kortina.nyc / notes
16 Feb 2019 | by kortina

Marx // Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

I was just looking through some of the passages I had highlighted in Marx’s The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 as reference for an essay I’m working on about capitalism as the singularity and wanted to share some snippets here (both for others as well as for my own future reference — I find myself referencing my highlights from Hayek’s Road to Serfdom quite often, eg…).

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Work and religion as self alienation are about as far from the American dream / Protestant work ethic as you can get:

All these consequences are contained in the definition that the worker is related to the product of his labour as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes which he creates over-against himself, the poorer he himself — his inner world-becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. It is the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater this activity, the greater is the worker’s lack of objects. Whatever the product of his labour is, he is not. Therefore the greater this product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him; it means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.


What, then, constitutes the alienation of labour?

First, the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labour is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human heart, operates independently of the individual — that is, operates on him as an alien, divine or diabolical activity — in the same way the worker’s activity is not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.

As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions — eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.

Certainly eating, drinking, procreating, etc., are also genuinely human functions. But in the abstraction which separates them from the sphere of all other human activity and turns them into sole and ultimate ends, they are animal.

We have considered the act of estranging practical human activity, labour, in two of its aspects. (1) The relation of the worker to the product of labour as an alien object exercising power over him. This relation is at the same time the relation to the sensuous external world, to the objects of nature as an alien world antagonistically opposed to him. (2) The relation of labour to the act of production within the labour process. This relation is the relation of the worker to his own activity as an alien activity not belonging to him; it is activity as suffering, strength as weakness, begetting as emasculating, the worker’s own physical and mental energy, his personal life or what is life other than activity — as an activity which is turned against him, neither depends on nor belongs to him. Here we have self-estrangement, as we had previously the estrangement of the thing.

Private property compels every person toward “creating a new need in another, so as … to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of gratification and therefore economic ruin” — this is basically Marx on consumerism and marketing:

(7) We have seen what significance, given socialism, the wealth of human needs has, and what significance, therefore, both a new mode of production and a new object of production have: a new manifestation of the forces of human nature and a new enrichment of human nature. Under private property their significance is reversed: every person speculates on creating a new need in another, so as to drive him to a fresh sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence and to seduce him into a new mode of gratification and therefore economic ruin. Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need. The increase in the quantity of objects is accompanied by an extension of the realm of the alien powers to which man is subjected, and every new product represents a new potency of mutual swindling and mutual plundering. Man becomes ever poorer as man; his need for money becomes ever greater if he wants to overpower hostile being; and the power of his money declines exactly in inverse proportion to the increase in the volume of production: that is, his neediness grows as the power of money increases.

The need for money is therefore the true need produced by the modern economic system, and it is the only need which the latter produces. The quantity of money becomes to an ever greater degree its sole effective attribute: just as it reduces everything to its abstract form, so it reduces itself in the course of its own movement to something merely quantitative. Excess and intemperance come to be its true norm. Subjectively, this is even partly manifested in that the extension of products and needs falls into contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, refined, unnatural and imaginary appetites. Private property does not know how to change crude need into human need. Its idealism is fantasy, caprice and whim; and no eunuch flatters his despot more basely or uses more despicable means to stimulate his dulled capacity for pleasure in order to sneak a favour for himself than does the industrial eunuch — the producer — in order to sneak for himself a few pennies — in order to charm the golden birds out of the pockets of his Christianly beloved neighbours. He puts himself at the service of the other’s most depraved fancies, plays the pimp between him and his need, excites in him morbid appetites, lies in wait for each of his weaknesses — all so that he can then demand the cash for this service of love. (Every product is a bait with which to seduce away the other’s very being, his money; every real and possible need is a weakness which will lead the fly to the gluepot. General exploitation of communal human nature, just as every imperfection in man, is a bond with heaven — an avenue giving the priest access to his heart; every need is an opportunity to approach one’s neighbour under the guise of the utmost amiability and to say to him: Dear friend, I give you what you need, but you know the conditio sine qua non; you know the ink in which you have to sign yourself over to me; in providing for your pleasure, I fleece you.)

The machine weakens the human and make the human a machine:

Machine labour is simplified in order to make a worker out of the human being still in the making, the completely immature human being, the child — whilst the worker has become a neglected child. The machine accommodates itself to the weakness of the human being in order to make the weak human being into a machine.

Thrift is the worship of capital and estrangement of what is human:

Thus political economy — despite its worldly and wanton appearance — is a true moral science, the most moral of all the sciences. Self-denial, the denial of life and of all human needs, is its cardinal doctrine. The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public-house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save — the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour — your capital. The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life — the greater is the store of your estranged being. Everything which the political economist takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth; and all the things which you cannot do, your money can do. It can eat and drink, go to the dance hall and the theatre; it can travel, it can appropriate art, learning, the treasures of the past, political power — all this it can appropriate for you — it can buy all this for you: it is the true endowment. Yet being all this, it is inclined to do nothing but create itself, buy itself; for everything else is after all its servant. And when I have the master I have the servant and do not need his servant. All passions and all activity must therefore be submerged in avarice. The worker may only have enough for him to want to live, and may only want to live in order to have [enough].

More on capital’s dependence on consumerism:

*[I]t is precisely whim and caprice which determine production.** It forgets the “refined needs”; it forgets that t**here would be no production without consumption**; it forgets that as a result of competition production can only become more extensive and luxurious. It forgets that it is use that determines a thing’s value, and that fashion determines use. It wishes to see only “useful things” produced, but it forgets that production of too many useful things produces too large a useless population. Both sides forget that extravagance and thrift, luxury and privation, wealth and poverty are equal.*


You must make everything that is yours saleable, i.e., useful. If I ask the political economist: **Do I obey economic laws if I extract money by offering my body for sale, by surrendering it to another’s lust?** (The factory workers in France call the prostitution of their wives and daughters the xth working hour, which is literally correct.) — Or am I not acting in keeping with political economy if I sell my friend to the Moroccans? (And the direct sale of men in the form of a trade in conscripts, etc., takes place in all civilised countries.) — Then the political economist replies to me: You do not transgress my laws; but see what Cousin Ethics and Cousin Religion have to say about it. My political economic ethics and religion have nothing to reproach you with, but — But whom am I now to believe, political economy or ethics? **The ethics of political economy is acquisition, work, thrift, sobriety — but political economy promises to satisfy my needs. The political economy, of ethics is the opulence of a good conscience, of virtue, etc.; but how can I live virtuously if I do not live?** And how can I have a good conscience if I am not conscious of anything?

On the unity of labor and capital:

We have already seen how the political economist establishes the unity of labour and capital in a variety of ways: — (1) Capital is accumulated labour. (2) The purpose of capital within production — partly, reproduction of capital with profit, partly, capital as raw material (material of labour), and partly, as itself a working instrument (the machine is capital directly equated with labour) — is productive labour. (3) The worker is a capital. (4) Wages belong to costs of capital. (5) In relation to the worker, labour is the reproduction of his life-capital. (6) In relation to the capitalist, labour is an aspect of his capital’s activity.

The singularity:

Estrangement is manifested not only in the fact that my means of life belong to someone else, that my desire is the inaccessible possession of another, but also in the fact that everything is in itself something different from itself — that my activity is something else and that, finally (and this applies also to the capitalist), all is under the sway of inhuman power. There is a form of inactive, extravagant wealth given over wholly to pleasure, the enjoyer of which on the one hand behaves as a mere ephemeral individual frantically spending himself to no purpose, knows the slave-labour of others (human sweat and blood) as the prey of his cupidity, and therefore knows man himself, and hence also his own self, as a sacrificed and empty being. With such wealth the contempt of man makes its appearance, partly as arrogance and as the throwing-away of what can give sustenance to a hundred human lives, and partly as the infamous illusion that his own unbridled extravagance and ceaseless, unproductive consumption is the condition of the other’s labour and therefore of his subsistence. He knows the realisation of the essential powers of man only as the realisation of his own excesses, his whims and capricious, bizarre notions. This wealth which, on the other hand, again knows wealth as a mere means, as something that is good for nothing but to be annihilated and which is therefore at once slave and master, at once generous and mean, capricious, presumptuous, conceited, refined, cultured and witty — this wealth has not yet experienced wealth as an utterly alien power over itself: it sees in it, rather, only its own power, and not wealth but gratification [is its] final aim and end.

The victory of working capital:

The diminution in the interest on money, which Proudhon regards as the annulling of capital and as the tendency to socialise capital, is really and immediately, therefore, only a symptom of the total victory of working capital over extravagant wealth — i.e., the transformation of all private property into industrial capital. It is a total victory of private property over all those of its qualities which are still in appearance human, and the complete subjection of the owner of private property to the essence of private property — labour. To be sure, the industrial capitalist also takes his pleasures. He does not by any means return to the unnatural simplicity of need; but his pleasure is only a side-issue — recuperation — something subordinated to production: at the same time it is a calculated and, therefore, itself an economical pleasure. For he debits it to his capital’s expense-account, and what is squandered on his pleasure must therefore amount to no more than will be replaced with profit through the reproduction of capital. Pleasure is therefore subsumed under capital, and the pleasure-taking individual under the capital-accumulating individual, whilst formerly the contrary was the case. The decrease in the interest-rate is therefore a symptom of the annulment of capital only inasmuch as it is a symptom of the rule of capital in the process of perfecting itself — of the estrangement in the process of becoming fully-developed and therefore of hastening to its annulment. This is indeed the only way in which that which exists affirms its opposite.

Money transforms the real into imaginary and the imaginary into reality:

If I have no money for travel, I have no need — that is, no real and self-realising need — to travel. If I have the vocation for study but no money for it, I have no vocation for study — that is, no effective, no true vocation. On the other hand, if I have really no vocation for study but have the will and the money for it, I have an effective vocation for it. Being the external, common medium and faculty for turning an image into reality and reality into a mere image (a faculty not springing from man as man or from human society as society), money transforms the real essential powers of man and nature into what are merely abstract conceits and therefore imperfections — into tormenting chimeras — just as it transforms real imperfections and chimeras — essential powers which are really impotent, which exist only in the imagination of the individual — into real powers and faculties.

He who can buy bravery is brave, though a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every property for every other, even contradictory, property and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.

Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically-cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return — that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a loved person, then your love is impotent — a misfortune.

Marx’s foresight is truly remarkable. I cannot recommend highly enough The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

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