“AT the entrance to science the same demand is to be made as at the entrance to hell:
Qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto
Ogni viltà convien che qui sia morta.”
With this quotation from the third canto of the Inferno in Dante's Divine Comedy, Marx concludes the summary of his career up to the year 1859, in the preface to Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. With a retrospective look at the excruciating but essential course of initiation into the secrets of the science of political economy, Marx's imagination is transplanted to Dante's journey through hell. Led by the poet Virgil as his guide, Dante follows him through chasms deep and dark as far as the portals of hell, over which is written: “Through me you enter the city of woe… Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” But Virgil heartens him. He must abandon not all hope but, on the contrary, all irresolution (sospetto); here he must slay all his cowardly fear.
To judge by the small number of quotations, the importance of Dante's Divine Comedy in Marx's works hardly compares with, for instance, the role which the plays of Shakespeare play in them; and yet the function of the Dante quotations turns out on closer examination to be as strategic as that of the passages cited from Aeschylus' tragedy, Prometheus Bound. Just as at the outset of his study—to wit, in his dissertation—Marx identifies himself with Prometheus, so he symbolically portrays his later career in Dante's journey through hell, and through purgatory.
The Preface to the first edition of the first book of Das Kapital, written in 1867, also finishes with a quotation from Dante. In it Marx describes the hostile reaction which his Critique of Political Economy seems to have aroused. In that particular field, free, scientific enquiry does not meet only the same enemy as it might in all other fields. The peculiar nature of the material it is dealing with arouses the most vehement, pettiest and bitterest feelings of the human heart, all the furies of private interest (Privatinteressen). The Church of England, for example, finds it easier to forgive an assault on 38 of the 39 Articles of Religion than on 1/39th part of its monetary income. Even atheism is a culpa levis, a venial sin, nowadays, compared with any criticism of the hereditary ownership of property.
In the face of such hostility there is nothing one can do. Every opinion based on scientific criticism Marx is ready to welcome. Faced with the prejudices of public opinion, so called, opinion to which he has never conceded anything, he makes his own the motto of the great Florentine, Segui il tuo corso, e lascia dir le genti! (Stick to your course, and let people say what they will!). “The motto of the great Florentine”, which Marx appropriated in the introduction to Das Kapital, was borrowed, with one tiny alteration, from the fifth canto of the Purgatorio. Eight years before, he had ended the preparatory study for his Critique of Political Economy with a passage from the Inferno. It is as though he has been following Dante's progress from hell to purgatory. In the fifth canto of the Purgatorio Dante meets with a company of spirits who (as can be seen from the preceding canto) are enslaved by the sin of Sloth. One of them points at Dante: “See how the fight seems not to shine, there to the left below him, and how he seems, a living being, to be beckoned on!” In the spirit realm of the souls awaiting their purification, Dante is the only human being of flesh and blood, the one living person (vivo) amid the shades (ombre), the only one with a shadow. Virgil enjoins him to “stick to the course” and not let himself be distracted by the amazed reactions of the spirits:
“Why is your mind so troubled, now said the Master, that
your steps falter?
Why should you be concerned by what they mutter here?
Keep after me, and let that crowd say what they will.
(e lascia dir le genti!)
Stand like a mighty tower whose top no winds can harm,
however hard they blow.
The man whose thoughts are rife, thought against thought,
Always defers his goal,
since one thought spoils the glow of all the rest.”
The purpose of this exhortation has to be interpreted in terms of the start of the preceding, fourth canto:
“Whenever the soul, inextricably linked
to one particular faculty, gripped by delight or pain,
adheres to it and is immersed in it,
each other faculty then leaves unmoved.
This against those who, being in error, hold
that one soul grows in us above the next.
If what appears to sense then keeps the soul
attracted, and its attention held,
then, unobserved by us, time hurries on.
One thing the faculty attached to sense,
another, that infuses all the soul;
one is captive, but the other's free.”
Amid the spirits, the souls bound by the senses, Dante's soul possesses true reality and is therefore free. So too Marx's Critique makes its own way through the spirit realm of political economy; amid the fictions of civil society his mind remains immovably concentrated on the real and essential truth. Through hell and purgatory he pursues his journey towards paradise.
The third and final quotation from Dante occurs in the first part of the first volume of Das Kapital, the part we must consider to be the cornerstone of the whole work. The significance of the quotation can be understood only in the context of the argument dealing with the connection between value-in-exchange and money. “The price expresses the value of a commodity, for instance, of a ton of iron, in this way: by stating that a given quantity of the equivalent, for instance, an ounce of gold, is directly exchangeable for iron—but not the converse, that iron is directly exchangeable for gold. In order, therefore, that a commodity may in practice act effectively as exchange value, it must quit its bodily shape, must transform itself from mere imaginary into real gold, although such a transubstantiation may perhaps entail for the commodity an even more radical operation than is involved for the Hegelian ‘concept’ in the transition from necessity to freedom, or for the lobster in casting its shell, or for St. Jerome in the putting off of the old Adam. Side by side with its actual form—for instance, iron—a commodity may possess ideal value-form or imaginary value-form in the price; yet it cannot at one and the same time actually be both iron and gold. To fix its price it suffices to equate it to imaginary gold. However, if it is to render its owner the service of a universal equivalent, the commodity must be replaced by gold. If the owner of the iron were to go to, for instance, the owner of a commodity designed for mundane enjoyment and were to refer him to the price of the iron as proof that it was already money, then the pleasure-loving owner would answer him as St. Peter in heaven answered Dante, when the latter recited to him the creed:
Assai bene è trascorsa
D'esta moneta già la lega e il peso,
Ma dimmi se tu l'hai nella tua borsa.
The price-form implies that it is both possible and necessary to exchange commodities for money. On the other hand, gold only serves as an ideal measure of value because it already plays the role in the exchange process of the money-commodity. Lurking therefore in the ideal measure of values is the hard cash.”
The key to this passage is the term “transubstantiation” that Marx uses to describe the transformation or metamorphosis which a commodity undergoes when it is turned into money. In Marx's analysis an apparently trivial economic event enshrines, it would seem, a mystery which can be adequately described in theological terms alone. A quantity of iron, the moment it enters the process of exchange, turns out to be something more and something other than simply iron. It becomes a market commodity with a price; that is to say, it expresses its value in a given amount of another material, gold. The price is the ideal value-form of the iron, namely, the representation of the equivalent in gold. Evidently, the iron possesses besides its actual form—iron—yet a second, an ideal form, the representation or imaginary presence of a quantity of gold. The real form and the ideal form can exist simultaneously, side by side: actual iron and imaginary gold. But a commodity cannot be at one and the same time actual iron and actual gold. The transmutation of real iron into real gold is nothing more or less than a “transubstantiation”. The identical subject of this metamorphosis is the commodity, which is first iron and then gold. For changing one material, iron, into another material, gold, nothing will suffice but the miracle of alchemy. But the subject of the economic metamorphosis is—as opposed to physics—no sort of matter, but what in economics is known as “commodity” or “exchange commodity”. In conformity with that, Marx inverts the relationship and speaks, not of a quantity of iron becoming a “commodity” but of a “commodity” that has the substance “iron” as its “natural body”, its “bodily shape”. Whenever a quantity of iron is converted into money, the commodity puts off its natural body and changes into gold. The commodity acquires another “substance”, there takes place a “transubstantiation” of iron into gold. For this “putting off” of the natural body Marx uses the German term abstreifen, which means, literally, “stripping off” the skin, “flaying”. Hence the comparison with the lobster, which is, as it were, peeled from the burst shell. The analogy can be taken further, because this transition is for the lobster a transition from life to death, from living organism to an article of food. All that remains of the lobster is an “eatable”; it is stripped of the inedible shell, it puts off its natural body, then and only then does it become an “eatable”, suitable for consumption. Just as the lobster is required to undergo a “transubstantiation” in order to become part of the process of consumption, so must the commodity which is by nature “iron” undergo a “transubstantiation” in order to be taken into the economic process.
Another analogy is with the transition of the Hegelian “concept” or notion (Begriff) of necessity to one of freedom. As a matter of fact, this carries us at once to the conclusion of Das Kapital, where on the far side (jenseits) of the realm of necessity Marx sees the realm of freedom appear. Looking for an image to exemplify and illustrate the mystery at the centre of the economic process, namely, the transformation of a quantity of matter in its “natural” form into a quantity of gold, he refers to this complete, qualitative change in the economic order, which his analysis sees as the glimmering dawn of a new day, yonder, on the further side.
A third comparison Marx borrows from a work by St. Jerome, the “Letter to Eustochius: concerning the preservation of virginity”. Whereas in his youth Jerome had always to be struggling with the bodily flesh, as is shown by his fight in the desert with the handsome women of his imagination, so in his old age he had to wrestle with the spiritual flesh. “I thought,” he says, “I was in the spirit before the Judge of the Universe.” “Who are you?” a voice asked. “I am a Christian.” “You he,” thundered back the great Judge. “You are just a Ciceronian!”
Set down before God's judgment seat, Jerome had to undergo a transformation. He had to put off the old Adam (abstreifen), so as to be able to put on the new Adam. For the youthful Jerome the “old Adam” was the bodily flesh, for the old Jerome the spiritual flesh. This transformation Marx takes as an analogy with what happens in the case of economics. A commodity has a “natural body”, iron, and an ideal form, imaginary gold. In order to become actual gold, the commodity has to undergo a transubstantiation, it has to put off the “old Adam”, which exists both in the material form of iron and in the ideal form of imaginary gold, so as to be able to put on the “new Adam”, namely, actual gold.
These three analogies are still only a preparation for the analogy which Marx takes from Dante's Divine Comedy. There is also a climax implied in the order in which the quotations from Dante occur. Whilst the first passage was chosen from the Inferno and the second, from the Purgatorio, the third and last Dante quotation, which is associated with Marx's Critique of Political Economy, is taken from the Paradiso. The first two passages quoted contain the guide, Virgil's, exhortation to Dante not to let himself be daunted by the horrors of hell or distracted by the spirits whom he meets on his way through purgatory. Now Virgil is required to hand over the job of escort, which he is not allowed to continue with because he is a pagan, to Beatrice, who brings Dante to the gate of heaven, where Peter waits to give him the test of faith that will decide whether or not he is to be admitted to Paradise.
So this third quotation, like the first, points to a crucial moment in Dante's journey. The first referred to the moment when Dante halted before the gate of hell. In this passage he was encouraged not to be scared off but to go resolutely forward. Through the length of hell and purgatory Dante is the only person of flesh and blood amid the spirits. That was the point of the second quotation. Now Dante has arrived at that other crucial frontier, the gate of heaven. The third passage quoted is therefore in a sense pendant and counterpart to the first. In the place of an exhortation to defy the horrors of hell, it has the test that is to decide regarding his admission to heaven.
At this point we are in the 24th Canto of the Paradiso. Peter confronts Dante. “Speak, good Christian, and tell me: What is faith?” The only thing that can get Dante inside now is a quality of spirit. Through hell and purgatory it was his “natural body” that permitted him to go on, when the spirits were doomed to remain. Now that Virgil has left him, and Beatrice, the form of spiritual love, has become his escort, the natural body is no longer enough. Now it is only the spiritual element, faith, that counts.
Dante replies with the opening words of the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews:
Fede è sustanzia di cose sperate,
Ed argomento delle non parventi.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
And an argument for things not seen.”
Peter now questions Dante further about the meaning of the terms “substance” (sustanzia) and “argument” (argomento), upon which Dante expatiates:
“All that in loftier regions
Goodness unveils before my very eyes
Down yonder lies in night impenetrable.
In faith alone can it existence find,
Faith upon which our highest hopes are built,
So that we call it best ‘basis’ or ‘substance’ (sustanzia).
Based on this faith, with trust alone,
And without actual sight, our inference is made (sillogizzar).
Thus we do well to call it ‘argument’” (argomento).
Dante has testified in words to the true faith; and to that extent he has passed the test that will admit him to heaven. But the test is not yet over. On the contrary, the decisive phase is just now about to begin; for now the final proof is called for. Peter utters the words quoted by Marx:
Assai bene è trascorsa
D'esta moneta già la lega e il peso
Ma dimmi se tu l'hai nella tua borsa.
“The weight and alloy of this coin
are tested well enough;
But tell me if you have it in your purse.”
To which Dante is prompt with his reply:
“Yes, and indeed so glittering and so round,
I have no cause to doubt the mark it bears.”
To Peter's question whence he has obtained this precious joy, the ground of all goodness and virtue, Dante replies that the abundant dew of the Holy Spirit, poured out over the Old and New Testaments, is a syllogism (sillogismo) which has led him to such a sharp conclusion (conchiusa) that in comparison with it every demonstration (dimostrazion) seems to him pointless. Peter then asks him why he considers the proposition (propozione) of Holy Scripture, which has led him to this conclusion, to be the “voice of God”. Dante answers:
“The argument that shows the truth to me
are the ensuing works, for which nature
could never heat the iron or beat on anvil.”
Whereupon Peter asks, “Tell me, what makes you so sure that such works have occurred? You have it on oath from what needs to be proved, and not from anything else.”
Dante replies, “Had the world been converted to Christianity without miracles, that would be such a one, the rest would not be one hundredth part of it; for in poverty and fasting you took the field to sow the good seed which, formerly a vine, has now become a thorn-bush.”
With that the dialogue provisionally reaches a conclusion. The course it takes is extremely subtle and rests on the identity between faith and that of which it is the “substance” and the “argument”. Peter tests Dante's faith by the truthfulness of this identity. If this faith is based on Holy Scripture, how then does Dante know that the Scripture is the Word of God? The reply makes reference to “the ensuing works” (l'opere seguita) as proof or “argument” (prova). Those works are supernatural; for nature (natura) could never have achieved them by heating iron or striking anvil. The metaphor manifestly refers to the coinage which Dante carries in his purse and which he has just been showing to Peter. Such coinage is not manufactured by any natural means. No terrestrial heat would be hot enough to make iron into gold; nor could a die of this sort ever be struck upon an earthly anvil.
This figure of speech is of special importance, therefore, in that Marx seems to have borrowed his illustration from it; for he did in fact choose the example of iron, which undergoes a “transubstantiation” in the exchange-process, “puts off its natural body” and changes into gold.
Dante's argument shows that the coinage of faith, displayed by him, is of supernatural origin. It is emphasized that the voice of Peter, who examines him, “breathes from an ardent flame of love” (line 82) and sounds forth from “the light profound and sparkling” (line 88). The coin of faith is glittering (lucida), it radiates the same light (luce) in which Peter is veiled; and it is forged in the heat of heavenly love. The stamp (conio) is struck upon a heavenly anvil. The coin of faith is a “precious joy, in which all virtue (virtu) is grounded”. Dante does not in the first instance speak about his own merits, but about the “ensuing works”, which are the proof of the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. This accords completely with the objective character of faith. A little later he declares that again and again the essential being of the Triune God has been stamped (sigilla) upon his mind by the gospel teaching. Once more the metaphor is of the coinage struck on an anvil. The coin of faith is the “substance” and the “proof” or “argument” of the divine “works” to which Holy Scripture bears witness.
Peter points out to Dante the circularity of his reasoning. He wants to prove the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture from the divine works to which that selfsame Scripture witnesses; that is to say, he grounds the proof on what requires to be proved. Dante's answer seems to be taken from an argument worked out by Augustine in De Civitate Dei: that the whole world should without miracles believe in the apostles' preaching about Christ's resurrection and ascension, that one great miracle would outweigh the recorded miracles. Dante elaborates this argument into a devastating criticism of the history of Christianity. The vine of faith, in the preaching of Peter, who lived and worked “in poverty and fasting”, has become a thornbush, a bramble, the bramble of worldly riches and belief in wonders (miracoli). The faith that he confesses is the one great miracle, it is the one great “work” that proves the divine character of Holy Scripture. Amidst the field of Christianity (Cristianesimo) choked with thorns, the vine of his faith has grown; amid the heap of false coinage is the true coin of his faith, the coin he keeps in his purse, the coin he shows.
This phase of the examination over, the celestial choir strike up the Te Deum; yet even now the interrogation is not finished. To end with, Dante must witness to the source whence he has received the faith:
Io credo in uno Iddio
Solo ed eterno, che tutto il ciel muove
Non moto, con amore e con disio.
“I believe in one God
sole and eternal, who all the heavens moves
with love and with desire, himself unmoved.”
To this Dante adds that such a faith does not rest simply on physical and metaphysical proofs (prove fisice e metaftsice), but on the knowledge of truth in the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. Finally, he confesses his faith “in three eternal persons, who are one essence, one and threefold”:
“The character of godhead (condizion divina)
which here I reverence
Is gospel doctrine, stamped (sigilla) upon my mind,
not once, but many times.
This the beginning, this the spark of light,
which flares at last in burst of living flame,
and sparkles in me like a star in heaven.”
Thus Dante's confession of faith anticipates the apotheosis with which the Divine Comedy ends:
“No satisfaction here with wings of mine,
But suddenly my trembling mind was filled
with sense of lightning flash—and eye had
nothing more to ask.
Imagination's yearnings (fantasia) now are stilled;
But like a wheel, unwavering and smooth,
My wishing and my willing followed now
The love that moves the sun and all the stars.”
(L'amor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle).
The entrance fee to Paradise is the precious coin of faith in the Triune God. As the coin bears the stamp or imprint of the ruler, so Dante's mind bears the stamp (sigilla) of the divine Being (condizion divina). This stamp is the principle (principio), the spark, which grows into the glittering light of the stars and thus reflects the reality of the divine Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
The coin of faith has exactly the significance which the opening words of Hebrews 11, quoted by Dante, ascribe to faith, hypostasis (Lat. substantia, Ital. sustanzia) and elenchos (Lat. argumentum, Ital. argomento). The two terms have to be used in association with each other. Faith is on the one hand “evidence” or “argument”, that whereby we draw from what is visible a conclusion as to the nature of what is not “observable” (“phenomenon”, Hebr. 11:3); yet this is not a “physical or metaphysical proof”, but it literally represents the things which as yet we cannot see, because they are still hidden in the future. In that sense faith is substantia, it is the actuality of the as yet unmanifested reality. The precious coin of faith is the equivalent of that for which it can and will be exchanged in Paradise.
And now we are back with the passage in Das Kapital where Marx quotes from Dante. Marx describes the exchange of a quantity of iron for money as the transformation whereby the commodity (in this case, iron) puts off its natural body and changes from merely imaginary gold into actual gold (sick aus nur vorgestellten Gold in wirkliches Gold verwandlen), and he defines this transformation as a “transubstantiation”. By way of illustration he cites Dante and so posits an analogy between the “transubstantiation” which faith undergoes when Dante enters Paradise and the “transubstantiation” which iron undergoes when it changes from imaginary into actual gold. It is Dante himself who supplies the analogy, in that he compares faith with money (moneta). So long as the iron merely has a price, it has only “ideal value-form” (ideelle Wertgestalt) or the “form of imaginary gold” (vorgestellte Goldgestalt); but in a money-economy this is not sufficient to effect an exchange. For that the iron has to be changed into actual gold. The analogy with Christian faith then goes rather like this: the iron is the natural man, Dante; his faith is the price of the iron, whereby it becomes the equivalent of something else, namely, gold. Gold is a material other than iron, just as heaven is other than earth. But the price makes the iron the equivalent of gold, the price is the “substance” and the evidence or “argument” for what the iron hopes and what it does not yet see—gold; the price is the “faith” of the iron. But for effecting an actual exchange price is no more sufficient than the words of the creed are sufficient to obtain the commodities of heaven and entry into Paradise. For that purpose the iron must undergo a “transubstantiation”. The price is the “substance” of the gold-value, just as faith is the “substance” of the “things to come”. However, so long as the price, or (as the case may be) faith, possesses this “substance” only in imagination, no actual exchange can occur—the gate of Paradise stays shut, as we might say. Dante has to show Peter the actual money, the hard cash, which he “has in his purse”; but this he would not have been able to do, if the “substance” of things heavenly had not already been present in his faith, just as in the “price” of iron there is present the “substance” of gold. The imaginary “substance” waits to be actualized; the iron and the natural man, Dante, have to put off their natural body, they have to undergo a “trans-substantiation”. “Under the ideal measure of values”, Marx concludes, “there lurks the hard cash.” (Im ideellen Mass der Werte lauert daher das harte Geld).
To fathom the full meaning of Marx's train of thought here we shall have to go a little deeper into this analogy. The term hypostasis occurs in two other places in the Letter to the Hebrews. In chapter three the brethren are exhorted to offer steadfast resistance to the blandishments of sin, “for we obtain a share in Christ, provided we hold our first confidence (hypostasis) firm to the end” (Hebr. 3:14). This exhortation seems to have been the pattern for the words of encouragement addressed to Dante by his guide, Virgil, on his journey through hell and purgatory; the “first confidence” or “beginning” (Greek, archè; Lat. principium) of the hypostasis, which must be held firm to the end, Dante describes as the principle (principio), which in the seal (sigillo), in the stamp of the divine Essence, in faith is indelibly imprinted upon his mind. This principle is a spark which eventually glitters like the stars. In that way, says the Letter to the Hebrews, “we obtain a share in Christ”, that is to say, in it we have the hypostasis, the substance (substantia) of Christ.
In the opening passage of the Letter to the Hebrews Christ Himself is described as the “reflection” of God's glory and a “copy” or “imprint” (Authorized Version, “express image”) of God's hypostasis. The reality of faith is made fully apparent here from the fact that the same term is used to define it as is used to define the reality of God Himself. Both have substantia, essential being, self-subsistence. The term “imprint” is character in the Greek. Just as the coinage bears the stamp of the ruler, represents him, represents his power and glory, so Christ is the visible character of God's invisible substantia.
Closely related to the term character is the term charagma. In his speech delivered on Mars' hill (the Areopagus) Paul declares, “Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of men” (Acts 17:29). Gold, silver or stone are charagma, a representation by the art (technè) and imagination of man. In other words, man expresses in gold, silver or stone the image, the stamp of the Godhead, as he himself envisages it. Furthermore, the term charagma occurs repeatedly in the Revelation of John. The reference there is invariably to “those who had the mark of the beast and worshipped its image” (Rev. 13:17; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). The charagma, the mark which men carry on their right hand or on their forehead, has the same function as the eikon (image) which they worship; both represent the divinized authority of the Roman emperor. One of these passages is cited by Marx in the second chapter of the first volume of Das Kapital, the chapter immediately preceding the third chapter, in which appears the quotation from Dante we have just been discussing. This second chapter deals with the question of Exchange (Austauschprozess). Marx shows that the special function of money arises from the fact that a particular commodity, namely, money, is set apart or excluded by the social action of all other commodities; it is in this exclusive commodity that all other commodities whatever express their values. Thereby the bodily form of this commodity becomes the form of the socially recognized universal equivalent. To be the universal equivalent becomes, through the social process, the specific social function of the commodity excluded by the rest. In this way the excluded commodity becomes money.
To illustrate this point there follows a quotation in Latin from the Revelation of John, Illi unum consilium habent et virtutem et potestatem suam bestiae tradunt. Et ne quis possit emere aut vendere, nisi qui habet characterem aut nomen bestiae, aut numerum nominis ejus. This is, in fact, a combination of two texts. The first (Rev. 17:13) comes from the chapter describing the judgment of Babylon. John sees in the spirit a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names. “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon, the great mother of harlots and of earth's abominations’.” The woman was “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:3–6). The beast on which she was sitting “had seven heads and ten horns… And the ten horns are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and give over their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them” (Rev. 17:3–14).
The second passage is taken from Revelations 13:17. John describes how he first of all saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads (Rev. 13:1). Then another beast rose out of the earth; “it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon… It… makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast… Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name… Let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Rev. 13:11–18).
In the Latin translation from which Marx quotes, the Greek word for “mark”, charagma, is rendered by “character”, which brings it more closely into line with the Greek term charakter, applied in the Letter to the Hebrews to Christ, the Son of God, the charakter of God's hypostasis (substantia). Marx prefaces this passage, which tells of the “mark” of the beast that is given to men, with the text in which the ten kings give over to the beast the power and authority which they have received for one hour, together with the beast. The terms “power” (Greek dynamis) and “authority” (Greek exousia) in the New Testament are terms applied also to God and Christ. Thus the kings receive divine authority and “hand it over” (Latin tradunt) to the beast.
In combining these two passages, what Marx is plainly interested in is the combination of the handing over of a delegated divine authority to the beast with the command issued by the beast that everyone must bear its mark as precondition for the licence to buy and sell. The next chapter of the Revelation of John spotlights the close connection between the “merchants of the earth” and the “kings of the earth”. “Babylon the great” falls because “all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness” (Rev. 18:3). “The merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls”, and so forth (verse 11). No light of any lamp will shine in fallen Babylon any more; her merchants were the great ones of the earth, for all nations were deceived by their sorcery (verse 23).
Just as “Babylon the great” gets its worldwide authority from economic control over the world market, so, conversely, the economic process is anchored in political power. The exclusive bond between economics and politics is expressed in the stipulation that it is essential to bear the mark of the beast and to worship its image if one is to be allowed to take part in the economic process. The total, divinized authority which politics and economics have handed over to the beast is in contrast to the authority of the Lamb, the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14). Seduction by the sorcery of economic idolatry is set over against the genuine gold that is to be bought from the Son of God. John writes to the congregation at Laodicea: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich” (Rev. 3:17 f.). The elect have been “ransomed for God” by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9), they have been “redeemed from the earth… redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev. 14:3 f.).
As the “mark” (charagma) of the beast is set over against Christ, who is the “stamp” or “imprint” (character) of God's nature (hypostasis, substantia), so the “image” (eikon) of the emperor is set over against Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The “god of this world” has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness (image) of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). The functions of the “mark” and the “image” are united in the effigy (likeness) and the legend (inscription) on the tribute-money. Because it bears the likeness (eikon) of the emperor, Jesus says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matt. 22:20 f.).
Bearing the “mark of the beast” (which means bearing the charagma, the character, the “image” (eikon) of the beast) is contrasted with bearing the image of Christ. The elect are predestined to “conformity” to the image of God's Son; there is a “metamorphosis” (2 Cor. 3:18): as they have borne the image of the man of dust (“the first Adam”), they will also bear the image of the man of heaven (“the second Adam”) (1 Cor. 15:49).
The passage which Marx chooses to quote from the Revelation of John has a special significance, because it is the one occasion on which explicitly, and in the express form of a word for word quotation, reference is made to the Bible. Reminiscences of the Bible, a primarily ironical use of biblical expressions in attacks on bourgeois Christianity and comments on biblical injunctions or customs do occur here and there in Marx's writings. The present quotation from the Revelation of John, on the other hand, was carefully chosen and put together to illustrate and undergird his argument regarding the social function of money and the origin of that function.
Moreover, he had been using the term character, which in this passage is the Latin rendering of “mark”, only a little while before in the context of the same argument, in the expression Charaktermaske. In the economic exchange-process there arises a legal relation in which the owners of commodities behave towards one another as persons, and mutually recognize one another as private proprietors. The subject-matter of this juridical relation is given by the economic relation itself. The persons here exist for one another merely as representatives of, and therefore as owners of, commodities. Marx sums up the outcome of the argument he has still to develop by saying that “the characters who appear on the economic stage are only the personifications of the economic relations that exist between them” (dass die ökonomischen Charaktermasken der Personen nur die Personifikationen der ökonomischen Verhältnisse sind, als deren Träger sie sich gegenübertreten). What in economico-juridical relations, therefore, is called a “person” (Person) is in fact the “personification” (Personifikation) of an economic relation. Marx resolves the term “person” here into the original meaning of the Latin word persona, that is, the mask worn by the actor. The evolution of the term would then be from the stage mask to the dramatic role being played and hence to the social role that somebody plays and the character he has. The term Charaktermaske takes us back to the source. The mask that the actor wears imprints upon him the “character” of what he represents; the mask is the “personi-fication” of what is being represented. We should remember in this connection, therefore, that originally, in Greek tragedy, the gods were themselves present behind the mask worn by the performer; the mask is the “personification” of a god.
It is precisely with the original meaning of concepts like “person” and “character” in view that Marx turns to the Revelation of John. Those who take part in economic exchange, bear the “character” of the beast; their economic function is the personification of a divinized, absolutized power. The “image” of the beast that is worshipped is money, in which the economic exchange of goods assumes a duplicated form, namely, the duplication (Verdopplung) of the commodity into commodity and money. “At the same rate, then, as the conversion of products into commodities is being accomplished, so also is the conversion of a commodity into money.”
And with that we find ourselves back with the argument which the quotation from Dante was used to support: the transformation, conversion or “transubstantiation” of a commodity into money. In fact, Marx has recourse to a primitive terminology in which “person” and “substance” were still identical; in ancient thought the Greek term hypostasis is synonymous with the Latin persona; in the mask the “essential nature”, the substantia itself is present.
In summing up, the conclusion we come to is that the two passages quoted enshrine the antithesis between the two extremes. The passage from the Revelation of John points us to the one extreme: money is the “mark” or “character” of the great beast, the power of the world state and the world market, treated as though it were divine. In the Dante passage, on the other hand, money is the representative of the other extreme, of Christian faith in the Triune God. Money is a symbol of the substantia or hypostasis in which the heavenly “good things to come” are already present to faith. At the entrance to Paradise Dante “trades in” this precious coin for the glory that awaits him. In hope of the good things to come, in that context, faith is already the “substance” and the “argument” (proof) of what lies hidden behind things visible (phainomena, Hebrews 11:3). Through the spirit realm of hell and purgatory Dante's progress carries him towards the true reality of Paradise.
Against the background of the two previously quoted passages from Dante, which I considered earlier, what Marx is getting at now starts to become clear. The Critique of Political Economy has taken him through the spirit-realm of civil society as far as the portals of reality, the new world in which man will really be man again. Just as in the Revelation of John there is revealed a vision, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, of the Paradise that is to come when the great beast has been cast into the abyss, and just as Dante's journey through hell and purgatory leads to Paradise, so Marx's critical journey goes steadily forward, his view focused on the reality which lurks behind the imaginary forms and quasi-relationships of political economy. His scientific analysis is indeed a disclosure of what was hidden. Behind all the philosophical self-reflection, the term Kritik, which in Marx's case enshrines the very heart and centre of his life's work, turns out to have a fundamental connection with the Greek term Kritikos, used in the Letter to the Hebrews. In chapter four the prospect is held out of the coming “sabbath rest for the people of God”. There follows an exhortation in the same vein as that of Marx's first and second Dante quotations, namely, the exhortation to make every effort to enter into that coming sabbath rest, that no one should fall by imitating the disobedience of those who have not entered (Hebr. 4:9–11). “For the word (logos) of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword… and it is a kritikos, a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him before whom we have to render account (logos)” (verse 12 f.). The word for “thoughts” is the same term (enthumèseis) that Paul uses in his speech on the Areopagus, where he argues that the Godhead is not like gold or silver or stone, a representation (charagma) by the art (technè) and imagination (enthumèseis) of man (Acts 17:29). The term logos is employed both for the “word” of God and for the “account” which we human beings have to render. In this objective-cum-subjective sense Dante renders an account of his faith before Peter. The same function is fulfilled in Marx's work by his critique; in the Kritik der politischen Ökonomie there is at work the logos of reality.
The similarity to Dante extends even further, in that in Dante the critical method is itself already present. After all, the criticism which Dante has to undergo before the judgment-seat of Peter is turned against Peter himself. If Dante's appeal to the “works”, that is, the miracles, to which Holy Scripture witnesses, as proof of the divine inspiration of that same Scripture is refuted by Peter as petitio principii, then Dante parries this objection by twisting the sword of criticism round and pointing it at Peter himself. The truth is that on earth Peter has not a single “work” to show. The vineyard of Christianity, which in poverty and fasting he once worked to create, is now completely choked by thorns and brambles. Keeper of the keys he may be at the gate of heaven; but on earth his work has miscarried. From this Dante takes his indirect proof. As over against a Christianity plunged in worldly riches and belief in marvels, Dante himself stands destitute before the gate of heaven; and the proof of his faith in the Triune God is that one great miracle, which puts all miracles in the shade: the very fact of his faith, a miracle as great as the faith of Peter and the faith of those converted by the apostolic preaching. So the examination which Dante has to endure at the entrance to Paradise becomes a “critique of earth”, a devastating critique of historical Christianity.
It is in the light of all this that the curious function of Marx's third and last quotation from Dante is to be understood. The “money in the purse” that Dante has to show to Peter is the real faith which is barely to be met with on earth. Just as in the price iron possesses an “ideal value-form” (ideellen Wertgestalt) or “the form of gold in imagination” (vorgestellte Goldgestali), so it is with nominal Christianity; it is an iron faith, which only “ideally” or in “imagination” possesses the reality of God. A commodity cannot at one and the same time be actual iron and actual gold. In fact, Marx is implying, bourgeois Christianity is centred in a quite different “transubstantiation” from the transmuting of real faith into the believed in and hoped for reality of the coming Kingdom of God. In point of fact, money has taken the place of the Triune God, and it is this displacement of God by Mammon that is denoted by the passage from Dante. As surely as Dante's faith had to be transformed into the glory and splendour of Paradise, with the same sort of inevitability the commodity is converted in the economic process into money; for “under the ideal measure of values there lurks the hard cash”. Bourgeois Christianity believes in the exchange value of commodities; and it sees this belief come true. A commodity is transmuted into cash.
The profound irony of this analogy between Dante's faith in the Triune God and money eventually assumes a somewhat surprising guise in the structure of Das Kapital—not so much in the construction in three books as in the way the third book ends up by analysing what Marx calls the “trinitarian formula” or the “economic trinity”: “capital-profit (employers' profits plus interest), land-rent, labour-wages, this is the trinitarian form that embraces all the secrets of the production-process in society”. This analysis is incorporated in the final section of the third book of Das Kapital, entitled Die Revenuen und ihre Quellen (Revenues and their Sources.) Curiously enough, an analysis of the “economic trinity” closely akin to this is provided in a similarly named essay with the English title of Revenue and its Sources, added as an appendix at the end of the Theorieën über den Mehrwert. These were written before Das Kapital, but are incorporated in it as Book Four. Thus Marx's major work is twice climaxed with an analysis of the “trinitarian formula”. Just as the three parts of Dante's major work, The Divine Comedy, lead up to the meeting in Paradise with the Triune God, so Marx's main work, also in three parts, issues in the “economic trinity”. And there we have the transition from the religious realism of the Middle Ages to a modern “critique of earth”.
The analogy between the critique of the “theological trinity” on the one hand and the critique of the “economic trinity” on the other does indeed run like a golden thread through the whole of Marx's work. As early as the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, written in 1843, Marx is drawing a parallel between the critique of theology and the critique of politics, and in doing so he explicitly takes the dogma of the Trinity as his starting-point. On the one hand, Hegel is blamed for interpreting the contrariety of the appearance as a unity in essence, in the idea. Because of that he remained blind to the fundamental contradiction between the political state and civil society, the conflict of the abstract political state with itself; therein lies, for example, the root of the intrinsic contradiction within the legislature.
Without actually introducing the term, Marx deploys here the modern doctrine of the trias politica as the theory of the political trinity. That becomes evident from the sequel to his argument in which he arraigns the popular criticism for falling into precisely the opposite error to that which had ensnared Hegel. Thus the popular criticism criticizes the constitution, for instance; it points to the contrast between the powers (that is, of the trias politica: legislative, executive and juridical); it finds conflict and contradiction here, there and everywhere. In itself, this is still a dogmatic critique, battling against its object, just as at an earlier period people employed the contradiction between one and three to confute the dogma of the Holy Trinity. A proper critique, on the other hand, shows the inner genesis of the Holy Trinity occurring within the human brain. It describes how it came to birth; and so a truly philosophical critique of the present-day constitution not only demonstrates the existence of contradictions but explains them, understands their genesis, their necessary character. It grasps them in their unique and peculiar significance. This process of understanding, however, does not entail, as Hegel believes it does, a general recognition of the peculiar attributes of the logical concept; it does mean grasping the inherent logic of the peculiar object.
Marx has already formulated here, à propos of the critique of politics, the fundamental principles that will assist him again with the Critique of Political Economy, in which he carries out the “anatomy of civil society”. The Critique explains the inner contradictions (Widersprüche) through an understanding of how they were engendered (Geburtsakt), their inner genesis. That genesis is both the inner genesis within the human brain (die innere Genesis im menschlichen Gehirn) and the peculiar logic of the peculiar object (die eigentümliche Logik des eigentümlichen Gegenstandes), that is to say, the anatomy is at one and the same time an analysis of the subject and of the object; for the event being analysed is indivisibly subjective-objective.
This analytical method Marx applies to the “economic trinity”. In one of the last chapters of Das Kapital, chapter 48 of Book III, he discusses the trinitarian form that embraces all the mysteries of the production-process in society: capital-profit, land-rent, labour-wages. In this formula is defined the interconnection between the components of value and of wealth in general, on the one hand, and the sources of value and wealth, on the other. The mystification of the capitalist mode of production, the conversion of social relations into things (Verdinglichung), the direct coalescence of the material production relations with their historical and social determination—all this is brought to completion in the economic trinity. It is an enchanted, perverted, topsy-turvy world, in which Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre do their ghost-walking as social characters (soziale Charaktere) and at the same time directly as mere things. Marx sees it as the great merit of classical economy to have achieved the dissolution of this false appearance and illusion, this mutual self-sufficiency and ossification (Verknöcherung) of the various social elements of wealth, this personification of things and conversion of production relations into entities, this religion of everyday life (Religion des Alltagslebens). Classical economics has after all analysed the economic trinity. Interest it reduced to a portion of profit, and rent to the surplus above average profit, so that interest and rent converge in surplus value. The process of circulation it represents as a mere metamorphosis of forms. And finally it reduces value and surplus value of commodities to labour in the direct production process. Nevertheless, even the best spokesmen of classical economy remain more or less in the grip of the world of illusion which their own criticism had dissolved—from a bourgeois standpoint it could not be otherwise—and thus they all fall more or less into inconsistencies, half-truths and unsolved contradictions. On the other hand, it is just as natural for the actual agents of production to feel completely at home in these estranged (entfremdeten) and irrational forms of capital-interest, land-rent, labour-wages; for these are precisely the forms of illusion in which they have their being and find their daily occupation. The vulgar economy (Vulgärökonomie) in its turn is nothing but a didactic, more or less doctrinaire translation of the ordinary conceptions of the actual agents of production, into which it introduces a certain, to ordinary intelligence understandable, order. It is therefore equally natural that a vulgar economy should see precisely in this trinity, from which every trace of inner cohesion has been effaced, the natural and unquestionable basis for its shallow self-importance. This formula at the same time tallies with the interests of the ruling classes, in that it proclaims the physical necessity and eternal justification of their sources of revenue and elevates them into a dogma.
In some comments appended to the end of the Theorieën über den Mehrwert (that is to say, to the end of the fourth book of Das Kapital) Marx expressly examines the analogy between the theological trinity and the economic one. Whereas, he argues, classical and therefore critical economists see a problem in the form of alienation (Entfremdung) and attempt by the use of analysis to strip this away, a vulgar economy is completely at home only with the strangeness in which the various portions stand over against one another in value. Precisely as a scholastic is on familiar ground with God-the-Father, God-the-Son, God-the-Holy-Ghost, so is your exponent of vulgar economy with land-groundrent, capital-interest, labour-wages. After all, this is exactly the form in which to outward appearance (Erscheinung) these relations would seem (scheinen) directly to cohere and thus also live in the imaginations and in the consciousness of the agents of these relations, obsessed with capitalistic production.
It might seem that in the trinity of land-groundrent, capital-profit (interest), labour-wages, the last member is the most rational. After all, the source from which wages derive is explicit enough. But in fact this last form is the most irrational and the basis of the other two, just as working for wages generally presupposes land as landed property and product as capital. Only when labour is confronted with its preconditions in this form is it paid labour, work for wages. Because the wages appear here as the specific product of labour, its sole product (and indeed for the wage-earning worker they are the sole product of his labour), the other portions of the value—land-rent, profit (capital interest)—appear just as necessarily as arising from other sources; and precisely as the portion of the product-value that is resolved into wages should be envisaged as the specific product of the labour, so the portions of the value which are absorbed in interest and profit must be taken to be specific results of the agencies (Agentien) for which they exist, to which they accrue, that is to say, as the offspring of the earth and of the capital, respectively.
The vulgar economy which keeps conceptions of this sort on the go believes in its own simplicity, naturalness and general usefulness, which is and remains far removed from theoretical niceties; and this claim is all the more obvious in as much as it indeed does nothing but translate these ordinary notions into a doctrinaire kind of language. The more alienated, therefore, the form in which it envisages the formations of capitalistic production, the closer it approximates to the element of the ordinary conception, and the more it finds itself moving in its natural element. Then again, that answers very well the purposes of apologetic; for in land-rent, capital-interest, labour-wages the various forms of surplus value and the forms of capitalistic production are not mutually estranged (entfremdet), but alien (fremd) and indifferent, simply differing, without contrast or opposition. The various revenues arise from quite different sources, one from the land, another from capital, another from labour. Thus there is no antagonistic relation between them, because there is no intrinsic relation at all.
So Marx sees a fundamental analogy between the scholasticism operative in theology and the scholasticism operative in the economy. Just as it is the function of the critique of theology to analyse the alienated forms of the outward show of things and so reveal the true reality lying hidden behind it, the critique of political economy does the same thing at the level of the critique of earth.
From the very outset of his study of economics, this analogy with theology was a guiding principle for Marx. One of his first exercises during his stay in Paris, in what was for him this unfamiliar territory, was an attempt to precis the work by the British economist, James Stuart Mill, entitled Elements of Political Economy (1821). The manuscript was written in the first half of 1844. As is usual with Marx, it not only contains a large number of quotations but follows them up with a searching commentary. Having first criticized the method of the political economy, because it formulates abstract laws whilst ignoring economic activity in practice, he then gets to the positive merits of Mill's work. Mill indeed hits the nail on the head and reduces the essence of the thing to a single notion when he describes money as the instrument (Vermittler—that which mediates) of exchange. The essential thing about money is not in the first instance that in it ownership, the possession of property, becomes alienated (entaüssert), but that the mediating (instrumental) activity or movement, the human, social action which ensures that man's products mutually complement and supplement one another, is alienated (entfremdet) and becomes the property or attribute of a material thing outside of man, namely, of money. Because this intermediary activity itself alienates man (entaüssert), he is active here only as man lost and abandoned, man dehumanized (entmenschter Mensch); the proper relation between things, the human operation carried out in this way, becomes the operation of something outside man and above man. Because of this alien intermediary (fremden Mittler), instead of man himself having to be the intermediary for man, man sees his will, his activity, his relationship to other people, as a power independent of him and of them. Thus his enslavement reaches a climax. Clearly, this intermediary, this instrument, has now become the real God, since the intermediary is the real authority over that with which it reconciles me. Its cult becomes an end in itself. Objects, divorced from this instrument, lose their value. Only in so far as they represent it do they have value, whereas originally it looked as though it only had value in so far as it represented them. This reversal of the original relationship is inevitable. This intermediary is therefore the essential substance of private ownership that has lost itself, the alienated substance, a private ownership that has become alien, external (aüsserlich) to itself, an alienated, externalized (entaüsserte) substance; just as money is the alienated mediating factor between one human production and another, the alienated (entaüsserte) activity of the human species (Gattungstätigkeit). All the attributes proper to that activity, therefore, are transferred to this intermediary. Thus man becomes all the poorer as man, that is to say, in separation from this intermediary, the richer the intermediary itself becomes.
The term “intermediary”, “mediator”, prompts Marx to turn his thoughts from J. S. Mill's economic definition of money as the instrument or “mediator” of exchange to the heart of Christology, in fact to a direct analogy between the mediatorship of Christ and the function of money. Christ represents initially (1) people before God (vor Gott); (2) God to the people (für die Menschen); (3) people on behalf of people (dem Menschen). Similarly, in accordance with the notion of money, money represents initially: (1) private ownership on behalf of (für) private ownership; (2) society on behalf of (für) private ownership; (3) private ownership on behalf of society. But Christ is God estranged and man estranged (entaüsserte). God continues to have value only in so far as he represents Christ, man only in so far as he represents Christ. It is the same with money.
Why is it that private ownership has to go over to a money system? Because man as a social being has to resort to exchange and because exchange, under conditions of private ownership, is bound to change over to value. The mediating activity of man as the agent of exchange is in fact not a social, not a human activity, not a human relationship, but it is the abstract relation of private ownership to private ownership; and this abstract relation is the value, which has no actual existence qua value except as money. Because the people engaged in the process of exchange have no human relationship to one another, the thing loses the significance attaching to human ownership, personal ownership. The social relation of private ownership to private ownership is already one in which private ownership is alienated (entfremdet) from itself. The consciously explicit (für sich seiende) existence of this relation, money, is therefore the alienation (Entaüsserung) of private ownership, the abstraction of its specific, personal nature.
So Marx concludes that the opposition of modern political economists to the monetary system cannot ensure us the decisive victory, notwithstanding their intelligence. The uneducated economic superstition of the people and of governments clings to what the senses can observe, the tangible, visible money-bag, and so to the absolute value of precious metals, just as they believe in their possession as the sole manifestation of real wealth. Then the enlightened, sophisticated political economist comes along and shows them that money is a commodity like any other, so that the value of money, as of any other commodity, depends on the relation of production costs to supply and demand, to the amount or competitiveness of the other commodities. But our enlightened economist is fairly answered when it is said that the real value of things is their exchange value and that in the final instance this consists in money, just as money consists in precious metals, so that money is the true value of things and therefore the thing most to be desired in itself. In the end, the theories of the political economists themselves boil down to this piece of profundity; only they possess the power of abstraction, so that they are able to recognize money as existing under every form of commodity and do not believe, therefore, in the exclusive value of its official, metallic existence. The metallic existence of money is merely the official, sensory expression of that pecuniary soul which lurks in every joint and article of the productions and activities of civil society.
The opposition of modern political economists to the monetary system is simply this: that they have grasped the money business, the world of finance, in its abstraction and generality, and through their enlightened insight have managed to rise above the sense-ridden superstition which believes that this thing exists exclusively in precious metal. In place of this uninstructed, ill-informed superstition they put their own refined version. However, because they both depend essentially on one and the same root, the enlightened form of the superstition cannot altogether oust the unenlightened, sense-ridden form of it, since the enlightened version does not get to grips with the essence of the thing, but only with the particular form of that essence.
In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, dating from the same year (1844), Marx brings this argument round to a striking definition, when copying Friedrich Engels he describes the British pioneer of modern political economy, Adam Smith, as the Luther of political economy (den nationalökonomischen Luther). This enlightened political economy discovered the subjective essence of wealth, within the framework of private property; it therefore regards the partisans of the monetary and mercantilist system, who consider private property to be simply an objective being for man (ein nur gegenständliches Wesen für den Menschen), as fetishists and Catholics. Luther recognized religion, faith, as the essence of the external world, in opposition to Catholic paganism; he annulled external religiosity by making religiosity the inner essence of man; he disclaimed the priest, who exists outside the layman, because he transferred the priest into the heart of the layman. In the same way, the wealth that is external to man and independent of him (and thus only to be acquired and conserved from outside) is annulled. That is to say, its external and mindless objectivity (aüsserliche, gedankenlose Gegenständlichkeit) is annulled by the fact that private property is incorporated (sich inkorporiert) in man himself, and man himself is recognized as its essence. But, as a result, man himself is brought into the determinative sphere (in der Bestimmung… gesetzi) of private property, just as with Luther he is brought into the determinative sphere of religion.
With this analogy Marx completes the circle of his critique. In the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, likewise dating from the year 1844, the critique of politics refers back to the critique of religion, and specifically of Germany's theoretical revolution, the Reformation; the critique of Germany sharpens and narrows into the critique of Luther. The critique of politics, the anatomy of civil society, leads to the critique of political economy; the critique of France and in particular of Britain becomes most acute in the critique of Adam Smith. Yet once more the critique here returns to the critique of religion. Adam Smith is the Luther of political economy: a fact which once again confirms that the critique of religion is the premise of every critique.