Man in Marxist Theory. Lucien SÚve 1974
The point from which we set out, which marks a point of no-return with regard to all philosophical humanism and psychological idealism, is the crucial discovery recorded in the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach: the exteriority, and one might say the foreignness of the human essence in relation to the isolated individual, to the psychological form. The basis of the personality is not a basic personality. Social relations are not cultural patterns, behaviour-types, forms of consciousness, etc., but positions which men occupy in the system of social production, property and distribution. For example, capitalism is not an enterprising spirit + a thirst for profit + a protestant ethic, but an ensemble of objective relations which in themselves are foreign to the psychological processes and ideological representations that are its support, relations which are irreducible to individual ‘roles’ and to collective ‘mentalitiés’. One must first of all pay particular attention to this qualitative difference which exists between the concrete individual and the ensemble of social relations, to the absence of immediately visible and thinkable correspondence of one to the others, even if it means making the gulf between the terrain of the psychology of Personality and that of the social sciences, including the psychosocial Sciences, seem impassable.
This means, in particular, that one must be extremely vigilant with regard to the illusions which the very idea of a social psychology always runs the risk of giving rise to. If psychological forms are unquestionably found in objective social realities – for example, social beliefs and opinions, psychological forms of class consciousness, etc. – this in no wise results from a capacity society has of originally and mysteriously assuming the psychological form without passing through the psychism of concrete individuals but, quite on the contrary, from the fact that the psychological form of the concrete individual in its turn projects onto social facts. There is a set of reciprocal dialectical determinations here which one has every chance of losing one’s way without the guidance of historical materialism. It often seems to be imagined that a belief in the fundamental precedence of social forms of psychism and consciousness over individual forms is a particularly Marxist, materialist standpoint. Actually, if one adheres to this, one is in the depths of idealism since one attributes the psychological form to society as such, i.e. one psychologises it. If the social essence of psychological forms is independent of individuals, if superstructures and ideologies, just like infrastructures, are essentially non-psychological, this means precisely that the fact that they also assume the psychologicalform is not of social origin. Although this may appear paradoxical to a vulgar materialism, it is precisely the idea that the psychological forms comes from individuals to society and not the reverse which expresses the truly materialist point of view: psychism originally exists only in and through concrete individuals. And in this respect the relative opposition between a sociologism of the collective consciousness in Durkheim and a psychologism of social imitation in Tarde develops wholly within a basic sociological idealism of which historical materialism is a deëisive refutation in advance. But while psychism only exists originally in and through individuals, the content and forms of psychism in no wise originate in individuals but are socially produced: it is society which produces the concrete forms and content of human psychism, but it originally produces them only in concrete individuals in whom the psychological form appears as an effect of individuality, and it is by way of individuals that the psychological form in its turn projects itself in society, therefore appearing in it as derived ‘social psychism’, from which all sorts of remarkably complex secondary interactions with individuals result. Epistemologically naive, social psychology mistakes these Nth degree interactions which appear on the surface of phenomena as the directly comprehensible essence of things and without recourse plunges into idealism. This is what happens in American cultural anthropology, for example, when it tries to defme what it calls primary social institutions from which the basic personality derives and secondary institutions which in their turn reflect this basic personality: understanding social institutions in a psychologised way, it obviously cannot correctly establish their primary, i.e. material and bectlve, character, and must assume a human nature as the foundation Of the whole, therefore remaining captive to all the idealist illusions connected with man. What it is a question of understanding, quite on the contrary, is that social relations are not to any degree inter- subjective relations and that nevertheless, foreign to the psychological form ifl their objective materiality, but none the less being relations between men, they determine the forms of individuality within which concrete individuals appear, in whih the human essence assumes the psychological form.
If one holds firmly to this key truth of the immediate non correspondence between the ensemble of social relations and the isolated individual, therefore between social forms of individuality and psychological form of the personality, one is in a position to see the real outline of the boundary between the two scientific domains. The theory of the concrete individual, in other words the theory of personality, differs profoundly from the theory of general forms of individuality which belongs to the social sciences, in that it encounters, in a unique way, as the central problem, the problem of the psychological form as such, of the personality strictly speaking, for example and in particular concerning the following points:
The concrete personality develops by way of a biological support which, while becoming increasingly subordinate to it, determines certain conditions in which it comes into being as a historico-social formation. By that very fact, this biological support is absent in the social forms of individuality: thus the ‘Faustian conflict’ which arises in the soul of the capitalist between the passion for accumulation and the desire for enjoyment in no wise has its source, as a characteristic contradition of a given social formation, in the needs of the concrete individual; on the contrary, it is this conifict which induces the corresponding psychic motivations in the personality of the capitalists. The fact that in his Critique de la raison dialectique Sartre takes up this analysis from Marx (without referring to its source), and transcribes it into psychological concepts, so that the asceticism of capitalism is seen as ‘an individual invention’,’is enough to show how little he has really assimilated the meaning of historical materialism with which he professed to be in agreement. The existence of the biological support makes evident a set of determinations (a natural basis of needs, for example) and differentiations (according to nervous types, for example) On the terrain of the science of personality to which there is nothing which corresponds on the terrain of the social forms of individuality.
At the same time the concrete personality is fundamentally characterised by the limitations which the general fact of individuality naturally involves, abstraction made of its historical forms and variations: the limited content of every personality compared with the immense wealth of the objective human essence, the social heritage as a whole; the relative contingency of the singular :ourse of biography compared to the necessity of historical development; the limitation involved in the unilinear and finite pattern of life’s periods through to death, a basic fact which is opposed to the perpetuity of the social world through the constant and imperceptible changing of generations, etc. There is here an inexhaustible source of difference between individual psychism and social conditions, of difference in the importance of objective facts: what counts most from the standpoint of the social formation is sometimes very secondary from the standpoint of the personality and vice-versa.
Furthermore, going from social individuality to concrete personality means that one is confronted with a formation functioning as a totality of a specific order, as such involving specific structures not having their equivalent in social structures and vice-versa. As a complex individual system of activities having its unity on the psychological terrain, the personality is thus the seat of controls, of feelings for example, which, as such, do not directly correspond to social controls, while, conversely, society possesses forms of control, political and legal institutions, for example, to which nothing directly corresponds in concrete personalities as such. All this emphasises how the psychology of personality has little chance of being founded starting from the assumption of an homology with social psychology through the mediation of a concept like that of basic personality. In actual fact the position of the former is juxtastructural in relation to the latter: in its essence it depends on it, while retaining a basic specificty in relation to it.
This leads us to a conclusion of the greatest importance: although the individual
finds his human essence outside himself in the social world, the psychological
form of this human essence is an effect of concrete individuality and only originally
exists in concrete individuality. This is not an exceptional and incomprehensible
fact, moreover, at least not for anyone who approaches causal relations not
in mechanistic but in dialectical terms, i.e. as relations of functional determination.
To make a comparison, while having its ultimate source at the level of the DNA
molecule, the specific form of a living being is by no means preformed; functionally
determined at this molecular level, it exists as an organic form only at the
level of the whole individual. In the same way, the psychic form of human activity
is functionally determined at the level of cerebral structures and neural processes
but it is by no means preformedl as such, as Gall, the founder of short-lived
phrenology, who claimed to locate even psychic traits like pride or reverance
in hypothetical bumps of the brain, thought in the last century. From this point
of view, the idea that the psychological form of the personality as such exists
in social facts, on the plea that it fmds its source in them, is not so different,
epistemologically, from naive preformationism. What must be understood, on the
contrary, is the nature of the processes of functional determination through
which the concrete personality comes to be informed by social realities which
precisely do not have its form.
To say what we mean on this point, as we started to in the previous chapter, is to defme ‘accurately the status of the social forms of individuality which Marx was the first to begin to theorise, thus opening the way for a correctly conceived social psychology. Let us take up the analysis again at the point where we left off, by way of a fundamental text from the Grundrisse:
This is the occasion to draw attention to a moment which here, for the first time, not only arises from the standpoint of the observer, but is posited in the economic relation itself. In the first act, in the exchange between capital and labour, labour as such, existing for itself, necessarily appeared as the worker. Similarly, here in the second process: capital as such is posited as a value existing for itself, as egoistic value, so to speak (something to which money could only aspire.) But capital in its being-for-itself is the capitalist. Of course, socialists sometimes say, we need capital, but not the capitalism. Then capital appears as a pure thing, not as a relation of production which, reflected in itself, is precisely the capitalist. I may well separate capital from a given capitalist, and it can be transferred to another. But, in losing capital, he loses the quality of being a capitalist. Thus capital is indeed separable from an individual capitalist, but not from the capitalist, who, as such, confronts the worker. Thus also the individual worker can cease to be the being-for-itself of labour; he may inherit or steal money, etc. But then he ceases to be a worker. As a worker he is nothing more than labour in its being-for-itself.
This text is particriarly eloquent against any theoretical antihumanism which would wish to separate social relations and the concept of man; but it is also quite clearly arguing against the confusion of the economic categories of capitalist and worker with concepts of ‘concrete Psychology’, since the concrete individual (this worker, this capitalist) is here explicitly left aside as such. What, then, is it about? As regards economic realities, it is about the functioning and reproduction of social relations which, as regards individuals, appear as necessary matrices of activity.
What this latter expression alludes to differs fundamentally from what Linton, for example, means by cultural patterns or what social psychology today refers to by the term roles. In the first place, a cultural pattern, a role, is a standard of behaviour which the individual may adopt or not according to the psychological advantage which accrues to him, e.g. the satisfaction of the ‘need for favourable response from others’ invoked by Linton. Now without denying that something in reality corresponds to such a notion one must fully recognise that, far from being the result of an individual choice, the bases of the personality are above all an objectively determined social product. This is what the concept of relations of production clearly takes into account: necessary, determinate relations independent of the will of the individuals who are bound up in them in the social production of their life. Of course, the position of an individual in the system of the relations of production and more generally, of social relations, is not totally independent of his will, but the least experience of real life in a class society shows how much the limits within which the will of individuals may be exercised are themselves narrowly determined by the objective social relations. To be a capitalist or proletarian in a capitalist society is therefore quite different from conforming to cultural patterns or to occupying a social role through ‘need for favourable response’ or by virtue of any other psychological motivation emanating from the individual; on the contrary, this is a matter of necessary matrices of activity which stamp objectively determined social characteristics on individuals. By the same token, these necessary matrices of activity differ fundamentally from cultural patterns or roles in this, that in themselves they do not have the psychological form but only determine the social forms and contents of individual activity which must pass through them. Thus the concrete psychological form which the ‘Faustian conifict’ between the passion for accumulation and the desire for enjoyment may assume in the soul of some particular capitalist is in no wise contained in the matrix of activity implied by capitalist relations. This form is extremely variable and, moreover, from the economic point of view it is irrelevant. On the other hand, what is determined in advance and in a general way is that, whether he wishes it or not, the activity of the individual capitalist is an aspect of the processes of accumulation of capital and of credit, and these fundamentally govern its internal logic. In other words, owing to the fact that they are relations between men, social relations, while being absolutely different from psychic acts, constitute social matrices within which concrete human activity necessarily comes to be moulded. The capitalist, the worker is not a basic personality, a psychological type, a of cultural patterns or a set of roles; it is the objective social logic of the activity of some concrete individual as far as he extends his activity within the corresponding social relations and as far as this activity is considered within these limits. The same observations can be made a propos of all social forms of individuality, from the forms of needs to the basic contradictions in processes of personal life.
The whole problem of the boundary – therefore also the real connection – between the psychosocial sciences and the psychology of personality crops up precisely at this point. And it crops up like this: the essence of the concrete individual can only be understood, and can only constitute the object of scientific study, on the basis of a theory of the general forms of individuality in a given social formation; but for the concrete individual and for a psychological science which wishes to grasp him as its object, it is his singularity which is essential. It is not essential for understanding the personality of some capitalist qua capitalist that he is this capitalist, but only that he is a capitalist – and in this respect the investigation belongs to the social sciences – but at the same time it is essential for understanding this capitalist as such to understand him not only as a capitalist in general but as this singular capitalist – and this refers us to a psychology of the concrete personality. But as a science, this psychology of the concrete personality must itself provide a general theory of its object: its paradoxical task is therefore to understand the general as singular and the singular as general. It is clear that psychology has no chance of unravelling this knot of contradictions other than dialectically. And here again this is why the psychology of personality reaches adulthood through philosophy, provided that it is genuinely and scientifically dialectical philosophy, since, in short, it is a question of solving the crucial epistemological problem of the science of the individual, the problem of the relations between singularity and generality – in other words of radically clarifying the problem of essence and concept.
In order to try to solve this problem, which seems to be the crux of the human sciences, let us consider it first of all as it arises in recent epistemology – for example in G.G. Granger’s now classic work, Pensée formelle et sciences de l‘homme. In the last chapter of his book, devoted precisely to this questions, G.G. Granger emphasises right away that
at first sight we fmd ourselves locked in a dilemma: either there is knowledge of the individual but it is not scientific or else there is a science of human acts but which does not reach the individual. No striking result in psychology or sociology has yet provided unquestionable proof of the speciousness of the alternative....It is true that a speculative science of the individual is impossible: this is the meaning of the Aristotelian aphorism that there is only science of the general.
For the author the only true solution is on the terrain of practice. ‘One could speak of the clinical pole of the human sciences to characterise this aspect.
And after having examined the psychoanalytic method from this angle, he adds: ‘To establish the dialetic here it is enough to regard the fact examined, the second term of the clinical couple, as “deviant” in relation to a schematic construction. And as far as science is concerned such appears to us to be the positive aspect of the individual’.’The author sees future development of these schematic constructions in psychology in the direction of an ‘operationally valid distinction’ between an energy ‘infrastructure’ and an informational ‘superstructure’, a ‘provisionally radical distinction between diachronic and synchronic description’,’in short, in the direction of the construction of structural theories supported by teachings in biology on the one hand and linguistics on the other. ‘Clinical description and structural theory would then converge towards an applied science, a scientific practice, the only one able to provide in a limited but precise sense, a conceptual determination of the individual’. But this is merely a question of practical knowledge.
One must therefore give up the empty dream of a science which
would allow us to reach the individual, and particularly the human individual,
in the same way as he is given to us in experience – while retaining rigour,
precision and efficacy.
In the end it is practice like art which solves the speculatively insoluble problem of individual alienation in each domain ... We must conclude that the notion of the individual, still referring to lived experience, is not a scientific concept strictly speaking; it is the sign of our alienated condition and the subject of praxis rather than that of a separate knowledge. A philosophy of knowledge which erects into essences what are only actually experiences lived through in individual fashion deals speculatively with what depends on praxis and leaves the problem of the individual permanently unsolved.
One can recognise most of the main themes of theoretical antihumansim here – themes the recent flowering of which is due in no small part to G.G. Granger’s book. But one can also see how the problem which he tackles is crucial for our purpose: is the project to constitute a theoretical science of the concrete personality, beyond the boundaries of the psychosocial sciences and the theory of the general formS of individuality, not contradictory in itself? This is clearly an absolute epistemological prerequisite for carrying such a project into effect. Now it is obvious that if one accepts G.G. Granger’s premises his conclusions are unassailable: strictly speaking, no theoretical science of the individual is possible if one takes the Aristotelian aphorism as a basic, in other words, if one accepts the conception of essence and concepts on which this aphorism rests: there is only science of the general. But must such a conception of essence and concept be accepted? Must it be agreed that if every science proceeds through concepts, definitely a fact which no one will dispute, it can, therefore, only directly reach what is general in the individual? This is only necessarY in so far as, in the last resort, one identifies the concept and its content, the essence, with an abstract generality, i.e. in so far as one considers the changes, which in our opinion are fundamental, brought into the theory of the essence and the concept by the modern dialectic, especially Marx’s, to be inessential. From this point of view it must be stated that, although it deals with the general methodology of the human sciences, G.G. Granger’s book does not bother to analyse what Marx’s method in Capital, and more generally in all his mature works, contributes that is radically new on this terrain. But is this not precisely one of those ‘striking successes’ which Granger says are absent on the terrain of the human sciences and which completely overturn the traditional way of approaching the problem of the science of the individual? In the conception which, even if it still appears in our day, one must indeed describe as pre-dialectical, the essence is conceived as a general object, i.e. it is extracted from knowledge of singular concrete objects and from their comparison through simple and direct abstraction. The essence is, therefore, the general nature of existing things, what they have in common, and consequently in itself is conceived as a thing. The reality status of this general object, the essence, designated by the concept, may vary considerably from one philosophy to another and from one type of scientific thought to another; one may locate its origin or seat in God, or in things themselves, or in human consciousness; but in all cases – objective idealism, abstract materialism, subjective idealism – the essence is separated from singular concrete objects and is opposed as an abstract generality to the life of their singular relations and movement. For this reason all these philosophical and scientific attitudes are variants of metaphysical thought, which conceives by means of fixed and separate categories and represents the essence of things as an abstract generality. It is quite obvious that conceptual knowledge of the individual as such is an absurdity on such a basis. For example, to know man scientifically would be to constitute the theory of general man on the one hand, and on the other to refer the singular individual to self-consciousness, experience of inter-subjective relations, the aesthetic approach, indeed the clinical approach, the art of medicine – i.e. strictly speaking to non-science. This is a double impasse for anyone proposing a science of the concrete personality.
In the previous chapter we saw that Marx criticises this epistemology of the abstract generality to its roots and surpasses it in the materialist dialectic, in the epistemology of the concrete essence. Not that abstract generalities are without value in his view: in so far as they rationally express determinations common to several objects they constitute a positive first stage in the appropriation of the real by thought. Thus to defme man in general as a maker of tools by means of which he socially produces his means of subsistence definitely represents a correct starting-point for anthropological reflection. But to proceed no further than the level of abstract generalities is to be in no position to understand the movement of real relations, including the most important of all, the movement of the relation between the abstract generality (the essence) and concrete singularity (existing objects), for example, between man in general and real individuals. If one looks at it more closely one realises that the abstract generality is itself inseparable from the real movement: ‘the most abstract definitions, when more carefully examined, always point to a further defmite concrete historical basis. (Of course – since they have been abstracted from it by these determinations).
In order to go further in the appropriation of the real, and in understanding the essence, it is therefore necessary to learn that abstract generalities do not express the real foundation of things and are only valuable as provisional stages in knowledge. For example, dealing with generalities such as commodities, use-value, etc., with which it is usual to start in political economy, Marx notes in the Grundrisse:
What it is customary to say about it in general terms, for the sake of good form, is confmed to commonplaces which had a historic value in the first beginning of the science, when the social forms of bourgeois production had still labouriously to be peeled out of the material, and, at great effort, to be established as independent objects of study.
Later, these generalities ‘become leathery commonplaces, the more nauseating they parade their scientific pretensions.
In order to go beyond this level of abstract generalities and the corresponding concepts one must firmly break with identifying the essence with a general object, and, beyond things, establish the science at the level of fundamental internal relations. This is the first characteristic element of Marx’s scientific method: instead of mistaking the inert kernel of properties which – from the point of view of external comparison between these objects established by our knowledge – are common to a set of objects, for the internal real essence, and instead of conceiving concrete living relations of things as a merely external, therefore inessential relatednes, (since, even if one considers their conditioning role to be preponderant, one still opposes these external relations to the internal essence), Marx rises to a point of view from which the preceding is shown to be a typical epistemological illusion, an ideological inversion rooted in the nature of phenomena as such. Well before ‘structuralism’ and in a much more dialectical way Marx carries out a Copernical revolution between things and relations: it is relation which is the actual foundation of things. Instead of an inert internal essence and living external relations, the materialist dialectic discovers the existence of relations actually within the essence, and it is the abstract generality which proves to be merely an inessential, lifeless, external relation. At the level of fundamental science in Marx all the basic concepts therefore have a striking epistemological novelty: they are relational concepts in the internal sense of the term. Thus the human essence is not an abstract generality possessing the form of a typical-man, or as the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach says very suggestively an ‘internal, dumb generality which merely naturally unites the many individuals’, but the ensemble of social relations through which individuals are determined within themselves. Marx’s whole scientific effort leads in this direction. Writing to Engels a few days after having corrected the fmal proofs of the first volume of Capital, and casting an even glance over his work, he said: ‘I sweated plenty ascertaining the things themselves, i.e. their interconnection’.’In a letter to Kugelmann in the following year he wrote, ‘the vulgar economist thinks he has made a great discovery when, as against the revelation of the inner connection, he proudly claims that in appearances things look different. In fact, he boasts that he holds fast to appearances, and takes it for the ultimate. Why, then, have any science at all?
But to understand the essence as relation, and consequently the things between which there is a relation grasped in their external motionlessness as inessential, is to understand relation as change from one to the other, as movement, as production, in short, as a productive Process, as a constructive autodynamic. This is the second major element in Marx’s dialectical method and too often the least well understood. Go deeper into the concept of relations of production, for example, and you will see that it implies the production of relations, if only in the form of processes of constant reproduction of a social formation in itself. Thus ‘capital is not a simple relation, but a process, in whose various moments it is always capital.
This circulation, this turning of forms of relations into one another, which constitutes the profound life of the real, attests that the essential, internal relations are motors: this is what the dialectic has identified in the primordial category of contradiction. What is important here, however, is not to develop the content of the dialectic for its own sake but to reveal the absolutely new conception of essence and concept which it entails and the solution which it provides to the problem of the science of the individual. In this respect, when Marx says, in a famous passage in the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, that his dialectical method aims to grasp ‘[every] social form as in fluid movement ... its transient nature not less than its momentary existence’, he clearly reveals the point which is radically new: here the essence is no longer conceived as a general object but as the logic of development of the real object. There is a gulf between these two conceptions. The second standpoint presupposes a degree of abstraction, an incomparably more searching scientific deepening than the first one. The general object is only abstract in that it has been separated from sensible phenomena and depends on the understanding, but it remains trapped in epistemological illusions about the concrete which it regards as the starting-point of knowledge, beginning with the illusion that the essence in itself affects the form of the thing of which it is the essence; in this sense, the general object is still close to phenomena as they appear on the surface. The task of conceptual thought at this level merely consists in elaborating schematic constructs, models, which can never be anything else than pseudo-essential abstractions since in principle they can tell us nothing about the logic of development of the object generalised in this way. No doubt, within well-defmed limits, such schematic constructs have their usefulness from a practical, phenomeno-technical point of view, but for anyone who is aiming at a real science, and therefore at the real essence, it is quite obvious that they cannot suffice.
On the other hand, to ccnceive the essence as relation, process, logic of development, presupposes that ore radically surpasses the familiar level of general objects, and the proximity to phenomena which they involve, to forge infinitely less substantial and much more formal concepts, therefore, in a sense, concepts much more removed from the immediate concrete. The task of conceptual thought understood like this is to elaborate not a model but a topology of its object: it must survey the logical sites, and the points where the basic articulations occur: and it involves not only a positional topology but a topology of functioning and development, for relations are processes: it must express the logic of the essential processes through which the development of this object is brought about. Doing which, the concepts absolutely do not tell us how the singular concrete is in general but in general how the singular concrete is produced. This is precisely why the essence can then be reached in its concrete reality, the singular grasped in the generality of the concept: in dialectical forms of abstraction the essence is not what appears common to the object and to others with which one compares it, but the necessary internal movement of the object grasped in itself, i.e. it is the essence of this object; the generality of the concept is not constituted by eliminating the singular but by raising the singular to the level of its internal logic, i.e. it constitutes ‘the specific logic of the specific object’. As philosophical science, the dialectic is not at all a science of the most abstract generalities soaring above the real sciences, but the science of the concrete essence of scientific knowledge and, through it, the most essential logic of concrete reality, i.e. philosophy in a sense and according to an ordinance which are both profoundly original.
To understand the preceding statements more clearly, we should go back to
the example of the human essence. In the vulgar pre-dialectical conception,
to defme the human essence is to elucidate ‘the nature of man’ in
general, to state the properties which seem more or less common to all men on
the basis of comparing them: one says that man is a tool-maker, a being capable
of abstract thought, etc. Earlier, we saw into what theoretical impasses this
concept of man in general, this human pseudo-essence, leads, particularly when
it is a question of tackling the problem of the theory of the concrete individual.
Marx goes beyond these abstract generalities right away: the human essence is
the ensemble of social relations. Such a definition tells us substantially nothing
about what concrete man is in general: this chimera is left to itself. But precisely
because of its deep abstraction in the dialectical sense, it enables us to understand
the concrete essence of historically real men; it points out how we must go
about determining this essence in each concrete case. At the same time, the
insurmountable, metaphysical, fixed opposition between abstract and concrete,
essence and existence, knowledge of the general and knowledge of the singular,
disappears: essence is the concrete logic of existence, knowledge of the general
is that of the strategy for knowledge of the singular. From beginning to end,
Capital, that striking result of dialectical materialist epistemology, is an
experimental verification at the same time as a site where this theory of essence
and concept is elaborated. In Capital
Marx does not describe an abstract capitalist society, he does not construct a model of the capitalist society in general of which real capitalist societies are singular examples, but, what is quite different, he isolates the essential theoretical eelements which make it possible to think each real capitalist society and its necessary movement, so that far from throwing out the singular as such, he makes it possible to construct, and in passing frequently constructs, the concrete example of singular capitalist society. What is true of the concept is also true of the laws: in dialectical materialist epistemology, a general law is not the statement of the necessary movment of the general object, i.e. the expression of an abstract determimism, but the statement of general forms of determination which make possible to understand the necessary movement of the singular objectt, i.e. the expression of concrete necessity. Thus the genera’ laws of necessary correspondence between the relations of production and the nature of the productive forces in itself tells us substantially nothing whatever about what the mode of development of the concrete society in general, which would be meaningless, but it does generally put us in a position to grasp what the necessity of its movement consists of in each concrete case. This is why there is no contradiction here between general law and scientific knowledge of the singular as such: in its very essence, a general law is the law of singular concrete reality. Each economic formation has its the law of singular concrete reality. law of development, each nation its lawof population and to to anticipate hypotheses which will be put forward in the next chapter, in our view each personality has its law of growth which must be elaborating in a dialectical , ie. both essential and concrete way, at least if one wishes to have some chance of rationally grasping the soul of this personality.
Is it necessary to emphasise that this conception of essence, concept and law does not imply an under estimation of the importance of empiricle facts in scientific work and in fact quite the contrary. If the essence is the specific logic of the specific object, the concept defines a strategy for knowledge of the singtdar, and a law is what makes it possible to understand the necessary movement of the concrete, then scientifically only in the they are theoretical elements whichever, they themselves are produced in the last analysis. If the human essence is the ensemble of social relations, then fundamental scientific knowledge of an individual or group is arrived at via empiricle investigation of what the social relations are concretely within which this group or individual is produced. If the general law of social development is the necessary correspondence between relations of production and the nature of the ductive forces, fundamental scientific knowledge of the law of the productive forces, fundamental sacientific knowledge of the law of development of a given society is arrived at via empiricle investigation of the nature of its productive forces and the structure of its concrete relations of production. The investigation of empiricle reality is therefore the very substance of scientific work, but once the empirical material is collected together, Marxist epistemology, far from seeking to separate out from it that which can be thought as abstract generality and those concrete singularities which are classified as inessential, makes it possible and requires one to consider these facts as a whole using an essence and a necessity which are concrete, i.e. to think them as singular in the form of the dialectical concept. This does not mean at all moreover that such an approach is blind to the need to distinguish between the essential and the inessential, the most essential and the least essential; but the most essential is none the less concrete and singular, the least essential is none the less abstract and general: it is simply that an objective hierarchy exists in the order of the essential, in the network of relations and processes which constitute the real, and this hierarchy must also be dialectically unravelled in its concrete essence. Marx sums up this whole approach admirably in a passage in Volume Three of Capital:
It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers – a relation always naturally corresponding to a defmite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity – which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure, and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state. This does not prevent the same economic basis – the same from the standpoint of its main conditions – due to inumerable different empirical circumstances, natural enironment, racial relations, external historical influences, etc., from showing infinite variations and gradations in appearance, which can be ascertained only by analysis of the empirically given circumstances
This text, as one can see, distinguishes not the abstract generality of a type of society (albeit considered as historically relative) and the concrete singularity of its realisation at the level of each real society, but the determinant concrete essence of economico-political formations and the elements subordinated to this essence.
To put these results in another way, one can say that Marxist epistemology does not only replace the metaphysical standpoint of abstract generality by the dialectical standpoint of the concrete essence in its way of treating existing objects but also in its way of treating the essence itself: the essence too is movement, concrete life, so that the topology to which it gives rise and the logic of the thing which it determines are not in any degree immutable. Thus the definition of the human essence as the ensemble of social relations only becomes operative at a determinate stage of the biological process of anthropogenesis and acquires its most mature form with the most general development of social relations. Moreover, it is not only existence and essence which must form the subject of dialectical treatment but the relations between existence and essence. This last point, which is frequently misunderstood or under-estimated, is undoubtedly of the highest epistemological significance. It often seems to be accepted that while the essence is a process, its way of relating to existing reality, like a sort of eternal logic law, for its part would remain invariant. Now if the essence is not an abstract generality unconnected with the existence of the concrete, its relation with the concrete is also necessarily concrete, i.e. historically variable. This is what Marx shows not only in the 1857 Introduction but in all his economic works of 1857–59 and beyond. Thus labour in general, which in ancient Greece was hardly distinguished as an abstract concept, only had very abstract relations with the reality of the productive activities at that stage of their development. But things change with the flowering of modern productive forces:
Indifference towards specific labours corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another, in which the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence of indifference. Not only the category, labour, but labour in reality has here become the means of creating wealth in general, and has ceased to be organically linked with particular individuals in any specific form.
Therefore if the essence exists in each concrete object and if concrete existence is always in some way essential, the mode of presence of the essence in existence, of the general in the singular, is itself alive and changing, and it is the index of the degree of objective maturity of the essence and the general: at one time, dispersed and barely significant, the still embryonic essence hardly appears in external existence; at another time, on the contrary, having reached maturity, it directly flowers in an existence concentrated in itself and highly typical.
As general, the essence in certain circumstances comes to exist as a directly concrete, singular form beside other singular forms. This is a fundamental fact which remains totally incomprehensible outside the dialectical materialist theory of the concrete essence. Marx tackles this question in particular in a vital page in the Grundrisse in which he shows that while in one sense capital is simply an abstraction which represents s ecific characteristics which distinguish capital from all other forms of wealth’ and which by virture of this only exists through different modes and forms of concrete capital, it must also be understood that ‘capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capiitals is itself a real existence’. This is what one can see when capital is accumulated in banks or is distributed through them, when the capital of a nation ‘lends itself out to a third nation in order to be able to realise itself. This double positing, this relating to self as an alien, becomes damn real in this case’. And Marx concludes:
While the general is therefore on the one hand only a mental (gedachte) mark of distinction (differentia specifica), it is at the same time a particular real form alongside the form of the particular arid individual. (We will return later to this point, which, while having more of a logical than an economic character, will nevertheless have a great importance, in the course of our enquiry, The same also in algebra. For example, a, b, c are numbers as such; in general but then again they are whole numbers as opposed to a/b, b/c, c/h, c/a, h/a etc., which latter, however, presuppose the former as their general elements
This analysis, the importance of which is obvious, is everywhere implicitly present in Marx and if one has not assimilated it one literally misconstrues the whole of Marxist science. It is this analysis which, for example, throws light on the basis of the Marxist analysis of money:
Just as exchange-value, in the form of money, takes its place as the gcncral commodity alongside all particular commodities, so does exchange value as money therefore at the same time take its place as a particular commodity (since it has a particular existence) alongside all other commodities.
From this result the contradictions characteristic of money which ‘becomes a commodity like other commodities, and at the same time it is not a commodity like other commodities’.’As far as exchange- value is concerned, it is both a general property existing in each particular commodity and, in money, a particular commodity representing a general property.
The same is true of labour in general, abstract labour: the reduction of different
concrete labours to a simple, uniform, homogeneous labour first of all appears
like an abstraction, ‘but it is an abstraction which is made every day
in the social process of production ... This abstraction, human labour in general,
exists in the form of average labour which, in a given society, the average
person can perform’.
In the same way, too, man in general, abstract man, in a sense is only an abstract generality, but this abstract generality begins to exist concretely in individuals detached from any particular tie which capitalist society creates, in the modern proletariat in which the fully developed individual of future communist society prefigured. This objective flowering of the general in the form of particular existence is the corner-stone of the dialectical materialist conception of the development of the concept and movement in science. Not, of course, that we must confuse the real concrete with its mental representation in the form of the concrete-in-thought, a confusion characteristic of speculative idealism as well as pre-critical empiricism. As the 1857 Introduction shows perfectly, the modes of development of the real- concrete and the concrete-in-thought do not necessarily coincide and in certain respects are even opposed: ‘the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself copes into being’.Thought passes from the immediate concrete, not yet criticised and analysed, to the abstract, simple concepts, general category, and from there it returns to the concrete, but to the concrete understood as a synthesis of multiple determinations, i.e. grasped scientifically; matter, on the contrary, proceeds from the concrete to the concrete through the objective maturation of the real essence and its flowering in singular existence. But while matter obviously does not petform on our behalf the specific labour of science, while it does not produce the concrete-in- thought as such, it is just as important to understand clearly that the movement of the real concrete and the objective flowering of the essence are the objective bases and material conditions fot the elaboration of concepts and the development of the concrete in thought as such. ‘The most general abstractions arise only in the midst of the richest possible concrete development, where one thing appears as common to may, to all. Then it ceases to be thinkable in a particular form alone. This is the foundation of the materialist dialectic of knowledge.
One can see how the Marxist conception of essence and concept makes it possible to see the solution to the traditionally insoluble problem of the science of the individual in a way which G.G. Granger does not allow for because, as is an old habit in French epistemology, he neglects Marx’s radical deepening of the dialectic, adhering instead to Bachelard’s, which, in spite of its merits, is much more limited and much less materialist. Therefore he fails to concern himself with the prerequisite criticism of the logical foundations of the Aristotelian aphorism according to which there is only science of the general. On the terrain of the theory of personality this solution is via the pernianent abandonment of the whole problematic of man conceived as an abstract rality for example in the form of the notion of basic personality. A characteristic aspect of this abandonment is the radical critique to which it is necessary to subject what, since Stern, has been called differential psychology. The least epistemological analysis of this notion makes its scientific inconsistency evident straight away. Indeed what should we think of a ‘science’ which takes only ‘differences’ between objects as its objects? If these objects present analysable differences it is possible to compare them and if it is possible to compare them they have common traits. According to the most elementary logic these common traits therefore refer to a general essence of these objects whose differences, in other words, singularity, appear as inessential. In short, the idea of a differential psychology is the idea of a ‘science’ which, on the basis of the abstract opposition between the general and the singular, decides to take for its object the singular considered in isolation and as inessential, i.e. which in advance and in principle forgoes reaching the essence of its object: such a ‘science’ violates its name. In actual fact, all differential psychology is therefore necessarily the reverse of an, at least implied, general psychology, conceived as the science of the abstract general individual, the ‘variants’ of which are studied by the differential psychology itself: from start to finish we are on the terrain of speculative abstraction. But the practical meaning of this speculative abstraction is not very difficult to spot: to go into differences between individuals (and correlatively their similarities, which defme the ‘general individual’) is to be interested not in the individuals themselves but in their comparison, and it is to compare them by way of reference to an external norm. This external norm is most often a socio-professional job, designed in advance, to which individuals are assigned. To this extent the meaning of differential psychology is purely pragmatic and in capitalist society the pragmatism of a human science is quite simply the epistemological form of conservatism. The generality and difference of the individual, which have no scientific significance on such a basis, are nothing other than positive or negative factors in relation to his subordination to a system of social relations, and this is really the only end in view. Thus we can understand why and how the great problem in differential psychology is the problem of ‘relations between the influence of heredity and the influence of environment’: in such a context, ‘heredity’ and ‘environment’ are merely ideological ways of refering respectively to the unknown on the one hand, and to that which can be modified for individuals through socio-educational methods defined within the sacrosanct framework of existing social relations on the other. This is precisely the ideological function of the belief in ‘natural aptitudes’: one calls someone ‘ungifted’ if one does not know how – or if one does not wish – to assume responsibility for psychic development beyond a certain stage. The method of facto combinations changes nothing in this case: to depict the psyc individual as an original combination of general traits, i.e. to concei him as a collection of parts carved out in the fiction of an abstract general individual, is always to fail to grasp the individual as such conceptual form, to remain absolutely outside his concrete essence, and to understand nothing about his soul. Often unknown to it, the whole of this psychology of personality is impregnated to its roots by the spirit of market relations and bourgeois society, which Marx summed up in the remarkably acute turn of phrase: ‘comparison in place of reall communality and generality’. For, in the last analysis, abstract humanism is the natural theoretical complement of the reduction of man to a commodity.
If one entirely abandons the illusory problematic of man in general, if one thinks the problem in terms of dialectical materialist epistemology, the only solution is in the following principle: the theory of the concrete individual can rest not on a substance’ model but on a topology. Here lies the only chance of the science of personality reaching adulthood. It is a matter of elaborating, starting from the theory of corresponding forms of individuality, the theory of the relations and processes within which a concrete personality is produced. Under penalty of falling back. indirectly into naturalism, such a topology cannot of course itself be conceived as abstractly general and historically invariant. Each social formation implies its own forms of individuality which, in their turn, as far as they are functionally determinant with regard to the juxtastructures of the personality, define its topology. Thus the relations and forms of individuality of capitalism imply a topology of the personality in which, for example, abstract social activity plays a determinant mediating role between concrete psychic activity and the satisfaction of needs. One can see a conception of the concrete individual taking form here which has no scientific precedent – except in part, perhaps, in Freudian psychoanalysis. In our opinion Freud’s genius finds no better expression than in his attempt to represent the psychic apparatus as a whole in a theory of instances. This topological (in the term hallowed by Freudian usage) and at the same time dynamic view, is indeed the only one which makes it possible absolutely to avoid the impasse of substantial models and the classification of individuals by reference to a fictional general man. Unfortunately the immense 5cientific benefit which could have been derived from this theory of instances is heavily saddled with the substantialist conception of the id and of the instincts – and besides how could this conception not be substanrialist when it knows nothing about the basic concept of social relations as the real human essence? As J. Laplanche acknowledges, Freud, in spite of everything which he himself had elaborated in the in the opposite sense, ended with his theory of the “id” obviously to replace instinct in the region of nature and the biological’. Consequently the concept of instance, taken from the representation of legal superstructures and in itself wavering between a static and dynamic meaning, is irreversibly spacialised, i.e. it follows the downhill slope of structural thought (from the functional to the static) instead of succeding it by ascending to the dialectic (from the functional to the historical). If, on the contrary, one resolutely rules out from the theory of personality not the taking of biological facts into account, of course, but the ideological biologisation of activities which are essentially social, it becomes clear that the topology sought must be a temporal topology. Contrary to what underlies all existing psychology of personality, almost without exception, for the reason that it cannot help naturalising the individual as a general object, the personality is not an architecture; it is a system of temporally organised processes. And to our way of thinking, this is why the basic concepts of the theory of personality are necessarily temporal concepts.
From this there also comes to light the solution to the paradox of individuality – and correlatively the paradox of humanity – which, we saw earlier, is the crux of the psychology of personality. How, we asked, can the singularity of the individual result from the generality of social relations? How can an individual become individuahised to precisely the extent to which he becomes socialised? What, therefore, is the historical process which brings about the unity of these opposites? The answer is clearly readable in Marx’s scientific work: it is the division of labour. And as a matter of fact it is enough to reflect on what the general comparison of human and animal psychism shows us to see the decisive role of this division of labour, in all senses of the expression~ without it human individuals would differ from one another no more than the animals of an identical species. The division of human social labour, with all its attendant consequences, is the most profound and general social basis of individuation in man, and this can he seen to be a result of the primordial fact of the social exteriority of the human essence in relation to individuals. The real human essence, the human Social heritage accumulating historically outside individuals in the form of alterations of nature through labour, accumulation of means of Production, of social relations, of cultural products, etc., appears to be a Phenomenon without any comparison in the whole of the animal world. Not only does the human essence objectively not assume the psychological form but it increasingly outgrows the measure o individuality. It goes enormously beyond what an individual may appropriate psychically in the course of his life, and this, by definition could not come about with a biological inheritance of hereditary skills this is why the human individual can only ever become human in a highly specific way. The more the human social heritage develops, the more the social system of division of labour becomes complicated and changes, the more the social bases of psychological individuatjo~ become firmer. Of course, it is above all necessary not to conceive each subdivision of the system of the division of labour as a psychological type, repeating the mistakes of cultural anthropology and the theory of basic personality: the notions of ‘vocational personality’ or ‘class personality’, confusing social matrices of activity and concrete psychological forms, are just as speculative as that of ‘basic personality’. But one must consider the system of the division of labour in all its aspects, technical and economic, domestic, political, cultural, etc., as an ensemble of objective social facts indispensable for understanding the temporal topology of concrete personalities in a determinate society. To be sure, human psychological individuation does not wholly come down to the effects of the division of labour, and there is no question here of denying the role of biological facts, chance or freedom, provided that these elements themselves are thought in terms of a correct conception of the individual. But if individual singularity is taken seriously as an essential reality of the personality, one must then really agree that, as the essence of the personality overall, at root it is a social fact. Only the division of labour makes it possible to understand how singularity and sociality can coincide, the latter being the basis of the former; how man can assume an individuality precisely in so far as he assumes a sociality – and this is enough, moreover, to explode the ideological character of the belief according to which ‘industrial society’ is inevitably tending towards ‘the termitarium’: it is not the enriching of the human social heritage which threatens human individuation – on the contrary, it objectively develops it; but it is an economic system which creates external limitations to assimilation of this heritage for entire social classes and which, in impoverishing millions of men, standardises them. In short, the most essential secret of human psychic individuality lies in the connection of these two fundamental facts: the social exteriority and consequently the unlimited development of the whole human heritage, of the real human essence; and compared with it, the natural and social limitations of the individual, the result of which is that he can only appropriate the human essence through a division of society the form of which is independent of his will, indeed his consciousness, and the content of which determines his whole concrete personality.
All things considered, therefore, one can see what the nature and the of the border between the psychosocial sciences and the psychology of personality as it is conceived here consists of. This demarcation rests entirely on the basic distinction between individuality and the dividual, in other words, on the social exteriority of the human science and consequently the non-psychological nature of the forms of individuality, wholly misunderstood by speculative humanism and the vulgar psychological ideology of which it is the foundation; and on the coincidence of the psychological form with the concrete individual. This boundary can hardly be perceived through the ambiguity of the notion of social psychology. Indeed, either one proposes to study the social forms of individuality, the social bases of the topology of the personality: in this case, although the results one succeeds in getting hold a basic interest for the psychology of personality, one is clearly on the terrain of the social sciences and over the border from psychology, which may be defined as a specific, non-social science only on the basis of the concept of the individual. Or else one proposes to study the concrete individual: in this case, even if one conceives the individual as social in his essence, one has left the terrain of the social sciences from the moment one takes for the object what does not exist anywhere than in each concrete individual, i.e. the psychological form. Radically distinct from the psychobiological sciences in that it studies not natural but social relations between acts, the psychology of personality differs no less radically from the psychosocial sciences in that it studies the living system of social relations between acts in the form of the concrete individual. One can therefore define it succinctly as the science of the individual. But it is of paramount importance to understand fully what one thereby brings under this concept. In particular, it is essential not to confuse studying the general social bases of the individual, in other words, the theory of individuality, which does not belong to the psychology of personality, and the most general part of the theory of the individual, the temporal topology of the personality which, on the contrary, is its core. It is this general theory of personality, understood in the sense of dialectical materialist epistemology, put on the order of the day, in advanced capitalist society by the leveling of the individual disengaged from particular links, and by the prefiguring of the fully developed individual in socialist society, which makes it possible to envisage as a realisable scientific task the empirical construction of the concept of this or that concrete individual, i.e. the rational solution to the crucial problem of the science of the individual. We shall come back to it in the next chapter.