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Utopia or Phantasy?



A Reply 10 OlllDan on Man’s
David Murray
Vision of ConIlDunisID
Anyone who has argued for the desirability of
socialis m will be familiar with this response:

There’s a lot wrong with our society, but it’s
better than Russia – if that’s socialism, you can
keep it. But anyway, just what is. this future
society you talk about, you’re asking people to
follow you, but you’re not prepared to spell out
where you thfnk you’re going.

Bertell Ollman believes that it is now politically
possible, and necessary, to counter arguments like
this by explicating the vision of communism which
informed Marx’s critique of bourgeois society; and
which can be pieced together from hints, asides and
statements throughout his work. He does this in
‘Marx’s Vision of Communism: A Reconstruction’,
in Critique, No.8, Summer 1977. He writes that:

tile inability to conceive of a humanly superior
way of life, an inability fostered by the same
exploitation, has contributed to the lassitude and
cynicism which helps to thwart class consciousness … giving workers and indeed members of
all oppressed classes a better notion of what
their lives would be like under communism …

is essential to the success of the socialist
project. p9 -[all page numbers appearing in
brackets, without other indication, refer to the
above article}
This is surely correct. The everyday, the commonsense, the news media, the films, the advertisements, all overwhelm us with the message that the
appearance is the real, is the rational; this is how
it is and how it must be. Human Nature is the
determinant of social relations. Look at China,
they’re discovering that … given a chance they
want perms and fashionable clothes … we’re all
greedy … look at the Ford workers … there ’11
always be wars … look at Vietnam and China.

Because mass consciousness is necessary for
socialist construction this ideology must be overcome. It cannot be shattered by arguments alone:

because it is constantly affirmed and confirmed,
minutely and globally, by the content and texture of
social life in capitalist society. But perhaps argument can begin to work on the fissures along the
lines of strain; which must then be widened by

The purpose of this Reply – almost wholly negative
and critical – is to show that OIlman’s strategy of
‘reconstructing Marx’s vision of the future because
making a case for communism as a possible
successor to capitalis m is generally enough to convince people that they must help to bring it about’

(pp9&41 )-is a dead-end. Firstly, it considers
OIlman’s justification for his project; secondly,
briefly discusses some of his remarks on the transitional society;- thirdly, and mainly, considers his

account of communist society and argues that his
excavation of Marx’s texts is insufficiently delicate,
that we should be critical of some of Marx’s own
prescriptions, and that on one point – private
property – Ollman reverses Marx’s meaning;
finally, it offers a personal response to his utopia.

I The Justification for Utopian
Marx did not himself present an account of
communist society. OIlman argues that this was
because he wished to’distinguish himself from other
socialists for whom prescriptions of the future were
the main stock-in-trade’ (p8). This, he argues,
need no longer inhibit marxist socialists because
the utopian sects have disappeared. As ·well as this
tactical objection Marx had – or so it is often
thought – an over-riding principled objection to
such speculation. Namely, that he regarded theory
as the condensation, through conceptual work, of
social reality; and re mained enough of a follower
of Hegel to agree that:

every individual is a child of his time; so philosophy too is its own age apprehended in thoughts
… if theory really goes beyond the world as it
is and builds an ideal one as it ought to be, that
world exists indeed, but only in the philosopher’s
opinions, an unsubstantial element where anything you please may, in fancy, be built. (1)
Ollman states that Marx did not have such a principled objection; further that:

Projecting the communist future from existing
patterns and trends is an integral part of Marx’s
analysis of capitalis m, an analysis which links
social and economic problems with the objective
interests that incline each class to deal with
them in distinctive ways. (p7)
For this, he offers a textual argument and a
theoretical argument.

The textual argument is based on an 1851 letter of
Engels to Marx; of this, OIlman writes:

judging from an 1851 outline of what was to .

become Capital, Marx intended to present his
views on communism in a more systematic
manner in the final volume. The plan changed,
in part because Marx never concluded his work
on political economy proper, and what Engels
in a letter to Marx refers to as ‘the famous
“positive”, what you “really”waftt’ was never
written. This incident does point up, however,
that Marx’s objection to discussing communist
society was more of a strategic than of a
principled sort. (p8)
1 Hegel. Preface to Philosophy of Right. Knox trans .. Oxfr)rd UP; pH


David McLellan mentions this letter and reproduces
part of it (2). He points out that Engels was advising
Marx on his current plan for the Economics, which
was to consist of three volumes: ‘A Critique of
Economics’, ‘Socialism’, and ‘History of Economic
Thought’; he supported a publisher’s suggestion
that the History come first and suggested that it be
expanded into two volumes After this would come the socialists as the third
volume – the fourth being the Critique – what
would be left of it … and the famous Positive,
what you ‘really’. want. .. For people of
sufficient intelligence the indications in the
first volumes .- the Anti-Proudhon and the
Manifesto – will suffice to put them on the right
track. The mass of buyers and readers will lose
any interest in the ‘History’ if the great mystery
is already revealed in the first volume.

It seems to me that Ollman has a slim basis for
asserting that the ‘positive’ refers to future
communist society. It could as well refer to a
positive account of bourgeois society, following on
from the critique of contemporary economic theory.

Furthermore, no hint of it appears in the sketch of
the contents in the ‘General Introduction’ to the
Grundrisse (3).

The theoretical argument is that ‘as opposites
alienation and communis~ serve as necessary
points of reference for each other’ (p40). This is
circular, it presupposes just the complementarity
between critical analysis and theory of the future
society which it is meant to establish. Ollman’s
account of communism does indeed impliCitly rely
on the ideas developed in his Alienation (4), and my
criticisms of this account do imply some aspects
of a critique of the theory of internal relations.

11 The Transitional Society
Ollman here bases his account on Marx’s
Critique of the Gotha Programme, and its claim
that between the political victory cif the working
class and the functioning of communist society there
must pass a transitional phase in which bourgeois
institutions, values, practices are eli minated or
transformed; during this phase, certain bourgeois
categories will still circumscribe practice, but.

within this the foundations of communism will be
constructed (5). Ollman discusses the features of
this construction in the above-mentioned work, from
the Manifesto of the Corn munist Party and The Civil
War in France: This account is of incidental re le vance for the purpose of showing that communism
is a desirable future state. Its importance should
be to show that the Soviet states are not organised
in the ways that Marx ascribed to the Proletarian
Dictatorship; so that not only are these states not
co m munist, but they are not moving towards it.

However, OIlman does not do this, but discusses
the programmes of these texts as if they were now
relevant in the same way as when Marx wrote them.

2 In Karl Marx: His Life and Thought, Mac m illan, 1973, p284. Also,
Marx’s Grundrisse, Macmillan 1971. p6
3 Marx’s Grundrisse op. cit .. pp42-44; Nicolaus’ Penguin ed., pl08
4 2nd ed. Cambridge UP, 1976. See Richard Gunn’s criticism of the
internal relations theory in Radical Philosophy 7, Spring 1974; Ollman’s
Reply to this in RP13 appears as the appendix to the 2nd ed. of his book.

5 For a discussion of this notion which maintains that the USSR is a transitional society, see Mandel’s ‘Ten Theses on the’Social and Economic Laws
Governing the Society Transitional Between Capitalism and Socialism’

Critique, No. 3. Adam Buick, in ‘The Myth of the Transitional Society;,
Critique, No.5 argues that Mandel illicitly changes Marx’s notion of a
‘transitional period’ into that of a whole historical epoch – the ‘transitional
society’. See also Buick’s letter in Critique 9, arguing that OIlman is
mistaken in attributing to Marx the claim that the proletarian dictatorship
extends into socialist construction.


Ollman briefly mentions Marx’s criticism of
Bakunin’s State and Anarchism, where Bakunin
argues that workers ‘once they become rulers or
representatives of the people, cease to be workers I
(p17). He approvingly cites Marx’s rejoinder that
this is no more true of a worker than it is true that
a capitalist ceases to be a capitalist when s /he
becomes a member of a town council.’ Many interpretations of the Soviet experience would hold that
this is indeed a case of workers becoming rulers
and ceaSing to be workers – for whatever reason
this happened; But Ollman states that this is irrelevant, because: ‘what has happened in present day
communist countries cannot really be used to settle
this dispute .since the social, economic and political
pre -conditions which Marx thought necessary have
never existed in these countries. ‘ (p17). But,
clearly, several of the measures advocated in the
Manifesto have been effected in the Soviet states,
such as centralisation of credit, and state ownership of the means of production. There is a historical connection between Marx’s views on socialist
construction and the Bolshevik Revolution; and
Bakunin was more prescient than Marx on the
estrangement of the ‘workers state’ from the
working class. Stalinism (or, on another interpretation,Leninism-Stalinism) cannot be regarded as a
mere mistake, an aberration. ‘Mistake’, as an
explanatory category , is an ideological notion; it can
have no place in a scientific analysis, which must
show: how the events mystified by this notion were
rendered possible. The next section will discuss
one area – the management of the labour process where we can see a definite line between Marx’s
‘vision of communism’ and Soviet society.

In his consistent refusal to relate Marx’s writings
to their subsequent use, or even to their practical
relevance, Ollman is led to make this absurd

Marx states: ‘E mpirically, corn munis m is only
possible as the act of the dominant people, “all
at once” or simultaneously’. There is no need,
therefore, to advise the workers’ government
on how to deal with the re maining capitalist
powers, nor is there any need to p,ovide for a
standing ar my. (pl 7)
The sentence in The German Ideology following the
one just quoted (6) states that the proletariat is
created as a global class through expanding capitalist production generating the world market, and
that at this stage the workers are ‘cut off … from
even a limited satisfaction of their needs and, hence
. .. their utterly precarious position’. In other
words, this claim for the simultaneity of revolution
was mad~ in the context of a prediction of the increasing absolute immiseration of the proletariat.

But as this prediction was abandoned, together with
the theory of wages it was based upon (7), there
would have to be an independent argument for the
Simultaneity of revolution. But even if there were,
it would not prove OIlman’s point. Events can only
be said to be ‘simultaneous I relative to a given timescale. From the perspective of a century, events a
month apart appear simultaneous, but in the history
of a revolution this is a long time; and can be enough
for the workers I state to be cl1lshed by counterrevolution. Ollman is virtually asking the working
class tu disarm itself on the basis of a text.


6 In Marx/Engels Collected Works vol 5 (= CW5), p49 (Arthur’s ed.,
Lawrence & Wishart, 1970, p57
7 See Ernest Mandel, The Formation of the Economic Thought of Kart Marx,
NLB, 1971, pp57-62 and 140-53

III Communist Society
The discussion of this is the major part of
OIlman’s paper; it is here that we are offered the
vision, point of reference and image to aid socialists
in breaking the grip of the ideology of the Everyday
and Commonsense on the critical imagination. The
basis of this society is that all residues of alienated
culture have been dissolved, both ‘in the mentality
of the people and in their conduct, depriving the
political dictatorship of the proletariat of its main
raison d ‘etre’ (p21). Materially, the potentialities
of the productive forces constrained by bourgeois
social relations have been actualised: production
is efficient and humane; material scarcity – the
basis of political economy – has disappeared;
production is guided by the logic of the plan, not
the market. Utopia is he re.

OIlman systematises Marx’s comments on
communism into 6 points:

(1) Division of labour has been abolished.

(2) Communal activity ‘at work, in consumption,
and during free time, has become a prime want,
and occupies most of the life of every individual’

(3) Private property has been abolished; all objects
are socially owned.

(4) Humanity, collectively, has attained complete
control over the natural world, ‘Instead of submitting to chance as formerly, people, through
their knowledge and control over natural forces,
make their own chance.’ (p21)
(5) There are no external compulsions on behavior,
‘with the exception of productive work’ (p21)
(6) All previously known forms of individually
differentiating human division have disappeared.

The Abstract Universal
OIlman’s basis for his claim that Marx believed
that under communism all hitherto known social
groupings (apparently with the exception of sex and
gender) will have dissolved is a couple of sentences
in The German Ideology’s polemic against Stirner:

Even naturally evolved differences within the
species, such as racial differences … can and
must be abolished in the course of historical
development ….

spontaneously evolved speech has been turned into
a national language. As a matter of course the
individuals at some time will take comple.t~ly
under their control this product of the species (8)
OIlman’s interpretation of the last sentence is that
‘one language will replace the thousands now in
existence’ (p29). The conceptual basis for this
appears to be the notion of dialectic as the fragmentation of a primitive wholeness, through stages of
estrangement into the final resolution of a mediated

But the account given is actually inconsistent with
this notion, because it invokes the notion of an unmediated identity of elements in abstract relations
with each other. It suggests that a future unified
humanity could only be so through being in a crude
sense .•. the same. This echoes the familiar
remark that communism aitps for the suppression
of all individuality and the Sinking of persons into
an amorphous mass. It is the formal thinking that
‘w?ere it manages to see difference, it does not see
unIty, and where it sees unity, it does not see
8 op. clt., pp425 and 426

difference’ (9). To claim that by being free of the
‘bounds’ of locality, culture, group and language
‘each person is able to express his emotions and
thoughts in a universal manner’ (pp34-35) is to use
a notion of universality as the complete abstraction
from particulars and indifference to variety (10).

Marx regarded capitalis m as progressive in its
establishment of the world market, through the
generalisation of exchange relations overcoming the
rigidities of local boundaries. But to the extent that
this process liquidated human characteristics into
the flux of market values it must be subject to
Marx’s criticism of money as the force which equalises qualitative differences into the empty abstractness of exchange – the ‘universal solvent’. This
dialectic is lost in OIlman’s utopia.

The Division of Labour
There are points in Marx’s own discussions of
division of labour where this abstract universality
is praised. OIlman writes that:

by the time of capitalism each class is shut up in
its own enclosure. . .. The final turn of the screw
is applied by “modern industry” where machines
usurp the few human skills that remain, leaving
most men with the minute and highly repetitive’

operations involved in machine minding. (p22)
This gloss on Marx attributes to hi m the view that
the deskilling of work under capitalist industry is
dehumanising and worse than the situation under
feudalism. OIlman here refers to the discussion of
machinery in The Poverty of Philosophy, where
Marx does write that:

9 ‘MoraliSing Criticism and Critical Morality: A Polemic Against Karl
Herzen’, Selected Essays of Karl Marx, h’ans. Stenning Leonard Parsons
1926, p138

10 Philosop!!y’ of Righl, para 207 (Knox trans., pp133-34).

A man actualises himself only in becoming something definite Le.

something specifically particular it is false to regard a particular
social position … as a restriction on ones universal character and
as a necessity imposed … purely ab extra … if the concept is to be
determinate it must first of all advance into the distinction between
the concept and its real existence and thereby into determination and
particularity .

See also, Noel Parker’s discussion of Regis Debray’s thoughts on
individuality, class and political commitment, RP20, esp. pp37 -39.

24 The chair in the British Museum reputed to be Marx’s favourite.


What characterises the division of labour inside
modern society is that it engenders specialised
functions, specialists, and with them craft-idiocy

However, in this discussion, it is clear that Marx
regards deskilling as a positive advance over ‘craftidiocy’, and that the destruction of this by the
‘automatic workshop’ is its ‘one -revolutionary side’.

He ends this discussion with a blast of contempt for
Proudhon’s ‘petty-bourgeois’ ideal that ,it is enough
… to have created a masterpiece once in one’s
life, to have felt oneself just once to be a man’ (12).

These remarks on the positive value of alienated
labour suggest, at least, that we should be wary of
citing isolated com ments of Marx’s to derive a
picture of his view of the division of labour under

A page of the manuscript of The German Ideology.

From the chapter “Feuerbach”
(Discovered in the early 1960s)

OIlman goes on to quote Marx’s claim that:

… in communist society, where nobody has one
exclusive sphere of activity . .. each can become
acco mplished in any branch he wishes, society
regtllates the general production and thus makes
it possible for me to do one thing today and another
tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the
afternoon, rear cattle in’the evening, criticise
after dinner, just as I haVe a mind, without ever
becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

He takes this as a literal preS’oription for the facility
with which communist personality will pass from one
occupation to another. But to take it in this way forgets the polemical function of the German Ideology.

It is now a commonplace that we cannot take literally, as positive positions, suCh remarks as
‘forms of consciousness ! . . no longer retain the
semblance of independence, they have no history,
no development’ (op. cit. p37) – that these .were a
11 International Publishers, ~;ew York,. 1971, 144
12 This echoes a similar comment in The German Ideology:

every medieval craftsman was completely absorbed in his work, to
which he had a complacent servile relationship, and in which he was
involved to a far greater extent than the modern worker ,whose work
is a matter of indifference to him
CW5, p66 (Arthur ed. p71)
13 ibid, p47 (ibid .p53)


necessary exaggeration in Marx and Engels’

corrosive attack on the fantastic idealism of’the
post-Hegelians. Why, then, should we ignore the
polemical context and function of the hunting and
fishing quote? This could, with like validity, be
regarded as a necessary exaggeration. In this case
against Feuerbach’s doctrine that:

The essence of a being is recognised, however,
only through its object; the object to which a being
is necessarily related is nothing but its own
revealed being. . •. He who cultivates the soil
is a farmer; he who makes hunting the object. of
his activity is a hunter; he who catches fish is
a fisherman; and so on. (14)
But even if we do take this statement of Marx’s
literally, it must be argued that this is a progressive and liberatory doctrine, rather than a
static retlection of the tendencies of bourgeois
society. One way of reading this quote about the
hunting, fishing, criticising communist person is
that under communism such roles exist as socially
objective structures which the free -floating individual takes on, operates with and then changes for
different ones. But if social relations are thus
utterly external to the individual, then how are we
to understand the subject in any other way than as
a Cartesian self whose identity is of an ontologically
different kind to his /her social being? On this view,
the self is an asocial ‘substance’, distinct from
socially material roles; a privileged selector of
social identities, and not in any sense constituted
by the m. Even more directly than in the case of
cultural divisions this position is open to Hegel’s
argument on the vacuity of abstract universality.

If it is correct that the Cartesian ego and the universality of contentless form are themselves the
products of generalised commodity production, then
Marx’s notion of the free individual appears to be
the quintessence of bourgeois material categories

It may be that it is ‘difficult for the uninitiated to
grasp’ that ‘the individual’s victory over the division
of labour is … the central feature of communist
society’ (p22); it would be easier if it were explained
just what this means, in terms other than a rephrasing of the German Ideology quote. Does it
mEan the dissolution of all interpersonal differentiations, as the reactionaries and OIlman seem to
feel? And if so, the argument must be answered
that it is difference that permits identity; that difference is not necessarily a barrier to freedom, but
its prerequisite.

The Organisation of the Labour Process
However, there is one division of labour that
Marx, ambiguously, and Ollman, straightforwardly,
want to retain: that between mental and manual
labour. Despite his comment that ‘Division of labour
only becomes truly such from the moment when a
division of material and mental labour appears’ (16),
there is an important and politically crucial sense
in which Marx regards this division as a socially
14 Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, trans.

Vogel, Bobbs-Merrill, 1966, p9. (Also in The Fiery 8rook:Selected
Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, ed. and trans. Hanfi, Doubleday 1972,
15 This echoes the criticism by Gouldner of the dramaturgical sociology of
the ethnomethodologists. See Martin Shaw ‘The Coming Crisis of Radical
Sociology’ (in Ideology in Social Science, ed. Blackburn, Fontana, 1972,

The individual can make his own identity – in the same way that an
actor can create a new role, or an ad-man create a social product.

.(In Gouldner’s words, this view only) ‘reaches into and expresses
the nature of the self as a pure commodity, utterly ‘devoid of any
necessary use -value: it is the sociology of soul-selling’

16 German Ideology, CW5, pp44-45 (Arthur ed. p51)


necessary category. The real force of the distinction
is not between work that is Pe rformed with the hands
and work performed ‘in the brain’; but between work
tp,at is directed.Qy another and work that is the
direction of another. This division is preserved
(but not negated) in the claim that:

some organisation, headed by someone whose
job it is to co -ordinate productive tasks, is
required of every society. (p30)
It is obviously. the case that work involving several
persons in co-operation requires organisation – but
organisation in the general sense of an overall
consensus as to the goals and co-ordination in the
manner of achieving them. This very abstract
category could be regarded as one of ‘the general
abstract determinants which obtain in more or less
all forms of society’, in the words of Marx’s 1857
plan for his projected Economics (17). To move
from that level to considering the particular concretisations of this determinant is to move to local,
limited and historically specific social forms. The
abstract level of the necessary determinants is one
that Marx does’ not systematically discuss; his
comments on the nature of these determinants tend
to be hypostatisations of the local categories of
capitalism” rjust the move which the 1857 Introduction condemns in the political economists (18). The
‘statement that organisation is necessary for joint
production in no way entails that it be organised in
a hierarchical manner, with the task of co -ordination being the specialism of the managing apex of
the pyramid. To just assert, with Marx, that
alllabors, in which many individuals co-operate,
necessarily require for the connection and unity
of the process one commanding will [emphases
supplied} (19)
is to accept as an ahistorical determinant one of the
most ‘commonsensical’ and pernicious props of
bourgeois ideology. This is not argued for, it is
accepted as obvious, and illustrated by the example
of an orchestra requiring a conductor – which is a
bad example for Marx’s argument as an orchestra
is one form in which musicians may co-operate to
produce music, but there are forms which do not
require conductors (20).

Ollman relates the absence of organisation in
communism to the functions that the organisations
of the proletarian dictatorship would have:

With the sole exception of production, all forms of
organisation adopted in the phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat serve in the role of
Wittgenstein’s ladder for communist man; they
enable him to climb into communism, only to
be discarded when he gets there (p31).

This is a deeply unfortunate analogy. If we compare
organisations in this phase with ‘Philosophy is not
a body of doctrine but an activity (Tractatus 4.112),
then presumably it is not a bodyofinstitutions, but the
continual critique of institutions. ButWittgenstein
gives philosophy this task for a purpose – ‘Philosophy sets limits to the much disputed sphere of
natural science’ (Tractatus 4.113); in demarcating
the area of natural science it leaves this area alone
and subject to the authority of the scientist only.

Outside this area of the propositions of science
there is the unspeakable totality of the ‘world as a
li mited whole’ – mysticis m, ethics and aesthetics.

17 Grundrisse, Nicolaus trans., Penguin, 1973, p108
18 ibid, pp83-88
19 ~ital Vol. Ill, trans Untermann, Kerr ed. 1908. This uses language
more baldly authoritarian than the FLPH 1959 cited in Ollman.

20 This position, with the same example, is expressed in Cap-ital Vol. I,
ch. XIII, ‘Co-operation’, Torr ed., p321

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Wittgenstein does not tell us whose authority this
area is subject to. But in practice, it is the priest.

So when the self-dissolving organs of the transitional phase leave productive activity untouched,
subject to the authority of the manager; whose
authority is the amorphous ‘realm of freedom’

subject to?

Marx does, after all, write that ‘all labours in
which niany individuals co-operat;;-;equire a’directing will. But on Ollman’s account, there will be
many forms of co-operation outside the factory ‘communal raising of children … group living’

(p36). What will be the locus of the directing will
here – the father?

The Abolition of Private Property
The above criticisms of Ollman’s discussions of
the division of labour and of pro-j.uction fJrganisation
have assumed that he is more or less accurately
collating and expanding fJn Marx’s writings and that
the difficulties pointed out are located in Marx’s
own work. But in Ollman’s discussion of the
complete socialisation of property under c’1mmunism
he completely inverts Marx’s meaning. Ollman
clai ms that:

A … distinctive charactel’istic of communist
society is the replacement of private property
by social ownership in personal as well as public
effects (p26)
Social ownership has been extended to cover all
of nature from the iand and sea to the food each
person eats and the clothes he wears (p21)
But in the texts he refers to, there is no menti’1n of
private effects, except to disavow the cfJmT’lete
‘socialisation’ that Ollman refers to. The Manifesto
. .. clearly states that ‘The distinguishing feature
of communism is not the abolition of nroperty
generally but the abolition of bourgeoiS property’

(21); this is repeated in Marx’s analysis of the Paris
21 Selected Works of Marx and Engels, in one volume, Lawrence and
Wishart, 1968, p47


Commune (22). As with the German Ideology, Marx
1n the Manifesto held to the theory of the absolute
immiseration of the working class as capitalism
expanded; on this model capitalism would itself
liquidate all forms of pre -bourgeois property
relations. On the question of non-bourgeois prof’erty
extant at the time of revolution, Marx has nothing to
say. With the dropping of the theory of absolute
immiseration, the model of pre-revolutionary
society must contain elements of non-bourgeois
property (tools, personal belongings etc); but Marx
offers no suggestion that these should all be

Nowhere does OIlman justify his absorption of
personal effects into the category of property that is
to be socialised. There are at least two places in
Marx where this is disavowed. One is in the very
section of the 1844 MSS from which OIlman quotes
that ‘Communism is the positive transcendence of
private property’ (p26)(23). This section of the MSS,
entitled by its editors ‘Private Property and
Communism’, is conceptually difficult; but it is
clear that it is used by Marx in the framework of a
dialectical teleology of the aufheben of alienation but for us to accept a program me based on this
theory, it must be shown that it really is adequate
to comprehend the construction of communism.

What 011 man refers to as the liquidation of all
personal property seems to be what is regarded in
this text as ‘universal private property … in this
the relationship of private property perSists as the
relationship/ of the com munity to the world of things’

(24). Marx condemns this notion of communism as
crude 4nd undialectical and regards its real essence
as the’ abolition of marriage in favor of the
‘community of women … universal prostitution’

(25). OIlman misreads Marx as holding that under
communism the material category of property will
persist, but all property will be in the hands of the
community. Ma~x’s point is that the material
category itself will disappear, though something
like the relation of a nerson to effects that we now
refer to as ‘ownership’ will not.

This is confirmed by Marx’s criticism of Stirner’s
a.rgument that property exists in any society because
an individual can be said to ‘have’ his/her bodily
sensations, thus:

afie.r the abolition of (actual) property it is, of
course, easy to discover still all sorts of thi.ngs
which can be included in the term ‘property’.

In reality, of course, the situation is just the
reverse. In reality I possess private property
only insofar as I have something sellable …

My frock coat is private property for me only
so long as I can barter, pawn or sell it, so long
as it is marketable. If It loses that feature …

no economist would think of classifying it as my
private property, since it does not enable me to
command any … of other people’S labour. (26)
22 ‘The Ci viI War in France’, 01′. cit., p294
The commune intended to abolish that class property which makes the
labor of many the wealth of the few. . .. It wanted to make individual
property a truth by transforming the means of production . .. into
mere instruments of free and associat~labor.

23 CW3, p296 (Struik ed. Lawrence & Wishart, 1973, 1’135)
24 loc.cit. p294 (loc.cit. ppI32-33)
25 Russell Jacoby uses the notion of abstract negation and Marx’s rejection
of ‘crude communism’ in his discussion of the relations between the
hostility to monogamy, privacy, theory and personal property amongst
sections of the American New Left – ‘The Politics of Subjectivity’, in
Social Amnesia, Harvester, 1975 (a Slightly altered version of his
article in New Left Review 79, May-June 1973). This is a brilliant and
passionate denunciation of fake-marxist mysticism and a certain kind of
‘personal politics’ as being a pure reflex of bourgeois relations and

26 German Ideology, CW5, 1’228 (Arthur ed. ppl0l-02)


en tillUl! seek’ to c,itlcaUy discuss societies claiming to be

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IV A Personal Response
But aside from these textual problems and c-onceptual difficulties, how effective would this account be
in persuading people of the desirability of communism? For what it's worth, my personal response to
Oilman's account was that its utopia had the air of
a Huxleyan fantasy, a piously dull place that woulrJ.

ultimately be smothering. I felt like Dostoevsky’s
Underground Man:

You believe in a palace of crystal that can never
be destroyed – a palace at W1 ich one will not be
able to put out one’s tongue on the sly. And perhaps
this is just why I am afraid of this ledifice.

I do not offer this as a theoretical criticism of the
content of this account, btIt as the report of a
response. I believe that a stronger expression of
this reaction would be felt by people who were
initially uncommitted to marxism. If so, the
presentation .Gf such a utopia would have the opposite
effect to that which 011 man wishes.

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