Marx & Engels - The German Ideology

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qualia
 
Reply Sun 30 May, 2010 05:10 pm
The German Ideology
Karl Marx &
Friedrich Engels

The German Ideology
takes on Marx and Engels ideas of the state, private property, theory of history, and what Engels would later term, historical materialism, but for the sake of brevity I have decided to concentrate on alienation and the division of labour, for not only are these the two central themes running through the entire book, but have also been of much contemporary value and significance.

This review shall offer a brief description of alienation and the arguments put forward by Marx & Engels as to why they believe it arises from the division of labour. I will try to critically assess their arguments and by way of conclusion suggest that even accepting the notion of alienation, there are problems in asserting that it arises from the division of labour, and, in consequence, Marx and Engels
' discourse loses some of its explanatory meaning.

Alienation
Alienation is the condition whereby people are conquered or subjugated to forces of their own making, but which confront them as mystified or alien. Feuerbach argued that people, unhappy in the world or discontent with it, surrender positive human qualities onto transcendental entities and in doing so doing so become alienated individuals by projecting what is valuable about themselves onto these fabrications of mind. In time, people and even entire societies come to regard their behaviour, their
'lives and destinies' as controlled and determined by these 'external, alien, being[s]' (Feuerbach).

According to Feuerbach, it is the condition of alienation which prevents individuals from attaining their true potential innate in all, of encountering their species-essence. The alienated individual is separated from this promise when they feel their lives controlled by external entities which, although unacknowledged by them, are of their own creation.

Marx inherited these two concepts, but instead of understanding alienation as part of the human condition, or as stemming solely from religion, he claims in On the Jewish Question, that it also arises from the capitalist political-economy and its state which are just as much alienated products of the mind and human activity as is any religion and which encourage alienation through private property and the division of labour, which as we shall see, are for Marx, exactly the same expressions.

Brief Overview of the Argument
Broadly speaking, Marx and Engel's argument in The German Ideology, runs something like this: as the political economy develops from feudalism to capitalism and the productive power of labour becomes ever more determined by the division of labour, such development, although beneficial in terms of brute production, degrades mutual cooperation between individuals who 'become more and more enslaved under a power alien to them' (Marx) and 'which they thus cannot control' (Ibid).

Alienated-labour is specific to the division of labour which Marx holds responsible for not only fettering humans to the mercy of alien market forces, but also for alienating the worker from the product of his/her own labour which also
'enslaves him instead of being controlled by him' (Ibid).

In such a condition, Marx reasons, individuals are alienated from their species-essence, and are forced to think of themselves solely in terms of being a particular and contingent or accidental commodity or social role: a factory-hand, secretary, toilet cleaner, the unemployed, and so on.

In consequence, the liberal doctrines of freedom are dangerous illusions, for in virtue of being a commodity, fettered to the division of labour, individuals are unable to become authentic human beings or achieve any significant degree of self-fulfillment, and dominated by capitalism's mode of production, so 'more subjected to the violence of things
' (Marx).


Four Specific Occurrences Giving Rise to Alienation
To press forward these arguments, Marx makes four important claims:

Firstly, labour, as defined by the division of labour, is degrading. Labour, for Marx, is the fundamental relation between humans and their world and the most essential feature of being human is that they produce their means of substance. As argued in The German Ideology, man
's species-essence is quite literally, Man - the-productive-being. However, fettered to the division of labour, the majority of individuals do not work for the mere sake of working, or for pleasure, self-development, or even to carry out self-fulfilling tasks, but are alienated from their labour by being forced to work if only to survive.

Secondly, to say that individuals are alienated from their labour is equal to saying, individuals are alienated from themselves. To this extent, the authentic individual no longer exists in the capitalist society, is no longer some autonomous being, master and sovereign of the object, but is, instead,
'the most wretched commodity of all (Marx), and like all commodities, subjugated to the whims of alien market forces.

In a society where workers lose control over their lives by losing control over their work and product, where identity is established by one's commodity role, where everything becomes a commodity, alienation is total and becomes the very structure of society itself.

Indeed, etymologically speaking, the term alienation originally signified the sale or transference of ownership, and in a totally commodified society, alienation is ubiquitous (Baudrillard). Under such circumstances, Marx argues, the worker bears no relation to the product she/he is producing, becoming a mere appendage to the machine or office and unable to enjoy productive labour as an end in itself.

Thirdly, the commodities which workers produce begin to permeate all social life, dominating status, thought and behaviour. With the advent of the capitalist mode of production, whereby competition is universalized, and the alienated workers are further separated into countless branches through the division of labour, and must
'strain their energy to the utmost' (Marx) in order to remain competitive commodities themselves, relations between individuals are reduced to mere 'money relationships' (Ibid), or the meeting between things, between commodities.

Yet, as Marx argues, whatever the individual does, it will be essentially a social act which presupposes the existence of other people who indirectly or directly maintain certain relations with the individual. But instead of recognizing this
'communal essence' (Ibid) in which people are mutually dependent on others for their own spiritual, intellectual and physical well-being, fulfillment and survival, under capitalism humans are alienated from their common humanity, and rather than relate to others as fellow human beings, come to understand their fellows as competitors or the promise to exploit for profit and personal gain.

Finally
, within the process of ever increasing alienation and capital growth, big business begins to expand and monopolize on all aspects of life: on religion, morality, aesthetics, science, education, and the arts, where even human individuality is standardized upon (Marx). Everything beautiful humans once produced is 'destroyed as far as possible' (Ibid) by virtue of now having a price tag, or because there is simply no longer the time, energy, market or space for it, or because it simply becomes 'subservient to capital' (Ibid).

A Triangular Metaphor of Alienation
Marxian alienation, as arising from the division of labour, can now be understood has having three-sides to it: a psychological and sociological aspect, but also as having at bottom some moral bearing. That reflected sociologically, regardless of what is believed, one is dominated by alien market forces, such as the division of labour, which one cannot control, and, yet, by participating in market relations and transactions, these forces are perpetuated and partially of one's own making.

In the psychological sense, how the individual comes to experience life fettered to such a system; and in the case of the normative value, we encounter Kant
's own concern with exploitation which itself could develop into an existential claim: that it is morally wrong to treat other people merely as the means to an end, rather than as ends in themselves, and in doing so, one makes the lives of others miserable and alienated.


A Critique in Three Parts

Part I
Turning now to our critique of the Marxian argument that alienation arises from the division of labour, it is worth recalling that he adopts Adam Smith's own thesis, accepting the phenomenon of the division of labour as occurring when the economy expands and through the 'various branches [of labour] there develops various divisions among the individuals co-operating in definite kinds of labour' (Marx). In other words, throughout history, different tasks have been identified and different people have been allocated to these tasks.

But if this is so, it does not make sense to hold capitalism solely responsible for the division of labour where
'each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity forced upon him and from which he cannot escape' (Ibid). Nor is it clear how Marx's communism would totally abolish such a social phenomenon, for afterall, a nail factory is arguably the same functioning entity whether in Smith's economic world, the capitalists world, or Marx's commune. Within this context, it also becomes unclear how communism could abolish alienation, and if it could, under Marx's premise of the historicality of the division of labour, it becomes difficult to understand what relation there is between alienation and the division of labour.

It is also reasonable to suppose that any sense of alienation may have other causes. Perhaps alienation stems from the nature of organised work under any system; the phenomenon could be a genetic or neurological disposition which informs many people
's psychology; one could even draw upon a yin-yang type of answer, and argue that freedom from alienation can come about by recognising that there is only alienation where there is non-alienation, and vice versa, that both terms are parasitic upon one another and so by seeking the latter, one holds onto the inevitability of the former.

Discontent, isolation, or estrangement from one's social context, or from one's very being, could even arise from the effort of trying to understand life and our place within itwhich could often serve to increase critical assessment and alienation from one's surrounding and would indicate its occurrence arising ever since humans began wondering about the meaning and purpose of it all. If any of these options were possibilities, the advent of any post-capitalist political-economic system is unlikely to do away with alienation.


Part II
As indicated, Marxian alienation is closely connected to the division of labour, but he also argues that the divisions of labour and private property are 'identical expressions' (Marx). Marx's central claim is that upon the advent of the division of labour, there arises 'the unequal distribution, both quantitative and qualitative, of labour and of its products, [namely,] private property' (Ibid). In effect, 'the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of theindividualand the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided' (Ibid). Marx concludes, that without this division of labour, or again, without 'the unequal distribution' of labour and its products, everything could be held communally and there would be no need for private property.

This assertion, however, relies upon three implicit assumptions which undermine Marx
's argument. The first is that the individual is not already an alienated individual, estranged from self or community, which in light of the critique above could be problematic.

The second is that without the division of labour, individuals would work to support the community, that there would be no contradiction between individual interests and communal interests. This idea is reminiscent of Rousseau's own problematic argument on the general will, but regardless, Marx appears to rely on an overtly optimistic, nay, limited notion of human beings, implying that even without the division of labour, people would always be altruistic and whose interests would always accord with the community.

The third assumption is that resources would always remain abundant in this Marxian society, for in a community of limited resources, as Hobbes argues, the individual would not withdraw beyond his private interests and whims, but, instead, by natural necessity and need, revert back to the egoistic individual. In this manner, it can be reasonably assumed that in a world of limited sympathies and finite resources, competition would be generated, leading to conflict and an absence of what would be mutually beneficial cooperation.

As we have seen, contrary to Marx
's thesis, there need not be any causal relation between alienation and the division of labour, nor that upon the abolition of the division of labour, individuals would necessarily live together in a communal, altruistic and non-alienated haven.

Part III
There is a third and final critique to which I would like to draw your attention to. Clearly, Marx maintains a concept of what it is to be human and argues that fettered to the capitalists' division of labour, alienated from each other and themselves, they are prevented from becoming authentic human beings. The division of labour which is the same expression as private property, is, for Marx, the possibility of the absolute impossibility of human authenticity.

However, Marx also argues that human nature is not a given, but is formed by society, or more to the point, formed by the ideologies determined by the material conditions of that particular society. That as argued in The German Ideology, 'life is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life' (Marx). If this is so, then the notion of species-essence, that humans are essentially productive beings, is incoherent.

Furthermore, just because humans happen to be productive, does not mean that human essence can necessarily be reduced to productivity. To this extent, the notion of whether Marxian communism or the abolition of the division of labour, as offered in The German Ideology, will eradicate alienation and bring forth a truly human society is and always will be open to question.

Conclusion - The Cosmic Story

To conclude, we can see that even when accepting the notion of alienation, there are problems in asserting that it arises from the division of labour and in consequence, some of Marx's discourse loses its explanatory meaning. However, on a final note, and I do not wish this assertion to be a mere polemic, just like a Lucas Star Wars saga, Marx's early philosophy, as found within The German Ideology, On the Jewish Question and his Manuscripts of 1844, suggest themselves towards a reading of ancient lore or myth of old.

To this manner of understanding Marx, we could picture a story of Man and Woman's self beginning their life on a divine plane of authenticity, pleasure, love and fullness, but over time, by the sheer fate of being human, they are cast forth upon a deadly land made up of their own kind's demons, and therein, upon the process of ideology, dogma, tradition and indoctrination, and, of course, the material conditions of life, come to accept these demons to be 'real', 'external' and 'alien' to them, and in doing so, become locked into a tragic cycle of conflict, war, aggression, competition, pecking orders, and alienation.

And so Man and Woman live out their life within this Kingdom of Death, ruled over by alien Slave Masters, Big Businesses and the State who serve the ignoble Lord Cosmic Capitalism, and his two evil princess, Universal Private Property and Division of Labour - the Deities of Death.

But there is hope, for Man and Woman can break free and reunite with their true-selves through awareness of their own brilliance and of their common-humanity with others of their type. Messengers of revolution throughout history have said as much, but they so often confused heaven for earth, and so, instead, the 'new' messengers, the Marxians are calling for Man and Woman to unite and help tear down the demonic aliens of their own creation and set up a paradise on earth.

However, tragically, and sometimes rather comically, the majority of alienated, unhappy folk do not want, or worse, cannot understand this message, and keep on going as before, mistaking their Kingdom Of Death for home and like soft-bellied termites, partaking in its endless reproduction, copy, upon copy, upon bland copy.

- - - - -
Thought it would be nice to post this for my 100th post :a-ok:


 
davidm
 
Reply Sun 30 May, 2010 06:04 pm
@qualia,
As a wage slave and a cubicle lizard surrounded everlastingly by soul-crushing beeping bits of metal and plastic in an assembly line of words and phrases cobbled together for obscurantist purposes, I find your analysis apt, qualia.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2010 03:48 am
@qualia,
Great work, Qualia, a model of clarity.

One small question if I may that is not directly related to the main theme

qualia;171027 wrote:
Feuerbach argued that people, unhappy in the world or discontent with it, surrender positive human qualities onto transcendental entities and in doing so doing so become alienated individuals by projecting what is valuable about themselves onto these fabrications of mind. In time, people and even entire societies come to regard their behaviour, their 'lives and destinies' as controlled and determined by these 'external, alien, being[s]'


Do you see any resemblance to this idea and Sartre's much later notion of 'bad faith'?
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Wed 2 Jun, 2010 08:03 pm
@qualia,
qualia;171027 wrote:

According to Feuerbach, it is the condition of alienation which prevents individuals from attaining their true potential innate in all, of encountering their species-essence. The alienated individual is separated from this promise when they feel their lives controlled by external entities which, although unacknowledged by them, are of their own creation.


First, excellent post.

This "species essence" as concept is as dangerous as all the others, I suggest. Also "alienation." Any concept is already an ossification, already "nonbeing," negation, abstraction. Of course Feuerbach had little choice. Books are concepts. In my opinion, the great thinkers on this issue have pointed beyond or away from concept. I think of Plato's Form of the Good, Jesus's "God is Love," and Wittgenstein's TLP.

Perhaps the most prevalent idols/alienations are concepts. And perhaps all alienation at least involves concept. Even a literal golden calf is a form, a symbol. It has its conceptual element which gives the gold shape meaning.

Just some thoughts!Smile
 
qualia
 
Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2010 06:43 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
Do you see any resemblance to this idea and Sartre's much later notion of 'bad faith'?

That's a really nice comparison, jeeprs, and of course, I think you already know the answer Smile . I have never bothered to read much of Being and Nothingness and for what I have gone into just seems like a shoddy reading of Heidegger. Personally, I don't believe Satre will be remembered that much as a philosopher, but more as a very interesting writer of stories and plays. That may be a bit of a polemic, but so be it.

If bad-faith in a nutshell is the shedding of one's responsibilities, the sloughing off of one's actions, the abdication of one's freedom by coming to believe that one's actions and destinies are really determined by external alien forces (god, commandments, division of labour, wage slavery) that are in fact of one's own making and thus one is still responsible for their actions no matter what they wish to believe, then yes, like you have suspected, Satre has given Feurbach notion a juicy, almost fightening moral twist.

I don't buy into Satre. I don't buy into his fundamentally moral game. I think there are such things as codes, and systems and structures which annihilate the individual's capacity of acting other-wise. Indeed, in many circumstances I often wonder if humans, that of the Enlightenment-Humanistic project, really do exist. To a certain extent the apocalypse has already happened, and no one really noticed or cared. However, I do like the idea of alienation, that in our commodified society, alienation is ubiquitous, and I like the idea that folk do come to believe that they really are controlled by alien-concepts and forces which, after all, are of an all too human-making.

Jeeprs, if you want, read on a little because the reply below might raise some thoughts which I personally would like to hear your own opinion on...

Reconstructo, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I too shudder at the idea of species essence, but I appreciate what Marx tried to do with the notion. That to a large degree we are bound by our material, historical and societal conditions and to that extent any fixed, immutable essence nailed onto humans becomes ever more incoherent, for after all, the very definition of species is always something evolving.

Although I don't understand what it means to say 'god is love', or how Plato's form thing gets us beyond doing-the-conceptual, I think I can grasp what you might be saying. That this going beyond you mention often seems to crop up when we are totally absorbed in a something. When that happens, in a weird kind of way, the self-body-mind-chattering-thing disappears and so too, not only whatever it is we are using, but also the world about us.

For example, I'm on my bike and the machine is peddling smoothly, nothing is wrong. I'm on an open road, cool breeze, flying down the twists and turns, heading towards the blue seas and golden sands and bikinis of the Med and I am just biking, completely absorbed in the action. The machine isn't being reflected upon, my mind-thing disappears, the world about me becomes bracketted. Nothing is being contemplated, conceptualised, thought about. And only on reflection - after the event - do I realise I have been biking and that 'I' was there. Does that experience make any sense?

I think this raises something important. The subject-object distinction breaks down, the Cartesian game becomes only that, just another form of my being, not any absolute form. There is no need for my self, a mind, any type of subject-object dichotomy. In a weird kind of way, absorbtion, authentic coping has alienated my self and my worlds, or perhaps better said, at times there is this beyond, an absolute unalienated absorbtion in the world and I think we can speak of it (if that is what Wittgenstein wanted along the way to deny us).

What do you think?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2010 04:17 pm
@qualia,
That state of at-one-ment has been recognised by 'positive psychology' and was named 'flow' by . It is like a secular version of Samadhi, which is the state of meditative absorption or meditative union that is the goal of Eastern yoga philosophies.

It easy to give these references in a few words but the implications are pretty profound. After all the subject object dichotomy, so called, or more simply the sense of being a subject is foundational to our whole way of being-in-the-world. It hardly occurs to anyone the way in which this is a construction. It is of course a necessary construction which exists for a reason. But I think it is safe to say that the fact that it is, is nearly always forgotten or overlooked. Its reality is just assumed. I don't think we in the West have a means of even acknowledging this, although I think this was what Heidegger tried to do, among other things.

Anyway this is really not germane to the 'German Ideology' except for perhaps to note in passing that it was something Marx never comprehended.

As for Sartre, I was completely flummoxed by Being and Nothingness, I literally couldn't understand the first paragraph. I think by that stage of European philosophy, an important part of the discipline was to be more difficult to understand than one's predecessors, and by the time Sartre came along the bar was raised pretty high already. But I formed the view that overall he was not really worth going to the trouble of reading, with the`exception perhaps of a few pieces here and there to get an idea of his oeuvre.

qualia;172429 wrote:
To a certain extent the apocalypse has already happened, and no one really noticed or cared.


That is a chilling realization that I too sometimes feel. It is kind of gnostic, although for Sartre there was 'no exit', and also a feeling of having been thrown into this situation, whereas for the gnostic, one is here intentionally, even if the reason for it has been forgotten, and there is a way out, even if it is hard to find. But sometimes I too think the world has become like this in the modern age.

Generally about Marxism, and the German Ideology - I have not studied it in great detail, although obviously many of Marx' insights were extremely acute. I was probably influenced more by some of the later intellectual Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse. (But I must say my experiences with marxist intellectuals at University were generally depressing, and I visited East Berlin as a child in 1964, which provided a lifelong inoculation against communism.)
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2010 05:28 pm
@qualia,
qualia;172429 wrote:

Reconstructo, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I too shudder at the idea of species essence, but I appreciate what Marx tried to do with the notion. That to a large degree we are bound by our material, historical and societal conditions and to that extent any fixed, immutable essence nailed onto humans becomes ever more incoherent, for after all, the very definition of species is always something evolving.

Ah yes, this is what I loved in Kojeve. Have you read him? One of my favorites. That to me is Hegel who of course influenced Marx. I wonder if Marx exaggerated the need to turn Hegel upside down, or if Kojeve (a lover of Marx) presented Hegel as a Marxist would like him to be. In any case, great ideas. Man is a dynamic X who evolves his own essence. I like to say that man is essentially essentialization. A maker and breaker of concepts, including self-concepts.

---------- Post added 06-03-2010 at 06:47 PM ----------

qualia;172429 wrote:

Although I don't understand what it means to say 'god is love', or how Plato's form thing gets us beyond doing-the-conceptual, I think I can grasp what you might be saying. That this going beyond you mention often seems to crop up when we are totally absorbed in a something. When that happens, in a weird kind of way, the self-body-mind-chattering-thing disappears and so too, not only whatever it is we are using, but also the world about us.

Well, I could be wrong but it definitely feels right, my current heart-head state. I think if we root out the fundmental concept, it's empty. That would be the one "eternal" concept from which the rest are made from our immersion in space and time. Of course space, time, concept, self, other, immersion are all "concepts" made from the empty concept. It's unnameable, because it's utterly indeterminate. I could be wrong. But I think the TLP points in this direction, if not quite to this radical of a view. All concepts but the indeterminate concept are neither false nor true in the grand sense.

"God is Love" is maybe hard core negative theology but no one notices, because conceptual idolatry is rampant. To say God is love is to say he only exists as a human emotion, or as Love and its byproduct/muse Beauty. Any ethical system taken as religion is already idolatry. Because "God" is beyond all concept, or is not concept at all but Love. The Gospels are a mixed bag, but this interpretation is based on certain pieces of it. If "God" is love then the Christian tradition is no important than any other. All traditions are just temporal concept. At the heart of concept is a unified indeterminate "nothingness." This is the Form of Forms, in my opinion. At the heart of True Religion (excuse the Blake-influenced love of capital letters) is Love and his/her best pal Forgiveness.

But on thread, all concept taken as it is already a trading of the spirit for the letter of the law. And of course most religion is self-righteous self-alienation used against others as a weapon. Instead of forgiveness one sees judgment. Instead of keeping to the love, the concept men stab one another with pens. Human life is largely tormented by envy and greed, which are largely conceptual. We hold our fellow humans in contempt because they do not share our abstractions, which are conceptual.

Your absorption is a great bike ride is in my mind our "purpose" here. Remembering that purpose is a concept, and easily made an idol. One thing I love about the TLP is that I think Witt is trying to wake us up to the fact(?) that description is not explanation, and that the world as is is a miracle, simply because it is. And he also views it as unified. Even if this unity is just an imposition of the root concept on the whole. Concept is unification. ("TO feel the world as a limited whole. It is this that is the mystical.") Personally, I don't think we have to avoid concept at all to be full of love/beauty. Concept can be a rudder, a lightning rod for this. But so often we conceive of our deaths, our personas, etc. in ways that steal us from the moment and its potential beauty. We see the world as some boring causal nexus. We aren't even surprised to be alive. From there, it's easy to pass this self-cruelty on to others. Because we all have the abstractions that are going to fix the world, right? Hmm. But the world is infinite and holy when one is in love, and there are many ways of being in love, right? Forgive me for my longwindedness. I'm just quite happy lately and want to share what makes me that way. :detective:

---------- Post added 06-03-2010 at 06:51 PM ----------

jeeprs;172627 wrote:

As for Sartre, I was completely flummoxed by Being and Nothingness, I literally couldn't understand the first paragraph.

I liked Nausea and many plays, but B & N just seems like a bore. I couldn't force myself. I just don't believe that philosophy must be difficult. The thoughts perhaps are, but the style shouldn't be.
 
 

 
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