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Karl Marx
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 [28]

Private Property and Labour.
Political Economy as a Product of the Movement of Private Property

The subjective essence of private property — private property as activity for itself [29], as subject, as person — is labour. It is therefore evident that only the political economy which acknowledged labour as its principle — Adam Smith — and which therefore no longer looked upon private property as a mere condition external to man — that it is this political economy which has to be regarded on the one hand as a product of the real energy and the real movement of private property (it is a movement of private property become independent for itself in consciousness — the modern industry as Self — as a product of modern industry — and on the other hand, as a force which has quickened and glorified the energy and development of modern industry and made it a power in the realm of consciousness.

To this enlightened political economy, which has discovered — within private property — the subjective essence of wealth, the adherents of the monetary and mercantile system, who look upon private property only as an objective substance confronting men, seem therefore to be fetishists, Catholics. Engels was therefore right to call Adam Smith the Luther of Political Economy [See Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy]. Just as Luther recognised religion - faith - as the substance of the external world and in consequence stood opposed to Catholic paganism — just as he superseded external religiosity by making religiosity the inner substance of man - just as he negated the priests outside the layman because he transplanted the priest into laymen's hearts, just so with wealth: wealth as something outside man and independent of him, and therefore as something to be maintained and asserted only in an external fashion, is done away with; that is, this external, mindless objectivity of wealth is done away with, with private property being incorporated in man himself and with man himself being recognised as its essence. But as a result man is brought within the orbit of private property, just as with Luther he is brought within the orbit of religion. Under the semblance of recognising man, the political economy whose principle is labour rather carries to its logical conclusion the denial of man, since man himself no longer stands in an external relation of tension to the external substance of private property, but has himself become this tense essence of private property. What was previously being external to oneself — man's actual externalisation — has merely become the act of externalising — the process of alienating. This political economy begins by seeming to acknowledge man (his independence, spontaneity, etc.); then, locating private property in man's own being, it can no longer be conditioned by the local, national or other characteristics of private property as of something existing outside itself. This political economy, consequently, displays a cosmopolitan, universal energy which overthrows every restriction and bond so as to establish itself instead as the sole politics, the sole universality, the sole limit and sole bond. Hence it must throw aside this hypocrisy in the course of its further development and come out in its complete cynicism. And this it does — untroubled by all the apparent contradictions in which it becomes involved as a result of this theory — by developing the idea of labour much more one-sidedly, and therefore more sharply and more consistently, as the sole essence of wealth; by proving the implications of this theory to be anti-human in character, in contrast to the other, original approach. Finally, by dealing the death-blow to rent — that last, individual, natural mode of private property and source of wealth existing independently of the movement of labour, that expression of feudal property, an expression which has already become wholly economic in character and therefore incapable of resisting political economy. (The Ricardo school.) There is not merely a relative growth in the cynicism of political economy from Smith through Say to Ricardo, Mill, etc., inasmuch as the implications of industry appear more developed and more contradictory in the eyes of the last-named; these later economists also advance in a positive sense constantly and consciously further than their predecessors in their estrangement from man. They do so, however, only because their science develops more consistently and truthfully. Because they make private property in its active form the subject, thus simultaneously turning man into the essence — and at the same time turning man as non-essentiality into the essence — the contradiction of reality corresponds completely to the contradictory being which they accept as their principle. Far from refuting it, the ruptured world of industry confirms their self-ruptured principle. Their principle is, after all, the principle of this rupture.

The physiocratic doctrine of Dr. Quesnay forms the transition from the mercantile system to Adam Smith. Physiocracy represents directly the decomposition of feudal property in economic terms, but it therefore just as directly represents its economic metamorphosis and restoration, save that now its language is no longer feudal but economic. All wealth is resolved into land and cultivation (agriculture). Land is not yet capital: it is still a special mode of its existence, the validity of which is supposed to lie in, and to derive from, its natural peculiarity. Yet land is a general natural element, whilst the mercantile system admits the existence of wealth only in the form of precious metal. Thus the object of wealth — its matter — has straightway obtained the highest degree of universality within the bounds of nature, insofar as even as nature, it is immediate objective wealth. And land only exists for man through labour, through agriculture.

Thus the subjective essence of wealth has already been transferred to labour. But at the same time agriculture is the only productive labour. Hence, labour is not yet grasped in its generality and abstraction: it is still bound to a particular natural element as its matter, and it is therefore only recognised in a particular mode of existence determined by nature. It is therefore still only a specific, particular alienation of man, just as its product is likewise conceived nearly [as] a specific form of wealth — due more to nature than to labour itself. The land is here still recognised as a phenomenon of nature independent of man - not yet as capital, i.e., as an aspect of labour itself. Labour appears, rather, as an aspect of the land. But since the fetishism of the old external wealth, of wealth existing only as an object, has been reduced to a very simple natural element, and since its essence — even if only partially and in a particular form — has been recognised within its subjective existence, the necessary step forward has been made in revealing the general nature of wealth and hence in the raising up of labour in its total absoluteness (i.e., its abstraction) as the principle. It is argued against physiocracy that agriculture, from the economic point of view — that is to say, from the only valid point of view — does not differ from any other industry; and that the essence of wealth, therefore, is not a specific form of labour bound to a particular element - a particular expression of labour — but labour in general.

Physiocracy denies particular, external, merely objective wealth by declaring labour to be the essence of wealth. But for physiocracy labour is at first only the subjective essence of landed property. (It takes its departure from the type of property which historically appears as the dominant and acknowledged type.) It turns only landed property into alienated man. It annuls its feudal character by declaring industry (agriculture) as its essence. But it disavows the world of industry and acknowledges the feudal system by declaring agriculture to be the only industry.

It is clear that if the subjective essence of industry is now grasped (of industry in opposition to landed property, i.e., of industry constituting itself as industry), this essence includes within itself its opposite. For just as industry incorporates annulled landed property, the subjective essence of industry at the same time incorporates the subjective essence of landed property.

Just as landed property is the first form of private property, with industry at first confronting it historically merely as a special kind of property — or, rather, as landed property's liberated slave — so this process repeats itself in the scientific analysis of the subjective essence of private property, labour. Labour appears at first only as agricultural labour, but then asserts itself as labour in general.

All wealth has become industrial wealth, the wealth of labour, and industry is accomplished labour, just as the factory system is the perfected essence of industry, that is of labour, and just as industrial capital is the accomplished objective form of private property.

We can now see how it is only at this point that private property can complete its dominion over man and become, in its most general form, a world-historical power.



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