3. The Method of Political Economy

When examining a given country from the standpoint of political economy, we begin with its population, the division of the population into classes, town and country, the sea, the different branches of production, export and import, annual production and consumption, prices, etc. It would seem to be the proper thing to start with the real and concrete elements, with the actual preconditions -- e.g., to start in the sphere of the whole economy with population -- which forms the basis and the subject of the whole social process of production. Closer consideration shows, however, that this is wrong. Population is an abstraction if, for instance, one disregards the classes of which it is composed. These classes, in turn, remain empty terms if one does not know the factors on which they depend -- e.g., wage-labor, capital, and so on. These presuppose exchange, division of labor, prices, etc. For example, capital without wage-labor, without value, money, prices, etc., is nothing. If one were to take population as the point of departure, it would be a very vague notion of a complex whole and through closer definition, one would arrive analytically at increasingly simple concepts; from imaginary concrete terms, one would move to more and more tenuous abstractions, until one reached the most simple definition. From there, it would be necessary to make the journey again in the opposite direction until one arrived once more at the concept of population, which is this time not a vague notion of a whole, but a totality comprising many determinations and relations. The first course is the historical one taken by political economy at tis inception. The 17th century economists, for example, always took as their starting-point the living organism, the population, the nation, the state, several states, etc., but analysis led them always, in the end, to the discovery of a few decisive abstract, general relations (such as division of labor, money, and value). When these separate factors were more or less clearly deduced and established, economic systems were evolved which from simple concepts, such as labor, division of labor, demand, exchange value, advanced to categories like state, international exchange and world market. This latter is obviously the correct scientific method. The concrete concept is concrete because it is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects. It appears, therefore, in reasoning as a summing-up, a result, and not as the starting-point -- although it is the real point of origin, and thus also the point of origin of perception and imagination. The first procedure attenuates meaningful images to abstract definitions; the second leads from abstract definitions by way of reasoning to the reproduction of the concrete situation. Hegel accordingly conceived the illusory idea that the real world is the result of thinking, which causes its own synthesis, its own deepening, and its own movement; whereas the method of advancing from the abstract to the concrete is simply the way in which thinking assimilates the concrete and reproduces it as a concrete mental category. This is, however, by no means the process of evolution of the concrete world itself. For example, the simplest economic category -- e.g., exchange value -- presupposes population, a population moreover which produces under definite conditions, as well as a distinct kind of family, or community, or state, etc. Exchange value cannot exist except as an abstract, _unilateral_ relation of an already existing concrete organic whole. But exchange value as a category leads an antediluvian existence. Thus, to consciousness -- and this comprises philosophical consciousness -- which regards the comprehending mind as the real man, and hence the comprehended world as such as the only real world; to consciousness, therefore, the evolution of categories appears as the actual process of production -- which, unfortunately, is given an impulse from outside -- whose result is the world; and this (which is however again a tautological expression) is true in so far as the concrete totality regarded as a conceptual mental totality, as a mental fact, is indeed a product of thinking, of comprehension; but it is by no means a product of the idea which evolves spontaneously and who think proceeds outside and above perception and imagination, but is the result of the assimilation and transformation of perceptions and images into concepts. The totality as a conceptual entity seen by the intellect is a product of the thinking intellect, which assimilates the world in the only way open to it, a way which differs from the artistic, religious and practically intelligent assimilation of the world. The concrete subject remains outside the intellect and independent of it -- that is, so long as the intellect adopts a purely speculative, purely theoretical attitude. The subject, society, must always be envisaged therefore as the precondition of comprehension, even when the theoretical method is employed. But have not these simple categories also an independent historical or natural existence preceding that of the more concrete ones? This depends. Hegel, for example, correctly takes ownership -- the simplest legal relation of the subject -- as the point of departure of the philosophy of law. No ownership exists, however, before the family or the relations of master and servant are evolved, and these are much more concrete relations. It would, on the other hand, be correct to say that families and entire tribes exist which have as yet only _possessions_ and not _property_. The simpler category appears, thus, as a relation of simple family or tribal communities to property. In societies which have reached a higher stage, the category appears as a comparatively simple relation existing in a more advanced community. The concrete substratum underlying the relation of ownership is, however, always presupposed. One can conceive an individual savage who has possessions; possession in this case, however, is not a legal relation. It is incorrect that in the course of historical development possession gave rise to the family. On the contrary, possession always presupposes this "more concrete category". One may, nevertheless, conclude that the simple categories represent relations or conditions which may reflect the immature concrete situation without as yet positing the more complex relation or condition which is conceptually expressed in the more concrete category; on the other hand, the same category may be retained as a subordinate relation in more developed concrete circumstances. Money may exist and has existed in historical time before capital, banks, wage-labor, etc., came into being. In this respect, it can be said that the simpler category expresses relations in a more advanced entity; relations which already existed historically before the entity had developed the aspects expressed in a more concrete category. The procedure of abstract reasoning which advances from the simplest to more complex concepts to that extent conforms to actual historical development. It is true, on the other hand, that there are certain highly-developed (but nevertheless historically immature) social formations which employ some of the most advanced economic forms -- e.g., cooperation, developed division of labor, etc. -- without having developed any money at all -- for instance, Peru. In Slavonic communities, too, money -- and it's precondition, exchange -- is of little or no importance within the individual community, but is used on the borders where commerce with other communities takes place; and it is altogether wrong to assume that exchange within the community is an original constituent element. On the contrary, in the beginning exchange tends to arise in the intercourse of different communities with one another, rather than among members of the same community. Moreover, although money begins to play a considerable role very early and in diverse ways, it is known to have been a dominant factor in antiquity only among nations developed in a particular direction -- i.e., merchant nations. Even among Greeks and Romans (the most advanced nations of antiquity) money reaches its full development, which is presupposed in modern bourgeois society, only in the period of their disintegration. The full potential of this quite simple category thus emerges historically not in the most advanced phases of society, and it certainly does not penetrate into all economic relations. For example: taxes in kind and deliveries in kind remained the basis of the Roman empire even at the height of its development; indeed, a completely-evolved monetary system existed in Rome only in the army, and it never permeated the whole complex of labor. Although the simpler category, therefore, may have existed historically before the more concrete category, its complete intensive and extensive development can nevertheless occur in a complex social formation, whereas the more concrete category may have been fully evolved in a more primitive social formation. Labor seems to be a very simple category. The notion of labor in this universal form (as labor in general) is also extremely old. Nevertheless, "labor" in this simplicity is economically considered just as modern a category as the relations which give rise to this simple abstraction. The Monetary System, for example, still regards wealth quite objectively as a thing existing independently in the shape of money. Compared with this standpoint, it was a substantial advance when the manufacturing or Mercantile system transferred the source of wealth from the object to the subjective activity -- mercantile or industrial labor -- but it still considered that only this circumscribed activity itself produced money. In contrast to this system, the Physiocrats assume that a specific for of labor -- agriculture -- creates wealth, and they see the object no longer in the guise of money, but as a product in general, as the universal result of labor. In accordance with the still circumscribed activity, the product remains a naturally developed product, an agricultural product, a product of the land _par excellence_. It was an immense advance when Adam Smith rejected all restrictions with regard to the activity that produces wealth -- for him, it was labor as such, neither manufacturing, nor commercial, nor agricultural labor, but all of them. The abstract universality which creates wealth implies also the universality of the objects defined as wealth: they are products as such, or once more labor as such, but in this case past, materialized labor. How difficult and immense a transition that was is demonstrated by the fact that Adam Smith himself occassionally relapses once more into the Physiocratic system. It might seem that in this way merely an abstract expression was found for the simplest and most ancient relation in which human beings act as producers -- irrespective of the type of society they live in. This is true in one respect, but not in another. The fact that the specific kind of labor is irrelevant presupposes a highly-developed complex of actually existing kinds of labor -- none of which is any more the all-important one. The most general abstractions arise on the whole only when concrete development is most profuse, so that a specific quality is seen to be common to many phenomena, or common to all. Then it is no longer perceived solely in a particular form. This abstraction of labor is, on the other hand, by no means simply the conceptual resultant of a variety of existing concrete types of labor. The fact that the particular kind of labor employed is immaterial is appropriate to a form of society in which individuals easily pass from one type of labor to another, the particular type of labor being accidental to them and therefore irrelevant. Labor, not only as a category but in reality, has become a means to create wealth in general, and has ceased to be tied as an attribute to a particular individual. This state of affairs is most pronounced in the United States, the most modern form of bourgeois society. The abstract category "labor", "labor as such", labor _sans phrase_, the point of departure in modern economics, thus becomes a practical fact only there. The simplest abstraction, which plays a decisive role in modern political economy, an abstraction which expresses an ancient relation existing in all social formations, nevertheless appears to be actually true in this abstract form only as a category of the most modern society. It might be said that phenomena which are historical products in the United States -- e.g., the irrelevance of the particular type of labor -- appear to be among the Russians (for instance) naturally developed predispositions. But in the first place, there is an enormous difference between barbarians having a predisposition which makes it possible to employ them in various tasks, and civilized people who apply themselves to various tasks. As regards the Russians, moreover, their indifference to the particular kind of labor performed is in practice matched by their traditional habit of clinging fast to very definite kind of labor from which they are extricated only by external influences. The examples of labor strikingly demonstrates how even the most abstract categories (despite their validity in all epochs) -- precisely because they are abstractions -- are equally a product of historical conditions even in the specific form of abstractions, and they retain their full validity only for and within the framework of these conditions. Bourgeois society is the most advanced and complex historical organization of production. The categories which express its relations, and an understanding of its structure, therefore, provide and an insight into the structure and the relations of production of all formerly existing social formations the ruins and component elements of which were used in the creation of bourgeois society. Some of these assimilated remains are still carried on within bourgeois society; others, however, which previously existed only in rudimentary form, have been further developed and have attained their full significance, etc. The anatomy of man is a key to the anatomy of the ape. On the other hand, rudiments of more advanced forms in the lower species of animals can only be understood when the more advanced forms are already known. Bourgeois economy thus provides a key to the economy of antiquity, etc., but it is quite impossible [to gain this insight] in the manner of those economists who obliterate all historical differences and who see in all social phenomenon only bourgeois phenomenon. If one only knows rent, it is possible to understand tribute, etc., but they do not have to be treated as identical. Since bourgeois society is, moreover, only a contradictory form of development, it contains relations of earlier societies often merely in very stunted form, or even in the form of travesties -- e.g., communal ownership. Thus, although it is true that the categories of bourgeois economy are valid for all other social formations, this has to be taken _cum grano salis_, for they may contain them in an advanced, stunted, caricatured, etc., form -- that is, always with substantial differences. What is called historical evolution depends, in general, on the fact that the latest form regards earlier ones as stages in the development of itself, and conceives them always in a one-sided manner -- since only rarely, and under quite special conditions, is a society able to adopt a critical attitude towards itself. In this context, we are not, of course, discussing historical periods which themselves believe that they are periods of decline. The Christian religion was able to contribute to an objective understanding of earlier mythologies only when its self-criticism was, to a certain extent, prepared, as it were potentially. Similarly, only when the self-criticism of bourgeois society had begun, was bourgeois political economy able to understand the feudal, ancient, and oriental economies. In so far as bourgeois political economy did not simply identify itself with the past in a mythological manner, its criticism of earlier economies -- especially of the feudal system against which it still had to wage a direct struggle -- resembled the criticism that Christianity directed against heathenism, or which Protestantism directed against Catholicism. Just as, in general, when examining any historical period or social science, so also in the case of the development of economic categories is it always necessary to remember that the subject (in this context, contemporary bourgeois society) is presupposed both in reality and in the mind, and that therefore categories express forms of existence and conditions of existence (and sometimes merely separate aspects) of this particular society, the subject; thus the category, _even from the scientific standpoint_, by no means begins at the moment when it is discussed _as such_. This has to be remembered, because it provides important criteria for the arrangement of the material. For example, nothing seems more natural than to begin with rent -- i.e., landed property, since it is associated with the earth, the source of all production and all life -- and agriculture, the first form of production in all societies that have attained a measure of stability. But nothing would be more erroneous. There is, in every social formation, a branch of production which determines the position and importance of all others; and the relations obtaining in this branch accordingly determine the relations of all other branches, as well. It is as though light of a particular hue were cast upon everything, tinging all other colors and modifying their special features; or as if a special ether determined the specific gravity of everything found in it. Let us take, as an example, pastoral tribes. (Tribes living exclusively on hunting or fishing are beyond the boundary line from which real development begins.) A certain types of agricultural activity occurs among them, and this determines land ownership. It is communal ownership and retains this form in a larger or smaller measure, according to the degree to which these people maintain their traditions -- e.g., communal ownership among the Slavs. Among settled agricultural people -- settled already to a large extent -- where agriculture predominated, as in societies of antiquity and the feudal period, even manufacture (its structure and the forms of property corresponding thereto) have, in some measure, specifically agrarian features. Manufacture is either completely dependent on agriculture, as in the earlier Roman period, or as in the Middle Ages, it copies in the town and in its conditions the organization of the countryside. Even in the Middle Ages, capital -- unless it was solely money capital -- consisted of the traditional tools, etc., and retained a specifically agrarian character. The reverse takes place in bourgeois society. Agriculture, to an increasing extent, becomes just a branch of industry and is completely dominated by capital. The same applies to rent. In all forms in which landed property is the decisive factor, natural relations still predominate; in the forms in which the decisive factor is capital, social, historically-evolved elements predominate. Rent cannot be understood with capital, but capital can be understood without rent. Capital is the economic power that dominates everything in bourgeois society. It must form both the point of departure and the conclusion and it has to be expounded before landed property. After analyzing capital and landed property separately, their interconnection must be examined. It would be inexpedient and wrong therefore to present the economic categories successively in the order in which they have played the dominant role in history. On the contrary, their order of succession is determined by their mutual relation in modern bourgeois society and this is quite the reverse of what appears to be natural to them, or in accordance with the sequence of historical development. The point at issue is not the role that various economic relations have played in the succession of various social formations appearing in the course of history; even less is it their sequence "as concepts" (Proudhon) (a nebulous notion of the historical process), but their position within modern bourgeois society. It is precisely the predominance of agricultural people in the ancient world which caused the merchant nations -- Phoenicians, Carthaginians -- to develop in such purity (abstract precision) in the ancient world. For capital in the shape of merchant or money capital appears in the abstract form where capital has not yet become the dominant factor in society. Lombards and Jews occupied the same position with regard to mediaeval agrarian societies. Another example of the various roles which the same categories have played at different stages of society are joint-stock companies, one of the most recent features of bourgeois society; but they arise also in its early period in the form of large privileged commercial companies with rights of monopoly. The concept of national wealth finds its way into the works of the economists of the 17th century as the notion that wealth is created for the state, whose power, on the other hand, is proportional to this wealth -- a notion which to some extent still survives even among 18th century economists. This is still an unintentionally hypocritical manner in which wealth and the production of wealth are proclaimed to be the goal of modern states, and production itself is regarded simply as a means for producing wealth. The disposition of material has evidently to be made in such a way that [section] One - comprises general abstract definitions, which, therefore, appertain in some measure to all social formations, but in the sense set forth earlier. Two - the categories which constitute the internal structure of bourgeois society and on which the principal classes are based. Town and country. The three large social classes; exchanges between them. Circulation. The (private) credit system. Three - the state as the epitome of bourgeois society. Analysis of its relations to itself. The "unproductive" classes. Taxes. National debt, public credit, Population, Colonies, Emigration. Four - international conditions of production. International division of labor. International exchange. Export and import. Rate of exchange. Five - world market and crises. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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