Most Anglo-Saxon social scientists are proud of their concentration on fact, and regard the activities of most of their colleagues in continental Europe with amused contempt as ‘metaphysics’ or even ‘mysticism’. History has become the summarization of ever-growing masses of empirical data, sociologists find ever more variables in systems of laws defining the social situation, while the only link between an empiricist historiography and a positivist sociology is a dogmatic determinism that in the final analysis reduces society and man to a fixed human nature. Marxists have not been able to avoid this dualism. Overlaid as it has been by Austro-Marxism and Stalinism, Marxism has veered about between fitting empirical data into a preconceived schema derived from the Classics, and a simple comparison of ‘Marxist’ categories with bourgeois ones in favour of the former. The only critical methodology has remained at best on a purely Kantian level, taking as its point of departure the net separation of method and reality and contenting itself with the criticism of the former so that it more nearly corresponds formally to the latter. The dialectical criticism of method, moving from anthropology (in Kant’s sense) to history, that Marx used, has however been renewed by Marxist theorists such as Lukács and Gramsci, and its most recent proponent is Jean-Paul Sartre in the Critique de la Raison Dialectique. In our next issue we are publishing an article by André Gorz on Sartre’s relation to Marxism. In the Anglo-Saxon world the recent rise of interest in this criticism in France, Italy and Latin America particularly, has gone largely unnoticed. However, Peter Berger has recently exemplified it in magisterial articles on such diverse subjects as marriage and the American cult of psycho-analysis. We are thus very glad to publish and discuss the first attempt in English to demonstrate the relevance of this body of thought to the problems of sociology, by Peter Berger and his colleague Stanley Pullberg.

Their essay is particularly welcome at a time when industrial sociology has popularized the concept of alienation among sociologists in the confused and falsified forms of a feeling-state, or else as a synonym for anomie. Berger and Pullberg definitively combat this by demonstrating that alienation as originally used by Hegel and Marx had nothing to do with the common conception of a psychological condition. Their definitions of the terms ‘objectification’, ‘alienation’, and ‘reification’ are lucid and eloquent—by far the most serious that have so far appeared in English.

We should, however, like to formulate some reservations about the methodological structure of the essay, and the tacit substantive implications that follow from this. Berger and Pullberg, it will be noticed, do not provide anywhere a real explanation of the phenomena of alienation and reification. Reification is defined as a moment of alienation in the original definition. But as we read further on, reification becomes increasingly autonomous, until at times it seems to have replaced alienation altogether. Their only attempt at an explanation of reification is the unhappy remark: ‘nor can we enter here into the question of the ultimate root of these processes, which we strongly suspect to lie in some fundamental terrors of human existence, notably the terror of chaos—which is then assuaged by the fabrication of the sort of firm order that only reification can constitute’.

This is precisely a psychologistic and essentialist explanation—of the kind which their whole exposition, of the concept had initially avoided. Indeed, this sudden reversion to psychologism is contradictory to all Berger’s other work (especially the authoritative demolition in his essay on the sociology of psycho-analysis), and runs counter to the original definitions of alienation and reification. However, if we examine more of the article, this attitude seems to underlie the choice of many of its examples. The world is a human product and yet it has an alienated character, but the simple contemplative understanding of this is not sufficient to end the alienation, as this alienation is constantly reproduced and realized by others. The example given is a gesture per-performed by an individual which is taken as a definition of him by others. The individual is helpless to escape from this common definition of his existence, but he has the choice of either accepting this definition as such (i.e. Sartre’s bad faith), or of recognizing his own free act in the gesture. The implication would appear to be that the bar to dereification is the impossibility of a simultaneous rejection of bad faith by all the others. Alienation and reification thus become purely contingent accidents that societies fall into and cannot escape from, and their universality is seen as requiring for explanation some basic human fear. Thus, when there is later a discussion of the possibility of de-reification, the possible instances are all conjunctural—social catastrophe, culture-shock, the position of marginal groups or individuals in society. None of them involve collective human intentions or action. In sum, reification is seen as a condition practically universal in societies up to the present, even though it is not an anthropological necessity. In spite of the basic need for order which has ensured this universality, the non-reified society is possible, but the possibility is not realizable by the individual as it demands the co-operation of others. Only a contingent historical conjuncture can produce this temporary liberation.

This is to remain at the stage that Sartre reached with LEtre et le Néant, where the analysis stops at bad faith, and the freedom is, as Merleau-Ponty rightly pointed out, an empty freedom. It is also near the point reached by Marx when he wrote the Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, where he defined the proletariat as a revolutionary class on the basis of its exclusion from civil society. Marx, however, did not stop there; his later work reintegrates his earliest essay in a new perspective.

For the crucial difference between Marx’s account of alienation and reification, and Berger’s and Pullberg’s, is that Marx provides a dynamic and genetic explanation of them, anchoring them in the concrete historical process of man’s evolution from primitive to industrial society—whereas Berger and Pullberg implicitly treat them as static, psychological phenomena present in all epochs and situations. For Marx, alienation arose out of the original discrepancy between human needs and physical nature which is scarcity—the condition which produces man’s long struggle to conquer the environment. This struggle becomes from the start, exploitation of man by man, in the form of the social division of labour required to transform the inert material world. This produces class society, and the sequence of historical modes of production. Man is alienated in all of these, as long as scarcity and exploitation subsist. In industrial capitalist society, the characteristic form of alienation is massive, institutionalized reification—stemming above all from the labour market and the historical origins of that market. As Lukács’ Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein and Goldmann’s Recherches Dialectiques demonstrate, reification in a capitalist society is a product of the fetishism of commodities, and it is spread through all social life by the institutions necessary to the market—the provision of a rational commercial law, the ideological legitimations of a market society, a bureaucratic state apparatus, the division of mental and manual labour, reified philosophy and art.

Marx’s account of alienation, moreover, because it is historical and genetic, includes the prospects of a structural transcendence of reification—not merely periodic conjunctural ‘dissolutions’ of it. This prospect is, of course, socialism in its full philosophical sense—the Sprung in die Freiheit, the realm of freedom. This conquest of alienation can only be realized by a revolutionary praxis which reclaims society finally as man’s intimate creation and nature. The mere abolition of the institutions of private property emphatically does not de-reify a society, as long as scarcity prevails. As Sartre has shown, series—or alienated groups defining themselves as purely negative unities—can constitute themselves into true groups, only to fall back into new series. This is one way looking at what happened in Russia from the revolution to Stalinism. However, the new form of alienation must not be regarded as another example of the universal condition of man, but as a fundamental consequence of the continuance of scarcity, which yet allows the possibility for the reconstruction of the group, in a new attempt to liberate society.