The Ethical Foundations of Marxism Eugene Kamenka 1962
ACCORDING to Marx, as we have seen, the laws of political economy and the facts of economic life rest on the uncriticised presupposition of private property, which conceals and accepts the fact of man’s self-alienation. This alienation, Marx had sought to show, necessarily breaks out at every turn:
(1) The product of man’s work, and ultimately the whole outer world of sense-experience, all of nature, are alienated from man and confront him as hostile, independent forces seeking to dominate him.
(2) Man’s own activity, the process of labour itself, is alienated from him, made into an independent object, and similarly dominates man instead of being dominated by him.
(3) The alienation of nature from man means the alienation of man from his own universal, generic social being. His generic social existence, instead of representing his essential nature becomes a mere means for satisfying his narrow, individual demands.
(4) The alienation of man from his universal being means also his alienation from other men. Instead of being expressions of his own universal essence, they confront him as hostile beings.
Political economy cannot escape or resolve these contradictions because it does not criticise private property, because it does not see that the true basis of private property is human alienation. But in the Paris Manuscripts, at least, Marx insists on the logical priority of alienation: it is not enough merely to criticise or reject private property without recognising and resolving the human alienation that underlies it. Thus he emphasises (somewhat obscurely) that instead of asking ‘What is the origin of private property?’, we should ask ‘How can we explain the alienation that broke out in the course of human development?” (M I, 3, 93). Instead of studying laws of economic development from the abstracted standpoint of private property, from within alienation, we should ask: ‘What is the relationship between the general nature of private property, as it has developed out of alienated labour, and truly human and social property? Four years later, Marx (with Engels) was to attack scathingly in the Communist Manifesto this treatment of alienation as something distinct from and more basic than the economic facts supposed to follow from it:
It is well known how the monks wrote silly lives of Catholic Saints over the manuscripts on which the classical works of ancient heathendom had been written. The German literati reversed this process with the profane French literature. They wrote their philosophical nonsense beneath the French original. For instance, beneath the French criticism of the economic functions of money, they wrote ‘Alienation of Humanity’ and beneath the French criticism of the bourgeois State they wrote, ‘Dethronement of the Category of the General’, and so forth ...
The French Socialist and Communist literature was thus completely emasculated. And, since it ceased in the hands of the German to express the struggle of one class with the other, he felt conscious of having overcome ‘French one-sidedness’ and of representing not true requirements, but the requirements of Truth; not the interests of the proletariat, but the interests of Human Nature, of Man in general, who belongs to no class, has no reality, who exists only in the misty realm of philosophical fantasy.
(SW I, 55.)
In 1844, without question, Marx still believed in the requirements of ‘Human Nature, of Man in general’, still insisted on alienation as something more than a series of economic facts. It is hardly surprising that the concrete value of his insistence that questions about private property should be converted into questions about alienation remains obscure. He does, however, in somewhat metaphysical form seek to derive one concrete point from it — a criticism of the ‘crude Communism’ which fails to see the alienation behind private property.
Marx’s point seems to be that if we regard private property purely as such we will think that the contradictions of political economy can be overcome by converting private property into public property, whereas in truth they can only be overcome by a thorough-going rejection and overcoming of all aspects of alienation, including the very concept of property and the very distinction between the ‘individual’ and ‘society’.
Marx seeks to develop this theme by drawing a parallel between the successive stages through which alienation passes in establishing itself and the stages through which the overcoming of alienation must pass. He has already argued that the progress of man’s self-alienation passes through an objective stage, when private property is worshipped in its material, non-human form, and a subjective stage when private property is seen as human labour, but still alienated from man. The overcoming of self-alienation, according to Marx, takes the same form. (What follows, however, reveals a fact often to be noted in Marx’s later works; as he develops a position in detail, allegedly to illustrate an outline he has summarised, the detailed position does not quite match the architectonic with which he began.) Thus, in the first stage, the socialists, though recognising labour as the essence of property, still see private property only in its material and sectional form. They therefore seek only the overcoming of capital ‘as such’ (Proudhon) or ascribe the harmfulness of private property to some special form of work — agricultural labour being taken as at least the most important form of unfree labour in Fourier and the physiocrats, industrial labour in Saint-Simon. Communism takes us a stage further: it is the positive overcoming of private property. But Communism, too, has its stages. Unlike socialism, it sees private property in its universality, but in the first stage it seeks merely to universalise private property. This desire appears in a dual form: ‘on the one hand Communism is so much under the sway of material property, that it wants to destroy everything which cannot be owned by everybody as private property; it wants forcibly to cut away talent, etc.’ (M I, 3, 111-12). On the other hand, ‘it regards direct physical ownership as the only aim of life and existence'; it thus continues the relationship of private property but stretches it to cover all men by converting it into the property of ‘society’. The ‘animal’ expression of this emerges clearly in its treatment of women. To marriage (admittedly a form of exclusive private property), it contraposes the common ownership of women, which turns women into common, social property. This, indeed, shows us the particular secret ‘of this still utterly crude and thoughtless Communism. just as woman steps out of marriage into universal prostitution, so the entire world of riches, of the objectified being of man, steps from its exclusive marriage with private owners into the relationship of universal prostitution with society. This Communism, in its universal negation of the personality of man, is merely the consistent expression of private ownership, which is the negation of human personality. Universal envy constituting itself as power is only the hidden form in which greed reappears, satisfying itself in a different way ... How little crude Communism’s overcoming of private property is a genuine appropriation is shown by its abstract negation of the whole world of education and civilisation, by its return to the unnatural simplicity of the poor man without needs, who has not passed beyond private property but has rather not even reached it yet.’ (M I, 3, 112.)
In the second stage, according to Marx, we have Communism still political in nature — whether democratic or despotic — or Communism already concerned with the dissolution of the State. In both forms, Marx claims (again somewhat obscurely) that Communism already recognises itself as standing for human re-integration, for the dissolution of alienation, but it still has not grasped the positive essence of private property or the human character of needs. Thirdly and finally we have:
Communism as the positive dissolution and transcendence of private property, of human self-alienation, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; therefore as the complete and conscious return of man to himself as a social [gesellschaftlichen], i.e., human, man — a return fashioned with the whole wealth of his past development. This Communism is the consummated naturalism =humanism, the consummated humanism = naturalism, it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and Nature and between man and man — the true resolution of the strife between existence and true being Existenz und Wesen], between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved; and it knows itself to be the solution.
(M I, 3, 114; EPM 102.)
The same point, Marx insists, applies to religion, family, State, jurisprudence, morality, science, etc.; they are all only particular forms of production and fall under the general laws governing the transcendence of alienation within production. The positive transcendence of private property ‘through the appropriation of human life’ is therefore the positive overcoming of all alienation, the return of man from religion, family, the State, etc., into his human (i.e., social) existence (M I, 3, i 15). Society thus becomes the ‘consummated unity in being of man and Nature, the true resurrection of Nature, the thorough-going naturalism of man and the thorough-going humanism of Nature (M I, 3, 116). Above all, we must avoid once more treating ‘society’ as an abstraction to be opposed to the ‘individual'; the individual is the social being, under these conditions his individual life and his generic, social life become one, even if the existential form of individual life must necessarily remain a more particular or general form of the generic life.
Here then is the ‘rational society’ which Marx sees as the solution to the riddle of history. It is not merely the society in which private property has been abolished; it is above all not a society in which property has simply passed to the control of the State or to ‘social’ control. It is the society in which any opposition between individual and social demands has disappeared, in which wants and enjoyments lose their egoistic nature, in which utility becomes human, universal, social utility. Man appropriates Nature, makes it part of himself; his senses thus become true, truly human senses; man himself becomes the true, truly human, man.