MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms
Eschatology refers to the ideas found in a wide variety of religions and other ideologies about “doomsday,” a “Last Judgment,” the end of the world, or whatever. Eschatology provides an interpretation of the present reality from the standpoint that it is a just preparation for the coming “doomsday.” Thus for Christians, our sufferings and actions today will determine our fate at the Day of Judgment.
Some anti-communists describe Marxism as an “eschatology” in that the present time is interpreted in relation to the ultimate destiny of the working class to take power, socialise ownership of the means of production and institute a socialist society. Thus, present-day politics would be interpreted solely in relation to the future achievement of socialism and could be used to justify otherwise unjustifiable violence or even indifference towards the suffering of the working class.
While such a criticism can legitimately be made against vulgar interpretations of Marx’s ideas, Marxism is fundamentally a critique of existing conditions, not an attempt to force the world to conform to some predetermined ideal, far less a fatalistic theory of the inevitability of socialism. For instance, Marx says in The German Ideology:
“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
The significance or meaning of something.
Historical development: Whereas medieval philosophers had seen Essence as some hidden quality of things which was attainable only by the action of Reason or Faith, Kant reduced this idea to the “Thing-in-Itself”, stripped of all sensible properties. Hegel solved the age-old problem of Essence by understanding Essence as a contradictory process of development, what he called the “genesis of the Notion”.[Hegel, Shorter Logic]
Hegelian definition: Whereas in Being, things just come into being and pass away, the form of development in Essence is the “struggle of opposites”.[Hegel, Shorter Logic]
The development of essence according to Hegel goes through three phases: "reflection" in which differences show themselves as opposition and build up to contradictions; Appearance, which is the struggle of Form and Content, with each successive form revealing a deeper content; and Actuality, the reciprocal action of Cause and Effect.
The concept of Essence is very central to Hegel's Logic, being the second of the three books of the Logic, and Essence was a central target of his critics who claimed that philosophy should be based on Being not Essence (see Existentialism). It is also central to Marxism which, contrary to positivism and empiricism, refuses to accept that the truth of things is given immediately to the senses.
Further Reading: definition in Science of Logic, the definition of Objective Logic, Hegel on the distinction between Being and Essence and the section in Hegel's Outline of Logic. See also the essays on Essence in Natural and Social Developments, Essence - Simple Essence (Reflection) - Appearance - Actuality and Essence.
“Essentialism” is an ambiguous word, like the term “Essence” from which it is derived, generally depending on whether the Platonic/Aristotlean or Hegelian genealogy is referred to. The word was introduced in modern times by Karl Popper in his 1945 work The Open Society. Essentialism is the assertion that there exists some meaning behind what is immediate given to sensuous perception (phenomenon). Popper took the meaning of ‘essence’ from the Aristotlean genealogy but held that meaning was constructed by institutions and social practices, and it was the business of science to construct definitions reflecting these objectively existing ‘essences’.
Generally-speaking, “essentialism” is used with a negative connotation in contrast to subjectivist constructivism in feminist or postmodern social theory. That is to say, “essentialism” is taken to mean that there is an essential meaning of something that is not socially constructed (for example, blacks or women are ‘essentially’ different from whites and men), in contrast to constructivism which is taken to mean that meaning is constructed by the subject in practical or critical activity (and thus gender or ‘race’ differences are socially constructed). “Essentialism” can be used in the same derogatory sense in reference to the Marxist understanding of social class as underlying or being the “essence” of a political or ideological orientation. From this standpoint, ideology is ideology and class is class, fullstop. Broadly speaking the term has the same meaning as “metaphysics” had for positivism.
For Marxism, constructivism and essentialism are not mutually exclusive, since the meaning of essence is taken from the Hegelian genealogy rather than the subjective idealist current and is understood as social and historical, critical activity. Thus, all social and cognitive processes do have a meaning which is indeed “constructed” by the subject, but the subject is a social subject, rather than an individual, whose activity is socially and historically conditioned. In line with the Hegelian genealogy of philosophical terms in Marxism, the “essence” which is revealed by social practice is the dialectical unfolding of the thing through successively deeper and deeper meanings. Essentialism then is concerned not with some final essence which can never be revealed, but rather is concerned with the process of revealing ever deeper meanings.
“Essentialism” is often taken to mean the rejection of the possibility of different, opposed meanings being attached to a thing. However, for Marxism such opposing, contradictory meanings are the very nature of essential development.
Political life in feudal society was based on the representation of orders or classes of the community known as ‘estates’. An estate differed from a class because an estate subsumed the exploited within a sector of the life of a society under the representation of their exploiters.
Typically there were three estates, broadly speaking the Landed Aristocracy, the Church and the Bourgeoisie, though the precise definition of each estate differed from nation to nation.
In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right¸ citizens are represented in the state, not via universal suffrage, but as members of ‘estates’ (Stände). There are, on Hegel’s view, three estates: (i) the hereditary landed gentry, who sit as individuals in an upper house, and (ii) the business class and (iii) the ‘universal’ class, i.e., the bureaucracy as well as teachers, etc. The second and third estates were further organised via professional associations called ‘corporations’ through which people elected representatives to sit in a lower house.
In the French Revolution the King originally called together the Estates General, i.e. the representatives of all the Estates. The first revolutionary act was when the Third Estate declared itself to be the representative of the French people and a section of the Second Estate and a few members of the First Estate joined them to form the Revolutionary Convention.
In Russia after the 1905 Revolution the Tsar conceded a ‘representative’ parliamentary body called the Duma. The elections were carried out according to estates, but the Third Estate of the period of the French Revolution had been broken up into three parts, the bourgeoisie and urban petty bourgeoisie elected their representatives separately from the workers (who elected their representatives in the factories) and the peasantry who elected their representatives in village assemblies, with unequal voting power. The aristocracy was guaranteed a majority in this Duma and it was only supposed to be a consultative body that the Tsar could ignore if he wanted to.
Trotsky uses the term ‘estate monarchy’ to refer to a monarchy whose power is based on such a political structure in contrast to a bourgeois monarchy, whether ruling or not, where the dominant interest was that of the bourgeoisie, whether this was formally constitutionally recognised or not.