2. Historical materialism (Seminar notes on the German Ideology and the preface to the 1859 Contribution.)

German Ideology

[My notes are in brackets, in bold face, and signed.  Unsigned notes are from the marxists.org web site or other editors. Note that the German Ideology was never published during Marx’s times.  Marx and Engels left the manuscript unpublished.  It was after their deaths that the holders of the manuscript decided to publish it.  There are credible claims that Marx and Engels grew increasingly uncomfortable with the content of this draft and that the late editors took too much license in the organization of the material for publication and even perhaps altering some passages or placing them out of their original context (which one may not be able to reconstruct today).  In spite of all that, I find this material very valuable as it stands. JH]

[The first two subchapters (“The Illusions of German Ideology” and “Ideology in general…”) are perhaps the most outdated passages in this document.  Though authored by Marx and Engels, these parts of the German Ideology are presumed to have been written by Marx.  Marx here is mostly mocking the superficial and, therefore, inconsequential nature of the critique of religion and dominant German ideologies by the Young Hegelians.  The main qualm with these works is not that they do not contain elements of truth, but rather that their results are derived speculatively from relatively arbitrary “first principles,” from notions these philosophers pulled off their hair, and therefore they were not connected to the “existing conditions,” the “real struggles” of masses of people.  In this, these young philosophers were adhering to Hegel’s main proposition, namely that everything that exists is the external manifestation of a mysterious force he called the Absolute Idea.  (Do not just pooh pooh Hegel’s proposition as if absurd.  Instead, try to think why this may make sense.)  Marx, perhaps heavily influenced by Spinoza and Feuerbach, rejected this notion, and viewed the “ideal” aspect of reality as a general property of all matter, and human consciousness in particular as an emerging property of highly evolved and organized (socialized!) matter, namely the human body. However, there were other aspects of Hegelian philosophy that Marx regarded as rational. JH]

It has not occurred to any one of these philosophers to inquire into the connection of German philosophy with German reality, the relation of their criticism to their own material surroundings.

First Premises of Materialist Method

The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.

[Note the importance of starting from the world as it exists, from a systematic, comprehensive observation of the world as it exists, of historical reality, using the best methods of empirical and historical investigation available, but not limited to them.  Also note the focus, spelled out below, on the conditions in and through which people reproduce their “material life,” viewing as derived the forms in which they rationalize these conditions spiritually.  This doesn’t mean that people’s spiritual life doesn’t matter.  It is precisely this spiritual aspect that makes the lives of people properly human.]

[On the method or approach: Superficial appearances offer a fragmented view of the world. The connections are missing. Theory, logic, etc. are to be used but this must be on the basis of a prior appropriation of history and empirical facts.]

The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.

[These aspects are what we’d now call “demography” and “geography.” JH]

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.

[The essence of humanity is conscious activity: labor.  Like other life forms, humans consume, ingest elements drawn from their natural environment and secrete into it their waste.  But the human way of consuming is increasingly mindful or intentional.  In this sense, consumption is simply an extension of production.  Continuous human existence is the (re)production of human’s material life, which takes place necessarily in a social form.  Humanity is not conceivable except through the association of human individuals. JH]

The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.

[There is some Aristotle here: we are or we become what we do repeatedly. The distinction between “anatomy” and “physiology” is a bit arbitrary, or (rather) a distinction made on practical grounds.  It is the same body but different structures or parts of it appear to change at different speeds. JH]

This production only makes its appearance with the increase of population. In its turn this presupposes the intercourse [Verkehr] of individuals with one another. The form of this intercourse is again determined by production.

[3. Production and Intercourse.
Division of Labour and Forms of Property – Tribal, Ancient, Feudal]

[These remarks are based on Marx’s best historical knowledge, what was available to him at the time, which was rather limited compared to the stock of historical knowledge we now have.  They still deserve a careful (critical) reading. JH]

The relations of different nations among themselves depend upon the extent to which each has developed its productive forces, the division of labour and internal intercourse. This statement is generally recognised. But not only the relation of one nation to others, but also the whole internal structure of the nation itself depends on the stage of development reached by its production and its internal and external intercourse. How far the productive forces of a nation are developed is shown most manifestly by the degree to which the division of labour has been carried. Each new productive force, insofar as it is not merely a quantitative extension of productive forces already known (for instance the bringing into cultivation of fresh land), causes a further development of the division of labour.

The division of labour inside a nation leads at first to the separation of industrial and commercial from agricultural labour, and hence to the separation of town and country and to the conflict of their interests. Its further development leads to the separation of commercial from industrial labour. At the same time through the division of labour inside these various branches there develop various divisions among the individuals co-operating in definite kinds of labour. The relative position of these individual groups is determined by the methods employed in agriculture, industry and commerce (patriarchalism, slavery, estates, classes). These same conditions are to be seen (given a more developed intercourse) in the relations of different nations to one another.

The various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many different forms of ownership, i.e. the existing stage in the division of labour determines also the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument, and product of labour.

The first form of ownership is tribal [Stammeigentum] ownership. It corresponds to the undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fishing, by the rearing of beasts or, in the highest stage, agriculture. In the latter case it presupposes a great mass of uncultivated stretches of land. The division of labour is at this stage still very elementary and is confined to a further extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family. The social structure is, therefore, limited to an extension of the family; patriarchal family chieftains, below them the members of the tribe, finally slaves. The slavery latent in the family only develops gradually with the increase of population, the growth of wants, and with the extension of external relations, both of war and of barter.

The second form is the ancient communal and State ownership which proceeds especially from the union of several tribes into a city by agreement or by conquest, and which is still accompanied by slavery. Beside communal ownership we already find movable, and later also immovable, private property developing, but as an abnormal form subordinate to communal ownership. The citizens hold power over their labouring slaves only in their community, and on this account alone, therefore, they are bound to the form of communal ownership. It is the communal private property which compels the active citizens to remain in this spontaneously derived form of association over against their slaves. For this reason the whole structure of society based on this communal ownership, and with it the power of the people, decays in the same measure as, in particular, immovable private property evolves. The division of labour is already more developed. We already find the antagonism of town and country; later the antagonism between those states which represent town interests and those which represent country interests, and inside the towns themselves the antagonism between industry and maritime commerce. The class relation between citizens and slaves is now completely developed.

With the development of private property, we find here for the first time the same conditions which we shall find again, only on a more extensive scale, with modern private property. On the one hand, the concentration of private property, which began very early in Rome (as the Licinian agrarian law proves) and proceeded very rapidly from the time of the civil wars and especially under the Emperors; on the other hand, coupled with this, the transformation of the plebeian small peasantry into a proletariat, which, however, owing to its intermediate position between propertied citizens and slaves, never achieved an independent development.

The third form of ownership is feudal or estate property. If antiquity started out from the town and its little territory, the Middle Ages started out from the country. This different starting-point was determined by the sparseness of the population at that time, which was scattered over a large area and which received no large increase from the conquerors. In contrast to Greece and Rome, feudal development at the outset, therefore, extends over a much wider territory, prepared by the Roman conquests and the spread of agriculture at first associated with it. The last centuries of the declining Roman Empire and its conquest by the barbarians destroyed a number of productive forces; agriculture had declined, industry had decayed for want of a market, trade had died out or been violently suspended, the rural and urban population had decreased. From these conditions and the mode of organisation of the conquest determined by them, feudal property developed under the influence of the Germanic military constitution. Like tribal and communal ownership, it is based again on a community; but the directly producing class standing over against it is not, as in the case of the ancient community, the slaves, but the enserfed small peasantry. As soon as feudalism is fully developed, there also arises antagonism to the towns. The hierarchical structure of land ownership, and the armed bodies of retainers associated with it, gave the nobility power over the serfs. This feudal organisation was, just as much as the ancient communal ownership, an association against a subjected producing class; but the form of association and the relation to the direct producers were different because of the different conditions of production.

This feudal system of land ownership had its counterpart in the towns in the shape of corporative property, the feudal organisation of trades. Here property consisted chiefly in the labour of each individual person. The necessity for association against the organised robber-nobility, the need for communal covered markets in an age when the industrialist was at the same time a merchant, the growing competition of the escaped serfs swarming into the rising towns, the feudal structure of the whole country: these combined to bring about the guilds. The gradually accumulated small capital of individual craftsmen and their stable numbers, as against the growing population, evolved the relation of journeyman and apprentice, which brought into being in the towns a hierarchy similar to that in the country.

Thus the chief form of property during the feudal epoch consisted on the one hand of landed property with serf labour chained to it, and on the other of the labour of the individual with small capital commanding the labour of journeymen. The organisation of both was determined by the restricted conditions of production – the small-scale and primitive cultivation of the land, and the craft type of industry. There was little division of labour in the heyday of feudalism. Each country bore in itself the antithesis of town and country; the division into estates was certainly strongly marked; but apart from the differentiation of princes, nobility, clergy and peasants in the country, and masters, journeymen, apprentices and soon also the rabble of casual labourers in the towns, no division of importance took place. In agriculture it was rendered difficult by the strip-system, beside which the cottage industry of the peasants themselves emerged. In industry there was no division of labour at all in the individual trades themselves, and very little between them. The separation of industry and commerce was found already in existence in older towns; in the newer it only developed later, when the towns entered into mutual relations.

The grouping of larger territories into feudal kingdoms was a necessity for the landed nobility as for the towns. The organisation of the ruling class, the nobility, had, therefore, everywhere a monarch at its head.

[4. The Essence of the Materialist Conception of History.
Social Being and Social Consciousness]

The fact is, therefore, that definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical observation must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will.

[Study the social structures people form as they reproduce their material life.  These structures are mutating all the time.  How do they mutate?  Obviously humans, insofar as conscious, are the agents, but some of these structures are more ossified or rigid than others.  Some structures are more “anatomic.”  Some structures are more “physiologic.” JH]

[The following passage is crossed out in the manuscript:] The ideas which these individuals form are ideas either about their relation to nature or about their mutual relations or about their own nature. It is evident that in all these cases their ideas are the conscious expression – real or illusory – of their real relations and activities, of their production, of their intercourse, of their social and political conduct. The opposite assumption is only possible if in addition to the spirit of the real, materially evolved individuals a separate spirit is presupposed. If the conscious expression of the real relations of these individuals is illusory, if in their imagination they turn reality upside-down, then this in its turn is the result of their limited material mode of activity and their limited social relations arising from it.

[Ideas are here viewed as “expressions” of the social relations or social structures through which people reproduce their material life.  Ideas express, more or less faithfully or distortedly, the reality of these social structures.  JH]

The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.

[Every change in our bodies (individual or social) corresponds to a change in our (individual or social) consciousness, as the production of ideas is “interwoven” with our material life.  What makes us human is that our consciousness leads our material bodies, up to a point.  Or rather, insofar as…  Since it is only when our consciousness is a proper reflection of our bodily needs and powers that our consciousness becomes a most effective leading force, i.e. capable of leading the deliberate reshaping of our material life.  Paradoxically, we exercise command our bodies by obeying them.  We can reshape our social structures only by aligning them properly with the productive force of our labor.  Mind defies matter or is over matter, but only when mind is a most adequate reflection of matter.  JH]

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. In the first method of approach the starting-point is consciousness taken as the living individual; in the second method, which conforms to real life, it is the real living individuals themselves, and consciousness is considered solely as their consciousness.

[Note how many people tend to start their analysis of US politics from the constitution, legislation, government policies, or even more abstract “principles” (“freedom,” “democracy,” “the rule of law,” etc.).  Marx is saying, grasp the direct social conditions through which people reproduce their material life and then you’ll get to the very source of those abstract “principles,” etc. JH]

[Marx is also proposing to start with an immersion into the factual material.  Once the factual material is absorbed, reflected on, its fragmented appearance is transcended and the essential connections are revealed through theoretical reflection, then one is ready to present some synthesis of this study in as concrete and detailed a manner as may be necessary to inform practice.  Thus, instead of history being something we do mindlessly, history gradually becomes a deliberate creation of free individuals.  Instead of simply marching on Washington (a good starting point), we also have a plan for the next day, the next four years, and beyond. JH]

This method of approach is not devoid of premises. It starts out from the real premises and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premises are men, not in any fantastic isolation and rigidity, but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions. As soon as this active life-process is described, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts as it is with the empiricists (themselves still abstract), or an imagined activity of imagined subjects, as with the idealists.

Where speculation ends – in real life – there real, positive science begins: the representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men. Empty talk about consciousness ceases, and real knowledge has to take its place. When reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of knowledge loses its medium of existence. At the best its place can only be taken by a summing-up of the most general results, abstractions which arise from the observation of the historical development of men. Viewed apart from real history, these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever. They can only serve to facilitate the arrangement of historical material, to indicate the sequence of its separate strata. But they by no means afford a recipe or schema, as does philosophy, for neatly trimming the epochs of history. On the contrary, our difficulties begin only when we set about the observation and the arrangement – the real depiction – of our historical material, whether of a past epoch or of the present. The removal of these difficulties is governed by premises which it is quite impossible to state here, but which only the study of the actual life-process and the activity of the individuals of each epoch will make evident. We shall select here some of these abstractions, which we use in contradistinction to the ideologists, and shall illustrate them by historical examples.

[Tragic that, though Marx rejected frozen ideological schemas (e.g. Lukacs: “the essence of Marxism is Marx’s method,” etc.), his thought got codified as a sort of theology.  Marxism became a sort of religious doctrine in the Soviet Union and China, covering up and rationalizing the actions of the Soviet and Chinese states.  It is not enough that we reject this as a perversion of Marx’s own ideas, but that we understand how and why that happened.  Else we are at a higher risk of falling in the same traps again.  JH]

History: Fundamental Conditions

Since we are dealing with the Germans, who are devoid of premises, we must begin by stating the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of all history, the premise, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to “make history.” But life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life. Even when the sensuous world is reduced to a minimum, to a stick as with Saint Bruno [Bauer], it presupposes the action of producing the stick. Therefore in any interpretation of history one has first of all to observe this fundamental fact in all its significance and all its implications and to accord it its due importance. It is well known that the Germans have never done this, and they have never, therefore, had an earthly basis for history and consequently never an historian. The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry.

[In 18th- and 19th-century France, Scottland, and England, most particularly, thinkers had examined “commerce” or the “economy” in their search for understanding social life, politics, etc.  The mercantile school, the physiocrats, Petty, Boisguilbert,  Hume, Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Mill — in a phrase, political economists. But this interest prevailing in these nations reflected the more advanced character of their social relations of production (commercial and then industrial capitalism) and, along with them, their more powerful productive forces.  JH]

The second point is that the satisfaction of the first need (the action of satisfying, and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired) leads to new needs; and this production of new needs is the first historical act. Here we recognise immediately the spiritual ancestry of the great historical wisdom of the Germans who, when they run out of positive material and when they can serve up neither theological nor political nor literary rubbish, assert that this is not history at all, but the “prehistoric era.” They do not, however, enlighten us as to how we proceed from this nonsensical “prehistory” to history proper; although, on the other hand, in their historical speculation they seize upon this “prehistory” with especial eagerness because they imagine themselves safe there from interference on the part of “crude facts,” and, at the same time, because there they can give full rein to their speculative impulse and set up and knock down hypotheses by the thousand.

The third circumstance which, from the very outset, enters into historical development, is that men, who daily remake their own life, begin to make other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman, parents and children, the family. The family, which to begin with is the only social relationship, becomes later, when increased needs create new social relations and the increased population new needs, a subordinate one (except in Germany), and must then be treated and analysed according to the existing empirical data, not according to “the concept of the family,” as is the custom in Germany. [1] These three aspects of social activity are not of course to be taken as three different stages, but just as three aspects or, to make it clear to the Germans, three “moments,” which have existed simultaneously since the dawn of history and the first men, and which still assert themselves in history today.

The production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation, now appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a natural, on the other as a social relationship. By social we understand the co-operation of several individuals, no matter under what conditions, in what manner and to what end. It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a “productive force.” Further, that the multitude of productive forces accessible to men determines the nature of society, hence, that the “history of humanity” must always be studied and treated in relation to the history of industry and exchange. But it is also clear how in Germany it is impossible to write this sort of history, because the Germans lack not only the necessary power of comprehension and the material but also the “evidence of their senses,” for across the Rhine you cannot have any experience of these things since history has stopped happening. Thus it is quite obvious from the start that there exists a materialistic connection of men with one another, which is determined by their needs and their mode of production, and which is as old as men themselves. This connection is ever taking on new forms, and thus presents a “history” independently of the existence of any political or religious nonsense which in addition may hold men together.

[Society is, as we’d now say, an emergent phenomenon, the resultant of the cooperative interaction among individuals.  Society is a “meta-reality” of these associated individuals.  Cooperation forms society.  Withdrawal or conflict undoes or unravels society. In some way, this “meta-reality” appears to be an illusion, but be careful, because it is (as Marx was fond to put it) a “real illusion.” JH]

Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of the primary historical relationships, do we find that man also possesses “consciousness,” but, even so, not inherent, not “pure” consciousness. From the start the “spirit” is afflicted with the curse of being “burdened” with matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men,[A] and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship, it exists for me: the animal does not enter into “relations” with anything, it does not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, its relation to others does not exist as a relation. Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first, of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious. At the same time it is consciousness of nature, which first appears to men as a completely alien, all-powerful and unassailable force, with which men’s relations are purely animal and by which they are overawed like beasts; it is thus a purely animal consciousness of nature (natural religion) just because nature is as yet hardly modified historically. (We see here immediately: this natural religion or this particular relation of men to nature is determined by the form of society and vice versa. Here, as everywhere, the identity of nature and man appears in such a way that the restricted relation of men to nature determines their restricted relation to one another, and their restricted relation to one another determines men’s restricted relation to nature.) On the other hand, man’s consciousness of the necessity of associating with the individuals around him is the beginning of the consciousness that he is living in society at all. This beginning is as animal as social life itself at this stage. It is mere herd-consciousness, and at this point man is only distinguished from sheep by the fact that with him consciousness takes the place of instinct or that his instinct is a conscious one. This sheep-like or tribal consciousness receives its further development and extension through increased productivity, the increase of needs, and, what is fundamental to both of these, the increase of population. With these there develops the division of labour, which was originally nothing but the division of labour in the sexual act, then that division of labour which develops spontaneously or “naturally” by virtue of natural predisposition (e.g. physical strength), needs, accidents, etc. etc. Division of labour only becomes truly such from the moment when a division of material and mental labour appears. (The first form of ideologists, priests, is concurrent.) From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of “pure” theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc. But even if this theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc. comes into contradiction with the existing relations, this can only occur because existing social relations have come into contradiction with existing forces of production; this, moreover, can also occur in a particular national sphere of relations through the appearance of the contradiction, not within the national orbit, but between this national consciousness and the practice of other nations, i.e. between the national and the general consciousness of a nation (as we see it now in Germany).

Moreover, it is quite immaterial what consciousness starts to do on its own: out of all such muck we get only the one inference that these three moments, the forces of production, the state of society, and consciousness, can and must come into contradiction with one another, because the division of labour implies the possibility, nay the fact that intellectual and material activity – enjoyment and labour, production and consumption – devolve on different individuals, and that the only possibility of their not coming into contradiction lies in the negation in its turn of the division of labour. It is self-evident, moreover, that “spectres,” “bonds,” “the higher being,” “concept,” “scruple,” are merely the idealistic, spiritual expression, the conception apparently of the isolated individual, the image of very empirical fetters and limitations, within which the mode of production of life and the form of intercourse coupled with it move.

Private Property and Communism

With the division of labour, in which all these contradictions are implicit, and which in its turn is based on the natural division of labour in the family and the separation of society into individual families opposed to one another, is given simultaneously the distribution, and indeed the unequal distribution, both quantitative and qualitative, of labour and its products, hence property: the nucleus, the first form, of which lies in the family, where wife and children are the slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property, but even at this early stage it corresponds perfectly to the definition of modern economists who call it the power of disposing of the labour-power of others. Division of labour and private property are, moreover, identical expressions: in the one the same thing is affirmed with reference to activity as is affirmed in the other with reference to the product of the activity.

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, 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 the distribution of labour comes into being, 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 herdsman, 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, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now. [2]

The social power, i.e., the multiplied productive force, which arises through the co-operation of different individuals as it is determined by the division of labour, appears to these individuals, since their co-operation is not voluntary but has come about naturally, not as their own united power, but as an alien force existing outside them, of the origin and goal of which they are ignorant, which they thus cannot control, which on the contrary passes through a peculiar series of phases and stages independent of the will and the action of man, nay even being the prime governor of these.

[This is very powerful.  Here Marx locates the source of all productivity, all properly human power in the association or combination or cooperation of the producers.  It is not just labor, conscious human activity, but cooperative labor that permits humans to push the envelope vis-a-vis nature, expand their powers and freedom, and (hence) their humanity. JH]

How otherwise could, for instance, property have had a history at all, have taken on different forms, and landed property, for example, according to the different premises given, have proceeded in France from parcellation to centralisation in the hands of a few, in England from centralisation in the hands of a few to parcellation, as is actually the case today? Or how does it happen that trade, which after all is nothing more than the exchange of products of various individuals and countries, rules the whole world through the relation of supply and demand – a relation which, as an English economist says, hovers over the earth like the fate of the ancients, and with invisible hand allots fortune and misfortune to men, sets up empires and overthrows empires, causes nations to rise and to disappear – while with the abolition of the basis of private property, with the communistic regulation of production (and, implicit in this, the destruction of the alien relation between men and what they themselves produce), the power of the relation of supply and demand is dissolved into nothing, and men get exchange, production, the mode of their mutual relation, under their own control again?

History as a Continuous Process

In history up to the present it is certainly an empirical fact that separate individuals have, with the broadening of their activity into world-historical activity, become more and more enslaved under a power alien to them (a pressure which they have conceived of as a dirty trick on the part of the so-called universal spirit, etc.), a power which has become more and more enormous and, in the last instance, turns out to be the world market. But it is just as empirically established that, by the overthrow of the existing state of society by the communist revolution (of which more below) and the abolition of private property which is identical with it, this power, which so baffles the German theoreticians, will be dissolved; and that then the liberation of each single individual will be accomplished in the measure in which history becomes transformed into world history. From the above it is clear that the real intellectual wealth of the individual depends entirely on the wealth of his real connections. Only then will the separate individuals be liberated from the various national and local barriers, be brought into practical connection with the material and intellectual production of the whole world and be put in a position to acquire the capacity to enjoy this all-sided production of the whole earth (the creations of man). All-round dependence, this natural form of the world-historical co-operation of individuals, will be transformed by this communist revolution into the control and conscious mastery of these powers, which, born of the action of men on one another, have till now overawed and governed men as powers completely alien to them. Now this view can be expressed again in speculative-idealistic, i.e. fantastic, terms as “self-generation of the species” (“society as the subject”), and thereby the consecutive series of interrelated individuals connected with each other can be conceived as a single individual, which accomplishes the mystery of generating itself. It is clear here that individuals certainly make one another, physically and mentally, but do not make themselves.

[5. Development of the Productive Forces as a Material Premise of Communism]

This “alienation” (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an “intolerable” power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity “propertyless,” and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the “propertyless” mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones. Without this, (1) communism could only exist as a local event; (2) the forces of intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, hence intolerable powers: they would have remained home-bred conditions surrounded by superstition; and (3) each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism. Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers – the utterly precarious position of labour – power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life – presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a “world-historical” existence. World-historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history.

[Oh man!  We will have a riot discussing this live. So much is packed here I don’t even know where to begin. JH]

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

[Communism as a movement — a movement by which people consciously reconstruct their social relations. JH]

In the main we have so far considered only one aspect of human activity, the reshaping of nature by men. The other aspect, the reshaping of men by men … [Intercourse and productive power]

Origin of the state and the relation of the state to civil society. …


Contradiction between Individuals and their conditions of life

1. The building of houses. With savages each family has as a matter of course its own cave or hut like the separate family tent of the nomads. This separate domestic economy is made only the more necessary by the further development of private property. With the agricultural peoples a communal domestic economy is just as impossible as a communal cultivation of the soil. A great advance was the building of towns. In all previous periods, however, the abolition of individual economy, which is inseparable from the abolition of private property, was impossible for the simple reason that the material conditions governing it were not present. The setting-up of a communal domestic economy presupposes the development of machinery, of the use of natural forces and of many other productive forces – e.g. of water-supplies, of gas-lighting, steam-heating, etc., the removal [of the antagonism] of town and country. Without these conditions a communal economy would not in itself form a new productive force; lacking any material basis and resting on a purely theoretical foundation, it would be a mere freak and would end in nothing more than a monastic economy – What was possible can be seen in the towns brought about by condensation and the erection of communal buildings for various definite purposes (prisons, barracks, etc.). That the abolition of individual economy is inseparable from the abolition of the family is self-evident.

2. [This paragraph appears as a marginal note in the manuscript – Ed.] And out of this very contradiction between the interest of the individual and that of the community the latter takes an independent form as the State, divorced from the real interests of individual and community, and at the same time as an illusory communal life, always based, however, on the real ties existing in every family and tribal conglomeration – such as flesh and blood, language, division of labour on a larger scale, and other interests – and especially, as we shall enlarge upon later, on the classes, already determined by the division of labour, which in every such mass of men separate out, and of which one dominates all the others. It follows from this that all struggles within the State, the struggle between democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, the struggle for the franchise, etc., etc., are merely the illusory forms in which the real struggles of the different classes are fought out among one another (of this the German theoreticians have not the faintest inkling, although they have received a sufficient introduction to the subject in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher and Die heilige Familie). Further, it follows that every class which is struggling for mastery, even when its domination, as is the case with the proletariat, postulates the abolition of the old form of society in its entirety and of domination itself, must first conquer for itself political power in order to represent its interest in turn as the general interest, which in the first moment it is forced to do. Just because individuals seek only their particular interest, which for them does not coincide with their communal interest (in fact the general is the illusory form of communal life), the latter will be imposed on them as an interest “alien” to them, and “independent” of them as in its turn a particular, peculiar “general” interest; or they themselves must remain within this discord, as in democracy. On the other hand, too, the practical struggle of these particular interests, which constantly really run counter to the communal and illusory communal interests, makes practical intervention and control necessary through the illusory “general” interest in the form of the State.
A. Marx struck out: “Mein Verhältnis zu meiner Umgebung ist mein Bewußtsein,” My relation to my environment is my consciousness. – from German version.

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

[This is the earlier version of the first section, first volume of Capital. JH]

I examine the system of bourgeois economy in the following order: capital, landed property, wage-labour; the State, foreign trade, world market.

[Marx later revised his plan, a few times, and died before he was able to complete even the first few parts of it. JH]

The economic conditions of existence of the three great classes into which modern bourgeois society is divided are analysed under the first three headings; the interconnection of the other three headings is self-evident. The first part of the first book, dealing with Capital, comprises the following chapters: 1. The commodity, 2. Money or simple circulation; 3. Capital in general. The present part consists of the first two chapters. The entire material lies before me in the form of monographs, which were written not for publication but for self-clarification at widely separated periods; their remoulding into an integrated whole according to the plan I have indicated will depend upon circumstances.

[Marx defined capitalist production as commodity production  so generalized that even the ability of people to work (labor power contained in the body of the worker) got to be a commodity sold in markets to capitalist employers in exchange for a wage.  Historically, in order to separate people from their most immediate conditions of production, the means of production they possessed most directly (such as land and natural resources traditionally regarded as common property), it was necessary to dispossess people, to expel them from the land, to impoverish them, turn them into proletarians, so they were forced to become wage workers.  Social inequality (poverty on one pole of society and wealth on the other) is, thus, a precondition for the existence of capitalist production.  If people have property other than their own labor power, then they can live off it.  It is only if they lack property while property is concentrated in a few hands that capitalist production, for profit production carried out by wage workers under the command of the capitalist, is possible.  JH]

A general introduction, which I had drafted, is omitted, since on further consideration it seems to me confusing to anticipate results which still have to be substantiated, and the reader who really wishes to follow me will have to decide to advance from the particular to the general. A few brief remarks regarding the course of my study of political economy are appropriate here.

[Marx is referring here to what was later published as the 1857 Introduction to his Grundrisse.  If you have a chance, read this introduction at some point.  It is rich! (The Grundrisse were manuscripts, a portion of which Marx reworked into Capital.  If you have time, you should try and read them as well, but they are harder to read without a bit of background on Hegel.) JH]

Although I studied jurisprudence, I pursued it as a subject subordinated to philosophy and history. In the year 1842-43, as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, I first found myself in the embarrassing position of having to discuss what is known as material interests. The deliberations of the Rhenish Landtag on forest thefts and the division of landed property; the official polemic started by Herr von Schaper, then Oberprasident of the Rhine Province, against the Rheinische Zeitung about the condition of the Moselle peasantry, and finally the debates on free trade and protective tariffs caused me in the first instance to turn my attention to economic questions. On the other hand, at that time when good intentions “to push forward” often took the place of factual knowledge, an echo of French socialism and communism, slightly tinged by philosophy, was noticeable in the Rheinische Zeitung. I objected to this dilettantism, but at the same time frankly admitted in a controversy with the Allgemeine Augsburger Zeitung that my previous studies did not allow me to express any opinion on the content of the French theories. When the publishers of the Rheinische Zeitung conceived the illusion that by a more compliant policy on the part of the paper it might be possible to secure the abrogation of the death sentence passed upon it, I eagerly grasped the opportunity to withdraw from the public stage to my study.

The first work which I undertook to dispel the doubts assailing me was a critical re-examination of the Hegelian philosophy of law; the introduction to this work being published in the Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher issued in Paris in 1844. My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term “civil society”; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy. The study of this, which I began in Paris, I continued in Brussels, where I moved owing to an expulsion order issued by M. Guizot. The general conclusion at which I arrived and which, once reached, became the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows.

[The following is Marx’s summary of his historical materialistic views.  JH]

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

[Note that (1) the material productive forces of society, (2) the social relations of production, i.e. the economic structure of society, (3) the legal and political superstructure are different aspects of a historically-concrete society.  They are abstractions, or partial sides of the whole thing.  However, the abstractions are not completely arbitrary.  They reflect realities that our thought can separate and examine on their own and in their relation to the other realities.  However, when for legit analytical purposes we separate each of these aspects and examine them on their own, in isolation from the other aspects, we should not take the insights thus revealed as the ultimate truth.  The ultimate truth, as Hegel said, is always concrete.  This doesn’t mean that abstractions are necessarily untrue, only that they can only be partially true.  In fact, there is nothing more concrete than a good abstraction, just like (in spite of Yogi Berra) there’s nothing more practical than a good theory.  (Yogi Berra, the Yankees coach, used to say that in theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice they are not.) JH]

[Note also that the economic structure is the “expression” (or the form) of the productive forces of labor.  In turn, the legal and political superstructure is the “expression” (or the form) of the economic structure.  Finally, the forms of the social consciousness (e.g. dominant ideologies, collective beliefs, ethical and aesthetic norms or “values,” fads, social moods, etc.) are the “expression” (or the form) of the legal and political superstructure. JH]

[Now, note that, as individuals, we only exercise a measure of (momentary) control over our own feelings, thoughts, intentions, and thereby actions.  As humans we try to make action follow thought, but often our thoughts follow our actions.  Have you noticed that you cannot feel depressed if you are expanding your chest, stretching your body, taking a very deep breath, and smiling from the guts out?  However, if the depressive forces are persistent (depending on the intensity of trauma), then our bodies tend to crouch and tighten.  This suggests the path of social change.  It starts from each of us taking action to change our mindset and, thereby, our subsequent actions!  That, in turn, influences the people around us, etc.  If these changes are persistent, sustained, then we can affect the collective consciousness, and thereby (if these effects on the social consciousness are persistent) the political (and then the legal) superstructure.  In turn, it is by a persistent reshaping of the legal superstructure (which entails the targeted use of state power) that we are capable of re-making our economic structure.  Finally, it is only by reshaping our economic structure that we can unleash our productive forces and make ourselves, collectively, more powerful or more free, which is to say more human.  JH]

[So, when Marx says that our economic structure only expresses the productive forces, that our legal and political superstructure only expresses our economic structure, that our social consciousness corresponds to these social conditions, he is only describing or documenting the necessary way we are currently making history, which is by accident, in an unplanned manner, haphazard.  He is not condoning this this state of affairs, this behavior.  In fact, he is advocating transcending it. The current social conditions are alienated forces, outside of our control.  Socialism requires that we grasp this necessity in order to overcome it, i.e. in order to remake our history freely.  However, as Hegel put it, “freedom is the recognition of necessity.”  We are only free by recognizing and incorporating our understanding of necessity into our actions.  That is what makes us free.  Just like our freedom to fly (with proper artifacts) requires that we grasp and in a sense “succumb” to the laws of mechanics, aerodynamics, etc.  JH]

[In the 1980s, the neoconservatives who provided intellectual rationalization to the Reagan policies argued against the plans of the “liberal left” (the DP) to engineer social behavior.  They called that “social engineering” (examples of which were, according to the neoconservatives, FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s War on Poverty, and Johnson’s Great Society policies) and denounced it as an imposition on citizens, a curtailment of individual freedom.  The liberal left didn’t defend itself well and, at a point (with Clinton), they accepted the argument as valid.  They adopted the conservative vision and limited their goals to tiny “neoliberal” reforms (allegedly, harnessing the “power of markets” to accomplish social goals).  The term “social engineering” has very negative associations in the minds of people, but socialists could perhaps push this back asking: What is wrong with trying to redesign our social structures in accordance with our higher values?  Why should we just leave our social relations to chance (e.g. decentralized markets, where individuals pursuing their perceived narrow interests negotiate their mutual interests in a decentralized manner)?  Is it not succumbing to animality?  What do we want reason, purpose, or will for if we cannot will our social interactions in a mutually consistent manner?  JH]

In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.

[Mind Marx’s remark on establishing with due precision, using the methods of science, the “material transformation of the economic conditions.”  The “mushier” legal, political, religious, artistic, etc. conditions may be harder to pin down using the methods of science (though we can use the methods of history, anthropology, social studies, and even other forms of mental appropriation of these realities via art and literature).  But we should beware that the latter cannot go too much ahead of the former.  They express the former.  JH]

[Marx’s remark on how economic structures cannot be arbitrary, but are constrained by the degree of development of the productive forces has arisen lots of controversy among Marxists and between Marxists and critics of Marx.  But it seems like a slam-dunk argument to me: To reproduce certain social relations, especially those that require sustained intentionality, you need productive forces capable of reproducing these relations.  The material productive forces are first and foremost ourselves as producers.  If we are highly educated, interconnected, equipped with proper machinery, physical infrastructure, etc., we are definitely more capable of organizing our social relations deliberately and in a mutually consistent way than if our level of education is low, we are more isolated from each other, and our physical infrastructure is poor.  JH]

Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient,[A] feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.

[No doubt, history after Marx’s death unfolded in a much more complicated way than Marx was able to preview.  Marx didn’t anticipate attempts to bypass capitalism in (economically) backward countries like Russia or China or Vietnam or Cuba, countries whose most urgent task was to catch up with the level of productivity prevailing in the leading capitalist nations.  New forms of freedom/oppression arose in these contexts that, paradoxically, were informed by Marx’s own ideas!  JH]

Frederick Engels, with whom I maintained a constant exchange of ideas by correspondence since the publication of his brilliant essay on the critique of economic categories (printed in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, arrived by another road (compare his Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England) at the same result as I, and when in the spring of 1845 he too came to live in Brussels, we decided to set forth together our conception as opposed to the ideological one of German philosophy, in fact to settle accounts with our former philosophical conscience.

The intention was carried out in the form of a critique of post-Hegelian philosophy. The manuscript [The German Ideology], two large octavo volumes, had long ago reached the publishers in Westphalia when we were informed that owing to changed circumstances it could not be printed. We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly since we had achieved our main purpose – self-clarification. Of the scattered works in which at that time we presented one or another aspect of our views to the public, I shall mention only the Manifesto of the Communist Party, jointly written by Engels and myself, and a Discours sur le libre echange, which I myself published.

The salient points of our conception were first outlined in an academic, although polemical, form in my Misere de la philosophie…, this book which was aimed at Proudhon appeared in 1847. The publication of an essay on Wage-Labour [Wage-Labor and Capital] written in German in which I combined the lectures I had held on this subject at the German Workers’ Association in Brussels, was interrupted by the February Revolution and my forcible removal from Belgium in consequence.

The publication of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848 and 1849 and subsequent events cut short my economic studies, which I could only resume in London in 1850. The enormous amount of material relating to the history of political economy assembled in the British Museum, the fact that London is a convenient vantage point for the observation of bourgeois society, and finally the new stage of development which this society seemed to have entered with the discovery of gold in California and Australia, induced me to start again from the very beginning and to work carefully through the new material. These studies led partly of their own accord to apparently quite remote subjects on which I had to spend a certain amount of time. But it was in particular the imperative necessity of earning my living which reduced the time at my disposal. My collaboration, continued now for eight years, with the New York Tribune, the leading Anglo-American newspaper, necessitated an excessive fragmentation of my studies, for I wrote only exceptionally newspaper correspondence in the strict sense. Since a considerable part of my contributions consisted of articles dealing with important economic events in Britain and on the continent, I was compelled to become conversant with practical detail which, strictly speaking, lie outside the sphere of political economy.

This sketch of the course of my studies in the domain of political economy is intended merely to show that my views – no matter how they may be judged and how little they conform to the interested prejudices of the ruling classes – are the outcome of conscientious research carried on over many years. At the entrance to science, as at the entrance to hell, the demand must be made:

Qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto
Ogni vilta convien che qui sia morta.

[From Dante, Divina Commedia:
Here must all distrust be left;
All cowardice must here be dead.]

Karl Marx
London, January 1859

A. As a second footnote to the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote in 1888:

In 1847, the pre-history of society, the social organization existing previous to recorded history, [was] all but unknown. Since then, August von Haxthausen (1792-1866) discovered common ownership of land in Russia, Georg Ludwig von Maurer proved it to be the social foundation from which all Teutonic races started in history, and, by and by, village communities were found to be, or to have been, the primitive form of society everywhere from India to Ireland. The inner organization of this primitive communistic society was laid bare, in its typical form, by Lewis Henry Morgan’s (1818-1861) crowning discovery of the true nature of the gens and its relation to the tribe. With the dissolution of the primeval communities, society begins to be differentiated into separate and finally antagonistic classes. I have attempted to retrace this dissolution in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, second edition, Stuttgart, 1886.

Thus, as the science of understanding pre-history progressed (pre-history being that time before written records of human civilization exist), Marx & Engels changed their understanding and descriptions accordingly. In the above text, Marx mentions “Asiatic” modes of production. At the time, they had thought Asian civilization was the first we could speak of humanity (an understanding based on Hegel, see: The Oriental Realm). After writing The Grundrisse, they dropped the idea of a distinct Asiatic mode of production, and kept four basic forms: tribal, ancient, feudal, and capitalist.

The first two pages of Gerry Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence, as a teaser: