reification and the consciousness of the proletariat

11 Capital 1, pp. Moreover, the refusal to be content with this empirical reality, this going beyond the bounds of what is immediately given by no means signifies a straightforward dissatisfaction with it and a straightforward – abstract – desire to alter it. Capital I, pp. And the form assumed by this ossification and this alienation converts it into a foundation of reality and of philosophy that is perfectly self-evident and immune from every doubt. It rose to prominence chiefly through the work of Georg Lukács, in his essay "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat", part of his book History and Class Consciousness; this is the locus classicus for defining the term in its current sense. And by selling this, his only commodity, he integrates it (and himself: for his commodity is inseparable from his physical existence) into a specialised process that has been rationalised and mechanised, a process that he discovers already existing, complete and able to function without him and in which he is no more than a cipher reduced to an abstract quantity, a mechanised and rationalised tool. Likewise with the machine.” [16], Thus even the individual object which man confronts directly, either as producer or consumer, is distorted in its objectivity by its commodity character. It also integrates into its own system those forms of primitive capitalism that led an isolated existence in pre-capitalist times, divorced from production; it converts them into members of the henceforth unified process of radical capitalism. In the most general terms we see here the origin of the philosophical tendency to press forward to a conception of the subject which can be thought of as the creator of the totality of content. The undeniable fact of change must then appear to be a catastrophe, a sudden, unexpected turn of events that comes from outside and eliminates all mediations. merchant capital, the role of money as a hoard or as finance capital, etc.). “For otherwise it would not be exactly the same thing that exists, but something more than I had thought in the concept and I would not be. (The author of these lines has, however, no wish to conceal his view that the development of capitalist economics takes precedence.) cit., p. 51. Praxis then appears to be consistently subordinated to the theory of contemplation. The separation of the producer from his means of production, the dissolution and destruction of all ‘natural’ production units, etc., and all the social and economic conditions necessary for the emergence of modern capitalism tend to replace ‘natural’ relations which exhibit human relations more plainly by rationally reified relations. Without them the proletariat would never have become a class and if they had not been continually intensified – by the natural workings of capitalism – it would never have developed into the decisive factor in human history. . They are instead typical relations mediated by the objective laws of the process of production in such a way that these ‘laws’ necessarily become the forms in which human relations are directly manifested. as the aspects of a total social situation caught up in the process of historical change. Merchant’s capital is originally merely the intervening movement between extremes which it does not control and between premises which it does not create.” [2], And this development of the commodity to the point where it becomes the dominant form in society did not take place until the advent of modern capitalism. Nor is it a matter of fixed or circulating capital, but rather of machines, raw materials, labour-power of a quite definite (technically defined) sort, if disruptions are to be avoided.” [33]. In particular the incisive questions posed by Solger who has wrongly been allowed to slide into oblivion, place him together with Friedrich Schlegel as a pioneer of the dialectical method between Schelling and Hegel, a position in some ways comparable to that occupied by Maimon in between Kant and Fichte. The belief that the transformation of the immediately given into a truly understood (and not merely an immediately perceived) and for that reason really objective reality, i.e. As everywhere in classical philosophy it would be a mistake to think that these discussions are no more than the problems of intellectuals and the squabbles of pedants. 2. The divorce of the phenomena of reification from their economic bases and from the vantage point from which alone they can be understood, is facilitated by the fact that the [capitalist] process of transformation must embrace every manifestation of the life of society if the preconditions for the complete self-realisation of capitalist production are to be fulfilled. by Georg Lukács, from History & Class Consciousness, written 1923. In consequence of the rationalisation of the work-process the human qualities and idiosyncrasies of the worker appear increasingly as mere sources of error when contrasted with these abstract special laws functioning according to rational predictions. Or rather: these ‘laws’ fail to function and the reified mind is unable to perceive a pattern in this ‘chaos’. Here, too, there is a breach with the empirical and irrational methods of administration and dispensing justice based on traditions tailored, subjectively, to the requirements of men in action, and, objectively, to those of the concrete matter in hand. Such a synthesis would only be possible if philosophy were able to change its approach radically and concentrate on the concrete material totality of what can and should be known. Der heilige Max. as our history, for there is no other), we shall have raised ourselves in fact to the position from which reality can be understood as our ‘action’. I, § 24. It is rather something that becomes all the more apparent the more science has advanced and the more consistently it functions from the point of view of its own premises. active) and not receptive (i.e. Zu Hegels 60. [13] In that case the system must be abandoned as a system. Kant’s formalistic ethics, adapted to the consciousness of the individual, is indeed able to open up the possibility of a metaphysical solution to the problem of the thing-in-itself by enabling the concepts of a world seen as a totality, which had been destroyed by the transcendental dialectic, to reappear on the horizon as the postulates of practical reason. by the fact that the worker is forced to objectify his labour-power over against his total personality and to sell it as a commodity. This, too, becomes distorted. Hugo established the juridical basis of slavery, among other things, by arguing that it “had been the law of the land for thousands of years and was acknowledged by millions of cultivated people.” [39] In this naively cynical frankness the pattern which is to become increasingly characteristic of law in bourgeois society stands clearly revealed. This progression is, therefore, the contradiction that is never resolved but is always held to be simply present.” [17] And Hegel has also shown that the methodological device that forms the logical first link in the infinite progression consists in establishing a purely quantitative relationship between elements that are and remain qualitatively incommensurable but in such a way that “each is held to be indifferent to this change.” [18], With this we find ourselves once more in the old antinomy of the thing-in-itself but in a new form: on the one hand ‘is’ and ‘ought’ remain rigidly and irreducibly antithetical; on the other hand, by forging a link between them an external, illusory link that leaves their irrationality and facticity untouched, an area of apparent Becoming is created thanks to which growth and decay, the authentic theme of history, is really and truly thrust out into the darkness of incomprehensibility. But corresponding to the dialectical nature of reality and the dialectical character of our efforts to come to terms with it, they are related dialectically. On the one hand, the process of labour is progressively broken down into abstract, rational, specialised operations so that the worker loses contact with the finished product and his work is reduced to the mechanical repetition of a specialised set of actions. The enduring qualities of man are the subject of pure science, but the changing aspects of man, both as an individual and in the mass, are the subject of a scientific history of mankind." [8]. The supreme scientific concept which is no longer the name of anything real is like money. This destroys the organic necessity with which inter-related special operations are unified in the end-product. But it is in Schiller’s aesthetic and theoretical works that we can see, even more clearly than in the systems of the philosophers (where for the superficial observer the pure edifice of thought sometimes obscures the living heart from which these problems arise), the need which has provided the impetus for these analyses as well as the function to be performed by the solutions offered. The Stoic ideal of ataraxy is a much better instance of this quite pure contemplation, but it is of course devoid of the paradoxical union with a feverish and uninterrupted 'activity'. In the first place, these facts were thereby transformed into something merely there and could not be conceived of as having been ‘created’. 806 et seq. They now appear, on the one hand, as abstract members of a species identical by definition with its other members and, on the other hand, as isolated objects the possession or non-possession of which depends on rational calculations. Now that this core is revealed it becomes possible to recognise the fetish character of every commodity based on the commodity character of labour power: in every case we find its core, the relation between men, entering into the evolution of society. Science is thereby debarred from comprehending the development and the demise, the social character of its own material base, no less than the range of possible attitudes towards it and the nature of its own formal system. Reification as an extesion of Marx’s commodity form. On the gradual ascendancy of the principle of economic calculation, see also A. Weber, Standort der Industrien, especially p. 216. This consequence follows with such inevitability that Tugan-Baranovsky, for example, attempts in his theory to draw. But the problematic here is NOT the emergence of commodity, but rather, the universalization of it. should be abandoned or that it should be sought in praxis. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the process by which the objects are isolated is not the product of chance or caprice. That something exists merely ‘in itself’ means for Hegel that it merely exists ‘for us’. See Cassirer, op. Whether this gives rise to ecstasy, resignation or despair, whether we search for a path leading to ‘life’ via irrational mystical experience, this will do absolutely nothing to modify the situation as it is in fact. The incomprehensibility and irrationality of crises is indeed a consequence of the class situation and interests of the bourgeoisie but it follows equally from their approach to economics. For if man is fully human “only when he plays”, we are indeed enabled to comprehend all the contents of life from this vantage point. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 299. I’ve been wanting for some time to toss up some notes on Lukács’ essay “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat” from History and Class Consciousness (note that the version of this text online at marxists.org suffers from a number of OCR issues, most of them just nuisances, but some more significant, including omitted phrases and sentences – the text version is preferable). 128-9. Or else the methodological intractability may be a matter of critical awareness from the beginning (as with Max Weber) and, instead, an auxiliary science of history is brought into being. Just as the capitalist system continuously produces and reproduces itself economically on higher and higher levels, the structure of reification progressively sinks more deeply, more fatefully and more definitively into the consciousness of man. Plekhanov, op. Its perspicacity finds itself increasingly in the situation of that legendary ‘critic’ in India who was confronted with the ancient story according to which the world rests upon an elephant. Objectively, in so far as the commodity form facilitates the equal exchange of qualitatively different objects, it can only exist if that formal equality is in fact recognised - at any rate in. the belief that the impact of the category of mediation upon the picture of the world is merely ‘subjective’, i.e. In them the relations between men that lie hidden in the immediate commodity relation, as well as the relations between men and the objects that should really gratify their needs, have faded to the point where they can be neither recognised nor even perceived. Cf. Cf. I, p. 527. comparable labour, measurable with increasing precision according to the time socially necessary for its accomplishment, the labour of the capitalist division of labour existing both as the presupposition and the product of capitalist production, is born only in the course of the development of the capitalist system. 165-70. There arises a rational systematisation of all statutes regulating life, which represents, or at least tends towards a closed system applicable to all possible and imaginable cases. If now-in the full awareness of our own one-sidedness-consider this question from a purely methodological point of view, we see that it is the very success with which the economy is totally rationalised and transformed into an abstract and mathematically orientated system of formal ‘laws’ that creates the methodological barrier to understanding the phenomenon of crisis. I, § 24. But it must not be forgotten that “the ruse of reason” can only claim to be more than a myth if authentic reason can be discovered and demonstrated in a truly concrete manner. The ruling class of the moment attempts to meet the challenge of these changes in the only way open to it, and on matters of detail it does appear to meet with some success. The fact that the problematics have become more conscious, that it is harder to indulge confusions and equivocations than was the case with the concept of nature only makes matters more difficult. For precisely in the pure, classical expression it received in the philosophy of Kant it remains true that the ‘ought’ presupposes an existing reality to which the category of ‘ought’ remains inapplicable in principle. Only after the bourgeoisie had gained at least a partial victory did a ‘critical’ and a ‘historical’ view begin to emerge in both camps. So too was mass production with mechanical, standardised labour, as we can see, for instance, with canal construction in Egypt and Asia Minor and the mines in Rome. Instead, while grasping and holding on to the irrational character of the actual contents of the concepts it strives to go beyond this, to overcome it and to erect a system. (and sometimes it even lies concealed behind ‘patriarchal’ forms). Cf. 133 et seq. From this it follows that the powers that are beyond man’s control assume quite a different character. The relative independence of the artisan (or cottage craftsman), of the landowning peasant, the owner of a benefice, the knight and vassal was based on the fact that he himself owned the tools, supplies, financial resources or weapons with the aid of which he fulfilled his economic, political or military function and from which he lived while this duty was being discharged. 43. Here, too, we must be grateful to Rickert for the clarity with which he formulates his view. [37]. If, therefore, it is true that philosophy is searching for an identical order in the realms of ideas and things and that the ground of existence is held to be the first principle, and if it is true also that this identity should serve as an explanation of concreteness and movement, then it is evident that the meaning of substance and order in the realm of things must have undergone a fundamental change. Kant himself had already turned the problem explicitly in this direction. He produces values which serve afresh to command his labour and by means of it to create new values.”[42]. But also it would be essential really to penetrate the nature of a legal system which serves purely as a means of calculating the effects of actions and of rationally imposing modes of action relevant to a particular class. A fine elucidation of the different stages can be found in Capital III, pp. But here [in Hegel’s argument] objectivity tends in every respect in the opposite direction to that given it by Spinoza for whom every subjectivity, every particular content and every movement vanishes into nothing before the rigid purity and unity of this substance. The antithesis of ‘for us or in itself’ [37] is rather ‘for itself’, namely that mode of being posited where the fact that an object is thought of implies at the same time that the object is conscious of itself. . It will then find that the world lying beyond its confines, and in particular the material base which it is its task to understand, its own concrete underlying reality lies, methodologically and in principle, beyond its grasp. Werke II, p. 485. For if it starts with the fact it places itself inside the world of existence and of finitude and will find it hard to discover the way that leads from there to the infinite and the suprasensual; if it begins from action it will stand at the point where the two worlds meet and from which they can both be seen at a glance.” [20]. The Hungarian Marxist makes this observation about capitalism: ‘The universality of the commodity form is responsible both objectively and subjectively for the abstraction of the human labour incorporated in commodities'. something that controls him by virtue of an autonomy alien to man. Even where its method has forced it beyond the limits of the formal, rational and discursive understanding enabling it to become critical of thinkers like Leibniz and Spinoza its fundamental systematic posture still remains rationalistic. The Phenomenon of Reification. Prosaische jugendschriften, Vienna, 1906. 349-50. [30] It has often been claimed – and not without a certain justification – that the famous chapter in Hegel’s Logic treating of Being, Non-Being and Becoming contains the whole of his philosophy. 234-5. [62] On the other hand, this inappropriate and inconsistent approach to history deprives history itself of that essence which is so important precisely within the Hegelian system. For that very reason the reified mind has come to regard them as the true representatives of his societal existence. The ‘value-relation’ does not at all affect this structure, for it does no more than make it possible to select from the infinite mass of such facticities. [18]. 8 Feuerbach also connected the problem of the absolute transcendence of sensuousness (by the understanding) with a contradiction in the existence of God. An essay or paper on Concept of Reification. Exchange value has as yet no form of its own, but is still directly bound up with use-value. . Reification requires that a society should learn to satisfy all its needs in terms of commodity exchange. 引自 Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat, I. 447-8. In other words, intellectual genesis must be identical in principle with historical genesis. 20 Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 491. Thus Marx points out - and the cases referred to here are intended only as an indication of the methodological factors involved, not as a substantive treatment of the problems themselves - that “the conditions of direct exploitation [of the labourer], and those of realising surplus-value, are not identical. However, this proof involves a vital issue of methodology for classical philosophy which – as we have seen – was forced to undertake the task of discovering the subject of ‘action’ which could be seen to be the maker of reality in its concrete totality. . In Section I we have shown how this belief underlies the bourgeois theory of crisis, the theory of the origin of law, etc. Published by Merlin Press, 1967; transcribed and prepared for marxists.org by Andy Blunden. Plekhanov’s account shows no less clearly that the duality of the contemplative and the (individual) practical principles which we saw as the first achievement and as the starting-point for the later development of classical philosophy, leads towards this antinomy. This complete failure has reduced otherwise meritorious historians and subtle thinkers to the pitiable or contemptible mental level of the worst kind of provincial journalism. He is able therefore to objectify himself completely against his existence while the man reified in the bureaucracy, for instance, is turned into a commodity, mechanised and reified in the only faculties that might enable him to rebel against reification. And, likewise, the power relations in a business are also of the same kind. in the one case, of the entrepreneur and, in the other case, of the political master.” [19]. This is not merely accidental, for reification did play a part in Greek society in its maturity. 48. [33], On the other hand, the growing class consciousness that has been brought into being through the awareness of a common situation and common interests is by no means confined to the working class. Its revolutionary character appears quite clearly in the simple process of the reproduction of capital. It is no accident that Marx should have begun with an analysis of commodities when, in the two great works of his mature period, he set out to portray capitalist society in its totality and to lay bare its fundamental nature. But they must not be governed by a law in the sense in which ‘laws’ govern individual phenomena; they must not under any circumstances be rationally organised through and through. [6], If we follow the path taken by labour in its development from the handicrafts via cooperation and manufacture to machine industry we can see a continuous trend towards greater rationalisation, the progressive elimination of the qualitative, human and individual attributes of the worker. As a matter of fact, the exchange of commodities originates not within the primitive communities, but where they end, on their borders at the few points where they come in contact with other communities. As soon as the new division of labour which creates professional lawyers becomes necessary, another new and independent sphere is opened up which, for all its essential dependence on production and trade, still has also a special capacity for reacting upon these spheres. are lying and from which they have to be ‘pulled out’. Not until the rise of capitalism was a unified economic structure, and hence a - formally - unified structure of consciousness that embraced the whole society, brought into being. This enables the artificially isolated partial functions to be performed in the most rational manner by ‘specialists’ who are specially adapted mentally and physically for the purpose. Only this approach to the problem makes possible the clear dichotomy between praxis and the theoretical, contemplative and intuitive attitude. With the aid of this insight we can see clearly how the antagonism between the traditional and empirical craftsmanship and the scientific and rational factory is repeated in another sphere of activity. 19 Transcendentale Logik, Lecture XXIII, Werke VI, p. 335. We know that in the Critique of Pure Reason it is emphatically denied that the second group of questions can be answered. In all earlier attempts to use dialectics in order to break out of the limits imposed by rationalism there was a failure to connect the dissolution of rigid concepts clearly and firmly to the problem of the logic of the content, to the problem of irrationality. in contrast to the peasant’s unconscious living within nature – the artist’s unmediated experience of the landscape (which has of course only achieved this immediacy after undergoing a whole series of mediations) presupposes a distance (spatial in this case) between the observer and the landscape. Ibid., p. 359. Classical philosophy is indebted for its wealth, its depth and its boldness no less than its fertility for future thinkers to the fact that it narrowed the problem down, confining it within the realm of pure thought. Dokumente des Sozialismus 1II, 363. I, p. 398. its ability to yield surplus produce) which like every use-value is submerged without a trace in the quantitative exchange categories of capitalism, now awakens and becomes social reality. And – in thought – it is able to take all the paradoxes of its position to the point where the necessity of going beyond this historical stage in mankind’s development can at least be seen as a problem. 7 This whole process is described systematically and historically in Capital I. We observe, firstly, that following on the development of bourgeois society all social problems cease to transcend man and appear as the products of human activity in contrast to the view of society held by the Middle Ages and the early modern period (e.g. [7], We are concerned above all with the principle at work here: the principle of rationalisation based on what is and can be calculated. This is the case with modern (bourgeois) rationalism. Marx’s polemic against Hugo (Nachlass 1, pp. But this very contradiction is eminently suited to illuminate the difficulty of the question and the possible solutions to it. Marx’s comments on Bentham, Capital I, pp. Only in this context does the reificiation produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the stance adopted by men towards it. The formal act of exchange which constitutes the basic fact for the theory of marginal utility likewise suppresses use-value as use-value and establishes a relation of concrete equality between concretely unequal and indeed incomparable objects. Hence it is not to be wondered at that the personal nature of economic relations was still understood clearly on occasion at the start of capitalist development, but that as the process advanced and forms became more complex and less direct, it became increasingly difficult and rare to find anyone penetrating the veil of reification.

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