In this post I want to address Marx’ employment of “freedom” in “The Trinity Formula” chapter (48) of Capital III. In doing so, I hope to revisit some issues that more generally function as the ideological backdrop to Marx’ more specific theoretics regarding historical materialism and the critique of political economy under capitalism. I specifically want to bring to the fore some of the aspects that seem more directly influenced by Hegel and German Idealism, including what seems to be Marx’ teleological conception of history and the practical potentiality for an aufheben of capitalism into a materialist-productivist “kingdom of ends.” What I ultimately hope to show in illustrating this backdrop is that Marx’ conception of freedom is predicated on a teleological historical metaphysics, one that almost dangerously seems to have inherit an early-Modern anthropocentrism regarding freedom in and its relation to Nature.
In Chapter 28, Marx’ conversation turns seemingly un-expectantly(though I hope to show that this shouldn’t really take us by surprise at all) to freedom during his recapitulation of the theory of surplus labour, a recapitulation that reminds us that Marx, despite what popular interpretation holds, never seems to be morally indicting capitalism, nor does he lament the bygone forms of social relations of production—thus the tribal arrangement that constitutes a primitive communism, where social relations are predicated on shared blood and soil rather than on exchange, is for Marx not a utopic moment that we are to reclaim any more than is the feudal system of exchange, even though it seems at times that Marx seems to harbor a certain nostalgia for primitive natural productive social formations as well as the pre-mechanical cottage industries of the late Feudal era. Rather, Marx seems to hold surplus labour as a potentially revolutionary aspect of capitalism:
A certain quantum of surplus labour is required as insurance against accidents and for the progressive extension of the reproduction process […] It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts this surplus labour in a manner and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the creation of elements for a new and higher formation than was the case under earlier forms of slavery, serfdom, etc.”
The fact that Marx describes surplus labour as one of the more “civilizing” aspects of capitalism should perhaps give us pause and might do us service to recall the Marx of The German Ideology. There, a seemingly utopic primitive condition is described (natural communities with immediate natural productive activity) as giving passing into a higher, more “civilized” epoch (the epoch of exchange and abstracted productive activity), where for the first time subjects can relate to each other as individuals. The process of transforming productive activity from a naturally occurring phenomenon to an artificial abstract phenomenon acts, as it were, as the principium individuationis for subjective social relationality. However, individuality—as the byproduct of a distortion of praxis, an abstract result of the fragmentation of natural-social productive activity—itself takes on a new practical potentiality. The laboring class, which exists as individuals “who are completely shut off from self-activity” (191) and share an abstracted self-estranged essence whose intercourse has reached a universal status, is in the practical position to realize itself as a multitude of pure active individuals, where the division between self-activity and material life can once again coincide while at the same time sublating the abstract universal of individuality which was the initial result of the fragmentation of natural production (or of the fragmentation of the natural subject via the division of labor). That is, through the transformation of labor back into self-activity, and through the corresponding transformation of limited, stunted intercourse into the “intercourse of individuals as such” (192), the individual can exist with individuals authentically— or to put it in other words, the individual can exists individually with individuals, universally.
This thematic, where a moment in the history of political-economy is shown “to be responsible for the creation of a new a better human potential,” which is certainly operant in The German Ideology and strongly echoes a Hegelian metaphysics of historical progression, repeats itself in the Grundrisse and finally in Capital III. Before turning to how surplus labour can for Marx in Capital III ultimately be the cause of a new and higher “true realm of freedom,” I’d just like to point out a similar theme in the Grundrisse. In this text (abandoned by Marx in 1858 and thus falling squarely in between the writing of the German Ideology of 1845-6 and of Capital vols. 1-3 from 1867-1883), Marx makes several arguments for the revolutionary and culturally universalizing effects of money and the economy of general wealth. General wealth and the effects of surplus labour, he argues, create conditions whereby the status of the human in is elevated to heights never yet seen by history. That is, the “discovery, creation, and satisfaction of new needs” under capitalism and the money economy creates a new type human, one where humans are “compelled—both as consumers and producers—to develop and to cultivate all of their qualities and powers, thereby becoming ‘cultured to a high degree.’” Thus, Marx argues that Capitalism is in fact a great “civilizing” process:
Its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry. For the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself.
In Capital III, Marx expands on this motif of the cultural achievement that capitalism affords once Nature is overcome and completely made object. True freedom, can in fact only be attained once the necessity and contingency with which one lives in Nature is sublated by capitalism; it is only through such an achievement that a new potential for freedom is effected. I’ll quote Marx at length here:
The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by the necessity and external expediency ends; it lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production proper. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite.
Thus we have the repetition of what by now is hopefully a familiar trope in Marx—that each stage of historical procession contains the seeds of its own demise and simultaneous sublation to a progressively better form of social relationality, or at least one that harbors the potential for the universal realization of the subjective (human) potentialities. Here, it seems that all Marx asks of civilization is to proceed with technology to such an extent that surplus labour is multiplied exponentially, that the amount of labour extracted from the most infinitesimal amount of labour time can meet the needs of a labour force to such an extent that human activity is no longer a means to an end but an end in itself. All that we need to do to emplace such a realm of freedom, however, is simply completely conquer nature. Now, I know that Marx isn’t necessarily advocating strip mining the earth so that we can elevate to truly free individuals (he seems to have something like the discovery of “cold fusion” in mind, in my opinion). However, given the wake of destruction that industrial capitalism has effected on the natural world, with still no magic solution to the working day (via the simultaneous increase of surplus labour and decrease of labour time) it might behoove us to perhaps distance ourselves from this part of the Marxian project, or at least root out its sources.
 Marx, Capital vol.. III, 958.
 Marx, The German Ideology, 191.
 Ibid., 192.
 Piotr Hoffman, The Anatomy of Idealism: Passivity and Activity in Kant, Hegel, and Marx (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), chapter 4.2— “Marx and Hegel: Labour, page 100.
 Marx, Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Books, 1973) pp. 409; Hoffman, 100 (Hoffman quotes Marx from p 409 of the Grundrisse too)
 Marx, Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Books, 1973) pp. 409-10.
 Capital III, 959.