Azeri, Siyaves

Dialectics of the Concrete, Abstract Labour, and Criticism of Existentialism


Forms of cognition and categorization of the world correspond to forms of historically-specific human activity. A Marxian dialectical analysis of epistemology, therefore, is a criticism of the existing forms of cognition, of knowing the world and of categorizing it as historically-specific forms of activity. A Marxist analysis should begin with asking the reason behind the prevailing of the exiting forms of categorization of the world: why people use these particular categories in order to regulate their perception and routine activity? (Kosik 1976, 6)

In his criticism of existentialism and the notions of “care” and “procure” Kosik uses the aforementioned method to show how existentialism is rooted in and shares the fetishistic view of the world specific to capitalism. In order to disclose this kinship, Kosik pertains to the category of abstract labour as the historical-specific form of production of wealth (value) in capitalist society (Kosik 1976, 38).

Abstract labour is the general human labour the expenditure of which is measured by the abstract time. This aspect, according to Kosik, becomes manifest in the fetishization of human relations and also in the waged-labour. The shift in German classical philosophy form “labour” to “procuring” (Hegel to Heidegger) is the manifestation of dominance of abstract labour in capitalist society. German classical philosophy knows only “labour” as the transhistorical, immediate activity of manipulating the nature. The absence of such a transhistorical concrete labour and determination and subjugation of “labour” by abstract labour finds its unconscious “ideological” manifestation in the shift from labour to procuring. “Procuring” is a mystified, fetishized interpretation of, and a nominal replacement for the concrete labour. It is a romantic rage against the abstract labour but from within the very context that is determined by the abstract labour. Heidegger sees labour as transhistorical; thus, the determination and subordination of concrete labour by the abstract labour in capitalist society seems as the dissolution of labour and its replacement by some abstract entity. Therefore, he offers a return to the “essence” of labour; an essence that doesn’t exist; he abhors the phenomenally conceivable labour as the manifestation of abstract labour and suggests a return to the allegedly authentic “labour” in the form of procuring. Heidegger does not see that the determination and subordination of the concrete labour by the abstract labour is the inevitable consequence of the self-movement of the capital. Concrete labour under capitalism cannot emerge but only as a moment of the abstract labour. It is the necessary form of appearance of the abstract labour (as the genetic root, the essence of labour). Heidegger dreams of a direct return to an essence where no such essence persists. Thus Kosik states, “Procuring is praxis in its phenomenally alienated form which does not point to the genesis of the human world but rather expresses the praxis of everyday manipulation, with man employed in a system of ready-made ‘things’, i.e., implements” (1976, 39).