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Original Analyses of Marx's Capital in the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya Correspondence by RussellRockwell

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Original Analyses of Marx’s Capital in the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya Correspondence Paper read at “Marcuse and the Frankfurt School for a New Generation”, sponsored by York University, University of Kentucky, and the International Marcuse Society, October 29-31, York University

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Russell Rockwell
Conference on Marcuse and the Frankfurt School for a New Generation
York University, University of Kentucky, and the International Marcuse Society
October 29-31, York University

    Original Analyses of Marx’s Capital in the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya Correspondence

       Marcuse and Raya Dunayevskaya carried on a correspondence between the years 1954-

1979, the year of Marcuse’s death. However, the most active years of this correspondence were

in the earlier period, say 1955-65, continuing though tapering off after publication of

Dunayevskaya’s first book, Marxism and Freedom, in 1958. Marcuse read and commented on

many of Marxism and Freedom’s draft chapters. He provided important support for

Dunayevskaya’s bid to complete the ambitious manuscript. Marcuse wrote the preface for the

work, which included chapters on Hegel, Marx’s early (1844) manuscripts, and the several

volumes of Marx’s Capital; other chapters took up Social Democracy, Stalinism, the Soviet

Union’s economy, and the American scene (especially the new stage of automated production,

which developed during World War II, and intensified in its aftermath).

       Original analyses of Marx’s Capital emerged in the course of this correspondence. Some

of the originality stemmed from the emergence of Marx’s Grundrisse (the preparatory work for

Marx’s Capital) in 1939-41, and the original German edition published in 1953. The Grundrisse

made clear the central contribution of the Hegelian dialectic through all of Marx’s work, but it

also high-lighted Marx’s concepts of post-capitalist society, making possible deeper

interpretations of this all-important theme in the development of Capital itself. To jump ahead a

little, Marcuse in his preface to Dunayevskaya’s work commented on Marxism and Freedom:

       It has often been emphasized that Marx's philosophical writings which preceded the
       Critique of Political Economy prepared the ground for Marxian economics and politics.
       After a long period of oblivion or neglect, these philosophical writings became the focus

       of attention in the 'Twenties, especially after the first publication of the full text of the
       German Ideology and of the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts. However, the inner
       identity of the philosophical with the economic and political "stage" of Marxian theory
       was not elucidated (and perhaps could not be adequately elucidated because a most
       decisive link was still missing, namely, the Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen
       Oekonomie of 1857-1858, first published in 1939 and 1941). Dunayevskaya's book goes
       beyond the previous interpretations. It shows not only that Marxian economics and
       politics are throughout philosophy, but that the latter is from the beginning economics
       and politics.

       With the perspective of the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya correspondence, in the following I

want to focus on the coalescence of Dunayevskaya’s and Marcuse’s original analyses of Marx’s

Capital, which I believe are especially relevant in this time of capitalist crisis. Many are asking

questions like, “must economic collapse always lead to stabilization, recovery, and the

perpetuation of capitalist social relations?” Such a focus requires some context, including the

prior work on Capital (or its themes) that each of the two authors engaged in during the 1940s

World War II years; in addition, I think it will be fruitful to sketch out the “dialogue” on Capital

(or its themes), which continued in the aftermath of Marxism and Freedom’s completion.

Marcuse’s interpretation of Marx’s Capital in Reason and Revolution

       Thus for Marcuse the starting point is his 1941 Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the

Rise of Social Theory. In that work, Marcuse’s most focused discussion of Marx’s Capital may

be found in the chapter, “Analysis of the Labor Process”. Before describing that chapter, it

should be noted that references to Reason and Revolution have often erroneously imputed to

Marcuse’s work that “Hegel and the rise of social theory” referred to a movement from Hegel’s

“abstract” to Marx’s more “concrete” concepts. To the contrary, Marcuse regarded the rise of

social theory to be within Hegel’s philosophy. For example, Marcuse regarded Hegel’s last major

work, Philosophy of Right, as already the turn to social theory—within philosophy.

       By the same token, Marcuse’s works did not assert that the social theory developed in

Marx’s Capital was some sort of direct concretization of abstract dialectical ideas, instead


       [T]he social world becomes a negative totality only in the process of an abstraction,
       which is imposed upon the dialectical method by the structure of its subject matter,
       capitalist society. We may even say that the abstraction is capitalism’s own work, and
       that the Marxian method only follows this process. Marx’s analysis has shown that
       capitalist economy is built upon and perpetuated by the constant reduction of concrete to
       abstract labor (p. 313).

       In the chapter on “The Analysis of the Labor Process” Marcuse traced the concept of

“abstract labor” to Marx’s work, which distinguished capitalism from prior social formations.

Already in the first chapter of Capital Marx put forth the thesis that a two-fold character of labor

was what distinguished capitalism. Traditionally, labor (the natural condition of human

existence) was “productive activity directed to the adaptation of nature”, while the process in

which labor power becomes an abstract quantitative unit characterizes a “specifically social form

of labor.” And while abstract labor is prevalent in capitalism, traditional labor is preserved within

it in a certain form—in Marx’s dialectical terms, there is a transformation into opposite—

concrete labor becomes a mere “form of appearance” of abstract labor. The dialectic of concrete

and abstract labor refers to the forms of value—use and exchange.

       In Capital, Marx unfolds the relationship of abstract and concrete labor, providing for the

development and trajectory of society as capitalist society. Abstract labor provides the basis for

what Marx, borrowing from classical political economy’s labor theory of value, developed as

capitalism’s “law of value”. Labor time is the measure of a commodity’s value. All productive

activity becomes the production of commodities, exchangeable for the others, given the correct

proportions. However, the one commodity that stands out among the others is labor power itself.

It is, as Marcuse notes, “the only commodity whose use-value it is to be ‘a source not only of

value, but of more value than it has itself’”. The value of labor power is equivalent to the means

of subsistence sufficient to recreate the commodity labor power (the ability of the worker to

reproduce her or him self to work another day). (The level of “subsistence” is socially

determined). In terms of the labor process, Marcuse points out that Marx’s analysis in Capital

puts forth the thesis that “concrete labor” does not create value, it does no more than preserve as

value the means of production and transfers (piecemeal) this value of the means of production to

the commodity. However, new value is indeed created in the labor process—it is a function of

the expended labor time, part of which covers the means of subsistence of the worker. Marcuse

notes, “The ‘surplus value’ created by the abstract universal labor hidden behind its concrete

form, falls to the buyer of labor power without any equivalent, since it does not appear as an

independent commodity” (p. 307).

       Hence the concept of value (the capitalist form of wealth), surplus value, and labor power

as their sole source, underpins Marx’s theory of class exploitation. Moreover, because

technological development tends, in fact, aims to replace direct labor in the production process to

shorten the part of the universal working day needed to reproduce the working class, thereby

increasing the surplus part of value, it can be said that the general cause of capitalist economic

crisis is the following: while direct labor (labor time) is the source of value (the specifically

capitalist form of wealth), the capitalist tendency is to replace this source by automating

production, using more and more advanced forms of technology.

       Marcuse’s chapter on “The Analysis of the Labor Process” is strikingly original in places,

like on the significance of concrete labor’s adding no new value to a commodity. It also outlines

the more well-known conclusions of Marx’s Capital I just reviewed.

       But Marcuse’s main objective is to high-light the “originality” and “specificity” of the

social formation intrinsic to capitalism. Marcuse asks, in what ways is the labor that

characterizes capitalism, “a specifically social form of labor”, as opposed to traditional forms in

which labor was essentially, “a natural condition of human existence, productive activity directed

to the adaptation of nature”? Marcuse provides as examples several characteristic features of

capitalist society, which reflect the law of value determined by the prevalence of abstract labor:

if productive activity is not oriented to the satisfaction of individual needs (but rather to creation

of value and surplus value) how does the system of universal commodity production tend to

fulfill these needs? Marcuse interprets Marx’s analysis to suggest that the law of value—

according to which distribution of labor among the different branches of production determines

which commodities did and did not supply a social need—integrates social relations through the

market. These developments imply supersession of the freedom of the individual and routine

waste of social labor time (commodities that remain unsold because they do not fulfill a need or

whose production cost more than the socially necessary labor time).

Dunayevskaya and the Soviet Union’s World War II Revision of Marx’s Value Theory

       Interestingly enough, it was precisely the dual character of labor—characteristic of the

capitalistic social formation alone—that was at the center of an article that appeared in the midst

of World War II, “Some Questions of Teaching Economics”. This article appeared in a 1943

edition of the Russian journal, Pod Znamenem Marxizma (Under the Banner of Marxism). (The

article was unsigned, hence the responsibility of the editors, among whom was the respected

Russian Marxist theorist, L.A. Leontiev). While, as I have just discussed, Marcuse’s Reason and

Revolution only a couple of years earlier had included an interpretation of Marx’s Capital that

emphasized the dialectic of abstract and concrete labor as underlying the specificity of the

capitalist social formation, the Russian article attempted to simultaneously concede that this

specific form of labor and with it the law of value prevailed in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet

Union was a socialist (not a capitalist) society.

         Raya Dunayevskaya translated this article, rendering the title as “Teaching Economics in

the Soviet Union”, and published it along with a commentary. Dunayevskaya’s critical

commentary took special note of the article’s assertions that, 1) the social and technical division

of labor in the Soviet Union mandated pay differentials between, on the one hand, intellectuals

and technical workers and, on the other, unskilled and/or manual workers; 2) the law of value

operated in the Soviet Union (contrary to all previous official party positions), and yet the Soviet

Union was a socialist society; and, 3) that the key concept from one of Marx’s most concise

writings on post-capitalist society (“Critique of the Gotha Program”), “To each according to his

needs”, could be changed to, “To each according to his work”, and still reflect a socialist Soviet


         Dunayevskaya argued in effect that neither the market (nor its absence), nor property

form (state or private ownership of the means of production), were determinates of capitalist

society. The Russian article’s theoretical concession of a two-fold character of labor, along with

the admission that workers’ wages were paid according to work instead of the distribution of the

means of consumption according to need, implied that the law of value, including a class-based

extraction of surplus value, determined not just individuals’ wages, but the capitalist trajectory of

war-time and a post-war Soviet Union as well. The Dunayevskaya translation and commentary

eventually drew Left economists, such as Paul Baran, Oscar Lange and Leo Rogin, into a debate

on the Russian economy that reached the front page of the New York Times in 1943.

Post-Capitalist Society in Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom and Marcuse’s Preface

       A couple of years earlier, Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution had already touched on the

other side of Marx’s famous concept of post-capitalist society—“From each according to his

abilities, to each according to his needs”. While the Russian revision of Marx’s law of value in

the midst of World War II, and even Dunayevskaya’s critique, focused on the, “to each

according to his needs” part, Marcuse already had touched upon the significance of the, “From

each according to his abilities” part. Often interpreted by Marxists to simply mean “labor”—

work as hard and as long as you can to build “socialism”—Marcuse had included an entire

section in Reason and Revolution titled, “The Abolition of Labor”, pointing out that Marx’s

concept of post-capitalist society assumed such a radically different mode of productive activity

that Marx hesitated to name it labor at all. Interpreting Marx’s, “from each according to his

abilities”, Marcuse concludes, “Mankind becomes free only when the material production of life

is a function of the abilities and happiness of associated individuals”. And, earlier in Reason and

Revolution, in fact in a section still on Hegel’s philosophy, Marcuse had brought in (without

explicit reference) Marx’s Capital, Volume 3’s concept of post-capitalist society, that is, “the

shortening of the labor day as the condition for man’s passing into the ‘realm of freedom’”. We

need to quote the entire passage, as it remains the key, along with analyses in the Grundrisse, for

Marx’s concepts of post-capitalist society, which were central to the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya

dialogue. Marx writes:

       It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts…surplus labor in a manner
       [surplus value] and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the
       creation of elements for a newer and higher formation than was the case under earlier
       forms of slavery, serfdom, etc. Thus on the one hand it leads towards a stage at which
       compulsion and the monopolization of social development (with its material and
       intellectual advantages) by one section of society at the expense of another disappears; on
       the other hand it creates the material means and the nucleus for relations that permit this
       surplus labor to be combined, in a higher form of society, with a greater reduction
       of the overall time devoted to material labor...The realm of freedom really begins only
       where labor determined by necessity and external expediency ends; it [the realm of
       freedom] lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production
       proper...Freedom, in this sphere [material production proper], can consist only in this,
       that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature
       in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by
       it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in
       conditions most appropriate for their human nature. But this always remains a realm of
       necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in
       itself, begins beyond it [labor in material production, realm of necessity], though it can
       only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is
       the basic prerequisite.

       In the text of Marxism and Freedom, Dunayevskaya ties Marx’s analysis here to the

young Marx for, “whom the creative role of labor is the key to all else” (p. 145). While bringing

in Marx’s Grundrisse, she claims that,

       the actual necessity of revolt will arise out of the fact that capitalism…is destroying
       society. The only force which can overcome this necessity therefore is freedom which in
       itself and for itself inseparably combines objective conditions, subjective activity and
       purpose. In the Grundrisse Marx said that once the productive process is “stripped of its
       antagonistic form”, the “measure of wealth will then no longer be labor time, but leisure

       Dunayevskaya’s conclusion from her collation of passages from the Grundrisse

and Capital Volume III here is as follows:

       The free time liberated from capitalist exploitation would be for the free development of
       the individual’s powers.

        Marcuse’s Preface, wherein he demonstrates how Dunayevskaya’s book “goes

beyond the previous interpretations”, even follows the sequence Dunayevskaya presented in the

text of Marxism and Freedom—Marx’s Capital, Volume III passages on the realm of necessity

and the realm of freedom followed by quotations from the Grundrisse, which served to elaborate

the Capital passages. Marcuse’s Preface essentially restates Dunayevskaya’s analysis of the

importance of the reversal of labor time and free time as fundamental to the realization of a post-

capitalist society, but precedes it with some original analyses:

        Socialism fulfills itself not in the emancipation and organization of labor, but in its
        “abolition.” As long as man’s struggle with nature requires human toil for procuring the
        necessities of life, all that can be attained in this sphere is a truly rational societal
        organization of labor. Its establishment at the stage of advanced industrialism is “only” a
        political problem. For Marx, it is to be solved by a revolution which brings the productive
        process under the collective control of the “immediate producers.” But this is not
        freedom. Freedom is living without toil, without anxiety: the play of human faculties. The
        realization of freedom is a problem of time: reduction of the working day to the minimum
        which turns quantity into quality. A socialist society is a society in which free time, not
        labor time, is the social measure of wealth and the dimension of the individual

      A potentially significant difference with Dunayevskaya’s position emerges here. It

revolves around Dunayevskaya’s conclusions that the passages in Capital, Volume III and in the

Grundrisse show that, “the creative role of labor is the key to all else” (p. 145). Marcuse’s

Preface interprets the creativity outside of labor as central if not exclusively relevant to post-

capitalist society; Dunayevskaya’s interpretation posits the creativity of labor itself as central in

the realization of a post-capitalist society.

      Hence the question arises: were Marcuse’s particular claims for the achievements of

Marxism and Freedom based on his own interpretations of the theoretical links between the

Grundrisse, Capital, and the young Marx (and even Marxism and Freedom itself) that were

actually substantially inconsistent with Dunayevskaya’s interpretations?

      Marcuse’s elaboration of his views of the Grundrisse and Capital, Volume III suggest that

this was the case. Marcuse concluded that socialism is “conditioned upon advanced industrial

production with the highest degree of mechanization”. Dunayevskaya, on the basis of the same

texts, had drawn a different conclusion: “the creative role of labor is the key to all else.”

      Dunayevskaya’s conclusion seemed to adhere closer to Marx’s text: Marx, in the key

relevant passage in Capital, Volume III, wrote: “Freedom, in this sphere [material production]

can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human

metabolism with nature in a rational way…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy

and in conditions most appropriate for their human nature…” Clearly, the standard Marcuse

identified—“highest degree of mechanization”—may represent conditions radically opposed to

those conditions, “most appropriate for workers’ human nature.” For example, in terms of

workers’ freedom in a post-capitalist society there may be a technological level that is optimum

rather than the maximum attainable in respect to human creativity and the “human metabolism

with nature”.

Dialogue on Capital and Post-Capitalist Society in the Correspondence

       We can now turn to the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya correspondence for a more in-depth look

at the subtle but perhaps consequential differences reflected, on the one hand, in Dunayevskaya’s

text and, on the other, Marcuses’s Preface. In a brief note (June 7, 1957), Marcuse asks

Dunayevskaya for a brief statement on the main thesis (or theses) of Marxism and Freedom,

which might help expedite his writing of the Preface. In her reply a few days later,

Dunayevskaya describes the “central point” as, “the philosophical foundation of Marxism”,

which she elaborates, writing, “[Not] only are Marx’s economic categories social categories but

they are thoroughly permeated with the humanism that came out of the working-class struggles

for the shortening of the working day. As Marx put it [in Capital’s Chapter 10 on ‘The Working

Day’] the mere question, when does my day begin and when does it end, was on a higher

philosophic level than [in Marx’s words], ‘the pompous catalogue of the Declaration of the

Rights of Man’. What is true of Volume I of Capital is true of the logic and scope of Volumes II

and III…where I show all of history to Marx was the struggle for freedom, which, as its basis, is

the shortening of the working day, and only from there do we go from the realm of necessity to

the realm of freedom” (June 11, 1957).

       Marcuse began to realize some certain key theoretical differences he had with

Dunayevskaya only after submitting his Preface. In response to publishers’ pre-publication

brochures that emphasized the “American roots of Marxism”, and that Marx, “completely

recreated the structure of Capital under the impact of the American Civil War”, Marcuse asked

Dunayevkskaya for clarification of these points. In a letter of October 11, 1957, Dunayevskaya

defends the theses in Marxism and Freedom concerning the “American roots of Marxism” and

Marx’s “recreation of the structure of Capital under the impact of the Civil War”. In part,

Dunayevskaya explains:

       After three intensive years--1863-66--of reworking Capital, Marx is still not satisfied.
       On February 10, 1866 [in a letter to Engels], we hear why: "Historically I developed a
       part about the working day which did not enter into my first plan." After he has finished
       working out the immense section on Working Day he writes again to Engels and shows
       how happy he is that the American workers "by correct instinct" came to the same
       formulation on the eight hour day that he had worked out for the Geneva Congress of the

       First International. This he brings directly into Capital (end of Ch. X) when he quotes
       that Baltimore Resolution [and] ties it in with the First International. [Here
       Dunayevskaya appears to be referring to Marx's letter to Ludwig Kugelmann (October 9,
       1966), where Marx wrote: "The American Workers' Congress at Baltimore, which took
       place at the same time [as the Geneva Congress of the First International] caused me
       great joy. The slogan there was organization for the struggle against capital, and
       remarkably enough, most of the demands which I drew up for Geneva were also put
       forward there by the right instinct of the workers." Also, in Capital Marx writes, "Thus
       the working-class movement on both sides of the Atlantic, which had grown instinctively
       out of the relations of production themselves, set its seal on the words of the factory
       inspector, R.J. Saunders; 'further steps toward a reformation of society can never be
       carried out with any hope of success, unless the hours of labor be limited, and the
       prescribed limit strictly enforced’”].

       Dunayevskaya’s letter continues:

       [Marx] further ties in white and black labor. [The full passage Dunayevskaya refers to in
       Marx’s Capital is as follows: "In the United States of America, every independent
       workers' movement was paralysed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic.
       Labor in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin.
       However, a new life immediately arose from the death of slavery. The first fruit of the
       American Civil War was the eight hours' agitation, which ran from the Atlantic to the
       Pacific, from New England to California, with the seven-league boots of the locomotive.
       The General Congress of Labour held at Baltimore in August 1866 declared: 'The first
       and great necessity of the present, to free the labor of this country from capitalistic
       slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working day in
       all States of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this
       glorious result is attained'" [MCIF, p.414]].

       With these passages we can see that the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya correspondence thus

provides important documentation both of the process by which original analyses of Capital

developed and significant theoretical differences that otherwise would be difficult to perceive in

Marcuse’s preface and Dunayevskaya’s text alone.

Today’s Relevance of the Marcuse/Dunayevskaya Correspondence on Marx’s Capital

       It may be interesting to note that while both Marcuse and Dunayevskaya confronted the

Great Depression and the ensuing war both theoretically and practically, neither experienced a

second economic collapse on the level of our current Great Recession, which is entering its third

year. This explains why much of their dialogue on Marx’s Capital, capitalist crises, and a

potential post-capitalist society based on new forms of work and time for creative self-

development has been in danger of being lost just at the time when it may have the most value

for the current generation facing economic collapse and endless wars. There is no guarantee that

the current stabilization will inevitably lead to recovery and the reestablishment of capitalism as

the “natural” and/or normal state of affairs. Millions remain under and unemployed. Everything

points to a "jobless recovery" like no other. Workers are experiencing soaring unemployment,

reduced hours, and forced part-time jobs. These represent involuntary "free time," the result of

what Marx called "value production"--in which the self-development of people and material

well-being are nothing but its by-product. The current kinds of increases in free time are all

about restoring, preserving, and perpetuating the capitalist mode of production. The worst thing

we can do, however, is to stop there, and fail to follow the logic of capital to its conclusion, to

Marx's look ahead to post-capitalist society.

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