Rosdolski and the floorplans

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


There are ideas of Marx that, although written more than a century ago, take your breath away when read today.

Os floorplans constitute a set of notes, drafts, on Marx's research, especially on political economy, which will later be used in the production of The capital. These are records for self-clarification of doubts that Marx keeps compiling, developing, scribbling, correcting, reworking, rewriting. These notes, which were never an object of great importance to Marxist scholars, gained relevance through the Polish author Roman Rosdolsky (1898-1967), writer, researcher and Polish political activist. It was he, through his monumental work Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Marxschen 'Kapital'. Der Rohentwurfdes 'Kapital' 1857–58 (1968), translated into Portuguese as Genesis and structure of Capital by Karl Marx (2011), who drew attention to the importance of these writings for the precedence of The capital.

Rosdolsky's contribution is particularly important because, based on this manuscript, he reveals in detail how the construction process of Marx's greatest work, The Capital. And this is not a mere curiosity, but it proves to be important, because it helps in the reconstruction and purification that Marx made throughout his notes on certain themes and in the reconstitution of what he considered essential. What Rosdolsky observes is that we floorplans there is an enormity of variants of analysis on different themes that enrich the “conclusions” present in the'The capital. Even more: there are contents in the floorplans that were not later approached or reworked by Marx, or abandoned and inconclusive contents that reveal the plots of the German thinker's thought.

One of those contents highlighted by Rosdolsky to which Marx will not return in The capital it is the “social brain” or “general intellect”. This category commonly referred to as general intellect in Marxist literature it relates to Marx's studies of machinery. Let us remember that Marx was a profound student of the machine tools existing in his time. A considerable part of the time that Marx was locked up in the library of the British Museum, in his exile in London, was devoted to studies on the functioning of machines. His interest in studying technology and its role in the production process was aimed at understanding the change in the material base of capitalism.

It is to these studies of Marx's machinery that Rosdolky draws attention: "there are floorplans ideas about machinery that are absent from The capital; ideas that, although written more than a century ago, take your breath away when read today, as they present one of the most audacious visions produced by the human spirit”[1]. The ideas of “breathtaking to be read today”, highlighted by Rosdolsky, refer to the utopia that one day machines will be able to replace human labor and free people for other activities. The idea that productivity leveraged by machines could distribute gains to everyone and eliminate surplus value.

We floorplans Marx suggests, although he does not develop his reasoning, that the development of technique, science, productive forces is the result of the “social brain”, “general intellect”, “general social knowledge”; that is, everything that is invented, the machines that are created, are the result of collective human ingenuity and not individual creations. This intuition is found in a fragment in the floorplans where Marx states:

“(…) nature does not build machines or locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, automatic spinning machines, etc. They are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature or of its activity in nature. They are organs of the human brain created by the human hand; objective power of knowledge. The development of fixed capital indicates the extent to which general social knowledge, knowledge, has evolved from the immediate productive force and, consequently, the extent to which the very conditions of the life process of society have come under the control of the general intellect and have been reorganized in accordance with he. To what extent are the productive forces of society produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but as immediate organs of social praxis; of the real process of life”[2].

This passage, for many, foresees the possibility of the emancipatory nature of work. The idea that the progress of technology objectified in machines, resulting from knowledge in general, is placed in perspective of the common allowing with the production of surplus, productivity, reorganizing income distribution and working time. This is one of Marx's intuitions that, according to Rosdolsky, are “breathtaking to read today”: the utopia that one day machines will be able to replace human labor and free people for other activities. It is not about the disappearance of work, but the idea that productivity leveraged by machines could distribute gains to all and eliminate surplus value. Evidently, this possibility in Marx is conditioned to the overcoming of capitalism and the entry into another society, the society of common, of communism. Rosdolsky writes about this;

“Today, faced with a new industrial revolution under way, it is not necessary to emphasize the prophetic transcendence of this immensely dynamic and radically optimistic conception. What the German revolutionary dreamed of alone in 1858, in his exile in London, has today – but only today – entered the realm of what is immediately possible. Thanks to the development of modern technology, the conditions are finally in place – for the first time – to completely and definitively suppress 'theft of other people's work time'; now – for the first time – the productive forces of society can be driven so powerfully that, in fact, and in a not too distant future, the measure of social wealth will no longer be working time, but available time”[3].

It should be noted that Rosdolsky wrote this in the 1960s, a time when Fordism was maturing, far removed, therefore, from the other two productive revolutions that followed: the third Industrial Revolution, of an informational nature, and now the fourth Industrial Revolution, mainly anchored in Artificial Intelligence. It is precisely because of these revolutions that the debate has been resumed by some theorists[4] in which knowledge – immaterial labor – carries within itself the power of Marx's idea of ​​the “general intellect”. According to these authors, the character of exploitation has changed, because it is, above all, the intellect, the worker's knowledge, which has become the source of surplus, of surplus value, appropriated by capital; that is, expropriation no longer takes place through the theft of individual or collective work time, but rather through capturing the value that is produced by immaterial resources, knowledge, cooperation and communication. The intuition of Marx's 'general intellect' for an emancipatory project fits here, because in the same way that capital seeks to appropriate the surplus produced by immaterial labor – today's surplus value – this can be the basis of resistance of the subjects of work. Just as the immaterial resources each worker possesses are activated by capital for the more productive, it can also be the reverse of a collective project of resistance and social struggle.

*Cesar Sanson, Professor in the area of ​​Sociology of Work at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN).



1 – ROSDOLSKI, Roman. Genesis and structure of Capital by Karl Marx. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 2011, p. 354.

2 – MARX, Karl. Grundrisse. Economic Manuscripts of 1857-1858. Outlines of the critique of political economy. São Paulo: Editora Boitempo, 2011, p. 589

3 – ROSDOLSKI, Roman. Genesis and structure of Capital by Karl Marx. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 2011, p. 356.

4 – We highlight, above all, Paolo Virno and his work Grammaire of Lamultitude (Quebéc: Conjectures &l'éclat, 2002); Antonio Negri, in partnership with Michael Hardt, in the works Empire e Crowd (Rio de Janeiro – São Paulo: Record, 2001 and 2005) and Maurizio Lazzarato, in partnership with Negri, and the work immaterial work (Rio de Janeiro: DP&A Editora, 2001).







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