Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5.: Man's Lost Unity Restored - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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5.: Man’s Lost Unity Restored - H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed 
The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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Man’s Lost Unity Restored
In recent years, particularly in France, a good deal has been written about Marx’s so-called Paris Manuscripts or Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, an unpublished and uncompleted work in which Hegelian notions are associated with economic theory. It used to be held that the obscure arguments contained in this work find no place in the Materialist Conception of History that Marx developed soon after, but more careful study has made it clear that, although Marx gave up the terminology of these manuscripts, the ideas themselves had a lasting effect on his system of thought. They play no obvious part in the writings of Lenin and Stalin, but we are justified in giving some attention to them because of the part they have played in forming the Marxist moral ideal. What I shall have to say about them is, of course, only a very brief outline of what would need saying if our main concern had been with the development of Marx’s own views rather than with the Marxist outlook that has grown from them.25
Now there are two key words in Marx’s Paris Manuscripts, the word Entäusserung, generally translated “alienation,” which in German has the meaning of giving up, parting with, renouncing, and the stronger word Entfremdung, which means “estrangement.” Marx took these words from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, and we must therefore first see what they were there used to express. The fundamental idea of Hegel’s Phenomenology is that mind is not a simple, self-contained substance distinct from and independent of the external world, but a complex being that develops from mere sense awareness through a series of phases in which more and more of its potentialities are unfolded to an ultimate self-consciousness which contains in itself all the earlier phases. Mind is activity, and since there can be no activity without an object on which it is exercised, Hegel considered that mind could only become conscious of itself by becoming aware of the objects that its activity brought to being. We may get an idea of what Hegel means if we consider that an artist or man of science can only come to realize what he is capable of by producing works of art or by framing theories and then considering them as objective achievements—he will certainly learn more about himself in this way than by trying to catch himself thinking as Bouvard and Pécuchet tried unsuccessfully to do in Flaubert’s novel. There is no mind, according to Hegel, without distinction and opposition, and in the Preface to the Phenomenology he writes of “the earnestness, the pain, the patience, the labour of the negative.” This is no mere metaphor, and at various stages of the Phenomenology Hegel shows how mind’s consciousness of itself is improved by such means as the manual labor of the slave who comes to learn about himself in carrying out the plans of his master, or in the subtleties of speech and architecture, or in the worship given to the gods. “The labouring consciousness,” he says in connection with the slave, “thus comes to apprehend the independent being as itself.” It is Hegel’s view that mind could not develop by staying at home; it must work for its living, and this means that it grows by consuming itself, by putting itself into what, to begin with, appeared opposed and alien. (We may see here a development of Locke’s defense of property as something into which a man has put himself.) This going outside itself by which mind develops its powers is called by Hegel Entäusserung or alienation. Without it man would have remained at the level of mere animal life and there would have been no civilization. It follows that there could be no progress or civilization without opposition and division. And this division must be in the minds of men. On the one hand there is mind as externalized in its works, and on the other hand there is the mind that confronts them. Hegel mentions various occasions when this opposition between mind and its products was particularly acute. One was when the ancient city-state had collapsed and the individual, feeling oppressed and deserted under the Roman despotism, retreated into himself or fled to God, and thus opposed his religious life that was dedicated to God to his everyday life in which he was subject to Caesar. Whereas the Athenian of the age of Pericles had felt at home in the city, the Christian of the Imperial period felt a stranger in the pagan world. Again, with the coming of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, men lost their earlier assurance of their place in the scheme of things and were torn between their faith and their intelligence. (We may think here of the portentous conflict within the mind of Rousseau, and of the later “romantic agony.”) Hegel uses the word Entfremdung for these unhappy divisions in the mind of man as, through conflict, he moves on to new achievements. Briefly, the theme of the Phenomenology is the mind’s progress from mere unreflective living through opposition, labor, alienation, and estrangement, to the ultimate harmonious self-consciousness. This, fundamentally, is the theme of the Marxist philosophy of history in which mankind passes from classless primitive communism through class struggle to the ultimate communism in which, freed from class divisions, men take conscious control of their destiny.
I do not propose to discuss the details of Marx’s criticisms of Hegel’s Phenomenology—it is sufficiently obvious that, like Feuerbach, he considered that Hegel concerned himself with abstract categories instead of with concrete realities. But whereas Feuerbach had given to Hegel’s metaphysical language a psychological interpretation, Marx made use of it for social criticism. The main point of Marx’s translation of economic language into Hegelian language is that he draws an analogy between the condition of the proletarian in capitalist society and the condition of the estranged, divided mind that has not yet achieved harmonious self-consciousness. According to Hegel the estranged mind is lost in a world that seems alien to it, although it is a world that it has labored to construct. According to Marx men living in capitalist society are faced by a social order that, although it results from what they do, exerts a senseless constraint over them as if it were something purely physical presented to their senses. Again, according to Hegel the acute points of estrangement come after periods of relative harmony, and according to Marx the estrangement of man in capitalism has reached a degree not touched before. A savage living in a cave, he says, does not feel a stranger there, since he has discovered that by so living he can improve his life. But a proletarian living in a cellar is not at home there since it belongs to another who can eject him if he does not pay his rent.26 The contrast is between a man who by his labor transforms the alien world into something that he recognizes as his, and a man whose labor helps to construct a system that takes control of him. The one man’s labor is an enhancement and extension of himself, the other man’s labor is his own impoverishment. And it is not only the results of his labor that have this effect, but the labor itself is an activity quite foreign to his nature. “The worker feels himself only when he is not working and when he is at work he feels outside himself.”27 Under capitalism, then, the human labor which could, if consciously employed, extend the power of man, is blindly spent in subjecting him to his own unconsciously formed creations.
Before we comment on this let us see how, in the same work, Marx develops the idea by showing the part played by money. Money, he argues, leads to the substitution of an unnatural, distorted society for the natural society in which human powers come to their fruition. It does this by becoming the necessary intermediary between a desire and its satisfaction. For the possession of money enables a man to satisfy the most exorbitant desires, and the lack of it prevents him from satisfying the most elementary ones. Someone with no money cannot effectively desire to travel and study however much these activities might contribute to his development as a human being, whereas someone with money may realize these desires even though he is quite incapable of profiting from them. Thus money has the power of turning idea into reality, and of making a reality (i.e., a genuine human power) remain a mere idea.28 It is natural and human, he argues, for love to be responded to by love, trust by trust, for the man of taste to enjoy pictures, for forceful and eloquent men to influence others. But money distorts all this by enabling the man who is devoid of love to purchase it, the vulgar man to buy pictures, the coward to buy influence. Marx illustrates this by the famous passage in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens in which Timon says that “Gold! Yellow, glittering, precious gold” will “make black, white; foul, fair; wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant;” etc. This was a favorite passage of Marx’s throughout his life, and he quoted it twenty years later in Capital, volume 1, to illustrate his argument that it is not only commodities that may be turned into money but also “more delicate things, sacrosanct things which are outside the commercial traffic of men.” “Modern society,” he goes on, “which, when still in its infancy, pulled Pluto by the hair of his head out of the bowels of the earth, acclaims gold its Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of its inmost vital principle.”29 In Capital, volume 1, commodities are defined by Marx as goods produced for exchange,30 and it is money that makes such exchange possible on a large scale. In capitalist society almost all goods are produced for sale and are therefore commodities, and this, according to Marx, prevents most of the members of that society from seeing that the exchange value of these goods results from the labor put into their production. This is not concealed in feudal society where direct domination prevails, since a man who has to do forced labor or to pay tithes cannot fail to notice that, fundamentally, it is his labor, that is, himself, that he gives, and that it is to the lord or the priest that he gives himself. But in capitalist society the goods that are produced for sale take on a fetishistic character, as if their exchange value were something inherent in them, like the god that is supposed to inhabit the stone. Men are kept at it producing goods for money as if money or commodities were the end of life. First gold, and then capital, became the Fetish that commanded men’s lives just as some stone idol controls the lives of African barbarians.
Marx’s religious comparison here shows the continuing influence of Feuerbach. In Capital, volume 1, Marx underlines the comparison. He argues that primitive people believe in nature-gods because they do not know how to arrange their affairs with one another and with nature. “Such religious reflexions of the real world,” he writes, “will not disappear until the relations between human beings in their practical everyday life have assumed the aspect of perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations between man and man, and as between man and nature.” So too, he holds, with the commodity fetish. “The life process of society, this meaning the material process of production, will not lose its veil of mystery until it becomes a process carried on by a free association of producers, under their conscious and purposive control.”31 “Mystery” is one of Feuerbach’s key words, and “conscious and purposive control” is Feuerbach’s and Marx’s substitute for the Hegelian self-consciousness. The equation of “life process of society” with “the material process of production” is, however, a departure from his earliest views which obviously diminishes their moral impact.
In the first place, then, let us consider Marx’s view that when, as in capitalist society, goods are produced for sale, i.e., for money, most people’s lives are as pointless as are the lives of those who worship non-existent gods. The reference, it will be remembered, is to Feuerbach’s argument that it is because of their disappointments in this life that men have imagined a world of gods who provide merely substitute satisfactions for their real needs. Now it seems to me that Feuerbach and Marx were much too ready to suppose that the world can be so ordered that substitute satisfactions will not be necessary. Some of the chief evils that beset mankind seem to be inseparable from the condition of being human. Death is the source of many of our main griefs and the source, too, of many of our religious hopes, and as long as men die and want to live, and as long as some die when others remain alive, the need for religious consolation will continue. There is no need for me to dwell on other griefs such as personal ugliness or insignificance often cause which, though not universal as death is, nevertheless give rise to the same need for a spirit world. It is those who are lucky, sheltered, hard, or unusually intelligent, who may expect to escape this need, but it must remain, I should suppose, a feature of any human society that we are justified in thinking about. If this is so, no amount of social remodeling is likely to extinguish the propensity of human beings to split themselves and the world into something material and something spiritual.
But on the face of it money is not as closely linked with the condition of being human as belief in another world is, for men have lived without money and might conceivably do so again. Marx is on stronger ground, therefore, in looking forward to the dispelling of the money illusion. His view appears to be that money diverts men’s minds from their real concerns to illusory ones just as, on his view, the worship of the gods diverts them from their primary earthly concerns. Now I do not think that this matter is nearly as simple as Marx thought it was. He assumes that he knows what men’s “real concerns” are, or, as he puts it in the Paris Manuscripts, what a “human” life is and must be. In this work men’s real concern is to develop their powers free from illusion, but in Capital the reality of human society is, as the passage quoted in the last paragraph shows, “the material process of production.” This is one of the points at which confusion enters into the whole Marxist scheme of things. When we talk about men’s real concerns we are talking in moral terms about what they ought to concern themselves with, but when Marx talks about “social reality” he means society as it really is in contrast with society as it falsely appears to people who do not understand its workings. In the Paris Manuscripts he was still a moralist, whereas in Capital he claims to be a man of science saying what must be. Nowhere, it seems to me, is he clear whether he is thinking of moral illusions or of material illusions, of mistakes about what we ought to do or of mistakes about what is. This may be seen even in his use of the passage from Timon of Athens. It seems to me that Timon’s mistake was to have believed that money could buy friendship. He found when his money had gone that the men he had been giving it to were not his friends at all, and he ought to have concluded that you get friends by giving yourself rather than by giving money. Marx does not draw the conclusion that money cannot buy love or taste, but he rather concludes that it can buy these things and that therefore people without it cannot get them. The story of Timon shows that money is not all-powerful, not that everything can be done with it. In Capital Marx says that money is a “radical leveller, effaces all distinctions,” and there is a sense in which this is true. In an aristocratic society only members of the aristocracy may be allowed to live in manor-houses or to wear certain styles of dress, but once the society is sufficiently permeated by commerce anyone with the money to buy one may live in a manor-house and the style of clothes one wears will depend on what one is able and willing to buy. But it does not follow from this that money will buy even prestige, since this is something that nouveaux riches often fail to obtain with it.
This brings me to a further aspect of this point. Marx is arguing that in a money economy people mistake the shadow for the substance, the symbol for the reality. Money is a symbol enabling goods to be equated with one another, but people live on food not on money. Now this is true if we take “live” in the sense of “keep alive,” for coins and banknotes have no intrinsic power of nourishing. But money may also be regarded as a sign of success, and in this sense the possession of money, although it may not chiefly concern the buying of goods and services, is by no means empty or pointless, for the prestige it brings is real enough. Here again the Marxist tendency is to regard such things as prestige as illusory and to confuse this with the judgment that they are bad. Again, an individual whose life is spent in the pursuit of money may, if those psychologists are right who say so, be endeavoring to hoard it as a substitute for excrement, but he does get satisfaction of a sort from his strange behavior. People may obtain money (1) in order to buy goods or services with which to keep alive and develop their powers; or they may obtain it (2) in order to get social prestige—and this course is reasonable only in a society where money does give social prestige; or they may obtain it (3) to satisfy some unconscious desire. Now (1) and (2) are not quite as different as they may at first seem, for people tend to spend their money in ways that at least will not bring social disapproval. But (3) is quite different from (1) and (2), since the pathological miser hoards with a passion that is not much affected by social disapproval.32 Thus his obsession may bring pleasure in one way and pain in another, in so far as he meets social disapproval. It is also different from (1) and (2) in that the miser does not know what is leading him along the course he is following, would probably wish to do something else if he did know, and is generally unhappy except when he is adding to his hoard or counting it over. On the other hand, people may admit to themselves that they want “to get on,” and not want to do anything else when this is pointed out to them. At any rate their pursuit of money is not empty or mistaken merely because money is a symbol. If it is mistaken, it is because there are other things more worthy of pursuit than the prestige that money brings. It is not mistaken because money is a symbol for eating and drinking and other so-called “material” activities. It is worth noticing that religious belief cannot be regarded as significantly like the behavior of the pathological miser, since in any single community it is widespread, if not universal, and brings men together in activities that are esteemed, whereas the miser is at odds with his fellow men and therefore with himself.
The second point I should like to make about Marx’s early account of “estrangement” is that it is linked with his later view that it is through the division of labor that man is divided and repressed. Indeed, one of his criticisms of money is that it facilitates the division of labor. Now Marx distinguished different sorts of division of labor. In the first place there is what in Capital, volume 1, he calls “the social division of labour in society at large.” This includes the natural division of labor between men and women, young and old, strong and feeble, as well as that between the various crafts and professions.33 It is his view that in all societies except primitive communism it is inseparable from private property and classes. This he contrasts with what he calls “the manufacturing division of labour” in which capitalist employers assign to their workmen particular tasks determined by the organization of their industry. Men engaged in the manufacturing division of labor Marx calls “detail workers”; these are men who, for example, do not make a watch but only one part of a watch, and, Marx says, “a worker who carries out one and the same simple operation for a lifetime, converts his whole body into the automatic specialized instrument of that of that operation.”34 But even this is not the most specialized type of division, for the extreme of specialization arises when machinery has been invented and the individual worker’s job is determined by the structure and working of the machine. Marx calls this “machinofacture.” He says that machinofacture requires the “technical subordination of the worker to the uniform working of the instrument of labour”35 and leads to child labor, long working hours, and unhealthy working conditions. Now Marx holds that all types of the division of labor limit the activities of individuals and divide them. In The German Ideology he writes: “. . . As long as man remains in natural society . . . as long therefore as activity is not voluntarily, 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 labour is distributed, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity, but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic.”36 And in Capital he writes: “Even the division of labour in society at large entails some crippling both of mind and body.”37 But of course in the latter work his chief concern is to show the much greater evils that follow from the subdivision of labor that is characteristic of machine industry. The question therefore arises of what communism is a remedy for, and of what sort of remedy it is. Is it a remedy for the evils of all division of labor? If so, then under communism there would be no division of labor. Or is it a remedy for the extremes of the division of labor such as occur in machine industry? If so, a division of labor that accorded with natural aptitudes might still exist in communist society. It will be seen from the passage I have quoted from The German Ideology that when that book was written Marx looked forward to the end of the division of labor, in the sense that no one would be confined to one sort of job. A few years later Engels wrote a little essay in the form of a series of questions entitled “Grundsätze des Kommunismus.” Question 20 is: “What will be the results of the eventual abolition of private property?” and in the course of answering it Engels says that industry will be managed according to a plan, that this will require men whose capacities are developed “on all sides,” and that in such a society children will be trained to pass easily from job to job. In this way, he continues, classes will vanish.38 Marx did not incorporate this idea into the Communist Manifesto where the communist society is vaguely described as “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” But in 1875, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx returned to this idea when, in describing the second phase of the communist society of the future, he says that “the servile subjection of individuals to the division of labour” will disappear, and with it the opposition between intellectual and bodily work. It is not clear whether this means that the division of labor will disappear or whether it will continue but that men will no longer be enslaved by it, but as communist industry is to be highly productive we may suppose that Marx meant that the jobs could be divided without the men who carry them out being divided.
The root of the matter, as with so much else in Marxist theory, is contained in The German Ideology. The paragraph following that which I quoted on pages 219–20 commences as follows: “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 nought our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.”39 What is here being said is that human inventiveness has led to an organization of society that no one has planned, and that this organization, with its division of labor, is something which each individual, and each generation of individuals, must accept as a social fact to which they must adjust themselves. The argument is that men have to fit themselves to the results of their efforts instead of producing by their efforts something that they want. Thus, when there is a division of labor individuals are drawn into some limited mode of work (which is therefore a limited mode of life) which directs their activities in a direction that they have not chosen. If people are to live complete lives instead of merely partial ones, they must, in a highly developed society, be able to choose and perform lots of jobs. (We need not pursue here Engels’ secondary point that in communist society a more generalized type of ability will be called for.) The communist ideal is one in which nothing happens that has not been planned and in which everyone can live the sort of life he wants to. Now quite apart from the obvious objection that such a state of affairs is most unlikely to be achieved, I think we may make the more radical objection that it could not conceivably be achieved. For if plans are to be carried out, things will be done that some people have objected to, or if nothing is done that anyone objects to plans cannot be carried out. Furthermore, as I argued on pages 176–77, to assume that a society is completely under human control is to assume that no one ever makes a mistake or miscalculation. Marxists are so anxious to free men from unwilled social forces that they propose to subject them to an infallible and unavoidable social plan, the organization and operation of which they have never explained.
I have already shown how very similar to the views of Fourier on “moralism” Marx’s views are, and now, in conclusion, I should like to show how closely Marx’s objection to the evils of the division of labor resembles another part of Fourier’s ethical theory. Fourier believed that the social order of his time ran counter to three of the most important and fundamental human passions, the Cabalist passion or passion for intrigue, the Butterfly passion or passion for variety, and the Composite passion or passion for mingling the pleasures of the senses and of the soul. The Cabalist passion we need not now discuss, although it is important enough since, according to Fourier, it involves the confounding of ranks so that superiors and inferiors come closer together, and thus is incompatible with rigid class distinctions. The other two, however, are regarded by Fourier as justifying two of his most characteristic proposals, the passage in the course of each working day from one job to another, and the mingling of bodily and mental elements in all work and all enjoyment. According to him the subdivision of labor in industrial society with the long hours at monotonous tasks that it then involved was quite incompatible with human happiness. In one of his accounts of what he called “attractive labour” he describes a day in the life of a member of the future society as consisting of “attendance at the hunting group,” “attendance at the fishing group,” “attendance at the agricultural group under cover,” and attendance at four or five other groups as well as work in the library, visits to the “court of the arts, ball, theatre, receptions,” etc. There is no need to underline the similarity between this and the account in The German Ideology of the member of communist society who hunts in the morning, fishes in the afternoon, rears cattle in the evening, and criticizes after dinner. In discussing the Composite passion Fourier argues that the attempt to enjoy intellectual pursuits without mingling them with the pleasures of eating, drinking, pleasant company, etc., leads to a thin and bored state of mind, whereas the attempt to enjoy the pleasures of the senses without any intellectual admixture leads to an unsatisfactorily brutish condition. He extends this idea in ingenious ways so as to maintain, for example, that an ambition that has no element of interest about it is inferior to one in which more is at stake than mere glory or reputation. If we consider Marx’s condemnation of the division of intellectual from bodily labor, his criticism of German liberalism for its detachment from real social interests, and his general requirement that social arrangements should satisfy the whole of human nature and not lead to its division into mutilated parts, we can see how much of the moral stimulus of Marxism came from Fourier. In Fourier this positive moral impetus is as strong as the criticism of moralism. Marx, however, more sophisticated but less clear-headed than Fourier, spent so much effort in criticizing the existing social order that he had none left for the task of describing the one that was to replace it.
[25. ]The reader is referred to: Hyppolite, “La structure du ‘Capital’ et de quelques présuppositions philosophiques dans l’oeuvre de Marx,” Etudes sur Marx et Hegel, Paris, 1955, pp. 142–68. Rubel, Pages choisies pour une éthique socialiste (Paris, 1948). (This excellent anthology is almost indispensable for the student of Marx’s ethical ideas.) H. Popitz, Der Entfremdete Mensch (Basel, 1953). (A detailed, documented analysis.) Pierre Bigo, Introduction à l’oeuvre economique de Karl Marx (Paris, 1953). Abram L. Harris, “Utopian Elements in Marx’s Thought,” Ethics, vol. 60, no. 2, Jan. 1950 (Chicago).
[26. ]M.E.G.A., I, 3, pp. 135–36.
[27. ]Ibid., p. 85.
[28. ]Ibid., p. 148.
[29. ]Capital (Everyman edition), p. 113.
[30. ]Ibid., p. 9.
[31. ]Ibid., pp. 53–54.
[32. ]I rather think that Timon was a pathological giver.
[33. ]Capital, pp. 369ff.
[34. ]Ibid., p. 356.
[35. ]Ibid., p. 452.
[36. ]P. 22.
[37. ]I, p. 384.
[38. ]M.E.G.A., VI, 1, pp. 516–19.
[39. ]Pp. 22–23.