Study/Discussion Questions on The German Ideology
1. On pages 34 and 4, Marx lays a great emphasis on production and on the division of labor. How is account like Smith's and how is it different. Why does Marx see production as absolutely central to history? What aspects of production does he call attention to?
2. Marx writes (p. 5) "The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will." What does he mean? Is he right? Would Mill agree?
3. Marx writes (p. 6) "Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life." What does he mean? In what sense do religion or law have no history? Do you think he is right? How deep is his disagreement here with Mill?
4. He also says on p. 6 that philosophy "loses its medium of existence." What is that?
5. Why would Marx say (p. 8) that the division of labor "only truly becomes such" when there is a division between mental and material labor?
6. In one of the most famous passages in the German Ideology, Marx writes (p. 9):
Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates 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, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.
Does this summarize or change the views expressed in the "Estranged Labor" essay? What do you think of the person who is hunter fisher and critic? Is there any plausible way to overcome estrangement, or even to lessen it?
7. Marx maintains that the ideas of the ruling class are always the ruling ideas and that these ideas are "the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas" (p. 13). What would constitute a ruling class in the U.S.? What are the dominant material relationships in the U.S. today, and what would it be to grasp them as ideas?
8. Marx maintains on p. 18 that "Thus all collisions in history have their origin, according to our view, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the form of intercourse." Isn't this refuted by the overwhelming importance of military force and conquest in human history?