Every developed personality appears to us straight away as an e-accumulation of the most varied acts through time. From elementary statement we encounter a concept which alone seems a play the part of a primary concept in the scientific theory of personality: the concept of act. This concept differs profoundly from all those which are normally used here like behaviour, conduct, role, etc., the legitimacy of which in the domain of the sciences of the psychism is not in the question, but the use of which in the psychology of personality is sufficient from the first moment to bar the way to understanding the, foundation of things. Indeed, to speak of behaviour (conduites), for example, is certainly to study human psychism as an activity, but only as a concrete activity of the subject, abstraction being made from its objective outcome for society and thereby decisive for the individual himself, in other words, as an activity which does nothing socially – at least nothing which is important for a knowledge of it. Such abstraction is undoubtedly legitimate so long as it is a question of studying behaviour as general psychic activity, for, from this point of view, ~ whether learning, or visual perception in depth, or localisation of memory in time is actually effected within wage-labour or leisuire activity has practically no importance. But when one carelessly transposes this abstraction onto the terrain of the science of personality, one makes a damaging theoretical mistake, already analysed above, in the sense that one unwittingly a priori eliminates all social relations between acts, i.e. all the real structures of the developed personality, which result precisely from the fact that these acts are at the same time bearers of an activity which is socially determined and determinant for the individual.
To speak from the outset of behaviour is therefore merely to retain a delimited segment of the entire circuit of acts an entire circuit which goes far beyond the boundaries of organic and psychic individuality in the usual sense of the term, and which returns to itself through the vast mediations of social relations. Now it is these mediations, rejected as unimportant and irrelevant by behavioural psychology, which, in our opinion, induce in the individual the necessary structures of his activity, i and thereby the necessary structures of his personality. The personality is not the productive source of a set of forms of conduct the social consequence of which is unimportant, and knowledge of which is exhausted by studying the mechanisms of their production. The personality is a complex system of acts and the characteristic of an act is socially it does something. To neglect studying this something, is precisely the objective movement of the act’s complete cycle, as if work routines but not wages, for example, ought to be of concern to the psychologist is a case of an ideological blindness which it is difficult see how a science could remain imprisoned in for such a long time once one has extricated oneself from it.
To start from the concept of act in the sense indicated above is, therefore, from the outset to go beyond a psychology of the pure form of personalities – the form being the only thing which a characterology, for example, could reach in the best of cases – in order to install oneself on the still quite virgin terrain of a psychology of the content of personalities, and of the forms dialectically linked to this content, without failing to recognise moreover the problem of their articulation with forms originating elsewhere, forms of congenital nervous type or infantile activities. It is to put into the forefront not the opposition of he who likes to think and he who likes to act, or between those who bear grudges and those who forget, or even between the different dispositions which it is imagined can be considered to be fundamental on the basis of psychoanalytic or psychiatric views, but, all typologies being abandoned in favour of a topology, the concrete analysis of the structures and the logic of development which result from an individual’s activities as a whole, beginning with his basic social activities, his labour. We are, therefore, dealing with what one may call a concrete psychology. In this sense, it might perhaps be considered that the concept of act is nothing else than a return to the concept of drama – which never meant anything else than concrete action in Politzer. Certainly their meanings are very close. For this was already clearly what Politzer had in mind when he wrote, forty years ago in the Revue de psychologie concrete;
There is no doubt whatever that in drama there is material for
an original science. ‘those of the natural sciences which are interested
in man in fact study what remains once man has been divested of his dramatic
nature. But the connection of all really human events, the stages of our life,
the objects or our intentions, all those very particular things which happen
for us between life and death, constitute a clearly delimited, easily recognisable
domain which is not identical with the functioning of organs, and which can
be investigated, for there is no reason to assume that by some miracle this
reality escapes any determination.
The experience to which psychology refers is indeed quite different from dramatic experience. Our dramatic experience was life in the human sense of the word; its characters were men acting in some way, even its most fragmented scenes also involving man in his totality. The experience which psychology offers us is constituted by processes which do not ha~ the form of our everyday affairs For the way drama is divided up ~ the multiplicity of individual characters and dramatic events, psychol0~. has substituted broad manifestations of spiritual nature: perception memory, will, intelligence, the investigation of which it then gives itself ~ to as physics gives itself up to the investigation of the broad manifestation of nature.
We say that a psychology which replaces the histories of persons by the histories of things; which does away with man and erects processes in his place; which departs from the dramatic multiplicity of individuals and replaces them by the impersonal multiplicity of phenomena, is an abstract psychology.
Even if some of its formulations are questionable, this remarkable critical analysis has retained its validity up until our time. However, this is not the opinion of Louis Althusser for whom Politzer made the major mistake of failing to recognise the necessity of abstraction in every science. ‘How, said Politzer, can psychoanalysis claim to be the science of the concrete it aims to be, if it persists in abstractions which are merely the concrete alienated in an abstract and metaphysical psychology? And to this he objects: ‘In fact, no science can do without abstraction, even when, in its “practice” (which is not, n.b. the theoretical practice of that science but the practice of its concrete application), it deals only with those peculiar and unique variants that constitute each individual “drama” He comes back to this in Reading Capital:
Politzer is the Feuerbach of our time: his Critique des fondements
de Ia psvcholugze is a critique of speculative Psychology in the name of a concrete
Psychology. Sartre may have treated Politzer’s themes as ‘philosophemes’:
he has not abandoned his inspiration; when Sartre’s historicism inverts
the ‘totality’, the abstractions of dogmatic Marxism, he is also ‘repeating’
in a different place and with respect to different objects an ‘inversion’
which, from Feuerbach to the Young Marx and Politzer, has merely conserved the
same problematic behind an apparent critique.
The genial errors of Politzer’s Critique des fondements de la psvchologzc depend largely on the ideological function of the uncriticised concept of the ‘concrete’: it is no accident that Politzer’s proclamation of the arrival of ‘concrete psychology’ was never followed by any works. All the virtue of the term ‘concrete’ was in fact exhausted in its critical use, without it ever founding the slightest amount of knowledge which only exists in the ‘abstraction’ of concepts. It was already possible to see this even in Feuerbach, who tded desperately tofree himself from ideology by invoking the ‘concrete’, i.e. the ideological concept which confuses knowledge and being: obviously, ideology cannot liberate ideology. The same ambiguity and the same play on words can be found in all the interpreters of Marx who refer themselves to the Early Works, invoking ‘real’, ‘concrete’ or ‘positive’ humanism as the theoretical basis of his work.
Now as it happens, it is the Aithusserian critique of Politzer which appears to me here to rest on ambiguity and play on words. Indeed it is clear that if by concrete psychology Politzer understood a sort of immediate ‘science’ of lived experience founded on a rejection of conceptual abstraction, we would be dealing with a typical ideological utopia. But to assume that this is the case in Politzer is basically to assume that there is no essential difference between Politzer and Bergson. That Louis Althusser goes so far as to suggest this, albeit referring to ‘paradoxical juxtaposition' conveys the extent to which his critique is profoundly implausible. In actual fact, it is not at all all scientific conceptual abstraction which Politzer rejects, and it can be nothing but a misunderstanding into which the Althusserian critique falls on this point. For example, Politzer writes in the clearest possible way; ‘Concrete psychology is not a new romanticism; it is the enemy only of abstraction as we have defined it and only of the anthropological concepts of spiritualistic psychology’. Over and over again he explains that a psychology is abstract in an unacceptable sense when it replaces personal activity by impersonal processes – the individual by psychism – and which claims to explain the former by the latter. What he calls for is not the absurd idea of a psychological science without theoretical concepts – and to assert the contrary despite the texts is to do him an unjustice – but rather a conceptual division of psychological facts carried out ‘in the everyday ensemble of human acts, without conjuring them away in order to replace them by a transposed image which imitates physical nature and then explains them by different facts of the same type’. ‘The object of psychology is provided by the ensemble of human acts considered in their relation with the human individual, i.e. in so far as they constitute the life of a man and the life of men’. In other words, again, what Politzer is calling for is a psychology which is a science of biography, the individual, the personality: where is anthropological ideology in such a project?
Since Politzer had the genius to forsee as early as 1929 that this science of personality could not base itself on any psvchologzsation o.f the human essence but had to take historical materialism and political economy for a basis, we are at the opposite pole to the so-called Feuerhachianism of concrete psychology. Especially it the article of July 1929 there are striking assertions in this connection:
No psychology whatsoever is possible unless it is set in economics
this is why it presupposes all the knowledge acquired by dialectical materialism
and must constantly rely on it. It is indeed therefore materialism which represents
the true ideological basis of psychology.
Psychological determinism in itself is not a sovereign determinism, does not and cannot act except within the limits, so to speak, of economic determinism. Its scope and its limits are given by the scope and the limits of the individual himself. Psychology is important in so far as events are considered in their relation to the individual, it ceases to be so when one’s concern is for human affairs themselves. It is possible for there to be a psychology of work to the extent that work is considered in its relation to individuals. As soon as it is no longer a question of placing individuals in the work context work ceases to be a psychological problem.
Pyschology does not therefore hold the secret’ of human affairs, simply because the ‘secret’ is not of a psychological order.
As far as the fundamental orientation and organisation of psychology are concerned, it is the meaning of economics which is truly fundamental.
In view of such texts, which are so clearly opposed to everything which characterises philosophical humanism, it is impossible to impute the speculative cult of the pseudo-concrete to Politzer unless one reads him through distorting spectacles. In actual fact, these spectacles are those of theoretical antihumanism for which the concept of man is nothing but ideological and the science of the concrete individual is nothing but mystifying. These spectacles distort not only the spirit and the letter of Politzer’s psychological indications but, we have seen, those of the whole of mature Marxism.
Louis Althusser’s critique, which fails to appreciate Politzer, would not be without some truth if it were applied to Gramsci. To he sure, there are also extremely interesting formulations in Gramsci from the point of view of the theory of personality, particularly this one which is often quoted: ‘Man is a process, and, more exactly, the process of his actions’– a turn of phrase which really seems to be inspired by that of Marx in The German Ideology: ‘the existence of men is their actual life-process’. But this formulation is only profound if it goes with a clear awareness of the conditions which make it possible actually to develop it scientifically. In this connection Gramsci does emphasise that the concept of man must not be taken in the usual speculative sense: ‘Is the “human” a starting-point or a point of arrival, as a concept and as a unitary fact? Or might not the whole attempt, in so far as it posits the human as a starting point, be a “theological” or “metaphysical”residue?, To which he replies:
That ‘Human nature’ is the ‘complex of social relations’ is the most satisfactory answer because it includes the idea of becoming (man becomes’, he changes continually with the changing of social relations) and because it denies ‘man in general’. Indeed social relations are expressd by various groups of men which each pre-suppose the others and whose unity is dialectical not formal.
It can be seen that Gramsci retains only the historical and dialectical aspect of the conception of the human essence winch is expressed in the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach; but he does not appear to turn his attention sufficiently to the no less fundamental materialist aspect of the social exteriority and objectivity of the human essence in relation to indivduals. This clearly leads him to reject the false materialism of a biological conception of the human essence in favour of a historical conception: ‘the nature of man is “history” but this is still not enough radically to distinguish the anthropological perspective of historical materialism from that which one comes across in non-materialist historicists. In the absence of a clear statement of the materialist relations between the history of social relations and the history of individuals, one then risks remaining in a dangerous ambiguity, at the level of a historicised humanism, ‘praxised’ but not wholly freed from speculative, indeed idealist, illusions. Appearing in the same text is the highly questionable assertion, from this point of view, according to which:
It is necessary to elaborate a doctrine in which these relations are seen as active and in movement, establishing quite clearly that the source of this activity is the consciousness of the individual man who knows, wishes, admires, creates (insofar as he does know, wish, admire, create, etc) and conceives of himself not as isolated but rich in the possibilities offered him by other men aided by the society of things of which he cannot help having a certain knowledge.
One can clearly see that every risk of ‘humanist’ confusion, i.e. sliding to a historicised idealism, is not averted.
And one can also see better, in contrast, how the resolutely materialist position on the question of the individual in Politzer disputes the validity of the Althusserian critique. This is why when Louis Althusser writes that ‘it is no accident’ if Politzer never followed up the proclamation of a concrete psychology with any work, he generalises the problem much more than he solves it. It is quite true that the Psychology of ‘drama’ remained in the state of a project and that this kind of theoretical impotence is never an ‘accident’. But this does not justify confusing a project which is unrealisable because it is theoretically inconsistent with a project which is unrealised because it is theoretically in advance of certain conditions of its realisation. Now it is not difficult to identify the conditions of realisation of a concrete psychology which were wanting for Politzer in 1928–29. When one re-reads the Critique des fondements de la psychologie (1928) and the Crise de la psychologie contemporaine (articles published in 1929 in the Revue de psvchologie concrete) from this point of view today, what is most striking is the contrast between the vigour with which Politzer increasingly asserts the fundamental role of Marxist materialism and political economy, and the almost complete absence of precise reference to the great Marxist texts by way of which the articulation between the theory of the individual and political economy can be thought. Is it necessary to recall that this indeed is not an accident, for example, in this sense that texts like the 1844 Manuscripts, The German Ideology or the Grundrisse only began to be published for the first time, in fact, from i 932? In relation to the incredible novelty of the Politzerian critique and project in 1928, it is necessary to make the effort to remember the general failure to understand, at that time, what Marxism contributes to reflection on the foundations of psychology, and even to a very great extent the failure to understand Marxism tout court, and therefore to imagine the poignant theoretical solitude within which this young man of twenty-five confronted an immense problem which still remains unresolved forty years later in ideological conditions which have become incomparably more favourable. Moreover, as Politzer became aware of the classics of Marxism and of the real conditions for a concrete psychology, in particular of the detour through the science of social relations, without which it is doomed to remain a utopia, at the same time he understood – one can see it clearly in the article of June 1929 cited earlier – that acquiring a sound Marxist economic education must have priority over the search for an undiscoverable direct path to concrete psychology. Rediscovering Marx’s own approach after 1844, it was precisely to this that he devoted himself in the following years. But there proved to be no possiblity of Politzer’s return from this to concrete psychology, another ‘accident’ having willed that he die at thirty-nine, shot by Hitler’s troops. These ‘accidents’ which are not accidents, therefore, do not only not prove the inconsistency of the project drawn up by Politzer in 1928-29 but emphasise its brilliantly anticipatory character in the ideological conditions of the pre-war period. When, in July 1929, Politzer writes:
We are quite aware that the argument which has already been used against us will be used against us again, even more forcefully; i.e. so why don’t you do this concrete or materialist psychology which you speak about. We have already said several times that the difficulty lies not in the research, part of which is shaping up well, but in the theory, in which one practically finds not one part shaping up well which ought to be. The situation is therefore such that we consider that for the moment what is especially needed is criticism, the idea of which runs the risk not of being lost but of becoming clouded, if even before it had been clearly expressed it was abandoned in favour of detailed research which, however, will also come, and will be conducted in the spirit of this psychology of which we speak here.
one fmds how much he was already aware of the conditions for the future development of concrete or, in its significant equivalence, materialist psychology and how he refutes the Althusserian critique in advance in a way which, it seems, ought to prohibit its being reformulated identically today.
What Politzer, no doubt still a little gropingly, was aiming at with the notion of drama is quite simply what in its simplest rational form the concept of act expresses. By ‘act’ we understand any behaviour of an individual, at whatever level, considered not only as behaviour, i.e. related to psychism, but as concrete activity, i.e. related to a biography; in other words, considered in relation to the fact that it (later) produces a number of consequences not only immediately for the individual himself but for society – taking accont of its concrete conditons consequences which (later) return to the individual through more or less complex objective social mediations. Acts are the pertinent elements and the only pertinent ones – of the theoretical ordering of the biography. And to have concrete knowledge of a personality is, in the first place, to have knowledge of the set of acts which make up its biography. The fact that the concept of act is able to play the part of a basic concept in the theory of personality can be seen right away in the fact that iimmediately provides us with access to the basic contradictions of personality. Indeed, precisely because the nature of an act, as opposed to behaviour or conduct, is to do something knowledge of which is essentially important for its understanding, every act is, on the one hand, the act of an individual, an aspect of his biography, a self expression; but, on the other, is the act of a determinate social world, an aspect of social relations, an expression of objective historical Conditions. And here, in this fundamental duality there is the formal Possiblity of innumerable contradictions, not only between the individual in the purely biological sense, who precedes all humanisation and society, but also much more between the socially develop~ individual and the social conditions of his development, contradictory, which, in the psychological level, reflect the contradictions of society with itself. This is how the basic opposition between concrete and abstract labour which, together with the analysis of surplus-value, was what Marx thought best in Volume One of Capital, constitutes not only the basis of the contradictions of the market economy, and especially of capitalism, but the basis of the contradicitons of the personalities which form and develop within them. In my opinion the primary task of the theory of personality is to unravel the unfolding of this type of contradiction.
But the opposition between the act as a moment of a biography and the act as a moment of social relations does not exhaust the contradications which arise in it from the outset. Indeed, if we consider the individual aspect of the act, the act as a moment of biography, we can see that it is like a circular process involving an organically linked series of characteristic moments, A scientific theory of personality, which is articulated with historical materialism, substitutes the analysis of the cycle of acts for the vectorial representation of a dynamic psychology which, since it accepts the point of view of mere behaviour, while misrecognising the act, cannot truly grasp concrete activity. The moment of the objective carrying out of the act immediately presupposes two others: the moment of the consequence or poduct in which the act both continues and comes to an end, which we will go into later – and the moment of the subjective conditions of its production and reproduction, which appear in the act itself, in other words that of the individual’s capacities. Marx writes in the original version of the Contribution: ‘Existing temporally, non-objective labour’ (which is not therefore yet materialised) can only exist in the form of capacity, of possibility, of power – of the living subject’s capacity for labour’.3° This concept of capacities is the second basic concept of the theory of personality. If I keep the word ‘capacity’ to mark this concept here it is because in the present state of the vocabulary of psychology it seems that among all those one can think of, it is the one which relatively least lends itself to misunderstandings, owing to the very fact that it is little used. In particular, the term ‘aptitude’, which there would be grounds for using for this purpose, cannot be retained because it is too often taken in both an innatist and socially relative sense. This is how, in his treatise, Psychologie differentielle Pieron writes:
If one does not use the word aptitude in the precise sense which it ought to have, one lays oneself open to confusions which involve needless arguments. This is what happened to Pierre Naville, who did not clearly distinguish the actual capacity-potentiality conditioning a result, which one can immediately determine and measure – from the inborn disposition that one intends to refer to in speaking of capacities. It is this disposition which the term aptitude is fitted for, according to its origin and its use by well informed writers .... Aptitude is the congenital precondition for a certain mode of efficacy.
Whatever objections one might like to raise against this, there is here a statement of fact, and the simplest thing is to accept it: the term aptitude remains captive to a set of innatist conceptions from which the term capacity is free; it is, therefore, the latter which is suitable to the very broad and undifferentiated sense which is involved here.
I call Capacities the ensemble of ‘actual potentialities’, innate or acquired, to carry out any act whatever and whatever its level. In this sense, therefore, the term has a considerably wider range of application than in its current use, in which it generally designates the capacity to carry out acts of a certain level of psychic complexity, in fact of a recognised social utility. In the use which will be made of it here, on the contrary, it is a matter of the totality of an individual’s acts, even the most elementary and the least socially useful. One immediately sees that numerous dialectical relations exist between an individual’s acts and capacities, the analysis of which constitutes an essential chapter of the theory of personality. The capacity is the individual precondition for carrying out the act, but the vast majority of capacities are themselves produced or developed in the individual by set of acts which in their turn are the precondition for the capacities. These two aspects of dialectical acts-capacities relations do not only express the fact of their belonging to an identical cycle of activity in which they appear as a moment; they also lead us to consider the individual’s total activity as necessarily dividing into two basic sectors, maintaining strictly defmed relations with each other. I call Sector I of individual activity the set of acts which produce, develop or specifically determine capacities. I call Sector II the set of acts which, only making use of the capacities already existing produces some effect which the exercise of these capacities makes it possible to attain. It goes without saying that this theoretical division can only be applied to a concrete biography in so far as numerous particular problems have been solved beforehand, e.g. the problem that acts may belong to both sectors at the same time: many activities are both a learning and an exercise of capacities and in fact, in a sense, this is true of all activity, since beyond the opposition between what one has to learn and what one already knows, it is necessary to know how to learn and to learn how to know. But the concrete difficulties which may arise when it is a matter of classifying an activity in sector I or sector II do not constitute any more of an objection to basic distinction between sectors than the difficulties involved in determining the class membership of a small peasant who is also a seasonal worker, or a member of the liberal professions who partly becomes a wage-earner, constitute an objection against the basic distinction between social classes.
What is of the greatest importance in the complex dialectic of acts and capacities, for anyone who adopts the point of view of the conditions for the general flowering of individuals, are obviously the processes of many sided development of capacities. If it is true that ‘the function of society which is most important for progress [is] accumulation’,’in the same way not in the sense simply of a comparison but through a juxtastructural relation – the function of the persona litv which is most important for progress is the development of capacities. In one way, strictly from the point of view of Marxist theory, one can even compare an individual’s capacities to the fixed capital of an economic formation. This is what Marx suggests in some extremely important pages in the Grundrisse. After having shown that the difference between fixed and circulating capital, in other words, between plant, equipment and machinery on the one hand, and raw materials, fuel supplies and wages on the other, ‘concerns only technological differences in the acts of production’ and corresponds ‘to the greater or lesser necessity for reproducing the given capital’,’he compares the differences of the rates of reproduction of these two sorts of capital with what is observable in a living body:
[in the body] the shedding of one form and renewal in the other
is distributed, takes place simultaneously. Incidentally, in the body the skeleton
is the fixed capital; it does not renew itself in the same period of time as
flesh, blood. There are different degrees of speed of consumption self-consumption
and hence of reproduction.
In the human body, as with capital, the different elements are not exchanged at the same rate of reproduction, blood renews itself more rapidly than muscle, muscle than bone, which in this respect may be regarded as the fixed capital of the human body.
And later, after having shown that the saving of labour-time makes possible the development of human capacities, i.e. ‘the development of an individual potential, a force of production’, extending the comparison to psychic individuality, he adds:
The saving of labour-time [is] equal to an increase of free-time, i.e. time for the full development of the individual, which in turn reacts back upon the productive power of labour as itself the greatest productive power. from the standpoint of the direct production process it can be regarded as the production of fixed capital, this fixed capital being man himself.
To use here, although in a very different sense, a term which had caught Bachelard's imagination, one can see the possibility here of a materialist rhythm analysis of the personality. One can see, for example, how, beyond the inert structures estranged from the content of real activity which are referred to by the traditional conceptions of character’, it becomes possible to approach scientifically the development of a fixed capital of the active personality, articulable directly with the rhythms, the progress and the crises of the biography, subject to risks of social depreciation and of temporally varied requirements of reproduction, but also capable of expanded reproduction; in short, a basic aspect of the concrete logic of individual life-processes becomes clear. In particular, it will be a matter of closely studying the problems of proportionality between sector I and sector II of activity – every increase in capacities (sector I) requiring definite changes in immediate activity (sector II), both so that time can be made available for learning, and also for the investment of the new capacities in the corresponding forms of activity – in other words, of elaborating the theory of the simple and expanded reproduction of the personality.
But at this stage of the analysis we inevitably come up against the problem of the motor of simple or expanded reproduction of personal activity, i.e. in the first place, the problem of needs. As early as the first chapter we recalled why, although it is doubtless an important scientific concept, the concept of need cannot claim to play by itself the part of a basic concept in the theory of the developed personality. Nevertheless there are several reasons why one might disagree with this. In the first place are not needs, in their primary biological form, the real starting- point of activity in man and animal alike? It is not easy to see how to avoid putting the satisfaction of the objective needs of the organism at the start of psychological activities. In the second place, while there is no doubt whatever that needs acquire forms and contents in man which are increasingly socialised, and which are consequently less and less primary in relation to individual activity, of which, in this sense, they are thus not the basis but rather the product, their secondary character does not prevent them from still appearing, from the more limited standpoint of each concrete activity, as relative starting-points: is not all behaviour a response to needs, even though they are needs which are explained only by reference to previous behaviour? In other words, absolute starting-points in their initial biological aspect, needs retain the relative role of motors through the complex interactions of developed individuality. In the third place, even if one rejects the preceeding arguments in the name of a basic priority of activity over need, is one not led, as the example of Marxist investigators shows, to maintain that activity, labour, constitute precisely man’s prime need – did not Marx write that in communist society labour will not only be a means of life for man but ‘life’s prime want’-so that by a detour the dispute over the priority of need itself leads us to its reaffirmation ? It is therefore impossible to give an inventory of the basic concepts of the theory of personality without trying to clear up the problem of needs.
There is nothing to object to in the first argument according to which the objective needs of the organism taken in their primary form are at the beginning of all psychological activity – except that what plays the primary role, the basic role, at the beginning of all real development, i.e., development in the course of which qualitatively new realities appear, is precisely that which no longer still plays this role in the higher stages, the nature of essential changes being to displace the principal contradictions, i.e., the motor of development. Not to understand this would be to remain dependent on an over-simplified conception of development identified with the unfolding of an abstract essence in a uniform time, as one often sees in the 18th century conception of ‘progress or in the 19th century conception of ‘evolution’. This does not mean that human activities as a whole, even the most complex, do not rest in a sense on the permanent necessity of satisfying elementary organic needs, as is confirmed, for example, every time that men are reduced by circumstances to more or less ‘natural’ conditions of existence: the primacy of organic needs in their most immediate form then forcibly calls itself to mind, not, it must be emphasised, as the ‘resurgence’ of an imaginary ‘human nature’ which had lain dormant beneath the sociality, but as the exceptional eruption of the minimal conditions of possibility of human life or survival. But as a matter of fact it is essential not to confuse the urgent necessity that human activity, even the most complex, meet these minimal conditions, and the real explanatory basis of this complex activity considered in itself; for the way in which primary needs intervene in the developed personality is itself as little primary as it possible could be, and if they can play the basic role at the start it is precisely because social humanisation has not yet exerted all its effects. In this connection nothing is more scientifically questionable than the temptation to tackle the specific problems of the human personality by way of ‘models’ established on the terrain of animal psychology, on the pretext that in the domain of the science of psychism human behaviour can actually be clarified by dying animal behaviour. One is entitled to ask a psychology inclined to this type of exptrapolation to reflect very carefully on the evident fact that while a science of animal psychism exists, material for a science of animal personality, on the other hand, does not – a fact that the false simplicity of the term animal psychology very unfortunately masks. For want of seeing the major implications of this fundamental asymmetry between human psychology and animal ‘psychology’, experimental behavioural psychology, which considers the animal model of the primacy of organic needs over the structure of total activity as a first valuable approximation of the human personality, without seeing any harm in it, artificially recreates the conditions for applying this animal model to man by abstracting from real social activity – and the circle of illusion again closes on itself. Here it can be seen that an external theoretical critique is irreplacable, a critique which, starting from the fundamental principles of a scientific anthropology articulated with historical materialism, can show the disastrous effects of the confusion between conditions of possibility and real essence, between the starting- point and the concrete basis of the developed whole.
And this leads us straight onto discussion of the second argument. Does the fact that specifically human needs are quite different from immediate organic needs make it impossible to argue that, in the endless cycle of activities and needs, the moment of need retains, in a relative sense, the role of the primary moment which one refuses to attribute to primary organic need in an absolute sense? To be sure, if one considers as already given the unceasing cyclical repetition of activities satisfying developed needs and the constant resurgence of needs which partly result from these activities themselves, then it is clear that each moment can be considered to be the relative point of departure for the other. In this respect the need-activity-need schema, N-A-N, is no less legitimate than the inverse activity-need-activity schema, A-N-A, the one constantly implies the other. Taken in this sense, the question of whether or not needs, relatively speaking, are primary elements, i.e., of whether some point on a circumference is its ‘beginning’, is basically meaningless. The only real problem is to understand how the general cycle of activities and need has become what it is in a developed personality, the way in which needs make themselves felt itself being an aspect of the cycle considered as a whole. Now, from this standpoint, the profoundly social character of the forms and norms of needs considered at this level has long been established. But this established idea is still extremely inadequate: compared with primary organic need, developed human need is not merely characterised by a secondary soclalisation but rather by a general inversion of its primary features, by an inversion of essence. Social humanisation does not simply mean alterations or additions to an essentially unchanged model of need, but the production of a radically new structure of motivation. Too often on merely emphasises the extreme diversity and socio-historical variability of human needs: this corresponds to the general standpoint of a merely historicised psychological naturalism. In actual fact this is still not the most important point. The most important point is that while elemental organic need is necessitating, internal and homeosta tic, developed human need, on the contrary, is more or less broadly characterised by its margin of tolerance even for a prolonged lack of satisfaction, its excentration and its intrinsically unlimited expanded reproduction.
The margin of tolerance for lack of satisfaction is shown, for example, in the classic behaviour of foregoing satisfaction of needs, which are nevertheless persistant and sometimes vital, even for one’s whole life. Excentration is shown particularly in the tendency to take responsibility for the needs of others, an individual or social group, even at the expense of one’s own needs and yet in an extremely pressing manner. In such a case one can, of course, claim that if a man acts as a result of needs which are objectively external to him, it is because he interiorises them to the extent of experiencing them as his personal needs, or in other words, that even in this case need is internally rooted, and this is undeniable. But without playing on words it must surely be agreed that there is a qualitative difference between an originally internal need and a need the internal aspect of which is only understandable as the result of the interiorisation of demands which are essentially external. Thus all the efforts of which a militant’s life consists would remain incomprehensible if one saw in them only a lot of sacrifices and failed to recognise the fact that in many respects they are a response to a personal and often most profound need; but it would be to understand them even less to reduce them for all that to a sort of vast calculus of enlightened self-interest. Actually the strivings of a real militant life rest precisely on becoming aware of the fact that the general satisfaction of personal needs can only take place via the carrying out of a number of social changes, the objective logic of which more or less completely subordinates the limited, immediate satisfaction of personal needs taken in isolation. The personal need to militate is not therefore simply satisfying an internal need anymore than it is simply sacrificing oneself to an external social requirement: to a certain extent it is going beyond the opposition between internal need and external requirement, on the basis not of foregoing the former but by becoming aware that its bases are essentially excentric, and this modifies all activity profoundly. The personal need to militate, the theoretical importance of which is normous for the psychology of personality, is basically nothing else than the concrete general essence of all specifically human need directly appealing in the form of a particular need side by side with other particular needs. And this is why the militant life, in its healthy forms, appears as self-fulfillment, a partial prefiguring of the general surpassing in communist society in its higher stage, of the contradictions which underlie the personality within class society. As far as the expanded reproduction of needs is concerned, it has shown itself in such a striking way in the remarkable historical diversification of the motivation of human activity and their unlimited refmement, in the domain of artistic enjoyment, for example, that any development of this theme here is unnecessary.
Is it not obvious that these fundamentally new characteristics of specifically human needs are altogether inexplicable on the basis of the original notion of need taken in itself? Let us consider, for example, the first of these characteristics, tolerance of lack of satisfaction. That needs, considered as internal stimuli do not by themselves account for an act’s being performed but that it is also necessary to examine their relations with the surrounding circumstances within which this act is carried out and the results of which it may achieve, in other words, their relations with a set of external stimuli; that the historical complex of these relations between internal and external stimuli gives a non-mechanical necessity, a tendency to reinforcement, inhibition and modulation, to needs, even of the most elementary organic needs and even in animals, and that all this is all the more true of socialised human needs; that is what the psychology of motivation has known for a long time. But in order to understand the form and function of needs in the developed human personality it is absolutely necessary to go further still. For in the case of the human individual, if one does not make the mistake of simply reducing the insertion of his acts into a definite system of social relations to the simple performance of behaviour in a complex environment, the set of effects which come to modulate the inciting function of needs is no longer merely natural but social, as we recalled earlier, for example in connection with the analysis of the relations between labour and wages. In other words, instead of simply reflecting the laws of psychism, those of learning for example, the relation between needs and effects of activity are essentially mediated by the laws of the social form ation in which this activity develops and consequently by the overall structure of the personality itself. In order to make this essential point quite clear, let us call psychological product the set of effects of all kinds which an act or group of acts result in. A schematic analysis of the composition of this product within a capitalist society shows that (1) an act presupposes a certain physiological expenditure and the investment of a certain psychological time, and by virtue of this it directly produces itself or reproduces the corresponding needs; but (2) it also sometimes more or less completely directly satisfies one or more pre-existing needs by its nature or its effect as a concrete act; moreover (3) in so far as it is also an abstract act, an expenditure of labour-power in a wage earner's social activity, it is a means of obtaining an income for the individual and this in its turn, but in a mediated way, makes possible the direct satisfaction of certain needs: (4) on the other hand, necessarily being the exercise of a capacity and sometimes a source of development or differentiation of this capacity, the act at the same time generates a product in sector I of activity: I call every increase in the fixed capital of capacities thus produced psychological progress. To which it must be added that an act has a set of superstructural functions and results as well, the analysis of which would be premature here but the importance of which may be determinant and which one must therefore be careful not to forget.
One can see straight away that if certain aspects of this product, (notably those described in points (1) and (2)), belong on the terrain of the direct psychic effects of the activity, and consequently may be governed by psychic laws in which tneeds retains a significance, others, on the contrary, and particularly those in point (3), belong on the terrain of what earlier we called social relations between acts, i.e., relations the result of which no longer has a direct psychic character for the individual and escapes determination by the concrete aspect of the activity and also therefore of the corresponding need; for example, wages do not depend on the concrete labour carried out by the individual, and not on the concrete needs for which it is carried out. Here one can grasp from life the inversion of the relation between need and product which is generated by the social relations within which the activity is divided into concrete and . On this basis we can understand that when we are dealing with a real social activity, the structure of the psychological product is not only related to concrete needs and the concrete act but to the objective social conditions and at the same time to the overall structure of the personality – composition of capacities, place of abstract activity, form of superstructures, etc. and this, in its turn, through the mediation of the product, determines the whole structure and development of needs. The foregoing is already enough to make it evident that the remarkable tolerance of a lack of satisfaction which characterises developed human needs cannot be reduced to a complication –– even though one were to describe it as an ‘extreme’ complication – of the animal model of need as a result of the socialization of its forms and norms. Actually a real inversion of essence is involved. With its abstract social aspects in fact determined outside the individual, the product plays a crucial part in personal activity, for what incites one to act is not the need in itself and in isolation but the extentwhich the corresponding activity is able to satisfy it, in other w in the highest degree from one act to another and from one individual to another and yet deeply characteristic of a personality, provides the central element of a scientific theory of motivation articulated with an overall historical materialist concept of the concrete individual. This relation is by no means simply a theoretical construction moreover, but an invariable biographical procedure, for an act is nothing else than a practical mediation between a need and a product and in its context the intuitive evaluation of P/N can be seen to be one of the most simple and universal regulators of activity, a fact which we shall come back to. All this makes it possible to understand why the attempt to construct a serious theory of the higher forms of human motivation before having cleared up the basic problems of the general structure of the personality has no chance of succeeding. The constant and yet indefensible zeal for a primacy of elementary need, in Linton for example, when he cannot explain the adoption of cultural patterns by an individual except through a so-called ‘need for favourable response’, is in a sense merely the epistemological reflection of the inability to found the analysis on the conception of the whole personality with its subordinate elements, i.e., the inability really to understand the objective excentring of the human essence and the structure of motivations which results from it.
We arrive at the same result if we analyse another specific characteristic of developed human need: its remarkable tendency to expanded reproduction. In the most conventional conceptions of need and motivation up to our time, everything rests on the homeostatic schema: activity is a response to the tension of need and desire, and its result is the reduction of tension and consequently the return to a new equilibrium i.e., to rest. This being so the whole development of activity and the progress of the personality are theoretically inconceivable, unless one invents a ‘need for self-transcendence’ Peculiar to ‘man’ (the man of speculative humanism) in whom tension is only reduced by progress; and this amounts to hiding the unsolved character of the problem by enveloping it in the terminology of that very conception which prevents its resolution. An unbiased reflection on biography, on the contrary, straight away shows the primordial character of development, so much so that, through an inversion which is consistent with all the others, it is the fact of stagnation, which is so frequent, which is most in need of explanantion. The problem is therefore to understand the logic of simple and expanded reproduction not only of acts but of needs themselves, directly by way of developed human activity and not by substantialising an imaginary solution in a specific ‘need’ or motivation. On this point we can look for support to Marx’s remarkably penetrating analysis of a reality the importance of which in real human life is striking but for which existing psychology of personality has had no concern until now: money. In the Grundrisse, particularly, Marx studied what the Ancients called auri sacra fames, ‘that accursed hunger for gold’. He writes:
Before it is replaced by exchange-value, every form of natural
wealth presupposes an essential relation between the individual and the objects,
in which the individual in one of his aspects objectifies .[vergegenstandlicht]
himself in the thing, so that his possession of the thing appears at the same
time as a certain development of his individuality: wealth in sheep, the development
of the individual as shepherd, wealth in grain his development as agriculturalists
etc. Money, however, as the individual of general wealth, as something emerging
from circulation and representing a general quality, as a merely social result,
does not at all presuppose an individual relation to its owner; possession of
it is not the development of any particular essential aspect of his individuality;
but rather possession of what lacks individuality, since this social [relation]
exists at the same time as a sensuous, external object which can be mechanically
seized, and lost in the same manner. Its relation to the individual thus appears
as a purely accidental one; while this relation to a thing having no connection
with his individuality gives him, at the same time, by virtue of the the thing’s
character, a general power over society, over the whole world of gratifications,
labours, etc. It is exactly as if, for example, the chance of discovery of a
stone gave me mastery over all the sciences, regardless of my individuality.
The possession of money places me in exactly the same relationship towards wealth
(social) as the philospher’s stone would towards the sciences.
Money is therefore not only an object, but it is the object of greed [Bereicherungssucht]. It is essentially auri sacra fames. Greed as such, as a particular form of the drive, i.e. as distinct from the craving for a particular kind of wealth, e.g. for clothes, weapons, jewels, women, wine, etc., is possible only when general wealth, wealth as such, has become individualised in a particular thing, i.e. as soon as money is posited in its third quality. Money is therefore not only the object but also the fountainhead of greed. The mania for possession is possible without money but greed itself is the product of a definite social development, not natura1’, as opposed to historical
And Marx shows the revolutionary effect of money on both the development of the productive forces and the development of individuality:
Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of
wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness [Naturbedurftigkeit],
and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich jndividuality
which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour
also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity
itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because
a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one. This is
why capital is productive; i.e. an essential relation for the development of
the social productive forces. It ceases to exist as such only where the development
of these productive forces themselves encounters its barrier in capital itself.
The course of social development is by no means that because one individual has satisfied his need he then proceeds to create a superfluity for, himself; but rather because one individual or class of individuals is forced to work more than required for the satisfaction of its need – because surplus labour is on one side, therefore not-labour and surplus wealth are posited on the other. In reality the development of wealth exists only in these opposites [Gegensatze]: in potentiality, its development is the possibility of the suspension of these opposites.
Such analyses, which tell us more about the real personality than an entire library of biotypological literature, provide enormous food for thought on the deep source of the motivations of developed activity. The craving to get rich which in the naive sense is an exceptionally important human ‘need’, is in no degree an original need but rather a structural effect exerted by way of social relations on the production and the reproduction of activity and needs. ‘The need to get rich’ which leads the individual to seek money is not a new need from who knows where: on the contrary, it is money, i.e. a social relation conferring an abstract, and therefore intrinsically unlimited, essentially non-psychical, power On human activity, which is the source of the need to get rich which, moreover, is less a need which is added to others than a more general form in which pre-existing needs are crystaffised: here the abstract form of need corresponds to the abstract form of labour and neither the one nor the other depend on physiology. One can see very well here that Social excentration is not merely a characteristic of human needs but more fundamentally the secret of all their other characteristics, as it is the secret of the human essence in general. From the highest point of view the expanded reproduction of activity and human needs is result of the primordial fact that the real human essence consists not of an internal biological inheritance of hereditary psychic traits, thus having the psychological form and the measure of individuality from the very outset, but of an external social heritage capable of unlimited historical growth, and which therefore increasingly goes beyond the possibilities of direct assimilation by the isolated individual. It follows from this that, potentially, the process of individual assimilation of the human heritage is intrinsically inexhaustible and in fact is all the more inexhaustible the more it is advanced since, in short, its advance means an increase in capacities and a diversification of needs, therefore an extension of the fronts on which the individual is facing the immensity of the social heritage. In this sense the tendency to expanded reproduction does not presuppose any particular need: it is the immediate expression of the general relations between the individual man and the social man, between the individual and his essence. Whereas in animals the interiority of biologically based excitation involves the dominance of a homeostasis of behaviour, hereditary inheritance defining the limits of individual capacities in advance, social exteriority and the unlimited accumulation of the human heritage, the totally new mode of relations between the individual and the species which results, drive the homeostasis of activity and motivation back to the rank of an ontogenetic starting-point, soon overlayed by the effects of maturation and simple learning and above all gradually dispersed by the transition to the stage of the developed personality.
However, so long as the money-form has not attained universal development and social property relations are still essentially concrete relations, the social exteriority of the human heritage only exerts its effects with great difficulty: the individual’s capacity for appropriation remains severely marked in general by the limits of activity and concrete needs, and a pseudo-homeostasis of this mode of personality comes to mask the potentially revolutionary effects of the social excentration of its bases. At this stage man really seems to be nothing else than a social animal. The role of money and more broadly of capitalist relations, admirably brought out by Marx’s analyses cited earlier, is precisely to have broken up these relations of individuals’ narrow subordination to; their concrete relations with things and with men, and therefore at the same time with themselves, and first of all with their immediate needs. Thus the objective historical possibility can be seen to be not, it goes without saying, of individuals able to assimilate the whole of the social heritage, which vastly and increasingly goes beyond them – such a possibility is for ever excluded for humanity – but rather of men emancipated from every particular limitation other than the form of individuality itself and the limits of the social heritage in this period, and this sense, money integrally developed. But if capitalism creates the objective historical conditions of this full realisation of the human essence by individuals it is at the same time its worst enemy in so far as only ensures the development of all the productive forces and all social wealth, the dissolution of all particular links, through the most deep seated alienation and the deprivation of the vast majority of individuals and their complete subordination to the social process of creation of wealth, which is itself subject to the interests of an increasingly parasitic social class. In such a system the separation between labour and enjoyment in all senses is carried to an extreme. Unable to be self-expression labour essentially appears as a means for the simple reproduction of labour-power, usually identified with ‘satisfaction of needs’, and as this reproduction does not easily manage to be anything else than simple reproduction in capitalism, indeed an increasingly difficult simple reproduction, the illusion becomes established that the most elementary organic needs are generally the absolute basis of all human activity. In other words, the P/N of the most varied activities, the abstract product of which is blocked by capitalist relations at the lowest level, no longer represents a sufficient inducement for individuals to corresponding activity and far from developing, the underlying needs themselves atrophy. This is why, without playing on words, one can say that by keeping masses of individuals on the very threshold of integral humanisation, the premises of which it creates, in the conditions of an animal for which the inexhaustible wealth of the social heritage does not exist, capitalism is profoundly bestial. One can understand that the most natural Ideological complement of capitalism is a vulgar form of biological materialism, to which spiritualistic utopias, through a naive Contradiction, come to add the necessary appearance of a justification and illusory challenge. Only Marxism provides man with his true dimension and his prospects of unlimited flowering by bringing the biological basis of need down to its actual role of genetic starting-point and condition of possibility, and by revealing what capitalism both generalists and restricts in humanisation, i.e. intertwined socialisation and personalisation which necessarily heralds a higher stage of historical development, i.e. a higher stage of development of human individuals .
And this leads us on to discuss the third argument put forward in favour of the primacy of the concept of need by criticising the illusion which vitiates certain attempts carried out on the basis of Marxism to replace the animalised conception of specifically human motivations by the idea that labour is precisely man’s prime need’. In the first place this thesis clearly appears to reveal the inability of all non-Marxist conceptions to account for human activity by way of anything other than itself: in this sense, to describe labour as ‘prime need’ is quite simply to say that ‘the human essence is not need but labour’. But this interpretation immediately reveals the extremely speculative character of the thesis. We showed at length in Chapter 2 that if Marx defined the human essence not as ‘labour’ but as social relations, this is not a matter of a minor shade of meaning but of an essential point. To define man by labour in general is to define him by an abstract generality, therefore, from the outset, to deviate from dialectical and historical materialism; at the same time it is to fall to grasp the fact that the human essence – social relations – does not in itself have the psychological form, a discovery the immense importance of which for the theory of personality we have seen. By a play on words consequently almost inevitable, the labour by which one defines man and which in itself is already conceived in the form of the abstract generality, changes from its social meaning (social processes of production) to its psychological meaning (individual work activity). Under the cloak of an eminently Marxist formulation one has then let all the most essential scientific characteristics of the Marxist conception of man escape. To say that labour is man‘s prime need is immediately to make labour a psychologised essence of abstract man: the spiritualism of ‘creative man’ will certainly make no difficulty about accepting this ‘historical materialism’.
Moreover if ‘labour’ was ‘man’s’ ‘prime need’, it would be necessary to explain why, on the contrary, it so often appears as that which the individual abhors most, to the extent that a sentence to forced labour has always been considered the severest of penalties with the exception of the death penalty. The reason is that in the thesis we are discussing the concept of need has assumed the unfortunate form of an abstract generality just as much as that of labour. What concrete kind of need does one mean when one describes labour as man’s prime need? The question is all the more necessary because in one sense, which clearly seems to be the primary one, labour is only a need in so far as it directly results from social coercion: if ‘I need’ to work it is precisely because labour remains subordinated to the form of need, because in itself it is not self-expression but simply a means of earning one’s living. From this point of view the ‘labour which is man’s prime need’ is not at all the essence of the human being but alienated labour. And this is why, highly paradoxically in relation to the thesis discussed here, Marx considers communism as identical with the abolition of labour.
In all revolutions up till now the mode of activity always remained unscathed and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity, a new distribution of labour to other persons, whilst the communist revolution is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labour, and abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves.
It is quite clear that Marx does not mean to refer here to the abolition of labour in general: like every form of society communism rests on the unceasing production and reproduction by men of their means of subsistence: it has nothing to do with the installation of a generalised idleness. What Marx means is that communism puts an end to the historical era of alienated, fragmented, exploited labour, reduced to being merely a means of ‘earning one’s living’ and which, owing to this very fact, not being free self-expression, only maintains life by enfeebling it, by forcibly subordinating it to a dehumanising division of labour and exploitation. It is all this which communism makes it possible to surpass by again making the social production of wealth and personal self-expression coincide at the level of the modern forces of production and modern forms of social relations: in this sense ‘labour’ is no longer labour but the free unfolding of human activity. The communist revolution is a revolution
In which, on the one hand, the power of the earlier mode of
production and intercourse and social organisation is overthrown, and, on the
other hand, there develops the universal character and the energy of the proletariat,
without which the revolution cannot be accomplished; and in which, further,
the proletariat rids itself of everything that still clings to it from its previous
position in society.
Only at this stage does self activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off of all natural limitations.
Marx reconsiders this question at length in the Grundrisse, for example criticising A. Smith.
He is right of course that in its historic forms as slave-labour,
serf-labour, and wage-labour, labour always appears as repulsive, always as
external forced labour; and not-labour, by contrast, as ‘freedom and happiness’.
This holds doubly: for this contradictory labour; and relatively, for labour
which has not yet created the subjective and objective conditions for itself
(or also, in contrast to the pastoral, etc. state, which it has lost), in which
labour becomes attractive work, the individual’s self-realisation, which
in no way means that it becomes mere fun, mere amusement, as Fourier, with grisette-like
naivité, conceives it. Really free working, e.g. composing, is at the
same time precisely the most damned seriousness, the most intense exertion.
But Smith has no inkling whatever that this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity –- and that, further, the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realisation, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, ‘labour’
the work of material production can achieve this character only
(1) when its social character is posited (2) when it is of a scientific and
at the same time general character, not merely human exertion as a specifically
harnessed natural force, but exertion as subject, which appears in the production
process not in a merely natural, spontaneous form, but as an activity regulating
all the forces of nature.
It goes without saying, by the way, that direct labour time itself cannot remain in the abstract antithesis to free time in which it appears from the perspective of bourgeois economy. Labour cannot become play, as Fourier would like, although it remains his great contribution to have expressed the suspension not of distribution, but of the mode of production itself, in a higher form, as the ultimate object. Free time – which is both idle time and time for higher activity – has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject.
These profound texts clearly show all the ambiguity of the turn of phrase: labour is man’s prime need. For in actual fact the concept of labour can assume not only two distinct but opposite meanings (labour as alienated means of earning one’s living or, on the contrary, as free self-expression) and it is the same with the concept of need (meagre, immediate need, mere animal servitude, which far from being the basis in developed man is the by-product of alienation, or, on the contrary, rich, mediate need, i.e. the free aspiration of the broadly socialised individual). In capitalist society alienated social labour (and for the majority of individuals no other exists) is not only not the prime need (in the rich sense of the term) but constitutes its radical negation. ‘This being so, it is not labour which is my prime need, on the contrary, it is my prime need which necessitates labour: I need to labour as a means of ‘earning’ my (alienated) living and through that same need I waste it, fmding ‘time to live’ only outside labour in forms which are themselves atrophied. False to the letter with regard to capitalism, is the turn of phrase valid at least from the point of view of communism? Yes, in a sense, but one must be very careful not to convert it straight away into a meaningless phrase. As Marx writes in his Critique of the Gotha Programme’, ‘after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and there with also the antithesis between mental and physical, has vanished’ in communism, ‘labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want. That labour is destined to become life’s prime want in communist society shows sufficiently how mystifying the thesis is according to which labour is a universal and eternal trait of the human essence. Indeed, by the same token, labour in communism may be called ‘prime want’ only in the mediate, specifically human, sense of the word want: emancipated from its alienated forms, labour at the same time frees itself from alienated forms of need. This means that from the point of view of communism itself – the only one from which one may describe ‘labour’ as ‘prime want’ – labour is precisely no longer a want or a need in the usual psychological sense; in human activity as a whole it does not occupy a homologous place to that of needs in the animalised model of behaviour, the developed personality being characterised by a totally different structure.
In this connection, it is important to reflect carefully on the significance of the famous formula according to which communism will provide ‘each according to his needs’ and not to make it say more, i.e. at the same time less, something else, than what it can and does say. This formula simply expresses the general principle of distribution of consumer goods among individuals in communism but it cannot claim to comprise the whole essence, the ‘underlying’ human ‘meaning’ of communism. One seems to think it does owing to the fact that replacement of distribution according to labour by distribution according to needs appears to constitute the whole difference between the classic definition of the lower stage of communism, i.e. socialism, by the double formula, ‘from each according to his capacities, to each according to his labour’, and that of the higher stage or communism proper, ‘from each according to his capacities, to each according to his needs’. But this is precisely the proof that these formulae, adopted by Marx and Engels from pre-Marxist socialism, cannot be understood accurately unless they are considered in the spirit of scientific socialism. A really central principle of historical materialism is that the mode o.f distibution of wealth is always the expression of a deeper reality, namely the mode of production: and to imagine that communism could differ fundamentally from socialism through the mode of distribution while resting on the same mode of production (presumed to be defined therefore, in both cases, by the same formula: from each according to his capacities), is to deviate from Marxism. Certainly the fact that communist society installs a mode of distribution in which one provides ‘to each according to his needs’ is enough in itself to be an awe- inspiring prospect, for through this alone remarkable conditions of development are offered to all individuals, which is enough to distinguish such a society enormously from all those which preceded it. But, important as this point may be, if one characterises it as a society of abundance and free consumption, communism is nevertheless still not defined in its deepest essence; for a society which defined itself only in this way would precisely leave man confronting the unceasing and by itself absurd reproduction of need, albeit expanded need. Communism is not a super ‘consumer-society’. The deepest essence of communism consists in that it realises and even necessitates ‘the full and free development of every individual’, i.e. it frees the expanded reproduction of personalties themselves, at the same time as the expanded reproduction of the productive forces and culture, from every antagonistic social contradiciton. In other words, even more than through distribution ‘to each according to his needs’ communism becomes distinct through its specific way, which is fundamentally new compared with socialism itself, of requiring ‘from each according to his capacities’: through the communist division of labour in which, having received a truly ‘polytechnique’ education, ‘the fully developed individual’ is ‘fit for a variety of labours, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers’. Despite the mistaken identification of the classical formulae, the capacities which everyone is called on to use in communism are therefore quite different than those in socialism and all the more than those in previous societies, because in it they are used and therefore produced, quite differently. But to the same extent, and for the same reasons, this is equally true of needs: considered from the point of view of distribution alone, communism does not differ from socialism simply in the fact that it provides ‘to each according to his needs’ but in the fact that the needs which it satisfies in everyone, without any other limit than these needs themselves, have in themselves become different needs, wholly emancipated from the conditions and contradicitons which characterise them in the traditional psychological model and which, because of its specific limits and inequalities, even socialism still does not suppress to the root. Thus the ideological objection constantly aimed at communism – how could one ever provide ‘to each according to his needs’ if these needs have the characteristics one observes in a non-communist society? – falls. Naturally the needs which communism satisfies are the human needs of communism. That is precisely why the sense in which it is possible to say that ini communism labour will be man’s prime want (or need) absolutely does not coincide with the sense in which the term want (or need) is usually taken, especially when this notion of prime want has the function of attributing to labour within the human personality a homologous place to that of organic needs in the animal: we then inevitably relapse into psychological naturalism, into the speculative conception of the human essence. In actual fact, if labour becomes the prime need in communism, it is because in the same degree need becomes the prime labour, in the sense that production of the rich man’ i.e. man with richly developed needs, is the production of the prime social wealth. To reduce labour, even only in form, to need as to the primary given, by seeking to express the very fact of indefinately expanded reproduction of activity in the originally homeostatic language of need, therefore constitutes an attempt, in the best of case doomed at the outset, to a fatal ambiguity, to think a Marxist content thrugh the preMarxist concepts which it surpasses; it is the sign of research which is still partially ideological and the outcome of which, it seems can only be the abandonment of these residual concepts. This is why, everything considered, and despite its indisputable importance, we do not rank the concept of need among the primary concepts of the theory of personality.