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REXROTH, Kenneth. "Marx, The Communist Manifesto"

Sunday 19 August 2007, by ps

It is impossible to understand the literature of the capitalist epoch without understanding the alienation that is characteristic of it and is shared by all its major writers. Marx, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoievsky deal most explicitly with the alienation that finds symbolic expression in Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé Stendhal, Flaubert, Henry James.

The young Marx started with the assumption that all labor is alienated and that genuine self-activity liberated by revolution would be a manifold aesthetic creativity surpassing ultimately for each and every man that of the greatest artists.

On the eve of the 1848 revolutions he dropped the term, because of its Hegelian metaphysical connections. From the cash-nexus passage of The Communist Manifesto onward, alienation is identified with commodity production for the competitive market and with the moral consequences of the industrial process under capitalism, but the term itself is abandoned.

Marx’s revolution is a vision of the transformation of a metaphysical quality of the abstraction “Man.” Man the hypostasis, never each separate unique human individual, will cease to be self-alienated and become divinized in a great apocalypse in which the contradictions between all the antitheses — essence and existence, act and knowledge, form and content, being and becoming — will be consumed in a great synthesis.

The forces of classical economics are turned into the figures of Classical tragedy and the great beasts of the Hebraic visions of the end of history. The dry abstractions of “the dismal science” — constant and variable capital, labor power, surplus value, the falling rate of profit — are inflamed with irresistible moral imperative and become dramatic personalities. Scientific necessity turns into hubris and nemesis. Fallacies of scientific analysis are overwhelmed by the convincingness of the Manifesto or the great passages of Capital as objectifications of spiritual conflict. The reader is swept up and put on the stage. He becomes an actor in a plot of which the motor, the hidden all-pervading concern — human self-alienation — is the same existential absurdity that reverberates behind the clash of battle, of pride and shame, comradeship and treachery, in The Iliad, that sociological document Simone Weil called “The Poem of Force.”

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