Subjectivization of Capital in Property and Person.
(rough summary of „Eigentum und Person – Begriff, Notwendigkeit und Folgen bürgerlicher Subjektivierung“, Münster/ Germany 2010)
Property is to have something at one´s disposal in an abstract, immaterial way, as this it is immediate as well as unconditional.
Having something as property is an absolutely volitional reference of the subject to the object. This kind of relation is due neither to the quality of the object nor the subject of the relation. It rather displays a quality of anonymity and mere dispassion which can be regarded a fundamental difference to pre-bourgeois ways of owning.
Furthermore this kind of will is usually looked upon as the very elementary and fundamental will at all which furthermore shapes today´s society.
The content of will called property with respect to the object involved contains the total negation of what the object is in itself. The object gets imposed a determination, which is by no means in its nature: To be mine.
However this property relation to the object does not claim at all to be a practical approach, nor to be a kind of will affecting the object interestedly and changing it. So property as a will-relation is not only tautologic, but also poor in substance: No quality of the subject is imposed on the object – the subject is nothing but pure subject. And even the object does not show any substance to be referred to especially in this way – apart from being pure object it is of no interest and therefore not further determined. In this relation, the object does not suffer any alteration at all.
To “have” or “possess” alone without further specification however suggests a too directly manipulating access. Rather, we have to think of the possibility or the power of having the object, in the form of authorizing or denying its practical use with respect to the other subjects.
Furthermore no third party is involved in this relation or determines it substantially (at least so far); the subject has hitherto no means for fulfilment or realisation of this property relation. Because of this very ideality, i.e. independence from and lack of any material element, on the other hand the property relation is unconditional: The content of this kind of will claims to be valid without compromises or relativization by any substantial qualities of its poles as such property is
a distinct and independent form of relation of man to things.
This abstractness of the property relation exists in and for itself. It is not due to the fact that the expression “property” is used as a collective label for all kind of possible relations to things, or because there may be an abstraction from many other possible relations. As a will it is also not to be confused with the object itself, at which this will is aiming nor with its qualities (even if these are called properties, too).
It is also not merely the institutional right to have such a will, nor simply and only negatively the exclusion from itself or the material use of things (Proudhon). So it is neither just the private aspect of itself (“private property”) nor just the governmental power and sovereignty, which surely enacts and safeguards it. These elements are explained when dealing with the question what property is and why it exists.
These elements of characterisation already contradict the ordinary notion of property as just some material or not exactly defined kind of “having”, as well as its determination as a certain thing or even as an amount of money, capital or land. Also the emphasis on the private character of property and the consecutive social component, the exclusion act coming with it, is seen as an inadequate definition of property itself. Property rather turns out to be the mere act of will in which a thing is attributed to oneself, however in an abstract way, as a pure content of will, not contaminated by material access nor intellectual or moral reflections – neither the subject nor the object in their materiality or other determination are of any relevance. What proves to be the content of property just looks like a banal or harmless, yet strange attitude to the world. But exactly this bizarre content is executed rigidly and pitilessly by the system of law.
Why something like this exists, and what it is good for, this is an as legitimate as crucial question. Without a rational answer property has to be accepted as phenomenal contingency or natural constant of the human being.
The reason for this special relation to things which is called property is based logically (but not empiric-historically) on the bourgeois sources of revenue and the thereby involved lending. Responsible for the property act is therefore the capital-related „greed for surplus work“, i.e. conditions, which appear to be objective and alienated to the human beings and do not arise out of their will at all.
Referring solely to the historical requirements and sequences can only result in a conceptless and vanishing necessity of property. Its qualitative determinations however (beyond just its implementation) can be concluded from simultaneously existing elements of the bourgeois society.
Neither tradition nor the will itself – be it a single or collective, a governmental or the Hegelian absolute one – can sufficiently explain this kind of will. The natural use, the taking and material usage of a thing, does not require such an abstract relation to it, in contrast to the assertions of bourgeois philosophy. Not even acquiring of things or giving things away in the commodity exchange or the selling for money, originates a property relation – which is contradictory to the judgement of not only Marx to identify the reason there.
Solely the conditional giving away (i.e. lending) of specific objects within the capitalist production process originates such an abstract and immaterial relation to the respective objects, which exists simultaneously, nevertheless and just for that reason alone. With this act of giving away the whole material contents of the objects (while at the same time – and as a condition - keeping a pure volitional relation to them) their social quality as revenue sources is executed.
With this lending-against-money act the property relation proves to be the specific form of possessing of the „valorisation of value“. Only in this abstract relation to the objects money, nature, man and the organised production process as elements of the capitalist exploitation process (as determined by Marx in The Capital III), a simple thing is the source of income, namely the source of interest, rent, wage or entrepreneurial profit.
When there is a concrete relation to the thing and its material use value, it is no income source at all for the human being practically handling it. Income (or revenue) source it is only for the subject, which is able to establish such kind of a permanent abstract relation to this thing, while other subjects are materially handling it.
The concrete manipulation of the thing by somebody different from the owner is a necessary condition for being and staying a revenue source for the owner. So the material non-use of the income source by the owner is the specific way of use of the income source as income source.
The inclusion of all nature and all labour products in the metabolism of the capital puts all these things and products into a property relation, with the result that all those things - and that means nearly all things - get the label and denomination of property.
1. Property is no historical coincidence nor a natural phenomenon, but also no consequence of the commodity. Generations of Marx readers took it for granted to find in the commodity and its determinations also the concept, necessity and even sufficient critique of property. And even bourgeois thinkers accept an affiliation of commodity with property, without feeling obliged to prove this on both sides in another way than just the practical and factual existence.
This assumption of a substantiating necessity of property by the commodity qua finding it at the
commodity is denied. The argument is as follows: such an abstract kind of having as property is generally regarded can not be concluded from the determination of the commodity itself. To have the commodity always concerns the item sold or bought in its materiality, because the use value as
well as the value as a social act exist in nothing else but in the commodity body.
2. Rather the necessity of property is proved in the processed valorisation of value, leading to the bourgeois income sources, thus to wage labour, too – contradicting Marxist imaginations. Wage labour is not the selling of labour as the term labour market may suggest, neither does a “selling of labour force”, as Marx formulates, match the real transaction. Materially there is no selling at all when wage labour is performed, but only the selling of a possibility. Wage labour can be fulfilled only as a lending procedure, but neither labour nor work itself is lent, but the whole human
being. This maybe startling statement is based on several arguments:
A temporary selling, as Marx conceived it, is nothing else but a strange and misleading term
for lending, since the content of such a transaction is nothing but hiring.
A selling of the labour force contains in itself no restriction: It may be the labour force at all and for lifetime, but also just for an hour or a day. On the other hand lending or hiring always contains a time dimension as well as a restriction on the use of the thing that is lent: its consumption is (principally) excluded.
The object involved in the lending procedure however has to become a different one, in order to bring the content of wage labour in accordance with this form of transaction, and thus maintain it. On the one hand it is the whole human being in its physical and mental totality that has to be lent. On the other hand there has to exist a solitary, conditional as well as absolute exception: An abstract kind of will has to be exempted from it. The human subject cannot stay the same integral one, an abstract volitional entity has to be created which assigns this human being to itself as an object being owned.
The systematization of Marx himself makes all (other) revenue sources evolve as revenue sources by the renting of a thing (and by this the selling of their forces). Just in the case of the object which the labourer transfers Marx makes an exception that cannot be understood.
3. Looking backward to Marx who shaped and established this misleading view, it can only be
understood with his choice of the architecture of The Capital, where beginning with the forms of wealth, commodity and money, he claims to deduce the capital as well as the involvement of labour in it. The alternatively presented explanation of property not only differs as far as the labour force transaction is concerned. But it also demands (but not yet fulfils) an inversion in the argumentative development of the bourgeois categories: The commodity ought to be shown as a consequence of capital.
Distortion of the bourgeois world by property: The fatal valorisation of value, which boundlessly and eternally transforms living work into dead capital, becomes a means desired by the human beings.
Value and its valorization are the objectification of the socially organized production condemning man to impotence.
In and through the property relation this alienating content metamorphoses into a pure subjectivity which is absolutely abstracted from society as well as from the human being and which is referring to its human existence and to things as pure objects.
The social incorporation of man into the valorization of value by the revenue sources then reveals itself totally different from what this kind of society is: as a direct and unconditional, and at the same time materially indifferent monopole of might over things, and explicitly not as a social but (just) as a private relation, even and especially when other people (have to) use these things.
The bourgeois revenue source contains a social production relation, but it appears as a mere object, a thing of nearly empty contents. As such an object it is and can be abstractly and exclusively assigned to the human individual. On the other hand by this property relation the socialisation of the bourgeois world emerges within the individual human being as a self-relation of man concentrated on the very will. And reciprocally his individuality in being an owner and therefore a person appears as a most general and therefore very poor subjectivity beyond all individuality, hence as a totally abstract and one-dimensional subject, which makes him no longer distinguishable from all other persons.
Just the unknown content of the capitalist economy, greed for more and more living work (which has to be known to have a free and therefore also rejecting approach to it), turns out as a matter of natural and individual will of almightiness, referring to mere objects.
Thus the fundamental social relation of production is reduced to be not more than just the reason behind the free and self-sufficient will. Against this plainly existing phenomenon its social foundation turns out to be merely fictional, it can be elaborated and evidenced only in a huge theoretical effort. It does not appear as what it nevertheless and even therefore is. And with justification the very substance of the bourgeois society cannot be assured by any immediately experienced reality. The essential concept of the bourgeois society appears like a pure
and arbitrary fantasy, an untenable and ideological assertion, conflicting with all practical facts.
Thus the possessing relation named property turns out not only as rather relative because always restricted in quantity and only appearing almighty. Fulfilling this volitional act means not only having no real means for one´s material well-being, it rather implies that a fateful (because not even noticed) duty has got the human subjects on a string.
Thus the effort of Marx to indicate this contortion of the true social content of bourgeois economy as Fetisch of the things, and so to find it experienceable in them, is relativised. His followers generally claim to have already sufficiently determined the will budget of the bourgeois human being by the quality of the categories of commodity and money. This concept is too simple: The will is not just negated but transformed by the bourgeois economy. Precisely because – according to Marx – this social content of “capital” (and with it money and commodity) exists as an unknown one, the volitional reference to it can appear only in such abstract form as property.
The misapprehension of the social content of the economic objects, as Marx explains them, consequently results in the nevertheless subjetively desired execution of the economic categories. Therefore all fanatics of property, as well as fatalists and automatists of capitalist development – may they be partisans or critics of capitalisms – are challenged in their mindless know-it-all manner.
Person is the mere proprietor abstracted from all human qualities. Person is therefore the realisation of the anonymous bourgeois socialisation inthe individual human being. In the person the not-being-subject of the bourgeois existence of man (i.e. being substantially the object of the economic principle of capitalist value-production) condenses just in an explicit non-object, namely a strikingly absolute, explicitly non-social subjectivity.
With wage labour relations - that means with the human being as an object of lending, and because of the property relation to this object, the subject of this and all other property relations of the bourgeois world becomes the abstract proprietor, purified from all materiality. The pure proprietor in absolute abstraction is found in the wage labourer, without any overlap with the (rest of) the human being of flesh and blood. It is a quite real contradiction, as a human being expressly and
necessarily, and also permanently, to be also an abstraction from himself in all his (further) peculiarity and variability in time. This abstraction is only achieved by the commonly established lending relation to man. The other lending relations of the bourgeois economy, which the money capitalists, land lords and entrepreneurs practise, do not result clearly and necessarily in the proprietor abstracted from (the rest of) man. Only an owner of a human being has to be an one-dimensional entity without any other quality. And only such an abstract proprietor (and thus identical with himself) can be a subject of different property relations, because he is already an abstract owner with abstraction from any concrete having. So the very same proprietor, as an abstraction from man and only because of this abstraction, can be the proprietor also of money and nature, and even the plain commodity. In contrast to popular, especially leftist ideas of the capitalist as the proprietor per se, the wage worker turns out not only to be one too, but to be explicitly the proprietor sans phrase, the prototype of all proprietors, the real abstract free will. So of all kinds of proprietors it is the wage worker who provides the only reasonable explanation of the person in the bourgeois society.
With the person the property relation frees itself from all natural objectivity, from the peculiarity and determination of the single human being, and even more, also from all material contents, even from the special revenue source which has economically originated it.
The plain assertion that the bourgeois person is a complementary and necessary part of the commodity world turns out to be vain. Even more the idea that being a person is a neutral to harmless, at any rate a general or even archaic human issue, is obsolete. With the person an elementary fixpoint of a volitional sphere of socialisation of its own is created, that has no more (any immediate) connection to the objectivity and generality of its essential valorisation of value, although and because it has its origin just there.
With this alternative logical explanation of property together with the new determination of the
transaction in wage labour an extension of bourgeois categories can be concluded: The determination of the bourgeois subjectivity, i.e. the bourgeois quality of today´s human subjectivity. Thus it is not only denied that capital is an automatism, a machine, with the human being just as a conscienceless appendage or fetishised puppet. The bourgeois human being is definitely not a character mask, even the wage labourer is identified as an active contributor to capital.
Not only a great stress is layed on the factuality of the will engaged, but also this special quality
of the will is identified which is necessary for the fulfilment of the valorisation of value, and which is practically built anew every day. The will abstracted from all objectivity - which qualifies the will
of the wage labourer – is the lowest common denominator for all bourgeois subjects (of revenue sources). The person is the very common abstract subjectivity, which all human beings of bourgeois society do not only claim for themselves, but which - beyond their individual will for it
- also is burdened on them and demanded from them by the state. As persons the bourgeois human beings do not aim at being acknowledged by others as whole entities including their complex human needs, they claim acceptance just within the legal system. This subjectivity as a human right is the precondition for them to pursue their material goals, and therefore it is the first, but a priori just an indirect means.
Competition of the bourgeois individuals and their state.
The person for itself and subjectively contains the will to be free itself.
Accepting to be a person as an end in itself and acting as proprietors its human carriers are able to deal freely with the objective means and to pursue their very own purposes. As such isolated, pretendedly undividable figures they strive for a good life, just for themselves.
With these decisions they not only get into a conflict within themselves. The relation among human beings therefore is essentially executed through legal objects, i.e. things related to an owner. So the human beings are not only strangers to each other, the underlying greed for more work makes them pursue their well-being against each other.
Free from any human bindings they are far away from respecting the other human beings even as persons. Even coalitions of such individuated subjects do not transcend the means they think to have in property, but they are just further realizations of property relations. Apart from this it may exist an eternal wish for humane closeness and love as idealistic yearning, because there remains a certain deficit in a well-being which is gained by property only.
For the pursuit of their individuated well-being in competition with all other subjects acting in the same way they are satisfied with the recognition of their abstract personhood. Just an over-mighty subject like the state which is far beyond their own material as well as property interests is able to guarantee this personhood materially in a purely legal sphere.
The bourgeois subjects want to be persons for themselves and create this personhood distinguished from a material self. To use this extract of society for this self, this imagination does often turn out to be an illusion in the course of life.
As these ambivalent subjects they pursue their individual well-being by practising their own
property relations, with just reluctant respect for other property, therefore competing each other.
This competition is just not processed through a direct denial of the other will, of the material interest or even the existence of the other individual. The subjects do not have any direct relation to each other as human beings, they get in contact through the things they own in an abstract and exclusive way. With the human beings with whome they transact goods they do not necessarily have relations to as beings of flesh and blood. They rather relate to each other in these transactions in a positive way, but just as pure owners, as abstract persons. Even with this recognition of the other human beings as persons all interest in this trading of things results in a harming indifference to the other human being.
Even when they are not trading goods, and they do not have any volitional relations to each
other, neither positive nor negative ones, even then they may heavily compete each other through
the existence of a third party offering the same goods.
For the extensive pursuit of their individuated interests they use to cooperate and form coalitions. Principally, intimately and integrally they do it in matrimony, family and friendship. Utilitarianly they cooperate in networks, by for example organizing bullying. Publicly they unite in unions and political parties through to nations. All those associations are no negation of competition, but just a relativisation and shift of these antagonisms, as they are useful just for a better positioning in competition.
Being free from any social commitments, for their well-being they prefer just to take what they need and perhaps have already got a grip on. Because they regularly and even necessarily do not gain their well-being within the system of property, this system has to be set against deviant wills by a mighty will as a not only theoretical right; an over-mighty will that at first does not want anything else but all the single proprietors: the state. This (furthermore surely arbitrary) will confirms in its laws all wills concerning property just principally – by acknowledging them as ones of persons. Therefore the right of any special property will is confirmed only exclusively.
The property relation is altogether fulfilled by the owners and their will, and just regulated by the law authority, however realized only through its materially enforced will. And thus nothing but the greed for more and more living work is established freely and willingly ...