GEORG LUKACS. History and Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat. I The Phenomenon of Reification. II The Antinomies of Bourgeois. Lukács’ Reification and the Class Consciousness of the Proletariat is a disorganized but masterful essay written in the aftermath of the greatest. Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat () Proletariat · I. The Phenomenon of Reification › Tags. Georg Lukacs · Marxism.

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Merlin Press, ; Transcribed: To be radical is to go thhe the root of the matter. For man, however, the root is man himself. IT is no accident that Marx consciousnsss have begun with an analysis of commodities when, in the two great works of his mature period, he set out to portray capitalist society in its totality and to lay bare its fundamental nature. For at this stage in the history of mankind there is no problem that does not ultimately lead back to that question and there is no solution that could not be found in the solution to the riddle of commodity-structure.

That is to say, the problem of commodities must not be considered in isolation or even regarded as the central problem in economics, but as the central, structural problem of capitalist society in all its aspects. Only in this case can the structure of commodity-relations be made to yield a model of all the objective forms of bourgeois society together with all the subjective forms corresponding to them.

The essence of commodity-structure has often been pointed out.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the central importance of this problem for economics itself. Nor shall we consider its implications for the economic doctrines of the vulgar Marxists which follow from their abandonment of this starting-point. Only by proletariiat this can we obtain a clear insight into the ideological problems consciouzness capitalism and its downfall. Before tackling the problem itself we must be quite clear in our minds that commodity fetishism is a specific problem of our age, the age of modern capitalism.

Commodity exchange an the corresponding subjective and objective commodity relations existed, as we know, when society was still very primitive. What is at issue here, however, is the question: Conscioysness the extent to which such exchange is the dominant reificafion of metabolic change in a society cannot simply be treated in quantitative terms – as would harmonise with the modern modes of thought already eroded by the reifying effects of the dominant commodity form.

The distinction between a society where this form is dominant, permeating every expression of life, and a society where it only makes an episodic appearance is essentially one of quality.

For depending on which is the case, all the subjective phenomena in the societies concerned are objectified in qualitatively different ways.

Marx lays great stress on the essentially episodic appearance of the commodity form in primitive societies: Exchange value has as yet no form of its own, but is still directly bound up with use-value. This is manifested in two ways. Production, in its entire organisation, aims at the creation of use-values and not of exchange values, and it is only when their supply exceeds the measure of consumption that use-values cease to be use-values, and become means of exchange, i.

At the same time, they become commodities only within the limits of being direct use-values distributed at opposite poles, so that the commodities to be exchanged by their possessors must be use-values to both – each commodity to its non-possessor.

As a matter of fact, the exchange of commodities originates not within the primitive communities, but where they end, on their borders at the few points where they come in contact with other communities. That is where barter begins, and from here it strikes back into the interior of the community, decomposing it.

However, even when commodities have this impact on the internal structure of a society, this does not suffice to make them constitutive of that society. To achieve that it would be necessary – as we emphasised above – for the commodity structure to penetrate society in all its aspects and to remould it in its own image. It is not enough merely to establish an external link with independent processes concerned with the production of exchange values.

The qualitative difference between the commodity as one form among many regulating the metabolism of human society and the commodity as the universal structuring principle has effects over and above the fact that the commodity relation as ail isolate phenomenon exerts a negative influence at best on the structure and organisation of society.

Reificattion distinction also consciousnees repercussions upon the nature and validity of the category itself. Where the commodity is universal it manifests itself differently from the commodity as a particular, isolated, non-dominant phenomenon.

The fact that the boundaries lack sharp definition must not be allowed to conwciousness the qualitative nature of the decisive distinction. Prolegariat situation where commodity exchange is not dominant has been feification by Marx as follows: They assume the form of commodities inasmuch as they are exchangeables, i.


Continued exchange and more regular reproduction for exchange reduces this arbitrariness more and more. But at first not for the producer and consumer, but for their go-between, the merchant, who compares money-prices and pockets the difference.

Lukács: Reification and the Class Consciousness of the Proletariat – Counterfire

It is through his own movements that he establishes equivalence. And this development of the commodity to the point where it becomes the dominant form in society did not rrification place until the advent of modern capitalism. Hence it is not to be wondered at that the personal nature of economic relations was still understood clearly on occasion at the start of capitalist development, but rekfication as the process advanced and forms became more complex and less direct, it became increasingly difficult and rare to find anyone penetrating the veil of reification.

Marx sees the matter in this anx In the nature of things it is excluded, in the first place, where production for the use-value, for immediate personal requirements, predominates; and secondly, where slavery or serfdom form the broad foundation of social production, as in antiquity and during the Middle Ages. Here, the domination of the producers by the conditions of production is concealed by the relations of dominion and servitude which appear and are evident as the concsiousness motive power of the process of production.

The commodity can only he understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reificiation produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the stance adopted by men towards it. This is the reason the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses It is only a definite social relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things.

There is both an objective and a subjective side to this phenomenon. Objectively a world of objects and relations between things springs into being the world of commodities and their movements on the market. The laws governing these objects are indeed gradually discovered by man, but even so they confront him as invisible forces that generate their own power.

The individual consckousness use his knowledge of these laws to his own advantage, but he is not able to modify the process by his own activity. On the other hand it is only at this moment that the commodity form of the products of labour becomes general.

Thus the universality of the commodity form is responsible both objectively and subjectively for the abstraction of the human labour incorporated in commodities.

On the other hand, this universality becomes historically possible because this process of abstraction has been completed. Objectively, in so far as the commodity form facilitates the equal exchange reifiication qualitatively different objects, it can only exist if that formal equality is in fact recognised – at any rate in. Subjectively, this formal equality of human labour in the abstract is not only the common factor to which the various commodities are reduced; it also becomes the prolehariat principle governing the actual production of commodities.

Here we need only establish that labour, abstract, equal.

Only then does it become a category of society influencing decisively the objective form of things and people in the society thus emerging, their relation to nature and the possible relations of men to each other. If we follow the path taken by labour in its development from the handicrafts via cooperation and manufacture to machine industry we can see a continuous trend towards greater rationalisation, the progressive elimination of the qualitative, human and individual attributes of the worker.

On the one hand, the process of labour is progressively broken down into abstract, rational, specialised operations so that the worker loses contact with the finished product and his work is reduced to the mechanical repetition of a specialised set of actions. On the other hand, the period of time necessary for work to be accomplished which forms the basis of rational calculation is converted, as mechanisation and rationalisation are intensified, from a merely empirical average figure to an objectively calculable work-stint that confronts the worker as a fixed and established reality.

We are concerned above all with the principle at work here: The chief changes undergone by the subject and object of the economic process are as follows: Rationalisation in the sense of being able to predict with ever greater precision all the results to be achieved is only to be acquired by the exact breakdown of every complex into its elements and by the study of the special laws governing production.

Accordingly it must declare war on the organic manufacture of whole products based on the traditional amalgam of empirical experiences of work: The finished article ceases to be the object of the work-process. The latter turns into the objective synthesis of rationalised special systems whose unity is determined by pure calculation and which must therefore seem to be arbitrarily connected with each other.

This destroys the organic necessity with which inter-related special operations are unified in the end-product. The unity of a product as a commodity no longer coincides with its unity as a use-value: This goes hand in hand with the union in time and space of special operations that are related to a set of heterogeneous use-values.


In consequence of the rationalisation of the work-process the human qualities and idiosyncrasies of the worker appear increasingly as mere sources of error when contrasted with these abstract special laws functioning according to rational predictions.

Neither objectively nor in his relation to his work does man appear as the authentic master of the process; on the contrary, he is a mechanical part incorporated into a mechanical system. He finds it already pre-existing and self-sufficient, it functions independently of him and he has to conform to its laws whether he likes it or not. Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at the most the incarnation of time.

Quality no longer matters. Quantity alone decides everything: On the one hand, the objectification of their labour-power into something opposed to their total personality a process already accomplished with the sale of that labour-power as a commodity is now made into the permanent ineluctable reality of their daily life. Here, too, the personality can do no more than look on helplessly while its own existence is reduced to an isolated particle and fed into an alien system.

In this respect, too, mechanisation makes of them isolated abstract atoms whose work no longer brings them together directly and organically; it becomes mediated to an increasing extent exclusively by the abstract laws of the mechanism which imprisons them.

The internal organisation of a factory could not possibly have such an effect – even within the factory itself – were it not for the fact that it contained in concentrated form the whole structure of capitalist society. Oppression and an exploitation that knows no bounds and scorns every human dignity were known even to pre-capitalist ages.

So too was mass production with mechanical, standardised labour, as we can see, for instance, with canal construction in Egypt and Asia Minor and the mines in Rome.

Reification (Marxism)

As the commodity becomes universally dominant, this situation changes radically and qualitatively. The fate of the worker becomes the fate of society as a whole; kukacs, this fate pf become universal as otherwise industrialisation could not develop in this direction.

While this process is still incomplete the amd used to extract surplus labour are, it is true, more obviously brutal than in the later, more highly reificatikn phase, but the process of reification of work and hence also of the consciousness of the worker is much less advanced.

Reification requires that a society should learn to satisfy all its needs in terms of commodity exchange. But this implies that the principle of rational mechanisation and calculability must embrace every aspect of life. Consumer articles no longer appear as the products of an organic process within a community as for example in a village community.

They now appear, on the one hand, as abstract members of a species identical by definition with its other members and, on the other hand, as isolated objects the possession or non-possession of which depends on rational calculations.

Reificatino course, this isolation and fragmentation is only apparent. The movement of commodities on the market, the birth of their value, in a word, the real framework of every rational calculation is not merely subject to strict laws but also presupposes the strict ordering of all that happens. By contrast, the organic unities of pre-capitalist societies organised their metabolism largely in independence of each other.

However, if this atomisation is only an illusion it is a necessary one. His specific situation is defined by the fact that his labour-power is his only possession. His fate is typical of society as a whole in that this self-objectification, this transformation of a human function into a commodity reveals in all its starkness the dehumanised and dehumanising function of the commodity relation.

This rational objectification conceals above all the immediate – qualitative and material – character of things as things. When use-values appear universally as commodities they acquire a new objectivity, a new substantiality which they did not possess in an age of episodic exchange and which pfoletariat their original and authentic substantiality.

The ground and the earth have nothing to do with ground-rent, machines have nothing to do with profit. For the landowner ground and earth mean nothing feification ground-rent; he lets his land to tenants and receives the rent – a quality which the ground can lose without losing any of its inherent qualities such as its fertility; it is a quality whose ulkacs and indeed existence depends on social relations that are created lukscs abolished without any intervention by the landowner.

Likewise with the machine. Thus even the individual object which man confronts directly, either as producer or consumer, is distorted in its objectivity by its commodity character.