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Marx, Marxism and Philosophy, Today — Notes from November 10th Seminar, no. 7

It is imper­a­tive to remem­ber that Lukacs is the first 20th cen­tu­ry Marx­ist philoso­pher to seri­ous­ly artic­u­late in depth the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the world. This is his start­ing point in the reifi­ca­tion essay and points to the com­mod­i­ty as the uni­ver­sal char­ac­ter of soci­ety as a whole. Again, the prob­lem of reifi­ca­tion grows out of the fetish char­ac­ter of com­modi­ties and it is my view that Lukacs is the first great com­men­ta­tor on Cap­i­tal, Part I, Chap­ters 1, the com­mod­i­ty and 2, the process of Exchange.

What per­me­ates every­day life in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety is the prin­ci­ple of ratio­nal mech­a­niza­tion and cal­cu­la­bil­i­ty – this embraces us and total­izes us and no longer are goods and ser­vices the prod­uct of an organ­ic process with­in a com­mu­ni­ty but a frag­ment of ratio­nal cal­cu­la­tion. Lukacs is both argu­ing here against bour­geois econ­o­mists who do not see this and also the mechan­i­cal, i.e. vul­gar Marx­ist tra­di­tion. Remem­ber Gramsci’s attack on the spon­ta­neous phi­los­o­phy that only is mechan­i­cal­ly and exter­nal­ly dri­ven and leads to a frag­ment­ed and episod­ic emp­ty life. Think­ing is not only frag­ment­ed the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of life cre­ates iso­la­tion with­in social rela­tions. The whole of soci­ety under cap­i­tal­ism is sub­ject­ed to a “uni­fied” eco­nom­ic process and the fate of every mem­ber is deter­mined by uni­fied laws. This, for Lukas, is the law of appear­ance oper­a­tive in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety but this ratio­nal objec­ti­fi­ca­tion con­ceals the dialec­ti­cal rela­tions that bring this phe­nom­e­non into being, We begin to unmask terms such as the ratio­nal “laws” of the mar­ket, chances of exploita­tion- these laws are to be ratio­nal­ly orga­nized through and through. To under­state the case, this opens the dis­course of the irra­tional­i­ty of the sys­tem­ati­za­tion of the whole by reg­u­lat­ing the parts (often arti­fi­cial­ly iso­lat­ed and appar­ent­ly autonomous) to be per­formed by spe­cial­ists of every kind. Here­in lies the nature of the divi­sion of labor that is nev­er artic­u­lat­ed under the con­cept of the total­i­ty (i.e. the forces of pro­duc­tion are not ana­lyzed along­side and dialec­ti­cal­ly with the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion- force, inno­va­tion, prac­tice are frag­ment­ed from the soci­etal rela­tions and hide real rela­tions between human beings). The true move­ment of econ­o­my can­not be explained with­out the under­stand­ing of rei­fied rela­tions and the gen­er­al prob­lem of reification.

In sec­tion 3 of the prob­lem of reifi­ca­tion. Lukacs gives a poignant descrip­tion of the spe­cial­iza­tion of skills and how this leads to the destruc­tion of the whole. We will see this also ana­lyzed by Adorno in “Why Still Philosophy.”

We will return to the con­cept of total­i­ty when read­ing Sartre and Althuss­er and hope­ful­ly see the dif­fer­ences between the Hegelian total­i­ty in Lukacs and Sartre and Althusser’s sev­er­ing of the con­cept into two, the struc­tur­al and expressive.

For next week, we will engage Korsch’s schema (writ­ten in 1923) of the three stages of the devel­op­ment of Marx­ist theory:

  1. 1843–1848- the­o­ry of soci­etal devel­op­ment until the man­i­festo of 1848
  2. 1848–1868- bru­tal sup­pres­sion of the proletariat
  3. The present 20th cen­tu­ry – 1900–1923- vul­gar and mechan­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism, Lenin’s pres­ence and attack on the ide­al­ist and vul­gar tra­di­tions in Philosophy.
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