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New Left Review I/72, March-April 1972

Ernest Mandel

Reply to Hernandez’s ‘The Development of Marx’s Economic Thought’

Angel Hernandez criticizes my Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx on three essential points. He contends that: 1. in Marx’s mature writings, ‘alienation’ becomes synonymous with capitalist exploitation, as these writings have only one single object: an analysis of the capitalist mode of production; 2. it is therefore wrong to present the mature Marx as still sharing the position of The German Ideology that alienation of labour is linked to the social division of labour and commodity production in general [1] Hernandez writes: ‘We may wonder, however, whether the idea of the social division of labour (in The German Ideology E.M.) . . . does not sometimes become a substitute for that of alienated labour, since both serve at different times to explain the misery and the condition of workers in capitalist society’. The concept of division of labour is not used in The German Ideology to explain the ‘misery and the condition of workers in capitalist society’, but to explain phenomena common to all class societies, as can be easily deduced from the text itself. That concept is not a substitute but an explanation of alienated labour. In his Anti-Dühring, Engels remains as explicit as thirty years earlier:‘In every society in which production has developed spontaneously—and our present society is of this type—the situation is not that the producers control the means of production, but that the means of production control the producers. In such a society each new lever of production is necessarily transformed into a new means for the subjection of the producers to the means of production. This is most of all true of that lever of production which, prior to the introduction of modern industry, was far the most powerful—the division of labour.’ (Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow 1959, pp. 402–3.); 3. the concept that division of labour could wither away under communism is utopian. If, therefore, alienation is caused by division of labour, then it becomes again an anthropological destiny and not a historically limited and determined condition of man. [2] Hernandez is right when he points out that I believe that Marx’s method has to be situated not in relation to the theory of the capitalist mode of production, but in relation to a general theory of history. Would he really care to deny that Marx developed the theory of historical materialism, and that his theory of capitalism is but an application of this general method of social investigation to a particular mode of production? Hernandez obviously confuses the method, which is general, and the specific results of its application to a particular form of society, which remain valid only for that society and not, of course, for society in general. In that case, the process of dis-alienation can never be fully achieved.

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Ernest Mandel, ‘Reply to Hernandez’s 'The Development of Marx’s Economic Thought'’, NLR I/72: £3

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