Notes on Lukacs: History and Class Consciousness, Part III – The Standpoint of the Proletariat
Reification: to thingify – to treat it as a thing-in-itself – to treat an actual condition of becoming – in process of transformation – as being, static, and unchangeable. Something abstract is regarded as a material thing, process of alienation – the thingification of social relations.
-The proletariat shares with the bourgeoisie the reification of every aspect of its life. Marx observes: “The property-owning class and the class of the proletariat represent the same human self-alienation. But the former feels at home in this self-alienation and feels itself confirmed by it; it recognizes alienation as its own instrument and in it it possesses the semblance of human existence. The latter feels itself destroyed b y this alienation and sees in it its own impotence and the reality of an inhuman existence.” P. 149
Commodity form is a form of social mediation that emerges in Capitalism that sets the worker apart from the capitalist. The fetish character of the commodity is a necessary form of appearance.
-“the objective reality of the social existence is in its immediacy ‘the same’ for both proletariat and bourgeoisie. But this does not prevent the specific categories of mediation by means of which both classes raise this immediacy to the level of consciousness, the merely immediate reality becomes for both the authentically objective reality, from being fundamentally different, thanks to the different position occupied by the two classes within the ‘same’ economic process.
The fundamental problem of bourgeois thought, the problem of the thing-in-itself.
“The transformation of the immediately given into a truly understood (and not merely an immediately perceived) and for that reason really objective reality, that is the belief that the impact of the category of mediation upon the picture of the world is merely ‘subjective’, that is is no more than the ‘evaluation’ of a reality that ‘remains unchanged’, all this is as much as to say that objective reality has the character of a thing-in-itself….
The question: “that the thing-in-itself character of the form-content relation necessarily opens up the problem of totality.”
Universal history (history as a totality) is a problem of methodology – “the totality of history is itself a real historical power – even though it has not become conscious, and therefore unrecognized.”150 – 152
“the essence of history lies precisely in the changes undergone by those structural forms which are the focal point of mans interaction with the environment at any given moment…. The path to the discovery – of true structural forms of immediate reality- is the path to a knowledge of the historical process in its totality. P 153
“The undeniable fact of change must then appear as catastrophe… that comes from outside an eliminates all mediations. If change is to be understood at all it is necessary to abandon the view that objects are rigidly opposed to each other, it is necessary to elevate their interrelatedness… The greater the distance from pure immediacy the larger the net encompassing the ‘relations’, and the more complete the integration of the ‘objects’ within the system of relation, the sooner change will cease to be impenetrable and catastrophic, the sooner it will become comprehensible.’” P.154
It should not be forgotten that immediacy and mediation are themselves aspects of a dialectical process and that very stage of existence (and of the mind that would understand it) has its own immediacy… To go beyond this immediacy can only mean the genesis, the ‘creation’ of the object – the thinking subject. The forms of mediation… can be shown to be the structural principles and the real tendencies of the objects themselves.
Intellectual genesis must be identical in principle with historical genesis.
Problem of Bourgeois thought: its unable to discover further mediations, unable to comprehend reality, nor the society that created the possibility to comprehend the totality of knowledge – its point of view will always be that of immediacy. Bourgeois thought entered into an unmediated relationship with reality as it was given, as a simply unquestionable reality – an inability to progress beyond the state of merely immediate cognition, and accept their existential basis as self-evident. (unhistorical and antihistorical)
The problem of the present as a historical problem – for bourgeois thinkers – “it is grounded also in a theoretical approach based upon unmediated contemplation which opens up an irrational chasm between the subject and object of knowledge.” History is determined by our desire to understand the present.
“The historical knowledge of the proletariat begins with the knowledge of the present, with the self-understanding of its own social situation and with the elucidation of its necessity (its genesis)”. (emergence of proletariat as isolated individual?)
To ground the emergence (genesis) of the individual in society historically is to look at History as the unfolding of Freedom – as in Hegel.
Human relations (forms of mediation) are not permanent nor natural – they are historically specific. Man has to mediate with nature and with man (modes of production). We need to present men as the actors and authors of their own history – but we must never simply accept the immediately given (i.e. the empirical) social structure. – this means that the immediately given empirical reality receives affirmation and consecration at the hands of philosophy…
Observation of history versus the immanent critique of history
pg 162. “The desire to leave behind the immediacy of empirical reality and its no less immediate rationalistic reflections must not be allowed to become an attempt to abandon immanent (social) reality… to leave empirical reality behind can only mean that the objects of the empirical world are to be understood as aspect of a totality, that is as the aspect of a total social situation caught up in the process of historical change. Thus the category of mediation is a lever with which to overcome the mere immediacy of the empirical world.”
Call for Proletarian Consciousness – intellectual/critical praxis (opening for a different kind of politics – an opening for a structural transformation – transformation of the whole)
The emergence of proletarian consciousness in the worker:
Categories of mediation (i.e. the commodity form) can enter the consciousness of the proletariat… in capitalist society reality is – immediately- the same for both B and P, but the motor of class interests keeps the B within this immediacy because he has to reaffirm his cultural values as given) while the proletariat is forced to go beyond the immediately given social reality. It is a matter of life and death. To survive he has to sell his labour, as a commodity, he becomes then integrated into an already existing process. “he is therefore forced into becoming the object of the process by which he is turned into a commodity and reduced to a mere quantity –the quantitative determinant of the objects of his calculation, must appear to the worker as the decisive, qualitative categories of his whole existence… forces him to surpass the immediacy of his condition… the transformation of quantity into quality is the emergence of a truly objective form of existence and the destruction of those confusing categories of (bourgeois) reflection which deformed true objectivity into a posture of merely immediate, passive, contemplation. For the worker labor-time is not merely the objective form of the commodity he has sold, his labor power… but in additional it is the determining form of his existence as subject, as a human being. P.164 – 166
“Because the split between subjectivity and objectivity induced in man by the compulsion to objectify himself as a commodity, the situation becomes one that can be made conscious… work which is represented as exchange value has for its premise the work of the isolated individual. It becomes social by assuming the form of its immediate antithesis, the form of abstract universality.” … “Above all the worker can only become conscious of his existence in society when he becomes aware of himself as a commodity.” … “in the commodity the worker recognizes himself and his own relations with capital.. his consciousness is the self-consciousness of the commodity… the self revelation of capitalist society founded upon the production and exchange of commodities” p. 168
The fetish character of every commodity… the relation between men, entering into evolution of society…. This is only the beginning of the complex process of mediation whose goal is the knowledge of society as a historical totality. – the abolition of the isolated individual.
The fact that this commodity is able to become aware of its won existence as a commodity does not suffice to resolve the problem. What is needed is is the desire for complete transformation of the structure. The abilty to go beyond the immediate in search for ‘remoter’ factors means the transformation of the objective nature of the objects of action… that change means that the objects of the dialectical totality become fluid: objects of action become parts of the process – PRAXIS: its point of departure is of the necessity that of action… “action is directed objectively toward a transformation of the totality” p 175
The abolition of the isolated individual, the abolition of reified relations, abolishing the immediacy of those relation, abolishing their fetishistic character, the abolition of the forms in which contemporary bourgeois society is objectified – “their abolition cannot simply be the result of thought alone, it must also amount to their practical abolition as the actual forms of social life… A praxis which envisages a genuine transformation of these forms can only start to be effective it intends to think out the process immanent in these forms to its logical conclusion, to become conscious of it and to make it conscious.
Things should be shown to be aspects of a process (of which man is the driving force).
Pg.185 Thus man has become the measure of all (societal) things… by dissolving the fetishistic objects into processes that takes place among men and are objectified in concrete relations between them… the structure of the world of men stands revealed as a system of dynamically changing relations in which the conflicts between man and nature, man and man, (in the class struggle, etc.) are fought out.
History is no longer an enigmatic flux to which men and things are subjected. It is no longer a thing to be explained by the intervention of transcendental powers or made meaningful by reference to transcendental values. Like the illusory movement of the “eternal recurrence of the same thing”
…the nature of history is precisely that every definition degenerates into an illusion: history is the history of the unceasing overthrow of the objective forms that shape the life of man.
History is both the product of man’s own activity, and the succession of those processes in which the forms taken by this activity and the relations of man to himself (to nature, to other men) are overthrown.
History becomes the history of the objective forms from which man’s environment and inner world are constructed and which he strives to master in thought, action and art, etc.
Historical process is the (societal) self-knowledge of man. This process begins when the proletariat becomes conscious of its own class point of view. By becoming aware of the commodity relationship the proletariat can only become conscious of itself as the object of the economic process, and this starts with the immediate relation of the worker with capital and labour. Capital is the structural principle ties to the process of unfolding.
The problem of history is both a problem of method and a problem of our knowledge of the present.
A failure to make man dialectical is complemented by an equal failure to make reality dialectical (as part of a historical process).
P 187 The absolute is nothing but the fixation of thought, it is the projection into myth of the intellectual failure to understand reality concretely as a historical process.
p. 188 Only dialectics of history can create a radically new situation:
…this is not only because it relativises all limits, or better, puts them into a state of flux, nor because, all those forms of existence that constitute a counterpart of the absolute are dissolved into processes and viewed as concrete manifestations of history so that the absolute is not so much denied as endowed with its concrete historical shape and treated as an aspect of the process itself. What we need is the concrete, historical function and meaning of the various ‘truths’ to be revealed within a unique, concrete historical process.
p. 189 “When theory and practice are united it becomes possible to change reality and when this happens the absolute and its relativistic counterpart will have played their historical role for the last time.”
Consciousness of the proletariat–
If human activity under capitalism (as labor, as commodity) can be overcome through the demands of the proletariat, then one can situate the social possibility of freedom -treat social emancipation as real.
History becoming history of mankind. Bourgeois society is the last manifestation of the “prehistory of human society”. It is not possible to be human in Bourgeois society.
The categories of dialectics must be applied to man as the measure of all things in a manner that also includes simultaneously a complete description of the economic structure of bourgeois society and a correct knowledge of the present.
Man himself is the objective foundation of the historical dialectic and the subject-object lying at its root, and as such he is decisively involved in the dialectical process. History as universal discipline –– for it contains nothing that does not lead back ultimately to men and the relations between men.
Undialectical humanism – religious utopias – “the individual can never become the measure of all things. … only the class can relate to the whole of reality in a practical revolutionary way. For the individual, reification and hence determinism (determinism being the idea that things are necessarily connected) are irremovable. Every attempt to achieve ‘freedom’ from such premises must fail, for ‘inner freedom’ presupposes that the world cannot be changed… the ego is unable to serve as the foundation for a dialectical process of becoming, even for the individual subject.” P 193
“Thus for reified man a robust casual determinism is more accessible that those mediations that could lead him out of his reifed existence. But to posit the individual man as the measure of all things is to lead thought into the labyrinths of mythology.” P 194
“the only way out for the workers is to be found in that sphere within which they can still be human being, that is in the state… the idea that the state is divorced from the development of capitalism and is credited with completely utopian function, wholly alien to its concrete character. And this emans that every path leading to a change in this reality is systematically blocked…. Mechanical separation between economics and politics precludes any really effective action encompassing society in its totality, for this itself is based on the mutual interaction of both factors.
Social democracy – an aggregate of the empirical and the utopian, a clinging to the ‘facts’, and a faith in illusions as alien to the past and to the present. With the ideology of S.D. the proletariat falls victim to all the antinomies of reification.
“the only effective superiority of the proletariat, its only decisive weapon is its ability to see the social totality as a concrete historical totality… to se reified forms as processes between men; to raise its positive side and raise it to consciousness and to put it into practice […] Proletariat becomes the identical subject-object of history whose praxis will change reality. p 197
The consciousness of the proletariat is pointing at the social possibilities of freedom – the unfulfilled potential in the present, and at the possibility of social change. – the unfulfilled potential of becoming – It is a historical/critical consciousness- to recognize how the present can point beyond itself – to understand the objective possibility of overcoming capitalism.
One would neeed to annul the duality of thought and existence, and transform philosophy into praxis. Transformation of things into processs = transformation of Being into Becoming.
“Man must be able to comprehend the present as a becoming.” Consciousness of history as a totality – to recognize the present as historical – dialectical process of historical unfolding.
People are no longer tasked with the Freedom problem – instead treat a crisis as necessary instead of accidental or irrational. If one sees Reason in History (a la Hegel) – to recognize the present as historical (not accidental nor irrational)– is to think the problem of the present through within its historical/structural conditions – then one can treat History as the open ended process of becoming – as the unfolding of freedom, that demonstrates the possibilities of human emancipation.
Thus proletarian thought is in the first place merely a theory of praxis which only gradually transforms itself into practical theory that overturns the real world. P 205