By J. Sul
The main purpose of this article is to establish a concrete link between Althusser’s works (“On Ideology” and “What is a Mode of production?”) and historical materialism. To be precise, this work is a preliminary text that attempts to make use of Althusser’s concepts of ideology and subject when analyzing a change and a development in a social formation.
The obvious limitation and shortfall of this text is that, though it delineates the way one can understand Althusser’s concepts in light of historical materialism, it does not actually make use of it. This work does not employ Althusser’s concepts to analyze an actual historical development in a social formation. Rationale is that this article is not the conclusion that it supposes, but an introduction. The last conclusion can be written once this work acquires a firm basis on the proper critique of Althusser’s works.
Before we delve into a proper criticism on Althussers’ work, we need to face the nature of this kind of article, the article that takes a form of criticism and is written to provoke a constructive argument among the followers of an intellectual.
It is needless to say that criticisms of intellectual’s works, especially philosophical works, are generally convoluted and thus often seem as only written to show off one’s intellectual prowess.
To obviate such problems, prior to a proper criticism on Althussers’ work, a section called “On Mediation” will appear. It is a section prepared for readers to laconically follow the logic I will employ when criticizing Althussers’ definition of the relations of production and productive force. Also the text which will be criticized will be quoted to the extent that allows readers to read and comprehend it by themselves fully, hence the length of this article.
It is worth mentioning here that when readers carelessly skim through this article, they will conclude that this work is based on the similar political logic that Stalin and Stalinists have used, that of bestowing primacy on productive force (which Althussers criticized in Appendix 1 of Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus whose title is Primacy of the Relations of Production). Hence the obvious accusation that I am simply regurgitating what Stalin said. Nevertheless, when readers closely follow the logic of this article, they will realize that I am granting primacy to neither productive force nor the relations of production. This article delineates how those two concepts are inclusive to each other and also how they are junctured and related in the way they complement, develop, negate, and give arise to each other.
Bestowing primacy to either productive force or the relation of production, or to be concrete, the theoretical work of analyzing a dynamic historical development through the lens of contradiction between productive force and the relation of production, must be done under the pre-established, class conscious purpose of analyzing who among the masses is the revolutionary subject. This article will not grant any primacy to either productive force or the relations of production, for it does not presuppose the masses to begin the analysis with.
Before criticisms on Althusser’s works begins, I need to remind my readers that this work is not written to slain the reputation of Althusser, nor is it written to simply reject every concept formulated by him. This article is to further Althusser’s concept of the relations of production and productive force, so that we can make use of his concepts of ideology and subject appropriately when analyzing a change and a development in a social formation.
Throughout the text, readers will come across sentences like “the mode of labor ‘mediates’ the relationship between direct producers and the means of production”. Obviously, questions ensue: What is this mediation? How does this mediation work? Does it mean that the mode of labor is a link between direct producers and the means of production? If it is just a ‘link’ why not use that word, why bother with the word that has five more letters than ‘link’?
The word ‘mediation’ is used to reflect the structural and evolving reality which the word ‘link’ cannot correctly grasp. The word ‘link’ induces us to think that there is a line between A and B; the line connects A with B; thus, A and B are connected. However, we should always remind ourselves that the reality is not fixed in an isolated cube. It changes and develops. A becomes B; B becomes A. A seed becomes a tree. A tree becomes a seed. The word mediation is precisely used to capture the changes of reality through the relation that it posits to A and B, which the relation itself is posited by A and B.
Before I further my exposition on mediation, I need to introduce a concept that we all are familiar with, which is ‘particular’. For it is the particular that mediates and concretely express the movement of universal and individual as a process, thus representing the specific character of a system (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Science of Logics III. Korean. Byuck-Ho, 1997. 85 Print ).
Particular, not as in sole difference or specificity, is the concrete structure of universal and individual complementing each other through a unification process (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Science of Logics III. Korean. Byuck-Ho, 1997. 64 Print). Let us break down this philosophical jargon. Consider the following example:
The phenomenon of labor-time being exchanged with money (or any form of revenue) can happen in any kind of society where the circulation of money (or that of revenue) and the demand for man power exist. Wage-labor did exist in a pre-capitalistic social formation. However, doesn’t this fact challenge our notion that the distinctive characteristic which defines a social formation to be capitalistic is the existence of wage-labor? If some individuals were wage-laborers in pre-capitalistic era, doesn’t this fact counter our classic argument that capital presupposes wage-labor for the reproduction of its existence, or for the valorization of its value through the exploitation of wage-labor?
The individual incidents of labor-time being exchanged with money can happen in any kind of social formation under the stipulation that there is a circulation of money (or any form of revenue) and the demand for man power. If this incident, however, does not exist within the social and historical context upon which the capitalist system premises, or to be concrete, if this incident is not presupposed by 1.) the direct producers who are dispossessed of their own means of production (which commodifies human labor to labor-power) and 2.) by socialized organization of labor and 3.) by the predominant existence of vast amount of capital accumulated in the hands of a few capitalists 4.) by the presence of international/national market, it does not take its form as a particular that completes the general law of capital with the individual form of labor.
In other words, if the incident of an exchange between labor-time and money does not mediate the general law of capital (law of value, to be specific) with the individual phenomena of ‘wage-labor’ itself, wage-labor is not a particular in which the general law of capitalist system concretizes itself through an individual form of labor as a process. Hence, wage-labor, in pre-capitalistic society, no matter how dominant its presence was in number, does not specify the nature of a system as its particular.
Wage-labor becomes a particular in the social formation where the class relation between capital and labor is reproduced through the general reproduction process of capital itself. Wage-labor as a particular mediation accordingly expresses the structure of capitalist system: i.e. wage-labor, as a particular, is the systematic structure of how labor is commodified as labor-power, the economic structure that forces laborers to sell their labor-power to survive, and the historical structure that detached/detaches direct producers from their own means of subsistence.
In sum, particular is a unification process of universal with individual which expresses the structure of the object of the unification in which universal and individual complement each other (Lee Jin Kyung. Theory of Social Formation and Social Science. 142 pg. Green Be, 2010) . Accordingly, the specificity of a system can only be expressed as a process.
Let us clearly comprehend this concept in relation to our theoretical work: what does it mean to say that the mode of labor mediates the relationship established between the means of production and direct producers?
It means that the mode of labor, which is objectively conditioned by the nature of the means of production (its physical, social, and historical nature) and the relations of production, forms the process in which the opposite two, the means of labor and direct producers, complement each other: the mode of labor is the way how specific form of production is organized in a social formation. It represents the specificity of production in a social formation. It is the way how producers make relation to the means of production, and, as Althusser often notes, how productive force “go”.
Nevertheless, note well that the mode of labor is not some static or quarantined thing circumscribed by the relationship established between direct producers and the means of production. As much as the mode of labor unifies direct producers with the means of production and makes production ‘go’, it also mediates changes in the means of production (e.g. technological innovation, economic use of the means of production, and etc.) and the organizations of direct producers. In other words, if there is a change in the nature of the means of production and/or if the direct producers are organized in a different manner due to political/economic reason (meaning, if the relations of production change), such as collectivization in Russia and China did during their revolutionary time, the mode of labor will change in the way that it do-away the old, archaic form of production and will progresses towards new, advanced form of production. Hence, particular, or the mode of labor in production, unifies two opposites through a process while entailing the high potentiality of changes in relation to the two independent opposites: the means of production and the organization of direct producers (Lee Jin Kyung. Theory of Social Formation and Social Science. Green Be, 146 2010.).
On “What is a Mode of Production”:
The current section of the article is organized in a quite peculiar way. The text of Althusser will be stated first with numbers and the criticism of the said text will be followed with alphabets. This rather odd way of organization is to limit criticism to a specific text of Althusser’s work so that readers can easily follow the line of logic employed in the criticism.
The obvious shortfall of this form of criticism is that it partializes certain texts from its volume and portrays them as if those specific texts wholly represent the entire idea of the writer. To obviate this problem, after critiquing Althussers’ specific text in a very condensed way, a general outline of Althusser’s text will appear that carefully states the position of Althusser. More detailed criticisms of the quoted text will follow, accordingly.
Althusser wrote in “What is a Mode of Production” as follows :
1.) The relations of production radically determine all the seemingly ‘technical’ relations of the division and organization of labor (What Is a Mode of Production?, IV The Social Division of Labour Is the Reaility Behind The ‘Technical’ Division of Labour: Production, Exploitation and The Class Struggle in Production. Pg.34)
2.) By virtue of what we have said so far, since the relations of production are relations of capitalist exploitation, the relations of capitalist exploitation radically determine, not in general and indistinctly, but in specific forms, all the apparently, ‘technical’ relation that come in to play in material production itself. (What is a Mode of Production?, IV The Social Division of Labour Is the Reaility Behind The ‘Technical’ Division of Labour: Production, Exploitation and The Class Struggle in Production. Pg.34)
3.) In other words, the relations of exploitation are not just expressed in terms of the exhortation of surplus value, which is consecrated by wages and all the effects of the market economy. Exploitation has its primacy effect in wages, but it has other specific effects in the practice of production itself, in the guise of the division of labor.(What is a Mode of Production?, IV The Social Division of Labour Is the Reaility Behind The ‘Technical’ Division of Labour: Production, Exploitation and The Class Struggle in Production. Pg.34)
In other words, the relations of production have their material basis on the exhortation of wages and hide the class relation innate to the social division of labor with “pure” technical division of labor in a capitalistic social formation.
Hence the capitalist’s reasoning: “organization and management of labor are surely needed to ensure production; that therefore be ‘manual workers’ and ‘intellectual workers’, and thus workers and diversely qualified technicians on the one hand and, on the other, the whole hierarchy of managers, administrators, engineers, upper-level technicians, supervisors, and so on. These are blindingly self-evident truths.” (What IS a Mode of Production?, IV The Social Division of Labour Is the Reaility Behind The ‘Technical’ Division of Labour: Production, Exploitation and The Class Struggle in Production. Pg.35)
Let us read further:
4.) Every process of production entails the existence of several labour process and thus of a set number of posts for qualified labour, including the posts required to organize, coordinate and manage that process of production. In the final analysis, the state of development of the means of production, first and foremost the technological unity object of labor/instruments of labour, commands the way these posts are defined. (IV The Social Division of Labour Is the Reaility Behind The ‘Technical’ Division of Labour: Production, Exploitation and The Class Struggle in Production. Pg.36)
On the point 1~3
- “The relations of production define all the seemingly technical relations of the division of labor and organization of labor.”
If the technical relation of division of labor and organization of labor means the relation established prior to the relations of exploitation (which is equal to the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, according to Althusser), no criticism can be formulated. For the following reason: the technical relation of labor, which Althusser considers as a guise of the social division of labor, is not defined by the relations of exploitation. It is defined by the specific social organization of labor, or mode of labor, which results from the specific relation that workers establishes with the means of production that is innate with its own physical, social, and historical attributes. In other words, the technical relations of the division of labor and organization of labor are defined by productive force, not by the relations of exploitation.
On the one hand the “seemingly” technical relation of labor, which Althusser recounts as the veil of the social division of labor, is reproduced by the relations of exploitation; on the other, the actual technical relation of labor is defined by the specific mode of labor (this will be discussed shortly).
B.) “In the final analysis, the state of development of the means of production, first and foremost the technological unity object of labor/instruments of labor, commands the way these posts are defined.”
This statement begs us to ask the following questions: What kind of technological unity? How does this unity work?
We are going to assume that Althusser meant the unity between the object of labor/instruments labor with labor-power, for that is what he stated when he defined productive force (pg.25). I am going to exclude the possibility that he actually meant the total amount of physical force exerted by the physical elements of productive force, for this possibility opens up another dimension of criticism which derails the current point of criticism.
Unity between the objects/instruments of labor with labor-power. Unity between the means of production and direct producers. How is this unity established? A few factors come into play. First is the mode of labor and second is the relation of production.
A.) The social and historical nature of the means of production which conditions the way how labor is organized provides the agent of unity: mode of labor. Nevertheless, this does not mean that a steam engine machine gives arise to the social division of labor that is specific to a capitalist social formation, nor a stone axe to the mode of labor that is specific to a communal slavery social formation. The means of production, or to be specific, the physical element of the means of production, does not define the nature of a mode of labor that is proper to its social formation. The means of production simply provides a primary, objective condition of how social labor can be organized.
B.) Political action that bases its functioning on the relation of production affects the way how social labor is organized. In this case, the means of production do not have to be changed or developed for there to exist a new mode of labor. To see it in a different angle, productive force is not just an added up amalgamation of labor-power with the means production. Rather, it is an unification between the means of production and direct producers mediated by the specific mode of labor, whose objective condition is predicated by the social characteristic of the means of production and also the relations of production that arise from the ownership of the means of production (which pre-condition the relation between exploited and exploiters).
In sum, the technological unity mediated by a specific mode of labor defines the posts of social division of labor, and the relations of production reproduce the social division of labor.
At this point of article, some readers may have realized that I am not following the same definition of the relations of production which Althusser uses.
Althusser defines the relations of production as:
“[…] relations of a very special kind between (in classless societies) the agents of production, when all the members of a social formation are agents of production, or between (in class societies) the agents of production on the one hand and, on the other, personages who are not agents of production, although they intervene in production.
These personages hold [détiennent] the means of production and appropriate a share of the products of the labour of the agents of production without providing anything in ‘return’: they appropriate a share of surplus labour. Thus they may, so to speak, be found at both ‘ends’ of the productive process, since they own [détiennent] the means of production before the process of production and, after it, appropriate its product, conceding only a share of it to the agents of production so that the latter may live and reproduce. They keep the remainder (in the capitalist regime, surplus-value) for themselves.
Thus we can, at the point we have now reached, define the relations of production in class societies as relations of the one-sided distribution of the means of production between those holding them and those without them. We can add that this distribution of the means of production determines the distribution of the goods produced. (pg.27)”
Correct statements. The relations of production in a capitalist social formation are the relations between the exploited who do not own the means of production and the exploiters who own the means of production. The form of appropriation specific to a social formation is determined by the relations of production. Nothing is incorrect about Althussers’ definitions of the relations of production.
Nevertheless, no matter how correct those statements are, by defining the relations of production as the relations that exist only within the realm of “the relations of production”, Althusser condones the reality of how the relations of production concretely function and exist in a social formation and, more importantly, how it influences and figures into one of the most important elements in productive force, that being the mode of labor.
Althusser recounts the relations of production as the relations of exploitation in a capitalistic social formation, which is a correct statement. He accordingly furthers his logic about how these relations are exploitative. In his exposition of the relations of production being exploitative, he suggests that the posts and hierarchy innate to capitalistic production are defined by the relations of production. However, as we note earlier, the posts and division of labor are not defined by the relations of production. The posts and the ‘technical division of labor’ are reproduced by the relations of production. The posts and the hierarchy innate to production is determined by the specific relationship that direct producers establishes with the means of production through the mediation of the mode of labor.
Objection ensues: If the relations of production in capitalist social formation are not solely the relations of exploitation, then what are they?
The relations of production in capitalist social formation DO have the nature of exploitation. I do not object to the content of the definition. However, this formalized definition, that the relations of production are equal to the relations of exploitation, on whatever correct theoretical subset be it based, does not capture the relation that productive force makes with the relations of production, thus condoning the contradiction between the two while isolating the relations of production within its own pseudo idealistic realm.
Consider the following example. I will employ Althusser’s definition of the relations of production to analyze changes in the production process of S.Korea SsangYoung vehicle manufacturing industry to expose its theoretical shortfall.
S.korea ruling class is planning to replace the wage system based on salary class to annual salary system (Accepting The Fauilre of Annual Salary System, Media Today, 2014). This is another way of saying it does not matter how long a worker has worked in a factory, for her wages is going to be determined by her work productivity, not by the time she spent in the factory.
In relation to this new wage system, SsangYoung capitalists are planning to implement the HIVES system in their factory. This system directly assess produced products and pinpoints the organization of laborer that produced malformed products.
This new implementation of labor governing method and new form of wage system will result in increasing competition between not only different sectors of workers in the factory, but also between individual workers themselves, for their wages is dependent on individual productivity. Accordingly, through this new labor governing method and wage system, SsangYoung capitalists achieve two goals: 1.) Increase in productivity. 2.) Decrease in the power of labor union for workers will consider their colleague as a hurdle to jump over, as a competitor, not as a comrade.
When we employ Althussers’ concept of the relations of production, we can formulate the following position: SsangYoung workers will be exploited more than before, for the new labor governing method and wage system lionize the role of competition between workers. Accordingly, the workers who used their union as the only means to resist capitalists’ rule over production will eventually run out of its militant workers. Hence, the labor union will be nothing but a mediator between workers and capitalists.
Correct. The new wage system and the HIVES will result in increasing exploitation and competition among workers. This will influence the political strength of labor union.
We should, however, acknowledge the fact that the name of a certain policy cannot change anything. The name “HIVES” and “annual salary system” do not increase productivity. The way how the new labor governing method boosts productivity and the way in which the new wage system provokes competition between workers are of the real production process.
If such is the case, then we should ask the following question: “How” do the HIVES and the new wage system increase productivity and competition between workers?” One may simply answer, referring to what was written above: “the new labor governing method increases productivity by directly assessing produced goods and also competition between workers by making their wages dependent on other worker’s productivity.”
We could be content with such an answer, if were to completely abort the concept of productive force and the relations of production.
Let me refine the question we should ask to properly delineate the changes in production process: Under what kind of specific production relation between laborers and capitalists do the HIVES and the new annual salary system affect the production?
To analyze a change in production, we need more than “the relations of production in capitalist social formation are the relations of exploitation”. Some may argue that Althusser’s definition of the relations of production are purely descriptive and assert that it mainly focuses on the way how they are related with formulating the posts of social division of labor, which creates concrete individual to be interpellated by ideology. Granted, let us then be sufficed with the following stance: SsangYong workers will be exploited more than before because of the new labor technique and wage system SsangYoung capitalist will use.
Or should we be?
The posts of social division of labor in production, which produces concrete individual to be interpellated by the ideology of capitalists in factory as a worker, do change when the way how production ‘go’ changes. To speak on the side of Althusser, the posts are going to be changed when the organization of labor and wage system change: the concrete individuals that are interpellated will accordingly be changed. If we do not capture this change, if we are content with the fact that individuals are interpellated just as exploited subject, wage-laborers, during production, we cannot capture any division within the working class (which, in South Korea took a form of division of the working class between precarious workers and regular workers), who among them is the most exploited, and who among them is the potential revolutionary subject. This, we must not allow.
The relations of production being the relations of exploitation in a capitalistic social formation is a true statement. It can be supported by countless texts written by Marx. However, we need to delicately further this definition. If we, as revolutionary Marxists, care about ‘who’ among the masses is the motor of historical advancement and if we were to capture changes in the base in relation to the contradiction between productive force and the relations of production, we must further Althusser’s definition of the relations of production.
Then what do I propose instead of Althusser’s definition of the relations of production?
Let me lay my cards on the table.
The relation of production is the relation between exploiters and exploited mediated by the ownership of the means of production (this takes a form of property ownership which figures into one of the most important elements in productive force as a mode of labor) and produced goods (this takes a form of appropriation).
Objections. Althussers specifically stated that the relations of production are not simply a legal matter. He wrote: “We may be tempted to think: Granted, there are people who hold the means of production and others without them. It is all a question of ‘property’. So what? What does that change as far as the labour process, for example steel-making, is concerned and, generally speaking, as far as the mobilization of the productive forces is concerned? we have been told that the personages who hold the means of production and who appropriate surplus labour are, ‘so to speak’, at both ends of the process: before and after. But then process of production remains what it is: mobilization of the productive forces, full stop. Our ‘economists’ will once again conclude: ‘process of production’ = the reign of technology, relegating all that business about the ownership of this or that to the level of secondary considerations. (pg.27)”
Let us read further.
Althusser notes: “as everyone knows, real ‘production’ cannot take place unless the means of production (which do not ‘work’ all by themselves) are set into relation with—and set work by—labour-power, that is, waged workers. But this act of brining wage-workers into relation with means of production belonging not to them, but to the capitalist ownership of those means of production—the act thanks to which material production can proceed—takes place, precisely, in a capitalist regime, and only within relations of control of the means of production in the one case and, in the other, non-control of the same means of production (those who have no means of production at their disposal have nothing but their individual labour-power). These relations automatically convert capitalist relations of production into relations of exploitation.”
Let us recap this. The relations of production are not simply a legal matter, for legality functions, not in production, but before and after the production. Workers establish a relation to the means of production and start working once their labor-power is sold to capitalist. This establishment of the relations of production accordingly is possible due to the material condition of capitalist owning the means of production.
Althusser obviously realizes the fact that the relations of production, specifically, in this case, the establishment of the relation between direct producers and the means of production, are the work of capitalist who ‘own’ the means of production (i.e. capitalist summon workers to the production site). Althusser realizes the fact that there can be no production without establishing that relation. However, he condones the reality that production does not just ‘go’ because a wage-laborer operates a machine or a tool.
The social organization of labor (and the social division of labor that follows), which functions in production and is conditioned not only by the “in” of production (by that I meant a production process, or to be precise, the social characteristic of the means of production) but also by “out” of the production (the property ownership of the means of production which conditions how social labor is organized), makes production ‘go’.
The social organization of labor is one of the most imperative elements in productive force. The organization of labor is conditioned by not only the social, physical, and historical nature of the means of production but also by the property ownership of the means of production.
Let us delineate these two aspects of social organization of labor, or mode of labor, separately.
In German Ideology Marx wrote: “The various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many different forms of ownership, i.e. the existing stage in the division of labour determines also the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument, and product of labour. (German Ideology. Production and Intercourse.)
Different forms of ownership arise from various stages of the division of labor. The way in which the capitalist hold the means of production in their possession is counter posed by the social organization of labor that is proper to the capitalist social formation. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the organization of labor proper to capitalist social formation automatically gives arise to the capitalist form of ownership. As much as the social organization of labor predicates the relation between the ones who own the means of production and the ones who do not, it is also determined by the relation that it gave birth to. As Althusser notes, capitalist do indeed buy the labor-power of workers and summon them to the production site. This process, the relation between the exploited and the exploiter, keeps the social organization of labor going.
So, the mode of labor predicates and mediates the relation between the exploited and the exploiters through the property ownership of the means of production, which itself gave arise to.
Questions ensue: Then what is this “mode of labor” in reality? How does it work? How does it “condition” and “mediate” the capitalist relation of production? And if, as you wrote, this mode of labor figures into one of the most imperative elements of productive force, how does it do so?
Let us read Marx’s exposition on the mode of labor and the way how it figures into productive force:
“Even without an alteration in the method of work, the simultaneous employment of a large number of workers produces a revolution in the objective conditions of the labour process” (increase in the number of workers substantially change the objective condition of the labour process)
Whether the combined working day, in a given case, acquires this increased productivity because it heightens the mechanical force of labor, or extends its sphere of action over a greater space, or contracts the field of production relatively to the scale of production, or at the critical moment sets larger masses of labour to work, or excites rivalry between individuals and raises their animal spirits, or impresses on the similar operations carried on by a number of men the stamp of continuity and many sidedness, or performs different operations simultaneously, or economizes the means of production by use in common, or lends to individual labour the character of average social labour—whichever of these is the cause of the increase, the special productive power of the combined working day is, under all circumstances, the social productive power of labour, or the productive power of social labour. This power arises from co-operation itself. (Marx I, 1986,446) ”
With the efficiency and the productive power innate to the social labor in mind, capitalists buy the labor-power of workers.
Indeed, as Althusser recounts, capitalists buy the labor power of individual workers and workers go to a factory and work there, but this process of buying labor-power and summoning workers to the production site does not establish a relation between the laborers and the means of production. Nor does it create the mode of labor that is specific to a capitalistic social formation. Buying the labour-power of workers and summoning them to the production site occur on the basis that there is an already pre-existing mode of labor. The mode of labor is what establishes the relation between direct producers and the means of production, not buying the labor-power of workers and making them as the appendages of machines. This occurs after the property ownership of the means of production is established.
The relationship between direct producers and the means of production is established through the mediation of already-existing social organization of labor. As soon as workers work under the limit circumscribed by the mode of labor, the production ‘go’: direct producers establish a relation with the means of production through a specific mode of labor.
At this point of article, one may argue: Fine. The mode of labor which predicates and mediates the relation between the exploiters and exploited through property ownership plays an imperative role in production. Yet, if, as you said in “On Mediation” section, the mode of labor exists not just as a link, but as a particular, then “how” does it exist in relation to the means of production? Meaning, if the mode of labor is a significant element in productive force, then through what kind of process does it mediate the changes in the means of production to the social organization of labor?
To answer this question properly, we should first understand what “labor” is and develop our argument into defining productive force which includes the mode of labor in its element.
Marx notes in Capital that labor is the relation between human and nature:
“Labor is first a process between man and nature, a process by which man mediates, regulates, and controls his metabolism with nature through his own actions. He confronts the natural materials as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces that belong to his own body, his arms and legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the natural materials in a from useful for his own life. While acting upon external nature and changing it, he also changes his own nature.” (Marx I, 1986, 283).
Accordingly, this labor process consists of the following three elements: (1) purposeful activity, that is work itself, (2) the object on which that work is performed, and (3) the instruments of that work (Marx I, 1986, 284). Hence, productive force is the force used by humans to modify nature in a form useful for their own life. Under this stipulation, productive force can be defined as the relation between the means of production (objects of labor and the means of labor) and producers and their labor, in which humans shape their living according to the relation established between humans and nature where the means of production figures as a mediator.
This definition of productive force, relationship between direct producers and the means of production, is opposite to the one that states productive force is just a sum of some material elements used in production (such as tools and/or machines). The definition of productive force which reduces the relation between the means of production and producers to the sum of material elements forgoes the true nature of one of productive force’s constituents: the means of labor. The means of labor, so long as they provide an objective condition of labor, are innate with their own social nature.
Marx writes in capital as follows after explaining the means of production’s role in economizing its use in production when consumed collectively : “Moreover, this character of necessary conditions of social labor, a character that distinguishes them from the dispersed and relatively more costly means of production of isolated, independent workers or small masters, is maintained even when the numerous workers assembled together do not assist each other but merely work side by side. A portion of the instruments of labour acquire this social character before the labour process itself does so.”
A portion of the means of production acquire a social nature through the relation that it posits with its use during production, even prior to the labour process itself. Meaning, how the means of production are used in society defines the nature of the means of production and predicates the objective condition of labor. Hence, the means of labor, as a part of productive force, when understood as a part of exerting material force during production, not through the historical and sociological relation it establishes with producers, cannot be correctly comprehended. Marx expresses this notion in Capital: “It is true, every machine is a combination of those simple powers, no matter how they may be disguised. From the economic standpoint however this explanation is useless, because it lacks the historical element.” (Marx I, 1986, 493)
So the fundamental, or the most basic condition that predicates the mode of labor is the objective condition of production. In other words, the means of production, or to be precise, the physical, social, and historical nature of the means of production, condition how labor is organized. This mode of labor accordingly predicates and mediates the relation between the exploiters and the exploited through property ownership of the means of production.
Let us recap.
We can define productive force as the relationship established between direct producers and the means of production which operates under the mode of labor that is objectively conditioned by the social, physical, and historical nature of the means of production; and the relations of production as the relation between the exploited and the exploiters mediated by the mode of labor which gave arise to the property ownership of the means of production; and the mode of labor as the specific social organization of labor that is objectively conditioned by the social/historical nature of the means of production and the relations of production which itself gave arise to.
Under this definition, we can finally be away from the formalized understanding of the relations of production being the relations of exploitation and utilize this concept to concretely analyze changes in the reality.
Let us go back to the Ssang Young factory example. Capitalist changed the wages system to annual salary system and are going to employ HIVES labor governing method.
The wage system, which specifically represents the relationship between laborers and capitalists (keep in mind that the wage of worker is not simply defined by the value of the means of subsistence workers require to reproduce their living existence but also by the class struggle) is going to provoke competition among workers themselves, for their wages is going to be determined by their productivity.
The new labor governing method, HIVES, which directly asses malformed commodities intensify the workload of workers during production and pressure them to work for the different sectors of the factory while, at its base, lies a severe competition between those sectors.
In both case, productivity will increase in direct proportion to competition. As the relationship established between laborers and capitalists change in favor of the latter, the relationship between direct producers and the means of production (i.e. productive force) change in the way that realizes and complements the relationship established between laborers and capitalists: the relations of production and productive force complement each other in production. If one disintegrates from the other, let us say that direct producers decided to hold a strike and closed down the factory (disintegration of the established relationship between direct producers and the means of production), so if productive force is not in accordance with its relations of production, the relations of production will operate in the way that can resume the production, i.e. capitalists class will impose ruthless violence on those workers who are on strike.
If the relations of production established between laborers and capitalist do not procure enough profit in a given business period, meaning, if the HIVES and the new wage system are deemed ineffective at increasing the profit rate of the capital owned by SsangYoung capitalists, they will change the way how social labor is organized (note that the capitalist class of S.Korea already replaced the half of the working class with precarious workers after the financial crisis occurred in 1997), replace machines with innovated ones (or shut down and sell old machines), and etc.
This may seem as the relations of production, the relationship established between laborers and capitalists, play a dominant role in the base. Nevertheless, note well that this dominant characteristic of the relations of production do not exist because the relations of production are the relations of exploitative. It can play a dominant (not primary) role in production (and in the base) because it figures into as one of most important elements in productive force.
Without a concrete understanding on the mediation of the mode of labor, no matter how much we assert and think that the contradiction between productive force and the relations of production advances history, the concepts of the relations of production and productive force become nothing but a ghost like entity that is only used to pompously define our political subject.
Before we proceed into the criticism of “On Ideology” by Althusser, let me summarize what we have discussed so far.
There are two things to note.
First: the way how laborers produce, the way how laborers are organized in a factory, and the way in which laborers establish a relation not only to the means of production but also to themselves affect productive force. In other words, the relation of production that determines the mode of labor according to the physical and historical characteristics of the means of production affects productive force as its constitutive element. The relations of production are not exclusive to productive force. Nor is it simply limited by productive force.
Second: on a more superficial level (superficial as in outer and upper, not less important or fake), the way how workers form a relation with each other, which figures into the relations of production, directly affects their identity and political power in their work place. The more the workers compete against each other, the more the workers are subjugated by the productivity of other workers, the harder for them to see their colleagues as comrade Kim, Choi, or Lee, but as a competitor Kim, Choi, or Lee.
This section of article is organized in a very similar way the previous sections is organized. Althusser’s texts will be stated first with numbers; nevertheless, remarks (not criticisms) on the stated text will appear
1.) As a first formulation, I would suggest: all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, through the function of the category of the subject. This proposition implies that we should distinguish, for the moment, between concrete individuals on the one hand and concrete subjects on the other, although at this level, there is no concrete subject that does not have a concrete individual as its support. We shall go on to suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way as to ‘recruit’ subjects among individuals (it recruits them all) or ‘transforms’ individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) through the very precise operation that we call interpellation or hailing (On Ideology, VI Ideology Interpellates Individuals As Subjects. Pg 190).
2.) A positive sense, if it is true that a peculiar feature of ideology is that it is endowed with a structure and function such as to make it a non-historical—that is omni-historical—reality, in the sense that this structure and functions are, in one and the same form, immutable, present throughout what is called history, in the sense in which the Manifesto defines history as the history of class struggle, that is, the history of class societies. So that readers are not unsettled by this proposition, which will doubtless bring them up short, I would say, returning to my example of the dream one more time, this time in its Freudian conception, that our proposition that ideology has no history can and must (in a way that has absolutely nothing arbitrary about it, but, quite the opposite, is theoretically necessary, since there is an organic link between the two propositions) be directly correlated with Freud’s proposition that the unconscious is eternal, in other words, has no history (On Ideology, II. Ideology Has No history, Pg.175)
3.) Thus ideology hails or interpellates individuals as subjects. Since ideology is eternal, we must now suppress the temporal form in which we have represented the functioning of ideology and say: ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects, which amounts to making it clear that individuals are always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects. This ineluctably leads us to one last proposition: individuals are always-already subjects. Hence, individuals are ‘abstract’ with respect to the subjects they always are (On Ideology, VI. Ideology Interpellates Individuals As Subjects, Pg.192).
Let us be as imaginative as Althusser when he was carefully explaining the function of Ideology in general and make it hail the current working class of S.Korea:
When the State Ideology calls or hails the working class of S.Korea, the already divided working class answers it.
Regular workers say: Yes, I am here for 8 hrs a day. Yes, I am a worker who has the rights to organize a union. Precarious workers say: Yes, I am here whenever the capitalists need me. Yes, I am a worker who does not have the rights to organize a union.
Let us note here that State Ideology itself cannot divide the working class. The way how State Ideology realizes itself in its organizations and practices therein divides the working class. To be specific, the ideology of the bougeoise realized through economic and political structure of the state by the practice of its underdog divides the working class.
With this in mind, let me put forward the following remarks:
First remark: Interpellation does not change the social reality in which the called-upon-individuals are living. Interpellation calls the ones who are already making a relation to the concrete social reality, or to the relations of production.
Second remark: Ideology in general interpellates a concrete individual into a subject; it recruits concrete individuals; it transforms a concrete individual into a subject. If it is such a case that a concrete individual is always-already a subject, for ideology in general is omni-hisotrical, the following thesis can be put forward: the conditions that produce a concrete individual, in essence the concrete social reality, is the precondition of every interpellation; hence, the social conditions of producing and reproducing the concrete characteristic of an individual is, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, omni-historical, just as Ideology in general is. This will be fully discussed in the “On Second Remark” section of this article.
Third remark: the social condition of producing and reproducing a concrete individual is the structural process in which humans produce and reproduce their living existence: the relation of production, or the relation between the exploited and exploiters, which is mediated by the ownership of means of production (this takes a form of property ownership which figures into one of the most important elements in productive force: the mode of labor) and produced goods (this takes a form of appropriation), is the conditions of producing and reproducing a concrete individual.
Fourth remark: interpellation at its most general sense– ideology in general calling out a concrete individual– is maintained by the reproduction of human’s living existence.
Fifth remark: the role of Ideological State Apparatuses, reproduction of the relations of production, and the way how Ideology makes everything ‘go’, are only possible when the base produces a concrete individual that can be called/interplleated by Ideology. The reproduction of the relations of production, the role of ISAs, and the function of the State Ideology are dependent upon the reproduction of the base. Hence, we can conclude that the reproduction of the base is the motor of every ISAs.
Sixth remark: the reproduction of the relations of production is not solely the work of Ideology (yes, making people sit and work in a defined post is the work of ideology—this, nevertheless, isn’t the relations of production. Relations of production is not equal to the relations of exploitation). The reproduction of the relations of production, that being creating a concrete individual to be interpellated, or a latent subject, I would say, is the work of base where the social relation between laborers and non-laborers is mediated by the means of production and the organic composition of mode of labor.
On the Second Remark.
What does it mean to say that the relations of production are omni-historical? Or, to be specific, what does it mean to say that the relations of production are as omni-hisotircal as Ideology in general?
Althusser notes that every specific ideology has its own history: “In the second volume of the present work, I shall attempt to sketch a theory of ideologies in the two respects just indicated. It will then appear that a theory of ideologies depends, in the last resort, in the history of social formations, hence of modes of production combined in social formations and the class struggles that develop in them. In that sense, there can plainly be no question of a theory of ideologies in general, since ideologies (defined in the two ways indicated above, with respect to region and class) do have a history, whose determination in the last instance obviously lies outside them, although it concerns them.”
Ideologies are innate with distinctive historical characteristic and bound to historically existing social formation. Nevertheless, Ideology in general, Althusser wrote, does not have a history:
“My thesis, although it repeats, formally speaking, The German Ideology’ term (ideology has no history), differs radically from The German Ideology’s positivist-historicist thesis. For, first, I think I can affirm that ideologies have a history of their own (although it is determined in the last instance by the class struggle in the apparatuses that reproduce the relations of production). Second, I think I can simultaneously affirm that ideology in general has no history, not in a negative sense (its history lies outside it), but in an absolutely positive sense. A positivist sense, if it is true that a peculiar feature of ideology is that it is endowed with a structure and function such as to make it a non-historical—that is, an omni-historical—reality, in the sense that this structure and functioning are, in one and the same form, immutable, present throughout what is called history, in the sense in which the Manifesto defines history as the history of class struggle, that is, the history of class societies.”
Ideology is endowed with a structure and function that makes it a non-historical reality, in the sense that this structure and function are in one and the same form, immutable, present thorough history. In other words, the function and the structure of Ideology make ideology in general as an omni-historical reality. This function and structure of ideology is, accordingly, the interpellation of a concrete individual into a subject through the state appratues (let them be church, school, police station, administrative system, and etc.) in which the State Ideology is realized.
If it is such a case that Ideology becomes omni-hisotrical due to its functioning and structure that is one and the same form, immutable, present through what is called history, the basis of the functioning of ideology and its structure, that being the relations of production, is as omni-historical as Ideology, in the sense that it reproduces and produces a concrete individual to be ineterpllated. Nevertheless, we are all very aware of the fact that the relations of production do not take the same form, nor is it immutable. The relations of production have taken various form throughout history.
This is the point where we need to detach ourselves from the definition of the relations of production proposed by Althusser and further it to the one we defined, not to reject his concept of Ideology and interpellation, but to concretely affirm it. The relations of exploitation are not the relations of production, whether it exists in a class-existing social formation or not. The relations of production are not only the relations between the exploited and exploiters, but also between exploited-exploited (this relationship takes its form as the mode of labor in production), exploited-the means of production (takes its form as productive force), exploited- produced goods- exploiters (takes its form as a specific form of appropriation in society), producers – the means of production- nature (takes its form as the basis of every human’s living existence: labor).
The relations of exploitation are not omni-historical. The relation between the exploited and the exploiters do not take the same form that is immutable through history. The relation of production, nevertheless, which is not excluded from productive force and which not only entails the relationship between the exploited and exploiters but also the relation established between exploited, the means of production, and the nature is omni-historical in the sense that it is the supposed conditions of human’s living existence through history that is one and immutable: labor.
Hence, with more assurance, we can put forward the following thesis: the role of Ideological State Apparatus, the reproduction of the relations of exploitation, is propelled by productive force which produces and reproduces a concrete individual to be interpellated by Ideology.
We have discussed Althusser’s work, On Ideology and What Is A Mode of Production, in light of historical materialism. I have criticized Althusser’s work so that we can employ his concepts of ideology and subject when we analyze a change (specifically in production) in a social formation.
One may argue that this try of connecting Althusser’s works with historical materialism is useless, for Althusser himself rejected the notion of historical materialism in his later work. Others may say I am trying to fill the gap which Althusser intentionally left behind.
Granted. We can leave Althusser’s works interred. We can bury it and call it a work of revisionist. We can dismiss every work of Althusser on the basis of his reputation. Or, the opposite thing that we can do, though in essence it is the same as rejecting his works, is to simply regurgitate whatever said by Althusser (this requires a religious faith).
Either way we are burying Althusser in the ground of revisionism and dogmatism.
Let us push the limit imposed on Althusser’s works, whether it be imposed by him or his opponents. Let us push it to the point where it no longer defines the identity of Althusser. Let us bring a havoc by keep trying to connect Althusser theory with historical materialism. I believe only this havoc can prevent Althusser from rotting in the minds of Marxists.
Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Science of Logics III. Korean. Byuck-Ho, 1997 print.
Karl Marx. Capital 1 Vol. (London): Penguin, 1986. Print.
Karl Marx. German Ideology. Marxists Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 April. 2015.
Kim, Byung Cheol. “Accepting The Failure of Annual Salary System.” Media Today. N.p., 05 Apr. 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2015.
Lee Jin Kyung. Theory of Social Formation and Social Science. Green Be, 2010
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