H Arendt and “the realm of freedom”

What we traditionally call state and government gives place here to pure administration—a state of affairs which Marx rightly predicted as the "withering away of the state," though he was wrong in assuming that only a revolution could bring it about, and even more wrong when he believed that this complete victory of society would mean the eventual emergence of the "realm of freedom."

Actually, it was not from the “complete victory of society” that K Marx expected the “realm of freedom” to arise. Nor did K Marx argue that it was from revolution that this realm would arise. On both counts, H Arendt relies too much on Siegfried Landshut’s apparently deliberate misreading and misrepresentation of K Marx’s actual words. These words, from Volume III of Das Kapital, read as follows:

In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these ,wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the
true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with the realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its basic prerequisite.

Here it is not revolution, but the shortening of the work day, and hence the loosening of the grip that necessity has on human action, that helps introduce the realm of freedom; and, far from the social constituting this realm, it is Marx’s view, as it was Aristotle’s, that the social still occupies the realm of necessity.

Why, it must be wondered, did S Landshut and then H Arendt feel compelled to advance such a patently erroneous reading of the text unless it was their own conviction (under the cloud of the Cold War) that K Marx could not possibly have advanced a theory of human freedom opposed in principle to social control and worker domination?

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