"A Critique of Habermas' Proposed 'Reconstruction of Historical Materialism'," presented to the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (August 17, 1989)

by Gordon Welty
Wright State University
Dayton, Ohio, USA, 45435

The well known West German Social Democrat, Jürgen Habermas, has proposed the reconstruction of historical materialism. What does Habermas mean by "reconstruction"? The infrastructure of the United States needs reconstruction, it is clear, because trains derail, bridges and dams collapse, water mains burst, etc. at an alarming rate and with terrible loss of human life. But what of historical materialism? This theoretical programme is necessary, Habermas tells us, because historical materialism "needs revision in many respects" (1979:95). We are particularly interested in his central claim that historical materialism must be revised, in an idealist direction, because it has ignored the significance of `communicative action'./1/ We are also interested in his claim, insofar as it implicates or is understood to justify the methodological dualism of neo-Kantianism.

Habermas has sharply differentiated instrumental and strategic action from communicative action in the following terms. While instrumental action involves technical knowledge of means-ends relationships and strategic action involves organizational knowledge of social cooperation, he holds that communicative action (or human interaction) involves intersubjective knowledge incorporated both in the personality and in the redistributive processes of society (1979:131-132). Indeed, Habermas is seeking homologies of the personal and the societal spheres after the fashion of Sigmund Freud's Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. Habermas' programme inquires whether a similar logic (homologia) informs both spheres. Such a project is not without its perils, however; and Habermas acknowledges some sensitivity to these./2/ On the one hand, a project such as Habermas' can easily degenerate into casual empiricism.

On the other hand, a project such as Habermas' can easily reify whatever similarities that are disclosed, attributing them to `self-standing reason.' And thereby the only terms in which the unity of seemingly disparate spheres may scientifically be established -- the historical and material basis of the perceived homologies -- may be overlooked or obscured. Thus we are understandably reluctant to pursue homologies between the spheres of personality and society.

Finally, it has been alleged that Habermas' methodological position is in the tradition of the neo-Kantians or, more precisely, the Weberian gloss on neo-Kantianism (Albert, 1964: 168-174). Habermas has vigorously disputed this charge, denying that he "wished to play off the methods of understanding against those of explanation" (Habermas, 1964:221). Despite Habermas' disclaimer, we shall see that his argument remains conducive to neo-Kantian interpretation.

This essay will address Habermas' central claim, and will make three points in the process. First, Habermas' discussion of personality has serious shortcomings from the standpoint of historical materialism. He fails to recognize the significance of social classes and social antagonism for morality and personality, and he incorrectly differentiates the individual and the group in his analysis of ego identity. Second, Marxist anthropology provides rich terms for the analysis of both community and personality, and hardly evidences a need for `reconstruction.' Third, historical materialism as represented for instance by Engels' Anti-Dühring of 1878, incorporates an analysis of `communicative action,' although (a) it is understandable that Marx and Engels would not have used the jargon of today's bourgeois sociology in their discussion, and (b) historical materialism understands such `action' as a secondary if not tertiary moment of social reality.

Historical materialism, Habermas claims, has adequately theorized instrumental and strategic action but has overlooked `communicative action'. We reject this claim, both as it pertains to personality and to the redistributive processes of society, for reasons we will now set out.

Habermas holds that there are three moments of personality. First, there is the moment of moral consciousness./3/ As the personality matures, continues Habermas, this moral consciousness passes through three stages, the "pre-conventional", the "conventional", and the "post-conventional" stages of problem solving (1979:156). Next, there is the moment of ego development (ontogenesis)./4/ Finally, on Habermas' conception, personality consists not only of moral consciousness and ontogenesis, but of the moment of ego-identity as well./5/

As a preliminary comment, it should be noted that the latter two moments collapse into one on Habermas' argument. On the one hand, he claims that "the ego is formed in a system of demarcations" (1979:100), whereby ontogenesis is the development of ego-identity. On the other hand, his analysis of ego-identity depends no less upon his discussion of ontogenesis./6/ Of course, ego-identity is the Being of which ego-development is the Becoming. But if these dialectical moments are to be separated in the case of the ego, then they should not be joined in the case of morality, i.e. the imperative stance itself constitutes the Being of moral consciousness, while the various stages of problem-solving constitute its Becoming. Hence personality consists of moral consciousness and its developmental stages on the one hand and ego-identity, and ontogenesis, on the other. Moral consciousness and ego-identity are both constituted of "linguistically established intersubjectivity" for Habermas, the former through the process of a maturing sense of `reciprocity' and the latter through the process of mutual recognition.

Habermas on Moral Consciousness
Habermas understands moral consciousness to comprise judgments about "morally relevant conflicts." These conflicts can be resolved "consensually," in contrast to those where force is employed (1979:78). Habermas' distinction between conflicts which can be resolved pacifically versus those which are resolved violently itself has an important historical and material basis. However, Habermas has failed to recognize this social foundation of moral consciousness.

Habermas holds that there are three conditions which conflict resolution must meet in order to be `morally' relevant. (a) The interests of at least one party to the conflict must be harmed -- or else the interaction is not conflictual at all. (b) There must be consensus about the ordering of the conflictual interests -- without a summum bonum it is not a moral conflict for Habermas. This condition crucially implicates `communicative action.' (c) The failure of conflict resolution entails sanctions such as shame, guilt, or punishment (1979:78-79).

An historical materialist must pose a crucial question regarding the extension of Habermas' second condition. An essential characteristic of the antagonistic social order -- `class society' in the general sense of the term -- is inherently conflictual interests, i.e. interests which cannot be reconciled./7/ This characteristic can only be masked by such an abstract articulation of interests and the summum bonum that they are vacuous -- "systematically distorting communication" is a crucial role of the bourgeois media. Thus Habermas' conception of the conditions for the exercise of moral consciousness does not pertain to society which moves in its class antagonisms. In particular, Habermas' conception does not even pertain to his own society.

The concept of moral consciousness must therefore be reconsidered. Viewed more broadly, moral consciousness is a moment of social consciousness. As Lenin emphasized in his Materialism and Empirio-criticism, social consciousness reflects social being, the latter term referring to the ensemble of social relations in "social formations of any complexity" (Lenin, 1968, Vol. 14:312). Due to the complexity of these social forms, "social consciousness is only the reflection of being, at best an approximately true reflection of being" (Lenin, 1968, Vol. 14:315). Social consciousness must strive for what is at most a law-like (nomothetic) understanding of that social being. But due to the contradictions which inhere in the social being of the antagonistic social order -- and especially capitalist society -- social consciousness is also a contradictory reflection of social being.

Hence social consciousness cannot fulfil itself within the antagonistic social orders. Under such conditions, what is made of oneself tends to be made in the interest of some part of society, with at most consciousness of the self as a partial being. That part of society can be the clan, tribe, or family, the regional group, the religious congregation, the nationality, the occupational stratum or corporation, or some composite of these, to mention some of the more prominent historical possibilities. The global extension and deepening antagonisms of capitalism, i.e. the development of the world market and increasing exploitation, tends to break down these partialities in favor of the basic elements of capitalist society, the two great classes. Hence under capitalism what is made of oneself tends to be made in the interest of one's class, with varying levels of consciousness of the self as a member of that class. On the one hand, this is indirect, mediated through stages (trade-union consciousness, etc.) determined by organizational and other objective conditions. On the other hand, all this is of course a tendency, as the particularistic counterexamples of religious partiality in Belfast, or ethnic partiality in Georgetown, attest. In sum, class consciousness is the form fully attained by social consciousness within the antagonistic social order, i.e. under alienated social conditions.

Moral consciousness is a moment of social consciousness, hence it cannot transcend class consciousness so long as it is trammelled by the antagonistic social order. On the one hand, moral consciousness implicates class consciousness, in the broad sense of the term `class,' and specifically in capitalist society. As Engels has put it in Anti-Dühring, "morality has always been class morality" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:87). Indeed, according to the second condition of Habermas' argument, only intra-class conflicts can be `morally' resolved. And only the failure to resolve intra-class conflicts can occasion sanctions. On the other hand, if working class consciousness has matured to the point of recognizing that only through all-peoples unity can the class struggle resolutely be pursued, then intra-class conflicts must be `morally' resolved. In any case, two points should be stressed against Habermas: (a) moral consciousness cannot coherently be analysed without explicitly acknowledging the existence of class society, and (b) moral consciousness can be universalized only where it reflects the interests of a universalizable class -- and the bourgeoisie cannot constitute such a class.

Habermas on Identity and Ontogenesis
Turning next to the ego and ontogenesis, Habermas points out that object-identity can be imputed to things and events within the spheres of technical or strategic knowledge. Habermas notes that spatio-temporal coordinates are the most abstract terms for identification. Object-identity can be avowed, by contrast, only within the sphere of intersubjective knowledge, only through `communicative action.' This identity (or selfhood), personal or collective, can be avowed to another, viz when I express myself to you or when, as a collectivity, we express ourself to another group, you. Further, says Habermas, collective identity can be avowed to ourselves, viz when we mutually express ourselves as I and Thou (1979:107-109). He assumes that avowal of personal identity to oneself is a reduced form of avowal to you, yet he denies that avowal of collective identity to ourselves (the `I-Thou' expression) is a reduced form of avowal to another (the `we-you' expression). This appears to contradict ethnographic data which indicates that members of archaic tribes characteristically understood themselves as comprising all of humanity. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which they would avow identity to themselves. Identity in face of what difference? Habermas concludes that where object-identity is only imputed, the domain of the objective is delimited; avowed object-identity demarcates that of the subjective. Of course, this substantive distinction is suggestive of the methodological dualism of neo-Kantianism.

Theoretically fruitful distinctions can, of course, be drawn between the personality and the collectivity, but only in scientific terms. Historical materialism's emphasis upon social antagonism is thus fruitful in this case as in many others. The concept of exploitation is scientifically devoid of meaning when predicated of the individual person, while it is the fundamental characteristic when predicated of the collectivity, since it thereby defines the antagonistic social order. `Self-exploitation,' which has found some popularity in romantic and Narodnik circles as a glorification of the isolated petty producers, has no relationship to the historical materialist term `exploitation.' `Self-exploitation' is a transcendental conception of intrapersonal self-control which may or may not be actualized in the sphere of `economic action.' The Marxist concept of exploitation, by contrast, refers to an explicit social relationship whereby the labor product of the stratum of direct producers (i.e. `class' in the general sense) is appropriated by another stratum (or `class'; cf. Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:193-194).

Two points follow directly. In the first place, the `normative' structures of personal and societal spheres are not homologous. They are not independent domains which are informed by a similar logic -- `the personal' and `the societal' are rather moments of a complex dialectical whole. In the second place, this totality must itself be addressed at a theoretically appropriate level of discourse. This totality is the social formation, and the appropriate level of discourse is that of Marxist anthropology.

Let us conclude our discussion of Habermas' conception of personality. We have pointed out that (a) Habermas' analysis of moral consciousness fails to acknowledge the existence and crucial significance of class society for morality. (b) Further, his distinction between personal identity and that of the collectivity is not persuasive, expressed as it is in terms of the logic of personal pronouns. The distinction can surely be drawn, but scientifically only in terms of the possibility of antagonistic social relations, etc.

Since Habermas has occupied himself with establishing the terms of an `evolutionary anthropology' in his proposed reconstruction of historical materialism, it is appropriate that we briefly review Marx and Engels' anthropology.

Social forms are constituted of the social relations of specifically human beings, relationships which are characteristically either non-antagonistic or else antagonistic. In general, the personality and its ontogenesis presuppose the social relations of an historically specific form. In particular, personality distortions and disorders presuppose the alienated social relations of the antagonistic social order./8/ We will address the general case.

Marx and Engels' anthropological conception of the pre-antagonistic social order is not so well known that it can be taken for granted. In the German Ideology, for instance, they state that the mode of production manifests the mode of life of humanity (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 5:31). Habermas inquires: what is meant by the "mode of life of humanity?" (1979: 133). For the historical materialist, it comprises social relations, i.e. the cooperative production of means for the satisfaction of needs on the one side, and species-being, i.e. the reproduction of humankind as species on the other side. Thus the mode of life includes the subsistence of the individual and the continuation of the collectivity. Marx and Engels continue that this can be understood in terms of means, needs, kind (or species), and cooperation. Indeed, these are precisely the four fundamental moments of social activity (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 5:41-43). Let us briefly consider each of these moments, and their immediate consequences, in turn.

Hominids walking upright had their hands freed to hold food rather than being obliged to devour it immediately as did other animals who could carry food only in their mouth. Of course `holding' involves the truncation of action, permitting but not necessitating deliberation. And the potential for `holding' was generalizable to any means of subsistence, including instruments. These constituted the origin of `means' (Woolfson, 1982: Chap. 4). The human mouth was likewise freed for vocalization, facilitating the coordination of collective labor./9/

The first historical act, the first act of the human as such, includes the production of means of subsistence (or instruments) to satisfy need. Likewise, the satisfaction of needs generates new needs, another moment of this first historical act. Thus in poiesis the production and utilization of instruments coincide in a natural relation which means that deliberation is not presupposed in the first historical act./10/

Just as humans subsisting for themselves reproduce their own lives from day to day, Marx and Engels continue, humans also reproduce their kind in praxis, by procreation and socialization as another moment of the historical act. Primordial social relations have two particular forms which will be noted here and addressed more fully below, viz. the sexual relationship of man and woman, and the nurturant relationship of child and adult. These primordial social relations are later subordinated to other social relationships, but are initially manifested in the earliest human institution, the matrilineal gens (Morgan, 1877:383 et seq.; Engels, 1972:94-125).

The mode of production and reproduction with its means and needs entails, then, a mode of cooperation in human relations./11/ Incidentally, we should not assume that this manifested itself in "cooperative hunting" as Habermas proposes (1979:134). Both Marx (1972:99) and Engels (1972:88), as well as today's ethnography, reject such a suggestion (cf. Slocum, 1975: 36-50; Leacock, 1981: Chap. 7). In any case, this cooperation is itself a productive force and the fourth and final moment of the first historical act (cf. also Marx, 1967:326-329).

A byproduct of the fundamental historical relationships of the cooperative production of life and needs, both one's own and that of one's kind, is self-consciousness and its medium, language (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 3:304; Vol. 5:43-44). Habermas concurs with Marx and Engels' anthropology to the extent that he acknowledges that "labor and language are older than man and society" (Habermas, 1979:137; Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:456). However, for Habermas' argument, the parity of language with labor is necessary for the "linguistically established intersubjectivity" which is the basis of personality (i.e. `man') and human society (Habermas, 1979: 99).

For the historical materialist, however, once language or practical subjectivity is historic, man is differentiated from other fabricators, say the social insects, by planning or deliberation, an activity of practical subjectivity as Marx later details (1967:178). So much for Marx and Engels' conception of the first historical act, the emergence of humanity as such, and the implications of that act for self-consciousness.

The Dialectics of Community
In order to understand the development of personality, further comments on the topic of the matrilineal gens and its social relations are required. Claude Lévi-Strauss (1969: Chaps. III-V), Elman Service (1975) and other bourgeois thinkers arbitrarily presuppose the universality of patriarchy in a conjunction of positivism and the mystic's nescio. Habermas similarly "imagines how the family might have emerged" (1979: 135). It is scientifically appropriate instead to begin with that which has substance (ousia) in the domain of praxis. That is substantial which is self-sufficient, sui generis. That which is self-sufficient reproduces itself. Thus the theoretically appropriate level of discourse regarding community and personality is that of `Reflex-categories' or the dialectics of Identity, Difference, Ground, and Existence (cf. Hegel, 1970: 236-262).

The Self-identical
The community is that which is identical to itself through itself. The characteristics of community, the terms in which it can self-sufficiently reproduce itself, include (a) territory and associated natural resources, (b) endogamous mating patterns, and (c) a communal name, and religious faith and rituals (Morgan, 1877:112 ff; also Engels, 1972:153 ff). Territory, although imperfectly demarcated, was the natural basis of the community's existence, a precondition of living together as a community (and of living apart from other communities). Such a community must be endogamous, i.e. its members must select their mates from within that community. The communal name was a condition of living together, the cultural reflex of collective self-reference (the `we-you' expression). Finally, primitive religious faith and rituals constituted the phenomena of community, living together as societas, Morgan's term for the non-antagonistic social order. Hence the primitive inclination to identify the community with what is, the totality at least of the practical.

In his Ancient Society, Morgan discussed the "organic series" of gentes, tribes, and nations. The gens was the social element of the non-antagonistic primitive social order. Its important characteristics were given in the jus gentilicum -- they were (a) matrilineality and matrifocality, and (b) the rule of exogamy (Morgan, 1877:63 et seq.). Because of its exogamous character, the gens was not self-sufficient -- it could not reproduce itself from generation to generation -- and thus was a component of the tribe, which was the self-sufficient community. The tribal community furthermore had (a) "exclusive possession of a dialect" which may or may not have been co-extensive with a language, and it subsequently experienced (b) a decline of societas, after the Neolithic "agricultural revolution" reduced religious practice to a constituted portion of culture rather than that culture's constituting moment. The tribe thereby tended to become only a component of the nation or nationality, which has emerged in turn as the basic ethnic unit of the modern antagonistic social order (Morgan's civitas).

Hence the tribe is organized internally in the gentes as well as externally into `confederations' or `nations'. Since these externalities of the tribe do not necessarily promote social antagonism in the form of bellicosity or Statehood, a point acknowledged at least as early as Montesquieu's De l'Esprit des Lois, Livre 9, the inwardness of the tribe is of greater moment here (Montesquieu, 1964:577 f).

The Differentiated
But the very act by which the community identifies itself dirempts it into identificans and identificandum. Thus the community is also a diversity of associates. These associates are alike in their common forebears and in values held in common as a consequence of their similar modes of life; they are unlike hence their need to communicate, to reaffirm community. Hence the associates are interdependent in community, in peer relations. Marx had recognized the primacy of simple variety in social organization very early when he wrote that "democracy alone can be understood in its own terms; each element therein is merely an element of the community." Signally, he continues "democracy is the genus of Constitution" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 3:29).

The peer relationship embodies the resocializing (mutually accommodating) interaction of humans, i.e. persons already nurtured, thus presupposing the nurturant relation between the specifically differentiated. As an egalitarian social interaction, the peer relationship is in many cases socially facilitating, which is to say enhances the individual's productive or practical performance in egalitarian social settings (R. Zajonc, 1965:269-274; on emulation and `animal spirits,' see Marx, 1967:329).

On the one hand, a form of this facilitation is the attraction of the sexes. On the other hand, the relative equivalence of the interdependent peers is finally grounded in the sexual relationship, naturalized human interaction (hence presupposing peer relations or friendship). (cf. Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 3:295-296; Vol. 25:90).

Grounded being comes into exist through the maternal relation, the natural dependency of the fetus on its mother. Thus it presupposes the naturalization of human interaction. It might be argued that women's parturition and lactation are themselves natural functions rather than human activities in the most primitive societies. Such an argument would manifest a mechanical mode of conceptualization, however, because the dependency of fetus on its mother has a crucial cultural moment; this dependency can be terminated either during pregnancy (by primitive modes of abortion) or during infancy (by primitive modes of infanticide such as exposure). Indeed, the dependency can be terminated during infancy by `animalistic' modes; the very distinction is suggestive of other, `cultural' modes.

As this natural dependency is socialized, rather than terminated, the uniqueness of the relationship declines as the salience remains high; the relation is transformed into the nurturant relation of increasing autonomy of the child towards any adult, including the natural mother. Thus self-conscious human agency is distinctly involved both in childbirth (Velovsky, 1960) -- only an insensitivity to the historical peculiarity of post-World War II practices of general anaesthesiology in certain capitalist countries could understand this in universal terms as a woman's "submitting passively to her biologic fate" -- as well as in nurturance, which likewise only through the reification of the nuclear family and the privatized household could be understood as "passive submission."/12/ Notice that any given social relation (e.g. nurturance) does not entail any particular institutionalization (e.g. the 'nuclear family'); indeed, the institutionalization of the nurturant relation can be either familial or alloparental institutions of several varieties.

Dialectics of Personality
Of the four relationships -- peer, sexual, maternal, and nurturant -- it is the latter which is the most significant for the natural division of labor, since the difference between child and adult is initially the greatest of any within the community./13/ Habermas, by contrast, supposes that the difference between the sexes is the greatest, indeed so great as to be incommensurable (1979:134-135). He reifies the sexual relation as it appears in an historically particular institutionalization, viz the "father role," then discovers that adult males had no place in the pre-patriarchal "family." At this juncture in his argument, impaled as he is on the horns of the dilemma, Habermas reveals his true Parsonsian tendencies and seeks the "integration of the two sub-systems" (Habermas, 1979:135; also Parsons, 1951:149-150). He might instead have considered the theoretical implications of a multi-generational community, which has been an historical and material reality -- even in today's capitalist society (cf. e.g. Young and Willmott, 1962: Chap. 5; also Litwak, 1965). Habermas could thereupon found that place for the adult male -- an avuncular role in the egalitarian gens.

On the one hand, Engels cautioned us about over-emphasizing the difference between the sexes (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:373-374). On the other hand, as Marx puts it, the child is "the completely immature human being" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 3:308). Finally, as already noted, as this immaturity is sublated, the nurturant relation is transformed into the egalitarian peer relation. The neonate becomes a personality as the salience of the nurturant relationship declines, as it appropriates, i.e. comes to master personal space including its body, etc. Mastery subsequently encompasses symbolic space including one's name, etc. The cultural objectivization of this emerging personality is the biography. Taken together, personality and biography, matter and form, constitute the appearance of the Person.

Thus at least four relations -- the egalitarian peer relationship among friends, the egalitarian sexual relationship of man and woman, the maternal relation of mother and infant, and the nurturant relationship of child and adult -- structure the life-cycle of the person since each relation is presupposed by its predecessor, as we have just seen. These four relationships will be manifested in their unalienated or undistorted form in non-antagonistic social orders, and in various alienated or privated forms in antagonistic social orders.

In summary, Marxist anthropology has theoretically rich terms for analysing the relations which constitute the community and the emergence of the personality. But these relations are in their most essential characteristic either antagonistic or non-antagonistic. That distinction must be highlighted in any discussion which represents itself as historical materialist. While we have stressed the distinction, we have not yet discussed how the antagonistic social order emerges. We must now address that issue. And that turns our attention to the topic of `communicative action' and redistributive processes in society.

Habermas does not focus merely on the topic of personality. As we have observed, he also discusses the role of communicative action in the societal sphere. Thus let us turn our attention to Habermas' analysis of redistributive processes. Habermas holds that the distribution of the labor product is not modelled upon the application of labor (i.e. it is autonomous of the sphere of instrumental action) nor is it modelled upon the coordination of joint production (i.e. it is autonomous of the sphere of strategic action as well). Rather the distribution of the labor product presupposes a sphere and logic of its own (autonomia), a sphere wherein subjectivity and intersubjectivity are fully acknowledged, and a logic whereby `reciprocity' is promoted. Again, let us merely note that this claim may be conducive to a neo-Kantian interpretation of Habermas.

Let us make a preliminary observation here -- there is no question among historical materialists that the praxis of the redistributive process cannot simply be reduced to the poiesis of the labor process. This is what Engels meant when he sharply distinguished, in Anti-Dühring, between the governance of men and the administration of things -- a distinction, however, which would fully be actualized only with the advent of socialism (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:268).

In Anti-Dühring, Engels moreover discusses the dialectics of the emergence of social antagonism, i.e. class relationships in the general sense of the term `class.' This discussion is relevant to us since (a) Habermas (1979:143) has charged Engels in particular with a "technologistic" understanding, and (b) the emergence of class society is a profound instance of redistribution of the social product -- redistribution from the direct producers and to the non-working appropriators. Thus our task is clearly formulated: to what extent does Engels' text disclose an analysis of `action' properly labeled `communicative'? Let us recall Engels' discussion in Anti-Dühring.

Engels on the Emergence of Social Antagonism
(1) "Primeval" equality prevailed among humans during and immediately after the transition from ape to human. There were two moments to this equality: existential equality on the one hand and that of social position on the other. Social equality continued among the heads of families, i.e. the patriarchs, even after the "agricultural revolution" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:166). The restriction of equality to the patriarchs is suggestive of the "world historic overthrow of motherright" which attended the agricultural revolution (Engels, 1972:120). As Engels had noted earlier, "the whole simple basic scheme is turned into its opposite: instead of the equality of people it proves at most the equality of heads of families, and as women are not considered, it further proves that they are subordinate" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:90). This subordination of women certainly involves inequality of social position, and may involve existential inequality as well. We will return to this issue below.

(2) There were common interests between the families within the agricultural villages, interests requiring such activities as dispute adjudication, water control, religious rites, etc. The common interests between families, and the associated activities, constituted the historical and material conditions for the equality of the heads of families. These common interests were entrusted to individuals under communal control (i.e. `public servants'). Thus difference emerges from equivalence; but it remains diversity within the communal unity. This trust constituted an office which was endowed with some authority and was the beginning of `state power.'

We will only observe here that Engels' discussion to this point is clearly sensitive to the significance of `communicative action,' given his mention of such proto-state functions as dispute settlement and control of the abuse of authority. On the one hand, Habermas acknowledges that "law and morality mark the core domain of interaction" (1979:99). On the other hand, according to Habermas' second condition for `moral' relevance, the common interests in these disputes would make them amenable to `moral resolution' (cf. Habermas, 1979:74-76). Such resolution would implicate `communicative action.'

But there is an irreducible difference between the positions of Habermas and Engels on this theme. Habermas asserts the autonomy of the sphere of `communicative action' from those of instrumental and strategic action. Engels, by contrast, asserts that `communicative action' is derivative; more precisely, that cultural and social relations (and whatever `actions' are implicated in those relations) are derivative of relations of production and appropriation./14/

(3) Shifting his attention from the relationship of the family to its community to the relationships between communities, Engels continues that "productive forces gradually increase." Productive forces include a subjective as well as an objective aspect, the labor force as well as the means of production. Engels is evidently referring to the increase of the subjective forces of production here, since he indicates that "the increased density of population" creates both common and conflictual interests between communities. The safeguarding of these common interests and the control of conflictual interests were entrusted to `organs.' In this case difference likewise emerges from equivalence. But these organs tended to become independent of the individual communities, in part through hereditary accession to office and in part through the indispensibility of the `organs' in the face of increasingly frequent conflicts of interest. Thus the dialectic becomes diremptive of unity. As the organ becomes independent it tends to dominate society. What were hitherto objects of avowal are reduced to objects of imputation. Under specific conditions the dominating organ becomes the Oriental despot, the Celtic chieftain, etc. All these forms of the state, viz `public servant', chieftain, despot, are generically similar.

Engels refers to the tendency of the state organs to dominate society as a "process of formation of classes," as the emergence of social antagonism. This is clear, whether or not "this process of formation of classes" also refers back to the public servant's position within the agricultural community. Moreover, this domination has its historical and material basis in the redistributive processes, which redistribute the social product from the direct producers of the primitive agricultural community, through the office of the public servant, from whence it passes either to serve the communal interests (in a non-antagonistic case such as famine relief) or else to serve the particular interests of non-workers, who come to assume an increasingly antagonistic relationship to the direct producers.

(3.a) On the one hand, the public servant's office may have had only an implicitly antagonistic relationship to members of the community; the state organ has rather an explicitly antagonistic relationship to the several communities. As Engels indicates, "the primitive groups of communities of the same tribe had at first arrived at [the proto-state] only in order to safeguard their common interests (e.g. irrigation in the East) and for protection against external enemies" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:137). This proto-state was modelled on the public servant's office within the community. However, "where considerable inequality of distribution among the members of the community sets in [the state organ] acquires just as much the function of maintaining by force the conditions of existence and domination of the ruling class against the subject class" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:137). It is from this stage onwards that, in Habermas' terms, `communicative action' becomes subordinated to instrumental action, since this is where Engels understands social antagonism and the alienation of humans from their fellows to have begun. And Habermas seems to concur: "only with the transition to societies organized around a state do mythological world-views also take on the legitimation of structures of domination" (1979:104).

(3.b) On the other hand, social antagonism, such as it is within the primitive agricultural community, would be exercised against the women and young men of the village by the `public servant' on behalf of their patriarchs.

(4) Whether this is understood as the emergence of explicit social antagonism from those which were only implicit (i.e. 3.a, above), or as the emergence of social antagonism and the organs of the state from the institution of domestic slavery (i.e. 3.b), this is clearly only the beginning of antagonism in social relations. Engels continues "alongside this process of formation of classes another [process of formation] was also taking place" (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:167).

The second process was the development of slavery, and Engels clearly means the chattel slavery most characteristic of classical Graeco-Roman antiquity. The transition from the primitive patriarchal agricultural commune to classical slavery had several features which Engels mentions, including (a) the further development of productive forces, (b) privatization of land use if not the termination of communal land ownership, (c) a source of extra-communal labor power, and (d) extensive commercial relationships (Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:148-149; 167). Engels' discussion of chattel slavery received a fuller elaboration in his subsequent The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Since this book, first published in 1885, gave a highly focussed discussion of the second "process of formation of classes" -- the process of class-formation other than the process which leads to Oriental despotism -- it is not surprising that Engels did not discuss despotism in The Origin of the Family.

We will now conclude this review of Engels' analysis of the emergence of class relationships. Engels does evidence a sensitivity to `communicative action', in Habermas' sense of those terms. Engels' understanding of the nature of interests in the pre-antagonistic commune, and the requirements for maintaining those interests, implicates `communicative action'. Collective identity based upon communal property implicates intersubjective avowal of subjectivity (the `I-Thou' expression), and the corruption of that identity by privatized appropriation implicates redistributive processes which negate -- thus presuppose -- intersubjectivity (the reduction of objects of avowal to objects of imputation).

Hence we must reject Habermas' claim that historical materialism has overlooked the analysis of `communicative action' in the case of redistributive processes. In summary, we find that Habermas' proposed `reconstruction' of historical materialism to be neither necessary nor sufficient. As such, his argument provides no warrant -- intended or unintentional -- for methodological dualism. Habermas' proposed `reconstruction' is not necessary because we find evidence that Marx and Engels addressed topics such as `communicative action' in their writings. This concept was not accorded a primary moment in historical materialism as Habermas would like because of the primacy of other social processes such as production, or the alienation of labor. These processes are primary moments of social reality because they inform or deform `communicative action' while the latter is unable, for instance, to rectify alienation. Neither is `communicative action' sufficient for human emancipation. The primacy of `communicative action' can only be established in social reality with the transcendence of capitalist society -- even in its form of `organized capitalism.' Thus, contrary to Habermas' argument, `systematically undistorted communication' is a sequel rather than a precondition of human emancipation, and must be theorized as such.


1. Habermas (1979:97): "idealism belongs in a most natural way to the conditions of reproduction of a species that must preserve its life through labor and interaction..."

2. Habermas (1979:102; 110) cautions against drawing "hasty parallels" and further on, he cautions (1979:154) against drawing "over-hasty conclusions."

3. Habermas (1979:99) the `homologous structures' of social evolution which correspond to moral consciousness are the "institutions of law and morality" (see 1979:99; cf. Also 156-157).

4. Habermas (1979:99) the homologues which correspond to ontogenesis are "Weltbildern" (cf. 1979:102-103).

5. Habermas (1979:106) the homologues here are "collective identities" (see 1979:110).

6. Habermas (1979:109) it is worth noting that Habermas at one point also considers moral consciousness to be an "aspect" of ontogenesis (cf. 1979:78).

7. Whether any of the parties of class society believe their interests can be reconciled, and even act on those beliefs, is of course another issue altogether, concerning false consciousness and ideology.

8. Habermas (1979:70) observes that "autonomous ego organization" is "usually not attained." This is true of the capitalist countries.

9. Engels, Dialectics of Nature (in Marx and Engels, 1976, Vol. 25:453); in particular, it follows that language has as its presupposition the first historical act, contrary to Habermas' conjecture (1979:134; also 136).

10. Incidentally, this resolves the idealist problem of explaining how humans conceptualized their first activities; there is no such problem for historical materialism.

11. On the characteristically cooperative interactions of gathering societies, see Woolfson (1982: Chap. 3).

12. Simone de Beauvoir (1953:71-72); yet de Beauvoir alleges that the absence of the `project' for the woman is the "key to the whole mystery" of the "secondary sex."

13. Hence puberty rites are religiously fundamental in primitive society; see Radin (1937:79-81; also 83, 93, 101).

14. Of course, these latter relations do not unequivocally implicate any `sphere of action' either; it should be recalled that Engels lived and wrote before Talcott Parsons, knew as little about Parsons as Parsons did of Marx and Engels, and thus Engels was unconstrained by `social action theory.' The reader might be mildly amused to re-read Parsons (1949).


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