Monday, October 26, 2009

Marx's use of the term "civil society."

Oct 26, 2009. Just to restate a point we ran across in reading his early writings, that I at least did not fully appreciate until I read those again this past summer – “civil society” for him (here used p 85) means something quite different from how we use the term – it means (as one sees here again) exactly society of each against all, of the individual apparently detached from how the individual used to be considered a component of the social whole, with each carrying out what God or whoever had assigned to him in the interests of the functioning of society. So what Marx means when he use the term “civil society” is the growth of bourgeois ideology and practice for the role of the worker in society. He goes on how this concept had only been around for about 200 years, that is, since the rise of pre-capitalism. As he says, they came out of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society. Again, he uses terms as they were used in the discussion then – the “Natural Individual,” which he says is just their “notion of human nature” (which again, is basically Robinson Crusoe – or as Marx says here p 84, “the isolated individual” Note while he specifically ridicules the idea of Robinson Crusoe isolated production (saying p 84 it could on occasion happen if a socially created individual got thrown into isolation, but its absurd as a general concept), his concern here is actually much broader than just production, but to the essence of humans, to human nature, to our species-nature being collective and so that pertains to everything we do). Note he associates this as an 18th century development above all (1700s). SO WHAT I REALLY WANT TO STRESS IS how differently other people are using this term “civil society” today than Marx used it then, and how we need be careful therefore not to misread Marx. Today, civil society is generally held as a positive thing involved in transcending capitalism – the state is a bourgeois state, and the idea is to increase direct democracy by transforming power from the state to civil society (lots of problems with that concept in my opinion, but I am just trying to indicate how it is often thought or today, often as a background idea that the user of the term just has built into the concept without being really aware of it). For Marx, to the contrary, civil society was largely a false ideological construct of bourgeois ideology, a misrepresentation of human nature and human interaction, one of the pillars of capitalist denial of the essential species-nature of humans. Marx was FOR humans promoting a transcendence of capitalism by using a STATE that they democratically controlled, because such a state was nothing else than an expression concerning political activity of their collective nature, their species-nature. Of course, by the time the process of transition beyond capitalism reached the phase of socialism, the state as an organ of power (to impose the will of one group on another, which under the transition would be to impose the will of the majority on the minority who wanted to restore their previous privileges) would wither away (but would still exist as an accounting mechanism, for coordinating and executing the democratically decided on decisions of society, now no longer to suppress opposition but just to administratively make happen what society decided it wanted to happen)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Marx on individuality

I am not sure what version of the "Grundrisse" everyone is using - if one is using the stuff in the Marx and Engles Collected Works, or if everyone has what has long been the standard version in English, the version put out by Pelican (an imprinture of Penguin) in 1973. Anyway, I will assume people are using this, unless people indicate otherwise.
I am not sure if the groups began their 30 pages with the beginning of the text, say page 81 (or a sort of table of contents page 69), or with the introduction by Martin Nicolaus. So I will assume people began with page 81 for the first reading.
I want to respond a little to some of the points others posted to this site, but like everyone I am way behind on time - we will see. But I will make 5 or 10 points on the reading over the course of the fall, just things that interest me.
The first is right on page 81. It is a good statement, I think, of one aspect of Marx's view of the relation individual-society (which was central to his whole theory and goal), the nature of individuality (which he was for allowing to develop, as the goal of social change, capitalism prevented the development of authentic individuality), and thereby his view on human nature. He had a thoroughly social view of humanity (our "species nature") Among other things, since production is thoroughly social, and even beyond that our individual nature is socially conditioned (not entirely socially created), the concept of paying people according to their marginal contribution, at the heart of neoclassical economics (at least their theory, not really their practice) is totally meaningless.
Here are some comments on p 81
Note the phrase in the second sentence – “Individuals producing
in society – hence socially determined individual production.” On the
one hand, this reflects why the idea of being paid according to “your”
marginal contribution to output is stupid – besides the fact that one
cannot calculate the contribution associated with a particular
individual in a process of production that is integrated (as all are to
some extent), in addition it is “socially determined” individual
production. That is, what it is specified that you will do is partially
socially determined (though there is room in that for individual choice
on how hard one will work, and individual variation on how well one is
capable of working), and further, even a significant part of your
abilities are also socially determined – the fact that you can talk, the
basic education that enabled you to learn modern job skills, part of
your attitude toward work, and on and on. We see here the focus on
thinking of production as a thoroughly social process that Marx had from
his earliest writings until his death, a central aspect of his political
economy, and of his vision of transcending capitalism.
The rest of this section talks on exactly what the title of the
sub section indicates – the idea of “independent individuals.” It
particularly takes on the Robinson Crusoe idea, counterpoising to it the
social individual (the individual who develops their individuality in
the frame of a given society, and whose individuality can only be
understood as existing in that frame – note Marx clearly states this p
84 – “The human being is …. an animal which can individuate itself only
in the midst of society” – this is very clearly stated and well put, and
(note to myself) I should use this as a quote when making this point to
others about the nature of Marx’s thought in the future). He talks
briefly of Rousseau, Smith, Ricardo, Bastiat, Carey Proudhon (and a
person hardly remembered today, Steuart, who he says partly rejected
this “radical individualistic” (my term) capitalist concept because he
was coming from an aristocratic partial resistance to the rising
bourgeoisie and therefore its ideology).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Marxian Methodology: Theory must be developed dialectically

Clarification for Last week's Conversation.
For Marx the scientifically correct method arises from the movement from simple abstract determinations i.e. in modern society, the commodity, value, waged labor- to their relation to the whole, the real concrete i.e. capital. As he states: ‘the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is the only way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind’. Only through this method that we move from a ‘reality of few determinations and relations’ (political economy and bourgeoisie science End Result) unable to grasp the concrete whole, to a reality that is a ‘rich totality of many determinations and relations….unity of the whole’. The latter is the internalization of a totality of determinations in thought, appropriation of the real concrete, ‘the working up of observation and conception into concepts’. This totality is a totality of a thinking mind, ‘which appropriates the world in the only way it can a way different from the artistic, religious, practical and mental appropriation of the world’. This method, movement from the abstract to the concrete, is the only way that we are able to understand what the social forms of production and organization historically. In modern society we see in Capital, Marx moves from the simplest abstract categories i.e. commodity, Value etc. to their relation with the developed concrete whole, this being Capital which for Marx ‘is not a thing but rather a definite social production relation, belonging to a definite historical formation of society, which is manifested in a thing and lends itself a specific social character’. Capitalist social relations in this sense, is a developed/developing concrete whole in that epoch (at least for the most part in England or the U.S. at the time). This developed concrete whole can only be realized through the most general abstractions, thus they are the point of departure. These abstractions arise as a result of history and function differently through history, sometimes dominant, sometimes subordinate to a developed or ill-developed concrete whole. The dilemma of the Bourgeoisie science takes history as a point of departure and not as a historic result, developing dialectically. Bourgeoisie science always begins with the living whole, according to Marx, and arrives at a linear ahistorical argument of the development of society along with history. The abstract determinations arrived at in bourgeoisie science and the relation of these determinations to the social forms of organization and order are a chaotic conception of the concrete. The historic specificity, order and place (subordinate or dominant) of these abstract determinations and relations to the whole are chaotic and one sided.
Please, any corrections and comments welcome.