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).

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