Marx on List

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Wed Jul 14 2004 - 18:38:45 EDT

On another list the name of Friedrich List came up. It was noted that

>Listís work on ěnational economyî is still required
>reading for Asian civil servants today.

I sent these old notes about Marx's criticism and later Marxist
criticism of List; I forward them to this list in case anyone is

Here is Allen Oakley's summary of Marx's recently discovered
mss in which he presents a critique of List's 1841 book Das nationale
System der politischen Okonomie, Erster Band.

"To Marx, List espoused the cause of the German bourgeoisie and defended
their activities as an essential function of German nationalism. In so
doing, List failed to explicate the profoundly negative *human impact of
the industrial system and avoided emphasising itse fundamental
characteristic of serving the material and social self-interests of the
bourgeois minority.

"For List industrial production in the factory system involved harnessing
available 'productive forces' in the service of the *national* spirit. In
Marx's reading of the argument, List personified the bourgeois concern to
avoid the appearance of pursuing self interests...

"The bourgeois demand is that the state act in their interest by providing
tariff protection from intl competition on the pretext of recognizing the
state's more general right to interfere in economic operations. But inside
this external barrier, the pursuit of individual wealth proceeds only with
*nominal* concern for the nationalistic spirit. In spite of appearing to
pursue a 'spiritual essence', Marx noted that the bourgeois capitalists
take the oppty to fill their pockets with the 'worldly exchange values'
they pretend to despise. In this context List paraded the factory system
as the most effective form of organization for a spiritually sound and
harmonious society.

"In his endeavor to foster this image of the 'spiritual harmony' of
capitalism, List went on to argue that political economy should concern
itself with the *means* for creating wealth (as a flow of exchange value)
rather than with the wealth itself and its distribution. The individual
returns that the bourgeoisie gain from onwerhsip of the means of
production, and the associated ideas of exchange value and distribution,
are not pertinent to an interpretation of a system of nationalistic
political economy. National harmony and cooperation are to emphasized...

"On the behalf of the bourgeoisie, List saw his task as the creation of an
idealised and socially sterilised version of the political economy of
capitalism. His strategy was to try to discredit political economy for its
theoretical reflections of the *realities* of the system while leaving
the realities  themselves untouched. In response to this, Marx defended
someof the political economists, in particular Smith, Ricardo and
Sismondi, for their exposure of the principal tenets of capitalism
without prejudice...

"In Marx's view List's stress on the role of productive forces to the
exclusion of recognising the pursuit of exchange value and profit was
misleading. For while Marx was aware of the significance of 'productive
forces' for comprehending the *material* dimension of this mode of
production--its ability to produce in order to meet man's *material*
needs--it was the *human* dimension of the system that he continued to
emphasize. The objective of the capitalist is to produce, appropriate and
realize *exchange value*, including profit. In this endeavor, 'productive
forces and the production of exchange value are a unity and not
legitimately treated as separable as argued by List...

"This characteristic mode of production has implications for the form of
man's labour and a major effect on his conditions of life. In particular,
labour itself exists as a commodity with exchange vlaue and which
is bought and sold as just another input to production. The consequence of
this is a neglect of man's human being and he is perceived only as a
productive force. Marx stressed this point in a series of more or less
rhetoric questions:

'Is it a high appreciation of man for him to figure as a 'force' alongside
horses, steam and water?...Is the bourgeois, the factor owner, at all
concerned for the worker developing his abilities, exercising his
produtive capacities, fufilling himself as a human being, and thereby at
the same time fufilling his human nature?'

"...[Marx then ]quoted two pertinent pieces from Ure...Ure's arguments
were firstly that the capitalist's concern  for labour centered upon
replacing it with machines and/or reducing its cost. Secondly, he argued
that because skilled labor is less able to be manipulated and is more
self-willed it is desirable to develop unskilled labour only as 'a
component of a mechanical system.' It was Marx's conclusion again that
capitalism could not be *human* system: "The bourgeois see in the
proletarian not a *human being*, but a force capable of creating wealth, a
force which moreover he can then compare with other productive forces--an
animal, a machine...The whole of human society becomes merely a machine
for the creation of wealth'

"The situation of man under capitalism is a function of the particular
'social conditions' or 'political conditions' of the day. It was Marx's
argument that these conditions are based upon the existence of private
property. he granted that *industrial production* cuold be considered in
abstraction from thes consitions, but as such it is not an historically or
humanly complete conception:

'Industry can be regarded as a great workshop in which man first takes
possession of his own forces and the forces of nature, objectifies himself
and creates for himself the conditions of human existence. When industry
is regarded in this way, one *abstracts* from the *circumstances* in which
it operates today, and in which it exists as industry: one's standpoint is
not from within the industrial epoch, but above it; industry is regarded
not by what it is for man today, but by what present day man is for human
history, what he is historically'...

"As Marx had previously argued, the transcedence of man's less than human
condition under capitalism requires the abolition of private property and
thus of the '*industrial' mode of production. Ony then can the 'productive
forces' become *human* forces. Only then can proletarian labor become
human labor. Such an abolition would be achieved by a proletarian
revolution in which the proletariat realizes its role as the key to
*human* history.

"'Today...[the proletariat]are still the slaves of the bourgeois, and in
them he sees nothing but the instruments (the bearers) of his dirty
(selfish) lust for profit; tomorrow they will break their chains and
reveal themselves as the bearers of human development which will blow him
sky high together with his industry, which assumes the dirty outer
shell--which he regards as its essence--only until the human kernel has
gained sufficient strength to burst this shell and appear in its own
shape. Tomorrow they will burst the chains by which the bourgeois
separates them from man and so distorts (transforms) them for a real
social bond into fetters of society.

"Once again, then, Marx argued against the human consequences of the
capitalist industrial system. In his polemic against List, he emphasised
the potential for theoretical interpretation to distort and/or obscure the
true nature of the system with respect to the situation that it dictated
for workers and their families. List's bourgeois defense of the system was
all the more crass because it went beyond the relatively open
superficialities of orthodox political economy and distorted or obscured
even the most obvious of capitalism's characterisitcs. Later of course
this political economy itself would be subjected to a sustained and
detailed critique by Marx on the basis that its presentation of the system
also generated a false consciousness."

Allen Oakley, Marx's Critique of Political Economy: Intellectual Sources
and Evolution, Vol 1. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984

Was Marx wrong to argue that the policies recommended by List would
allow the German bourgeois "to exploit his fellow countrymen, indeed
exploit them even more than they were exploited from abroad," because
protective tarrifs require sacrifices from consumers.

  List was  also a nascent social imperialist, here is what he writes:

"the ruling section of the peoples of this earth has for some time been
segregating itself according to descent...One speaks of a German, a
Romanic, a Slavonic race in political aspect. This distinction alone seems
destined to exercise great influence upon the practical politics of the
future. At the head of the three races stand England, France and
Russia...There is hardly any doubt that Germanic race has by virtue of its
nature and character been preferentially selected by Providence for the
solution of the great task--to lead the affairs of the world, to civilize
the wild barbaric countries, to populate those still uninhabitated, for
none of the others has the capacity to emigrate en masse and to found more
perfect communities in foreign lands...and to keep free of the influences
of barbaric and semi-barbaric aborigines."

And List advised England: "Alliance with Germany  will remain the the only
true means  whereby England can make Asia and Africa serviceable for
her future greatness, alliance with Germany  not as she is today but with
Germany as she ought to be and as she could become, with England's help."

These quotes are from his Memorandum on the Value and the Conditions of an
Alliance between Great Britain and Germany, and it is this which Franz Neumann
argued anticipates the "geopolitics" of Mein Kampf.

Roman Szporluk has also written: "List's preference for large states has raised
serious questions about the extent to which such states would be liberal
in their international organziation and about his understanding of
international relations, international law and international order. Edmund
Silberner...believes it is 'astonishing' that List 'should have given to
his doctrine the name of "national system,", for it was a system that
applied only to the "great nations, the ones List called normal.' In other
words, say Silberner, List's system is meant only for nations to carry out
a policy of expansion." (p. 129)

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