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Some notes on my reading of an early Marx – edited version

January 29, 2010

Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels. “The German Ideology: Part 1.” The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C Tucker. NY: Norton, 1972. 110-64.

The project of this essay is to critique the ideology of German philosophy of the mid-nineteenth century going in the direction he considers as extreme idealism with no bearing in the material world. German philosophy at that time was under the sway of the Hegel-Young nexus, with philosophers and ideologues steeped in what Marx refers to as “parochial narrowness, (111)” through their uncritical appropriations and expropriations of the Hegelian framework when critiquing the problematics of political and social economy of Germany. Marx argues that the Idealistic mode of philosophizing was insufficient when dealing with real economic and class issues in Germany, especially after the rise of the bourgeois class and issues arising from the formation of its capitalistic system of production and market. He also blames the failure of the German philosophical tradition in answering the conundrums of economic pragmatism in their tendency towards metaphysical obfuscation (112). The general philosophical climate then consisted in subsuming the allegedly dominant metaphysical, political, juridical, and the moral into a class of religious or theological conceptions, which meant pronouncing political, juridical, moral consciousness as religious or theological, and the political, juridical, moral man – “man” in the last resort – as religious” (112). Marx argues that the confinement of epistemological and ontological developments to Hegelian logical category did not take into account the “connection of German philosophy with German reality” (113). Together with Engels, he works to dismantle the particular intellectual investments of the idealists he perceives as ignoring material influence in the role of the body in their preoccupation with cognition as separate from the body. Many of the sections are repetitive and over-lapping. However, Marx re-uses some of the same examples in different sections to demonstrate the inextricable entanglement between the material and the ideal.

Major Premises –
1. Marx reads human history as embodiment of living individuals. In other words, human history is about the physical organization of these individuals and their relationships to nature, regardless of whether it is actual physical nature or natural conditions where the human finds him/herself in such as conditions of the “geographical, orohydrographical or climatic.”(113).
2. Humans are distinguished from animals by way of consciousness and cultural structures. However, even prior to that level of distinction, men are considered as different from animals from the moment the former could produce their means of subsistence. It is this ability to produce the means that presupposes the ability to express their mode of life, and thus to have consciousness (114).
3. The relationships between different nation-states are dependant on the level of their productive forces, the level of division in labor and internal intercourse (114).
4. The various stages of the development of the division of labor are informed by the different divisions of ownership, ranging from tribal ownership, “ancient communal” and state ownership, and finally feudal ownership and estate property. Marx provides the history of the social and political development in Europe beginning from the Middle Ages until the present as empirical evidence about the emergence of the capitalist division of labor. (115)
5. The production of ideas, conceptions and consciousness are considered as outgrowths of the material activity and intercourse of men, “…we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises.” (118)

Critical Itinerary
A. In the section called “Ideology in General, German Ideology in Particular,” Marx interrogates the meaning of history and its relation to the production of consciousness. It is also here that he begins an interrogation into the meaning of labor (both material and immaterial) and the role of the division of labor within a larger world-system.

1. History
• Firstly, Marx places history squarely in the lived lives of humans. And the lives of humans are marked by their economic activities. The first level of economic activity is the production of subsistence. As humans are able to fulfill their most primary needs, they create new needs. Production of material needs is coincided with the reproduction of the self and of one’s progenies through procreation (120). The acts of production-reproduction in groups of individuals are called productive forces. Productive forces then give rise to collective consciousness. Marx describes human consciousness as beginning from the affective (immediate level of sensuousness) to that stemming from the inter-personal relationships between members of the society (120-121). The rise of this consciousness leads to the division of manual and mental labors as humans go from subsistence production to production of cultures and commodities (123). This division of labor leads to contradiction between the interests of an individual/individual family with that of the state. The state plays the role of a disinterested party. Such contradictions of interests and divisions then lead to alienation that is the basis of class struggle.
• Secondly, Marx places communism within a world-historical context because communism is developed through the universal development of productive forces that establish universal intercourse. “Communism is only possible as the act of dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism.” (126) Marx seems to be suggesting that communism as a practice is only possible if men are already existing on equal terms, rather than as an attempt to create those equal terms within an existing order. Communism is a movement that abolishes the present state of things and replaces it with a new order based on universal equity.

2. Section 2:Production of Consciousness (127-139)
• After providing the reader with the overview of socio-economic material history, he now moves into a more detailed explanation of how consciousness arises from material forces as a derivation from material practices. For Marx, the production of consciousness stems from the “substance” that is the sum-total of productive forces (as discussed in the previous section), capital funds and social intercourse. Marx also begins to separate out between “primeval history”, which is that linked to the production of life and nature, with the history of productive forces that he calls “extra-superterrestrial” due to the latter’s separateness from the actual reproduction of life. He critiques how the real history of man is not written as it should be but is a construction of “literary gossip.” The historical is instead substituted with high-falutin discussion of “self-consciousness” and emphasis on abstract ideation that does not provide the lesson for man’s liberation. For Marx, the conception of history stems from our understanding of the “real process of production” (128) which explains how ideas are actually formed through material practices rather than vice-versa.
• The structure of different social classes is determined by the modes of production and exchange, of industry and commerce. Marx critiques Feuerbach’s inability to understand this conception, which made the latter a pseudo-communist despite his avowal towards materialism. Marx claims that the latter took refuge in idealism when he was not able to face the need for actual transformation of the social structure. For Marx, Feuerbach’s inability to understand the link between material production and history caused the latter to fail to perceive the need for the overthrowing of existing economic structures in order for communism to work.
• For Marx, world-history is produced through an intercourse and division of labor between different nations – separate spheres that can be extended to the dichotomy between the intellectual force and material force ruling society. This division of labor is manifested in the ruling class as a division between mental and material labor – the thinkers and the receptors – and there is possibility that there would develop a tension (hostility) between these two. The hegemony of the spirit of theory in history are separated into three efforts as outlined below:
1) separation of the ideas of those ruling from the actual rulers;
2) ordering the ideas through a “mystical” connection of the successive ruling ideas;
3) removal of the mystical appearance of this “self-determination concept” through the materialistic conception by looking at them as the manufacturers of history.

B. In “The Real Basis of Ideology”, Marx spends more time talking about the productive forces that provided the material for the formation of intercourse and thus theoretical discourse. This section is where Marx expands on the socio-economic physicalities that form the material origins of the existing productive forces discussed in A.

Section 1. Intercourse and Productive Forces (140 -151)
• Marx traces the division between material and mental labor to the beginning of separation between towns and the country-side. This separation is co-constitutive of the gradual transition and evolution from a tribe to a State even if locality co-exists within the larger nexus of the nation-state. The towns, since the Middle Ages, were formed by free-serfs who escaped from their former master’s land into the town to ply their respective services and trade. Henceforth, the towns became “associations” that were set up to provide for the protection of property through the multiplication of means of production, protection of private property, and defense of individuals. Marx also detours into the history of guild as a way of illustrating the pre-history of big industries that came about in his time.
• Marx argues that the separation of production from commerce in the division of labor leads to the creation of a new class. He uses the long history of class formation as described above to illustrate the origin and rise of the bourgeoisie class. It also allows him to show the evolution of priority in the transformation of cottage industries into manufacturing entities. From there, he is able to show how the rise of industrialization takes on a global context as nations entered into competition with one another. Industrialization and competition of capital through the abovementioned separation also parallels the rise of empirical sciences, and the channeling of the natural science as a tool to serve the needs of the industrialist.

Section 2: The relation of state and law to property (150-152)
• Here, Marx discusses the movement from tribal to feudal landed property in the pre-industrialized world, and the movement from corporative movable property and manufacturing capital to modern day capital in the industrialized world to illustrate how the laws were developed to cater to the evolution from communal to private property. This way, he attempts demonstrate how the growth of a nation-state is implicated in the disintegration of natural communities by encouraging the development of civil society with private property.
• Marx argues that private property is independent of community. With the illusion that private property is based on independent will, in the case when income from the land is lost due to competition, the proprietor with legal title to the land has the right to arbitrarily dispose of the land. This of course may have impact on the workers who working on that land or property (e.g. manufacturing plants, big farms etc).

Section 3: Natural and Civilized Instruments of Production and Forms of Property (153-157)
• In this section, Marx attempts to demonstrate how the rise of private property influences the capital system around which the productive forces are shaped, and thus the latter’s impact on man’s labor. He argues that exchange between man and nature can happen in two instances. The first being when physical activity is not yet separated from mental activity (this is prior to the rise of accumulation of private property) and the second relates to the division between the physical and mental labor (in the aftermath of the rise of private property). In the first instance, the domination of the propertied over the propertyless is based on a personal relationship, whereas in the second case, the domination is mediated through a currency of exchange such as money. The accumulation of private property is seen as necessary consequence of the existing instruments of production. Private property is formed in opposition to labor and evolves out of the necessity of accumulation.
• With the rise of class consciousness and the dichotomy between the propertied and propertyless, productive forces begin to appear as a world for themselves, independent of and divorced from the individuals, as well as alongside individuals. These forces become real only in the intercourse and association of individuals. According to Marx, “appropriation of these forces is itself nothing more than the development of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves. “ (155)
• Masses of individuals become subservient to a single instrument of production. In the process of appropriation by the proletariats, a mass of instruments have to be made subject to each individual proletariat. “Modern universal intercourse can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all (155).” It is through the development of this universal intercourse that the universal energy and character of the proletariat is developed.

C. Communism. The production of the form of intercourse itself (157-164)
In this final section of the essay, Marx attempts to sum up how communism is different from all the other existing social movements by overturning the relations between production and intercourse, by taking into account economic and material productions as a way of performing the conditions of unity among all men.

• According to Marx, practicing communists treat the conditions created by production and intercourse as inorganic conditions. Marx perceives the difference between the individual person and that accidental to him as a historical fact rather than conceptual difference.
• Marx relates productive forces as forms of intercourse (material as the source of ideation) to the occupation and activity of the individuals. The various conditions of the individual human would appear first as conditions of self-activity before evolving into “fetters.” Through this chain, it forms a coherent series of intercourse.
• Marx argues that the imperialist must follow the stage of development of the productive forces they find to exist in their colony and thus adjust themselves to the productive forces of the communities of their colony (160).
• An “illusory community” constituting a collective of individuals seems to have an independent existence in relation to them and is made up of a combination of one class over and against that of another. This “illusory community” is described as a fetter, keeping the proletariat in the cogwheel of increasingly alienated labor. (161)
• Marx claims that individuals have to build upon themselves within their historical conditions and relationships for a revolution to take place. This is necessary for the freeing of the fetters. Otherwise, the proletariat will always be separated from his/her labor and become alienated, thus leading to social discontent and opposition.

In Conclusion
The conditions of the proletariats in terms of their existence in modern society and their labor have become incidental to the evolution of a State that seeks to alienate their labor from them for maximal capital gain. Marx argues that that it is only by a revolution that would dismantle a State that is nothing but a natural evolution from a feudal system that individuals can regain control over themselves. However, before this can take place, there is a need for proper comprehension of the material conditions by tracing the history and preconditions of the material forces of production and the elements that make up these forces, as Marx has tried to do in this essay.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2015 6:28 am

    Hello, read it. you can see my writing on German Ideology in

  2. CLee permalink*
    April 30, 2015 11:00 am

    Hello Asad,
    Thanks for getting in touch and sharing your blog. I look forward to seeing what you are posting in there.

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