Source: Knowledge & Human Interest, 1968, publ. Polity Press, 1987. Chapter Three: The Idea of the Theory of Knowledge as Social Theory reproduced here.
The interpretive scheme set forth by Marx for the Phenomenology of Mind contains the program for an instrumentalist translation of Hegel’s philosophy of absolute reflection:
The greatness of Hegel’s phenomenology and its end result-the dialectic of negativity as motive and productive principle-is thus ... that Hegel grasps the self-generation of man as a process, objectification as de-objectification, as alienation and the overcoming of this alienation; in other words, that he grasps the essence of labour and comprehends objective man, who is true man because of his reality, as the result of his own labour. [Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General]
The idea of self-constitution of the species through labour is to serve as the guide to appropriating the Phenomenology while demythologising it. As we have shown, the assumptions of the identity kept Hegel from reaping the real harvest of Kant, and they dissolve on this materialist basis. Ironically, however, the very viewpoint from which Marx correctly criticises Hegel keeps him from adequately comprehending his own studies. By turning the construction of the manifestation of consciousness into an encoded representation of the self-production of the species, Marx discloses the mechanism of progress in the experience of reflection, a mechanism that was concealed in Hegel’s philosophy. It is the development of the forces of production that provides the impetus to abolishing and surpassing a form of life that has been rigidified in positivity and become an abstraction. But at the same time, Marx deludes himself about the nature of reflection when he reduces it to labour. identifies “transformative abolition (Aufheben), as objective movement which reabsorbs externalisation,” with the appropriation of essential powers that have been externalised in working on material.
Marx reduces the process of reflection to the level of instrumental action. By reducing the self-positing of the absolute ego to the more tangible productive activity of the species, be eliminates reflection as such as a motive force of history, even though be retains the framework of the philosophy of reflection. His re-interpretation of Hegel’s Phenomenology betrays the paradoxical consequences of taking Fichte’s philosophy of the ego and undermining it with materialism. Here the appropriating subject confronts in the non-ego not lust a product of the ego but rather some portion of the contingency of nature. In this case the act of appropriation is no longer identical with the reflective re-integration of some previously externalised part of the subject itself. Marx preserves the relation of the subject’s prior positing activity (which was not transparent to itself), that is of hypostatisation, to the process of becoming conscious of what has been objectified, that is of reflection. But, on the premises of a philosophy of labour, this relation turns into the relation of production and appropriation, of externalisation and the appropriation of externalised essential powers. Marx conceives of reflection according to the model of production. Because he tacitly starts with this premise, it is not inconsistent that he does not distinguish between the logical status of the natural sciences and of critique.
In fact, Marx does not completely obliterate the distinction between the natural sciences and the sciences of man. The outlines of an instrumentalist epistemology enable him to have a transcendental-pragmatistic conception of the natural sciences. They represent a methodically guaranteed form of the kind of knowledge which, on a pre-scientific level, is accumulated in the system of social labour. In experiments, assumptions about the law-like connection of events are tested in a manner fundamentally identical with that of “Industry,” that is of pre-scientific situations of feedback-controlled action. In both cases, the transcendental viewpoint of possible technical control, subject to which experience is organised and reality objectified, is the same. With regard to the epistemological justification of the natural sciences, Marx stands with Kant against Hegel, although he does not identify them with knowledge as such. For Marx as for Kant the criterion of what makes science scientific is methodically guaranteed cognitive progress. Yet Marx did not simply assume this progress as evident. Instead, he measured it in relation to the degree to which natural-scientific information, regarded as in essence technically exploitable knowledge, enters the process of production:
The natural sciences have developed an enormous activity and appropriated an ever growing body of material. Philosophy has remained just as foreign to them as they remained foreign to philosophy. Their momentary union [criticising Schelling and Hegel] was only a fantastic illusion ... In a much more practical fashion, natural science has intervened in human life and transformed it by means of industry ... Industry is the real historical relation of nature, and thus of natural science, to man. [Marx, Private Property & Communism,]
On the other hand, Marx never explicitly discussed the specific meaning of a science of man elaborated as a critique of ideology and distinct from the instrumentalist meaning of natural science. Although he himself established the science of man in the form of critique and not as a natural science, be continually tended to classify it with the natural sciences. He considered unnecessary an epistemological justification of social theory. This shows that the idea of the self-constitution of mankind through labour sufficed to criticise Hegel but was inadequate to render comprehensible the real significance of the materialist appropriation of Hegel.
Invoking the model of physics, Marx claims to represent “the economic law of motion of modern society” as a “natural law.” In the Afterword to the second edition of Capital, Volume I he quotes with approval the methodological evaluation of a Russian reviewer. While the latter goes along with Comte ill emphasising the difference between economics and biology on the one hand and physics and chemistry on the other, and calls attention in particular to the restriction of the validity of economic laws to specific historical periods, he nevertheless equates this social theory with the natural sciences. Marx has only one concern,
to demonstrate through precise scientific investigation the necessity of definite orders of social relations and to register as irreproachably as possible the facts that serve him as points of departure and confirmation . . . Marx considers the movement of society as a process of natural history, governed by laws that are not only independent of the will, consciousness, and intention of men but instead, and conversely, determine their will, consciousness, and intentions.
In order to prove the scientific character of his analysis, Marx repeatedly made use of its analogy to the natural sciences. He I never gives evidence of having revised his early intention, according to which the science of man was to form a unity with the natural sciences:
Natural science will eventually subsume the science of man just as the science of man will subsume natural science: there will be a single science. [Marx, Private Property & Communism]
This demand for a natural science of man, with its positivist overtones, is astonishing. For the natural sciences are subject to the transcendental conditions of the system of social labour, whose structural change is supposed to be what the critique of political economy, as the science of man, reflects on. Science in the rigorous sense lacks precisely this element of reflection that characterises a critique investigating the natural-historical process of the self-generation of the social subject and also making the subject conscious of this process. To the extent that the science of man is an analysis of a constitutive process, it necessarily includes the self-reflection of science as epistemological critique. This is obliterated by the self-understanding of economics as a “human natural science.” As mentioned, this abbreviated methodological self-understanding is nevertheless a logical consequence of a frame of reference restricted to instrumental action.
If we take as our basis the materialist concept of synthesis through social labour, then both the technically exploitable knowledge of the natural sciences, the knowledge of natural laws, as well as the theory of society, the knowledge of laws of human natural history, belong to the same objective context of the self-constitution of the species. From the level of pragmatic, everyday knowledge to modern natural science, the knowledge of nature derives from man’s primary coming to grips with nature; at the same time it reacts back upon the system of social labour and stimulates its development. The knowledge of society can be viewed analogously. Extending from the level of the pragmatic self-understanding of social groups to actual social theory, it defines the self-consciousness of societal subjects. Their identity is reformed at each stage of development of the productive forces and is in turn a condition for steering the process of production:
The development of fixed capital indicates the extent to which general social knowledge has become an immediate force of production, and therefore [!] the conditions of the social life process itself have come under the control of the general intellect. [Grundrisse p594]
So far as production establishes the only framework in which the genesis and function of knowledge can be interpreted, the science of man also appears under categories of knowledge for control. At the level of the self-consciousness of social subjects, knowledge that makes possible the control of natural processes turns into knowledge that makes possible the control of the social life process. In the dimension of labour as a process of production and appropriation, reflective knowledge changes into productive knowledge. Natural knowledge congealed in technologies impels the social subject to an ever more thorough knowledge of its “Process of material exchange” with nature. In the end this knowledge is transformed into the steering of social processes in a manner not unlike that in which natural science becomes the power of technical control.
In the preliminary studies for the Critique of Political Economy there is a model according to which the history of the species is linked to an automatic transposition of natural science and technology into a self-consciousness of the social subject (general intellect)-a consciousness that controls the material life process. According to this construction the history of transcendental consciousness would be no more than the residue of the history of technology. The latter is left exclusively to the cumulative evolution of feedback-controlled action and follows the tendency to augment the productivity of labour and to replace human labour power-“the realisation of this tendency is the transformation of the means of labour into machinery.” The epochal turning-points in the evolution of technology show how all capacities of the human organism combined in the behavioural system of instrumental action are gradually transferred to the means of labour: First the capacities of the executing organs, then those of the sense organs, the energy production of the human organism, and finally the capacities of the controlling organ, the brain. The stages of technical progress can in principle be foreseen. In the end the entire labour process will have separated itself from man and reside only in the means of labour.
The self-generative act of the human species is complete as soon as the social subject has emancipated itself from necessary labour and, so to speak, takes its place alongside scientised production. At that point labour time and the quantity of labour expended also become obsolete as a measure of the value of goods produced. The spell of materialism cast upon the process of humanisation by the shortage of available means and the compulsion to labour will be broken. The social subject (as ego) will have permeated and appropriated the nature objectified through labour (the non-ego), as much as is conceivable under the conditions of production (the activity of the “absolute ego”). Along with the materialist interpretation of his theory of knowledge, Fichte’s thought has been translated into a Saint-Simonian perspective. An unusual passage from the Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Okonomie, which does not recur in the parallel investigations in Capital, fits into this framework:
To the degree ... that large-scale industry develops, the creation of social wealth depends less on labour time and the quantity of labour expended than on the power of the instruments that are set in motion during labour time and which themselves in turn-their powerful effectiveness-themselves in turn are in no proportion to the immediate labour time that their production costs. Rather they depend on the general level of science and technological progress, or the application of science to production. (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others along with it, is itself in turn proportional to the development of material production.) For example, agriculture becomes the mere application of the science of material exchange as it is to be regulated most advantageously for the entire social body. Real wealth manifests itself rather-and large industry reveals this-in the tremendous disproportion between the labour time expended and its product just as in the qualitative disproportion between labour that bad been reduced to a pure abstraction and the power of the productive process that it oversees. As man relates to the process of production as overseer and regulator, labour no longer seems so much to be enclosed within the process of production. (What holds for machinery holds just as well for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) The labourer no longer inserts a modified natural object between the object and himself. Instead he inserts the natural process that he has transformed into an industrial one as a medium between himself and inorganic nature, of which he takes command. He takes his place alongside the process of production instead of being its chief agent. In this transformation what appears as the keystone of production and wealth is neither the immediate labour performed by man himself nor the time he labours but the appropriation of his own general productive force, his understanding of nature and its mastery through his societal existence-in a word, the development of the social individual....
Therewith production based on exchange value collapses, and the immediate material process of production sheds the form of scantiness and antagonism. The free development of individualities and therefore not the reduction of necessary labour time in order to create surplus labour, but rather the reduction of society’s necessary labour to a minimum, which then has its counterpart in the artistic, scientific, and other education of individuals through the time that has become free for all of them and through the means that have been created. [Grundrisse p 592]
Here it is from the methodological perspective that we are interested in this conception of the transformation of the labour process into a scientific process that would bring man’s “material exchange” with nature under the control of a human species totally emancipated from necessary labour. A science of man developed from this point of view would have to construct the history of the species as a synthesis through social labour and only through labour. It would make true the fiction of the early Marx that natural science subsumes the science of man just as much as the latter subsumes the former. For, on the one hand, the scientisation of production is seen as the movement that brings about the identity of a subject that knows the social life process and then also steers it. In this sense the science of man would be subsumed under natural science. On the other hand, the natural sciences are comprehended in virtue of their function in the self-generative process of the species as the exoteric disclosure of man’s essential powers. In this sense, natural science would be subsumed under the science of man. The latter contains principles from which a methodology of the natural sciences resembling a transcendental-logically determined pragmatism could be derived. But this science does not question its own epistemological foundations. It understands itself in analogy to the natural sciences as productive knowledge. It thus conceals the dimension of self-reflection in which it must move regardless.
Now the argument which we have taken up was not pursued beyond the stage of the “rough sketch” of Capital. It is typical only of the philosophical foundation of Marx’s critique of Hegel, that is production as the “activity” of a self-constituting species. It is not typical of the actual social theory in which Marx materialistically appropriates Hegel on a broad scale. Even in the Grundrissewe find already the official view that the transformation of science into machinery does not by any means lead of itself to the liberation of a self-conscious general subject that masters the process of production. According to this other version the self-constitution of the species takes place not only in the context of men’s instrumental action upon nature but simultaneously in the dimension of power relations that regulate men’s interaction among themselves. Marx very precisely distinguishes the self-conscious control of the-social life process by the combined producers from an automatic regulation of the process of production that has become independent of these individuals. In the former case the workers relate to each other as combining with each other of their own accord. In the latter they are merely combined,
so that the aggregate labour as a totality is not the work of the individual worker, and is the work of the various workers together only insofar as they are combined and not insofar as they relate to each other as combining of their own accord. [Grundrisse p 374]
Taken by itself, scientific-technical progress does not yet lead to a reflexive comprehension of the traditional, “natural” operation of the social life process in such a way that self-conscious control could result:
In its combination this labour [of scientised production] appears just as much in the service of an alien will and an alien intelligence, which directs it. It has its psychic unity outside itself and its material unity subordinated to the unity of machinery, of fixed capital, which is grounded in the object. Fixed capital, as an animated monster, objectives scientific thought and is in fact the encompassing aspect. It does not relate to the individual worker as an instrument. Instead he exists as an animated individual detail, a living isolated accessory to the machinery. [Grundrisse p 374]
The institutional framework that resists a new stage of reflection (which, it is true, is prompted by the progress of science established as productive force) is not immediately the result of a life that has been rigidified to the point of abstraction: in Hegel’s phenomenological language, a form of the manifestation of consciousness. What this represents is not immediately a stage of technological development but rather a relation of social force, namely the power of one social class over another. The relation of force usually appears in political form. In contrast, the distinctive feature of capitalism is that the class relation is economically defined through the free labour contract as a form of civil law. As long as this mode of production exists, the most progressive scientisation of production could not lead to the emancipation of a self-conscious subject that knows and regulates the social life process. Of necessity it would only sharpen the “litigant contradiction” of that mode of production:
On the one hand it [capital] thus calls to life all the powers of science and of nature as of social combination and social intercourse, to make the creation of wealth (relatively) independent of the labour time expended on it. On the other, it wants to take the gigantic social forces generated in this way and measure them against labour time and confine them within the bounds required in order to preserve as value the value already created. [Grundrisse p 593]
The two versions that we have examined make visible an indecision that has its foundation in Marx’s theoretical approach itself. For the analysis of the development of economic formations of society he adopts a concept of the system of social labour that contains more elements than are admitted to in the idea of a species that produces itself through social labour. Self-constitution through social labour is conceived at the categorical level as a process of production, and instrumental action, labour in the sense of material activity, or work designates the dimension in which natural history moves. At the level of his material investigations, on the other hand, Marx always takes account of social practice that encompasses both work and interaction. The processes of natural history are mediated by the productive activity of individuals and the organisation of their interrelations. These relations are subject to norms that decide, with the force of institutions, how responsibilities and rewards, obligations and charges to the social budget are distributed among members. The medium in which these relations of subjects and of groups are normatively regulated is cultural tradition. It forms the linguistic communication structure on the basis of which subjects interpret both nature and themselves in their environment.
While instrumental action corresponds to the constraint of external nature and the level of the forces of production determines the extent of technical control over natural forces,communicative action stands in correspondence to the suppression of man’s own nature. The institutional framework determines the extent of repression by the unreflected, “natural” force of social dependence and political power, which is rooted in prior history and tradition. A society owes emancipation from the external forces of nature to labour processes, that is to the production of technically exploitable knowledge (including “the transformation ,of the natural sciences into machinery”). Emancipation from the compulsion of internal nature succeeds to the degree that institutions based on force are replaced by an organisation of social relations that is bound only to communication free from domination. This does not occur directly through productive activity, but rather through the revolutionary activity of struggling classes (including the critical activity of reflective sciences). Taken together, both categories of social practice make possible what Marx, interpreting Hegel, calls the self-generative act of the species. He sees their connection effected in the system of social labour. That is why “production” seems to him the movement in which instrumental action and the institutional framework, or “Productive activity” and “relations of production,” appear merely as different aspects of the same process.
However, if the institutional framework does not subject all members of society to the same repressions, then the tacit expansion of the frame of reference to include in social practice both work and interaction must necessarily acquire decisive importance for the construction of the history of the species and the question of its epistemological foundation. If production attains the level of producing goods over and above elementary needs, the problem arises of distributing the surplus product created by labour. This problem is solved by the formation of social classes, which participate to varying degrees in the burdens of production and in social rewards. With the cleavage of the social system into classes that are made permanent by the institutional framework, the social subject loses its unity: “To regard society as one single subject is, moreover, to regard it falsely-speculatively.”
As long as we regard the self-constitution of the species through labour only with respect to the power of control over natural processes that accumulates in the forces of production, it is meaningful to speak of the social system in general and to speak of the social subject in the singular. For the level of development of the forces of production determines the system of social labour as a whole. In principle the members of a society all live at the same level of mastery of nature, which in each case is given with the available technical knowledge. So far as the identity of a society takes form via this level of scientific-technical progress, it is the self-consciousness of “the” social subject. But as we now see, the self-formative process of the species does not coincide with the genesis of this subject of scientific-technical progress. Rather, this “self-generative act,” which Marx comprehended as a materialistic activity is accompanied by a self-formative process mediated by the interaction of class subjects either under compulsory integration or in open rivalry.
While the constitution of the species in the dimension of labour appears linearly as a process of production and the growth of complexity, in the dimension of the struggle of social classes it takes place as a process of oppression and self-emancipation. In both dimensions each new stage of development is characterised by a supersession of constraint: through emancipation from external natural constraint in one and from repressions of internal nature in the other. The course of scientific-technical progress is marked by the epochal innovations through which functional elements of the behavioural system of .instrumental action are reproduced step by step at the level of machines. The limiting value of this development is thus defined: the organisation of society itself as an automaton. The course of the social self-formative process, on the other hand, is marked not by new technologies but by stages of reflection through which the dogmatic character of surpassed forms of domination and ideologies are dispelled, the pressure of the institutional framework is sublimated, and communicative action is set free as communicative action. The goal of this development is thereby anticipated: the, organisation of society linked to decision-making processes on the basis of discussion free from domination. Raising the productivity of technically exploitable knowledge, which in the sphere of socially necessary labour leads to the complete substitution of machinery for men, has its counterpart here in the self-reflection of consciousness in its manifestations to the point where the self-consciousness of the species has attained the level of critique and freed itself from all ideological delusion. The two developments do not converge. Yet they are interdependent; Marx tried in vain to capture this in the dialectic of forces of production and relations of production. In vain-for the meaning of this “dialectic” must remain unclarified as long as the materialist concept of the synthesis of man and nature is restricted to the categorical framework of production.
If the idea of the self-constitution of the human species in natural history is to combine both self-generation through productive activity and self-formation through critical-revolutionary activity, then the concept of synthesis must also incorporate a second dimension. The ingenious combination of Kant and Fichte then no longer suffices.
Synthesis through labour mediates the social subject with external nature as its object. But this process of mediation is interlocked with synthesis through struggle, which, in each case, mediates two partial subjects of society that make each other into objects-in other words, two social classes. Knowledge, the synthesis of the material of experience and forms of the mind, is only one aspect of both processes of mediation. Reality is interpreted from a technical viewpoint in the former and from a practical viewpoint in the latter. Synthesis through labour brings about a theoretical-technical relation between subject and object; synthesis through struggle brings about a theoretical-practical relation between them. Productive knowledge arises in the first, reflective knowledge in the second. The only model that presents itself for synthesis of the second sort comes from Hegel. It treats of the dialectic of the moral life, developed by Hegel in his early theological writings, in political writings of the Frankfurt period, and in the Jena philosophy of mind, but which he did not incorporate into his system.
In his fragment on the spirit of Christianity, Hegel unfolds the dialectic of the moral life through the example of the punishment that befalls one who destroys a moral totality. The criminal” annuls the complementarity of unconstrained communication and the reciprocal gratification of needs by putting himself as an individual in place of the totality. In so doing he sets off a process of fate that turns upon him. The struggle ignited between the conflicting parties and the hostility against the other who has been injured and oppressed render perceptible the lost complementarity and past friendship. The criminal is confronted with the negating power of his past life. He experiences his guilt. The guilty one must suffer under the violence of the repressed and sundered life, which he has himself provoked, until he experiences in the repression of the other’s life the deficiency of his own, and, in his turning away from the other subject, his alienation from himself. This causality of fate is ruled by the power of the suppressed life. The latter can only be reconciled if the experience of the negativity of the sundered life gives rise to yearning for what has been lost and compels the guilty one to identify with the existence of the other, against which he is struggling, as that which he is denying in his own. Then both parties recognise their rigidified position in relation to each other as the result of detachment and abstraction from their common life context. And in the latter, the dialogic relation of recognising oneself in the other, they experience the common ground of their existence.
Marx could have employed this model and constructed the disproportional appropriation of the surplus product, which has class antagonism as its consequence, as a “crime.” The punitive causality of fate is executed upon the rulers as class struggle coming to a head in revolutions. Revolutionary violence reconciles the disunited parties by abolishing the alienation of class antagonism that set in with the repression of initial morality. In his work on municipal government and in the fragment of the introduction to his work on the German constitution Hegel developed the dialectic of the moral life with regard to political conditions in Würtemberg and the old German Empire. The positivity of rigidified political life mirrors the disruption of a moral totality; and the revolution that must occur is the reaction of suppressed life, which will visit the causality of fate upon the rulers.
Marx, however, conceives the moral totality as a society in which men produce in order to reproduce their own life through the appropriation of an external nature. Morality is an institutional framework constructed out of cultural tradition; but it is a framework for processes of production. Marx takes the dialectic of the moral life, which operates on the basis of social labour, as the law of motion of a defined conflict between definite parties. The conflict is always about the organisation of the appropriation of socially created products, while the conflicting parties are determined by their position in the process of production, that is as classes. As the movement of class antagonism, the dialectic of the moral life is linked to the development of the system of social labour. The overcoming of abstraction, that is the critical revolutionary reconciliation of the estranged parties, succeeds only relative to the level of development of the forces of production. The institutional framework also incorporates the constraint Of external nature, which expresses itself in the degree of mastery Of nature, the extent of socially necessary labour, and in the relation of available rewards to socially developed demands. Through the repression of needs and wishes, it translates this constraint into a compulsion of internal nature, in other words into the constraint of social norms. That is why the relative destruction of the moral relation can be measured only by the difference between the actual degree of institutionally demanded repression and the degree of repression that is necessary at a given level of the forces of production. This difference is a measure of objectively superfluous domination. It is those who establish such domination and defend positions of power of this sort who set in motion the causality of fate, divide society into social classes, suppress justified interests, call forth the reactions of suppressed life, and finally experience their just fate in revolution. They are compelled by the revolutionary class to recognise themselves in it and thereby to overcome the alienation of the existence of both classes. s long as the constraint of external nature persists in the form of economic scarcity, every revolutionary class is induced, after its victory to a new “injustice,” namely the establishment of a new class rule. Therefore the dialectic of the moral life must repeat itself until the materialist spell that is cast upon the reproduction of social life, the Biblical curse of necessary labour, is broken technologically.
Even then the dialectic of the moral life does not automatically come to rest. But the inducement by which it is henceforth kept in motion assumes a new quality. It now stems not from scarcity, but rather only from the masochistic gratification of a form of domination that impedes taming the struggle for existence, which is objectively possible, and puts off uncoercive interaction on the basis of communication free from domination. This domination is then reproduced only for its own sake. It hinders alteration of the aggregate state of natural history-the transition to a history freed from the dialectic of the moral life, which could unfold in the medium of dialogue on the basis of production relieved of human labour.
Unlike synthesis through social labour, the dialectic of class antagonism is a movement of reflection. For the dialogic relation of the complementary unification of opposed subjects, the re-establishment of morality, is a relation of logic and of life conduct at once. This can be seen in the dialectic of the moral relation developed by Hegel under the name of the struggle for recognition. Here the suppression and renewal of the dialogue situation are reconstructed as a moral relation. The grammatical relations of communication, once distorted by force, exert force themselves. Only the result of dialectical movement eradicates this force and brings about the freedom from constraint contained in dialogic self-recognition-in-the-other: in the language of the young Hegel, love as reconciliation. Thus it is not unconstrained inter-subjectivity itself that we call dialectic, but the history of its repression and re-establishment. The distortion of the dialogic relation is subject to the causality of split-off symbols and reified grammatical relations: that is, relations that are removed from public communication, prevail only behind the backs of subjects, and are thus also empirically coercive.
Marx, confronted with contemporary capitalism, analyses a social form that no longer institutionalises class antagonism in the form of immediate political domination and social force; instead, it stabilises it in the legal institution of the free labour contract, which congeals productive activity into the commodity form. This commodity form is objective illusion, because it makes the object of conflict unrecognisable for both parties, capitalists as well as wage labourers, and restricts their communication. The commodity form of labour is ideology, because it simultaneously conceals and expresses the suppression of an unconstrained dialogic relation:
The mystery of the commodity form, therefore, is simply that it takes the social characteristics of men’s own labour and reflects them back to men as the objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the social natural properties of these things. It thus also reflects the social relation of the producers to the totality of labour as a social relation of objects, one that exists independently of the producers. Through this quid pro quo the products of labour become commodities and natural supernatural or social things. Thus the light impression something makes on’ the optic nerve does not appear as a subjective stimulus of the optic nerve itself but as the objective form of a thing outside the eye. But in vision light really is projected from one thing, the external object, onto another thing, the eye. It is a physical relation between physical things. On the contrary, the commodity form, and the value relation of the products of labour in which it is expressed, have absolutely nothing to do with their physical nature and the concrete relations arising from it. Here it is only the specific social relation of men themselves that assumes for them the phantasmagoric form of a relation of things. Hence in order to find an analogy we must take flight to the obscure region of the religious world. Here the products of the human mind appear endowed with their own life, as independent forms that enter into relations with one another and with men. In the commodity world, the same holds for the products of the human hand. This I call the fetishism that clings to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and which therefore is inseparable from commodity production. [Marx, Capital]
The institutionally secured suppression of the communication through which a society is divided into social classes amounts to fetishising the true social relations. Thus, according to Marx, the distinguishing feature of capitalism is that it has brought ideologies from the heights of mythological or religious legitimations of tangible domination and power down into the system of social labour. In liberal bourgeois society the legitimation of power is derived from the legitimation of the market, that is from the “justice” of the exchange of equivalents inherent in exchange relations. It is unmasked by the critique of commodity fetishism.
I have chosen this example because it is central to Marx’s theory of society. It shows that the transformation of the institutional framework, viewed as the movement of class antagonism, is a dialectic of the consciousness of classes in its manifestations. Particularly a social theory that conceives the self-constitution of the species from the double perspective of synthesis through the struggle of classes and their social labour, therefore, will be able to analyse the natural history of production only in the framework of a reconstruction of the manifestations of the consciousness of these classes. The system of social labour develops only in an objective connection with the antagonism of classes; the development of the forces of production is intertwined with the history of revolutions. The results of this class struggle are always sedimented in the institutional framework of a society, in social form. Now, as the repeated dialectic of the moral life, this struggle is a process of reflection writ large. In it the forms of class consciousness arise: not idealistically in the self-movement of an absolute mind but materialistically on the basis of objectifications of the appropriation of an external nature. This reflection, in which an existing form of life is convicted of its abstraction and thereby revolutionised, is prompted by the growing potential of control over the natural processes objectified in work. The development of the forces of production at any time augments the disproportion between institutionally demanded and objectively necessary repression, thereby making conscious the existing untruth, the felt disruption of a moral totality.
This has two consequences for the methodological status of social theory. On the one band the science of man is continuous with the self-reflection of class consciousness in its manifestations. Like the Phenomenology of Mind it is guided by the experience of reflection in reconstructing the course of the manifestation of consciousness, although the latter is now seen as prompted by developments of the system of social labour. But, on the other hand, this science of man also resembles Hegel’s Phenomenology in knowing itself to be involved in the self-formative process that it recollects. The knowing subject must also direct the critique of ideology at itself. The natural sciences merely extend in methodical form the technically exploitable knowledge that has accumulated prescientifically within the transcendental framework of instrumental action. The science of man, however, “tends in methodical form the reflective knowledge that is already transmitted prescientifically within, the same objective structure of the dialectic of the moral life in which this science finds itself situated. In this structure, the knowing subject can only cast off the traditional form in which it appears to the degree that it comprehends the self-formative process of the species as a movement of class antagonism mediated at every stage by processes of production, recognises itself as the result of the history of class consciousness in its manifestations, and thereby, as self-consciousness, frees itself from objective illusion.
For Marx, the phenomenological exposition of consciousness in its manifestations, which served Hegel only as an introduction to scientific knowledge, becomes the frame of reference in which the analysis of the history of the species stays confined. Marx did not adopt an epistemological perspective in developing his conception of the history of the species as something that has to be comprehended materialistically. Nevertheless, if social practice does not only accumulate the successes of instrumental action but also, through class antagonism, produces and reflects on objective illusion, then, as part of this process, the analysis of history is possible only in a phenomenologically mediated mode of thought. The science of man itself Jr is critique and must remain so. For after arriving at the concept of synthesis through a reconstruction of the course of consciousness in its manifestations, there is only one condition under which critical consciousness could adopt a perspective that allowed disengaging social theory from the -epistemological mediation of phenomenological self-reflection: that is if critical consciousness could apprehend and understand itself as absolute synthesis. As it is, however, social theory remains embedded in the framework of phenomenology, while the latter, under materialist presuppositions, assumes the form of the critique of ideology.
If Marx bad reflected on the methodological presuppositions of social theory as he sketched it out and not overlaid it with a philosophical self-understanding restricted to the categorical framework of production, the difference between rigorous empirical science and critique would not have been concealed. If Marx had not thrown together interaction and work under the label of social practice (Praxis), and had he instead related the materialist concept of synthesis likewise to the accomplishments of instrumental action and the nexuses of communicative action, then the idea of a science of man would not have been obscured by identification with natural science. Rather, this idea would have taken up Hegel’s critique of the subjectivism of Kant’s epistemology and surpassed it materialistically. It would have made clear that ultimately a radical critique of knowledge can be carried out only in the form of a reconstruction of the history of the species, and that conversely social theory, from the viewpoint of the self-constitution of the species in the medium of social labour and class struggle, is possible only as the self-reflection of the knowing subject.
On this foundation philosophy’s position with regard to science could have been explicitly clarified. Philosophy is preserved in science as critique. A social theory that puts forth the claim to be a self-reflection of the history of the species cannot simply negate philosophy. Rather, the heritage of philosophy issues in the critique of ideology, a mode of thought that determines the method of scientific analysis itself. Outside of critique, however, philosophy retains no rights. To the degree that the science of man is a material critique of knowledge, philosophy, which as pure epistemology robbed itself of all content, indirectly regains its access to material problems. As philosophy, however, the universal scientific knowledge that philosophy wanted to be succumbs to the annihilating judgment of critique.”
Marx did not develop this idea of the science of man. By equating critique with natural science, he disavowed it. Materialist scientism only reconfirms what absolute idealism had already accomplished: 'the elimination of epistemology in favour of unchained universal “scientific knowledge” - but this time of scientific materialism instead of absolute knowledge.
With his positivist demand for a natural science of the social, Comte merely needed to take Marx, or at least the intention that Marx believed himself to be pursuing, at his word. Positivism turned its back to the theory of knowledge, whose philosophical self-liquidation had been carried on by Hegel and Marx, who were of one mind in this regard. In so doing, positivism regressed behind the level of reflection once attained by Kant. In continuity with pre-critical traditions, however, it successfully set about the task, which epistemology had abandoned and from which Hegel and Marx believed themselves exempted, of elaborating a methodology of the sciences.