Capital, Labour & Class Struggle
in the period of postmodern capitalism

Introduction

The purpose of this article to seek and suggest an approach to both understanding the nightmare which is global capitalism [1] today and perceiving and understanding the nascent force which is capable of awakening us from that nightmare and making a truly human life possible.

In approaching an understanding of the dominant social relations and thought-forms of bourgeois society [2] as it is today I intend to emulate Marx's critique [3] of the political economy of his day. However, we are a long way from the political economy of the mid-19th century which Marx criticised. The dominant form of labour in the world which Marx knew was wage-labour and the archetypal commodity was a tangible thing, and it was with some justice that Marx regarded the service industries as being inessential and generally not productive of surplus value [4], and firmly rejected the idea of workers as independent proprietors, like their employers, selling a “service" [5]. Consequently, the centre of the mystification of bourgeois society was seen as the alienation of workers' labour in things which, as “dead labour", were the property of others and dominated the lives of the living. [6]

The essential and dominating fact about capitalism today is that capital accumulation is being furthered precisely by denying workers [7] the status of wage-labourers and converting workers into supposed independent contractors [8]. Further, the dominant form of labour is not production of things but of services [9]. Thus, instead of the worker being dominated by the “here and then", it is the “now and there" which dominates our lives. This change is reflected in quite specific ideological forms, which, if not properly understood lead to considerable confusion, but actually open the door to freeing ourselves from the “muck of ages". [10]

One of the other most significant changes which the past 150 years have brought about is that the new society can be seen in its embryonic form before our eyes. Marx could only speculate about how free associations of workers could build a world in which people live cooperatively free from the domination of their own products. Today, the welfare-regulator state is on the decline [11] as is the family [12], but as the commodity relation dissolves every human relation into that of the cash-nexus, voluntary association is actually on the increase, not decline [13]. At the same time, within capitalist enterprises, rather than being directed like puppets, workers are being obliged, in the interests of capital, to organise their own labour [14].

Thus, the first part of our study is concerned with voluntary organisation, and is based on the proposition that the essence of human (personal) development is mass mobilisation, and the essence of mass mobilisation is personal development. But mass mobilisation and individual (human) development do not rest immediately one upon the other, but are mediated by the development of small groups and organisations. Consensus decision-making is the essence of group development. The essence of consensus decision-making is group development. Our study of the development of voluntary labour focuses on the logic [15] of working class organisation.

In bourgeois society, the mass of people who must work in order to live, in producing the means of satisfying their needs and those of the community, also produce their needs and thereby produce themselves. Thus, the development of people and the relations between them are overwhelmingly conditioned and formed by the labour process. [16] The essence of the labour process is the accumulation of capital; the essence of capital accumulation is the labour process. But capital accumulation and the labour process (or the division of labour) do not rest immediately one upon the other but are mediated through the value or exchange relation. [17] Consequently, an analysis of the development of the value relation in contemporary bourgeois society is central to our task, and forms the second part of our study.

Voluntary organisation and the mobilisation of people by capital stand in mutual hostile relation to one another, mutually conditioning and interpenetrating but opposing one another [18]. As legal and judicial regulation withers away, the only means available to workers to defend themselves is collective organisation and bargaining [19]. At the same time, the flow of money and economic imperatives dominate the structure, activity and consciousness of voluntary organisations. The third part of our study aims to explore the various modes of interaction between workers' self-organisation and the “economy". [20]

Capital and Labour

I: Capital - a social relation which takes on the appearance of a 'substance' which circulates from the “top" of an organisation “down" directing the activity of those on the pay roll, reinforcing the authority of managers over supervisors over workers, or purchasing the services of contractors and suppliers and directing the activity of their subcontractors and employees, and creating an income stream from the sale of the labour of the employees, and consequently the expansion of capital and the movement of capital from one industry to another. Each successive dispersal of capital disperses authority downwards and outwards.

The foundation of this appearance, in which the labour of the whol ecommunity takes on the appearance of a mythical substance which is the private property of a few, will be explored. [21]

The points of ownership of income mark the nodal points in the series of relationships which manifest the social relations of capital.

The first condition of life for people who do not own capital is that they must sell their labour power in order to live. Even if they decide to set up a small business or become a sub-contractor or work as a self-employed worker, the relationship is the same. They must labour for the needs of the purchaser of their labour in order to secure the income stream for capital.

II: Labour - Despite the diktat of capital, people organise to act independently of capital. In this case, they do not labour in order to live, but live in order to labour. People put their energies towards a common purpose in voluntary organisation. Here it is the mass of labourers which constitute the force which makes things happen, and the mass projects its will from the “bottom up".

We can conceive of a world in which all the needs of human beings across the world are met by voluntary labour, organised by the workers themselves. [22] And yet such a vision faces the difficulty that even a million workers cannot live freely, meeting each others' needs without money. So long as the voluntary association of free individuals does not cover the whole world, then money is indispensable.

III: Class struggle - labour and capital both condition and mediate one another and constitute the foundation of the class struggle. The burden of capital, which weighs “like a nightmare" on the backs of the living, and voluntary self-organisation, manifesting itself in mass mobilisation and expressing the aspirations of the masses, constitute two opposite mutually interpenetrating but irreconcilable logics which are the essence of social life today. The designation of “logics" allows us to understand how human beings internalise participation in social activity in consciousness and open up an approach to criticism of this consciousness and the class struggle which lies behind it.[23]

The Struggle of Irreconcilable Social Forces

While positivistic science has always favoured the conception of a whole as the collection of its parts, following Hegel, Marxists have always sought to conceive of the parts as determinations of the whole [24]. So for example, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are the two main classes of bourgeois society and the dynamic of bourgeois society must be conceived before it is possible to understand what is the bourgeoisie and what is the proletariat; likewise, without the proletariat, there can be no bourgeoisie and vice versa.

However, this latter approach assumes that there is always a “third" (wage-labour, or bourgeois society in our example) in which the two opposites are “reconciled". In his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right written as early as 1843, Marx wrote:

"Now the complete absurdity of these extremes, which interchangeably play now the part of the extreme and now the part of the mean, becomes apparent. They are like Janus with two-faced heads, which now show themselves from the front and now from the back, with a diverse character at either side. What was first intended to be the mean between two extremes now itself occurs as an extreme; and the other of the two extremes, which had just been mediated by it, now intervenes as an extreme (because of its distinction from the other extreme) between its extreme and its mean.

“This is a kind of mutual reconciliation society. It is as if a man stepped between two opponents, only to have one of them immediately step between the mediator and the other opponent. It is like the story of the man and wife who quarrelled and the doctor who wished to mediate between them, whereupon the wife soon had to step between the doctor and her husband, and then the husband between his wife and the doctor. It is like the lion in A Midsummer Night's Dream who exclaims: 'I am the lion, and I am not the lion, but Snug.' So here each extreme is sometimes the lion of opposition and sometimes the Snug of mediation. When the one extreme cries: 'Now I am the mean', then the other two may not touch it, but rather only swing at the one that was just the extreme. As one can see, this is a society pugnacious at heart but too afraid of bruises to ever really fight. The two who want to fight arrange it so that the third who steps between them will get the beating, but immediately one of the two appears as the third, and because of all this caution they never arrive at a decision. We find this system of mediation in effect also where the very man who wishes to beat an opponent has at the same time to protect him from a beating at the hands of other opponents, and because of this double pursuit never manages to execute his own business.

“It is remarkable that Hegel, who reduces this absurdity of mediation to its abstract logical, and hence pure and irreducible, expression, calls it at the same time the speculative mystery of logic, the rational relationship, the rational syllogism. Actual extremes cannot be mediated with each other precisely because they are actual extremes. But neither are they in need of mediation, because they are opposed in essence. They have nothing in common with one another; they neither need nor complement one another. The one does not carry in its womb the yearning, the need, the anticipation of the other. (When Hegel treats universality and singularity, the abstract moments of the syllogism, as actual opposites, this is precisely the fundamental dualism of his logic. Anything further regarding this belongs in the critique of Hegelian logic.)

“This appears to be in opposition to the principle: Les extrêmes se touchent. The North and South Poles attract each other; the female and male sexes also attract each other, and only through the union of their extreme differences does man result.

“On the other hand, each extreme is its other extreme. Abstract spiritualism is abstract materialism; abstract materialism is the abstract spiritualism of matter.

“In regard to the former, both North and South Poles are poles; their essence is identical. In the same way both female and male gender are of one species, one nature, i.e., human nature. North and South Poles are opposed determinations of one essence, the variation of one essence brought to its highest degree of development. They are the differentiated essence. They are what they are only as differentiated determinations; that is, each is this differentiated determination of the one same essence.

“Truly real extremes would be Pole and non-Pole, human and non-human gender. Difference here is one of existence, whereas there [i.e., in the case of Pole and non-Pole, etc.,] difference is one of essence, i.e., the difference between two essences. in regard to the second [i.e. where each extreme is its other extreme], the chief characteristic lies in the fact that a concept (existence, etc.) is taken abstractly, and that it does not have significance as independent but rather as an abstraction from another, and only as this abstraction. Thus, for example, spirit is only the abstraction from matter. It is evident that precisely because this form is to be the content of the concept, its real essence is rather the abstract opposite, i.e., the object from which it abstracts taken in its abstraction - in this case, abstract materialism.

“Had the difference within the existence of one essence not been confused, in part, with the abstraction given independence (an abstraction not from another, of course, but from itself) and, in part, with the actual opposition of mutually exclusive essences, then a three-fold error could have been avoided, namely:

  1. that because only the extreme is true, every abstraction and one-sidedness takes itself to be the truth, whereby a principle appears to be only an abstraction from another instead of a totality in itself;
  2. that the decisiveness of actual opposites, their formation into extremes, which is nothing other than their self-knowledge as well as their inflammation to the decision to fight, is thought to be something which should be prevented if possible, in other words, something harmful;
  3. that their mediation is attempted. For no matter how firmly both extremes appear, in their existence, to be actual and to be extremes, it still lies only in the essence of the one to be an extreme, and it does not have for the other the meaning of true actuality.

“The one infringes upon the other, but they do not occupy a common position. For example, Christianity, or religion in general, and philosophy are extremes. But in fact religion is not a true opposite to philosophy, for philosophy comprehends religion in its illusory actuality. Thus, for philosophy - in so far as it seeks to be an actuality - religion is dissolved in itself. There is no actual duality of essence. More on this later." [Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1843]

Taking these comments as my point of departure, I want to look upon the principles of voluntary organisation (or labour) and capitalist organisation (capital accumulation) as irreconcilable opposites. What follows therefore is:

  1. a chapter on voluntary organisation which draws upon work done, mainly in the US, on the dynamics of voluntary organisation, and on Hegel's Logic and Philosophy of Right which makes it possible to set the bourgeois empirical-positivist theory in a more developed theoretical framework,
  2. a chapter on capital which recasts Marx's Capital on the basis of a new concept of exploitation of labour more in line with the labour process as it manifests itself in postmodern capitalist society, and
  3. a chapter on the class struggle which attempts to comprehend the struggle between labour and capital without presuming labour to be an aspect of bourgeois society.

Footnotes

1. By “capitalism" I mean the whole system of social relations associated with the separation of “bourgeois society" from the family and the state, wherein the relation of buying and selling dominates all other social relations.

2. By “bourgeois society" I mean the whole system of relations based on buying and selling, including production relations properly so called and the various juridical, cultural and ethical relationships which both support these relations and rest upon them.

3. I use the word “worker" in the same sense as I use the word “labourer", to refer to a person who works for a living as and when conditions allow it, rather than someone who lives off property. There is no sense in my use of the word of any particular type of labour, so-called "blue-collar" work or manual work, and nor do I intend that the form of employment, i.e. contract, self-employment, piece-work or wage labour, is relevant to the consideration of someone as "worker", though the word carries the implication that the dominant social relations of production are those of bourgeois society.

However, I do not use the word as an abstract general category. “Worker" indicates both an individual human being and a social class, and the notion of social class relies upon the social process of production and by no means on the attributes of individuals. The actual way in which the person earns a living at any given time may be at odds with any definition. Those earning their living solely in maintenance of the social relations of production (the secret police., military, etc.) and the upper layer of supposed employees in firms who draw an extraordinary wage in effect as a share in the proceeds of property may in no sense be encompassed within the concept of “worker" despite the fact that they work for a living and draw a wage.

4. Marx was quite clear that whether a commodity was a service or a tangible thing was both irrelevant to both its status as a commodity and a carrier of value and of surplus value. The example of the teacher in a private school who “is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor" (Capital Chapter 16) makes this quite clear if the first chapter had not made this clear enough.

However, there are frequent references in Capital to services (such as the wandering tailor, the wood-cutter or the station porter) where Marx emphasises that the purchaser of the service realises no surplus value, simply because the purchase of the service is a simple act of exchange of commodities not one of production, so that in this sense the workers concerned are not "productive labourers".

In addition to this, references to the large class of servants whose labour constituted an expenditure from the surplus appropriated by the capitalist and used for her own gratification my the enjoyment of the services of this class reinforce the mistaken impression that Marx attached some kind of stigma to service-workers. A mistaken impression can be gained from a reading of Capital that Marx believed that services were not productive of surplus value. The conception of an act of labour as service or manufacture is in any case an attribute of the social relations within which exchange takes place, not of the labour process itself. Likewise, whether a particular act of labour generates surplus value can have nothing at all to do with the quality of the labour activity itself, but only the social relations within which the labour is exercised. Whether a worker's labour produces surplus depends on what the purchaser does with it. If the purchaser consumes it as a personal service then there is no reason to suppose that the labour should produce a surplus.

5. “The exchange between capital and labour at first presents itself to the mind in the same guise as the buying and selling of all other commodities", [Capital Chapter 19] a conception which remains central to political economy to this day. But for Marx, the distinction between the sale of labour-power and the sale of labour was vital. Consequently, Marx vigorously opposed the conception of the wage-worker as an independent proprietor selling a service (labour) like any other commodity, and maintained the distinction between wage-labour and service-delivery even when piece-work disguised the phenomenal form of the sale of labour-power as the sale of labour.

6. Combining Marx's references in the 18th Brumaire and in The Grundrisse:

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances of their own choosing, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the, brain of the living". [18th Brumaire, Part I]

".. value having become capital, and living labour confronting it as mere use value, so that living labour appears as a mere means to realise objectified, dead labour, to penetrate it with an animating soul while losing its own soul to it - and having produced, as the end-product, alien wealth on one side and , on the other, the penury which is living labour capacity's sole possession ... The objective conditions of living labour appear as separated, independent values opposite living labour capacity as subjective being, which therefore appears to them only as a value of another kind (not as value, but different from them, as use value)." [Grundrisse, The Chapter on Capital]

7. My understanding of Capital is that Marx was concerned to make a critique of political economy, that is to say, to expose political economy as a mystification of social relations between people which takes the form of presenting these relations as if they were determined by objective laws which can be the subject of a science akin to the natural sciences, in much the same manner in which materialist criticism of religion had shown that the “holy family" was a heavenly reflection of the Earthly family. In this way, Marx sought to establish how people could choose to live differently, while the political economists sought to understand how they lived as they actually did. Consequently, my view is quite different from the view of Capital as a work of political economy.

8. The “contractor" may be a young person selling Telecom accounts door-to-door on piece-rates, a brick-layer engaged by a sub-contractor on a building site or a systems engineer called-in to revamp a company's database or, it may encompass people who contract to deliver the labour of others, such as a cleaning contractor or software consultancy. This category is marked only by the fact that the contract is made in advance of the production of the product and that the product is for supply of a product rather than for supply of labour power, the use of which in production is the responsibility of the buyer.

9. By “service" I mean a product who production is realised in the act of consumption. This could be serving a hamburger or investing some money or programming a computer. The selling of the hamburger may take place in the same act of labour as the production of the hamburger from its ingredients; the production of software for sale in the usual way on floppy disks through a retail outlet is simple production, not a service, but the production of software to order for a client is a service. Clearly the distinction between service and production is dependent less on the nature of the act of labour than on the relation between the producer and consumer.

10. Referring to Marx's German Ideology:

“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew." [German Ideology, Part D]

11. Empirical evidence is needed to establish this thesis, that the welfare-regulator state is on the decline, but it would be widely accepted that since the Reagan-Thatcher years all capitalist governments have been cutting public services, out-sourcing and de-regulating. Speaking from Victoria, where this policy is pursued with even greater enthusiasm by Jeff Kennett than by his Labor predecessors, it seems very clear. The point of controversy that remains though is the extent to which this trend is ideologically driven, or is driven by economic crisis. The post-war period saw the growth of public enterprise and welfare services and this was a reaction both to the Great Depression and the War, now we see the pendulum swinging the other way. Many people believe that a more enlightened government could and would turn back the clock of economic rationalist “reform". This is an issue which remains to be explored, but this paper assumes that the current tendency is one which is essential to the development of capitalism rather than being an arbitrary policy decision by right-wing ideologues.

12. That the family is on the decline also requires empirical verification, though this should not be difficult. We have in mind the relatively small proportion of total social effort which is conducted within the relations of domestic and kinship obligation. The proportion of children raised by their mothers may have increased over this century due to some decline in the removal of children from their parents, but beyond the immediate mother-child relation the family is in tatters and a very high proportion of a child's up-bringing is now managed socially with everything from child-care to take-away food.

13. That voluntary association on increase I believe to be empirically established but all I have at the moment is an Australian Bureau of Statistics investigation of 1995 which I will summarise in a separate appendix. "Voluntary association" encompasses everything from friendships that develop outside or work and family, to self-help groups that assist people affected by one or another problem when the medical system and the family fail, to trade union, professional associations, Parent-Teacher Associations, Municipal Councils, sports clubs, Friends of this or that, to voluntary staffing in community and charity organisations.

14. By “workers directing own labour" I have in mind the current fashion among management experts to use techniques like TQM (Total Quality Management) to foster collective self-management by work-groups as well as phenomena like contracting-out, compulsory tendering and conversion of employees to contractors where the employer-employee relationship is severed altogether.

15. When I speak of the “logic of voluntary association" it is important to recognise that I do not understand logic to be some kind of extra-mundane “law of nature" to which human activity must conform, and which can be studied as an object separately from the way people cooperate with one another. Logic is an obligatory relation between thought-forms, but it has its origin in the social cooperation of people, and enters subjective consciousness by the internalisation of the forms of cooperation active in society. Thus when we use logical terms in talking about forms of cooperation, the point is to understand how this cooperation gives rise to fixed forms of thought which appear to us to have the force of “laws of logic".

16. It was Hegel who first understood that human needs and consequently human sensuousness and conception were as much products as instruments of human activity. As Marx put it:

“Man is directly a natural being. As a natural being and as a living natural being he is on the one hand endowed with natural powers, vital powers ... [and] the objects of his instincts exist outside him, as objects independent of him; yet these objects are objects that he needs - essential objects, indispensable to the manifestation and confirmation of his essential powers. ... he can only express his life in real, sensuous objects. ... Hunger is a natural need; it therefore needs a nature outside itself, ...

“But man is not merely a natural being: he is a human natural being. That is to say, he is a being for himself. Therefore he is a species-being, and has to confirm and manifest himself as such both in his being and in his knowing. Therefore, human objects are not natural objects as they immediately present themselves, and neither is human sense as it immediately is - as it is objectively - human sensibility, human objectivity is directly given in a form adequate to the human being.

“And as everything natural has to come into being, man too has his act of origin - history - which, however, is for him a known history, and hence as an act of origin it is a conscious self-transcending act of origin. History is the true natural history of man". [Critique of Hegel's Dialectic and General Philosophy, Marx 1844]

17. By saying that the production of surplus value is the essence of capital, I mean that it is the development of the value relation, through its successive crises and transformations, its rise and fall, which constitutes the meaningful thread in the development of capital, and it is surplus value which is the sine qua non of the realisation of capital; the exchange relation is the social basis of value and the appearance of capital. Further, at all times, people labour but do not expand capital, either because they are labouring within pre-capitalist relations of domestic servitude or because they labour voluntarily as free human beings. But such labour is outside the labour process of bourgeois society, and only labour which produces surplus value belongs to the essence of capital.

18. Why do something for someone else? Aside from force, human history has given us a small number of such systems of needs and their satisfaction; the first is based on kinship, the second is bourgeois society, and the third is voluntary labour, be it in the form of community service or simple friendship. The fact that everything we do in this world is determined and understood only within the social relations and consciousness of bourgeois society, does not alter the fact that every act of friendship, every act of community service done for its own sake and not for money is a free human act and belongs to a human world yet to be realised.

19. Workers can bargain and struggle for a better deal within bourgeois society or they can struggle to overthrow it, and the whole tension between these two constitute the class struggle.

20. “Economy" encompasses all those aspects of social life in which the community allocates people's time to meet community needs be it through the agency of money or the state. However, insofar as people spend their time and energy according to traditional or kinship requirements, voluntary labour and association or to meet their own needs, this activity is outside the economy. Consequently, in a world where people act according to traditional or kinship obligations or according their own volition but not in pursuit of money, even though it be part of the social effort and meets community needs, there is no economy. The inclusion of “command economy" under the concept of “economy" is open to question, but in fact does not bear on the issues taken up in this paper.

21. Marx made this point particularly succinctly in his Wage Labour & Capital:

“Capital consists of raw materials, instruments of labour, and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are employed in producing new raw materials, new instruments, and new means of subsistence. All these components of capital are created by labour, products of labor, accumulated labour. Accumulated labor that serves as a means to new production is capital. So says the economists. What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. The one explanation is worthy of the other." [1849]

22. As Marx and Engels envisaged in the famous words of the Communist Manifesto:

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

23. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the only subject of this paper is human beings and how they produce themselves, each other and their consciousness in the course of their practical struggle to live.

"All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice." [Thesis VIII, Theses on Feuerbach].

I pay considerable attention to how this practical activity embeds itself in logical thought-forms because it is in this form that our social relations most deeply and firmly implant themselves in our consciousness. All the technical means for a truly human life in a global community of free human beings are already at hand. It is only necessary that we think differently. Thesis IV tells us

“Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis.

“But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice."

24. For example, Lenin, Summary of Dialectics in his Philosophical Notebooks:

“The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity", - although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement", in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle" of opposites."

or Frederick Engels' Socialism, Utopian & Scientific, Part II - Dialectics:

“The analysis of Nature into its individual parts, the grouping of the different processes and objects in definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organic bodies in their manifold forms - these were the fundamental conditions of the gigantic strides in our knowledge of Nature that have been made during the last four hundred years. But this method of work has also left us as legacy the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, apart from their connection with the vast whole; of observing them in repose, not in motion; as constants, not as essentially variables; in their death, not in their life. And when this way of looking at things was transferred by Bacon and Locke from natural science to philosophy, it begot the narrow, metaphysical mode of thought peculiar to the last century.

To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other ... In the contemplation of individual things, it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees.


References

Philosophy of Right, Hegel 1821, Trans. T M Knox

Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Marx 1843, Trans J O'Malley

Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx 1844, Volume 3 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works