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M I C H A E L H.




In his recent book Marxism and the Human Individual, 1 Adam Schaff advances a fresh interpretation of Marx's conception of the individual. A main proposition which he is anxious to establish is that Marxism as a philosophy provides a solid foundation for a concept of man as a human individual. A substantial part of his discussion is devoted to an analysis of autonomy; for he thinks that one cannot be an individual unless he is able to determine his action. And, we can add, one cannot be held morally responsible for his action unless he determines it. Thus self-determination is a necessary condition for a satisfactory treatment both of moral responsibility and of a concept of the individual. In this essay I intend to argue that, given Marx's concept of man, Marxism does not provide an adequate interpretation of the individual, primarily because it does not offer a satisfactory analysis of autonomy. My discussion consists of three parts: (1) a brief account of Marx's conception of man; (2) an analysis of Schaff's interpretation of Marx's concept of autonomy; (3) critical evaluation of this interpretation in terms of Marx's view of man. 1. P R E S U P P O S I T I O N S : ELEMENTS OF MARX'S C O N C E P T I O N

We may distinguish five main elements in Marx's view of man. Prof. Schaff has considered them in the first part of the aforementioned book. (1) Man is, to begin with, a natural, biological being. There is nothing peculiar or special about him. Marx rejects the view that man possesses a divine or spiritual spark by which he is uniquely distinct from other animals. 2 " M a n is directly a natural being. As a natural being, and as a living natural being he is, on the one hand, endowed with naturalpowers and faculties, which exist in him as tendencies and abilities, as drives. On the other hand, as a natural, embodied, sentient, objective being he is a suffering, conditioned and limited being, like animals and plants". 3
Studies in Soviet Thought 12 (1972) 245-254. All Rights Reserved Copyright 1972 by D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland



(2) "But", Marx adds, " m a n is not merely a natural being; he is a

human natural being". 4 What makes him human is his ability to live with
and for himself. This is possible primarily because man is a social being. Social life "is life itself, physical and cultural life, human morality, human activity, human enjoyment, real human existence. Human life is the true social life of man". 5 In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts we are told that "the individual human life and species-life are not different things, even though the mode of existence of individual life is necessarily either a more specific or a more general mode of species-life, or that of species-life a more specific or more general mode of individual life". 6 This clearly indicates that human nature, or essence, is not given as a permanent entity or aspect. It emerges in social existence; it is the result of the interaction of men in society. This, it seems to me, is what led Marx in Theses on Feuerbach to hold that "the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations".7 (3) Man is, moreover, a creative, productive being. Productivity is in a sense his defining feature: "men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or by anything one likes. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is determined by their physical constitution. In producing their means of subsistence men indirectly produce their actual material life", s Production must here be viewed as a conscious, creative, process. 9 In it man actualizes himself as a human individual; for the object which he produces is the objectification of his living being. It is an expression of his life. "It is only when objective reality everywhere becomes for man in society the reality of human faculties, that all objects become for him the objectification of himself. The objects then confirm and realize his individuality, they are his own objects, i.e., man himself becomes the object". 10 (4) A corollary to the preceding premise is that man is a history-making being. He is not a blank sheet on which nature writes its script. He is a self-creative being; and in creating himself, he creates history. Man creates himself, he creates his image or nature, in the process of production. In short, he is the author and actor of history. ~1 The term 'history' refers to the record of what active men in actual life do or create. In the Holy Family Marx writes: "'History does nothing; it 'does not possess



immense riches', it 'does not fight battles'. It is men, real, living men, who do all this, who possess things and fight battles. It is not 'history' which uses men as means of achieving - as if it were an individual person - its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in the pursuits of their ends". 12 And in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts Marx argues: "since... the whole of what is called worm history is nothing but the creation of man by human labor, and the emergence of nature for man, he therefore has the evident and irrefutable proof of his self-creation, of his own origins". 13 (5) Finally, man should be viewed and studied not abstractly, as Hegel and Feuerbach tried to do, but concretely 14, as he interacts with nature and other men, i.e., as an ensemble of social relations. The starting point of all inquiry is the living individual. And the method of inquiry is the scientific method, viz., observation and experimentation: "the whole history is a preparation for 'man' to become an object of senseperception". 15 Again, "the premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can be made only in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and their material conditions of life, including those which they find already in existence and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be established in a purely empirical way". 16 The application of this method to man dispenses with the classical belief that man has a divine or supernatural origin.
2. A U T O N O M Y

In view of the preceding analysis one can ask: does Marxism provide a basis for a concept of the individual? Needless to say, Marx has viewed man as a unique individual: "though man is a unique individual - and it is his particularity which makes him an individual, a really individual communal being - he is equally the whole, the ideal whole, the subjective existence of society as thought and as experienced". 17 But to assert that man is a unique individual is one thing, and to give an adequate explanation of this individuality is another. It is the latter part of this statement that I shall now study. Schaff rightly holds that a theory of man, society, or history should offer a satisfactory interpretation of the autonomy of the individual.


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Autonomy is a necessary condition for individuality,is That is, man would not be an individual unless he is the master of his life. As Marx would put it, "a being does not regard himself as independent unless he is his own master, and he is his own master when he owes his own existence to himself". 19 Thus failure to give a satisfactory explanation of autonomy would necessarily lead to an inadequate account of the individual. How are we to understand this independence or autonomy? To answer this question, I shall analyze Schaff's interpretation of Marx's concept of autonomy. I do this for four main reasons: (1) Marx has not left a systematic account of this concept; (2) Schaff has ably represented Marx's view; (3) Schaff's interpretation is interesting philosophically; and (4) it introduces Marx to the contemporary arena of philosophical discussion on the question. When we say the individual is 'independent' we do not merely mean that he is a living psychophysical whole distinguished from other men by ordinary observation. Being distinct, with a definite structure, is common to all living creatures. 20 Again, by independence we do not mean that man can exist or survive apart from society. What some philosophers, viz., Christian personalists and Existentialists, mean by it is freedom of choice. To them, an autonomous being is one who is "independent of nature and society, as a specific spirituality". 21 Thus what makes man an individual, a person, is possession of this spirituality. But, Schaff argues, this account of autonomy is linked to personality by definition; "be it noted, however, that such a definition of the person requires certain metaphysical assumptions: either the existence of the person as a spiritual being, which, created by God, participates in divine being (Christian Personalism); or the existence of the Ego as a spiritual monad which, in view of the impenetrability of other monads of his type, is 'doomed to solitariness' (Heidegger's Geworfenheit)". 22 However, belief in the divine creation of the person or in the existence of the ego is an act of faith, not reason. But, Schaff insists, we are not obliged to 'undertake this act of faith'. In contradistinction to this approach, Marxism interprets autonomy from the standpoint of its conception of the individual, viz., as a product of society and dependent upon it. It holds that the individual is physically distinct and psychologically unrepeatable. He is unique (1) as a psychological structure, "which we call the personality of the individual, the



sum total of his views, attitudes and dispositions", and (2) as "the organic unity of the physical and mental characteristics making up the human personality". 23 But, Schaff observes, belief in objective laws of history, as in Marxism, is incompatible with the idea of autonomy. Compatibility is possible only if we accept voluntarism in history; but Marxism rejects such voluntarism. Thus the question arises: how would a Marxist interpret freedom in such a way that his interpretation harmonizes with his view of history and man's relation to it? Although Schaff admits that freedom may be discussed metaphysically, he chooses to treat it operationally. Accordingly, we are not interested in an answer to the question: what is freedom? "Instead, we want to know something more practical: has man, when he acts, only one possibility of action to choose, or has he more? In this way we move from metaphysical to operational grounds instead of asking 'what is it?', we ask 'how is it done?' -24 We may say with the personalists that freedom is a distinctive feature of the person, or with Marx that it is a recognition of necessity, but in saying this we have not said anything about the possibility or impossibility of "the individual being able to choose between a number of alternatives". 25 Thus the question of freedom is reduced to an analysis of the possibility of choice between alternative courses of action. It is "to understand how it is that man, socially conditioned and subordinated to objective historical processes.., can act in a conscious and planned way, and make the right choices from a variety of possibilities". 26 This formulation of the question enables us to uphold the view that freedom is recognized necessity. Freedom is proportionate to the individual's consciousness of his choice "even if this choice is made in the belief that a certain development is inevitable for reasons beyond man's control, in other words, when free choice means a deliberate subordination to necessity", z7 Schaff makes it clear that a free act is determined by the individual, i.e., by his interests, purposes, values, or the kind of person he is. An act which is the result of spontaneous activity or external compulsion is not a free act. How can man choose his action if he is an ensemble of social relations, a product of history? That man chooses and is conscious of his choice is a fact which anyone can observe in ordinary life. Despite their social conditioning, men choose and act differently because of differences in their phylogenesis, ontogenesis, and environment. Conscious choice is



made within a system of values "that establishes a scale of what is and is not worthy, good, noble, right, socially useful, etc. Such a system of values is formed socially and is instilled in the individual through various forms of social education". 2s Thus one realizes his freedom, in a given situation, amidst a framework of values. In the decision-making process, however, he is alone and the sole author of his act. This of course means that the individual should first decide what system of values to choose. 29 3. C R I T I C A L E V A L U A T I O N Schaff's analysis of the Marxist concept of autonomy is not satisfactory for a number of reasons. First, Schaff's attempt to treat freedom operationally does not explain how freedom is possible; it only describes how it happens. He proposes that instead of asking, what is freedom?, we should ask, how is it done? This formulation of the question presupposes that man is free. But the question at issue, and which Schaff sought to answer, is that, given the presuppositions outlined in the first part of this essay, can man be free? Thus this formulation of the question evades rather than answers the original question. Second, an operational definition of freedom renders the Marxist concept of the individual inconsistent. For Marx's explanation of history (and society) which Schaff employs in his analysis of Marx's concept of the individual is not operational but ontological. For example, the assertion that history is governed by objective laws is a metaphysical assertion. To be consistent, Schaff should also define history operationally. Such a definition will present a picture of history quite different from that of Marx. But a different view of history entails a different view of man. Third, Schaff's analysis of how man exercises freedom rests on the assumption that man is not and cannot be autonomous. Conscious choice, which is the essence of freedom, is made within the framework of a system of values. These values are instilled in the individual as he grows up socially. This claim is an extension of Marx's dictum that man is an ensemble of social relations. Thus a choice made is a realization of a value or a number of values acquired from the social environment. But instilling values in a person is a form of social conditioning or control. A person who is conditioned or controlled is not free. He is made to



behave in a certain way. On this point Schaff makes two comments. 30 (1) The individual can choose between different systems of values. But I do not see how this is possible. For the individual acquires a system of values as he grows up in life; the system becomes an integral part of his character. It is in its terms that he evaluates men and events around him. It is indeed extremely difficult for him to free himselffrom the system. And even if he can free himself from it, he will employ it in the evaluation of the system which he will adopt next. Again, if the individual can free himself from the system of values instilled in him in his social growth, and if he adopts a system totally different from what is socially approved, this is a strong indication that he is not completely an ensemble of social relations. (2) Within socially imparted systems of value there is "considerable freedom of movement. This is so not only because the scale has many degrees and the individual chooses his station according to the balance of various factors, but also because in normal life different values tend to combine or even dash." It is true that in normal life values clash and the choices of the individual are determined by a number of factors. But the fact remains that despite the intensity of the clash or the variety of factors, the individual, if he is conditioned to behave in a certain way, will approach the problem at hand in terms of the values which are instilled in him and by means of which he has taken a definite stand toward the world. The presence of irreconcilable conflict in a concrete situation is no argument for freedom of choice. Such conflict might arise from improper social conditioning, ignorance of the facts involved in the situation, or clash in social interests. Fourth, (a) to say, as I shall presently indicate, that historical laws are objective, in the sense that they cannot be affected by human will or consciousness, is incompatible with the view that the individual is a selfcreative, history-making being. At best, it is to say that men who compose society are the data or the vehicle of the historical advance. I am aware that Marxist philosophers like Lenin, Stalin, Plekhanov, to mention only a few names, have argued that historical determinism is compatible with the idea of individual autonomy. This may well be true. But this cannot be the case, given Marx's view of history and man's role in it. We have seen that, to Marx, history is not an abstract idea; it is actual men in the process of living - producing, fighting, thinking, hoping, pursuing ends, etc. In short, it is the product of man by human labor. But Marx also


M I C H A E L H. M I T I A S

holds that history is a necessary development; its stages are transitory and causally related. Man is subordinate to this development. In the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy we are told that "in the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensible and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production."al Again, in Capital Marx seeks to discover the laws which govern social and economic evolution; indeed it is the "ultimate aim of this work, to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society.''a2 And in the preface to the same book Marx agrees with one of his critics that he was concerned primarily"about one thing; to show by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions .... Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness, and intelligence. ''33 The same view of man's role in history is expressed by Marx in other works and in different ways.34 The point which merits emphasis, however, is that in Marx the individual is the actor but not the author of his drama. He makes history, not as a creative but as a conditioned, determined being. (b) The last point brings to focus the meaning of autonomy. We have seen that Schaff makes room for Marx's interpretation of freedom within his operational definition of the concept. Freedom consists of man's control of himself and nature rationally.35 As in Spinoza and Hegel, it is the recognition of necessity; it is to be able to make choice with knowledge of the problem at hand. Accordingly, a man's judgment is freer inasmuch as it is necessarily determined. 86 But this interpretation of freedom is somewhat strange, if not circular, for it defines freedom in terms of necessity. According to it, one is able to act; he is not free to act. His freedom consists in harmonious existence "with the established laws of nature", 37 that is, in recognizing that he ought to behave in a certain way. Put differently, his freedom does not consist in his independence of the laws of nature but in recognizing them in conduct. Especially today, however, it seems difficult to speak of laws of nature, for (I) it is hard to identify them, and if we can identify them, (2) it is hard to establish their validity. It seems to me that knowledge of the laws of nature and the ability to control it are necessary conditions for freedom; they are not its



sufficient conditions. F o r one m a y k n o w , e.g., certain social laws a n d yet r e m a i n enslaved b y t h e m b y pressure o r b y s o m e o t h e r means. A g a i n , where there is a b s o l u t e necessity there is t o t a l absence o f freedom. I t is m e a n i n g f u l to s p e a k o f f r e e d o m o n l y when we can s p e a k o f alternatives, o r w h e n one can say: I c o u l d have d o n e otherwise. This f r e e d o m o f choice is n o t merely the k n o w l e d g e o f w h a t we o u g h t to do, b u t also the a b i l i t y to c h o o s e f r o m alternative courses o f action. M a r x was led to his necessitar/an p o s i t i o n o n f r e e d o m p r i m a r i l y because he viewed m a n , n a t u r e , a n d h i s t o r y mechanistically. T h e r e is n o r o o m within his intellectual scheme for creativity o r novel existence. His failure to a c c o u n t for this f e a t u r e o f h u m a n c o n d u c t m a k e s it e x t r e m e l y difficult for him to p r o v i d e a basis for a c o n c e p t o f the individual. ABSTRACT. In both Marx and Schaff, Marxism does not provide an adequate interpretation of the individual. The main reason for this is that there is no satisfactory analysis of autonomy. NOTES 1 Adam Schaff, Marxism and the Human Individual, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1970. This point is emphasized by Marx in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (in Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 131if; see also the introduction to the same book. See also German Ideology, introduction by R. Pascal, International Publishers, New York, 1939; F. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964, p. 34. 8 K. Marx, Economic andPhilasophical Manuscripts in E. Fromm, Marx's Concept of Man, Fredrick Ungar, New York, 1970, p. 181. See also ibid., pp. 136ff. 4 Ibid., p. 183. 5 Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy (ed. by Bottomore and Rubel), McGraw-Hill, New York, 1956, p. 237. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 130. When Marx speaks of species-lifehe means social life. Consciousness of species is man's consciousness of himself as a social being. On this interpretation, see Schaff, Marxism and the Human Individual, pp. 181 ft. 7 In Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, (ed. by L. Feuer), Doubleday, New York, 1959, p. 244. The same thesis, viz., the individual is a social product, is discussed and elucidated in some detail in German Ideology, pp. 29ff., and other works; see, e.g., the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in the Feuer edition, pp. 43ff. a German Ideology, p. 10. 9 In Capital, The Modern Library, New York, 1906, p. 198, Marx writes: " A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality". lo Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 133.


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zz Cf. Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy, p. 61. 12 1bid., p. 63. See also Theses on Feuerbach IlI. zz Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 139. This conception of history is studied in detail in German Ideology, pp. 7ft. The same conception is advocated by Engels, Dialectics o f Nature, p. 35. 14 Cf. Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law in Writings o f the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, Doubleday, New York, 1967, pp. 44ff. 15 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 137. z6 German Ideology, pp. 6-7. See also Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 136. An insightful discussion of Marx's method is found in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, (trans. by N. I. Stone), Charles H. Kerr, Chicago, 1907, pp. 267ff. 17 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 131. zs See Marxism and the Human Individual, pp. 139ff. 19 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 138. 2o Marxism and the Human Individual, p. 141. 21 Ibid., p. 142. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid., p. 143. 24 Ibid., p. 147. 2~ Ibid. 26 Ibid., p. 148. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., p. 151. 29 A similar interpretation of Marx's conception of freedom is adopted by John Sommerville, The Philosophy of Marxism, Random House, New York, 1967, p. 184. 2o Marxism and the Human Individual, p. 151. 31 .4 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 43. a2 Capital, p. 14. 3a Ibid., pp. 22-23. a4 See, e.g., German Ideology, pp. 13ff.; F. Engels' speech at Marx's funeral in Fromm's Marx's Coneept of Man, p. 158; a critical discussion of this question is found in S. Hook, From Hegel to Marx, The Humanities Press, New York, 1950, p. 39. 3~ See Capital, Charles Kerr, Chicago, 1906, III, p. 594. 86 The same view of freedom is held by Engels, ,4nti-Diihring, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow, 1959, p. 125. 37 Ibid., p. 192.