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New Left Review 91, January-February 2015


gopal balakrishnan

THE ABOLITIONIST—II

For the early Marx, the history of civil society unfolded as a process of accumulation that took off with the privatization of archaic quasi-natural communities and came to a conclusion with the abolition of the state, property and the family. [1] The first part of this study appeared in nlr 90. Competition propelled a continuous accumulation of the results of the labour of preceding generations, making possible an ever more extensive ‘division of labour’. Marx’s first version of historical materialism was a history of the division of labour, but the latter term had a meaning in this period that it would subsequently lose: ‘Division of labour and private property are . . . identical expressions.’ [2] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology [1845–47], in mecw vol. 5, p. 46. The evolution of the division of labour was thus the history of private property, and in turn this was the story of the accumulation of capital as the stock of past, saved-up labour. Although Marx conceived of labour and capital in this essentially Smithian sense, the dynamic of their relationship was taken more dialectically. ‘Labour’, far from being a constant of the species-relation to nature, existed only in this divided form, one that culminated in the opposition of wage labour and capital: ‘Labour is man’s coming-to-be for himself within alienation, or as alienated man.’ [3] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts [1844], in mecw vol. 3, p. 333.

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