Notes on Alienation in 1844 and Valorization in 1864.

I make the argument in my thesis, which I have referred to in several posts, that Marx’s critique of political economy shouldn’t just be seen in terms of a continuity with his comments on estranged labour in 1844, but that his later work develops a more sophisticated explanation for how and why capital is a form of social domination. (I also argue that the later Marx drops a notion of human essence but I do not address that issue here.) I think this can be illustrated in some ways by comparing a famous passage from the 1844 manuscripts with a passage from the ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production.” Both have remarkably similar conclusions that highlight the alien form that labour takes on viz its producers; the early work in its account of this product as an alien thing that inverts to dominate and devalue the human world; the later in a more sophisticated precis of how this process of production is subsumed by the valorisation process, which follow by a more detailed explanation of how this occurs through the personified qualities of things, valorizing value alien to the worker whilst impoverishing him. In what follows I try to flag up this development in a non-systematic manner.

In the earlier work the explanation is as follows: Alienated labour is the the result of the socially specific activity of ‘labour’. It consists of workers creating and alienating the products they produce to owners in exchange for wages. This alienates the workers product which, as alienated labour, ‘now stands opposed to it [the worker] as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer.’

This alien power consists in the autonomous forms of political economy. For Marx private property is…. the product, result, and necessary consequence, of alienated labour. Private property thus functions as the means through which labour alienates itself” as the realization of this alienation. This process is therefore constitutive of social reproduction (i.e. that reproduction in which “The labourer produces capital and capital produces him, which means that he produces himself; man as a labourer, as a commodity, is the product of this entire cycle[, and it forms a dynamic in which ‘the devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation to the increase in the value of the world of things’[6]. This causes alienated labour to become an autonomous, alien and inverted form of social domination:

The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, assumes an external existence, but that it exists independently, outside himself, and alien to him, and that it stands opposed to him as an autonomous power.  The life which he has given to the object sets itself against him as an alien and hostile force.

As a result, Marx concludes that ‘the devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation to the increase in the value of the world of things.’

In 1864 many of these aspects of the alien, autonomous and inverted domination of the results of process of production are incorporated into an account of how production is subsumed and takes part in the valorisation process. We can also flag up several more developments in Marx’s explanation; private property is now the means of production; capital is now seen as self-valorising value tied to the extraction of surplus value through the exploitation of labour, constant capital — dead labour — plays an important role in both establishing the presuppositions of the mode of production and valorisation. Finally, this process is not described simply as realized in an external thing, but as necessarily appearing as the quality of things. (Furthermore, in contrast, to Lukacs the following also highlights the difference between the trans-historical activity of labour and the socially specific way it factors in capitalist social production, whilst gesturing towards the opposition Arthur sees between the early Manuscripts — where capital is simply an alien externality — and the later work where it is the subject.)

First the similar passage:

“To be sure, the means of production the worker employs in the real labour process are the property of the capitalist, and, as previously explained,they confront the worker’s labour, which is the expression of his own life, as capital. But on the other hand it is the worker who employs the means of production in his labour. In the real labour process, he utilises the means of labour as the conductor of his labour, and the object of labour as the material in which his labour is expressed. It is precisely through this that he converts the means of production into a form of the product appropriate to the purpose. The matter assumes a different aspect if considered from the angle of the valorisation process. It is not the worker who employs the means of production, but the means of production that employ the worker. It is not a matter of living labour being realised in objective labour as its objective organ, but of objective labour being preserved and increased by the absorption of living labour, thereby becoming self-valorising value, capital, and functioning as such. The means of production now appear only as absorbers of the largest possible quantity of living labour. Living labour now appears only as a means for the valorisation and therefore capitalisation of existing values. And, leaving aside our previous analysis, the means of production again appear, precisely for that reason, as éminemment the presence of capital vis-á-vis living labour, and indeed they now appear as the rule of past, dead labour over living labour. Living labour, precisely in its value-creating function, is constantly incorporated into the valorisation process of objectified labour. Labour, as the exertion, the expenditure of vital forces, is the personal activity of the worker. But as value-creating, as engaged in its own objectification process, the labour of the worker itself becomes a mode of existence of the value of the capital, incorporated into the value of the capital, once he enters into the production process. This power of preserving value and creating new value is therefore capital’s power, and the process appears as one of capital’s self-valorisation, while the worker who creates the value — value alien to him — is on the contrary impoverished.” MECW 34. P. 397

Now the explanation that follows:

“This ability of objectified labour to convert itself into capital, i.e. to convert the means of production into means of command over, and exploitation of, living labour, appears under capitalist production as an inherent characteristic of the means of production (and it is indeed dunameidunamei bound up with them on this basis); it appears as inseparable from them, hence as a quality which falls to them as things, as use values, as means of production. They therefore appear to be in and for themselves capital, and capital, which expresses a particular relation of production, a particular social relation, in which the owners of the conditions of production confront living labour capacities within production, therefore appears as a thing, just as value appeared as the quality of a thing and the economic determination of the thing as a commodity appeared as its quality as a thing; and just as the social form assumed by labour in money expressed itself as the qualities of a thing.2)†218 In fact the rule of the capitalists over the workers is only the rule over the workers themselves of the conditions of labour in their independence, in the independent position they have taken on vis-á-vis the workers (apart from the objective conditions of the production process — the means of production — the conditions of labour include the objective conditions for the preservation and effective functioning of labour power, i.e. the means of subsistence), although this relation only comes to realisation in the real production process, which, as we have seen, is essentially a process of the production of surplus value, which includes the preservation of the old value; it is a process of the self-valorisation of the capital advanced. In circulation, capitalist and worker only stand vis-á-vis each other as sellers of commodities, but owing to the specific polarity of the kinds of commodity they sell to each other, the worker necessarily enters into the production process as a constituent in the use value, the real existence and the value existence of capital, although this relation is first brought to realisation within the production process, and the capitalist, who as a buyer of labour only exists dunameidunamei, first becomes a real capitalist when the worker, who is eventualiter†a converted into a wage labourer through the sale of his labour capacity, first really falls under the command of capital in that process. The functions performed by the capitalist are only the functions of capital itself performed with consciousness and will — the functions of value valorising itself through the absorption of living labour. The capitalist functions only as capital personified, capital as a person, just as the worker only functions as the personification of labour, which belongs to him as torment, as exertion, while it belongs to the capitalist as the substance that creates and increases wealth; and in fact it appears as such an element incorporated into capital in the production process, as its living, variable, factor. The rule of the capitalist over the worker is therefore the rule of the object over the human, of dead labour over living, of the product over the producer, since in fact the commodities which become means of domination over the worker (but purely as means of the rule of capital itself) are mere results of the production process, the products of the production process. This is exactly the same relation in the sphere of material production, in the real social life process — for this is the production process — as is represented by religion in the ideological sphere: the inversion of the subject into the object and vice versa.” MECW 34 pp. 37-9.


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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