Sunday, March 14, 2010

Marx and Walking-Around Money (Conclusion)

I finished the last post in this series so hastily, that I wanted to rewrite the last paragrpahs. So this final post actually begins in the middle of things with the rewritten material.

Beyond a general strategy for communist activism, this conclusion additionally proposes a specific strategy for revolutionary work in Germany. The apparent conclusion on workers’ associations and the putative coda on the positive side of wages form a coherent topical unit, despite their formal division. The theme is the overthrow of the old society. We will need to reflect on the character of the ‘old society’ in a moment, before we proceed. The statement that concludes the sketch of the revolutionary overthrow of the old society through the workers use of their wages conjoins the subjective and objective sides of revolution in a singularly complex pun that the linked English translation fails to capture. This conjunction of elements condenses the program that Marx and Engels will in a matter of months write for the members of the League returning to Germany to participate in the revolutionary movement of 1848.

The last paragraph on workers associations and the coda on the positive side of wages are bound together in another chiasmus. What the translation calls “the overthrow of the entire old society” is in German the Sturz, the fall of that society, the fast, hard fall. The paragraph closes with the objective ‘revolutionary activity of the workers’ through their wages in their organization. The first paragraph of the coda resumes the topic of the proletariat ‘revolutionizing’ “the old society” and “itself.” The revolutionary process is then specified in a series of indexically mediated subjective ‘falls.’ The first two falls are explicit, “everything patriarchal falls away” and “halo of sanctity is entirely fallen” (which ‘fallen’ the translation turns into ‘gone.’) In the next paragraph, the ‘higher forms of labor’ have ‘lost their old sanctity.’ Since ‘sanctity’ is effectively synonymous with ‘halo’ in as much as the ‘halo’ signifies ‘sanctity,’ ‘lost’ is chained with ‘fall.’ The final step reverses the perspective of ‘lost’ from the negative to the positive, the workers “first became free of their subjection to a given relationship.”

Exactly how have the workers ‘lost’ patriarchal relations and gained ‘freedom’? Marx defined patriarchal relations briefly in the last piece of complete text in his discussion on the lower limit of wages, “The peasant still has free time and can earn something on the side.” Because the peasant is bound to the ground he lives on, he can, outside the time required for his manual services, provide his own subsistence. He owns the means of production, aside from the soil from which he cannot be alienated. This self-subsistence furnished the material basis for the feudal class struggle over the time spent in services and the amount of payments in kind. The surplus that belongs to the peasant for himself exists primarily as use-values. He struggles to eat more and drink more of the produce of his hands. The largely local collective struggle of the peasants secures for each individual the right to consume the produce of his own labor.

The factory worker cannot provide for his own subsistence. He cannot consume the produce of his own labor because that particular commodity could not meet his subsistence needs, perhaps not even one of them, even if it were his property and not that of the capitalist. But in contrast to the produce of the peasant, wages as money are the universal equivalent of all other values. Their equivalents extend beyond the narrow range of subsistence goods. Just as the factory workers labor collectively, their money can be pooled. When the workers pooled their money for collective struggle against “the entire old society” in Germany in 1847, their struggle would include the struggle against the feudal relations of exploitation as well as against capitalist exploitation. This double struggle comprises the strategic point of the coda’s conclusion.

The translation of the decisive final sentence in the coda, unfortunately captures only half the meaning of a profoundly conceived, but for a contemporary reader, complicated pun, and thus obscures its political sense. The sentence says in full, “The advantage both over payment in kind and over the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate is that the worker can do what he likes with his money.” First, let us note that the German text does not have a sentence. It simply begins, “Advantage, that … .” Like the shift from third person to first and second person that shortly precedes it, this stylistic shift mimes more spontaneous speech, blunt and succinct. The shift in spoken style foregrounds the conclusion and separates it from the entire preceding text.

The second problem with the translation is in the coordinated construction of the two prepositional phrases, “both over payment in kind and over the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate.” These phrases are grammatically ambiguous in the text. They can be understood to modify ‘advantage’ or ‘the verb phrase ‘do what he wants.” In the grammatical pun, they modify both. In the original, the preposition is ‘gegen,’ which can, as it is translated here, modify ‘advantage.’ In this first sense, the entire construction asserts the subjective superiority of wages to natural produce in the sense we just discussed.

But ‘gegen’ much more commonly means ‘against.’ In this sense, it modifies “what he wants.” The lost half of the construction’s sense says, ‘he can do what he wants both against payment in kind and against the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate.’ In this second sense, the construction describes the political and social goals of a bourgeois democratic revolution that overthrows the feudal oppression and exploitation of the peasants. In combination, these senses express both the subjective possibility of freedom inherent in wages and the most tangible objective possibility for their use.

The last misleading feature of the translation is the transposition of the prepositional phrases. The less flexible word order of English and the choice to make the phrases depend on ‘advantage’ has moved them toward the front of the construction, so they immediately follow ‘advantage.’ But in the original they are the last constituent of the sentence. The actual word order is that in my second translation, “he can do what he wants both against payment in kind and against the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate.” Once again, Marx calls on his collaborators to reflect on their knowledge of their life in patriarchal relations and compare it to their life in bourgeois relations.

The first sense of the pun, calls to mind that peasants, and to a lesser extent artisans, produce their own goods, but for another, and they produce only particular goods with limited uses. In the second, they produce goods for another, but receive wages which can be used for a variety of ends. With perhaps a little caution, we can see the revolutionary chiasmus ordering these processes again. It does so clearly in the first half of the pun. Production to give becomes production to receive. The feudal relationship of exploitation undergoes a fundamental reversal. Less obviously, in the second, labor receives money, only to pass the money out of the process of production and consumption altogether, the revolutionary reversal of bourgeois relations. Subjective reflection on the wage relationship in the process of production coincides with democratic political activity.

The translation captures only the reading less obvious to us today who have never known feudal relations. But this relationship self-sufficiency in conflict with feudal service is subordinate to the second, and only establishes its precondition. The translators’ choice has inadvertently concealed an obvious and straightforward reading. By reducing the integrated, dual meaning into a single sense, the translation obscures the single most complex rhetorical structure in the script. Deployed at this point, the pun serves as a second device to make this conclusion as striking and as salient as possible.

Like the shift to direct address, the pun foregrounds the conclusion by engaging the direct participation of the listeners. The coda rings out on a clear assertion that the immediate political goal of the revolutionary German workers’ movement is to prepare for and see through the democratic, anti-feudal revolution. After all the lengthy exposition of wages, wage labor and the internal logic of capitalism, the final words of the lecture put the workers at the service of another class and say nothing of socialism.

Marx leaves the connection between the two, other than its subjective accessibility, open, and invites participation in the discussion that in all likelihood formed the next part of the event, and that in all certainty went on after the lecture was formally closed. During this discussion there surely came the point at which one of the Association's activist would propose, "Let's pass the hat!"

This proposal for action addressed to the needs of the peasants and targetted against the rights of the aristocracy comes as no surprise. If it should seem implausible today, we need only look at two other documents drafted by Marx and Engels around this time. From the 9th of December 1847 to the end of the month, at the same time Marx was preparing the script for his lecture, the two were working on the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

‘Chapter II closes with tentative suggestions for ten measures to be taken in the advanced industrial countries once a revolution has given the proletariat political power. They primarily address those institutional foundations of capitalism which the proletariat should put under state ownership.

‘Chapter IV suggests with extreme brevity how the communists in a number of countries should relate to other forces in the event of a national democratic revolution. For Germany, Marx and Engels state categorically, “they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie.” There we have in a more explicit, but equally concise nutshell, the revolutionary strategy of the German branches of the League of Communists in 1847. Because those who suffer most directly from the ‘squirearchy’ and who form the overwhelming majority of the populace are the peasants, the political task is to use the resources of the proletariat to mobilize the peasants against their lords.

If we jump forward three months to the third week of March, 1848, ‘The Demands of the Communist Party in Germany demonstrate clearly the strategic importance Marx and Engels attached to the quick, hard fall of feudalism in the countryside. In contrast to the Manifesto, the Demands represent a detailed, specific political program. The seventeen demands reiterate the ten points of the Manifesto, although the demands are for the most part moderated in their scope and rigor. The Demands, obviously, add a number of points particular to the state of social development in German, which indicate that it did not number among the ‘advanced’ societies. Most pertinent to the political program encapsulated in the coda of ‘Wages,’ are these four demands:

6. All feudal obligations, dues, corvées, tithes etc., which have hitherto weighed upon the rural population, shall be abolished without compensation.
7. Princely and other feudal estates, together with mines, pits, and so forth, shall become the property of the state. The estates shall be cultivated on a large scale and with the most up-to-date scientific devices in the interests of the whole of society.
8. Mortgages on peasant lands shall be declared the property of the state. Interest on such mortgages shall be paid by the peasants to the state.
9. In localities where the tenant system is developed, the land rent or the quit-rent shall be paid to the state as a tax.
The measures specified in Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 are to be adopted in order to reduce the communal and other burdens hitherto imposed upon the peasants and small tenant farmers without curtailing the means available for defraying state expenses and without imperiling production.

I quote these measures in their entirety because not one measure proposed in the Demands addresses the liberation of the workers directly and immediately in the way these measures advance the cause of the peasants.

I doubt that in December of 1847 anyone in the German communist circles of Brussels anticipated that in a mere matter of weeks they would be returning home to join the revolutionary movement. When they did, they were furnished with copies of the Manifesto and of the Demands to take with them, distribute, discuss and organize around. In ‘Wages,’ Marx primes them for this task. He takes the opportunity in an extended analysis of the wage relation to broach a decisive strategic question for the activities of the members and associates of the Association and encourages its discussion among his comrades.

Now that we can answer the question “what is ‘Marx’ in this interpretation,” the answer may seem pretty banal. Marx writes and speaks as a propagandist and organizer. He appeals to his listeners as a recruiter and fundraiser. The constitutive functions central to an analysis like Goffman’s are diffracted through a fundamentally different array of social and institutional relationships.

As an ‘author, Marx does not write as an autonomous creator. The goals his talk pursues are determined by the explicit articles of agreement of the League of Communists and by his commitment to adhere to those principles.

Marx certainly does animate the script in the ways Goffman discusses. But what I have called his rhetorical texturing of the talk, his governing pragmatic concern to move his listeners, can be seen as an animation of a higher order. Marx elaborates his analysis of wages and his rhetorical framing of the text to render the principles of the League tangible and moving. He animates the dry text of the Statutes through a complex compositional process as well as his performance.

Marx as author and animator has an analogous relationship to his public. He articulates and appeals to the experience of the men in his little public. Without them his talk has neither material nor purpose. Beyond the conventional animation of a text so signal seriousness and to elicit alignment and even something like collusion, he animates the event itself. The outcome hopes to go beyond a momentary social bonding. He animates the script to attain a commitment to collective political activity.

This enlarged obligation to the authority of the League and to the input of his coparticipants mean Marx cannot warrant the text in Goffman’s sense. He cannot warrant only the text, and he cannot warrant it through his putative authority. Yes, he is a lawyer, a scholar, and apparently an able public speaker. But the depth of the goals, the outcome itself, the active response of the group assembled for the lecture all interact to provide the warrant for the text. And far more than the text, it is the worth of the League and the Association that Marx and his collaborators warrant.

Let me close the interpretation of ‘Wages’ with a last bit of interpretation that ties together the very opening of the notes for the lecture and the closing passage. At the beginning of this interpretation I identified the first point of the outline as a typically Hegelian definition of a category through contradiction. From this contradiction the logic of the exposition of wages would flow. But the logic is merely a secondary characteristic of that opening. That display of learned logic is subordinated to the rhetorical, that is practical textural principle.

Marx employs the Hegelian figure of contradiction and negation to frame his analysis of the wage-relation in capitalism in the bleakest, most chilling terms. By the end of the lecture it has become clear that Marx in fact approaches his listeners as men whose daily lives are still largely lived in a feudal context and whose perception of and reactions to the encroachments of capitalism are even more thoroughly intertwined with the feudal ideology, especially Christianity. For these men struggling with the incommensurability of their upbringing and ideas with the new terms under which they are put to work, Marx projects a future of burgeoning desolation.

This barren expanse of incessant, senseless activity provides the backdrop for the brief, dramatic evocation of a satisfying future built from social desire and the material resources of wages that appears as a surprise, a relief and a promise. In this light and as this light, the odd use of impersonal terms to address his listeners in the passage on worker’s associations makes more sense. The conclusion addresses the artisan-proletarians as men living in two worlds, in their work and in their minds, the old world of feudalism and the new world of capitalism, already envisaged as an old world itself.

Addressing them directly through the seemingly oblique phrase ‘the workers’ presupposes their consciousness of themselves as men of the old world, as ‘the artisans, at the most general, but not very general at that, and as ‘tailors,’ ‘bakes,’ or ‘coopers’ at the most concrete. When Marx identifies the activities of ‘the workers’ he challenges his listeners to think of themselves as ‘workers,’ to see themselves fully in terms of the new-wage relationship. Although Marx uses the plural ‘workers,’ we might better imagine him addressing his audience as individuals, urging them to think of themselves as members of a much larger, steadily growing collectivity. When Marx holds up ‘the workers to their consideration, he offers them a choice and challenges them to a decision.

Imagine as his gaze sweeps the room. On the phrase ‘the workers,’ his gaze pauses and he fixes it on a single worker. Perhaps a man who has participated increasingly in Association activities, but has not yet joined. Whom Marx'comrades in the League have identified to him as a man warming to the cause, but still on the fence about political and industrial self-organization. About paying dues. “You there, Andreas, in the second row, with the beard and the pipe! What do you want? To live in nostalgia for a life that held perhaps a little material security and comfort, but never a potential for anything more? Or to embrace the stringent freedom, the voice in your future offered by your wages? Artisan or worker? Which will it be?”

What that freedom will be, beyond democratic and collective, remains open. That openness corresponds to the chiasmus as the diagram of revolutionary transformation. In small and large revolutions, the subjective and objective, the change of mind and the change of society, the chiasmus has served as the figure of the process. We see the order that goes in, we see the overthrown order that follows, but we cannot see the transformation itself. As Marx cannot make men change their minds, cannot tell them to change their minds, cannot tell them how to change their minds. He can only strive to create a situation where a decision becomes possible and to move them in so deeply that a decision becomes necessary. How to spend your money doesn’t sound like much a problem in an affluent, retail saturated society. But in the right light, it goes to the heart, and to the heart of the matter.

When you get down to it, Roger and I have never seen eye-to-eye in our exchanges. In a real sense, we cannot. For the sake of discussion, it is all good and well to agree to disagree. But it helps to point out that this disagreement concerns more than specific readings or interpretations. Those differences emerge from a difference in the concepts, more presupposed than explicit, inherent to those interpretations. Roger’s reading of Marx projects much the same categories into his readings as a Goffman does into his observations. The roles, goals and outcomes considered necessary to and possible for a discourse are those of the individual producing a structured account of a field of knowledge for the education and entertainment of his readers or listeners.

These categories cannot capture the texture of any communist discourse, not just that of Marx personally. An interpretation that takes theory as the substance of its object and theory as the substance of its interpretation may after all succeed on its own terms. But those terms and those interpretations remain tangential, at best, to the texture of communist writing and speaking. Of communist living. That question, however, is too broad to contemplate discussing here.

With regard to the topic of texture in the narrowest sense, the difference lies between two views of language. We can take language as a semantic instrument of reference, whose internal contradictions generates a problematic of meaning. Or we can explore language as a component of social life, as a vehicle of pragmatic functions, of which semantic reference and its inherent problems are but one among many, all of them manifest in the audible and legible texture of speaking and writing. I choose the model of language as a practical activity not because I think it yields better interpretations, but because I think it is consistent with a materialist view of society like that practiced by Marx.


  1. Anonymous10:11 AM

    „Philosophy stands in the
    same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love“

    Karl Marx, The German Ideology

  2. unbemittelter bankerutter Bürger10:49 AM


    Wir Immoralisten
    Unter Künstlern
    Kritik der Freigeisterei
    Der Skeptiker redet.


  3. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Valhalla Rising

  4. Popular blogger 'Infinite thought' visited Belgrade in 2005.
    This is from her brief report:

    'A strange city.'

    'But new money flows freely through the main pedestrianised streets, where monuments and dedications to the French glitter ostentatiously and ludicrously thin women (as style, not penury, dictates) stroll confidently from shop to shop. People smoke in bookshops.'

    'Food and drink is cheap, of course: it's heavy, mostly meat and cheese. '

    'The typical wine - slatkovino - is sickly sweet, and tastes like a combination of watered down port, cheap wine and cherry brandy. It gives you an instant headache.'

    'Attendance: anarchists, communists, at least one spy...'

    'We get there at 12.30pm, and even then it's too early (we note that Serbian nightlife runs on cheap ecstacy and chewing gum).

    'It fills up. It gets packed. I try not to wonder where the fire exits are.''

    'People are intensely pale with angelic cheekbones, apart from the mafiosi-type men, who are gargantuan, shaven-headed, and all wear the same kind of black leather jacket.'

    'It's pretty hardcore, but they bring us lots of drinks 'cos we speak nice English and (they presume) we have lots of money. We probably do, relatively.'

    Tell me about cultural and biological racist assumptions again.

  5. Anonymous3:35 PM

    @Anonymous, I hope nothing I have said here can construed as in any way impugning masturbation.


  6. Complaisant Person4:01 PM

    „Philosophy stands in the
    same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love“

    Good line. But who said there was anything desirable about 'sexual love'? although the term 'sexual love' is amusing, a bit different from just 'adult sexuality', as ia not too well-known, of course.

    Masturbation IS sexual love, of course, the rest is communism, and can be very pleasant if it doesn't go too far.

  7. Anonymous4:16 PM


    quit being so impecunious. It's inconvenient for me, you know.

  8. Anonymous6:05 PM

    "who said there was anything desirable" - Nothing in the quote suggests there is.

    The analogy is not in the 'desireability," it's in the outcome.

    A gooey mess, or a child. Since the notion was certainly gendered for Marx.