Georg Lukács

What is Orthodox Marxism? II


From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, pp.24-29.
Translated by Mary Phillips.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The first part of this extract from Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein appeared in IS 24, Spring 1966.


The dialectical conception of a totality seems far removed from immediate reality, and its constituent elements appear portrayed in an unscientific fashion. Yet it is, in fact, the only method of knowing and reproducing reality intellectually. A concrete totality is thus the basic category of reality. [5] The correctness of this view becomes quite dear when we place the real, material substratum of our method, capitalist society (with its inherent antagonism between the forces and relations of production) right at the centre of our study. The method of the natural sciences, the ideal method of all reflexive science and of all revisionism, does not recognise any contradiction or, antagonism in its object. However, if it encounters contradiction between different theories it sees this situation as resulting from the incompleteness of knowledge so far discovered. Theories which seem to contradict each other are thought to meet the limit of their validity in these contradictions and are modified and subsumed under more general theories, where these contradictions finally disappear. However, in the case of social reality these contradictions are not a sign of insufficient scientific comprehension. They belong rather to the very nature of reality, to the nature of capitalist society. They will not be subsumed under knowledge of the totality, so ceasing to be contradictions. On the contrary, they should be understood as necessary contradictions, as deriving from the essentially antagonistic capitalist order of production.

When theory, taken as knowledge of the totality, points the way to a resolution of the contradictions, their elimination, it does so by demonstrating the real tendencies of social development, which must in practice resolve the contradictions which have arisen in the course of social development.

The position of the critical method (vulgar materialism, Machism, etc.) thus embodies, in this perspective, a social problem. The method of the natural sciences can only serve the advance of science when it is applied to nature; but, used to understand the development of society, it becomes a weapon in the ideological struggle of the bourgeoisie. For it is vital for the bourgeoisie to conceive of its own order of production in terms of categories which are tunelessly valid; capitalism must be seen as destined to survive eternally, because of the laws of nature and reason. On the other hand the contradictions which are inevitably imposed upon its thought are judged to be surface facts, and not phenomena belonging to the very essence of capitalism.

The method of classical economy is a product of this ideological condition of bourgeois thought. It is limited as a scientific approach by the nature of social reality, by the antagonistic character of capitalist production. When a thinker of Ricardo’s stature denies the ‘necessity for expansion of the market corresponding to an expansion of production and the growth of capital,’ then he does so (even if unconsciously), in order to avoid recognising the necessity of crises. These crises bring to light in the most obvious and basic way the fundamental antagonism of capitalist production and the fact that ‘the bourgeois mode of production implies a limitation of the free development of the productive forces.’ But this error, committed in good faith, became the consciously misleading analysis of bourgeois society propounded by vulgar economists. Vulgar Marxism arrived at the same result, while trying to eradicate the dialectical method from proletarian science or affirming the dialectic only ‘critically.’ So – to cite a grotesque case – Max Adler tried to separate the dialectic as a method, as a movement of thought, from the dialectic of being, as a metaphysic. At the climax of his critique, he offers the dialectic only insofar as it is ‘a matter of positive science,’ which ‘is thought of primarily when speaking of a real dialectic in Marxism.’ This dialectic would be better called ‘antagonism’ which ‘simply demonstrates that an opposition exists between the self-interest of the individual and the social forms in which it is confined.’ With that the objective economic antagonism which is expressed in the class struggle evaporates into a conflict between the individual and society. On this basis, one cannot grasp the necessity for the emergence of capitalist society, nor its problematic nature and decline. The end result is – willy nilly – a Kantian philosophy of history. Also, this approach makes the structure of bourgeois society a universal one, the general form of society. For the central problem raised by Max Adler, that of his ‘dialectic or rather antagonism,’ is nothing but a typical ideological form of the capitalist social order. It matters little in the final analysis whether this immortalisation of capitalism takes place in terms of economics or ideology; whether it is done naively and innocently or with critical refinement: it amounts to the same thing.

Thus the comprehensibility of history vanishes along with a rejection or destruction of the dialectic method. This does not mean, of course, that it is not possible to describe accurately particular personalities or historical epochs without the dialectical method. It means rather that one cannot understand history as a unified process without the dialectic method. (This impossibility is expressed in bourgeois science, on the one hand in terms of abstract sociological constructions of historical development of the type of Spencer or Comte – whose internal contradictions have been exposed by modern bourgeois historians, in particular Rkkert, and on the other hand in terms of the demands for a ‘philosophy of history’ whose relation to historical reality appears as a methodologically insoluble problem.)

This contrast between a particular aspect of history and history considered as a unified process is not, however, a matter of different scope, as with the difference between particular and universal history. It is more a methodological contrast, one of differing points of view. The problem of considering the historical process as a unified whole is necessarily posed by the study of each particular epoch, period of history, etc. Here the crucial importance of a dialectical conception of reality is shown, for it is quite possible to describe an historical event without being able to understand the event as it actually took places without grasping its proper role in the historical whole to which it belongs, in the unity of the historical process. A typical example of this is Sismondi’s treatment of the question of crisis. Although he understands the immanent developmental tendencies of production as well as distribution, thus producing a penetrating critique of capitalism, he is in the last analysis in an impasse. For he remains imprisoned in the objective forms of capitalism: and must consider these two immanent tendencies as independent of one another, ‘not understanding that the relations of distribution are nothing but the relations of production under another name.’ Thus he suffers the same fate that overtook the false dialectic of Proudhon: ‘he transforms the different partial elements of society into so many societies in themselves.’

It bears repetition that the category of totality does not in any way dissolve its constituent elements into an undifferentiated unity, into one identity. The appearance of independence, of an autonomy which they possess in the capitalist order of production^ is mere appearance only in so far as they are considered in a dialectical and dynamic relation to one another, as the dynamic elements of a whole which is in itself equally dialectical and dynamic.

‘The result we arrive at,’ says Marx, ‘is not that production, exchange and consumption are identical, but rather that they are parts forming a totality, variations at the centre of a unity ... A certain form of production thus determined certain forms of consumption, distribution and exchange and certain relations between these different elements ... There is an interaction between these different elements, as is the case with every organic whole.’

But we must not stop at the category of reciprocal interaction. For it is possible to think of reciprocal interaction as the interaction of two otherwise unchangeable objects in a way that does not advance us a single step towards understanding social reality beyond the simple causality of vulgar materialism (or the functional relations of Machism, etc.). Interaction takes place, for example, when a billiard ball at rest is struck by a moving one: the first is made to move and the second is deflected from its path by the impact, etc. ... But the interaction to which we refer goes far beyond such mutual influencing of otherwise unchangeable objects. And it goes beyond it in its relationship to the whole. This relationship to the whole becomes the framework which determines the form of objectivity of each object, and every relevant and essential change is manifested in terms of a change in relation to the whole and thus as a change in the form of objectivity itself. [6] Marx made this point clearly many times in his works. I shall quote just one of the best known passages:

‘A negro is a negro, but only under certain conditions does he become a slave. A machine to weave cotton is a machine to weave cotton, but only under certain conditions does it become capital. Separated from these conditions it is as little capital as gold, in itself, is money or sugar is the price of sugar.’

Thus the constant change in the forms of objectivity of all social phenomena and the significance of an object in terms of the object’s role within a totality mean that only the dialectical conception of totality can make it possible for us to understand this reality as a social process. Only in this context do the fetishistic forms which capitalism necessarily engenders dissolve and reveal themselves as the mere appearances which they are (even if necessary ones). The reflexive relations of fetishistic forms, their ‘regularity,’ which conceals the real relationship between objects, are a necessary development of capitalism, and are now comprehensible as the inevitable projections of the participants in the capitalist order of production. Thus they are objects of understanding, but they reveal not the capitalist order of production, but the ideology of the ruling class.

Only when this veil has been torn aside is historical understanding possible. For it is the function of these fetishistic forms to make capitalist society seem supra-historic. A real understanding of the objective character of phenomena, a knowledge of their historical character and their actual function in the social totality, forms an undivided act of the understanding. But this unity is shattered by the pseudo-scientific approach. Thus the distinction – crucial to economics – between constant and variable capital only became possible through the dialectical method. Classical economics was unable to go beyond the distinction between fixed and circulating capital. And this was no accident. For

‘variable capital is no more than a particular form of the historical appearance of the means of subsistence or of the labour which the worker requires for his maintenance and reproduction and which he himself must produce and reproduce in all systems of social production. The only return which the worker gets for his labour is in the form of payment for his work, while his own product is always alienated from him in the form of capital ... The commodity form of the product and the money form of the commodity disguise the transaction.’

The fetishistic forms, concealing relationships, go further and envelop all the phenomena of capitalist society so as to obscure their temporary historical character. This concealment becomes possible because the concepts of objectivity through which capitalist society necessarily is perceived by man living in it, and supremely the economic categories, also conceal their real significance, that is, as categories of the relationships of men one with another, and appear as things and the relations between things. Thus simultaneously as the dialectic reveals the eternal pretension of these categories, so it also must reveal their reified character, in order to open up the way to a knowledge of reality.

‘Economics,’ writes Engels in his Commentary on the Critique of Political Economy, ‘does not treat of things, but of the relations between persons, and, in the last instance, between classes; however, these relations are always bound to things and appear as things.’

With this, the total character of the dialectical method is demonstrated as a knowledge of the reality of the historical process. It might still seem that this dialectical relation of the parts to the whole is a simple reflexive determination, where the actual categories of social reality are no more obvious than in bourgeois economics. It might seem that the superiority of the dialectic over bourgeois economics is purely a matter of methodology. But the difference is much deeper and more basic. As each economic category shows a defined relationship between men at a given level of historical development, a relation which is thereby made comprehensible and expressed, so it is possible to know the movement of human society, its true significance as the product of men themselves, as a result of forces which are generated by their relationships and then wrested from their control. Thus the categories of economics are both dynamic and dialectical. For they interact vitally with one another, these ‘purely economic’ categories, and help us to understand periods of social evolution. But because they have their basis in real human relationships and function in the process of change within human relationships, they also illumine the process of evolution by their own interaction with the actual basis of their existence.

In other words, the creation and change of a given economic totality which science has the duty of comprehending is necessarily transformed, in the process of production and reproduction of a given whole society (without, however, relating this to any transcendental forces). Marx often insisted on this aspect of dialectical knowledge. Thus, for example:

‘The capitalist process of production considered in its continuity, or as a process of reproduction, not only produces merchandise, or even surplus value; it produces and reproduces the social relationships between capitalist and wage labourer.’


Existing as an active force, producing and reproducing oneself, is what human reality is. This was recognised by Hegel and expressed almost as Marx did, but in an abstract way that could lead to misunderstandings. ‘That which is real is necessary in itself,’ he wrote in the Philosophy of Right.

‘Necessity here means that the totality is divided into the distinctions of concepts, and that this division reveals a solid, enduring certainty and not a deadly solidity; it reveals that which continually reconstitutes itself in the midst of dissolution.’

But here, while we observe the kinship of Hegel’s philosophy and historical materialism – both seeing the function of theory as the self-knowledge of reality – we must realise the crucial difference between the two. This difference is in the treatment of the problem of reality, of the unity of the historical process. Marx reproached Hegel (as he reproached his successors who turned back to Fichte and Kant) for not really surmounting the duality of thinking and being, of theory and practice, of subject and object; he said that Hegel’s dialectic was a mere sham, as opposed to the actual, interior dialectic of the historical process, and that on this decisive point Hegel had not gone beyond Kant; his knowledge of matter was in the subject and not the self-acknowledgement of that particular part of matter, human society.

‘Already in the case of Hegel,’ states the key section of his critique, ‘the absolute spirit of history has its content in the masses, but its expression only in philosophy. That is why the philosopher seems to be the organ through which the absolute spirit makes history, emerging into consciousness after the end of the movement. His participation in history is limited to a consciousness after the event, for the absolute spirit brings about the movement unconsciously. Thus the philosopher comes post festum.’

Thus Hegel does not allow the

‘absolute spirit as absolute spirit, to make history, except in appearance. For, in effect, the absolute spirit does not become conscious of itself as creator of the world until after the event, and its making of history only exists in the consciousness, opinion and imagination of the philosophers, in speculative fancy.’

This conceptual mythology of Hegelianism was finally eliminated by the critical activity of the young Marx.

It is no accident, however, that Marx arrived at his own view through opposing a movement in reaction to Hegel and in return to Kant, a movement which used all the obscurities and uncertainties of Hegel to remove the revolutionary elements from his thought and to draw the remains of the contemplative duality of thinking and being into line with contemporary German philosophy, which was completely reactionary. By taking up the progressive in the Hegelian method – i.e. the dialectic as knowledge of reality – Marx not only separated himself from the followers of Hegel, but at the same time created a schism in Hegel’s philosophy itself. With supreme logical consistency, he took the historical tendency found in Hegel’s philosophy to its limits: he transformed all phenomena of society and social man into historical problems; he showed the real substratum of historical evolution and in so doing developed a fertile method. Marx discovered and methodically developed this method himself and applied it to Hegelian philosophy. Indeed, the myth-making vestiges of ‘eternal values’ which he eliminated from the dialectic were on the same plane as the reflexive philosophy which Hegel fought bitterly throughout his life and against which he marshalled his whole philosophical method, its process and concrete totality, its dialectic and history. Thus the Marxist critique of Hegel is the direct continuation of Hegel’s own critique of Kant and Fichte [7], and Marx’s dialectical method continues what Hegel sought but did not attain. On the other hand the dead body of the Hegelian texts remains as prey for philosophers and system-makers.

The point where the two separate is over the question of reality. Hegel was unable to break through to the real driving forces of history. This was partly because during the genesis of his system these forces were not yet sufficiently clear and visible. As a result he was forced to regard the people and their consciousness as the effective bearers of historical development (he did not penetrate to the real substratum, but rather advanced the mythology of the ‘spirit of the people’). This was in part because, in spite of all his strenuous efforts to the contrary, he remained imprisoned in Platonic and Kantian attitudes, in the duality of thinking and being, of form and matter. Even if he did discover the significance of the concrete totality, even though he strove to go beyond all abstractions, nevertheless for him matter remained sullied by the ‘stain of determination’ (in this he was highly Platonic). Due to these opposing tendencies Hegel’s system could not be clarified. As he often juxtaposes contraries with no mediation, full of contradictions and in an unbalanced manner, the system had to be applied more to the past than to the future. [8] It is no wonder, therefore, that very early on bourgeois science picked out and developed precisely these parts of Hegel’s work as the essential ones. Because of this, the revolutionary core of his work was as good as completely lost, even for Marxism.

Conceptual mythology is always the intellectual expression of the fact that some basic feature of man’s existence, one so fundamental that its consequences cannot be repressed, has escaped him. This inability to penetrate the subject results in an appeal to transcendental driving forces which construct and shape reality, the relations between objects, our relations with them and their modification in the course of history in a mythological manner. Marx and Engels, in recognising that ‘the production and reproduction of real life are, in the last instance, the determining element in history,’ discovered, for the first time, the possibility of liquidating all mythology on sound principles; The absolute spirit of Hegel was the last of these lofty mythological forms in which the totality and its movement reached expression, although unconscious of their true essence. When Reason ‘which has always existed, but not always in: a reasonable form’ achieves its ‘reasonable’ form in historical materialism, by the discovery of its real source, the basis from which human life can become conscious of itself, then the programme of the Hegelian philosophy of history has been achieved with the destruction of Hegelian teaching. In contrast to nature in which, Hegel emphasises, ‘change is circular, a repetition of similarity,’ change in history is produced ‘not merely on the surface, but in the concept. The concept itself is corrected.’


Only in this context can the viewpoint of dialectical materialism, that ‘it is not men’s consciousness that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness,’ pass beyond the merely theoretical to the problem of practice. For only here, where the core of being is revealed as the social process, can being appear as the product, previously unconscious, of human activity, and this activity in its turn as the decisive element in toe transformation of being. Purely natural relations, or social forms mystified into natural relations, are opposed to man, on the one hand, as rigid, fixed, in essence unchangeable, facts with laws which man can manipulate, an objective structure which he can understand to the full but cannot transform. On the other hand such a conception forces the possibility of practice solely into the individual consciousness. Practice becomes the form of activity of the isolated individual: the ethic. Feuerbach’s attempt to go beyond Hegel failed at this point: he was at one with German idealism in not being able to go beyond the isolated individual of ‘bourgeois society’ and was trapped there even more than Hegel himself.

Marx’s demand that we should understand ‘sensuousness,’ the object, reality as sensuous human activity, implies that man has become conscious of himself as a social being, as simultaneously the subject and object of the social-historical course of events. Feudal man could not become conscious of himself as a social being since his social relations themselves were still natural in character, because society itself was so little organised, so little a unity of all human relations, that it could not appear in consciousness as the human reality. (The question of structure and unity in feudal society does not belong here.) Bourgeois society completes the socialisation of society. Capitalism destroys all spatial and temporal barriers between different countries arid areas, as it demolished the juridical distinctions dividing and maintaining the stability of ‘estates.’ In its world of formal equality among men, those economic relations which ruled the immediate material exchange between man and nature disappear. Man becomes – in the true sense of the word – a social being; society becomes the reality of man.

Thus the recognition of society as reality became possible only on the terrain of capitalism, of bourgeois society. Nevertheless, the historical agent of this revolution, the bourgeoisie, accomplished its function unconsciously. The very social forces which it freed and which brought it to power, are set against it like a second nature, more soulless and impenetrable than those of feudalism. It is only with the emergence of the proletariat that full knowledge of social reality can be achieved, and it is achieved just because the class standpoint of the proletariat is one from which the whole of society is visible. Since it is a vital need, a matter of life or death, for the proletariat to be perfectly clear about its situation as a class, since its class position can only be understood in the context of knowledge of the whole society; and since this knowledge is an indispensable precondition of action by the proletariat, the doctrine of historical materialism as it emerged was both the ‘condition for the liberation of the proletariat’ and the description of the reality of the total process of social development. Thus the unity of theory and practice is only the other face of the historical-social situation of the proletariat, a situation where self-knowledge and knowledge of the totality come together, and the proletariat is at the same time both the subject and object of its own knowledge.

For the task of leading humanity to a higher level of development requires as Hegel rightly remarked (although still applying it to peoples) that these ‘stages of development’ are ‘present as immediate natural principles,’ and that the people (i.e. the class) ‘to whom such a factor occurs as a natural principle are charged with achieving it.’ Marx makes this thought concrete with a clarity extending to all social evolution:

‘When socialist writers ascribe a world-historical role to the proletariat, it is not because they regard the proletarian as a god. On the contrary. Because the abstraction of humanity and even of the appearance of humanity is achieved in the fully-formed proletariat, because all the conditions of life in present society are found at their most inhuman extremity in the conditions of life of the proletariat, because man is not only lost in this existence but also theoretically conscious of this fact and forced by imperative, inevitable and immediate misery – the practical expression of necessity – to revolt against this inhumanity, for these reasons the proletariat can and must liberate itself. It cannot, however, do this without getting rid of its own conditions of life. And it cannot get rid of its own conditions of life without getting rid of all inhuman conditions of life in the society around it.’

Thus the methodological essence of historical materialism cannot be separated from the ‘practical-critical activity’ of the proletariat: both are elements of the same evolutionary process in society. The knowledge of reality which is central to the dialectical method cannot be separated from the class standpoint of the proletariat. Posing, as the Austro-Marxists do, the question of separating methodologically the ‘pure’ science of Marxism from socialism is, like all similar questions, posing a false problem. For the Marxist method, dialectical materialist knowledge of reality, is only possible from the class standpoint, from the vantage point of the class struggle of the proletariat. Abandoning this standpoint means leaving historical materialism just as reaching it means entering directly into the struggle of the proletariat.

This emergence of historical materialism as an ‘immediate, natural’ vital principle of the proletariat, and the fact that total knowledge of reality is made possible by this class standpoint, does not mean, however, that this knowledge and its methodology are immediate or natural to the proletariat as a class (and particularly not to the individual proletarian). On the contrary. It is true that the proletariat is the knowing subject of this knowledge of total social reality. But it is not a knowing subject in the Kantian sense of the term, where the subject is defined as that which can never become the object. It is not an impartial spectator of this process. The proletariat is not merely an active and passive partisan in this whole, but the increase and development of its knowledge, on the one hand, and its rise and development as a class on the other are but two sides of the same actual process. This is not only because the class itself did not become formed into a class except through continual struggle, beginning with acts of spontaneous desperation (the destruction of machines is a quite simple example). But the consciousness of social reality reached by the proletariat, its understanding of its own position as a class and its historical vocation – the method of the materialist conception of history – are products of the same process of evolution which historical materialism, for the first time in history, understands properly and in its reality.

Consequently, the possibility of the Marxist method is also a product of the class struggle, like any result of a political or scientific nature. And the development of the proletariat reflects the inner structure of the history of society which it understands – for the first time.

The methodological aspect of totality, which we have suggested as the central problem, as the prerequisite of a knowledge of reality, is in a double sense a product of history. First, only through that economic development which the proletariat has brought about, through the emergence of the proletariat itself (and therefore at a specific stage of social development), through the resulting transformation of the subject and object of knowledge of social reality, did the formal objective possibility of historical materialism arise at all. Second, however, this formal possibility only became a real possibility in the course of development of the proletariat itself. For the possibility of comprehending the process of history as an inherent part of the process itself and no longer relating it to an irrelevant factor like a transcendental, mythologising or ethical compulsion, presupposes a highly developed consciousness by the proletariat of its own position, situation and therefore a – comparatively – highly developed proletariat, thus presupposing a long period of preparation. This is the road from Utopia to a knowledge of reality; the way from transcendental goals postulated by the first great thinkers of the labour movement to the clarity of the Commune of 1871: the working class has ‘no ideals to put into practice,’ but ‘only the elements of the new society to liberate;’ the road from the class as ‘opposed to capital’ to the class ‘for itself.’

In this perspective, the Revisionist separation of the movement from the final goal represents a retrogression to the most primitive level of the labour movement. For the final goal is not a situation which awaits the proletariat at the end of the process, independently of it and of the path it takes; it is not a ‘state of the future,’ a state which one can forget in the course of daily struggle and remember only as an ideal which is chanted in Sunday sermons. It is not a ‘duty,’ not an idea’ which plays a regulative coordinating role in the ‘real’ process. The final goal is precisely the relation to the whole (to the whole of society viewed as an historical process) through which each moment of struggle acquires its revolutionary content. It transfers the daily struggle from the level of facility and simplicity to that of reality. But it must not be forgotten that every attempt to keep the ‘final goal’ or ‘essence’ of the proletariat ‘pure’ and free from all the contamination of a sordid relationship with (capitalist) existence leads in the end to the same removal from reality, the same retrogression to a utopian duality of subject and object, of theory and practice as Revisionism.

The practical danger of all dualistic conceptions of this sort is that they lose the very element that gives action its direction; i.e. as soon as one goes to the ‘natural’ terrain of existence, to the pure, simple and vulgarly ‘empirical’ – as soon as one abandons the terrain of reality where only dialectical materialism can conquer and must constantly reconquer – then the subject of the action is harshly opposed to the milieu of ‘facts’ in which the action must develop. There is no mediation between the subject and the fact, they are two separate principles. And it is as little possible to impose the subjective will, wish or decision, upon the objective facts as it is to discover a direction-giving element for action in the facts themselves. For a situation where the ‘facts’ speak clearly for or against a specific action has never existed and will never exist. The more the facts are taken in their isolation (that is, in their reflexive context), the less they are able to point clearly in a specific direction. And it is obvious that a subjective wish will be destroyed by the power of unmastered facts which automatically act ‘regularly.’ Thus the way in which the dialectical method approaches reality is revealed precisely in the problem of action, as it alone is capable of orientating action. The objective and subjective self-knowledge of the proletariat, at a specific stage of its development, is, at the same time, an understanding of the level which contemporary social development has reached. The facts are no longer ‘strange’ when they are seen in the context of reality, in the rootedness of the constituent moments of the totality – a rootedness which is immanent, not merely revealed and which embodies those tendencies which drive towards the central point of reality, in other words the final goal. Thus the final goal is not opposed to the process as an abstract ideal. It is the very sense of the process which is immanent at a certain stage, and an understanding of it is precisely a knowledge of that direction unconsciously pursued by the tendencies leading towards totality, a direction which indicates the right action at a given moment – in terms of the interest of the entire process, of the liberation of the proletariat.

Social evolution steadily strengthens the tension between the constituent moment and the totality. Precisely because the immanent sense of reality radiates with increasing brilliance, the sense of process becomes ever more immanent in daily action, totality permeating the momentary, spatial temporal character of a phenomenon. But the path of consciousness does not become smoother in the process of history; on the contrary it becomes ever more arduous and demands greater and greater responsibility. For that reason the function of orthodox Marxism, its going beyond Revisionism and utopia, is not a solitary liquidation of false tendencies, but a ceaselessly renewed struggle against the perverting influence of bourgeois ideology on proletarian thought. This orthodoxy is not a guardian of traditions, but the herald which must always proclaim the relation between the moment and its tactics and the totality of the historical process. And so the words of the Communist Manifesto on the tasks of orthodoxy and its partisans are always crucial:

‘The Communists differentiate themselves from other proletarian parties only on two points: on the one hand, in the various national struggles of the proletariat they bring to the forefront and defend the interests which are common to the proletariat and independent of nationality; and on the other hand in the various stages of development of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, they represent the interest of the entire movement.’


5. For readers particularly interested in this methodological point, it should be noted that in Hegel’s logic the relationship between the whole and its parts constitutes the dialectical passage from existence to reality. The problem we have discussed, the relationship between interior and exterior, is for Hegel also a problem of totality.

6. The peculiarly sophisticated opportunism of Cunow is suggested when he changes the concept of the whole (the aggregate, totality) into that of the sum, thus suppressing all dialectical relationships, and does so despite his wide knowledge of Marxist texts (cf. his Marxist Theory of History, Society and State).

7. It is not surprising that Cunow seeks to correct Marx by referring to a Kantian Hegel on the very question where Marx most radically surpassed Hegel. He contrasts the Hegelian State (as an eternal value) with the purely historical State of Marx, and alleges that the ‘faults’ of the Hegelian State – its function as instrument of class rule – are only ‘historical’ errors and not part of its essence and function.

For Cunow, Marx is here a regress from Hegel because he considers the question ‘from a political, not a sociological, viewpoint.’ There is, for the opportunists, no possibility of superseding Hegel. If they do not retreat to the vulgar materialism of Kant, then they exploit the reactionary content of the Hegelian philosophy of the State to emasculate Marxism’s revolutionary dialectic and render bourgeois society eternal.

8. Hegel’s position on the national economy is characteristic of this (cf. his Philosophy of Right). He recognises dearly that the basic methodological problem is that of contingency and necessity (as, in a way, Engels did), but he is unable to comprehend the fundamental significance of the material basis of the economy, the relationships of men to each other. This remains for him a ‘swarm of anarchic wills,’ the laws of which resemble a ‘planetary system.’