Dussel om exterioritet

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Enrique Dussel, Exteriority, inlägg i "Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism" i Historical Materialism 21.1 (2013), 217-219.


For Lukács, Bloch and Kosik, totality is both the founding category of Marxist thought as well as its horizon, understood in terms of the horizon of Being that grounds the meaning of beings in their environment. 'Thus capital becomes a very mysterious being' (MECW 34, 460). As 'self-valorising value' (MECW 20, 292; translation modified) the being of capital ontologically grounds money, commodities etc. Totality is the category par excellence for every ontology, world-model or system. And yet totality presupposes another, preceding category without which there can be no totality: exteriority [Exteriorität], or externality [Äußerlichkeit]. This is the unspoken presupposirion 'from where' totality can be thought. A critique of totality always already presupposes a position outside of it. Exteriority is, in a practical sense, the location of the 'Other' of capital; the location of the living, of the workers not yet subsumed by capital (ante festum), or the 'place' where they cease to work (post festum) after they have been expelled by capital (through unemployment). Exteriority is the 'most important category of the philosophy of liberation' (cf Dussel 2003).

1. Exteriority in Marx's early writings. - Although it would have been possible to include earlier, indirect quotations, here only the most important texts will be noted. Towards the end of 1843 or perhaps early in 1844, but certainly in Paris and in a turbulent period of his intellectual development, Marx writes: 'Where, then, lies the positive possibility of a German emancipation? Answer: In the formation [Bildung] of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims, no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetrated against it' (MECW 3, 187). The question of exteriority already presents itself in this text. 'By proclaiming the dissolution of the hitherto existing world order the proletariat merely states the secret of its own existence, for it is in fact the dissolution of the world order' (188). Here the proletariat appears as absolutely dominated, but at the same time as that which is absolutely opposed to the totality (of the capitalist order), this is a contradiction of a positivity beyond the horizon of the ruling order, from where the present condition (`the artificially produced povert') is negated as a principle 'in regard to the world which is coming into being' (188). This principle is not founded in the totality, the ruling order: it is external to it.

2. Beyond Being as Nothingness. - Also in 1844, and certainly following the article on economic questions that Engels sent to him from England, Marx commences his philosophical engagement with economics. In the second notebook of the 1844 Manuscripts he writes: 'Political economy, therefore, does not recognise the unemployed worker, the workingman, insofar as he happens to be outside this labour relationship. The rascal, swindler, beggar, the unemployed, the starving, wretched and criminal workingman - these are figures who do not exist for political economy but only for other eyes, those of the doctor, the judge, the grave-digger, and bum-bailiff, etc.; such figures are spectres outside its domain [Reich] (MECW 3, 285). These spectres reside in the exteriority of the totality. Somewhat later he adds: 'the abstract existence of man as a mere workman who may therefore daily fall from his filled void into the absolute void - into his social, and therefore actual, non-existence' (286). For Marx, the non-waged dependent human being (before or after she is subsumed by capital) is a 'spectre' that does not exist for capital. It is simply nothingness [Nichts]. It is the trans-ontological, that which is beyond Being, the outside, 'realised nothingness [das erfüllte Nichts]', the being of exteriority that transforms itself into 'absolute nothingness' once it is subsumed by capital, because it will then have ceased to be an autonomous subject (in the exteriority of capital, without capacity for living), only to transform itself into a (alienated, totalised) determination of capital. And yet it would be impossible to distinguish someone from capital before he or she has been subsumed by it if there were not a domain in which non-capital is operative. This domain, this 'place', is exteriority.

3. Non-capital as negative and positive exteriority. - Thirteen years later (London 1857), Marx writes in the third notebook of the Grundrisse: 'Labour as non-capital, posited as such, is (1) Not-objectified labour, negatively conceived [...] non-raw material, non-instrument of labour, non-raw product [...]. Living labour existing as abstraction from these moments of its actual reality (likewise, non-value); this complete denudation, the purely subjective existence of labour lacking all objectivity [Objektivität]. Labour as absolute poverty [...]. (2) Not-objectified labour, non-value, positively conceived [...]. Labour [...] as the living source of value' (MECW 28, 223). When it is not 'subsumed', totalised, labour still exists within the exteriority of capital and hence is its precondition. 'It is presupposed by capital as its opposite, as the antithetical existence of capital, and as it on the other hand, in its tum, presupposes capital' (223). From the space of exteriority, living labour is subsumed through the labour contract to the real process of the production of surplus-value.

'Before' or 'outside' of capital, living labour is already operative and, without being capital in the exteriority of capital, it nonetheless is the source of value. (Source [Quelle], not foundation [Grund], since the foundation of capital is 'the valorisation of value'.) From the exteriority of capital, living labour is potentially a creator of value (creator of the foundation): the positive source of future value. Within exteriority, living labour is determined negatively, as poverty; positively, as a value-creating source. Living labour is true reality, person and embodiment [Leiblichkeit]. Beyond that, exteriority, living labour, is the viewpoint from which the critique of the totality, of capital, can be undertaken.

4. Exteriority of living labour as creative source: the 'pauper'. - In August 1861 Marx engages the subject again in more depth in the 1861-3 Economic Manuscripts: 'The sole antithesis to objectified labour is non-objectified, living labour. The one is present in space, the other in time, the one is in the past the other in the present the one is already embodied in a use value, the other, as human activity-in-process, is currently engaged in the process of self-objectification, the one is value, the other is value-creating' (MECW 30, 36). Capital is the given, past totality: accumulated labour. Living labour is the actuality of capital that creates from nothing (ex nihilo), which is situated in exteriority as that which precedes capital and which stands as a negation in relation to itself. 'Labour capacity appears on the one hand as absolute poverty` (40); and the labourer 'as such, conceptually speaking, [...] is a pauper; he is the personification and repository of this capacity which exists for itself, in isolation from its objectivity. On the other hand [...] labour capacity is, just as much, the general possibility of material wealth and the sole source of wealth' (41). The worker is the 'source' that creates capital. Considering Schelling's address concerning the 'Lord of Being' (SWX, 260 et sqq.) and the `source of creation` (185), it becomes clear that Marx applies this distinction to the question of surplus-value: self-valorising value is the foundation or the being nf capital (tntality); living labour is beyond this 'foundation' and is the 'creative source' of it. And yet the necessity remains for it to situate itself in the exteriority of this foundation.

5. When embodiment endures a tanning. - The theme is found again in Capital, Volume I (1867) in the systematically analogous location of a critique of capital, 'In the market", still outside and before - that is, in the exteriority of capital - the capitalist, Marx ironically remarks, is so lucky as to find 'a commodity, whose use value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value' (MECW 35, 178). Here again Marx is concerned with the moment at which the worker is subsumed into the totality out of exteriority. In doing so, the worker retains, at all times, his ability to be, from the nothingness of capital, within his embodiment and 'vital character', a 'creative source of value' (ibid,). Once the capitalist succeeds in contracting the worker, the result is a kind of triumphant march which leads, like in Dante's Inferno, from the 'outside' of the exteriority of capital, into the 'inside' of the factory: 'He, who before was the money owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour power follows as his labourer' (MECW 35,187), He who 'before was the money owner' and he who was the 'possessor of labour power' were situated in the exteriority of capital. Now they stride - one upfront, the other trailing behind him like a dog would behind his master - upon a new horizon: the totality, Marx depicts this 'exodus' from exteriority and 'entry" into the totality as a play with two actors: 'The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but - a tanning' (ibid.; translation modified).

All of this finds expression in the definitive concept of 'subsumption'. But this concept would be incomprehensible without an 'outside' and 'below', from where the movement 'inside-above' of the sublation [Aufhebung] emanates. The process of 'enclosure', of inclusion-into-totality [Eintotalisieren], of which alienation consists as a transition from 'fulfilled nothingness' (exteriority) to 'absolute nothingness' (totality), can be understood from the point of exteriority of living, not-yet-subsumed labour.

If one has only the category of totality, the oppressed would be, in their oppression (wage labour), nothing more than an exploited class. Yet, departing from the category of exteriority, he or she who, in the future, in a temporal before [zeitlichen vorher] and a categorial outside, will be exploited, can be conceived of as a vital embodiment, a character with ownership over his or her labour-power, with an autonomous dignity. Seen negatively, they are poor; understood positively, they are the 'creative source of value'; they are the living labour which is 'presupposed by capital' as exteriority, but, 'on the other hand, it, in its tum, presupposes capital' (MECW 28,223), because the pauper is in need of wages and is thus necessarily subsumed by the totality.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: E, DUSSEL 2003, Philosophy of Liberation, Eugene, OR,; K, MARX & F. ENGELS 1975-2005, Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW), London; F,W.J, SCHELLING 1856-61, Sämmtliche Werke (SW), Stuttgart.

Translated by Andreas Bolz