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Grundrisse, Introduction, I

A group of us are reading through the introduction of the Grundrisse as a detour from Anti-Samuelson. I’m liking this because it simultaneously gives me an excuse to read books I’ve been meaning to and to force myself to work through my thoughts in a systematic way. My ‘responsibility’ for the next meeting is to present Marx’s argument through the “Production in general” section. This post is my notes toward that end, for better or worse. Feel free to peruse and correct errors other than abbreviations.

Independent Individuals, 18th Century Ideas In this section, M discusses the history and rhetorical import of the ‘independent individual’. It’s interesting to me to look at how prescient the analysis here is even if looked at as a predictor of academic practice. The archeology of ideas and their use in refining the past to suit the needs of the present is an interesting thing — and one that I associate most often with Foucault, for some reason. But this is exactly what Marx is doing here, forming an argument about how the notion of ind. inds. informs opinion about the position of men and women in relation to society. Anyhow:

For M, the ind. inds. are always already socially conditioned (in their actions they are motivated by an order that exceeds them), even if they happen to be the subject of a fanciful tail about a shipwreck survivor, as in the Robinsonades. The ind. ind. is actually an actor in the historically fashioned ‘Civil Society’, the society of liberal conception: ‘society of free competition’ where ‘natural bonds’ are no longer binding. Anything it seems, is possible. B. thinkers project the subject of this society into the past — they eternalize (or we might say, essentialize) it — and so create an idealization through which they freeze the flux of history.

M. holds that the ind. ind. becomes ever more dependent as we look into the historical record. Perhaps the Great Chain of Being is indicative of this increasing dependency, with its layers of title and serfdom, etc. With Civil Society the ind. sees this dependence only as a means to his self-interested ends (and not, as it were, as constitutive of the possibility of his existence — maybe note something about Toderov’s notion of the self). This is the logic behind the Social Contract. M. claims that this view is only possible from the most highly developed (we might just say, ‘a complex’) political society. Ind. material reproduction is therefor, like Robinson Crusoe, the stuff (most usually) of fiction, and not what we need concern ourselves with.

Eternalization of historic relations of production Because ind. action is always socially determined, productive acts are always socially productive. Therefor to discuss production we must know what sort of society the act takes place within.

M. Holds that despite this there are certain common traits and characteristics which all forms of production share. When we attempt to sift through the particular productive forms and find the universal aspects that are shared by them, however, we must be cautious not to forget how the particulars are distinguished. M. gives an example of how capital can be made to resemble the hand and become eternalized.

M. defines general production as the conditions without which production is impossible and the conditions that promote production to a greater of lesser degree. eg “Adam Smith’s progressive and stagnant state of society.” This invites and investigation of degrees of productivity, which Marx holds to be tautological since it explains greater productivity of wealth by looking to elements that exist in situations where more wealth is produced.

This is not what motivates b. econs. like Mill, who want to see present production as indicative of general natural laws (this urge to see the present as indicative of the natural order: odd, shared by evopsych and others). So it is that all societies can be argued to derive from the laws that found b. econ.

B. econ. also separates production from distribution — as if this could be done and a meaningful understanding of what is going on be maintained (this sort of thinking permeates thought as well, leading to things like the Hard Problem of Consciousness, etc.) All this, again, is done in order to outline general human laws. What b. econ. essentializes out of the bric-à-brac of history is property and that part of the State that maintains it.

M responds to this by saying that it explains nothing about production. He sees it as tautological since property is appropriation, and all production is appropriation. But he argues that all property is not private property and claims that communal property as a form is older than private property.

As to the State protection of property, M holds that “every form of production creates its own legal regulations, form of government, etc.” He thinks that b. econ. with its fetish for greater production and focus on productivity under current forms of State miss that each form of production generates a legal apparatus materially appropriate to it (for instance, sure Roman mercantalism could have benefited from the instant communication of the internet, but the internet could not have existed in Roman society, so to wonder how much production would have increased with it is a bit pointless).

Anyway, my section ends with a quote that I think holds a view roughly analogous to the problem of the relation of static phenomenology to phenomenology of genesis:

There are characteristics which all stages of production have in common and with are established as general ones by the mind; but the so-called general preconditions of all production are nothing more than these abstract moments with which no real historical stage can be grasped.

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