Accumulation and time: Marx's historiography from the Grundrisse to capital.

Author:Tomba, Massimiliano
Position:Karl Marx - Report


Marx wrote the Grundrisse in the midst of a crisis. In a letter to Engels dated 8 December 1857, he wrote, 'I am working like mad all night and every night collating my economic studies so that I at least get the outlines clear before the deluge.' In the book, Mark lays out a strategy that allows readers to comprehend and go through the crisis via a critique--a critique that unpacks the crisis, and opens new revolutionary possibilities. According to Gidwani, 'Marx uses crisis to produce an agonistic knowledge that is intensely alert to fissures and interruptions in capital's imperial being' (Gidwani 2008: 869).

Marx considers the capitalist mode of production to be a social form which opens a new epoch; that is, the extension of the sphere of needs and of human capacities:

Hence the exploration of the whole of nature in order to discover new useful properties of things; the universal exchange of the products coming from the most diverse climates and

lands; new (artificial) modes of processing natural objects to give them new use values. The allround exploration of the earth to discover both new useful objects and new uses for old objects, such as their use as raw materials, etc.; hence the development of the natural sciences to their highest point; the discovery, creation and satisfaction of new needs arising from society itself; cultivating [Kultur] all the qualities of social man [gesellschasftlicher Mensch] and producing him in a form as rich as possible in needs because rich in qualities and relations--producing man as the most total and universal social product possible (for in order to enjoy many different kinds of things he must be capable of enjoyment, that is he must be cultivated to a high degree)--all these are also conditions of production based on capital. This creation of new branches of production, i.e. qualitatively new surplus time, is not only the division of labour, but also the separation of a definite kind of production from itself as labour of a new use value; the development of a constantly expanding comprehensive system of different kinds of labour, different kinds of production, with a corresponding system of ever more extended and ever more varied needs. (Marx 1986: 336)

By producing new needs, capital breaks the umbilical cord that used to link Man and nature. Nature becomes for the first time only an object for mankind to use: 'nothing more than a matter of utility' (Marx 1986: 337). This is the form of modem luxury. One must consider the difference between luxury in antiquity and in modern times in relation to the 'new (artificial) modes of processing natural objects to give them new use values' (Marx 1986: 336)--the growth of human needs, and new forms of experience. Corresponding to these phenomena is an anthropological modification, a new kind of human being: the cultivating of all the qualities of 'social man'. Marx names this new human nature, this 'new subject', the 'social individual' (Marx 1987: 92). This is a very important concept, which marks an anthropological break. This is an individual who is not the same any more: he has broken his bond with nature, hence society becomes his new nature. But not the Hegelian second nature, which presupposes ethical relations which give the individual his concreteness, determine his duties and therefore also his limits. In the Marxian third nature, not only the Hegelian estates [Stande] and corporate relations, but also the system of needs, are destroyed: capital produces not in the perspective of satisfying human needs but in order to valorise value. The use-value of the commodity becomes the abstract support [Triiger] of value, and therefore a new form of use-value. The sensible becomes the phenomenal form of the suprasensible. Money ceases to be a mean, and becomes the end. The image of capitalistic modernity is the Verkehrung: (1) inversion and perversion at the same time. The limits of the first and the second nature are overcome; and a new, limitless third nature arises.

The aim of this article is to investigate the way in which Marx combines different historiographical approaches in order to draft a field of possibilities for both new forms of social relationship and a new anthropology. In doing so, Marx, appropriately, casts doubt upon the unilinear conception of time.

Pre-capitalist forms and 'foreshadowing of the future'

When Marx wrote the Grundrisse, his political motivation was to open up revolutionary possibilities within the crisis (Kraitke 2008; Kraitke 2008a). For this reason, in it he tries to sketch out possibilities of liberation in the trend of capitalistic development and stresses the 'great civilising influence of capital' (Marx 1986: 336) in order to reach a new stage of society. In this context, one must understand his representation of the social individual as an attempt to prefigure the new anthropological type of a new social form whose capabilities are socially developed. In fact, social development, or social general knowledge, is not opposed to the individual, as in Capital, later; but rather it represents his actual development. If modernity has produced the individual, Marx tries to outline a new concept of individual beyond the modern one.

There are brilliant pages in which Marx works with a double scheme of interpretation. He pieces together a kind of evolutionary history with a repetitive history (Lefort 1986): a history of invariants. He does this in order to understand the nature of the historical break that represents the capitalist mode of production, (2) inquiring therefore into pre-capitalist modes of production as the otherness of capitalism. What results from this analysis is not continuity, but rather an historical change; that is, the radical discontinuity between pre-capitalist and capitalist forms. One can analyse this discontinuity as a modification of the individual and humanity. 'Man becomes individualised only through the process of history [Der Mensch vereinzelt sich erst durch den historischen Prozess] (Marx 1986: 420). The gradualness of the historical forms in the Grundrisse concerns the individualisation of man through the progressive dissolution of the original unity between man and community. Marx depicts the historical process which, starting from the original condition of the species-being and through different stages, ends with the social individual, who is apparently conciliated again with the species (Texier 1992: 143). Actually, the 'social individual' is the temporary name that Marx found to represent a different configuration of the relationship between individual and collective (Marx 1986: 90-92). The social individual is the expression of a productive form that has driven labour beyond the limits of natural necessity and which therefore constitutes the basis for the development of a new and richer individuality, and thus, also, of a new social formation. The concept of the social individual evokes a sort of cusp of capitalist development, the point at which this mode of production even produces a new human nature whose brain is no longer only the heritage of one skull alone, but also becomes a 'social brain' (Marx 1986: 84), in which the potential of the knowledge of the species is objectified.

In this scheme, the overcoming of the natural limit due to the limitless nature of the capitalist mode of production constitutes the requirement for the free and full development of the individual. However, that argument concurrently presents a scheme of philosophy of history. Taking the pages on pre-capitalist forms, in which this topic on the individual is found, one can see the sequence: genesis, development, crisis. That is to say: unity of individual and community; dissolution of the communitarian bounds; a new form of conciliation with the Gattung.

The starting point of this historical sketch is the natural community, which pre-exists the individual as something natural and where the individual is only a member of the community. This is the first form of precapitalist mode of production, namely the oriental Despotism. Technological or economical innovation may occur, but they do not affect the stability of the social organisation which is self-sustaining. The unity of man and community on the one side and of man and ground on the other side isn't in question. This is a very interesting point, because Marx presents a form of historiography which breaks with the model of becoming dominated from the development of productive forces.

In the second form, the community is once again also implied, but the individuals are no longer a sheer accident of the community. In this scenario the dissolution of the natural essence of the community relationship takes place. The single individual becomes a landlord, whose form of property is direct possession. The individual remains a member of the community, but is nonetheless a single private owner. The community can be recognised as a historical product.

The Germanic form of property which Marx describes is not really the third form, but rather a possibility in the development of the precapitalist form of production. Other possibilities were open. Someone had a history and different developments, someone was destroyed. In the Germanic form one can find common property and individual possession at the same time. Marx drafts a comparative history: he analyses this form in connection to the Roman ager publicum. While with the Germans the economical totality is the single house, with the Romans this is identified with the city, and in the Asiatic form it is the natural community, who remains the true owner (Munzer 1990: 161-2). In the Germanic form the 'community exists only in the mutual relation of the individual landowners as such'. The community 'is neither the substance, of which the individual appears merely as an accident [as in the Oriental community], nor is it the general, which exists as such and has...

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