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, .t







Critical Social Studies


The conU:mpora ry world projects a perpi.::xing picture of

political, social and

ing limes the conventional wisdoms of orthodox social

thought whe ther it be sociology, economics or cultu ral


intellectual crisis, selecting au thors whose work seeks to transcend the limitatiOIl Sof cOllventional discourse. Its (One


econom ic upheaval. In these challeng-


inadequate . This series fOCuses on

is scholarly

rath er





belief that

significant theoretical work is needed to clear the way for a genuine transformation of the existing social order.

Because of this, the series relates closely to recc nt devel opments in social thought, panicularly to critical theory and neo-Marxism - the emerging European tradi-

tion. In tenns of specific topics,

have been selected , for ex ample mass culture , innation ,

problems of sexua lity and the fam il y, t he nalUre of the

key pivotal areas of debate

capital ist state, nalUral science a nd ideology. The

scope of

analysis is broad : t he series allempLS 10 break the

e xisting

arbitrary divisions between the socia l-studiC!l disciplinC!l. lIS aim is 10 provide a platform for critical socia l thoug ht (at a level quite accessib le to students) to enter into thc major

th eoretical

eOlllro venies of the decade .


the r books


Trade Unions

in the series

and the M edia

Peter Be harrell and Greg Phil o (cds )

Beyond the Sotioloo of Cot!flut

David Binns

A Theory of Semiotics

Umbcrto Eco

CapiUl/ism in Crisis: l riflation

and the State

Andrew Gamble and Paul Wahon

Tht D iaLectic of ideology and

Alvin W. Gould ner

Policing the CrisiJ

Stuart H a ll ,

J ohn Clarke

Techn ology

Th e Political Economy of Sciwu

Hilary Rose a nd Steven Rose (eds)

The R adicalisation of Scienu

Hilary Rose and Steven Rose (cds)


The Polilus of Decline

Andrew Gamble

Reproducing Idtologiu

St ua rt Hall

Tlu Multinationals

Ri chard Kronish

ThtOrih'of Uruierdevelopmtnt

Ian Roxborough

A Ttxthook of Film

Brian Winston and Colin Young

The State in Capitalist Formations

Howard \volpe

Mtdia as Myth

Jock Young

C has Critcher, Tony .J efferson ,

a nd Brian R oberts



Alfred Sohn-R ethel



© A lfred Sohn-Rethel 197 8

All righ ts reserved . No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted , in any form or by any means, without permission.

First pubLished 197 8 by


London and Basingsroke Associated companies in Delhi Dublin ong Kong Johannesburg Lagos Melbourne New York Singapore and Tokyo

Pn'nttd in Great Britain by


Thetford, Norfolk

British Library

Sohn.Rcthel, Alfred

Ca taloguing in Publication D;o.ta

Intellectual and manua/labour. - (CritiuilOCial Studie).

J. Kno"'iedge, Th«lt} of

I. Title


2. Marxian ttOnomiCi

III. Seri~

II. SOOn-Relhel, Marlin

BDt 6J



0 - 33J


1\ - JJ1 - 'lJ046






':1]045-0 1\ - JJ1 - 'lJ046 9 V"" P h~ - This book is sold subject

This book is sold subject to Ih e stan dard conditions of the Net Book Agreement

The paperbaek edition of this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall

of trade or otherwise, be lent , re-sold, hired out, or otherwise

circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover

other lIuln

it is published and without a similar co ndition

including this condition being imposed on the subsequcnt purchaser.

not , by


that ill which

on the subsequcnt purchaser. not , by ay that ill which Contents T ranslator's Foreword Preface


T ranslator's Foreword












Critique of Philosophical Epistemology


Can there be Abstraction other than by Thought?

Fetishism of Int ellectual Labour

Th e

Th e

Eco nomi cs and Kno wledge

The Analysis of the Exchange Abstraction





Commodity Abst ra ctio n

Ph enome non of the Ex c hange Abstraction

Stating the Question Practical Solipsism The Form of Exchangeability of Commodities Abstract Quantity and the Postulate of the Exchange Equation Abstract Time and Space The Concept of Value Substance and Accidents Atomicity Abstract Movement


(f )




lj) Strict Causality {k) Concluding Remarks to the Analysis

The EvolUl ion of Coined Money

Conversion of the Real Abstraction into the Con- ceptual Abstraction

The Indepcndent Intellect

(a )

(b) The Relational Shift

(c )

Self-alienation and Self-direc ti on

Conversion postltstu rn of Exchange










4 6

4 8












7 0



(d ) Division of Society and

(e) Reiflcation at the Root of the Intellect



Knowledge from SouTces other than Manual


\ (g) Laws of Nature


The Guide·line of Historical Materialism


M oney as a Mirror of Reflection



Soc ial Form of Thinking








(k) The Social Synthesis as the Foundation

of Science




Social Synthesis and Production

Societies of Production and Societies of Approp- riation

" Head and Hand in Labour

The Beginnings of Surplus Production and Exploitation Head and Hand in the Bronze Age The Classical Society of Appropriation Mathematics, the Dividing-line of Intellectual and Manual Labour Head and Hand in Medieval Peasant and Artisan Production

,) The Forms of Transition from Artisanry to Science




' 3





The Capitalist Relations of Produ ction

Galilean Science and the Dynamic Concept of Inertia

Bourgeois Science










" 3



Thl Dual Economi cs of Advanced Capitalism

" From De-socialised to Re-socialised Labour


A Third Stage of th e Capitalist Mode of Production? 140




The Turn to Monopoly Capitalism Imperialism and Scientific Management Th e Economy of Time and 'Scientific Manage- ment'

26 The Essentials of Taylorism



'4 8















Critique of Taylorism

The Foundation of Flow Production '59 The Unity of Measurement of Man and Machine ,6,

The Dual Economics of Monopoly Capitalism The Necessity for a Commensuration of Labour

The Commensuration of Labour in Action

The Way to Automation The Curse of the Second·Nature








35 The Epoch of Transition

3 6

Logic of Appropriation and Logic of Production


3 8


4 0









The Theory of Reflecuon and its Incompatibilities

as a Theory

Materialism versus Empiricism Marx's Own Object Lesson Necessary False Consciousness The Philosophical Issue The Essentially Critical Power of Historical Mat- erialism

of Science

Notes and Rifermces

Books and Articlu by Alfred Solm-Rethel Index







20 5




Translator's Foreword

Increasingly, those with concern for the future ofscience - in the final resort , all of us - have to watch helplessly as its course is plotted ever further away from our Contro l. The results of'man's mastery of nature' arc effectively concealed from us. Although

official and surreptitious propaganda make claims to the con-

trary we are quite unable to confirm these claims and offen cnd

by resignedly accepting them. However, some of the most concerned people have begun to

look behind the curtain shrouding technology and, in the horror

at the travesties it concea ls, sea rch d es perately for some means (0 tear it down. A brick hurled through the window ofsome nuclear

or, more effective perhaps, a home-

made bomb? It is all too plain that these are totally unavailing protests, for the march ofscience will go on unabated, celebrated in trade agreements worth millions of pounds - for example, the

Federal German trade agreement of 1975 to supply Brazil with 4 0 billion marks' worth of atomic slations by 1990. By now, science and technology have gained such an ascen- dency over the common man 's understanding that his mere uncomprehending anger can in no way hold them in check. And

yet it is supposedly to reproduce him a nd his labour that thi s technology has been d eveloped. This is now nothing but a

research establishment?

it is the

maximisation of power and profit. It has become clear beyond question that the heads which plOl the path of technology and the hands which operate it and which should benefit from it have undergone the most total sc hi sm. When did this schism first occu r? Without any clue to its origin the opponent of ram pant tec hnology can only rant and rave; he is ill equipped to envisage any remedy. But how can he set ou l to trace this alienation, this division of head and hand back to its real point of historical deparlure? How can he begin to unravel

blatant fiction. We know th e real motive power behind

x INTELLECTUAL AND MANUAL LABOUR the tangled web of relations between man and machine, between


the tangled web of relations between man and machine, between

society and science, which now threatens to strangle him? This book attempts to do just that. But in doing so it has of

necessity to deal with matters of exasperating abstractness; it has of necessity to delve into areas ofsuch unaccustomed complexity

that it might seem all too easy to lose sight of the crucial issues which give rise: to the book in the first place. I say 'of necessity' because it is precisely the abstractness and complexity with which the core of the schism is lodged in its historical roots that make us so blind to the overall pattern of perversion traced by technology today. The whole transaction, as it were, has been completed behind our ow n and our ancestors' backs. Thus the difficulties of the book are no mere adjuncts but aTC inherently essential to achieve a truly cogent analysis, in historical materialist terms, of the split between head and hand and of the emergence of abstract thought. The development of modem science and technology has everything to do with these phenomena and un til their historical seerers are unravelled before our very eyes technology will continue to ride rough-shod over us. We ask the reader to be clear what is at stake . If he is, the unavoidable difficulties of the ana lysis will surely fall into perspective and instead of presenting insurmountable barriers to the book's conclusions will give the key to their proper under- standing. But it takes an infinitely deeper theoretical effort to

dispel the fetishism of the intellect than it

worship. This is the use of theory we know from Marx: irs usc in the service of practice.

does to con tinue irs



This enquiry is concerned with the relationship between base and superstructure in the Marxian sense. This, to a large extent, leads into new territory. Marx and Engels have clarified the general architecture of history consisting ofproductive forces and production relations which together fonn the material basis for consciousness as superstructure. But they have not left us a blueprint for the staircase that should lead from the base to the superstructu re. And it is this with which we are concerned, or at least with irs barest scaffolding of formal precision. To continue with our metaphor, the staircase must be given a firm anchorage in the basement, and lhis, for commodity-producing societies, can only be found in the formal analysis ofcommodity itself. This analysis, however, requires considerable enlargement and deep- ening before it can carry the full weight I intend to place on it. For Marx it served to carry the critique ofpolitical economy. For us it mwt carry in addition the critique of the traditional theories of science and cognition. What is new and bewildering in the present undertaking is that it must lay hand upon the commodity analysis as we have it from Marx, and thus upon that part orhis theory commonly regarded as the untouchable foundation stone . It may therefore not be amiss to preface the theoretical presentation with a short sketch of 'thought-biography' to show how the deviating offshoot orig- inated and h as taken shape. Moreover it may also be necessary to explain why the investigation has taken fifty years to mature befJre reaching the light of day. It began towards the end of the First World War and in its aftermath, at a time when the German proletarian revolution should have occurred and tragically failed. This period led me into personal contact with Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Siegfried Kracauer and Thecx:lor W. Adorno and the writings of Georg Lukacs and Herbert Marcuse. Strange



though it may sound I do not hesitate to say that the new development of Marxist lIlought which these people represent evolved as the theoretical and ideological superstructure of the

revolution thai never happened. In it re·echo the thunder oCthe gun battle for the Marstall in Berlin at Christmas 1918, and the

shooting of the Spartacus rising in the following winter. The

paradoxical condition of this ideological movement may help to explain its almost exclusive preoccupation with superstructural questions, and the conspicuous lack of concern for the material and economic base that should have been underlying it. As far as

I was concerned, though not a member of the Spartacus movement, I was stirred by the political events, partaking in the discussions at street-corners and public meeting-halls, lying under window-sills while bullets pierced the windows - ex- periences which are traced in the pages to follow. My political awakening started in '9,6, at the age of '7 and still at school, when I began reading August Rebel and Marx. I was thrown out ofhome and was part ofthe beginning ofthe anti- war rebellion ofstudents in my first university year at Heidelberg in '9'7, with Ernst Toller as a leading figure. For us the world could have fallen to pieces if only Marx remained intact. But then everything went wrong. The Revolution moved forward and backward and finally ebbed away. Lenin's Russia receded further and further into the distance. At university we learned that even in Marx there were theorctical flaws, that marginal utility economics had rather morc in its favour and that Max Weber had successfully contrived sociological antidotes against the giant adversary Marx. But this teaching only made itselffelt within the academic walls. Outside there were livelier spirits about, among them my unforgettable friend Alfred Seidel, who


'924 committed suicide. I Here, outside the university, the end


the truth had not yet come.

I glued myself to Marx and began in earnest to read Capital, with a relentless determination not to let go. 'Lire Ie Capital ' as Louis Althusser says so rightly! It must have taken some two years when in the background of my university studies I scribbled mountains of paper, seizing upon every one of the vital terms occurring in the first sixty pages of Capital, turning them round and round for definitions , and above aU for metaphorical significance, taking them to pieces al)d putting them together



again . And what resulted from this exercise was the-unshakeable certainty of the penetrating truth of Marxist thinking, combined with an equally unshakeable doubt about the theoretical consistency of the commodity analysis as it stood. There were more and other things in it than Marx had succeeded in reaching! And finally, with an effort of concentration bordering on madness, it came upon me that in the innermost core of the commodity structure there was to be found the 'transcendental subject'. Without need to say so, it was obvious to everybody that this was sheer lunacy, and no one was squeamish about telling me so! But I knew that I had grasped the beginning of a thread whose end was not yet in sight. But the secret identity of commodity form and thought form which I had glimpsed was so hidden within the bourgeois world that my first nalve attempts to make others see it only had the result that I was given up as a hopeless case. 'Sohn-Rethel is crazy! ' was the regretful and final verdict ofmy tutor Alfred Weber (brother of Max), who had had a high opinion of me. In these circumstances there was of course no hope of an academic career either, with the consequence that I remained an outsider all my life with my idiefixe. Only a few isolated spirits, outsiders like myself, had kindred ideas in their minds, and none more sympathetically so than Adorno, who in his own manner was on the same track. We checked up on this together in 1936:

He in his whole mental make-up was occupied with completely different matters rather than the analysis of commodity and economics. Therefore even my contact with him was only partial and I was thrown back on my own resources for unravelling my thread of truth. That lhis process was full of deadlocks and long periods of interruptions, both for reasons of money-earning and because of other difficulties, goes without saying. The interruptions, periods of compl~te recession, add up to even longer durations than the periods of theoretical work. The time between '924 and '927 was spent in Italy, mainly in Capri where Benjamin and Bloch were staying; then to Davos for an international university cottrse, where I met Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer, Alexander Koyre and others, but had to remain for two and a half years for a cure of tuberculosis. When I returned to Germany to face the slump, with absolutely no financial


resources, I was lu cky to find work in an office of big business in Berlin.' There I was also engaged in illegal anti·Nazi activities , escaping from arrest by the Gestapo to reach England in 1937 . 1n Birmingham J met Professor George Thomson, the only ot her man J have known who had also recognised the interconnection of philosophy and money, although in a com pletcl yd ifferent field from my own - in ancient Greece. I finally finished a long manu sc ript, 'Intellectua l and Manual Labour ', in '951, which, despite strenuous efforts by Thomson and Bernal, was turned down by the publi shers Lawrence & Wishart as being too unorthodox for them , a nd by bourgeois publishers as being too militantly Marxist! Until '970 only three small texts of mine were published. 3 Since 1970 several of my books have appeared in Germany (see

p. '213) , as a result of which I was appointed Guest Professo r al

the University of Bremen from '972 to 1976.

For the present English version of this book I am particularly indebted to Dr Wilfried van der Will for reading my script and for his unstinting advice and critical com men t ; also to my son Martin for his work as translator, and to the late Sigurd Zienau for st imulating di sc ussions during many years of friendship.


untiring effort and unflagging devotion to my work, which has beco me ours in common .

My inextinguishabl e gratitude is due toJoan, my wife, for




Our epoch is wide ly regarded as ' the Age of Science' . Indeed science, and especially scientific technology, exerts an influence upon production and through production upon the economics and the class relations of society. The effects of this have thrown into disarray the historical expectations and conceptions of people convinced of the need for socialism. We are no longer sure of our most trusted ideas of 'scientific socia lism' or of our theoretical image of capitalism. How is the progressive de· struction of money through inflation in accord with the labour law of value? Are the profits of multinational corporations in keeping with the mechanics ofsurplus· value? What are the social implications and economics of a technology which tends to absorb the work of human labour? Does this technology widen or narrow the gu lf between mental and manual labour? Does it help or hinder a socialist revolution? How does the profit and loss account on the balance sheets of capital relate to the balance between man and nature? Is modern technology c1ass·neutral? Is modern sc ience class-biased? Has Marxist analysis kept up with the changes of society we have witnessed si nce the two World Wars? Our insights must reach sufficiently deep to enable us to understand our modern world in Marxist terms and guide our revolutionary practice. Histori ca l mat erialism was conceived by Marx as th e method of the scientific understandingofhislory. No other position can offer an alternative.

in the belief that an

for a fuller understanding

of our own epoch. Far from moving away from Marxism this should lead deeper into it. The reason why many essential questions of today cause such difficulties IS tfiat our thmkin~IS not

ex tension to Marxist theory is needed

The pre se Ol study has been undertaken

Mai'X1StellUug~ - 4~ I c!veS}m

-wnmaerstan3 our epocFi as

rtant areas unei'" lored. at III which the tranSItion rom




capitalism to socialism and the building of a socialist society are

the order of the da y. In contrast, Marx 's epoch was engaged in

the capitalist process of development; its theoretical perspective was limited to the trends pushing this development to its limi ts. It is dear that th is c han ge of hi storical scenery shifts th e Marxist field of vision in a significant way. The transition from capitalism to socia lism means , according to Marx , ' the ending of pre-history' - the tra nsition from the uncontrolled to the fu ll y conscious development of mankind. To understand society in its final capitalist phase one needs a precise insight into the causa lity and interrelationships between the growth of the material

productive forces and the social relations of production. Marx's Capital certain ly contains countless references to the mental supe rstructure dctermined by the socia l basis and also to the indi spensa bl e int ellectual foundations of production, but the roblem of th e formation of consciousness is not thepn mary n 0 arx s mam wor. n our epoc, owever, It nas


a "',.-. il, ttl ,. - , 1






historical truth is concerned but an idea list when confronted by the truth of nature? Is his though t split between two concep ts 0 truth: the one dialectical and time-bound, the other undialecti-

cal, cons igning That Marx's

patibilities goes wi thout sayi ng. Extensive proof is foun d in his early wri tin gs, and in t he Communist Manifesto. Particularly illuminating are th e references to the sc iences in the Economit; and

PhiLosophic Manuscripts of 1844 ( p . III ) , I which prove that in his

his torical- materialist conception the sc ie nces were originall y included . The relevant evidence and arguments are contained in


any awareness of historical time to ob li vion? own thinking was not rent by any such in com -

Schmidt's outstanding st ud y The Concept of Nature in Ihe_

TheoT), of Marx.~

oreword of the first cdition ofCapitai Marx calls

a process of natural

hi story' and he exp la in s th at his own method of approach is calcu lat ed to bring out the truth of this statement. But he did not

hi ;

clarify the issue sufficiently to .- r event

th e 'evol ution ofthe econo mi c formation

Even in t


th e

thou ht



1 tm


contra Jctory con~epts



or rfuffi."'~1i'€Ler t e s p it IS overcome or not i s vital for t h e

mOdern theory and practice of socialism. The creation of soci al ism demands that sociel ' makes mod crn deveJopments of ence an tec no ogy subservient to its needs. I~ on th e other

hana , I nce an tec ' nology el ude

sta nding, mankind might go, not the way of soc ialism, but that 0 technocracy; society would not rule over tec hnology but tech· nology over society, and this not o nly applies to the western world where technocrati c thought is based on positivism;3 it is no less true of some socia list countries which reve re technoc racy in the name of 'dialectical materialism '. Thus a hi stori ca l-mat!:Jialisl

e~pl~~a!.!?n of the o rigin s of scie~trfic thoui~i"'il2d,i~~d~ve!~p­

menl 15 one bt"t h-e-a:rem bywl'ifc arx lst theory should be ex enOed .

- I'fie r e is"'Turthermore a lack of a theory of inte ll ectual and manual labour, ofthcir historical division and the conditions for their possible reunification. In the 'Critique of the GOlha Programme' Marx makes reference to this antithesis that a 'higher phase of communist society' becomes possible only 'after the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis betwecn mental and

historical-mat eria list under-


I "Clearly " the d fV"isio~" betw een the labour of h e ad and hand

ph ysica l labour , has vanished'.· But before und ers tanding ~ow

this antithesis can be removed it is n ecessa

arose In the

rsl pace.

to u nders tand wh y it

stretches in one form or another thro ughout the







whole history of



of the

phenomena of alienation on which exploitation feeds. Neverthe-

less , it is by no means self-apparent how a ruling class invariably

has at

its command the s~cific form of mental labour which il

requires. And a ltho ugh by its roots it is obviously bound up with

the conditions underlying the class rule the mental labour of a

particular epoch does require a certain independence to be afuse to the ruling class. Nor are the bearers o f the mental labour, be they priests, philosophers or scientists, the main beneficiaries of the rule to which they contribute; they remain its servants. The objective value of their fun ction, and even the standard of truth itself, emerge in history in the course of the divisio n of head and hand which in its turn is part of the class rule . Thu s objective

truth a nd its class function

is only if they can b e seen thus Iink ed , logica ll y and histori ca ll y, that th ey can be explained . But what implications does this have for the possibilit y ora mod ern, classless and yet hi g hl y technologi- cal society?

This question leads on to the need for a furth e r ex tensio n of Marxist theory which did no t arise at an earlier epoch : what is in

fact the effective line ofdifferentiation between a class society and a cl assless one? They are both forms of social production relations but thi s general concept does not cop-vey the differe nce on which depend s the transi tion from ca pitalism to socialis m, and th e varying shad es of socialism . What is needed is a specifi c a nd unambiguous cri terion of social structure, not of ideology, by

which a classless society should

different from all class societ ies. The three grou ps of qu es tio ns raised here stand in a n inne r relationship to each other. The link connecting them is the social synthesis: the network of re lations by which society form s a coherent whol e. It is around this no tio n that the major argume nts of this bol'lk will revolve. As social forms develop a nd change, so also does the synthesis which holds together the multiplicity of _ links operating between men according to the division oflabour.

a re connected at their very roots and it

be re cognisable as esse nti ally



Every soc ie ty mad e up of a plura li ty of indi vid uals is a network com ing into effec t through th eir ac tions. H ow they act is of primary importance fo r the social network ; what they think is of secondary importance. Their activities must interrelate in order to fit int o a societ y, and must contain at least a minimum of uniformity if th e society is to fun ctio n as a whole. Th is coherence can be conscious or unconscious but exist it must - otherwise society would cease to be viable and the individuals would come to grief as a result of their multiple dependencies upon one

another . Expressed. in ve ry general te rms this is a preco ndition for the survival of every kind of society; it formul a tes what t term 'soci al synthesis'. This no tion is thus not hing other than a

constituent part of th e M a rxian

part which, in the course of my long preoccupatio n with

hi s torical form s of thinking, has become indispensab l e to m y, understanding of man 's soc ial condition. From thi s observation derive the general epistemological proposition J.hat the sociall n ecessary forms of thinking of an epoch are those in conformit

WIth the -socia lly sy ntl'i efi c f Undions

"'h will, I think;- help 'tllc reacf'cr's comprenension of the somewhat intricate investigation contained in this book ifl give a broad outline of the underlying conception . ' It is not th e co nscio usness of men that determine their being, but, on th e contrary, their socia l being that determines th e ir consciousness.' This state ment of Marx is not meant as the pronouncement of an intrinsic truth , but is part of the precis of general methodological tenets characteristic of the materialistic con ce ption of history given in the Prefa ce of 1859.~This precis indicates how the determination of men's consciousness by their soc ial being ca n be es ta blished in any parti c ular instance. M y investigation is in st rict kee ping with the Marxia n outline. But, while in that o utline the refe rence is to ' the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophical - in short, ideological forms'

in which me n become conscious or their

co nce pt of 'social formati on' , a


jip'oc h.


social confli cts a nd fig ht

them out, m

of th e co nitiv e fa c ult vis-a-vis nat ure which in one form or another is c aractensllc 0 t e ages 0 comm ity producti~n

fro m th eir

beginnings in a ncient Greece to the prese nt day. It is

y pr eocc u ri I S wit e co n ce p ua l""fO undations

for this purpose tha t I deem it useful to interpret the M arxian co ncept of 'socia l bein g' in accord a nce with my no ti o n of th e


'soci al sy nthesis'. This will depend, of course, on how it justifies

itse lf as a methodologically fruitful


on commodity production th e soc ial syn- th e functions of money as the ' universal

equiva lent', to use Marx's expression.' In this capacity money

must be vested with an a hurac tness of the high est level to e nable

I n soc ieties based th esis is centred on

it to servt as the equ ivale nt to every

kind o f commodit y that may

appear on th e m ar ket. This abstractn ess of money does nO[

appear as such and cann ot be expected to 'a ppear' as it co nsists o f

nothing but form -

pure abstract form arising from the disregard

of the use-valu e of the commoditi es operated by th e a c t of

exchange equating the commodities as values. That which consti tut es the appearance afmoney is its materia l, its shape and size , and the symbo ls sta mped on it; in short , all that mak es

mon ey into a thing that can be carried about , spe nt and received. But that which mak es this thing ' money' in the sense of value a nd

diflerent fr om a ll the counted or o th erw ise

1PCrceived. The huma n labour that has go ne into the production of the thing serving as money and int o the commoditi es it serves to exchange de tenni n es the magnitud e o f their va lu e, th e proportion in which they a re excha nged. But to be labour products is not a prope rty which a ccru es to the commodities and

to money in the relationship of exchange where the abstraclion arises. The abstrac tio n docs not spring from labour but from exc h a nge as a parti c ular mod eofsocia l interrelationship, a nd it is through exchange that the abs traction imparts itse lf to la bo ur, making it 'abstract human labour'. The money abSlraction can be more properl y termed 'the ex chang e abs traction '.

I of equivalence is of a quality radically propert ies that ca n be see n or fe lt or



intellectual capaci ty they can be labelled by thc convenient

Kantian t c rm o f ~ ories a tri£ri'~cia ll y as thi s can all th e

materialist a ccou nt of the ca t· of K ant." Additio na l a rg umen-

tation will attempt to show that not on ly analotp, but true

identi~ exists !?etwc:eQ tbe fQrmaLelem.ents

more dra stica ll y con trast o ur egories with the id ealisti c one

of.Lhe.soc.la LSy.nihesis

and t e fqrm~ 'sJ'c ooguit ' 'ie s houl d th e n be

basis of cqgniti o n is logicall y 'basiCl'ormatio ll onhe soc ial

synthesis of its epoch. ur ex la nat ion thus a rgues that the c ategories are historica l by o~gJn an . J.!rt.::Jf!!!!tW! 'mey'l tiemsetvts effect th e ~~rarS~:;-O;l the basis of commodity production in such a way that the cog ni tive faculty they ar ti cu late is an a priori soc ial


entltlea to state that the conceptual and hist orica ll y conditiOii'ea by the

ca pacity of th e mind; although it bears th e exact ly CODlrar y appearance, that of obeying the principle of ego cogilO. Kant was right in his belief that th e basic consti tuen ts of our form of

cog nition a re preformed a nd iss ue from a prior o rigin , but he was wrong in attributing this preformation to the mind itself engaged

in the

th esis a priori', loca tabl e neith er in ti m e n or in place. I n a purel y

formal way Kant 's transcendental subjec t shows fea tures of striking lik en ess to the exchange abs trac tio n in its disti ll at ion as

money: first of a U in its 'origi n a ll y synth e tic' ch a ra cter but also in

its uniqu e oneness, for the

cannot undo the essential oneness of their monetary function.

There can be little doubt, then , that the historical-materialist explanation adopted here satisfies the formal exigencies of a theory of cognition. It accounts for the historical emergence of

phantasmagorical performance of ' transcendental syn·

multiplicit y of existing cu rrencies

Th e pecu liar th esis, then, argued o n the following pages

is to

the clear· cut d ivision

of inte ll ec tual and m anual labour as·

th e effect that ( I ) commodity exchange owes its socia ll y

sy n·

sociated with commod it y produc tion. And b y acco unt ing for its

classless society. As for Kant 's idea list ic construction, a nd th at of

th e tic function

to an abs trac tion which it o riginates, (2) that this

genesis it should also help us in percei ving th e precond iti ons of its

abstraction is not o f one p iece but is a composite of several elements, (3) that these elementary parts of the abstraction can

historical disappearance a nd hcnce of socialism as the road to a

be sepa ratel y d efined , and (4 ) that , if this is don e in suffi cie nt d eta il , these co nstitu e nt elem en ts of the exchange abstraction unmistakably r esemble the conceptu a l e leme nts of the cogniti ve faculty e qrging with th e grow th o f commodi t y productio n . As

are principles o f tho ug h t basic to

conce ptual e le men ts these forms

Greek philosophy as well as to mode rn natural science. In thi.s

becomes cl e ar t h at they serve to present th e

division of head a nd hand as a transcendental necessity. If this thesis can be argued con vi ncingly it wo uld dispose of the age-old idea that abstraction is the exelusiv£Privi.!!:ge ofthou ~t; the mind wo uld no longer be enshrined in its ow n imm anence. Ii:

hi s followers, it

would- give m lo r a comp letely· aflie'"i=Znt · appreCiatiOnOf


science and of mental labour generally laying all intellectual

activity open for an understanding of it in ternu of the social

formation of its epoch and critically evaluating its conceptual structure as well as its functional application in the light of t h e

pertinent social conspec tu s.

It is clear , on th e other hand , that a thesis of this nature ca nnot





evidence [or





primarily on arguments of rcason. So also does the Marxian theory of value and ofsurplus-value. The facts of history tell in its


by the Marxian analysis of the conditions that endow them with the historical reaiilY of va lid facts. Our theory is directly concerned only with questions ofform , form ofconsciousness and form ofsocial being, attempting [Q find their inner connec.tion, a conn ection which, in turn, affects our understanding of human history. The pivot of the argument lies with the structural form of

social being, or, more precisely, with the formal c.haracteristics attaching to commodity production and to the social synthesis arising from it. Thus the Marxian critique of political economy a nd our critique of bourgeois epistemology are linked by sharing the same methodological foundation: the analysis of the com- modity in the opening chapters of Capital and, prior to it, in the 'Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy' of t859. And the salient point of the argumen t is that this link is one of formal identity. Nevertheless, the difference in scope implies differences

in the procedure of the

analysis wh ich amounlto more than mere

shifts of emphasis. Marx was the first to discover the 'commodity abstraction' at the root of the economic calegoryofvalue and he analysed it from

the twofold viewpoint ofform and of magnitude. 'The exchange process gives to the commodity, which it transforms to money, not its value, but its specific form of va lu e' , he Slates in the chapter on 'Exchange'. The form and the magnitude ofvaluespring from different sources, the one from exchange, the other from labour. The critique of political economy hinges upon the understanding of how they combine to become the 'abstract human labour' constituting at once the form and the substance of value. Thus

the commodity

abstraction is interpreted by Marx foremost as being the 'value abstraction ' without involving the need to explore in any detail

onl y when viewed in the light

of the categories estab lished

bstraction or , as

we would say , the exchange



thoC source from which the abstraction springs. This is in perfect keeping with Marx's purpose of a critique of political economy.

For ou r purpose , however , we must concentrate in the first place on the formal aspect of value, not only in preference to, but even

in separation

differently, we hav e to proceed fro m the

of labour . Or, to put it commodity abstraction

from its economic content

to the source from where the abstraction emanates and must

a painstakingly accurate and detailed analysis of

th e formal structure of exchange as the basis of its soc ia ll y synthetic function. Thus, notwithstanding their common methodological foun. dation, th e critiq ue of political economy and th e critique of philosophical epistemolo hav ~u~n complete 1n00pende~iOleach othe r , in st ri ct accordance. that is, with the diverse systematic nature of their subject-matters. The fields of economics and of natural science have not a term in commo n, ~and it would be a hopeless endeavour to try to cope with the critique of epistemology by gTafting it on to the Marxian critique of political economy. It must be undertaken as an investigation standing on its own ground to be judged by its own standards. This does not prevent both these critical pursuits from being inseparably bound up with each other in the results they yield for our understanding of history. The class antagonisms which commodity production engenders in all its stages - in Marx's terms 'the ancient classical, the feudal, and the modern bourgeois modes ofproduction'8 are intrinsically connected with closely corresponding forms of division of head and hand ; but how this connection operates will become recognisable only when the form analysis of the exchange abstraction has been accomplished.

carry throt







The Fetishism of Intellectual Labour

A critique need s a well-defined obj ect at which it is directed; we

choose philosophical epistemology. What is the salient feature

which marks it as our pani cular object? Which philosophy most significantly rcprese nLS it and is most rewarding to criticise? From the Introd.!lction it is clear that our ch o ice has fallen upon the Kantian theory of cognition. This does not, however, mean that

the reader mu st be a specia li s t in this p a rti cu larl y daunting

philosophy -

th e object of his c ritiqu e as follows: ' Let me

far from it.

Marx clarifi es

point out once and for all that by classical political economy I mean all the economists who, sin ce th e lim e of W. Pett y, have

investigated the real internal framework of bourgeois relations of

production, as opposed to the politi cal economy in the se nse

.' 1Classical

of thi s d efinitio n culminated in lhe

vulgar econo mists

work of Adam Smit h ( 1723 - 90) and David Ricardo

( 1772 - 1823) and accordingl y th e di sc uss ion of the ir t heori es bulks larges t in M arx 's cri tical studies - for insta n ce th ose

co llected as 'Theori es of Surplus Value', This does not, howeve r , oblige anyone to embark upon a study or Smith and Ricardo

bero re

have read Marx before looking at Smith and Ricardo. Marx 's

work in economi cs start s wh e re the pea k of bourgeo is economics

reac hes its limits. *

Can we draw any parallel to this framework of the Marxian critique to elucidate our own underta king in the field or philosophical epistemology? I understand by this nam e the

readin g Ma rx , eve n though , con verse ly, it is essential to

• In Part IV the reader will find more on tke methodologica l , ignificanc"ofthi1order of things .

essential to • In Part IV the reader will find more on tke methodologica l ,





( 1596 - 1650 )

seized upon the newly founded natural science of lhe ma th- em a ti cal a nd ex perim ental method es tablished by G a lil eo

episto mo logy w hi ch since the tim e of Descart es

( 1564 - 16 42) . Thus we describe philoso phica l e pistemo logy

th e th eory of scie ntific knowledge undertaken with the a im of


proou c tio n rel a tions of bourgeois socie ty. This e nde a vo ur culmi-

nated in th e main works of Kant ( 1724 - 1804 ) , es pe cia ll y h is


th e


coherent, all-embracing


to suit

Crilique of Pure Reason. 2 I therefore confine my

ma in

a tt ention to

Ka nt 's phil oso ph y of sc ien ce which I consider

to be

th e cl ass ica l

ma nifes ta ti o n of the bourgeois fetishism of intell ec tu a l la bour . Smith a nd K a nt ha ve in common that eac h is th e fi rs t to h ave

pl aced his respec ti ve disc ipline on a systemati c foundation . Kant

might at hi s time have been introduced to an En glish publ ic as

the Adam Smith of epistemology, and at the same period Smith could have been recomm ended to a German audi ence as the Imm a nu el Kant of political econom y. H oweve r, in the light of Engels 's Ludw ig Feuerbach and lhe

Ou/comeo/Classical Ger man Phi losophy' and his s ur vey of'the wh o le

move ment sin ce Kant' one might feel inclined to ra nk Hege l

( 1770 - 183 1) a bove Kant , especially since Ricard o is frequ entl y

pl aced on a leve l with his conte mporary, Hegel , in co mpa rison

with Smith and K a nt. Whil e both the latte r, in th e ir ow n fie lds,



! ~evolved th e pos tul a t es w hi c h a full y fledg

of ea ch o th e r , f ace

tha t socie ty upo n th e

bout b y th e a d ve nt o f


ed bo ur geo i s soc i e t y '\

ShOUld be expec ted to rea lise, Ri cardo and H egel, indepe nde ntl y

d up t o t~ e inher e nt co n~ra dic ~ o n ~ r evea l e d b y

achi eve ment of thiS realisa tio n, brought

th e French R evo luti o n o f q 8g - 94 and its

N a poleonic a ft erm a th . Bu t the re is o ne importa nt d iffere nce

whi c h sets H ege l o n


plane apart fro m Rica rdo . He disc a rded

t he epistemological a pproach altogether and outstrip ped the

1and adh ered to by Ricardo in order to lift himself to the height of 'spec ulative a nd abso lute id ealism '. This ga ve him free re in to carry philoso ph y to its consummation , but it m a kes him unsuit ed as th e obj ec t for ftil y own critique.

, M a n y a good Marxist will want to join iss ue with me apparently disparaging treatment of H egel. For wa9 not afte r all , th e disco ve rer of dialecti cs and d oes no t M a rx

him as such? ' Th e m ys tifi cation which dial ec ti c suffers in H ege l's

limitations of th e cri ti cal standards of thinking observ ed b y Ka nt \

on thi s Hegel, a ccep t

hands, by no mea ns prevents him from bein g th e

it s ge n e ral form



Tru e, this is what M a rx sa ys of H egel in rega rd to the dial ec ti c,

but some Marxists have joined issue with M arx himself for

first to present and co nsciou s

head . It mus t be in ve rted ,

of wo rkin g i n a com pre h ~n sive

a nn er . W ith him it is sta nding o n its

ord er to d iscove r th e

rati o n a l kernel wi th in th e m ys tica l s hell ."

leaving this vital subj ec t so

inco mple tely elucid a ted. I mu st say


a t I have never felt quit e

co nvinced th a t to adva nce from

th e

criti cal id ealism of Kant to

th e criti ca l ma teri a lis m of M a rx


road should necessarily lead via thea5S0 ute Ideaffi'inof Hegel.

There should be the possibilit y of co nn ec tin g Ka nt and Marx



direct route at le ast syste ma ti c all y whi ch wo uld al so yield


understanding of dial ec tics as th e criti ca l, and self-criti cal , appr o a ch without fi rs t prese ntin it in the misl diDg system oflogic . Neve rtheless I admilthat th e di a lectic as evolved Jjy c a oras a way of thinking which is infinitely superior to

~ xed d ~ lism-o(19.nt. But tli e co mpl a int a bout it s duali s m

Ca-n ~a

philosoph y. And the re it d ocs it a serv i ce. ~ th c un y ieldin~ dualism of thi s phil oso ph y is su re ly a more fai.tllfUl r i31ec ti.Qn 0 t TiC re a htl es 0 1 c ap italiSmtJiiil ~an be fo und in th e elfort s ~f the _ ilhBtrious-post-Ka'nti a!!Ss tri ving to ri d th emsel ves of it o y dra Witrg-at and everything into the ieaeemmg 'immanency of the mind '. How can the truth of the bourgeois world present itself

oth er lhan as


nllan mod e

of th o ug ht

onl y as



- egerreatisart1iarTheideal of the truth co uld not acqu iesce

with it as th e ultimat e Sla te of affairs a nd he engaged o n di a lec tics

u :r~ 1'ff?

as a road

transce nding the bourgeois limit a ti o ns.

Th e rein li es his


greatness a nd th e impor ta nce of th e the d ynamic of this conce ption . But

impulse th a t he co uld no t

e manat ed from himsclf stcp out



ohh e bo urgeois world a t his epoch , a nd so he a tt ain ed the unity

outreaching Kant o nl y b r di s p n!i n g~UJuhe

criti ue and hence by wa of J~JlQW!s~e~not "!ak.e


be o ne . He simp y argu ed th a t the id ea of th e truth de mands t em

o e one , and ~be- th e- logi'c'1j !~tl'iTtruU i1f ltan o s tart

with t

th e kind or as o ne , and

th eir unity be a sys te m oflo gic? I t was nothing mo re, and nothing

more real , than th e 'bei ng' impl ied w hen I say ' I am I ', since afte r


e pi.~te m o logic al

, ~~ g~cr-oemg one , and .did nOl_engui re EOw th e


unj ry ~as it s pr es op-pm ili o n .

tng""Wilh w hi c h --r thi nk m g'--'Co'iifclbe

Bu t w lat

i s

h y post a ti se d

es op-pm ili o n . tng""Wilh w hi c h --r thi nk m g'--'Co'iifclbe


all, 'am' is the first perso n singular of the verb ' to be' in its p resent

tense. And so Hegel starts his dialectics by a process of the mind r within the mind. The Hegelian dissolulion of the Kantian antitheses is not achieved by dissolving them, but by making

I hem rlOrm as a r ocess. TtfeHe&,,!lrntn:tiaiectitr lias no Oth er

}egtt,lSia cy t lan tha t it is a processoccurring. Questioned as to its

[ passl Il ity it woUTa prove"'~i bl e. Adorno was perfectly right ~in saying: 'If the Hegelian syn th esis did work out, it would only I be the wrong one.' When Marx in th e last of his Theses on Ftuerbacll ' wrote: 'T h e philosophers have only intaprtled the world in various ways; the point however is to t1rangt it' , Hegel must hav e been foremost in

hi s thoughts, because in his philosoph y the very dialectics

of the

real change is wasted on merely 0!!Wlogisins.,,:the Idea' .


else could this Id ea be as an outcome 01'1heaialectiCiSLOgic, but the idealisation of the bourgeois world rising to the height of 'thinking' a~ihS' embracing each other in the perfection of the bourgeois State as t~ Prussian paragon of the constitutional monarchy. A simi lar treatment is meted out to all the spheres to which Hegel extended his Sf>eculaoon, that of the law, the mind,

, aesthetics, religion, history and even nature. To them all the same paHern of Logic co uld be made applicable by modifyi ng

I the kind of'being' that entered into unit y with 'thinking' in each

\ particular field.

I I am well aware that stressing only its negative side distorts

Hegel's philosophy out of recognition by suppressing the immense wealth and depth of content it owes to the revolutionary impulse of the dialectic . H egel's is a philosophy which might be said to be wrapped in twilight from beginning loend , and I do not want my few remarks to be misunderstood as being a ge neral condem- nation of this outstandi ng work. My conce rn is narrowly confined to one question o nl y: the treatment of the Kantian epistemology by Hegel on the one hand and Marx on the other. Thus il is easy to see w hat Hegel's interest was in dispensing

with the epistemological enquiry of Kant, but it was surely not the Marxian interest to do likewise. The Hegelian motivation

was rooted in the mystification of th e dialecti c which aroused

Marx 's cri ti cism. arx 's elimination of the Kantian kind


el)quiry shou ld not ~ unde;;;x,a simply- as an imitation


Hegel's have had_hi s own independent reasons for ii ,




grounded in h is materialistic conception of the dialectic, not in the idealistic one of H ege l. The Kantian enquiry was aimed at an explanation of the phenomenon of th e human intellect such as it manifested itselfin the mathematical science founded by Galileo and perfected by Newton. What was wrong with Kant's enquiry was that he looked into the nature of the human mind for an answer. Marx co uld only be satisfied with an answer drawn from natural hi story and the human departure from it in social and economic developments arisi ng from man 's producing his own means of livelihood. This kind ofanswer could not JX>SSibly be gained from H egel's philosophy. But it is this answer that we have in mind when we suggest a direct cut-through from Kant to Marx by way ofa riticalli uidation of Kant's en uiry, rather than by purely discarding it.


Can there be Abstraction other than by Thought?

FOn::!!:\pfthoug ht and forms ~fsociet have one thing in common'}0

e are both 'forms. Tile arxlan m e o thougllt" is

charactenSid by a conception ofform which distinguishes it from all other schools of thinking. It derives from Hegel, but this only SO as to deviate from him again. For Marx, form is time-bound. It originates, dies and changes within time. To conceive of form in

this way is

its originator, th~g enesis and mutation ofform is on l & within the

wer of the mind. It cOI1S'ITilii"'es the 'SCie nce of oglc'; form processes 1I1 any other field, say nature or history, Hegel conceived on ly in the patlern of logi c. The Hegelian concep t of

characteristic of dialectical th ought , but with Hegel,

on ly in the patlern of logi c. The Hegelian concep t of characteristic of dialectical


dialectic finally entitles the mind not only to primacy over manual work but endows it with omnipotence. Marx, on the other hand, understands the time governing the genesis and the mutation of forms as being , from the ver)' first , historical time - the time of natural and of human history,' · That is why the fonn processes cannot be made oul in

anticipation. No ~rima pkiloSQph~ ':Ioder any guise h as a place

Marxism. Wh a~


must first ~ established by

investigation; historical materialism is merely the name for a methodological postulate and even this only became clear to Marx 'as a result of my studies'.

Thus onc must not ignore the processes of abstraction at work in th e e mergence of historical forms of consciousness. Abstrac tio n

ca n be likened to the workshop of conceptual thought and its process must be a materialistic one if the assertion that conscious-

t ess i~ d e termined by social being is to hold true. A derivation of

1,. nSClOusness from social being presupposes a process of abstrac-

ion which is part of this being. Only so ca n we validate the

social being of man determin es his conscious-

ness ' . But with this point of view the hi storical materia list sta nd s

in irreconcilable opposition to all traditional, theoretical philo- sop hy. For this entire tradition it is an establis hed fact that

statement that 'the

r is the inhere nt a~tivi.tyand the-exclus~~e.se of


\ speak of abstractIOn In a n y other sense IS regarCl¢ as

thought; to

irresponsible, unless of course one uses the word merely me ta- pho ri ca lly . But to acquiesce in this philosophical tradition would preclude the realisation of the postulate of historical

materialism. If the formation of the consciousness, by the procedure of abstraction, is exclusively a matter for the con- sciousness itself, then a chasm opens up between the forms of

consciousness on the one side and its alleged determination in

being on the ot her. The historical materialist wou ld deny

theory the existence of this chasm, but in pra ctice has no solution to olTer, none at any rate that would bridge th e chasm. Admittedly it must be taken into consideration that the

'We k.now only one sc:ienc~, the lCi~nceof hilltory. H istory can be regarded from two



" d el: I.he hillory ofnalure and the hut?'"Y0fman . Neither, ide, OOwC\ler can beseparatcd

from ume

(T~ c;"IfIll1IltkoI0D (m German: Frii1ut:llrij/nt , cd . S.l.andlhut andJ. P.

May cr , p . 10) . ) fhe paragnoph that begin. th~ lin Ci is cru.sed ou t in Man'.

handwritten manUSCTi}H, but they retain t heir value III an

CSS(mial nrr-ion of hi!

though, .



philosophical tradition is itse lf a produ c t of the division between m ental and manual labour, and since its begi nning with Pythagoras, H eraclitu s and Parm enid es has been a p rese rve of intellectuals for int ell ectua ls, ina ccessib le to manual workers . Little has changed he re, eve n today. For this reason the testimony of this tradition, even if unanimous, does not carry the weight of authority for those who take their stand with the manual worker. Tl)syiew lba! abs!t!oction~~ nol the cl'c1!,!siY:e . propert y of the mind, but a r ises in commod it exchan e was first


CritIque if Political EconoFt!} of 1859, where he speaks of an abstraction other than that of thought.

bY~r! .In :theJiignmtng 0

al!lta a. ni:l e~r ler in the


The Commodity Abstraction

The form of commodity is abstract and abstractness governs itS) whole. orbit. To begin with , exchange-value is itself abstract value III conlrast to th e use-va lue of com modities. The exchange- value is subject o nl y to qu a llli ta tive differentiation , and this quantification is again abstract compa red with the quantity which measures usc-values. M ar x points ou t with particular emphasis that even labour, when determining the magnitude and substance of value, becomes 'abstract human labour', human labour purely as suc h . The fo rm in which com modity- value takes on its concrete appeara nce as money - be it as coinage or bank-n otes - is a n abstract thing which, st ri ctly

speaking , i s a co ntradi ction in t er m s. In th e iorm 01 monev fiche s become abstract ri ches and, as owner of suc h ri ches, man 'him sel f

a private property-owner. Lastly a

society in which co mmodit y exchange forms the nexus rerum is a

purely abstract set of relations where everything concrete is in private hand s.

becom es an abstract man,

rerum is a purely abstract set of relations where everything concrete is in private hand s.


The essence of commodity abstrac tion , howeve r , is that it is no t thought-induced; it does not originate in men's minds hut in their acti ons. And yet this does .!!Q.l-K!ve 'abs trilj:lion ' a.-mg,dy

n~~p h o rica l meaning . It i s a~ sense. The econom ic concept

of va lue


pr eciser lite ral




charactensed by a complete absence ofquality, a differentiation

purely by quantity and by applicability to every kind of commodity and sc::rvicc which can occur on the market. These

qualities of th e

striking similarity with fundamental categories of quantifyi ng

natural science without, admittedly, the slightest inner re-

lationship between these heterogeneous spheres being as yet

economic value abstraction indeed displ ay a

recognisable . While the conccE:ts of natural scien



ce a re thought

o(v-alue is a real one. It exists

nowh~re o ther than in 11ie human ·mind but it does not spring

t: Ifro m It. Rather it is purely social in charac ter, arising in the

J spatio.~e~poral s phere ofh~man interr~latio ~ s. It i s , not p eo pl e

who ongmate these abstractions but their actions. '1 hey do this without being aware of it.'7 In ord er to d o justice to Marx 's Critique of Political Economy th e commodity or value abstraction revealed in his analysis muSl be

vie~~ as a ual ah~tracti~n resulting fro~ s~tempotaL

actlvtt y. U nderstood III thIS way, Marx's djsc:6Very stands in irreco nci la bl e contradic tio n to th e e ntire tradition of theo reti ca l


il osoph y and this con tradiction must be brought into t h e ope n


critical confrontation of the two conflicting stand points. BUI such

a confrontation does not fonn part of the Marxian analysis. I agree with Louis Althusser that in the theoretical foundations

of Capital more fundamental issues are a t stake th a n those showing in the purely economic argument. Ahhusser believes that Capital is the answer to a question implied but not formu lated by Marx . 8 Althusser defeats the purpose of his search for this question by insisting 'que la production de la

conn aissa nce

la petult'. He understands Marx on th e commodity abstrac- metap ho ri call y, wher eas it should be ta ken literall y and its

epistemological implications pu rsued so as to grasp how Marx 's

cons titue un processus qui se passe tout entier



o n

\ method turns Hegel 's dial ec ti c ' right sid e up ' . The unproclaimed 1theme of Capital and of the com modit y a nalysis is in fact the real





Its scope

reaches further



econo~ics- indt:cd. i t con cerns th.e heritage of philosophy fa r ~6 more direc tly th a n It co ncerns poiltical economy. I Some people go fu rth er and accust: Marx of having ig nored the

epistemological implications of his own mode of thinking. Here I agrt:e that , if one ta kes up th ese imp li cat ions a nd pursues them consistt:ntly, epistemology itself undergoes a radical transfor· mauon and indeed merges into a theory of society. H owever I believe that the fallacies of the epistemological andldt:ahstic tradition are more effectively elimina ted if one dOes not talk of 'the-th-e-ory oCknowledge' but the division of mental and manual

labOur ins(eacr.For then the prac tical significance


- itt e contradiction between the real abstraction in Marx and ~ the thought abstraction in th e th eory of knowledge is not brought to any critical confrontation, one must acq ui esce with the total lack of connection betwee n th e scientific form ofthoughl and the historical social process. MenIal and manual labour must remain divided. This means, however, that o ne must a lso acquiesce with the persi stence of social class di vision, even if this assum es the form of socialist bureaucratic rul e. Marx 's omission of the theory_\ afknowledg e resu l ts in th e lack of a th eory of mental a nd manual \ 0~ la OOTIr; i t IS, i n o t ler wor s, the th eo r e ti ca l o mi ssio n of a '" pmbn dition of a classless socie ty w hic h was see n by Marx himself to be fundam e nt a l. TJy.e poLiti cal impli ~a tio n heightens it s t h eoretica l impor tan ce. For not only mu st th e conce pti on of history be broad ened to i.nclude science, but also its method must be a consistently critical one. For Marx arrives a t th e correc t understand ing of things only b y cri ticall y tra cing the causes that give rise to the false

of the whofe

becomes apparent.

consciousness oper at ing in class socie ty. Thus, to the condi tions of a class less society we must add, in \ agreement wi th Marx, the unity of mental and manual labour, or

as he puts it, t!:!~disa.ePearance of th eir dJ.yisiQ,fuf.nd the prese nt study maintains that an adequate insight can only be gained into the co nditions ofa classless soc ie ty by in vesti gatin g th e origin of

the division of head and hand. - --- - -- TfiisinVolves a critique of philosop hi ca l epistemology which is the false consciousness arising from this d ivision. The Marxian concept of c ritiqu e owes its parentage 10 Kant in his Critique of Pure R eason. We no w apply in full circle th e principle of critique in

its parentage 10 Kant in his Critique of Pure R eason. We no w apply in


this sense to the Kantian epistemology. This is the classical manifestation of the bourgeous fctishiom embOOied in th e mental labour of science. \Ve must tra ce the division of mental and manuaJ labour back tOlucarlieStocc urrence in Ilisl~ory. This origin we date from the beginnings of Greek philosophy because its antecedents in Egypt and Mesopotamia are prescientific. Our task, now, amounts to the critical demonstration of the

co mmodit y abstraction. This is only a reformulation of what was

'c riti ca l co nfrontation '. We have to

previously referred to as

prove that the exchange abstraction is, first, a real histgrLcal

occ urren ce

in tlln e ana space, and, secon(l:-that ~t.is an

abstrac ion in the strict se;nse acknowledged in epis temology . THIS enquiry must be preceded by a descript ion of Ihe phe gQ,!!l- enon under investigation.


The Phenomenon of the Exchange Abstr:ac-uon-

The Marxist co nce pt of commodity abstraction refers to the labour which is embodied in the commodities and which determines the magnitude of their valu e. The value-creating labour is termed 'abstract hum an labour' to differentiate it from

co ncrete la bo ur which c rea tes use -va lues. Our main concern is to

clarify this 'commoclity abstraction ' and to

roots . It must be stated from the outset that our analysis of exchange and value differs in certain respects from that of Marx in the opening of volume I of Capital without, for that matter, contradicti ng his analysis. Marx ,was concerned with the 'critique of political economy', while our subject is the theory ofscientific

trace it! origin to its

subject is the theory ofscientific trace it ! origin to its THE PHENOMENON OF THE EXCHANGE


knowledg~ and its histori cal-ma ter ialist eriliqu~. H owever, Marx him se lf has defined the aspect of excha nge as it concerns our purpose:

However lo ng a series of periodical reproductions and preced- ing accumulations the capital functioning today may have passed through , it always preserves its or iginal virginity. So long as the laws of excha nge are observed in every sing le act of exchange - taken in isolation - the mode ofappropriation [of the surplu s - S.-R .) ca n be com pletely revolutionised without in any way affecting the property rights which correspond to commodity produ ct ion. Th e same rights remain in force both at the outset, when tht product belongs to its producer, who, exchanging equivalent for equivalent, can enrich himself

only by his own labour , and

social wealth becomes to an ever-increasing d egree the propert y of those who are in a position to appropriate the unpaid labour of others over a nd over again. -

in th e period of capitalism, when

@ Hencetheformal structureOfcommodityeXChange, ineverD

single act, remains the same throughout the various stages of 1

commodity production. I am concerned

ormal structure, which ta kes no account of the relationship 0

value to labour. Ind eed where labour is taken into consideration we are in th e field of economics. Our interes t is confined to the

in exchange which we sha ll find de-

abstraction co ntained

excl usivel y with this

termines the conceptu a l mode of thinking culi . 'es based on comm torr:- n order to pursue our particular purpose of tracing to its origin the abs tractio n permeati ng com modit y exchange we slightly moclify the starting base of the analysiS . Marx begins by distingui Shing use-valu e and excha nge-value as the major con- trasting aspects of every co mm odi ty. We trace these aspects to the different human activities to which they correspond , the actions of use and the action of exchange . The relationship betwee n these '

two contrasting kind s of activity, use and exchange, is the basis of the contrast and relationship between u~-value and exchange-


Contained in this rel ationsh ip. The point is that usc and ex c hange are not o nly diffe rent an~


ex plan atio n


the abstraction of exchange is



Q:o n trast ing b y d escr iptio n , but are mUl u a ll y cxclusiv~ in tim e_

times. This is

Th e)' must

take p lace separately al


because exchange servcs on ly a change of ownership, a change,

of a purely social status of th e commodities as

ow ned property. In order to ma ke this c hange possi ble on a basis

of negot ialt

tha t is, in terms


agreeme m the physical cond iti on of the com-

modities, their




material status, must remain unchanged, or a t any

Commodit y







(Kehan e ca nn ot ta ke

unl ess

th is

lace as a recognised socia l instit yt ion

rin enli y

exchan e



o~ve d. T hi s




whi ch

need on y be utlered



convincing, and I regard it as a firm basis o n whic h to build fa r - rcach in g co nclusions. First, ther efore, let us be clear as to the specific na ture of thi s particular restriction of usc . For there are, of course, countl ess

situations aparl from exchange where the use of thin gs is slopped, hindered, interrupted or otherwise disputed . None of these have

Thin gs may be stored for lat e r

usc, others put o n one si d e for the chi ldren , win e may be kept in

the ce lla r !O mature , injured bodies be ordered a rest, and so on. These a r e stoppages or dela ys o f use decided upon by the users themselves and done in the service of their use. Whether they happen in a priva te household or on tJle wider basis of prod uc tion carried on in common with other people, cases of this kind are no t

o n a level compara bl e w ith exc hange, because use here is not forbidden by social command or necessity . But sootal interference occurs w herever th ere is explol!ation wlthotJ't"' for that reason

a lone bei ng necessarily si mila r t~ge. Long befo re there was commodity production exp loitation assumed one of the many forms of what Marx has termed 'direct lordship and bondage'. This is exploitation based o n unilateral app ropriatio n as opposed to the reciprocity of exchange . In a ncient Bronze Age Egypt , for instance, priests and scribes and other servants of th e


Nilotic peasams and put it imo slOrage. O nce the produce was

co ll ected ne ith er the peasant produ ce rs nor the co ll eclOrs had access to these gO<Xls for their own usc, for the power and au thority for th e co ll ection emanated fr om the Pharaoh. ~ hcre was a transference of property, but a public, not a private, one,

there was the same immutability of the material status of the

th e same signi fI ca n ce as exchange.

Pharaoh were engaged to collec t surplus produce from




prod.uc~ held in sto re for disposal by the ruling aut ho riti es which ~PP~Ies In th e case .o f. commod i ties i n exc han ge. Therc we re

SIglllfica~lt formal SI mIl a r ities between Baby lollla and Ir on Age Greece , an d we

pa r~ of this study that th e p r oto-sc i ence w hi ch emerged in the anc ient o rienta l civilisations ca n be acco un ted fo r on these ~oun~ s. B~t th e g r eat difference i s t h at t he socia l power unposmg thIS control over t he use of things was in the natu re of the personal authority of the Pharaoh obeyed by every member

Bronze Age Egypt or sh a ll fi nd in the second

of the ruling set-up. In pnxiuction,

a n society based on has lost
a n
society based
has lost
set-up. In pnxiuction, a n society based on has lost of the society has disap- peared,

of the society has disap-

peared, and the control over the use a nd disposal of things is now


exercised anarchi ca ll

by the


of the

market in



e laws 0

n vate





the law s of

tht stp a ratjon a

ex~bange and u se.


'I hus the sa li en t feature of the act of exc hange is that its

h as assumed the co m pe Uin g necessity of an \:Vherever commodity exchange ta kes place,

It does so m effectlye ' abStraction ' from use. Thi s is a n abstraction -not i? mind, hru D f,9' It is a state of affairs prevailing at a defirnt e place and Iasung a d cfi ni te tim e. ll is the sta te of affairs whi ch reigns on the ma rk et.

. There, in the market-place and in shop windows, things sta nd sull. They are under t he spell of one act ivity only; to change owners. They stand there waiti ng to be sold. While they are there for exchange they are there not for usc. A commodit y marked out at a definite price, for ins tance, is loo ked upon as be ing frozen to a~lute i~mutability throughout the time during which its pTl.ce rem a ms unaltered. And the spe ll does not o nl y bind the domgs of ma n . Even nature herse lf is supposed to abstain fr om any ravages in the body of this commodit y and to hold her breath , as it were, for the sa ke of thi s socia l business of man.


Evidentl y, even the aspec t ofnon- hum an llat ure is a ffected by banishment of use from the sphere of exchange.

The abstraction from use in no way imp li es, however, that the use-va lue of the com moditi es is of no co ncern in the market. Quite the contrary. While excl~nge banishes use from the

se~ar~tion fr~ m u se

?bJecuve .soc lalla.w.

in the market. Quite the contrary. While excl~nge banishes use from the se~ar~tion fr~ m u





actions of marketing people, it does not banish it from their -Of minds. However, it must remain confined to their minds,


occu pying th em in their imagination and thoughts o nl y. This is

no t

th e right to ascertain the usc-value of the commodities o n offer .

They may examine them at dose quarters, touch them, try them

out , or try them on, as k to have them demonstrated if the case arises. And th e demonstration sho uld be id entica ll y like the use for whi ch the com modi ty is (o r is not ) acqui red . On stand ards of empiricism no difference should prevail betwttn the use o n show

to say that their t h oug h ts need lack reali t y. Customers have

and th e use i n pra ct ice. Thi s, however, is th e difference that

mallers Oil the business standards which rule in the market. Of a commodity in the market th e empirical data come un der reservations like those argued in subject ive idealism; material reality accrues to them when the object is out of the market and

passt:s, by virtue of the money paid, into the private sphere of the

acquiring customer. , 41 It i s certain th at the c u stomers think of co mm od i ties as objects

of use, or nobody would bother 10 excha nge them (and co nfid ence tricksters would be out of business). Th e banishment of use during exchange is entirely independent of what the

of Ih e

exchanging agents (buyers and sellers of sodium chlorate might

have gardening in mind or bomb· making). T hus, in speaking of the abstractness of excha nge we must be breful not to apply the term to the consciousness of the

spec ific use may be and can be kept in the private minds


XChangin g agents. They are s upposed to be osru pied wit h the

occu pied in their imagin.

ft tion onl y. It is the action of exc~and the action a lone,

that is abstra ct. The co nscio usness and th e action of the people




se of the com modi ties they se.e


part compan)' in exchange and go different ways. We have to

interco nne ction. becomes the typical

of production, man's imagination grows more and morc

-J separate from his actions and becomes increasingly in· dividualised. , eventu ally assumi ng th e dimensions of a private co nsciousness. This is a phenomenon deriving ils origin , not from the private sphere of use, but precisely from the public one of the market. The individualised consciousness also is beset by ab- stractness, bu t this is not the abstractness of the act ofexchange at

trace th dr ways separately, and also their



commodity production d evel ops and

and also their As form commodity production d evel ops and THE P HEl" OMENON OF



its source. Fo~ the abs tractness of tha t action ca nnot be noted

when it happens, since it only happens beca use the consciousness


appearan ce of thin gs which pertains to their use. On e cou ld saX1

that the abstractness of tbei c ac tion is beyond reaIiaatjon by tb ;

th e wa . Were would cease to

be exchange and the abstraclio,n would not ar ise. Neve rtheless

actors because their ve consciousness stands in

its age nts is taken up with thei r bu siness and with the e mpirical

e abstractness to catch th ei r minds their action


abstrac tn ess of exchange dOts enter their minds, but only after


event, when they are faced with the comp le ted result of th e

circ ulati on of the co mmodities. The c hi ef resu lt is money in which Ih e a bstractness ass um cs a se para te embod im ent. Then , howeve r, ' the movement through whi ch the proc<.--s!i has been mediat ed. va ni shes in its own resuh, leaving no trace behind ' .10

This will occupy us more fully later on. Here we want to return once more to the se paratio n of exchange from use and to its basic nature.

Wh en looking


at usc and exc han ge as kmds of hum a n pracnce l.:J

it becom es plain to see in what manner th ey excl ude eac h oth~r. - n:tro/?

Either ca n take pla ce o.nl y wh~le .the ot h e r does not. Th ~ ~r~ctl~e

of ,use' covers a well·mgh unhmned field of human acuvltles; to

fact it em braces a ll the material processes by which we li ve as bodily be ings on the bosom of mother earth, so to speak, comprising the entirety of what Marx terms 'man's interchange with nature ' in hi s labour of production and his enjoyme nt of consumption. This material practice of man is at a stand still , or assumed to be at a st andst ill , whi le the other practice, that of exchange, holds sway. This practice has no meaning in terms of nature: it is purely social by it s constitution and scope. ~n atom of mailer enters into the object ivit x of commodi ti es a s ~~\

values; in lhiS'ills the direc t opPQ.Site of thu.oa[Scl y sensuo us v"'{

o ~ectlvll 0 commoo ttl es as physica l bodies .'u The po int is that

notwithstanding the negation that excha~ge implies of the ph ysica l realities of use and use· va lue, the transfer of possession negoti ated under property laws in no way lacks physical realit y

itself. Exchange involves Ih e movement of the co mm odit ies in ' ') time and space from owner to owner a nd constitu tes events of no

less physica l realit y than the activit ies of use which it rul es out. It

is indeed precisely beca use their physica l reali ty is on a par that

both kind s of pra ct ice, exchange and USc, a re mutua ll y exclusive





28 CRITIQ.U£ OF PHILOSOPHICAL EP ISTEMOLOGY 1"+ · n time . 11 is in its capaci


· n time . 11 is in its capaci t y of a re a l eve nt in time and space t ha t

O the a bst ra ction app li es to exchange, it is in its precise meaning a

the ' use' from w hi ch Ih e abs traction is made

rea l abstraction a nd

encom passes th e en tire range of se nse rea lit y.

Thus we have, on the basis of commodil Y produClion, two sphe res of spatio- te mporal realit y sid e by sid e, yet mutua ll y excl usive and of sharpl y contrasting d escription. It would help us

to ha ve names b y which

is orten ca lled ' the first or primary nalure ', material

is te rm ed a 'seco nd ,

purely social, nature' entirely abstract in make-u p. They are boll1 ca ll ed ' nature' [Q point to the fa c t t ha t th ey constitut e

worlds equally spalio-temporal by reality and inextricably interwoven in our social life. The ancient legend of King Midas, who wished for everything he touched to turn to gold a nd died

we co uld d esignat e t hem. In Ge rm an th e

l world of ' use' in subs tan ce,

while the sphere of exc hange


( u po n ha vin g hi s wish fulfilled , vi vidly ilIu !i trat es h ow co n trasti n g in rea lit y a nd ye t how closely associated in o ur minds bot h th ese na tures arc . Thi s, in the bri efest way , is th e foundation o n whi c h I sha ll base my historical and logical explanation of the birth of philosoph y in Greek society of slave·labou r , and of the birth of

on wage·labour. To

I substa nti a te m y views three points have to be es tabli shed :

commodit y exchange is an original so urce of abstrac·

IS ti o n ; ( 6 ) that thi s abstraction contai n s th e fo rm al el eme n ts

modern science in European societ y based

(a) lilat

essential for the cognitive faculty ofconceptual thinking; (c) tha t the real abstraction operajng-irrexehallge engenders the

id~a l abstraction basic science.

yY lireek philosophy and to modem

IS necessary to recapttulat e th e points

I{, Im a d e so fa r: com modit y exchange is abstract beca use it excl ud es

On th e first point, It

usc; th at is to say, the action of exchange excl ud es the action of ~se. But while exchange banishes use from the actions o f peo pl e,

mind s o f th e

xchanging agents must be occupied with the purposes which prompt them to perform their deal of exchange . Th erefore whi le it is necessa ry that their action of exch a nge sho uld be abstract fr o m use there is a lso necess it y that th eir minds sho uld not be. he action a one IS a s rae The a bstractness of their action will , as a conseq uence, escape the minds of the people performing

It d ocs n Ot b a nish it from their mind s.

Th e


It d ocs n Ot b a nish it from their mind s. Th e ,

it. !n exchange. ~ ?£IlOn is social. lhi mindS art pnva7i; Thu s, the I




actl~n and the thmkmg of people part compan y in exchange and

godlfferent ways. In pursuing point (h) of our theses we shall take the way of the action of exchange, and this will occupy the next two chapters. For point (c) we shall turn to the thinking of the commodity owners a nd of their philosophical spokesmen, in Part

II of the book.



Economics and Knowledge

How does society hold together when production is c arried out f independently by pri va te producers, and all forms of previous produ c tion in com mon have broken as und er? On such a basis I

society can cohere in no other way than by the buying and selling

of the products as commodities. Private production becomes

increasingly specia lised a nd the producers become increasingly upon one another according to the division of labour

between them. . . It is ~Ylbuying.my .
. It is ~Ylbuying.my .

SOCia nexus,Just as It not the making of it. to ta lk o f the social nexus, or, as we may

call it, th e soc ial we ha ve to ta lk of exc hange and not of

use . In enforc ing the

the actions

market as a tim e· and space·boulld vac uum d evoid of all inter- exchange of man with nature. What enables commodity exchange to perform its socialising fun c tion - to effect the socia l sy nth es is - is its abstractness from

separatio n from use, or mor e precisely , from

of use, th e ac ti vi ti es of exc hange presuppose the

t '"'L

from use, or mor e precisely , from of use, th e ac ti vi ti




wi rephrased in the paradoxical form: how i s 'pure' socia lisation

to the same criteria

of ' pureness' which Kant applies to his concept of 'p ure

mathematics ' and ' pure sc ience'. In offers a time- and space-bo und and

Kantian enquiry into the conditions by which pure mathematics

and purc scien ce are possible. Kant 's enquiry was an idealistic one. Translated into Marxi st terms it reads: How is objective

knowledge of nature possible

labou r? Formulated in this way our questions aim direc tl y at the pivotal point of the division between mental and manual labour - a division which is a socially necessary co ndition of the ca pitali st mode of production. These remarks should show how our form analysis of the commodity abstraction can serve the histori cal-materialist cr iti-

so urces other than manual

this wording our question historica l coro llary to the

'"' poss ibl e? - the word ' pure' here confo rming

everything relating to use. Our qu estion could thus also ~


qu e of the traditiona l theory of knowledge as a comp lement to Marx's critique of political economy. This merits further elucidation. in commodity exc hange the action and the consc iousness of

1/ people go separat e


_Only the action is abstract; the

f conscious ness of the actors is not. The abstractness of lhei~tion

0( iSTlidden to the people performing it. Th e actions of exchange are

'. ""


redu ced to stri Ct uniformity, eliminating the differences of people, commodities, locality and date. The uniformity finds ex pression in the monetary function of one of th e commod iti es acting as the common denominator to all the ot hers. The relations of exchange transacted in a market express themselves in quantitative differencesor-fhi~niform denominator as , different 'prices' and create a system a ~ ialc ommuoicatiQn.Qf

odence of


rformed b

individuals in complete In


one another and oblivious of the socialising'effect involved. The

Pivot 0 t IS mooe ofsocTiilsation tsthe abstractiqn[ru:riDs1 (Qthe action 0 exc ange.- Tliis abstraciion is the dominating form e lemen t 01 commqdity exchange to which we give an even wider significance than did Marx, who was the first to discover it. The chief difference distinguishing the Marxian treatment of

eco nom ics from the bourgeois one lies in the

accorded to the formal aspects of economic reality . The under-

standing of form as attached to being and not only to thinking



was the mam principle of dialectics which Marx drew from Hegel.


Politi ca l economy has ind eed ana lysed va lue and its mag ni - tud e, howeve r incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has neve r once asked the

question why

this content has assumed that particular form ,

that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the va lu e of th e produet. 1f

This Marxian sense of the objective necess ity and the anony~ mity of th e formal developm ents of economic life in its sheer historical reality excels in the anal~sis of the commodity and of the genesis of its monetary expressIOn. Thus the difference between the Marxian critique ofpolitical economy and our critique of idealisti c epistemology cannot be confined to the simp le contrast betwee n the economics of the


commodity exchange. Both a re inseparably linked in the Marx-

ian ana1ysis. Our int e rest ce ntr es on the co n vers ion ofthe.for~ of I 4

the social being in the epochs of commodity production 1I1to the forms of cognition !ffict~r to these epochs. Marx clearly indicat es the way in w lic thi s co nversion takes place. The separation of action and consciousness of peopl e engaged in exchange make it im possibl e for th e forms of exchan ge to impart themsel ves to the human mind at the source of these forms. The

abstraction app lying to the mere action of exc han ge produces its own practical results, th e principal oneofwhich is the emergence

of money. Marx has ana lysed thi s process in

first chapter of Capital and sum s it up again as follows:

of values and the formal aspect of value and

great detail in th e

deepening or the phenomenon

of exchange develops th e opposition between use-value and value which is latent in th e na~urc of the ~ommod.it.Y'The need

he histori cal broadening a nd

~ to give an external expression to tlus opposillon for the purposes or commercial intercourse produces the drive to- wards an independent form of value, which finds neither r es t nor peace until an independent form has been achieved by the differentiation of commodities into commodities and money.


At the same rate , then , as the transformation of the produ cts of

labour into commodities is accomplished , commodity is transformed into money.u-


partic ular

It might be argued, however, that Marx's analysis of the commodity rules out a purely formal analysis of the exchange abstraction because, to Marx, the abstractness of value always transmits itself to labour and finds its real meaning in abstract human labour as the economic substance of value . On the other han~, there are places where Marx contemplates the exchange relallon between commodities taking a certain shape inde- pendently of the quantitative aspect. But even where the form of value is considered as related to labour this relation is often presented as an implication consequent upon the formal charac- teristics of exchange. Particularly is this the case where the law of value is shown in its actual mode of operation.

Men do not therefore bring the product of their labour into relation with each other as value because they see th ese objects merel y as the material integuments of homogeneous human abour . The reverse is true: b y equating their different p~oducts to.each other in exchange as va lues, they equate their different kmds of labour as human labour. They do this without being aware of it.14


And more clearly:

The production of com modi ies must be fully developed before

the scientific conviction erne es, from experience itself, that all the different kinds of priva e labour (which are earried on independently of each athe and yet, as spon tan eous ly

I division of labour are in a

developed branches of the soci

Situation of all-round depend nce on each other) are co n- tin~al1y ~eing reduced to th quantitative proportions in which society requires them. he reason for this reduction is that in the midst of the accidental and ever-fluctuating




• T.ranslation slightl y rnOOifi~ by m(C - S.-R. The ereation of ooin~ money fint oc<:umng ilround 680 B.C. on the Ion ian side oftht Gred. A(Cg~an is a u.fe indication that the colwcnion 0( product£ into comrnOOilics and the technical needs 0( commucial practice had ~achcd an advanc~ stage . w~ .halt r~r(r to this faet laler .

an advanc~ stage . w~ .halt r~r(r to this faet laler . ECONOMI CS AND KNOWLE



exchange relations between the products, the labour-time socially necessary to produce them asserts itselfas a regulative law of nature. In lhe same way , the law of gravity asserts itself

when a person's house collapses on

termination of th e ma gnitude of value by labour-time is therefore a secret hidd en und er the apparent movements in the

relative va lues of commoditi csY'

top of him. The dhl-

Surely the exchange relations must have the formal ability to weave a web of social coherence among the mass of private individuals all acting ind epend en tl y of one another before. by the action of these exchange relations, their labour spent on all the multi-variety of products can be quantified proportionately to the social needs. Very probably a case could be made for either interpretation from the text of Marx 's writings, but neither shall I employ the length of time required for such a MarxologicaJ controversy, nor shalll make my conviction dependent upon its outcome. I shall define the pure.ly formal capacity of the exchange abstraction and its social function as 1see it and proceed to prove its realityon

evidence of detailed analysis. This convi ction of mine, that

the 'commodity form ', to use Marx's expression, can be analysed.

as a ph enomenon of its own , in se paration from the economic

issues, does mark a difference from the Marxian theory but only

in the se nse that it add s to this theory. The formal analysis of the

commodity holds the key not only to the critique of political


conceptual mode of thinking and of the division of intellectual and manual labour, which came into ex istence with it. One thing is certain, the rights or wrongs of my deviation from Marx cannot be decided in the abslract , but only in the light of the results. People become aware of the exchange abstraction only when they come face to face with th e result which their own actions

have engendered 'be hind their backs' as Marx says.l~ the exchan ge abstraction achieves concentrated representation, but

functional one - emh ied · a coin. It is not recogms-

its true identity as abstract form , but disguised as a thing


economy. but also to th e hi stori ca l exp lanation of the

r mere

a Ie in

one carries about in one 's pocket , hand s out to others , or receives from them. Marx says explicitly that the value abstraction never \ assumes a represelll at ion as such , since the onl y ex pression it ever


explicitly that the value abstraction never \ assumes a represelll at ion as such , since


~J findS is the equation o f one commodity w i th the use·value of a noth er. Th e go ld or silve r or other matter wh ic h lends to mon ey

iu palp able and vis ible Ixx:ty is merely a meta pho r of the valu e

abstraction it embodies, not this abstraction iudf.

- 8uI J se t ou t to argue that the abstractness ope rating in excha nge and reflected in value docs nevertheless find an

identica l ex pression , namel y the abstract intellec t, or the so-

ca lled ' pu re und ers tanding' know led ge.

true historica l explanation of the

eni gma ti c 'cognitive faculties ' of civilised man we must carr y out

a n isola ted anal ys is of the formal chara cteri sti cs of commodity

exchange in complete methodological separation from any cons id era tion of t he magnitude of value and th e role of human labour associated with it. These considerations are concerned with th e economics of exchange and have been dea lt with by

- the cognitive source of scientifi c

To prove

this to

be the


a rx in hi s critique of political econom y, and re ma in

unaffec ted


ou r enquiry. Equall y unaffe cted are lhe fo rm s of co nsc iou sness

all those mental

forms residing under the name of 'ideologies'. These do not conce rn o ur present stud y, which is to be und erstood as an attempt purely at a critique of idealistic epistemology, comp· le mentary to Marx' sc ritique of poli tical econom y, but based o n a systematic foundation of its own.

which are pan of the economic life ofsociety a nd

its own. which are pan of the economic life ofsociety a nd THE AN AL VSIS
its own. which are pan of the economic life ofsociety a nd THE AN AL VSIS




The Analysis of the Exchange Abstraction



In commodity· producing soc ie ti es the significance and hi storical

necess it), of the exchange abstraction

its spatio.temporal



.realitYis that it rovides th e form of the soc ial s nthesis. None 0ID '

the activities ofpr

every individual depe nd s, could tak e pla ce in


on an

consumption, on w Ich the life of

the social system of

the division of labour without the intervention of commodity

exchange. Ever y eco nomic c risi s is a n object lesson of the trut

that produ ct ion

the degree that th e exchan ge nex us fails. H ert.: we shall abstain

from enterin g into an y economi c aspec ts of the problem which lie

and c onsumption a r e disrupted in proportion to ~ If.



a r e disrupted in proportion to ~ If. "~ that It is to assure ourselVe5

It is

to assure ourselVe5 \ "


to ~ If. "~ that It is to assure ourselVe5 \ " ~ we mu st

we mu st c arry o ut abs traction in answer to th e qu estio n : How is social

posrible by means oj commodity exchange?

A t first sight the phrasing of the qucstion is one that resembles Kant more clearly than it does Marx. There is, however, a good Marxist reason for this. The impLi ed compariso n is not between Kant and Marx but between Kant and Adam Smith - between the disciplines they founded : epistemology and political econ· omy. Adam Smith's Wealth ofNatioflSof 1776 and Kant's Critiqul oj Purl R lason of 1781 are , above a ll others, the two works which , in completely un co nn ected fi e ld s a nd in total sys tematic inde~ pendence from eac h other, strive towards the sa me goal: to prove the perfect normalc y of bourgeois socie ty.


3 6


to produ ce

commodity values, Adam Smith proves that society is best served

by allowing unimpeded freedom to every private owner to do as

he pleases with his propert y. Whe ther for

Adam Smith was convinced, or for its undoing, as Ricardo began

to s u s p ec t, they believed this was in

in he rent in human society . We know Marx s commochty analysIs served to d emolish this very basic ass umption on whi ch rests th e whole system of political economy, and from his critique Marx un cove rs the true inner dialectic of bourgeois society. Kant 's work does not presuppose that it is in th e nature orl he

hum a n mind to perform its labou r in se paralion fr o m manual

labour but it leads to that conclusion. Certai nl y he seld om menti~nsmanual labo ur and the ' labouring classes ', although he

neve r doubts their socia l place. But this pla ce in soc ie ty has no bea rin g upon the possibility of the workings o f th e hum an mind.

Assum ing that it is in the nature of human labour

the good of soc iety, as

confo~m ity with . th e norn~s

Th e th eo ry

in th e very ' fac t that it owes no debt to manual labour. Ind eed K ant's task was to explain how these two disciplines were possible, all an a priori basis in the mind. Th e empiricist arguments ofHume impeded Kant because th ey cast dou bt u~n

the apodeic ti c

and only this value could warrant the division of knowledge

accordin g to principles a priori and prin cipl es of a /JOslm·ori. T his mea nt th e sin gling out ofa part of our being which is u nd erivable fro m o ur ph ys ical and sensorial nature, and which ca rri es the

of pure math ema tics and pure scie nce. Thu s a


bourgeois o rder of soc iety unde rs tood as a di vision between t he

educated and labouring classes would form natu ra ll y if left to

itself, wit ho ut havi ng to rel y on

a nd without cu rtailin g freedom

plact.-d. in the way of men's public activities the better served will

be th e comm o n weal by morality , ju sti ce and inte ll ectua l

progress. 1 ' This, a ccording to Kant , is the only

reason, by

conditions ofli-eedom. That this order concealed within itself the class di visio n was a fact hidden to Kant as it was to th e o ther philosophers of the bou r gcois e~htenmcn ~ arx ~a lled Kant 's contribution 'the philosophy6fthe French R evolution', not least beca use of this ill usion. But th e di vision between th e 'edu ca ted '

way, founded on kee ping with th e

pri vi leges from birth o r religion of thought. Th e fewer o bstacl es

va lue of the ca tegories of th e pure und e rstandmg

of ' pure mathematics' and of ' pure science' triumphs

which society can maintain itse lf in

science' triumphs which society can maintain itse lf in THE AN ALYSIS OF THE EXCHANGE ABSTRACTION
science' triumphs which society can maintain itse lf in THE AN ALYSIS OF THE EXCHANGE ABSTRACTION



and ' labouring' cl asses was the co ncept und er whose au spi ces the bourgeois soc iety of eco nomi ca ll y u nd eveloped Ge rman y con- tinued to take shape, in contr as t to the concepts of ca pital and labour in the W es t, where po li t ica l eco nomy rul cd bo urgeois thinking. What place here has ou r own 'critique of epis-



The presuppositions of Kant 's epistemology

are quite correct


so far as the exact scie nces

are ind eed crea ted

by me ntal



total se paration from and indepe nd ence of the manual labour

carried on in production. The division between head and hand, and particularly in relation to science and tech nology, has an

importance for bourgeois cl ass rul e as vital as that of the private own ershi p of the means of produ c tion. It is onl y too evident in

many of th c socialist co untries

propert y ri g hts and still not be rid of class. The class antagonism

of capital and labour is linked intrinsically with the division of

head and hand. But th e conn ection ~ hidd en to consciousness. In

their conceptual term s th ey arc di sparate, and it is for that reason that the critiqu e of epistemology must be undertaken inde- pendently from that of political economy.

today that one can abolish

\Ve could phrase our qu estion , omitting th e word 'synthesis',

by asking : ' H ow is a socia l nexus possib le by means of commod ity (J')

exchange?' But the use of the wo rd 'sy nth es is', in a meaning

strange to En glish readers, allows the co nve nient a dj ective I

'sociall y sy nthetic', whi c h is c ru c ial for ou r p urpose. Moreove r t

the term 'sy nth e ti c

tore of exchange socie ty fro m pr imit ive tribal this term in a differe nt se nse and wit h another

from that of'social sy nth es is'. The first 'sy nth etic' app li es onl y to

commodity socie ties, th e

socie t y' dist ing ui shes th e ' man-mad e' stru c-


socie ty. But I usc range of meaning


seco nd 'soc ial sy nthesis' is understood


general and basic condition of human existence, with no


storic al limits. In this las t se nse the

word 'sy nthesis ' is used to

ann the formu lation of my enquiry with a spearhead against

K a nt 's hypostasis of an a priori sy nthesis from the spontaneit y of

mind , and thus to pay transce ndenta l id eali sm back in its own


meanings of







none of these

'synthesis' is absolutely essential to o ur a rgument. The deduction

of the pure understanding from the exchange abstraction can be

presented with ou t anti-idea li st thrusts, but the polemica l per-




spective offers the advantage of emphasising the critical charac· ter of Marxian thought. The present-day authorily·based dogmatisatioll of Marxism permits it to legitimise an unavowed existence of class division. If its crilical force is restored it should help to free Marxism from ossification and renew its creative power. Some measure of accord underlies our polemical opposition to "'/ Kant. We agree tJ:tat the principles oCknowledge fundamcntal to the quantifying sciences cannot bc traced to the physical and sensorial capacity of experie nce . The exac t sciences belong to the reso urces of an epoch of production which has finally outstripped the limitalions of individual pre-capitalist handicrafts. Kant

comp iles knowledge dualisticall y from principles a

principles apriori. Of these the first correspond to the contribution of the individual senses which never extend beyond the 're· ceptivity' ofour five senses, and the second to the universal scope of conce pts linked to mathematics. The scie ntific experiment

strict ly corresponds to this dualism

lerpreted as a n activity of manual labour complementing the intellectual labour of the mathematical hypothesis to be tested. But in fact thc experimen t is construc ted to reduce th e indi vid ual action to lillie more than reading the data from scientific instruments. The evidence only has certainty for the individual who reads the data , evcryone else must take it on trust. But the

concepts based on mathematics are universally valid for the whole of society . The human factor must be eliminated for the sake of scientific objectivity. Logi cal necess ity attaches ex· elusively to the mathematical hypothesis and the inferences drawn from it. The dualit y of the sources of knowledge we accept as an incontrovcrtible fact. The qu esti on we a~k is, what is th e historical origin of our logical ability to construct mathematical hypotheses and the clements contributing to them? Neither Kant nor any ot her bourgeois thinker has pursued this enquiry consistently. In the opening sentence of the Introduction

posteriori and

of Kant. It is oncll misin·

to the second cdition of the Critique the question is intimatcd but

. /~ I s ub se quently fades out. Kant gathers thc contributory factors




into one fundamelllal principle: the 'originall y sy nthetic unit y of the apperception', but for this principle itself he knows no better exp lan ation than to attribute it to a 'tra nscendental spontaneity'

of;" own, The explanat;on tum , ;nto theJet;~

fwhat w", to

~No. -


~~\.,.- (.~

ft. Q\


to' .~










~"'~ \., I


'1 1


\.At 711. l (.0. L ,.,. ~"'~ \., I ,., '1 1 : THE ANALYSIS OF



be explained. From then on, in the idealist's mind, a time· and space·bound account of the 'capacity of pure understanding' simply cannot exist. The mere suggestion becomes one of the holiest taboos in the tradition of philosophical thought. Nietzsche 's scom over Kant 's question ' H ow are synt hetic, a priori, judgements possible?' and his answer ' through a capacity' - is totall y justified. Nietzsche himself had nothing better to offer. The taboo presupposes that the existing division between head and hand is in its very nature timeless - and Ihis said, bourgeois order must run according to its self.appointed norms until the end of time.

, \Ve now confront Kant 's question with o ur own: 'How is socia l

synth esis possible in the

question stands outside the entire epistemological sphere of

not that we lay some store by a phrasing

parallel to Kant's, we cou ld just as well ask: 'Where docs the

abstractness' of money originate?' Both wordings are confined to the time- and space·bound framework of historical-materialist thought and ye t both focus on form abstractions which straddle

both economics and science. It see ms unlikel y that

find a connection between Ihem if we pursue our question to its

reference. Were it

form s of commodity exchange? ' This \

we sha ll fail to


(b) PRAcn CA I. sm.Ir:sISM

At first sight it is not obvious how commodity exc han ge serves as the means of the social synthesis between individuals possessing commod iti es in private ownership. For commodity excha nge is itself a relationship ruled by the principles of private property. Marx writes

Things are in themselves externa l to man and therefore

alienable. In reciproca l, it

each other as the private owners of thosc a li enable t hings, and, precisely for that reason, as persons who are independent of

order that this alienation [VeraeuJserung ) may be is only necessary for men to agree tacitly to treat

each other. But this relationship of reciprocal isolation an foreignness does not exist for the members of a primitive

community of natural origin

From this it might appear that the legal concept of private






1. \


property look precedence over the actual relations ofexchange in

contradiction to our historical-materialist mode of thinking. [n real ity, however , i t i s jU. S l I?C reverse . The co ncept ,o f property is \ S" itself onl y a conceptua ll sa llon of the fac tu al n ecessity ofkccpmg

use and exc hange separated. The need

to exem pt from use

objects entered for excha nge is a simple fac t of experience; ifit is ignored exchange must cease . But because the content of Ihe experience is a negation the re arises from it a prohibition o f use

which extends to everyone involved in the transactions and

becomes the norm [or all other similar instances. Only by coming

into louch with the practice of exchange does the fac t of

possession assume the meaning of a general law of property. Exchange has this consequence because it is a relationship


between hum an beings. They ca nnot

relate to


other as

th ey

do to nature, for instance killing and robbing each other as they do to animals. Instead th ey must speak to each other, com- municate by signs, or in any case re cognise each ot her as hum a n beings. This , too, is still a simple fa ct but one that gives rise to norms, because it breaks through the basic relation with nature, replacing it with a social relation between groups. The course of



th is last proc~ ha s been con v incin g ly recons tru c ted b y George

first c hapt er of hi s book The First Philosophm and expressed by Marx - The owners or ' guardians'

of the objects for exchange

Thomson in the the same idea is

must behave in such a way that each docs not appropriate the commodity of the other, and alienate his own, except through an act to which both parties consent. The guardians must therefore recognise each other as owners of private propcrty. isjuridica l re latio n, w hose form is the contract, whether as part of a developed lega l system o r not , is a rdation between two wills which mirror the economic relation. The content of this juridical relation (or rel ation of two wills) is itse lf de- termined by the economic relation. 18

To put this in other words, the stale of reciprocal inde- p£nnrnce exists on the basis of commodity production. On this ~, all commodities a r e used, whether for production or consumption, exclus iv ely in the private sphere of the commodi ty

owne". The ,ocial ,ynth",i"

on-th'-Q~d' secn pu,ely




formally, is effected only through the exchange of commodities ) by their owners, in actions separate from their use. Thus the formalism of the exchange abstraction and of the social synthesis l. \

the confi nes of the

exchange rclation. A transaction of commodity exchange, for example by process o~is the exercise by the two exchanging parties of a reciprocal exclusion of ownership concerning two lots of com-








modities. It is a relationship of appropriation regulated by reciproci ty. Every move in the contest, every proposition made by one party a nd countered by the other, actuates the principle:

mine ~ hence not yours; yours - hence not mine. What is

reciprocated is tbe

which the parties seltle signifies a delineation of the separate


co nta ct. Thus th ere seems to be nothin g between the owners but ') La

segregation. H ow, then, does this operate a social synthesis? / iJ

exclusion of ownership. The ag re ement upon

of property of each of them at this particular point of

part y to the objects they exchange. For the intere s t of each is his I

own in terest and not t hat of the other; si milarl y th e way each one l

C"onceives of his inte rest is his own, the needs, feelings, thoughts that are involved on both sides arc polarised on whose they are. A piece of bread th at another person eats d oes not feed me. This is the truth that determines the issues at stak e in commod ity exchange. Not what two people need or feel or think , but whose need,

feelin g o r

Thus one can justifiably say that commodity exchange impels soltsism between its participants. Accordingly comm~ity exc angedoes not depend on language, on what wecom mumcate I to each other. Nothing regarding the essence of things need be communicated. Some se mantics for 'yes' and 'no', fo r pointing to

this or that, and to indicate quantity, is sufficien t to the essentia ls of a transac tion of exchange whether it is ca rri ed on between two '1 village gossips or between two strangers who do not speak each other's language . Ethnologists are acquainted with the incidence of"silent trade '. To put it in the words of Bertrand Russe ll it is

The prin ciple, moreover, also tain ts the re lations hip of each

thought w ill prevail is what shapes the r elationS hjp ' j


'th at all my data , in so far

to me


a they are matters offact , are private


Thus one can justifiably say that com modity exchange impels


solipsism . The d oc trin e that between all people, for every o ne of the m , so/us ipse ( I alone ) exist is only a phil osophi ca l formulation of the principles that in practice regula te exchange. What the com modit y ow n ers do in an exchange rela tion is practical soli psism - irrespective of what they think and say about it. This practical so lipsi sm d ocs not need. to co incide with se lf- inter est. Someone who takes part in an a ct of exchange o n behalf

of a nother must o bey exac tl y the same principles. Ifh e does not ,

the n th e resulting rel ation is no longer exc hange, hut one that is

qualitati vely diffe rent , for

concern us here belong to the form ofinterrelation of commodity exchange, not to the psychology of the individuals involved . It is rather this form that moulds the psychological mechanisms of the people whose lives it rules - mechanisms which they then conceive or.as inborn, human nature. This makes itself apparent

in the way that those in subservience often act to the advantage of those above them . They consider themselves to have acted in self· interest although in fact they have merely obeyed. the laws of the excha~ge n ex u s. * J h e practical solipsism of co mmodi ty ex


charity . The principl es which

chan In ownel'5 is


but the

rac tice of





as a aslS of soc ial re lations. d this is no t b y people's chOI ce ut

d evelopment of their

I,. productive forces - the umbilical co rd that ties hum a n to

natural histo ry. The principle we ca ll ' practical solipsism ' is described above as

a rec iproca l exclusio n

recognise eac h ot her as pri va te property owners, each excl usion of property in one direc tion is answered by an equal o n e in the

oth e r . For wh at in fa ct makes them agree to th e exch ange is that the mutual change ofpossession which they negotiate leaves their Pposing areas of property unimpaired. Commodity exchange

of ownership . As the two parties mutu a ll y






e maten a

necessity of the stage of

can thus be formulated as a social interrelationship between

\J U s h ar pl y. delimited, se parate areas of propert y, or , as Marx puts it ,

(' ein Verhaltnis wechse lsei tiger

people to each other as stra ngers. All that

matters is that, finally, two lots of commodities actually change

a relatIon