The First Philosophy of Spirit

by G.W.F. Hegel
a fragment of the young Hegel's critique of political economy, from lectures given at Jena 1803/04, translated by H.S. Harris & T.M. Knox, 1979.

Labor and Possession likewise come to be immediately something other in the [life of] the people than they are in their concept; labor is, on its own account, concerned with the need of the singular being as such, just as possession strictly pertains to the one single [holder]; labor (and possession too) becomes here a universal [factor] even in its very singularity.

I. The labor that is concerned with the need of a single [agent] becomes in [public life] a) the labor of a single [agent], but b) even [though it] is only motivated by his need it is a universal.

a) There is now present the requirement of laboring as such; [laboring] demands to be recognized, it assumes the form of universality; it is a universal mode, a rule of all labor, something that subsists on its own account, that appears as an external [structure], as inorganic nature, and something that must be learned; but this universal [structure] is for labor the true essence; and natural awkwardness must be conquered in the learning of the universal [skill]; labor is not an instinct, but a [form of] rationality that makes itself universal in the people, and is therefore opposed to the singularity of the individual, which must be conquered; and laboring is precisely for this reason present not as an instinct but in the mode of the spirit, because it has become something other than the subjective activity of the single agent; it is a universal routine, and it becomes the skill of the single [artisan] through this process of learning; through its process of othering itself it returns to itself.

(b) The reverse way: of extraction from the universal.

The recognition of labor and skill passes through the cycle in the universal [element], the cycle which it has in the single [consciousness] through [the process of] learning. Against the universal skill the single agent posits himself as a particular, he separates himself from [the universal level of skill] and makes himself more skilful than the others [in the craft], he discovers more useful tools; but whatever is truly universal in his particular skill is the discovery of something universal, and the others learn it; they cancel its particularity, and it becomes directly a universal good.

The tool as such holds off his material nullification from man; but there remains a formal nullification in its use; it is still his activity that is directed on a dead [material], and indeed his activity is essentially the putting [of the object] to death, ripping it out of its living context, and setting it up as something to be nullified as whatever it was before; in the MACHINE man supersedes just this formal activity of his own, and lets it do all the work for him. But this deceit that he practices against nature, and through which he abides stably within its singularity, takes its revenge upon him; what he gains from nature, the more he subdues it, the lower he sinks himself. When he lets nature be worked over by a variety of machines, he does not cancel the necessity for his own laboring but only postpones it, and makes it more distant from nature; and his living labor is not directed on nature as alive, but this negative vitality evaporates from it, and the laboring that remains to man becomes more machinelike; man diminishes labor only for the whole, not for the single [laborer]; for him it is increased rather; for the more machinelike labor becomes, the less it is worth, and the more one must work in that mode.

y) In other words his labor, qua laboring of a single [laborer] for his own needs, is at the same time a universal and ideal [factor of public life]; he satisfies his needs by it certainly, but not with the determinate thing that he worked on; in order that that may satisfy his needs, it must rather become something other than it is; man no longer works up what he uses himself, or he uses no longer what he has worked up himself; that becomes only the possibility of his satisfaction instead of the actual satisfaction of his needs; his labor becomes a formally abstract universal, a singular [factor]; he limits himself to labor for one of his needs, and exchanges it for whatever is necessary for his other needs. His labor is for need [in general], it is for the abstraction of a need as universally suffered, not for his need; and the satisfaction of the totality of his needs is a labor of everyone. Between the range of needs of the single [agent], and his activity on their account, there enters the labor of the whole people, and the labor of any one is in respect of its contents, a universal labor for the needs of all, so as to be appropriate for the satisfaction of all of his needs; in other words it has a value; his labor, and his possessions, are not [just] what they are for him, but what they are for everyone; the satisfaction of needs is a universal dependence of everyone upon one another; for everyone all security and certainty that his labor as a single [agent] is directly adequate to his needs disappears; as a singular complex of needs he becomes a universal. Through the division of labor the skill of anyone for the labor to be done is immediately greater; all the relations of nature to the singular circumstances of man come more fully under his command, comfort increases. This universality, into which private need, and labor, and its aptitude to satisfy need are all elevated, is a formal one; the consciousness of it is not an absoluteness in which these connections are nullified; it is directed toward the cancelling of this privacy, the freeing of the laboring [agent] from his dependence on nature; need and labor are elevated into the form of consciousness; they are simplified, but their simplicity is formally universal abstract simplicity, it is the lying-apart of the concrete [order of nature], which in this external separateness becomes an empirical infinite of singularities; and while man subjects nature to himself in this formal, and false, way, the individual only increases his dependence on it: a) the division of labor increases the mass of manufactured [objects]; eighteen men work in an English pin factory (Smith, p. 8). Each has a specific part of the work to do and only that. A single man would perhaps not make 20, could not even make one; those eighteen jobs divided among ten men produce 4000 per day. But from the work of these ten in a group of eighteen there would [come] 48000. But in the same ratio that the number produced rises, the value of the labor falls; b) the labor becomes that much deader, it becomes machine work, the skill of the single laborer is infinitely limited, and the consciousness of the factory laborer is impoverished to the last extreme of dullness; (y) and the coherence of the singular kind of labor with the whole infinite mass of needs is quite unsurveyable, and a [matter of] blind dependence, so that some far-off operation often suddenly cuts off the labor of a whole class of men who were satisfying their needs by it, and makes it superfluous and useless; just as a) the assimilation of nature becomes greater comfort through the insertion of the intermediate links, so too these stages of the assimilation are infinitely divisible, and the multitude of conveniences makes them just as absolutely inconvenient once again.

This manifold laboring at needs as things must likewise realize their concept, their abstraction; their universal concept must become a thing like them, but one which, qua universal, represents all needs; money is this materially existing concept, the form of unity, or of the possibility of all things needed.

Need and labor, elevated into this universality, then form on their own account a monstrous system of community and mutual interdependence in a great people; a life of the dead body, that moves itself within itself, one which ebbs and flows in its motion blindly, like the elements, and which requires continual strict dominance and taming like a wild beast.

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