MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




A political position that maintains a conservative response to change, including threats to social institutions and technological advances. Reaction is the reciprocal action to revolutionary movement. Reactionaries clamp down on the differences of the emerging productive forces in society, and attempt to remove those differences, silence them, or segregate them in order to keep the stability of the established order.

Examples of the political position of reactionaries can be seen throughout history: during the US Revolutionary War, the reactionaries were the ruling British aristocracy, who sought to maintain their feudal government over their American colonies, while the US revolutionaries sought to establish a government to represent the interests of capitalist values and practices. Hundreds of years later in Russia, the tables would turn and capitalists became reactionary while the Socialists are revolutionary.

See Also: Revolutionary and Reformist



A term used in connection with Art and politics, generally meaning having regard to the immediately given state of affairs, in contrast to focus on principles or ideas which may not be apparent (i.e. internal contradictions) or existing within the given reality.

Realisation (of Value)

Realisation is the transformation of something from an ideal or potential form to an actual or material form. Realisation of value is the conversion of a profit or payment in the form of a surplus product or credit into money form.

Commodity production is based on the production of a product which the producer themself does not need, on the basis that their own need can be met by exchange or sale of the surplus product. In particular capitalist production can only complete the cycle of capitalist reproduction when the labour power is used, the product sold and paid for.

The beginnings of crisis often lie not so much in the failure to produce a surplus as in the failure to realise surplus production.



In philosophical terminology ‘Reality’ does not indicate materiality as opposed to thought – mental phenomena are as real as material things, but rather is to do with something moving from possibility to actuality. In dialectics, Reality is a synonym for Actuality.

See also: See Possibility & Reality; Further Reading: Hegel's comments on this in the Introduction.



Analysing and combining ideas to form knowledge. Reason is an aspect of cognition. For Marxists, Reason, or rationality, is the objective form of processes of social action.

Philosophers commonly debate: is the knowledge reasoning creates independent of the material world, or derivative from it?

Reason is often contrasted with Experience (as in the dispute between Rationalism and Empiricism) and with Intellect, which in this context refers to the aspect of cognition in which concepts remain stable and provide the basis for interpretation of experience.

In Hegel's system, Reason is the unity of Consciousness-as-such and Self-Conciousness (and so negates itself as the Theoretical Spirit and the Practical Spirit) and becomes Objective Spirit – all the phenomena of history, politics, culture and so on – all, according to Hegel, the work of Reason.

In Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach:

The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.

Thus Marx criticised the materialists for under-rating the role of Reason, and in this sense supports the Rationalists against the Empiricists; but, he says, the idealists (i.e. Hegel), who have understood the significance of Reason (the active side), do not know real, sensuous activity as such, and it is this which is for Marx the content of Reason. Reason is the objectively necessary content of our practical activity which we have internalised in a mental, subjective form.

This concept of Reason is reflected in Marx and Engels’ understanding of history. For example Engels quotes approvingly (in the End of Classical German Philosophy), Hegel's aphorism “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real (Source)” and goes on to explain: “ That which is necessary, however, proves itself in the last resort to be also rational; and, ... according to Hegel, reality is, however, in no way an attribute predictable of any given state of affairs”. That is, Reason is our capacity not only to know the passing impressions we get from the world, but also to know its necessity.

See Instrumental and Communicative Reason.



In Hegel's Logic, Reciprocity is the completion of the division of Actuality which proves to be the Notion. Reciprocity is the grasping of the thing at the point where cause and effect, action and reaction, possibility and necessity have completely merged with one another.

Reciprocity is sometimes called “interaction”, the conception of a complex system as a network of interacting causes and effects, but yet lacking a “notion” or concept of the underlying unifying system to “make sense” of these interactions.

Further Reading: Hegel on Reciprocity in the Science of Logic and the Shorter Logic and Reciprocity and the Notion and Plekhanov.


The granting of one subject that it should act in relation to another as a moral equal, i.e., as a subject rather than as an object.

The term originates in Scottish law, referring to the resumption of land from a vassal by a feudal superior, and later as the knowledge of something as true and valid and then other such derivative usages. In the sixteenth century, “recognition” came to mean the acknowledgment by a subject of their ruler. Thus initially, “recognition” referred to the acceptance of the legal coverture of a social superior.

In the early nineteenth century it came to be used in international law to refer to the explicit acknowledgment of the independence of a state by another state.

Johann Fichte introduced the term to philosophy in his Foundations of Natural Right in 1796. Fichte criticised Kant’s attempt to deduce moral agency by purely logical means, claiming that a person could only come to know themselves as a free agent when treated as such by another person.

In Hegel’s early writings (System of Ethical Life) Recognition [Anerkennens] was used to refer to the act in which subjects of modern society extend to each other rights to property and integrity of their own body, etc., which allow modern society to exist without constant warfare. Hegel’s usage of the term later declined, though the same idea is retained in the 1821 Philosophy of Right.

However, in The Phenomenology, Hegel devoted the section known as the “Master-Slave Dialectic” to outlining the stage in the development of subjectivity following the unmediated contact between two isolated subjects, in which each demands recognition from the other, but what results is not mutual recognition, but the enslavement of one subject by the other. Modern society [i.e., for Hegel “Reason”] only results from the process in which the enslaved subject overcomes a “Stoic acceptance” of their subjugation through labour, within the society of the dominant subject, and establishes the legal rights which constitute modern society, in contrast to the hierarchical relations of subordination characteristic of traditional society.

The concept of recognition did not figure largely for a century after Hegel’s death, during which the dominant paradigm of politics was class struggle. However, in 1937, Alexandre Kojève gave a series of lectures in which he built a new philosophical position exclusively around Hegel’s “master-slave dialectic.” After World War Two, this notion was picked up by French intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, and through them, the national liberation movements, especially the Algerian liberation struggle, and through Simone de Beauvoir, was introduced into the Women’s Liberation Movement. Recognition thereby became the key concept for the whole series of cultural and political struggles sometimes referred to as the “new social movements,” in contrast to notions of class struggle and economic justice. In a sense then, the notion of Recognition was extended from its meaning as recognition of the independence a new state, to that of all emergent subjectivities — blacks, women, gays, etc..

Subsequently, a re-examination of workers’ struggles shows that “recognition” — the demand that their labour be given just and appropriate recognition in terms of wages and workers’ legal and social rights — was all along a motivating force in the struggle of workers. However, these demands for economic justice were generally objectified, in the capitalist countries, by means of welfare systems and systems of progressive taxation, which relied on a paradigm of distributive justice, which eclipsed the notion of recognition, implicit in struggles against economic exploitation.

At the beginning of the new millennium, Recognition is being transcended by new demands for democracy, for an equal voice in the affairs of society. This may be seen as a further development of the notion of Recognition, or it may be seen as a new paradigm of justice in which it is no longer simply enough that a subject’s voice shall be heard (as in multiculturalism and “consultation”), but rather that one’s voice must be a real and equal force in social decision-making.


Red Tape

Derived from the red, cloth tape used to bind bundles of legal documents in England, which came to be used to refer to bureaucratic complexity and obstruction in the nineteenth century.

See Lenin's speech to the Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P., 16 March 1922, for an amusing and horrifying exposé of red tape in the young Soviet republic and its causes.

In January 2002, an Australian politician coined the term “green tape” to refer the environmental regulations, in this case, blamed for preventing clearing of vegetation in national parks that summer, and the devastating bush-fires which resulted.



In inorganic nature, reflection is the process of things reproducing, under the influence of other things, as traces or imprints of the things exercising that influence. In organic nature, reflection is an active process, such as in the adaptation of animals to their environment or the irritability of plants and other organisms. The idea of reflection for the materialist is that mental images correspond with the material world as the source of those images. For dialectics, Reflection refers specifically to the ‘recognition’ of quantities and qualities in terms of notions which have already been acquired through past experience and thought.

Reflection refers especially to the relation between phenomena and their Essence.

Further Reading: Hegel in the Shorter Logic, Reflection in Nature and Society, Reflection and Reflection.



Reformism is the current in the workers' movement which aims to bring about change, in particular to advance the interests of the oppressed people, without threatening the state and the vital class interests of the ruling class, but by the gradual accumulation of small changes. Trade and Labour unions are examples of reformist organisations in favor of improving the conditions of the working class without challenging the dominance of the capitalist system itself.

Reformists are politically between revolutionaries and reactionaries; they are revolutionary in the sense that they want to change laws and institutions to adhere to emerging social-relations. They are reactionary in the sense that they want to maintain the present social system, keeping intact the present class structure, and maintaining their own power within that structure.

Most Socialists and Communists (with the exception of ultra-leftists), while not reformist, involve themselves with reforms as one transitionary form of the struggle for the revolutionary emancipation of the working class. One example of this is involvement with labour unions, to advance revolutionary aims (whether through increased working class organization, international workers solidarity, education, etc.), from which reforms will inevitably be a by-product. Revolution only comes about when the possibility for reforms is exhausted, but revolution is only possible if the working class is sufficiently well-organised and educated to overthrow the bourgeois and take intellectual and practical leadership of the whole of society.

See Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), Jean Jaurès (1859-1914), Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925) and Bruno Rizzi (1901-1977).

See Also: Reactionary and Revolutionary.



Georg Lukács uses the concept of reification (from the Latin ‘res facere’, literally ‘to make a thing’) to describe that people’s ‘own activity, [their] own labour becomes something objective and independent of [them]’ (from his ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’, sec. I.1). For him, this phenomenon has two sides: (1) people fail to see that certain social structures, ‘relation[s] between people’ (ibid.), are established and sustained only by their own actions (classical social constructionism focuses on this side); (2) thereby the bond between the product and the producer is broken, the social relations that are embodied into the product by virtue of the process of production now appear as if they were natural properties, in other words, something abstract, the implicit assumptions on which these relations are based, now appears as concrete (the older Frankfurt School focuses on this side). Lukács holds reification to be caused by commodity fetishism, a social pathology described by Marx in the Capital (vol. 1, sec. 1.4): Because commodities are not produced in order to serve a purpose, but to be exchanged on the market, there is no foreseeable connection between needs to be satisfied and the work done by an individual; put another way, the social division of labour is not subject to intentional deliberation, but rather seems to always already precede any individual act of work. Consequently, people regard the way in which this division is organised, by exchange, as a ‘self-evident necessity imposed by Nature’ (ibid.) and therefore treat exchange value as if it was a natural property, much like colour; that is, as if it (1) existed independently of their actions and (2) was something concrete, while, in truth, it’s neither.

Marx’ concept of commodity fetishism is commonly conjectured to further his earlier reflections on alienation (a Hegelian concept the young Marx adopts from the Left Hegelians), which also describes how people fail to recognise the products of their own labour as such. Presuming that this is a common theme in the thought of Hegel, the young as well as the late Marx, and Lukács (which is disputed by some, most notably Althusser; see below), the concept of alienation is important to reification as well, so that a short discussion seems in order. Hegel (at least on Marx’ account, cf. his ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General’) regards alienation as essential to cognition, since objects are established as such only because of alienation: (1) the consciousness forms an abstraction of what is to be cognised and thereby a norm according to which what appears in perception can be evaluated to be of this or that kind, (2) but is unaware that this abstraction originates in its own thought, to the effect that the resulting norm appears to be inherent to the object cognised and the consciousness hence alienated from the object. But that object did not exist prior to being cognised, the two steps of alienation correspond to the two criteria for being an object: (1) to be one, in terms of being countable (different sensuous impressions are grouped into units by comparing them to the aforementioned norm); (2) to appear as external to the consciousness (the norm appears to be itself objective). Put simply, Hegel regards alienation as part of the cognitive process and as such as more fundamental than objectivity. (Cf. his System of Ethical Life, chap. 1; Phenomenology of Mind, chap. 2.) Marx, by contrast, holds that there are norms that are more fundamental than the cognitive process and hence also more fundamental than alienation: where Hegel tries to explain contradictions as immanent to cognition, Marx holds them to flow – at least in part – from differences between the norms developed by virtue of the cognitive process and the objective norms that are that process’ condition of possibility; where Hegel analyses this process – thought, Marx analyses the process of bridging the gap between those two kinds of norms – work (cf. ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General’; Capital, vol. 1, chap. 1). Marx and Lukács are therefore able to criticise certain objects to have been reified (i.e., to have been ‘made into a thing’ illegitimately, so to speak), for being at odds with norms that are more fundamental than those established by cognition itself. Because the contradiction inherent to reification, between norms contingent on and relatively independent of cognition, cannot – as in Hegel – be understood as immanent to the cognitive process itself, but is – by Marx and Lukács – understood to be related to work, reification must be explained as effect by the way in which work, that is, the process of production, is organised; in other words, by the fetishism of commodities.

With these similarities in mind, Louis Althusser – in ‘Marxism and Humanism’ (note 7) – accuses the theory of reification to be a mere ‘projection of the theory of alienation found in [Marx’] early texts, particularly the 1844 Manuscripts, on to the theory of “fetishism” in Capital.’ Althusser considers this problematic, since something can only be described as alienated by being compared to some kind of more essential, unalienated state of affairs – and where should such a state be found? Speaking of alienation, or reification, hence presupposes some kind of human essence, which, however, seems to be an ahistorical and idealistic presumption. Correspondingly, Jürgen Habermas argues that criticising the reification of people presupposes an idealistic notion of subjectivity, because, put simply, only a subject that exists prior and independently of the objective world could be wronged by being made into a thing, that is, by being reified (cf. his Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1, chap. 4). Whether these criticisms hold has been the subject of much debate. Above all, they challenge not only the neo-Marxist proposition that bourgeois society is unable to live up to its own political ambitions – freedom and equality for all – because of subjecting workers to reification (cf. Lukács, ‘Class Consciousness’; ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’), but also the concept of class struggle, which is, among others, based on the epistemological claim that the proletariat is more able than the bourgeoisie to see through the illusions caused by reification (cf. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, chap. 1; vol. 3, chap. 1, 2, 48, 49; ‘Results of the Direct Production Process’, 466; Lukács, op. cit.). Notable replies to these critiques include Christoph Demmerling’s ‘Language and Reification’ (1996) and Axel Honneth’s Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea (2008).

Further Reading: Demmerling’s ‘Language and Reification’ is hosted by the Sammelpunkt repository and Honneth’s lecture ‘Reification: A Recognition-Theoretical View’ (2005), on which his later book is based, by the Tanner Lectures of the University of Utah. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on ‘Naturalistic Approaches to Social Construction’ includes a brief discussion of social constructionism. For those fluent in German, Martin Birkner’s ‘Der schmale Grat’ (2001), published in the Grundrisse, explores the differences between classical (Hegelian) and structural (Althusserian) readings of Marx. See also this encyclopaedia’s entry on Althusser’s view on alienation.

Odin Kroeger

See also: Objectification and Objectivism.


Relations of Production

The objective material relations that exist in any society independently of human consciousness, formed between all people in the process of social production, exchange, and distribution of material wealth.

Production is not possible without relations of production – humans cannot produce outside of a social structure, whether a nation or a family – relations of production exist for all producers. The basis of the relations of production is ownership of the means of production. When the means of production become public property, then all people are able to exercise their freedom in relation to the productive forces through the social and political structures of society. To the extent that people enjoy equal rights they are thus able exercise these rights freely in the real development of society, unhindered by the barriers of private property. With the existance of private property, competition and exploitation hinder the real freedom of humans, where only a handful have ownership of the means of production. Throughout history social property appeared in the form of the property of the clan and the tribe (primitive communism), public or state property (socialism), cooperative and community property (communism), etc. – while private ownership appears in history through: slave property, feudal property, and capitalist property. From all forms of ownership correspond lesser or greater types of exploitation of human by human.



Having meaning or measurement only in relation to something else. Opposed to Absolute which denotes permanence and independence. Relativity is based on the premise that all things are interconnected and constantly changing.

See also: Absolute and Relative
Further Reading: Einstein's Relativity; Hegel's “in Being everything is immediate, in Essence everything is relative”.



Term used to characterise philosophical trends which put extreme emphasis on the relativity of knowledge, to the point of rejecting any objective basis for knowledge or any sense in which one statement could be any ‘more true’ than another.

See also: Absolute & Relative.



"The basis of religious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears, the halo of which is religion."

Karl Marx
Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law

See Also: God


Rent is the revenue extracted by landowners for use of their property. Since only labour-power creates new value, rent represents a claim to a proportion of the social surplus.

For Marxists, the various revenues accruing the various sections of the capitalist class and their hangers-on, such as rent, interest, licences, as well as charges accruing to government, such as tax, land-rates and so on, are all simply means of distributing the surplus-value which is extracted from the working class in the process of production.

Land, like Nature as a whole, is part of the means of production and the original source of all wealth. However, value, that is, exchange-value, is only added by human labour-power. Thus the landlord who allows her property to be used in the process of production in exchange for rent, is simply laying claim to a share of the surplus produced by the workers.

Further, virgin soil – Nature untouched by human labour – has no value and cannot be productive in the economic sense. For example, no landlord will succeed in collecting rent for a plot of land in some far away place that is inaccessible to human beings. Once a road is cut into it, she can rent it. But still it would not be worth much. If the plot of land is provided with telephone, gas, electricity, transport services, etc., and surrounded by a salubrious neighbourhood, then magically the bit of soil becomes a rentable source of revenue. Thus, what the landlord owns is not really nature as such at all, but rather the value that has been added to the land by human labour.

See Capital, Volume III, Chapter 37.




A movement attempting to "revive" sagging religious interest in the masses; Moody and Sankey were two American practitioners.



Those who amplify the differences and conflicts caused by technological advances in society. Revolutionaries provoke differences and violently ram together contradictions within a society, overthrowing the government through the rising to power of the class they represent. After destructing the old order, revolutionaries help build a new government that adheres to the emerging social relationships that have been made possible by the advanced productive forces. A real revolutionary has three traits in abundance: patience, an open mind, and "Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love." — Che Guevara; Man and Socialism in Cuba

Revolutionaries, in contrast to reactionaries, do not look down upon the world, but instead find in the world a source of great inspiration. A revolutionary realizes that the content of the world cannot change, but that she can give it a new form based on new productive forces. Human diversity is a tremendous strength; a revolutionary does not seek to subvert or change human nature, but instead to give it new and greater expression than previously realized.

See Also: Thermidor, Reformist and Reactionary


Revolutionary Defencism

A war that is engaged or justified as in defence of a newly formed revolutionary government.

"The class conscious proletariat can give its consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defencism, only on condition: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests."

Vladimir Lenin
April Theses



A fundamental alteration of a theory, essentially usurping (though taking elements of) the former theory and replacing it with a new one. While the attributes of a theory are subject to change in accordance to changing historic circumstances, changing the fundamental basis of that theory is to nullify it in place of a new one.