Production Beyond Instrumentality: Marx’s Capital and Ilyenkov’s Methodological Explanation

Nikolaos Folinas
Pages 137-155| Published online: 03 Feb 2023

Folinas, Nikolaos. 2023. “Production Beyond Instrumentality: Marx’s Capital and Ilyenkov’s Methodological Explanations.” Marxism & Sciences 2(1): 137–155. 


The work of Evald Ilyenkov, in addition to its importance for the deep understanding of Marxist developments in the former USSR, is distinguished by a variety of topics that the philosopher dealt with (indicatively I refer to German Idealism, the methodology of Capital and the Grundrisse, questions of education and psychology, but also more current issues such as cybernetics). In this article I will elaborate on the category of the ideal and how this category can be exploited in the Marxian analyses of the first volume of Capital; more specifically in the third and fourth sections, that is, in the production of absolute and relative surplus value. Starting from the interpretation that Habermas gives in these parts of Marx’s Capital, that is to say a logic of instrumentality that attributes to Marx, I will follow Ilyenkov’s analysis of the ideal, as carried out by Ilyenkov in the essay on the Dialectics of the Ideal. Even though Ilyenkov does not follow the analysis of the ideal in the production process, I will show in the third part that this category can be used in these Marxian analyses. The position of this article is that the category of the ideal also concerns production and hence Marx’s analysis goes beyond instrumentality. Looking back at the analyses of the labor process (absolute surplus value) and cooperation (relative surplus value) one can find the position of the ideal as fundamental in the explanation of the materiality of production and the consciousness that results from this materiality. The aim is to show that the elaboration of the category of the ideal, as carried out by Ilyenkov in the essay on the Dialectics of the Ideal, can help to explain more comprehensively, parts of the Marxian analysis that even Ilyenkov have not paid attention to the same extent as the first chapters of the first volume of Capital. So, this paper concerns the possibility of processing categories of materiality (labor process and cooperation) with the mediation of a category, which is basically used to explain problems formally (that is, of circulation) as is ideal, with the content given to it by Ilyenkov. In the article follows Ilyenkov’s critique of positivism and its characteristics and closes with the analyses of the concrete and the abstract, which characterizes the category of the ideal.

KEYWORDS: Ideal, materialism, positivism, instrumentality, production process, labor process, cooperation.


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