Saturday, 9 May 2020

MARX AND HEGEL ON STATE AND CIVIL SOCIETY - Part of 'The State in Economic Theory'

For both Hegel and Marx, the category of civil society, at least in its economic dimension as burgerliche Gesellschaft, as bourgeois society, becomes quite distinct from that of the State in that the State is pro-duced by civil society. But for Hegel this antithesis of bourgeois and citoyen can be resolved only if the State can be reconciled with the ethicity of civil society. For Marx, instead, the resolution of the antagonism of civil society will result in the “withering away of the State”, in its atrophy. Here we can see how Hegel still posits a “statality”, an ethicity that encompasses or contains the Economic and therefore cannot be attained solely through the Economic. For Marx – again, contrarily to Hegel – the contradiction of bourgeois and citoyen can be superseded only through the economic sphere of civil society, whereby the super-structural State is rendered super-fluous, and thereby decays or withers away, once the contradictions of capitalist social relations of production that obtain in civil society are resolved.


In this sense, whereas Hegel still – quite rightly! – insists on the need for civil society to become reconciled with its “statality”, Marx denies that this Ethico-Political “superstructural” sphere of the State can ever play a role in the extrinsication of the dialectical antagonism of civil society and of the wage relation – because it is merely the epi-phenomenic, super-structural pro-duct of the real source of social antagonism whose resolution lies in the “scientific” rectification of social relations “of production”, that is, still in the sphere of “alienated labour” understood as “materially exploited labour” through the “theft” of labour-time and labour-power, of “surplus” value! This kind of “Automatik” does not exist in Hegel, despite the “speculative” character of the dialectic denounced by Marx already in the Paris Manuscripts and in the early Critique:

“Hegel is not to be blamed for describing the State such as it is [which in any case will be “absorbed” by civil society in “communism”], but rather for presenting the existing State as the ideal State”, which, for Marx, clearly is an impossibility both because the existing State is not “ideal” and because the “ideal” State is one that will be abolished!


There are two types of “eschatology” (“prophecy” for Schumpeter) in Marx, then: the first is in the Manuscripts where the overcoming of alienation still incorrectly intended as “objectification” (!) is a necessary final stage of human history; and the second is in Zur Kritik where the supersession (Auf-hebung) of alienated labour is the final outcome of the “scientific” abolition of wage labour within civil society and, with it, of the State superstructure as well. We say that this is “eschatology” because Marx fails to see Hegel’s correct positing of the problem: - namely, that “statality” must be reconciled with “subjectivity” and that the former necessarily re-defines the Economic as a category that must also be Ethico-Political in nature. It is impossible for Hegel to accept the Marxian separation of structure and superstructure because the two could never be “separate”. It is possible, thanks especially to the Grundrisse, to rescue Marx’s schematic schism – or simply schematism - of base and superstructure by arguing that this “mechanical” dichotomy applies only to the “pre-history” of humanity in the sense that once alienated labour is abolished, then Ethicity and Economy will be reconciled. Still, as Arendt (Between Past and Future) and Habermas (Knowledge and Human Interests) have insisted - in too “idealist-phenomenological” and “neo-Kantian” a fashion, respectively -, Marx had always the tendency to reduce the question of alienated labour to the “materialist” one of “the theft of labour time”. What seems closer to reality instead is that the discipline of labour-time – or better, “the wage relation” – is the specific form of social violence perpetrated by the bourgeoisie – what makes it “capitalist”: but the fact that it is “violence” means that there is only a political basis to the wage relation and to “economic calculation” – and most certainly not a “scientific” one!


Indeed, to the degree that the wage relation is increasingly less able to measure accurately the level of social violence needed by the bourgeoisie to perpetuate its command over our living activity, to that degree the neat division between Economic Value and Ethico-Political Value is dissolving. The entire recent experience of central-bank monetary intervention to maintain the financial pyramid through quantitative easing certainly points in this direction – that is, the inability of capitalist State authorities to control the “market price mechanism” of various “assets” in terms of profitability, and therefore ultimately in terms of the “binding and biting discipline” of the wage relation at a societal level.

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