I like to think of Marx in Brussels, that capital of compromise, sitting in Le Cygne – apparently his favorite estaminet – thinking about the course of events. The young Marx, who felt that the course of events was going in his direction, rather than the older Marx, aware that events are tricky and baffling things. Both, though, already feel – such is my novelistic intuition – that the scale of their thought exceeds the scale of their audience. This is, perhaps, the great modernist anxiety – exactly at the same time that the popular press brings an unparalleled audience to certain writers, it seems, capriciously, to exile others. And yet, what is the correlation between the embodied work and the scale of the readership? In one domain after another, one sees that intellectual production is standardized and put on a schedule for the widest possible use, while at the same time it suffers an interior trivialization as it is wrenched out of the relationships – that mode, ultimately, of connected friends and allies – in which it used to exist. It is in this sense that I – rather imaginatively – connect Marx’s exile in Brussels with Baudelaire’s later self-inflicted exile in the same city.
It is under such Baudelairian auspices that certain of Marx’s writings from this period have a certain satanic nuance to them. None more so than the litany that ends a draft entitled Wage Labor [Lohnarbeit]. There are reasons that this reminds me of Baudelaire’s poem, Abel et Caïn, which is nobody’s favorite poem from Fleurs de Mal – and yet, somehow, has stuck in my head since I first read it when I was a wet behind the ears fifteen year old (read Baudelaire as a teen and it screws you up for life – I can testify!)
Race d'Abel, dors, bois et mange;
Dieu te sourit complaisamment.
Race de Caïn, dans la fange
Rampe et meurs misérablement.
Race d'Abel, ton sacrifice
Flatte le nez du Séraphin!
Race de Caïn, ton supplice
Aura-t-il jamais une fin?
Race d'Abel, vois tes semailles
Et ton bétail venir à bien;
Race de Caïn, tes entrailles
Hurlent la faim comme un vieux chien.
Marx’s litany is different, but in a sense, it picks up Cain’s complaint and turns it against the bourgeois Abels. I think of it as the dark pole of Marx’s thinking – later, in the Grundrisse, he will return to this with more care – but I believe he never quite saw the error in this litany, which is to define private household relations by direct correspondance to a macrostructure of feudal relations. It is where Marx needs to be corrected by Simmel, and Simmel by recent research on the emotional economy of the household. Dissolving all ties in the money culture – which Marx here posits as Cain’s witchy path to emancipation – has, as we all know now, actually crippled Cain, since the fungibility of all relationships destroys labor’s solidarity and eats into the ability to resist capitalism’s seedy little totalizing gestures. I should point readers, here, to Nina Power’s latest essay for a nice, succinct overview of the conjunction of feminist ideals and consumerist marketing – which of course arises from the destruction not only of the patriarchal, but of the private domain in general, that web of reciprocities, traumas, joys, sweetnesses, tiredness that winds directly into our affectual being.
However, this is not to stint or complain about the dark pole in Marx’s writing - I understand it, rather, as a necessary view point – to use the vocabulary of my last post – from which one can go outward to understand how modernity encompasses different economic systems that cannot so easily be subsumed in an ideology of ‘progress’. The feudal and archaic, to put this in the framework of one of Hirschman’s stories, may rightfully support the intimate. In fact, the destruction of the intimate may just be the destruction of the working class as a class. Which, I hope, reveals my hand in the question of defining class ‘interests’.
Here is Marx’s litany. I’ll come back to this in my next post.
Positive Aspect of Salariat
Before we conclude, let us draw attention to the positive aspect of wage labour [Salariat].
[a] If one says “positive aspect of wage labour” one says “positive aspect of capital”, of large-scale industry, of free competition, of the world market, and I do not need to explain to you in detail how without these production relations neither the means of production — the material means for the emancipation of the proletariat and the foundation of a new society — would have been created, nor would the proletariat itself have taken to the unification and development through which it is really capable of revolutionising the old society and itself. Equalisation of wages.
[b] Let us take wages themselves in the essence of their evil [Kern der Verwerflichkeit – kernal of the reprehensibilness – from such kernels, the flowers of evil grow – R], that my activity becomes a commodity, that I become utterly and absolutely for sale.
Firstly: thereby everything patriarchal falls away, since haggling, purchase and sale remain the only connection, and the money relationship the sole relationship between employer and workers.
Secondly: the halo of sanctity is entirely gone from all relationships of the old society, since they have dissolved into pure money relationships.
Likewise, all so-called higher kinds of labour, intellectual, artistic, etc., have been turned into articles of commerce and have thereby lost their old sanctity. What a great advance it was that the entire regiment of clerics, doctors, lawyers, etc., hence religion, law, etc., ceased to be judged by anything but their commercial value. [And here we seem to miss this note in the German text: [<(von Marx eingefügt) National-Klassenk[ampf], Eigentumsverhältnise> - added by Marx, National class struggle, property relations]
(Thirdly: since labour has become a commodity and as such subject to free competition, one seeks to produce it as cheaply as possible, i.e., at the lowest possible production cost. All physical labour has thereby become infinitely easy and simple for the future organisation of society. — To be put in general form.)
Thirdly: as the workers realised through the general saleability that everything was separable, dissoluble from itself, they first became free of their subjection to a given relationship. The advantage both over payment in kind and over the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate is that the worker can do what he likes with his money.
ps. Qlipoth has a good rundown of the context of Marx's notes here - plus his disagreement with my reading.