On Georges Bataille’s Critique of Marxism
In The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Volume I: Consumption, Georges Bataille lines out his critique of Marxism.
Bataille starts out by explaining that Marxism is nothing more than the restricted economy taken to its limit (but it does not transgress that limit in order to be general economic), the highest mode of production. It is the highest form of restricted economy because it “denies even more than Calvinism a tendency of man to look for himself directly when he acts”. What Bataille means by this is that Marxism denies sovereignty to a higher degree than (Calvinist) capitalism does. Bataille then explains that, within Marxism, action is reserved “for the changing of the material organization,” action must always be useful.
Bataille claims that “[t]he fundamental proposition of Marxism is to free the world of things (of the economy) entirely from every element that is extraneous to things (to the economy)”. By this, Bataille means that Marxism’s goal is to rid the profane (the world of things) of the sacred (the world beyond things). Now, of course, this is an impossible operation because the profane must constitute itself upon the exclusion of the sacred but let’s entertain Bataille and his critique of Marx some more.
See, in the eyes of Bataille, Marx “was determined to reduce things to the condition of man, and man to the free disposition of himself”. Where capitalism is nothing more than “an unreserved surrender to things,” Marxism is trying to transform and change them. Is Marxism then not the movement of the slave, within the master-slave dialectic, par excellence?
For Bataille, Marxism dreams of a world which only has human beings “liberated through action,” human beings which had left things behind them. Marxism dreams of a world in which human beings are no longer enslaved by things. It is because of this rejection of things in favor of man that Bataille sort of goes back on his original statement about Marxism and says that “Marxism is less the completion of the Calvinist project than a critique of capitalism, which it reproaches with having liberated things without regor, without any other end, without any other law than chance — and private interest”. But this is also so odd because human beings under capitalism are things; “[f]or common capitalism, things (products and production) are not, as for the Puritans, what is becoming and wants to become; if things are within it, if it is itself the thing, this is in the way that Satan inhabits the soul of someone possessed, unbeknown to him, or that the possessed, without knowing it, is Satan himself”. Is Marxism therefore the determination to reduce things to the condition of things? What are we to do with Marxism now that the critique is over?
May I suggest, as did Botting and Wilson, a Marxism without reserve?
Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Volume I: Consumption. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York, NY: Zone Books, 1991.
: Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Volume I: Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley (New York, NY: Zone Books, 1991), 134.
: Ibid., 135.
: Ibid., 136.