Chapter 6


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One of the pivotal issues between Critical and Scientific Marxists is the importance of ''alienation" in the work of the mature Marx, and whether or not, as Scientific Marxists often believe, it was an Hegelian vestige that lost significance in his later work. Within Marx's own tradition, the notion of alienation derives most immediately from Feuerbach and Hegel. The roots of Marx's critique of alienation may be found, as Georg Lukacs found them, in Hegel's Protestantizing critique of "positivity." 1 In this critique, Hegel rejects as "dead" those human relationships or institutions in which persons give only an outward and constrained conformity, but concerning which they lack a freely given inward conviction The roots of the theory of alienation, then, reach down into the rejection of ''constraint," into the disjunction in which constraint is experienced as powerful-but-wrong; it is a response to the perception of this violation of the grammar of societal rationality and an effort to overcome such an "unpermitted social world."

In his early Berne period, Hegel invidiously contrasted the positive faith of Christianity with that of antiquity, which he regarded as a religion of dignity and freedom. In that connection, he remarks:

A positive faith is a system of religious propositions which are true for us because they have been presented to us by an authority which we cannot fault. . . the concept implies a system of religious propositions or truths which must be held to be truths independently of our own opinions, and which even if no man has ever perceived them, and even if no man has ever considered them to be truths, nevertheless remain truths.2

Here positivity entails the authoritatively imposed, rather than the voluntarily accepted. It is that which is accepted out of deference to the position of another, rather than for the reasons given on its behalf: It is that which is supported by the powers that be. To that extent, the critique of positivity in Hegel becomes the potential basis for the critique of any status quo. It is this early critique of positivity in Hegel, then, which is one of the groundings of his philosophy's potential radicalism, just as Hegel's vaunting of a kind of scientific positivity later disposes him to conservatism.

In his critique of Christianity, Hegel observed that "the objectivity of the deity increased in direct proportion to the increase in the corruption and slavery of man, and this objectivity is in reality no more than a revelation, a manifestation of this spirit of the age.... The spirit of the age was revealed in the objectivity of its God when . . . it was introduced into a world alien to us, in a realm in which we had no share, where we would not acquire a place through our activity, but at most by begging or conjuring our way in; it was an age in which man was a Non-ego and his God another Non-ego.... In such an age the Deity sheds all its subjectivity and becomes nothing but an object."3

Hegel here indicates a foundation for the materialist critique of religion subsequently developed by Feuerbach, Strauss, and Marx, which views deity as a projection formulated by people; and specifically by persons living in a world "alien" to them, i.e., by alienated men. Hegel objects to Christianity because its deity can be reached only by supplication, pleas, and prayers but remains "a divinity beyond the reach of our power and our will." Men are thus impotent, ''reduced to the level of passive onlookers . . . content to wait for a revolution at the end of the world." What men now seek is a response to their supplications or a voluntary gift, but is not the result of their own potency: ''we wait to receive it without our own intervention."4 Here Hegel's critical platform appears to be a version of the "gospel of labor," a this worldly activism that overlays and sublimates a passive millenarianism.

In viewing the ''objectivity" of Christian deity as the projection of an alienated people, Hegel's concept of alienation is not only a psychological estrangement, not simply a feeling of distance from the object, but entails a practical, everyday absence of control in a world where persons have become spectators, "passive onlookers," incapable of themselves achieving their own values by their own efforts—in effect, waiting for the revolution. In this critique of Christianity, Hegel is grounding himself in some tacit alternative conception of what is appropriate to humanity; or of what kind of persons are "normal" proper "subjects"; or, what "subject-hood" means to him. To be a subject, for Hegel, means to have power and control, not simply psychological union or closeness; it means the capacity to achieve one's goals against resistance and without supplication.

Hegel's critique of positivity is already a critique of alienation at the level of cultural criticism. What Marx adds to the theory of alienation, then, is not accomplished merely by transposing a psychology into a sociology. Hegel had clearly begun to understand that institutions such as religion, even the positive religions, were the products of the kind of life that people lived together, the "spirit of the age," and that thus persons were involved not only when they opposed these "dead" forms but, also, in the dead forms themselves. People were thus alienated by their practical ongoing activities—the things persons presently continued to do or make—and not simply by the lifeless residues of the past. In Lukacs's formulation, "the independent existence of objects apart from human reason could be conceived as the product of the development and activity of that very same reason.... It contains the idea that the entire development of society together with all the ideological formations which it creates in the course of history are the product of human activity itself, a manifestation of the self-production and reproduction of society."5

Gradually, says Lukacs, Hegel began to distinguish between the process by which objects are brought into "positive" being, which he calls objectification or externalization (Entausserung or Entfremdung), and the social institutions thereby created and which have an objectivistic character as alienated things. Out of his own studies of classical political economy, Hegel came to conclude that "work not only makes men human . . . it not only causes the vast and complex array of social processes to come into being, it also makes the world of man into an 'alienated', 'externalized' world. . . . In the concept of 'externalization', . . . we find enshrined Hegel's conviction that the world of economics which dominates man and which utterly controls the life of the individual is nevertheless the product of man himself," 6 even if it has this dead, alien character.

For Hegel, then, the everyday world in which persons live consists, at one and the same time, of objects which are necessary to, and express human life, but from which they are alienated; and which, in both cases, are the products of people's activity, without which neither objects nor persons would be. For Hegel, alienation is the inescapable fate of humanity and its object world. Alienation is thus inherent in human life which necessarily and everywhere creates the social world by making and using objects, while making and transforming itself in that very process. At some point, however, these objects no longer coincide with human purposes, the object world and the inner world are no longer in gear, and men cease to recognize the object world as having been brought into existence by their own human activity.


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Marx: The Alienation of Labor

Hegel's philosophy is both the fundamental source of Marx's own analyses of alienation and (along with Feuerbach's) a central polemical target that Marx uses to formulate his own distinct position. Most basically, Marx changes the site in which alienation is seen to manifest itself, as well as the conditions conducive to it. For Marx, the central locus of alienation is no longer in the making of all human objects; it has been narrowed to work products. Unlike Hegel, who stressed one-sidedly the valuable functions that labor performed for humanity, Marx stressed the "negative" side of labor that Hegel (as Marx recognized) had neglected, and he viewed labor as the major site of human alienation. Marx no longer regards alienation as a universal human phenomenon, but links it to the mode of production, in general, and to the property system of capitalism, in particular.

For Marx, the question is no longer that of the alienation of man in general but becomes increasingly that of persons as producers; Hegel's externalization of objects becomes, for Marx, the economic production of use values and commodities. The alienation of Hegel's philosophy is translated by Marx into English political economy and its special system of categories. But this was no violation of Hegel for, as Lukacs indicates, Hegel was the most economically literate of the German philosophical idealists. Unlike Kant who had focused on play, or Schelling on aesthetic activities, Hegel had dwelt extensively on the importance of labor—although he had not dwelt on labor as a site of alienation and had instead stressed its liberating character. Marx accepts the fundamental value grounding of the Hegelian critique of alienation, namely, that humanity's proper estate is that of an autonomous "subject," the locus and agency of action; but he rejects the Hegelian analysis of alienation's sources. Marx moves the analysis of alienation down from its location in a grand theory at the anthropological species level where the universal dilemmas of man as actor are explored, to a more concrete societal level.

For Marx, the critical locus of alienation comes to be situated in the work place. The decisive form of alienation is now not that of man but the worker's alienation from objects he produces and from the means of production with which he produces. This alienation, Marx came to hold, was a result of property institutions essential to capitalism, centering on that division of labor in which some—capitalists—own and direct the means of production and purchase the labor power of others—the proletariat—who are subject to their domination. For by reason of their ownership of the means of production, the capitalist can direct their use and also own the products they produce.

Much of what Marx did here, then, was to historicize and relativize Hegel's theory of alienation. Alienation is now no longer man's eternal condition but the product of an historical, special division of labor that had a beginning and which, it is predicted will also have an end when capitalism is supplanted by socialism7 Marx thereby removes the problem of alienation from the tragic discourse in which it was still located in Hegel's formulation, and in which it was insoluble. He now places alienation in the framework of the historically newer discourse of ideology,7 transforming it into a politics, in which it has a solution It is this that makes Marx's reconceptualization of the problem of alienation more powerful, if not deeper and truer.


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Alienation and the Division of Labor

In part, Marx's distinctive contribution to the analysis of alienation is to join it with another of Hegel's central concerns, labor, reconceptualizing the entire analysis within the analytic framework of English political economy. In their discussion of the division of labor in The German Ideology, Marx and Engels had held that ''as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntary, but, naturally divided, man's own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as labor is distributed, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape.

Marx and Engels conclude this formulation by observing that "this crystallization of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

Except for citing the division of labor as the source of alienation, the sweeping passages above might have been written by Hegel Indeed, insofar as they stress the role of the division of labor in inducing alienation and, insofar as this is a "natural," universal division of labor, then this is still a half Hegelian, transitional formulation, rather than a characteristically ''Marxist" critique of alienation; it is as much a philosophical anthropology as a political economy.

It is useful as a corrective for any glib conception of Marx's theory that stresses the importance he attributes to property systems, but which leaves the notion of property unexamined, to see just how closely Marx linked property with the division of labor. Indeed, at a certain point, Marx saw the division of labor as the grounding of the property system. He remarks that ''the various stages of the division of labor are just so many different forms of ownership.''8 ''Division of labor and private property are, moreover, identical expressions," Marx held, "in the one the same thing is affirmed with reference to activity as is affirmed in the other with reference to the product of activity."9

This association of the class system with the division of labor, and, indeed, the conception of it as grounded in the division of labor is not simply the romanticism of the young Marx and it is not confined to early works such as The German Ideology. Indeed in one of the most "scientific" works of their maturity, in Engels's Anti-Duhring, precisely the same analysis is offered:

So long as the total social labour only yields a produce which but slightly exceeds that barely necessary for the existence of all . . . so long as, of necessity, this society is divided into classes. Side by side with the great majority, exclusively bond slaves to labour, arises a class freed from directly productive labour, which looks after the general affairs of society, the direction of labour, state business, law, science, art, etc. It is, therefore, the law of the division of labour that lies at the basis of the division into classes.

What Engels is saying is that the division of labor is a need of the society as a whole; it does not result from the class system but from the needs of society; it is not produced by class division but produces it. Engels adds, however, that "this does not prevent this division into classes from being carried out by means of violence and robbery, trickery and fraud. It does not prevent the ruling class, once having the upper hand, from consolidating its power at the expense of the working class, from turning their social leadership into an intensified exploitation of the masses."

In short, the function of the division of labor and of the class system organized around it is not simply to serve as a framework for the exploitation of one class by another; rather, it performs a service to the society as a whole. "But if; upon this showing, division into classes has a certain historical justification, it has this only for a given period.... It was based upon the insufficiency of production. It will be swept away by the complete development of modern productive forces."10

These pithy remarks indicate the importance that Marx and Engels attributed to scarcity as the grounding of the class system. They hold that scarcity generates a class system through an intervening variable, the division of labor. "Classes" were groups differentiated on the basis of their role in the division of labor. To this extent, class is simply the way of talking about how the product resulting from the division of labor is distributed, while the division of labor deals with the manner in which the goods controlled and distributed by the class system are in the first place produced.

As a division of labor, the class system, then, contributes to needs of the society as a whole, and thus cannot be abandoned, except with "the complete development of modern productive forces.'' The very class system itself, then, serves the entire society and not only the ruling class; although it yields special privileges for the ruling class, and special liabilities and alienation for the oppressed. It produces both social order and class privilege' a privileged order, an order of privilege. The ruling class, then, is both: an agent of the productive system necessary for the society as a whole, for a certain period, and, also, a self-interested, self-satisfying, and self-reproducing group that turns its "social leadership into an intensified exploitation of the masses." The ruling class extracts from society special privileges, advantages' and incomes for solving the problem of "order" and other collective problems.

There is, then, a certain ambiguity in the central idea of a ruling class From one perspective (that of the division of labor), a ruling class is any group whose function in the division of labor is to direct production, to control the means of production. Wherever there is any institutionalized arrangement allowing one group to exercise control over the means and process of production, that group constitutes a ruling class. This means that without the total elimination of division of labor, where some direct and others obey, there must always be a ruling class. (It is precisely on this reading of the crucial role of the division of labor that Maoism had grounded itself.)

From another perspective, which stresses the legal aspect of property, a ruling class is one which owns the means of production, and whose ownership is recognized in law and protected by the state. Here a split between ownership and control of the means of production is possible and here socialism means the real and legal expropriation of private owners; but since this permits a split between ownership and control such an expropriation need not eliminate the rise of a new controlling, hence ruling, class.


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Alienated Labor and Creative Labor

As mentioned, Marx centers his own analysis of alienation on the labor process. The alienation or Entausserung of labor consisted, according to Marx, in this: "First that the work is external to the worker, that it is not part of his nature; and that, consequently, he does not fulfill himself in his work, but denies himself; has a feeling of misery rather than well-being, does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased. The worker, therefore, feels himself at home only during his leisure time, whereas at work he feels homeless. His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labor."11

Alienation of the labor process is crucial to Marx because it is the labor process that, for him, defines the human species:

Labor is in the first place, a process in which both man and nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material reactions between himself and Nature . . . in order to appropriate Nature's productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. . . . a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in his imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labor process we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the laborer at its commencement.12


Marx's critique of alienated labor rests and must rest on a set of tacit standards concerning good, desirable, non-alienated, creative labor. The theory of labor alienation entails a tacit theory of the ideal labor situation. The Swedish social psychologist, Joachim Israel has seen this plainly and holds that, for Marx, "work is creative (1) if man makes 'his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness', (2) if man through work can express his capabilities in a comprehensive way, (3) if through this work he can express his social nature, (4) if work is not simply a means for maintaining man's subsistence, i.e., if it is not purely instrumental. 13

In order to achieve this and eliminate alienation of the labor process, conditions conducive to alienation would have to be removed. What were these conditions? One, as we have seen, was the division of labor which, in parcelling men into specialized roles, alienated them from their own unutilized human potentialities and produced a resultant dehumanization; the second was the market system, under which producers were constrained to disregard the human needs that their products satisfied or neglected—their use value—and to focus exclusively on the market or exchange value, and saleability of their products; and the third was the property system under which producers lost control over the work process and product to those owning the means of production. Together, the market and property systems constrained producers to sell their own labor power competitively, as a commodity like any other.

Marx and Engels's solution, the mechanism by which these several alienation-inducing conditions were to be abolished, was the expropriation of the private owners of the means of production and their transference to ''collective" ownership. This would remove the market and the property systems as sources of alienation in work. But how the collectivization of production would avoid the alienation grounded in the division of labor is not at all clear in Marx. The reason for this lacuna is that the division of labor is viewed ambivalently. If, on the one side, specialization dehumanizes men, on the other, the increased productivity which it produces was also believed necessary for eliminating want and thus class domination.


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Scarcity and Class Domination

A fundamental level in Marx s analysis of the sources of alienation is reached when he links it with a theory of class domination. Essentially, alienation of the working class is the other side of the domination of the ruling, capitalist class. The most fundamental implication of the working class's alienation is that it entails the loss of their autonomy and capacity for self-realization. The self control of any class is, by definition, at variance with its being dominated by any other class, or any other force. A class system, in general, and the capitalist-working class relationship in particular, necessarily implies a domination by the ruling class that undermines the lower class's capacity for autonomy.

Alienation, then, is grounded in class domination, is, in part, intrinsic to class domination. A strategy for removing alienation, then, must from this standpoint depend upon an understanding of the sources of class domination. In their formulation of a direct solution to the problem of alienation, Marx and Engels go directly to this question, in a powerful, compact account of the requisites for eliminating alienation:

. . . estrangement [Entfremdung] . . . can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an "intolerable" power, i.e., a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity "propertyless," and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. 14


Note that in this, the first premise of the abolition of alienation, nothing is yet said about the expropriation of private property or the removal of the market, or the division of labor. The fundamental presupposition was held to be increased productivity. Why'? "This development of productive forces... is absolutely necessary as a practical premise: first, for the reason that without it, only want is made general and with want the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced."15

Here, then, is the grounding of Marx's cryptic theory of class struggle: classes seek control over scarce goods; class domination is a way of making control of these more secure; the maintenance of that class domination necessarily entails a loss of autonomy to the subordinated class, hence its alienation. Thus the first premise of the elimination of alienation, says Marx, is ''a great increase in productive power." Without this, men will continue struggling for privileged access to scarce goods, will institute systems of class domination with resultant alienation of the dominated class. But with increased productivity, men need no longer struggle against and dominate one another, and impose an alienation on the defeated. Logically, then, the first task in removing alienation is to remove the cause of class domination, scarcity, by increasing productivity. For as Engels put it succinctly above, "The separation of society into an exploiting and exploited class, a ruling and an oppressed class, was the necessary consequence of the deficient and restricted development of production in former times."16

This solution to the problem of alienation, then, turns out to be nothing less than the ''economistic'' program of scientific socialism.

The second reason why an increase in productive forces is necessary for the abolition of alienation is that "only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the 'propertyless' mass, . . . makes each nation dependent on the revolution of others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones."17

Plainly, the "practical premises" for abolishing alienation and establishing socialism have here become the anti-voluntaristic premises of Scientific Marxism. More exactly: Scientific Marxism emerges when the contradictions inherent in a commitment to increasing productivity intensify; that is, when an increasing division of labor is seen as both the source of a hateful alienation and, at the same time, of an increased productivity that is prized precisely because it will supposedly remedy that very alienation. Scientific Marxism thus arises when what was originally only a means or instrument increasing productivity, comes to override Marxism's goal, abolishing alienation. Put in another language, Scientific Marxism thus constitutes a kind of anomie, a pathology in which the means are ritualistically pursued and the ends forgotten.

The sheer existence of alienation (or any other pathology of capitalism, fetishism, reification, exploitation) does not by itself determine Marxism's attitude toward it. Under some circumstances, Marxism holds, all one can do is deplore the pathology, but under others, it can and should be opposed actively. What makes the difference? Marxism replies (with the tacit Kantianism) that "ought implies can." That is, it holds that one can (and should) take action against alienation (and capitalism more generally) when and only when there is some chance of success, and that it is foolish to launch a campaign that is doomed from the beginning. For Marxism, "evil" is not simply suffering—e.g., alienation, scarcity, etc.—but unnecessary suffering.

But this does not distinguish the Two Marxisms; both Critical and Scientific Marxism alike accept this. Where they differ is in their conception of what socialism's success or failure depends upon, or of what constitutes the signs of its possible success or failure. To the Scientific Marxist, revolutionary success and socialism are dependent on the prior development of thinglike conditions; on "natural," spontaneous developments which are independent of "mere will." For the Scientific Marxist, the decisive condition for the de-alienating emergence of socialism is the maturation of the productive forces which, spontaneously developing as part of capitalism, depends primarily on bourgeois rather than proletarian or socialist initiatives.

That socialism depends upon just such a prior development of the forces of production is insistently reiterated in Capital itself. For Marx, socialism meant that society's life process, the productive process itself, has lost its "veil of mystery" and is now "carried out by a free association of producers under their conscious and purposeful control." But before this can come about, adds Marx, there is an indispensable requisite, i.e., "a specific material groundwork (or series of material conditions of existence) which can only come into being as the spontaneous outcome of a long and painful process of evolution."18 More precisely, the specific function of these material preconditions is to heighten productivity and, with this, to reduce material scarcity, so that social life will not be a Hobbesian struggle of each against all, expressing itself as a perpetual class struggle to obtain and then to secure material advantage by the domination of one class over another. What makes the capitalist of positive historical value and worth, says Marx in Capital, is that "frantically bent upon the expansion of value, he relentlessly drives human beings to production for production's sake, thus bringing about a development of social productivity and the creation of those material conditions of production which can alone form the real basis of a higher type of society, whose fundamental principle is the full and free development of every individual.''19

Repeatedly, then, Marx manifests his "economistic" conviction that socialism requires a prior improvement in economic productivity and that this is its indispensable prerequisite, rather than any prior internal change in men's character, consciousness, or sentiments. Indeed, it is this that Marx affirms as the distinctive insight of his own socialism and which, he and Engels insisted, made it a scientific rather than a merely wish-fulfilling "utopian" socialism.

Critical Marxists, however, in contrast to Scientific Marxists, stress that it is usually far from clear just how independent of men's efforts the conditions truly requisite for socialism are; that this cannot always be determined by a contemplative assessment but may be better judged by attempting remedial action: on s'engage et pais . . . on voit.

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The Persistence of Alienation

If man is such a marvel that even his alienation is of his own making, how is it that he does not stop inflicting this mutilation upon himself? Part of the answer makes visible the distance between the young and the old Marx's vision of alienation, a distance between man conceived anthropologically as a species and thus as a unified actor, and men and women conceived as workers implicated in a class-riven society. Here the ruling class visits an exploitation upon the working producers and thereby imposes an alienation upon them which it is in the ruling class's interest, and (mostly) in their power to maintain.

It is only in the species focus of an anthropological formulation innocent of class division that "man" inflicts his alienation upon "himself:" In the more sociological vision of a stratified capitalist society riven between privileged and dominated classes, the alienation of the latter is imposed by the former who, far from wishing to remove it, accommodate to it; for ruling class advantages and powers are simply the other side of the same social order from which alienation ensues.

What the capitalist himself does, his very exploitation and extraction of surplus value from the worker, is not (as Marx sees it) simply a matter of free choice but a constraint imposed upon the capitalist by his role in the system as a whole. If he did not behave in this way toward the worker he would soon cease to be a capitalist, notes Marx. Just as the worker is constrained to sell his labor power, and could not do so otherwise, so the capitalist is constrained to buy it at the lowest rate possible otherwise he would fall prey to competing capitalists. Marx thus views even the capitalist not as a free agent, but as the agent of a system by which he, too, is constrained.

In this and other ways, the capitalist himself is alienated by the very system within which he is powerful and privileged. It is not only, then, that alienation is imposed by stronger groups upon weaker, but that both are instruments of a social system, of a stratified system of social roles which have a certain independence of their occupants, and by whose imperatives they arc- controlled. "To be a capitalist, is not only a purely personal, but a social status in production," Marx and Engels insisted. "Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. Capital is therefore not a personal, it is a social power."20

Alienation, then, is not just ''deviant" behavior at variance with the system's prized properties but is produced by conformity with the system, when each dutifully performs his role obligations and secures conformity with his role rights. "I depict the capitalist as a necessary functionary of capitalist production," Marx maintained. "I simply show that in the very exchange of commodities only equivalents are exchanged, and that the capitalist—as soon as he has paid the worker the actual value of his labor power—expropriates the surplus value with full right, i.e., with right corresponding to this mode of production."21

In this view, human beings are limited by received systems of social relations—i.e., social "structures"—that exist before they do and are the conditions of whatever social action they undertake: "In the social production of their lives men enter into definite, necessary, relations that are independent of their will." In this, the point is that, at any given time, a social world precedes men and that, like actors in a play, men receive a script specifying parts that were written before them; if they are constrained by parts they did not write, in time, however, they rewrite the play with which they began and pass on a new script confining the next generation of actors in new ways. "History is nothing but the succession of separate generations, each of which,'' wrote Marx and Engels, "continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and . . . modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity."22

In part, then, alienation persists because persons receive the conditions under which they live from an earlier generation as an historical legacy at first experienced as part of their natural environment—i.e., as a "traditional activity"—which they simply live, rather than reflect upon or question. Here, the unity of the species is differentiated across time, rather than across class lines; instead of being exploited by a ruling class, men are here dominated by previous generations, who impose forms of life that, in time, are out of keeping with the needs and experiences of the new period. In some part, then, social systems generate and sustain alienation because they confront men as a presented givenness; and they do this because they are the products of a history, of a past that lives in the present.


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Relations of Production and Forces of Production

For Marx and Engels, the decisive social structure received from the past was the relationships of production, including most crucially, the property institutions. At some point these come to block the continuing development of the forces of production, which are nucleated by the technology. When this conflict between the relations and forces of production occurs, it signifies that the present society has exhausted the possibilities for developing productivity and that the time for revolution is drawing near.

As Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology, "all collisions in history have their origin, according to our view, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the forms of intercourse."23 This was as true for the feudal society from which capitalism emerged as for capitalism itself: "At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange," observes the Communist Manifesto, "the feudal relations of property become no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they become so many fetters. They had to burst asunder, they were burst asunder. . . . A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeoisie and of its rule." 24

That the grounding of this basic structuralist perspective of Scientific Marxism was a romantic one25 could not be made more obvious than by Marx and Engels's metaphor above of the sorcerer's apprentice: the hellish force that the sorcerer has summoned up but was unable to control. The image is a richly complex one, partly suggesting the eerie, grotesqueness so intriguing to nineteenth-century Romanticism, the "unnatural" conjunction of elements of a dead past (property relationships) and the living present (forces of production), in which the present is thwarted and dominated by the past. (The image also resonates the ancient Greek view of men as destroying themselves, of being undone by their own creations.)

Paradoxically, then, one grounding of the naturalism of Scientific Marxism was the supernaturalism of a nineteenth-century Romanticism that saw persons as dominated by "unnatural," demonic forces. (Here once again, we may note that science and religion were not necessarily incompatible.) An emphasis on overriding depersonalized social structures, characteristic of Scientific Marxism, partly originates (with an irony that a romantic would appreciate) in the romantic ideology that was attempting to rescue religion and accommodate it to the modern era. At the same time however, Romanticism also used religion as a standpoint to condemn the thingification and alienation of people in modern society. Romanticism is thus not simply a grounding of the alienating structuralist ontology of Scientific Marxism, but is, also, one cultural source of Marxism's effort to transcend alienation.

Nothing is more central to Marxism than this structural image of the living forces of production being blocked by dead or dying property relationships. The fundamental contradiction of capitalism to which Marxism points is, then, simply a special case of an Entausserung, an externalization that was once living but has died and now weighs upon the living present "like the Alps." As we saw, Marx and Engels observed:

This consolidation of what we ourselves produce, into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

The image of the past as independent and dominating the present is central to Marx's view of capitalist society as the domination of capital, which is the "dead labor" accumulated through appropriating the workers' surplus value. "In bourgeois society, therefore," insisted the Communist Manifesto, "the past dominates the present; in communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.''26


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Utopianism and the Two Marxisms

Marx, then, has several accountings for the persistence of alienation. One centers on the class division in society, so that this persistence is due in part to the domination of the ruling class, to its interest in preserving its privileges and its control over communication media, so that its ideas dominate even the consciousness of those who are most alienated. A second answer is that troth are commonly dependent on and constrained by the social system within which each has his social position and identity. A third consideration relates to the fact that, as historically received from the past, society and culture are, at first, the unreflected-upon medium of existence and do not usually come into focus as either problematic or potentially changeable.

The persistence of alienation, however, is grounded in something more fundamental than these several, special conditions. To ask why alienation persists is something like asking why is it that sickness or disease persists, and here it is evident that the very condition itself sometimes generates an enfeeblement that impedes its own remedy. The ''sick" either get well because their "illness," countered by the body's defenses, runs its course and/or because others, not sick, help them recover. Can those leading an alienated existence even know of their condition? or, if knowing, believe in its overthrow? and, if believing, have the will and fortitude to gird themselves for the long struggle required?

Marx thought so. He held that the working class had the capacity for self-emancipation, since the very radical character of their suffering under capitalism left them with "nothing to lose but their chains," so that they would unite and, in the course of their long struggle, transform themselves from alienated objects into human subjects capable of ruling themselves. Once alienation had been shifted from the discourse of philosophy to that of the political economy of a class-riven society the rich and powerful were ruled out as the historical agents of the struggle against alienation. The proletariat becomes the historical agent of human self-emancipation partly because there is no other within the vision of a class analysis that made class central and all other social differentia peripheral.

Yet the liabilities of the proletariat were also plain enough to Marx who saw them as vulnerable to a ''false consciousness" by reason of the bourgeoisie's control of culture and the communication media. It would therefore take a long period of struggle for them to fit themselves for rule: ''Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration that can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew. 27

But given a proletariat subjected to a long and debilitating alienation, to a servitude not only of the body but also of the mind, and given the premise that it is not only oppressed but in addition backward—splattered with the "muck of ages"—how could Marx expect that workers could see and do all that was needed by themselves. The answer, of course, is that he does not.

The theme of self-emancipation, so important to Marxism, is joined with another, contradictory theme, namely, that the revolution will be born of a union of philosophy and the working class, the former providing the theoretical consciousness or mind, the latter the heart. There is, moreover, another force hovering around the class struggle which is related to, but not quite of the proletariat, the communists themselves, who are not a class but somehow lead and represent the interests, immediate and long term, of the proletariat. The communists are held to be "the most advanced and resolute section of the working class,"28 even though they may not themselves be working class in social origin or present employment.

It is a basic paradox of Marxism that the class-centered analysis so central to it constrains it to a reliance upon an historical agent that is crippled and debilitated; which is to say, to a reliance upon an agent not altogether reliable. At the same time, it is inherent in Marxism's class focus that it has no systematic way of dealing with those very forces that provide the proletariat with "outside leverage" in its effort at emancipation; these, therefore, remain only implicit, untheoretized, in Marxism's reference to the revolutionary stimulus of "philosophy" and of the communists themselves.

For Marx, the decisive "material" requisite for an emancipatory socialism is the proletariat. It was the maturation of this new class that made the critical difference between this socialism, that Engels called "scientific," and that earlier socialism of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen that was stigmatized as "utopian." Utopian socialism was held to have been "utopian" because it was historically "premature," having advanced its critique of capitalism before the mature development of the capitalist mode of production and the proletariat.

The first great attempts of the proletariat to attain its own ends . . . necessarily failed, owing to the then undeveloped state of the proletariat, as well as to the absence of the economic conditions for its emancipation, conditions that were yet to be produced and could be produced by the impending bourgeois epoch alone. . . . St. Simon, Fourier, Owen . . . see, indeed, the class antagonisms, as well as the action of the decomposing elements in the prevailing society. But the proletariat, as yet in its infancy, offers to them the spectacle of a class without any historical initiative or any independent political movement.29

It is noteworthy here that Marxism very early defines its own character by drawing a line between itself and other, competing socialisms, especially utopian socialism. Its critique of utopian socialism is essentially a critique of a voluntaristic socialism that believed that what was decisive was a correct theoretical understanding of the historical situation and an intervention in that situation on the basis of that understanding. Utopian socialism, complained Engels, assumed that a theory could rise above the conditions in which it found itself and that it did not depend upon material conditions. But the truth, insisted Engels, was that their historical situation also dominated the utopian founders of socialism "To the crude conditions of capitalistic production and the crude class conditions, corresponded crude theories."30

In part, then, Marxism grew out of and defined itself in the course of struggles against utopian socialism. It thereby established itself upon an anti-voluntaristic grounding and affirmed the importance of the prior development of objective, material conditions for an emancipatory socialism. Indeed, Engels's antivoluntaristic formulation here is plainly anti-Leninist, condemning utopian socialism as an ideology of a passive working class ''quite incapable of independent political action . . . to whom, in its incapacity to help itself, help could, at best be brought in from without or from above."31 (It is just such help, from "without," that Lenin holds is the highest function of the communist vanguard.)

But if, on this side, Marxism's deepest character is grounded in an anti-voluntarism, at the same time, Marxism is also constrained toward a voluntarism. Marxism's own logic constrains it toward a voluntarism precisely because it is committed to a proletariat which suffers from a debilitating alienation and is crippled by its own servitude and cultural backwardness. Thus despite the fact that, for Marx and Engels, the proletariat is the hinge of history, its very oppressed and deprived position requires that it be subject to a reeducation; partly a self-education in the course of revolutionary action, but also, partly to a tutelage coming from outside itself, from philosophy and from the communist vanguard.

It is thus not the "infancy" but the maturity of the proletariat, not the weakness but the growth of capitalism that induces Marxism to retain an opening toward "utopianism," that leads not to its extirpation but only to its repression. Being repressed, this more voluntaristic level can never be fully confronted and dealt with systematically in originary Marxism. It remains a theoretically underdeveloped but consequential dark region. It is essentially the mission of Critical Marxism to protect, express, and develop that repressed side of Marxism.


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1. A different relationship to "positivity" underlies, defines, and differentiates both academic, normal, ''positive" sociology and its adversary, Marxism. Both define themselves in relation to the "positive," but evaluate it differently. Academic sociology treats the positive as the good, as the ground of speech which is secured by reason of its being "outside" the speaker. It is precisely this conception of objectivity that is central to academic sociology. It is its "outsideness" that makes it good. For Marx, as for Hegel, as we will see, that outsideness is pathological, an "alienation," entailing a failure to bring things under control. Marx and Hegel both premise that what is not under human control is not good.

2. Cited in Georg Lukacs, The Young Hegel (London: Merlin Press, 1975), p. 18.

3. Ibid., p. 69.

4. Ibid., p. 68.

5. Ibid., p. 75.

6. Ibid., p. 333. "In themselves there is nothing novel about the terms Entausserung and Entfrewdung. They are simply German translations of the English word alienation. This was used in works on economic theory to betoken the sale of a commodity, and in works on natural law to betoken the loss of an aboriginal freedom." Ibid., p. 538.

7. For fuller discussion of the differences between tragic and ideologic discourse see Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), chap. 3, "Surmounting the Tragic Vision."

8. K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, trans. W. Lough and C. P. Magill, ed. R. Pascal (New York: International Publishers, n.d.), p.9.

9. Ibid., p. 22.

10. The quotations in this paragraph are all from F. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (New York: International Publishers, 1935), pp. 70-71. Italics added. These are chapters from Anti-Duhring.

11. Marx and Engels, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt; Marx-Engels Institut, 1927 - 1935), vol. 1, p. 85.

12. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. I, translated from the 4th German ed. by Eden and Cedar Paul, published in 2 vols., with an introduction by G. D. H. Cole (London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1930), vol. 1, p. 78.

13. J. Israel, Alienation: From Marx to Modern Sociology (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1971), p. 39.

14. Marx and Engels, German Ideology, p. 24. Italics added.

15. Ibid.

16. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, p. 70.

17. Marx and Engels, German Ideology, pp. 24-25. Italics added.

18. Capital I, Dent ed., 1:54.

19. Capital I, Dent ed., 2:650. Italics added.

20. Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authorized English edition of 1888, supervised by Engels, published by Charles H. Kerr, Chicago, p. 32.

21. Karl Marx, "Ranglossen zur Adolph Wagner's 'Lehrbuch der politischen Okonomie,''' in Marx-Engels, Werke, Institut fur Marxismus-Leninismus (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1956 - 58), vol. 19, pp. 37()-71.

22. Marx and Engels, German Ideology, p. 38.

23. Ibid., p. 73.

24. Communist Manifesto, pp. 19-20. The decisive importance of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production was reiterated in Marx's Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: "At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into fetters. Then begins the epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. . . . The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production—antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of this antagonism." K. Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Chas. H. Kerr & Co.,), pp. 12-13.

25. My analysis of the romantic, along with a systematic view of it as a deep structure implicated in both "normal" and Marxist sociologies is developed in chap. 11, "Romanticism and Classicism," in Alvin W. Gouldner, For Sociology (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975) pp. 323-68. Note especially my discussion of the grotesque as a theory of dissonance in relation to Kenneth Burke's cognate concept of "perspective by incongruity."

26. Communist Manifesto, p. 33.

27. Marx and Engels, German Ideology, p. 69.

28. Communist Manifesto, p. 30.

29. Ibid., p. 53.

30. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, p. 36.

31. Ibid.

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From Alvin W. Gouldner,  The Two Marxisms.   New York:  Oxford University Press, 1980,  Chapter 6 - "Alienation From Hegel to Marx," pp. 177-198..

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