(Thoughts on parts of Marx’s German Ideology)
Workers Opposition IOW, ideological studies.
Human history is about time and how it materially affects human beings. It has been a cause and effect for human beings and reciprocally human beings have effected the course of history.
The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. The first fact to be established is the physical organisation of individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature.
The actual physical nature of human kind and natural conditions such as climate etc. is one aspect, but also there is the writing of history through the actions of people.
Humans are distinguished from animals by consciousness. They begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, their actual material life. It coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. It presupposes the intercourse of individuals with one another. Here is the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the State are evolved out of the life-process of individuals as they really are; as they operate, produce materially, they work under definite material limits and conditions independent of their will.
The ideas which these individuals form are ideas either about their relation to nature or about their mutual relations or about their own nature., of their relations and activities, of their social and political conduct.
The opposite assumption is only possible if a separate spirit (God) is presupposed.
As Marx says, “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion.., etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process…” (Marx: The German Ideology).
Morality, religion, ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, are not independent, they have no history, no development; but humans, developing production and their material intercourse and relations, alter their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.
Human beings must be in a position to live in order to be able to make history, they eat and drink, have habitation wear clothes. The first historical act is the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself and is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history to sustain human life.
Even when the sensuous world is reduced to a minimum, to a stick, it presupposes the action of producing the stick. It is the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, the state, of commerce and industry.
The second point is that the satisfaction of the first need (the action of satisfying, and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired) leads to new needs; and this production of new needs is the first historical act.
The third circumstance which, from the very outset, enters into historical development, is that humans, who daily remake their own life, make other humans, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman, parents and children, the family.
The family to begin with is the only social relationship. Increased needs create new social relations and the increased population new needs.
The production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation, now appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a natural, on the other as a social relationship. By social we understand the co-operation of several individuals.
No matter under what conditions, in what manner and to what end. It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a “productive force.”
Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of the primary historical relationships, do we find that man also possesses “consciousness,” but, even so, not inherent, not “pure” consciousness.
Matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language.
Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other people. Language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with others.
An animal does not enter into “relations” with anything; it does not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, its relation to others does not exist as a relation.
Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all.
Consciousness is at first, of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious.
At the same time it is consciousness of nature, which first appears to people as a completely alien, all-powerful and unassailable force, with which human’s relations are purely animal and by which they are overawed like beasts; it is thus a purely animal consciousness of nature (natural religion) just because nature is as yet hardly modified historically.
Human’s consciousness of the necessity of associating with the individuals around is the beginning of the consciousness that one is living in society at all. This beginning is as animal as social life itself at this stage. It is mere herd-consciousness, and at this point human beings are only distinguished from sheep by the fact that with them consciousness takes the place of instinct or that human instinct is a conscious one.
When a division of material and mental labour appears, (the first form of ideologists, priests, happen at the same time).
From this moment onwards consciousness is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to free itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of “pure” theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc. But even if this theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc. comes into contradiction with the existing relations, this can only occur because existing social relations have come into contradiction with existing forces of production.
What consciousness starts to do on its own, the evidence is that these three moments, the forces of production, the state of society, and consciousness, can and must come into contradiction with one another. The fact that intellectual and material activity – enjoyment and labour, production and consumption – is delegated to different individuals.
It is self-evident, moreover, that “spectres,” “bonds,” “the higher being,” “concept,” “scruple,” are merely the idealistic, spiritual expression, the conception apparently of the isolated individual.
Property, the nucleus, the first form, of which lies in the family, where wife and children are the slaves of the husband. This early slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property, but even at this early stage it corresponds perfectly to the definition of modern economists who call it the power of disposing of the labour-power of others.
It implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual and the communal interest of all individuals.
As long as human kind remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him.
The social power, i.e., the multiplied productive force, which arises through the co-operation of different individuals as it is determined by the division of labour, appears to these individuals, since their co-operation is not voluntary but has come about naturally, not as their own united power, but as an alien force existing outside them, of the origin and goal of which they are ignorant, which they thus cannot control, which on the contrary passes through a peculiar series of phases and stages independent of the will and the action of man.
How otherwise could property have had a history at all, have taken on different forms.
History as a Continuous Process
In history up to the present it is certainly a fact that separate individuals have, with the broadening of their activity into world-historical activity, become more and more enslaved under a power alien to them, which turns out to be the world market. By the overthrow of the existing state of society by the communist revolution (of which more below) and the abolition of private property, this power, which so baffles the theoreticians, will be dissolved and that then the liberation of each single individual will be accomplished in the measure in which history becomes transformed into world history.
Communism is the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.
“History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which exploits the materials, the capital funds, the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations….” [ibid]
This conception of history depends on our ability to expound the real process of production, starting out from the material production of life itself, and to comprehend the form of intercourse connected with this and created by this mode of production.
It has not, like the idealistic view of history, in every period to look for a category, but remains constantly on the real ground of history; it does not explain practice from the idea but explains the formation of ideas from material practice; and accordingly it comes to the conclusion that all forms and products of consciousness cannot be dissolved by mental criticism.
It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.
“…the truly historical appears to be separated from ordinary life, something extra-superterrestrial. With this the relation of man to nature is excluded from history and hence the antithesis of nature and history is created.
“The Hegelian philosophy of history is of pure thoughts, which consequently must appear to Saint Bruno as a series of “thoughts” that devour one another and are finally swallowed up in “self-consciousness.”
…..“Liberation” is an historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions…..