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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 38, New Delhi, Sept 4, 2021

Socialism and the Human Individual In Marx’s Work | Paresh Chattopadhyay

Friday 3 September 2021


by Paresh Chattopadhyay

Today there is a curious convergence of views between the Right and the dominant Left on the meaning of socialism. Put more concretely, for both the Right and the dominant Left socialism refers to the system which came into being with the conquest of political power by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917, and signifies a society governed by a single political party — basically the communist party — and where means of production are owned predominantly by the state, and the economy is directed by central planning. The two most important points stressed by both sides for this socialism are the existence of a single central authority exercising political power and the institution of ‘public property’ — signifying the replacement of private property in the means of production predominantly by state property. Needless to add, the Right looks at this ‘socialism’ negatively while the (dominant) Left considers it positively. Both these tendencies, again, find the origin of this socialism in the ideas of Marx.

Now that this socialism has almost evaporated, two kinds of responsibility have been attributed to Marx, involving two kinds of criticism of Marx in regard to this socialism. First, it is held, since the inspiration for this system supposedly came from Marx, and, consequently, since Marx is thought to be responsible for its creation, its disappearance only shows the failure of Marx’s ideas. Similarly, under the same assumption that this socialism was Marx’s brainchild, a contrary charge is directed against him. Here the point is stressed that the horrible reality of this system, as shown above all in its relation to human individuals, only demonstrates that (Marxian) socialism by nature is repressive, that is, it is an inhuman regime. The second kind of responsibility attributed to Marx and, consequently, the second kind of criticism of Marx is very different. It involves Marx’s prognostication of the future after capitalism. The affirmation is made that what Marx had envisaged for the future, that capitalism undermined by its own inner contradictions would go out of existence yielding place to a new, infinitely more humane society — socialism — has been proved wrong. Capitalism continues to exist in spite of all its ups and downs, and socialism continues to elude us. Marx’s vision has simply proved to be unrealizable; at best it is for the “music of the future” (Zukunftsmusik), to use Marx’s ironical term in relation to the great composer Richard Wagner(2008:794).In what follows we shall try to go back to Marx’s original idea of a socialist society which , as we shall see, experienced a total inversion in the hands of people who in the name of Marx(ism) called their regimes ‘socialist’ following the Bolshevik victory in Russia in 1917. Our discussion here is focused on the place of the human individual-particularly as the labouring individual- in Marx’s vision of the future society. The readers of the Communist Manifesto(1848) by Marx and Engels should be familiar with the remarkable affirmation at the end of its second section regarding the future society where “the free development of each” is emphasized as the “condition for the free development of all”. A fundamental feature of what has passed for ‘socialism’ after 1917 was precisely the negation of this affirmation. Indeed, Marx’s focus throughout his adult life was on the condition of the human individual in society, in fact his basic criterion for judging a society had been the extent to which the individual is free here.

 Referring to the situation of the individual in society Marx discerns broadly three stages in the evolution of the human society, which he calls (a) subjective or personal dependence, (b) personal independence but objective or material dependence, (c) free individuality with neither personal nor objective dependence(1953:75). The first two stages referring to the situation of the individual in society concern the period before socialism. The third stage concerns the situation of the individual in socialist society. The discussion of the third stage-the very subject of our discourse-forms naturally an integral part of our discussion on Marx’s socialism itself and will logically be taken up within our discussion of the future society.. Before we discuss socialist society let us see what happens to the individual in societies which precede socialism-this, in order to fully appreciate what divides the socialist individual from the pre-socialist individual— mainly seen as a labouring individual— and how the latter is ultimately transformed into the former.

Situation of the Individual         

In what Marx calls his ‘Critique of political economy’ he is not concerned with the unreal, isolated human individual à la Robinson Crusoe- a situation which Marx calls‘Robinsonade’ (1953:1)-the familiar image of the eighteenth century classical political economy.His point of departure is, on the contrary, the individual producing, distributing and consuming in association with other individuals in society-as socially determined individual. Let us first elaborate upon the situation of the individual in the human’s social evolution during the period preceding socialism.

(a) Personal dependence which characterizes the first stage of social evolution refers to the situation where individuals relate to one another in their predetermined roles: patriarchy, slavery, feudal system with vassals and serfs, system of castes and clans. In such situations individual’s personal dependence dominates society-relations of production as well as other relations in social life. As a materialist Marx had absolutely no romantic, idyllic image of the ancient communities. Referring to the old, traditional communities of India, Marx underlined in one of his 1850s articles in NewYork Daily Tribune: “We must not forget that these idyllic little village communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and slavery, they subjugated the man to external circumstances instead of elevating the man to be the sovereign of circumstances, they transformed a self-developing social state into a never changing natural destiny and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature” (Marx 1959:40-41). Such societies are characterized by relatively slow development of the productive forces taking place at isolated locations only.

(b) The next stage in social development is the stage of personal independence but material dependence of the individual.This occurs in a society where the products of human labour in general take the form of commodities. Here the ties of personal dependence are broken and torn asunder.Here the immediate relation between the producers and their own labour appears as a social relation not between the producers themselves but as social relations between things(1965:607). Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer’s labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. By the very reciprocity of the process of exchange it is necessary for human beings , by a tacit understanding, to treat each other as private owners of those exchangeable objects and, by implication, as independent individuals. The behaviour of human beings in the process of production is ‘purely atomic’, in Marx’s phrase. Hence the relations between individuals in production assume a material character independent of their control and conscious individual action. The atomic character of behaviour as between individuals generated by the exchange of products as commodities makes the individual appear as an independent, free being. However, as Marx observes, this freedom is an illusion. The independence in question is really reciprocal indifference. The freedom here is really the freedom to collide with one another freely. While the determining factor in the first situation of the individual-that is, personal dependence-as discussed above-is personal limitation of one individual by another, the determining factor in this second case under consideration seems to be built up into a material limitation of the individual by objective circumstances that are independent of the individual and over which the individual has no control (Marx 1953:81).

The image of the isolated hunter and fisher, the starting point of the classical political economy-particularly with Smith and Ricardo-arose in the eighteenth century as a kind of mirror image of the civil , that is, bourgeois society-which had been developing since the sixteenth century- which was a society of free competition. The individual appears here to be free from the bonds of nature and free from a definite, limited human conglomeration. Paradoxically, as Marx observes, “the period which produces this standpoint of isolated individual , is the very period when the social relations have reached the highest state of development in society”(1953:6). This is in the sense that the disintegration of all products and activities into exchange values presupposes both the dissolution of all rigid, personal relationships of dependence in production and, at the same time , a universal interdependence of the producers. As Marx observes , “according to the economists each person has the own interest in mind; as a consequence he serves everyone’s private interest, that is, general interest without wishing or knowing that he is contributing to it” (1953;74)”. As one can see, this is the famous ‘invisible hand’ image of Adam Smith. Now, as Marx underlines, the private interest of the individual is already a socially determined interest which has been achieved only within the conditions established by society. The content of private interest as well as the form and the means of realizing it are only given by the social conditions independently of the will or the knowledge of the individuals. The mutual and universal dependence of individuals who remain indifferent to one another constitutes the social network that binds them together. It is in exchange values that all individuality and particularity are negated and suppressed. It is abstract labour that produces commodities. Producing individuals are subordinated to social production that exists external to them as a kind of fatality. Social production is not subordinated to the producing individuals. In one of his Parisian ‘Excerpt Notebooks’(1844) Marx wrote, “The individual’s own power over the object appears as the power of the object over the individual; master of one’s own production, the individual appears as the slave of production”(1932:536). In another passage of the same text we read:”As human beings you have no relation with my object because I myself have no relation with it...Our own product has taken a hostile attitude towards us . It appears as our property whereas , in reality, we are its property .We ourselves are excluded from the true property because our property excludes other human beings.” (1932:545; emphasis in original). This is what Marx calls ‘alienated labour’ where the concept of alienation is critically taken over from Hegel who of course conceived alienation in idealist terms besides-as Marx affirms- confusing ‘objectification’ of labour with ‘alienation’ of labour. Alienation simply signifies that the world of objects ,the creation of human labour (physical and mental), becomes independent of and beyond the control of the subject, the producing inividuals, and dominates the subject.

The specific condition of the immediate producer under capitalism-which is generalized commodity production-corresponds to this alienation. In one of his Parisian manuscripts of 1844 Marx writes:”The labourer becomes poorer, the more wealth the labourer produces. The valorization of the material world is in direct proportion to the devalorization of the human world”(1973:512;emphasis in manuscript). In a later manuscript, he wrote in the same vein,  “the realization process of labour is exactly its de-realisation process.It posits itself objectively, but it posits its objectivity as its own non-being, or as the being of its non-being-as the being of capital” (1982; 2238). In his 1857-58 manuscripts Marx observes that the “concept of free labourer implies that he is a pauper, virtual pauper. Following his economic conditions, he is simple living labour power. In is only in the mode of production based on capital that pauperism appears as the result of labour itself, of the development of labour’s (own) productive power”(1953:498). Continuing and sharpening this idea in an 1861-63 manuscript Marx arrived at the notion of “absolute poverty “ of the labouring individual in capitalism :”Let us consider labour power itself in the form of commodity which stands in opposition to money or in opposition to objectified labour, to the value which is personified in the possessor of money or capitalist...On one side appears labour power as the absolute poverty, in as much as the whole world of material wealth as well as its universal form, as exchange value, as alien commodity and alien wealth, stands opposed to it;this labour power itself however is simply the possibility to labour, embodied in the living body,,a possibility which however is absolutely separated from all the objective conditions of realization and thus from its own reality, and in the face of these conditions existing independently, bereft of these conditions”.As such the labouerer is a “pauper” (1976a:33-34, 35;emphasis in original). In a different manuscript composed a few years later(1865-67) and published posthumously—the so called ‘sixth chapter’ of Capital- we find echoes of basically the same idea : “With the capitalist mode of production, to the same extent as the social productivity of labour develops, grows the amassed wealth confronting the labourer as the wealth dominating him, as capital; in opposition to him the world of wealth expands as the world alien to him and dominating him. His subjective poverty, destitution and dependence increase in the same proportion in opposition. His emptiness and the corresponding fullness on the other side march together.”(Marx 1988:126;emphasis in original).The notion of ‘absolute poverty’, ‘pauper’, employed in this unusual sense,has a profound meaning which follows logically from the situation of the labouerer- the seller of manual and mental labour power- in capitalism.Here, as Marx underlines, the labour power , separated from the means of labour, is, by that very fact , also separated from the means of subsistence.Hence here,as Marx affirms, “the absolute poverty of the labouerer signifies nothing but the fact that his labour power is the only commodity left for him to sell,that his bare labour power stands opposed to the objectified, real wealth”(1976a:36). In other words, the mere fact that a person’s (and her or his family’s) existence depends exclusively on the person’s wage or salary-irrespective of its amount or level-automatically means the situation of “absolute poverty” for the person. Such a labouring individual is a “pauper”. Apparently paradoxically, Marx underlines in a later manuscript that both the labouerer and the capitalist are equally the victims of alienation. However, there is a basic difference. As he observes, “from the beginning labourer is superior to the capitalist; the capitalist is rooted in the process of alienation and finds there his absolute contentment whereas the labourer who is his victim finds himself , from the beginning , in constant rebellion against the capitalist and feels the condition as an act of enslavement... The capitalist appears there in the same relation of servitude in relation to capital as the labourer, though at the opposite pole” (1988:65) [1]. Marx’s principal concern was, as already emphasized, the labouring individual.

Along with alienated labour there are other alienations facing the individual in religion, state and family. Particularly worth emphasizing is the situation of the woman in the general framework of alienation which Marx underlines —following one of his masters,Fourier-in the 1844 manuscripts as well as in Holy Fmily(jointly with Engels)(1845). According to Marx , in this society the infinite degradation of man in regard to himself is shown in the relation with respect to the woman, the “prey and handmaid of communal lust”. This is because “the secret of this relation is manifested directly, openly and unambiguously in man’s relation to woman. Man’s relation to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. Therefore in this relation is seen how far the natural behaviour of man has become human , how far the human essence has become natural essence for him, how far his human nature has become natural for him, far in his most individual existence he is at the same time a social being. “(Marx 1973:535;emphasis in original).

     The individual in the third stage of social evolution where s/he is neither subjectively nor materially dependent but enjoys what Marx calls “free individuality”, is an integral part of the society which is envisioned to succeed capitalism-socialist society,in the same way as the fist type of the labouring individual was the individual of the pre-capitalist society and the second type is the individual of the capitalist society. This requires further discussion after we have an idea about socialism itself. So let us first see in a nutshell how Marx envisions the society after capital.


First, a word on the confusion about the term ‘socialism.’ There is a widespread idea that socialism and communism are two successive societies, that socialism is the transition to communism and hence precedes communism.This idea has been widespread ,particularly after the Bolshevik victory in 1917. For Marx this distinction is non-existent. For Marx, socialism is neither the transition to communism, nor the lower phase of communism. It is communism tout court. In fact Marx calls capitalism itself the ‘transitional point’ or ‘transitional phase’ to communism (Marx 1953: 438; 1962a: 425-26; in Most 1989: 783). For him socialism and communism are simply equivalent and alternative terms for the same society that he envisages for the post-capitalist epoch which he calls, in different texts, equivalently: communism, socialism, Republic of Labour, society of free and associated producers or simply Association, Cooperative Society, (re)union of free individuals. Hence what Marx says in one of his famous texts — Critique of the Gotha Programme  — about the two stages of communism [2] could as well apply to socialism having the same two stages.

Socialism or communism appears in two different senses in Marx (and Engels). First, as a theoretical expression. In this sense the term does not mean a state of things which should be established or an ideal to which reality should conform. It is rather the “real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The movement arises from today’s (pre)conditions” (Marx & Engels 1973: 35). Engels says of socialism/communism: “to the extent that it is theoretical, it is the theoretical expression of the place of the proletariat in the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the résumé of the conditions of the emancipation of the proletariat” (in Marx & Engels 1972: 357). Again (in the Communist Manifesto), “the theoretical principles of the communists...are only the general expressions of the real relations of the existing class struggle, of a historical movement that is going on before our eyes” (Marx & Engels 1966: 70). In the second sense, socialism/communism refers to the society which is envisaged as arising after the demise of capitalism.

The conditions for the rise of socialism are not given by nature. Socialism is a product of history. "Individuals build a new world from the historical acquisitions of their foundering world. They must themselves in course of their development first produce the material conditions of a new society, and no effort of spirit or will can free them from this destiny" (Marx 1972: 339; emphasis in original). It is capital which creates the material or objective conditions and the subjective agents for transforming the present society into a society of free and associated producers. “The material and the spiritual conditions of the negation of wage labor and capital — themselves the negation of the earlier forms of unfree social production — are in turnthe result of its [capital’s](own) process of production” (Marx 1953: 635).Even capital’s extraction of surplus value from the labouring individual plays, paradoxically, a positive role in preparing the conditions of a much richer individuality of the future society. “ As restless striving for the general form of wealth capital drives labour beyond the limits of its natural needs , and in this way, creates the material elements for the development of a rich individuality which is all-sided in production as well as in consumption and the labour of which appears no more as labour but as full development of activity itself in which the natural necessity in its immediate form disappears because a historically created need takes the place of the natural need .This is why capital is productive”(Marx:1953:231).  The fact of alienated labour itself under capital contributes contradictorily to the creation of the material conditions for the rise of the communist society. In an 1857-58 manuscript we read: “The extreme form of alienation in which the relation of capital and labour, labour, the productive activity, to their own conditions and their own product is a necessary point of transition and thereby in itself ...already contains the dissolution of all the limited presuppositions of production , and rather creates the indispensable preconditions of production and therewith the full material conditions for the total ,universal development of the productive powers of the individual”(1953:414-15). By reducing the necessary labour time to its minimum capital contributes to create, independently of its will, disposable time for society though it tends to use it to its own exclusive advantage by converting it into surplus labour. .More it succeeds ,more it suffers from overproduction which compels it to interrupt the necessary labour. More this contradiction develops , more it becomes clear that the “growth of the forces of production cannot be made captive of the appropriation of alien surplus labour but that the labouring mass must appropriate its own surplus labour.When it succeeds in this endeavour the disposable time ceases to have this contradictory existence”. And that is the turning point where the social collective appropriation by social individuals begins. .Then on the one hand the “necessary labour time will have its measure in the needs of the social individual and on the other hand the development of society’s productive power will be so rapid that even though from now on production will be calculated for the wealth of everybody,disposable time also will increase for all because the real wealth is the developed productive power for all individuals”(Marx 1953:596) In brief, the material conditions are created by capital’s inherent tendency towards universal development of the productive forces and by the socialization of labor and production. As regards the subjective condition, it is provided by capital’s “grave diggers” — the proletariat — begotten by capital itself. Even with the strongest will and greatest subjective effort, if the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of circulation for a classless society do not exist in a latent form, “all attempts to explode the society would be Don Quixotism” (Marx 1953: 77).

More than two decades later,in his polemic with Bakunin, Marx wrote: "A radical social revolution is bound up with certain historical conditions of economic development. The latter are its preconditions. It is therefore only possible where, with capitalist development, the industrial proletariat occupies at least a significant position” (Marx 1973b: 633). It must be stressed, however, that capitalist relations are not revolutionized within capitalism automatically even with all the requisite material conditions prepared by capital itself. It is the working class which is the active agent for eliminating capital and building the socialist society; the proletarian revolution is thus an act of self-emancipation:“The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves” (Marx 1964a: 288). Marx and Engels equally underline that “consciousness of the necessity of a profound revolution arises from the working class itself” (Marx & Engels 1973: 69). The starting point of the proletarian revolution is the conquest of political power by the proletariat — the rule of the “immense majority in the interest of the immense majority," the “conquest of democracy” (Marx & Engels 1966: 74, 76). This so-called ‘seizure of power’ by the proletariat does not immediately signify the victory of the revolution [3]; it is only the “first step in the worker revolution” (ibid.: 76) which continues through a prolonged “period of revolutionary transformation” required for superseding the bourgeois social order (Marx, in Marx 1964b: 24).A specific political rule corresponds to this transformation period-the absolute rule of the working class, the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat.It should be stressed that under Marx’s supposition that the working class revolution takes place in a society-that is advanced capitalism-where the immense majority consists of workers as wage and salary earners, this proletarian rule during the transformation period is indeed at the same time the greatest democracy. However, until capital totally disappears, the workers remain proletarians by definition and the revolution continues, victorious though they are politically. "The superseding of the economical conditions of the slavery of labor by the conditions of free and associated labor can only be the progressive work of time,” and the “working class will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes transforming circumstances and men,” wrote Marx with reference to the Parisian revolution of 1871 (Marx 1971: 76, 156-57). Later he reminded Bakunin that even with the installation of the proletarian rule “the classes and the old organization of society still do not disappear” (Marx 1973b: 630). At the end of the process, with the disappearance of capital, the proletariat along with its ‘dictatorship’ also naturally disappears, leaving individuals as simple producers, and wage labor naturally vanishes. Classes disappear along with the state in its last form as proletarian power and the society of free and associated producers — socialism — is inaugurated. Since state has been inextricably associated with the twentieth century ‘really (non)existing socialism’, it is important to stress that in what Marx envisaged as socialism there is absolutely no state,no politics, since this socialism is a classless society. Thus in an 1844 polemic Marx writes: "Generally a revolution — overthrow of the existing power and the dissolution of the old relations — is a political act. Without revolution socialism cannot be viable. It needs this political act to the extent that it needs destruction and dissolution. However, where its organizing activity begins, where its aim and soul stand out, socialism throws away its political cover” (Marx 1976a: 409). The message is basically the same in the two succeeding texts-Poverty of Philosophy(1847) and the Communist Manifesto(1848). In German Ideology(1845-46) it is explicitly stated that the organization of communism is “essentially economic”(Marx and Engels1973 :70). There is absolutely no text in Marx which allows state-or, for the matter of that, politics , to have a place in a classless society which socialism is precisely envisioned to be.

In all hitherto existing societies — based on class rule — the community has stood as an independent power against individuals and has subjugated them. Thus it has really been a “false” or “illusory” or “apparent” community. The outcome of the workers’ self-emancipatory revolution is the socialist society, an “associationof free individuals” —as mentioned earlier, individuals neither personally dependent as in pre-capitalism nor objectively dependent as in capitalism — and there arises, for the first time, the “true” community where universally developed individuals dominate their own social relations (Marx 1932: 536;Marx and Engels 1973: 73,74; Marx1953: 593; 1987: 109). Correspondingly, the capitalist mode of production (CMP) yields place to the “associated mode of production” (AMP).As we mentioned earlier, with the disappearance of classes, there is also no state and hence no politics in the new society. In this regard we have already cited Marx’s several texts earlier.

Similarly, with the transformation of society’s production relations, its exchange relations — with nature as well as among individuals — are also transformed. Capital, driven by the logic of accumulation, seriously damages the environment and undermines the natural powers of the earth together with those of the human producer, the “twin fountains of all wealth” (Marx 1987: 477). In contrast, in the new society, freed from the mad drive for accumulation and with the unique goal of satisfying human needs, individuals rationally regulate their material exchanges with nature with the “least expenditure of force and carry on these exchanges in the conditions most worthy of and in fullest conformity with their human nature” (Marx 1992: 838). As regards the exchange relations among individuals, under capitalism commodities , the vehicles of exchange, are the products of private labours, reciprocally independent, which only through alienation in the process of private exchanges are confirmed as social (labour). That is, here individual labour is only indirectly social.In the new society,in contrast, collective production is presupposed, with collectivity as the basis of production from the very beginning. The community is posited before production, and the labour of the individual is directly social from the start. Hence products cease to have exchange value. Exchange of values is replaced by what Marx calls exchange of activities determined by collective needs. From the very inception of the new society as it has just come out of the womb of capitalMarx’s first phase of socialism“producers do not exchange their products and as little does labor employed on these products appear as value” (Marx 1964b: 15). Collective production of course immediately implies social appropriation of the conditions of production replacing the private ownership.

Finally we come to the allocation/distribution of instruments production — the material means of production and the living labor power — and the consequent distribution of products in the new society. The distribution of the instruments of production boils down really to the allocation of society’s total labor time (dead and living). This allocation, effected under capitalism through exchange taking value form, is contrariwise performed in socialism by direct and conscious control of society over its labor time. At the same time, in conformity with the nature of the new society, free time beyond the labor time required for satisfying material needs must be provided by society to the associated individuals for their “all-sided development”. Hence the “economy of time is the first economic law on the basis of communitarian production” (Marx 1953: 89). As regards the distribution of the total social product in socialism, it is first divided between the production needs and the consumption needs of society. Production needs here refer to needs of replacement and extension of society’s productive apparatus as well as insurance and reserve funds against uncertainty. Consumption is both collective — healthcare, education, provision for those unable to work — and personal. The principle governing personal consumption remains that of commodity exchange: the quantity of labour given to society by the individual is received back from society (after necessary deductions) by the individual. However, the mediating ‘labour coupons’ have no exchange value. In fact, in commodity production there is a contradiction between “principle and practice”; equivalence is established “only on average," since the individual share in total social labour is unknowable. Opposite is the case with socialism (Marx 1964b: 16; emphasis in original). Similarly, in his famous discussion of the “association of free individuals” in Capital I, Marx posits that under “socialised labor, diametrically opposed to commodity production," the mediating labor certificates are not money, they simply ascertain the share allocated to each labouring individual — “only for the sake of a parallel with commodity production” — according to the individual’s labor time (Marx 1987: 109, 122) [4]. At the initial phase of the new society this principle of equivalence, in parallel with the principle under commodity production (hence called by Marx “bourgeois right”) but without having value form assumed by the product, cannot be avoided. This process is wholly overcome only at a higher phase of the society when all the springs of co-operative wealth open up, leading to the adoption of the principle “from each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s needs” (Marx 1964b: 17).

Labour of the Individual in the New Society 

Having delineated the outlines of the socialist mode of production ,let us have a closer look at how Marx viewed the labouring individual in the ‘Association’.

The starting point here is a very important distinction that Marx makes between individual’s labour as such and individual’s labour as self-activity, a distinction which most of the Marx readers generally leave aside. The neglect of this point by readers leads them to a wrong understanding of Marx’s explicit emphasis in some texts on the abolition of division of labour and of labour itself in the coming society.This position of Marx (and Engels) appears most explicitly in the German Ideology.At first sight this position looks strange. How could a society survive without labour and division of labour? Even many Marxists by and large are embarrassed in the face of this seemingly ‘utopian’ idea.Let us see the matter more closely. Basically Marx stresses that labour as it has been practiced by the human individuals in society so far across the ages, has been principally involuntary, at the service of others, commanded by others. This was palpably the case with individuals under “personal dependence”, as seen in slavery and serfdom(in their different forms). Under “material dependence”, with wage labour, this is less palpable but here also an individual’s labour is imposed on the labouerer by forces external to the labouerer. Labour under capital, as we saw earlier, is alienated from the labourer, In Marx’s 1844 manuscripts we learn that the alienation of labour’s object is summed up in the alienation in the activity of labourer itself. “The labourer finds himself in the same relation to his product as to an alienated object...In his labour the labourer does not affirm but negates himself. The labourer has the feeling of being himself only outside of labour and outside of himself in labour. His labour is not voluntarily given, it is imposed.It is forced labour“(Marx 1973:514; emphasis in original). One year later, in his polemic with List Marx remarks that the labouerer’s activity is not a “free manifestation of his human life, it is rather an alienation of his powers to capital.” Marx calls such activity ‘labour’ and writes that “labour by nature is unfree, inhuman activity” and calls for the “abolition of labour” (1972:435-36; emphasis in manuscript). Indeed Marx cites Adam Smith’s view that labour in history so far, including labour under capital, has been repulsive, appearing as sacrifice, as externally enforced labour and that non-labour is freedom and luck(Marx1953:505). Now, as regards the existing division of labour, Marx underlines that the activity of the individual here is not voluntary. His own act stands in opposition to him as an alien power which instead of being mastered by him enslaves him. As soon as the labour begins to be divided, each labouring individual has a definite, exclusive circle of activity imposed on him and from which he cannot come out(Marx and Engels1973:33). In the first version of his great work Capital Marx wrote(“(Under capital) the product of living labour, the objectified labour with its own soul stands opposed to it as an alien power. The realization process of labour is at the same time the de-realization of labour.”(1953:358). Referring to the process of simple reproduction of capital , Marx underlines in his masterwork that inasmuch as before entering the labour process the labour of the labourer is already appropriated by the capitalist and incorporated by capital, this labour is objectified during the process constantly into alien product (1965:1072;1987:527). Referring to the division of labour in capitalism Marx says that this process seizes not only the economic sphere but also other special spheres, introducing everywhere the process of “parcellization. of the (labouring) individual” . Marx also calls such individuals “detail”, that is, fragmented “individuals”. Very pertinently Marx cited what he called the “outcry” of Adam Smith’s teacher A.Ferguson,”We make a nation of helots ( serfs in ancient Sparta), we have no free citizens” (1965:896, 992; 1987:349, 463,466). In other words, going back to an earlier text, we have here what Marx calls “abstract individuals”(Marx and Engels1973:67). Hence it is a question of abolishing this ‘labour’ and this ‘division of labour’ as the task of the “communist revolution” (Marx and Engels1973:69).It is in this spirit that Marx wrote in one of his 1861-63 manuscripts: “As if division of labour was not just as well possible if its conditions appertained to the associated labourers, and the labouerers related themselves to these conditions as their own products and the objective elements of their own activity which by their nature they are”(1962:271). This is the sense we get in Marx’s 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme. Discussing the lower and the higher phases of the communist society,Marx observed that the lower phase of the new society which has just come out of the capitalist society with all its birth marks cannot completely get rid of the legacy of the mode of labour of the old society including the division of labour, particularly that between mental and physical labour. Only the higher phase of the new society will completely transcend the narrow bourgeois horizon when labour will not simply be a means of life but it will become life’s first need, and not all division of labour will be abolished but only the division of labour which “puts the individual under its enslaving subordination”, along with the opposition between mental and physical labour(1964b:17).

There is another aspect of labour which concerns in a vital way the labouring individual in socialism.In all modes of production,at least after the most primitive stage, total labour time of society is divided into necessary labour time and surplus labour time. Necessary labour is what is required for preserving and reproducing the labour power, while surplus labour is labour beyond necessary labour whose product takes the form of surplus value in capitalism . “For the capitalist it has all the charms of creation out of nothing”.Once the capitalist form of production is suppressed, a part of the total human activity still remains necessary in the earlier sense of preserving and reproducing the labour power of the individual labourer through the provisions for collective and individual consumption —including food,housing,health and education.However,in contrast with capitalism the domain of necessary labour is much further extended in conformity with the requirements of the total development of the individual, subject only to the limit set by society’s productive powers. The labour beyond this necessary labour-the surplus labour- which under capitalism used to serve mainly capital accumulation, disappears.

. On the other hand, a part of what is considered under capitalism as surplus labour, the part which to-day serves as reserve and accumulation funds would, in the absence of capital, be counted as necessary labour. for insurance, reserve funds and continuing enlarged reproduction of means of production keeping pace, not with the requirements of (non existing) capital accumulation but with the requirements of growing social needs of the associated individuals including provisions for those who are not in a position to work. All this falls in the domain of material production..So the whole labour devoted to material production is counted as necessary labour under socialism. The time beyond this necessary labour time required for material production is really the free time, disposable time which is wealth itself, on the one hand for enjoying the products and, on the other hand, for the free activity, activity which is not determined by the constraint of an external finality which has to be satisfied, a satisfaction which is a natural necessity or a social duty. In a justly famous passage Marx observes:

“The kingdom of freedom begins where the labour determined by necessity and external expediency ceases. It lies therefore by nature of things beyond the sphere of material production really speaking .Just as the savage has to wrestle with nature in order to satisfy his needs, to preserve his life and to reproduce, the civilized person also must do the all social forms and under all possible modes of production. With his development increases this kingdom of natural necessity because his needs increase, but at the same time the productive powers increase to satisfy them...(Only) beyond this begins the development of human powers as an end in itself, the true freedom, which, however, can bloom only on the basis of the other kingdom, that of necessity”.(1992: 838)..

Even the non-disposable, or necessary labour time in socialism has a qualitatively different character compared to the necessary labour time in a class society inasmuch as this time is not imposed by an alien power but is willingly undertaken by the associated producers as self-activity, as self affirmation. “The time of labour of an individual who is at the same time an individual of disposable time must possess a quality much superior to that of a beast of labour”(Marx 1962:255-56) [5]. It seems that when Marx was speaking of labour not only as means of life, but as life’s first need in the Gothacritique, (as referred to above), and, earlier in his inaugural address to the First International (1864) of the distinction between the previous kind of labour and “associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind and a joyous heart”, he was precisely referring to the ‘necessary labour’ in socialism in the sphere of material production. As regards the necessary labour time bestowed on material production itself in socialism the continuous development of productive forces at a high rate, helped by advancing science and technology, would allow continuous decrease of necessary labour time and corresponding increase of disposable, that is, free time for every individual. “The true wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. It is then no more the labour time but the disposable time which is the measure of wealth. The labour time as the measure of wealth posits wealth as founded on poverty...This is to posit the whole time of an individual as labour time and thus to degrade the individual to the position of simple labouerer, subsumed under labour”(Marx 1953:596). Marx refers to the idea of the ancients that the aim of production is the human individual, and considers this as “sublime” compared to the modern world where the aim of the humans is production and the aim of production is wealth (and not the human individuals, that is). Then Marx adds,

    “Once the limited bourgeois form disappears,wealth appears as nothing but the universality of needs, of capacities, of enjoyments, productive powers of the individuals, the absolute elaboration of the individual’s creative aptitudes with no other presupposition but the previous historical development which makes an end in itself the totality of development of all human powers as such , not measured by a standard, previously set, but where the individual is not reproduced according to a particular determinity, but creates his totality. In the bourgeois economy,and the corresponding epoch of production this complete elaboration of the human interiority appears as complete emptiness.” (1953:387).

In consonance with the three stage —analysis of the situation of the individual given above, Marx discusses (in English) the changing relation through time of what he calls the “Man of Labour” and the “Means of Labour” in his 1865 discourse to the workers of the International: the “original union”,then its “decomposition”, and finally “the restoration of the original union in a new historical form”(1988:412) [6]. Here the last form refers to socialism where through the appropriation of the “means of labour” by the collective body of the freely associated individuals the “reunion” takes place [7]. Once this re-union is established the human ceases to be personally or materially dependent, and no more exists as an alienated, parcellized, fragmented individual and becomes a “totally developed”, “integral” individual. This “free individuality” signifies the real appropriation of the human essence by the human for the human, a conscious return to the human essence conserving all the wealth of previous development (Marx 1973a:536). With this begins humanity’s real history, leaving, in Marx’s celebrated phrase, “the pre-history of the human society” behind(1980:101). Socialism is indeed the beginning, and not the end, of human history.


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[1Essentially the same ideas had already appeared in Marx’s 1840s writings. See Marx &Engels 1972:37 and 1973:418.

[2This text appears to be the only place in Marx’s writings where this two-phase temporal division of the future society is found, excepting for a rather vague suggestion to this effect in his 1844 Parisian manuscripts.

[3Like the widely used phrase of the Left, “victory of the October (1917) revolution," by which is of course meant the seizure of political power.

[4This idea reappears in Marx’s second manuscript for Capital II (Marx 2008: 347). Interestingly, considering both the texts of the two volumes of Capital on allocation-distribution as given here, one sees clearly that they refer not to the higher phase of the socialist society but to its lower phase referred toin the Gothacritique;that is, we already have a society of free and associated individuals with neither commodity production nor wage labor.

[5In his 1865 lecture(in English) to the workers of the International Marx declared:”Time is the room of human development. A man who has to dispose of no free time, whose whole life time, apart from the mere physical interruptions by sleep, meals and so forth, is absorbed by his labour for the capitalist, is less than a beast of burden. He is a mere machine for producing Foreign Wealth, broken in body and brutalized in mind.”(1988:424).

[6“The original unity between the labourer and the conditions of production,‘ writes Marx, ‘has two main forms (leaving aside slavery where the labourer himself is a part of the objective conditions of production): the Asiatic community (natural communism) and the small family agriculture (bound with household industry) in one or the other forms. Both are infantile forms and equally little suited to develop labour as social labour and productive power of social labour, whence the necessity of separation, of rupture, of the opposition between labour and ownership (in the conditions of production). The extreme form of this rupture within which at the same time the productive forces of social labour are most powerfully developed is the form of capital. On the material basis which it creates and by the means of the revolutions which the working class and the whole society undergoes in the process of creating it can the original unity be restored”(1962:419; emphasis in manuscript).

[7An important point, hardly noticed ,should be stressed here. In the last section of the first chapter of Capital I where Marx offers a portrait the society after capital, this latter is referred to in the standard Moore and Aveling English translation as a “community of free individuals”. True, ‘community’ is a correct translation of Marx’s original German term ‘Verein’, which could also be translated as ‘union’ or ‘association’. Now, in the French version-in the writing of which Marx actively participated- very interestingly we find this term translated as ‘reunion’, which more than any other term exactly translates the spirit of the ‘reunion’ of which Marx speaks here-the “original unity” appearing in the footnote immediately preceding this footnote. Hence the most appropriate term conveying the new society is really not simple ‘union’ ,but ‘re-union’.This is an improvement on the English version.

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