Georg Lukács 1926

Moses Hess and the Problems of Idealist Dialectics

First Published: in Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus der Arbeiterbewegung, vol. XII, 1926;
Source: Georg Lukács. Political Writings, 1919-1929;
Published: N.L.B. 1972;
Edited: by Rodney Livingstone;
Transcribed: by Brian Reid.

There have been many attempts[1] to revise the scathing and peremptory judgment passed on Moses Hess by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. Quite apart from efforts by people like Koigen or Hammacher to tar the early Marx and Engels with the same brush of ‘true socialism’, even Franz Mehring considers the verdict of the Communist Manifesto too harsh. Not in the theoretical sense, of course. He believes, rather, that the ‘true socialists’, and especially Hess, should not be considered merely in the light of the Communist Manifesto: ‘It can be said in analogous fashion that the essence of the German socialism of that period was determined by the critique made of it in the Communist Manifesto, rather than that the elements of the critique made by the authors of the Manifesto were developed out of the real conditions of life in which both they and the German socialists of their time found themselves’.[2] Mehring points by way of contrast to the honest revolutionary character of these men (again primarily Hess) and to the fact that precisely this tendency boasts far fewer deserters to the enemy camp than any other. ‘Of all the different schools of bourgeois socialists of that time and even today, the true socialists have far and away the clearest conscience in this respect.’[3] However, the problem of historically classifying and interpreting ‘true socialism’, particularly that of Hess, is hardly even posed by such statements, let alone resolved. And it is to this problem that we have to address ourselves here. For Mehring’s second point – that the ‘true socialists’ adhered faithfully to the ideals of the then revolutionary democracy, to the bourgeois revolution, in spite of their completely wrong theoretical attitude to the revolutionary role of the bourgeoise – can by no means be settled by this kind of biographical evidence. The problem is essentially that of the relationship of the bourgeois revolution to the proletarian revolution. It crops up in accentuated form in the response of Marx and Engels to Lassalle’s agitation, in their rejection of his ‘Tory-Chartism’. It branches out into what could, in non-dialectical terms, be conceived of as an antithesis: on the one hand the tactical attitude of the Mensheviks towards the bourgeois and proletarian revolution in 1905 and 1917; on the other, the theoretical attitude of those who proclaimed the ‘purely’ proletarian revolution (e. g. the Communist Workers’ Party (KAP), and the left-wing economism of the extreme Luxemburg school of thought). But it is only with Lenin’s theory of revolution,[4] which even today is frequently misunderstood, that as real theoretical solution is found to the problem. The fact that Hess simply abandoned his theory in the decisive moments of action is therefore not only a sign of his honest revolutionary character, but rather an indication that there were still few clear-cut differences between the various (elements of the revolutionary movement in Germany at that time. This meant in practice that there was no real choice: those who were not prepared to fight on the left wing of bourgeois democracy – which of course meant constantly coming into conflict with the bourgeoisie as it veered increasingly rightwards – were bound of necessity to make common cause with the forces of reaction. The criticism levelled by the Communist Manifesto at the theories of Hess and his companions was therefore absolutely correct. If followed through logically, their theory could not but lead them into the reactionaries’ camp. The criticism was unjust in two respects only: first, it underestimated, if anything, the rootlessness, thee essentially ideological nature of ‘true socialism’; secondly, it failed to take into account that Hess’s theory in this respect was so utopian and the terms of his critique of the bourgeoisie so clearly a mere translation of English and French experiences into the vocabulary of a purely idealist dialectic, that, as soon as it came into contact with the revolutionary reality, it simply melted and – for what it was worth as a theory – disappeared without trace. This ‘biographical refutation’ of the Communist Manifesto’s criticism of Hess’s theory serves, as we can see, only to confirm that the criticism was theoretically correct. And where the problem crops up again in a real sense – in the case of Lassalle – the criticism proved its worth in practical terms as well.

Having said this, let us return to Mehring’s first point. If we want to understand ‘true socialism’ as a product of pre-1848 conditions in Germany, we must proceed from the premiss that it was a movement of intellectuals. In taking over the ready-made experiences of the English and French working-class movements, it was no different from later revolutionary movements made up of intellectuals. There, too, in progressive intellectual circles, the ideological awareness that the old society was in the process of disintegrating existed before the disintegration had found appropriate expression in the shape of real social movements (e.g. Narodniks in Russia; eastern intellectual movements). It is perfectly understandable that intellectuals should latch on to the ready-made experiences of the more advanced forms of social development. Such experiences, after all, are always – not only in times of revolution – part of that social environment in which intellectuals live, elements of their material and intellectual development. The situation of the ‘true socialists’ is special only in that they began their work in a society which was still at the stage of extremely primitive social differentiation and, in class terms, relatively under-developed, whereas the ideological basis of their work was – particularly in the field of social knowledge – very highly developed. What are the components of this highly advanced ideology? On the one hand, there is the social critique of the great English and French utopians, the breeding-ground of which was the tremendous political and social transformation of society brought about by the bourgeois revolution, and the feverishly rapid development of capitalism, which in turn led to the emergence of the proletariat and the first proletarian uprisings. On the other hand, ‘true socialism’ is linked to the highest form of ideology ever attained by the bourgeoisie, namely classical German philosophy and the Hegelian dialectic – indeed, it played an active part in the disintegration of Hegelianism.

The other supreme intellectual achievement of the bourgeoisie, classical English economics, is virtually non-existent as a component element of ‘true socialism’, however. This cannot be explained simply by reference to the economic backwardness of Germany. Indeed – even if we ignore Marx and Engels entirely-the critique of bourgeois society, the ‘socialism’ of Rodbertus, is very much concerned with the problems of classical economics and especially Sismondi’s critique of it. And Hess himself, to whom we shall now devote the whole of our attention, became theoretically convinced after his personal association with Marx and Engels that their method, their theory and their mode of agitation were correct; he subsequently tried to the best of his ability to incorporate this newly mastered territory into his system and to make it intellectually his own. Yet it is precisely his economic works[5] which show most clearly the full extent of his inability, however hard he tried, even simply to understand the real significance of the inversion performed by Marx and Engels on Hegelianism, let alone apply and develop it independently.

What was it in Hess that prevented him from from doing so? It was in fact Hegelian philosophy itself. This may at first seem a trivial, tautological remark. But it acquires greater significance as soon as we have progressed beyond the banal level at which the question is generally dealt with, and managed to grasp correctly – as it is imperative we do – the importance of the Hegelian dialectic in both historical and methodological terms for the development of Marxism. Not that that should be seen as an attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ Hess. Far from it. It is precisely by posing the problem in this way that we can demonstrate that the severe criticism of him in the Communist Manifesto is valid in all essential respects; further, that Hess is of no significance at all as regards the present-day theory of the revolutionary working-class movement; and, indeed, that even his purely historical role in the genesis of historical materialism has been frequently exaggerated by his admirers – among them his latest biographer, Zlocisti. If we nonetheless avail ourselves of the opportunity afforded by the republication of his major writings to undertake an analysis of them, we do so in order that they should serve as a contrast which will help us to elucidate briefly the true progress of the dialectic from Hegel to Marx. Seen in this light, Hess himself appears as a thoroughly unsuccessful forerunner to Marx and a tragic figure inasmuch as he was not only an absolutely honest revolutionary in personal terms, but of all the idealist dialecticians the one who – occasionally – came closest to the. Marxist version of the dialectic. (In certain respects – e.g. in the integration of Feuerbach into the dialectical method – he came closer even than Lassalle who was incomparably more gifted as a theoretician and politician. Lassalle, however, also shared many of Hess’s limitations.) The schizophrenic nature of Hess’s thought is aggravated by the fact that his attempts to overcome Hegel by Hegelian methods always leave him trailing behind Hegel. His dissolution of the Hegelian method turns into dissolution in the very literal sense of the word. The elements which were present in Hegel himself and which Hegel had surmounted dialectically re-emerge naked and unsurmounted. Such was also the case with Bruno Bauer and David Friedrich Strauss, as Marx pointed out: with the one it was the Fichtean, with the other the Spinozan aspect of Hegel’s system which received exclusive emphasis.[6]

The twist which Hess gave to the Hegelian system is likewise more Fichtean in nature, although Hess himself consistently claimed to be a Spinozan and although his ‘Fichteanism’ differs radically from that of Bruno Bauer. It does not set out to resubjectivize Hegelian objectivity, as Bruno Bauer’s Philosophy of Self-Consciousness aims to do, but rather it is an attempt to overcome the contemplative character of Hegelian philosophy and make the dialectic practical. This tendency towards the practical was bound of necessity to lead back to Fichte. And, moreover, not for epistemological reasons, not because, for instance, in Fichte thinking itself becomes an ‘active deed’, for that is – even if not terminologically – the essence of every dialectic. If the dialectic is to go beyond the lifeless product, if it is to revert to the process of its production and advance to that of its dissolution, its very thought-processes must have an active character about them. In this respect the difference between Fichte and Hegel is little more than terminological. In fact, if we go to the very core of the matter we will find that Hegel’s logic, in spite of its more contemplative terminology, is ‘more practical’ than Fichte’s. The terminological difference conceals a substantial difference, namely the methodological connection in Fichte’s work between logic and ethics, but we cannot discuss that at this point. Although that aspect of Fichtean philosophy was consciously assigned a more prominent place in Hess’s work, the problem of the history of philosophy is objectively more significant for our present analysis of the dissolution of Hegelianism and the gravitation towards Fichte.

Zlocisti also alludes to the thinker who first posed this question clearly and precisely: August von Cieszkowski.[7] In all essential respects Cieszkowski remains a Hegelian. His object is only to complete Hegelian philosophy, not to dissolve it. His chief reservation about it, about its philosophy of history, is that it does not pose the question of knowledge of the future,[8] However, it must not be forgotten that the question which Cieszkowski poses himself here has already been answered by Fichte. Fichte’s Characteristics of the Present Age divides history into five epochs, of which the present, as the epoch of ‘absolute sinfulness’ is the third. The last two epochs, the structure of which is described in detail, belong to the future. [9] It would be wrong to speak of direct influence from this source, the more so since Cieszkowski and after him Hess both regard the matter as a question, as a problem, whereas Fichte, always the naive dogmatist, turned up straightaway with an answer.

The very fact that Cieszkowski and Hess pose the question in a more critical, more dialectical, less formal fashion shows that, for all their gravitation towards Fichte, they are in fact striving to progress beyond Fichte and that methodologically such gravitation does not mean simply reverting to Fichte’s standpoint. The future as the object of dialectical thinking, the attempt to grasp the future concretely by means of dialectics and to make it into a criterion by which to judge past and present – all this is a marked advance on Fichtean philosophy of history. In Fichte’s work the future is still little more than a somewhat more concrete expression for Kant’s infinite progress, for the fact that the demands of absolute (supra-historical) reason have not as yet been fulfilled. Cieszkowski and Hess, on the other hand, attempt to grasp the historical process dialectically in its concrete uniqueness, with the result that for them the future becomes just as concrete an epoch as were the epochs of the past. Hence, for them knowledge of the future was bound to become a methodological problem of the dialectic, whereas for Fichte the periodizing of history followed directly and unproblematically from his – ethical – conception of the absolute. Hence, too, even when they seem to agree fundamentally on certain questions, above all the interpretation of history according to the notion of natural law, they are in fact doing two completely different things: Fichte is taking what in the eighteenth century was the revolutionary concept of natural law to its philosophical conclusion, whereas Cieszkowski and Hess are attempting to establish a new, concrete, historically derived natural law. (The methodological kernel of the ‘system of acquired rights’ is in many respects the fulfilment of this endeavour.)

The future in this latter case is revealed methodologically as the concrete, intentional object of the philosophy of history. This brings both thinkers, Hess more clearly than Cieszkowski, into a certain methodological affinity with the philosophy of history of Fourier, whom, incidentally, Cieszkowski quotes several times. Even so the problematic remains essentially on Fichtean ground, as we hope to demonstrate. For no matter how modified, no matter how historicized, an analysis operating in terms of the concept of natural law cannot but remain burdened with the antagonism – irresolvable on this ground – between supra-historical principles on one side and history itself on the other. Moreover, any attempt to sublate this antagonism by conceptual dialectics must of necessity be unavailing. Thus the methodological affinity with Fichte proves after all to be very pronounced. For the knowledge of the future, even if it is only a matter of the knowledge of its essence and not of the ‘infinite multitude of existent contingencies’,[10] is only possible if the fundamental logicalmetaphysical categories of the system are extended over past, present and future. True knowledge of the whole system (the inner contemplation of logic) must, in other words, include knowledge of the future. This, however, involves the logical necessity of heightening the purely aprioristic, purely speculative and hence purely contemplative nature of knowledge even beyond the level of Hegel’s system.

Cieszkowski accuses Hegel of ‘proceeding in a posteriori fashion’, which he attempts to counter by advancing to ‘a priori deduction’. Parallel to this, his intention is to ‘make the whole system of categories develop dialectically within history’; he demands ‘a systematic quest for the logical within world history’ in contrast to Hegel, of whom it can only be said that he ‘merely finds it speculatively’;[11] and he moves the future so close to the present that for him ‘everything future, irrespective of how reasonable and consistent it proves to be, not only has no effect at all against the already existing, but must already be in existence before it itself becomes existence’.[12]

And yet the effect of all this is in fact to idealize and ideologize the dialectic even more than Hegel does. True, in stopping at the present, at what he calls the self-attainment of the spirit, Hegel’s system is reactionary both in substance and in its intentions and consequences. Looked at from the methodological standpoint, however, refusal to go any further reveals Hegel’s magnificent realism, his rejection of all utopias, his concern to conceive philosophy as the conceptual expression of history itself and not as philosophy about history. Hegel has often – and to some extent justifiably – been attacked for this tendency, this ‘reconciliation’ with reality. But it must be remembered that it derives methodologically from this urge to develop the categories out of the historical process itself, and that only in consequence of his reactionary hypostatizing of the present did it change from a dynamic principle impelling reality forwards into a static one designed to fix the stage presently attained as an absolute. In Cieszkowski and in Hess’s European Triarchy, the problem of knowledge of the future has the function of overcoming such hypostatization. However, in searching for the answer purely by means of a conceptual dialectics, what they have done is to detach Hegelian dialectics from the real historical process, far more than Hegel does himself, and to make it purely conceptual, purely idealistic – without the possibility of eliminating the reactionary components of the ‘reconciliation’ from the method. [13]

This is no mere chance. For in all cases where the object-forms of historical reality are discovered in conceptually aprioristic fashion, either reality has to be conceived of as being ultimately and at heart irrational, accessible to these categories only in a ‘methodological’ sense (see Schelling’s later works), or reason and reality, category and history, aprioristic form and empirical material, have somehow to be brought together and ‘reconciled’ with each other. But that involves applying to reality a thought-determinant that has not been developed out of historical reality itself. The consequences of such a process of joining together, of ‘reconciliation’, are inevitable. Either that reality has to be distorted by constructs, or it becomes necessary to adapt the thought-determinants to the superficial, merely empirical phenomena of historical reality, thereby raising such phenomena to the level of categories, of absolutes. All forms of abstract utopianism are therefore bound – by virtue of their very abstractness and utopianism – to make greater concessions to superficial empirical reality than does a truly dialectical realism. They are bound to hypostatize transient forms of the present, bound to nail development down to such moments of the present, bound to turn reactionary.[14]

The question of ‘reconciliation’ reveals in fact the most problematical aspect of Hegelian philosophy: in defiance of his programme, idea and reality do not coincide, and hence the duality of theory and practice, the ‘unreconciled’ confrontation of freedom and necessity, remains unsolved. To put it in terms of the history of the problem: the Kantianism in Hegel remains not quite superseded. Cieszkowski claims that the problem of history – in his terminology, knowledge of the future – finds Hegel ‘taking up a critical position analogous to that of Kant in regard to the unattainability of the absolute as such, but with the difference that with Kant it was the necessary result of his standpoint and system, whereas with Hegel it was introduced from without and thus disrupts the rest of his system.’[15]

This partially correct observation demonstrates the presumptuousness of talking in terms of really overcoming the limits of the Hegelian position. On the one hand, that Hegel stops at the present is related, as I have already indicated, to the most profound motives of his thinking – to be precise, to his (in the correct sense) historico-dialectical thinking. For instance, in the preface to his Philosophy of Right he writes: ‘The task of philosophy is to comprehend what is, for what is is reason. As for the individual each is a child of his time anyway; philosophy, too, is its time translated into thought. It is just as stupid to imagine that any philosophy can transcend its contemporary world as that an individual can jump over his time, jump across the Straits of Rhodes.’ That is incomparably nearer to a materialistic-historical conception than a construct à la Fichte-Cieszkowski-Hess-Lassalle, where history is divided into successive epochs, the older of which is derived from the logical arrangement of a perfect system.

On the other hand, of course, Cieszkowski is correct in drawing attention to the Kantian thing-in-itself problem – more correct, even, than he himself realizes. But it is precisely in his correctness that it becomes clear where the ‘Supersession’ of Hegel actually leads back to a position less advanced than Hegel’s. For, even with Kant himself the problem of the thing-in-itself is very closely connected with the problem of history, with the problem of becoming.[16] It is not by chance that the transcendental dialectics of the Critique of Pure Reason lead into the forecourt of dialectics: to the insoluble antinomies. In doing so it demonstrates that to grasp reality contemplatively (and to adopt the intuiting attitude is to dissolve all becoming into being)[17] can lead at best to the discovery of the contradictory foundations of existence, but not to their resolution. Even when the Critique of Practical Reason transfers the resolution of these same antinomies, the solution of the thing-in-itself problem, into the realm of practice, it cannot – in the final analysis – advance to a proper formulation of the question because the practice of individual action (the only one which Kant knows) cannot be anything more than pseudopractice. It is a form of practice which is unable to shake the foundations of reality and for which, therefore, the object-forms of (contemplatively grasped) reality remain unaltered. Its new attitude to reality leaves reality untouched and cannot be more than something formal and subjective: the Ought. Now Hegel senses very acutely the emptiness, the transcendent and abstract nature of this Ought. But since he is likewise unable to indicate concretely the real subject of revolutionizing practice, he cannot go beyond a mere rejection of the Ought – which leaves the problematical nature of the concept in Kant’s system unsolved. Hegel, too, cannot conceive of a transformation of given being, of the present, except in the form of an ‘Ought’. The continuation of the passage quoted above reads: ‘If his theory actually goes beyond that, if he builds himself a world as it ought to be, then of course it exists, but only in his mind – a soft element prone to every possible kind of fantasy.’ That in itself represents an enormous advance on Kant in that it grasps the present concretely as present, that is, as the product of a historical process and no longer as an essentially immutable being.

In contrast to Fichte with his revolutionary Utopia, Hegel developed very early on in his work the tendency to ‘understand what is’, a tendency which originally pointed energetically in the direction of the future. His concern to comprehend the present as at once become and becoming is expressed, for example, in an epigram written during his first Jena period:

Strive, attempt more than today and yesterday; you will be, not better than time, but time as good as it can be.

Here was the germ of a true historical dialectics (the dialectics of history translated into thought). For it is precisely in the present that all forms of objectivity (Gegenständlichkeit) can be revealed quite concretely as processes, since it is the present which shows most clearly the unity of result and starting-point of the process. Given that, the rejection of all ‘Oughts’ and futuristic utopian thinking, the concentration of philosophy on knowledge of the present (grasped dialectically) emerges precisely as the only possible epistemological method of knowing what is really knowable about the future, the tendencies within the present which impel it really and concretely towards the future.

However, implicit within this self-same tendency of Hegel, his realism, his rejection of all forms of Utopia and all merely formal ‘Oughts’, was the limitation which not only prevented him from going any further, but even forced him into an increasingly reactionary position. As a result, his ‘present’ lost its immanent tendency to point to the future and ossified more and more until it became a hard and fast result. It ceased to be dialectical. The fundamental problem confronting the philosophy of right at that time was posed by the fact of the revolution. Constitutional changes were recognized as being necessary; but since the attempt to solve the problem was undertaken in constitutional terms – that is, in formal terms immanently juristically, and in terms of social content: within the framework of bourgeois society [18] – it was bound to lead increasingly in that direction, especially if the revolutionary, ‘eternal’ law of reason was abandoned. Whereas Fichte’s philosophy of right seeks guarantees which would establish this law of reason in the face of empirical reality and the actual wielders of power, Hegel attempts to find the indications of further development within contemporary development itself. The more realistically he conceive, this present and the closer he moves to the Prussian Junker state, however, the less he is able to recognize developmental tendencies concretely and the more he is obliged to accept this state absolutely, thereby – from the point of view of the philosophy of history – bringing the historical process to a halt in the present.

Thus the result of Hegelian philosophy is to put an end to the process as process. Historically and logically, every form of abstract petrification and thing-ness has been dissolved into a concrete becoming, a process, only for the product of the process, the present, to petrify once again into a mere product, a thing. Dialectics turns into yet another metaphysics – a change which Penetrates deeply into the structure of Hegelian logic, where (even in terms of pure logic) it dissolves dialectics into an appearance and transforms it into a kind of aesthetics. Hegel relegates to the level of sham movement the crowning achievement of his dialectics, the dialectics of being and becoming, while at the same time raising it, as he thinks, to the level of a pure movement in itself. He writes: ‘The movement of the concept is to be regarded, as it were, merely as a game.’[19] The ‘reconciliation’ in which this construct of the Hegelian system finds concrete and historical expression is therefore manifestly and essentially dualistic. Looked at in relation to earlier philosophy it is the resolution of Kant’s antinomies; turned forward, however, it represents their reproduction on a higher level. It is not possible to preserve the this-sidedness of philosophy unless the real, dialectical tendencies, the direction of the real dialectical process can also be shown as effective, as real, as process in the present; unless, that is, the present points in real and dialectical fashion beyond itself and into the future. This Hegel fails to do. Hence, in terms of the motives which led him to posit it, Hegel’s ‘reconciliation’ is an expression – albeit a resigned one – of his self-criticism and his realism vis-à-vis history. In its methodological, systematic and objective consequences, however, it represents the fixing of the present as an absolute and the elimination of dialectics – in other words, it is a reactionary principle.

It is therefore only too understandable that the philosophically radical Young Hegelians should take up this problem. However, they attempt to transcend the logical limitations of Hegel’s system, which are only a consequence – albeit a necessary one – of his attitude towards the real historical process, in and by logic itself. (That this logic is supposed to be a logic of history alters nothing substantial in the situation.) As a result, the future – knowledge of which is possible only as the object of a revolutionizing practice and which only becomes something concrete and real for us at all through practice – becomes for them the object of mere contemplation. Past, present and future appear, it is true, on the same level of comprehensibility. The level, however, is to an even greater extent that of ‘pure’ cognition, the purely logico-systematic development of the dialectical triad. Such ‘knowledge’ of the future means that the dialectical connection between past and present established by Hegel has disappeared.

The full significance of this regression to Fichte – and beyond him to Kant – emerges clearly in the theory of freedom which Hess formulates in his European Triarchy. This theory is significant for our discussion in that it is, after all, precisely in the positive relationship to the future that freedom should manifest itself. According to Hess, since Hegel ‘draws only the past as such into the realm of speculation, necessity is therefore predominant’. ‘What happened before us,’ says Hess, ‘even if it happened for itself with freedom, nonetheless happened for us of necessity because it did not happen through us. Only what is achieved by us, although in itself it happens of necessity, happens for us with freedom – insofar, that is, as our innermost being, consciousness, is the determining element in it.’[20] Anybody familiar with the Kantian theory of freedom will immediately realize that in this passage the contradictory antithesis of freedom and necessity, the merely subjective nature of freedom, the transference of freedom and necessity into two completely separate spheres[21] – that all this, although formulated in Hegelian terms, is wholly Kantian in spirit, and that Hess has fallen back way behind the stage of a dialectical union of freedom and necessity already reached by Hegel.

Because of this basic attitude, even the attempt to historicize the dialectical categories beyond the level of historicization in Hegel is bound to fail. It turns into a wholly arbitrary assignment of types of categories to certain historical epochs: neither the necessity of their connection with these epochs, nor the development of the historical epochs out of each other emerges from the exercise. This, of course, is not to deny that the Young Hegelians are sincere in their attempts to transcend Hegel. The most radical of them are fully aware that changes within society become illusory if the authority of a single – essentially supra-historical – system of logic is spread across history. And yet they are unable to be radical in drawing the necessary conclusions from this understanding – which would involve applying Hegel’s dictum on philosophy in general (that it ‘translates its time into thought’) concretely to logic itself. Cieszkowski’s phrasing is truly Hegelian![22] ‘Just as everything in the world is subject to history, so history in turn is subject to God’, whereas Hess’s treatment of the same problem acquires a Spinozan accent.[23] The methodological aspect of the question, however, remains unaffected.

To go into a detailed analysis of Cieszkowski’s and Hess’s historical constructs would take us too far. For whether Cieszkowski applies the category of mechanism derived from Hegel’s logic to antiquity, that of chemism to the Middle Ages and that of organism to the modern age as a special category; or whether Hess defines the three periods of world history as being from the Flood to the migration of nations and from there to the French Revolution, after which the modern age begins, as attempts to transcend Hegel and really historicize dialectics, they both amount to the same thing. In each case we are presented – as in Fichte’s history of philosophy – with aprioristically construed, logical characteristics of historical epochs, with differentiations within the concept. These are then applied – not without a good deal of violence – to historical reality. At which point, of course, all the contradictions underlying the exercise come to light in all their crudeness.[24] With Hegel himself, the inconsistency in the relationship between historical and logical succession of the categories was – at least in part – an instinctive corrective to the decline into formal apriorism and its vacuous constructs. The radical Young Hegelians, however, think this idealistic and formalistic aspect of Hegel’s system through to its conclusion; in so doing, they loosen the relationship between the dialectics of real history and conceptual dialectics which, although he had not worked it out consistently, was already present in Hegel’s work.[25] The more constructed the philosophy of history becomes and the looser its connection with historical reality, the more it is bound to become basically contemplative in character. As this occurs, so the ‘deed’ which Hess henceforth makes the focus of his thinking is less able to be real practice, revolutionizing and transforming reality; so, too, philosophy is bound to succumb to the methodological dualism of Kant, the separation of ‘pure’ and ‘practical reason’. We have already established Hess’s tendency to regress via Fichte to Kant in our discussion of his treatment of the question of freedom in The European Triarchy. His abstract separation of theory and practice, however, becomes more strikingly obvious the more he exerts himself trying to use his philosophical ‘supersession’ of Hegel as the philosophical basis of socialism. Here the duality of theory and practice assumes the form of a duality between the historical movement, whose ‘mission’ it is to bring socialism about in a real sense, and the philosophical theory of this movement, which is supposed to give it clarity and direction and explain its real goals to it.

It must be emphasized that this duality existed within the contemporary working-class movement itself at that time. And not only in socially undeveloped Germany: even in France and England the theory of social revolution and the revolutionary practice of the proletariat had still not yet come together. No socialist theoretician before Marx and Engels had been able to perceive in the social being of the proletariat itself the process whose real dialectics has only to be made conscious in order to become the theory of revolutionary practice.[26] At this point, the central problem in the emergence of socialist theory in the 1840s, the theoretical blind-alley into which Hess’s supersession of Hegel led him, becomes blatantly obvious. Although he imagined he was going beyond Hegel by including the future in the triadic progression of his logic, what he was able to say about it amounted to no more than a few at best abstract and utopian generalities. The price he had to pay was high: his theory raised to the level of a category and perpetuated the duality of theory and practice in the shape of the duality of socialism and proletariat (the ideological consequence of the undeveloped state of the working-class movement of the time); philosophy was forced to ‘reconcile’ itself to this reality. In his first attempt to provide a philosophical basis for socialism he talks of the old duality in religion and politics. For him the break-up of that duality means the beginning of ‘revolution and criticism’. [27] What he fails to realize is that this is simply to reproduce the old duality in a new guise. On the contrary, he even attempts to preserve the purity, scientific status and objectivity of this philosophy (which, it should be remembered, is supposed to lead to ‘action’). In his otherwise commendable critique of Lorenz von Stein he attacks Stein for ‘repeating ad nauseam the connection between communism and the proletariat’. ‘This,’ he goes on,[28] ‘is the only vital aspect which Stein is capable of getting out of communism. But when it is a question of justifying the claims of the proletariat, he glosses over the problem with a few philosophical flourishes. The insubstantiality of his reasoning reveals his inability to achieve understanding on this point. The only way he could have come to such an understanding, of course, would have been through the insight into the connection of communism to socialism and science. As I have said, he lacks this insight altogether.’

Hess could not possibly have been totally unaware of the problematic nature of his method – as is evidenced by the constant changes he made to his system and his frequent attempts to draw on Marx. That he nevertheless clung to it is of course explicable in terms of his class position. Hess philosophizes from the standpoint of the revolutionary intelligentsia sympathetic to the coming social revolution. The sufferings of the proletariat form the starting-point of his philosophizing, the proletariat is the object of his concern and his struggle, and later on, he even acknowledges the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation as an important element in the imminent liberation of humanity from the yoke of capitalism. Besides – or rather, over and above this, however, hovers theory, knowledge, philosophy, which impartially and selflessly takes over the intellectual leadership of the good cause .[29] The fond belief that he inhabits a sphere above all class antagonisms and all egoistical interests of his fellow-men is typical of the intellectual who does not participate – directly – in the process of production and whose existential basis, both material and intellectual, seems to be the ‘whole’ of society, regardless of class differences. (The less developed the class antagonisms in any society, the easier it is for this illusion to take hold – and the more difficult it is to see through it as an illusion.) Hence, when he strives honestly to recognize and proclaim the truth, he claims that he can see no social basis for the construction of his ‘truth’. In the Germany of the 18q.os it was all the easier for such an illusion of ‘neutral’ classlessness to emerge, in that the still primitive class-differentiations virtually ruled out the possibility of an ‘intelligentsia’ as an independent stratum with independent interests such as existed, for example, at the time of the growth and blossoming of social revolutionism in Russia. Even there, of course, there arose the illusion and the ideology of classlessness. But there is one important difference: the ideology of the social revolutionaries was already permeated with the out-and-out hypocritical ideology – the state as being ‘above and beyond classes’, and so on – put out by a bourgeoisie that had come to the end of its development. At the time of the ‘true socialists’, however, the real ideologues of the bourgeoisie were still openly and clearly proclaiming bourgeois class interests. (One only has to think of the significant French historians of the time, for instance.)

If theory is thus assigned a place above the struggle of the different groups, estates and classes, the necessary consequence is a moralistic and moralizing verdict on the present, and specifically on those tendencies opposed to the social revolution. For if communism is not the class-truth of the proletariat; if it does not emerge from the proletariat’s class-situation as its conceptual expression; if rather, it is the ‘objective truth’ of the historical process – then the motives for resisting the ‘truth’ can only be ignorance or moral inferiority. The first mentioned played an important role in the thinking of the Utopians. Hess and company criticized bourgeois society, the capitalist system of production, by subsuming its economic principles under the – ethical – category of ‘egoism’ and condemning it morally as such. [30]

There is no denying that ‘egoism’ did in fact play a big part in the growth of bourgeois ideology; in this sense, then, it was not wholly inappropriate to relate the critique of the bourgeois class to this question. But it must be remembered that for the first great champions of this ideology (Hobbes, Mandeville, Bayle, et al.) the struggle to establish the new morality was a very real one. Not only was there a close connection between the war on feudal morality (and that of the Puritans when the bourgeois class was just emerging) and the elaboration of the theoretical cornerstone of the whole bourgeois ideology, classical economics, but this ideology also provided very important weapons for the bourgeoisie’s actual class struggle. By Hess’s time the frankness with which the morality of egoism was first proclaimed had already begun to evaporate. This was partly because the growing contradictions of capitalist production forced the bourgeoisie to resort to hypocrisy in the moral sense as well, preventing it increasingly from ‘expressing what is’ in clear and bold tones; and partly because the development of classical economics had robbed this moral theory of much of its practical significance for the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie. Smith and Ricardo concretized in economic terms what someone like Mandeville had not been able to express except in much more ideological form. Already in Smith’s economics the ‘egoism of conduct’ had found quite unmythological expression, and it was only the ‘extra-economic’ aspects of life – that is, what seemed to them to be ‘extra-economic’ – which were still connected with the ethics of the great growth-period of bourgeois ideology (cf. Smith’s relation to Shaftesbury).

That Hess was unable to advance beyond a moral condemnation of ‘egoism’ – even though he represents it as a necessary product of bourgeois society and draws constant parallels with that society’s (somewhat superficially conceived) economic foundations – proved fatal to his theoretical development. True, he regarded it as a necessary product of bourgeois society, but only as a petrified one: he saw it metaphysically and not dialectically. Hence he could only take up a moralizing attitude towards it. And since Hess’s socialism, his logico-dialectically ‘known future’, did not sprout from the real soil of the concrete class struggles of the present either, but was logically sublimated from the antagonisms thereby produced – with the result that those antagonisms, once transformed into pure thoughts, were bound to harden idealistically into autonomous essences – the future simply stood there opposite the ‘problems’ of the present as a ready-made ‘solution’. There is therefore no real mediation between present and future: Hess failed to recognize in the elements of the present, in the tendencies which have brought it into being and make it problematic, the real forces which impel it to transcend itself.

His attitude is made very clear in his criticism of Lorenz von Stein.[31] He writes: ‘The gross mistake which Stein makes, and to which he is driven primarily as a result of his wrong understanding of the French mind, is to see in the striving for equality only the purely superficial, material trend towards pleasure. On the one hand he can find excuses even for the so-called materialism of today, seeing in it only the first attempts of the abstract personality to give itself a concrete content. On the other, he detects in communism only the striving of the proletariat to secure for itself the same pleasures as those enjoyed by the owners. One of the chief virtues of communism, however, is that it does away with the antagonism between pleasure and work. Only where ownership is divided is pleasure distinct from work. The state of community is the practical fulfilment of the philosophical ethic which recognizes free activity as the true and sole pleasure, the so-called highest good. As against this, the state of divided ownership is the practical fulfilment of egoism and immorality, which on the one hand negates free activity and degrades it to slave-labour, while on the other it replaces man’s highest good by bestial pleasure, the goal worthy of that equally bestial labour. Stein is caught up in these abstract notions of work and pleasure, whereas communism has long since advanced beyond them. It has already become – in the minds of its foremost representatives, of course – what it is destined one day to become in reality: practical ethics.’

This is how the present is abstractly and moralistically condemned. In his Philosophy of Action Hess says:[32] ‘We know full well that there are tame and lame philosophers who, because they lack the wrathful courage of action, poke around by the light of their Diogenes lantern in the dung-heap of lies that passes for religion and politics, in the hope of fishing out something or other which they might yet find a use for. But it is not worth the trouble of raking out the miserable rags buried in the debris of the past....’ And in keeping with this attitude towards the present, the only possible bridge to the future is therefore the new morality, translated into effective action. ‘You have been told,’ Hess goes on,[33] ‘that man cannot serve two masters at once, God and Mammon. We, however, tell you that man does not have to serve either as long as he thinks and feels as man. Love one another, finite in spirit, and you will possess in your hearts that blissful consciousness which you have vainly sought for so long above yourselves, in God. Organize yourselves, unite in reality, and you will possess in your actions and works all the wealth which you have sought for so long outside yourselves, in money.’

That passage reveals the decisive influence of Feuerbach on the ‘true socialists’, particularly on Hess. He gave them a new, positive morality with which to confront the ‘morality of egoism’. What Marx and Engels received from Feuebach was at most the final encouragement they needed to eradicate the remaining traces of Hegelian idealism from their thinking and to transform tie dialectic in a definitively and completely materialist way. Hess and company, however, took up (Hess far less wholeheartedly than Grün or Kriege) precisely that aspect of Feuerbach which remained essentially idealistic[34] and which Marx and Engels even at that early stage regarded indifferently or critically. The difference is brought out very clearly and characteristically in Engels’s letter of 19 September 1844[35] to Marx at the time of Marx’s collaboration with Hess, who had just written his pamphlet, The Last Philosophers, as an attack on Stirner and Bauer. Referring to Stirner, Engels writes: ‘But we must also take up those elements of he principle which are true. And it is certainly true that we must first make a cause our own, selfish cause before we can do anything for it – that in this sense, therefore, even disregarding possible material hopes, we are communists for selfish reasons; that it is for selfish reasons that we want to be human beings not mere individuals.’

Even Hess, of course, is not uncritical of Feuerbach, and his criticism is sometimes very incisive: as, for instance, when he applies to Feuerbach Marx’s critique of conditions in Germany. He writes:[36] ‘The Feuerbachian “philosophy of the future” is nothing but a philosophy of the present, but of a present which still appears to Germans as future, as ideal. What in England, France, North America and elsewhere is already present reality the modern state with its counterpart and complement, bourgeois society – still finds only philosophical and theoretical expression in Principles of the Philosophy of the Future.’ At the same time Hess realizes that the flaw in Feuerbach’s thinking is that it ignores the social nature of man: consequently: ‘man’ as he is in Feuerbachian anthropology cannot be real, concrete man. In his essay, On the Socialist Movement in Germany, Hess argues:[37] ‘Why did Feuerbach not attain these important practical consequences of his system? – the essence of God, says Feuerbach, is the transcendent essence of man, and the true theory of divine essence is the theory of human essence: theology is anthropology. That is true, but it is not the whole truth. Man’s essence, it needs to be added, is the social nature and the cooperation of the various individuals for one and the same purpose, for wholly identical interests. And the true theory of man, true humanism, is the theory of human socialization. That is: anthropology is socialism.’ And immediately following this Hess, while conceding that Feuerbach advances beyond the individual human being, accuses him of locating ‘the human-species-act’ essentially, if not exclusively, in ‘thought’. Hess correctly assesses as inconsistencies Feuerbach’s attempts to overcome the purely contemplative nature of his philosophy and his acknowledgement that the ‘species-act’ expresses itself in other areas. ‘We cannot understand why Feuerbach admits it,’ he writes, ‘since nowhere does he arrive at philosophical consequences other than those which follow from the correct version of the act of thinking.’

In spite of this valid criticism – at some points fairly close to that of Marx and Engels, into which an equally incisive critique of the Young Hegelians is woven – Hess nonetheless succumbs to the very weakest, most idealistic aspect of Feuerbach’s work: his ethic of love. We have already indicated the social factors which defined Hess’s position in this respect as that of an intellectual who merely enters into an ‘alliance’ with the revolutionary proletariat but is never capable of thinking from the standpoint of the proletariat in its actual class situation. Philosophically this finds expression in Hess’s uncritical adoption of Feuerbach’s basically wrong attitude to the Hegelian dialectic and in particular his theory of the relationship between immediacy and mediation. ‘Feuerbach,’ he says ,[38] ‘proceeds from the correct principle that man as he alienates his essence or develops himself is the creator of all collisions, contradictions and antagonisms: hence, that there can be no question at all of a speculative mediation since there is in truth nothing to mediate, no identity of opposites, but only and everywhere man’s identity with himself to be reestablished. Antagonisms and contradictions exist only in the imagination of speculative mystics.’ By identifying alienated man as the essence of Christianity Feuerbach ‘has identified the root of all theoretical mistakes and contradictions – although he does not carry on systematically to demonstrate how all antagonisms and contradictions arise from selfalienating man’. It becomes very clear here how ill-equipped Hess is, despite his critique of Feuerbach’s failure to include a social dimension, to perceive the fundamental mistake in Feuerbach’s whole formulation of the question. By that, of course, we mean the way in which he abstracts from the historical process, and his consequently uncritical attitude to the socio-historical character of the religious phenomena which he sets out to criticize and dissolve anthropologically. In his seventh thesis on Feuerbach, Marx formulates this objection with the utmost precision: ‘Feuerbach therefore fails to see that “religious sentiment” is itself a social product and that the abstract individual whom he is analysing belongs to a certain form of society.’ Hence, according to Marx, the standpoint of the old materialism – to which in this sense even Feuerbach belongs – is merely bourgeois society (ninth and tenth theses). This is the kind of criticism which Hess strives to achieve in his identification of Feuerbachian ‘philosophy of the future’ with advanced bourgeois society in England, etc., but at every decisive juncture where his critique of Feuerbach needs to be concretized he veers off to work the weakest aspects of Feuerbach into his own philosophy.

The false methodological terrain on to which Hess allowed himself to be lured is Feuerbach’s rejection of the Hegelian concept of mediation, the attempt to restore immediate knowledge to its rightful position. True, Feuerbach protests that what he means by immediate knowledge is not to be confused with earlier versions – e.g. that of Jacobi.[39] But even if we could grant that he was absolutely correct in this respect, one of the most important achievements of Hegelian philosophy, one of the points in which it contained the possibility of being developed further into materialist dialectics, would nevertheless have been lost in doing so. That possibility is, namely, the methodological possibility of acknowledging and recognizing the social reality of the present in its reality and yet still reacting to it critically – not moralistically-critically, but in the sense of practical critical activity. In Hegel, admittedly, no more than the possibility existed. But it proved to be decisive for the development of socialist theory that, methodologically, Marx took over directly from Hegel at this point, purging Hegel’s method of its idealistic inconsistencies and inaccuracies, ‘setting it on its feet’ and, no matter how much he owes to Feuerbach’s encouragement, rejecting the Feuerbachian ‘improvement’ on Hegel. The ‘true socialists’ on the other hand, Hess included, followed Feuerbach uncritically. Precisely because ‘true socialism’ from its very beginning idealistically watered down Hegel and transformed his objective dialectics of the historical process itself into a mere conceptual dialectics, Feuerbach’s opposition to Hegel must have seemed to them like a way out at last from the blind alley in which they had become stuck. (If Lassalle in spite of his idealistic dialectics maintained his superiority over the ‘true socialists’ in many respects, it was largely owing to his more orthodox Hegelianism.) The great influence which Feuerbach had on the radical young Hegelians rests, then, on the fact that in this question he stood on the same methodological ground as they did – albeit often with inverted value-symbols for the elements which go to make up the method. In terms of the problem to be discussed now, that can be put as follows: both treated mediation as something purely conceptual. With the Bauer brothers and their philosophy of self-consciousness, it was turned into a thought-fetish as the real motive force of world history; [40] while Feuerbach denied its claim to any real objectivity.

Feuerbach argues in the Principles of the Philosophy of the Future:[41] ‘Only that is true and divine which needs no proof, immediately speaks for itself and carries conviction, and entails immediately the affirmation that it is – the positive as such, the indubitable as such, the crystal clear. . . . Everything is mediated, says Hegelian philosophy. But nothing is true unless it is no longer mediated, but immediate. . . . The self-mediating truth is the truth still afflicted with its opposite. We start with that opposite, but it is later transcended. But if it is something to be transcended, something to be negated, why should I start there, why not straightaway with its negation? ... Why should what is certain and proven through itself not be higher than what is certain through the nullity of its opposite? Who, then, can elevate mediation to necessity, to the law of truth? Only he who is still caught up in that which is to be negated, who is still fighting and struggling with himself and has not yet completely squared matters with himself. . . .’

From this follows, as it were, as an epistemological foundation of the only true immediate knowledge, the unity of being and essence. At the same time, Feuerbach as an honest thinker finds himself obliged to admit that ‘in human life’, ‘but then only in abnormal, unfortunate cases’, being is separated from essence. Then ‘it happens that one does not also have one’s essence where one has one’s being, but precisely because of this separation one is also not truly, not with heart and soul there where one is bodily. You are only where your heart is. But all beings – with the exception of unnatural cases – are willingly where and what they are. That is, their essence is not separated from their being, nor their being from their essence.’[42] Mediation is then no longer the conceptual expression of the dialectical structure of being itself, which consists of opposites dissolving one another and producing new antagonisms. Nor is it any longer the logical form in which we reproduce conceptually the dialectical process of being and thereby conceive the results of the process (which, viewed in isolation, are necessarily given as petrified products and hence can be grasped immediately only in metaphysical terms) really as results – that is, not in a static metaphysical fashion but within the context of the process as a whole, as in Hegel. Instead, it is a formalistic means of communicating immediately evident thought-contents. Feuerbach expresses this very clearly in his Critique of Hegelian Philosophy:[43]Thinking is an immediate activity insofar as it is self-activity. . . . Demonstration is nothing other than showing that what I say is true; it means nothing other than taking back the alienation of the thought to the primary source of the thought.... Now, it is only in the communicative activity of the thought for others that the demonstration has its raison d’être. If I want to prove something, I prove it for others. . . . Every demonstration is therefore, not a mediation of the thought in and for the thought itself,[44] but a mediation by means of language, [between my mind], insofar as it is mine, and the mind of the other insofar as it is his.’ ‘Hegelian philosophy,’ says Feuerbach,[45]lacks immediate unity, immediate certainty, immediate truth.’

Such arguments do not in any sense overcome Hegel’s idealism definitively, as Feuerbach hoped they would. All they do is rather to raise moralizing utopianism to what is philosophically certainly its highest conceptual stage and to create an epistemological justification of ethical utopianism. An immediately certain unity, an immediately obvious truth, can only be attained in two ways. In the first place, the basic societal forms of the present are given to us as immediate realities – in fact, the more subtle and complex (in Hegel’s terms, the more mediated) the forms, the more immediately evident they are. In the case of the economically social foundations, such immediacy can be seen through as mere appearance from the standpoint of the proletariat. (We shall return later to the remarkable contribution made by Marx and Engels on this question.) Of course, the fact that we can see through these forms does not in any way alter the immediately obvious certainty that they are the forms of existence of our present, but it can on the other hand give our practical behaviour towards them a new quality, which in turn reacts upon our immediate behaviour. In the case of the more complex, severally mediated formations, by contrast, this dialectical dissolution of immediacy into a process of mediation has far weaker repercussions in the immediate, practical sense. The process therefore seems to be a mere conceptual one, a merely theoretical or logical operation. For example: we may well perceive clearly that our existence as isolated individuals is a consequence of capitalist development; but as long as our insight is merely theoretical, the individualistic structure of our feelings, etc. will survive in unshakeably immediate form. In the same way (although it must be stressed that the following example is intended to serve only as a psychological illustration), total understanding of the correctness of Copernican astronomy in no way affects the immediate impression that the sun comes up and goes down, and so on. Only the practical tendency towards transforming the real, social foundations of this immediacy itself is able to bring about a transformation in behaviour in this context – and that does not in all cases have visible effects straightaway.

This structural state of affairs strongly influenced the thinking of both Hegel and Feuerbach. For all his serious attempts to get to grips with the problem and solve it (we shall speak of this later), Hegel was seduced into treating it as a purely theoretical and logical question. For him, therefore, the categories of mediation turned into autonomous and real ‘essences’, detaching themselves from the real historical process, from the basis of their real comprehensibility, and thus petrifying into a new immediacy. Feuerbach’s polemics, on the other hand, took up only this unsuccessful aspect of Hegel’s attempt, overlooking not only what Hegel had already achieved in terms of correctly posing and resolving the problem, but even the actual problem itself. He therefore treated the whole question of mediation as a purely logical one, which can be resolved partly by pure logic,[46] partly through recourse to immediate intuition and sensuousness. In so doing, however, he falls into a completely uncritical position. As Marx points out in The German Ideology, [47] he overlooks the fact that ‘this world of the senses is not a thing given direct from all eternity, remaining ever the same, but the product of generations, each of which stands on the shoulders of the previous one’.

This is the one form of immediately given reality; closely connected with it is the second, the immediate acceptability of ethical Utopia. Its premiss, in a nutshell, is that the objective forms of man’s concrete environment are immediately given to him and that the degree of their immediacy, far from providing a measure of their supra-historical essence, is the consequence of, on the one hand, the objective strength of those economic forces which produce them and, on the other, the class-specific prejudices and vested interests of man in the survival of his social environment. Hence, however, the concrete scope of his spontaneous emotional reactions to this social environment is likewise given. That is, he reacts to those given attitudes of his just as immediately as to the environment itself. And it is precisely in the separateness of ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’ that it becomes most clearly manifest that they are derived from one and the same social root and that the immediate nature of each is a function of the most thoroughgoing reciprocal action of the one on the other. In the case of a simple affirmative attitude towards reality, this connection hardly calls for detailed analysis. But if it is a question of Utopia, of the imperative ethical mode of behaviour, then their merely immediate nature seems at first sight less obvious.

But two points must not be forgotten: first, that we are dealing here only with the appearance of practice – with a practice, that is, which either leaves the structure of objective reality fundamentally untouched, hence confirming the contemplative attitude towards it and not transcending it (Kant’s Ought), or is incapable of posing the transition from given reality to ‘transformed’ reality as a concrete problem (utopianism). ‘Transformed’ reality is thereby treated as a state – in other words, contemplatively – and contrasted as such to immediately given objective reality, without the way which leads from the one to the other being in any way elucidated. And secondly: in neither case is the attempt made to demonstrate concretely the genesis of the ethico-utopian mode of behaviour. It is taken for granted in just the same way as contemplatively grasped objective reality (or its so-called ‘ultimate principle’) was taken for granted. In his Critique of Practical Reason Kant proceeds from the ‘fact’ of conscience in just the same way as in his Critique of Pure Reason he proceeds from the ‘fact’ of synthetic a priori judgments. For Smith the economist the objective laws of free competition, etc. are an immediately accepted fact, in just the same way as ‘feelings of sympathy’ are for Smith the moralist.

Feuerbach appears to represent an advance in just this respect. His dissolution of theology into anthropology, his dissolution of the ‘alienated’ essence of man, appears to represent a true genesis. But it is in fact only appearance. And this is chiefly because he replaces one abstract concept (God) by the equally abstract one of ‘species’, thereby rendering illusory the derivation of concepts from reality. (This is not to deny the advance which his theory nonetheless represents. That, however, is irrelevant to the present discussion.) Marx comments in his Feuerbach theses: ‘Feuerbach dissolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.... The human essence, therefore, can be grasped by him only as “species,” as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.’ However, if this genesis, this demonstration of the real roots of the concepts, is only the appearance of a genesis, the two basic principles of his world-view, ‘alienated’ man and the dissolution of this ‘alienation’, solidify into rigidly opposed essences. He does not dissolve the one into the other, but rejects the one and affirms (morally) the other. He opposes one readymade reality to another ready-made reality, instead of showing how the one must arise – in the dialectical process – out of the other. His ‘love’ allows the ‘alienated’ reality of man to survive unaltered, just as Kant’s Ought was incapable of changing anything in the structure of his world of being.

In this case ‘practice’ consists in ‘evaluation’. With the purely contemplative position of Feuerbach, this necessary consequence of his methodological limitations manifests itself less blatantly in his own work than in that of his successors, the ‘true socialists’. In applying the Feuerbachian formula of ‘alienation’ to society and opposing Feuerbach’s notion of God with that of money as socially alienated essence (‘Money is the product of mutually estranged men, it is alienated man’),[48] Hess is led to condemn this world of ‘alienation’ in moral terms and to oppose it with a utopian world of transcended ‘alienation’. True property replaces false property. ‘Existing property is not reprehensible because it is personal, individual, integrated into the individual; on the contrary, it is reprehensible only and precisely because it is not personal, not integrated into the individual, but detached and remote from him, confronting the individual from without as a remote, wholly alienated and general means of life and intercourse, as external wealth, as money.’[49] At several points in his studies, Hess compares Feuerbach with Proudhon. This is not the place to discuss the tenability of this parallel in terms of genetic history (it is a necessary consequence of Hess’s method that he operates consistently with such parallels – e.g. Babeuf/Fichte, Saint-Simon/Schelling, Fourier/flegel – very much on the lines of Heine). But it is noticeable that his application of Feuerbachian principles to society is itself Proudhonian in one respect: in the way it contrasts the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ aspects of a social phenomenon and defines progress, the resolution of the given antimony, as the preservation of the ‘good’ aspect and the eradication of the ‘bad’ one. That Feuerbach is not done any injustice when such petty-bourgeois, ethical utopianism is treated as the application of his method, is shown by, among other things, Engels’s critique of his ethics. Engels contrasts Feuerbach’s treatment of the conflict between good and evil with the dialectical treatment of the same problem in Hegel.

It is by no means coincidental that both Marx, in his refutation of the Proudhonian notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times, and Engels, in his critique of Feuerbach’s ethics, should refer back to Hegel. For Feuerbach, Proudhon and Hess in this question all fall back far behind Hegel. Their attitude towards the basic phenomenon of bourgeois society is far less critical, far more immediate that that of Hegel himself. True, even he treats ‘alienation’ as a general philosophical problem. But in the most significant exposition of his theory of consciousness, the Phenomenology of Mind, he poses the problem to himself as a problem of the structure of society, as a problem of the consciousness of man arising out of this structure about himself as social being. This is not the place to describe, even in outline, Hegel’s position in respect of these problems. But if we are to understand the methodological situation obtaining during the period when communist theory was emerging in Germany, we must at least point out briefly that the whole problem of ‘alienation’, of man’s ‘estrangement’ from himself as a historically and philosophically necessary stage towards his final coming-to-himself, is the chief concern of the decisive chapters of the Phenomenology of Mind. It is generally known that ‘alienation’ is a Hegelian term. Feuerbach’s polemic against Hegel, however, on the one hand made the question appear to be a problem of idealistic logic in general, while on the other it shifted the debate essentially on to the problem of Hegelian philosophy of nature, the problem of nature as the ‘other-ness’, the being-’external’-to-itself of the idea.[50] In spite of the thorough knowledge which some of them had of Hegel, Hess and company shared Feuerbach’s basic position and chose to follow him in this respect, applying his theory of ‘alienation’ back to society. In so doing they overlooked the fact that Hegel posed the whole question in a basically socio-historical way. For what is so very remarkable, fascinating and – at the same time – confusing about the Phenomenology of Mind is that it is the first work in the history of philosophy to treat the so-called final problems of philosophy, the questions of subject and object, ego and world, consciousness and being, as historical problems. And moreover, not in the sense of applying an aprioristic (i.e. ‘timeless’) formulation of the question, typology, etc., to history as empirical material (as is the case with Kant and Fichte); but rather in such a way that these problems, as philosophical problems, in their ‘apriority’, in their purely philosophical distinctiveness, are at the same time treated as forms of the historical development of human consciousness. Of course Hegel was far from consistent in the matter. It is usually held that the Phenomenology of Mind is confusing precisely because, in it, historical and supra-historical concept-formations are jumbled up together, contradicting and cancelling one another out. As in other areas, here too we can see at once the strengths and limitations of Hegel. When he treats the ‘phenomenology’ as a prelude to philosophy proper; when the stages of consciousness occurring within its pages are conceived as aprioristic stages which the ‘mind’ has to pass through in order to raise itself from the level of ordinary consciousness to that of the identical subject-object – i.e. the level of philosophical consciousness – there are two consequences. On the one hand, this whole development is reduced to a merely subjective process (even if not in the terms of empirical psychology), and on the other the material of history is degraded to the level of mere illustrative material.

But Hegel does not keep to this idealistic programme. The assignation of stages of consciousness to historical epochs is – as an example we shall shortly adduce will make clear – incomparably more profound: in spite of the purely conceptual terminology, the aprioristic treatment appears as a mere reflection, a merely conceptual expression of the historical material underlying it, the historical epoch intended to serve as an illustration for that aprioristic stage. But it is not only in details that the Phenomenology outgrows the place in the system which Hegel himself allotted it. He is unable to allot even the whole of it to a position in keeping with his system. The phenomenology which Hegel in his Encyclopedia places between anthropology and psychology as the second stage of the subjective mind has, precisely in the crucial problems, very little in common with the Phenomenology of Mind. The latter contains, rather, the whole of Hegel’s philosophy. It is one of his attempts to summarize his world-view in a unified fashion. Seen in this perspective, the ‘subjectivity’ of the Phenomenology (just like the ‘reconciliation’ referred to earlier) reveals a double physiognomy. On the one hand, the real-tress of the ‘forms of consciousness’ which fill the pages of the Phenomenology is diminished from the outset; on the other, however, it is in this very diminution that Hegel’s remarkable (albeit unconscious) historico-social self-criticism reveals itself. The phenomena he discusses, the emergence of bourgeois capitalist society with its political climax in the ‘reign of terror’ of the French Revolution, were after all mere forms of consciousness for the Germany of that time – and not concrete historical reality. This situation allowed for two possible responses: either the conceptual substance of these phenomena was turned into an, ethical postulate of natural law and opposed to German reality (this is what the young Fichte did) – in which case, however, the very fundamental philosophical problem of the age, the notion of reality as being ‘created’ by ‘us’, by man, remained unsolved. Or the answer had to be sought in the Hegelian manner.

The salient point in Hegel’s treatment of this question is that he establishes the this-sidedness of social reality. The chapter on the ‘Truth of Enlightenment’,[51] which leads on to the discussion of the French Revolution, closes with the words: ‘Both worlds are reconciled and heaven is transplanted to the earth below.’ For Hegel, moreover, this tendency is not by any means restricted to the ideological plane. The decisive category that actually brings about this this-sidedness is, rather, an economic one (albeit in mythological form): the useful. And this category of the useful already exhibits very clearly the dialectical double nature of the commodity, the unity of use-value and exchange-value, the appearance of thing-tress along with internal relatedness in itself. ‘It is,’ says Hegel, ‘something that subsists in itself or a thing; this being in itself is at the same time only a pure moment; it is in consequence absolutely for something else, but is equally for an other merely as it is in itself; these opposite moments have returned into the indivisible unity of being-for-self.’ [52] Through the useful, this stage of consciousness achieves what the earlier stages lacked: reality. ‘What is wanting is reached in the fact of utility so far as pure insight secures positive objectivity there; pure insight is thereby a concrete actual consciousness satisfied within itself. This objectivity now constitutes its world, and is become the final and true outcome of the entire previous world, ideal as well as real. ‘[53] This world, the world of bourgeois society translated into thought, is the Hegelian world of ‘alienation’ and ‘estrangement’. Consciousness is confronted by an objective, legitimate world, which in spite of – or rather, precisely in and through – its strangeness and autonomy is its own product. In his introductory remarks to this section Hegel says: ‘But that spirit, whose self is absolutely discrete, finds its content over against itself in the form of a reality that is just as impenetrable as itself, and the world here gets the characteristic of being something external, negative to self-consciousness. Yet this world is a spiritual reality, it is essentially the fusion of individuality with being. Thus its existence is the work of self-consciousness, but likewise an actuality immediately present and alien to it, which has a peculiar being of its own, and in which it does not know itself. . . . It acquires its existence by self-consciousness of its own accord relinquishing itself and giving up its essentiality. . . .’[54]

The terminological affinity between such statements and those of the radical Young Hegelians is so obvious that it does not need to be analysed in detail. And likewise it follows from what has previously been said that we are not dealing with a merely terminological affinity, but, rather, that this is where the Young Hegelians took over from Hegel. What we must remember, of course, is that they took over only the subjective, idealistic aspects of such statements, only the limitations of his thinking. But in doing so they overlooked precisely what was crucial: namely, that Hegel comprehended the objective forms of bourgeois society in their doubleness, in their contradictoriness: as moments of a process in which man (Hegel’s mythological term is ‘mind’) in alienation comes to himself, to the point where the contradictions of his existence are driven to their extremes and produce the objective possibility of the upheaval and sublation of the contradictions themselves.[55] Alienation, abstraction from oneself, is therefore an appearance, it is true, which reveals itself as appearance in the self-attainment of ‘mind’. But as appearance it is at the same time an objective reality. In his later system, where he attempts to grasp the same problem logically, Hegel says: ‘Being has not vanished: but, firstly, Essence, as simple self-relation, is Being, and secondly as regards its one-sided characteristic of immediacy, Being is deposed to a mere negative, to a seeming or reflected light (Schein) – essence accordingly is Being thus reflecting light into itself (scheinen in sich selbst).[56]

It is impossible at this juncture to analyse, even in outline, the various forms in which Hegel wrestles with this problem (apart from the theory of essence, both in the Encyclopedia and in the Logic, it is chiefly his account of bourgeois society in the Philosophy of Right which would have to be discussed). The main methodological issue at stake here has in any case been clarified by these few allusions. First, it is clear that for Hegel ‘alienation’, the ‘abstract’ forms of life – indeed, abstraction and estrangement themselves – are neither pure thought-constructs nor a ‘reprehensible’ reality, but the immediately given forms of existence of the present as forms of the transition towards their self-overcoming in the historical process. (The Philosophy of Right ends with the transition to world-history.) Hence, they cannot be overcome either epistemologically or in ethical-utopian fashion; only by self-sublation in the identical subject-object of history can they attain their resolution. Secondly and consequently, ‘alienation’ appears as immediacy and immediacy as ‘alienation’ not yet overcome. Thus Hegel refutes in advance Feuerbach’s critique of his philosophy. Which means, thirdly, that immediacy has been relativized both historically and methodologically: at every stage of development, the result of the previous process appears as an immediate datum.

Its immediacy is appearance: the categories of mediation through which it has passed in the process in order to become this – new – immediacy remain unknown. Fourthly, however, this appearance itself is a – necessary and objective – form of being, and can be correctly grasped only when this its double character is grasped in its dialectical interactions – when, that is, those categories of mediation have been pinpointed which have made it into the necessary appearance of essence, the necessary phenomenal form of being. In other words, it must be comprehended not only as a product, but also at the same time as a moment of the process. Thus, finally, the historical and the philosophical approaches join forces as it becomes clear that each on its own is bound to remain stuck fast in immediacy, and it is shown, on the one hand, that true philosophical ‘deduction’ of concepts or categories can consist only in ‘creating’ them, in demonstrating their historical genesis, and, on the other, that history consists precisely in the constant transformation of those forms which earlier modes of thinking, undialectical and always stuck fast in the immediacy of their present as they were, regarded as supra-historical.

Of course, even Hegelian philosophy issues into the immediacy of its present. The dialectical process in which everything constantly dissolves for it, finally petrifies to yield a metaphysical, non-dialectical object. It thereby abolishes itself as a process. And yet – Hegel’s road to failure nonetheless provides the methodological basis for a new, critical (practical-critical, historico-critical) approach to the present as a moment of the historical process. It is an approach in which the duality of theory and practice is transcended: on the one hand, the present is grasped as concrete and immediate, but comprehended as a result of the historical process – i.e. genetically – by pinpointing all the mediations which underlie its immedicacy; on the other, however, this same process of mediation demonstrates that the present is a mere moment of the process which transcends it. For it is precisely this critical approach to the immediacy of the present which relates it to human activity: it is in the moments of the present which are pushing onwards beyond themselves that the guidelines and real scope of practical-critical activity, revolutionary practice, are given.

But only for those whose approach takes the same direction as these onward-driving tendencies, which transform the present not only into a retrogressive, but also into a progressive process. Such an approach was unattainable for Hegel himself. He was able to achieve the supreme conceptual account of bourgeois society, grasping its construction as a process, historically, dialectically.[57] And it was precisely Hegel’s real understanding of the antagonistic structure of bourgeois society – something also achieved by Ricardo – which drove him to transcend it conceptually. But he did so purely logically, purely methodologically. Since he lived in a less highly-developed capitalist society than did Ricardo, where remains of past epochs mingled much more obtrusively with the forms of existence of his social environment, and since, therefore, he saw bourgeois society much more as developing than as developed, he was able to approach the forms of existence created by it with fewer prejudices. His method was devised in order to achieve knowledge of the present; hence it contains within itself all the contradictions of the present in the form of methodological problems. It is driven by these contradictions beyond the present, beyond bourgeois society. But for the same reason it cannot concretize itself into a true critique of bourgeois society. Hegel either stops his critique it the present (reconciliation), or he directs the impulsive dialectical movement to a formal standstill in the purely contemplative regions of mediated social forms (absolute spirit). This deviation from the dialectical tendencies of the dialectic does not manifest itself merely at those points where it is obliged to become concrete and obvious, but it reacts on the design and structure of the whole method, making Hegel’s entire dialectics problematical. Thus, further progress, the attempt to transcend bourgeois society, cannot be achieved by simply continuing Hegelian dialectics – this was where Lassalle failed methodologically. Nor is progress possible by making the limitations of Hegelian thought into the basis of – system (Bruno Bauer). On the other hand, to engage in a one-sided polemic against these limitations and simply throw away all that has beer achieved within them, as Feuerbach did, is equally pointless. But the attempt least likely to succeed is the one made by Hess: namely, to amalgamate the two rigid opposites. That none of the radical Young Hegelians possessed anything remotely like Hegel’s knowledge of economics, let alone managed to cope with the economic developments of the intervening years, is symptomatic of their lack of understanding of what was crucial in his historical dialectics and their inability to realize which aspects of his problematics were fruitful and susceptible of development.

We have just described as symptomatic the lack of real economic knowledge and the inadequate acquaintance with continuing developments in economic theory manifested by Hess and the other radical Young Hegelians. It needs to be added that, although these deficiencies were of course a symptom and a consequence of the wrong way in which they posed the question, the fact that they posed the question wrongly stems itself from their position as members of the revolutionary intelligentsia. In other words, Hegel, the ideological champion of bourgeois development itself, is superior to them simply by virtue of his initial positions’ For in striving to transcend bourgeois development ideologically, they repudiate on principle the typical class science of the bourgeoisie, economics, in just the same unconditional manner as they repudiate the class science of the absolutist Junkers, theology.[59] Instead, they seek liberation by means of Feuerbach’s undialectical and unhistorical genesis: by unmasking the ‘alienated’, inhuman nature of these disciplines, to which the correct reaction can only be ‘understanding’ and the conscious discovery of ‘man’. [60] For Hegel, on the other hand, knowledge of economic phenomena constituted an integral element of his systematic orientation. But Hegel’s position was itself fraught with insurmountable limitations. In the first place, as the thinker who made knowledge of bourgeois society culminate in the state and drove philosophy beyond that realm and into the ‘pure’ regions of the absolute spirit, he also found that economics ‘is a credit to thought’ only ‘because it finds laws for a mass of accidents’.[61] As a result the economic elements become, in part merely unconsciously, systematic components of this thinking, and he is unable to retain and put to use the historico-social understanding he has already achieved. Secondly, however, his bourgeois attitude prevents him from exposing the limitations of economics even methodologically. Alongside a number of extremely acute observations,[62] some of them of much wider relevance than the economics he was working on, we find Hegel describing Say as a representative of economic science on a par with Smith and Ricardo, obviously not even noticing the difference in standard .[63]

This is the starting-point for the critique by Marx and Engels. The epoch-making essays in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher introduce an entirely new method of criticism into thought: criticism as the demonstration of the underlying social causes of a problem and of the social prerequisites of its solution. Only with this approach to the problem did it become possible to carry dialectics over the point of inertia in the Hegelian version. And in spite of all the apparent affinity with their contemporaries, Marx and Engels are working even at this early stage on completely different lines from those pursued by the radical Young Hegelians and the socialist supporters of Feuerbach, who, instead of following the Hegelian path to the end and leading thought about society and history out of the blind-alley into which Hegelian philosophy had stumbled, settled down and made themselves at home in this blind-alley, uttering praise or criticism as they did so. It is not possible at this point even to sketch the outlines of the change brought about in the dialectical method by Marx and Engels. The contrast was intended merely to demonstrate the methodological necessity which condemned the efforts of even such an honest thinker as Hess to abject failure from the very outset. It is often claimed that the Young Hegelians tried to resolve philosophically the philosophical contradictions of Hegel’s system and that they failed in their task. That is correct. But we must amplify this by showing how deeply the reasons for their failure are rooted in the nature of philosophy itself and to what extent the change wrought by Marx and Engels in fact created a theory of a completely new kind (albeit profoundly connected with the Hegelian dialectic): the critique of political economy.

The critique of political economy is based methodologically on the Hegelian theory of the dissolution of immediacy by pointing out the historical categories of mediation, by concrete, historical genesis. Marx and Engels are able to execute these changes because they look at bourgeois society from the standpoint of the proletariat, whence proceeds the dialectical unity of the immediate reality of capitalist categories and, at the same time, the resolution of the rigidity, their fetishistic character .[64] The obtuseness of bourgeois economics lies in the fact that it accepts all the phenomena of its underlying existence in the forms in which they are immediately encountered, and hence in its theory – at least in the work of the great representatives of classical economics – reflects, unconsciously, those contradictions which are really operating behind this immediacy. By contrast, the shallow vulgar economists and the committed apologists for capitalist society attempt – theoretically – to transcend these contradictions. The idealism of the – more or less conscious – proletarian critics of bourgeois economics is based on their inability to see through this dialectical double nature. The ‘true socialists’ in Germany were not the only ones to succumb to such idealism (although it manifested itself most blatantly in their work because of their Hegelian, superficially dialectical reasoning); others to do so were Proudhon, Bray and the English socialist critics of Ricardo. Writing about Hodgskin, whom he also characterizes as an idealist,[65] Marx points out: ‘Thus, in other words, Hodgskin asserts: The effects of a specific social form of labour are attributed to the thing, to the products of that labour; the relation itself is clothed by fantasy in the form of a thing. We have seen that this is a specific characteristic of labour based on the production of commodities, on exchange value, and that this quid pro quo can be seen in the commodity, in money (though Hodgskin fails to realize this) and, at a higher level, in capital. In capital the effects which things have as objective moments in the process of labour, are attributed to them, as if they owned them, as if they had become autonomous, personified beings vis-à-vis labour. They would cease to have these effects once they ceased to confront labour in this alienated form. The capitalist as capitalist is no more than the personification of capital, he stands opposed to labour as its creation, but endowed with a will and personality of his own. Hodgskin regards this as a purely subjective delusion behind which the deception and the interests of the exploiting classes lie concealed. He does not see how this manner of seeing the situation springs from the real facts of the matter, how the latter is not the expression of the former, but vice versa.’[66] Marx underlines the – relative, historical – justification[67] of this subjectivist standpoint of Hodgskin’s vis-à-vis the fetishism of the economy, but makes it explicitly clear that this inability to recognize the reality-factor in their fetishistic formations of capitalist production and in their theoretical reflections is based on the fact that Hodgskin takes the problems posed by the economy (and the reality which underlies them) as he finds them (for example, the distinction between fixed and circulating capital).[68] This, however, leads in turn to his overlooking the process-like nature of even the ‘simple phenomena of capitalist society (e.g. in the question of compound interest, where he fails to notice that ‘simple profit’ is in fact as much compounded as compound interest proper – that, in other words, it is not a question of a ‘thing’ in the midst of the process, but rather of ‘thingness’ as being simply a manifestation of the process).[69]

‘True socialism’ is just as obtuse in this decisive question as bourgeois economics. For example, when Marx, referring to James Mill, stresses that ‘he makes the unity of opposites into the immediate identity of those opposites’,[70] he is merely continuing his earlier polemic against the economics of ‘true socialism’, in which he poured scorn on Grim for his inept, vulgarly economistic notion of the ‘unity of production and consumption’.[71] ‘We can see how, for all his extravagant carryings-on, nothing emerges but an apologia for the existing conditions.’ And the harsh criticism in the Communist Manifesto is only the logical elaboration of this critique: in the case of the bourgeois economists, the economic structure of bourgeois society is simply accepted theoretically in its immediacy; as for the attitude of the ‘true socialists’ towards the revolutionary movements of the bourgeoisie, the concretely revolutionary kernel of the process of social development is misunderstood in abstract, utopian fashion – without in any way escaping from the realm of the immediate. These two points of view-seemingly opposed and actually contradictory are nonetheless closely related methodologically. They are necessary consequences of the idealistically basic notion of ‘true socialism’: the separation of theory and practice and hence of the theoretical and historical examination of social phenomena. Hegel’s enormous intellectual achievement consisted in making theory and history dialectically relative to each other, conceiving them in terms of a process of dialectical interpenetration. But even this attempt finally failed. Hegel was never able to advance to a real unity of theory and practice; instead he merely either saturated the logical arrangement of the categories with a wealth of historical material or rationalized history into a succession of sublimated and abstracted forms, alterations of structure, epochs, etc., which he raised to categories. Marx was the first to see through this false dilemma: he did not deduce the order of sequence of the categories from either their logical arrangement or from their historical succession, but he recognized that ‘their order of sequence is rather determined by the relation which they bear to one another in modern bourgeois society’.[72] In doing so, he not only provided dialectics with the real foundation that Hegel had sought in vain, setting it, as Engels put it, ‘right side up’, but at the same time he rescued the critique of political economy – which he had made the basis of dialectics – from the fetishistic petrifaction and abstract pettiness into which economics was bound to decline even in the hands of its greatest bourgeois representatives. The critique of political economy no longer stands as ‘one’ science alongside the others, nor is it merely ranked above the others as a ‘basic science’; but rather it comprises the entire world-history of the ‘forms of existence’ (the categories) of human society.[73]

With materialistic dialectics thus established, ‘true socialism’ lost its whole raison d’être, even from a subjective point of view.[74] And after serious inner struggles, Hess, who was an honest thinker and revolutionary, admitted as much – unconditionally, in fact, in a letter written in 1846 and quoted by Mehring. But he was unable to make the new standpoint truly his own. His essay published in 1847 in the Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung comes very close to Marx terminologically and indeed, attempts to apply the Marxist mode of thinking. But the title itself – The Consequences of the Proletarian Revolution – makes it clear that, even at the time when he most closely approached Marx, he still remained the old idealist and ethical Utopian. And in the work which he published immediately after the 1848 revolution – Jugement Dernier du Vieux Monde Social – he turns back once more to his old point of view. Talking about Marx and Engels he writes: ‘They understand perfectly the art of dissecting our society, analysing its economy and revealing its sickness. But they are too materialistic to possess that electrifying élan which inspires the people. After giving up idealistic philosophy, they threw themselves into the arms of materialistic economics. They have exchanged the nebulous standpoint of German philosophy for the narrow and petty standpoint of English economics.’[75]

But a real return to the old standpoint was of course no longer possible. The economic approach remained henceforth decisive in the development of Hess’s theory; but since his thinking continued to be basically idealistic, it functioned methodolcgically as a foreign body. Thus the pamphlet quoted above contains a number of moves in the direction of historical materialism, but always Hess stops half-way (sometimes even three-quarters of the way) and reverts to his old moralistic idealism, reinforcing it with all kinds of wildly mythological, cosmic or racial theories. For example, he writes: ‘Labour has always been organized for progress, the progress of labour has always increased and perfected the forces of production, and the great revolutions have always erupted for the purpose of raising the mode of production to the level of the forces of production and organizing labour or progress.’ Attacking Saint-Simon, he even formulates the economic mode of the coming socialist society in the following terms: ‘From -ach according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’ And yet the whole presentation of the problem remains obstinately ideological: the old rigid confrontation of necessity and freedom, immediately accepted world and equally immediately accepted ethical demand (which gees hand in hand with moral judgment of being), is unchanged – or, at most, assigned in a seemingly less rigid way to past and present. Thus, after admitting the objective necessity for the past of class antagonisms, he goes on to say: ‘Today, of course, enlightened people are not wrong to attribute the continued existence of this antagonism to the malevolence of a handful of privileged persons.’[76] The sudden and complete change which is supposed to occur in a revolutionary situation could hardly be formulated more ideologically.

Since Hess was unable either to maintain his old standpoint or to understand and apply the new one properly, his writings after he was ‘converted’ by Marx show him floundering helplessly to and fro between totally empty and abstract thought-constructs, fantastic conceptions of a philosophy of nature, justification of Zionism in terms of racial theories and the history of philosophy, etc., etc.[77] As an honest revolutionary he participated in the Lassallean workers’ movement and remained in the ranks of the struggling proletariat until his death. As a theoretician, however, he was destroyed by his contact with materialist dialectics. Hess’s strange fate, the almost total separation of theory from practice, the anonymous persistence of the wrong theoretical formulations even after he himself had – unconciously, at least – abandoned them, the possibility for a typically philosophically orientated revolutionary to act at decisive moments with complete disregard for his theories – all this can be explained only in terms of the under-development of the class antagonisms in Germany at that time. Whenever such thoughts have cropped up since then, they have always led with a certain inevitability from the camp of the proletariat into that of the bourgeoisie. Hess’s case – both his utter failure in the objective realm of theory despite all his talents and his sometimes correct approach to individual problems, and his personal loyalty to the cause of revolution – is one of the most illuminating paradigms of the intellectual situation in Germany at the time the theory of proletarian revolution was beginning to emerge. Both in his faults and in his virtues, Hess is the most typical representative of this transitional period; and it is as such – not, as some would have it, as the theoretical link between Hegel and Marx – that he will keep his place in the history of the working-class movement.


1. Theodor Zlocisti, Moses Hess, Der Vorkämpfer des Sozialismus and des Zionismus 1812-1875. Eine Biographie, 2nd completely revised edition, Berlin, Welt-Verlag, 1921. See also Moses Hess, Sozialistische Aufätze, ed. Theodor Zlocisti, Berlin, Welt-Verlag, 1921.

2. Nachlass, II, p. 348.

3. Cf. Mehring, Karl Marx, Leipzig, 1919, p. 120; see also Nachlass, II. p. 349.

4. Cf. my book Lenin. Studie über den Zusammenhang seiner Gedanken, Berlin-Vienna, Malik-Verlag, 1924 (English translation, Lenin. A Study on the Unity of his Thought, London, 1970).

5. Principally the essay ‘Über das Geldwesen’ (‘The nature of money’) in Püttmann’s Rheinische Jahrbücher zur gesellschaftlichen Reform, I (1845), in Zlocisti’s edition see pp. 158ff.

6. Nachlass, II, p. 247.

7. Prolegomena zur Historiosophie, Berlin, Veit &#amp; Co., 1838. Cf. Hess’s comments on it in the anonymously published work Die europäische Triarchie, Leipzig, Otto Wigand, 1841. The roughly contemporary attempts of the group associated with the Hallische Jahrbücher to historicize Hegel do not concern us directly here. Further information on this point cat be found in Gustav Mayer’s essay Die Anfänge des politischen Radikalismus im vormärzlichen Preussen (‘The beginnings of political radicalism in Prussia before 1848’), Zeitschrift für Politik, VI (1913), pp. 10-11.

8. Cf. Cieszkowski, op. cit., pp. 8-9. In Hess’s European Triarchy the issue is already seen in terms of the dissolution of Hegelian philosophy and indeed of philosophy in general. His preface begins with the statement: ‘German philosophy has carried out its mission, it has shown us the way to truth in its entirety. Our task now is to build bridges which will lead is back from heaven to earth. – Whatever remains in isolation, becomes untrue, even truth itself cannot escape this fate if it persists in its lofty seclusion. Just as reality is bad if not permeated by truth, so too truth is bad if it is not made real.’

9. Werke, Ausgabe Medicus (Meiner), vol. IV, pp. 11-12.

10. Cf. Cieszkowski, op. cit., p. 10.

11. ibid., pp. 50-51.

12. ibid., p. 36.

13. E.g. The European Triarchy, pp. 9, 37-8. It is well known that Lassalle too makes use of the category 1f ‘reconciliation’ (see his Science and the Workers, Werke, vol. II, p. 258). The methodological necessity for it has the same roots as in the case of Hess.

14. Proudhon or Fourier provide further instances of this. As for Cieszkowski, it is significant that his future, his era of activity coincides with the era of ‘the adequate formation of the life of the state’ (op. cit., p. 122). The analogy with Lassalle is striking: ‘The developed idea of the state is above all the idea of the estate of the workers.’

15. Cieszkowski, op. cit., p. 9.

16. For a discussion of this issue see my book History and Class Consciousness, particularly the chapter entitled ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’. On the similarity, Here very close, between Kant and the materialism of the eighteenth century, see Plekhanov, Beiträge zur Geschichte des Materialismus (Contributions to the history of materialism), Berlin, 1957, pp. 20ff., where becoming, origin, appears as the unknowable.

17. This is very clear in Feuerbach, who attacks the ‘monarchist tendency of time’ in Hegel, in the name of the ‘liberalism of space’. See Ludwig Feuerbach, Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Philosophie (A critique of Hegel’s Philosophy), Werke, Ausgabe Jodl, vol. II, pp. 160-1.

18. We may consider Condorcet and Sièyes in this light. The line of development of revolutionary bourgeois philosophies of right culminates in Lassalle’s System of Acquired Rights.

19. Encyclopaedia, Para. 161, Addition.

20. The European Triarchy, p. 14.

21. Critique of Practical Reason, (Phil. Bibliothek 38), Leipzig, 1915, pp. 121-3.

22. op. cit., p. 69.

23. E.g. The European Triarchy, pp. X48-9, where Spinoza is made to supersede Hegel.

24. Via Grün this Fichteanized Hegelianism also influenced Proudhon. Marx scathingly uncovers its contradictions in The Poverty of Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 127ff.

25. In his polemics with Rosenkranz, Lassalle, in contrast with Cieszkowski, treats mechanism, chemism and organism as general logical categories applicable to any epoch. This does indeed enable him to overcome Cieszkowski’s abstract scheme, but at the cost of referring the relation between logic and history back to the level of Hegel’s logic (rather than to an essentially more historical phenomenology or to the particular disciplines). Cf. Lassalle in his essay Die Hegelsche and die Rosenkranzsche Logik, Werke, vol. VI, pp. 50ff.

26. Marx describes this dualism, its causes and its cure in The Poverty of Philosophy, op. cit., pp. 140-1.

27. Die Philosophie der Tat (The Philosophy of Action’) in Herwegh’s Twenty-one Sheets from Switzerland, 1843, see Zlocisti, p. 47.

28. Sozialismus and Kommunismus, ibid., p. 72. His view does not alter even after reading Marx’s and Engels’s essays in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. Cf. the way he derives the origins of socialism ‘from without’, i.e. from the nature of the proletariat, and ‘from within’, i.e. from the theoretical necessity of science arising from Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which he actually cites in his essay Über die sozialistische Bewegung in Deutschland (‘The Socialist Movement in Germany’), in Grün’s Neue Anekdoten, 1845, see ibid., p. 106; see further the polemic against the idea of socialism as the problem of the Have-nots (Magenfrage), ibid., p. 129, and the introduction to the Gesellschaftsspiegel, quoted by Struve in Die neue Zeit, XV/II, 1896-7, pp. 269, etc.

29. Much of this is echoed by Lassalle, e.g. in the famous speech Die Wissenschaft and die Arbeiter (’science and the Workers’); which Lassalle describes as the ‘two opposite poles of society’ (Werke, vol. H, p. 248).

30. Cf. ‘Über die Not in unserer Gesellschaft and deren Abhilfe’ (‘Poverty in our society and how to alleviate it’) in Püttmanns Bürgerbuch, 1845, in Zlocisti, p. 138; and also ‘Über das Geldwesen’ in Zlocisti, p. 164, etc.

31. Zlocisti, pp. 70-71.

32. ibid., p. 43.

33. ‘Poverty in our society and how to alleviate it’, p. 149.

34. Idealistic in the sense in which for instance Plekhanov describes the view of history held by the eighteenth-century materialists as idealistic.

35. Briefwechsel, vol. I, p. 7. Incidentally, it is worth remarking that the necessary connection between to ‘idea’ and ‘egoistic interest’ had already been noticed by Hegel, albeit in somewhat mythologized form, and was dropped only by his successors; cf. the role of the ‘passions’ in his philosophy of history or his treatment of the ‘useful’ in the Phenomenology. The healthy side of Stirner which Engels acknowledges in this letter – while emphasizing Stirner’s similarity to Bentham – is the likewise mythologizing attachment to the (bourgeois) theory of bourgeois society.

36. The Last Philosophers (1845), in Zlocisti, p. 192.

37. In Grün’s Neue Anekdoten (1845), in Zlocisti, pp. 115-16.

38. ibid., p. 114.

39. Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Philosophie, op. cit., p. 168.

40. Hess consistently rejects the philosophy of self-consciousness, but often comes closer to it than he himself realizes. Thus in establishing the methodological foundations of the Philosophy of Action, he writes: ‘Change, the different aspects of life, cannot be understood as a change in the law of activity, as objectively different life, but only as a difference of self-consciousness. Reflection, which turns everything upside down, asserts the opposite: “Objective life has different aspects, the ego is always the same” ‘ (ibid., p. 39). Hess’s Kantian and Fichtean idealism is revealed by the fact that he can see the dilemma here, but does not consider, even as a methodological possibility, that these two factors could enter into a process of dialectical interaction, mutually modifying each other.

41. Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, Werke, ed. Jodl, vol. II, p. 301. I have quoted only the passage relating to the problem of immediacy and mediation. Feuerbach’s equation of immediacy and sensuousness explains his great impact on Hess, but is of no interest here since we are concerned with the distinction between dialectical and undialectical thought, not between idealism and materialism. The question only becomes crucial with Marx since the problem of materialism forms the demarcation line between himself and Hegel, just as here the problem of dialectics divides him from Feuerbach. The relations between the latter and Marx (and for that matter between Marx and Hegel) have not been clarified either theoretically or historically. In my view Mehring has overestimated Feuerbach’s influence. He can appeal to a number of individual comments by Marx, but these are far from sufficient to prove that the objective influence was really as great as the impression Feuerbach made on him. Thus Hammacher, for instance, cites a number of passages from The Holy Family in support of his contention that for a time at least Marx, like the ‘true socialists’, subscribed to Feuerbach’s ethics of love. But on closer inspection, these very passages seem to prove the opposite. It seems to me that at the time when the young Marx was attempting to fight his way out of the conceptual jungle of Young Hegelianism and back to reality, Feuerbach’s materialism – despite profound disagreements – must have been congenial to him for the same sort of reasons as made Hegel at the period of his great reckoning with Kant and Fichte take to the naturalist philosophers of law (above all, Hobbes) whom he treated much more sympathetically than ever before and much more gently than Kant or Fichte. Marx very soon saw through Feuerbach quite clearly. And in later years the sections of The Holy Family where he praised Feuerbach struck him as ‘very humorous’ although he did not repudiate the work in its entirety (see his letter to Engels of 24 April 1867). (For Mehring’s views on the influence of Feuerbach on Marx, see Karl Marx: The Story of his Life, London, 1951, PP. 52ff. On Hammacher, see Emil Hammacher, Das philosophisch-ökonomische System des Marxismus, p. 78 – ed.)

42. Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, op. cit., p. 286. The identity of being and essence, together with the very characteristic reservation, is the logical formulation of the same utopianism that we found in Hess’s identity of work and enjoyment. The similarity is by no means fortuitous. On the contrary, it arises inevitably when a thinker attempts to resolve a socially given antinomy in purely conceptual terms. Interestingly enough (though we cannot probe the matter further here) it turns out that both utopians and apologists have to face the same logical consequences. Thus vulgar economists are forced to posit an identity between consumption and production (an identity which, as we shall demonstrate, will be taken over by Grün and Hess); thus too Hegel is reduced to a similarly utopian solution to such a fundamental ideological fact of bourgeois society as the separation of legality and morality, and so on. The fact that on this point Kant and Fichte uphold a realistic position vis-à-vis Hegel – which admittedly amounts to no more than the insistence that it is a fundamental fact of the contemporary world – became of great importance for the later contribution of Fichte to the break-up of Hegelianism. A detailed discussion of the relations between Fichte and Hegel would take us too far from our theme.

43. op. cit., pp. 169-71.

44. The turn taken by the argument here shows the extent to which Feuerbach understands and interprets Hegel in a Young Hegelian and Fichtean sense.

45. Vorläufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie (‘Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy’), Werke, ed. Jodl, vol. II, p. 227.

46. The furthest he will go is to ascribe to it a (negatively assessed) mythological ability to bring about real changes in man. For example, ‘Hegelian philosophy has alienated man from himself(Preliminary Theses, ibid., p. 227).

47. The fact that this vital work has not yet been published represents a major obstacle to the proper understanding of this period. It is to be hoped that an edition – including a German version – will shortly be made available through the agency of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. My quotation comes from the excerpt printed by Gustav Mayer in Friedrich Engels, vol. I, Berlin, 1920, p. 247. (The precise wording of this quotation is as follows: ‘He does not see how the sensuous world around him is not a thing given direct from all eternity, remaining ever the same, but the product of industry and of the state of society; and indeed, in the sense that it is an historical product, the result of the activity of a whole succession of generations, each standing on the shoulders of the preceding one, developing its industry and its intercourse, modifying its social system according to the changed needs’ [The German Ideology, Moscow, 1968, P. 57] – ed.)

48. The Nature of Money, in Zlocisti, p. 167. Cf. the similar statement in The Philosophy of Action, ibid., pp. 58ff. Cf. the seemingly related passage in The Jewish Question, ‘Money is the alienated essence of his labour and life’ (Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, trans. and ed. by L. D. Easton and K. H. Guddat, New York, 1967, p. 246). Although this last statement suffers from the abstract immediacy of the category of ‘labour’, it already exhibits a strong tendency towards concretization and true dialectics. By contrast, the thought of the young Lassalle moves entirely along these lines (cf. Lassalle’s letters to Arnold Mendelssohn, Alexander Oppenheim and Albert Lehfeldt, middle of September 1845, see his posthumous writings, ed. G. Mayer, vol. I, p. 216).

49. ‘Poverty in our society’, etc., in Zlocisti, p. 153; similar statements can be found in The Nature of Money, ibid., pp. 179ff. The proximity to Proudhon is perfectly plain here.

50. Hegel, Encyclopedia, para. 24]. The question cannot be treated here, beyond remarking that Engels in particular never wholly abandoned Hegel’s philosophy of nature. In a letter to F. A. Lange on 29 March 1865 (Neue Zeit, XXVIII/I, p. 186) as well as in another to Marx on 21 September 1874, he describes the second part of the Logic, the theory of essence, as its true centre. And in my view it is indeed the case that the theory of essence does contain the really seminal part of the Hegelian dialectic, that part which decisively influenced not only Engel’s view of nature, but also the historical dialectics of Marx and Engels, their analysis of the structure of capitalist society.

51. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie, London, 1964, pp. 590-98.

52. ibid., p. 595.

53. ibid., p. 597.

54. ibid., p. 509.

55. On this point see ibid., p. 596.

56. Hegel, Encyclopedia, para. 112. (The inherent difficulty of this passage is aggravated by Hegel’s pun on the word ‘Schein’, which can have both a negative and a positive force: (1) mere appearance, as opposed to being or essence; (2) that which is manifest shines, is reflected light – ed.)

57. It is in general too little appreciated that Hegel’s understanding of economics always stood at the highest theoretical level available to him historically. Unfortunately, the relations between his thought and economic developments have been largely neglected. Extensive material for badly needed investigation into this question can be found in F. Rosenzweig, Hegel and der Staat, Munich and Berlin, 1920, vol. 1, pp. 131-2, vol. II, pp. 120ff, which provides references to earlier literature, e.g. Rosenkranz’s observations on Hegel’s early commentary on Steuart.

58. Hegel’s various studies of bourgeois society show that he increasingly pressed forward in this direction. Thus Rosenzweig rightly points out (op. cit., vol. II, p. 120) that the definition of ‘Estate’ (Stand) becomes more and more ‘economic’ as time goes on. In the Philosophy of Right the ethics appropriate to an Estate has become no more than the product, rather than the precondition of an Estate, as it had been in his youth.

59. Hess establishes a parallel between the two in The Nature of Money, in Zlocisti, 167.

60. ibid., p. 163.

61. The Philosophy of Right, Para. 189, Addition.

62. ‘It hence becomes apparent that despite an excess of wealth civil society is not rich enough, i.e. its own resources are insufficient to check excessive poverty and the creation of a penurious rabble’ (ibid., para. 245).

63. ibid., para. 189.

64. I have discussed this issue in detail in my essay ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’, in History and Class Consciousness, pp. 83ff

65. Theories of Surplus Value in Werke, vol. 26, part 3, p. 263.

66. ibid., p. 290.

67. ibid., pp. 263-4. In general the whole tone of this polemic differs from his attacks on the Young Hegelians. This is not simply due to the fact that it was written after he had achieved self-understanding and not before, but much more to the circumstance that the pamphleteer Hodgskin among others had really advanced a stage beyond Ricardo and hence was an objective precursor of Marx, whereas Hess and Co. cannot be regarded as links between Hegel and Marx.

68. ibid., p. 263.

69. ibid., p. 300.

70. ibid., p. 84.

71. Cf. his critique of Grin’s History of Socialism in Die Neue Zeit, XVIII/I (1890-1900), pp. 138-9 (see The German Ideology, ibid., pp. 580ff: – ed.). This view can be found in Hess. e.g. in his essay, ‘Poverty in our society’, etc. in Zlocisti, p. 153. On the alleged dialectics of these categories see the Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy, pp. xx-xxxiv.

72. Critique of Political Economy, p. XLIV. The deduction of consciousness from social existence (rather than the other way round), a deduction which the ‘true socialists’ could never discover, but which they did not seek with any seriousness, follows necessarily from the dialectical conception of the categories as ‘forms of being, determinations of existence’ (ibid., p. XLIII).

73. This is perfectly clear from the scheme set out by Marx in the Introduction, ibid., pp. XLV-XLVI.

74. Marx acknowledges that this is true of Hess’s early period. Cf. the critique of Grün, The German Ideology, p. 552.

75. F. Melly, Geneva, 1851. Extracts have appeared in Bernstein’s Dokumente des Sozialismus, vol. I, p. 540.

76. op. cit., PP. 547, 549 and 545.

77. For Hess’s development see Zlocisti’s industrious, but unprincipled, confused biography, heavily biased in Hess’s favour.