The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism. Z. A. Jordan

Marxian Naturalism


Source: From Z.A. Jordan’s book “The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism,” published by Macmillan, 1967. This chapter of the book is reproduced for non-commercial, educational purposes only, and no permission is granted to reproduce the text.


Except during his youth Marx was not actively interested in metaphysics (though his pronouncements sometimes appear to entail definite metaphysical commitments). This suggests, if in a roundabout way, the conclusion that Marx was not a materialist, for all materialists are metaphysicians.

The writings of Marx are free from metaphysical speculations, if by metaphysics is meant the claim that knowledge about what is behind appearances or the nature of the world as it exists independently of us and on its own account. There cannot be the slightest doubt that Marx rejected the view according to which the world is dependent for its existence on being perceived or known. Although absolute materialism implies epistemological realism, one can support epistemological realism without embracing absolute materialism.

Marx would not dissent from some of the beliefs of materialism, but it is doubtful whether he would attach as much importance to them as the eighteenth- and nineteenth- century did or as contemporary dialectical materialists do. For it is right to say, as Marx emphasized in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, that ‘consistent naturalism or humanism’ should be distinguished not only from idealism but also from materialism.[1] Marx’s basic philosophic attitude differed from absolute and reductive materialism, the only form of materialism known at the time, and could best be described as naturalism, a classificatory name which he chose himself. In this respect Marx was a Feuerbachian, for it was Feuerbach who declared his indifference to all previous philosophical schools and claimed that his own philosophy, being concerned with man, was neither materialist nor idealist.[2] Nature is a more comprehensive concept than matter. It includes matter and life, body and mind, the motions of inanimate objects and the flights of passion and imagination. ‘Nature’, wrote Santayana, ‘is material but not materialistic’,[3] a comment that might have come from Feuerbach or from Marx.

1. The Sole Reality of Nature

The peculiar brand of ‘naturalism or humanism’ which is characteristic for Marx’s approach to the problems of philosophy is already apparent in his doctoral dissertation Differenz der domkritischen un epikureishen Naturphilosophie. In this short but impressive study Marx did not conceal the fact that in spite of the inconsistencies of Epicurus he placed him above Democritus and sympathized with the former rather than with the latter. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant described Epicurus as the outstanding in perfectly consistent sensationalist philosopher; unlike Aristotle or Locke, he never sought to pass by inference beyond the limits of experience. Although Marx admired Epicurus because he never raised a claim to absolute knowledge, he admired him still more for other reasons. While Democritus was exclusively concerned with the atom as a ‘pure and abstract category’ and with atomism as a hypothesis intended to explain the phenomena of physical nature, Epicurus was anxious to understand nature in order to help man get rid of fear and spiritual bondage. Philosophers who construct a cosmology to teach their fellow men the way of life they should follow cannot be judged by the standards of logical consistency alone. Epicurus, Marx wrote, was ‘the greatest Greek enlightener (Aufklarer)’, the founder of the ‘natural science of man’s self-consciousness’, whose philosophy, unlike that of Democritus, contained an ‘invigorating principle’.[4] This invigorating principle was the naturalistic quality of Epicurus’s thought, his conception of the world formulated in terms appropriate to the description of man’s experience and activities in the world. Since in Epicurus’s philosophy nature and man could be described and explained in the same terms, there was no gulf dividing the world of nature and that of human affairs.

Marx’s ‘new materialism’ is closer to the definition of it given by Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach than to the dialectical materialism of Anti-Duhring. This is comprehensible if one remembers that Ludwig Feuerbach was meant to be an account of Marx’s and Engels’s philosophical development in relation to the system of Hegel and Feuerbach, of the influence these philosophers exercised upon them, and of how they overcame their attraction. Engels’s recollections and retrospective observations should not be accepted, however, at their face value, since they are misleading and in spme respects wrong.

In his account Engels spoke of Feuerbach’s The Essence of Chistianity (1841) which ‘without circumlocution placed materialism on the throne again’ and suggested that it was this work that exercised a decisive influence upon Marx’s philosophical development. Engels’s dramatically and vividly presented account is only partly confirmed by Marx’s own statements on the subject. Marx recognised that in The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach had discovered the anthropological roots of Hegel’s theological and philosophical speculations. But the formulation of Feuerbach’s ‘true materialism and real science’, based on the premise that philosophy arises from and reflects ‘the social relations ‘of man to man’’, is to be found in Feuerbach’s smaller and lesser known writings, Vorlaufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie (1842) and Grundsatze der Philosophie der Zukunft (1843). Marx described these works as having a profound and enduring significance. They carried out a thorough critical settling of accounts with the philosophy of Hegel, they displaced the old philosophy from its position of dominance, and accomplished ‘a real theoretical revolution’. Feuerbach became ‘the true conqueror’ of Hegelianism by subjecting it to an analysis from Hegel’s own point of view and by formulating the theoretical basis of philosophical anthropology from which every speculative philosophy could be effectively criticized.[5] Notwithstanding his later objections to Feuerbach’s philosophical position in The German Ideology and the Theses of 1845-6, Feuerbach’s role with respect to Marx could be compared to that of Hume’s to Kant.

The exclusive and excessive significance attached by Engels to the Essence of Christianity at the expense of Feuerbach’s other writings has led to a misinterpretation of Marx’s own philosophy.[6] If the role of the Vorlaufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie and Grundsatze der Philosophie der Zukunft in Marx’s philosophical evolution towards naturalism is ignored, the philosophical premises of Marx’s thinking are bound to be misunderstood or misconstrued.[7]

Feuerbach’s materialism was neither the mechanistic reductive materialism of the eighteenth century nor could it be acquainted with Engels’s dialectical materialism. It is a philosophical position which is best described as anthropological materialism or naturalism.[8] It is anthropological naturalism because it makes man the chief object of philosophy, and it is anthropological naturalism because it declares that consciousness and personality without nature is an empty abstraction. ‘As man belongs to the essence of nature, in opposition to common materialism,’ wrote Feuerbach, ‘so nature belongs to the essence of man, in opposition to subjective idealism.’ Nature is that which is not dependent upon man’s mental activity and by which man is involuntarily affected, which is when man is not, when he does not think of it or feel it.

Nature, matter, cannot be explained as a result of intelligence; on the contrary, it is the basis of intelligence, the basis of personality, without itself having any basis; spirit without nature is an unreal abstraction; consciousness develops itself only out of nature.[9]

Personality without a body is inconceivable. ‘Take away from thy personality its body, and you take away that which holds it... Only by the body is a real personality distinguished from the imaginary one of a spectre.’ That which has no basis in nature has no reality at all.[10]

All sciences should found themselves upon nature, Feuerbach declared, for all knowledge remains hypothetical as long as it has not found its natural basis. This applies also to philosophy.

Philosophy must again unite with natural science and natural science with philosophy. This union, based upon a reciprocal need, an inner necessity, will be more fruitful than the mesalliance existing up to now between philosophy and theology.[11]

All manner of investigations about law, art, philosophy, freedom, or personality, which leave man out of account and proceed over and above him are speculations devoid of significance, sense, and substance. Truth is not to be found either in materialism or idealism, either in psychology or physiology. Truth reveals itself in anthropology and can be discovered from the viewpoint of sensibility (der Standpunkt der Sinnlichkeit), for only where sensibility begins does all doubt and controversy cease.[12]

Feuerbach wrote about himself ‘I am nothing but a natural philosopher in the domain of mind’.[13] He followed in the footsteps of Locke, who, as an empirical philosopher, knew nothing of the transcendent individuality of man and defined the self as a ‘conscious thinking thing’, which is sensible of pleasure or pain, capable of happiness or misery and, generally, is concerned for itself so far as its consciousness extends.[14] Feuerbach adopted and defended this naturalistic and empirical interpretation of the ego against Hegelian transcendentalism. The philosopher’s starting point is ‘the man who is and knows himself as the self-conscious being of nature, as the being of history, as the being of the state, as the being of religion’, whose essential characteristics cannot be determined when he is separated and isolated from others but only in the ‘community of man with man’.[15]

While the old philosophy has taken as its starting point the statement ‘I am an abstract, an exclusively thinking being, and my body does not belong to my essence’, the new philosophy starts with the statement ‘I am a real, a sensuous being, my body belongs to my being and, indeed, my body in its totality is myself, is itself my essence’.[16]

The soul and the brain are mere hypostatizations of certain functions of the human individual and they disrupt what is in fact an inseparable totality; the separation of the soul from the body or of the sensuous from the non-sensuous essence of man is a purely theoretical act which we constantly refute in our everyday life and to which nothing corresponds in reality. Man is a ‘soul invested brain’ (das beseelte Gehirn) and an ‘embodied soul’ (die eingekorperte Seele).[17] Feuerbach regarded man as a mind in a body and as a part of nature.

Engels presented Feuerbach’s basic position in a similar way. According to Engels Feuerbach believed that ‘nature exists independently of all philosophy’ and that ‘nothing exists outside nature and man’, man himself being a ‘product of nature’ which, as Engels said elsewhere, ‘has developed in and along with its environment’.[18]

To assume that everything exists within the all-embracing and self-sufficient system of nature, that is, that neither nature should be set over against the transcendental, nor man against nature, is to adopt the attitude called ‘naturalism’. It was this attitude with which Engels identified Marx’s ‘new materialism’. Materialism in the new sense, which Marx adopted under Feuerbach’s influence, assumed that

the material sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality; and that our consciousness and thinking, however supra-sensuous they may seem, are the product of mind but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter.[19]

To adopt the materialist standpoint is to conceive things and events in their own and not in imaginary connections and ‘to comprehend the real world- nature and history- just as it presents itself to everyone who approaches it free from preconceived idealist crotchets’.[20]

Expressed in contemporary terms, the ‘new materialism’ is based upon the assumption of the causal primacy of the material world, viz. Of things accessible to sensory perception or of the constituents of such things, whose qualities, relations, functions, or modes of behaviour may be real aspects or parts of nature but cannot be independent causes, since they are not material objects. The basic premise of naturalism leaves no place for spirit or mind as a disembodied force; it does not imply the denial of spirit or mind but only the existence of mind without material substance.

The second characteristic of the ‘new materialism’ is its claim to universality, by virtue of consistent application of its basic premise to all domains of experience, both to nature and to history. Engels maintained the Feuerbach failed to live up to this obligation for he did not apply the naturalistic approach to history and can therefore, be described as ‘a materialist below and an idealist above’.[21]

For his part Marx pointed out that ‘as far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with history, and as far as he considers history he is not a materialist. With him materialism and history diverge completely’.[22]

‘History’, as used by Marx and Engels in the quoted contexts, does not mean res gestae recorded by the historian. It means the social world in which men involved in making history live and by which they are determined, ‘the action and interaction of man in society’ or ‘the social world conceived as the totality of activities performed by the individuals who compose it’. It also means the historicity of human nature, human activity, and human affairs in general.[23]

Engels asserted that for Feuerbach the various experiences and actions constituting the warp and  woof of history were not natural processes; they combined the characteristics ascribed to two totally different realms, namely to the realm of nature and to the realm of spirit. It was only Marx who brought ‘the science of society, that is, the sum total of the so-called historical and philosophical sciences into harmony with the materialist foundation’ by reconstructing the science of society on a naturalistic basis.[24]

While Engels gave a somewhat exaggerated account of the differences between Feuerbach and Marx, it is basically true to say that Feuerbach’s naturalism lacked the sociological dimension which so markedly differentiated Marx from the preceding philosophers of naturalism. Engels’s evaluation is in agreement with Marx’s criticism in the Theses, where Feuerbach’s narrow and inadequate understanding of the basic relationship between the individual and society and between society and nature is cited in an ever recurring objection to Feuerbachian naturalism. Marx’s development beyond Feuerbach’s standpoint began in The Holy Family but it attained a clear formulation only in The German Ideology.[25]

2. The Old and the New Materialism

In The Holy Family Marx described the historical origin of his ‘new materialism’, from which, in the course of time, was to emerge his materialist conception of history and which he called ‘the materialistic basis of my method’ (die materialistiche Grundlage meiner Methode)’.[26] There were two trends in French materialism of the eighteenth century; one traced its origin to Descartes, the other to Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke. Descartes was one of the founders of the mathematical natural philosophy. He originated the mechanistic view of nature and prepared the ground for conceiving life, consciousness, and all the intellectual functions of man as the products of mechanical changes. Descartes completely separated his physics from his metaphysics, but within his physics matter is the only substance endowed with mechanical motion and self-creative power. French materialists followed Descartes physics and opposed his metaphysics by rejecting his metaphysical distinction between res cogitans and res extensa normal’>. This school reached its zenith with the physicians Cabanis and Lamettrie, who applied to man Cartesian ideas about animal organism and affirmed that the ‘soul is a modus of the body and ideas are mechanical motions’. Thus, Cartesian physics gave rise to mechanistic materialism and merged with natural science. Marx never concealed his intellectual hostility to the idea of la bete machine of Descartes, which in his opinion only showed that Descartes saw the world with the eyes of the manufacturing period,[27] and of l’homme machine of Lamettrie, which was a simplification stultifying the development of materialism.[28]

The other branch of French materialism led directly to socialism and communism. Its ancestor was Bacon and its immediate protagonist was Locke, after his views were civilized, given wit, flesh and blood by Condillac, his French admirer and follower.[29] Condillac expounded Locke’s views about the origin of ideas and ‘proved that not only the soul but the senses too, not only the art of creating ideas, but also the art of sensuous perception are matters of experience and habit. The whole development of men therefore depends on education and environment.’ Helvetius conceived these ideas immediately in their application to social life and it was thus that French and English socialism and communism were born. Babeuf, Fourier, Cabet, and Robert Owen were direct successors of Helvetius.[30]

The close connection between the second branch of French materialism and socialism and communism is apparent. Materialism emphasized the omnipotence of experience, of habit and education, and, generally, the influence of the environment on man. Therefore, progress and virtue require not to be preached, but to be prepared by an appropriate arrangement of social relations.

If man draws all his knowledge, sensation, etc., from the world of the senses and the experiences gained in it, the empirical world must be arranged so that in it man experiences and gets used to what is really human and that he becomes aware of himself as man.... If man is shaped by his surroundings, his surroundings must be made human. If man is social by nature, he will develop his true nature only in society, and the power of his nature must be measured not by the power of separate individuals but by the power of society.[31]

In the writings of his youthful period Marx stated repeatedly and emphatically his conviction that the materialism or naturalism- he used these terms synonymously- which is the philosophical basis of communism, is real humanism; it promotes a full development of man’s power and potentialities. This conviction implied the repudiation of the traditional mechanistic materialism symbolised by the name of Lamettrie and the adherence to the materialism of Helvetius. It also prompted a determined opposition to all kinds of idealism. Marx wrote that the naturalistic humanism of Helvetius has ‘no more dangerous enemy in Germany than spiritualism or speculative idealism which substitutes ‘self-consciousness’ or the ‘spirit’ for the real individual man’. The Young Hegelians provided a clear demonstration of the fact that idealist philosophy replaced an authentic revolution intended to change the social conditions of life by an illusory revolution, restricted to the realm of speculative thought. They thus reversed the true sequence of events and in spite of their world-shattering pronouncements became the staunchest conservatives.[32]

Feuerbach went back to Helvetius over the heads of the Young Hegelians, for he rejected their Hegelian substitution of self-consciousness for the ‘real man on the basis of nature’. Man is not a mere accident of the eternal substance. Marx contrasted Feuerbach’s position with that of the Young Hegelians and emphasised that for Feuerbach the real man lives and suffers in society, shares in its pains and pleasures, and is a manifestation of its life. [33] But Feuerbach failed to go beyond the point reached by Helvetius. He too conceived of man as a purely passive recipient of stimuli supplied by nature and as the product of education, circumstances, and influences of nature acting upon him; he forgot that ‘it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating’.[34] Man changes not only in response to the influence of nature upon him, but also in reacting upon nature in his struggle for existence. Changing nature he changes the environment and changing the conditions of life, he changes himself.

Moreover, Marx came to regard Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism as a failure for reasons essentially the same as those for which he broke his connections with the Young Hegelians. According to Marx, communism was materialism expressed in terms of practical action. Feuerbach, however, was content to show the errors of the Hegelian philosophy; he only interpreted the world, never abandoned the contemplative attitude of the theorist, and thus failed to formulate the conclusions that would attack, revolutionize, and change the existing world.[35] Marx’s criticism of Feuerbach was based on the assumption that there was a revolutionary dynamic in materialism as applied to social life and historical development and that it was enough to discover the material conditions of human existence to reveal both the inevitability and the desirability of their change. If men come to understand the circumstances of their lives and see that they are wanting the power to realize the aspirations of human spirit, they rise up against their circumstances and spontaneously exert themselves to overthrow them. The materialist philosophers who were anxious only to interpret the world were in no position to discover a true view of it.

Engels’s retrospective evaluation of Feuerbach and his failure to improve upon Helvetius was derived from altogether different premises. He considered it to be self-evident that once the inadequacy of mechanistic materialism was clearly realized, dialectical materialism was bound to replace it, for only the latter remedied the defects and dealt successfully with the difficulties left unsolved by the former.[36] Feuerbach recognized the truth of the antecedent but not the truth of the consequent of the above statement; on this account his materialism remained inconsistent and vacillating. The natural-scientific materialism of Buchner, Moleschott, and Vogt provided no alternative to mechanistic materialism.  Feuerbach too was aware of the fact that natural-scientific materialism supplied the groundwork of the edifice of human knowledge  but not the edifice itself. We live not only in nature but also in human society and the question, therefore, was how to ‘bring the science of society... into harmony with the materialist foundation and to reconstruct it thereupon’.[37] Engels was convinced that the only right solution to this problem was to discover the ‘laws of motion’ which govern both natural phenomena and historical events and which, in his opinion, were to be found in the laws first formulated and developed by Hegel.[38] Unlike Marx, Feuerbach did not rise, however, to the realization of this fact and because he did not know dialectical materialism he was bound to fail. Engels believed that it was actually Marx and not himself who formulated the foundations of dialectical materialism and who maintained that it was the one and only one objectively valid and fruitful alternative to mechanistic materialism. While Marx supplied the ideas and the principles, Engels only elaborated upon them, systematized Marx’s thinking and provided its detailed validation.[39] Engels decried his own share in the formulation of dialectical materialism as much as he belittled his role in the development of other genuinely Marxian ideas.

Neither in The Holy Family nor in The German Ideology nor in other publications of this and later periods can a single piece of evidence be found to substantiate and confirm Engels’s view. While Marx firmly rejected mechanistic materialism early in his life and never wavered in his decision, his efforts to establish an alternative theoretical foundation to the abandoned position of mechanistic materialism moved in a direction quite different from that which Engels would lead us to expect. Marx did not view the problem in the way Engels did in Anti-Duhring and Ludwig Feuerbach, nor did he accept what Engels took for granted, namely, that a materialist conception of nature and history which was to succeed mechanistic materialism could not be anything but dialectical materialism.

Marx had a more or less coherent and organized system of beliefs as to the nature of reality and the nature of man. The materialist presuppositions which were shared by Marx might have included the principle of the sole reality of matter (‘matter’ being the term used to denote the totality of material objects, and not the substratum of all the changes which occur in the world), the denial of the independent existence of mind without matter, the rule of the laws of nature, the independent existence of the external world, the independent existence of the external world, and other similar assumptions traditionally associated with materialism. But while materialism in the indicated sense might have constituted Marx’s general frame of reference, it did not provide the premises from which Marxian historical materialism was inferred. Marx did not accept some of the materialist metaphysical principles or some of the physical and biological factors, extra-social and extra-historical, such as geographical conditions or t he struggle for existence (to mention those actually discussed by Marx), as the explanation of social processes and historical development. Marx’s new materialist conception of nature and history is not based, as Engels suggested, on a single set of laws, discovered by Hegel, which apply both to the physical universe and the human world; nor are his views on society and history wither differentially or inferentially dependent upon or reducible to an absolute materialism, whether mechanical or dialectical. Since the general assumptions of the Marxian conception of nature, man, and society make exclusive use of social and historical terms, they should not be regarded, as will be shown later, as materialism in the accepted sense of the word.

The ‘new materialism’ of Marx is actually naturalism, rediscovered and extended by Marx to apply both to man’s biological and spiritual existence and to account for social and historical phenomena. This revision and extension required the establishing of a common principle or a common method which would take into account the fact that man is not only a natural entity but also a social being, which would enable him to establish the science of society on ‘the materialist foundation’, and which could be used for the purpose of describing both the world of nature and the human world.

By rejecting mechanistic materialism Marx did not adopt a dialectical but an anthropological conception of nature.[40] By the anthropological conception of nature should be understood the view which, in Marx’s words, leaves ‘the priority of external nature unassailed’ but abolishes the distinction between man and nature, for man’s ‘unceasing sensuous labour and creation’ is ‘the basis of the whole world as it now exists’.[41] If the concept of nature became for Marx a social and historical concept, he cannot be called a dialectical materialist, for the dialectical and the anthropological conception of nature are clearly mutually exclusive.

3. The Anthropological Conception of Nature

Nature an und fur sich, the external world of Engels and Lenin that exists without and independently of us and yet is completely knowable, was for Marx a ‘nullity’, a ‘nothing...devoid of sense’ or mere ‘externality’.[42] Its existence is not problematic, but the question as to the mode of its existence has no meaning. To reject this assertion and to maintain that we are able to discover what the universe itself is like, is to assume that man can attain an omniscient being’s view of the world.

In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology Marx rejected as entirely wrong the theory of knowledge of the British empiricists, the French materialists, and Feuerbach, who conceived men as products of circumstances and upbringing, the human mind as a passive recipient of sensation, and perception as a mere effect wrought in the senses by outside causes. The causal theory of perception fails to explain the simplest act of cognition and applied to the whole range of human experience does not account for social change and the evolution of man. Marx was convinced that the idealists, and this meant Hegel and the Hegelians, were right in emphasizing the contribution and the role of the subject in the process of knowledge, and he put this conviction on record in the first and third of his Theses on Feuerbach.

Although ‘only abstractedly’, since idealism does not know ‘real, sensuous activity as such’, it was idealism that developed the ‘active side’ of cognition. Hegel was wrong when he conceived the mind as an autonomous entity, independent of and undetermined by its material and social environment which he regarded as posited by the mind’s creative activity. Although Hegel’s identification of reality with thought should be rejected, Hegel was right when he insisted upon the constitutive function of consciousness in the process of knowledge. His discovery becomes of considerable importance if the constitutive role of consciousness is conceived as ‘human sensuous activity’, that is, perception combined with action, instead of being, as in Hegel, an act of abstract thought.

Marx refused to follow the path of mechanistic materialism which severed the natural connection between man and his environment and maintained that the relation of cognition to the external world may be reduced to the relationship of cause and effect. For Marx man is not a tabula rasa, a mere receiver of impressions from the outside world, passively registering and reproducing the external stimuli, but an actively responding cognizing subject, endowed with a selective perceptive faculty, contributing to cognition his memory and anticipations, his norms and values, his social and historical heritage. Instead of being the mere effect of external causes, sensation, cognition, and action are the results of interaction between the environment and an active and sensitive individual, responding with intelligence to the pressure and challenge of the external world. No account of experience can be adequate unless the contributing activities of the knower are recognized and the knower himself is considered as a product of his time, culture, and social system. The knower is not, as it were, the sum total of the Kantian categorical forms; nor should he be conceived as an individual of the traditional theory of knowledge who rises above history and time. From the naturalistic viewpoint society is prior to the individual, and the knower is a social individual, situationally and socially determined. Consequently, objects of knowledge are always socially mediated objects and nature as the totality of things and their relations articulated by man’s social action is a man-made nature.

An external world the knowledge of which is independent of the perceiving subject is a fiction beyond our comprehension, for all our concepts as well as our language are inevitably related to the socially subjective world. To form an idea of the external world as it exists independently of our knowledge of it is as impossible as to distinguish the socially determined characteristics of man from those of his traits which the individual would possess if he had always lived isolation. Marx did not only reject the idea that Rousseau’s man in the state of nature’ could ever exist but also refused to see it an empirically significant concept. Similarly, the concept of nature that preceded all human history is devoid of cognitive meaning. It would have to differ entirely from the nature in which we live or which does or could exist anywhere for anyone today.[43] We cannot, as it were, remove from nature the traces left behind by the evolution of the human species which constantly shapes and reshapes the world and which is responsible for the fact that the world appears to the cognizing subject in one manner rather than another. This is the point of view which Feuerbach described as the ‘anthropological truth’ and Marx called ‘consistent naturalism’.[44] Within a consistent naturalism there is no more room for the concept of material substance than for that of disembodied spirit or mind. Marx rightly argued that naturalism thus understood ‘distinguishes itself both from idealism and materialism, constituting at the same time the unifying truth of both’. Although what men see, touch, or grasp are responses to external stimuli, the external objects are determined by the selective activity of the senses and the senses in turn are constantly modified by the biological, social, and cultural evolution of the human species. In a certain, sense, then, there are no natural data, no God-given external facts of nature, but only socially mediated objects.[45]

The world as known to man is a man-made world; it is the totality of ‘things for us’ and not of ‘things-in-themselves’. The only knowable is the world that appears in man’s experience, that is causally transformed by human action, divided into species and particulars, class members and classes, articulated into objects and their relations, into things with a definite form, arrangement, and structure, and cut out from the chaotic mass of the pre-existing world as it persists by itself. This humanized world is knowable because it is a world determined by man, the outcome, as Marx said in the first Thesis on Feuerbach, of ‘human sensuous activity’. As a natural being man shapes the environment according to his needs, and the needs determine the articulation of the world into separate things and their connections. External objects are, as it were, the objectified centres of resistance in the environment encountered by the human drives striving for the satisfaction of needs. If the needs were different, the world would look differently too, as it does to other animal species.

Although sensuous objects are different from thought objects, they do not exist in the form of objects unless they are made such by human activity. Cognition is not simply a matter of discovering or disclosing some entities which exist independently of us. The subject participates in the determination of the objective nature and order of things and, in a certain sense, creates it in the act of continuous world-objectification (Vergegenstandlichung). While according to Marx, man’s practical activity creates an objective world in the indicated sense, objectification should not be conceived as a spiritual but as a natural act and, therefore, as an act of production rather than that of creation in the proper sense, that is, of bringing something into being ex nihilo. Consequently, man’s capacity of objectifying what gratifies his needs and provides him with enjoyment presupposes the ‘sensuous external world’. This external world is the material on which man’s labour becomes manifest, from which and by means of which external objects are produced.[46]

The subjective world, articulated and determined in its structure by man’s needs, tendencies, and impulses, is not a forever changing, transient, and ephemeral world. For man is a natural being, that is, a member of an animal species, and a social being destined to act together with others. Since, in his relation to the external world, man is not an isolated but a social subject, his cognitive capacities and organizing forms or categories of thought are socially determined too. Marx accepted Condillac’s theory of knowledge, according to which general knowledge is impossible without language and thus is bound to be a product of social life as much as language itself. Having accepted Condillac’s theory of knowledge Marx also reached the conclusion established by Rousseau that in the state of nature, that is, without the abilities which men acquire by communicating with each other, man would be reduced exclusively to sensations.[47] As Feuerbach put it, only through his fellow men does man become self-conscious. Without this bond of community man would lose his individuality in the ocean of nature. ‘That he is, he has to thank nature; that he is man, he has to thank man; spiritually as well as physically he can achieve nothing with- out his fellow-man.’[48] The same applies to distinctively human powers and achievements. They are products of human society and not of man as an individual. The intellectual and moral development of man, the acquisition and advance of arts and science, are a consequence of social life.

Language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men... Consciousness is therefore from the very beginning a social product and remains as long as men exist at all.[49]

The subjective world of man is, therefore, socially subjective and could not be subjective in any other sense. Being socially subjective it displays certain persisting traits, corresponding to the durable characteristics of the human species.[50]

‘Nature’ always meant for Marx ‘man-ade nature’, that is, nature articulated, conditioned, and modified by man’s cognitive and social activity. Marx’s favourite terms for this object-constituting activity, regarded by him as the primary datum of philosophy, were ‘practice’ (Praxis) and ‘practical activity’ (praktische Tatigkeit), which appear over and over again in Theses on Feuerbach. While by making use of these expressions Marx wished to emphasize the active attitude of the new as compared with the contemplative attitude of the old materialism and appealed to the meaning in which ‘practice’ is opposed to ‘mere theory’ or ‘speculation’, the main sense of ‘practical’ is clearly ‘being biologically relevant’ or ‘significant’, that is, important for the life of the human organism and for the survival of the species. From this biological point of view, nature may be conceived, as it is by Marx, as ‘man’s inorganic body with which he must remain in continuous intercourse if he is not to die ‘.[51] Nature is considered by Marx only in so far as man, the primary object of his interest, is part of nature and man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to and reflected by nature which, in turn, is transformed by man’s practical activity into an objective world.

Marx’s approach to the problem of the relation between nature and man reversed the order of inquiry accepted in the materialist tradition. Instead of the inquiry of nature paving the way for the inquiry into the nature of man, it was the inquiry into the nature of man that was to guide the inquiry into the problems of nature. While the revolution in natural science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries destroyed the idea of man and social order established in the Middle Ages, now it was the revolution in the ‘science of man’ that was to lead to a complete philosophical reassessment of our knowledge of nature.

The external world, as it exists an und für sich, never enters Marx’s social and historical investigations. The Marxian theory of knowledge is based on the assumptions that the sensuous world around is not a thing given directly from all eternity, but is constantly moulded by man’s theoretical and practical, cognitive and productive activity; that reality is of historical nature in the sense that it is the outcome of specifically human actions of a whole succession of generations; and that each generation stands on the shoulders of the preceding one, continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity. Marx’s theory of knowledge upholds Hegel against Feuerbach’s belief in the certainty and finality of sense experience and its historic character. On the other hand, while emphasizing the contribution to cognition made by man’s perceptive faculty, conditioned historically and socially, Marx preserves the realistic component of the materialist theory of knowledge. He combines the principles of naturalism and realism with the Hegelian idea that reason is historically determined and that it is involved in impressing upon man’s physical and social environment its shape and form. Therefore, it is history, the record of human actions in society, which provides the starting-point for considering nature as the totality of physical objects. Man always has before him a ‘historical nature’ and it is a ‘natural history’ that provides the key to its secrets.

The sensuous world ... is not a thing given direct from all eternity, ever the same, but the product of industry and the state of society; and, indeed, in the sense that it is a 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 organization according to the changed needs.[52]

Unlike other animal species, man is not only a successor but also an heir to a cumulative tradition which, whether for good or bad, affects his powers, way of life, and activity.

Thus, the old materialism, including Feuerbach’s materialism, with its claim that man is a creature of nature, determined by and depending on his environment, is only a half-truth; it leaves out the fact that the physical and social environment is the outcome of man’s sensuous and social activity. What Feuerbach emphasized in his criticism of Hegel’s speculative philosophy, namely that we take cognizance of objects by coming under their action and that sensation precedes thinking, was for Marx an indubitable fact. Marx went beyond Feuerbach’s view by insisting that man is induced to think ‘chiefly by the sensations he experiences in the process of his acting upon the outer world’, as Plekhanov suggestively reformulated the first Thesis on Feuerbach.[53] There is a constant action and reaction of the natural and social environment on man and of man on his natural and social environment, both being determined by and determining each other. As Marx put it, ‘circumstances make men as much as men make circumstances ‘.[54] Since in the course of the struggle for existence man acts upon the outer world, from which he derives his knowledge of it, Marx’s theory of knowledge is closely linked with his views on man’s advancement, that is, with his view of history and the history of civilization.

In the third Thesis on Feuerbach Marx drew attention to the paradoxical consequences of the idea expounded by Helvétius and Robert Owen according to which the character of men is entirely determined by circumstances and environment. If this assumption were true, Marx argued, nothing could be changed by the free and deliberate action of educators and reformers, for their ideas and conduct would also be strictly determined by the circumstances of their life. Nobody would be able to accomplish any social improvement and change men by education; everything would occur as it does and could not occur otherwise. On the other hand, if men are not only determined by circumstances but also circumstances by the action of men, not everything is fixed by natural necessity. The paradox of materialism may be solved and social change rationally explained provided that human activity is considered as ‘revolutionary practice’, that is, conceived in terms of the challenge of environment and man’s social response.

It should be observed that Marxian anthropological realism found no favour with Marx’s Hegelizing followers. Engels must have been familiar with Marx’s realism and, as a matter of fact, he seems to refer occasionally to some of its implications.[55] But Engels’s epistemological observations were more confusing than enlightening. Engels combined some fragments of the Marxian approach with his own theory of knowledge, a variety of representative realism, into an incongruous and incoherent whole. Engels’s epistemological views reveal a clear inclination towards naïve realism and the conception of perception as images produced entirely by external stimuli. Thus, the importance of what the cognizing subject contributes to what is perceived and thought, emphasized by Marx, is lost in Engels.

Lenin moved still further away from the Marxian epistemology than did Engels, for Lenin’s copy theory of perception is incompatible with Marx’s anthropological realism. Anthropological realism concedes that knowledge of the external world is relative to the mind, and this view, according to Lenin, ultimately entails epistemological idealism, that is, the proposition that the external world is completely dependent upon the mind. In Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Lenin argued over and over again that no consistent materialism could deviate in the slightest way from the copy theory of perception, for only this theory unqualifyingly denies the dependence of knowledge of the external world upon the mind and is, therefore, in no way tarred with the idealist brush. Thus, without knowing it Lenin also put Marx’s anthropological realism out of court as a materialist theory.[56] Lenin made of Engels a protagonist of the copy theory of perception and established it as an integral part of orthodoxy.

4. Sacred and Profane History[57]

Some aspects of the Marxian theory of knowledge have reappeared in a developed form in contemporary philosophical trends. Thus, Bertrand Russell suggested that the identification of knowledge with the process of knowledge in the course of which both subject and object are transformed may be described as an anticipation of Dewey’s instrumentalism.[58] The Existentialists claim their affinity with the Marxian way of viewing the world by referring to Marx’s reduction of nature to the ‘social reality of nature’ and to his conception of man as a ‘being-within-the-world’, both conditioned by and responding to the circumstances of life.

For the understanding of Marx a different point is, however, important. The Marxian conception of nature, of man, and man’s relation to nature disposes of many traditional epistemological problems. Marx neither needs to prove existence of the external world, nor disprove its existence. From his point of view both these endeavours are prompted by false assumptions concerning the relation of man to nature, by considering man as a detached observer, setting him against the world or placing him, as it were, on a totally different level. For man, who is part of nature, to doubt the existence of the external world or to consider it as in need of proof is to doubt his own existence, and even Descartes and Berkeley refused to go to such a length.

This conclusion is of considerable significance for the interpretation of Marxian philosophy. As Marx refused to dissociate nature from man and man from nature and conceived man not only as part of nature but also nature in a certain sense as a product of man’s activity and, thus, part of man, Marx’s naturalism has no need of metaphysical foundation. Moreover, since man knows only socially mediated nature, ‘man’, and not natural reality, ‘is the immediate object of natural science’. To use Marx’s terminology, the natural science of man is logically prior to all other knowledge.[59] What Feuerbach said about his anthropological materialism applies even more fittingly to Marx’s naturalism. ‘The new philosophy’, wrote Feuerbach, ‘makes man, including nature as the basis of man, the sole, universal and highest object of philosophy, makes, therefore, of anthropology, including physiology, the universal science.’ [60]

The natural science of man that unveils the genesis and development of human society is a natural historical science. In the preface to the first edition of Capital Marx observed that in this work ‘the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history’. This natural history must be differentiated from history which is conceived in the Hegelian manner as a development of Mind and Spirit.[61] The latter takes an abstract definition of man as its starting-point, substitutes consciousness for the living individual (Hegel regarded self-consciousness as the essence of spirit and, consequently, also of man), rises far above space and time and, being incapable of following the real progressive movement of events, produces phantasmagorias of the historian’s mind. The spiritualistic conception of history is selective and restrictive; it reduces history to ‘main political, literary and theological acts’. Just as it separates itself from the world and society from nature, it also ‘separates history from natural science and industry, and sees the origin of history not in the coarse material production on the earth but in vaporous clouds in the heavens’.[62] From this viewpoint society is the result or emanation of transcendent ideas, which also provide men with their explanatory and normative principles, and history consists in the unfolding and transformation of one idea into another. This is not history, Marx wrote, referring first of all to the brothers Bauer, ‘but old Hegelian junk, it is not profane history- a history of man- but sacred history, a history of ideas. From this point of view man is only the instrument of which the idea of the eternal reason makes use in order to unfold itself.’[63] This imaginary world of Geist was overthrown by Feuerbach, who substituted the investigations of men in their interaction and social relations for the Hegelian grand fantasy of self-developing thought. ‘Man is not an abstract being, existing outside of the world’, Marx concluded his reflections upon Hegel’s view of man. ‘Man is the world of men, the state, society.’[64]

In sacred history, religion makes man, in profane history, man makes religion; in sacred history social, political, and economic institutions are the manifestations of Spirit; in profane history they are the historical product of human activity and interaction pursued by a whole succession of generations. Being produced by ourselves, these institutions may, however, crystallize into an ‘objective power above us’ that grows out of control, thwarts our expectations and brings to naught our calculations.[65] They do not deprive history of its profane nature, though they reveal the truth that man is not only the maker of society but also its victim.

It is the ‘real life-process’ - the way by which men produce the means of subsistence and the forms of social relations restricting their interaction for the purpose of production- that is the primary datum of profane history; it constitutes the basis which is itself not subject to questioning and with reference to which problems of history are formulated and examined. On the other hand, the various manifestations of spirit are an outcome and reflection of this ‘real life-process’. Thus, the history that may rightly claim the name of the natural science of man starts from the actual conditions of social life and tries, by virtue of these, to account for the ideas and conceptions flowing from the life-process of individuals. ‘After the disappearance of the other-worldliness of truth (das Jenseits der Wahrheit) the task of history is to establish the truth of the this-worldliness (die Wahrheit des Diesseits).[66] It is a fateful error to set society and culture over against nature. For society and culture which grows within it are a part of nature rather than a state of human existence opposed to nature, and culture originates not only in but also through society.

5. The Idealist and the Materialist Conception of History

The antithesis of sacred and profane history, of the shadows of reality and of the real life-process, of the imaginary man and of real individuals, was defined fifteen years later in the familiar terms of the materialist and the idealist conception of history.[67] The idealist conception of history which, as Marx asserted, was common to all historians up to that time, rests on the assumption that history is always under the sway of ideas. This assumption clearly substitutes interconnections manufactured by and emanating from the mind of the philosopher for the real interconnections to be discovered in the events themselves. For in every epoch the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class, and the class wielding the dominating economic power in society is thereby its ruling intellectual force. The class which controls the means of material production has control at the same time over the intellectual production; those who rule as a class rule also as thinkers, as producers and distributors of the ideas of their age. These ideas are ‘neither pure nor external’. The ruling ideas express the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas, that is, they reflect the relationships which make a given class the ruling one and secure its domination. Consequently, to say that a system of ideas was dominant in a certain epoch without inquiring about the conditions of production and the producers of the ruling ideas is to fall victim to the illusion of the epoch.[68]

Taking advantage of the fact that the protagonists of history act with deliberation, behave purposefully, and consciously set themselves definite aims, the idealist theories of history explain the sequence of events in terms of human design, divine providence, or an absolute idea. They see in history the political actions of princes and great historical individuals, religious and other conflicts of all sorts, which the Idea or Truth, or some other abstraction, uses in its striving towards consciousness of itself. Human action may be prompted by passion or deliberation, motivated by ambition, personal hatred or whim, love of truth or justice. The error of the exponents of the idealist conception of history is not in recognizing these various motives but in failing to search for the real causes behind the alleged ones. They do not question the motives given by the protagonists themselves but accept them as if they were the determinants of action. While in ordinary life people are able, as a rule, to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, the idealist historians fail to give evidence of such common sense. ‘They take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it says and imagines about itself is true.’[69]

The materialist conception of history does not search for the ideas of the epoch, forms of self-consciousness or motives prompting the actors on the stage of history, but tries to discover what in fact sets men in motion. Its starting-point is ‘real men’ and ‘individuals as they really are’, and ‘not as they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination’, that is, ‘as they produce materially and are active under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will’.[70] Marx claimed that labour is the primary factor in social development because labour must be recognized as a necessary condition for the existence of the human race; without labour there is no ‘material exchange between man and nature’, that is, no production of commodities for the satisfaction of human wants.[71] With this ‘eternal nature-imposed necessity’ independent of all forms of society, is associated another, the necessity arising from man’s inability to produce what he requires without the assistance of other men. Since needs cannot be met on an adequate level without tools and tools are manufactured and used in social co-operation, ‘production by isolated individuals outside of society ... is as great an absurdity as the idea of the development of language without individuals living together and talking to one another’.[72] In order to live, men have to enter into relations with their fellow men and, since they can never escape productive labour, they must constantly reproduce these relations. Thus every society is the ‘product of men’s reciprocal action’ which expresses the primary condition of the life of the human species and maintains its biological existence. Social interaction is conditioned by the productive forces already won and by the social organization in existence, for they are handed down to each generation by its predecessors. History is nothing but the succession of separate generations, each of which makes use of the productive forces and social relations inherited from all preceding generations. The materialist interpretation of history can be defined in Marx’s own terms as the view according to which ‘the life process of society is based on the process of material production’, and the formation of ideas is explained in terms of this ‘material practice’ instead of the practice being accounted for in terms of ideas.[73]

In the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Marx referred to the doubts as to the justness of Hegel’s Rechtsphilosophie which had assailed him more than fifteen years earlier and which led to his critical studies of the Hegelian philosophy. He recounted that these studies persuaded him that the ideological forms of social life, of state and legal relations in particular, have their roots in the ‘material conditions of life’, the sum total of which, following Hegel, he called ‘civil society’. Civil society is not an aggregate of human atoms unrelated to each other, as the British economists and utilitarians imagined it to be. Civil society is the state of mutual dependence of all upon each other or the totality of various social bonds which connect men with one another for the satisfaction of their primary needs and which have to be differentiated from the political constitutions under which they live.

It is natural necessity, essential human properties, however alienated they may seem to be, and interest that hold the members of civil society together; civil, not political life is their real tie... Only political superstition today imagines that social life must be held together by the state whereas in reality the state is held together by civil life.[74]

The conclusion concerning the relation of the forms of state and legal systems to civil society produced in turn the conjecture that the ‘anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy’, or, as the French historians of the Restoration put it, in the state of property. Thus, while civil society, which is reflected in the juridical superstructure of property relations or, more plainly, the laws of property in force, constitutes the basic foundation of the entire social order, civil society results from and rises over the economy and the way society produces its means of subsistence. The particular form that civil society assumes is determined by the mode of production, the mode of production being the combination of the existing productive forces together with the knowledge and skills necessary for their operation.[75]

The mode of production is what Marx assumed to be ‘the natural’, ‘the real’, ‘the material basis of all history’.[76]

Assume a particular state of development in the productive faculties of man and you will get a particular form of commerce and consumption. Assume a particular stage of development in production, commerce and consumption and you will have a corresponding social structure, a corresponding organization of the family, of orders or of classes, in a word, a corresponding civil society. Assume a particular civil society and you will get particular political conditions, which are only the official expression of civil society.[77]

While men establish their social relations in conformity with their material production, they produce ideas, principles, and categories in conformity with their social relations. To the continual movement of growth in the productive forces, there corresponds the transformation of social relations and the formation of new ideas.[78] Starting with the material basis, the materialist conception of history tries to show how civil society determines the forms of political power, morality, religion, metaphysics, and all the rest of ideology, together with their corresponding forms of the social consciousness. In general, the materialist conception of history reveals how men in developing their material production and their relations of production alter their ways of thinking and ideas along with their material existence. Man’s nature is the result of his own labour and man is what his activity makes him to be. ‘Life is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life (nicht das Bewusstsein bestimmt das Leben, sondern das Leben bestimmt das Bewusstsein).[79]

6. The Social Origin of Man’s Distinctive Characteristics

In the first of his Theses on Feuerbach Marx recognized the fact that the conceptual framework of ‘all hitherto existing materialism’, including Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism, was inadequate to the complexity and variety of man’s actual life experience and left some of its essential aspects untouched. This was partly due to the failure to observe that there is no knowledge without activity, no apprehension of environment without its alteration, no perception without action in relation to the object perceived. What was neglected by ‘contemplative materialism’, was developed by idealism, by which Marx meant, above all, Hegel’s philosophy of the spirit.

Unlike Engels, who seems to have attached the greatest significance to Hegel’s Naturphilosophie and Philosophy of History, Marx emphasized above all the importance of Hegel’s investigations on the phenomenology of mind, that is, his study of consciousness. ‘It goes without saying’, wrote Marx in The Holy Family, ’that Hegel’s Phenomenology, in spite of its speculative original sin, gives in many instances the elements of a true description of human relations.’[80] Marx could not have had in mind Hegel’s central conception of transcendental idealism, the idea that a universal mind or consciousness determines all being, including the mind of the individual man. Neither could he have been thinking of Hegel’s assertion that the world is established by the cognitive activity of universal consciousness, this assumption being an important step towards the reduction of external reality to mind and of nature to spirit. Marx must have had in mind Hegel’s conception of man’s active and creative role in knowing and shaping the world of experience. While Hegel was entirely wrong in conceiving of human thought and activity as a manifestation of the world spirit, the Hegelian conception of cognition, expressed in sensationalist and naturalistic terms, corrected the errors and eliminated the defects of the traditional materialist world outlook.

Interpreted naturalistically, the Phenomenology of Mind was to be read as an account of the evolutionary development of human nature. The creative spontaneity of the individual, which Hegel took for granted as a primary characteristic of spirit, became in the Marxian system a capacity acquired by individuals in society and by social intercourse with other men. Man develops his potentialities and extends his self-knowledge in the process of transforming nature. He unfolds his powers in an evolutionary process of self-genesis through labour, that is, in the course of acting upon and responding to an environment in which he seeks the satisfaction of his needs.[81] The Hegelian concept of the expanding and advancing spirit is transformed by Marx into the concept of social evolution, based on the fact that men are unable to satisfy their needs in isolation and have to combine and co-operate with other men to survive and achieve their purpose.[82]

The concept of social evolution constituted an important development beyond the world outlook of eighteenth-century materialism and allowed naturalism to extend to the whole sphere of man’s spiritual activities. In this respect the ‘old materialism’ was inadequate. The theories of mechanistic materialism concerning the appearance of mind, consciousness, values, and all distinctively human characteristics and achievements had no explanatory significance. The apparent unsatisfactoriness of these theories only played into the hands and indirectly supported the claims of the idealists who maintained that the ‘essence of man’ could not, demonstrably, be explained in terms of natural science and that man was thus clearly shown to be a spiritual and not a material being. Marx fully agreed with the view that mechanistic materialism did not contribute to the understanding of man’s action, of his cultural attainments and social development. Nothing can be accomplished if man is assumed to be merely the highest species in the animal evolution and if his behaviour is to be explained by the laws of biology and, ultimately, of physics and chemistry. This is the kind of materialism which Marx called ‘one-sided’ and of which he maliciously said that in order to overcome the incorporeal spirit it ‘was obliged to mortify its flesh and become ascetic’.[83]

The failure of mechanistic materialism was due to the fact that from its point of view the world was an external object to be observed and described. But men are not primarily observers. Men must be in a position to live in order to be able to search for knowledge, and in order to live they have to act to satisfy their primary needs.[84] Human nature has to conform to biological determination. There are certain sequences of activities, determined by human physiology and the physical characteristics of environment, which constitute the ultimate basis of all human motivation and which are indispensable for the survival of the individual and the species. Since they are incorporated in each system of organized behaviour, their vital importance was overlooked by most philosophers.

It is in his active life, above all, that man comes into contact with the external world, that is, with the natural and social environment into which he is born. The environment acts upon him through his sense organs and is acted upon and changed by his exertions. But if the environment which determines man’s behaviour is in turn constantly made and remade by man’s labour, each generation is a progeny of its ancestors both biologically and socially. The determination of man by prior circumstances is in fact the determination by the activity of preceding generations.

The social evolution of the human species is the necessary outcome of its dependence upon environment and of its precarious situation in the world. In response to the challenge and under the pressure of circumstances men, in their active life, constantly expand their powers, above all, their faculty of thinking, produce material tools and create science and technology. Their activity influences their thought. As Engels observed, ‘In the measure that man has learned to change nature his intelligence has increased.’[85] As men become increasingly interdependent, social relations bind them more and more closely together, their minds become open to new ideas, and their distinctive qualities slowly emerge. By working with others, man ‘develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway’. While society is the product of man’s reciprocal and collective activity, of which labour is the most fundamental, it is ‘the fully constituted society that produces man in all the plenitude of his being, the wealthy man endowed with all the senses, as an enduring reality’.[86]

Marx stated his basic position in the hypothesis that man ‘develops his true nature only in society’ and that only as a social individual, ‘the species man’ in the Marxian terminology,[87] does he ‘become aware of himself as man’ and able to bring out all his latent powers. ‘Man is in the most literal sense of the word a zoon politicon, not only a social animal, but an animal which can develop into an individual only in society’.[88] It is in community with others that men acquire the means of cultivating their gifts in all directions and of becoming ultimately free individuals.[89]

This was in fact the position already reached by Feuerbach, but with an important distinction. Feuerbach showed his superiority over the materialists who had preceded him in realizing that man is an irreducible natural entity, that his powers are products of human society, and that only ‘community constitutes humanity’. Feuerbach failed, however, to make the decisive step and to draw the important conclusion from his premiss, which Marx then did. Feuerbach, Marx pointed out repeatedly, remained in the realm of theory and did not consider men in their actual conditions of social life, for he would then have realized that these conditions not only produce the abstraction man but also make real and active men what they are- some healthy and strong, others overworked and consumptive wretches (schwindsuchtiger Hungerleider)- thus separating them into distinct, stratified classes.[90]

There is no such thing as man or human nature independent of the social and historical context in which men live and act. The non-biological characteristics of individuals are generated by the social framework into which individuals are born, and these non-biological characteristics are socially produced. As Marx expressed it in his own language, still strongly reminiscent of the Hegelian terminology, ‘consciousness is from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all’.[91] Thus, there are no intrinsic and permanent non-biological components of human nature; they are all social components and ‘historical fact’. They vary from one particular form of society to another and, as the structural differentiation increases, within the same society in time as well. There is an observable correlation between human nature, viz. the characteristics of the individuals who compose a given society, and the structure and complexity of this society. The individual is determined by the structural and cultural conditions of the society to which he belongs and is entirely dependent upon his position in the society and in its class structure. As Marx put it, the conditions of his existence are thus predetermined, his personal development is assigned to him, and he becomes subjected to all kinds of ideas.[92]

Man is made self-conscious through his fellow men and not because man’s finite mind is spiritual and spirit necessarily involves self-consciousness. The distinctive human traits are not a manifestation of man’s supernatural origin and substance; they are as natural as man’s animal characteristics. They derive and evolve from the association and interaction of individuals and, generally, from life in society. The individuality of man should not be placed at the beginning of society but must be regarded as a late development in and outcome of social evolution; to use Marx’s own way of speaking, the individual is a product of history and not of nature. An isolated hunter or fisherman of Adam Smith or Ricardo was for Marx ‘an insipid illusion of the eighteenth century’, unrelated to the reality of social life. The further back we go into history, the more dependence on a larger social whole and the less individuality we encounter.[93] If the state of nature ever existed, it would have been a state where in Hobbes’s famous words the life of the savage man was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Marx’s epigram, ‘It is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence, it is his social existence that determines his consciousness’, which of course was directed, above all, against idealism in its Hegelian form, may be understood to imply that the ‘human mind, the needs, the hopes, fears and expectations, the motives and aspirations of human individuals, are, if anything, the product of life in society rather than its creators’.[94]

Man is transformed from a pure creature of nature into a social being because he must work. Labour is a permanent natural condition of human existence, common to every stage of production. But ‘productive life is the life of the species’, that is, production of the means of subsistence is always a collective, social activity. As Marx wrote elsewhere, ‘In production men not only act on nature but also on one another. They produce only by co-operating in a certain way and mutually exchanging their activities.’[95] The individual’s capacities increase through the division of labour and the ensuing structural differentiation of society. ‘The entire so-called history of the world’, Marx wrote in 1844, ‘is nothing but the begetting of man through human labour.’[96] The spiritual life of man, his social and cultural advance, grow out of his involvement in social life and result from the evolutionary laws of human society. Only in community with others can the individual extend the range of his mental and social activities and attain the free development of personality.[97]

Unlike mechanistic materialism, which is anxious to explain how ideas and systems of thought are produced by physical and chemical processes in the brain, historical materialism tries to show how ideas and systems of thought emerge from and are determined by social conditions, which both shape and mould man’s behaviour and are shaped and moulded by man. But historical materialism also goes beyond what mechanistic materialism was ever able to consider, namely, it tries to explain how man as a natural entity, analogous to other natural entities, acquires his human characteristics through social existence and social evolution. While many thinkers were of the opinion that the increasing complexity and structural differentiation of society constitutes the road to serfdom, Marx believed that it emancipates individuals from various ‘restrictions, enriches their personality and, in the true community of the future, also secures their personal freedom.[98]

Marx conceived of society in a way exactly opposite to that of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Spencer. Granted the fact that all men share certain wants or needs, Mill believed that society can be constructed out of an aggregate of individuals and that the ‘laws of society’ are nothing but ‘the laws of the actions and passions of human beings united in the social state’, viz. the laws of psychology. ‘Human beings in society’, Mill declared, ‘have no properties but those which are derived from, and may be resolved into, the laws of the nature of individual man.’[99] For Marx, however, society was no mere product of human art nor simply an abstraction which should be set against the real existence of individuals. Social facts are the result of human acts and situations, but contrary to the views of John Stuart Mill this does not imply that a positive social science must be established by deduction from the general laws of human nature.[100]

In the opinion of Marx, it is an error to assume that the primary psychological constitution of the individual can be distinguished from his socially acquired characteristics and that the latter, being a product of social existence, are in a sense artificial and secondary, since they are derivable from the former. The differentiation between what man owes to society and to his primary, true, and unchanging nature, can be disregarded as a pseudo-problem or a mere figment of speculation. The ‘normal man’, ever the same in each historical epoch, who provided Jeremy Bentham with his yardstick of utility in the past, present, and future, existed only in Bentham’s own mind. With an incomparable naiveté, Bentham took the English shopkeeper for his model and regarded what was useful to this queer normal man and to his world as absolutely useful.[101] Engels may have praised Rousseau as a forerunner of dialectics, admiring his dialectical ingenuity which enabled him to show how man in the state of nature, free from any social bonds and inclinations, was constrained to enter into social life, and thus came to form society and to establish law and government. But Marx ignored Rousseau’s dialectics as spurious, firmly holding to the view that men have always lived in society and believing that the individual is ‘a social being’ or ‘an ensemble of the social relations’. Consequently, society is as real as the interacting individuals of which it is composed are real.[102] The social laws are not an artificial human product, established by convention or imposed by the will of a powerful lawgiver who can change or discard them as he thinks fit. ‘Marx considers social evolution to be a natural process governed by laws which do not depend upon the will, consciousness, or the intention of men,’ wrote the Russian reviewer of Capital, whom Marx praised for the accuracy of his evaluation in the preface to the second edition of this work. Marx’s own view on society is aptly reflected by Emile Durkheim’s observations made some fifty years later, that it is no easier to modify the type of society than the species of an animal. The more man emancipates himself from the original dependence on nature by social co-operation and becomes an individual by social action, the more he falls under the influence of his social environment and, more specifically, of the mode of existence of his society.[103]

It does not follow from the fact that ‘society is the product of men’s reciprocal action’ that society is governed by laws that are made arbitrarily or are deducible from unchangeable human nature and applicable to the behaviour of individual men, always and everywhere. Since social life results from, or is based upon, human interaction, the study of the behaviour of individual men taken separately of their motives and aspirations, hopes and expectations, is irrelevant to social investigations. Society is not an aggregate of individuals but a totality of interacting individuals. Therefore, society changes and develops according to its own laws which are not psychological but specifically social laws. They help towards understanding social phenomena and the social behaviour of individuals. As Marx put it, just as society is produced by men, so society itself produces man as man.[104]

Having included man within nature and recognized all human experience and activity as processes of interaction between different parts of nature and thus as natural events, Marx, like Hegel, considered all experiences and activities of man amenable to a single method. While for Hegel spirit was history’s only motive and formative power, Marx accepted the self-sufficiency of nature. Consequently, what Hegel regarded as manifestations of spirit, Marx recognized as natural processes and replaced Hegel’s spiritualization of man and of the world by their ‘naturalization’. Hegel’s method was either teleological or dialectical and described human activity in terms of final causes, of values, ends, and norms of conduct. Marx’s method, however, was to be scientific, in that its task was to discover what is the case and not what ought to be, to make exclusive use of observation and inference, and to reveal causal or functional relationships among the various objects and processes of nature. Apart from its formal advantages, the universality of scientific method reflected Marx’s assumption that neither the external world nor society nor man can be conceived of and explained separately but only in their interaction, as they determine each other and change through reciprocal impact and natural influences.

As applied to social phenomena the method of science disposed of the long-established belief that society is the outcome of human design and calculation, and introduced the new conception according to which society is brought about by natural causes that produce their effects irrespective of what men intend or fail to do, without their knowledge or deliberate action. Marx held that human action conforms to laws in the same sense as the phenomena of nature do. Man’s social and spiritual life constitutes a stratified and interconnected whole, the parts of which exercise a reciprocal influence on one another.[105] His spiritual power and cultural achievements- language, government, social organization, law, art, science, and religion- are not created by or effects of supernatural forces; they are a product of society. The naturalistic interpretation of social phenomena does not preclude the belief in the existence and action of spiritual factors; it only precludes those views which on the one hand are based on or inferred from the recognition of this fact and on the other, which ascribe to spirit an independent causal efficacy in the realization of anything else.[106] That human nature and all its manifestations should be explained on the basis of social life, conceived as an ever-changing network of interacting individuals who produce together what transcends the powers of each of them acting separately, was a principle bound to affect deeply the whole ‘science of man’

Durkheim observed that nothing has so retarded the establishment of social science as what Comte described as the belief in the unrestricted and creative power of legislators over civilization (la puissance indefinie et créatrice des législateurs sur la civilisation).[107] The legend of the lawgiver refers to the assumption that social phenomena depend on human will and that a lawgiver endowed with a limitless power is able to devise, modify, and discard laws as he pleases (Rousseau still dreamed of playing the role of a Lycurgus and the utopian socialists cherished the same ambition). If this assumption were true, everything in human societies would be utterly fortuitous, and if any determinate order in them were found it would be a matter of pure accident.

Durkheim maintained that for the establishment of social science two premisses were necessary. First, societies must be assumed to have a certain structure of their own which results from the nature, arrangement, and connection of the elements composing them, and which governs the coexistence and succession of social phenomena. Second, social science would not have any definite subject-matter to explore unless it is clearly realized that social phenomena of different categories are interrelated and constitute parts of a whole.

From this point of view, Montesquieu, Comte, and Marx have paved the way for sociology and may be regarded as its founders. Comte himself paid high tribute to Montesquieu who, he claimed, rose above the metaphysical mode of thinking of his contemporaries, including Rousseau, regarded social phenomena ‘as no less subject than all other phenomena to invariable laws’, and tried to establish politics (la politique) as a science about facts and not about dogmas.[108] But Montesquieu did not succeed in raising politics to the level of the sciences of observation (des sciences d’observation), that is, the positive sciences, and an element of ambiguity still persisted in his concept of social law. Only Comte and, we should add, Marx, clearly saw that social laws are descriptive laws, not different from those applying to the rest of nature.

While both Comte and Marx are the unquestionable founders of sociology, they were perhaps more interested in it as an indispensable element in the completion of a more comprehensive scheme than in taking advantage of the established sociological groundwork for the expansion of social knowledge. Comte noted in his Cours de philosophie positive that the study of man and the study of the physical world seemed entirely irreconcilable until he managed to formulate his positive philosophy which required the establishment of sociology as a positive science.[109] In the case of Marx, too, it was the establishment of sociology, the ‘new natural science of man’, that enabled Marx to go beyond Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism, to remove or to reduce the chasm dividing the world of nature and the world of spirit, and to comprise all the natural and historical phenomena in one coherent and organized system. Sociology provided a fulcrum and a leverage by means of which Marx could extend the principle of naturalism, to apply it uniformly to the whole range of man’s life experience, and to reveal the unity of knowledge.

The idea that man acquires his distinctive characteristics by participating in social life turned out to be extremely fruitful and provided sociology with one of its lines of development. It established the philosophy of social realism in sociology and inspired the sociological conception of personality which conceives personality as the point of intersection of innumerable social influences derived from participation in group activities. ‘The group with which the individual is affiliated’, Georg Simmel wrote, ‘constitutes a system of co-ordinates, as it were, such that each new group with which he becomes affiliated circumscribes him more exactly and more unambiguously.’[110] On this assumption, all culture-producing activities of man arise from and are interwoven with his social existence and activity. The number and variety of social groups to which the individual belongs becomes one of the earmarks of culture.

7. Is Marx a Materialist?

Marx was fully justified in saying that his ‘new materialism’ was essentially different from the old, viz. from the French materialism of the eighteenth century, Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism, or the natural-scientific materialism of Marx’s contemporaries. Plekhanov rightly observed that when Marx ceased being a follower of Feuerbach, he did not cease sharing many of his philosophical views. But while Marx retained some assumptions of Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism or naturalism, he also extended it to include both the physical universe and the entirety of the human world. Based as it is on a sociological foundation, the Marxian view on the relation of man to the physical universe goes beyond Feuerbach’s naturalism.

As far as the natural-scientific materialism of his contemporaries was concerned, Marx felt only scorn for it. The realization that we are, both mind and body, spirit and flesh, is a basic assumption of Marxian naturalism. While Marx did not differ from the materialists in their belief that body is more fundamental than mind, he also clearly put the spirit high above the flesh. Marx cherished the spiritual aspirations and the spiritual world of man as much as the most determined idealist and showed little appreciation for the material in the everyday use of this term. Although he was close to materialists, Marx was so emphatic about the worth of man’s spiritual life that he was rightly described- in the sense in which a paradox might state an important truth- as a thinker who leaned, so to speak, towards a practical dualism of body and mind and wished to liberate men from the bondage of their material nature.[111]

At the turn of the century the objection against describing the Marxian conception of history as historical materialism was widely voiced by numerous writers, including Engels himself. In the Special Introduction to the English edition of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1892), Engels was both ironic and embarrassed in explaining how it came about that the expression ‘historical materialism’ had been adopted to denote the view that the economic development of society provides the moving power and constitutes the ultimate cause of historical events. He indicated that the term might be inappropriate, but it was the best he could think of..[112] In 1890 Engels complained to one of his correspondents that ‘materialist’ as used in reference to the Marxian approach to the study of history had lost every definite connotation because nobody knew what meaning it had in the first place. ‘In general, the word "materialist" serves many of the younger writers in Germany as a mere phrase with which anything and everything is labelled without further study, that is, they stick on this label and then think the question disposed of..’ [113]

After Engels, Eduard Bernstein was the first to say that the designation ‘the materialist conception of history’ ‘does not completely fit the thing’. He recommended that it be replaced by the expression ‘the economic interpretation of history’, for in spite of all that could be said against it, it was the most appropriate description of the Marxian theory of history. ‘An economic interpretation of history does not necessarily mean that only economic forces, only economic motives, are recognized; but only that economics forms an ever recurring decisive force, the cardinal point of the great movements in history.’[114] Heinrich Cunow agreed with Bernstein as to the appropriateness of the name ‘the economic interpretation of history’, which, he thought, was more suitable than the traditional one, ‘the materialist conception’.[115]

Plekhanov and Lenin wrote hundreds of pages of polemics against N. K. Mikhailovsky, a prominent Russian critic of Marx in the fourth quarter of the last century, in which they were greatly concerned with the question in what sense the Marxian view of history could justly be classified as materialism. While for Lenin Capital provided a ‘model of scientific materialist analysis’ and both The Poverty of Philosophy and The Communist Manifesto were clearly ‘based on the principles of materialism’,[116] Mikhailovsky suggested that the Marxian conception of history was only an economic materialism. Both Lenin and Plekhanov refused to accept this new name; while Lenin dismissed it with a shrug of the shoulders, together with Mikhailovsky’s ‘empty and pretentious babbling’, Plekhanov rightly argued that it was inept and misleading. The expression ‘economic materialism’, used by Mikhailovsky and other Russian critics of Marx to designate his theories, was ‘extremely inappropriate’, for it suggested a reductive materialism and a monistic economic doctrine of historical causation, and thus completely misrepresented the Marxian ideas. Plekhanov himself was not entirely certain which designation was the best and he used several of them- ‘the materialist conception’ or ‘explanation’, ‘historical materialism’, ‘dialectical materialism’ or ‘the historical theory of Marx’- when he wished to refer to the views of Marx by a single name.[117]

A considerable number of writers objected less to the use of this or that qualifying term in the expression ‘historical materialism’ than to ‘materialism’ itself. Antonio Labriola, Benedetto Croce, Edwin R. A. Seligman, Eduard Bernstein, Max Adler, Karl Vorlander, and Bertrand Russell deplored the use of the term ‘materialism’ to denote the Marxian theory and suggested the expression ‘the realistic view of history’ as its alternative and more appropriate name.[118] They recognized that Marx’s materialism was not a metaphysical transcendent doctrine. When historical materialism is discussed, we should forget the meaning of the term ‘matter’ in so far as it implies a hypothetical ultimate substratum of experience or denotes something that it is opposed to another ultimate factor called ‘spirit’. In their view, Marx’s materialism was, as it were, a method of thinking which tried to explain social and historical phenomena in terms of real objects, that is, those existing in time and space and subject to causal laws, in contradistinction to ideal or imaginary objects of the Hegelian philosophy. The real world of Marx may be coextensive with the material world of the metaphysician, but it should not be identified with it. The real world of Marx is rather the sensed natural and social environment into which man is born and where his consciousness and ideas have their origin.

These terminological and conceptual objections were of no avail, and the practice, originated by Engels, of qualifying the Marxian view of history as materialist has been followed until today. The dispute about the term which would appropriately denote the Marxian view actually concerned the concept, the meaning to be attached to the expression ‘the Marxian conception of history’. Engels’s terminological victory was of considerable importance, for it contributed to the belief that Marx was not a naturalist but a materialist and, in particular, a dialectical materialist.

F. A. Lange and also Bertrand Russell observed that in modern times ‘materialism’ is often used almost synonymously with ‘scientific outlook’, to denote a theory of nature which is believed to be simply an outcome of science, an exclusive result of experience, as opposed to speculations. They argued that for this very reason modern materialism should not be compared with similar views of the more distant past.[119] Marx was familiar with this linguistic usage. To establish ‘true materialism’ in the investigations of social relations was to establish a ‘real science’ (die reelle Wissenschaft) of these relations.[120] The method that starts with the actual relations of life in the explanations of historical events, Marx wrote, ‘is the only materialistic and, therefore, the only scientific one’.[121] Materialism which is supposed to be just the sum total of views about the world established by scientific method was called ‘natural-scientific materialism’ by Engels and ‘spontaneous materialism’ by Lenin. This use of the term ‘materialism’ may, however, give rise to numerous misunderstandings, for it deviates too much from its traditional usage. Natural-scientific materialism is often a methodological rather than a metaphysical doctrine.

When Engels introduced the expression ‘the materialist conception of history’, he was not prompted by the semantical consideration that the terms ‘materialist’ and ‘scientific’ are synonymous in certain contexts. Engels was most likely to have thought of materialist metaphysics which supplied some of the elements of Marx’s views of history and appeared to have achieved in this view its confirmation and extension.[122] Engels seemed to have been unaware of the fact that the connection between materialist metaphysics and Marx’s view of history is extrinsic and not intrinsic, of historical and not of logical nature. To call Marx’s conception of history ‘materialist’ did not indicate its own distinctive characteristics but only the philosophical tradition to which it belonged and was, thus, to use Croce’s expression, merely a way of speaking.

To justify this assertion, the concept of primary historical factors must first be introduced. When we analyse a sequence of historical events, we distinguish a number of causes or causal factors, such as geographical conditions, economic organization, political and religious institutions, the character of leaders or the psychology of the people, which in some combination are supposed to be responsible for producing a given sequence. These factors may be evaluated as to their degree of importance and considered to be causally dependent on, or interacting with, each other. A factor is primary if it accounts for the occurrence of other factors, that is, strictly speaking, if it is their sufficient and necessary condition. A factor is relatively primary if it is primary with respect to some factors and not to others; otherwise, it is an absolutely primary factor. An absolutely primary factor would be the unique cause of any historical event and, thus, the unique cause of the historical process as a whole, which the traditional philosophies of history tried to discover.

A theory of history is materialistic if it identifies the absolutely primary factor of history with some extraneous physical factor, that is, with some observable characteristics of physical environment. Such are, for instance, the geographical interpretation of history, first formulated by Montesquieu and expanded by Buckle and Taine, Marx’s contemporaries, or the biological and racial theories  put forward in the wake of the Darwinian revolution. These theories are reductive for they reduce all variations and changes in society to the ultimate action of the physical world. They are reductive also in the sense that they presuppose mechanistic materialism. This particular kind of materialism was based on the assumption that man is nothing but a mechanism and that his behaviour is ultimately subject to laws of physics and chemistry. As applied to social phenomena, reductive materialism is based on the assumption that every sociological statement is logically reducible to a conjunction of psychological statements which themselves are logically reducible to statements about physiological or chemico-physical states of the human organism.

There can be no doubt that Marx repudiated mechanistic materialism. This assertion is not only justified by Engels’s consistent criticism of mechanistic materialism but also by what Marx himself said in The Holy Family about the philosophical sources of socialism and communism. These sources were not to be sought in the materialistic trend which culminated in the materialism of the French physicians and their discovery of l’homme machine, but in the materialism of the French supporters of Locke who were trying to overcome the dualism of man and nature by a naturalistic approach to the relation of man to his physical and social environment. Reductive mechanistic materialism is incompatible with Marx’s conception of man as being both determined by and responding to the circumstances, including the physical factors, of his environment, which he moulds and transforms by his action.

Marx also repudiated the materialist theories of history which reduced primary historical factors to some physical characteristics of man’s natural environment. This can be seen from his discussion in Capital of the role to be assigned to geographical conditions, such as the fertility of the soil and the bounty of nature in general. Marx’s conclusion to this discussion was that natural conditions set limits to, but do not strictly determine, the human or social response. Moreover, in proportion as industry advances, these natural limits recede. More generally, in the course of historical development, the significance of social bonds takes increasing precedence over dependence upon nature. Nature, Marx maintained, does not impose upon man any necessity to improve himself and his conditions. A natural force must be brought under the control of society to become a socially significant fact and, generally, social and cultural factors mediate and co-determine the role which natural resources, climate, or topography, may play in history.[123] Marx did not earn the tag with which he is labelled and which others, e.g. Montesquieu, deserved more than he. For Montesquieu believed that such factors as population, the geographical character of the territory, the nature of the soil or the type of climate directly condition the general structure of society and even the substance of its laws.[124]

In general, Marx could not have accepted an observable part of physical reality as the absolute primary factor of social action and relations, because in his view nature cannot function as a condition determining human consciousness unless it is first defined in sociocultural terms, that is, unless it is a socially and culturally mediated entity. Consequently, Marx could not and actually did not accept any explanation of social activity in any other but social terms. ‘Everything which sets men in motion’, wrote Engels, ‘must go through their minds.’[125] Marx emphasized this fact in The German Ideology to justify the view that not only circumstances make men, as the ‘old materialism’ maintained, but men also make circumstances, as the ‘new materialism’ asserted.

The Marxian conception of history is clearly an anti-reductive theory, irrespective of whether it can justifiably be called materialistic or not. When Marx surveyed social or historical events, he introduced numerous factors whose interaction was to explain them. These factors were things familiar from everyday life, such as tools, machines, buildings, soil, natural resources, animals, and men, in whom soul and body, physical needs, and spiritual aspirations were inextricably merged. Marx never intended to examine the question whether these various factors could be reduced to one another and, indeed, such an undertaking would not be feasible. On the other hand, if historical factors are not concrete objects but categories of social phenomena or of social relations (such as the means of production, productive relations, ideologies, and so forth), the question whether these phenomena or relations are reducible to one another could arise and was actually raised. While Marx always admitted the existence of various historical factors, regarded them as parts of a single whole and investigated their interaction occasionally he appeared to favour a reductive economic monism. For instance, the formulation of the materialist conception of history in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy lends itself easily to the interpretation in which the economic factor becomes ‘the only determining one’. But in the same Preface Marx refers the reader to The German Ideology, The Poverty of Philosophy, Wage Labour and Capital and The Communist Manifesto for a fuller exposition of his conception of history. To the works mentioned by Marx himself The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and Capital should be added. When all these publications are considered, it is impossible to see a reductive economic theory of history in the Marxian conception.

The problem was finally cleared up after Marx’s death and the verdict was against reductive monism and for a multi-factorial and functional approach to the analysis of social and historical phenomena. Engels’s letters on historical materialism (1890-94) are a firm rejection in his own and Marx’s name of an interpretation of historical materialism which would make of it a reductive economic theory of history. Writers and thinkers as different as Bernstein, Croce, Labriola, and Plekhanov opposed the transformation of historical materialism, conceived as a method of investigating social and historical phenomena, into an economic theory of history, and they often did it with trenchant arguments, wit, and perspicacity.

But even if it were true that Marx wished all history to be explained in economic terms alone and to assert that history is nothing but economic history and the rest futility and appearances, the economic interpretation could not be called ‘materialistic’, for neither the social relations of production nor the mode of production are concepts definable in terms of physical objects alone.[126] It is an elementary error to say that economic materialism is materialism and ‘can hardly be described in other terms’.[127] Nor is the Marxian view justifiably described as materialism, because Marx explains the social activity of man and man’s history ‘by his needs and by the means and methods of satisfying these needs ‘.[128] No historian can avoid resorting to this kind of explanation and, consequently, all historians would be materialists. The Marxian conception of history, whether conceived as a reductive or a non-reductive theory, is not a materialistic theory in the sense in which theories introducing physical conditions as primary factors in history may be justifiably called materialistic.[129]

What can be said about the Marxian conception with certainty concerns its naturalistic character. As Marx saw it, within an all-inclusive and self-sufficing nature there was no place for the operation of disembodied forces, of a mind, a soul, a spirit. Consequently, in Marx’s view of the physical world, man, society, and history, not the slightest trace of the supernatural was left. Man is a natural entity among others and does not hold a privileged position in the universe. Even when man struggles with and tries to secure his control over nature, he remains part of it.

This does not mean that the knowledge of man can be reduced to a natural science and his activity accounted for by the mechanical laws of inanimate nature. Furthermore, the general assumptions of naturalism do not imply that only what is material exists; for instance, neither the social relations which bind people together nor society itself are material entities whose mode of existence and structure are subject to the laws of material bodies. But the assumptions of naturalism may be conceived as implying materialism. In this case, the difference between naturalism and materialism disappears, and Marx’s naturalistic conception of history is reduced to a materialistic theory. Engels did make materialist inferences from Marx’s naturalism and passed them on to posterity as Marx’s own metaphysical doctrine.

8. Marx’s Contribution to Naturalism

When Marx maintains that his method of investigating history has a materialistic basis, he does not proclaim thereby his adherence to an absolute materialism; there is no warrant for such an interpretation. The philosophical principle on which the application of his method depends is not materialism but naturalism, the belief that nature is a self-contained and self-regulating system comprising everything that exists. Marxian naturalism was to surmount the Hegelian dualism of nature and spirit, concealed by the subordination of the former to the latter, and Feuerbach’s residual dualism of man and nature. While Hegel’s speculative philosophy is clearly anti- or supra-naturalistic, the remnants of supra-naturalism in Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism are less conspicuous.

Feuerbach’s case is really representative for the whole materialistic tradition, which obviously was unable to account for the variety of human experience. As long as materialism regarded man as a complicated machine, it had to remain unhistorical and to recognize its limitations and the impossibility of describing the whole range of man’s life-experience in materialistic terms. This was inevitable, for even the simplest cognitive act cannot be explained as an effect of a mechanical cause; external mechanical stimuli do not engender meaningful responses. As Sidney Hook pointed out, Marx objected to every previous doctrine of materialism because it made perception, thought, cognition, and creative act, whether in art or science, social and political life or morality, ‘appear to be either unnecessary or miraculous’.[130] Consequently, materialism exposed itself to a not unjustifiable charge of ignoring, or failing to consider in its system, a wide area of human experience and essential human values, thus becoming one-sided, soulless and, as Marx put it, ‘hostile to humanity (menschenfeindlich) ’.[131]

On the other hand, if materialism wished to acknowledge the whole scale and richness of man’s experience, it had to become untrue to itself and to accept in some form or other idealistic or spiritualistic conceptions. Materialists themselves were doubtful whether particles of matter in motion could possibly account for the varied content and the distinctive qualities of man’s moral, religious, artistic, or intellectual experience. Recognizing the strength of the Cartesian argument that the effect cannot exceed its cause in perfection, such materialists, and Feuerbach was one of them, made concessions to the traditional prejudices about the unworthiness of the physical aspect of human nature and regarded its higher aspirations as the only genuinely human qualities.[132] Marx maintained that the widespread confusion about the lower and higher moral worth to be attached to different human activities- reflected in the ethical implications commonly associated with materialism and idealism and with the distinction between nature and culture- was responsible for the fact that history was written according to extraneous standards. That which had no connection with ordinary life was presented as supremely historical, and that which reflected the ‘real production of life’ was beneath history.[133]

Feuerbach refused to recognize the simple fact that man is what he is and not something else, for his own inadequate system provided arguments for the view ascribing an irreducible spiritual factor to the human person. As Engels repeatedly emphasized in Ludwig Feuerbach, Feuerbach displayed a defective discrimination and appreciation of the variety inherent in human life in all its complexity and intricacy. This was not always Feuerbach’s fault, for the deficiencies of his ways of viewing man and society were due to the materialistic doctrine current at that time, against which he fought, but of which he was unable to shake himself free. The old materialism was of real benefit as a corrective to the metaphysical imagination and its pretensions of penetrating by pure thought into the world of things. But the old materialism was inadequate and barren for the understanding of art and culture and inappropriate for the examination of the highest functions of the human spirit.[134]

In Engels’s opinion, which developed in full a point of view succinctly stated by Marx a few years earlier,[135] mechanistic materialism in general and Feuerbach’s materialism in particular showed an ‘astonishing poverty’, imaginative blindness and shallowness when compared with Hegel’s wealth and profundity of thought, his sense of the historical, of the complexity, richness, and variety of factors involved in the historical process. This feeling was shared by Plekhanov, who constantly emphasized Hegel’s superiority over metaphysical materialism and pointed out that pre-Marxian materialism did not know how ‘to give a materialist explanation to all sides of human life’.[136] Lenin, too, supported this assessment indirectly when he wrote that ‘intelligent (sc. dialectical) idealism’ is closer to ‘intelligent (sc. dialectical) materialism’ than any other kind of materialism.[137]

The criticism of Feuerbach’s materialism can be reduced to the assertion that Feuerbach was unable to explain human activity in terms of his own materialistic philosophy. This criticism could have been directed against the whole materialistic tradition. ‘Materialism’, wrote F. A. Lange, its historian, ‘can hardly close the circle of its system without borrowing from idealism.’ What the idealists lack in scientific knowledge and habits of mind, they make up for by their insight into various forms of human experience which do not lend themselves easily to examination in terms of scientific categories.[138]

The conclusion was inescapable that neither the French materialists nor Feuerbach managed to provide an adequate materialist foundation on which a comprehensive science of man could be established. The French materialists were so anxious to show that the materialist conception of nature could be universally applied and give all the explanation required from it that they were satisfied with the idea of considering man as a member of the animal kingdom and as an organization of material bodies subject to the laws of mechanics. But to consider man merely as matière sensible, as Holbach did, or merely as ‘an object of the senses’ in the manner of Feuerbach, was to bar the approach to the understanding of human activity, social life, and historical development. On the basis of mechanistic materialism there could be no history of man, and without change and development it was impossible to explain how man, being a natural entity, could acquire his distinctively human characteristics. The only history that mechanistic materialism would allow for was a record of how the blind forces of nature operate and determine man’s behaviour.

In this respect, Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism was no improvement upon French materialism. It is true that Feuerbach regarded man as an irreducible natural entity, but he continued to regard him only as a passive object, and never as an active subject, of history. Consequently, since he did not wish to confine himself to the examination of man as a member of the animal kingdom and tried, though unsuccessfully, to do justice to the complexity and richness of human nature, he could not avoid making concessions to idealism or spiritualism.

Feuerbach managed to overcome the Hegelian conception of man in philosophy, but sociologically man remained what he was for Hegel, namely, an abstract being, a concept and a metaphysical entity whose existence was outside of historical development and social and economic evolution. Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism still left room for differentiating various realms of reality. Moreover, it was methodologically inadequate to provide a unified approach to the investigations of man and other natural objects, of which, according to the thesis of anthropological materialism, he was one.

This objective was achieved by Marx’s naturalism. His naturalistic theory replaced Hegel’s idealistic conception in which mind, as a manifestation of the Idea or Spirit, was endowed with an original power, autonomous activity, and inherent energy. The successful attempt to widen the scope of natural phenomena is perhaps Marx’s most important contribution to philosophy.[139] According to Marx’s ‘consistent naturalism or humanism’, the emergence of the human spirit takes place at a late stage in the evolution of man. It is a product of the power of development immanent in the ‘species life’, generated and impelled by man’s life in society, the development which accounts for constant human growth and ever new achievements. All events are equally natural; in particular, social, moral, and spiritual life, all that is truly creative and powerful in man, belongs to the natural order of things, as much as man’s biological life.[140] The power, activity, and energy of spirit are the ‘fantastic reflection of our own essence’, that is, spirit is man’s objectified and reified capacity for creative self-expression. ‘Activity’, wrote Feuerbach, ‘is the positive sense of one’s personality... the happiest, the most blissful activity is that which is productive.’ To paraphrase Feuerbach’s famous statement, to view the idea or spirit of transcendental idealism as the projected personality of man is to discover that the secret of metaphysics is nothing but anthropology.[141]

Since the whole range of human experience and activity has the quality of natural events, all man’s differential ways of action can be accepted as distinctively human traits. Marx explicitly recognized such distinctive human characteristics and made no effort to explain them away as a combination of other characteristics to be found in the whole animal kingdom.[142] Marx was not one of those naturalistic philosophers of whom George Santayana said that they have but cursory and wretched notions of the inner life of mind, hate poetry and fancy and passion and even philosophy itself, and are despised by the academic and cultivated world harking back to Plato or Aristotle or Hegel, since these thinkers at least were conversant with the spirit of man.[143] Marx looked for the kind of naturalistic philosophy which would make full allowance for ‘human self-consciousness’ and would not yield precedence to idealism in explaining man’s creative achievements.

It was the establishment of the ‘science of man’ that provided Marx with intellectual tools for advancing beyond ‘all the hitherto existing materialism’ and for the solution of his problem. Without the assistance of sociology Marx would have been helpless against the claim of idealism that man’s spiritual experience, his autonomous social, moral, artistic, religious, and intellectual life, gives a better key to the understanding of the universe than materialism, based on natural science, would ever be able to provide. Marx’s solution of the problem set by idealism consisted essentially in widening the scope of natural phenomena, in recognizing in society a natural entity, subject to laws of its own, and in regarding man’s nature as the changing product of social evolution and historical progress.

Unlike his predecessors, with the exception of Comte, Marx did not hold society to be an artificial creation, added to or superimposed upon nature, but a natural entity. Hobbes was mistaken when he said that the social order was generated and maintained by an act of will of the ruler; Rousseau misinterpreted facts when he contrasted natural man as he came from the hands of nature with artificial man as made by society; and the French philosophes were equally wrong when they saw in the decisions of the law-maker the source of social laws and the efficient cause of social processes. There is a determinate order inherent in social existence itself. The laws which govern social phenomena are as much laws of nature as the laws of physics and biology are. These social laws determine the evolution of society and with it the evolution of man’s nature. The social being is rooted in nature and human nature is rooted in society.

Man is not an entity of a higher order, an immortal spirit in a carnal tomb, confronting nature as its judge and arbiter, and trying to reach perfection against the opposition of the blind and elemental forces of nature. The concept of a merciless struggle against nature or of a romantic unity with nature are, according to Marx, entirely inappropriate for the description of the actual relationship between nature and man.[144] There is no human nature independent of society and there is no man distinct from social men whose ever-changing characteristics are determined by the entire structure of society. Man acquires novel characteristics, for he is not only shaped by his natural and social environment but also changes and transforms this environment through his responsive action. To maintain his existence man acts on the external world and by his action changes his own nature. Since man’s action is not individual but social, all human action is to be explained in terms of the social conditions in which it takes place. The distinctive characteristics of individuals, acquired in the course of social evolution, should be conceived as moulded by a particular form of social organization and related to its structural differentiation at any given time.

These assumptions allowed Marx to consider man entirely within nature, within the totality of objects all of which belong to the same realm of being and thus lend themselves to treatment by one single method. There are no ontological differences of level within human experience and activity, although there is an order of succession in time in their appearance. Just as the same method applies to all events and to all areas of human experience, so all human experience, from the ‘lowest’ to the ‘highest’, is equally amenable to a non-reductive analysis and, in principle, to the same method of investigation as that used with respect to any ordinary object or aspect of nature. Since reality is entirely uniform, the various sciences, whether natural or social, can use one and the same method in dealing with each of its parts.

All culture-producing activities of man, all his creative acts and strivings towards perfection grow out of human work and social activity concerned with the ordinary process of living, with the production and reproduction of life. Their growth is determined by social relations and interaction, processes in which individuals participate, and not by ‘human essences’ or ‘human nature’ conceived as a spiritual substance that is autonomous in its being and spontaneous in its development. Recognizing by implication the principle of the continuity of causal influences,[145] Marx can accept the appearance in man of characteristics which are novel as compared with those of other species, that is, irreducible to any combination of their characteristics, and which continue to be dependent on circumstances, not necessarily distinctively human. They illustrate the emergence of a ‘higher’ activity from a ‘lower’, the different types of activity being causally related to, but not identical with, each other.

Marx recognized the process of cumulative development, social advance or progress. The emergence of a ‘higher’ activity from a ‘lower’ or of a superior form of social organization from an inferior one is a manifestation of an increase in complexity and differentiation of social processes. However, the principle of evolution and progressive advance does not imply the ontological doctrine of emergence, which does not seem to be compatible with an anthropological naturalism and of which no trace can be found in Marx.


1. MEGA 1/3, p. 160; EPM, p. 156.

2. L. Feuerbach, WDLS, p. 362. The followers of Marx, including those who had a first-hand knowledge of Feuerbach, did not understand what he wanted to say. For instance, Plekhanov wrote that Feuerbach’s anthropological viewpoint was only a methodological device, conditioned by the circumstances of time and place, which was intended to ‘bring forth a correct view upon matter in general and its relation to the "spirit"’ (Plekhanov, FPM, p. 6).

3. G. Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, p. 114.

4. Differenz der demokritischen und epikureischen Naturphilosophie, MEGA I/I/I, p. 52. It is perhaps interesting to note that Sartre shares Marx’s admiration for Epicurus, whom he describes as the first man who tried to abolish slavery within his domain’ (‘Materialism et revolution’, pp. 173-4).

5. MEGA I/3, pp. 34, 151-2; EPM, pp. 17, 144-5; MEGA I/3, p. 316; HF, pp. 186-7; Marx’s letter to L. Feuerbach of 11 August 1844 (first published in 1958 and known to the author only in Polish translation, Karol Marks I Fryderyk Engels, Dziela, tom I, pp. 640-3).

6. Engels probably followed the lead of the Young Hegelians for whom Feuerbach’s critique of religion was a paradigm of philosophical thinking and as such completely destroyed the ‘old philosophy’, that is, Hegel’s speculative philosophy. It was felt that Feuerbach’s critique of religion applied equally to any dogma or abstract principle dominating the mind of men, and hence was of universal importance. This view of Feuerbach’s philosophy is also reflected in Marx’s early writings (see e.g., GI, pp. 4-6; Fruhschriften, pp. 344-5) and explains the opening sentence of the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, ‘For Germany the critique (Kritik) of religion is the premise of all critique (Kritik).’

7. Engels treated Feuerbach condescendingly in Ludwig Feuerbach and Engels’s authority tended to minimise Feuerbach’s influence upon Marx in the eyes of his followers and exponents. In this respect Plekhanov was an exception, for he emphasized that Feuerbach ‘in a considerable measure worked out the philosophical foundation of what can be called the world outlook of Marx and Engels’ (FPM, p. 5). Contemporary students of Marx are inclined to accept Engels’s testimony unquestioningly, ignore Feuerbach’s philosophy, and consider the Essence of Christianity alone as an important influence in Marx’s philosophical development. One of the very few exceptions to this rule is Sidney Hook’s treatment of Marx’s relationship to Feuerbach in From Hegel to Marx. Cf. E. Their, Das Menschenbild des jungen marx, pp. 16-17, whose author, too, is not misled by Engels’s reminiscences in Ludwig Feuerbach.

8. The term ‘anthropological materialism’ is borrowed from German historians of philosophy who often describe Feuerbach’s doctrine as anthropologischer Materialismus. As applied to the philosophy of Feuerbach, ‘naturalism’ seems to be preferable to ‘materialism’, for Feuerbach did not establish matter as the principle of all that exists. It is advisable to add the qualification anthropological for the following reason. Unlike pure materialists who are impressed by the insignificance of man as compared with the whole of nature, Feuerbach gave a prominent place to man, a position which is bound to militate against some varieties or assumptions of materialism.

9. L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, pp. 87, 270.

10. Ibid., pp. 91, 286.

11. Feuerbach, VTRPH, p. 267.

12. Feuerbach, WDLS, p. 362. F. A. Lange rightly observed that however close they may be, sensibility and materiality are not identical notions for Feuerbach.

13. L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, Preface to 2nd ed., p. xxxiv.

14. J. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, book II, ch. 27, 5-10.

15. Feuerbach, VTRPH, p. 264; GPHZ, § 59, p. 344.

16. Feuerbach, GPHZ, § 36, p. 325.

17. Feuerbach, WDLS, p. 356, 367.

18. Engels, LF, pp. 332-3; AD, p. 55. Engels’s insistence that ‘the ‘human being’ is always a phantom as long as he does not have his basis in empirical man’ and that the empirical man is an ‘embodied individual’ clearly reflects Feuerbach’s conception of man. See Engels’s letter to Marx of 19 November 1844 (MEGA III/I, p. 7).

19. Engels, LF, pp. 337. Engels’s view is very close to one of Feuerbach’s aphorisms in VTRPH. ‘Philosophy is the knowledge of what exists’, Feuerbach wrote. ‘The highest duty and task of philosophy is to think of things and beings and to apprehend them the way they are’ (p. 254). In his interesting study Der Begriff der Nature in der Lehre von Marx, A. Schmidt suggested that Marx was a materialist but that ‘his materialism should not be understood ontologically’ (p. 22, passim). An anti-metaphysical materialism is a contradiction in adiecto, for materialism is a metaphysical doctrine. There is, however, no inconsistency in speaking of an anti-metaphysical naturalism, which is one of many reasons why Marx’s philosophy should be described as naturalism.

20. Engels, LF, pp. 349.

21. Ibid., pp. 349-50.

22. Marx, GI, p. 37; Fruhschriften, p. 354.

23. See, e.g., Engels’s letter to F. Mehring of 14 July 1893; Marx, GI, p. 37; Fruhschriften, p. 354. Historicity can be defined as that feature of the behaviour and, generally, living organism (LO) that given response R of LO at tnR cannot be explained unless the past behaviour of type R and other occurrences in the history of LO are included among the causes of R at tn.

24. Engels, LF, pp. 340.

25. While Marx, who wrote his criticism of Feuerbach’s philosophy in 1845, emphasized above all its affinity with ‘old materialism’, F. A. Lange was impressed twenty years later by the great distance dividing Feuerbach from ‘strict materialism’. See his History of Materialism, vol. Ii, pp. 250-I.

26. Marx, Capital, vol. I, p. 17.

27. Ibid., p. 390.

28. Engels and some of the younger followers of Marx shared his hostility to what they sometimes referred to as ‘bourgeois materialism’. Quoting from Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit where Goethe described his reaction to Holbach’s Systeme de la nature, Plekhanov called the views of the French materialists a dry, gloomy, and melancholy doctrine. They, that is, the mechanistic materialists, made it clear that ‘the materialist conception of nature is still not the materialist conception of history’ (SAHD, p. 472; DMH, p. 606). The former is of no avail in explaining historical phenomena.

29. Elsewhere Marx described Locke as ‘an advocate of the new bourgeoisie in all forms’ and as’the philosopher of political economy in England, France, and Italy’ (Capital, vol. I p. 390). Marx probably had in mind Locke’s idea of society as an aggregate of individuals each pursuing his own ends independently of the others and subordinating his action to certain rules. Marx was an outspoken opponent of this individualistic and rationalistic conception of society which might have played a useful role in economics but was disastrous for the development of social theory. Locke’s conception of society was also accepted by the thinkers of the French Enlightenment. As a social philosopher Locke was not a protagonist of socialism and communism.

30. MEGA I/3, pp. 306-8; HF, pp. 174-7. Rousseau was a determined opponent of the view that the individual is what education makes him and criticized it at length in Emile, book iv, tome 2, pp. 43 ff.

31. Marx, MEGA I/3, pp. 307-8; HF, pp. 176. Cf. Plekhanov, DMH, p. 549.

32. MEGA I/3, p. 179; HF, p. 15; GI, pp. 5-6; Fruhschriften, pp. 345-6.

33. MEGA I/3, pp. 338-9; HF, pp. 214-15.

34. TF iii.

35. Marx, GI, p. 34; Fruhschriften, pp. 351.

36. Engels, AD, p. 16.

37. Engels, LF, p. 340.

38. Engels, AD, p. 17.

39. The materials contained in Dialectics of Nature were collected in preparation for accomplishing this task.

40. Marx expounded this conception in the third of his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, in The German Ideology, and also referred to it in the opening paragraphs of ch. vii in vol. i of Capital.

41. Marx, GI, pp. 35-37; Fruhschriften, pp. 351-3.

42. MEGA I/3, pp. 160-1,171; EPM, pp. 156-7, 170. T his section owes a great debt to the study of L. Kolakowski, ‘Karol Marks i klasyczna definicja prawdy’. Cf. L. Landgrebe, ‘Das Problem der Dialektik’, pp. 52-55; K. Korsch, Karl Marx, pp. 190-1.

43. Marx, GI, p. 37; Fruhschriften, p. 353.

44. Feuerbach, WDLS, p. 362; GPHZ, § 54, p. 343; MEGA 1/3, p. 160; EPM, p. 156.

45. S. Hook, From Hegel to Marx, p. 295.

46. MEGA 1/3, p. 85; EPM, p. 70. Cf. Feuerbach, GPHZ, § 29, p. 314: ‘Matter is the symbol of being outside thought, the substratum of reality.’

47. Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inegalite parmi les hommes, premiere partie, pp. 60-61.

48. L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, pp. 82-83, 158.

49. Marx, GI, p. 19; Fruhschriften, p. 357.

50. See Jordan, PHI, ch. 18. Sidney Hook points out that Marx only elaborated upon Feuerbach’s theory of knowledge which, in turn, closely resembles that of Protagoras. See From Hegel to Marx, pp. 256-9. Protagoras’s epistemological relativism was individualistic and that of Feuerbach and Marx was not. Moreover, in the ease of Marx, it was supported by an elaborate sociological theory which makes Protagoras’s and Marx’s theories of knowledge entirely incomparable. To emphasize this important difference, Karl Mannheim’s distinction between relativism and relationism, introduced in Ideology and Utopia, could be adopted. Protagoras’s doctrine would provide an instance of epistemological relativism, that of Feuerbach and Marx - of epistemological relationism. For the latter position the name perspectivism has also been suggested. See L. von Bertalanffy, ‘The Psychopathology of Scientism’, p. 204.

51. MEGA 1/3, p. 87; EPM, p. 74.

52. Marx, GI, P. 35; Fruhschriften, p. 351. Marx attached great importance to this view and stressed it repeatedly in The German Ideology, The Poverty of Philosophy and in his letter to P. V. Annenkov of 28 December 1846.

53. Plekhanov, FPM, p. 12.

54. Marx, GI, p. 29; Frühschriften, p. 368. Jean-Paul Sartre, interpreting this and other Marxian pronouncements, writes that according to this principle the specificity of the human act which transforms the world on the basis of given conditions is man’s ability to go beyond this situation and to remake what has been made (Critique de la raison dialectique, p. 63).

55. Engels, Special Introduction to the English edition of SUS, pp. 92-93; LF, p. 336; DN, p. 306. Plekhanov’s definition, ‘dialectical materialism is the philosophy of action’, seems also to reflect the original Marxian approach to the theory of knowledge. See Plekhanov, DMH, p. 742.

56. It should be remembered that Lenin did not know either Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 or The German Ideology.

57. The distinction between sacred and profane things in the sociological meaning of these terms is associated with Emile Durkheim. The expressions ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ used in reference to the two types of history differentiated by Marx should not be given the Durkheimean sense but only that intended and explained by Marx himself.

58. B. Russell, Freedom and Organization, p. 192; ‘Dewey’s New Logic’, p. 143. Dewey repudiated any affinity between Marx and himself by accusing Marx of the one-factor fallacy and the belief that the conditions provided by the environment are supreme. See Freedom and Culture, pp. 75-76. Precisely in this respect there is no difference between Marx and Dewey.

59. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 123; EPM, p. iii.

60. Feuerbach, GPHZ, § 54, p. 343.

61. Werner Sombart used the terms ‘social naturalism’ and ‘social idealism’ (sozialer Naturalismus, sozialer Idealismus) to designate the views of Marx and Hegel respectively, which seem, however, to be as much burdened by misleading connotations and associations as are the more familiar phrases ‘the materialist’ and ‘the spiritualistic conception of history’. See W. Sombart, Der proletarische Sozialismus, Bd. 1, pp. 142, 146.

62. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 327; HF, p. 201.

63. Marx’s letter to P. V. Annenkov of 28 December 1846. Marx might have wished also to refer to Moses Hess’s The Sacred History of Mankind (Die heilige Geschichte der Menschheit), published in 1837, in which Hess called the history of mankind ‘sacred’ because he regarded it as a gradual revelation of the Divine Spirit. See J. Weiss, Moses Hess: Utopian Socialist, pp. 10-22.

64. Marx, KHR, MEGA 1/1/1, p. 607.

65. Marx, GI, pp. 22-23; Fruhschriften, pp. 364-5.

66. Marx, KHR, MEGA 1/1/1, p. 608.

67. The expression ‘the idealist view of history’ (die idealistische Geschichts- anschauung) occurs in The German Ideology, p. 28 (Fruhschriften, p. 368), but the other - ‘the materialist conception of history’ (die materialistische Auffassung der Geschichte) - was never used by Marx. It was Engels who applied it for the first time in his review of Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published in Das Volk, a German newspaper appearing in London, in August 1859 (MCPE, pp. 333-4), and not in Anti-Duhring, as is often said. ‘Historical materialism’ seems to have been used for the first time by Engels in his Special Introduction to the English edition of SUS (1892), p. 94.

68. Marx, GI, pp. 39-40; Fruhschriften, pp. 373-4.

69. Marx, GI, pp. 30-33, 43; Fruhschriften, pp. 369-72, 378.

70. Marx, GI, pp. 6, 13; Frühschriften, pp. 346, 348.

71. Marx, Capital, vol. i, pp. 42-43, 183-4.

72. Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 268. Cf. MEGA 1/6, p. 482; WLC, p. 83 for an earlier formulation of the same view.

73. Marx, GI, pp. 7, 28-29, 38; Fruhschriften,pp.347, 364, 367-8; Marx’s letter to P. V. Annenkov of 28 December 1846; Capital, vol. i, p. 80.

74. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 296; HF, p. 163.

75. Marx, GI, pp. 16-18, 26-27; Fruhschriften, pp. 354-6, 363-4; Engels, LF, p. 357.

76. The expressions ‘realer Grund’, ‘wirkliche Basis’ or ‘realer Boden’ occur frequently in the writings of the young Marx to designate what later has become known as ‘the economic base’ or ‘basis’. See, e.g., Fruhschriften, pp. 368, 369. Engels took it over from Marx and used it synonymously with ‘the economic structure’, ‘the material foundation’, and similar expressions.

77. Marx’s letter to P. V. Annenkov of 28 December 1846.

78. Marx, MEGA 1/6, pp. 179-80; PPH, pp. 92-93.

79. Marx, MEGA 1/3, pp. 87-88, 156; EPM, pp. 75, 151; GI, pp. 14-15, 28, 30; Frühschriften, pp. 348- 9, 367- 9.

80. MEGA 1/3, p. 371; HF, p. 255.

81. MEGA 1/3, p. 156; EPM, p. 151.

82. Some historians of social and philosophical thought maintain that for his concept of social evolution as the formative cause of man’s distinctive characteristics Marx is directly indebted to The Phenomenology of Mind. See H. B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch, p. 146; A. L. Harris, ‘Utopian Elements in Marx’s Thought’, pp. 91-92; J. Plamenatz, Man and Society, vol. ii, pp. 197-9. This seems to be the result, at least in some cases, of a circulus vitiosus, namely, it is based on a prior interpretation of The

Phenomenology of Mind in accordance with Marx’s understanding of it.

83. Marx, MEGA 1/3, P. 305; HF, p. 173.

84. Marx, GI, pp. 16, 36; Fruhschriften, pp. 353, 354.

85. Engels, DN, p. 306.

86. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 121; EPM, p. 109; Early Writings, p. 162; Capital, vol. i, p. 177.

87. Marx’s curious linguistic habit of using the expressions ‘species life ‘, ‘human species’, and ‘species man’ when he wished to refer to social life and to social individual may have come from Saint-Simon and Comte, who saw in society un veritable etre vivant and wanted to establish sociology as a generalized physiology. Since the expression ‘la physiologie de l’espèce’ was originally used to denote sociology, the term ‘l’espece humaine’ acquired a sociological meaning. In Cours (see, e.g., iv, p. 560) Comte used the expression ‘l’espèce’ and ‘la societé’ synonymously.

88. Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 268.

89. Marx, GI, p. 74; Fruhschriften, p. 396.

90. Marx, MEGA 1/3, pp. 87-88, 123, 156; EPM, pp. 75, 111, 151;

MEGA 1/3, pp. 307-8; HF, p. 176; GI, p. 37; Frühschiften, pp. 353-4.

91. Marx, GI, p. 19; Fruhschriften, p. 357.

92. Marx, GI, pp. 49, 76; Fruhschriften, p. 395.

93. Marx, Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, pp. 265-7.

94. K. Popper, OS, vol. ii, p. 93.

95. MEGA 1/3, p. 87; EPM, p. 75; MEGA 1/6, p. 482; WLC, p. 83.

96. MEGA 1/3, p. 125; EPM, p. 113.

97. Marx, GI, pp. 20-23, 74-75; Fruhschriften, pp. 358-61, 395-6.

98. The dispute between Marx and the supporters of individualism continues unabated. ‘While Marx’s followers consider collectivism as the only true humanism, his opponents maintain that there is an inconsistency in Marx’s thought between the goal of an unfettered development of personality and the collectivistic means by which that goa1 is to be approached and attained. See John D. Lewis, ‘The Individual and the Group in

Marxist Theory’, p. 56.

99. J. S. Mill, System of Logic, book vi, ch. vii, § 1.

100. J. S. Mill, Auguste Comte and Positivism, p. 84.

101. Marx, Capital, vol. i, p. 609.

102. Marx, Zur Judenfrage, MEGA 1/1/1, p. 595; MEGA 1/3, pp. 116-17;

EPM, pp. 104-5; TF vi.

103. Marx rejected, therefore, the view of the eighteenth-century materialists and the nineteenth-century utopian socialists who believed that all man’s sufferings are the results of his ignorance and poverty and that once these are abolished, man is bound to attain happiness.

104. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 116; EPM, p. 103.

105. This assumption is usually ascribed to Hegel, but when Marx adopted it there was no longer anything Hegelian about it. Comte in Cours de Philosophie positive and John Stuart Mill in System of Logic stated more clearly than Hegel ever did that the peculiar characteristics of social facts are their consensus (that is, their universal interdependence) and their conformity to the uniformities of coexistence between the states of various social phenomena. For Mill’s views on the matter, see System of Logic, book vi. ch. ix, § 2. ch. x, § 2. The ideas of Comte are discussed in Ch. IV below.

106. Marx, GI, p. 28; Frühschriften, pp. 367-8. Cf. Plekhanov, FPM, p. 61.

107. Comte, SPP, p. 111 ; E. Durkheim, Montesquieu and Rousseau, pp. 13, 56-57. Lenin rightly pointed out that Marx put an end to the view that society is unrestrictively modifiable and thus ‘at the will of the authorities’ (WFPA, p. 142), but he did not realize that Marx was neither the first nor the only one to establish this important premises.

108. Comte, SPP, pp. 139-46; Cours, iv, p. 243.

109. Comte, Cours, vi, p. 686.

110. G. Simmel, The Web of Group Affiliations, p. 138.

111. K. Popper, OS, vol. ii, pp. 102-5.

112. Engels, Special Introduction to the English edition of SUS, p. 94.

113. Engels’s letter to C. Schmidt of August 1890.

114. E. Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism, p. ‘7; cf. Zur Geschichte und Theorie des Sozialismus, pp. 263-7, 285.

115. H. Cunow, Die Warxsche Geschichts-, Gesellschafts- und Staatstheorie, Bd. 2, p. 18o. The same terminological preference was voiced by W. Sombart, Deutscher Sozialismus, p. 94, and H. B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch, p. 161.

116. Lenin, WFPA, p. 143.

117. Plekhanov, DMH, pp. 689, 720-5, 741; Lenin, WFPA, pp, xji, i6i- 162 ; cf. G. Gurvitch, La Vocation actuelle de la sociologie, tome ii, pp. 224, 225, where similar objections against the term ‘economic materialism’ are voiced. While Plekhanov coined the expression ‘dialectical materialism’ to designate the materialism of Engels in Anti-Duhring, he also used it occasionally in quite a different sense. Thus he described The Holy Family as ‘the new dialectical materialism’s first encounter with idealist philosophy’, because in this book Marx showed that human reason, far from being the demiurge of history, is itself the product of history. See FNLF, p. 485; DMH, pp. 741-2. When used this way, ‘dialectical materialism’ means as much as the naturalistic theory of history or profane history in the terminology of the young Marx.

118. See A. Labriola, Essays on the Materialist Conception of History, pp. 97-99 ; B. Croce, Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx, pp. 8 and 26; E. R. A. Seligman, The Economic Interpretation of History, p. 146; E. Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism, pp. 17-18; M. Adler, Marxistische Probleme, pp. 65-66; Marx als Denker, pp. 129-30; K. Vorlŝnder, Karl Marx, pp. 178, 220; B. Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, p. 59. In this connection it should be noted that Feuerbach, too, wondered whether his views should not be called ‘realism’ rather than ‘materialism’. See The Essence of Christianity, Preface, p. xxxiv.

119. F. A. Lange, The History of Materialism, vol. ii, p. 240, and Bertrand

Russell’s introduction to that work, p. v.

120. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 152; EPM, p. 145.

121. Marx, Capital, vol. i, p. 372.

122. If these elements alone are considered and contrasted with a clearly idealist viewpoint, then Marx can be classified as a materialist. It was in conformity with this use of the term that Marx wrote to Kugelmann: ‘I am a materialist and Hegel is an idealist’ (6 March 1868).

123. Capital, vol. i, pp. 513-15. Engels seemed to have come to a different conclusion when towards the end of his life he agreed that race and geography should be included in what he called ‘economic relations’ or ‘economic factor’ (see Engels’s letter to H. Starkenburg of 25 January 1894). However, Engels’s statement also lends itself to a different interpretation. After Engels, Plekhanov returned to the question of the relation between the geographic environment and the development of the productive forces and argued that the former determine the latter. He qualified this conclusion by adding that in the course of time the dependence of man on his geographical environment changes its nature and becomes indirect rather than direct. See Plekhanov, DMH, pp. 66-8, 738-40, 783-4; FPM, pp. 15-21. It is worth while emphasizing that Plekhanov was inclined to classify the Marxian conception of history as a ‘particular case of the materialist view of history’ (DMH, p. 784)

124. Incidentally, the fact that Montesquieu was a materialist in the indicated sense and that Marx was not, accounts perhaps for another difference between them, namely, that Montesquieu completely ignored, whereas Marx was fully aware of, social evolution. For the importance attached to physical environment tends to conceal the process whereby a society constantly changes and becomes something ever new, and favours historical explanations in terms of constant factors, such as topography, or climate, which seem to make change unreal or apparent.

125. Engels, LF, p. 356.

126. According to Lenin, materialism in sociology consists in recognizing the relations of production as being basic, primary, and determining all other social relations. See Lenin, WFPA, pp. 138-41. Lenin suggests a new meaning to be given to the term ‘materialism’ which, however, has no justification in the historically accepted use of this term.

127. R. N. C. Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism, p. 80.

128. Plekhanov, The Materialist Conception of History, p. 20.

129. The economic interpretation would not be materialistic even upon the condition that this qualification refers exclusively to its alleged ethical content, to the assumption that men are purely egoistic beings who act without any other consideration but their own interests, and who strive for a minimum of pain and a maximum of pleasure. This assumption, an egoistical interpretation of human behaviour and a hedonistic moral philosophy, is often associated or identified with materialism. It underlies Adam Smith’s Theory of Morals and Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations and is described by F. A. Lange as ethical materialism (History of Materialism, vol. iii, pp. 233-7). It hardly needs mentioning, as H. Cunow showed in detail (Die Marxsche Geschichts-, Gesellsehafts- und Staatstheorie, Bd. 2, P. 211), that the Marxian conception of history does not contain this assumption.

130. S. Hook, From Hegel to Marx, p. 275.

131. Marx, MEGA 1/3, p. 305; HF, p. 173.

132. TF I; Engels, LF, pp. 341-2. Feuerbach seemed to adhere to the antithesis between nature and culture. While nature ‘gives birth to or brings forth’ its products, man makes them, that is, produces, acting according to a valued end or fostering intentionally what already exists because of its accepted or postulated value relevance. See The Essence of Christianity, p. 220. Thus, the antithesis between nature and culture reflects the irreducible difference of two classes of objects, the one composed of meaningful objects and the other of those which just grow or come to pass and have merely a factual existence with no inherent value relevance or meaning. Feuerbach seems to corroborate Marx’s criticism also in VTRPH, § 55, p. 343.

133. Marx, GI, p. 30; Fruhschriften, p. 369.

134. Engels, LF, pp. 338-40.

135. See Marx’s letter to J. B. Schweitzer of 24 January 1865.

136. Plekhanov, EHM, pp. 176-80, 242-3.

137. Lenin, PHN, p. 276.

138. F. A. Lange, History of Materialism, vol. iii, p. 340.

139. Engels often spoke of the permanent impact which Hegel’s resistance against the dualism between nature and spirit as well as its outcome, the monistic system of objective idealism, made upon Marx. Engels also emphasized that Hegel’s spiritualistic monism directly inspired Marx’s search for an equally comprehensive monistic system based on a materialistic foundation (Engels, MCPE, pp. 337-8, LF, pp. 330, 345).

After Marx, John Dewey, another Hegelian in his youth and naturalistic thinker in maturity, recorded an immense sense of liberation imparted by ‘Hegel’s synthesis of subject and object, matter and spirit, the divine and the human’ and also spoke of the attraction exercised by ‘Hegel’s treatment of human culture, of institutions and the arts’. The acquaintance with Hegel left, as he put it, a permanent deposit in his thinking, in spite of the enormous distance dividing Hegel’s absolute idealism and his own naturalism and instrumentalism. See J. Dewey, ‘From Absolutism to Experimentalism’, pp. 19, 21.

140. The principal advances of our intelligence, Comte commented, consist mainly in fundamental extensions of previous thought (Cours, iv, p. 244).

141. L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, pp. 207, 217. Cf. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, p. 1 90.

142. Marx, Capital, vol. i, pp. 177-8.

143. G. Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, pp. 19-20.

144. Marx, GI, p. 36; Frühschriften, pp. 351-3.

145. J. Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, p. 18; E. Nagel, Logic without Metaphysics, p. 11.