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Friday, November 21, 2014

MOVING ON


With the re-reading of Capital behind me, I can now turn my attention to the re-reading of the 1844 manuscript on "Alienated Labor" and the 1848 Communist Manifesto, "a task which is rather an amusement than a labor," to snatch a line from the Preface to the First Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.  The first of these texts, barely 15 pages in the edition I shall be using, is of course one of the most often read of Marx's writings.  It makes for a fascinating comparison with Capital.  The manuscript is a wild, Romantic effusion of Marx's youth, spun, so far as I can tell, entirely out of his head.  It was written before Marx had begun the backbreaking work of archival scholarship into every aspect of the emergence of capitalism from European feudalism that serves as the foundation of the argument of Capital.  And yet, at the age of twenty-six, the young Karl Marx had intuited the essential inhumanity of capitalist labor that is detailed over so many pages in his mature hauptwerk.  

At a certain point in the twentieth century evolution of Marxism, it became popular to speak of a break or discontinuity between the youthful writings and the mature works, and yet in this important respect, the two are seamlessly continuous one with the other.  There was indeed a break, or at least a reversal, in Marx's views of feudalism and capitalism, but it concerned something quite different.  Briefly, when he was young, Marx viewed feudal socio-economic relations as thoroughly mystified by religious and political rationalizations, whereas capitalism, he thought, had dispelled the clouds of mystery to reveal the raw, naked exploitation lying beneath.  But the dramatic and deeply disappointing failure of the 1848 revolutionary uprisings seems to have persuaded Marx that the truth was in fact the reverse.  Under feudalism, he came to think, the economic structure of exploitation was nakedly exhibited, as typified by the division of the week's labor into days owed to the Lord and days for cultivating one's own land.  It was capitalism that presented its exploitation in the mystified form of a Free Market in which legally free workers met legally free capitalists and bargained as equals for their wages.

All of this, as the saying goes, will be gone into at the proper time.

3 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

When you say that the "manuscript is a wild, Romantic effusion of Marx's youth," are you referring to Romantic critics of the Enlightenment? If so, I would hope at some point you could do a mini-tutorial on Romanticism, which, to me at any rate, seems murky, incredibly varied, and difficult to pin down. Yet, at the same time, Marx's Romantic critique (if it is that) speaks brilliantly to capital's mutilation of man in everyday life at the same time that it illuminates what it means to be free or liberated. I think the Manuscripts are too readily tossed aside as youthful musings.

Magpie said...

I join Jerry's request: a mini-tutorial on Romanticism would be great.

I am not sure to what extent Marx can be considered a Romantic, but many of his most influential critics were. Particularly Nietzsche.