The Marx of Enrique Dussel

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By ANTONINO INFRANCA*

Considerations on the depth of interpretation of Marx's work, made from the perspective of the Third World

Enrique Dussel is considered the greatest connoisseur of Marx in the world, although he comes from the so-called “Third World”; his reading comes, in particular, from Latin America, which historically was the first victim of capitalism, in fact, it can be said that without the conquest of Latin America, capitalism could not have been born, because this conquest offered the amount of precious metals to unleash the primitive accumulation mechanism of capital, to use Marx's terminology.

To understand Modernity, therefore, it is necessary to start from the condition of being a victim of Latin America. It will therefore be a non-Eurocentric reading, because it is guided by the exteriority of the First World which, with the fall of socialism, decreed the death of Marxism. But Dussel makes a simple observation: socialism collapsed in Europe, not in the Third World, that is, in Cuba, China, Vietnam, therefore, in the periphery. In addition, Marxist studies in Latin America are in great development and Dussel is the leader of this development, that is, behind him critical thinking advances and Marxism contributes to the work of decolonizing philosophy, a theme that has very little repercussion in Europe .

The other decisive reason is the way in which Dussel conducts his reading of Marx; His reading is conducted in the style of the scholastic interpreters of Aristotle, in other words, line by line. On several occasions Dussel claims that no one before him carried out such a detailed reading of all the texts by the German philosopher, including the unpublished ones, that Dussel read in the archives of Amsterdam and Moscow. The most interesting discovery that Dussel made is that Marx rewrote The capital four times and, in each rewrite, there are always fundamental novelties in his work of criticism of political economy. It is suggestive to be able to reread Marx in the manner of Dussel, because the critical work of the German philosopher becomes a Work in progress, a kind of critical description of the essence of the capitalist mode of appropriation. This description becomes a criticism, because it does not hide the historical truth of the capitalist appropriation that is made of injustice and death.

Dussel defined Marx as “a philosopher of the 50st century”, because at least XNUMX% of his texts are still unpublished. The result of this reading is the re-proposal of a totally original Marx, for being authentic and devoid of the ideological or epistemological encrustations that distanced him from the authenticity of the texts. Thus falls the Marx of the Soviet textbooks of political economy, which were considered true dogmatic manuals to be followed literally, while Marx's letter led in exactly opposite directions.

Dussel indicates the crucial point where the Marx of the Soviets does not correspond to the authentic Marx, who did not condemn the market in its entirety, but maintained that the production of commodities must be linked to consumption, exchange and distribution, it was not possible to decide what should be consumed from above and, therefore, what to exchange and distribute, but consumption, exchange and distribution must be planned “from below” – starting from the vital needs of civil society.

Furthermore, Marx did not speak of “modes of production”, but of “modes of appropriation”, that is, of the world in which an economic system, such as capitalism or feudalism and so on, appropriates the creative source of value. , that is, live work, the subjectivity that works. History, then, is not the history of the modes of production, but of the modes of appropriation of work and the worker's subjectivity by the dominant system of each era. According to Dussel, Marx's critique starts precisely from the worker's subjectivity, from his corporeity and, therefore, develops a material economic critique.

One aspect of Marx that Dussel focuses on is the opposition between social and community work. Social is the work of an individual who addresses the social market and is directed from the outside, that is, by an administrator who does not work with him, while communitarian is the work of an entire community, not just solidary work, but collective work, as it is typical of pre-capitalist societies, especially in Latin America. Capitalism imposes social work and socialism would be the stage in which community work is submitted to the control of free individuals, associated as common owners of the means of production. In this way, the producers decide the ways of processing in common and, therefore, of the production, without any control external to the scope of the work. It can therefore be noted how the socialism achieved was far from Marx's ideas, although they did not give broad indications, but only regulating principles to be respected in the construction of socialism.

The other aspect of Marx's authenticity, which has been denied in various ways by both Soviet textbooks and brilliant Western philosophers, is his very close relationship with Hegel. In fact, many times in the lectures that make up this book, Dussel insists on the Hegel-Marx relationship, on Marx's use of Hegelian categories, lexicon and method. In the capitalist mode of appropriation, a central role is played by negation, just as in the Hegelian dialectic. The relationship between production and consumption is also dialectical: at the origin there is a vital need of the human being, who produces the material that allows the satisfaction of this need. It is, therefore, a vital determination at the origin of the production of work and consumption is the negation of need, satisfying it. Dussel recalls that Marx's determinations are always material, overthrowing the Hegelian ones that were ideal.

Dussel maintains that Marx overthrew the Hegelian method, placing non-being at the beginning of being and making it the rational core of his critical analysis. In fact, contrary to Hegel, Marx thinks that non-being is real, that is, living labor, or the capacity for work, is the creative source of value, not its foundation, because the foundation is being, but living labor is not yet capital, it is strength/work that belongs to human beings, who are forced to sell it on the market, because they are poor and do not have the means of production to reproduce their own lives. Living labor is the non-being of capital.

The reproduction of the poor person's life is entrusted to work, which is a vital activity; indeed, Dussel states that work is “the actuality of life”. Money, which is not yet capital, seeks precisely the poor to buy their power/labor. But the poor man with his capacity for work is the non-being of capital. There is, therefore, a contract between money and labor, between capital and the poor. The poor is subsumed outside of capital, within capital's mode of production; their power/labor is appropriated by capital. If there were no poor people, capital and its reproduction could not exist. Poverty is the life of capital, because when money brings force/labor, work tools and raw materials into contact, then value can be born, which is, therefore, a being, a process that is born from the non-being of the capital.

Value is the non-being of work capacity, but it is created from it. Capital is realized to the extent that the worker is unrealized. Value is the objectification of work, of human life, and any economic process is objectified human life, that is, denied. Here is the central point of the polemics that accompany the Dusselian rereading of Marx: life! Life is the fundamental material principle of all ethics. The validity of an ethical norm is due to its ability to participate in the reproduction of life, if it does not participate in the reproduction of life it is not valid.

Dussel has been accused by all Althusserian interpreters of Marx of being a mystic, because he constantly carries forward the presence of the theme of life in Marx's economic works. Even in Italy these polemics were widespread, although to a lesser extent, because Italians, particularly Eurocentrics, do not dedicate themselves to reading Periphery authors, they await instructions from the Center (United States, Germany, France, England), condemning themselves, thus, to be Periphery. Indeed, it is difficult for Eurocentric scholars to accept that the theological terms, used by Marx, with perfect semantic correspondence, are not metaphors, but the derivation of his critique of the political economy of Judeo-Christian theology.

In fact, Dussel is the only case of a great thinker who, with the fall of socialism, switched to Marxism. Dussel can say that he wasn't a Marxist until he was 40. Afterwards, he discovered the poor of Latin America and tried to understand the origin of this poverty and only Marx offered him the theoretical instruments for understanding the reality of his land. They are critical theoretical instruments, which is why they are effective in understanding the growing poverty in Latin America.

An important role in Dussel's rereading of Marx's texts is played by dependency theory. It is a theory born in Latin America, but which today concerns the entire Periphery of the world, in fact, it concerns the total relations between the Center and the Periphery. The Dependency Theory describes the transfer of value from the Periphery to the Center, a transfer that creates the dependency of the peripheral countries in relation to the central ones. A company in the Center transfers part of its production to a peripheral country, attracted by the low cost of labor in that country. The wages paid to workers in the peripheral country are returned in value produced in goods in less time than workers in the same company in the central country. Thus, the company increases its profit.

The important thing is to reallocate production to peripheral countries, paying wages in peripheral countries, but selling goods at the price they have in the central country. Another form of value transfer is represented by the loans that the Center grants to the Periphery. In the case of Latin America, these loans were initially requested by military dictatorships and then imposed by the Center. Today, loans are made within the same companies between central and peripheral companies. Another form of dependency is technological: the Center exports its technology to the Periphery at the price of the Center. The Periphery needs this technology to be able to produce goods that can be sold in the Center, that is, it tries to compete with the industries of the Center.

In fact, he is buying the production tools at high prices and selling his goods at low cost, that is, he transfers value, which is objectified life, to the Center. It is exporting life, because it exports value and cannot accumulate value to improve the living conditions of its poor. The dependency theory thus explains the high number of poor people in Latin America or in the periphery of the world, where the poor make up the overwhelming majority of human beings. These poor are not even a class, because they are not subsumed by capital in the production process, they are people, that is, they have their own traditional culture, but they do not have the means to reproduce their own life, they are marginalized and excluded from the dominant capitalist system .

A Ethics of Liberation de Dussel is born from the rereading of Marx, it can be considered, therefore, a Marxist ethics. Dussel's path parallels that of Lukács, the greatest Marxist philosopher of the XNUMXth century. Lukács, in addition to supporting the close relationship between Hegel and Marx, planned to write an ethics, but his death prevented the realization of this Marxist ethics, but the twentieth century ended precisely with a Marxist ethics, that of Dussel, which is a materialist ethics, precisely because its principle is the material life of the human being and its exploitation by capital. Dussel argues that the use of rate of exploitation (exploitation rate) by Marx is the revelation of the existence of his ethics associated with his critique of political economy which, in turn, is associated with an anthropology, an awareness of the exploitation of the vital capacities of human beings.

The theme of life is recurrent in the works of Marx and Dussel, and can be resumed with a philologically correct reading. Living work was mentioned as a creative source of value, so living work is also a creative source of moral values ​​and this is what Lukács referred to in the sketches of his ethics. According to Dussel, Marx makes an ethical critique of capitalism, as he refers the categories of the economy to its creative source, which is living work, and does not recognize value in capital, which does not produce value. The production of value is the living work of human beings. Capitalist morality, on the contrary, maintains that the foundation of value is capital and the human being is reduced to a thing, the means of producing profit.

For Dussel, an attentive reader of Marx, living work is above all the means to satisfy the needs of the living human being, of all human needs, both material and spiritual. But all human needs are bodily and natural needs, even spiritual needs concern the body of man, because man is naturally a spiritual animal. It is not possible to have a dignified spiritual life if you starve; indeed, hunger is the opposition between body and spirit. Thus, the alienation of the human being's spiritual activity corresponds to the alienation of living work, of the human being's bodily capacity for work. The two forms of dehumanization are closely linked and inseparable, as body and spirit are inseparable in human beings. This is the material aspect of Dussel's ethics, which he apprehends from Marx and from him also takes up the universal character of this ethics, because Marx did not elaborate a critical theory valid only for Europe, but for all humanity.

Dussel's Marxism is based precisely on Marx's awareness of the preeminence of life over death, of the necessary reproduction of the human body and spirit. Hunger and poverty are suffering. Marx was aware of this suffering, as was the founder of Christianity, who was a human being who was afraid of death (Jesus in the garden Gethsemane), while the founder of Western civilization, Socrates, was not afraid of death. There is therefore a life/death dialectic, and indeed Marx captures this dialectic when he speaks of living labor and dead capital. Capitalism reproduces this dualism of Western civilization: the worker's power/work is within the system as the system's reproductive force, his needs are outside the system, they only enter it as a source of fetishistic consumption of goods.

Dussel's critical analysis starts from a perspective external to the dominant capitalist system, from that exteriority on which he constantly insists. It is a present perspective for Marx, indeed, it is the same as that of Marx, if we bear in mind the fact that Marx could only fully understand capitalism by moving to England, that is, in direct physical contact with the working class. , the victim of capitalism. From the point of view of exteriority and exclusion, Marx and Dussel – the latter as a Latin American – can understand the totality of the dominant capitalist system. Dussel correctly observes that the Marxist intellectuals of the Center spoke of totality, but each totality imposes an exclusion and, therefore, an exteriority, to which a subsumption is opposed. Dussel uses his own translation of the German term repeal com subsumption, which I translated literally as “subsumption”. But the under of the Spanish word should not be understood only as “being below”, but as “that which arises from below and constitutes it as a part”, as an integral and necessary part for the constitution of the system of domination. In fact, living labor is the exteriority of capital and when it enters the capitalist system it becomes wage labor. Economic categories become dependent on their movement in perfect harmony with the Hegelian dialectical method.

The dominant capitalist system is substantially a formal system that, in fact, is based on prices and excludes the material moment of human life, and as a formal system it is self-referential. It is not by chance that neoliberalism bases its ideology on the capitalist market and has no critical stance towards it; in fact, neoliberalism advocates a universal consciousness of the market, which is, in fact, an abstraction of real life. The market has universalized the world, but it has not universalized humanity. The capitalist market is inserted between the living work of human beings and the satisfaction of their needs, that is, the reproduction of life. In modern capitalist society, the means to satisfy needs are found only in the market, and it is precisely in this intermediation that the reification of needs and the fetishization of commodities take place. The market is the negative determination of force/work as the actuality of life and the vital determination of human need and its replacement by commodifying consumption.

Those who do not have the money to go to the market to satisfy their needs are outside the market, excluded from the means of satisfying their own needs, they are poor marginalized by modern capitalist society. The big problem of humanity today is that the majority of humanity is excluded from the market, because they don't have money. It is worth remembering that Dussel is speaking to a Latin American audience, therefore composed of Indians, blacks, mulattos, mestizos, as well as creole whites, who seek to leave the state of poverty to collaborate for the improvement of the entire Latin American civil society, as is the tradition of Latin American societies, where the poor, when not completely annulled by the fetishization of goods and money, always put themselves in the perspective of collaborating with others so that everyone can improve together. This is an audience that knows what it means to be poor.

*Antonino Infranca He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Author, among other books, of Work, individual, history – the concept of work in Lukács (Boitempo).

Translation: Juliana Hass.

 

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