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Transcription of Moishe Postone's Capital Lectures: Lecture 1

Updated: May 21, 2021

Link to lecture: Moishe Postone Capital Class 1 - YouTube

Lecture 1: Introduction

The readings I asked you to do for today are really, sort of preparatory for Capital. What I want to do, on the basis of these readings, is sort of establish initially, or the initial plausibility, of the kind of interpretation I am going to be presenting. Now, once again, as I said last time, I’m not interested in Marx the person. I’m also not treating this as an intellectual historian might, which is to say, to look at the corpus of Marx’s writings to see if there are inner tensions in the work. What I’m trying to do, is take the critique of political economy, and try and, on its most fundamental level, reestablish it as a social theory – a social theory that could have contemporary relevance. So my intention is not contemplative – you know, Marx torn between the implications of his analysis and his revolutionary impulses with regard to various movements of the time, for example. I’m going to try to render plausible to you that Capital should be seen as a foundational text of critical social theory. We are not going to be dealing with it as a positive theory of economics. It also in my view is sociologically reductionist to understand it first and foremost in terms of class struggle (and I’ll try and make that plausible too). I’m going to try to view it, as I mentioned last time, as a critical and reflexive theory of social mediation (I hope that will become more meaningful to you as a term as we move along) – a theory that would be adequate to the character and dynamic of modern society. Now when I use the word critical, I mean not only criticisms of the existing distribution of wealth, power, and knowledge, but of the structure and nature of modern social life itself. The theory (I will try to argue) is not a universal theory of human being in the world, but is a theory of the specificity of modern society. It seeks to ground, rather than simply describe, what is fundamental to modern social life in a set of historically specific social forms. The idea of the impossibility of historical transformation is very closely tied to the idea of a historical dynamic, and what I’m going to be trying to argue is that Marx’s theory of capitalism is not intended as a snapshot that gives you a picture of modern capitalist society, but rather places really at the center of modernity a kind of a dynamic. And, as I try to argue with you, by the time we reach the book Capital, history is no longer something presupposed, but is something explained.

At the same time (and this is something that Marx was working toward), the theory understands itself as reflexive. That is given the fundamental presupposition that people are molded by their historical context, a theory can only be consistent if it can regard itself as part of its context. That is, it is illegitimate for a theory to regard itself as one of historical context where it itself (the theory itself) is outside of all context. So it calls into question the validity of any theory that purports to have transhistorical validity – and in a sense, would characterize all such theories as metaphysical.

I think that might be good enough, just to get us started. What I think I’d like to do today, we have a huge amount to go through. I think if we put all the reports on the table and then tried to go through it we would just end up with a goulash. I would like to have report-discussion, report-discussion, report-discussion. That, in part, will depend of course on the self-discipline of the rapporteurs.

We are going to being with the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Then we will move to the Theses on Feuerbach and the German Ideology. Then we will move to the Communist Manifesto. And finally, we read some selections of the Grundrisse that I think are absolutely essential as a key to Capital. We may not reach the Grundrisse today (being slightly realistic).

The Economic and Philisophic Manuscripts of 1844

Let’s see if we can begin tickling out what might be ontological and what might not be. Where I’d like to start, I think, is at the beginning. As was mentioned in the report, it begins with a critique of political economy, or of political economists, right? So, at the beginning of the manuscript that we have, we’ve proceeded from the premise of political economy. Why is this important? What is he (Marx) not doing?

Student: He’s not describing the categories as if he really believed in these categories but he just took these presuppositions for the sake of argument. So, he’s laying out these categories, he’s not talking about the categories as if they were his categories and they were reflecting or expressing what society is.

Ah, let’s take this last part: “it expresses what society is.” There is a kind of a double movement here that I think people should be aware of. He is not dismissing Adam Smith, David Ricardo, et al. He is not saying, “don’t pay any attention to these guys because basically all they’re doing is they are constituting some sort of fig leaf for the bosses.” He is also not saying you can ignore it because they are… whatever other attribute (dead, white, men), “just forget about it”. That doesn’t mean that he begins with the categories. Later he’s going to say that he’s going to critique it immanently, because what he does in the first paragraph is he says, “I began with their categories and I showed how if you develop those categories, you’re going to come to conclusions which are the opposite of what they posited.” So, that’s fine. Is this just to score a debating point or is there a larger point that he is implying by saying, “You should begin with the categories of political economy.”? Why?

Student: Because they are based on real observations of the current context.

He seems to be suggesting that. He seems to be suggesting that there is something about political economy that actually does… not grasp because it doesn’t do it self-consciously, but let’s say reflects contemporary reality. It’s not just made up… however, it’s not good enough. But, this should be a point of departure because the political economists have really got a hold of something which actually is salient, is relevant, does describe modern society. However, ultimately, what does he say in the first two pages about political economy? How does he characterize it? Ultimately it is…?

Students: Inadequate, contradictory.

Inadequate, but in what way…? It’s descriptive. It takes for granted what it should explain, he says. And this is, in part, because there is a very important dimension that is being elided. So when he says, for example that (I’m at the top of page 71 in the Marx Engels Reader:

“Precisely because political economy does not grasp the connections within the movement, it was possible to counterpose for instance, the doctrine of competition to the doctrine of monopoly.”

Let’s unpack just those three lines. Let’s start on a very simple level, what is he saying about competition and monopoly?

Student: That they are in fact not to be counterposed?

That they’re related, right? If you look just at the surface, they’re really different from one another: competition we’ve got all of these little Ma and Pa stores, in monopoly you’ve got U.S. Steel or whatever. Why doesn’t political economy see they are related (according to Marx)? What does it mean that it “doesn’t grasp the connections within the movement”? Let’s translate that into other language. What is being left out? How are competition and monopoly related according to Marx? I don’t mean a sophisticated theory…

Student: Temporally?

Temporally! Competition over time generates monopoly. So, what is being left out if you just counterpose them? Time. The temporal dimension is being left out. So, what you have are your “types” and that remains purely descriptive, because you can only see the ways in which they are or are not connected if you view things temporally. So, his first statement about political economy is that they’re good descriptively, they’re bad analytically and they’re bad analytically because they don’t have an adequate sense of the temporal development of things (this is, of course, very general).

Ok, now just moving along, then he hits us with alienation. You know and everything is alienation. And without going through alienation A, alienation B, alienation C… let’s just look at the beginning and try and figure out: what does he mean by alienation? He counterposes it, in the bottom paragraph of page 71, to something that he calls objectification and it’s a very difficult paragraph because he’s writing notes to himself… Because he’s talking about two things and it looks like he’s talking about all the same thing. What is objectification? This is a notion, of course, that he has from Hegel. Do any of you know what objectification is? It’s not (incidentally) the way objectification has becomes used in recent decades: that you treat somebody else as an object. This is not what it means here…

Student: That the subject is realized through an object. That it is able to understand itself only through…

It understands itself through an object… yeah, let’s go to a prior level.

Student: A prior level… huh.


Student: It externalizes itself.

It externalizes itself. OK, now let’s put some meat on that. What does it mean “it externalizes itself”?

Student: It understands the separation between itself and…

[Interrupts] Before it understands what is it doing? Before it understands a thing, what is it doing? Let me put it this way. You are a… young Michael Jordan, throwing hoops a thousand times every night. What are you doing (when you are doing this)?

Student: Training. Creating your capacity as a basketball player.

Ahh. On the one hand, you are making the hoops, as it were… (“making”) right? On the other hand, what you’re making is yourself as a basketball player. When you play music, when you practice music, you aren’t only playing the music. You’re creating the music; you also are creating yourself as the maker of the music. You are creating yourself as the musician.

The idea with objectification is that you do not have a stable subject that then creates objects. But rather, it’s the primacy of praxis –I mean the word is banded about and it means a hundred million things and it has almost quasi-sacred significance but here, praxis is what creates subject and object, it’s Hegel’s way of getting beyond Cartesian dualism. Right so it’s the primacy of the practice that creates both the object and the subject. So the subject and the object, in a sense, are co-constituted – it’s not a subject that constitutes an object or a subject constituted by an object.

Now, whether we go to Michael Jordan or we go to your favorite musician this notion of objectification is positively valorized. And what it does really; its praxis constituting human mastery is what it’s doing. If objectification an und für sich (in and of itself) generates mastery and, in a sense, generates humanness (which is something that he will then bring in) what is alienation? What happens with alienation?

Skipped answer from student

Ok, so there is something about alienation which is the same activity as is involved in objectification. But for whatever reason, how everyone understands it, the more that activity proceeds, the more what is created has mastery over the creator. So that, as he put it:

"Labor’s realisation is its objectification"

So we switch over to the side of objectification, what is involved is realization. Not self-realization in the sense of the realization of something which was always-already there, but rather it is the realization of a potential, that becomes realized. Now there are nice words in German that you can’t translate into English, so when it says in the next sentence (I’m on the last two lines of 71):

"In the conditions dealt with in political economy (i.e. modern capitalism) this realization of labour appears as loss of reality for the worker."

It would be closer to say derealization. It’s the negative of realization. So when we’re talking about, not to put too fine a point on it, self-generated domination, people are dominated by what they themselves create, by their object – what does this mean? What is the object? We only get a hint of it here, in the next paragragh. It’s not the widget that you’re making – you make widgets all day and you’re dominated by widgets. I mean you may have bad dreams about widgets, but you’re not really dominated by widgets.

Student: Could it be like labor itself because I was thinking about the analogy like if labour is the basketball player [Postone laughs] its realization is its objectification so like at the end of the process what you have is this labor itself.

OK. But we’ve got to find another word for it. You’re right. You‘re right, but he has another word for it. I’d like you to look at –I mean, it’s important to read words – look at the last word of the first full paragragh on page 72. What does he say?

Student: Caaa

Say it!

Student: Capital

Capital! [Reading from abovementioned area of the text]

“So much does the appropriation of the object appear as estrangement, that the more objects the worker produces the fewer can he possess and the more he falls under the dominion of his product – capital.”

So... we don’t know what capital is at this point, we really don’t. We’re not sure that he knows what it is! But it’s a term that he’s giving to whatever it is that is constitued by labour, that dominates labour itself. So the story of domination in capitalism is one of self-generated domination. The book Capital will be an attempt to unpack all of this... OK?

Now, the word “private property” is used in ambiguous ways in this manuscript. When he first uses it and directly addresses it in the first manuscript, he makes very clear that private property should be distinguished from alienation. Later, he gets sloppy and he uses it as a synonym. Now, why should private property ­– he says in the text that alienation is not grounded in private property. This is a major break, avant la lettre, with most Marxism. The worker’s labor is not alienated because the capitalist owns it. It’s not – that’s not the ultimate ground of alienation. He claims, on the contrary, private property is grounded in alienation. We’re not sure what alienation means at this point. But what differnce does it make? Is this just sort of like late late scholasticism? Is there any point in saying,”private property grounds alienation? No – alienation grounds private property.” So what? I mean, continue to go down the manuscript, where does he turn? To his favourite French socialist Proudhon, who is the dominant socialist thinker of the 1840s (when Marx is writing). Proudhon writes a very well-known tract called “Property is Theft”. Now, Marx claims (Aw, I skipped species-being, I’ll have to come back to that), I’m on page 79... sorry. What does he say towards the bottom of that page?

Student: That wages and private property are identical?

That wages and private property are identical. Yes, that’s what he says. Let’s try and make sense of that. Right, what seems to be opposed... He starts with a kind of opposition, right? After 1 in brackets, in parenthesis he says:

“Political economy starts from labour as the real soul of production, yet to labour gives nothing and to private property everything. From this contradiction Proudhon has concluded in favour of labor and against private property. We understand however, that this apparent contradiction is a contradiction of estranged labor with itself.”

Could someone please help decipher this? There’s an opposition: private property, labor. Political economy, purportedly, takes the side of private property, Proudhon says, “I’m going to take the side of labor.” So…?

Student: [unintelligible answer]

Right, in other words the opposition between private property and labour itself is embedded in a larger structure – it doesn’t exhaust the universe of possibilities. It itself is within a larger structure which is constituted (he claims) by something he is calling alienated labor. Now on a practical level, what that means is (as he says at the top of the next page) it’s not an issue simply of raising wages. That isn’t really getting to the heart of the problem. Why not? I mean people would be better off if you raised their wages…

Student: Because the wage is the problem because labor is not an end in itself.

[Video skips]

OK… So, is it, if we move down one paragraph, is it that, well, the workers may get higher wages, but the CEOs are getting 500 times as much? What does he say in the following paragraph?

Student: [Begins quietly]


Student: It’s not an argument about equality per se but increasing the wages of the worker wouldn’t change the fundamental dynamic that’s produced in this opposition between labour and private property.

It doesn’t touch the structural dimension, none of which we really know about, right? At this point we can just see what he’s trying to get at, we don’t know what this structure is. But when he refers at the top of (uh) the first line of the second paragraph, “even the equality of wages demanded by Proudhon,” do you know what equality of wages meant as demanded by Proudhon? Is it just that all industrial workers should have the same wage? …You don’t know? …Anyway, Proudhon had this idea that everyone in society should have the same wage: the industrial worker; the doctor; the manager; the professor; everybody should just have the same wage. You have equality of wages, you don’t have class difference, everybody has the same wage. So, is this a good thing according to Marx?


You could tell from my question [laughter breaks out]. But elaborate, what does he say? Cause it’s very interesting. What does he say in that paragraph? Why is it not a good thing?

Student: Society is then conceived as an abstract capitalist.

Society is then conceived as an abstract capitalist. Now… I don’t get it… If everybody has the same wage, and Marx still says, “what you’re going to have is capitalism”, what does that mean capitalism is not (for Marx)?

Student: Inequality of wealth?

It’s not inequality of wealth and it’s not private ownership. You could conceivably abolish private ownership and you’d still have capitalism. That’s what he’s saying in these manuscripts. It’s up to us to try and figure out in the next few weeks what this could possibly mean. So, this is much more an arrow, pointing us in the right direction, than a real analysis.

Student: Private ownership would be different from private property, right? Private property would be the actual existence of a structure of alienated labor.

No, I meant private property as private ownership.

Student: Right.

Right? In other words, what he’s really saying is a) he said on the page before alienation is not a function of the fact that some individuals own the factories, rather than the factories being owned by everybody. That’s not enough. B) even if you were to take away the factories from everybody and pay everybody the same wage, the politburo gets no more than everybody else, you still (for him) have capitalism. So we’ve got to try and figure out what capitalism means for Marx, but it seems to be related to his notion of alienation, and it seems as if he really thinks this notion of alienation isn’t just a humanistic idea, but it is an analytic to get hold of the essence of capitalism. So this isn’t just (sort of) icing on the cake of what we all know about Marx. We know that it’s against the bourgeoisie, and now let’s just sort of… sexy it up a little [laughter] philosophically – it’s not that.

Student: In light of that claim, how do you explain the 3rd paragraph [video skips]

He says that the beaver can only modify one kind of nature, right? Humans, have the capacity to modify many kinds of nature. In other words, human labor is not pre-programmed – it’s a capacity that isn’t pre-programmed. The protean character of human labour has allowed humans over time, and that’s what I wanted to suggest, over time, to live almost anywhere; to wear almost anything and of course, to eat almost anything. Now, I think it’s legitimate to view this as ontological, but I think there’s also another possible reading, which is that it’s a capacity that points to a potential, and it’s something that’s constituted over time, which is what he also does with the senses. So, I think there is this notion that really what he’s referring to is the capacity that has evolved as potential, and then he’s setting up a contrast. See there are two ways, it seems to me, that you can read this (the critique of labour in capitalism against the notion of species-being) one is that this is truly human nature and therefore that capitalism is a perversion of human nature. That’s one reading, which I think is not implausible here. There’s another reading that I think is a little more interesting, which is that capitalism literally generates this huge leap in universality and at the same time, constricts it incredibly narrowly… so that the life of the species and the life of the individual become very opposed to one another. And my association to that is… one of you read this passage where he talks about how working socially doesn’t necessarily mean working communally (pache the cultural revolution). But rather, he says, when I am working scientifically, even if I am alone at my desk or in my lab, I am working socially. Now, how can he say that?

[Video skips]

What he’s trying to talk about there I think – and of course, these are very rough manuscripts – what he’s trying to talk about is a notion of the richness of individual labor being, in some respects, commensurate to the richness of society as a whole, instead of being its narrowed presupposition. Where society as a whole is rich (and I don’t just mean you know, there are lots of iPods), is rich, is variegated and for most people what they do is astonishingly narrow and the one is the condition of the other. And he’s saying, that isn’t always necessarily going to have to be the case – that it is conceivable that you could have a situation where what you do as an individual is commensurate to that wealth of society, rather than being its narrowed presupposition. I think he’s playing with this idea and the notion of alienation, but right now they’re not tied – they’re not really tied.

[To student] Yes?

Student: I’m not quite clear on the difference between the two plausible accounts you gave – the one that you favor and the one that is more tied to something about the human essence or something. I don’t see that they’re completely in contradiction where maybe the second one jut gives a richer account of some of the ways that that works out.

…One would argue that human always – that labor was always this rich and it’s just that under capitalism it’s become narrow. And the other would argue, that not only was labor not always this way but that it is a potential that has been developing historically and the condition for its development is simply that labor is unbounded. Labor as an activity has no pre-given form­ unlike, you know, what a beaver does or what a bee does or what anybody else does… even racoons [laughter].

Student: They’re very smart.

They are very smart… and they can grasp [makes grasping motion with hand] [more laughter].

We could spend the rest of the hour easily (and the next) on the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts so we’re going to have to truncate a bit. I just want to point out a few other dimensions to you. He draws this analogy between… when he goes against Proudhon, who he accuses actually of generalizing private property (even though you’ve abolished private ownership of the means of production). He then also draws an analogy to some of the so-called utopian socialists of the 1840s (the 1840s were a little like the 1960s, you have communes and everybody’s waiting for the revolution and it’s a time of great ferment). Right, so there are all sorts of groups that are talking about abolishing bourgeois marriage, because what bourgeois marriage does is it just makes the women the property of her husband. And his critique is, if you look carefully at what most of them want, they want women to be the property of men – not singular private property they’re just generalizing. In other words, what they’re not doing, is they’re not changing what is fundamental, which is the woman as object. And the question of woman as object isn’t simply a function of whether the woman is the object of one, or of many – moving against the singular just doesn’t do it. It’s just not sufficient.

And then he talks about (and its the first time I believe in the manuscript he talks about) human need, where he talks about the need for another person as a person. So the idea is the need for the other as a subject. And this begins (slowly) to also point in the direction of a non-ascetic critique of needs. In other words, the critique isn’t of, people are just slaves to their needs and you know, if everyone would just lead a much simpler life, it would be a more virtuous life and what you have to do is separate yourself from the temptations of this world.“ But rather, it has to do with whether the need is constituting of the person, or emptying of the person.

When he moves on to the issue of consumption in the latter part of this manuscript, he distinguishes between what he calls „appropriating“ and „having“. Do you remember this section? Because there is actually something in common between that opposition and the opposition at the beginning between objectification and alienation. What’s the difference between appropriating and having? For Marx, writing at the grand old age of...

Student: 26

26... very talented graduate student [laughter].

Student: Quantitative versus qualitative distinction.

[Nods] Quantitative versus qualitative.

[Video Skips]

By the end of the manuscript, what you have are a series of oppositions that he has set up between objectification and alienation, appropriation and possession, subject and object, enriching and impoverishing, self-constituting and self-generated dependency which also lines up with qualitative and quantitative. The notion of development that he has suggested comes out most clearly when he talks about the natural sciences (and this is something that he’ll develop at greater length later on). He talks about the natural sciences have transformed (this is on page 90):

"have transformed human life practically. They have, on the one hand, prepared for human emancipation, on the other hand, they have consumated dehumanization.“

So it is neither a position that argues that you just push science forward in its existing form, nor is it a position that rejects science per se as in some way distancing people from themselves. But rather it is at both one and the same time something which prepares the condition of emancipation and yet it has consummated dehumanization. So that the possibility of transformation is given, even as it’s being constrained. And this motif is one that is going to continue all the way through. And it’s his way of getting beyond a linear historical development on the one hand, or a romantic rejection of historical development on the other.

I think that’s all I have to say about the manuscript.

Theses on Feuerbach

What people are (as he puts it) is a function of what they produce and how they produce. So “what they are”… give me a more general kind of statement that this would be making…

Student: Basically, history and, you know, what constitutes people’s lives individually and collectively is predicated upon their material lives, which in turn is predicated upon what people produce… you know, where they fit in the productive system.

Is it just what they produce?

Student: How they produce it, what the relations of production are…

OK… it’s the relations as well, right?

Student: But the relations are predicated upon the actual means of production, like technologically…

Does he say that?

Student: Doesn’t he?

[Postone smiles]

Student: I mean doesn’t he say somewhere that the relations of production are predicated on the technological state of production? And when you have…

[Postone interrupts] He talks about stages of development of production and communication… Which already gets you two different axes.

I want to suggest that this is simply a sketch to make a point that has to do with his polemic against the young Hegelians. He’s basically arguing, it seems to me, that there is no such thing as a decontextualized human. If there’s no such thing as a decontextualized human, then there’s no such thing as a decontextualized theory. You’ll notice what he does is, he begins by saying, after he does this swipe against the young Hegelians and then he says that um…. It’s possible to distinguish humans from animals in a myriad of different ways. They themselves distinguish themselves from animals through their productive activity. This comes back to the one hand, to this notion of praxis that we had before – right, that people are constituting themselves and they’re constituting their contexts. He then goes on, after he gives a sort of thumbnail sketch of a variety of contexts, he comes back to say:

The fact is therefore that definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way [it shouldn’t be definite, it should be determinate, and its page 154] enter into these determinate social and political relations.

It’s a statement about context. Now what does this have to do with the young Hegelians? He then goes on to say, that at first, ideas are directly interwoven with material activity, and then historically you get more and more of a separation. However, this is, I think, a very important sentence, if you look at page 154 – the last complete sentence of the second last paragraph, he says:

If in all ideology, men and their circumstances appear upside down, as if in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life process.”

What’s he saying?

[Student answer skipped]

OK, let’s leave the word natural aside for a second, OK? But it’s understandable that they see it this way. In other words, if the young Hegelians (according to Marx) have it backwards when they say consciousness determines being… If you’re going to claim (as Marx does) that people and therefore theories have to be understood with reference to their context, then the young Hegelians “getting it backwards”, you have to be able to explain it with reference to their context. It’s not simply a matter of saying:

“They’ve got it wrong. They’re a bunch of idealists.”

You have to render plausible the possibility of this form of thought with reference to their context. At this point, this is a programmatic statement. He takes a few stabs at it in the course of the German Ideology. I’m not convinced that he succeeds. Now, there’s a corollary to this. If you’re going to claim as he does here, that theories, conceptions, ideas, have to be understood with reference to their context, and if you’re going to say that the idea of the young Hegelians itself can be understood contextually, what else are you going to have to be able to show?

Student: Your own [inaudible]

[Nodding] You have to be able to show the possibility of your own theory. Once you have this kind of theory, it’s illegitimate to say… not only that the young Hegelians are, you know, stupid – they don’t understand the concept – but you cannot say:

“The young Hegelians are contextual but I, Karl Marx, am the world historical spirit floating above everything [faint laughter] and I’m free of context.”

Can’t do that. So for the theory to be able to go through, it has to be able to account both for the positions it’s criticizing and for itself. He makes a few stabs [at this] along the way.

When I said he tries a stab at things, so he tries (as far as I’m concerned) a crude but beginning stab at how could people think that ideas are independent? Do you remember there is a section…? It is on page 159:

“Division of labor only becomes truly such from the moment when the division of material and mental labor appears.”

What does he give, in the footnote, as an example? When does a division of material and mental labor appear?

Students: Priests. Church. Priests.

Priests. Why is this a division of mental and material labor? …Why is it a division of labor at all?

Student: [inaudible]

Right. There is a division of labor. You’re an Egyptian priest, you’re a Mesopotamian priest – you are developing a calendar. The calendar is absolutely crucial for the peasantry, because the calendar is going to tell you when the Nile is going to overflow… or when it’s going get so hot in the summer in Mesopotamia that you can’t possibly grow anything. So it is a kind of a division of labor I mean, you know, priests are also astronomers – they are in charge of time. However, he’s just (and he’s only suggesting this)… the fact that they aren’t (unless, you know, you are some monk in the 6th century during the dark ages working your garden)… they actually are not supporting themselves physically. So it becomes possible (this is a stab on his part) for those who are engaged in mental activity to imagine that ideas have nothing to do with anything else. The ideas reflect the true, the good, the beautiful.

OK… But what about… then you have people who say[wagging his finger], “This isn’t good. What exists isn’t good.” You know, like Socrates making a real pain of himself in the Agora, (until they finally got rid of him) you know, button-holing everybody, “What is justice?” The prophets coming up to the Kings and saying, “You’ve sinned.” And then running out to the desert because they were gonna get killed. So these aren’t exactly affirmative, they’re critical. So what does he try to suggest here (and this will come indirectly back, I think, to your point [pointing to student]. How can Socrates or Elijah, be part of the society and be critical of it?

Student: Contradiction?

[Nods] That’s what he says, right? It only works if you don’t think of society as a perfect sphere – as a unitary whole. But rather, if there are ideas that are opposed to what (apparently) is dominant, that can only be (according to Marx) if there is some underlying non-identity in the society. So that critical ideas express some… let’s call it non-identity… let’s call it contradiction, that exists. So, the word contradiction here (whatever it means) has an extremely important epistemological significance for Marx because contradiction is the condition of possibility of critique. As we’ll see, we’ll go much further than that. But… this (you’ll notice) is described in extremely general terms.

[Student Question Skips]

Very quickly. If ideas are contextual, you have to be able to… and this is programmatic.. you have to be able to a) explain the people you’re arguing against whether they are Adam Smith, the young Hegelians or Proudhon, b) you have to be able to outline the conditions of possibility of your criticism. And this is made explicit again in the Theses on Feuerbach.

[Looks to student]

Were you going to say something?

Student: No

OK. Now, very briefly… this famous passage on the division of labor ­– you should be able to be a shepherd in the morning, a fisherman in the afternoon, a young Hegelian in the evening (that’s critical critic in the evening). So Marx, what he actually has in mind is sort of like a hippy commune? This is his notion of liberation? Let’s all go to Northern California in 1968?

Student: [Makes joke]

[Postone laughs] What is the point here? With the vision of labor and, you know, fisherman, shepherd, hunter, critical critic…

Student: Does it come back to the idea that the essence of [video skips]

So, division of labor, the problem with, or a problem here with the division of labor is that each person is slotted, right – that they’re slotted so that you have an opposition of the whole and the individual. He’ll develop this much further but, at this point, he begins to use the language of alienation again (as you [student] pointed out). And at this point also, he says that for something like this to change… what? He has 2 conditions… on page 161…

Student: The conditions must become intolerable…

The conditions must become intolerable for…?

Student: The great masses many.

OK. The conditions have to be such that the majority find it intolerable. B? [asking about the second condition]

Student: The productive forces that gained those conditions in turn will need to be pushed to ensure…

You need a high level of productivity, otherwise…

Student: People won’t know what’s involved.

Otherwise, all you’re doing is generalize want. So, it’s not just a matter of masses moving. The conditions have to be such that you can reasonably talk about division of labor, abolition of division of labor. And he (clearly) at this point is not talking about returning to some pre-industrial society. And that’s going to be a puzzle, what does it mean to have a high level of productivity and be able to abolish the division of labor? At this point it’s a conundrum.

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