Cf. Part I, section 14.
reorganize practically the existing problematic in the Theoretical in order to think its object; the philosophy capable of reflecting the upheaval produced by the emergence of such a science by bringing to light a new form of rationality (scientificity, apodicticity, etc.) would then mark by its existence a decisive punctuation, a revolution in the history of the Theoretical.
Bearing in mind what has been said elsewhere of the delay required for the philosophical production of this new rationality and even of the historical repressions to which certain theoretical revolutions may be subjected, it seems that Marx offers us precisely an example of this importance. The epistemological problem posed by Marx's radical modification of Political Economy can be expressed as follows: by means of what concept is it possible to think the new type of determination which has just been identified as the determination of the phenomena of a given region by the structure of that region? More generally, by means of what concept, or what set of concepts, is it possible to think the determination of the elements of a structure, and the structural relations between those elements, and all the effects of those relations, by the effectivity of that structure? And a fortiori, by means of what concept or what set of concepts is it possible to think the determination of a subordinate structure by a dominant structure? In other words, how is it possible to define the concept of a structural causality?
This simple theoretical question sums up Marx's extraordinary scientific discovery: the discovery of the theory of history and political economy, the discovery of Capital. But it sums it up as an extraordinary theoretical question contained 'in the practical state' in Marx's scientific discovery, the question Marx 'practiced' in his work, in answer to which he gave his scientific work, without producing the concept of it in a philosophical opus of the same rigour.
This simple question was so new and unforseen that it contained enough to smash all the classical theories of causality -- or enough to ensure that it would be unrecognized, that it would pass unperceived and be buried even before it was born.
Very schematically, we can say that classical philosophy (the existing Theoretical) had two and only two systems of concepts with which to think effectivity. The mechanistic system, Cartesian in origin, which reduced causality to a transitive and analytical effectivity: it could not be made to think the effectivity of a whole on its elements, except at the cost of extra-ordinary distortions (such as those in Descartes' 'psychology' and biology). But a second system was available, one conceived precisely in order to deal with the effectivity of a whole on its elements: the Leibnizian concept of expression. This is the model that dominates all Hegel's thought. But it presupposes in principle that the whole in question be reducible to an inner essence, of which the elements of the whole are then no more than the phenomenal forms of expression, the inner principle of the essence being present at each point in the whole, such that at each moment it is possible to
write the immediately adequate equation: such and such an element (economic, political, legal, literary, religious, etc., in Hegel) = the inner essence of the whole. Here was a model which made it possible to think the effectivity of the whole on each of its elements, but if this category -- inner essence/outer phenomenon -- was to be applicable everywhere and at every moment to each of the phenomena arising in the totality in question, it presupposed that the whole had a certain nature, precisely the nature of a 'spiritual ' whole in which each element was expressive of the entire totality as a 'pars totalis'. In other words, Leibniz and Hegel did have a category for the effectivity of the whole on its elements or parts, but on the absolute condition that the whole was not a structure.
If the whole is posed as structured, i.e., as possessing a type of unity quite different from the type of unity of the spiritual whole, this is no longer the case: not only does it become impossible to think the determination of the elements by the structure in the categories of analytical and transitive causality, it also becomes impossible to think it in the category of the global expressive causality of a universal inner essence immanent in its phenomenon. The proposal to think the determination of the elements of a whole by the structure of the whole posed an absolutely new problem in the most theoretically embarrassing circumstances, for there were no philosophical concepts available for its resolution. The only theoretician who had had the unprecedented daring to pose this problem and outline a first solution to it was Spinoza. But, as we know, history had buried him in impenetrable darkness. Only through Marx, who, however, had little knowledge of him, do we even begin to guess at the features of that trampled face.
This is merely to return to the most general form of a fundamental and dramatic theoretical problem of which the preceding studies have given us a precise idea. I call it a fundamental problem because it is clear that by other paths contemporary theory in psycho-analysis, linguistics, other disciplines such as biology, and perhaps even physics, has had to confront it, without suspecting that Marx had 'produced' it in the true sense, long ago. I call it a dramatic theoretical problem because although Marx 'produced ' this problem he did not pose it as a problem, but set out to solve it practically in the absence of its concept, with extraordinary ingenuity, but without completely avoiding a relapse into earlier schemata which were necessarily inadequate to pose and solve this problem. It is on this problem that Marx is attempting to focus in the tentative sentences we can read in the Introduction :
In all forms of society it is a determinate production and its relations which assign every other production and its relations their rank and influence. It is a general illumination (Beleuchtung ) in which all the other colours are plunged and which modifies their special tonalities. It is a special ether which defines the specific weight of every existence arising in it (op. cit., p. 27).
This text is discussing the determination of certain structures of production which are subordinate to a dominant structure of production, i.e., the determination of one structure by another and of the elements of a subordinate structure by the dominant, and therefore determinant structure. I have previously attempted to account for this phenomenon with the concept of overdetermination, which I borrowed from psycho-analysis; as one might suppose, this transfer of an analytical concept to Marxist theory was not an arbitrary borrowing but a necessary one, for the same theoretical problem is at stake in both cases : with what concept are we to think the determination of either an element or a structure by a structure? It is this same problem that Marx has in view and which he is trying to focus by introducing the meta- phor of a variation in the general illumination, of the ether in which bodies are immersed, and of the subsequent alterations produced by the domination of one particular structure in the localization, function and relations (in his own words: the relations, their rank and influence), in the original colour and the specific weight of the objects. The constant and real presence of this problem in Marx has been demonstrated by the rigorous analysis of his expressions and forms of reasoning in the preceding papers. It can be entirely summed up in the concept of 'Darstellung ', the key epistemological concept of the whole Marxist theory of value, the concept whose object is precisely to designate the mode of presence of the structure in its effects, and therefore to designate structural causality itself.
The fact that we have isolated the concept of 'Darstellung ' does not mean that it is the only one which Marx uses in order to think the effectivity of the structure: a reading of the first thirty pages of Capital shows that he uses at least a dozen different expressions of a metaphorical kind in order to deal with this specific reality, unthought before him. We have retained this term because it is both the least metaphorical and, at the same time, the closest to the concept Marx is aiming at when he wants to designate at once both absence and presence, i.e., the existence of the structure in its effects.
This is an extremely important point if we are to avoid even the slightest, in a sense inadvertent relapse into the diversions of the classical conception of the economic object, if we are to avoid saying that the Marxist conception of the economic object is, for Marx, determined from the outside by a non-economic structure. The structure is not an essence outside the economic phenomena which comes and alters their aspect, forms and relations and which is effective on them as an absent cause, absent because it is outside them. The absence of the cause in the structure's 'metonymic causality ' on its effects is not the fault of the exteriority of the structure with respect to the economic phenomena ; on the contrary, it is the very form of the interiority of the structure, as a structure, in its effects. This implies therefore that the effects are not outside the structure, are not a pre-existing object, element or space in which
An expression Jacques-Alain Miller has introduced to characterize a form of structural causality registered in Freud by Jacques Lacan.
the structure arrives to imprint its mark : on the contrary, it implies that the structure is immanent in its effects, a cause immanent in its effects in the Spinozist sense of the term, that the whole existence of the structure consists of its effects, in short that the structure, which is merely a specific combination of its peculiar elements, is nothing outside its effects.
This specification is very important when we have to deal with the occasionally strange form which the discovery of this reality and the search for expressions for it take, even in Marx. To understand these strange forms it is essential to note that the exteriority of the structure with respect to its effects can be conceived either as a pure exteriority or as an interiority on the sole condition that this exteriority or interiority are posed as distinct from their effects In Marx, this distinction often takes the classical form of the distinction between the inside and the outside, between the 'intimate essence' of things and their phenomenal 'surface', between the 'intimate relations', the 'intimate links' of things and the external relations and links of the same things. And it is well known that this opposition, which derives in principle from the classical distinction between essence and phenomenon, i.e., from a distinction which situates in being itself, in reality itself, the inner site of its concept, and therefore opposes it to the 'surface' of concrete appearances; which therefore transposes as a difference of level or of components in the real object itself, a distinction which does not belong to that real object since it is a matter of the distinction which separates the concept or knowledge of the real from that real as an existing object; -- it is well known that this opposition sometimes leads Marx to the following disarming pleonasm: if the essence were not different from the phenomena, if the essential interior were not different from the inessential or phenomenal exterior, there would be no need for science. It is also well known that this singular formula may gain strength from all those arguments of Marx's which present the development of the concepts as the transition from the abstract to the concrete, a transition understood as the transition from the essential, in principle abstract interiority to the concrete, visible and palpable outer determinations, a transition summed up in the transition from Volume One to Volume Three. All these ambiguous arguments depend once again on the confusion between the thought-concrete, which Marx completely isolated from the real-concrete in the Introduction, and this same real-concrete -- whereas in reality, the concrete of Volume Three, i.e., the knowledge of ground rent, profit and interest, is, like all knowledge, not the empirical concrete but the concept, and therefore still always an abstraction: what I have been able to and have had to call a 'Generality III', in order to stress that it was still a product of thinking, the knowledge of an empirical existence and not that empirical existence itself
Capital, Vol. III, p. 797: 'All science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.' This re-echoes the old dream which haunted all classical political reflection: all politics would be superduous if men's passions and reasons coincided.
It is therefore essential to be rigorous and draw the conclusion that the transition from Volume One to Volume Three of Capital has nothing to do with the transition from the abstract-in-thought to the real-concrete, with the transition from the abstractions of thought necessary in order to know it to the empirical concrete. We never leave abstraction on the way from Volume One to Volume Three, i.e., we never leave knowledge, the 'product of thinking and conceiving': we never leave the concept. We simply pass within the abstraction of knowledge from the concept of the structure and of its most general effects, to the concepts of the structure's particular effects -- never for an instant do we set foot beyond the absolutely impassable frontier which separates the 'development' or specification of the concept from the development and particularity of things -- and for a very good reason: this frontier is impassable in principle because it cannot be a frontier, because there is no common homogeneous space (spirit or real ) between the abstract of the concept of a thing and the empirical concrete of this thing which could justify the use of the concept of a frontier.
I am very insistent on this ambiguity because I want to show clearly the difficulty Marx found when he had to think in a really reflected concept the epistemological problem which he had nevertheless produced: how was he to account theoretically for the effectivity of a structure on its elements? This difficulty was not without its consequences. I have pointed out that theoretical reflection before Marx had provided two and only two models for an effectivity in thought: the model of a transitive causality, Galilean and Cartesian in origin, and the model of an expressive causality, Leibnizian in origin and adopted by Hegel. But by playing on the ambiguity of the two concepts, these two models could quite easily find common ground in the classical opposition between phenomenon and essence. The ambiguity of these concepts is indeed obvious: the essence does refer to the phenomenon, but at the same time secretly to the inessential. The phenomenon does refer to the essence of which it can be the manifestation and expression, but at the same time, and secretly, it refers to what appears to be an empirical subject, to perception, and therefore to the empirical state of mind of a possible empirical subject. It then becomes quite simple to accumulate these ambiguous determinations in reality itself, and to locate in the real itself a distinction which is only meaningful as a function of a distinction outside the real, since it brings into play a distinction between the real and the knowledge of the real. In his search for a concept with which to think the remarkable reality of the effectivity of a structure on its elements, Marx often slipped into the really almost inevitable use of the classical opposition between essence and phenomenon, adopting its ambiguities by force rather than merit, and transposing the epistemological difference between the knowledge of a reality and that reality itself into reality in the form of the 'inside and the outside ', of the real, of the 'real movement and the apparent movement ' of the 'intimate essence ' and its concrete, phenomenal determinations,
perceived and manipulated by subjects. There are surely consequences in this for his conception of science, as we could have seen when Marx had to provide the concept of what his predecessors had either found or missed -- or the concept of the difference between himself and them.
But there were also consequences in this ambiguity for the interpretation of the phenomenon he baptized 'fetishism '. We have proved that fetishism is not a subjective phenomenon related either to the illusions or to the perceptions of the agents of the economic process, that it cannot be reduced therefore to the subjective effects produced in the economic subjects by their place in the process, their site in the structure. But how many of Marx's texts present fetishism as an 'appearance ', an 'illusion' arising purely in 'consciousness', show us the real, inner movement of the process 'appearing ' in a fetishized form to the 'consciousness' of the same subjects in the form of the apparent movement! And yet how many other texts of Marx's assure us that this appearance is not subjective at all, but, on the contrary, objective through and through, the 'illusion' of the 'consciousness' and perceptions being itself secondary, and dislocated by the structure of this primary, purely objective 'illusion'! At this point we see Marx most clearly struggling with reference concepts which are inadequate to their objects, now accepting, now rejecting them in a necessarily contradictory movement.
However, and by virtue of these same contradictory hesitations, Marx often takes the side of what he was actually saying: and he then produces concepts adequate to their object, but it is just as if, producing them in a lightning gesture, he had not marshalled and confronted this production theoretically, had not reflected it in order to impose it on the total field of his analysis. For example, when dealing with the rate of profit, Marx wrote:
In fact, the formula s/c [the rate of profit] expresses the degree of self-expression of the total capital advanced . . . taken in conformity with its inner conceptual connexions (seinem begrifflichen, innern Zusammenhang entsprechend gefasst ) and the nature of surplus-value (Capital, Vol. III, p. 45).
In this passage, and in several others, Marx is unambiguously 'practising' the truth that interiority is nothing but the 'concept ', that it is not the real 'interior' of the phenomenon, but knowledge of it. If this is true, the reality that Marx studies can no longer be presented as a two-level reality, inside and outside, the inside being identified with the pure essence and the outside with a phenomenon, sometimes purely subjective, the state of mind of a 'consciousness', sometimes impure, because it is foreign to the essence, or inessential. If the 'inside ' is the concept, the 'outside' can only be the specification of the concept, exactly as the effects of the structure of the whole can only be the existence of the structure itself. Here, for example is what Marx says of ground rent:
As important as it may be for a scientific analysis of ground rent -- that is, the independent and specific economic form of landed property on the
basis of the capitalist mode of production -- to study it in its pure form free of all distorting and obfuscating irrelevancies, it is just as important for an understanding of the practical effects of landed property -- even for a theoretical comprehension of a multitude of facts which contradict the concept and nature of ground-rent and yet appear as modes of existence of ground-rent -- to learn the sources which give rise to such muddling in theory (Vol. III, p. 610).
Here we have in black and white the double status Marx attributes to his analysis. He is analysing a pure form which is none other than the concept of capitalist ground-rent. He thinks this purity both as the modality and the definition of the concept, and at the same time he thinks it as what he distinguishes from empirical impurity. Still, he does at once think this same empirical impurity in a second correcting movement as the 'modes of existence ', i.e., as theoretical determinations of the concept of ground-rent itself. In this latter conception we leave the empiricist distinction between pure essence and impure phenomenon, we abandon the empiricist idea of a purity which is thus only the result of an empirical purge (since it is a purge of the empirical) -- we really think the purity as the purity of the concept, the purity of a knowledge adequate to its object, and the determinations of this concept as the effective knowledge of the modes of existence of ground-rent. It is clear that this language itself revokes the distinction between inside and outside, and substitutes for it the distinction between the concept and the real, or between the object (of knowledge) and the real object. But if we take this indispensable substitution seriously, it directs us towards a conception of scientific practice and of its object which no longer has anything in common with empiricism.
Marx states unambiguously the principles of this quite different conception of scientific practice in the 1857 Introduction. But it is one thing to develop this concept and quite another to set it to work in order to solve the unprecedented theoretical problem of the production of the concept of the effectivity of a structure on its elements. We have seen Marx practising this concept in the use he makes of the 'Darstellung ', and trying to pinpoint it in the images of changes in the illumination or in the specific weight of object by the ether in which they are immersed, and it is sometimes directly exposed in Marx's analyses, in passages where it is expressed in a novel but extremely precise language: a language of metaphors which are nevertheless already almost perfect concepts, and which are perhaps only incomplete insofar as they have not yet been grasped, i.e., retained and elaborated as concepts. This is the case each time Marx presents the capitalist system as a mechanism, a machinery, a machine, a construction (Triebwerk, Mechanismus, Getriebe . . . Cf. Capital, Vol. III, p. 858 -- Marx-Engels Werke, Bd. XXV, p. 887 -- Capital, Vol. III, p. 859; Vol. II, p. 216; Vol. II, p. 421; Vol. II, p. 509); or as the complexity of a 'social metabolism' (Capital, Vol. III, p.
793 -- modified). In every case, the ordinary distinctions between outside and inside disappear, along with the 'intimate' links within the phenomena as opposed to their visible disorder: we find a different image, a new quasi-concept, definitely freed from the empiricist antinomies of phenomenal subjectivity and essential interiority; we find an objective system governed in its most concrete determinations by the laws of its erection (montage ) and machinery, by the specifications of its concept. Now we can recall that highly symptomatic term 'Darstellung ', compare it with this 'machinery' and take it literally, as the very existence of this machinery in its effects: the mode of existence of the stage direction (mise en scène ) of the theatre which is simultaneously its own stage, its own script, its own actors, the theatre whose spectators can, on occasion, be spectators only because they are first of all forced to be its actors, caught by the constraints of a script and parts whose authors they cannot be, since it is in essence an authorless theatre.
Need I add anything more? Marx's repeated efforts to break down the objective limits of the existing Theoretical, in order to forge a way of thinking the question that his scientific discovery has posed philosophy, his failures and even his relapses are a part of the theoretical drama he lived, in absolute solitude, long ago, and we are only just beginning to suspect from the signs in our heavens that his question is our question, and will be for a long time, that it commands our whole future. Alone, Marx looked around him for allies and supporters: who can reproach him for allowing himself to lean on Hegel? As for us, we can thank Marx for the fact that we are not alone: our solitude only lies in our ignorance of what he said. We should accuse this ignorance in us and in all those who think they have forstalled him, and I only include the best of them -- when they were only on the threshold of the land he discovered and opened for us. We even owe it to him that we can see his weaknesses, his lacunae, his omissions: they concur with his greatness, for, in returning to them we are only returning to the beginnings of a discourse interrupted by death. The reader will know how Volume Three ends. A title: Classes. Forty lines, then silence.
On the 'Ideal Average' and
the Forms of Transition
Just a few words on two important theoretical problems which are directly related to Marx's discovery and to the forms in which he expressed it: the problem of the definition of the object of Capital as 'the ideal average' of real capitalism -- and the problem of the forms of transition from one mode of production to another.
In a general analysis of this kind [writes Marx], it is usually always assumed that the real relations correspond to their concept, or, what is the same, that the real relations are represented only to the extent that they express their peculiar general type (allgemeinem Typus ) (Capital, Vol. III, p. 141 -- modified).
Marx defines this general type several times as the 'ideal average' (idealer Durchschnitt ) of capitalist production. This name, in which average and ideality are combined on the concept's side while being referred to a certain existing real, poses anew the question of the philosophical problematic which underlies this terminology: is it not tainted with empiricism? This is certainly the impression given by a passage from the Preface to the first German edition of Capital :
The physicist, when accounting for the processes of nature, either observes the phenomena where they occur in their most marked form, and most free from disturbing influences, or he makes experiments under conditions that assure as far as possible the regularity of their occurrence. In this work I have to examine the capitalist mode of production, and the relations of production and exchange corresponding to that mode. Their classical ground is England. That is the reason why I have taken the chief facts and examples which illustrate the development of my theories from England (T.I, p. 18; Vol. I, p. 8).
Marx therefore chooses the English example. However, he subjects even this example to a remarkable 'purification', since, on his own admission, he analyses it on the assumption that there are only ever two classes present in his object (a situation which has never existed anywhere), and that the world market is entirely subject to the capitalist mode of production, which is just as far from reality. Marx therefore does not even study the English example, however classical and pure it may be, but a non-existent example,
precisely what he calls the 'ideal average' of the capitalist mode of production. Lenin restated this apparent difficulty in 1899 in his 'Once more on the theory of realization', Collected Works, Moscow 1960, Vol. IV, pp. 86-7).
Let us dwell for a while on the problem that has 'long interested' Struve: what is the real scientific value of the theory of realization?
It has exactly the same value as have all the other postulates of Marx's abstract theory. If Struve is bothered by the circumstances that 'perfect realization is the ideal of capitalist production, but by no means its reality', we must remind him that all the other laws of capitalism, re- vealed by Marx, also depict only the ideal of capitalism and not its reality. 'We need present,' wrote Marx, 'only the inner organization of the capitalist mode of production, in its ideal average (in ihrem idealen Durchschnitt ), as it were' (Capital, Vol. III, p. 810). The theory of capital assumes that the worker receives the full value of his labour-power. This is the ideal of capitalism, but by no means its reality. The theory of rent presupposes that the entire agrarian population has been completely divided into landowners, capitalists and hired labourers. This is the ideal of capitalism, but by no means its reality. The theory of realization presupposes the proportional distribution of production. This is the ideal of capitalism, but by no means its reality.
Lenin is merely repeating Marx's own words, opposing the ideality of Marx's object to actual historical reality on the basis of the term 'ideal ' in the expression 'ideal average'. It would not be necessary to take this opposition very far to fall back into the traps of empiricism, particularly if we remember that Lenin described Marx's theory as an 'abstract ' theory, a theory which seems to be naturally opposed to the concrete-historical character of the reality of the actual forms of capitalism. But here again we can grasp Marx's true intention if we conceive this 'ideality ' as an 'idea-ness ', i.e., as the mere conceptuality of his object, and the 'average' as the content of the concept of his object -- and not as the result of an empirical abstraction. Marx's object is not an ideal object opposed to a real object and distinct from it through this opposition, as 'ought' is from 'is', the norm from the fact - the object of his theory is an idea, i.e., it is defined in terms of knowledge, in the abstraction of the concept. Marx says so himself, when he writes that, 'its [the capitalist system's ] specific difference . . . is revealed (sich darstellt ) in an its core form (in ihrer ganzen Kerngestalt )' (Capital, Vol. III, p. 239 -- modified). It is this 'Kerngestalt ' and its determinations that constitute the object of Marx's analysis, insofar as this specific difference defines the capitalist mode of production as the capitalist mode of production. What to vulgar economists like Struve seems to contradict reality for Marx constitutes reality itself, the reality of his theoretical object. In order to understand this we need only remember what I have said about the object of the theory of history and therefore of the theory of political economy: they study the
basic forms of unity of historical existence, the modes of production. Besides, Marx tells us this himself if we are prepared to take his expressions seriously, in the Preface to the first German edition, where he is discussing England:
In this work I have to examine the capitalist mode of production, and the relations of production and exchange corresponding to that mode (T.I, p. 18; Vol. I, p. 8).
As for England, a close reading of Marx's text shows that it only appears as a source of illustrations and examples, not as the theoretical object studied:
Their classical ground in England. That is the reason why I have taken the chief facts and examples which illustrate the development of my theories from England (ibid.).
This unambiguous statement puts into correct perspective the earlier sentence in which the example of physics was evoked in a way that might suggest that Marx was investigating a 'pure' object 'free from disturbing influences '. In this respect, England, too, is an impure disturbed object, but these 'impurities' and 'disturbances' cause no theoretical trouble since Marx's theoretical object is not England but the capitalist mode of production in its 'Kerngestalt' and the determinations of that 'Kerngestalt'. When Marx tells us that he is studying an 'ideal average', we must therefore understand that this ideality connotes not the unreal or the ideal norm, but the concept of the real; and that this 'average' is not an empiricist average, i.e., it does not connote the non-unique, but on the contrary, it connotes the concept of the specific difference of the mode of production concerned.
Let us go further. For, if we return to the English example, if we compare it with Marx's apparently purified and simplified object, the two-class capitalist mode of production, we have to admit that we must confront a real residue : precisely, restricting ourselves to this one pertinent point, the real existence of other classes (landowners, artisans, small-scale agriculturalists). We cannot in honesty suppress this real residue merely by invoking the fact that Marx proposed as his whole object only the concept of the specific difference of the capitalist mode of production, and by invoking the difference between the real and the knowledge of it!
But it is in this apparently urgent difficulty, which is also the major argu- ment of the empiricist interpretation of the theory of Capital, that what has been said of the theory of history acquires all its meaning. For Marx could only study the specific difference of the capitalist mode of production on condition that at the same time he studied the other modes of production, not only the other modes of production as types of specific Verbindung unity between the factors of production, but also the relations between different modes of production in the process of the constitution of modes of production. The impurity of English capitalism is a real, definite object which Marx did not propose to study in Capital, but which is relevant to Marxist theory
nevertheless: this impurity is, in its immediate form, what we can for the time being call the 'survivals ' of forms within the dominant capitalist mode of production in Britain from modes of production subordinate to but not yet eliminated by the capitalist mode of production. This supposed 'impurity' constitutes an object relevant to the theory of modes of production: in particular to the theory of the transition from one mode of production to another, which is the same thing as the theory of the process of constitution of a determinate mode of production, since every mode of production is constituted solely out of the existing forms of an earlier mode of production. This object is in principle part of Marxist theory, and the fact that we can recognize the status of this object in principle does not mean that we can criticize Marx for not providing us with the theory of it. All Marx's texts on the primitive accumulation of capital constitute the material if not already the outline of this theory, where the constitution process of the capitalist mode of production is concerned -- i.e., the transition from the feudal mode of production to the capitalist mode of production. We must recognize what Marx actually gave us and what he enabled us to obtain for ourselves, although he could not give it to us. Just as we can say that we possess only the outline of a Marxist theory of the modes of production before the capitalist mode of production -- we can say, and even, since the existence of this problem and above all the necessity of posing it in its peculiar theoretical form are not generally recognized, we must say that Marx did not give us any theory of the transition from one mode of production to another, i.e., of the constitution of a mode of production. We know that this theory is indispensable: without it we shall be unable to complete what is called the construction of socialism, in which the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist mode of production is at stake, or even to solve the problems posed by the so-called 'under-developed ' countries of the Third World. I cannot go into any detail concerning the theoretical problems posed by this new object, but we can regard it as certain that posing and solving these burning contemporary problems is a first priority of Marxist investigation. Not only the problem of the period of the 'cult of personality', but also the current problems expressed in the form of 'national roads to socialism', 'peaceful roads', etc., relate directly to these theoretical investigations.
Here, too -- even if certain of his formulations take us to the brink of ambiguity -- Marx did not leave us without suggestions or resources. If we can pose the question of the transition from one mode of production to another as a theoretical problem, and therefore account not only for past transitions, but also anticipate the future and 'run ahead of our time' (which Hegelian historicism could not do), it is not because of any claim to the 'experimental structure' of history, but because of the Marxist theory of history as a theory of modes of production, of the definition of the constitutive elements of the different modes of production, and of the fact that the theoretical problems posed by the process of the constitution of a
mode of production (in other words, the problems of the transformation of one mode of production into another) are directly a function of the theory of the modes of production concerned. That is why we can say that Marx did give us enough to think this theoretically and practically decisive problem: knowledge of the modes of production considered provides the basis for posing and solving the problems of transition. That is why we can anticipate the future and theorize not only that future, but also and above all the roads and means that will secure us its reality.
The Marxist theory of history understood as I have just defined it secures us this right, given that we are able to define its conditions and limits very accurately. But at the same time, it gives us a measure of what remains to be done -- and it is immense -- in order to define with all desirable rigour these roads and means. If it is true that mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve, given that this formula is not understood in any historicist way, it remains essential that mankind has an exact consciousness of the relationship between these tasks and its capacities, that it is prepared to proceed via a knowledge of these terms and their relationships, and therefore via an examination of these tasks and capacities, in order to define the right means to produce and dominate its future. If not, even in the 'transparency' of its new economic relations it will risk, as it has already discovered in the silences of the terror -- and may do so again in the velleities of humanism -- it will risk entering a future still charged with dangers and shades, with a virgin conscience.
Cf. Balibar's paper.