Sunday, March 07, 2010

Marx and Walking-Around Money (2)

A week ago, I posted the first part of a response to Roger’s comments on Marx’ lecture ‘Wages’ Here is the second part.

This step in the interpretation moves from the ‘lecture’ as a textual genre to the ‘lecture’ as a type of event. Before we proceed, I just want to apologize for the academic style of presentation here. Most discussants at this site share an interest in Marx and a training in the interpretation of texts. But my disciplinary background and theoretical commitments are farther afield than most. My interest was/is in talk rather than writing and my predilection is for theories based on observation that drawing limited generalizations and, as a matter of principle, articulate a minimal theoretical apparatus. So I don’t always feel like I can just name names, and I have to recapitulate some concepts.

The case in point, Erving Goffman, whose name does not come into the discussions here, typifies the take on language in social life I was schooled in. In Forms of Talk he discusses ‘lectures.’ He distinguishes a number of obvious and not so obvious features that make lectures what they are. Among the obvious are the requirement for a single speaker and listeners, for a text, as well as for a tenor of seriousness and an overt goal of imparting understanding of a topic, rather than making an emotional impact. These factors interact to create an event that engrosses the listeners in the subject matter. This engrossment comprises the special quality of the event. This quality depends heavily on the speaker. The need to achieve this quality makes the speaker responsible for producing a text, performing the text as a script and personally standing in for the text’s value by believing in it and holding its position. Success in this conjunction of functions likewise manifests the lecturer’s intellectual authority.

The participation of the listeners occurs most significantly in the qualitative outcome. The presence of listeners does first require an organized effort to recruit them. Their incentive to participate is access to information, but even more so to the presence of an authority. Their participation in authority and information generates the lecture’s particular emotional and social outcome. The skillfully crafted text and accomplished delivery that can engross them create a sense that the text exists ‘just for them. The intelligence and craft of the text and the performance establish that people like the listeners are the kind of people who have what it takes to appreciate a serious and authoritative lecture. Reflexively, the successful lecture demonstrates and validates the seriousness of lectures on the whole. It does the same for the possibility of perceiving, reporting and speaking to an audience about the structure of the world. It warrants too the motives and organizations that arranged the event.

While Goffman observed the contemporary American academic lecture, I think these properties hold good for the 19th-century too. But in Marx’ lecture these constitutive factors do not operate in the straightforward way Goffman describes. We could consider them to be the normative standards for the bourgeois lecture, just as the ideas of the economists were for the economy. Just as the lecture-text overturned those standards logically, the lecture-performance will overturn the bourgeois norms of informed authority. And just as the text displaced logic from its bourgeois grounds to proletarian grounds, the performance displaces the qualitative outcomes of engrossment, unique access and validation of the right of the event from the ground of bourgeois institutions and values to the work in progress of the workers.

The lecture on wages was presented under the auspices of the German Workers’ Association in Brussels. The Association was founded in August of 1847, with the participation of Marx and Engels, some four months before Marx delivered his lecture. The Association originated in workers’ aspiration to education and self-improvement. The lecture series that included ‘Wages’ shows that education promoting class-consciousness was one of the missions of the Association. In the audience for the lecture we would have found workers who were class-conscious and active in the workplace and in politics. Some would have been members of the Association and contributing to support its activities. Some would have come from the curious periphery of the Association seeking more information.

We can easily recognize how Marx and his text meet the audience’s criteria for a ‘lecture.’ In Marx we have a Ph.D., a philosopher and lawyer. He handily qualifies as a Respektsperson, as his German audience would say. We can imagine the Association, in recruiting the audience for the lecture, posting and distributing handbills advertising the speaker Dr. Karl Marx, a title more exceptional then than today. Three newspaper reports from Vienna, included in the supplementary materials in vol. 5 of the MEW, do refer to Marx with this title. At the very least, Marx was known to his brothers in the Association, who would have formed the core of the audience. in talking up the lecture among their co-workers, they could give first-hand praise of his erudition and eloquence. Marx himself attests the seriousness, the intellectual authority and the informational value of the event.

Once the delivery of the text had begun, it too would evince the seriousness, authority and informativeness of the event. The citations, the detail, the logic. As the delivery cumulates this volume and complexity of information, its sheer length signifies these qualities in an age that seems to have prized loquacity as an expression of a speaker’s invention and authority. By their attendance, workers aware of the demands the lecture would make on them demonstrated considerable confidence in their intellectual abilities. They could appreciate the effort Marx had made on their behalf. The careful listener would recognize that Marx had contributed to the analysis of capitalism substantial elements above and beyond the content of his bourgeois sources. In that sense, the text literally existed ‘just for them’ and provided access to information and authority even the bourgeois experts did not possess. In the new-found, confusing and upsetting world of dependence on wage-labor for their sustenance, the workers could indeed find assurance through the lecture-text and the lecture-event that their world had an order and could be understood and that the Association contributed vitally to attaining that sense of certainty, order and understanding.

These expectations and Marx’ ability to engross his audience, however, only serve Marx as a resource for transmuting the lecture. In parallel with the lecture-text’s overthrow of bourgeois economic logic, the lecture-performance overthrows the bourgeois lecture-event. Marx employs the means through which lecturers routinely establish their relationship to the text and to their audience to transform the presumptive relationship between him and his listeners. The transformed event allows the participants a foretaste of communist society. The relationship among them is overthrown in two steps, just as bourgeois economic logic was. First, Marx’ comments on the logic of bourgeois economists and their theories establish a counter-authority. Then Marx moves outside this logic altogether to posit a new mode of life-activity.

The transformation begins by realigning the participants’ relationship to the text. In Goffman’s model of lectures, the lecturer establishes his relationship with his audience through his signaling of his own alignment to the text. Marx expands this device to create an alignment he shares with his audience. Certain familiar physical and vocal means we can only conjecture about, the raised eyebrow, the imitation of a different style of speaking, even conviction and passion. Other standard devises for generating alignment-to-text are more legible. Most conspicuously, Marx uses the standard devices of sarcasm and irony. He also employs less common classical rhetorical techniques.

We can see on the surface when Marx shifts from the description and analysis of bourgeois economists to outright mockery of their moral posture, “This is the sense of the upright philanthropists who rail against the celebration of the Sabbath. “ He hammers on the misconception and moral charade of the theories, “To reveal the utter stupidity, baseness and hypocrisy of this doctrine ... .” He conflates the limited conceptual powers of the economists with the inconsistencies of their texts, “this trite contradiction.” But Marx is not simply maligning the bourgeois economists with his invective. The sarcasm and ironies target the economists’ near total ignorance of workers’ lives and the consequences of their economic logic for workers.
The discussion of the bourgeois proposal to improve wages through education, one of the more elaborate passages in its rhetorical shape, illustrates this logical, materialist basis for Marx’ derision:

Another suggestion, very popular with the bourgeoisie, is education, especially comprehensive industrial education.
[a] We shall not draw attention to the trite contradiction which lies in the fact that modern industry replaces compound labour more and more with simple labour which requires no education;
we shall not draw attention to the fact that it throws more and more children from the age of seven upwards behind the machine and turns them into a source of income not only for the bourgeois class but for their own proletarian parents; the factory system frustrates the school laws, example Prussia;
nor shall we draw attention to the fact that the education of the mind, if the worker had such an education, has no direct effect at all on his wages, that education is altogether dependent on the conditions of life, and that by moral education the bourgeois understands indoctrination with bourgeois principles, and that, finally, the bourgeois class neither has the means, nor if it had them would it use them, to offer the people a real education.
We confine ourselves to stressing a purely economic viewpoint.

Marx deploys the figure of the paralepsis, or ‘passing over.’ In this figure, by pretending not to mention a point, the speaker does introduce it. Marx’ first point is purely conceptual, on an inherent trait in the capitalist development of the forces of production. His second point moves into fact. Capitalism seeks child labor and in fact undermines existing public education. The third point, equally concrete, but more general, argues that workers do not have access to the education they would need, that the bourgeoisie provides an entirely different education, and that the bourgeoisie has an inherent incentive to provide no education at all.

Marx 'passes over' these concepts and facts, because they are too obvious to need mention. With regard to his sources, Marx ostensibly avoids the discussion of these facts, because it would obviously embarrass, even discredit, the authorities who inexplicably or duplicitously overlooked them. With regard to his audience, he declines to mention them out of respect for struggling workers to whom these issues are so familiar that it would insult their intelligence to mention them. That he does actually mention them works toward reconstituting the lecture in interconnected ways. Marx thoroughly disqualifies the conventional authorities. He manifests his own superior intellectual and moral authority. He demonstrates that he understands the experience and thoughts of his audience. Accordingly, the vector of access to information is reversed. Marx derives his authority from his access to the knowledge possessed by the workers. Marx does not provide the workers with to bourgeois science, he validates their own knowledge as an adequate basis for the criticism of that science.

The sentence that closes the ‘passing over’ returns us to the ground of bourgeois economics. It laconically summarizes the economists’ ignorance of human fact, “We confine ourselves to stressing a purely economic viewpoint.” Its irony underlines the wholesale inadequacy of bourgeois economic thought. This conclusion also suggests a more subtle, philosophical critique. In bourgeois economic thought, the worker figures only a category inferred solely from the already truncated, merely market-based categories of economics. For this thought, the worker is a speculative category in the strict Hegelian sense. The rhetorical inclusion of workers’ as foundational for the lecture implicitly endorses the materialist method over Hegelian speculation. The real rejection of that idealism, however, resides in the inclusion of the workers in the logic of the argument, and even more so in their inclusion in the order that constitutes the event. The fundamental flaw of bourgeois economics is the exclusion of workers in the concrete and of their needs.

Leaving behind the bourgeois proposal to ameliorate wages poverty, we find ourselves again at the passage to the proletarian viewpoint and the fulcrum on which the preceding logic is overthrown. On the level of the event, we can anticipate that Marx now intends to move beyond the overthrow of logic to the overthrow of the social order in the event. Just as Marx has noted the absence of workers from bourgeois economic logic and rewritten that logic through their inclusion, he now needs to incorporate workers into the fabric of the lecture-event and reorder that event.

As we listen to the remarks on workers’ associations, we can now hear that they do more than just describe the current methods and state of workers’ self-organization. What they describe on the large-scale, they also reflexively describe on the immediate small-scale. When Marx claims that worker’s associations are more than just organizations for the improvement of wages, that they are a means of unifying the class, he is describing the political topic and practical purpose, however modest, of this lecture-event. When he says, that “From this viewpoint, the workers laugh at the smart bourgeois schoolmasters ..,” he invokes the laughter that has accompanied his lecture and reiterates his audience’s superiority to the small-fry experts who would try to teach them social arithmetic. The workers’ project begins with the happy rejection of bourgeois theories.

He makes the point again yet more strongly, “that workers are so far from stingy is proven to even the economist … .” As a consequence of his emphatic, reiterated ridicule of the economists’ total ignorance of flesh-and-blood workers, he can now take for granted the complete contempt which his audience feels for the most dim-witted discussants of the question, the economists. Workers’ activity is a fact so obvious, even an economist can now understand it. And the workers can’t miss it, not just because they do it themselves, but because they are doing it at the very moment in which Marx speaks the words.

When he says, “the best-paid factory workers form the most coalitions” Marx cites the very artisan-proletarians who provided the core constituency of the politically flavored Association and of complementary industrial activity. When he invokes their willingness to scrimp up contributions to maintain their organizations, he points to the sacrifice that has made this evening possible, from printing the flyers to renting the hall. When he says the workers pay this price because of the extraordinary pleasure they draw from this activity, he pays tribute to the consciousness and motivation that have made activists and militants of the members of his audience.

The reflexive reference to the lecture-event itself now fully engages in the workers’ point of view. Marx still maintains the objectifying language of bourgeois economics, but the seemingly odd use of the third person in referring to the immediate context already generalizes the most important features of the event to bring out the seriousness their modest scale might otherwise disguise. Marx has made the workers hosting him and listening to him an explicit objective element of the event. Through the discussion of the self-organized workers’ activity he and his host/listeners are engaged in, he has brought us to the threshold of the conclusion and the remarkable breakthrough that the event makes here to workers’ essential, subjective contribution.

As Marx embarks on the positive side of the wage-relationship, he takes the second, more consequential step in transforming the event from a conventional lecture into a distinctly proletarian talk. With a simple shift in pronouns he removes the last of the barrier of bourgeois authority between him and his audience as well as the barrier between the normative lecture-event and the workers full subjective participation.

Decisively, Marx replaces the asymmetric roles of bourgeois authority with a collectivity, “I do not need to explain to you in detail how without these production relations neither the means of production — the material means for the emancipation of the proletariat and the foundation of a new society — would have been created... .” With ‘I’ and ‘you’ Marx moves from talking to his audience to talking with them. Once again, the figure of ‘passing over’ indicates their reciprocal access to the indispensible knowledge and experience held by the others. ‘You’ addresses the audience members with respect, and, through its’ grammatical ambiguity between singular and plural ‘you,’ Marx addresses these men as a group and as individuals. More than ever, the value of wages as a means to self-organization is self-evident to these men whose effort and donations have made the lecture possible.

The shift to inclusive membership in the group intensifies in the second point of the section when Marx concedes the negative effects of the wage, “that I become for sale through and through.” This time ‘I’ goes a step further. Beyond simply including Marx as an equal participant in the group, it merges Marx, the individual audience members and the group in their collective experience as labor-machines in the labor-market. With this ‘I’ Marx speaks for himself and for the workers in the audience. He shows how well he knows their minds, so well that he can speak for them, but with their voice and not in their place. He acknowledges how important his access to their experience is for what he has to say. They all share this “I”. This viewpoint of simultaneously individual and collective subjective self-perception and self-awareness of wages frames the three points that follow.

The first statement of the positive consequences of wages, “everything patriarchal falls away,” depicts the process metaphorically. Where does the ‘fall’ occur really? In the consciousness of the worker, as a result of his self-awareness of wages. What falls away? The worker’s experience and understanding of his former relationships in the process of production as he has moved from old-style apprenticeship and journeyman training to the new relations of factory work. What makes the ‘fall’ possible? The transparency and simplicity of the wage relationship that makes its nature unmistakable as well as its odious materialism, in the moral sense, that makes it easy to envision dumping it. Marx calls on the workers to sort through their old ideas in light of their new situation.

In the second point, the ‘fall’ continues. In counterpoint, “halo" narrows the focus to specifically religious conceptions, while the scope is generalized beyond the process of production and circulation to "all" relations, which are now equally transparent and odious. Marx specifies this generalization with reference to other occupations not formerly considered ‘work.’ Within this transformation of the ideological professions, Marx' own experience renders the workers’ experience intelligible for him, as the reduction of the law to an effectively waged-relationship has subjected him to wages as a lawyer. This experience of the labor-market in law also qualifies Marx objectively for membership in the Association.

The following metaphor of the ‘regiment’ turns these callings of ideological authority into mercenaries on the other side of the class war. As enemies they deserve no credence. As wage-workers in the ideological factory they have no more claim to intellectual authority than any other workers. As Marx has demonstrated many times throughout his talk, a factory worker has more to say about wage-labor and better reason to say it than does any bourgeois buffoon. Marx calls the workers to intellectual self-reliance and creativity.

I assume that brackets around the first point 3) strike it from the text. The second point 3) that replaced it deduces from the featurelessness of the wage-relationship the freedom of the worker to shape his future. If workers can see through wage and can see more clearly than bought-and-paid for intellectual authorities then they have the potential for ideological and material freedom to shape the future.
In these points Marx validates in sum the choice made by everyone present, him and his audience as one effective collective, to put their hearts, minds and money into the organization of the Association and into the organizations they have yet even to imagine. What they have experienced in the course of the evening, the transformation of a mere lecture into a moment of equality and self-determination, of democracy and freedom delivers just a faint harbinger of the future they can create for themselves through the proceeds of their labor.

More than in the literal meaning of any of its parts, the meaning of‘Wages’ is located in Marx’ work as an orator. In the most fundamental difference from the kind of lecturing Goffman discussed, Marx aims to move emotionally more than to persuade rationally. In this mode, he adheres to the practice of classical rhetoric, rather than to the Enlightenment premises of rational public discussion or to its diluted contemporary academic versions.

He disavows fundamentally the standing of intellectual authority and divests himself of it. He does not treat information as property of an authority, who can regulate access to it and distribute it in the measure he sees fit. In this talk, information emerges as a collectively created insight arising from reciprocal contributions. Information-talk does not confer a distinctive subjective status on an audience that enjoys access to authority and information. It endows what once appeared to be an ‘audience’ with the status of authority, working class authority.

The outcome of the lecture-event does not ratify or validate the tradition of events of that type. Nor does it confirm the orderliness and reportability of the world. Instead, this talk articulates a world of disorder and a world of disorderly accounts. At the same time, it reveals a world that has never been reported, a world that holds possibilities aborning that cannot yet be reported. This talk overturns the social foundations of the ‘lecture.’

Marx’ talk on wages does still straightforwardly share a few of the features of the lecture suggested by Goffman. It does engross its listeners, whom we can no longer call an audience, with its theme. It does makes them feel that the text and the event exist just for them. But their participation is not aural and informational. They are that theme and what they are doing right then and there is that event. They are not engrossed in listening to artfully delivered information.

As they listen, these worker militants are engrossed in creating an event and a world of a new kind. And, to put that same conclusion more concretely, the talk validates the motives and the standing of the group that organized the event, the Deutscher Arbeiterverein. ‘Wages’ and what the group does through their chosen speaker is the Verein. The Verein is the work of creating a new world and reporting that world to those for whom it holds promise. The collaboration of this group of men embodies, as the very words are spoken, the possibility in the claim that “The worker can do whatever he likes with his money.”

Now that we have looked at the lecture-text and the lecture-event, one question remains to be answered. That question sounds quintessentially post-modern. “What do we mean by ‘Marx’ in this interpretation? Analytically, we will begin with the unity of author, animator and warrant of the text supposed by Goffman. Historically, we will begin with Marx’ political activism at time he wrote ‘Wages.’ We will see how his role as speaker meshes with that activism to create a role distinct from that of the ‘lecturer and how this mesh gives his talk and its conclusion a very specific and practical sense.


  1. Anonymous1:53 PM

    A belated, 'thank you.' Very much, in fact.

    Qlipoth too