From Comments on James Mill's Elements of Political Economy


In Jon Elster (ed.) Karl Marx: A Reader. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 31 -35.


Man produces only in order to have - this is the basic presupposition of private property. Theaim of production is having. And not only does production have this kind of useful aim; it hasalso a selfish aim; man produces only in order to possess for himself; the object he produces isthe objectification of his immediate, selfish need. For man himself- in a savage, barbariccondition- therefore, the amount of his production is determined by the extent of his immediateneed, the content of which is directly the object produced.

Under these conditions, therefore, man produces no more than he immediately requires. Thelimit of his need forms the limit of his production. Thus demand and supply exactly coincide.The extent of his production is measured by his need. In this case no exchange takes place, orexchange is reduced to the exchange of his labour for the product of his labour, and thisexchange is the latent form, the germ, of real exchange.

As soon as exchange takes place, a surplus is produced beyond the immediate limit ofpossession. But this surplus production does not mean rising above selfish need. On thecontrary, it is only an indirect way of satisfying a need which finds its objectification not in thisproduction but in the production of someone else. Production has become a means of gaining aliving, labour to gain a living. Whereas under the first state of affairs, therefore, need is themeasure of production, under the second state of affairs production, or rather ownership of theproduct, is the measure of how far needs can be satisfied.

I have produced for myself and not for you, just as you have produced for yourself and not forme. In itself, the result of my production has as little connection with you as the result of yourproduction has directly with me. That is to say, our production is not man's production for manas a man, i.e., it is not social production. Neither of us, therefore, as a man stands in a relation ofenjoyment to the other's product. As men, we do not exist as far as our respective products areconcerned. Hence our exchange, too, cannot be the mediating process by which it is confirmedthat my product is [for] you, because it is an objectification of your own nature, your need. For itis not man's nature that forms the link between the products we make for one another. Exchangecan only set in motion, only confirm, the character of the relation which each of us has in regardto his own product, and therefore to the product of the other. Each of us sees in his product onlythe objectification of his own selfish need, and therefore in the product of the other theobjectification of a different selfish need, independent of him and alien to him.

As a man you have, of course, a human relation to my product: you have need of my product.Hence it exists for you as an object of your desire and your will. But your need, your desire, yourwill, are powerless as regards my product. That means, therefore, that your human nature, whichaccordingly is bound to stand in intimate relation to my human production, is not your powerover this production, your possession of it, for it is not the specific character, not the power, ofman's nature that is recognized in my production. They [your need, your desire, etc.] constituterather the tie which makes you dependent on me, because they put you in a position ofdependence on my product. Far from being the means which would give you power over myproduction, they are instead the means for giving me power over you.

When I produce more of an object than I myself can directly use, my surplus production iscunningly calculated for your need. It is only in appearance that I produce a surplus of thisobject. In reality I produce a different object, the object of your production, which I intend toexchange against this surplus, an exchange which in my mind I have already completed. Thesocial relation in which I stand to you, my labour for your need, is therefore also a meresemblance, and our complementing each other is likewise a mere semblance, the basis of whichis mutual plundering. The intention of plundering, of deception, is necessarily present in thebackground, for since our exchange is a selfish one, on your side as on mine, and since theselfishness of each seeks to get the better of that of the other, we necessarily seek to deceive eachother. It is true though, that the power which I attribute to my object over yours requires yourrecognition in order to become a real power. Our mutual recognition of the respective powers ofour objects, however, is a struggle, and in a struggle the victor is the one who has more energy,force, insight, or adroitness. If I have sufficient physical force, I plunder you directly. If physicalforce cannot be used, we try to impose on each other by bluff; and the more adroit overreachesthe other. For the totality of the relationship, it is a matter of chance who overreaches whom.The ideal, intended overreaching takes place on both sides, i.e., each in his own judgment hasoverreached the other.

On both sides, therefore, exchange is necessarily mediated by the object which each sideproduces and possesses. The ideal relationship to the respective objects of our production is, ofcourse, our mutual need. But the real, true relationship, which actually occurs and takes effect,is only the mutually exclusive possession of our respective products. What gives your need ofmy article its value, worth and effect for me is solely your object, the equivalent of my object. Our respective products, therefore, are the means, the mediator, the instrument, theacknowledged power of our mutual needs. Your demand and the equivalent of your possession,therefore, are for me terms that are equal in significance and validity, and your demand onlyacquires a meaning, owing to having an effect, when it has meaning and effect in relation to me. As a mere human being without this instrument your demand is an unsatisfied aspiration on yourpart and an idea that does not exist for me. As a human being, therefore, you stand in norelationship to my object, because I myself have no human relationship to it. But the means is thetrue power over an object and therefore we mutually regard our products as the power of each ofus over the other and over himself. That is to say, our own product has risen up against us; itseemed to be our property, but in fact we are its property. We ourselves are excluded from trueproperty because our property excludes other men.

The only intelligible language in which we converse with one another consists of our objects intheir relation to each other. We would not understand a human language and it would remainwithout effect. By one side it would be recognized and felt as being a request, an entreaty, andtherefore a humiliation, and consequently uttered with a feeling of shame, of degradation. By theother side it would be regarded as impudence or lunacy and rejected as such. We are to such anextent estranged from man's essential nature that the direct language of this essential natureseems to us a violation of human dignity, whereas the estranged language of material valuesseems to be the well-justified assertion of human dignity that is self-confident and conscious ofitself:

Although in your eyes your product is an instrument, a means, for taking possession of myproduct and thus for satisfying your need; yet in my eyes it is the purpose of our exchange. Forme, you are rather the means and instrument for producing this object that is my aim, just asconversely you stand in the same relationship to my object. But (1) each of us actually behavesin the way he is regarded by the other. You have actually made yourself the means, theinstrument, the producer of your own object in order to gain possession of mine; (2) your ownobject is for you only the sensuously perceptible covering, the hidden shape, of my object; for itsproduction signifies and seeks to express the acquisition of my object. In fact, therefore, youhave become for yourself a means, an instrument of your object, of which your desire is theservant, and you have performed menial services in order that the object shall never again do afavour to your desire. If then our mutual thraldom to the object at the beginning of the process isnow seen to be in reality the relationship between master and slave, that is merely the crude andfrank expression of our essential relationship.

Our mutual value is for us the value of our mutual objects. Hence for us man himself is mutuallyof no value.

Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have intwo ways affirmed himself and the other person. (1) In my production I would have objectifiedmy individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individualmanifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have theindividual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence apower beyond all doubt. (2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the directenjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, ofhaving objectified man's essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding tothe need of another man's essential nature. (3) I would have been for you the mediator betweenyou and the species, and therefore would become recognised and felt by yourself as a completionof your own essential nature and as a necessary part of yourself, and consequently would knowmyself to be confirmed both in your thought and your love. (4) In the individual expression ofmy life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individualactivity I would have directly confirmed and realised my true nature, my human nature, mycommunal nature.

Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.

This relationship would moreover be reciprocal; what occurs on my side has also to occur onyours.

Let us review the various factors as seen in our supposition:

My work would be a free manifestation of life, hence an enjoyment of life. Presupposing privateproperty, my work is an alienation of life, for I work in order to live, in order to obtain for myselfthe means of life. My work is not my life.

Secondly, the specific nature of my individuality, therefore, would be affirmed in my labour,since the latter would be an affirmation of my individual life. Labour therefore would be true,active property. Presupposing private property, my individuality is alienated to such a degreethat this activity is instead hateful to me, a torment, and rather the semblance of an activity.Hence, too, it is only a forced activity and one imposed on me only through an external fortuitousneed, not through an inner, essential one.

My labour can appear in my object only as what it is. It cannot appear as something which by itsnature it is not. Hence it appears only as the expression of my loss of self and of mypowerlessness that is objective, sensuously perceptible, obvious and therefore put beyond alldoubt.

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