Marx's Hopes for Individuation
He insisted on the social medium of existence, the public dimension of self-expression, the objective elements of human agency; he analyzed the conventional weight of institutions, the laws of economic exchange, and the cumulative momentum of history. And yet Karl Marx, in striving for a science of society, remained equally preoccupied throughout his life with the individual—not, it is true, as a self-seeking egoist, nor as spiritual avatar, but instead the individual as a sociable and objective being, rich in vocations and values, multifaceted in wants and talents, gifted with free time and a sense of wholeness.
A utopian prospect? Perhaps. But also an index of human possibilities: the "social individual" as the telos of a history rendered rational, not only via the political emancipation of the individual, but also, and more importantly, through the conscious appropriation, by associated individuals, of their collective powers and institutions. This, at least, was Marx's vision.
It is a vision that incorporates individuation as one of its central elements. Indeed, Marx maintained an interest in individuation throughout his life, an interest evinced in Capital as well as his earliest essays. To be sure, Marx's understanding of individuation as an historical accomplishment evolved as he developed his broader theory; yet while he abandoned the philosophical anthropology of his youth, he never ceased to value individuation as one of the most progressive and desirable tendencies of history. Rather than merely repudiating the modern ideal of individuality, Marx radicalized it: communism would complete the process of individual emancipation pressed forward by capitalism and liberalism.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, European liberals sought, and in some areas helped accomplish, the emancipation of
the individual from the authority of monarchial and ecclesiastical institutions. In so doing, the liberal movement in politics furthered a process initiated by the rise of Protestantism, the growth of trade and industry, and the subsequent mass migration of people from the countryside to the burgeoning cities of Europe. During the Middle Ages, man had been conceived primarily in relation to a larger religious and communal order: this social and spiritual realm supplied the individual with a raison d'être and assigned him his station in life. The view of the individual which emerged during the modern period by contrast upheld as its ideal the autonomous personality, independent of the ties of religious and political hierarchy. Many of the leading philosophers and social theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had anticipated the main themes of the new view: Descartes's theory of the self, like the economic man portrayed in classical political economy, could be used to support a novel vision of the individual as an essentially free agent.
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen provided the classic political statement of European liberalism and its central tenets. Men were born and remained free and equal in rights; these rights included liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. Liberty, defined as the freedom to do anything that did not infringe on another person's freedom, was established by public law, before which all individuals were treated as equals, without regard to social position. Sovereignty resided in a people and nation, not a monarch or privileged estate.
A broadly defined image of the individual emerged from liberal thought. Autonomous and self-reliant, the individual also appeared acquisitive and self-interested. On the positive side, individuals were valued for developing their special capacities and perfecting their particular personality. But in any case, the individual was portrayed in contrast to the community; the liberal state was primarily to assume a negative role, mediating the interaction of individuals, since, without a minimum of public regulation, the utopia of monadic individualism threatened to degenerate into a nightmare of selfish egos competing for scarce resources.
Liberal ideas and institutions did not undergo a uniform development throughout Europe, however. In some countries, such as Germany, a more traditional view of the state persisted well into the nineteenth century; there, individual freedoms were often secured
through concessions from the established authorities, a situation which reinforced the customary connection between duty and liberty. In this context, individual rights could be regarded as an attribute of a properly constituted sovereign, rather than a critical protection against the sovereign. Moreover, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of German theorists advocated enlightened despotism, an approach which continued to influence political thought in the nineteenth century.
After the July Days of 1830, demands for liberal reforms grew throughout Germany. But the chief response was increased repression and censorship; as a result the liberal movement was forced to operate without adequate public representation and under a suffocating set of restrictions on meetings and publications. The popular basis for a liberal politics seemed questionable, too. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Germany remained a backward and predominantly agricultural country, even though peasants and artisans were being uprooted by the slow decline of older sectors of the economy. While these conditions forced the social question to the fore, political circumstances made articulating what popular discontent did exist difficult; liberalism consequently remained the creed of relatively isolated groups of intellectuals.
In the 1830s, the German liberal movement united around issues of anticlericalism and a cosmopolitan hostility to Prussian domination. At least in principle, most liberals claimed to represent "the people": in addition to constitutional reforms and freedom of the press, the liberals sought an end to economic privilege and restrictions on trade. But the movement was divided over how to attain these goals. One group appealed to established authorities for reform, while another hesitated between such appeals and autonomous claims in terms of popular rights. A radical group, finally, advocated uncompromising popular sovereignty, and a total break with the existing regimes.
For philosophical as well as strategic reasons, various factions split before 1848. The philosophy of Hegel, in particular, became a source of contention. Hegel himself had asserted the necessity of an hierarchical sovereign state which could impose common aims and ideals on the competing particular interests within civil society; as a result, his philosophy was commonly regarded as a justification of the Prussian monarchy, even though Hegel himself had proposed
critical changes in the Prussian constitution. But some young Hegelians declared their mentor's apparent reconciliation of particular and universal interests premature. In their eyes, the arbitrary authoritarianism of Prussian politics thwarted human freedom, the avowed object of the Hegelian philosophy. A radical faction grouped around a militant reading of Hegel and demanded that political policies actually conform to the dictates of Reason as deciphered by a dialectical philosophy committed to a free state. More cautious liberals, by contrast, argued that contemporary institutions carried at least the promise of rationality within them already. For such liberals, reform could be accomplished within the bounds of established law.
The Individual in the Bourgeois State
Although Marx came to criticize liberalism and its understanding of individual emancipation, his earliest writings take their bearings from this context of political theory. In his dissertation, completed in 1841, Marx had defended the liberal party as the only German movement that adhered to the "concept" of Hegelian philosophy, with its demands for a rational state. While positive philosophy exalted the existing state as rational, an authentically Hegelian and negative philosophy would demand, in the name of its unactualized concept, that the state be transformed so as to accord with rational norms. By remaining true to the concept of rational politics, and by seeing political rationality as a task yet to be accomplished, the liberal party could make progress: it could be "conscious in general of principle and aim."
In his first journalistic writings for the Deutsche Jahrbücher and the Rheinische Zeitung , Marx brought such theoretical preoccupations to bear on the current issues of the day, among them the introduction of representative government, freedom of the press, and the social question posed by the unincorporated poor, who belonged to no guild or estate and yet constituted as much as half the population in some areas of Germany. An article in 1842 attacking press censorship used the Hegelian premise of an ethical state to argue against Hegel's own conclusions. Marx agreed with Hegel that the state should embody an ethical community, publicly incarnating
that "universal human nature" and rationality inherent in each individual; he also insisted that an "ethical state presupposes that its members" already have in mind "the view of the state ." While laws without objective norms would be "laws of terrorism," a free state would avoid setting itself against its subjects; instead, it educated men to become "part of the state, by transforming the aims of the individual into universal aims." Only then might the individual find his satisfaction in the life of the state. Marx here sustained a democratic version of Hegel's political philosophy: in a truly representative state, each man, by obeying the laws of his own reason, would also obey the laws of the state, that "great organism."
The problems impeding the realization of such a truly representative state, however, were by no means negligible. In several articles on the plight of the impoverished, Marx protested the exclusion of the propertyless—in the new parlance of the day, sometimes called the "proletariat"—from full citizenship. Such an exclusion contravened the universality of a truly rational state. Moreover, the recent increases in the unincorporated poor suggested to Marx that the problem lay not with the poor but rather with the constitution, which refused even to recognize the problem. Marx thus placed the question of poverty at the center of his thinking about politics.
It was not until 1843, however, that he found the time to clarify the theoretical implications of his observations as a journalist. After reading books on the American and French revolutions, as well as Machiavelli, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, Marx turned his attention again to Hegel, to criticize The Philosophy of Right , a central text in the political polemics of the day. By mid-1843, he had drafted a section-by-section commentary on the book's later paragraphs. Although he published an introduction to this material, the main manuscript only appeared posthumously, as the Critique of Hegel's "Philosophy of Right ."
This Critique bore the imprint of Ludwig Feuerbach's "transformative" method. As Feuerbach himself had explained it, "We only have to make [Hegel's] predicate the subject, and likewise the subject the object and principle—therefore we only have to invert speculative philosophy—in order to have the undisguised, pure and clear truth." Feuerbach's example was instrumental in turning Marx's attention to the individual, both as the particular this , the tangible and perceptible "something" that founded all abstract
thought, and as the conscious human being who conceived all philosophy, religion, and politics in the first place, according to Feuerbach's self-styled materialism.
In the Critique of Hegel's "Philosophy of Right ," Marx juxtaposed methodological and substantive criticisms: Hegel's proclivity to hypostatized abstractions abetted an antidemocratic politics. Hegel consistently divorced such human "predicates" as the state from their "real independence, their subject." Because of his consistent inversion of real relationships, Hegel severed the state from its actual basis, interacting individuals, while transforming the family and civil society into predicates of the state through its "selfpositing" activity. In Hegel's topsy-turvy world, the state itself becomes the creating subject, while the human subjects "become unreal, and take on the different meaning of objective moments of the Idea." Thanks to his starting point, Hegel ended by making the monarch the embodied subjectivity of the state, and the true animating impulse of society.
Marx, like Feuerbach, proposed a new, more concrete foundation for political philosophy: "One has to start from the real subject and examine its objectification."' The subject was man; his real activity, his "objectification," was his outward creativity, in the form of ideas (like religion) as well as institutions (like those of politics). The methodological entreaty to return to the actual subject implied a political corollary: "The state is an abstraction; the people alone is the concrete." With his transformative critique of Hegel, Marx thus definitively abandoned neo-Hegelian liberalism in favor of what he called "true democracy," a populist halfway house between liberalism and communism.
Yet Marx in 1843 was still willing to grant Hegel's social analysis a relative validity, since the ethical form of the Hegelian state at least responded to the fragmented form of life within civil society. Hegel had been appalled by the atomism of that society; left to their own devices, he felt that the people were only "the Many, as units . . . a formless mass whose commotion and activity could therefore only be elementary, irrational, barbarous and frightful." Hegel hoped the modern state could provide civil society with a binding ethical order to combat this social disorder.
But Marx, while sympathetic with the Hegelian critique of civil society, by 1843 had also come to feel that any purely political
accommodation missed the point. Even republicanism was denied Marx's blessing, since the political republic, as a mere constitutional form, provided democracy only within "the abstract form of the state." A political solution left the social bases of an atomized civil society intact and failed to solve the problem of poverty; as a result, the state, divorced from and set opposite the concrete forms of interaction within civil society, assumed the abstract form of rights and laws governing man qua citizen. Man qua man, on the other hand, pursued life in civil society as before.
As a consequence, the extent of individual emancipation within the modern state proved problematical. While bourgeois civil society represented the "accomplished principle of individualism," for most men that individualism remained partial and one-sided, rooted in the isolated struggle for survival. Where survival became the end, the individual's objective power of shaping the world, his labor, became a mere means. The bourgeois state ratified this inversion by vesting the individual's acknowledged universality in legal rights, where "man's content"—his practical pursuit of everyday life within civil society—"is not taken to be his true actuality."
True democracy, by contrast, would reconcile the social and political realms, rather than merely counterpose them. As Marx portrayed it, democracy abolished the separation of the state from a civil society by transforming the latter, and making everyday life itself the basis of ethics. The preconditions for such a metamorphosis in social existence included the restructuring of property relations, the amelioration of poverty, and the establishment of universal suffrage. With the realization of popular sovereignty and the abolition of primogeniture, the state could disappear, while the legislature, by truly representing the will of the people, could shed its opposition to civil society. Institutions could then be treated as vessels of individual activity, rather than as mysteriously self-positing Ideas, à la Hegel. True democracy thus marked the "first true unity of the universal and particular." The subjects of such a democracy might be acknowledged for what they were, rather than valued only as legal citizens. To the extent that civic and political life at last transparently stood forth as the "free product of men," the individual became the active subject rather than passive object of communal life.
By repudiating liberalism in favor of his own radical populism,
Marx posed the question of individual emancipation on a new and universal level: freedom and a decent existence were now claimed as rights for all men, regardless of their estate. Marx also began elaborating his own philosophical anthropology, which treated man as a practical and sociable being, rather than the acquisitive and insular entity classical liberalism had found in civil society. Moreover, by 1843 Marx had come to view the practical project of individual emancipation as a social as well as political issue: any purely political program such as liberalism proposed would leave man's everyday existence intact, and thus sustain the contradiction between the privatized, self-seeking individual and the public-minded citizen of the ideal political community—an ideal that liberalism continued to profess without extending it to civil society.
The Alienation of Labor
In 1844, Marx published two articles in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher . One, "On the Jewish Question," restated many of the points raised in the longer Hegel manuscript; the other, intended as an introduction to that manuscript, signaled an important departure. Reflecting Marx's growing interest in socialism and communism, "Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction" attempted to identify a collective agent that might historically embody philosophical ideals and seek to realize them: "It is not enough that thought should seek its actualization: actuality must itself strive toward thought." Although an agent that could realize universal freedom at first appeared to be lacking in Germany, Marx asserted that a deeper examination of the social question revealed the proletariat as the incarnation of philosophy. "As philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, the proletariat finds its intellectual weapons in philosophy."
Moreover, as Marx made clear in a third article published in 1844, the protest of the proletariat against oppressive conditions, passing beyond inherently limited plans to seize political power, embodied a plea that social relations be transformed, that everyday existence become humane. "A social revolution, even though it be limited to a single industrial district, affects the totality, because it is a human protest against a dehumanized life, because it starts from
the standpoint of the single, real individual, because the collectivity against whose separation from himself the individual reacts is the true collectivity of man, the human essence." A merely political revolution, by contrast, aimed only at winning institutional influence and power, and thus took as its standpoint neither the real individual nor the transformed collectivity, but instead the institutions of state, "an abstract whole that only exists through a separation from real life."
Given this analysis of the social question and its feasible resolution, Marx logically turned his critical energies from political philosophy to political economy—that young science which claimed to show the anatomy of civil society. Where the 1843 manuscripts had examined the political disunity of modern society, Marx's posthumously published 1844 manuscripts concentrated on the economic factors underlying that disunity. This time, he developed his argument primarily through a critical reading of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations .
Following such classical economists as Smith and David Ricardo, Marx described modern society (and organized his notes) in terms of a tripartite division into capital, landed property, and labor, a separation which he saw as reducing to a confrontation between capital (incorporating landed property) and labor. For the most part, he confined himself to pointing out the contradictory consequences and evasions of political economy, that dismal science which recognized labor as the chief source of human wealth, yet justified denying the laborer a full share in his own product. But he also charged the economists with failing to analyze scientifically the "subjective essence of private property, labor ."
Marx sought to rectify this omission through an analysis of the alienation of labor, one that enriched his understanding of individuation under modern economic conditions. He started from the central economic relationship discussed by classical political economy, that of the worker to the process of production. The failure of the laborer to acquire a full share of his own product represented the estrangement of labor from its product. More fundamentally, the initial separation of labor and capital necessitated the alienation of the laborer from the act of production; the modern worker lacked the tools and machines essential to his very life activity. As the object of labor was alienated from the laborer, both in the act of labor and
its product, so also was the complete activity of labor disrupted, by the disjunction of its essential elements.
This economic alienation had wide implications. Just as labor appeared a salable commodity external to the worker himself, the ultimate material of labor, nature, likewise seemed hostile and indifferent to the modern laborer. Yet the individual not only needed to labor to survive: his self-assertion also required objectifying activity, of which labor for Marx constituted the paradigmatic instance. The alienation of labor from the laborer thus entailed the alienation of the individual from himself. Instead of seeing his own objective activity publicly recognized as enriching the community, the worker competed with other individuals to sell his power of labor, and with it, his power of self-assertion. Estranged from himself and any public affirmation, the laborer became an abstract monad, depending on work merely to sustain an isolated existence. For the laborer, individuation necessarily occurred as alienation from social existence. Man was alienated from man.
The capitalist, by purchasing labor, had expropriated the individual's objective essence. Yet once lodged within the capital-labor relationship, the worker could only reproduce this relationship, in the very act of reproducing himself through labor. The only escape lay in an overthrow of the economic conditions which fractured social life. The liberation of the individual (bourgeois as well as proletarian), which Marx had previously shown to depend on a social transformation, now was seen to require specifically the emancipation of the working class. This emancipation proceeded through the struggle between capitalist and laborer which unavoidably developed within the capitalist mode of production.
Individual and Species:
Man as Social Being
Although Marx devoted most of his attention in the 1844 manuscripts to political economy, his argument often hinged on an implicit vision of man. As the manuscripts amply attest, he had borrowed more from Feuerbach than a methodology; he had also acquired a philosophical anthropology which depicted man as inherently a "species being."
Feuerbach, in his introduction to The Essence of Christianity ,
had equated knowledge of the human species with science; he had also attributed genuine consciousness only to those beings capable of making their species an object of thought. That man could consciously reason signified for Feuerbach that the human "I" transcended its individuality in the very process of thinking; the highest expression of this transcendence was the infinity of God posited by religious thought, an infinity in truth representing the idea of the perfected species-essence of mankind.
When Marx applied Feuerbach's anthropology to social life, he emphasized his own neo-Hegelian conception of man as a practical and objective being. For Marx, the highest expression of man's "species-being" came not in the consciousness of the infinite, as for Feuerbach, but in objective human activity. Man was the "subjectivity of objective essential powers, whose action, therefore, must also be something objective ."
Labor comprised the principal medium of man's objective being. Through labor, man's restless power of objective action transformed the world and appropriated it as his reality: humanity as a whole proved itself in work, if only by facilitating the survival of the species. The object of labor therefore represented the "objectification of man's species-life." Although Hegel had grasped the genesis of humanity as the progressive real objectification of the human spirit, Marx criticized Hegel for equating objectification with alienation, thus insuring that the transcendence of alienation appeared either as an impossibility or an absurdity.
The manuscripts insisted on man as a social being as well as a species-being. Human production had historically always proceeded in cooperation with others, either in the family, the guild or the factory; once exchange of goods had been instituted, the individual also depended on the others for material sustenance. But even on a philosophical level, man as an objective being implied man as a social being: for Marx, as for Hegel and Feuerbach, only another human being, by encountering the individual subject as an active object, could confirm this subject qua objective being, through the public recognition of is objectifications. In 1844, Marx thus praised Feuerbach for making the relationship of man to man the guiding principle of his materialism.
In truth, man could not humanly exist outside society. "Men, through the activation of their nature create and produce a human
common life , a social essence which is no abstractly universal power opposed to the single individual, but is the essence or nature of every single individual, his own activity, his own life, his own spirit, his own wealth." The most cultivated and human projects of the individual were both universal and social; even the isolated scientist, in formulating observable laws and acquiring verifiable results, was active as a man and engaged in an indirectly communal enterprise, as part of the community of scientific reason.
Communal social life did not arise initially through any conscious agreement or reflection among contracting men, but rather sprang directly from individual "need and egoism," neither of which could be confirmed or satisfied apart from society. Yet the individual's activity, even as inherently social activity, rarely occurred within the form of some directly communal activity, as the case of the scientist illustrated. Despite the implications of the phrase, the social being of the individual did not mean that his human being was to be identified with society, or even a particular social role; Marx's anthropology instead evoked an objectifying agent, open to a variety of social relations, but only mediately related to the larger community.
The individual indeed remained irrevocably particular for Marx: "It is precisely his particularity which makes him an individual, and a real individual social being." To be sure, the individual, precisely as an objective being, was characterized not by some ineffable, interiorized particularity, but by a "totalizing" particularity, that, in activity and thought, engaged in objective projects pointing beyond the individual, toward the universal and social community of man. In this sense, while the individual could never be subsumed under the universal for Marx, the individual could and did participate in the whole of social life, as the "subjective existence of society thought and experienced for itself."
In the 1844 manuscripts, as in the 1843 Hegel critique, a philosophical anthropology anchored Marx's approach by specifying what essence modern man was alienated from. The notion of the social individual also allowed Marx to erect a universalistic social theory without relying on Hegelian abstractions, or a cult of renascent community; it let Marx reconcile the individual, as a concrete, particular person, with the individual as the vessel of human universality and species-being—a reconciliation expressed in the admonition that "above all, we must avoid postulating 'Society' again as an abstraction vis-à-vis the individual."
Yet Marx's defense of the social individual remained ambiguous. It also in a sense begged the question of how the individual was integrated within a social community by simply asserting that the individual was, by essence, sociable. Marx later modulated his position to claim as a matter of observable fact (rather than philosophic essence) that the individual had become an intrinsically social being in the course of history. But he continued to emphasize the objective and social dimensions of human existence by focusing on the durable works created for humanity through the labor of individuals. As empirical science as well as prospective utopia, Marxist thought thus relied on the ability of the concrete individual to unite, in his own person, a concern for the universal as well as the particular.
A Vision of Free Individuality
The ultimate reconciliation of the individual with the social world awaited the conscious reappropriation, by individuals in society, of the objective world they had collectively created. Within bourgeois society, the individual's "nature, objectification and realization" were alienated precisely to the extent that "my means of life belongs to someone else , that my desire is the inaccessible possession of another ," that my objectification in labor was simultaneously my loss of the object. The more the worker produced, the less belonged "to him as his own"; the activity of the individual consequently appeared "independent of him and not belonging to him." Individual appropriation came to seem a matter of mere possession, rather than a process of sensing, feeling, thinking, acting, and loving, as well as possessing. Things themselves had lost the significance of being human property: "We ourselves are excluded from true property because our property excludes the other human being."
If the abstract equality imposed by money expressed the "general overturning of individualities" within bourgeois society, then that society could be opposed by the demand that "everyone of your relations to man and nature must be a specific expression , corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life." In communism, Marx saw the radical incarnation of this demand. He carefully distinguished his own concept of communism from earlier and more primitive notions, which involved a crude leveling of individ-
ual capabilities to a dull equality; Marx by contrast described communism as the fulfillment of individual capabilities, and the cultivation of a rich, "subjective human sensibility."
Through a revolutionary transformation of the social world, communism would transcend the contradictions between subject and object, spirit and matter, activity and passivity; it would resolve the antagonisms between "existence and essence, objectification and self-confirmation, freedom and necessity, the individual and the species." In the end, the human individual might stand forth in his essential nature.
Suppose we had produced things as human beings: in his production each of us would have twice affirmed himself and the other. (1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality and its particularity , and in the course of the activity I would have enjoyed an individual life ; in viewing the object, I would have experienced the individual joy of knowing my personality as an objective, sensuously perceptible , and indubitable power. (2) In your satisfaction and use of the product I would have had direct and conscious satisfaction that my work satisfied a human need, that it objectified human nature, and that it created an object appropriate to the need of another human being. (3) I would have been the mediator between you and the species, and you would have experienced me as a reintegration of your own nature and a necessary part of your self; I would have been affirmed in your thought as well as your love. (4) In my individual life I would have directly created your life; in my individual activity I would have immediately confirmed and realized my true human and social nature. Our production would be so many mirrors reflecting our nature."
While communism represented the "necessary form and dynamic principle of the immediate future," it was "not itself the goal of human development." Instead, the individual's emancipation, from alienating social conditions, to unalienated social life, formed the ultimate aim. "Labor would then be true, active property ," affirming one's "individual life." It was a vision that would animate Marx's thought long after he had discarded the philosophical anthropology behind its initial formulations.
In 1845, Marx and Engels published their first joint work, The Holy
Family , a polemic aimed at the German philosophical radicals. Although they allied themselves with materialism, Marx and Engels, like Feuerbach, persisted in deploying notions such as the "true nature" of man. Throughout The Holy Family , Marx retained the essentialistic language of Feuerbach-cum-Hegel most fully elaborated in the 1844 manuscripts. Retrospective nature as well as prospective norm, the concept of a human essence enabled the "Idea" of man to appear within the "real itself," as Marx had once specified in his adolescence; idealism could hence be accommodated to materialism. Yet the essence or nature disclosed by philosophical anthropology, no matter how materialistic its claims, remained a static substance outside of time, discernible primarily through its absence within empirical reality. Such essentialism, by juxtaposing essential human nature with its empirical alienation, covertly sustained the dualism of "is" and "ought"' which Marx had hoped to overcome.
The manuscripts comprising The German Ideology , dating from 1845–1846, represented a crucial break with this philosophical anthropology and its essentialism. After an abortive attempt to have the book published, Marx and Engels consigned it to "the stinging criticism of the mice." Yet in this work, as Marx acknowledged fifteen years later, he and Engels settled their accounts with their former "philosophic conscience." To be sure, many of the key concepts Marx had developed earlier retained a position within his transformed problematic: the conspicuous shift in language in The German Ideology and after was often purely a surface phenomenon, a strategic move even, devised in part to avoid the willful philosophical misreading Marx felt his articles for the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher had suffered.
But if many concepts, like alienation, remained, Marx's rejection of philosophical anthropology enabled him to elaborate his ideas in new areas, and to pose them on a new basis. The objective man of 1844 became productive man; the foundation of all higher production was laid by man's production of his means of subsistence. In producing his means of subsistence, the activity of man constituted a "mode of production," a characteristic structure on the basis of which human possibilities were elaborated. "As individuals express their life, so they are." To be sure, Marx's earlier usage of concepts like "human nature" and "species-being" had never simply coincided with Feuerbach's; moreover, any view that described the
essence of man as activity and objectification was by intent dynamic and historical, and militated against the hypostatization implicit in the anthropological question, "What is man's nature?"—as if there were self-evidently one. Nevertheless, with the new empirical emphasis of The German Ideology , any misunderstanding or reification of the notions "nature" and "essence" became virtually impossible. In this setting, the nature of man became variable, with as many possible meanings as modes of production and forms of life. The essence of man was explicitly linked to the historical conditions under which he produced and expressed himself."
While Marx in effect subjected his own earlier views to scrutiny in The German Ideology , he reserved his most caustic jibes for former left-Hegelian colleagues, regardless of their materialist or spiritualist orientation. "Man" had remained an abstraction for neo-Hegelian philosophy; in it, the "human essence," somehow mysteriously incarnate in single individuals, became the conceptual motive force of history, while history itself became the story of the self-estrangement of "Man." But Marx now argued that a philosophically derived essence of man could not be set before the actual relations of men, for it was these latter which sustained all higher human expression, including philosophy. On the other hand, the materialist neo-Feuerbachians, by simply equating essence and existence, equally misunderstood "existing reality " Here Marx argued that the actual relations of men traced out potential avenues for further human fulfillment and expression—but these possibilities were disclosed through historical rather than philosophical understanding.
Marx thus claimed that any social order, when closely studied, revealed a series of repressed or undeveloped possibilities for social and personal development. For example, the existent wealth of wants under capitalism, at least for the ruling class, indicated the objective possibility of a wealth of wants for all men within a society differently structured; or again, the factories and industries that housed the wage laborers of today could be seen as the home of man's communal mastery of nature tomorrow. Every social fact was thus more than it seemed, taken in isolation. When historically grasped, in relation to a wider constellation of other phenomena, a given datum could be interpreted as a negation, privation, or restriction: those conditions currently decried as inhuman suggested a future condition of humanity consequent on their transformation.
Thus "the positive expression 'human' corresponds to the definite conditions predominant at a certain stage of production and to the way of satisfying wants determined by them, just as the negative expression 'inhuman' corresponds to the attempt, within the existing mode of production, to negate these predominant conditions and the way of satisfying wants prevailing under them, an attempt that this stage of production daily engenders afresh." The young Hegelians had approached the matter upside-down. Existence could not be deduced from essence: yet the reverse path, from existence to essence, was not only conceivable, but was actually espoused by Marx. Critically comprehended, reality of itself, through the protests of individuals dissatisfied with that reality, pointed beyond the one-dimensional confines of the purely present. As a result, transcendental philosophy had been rendered superfluous: "When reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of knowledge loses its medium of existence."
This new accent on reality obviously had significant ramifications for Marx's theory of individual emancipation. Criticism now became tied to the social relations and norms immanent to a given epoch; communism, previously a social ideal deciphered by philosophy, now became an expression of "the real movement which abolishes the present state of affairs." The social dimension of human existence could similarly be conceived historically, instead of being hypostatized as man's "social being." The development of the individual's social inclinations no longer needed to appear as man's teleological perfection: instead the claims of individuation and communism were both deduced (in theory at least) from the real development of society.
In The German Ideology , Marx and Engels thus reposed the question of individual emancipation, on the basis of a new understanding of "materialism." Previous materialists had emphasized the primary reality of physical matter, and the derivation of ideas from sense-data. Marx's novel version of materialism by contrast signified the primacy of "real individuals," not simply as conscious species-beings, but specifically as laboring creatures, producing to satisfy wants, and interacting within historically determinate social relations. For Marx in 1845, the history of productive forces circumscribed the "history of the development of the forces of the individuals themselves." The hitherto incomplete development of humanity
and its productive capacities thus helped explain the unavoidable shortcomings of all earlier "conquests of freedom." The communist revolution, however, presupposed a global penetration of advanced productive forces, the merging of local history into world history, and the nullification of parochial barriers to communication and exchange. Modern capitalism had laid the basis for this revolution by placing individuals in "practical connection" with the "material and intellectual production of the whole world"; on this expanding basis of global interdependence, associated individuals, through communal control, might consciously master their powers of production.
To the extent that these productive forces had become global and universal, their appropriation had to be collective and social; any other mode of appropriation would fail to master rationally the historically developed resources. "Modern universal intercourse can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all." Yet the end of such collective action remained individuation. The "reality which communism is creating" was "precisely the true basis for rendering it impossible that anything should exist independently of individuals, insofar as reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of individuals themselves." The transformation of the capitalist mode of production, through the abolition of private property and the division of labor, formed the material prerequisite for the emergence of fully developed men and women, able to command existent productive forces as "free manifestations of their lives." Particular personal relationships would no longer be subordinated to general class relationships. Beyond the one-sided specialization compelled by the division of labor, a man could "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner . . . without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic."
Marx went so far as to describe a communist form of society as "the only society in which the original and free development of individuals ceases to be a mere phrase." The full range of men's possibilities could thus only be elaborated in the future: for the present, Marx merely affirmed that the individual and his relations would be transformed under communism, that "the individuals' consciousness of their mutual relations will, of course, likewise become something quite different, and, therefore, will no more be 'the principle of love' or dévouement , than it will be egoism."
Egoism, indeed, received a good deal of attention in The German Ideology : well over half the book was devoted to a critique of Max Stirner, the self-styled egoist and author of The Ego and His Own . For Stirner, the ego, which he called a "creative nothing," was the source of all concepts and normative evaluations, although most men, rather than realizing their unique creativity, became "possessed" by commonplace ideals and religious "spooks." Moral conscience hobbled the individual's will: Stirner complained that "the hard fist of morality treats the noble nature of egoism altogether without compassion." He was no less appalled by liberalism; the secular religion of the state dissolved the "bodily, personal, egoistic interests" of each individual in the name of a mythic "general interest of all." By contrast, Stirner's egoist recognized only himself: "All freedom is essentially . . . self-liberation. . . . I can have as much freedom as I procure for myself by my ownness." To realize "ownness" in Stirner's terms was to take willful possession of one's fate, and to shape an individualized destiny: "I am my own only when I am master of myself, instead of being mastered either by sensuality, or by anything else (God, Man, authority, law, State, Church) ." Stirner welcomed the nihilistic implications of his radical egocentrism: "If I found my affair on myself, the unique one, then my concern rests on its transitory, mortal creator, who consumes himself, and I may say: I have founded my affair on nothing ."
Since Stirner's theory resembles a primitive brand of existentialism, the commentary by Marx and Engels assumes an added interest. Some of their arguments were predictable: for example, they charged that Stirner's "unique" individual only ideally appropriated the world as his own, while really accepting the world as it already existed. They similarly criticized Stirner for slighting the social and material context that formed the setting for all subjective pursuits, a context that defined the possible forms individuation could take.
Yet Marx and Engles also granted Stirner's egoistic perspective a qualified validity. Engels, who was more enthusiastic on this score than Marx, praised Stirner's book in a letter he wrote Marx in 1844: any effective commitment to social change, remarked Engels, depended on making that cause our "own, egoistic cause." In agreement with Stirner, he argued that the communist desire of returning individuals to their human and social being had, "quite apart from
any material expectation," to be interiorized in the desire of the individual ego. While Marx urged Engels to temper his enthusiasm, he could agree with him and Stirner that true freedom entailed "self-liberation." Moreover, while Marx and Engels in The German Ideology denied that even bourgeois individuals were the heartless, self-centered egoists that Stirner lauded, they themselves claimed to bring "practical egoism to perfection, precisely by denying the phraseology of egoism—we who are concerned with realising real egoistical interests, not the holy interest of egoism." The communists by no means wanted "to do away with the 'private individual' for the sake of the 'general.' self sacrificing man."
The trouble with Stirner, then, was not his obsession with individuation, but his one-sided abstraction of the individual from physical and social life. The satisfaction of the individual, however, depended "not on consciousness, but on being; not on thought, but on life." If the individual was to be liberated from heavenly ideals and alien authority, the world which "stimulated" his development had to be modified and placed under the control of the individuals themselves. That is why, for Marx and Engels, "the changing of oneself" coincides with "the changing of circumstances."
The Logic of Capital and the Loss of Agency
As 1848 approached, Marx increasingly devoted his time to political organizing, in conjunction with the Communist League, a London-based federation of exiled German workers. With the outbreak of continental revolution in 1848, Marx returned first to Paris, and then to Cologne, where he assumed editorial responsibilities for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung . Throughout the next year, he published a host of journalistic articles, representative of a vocation he pursued intermittently over the next decade, primarily in the New York Daily Tribune after 1853. in 1849, with the revolutionaries acrosss Europe in retreat, he was expelled from Cologne; after a brief stay in Paris, he was forced into exile in London, where he set to work on a critique of political economy.
The writings from this period bear witness to Marx's abiding interest in many of the themes first elaborated in earlier manuscripts, "Wage Labor and Capital." for example, described the
estrangement under capital of the worker's own "life-activity," which became degraded to an odious means of mere subsistence. Indeed, the modern world appeared, from one perspective, as the alienation of agency, a loss of control. Capitalist society, remarked Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto , was "like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world which he has called up by his spells." Marx used similar imagery in a speech delivered in 1856: "At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on a dark background of ignorance. All our inventions and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force."
Although Marx did not publish any results of his economic studies until the appearance in 1859 of his little book, Critique of Political Economy , his extensive study notes for this precursor to Capital have been preserved. Marx had originally envisaged a large six-part work on political economy treating (in order) capital, landed property, wage labor, the state, foreign trade, and the world market: within this plan, the extant four volumes of Capital (including Theories of Surplus Value ) would have constituted only one-sixth of the projected work. Yet in the preface to the Critique , Marx claimed that the "entire material lies before me," written "for the purpose of cleaning up these questions to myself." In 1939 and 1941, almost a thousand pages of this work were published in Moscow under the title Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Rohentwurf ). An examination of these manuscripts confirms the fundamental continuity of Marx's work, especially with regard to the question of individual emancipation.
The Grundrisse resurrected the Hegelian terms of Marx's 1844 reflections; yet the dialectic of objectification and alienation recurred on a new level, the terrain of his mature comprehension of economics. By focusing on the "logic" of capital, Marx sharply posed the problem of labor as the loss of human agency.
This logic dictated that capital and labor exist as mutually exclusive antitheses. Abstractly considered, capital, objectified wealth, was only capital as nonlabor, while labor, subjective activity, was only labor as noncapital, as the exclusion of objectified wealth. Within the capital-labor relationship, labor found itself divorced
from the raw materials, instruments, tools and products necessary for its action—in short, from all the relevant objectivity. Labor as noncapital thus was reduced to its subjective moment: labor not as objective self-expression but rather as the pure potential for objectifying activity. It was this potential that the laborer sold to the capitalist.
Despite the circumstance that labor, within the capital-labor relation, represented "absolute poverty, not as lack, but as complete exclusion of objective wealth," and was thus devalued, it nonetheless constituted the source of all economic value. Through its separation from capital, it became the abstract, perpetual possibility of activity as the realization of value. Yet this possibility only existed within the production process itself, which temporarily united the otherwise sundered elements of (subjective) labor and (objective) capital. Within the capital-labor relation, this unification of labor with its raw materials and instruments occurred on capital's terms: to the extent that labor entered into its unity, it simultaneously reproduced the disunity, of objectified labor (tools, raw materials), on the one hand, and living labor on the other.
Labor conserved existent value at the same time as it objectified new, or surplus, value for the capitalist. In return for his effort, the laborer received wages, while the capitalist retained a profit; and yet the only productive factor in the capital/labor equation was labor. Just as the substance of value was generally objectified labor, so most components of capital, as products, represented previously objectified labor. The analysis of the capital-labor relation revealed the lopsided contribution of labor, which capital proceeded to usurp. Since labor alone animated the production process, capital could be considered the product of labor, as well as an instrument for labor and a raw material used by it; "we can truly say that capital is not productive."
In modern society, the capital-labor relation, which comprised both a confrontation and exchange between its two elements, had established itself as a force independent of the individual producer. Labor ceased to exist for the worker as "the productive force of wealth," since capital appropriated that force, eventually to counterpose its objectified products to the worker as a hostile power.  Worse still, since the laborer produced new or surplus value for capital, he unwittingly reinforced the objective conditions for extracting more such value.
Labor necessarily emerged from the production process poorer than when it entered; its objectified power of creating new value returned to labor, through capital, as its objective powerlessness. "The more labor objectifies itself, the greater will be the objective world of values that faces it in the form of alien property." The past appropriation of labor thus served as the basis for fresh appropriation. Through the production process, labor found itself perpetually alienated from its own proper reality; its objectified traces became a "mere entity of others, or other entity," while its active objectification founded "its own non-being" or "the being of its non-being—of capital."
The laborer consequently faced alienation from his very "manifestation of life," his human agency, which had been ceded to capital in exchange for dead, objectified labor in the form of money. The content of work itself was transformed into an alien object, chosen by the capitalist rather than the laborer. To the extent that the collective power of labor was assembled through capital, this power appeared to the worker as yet another independent force, foreign to his own activity.
The apparently free exchange between labor and capital was thus revealed by Marx as an exchange entailing the alienation and exploitation of labor. The most acute manifestation of this estrangement came in the worker's relation to the machine. By reducing the living activity of labor to a mechanical gesture, the machine reaped the ultimate victory of dead over living labor; rather than labor dominating its own creation, the machine dominated labor. With the machine, capitalist civilization occurred as a nightmare. The continual rise in the productive power of labor itself, the increasing penetration of scientific knowledge into the labor process—all this progress in civilization did not in the first instance enrich labor, but only capital.
History and Individuation
Marx's early drafts for his critique of political economy contained an abundance of historical illustrations and references. By inserting a lengthy discussion of precapitalist economic formations, he underlined the transience of capitalism itself. Indeed, capitalism was "revolutionary, while all other modes of production were essentially
conservative," Marx wrote in Capital . Through historical understanding, capitalism could be seen in terms of the foundations it already provided for another, more humane form of life.
Capitalism represented a definite progression over previous economic forms. To be sure, at first glance the regime of capital seemed merely to abolish the old feudal ties to land and lord, only to erect a new, economic dependence. But capitalism also sought the complete development of productive forces; by driving labor beyond the limits of its natural and traditional wants, it laid the basis for a "rich individuality." While capital fostered a competitive individualism, pitting man against man, the very differentiation of the individuals thus isolated compelled them to enter into relations with one another as individuals . Not only that: through the exchange of goods satisfying reciprocal wants, these individuals "stand not only in an equal, but also in a social relation to one another." In the marketplace and before the law, capitalism thus in principle established, on the ground of individuation, the abstract equality of all subjects and also their freedom—achievements anticipated by the untrammeled circulation of money. Echoing the indifference of money to personal distinction, exchange encouraged the unfettered movement of self-seeking egoistical interest. Marx went so far as to describe the exchange of commodities as the "productive, real basis of all equality and freedom ."
This account confirmed Marx's materialist approach, in The German Ideology , to individual emancipation. In the early writings, the emergence of the social individual, the "whole man" of 1844, had marked man's elevation to his essential nature. From this perspective, individuation had appeared not so much an accomplishment as a given datum of human existence—although the extent and efficacy of the individual's real power naturally varied with his situation.
But Marx in the Grundrisse clearly and unequivocally affirmed that "man is individualized through the process of history." While man's appearance across history displayed certain constants, these could only be confirmed through a comparative historical inquiry, which provisionally determined the nature of man by specifying the heretofore stable traits shared by all, while anticipating possibilities for their modification. Man was alienated in modern society, not from an essence, but from real possibilities for a better form of life—
one that might overcome the dissatisfying disjunction between the constraints imposed by capitalism and the ideals professed by modern culture. Individuation now appeared as one of the foremost progressive achievements—and promises—of modern society.
Capitalism had accumulated wealth, promoted universal exchange, and established a thorough interdependence among producing and consuming individuals. This universal exchange and expanded wealth tended to produce the individual in its own image. He formed the locus of freedom in trade and was guaranteed a certain equality before the law. Any individual might (in theory) develop his labor-power to any end, independently of guild restrictions. Yet ultimately such universality, freedom, and equality encountered immanent barriers to their economic and social elaboration. The freedom of the individual within commodity exchange simultaneously represented a strict limitation or even complete suppression of his actual liberty, insofar as social conditions, such as the division of society into capital and labor, took the form of alien, allpowerful forces governing his life activity. Equality under capitalist conditions of exchange likewise remained a formal endowment confined to the realm of law, or appeared as money, which established its equivalence value only by leveling all distinctions among things and men.
The material liberation of the individual thus required the abolition of capitalist relations of production, even though capitalism itself in large part supplied the social and economic basis to support universal individuation. Through collective production, the associated individuals might consciously appropriate, on a harmonious basis, the extensive productive forces already developed by capital and subordinate them to their own particular aims. Material production would then disappear as an alien compulsion confronting the laboring individual and become instead an objective expression of individual desires satisfied through collective labor.
In broad outline, the Grundrisse sketched the stages of human development. The earliest forms of society were marked by restricted relationships of personal dependency. The second form of society by contrast witnessed the establishment of general social intercourse and the expansion of productivity; as a consequence, far-reaching social relations developed among men, individual wants became differentiated, and variable, universal skills in labor
were encouraged. Nevertheless, this second form of society, which liberated capital, simultaneously subjected the producers to the caprice of capital; the new independence was confined within a new dependence. The third form of society surpassed such limitations. Marx called this stage, established on the economic basis provided by capitalism, "free individuality." The first form of society explicitly to incorporate individuality as its guiding aim and principle, it was directed toward the further "universal development of individuals and the domination of their communal and social productivity, which has become their social power."
The social individual liberated within Marx's "third form" of society arose as a possibility through the process of history. As Marx remarked in the Critique of Political Economy , "We do not proceed from the labor of individuals as social labor, but, on the contrary, from the special labor of private individuals, which appears as universal social labor only by divesting itself of its original character in the process of exchange. Universal social labor is, therefore, no ready-made assumption, but a growing result." Marx now called man a "zoon politikon ," not because he was sociable by nature, but rather because he was "an animal which can develop into an individual only in society."
The Social Individual Liberated
Throughout his later published writings, Marx maintained his interest in individual emancipation. The upshot of world history in Capital , as in the Grundrisse , was the full development of the particular individual. Modern industry, by the very unstable character of the employment it offered labor, forced the laborer to vary his skills: it replaced the "detail worker of today" with the "fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labor . . . to whom the different social functions he performs are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers." In cooperative labor, moreover, the individual "strips off the fetters" of his isolated "individuality and develops the capabilities of his species." Marx indeed was more sanguine about the effects of capitalism on individuality in 1867 than he had been in 1844. The rise of capitalism had definitively shattered the limited economic bases of earlier economic
forms, which could only support "the immature development of man individually." The individual in communist society would thus reappropriate "individual property based on the acquisitions of the capitalist era, i.e., on cooperation and the possession in common of the land, and the means of production." The "ruling principle" of communist production was acknowledged as "the full and free development of every individual."
Marx's critique of the Gotha program in 1875 confirmed his commitment to individual emancipation:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
Capital and his later writings thus sustained Marx's youthful vision of a society where every individual's capabilities might be freely developed. But Marx had come to view such an emancipation historically rather than philosophically: the social individual was no anthropological a priori, but instead an emergent result of historical tendencies. The institution of communism liberated the individual fostered by the complex of social interdependencies characterizing advanced capitalism. Such men were already social beings in the most profound sense: they could not pursue their lives apart from society. But they were also individuals with livelihoods and identities founded on the elaboration of specialized and particular talents.
The emergence of labor as an abstract, universal, and exploitable potential suggested its liberation as a vehicle of personal expression. The end of individuation then entailed not simply equality before the law, or the bourgeois privilege of eccentricity, but rather the foundation of a society in which, as Theodor Adorno once put it, "people could be different without fear," The material basis of individuation lay in the wealth accumulated by capitalism: upon such a basis, men might be able to objectify themselves with a minimum of material constraints. By placing machinery at the service of
the producers and reducing necessary labor time to a minimum, the arena for free human expression could be enlarged.
As free time became available to all, it transformed "anyone who enjoys it into a different person, and it is this different person who then enters the direct process of production." Work, while not becoming play, might then reclaim a lost dimension of creative expression for the individual. The continued progress of productive forces in turn prompted the full development of a wealth of socially acquired wants. Collective production encouraged a "rich individuality, just as universal in production as consumption. . . . [Its] labor thus itself appears not to be labor anymore, but a full development of activity, in which the natural necessity has disappeared in its direct form, since the place of natural needs has been taken by needs that are historically produced."
The social individual represented a possible future concealed at the heart of a congealed present.
When the narrow bourgeois form has been peeled away, what is wealth, if not the universality of needs, capacities, enjoyments, productive powers, etc., of individuals, produced in universal exchange? What, if not the full development of human control over the forces of nature—those of his own nature as well as those of so-called "nature"? What, if not the absolute elaboration of his creative dispositions, without any preconditions other than antecedent historical evolution which makes the totality of this evolution—i.e., the evolution of all human powers as such, unmeasured by any previously established yardstick—an end in itself? What is this, if not a situation where man does not reproduce himself in any determined form, but produces his totality? Where he does not seek to remain something formed by the past, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?
Throughout his life, Marx thus affirmed the end of individual emancipation. Beyond the primarily political and formal emancipation envisaged by liberalism, beyond the purely technical reform of society proposed by utopian socialists like Saint-Simon, beyond the abstractly inward moral metamorphosis espoused by various strains of romanticism, Marx anticipated social conditions that might enable men to become whole, to unite in intention and act, implement and result the reality of their own, particular purposes. Restored to his vital objectivity, the individual might finally begin to elaborate his own world freely, in the inalienable certitude of his
acts. Communism would then spell the end of estranged self-expression, as surely as it inaugurated an equitable distribution of wealth. By submitting social institutions to the control of the individuals comprising them, communism returned the individual to society, as its real subject and proper object.
The plausibility of this vision has yet to be demonstrated in practice. Although Marx himself forecast the reconciliation of particular desire and universal interest within a new form of social life, modern history has yet to confirm such expectations. Instead, the emergence of an economy premised on constant growth and geared to the virtually unlimited proliferation of "needs" has called into question Marx's optimistic assessment of the "rich individuality" engendered by capitalism. If Marx's paradigm was the individual as producer, our contemporary problem is the individual as consumer, the object of advertising and market research. Similarly, the rise of a form of life stamped by mass production has tended to liquidate rather than reconcile the distinction between the individual and society: today's social individual increasingly wears the mask of cheerful conformism, while the outsider and solitary thinker, by taking exception to the blandishments of immediate social existence, preserve the possibility of a reconciliation that respects human differences. Marx critically depicted the process of individual emancipation, but he scarcely foresaw the full range of difficulties impeding its realization.