Marx’s Ontology of Capitalism. Reconsidering the 1844 Manuscripts

Frédéric Monferrand


Marx’s so-called 1844 Manuscripts have generated numerous interpretations and debates. Building on Marcuse’s and Althusser’s interpretations, I argue that these debates revolve around the question of Marx’s ontology. Where Althusser interprets this ontology as a substantialist theory of “human essence” and Marcuse as an existential ontology of labor, my claim is that Marx’s ontology is a social ontology of capitalism. By “social ontology of capitalism”, I mean a theory of society’s mode of being when it is subsumed under capitalist forms such as alienated labor, money and private property.
In the Manuscripts, Marx theorizes the structural relation between labor, money and private property in terms of reciprocal action (Wechselwirkung). Inasmuch as he inherits this concept from Hegel’s chapter on “effectivity” in the Doctrine of essence, Marx’s social ontology is a processual one. Reconstructing this process ontology, I argue, allows to go beyond unsatisfying dichotomies (between social structures and social experience, or between the critique of class domination and the critique of abstract domination) which continue to structure the contemporary Marxist discussion on capitalism and its overthrowing.

onthology - alienation - Capitalism - Karl Marx - Hegel