Consumer Vocab Note

marx According to the quasi-official English version of Karl Marx’s essay, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” hosted at marxists.org, Marx is supposed to have written this sentence:

“Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society.”

Here, however, is what Marx actually wrote, auf Deutsch:

“Jede einzelne Bauernfamilie genügt beinahe sich selbst, produziert unmittelbar selbst den größten Teil ihres Konsums und gewinnt so ihr Lebensmaterial mehr im Austausche mit der Natur als im Verkehr mit der Gesellschaft.”

Properly translated, “ihres Konsums” means “its consumption,” not “its consumer needs.”

If TCT is right that “consumer” is a capitalist bias that ruins clear thinking about reality, then this little over- and mis-translation is of some importance, despite its obscurity.

The translator responsible was Saul K. Padover, by the way.

The “18th Brumaire,” by the way, is the source of one of the most classic (and itself poorly translated) statements of sociology’s hard-won first insight:

People make their own history, but they make it not however they want, not under self-selected circumstances, but out of the actual given and transmitted situation.