1. Alienation and socialism (Seminar notes)


Thanks to the Playground Coffee Shop for hosting this event.

The title of this seminar is Marx in Our Times. This is because, if we attend a seminar on Marx, perhaps the biggest question in our heads is, Why study him today?  What’s in it for us here and now? After all, Karl Marx was a 19th-century European revolutionary thinker, radical philosopher, political economist, etc.  This is the 21st century, we’re far away in space and time from 19th-century Europe, and Europeans today are only a fraction of the world population anyway.  Why should we care?

Moreover, for all we know, Marx’s ideas were already tried and tested in the Soviet Union.  They inspired the Russian revolution, the Chinese revolution, the Cuban revolution, etc., and the social, economic, and political regimes that resulted from those revolutions.  And what do they have to show for that?  Didn’t Marxist Communism fail in the Soviet Union and most everywhere anyway?

These are all fair questions.  At this point and even by the end of the seminar series, I won’t have satisfactory answers to them.  So, you’re going to have to take my word for it (that it is not a bad idea to study Marx today) and follow along.  Hopefully, by the end of the series we will have some pointers on how we may go about finding better answers to those questions.  Then I’ll say mission accomplished.

Mechanics of our seminar

On the mechanics of our meetings here: I will try not to lecture.  This is why I call it a seminar, not a lecture series.  I’ll be the moderator, and try to kick off the discussion and keep it more or less focused.  But it is you who should carry that discussion forward.  This is not only or mainly about me, but mainly about each of you, your own experience, your own needs, and your own human potential.  It is about how engaging with the material I am recommending may correspond (or not) to your experience, needs, and potential.  So you’ll be the judge.

I think that the most fruitful approach to the seminar is to, first, read the material I’ve linked, or some other related material that you may find, and spend some time calmly reflecting on it.  I expect you to be critical in your reading and in your reflections; to interrogate what you read and your own thoughts in depth.  To think of how it may or may not relate to you.  Learning is a process of appropriation, as Marx called it.  That word, appropriation, is going to appear and reappear in Marx and you’ll soon see why.  To assist on this learning process, it is better to engage your senses, as many of them, and as much each of them, as you can.  So I recommend that you take notes, paraphrasing, summarizing what you read, and adding your own thoughts.  And then participate in the discussion here.

Ideally, anyone of us should be able to introduce the session on the basis of her/his readings and notes.  It doesn’t have to be a spiffy TED talk or academic presentation, but it wouldn’t be too bad to try to organize your ideas for presentation to others.  Then we’ll discuss to our heart’s content.

The readings I recommended for this session were the September 1843 letter of Marx to his pal Arnold Ruge, Marx’s critical essay on GWF Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, and Ernst Mandel’s essay on alienation.

I’ll limit my comments next to the first piece with a few remarks that connect with the second document, which is even harder to read.  

Letter to Ruge

The letter to Ruge is full with excitement about the intellectual and political scene in Paris, the political ferment there.  Marx, originally from the Rhine in Prussia, had been kicked out of the country because his radical liberal democratic views had irked the government.  In particular, his exposure to the struggles of poor working people (peasants, coal miners, textile factory workers, etc.) had led him to doubt how representative the Prussian state was of the “common interest” of society, which was the ideological pretense.  

Marx wanted to cooperate with Ruge in publishing a “Jarbücher” (annual journal) to discuss all sorts of issues (philosophical, political, etc.) relevant to Europeans.  At the time, there was a lot of social discontent in Europe, taking many forms: ideological, artistic, theoretical, political.  Marx and his friends were full of ideas, energy, and excitement, like (thankfully)  young people tend to be.

In their correspondence, Marx and Ruge are brainstorming on the content and form of their journal.  Many things in the letter are hard to figure out for today’s readers, because they refer to circumstances one can only guess.  But, on the basics, Marx is asking himself very fundamental “existential” questions, such as where to start, what is the life of a young person really about, then and there.  I think these or similar questions are the ones that brought us here too.

I don’t know of many thinkers who’ve had the guts to think through these questions with the boldness, the audacity of thought and action that Marx and his comrade Engels (who we’ll be meeting soon), and a series of generations of Marx’s followers, have exhibited.  That’s one reason why, I believe, we should study Marx.  Not because his answers will be necessarily right for us.  Some of them will be dated, past their expiration date.  We will need to re-ask and re-answer those questions over and over until the answers respond to our own situation.  But it is not a terrible idea to begin with the answers that he proposed, because he was serious enough to pose the hardest questions we face.  Again, his spirit was that stated in this letter, that of “ruthless criticism of everything that exists.”  No crap.

Marx’s general response to these questions goes more or less this way:

  1. We start from where we are, from our practical circumstances.  If we look around, people are engaged in all sorts of struggles, small and large.  People are trying to make a living, raise children, deal with all sorts of troubles, big and small, things that bother them, issues that affect them more or less directly.  People have needs of all kinds and they are trying to assert or meet these needs.  I do not mean only the crude needs of survival or subsistence that motivate other animals. I mean all needs, which in our case are the product of history and culture and all that.  They are much more elaborate, historically developed and refined than the crude needs of our ancestors when they were just separating themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom. Whether these needs are good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral, valid or invalid, beautiful or ugly, is not the question now.  They are human needs, and people are trying to meet them.  Actually, it would seem that being human is about problematizing the world, looking at the world and noticing that the world, as it exists, cannot meet our needs.  So there’s a gap between the world as it exists and the world as we need it to be for us, and the general human problem is transforming the world in such a way that it meets our needs.  
  2. Thinkers have always argued on what, specifically, distinguishes us from the rest of nature.  How are we different from dogs or chimpanzees.  This argument is, of course, ongoing.  Anthropologists, zoologists, medical scientists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, philosophers, ethicists, etc. will continue to debate on where exactly is the line that separates us from other forms of existence.  Details apart, it seems that the distinction has to do with our inability to simply accept and adapt to what natural history or our own social history hands us.  We humans are fundamentally unable to settle for what exists, the result of nature’s evolution and prior human history.  We second guess it all.  We have a sense of what we want, we have some picture or image or description in our heads of the world as it should be, and that image or description guides our actions.  Marx is going to call this effort to adapt the world to us, “labor.”  So, what distinguishes us from the rest of nature is labor or purposeful behavior, intentional actions, not just spontaneous, instinctive actions, but actions that are somewhat thought out, with some anticipation or expectation of the result or outcome.
  3. Viewed in its full generality, the human problem appears as a gigantic one.  Obviously, we won’t solve a massive problem like this all at once, in a swoop.  And maybe there is not a definitive solution: a state of society where all problems are solved, all needs met, everything is hunky-dory, etc.  Perhaps the real solution is simply a way of moving forward, an endless process of solving; like the method of successive approximations in Newtonian calculus.  In any case, we need to tackle the general problem in stages, breaking it into parts or subproblems that are more immediately tractable, and then proceed as systematically as we can.  That’s how we would advance.
  4. One thing that nags Marx is the fact that, in our conditions, with the social institutions we have (the families we have, the neighborhoods we live in, the government we have, the markets we have, etc.), your solution and my solution may collide.  If that is the case, if I’m going to undo your solution and you are going to undo my solution, then we really don’t get to advance at all.  A real solution would be one where your solution and my solution don’t fight with each other, or at least one that, temporarily conflicting, eventually can lead us to a situation where, so to speak, “your freedom doesn’t curtail mine.”  Something similar can be said about the difference between one’s immediate and longer-term solutions.  One needs to make sure that each step one takes can be reconciled with the longer-term plan, etc., which won’t be easy.  Basically, a true solution has to generalize, not to you and your family, but to the human race overall.  It cannot be a partial solution at the expense of other humans, because then it is not the true human solution.  And also, our partial and temporary solutions have to build things up for broader, more lasting, longer-term solutions.
  5. Now, if we are to characterize the world as it exists, if we are going to denote that condition of unmet needs and widespread human misery with a general term, what would that term be?  Marx, who had studied German philosophers from the late 18th and early 19th century, following Hegel in particular, called that condition alienation.  Why alienation?
  6. One can say that, ultimately, we cannot solve the human problem because we are relatively powerless in the face of natural forces, that our understanding of nature is rather crude, and so there’s so much we can do in the face of a hurricane, an earthquake, weird diseases, and scarcity of natural resources that we can more easily use to produce what we need.  Sure, there’s that.  We simply have finite powers in relation to nature.  This is what economists call “productivity.”  Marx referred to this as “the productive force of labor.”  The productive force of human labor is not infinite. We must live with that.  We can, of course, try to learn more about nature, develop our productive powers, but that takes sustained effort and time.  Marx didn’t have a solution to that.  The solution to that is growing our productive powers, working more efficiently, etc.
  7. But what really troubled Marx was, again, that our social institutions as they exist do not promote our productivity, the development of our powers, in a socially harmonious way.  We tend to sabotage each other (and ourselves), even if we don’t intend to do so.  This is what he called “alienation.”  It was a social problem.  It wasn’t about how we relate to nature.  It was about how we relate to each other.  The term “alien” refers to something that doesn’t pertain or belong to us, something that is not ours.  What is not mine is alien to me.  The social conditions in which we live, Marx concluded, are not truly ours.  I mean, they are our social conditions in that, they are not a product of some natural process without human intervention.  On the contrary, they are human made.  We, with our actions and omissions, constitute our families, our governments, our markets, our soccer leagues, our colleges and universities, our banks, coffee shops, and corporations, etc.  We make them all.  For example, we make a corporation when we buy from it, when we sell to it, when we work for it, when we allow it to exist, etc.  We make a government when we pay taxes, abide by its laws, make others abide by its laws, decide not to raise up against it, etc.  In this limited sense, all these social structures are ours.  However, these institutions fail us more often than not.  Our governments oppress us, jail us, curtail our freedoms, impose burdens on us, etc.  Our markets make us poor, broke when what we sell in them becomes cheap and when what we buy in it becomes expensive.  Our corporations assign to us boring tasks, lay us off, and make us poor, not more but less powerful.  Or some, a few of us benefit from the existence of these institutions but others, most people actually are negatively impacted by them.  So, they are ours because we make them.  Yet they are not really ours, because they are not for us, they don’t meet our needs, they make a large number of us worse off.  And this is not nature.  This is not an earthquake or a hurricane or scarcity of natural resources, but human made conditions.  Because what we humans make, we can unmake. In sum, society is our own product and yet it is largely alien to us.  We make our society, but it then becomes a monster that doesn’t respond to our needs, and that — on the contrary — turns into an oppressive force that crushes our spirits and bodies.  Do I need to point to phenomena such as poverty, environmental decay, or social conflicts to convince you of this?
  8. What fascinates me about Marx is his unwillingness to settle for partial solutions.  Marx wants the whole enchilada. He imposed on himself the most ambitious goal ever: the radical liberation of all humans from the prisons and miseries they themselves produce and inflict on themselves and one another.  The liberation of all humans from mutual exploitation and oppression.  Not that he thought he could complete that task.  It was up to each generation to resume the struggle.  But, look around.  The world, our social structures in particular, suck.  And, if we are going to retain our humanity, then we won’t stop until we make the world, our social relations, fit our needs.  In order to accomplish this in the deeper and more general way, we need to go radical.  Radical means that we are not content with superficial solutions that only deal with symptoms, but don’t cure the deeper sources or roots of our misery.  No, we are radical because we want to uproot the ultimate bases of our alienation.  Now, alienation, the problem, suggests its own solution.  If the problem is alienation, that we create and recreate social relations that escape our control and then stab us in the back, that we unleash forces that enslave us, then the solution is to own or to appropriate our social relations, so we make them serve us, and not us serve them.  The negative of alienation is appropriation: we as owners, as bosses of our own social structures.  Easier said than done.
  9. In Prussia (today’s southwest Germany), the struggles of people to appropriate their social relations appeared to people as a struggle against religion and its institutions (the church), and against the remnants of social institutions under which the church had gained its power over society (i.e. feudalism).  The focus was on the role that religion and religious institutions played in slowing down the pace of social progress.  In this context, the state was far from approaching the more democratic type of institution that the Enlightenment and French revolution, with their ambitious agendas, had prefigured or promised.  Philosophers were leading the critique of religion, the ideology that justified the existence of a powerful church, the power of the nobility, the aristocracy of land holders.  The philosophical critique was sharp.  But it was insufficient.  And Marx was adamant about pushing this critique to its ultimate limit.
  10. In Paris, the struggles were about politics, about the character of the state, about which groups and policies exercised control over the government, over the organization of the government, etc.  There were groups who called themselves socialists who fought to establish a cooperative society, a society in which the main means of production were collectively owned and managed, where production was not for sale and not for profit, but for need.  They advocated the social ownership over the means of production.  In particular, there was a group of people who organized working people, who assisted working people with their self education and their specific partial struggles for better pay, better working conditions, etc. They called themselves communist. While in Prussia, Marx (who was then editing a small local newspaper) had been asked to take a position with regard to the communist, but he admitted that he knew very little about them.  So he wrote that he’d rather learn more about them before emitting an opinion.  At this point, Marx is reflecting on where the main force for overall human liberation is coming from.  He’ll eventually decide that it is what he called the “modern direct producers” or the “workers” or the “proletariat.”  More on this later.
  11. At this point, as a result of his experience in Prussia and then France, Marx decided to call this process of appropriation of society by its individual members, the process by which alienation is negated, socialism.  Socialism is not, mainly, some terminal stage of history, a final and definitive form of society.  Rather, socialism means mainly a process, the process of struggle to re-make our civic, political, and economic institutions, from the family to the state to the economy serve our needs.  (I say “mainly,” because one may also use the term socialism to refer to a particular stage in social development, one that meets certain criteria, such as some relatively high degree of democracy, equity in self government and in the public management of the main means of production.)

[In the following, my notes are in brackets and signed.  JH]

A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Written: December 1843-January 1844;
First published: in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 7 & 10 February 1844 in Paris.


For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.

The profane existence of error is compromised as soon as its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [“speech for the altars and hearths,” i.e., for God and country] has been refuted. Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man [Unmensch], where he seeks and must seek his true reality.

[Under what conditions do we need superstition (gods, angels, demons, vampires, zombies, and fairies), a fantastic view of the world, with omnipotent gods and powerless humans? Conditions in which we feel or are ourselves powerless (because if we feel powerless we are powerless). The conditions in which we produce our lives make us powerless. JH]

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

[We produce religion, we in our association. Our society produces weak, powerless humans who need to hang on to a fantasy. This fantasy is necessary. It is not something we can just remove by persuasion, by convincing ourselves and convincing others that it is absurd in its face. This fantasy plays a role. It helps us deal with the world. If we truly want to stand on our own, make ourselves responsible for our own lives, for the world in which we live, then we have to change our social conditions, we need to remake our society, so we are self possessed, so we produce ourselves as strong, competent, responsible humans. JH]

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

[Marx is not trying to denigrate people who profess a religion. People produce and reproduce religion sometimes in spite of themselves. Even if you are an atheist, you produce religion if you contribute to the social conditions that make religion necessary. It is not something we can solve as individuals in an individual fashion.  Here Marx is simply registering what he witnessed: a bunch of young philosophers who viewed it as necessary to criticize religion publicly. Marx is saying that it is not sufficient. That in itself the criticism of religion is superficial, because it has deep social roots. You cannot counterpose the scientific truth to religious beliefs and think that is enough to uproot religion. Religion is more resilient than that. Due to its nature, its basis on faith, deism cannot be refuted with facts and/or logic.  The only way to deal with religion for good is to abolish the conditions that make it necessary. JH]

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

The following exposition [a full-scale critical study of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right was supposed to follow this introduction] – a contribution to this undertaking – concerns itself not directly with the original but with a copy, with the German philosophy of the state and of law. The only reason for this is that it is concerned with Germany.

If we were to begin with the German status quo itself, the result – even if we were to do it in the only appropriate way, i.e., negatively – would still be an anachronism. Even the negation of our present political situation is a dusty fact in the historical junk room of modern nations. If I negate powdered pigtails, I am still left with unpowdered pigtails. If I negate the situation in Germany in 1843, then according to the French calendar I have barely reached 1789, much less the vital centre of our present age.

Indeed, German history prides itself on having travelled a road which no other nation in the whole of history has ever travelled before, or ever will again. We have shared the restorations of modern nations without ever having shared their revolutions. We have been restored, firstly, because other nations dared to make revolutions, and, secondly, because other nations suffered counter-revolutions; on the one hand, because our masters were afraid, and, on the other, because they were not afraid. With our shepherds to the fore, we only once kept company with freedom, on the day of its internment.

One school of thought that legitimizes the infamy of today with the infamy of yesterday, a school that stigmatizes every cry of the serf against the knout as mere rebelliousness once the knout has aged a little and acquired a hereditary significance and a history, a school to which history shows nothing but its a posteriori, as did the God of Israel to his servant Moses, the historical school of law – this school would have invented German history were it not itself an invention of that history. A Shylock, but a cringing Shylock, that swears by its bond, its historical bond, its Christian-Germanic bond, for every pound of flesh cut from the heart of the people.

Good-natured enthusiasts, Germanomaniacs by extraction and free-thinkers by reflexion, on the contrary, seek our history of freedom beyond our history in the ancient Teutonic forests. But, what difference is there between the history of our freedom and the history of the boar’s freedom if it can be found only in the forests? Besides, it is common knowledge that the forest echoes back what you shout into it. So peace to the ancient Teutonic forests!

War on the German state of affairs! By all means! They are below the level of history, they are beneath any criticism, but they are still an object of criticism like the criminal who is below the level of humanity but still an object for the executioner. In the struggle against that state of affairs, criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. [NB: Conscious opposition to the status quo.] It is not a lancet, it is a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it wants not to refute but to exterminate. For the spirit of that state of affairs is refuted. In itself, it is no object worthy of thought, it is an existence which is as despicable as it is despised. Criticism does not need to make things clear to itself as regards this object, for it has already settled accounts with it. It no longer assumes the quality of an end-in-itself, but only of a means. Its essential pathos is indignation, its essential work is denunciation.

It is a case of describing the dull reciprocal pressure of all social spheres one on another, a general inactive ill-humor, a limitedness which recognizes itself as much as it mistakes itself, within the frame of government system which, living on the preservation of all wretchedness, is itself nothing but wretchedness in office.

What a sight! This infinitely proceeding division of society into the most manifold races opposed to one another by petty antipathies, uneasy consciences, and brutal mediocrity, and which, precisely because of their reciprocal ambiguous and distrustful attitude, are all, without exception although with various formalities, treated by their rulers as conceded existences. And they must recognize and acknowledge as a concession of heaven the very fact that they are mastered, ruled, possessed! And, on the other side, are the rulers themselves, whose greatness is in inverse proportion to their number!

Criticism dealing with this content is criticism in a hand-to-hand fight, and in such a fight the point is not whether the opponent is a noble, equal, interesting opponent, the point is to strike him. The point is not to let the Germans have a minute for self-deception and resignation. The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicizing it. Every sphere of German society must be shown as the partie honteuse of German society: these petrified relations must be forced to dance by singing their own tune to them! The people must be taught to be terrified at itself in order to give it courage. [NB, when we realize that the power of society now appropriated by the few is actually the power we ourselves unleash, then we’ll get awed by our own power.  We are terrified about how powerful, how god-like we truly are. JH] This will be fulfilling an imperative need of the German nation, and the needs of the nations are in themselves the ultimate reason for their satisfaction.

This struggle against the limited content of the German status quo cannot be without interest even for the modern nations, for the German status quo is the open completion of the ancien régime and the ancien régime is the concealed deficiency of the modern state. The struggle against the German political present is the struggle against the past of the modern nations, and they are still burdened with reminders of that past. It is instructive for them to see the ancien régime, which has been through its tragedy with them, playing its comedy as a German revenant. Tragic indeed was the pre-existing power of the world, and freedom, on the other hand, was a personal notion; in short, as long as it believed and had to believe in its own justification. As long as the ancien régime, as an existing world order, struggled against a world that was only coming into being, there was on its side a historical error, not a personal one. That is why its downfall was tragic.

On the other hand, the present German regime, an anachronism, a flagrant contradiction of generally recognized axioms, the nothingness of the ancien régime exhibited to the world, only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world should imagine the same thing. If it believed in its own essence, would it try to hide that essence under the semblance of an alien essence and seek refuge in hypocrisy and sophism? The modern ancien régime is rather only the comedian of a world order whose true heroes are dead. History is thorough and goes through many phases when carrying an old form to the grave. The last phases of a world-historical form is its comedy. The gods of Greece, already tragically wounded to death in Aeschylus’s tragedy Prometheus Bound, had to re-die a comic death in Lucian’s Dialogues. Why this course of history? So that humanity should part with its past cheerfully. This cheerful historical destiny is what we vindicate for the political authorities of Germany.

Meanwhile, once modern politico-social reality itself is subjected to criticism, once criticism rises to truly human problems, it finds itself outside the German status quo, or else it would reach out for its object below its object. An example. The relation of industry, of the world of wealth generally, to the political world is one of the major problems of modern times. In what form is this problem beginning to engage the attention of the Germans? In the form of protective duties, of the prohibitive system, of national economy. Germanomania has passed out of man into matter, and thus one morning our cotton barons and iron heroes saw themselves turned into patriots. People are, therefore, beginning in Germany to acknowledge the sovereignty of monopoly on the inside through lending it sovereignty on the outside. People are, therefore, now about to begin, in Germany, what people in France and England are about to end. [NB, capitalism has not yet taken over Germany as fully as France and above all England. JH] The old corrupt condition against which these countries are revolting in theory, and which they only bear as one bears chains, is greeted in Germany as the dawn of a beautiful future which still hardly dares to pass from crafty theory to the most ruthless practice. Whereas the problem in France and England is: Political economy, or the rule of society over wealth; in Germany, it is: National economy, or the mastery of private property over nationality. In France and England, then, it is a case of abolishing monopoly that has proceeded to its last consequences; in Germany, it is a case of proceeding to the last consequences of monopoly. There it is a case of solution, here as yet a case of collision. This is an adequate example of the German form of modern problems, an example of how our history, like a clumsy recruit, still has to do extra drill on things that are old and hackneyed in history.

If, therefore, the whole German development did not exceed the German political development, a German could at the most have the share in the problems-of-the-present that a Russian has. But, when the separate individual is not bound by the limitations of the nation, the nation as a whole is still less liberated by the liberation of one individual. The fact that Greece had a Scythian among its philosophers did not help the Scythians to make a single step towards Greek culture. [An allusion to Anacharsis.]

Luckily, we Germans are not Scythians.

As the ancient peoples went through their pre-history in imagination, in mythology, so we Germans have gone through our post-history in thought, in philosophy. We are philosophical contemporaries of the present without being its historical contemporaries. German philosophy is the ideal prolongation of German history. If therefore, instead of the oeuvres incompletes of our real history, we criticize the oeuvres posthumes of our ideal history, philosophy, our criticism is in the midst of the questions of which the present says: that is the question. What, in progressive nations, is a practical break with modern state conditions, is, in Germany, where even those conditions do not yet exist, at first a critical break with the philosophical reflexion of those conditions.

German philosophy of right and state is the only German history which is al pari [“on a level”] with the official modern present. The German nation must therefore join this, its dream-history, to its present conditions and subject to criticism not only these existing conditions, but at the same time their abstract continuation. Its future cannot be limited either to the immediate negation of its real conditions of state and right, or to the immediate implementation of its ideal state and right conditions, for it has the immediate negation of its real conditions in its ideal conditions, and it has almost outlived the immediate implementation of its ideal conditions in the contemplation of neighboring nations. Hence, it is with good reason that the practical political party in Germany demands the negation of philosophy.

It is wrong, not in its demand but in stopping at the demand, which it neither seriously implements nor can implement. It believes that it implements that negation by turning its back to philosophy and its head away from it and muttering a few trite and angry phrases about it. Owing to the limitation of its outlook, it does not include philosophy in the circle of German reality or it even fancies it is beneath German practice and the theories that serve it. You demand that real life embryos be made the starting-point, but you forget that the real life embryo of the German nation has grown so far only inside its cranium. In a word – You cannot abolish [aufheben] philosophy without making it a reality. [NB]

The same mistake, but with the factors reversed, was made by the theoretical party originating from philosophy.

In the present struggle it saw only the critical struggle of philosophy against the German world; it did not give a thought to the fact that philosophy up to the present itself belongs to this world and is its completion, although an ideal one. Critical towards its counterpart, it was uncritical towards itself when, proceeding from the premises of philosophy, it either stopped at the results given by philosophy or passed off demands and results from somewhere else as immediate demands and results of philosophy – although these, provided they are justified, can be obtained only by the negation of philosophy up to the present, of philosophy as such. We reserve ourselves the right to a more detailed description of this section: It thought it could make philosophy a reality without abolishing [aufzuheben] it.

The criticism of the German philosophy of state and right, which attained its most consistent, richest, and last formulation through Hegel, is both a critical analysis of the modern state and of the reality connected with it, and the resolute negation of the whole manner of the German consciousness in politics and right as practiced hereto, the most distinguished, most universal expression of which, raised to the level of science, is the speculative philosophy of right itself. If the speculative philosophy of right, that abstract extravagant thinking on the modern state, the reality of which remains a thing of the beyond, if only beyond the Rhine, was possible only in Germany, inversely the German thought-image of the modern state which makes abstraction of real man was possible only because and insofar as the modern state itself makes abstraction of real man, or satisfies the whole of man only in imagination. In politics, the Germans thought what other nations did. Germany was their theoretical conscience. The abstraction and presumption of its thought was always in step with the one-sidedness and lowliness of its reality. If, therefore, the status quo of German statehood expresses the completion of the ancien régime, the completion of the thorn in the flesh of the modern state, the status quo of German state science expresses the incompletion of the modern state, the defectiveness of its flesh itself.

Already as the resolute opponent of the previous form of German political consciousness the criticism of speculative philosophy of right strays, not into itself, but into problems which there is only one means of solving – practice.

It is asked: can Germany attain a practice à la hauteur des principles – i.e., a revolution which will raise it not only to the official level of modern nations, but to the height of humanity which will be the near future of those nations?

The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself. The evident proof of the radicalism of German theory, and hence of its practical energy, is that is proceeds from a resolute positive abolition of religion. The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest essence for man – hence, with the categoric imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence, relations which cannot be better described than by the cry of a Frenchman when it was planned to introduce a tax on dogs: Poor dogs! They want to treat you as human beings!

[This is one of the most remarkable passages.  Theory can become an overriding, effective physical force capable of reconfiguring society, if it grips the masses, which requires it to be radical, ad hominem, about these masses and for them — to paraphrase Lincolon: “of the masses, by the masses, and for the masses.” JH]  

[Man, or the human, is an abstraction in German philosophy. You need to understand what makes humans human, i.e. their social relations.  JH]

Even historically, theoretical emancipation has specific practical significance for Germany. For Germany’s revolutionary past is theoretical, it is the Reformation. As the revolution then began in the brain of the monk, so now it begins in the brain of the philosopher.

Luther, we grant, overcame bondage out of devotion by replacing it by bondage out of conviction. He shattered faith in authority because he restored the authority of faith. He turned priests into laymen because he turned laymen into priests. He freed man from outer religiosity because he made religiosity the inner man. He freed the body from chains because he enchained the heart.

But, if Protestantism was not the true solution of the problem, it was at least the true setting of it. It was no longer a case of the layman’s struggle against the priest outside himself but of his struggle against his own priest inside himself, his priestly nature. And if the Protestant transformation of the German layman into priests emancipated the lay popes, the princes, with the whole of their priestly clique, the privileged and philistines, the philosophical transformation of priestly Germans into men will emancipate the people. But, secularization will not stop at the confiscation of church estates set in motion mainly by hypocritical Prussia any more than emancipation stops at princes. The Peasant War, the most radical fact of German history, came to grief because of theology. Today, when theology itself has come to grief, the most unfree fact of German history, our status quo, will be shattered against philosophy. On the eve of the Reformation, official Germany was the most unconditional slave of Rome. On the eve of its revolution, it is the unconditional slave of less than Rome, of Prussia and Austria, of country junkers and philistines.

Meanwhile, a major difficulty seems to stand in the way of a radical German revolution.

For revolutions require a passive element, a material basis. Theory is fulfilled in a people only insofar as it is the fulfilment of the needs of that people. But will the monstrous discrepancy between the demands of German thought and the answers of German reality find a corresponding discrepancy between civil society and the state, and between civil society and itself? Will the theoretical needs be immediate practical needs? It is not enough for thought to strive for realization, reality must itself strive towards thought. [This is also a remarkable passage. JH]

But Germany did not rise to the intermediary stage of political emancipation at the same time as the modern nations. It has not yet reached in practice the stages which it has surpassed in theory. How can it do a somersault, not only over its own limitations, but at the same time over the limitations of the modern nations, over limitations which it must in reality feel and strive for as for emancipation from its real limitations? Only a revolution of radical needs can be a radical revolution and it seems that precisely the preconditions and ground for such needs are lacking.

If Germany has accompanied the development of the modern nations only with the abstract activity of thought without taking an effective share in the real struggle of that development, it has, on the other hand, shared the sufferings of that development, without sharing in its enjoyment, or its partial satisfaction. To the abstract activity on the one hand corresponds the abstract suffering on the other. That is why Germany will one day find itself on the level of European decadence before ever having been on the level of European emancipation. It will be comparable to a fetish worshipper pining away with the diseases of Christianity.

If we now consider the German governments, we find that because of the circumstances of the time, because of Germany’s condition, because of the standpoint of German education, and, finally, under the impulse of its own fortunate instinct, they are driven to combine the civilized shortcomings of the modern state world, the advantages of which we do not enjoy, with the barbaric deficiencies of the ancien régime, which we enjoy in full; hence, Germany must share more and more, if not in the reasonableness, at least in the unreasonableness of those state formations which are beyond the bounds of its status quo. Is there in the world, for example, a country which shares so naively in all the illusions of constitutional statehood without sharing in its realities as so-called constitutional Germany? [NB] And was it not perforce the notion of a German government to combine the tortures of censorship with the tortures of the French September laws [1835 anti-press laws] which provide for freedom of the press? As you could find the gods of all nations in the Roman Pantheon, so you will find in the Germans’ Holy Roman Empire all the sins of all state forms. That this eclecticism will reach a so far unprecedented height is guaranteed in particular by the political-aesthetic gourmanderie of a German king [Frederick William IV] who intended to play all the roles of monarchy, whether feudal or democratic, if not in the person of the people, at least in his own person, and if not for the people, at least for himself. Germany, as the deficiency of the political present constituted a world of its own, will not be able to throw down the specific German limitations without throwing down the general limitation of the political present.

It is not the radical revolution, not the general human emancipation which is a utopian dream for Germany, but rather the partial, the merely political revolution, the revolution which leaves the pillars of the house standing. On what is a partial, a merely political revolution based? On part of civil society emancipating itself and attaining general domination; on a definite class, proceeding from its particular situation; undertaking the general emancipation of society. This class emancipates the whole of society, but only provided the whole of society is in the same situation as this class – e.g., possesses money and education or can acquire them at will.

No class of civil society can play this role without arousing a moment of enthusiasm in itself and in the masses, a moment in which it fraternizes and merges with society in general, becomes confused with it and is perceived and acknowledged as its general representative, a moment in which its claims and rights are truly the claims and rights of society itself, a moment in which it is truly the social head and the social heart. Only in the name of the general rights of society can a particular class vindicate for itself general domination. For the storming of this emancipatory position, and hence for the political exploitation of all sections of society in the interests of its own section, revolutionary energy and spiritual self-feeling alone are not sufficient. For the revolution of a nation, and the emancipation of a particular class of civil society to coincide, for one estate to be acknowledged as the estate of the whole society, all the defects of society must conversely be concentrated in another class, a particular estate must be the estate of the general stumbling-block, the incorporation of the general limitation, a particular social sphere must be recognized as the notorious crime of the whole of society, so that liberation from that sphere appears as general self-liberation. For one estate to be par excellence the estate of liberation, another estate must conversely be the obvious estate of oppression. The negative general significance of the French nobility and the French clergy determined the positive general significance of the nearest neighboring and opposed class of the bourgeoisie.

But no particular class in Germany has the constituency, the penetration, the courage, or the ruthlessness that could mark it out as the negative representative of society. No more has any estate the breadth of soul that identifies itself, even for a moment, with the soul of the nation, the geniality that inspires material might to political violence, or that revolutionary daring which flings at the adversary the defiant words: I am nothing but I must be everything. The main stem of German morals and honesty, of the classes as well as of individuals, is rather that modest egoism which asserts its limitedness and allows it to be asserted against itself. The relation of the various sections of German society is therefore not dramatic but epic. Each of them begins to be aware of itself and begins to camp beside the others with all its particular claims not as soon as it is oppressed, but as soon as the circumstances of the time, without the section’s own participation, creates a social substratum on which it can in turn exert pressure. Even the moral self-feeling of the German middle class rests only on the consciousness that it is the common representative of the philistine mediocrity of all the other classes. It is therefore not only the German kings who accede to the throne mal à propos, it is every section of civil society which goes through a defeat before it celebrates victory and develops its own limitations before it overcomes the limitations facing it, asserts its narrow-hearted essence before it has been able to assert its magnanimous essence; thus the very opportunity of a great role has passed away before it is to hand, and every class, once it begins the struggle against the class opposed to it, is involved in the struggle against the class below it. Hence, the higher nobility is struggling against the monarchy, the bureaucrat against the nobility, and the bourgeois against them all, while the proletariat is already beginning to find itself struggling against the bourgeoisie. The middle class hardly dares to grasp the thought of emancipation from its own standpoint when the development of the social conditions and the progress of political theory already declare that standpoint antiquated or at least problematic.

In France, it is enough for somebody to be something for him to want to be everything; in Germany, nobody can be anything if he is not prepared to renounce everything. In France, partial emancipation is the basis of universal emancipation; in Germany, universal emancipation is the conditio sine qua non of any partial emancipation. In France, it is the reality of gradual liberation that must give birth to complete freedom, in Germany, the impossibility of gradual liberation. In France, every class of the nation is a political idealist and becomes aware of itself at first not as a particular class but as a representative of social requirements generally. The role of emancipator therefore passes in dramatic motion to the various classes of the French nation one after the other until it finally comes to the class which implements social freedom no longer with the provision of certain conditions lying outside man and yet created by human society, but rather organizes all conditions of human existence on the premises of social freedom. On the contrary, in Germany, where practical life is as spiritless as spiritual life is unpractical, no class in civil society has any need or capacity for general emancipation until it is forced by its immediate condition, by material necessity, by its very chains.

Where, then, is the positive possibility of a German emancipation?

[The true liberation of Germans as a nation requires socialism.  Socialists, starting with Marx and Engels, are going to make this argument over and over about the Jews (who were then flirting with early Zionism), the Asiatic peoples (Lenin), Blacks, women, LGBT, the environmental movement, etc.  Historically, though, the constituencies of these struggles will view this as an attempt to subordinate their struggles to male, white chauvinist socialism (with some justice), yet socialists are ultimately correct. The narrow liberation of women is not possible without socialism.  Etc.  Yes, but ultimately. 🙂  JH]

Answer: In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.

[The proletariat is a term used to refer to a class of people in Ancient Rome: poor free individuals, not indentured, not slaves, Latin (not barbarians), but without land or other resources.  As a result, they had to work for pay.  In a broad interpretation of the term, the global proletariat includes the peasants in the Third World, the urban poor engaged in the informal sector of the economy, domestic workers, and any other whose livelihood (over a significant portion of their life times) depends on their direct work, and not on inherited or accumulated wealth.  The narrower interpretation by some Marxists limits the term to wage industrial workers, and with reservations to wage workers in the so-called “services” sector, white-collar employees, etc. JH]

The proletariat is beginning to appear in Germany as a result of the rising industrial movement. For, it is not the naturally arising poor but the artificially impoverished, not the human masses mechanically oppressed by the gravity of society, but the masses resulting from the drastic dissolution of society, mainly of the middle estate, that form the proletariat, although, as is easily understood, the naturally arising poor and the Christian-Germanic serfs gradually join its ranks.

By heralding the dissolution of the hereto existing world order, the proletariat merely proclaims the secret of its own existence, for it is the factual dissolution of that world order. By demanding the negation of private property, the proletariat merely raises to the rank of a principle of society what society has raised to the rank of its principle, what is already incorporated in it as the negative result of society without its own participation. The proletarian then finds himself possessing the same right in regard to the world which is coming into being as the German king in regard to the world which has come into being when he calls the people his people, as he calls the horse his horse. By declaring the people his private property, the king merely proclaims that the owner of property is king.

As philosophy finds its material weapon in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapon in philosophy. And once the lightning of thought has squarely struck this ingenuous soil of the people, the emancipation of the Germans into men will be accomplished. [Here “philosophy” means socialist doctrines and science in general.  JH]

Let us sum up the result:

The only liberation of Germany which is practically possible is liberation from the point of view of that theory which declares man to be the supreme being for man. Germany can emancipate itself from the Middle Ages only if it emancipates itself at the same time from the partial victories over the Middle Ages. In Germany, no form of bondage can be broken without breaking all forms of bondage. Germany, which is renowned for its thoroughness, cannot make a revolution unless it is a thorough one. The emancipation of the German is the emancipation of man. The head of this emancipation is philosophy, its heart the proletariat. Philosophy cannot realize itself without the transcendence [Aufhebung] of the proletariat, and the proletariat cannot transcend itself without the realization [Verwirklichung] of philosophy.

When all the inner conditions are met, the day of the German resurrection will be heralded by the crowing of the cock of Gaul.


1 Comment

  1. Julio,

    Thanks for the below . Coincidently , I was reading Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right/Law the other day. Actually, I was surprised that I could construe Hegel’s Idea as Tradition or in this specific case Law which does last for many generations and dictate the culture and language of each living generation. This is a kind of materialistic construction of Hegel based on natural anthropology; it is anthropological psychology.

    The Idea, or Law can only be changed based on revolution generated by productive class contradictions and gender contradictions ; but there are systems of Ideas , culture-traditions-languages that have microcosmic copies in every individual brain of members of that culture ( This proposition is part of the field of Anthropological Psychology that I am founding ).

    I am teaching anthropology at Wayne County Community College District, right now . So, I’m constantly thinking and writing about another issue you discuss , the differentia specific of Homo sapiens . At our species origin ( at least 190,000 years ago , but as long as 2.5 million years ago), It was language and culture(tradition) ; I emphasis the tradition dimension of the modern anthropological concept of culture because I think the trans-generational communication dimension of culture is the essence of its uniqueness. That was the Stone Age; Morgan’s _Societas_. BUT with the advent of _Civitas_ , so-called Civilization, labor or productive activity , as Marx made famous, does further distinguish us. However, labor , planned productive activity was not a characteristic of us for the vast majority of our species existence. The Stone Age was characterized by _direct appropriation_ (also planned ) from Nature, “gathering” . Nature was the overwhelmingly main source of use-values; not human labor, work, toil , by the sweat of the brow. For the majority of times of the Stone Age , We humans had Marshall Sahlins’ “Original Affluent Society.” ( not a lot of labor ).

    Uncle Fred had it wrong in ” The Role of Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”, and I finally figured out why. Marx and Engels thought the Stone Age , original primitive human society was much shorter than it was . It starts 2.5 million years ago white homo Habilis with stone tools. The mode of making a living in all of the stone tool age is mainly a _directly appropriating_ mode ( hand to mouth mainly; some hunting ; there is cooking; domestic mode of production ) . Culture-Tradition and language were so powerful in adapting , We did not have to labor heavily to survive and thrive and multiply , at the top of the Darwinian fitness list.

    With , Civilization ( actually the beginning of the _end_ of civilization and beginning of barbarism) , 6,000 years ago, origin of the male supremacist family , the state and private property , which is to say greed , exploitation of surpluses , slavery, LABOR, a productive mode replaces the direct appropriation mode of Ancient Society. Culture is shaped by the _new_Tradition of Work Ethic, Laboring as fundamentally valuable ; at least the masses in the laboring , ruled classes are imbued work ethic with and forced to do productive activity .

    So, productive activity is dominant, but not from our 23 chromosome pair genome or human original nature; but historically derived . And now we must support larger populations .

    Onward ! Let the Democratic Party rise from the ashes like the Sphinx !

    Charles Brown p


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