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 thebasic presupposition of private property. The aim of production ishaving. And not only does production have this kind ofuseful aim; it has also a selfish aim; man producesonly in order to possess for himself; the object he producesis the objectification of his immediate, selfish need.For man himself- in a savage, barbaric condition- therefore, theamount of his production is determined by the extent of hisimmediate need, the content of which is directly the objectproduced.
Under these conditions, therefore, man produces no morethan he immediately requires. The limit of his need forms thelimit of his production. Thus demand and supply exactlycoincide. The extent of his production is measured by hisneed. In this case no exchange takes place, or exchange is reduced tothe 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 theimmediate limit of possession. But this surplus production does notmean rising above selfish need. On the contrary, it is only anindirect way of satisfying a need which finds itsobjectification not in this production but in the productionof someone else. Production has become a means of gaining aliving, labour to gain a living. Whereas under the first state ofaffairs, therefore, need is the measure of production, under thesecond 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 haveproduced for yourself and not for me. In itself, the result of myproduction has as little connection with you as the result of yourproduction has directly with me. That is to say, our production isnot man's production for man as a man, i.e., it is not socialproduction. Neither of us, therefore, as a man stands in a relationof enjoyment to the other's product. As men, we do not exist as faras our respective products are concerned. Hence our exchange, too,cannot be the mediating process by which it is confirmed that myproduct is [for] you, because it is an objectification of yourown nature, your need. For it is not man's nature that formsthe link between the products we make for one another. Exchange canonly set in motion, only confirm, the character of therelation which each of us has in regard to his own product, andtherefore to the product of the other. Each of us sees in his productonly the objectification of his own selfish need, andtherefore in the product of the other the objectification of adifferent selfish need, independent of him and alien to him.
As a man you have, of course, a human relation to my product: youhave need of my product. Hence it exists for you as an objectof your desire and your will. But your need, your desire, your will,are powerless as regards my product. That means, therefore, that yourhuman nature, which accordingly is bound to stand in intimaterelation to my human production, is not your power over thisproduction, your possession of it, for it is not the specificcharacter, not the power, of man's nature that isrecognized in my production. They [your need, your desire, etc.]constitute rather the tie which makes you dependent on me,because they put you in a position of dependence on my product. Farfrom being the means which would give you power over myproduction, they are instead the means for giving me powerover you.
When I produce more of an object than I myself can directlyuse, my surplus production is cunningly calculated foryour need. It is only in appearance that I produce a surplusof this object. In reality I produce a different object, theobject of your production, which I intend to exchange against thissurplus, an exchange which in my mind I have already completed. Thesocial relation in which I stand to you, my labour for yourneed, is therefore also a mere semblance, and ourcomplementing each other is likewise a mere semblance, thebasis of which is mutual plundering. The intention ofplundering, of deception, is necessarily present in thebackground, for since our exchange is a selfish one, on your side ason mine, and since the selfishness of each seeks to get the better ofthat of the other, we necessarily seek to deceive each other. It istrue though, that the power which I attribute to my object over yoursrequires your recognition in order to become a real power. Ourmutual recognition of the respective powers of our objects, however,is a struggle, and in a struggle the victor is the one who has moreenergy, force, insight, or adroitness. If I have sufficient physicalforce, I plunder you directly. If physical force cannot be used, wetry to impose on each other by bluff; and the more adroit overreachesthe other. For the totality of the relationship, it is amatter of chance who overreaches whom. The ideal, intendedoverreaching takes place on both sides, i.e., each in his ownjudgment has overreached the other.
On both sides, therefore, exchange is necessarily mediated by theobject which each side produces and possesses. The idealrelationship 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 mutuallyexclusive possession of our respective products. What givesyour need of my article its value, worth and effect forme is solely your object, the equivalent of my object.Our respective products, therefore, are the means, themediator, the instrument, the acknowledged powerof our mutual needs. Your demand and the equivalent of yourpossession, therefore, are for me terms that are equal insignificance and validity, and your demand only acquires ameaning, owing to having an effect, when it has meaning andeffect in relation to me. As a mere human being without thisinstrument your demand is an unsatisfied aspiration on your part andan idea that does not exist for me. As a human being, therefore, youstand in no relationship to my object, because I myself haveno human relationship to it. But the means is the truepower over an object and therefore we mutually regard ourproducts as the power of each of us over the other and overhimself. That is to say, our own product has risen up against us; itseemed to be our property, but in fact we are its property. Weourselves are excluded from true property because ourproperty excludes other men.
The only intelligible language in which we converse with oneanother consists of our objects in their relation to each other. Wewould not understand a human language and it would remain withouteffect. By one side it would be recognized and felt as being arequest, an entreaty, and therefore a humiliation, andconsequently uttered with a feeling of shame, of degradation. By theother side it would be regarded as impudence or lunacyand rejected as such. We are to such an extent estranged from man'sessential nature that the direct language of this essential natureseems to us a violation of human dignity, whereas theestranged language of material values seems to be the well-justifiedassertion of human dignity that is self-confident and conscious ofitself:
Although in your eyes your product is an instrument, ameans, for taking possession of my product and thus forsatisfying your need; yet in my eyes it is the purpose of ourexchange. For me, you are rather the means and instrument forproducing this object that is my aim, just as conversely you stand inthe same relationship to my object. But (1) each of us actuallybehaves in the way he is regarded by the other. You haveactually made yourself the means, the instrument, the producer ofyour own object in order to gain possession of mine; (2) yourown object is for you only the sensuously perceptiblecovering, the hidden shape, of my object; for itsproduction signifies and seeks to express theacquisition of my object. In fact, therefore, you have becomefor yourself a means, an instrument of your object, ofwhich your desire is the servant, and you have performedmenial services in order that the object shall never again do afavour to your desire. If then our mutual thraldom to the object atthe beginning of the process is now seen to be in reality therelationship between master and slave, that is merelythe crude and frank expression of our essentialrelationship.
Our mutual value is for us the value of our mutualobjects. Hence for us man himself is mutually of no value.
Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings.Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and theother person. (1) In my production I would have objectified myindividuality, its specific character, and thereforeenjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life duringthe 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 a power beyond all doubt.(2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have thedirect enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied ahuman need by my work, that is, of having objectifiedman's essential nature, and of having thus created an objectcorresponding to the need of another man's essential nature.(3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and thespecies, and therefore would become recognised and felt by yourselfas a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary partof yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed bothin your thought and your love. (4) In the individual expression of mylife I would have directly created your expression of your life, andtherefore in my individual activity I would have directlyconfirmed and realised my true nature, my humannature, my communal nature.
Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflectedour essential nature.
This relationship would moreover be reciprocal; what occurs on myside has also to occur on yours.
Let us review the various factors as seen in our supposition:
My work would be a free manifestation of life, hence anenjoyment of life. Presupposing private property, my work isan alienation of life, for I work in order to live, inorder to obtain for myself the means of life. My work isnot my life.
Secondly, the specific nature of my individuality,therefore, would be affirmed in my labour, since the latter would bean affirmation of my individual life. Labour therefore wouldbe true, active property. Presupposing private property, myindividuality is alienated to such a degree that this activityis instead hateful to me, a torment, and rather thesemblance of an activity. Hence, too, it is only aforced activity and one imposed on me only through anexternal fortuitous need, not through an inner,essential one.
My labour can appear in my object only as what it is. It cannotappear as something which by its nature it is not. Hence itappears only as the expression of my loss of self and of mypowerlessness that is objective, sensuously perceptible,obvious and therefore put beyond all doubt.
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