Significant brevity is coherent, that is why it is the least quick to put itself into words. Thus the understanding must repeatedly prove itself anew in such propositions. This nowhere more freshly than in the terse collection of the most terse directions which are known as the Eleven Theses on Feuerbach. Marx wrote them down in April 1845 in Brussels, most probably in the burst of preparatory work for ‘The German Ideology’. The theses were not published until 1888 by Engels, as an appendix to his ‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy’. Here Engels slightly edited Marx’s occasionally sketchy text for style, naturally without the slightest change of content. Concerning the theses, Engels writes in the foreword to his ‘Ludwig Feuerbach’: ‘They are notes for later elaboration, jotted down quickly, definitely not intended for publication, but invaluable as the first document in which the seed of genius of the new view of the world is set down.’ Feuerbach had recalled us from pure thought to sensory perception, from mind to man, together with nature as his basis. As we know, this both ‘humanistic’ and ‘naturalistic’ rejection of Hegel (with man as the main idea, nature rather than mind as primary) had a strong influence on the young Marx.
Feuerbach’s ‘The Essence of Christianity’, 1841, his ‘Provisional Theses for a Reform of Philosophy’, 1842, and even his ‘Principles of the Philosophy of the Future’, 1843, seemed all the more liberating since even the left-wing school of Hegelians could not detach itself from Hegel, in fact did not go beyond a merely internal Hegelian critique of the master of idealism. ‘The enthusiasm’, says Engels in ‘Ludwig Feuerbach’, looking back at it around fifty years later, ‘was general: we were all momentarily Feuerbachians. How enthusiastically Marx greeted the new interpretation, and how greatly – despite all critical reservations – he was influenced by it, we can read in ‘The Holy Family’ (Ludwig Feuerbach, Dietz, 1946, p. 14). The German youth of that time believed it could at last see land instead of heaven, human, of this world.
Meanwhile Marx very soon detached himself from this all too vague humanness of this world. His activity on the ‘Rheinische Zeitung’ had brought him into far closer contact with political and economic questions than the left-wing Hegelians, or even the Feuerbachians enjoyed. This very contact increasingly led Marx from the critique of religion, to which Feuerbach restricted himself, to the critique of the state, indeed already of the social organization which – as the ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of State’, 1841 – 3, recognizes – determines the form of the state. In Hegel’s distinction between bourgeois society and state, emphasized by Marx, more economic consciousness was in fact already concealed than in his epigones, even in the Feuerbachians. The separation from Feuerbach occurred with respect and in the first place as a correction or even as a mere amendment, but the totally different, social viewpoint is clear from the beginning. On 13th March 1843 Marx thus writes to Ruge:
‘For me Feuerbach’s aphorisms are only incorrect on one point, he refers too much to nature and too little to politics. This is however the only alliance through which current philosophy can become truth’ (MEGA I, 1/2, p. 308). The ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’, 1844, contain another significant celebration of Feuerbach, admittedly as a contrast to the woolgathering of Bruno Bauer; they praise above all among Feuerbach’s achievements the ‘foundation of true materialism and of real science, in that Feuerbach likewise makes the relationship between ‘'man and man” into the fundamental principle of his theory’ (MEGA I, 3, P. 152). But the ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’ are already a lot further beyond Feuerbach than they declare. The relationship between ‘man and man’ in them does not remain an abstract anthropological one at all, as it does in Feuerbach, instead the critique of human self-alienation (transferred from religion to the state) already penetrates to the economic heart of the alienation process. This not least in the splendid passages on Hegelian phenomenology, in which the historically formative role of work is identified, and Hegel’s work interpreted in the light of it. At the same time, however, the ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’ criticize this work because it interprets human work-activity only as mental, not as material. The breakthrough to political economy, i.e. away from Feuerbach’s general idea of man, is accomplished in the first work undertaken in collaboration with Engels, in ‘The Holy Family’, likewise in 1844. The ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’ already contained the sentence: ‘Workers themselves are capital, a commodity (1.c., p. 103), whereby nothing more of Feuerbachian humanness remains here than its negation in capitalism; ‘The Holy Family’ noted capitalism itself as the source of this strongest and final alienation.
Instead of Feuerbachian generic man, with his abstract naturalness which always remains the same, a historically changing ensemble of social relationships now clearly appeared and above all: one that is antagonistic in class terms. Alienation, of course, embraced both: the exploiting class as well as that of the exploited, above all in capitalism, the strongest form of this relinquishing of self, false objectification of self. ‘But’, states ‘The Holy Family’, ‘the first class feels happy and confirmed in this self-alienation, knows that the alienation is its own power and possesses in it the appearance of a human existence; the second class feels itself destroyed in alienation, perceives in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence’ (MEGA I, 3, P. 206). Which in fact showed the respective class-based methods of production and exchange based on the division of labour, particularly the capitalist ones, to be the finally discovered source of alienation. Marx was a materialist at the latest from 1843 onwards; ‘The Holy Family’ gave birth to the materialist interpretation of history in 1844, and with it scientific socialism. And the ‘Eleven Theses’, produced between ‘The Holy Family’ of 1844/45 and ‘The German Ideology’ of 1845/46, thus represent the formulated departure from Feuerbach, together with a highly original entry into a new original inheritance. Politically empirical experience from the Rhineland period plus Feuerbach made Marx immune to the ‘mind’ and nothing but ‘mind’ of the left-wing school of Hegelians. The adopted standpoint of the proletariat allowed Marx to become causally and concretely, that is, truly (fundamentally) humanistic.
As is self-evident, the departure here is not a complete break. References to Feuerbach run through large parts of Marx’s work, even after the departure of the ‘Eleven Theses’. Closest to the abandoned land, if only for chronological reasons, stands ‘The German Ideology’ which directly followed the theses. Many critical approaches of the theses return in it, although of course the critique of Feuerbach and the murderous demolition of second-rate Hegelian epigones are vastly different here. Feuerbach still belonged to bourgeois ideology, so the analysis of its pseudo-radical manifestations of decay, such as Bruno Bauer and Stirner [Max Stirner, 1806 – 56, nom de plume of the German individualist philosopher Johann Kaspar], also had to implicate him in ‘The German Ideology’. But in such a way that in places the philosopher himself supplied the handle of the logical weapon with which Marx also intervened against him, but above all against the left-wing Hegelians. Consequently, ‘The German Ideology’ fundamentally begins with the name of Feuerbach and criticizes, starting out from his critique of religion, the simply inner idealistic ‘conquering’ of idealism. ‘It has not occurred to any of these philosophers to inquire about the connections of German philosophy with German reality, about the connections of their critique with their own material surroundings’ (MEGA I, 5, P. 10). However, Marx stresses on the other hand that Feuerbach ‘is to be greatly preferred to the “pure” materialists in that he realizes that man is also a “sensory object"’. In fact, the recognition cited above indicates the importance of Feuerbach for the early development of Marxism just as much as the critique of his abstract, ahistorical notion of the human being indicates the un- and indeed anti-Feuerbachian character of fully developed Marxism itself. The recognition states: without man equally being a ‘sensory object’, it would have been much more difficult to have worked out human activity materialistically as the root of all social things. Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism thus marks the facilitated possible transition from mere mechanical to historical materialism. The critique states: without the concretization of what is human into really existing, and above all socially active men, with real relationships to one another and to nature, materialism and history would have in fact continually fallen apart, despite all ‘anthropology’. In this connection, however, Feuerbach always remains important for Marx, both as a transit point and as the only contemporary philosopher of whom an analysis is at all possible, clarifying and fruitful. The basic thoughts to which Marx critically reacts in this way, and via which he makes productive progress, are essentially contained in Feuerbach’s central work ‘The Essence of Christianity’ of 1841. Feuerbach’s ‘Provisional Theses for a Reform of Philosophy’ of 1842 and the ‘Principles of the Philosophy of the Future’ of 1843 also come into consideration. The earlier writings of the philosopher can hardly have been of any importance for Marx, since Feuerbach, at least until 1839, was too unoriginal, and lay too much under the influence of Hegel. Only from that time on did Feuerbach apply the Hegelian concept of self-alienation to religion. Only from that time on did the earlier Hegelian say his first thought had been God, his second reason, and his third and last was man. This means: just as the Hegelian philosophy of reason had overcome church-belief, so philosophy now put man (with the inclusion of nature as his basis) in place of Hegel. Despite all this, however, Feuerbach could not find the path to reality; precisely the most important aspect of Hegel: the historical-dialectical method, he rejected. It was only the ‘Eleven Theses’ that became signposts out of mere anti-Hegelianism into reality which can be changed, out of the materialism of the base behind the lines into that of the Front.
How the theses should be ordered is both an old and a new question. For the way they stand, for private reference, not intended for publication, they repeatedly overlap. They also present the same content in another place, do not always make the reason for their division and sequence evident. The requirements of teaching have thus occasioned various attempts to rearrange the theses as they belong together and hence to divide them into groups. In doing this, the attempt is sometimes made to let the sequence of numbers stand, just as if the ‘Eleven Theses’ could be subsumed one after the other, in a direct row. For example, such a grouping which sticks to the numbers looks as follows: Theses 1, 2, 3 are under the heading: Unity of Theory and Practice in Thought, Theses 4 and 5 under: Understanding of Reality in Contradictions, Theses 6, 7, 8, 9 under: Reality itself in Contradictions, Theses 10, 11 under: Location and Task of Dialectical Materialism in Society. This is the arrangement according to figures; since there are several other such arrangements quite different in terms of content, it shows how little instructive the mere place value of the numbers is here. Each of these arrangements treats the order in too exalted a fashion on the one hand, in that they allow it to remain eternally entrenched, as in the Twelve Table Law or in the Ten Commandments, while on the other hand they treat it in too lowly and formalistic a fashion, as if it was a series of stamps. But numbering is not systematics, and Marx needs this substitute least of all. Hence the theses must be grouped philosophically, not arithmetically, that is, the order of the theses is solely that of their themes and contents. There is, as far as can be seen, still no commentary on the Eleven Theses; only when there is one, arising out of the common cause itself, does the continuously productive coherence of their brevity and depth also open up. Then there appears: firstly, the epistemological group dealing with perception and activity (Theses 5, 1, 3); secondly, the anthropological-historical group dealing with self-alienation, its real cause and true materialism (Theses 4, 6, 7, 9, 10); thirdly, the uniting or theory-practice group, dealing with proof and probation (Theses 2, 8). Finally there follows the most important thesis, the password that not only marks a final parting of the minds, but with whose use they cease to be nothing but minds (Thesis 11). Strictly speaking, the epistemological group is opened by Thesis 5, the anthropological-historical group by Thesis 4; since these theses describe the two basic theories of Feuerbach which Marx relatively accepts, and which he goes on beyond in the remaining theses of the respective groups. The basic theory adopted is the rejection of abstract thinking in Thesis 5, the rejection of human self-alienation in Thesis 4. And corresponding to the first basic feature of materialist dialectics, the depiction of which announces itself here, between the individual theses within each respective group there is free, complementary movement of voices; just as, between the groups themselves, continual correlation is taking place, forming a coherent unified whole.
It is recognized here that even when thinking we can only proceed from the sensory. Perception, not the concept which is merely taken from it, is and remains the beginning where all materialist cognition identifies itself. Feuerbach reminded us of this at a time when every academic street-corner still resounded with mind, concept and nothing but concept. Thesis 5 stresses this contribution: Feuerbach is ‘not content’ with cerebrality, he wants his feet on the perceived ground. But Thesis 5, and then above all Thesis 1, both make clear that with contemplative sensoriness, the only kind Feuerbach understands, his feet cannot yet move and the ground itself remains unnegotiable. The person who perceives in this way does not even try to move, he remains standing in a state of comfortable enjoyment. Hence Thesis 5 teaches: mere perceiving ‘does not understand sensoriness as practical, as human-sensory activity’. And Thesis 1 reproaches the whole of previous materialism for only understanding perception ‘under the form of the object’, ‘not however as human, sensory activity, practice, not subjectively’. Hence it happened that the active side, in contrast to materialism, ‘was developed from idealism – but only abstractly, since idealism obviously does not know real sensory activity as such’. The inactive perception in which all previous materialism persists, including that of Feuerbach, is thus replaced by the human activity factor. And this happens even within the context of the sensory, i.e. immediate, fundamentally beginning knowledge: sensoriness as knowledge, as real basis of cognition, is thus by no means the same as (contemplative) perception. The concept of activity which is thus stressed by Marx in Thesis 1 in fact derives from idealistic epistemology, and not from idealistic epistemology as such, but only from that developed in the new bourgeois age. For this concept pre-supposes as a base a society where the ruling class sees or wishes to see itself in activity, i.e. work. However, this is only the case in capitalist society in so far as work, or rather: the appearance of work around the ruling class, in contrast to all pre- bourgeois societies is here no longer a dishonour, but is respected. This results out of the necessity of making profit, out of the forces of production being unleashed in this profit- society. Work, which had been held in contempt in the ancient slave-owning societies, even in feudal society with its system of serfdom (in Athens even sculptors were counted as philistines), is obviously not reflected in the thoughts of the ruling class either, in total contrast to the ideology of the entrepreneur, the bourgeois, the so-called homo faber. Whose profit-dynamic, becoming free in the new age, forming the new bourgeois age, still by a long chalk progressive, also certainly makes itself evident in the superstructure and activates the base itself. Both morally, in the shape of a so-called work ethic, and epistemologically, in the shape of a concept of activity, a work logos in cognition. The work ethic, preached particularly by the Calvinists for the purpose of creating capital, this capitalist vita activa contrasted with aristocratic idleness, and also with the vita contemplativa of a quiet, monkish, scholarly existence. In parallel fashion, the work logos in cognition, this concept of ‘producing’ particularly exaggerated in bourgeois rationalism, differed from the ancient and also scholastic cognitive concept of mere receiving: vision, visio, passive depiction. As it survives contained in the concept of ‘Theoria’ itself, consistent with the original vision-sense of the word. Even Plato is, cum grano salis, ultimately a receiving sensualist in this manner; for however ideally and purely related to ideas his vision pretends to be, it is in fact still essentially receptive vision, and the thought-process is consistently understood in keeping with sensory perception. But then even Democritus, the first great materialist, who in fact sets the tone until Marx, is likewise trapped in this work-shy ideology which does not reflect the work-process. Even Democritus only understands cognition in passive terms; thinking, through which for him the truly real is known, the real dimension of the atoms together with their mechanism, is explained here solely by the impression of corresponding little pictures (eidola), which detach themselves from the surface of things and flow into the person who is perceiving and knowing. On the question of epistemological non-activity there is therefore no difference at all between Plato and Democritus; both epistemologies are united by the slave-owning society, which means here: the absence of despised work-activity in the philosophical superstructure. And now: the paradox appears that rationalism, the idealism of the new age, which often distanced itself far from Plato, reflected the work-process much more powerfully in epistemological terms than the materialism of the new age, which never distanced itself very far from its ancient progenitor Democritus. The calmly depicting mirror, this omission of the concept of work, is thus, up to and including Feuerbach, materialistically more common than the pathos of ‘production’, and especially of the dialectical reciprocal depiction of subject-object, object- subject on to each other. Among the more recent materialists only Hobbes teaches rational ‘production’, with the principle which is valid until Kant: only such objects are knowable which can be constructed mathematically. But greatly though Hobbes, with the help of this principle, was able to define philosophy as theory of the mathematical-mechanical motion of bodies, and therefore as materialism, for his part he just as little succeeded in getting beyond the ‘form of the object’ criticized by Marx, namely beyond merely contemplative materialism. Something different occurred within idealism when ‘production’ passed from geometric construction into the real work-form of historical genesis. This was first decisively achieved in Hegel; the ‘Phenomenology of Mind’ was the first work to discuss seriously the dynamics of the epistemological concept of work, at least in historical-idealistic terms. This was also far superior to the merely mathematical-idealistic ‘production’ pathos, which, in the case of the great rationalists of the manufacturing period, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, had influenced their semi- or total idealism. There is no better witness to this significance of Hegel’s Phenomenology, which was not in the least understood by Feuerbach, than Marx in the ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’: Marx sees the greatness of the Phenomenology precisely in the fact that it ‘understands the essence of work and comprehends Objective man, true because real man, as a result of his own work’ (MEGA 1, 3, P. 156). This statement thus best explains the deficiency mentioned above of merely perceiving materialism, up to and including Feuerbach: previous materialism lacks the constantly oscillating subject-object relation called work. Hence in fact it understands the Object, reality, sensoriness only ‘under the form of the object’, omitting ‘human-sensory activity’. Whereas Hegel’s Phenomenology occupied, as Marx says, ‘the standpoint of modern political economy’ (1.c., p. 157). Feuerbach, however, still occupied in epistemological terms the standpoint of slave-owning society or even of serfdom, on account of the non-active, still contemplatory element in his materialism.
At the same time Marx of course makes it clear that bourgeois activity is still not the complete, right kind. It cannot be so precisely because it is only appearance of work, because the production of value never emanates from the entrepreneur, but from peasants, manual workers, ultimately wage-earners. And because the abstract, reified, confused circulation of goods on the free market allowed nothing more than an ultimately passive, external, abstract relationship to it. For this reason Thesis I stresses: even the epistemological reflection of activity could only be an abstract one, ‘since idealism of course does not know real, sensory activity as such’. However, even the bourgeois materialist Feuerbach, who wishes to get away from abstract thinking, who seeks real Objects rather than reified thoughts, omits human activity from this real being; he understands it ‘not even as Objective activity’. This is strikingly elaborated in the introduction to the ‘German Ideology’: ‘Feuerbach is speaking specifically of the perception of natural science, he mentions secrets which only became apparent to the eye of the physicist and chemist; but where would natural science be without industry and trade? Even this ‘pure’ natural science of course receives its purpose and material only through trade and industry, through sensory activity of men. The activity, this continuing sensory working and creating, this production is so much the basis of the whole of the sensory world that, even if it were interrupted for only a year, Feuerbach would not only find an enormous change in the natural world, but very soon also miss the whole human world and his own ability to perceive, indeed his own existence. Of course the priority of external nature remains at the same time, and of course all this is not applicable to original men, produced through generatio aequivoca; but this distinction only makes sense in so far as man is regarded as being different from nature. This nature which precedes human society is not incidentally the nature in which Feuerbach lives, not the nature which no longer exists anywhere today except perhaps on one or two Australian coral islands of more recent origin, i.e. does not exist for Feuerbach either’ (MEGA 1, 5, P. 33f.). How crucially human work, which precisely as an Object is completely homeless in Feuerbach, is emphasized in these lines as an important, if not the most important Object in the world which surrounds men.
Accordingly, therefore, the Being that conditions everything now itself contains active men. This has quite astonishing consequences, they make Thesis 3 above all especially important – challenging not only Feuerbach, but also vulgar Marxists. Two further concepts of the ‘sensory world’, a bad one and one that is often misunderstood, are therefore worth noting in this truly Objective connection, they are most intimately related to it. They concern, after all, the empiricist favourite children or even trump-cards of that supposedly activity-shy perception which sees the ‘circumstances’ merely as that which is standing around men. One is so-called givenness, a particularly object-based, i.e. apparently materialistically related concept. However, apart from the fact that it is, semantically, a changeable concept that would not be valid if there were no subject to which alone something is given or can be given, there is in the world which constitutes the human environment hardly anything given which is not equally something worked on. Hence Marx speaks of the ‘material’ which natural science only receives through trade and industry. In reality, only surface contemplation shows the given; after a little probing, however, every Object of our normal environment reveals itself to be by no means sheer datum. It proves itself instead to be the end result of previous work-processes, and even the raw material, apart from the fact that it is totally changed, was fetched from the forest by work or hewn out of the rocks or extracted from the depths of the earth. So much for the first passive trump- card which is obviously not one at all, but only counts and wins the trick from the surface standpoint. The second trump-card of supposedly activity-shy perception, however, does employ a perfectly legitimate, in fact decidedly materialistic concept to begin with, namely the primacy of being over consciousness. In epistemological terms this primacy expresses itself as the external world which exists independently of human consciousness, in historical terms as priority of the material base over the mind. But once again Feuerbach hardened this truth one-sidedly, he exaggerated it mechanistically, in that he omitted activity here too. Within the province of normal human environment, independence of being from consciousness is by no means the same as independence of being from human work. The independence of this external world from consciousness, its Objectivity, is instead so far from being cancelled by the mediation of work with the external world that it is in fact ultimately formulated by it. For just as human activity is itself Objective activity, i.e. does not fall out of the external world, so the subject-object-mediation, in that it occurs, is likewise a piece of external world. This external world also exists independently of consciousness in that it does not itself appear under the form of the subject, but admittedly not only ‘under the form of the object’ either.
But in fact it represents the interacting mediation of subject and object, in such a way that being does indeed determine consciousness everywhere, but once again historically decisive, namely economic being contains an inordinate amount of objective consciousness. All being is for Feuerbach, however, autarkical primacy, as purely pre-human base, natural base, with man as blossom, but in fact simply as blossom, not as separate natural force. But the human method of production, the metabolism with nature which occurs and is regulated in the work process, even the relations of production as base, all this, illuminatingly, itself has consciousness in it; likewise the material base in every society is again activated by the superstructure of consciousness. Thesis 3 is especially informative concerning the interaction in this being-consciousness relationship, despite the priority of economic being. But it is information which gives no pleasure to vulgar materialism; it does however give human consciousness the most real place in the ‘circumstances’, that is, precisely inside the external world which it helps to form. Mechanistic environmentalism asserts ‘that men are products of circumstances and of education, changed men therefore products of other circumstances and a different education’. Above this one-sided, often even very naturalistic theory of depiction (milieu like soil, climate) Thesis 3 now posits the truth which is so superior to the previous standard materialism, ‘that circumstances are in fact changed by men, and that the educator must himself be educated’. This does not of course mean that this change of circumstances could now happen without reference to that objective lawfulness which also binds the subject- and activity-factor. Rather, Marx is waging a war on two fronts at this point, he is struggling both against mechanistic environmentalism, which ends in fatalism of being, and against the idealistic subject-theory, which ends in putschism, or at least in exaggerated activity-optimism. One passage in the ‘German Ideology’ thus thoroughly complements Thesis 3, namely because it deals with the most salutary reciprocal movement of men and circumstances, of subject-object mediation of a constantly interacting, constantly dialectical kind. So that in history ‘on every level a material result, a sum of productive forces, a historically created relationship to nature and of individuals to one another is to be found, which is passed on to each generation by its predecessor, a class of productive forces, capital and circumstances which is indeed on the one hand modified by the new generation, but which on the other hand also prescribes to it its own conditions of life and gives it a particular development, a special character – so that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances’ (MEGA 1, 5, p. 27f.). As stated above, the interaction between subject and object is particularly emphasized in this passage, even with the audible precedence of the circumstance-man-relationship over the reverse, in such a way, however, that man and his activity always remain the specific part of the material historical base, indeed represent its root, as it were, and also its capability for radical change. Even the idea (in theory) becomes a material power, according to Marx, if it seizes the masses; how unequivocally the technological-political changing of circumstances is such a power, and how clearly even the subject-factor understood in these terms remains inside the material world. ‘Das Kapital’ provides a final elaboration of Thesis 3, now committing man quite decisively to the external world, in fact to nature: ‘He sets in motion the natural forces pertaining to his physical nature, arms and legs, head and hands, in order to acquire natural material in a form useful for his own life. Because he acts on and changes nature outside himself through this movement, he simultaneously changes his own nature . . . The earth is itself a working material, but presupposes a whole series of other working materials before it can serve as working material in agriculture, and an already relatively high development of working capacity’ (Das Kapital I, Dietz, 1947, p. 185, 187). Thus human activity with its consciousness is itself explained as a piece of nature, moreover as the most important piece, in fact as radical practice precisely at the base of material being, which again primarily conditions the consciousness that follows. Feuerbach, who felt no revolutionary mission whatsoever and who also never got beyond man as a nature-based generic being, had no appreciation whatsoever of this increased primacy of nature, increased by human activity. This is ultimately the reason why history does not appear in his purely perceiving materialism and why he does not manage to get beyond the contemplative attitude. Thus his relationship to the object remains ancient- aristocratic, in illogical contrast to the pathos of man which he put – again only in purely theoretical terms and as mere blossom of existing nature – at the centre of his critique of religion (and no other). He thus looks down on practice from on high, which he only knows as a demeaning business: ‘Practical perception is a dirty perception stained with egotism’ (Feuerbach, Das Wesen des Christentums, 1841, p. 264). It is this passage to which Marx is ultimately referring in Thesis 1 when he says that in Feuerbach ‘practice is only understood and fixed in its dirty-Jewish manifestation’. And how much arrogance of this kind there was later when the ‘perception’ increasingly ‘stained with egotism’ was added ideologically to so- called pure perception, then with a so-called truth for its own sake. How much ‘equestrian science’ then arose, high on its horse, au dessus de la mêlée (apart from the dirt in itself); how much aristocracy of knowledge (without aristoi), knowingly in league with dirty practice, restraining from the correct kind. With great presentiment Marx already posited the pathos of ‘revolutionary, practical-critical activity’ against such pure lack of understanding as Feuerbach’s. Thus Marx emphasizes, precisely as a materialist, precisely inside being itself, the subjective factor of production activity which is, exactly like the objective factor, an Objective one. And this has powerful, and in fact also anti-vulgar-materialistic consequences; they make this part of the Feuerbach Theses particularly valuable. Without the comprehended work-factor itself the primacy of being, which is in no way a factum brutum or given fact, cannot be comprehended in human history. It most certainly cannot be mediated with the best aspect of active perception with which Thesis 1 closes; with ‘the revolutionary, practical-critical activity’. Working man, this subject-object relation living in all ‘circumstances’, belongs in Marx decisively with the material base; even the subject in the world is world.
It is recognized here that as human beings we always proceed from alienation. Thesis 4 states the theme: Feuerbach revealed self-alienation in its religious form. His work therefore consisted in ‘dissolving the religious world into its worldly basis. But’, Marx continues, ‘he overlooks the fact that, after the completion of this work, the main task still remains to be done.’ Feuerbach, as Thesis 6 determines more precisely, had put religious existence on to a worldly basis in so far as he dissolved it into human existence. This was an important undertaking in itself, especially since it cast a sharp glance at the contribution of human wishes. Feuerbach’s ‘anthropological critique of religion’ derived the whole of the transcendental sphere from wishful imagination: the gods are the heartfelt wishes transformed into real beings. At the same time there arises through this wish-hypostasis a doubling of the world into an imaginary and a real one; when man shifts his best being from this world into a celestial other world. It is therefore necessary to remove this self-alienation, that is, to fetch back heaven to men again through critical anthropology and by identifying its origins. Here, however, the logical Marxist argument comes into force, which did not stop at the abstract genus of man, which is quite unstructured in class and historical terms. Feuerbach, who had reproached Hegel so strongly on account of his concept-reifications, does indeed localize his abstract genus of man empirically, but only in such a way as to allow it to be inherent in the single individual, free of society, without social history. Thesis 6 therefore stresses: ‘But human existence is not an abstract inherent in the single individual. In its reality, it is the ensemble of social conditions.’ Indeed, with his hollow arc between single individual and abstract Humanum (while omitting society) Feuerbach is little other than an epigone of the Stoics and of their after-effects in Natural Right, in the ideas of tolerance of the new bourgeois age. Even Stoic morality had fallen back upon the private individual after the decline of the Greek public polis: this was, Marx says in his doctoral dissertation, ‘the good fortune of its time; thus the moth, when the common sun has gone down, seeks the private lamplight’ (MEGA I, 1/1, p. 133). On the other hand, however, the abstract genus of man, skipping all national social conditions, was supposed to assert itself in the Stoics as a sole Universal over single individuals, as the place of the communis opinio, of the recta ratio for all times, among all peoples: i.e. as the general human house, incorporated into the equally general-good world house. Only this human house was not the vanished polis, but it was half – with assiduous ideology – the Pax Romana, the cosmopolitan empire of Rome, and half – with abstract utopia – a fraternal human league of enlightened individuals. Not without reason, therefore, did the concept of humanitas arise as both a generic and value concept at the court of Scipio the Younger, and the Stoic Panaitios was its author. With his abstract genus of man Feuerbach then above all absorbed the neo-Stoicism which – again with hollow arc between individual and generality – had emerged in the new bourgeois age. This ultimately in the abstract-sublime concept of the citoyen and in the Kantian pathos of humanity in general, which reflected the citoyen in a German and moral way. The individuals of the new age are of course capitalists, not Stoic private pillars, and their Universal was not the ancient oecumene which was supposed to eliminate nations, but – with idealization precisely of the ancient polis – the generality of bourgeois human rights with the abstract citizen above it, this moral-humanitarian generic ideal. Nevertheless, there are important economically conditioned correspondences here (otherwise there would have been no neo- Stoicism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries): here as there society is atomized into individuals, here as there an abstract genus rises above it, an abstract ideal of humanity, humanness. Marx, however, criticizes precisely this abstract above mere individuals, in fact defines human existence as ‘ensemble of social conditions’. That is why Thesis 6 is directed both against Feuerbach’s ahistorical view of humanness per se and – connected with this – against the purely anthropological generic concept of this humanity, as a generality which unites the many individuals in a merely natural way. Marx still definitely retains the value-concept of humanity of course; he does so clearly in Thesis 10. The expression ‘real humanism’ with which the preface to the ‘Holy Family’ begins is of course abandoned by the ‘German Ideology’, in connection with the rejection of any trace of bourgeois democracy, with the gaining of the proletarian- revolutionary standpoint, with the creation of dialectical-historical materialism. But Thesis 10 nevertheless states with all the value-accent of a humanistic opposition, of a ‘real humanism’ therefore, which however is only valid and accepted to be valid as a socialist humanism: ‘The standpoint of the old materialism is bourgeois society; the standpoint of the new materialism, human society or socialized humanity.’ The Humanum therefore does not always lie in every society ‘as inner, silent generality which unites the many individuals in a merely natural way’, it does not lie in any kind of existing generality at all, it is to be found instead in difficult process and gains itself only together with communism, as communism. For this very reason, the new, proletarian standpoint, far from removing the value-concept of humanism, in practice allows it to come home for the very first time; and the more scientific the socialism, the more concretely it has precisely the care for man at its centre, the real removal of his self-alienation as its goal. Certainly not, however, after Feuerbach’s fashion, as an abstract genus equipped with all too sublime humane sacraments per se. Marx therefore incorporates the very motif of the epistemological Thesis-group into Thesis 9, this time against Feuerbach’s anthropology: ‘The highest to which perceiving materialism can attain, i.e. the materialism which does not comprehend sensoriness as practical activity, is the perception of single individuals in ‘'bourgeois society.”’ A class barrier is thus finally noted, the same barrier which blocked revolutionary activity in Feuerbach’s epistemology, and now blocks history and society in his anthropology. Marx’s continuation of Feuerbachian anthropology, as a critique of religious self-alienation, is therefore not only logically consistent, but also a renewed demystification, namely of Feuerbach himself or of final, anthropological fetishization. Thus Marx leads us from general-ideal man, via mere individuals, to the ground of real humanity and possible humanness.
In order to do this, the glance at the processes which really underlie alienation was necessary. Men double their world not only because they have an inwardly torn, wishing consciousness. Rather, this consciousness arises together with its religious reflection from a much closer split, namely a social one. The social conditions themselves are inwardly torn and divided, show an Above and a Below, struggles between these two classes and hazy ideologies of the Above, of which the religious is only one among many. To find this closer aspect of the worldly basis was for Marx precisely the work whose main task still remained to be done, – itself a This World compared with the abstract-anthropological This World of Feuerbach. Feuerbach, an undialectical stranger to history, had no eye for this, but Thesis 4 acquires it: ‘The very fact that the worldly basis sets itself off from itself and fixes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the self-conflict and the self- contradiction of this worldly basis. The latter itself must therefore first be understood in its contradiction and then be revolutionized by eliminating the contradiction in practice. Hence for example, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must now itself be criticized and radically changed in practice.’ In order to be truly radical, i.e. according to Marx’s definition: in order to grasp things by the radix, by the ‘root’, the critique of religion thus requires the critique of the conditions which underlie heaven, of their wretchedness, of their contradictions and their false, imaginary resolution of these contradictions. Marx had already formulated this so forcibly and unmistakably in the ‘Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ of 1844: ‘The critique of religion ends ... with the categorical imperative of overthrowing all conditions in which man is a debased, an enslaved, a forlorn, a contemptible being’ (MEGA I, 1/1, p. 614f.). Only after this progressive critique, which is also progressive in practical revolutionary terms, do we arrive at a situation which no longer requires any illusions, either as deception or even as compensation: ‘The critique has picked to pieces the imaginary flowers on the chain, not so that man has to wear the dreary chain devoid of imagination, but so that he can throw off the chain and pick the living flower’ (1.c., p. 608). In order to do this, the earthly family must first be discovered as the secret of the heavenly one, right down to that matured economic- materialistic ‘secret science’ which then causes Marx to say in ‘Das Kapital’: ‘Besides, little familiarity is required with the history of the Roman Republic, for example, to know that the history of property forms its secret history’ (Das Kapital I, Dietz, 1947, P. 88). Consequently, the analysis of religious self-alienation, in order for it to be a truly radical one, fundamentally goes beyond ideologies to the closer role of the state, to the very closest political economy and achieves here for the first time real ‘anthropology’. Achieves it as social-scientific basic insight into the ‘relation of men to men and to nature’. Since, as Thesis 7 stresses, ‘the religious disposition is itself a social product’, the act of producing can and must not be forgotten over the product, as it is by the unhistorical, undialectical Feuerbach. The following passage in ‘Das Kapital’ once more refers to this ultimate half-measure, that is, untenability of Feuerbach’s dissolution: ‘It is in fact much easier to find the earthly core of the nebulous shapes of religion through analysis than conversely to develop deified forms from the respective conditions of real life. The latter is the only materialistic and therefore scientific method. The defects of abstractly natural scientific materialism which excludes the historical process can already be seen from the abstract and ideological ideas of its spokesmen, as soon as they venture out beyond their specialized field’ (Das Kapital I, Dietz, 1947, p. 389). Furthermore the ‘German Ideology’ states: ‘In Feuerbach materialism and history completely fall apart’, thus establishing the basic difference between dialectical-historical materialism and the old mechanical kind:
‘Whenever Feuerbach is a materialist, history does not appear in his work, and whenever he takes history into account, he is no materialist’ (MEGA I, 5, P. 34). Feuerbach himself had claimed that he was a materialist looking backwards (i.e. regarding the basis of nature), but an idealist looking forwards (i.e. regarding ethics and even the philosophy of religion). Precisely the omission of society, history and its dialectic in Feuerbach’s materialism, precisely the feeling occasioned by this that life is missing in the old mechanical materialism, which was the only kind Feuerbach knew, inevitably causes an idealism of an embarrassed kind in this philosopher at the end of his philosophy. It revealed itself clearly in his ethics of life, it shows itself in the hints of a certain Sunday-brotherhood sentimentality. Once again the governing influence here is merely, as Thesis 9 says, ‘the perception of single individuals in “bourgeois society"’, but once again even religion, which had ostensibly been disposed of, makes itself apparent in Feuerbach, a religion which was merely derived anthropologically by him, not socially criticized. This is evident in the way that Feuerbach does not actually criticize the contents of religion, but essentially only their displacement into an other world and thus the weakening of man and his This World. In so far as he consequently sought to remind ‘human nature’ of its squandered wealth again, there are of course undoubtedly problems involved in this reduction. Who would wish to underestimate precisely the depth of humanity, the humanity of the depth in religion-charged art, in Giotto, in Grünewald, in Bach and ultimately even perhaps in Bruckner? But Feuerbach, with unparalleled heart, soul brotherhood and melting soul, makes out of all this almost a kind of non-denominational pectoral theology. Moreover, he allows almost all the attributes of the father-god to remain, in the unavoidable emptiness of his ‘idealism forwards’, as virtues in themselves so to speak, and only the heavenly god is struck from the list. Instead of: God is merciful, is love, is omnipotent, works miracles, hears our prayers – all that can be said now is: mercifulness, love, omnipotence, working miracles, hearing prayers are divine. Accordingly, therefore, the whole apparatus of theology remains intact, it has just moved from its heavenly location to a certain abstract region, with reified virtues of the ‘natural basis’. In this way, however, the problem: humane legacy of religion, which Feuerbach probably had in mind, did not arise, but religion came at a reduced price, to suit a poorly demystified habitual embourgeoisement, which Engels correctly identifies in Feuerbach’s stale dregs of religion. Marxism, conversely, is no ‘idealism forwards’ even with regard to religion, but materialism forwards, wealth of materialism without a poorly demystified heaven which must be brought down to earth. The truly total explanation of the world from within itself, which is called dialectical-historical materialism, also posits the transformation of the world from within itself. Into an other world beyond hardship, which has not the least in common either with the other world of mythology, or with its master- or father-contents.
It is not recognized here that thought is pale and feeble. Thesis 2 sets it above sensory perception, with and in which it merely commences. Feuerbach had denigrated thought, because it leads away from the individual into the general; this was evaluated nominalistically. In Marx, however, thought definitely does not aim into the poorly general, abstract, but just the opposite: it opens up precisely the mediated essential context of the appearance, one which is still sealed to the mere sensoriness in the appearance. Thus thought, which Feuerbach only allows to be abstract, is concrete precisely when it is mediated, whereas conversely, thoughtless sensory material is abstract. Thought must of course lead once again to perception, in order to prove itself, as pervasive, in the latter, but even at this end this perception is by no means the passive, immediate Feuerbachian kind. The proof can instead only lie in the mediatedness of the perception, that is, solely in that sensoriness which has been theoretically processed and has thus become Thing For Us. This is however ultimately the sensoriness of theoretically mediated, theoretically acquired practice. So the function of thought is, even more than sensory perception, an activity, a critical, insistent, revealing activity; and the best proof is thus the practical testing of this deciphering. Just as every truth is a truth for a certain purpose, and there is no truth for its own sake, except as self-deception or whimsy, so too there is no complete proof of a truth from within itself as a truth which merely remains theoretical; in other words: there is no theoretically-immanently possible complete proof. Only a partial proof can be achieved purely theoretically, mostly still in mathematics; but even here it proves to be only a partial proof of a specific kind, since in fact it never gets beyond mere inner ‘agreement’, logically consistent ‘correctness’. Correctness is not yet truth, however, that is, depiction of reality and also the power of intervening in reality according to the measure of its known agencies and laws. In other words: truth is not a theory relationship alone, but a definite theory-practice relationship. Thus Thesis 2 states: ‘The question of whether Objective truth is appropriate to human thinking is not a question of theory, but a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the This-worldliness of his thinking. The argument about the reality or non-reality of a thinking which isolates itself from practice is a purely scholastic question.’ That is, a school-bound question in the sense of a dosed thought-immanence (including mechanical-materialistic thoughts); this contemplative boarding-school was the space of all previous concepts of truth. With its theory-practice relationship, Thesis 2 is therefore wholly creative and new; in comparison, previous philosophy really does appear ‘scholastic’. Since, as observed above, either ancient and medieval epistemology did not reflect activity, or on the other hand activity as bourgeois-abstract activity was not truly mediated with its object. In both cases, in the ages of the ancient and feudal contempt for work and in the age of the bourgeois work-ethic (without concreteness of work), practice, both technological and political, was regarded at best as the ‘application’ of theory. Not as attestation that the theory is a concrete one, as in Marx, not as the functional change of the key into the lever, of true depiction into intervention with power over being.
Thus the right thought and doing what is right finally become one and the same. Activity and partisan attitude are contained within it from the beginning, and therefore emerge again as true conclusion at the end. The colour of the resolution is its own in this conclusion, not an additional colour brought in from elsewhere. Every confrontation in the history of philosophy confirms in this case the Novum of the theory-practice relationship as opposed to mere ‘application’ of theory. Even when a part of the theory was already aimed at practice: as in Socrates, as in Plato when he tried to realize his utopian state in Sicily, as in the Stoics with logic as mere wall, physics as mere tree, but with ethics as the fruit. As in Augustine, the founder of the site of the medieval papal church, as at the end of the Middle Ages in William of Occam, the nominalist destroyer of the papal church in favour of rising national states. There was undoubtedly a social and practical mission behind all these, but the theory nevertheless led its own abstract, practically unmediated separate existence. It only condescended to ‘application’ to practice, like a prince to his people, at best like an idea to its utilization. And even Bacon, in the sharp bourgeois-practical utilitarianism of the new age: he did indeed teach that knowledge is power, he wanted to re-establish the whole of science and to give it a new aim, as ars inveniendi, but, despite all opposition to purely theoretical knowledge and contemplative cognition, science remains autarkical, and only its method is to be changed. Changed in the sense of the inductive method, the methodically directed experiment; the proof, however, does not lie in practice, this is rather regarded even here only as the fruit and reward of truth, not as its final criterion and as demonstration. The various ‘philosophies of action’, which derived from Fichte and from Hegel, and then again, going back to Fichte, arose in the left-wing school of Hegelians, have even less similarity with Marx’s practice-criterion. Fichte’s ‘active deeds’ may itself have shown power and line on important national political points, but ultimately it always proved ethereal. In the end, it simply served not so much to better the world of the Not-I by processing it as to remove it completely. All that was proved, so to speak, by this basically world-hostile ‘practice’ was the in any case settled subjective starting-point of Fichtean ego-idealism, not however an objective truth which first develops with and through the world. Hegel comes closest to a premonition of a practice-criterion, and in fact characteristically on account of the relationship to work in his phenomenology. In addition, a transition occurs in Hegel’s psychology from ‘theoretical mind’ (perception, imagination, thinking) to the antithesis ‘practical mind’ (feeling, driving will, bliss), out of which then, synthetically, ‘free mind’ was to result. Thus this synthesis proclaimed itself as the self-knowing will, as will which thinks and knows itself, which ultimately, in ‘the rational State’, wants what it knows and knows what it wants. Likewise the ‘practical idea’ is already classed above the ‘idea of contemplated cognition’ in Hegelian logic, in so far as ‘not only the dignity of what is general, but also of what is simply real’ is appropriate to the practical good (Werke V, p. 320f.). ‘All this’, notes Lenin, ‘in the chapter “The idea of cognition” . . . , undoubtedly means that in Hegel practice is a link in the chain in the analysis of the process of cognition . . . Consequently Marx is establishing a direct link with Hegel when he introduces the criterion of practice into epistemology; see the Theses on Feuerbach’ (Aus dem philosophischen Nachlaß, Dietz 1949, p. 133). However, at the end of his Logic, just as at the end of his Phenomenology and of his fully-developed system, Hegel leads the world (the Object, the object, the substance) almost as far back into the subject as Fichte does; so that in the end, it is not practice which crowns truth, but ‘re-minding’, ‘science of appearing knowledge’ and nothing more. And also, according to Hegel’s famous statement at the end of the preface to his ‘Philosophy of Right’, ‘philosophy always comes too late anyway. It only appears as the thought of the world in the time after which reality has completed its formation-process and finished itself.’ The closed- circuit thinker Hegel, the antiquarium of what is unalterably already existing, thus ultimately prevailed over the dialectical process-thinker Hegel with his crypto-practice. There is still – in order to measure the distance of Marx’s doctrine of practice even in the immediate environment of his youth – the practice, soon also sharp practice of the left-wing Hegelians and all that goes along with it. This was the ‘weapon of criticism’, the so-called ‘philosophy of action’, when Marx was young. But what was at work here in fact was essentially only a return from the objective idealism of Hegel to the subjective idealism of Fichte; Feuerbach himself identified this in Bruno Bauer. This series of so-called philosophies of action began with the otherwise not uninteresting work by Cieszkovski: ‘Prolegomena to Historiosophy’, 1838, a work which expressly presents it as necessary to use philosophy to change the world.
Thus in these ‘Prolegomena’ there are even appeals for rational research into the tendencies of history: so that the correct course of action can be taken; so that not instinctive, but conscious actions form world history; so that the will is brought to the same peak to which reason had been brought by Hegel; so that in this way a not only pre- but also post-theoretical practice can gain space. This all sounds significant, and yet it remained only declaratory, resulted in absolutely nothing even in Cieszkovski’s other writings, in fact the ‘interests of the future’ became more and more irrational and obscure in his work. Cieszkovski’s rejection of speculation became a rejection of reason, activity became an activity of ‘active intuition’, and the whole will towards the future ultimately ended in a theosophy of – Amen in the orthodox church, published at the time of the ‘Communist Manifesto’. In Marx’s own circle there was still Bruno Bauer’s work of course, likewise a ‘philosophy of action’, even one of the Last Judgement, but in fact the most subjective of all. When reactionary thinking under Friedrich Wilhelm IV put this ‘weapon of criticism’ to the test, in Bruno Bauer it immediately retreated into individualism, in fact into an egocentricity contemptuous of the masses. Bauer’s ‘critical critique’ was simply a battle in and between thoughts, a kind of l'art pour l'art-practice of the arrogant mind with itself, and eventually Stirner’s ‘The Lone Individual and his Property’ developed from it. Marx himself has said the decisive thing about this in the ‘Holy Family’, on his own account, as is evident, in the cause of genuine practice and its unmistakableness. In the cause of revolutionary practice: beginning with the proletariat, equipped with the fruitful aspect of the Hegelian dialectic and not with abstractions from the ‘wilted and widowed philosophy of Hegel’ (MEGA I, 3, p. 189), let alone of Fichtean subjectivism. Fichte, the virtuous man of wrath, did at least still have energetic directives in view, from the ‘Closed Commercial State’ to the ‘Speeches to the German Nation’, he philosophized the French out of Germany; the ‘critical critique’, however, merely paraded in the Tattersalls of self-importance. And, closer to Marx, even in the work of the thoroughly honest Socialist Moses Hess action had a tendency to detach itself from social activity, to reduce itself to reform of moral consciousness – a ‘philosophy of action’ without developed economic theory behind it, without a timetable of dialectically comprehended tendency within it. The concepts of practice until Marx are therefore completely different from his theory-practice conception, from the doctrine of unity between theory and practice. And rather than merely being glued on to theory, in such a way that thought remains purely scientific and does not in the least require ‘application’, in such a way that theory continues to pursue its own life and its immanent self-sufficiency even in its proofs, according to Marx and Lenin, theory and practice continually oscillate. Since both alternately and reciprocally swing into one another, practice presupposes theory, just as it itself further releases and needs new theory in order to continue a new practice. Concrete thought had never been valued more highly than it was here, where it became the light for action, and never had action been valued more highly than here, where it became the crowning of truth.
And warmth also definitely seeks to be inherent in thinking here, since it is helpful thinking. The warmth of wanting-to-help itself, of love for the victims, of hatred of the exploiters. Indeed these feelings bring partiality into play, without which no true knowledge combined with good action is at all possible in socialist terms. But a feeling of love which is not itself illuminated by cognition blocks the very helping action on which it would like to embark. It is sated all too easily by its own excellence, becomes the haze of a new pseudo-active self- confidence. In this case not a l'art pour l'art-critical self-confidence, as in Bruno Bauer, but a sentimentally uncritical one which is stifling and vague. As in Feuerbach himself: he always set his equivocation ‘sensation’ in place of practice. He defuses love into the general emotional relation between I and You, he reveals the lack of any social cognition even here by retreating to mere individuals and their eternally languishing relationships. He effeminates humanity thus: ‘The new philosophy is in relation to its base (!) itself nothing more than the nature of sensation raised into consciousness – it affirms only in and with reason what every person – the real person – admits in his heart’ (Werke II, 1846, p. 324). This statement is from the ‘Principles of the Philosophy of the Future’, in fact it is the action-substitute from the past, from a bourgeois-conformist, sanctimonious, indeed, very often, Tartuffishly sabotaging past. From a past which, precisely because of its abstractly declamatory love of mankind, does not in the least seek to change the world today for the good, but to perpetuate it in the bad. Feuerbach’s caricature of the Sermon on the Mount excludes all harshness in prosecuting injustice, while including total laxness in the class struggle; for this very reason general ‘socialism’ of love recommends itself to all the crocodile tears of a capitalistically interested philanthropy. Hence Marx and Engels: ‘The kingdom of love was preached precisely as opposed to bad reality, to hatred . . . But when experience teaches that this love has not become effective in 1800 years, that it has not been able to transform social conditions, nor to establish its kingdom, then it quite obviously follows from this that this love which has not been able to conquer hatred does not supply the active energy necessary for social reforms. This love gets lost in sentimental phrases through which no real, factual conditions can be removed; it makes man lethargic with the enormous emotional pap on which it feeds him. Therefore deprivation gives man strength; those who must help themselves, do help themselves. And that is why the real conditions of this world, the sharp contrast in society today between capital and work, between bourgeoisie and proletariat, as they appear in their most developed form in industrial trade, are the other, more powerfully bubbling source of the socialist world-view, of the desire for social reforms ... This iron necessity creates a wide audience and active adherents for socialist endeavour, and it will pave the way for the socialist reforms through transformation of present conditions of trade sooner than all the love which glows in all the hearts brimming with feeling in the world’ (Circular against H. Kriege, a supporter of Feuerbach, 11th May 1846). Since then, what Thomas Münzer would not only have called ‘contrived belief’ but also ‘contrived love’, has spread in quite a different way than in Feuerbach’s relatively harmless time, among renegades and pseudo-socialists. Their hypocritical love of mankind is however only the weapon of war of a much more total hatred: namely of communism; and the newly contrived love is only there for the sake of the war. Together with the mysticism which is not lacking even in Feuerbach, which here still at least wished to be ‘forward idealism’, i.e. progressive, and which, in the formless roaring of the fulfilment of its heart, of its God-the-Fatherliness made anthropological, had no worse shortcoming than the poorly demystified, non-denominational philistinism mentioned above. But the mysteries of today’s profound babbling which is no longer even idealistic – almost as different from Feuerbach’s mysticism as this was from the mysticism of Meister Eckhart – hide their heart up their sleeves, and instead of the empty rosy mist there is today a nothingness exploited by the bourgeoisie. Thesis 8 says: ‘All mysteries which lead theory into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the rational solution of this practice.’ Here of course a distinction is being made between two types of mysteries: namely those which present what is unclarified, aporias, forest of uncomprehended contradictions as still uncomprehended in reality, and those, called actual mysticisms, which are idolatry of darkness for its own sake. But even things that are simply unfathomed, and especially the misty-line in them, can lead into mysticism; for this very reason only rational practice is the human solution here, and the rational solution only human practice, which keeps to humanity (rather than the forest). And even the word mysticism is not used without reason by Marx on the subject of Feuerbach, in fact it is used against the non-sword of abstract love which leaves the Gordian knot alone. To repeat: Feuerbach’s mysteries, the love-mysteries without clarity, certainly have nothing in common with that which later emerged as rottenness and night-irratio; Feuerbach lies instead on that German salvation-line which leads from Hegel to Marx, just as the German disaster-line leads from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche and the consequences. And love of mankind, in so far as it clearly understands itself as being directed towards the exploited, in so far as it proceeds towards real knowledge, is undoubtedly an imperative agent in socialism. But if the salt can lose his savour, how much more so the sugar its sweetness, and if Christians of feeling remain locked in defeatism, how much more so socialists of feeling in pharisaical betrayal. Hence Marx also attacks in Feuerbach a dangerous inflatedness, one which enjoys itself as it is, on the bottom line a pectoral practice which achieves the opposite of what the altruism it preaches to and its ineffably universal love intend. Without factions in love, with an equally concrete pole of hatred, there is no genuine love; without partiality of the revolutionary class standpoint there only remains backward idealism instead of forward practice. Without the primacy of the head to the very end there are only mysteries of resolution rather than the resolution of mysteries. At the ethical conclusion of Feuerbach’s philosophy of the future both philosophy and future are missing; Marx’s theory for the sake of practice started both functioning, and ethics at last becomes flesh.
It is recognized here that the future aspect is the nearest and most important. But not in fact after Feuerbach’s fashion, which never sets sail. Which contents itself from beginning to end with contemplation, which leaves things as they are. Or even worse, which believes it cannot help but rearrange things, but only in the book, while the world itself notices nothing of it. One reason why it notices nothing of it is because the world can so easily be rearranged in false representations that nothing real appears in the book at all. Every step outwards would be damaging here to the neatly figured-out book living in its own nature reserve and would disturb the private life of invented thoughts. But even the most authentic books and doctrines often show the typically contemplative desire to be satisfied with themselves in their framed context, one successfully achieved at last ‘in terms of a work’. Consequently they even fear a change in the portrayed world which might possibly arise out of themselves, because the work – even if, like Feuerbach’s, it sets up principles of the future – could then no longer hover through the ages in such an autarkical manner. Especially if, as was again the case in Feuerbach, this was supplemented by an intended or naive political indifference, the public was wholly confined to the equally contemplative reader; his arms, his actions were not addressed. The standpoint may have been a new one, but it remained a mere vantage point; conceptual invention thus gave no instructions for real intervention. Hence, briefly and antithetically, Marx states the celebrated Thesis 11: ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; but the point is to change it.’ A significant difference to every previous impetus to thought is thus strikingly designated.
Short propositions, as we noted at the beginning, sometimes seem as if they can be assessed more quickly than they in fact can. And with celebrated propositions there is sometimes the problem that, very much against their will, they no longer stimulate reflection, or that we swallow them too raw. Then from time to time they cause us difficulty, in this case difficulty which is hostile to intelligence, at least alien to intelligence, and which could not be further from the sense of the proposition. What exactly is intended by Thesis 11 then, how must it be understood in Marx’s invariably precise philosophical sense? It must not be understood or rather: misused by mixing it in any way with pragmatism. The latter stems from a region which is utterly alien to Marxism, from a region which is hostile to it, intellectually inferior, ultimately downright disreputable. Nevertheless, ‘busy bodies’, as they say in America, i.e. bustlers, repeatedly subscribe to Marx’s proposition, just as if it was – American cultural barbarity. Underlying American pragmatism is the view that truth is nothing more than the commercial usefulness of ideas. Consequently, there is a so-called aha-experience of truth, as soon and in so far as this is aimed at practical success and actually shows itself to be suitable for bringing it about. In William James ('Pragmatism’, 1907), the businessman, as ‘American way of life’, to a certain extent still appears to be generally human, is so to speak garnished in a humanitarian way, even in an almost life-promoting and optimistic way. Both on account of the pink packaging of American capitalism still possible at that time, and above all on account of the tendency of every class society to present its special interest as that of the whole of humanity. This is why pragmatism initially also professed to be the patron of those various, interchangeable, logical ‘instruments’ with which the higher order of businessman achieves almost ‘humanitarian success’.
But there is no more such a thing, even less such a thing as a humanitarian businessman than there is such a thing as a Marxist playboy; thus after James, pragmatism in America and in the whole of the world-bourgeoisie quickly showed itself for what it is: the final agnosticism of a society stripped of any will towards the truth. Two imperialist wars, the first generally imperialist war from 1914 to 1918, the second partially imperialist war of the Nazi aggressors, made pragmatism ripe even for horse-trader ideology. Now it is no longer a question of truth at all, not even as if it were at least an ‘instrument’ to be maintained; and the pink package of ‘humanitarian success’ completely went to the devil who was in it from the beginning. Now ideas wavered and changed like share prices, according to the war situation, the business situation; until finally the utterly disgraceful pragmatism of the Nazis appeared. What served the German nation, i.e. what served German capital finance, was right; what furthered the interests of life, i.e. maximum profit, and what appeared to be useful for its purposes, was truth. These were therefore, in the fullness of time, the consequences of pragmatism; and yet how harmlessly, indeed how deceptively it may have also looked like ‘theory-practice’. How speciously a truth for its own sake was spurned here too, without saying that this was done on account of a lie for the sake of business. How speciously concrete too was the demand here for the probation of truth in practice, even in ‘changing’ the world. How great the falsifiability of Thesis 11 is then in the heads of scorners of intelligence and practicists. Certainly, as far as practicists in the socialist movement are concerned, in moral terms, as is self-evident, they do not have the least in common with the pragmatists; their will is pure, their intention revolutionary, their goal humanitarian. But by omitting the head here, and consequently nothing less than the whole wealth of Marxist theory together with the critical appropriation of the cultural legacy within it, there arises on the site of the ‘trial and error method’, of tinkering, of practicism, that cruel falsification of Thesis 11 which is reminiscent of pragmatism in methodological terms. Practicism which borders on pragmatism is a consequence of this falsification, one which is as always uncomprehended; but ignorance of a consequence is no protection against stultification. The practicists, with at best short-term credit for theory, especially complicated theory, create in the middle of the Marxist system of light the darkness of their own private ignorance and of the resentment which so easily goes with ignorance. Sometimes in fact not even practicism, i.e. still at least an activity, is necessary to explain such alienation from theory; since the schematism of unthinkingness also lives from its own, from inactive anti-philosophy. But it can thus refer even less to the most valuable thesis on Feuerbach; misunderstanding then becomes blasphemy. It must therefore be repeatedly emphasized: in Marx a thought is not true because it is useful, but it is useful because it is true. Lenin formulates the same idea in the pithy dictum: ‘Marx’s doctrine is all- powerful because it is true.’ And he continues: ‘It is the rightful heiress of the best that humanity produced in the nineteenth century in the shape of German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism.’ And he states a few lines previously: ‘The whole genius of Marx consists in the fact that he gave answers to the questions which the progressive thinking of humanity had already posed’ (Lenin, Three Sources and Three Components of Marxism). In other words: real practice cannot take a single stride without having consulted theory economically and philosophically, a theory advancing with great strides. Thus just as there has been a lack of socialist theoreticians, the danger has always existed that contact with reality would suffer, a reality which is never to be interpreted schematically and simplistically, where practice was otherwise supposed to succeed in socialist terms. Even if these are open doors which the anti-pragmatism of the greatest practice-thinkers, greatest in that they were the most reliable truth-witnesses, holds open, they can still be closed again and again by an interested misinterpretation of Thesis 11. By one which ironically enough believes it can detect in the highest triumph of philosophy – which takes place in Thesis 11 – an abdication of philosophy, in fact a kind of non-bourgeois pragmatism. Precisely that future aspect is poorly served here which no longer comes towards us uncomprehended, but to which conversely our active knowledge comes; – Ratio keeps watch on this stretch of practice. Just as it keeps watch on every stretch of humanitarian road home: against the irrational which ultimately also shows itself in any practice devoid of concept. For if the destruction of reason sinks back into the barbaric irrational, then the ignorance of reason sinks back into the stupid irrational; though the latter does not of course shed blood, but ruins Marxism. Even banality is thus counter-revolution against Marxism itself; since Marxism is the consummation (not the Americanisation) of the most progressive thoughts of humanity.
So much for false understanding, right at the end, where it surfaces. The false equally requires elucidation precisely because Thesis 11 is the most important – corruptio optimi pessima. At the same time this thesis is the most succinctly expressed one; so a commentary here must go into the literal meaning much more than with the others. So what is the significance of the wording in Thesis 11, what is its apparent contrast between knowing and changing? There is no contrast; even the not contrary, but rather broadening particle ‘but’ is missing in Marx’s original (cf. MEGA I, 5, p. 535); there is just as little sign of an either-or. And previous philosophers are reproached for the fact – or rather: it is identified as a class barrier in them – that they have only interpreted the world in various ways, not however that they – have philosophized. But interpretation is related to contemplation and follows from it; non-contemplative knowledge is thus now distinguished as a new flag which truly carries us to victory. But as a flag of knowledge, as the same flag which Marx – though with action, not with contemplative quiet – raised above his major work of learned research. This major work is a clear directive for action, but it is called ‘Das Kapital’, not ‘Guide to Success’ or even ‘Active Propaganda'; it is not a sort of recipe for a quick heroic deed ante rem, but stands in the middle of the res, in painstaking examination, philosophizing contextual exploration of the most difficult reality. With the course set towards comprehended necessity, towards knowledge of the dialectical laws of development in nature and society as a whole. The identification of the first part of the proposition thus pushes off from the philosophers who ‘have only interpreted the world in various ways’, and from nothing else; it does set sail, but only on an extremely well thought-out voyage, as the second part of the proposition reveals: on that of a new, of an active philosophy, one which, in order to achieve change, is as inevitable as it is suitable. Undoubtedly Marx did direct harsh words against philosophy, but not against contemplative philosophy per se, whenever it was important philosophy from a great age. But precisely against a particular kind of contemplative philosophy, namely that of the Hegel epigones of his time, which was in fact a non-philosophy. Hence, characteristically, the ‘German Ideology’, which was aimed at these epigones, contains the strongest polemical attack: ‘We must set aside philosophy, we must jump out of it and, as ordinary people, apply ourselves to the study of reality, for which there is enormous material even in literature, of which philosophers are of course unaware; and if we then come across people like Kuhlmann or Stirner again, we find that we have had them ‘'behind” us and below us for a long time. Philosophy is about as similar to study of the real world as masturbation is to love-making’ (MEGA I, 5, p. 216). The names Kuhlmann (a pietistic theologian of the time) and especially Stirner show only too dearly to which address or kind of philosophy this mighty invective was directed; it was directed at philosophical windbaggery. It was not directed at Hegelian philosophy and other great philosophies of the past, no matter how contemplative these were considered to be; Marx would have been the last person to have missed a ‘study of the real world’ in the concrete philosopher Hegel, the most knowledgeable encyclopedist since Aristotle. This kind of objection was raised to Hegel by minds fundamentally different to Marx and Engels, the minds of the Prussian reaction, subsequently of revisionism and similar ‘political realists’, as we know full well. Of real previous philosophy, on the other hand, Marx speaks quite differently even in the ‘German Ideology’, namely in the sense of a creative real entry into an inheritance. Previously the ‘Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ of 1844 had already clearly established that philosophy could not be abolished without realizing it, could not be realized without abolishing it. The former, with the accent on realization, is said for the ‘men of practice’: ‘Hence, quite rightly, the practical political faction in Germany demands the negation of philosophy. Where it is quite wrong is not in the demand but in stopping at the demand which in all seriousness it neither implements nor can achieve. It believes it can achieve that negation by turning its back on philosophy and murmuring a few irritated and banal phrases about it with its head turned away. The limitation of its field of vision does not rank philosophy as well in the precincts of German reality or imagine it even under the rubric of German practice and the theories that serve it. You demand that we should start from real living seeds, but you forget that the real living seed of the German nation has until now only proliferated beneath its skull. In a word: You cannot abolish philosophy without realizing it.’ The second, with the accent on abolition, is said for the ‘theoreticians’: ‘The same wrong, only with reverse factors, was committed by the theoretical political faction which dates from philosophy. It saw in the present struggle only the critical struggle of philosophy with the German world, it did not consider that subsequent philosophy itself belongs to this world and is its, albeit ideal, completion. Critical of its adversary, it behaved uncritically towards itself, in that it began with the assumptions of philosophy and either stuck at its given results or issued demands and results of philosophy imported from elsewhere, although these – assuming they are justified – are conversely only to be obtained through the negation of subsequent (!) philosophy, of philosophy as philosophy. We will reserve a closer portrayal of this faction for the moment’ (it occurred in the ‘Holy Family’ and in the ‘German Ideology’, with the severest critique of degenerate contemplation, of the critical ‘repose of knowing’). ‘Its basic defect can be reduced to this: It believed it could realize philosophy without abolishing it’ (MEGA I, 1/1, p. 613). Marx thus gives both factions of the time an antidote for their behaviour, in each case a reverse medicina mentis: he imposes greater realization of philosophy on the practical men of that time, and greater abolition of philosophy on the theoreticians. However, even the ‘negation’ of philosophy (itself a very highly philosophically charged concept deriving from Hegel) refers in a most explicit way here to ‘subsequent philosophy’, not to every possible and future philosophy in general. The ‘negation’ refers to philosophy with truth for its own sake, i.e. to autarkical-contemplative philosophy, to one which simply interprets the world in an antiquarian way, it does not refer to one which changes the world in a revolutionary way. Indeed, even inside the ‘subsequent philosophy’, which is of course so fundamentally different from the Hegel epigones, there is, despite all the contemplation, so much ‘study of the real world’ that even German classical philosophy does not figure in a totally impractical way among the ‘three sources and three components of Marxism’. The absolutely new aspect in Marxist philosophy consists in the radical changing of its basis, in its proletarian revolutionary mission; but the absolutely new aspect does not consist in the idea that the only philosophy which is capable of changing and destined to change the world concretely is not – philosophy at all any more. Because it is so like never before, hence precisely the triumph of knowledge in the second part of the proposition of Thesis 11, concerning the changing of the world; Marxism would not be a change at all in the true sense if it were no theoretical- practical primacy of true philosophy before and in it. Not least philosophy which, with staying power, with full cultural inheritance, is well-versed in ultra-violet, that is: in the future-laden properties of reality. Changing in the untrue sense is easy of course in many ways, even without a concept; the Huns also changed things, change can also be brought about through megalomania, through anarchism, even through the ravings of mental illness which Hegel calls a ‘perfect depiction of chaos’. But sound change, especially that into the realm of freedom, comes about solely through sound knowledge, with ever more precisely mastered necessity. Out and out philosophers have subsequently changed the world in this way: Marx, Engels, Lenin. Practicists from the hollow of the hand, schematists with a horde of quotations, have not changed it, and neither have those empiricists whom Engels called ‘induction asses’. Philosophical change is change with unstinting knowledge of its context; for if philosophy does not represent a separate science above all other sciences, it certainly is the separate knowledge and conscience of this Totum in all sciences. It is the progressive consciousness of the progressive Totum, since the Totum does not itself stand as a Factum, but solely circulates with the still Unbecome in the gigantic context of Becoming. Philosophical change is thus a change according to the stipulations of the analysed situation, of dialectical tendency, of objective laws, of real possibility. That is why therefore in the end philosophical change takes place essentially in the horizon of the future, which is generally incapable of contemplation, incapable of interpretation, but is discernible in a Marxist sense. And seen from this point of view, Marx also rose above the changing accents, cited above, which are only placed antithetically: concerning realization or abolition of philosophy (realization accentuated against the ‘men of practice’, abolition accentuated against the ‘theoreticians’).
The dialectical unity of correctly understood accents reads, at the end of the already quoted ‘Introduction’ (MEGA I, 1/1, p. 621), as is well-known: ‘Philosophy cannot realize itself without the abolition of the proletariat, the proletariat cannot abolish itself without the realization of philosophy.’ And the abolition of the proletariat, as soon as it is not only grasped as a class, but equally, as Marx teaches, as the sharpest symptom of human self- alienation, is undoubtedly a long act: a total abolition of this kind coincides with the final act of communism. In the sense in which Marx expresses it in the ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’, with a perspective which is at home precisely in the philosophically most extreme ‘Eschaton’: ‘Only here for him (for man) has his natural existence become his human existence and nature for him become man. Thus society is the perfect essential unity of man with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the accomplished naturalism of man and the accomplished humanism of nature’ (MEGA I, 3, p. 116). The final perspective of changing the world which Marx attempted to formulate shines here. Its thought (the knowledge- conscience of all practice, in which the still distant Totum is mirrored) undoubtedly demands just as much newness of philosophy, as it creates resurrection of nature.