveness,

653

but

the

out

come of specific historical factors, subject to historical metamorphoses and constantly passing through distinct but interconnected cycles of

production,

circulation,

sales,

and

reinvestment.

It

negates

a

pre

vious

system

of production

and will,

 

in time,

be

supplanted

by

a

new system

that synthesizes

ones.

Most

of Capital

I

and

all

humously

of

the

published

the two preceding Theories

preparatory by Karl Kautsky

of Surplus

TV)

as Capital

Values

deal with

(post

the

intrinsically

historical,

and

therefore

relative,

character

of

economic

concepts.

In Capital

III, Marx

defines

capital

as "a definite

social

production relation,

belonging

to

a definite

historical

formation

of

society"

 

(Capital

III,

814),9

and he

describes

capitalist

production

as

"by

no

means

an

absolute

form

for

the

development

 

of

the

pro

ductive

forces and for the creation

of wealth"

(Capital

III,

263-264).

 

Nowhere

is

the

relative

quality

of

economic

concepts

more

evi

dent

than

in Marx's

discussion

o? value.

Even

this

most

basic

con

cept

intrinsically

depends

on a particular,

historical

mode

of pro

duction.

system

The

of social

utility

of a product which

exchange

allows

becomes

a value

it to detach

only within

a

itself from

use

and

to adopt

an

economic

significance

independent

of

the

specific

nature

of

the

product.

 

All

that

these

things

now

tell

us

is

that

human

labor

power

has

been

expended

in their

production,

that

human

labor

is embodied

in them.

When

looked

at

as

crystals

of

this

social

substance,

common

to

them

all,

they

are?values

(Capital

I,

38).

Though

such a claim may

hardly

seem

 

to go beyond

the fundamental

principles

 

of

classical

economy,

it constitutes,

in fact,

a revolutionary

 

innovation.

For

Marx

presents

value

itself

as

resulting

from

a

par

ticular

mode

of

production.

Value

is

the

most

universal

economic

category

 

only

within

the

capitalist

economic

system.

 

The

same

system

which

reduces

all

products

to

"mere

congela

tions

of undifferentiated

human labor" (Capital

I,

67),

renders

the

value-producing

 

activity

into an abstract,

strictly

capitalist mode

of

producing.

 

The

term

"labor,"

according

to Marx,

applies

exclusively

to

the

specific

productive

activity

of

 

a

value-and-exchange

system

9 AU

references

from

Capital

are

to

the

editions

published

by

Inter

national

Publishers,

1967.

The

first

volume

was

translated

by

Samuel

Moore

and

Edward

Aveling.

The

translations

of

the

last

two

are

anonymous.

654

LOUIS DUPR?

that

is at least relatively

independent

of use.

Indeed,

it is precisely

labor which

allows

 

the

production

of use

value

to be converted

into

one

of

exchange

 

value.

From

this

arises

its

peculiar

ambiguity.

Labor

is

on

the

 

one

hand

positively,

qualitatively

to

be

understood

as

production

of

use

values

(goods),

in

the

final

analysis

pure

anthro

pological

praxis;

 

on

the

other

hand

it

is negatively

the

'substance'

of

what

is

not

useful,

the

substance

 

of

exchange

value,

of

quantitative

labor

time.10

 

At

an advanced

 

stage

of this process,

 

labor

itself,

the foundation

of

the

exchange

process,

 

becomes

an

exchange

value,

a

commodity

 

that

can be bought

and sold.

 
 

Owing

to

its

abstract

nature,

value

can

be

measured

in quanti

ties

of an arbitrarily

chosen

and

arbitrarily

valued metal.

Money

is

the

concrete

expression

of

abstract

 

value.

With

it

comes

price,

"the money

101), which

name

of the

labor realized

allows

any

commodity to

in a commodity" be

exchanged

(Capital

I,

for any

other

commodity.

 

However,

 

since

this

concrete

expression

of value

as

such

is

itself

a

commodity

and

possesses

 

a

value

of

its

own,

money

in

a

capitalist

economy

 

is

far more

than

a mere

means

of