Lecture 2: Finishing Theses on Feuerbach, Communist Manifesto and Beginning Selections from the Grundrisse
Theses on Feuerbach (cont.)
Just as a review, again what you have is an opposition that he’s trying to overcome. In this case it’s the opposition between materialism and idealism. He does not take the side of materialism, even if he calls his own theory materialist, it’s materialist in a very different sense. The way he puts it, materialism understands that people are the product of circumstances… but they have no conception of the active side – of peopleas subjects. Idealism focuses really on the active side, abstracted away from the real world. Each [materialism and idealism] is one-sided and you can’t simply bring them together – you have to beyond them, in a way that incorporates both. And what we’ve done is we’re back, on a slightly different level, to this issue that I (earlier) formulated as that between structure and action. So that, this becomes quite explicit in, I think it’s the 3rd theses, where he talks about that, in criticizing materialism he says that, “materialists understand that people are the product of circumstances, but they forget that people change circumstances also.” And then he adds, “and its important to educate the educator.” Now, this isn’t just a pedagogical statement, it’s an epistemological one. The educator (presumably the social critic) has to be able to understand themselves with reference to their circumstance and if they can understand themselves with reference to their circumstance, they can also understand the conditions of possibility of transformation. What Marx is doing is, he is intrinsically linking the possibility of a critical theory of society and the possibility of its transformation. Grounding, you’re trying to ground both, and they’re related to one another. They’re not identical, but they’re interrelated. He then, in discussing Feuerbach a little further he also emphasizes the importance of a very determinate kind of social analysis. He says, “Feuerbach claims that religion is a projection of what exists in this world. It projects into the heavens what is really worldly.” Marx doesn’t disagree, but he says, “this is really insufficient.” It’s not enough to to say that, what you have to do is, you have to able to explain what is it about this world that’s generative of that kind of projection. So you see, he’s putting a lot of demands on himself.
Are people following what I’m trying to say? [Looks around] OK. He also is very critical of Feuerbach (though not only Feuerbach) for speaking about the human individual out of time and place – talking about the essence of the human. Now, to go back one step, you recall when Marx is discussing species-being in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, one of the ways in which he characterizes human labor is that it has no pre-given form – human labor is protean. And he draws this contrast between human labor and the activities of various animals that are in their own ecological niche (as it were) – they can’t really shift gears completely, the way humans can. And it’s this non-givenness of human labor that allows humans to interact with the world in ways that are much more (he uses the word) universal than any other species. And this is because, precisely because, labor is not pre-given. So, in a sense, there is no given human nature… humans make themselves. Here we have a slight variation on that, where in this thesis on Feuerbach himself, he says, “what Feuerbach claims is the human essence is actually the ensemble of social relations”. So, we have two discourses, and we’re going to see that for him (or I will try to make plausible) those are two sides of the same thing – the protean character of labor and the idea that humans, the human essence, is the ensemble of human relations. Which means, there is no transhistorical human essence (other than the fact that there is none). So, in other words, the abstract individual whom Feuerbach analyses belongs to a particular form of society… OK?
And I think at this point, I think… we can move on.
The Communist Manifesto
The next reading is the Communist Manifesto… which um… I think can be very misleading and was written, of course, as a pamphlet, as a revolutionary pamphlet on the eve of the revolutions of 1848 as you may or may not know, following this tremendous period of ferment in the 1840s all of Europe exploded in 1848. Like, there are revolutions in every country I believe with the exception of the UK where there is a charter presented to parliament, signed by millions of workers, it’s a chartist movement [smiles]… I’m being a little unfair but uh…. On the one hand, Britain doesn’t have a revolution in 1848. On the other hand, London actually does serve as a refuge for all the revolutionaries after the revolutionaries have been crushed everywhere in Europe, you know the Germans, some of the French, the Russians, they’re there in London. So it’s not revolutionary but it’s kind of liberal, certainly compared to the rest of Europe. Marx, you know, just gets himself a desk at the British Museum, and starts to do serious research.
It’s written as a polemic – it’s brilliant as a polemic. It also loses much of the apparatus I’ve been trying to build up. So there’s a problem here. But in the meantime, before we get to the problem, let’s see what this pamphlet does and does not do. What does it do in the first few pages? Or if you reach by negation, what does it not do in the first few pages?
Student: It doesn’t list the offences of the bourgeoisie.
It doesn’t list the offences of the bourgeoisie. It is the case, as you pointed out [looking to student] that the 1840s (or the hungry 40s), it is the case that in various places you have mass starvation in Europe…literally. But you notice, they don’t talk about it. And that’s important, not because they’re indifferent to it, but let’s try and see what this, as a political pamphlet, what it does do and it doesn’t do. That is, it does not begin by saying the bourgeoisie are thieves and murderers, look at how many people are starving in Ireland or (?), or in any other places. It doesn’t start that way. Why not? How does it start? What point are they trying to make? So it’s not an exposé, yah…?
Student: It starts with acknowledging the achievements of the bourgeoisie…
It gets there by about the 3rd page, but before we get to the 3rd page, how does it begin?
It’s history, right? It begins with history. “All history is the history of class struggle.” This is going to be modified later, but we’ll leave that aside. However, after a very short introductory paragraph in which it says that class struggle has been very simplified in the modern period, you don’t have the messiness of Roman Society, where does he go from there? I mean, let’s look at the text, where does he go?
Student: The origins of the bourgeoisie.
The origins of the bourgeoisie. So, he goes into the historical rise of the bourgeoisie. And that rise, at first (and they do this with a few very brief brushstrokes but it’s quite masterful) how do the bourgeoisie arise? According to the story that we get here…
Student: Out of the antagonisms of feudal society?
No, he doesn’t say that. And it’s very interesting – he does not say that! What does he start with?
Student: Doesn’t he say that is arises out of what ruined feudal society?
I know but what ruined feudal society?
The rounding of the cape…?
Student: He starts with the global expansion.
He starts with the global expansion. And, there can be an argument made (that I don’t want to get into right now) that that global expansion is contingent. It actually has a lot to do with the rivalry among Italian city states… I think Giovanni Origi showed this very well in The Long 20th Century because the eastern Mediterranean was completely under the control of the Venetians. Who then were getting all the trade from Asia, right? The trade from Asia would come to the Levant, the Venetian boats would then transport it to Europe. The Genoese were not happy about this. The Genoese bankrolled the Iberians, the Portuguese, and the Spanish. It is no accident, as they used to say, that Columbus is Genoese, he doesn’t just happen to be Genoese. These are the people who bankrolled the Spanish and the Portuguese because they’re trying to smash the Venetian dominance of the eastern Mediterranean. And in fact, they do – they do. Within a few years after the Portuguese establish themselves in India, we have the collapse really of Egypt as an entrepot between east and west (some would argue that this is the condition for the Turks being able to take over Egypt) and in the meantime the Portuguese and the Spanish are off and flying and Venice settles into a very long decay.
Be that as it may, the way it is presented here is you have this global expansion of Europe that reacts back on production in the metropole. The guild system cannot keep pace with this, so you begin to circumvent the guild system etc. Then, production continues to grow, you have manufacturing, that falls apart and finally you get industrialization. You’ll notice that these are – you have this kind of – although it’s done in very brief brushstrokes, what you do not have is just a linear development of production. What you have is an expansion which comes into conflict with existing institutions, which then crumble in the face of that. You get new institutions which are adequate to that, the expansion continues, those new institutions crumble. There’s a political dimension to this, in other words, politics, in a sense, follows this kind of economic development. That’s what they’re suggesting here, right? So that on the 2nd and 3rd page you get a political history of the bourgeoisie. First you have the economic history in 2 pages, the political history of the bourgeoisie begins – runaway serfs in the cities – then the three communes in the cities against the nobility, you know the pikemen fighting against the nobility. Then, the sort of secret partners of the absolute monarchy, right because the absolute monarchy… what made Louis the 14th able to field the largest army that Europe had seen since the Romans was the fact that he wasn’t relying of a feudal army anymore, and he wasn’t relying on a feudal army because there’s a de facto alliance between the communes and the monarchy, right? With the aristocracy kind of caught in the middle, right? They give them generalships in the armies, they’re no longer the feudal lords – they have to spend their time in Versailles looking silly and they can go as generals into war. Finally, according to this narrative, the bourgeoisie take power. But it’s very interesting at this point. How does he characterize society once the bourgeoisie take power? So, they’re living off the fat end of the land? I mean, the aristocracy had theirs and now the bourgeoisie will have theirs… Yes? No? Maybe? Is that what he talks about? I mean they are living off the fat end of the land, is that what he is worries about? [Points to student] Yes?
Student: He’s emphasizing…
What he emphasizes is the dynamism of bourgeois society, right? And in a sense, once they’re doing this (this is kind of a side point) they’re no longer talking about class in a narrow sense, cause that dynamism isn’t simply that the bourgeoisie really have a lot of energy and they move a lot and they have an entrepreneurial consciousness – he’s talking about capitalism. We’ll call it for the purposes of the discussion, bourgeois society, but bourgeoisie are revolutionary… I think it is a mistake to view this simply as unequivocally positive – it’s not… that they are amazingly dynamic (or I shouldn’t say they are). This society is dynamic on both axes, that is, temporally things are moving all the time – the means of production are always being revolutionized… right?
“All that is solid melts into air.”
It’s not a one-time change – it’s ongoing change as a condition of life. And that’s where it’s (for him) demystifying, it just destroys the ideals of earlier of societies. It is also incredibly dynamic spatially. It expands globally. What you have is, for the first time, world society. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t in contact with one another earlier – they obviously were. Rome and China were in contact with one another, however tenuous the contact might have been (although at points economically it actually was important). But that contact changed neither Rome fundamentally nor China fundamentally. Right, that’s why people make a very big mistake when they write about globalization in the 12th and 13th century and they look at China etc etc. It’s not the same thing. This is kind of a misplaced idea – that if you talk about globalization under the aegis of European capitalism, somehow you’re buying into the European self-understanding that it’s under the European aegis because “they’re [Europeans are] just better.” You don’t have to buy into that – it’s just silly, even though (I mean) it was deeply believed. It’s like the British in the Sudan in 1885 get massacred, uhhh, they come back 10 years later, this time they have the machine gun and they kill thousands and they regard this as being a sign of the superiority of the British. But we don’t have to buy into that, either positively or negatively.
Revolutionary Historical Consciousness in the Manifesto
What they’re trying to do here, is they’re trying to argue that you can’t separate politics from history – even revolutionary politics. As was mentioned I the report, part of the criticism of the (you know) 51 flavours of socialism that they list at the end is that they don’t have an adequate grasp of history. So that, for Marx and Engels (with all of their differences), if you don’t have a conception of historical development, your politics are going to be futile or even counterproductive. There is no point, in that sense, if you’re really wanting a major social transformation (I’m talking about within the framework of this pamphlet) … you may talk about the peasants being poorly off, the peasants getting screwed, the peasants being oppressed – don’t put your energy into peasant revolution (here [pointing to text]). Mao of course disagreed, but here [again pointing to text], why not? I mean, what does my question have to do with my emphasis 90 seconds ago on history?
The idea here is that this peasantry is going to be removed historically. So, in a sense, what you’re doing is you’re fighting a rear-guard action, however understandable that might be, and however sort of coldblooded this sounds – that the only adequate revolution has to be a revolution which is based on an understanding of historical forces. We’re going to try and specify a lot of this later on, ok? Cause there’s a lot of questions that are raised by this. But certainly what you get here is the picture that the petit-bourgeois is a declining class, the aristocracy is a declining class, the peasantry is a declining class. There are only two classes that are not declining, and they are the bourgeois and the proletariat, according to Marx. OK? [Looks to student] Yes?
Student: What do you mean by the proletariat are not declining. Do you mean numerically? Like in numbers?
It’s being created more and more as a class. Umm, it is not bound to older order of society, it is bound to the newer order – to capitalism. This is the argument. And so the argument is, in part (and they say this explicitly): if you side with the declining lower-middle classes, the petit-bourgeois, or the peasant, as understandable as it may be in terms of what is happening to these people, the end result actually is going to be very negative. It’s Not just that you’re gonna lose, the end result will be very negative – and it’s not going to be nearly as humanistic as you think you’re acting.
Now, there’s a pattern. He’s not just telling us the story “how did it happen?”. But he claims to have uncovered a pattern in the first 3 pages. And that pattern he then sums up as being an ongoing contradiction between forces and relations of production, So he’s uncovered a pattern and now he’s going to claim that that pattern is not simply one of the rise of bourgeois society but that that pattern continues. And then what does he offer as a kind of indicator that there is a contradiction between forces and relations of production even in bourgeois society?
Student: The description of crises?
The description of crises. Of the crisis of overproduction. He’s saying this is crazy. I mean there have been crises in the past, you know, and very frequently (usually) it’s because of drought, flood etc, but not a crisis of overproduction. The way they interpret the crisis is an indicator…They take it as indicator that this pattern that they’ve outlined in the first 4 or 5 pages continues to exist. That’s the whole point of the first 4 pages. So that there is a contradiction between the forces and relations of production and they… they and their 15 buddies [laughing] … understand (I mean) the language… the difference between what they actually do and [gestures hands outwards] you know, is quite remarkable, but we’re not going to go there.
And that although all of this is couched in class terms you’ll notice that on page 485 the 3rd from the bottom and 2nd from the bottom mini-paragraphs, indicate that there’s something else on his mind as well.
“In bourgeois society living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labor. In communist society accumulated labor is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the laborer. In bourgeois society therefore the past dominates the present, in communist society the present dominates the past.”
I want to suggest that that goes beyond just a straight, in the narrow sense of the word, class analysis, and that there is, at the back of his mind, something else. Now, whether one sees the way the Communist Manifesto was written as the difference between exoteric and esoteric (if we can borrow from an unlikely figure), and this is exoteric (except for the afficionados who know that this is really about time)… or whether it also indicates just a real tension in Marx himself, and it’s not something I’ve pursued but I think it’s a legitimate issue (it’s not my interest), between Marx who is this serious, really trying to grapple with the nature of capitalist modernity and the possibility of its fundamental transformation and Marx the very impatient [laughter] no I mean that seriously, the very impatient revolutionary. And you know if this were a course on Marx, I would be trying to emphasize these tensions and breaks much more than I am.
Introduction to the Grundrisse
He hasn’t really worked out… the fully developed apparatus of his critique of political economy. And that comes later. The Grundrisse is written 10 years later. Actually, it’s written in a way that should inspire all of you in terms of its work ethic umm… he didn’t want it to interrupt the research he was doing during the say in the British Museum… [laughter] so he wrote it (in a half a year) at night [more laughter]. Umm, [himself laughing] this is before…?
Students: Cable television!
It’s before cable television. It’s also before word processing [laughter]. You know, sometimes (and I tell undergraduates this)… you know, sometimes you run into Marx or someone like Max Weber and you think that… you know, fundamental socialization really was different [light laughter]. It really was different. It’s like (you know) Weber in 1905 during the first Russian Revolution not being really satisfied with the way in which the events in Russia were being covered in the German press apparently (and I hope this isn’t apocryphal) taught himself Russian in 3 weeks, so that he could follow the revolution in the Russian press… I don’t know… It’s like a different species.
Anyway, Marx writes the Grundrisse in 1857/1858. He’s been in exile in London since (you know) the failed revolutions of 1848, and he’s spending a lot of time – he’s (doing) putting in his 8 hours of library research everyday in the British museum and he comes up with this massive manuscript, that in many respects, I think, serves as an extremely important key to understanding the book Capital. And it can be seen really as a kind of a very rough first draft. There are some things that do change between 1857 and when volume 1 of Capital is published in 1867. Nevertheless, there’s certain very basic ideas that I think we have to get a handle on and serve as a very important corrective to various readings of Capital.
The Grundrisse: The Method of Political Economy
Maybe we’ll start with that… [sirens in background]. This section… uh… pages 236 to 244… What’s it about? What is the large question that he’s raising, for himself? This is once again, we’re in a manuscript. What question does he keep on asking the first couple of pages?
Student: Where to begin?
Where to begin. OK. Where to begin. Why is this a problem? He devotes a lot of attention to it. As you may or may not know, Hegel devotes a lot of attention to where one begins a science of logic. Now, the problematics they’re dealing with are slightly different. Why does Hegel spend a lot of time (sort of) worrying about where you begin a science of logic? Think about it.
Student: How do you ground your initial axioms.
OK. How do you begin a logic, that doesn’t presuppose the logic that you’re going to be trying to show? Right? So, how can you have a real point of departure? [Looks to Student]
Student asks question.
It’s an important question that I hope we’re going to address. Another way of rephrasing it is: what is the relationship of history and logic? And this is something he’s thinking about. Now, although I can only give you sort of a partial indication based on the reading so far, when we were doing the German Ideology, Marx insists that thought is contextual, right? It’s historically contextual. What are the implications of the idea that thought is contextual… in terms of where you begin? Think about it…
Student: That you’re in a system where everything is contingent on what’s come before and there isn’t sort of a core basis, and he critiques the political economists for that.
OK, now. If, let me take what you’ve said and turn it just a little. If thought is historically contingent, right away, once you accept that, what is illegitimate?
Student: Transhistorical axioms.
Right. Transhistorical axioms are illegitimate. You don’t have a universally valid methodology, that you can just apply across the board to a huge range of different social phenomena. For Marx, that means what you’re doing is, even if you say that everything is historically contingent, your mode of presentation belies that position. So, there’s a problem. How do you begin an account that is historically specific? Given… that Marx is navigating between getting beyond the opposition of truth claims as being transhistorically valid and the kind of position that says (which is really, I think, only the flip-side of the same coin) they’re not transhistorically valid then it’s catch as catch can. So how do you present a theory that is historically specific and is rigorous. The rest of these pages are concerned with this issue of where you begin. Do you begin with the concrete manifold (oh, I don’t know), the United Kingdom the year of the Crystal Palace? No! Because if you start there what you’re going to do is, you’re going to start picking out what is more and more essential, more and more essential, this was the route that political economy took and then you finally come up with very simple categories that then serve as your point of departure. OK. So maybe what you do is you start with simple categories that are historically antecedent. Let’s tell a story – how things come into being. Right? On page 238:
“Do not these simpler categories also have an independent historical or natural existence pre-dating the more concrete ones?”
I mean, he then goes onto say, “Look! Money! Money antedates capitalism, does it?”. And he says…?
Yes and no. Yes in that you can find Roman coins, you can find Athenian Drachmas – but what are they not? What is an Athenian Drachma not? It looks like a coin, it smells like a coin, it jingles in your pocket like a coin.
Student: It’s not really a storer of exchange value because there’s no like concept of labor in society.
But that’s already based on a very specific analysis that it is labor under exchange etc etc, that would just be posited. But what is money for Marx? When is money truly money?
Student: When it universally dictates…
When it is a universal means of exchange. That’s when money is money. You can have different moneys. But prior to capitalism there is no universal exchangeability. For one thing, most people do not live by means of exchange. Peasant societies don’t live by means of exchange – there is exchange that occurs at the fringes. So, under what conditions… let’s push this just a little further. When does money start to become really universal? We’ve had money, but when does it become truly universal? What are some of its preconditions? When does it really start to become (start to become) this universal means of exchange?
Student: Wage labor?
Wage labor. Why? You’re righ– I mean… I think you’re right [laughter at his self-correction]. What is it about wage labor? [Nods to student]
Student: In wage labor you perform… it… Money has to function as the means for you to acquire all the other things that you need in your life.
So, with wage labor, you get a large section of the population that works for money and with that money, they’re gonna buy their food, their clothing, their shelter and everything. The universalization of money as a form and the rise of wage labor for Marx are intertwined. So that, money… is misleading. As a simple universal form, he claims, it’s only valid for capitalist society. But you can’t see it in the coin. You have to know something about Athenian society. You can’t just look at the Drachma and say, “OK, they’ve got coinage.” They did have coinage and there are people who would argue this was important. But it’s not a universal means of exchange – most peasants in Attica are not part of the money economy. There is a kind of a money economy. So we’re talking about a partial system. So money is simplest when it’s most general. But then he… goes on to argue (and this is, for some people, very surprising) what’s another example of a simple category that actually isn’t historically antecedent to capitalism (according to Marx)? Starting on the bottom of page 239…
Labor. Isn’t that weird? [laughter] I mean, hasn’t there always been labor? So what does he mean by that? I mean, does that mean that people just kind of sat around and things would drip off trees and you open your mouth…life is good.
Student: Labor is constituted in exchange… or as a matter of category umm, as relation which create the simple abstraction which creates a monetary system.
When we talk about labor as simple, what are we implying? What does it suggest about (I don’t know) a wide variety of activity?
Student: That they are commensurable somehow?
That somehow, they are all the same thing on one level – they’re all forms of labor. However, in many societies, activities that we regard as being forms of labor aren’t considered as such. They are considered fundamentally different activities, which is why you have certain things that this class of people can do, certain things that that class (class I’m using in a very loose sense, group of people) can do, and depending on the society and the level of taboos, you don’t break it. You know, in some societies the difference between what men do and what women do isn’t just, “Well you know the guys lazy. He’ll take out the garbage and that’s about it.” I mean there are things you just don’t do – it turns you into a woman if you’re a man. In other words, there is no such thing as labor in general, transhistorically. We can, from our position look back and (I’m jumping ahead of the text), we can look back and regard weaving and ploughing as being labor. But that isn’t necessarily the way it was regarded then, and it’s not just a matter of subjectivity, it’s a matter also of the way society itself is organised. Which means, I want to introduce another term (that is implied by what he says here but he doesn’t actually say it I don’t believe). What’s another example of a very simple term, that according to the Grundrisse now, really becomes fully valid only in capitalist society?
Students mutter different answers.
Object. That things are objects. To say that things are objects means that, as far as I’m concerned, on a very fundamental level, this [referring to a pen he is holding in his left hand] is the same as this [referring to the cup in his right hand]. They’re different, but they’re also the same. In some societies, things aren’t just objects. You can’t touch certain things. Only some groups of people can handle certain things – it’s not allowed for other groups of people. Another way of putting this is you can’t just go to the store and buy it (I mean those 2 are related actually). And as I tell my undergraduates, there are very few things that you can’t buy today. But, there are some. And that gives you an indication, a little window, into other forms of social life. To the best of my knowledge, you cannot go to Treasure Island and buy communion wafers. You can’t. They’re not for sale. You can’t find them on the internet either. In that sense they are not objects. Now imagine a society in which whole classes of things are like that. So money, labor and objects are related to one another. Now, notice what he’s saying. He’s saying that we’re living in a very peculiar kind of society. We’re living in a society that what characterizes it, in its specificity, are very simple things that seem to be universally valid. It’s not that the Adam Smith’s of the world sneakily (sort of just) smuggle in bourgeois conceptions or somehow they’re Eurocentric – but that there is something about the structure of modern capitalism where what is most contextual appears to be decontextualized. So, in a sense, renders plausible the idea that we’re just talking about human beings, individuals. Not products of civil society, but natural man. Or as Marx put it in Capital, you know, “Everything up till now has been artificial (he’s sort of channelling enlightenment thought) and now we’ve reached nature.” But this isn’t just prejudice and it’s not stupidity. It’s because of the peculiarity of what is specific to capitalism are simple, general categories. And once you get used to this way of thinking, it’s nice. But it takes a while to (sort of) get your head around it.
OK… now… what does it mean… So, in other words, if we take this passage seriously (to jump ahead of ourselves, the way the book Capital is structured is the first chapter is commodity, then we get money, then we get capital. What he is telling us here is that it is a mistake to read this as a historical development – a serious mistake… pache Engels (because generations of Marxists read it that way). But this is very explicit.
Now he begins to introduce history, but he does it in a very peculiar way. What does it mean to say (as he does) that the human anatomy is the key to the anatomy of apes? It’s very peculiar. What’s he saying?
Do apes necessarily become human? No! There is reason why Marx liked Darwin. He is against teleological history, in spite of (you know) amillion things that have been said about him, he is against teleological history. History makes sense retrospectively, you can see what did lead up to the present – that’s proposition A. Proposition B, that he doesn’t say here, that I’m saying (but I’m jumping ahead of myself), is that what is peculiar about capitalism is that it does have a logic. And proposition C is that post-capitalist society will have no historical logic. What I’m suggesting – and I cannot prove this at this point, but you know I get eager so I run ahead of myself – what I’m suggesting is that what he is saying here is that history is historically specific. So that there is no point in arguing whether human history per se is driven by a logical dynamic, or whether history per se is contingent. This is getting beyond (as it were) the dichotomy of Hegel and Nietzsche avant la lettre. History moves here from a kind of contingency to a logic. Now, the existence of a logic, let me go back to the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts… Alienation… Alienation, we saw, implies that people create a structure that dominates them. Now, I want you to think about, if there is something like a historical logic of capitalism, what does that say about human agency?
Student: It’s constrained.
It’s constrained! If there was true, human historical agency there wouldn’t be a logic. Right? There would be Brownian motion. Not a logic. The existence of a logic implies a level of constraint. And I want to suggest that the whole analysis of Capital, not the whole, but central to the analysis of capital is an attempt to explain the logic. What is central is historical. And if I can jump ahead of myself again, this is the exact opposite of structuralism. Within a structuralist framework logic is synchronous and change (diachrony) is contingent. Within this framework, the logic is the historical development, it’s not the synchronic picture – too many contingencies. So that logic and history go together… and contingency and synchrony. So the idea of a structuralist Marxism (is…) doesn’t make any sense at all, from this standpoint.
The categories described in these pages are described by Marx not as economic categories. Not simply as categories of an economic “base”. But he describes them with 2 words, one of them is daseinsformen (forms of daseins) and the other is Existenzbedingungen (determinations of the mode of existence). It is a serious mistake, in terms of Marx’s self-understanding, to take categories like commodity, and think that he is using them simply as economic categories. And that then, issues of culture and society sort of have to be placed on top. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the method he’s trying to develop here.
[Video skips to a response to a question from students]
Well, that depends how one understands capitalism. No, I mean that very seriously… and I don’t mean it even in the specifics. If one assumes that capitalism is a kind of system, a Durkheimian monster, umm, all you can look for then are little spaces –underneath, beyond, on the fringes – where resistance is possible. The whole discourse of resistance is tied to the notion of the unitary character of the society. Whereas that isn’t Marx’s notion of capitalism. Because that idea of resistance cannot explain the theory of resistance. Certainly not if you’re sitting in Paris. It might be if you’re sitting in some unknown valley in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. There’s the absence of a certain reflexivity there. So the word capitalism is very complex and the word capital is very complex. And, we’re going to have to see just how that’s developed. Right now, these are simply positions, and I want to emphasize that. Now they are positions that will guide a reading, but they aren’t really the argument yet. So, we’re going to have to distinguish between positions and arguments.