Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic by Hiroshi Uchida (1988)

The Chapter on Capital and The Doctrine of Essence

Part One: Generality of Capital

First critique of Hegel's system

Is the causal relation between capital and labour, in which the result or effect becomes a succeeding presupposition or cause, actually a closed system as defined by Hegel? Is it a progress ad infinitum? Marx argues that this is not the case.

After considering the reproduction of the capital-relation in the Grundrisse, Marx considers the economic forms which precede capitalist production (N 459-515, M 367-417). In that discussion he offers an implicit criticism of Hegel's 'causality' as an eternal circular movement. Because Marx has already grasped the causal relation between capital and labour, through which the actual conditions of capitalist production are repeatedly reproduced, presupposition or cause is ceaselessly posited by him as a result or effect.

Hegel writes:

In the finite sphere the difference of the form-determinations in their relation is suspended: cause is alternately determined also as what is posited or as effect; this again has another cause, and thus there also generates the progress from effects to causes ad infinitum (Shorter Logic § 153).

What is posited in the logical past as presupposition is reproduced in the logical present as result. Reproduction is the actuality of labour which reproduces the past in the present. In this logical phase, Marx shares Hegel's view of circular causality.

However, Marx also argues that something else is reproduced in demonstrating that the logical past or presupposition is repeatedly the result besides the logical past. This is the historical past. After demonstrating that the logical past or presupposition is repeatedly reproduced in the logical present or result, Marx inquires, in a methodological way, when and where the original presuppositions were posited. He moves beyond the logical past and investigates the historical origin of the first logical presuppositions, how they arose in the historical past.

Causal reproduction not only brings about the logical past, but it also reveals historical origins buried under the surface appearance of the present. Marx locates the primitive community and primitive accumulation in his discussion of pre-capitalist economic formations, which follows his account of the accumulation of capital (surplus product and surplus capital) and the reproduction of the capital relation. He argues that capitalism is not a closed system, but an open one, in the sense that it arose from certain conditions in the pre-capitalist period and did not generate them itself. In this way Marx offers an implicit critique of Hegel's closed system, the system in which Hegel unconsciously traces the logic of value and capital, albeit in reverse order.

Marx's critique is supplemented by an exposition of the concept 'disposable time' (N 397, M 305), in order to demonstrate that capitalism is also an open system with respect to its future. For Marx capitalism is determined theoretically in such a way that it will eventually cease to operate and hence to exist. Using his work on pre-capitalist economic formations and on disposable time, Marx shows that capitalism has a historical existence - a historical origin and a historical limit.

In discussing 'disposable time', Marx takes up a suggestion from a pamphlet entitled The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, Deduced from Principles of Political Economy in a Letter to Lord John Russell, 1821, which he had read in 1851. From this pamphlet he quotes the thesis, 'Wealth is disposable time and nothing more' (N 397, M 305). Disposable time is exclusively appropriated by the capitalist in the form of surplus-value. However, capitalism is a paradoxical system. Individual capitalists increase the productivity of labour in order to obtain extra surplusvalue. With this motive as an efficient cause, capitalism as a whole drives itself in such a way that the law of value eventually becomes groundless. This happens because almost all of the product is produced with a decreasing amount of labour, the very basis of the law of value. Therefore capitalism will cease to exist. After capitalism, Marx predicts, a high level of productivity will be controlled by freely associated workers.

Marx writes:

Labour-power relates to its labour as to an alien, and if capital were willing to pay it without making it labour it would enter the bargain with pleasure. Thus its own labour is as alien to it - and it really is, as regards its direction etc. - as are material and instrument. Therefore, the product then appears to it as a combination of alien material, alien instrument and alien labour - as alien propery, and after production, it has become poorer by the life forces expended, but otherwise begins the drudgery anew, existing as simple subjective labour-power separated from the conditions of its life. The recognition of the products as its own, and the judgment that its separation from the conditions of its actualization is improper - forcibly imposed - is an enormous consciousness, itself the product of the mode of production resting on capital, and as much the knell to its doom as, with the slave's consciousness of himself that he cannot be the property of a third, with his consciousness as person, slavery vegetates to merely artificial existence and has ceased to be able to prevail as the basis of production (N 462 - 3, M 370 - 1).

The human subjects who transcend the 'form' surplus-value and arrive at 'disposable time' are the immediate producers. They are organised and trained under the command of capitalists. Step by step they become aware that capitalist property is only what they themselves have produced, and so they are its true owners. The development of this consciousness and enlightenment are related to Hegel's conception of 'master and slave' in the Phenomenology. Here we can see how Marx's phenomenology of mind or spirit is grounded on the critique of political economy.

As already noted, the wage-labourer is determined as a twofold existence. The wage-labourer is not only 'arche as hyle' in relation to the capitalist, but 'arche as eidos' in relation to the means of production. Within the labourer's consciousness an antagonistic contradiction arises. This is between being an agent for the capitalist and being a productive person, or between being a producer of value and being a producer of use-value. The labourer shares a value-consciousness with the capitalist in exchange- relations. These are based on the premise that what is exchanged is the product of the labourer's own labour, and that exchange is carried out on the basis of equivalents. However under capitalism, immediate producers are alienated from the results of their labours, and gradually they come to believe that something is amiss. In order to clarify their intuitions, Marx has demonstrated the way that capital proceeds from an exchange between capitalist and labourer. If the immediate producers follow this demonstration, they will know what causes capitalist property, and they will grasp the basis of their intuition that something is amiss. This theoretical recognition results in a new consciousness amongst producers, a consciousness of the possibilities for human freedom.

Marx's treatment of this material at the beginning of the Chapter on Capita' is related to Hegel's 'positing reflection', in which the conditions for the transition of money to capital are presupposed. On those presuppositions Marx demonstrates the transition, showing the indispensable conditions for the genesis of capital. After that logical development, he then follows the historical process in which the conditions were actually posited. His task is finished when he discusses pre-capitalist economic formations. In other words the transition from money to capital is now mediated by the pre-capitalist economic formations in which Marx traces the origins of free exchange, free labour-power, free funds and the accumulation of money. In that sense he shows that capitalism is a logico-historical system that is open, by contrast with Hegel's logical system that is closed and timeless.

Part Two: Particularity of Capital

Second critique of Hegel's system

Thus far one capital has re-emerged from circulation as one capital or a totality, in which circulating and fixed capital once again exclude each other. But this is no longer a simple whole (ein blosses Ganze) of money-capital, as it is at the beginning of Marx's consideration of the 'generality of capital'. 'Money as capital' has first become the general notion of capital, and then capital as the general notion begins to particularise itself as two kinds of capital - circulating and fixed - according to the specific material moment in which the value of capital is mediated. At the peak of its particularisation, the two kinds . of capital are transformed into each other, so the process of reproduction of one capital then forms a complex structure as one totality with particular determinations preserved. Marx's method in constructing a critique of political economy, defined in his Introduction to the Grundrisse, is one of appropriating the concrete, in order to reproduce theoretically the structure of bourgeois society in which capital is dominant.

This process of becoming one totality is presupposed logically and historically by Marx. At the beginning of his consideration of the 'generality of capital', Marx refers to Hegel's 'positing reflection' in order to clarify the reciprocal relationship between presupposition and positing in the bourgeois economic system as it reproduces itself. He then adds that the system has historical presuppositions which were posited in the past. Therefore the historical origination of capitalism is described after he considers the accumulation of capital, and it forms a criterion for determining which basic conditions are required for capitalism. This analysis is carried out in the section of the Grundrisse known as Pre-capitalist economic formations.

This analysis implies a critique of Hegel's view of circular systems as closed. Marx demonstrates that capitalism is an open system with respect to the past, because its conditions of existence were posited in a pre-capitalist period. But with his theory of 'disposable time', he also predicts that capitalism contains within itself a possibility that it will cease to exist in future. Thus he shows that capitalism is a historical phenomenon that is open with respect to both past and future.

At the end of Marx's discussion of 'particularity of capital', he confirms that the exchange between capital and labour is indispensable to capital-accumulation, and he inquires further how free labourers came to exist in the past. Those labourers are 'free' in a two-fold sense, in that they are citizens with equal rights in modern society, and they are also free, i.e. alienated from the means of production which remain the property of others. Quoting from Sir Frederick Morton Eden's The state of the poor, or an history of the labouring classes in England from the Conquest etc., Marx points out that civilised institutions guarantee the right for a small number of non-labourers to appropriate products made by workers, leaving some of their labour unpaid:

Our zone requires labour for the satisfaction of needs, and therefore at least one part of society must always tirelessly labour; others labour in the arts etc., and some, who do not work, still have the products of diligence at their disposal. For this, these proprietors have only civilization and order to thank; they are purely the creatures of civilized institutions (N 735, M 610).

Marx also notes that the 'bloody legislation' of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I de facto forced peasants to become wage-labourers for capitalists. But he also recognises that 'disposable time' is a potential within surplus-value as produced by capitalism, and that this potential develops further as fixed capital increases. This disposable time corresponds as a potential to the development of workers' organisations, and he forecasts that they will become aware of their own abilities and powers, which have for so long been appropriated by capitalists. In that way he describes a phenomenology of mind or spirit that develops towards human freedom.

The creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour-time for society generally and each of its members (i.e. room for the development of the individuals' full productive forces, hence those of society also), this creation of nonlabour-time appears in the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as non-labour-time, free time, for a few. What capital adds is that it increases the surplus-labour-time of the mass by all the means of art and science, because its wealth consists directly in the appropriation of surplus-labour-time; since value directly is its purpose, not use-value. It is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour-time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone's time for their own development. But its tendency always, on the one side, [is] to create disposable time, on the other, to convert it into surplus-labour . . . The more this contradiction develops, the more does it become evident that the growth of the forces of production can no longer be bound up with the appropriation of alien labour, but that the mass of labourers must themselves appropriate their own surplus-labour. Once they have done so - and disposable time thereby ceases to have an opposite existence . . . (N 708, M 583 - 4).

The way in which disposable time is removed from the hands of capitalists and freed for the enjoyment of workers is demonstrated theoretically as follows. In capitalism workers are separated from the products of their labour, which include the means of production and the means of consumption. Those products are produced from 'matter' by their own labour as 'form'. Their alienation from the products of their own labour amounts to an indefensible separation from 'matter' or nature, which is vital to human life. Because of their alienation from 'matter' (hyle) and because of their pressing need for the means of life, they must alienate their own labour-power once again to the capitalist, who holds exclusive sway over the means of production. By virtue of this, the capitalist controls production as the mediator for capital and so monopolises mental labour. The capitalist forces workers to engage in physical labour, and this alienation from 'matter' causes an alienation from labour as 'form' (telos).

The universal truth that human beings arise from the natural world and cannot live without material contact with nature is deformed under capitalism, because capitalists have exclusive ownership of 'matter' as land and the products of labour. Desperate for the means of subsistence, wage-labourers must alienate their labour-power by the hour, and they become obedient to capitalist command.

This relationship between capitalist and labourer can be expressed in terms of Aristotle's theory of 'cause' as follows. 'Final cause' (telos) for labourers is a representation in advance of the end-product of their activity. This is alienated to the capitalist. The labourer obtains 'material cause' (hyle) as the means of consumption and engages in labour that is merely physical. This is 'efficient cause' (arche) under capitalist control. The capitalist has exclusive ownership over the means of production or 'material cause' (hyle), and then takes on the task of mental labour as 'final cause' (telos). This is not the same 'final cause' as occurs in the labour-process, but is rather an alienated, abstract practice that pursues an increase in the value of capital through identifying and manipulating its various shapes. In that way Aristotle's four causes are linked within the production-process of capital, pursued through the relation of commodity-exchange.

Because there is a motive for obtaining surplus-profit, each individual capitalist manages and controls the production-process at the micro-level through rational planning. Capitalist practice at that level is 'final cause'. On the macro-level, however, the practice of capitalists considered as a whole becomes 'efficient cause', and this brings two unexpected effects: relative surplusvalue, and a decrease in the general rate of profit. Each capitalist aims to reduce the value of each individual product in order to obtain a margin between socially established value and the value of an individual product, thus obtaining a surplus-profit, for which capitalists compete with each other. To obtain this margin, capitalists introduce machinery in order to increase the productivity of labour, and so the value of an individual product decreases. This innovative aspect of competition transforms the process of production into a scientific process of industrial development. It also pushes individual labourers to realise their collective power in terms of scientific knowledge. The capitalist must educate the labourer as manager and controller of this scientific production-process, so a process of education, which is initially in the interest of the capitalist, paradoxically realises some of the labourer's potential power. This change occurs in the development of the means of production which proceeds from tools, used by skilled labourers, up to machinery, in which human skills are overtaken by a scientific analysis of production as a mechanised process. Skilled physical labour is then replaced by machinery, which is the power of science made manifest. In Aristotle's terms 'efficient cause' in the productive process is no longer human hands but machinery. Marx writes:

No longer does the labourer insert a modified natural object as middle link between the object and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature which he transforms into an industrial process, as means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its main agency. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive force, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it through his existence [Dasein] as social body - it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour-time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in the face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself (N 705, M 581).

It [fixed capital] ... [now] exists merely as agency for the transformation of the raw material into the product (N 691, M 570).

... to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour-time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour-time, whose powerful effectiveness is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour-time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production (N 704-5, M 581).

In the production process 'efficient cause' or 'agent' is thus transformed from physical labour into machinery. At the same time, the labourer, rather than the capitalist, takes on the role of 'final cause'. The labourer changes from 'efficient cause' (arche) to 'final cause' (telos), and tools are converted from 'material cause' (hyle) into machinery or 'efficient cause'. Simultaneously physical labour as 'efficient cause' becomes mental labour or 'final cause'. The main 'efficient cause' of the capitalist production-process changes from skilled labour or 'living labour' to automatic machinery or 'dead labour'.

This transition suggests that 'living labour', which has hitherto been the 'general substance' of capital and the mediator in reproducing the material and subjective conditions of the capitalrelation, now begins to vanish from the production-process. This means that capitalist development tends to let the substance of value diminish almost to zero, and so it destroys its own basis:

... the value objectified in machinery appears as a presupposition against which the value-creating force of the individual labour-power is an infinitesimal vanishing magnitude ... (N 694, M 573).

While the productivity of labour increases without limit, 'living labour' or V + S added to the product tends to diminish almost to zero. At the same time, the durability of machinery improves, so fixed constant capital, which is transferred to and preserved in the product, diminishes, and circulating constant capital cheapens, because of the increased productivity of labour. In that way the value of the product or C + V + S decreases. Paradoxically each capitalist's capacity for innovation, which derives from striving for surplus-profit, causes the law of value to collapse, and hence the capitalist mode of production. After that there is no capital, and therefore no capitalist or wage-labourer. Instead there are free workers, who organise themselves in a scientific system of production. They manage and control the system in accordance with high standards, so they are now free 'subjects' in social production, regaining their own 'final cause' (telos). Surplus-labour-time, extended under capitalist production, then becomes available for workers to apportion into material funds for social investment and 'disposable time' for individual and social development.

In history so far producers have been alienated from their 'final cause' and forced to labour as an 'efficient cause' through the capital-relation. But in Marx's view, human beings arose with the two causes united. It is because of the profit motive that capitalism develops their mental abilities ('final cause') through an educational system and network of communication. At last they can recover this 'final cause' in a highly advanced form. What nature has given to human beings ('final cause') can be separated from them by human action in society, but this 'final cause' can be regained, and Marx includes these notions in his materialism.

As explained above, 'efficient cause' as physical ability is, so to speak, 'material cause' in relation to 'final cause' as mental ability. Mental ability is 'formal cause' (eidos) as such, which is generated on the basis of 'material cause' in the human body. 'Efficient cause' can be temporarily suspended within social relations, but in Marx's account it is destined to be reunited with its original 'material cause' and 'final cause' after its cultivation through the historical development of alienated societies. The mental ability of the wage-labourer undergoes a developmental process through alienation in capitalist society. This may be called Marx's phenomenology of mind, which he develops from Hegel's Phenomenology, and it is applied to the critique of political economy.

For Marx the human being arises from a 'material cause' as such (nature naturans), develops as a 'formal cause', which re-forms 'matter' (nature) and develops human nature itself. Marx's materialism is associated with a view that human alienation as 'formal cause' is destined to be transcended through its own developments. The purpose of Marx's critique of political economy is, inter alia, to demonstrate the validity of his materialism. In the Grundrisse he begins for the first time to carry out this task systematically.

Part Three: Individuality of Capital

Third critique of Hegel's system

At the end of III. Individuality of Capital Marx again criticises Hegel's circular system, because it reflects capitalism in abstract terms. He argues that Hegel's closed, logical system is actually historical - it has an origin in the past and will vanish in future so it is open in both directions. He accomplishes this task by using his theories of primitive accumulation and 'disposable time'.

In discussing the accumulation of capital at the end of I. Generality of Capital, Marx presents the process of reproduction of capital as apparently eternal, but then he reveals the way that accumulation is dependent on given historical conditions. At the beginning of his Chapter on Capital in the Grundrisse, he assumes that the basic conditions of capitalism are presupposed, and he traces them logically as reproduction takes place through capital accumulation. This necessitates another discussion of the way that these 'primitive' conditions are posited historically. In other words his theory of primitive accumulations requires a theory of the accumulation of capital, which he uses as a criterion for discovering what kinds of conditions gave rise to capitalism in the past.

Marx's study of primitive accumulation is limited to an account of the way that surplus-value is generated as primitive accumulation takes place. The predominant forms of capital were mercantile capital and usury. Both forms were often linked as the surplus-labour of independent small-scale producers was absorbed as mercantile profit or interest through the putting-out system. In that way independent producers were transformed into wage-labourers as their independence became merely nominal. Eventually they were organised into manufacture, which was then transformed into industrial capital.

The commodity-relation gains ground, and the degree of this transformation - 'primitive accumulation' - can be measured. When the commodity-relation covers not only a surplus-product but also the necessary product - the fund to reproduce the labourpower of the producer - labour-power itself becomes a commodity. When the necessary product has become a commodity, labour-power is alienated from the products necessary for its own reproduction, because they are the property of another person, i.e. the capitalist. Workers buy necessary products with the money which they earn as wages. In short, there are four instances of transformation: mercantile capital into industrial capital; surplusvalue from mercantile profit into industrial profit; necessary products into commodities; and labour-power into a commodity. Marx quotes Smith's descriptions of commercial capital in The wealth of nations from notes that he made on the French edition, just before writing the Economic and philosophical manuscripts (1844). Marx aims to show that capitalism is never a closed, eternal system, but one with an origin in the past.

Then with his theory of 'disposable time' Marx puts the future of capitalism into perspective. He has already demonstrated why, in his view, capitalism will cease to exist. He has done this through his analysis in II. Particularity of Capital of the way that machinery or fixed capital develops. Here again he points out that capitalism will vanish in future, losing its presuppositions. These are the presuppositions on which the alienated relation between the capitalist and the wage-labourer is grounded:

... this twisting and inversion [i.e. the conversion of actualization of labour into the loss of actuality] is a real [phenomenon], not a merely supposed one existing merely in the imagination of the labourers and the capitalists. But obviously this process of inversion is a merely historical necessity, a necessity for the development of the productive forces solely from a specific point of departure [i.e. primitive accumulation], or basis, but in no way an absolute necessity of production; rather, a vanishing one, and the result and the purpose (immanent) of this process is to transcend this basis itself, together with this form of the process. The bourgeois economists are so much cooped up within the representations of a determinate historic stage of development of society that the necessity of the objectification of the social powers of labour appears to them as inseparable from the necessity of their alienation vis-a-vis living labour (N 831-2, M 698).

Evidently Marx intends to critise not only the bourgeois political economists, but also Hegel, since he comments that the alienation of wage-labourers is never 'an absolute necessity', but 'a merely historical necessity'. Therefore it is not 'a supposed' phenomenon existing merely in the imagination of the labourers and the capitalists', but 'a real [phenomenon]'.

For Marx, Hegel's idealism is not merely philosophical speculation. It is rather a real expression of the relations of modern private property. It is a philosophical expression of its own economic background, i.e. the relation of value and capital. As the basic relation of modern bourgeois society, it is inevitably conditioned by real persons when it actually appears. For that reason Marx critically suggests that Hegel's Logic, in which an ideal subject or 'idea' appears to posit itself and all other objects, is similar to political economy, in which value and capital do likewise.

Marx foresees the transcendence of capitalist alienation and the possibility of the realisation of freedom:

But with the transcendence of the immediate character of living labour, as merely individual, or as general merely internally [i.e. spiritually] or merely externally [i.e. physically], with the positing of the activity of individuals as immediately general or social activity, the objective moments of production are stripped of this form of alienation; they are thereby posited as property, as the organic social body within which the individuals reproduce themselves as individuals, but as social individuals (N 832, M 698)

We have already seen that Aristotle's theory of cause is applied by Marx in his demonstration of the way the alienation of the wage-labourer will be transcended as capitalist society develops. Here in III. Individuality of Capital he also relates this to 'disposable time'. In the production of relative surplus-value, he writes:

... the possibility of which [i.e. greater productive force of labour] is already posited in the presupposed growth of the population and [its] training to labour (with which determinate free time is also posited for the non-labouring, not directly labouring population, hence development of spiritual capacities etc.; spiritual appropriation of nature) (N 774, M 645).

Potential free time in capitalist society appears in alienated forms and is only partially appropriated by the non-labouring population. However, workers gradually become aware that potential free time is an estranged form of their own productive force, and that it is stimulated as productive forces develop their collective and scientific labour. This process, in which the consciousness of workers develops, is also the process in which their forces are regained. Free 'disposable time' will be realised for them as true wealth. Marx's perspective is based on his recognition of capitalist alienation and propertylessness as a 'merely historical necessity'. He grasps the history of alienation as a phenomenological process, so freedom becomes possible when capitalist alienation is reco'gnised as a historical necessity. That historical necessity, in Marx s view, will eventually vanish, and he supports that judgement with his critique of political economy.

By contrast Hegel asserts that freedom consists in knowing 'absolute necessity' and nothing more:

... the process of necessity is so directed that it overcomes the rigid externality which it first had and reveals its inwardness, by which it then presents what are bound together as not factually alien to each other, but other moments of a whole, each of which, in its relation to the other, is with itself and combines with itself. This is the transfiguration of necessity into freedom (Shorter Logic § 158).

'The process of necessity' mentioned above appears at first glance to be very similar to the way Marx sees capital. He starts from money-capital as 'a whole' and in the end reveals it be 'one determinate totality' in which various moments are bound up with each other. And he shares with Hegel an understanding that knowledge involves tracing a process of necessity.

However, Hegel stays within the sphere of cognition, because for him 'knowing' is practice itself. He thinks that the world or cosmos is created in such a way that 'knowing' objectives itself, and that 'knowing' comes to know itself. For him the universe is what 'knowing' knows. What is objectified is nothing but 'knowing' itself, so for him knowledge alone can count as practice. 'Knowing' is thus the substance of all that is objectified (i.e. that which has the appearance of an object) and presents itself as subject through its spiritual labour of objectification. Necessity for Hegel implies this process of 'knowing' coming to know itself. When 'knowing' comes to know itself thoroughly, it is transfigured into freedom, which is, in other words, 'absolute knowing'. For Hegel necessity does not vanish but reappears as freedom.

For Marx, necessity as an object of historical knowledge is a historical necessity, e.g. capital. In the process of tracing capital from 'a whole' to 'one determinate totality', he reveals the real possibility of practical transcendence. Exposing the genesis of capital indicates to wage-labourers a possibility for emancipation. Wage-labourers will develop step by step a consciousness alternative to the bourgeois value-consciousness prevalent in capitalist society. In that way they come to recognise that the force of capital is in fact a perverse form of their own potential. Marx's task is to grasp capitalism as a historical necessity, vanishing in future, and to show that it is accompanied by the discovery of the real human subject in practice and the possibility for realising freedom for all.

Freedom for Hegel is limited to the theoria of 'absolute necessity'. For Marx, theoretical recognition of the possibility for freedom embodies a specific claim. His claim is that the possibility for freedom can be changed into an actuality, and that such a criterion of realisation is an appropriate one against which to test his theory. Thus he points out the mission to realise this possibility for human freedom that rests with the working class. In his critique of political economy he characterises contemporary capitalism as the last system of private property, or the last stage of prehistory of class societies in the natural history of mankind. The subjective and objective conditions for advancing to human history proper, a classless society, thus mature in capitalism:

... it is evident that the material productive force already present, already worked out, existing in the form of fixed capital, together with the scientific power and the population etc., in short all conditions of wealth, that the greatest conditions for the reproduction of wealth, i.e. the abundant development of the social individual - that the development of the productive forces brought about by the historical development of capital itself, when it reaches a certain point, transcends the self-increasing value of capital, instead of positing it. Beyond a certain point, the development of the productive forces becomes a barrier for capital; hence the capital-relation [becomes] a barrier for the development of the productive forces of labour. When it has reached this point, capital, i.e. wage-labour, enters into the same relation, [tending] towards the development of social wealth and productive forces, as the guild system, serfdom, slavery, and is necessarily stripped off as a fetter. The last shape of servitude, which human activity assumes, that of wage-labour, on one side, capital on the other, is thereby cast off like a skin, and this casting-off itself is the result of the mode of production corresponding to capital; material and mental conditions of the negation of wage-labour and of capital, themselves already the negation of earlier forms of unfree social production, are themselves results of its production process (N 749, M 622-3).

In the passage above from the Grundrisse Marx comes to a conclusion that enables him to rewrite his manuscript Chapter on Money. That rewritten version is the so-called original text of A contribution to the critique of political economy, and after completing that draft, he prepared the finished manuscript for publication. In the famous Preface to that work, published in 1859, he describes capitalism as the last stage of the prehistory of mankind, a point of entry into its universal history.