Marx and Engels' Analysis of the Spirits as Power and of the Power of the Spirits

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Kojin Karatani:

"Spiritual powers do not only come from mode of exchange C (mb = capitalist markets).

It is also present in gift exchange (mode of exchange A). This is the spirit that Marcel Mauss called Hau.

The spirit also haunts the state (mode of exchange B). It was Hobbes who gave insight into this power that arises out of mode B. The monster he called Levithan is nothing but a spirit that enables the exchange of domination-submission (B).

Moreover, the spirit manifests itself as a power that overwhelms such spirits. In other words, the mode of exchange D, which supersedes A, B, and C, appears as a spiritual power.

The following words from the beginning of The Communist Manifesto are well known: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism”. Of course, this is supposed to be a joke, but that is not necessarily the case. Rather, it means the following: communism is a “spirit”. That is, it exists as an ideational “power” that transcends capital-nation-state, that is, as mode D that transcends modes A, B, and C of exchange.

Speaking of spirits, Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx (1995) is suggestive. In this book, he cites examples such as “the specter of communism” and writes that Marx was accompanied by many “ghosts” in his life. The ghosts he refers to range from communism to God, or to money-capital. Certainly, each of these is spiritual in its own way. However, Derrida did not try to clarify the difference and relationship between them. As a result, I feel that the discussion ended up being a kind of play on words.

Derrida wrote this at a time when “the end of history” (Francis Fukuyama) was pronounced after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, that is, at a time when it was said that Marxism was dead. Considering this situation, he was presumably trying to say that the ghost of Marx is still alive. I agree with him.

However, I believe that the various spiritual powers he cited are not mere metaphors, but real powers that originate in different modes of exchange.

Marx presented those in Capital. By doing so, he paved the way for the understanding of money and capital as fetish (spirits), i.e., ideational powers that arose together with the mode of exchange C. It was at that point that he professed to be a “pupil” of Hegel, whom he had been criticizing all along. However, Marx clarified only the “spirit-fetish” arising from the mode of exchange C. As for the problem of “spirit” arising from other modes of exchange, there is still room for much further thought. In his later years, Marx moved toward the problem of mode of exchange A, specifically, what Morgan called “ancient society”, or clan society. However, Marx did not turn to the spirit of communism. In fact, it was Engels who did so.

Shortly after Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, revolutions for socialism took place in European countries, but they were all defeated. It was a strange defeat, however, because the victors adopted “socialism”. For example, in France, the emperor Bonaparte, a Saint-Simonist, promoted industrial development and supported the workers’ movement. In Germany, Bismarck advocated “national socialism”. Overall, it can be said that the revolutions of 1848-9 brought about a system in which the class struggle between capitalists and workers was resolved by the nation-state. It had a “socialist” element to it. In other words, it was a system that reduced the class disparity brought about by the capitalist economy through taxation and redistribution by the state.

Therefore, the revolutions of 1948-9 had the following consequences for Marx and Engels.

In 1850, Marx went into exile in London, where he wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and at the same time launch his Critique of Political Economy. At that time, he began to think about “exchange” and found money as a fetish that arises from there. This work, which resulted in Capital, can be said to have been the beginning of his “science of capitalism” as I would call it.

On the other hand, Engels’ attention to Thomas Münzer’s millenarian movement in The German Peasants’ War, which was published in 1850, can be said to be the genesis, of what I would like to call “science of socialism”. Engels became known to the public in the 1870s with the publication of From Utopia to Science. There are some misconceptions about this book. The idea of “scientific socialism” already existed in the mid-1840s. In fact, Proudhon advocated “scientific socialism,” and Owen said something similar.

In that case, “scientific” meant, so to speak, not religious. In other words, it must be rationally planned by human beings.

Engels’ idea differs from this. Engels’ praise of the religious revolutionary leader Münzer in his book The German Peasant War suggests this:

- "His theologic-philosophic doctrine attacked all the main points not only of Catholicism but of Christianity as such. Under the cloak of Christian forms, he preached a kind of pantheism, which curiously resembles the modern speculative mode of contemplation, and at times even taught open atheism. He repudiated the assertion that the Bible was the only infallible revelation. The only living revelation, he said, was reason, a revelation which existed among all peoples at all times. To contrast the Bible with reason, he maintained, was to kill the spirit by the latter, for the Holy Spirit of which the Bible spoke was not a thing outside of us; the Holy Spirit was our reason. Faith, he said, was nothing else but reason become alive in man, therefore, he said, pagans could also have faith. Through this faith, through reason come to life, man became godlike and blessed, he said. Heaven was to be sought in this life, not beyond, and it was, according to Muenzer, the task of the believers to establish Heaven, the kingdom of God, here on earth."

This passage indicates that when Engels thought of communism, he thought of it in terms of historical materialism (modes of production), but also grasped it as coming from some “power” different from that. He found communism in Münzer’s “theological-philosophical doctrine”, but this does not mean that it comes from Christianity in particular, as “pagans could also have faith.” In other words, it does not matter if one is pagan or atheist.

What is important is that there is some ideational “power” at work here. In his view until 1848, the class struggle arose along with the development of the capitalist mode of production, through which the proletariat would realize socialism. This would occur only after industrial capital had developed to a certain stage. In this sense, the class struggle in England, where industrial capitalism was most developed, should have been a model example. But what happened in 1848 was not the case. Rather, with some degree of victory of the proletariat, the movement to abolish the class itself disappeared. Specifically, with the passage on the Trade Union Law, the Chartist movement dissolved.

It means the following: socialism that “supersedes class itself” cannot be explained only in terms of historical materialism, that is, in terms of modes of production. So how does such socialism arise? After the defeat of the German Revolution of 1848-49, Engels went back to the German Revolution of 1255 to discuss the similarities and differences between these two revolutions."

At that point, Engels had already realized that socialism, as consciously designed by humans, is only a “utopia”. It may be locally viable, but it cannot be more than that. If it is to be widely realized, state power will be necessary. Then, how would it be possible to supersede the state? It cannot be said that if economic class differences disappear, the state will automatically disappear as well. In the first place, a state exists in relation to other states. Therefore, it is not possible for one state alone to overcome the state form in general.

How, then, is it possible for socialism to be more than a utopianism? As a matter of fact, this is not sufficiently discussed in his book From Utopia to Science. Here, Engels merely reiterates the ideas that Marx expressed in his Critique of the Gotha Program. However, it appears that he was not satisfied with that. There are traces that he was trying to examine communism from a different perspective. These can be found in his studies of primitive Christianity, which he proceeded in his last years. Incidentally, it was his disciple Kautsky who succeeded this line. It is ironic that Kautsky was later ostracized as a “renegade” by Lenin, even though he had inherited Engels’ most important interest.

In my opinion, the “science of socialism” which Engels started is not impossible to be established. It is to elucidate the mode of exchange D and the powers (spirits) it brings about, specifically the spirit of communism. That is what I have attempted in my forthcoming “Power and Modes of Exchange”."