In the Introduction of Karl Marx’s Grundrisse, the audience hears a clear and complete intentionality of language in the description of the economic, social, and political terms: production, distribution, exchange, and consumption. Marx opens the text by calling a human being, in its most literal sense, a political being, meaning an animal who can only individuate itself within a society. One who is isolated and not part of a given society is, by this definition, incapable of production. Marx relays this sort of absurdity to the impossibility of the formation of language without individuals living together and talking to each other (84). Marx, in the following pages, describes what he precisely understands as production; he states firstly that “All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and through a specific form of society” (87). Additionally, “…every form of production creates its own legal relations, form of government, etc” (88).
In the second section of the Introduction, Marx continues to establish the relationships between production, distribution, and exchange. In production, society’s members create the products of nature based on human needs, whereas distribution determines the proportion in which the individuals of society share the product. As Marx summarizes, “Production creates the objects which correspond to the given needs; distribution divides them up according to social laws; exchange further parcels out the already divided shares in accord with individual needs; and finally, in consumption, the product steps outside this social movement and becomes a direct object and servant of individual need, and satisfies it in being consumed” (89). Marx characterizes the relationship between production and consumption as directly identical. The act of production is in all its moments an act of consumption. However, Marx is quick to note that consumption itself is also immediately production, i.e., consumption proper. He gives several examples to illustrate his salient point, the first being that in taking in food (consumption), a human being is producing his own body (production). One of the most important passages of the Introduction occurred in Marx’s portrayal of the relationship between the two as a “mediating movement”. Marx states, “Production mediates consumption; it creates the latter’s material; without it, consumption would lack an object. But consumption also mediates production, in that it alone creates for the products the subject for whom they are products” (91). A railway is a railway only if there are no trains. Similarly, a garment becomes a real garment only in the act of being worn, and a house becomes a real house when someone lives in it. A product becomes through the act of consumption. Furthermore, specific products and objects must be consumed in a specific manner; in this way, production creates the consumer by “creating the material for it; by determining the manner of consumption; and by creating the products… in the form of a need felt by the consumer” (92). A wonderful example Marx gives his readers is in the consumption of art. The object of art creates a public, which is sensitive to it and enjoys looking at it; as such, production is creating a subject for the object of the art.
Marx then relates the elements of distribution and production to whole societies; in this way, it seems as if distribution precedes production. His examples include (1) a conquering people dividing the land among the conquerors and then determining production; (2) enslaving the conquered and making the slaves labor the foundation of production; (3) people rising in revolution and smashing the estates into small parcels; and (4) a system of laws that assigns property in land to certain families. In the examples that Marx has given, it seems as if production is determined and structured by distribution, not the opposite. Additionally, Marx describes exchange as an act comprised within production. He states, “…the exchange of activities and abilities which takes place within production itself belongs directly to production and essentially constitutes it” (99). In determining the relationship between exchange and production, Marx notes that there cannot be exchange without production and the division of labor, private exchange presupposes private production, and the intensity of exchange is necessarily determined by the development and structure of production. Production, distribution, exchange, and consumption are by no means identical elements; however, they form the members within a unity. Marx states, “The process always returns to production to begin anew… Likewise, distribution as distribution of products; while as distribution of the agents of production is in itself a moment of production. A definite production thus determines a definite consumption, distribution and exchange… the needs of consumption determine production” (99-100).
Later in the Grundrisse, Marx argues that private interest automatically becomes a socially determined interest. An individual’s production is dependent on the production of others. Prices are dominated by the relations of all production, and this is developed in bourgeois society, i.e., the society of free competition. There becomes a constant necessity for exchange; “Each pursues his private interest and only his private interest; and thereby serves the private interests of all, the general interest, without willing or knowing it… private interest is itself already a socially determined interest, which can be achieved only within the conditions laid down by society” (156).