Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (Macmillan, 1976)

Alfred Sohn-Rethel

Made available on crashlist. Annotated by Erik Empson

This enquiry is concerned with the relationship between base and superstructure in the Marxian sense. This, to a large extent, is the story of a revolution that never happened. In it re-echo the thunder of the gun battle for the Marstall in Berlin at Christmas 1918, and the shooting of the Spartacus rising in the following winter. The paradoxical condition of this ideological movement may help to explain its almost exclusive preoccupation with superstructural questions, and the conspicuous lack of concern for the material and economic base that should have been underlying it. As far as I was concerned, though not a member of the Spartacus movement, I was stirred by the political events, partaking in discussions at street-corners and public meeting-halls, lying under window-sills while bullets pierced the windows - experiences which are traced in the pages to follow. My political awakening started in 1916, at the age of I7 and still at school, when I began reading August Bebel and Marx. I was thrown out of home and was part of the beginning of the anti- war rebellion of students in my first university year at Heidelberg in 1917 with Ernst Toller as a leading figure. For us the world could have fallen to pieces if only Marx remained intact. But then everything went wrong. The Revolution moved forward and backward and finally ebbed away. Lenin's Russia receded further and further into the distance. At university we learned that even in Marx there were theoretical flaws, that marginal utility economics had rather more in its favour and that Max Weber had successfully contrived sociological antidotes against the giant adversary Marx. But this teaching only made itself felt within the academic walls. Outside there were livelier spirits about, among them my unforgettable friend Alfred Seidel, who in 1924 committed suicide. Here, outside the university, the end of the truth had not yet come. I glued myself to Marx and began in earnest to read Capital with a relentless determination not to let go. It must have taken some two years when in the background of my university studies I scribbled mountains of paper, seizing upon every one of the vital terms occurring in the first sixty pages of Capital, turning them round and round for definitions, and above all for metaphorical significance, taking them to, pieces and putting them together again. And what resulted from this exercise was the unshakeable certainty of the penetrating truth of Marxist thinking, combined with an equally unshakeable doubt about the theoretical consistency of the commodity analysis as it stood. There were more and other things in it than Marx had succeeded in reaching! And finally, with an effort of concentration bordering on madness, it came upon me that in the innermost core of commodity structure there was to be found the 'transcendental subject'. Without need to say so, it was obvious to everybody that this was sheer lunacy, and no one was squeamish about telling me so! But I knew that I had grasped the beginning of a thread whose end was not yet in sight. But the secret identity of commodity form and thought form which I had glimpsed was so hidden within the bourgeois world that my first naive attempt to make others see it only had the result that I was given up as a hopeless case. 'Sohn-Rethel is crazy!' was the regretful and final verdict of my tutor Alfred Weber (brother of Max), who had had a high opinion of me. In these circumstances there was of course no hope of an academic career either, with the consequence that I remained outsider all my life with my idee fixe. Only a few isolated spirits outsiders like myself, had kindred ideas in their minds, and none more sympathetically so than Adorno, who in his own manner was on the same track. We checked up on this together in 1936. He in his whole mental make-up was occupied with completely different matters rather than the analysis of commodity economics. Therefore even my contact with him was only partial and I was thrown back on my own resources for unravelling my thread of truth. That this process was full of deadlocks and long periods of interruptions, both for reasons of money-earning and because of other difficulties, goes without saying. The interruptions, periods of complete recession, add up to even longer durations than the periods of theoretical work. The time between 1924 and 1927 was spent in Italy, mainly in Capri where Benjamin and Bloch were staying; then to Davos for an international university course, where I met Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer, Alexander Koyre and others, but had to remain for two and a half years for a cure for tuberculosis. When I returned to Germany to face the slump, with absolutely no financial resources, I was lucky to find work in an office of big business in Berlin. There I was also engaged in illegal anti-Nazi activities, escaping from arrest by the Gestapo to reach England in 1937.In Birmingham I met Professor George Thomson, the only other man I have known who had also recognised the interconnection of philosophy and money, although in a completely different field from my own - in ancient Greece. I finally finished a long manuscript, 'Intellectual and Manual Labour', in1951, which despite strenuous efforts by Thomson and Bernal, was turned down by the publishers Lawrence Wishart as being too unorthodox for them, and by bourgeois publishers as being too militantly Marxist! Until 1970 only three small texts of mine were published. Since 1970 several of my books have appeared in Germany (see p. 213) as a result of which I was appointed Guest Professor at the University of Bremen from 1972 to 1976. B7 For the present English version of this book I am particularly: indebted to Dr Wifried van der Will for reading my script : for his unstinting advice and critical comment; also to my son Martin for his work as translator, and to the late Sigurd Zienau for stimulating discussions during many years of friendship. My inextinguishable gratitude is due to Joan, my wife, for her untiring effort and unflagging devotion to my work, which has become ours in common.


Our epoch is widely regarded as 'the Age of Science'. Indeed science, and especially scientific technology, exerts an influence upon production and through production upon the economic and the class relations of society. The effects of this have thrown into disarray the historical expectations and conceptions of people convinced of the need for socialism. We are no longer sure of our most trusted ideas of 'scientific socialism' or of our theoretical image of capitalism. How is the progressive destruction of money through inflation in accord with the labour law of value? Are the profits of multinational corporations in keeping with the mechanics of surplus-value? What are the social implications and economics of a technology which tends to absorb the work of human labour? Does this technology widen or narrow the gulf between mental and manual labour? Does it help or hinder a socialist revolution? How does the profit and loss account on the balance sheets of capital relate to the balance between man and nature? Is modern technology class-neutral? Is modern science class-biased? Has Marxist analysis kept up with the changes of society we have witnessed since the two World Wars? Our insights must reach sufficiently deep to enable us to understand our modern world in Marxist terms and guide our revolutionary practice. Historical materialism was conceived by Marx as the method of the scientific understanding of history. No other position can offer an alternative. The present study has been undertaken in the belief that an extension to Marxist theory is needed for a fuller understanding of our own epoch. Far from moving away from Marxism this should lead deeper into it. The reason why many essential questions of today cause such difficulties is that our thinking is not Marxist enough -it leaves important areas unexplored. We understand 'our epoch' as that in which the transition from capitalism to socialism and the building of a socialist society are the order of the day. In contrast, Marx's epoch was engaged in the capitalist process of development; its theoretical perspective was limited to the trends pushing this development to its limits It is clear that this change of historical scenery shifts the Marxist field of vision in a significant way. The transition from capitalism to socialism means, according to Marx, 'the ending of pre-history' - the transition from the uncontrolled to the fully conscious development of mankind. To understand society in its final capitalist phase one needs a precise insight into the causality and interrelationships between the growth of the material productive forces and the social relations of production. Marx's Capital certainly contains countless references to the mental superstructure determined by the social basis and also to the indispensable intellectual foundations of production, but the problem of the formation of consciousness is not the primary concern of Marx's main work. In our epoch, however, it has assumed crucial importance. We speak of these intellectual foundations because a historical materialist insight into present-day technology and its scientific basis is essential for the possibility of a consciously organised society. In fact Marx did not focus his attention on a historical- materialist understanding of natural science. In the famous methodological guide-lines of 1859 science is not mentioned as part of the mental superstructure, but it should indeed provide the guide-line for a standpoint of thinking which is itself scientific. Marx saw his own viewpoint as historically conditioned and as anchored in the labour theory of value; it is scientific because it corresponds to the standpoint of the proletariat. But natural science was not given a place as either belonging to the ideological superstructure or the social base. The references to science in Capital appear to take their intrinsic methodological possibilities for granted. The historical-materialist omission of the enquiry into the conceptual foundation of science has lead to a schism of thought within the contemporary Marxist camp. On the one hand, all phenomena contained in the world of consciousness, whether past, present or future, are understood historically as time-bound and dialectic. On the other hand, questions of logic, mathematics and science are seen as ruled by timeless standards. Is a Marxist thus a materialist as far as historical truth is concerned but an idealist when confronted by the truth of nature? Is his thought split between two concepts of truth: the one dialectical and time-bound, the other undialectical, consigning any awareness of historical time to oblivion? That Marx's own thinking was not rent by any such incompatibilities goes without saying. Extensive proof is found in his early writings, and in the Communist Manifesto. Particularly illuminating are the references to the sciences in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (p.111)' which prove that in his historical-materialist conception the sciences were originally included. The relevant evidence and arguments are contained in Alfred Schmidt's outstanding study, 'The Concept Of Nature In The Theory Of Marx'. Even in the Foreword of the first edition of Capital Marx calls the 'evolution of the economic formation . . a process of natural history' and he explains that his own method of approach is calculated to bring out the truth of this statement. But he did not clarify the issue sufficiently to prevent the thought of his successors and followers splitting into two contradictory concepts of truth. Whether the split is overcome or not is vital for the modern theory and practice of socialism. The creation of socialism demands that society makes modern developments in science and technology subservient to its needs. If on the other hand, science and technology elude historical-materialist understanding, mankind might go, not the way of socialism, but that of technocracy; society would not rule over technology but technology over society, and this not only applies to the western world where technocratic thought is based on positivism; it is no less true of some socialist countries which revere technocracy in the name of 'dialectical materialism'. Thus a historical- materialist explanation of the origins of scientific thought and its development is one of the areas by which Marxist theory should be extended. There is furthermore a lack of a theory of intellectual and manual labour, of their historical division and the conditions for their possible reunification. In the 'Critique of the Gotha Programme' Marx makes reference to the antithesis that a higher phase of communist society becomes possible only 'after the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished'. But before understanding how this antithesis can be removed it is necessary to understand why it arose in the first place. Clearly the division between the labour of head and hand stretches in one form or another throughout the whole history of class society and economic exploitation. It is one of the phenomena of alienation on which exploitation feeds. Nevertheless, it is by no means self-apparent how a ruling class invariably has at its command the specific form of mental labour which it requires. And although by its roots it is obviously bound up with the conditions underlying the class rule the mental labour of a particular epoch does require a certain independence to be of use to the ruling class. Nor are the bearers of the mental labour be they priests, philosophers or scientists, the main beneficiaries of the rule to which they contribute; they remain its servants. The objective value of their function, and even the standard of truth itself, emerge in history in the course of the division of head and hand which in its turn is part of the class rule. Thus: objective truth and its class function are connected at their very roots and it is only if they can be seen thus linked, logically and historically, that they can be explained. But what implications does this have for the possibility of a modern, classless and yet highly-technological society? This question leads on to the need for a further extension of Marxist theory which did not arise at an earlier epoch; what is in fact the effective line of differentiation between a class society and a classless one. They are both forms of social production relations but this general concept does not convey the difference on which depends the transition from capitalism to socialism, and the varying shades of socialism. What is needed is a specific and unambiguous criterion of social structure, not of ideology, by which a classless society should be recognisable as essentially different from all class societies. The three groups of questions raised here stand in an inner relationship to each other. The link connecting them is the social synthesis: the network of relations by which society forms a coherent whole. It is around this notion that the major arguments of this book will revolve. As social forms develop and change, so also does the synthesis which holds together the multiplicity of links operating between men according to the division of labour. Every society made up of a plurality of individuals is a network coming into effect through their actions. How they act is of primary importance for the social network; what they think is of secondary importance. Their activities must interrelate in order to fit into a society, and must contain at least a minimum of uniformity if the society is to function as a whole. This coherence can be conscious or unconscious but exist it must - otherwise society would cease to be viable and the individuals would come to grief as a result of their multiple dependencies upon one another. Expressed in very general terms this is a precondition for the survival of every kind of society; it formulates what I term 'social synthesis'. This notion is thus nothing other than a constituent part of the Marxian concept of 'social formation', a part which, in the course of my long preoccupation with historical forms of` thinking, has become indispensable to my understanding of man's social condition. From this observation I derive the general epistemological proposition that the socially necessary forms of thinking of an epoch are those in conformity with the socially synthetic functions of that epoch. It will, I think, help the reader's comprehension of the somewhat intricate investigation contained in this book if I give a broad outline of the underlying conception. 'It is not the consciousness of men that determine their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.' This statement of Marx is not meant as the pronouncement of an intrinsic truth, but is part of the precis of general methodological tenets characteristic of the materialistic conception of history given in the Preface of 1859. This precis indicates how the determination of men's consciousness by their social being can be established in any particular instance. My investigation is in strict keeping with the Marxian outline. But, while in that outline the reference is to 'the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophical - in short, ideological forms' in which men become conscious of their social conflicts and fight them out, my preoccupation is with the conceptual foundations of the cognitive faculty vis-a-vis nature which is more properly termed 'the exchange abstraction'. The peculiar thesis, then, argued on the following pages is to the effect that (1) commodity exchange owes its socially synthetic function to an abstraction which it originates, (2) that the abstraction is not of one piece but is a composite of several elements, (3) that these elementary parts of the abstraction can be separately defined, and (4) that, if this is done in sufficient detail, these constituent elements of the exchange abstraction unmistakably resemble the conceptual elements of the cognitive faculty emerging with the growth of commodity production. As conceptual elements these forms are principles of thought basic to Greek philosophy as well as modern natural science. In this intellectual capacity they can be labelled by the convenient Kantian term of categories a priori, especially as this can all the more drastically contrast our materialist account of` the categories with the idealistic one of Kant. Additional argumentation will attempt to show that not only analogy but true identity exists between the formal elements of the social synthesis and the formal constituents of cognition. We should then be entitled to state that the conceptual basis of cognition is logically and historically conditioned by the basic formation of the social synthesis of its epoch. Our explanation thus argues that the categories are historical by origin and social by nature. For they themselves effect the social synthesis on the basis of commodity production in such a way that the cognitive faculty they articulate is an a priori social capacity of the mind; although it bears the exactly contrary appearance, that of obeying the principle of ego cogito. Kant was right in his belief that the basic constituents of our form of cognition are performed and issue from a prior origin, but he was wrong in attributing this pre-formation to the mind itself engaged in the phantasmagorical performance of 'transcendental synthesis a priori', locatable neither in time nor in place. In a purely formal way Kant's transcendental subject shows features of striking likeness to the exchange abstraction in its distillation as money: first of all in its 'originally synthetic' character but also in its unique oneness, for the multiplicity of existing currencies cannot undo the essential oneness of their monetary function. There can be little doubt, then, that the historical-materialist explanation adopted here satisfies the formal exigencies of a theory of cognition. It accounts for the historical emergence the clear-cut division of intellectual and manual labour associated with commodity production. And by accounting for its genesis it should also help us in perceiving the preconditions of its historical disappearance and hence of socialism as the road to a classless society. As for Kant's idealistic construction, and that of his followers, it becomes clear that they serve to present the division of head and hand as a transcendental necessity. If this thesis can be argued convincingly it would dispose of the age-old idea that abstraction is the exclusive privilege of thought; the mind would no longer be enshrined in its own immanence. It would give room for a completely different appreciation of science and of mental labour generally laying all intellectual activity open for an understanding of it in terms of the social formation of its epoch and critically evaluating its conceptual structure as well as its functional application in the light of the pertinent social conspectus. It is clear, on the other hand, that a thesis of this nature cannot draw on factual evidence for its verification but must rely primarily on arguments of reason. So also does the Marxian theory of value and of surplus-value. The facts of history tell in its favour only when viewed in the light of the categories established by the Marxian analysis of the conditions that endow them with the historical reality of valid facts. Our theory is directly concerned only with questions of form, form of consciousness and form of social being, attempting to find their inner connection, a connection which, in turn, affects our understanding of human history. The pivot of the argument lies with the structural form of social being, or, more precisely, with the formal characteristics attaching to commodity production and to the social synthesis arising from it. Thus the Marxian critique of political economy and our critique of bourgeois epistemology are linked by sharing the same methodological foundation: the analysis of the commodity in the opening chapters of Capital and, prior to it, in the 'Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy' of 1859. And the salient point of the argument is that this link is one of formal identity. Nevertheless, the difference in scope implies differences in the procedure of the analysis which amount to more than mere shifts of emphasis. Marx was the first to discover the 'commodity abstraction' at the root of the economic category of value and he analysed it from the twofold viewpoint of form and of magnitude. 'The exchange process gives to the commodity, which it transforms to money, not its value, but its specific form of value', he states in the chapter on 'Exchange'. The form and the magnitude of value spring from different sources, the one from exchange, the other from labour. The critique of political economy hinges upon the understanding of how they combine to become the 'abstract human labour' constituting at once the form and the substance of value. Thus the commodity abstraction or, as we would say, the exchange abstraction is interpreted by Marx foremost as being the 'value abstraction- without involving the need to explore in any detail the source from which the abstraction springs. This is in perfect keeping with Marx's purpose of a critique of political economy. For our purpose, however, we must concentrate in the first place on the formal aspect of value, not only in preference to, but even in separation from its economic content of labour. Or, to put it differently, we have to proceed from the commodity abstraction to the source from where the abstraction emanates and must carry through a painstakingly accurate and detailed analysis of the formal structure of exchange as the basis of its socially synthetic function. Thus, notwithstanding their common methodological foundation, the critique of political economy and the critique of philosophical epistemology have   their tasks in complete independence of each other, in strict accordance, that is, with the diverse systematic nature of their subject-matters. The fields economics and of natural science have not a term in common, and it would be a hopeless endeavour to try to cope with the critique of epistemology by grafting it on to the Marxian critique of political economy. It must be undertaken as an investigation standing on its own ground to be judged by its own standards. This does not prevent both those critical pursuits from being inseparably bound up with each other in the results they yield for our understanding of history. The class antagonisms which commodity production engenders in all its stages – in Marx's terms 'the ancient classical, the feudal, and the modern bourgeois modes of production' are intrinsically connected with closely corresponding forms of division of head and hand; but how this connection operates will become recognisable only when the form analysis of the exchange abstraction has been accomplished.

Part One Critique of Philosophical Epistemology

One: The Fetishism of Intellectual Labour

A critique needs a well-defined object at which it is directed: we choose philosophical epistemology. What is the salient feature which marks it as our particular object' Which philosophy most significantly represents it and is most rewarding to criticise? From the introduction it is clear that our choice has fallen upon the Kantian theory of cognition. This does not, however, mean that he reader must be a specialist in this particularly daunting philosophy - far from it. Marx clarifies the object of his critique as follows: 'let me point out once and for all that by classical political economy I mean all the economists who, since the time of W. Petty, have investigated the real internal framework of bourgeois relations of production, as opposed to the vulgar economists . . .'' Classical political economy in the sense of` this definition culminated in the work of` Adam Smith (1723-90) and David Ricardo (1772-1823) and accordingly the discussion of their theories bulks largest in Marx's critical studies for instance those collected as Theories of Surplus Value. This does not, however, oblige anyone to embark upon a study of Smith and Ricardo before reading Marx, even though, conversely, it is essential to have read Marx before looking at Smith and Ricardo. Marx's work in economics starts where the peak of bourgeois economics reaches its limits. Can we draw any parallel to this framework of the Marxian critique to elucidate our own undertaking in the field of philosophical epistemology? I understand by this name the epistemology which since the time of Descartes (I596--I650) seized upon the newly founded natural science of the mathematical and experimental method established by Galileo (1564 1642). Thus we describe philosophical epistemology as the theory of scientific knowledge undertaken with the aim of elaborating a coherent, all-embracing ideology to suit the production relations of bourgeois society. This endeavour culminated in the main works of Kant (I724 I804B7), especially his Critique of Pure Reason. I therefore confine my main attention to Kant's philosophy of science which I consider to be the classical manifestation of the bourgeois fetishism of intellectual labour. Smith and Kant have in common that each is the first to have placed his respective discipline on a systematic foundation. Kant might at his time have been introduced to an English public as the Adam Smith of epistemology, and at the same period Smith could have been recommended to a German audience as the Immanuel Kant of political economy. However, in the light of Engels's Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy and his survey of 'the whole movement since Kant' one might feel inclined to rank Hegel (I770 - 1831) above Kant, especially since Ricardo is frequently placed on a level with his contemporary, Hegel, in comparison with Smith and Kant. While both the latter, in their own fields, evolved the postulates which a fully fledged bourgeois society should be expected to realise, Ricardo and Hegel, independently of each other, faced up to the inherent contradictions revealed by that society upon the achievement of this realisation, brought about by the advent of the French Revolution of1789-94 and its Napoleonic aftermath. But there is one important difference which sets Hegel on a plane apart from Ricardo. He discarded the epistemological approach altogether and outstripped the limitations of the critical standards of thinking observed by Kant and adhered to by Ricardo in order to lift himself to the height of 'speculative and absolute idealism'. This gave him free rein to carry philosophy to its consummation, but it makes him unsuited as the object for my own critique. Many a good Marxist will want to join issue with me on this apparently disparaging treatment of Hegel. For was not Hegel, after all, the discoverer of dialectics and does not Marx accept him as such? 'The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.' True, this is what Marx says of Hegel in regard to the dialectic, but some Marxists have joined issue with Marx himself for leaving this vital subject so incompletely elucidated. I must say that I have never felt quite convinced that to advance from the critical idealism of Kant to the critical materialism of Marx the road should necessarily lead via the absolute idealism of Hegel. There should be the possibility of connecting Kant and Marx by a direct route at least systematically which would also yield an understanding of dialectics as the critical, and self-critical, approach without first presenting it in the misleading guise of a system of logic. Nevertheless 1 admit that the dialectic as evolved by Hegel affords a way of thinking which is infinitely superior to the fixed dualism of Kant. But the complaint about its dualism can affect the Kantian mode of thought only as bourgeois philosophy. And there it does it a service. For the unyielding dualism of this philosophy is surely a more faithful reflection of the realities of capitalism than can be found in the efforts of the illustrious post-Kantians striving to rid themselves of it by drawing all and everything into the redeeming 'immanency of the mind'. How can the truth of the bourgeois world present itself other than as dualism? Hegel realised that the ideal of the truth could not acquiesce with it as the ultimate state of affairs and he engaged on dialectics as a road transcending the bourgeois limitations. There in lies his greatness and the importance of` the impulse that emanated from the dynamic of this conception. Bur he could not himself step out of the bourgeois world at his epoch, and so he attained the unity outreaching Kant only by dispensing with the epistemological critique, and hence by way of hypostasis. He did not make 'thinking' and 'being" one, and did not enquire how they could be one. He simply argued that the idea of the truth *demands*them to be one, and if logic is to be the logic of the truth it has to start with that unity as its presupposition. But what is the kind of 'being" with which 'thinking' could be hypostatised as one, and their unity be a system of logic? It was nothing more, and nothing more real, than the 'being' implied when I say 'I am I', since after all, 'am' is the first person singular of the verb 'to be' in its present tense. And so Hegel starts his dialectics by a process of the mind within the mind. The Hegelian dissolution of the Kantian antitheses is not achieved by dissolving them, but by making them perform as a process. The Hegelian dialectics has no other legitimacy than that it is a process occurring. Questioned as to its possibility it would prove impossible. Adorno was perfectly right saying: 'If the Hegelian synthesis did work out, it would only be the wrong one. 'When Marx in the last of his Theses on Feuerbach wrote: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it', Hegel must have been foremost in his thoughts, because in his philosophy the very dialectics of the real change is wasted on merely ontologising 'the Idea'. What else could this Idea be as an outcome of the dialectic as Logic, but the idealisation of the bourgeois world rising to the height of 'thinking' and 'being' embracing each other in the perfection of the bourgeois State as the Prussian paragon of the constitutional monarchy. A similar treatment is meted out to all the spheres to which Hegel extended his speculation, that of the law, the mind, aesthetics, religion, history and even nature. To them all the same pattern of Logic could be made applicable by modifying the kind of 'being' that entered into unity with 'thinking' in each particular field. I am well aware that stressing only its negative side distorts Hegel's philosophy out of recognition by suppressing the immense wealth and depth of content it owes to the revolutionary impulse of the dialectic. Hegel's is a philosophy which might be said to be wrapped in twilight from beginning to end, and I do not want my few remarks to be misunderstood as being a general condemnation of this outstanding work. My concern is narrowly confined to one question only: the treatment of the Kantian epistemology by Hegel on the one hand and Marx on the other. Thus it is easy to see what Hegel's interest was in dispensing with the epistemological enquiry of Kant, but it was surely not the Marxian interest to do likewise. The Hegelian motivation was rooted in the mystification of the dialectic which aroused Marx's criticism. Marx's elimination of the Kantian kind of enquiry should not be understood simply as an imitation of Hegel's. Marx must have had his own independent reasons for it ,grounded in his materialistic conception of the dialectic, not in the idealistic one of Hegel. The Kantian enquiry was aimed at all explanation of the phenomenon of the human intellect such as it manifested itself in the mathematical science founded by Galileo and perfected by Newton. What was wrong with Kant's enquiry was that he looked into the nature of the human mind for an answer. Marx could only be satisfied with an answer drawn from natural history and the human departure from it in social and economic developments arising from man's producing his own means of livelihood. This kind answer could not possibly be gained from Hegel's philosophy. But it is this answer that we have in mind when we suggest a direct cut-through from Kant to Marx by way of a critical liquidation of Kant's enquiry, rather than by purely discarding it.

Two: Can there be abstraction other than by Thought ?

Forms of thought and forms of society have one thing in common. They are both 'forms'. The Marxian mode of thought is characterised by a conception of form which distinguishes it from all other schools of thinking. It derives from Hegel, but this only so as to deviate from him again. For Marx, form is time-bound. It originates, dies and changes within time. To conceive of form in this way is characteristic of dialectical though, but with Hegel, its originator, the genesis and mutation of form is only within the power of the mind. It constitutes the 'science of logic'; form processes in any other field, say nature or history, Hegel conceived only in the pattern of logic. The Hegelian concept of dialectic finally entitles the mind not only to primacy over manual work but endows it with omnipotence. Marx, on the other hand, understands the time governing the genesis and the mutation of forms as being, from the very first, historical time -- the time of natural and of human history. ; That is why the form processes cannot be made out anticipation. No prima philosophia under any guise has a place in Marxism. What is to be asserted must first be established by investigation; historical materialism is merely the name for a methodological postulate and even this only became clear to Marx 'as a result of my studies'. Thus one must not ignore the processes of abstraction at work in the emergence of historical forms of consciousness. Abstraction can be likened to the workshop of conceptual thought and its process must be a materialistic one if the assertion that consciousness is determined by social being is to hold true. A derivation of consciousness from social being presupposes a process of abstraction which is part of this being. Only so can we validate the statement that 'the social being of man determines his consciousness'. But with this point of view the historical materialist stands in irreconcilable opposition to all traditional, theoretical philosophy. For this entire tradition it is an established fact that abstraction is the inherent activity and the exclusive privilege of thought; to speak of abstraction in any other sense is regarded as irresponsible, unless of course one uses the word merely metaphorically. But to acquiesce in this philosophical tradition would preclude the realisation of the postulate of historical materialism. If the formation of the consciousness, by the procedure of abstraction, is exclusively a matter for the consciousness itself, then a chasm opens up between the forms of consciousness on the one side and its alleged determination in being on the other. The historical materialist would deny in theory the existence of this chasm, but in practice has no solution to offer, none at any rate chat would bridge the chasm. Admittedly it must be taken into consideration that the philosophical tradition is itself a product of the division between mental and manual labour, and since its beginning with Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides has been a preserve of intellectuals for intellectuals, inaccessible to manual workers. Little has changed here, even today. For this reason the testimony of this tradition, even if unanimous, does not carry the weight of authority for those who take their stand with the manual worker. The view that abstraction was not the exclusive property of the mind, but arises incommodity exchange was first expressed by Marx in. the beginning of Capital and earlier in the Critique of Political Economy of I859, where he speaks of an abstraction other than that of thought.

Three: The Commodity Abstraction

The form of commodity is abstract and abstractness governs its whole orbit. To begin with, exchange-value is itself abstract value in contrast to the use-value of commodities. The exchange- value is subject only to quantitative differentiation, and this quantification is again abstract compared with the quantity which measures use-values. Marx points out with particular emphasis that even labour-, when determining the magnitude and substance of value, becomes 'abstract human labour', human labour purely as such. The form in which commodity- value takes on its concrete appearance as money -- be it as coinage or bank-notes is an abstract thing which, strictly speaking, is a contradiction in terms. In the form of money riches become abstract riches and, as owner of such riches, man himself becomes an abstract man, a private property-owner. Lastly a society in which commodity exchange forms the nexus rerum is a purely abstract set of relations where everything concrete is in private hands. The essence of commodity abstraction, however, is that it is not thought-induced; it does not originate in men's minds but in their actions. And yet this does not give 'abstraction' a merely metaphorical meaning. It is abstraction in its precise, literal sense. The economic concept of value resulting from it is characterised by a complete absence of quality, a differentiation purely by quantity and by applicability to every kind of commodity and service which can occur on the market. These qualities of the economic value abstraction indeed display a striking similarity with fundamental categories of quantifying natural science without, admittedly, the slightest inner relationship between these heterogeneous spheres being as yet recognisable. While the concepts of natural science are thought abstractions, the economic concept of value is a real one. It exists nowhere other than in the human mind but it does not spring from it. Rather it is purely social in character, arising in the spatio-temporal sphere of human inter relations. It is not people who originate these abstractions but their actions. 'They do this without being aware of it.' In order to do justice to Marx's Critique of Political Economy the commodity or value abstraction revealed in his analysis must be viewed as a real abstraction resulting from spatio-temporal activity. Understood in this way, Marx’s discovery stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the entire tradition of theoretical philosophy and this contradiction must be brought into the open by critical confrontation of the two conflicting standpoints. But such a confrontation does not form part of the Marxian analysis. I agree with Louis Althusser that in the theoretical foundations of Capital more fundamental issues are at stake than thoseshowing in the purely economic argument. Althusser believes that Capital is the answer to a question implied but not formulated by Marx. Althusser defeats the purpose of his search for this question by insisting 'que la production de la connaissance ... constitue un processus qui se passe toutentier dans la pensee'. He understands Marx on the commodity abstraction metaphorically, whereas it should be taken literally and its epistemological implications pursued so as to grasp how Marx's method turns Hegel's dialectic 'right side up'. The un proclaimed theme of Capital and of the commodity analysis is in fact the real abstraction uncovered there. Its scope reaches further than economics - indeed it concerns the heritage of philosophy far more directly than it concerns political economy. Some people go further and accuse Marx of having ignored the epistemological implications of his own mode of thinking. Here I agree that, if one takes up these implications and pursues them consistently, epistemology itself undergoes a radical transformation and indeed merges into a theory of society. However I believe that the fallacies of the epistemological and idealistic tradition are more effectively eliminated if one does not talk of 'the theory of knowledge' but the division of mental and manual labour instead. For then the practical significance of the whole enquiry becomes apparent. If the contradiction between the real abstraction in Marx and the thought abstraction in the theory of knowledge is not brought to any critical confrontation, one must acquiesce with the total lack of connection between the scientific form of thought and the historical social process. Mental and manual labour must remain divided. This means, however, that one must also acquiesce with the persistence of social class division, even if this assumes the form of socialist bureaucratic rule. Marx's omission of the theory of knowledge results in the lack of a theory of mental and manual labour; it is, in other words, the theoretical omission of a precondition of a classless society which was seen by Marx himself to be fundamental. The political implication heightens its theoretical importance. For not only must the conception of history be broadened to include science, but also its method must be a consistently critical one.For Marx arrives at the correct understanding of things only by critically tracing the causes that give rise to the false consciousness operating in class society. Thus, to the conditions of a classless society we must add, in agreement with Marx, the unity of mental and manual labour, or as he puts it, the disappearance of their division. And the present study maintains that an adequate insight can only be gained into the conditions of a classless society by investigating the origin of the division of head and hand. This involves a critique of philosophical epistemology which is the false consciousness arising from this division. The Marxian concept of critique owes its parentage to Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason. We now apply in full circle the principle of critique in this sense to the Kantian epistemology. This is the classic manifestation of the bourgeois fetishism embodied in the mental labour of science. We must trace the division of mental an manual labour back to its earliest occurrence in history. The origin we date from the beginnings of Greek philosophy because its antecedents in Egypt and Mesopotamia are pre-scientific. Our task, now, amounts to the critical demonstration of the commodity abstraction. 'This is only a reformulation of what was previously referred to as 'critical confrontation'. We have to prove that the exchange abstraction is, first, a real historical occurrence in time and space, and, second, that it is an abstraction in the strict sense acknowledged in epistemology. This enquiry must be preceded by a description of the phenomenon under investigation.

Four: The Phenomenon of the Exchange Abstraction

The Marxist concept of commodity abstraction refers to the labour which is embodied in the commodities and which: determines the magnitude of their value. The value-creating labour is termed 'abstract human labour' to differentiate it from concrete labour which creates use-values. Our main concern is to clarify this 'commodity abstraction" and to trace its origin to its roots. It must be stated from the outset that our analysis of exchange and value differs in certain respects from that of Marx in the opening of volume I of Capital without, for that matter, contradicting his analysis. Marx was concerned with the 'critique of political economy', while our subject is the theory of scientific knowledge and its historical-materialist critique. However. Marx himself has defined the aspect of exchange as it concerns our purpose:"...However long a series of periodical reproductions and preceding accumulations the capital functioning today may have passed through, it always preserves its original virginity. So long as the laws of exchange are observed in every single act of exchange taken in isolation - the mode of appropriation [of. the surplus - S.-R.] can be completely revolutionised without in any way affecting the property rights which correspond to commodity production. The same rights remain in force both at the outset, when the product belongs to its producer, who, exchanging equivalent for equivalent, can enrich himself only by his own labour, and in the period of capitalism, when social wealth becomes to an ever-increasing degree the property of those who are in a position to appropriate the unpaid labour of others over and over again..."Hence the formal structure of commodity exchange, in every single act, remains the same throughout the various stages of commodity production. I am concerned exclusively with this formal structure, which takes no account of the relationship of value to labour. Indeed where labour is taken into consideration we are in the field of economics. Our interest is confined to the abstraction contained in exchange which we shall find determines the conceptual mode of thinking peculiar to societies based on commodity production. In order to pursue our particular purpose of tracing to its origin the abstraction permeating commodity exchange we slightly modify the starting base of the analysis. Marx begins by distinguishing use-value and exchange-value as the major contrasting aspects of every commodity. We trace these aspects to the different human activities to which they correspond, the actions of use and the action of exchange. The relationship between these two contrasting kinds of activity, use and exchange, is the basis of the contrast and relationship between use-value and exchange-value. The explanation of the abstraction of exchange is contained in this relationship. The point is that use and exchange are not only different and contrasting by description, but are mutually exclusive in time. They must take place separately at different times. This is because exchange serves only a change of ownership, a change that is, in terms of a purely social status of the commodities a! owned property. In order to make this change possible on a basis of negotiated agreement the physical condition of the commodities, their material status, must remain unchanged, or at any fate must he assumed to remain unchanged. Commodity exchange cannot take place as a recognised social institution -unless this separation of exchange from use is stringently observed. This is a truth which need only be uttered to be convincing, and I regard it as a firm basis on which to build far reaching conclusions. First, therefore, let us be clear as to the specific nature of this particular restriction of` use. For there are, of course, countless situations apart from exchange where the use of things is stopped, hindered, interrupted or otherwise disputed. None of these have the same significance as exchange. Things may be stored for later use, others put on one side for the children, wine may be kept in the cellar to mature, injured bodies be ordered a rest, and so on. These are stoppages or delays of use decided upon by the users themselves and done in the service of their use. Whether they happen in a private household or on the wider basis of production carried on in common with other people, cases of this kind are nor on a level comparable with exchange, because use here is not forbidden by social command or necessity. But social interference occurs wherever there is exploitation without for that reason alone being necessarily similar to exchange. Long before there was commodity production exploitation assumed one of the many forms of what Marx has termed 'direct lordship and bondage'. This is exploitation based on unilateral appropriation as opposed to the reciprocity of exchange. In ancient Bronze Age Egypt, for instance, priests and scribes and other servants of the Pharaoh were engaged to collect surplus produce from the Nilotic peasants and put it into storage. Once the produce was collected neither the peasant producers nor the collectors had access to these goods for their own use, for the power and authority for the collection emanated from the Pharaoh. There was a transference of property, but a public, not a private, one, and there was the same immutability of the material status of the products held in store for disposal by the ruling authorities which applies in the case of commodities in exchange. There were significant formal similarities between Bronze Age Egypt or Babylonia and Iron Age Greece, and we shall find in the second part of this study that the proto-science which emerged in the ancient oriental civilisations can be accounted for on these grounds. But the great difference is that the social power imposing this control over the use of things was in the nature of the personal authority of the Pharaoh obeyed by every member of the ruling set-up. In an exchange society based on commodity production, however, the social power has lost this personal character and in its place is an anonymous necessity which forces itself upon every individual commodity owner. The whole of the hierarchical superstructure of the Egyptian society has disappeared, and the control over the use and disposal of things is now exercised anarchically by the mechanism of the market in accordance with the laws of private property, which are in fact the laws of the separation of exchange and use. Thus the salient feature of the act of exchange is that its separation from use has assumed the compelling necessity of an objective social law. Wherever commodity exchange takes place, it does so in effective 'abstraction' from use. This is an abstraction not in mind, but in fact. It is a state of affairs prevailing at a definite place and lasting a definite time. It is the state of affairs which reigns on the market. There, in the market-place and in shop windows, things stand still. They are under the spell of one activity only; to change owners. They stand there waiting to be sold. While they are there for exchange they are there not for use. A commodity marked out at a definite price, for instance, is looked upon as being frozen to absolute immutability throughout the time during which its price remains unaltered. And the spell does not only bind the doings of` man. Even Nature herself is supposed to abstain from any ravages in the body of` this commodity and to hold her breath, as it were, for the sake of this social business of man. Evidently, even the aspect of non-human nature is affected by the banishment of use from the sphere of exchange. The abstraction from use in no way implies, however, that the use-value of the commodities is of no concern in the marker. Quite the contrary. While exchange banishes use from the actions of marketing people, it does not banish it from their minds. However, it must remain confined to their minds, occupying them in their imagination and thoughts only. This is not to say that their thoughts need lack reality. Customers have the right to ascertain the use-value of the commodities on offer. They may examine them at close quarters, touch them, try them out, or try them on, ask to have them demonstrated if the case arises. And the demonstration should be identically like the use for which the commodity is (or is not) acquired. On standards empiricism no difference should prevail between the use on show and the use in practice. This, however, is the difference that matters on the business standards which rule in the market. Of a commodity; in the market the empirical data come under reservations like those argued in subjective idealism; material reality accrues to them when the object is out of the market and passes, by virtue of the money paid, into the private sphere of the acquiring customer. It is certain that the customers think of commodities as objects of use, or nobody would bother to exchange them (and confidence tricksters would be out of business) . The banishment of use during exchange is entirely independent of what the specific use may be and can be kept ; In the private minds of the exchanging agents (buyers and sellers of sodium chlorate might have gardening in mind or bomb-making). Thus, in speaking of the abstractness of exchange we must be careful not to apply the term to the consciousness of the exchanging agents. They are supposed to be occupied with the use of the commodities they see, but occupied in their imagination only. It is the action of exchange, and the action alone that is abstract. The consciousness and the action of the people part company in exchange and go different ways. We have to trace their ways separately, and also their interconnection. As commodity production develops and becomes the typical form of production, man's imagination grows more and more separate from his actions and becomes increasingly individualised, eventually assuming the dimensions of a private consciousness. This is a phenomenon deriving its origin, not from the private sphere of use, but precisely from the public one of the market. The individualised consciousness also is beset by abstractness, but this is not the abstractness of the act of exchange at its source. For the abstractness of that action cannot be noted when it happens, since it only happens because the consciousness of its agents is taken up with their business and with the empirical appearance of things which pertains to their use. One could say that the abstractness of their action is beyond realisation by the actors because their very consciousness stands in the way. Were the abstractness to catch their minds their action would cease to be exchange and the abstraction would not arise. Nevertheless the abstractness of exchange *does* enter their minds, but only after the event, when they are faced with the completed result of the circulation of the commodities. The chief result is money in which the abstractness assumes a separate embodiment. Then, however, 'the movement through which the process has been mediated vanishes in its own result, leaving no trace behind'. This will occupy us more fully later on. Here we want to return once more to the separation of exchange from use and to its basic nature. When looking at use and exchange as kinds of human practice it becomes plain to see in what manner they exclude each other. Either can take place only while the other does not. The practice of 'use' covers a well-nigh unlimited field of human activities; in fact it embraces all the material processes by which we live as bodily beings on the bosom of mother earth, so to speak, comprising the entirety of what Marx terms 'man's interchange with nature' in his labour of` production and his enjoyment of consumption. This material practice of man is at a standstill, or assumed to be at a standstill, while the other practice, that of exchange, holds sway. This practice has no meaning in terms of nature: it is purely social by its constitution and scope. 'Not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values; in this it is the direct opposite of the coarsely sensuous objectivity of commodities as physical bodies.'" The point is that notwithstanding the negation that exchange implies of the physical realities of use and use-value, the transfer of possession negotiated under property laws in no way lacks physical reality itself. Exchange involves the movement of the commodities in time and space from owner to owner and constitutes events of no less physical reality than the activities of use which it rules out. It is indeed precisely because their physical reality is on a par that both kinds of practice, exchange and use, are mutually exclusive in time. It is in its capacity of a real event in time and space that the abstraction applies to exchange, it is in its precise meaning real abstraction and the 'use' from which the abstraction is made encompasses the entire range of sense reality. Thus we have, on the basis of commodity production, two spheres of spatio-temporal reality side by side, yet mutually exclusive and of sharply contrasting description. It would help us to have names by which we could designate them. In German the world of 'use' is often called 'the first or primary nature', material in substance, while the sphere of exchange is termed a 'second, purely social nature' entirely abstract in make-up. They are both called 'nature' to point to the fact that they constitute worlds equally spatio-temporal by reality and inextricably interwoven in our social life. The ancient legend of King Midas, who wished for everything he touched to turn to gold and died upon having his wish fulfilled, vividly illustrates how contrasting in reality and yet how closely associated in our minds both these natures are. This, in the briefest way, is the foundation on which I shall base my historical and logical explanation of the birth of philosophy in Greek society of slave-labour, and of the birth of modern science in European society based on wage-labour. To substantiate my views three points have to be established: (a) that commodity exchange is an original source of abstraction; (b) that this abstraction contains the formal elements essential for the cognitive faculty of conceptual thinking; (c) that the real abstraction operating in exchange engenders the ideal abstraction basic to Greek philosophy and to modern science. On the first point, it is necessary to recapitulate the points made so far: commodity exchange is abstract because it excludes use; that is to say, the action of exchange excludes the action of use. But while exchange banishes use from the actions of people it does not banish it from their minds. The minds of the exchanging agents must be occupied with the purposes which prompt them to perform their deal of exchange. Therefore while it is necessary that their action of exchange should be abstract from use, there is also necessity that their minds should not be. The action alone is abstract. The abstractness of their action will, as a consequence, escape the minds of the people performing it. In exchange, the action is social, the minds are private. Thus, the action and the thinking of people part company in exchange and go different ways. In pursuing point (b) of our theses we shall take the way of the action of exchange, and this will occupy the next two chapters. For point (c) we shall turn to the thinking of the commodity owners and of their philosophical spokesmen, in Part II of the book.

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