Money and Alienated Labour in 1861-63.

I thought I would flag up the following bit from the 1861-63 Manuscripts which I think has interesting parallels with the famous manuscript on estranged labour. It may simply be the way Marx kept notes, but it seems to me like there is an echo between what he wrote in 1844 and what he wrote here. So I’m tempted to say that the following shows part of the process in which Marx shifts from the idea of estranged labour by moving away from basing his criticism of political economy on a notion of human essence to trying to develop an explanation for how social labour becomes an alien force that inverts to dominate the workers who collectively constitute it through the valorization process in which money is essential. The passage also has some interested points on how capitalism differs from other forms of social production:

“The fact that the worker, placed face to face with money, offers his labour capacity for sale as a commodity implies [21]:

1) That the conditions of labour, the objective conditions of labour, confront him as alien powers, alienated conditions. Alien property. This also implies, among other things, the earth as landed property, it implies that the earth confronts him as alien property. Mere labour capacity.

2) That he is related as a person both to the conditions of labour, which have been alienated from him, and to his own labour capacity; that he therefore disposes of the latter as proprietor and does not himself belong among the objective conditions of labour, i. e. is not himself possessed by others as an instrument of labour. Free worker.

3) That the objective conditions of his labour themselves confront him as merely objectified labour, i. e. as value, as money and commodities; as objectified labour which only exchanges with living labour to preserve and increase itself, to valorise itself, to turn into more money, and for which the worker exchanges his labour capacity in order to gain possession of a part of it, to the extent that it consists of his own means of subsistence. Hence in this relation the objective conditions of labour appear only as value, which has become more independent; holds onto itself and aims only at increasing itself.

The whole content of the relation, and the mode of appearance of the conditions of the worker’s labour alienated from labour, are therefore [II-69] present in their pure economic form, without any political, religious or other trimmings. It is a pure money-relation. Capitalist and worker. Objectified labour and living labour capacity. Not master and servant, priest and layman, feudal lord and vassal, master craftsman and journeyman, etc. In all states of society the class that rules (or the classes) is always the one that has possession of the objective conditions of labour, and the repositories of those conditions, in so far as they do work, do so not as workers but as proprietors, and the serving class is always the one that is either itself, as labour capacity, a possession of the proprietors (slavery), or disposes only over its labour capacity (even if, as e. g. in India. Egypt, etc., it possesses land, the proprietor of which is however the king, or a caste, etc.). But all these forms are distinguished from capital by this relation being veiled in them, by appearing as a relation of masters to servants, of free men to slaves, of demigods to ordinary mortals, etc., and existing in the consciousness of both sides as a relation of this kind. In capital alone are all political, religious and other ideal trimmings stripped from this relation. It is reduced — in the consciousness of both sides — to a relation of mere purchase and sale. The conditions of labour confront labour nakedly as such, and they confront it as objectified labour, value, money, which knows itself as mere form of labour and only exchanges with labour in order to preserve and increase itself as objectified labour. The relation therefore emerges in its purity as a mere relation of production — a purely economic relation. And where relations of domination develop again on this basis, it is known that they proceed purely from the relation in which the buyer, the representative of the conditions of labour, confronts the seller, the owner of labour capacity.”  (MECW vol 30 131-132)




About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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18 Responses to Money and Alienated Labour in 1861-63.

  1. CB says:

    While I think you’re right that Marx moves his theory from the essence of the individual, in the direction of an alien social force that treats the former subject of history as an object, the old theory of alienation (1844), along with some degree of essentialism remains in Marx.

    Even during Capital, Marx continually drives home the point that how a human labors, or the human labor capacity, is universally applicable in all modes of production and eras of history. This is an essential ingredient of what makes the human distinct from other animals. However, how our laboring abilities are expressed can be perverted, distorted, or harmonious, depending on the social relations around the means of production. When you mix this essential ingredient with the rest of ones social upbringing, you get man’s overall essence, but in all analysis of man’s essence, there is always one latent, or active essential ingredient – the way we can labor. Almost in perfectly synonymous terms Marx describes the way we labor in Notes on Mill, through 1844, to Capital, in exactly the same way, and he always refers to the process as labor outside of its historical context. Ergo, it’s essential.

    • HR says:


      This is obviously an old and widely debated topic. I have my own interpretation which tries to get past the humanist-althusser debate. So i’m not trying to dispute there is some continuity between the early and late Marx. However, I can’t give this argument in detail here but it seems our grounds of difference boil down to how you define the theory of alienation. You seem to define it in terms of what you call the human capacity to labour outside of its historical context, which you argue carries through Marx’s writings from 1844 through Capital. While i’m not entirely sure what you mean by outside of its historical context–does this relate to the naturalization of the capitalist mode of production?– I certainly don’t disagree with your view that Marx held some general notions about the distinct capacities of human social labour through out his writings. But I do think they possess different degrees of emphasis and are attached to different theories of capital. So when i refer to alienation in terms of a theory of human essence i refer to the notion of species-being and his anthropoloigical speculations about how capital estranges humanity from its own species-essence. these are tied to an underdeveloped theory of capital as a sort of external alien thing in 1844. Whereas in the later writings on his critique of political economy I think Marx jettisons the anthropological bases of species-being and estrangement in order to try to articulate how social labour–as a process that occurs through things–constitutes and reproduces itself by virtue of what you call an alien social force. At any rate that’s the development I was pointing to and the difference I contend exists between the early and late Marx.

      • CB says:

        I appreciate the reply. Let me make a few points clearer, if you don’t mind.
        1. I do not want to reignite the Althusser-Humanism debate, that was not my intention.
        A. I think both camps are flawed (more the former). I think people can be Marxist-Humanist, it’s a position I admire and respect, and occasionally flirt with, but it’s not one that I believe Marx held.
        2. I agree with you that essence takes on a social formation, but within the ensemble of what constitutes one’s essence at a given historical moment ( a particular, e.g., white, male, ship captain, family of four, who loves john wayne movies ), is a universal (our labor capacity as Marx outlines it in Notes on Mill all the way through Capital). So when we consider one’s essence, at any historical moment, there is an essential ingredient that must also by factored into consideration.
        A. This creates a different view of essence and essentialism than is standard in philosophy. For instance we usually say the essence of X is what it is to be X. For Marx the essence of man is a host of variables, which develop and interact with one essential ingredient (this is Marx’s theory of human nature, which he does have, despite the onslaught of detractors).

        I realize this is an ‘old debate,’ I wrote my undergrad thesis on this issue, but I have not found a single marxists who has taken my position. And It’s a position that I think is credible so long as we read Marx from youth to death, without any outside influence. This is roughly how I first read him.

        One reason I think it’s pretty clear that Marx’s theory of alienation from the old manuscripts is still pertinent to his later work is that, despite the fact he never uses the subject (alienated man/species-being/etc) in Capital, all the predicates are there (e.g., alienated from his fellow man, the product, the production process, himself). And this isn’t something we who have read the manuscripts read into Capital, it’s something contained within. The testament to this claim is that Lukacs found all the predicates, having never read the 1844 manuscripts; as demonstrated in his reification essay. Moreover, when Marx goes on to talk about what distinguishes man, as the worst architect, from the best bee and spider, he verbatim repeats his old essential component from Notes on Mill and the 1844 manuscripts.

        What we have here then are two theories of alienation, neither of which are mutually exclusive. There the alienation of the laborer, and the alienation of society, social man, who ceases to be the subject of history and has become its object (the one you’re focused on). Why wrestle over which is truth, when we can affirm that both are? And we do not reach a contradiction within Marx’s writings, or from without.

        p.s. Another reason I think this is an important conversation, one that requires that we recognize a human nature, or ahistorical essential component, is because Marx’s fourth stage of alienation is that man is alienated from himself. If we do not have a constant within the self, this is a nonsense claim. If man’s essence is just an ensemble of social relations at any given historical moment, there is no ‘self’ that is suddenly being alienated during capital. There is only capitalistic man.

        There is a new book on marx and human nature that just came out, that I think might finally be making the claim I made a few years ago. But it’s $80 and I can’t afford it…heh.


      • HR says:

        Hi CB,

        Thanks very much for spelling points out. Here a number of points in reply.

        1) Due to the old and pervasiveness of this debate as taken up in the Althusser/Humanist polemics I made a number of assumption about how you used certain terms like essence etc.

        From your explanation I now see that you use the term in a different way than I assumed, which many humanists tend to use, and which I think tend to diminish Marx’s later insights by reading them through the Manuscripts.

        However, from what I recall, I would argue that this interpretation of essence shares more with Marx defining man as the ensemble of social relations, rather than in the manner that he defines species-being in the Manuscripts and Notes on James Mill.

        (I go into this in more detail in the first chapter of my thesis, but following Arthur I argue that Marx makes a distinction between alienation and estrangement that is not evident in most translations of the manuscripts. Roughly the former describes the process of domination constituted by capitalist social labour, the former accounts for the types of estranged human essence that occur as consequence when workers are cut off from their product, their own activity, themselves, their fellow humans and their species essence as a whole. As I stated before–and as you also point out–there is continuity in terms of the thematic of alienated domination. I think there is also continuity in terms of people being maimed by these conditions but I am not sure Marx holds that they occur because the innate essence of humanity has been separated from humans, when i seems to me it more in drawing out the consequence of social labour–and the ensemble of social relations–the constitute humans in this miserable state.)

        2) onto what I think is an important question that you raise about why I wrestle with this issue? Its complicated, and some of it has to do with reacting against the way I was taught Marx and the philosophical discipline I am increasingly less enamored with, but it seems to that reading of Marx popularized by Marxist humanism is limited and quite possibly a counterproductive way of reading Marx in our time.

        I say this because i’m increasingly drawn to the historical question of why such a reading crystalized when it did and my broad speculative answer would be that it seems to be the product of a number of confluences such as the move away from traditional interpretations of marx, a way to deflect criticisms of the labour theory of value but also a way to make Marx valuable for a criticism of the socio-cultural problems of the Keynesian golden age.

        Now for me it seems that current crises puts a different tint on things. I contend for instance, that it makes Marx’s theory of value as explanation for how and why capital acts in the way that it does with its misterable consequences of central importance. Yet it seems to me that humanism and the readings of Marx that read capital through the the theory of alienation in the manuscripts are not interested in this explanation but in showing how it resembles the theory of the manuscripts and how these correspond to a theory of human nature. This transforms what I think is Marx’s attempt at a scientific critique of capital into a philosophical project that eschews how these aspects of alienation are constituted or of how the human consequences are explained.

        So for me i guess its a question of approach and strategy. By trying to differentiate the later theory from alienation I hope draw this out and point its importance, which I think is neglected.

        3) For now ill duck your question about capitalist man and human nature. I realize i should worry about this but I on questions like these and the normative failings in the Frankfurt School I honestly can’t see what they add.

        4) what’s the new book? is it the Wendling one?

      • HR says:

        Also, not to disrespect your approach, CB, so I wonder how you would argue that your interpretation of these theories as theories of alienation can be utilized in our time of crisis.

  2. negative potential says:

    CB, Heinrich has some very enlightening things to say on this in _The Science of Value_ (which is still being translated), that early Marx is basically moving on the terrain of the Feuerbachian anthropology, just as classical political economists also argued from an anthropological position (i.e. the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,” etc.). It is only the later Marx who moves beyond anthropology to a theory of social form.

    FWIW, I agree with HR about moving beyond a false humanist-Althusserian dichotomies. Especially since the Althusserians have a problematic, reflexive anti-Hegelianism that is inadequate to Marx’s later work.

    • HR says:

      when is that Heinrich being translated?

    • CB says:

      I wish we were past the point that Althusser’s name even needed mentioning in discussions of Marx, anymore than Stalin’s name. I didn’t bring him up, and I was hoping he wouldn’t find his way into the conversation 🙂

  3. CB says:

    This is the book:
    (Never have the time or money to truly keep abreast of these debates….)

    Ironically I’m now undergoing an independent study of the Frankfurt school with the head of my philosophy department. He’s a former phd student of Habermas; so once a week I’m having to defend Marx from what are strikingly inane claims. Fortunately he’s a good spirit, and recognizes the limitations of Habermas, and is inclined to hear me out regarding Marx. Unfortunately he keeps push Axel Honneth on me, and I think that man is the most retrograde, establishment, liberal, to ever hit the Frankfurt school.

    I would re-assert that even if your distinction is correct between estrangement and alienation (and I think it is in the aggregate of Marx’s work), they are not mutually exclusive. You’re right that schools of thought tend to enshrine one theory against the other, and this is again, why I agreed with you that while I flirt with Marxist humanism, I don’t think it’s what Marx actually thought. Of course I also flirt with Lenin, so I’m not consistent with my predilections.

    Although I mostly despise Zizek, I did recently read an essay by him that clarified a point regarding Marxism I hadn’t considered. There is no need to separate the young marx from the old, the humanist from the non-humanist, the essentialist, from the non-essentialist. the truth is Marx began with a critique of religion, moved on to the state, moved on to the labor process, and moved on to society as a whole. Marxism is a consummated criticism of all existing conditions, not one nor the other. Thus, I think it’s necessary not to divorce estrangement from alienation, but to make them compatible. Now that aside, academically, there is the reverse side of the equation which you’ve taken up, and what needs to be taken up: that is, showing the influence of Marx’s more social and totalizing theory of alienation, where the subject of history is now the object. This is often overlooked as you point out, and to bring it to the fore is laudable, I just wouldn’t exclude estrangement in the process, nor would I exclude a theory of human nature nor essentialism.

    • HR says:

      ha. yeah both Habermas and Honneth are rather shabby figures more befitting the rawls institute for social research. Have you ever read Reichelt’s critique of Habermas’s interpretation of Marx? its fantastic. (I should also add Reichelt made much the same point as Zizek about the overall unity of Marx’s theory of domination in his most excellent ‘social reality as appearance.’)

  4. CB says:

    The applicability of carrying along the theory of estrangement (i will use this word to refer to the 1844 theory) is a tricky one. Prima Facie I think it gives us Marxists normative potential. There’s only one criticism I ever lobby at Marx, and that’s that he really did ignore, or at least, disregard morality and ethics a bit too much. We need to be able to tell people why capitalism is wrong, bad, evil, disgusting, etc. And to appeal to exploitation only works to some degree – since to some degree it’s just an economic category for finding surplus value, and not a normative claim. I think estrangement offers us this normative potential. But I also think independent of moral criticism, it’s factually correct. There’s quite a lot of psychological evidence that verifies that if man is divorced from the product, production process, and his fellow man, psychological issues arise. I don’t think it’s an obscene stretch to tie Marx’s theory together with increased abuse (or as our doctors would call medicine) of Rx drugs just to get through the drudgery of the day.

    There’s also some other evidence to support my claim. In countries with the largest amount of state backed vacations, shorter work hours, and social safety nets (Scandinavian countries), people are remarkably HAPPIER (and Marx did say alienation leads to unhappiness), than countries where capitalism is more unregulated and onerous. So in the countries where Man can be his species-being, and can do what he likes (e.g., hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, and blog with you at night 🙂 ) he’s happier and less alienated, than when he doesn’t have those options. Statistics affirms Marx’s theory of alienation, and recent science affirms his theory of human labor (what I like to call a triangulation theory).

    Now don’t get me wrong, I still think our economic crises is one that is verifiable by Capital I-III, Andrew Kliman has done a kickass job of affirming this in his recent book. But the crises of capital, and the crises of perfunctory proletarian existence are nuanced. Again, why I think your theory should be compatible. If capitalism rebounds, we return to 5% unemployment, and we are all praising Clinton-esque times again, we will still be alienated, unhappy, abusing Rx drugs (distinction between abuse and getting high for fun of course 😉 ), etc. And Scandinavia will remain happier.

  5. CB says:

    Whoops, looks like I auto reverted back to alienation when I said I’d say estrangement. Consider all uses of alienation/estrangement as referring to 1844 work. I apologize for the confusion.

  6. Robert says:

    “Although I mostly despise Zizek, I did recently read an essay by him that clarified a point regarding Marxism I hadn’t considered. There is no need to separate the young marx from the old, the humanist from the non-humanist, the essentialist, from the non-essentialist. the truth is Marx began with a critique of religion, moved on to the state, moved on to the labor process, and moved on to society as a whole.”

    I have to say I’ve yet to figure out how it is that Žižek has managed become such a default whipping-boy for so many Marxists. Too much bullshitting about popular culture? Too much German Transcendental Idealism via Lacan? Does he take the dreaded Althusser too seriously? Is it the constant clumsiness with which he discusses China and immigration policy in the EU?

    At any rate, if the above is really how he put the matter-at-hand, then that is probably the best way I have ever seen it put in a concise fashion.

  7. CB says:

    HR I have not heard of this philosopher, nor read his critique. Would you be so kind as to offer some links or more information? I’ve intrigued. Very intrigued.

    • HR says:

      He was Adorno’s student and is one of the founders of what’s called the new german reading of Marx.

      Social Reality as Appearance is here

    • HR says:

      his criticism of Habermas is here. A bit from it:

      “If one wishes to differentiate Habermas’ theory from that of Marx in terms of its central motifs, then one will have to argue along the fol- lowing lines: from the very beginning, even in his doctoral thesis on Democritus’ and Epicurus’ Natural Philosophy, Marx pursued a pro- gramme of deciphering society as an ‘organic’ [naturwüchsige] form of increasing individualization. Marx’s focus is on forms, at first on forms of consciousness (i.e., religion, philosophy, morality, law), then later on the forms or categories of political economy. For Marx, the focus on forms was identical with the critique of the inverted forms of social existence, an existence constituted by the life-practice of human beings. All these forms obtain as inverted form of a ‘community’ that is external to the individuals, and from which they must emancipate themselves in order ever to be able to interact with one another ‘as individuals’ (Marx and Engels, 1962, pp. 70f).1 This central idea is presented in its most pregnant form in The German Ideology: ‘The reality [das Bestehende], that communism creates, is precisely the real [wirkliche] basis for rendering it impossible that any reality should exist independently of individu- als, in so far as this reality is only a product of the preceding inter- course of the individuals themselves’ (ibid., p. 70). It is thus a matter of deciphering theoretically the appearance [Schein] of independence that this ‘surrogate of community’ posits (ibid., p. 74), and then of expelling it practically from the world so that human beings will be able to enter into relationship with one another, not as character-masks, but as real individuals.”

      Of course not everyone! Equipped with the category of strategic action and money as medium, Habermas’ innocuous action–theoretical conceptualization works within the parameters of economic thought where money is attempted to be derived as a reduction of transaction costs(!). If one would still wish to consider this sort of thing theory, then Marx’s critique, in the Grundrisse, of the ‘appearance of circula- tion’ might be a good guide for understanding the theoretical appeal of such wonders. In the reality of bourgeois society, however, we have to deal with commodity capital, industrial capital and money capital; contracts are concluded among property owners who have as their pri- mary goal the realization of a profit margin – hardly a pleasant matter. And these infinitely many contracts between the owners of the means of production are made possible by the infinitely many contracts with those who are free to sell their labour power: the workers who produce surplus value. But on the surface of society, as Marx calls it, all appear as contracting parties, as persons, as exchange-participants – and not in their character-masks as members of their respective classes. The con- tents of contract, however, are conditioned by the existence of classes. In the reality of bourgeois society, we will always have to deal with actual contracts in which for this reason even arbitrariness and the general will – in Hegel’s words – coincidentally concur.
      In his concept of general will, Hegel not only translated Rousseau’s volonté générale into German, but also sought to grasp the moment of the supra-individual, that is, the moment of unity and universality that cannot be traced back to the intentionality of all (that would be the volonté de tous). Just as each specific commodity contains use-value and exchange value – both unity and multiplicity – so too the agents in the act of exchange: as owners of value they are indistinguishable and posited as equals – a unity; as the possessors of concrete things, they comprise a multiplicity. Modern theories of natural law as well as those of sovereignty wallow around in categorial unconsciousness within this pre-given constellation; they posit in advance people as always already equal and free legal subjects, and as contracting parties, but can only conceive of political forms as something that is the result of inten- tional action. Habermas’ espousal of what he calls the ‘self-understanding of modern legal theory’, conceives of sovereignty and human rights through the lenses of a deliberative radical democracy. Habermas tells us more than he is conscious of: the self-proclaimed heir to critical the- ory practises exactly that for which critical theory reproached tradi- tional theory.12 Habermas shares, with traditional theory, the inability to thematize and to develop genetically the actual forms of bourgeois society. Insofar as Habermas is a critical theoretician, he does not con- nect his theory to reality; insofar as he connects it to reality, his theory is not critical – a twice half-baked theory.”

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