Ideology in Social Science Readings in critical social theory Ed. by Robin Blackburn Fontana, 1975 Structure and Contradiction in Capital* MAURICE GODELIER In this essay Maurice Godelier investigates the two different types of contradiction which Marx analysed in Capital. One is the contradiction between capitalists and workers which arose and developed along with capitalism itself; since it origin ated with capitalism it cannot by itself lead to the revolutionary replacement of capitalist social relations by a higher form of social rationality (socialism). This latter transformation is pre- pared by another type of contradiction which capitalism only develops in its later phases: namely the contradiction between th e increasingly social nature of the forces of production and the still private character of appropriation. Maurice Godelier is Trolessor o f Economic Anthropology at th e Collège d e France, author of Rationality and Irrationality in Economics {London 1972). I s it possible to analyse the relations between an event and a structure, or to explain the genesis and evolution of that struc ture, without being forced to abandon a structuralist viewpoint? These two questions are topical, and some have already hazarded an affirmative reply. A new situation is emerging, one of the aspects of which is the resumption of a dialogue between struc turalism and Marxism. This is hardly surprising, as Marx himself, a century ago, described the whole of social life in terms of 'structures', advanced the hypothesis of the necessary existence of correspondences between infrastructures and superstructures characterizing different 'types' of society, and, lastly, claimed the ability to explain the 'evolution' of these types of society by the emergence and development of 'contradictions' between their structures. * This essay first appeared in Les Temps Modernes, No. 246, November 19 66. The translation is by Ben Brewster . p 334-368 1 5

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Ideology in Social ScienceReadings in critical social theoryEd. by Robin BlackburnFontana, 1975

Structure andContradiction inCapital*


In this essay Maurice Godelier investigates the two differenttypes of contradiction which Marx analysed in Capital. One isthe con tradiction between capitalists and w orkers which aroseand developed along with capitalism itself; since it originated with capitalism it cannot by itself lead to the revolutionaryreplacement of capitalist social relations by a higher form ofsocial rationality (socialism). This latter transformation is pre-pared by another type of contradiction which capitalism onlydevelops in its later phases: namely the contradiction between

the increasingly social nature of the forces of production andthe still private character of appropriation.Maurice Godelier is Trolessor of Economic Anthropology at

the Collège de France, author of Rationality and Irrationality inEconomics {London 1972).

Is it possible to analyse the relations between an event and astructure, or to explain the genesis and evolution of that structure , w itho ut being forced to abandon a structura list viewpoint?These two questions are topical, and some have already hazardedan affirmative reply. A new situation is emerging, one of theaspects of which is the resumption of a dialogue between structuralism and Marxism. This is hardly surprising, as Marx himself,a century ago, described the whole of social life in terms of'structures', advanced the hypothesis of the necessary existenceof correspondences between infrastructures and superstructurescharacterizing different 'types' of society, and, lastly, claimed

the ability to explain the 'evolution' of these types of societyby the emergence and development of 'contradictions' betweentheir structures.

* This essay first appeared in Les Temps Modernes, No. 246,November 1966. The translation is by Ben Brewster.

p 334-368


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Struc ture and Contradiction in Capital 335

But the appearance of the word 'contradict ion ' might seem to

cut short th is resumed dialogue, for we al l remember thedialectical 'miracles' of Hegel and many more or less well-known Marxists . But can the quest ion be so simply answered;is Marx's dialectic the same as Hegel 's ? Marx 's own s ta tementson this point are equivocal: i t sufficed to ' turn the dialectic

^ right side up again' to make it 'scientifically useful' , and to stripoff all the mystif ications with which Hegelian idealism had surrounded i t

I should like to reconsider this question by returning to the

text of Capital In fact, I think I can show that, in basic principles, Marx's dialectic has nothing to do with Hegel 's, becausethey do not depend on the same notion of contradict ion. Traditional exegeses of M arx th en collapse , giving plac e to a Ma rxlargely unknown even to Marxists , a Marx capable of providingunexpected and frui t ful e lements for the most up to datescientific reflection.

1. From the visible functioning of the capitalist system to itshidden internal 'structure'

What does Marx mean by an economic ' sys tem' ? A determinedcombination of specific modes of production, circulation, distr ibut ion, and co nsum ption of mater ial goods. In th is com binat ion,the mode of production of goods plays the dominant rôle . Amode of production is the combinat ion of two structures,i r reducible to one another : the productive forces and the relations of production. The notion of productive forces designatesthe set of factors of production, resources, tools, men, character izing a determined society at a determined epoch whichmus t be combined in a specific way to produce the materialgoods necessary to that society. The notion of relations ofproduction designates the functions fulfil led by individuals an4groups in the production process and in the control of thefactors of production. For example, capitalist relations of production are relations between a class of individuals who have

private possession of the productive forces and of capital , anda class of individuals without th is proper ty who must sel l tothe former the use of their labour power in exchange for awage. Each class complements and presupposes the other .

For Marx, the scientif ic understanding of the capitalist systemconsists in the discovery of the internal structure hidden behind

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336 Maurice Godelier

its visible functioning.Thus, for Marx, as for Claude Lévi-Strauss,

1'structures' should

not be confused with visible 'social relations' but constitute alevel of reality invisible but present behind the visible socialrelations. The logic of the latter, and the laws of social practicemore generally, depend on the functioning of these hiddenstructures and the discovery of these last should allow us to'account for all the facts observed'.


A very crude summary of Marx's thesis might go as follows:in the practice of the capitalist system everything occurs as if

the w age were paid for the worker's labour, and as if the capitalhad of itself the property of automatic growth and of rendering a profit to its owner. In day to day practice there is nodirect proof that capitalist profit is unpaid workers' labour, noimmediate experience of the exploitation of the worker by thecapitalist.

For Marx, profit is a fraction of the exchange value of commodities which remains in the hands of their owner afterdeducting prime costs. The exchange value of commodities

presupposes a unit of measurement which makes them commensurable. This common unit cannot be the utility of thecommodities since there is nothing in common at the level ofuse value between vegetables and a fountain pen The exchange value of commodities can only derive from what theyhave in common as products of labour. The substance of valueis therefore the socially necessary labour for the production ofthese commodities. Profit is a fraction of the value

3created by

the use of workers' labour power which is not paid as wages.Profit is thus unpaid labour, free labour. But in practice, in theeyes of capitalists and workers, everything takes place as if thewages paid for all the labour provided by the worker (bonuses,piece rates, overtime rates, etc.). Wages thus give the workers'unpaid labour the appearances of paid labou r: 'This phenomenal form, which makes the actual relation invisible, and,

i. Claude Lévi-Strauss, 'On Structure* in Structural Anthropology,Ch. XV, p. 279.

2. Ibid., p. 280. [This is a direct translation of the French textused by Godelier (Anthropologie Structurale» p. 306); Lévi-Strauss*(original) English version reads: 'make immediately intelligible allthe observed facts'—Translator's note,"]

3. This is a deliberate simplification, for profit may or may notcorrespond to the surplus value really produced in an enterprise.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 337

indeed, shows the direct opposite of that relation, forms the

basis of all the juridical notions of both labourer and capitalist ,of all the mystifications of the capitalistic mode of production.'*In fact, once wages appear as the price of labour, profit can

no longer appear as unpaid labour. I t necessarily appears as thepro du ct of capital . Each class seems to dra w from pro du ctio nthe revenue to which it has a r ight. There is no visible exploitation of one class by an oth er. The eco nom ic categories : w ages ,profits, interest, etc. , thus express the visible relations of day today business and as such they have a pragmatic utility, but no

scientif ic value. Once economic science bases i tself on thesecategories i t , in fact, does no more than 'interpret, systematizeand defend in doctrinaire fashion the conceptions of the agentsof bourgeois production who are entrapped in bourgeois product ion relat ions. I t should not astonish us, then, that vulgareconomy feels par t icular ly at home in the estranged outwardappearances of economic relat ions . . . and that these relat ionsseem the more sell-evident the more their in ternal relat ionshipsare concealed from it '

5. Th e intelligibili ty an d cohe rence in

troduced by this systematizat ion of the current conceptions ofmembers of the society can only resul t in mythology. To talkof the price of labour is as irrational as to talk of a yellowlogarithm.' Myth here consists of a coherent theory of appearances, o f w h a t seems to happen in practice. The scientif ic conception of social reality does not 'arise by abstraction' from thespontaneous or reflected conceptions of individuals. On thecontrary , i t must destroy the obviousness of these conceptions

in order to bring out the hidden internal logic of social l ife.Therefore, for Marx, the model constructed by science corresponds to a reality concealed beneath visible reality. But he goeseven fur ther ; for h im this concealment is not due to the inabili ty of consciousness to 'perceive' this structure, but to thes t ruc ture itself. If capital is-not a thing, but a social relationship,i .e. a non-sensible reality, i t must inevitably disappear w h e nprese nted in th e sensible form s of ra w m ateria ls, tools, .money,etc . I t is not the subject who deceives himself, b u t reality

which deceives him, and the appearances in which the structureof the capitalist production process conceals i tself are the starting-point for individuals ' conceptions. For Marx, a determined

4. Capital, I, p. 540 (Moscow, 1961). Emphases M.G. unless otherwise stated.- 5. Capital, III, p . 797.

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338 Maurice Godeîier

mode of appearance corresponds to each determined struc ture of

the real, and this mode of appearance is the starting-point for akind of spontaneous consciousness of the structure for whichneither consciousness nor the individual are responsible. Itfollows that the scientific understanding of a stucture does notabolish the spontaneous consciousness of that structure. Itmodifies its rôle and its effects, but it does not suppress it.


When Marx assumes that structure is not to be confused withvisible relations and explains their hidden logic, he inauguratesthe modern structuralist tradition . And he is fully in accord with

this tradition when he proposes the priority of. the study ofstructures over that of their genesis and evolution. Beforegetting on to this new theme, I should like to set down, w ithoutdeveloping it, a rough comparison of Marx's scientific practicewith Lévi-Strauss', by resuming the principal characteristics ofthe latter's celebrated analysis of the Murngin kinship system, tobe found in Les Structures Élémentaires de la Tarenté,


This Australian kinship system was considered 'aberrant' byspecialists, because it could never be exactly classified in a

typology of the so-called 'classical' Australian systems. Thelatter are of three types, according as to whether the number ofmatrimonial classes is two, four or eight. It had been establishedthat a moiety system prescribed marriage between cross cousins,but forbade it between parallel cousins. The four-section Karierasystem was the same. Nothing was changed, therefore, in theorder of prescriptions and prohibitions on passing from a two-class matrimonial system to a four-class matrimonial system.On the other hand, in the Aranda ^eight-subsection system,marriage between any first cousin, cross or parallel, was prohibited.

But thé . Murngin system differs both from the Kariera andfrom the Aranda systems. It contains eight subsections, just asthe Aranda system does, but for all that, it authorizes marriagewith the matrilateral cross cousin as the Kariera system does.But while the Kariera system authorizes marriage with both thecross cousins, the Murngin system forbids it. with the patri-

6. In the same Way for Spinoza knowledge of the second kind(mathematical knowledge) does not suppress that of the first kind(everyday experience).

7. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Les Structures Élémentaires de la Tarenté,Paris, 1949, CL XIV, pp. 216-46. See also A. Weil's algebraic study,Ch. XIV, pp. 278-87.

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Structure and Contradiction in CaplUl 359,

lateral cross cousin, thus introducing a dichotomy between crosscousins. It also has other singular features : it demands «evenlineages while four suffice for the Aranda system and two forthe K ariera; its kinship terminology includes seventy-one terms,while that of the Aranda has forty-one and that of the Karieratwenty-one.

The dichotomy of cross cousins, preferential marriage withthe matrilateral cross cousin and the other peculiarities of thesystem thus demand an explanation. Claude Lévi-Strauss hasshown that this can be given if we assume the existence and

action—beneath the explicit system of restricted exchange between eight subsections which is the appearance of the Murnginsystem—of an implicit four-section system of a quite differentstructure, of which the Murngin themselves are not conscious,and which the ethnologists specializing in kinship had not yetreally identified and theorized : a structure which Lévi-Strausscalls 'the structure of generalized exchange*.

While in a system of restricted exchange, marriage alwaysconforms to the same rule since if a man of A marries a wom an

of B, a man of B can marry a woman of A, in a system ofgeneralized exchange, if a man of A marries a w oman of B, aman of B will marry a woman of C, and a man of G a womanof A. A will then have taken a wom an from B, but 'in exchange*grants a woman to G. Here reciprocity takes places between a ^.certain num ber of partners by the interplay of relations orientedin a determined and irreversible direction : A - > B -> C -> A.It can be shown that in a system of generalized exchange .withfour sections the matrilateral cross cousin is always in the class

immediately succeeding that of Ego, whence he can always take -a wife, while the patrilateral cross cousin is always in thepreceding class, which is forbidden. The structure of such asystem thus ' provides the theoretical formula for Murnginmarriage, and establishes the law of the dichotomy of crosscousins.

It is then easy to show that if matrilineal moieties are added toa four-section system of generalized exchange, each section is

redoubled into two subsections, producing an eight-subsectionsystem which has the appearance of a double system ofrestricted exchange of the Aranda type. At the same time, allthe o ther peculiarities of the system, the num ber of lineages, theenormously extended terminology, appear as so many necessaryconsequences of the functioning of this implicit structure, as

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340 Maurice Godelier

complementary aspects of i ts internal logic.

The immense importance of Lévi-Strauss* demonstration iseasily seen. While seeking to account for a peculiar , aberrant,8

case, not classifiable under the rubrics of the traditional ethnological typology, he discovered the existence

9and explained

the nature of a new family of s t ructures, which was much morecomplex than those previously known, and, in par t icular , muchmore difficult to identify because the exchange cycle determined by i t is not ' so immediately perceivable ' . A newclassification of kinship systems became necessary and possible,

including within it the old typology of systems of restrictedexchange whose peculiar i ty was now manifest . In the pract icalsphere- a tool was now available to set out on a study of certaincomplex kinship systems in China, India, S.E. Asia, and Siberia,which had so far seemed outside the not ion of exchange.

Lévi-Strauss* methodological principles and conclusions hadno. less importance in the epistemological sphere. Whether astructure is implicit ,

10as with the Murngin, or explicit , as with

the Katchin, i t is never directly visible and decipherable at the

empirical level, but has to be discovered by theoretical labourin the production of hypotheses and models. Lévi-Strauss*structural analysis therefore rejects in principle Radcliffe-Brown's funct ional is t s t ructural ism

1 1and,' in general, the w ho le

8. Com pare the consequences of the e xperim ent on 'black-body'radiation, a tiny 'detail* (cf. Bachelard) which upset the whole ofthe nineteenth-century physical perspective which grew out ofNewton's work.

9. This is no t p recisely true . Lévi-Strauss gives, Hodson th e m eri tfor the discovery of the correlation between the rule of matri-lateral cross cousin marriage and the existence of a specific socialstructure. But Hodson thought that this structure could only betripartite and patrilinear, while it can contain any num ber of sectionsand it is only necessary that it be 'harmonic'. (Les Structures Élémentaires de la Parenté, pp. 292-3; Hodson, The Primitive Culture ofIndia, 1922.)

10. This case makes its discovery even more difficult as theappearance of the system suggests another structure, that of the

Aranda system. But 'instead of the true symmetry of the Karieraand Aranda systems, we find a pseudo-symmetry which in realityarises from two super-imposed asymmetrical structures.' StructuresÉlémentaires, p . 242.

U.A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Structure and Function in PrimitiveSocieties, London, 1952.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 341

of Anglo-Saxon empirical sociology, for which structure is part

of empirical reality.


Structure is part of reality for Lévi-Strauss as well, but not ofempir ical real i ty . A structure cannot therefore be opposed tothe theoret ical model bui l t to represent i t . The structure onlyexists in and through the human mind (esprit) , and this is arejection equally of the idealist and of the formalist structuralisms that lay claim to Lévi-Strauss.

13The latter 's position is put,

more expl ic i t ly than anywhere in Structural Anthropology, in areply to Maybury-Lewis who had accused him of discovering

pseudo-structures contrad ict ing the ethno graph ic da ta : 'Ofcourse the f inal w ord should rest w ith e xper im ent . How ever , th eexperiment suggested and guided by deductive reasoning wil lnot be the same as the unsophist icated ones with which thewhole process started. They will remain as alien as ever to thedeeper analysis . The ul t im ate proof of the m olecular s t ruc tureof matter is provided by the electronic microscope, whichenables us to see actual molecules. This achievement does notal ter the fact that hencefor th the molecule wil l not become any

more visible to the naked eye. Similarly, i t is hopeless to expecta s tructural analysis to change our way of perceiving concretesocial relations. I t will only explain them better/

1 4

A secondary consequence of the structural method is i tscrit ique of all psychologism and sociological teleology. FromStructures Élémentaires on, Lévi-Strauss showed that Warner 'spsychological considerations gave an il lusory answer to theproblem of the existence of seven Murngin lineages.

15W a r n e r

tried to explain this by the need to resolve the tensions whichwould be produced in the group between Ego and his mother 'sbrother, i .e. the father of his matrilateral cross cousin, hisfuture wife, w ith ou t this 'mu ltiplica tion of lineages.

16W e h a v e

12. Claude Lévi-Strauss, 'On Manipulated Sociological Models* inBijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde, Deel 16, Anthropologica,'s-Gravenhage, i960, p. 52.

13. Hence Lévi-Strauss* many critiques of the idealism and formalism which have, in fact, become the principle adversaries of scien

tific structuralism; cf. 'La Structure et la Forme', Cahiers de YÎSEA,and the preface to Le Cru et le Cuit.

14. 'On M anipulated Sociological Models', op. cit., p. 53.15. Structures Élémentaires, p. 253.16. Warner, 'Morphology and Function of the Australian Murngin

Type of Kinship', American Anthropologist, Vols. 32-3, pp. 179-82.

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342 Maurice Godelier

seen tha t the answer owed no th ing to psychology , bu t was to

be found in the logic of the system of generalized exchangeitself, while Warner did not even suspect the existence of thelat ter .

More basically, the analysis of the logic of a structure allowsus to bring its possibili t ies and capacities for evolution into theopen. Research into the origin and genesis of a structure is insome sense 'guided ' by a knowledge of i ts mechanism. In theMurngin case, Lévi-Strauss assumes that they had borrowedfrom elsewhere the eight-subsect ion system which they were

forced to make compatible with their or iginal matr imonialsystem.

17He then shows that such a system is 'unstable ' , deter-

mining its possible forms and modes of evolution. He demonstrates that this instabili ty is characteristic of all systems ofgeneral ized exchange which belong in pr inciple to the 'harmonic' régime, since their rules of f i l iation are the same asthe ir rules, of resid enc e in th e definition of the soc ial sta tu s ofan individual, while systems of restricted exchange are inpr inciple 'dysharmonie and stable ' .

18He concludes from this

that here is . the basis for the unequal capaci ty of appearanceand evolution of these two families of structure.

1 9These capaci

ties are thus objective properties of the structures, propertiesindependent of individuals and remaining essentially unconscious to them. For example, i f the Murngin system is theproduct o f bor rowing and adapta t ion i t i s thereby the 'p roductof a conscious and desired activity, but, in essentials, theMurngin remained unconscious of the logic and evolut ionarycapaci ty of their new system which were not a t a l l dependent

on their intentions. In this perspective social evolution ceasesto be a series of accidents of no significance.


This very brief analysis of a few fragments of the earliestwork of Lévi-Strauss nevertheless suffices for a comparison

17. Cases of borrowings of all or part of a social institution in therange of kinship, myth, dance, etc., are common in Australia.Stanner was able to observe directly a case of borrowing a kinshipinstitution by the Nangio-meri (Structures Élémentaires, p . 227).

18. For example, the Kariera system is matrilateral and patrilocal.19. This characteristic (of harmonic régimes) explains why the

realization of a system of classes is so rare wherever marriage isdetermined by a law of generalized exchange' (Ibid., p. 272).

20. Hence Lévi-Strauss' critique of nineteenth-century association-ist evolutionism (Ibid., pp. 128 and 185).

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 343

between Marx and modern structuralism. It has allowed me to

isolate in Lévi-Strauss


practice two principles of. structuralanalysis : the first, that structure is part of reality, but not ofvisible relations, the second, that the study of the internalfunctioning of a structure must precede and illuminate thestudy of its genesis and evolution. I have already shown thatthe first principle can be found in Marx. I shall now go on toshow tha t the architecture of Capital cannot be understood without the second.

2. The priority o f the study of structures over that of theirgenesis and evolution

This priority is apparent from a simple glance at the architectureof Capital. The work does not start with the theory of capital,but by setting out the theory of value, i.e. by the definition ofa group of categories necessary to the study of any systemof commodity production, whether this is based on the labourof a free peasant, a slave, a' serf, or a wage labourer, etc. This

group of categories is developed from a definition of the exchange value of a commodity. Money is then introduced as aspecial commodity with the function of expressing and measuring the exchange value of other commodities. Coin is definedas a form of money. Coin ceases to function as a simple meansof circulation of commodities and begins to function as capitalwhen it brings in coin, when its use adds value to its initialvalue. The general definition of capital whatever its form—commercial, financial, or industrial—is that it is value that makes

value and brings in surplus value.By the end of the second section of Volume I of Capital Marx

thus has at his disposal the theoretical instruments necessary toidentify the specific structure of the capitalist economic system,the capital-labour relation, and to construct the theory ofcapital. Before this theory could be undertaken, a rigorousdefinition of the notion of commodity was essential, for withinthe capital-labour relation labour power appears as a com

modity. This makes possible an analysis of the internal structuraof the capitalist system, i.e. a study of the mechanism of theproduction of surplus value through the capital-labour relation*Volume I analyses at length the two forms of surplus value:absolute surplus value (obtained by lengthening the w orking daywithout increasing wages) and relative surplus value (obtained

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344 Maurice Godelïer

by decreasing the costs of employing the worker, by increasing

the productivity of labour in th e branches producing the meansof subsistence of the workers and their families).Only a t the end of Volume I does the reader find Marx setting

out the problem of the genesis of the capitalist production relationship via a discussion of what the classical economistscalled -'the problem of primitive accumulation'. Marx's procedure thus marks a break with any historicism or reliance onevents. The genesis of a structure can only be studied under the'guidance

1of a pre-existing knowledge of that structure. To

study the genesis of the specific structure of the capitalistsystem is to determine the particular historical circumstancesof the emergence of individuals who are free in person, butdeprived of the means of production and of money and forcedto sell the use of their labour power to other individuals whopossess the means of production and money but are forced tobuy others' labour power to set these means of production inmotion/ and breed the ir money . But Marx only sketches th isgenesis in a rapid perspective of some of the conditions, forms

and stages of the appearance of capitalism in Europe, and thisdoes not constitute a history of capitalism. Among these stageswe might mention the disbanding of feudal retinues in England,the expropriation and partial expulsion of cultivators, the'enclosures

1movement, the transformation of merchants into

merchant-manufacturers, colonial trade, the development ofprotectionism. All these appeared in the fifteenth, sixteenth,and seventeenth centuries here and there in Portugal, Spain,France, and England, and generally resulted in the emergenceof a large number of producers without means of productionand their use in a new structure of production.

The capitalist system presupposes the complete separationof the labourers from all property in the means by which,they can realize their labour. As soon as capitalist productionis once on its own legs, it not only maintains this separation,but reproduces it on a continually extending scale. The

process, therefore, that clears the way for the capitalistsystem, can be none other than the process which takes awayfrom the labourer the possession of his means of production;a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social meansof subsistence and of production into capital, on the other,the immediate producers into wage labourers. The so-called

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 345

prim it ive accum ulat ion, therefore, is nothin g else th an th e

historical process of divorcing the producer from the means ofproduction. I t appears as pr imit ive, because i t forms theprehistoric stage of capital and of the mode of productioncorresponding with it . The economic structure of capitalisticsociety has grown out ol the economic structure of feudalsociety Th e dissolution of th e latter sets from th e elementsof the former.


Thus to analyse the historical genesis of a structure is to

analyse thé conditions of emergence of i ts internal elementsand the way they come into relat ion with one another . In i tsconst i tu t ion, economic history presupposes that these elementsand this relation are already identif ied, so it presupposes economic theory. In Marx's text the genesis of one system isdescribed simultaneously with the dissolution of another, andthese two effects depend on the same process, the developmentof in ternal contradict ions within the old system (which mustalso be theorized).

This general progress from the identif ication of the structureto the study of i ts genesis might seem to founder on an obstaclethat Marx himself considered. For how can the hypothesis ofthe appearance of in ternal contradict ions inside a system bereconciled with the thesis that the funct ioning of th is systemnecessar i ly , reproduces i ts conditions of functioning? Forexample* th e capitalist syste m 's function ing m ech anism ceaselessly reproduces the capital-labour relation on which it is built .The mechanism of prof i t and.wage.always al lows the capi tal is t

class to accumulate new capital and to reproduce itself as theruling class, w hile on the o ther h an d it forces the wo rking classto put i ts labour power up for sale again, and to reproduce itselfas the ruled class.22 The capital-labour relation appears as theconstant element in the capi tal is t economic structure throughout all die latter 's variations : the passage from the capitalismof free competition to private or state monopoly capitalism, theappearance of new productive forces, changes in the composition of the : w ork ing class, in its forms of tra de unio n and,

21. Capital, I, pp. 714-15.22. This is not weakened by the phenomenon of social mobility

which allows certain workers to become capitalists, or which is produced by competition and the ruin of certain capitalists or categoryof enterprises.

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346 Maurice Godeîier

political organization etc . Th e discovery an d definition of this

constant const i tu te the necessary point of depar ture for thescientif ic study of the system, of i ts genesis and evolution. Thelatter appears as the study of variations compatible wi th thereproduction of the constant e lement of the system structure.At this level the passage from polit ical economy to economic

•history is once again set out. Synchronic and diachronic studiesare possible (analyses of the various states of a structure corresponding to var ious moments in i ts evolution). But diachronicanalysis of the var iat ions which are compatible with the repro

duct ion of a .constant relat ion does not produce any structuralincompatibles, any conditions of change.23

But can incompatible var iat ions be produced within t h efunct ioning of a system if the very maintenance of the systemproves that they are compatible with i ts reproduction ? Before Ianalyse Marx's notion of contradiction in detail , I should liketo develop further th at of 'structu ral c om patib ili ty ' , for ' i t playsa^decisive double rôle which il luminates the whole method andplan of Capital. It allows Marx to account for the visible forms'

of the functioning of the capitalist system which he had initially rejected. I t also allows him to explain the new rôle and newforms which the 'antedi luvian ' forms of capi tal

24—commercia l

capi tal and f inance capi tal—take on when they funct ion in theframework of modern capi tal ism; I shal l summarize thesetw o poin ts briefly so as to be able to deduc e their m ethod ologica lconsequences. As we have seen, Marx first of all analysed theproduction mechanism of surplus value and showed that i tconsisted of production from unpaid labour . He then showed

that the in ternal and necessary connect ion between surplusvalue and labour disappears once surplus value is put into relation with all the capital advanced by the capitalist rather than

23. This diachrony seems to be always recreated in the synchronyor at least to show the multiple modes of existence of the samestructure, once given the local variations of its conditions of functioning. Cf. Marx: '... the same economic basis—the same fromthe standpoint of its main conditions—due to innumerable different

'empirical circumstances, natural environment, racial relations, external historical influences, etc. (is not prevented), from showinginfinite variations and graduations in appearance, which can beascertained o nly by analysis of th e empirically given circum stances/(Capital, II I, p . 772)»

24. Capital, III, p . 580.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 347

with the wage paid to the worker, i.e. it disappears once surplus

value appears as profits. The results of Volume II allow him, inPart 1 of Volume III, to analyse the complex conditions for therealization of a maximum profit by the capitalist entrepreneur.I can leave aside these problems—those of the relations betweenvalue and price, price and profit, normal profit and super profit,rate of profit in various branches, and at the.level of thenational economy, etc.—without loss for our purposes. Whatis essential is that we should remember Marx's conclusions.From his profit, which at the limit seems to have little relation

to the real exploitation of his own workers, the capitalist mustsubtract a portion for the ground rent of the proprietor of theland on which his factory stands, another which goes as interestto a lender or to a bank, another which he owes to the State astaxes. The remainder constitutes the profit of his enterprise.By showing that the mechanism of the production of surplusvalue is the common origin of the visible forms of capitalistprofit even though certain categories of capitalists seem to haveno direct link with the production process, Marx made possible

the analysis of the articulation of the internal structure of thesystem to the visible forms which he avoided on principle atthe outset of his work.

Marx returns to these visible forms b y defining at one and thesame time their real function in the system and their internalcompatibility with the essential structures that were givenpriority in his study. In modern terms, his progress would constitute a kind of ideal genesis of the various elements of asystem on the basis of its laws of internal composition. Marxdefined it himself in respect to money :

Everyone knows, if he knows nothing else, that commodities have a value-form common to them all, and presentinga marked contrast with the varied bodily forms of their use-values. I mean their money-form. Here, however, a task isset us, the performance of which has never yet even beenattempted by bourgeois economy, the task of tracing thegenesis of this money-form, of developing the expression of

value implied in the value-relation of commodities, from itssimplest, almost imperceptible outline, to dazzling money-form. By doing this we shall, at the sam e time, solve the riddlepresented by money.


25. Capital, I , pp . 47-8 .

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348 Maurice Godelier

But I must avoid a misunderstanding which might arise from

what I have called the ideal genesis of economic categories.For if an object becomes a commodity once it is produced forexchange, this exchange could be by barter and thus not implythe existence of any money. The exchange of commoditiesnecessitates the specialization of a commodity in the functionof expressing and measuring the exchange value of othercommodities only in determined concrete conditions (whetherthis commodity be cocoa, sea-shells, cattle, or gold does notalter its function). Other precise conditions are necessary if a

precious metal is to be imposed as the general form of money.Marx is thus not working as a Hegelian by the 'deduction' ofone category from another. He makes explicit the functions ofone element within a structure, or of one structure within asystem and explains the ranking of these functions. There istherefore no need to wait for the discovery of where and howthe first money was invented to solve the 'riddle presented bymoney'. The object of economic theory is to render explicitthese functions and their ranking in a given structure, and thus

to articulate one to the others in a kind of logical genesis. Butthis genesis is not the real genesis and does not replace it.Once more economic theory, without being confused witheconomic history, provides it w ith the guide line for its analyseswhile developing thanks to its results. Here Marx totally rejectsany historicism and any priority of the historical study of asystem over its structural study, and anticipates by more thanhalf a century the crises of linguistics and sociology which ledde Saussure and Lowie to reject nineteenth-century evolution


Rent cannot be understood without capital, but capital can,without rent. Capital is the all-dominating econom ic power ofbourgeois society. It must form the starting point as well asthe end and can be developed before land-ownership is. Aftereach has been considered separately, their mutual relationmust be analysed. It would thus be impractical and wrong to

arrange the economic categories in the order in which theywere the determining factors in the course oi history. Theirorder of sequence is rather determined by the relation whichthey bear to one another in modern bourgeois society, andwhich is the exact opposite of what seems to be their naturalorder or the order of their historical development. It is not a

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 349

matter of th e place which economic relations occupy in the

historical succession of different forms of society. Still less isit a matter of the order of their succession 'in the Idea* (Proud-hon) (a nebulous conception of historical movement). I t isa matter of their articulation within modern bourgeoissociety.


This explains why the funct ioning of a s t ructure must becompatible with the funct ioning of other s tructures, or mustbecome so if they are to belong to the same system. It i l luminates the status of the analysis of commercial and financial

capital in Capital Commodity production is not , in fact , exclusively characteristic of modern capitalism. To the extent thatan important exchange of commodit ies existed in some societ ieswith as different relations of production as the great states ofthe ancient East, Greek and Roman slave societies and thefeudal societies of the M iddle Ages, th e functions of com m erceand to a certain extent those of credit had also to exist . But inboth cases the forms and importance of these commodity relat ions changed. Marx shows, for example, that the rates ofusury in money trade.and the immense gains f rom internat ionalcommodity trade characteristic of many pre-capitalist societieswere incompatible with the development of industr ia l capi tal ,and th at this last impo sed th e creation of new, forms of creditand the establ ishment of much lower in terest rates. This profound ly altered the proportion- of th e valu e of com m oditiesreturned to commercial or f inancial capital .

The credit system develops as a reaction against usury. But

this should no t be misund erstood I t signifies no moreand no less than the subordination of interest-bearing capitalto the conditions and requirements of the capitalist mode ofproduction.


Thu s the appearance of new structures modifies the condit ionsof existence and rôle of older structures which are obliged totransform themselves. Our analysis c loses with the emergenceof the notion of a limit to the functional compatibility of differ

ent s t ructures . W e have once again arr ived at the problem ofthe genesis of new structures and of Marx's notion of contradiction.

26. A Contribution to the Critique of Tolitical Economy, trans. N. I.Stone, Chicago, 1904, pp. 303-4. [Corrected— Translator's note]

27. Capital, III, p . 586.

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350 Maurice Godeîier

3. Two notions oî contradiction in Capital

I shall start by listing the various contexts in which we findMarx talking of contradiction. First of all there is the contradict ion between workers and capi tal is ts . Then there are the econom ic 'cr ises' in w hich contradict ions app ear betw een produ ctionand consumption, between the condit ions of production ofvalue and surplus value and the conditions of their realization,and basically between production forces and relations of production. Finally there are the contradictions between capitalism and

small pe as an t or artisan prop erty , capitalism and socialism, etc.This simple list reveals differences of nature and importanceamong these contradict ions, of which some are in ternal to thesystem, and other exist between the system and other systems.They must therefore be analysed theoret ical ly .

The first contradiction presented is that between capital andlabour, between the capitalist class and the working class. Oneowns the capital , the other is excluded from ownership of i t .One's profit is the unpaid labour of the other. What character

izes this first contradiction? It is inside capitalist 'relations ofproduction'. It is thus an 'internal contradiction oi a structure'.

This contradiction is specific28 to the capitalist mode of production. I t characterizes i t as such, distinguishing it from other,slave-based, feudal, etc., modes of production. As it is specific,i t characterizes the system from the beginning, and the funct ioning of the system continual ly reproduces it. It is thereforeoriginal, in the sense that i t is present from the beginning,and remains until the disappearance of the system. It developswith the development of the system, i t is t ransformed by theevolution of capitalism from free competition to monopoly andby the evolution of the trade union and polit ical organizationof the wo rking class. This contradict ion is anta gon ist ic : thefunction of one class is to exploit the other. It reveals itself inthe class struggle. I t is visible to and to some extent decipheredby thé psychologist and sociologist , who distinguish individualsby their different functions and statuses, by the economist and

the historian; f inally, the philosopher may take it as his objectwhen reflecting on justice, inequality, etc.

Is th is basic antagonism, which would seem to occupy theforefront of the historical stage in fact the basic contradictionof capi tal ism? No. For Marx, the la t ter is the contradict ion

28. Capital HI, p. 856.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 351

between the development and the socialization of the produc

tive forces and the private ownership of the means of production.

The contradiction, to put it in a very general way, consists in that the capitalist mode of production involves atendency towards absolute development of the productiveforces, regardless of the value and surplus-value it contains,and regardless of the social conditions under which capitalistproduction takes place; while, on the other hand, its aim isto preserve the value of the existing capital and promote itsself-expansion to the highest limit (i.e. to promote an evermore rapid growth of this value).


. How is the contradiction visible? 'This collision appears partlyin periodical crises.'


In a crisis, the basic contradiction appears in the contradictions between production and consumption and between production and circulation of commodities. More profoundly, itappears in the tendency for the rate of profit to fall.

What are the characteristics of this contradiction?It is not a contradiction within a structure, but between two

structures. It is thus not directly a contradiction between individuals or groups, but between the structure of the productiveforces—their ever greater socialisation— and the structu re of th erelations of production—the private ownership of the productive forces.

Now the paradox is that this contradiction, which is basicbecause it explains the evolution of capitalism and its inevitable disappearance, is not original. It appears at 'a certain stage'of evolution,

31at a 'certain stage of maturity'

82of the system.

And this stage isx

the stage of large-scale industry, i.e. a certainstate of development of the productive forces. Marx clarifiesthis in a letter to Kugelmann: 'He would have seen that Irepresent large-scale industry not only as the mother of theantagonism, but also as the creator of the material and spiritualconditions necessary for the solution of this antagonism.'


In the beginning, on the contrary, far from contradicting thedeveloping of the productive forces, capitalist relations of production pushed it ahead and gave it its impetuous progression

29. Capital, III, p. 244. 30. Capital III, p. 258.31. Capital, III, p. 237. 32. Capital, III, p. 861.33. Letter to Kugelmann, 17th March, 1968.

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352 Maurice Godelier

from the organization of manufacture to the appearance of

mechanization, and heavy industry. Mechanized industry, completing the separation of agriculture and dom estic rural industry(which is annihilated), 4for the first time, conquers for industrialcapital the entire home-market

1and gives it 'that extension and

consistence which the capitalist mode of production requires',the latter having become 'combined'and scientific*

34with the

progress of the division of labour. Before machinery, manufacturing production could not achieve this 'radical transformation'.

Thus, initially, far from there being a contradiction betweencapitalism and the development of the productive forces, therewas a correspondence, a functional com patibility which w as thebasis for the dynamism of technical progress arid the capitalistclass. But this very structural correspondence between capitalism and the forces of production means a non-correspondence ofthese forces of production and feudal relations of production.And for Marx this non-correspondence is the foundation of theobjective contradiction between feudal and capitalist relations,

between the seigneurial class and the capitalist class. For aswe have seen, if there are to be capitalists, there must also belabourers facing them, free in their person, forced to put then-labour power up for sale. i.e. excluded from ownership of themeans of production.35

The immediate producer, the labourer, could only disposeof his own person after he had ceased to be attached to thesoil and ceased to be the slave, serf or bondman of another.

... Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as theiremancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds.(The industrial capitalists') conquest of social power appearsas the fruit of a victorious struggle both against feudal lordship and its revolting prerogatives, and against th e guilds andthe fetters they laid on the free development of productionand the free exploitation of man by man.86

Thus the basic contradiction of the capitalist mode of production is born during the development of the mode of production, and is not present from the beginning of the system.

34. Capital, I, pp. 748-9.35. Capital, I, p. 168.36. Capital, I, p. 715.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 353

This contradiction appears without anyone wishing to make itappear. This contradiction is therefore unintentional. It is a

result of the action of all the agents of the system and of thedevelopment of the system itself, and is never the project ofany consciousness, is never anyone's goal. Marx is thereforedrawing attention to aspects of reality which cannot be referredto any consciousness nor explained by consciousness. It is themode of production itself, the valuation of capital, which produces this result 'unconsciously*.


But this basic, unintentional, non-original contradiction is notthe opaque involuntary residue of intersubjective action. It is

unintentional and without teleology; but transparent to sciencebecause it is 'significant*. It signifies the limits within which itis possible that capitalist relations of production, based on private property, may correspond to the development of the productive forces to which they have given birth.

These limits are 'immanent' to capitalist relations of production, and cannot be 'overcome',

38since the valuation of capital

depends on the exploitation of the great mass of producers;they are thus limits expressing objective properties of the capi

talist mode of production (not of capitalists or workers as in-dividuals or economic agents).

The entire capitalist mode of production is only a relativeone, whose barriers are not absolute. They are absolute onlyfor this mode, i.e. on its basis.39

These limits are the limits within which the relations of production can remain constant, allowing for gigantic variationsin the productive forces. These limits are thus objective properties of the system and these properties establish the necessityfor its evolution and disappearance. They can act on the systemitself and are the causality of the structure on itself. 'The realbarrier of capitalist production is capital itself.


This causality acts everywhere, but it is impossible to localizeits effect anywhere. It intervenes everywhere between oneevent and another to give each all its dimensions, whether conscious or not, i.e. the field of its effects, whether intentional or

not. For Marx, the set of properties of the structure always37. Capital, III, p. 254.

38. Capital III, p. 254.

39. Capital, III, p. 252.

40. Capital, III, p. 245, Marx's emphasis. "*

i.s.s. m

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354 Maurice Godeîier

comes between a cause and its effects, giving the action itsobjective dimensions.

Thus, w hil e ceaselessly developing th e productive forces, capital 'unconsciously creates the material requirements of a highermode of production',41 and necessitates the transformation ofcapitalist conditions of large-scale production based on privateprop erty into 'general, com m on , social cond itions' .42The development of capitalism makes possible and necessary the appearanceof a socialist econo m ic system , of a 'higher' m ode of production.But what does 'higher' mean here, what is the criterion on

which this value-judgment is based?The criterion is the fact that the structure of socialist relations of production corresponds functionally with the conditionsof rapid development of the new, gigantic, more and moresocialized productive forces created by capitalism. The criterionthus expresses the possibilities, the objective properties, of ahistorically determined structure. This correspondence is totallyindependent of any a priori idea of happiness, of 'true' liberty,of the essence of man, etc. Marx demonstrates the necessity and

superiority of a new mode of production, thus establishing avalue-judgment without starting with an a priori criterion ofrationality.43 This value judgment is not a judgment of'people', it does not demonstrate any progress in 'morality',any victory of 'ethical principles' in socialist society as againstcapitalist society. It is a judgment of the 'properties' of astructure, of the particular conditions of its appearance andfunctioning.

The necessity for the appearance of a new m ode of production

no longer derives from a teleology concealed in the mysteriesof the essence of man as revealed to the philosopher alone, behe materialist or idealist, for it is no longer possible to readinto the historically determined contradiction of capitalist relations of production with a determined level of the productive

41. Capital III, p. 254.42. Capital III, p. 259.43. Engels writes, in a letter*to Paul Lefargue, nth August 1884:

'Marx rejected the "political, social and economic ideal" you attribute to him. A man of science has no ideals, he elaborates scientificresults, and if he is also politically committed, he struggles for themto be put into practice. But if he has ideals, he cannot be a man ofscience, since he would then be biased from the start.' (Correspond-ence Engels-Lafargue, Éditions Sociales, Paris, p. 235.)

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital ZSS

forces the philosophical drama of the revolt of the 'true essence*

of man against the 'dehumanized existence* imposed on theworkers by the bourgeoisie.In Capital the analysis of the contradictions of the capitalist

system radically separates economic science from any ideology,and Marx has nothing more to do with the young Marx. Forideology consists precisely of transforming the 'merely historical transitory* necessity of the mode of production into a characteristic attributable to 'Nature'.

44Marx's analysis rejects all

the 'hum anist' justifications which might be given for th e super

iority of socialism. This does not mean that he rejects the realproblems that may be expressed in a humanist ideology if it ismaterialist. But to analyse these problems theoretically is todetermine the new possibilities for social evolution specific tosocialist structures.

45By suppressing capitalist relations of ex

ploitation and domination, the socialist society creates newconditions of social evolution just as the capitalist system didby destroying the earlier feudal society and its forms ofslavery.

I have distinguished two types of contradiction in Capital,and shown that the basic contradiction illuminating the evolution of the system is the contradiction between its structures,and that this contradiction is born of the objective limits to therelations of production maintaining themselves constant whilethe productive forces vary in certain proportions. Now I canattempt a definition of the theory,of contradiction which isimplicit in Marx, and, which I think, radically opposes Marx'sdialectic to that of Hegel.

4. The radical opposition between Marx's dialectic and Hegel'sdialectic

The terms which still obscure Marx*s and Engels' presentationof this problem are well know n. On the one hand, Marx declaresthat his dialectical method is the 'direct opposite' of Hegel's,Engels that the dialectic was 'useless in its Hegelian form' and

that only Marx's dialectic is 'rational*. But at the same time,

44. Capital, III, p. 237.45. See Marx's whole discussion of the Gotha Programme and his

savaging of its humanist declarations of 'equal rights', justice forlabour, etc.

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356 Maurice Godeiier

Marx adds that i t suffices to put the Hegelian dialectic ' r ight

side up again' to find its 'rational form', and to set it right sideu p again is to rem ov e th e 'mystifying side' intro du ced by Hegel 'sabsolute idealism. The matter seems simple and reassuring. Butin recent articles

46Louis Althussêr has torn off this veil of words

and forced us to see the unlikely absurdity of this hypothetical'inversion of Hegel'.

I t is inconceivable that the essence of the dialectic inHegel 's work should not be contaminated by Hegelian ideology . . . th at th e Hegelian ideology could cease to be Hegelianand become Marxist by a s imple, miraculous 'extract ion ' .

For Althusser the specific difference of Marx's dialectic is tobe found in the fact that the latter 's contradictions are 'over-determined' in principle. This answer does not seem to me tograsp, the essential point, although it provides valuable positiveelem ents at ano the r level. To take up the problem from another angle, Marx describes two kinds of contradiction. One ofthese, within the structure of the relations of production, appears before the other which is produced li t t le by li t t le betweenthe two structures of the capitalist mode of production, therelations of production and the productive forces. The first contradict ion appears and disappears with the mode of production.The second appears with the development of the system as aneffect of the functioning of the first contradiction, but it is thissecond on e w hi ch creates the' m aterial con ditions for th e disappe arance of the system ; i t is the fundamen tal contradict ion.

The relat ion between the two contradict ions thus shows thatth e first contradict ion, within the relat ions of production, doesnot contain within itself the set of conditions for its solution.The material conditions of this solution can only exist outsideit as the productive forces are a reality completely distinct fromthe relat ions of production and irreducible to them, a real i tywhich has i ts own internal condit ions of development and i tsown tempora l i ty .

The other conditions of solution of the contradiction in the

relations of production are found at the level of the polit ical,cul tural superstructures, and these structures are equal ly i r re-

46. 'Contradiction et Surdétermination' and 'Sur la DialectiqueMatérialiste', re-edited in Tour Marx, Paris, 1965; 'Contradiction andOverdetermination', New Left Review, No. 41, Jan.-Feb., 1967.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 357

/ducible to the relations of production and have their own mod

alities of development. For Marx the solution to an internalcontradiction of the structures of the relations of productionis not created solely by the internal development of this contradiction. The greater part of the conditions of this solution isoutside the contradiction, and irreducible to its content.

On'the other hand, th e possibility of resolving the second contradiction, between the structures of the economic system, isborn of the internal development of the system (and, as weshall see, from the m ovem ent of all the structures of the society).

The solution to this second contradiction is a change in the structure of the relations of production to make them correspondwith that of the productive forces. This change implies the exclusion of private ownership of the means of production, thussuppressing the very basis of the internal contradiction in capitalist relations of production. But this suppression is only possible at a certain moment in the development of the mode ofproduction, a moment in the development of the productiveforces. The class contradictions within the relations of produc

tion may 'simmer* but no solution will emerge necessarily, unless there is development of the productive forces (on the contrary, there may be a cyclical reproduction of social conflict,stagnation, etc.).

Our analysis definitely excludes the possibility that Marxcould have held a theory of the 'identity of opposites'. Thishypothesis was, in fact, invented by Hegel to show that thereis an internal solution to the internal contradictions oî a structure. If such a solution is possible, each of the elements contradicted within the structure must at the same time be its ownopposite. The thesis must be itself and its opposite the antithesisif the synthesis is already contained in their contradiction.Marx's work radically excludes this possibility, for neither theelements in contradiction within a structure, nor the structuresin contradiction within a system are reducible to one another,identical to one another.

This shows that the identity of opposites, the basic structure

of the Hegelian dialectic is only necessary to provide 'proof ofabsolute idealism and to establish Hegelianism as the absoluteknowledge of the absolute spirit, a totality which itself contradicts itself in the exteriority of nature and the interiority ofthe Logos, maintaining its identity through all its con tradictions.The identity of opposites is, in fact, the magical operator which

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3£8 Maurice Godelier

Hegel had to provide himself to build the palace of ideas47

w h i c h

is absolute knowledge, and to give a rational appearance to theideological sleight of ha nd w hic h serves as th e unp rova blepoint of departure for absolute idealism. Thus Hegel 's philosophical idealism determines the specific internal content of thisnotion of contradiction, and this structure, based on the principle of the identity of opposites, is the direct inverse of Marx'smaking the dialectic 'useless for science'.

48In fact anything, i .e.

nothing, can be proved with the hypothesis of the ident i ty ofopposites.

I t is now easy to understand why Marx declared from theContribution on : 'Hence, it is the simplest matter with aHegelian to t reat production and consumption as identical...'"and added : 'The result we arrive at is not that production, d ist r ibut ion, exchange, and consumption are ident ical , but thatth ey are all m em ber s x>f on e total ity , differences w ith in on eunity.'*0

And in Anti-Dühring, Engels defended Marx's dialecticalmethod by showing that i t could not be reduced to ' these dia

lectical . . . mazes . . . this mixed and misconceived idea (according to which) it all amounts to the same thing in the end/


47. In The Concept of Dread, Kierkegaard takes issue with Hegeland rationalism over this point, opening the way to existentialism.

48. When Lenin declares that the dialectic is 'the theory of theidentity of opposites' or 'the study of the contradiction in the veryessence of things', I suggest that he is proposing a false equivalencebetween these two definitions.

In the same way, Mao Tse Tung constantly confuses the unityof opposites with their identity : 'How ... can we speak of identityor unity (of opposites) ? The fact is that a contradictory aspect cannot exist all by itself. If there is not the opposite aspect, each aspectloses the conditions of its existence.... Without landlords, therewould be no tenant-peasants; without tenant-peasants, there wouldalso be no landlords. Without the bourgeoisie there would be noproletariat; Without the proletariat there would also be no bourgeoisie.... All opposite elements are like this: .Under certain conditions they are on the one hand opposed to each other and on the

other hand interconnected, interpenetrated, interpermeated andinterdependent; that is what we mean by identity.' (On Contradiction, Peking, 1960, p. 47; and in Selected Works, I.)

49. A Contribution to the Critique of Toiitical Economy, p. 282.50. Ibid., p. 291. [Corrected, Translator's note}Si. Anti-Dühring, p. 169.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital j£fè

where the negation of the negation serves 'as the midwife todeliver the future from the womb of the past', and consists of'the childish pastime of ... alternately declaring that a rose isa rose and that it is not a rose'.52

Here AJthusser's analyses are really relevant. The postulateof the identity of opposites guaranteed Hegel at any time animaginary internal solution to the internal contradictions to beanalysed, and this solution is usually a magical ideologicaloperation within a 'simple1 dialectic.

How then can we explain the impotence of Marx's com

mentators in the localization of the radical differences betweenMarx and Hegel? The answer is hardly complex. The theoretical distinction of the two kinds of contradiction (within andbetween structures), and the clarification of their reciprocalarticulation w ere n ever explic itly stressed or developed b y eitherMarx or Engels. This being so, the 'eyecatching 1 contradictionwas that between capitalists and workers, and the second contradiction was confused with this one, i.e. with the structure'sinternal contradiction. Analysis thus slid over into the sphere

52. Ibid., p. 195. As Marx and Engels well knew, the dialecticalmethod did not lead Hegel to confuse all opposites in their identity,nor to incoherence in his philosophical discourse. No doubt theidentity of opposites is both the principle and the object of this discourse, and therefore, its imaginary basis, the speculative foundationof the theoretical validity of absolute idealism. But it is not the soleprinciple invoked by Hegel since the principle of the identity ofopposites a fortiori establishes the principle of their unity. Therecan therefore be positive islands in the sea of Hegel's speculative

discourse, induced from a reflection on the unity of opposites. Forexample, in the Thenomenology of Mind, the master-slave relation,within the speculative identity of master and slave (the master isthe slave of his slave, the slave the master of his master), the relation of master and slave is constituted by tw o assymetrical relations,that of master to slave, and that of slave to master, which are notsuperimposed or confused. The master-slave relation is polarized bythis fact, and evolves in a determined, irreversible direction.

Perhaps what Marx meant by the positive 'nucleus' (Kern) ofHegel's dialectic is the following group of properties : the unity of

opposites, the asymmetry of the relations within this unity, a relation oriented in a certain direction and animated with an irreversible movement. Perhaps certain Hegelian analyses, of secondaryimportance, could be added to this group of properties : for example,the hypothesis of the transformation of quantity into quality.

This illuminates the two metaphors used by Marx to indicate the

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360 M aurice Go délier

of Hegel 's mystif ied and mystif icatory dialectic, the fascinating

dialectic of the identity of opposites, the internal solution, etc.And Marx's arid Engels1

equivocal formulations did not help todispel this fascination, nor did the antiscientinc habits of dogmatic Marxism :

The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of thecapitalist mode of production, produces capitalist privateproperty. This is the first negation of individual privateproper ty , as founded on the labour of the proprietor . But

capitalist production begets, with the inexorabili ty of a law ofNature, i ts own negat ion. I t is the negat ion of the negat ion/5 3

But what is for Marx no more than a metaphor , a way of expressing the movement of capital , becomes for Engels 'an extremely general—and for this reason extremely far-reaching and

relations of his dialectical method with that of Hegel : the metaphor of the 'nucleus' and that of the 'inversion'. For it was not

sufficient to put the Hegelian dialectic back onto its feet to give it acompletely 'rational' air, since it was first necessary to amputatethe principle of the identity of opposites which was both its firstmethodological principle and the last basis of absolute idealism.Such nuclear fission shows that the nucleus itself was not preservedintact within Marx's dialectic as the metaphor pretends.

But it is difficult to imagine that Marx, the only nineteenth- ortwentieth-century thinker to revolutionize both philosophy and adomain of scientific knowledge, could be completely mistaken abouthis relations to Hegel. Probably what Marx conceived as his theoreti

cal debt to Hegel, as the positive heritage handed down to him, wasthis fragment of the nucleus : the concept of the unity of oppositesand the group of attached properties. In that case it has to bestated—as Marx himself did—that as an explicitly developed theoryof the unity of opposites, the dialectical method has as yet noscientific, i.e. no real existence. This is even more true if, as weshall see, the various kinds of contradiction should perhaps be linkedto the concept of the 'limit', which means that there were already—as the very existence of Capital proves—as many implicitlydialectical analyses as there were scientific practices elucidating the

limits of functioning in domains of 'objects' investigated by thesciences. But nothing ensures a priori that, once explicit, the methodological principles of each of these practices (whose operationalnorms work in the shadow of the scientific exploit) will take theirplaces in one unique, unifying dialectic.

53. Capital, I, p . 763.

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 361

important—law of development of nature, h istory, . ind



*In fact, to the extent that the specific character of Mnrx'snotion of contradict ion remained unanalysed, the not ion of thenegation of the negation was the only general Hegelian conceptwhich sti l l seemed rational when the mystif ication of the identity of opposites had been got rid of.

As I understand it , Marx's analysis of the basic notion ofcontradict ion between structures ta l l ies with the most recentscientific practice.

55The notion makes explicit certain objective

properties of structures, the objective limits to their possibilitiesof reproduction, to their remaining essentially constant, giventhe variations of their internal and external conditions of func-

54. Anti-Dühring, p. 193; cf. p. 190, the fifteen-line sketch of thedialectical evolution of humanity from primitive communism toreal communism via private property.

55. And within this practice, mathematics and cybernetics havea privileged place in the exploration of the notion of the 'limit'.

This is one of the reasons their use is becoming more and moregeneral in the social sciences. But the real effectivity of mathem aticsis circumscribed in principle within the limited set of problemswhich can already be formalized and for whose treatment mathematics has sufficient operational power.

For more complex problems of structural analysis—for examplethe analysis of the modalities of the connection of the structures ofa system (whether social or not) so as to be able to explain whythese modalities induce a dominant function within these connectedstructures—the scientific concept of structure is apparently still too

narrow. Further, to use the concept of a limit is to determine theset of relations allowed between the structures of a system, the setof variations compatible with these structures. It is also to determinethe set of incompatible variations which would provoke the elimination of one of the connected structures and change the system. Ifthe first already seems to have been partially explored (for example,the mathematical concept of a category of sets takes as its objecta set of things and the system of functions allowed between thesethings), we are still largely ignorant as far as the second is concerned.

As soon as mathematics is applied to a field of problems forwhich it is still too weak, there is a risk of creating illusory knowledge, scientific phantoms. There is also a risk that without knowing or wishing it, i.e. with no ideological intent, the invisible butreal line which always separates scientific knowledge from ideologywill have been crossed.

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362 Maurice Godeîier

tioning, and, more profoundly, to their reproducing their relations, their connection with other structures. The appearance ofa contradiction is, in fact, the appearance of a limit to the conditions of invariance of a struc ture. Beyond this limit a change instructure becomes necessary. In this perspective, the notion ofcontradiction I am putting forward would perhaps be of interestto cybernetics. This science explores the limit possibilities andinternal regulation that allow any system, physiological, economic, or whatever, to maintain itself in spite of a determinedrange of variation of its internal and external conditions of func

tioning. This analysis brings together the sciences of nature andthe sciences of man. To give a frivolous example, I could suggest th at if a glaciation caused the disappearance of the dinosaurfrom the face of the earthy this species did not perish throughthe spontaneous development of its internal contradictions, butthrough, a contradiction between its internal physiological structure and the structure of its external conditions of existence.

My theory of contradiction should therefore be able torestore to the dialectic its scientific character, and, for the same

reasons, this scientific dialectic can only be materialist. For ifthe dialectical method no longer depends on the hypothesis ofthe 'identity of opposites' and if the contradictions born of thefunctioning of a structure express its 'limits' and are partiallyconditioned in appearance and resolution outside tha t structure,there is no internal teleology regulating the evolution of natureand history.

On this basis it should be possible to establish a new dialogue— centring on the hypothesis of the necessary correspondence ofstructures—between the sciences and Marxism and betweenstructuralism and Marxism. I should like to close this essay w itha confrontation of this hypothesis and another of Marx's theseswhich might seem to contradict it, or at least to reduce its importance by ideological sleight of hand: I mean the thesis ofthe determinant rôle played 'in the last instance'

56by economic

structures in the evolution of social life.

Everyone is familiar with the famous sentence from the Prefaceto A Con tribution to the C ritique of Political Economy :

56. Engels : letter to Joseph Bloch, 21st September, 1890 : 'If somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the onlydetermining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless,abstract, senseless phrase.' (Marx-Engels, Selected Works, II, p. 488).

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364 Maurice Godeîier

Each social s t ructure seems broadly 'autonomous' , and the

economist tends to treat non-economic structures as 'exogenousvariables' , and to look for a rationality that is economic ' in i tself. The correspondence of s t ructures therefore seems mainly'external ' . In an archaic society, this is not the situation. TheMarxist economist, for example, easily distinguishes between theproductive forces of these societies (hunting, fishing, agriculture , etc.) , bu t he can not distinguish their relations of pro duction ' in isolation' . Or at best, he can distinguish th em in the functioning of the kinship relations themselves. The latter determine

the rights of individuals to the land and its products, theirobligations to w ork for othe rs, to receive or to give. Th ey alsodetermine the authority of certain individuals over others inpolit ical and religious matters. In such a society, kinship relations dominate social l ife. How, within Marx's perspective,can we understand both the dominant rôle of kinship and thedeterminant rôle of the economy in the last instance ?

This is impossible if economy and kinship are treated as baseand superstructure. In an archaic society kinship relations func

tion as relations of production, just as they function as polit icalrelations. To use Marx's vocabulary, kinship relations are hereboth infrastructure and superstructure 5 9 and i t would be alair guess that the complexity of kinship relations in archaicsocieties relates to the multiple functions they take on in suchsocieties.

60It could also be suggested that the dominant rôle

59. In The Origin of the Family, Private "Property and the State(Marx-Engels, Selected W orks, II, p . 170, Preface to t he First Edition),

Engels, by declaring that 'the determining factor in history is, in thelast resort, the production arid reproduction of immediate life',implies th at kinship plays a determ inant rôle alongside the economy,whereas in these societies, it is really an element of the economicinfrastructure.

60. This plurifunctionality of kinship has led Beattie and otheranthropologists to claim that kinship has no content of its own, butis a container or symbolic form in which the content of social lifeis expressed (economic, political, religious relations and so on), i.e.that kinship is merely language, a means of expression. While not

quarrelling with the notion that kinship functions as a languagesymbolizing social life, Schneider objects that kinship also has itsown content which can be brought out by substracting from itsfunctioning the economic, political, and religious aspects. The set ofrelations of consanguinity and alliance which serve as the means ofexpression of social life and serve as the terms of the symbolic

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 365

and complex structure of kinship relations in archaic societies

are related to the general structure of the productive forcesand their low level of development, which impose the co-operation of individuals and therefore group life for subsistence andreproduction.


In th is abstract examp le, the econom y-kinship correspondenceno longer app ears as an externaL relatio n, bu t as intern al correspondence, without for a l l that confusing economic relat ionsbetween kinsfolk with their pol i t ical or sexual relat ions, e tc .Thus , tö the extent that kinship in this kind of society really

functions as relations of production, the determinant rôle of. the

language of kinship will then appear. Here kinship is both a particular content-of social life and serves as the mode of appearance£.nd expressions of all other contents.

But when he sets out to rediscover a content for kinship in thisway, Schneider hardly evades the biologism for which he condemns Gellner. Everyone knows that the set of biological relationsof consanguinity and alliance is not kinship, as kinship is always a

particular 'group' of these relations within which descent andalliance are socially regulated. Because these relations are selectedand 'retained', real kinship is not a biological fact, but a socialone.

Schneider and Beattie have in common the error of looking for thecontent of this kind of kinship outside the economic, the politicaland the religious, since kinship is neither an external form nor* aresidual content but functions directly and internally as economicand political relations and so on, and therefore functions as a modeof expression of social life and as a symbolic form of that life.

The scientific problem thus becomes the determination of whytliis is so in many types of society, and, in the methodologicalsphere, the conclusion would seem to be that the conceptualcouples : form-basis, container-content are not the right ones for anaccount of the functioning of social structures.

Gellner, 'Ideal Language and Kinship Structure', Philosophy ofScience, vol. XXIV, 1957; Needham, 'Descent Systems and IdealLanguage', Ibid., vol. XXVII, i960; Gellner, 'The Concept of Kinship', Ibid., vol. XXVII, i960; Barnes, 'Physical and Social Kinship*,Ibid., vol. XXVIII, 1961; Gellner, 'Nature and Society in Social

Anthropology', Ibid., vol. XXX, 1963; Schneider, 'The Nature ofKinship ', Ibid., vo l. XXXI, 1964. ' '

61. On .this see Claude Lévi-Strauss, 'The situa tion is qu ite diff-erent in groups for which the satisfaction of economic needs restsentirely on conjugal society and the sexual division of labour. Notonly are man and woman differently specialised technically, and

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366 Maurice GodeUer

economy does not contradict the dominant rôle of kinship, butis expressed through it.82

This perspective makes it possible to predict one of the contributions Marx will make in the future to the scientific study ofsocial structures and their multiple evolution, a contributionprofoundly different from those his exegesists attribute to him,or deny him. For what are, in fact, irreducible are the functionsand evolution of structures, so their differentiation should beexplained by the transformation and evolution of their functions. It would be possible, for example, to guess that the appear

ance of new conditions of production in archaic societies willmodify their demography, demand new forms of authority, andbring with them new relations of production. It is a fair guessthat beyond a certain limit the old kinship relations will nolonger be able to fulfill these new functions. The latter willdevelop outside kinship and will bring forth distinct politicaland religious social structures which will in their turn functionas relations of production. It is not the kinship relations thatare transformed into political relations, but the political func

tion of the old kinship relations which develops on the basis ofnew problems. The kinship relations will shift into a new rôlew ith a different so cial impor tance, and the political and religiousrelations, charged with new functions (both infra- and super-structural), will come to occupy the liberated central place.

To explain the determinant rôle of the economy is at thesame time to explain the dominant rôle of non-economic structures in a given type of society, and societies distinct in time

therefore depend on one another for the construction of the thingsnecessary for daily tasks, but they devote themselves to the production of different kinds of food. A complete, and above all aregular diet thus depends on that veritable 'production co-operative',the household.... Particularly in primitive societies, where theharshness of the geographical environment and the rudimentarystate of technique make hunting and gardening, collecting andgathering equally hazardous, existence is almost impossible for anindividual left to himself.' (Structures Élémentaires, p. 48.)

62. Marx wrote of the 'rank and influence' of social structures ina society characterized by a determined production: 'It is theuniversal light with which all the other colours are tinged and aremodified through its peculiarity. It is a special ether which determines the specific gravity of everything that appears in it.' (A Contribution to the Critique of Tolitical Economy, Introduction, p. 302.)

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Structure and Contradiction in Capital 367

and place belong to the same 'type' if their struct»2re as a w/10/r

is comparable, i.e. if the relation between their social structuresdetermined by the functions and the importance of each ofthem is comparable. This perspective makes it possible to reconcile the usual oppositions: structure-event (anthropology-history) and structure-individual (sociology-psychology) in a newway.

An event—whether from outside or inside—always acts onthe whole structure by acting on one of its elements. The setof known and unknown properties of one or several structures

always intervenes between a cause and its effects. This structural causality gives an event all its consciousness and unconscious dimensions and explains its intentional and unintentionaleffects. It is therefore incorrect to abandon the structuralistviewpoint or to leave structure aside to account for events.When, by their acts, men create the conditions for the appearance of new structures, in fact, they open up the way to newfields of objective possibility of which they are largely ignorant,which they discover through events and whose limits they

submit to necessarily when the conditions of functiomng ofthese structures vary, and when these no longer fulfil thesame function and are transformed. The intentional behavioural rationality of the members of a society is always inscribed within the basic unintentional rationality of thehierarchical structure of the social relations characterizingthat society. Instead of starting from the individuals and theirhierarchies of preference to explain the role and relation of thestructures of a society, it is necessary rather to explain this

rôle and this relation in all their aspects, known or unknownby the society, and look in this hierarchy of structures for thebasis of the hierarchy of 'values', i.e. the social norms of prescribed behaviour. This hierarchy of Values' could then illuminate the hierarchy of needs of individuals playing a given rôlewith a given status in the society.

This would make it impossible to challenge history with anthropology

63or anthropology w ith history, to set psychology and

sociology or sociology and history in sterile opposition. Thepossibility of human 'sciences' would definitely depend on thepossibility of discovering the laws of the functioning, evolution and internal reciprocal correspondence of social structures.

63. Cf. Roland Barthes, *Les Sciences Humaines et l'Oeuvre deLévi-Strauss', Annales, Nov.-Deo, 1964, p. 1086.

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368 Maurice Godeîier

And one day these human sciences could give the lie to Aristotle by becoming sciences of the 'individual' as well. The possibility of human 'sciences' depends on a generalization of amethod of structural analysis which has become capable ofexplaining the conditions of variation and evolution of structures and their functions. This generalization is today very unevenly developed, depending on whether the study is economics,kinship, politics, or religion. Perhaps Marx's work, purged of

equivocation, could help .accelerate this development.