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The Negation of Abnegation

Marx on Consumption

In: Historical Materialism
Author: Ishay Landa1
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  • 1 The Open UniversityRa’ananaIsrael
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Abstract

This essay revisits Karl Marx’s understanding of consumption, in an effort to rescue it from the overshadowing legacy of critical theory which has construed Marx as inveighing against false needs. It is argued that Marx regarded the expansion of needs entailed by capitalism in a generally favourable way, but saw capitalism as a system yoking use-value to the imperatives of profit accumulation, hence limiting and subjugating the consumption of the masses. While Marx’s position was radically different from conventional anti-consumerism it is equally incompatible with complacent affirmations of ‘the consumer society’ in that Marx at all times aimed at a revolutionary change which will transform consumption both quantitatively and qualitatively. Marx’s views are first discussed as expressed in the perennially-cited text, the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. The second part moves on to examine the further evolution of Marx’s ideas as found in later texts, particularly the Grundrisse.

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