Raya Dunayevskaya

The Theory of Alienation: Marx's Debt to Hegel

Source: The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution, Mario Savio, Eugene Walker, Raya Dunayevskaya. Appendix II;
Editor's Note: This is the lecture most frequently requested by students and civil rights workers.

The topic "Marx's Debt to Hegel," is neither merely academic, nor does it pertain only to the historical period of Marx's lifetime. From the Hungarian revolt to the African revolutions, from the student demonstrators in Japan to the Negro revolution in the U.S., the struggle for freedom has transformed reality and pulled Hegelian dialectics out of the academic halls and philosophy books on to the living stage of history.

It is true that this transformation of Hegel into a contemporary has been via Marx. It is no accident, however, that Russian Communism's attack on Marx has been via Hegel. Because they recognize in the so-called mystical Absolute "the negation of the negation," the revolution against themselves, Hegel remains so alive and worrisome to the Russian rulers today. Ever since Zhdanov in 1947 demanded that the Russian philosophers find nothing short of "a new dialectical law," or rather, declared "criticism and self-criticism" to be that alleged new dialectical law to replace the Hegelian and objective law of development through contradiction, up to the 21st Congress of the Russian Communist Party where the special philosophic sessions declared Krushchev to be "the true humanist," the attack on both the young Marx and the mystic Hegel has been continuous. It reached a climax in the 1955 attacks on Marx's Early Essays in theory. In actuality it came to life as the Sino-Soviet Pact to put down the Hungarian Revolution.

One thing these intellectual bureaucrats sense correctly: Hegel's Concept of the Absolute and the international struggle for freedom are not as far apart as would appear on the surface.

I. The Ideal and the Real are Never Far Apart

It is this which Marx gained from Hegel. It is this which enabled the young Marx, once he broke from bourgeois society, to break also with the vulgar communists of his day who thought that one negation – the abolition of private property – would end all the ills of the old society and be the new communal society.

Marx insisted on what is central to Hegelian philosophy, the theory of alienation, from which he concluded that the alienation of man does not end with the abolition of private property – UNLESS what is most alien of all in bourgeois society, the alienation of man's labor from the activity of self-development into an appendage to a machine, is abrogated. In the place of the alienation of labor, Marx placed, not a new property form, but "the full and free development of the individual."

The pluri-dimensional in Hegel, his presupposition of the infinite capacities of man to grasp through to the "Absolute," not as something isolated in heaven, but as a dimension of the human being, reveals what a great distance humanity had traveled from Aristotle's Absolutes.

Because Aristotle lived in a society based on slavery, his Absolutes ended "Pure Form" – mind of man would meet mind of God and contemplate how wondrous things are.

Because Hegel's Absolutes emerged out of the French Revolution which put an end to serfdom, Hegel's Absolutes breathed the air, the earthly air of freedom. Even when one reads Absolute Mind as God, one cannot escape the earthly quality of the unity of theory and practice and grasp through to the Absolute Reality as man's attainment of total freedom, inner and outer and temporal. The bondsman, having through his labor gained, as Hegel put it, "a mind of his own," becomes part of the struggle between "consciousness-in-self" and "consciousness-for-itself." Or, more popularly stated, the struggle against alienation becomes the attainment of freedom.

In Hegel's Absolutes there is imbedded, though in abstract form, the full development of what Marx would have called the social individual, and what Hegel called individuality "purified of all that interfered with its universalism," i.e., freedom itself.

Freedom, to Hegel, was not only his point of departure. It was his point return. This is what makes him so contemporary. This was the bridge not only to Marx but to our day, and it was built by Hegel himself.

As Lenin was to discover when he returned to the Marxian philosophic foundations in Hegel during World War I, the revolutionary spirit of the dialectic was not super-imposed upon Hegel by Marx; it is in Hegel.

II. Marx's Critique of, and Indebtedness to, the Hegelian Dialectic

The Communists are not the only ones who try to spirit away the integrality of Marxian and Hegelian philosophy. Academicians also think that Marx is so strange a progeny that he has transformed Hegelian dialectics to the point of non-recognition, if not outright perversion. Whether what Herbert Melville called "the shock of recognition" will come upon us at the end of this discussion remains to be seen, but it is clearly discernible in Marx.

Marx's intellectual development reveals two basic stages of internalizing and transcending Hegel. The first took place during the period of his break with the Young Hegelians, and thrusts at them the accusation that they were dehumanizing the Idea. It was the period when the wrote both his Criticism of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, and the Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic.

There was nothing mechanical about Marx's new materialist outlook. Social existence determines consciousness, but it is not a confining wall that prevents one's sensing and even seeing the elements of the new society.

In Hegel, too, not only continuity as relation between past and present, but as attraction exerted by the future on the present, and by the whole, even when it does not yet exist, on its parts, is the mainspring of the dialectic.

It helped the young Marx to found a new stage of world consciousness of the proletariat, in seeing that the material base was not what Marx called "vulgar," but, on the contrary, released the subject striving to remake the world.

Marx was not one to forget his intellectual indebtedness either to classical political economy or philosophy. Although he had transformed both into a new world outlook, rooted solidly in the actual struggles of the day, the sources remained the law of value of Smith and Ricardo, and Hegelian dialectics. Of course Marx criticized Hegel sharply for treating objective history as if that were the development of some world-spirit, and analyzing self-development of mind as if ideas floated somewhere between heaven and earth, as if the brain was not in the head of the body of man living in a certain environment and at a specific historic period. Indeed Hegel himself would be incomprehensible if we did not keep in front of our minds the historic period in which he lived – that of the French Revolution and Napoleon. And, no matter how abstract the language, Hegel indeed had his finger on the pulse of human history.

Marx's Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic is at the same time a critique of the materialist critics of Hegel, including Feuerbach who had treated "the negation of the negation only as the contradiction of philosophy with itself."

Marx reveals, contrariwise, that principle to be the expression of the movement of history itself, albeit in abstract form.

Marx had finished, or rather, broken off his Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic, just as he reached Absolute Mind. Marx's rediscovery of the Absolute came out of the concrete development of the class struggles under capitalism, which split the Absolute into two:

  1. The unemployed army which Marx called "the general absolute law" of capitalist development, the reserve army of unemployed. That was the negative element that would cause its collapse.
  2. "The new forces and passions," the positive element in that negative, which made the workers the "gravediggers" of the old society, and the creators of the new.

It is here – in the second stage of Marx's relation to the Hegelian dialectic – that Marx fully transcended Hegel. The split in the philosophic category of the Absolute into two, like the split of the economic category of labor into labor as activity and labor-power as commodity, forged new weapons of comprehension. It enabled Marx to make a leap in thought to correspond to the new, the creative activity of the workers in establishing a society on totally new foundations which would, once and for all, abolish the division between mental and manual labor and unfold the full potentialities of man – a truly new human dimension.

III. The Human Dimension

Of course it is true that Hegel worked out all the contradictions in thought alone while in life all contradictions remained, multiplied, intensified. Of course where the class struggle did not abolish contradictions, those contradictions plagued not only the economy, but its thinkers. Of course, Marx wrote, that beginning with the first capitalist crisis, the ideologists turned into "prizefighters for capitalism."

But, first and foremost, Marx did not separate ideology and economics as if the latter were the only fundamental, and the former nothing but "show." Marx maintains that they are both as real as life. Throughout his greatest theoretic work, Capital, Marx castigates "the fetishism of commodities" not only because relations of men at production appear as "things," but especially because human relations under capitalism are so perverse that that is not appearance; that is indeed what they really are: Machine is master of man; not man of machine.

Marx's main point was that the driving force of the dialectic was man himself, not just his thought, but the whole of man, beginning with the alienated man at the point of production; and that, whereas bourgeois ideologists, because of their place in production have a false consciousness because they must defend the status quo and are "prisoners of the fetishism of commodities," the proletarian, because of his place in production is the "negative principle" driving to a resolution of contradictions.

In the History of Philosophy Hegel had written "It is not so much from as through slavery that man acquired freedom." Again we see that "Praxis" was not Marx's discovery, but Hegel's. What Marx did was to designate practice as the class struggle activity of the proletariat. In Hegel's theory, too, praxis stands higher than the "Ideal of Cognition" because it has "not only the dignity of the universal but is the simply actual."

It is true that Hegel himself threw a mystical veil over his philosophy by treating it as a closed ontological system. But it would be a complete misreading of Hegel's philosophy were we to think that his Absolute is either a mere reflection of the separation between philosopher and the world of material production, or that his Absolute is the empty absolute of pure or intellectual intuition of the subjective idealists from Fichte through Jacobi to Schelling, whose type of bare unity of subject and object – as Prof. Bailie has so brilliantly phrased it – "possessed objectivity at the price of being inarticulate."

Whether, as with Hegel, Christianity is taken as the point of departure, or whether – as with Marx – the point of departure is the material condition for freedom created by the Industrial Revolution, the essential element is self-evident: man has to fight to gain freedom; thereby is revealed "the negative character" of modern society.

Now the principle of negativity was not Marx's discovery; he simply named it "the living worker"; the discovery of the principle was Hegel's. In the end, Spirit itself finds that it no longer is antagonistic to the world, but is indeed the indwelling spirit of the community. As Hegel put it in his early writings, "The absolute moral totality is nothing else than a people . . . (and) the people who receive such an element as a natural principle have the mission of applying it."

The humanism of Hegel may not be the most obvious characteristic of that most complex philosophy, and, in part, it was hidden even from Marx, although Lenin in his day caught it even in the simple description of the Doctrine of the Notion "as the realm of Subjectivity OR freedom." Or man achieving freedom not as a "possession," but a dimension of his being.

It is this dimension of the human personality which Marx saw in the historical struggles of the proletariat that would once and for all put an end to all class divisions and open up the vast potentialities of the human being so alienated in class societies, so degraded by the division of mental and manual labor that not only is the worker made into an appendage of a machine, but the scientist builds on a principle which would lead society to the edge of an abyss.

One hundred years before Hiroshima, Marx wrote, "To have one basis for science and other for life is a priori, a lie." We have lived this lie for so long that the fate of civilization, not merely rhetorically, but literally, is within orbit of a nuclear ICBM. Since the very survival of mankind hangs in the balance between the East's and the West's nuclear terror, we must, this time, under the penalty of death, unite theory and practice in the struggle for freedom, thereby abolishing the division between philosophy and reality and giving ear to the urgency of "realizing" philosophy, i.e., of making freedom a reality.