E. V. Ilyenkov 1974
Source: The Autodidact Project;
First Published: Ilyenkov E. V., “Deyatel’nost’ i Znanie” (1974), in: E. V. Ilyenkov, Filosofiya i Kul’tura, 1991, in English in Marx and the Western World, edited by Nicholas Lobkowicz, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967, pp. 391-407. Papers presented at an international symposium held at the University of Notre Dame, April 1966.
Translated: by Peter Moxhay 2002;
Transcribed: Nate Schmolze.
I think that the organizers of the Symposium were quite correct in suggesting that we consider the ideas of Marx in their original form and completely abstract them from all their later interpretations and practical-political consequences.
This is not easy, particularly if one considers the enormous role these ideas play in the tense spiritual situation of the present time. However as a first step in the dialogue between Marxists and non-Marxists, it is necessary to make such an abstraction; otherwise the Symposium would immediately turn into a heated polemic on present-day issues, become something in the nature of a general assembly committee or subcommittee, and ultimately fail to carry out its task.
But this amounts to saying that if my paper were planned as a direct polemical antithesis to contemporary Western European and American interpretations of Marx, it would contradict the basic intention of the proposed discussion. I am therefore obliged, if not in essence, then in form, to deviate somewhat from the topic directly suggested for this paper.
I shall not present a straight polemic with these or other objections to Marx’s ideas or with these or other specific counterarguments. I think that the best mode of polemic refutation is to state clearly that position which has been subjected to doubt. If it is true that every negation is an affirmation, then it is also true that to affirm an idea means to repudiate its antithesis.
I fully agree with the premise from which the organizers of this symposium proceed, namely, that Marx is indeed a “son of the West” as are Plato and Aristotle, Descartes and Spinoza, Rousseau and Hegel, and Goethe and Beethoven. In other words, the system of ideas called “Marxism” is a natural outgrowth of the development of the tradition of “Western Culture,” or more precisely, Western Europe civilization.
It is an outgrowth of that very civilization which for various reasons and circumstances during the last centuries (roughly from the fifteenth-sixteenth century) was undeniably in the vanguard of all earthly civilization and of all technological and scientific culture of the entire globe. Consequently the repudiation of Marx by “Western Curlture” is, in our view, a repudiation of the most progressive traditions of its own past.
First of all we must define this concept, “Western World.” It is, of course, in no way a geographical concept. Cuba, it is true, lies to the east of the United States, but the Soviet Union is situated “more to the West” than Japan, and North Korea is not a bit closer to the “East” than South Korea. The world is presently divided into “West” and “East” according to a different criterion, and this criterion is the form of ownership.
In this sense the terms ’West’ and ’East’ – in all their confused inexactness – can be used. However we must keep in mind that the “Western World” is the part of the world based on private property while the other part which is on the road to collectivization, that is, on the road to socialism and communism, is the “Eastern World."
In fact the contrast which we are discussing does not involve opposition between the “Western” and the “Eastern” world with their respective traditions at all. Rather it is an organic, internal divergence within the “Western World” itself, that is, strictly speaking, within that part of the world which in the course of the last centuries has developed its culture on the basis of private property. (Or, to use a more flattering though less exact term, on the basis of “free enterprise.")
Marxism was born out of the soil and the culture of this world as one means of solving its social problems and it can be described as a theoretically founded way out of its antinomies.
Why were Marx’s ideas first realized in practice in the “East"? The answer is not that they conformed more to “Eastern psychology.” As far as Russia is concerned, we must remember that Lenin’s more conservative political adversaries upbraided him for his stubborn “Westernism.” They viewed socialism as a system of ideas organically foreign to the “Russian character.” Moreover the more vulgar and evil among them even called Lenin a “German saboteur” and an “agent of Wilhelm"; for them, Marx and the Prussian Emperor were the same “Germans."
The adversaries of Marxism clung to the so-called national Russian traditions for “specific characteristics,” but the backwardness of Russia’s economic and cultural development not only failed to provide victory for the ideas of Marxism on Russian soil but, on the contrary, because of Russia’s greater sluggishness, hindered them in every way. Not “easiness,” but rather laboriousness in the realization of these ideas in economics and in the consciousness of the people was historically tied to the backwardness of Russia.
The victory of the ideas of Marx in Russia in 1917 was a direct result of the fact that Russia, with all its backwardness, was drawn into the orbit of the sharpest contradictions of general European development. The world slaughter of 1914-1918 was indeed the direct stimulus for the revolutionary outburst. The Revolution of 1917 was necessary to decide a typically “Western” problem and not a “specifically Eastern one.” It appears both in theory and practice to have been the only possible way out of the condition of national crisis. However this crisis was not precipitated by specific “Eastern” and national-Russian causes but rather by reasons rooted in general European conditions of Russia’s development.
And if, at that time, the revolution occurred on the geographical “periphery of the Western World,” this happened not because Russia was located on that periphery but because there, on the periphery of the Western World, Russia was lying in the grip of those same antinomies in which the development of Western-European capitalism was also gripped. These antinomies then precipitated the revolution.
Thus we may justly quote the Russian proverb: “The chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” Not external “Eastern” forces, but centrifugal forces of development of private property destroyed private (private-capitalistic) property in Russia.
If Lenin, the theoretical and practical political leader of the 1917 revolution, was “a son of the West,” then certainly Marx was a “son of the West” also. It goes without saying that as Marxism, an ideological-theoretical extract of “Western Culture,” was first actualized on the “periphery of the Western World,” that is, in countries least prepared for it in terms of technological and cultural development, so also a peculiar coloring was superimposed on the practical-empirical forms of the implementation of these ideas, the ideas of Marx and Lenin, the ideas of scientific communism.
Directly connected with this fact are those negative phenomena, those specific difficulties in our development, which anticommunist propaganda so zealously exploited and still exploits. These phenomena to which we, as communists, relate no less critically than any intelligent “Western” humanist in no way offer an argument against the ideas of Marx. With these ideas, with the program we are effecting, these phenomena had nothing in common (nor do they now). Furthermore these phenomena are wholly explained, not as due to the influence of the ideas of Marx and Lenin, but on the contrary as a kind of bigoted and sometimes perfidious resistance of that material in which these ideas had to be realized.
These are not the results of the ideas of scientific communism but the results of how these ideas were altered according to the “specific character” and traditions inherited by us from prerevolutionary Russia – in accordance with the remnants of the past, as this phenomenon is sometimes called.
(In parenthesis we note that these are remnants, not only, and not even as much, of the commercial capitalistic forms of the organization of life as of the prebourgeois, precapitalistic forms of the development of private property. If you like, this can be called specifically an “Eastern” legacy, which did not and does not bear any relationship to the ideas of scientific communism. This legacy with its traditions hindered the affirmation of the ideas of Marx and Lenin. In a number of instances it led to the distortions with which communism can and has come into conflict in countries possessing an insufficiently developed economy and culture. But communism has successfully overcome phenomena of a similar nature, and the farther we go along the path of economic and cultural development, the less and less fodder for anticommunist critics will there be.)
However since we have agreed not to speak about the latest historical fate and latest “interpretations” of the original ideas of Marx, let us return to the topic, to the question concerning the relationship of these ideas to that culture in the soil of which they arose and were formed.
That all “Western Culture” developed and flowered in the soil of “private property” is a historically acknowledged fact. “The Declaration of Independence” and the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789” that legally settled this form of property as the basic principle of all legislation were documents of greatest revolutionary significance. They freed the tremendous resources of human potentialities from the surveillance of bureaucratic regimentation and established wider limits for the realization of these potentialities and for personal initiative. In this sense the whole technological and scientific culture of Europe and North America owes its very existence to private property as an indispensable condition sine qua non.
No sensible Marxist has denied or denies this. On the contrary, the theory of Marxism has, in all fairness, always valued the historically progressive role of private property and has stressed its advantages in comparison with the prebourgeois, feudal type-class forms of the social organization of human activities.
Both Marx and Engels began their careers precisely as the most radical theoreticians of bourgeois democracy, as the most determined defenders of the principle of private property, which in their eyes at that time coincided with the principle of full and unconditional freedom of personal initiative in any sphere of life, whether material or spiritual.
In his capacity as leader of revolutionary democracy, the young Marx even opposed the idea of a socialization of property. His Rheinische Zeitung did not, as he wrote in 1842, acknowledge the theoretical reality of Communist ideas and consequently could even less desire or consider possible their practical implementation; it only could promise to subject these ideas to a thorough “criticism.” 
Marx rejected communism as a theoretical doctrine, for to him it seemed to be a reactionary attempt to galvanize the “corporate principle,” the ideal of Plato. However he viewed the dissemination of communist ideas as a symptom, as a theoretically naive expression of a strictly practical conflict – a pressing point among the social organisms of the progressive countries of Europe. In this sense, he assessed communism as “the most serious contemporary question for France and England.” 
That this conflict undeniably existed is attested to by the fact that the Augsburger Zeitung used the word, “communism,” as a swear word, as a kind of bugaboo. Marx characterized the position of this newspaper thus:
It takes to its heels when it confronts the tricky phenomena of today, and it thinks that the dust thus raised as well as the dirty words it fearfully mutters through its teeth while running away suffices to blind and confuse both the embarrassing contemporary phenomenon and the complacent reader. 
The following declaration is also quite typical of Marx’s position:
We are firmly convinced, that it is not practical experiments which are dangerous but the theoretical articulation of communist ideas; true practical experiments (and be they carried out en masse) can be answered by cannon as soon as they become dangerous; ideas, however, which control our thoughts, subordinate our convictions to them, and to which reason rivets our conscience-these are bonds impossible to break without tearing into pieces one’s heart, these are demons which a man can conquer only by subjecting himself to them. 
In a word, it is impossible to deal with ideas either by cannon or dirty words; on the other band, unsuccessful practical attempts at actualizing ideas are in no way an argument against them.
Moreover if some ideas displease you, then you should analyze the soil from which they spring and disseminate, i.e., find a theoretical solution to the real conflict, to that actual conflict from which they arise. Expose them; only in this way is it possible to fulfill that tense social demand that expresses itself at the sight of these ideas. Then, and no sooner, will unpleasant ideas disappear.
In this, essentially, is the position of the young Marx. This is not the position of a communist nor of a Marxist in the modern meaning of the word. It is simply the position of a sensible and honorable theoretician. It is precisely for this reason that Marx in 1842 did not turn to a formal analysis of contemporary communist ideas (they were indeed quite naive), nor to a criticism of the practical attempts to implement them (they were quite feeble), but rather he contemplated a theoretical analysis of the conflict within the social organism which spawned these ideas and the elucidation of that real demand which expressed itself in the form of ideas such as Utopian socialism and communism.
The question for Marx arose in the following form: Is it possible (and if so, precisely how) to resolve the conflicts in the development of private property in the soil of that private property itself? “Peacefully?” This again is not the position of a communist. But it is the position of a theoretician and it retains within itself the possibility of transferring to the communist position.
This position employed a wholly objective, fearless, ruthless and critical analysis of the social situation that was developing in the world of private property, especially in those countries where private initiative bad secured the utmost freedom from any external, legal kind of regulation, namely, in England and France. And so the criticism of communist ideas, so far as Marx considered it a serious-theoretical matter and not a demagogical-idealistic one, became a criticism of the actual conditions of life that gave birth to these ideas and aided their dissemination.
The opinion that the wide dissemination of these or other ideas could be explained by the activity of evil agitators had been alien to Marx from the very beginning, even when the ideas themselves were distasteful to him. Marx believed (and I think his opinion can be justified today) that only those ideas that correspond to reality win sympathy and a growing audience and that these ideas must arise from the social demands of a more or less wide category of the population. Otherwise the most beautiful and alluring idea will never get a hearing in the consciousness of the masses, for the masses will remain deaf to it.
It is this very point concerning the dissemination of communist ideas in France and England that Marx assessed as a symptom of the real conflict ripening in the bosoms of those countries where private property bad received maximum freedom of development in all its facets and all legal restraints had been removed from it.
Therefore communism was even viewed by the young Marx as an ideological current arising out of private property itself. Thus the criticism of communism finally became a criticism of private property as the foundation of communist ideas.
This plan of critical analysis became central for Marx and served as the basic theme for the Philosophical-Economic Manuscripts. This work led him to the conclusion that those actual-empirical conflicts, in the soil of which sympathy arises for the ideas of communism, were not accidental phenomena, characteristic only of the England and France of that time but inevitable outcomes of private property seen as an international and general principle for the organization of all social life. Marx became convinced in the course of this analysis that the conflicts actually observable in France and England were, in essence, necessary consequences of private property; they were already present implicitly in the very principle of this private, individual kind of property.
And if this were so, then further developments of this principle, its dissemination into new spheres of activity and into new countries, inevitably would lead to much sharper conflicts, and through these, to an expansion of the “empirical basis of communism” – to an increase in the number of people willing to go along with communist ideas and in the number of those seeing in such ideas the only way out of the gloomy antinomy of private property. For this reason, then, Marx accepted communistic ideas as a necessary phenomenon in the development of private property, notwithstanding the fact that these ideas remained for him as unacceptable as previously, so far as representing a “positive program."
This actual (crude, as he called it) communism, which appeared as a prime product of the movement of “private property,” Marx considered lacking in appreciation of its own goals and problems and void of a genuine theoretical self-awareness. Born out of its direct antithesis, the principle of private property, this elemental popular communism could only oppose private property and could possess only a sign of negation to distinguish it. It simply brought to fulfillment all private property’s inherent tendencies.
Therefore in this “crude communism,” in this elemental frame of mind called forth by the pressure of the antinomies of private property, Marx saw first of all an enlarged and unique mirror reflecting to the world of private property its own tendencies carried to their final, ultimate expression. “Communism is in its first form only a generalization and consummation of ... [the] relationship [of private property]... . Initially it comes out as common private property.” 
Nonetheless even with all the “crudeness and unreasonableness” of this initial form of communism and despite the extreme abstractness of its positive program, Marx assessed it as the only possible first step toward removing that “alienation” which had been created by the movement of private property. Marx’s way out is this: Although “communism as such is not a goal of human development, is not the form of human society,” nonetheless, this very communism is the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and recovery. Communism is the necessary form and the dynamic principle of the immediate future.” 
Marx, the theoretician, found it necessary to reach this conclusion in spite of all his antipathies to communism’s “positive program” and to the ideals of a “crude and unreasonable communism.” Therefore in 1844, Marx came out openly for the communist position, for a position of a “negation of private property” and as a theoretician – began to ponder the special problem of providing the real communist movement with a genuine theoretical self-awareness, that is, with a basis not only for its immediate, short-term goals and problems but with a clear understanding of its final goals and its obligations to all human civilization.
His basic thesis, which is still being developed in abstract-philosophical phraseology (that of Hegel and Feuerbach), consists in the following, it seems to me: a simple, formally-legal “negation of private property,” and the establishment of social property by the wealth that society has already created, is in fact a necessary first step, a first stage on the road to social progress. To take this step, this political legal action, people are pushed and compelled by the antinomy of this very world of “private property.” And the breadth and keenness of this antinomy increases in the same degree as material and spiritual life develops.
“Crude and unreasonable communism” represents a movement that arose quite naturally from the pressures of the antinomies of private property; it is a frame of mind, unilluminated by the light of theory; consequently it has neither achieved a genuine world-historical role nor realized the immensity of the problems objectively arising before it. It has been provoked by the rather blind but genuine power of “alienation” and spurred on by the development of private property into personal-capitalistic property and subsequently into monopolistic, capitalistic property.
But this genuine, theoretically unenlightened “communism” has, in fact, realized its immediate goal, always combined with a mass of illusions, the revolutionary abolition of the principle of “private enterprise.” We say “combined with a mass of illusion” because a political revolution that has established “social property” as a means of production and as a socially significant boon to culture has been interpreted as decisive for the whole problem as if this purely negative action were a final “positive resolution of the problem."
According to Marx, or rather, according to his understanding of the total complexity of the problem, which can be sharply contrasted to the outlook of theoreticians of Utopian socialism, the business of political revolution is only a start, and the whole problem will be visible to the communist movement only after this act.
The real problem, which the communist movement must solve after performing its immediate task, is directly dictated by the antinomies of private property. After the revolutionary conversion of private property, as a means of production and a boon to culture, into “social property,” this social property must then, in turn, be converted into the property of each person, of each separate individual.
In the social context, this question coincides with the abolition of the division of labor among individuals, a concept inherited from the world of “private property.” In regard to the individual, the problem of his all-around development and his conversion into a “totally” developed individuality must be confronted.
The political revolution is viewed here as a condition to be fulfilled whereby society will then find itself with the power to face itself, and moreover, to really accomplish the gigantic task of creating a society without government, without currency and without my other external mediators for relationships among men.
Society in representing voluntary cooperation for the all-around development of the individual will, in this capacity, no longer need “External Mediators.” On the other hand, only the all-around development of the individual has the strength to establish such a cooperation.
In this connection I must touch upon one important current phenomenon. I have in mind the phenomenon, which in Western literature is often considered as somewhat of a “renaissance,” of a “return” of a number of Marxists from the ideas of the “mature Marx” to the ideas of the “young Marx,” from Marx’s Das Kapital to the Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts.
In this trend one occasionally may observe (a few Marxists are included in this observation) a tendency toward a “supplementation,” toward “filling up” the ideas of the mature Marx with humanistic ideas and toward exclusions, as if what was done by Marx himself in the course of his development as a theoretician was likewise done by the whole communist movement. I cannot agree with this interpretation although the very phenomenon that has served as its basis undoubtedly does exist.
It is indisputable that in the Marxist literature of the last ten years one can observe a heightened interest in the problems of personality and individuality, in the problem of a human being as the subject of the historical process, in the problem of “reification” and “de-reification,” and in general, in that entire gamut of questions connected in one way or another with an analysis of human activity and its conditions; this latter includes the problem of “alienation,” and of the reappropriation of alienated wealth and so on.
This may be explainable in part by the fact that in Marxist literature the themes as well as the phraseology of The Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, of the various extracts from the economists and other earlier works have played a larger role than formerly. This is a fact – a fact which I also personally approve, since I see in it a healthy and fruitful tendency in Marxist theoretical thought.
However in this phenomenon I do not see any “return” of Marxist theoretical thought from the ideas of “mature Marxism” to the ideas of an “immature Marxism.” Rather I see in it, first of all, an exceptional tendency toward a deeper and more truthful understanding of the mature Marx as the author of Das Kapital and the writings affiliated with it.
I allow myself to assert that the highly diffused interpretations in “the West” of the development of Marx’s views as contained in The Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts in opposition to those developed in Das Kapital, an interpretation according to which this development was connected with Marx’s loss of interest in problematical humanism, represents the most complete misunderstanding. If anything has been lost in this process, it is only that some parts of the specifically philosophical phraseology of the Manuscripts have been replaced by a more concrete phraseology, and in this sense, a more exact and stronger one. What occurs here is not a loss of concepts but only the loss of a few terms connected with these concepts.
To prove this fact is not difficult; it is purely a formal procedure, a procedure of extensive quoting with which I do not wish to weary the reader. Of course, the mature Marx no longer used such terms as the ‘essential powers of man,’ preferring instead the more exact expression ’the energetic ways of man,’ and in place of ’Entäusserung’ he chose to use ’Vergegenständlichung,’ or more simply, ’the Aufhebung of activity in the product of that activity’ and so forth. There is no doubt that the mature Marx uses the term ’alienation’ (Entfremdung) more sparingly (and more accurately), as the strongest way to distinguish this concept from reification and “objectification” and other similar phenomena.
For me this is so unquestionable that all the problems of the early works are actually rendered more fully later, and moreover, in a more definitive form. It is quite obvious that the process of the “human alienation” under the conditions of an unhindered development of “private property” (in the course of its becoming private-capitalistic) is viewed here more concretely and in more detail. The problem of the “Aufhebung of alienation” and of “reappropriation” is shown much more concretely, as a person “alienated” from his wealth by the movement of private property. It is easy to demonstrate that the mature Marx maintained, and defined more exactly, his critical relationship toward that “crude and thoughtless communism,” which still bore the marks of its violent origin out of the movement of private property and because of this was still, to a large degree, contaminated by moral and theoretical prejudices (see, for example, documents that describe Marx’s fight against Proudhonism, against the “barracks communism” of Bakunin and Nechaev and so on). It is also obvious that the mature Marx, and after him Lenin, never, even in a single phase of his theoretical writings, viewed the act of turning private-capitalistic property into “state” property as the highest and final goal of the communist movement but only as a first, although necessary, step toward creating a society, without government, without currency, without forcible-legal forms for regulating man’s vital activity, and without any “alienated” forms of human collaboration. It is these very forms that the communist movement because it is not in a position to overcome them immediately by decree or by force, preserves during the first (socialist) phase of its maturity; however they are preserved only as signs of the movement’s historical immaturity.
In this way the fourth question of the Symposium is answered: “Western” criticism of present day communism, so far as a grain of rationality is to found in it, is in its entirety, even though only implicitly, self-criticism. It is justified in so far as it objects to those tendencies and phenomena which still have not been overcome by communist society – tendencies which were inherited by this society from the world of “private property."
However the essence of the problem is that these “wrong” tendencies of a socialistic society are, in fact, surmountable; they can be overcome even while certain elements of a commodity-capitalistic society, and especially of a monopolistic one, are being inescapably strengthened.
Therefore let us make clear that the nightmares of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell – aside from the authors’ illusions in these Utopian works – do not at all picture the evolution of socialist society but rather the development of private-capitalistic forms of property. While, according to external acceptances and signs, these authors are painting a picture of “contemporary communism,” they are actually depicting a tendency in the commodity-capitalistic system of life. In this way these nightmares frighten even the humanistic intelligentsia of the “Western World.” They do not frighten us. We understand these tendencies as a part of our heritage that is almost but not completely past.
After all has been said, I can assert that no problem of “editing the mature Marx” in the spirit of the “immature” Marx has ever arisen as far as scientific communism is concerned. We were and are speaking only about the fact that the ideas of the “mature” Marx have been converted into personal property, the “personal” property of each participant of a real communist movement, and in this way, of the entire communist movement and that these ideas must be set against the actual philosophical-legal and moral-humanistic context in which they are framed.
We are speaking, however, of more than those immediate practical-political deductions and slogans of war which are assimilated by a genuine movement and which rise in the bosoms of the private-property portion of the world more easily and quickly than in any other and which, in any case, are easier to grasp than the philosophical-theoretical basis and context of the mature Marx’s ideas. So far as we are speaking about the “appropriation” of these ideas by every participant of a communistic movement, about their conversion to an actual theoretical “awareness” of the whole movement, the Manuscripts of 1844 can and should play an important role.
These manuscripts were the first approach, from the standpoint of theoretical thought nurtured in the soil of a classical Western-European culture, toward understanding the true rationale and true goals of the communist movement. They represented the first awareness of the existence of a “real” transitory stage from the still indefinite position of “humanism” and “formal democracy” to the ideas of a practical-effective, concrete understanding of how humanism and democracy must fare in the world of private property.
From accepting the Manuscripts, one can proceed to a genuine understanding of Das Kapital where nothing of substance is lost except abstract philosophical phraseology. But the Manuscripts can be a help in the text of Das Kapital itself in scrutinizing those passages that could otherwise be overlooked. If such passages are overlooked, Das Kapital easily appears as an “economic work” only, and in a very narrow meaning of the term. Das Kapital is then seen as a dryly objective economic scheme free from any trace of “humanism” – but this is not Das Kapital, it is only a coarsely shallow interpretation. It is essentially true that a humanistic orientation of thought encompasses the theoretical thinking of the mature Marx, by its very method, in its interpretation of the dialectic, as a method of critical analysis of the life conditions of man and not simply as an “objectification” of an alien being.
Moreover this example of the method of Marx that is basically different from the revealingly “scientific” version of Hegel’s dialectic can be viewed more readily through the Manuscripts. For in them is found precisely this process of humanistic-humane interpretation of the Hegelian Logic – as an “alienated form of thought alienated (from humanity)” – a process of a “reappropriation” of the Logic, alienated from man and his activity in the guise of a scheme-structure of an Absolute, Suprapersonal and Impersonal “Spirit.”
V. I. Lenin was quite correct when be noted that “it is impossible to fully understand Das Kapital, and especially its first chapter, without having studied and mastered Hegel’s Logic.” Without this condition, the understanding of Das Kapital remains formal, i.e., tendentiously dogmatic.
To achieve a critical mastery of the actual content of Hegel’s Science of Logic, that is, to discover therein the “alienated form,” the Manuscripts have one other important aspect. This has in no way arisen from the desire of individuals to “humanize” Marxism as existentialist authors have suggested. The desires of individuals can be significant in the scales of the historical process only if they coincide with a need that has grown out of a wide, objective mass movement. No one will attend to these desires if such is not the case.
The fact is that the problems connected with “reappropriations,” with the “Aufhebung of alienation” and with similar such categories have sprung up and confronted the communist movement itself. The necessity for reaching a practical solution to these problems is dictated not for reasons of the “prestige doctrine” but by the pressure of real needs that have become urgent in the organism of socialized production. The fact of the matter is that industrial production of present-day proportions represents an objective, the realization of which can only be effected by a democratically organized collective that would include in its number all interested individuals. It is precisely from this point of view that the problem of drawing all individuals into the direction of social affairs and into the business of directing “property” arises. Therefore the basic goal of the development of a socialist society consists in the gradual and consistent transmission of all the functions of directing collective affairs from a government apparatus to those individuals immediately handed together about a common business. In other words, the goal is the conversion of formally collective property into genuinely collective property. This tendency will no doubt pave the way for a further expansion of the scales of production.
But the solution to this question demands that each and every individual – and not merely a chosen few – be capable of really participating in the business of directing “collective property,” possess the necessary theoretical competence and skills and the appropriate culture for this.
From this viewpoint, the question of building a communist society amounts to the converting of each individual from a one-sided professional – from a slave of the division of labor system – into an all-around personality, a real master (proprietor) of the material and spiritual culture created by all mankind.
This point is even expressed in the Marxian formula, according to which communist society liquidates “the division of labor” and replaces it with a rational “distribution of the kinds of activity” among equally widely and thoroughly developed individuals. These people, among others, will be able to carry out the directive role within the individual collective, within the national economy and within all human society.
Under these conditions, social property, as a modern form of production, is not a Utopian perspective, but a real need. It does not depend on the will or awareness of individuals, but is dictated by the interests of a rational, functioning organism of present day industrial production – “the stuff of property.”
Under the conditions of private property the opposite tendency is stronger; it moves toward a governmental, monopolistic form of “collectivization” of property and the duties of directing it. The forces of market elements inescapably doom individualism to one-sided professional specialization, to professional “cretinism,” as Marx expressed it. Therefore to counteract this tendency, a monopoly of leadership of socially important affairs is given over to professionals. This, taking place independently of the will and desires of individuals, represents a tendency toward “total government.” Thus the ultimate goals of these two movements for the organization of social life turn out to be directly contradictory.
The system that is based on the principle of socialized property will necessarily evolve toward a democratic direction of socially significant affairs and toward the withering away of government as an apparatus opposing the majority of individuals, for all will be called on to direct social (collective) affairs and all will be required to grow in social consciousness.
The world of private property will undoubtedly drift toward the opposite goal. Therefore in summary it seems that Marxist communism in the twentieth century is the only rationally based doctrine that is strong enough to offer people a real earthly ideal. There is no rational doctrine opposed to communism but only an absence of one. Therefore reasonable people must choose now between Marxism, some form of social pessimism or salvation in the form of a transcendental religion. I, personally, prefer communism which opens to humanity a real, albeit difficult, road to a future here on earth.
1. MEW, I, 108.
2. Ibid., 105.
3. Ibid., 106.
4. Ibid., 108.
5. MEGA, I, 3, 111; cf. K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. by M.Milligan, Moscow 1961, p. 99.
6. MEGA, I, 3, 126; cf. Manuscripts, p. 114.