Volume II of The German Ideology by Marx and Engels

True Socialism

The relation between German socialism and the proletarian movement in France and England is the same as that which we found in the first volume (cf. “Saint Max”, “Political Liberalism”) between German liberalism, as it has hitherto existed, and the movement of the French and English bourgeoisie Alongside the German communists, a number of writers have appeared who have absorbed a few French and English communist ideas and amalgamated them with their own German philosophical premises. These “socialists” or “true socialists”, as they call themselves, regard foreign communist literature not as the expression and the product of a real movement but as purely theoretical writings which have been evolvedin the same way as they imagine the German philosophical systems to have been evolvedby a process of “pure thought”. It never occurs to them that, even when these writings do preach a system, they spring from the practical needs, the conditions of life in their entirety of a particular class in a particular country. They innocently take on trust the illusion, cherished by some of these literary party representatives, that it is a question of the “most reasonable” social order and not the needs of a particular class and a particular time. The German ideology, in the grip of which these “true socialists” remain, prevents them from examining the real state of affairs. Their activity in face of the “unscientific” French and English consists primarily in holding up the superficiality and the “crude” empiricism of these foreigners to the scorn of the German public, in eulogising “German science” and declaring that its mission is to reveal for the first time the truth of communism and socialism, the absolute, true socialism. They immediately set to work discharging this mission as representatives of “German science”, although they are in most cases hardly more familiar with “German science” than they are with the original writings of the French and English, which they know only from the compilations of Stein, Oelckers [Lorenz von Stein, Der Socialismus und Communismus des heutigen Franhreichs. Theodor Oelckers, Die Bewegung des Socialismus und Communismus] , etc. And what is the “truth” which they impart to socialism and communism? Since they find the ideas contained in socialist and communist literature quite unintelligible — partly by reason of their ignorance even of the literary background, partly on account of their above-mentioned misunderstanding of this literature — they attempt to clarify them by invoking the German ideology and notably that of Hegel and Feuerbach. They detach the communist systems, critical and polemical writings from the real movement, of which they are but the expression, and force them into an arbitrary connection with German philosophy. They detach the consciousness of certain historically conditioned spheres of life from these spheres and evaluate it in terms of true, absolute, i.e., German philosophical consciousness. With perfect consistency they transform the relations of these particular individuals into relations of “Man”; they interpret the thoughts of these particular individuals concerning their own relations as thoughts about “Man”. In so doing, they have abandoned the real historical basis and returned to that of ideology, and since they are ignorant of the real connection, they can without difficulty construct some fantastic relationship with the help of the “absolute” or some other ideological method. This translation of French ideas into the language of the German ideologists and this arbitrarily constructed relationship between communism and German ideology, then, constitute so-called “true socialism”, which is loudly proclaimed, in the terms used by the Tories for the English constitution, to be “the pride of the nation and the envy of all neighbouring nations”.

Thus “true socialism” is nothing but the transfiguration of proletarian communism, and of the parties and sects that are more or less akin to it, in France and England within the heaven of the German mind and, as we shall also see, of the German sentiment. True socialism, which claims to be based on “science”, is primarily another esoteric science; its theoretical literature is intended only for those who are initiated into the mysteries of the “thinking mind”. But it has an exoteric literature as well; the very fact that it is concerned with social, exoteric relations means that it must carry on some form of propaganda. In this exoteric literature it no longer appeals to the German “thinking mind” but to the German “sentiment”. This is all the easier since true socialism, which is no longer concerned with real human beings but with “Man”, has lost all revolutionary enthusiasm and proclaims instead the universal love of mankind. It turns as a result not to the Proletarians but to the two most numerous classes of men in Germany, to the petty bourgeoisie with its philanthropic illusions and to the ideologists of this very same petty bourgeoisie: the philosophers and their disciples; it turns, in general, to that “common”, or uncommon, consciousness which at present rules in Germany.

The conditions actually existing in Germany were bound to lead to the formation of this hybrid sect and the attempt to reconcile communism with the ideas prevailing at the time. It was just as inevitable that a number of German communists, proceeding from a philosophical standpoint, should have arrived, and still arrive, at communism by way of this transition while others, unable to extricate themselves from this ideology, should go on preaching true socialism to the bitter end. We have, therefore, no means of knowing whether the “true socialists” whose works were written some time ago and are criticised here still maintain their position or whether they have advanced beyond it. We are not at all concerned with the individuals; we are merely considering the printed documents as the expression o a tendency which was bound to occur in a country so stagnant as Germany.

But in addition true socialism has in fact enabled a host of Young-German literary men, [123] quacks and other literati to exploit the social movement. Even the social movement was at first a merely literary one because of the lack of real, passionate, practical party struggles in Germany. True socialism is a perfect example of a social literary movement that has come into being without any real party interests and now, after the formation of the communist party, it intends to persist in spite of it. It is obvious that since the appearance of a real communist party in Germany, the public of the true socialists will be more and more limited to the petty bourgeoisie and the sterile and broken-down literati who represent it.