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New Left Review I/104, July-August 1977

Raymond Plant

Hegel and Political Economy (Part II)

Labour is a central notion in the works of Smith and Ricardo, and it is an elaboration of the concept of labour which enables Hegel to say something about human development and human autonomy which goes beyond what is to be found in conventional political economy. The main lines of his account have already been intimated in the discussion of Althusser; it merely remains to make the points more systematically. It is in labour that man is distinguished from the animal. The animal has needs and gratifies them by the mere consumption of objects. On the other hand, man who also has an instinctual, biological life transcends this level of relationship to natural objects. Through labour, he transforms natural objects to his own projects and intentions. At the same time, in transforming objects man comes to know more about their character and the laws governing their being. He then makes use of this knowledge, incorporating it into labour processes. This again develops the range of transformations he is able to effect on external reality, and also involves an increase in his theoretical knowledge of the world within which he lives: ‘Desire has reserved to itself the pure negating of the object and thereby unalloyed feeling of self. This satisfaction, however, just for that reason is itself only a state of evanescence, for it lacks objectivity and subsistence. Labour, on the other hand, is desire restrained and checked, evanescence delayed, in other words labour shapes and fashions the thing . . . the consciousness that toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as itself . . . By the fact that the form is objectified, it does not become something other than the consciousness moulding the thing through labour; for just that form is his pure self-existence which therein becomes truly realized.’ [1] The Phenomenology of Mind, translated by Baillie, London 1964, p. 225. Cf. The Philosophy of Right, op. cit., para. 194 and addition to para. 190; Jenenser Realphilosophie, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 197. [For earlier footnote references, see nlr 103].

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