Antonio Labriola

Socialism and Philosophy



Rome, May 14, 1897.

To return to my first argument, it seems to me that the following question is uppermost in your mind: By what means, and in what manner, would it be possible to inaugurate a school of historical materialism in France? I don't know whether I am at liberty to answer this question, without running the risk of being numbered among those journalists of the old school who, with imperturbable assurance, gave good advice to Europe at the imminent peril of being almost never heeded. As a matter of fact, they never were. I shall try to be modest. In the first place, it ought not to be so very difficult to find editors and publishers in France who should be willing to publish and spread accurate translations of the works of Marx, Engels, and others that may be desired. That would be the best way to make a start. I am aware of the fact that in the art of translating one comes across some queer difficulties. I have been reading German for more than thirty-seven years, and I have always noted that we people of the Latin tongue get into strange linguistic and literary byways, whenever we attempt to translate from the German. That which seems alive, clear, direct, in German, becomes often enough, when translated into Italian, cold, pointless, and even outright jargon. In such translations as are commonly current the convincing effect is lost with that of the meaning. In such a vast work of popularization as that which I have in mind, it would be desirable, aside from the faithful interpretation of the original text, to supply in the prefaces, foot-notes, and comments of the translated writings the materials for that easy assimilation which is already in process or prepared in the writings grown on native soil.

 Languages are not accidental variations of universal speech. They are even more than simple external means of communication expressing thought and mind. They are the conditions and limits of our internal activity, which for this reason, among many others, is not indebted to accident for the various national modes and forms. If there are any internationalists who ignore this, they should rather be called confusionists and ignorers of form. Of such are those who get their information, not from the ancient apocalyptics, but from that specious Bakunin who proclaimed even the equalization of the sexes. The assimilation of ideas, of lines of thought, of definite tendencies, of plans, which have found mature expression in the literature of a foreign language, is a rather difficult case of social pedagogy.

 Since this last expression has slipped from my pen, permit me also to confess that it is not the continuous growth of success at elections which fills me more than anything else with admiration and vivid hope, when I closely examine the previous history and present condition of the German Social-Democracy. Instead of speculating over the vote as a measure of the future, according to the often erroneous calculations of inference and statistical combination, I feel a special admiration for this truly new and imposing case of social education. This is the great point that in such a vast number of men, especially of laborers and little bourgeois, a new consciousness is in process of formation, to which the direct influence of economic conditions, which cause them to struggle, and the propaganda of socialism as a means and aim of development, equally contribute. This digression calls to my mind a recollection. I was either the first, or certainly one of the first, in Italy to call the attention of those of our laborers, who were and are able to move along the line of the modern proletarian class struggle, to the example of Germany. But it never entered my mind to assume that the imitation of Germany should relieve us in any way from spontaneous action. It never occurred to me to follow the example of those monks and priests, who were for centuries almost the exclusive educators of an already disintegrating Italy, and who blithely taught the art of poetry by ordering their pupils to learn Horace's Art of Poetry by heart. It would be queer, if you, Bebel, with your merits, activity, and wisdom, were introduced among us in the garb of another Horace! It would surprise even my friend Lombroso, who hates Latin worse than the starvation fever.

 In short, there are still other difficulties, of a greater scope and weight. Even if able and experienced writers and editors, not only in France, but also in the other civilized countries, undertook to spread translations of all the works on historical materialism, it would only stimulate, but not form and keep alive in the various nations those creative energies which produce and nourish vigorously a certain intellectual movement. To think is to produce. To learn means to produce by reproduction. We do not really and truly know a thing, until we are capable of producing it ourselves by thought, work, proof, and renewed proof. We do this only by virtue of our own powers, in our social group and from the point of view which we occupy in it.

 And now think of France, with its great history, with its literature, which was so dominant for centuries, with its patriotic ambitions, and with its very peculiar ethnological and psychological differentiation, which shows itself even in the most abstract products of the mind! It would not become me, an Italian, very well to pose as the defender of your chauvinists, upon whom you heap so much well-deserved opprobrium. But let us remember what happened in the eighteenth century. The revolutionary thought came from more than one part of the civilised world, from Italy, England, Germany, but it was not European unless it assumed the guise of French spirit. And the European revolution was at bottom the French revolution. This imperishable glory of your nation weighs, like all glories, upon the people. It burdens you with a deep-rooted prejudice. But are not prejudices likewise forces, at least impediments of progress, if nothing else? Paris will no longer be the brain of the world, if for no other reason but that the world has no brain, except in the imagination of some shallow sociologists. [1] Neither is Paris to-day, nor will it ever be in the future, that sacred Jerusalem of revolutionists from all parts of the world which it seemed to be once upon a time. At all events the future proletarian revolution will have nothing in common with an apocalyptic millennium. And in our day, special privileges are doomed for nations as well as for single individuals. So Engels observed, justly. By the way, it would be worth the while of you French to read what he wrote in 1871 concerning the Blanquists who were trying to foment a violent revolution, so shortly after the catastrophe of the Commune. [2] But when all is said, when the peculiar conditions of French agriculture and industry are taken into account, which retarded so long the concentration of the labor movement, and when the proper blame is recorded against the various petty leaders and heads, who kept French Socialism so long split and divided, then the fact always remains that historical materialism will not make any headway among you, so long as it gives the impression of being simply a mental elaboration of two Germans of great genius. By this expression Mazzini intensified the national resentment against these two authors, who, being communists and materialists, seemed made to order for the purpose of routing the idealistic formula of Patriotism and God.

 In this respect, the fate of the two founders of scientific socialism was almost tragical. They were often regarded as the two Germans by so many who were jingoes even though revolutionaries. And Bakunin, whose mind inclined so strongly toward invention, to put it mildly, accused them of being champions of Pan-Germanism, although these two Germans, who left their country as exiles from the days of their young manhood, were received with studied silence by those professors for whom servility is an act of patriotism. As a matter of fact these professors avenged themselves. For Capital, whose entire presentation is rooted in the traditions of classic economy, not excluding the ingenious and often talented writers of Italy in the 18th century, speaks only with sovereign contempt of such men as Roscher and others like him. Engels, who devoted himself with so much ability to the amplification and popularisation of the results of researches made by the American Morgan, had the settled conviction that the thing which he justly called classic philosophy had reached its dissolution with Feuerbach. And when he wrote his Anti-Dühring, he showed a frank unconcern for the philosophers of that time, the neocriticism of his countrymen, an unconcern which is explicable, even if not excusable, in his case, but which is ridiculous in other socialists who affect to imitate him. Their tragic fate was, so to say, inherent in their mission. They had given themselves heart and soul to the cause of the proletariat of all nations. And for this reason their scientific work finds in every nation only that reading public which is capable of a similar intellectual revolution. In Germany, where Social Democracy stands firmly in serried ranks, owing to historical conditions, among them above all the fact that the capitalist class has never been able to break its ties with the old regime (look at that emperor who speaks with impunity in the language of a vice-god and who is nothing but a Frederick Barbarossa acting as a commercial traveler for goods made in Germany), it was quite natural that the ideas of scientific socialism should find a favorable soil for their normal and progressive diffusion. But none of the German socialists – at least I hope not – will ever think of looking upon the ideas of Marx and Engels from the simple point of view of the rights and duties, merits and demerits, of comrades of the party. Here is what Engels wrote not so very long ago: [3] "It will be noticed that I do not call myself a social-democrat in these articles, but a communist. I do this for the reason that the name of social-democrats was given in those days to many who had not written upon their banners the demand for the socialization of all the means of production. By a social-democrat people understood in France a republican democrat, who had genuine, but indefinite, sympathies for the working class men like Ledru-Rollin in 1848, and like the socialist radicals in 1874, who were tainted with Proudhonism. In Germany, the Lasalleans called themselves social democrats. Although the great majority of these gradually recognised the necessity of the socialization of the means of production, nevertheless one of the essential points of their public program remained productive associations with state help. It was, therefore, quite impossible for Marx and myself to choose such an elastic term for the designation of our specific point of view. To-day it is different and this term may pass muster. Nevertheless it will always be ill-fitting for a party whose program is not generically socialistic, but directly communistic, and whose ultimate political aim is to do away with all forms of state, and therefore also with democracy."

 It seems to me that the patriots – I do not use this term derisively – have good ground for consolation and comfort. For there is no foundation for the conclusion that historical materialism is the intellectual patrimony of one sole nation, or that it was to become the privilege of any clique, circle, or sect. Its objective origins belong equally to France, England, and Germany. I shall not repeat at this place what I said in another letter concerning the form of the thought which developed in the minds of our two authors under the conditions created by the intellectual culture of Germany in their youth, especially by philosophy, while Hegelianism either lost itself in the walks of a new scholasticism, or gave way to a new and more ponderous criticism. But at the same time there existed the great industries of England with all their accompanying miseries, with the ideological counterbalance of Owen and the practical counteraction of the Chartist agitation. There were furthermore the schools of French socialism, and the revolutionary traditions of the West, out of which were just developing the forms of a truly proletarian communism. What else is Capital but the critique of that political economy which, as a practical revolution and its theoretical expression, had reached full maturity only in England, about the sixties, and which had barely begun in Germany? What else is the Communist Manifesto but the conclusion and explanation of that socialism which was either latent or manifest in the labor movements of France and England? All these things were continued and brought to the point of critique, not excluding the philosophy of Hegel, by the immanent critical character of dialectic advance and its transformations. That is the process of that negation which does not consist in the contentious and oppositional discussion of one concept with another, of one opinion with another, but which rather verifies the things which it denies because that which is made negative by it either contains the material conditions or the intellectual premise for the continuation of the process. [4]

 France and England may resume their parts in the elaboration of historical materialism without seeming to commit an act of mere imitation. Should the French never write truly critical books on Fourier and Saint Simon, showing that they were, and to what extent they were, the precursors of contemporaneous socialism. Isn't there enough occasion to devote literary work to the events of 1830 to 1848, so that one may see that the theory of the Communist Manifesto was not their negation, but rather was their outcome and solution. Isn't there a demand for an exhaustive work on the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon, as a counterpart for the Eighteenth Brumaire of Marx, which, though a work of great genius and insuperable in its aim, is nevertheless largely a work of the hour and colored by publicist methods? Does not the Commune still await its final critical treatment? Has the great revolution of the 18th century, whose literature is colossal so far as its general history goes, but very small when it comes to details, ever been thoroughly treated with an insight into the class movements of which it consisted, and as a typical illustration of industrial history? To be brief, does not the whole modern history of France and England offer to the students of those countries a far greater scope for the illustration historical materialism than that afforded until recently by the conditions of Germany? The conditions of Germany were, since the Thirty Years' War, greatly complicated through obstacles to progress and remained almost always enveloped in the mists of various speculations in the heads of those who lived under them and observed them. The Florentine chroniclers of the 14th century would be moved to merriment by those misty ideas.

 I have dwelt upon these particulars, not in order to assume the airs of a counsellor of France, but in order to wind up with the statement that, with the present bent of Latin minds, it is not an easy thing to get them imbued with new ideas, if one undertakes to approach them merely with abstract forms of thought. But they will assimilate new ideas quickly and effectively, when offered in the shape of stories or essays which have some of the elements of art about them.

 I return for a moment to the question of translating. Engels' Anti-Dühring is that work which ought to get an international circulation before any other. I know of few books which are equal to it in compactness of thought, multiplicity of view-points, and effectiveness in bringing home its points. It may become mental medicine for young thinkers, who generally turn with vague and uncertain touch to books which are said to deal with socialism of some kind. This was what happened when this book appeared, as Bernstein wrote about three years ago in the Neue Zeit, in an article commemorating the event. This work of Engels remains the unexcelled book in the literature of socialism.

 Now, this book was not written for a thesis, but rather for an anti-thesis. With the exception of some detachable portions which were made into a book by themselves and in this shape made a tour of the world (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific), this book has for its guiding thread the criticism of Eugene Dühring, who had invented a philosophy and a socialism of his own. But what person not living in the circles of professed scientists, and how many readers of other than German nationality, should take an interest in Mr. Dühring? Well, unfortunately every nation has too many Dührings. Who knows what book against some other know-it-all an Engels of some other nationality might have written, or might still write? The effect of this work on the socialists of other countries should be, in my opinion, to supply them with those critical aptitudes which are required for writing all other Anti-Somethings needed for the rebuttal of those who try to thwart or infest the socialist movement in the name of so many confused notions in sociology. The weapons and methods of critique will, of course, vary from country to country according to the requirements of local adaptation. The point is to cure the patient, not the disease. That is the method of modern medicine.

 To try to act differently would be to invite the fate of those Hegelians who came to the fore in Italy from 1840 to 1880, especially in the South, for instance in Naples. Most of them were mere followers, but a few were strong thinkers. On the whole they represented a revolutionary current of great importance, owing to their traditional scholasticism, their French esprit, and their philosophy of the so-called common sense. This movement became somewhat known in France. For it was one of these Hegelians, Vera by name, and not the profoundest and strongest of them, who supplied France with the most readable translations of some of the fundamental works of Hegel and accompanied them with copious comments. [5] Now every trace, and even the memory, of this movement has passed away among us after the lapse of but a few years. The writings of these thinkers are not found anywhere but in the shops of antiquarians and second rate book dealers. This dissolution into nothing of an entire scientific school of no mean account is not due solely to the often unkind and little praiseworthy vicissitudes of university life, nor to tile epidemic spread of positivism which gathers here and there fruits of a rather demi-monde science, but to deeper causes. Those Hegelians wrote, and taught, and held disputations among themselves, as though they mere living in Berlin, or in Utopia, instead of Naples. They held mental converse with their German comrades. [6] They replied from their pulpits, or in their writings, only to such criticisms as were made by themselves, so that they carried on a dialog which appeared as a monolog to their audience and readers. They did not succeed in molding their treatises and dialectics into books which looked like new intellectual conquests of the nation. This unpleasant and unattractive recollection came to my mind when I began writing the first of my two essays on historical materialism, and there is now no reason why I should not follow them up with others. But then I asked myself quite often: How shall I go about it to say things which will not appear hard, foreign, and strange to Italian readers? You tell me that I succeeded, and perhaps it is so. Would it not be a singular case of discourtesy, if I should be my own judge and discuss the praise which you bestow upon me?

 About five years ago I wrote to Engels: "In reading the Holy Family I remembered the Hegelians of Naples, among whom I lived in my earliest youth, and it seems to me that I understood and appreciated that book more than others could who are not familiar with the peculiar inside facts of that queer satire. It seemed to me that I had personally seen that quaint circle in Charlottenburg at close range, whom you and Marx satirised so funnily. I saw before my mind's eye, more than any one else, a certain professor of esthetics, a very original and talented man, who explained the romances of Balzac by deduction, made a construction of the cupola of the Church of Saint Peter, and arranged the musical instruments in a genetic series; and who by degrees, from negation to negation, by way of the negation of the negation arrived ultimately at the metaphysics of the unknowable which he, although unfamiliar with Spencer, but in a way himself an unglorified Spencer, called the unnameable. I, also, lived in my young days, as it were, in such a training hall, and I am not sorry for it. For years my mind was divided between Hegel and Spinoza. With youthful ingenuity I defended the dialectics of the former against Zeller, the founder of neo-kantianism. The writings of Spinoza I knew by heart, and with loving understanding I gave expositions of his theory of affections and passions. But now all these things seem as far away in my recollection as Primeval history. Shall I, too have presently my negation of the negation? You encourage me to write on communism. But I have always misgivings when it comes to doing things which are beyond my strength and which have little effect in Italy."

 Whereupon he replied.... But I shall make a period here. It seems almost impolite to reproduce the private letters of a man, especially so soon after his death, unless the public interest urgently demands it. At all events, compared with writings which are purposely written for publication, quotations from private letters carry little conviction and little weight, even if they refer to current topics and are limited to questions of theory and science. With the growth of the interest in historical materialism, and in the absence of a literature which would illustrate it generally and specifically, it came about that Engels, during the last years of his life, was asked, and even tormented with endless questions, by many who enrolled themselves as voluntary and free students in the adventurous and outlawed university of socialism, of which Engels was a professor without a chair. This accounts for his published letters, and for many of them which have not been published. From those three letters, which were recently reproduced by Le Devenir Social from a Berlin review and a Leipzig paper, it appears that he was somewhat afraid lest Marxism might presently develop into a sort of cheap doctrinarism.

 To many of those who profess to be scientists, not in the adventurous university of the coming people, but in that of present official society, it happens that they are caught on the wing by students and seekers of information and that, with one foot lifted, they answer every question as though they had the explanation for everything stamped upon their brains. The most conceited of the professors, not wishing to deprive science of its priestly saintliness and pretending that it consists wholly of materialised knowledge instead of being mainly a skill in directing the formation of knowledge, give offhand answers and thereby frequently succeed in satirising themselves, after the manner of that delightful Mephistopheles in the guise of a master of all four faculties. Few have the Socratic resignation to reply: I don't know, but I know that I don't know, and I know what might be known, and what I might know, if I had made those efforts, or accomplished those labors, which are necessary in order to know; and if you will give me an infinite number of years, and an infinite capacity for methodical work, I might extend my knowledge almost indefinitely.

 This is the substance of the practical mental revolution of the theory of understanding implied by historical materialism.

 Every act of thinking is an effort, that is to say, new labor. In order to perform it, we need above all the material of mature experience and the methodical instruments, made familiar and effective by long handling. There is no doubt that an accomplished task, or a finished thought, facilitates the production of new thought by new forces. This is so, first, because the products of yesterday remain incorporated in the writings and other representative arts of to-day, and in the second place, because energies accumulated by us internally penetrate and endow labor, thereby keeping up a rhythmic movement. And it is precisely this rhythmic process which constitutes the method of memory, of reasoning, of expression, of communication. and so forth. But nevertheless this is not saying that we ever become thinking machines. Every time that we set about producing a new thought, we need not only the external materials and impulses of actual experience, but also an adequate effort in order to pass from the most primitive stages of mental life to that superior, derived and complex stage called thought, in which we cannot maintain ourselves, unless we exert our will-power, which has a certain determined intensity and duration beyond which it cannot be exerted.

 Every act of thinking is an effort, that is to say, new labor. In order to perform it, we need above all the material of mature experience and the methodical instruments, made familiar and effective by long handling. There is no doubt that an accomplished task, or a finished thought, facilitates the production of new thought by new forces. This is so, first, because the products of yesterday remain incorporated in the writings and other representative arts of to-day, and in the second place, because energies accumulated by us internally penetrate and endow labor, thereby keeping up a rhythmic movement. And it is precisely this rhythmic process which constitutes the method of memory, of reasoning, of expression, of communication. and so forth. But nevertheless this is not saying that we ever become thinking machines. Every time that we set about producing a new thought, we need not only the external materials and impulses of actual experience, but also an adequate effort in order to pass from the most primitive stages of mental life to that superior, derived and complex stage called thought, in which we cannot maintain ourselves, unless we exert our will-power, which has a certain determined intensity and duration beyond which it cannot be exerted.

 So here we have arrived once more at the philosophy of practice, which is the path of historical materialism. It is the immanent philosophy of things about which people philosophize. The realistic process leads first from life to thought, not from thought to life. It leads from work, from the labor of cognition, to understanding as an abstract theory, not from theory to cognition. It leads from wants, and therefore from various feelings of well-being or illness resulting from the satisfaction or neglect of these wants, to the creation of the poetical myth of supernatural forces, not vice-versa. In these statements lies the secret of a phrase used by Marx, which has been the cause of much racking for some brains. He said that he had turned the dialectics of Hegel right side up. This means in plain words that the rhythmic movement of the idea itself (the spontaneous generation of thought!) was set aside and the rhythmic movements of real things adopted, a movement which ultimately produces thought.

 Historical materialism, then, or the philosophy of practice, takes account of man as a social and historical being. It gives the last, blow to all forms of idealism which regard actually existing things as mere reflexes, reproductions, imitations, illustrations, results, of so-called a priori thought, thought before the fact. It marks also the end of naturalistic materialism, using this term in the sense which it had up to a few years ago. The intellectual revolution, which has come to regard the processes of human history as absolutely objective ones, is simultaneously accompanied by that intellectual revolution which regards the philosophical mind itself as a product of history. This mind is no longer for any thinking man a fact which was never in the making, an event which had no causes, an eternal entity which does not change, and still less the creature of one sole act. It is rather a process of creation in perpetuity.


Rome, May 24, 1897.

Picking up my thread at the point where I dropped it the other day, I want to say that I think you are perfectly right in placing the problem of general philosophy on the order of business. I refer in this respect not only to your preface, the effect of which I am trying to heighten by my prolonged conversation in writing, but also to some of your articles in Le Devenir Social and to some of the private letters which you were kind enough to address to me. You have an idea that historical materialism may seem to be suspended in the air so long as it has for opponents other philosophies which do not harmonize with it, and so long as it does not find the means to develop its own philosophy, such as is inherent and irnmanent in its fundamental facts and premises.

 Have I grasped your meaning correctly?

 You refer explicitly to psychology, ethics, and metaphysics. By this last term you intend to convey what I, owing to other mental habits and other methods of teaching, would call either the general theory of cognition or, or the general theory of the fundamental forms of thought. I prefer these, or similar, terms partly out of very great caution, partly for fear of being misunderstood, and also in order not to run foul of certain prejudices. However, I pass over such auxiliary terms as these. For on the field of science we are not bound to stick slavishly to the significance which terms have in the ordinary experience and the ordinary minds, unless they are terms of every day life which science uses the same as everybody else, when it calls bread – bread. But those other terms were selected by ourselves, when we fixed and developed certain concepts which we desired to formulate comprehensively by means of convenient words. It would be absurd for us to try to deduce the meaning and essence of a science, for instance of chemistry, from the etymology of this word. For we should be face to face with the most ancient Egypt, instead of the name which signifies the yellow land on both sides of the Nile from its mouth to the mountains!

 I shall let you enjoy the company of the metaphysical word in peace, if it suits you to rest content with that. Away with such frivolities! If anybody who wanted to extend his catalogue were to catch the First Principles of the now indispensable Spencer under the heading of metaphysics, he would do no more and no less than the librarian of Troy did, namely to paste so many labels on the various essays dealing with the first principles of philosophy (Aristotle used the same terms to denote them), and no amount of commentary by ancient writers, nor criticism by modern ones, has ever succeeded in bringing them up to the clearness and consistency of a perfect book. Who knows but many would now be glad to find out that, after all, the ancient Stagirite, who impressed his ideas upon the minds of mankind for so many centuries, and whose name was carried as a banner in so many battles of the mind, was but another Spencer of other times, who. solely through the fault of time, wrote in Greek instead of English, and not very good Greek either.

 Tradition must not weigh upon us like a nightmare. It must not be an impediment, an obstacle, an object of a cult or of stupid reverence. We agree pretty well on that. But on the other hand, tradition is that which holds us fast to history, I mean to say, it is that which unites us with painfully acquired stages, which facilitate labor and make for further progress. This distinguishes us from brutes. It is only the long centuries of travail which differentiate our history from that of animals. Really, no one who devotes himself to some study, be it ever so concrete, empirical, particular, minute, and detailed, anywhere in actual life, can fail to admit that there is a certain point where he feels the pressing want of reconsidering all general concepts (categories) recurring in particular acts of thought, such as unity, multiplicity, totality, condition, end, the reason of everything, cause, effect, progression, finite, infinite, and so forth. Now, even if we do not stop very long to consider these new and curious aspects, we are impressed with the universal problems of cognition. These problems appear to us as necessarily existing. It is this suggestion of inevitability which is the source and seat of that which you call metaphysics, and which may also be called differently.

 The whole question is to know how these necessary data are handled by us. The characteristic mark of the classic thought, generally speaking, for instance of the Grecian, is a certain ingenuousness in the use and handling of such concepts. On the other hand, the characteristic mark of modern philosophy, again generally speaking, is a methodical doubt, a critical attitude which accompanies the use of these concepts like a suspicious and cautious guard and searches them internally as well as externally, in their wider bearings. The deciding factor in the transition from ingenuousness to critical analysis is methodical observation (which was limited in scope and means among the ancients), and even more than observation it is the careful and technically accurate experiment (which was almost entirely unknown among the ancients). By experiment we become co-workers of nature. We produce artificially things which nature produces out of itself. Through the art of experiment things cease to be mere rigid objects of vision, because they are generated under our guidance. And thought ceases to be a hypothesis, or a puzzling forerunner of things, and becomes a concrete thing, because it grows with the things, and keeps on growing with them to the extent that we learn to understand them.

 The art of methodical experiment ultimately leads us to the acceptance of the following simple truth: Even before the rise of science, and in all human beings who never embrace science, the internal activities, including natural reflection, constitute a process of growth, which takes place in us while we follow the satisfaction of our needs, and which implies the successive creation of new conditions.[7] From this point of view, likewise, historical materialism is the outcome of a long development. It explains the historical rise of scientific knowledge, by showing that this knowledge corresponds in duality, and is proportional in quantity, to the productivity of labor. In other words, science depends on our needs.

 Now I turn to you, and approve of the kick which you administer to agnosticism. For it is but the English counterpart of German neokantianism. There is but one appreciable difference. Neokantianism represents in the last analysis nothing but a certain academic line of thought, which has supplied us with a better knowledge of Kant and a useful literature of educated people. Agnosticism, on the other hand, on account of its diffusion among the people, is an actual symptom of the present condition of certain social classes. The socialists would have good grounds for believing that this symptom is one of the evidences of the decadence of the bourgeoisie. It certainly stands in marked contrast to the heroic devotion to truth shown by the thought of the precursors of modern history, such as Bruno and Spinoza, or to that conventional assertiveness, which was typical of the thinkers of the 18th century, until the classic German philosophy gradually came upon the scene. It is still more at variance with the precision of the modern means of research, which in our times have increased to such an extent the dominion of human thought over nature. It lacks that characteristic which, according to Hegel, is essential for every philosophy, namely the courage of truth. It gives the impression of a cowardly resignation. Some of those Marxists, who go by a short cut from economic conditions to mental reflections, as though it were simply a matter of interpreting stenographic signs, might say that this unknowable, which is held so sacred by a vast number of quietists on the field of reason, is an evidence that the spirit of the bourgeois epoch is no longer able to see clearly through the world's arrangement, because capitalism, from which it receives its directions, is already in a state of disintegration. In other words, the bourgeoisie has an instinctive presentiment of its impending ruin and therefore delivers itself over to a sort of religion of imbecility. Such an assertion might even seem to be ingenious and fine, although it cannot be demonstrated. Still, it somewhat resembles that great number of absurdities which have been said by many in the name of the economic interpretation of history. [8]

 On the other hand, I say that this agnosticism renders us a great service. By stating over and over again that it is not given to us to know the thing itself, the inmost nature of things, the final cause and fundamental reason of phenomena, the agnostics arrive in their own way, by a different road, namely by regretting the impossibility of knowing this alleged mystery, at the same result that we do, only we do not regret, but rather seek knowledge without the assistance of the imagination. This result is that we cannot think anything except things which we ourselves experience, taking this word in its widest meaning.

 Just see what happened on the field of psychology. On one side, the illusion was dispersed that psychic facts may be explained by the assumption of a supernatural entity. On the other side, the vulgar and more material than materialistic idea was abandoned that thought is a secretion of the brain. It was shown that psychic facts are coupled to a specific organism, that this organism itself was in a constant process of formation, that psychic facts are accompanied by internal nerve processes, so far as these processes are parts of consciousness. The gross hypothesis of mechanical materialism was rejected, according to which it was possible to observe the internal activity, its maintenance and complications as a function of consciousness, by external means, simply because we may discover from day to day the corresponding condition in the nerve centers. And so we have arrived at psychic science. It is incorrect, not to say erroneous, to call this science a psychology without the soul. It should rather be called the science of psychic products without the myth of spiritual substance.

 When Engels, in his Anti-Dühring, used the term metaphysics in a deprecating manner, he intended precisely to refer to that way of thinking, conceiving, inferring, expounding which is the opposite of a genetic, and therefore dialectical, consideration of things. The metaphysical way of thinking has the following characteristics: In the first place, it regards as self-dependent things, as things independent of one another, those modes of thought, which are in reality modes only to the extent that they represent points of correlation and transition in a process; in the second place, it regards these modes of thought as existing before the fact, as pre-existing, as types, or prototypes, of the weak and shadowy reality of sense perceptions. From the first point of view, for instance, such thoughts as cause and effect, means and end, origin and reality, and so forth, appear merely as distinct terminals of different, and sometimes opposite, kinds. Some of them seem to be only causes, others only effects, and so forth. In the second case the world of experience seems to be disintegrating and falling to pieces before our eyes, separating into substance and attribute, thing in itself and phenomenon, possibility and obvious reality. The critique of Engels demands substantially and realistically that terminal thought should not be considered as a fixed entity, but as a function. For such terminal concepts are valuable only in so far as they help us to think now, while we are actively engaged in proceeding with new thought.

 This critique of Engels, which may be improved in many respects by more specific and precise statements, particularly as regards the origin of the metaphysical way of thinking, repeats in its own way the Hegelian distinction between understanding, which defines opposites as such, and reason, which arranges these opposites in an ascending series (Bruno would say: The divine art of reconciling opposites, and Spinoza said: Every determination is a negation).

 The metaphysical way of thinking, when seen at a distance, has some things in common with the origin of myths. It is rooted in theology, which tries to make articles of faith (which auto-illusion presents as objective facts, while they are subjective assumptions) plausible to logical reason. How many miracles has that myth of The Word performed! Such metaphysical thoughts, using this term in a deprecating sense, as indicating a certain stage of thought which interferes with the formation of a new thought, are found in every branch of human knowledge. What an enormous amount of strength had to be spent by doctrinaire reflection on the field of language study, before the diagrammatic illusion of grammatical forms was replaced by their genesis! This genesis is now sought and located in the various stages of language composition, which is a process of work and production, not a mere fact. Metaphysics in this ironical sense exists, and will, perhaps, always exist, in the words and phraseology derived from the expression of thought. For language, without which we could neither grasp thought precisely nor formulate its expression, changes the thing it expresses at the same time that it pronounces it. For this reason language has, perhaps, almost a mythical germ. No matter how much we may perfect the general theory of vibrations, we shall always say: The light produces such and such an effect; the heat operates so and so. There is always the temptation, (or at least the danger), to personify a process, or its terminal points. By means of an illusory projection, relations become things, and by cogitating farther upon them these things become operative subjects. If we pay attention to this frequent lapse of our mind into the pre-scientific mode of using words, we shall discover in ourselves the psychological data for the explanation of the way in which forms of thought were transformed into objective entities, under different circumstances and in other times. The Platonic ideas are typical of this case. I call it typical, because it is the most plastic. All history is full of such metaphysics, which is an evidence of an immature mind not yet sharpened by self-critique and re-enforced by experiment. The same reasons, among many others, place in the same class such things as superstition, mythology, religion, poetry, a fanatic worship of words, a cult of empty forms. This metaphysics leaves its traces also in that field of thought which we call nowadays, conceitedly, science.

 Does not such a metaphysical mode of thought obscure the field of political economy? Does not money which is originally but a medium of exchange and transforms itself into capital only because it is combined with a process of productive labor, become in the imagination of some economists a self-originated capital, which secretes interest by some inherent power? For this reason, that chapter in Marx's Capital, which speaks of the fetishism of capital, is very important. [9] The science of economics is full of such fetishes. The character of a commodity, which the product of human labor assumes only under certain historical conditions, under which human beings live when a definite system of social interrelations exists, is regarded by some as an intrinsic duality of the product from all eternity. Wages, which cannot be conceived unless some people are under the necessity of offering themselves for hire to other human beings, are regarded as an absolute category, that is to say, as an element of all gain, so that ultimately the capitalist schemer adorns himself with the title of a man who earns by his own merit the highest wages. And what about the rent of the land –of the land, mind you. I should never get done, if I wanted to enumerate all those metaphorical transformations of relative conditions into eternal attributes of men and things.

 What have the crude expounders of Darwinism made of the struggle for existence? An imperative, a command, a fate, a tyrant. They have forgotten about the material circumstances surrounding the mouse and the cat, the bat and the insect, the bumble bee and the clover. The process of evolution, which is a mutually balancing expression of infinite movements giving rise to many complicated problems not to one single theorem, is suddenly transformed into one fantastic Evolution. Consequently the vulgarisers of Marxian sociology render conditions, relations, interconnections of common economic life, into a certain fantastic something which dominates us, frequently because these expounders of Marxism lack literary ability. The whole thing is made to look as though there were still other matters to consider but merely the natural elements of the problem, such as persons and persons, renters and house owners, land owners and farm hands, capitalists and wage earners, gentlemen and servants, exploited and exploiters, in one word, human beings living in definite conditions of time and place, in various degrees of mutual dependence on account of the peculiar manner of owning and using the social means of production.

 The undoubted recurrence of the metaphysical vice, which sometimes directly coincides with mythology, should make us indulgent toward the causes and conditions, whether directly psychic, or more generally social, which have in past times retarded the advent of critical thought, which is consciously experimental and stands cautiously on guard against verbalism. There is no use in going back to Comte's three epochs. Of course, the question of the quantitative predominance of theological and metaphysical forms in the various epochs of human history must be discussed. But it must not be considered in the light of an exclusively qualitative difference from the so-called scientific epoch. Human beings have never been exclusively theological or metaphysical, nor will they ever be exclusively scientific. The merest savage, who is afraid of his fetish, knows that it costs less trouble to descend with the river than to swim against its current, and the performance of his most elementary labors implies a certain amount of experience and science. On the other hand, we have in our day scientists, whose minds are clouded by mythologies. Metaphysics, as the opposite of scientific accuracy, has not yet become so prehistoric a fact as to be on the same level with tattooing and cannibalism.

 There is no one, I hope, who would place the definite victory over metaphysics entirely to the credit of historical materialism, at least over metaphysics as understood heretofore, according to Engels. This victory is rather a particular case in the development of anti-metaphysical thought. It would not have happened, had not critical thought developed long ago. We have to square accounts in this matter with the entire history of modern science. When Don Ferrante of the Promessi Sposi (in the 17th century, mind you) died of the pest while denying its existence, because it was not mentioned in the ten categories of Aristotle, scholasticism had already received the first hard and decisive blows. He was the last convinced scholastic, and I hope Leo XIII will not object to this statement because it interferes with his business. And from then until now me have a long history of positive conquests of thought, by which the essence of independent philosophy, which distinguished it from science, namely the theory of cognition, was either absorbed, or eliminated, or otherwise reduced and assimilated. On this road of scientific thought we meet with such things as empirical psychology, language study, Darwinism, the history of institutions, and criticism, strictly so-called. I should also add positivism, were I not afraid of being misunderstood. As a matter of fact, taking positivism as a whole and summarily, it has been one of the many forms through which the thought of mankind has approached a conception of philosophy, which does not reason before the fact, but is the outcome of the immanent nature of things. We need not be surprised, on this account, if the generic similarity of historical materialism to so many other products of the contemporaneous thought and knowledge has led many, who deal with science in the style of literary men or magazine readers, into making the mistake of acting under superficial impressions, following the impulses of erudite curiosity, and flattering themselves that they could make the Marxian theory more complete by this or that addition. We shall have to put up with such tinkering for a while. Many are led into this error through the habit, which is at present common in all the branches of modern science, of considering everything from the point of view of evolution and growth. Since everybody is talking about evolution, the inexperience and superficial think that everybody means the same thing. You have very properly directed your attention to the various points of differentiation in historical materialism, which, let me add, are characteristic of a science which is based on dialectic and revolutionary communism. You did not propose to settle the question, whether Marx could go arm in arm with this or that other philosopher, but you rather strive to ascertain, what kind of philosophy is the logical and necessary outcome of the Marxian theory.

 It is for these reasons that I have not objected, and do not object now, to the use of metaphysical language on your part, taking this term in a sense which is not disparaging. Marxism deals fundamentally with general problems. And these refer, on the one hand, to the limits and forms of cognition, and on the other to the relations of mankind to the rest of the knowable and known universe. Isn't this what you intend to convey? For this very reason did I devote my attention to the most general questions in the second of my essays. But I treated the subject in such a way that my intention remained hidden.

 Whoever considers historical materialism in its full significance, will find that it presents three lines of study. The first corresponds to the practical requirement of the socialist parties, demands the acquisition of an adequate knowledge of the specific conditions of the proletariat in each country, and adapts socialist activity to the causes, prospects, and dangers of complex politics. The second may lead, and will certainly do so, to a revision of the methods of writing history, for it tends to establish this art on the field of class struggles and social relations following from them, on the basis of the corresponding economic structure, which every historian must henceforth know and understand. The third consists in the treatment of the directing principles. In order to understand and follow these, we must of necessity be guided by the general points of view which you indicate.

 Now, it seems to me – and I have furnished the proof in writing - that the adherence to general principles as such does not necessarily imply a return to a formal scholasticism, or to a disregard for the things from which these general principles are deduced, so long as we do not relapse into the ancient error of believing that ideas are a sort of supernatural agency standing above things, but still admit the inevitable division of labor. It is certain that these three lines of study were combined into one in the mind of Marx, and not only in his mind, but also in his works. His politics were, in a way, the practical application of his historical materialism, and his philosophy was incorporated in his critique of political economy, for this was his method of dealing with history. But taking it for granted that such a universal comprehension is the characteristic mark of a genius who inaugurates a new line of thought, the fact is that Marx himself carried his theory to its full conclusion only in one case, and that is in Capital.

 The perfect identification of philosophy, or of critically self-conscious thought, with the material of knowledge, in other words, the complete elimination of the traditional distinction between philosophy and science, is a tendency of our times. However, it is a tendency which remains mostly in the stage of mere desire. It is precisely this tendency to which some refer when claiming that metaphysics has been completely overcome. Others, again, who are more exact, suppose that a science in its perfect state will have absorbed philosophy. The same tendency justifies the use of the term scientific philosophy, which would otherwise be ridiculously absurd. If this expression can ever have its practical verification through the evidence of proof, it will be done precisely by means of historical materialism, as it was in the mind and in the writings of Marx. There philosophy is so much in the things themselves, and so permeated with them, that the reader of that work feels the effect, as though philosophizing were a natural function of the scientific method.

 Should I stop here and make a confession? Or have I only to limit myself to an objective discussion with you of those points on which we can approach one another in our aims? If I had to be satisfied with the aphoristic expressions which are typical of a confession, I should say: a) The ideal of knowledge should be one in which the antagonism between science and philosophy is at an end; b) However, (empirical) science is in a process of continual growth, multiplies in material and departments, and differentiates at the same time the instruments used in the various lines, while on the other hand the mass of methodical and formal knowledge continually accumulates under the name of philosophy; c) For this reason the distinction between science and philosophy will always be maintained as a provisional element, in order to indicate that science is always in process of growth and that this growth is largely accompanied by self-critique.

 It is sufficient to look at Darwin, in order to understand how cautious we should be in affirming that henceforth science implies of itself the end of philosophy. Darwin has certainly revolutionized the field of the science of organisms, and with it the entire conception of nature. But Darwin himself did not have the full understanding of the import of his discoveries. He was not the philosopher of his science. Darwinism as a new view of life, and of nature, is beyond the personality and intentions of Darwin himself. On the other hand, some vulgar expounders of Marxism have robbed this theory of its immanent philosophy and reduced it to a simple way of deducing changes in the historical conditions from changes in the economic conditions. Such simple observations suffice to convince us that while we may affirm that a perfect science is a perfect philosophy, or that such philosophy signifies but the highest degree of elaboration of concepts (Herbart), we must not authorize any one, in making such a statement, to speak disparagingly of the thing we may call philosophy as a matter of differentiation. Nor should we believe every scientist who claims regardless of the mental development at which he may stop that he has triumphed over that bagatelle called philosophy or become its heir. And therefore you do not ask an idle question when you inquired in substance: What will be the spirit in which the advocates of historical materialism will look upon the remaining philosophies?


Rome, May 28, 1897.

In the scientific biography of our two great authors there is a blank. A certain work of theirs wandered to the printer in 1847. But for accidental reasons it remained unpublished. [10] In that work, which remained in the form of a manuscript, and which, so far as I know, was never seen by any other outside author since, [11] they squared accounts with their own consciences by coming to an understanding about their position toward the other currents of contemporaneous philosophy. There is no doubt that this account was closed principally with the Hegelian conclusions and their materialistic counterpart in the theories of Feuerbach. Aside from general reasons connected with the philosophical movement of that time, this opinion is further strengthened by various passages from magazine and newspaper articles, which were recently published by Struve in the Neue Zeit, as souvenirs of former controversies of Marx. But what was the full mental position of these two writers? How far did their bibliographical horizon reach? What attitude did they assume toward the other scientific struggles, which later on blossomed out into so many revolutions, in the field of natural philosophy as well as in that of historical philosophy, and how much did they know about those things? We have no satisfactory replies to these questions. Of course, we understand that one might be sorry to have published in his young years some writings which one would write quite differently in his advanced years. But still it is so much harder for us to get access to them, when we wish to study these authors. Engels himself was of the opinion that this work had produced the desired effect, inasmuch as it had cleared up the question for those who had written it.

 Subsequently, after the authors had taken their own road, they did not write any more on questions of philosophy in the strict meaning of the term. [12] Not only their occupation as practical agitators, as publicist writers, as devotees of the proletarian movement, influenced them in this respect, but also their own mental inclinations tended to take them away from the occupation of professional philosophers. It would, therefore, be a vain undertaking to search step by step for the personal opinions they entertained in their studies and reading of new conclusions of science, whether these were in line with their new method of historical research or opposed to it. It is certain that we must recognize as auxiliaries, and as cases analogous to the rise of historical materialism, the recently developed psychology, the trenchant critique of professional philosophy, the school of industrial history, Darwinism in its strict and wide meaning, the growing tendency in history to recognise natural phenomena, the discovery of the institutions of prehistoric times, and the ever increasing inclination to combine philosophy and science. But it would be ridiculous to apply the yardstick of an editor of some Critical Review, by which he measures new books, or of a professor who lays before his pupils the successive impressions of his own reading, to Marx and Engels. That is not the way to estimate the work which the two thinkers may have done, or actually did, in assimilating the fruits of contemporaneous science, these thinkers who looked at things from their own specific and specified point of view and used their historical materialism as an individualized instrument of research and analysis. This is substantially the mark of originality. To use this term without such restrictions would be absurd. But while they gave up philosophical writing in the strict professional meaning of the term, they became the most perfect types of philosophical scientists. This scientific philosophy is for many but an unattainable desire, while others make of it a means of telling the plain truth about obvious facts of scientific experience in a new style of phraseological affectation. Sometimes it is a general form of rationalism, and after all it is not possible to grasp it, unless one makes himself familiar with the particulars of real life in the penetrating way, which is appropriate for a genetic method arising out of the nature of things. Engels wrote recently in his Anti-Dühring: "As soon as every individual science is confronted with the necessity of coming to a clear understanding of its position in the general interrelation of things and the knowledge of things, any special science of the general interrelation becomes superfluous. No portion of the entire philosophy of previous times will then remain independent, except the theory of cognition and its laws, in other words, formal logic and dialectics. All the rest of it will be absorbed by the positive science of nature and history."

 Anything is possible for the erudite, the seekers of subjects for dissertations, the budding post-graduates. They have made a stew of the ethics of Herodotus, the psychology of Pindar, the geology of Dante, of the entomology of Shakespeare, and the pedagogy of Schopenhauer. For stronger and better reasons they may speak of the logic of Capital and construct a system of the philosophy of Marx, duly specified and classified according to the sacramental canons of professional science. That is a matter of taste. For my part, I prefer the artlessness of Herodotus and the ponderous style of Pindar to that erudition which extracts their specific properties by the help of posthumous analysis. I prefer to leave untouched the individuality of Capital, to which have contributed, as to an organism, all the ideas and knowledge which are distinguished by the name of logic, psychology, sociology, law and history, in their strict meaning. Also that rare flexibility and smoothness of thought have contributed to it which form the aesthetics of the dialectic method.

 Of course, this book is, and will always be subject to particular analysis, in spite of this. But it will never be refuted as a whole by the mere experimenters, the scholastics who love nice definitions that are not assimilated by the flow of thought, the utopian thinkers of all shades, especially the critical utopians and the libertarians, who are more or less anarchists without knowing it. It is an almost insuperable difficulty for some intellectuals to merge themselves in the reality of social and historical interrelations. Instead of taking society as a whole, in which certain laws are generated by a natural process and become the mutual relations of movements, many feel the need of looking upon things as fixed, for instance, egoism here, altruism there, and so forth. A typical case of this sort is that of the modern hedonists. They are not satisfied with studying the social combination as seen from the point of view of the economic interpretation, but resort to the expedient of evaluation as the logical psychologic premise of economics. This expedient supplies them with a scale, and they study its degrees as though these were the theoretical expressions of definite types. One might as well study formal aesthetics by studying only degrees of pleasure. By means of this scale, with its degrees of estimating needs, they measure the things which they call good. They examine the relations of things to the various degrees of this scale, taking into account their available and obtainable quantities, and in this way they determine the quality of their values, the limits of their values, and their final value. After they have thus constituted political economics on a basis of abstract generalities, which are indifferent to the things which nature freely gives as well as to those which are produced in the sweat of the human brow (and by the thankless labor of history), they transform poor, obvious, and plain production, with its familiar common life, which the theoretical writers of classic economy and of critical socialism have analysed, into a particular case of universal algebra. Work, which is the very nerve of life from our point of view, because it is man in the making becomes from their point of view a means of avoiding pain or selecting the least pain. Amid this abstract atomistic of forces, estimates, and degrees of pleasure, a man loses sight of history, and progress resolves itself into a mere shadow.

 If I had to give some sort of an outline, it would not be out of place to say that the philosophy, which historical materialism implies, is the tendency toward monism. And I lay a special stress upon the word tendency. I say tendency, and let me add, a formal and a critical tendency. With us it is not a question of relying on an intuitive theosophical or metaphysical knowledge of the universe, on the assumption that we have arrived without further ceremony at a comprehensive view of the basic substance of all phenomena and processes by an act of transcendental cognition. The word tendency expresses precisely that our mind has adapted itself to the conviction that everything can be conceived as in the making, that even the conceivable is but in the making, land that the process of growth is similar in character to continuity. The thing which differentiates this conception of the genetic process from the vague transcendental imaginations of men like Schelling is the critical discernment. This implies a specialization of research and an adherence to empirical methods in following the internal movements of the process. It means giving up the pretense of holding in one's hand a universal diagram for all things. This is the way in which the vulgar evolutionists proceed. Once that they have taken hold of the abstract idea of growth (evolution), they catch everything with it, from the concentration of a nebula to their own fatuity. It was the same with the imitators of Hegel, with their everlasting rhythm of a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The main principle of critical cognition, by which historical materialism corrects monism, is this: It takes its departure from the practice of things, from the development of the labor process, just as it is the theory of man at work, so does it consider science itself as work. It impresses the empirical sciences definitely with the implicit understanding that we accomplish things by experiment, and brings us to a realisation of the fact that things are themselves in the making.

 The passage from Engels, which I quoted a while ago, might, perhaps, give rise to some curious results. Some people take your whole hand, when you offer them a little finger. If it is admitted that logic and dialectics continue to exist as independent lines of thought, does not that open a fine opportunity to rebuild the entire encyclopedia of philosophy? By doing over, piece by piece, or in every individual science, the work of abstracting the formal elements contained in them, vast and comprehensive systems of logic may be written, such as those of Sigwart and Wundt. These are, indeed, veritable encyclopedias of the doctrine of the principles of understanding. Well, if that is all the professors want, they may rest assured that their chairs will not be abolished. The division of labor on the intellectual field permits of many practical combinations. If a man wants to make a compilation and diagrammatic outline of principles, by which we give ourselves account of a definite group of facts, for instance of a certain course of law, there is nothing to prevent him from calling his work the general science of law, or, if he likes, the philosophy of law, so long as he keeps in mind that he is simply arranging in a tentative way a certain class of historical facts, or that he is collecting a certain line of historical facts which are products of historical development.

 A formal and critical tendency toward monism on one side, an expert ability to keep a level head in special research, on the other, that is the outcome. If a man swerves but a little from this line, he either falls back into simple empiricism (without philosophy) or he rises to the transcendental field of hyper-philosophy with its pretense that a man call grasp the whole world-process by mere intellectual intuition.

 If you have not read Häckel's lecture on monism, do me the favor of reading it. It has been introduced into France by an enthusiastic Darwinian in sociology under the title Le Monisme lien entre la Religion et la Science (traduction de G. Vacher de Lapouge, Paris, 1897.) Häckel combines in his personality three different faculties: A marvelous capacity for specialised research and exposition, for profound systematization of special facts, and for a poetical intuition of the universe, which, while it is purely imagination, sometimes takes on the aspect of philosophy. But, my illustrious Häckel, it surpasses even the strength of your excellent mind to explain the whole universe, from the vibrations of the ether to the formation of your brain! But why do I stop at your brain? Further on, from the origins of nations and states and ethics to our times, including the protecting principles of your university at Jena, to which you render homage on only 47 pages of octavo! Don't you remember all the riddles which the universe presents even to our advanced science? Or have you at your home a large armory full of those nightcaps, which Heine said the Hegelians used for covering up those riddles? Or don't you remember that case, which ought to appeal to you more directly, the case of that Bathybius which Huxley named after you, and which turned out later to be a mistake?

 In short, this tendency towards monism must be accompanied by a clear recognition of the specialization of all research. It is a tendency to combine science and philosophy, but at the same time also a continual scrutiny of the concrete thought used by us, and of its bearing. This concrete thought can be very well detached from its concrete object, as happens in logic, strictly so called, and in the general theory of cognition, which you call metaphysics. We can think concretely, and yet at the same time ponder in abstract reflections over the materials and conditions of thinkable things. Philosophy is and it not. [13] For any one who has not arrived at this understanding, it is something beyond science. And for any one who has arrived there, it is science brought to perfection.

 Nowadays, as of yore, we may write treatises on the abstract aspects of some special experience, for instance on ethics or politics, and we may impress our work with all the perspicuity of a system. But we must also keep in mind that the fundamental premises of our treatise are products of genetic interrelation. We must not fall into the metaphysical illusion that principles are eternal diagrams, or supernatural things outside of human experience.

 So far as this is concerned, there is no reason why we should not enunciate a formula like the following: all the knowable may be known; and all the knowable will be known in an infinite time; and for the knowable reflecting about itself, for us, on the field of cognition, there is nothing of any higher importance. Such a general statement reduces itself practically to saying: Knowledge is valuable to the extent that we can actually know things. It is a mere play of fantasy to suppose that our mind recognises as a fact an absolute difference between the limits of the knowable and the absolutely unknowable. That is what you, von Hartmann, have been doing these many years by haunting the regions of the Unconscious, which you see so consciously in operation, and you, Mr. Spencer, who operate continually with the knowledge of the Unknowable, of which you at bottom know something, while you define the limits of cognition. Behind these phrases of Spencer hides the God of the catechism. It is, after all, nothing but the relic of a hyper-philosophy which devotes itself, like religion, to the cult of an unknown, which is yet at the same time declared to be known and transformed into an object of worship. In this state of mind, philosophy is reduced to a study of phenomena (the semblance of things), and the concept of evolution does not imply at all that real things are in process of growth.

 In opposition to this mode of thought, historical materialism, the process of formation, or evolution, is real and deals with reality itself. So is labor real, which is the self-development of man, who rises from mere life (animaldom) to perfected liberty (in communism). By this practical inversion of the problem of cognition we confide ourselves wholly to the hands of science, which is our work. Another victory over fetishism! Knowledge is a necessity for us. It is produced naturally, refined, perfected, strengthened by materials and technique, like any other human need. We learn by slow degrees the things that we must know. Experimental experience is a process of growth. What we call progress of the mind is an accumulation of energies of labor. It is this prosaic process, into which the alleged absoluteness of consciousness resolves itself, this consciousness, which was for the idealist a postulate of reason, or an ontological entity. [14]

 A queer thing (that so-called thing in itself), which we do not know, neither today, nor tomorrow, which we shall never know, and of which we nevertheless know that we cannot know it. This thing cannot belong to the field of knowledge, for it gives us no information of the unknowable. That such ideas enter into the scope of philosophy is due to the fact that the consciousness of the philosopher is not quite scientific, but rather harbors still so many other elements, such as feelings and emotions, which generate psychic combinations under the influence of fear, or through fantasy and myths. These combinations hindered the development of rational understanding in the past, and still cast their shadows upon the field of studied and prosaic thought. We think of death. Theoretically it is immanent in life. Death, which appears so tragical in complex individuals, who seem to be the true and rightful organisms to common intuition, is immanent in the primitive elements of organic substance, owing to the instability and slight plasticity of protoplasm. But the fear of death is quite different. It is the egoism of life. And so it is with all other feelings and emotions. Their mythical, poetical and religious antecedents have thrown, are throwing, and will throw their shadows more or less upon the field of consciousness. The philosophy of a purely theoretical thinker, who contemplates all things from the point of view of things in themselves, belongs in the same class as the attempt to apply abstract thought to the entire field of consciousness without meeting any byways or stops. Look at Baruch Spinoza, that true hero of thought, who studied in his own person the way in which the emotions and passions, as expressions of his internal mechanism, transform themselves for him into objects of geometrical analysis!

 In the meantime, until the heroism of Baruch Spinoza shall become the matter-of-fact virtue of everyday life in the higher developed humanity of the future, and until myths, poetry, metaphysics and religion shall no longer overshadow the field of consciousness, let us be content that up to now, and for the present, philosophy in its differentiated and its improved sense has served, and serves, as a critical instrument and helps science to keep its formal methods and logical processes clear; that it helps us in our lives to reduce the obstacles, which the fantastic projections of the emotions, passions, fears and hopes pile in the way of free thought; that it helps and serves, as Spinoza himself would say, to vanquish imaginationem et ignorantiam.


1. Long before symbolism and analogies with organisms became the fashion in sociology, I had occasion to criticise this curious tendency in an article reviewing the "Social Psychology" of Lindner (in "Nuova Antologia," December 1872, pages 971-989).[RETURN TO TEXT]

2. In an article entitled, "Program der blanquistischen Kommune Fluchtlinge," published in the "Volksstaat," No. 73, and later reproduced on pages 40-46 of the pamphlet, "Internationales aus dem Volksstaat," Berlin, 1894.[RETURN TO TEXT]

3. On page 6 of the preface of the pamphlet, "Internationales aus dem Volksstaat," which contains articles written by Engels between 1871 and 1875. This preface, mark well, bears the date of January 3, 1894.[RETURN TO TEXT]

4. For this reason Hegel and the Hegelians, who so frequently made use of word symbols, employed the term "aufheben," which may signify both to remove and elevate.[RETURN TO TEXT]

5. Vera wrote as late as 1870 a "Philosophy of History" in the style of the strictest Hegelian, for which I roasted him in a review written for the "Zeitschrift für exacte Philosophie," vol. X, pages 79, ff., 1872.[RETURN TO TEXT]

6. In fact Rosenkranz, one of the leading lights among the late followers of Hegel, wrote a special work on "Hegel's Naturphilosophie und die Bearbeitung derselben durch den italienischen Philosophen A. Vera," Berlin, 1865. I quote a few passages from this work which illustrate my point: "It is interesting to observe the way in which the German of Hegel comes to life again in the Italian language. Messieurs....(here follows a list of names)....and others rendered the thoughts of Hegel with a precision and facility which would have appeared impossible in Germany ten years ago." (Page 3.) "Vera is the strictest systematiser whom Hegel has ever found and who follows his master step by step with the greatest devotion." (Page 5.) "If after this any one excuses himself with the difficulty of understanding Hegel in German, he should be advised to read him in the Italian translation of Vera. He will understand that, always assuming that he has intelligence enough to understand any philosophy" (Page 9.) [RETURN TO TEXT]

7. "The plays of childhood – I am in earnest – are the first beginnings and first fundament of all serious things in life. They permit the immediate discharge and expression of the internal activities, stimulate successive acts of observation, and promote a gradual transition from one form of knowledge to another. At the summit of this process arises the illusion that the acquired control (of ourselves over ourselves) is an independent power and the constant cause of those visible effects, which we and others perceive objectively in our actions." This you will find on pages 13-14 of my work, The Concept of Liberty. A Psychological Study. Rome, 1878. It was written during the acute stage of the crisis in psychology.[RETURN TO TEXT]

8. Some of these absurdities were cleverly illustrated by B. Croce. See The Historical Theories of Prof. Loria (Naples, 1897); and Concerning the Communism of Tommaso Campanella.[RETURN TO TEXT]

9. At present the hedonists, operating with the reason of their time, explain interest as such (money which produces money) by means of the differential value between the good of the present and the good of the future. They make a psychological concept of the assumption of risk, and other considerations of matter of fact commercial practice. And then they operate upon such matters by the help of mathematical processes which are often factitious and fictitious.[RETURN TO TEXT]

10. See Marx, "Critique of Political Economy," author's preface, page 13. Also Engels, "Feuerbach," author's preface, page 33.[RETURN TO TEXT]

11. I once asked Engels to show this manuscript, not to me, but to the anarchist Mackay, who was very much interested in Stirner. But Engels replied to me that the manuscript had been too much gnawed by mice.[RETURN TO TEXT]

12. Of course, we except from this statement the first chapters of Anti-Dühring, which are, moreover, of a controversial character, and Engel's "Feuerbach," which is substantially but an extensive review of a certain book, interspersed with some retrospective and personal observations of the author.[RETURN TO TEXT]

13. In saying this, I have in mind a queer book, of XXIII and 539 pages in large octave, written by Professor R. Whale, of the University of Czernowitz. I don't reproduce its title, which is very diffuse and argumentative. The book is published by Braumuller, Vienna, 1896. Its object is to demonstrate that Philosophy has reached its end. The pity of it is that the book is philosophical from cover to cover. This shows that philosophy, in order to accomplish its own negation, must affirm itself! [RETURN TO TEXT]

14. The postulate of absoluteness was implied in the proofs of God's existence, especially in the ontological argument. In myself, a finite and imperfect being, with a limited knowledge, there exists the capacity to think of the infinite and absolutely perfect being, who knows everything. Therefore I am....also perfect! And so it happened that Cartesius committed the following singular misstep in dialectics which for him, however, remained simply a doubt (and which the critics have evidently overlooked): "But perhaps I may be something more than I imagine, and all the perfections, which I attribute to the nature of a God, may in some manner be stored up in myself, although they do not come forth as yet and do not show themselves by any actions. As a matter of fact, I experience already that my knowledge grows and perfects itself by degrees and I see no reason why it should not continue to grow in this way infinitely, nor why, having thus grown and become perfected, I should not acquire by this means all the other perfections of the divine nature, nor finally why the power which I have to acquire these perfections, if it is true that such a power is now in me, should not be sufficient to produce the corresponding ideas." ("Oeuvres de Descartes," edition of V. Cousin, I, pages 282-83.)[RETURN TO TEXT]


Transcribed for the Marx / Engels Internet Archive in 1997 by Rob Ryan.