Volume II of The German Ideology by Marx and Engels
“A man was needed” (so runs the preface) “who would give utterance to all our sorrows, all our longings and all our hopes, to everything, in a word, which moves our age most deeply. And in the midst of this stress and turmoil of doubt and of longing he had to emerge from the solitude of the spirit bearing the solution of the riddle, the living symbols of which encompass us all. This man, whom our age was awaiting, has appeared. He is Dr. Georg Kuhlmann of Holstein.”
August Becker, the writer of these lines, thus allowed himself to be persuaded, by a person of a very simple mind and very ambiguous character, that not a single riddle has yet been solved, not a single vital energy aroused — that the communist movement, which has already gripped all civilised countries, is an empty nut whose kernel cannot be discovered; that it is a universal egg, laid by some great universal hen without the aid of a cock — whereas the true kernel and the true cock of the walk is Dr. Georg Kuhlmann of Holstein!...
This great universal cock turns out, however, to be a perfectly ordinary capon who has fed for a while on the German artisans in Switzerland and who cannot escape his due fate.
Far be it from us to consider Dr. Kuhlmann of Holstein to be a commonplace charlatan and a cunning fraud, who does not himself believe in the efficacy of his elixir of life and who merely applies his science of longevity to the preservation of life in his own body — no, we are well aware that the inspired doctor is a spiritualistic charlatan, a pious fraud, a mystical old fox, but one who, like all his kind, is none too scrupulous in his choice of means, since his own person is intimately connected with his sacred mission. Indeed, sacred missions are always intimately bound up with the holy beings who pursue them; for such missions are of a purely idealistic nature and exist only in the mind. All idealists, philosophic and religious, ancient and modern, believe in inspirations, in revelations, saviours, miracle-workers; whether their belief takes a crude, religious, or a refined, philosophic, form depends only upon their cultural level, just as the degree of energy which they possess, their character, their social position, etc., determine whether their attitude to a belief in miracles is a passive or an active one, i.e., whether they are shepherds performing miracles or whether they are sheep; they further determine whether the aims they pursue are theoretical or practical.
Kuhlmann is a very energetic person and a man of some philosophic education; his attitude to miracles is by no means a passive one and the aims which he pursues are very practical.
All that August Becker has in common with him is the national infirmity of mind. The good fellow
“pities those who cannot bring themselves to see that the will and the ideas of an age can only he expressed by individuals”.
For the idealist, every movement designed to transform the world exists only in the head of some chosen being, and the fate of the world depends on whether this head, which is endowed with all wisdom as its own private property, is or is not mortally wounded by some realistic stone before it has had time to make its revelation.
“Or is this not the case?” adds August Becker defiantly. “Assemble all the philosophers and the theologians of the age, let them take counsel and register their votes, and then see what comes of it all!”
The whole of historical development consists, according to the ideologist, in the theoretical abstractions of that development which have taken shape in the “heads” of all “the philosophers and theologians of the age”, and since it is impossible to “assemble” all these “heads” and induce them to “take counsel and register their votes”, there must of necessity be one sacred head, the apex of all these philosophical and theological heads, and this top head is the speculative unity of all these block-heads — the saviour.
This “cranium” system is as old as the Egyptian pyramids, with which it has many similarities, and as new as the Prussian monarchy, in the capital of which it has recently been resurrected in a rejuvenated form. The idealistic Dalai Lamas have this much in common with their real counterpart: they would like to persuade themselves that the world from which they derive their subsistence could not continue without their holy excrement. As soon as this idealistic folly is put into practice, its malevolent nature is apparent: its clerical lust for power, its religious fanaticism, its charlatanry, its pietistic hypocrisy, its unctuous deceit. Miracles are the asses’ bridge leading from the kingdom of the idea to practice. Dr. Georg Kuhlmann of Holstein is just such an asses’ bridge — he is inspired — his magic words cannot fail to move the most stable of mountains. How consoling for those patient creatures who cannot summon up enough energy to blast these mountains with natural powder! What a source of confidence to the blind and timorous who cannot see the material coherence which underlies the diverse scattered manifestations of the revolutionary movement!
“There has been lacking, up to now, a rallying point,” says August Becker.
Saint George overcomes all concrete obstacles with the greatest of ease by transforming — all concrete things into ideas; he then pronounces himself the speculative unity of the latter, and this enables him to “rule and regulate them":
“The society of ideas is the world. And their unity regulates and rules the world” (p. 138).
Our prophet wields all the power he can possibly desire in this “society of ideas”.
“Led by our own idea, we will wander, hither and thither, and contemplate everything in the minutest detail, as far as our time requires” (p. 138).
What a speculative unity of nonsense!
But paper is long-suffering, and the German public, to whom the prophet issued his oracular pronouncements, knew so little of the philosophic development in its own country that it did not even notice how, in his speculative oracular pronouncements, the great prophet merely reiterated the most decrepit philosophic phrases and adapted them to his practical aims.
Just as medical miracle-workers and miraculous cures are made possible by ignorance of the laws of the natural world, so social miracle-workers and miraculous social cures depend upon ignorance of the laws of the social world — and the witch-doctor of Holstein is none other than the socialistic miracle-working shepherd of Niederempt.
The first revelation which this miracle-working shepherd makes to his flock is as follows:
“I see before me an assembly of the elect, who have gone before me to work by word and deed for the salvation of our time, and who are now come to hear what I have to say concerning the weal and woe of mankind.”
“Many have already spoken and written in the name of mankind, but none has yet given utterance to the real nature of man’s suffering, his hopes and his expectations, nor told him how he may obtain his desires. That is precisely what I shall do.”
And his flock believes him.
There is not a single original thought in the whole work of this “Holy Spirit”; he reduces out-of-date socialistic theories to abstractions of the most sterile and general kind. There is nothing original even in the form, the style. Others have imitated more happily the sanctified style of the Bible. Kuhlmann has taken Lamennais’ manner of writing as his model, but he merely achieves a caricature of Lamennais. We shall give our readers a sample of the beauties of his style:
“Tell me, firstly,, how feel ye when ye think of your eternal lot?
"Many indeed mock and say: ‘What have I to do with eternity?'
"Others rub their eyes and ask: ‘Eternity — what may this be?...'
"How feel ye, when ye think of the hour when the grave shall swallow you up?"
"And I hear many voices.” One among them speaks in this wise:
"Of recent years it bath been taught that the spirit is eternal, that in death it is only dissolved once more in God, from whom it proccedeth. But they who preach such things cannot tell me what then remaineth of me. Oh, that I had never seen the light of day. And assuming that I do not die — oh, my parents, my sisters, my brothers, my children, and all whom I love, shall I ever see You again! Oh, had I but never seen you!” etc.
"How feel ye, further, if ye think of infinity?” ...
We feel very poorly, Herr Kuhlmann — not at the thought of death, but at your fantastic idea of death, at your style, at the shabby means you employ to work upon the feelings of others.
“How dost feel,” dear reader, when you hear a priest who paints hell very hot to terrify his sheep and make their minds very flabby, a priest whose eloquence only aims at stimulating the tear glands of his hearers and who speculates only on the cowardice of his congregation?
As far as the meagre content of the “Annunciation” is concerned, the first section, or the introduction to the Neue Welt, can be reduced to the simple thought that Herr Kuhlmann has come from Holstein to found the “Kingdom of the Spirit”, the “Kingdom of Heaven” upon earth; that he was the first to know the real hell and the real heaven — the former being society as it has hitherto existed and the latter being future society, the “Kingdom of the Spirit” — and that he himself is the longed-for holy “spirit......
None of these great thoughts of Saint George are exactly original and there was really no need for him to have bothered to come all the way from Holstein to Switzerland, nor to have descended from the ,,solitude of the spirit” to the level of the artisans, nor to have “revealed” himself, merely in order to present this “vision” to the “world”.
However, the idea that Dr. Kuhlmann of Holstein’s the “longed-for “holy spirit” is his own exclusive property — and is likely to remain so.
According to Saint George’s own “revelation”, his Holy Scripture will progress in the following way:
“It will reveal” (he says) “the Kingdom of the Spirit in its earthly guise, that ye may behold its glory and see that there is no other salvation but in the Kingdom of the Spirit. On the other hand, it will expose your vale of tears that ye may behold your wretchedness and know the cause of all your sufferings. Then I shall show the way which leads from this sorrowful present to a joyful future. To this end, follow me in the spirit to a height, whence we may have a free prospect over the broad landscape.”
And so the prophet permits us first of all a glimpse of his “beautiful landscape”, his Kingdom of Heaven. We see nothing but a misunderstanding of Saint-Simonism, wretchedly staged, with costumes that are a travesty of Lamennais, embellished with fragments from Herr Stein.
We shall now quote the most important revelations from the Kingdom of Heaven, which demonstrate the prophetic method. For example, page 37:
“The choice is free and depends on each person’s inclinations. Inclinations depend on one’s natural faculties."
"If in society,” Saint George prophesies, “everyone follows his inclination, all the developed and if this is so, that which all faculties of society without exception will be need will continually be produced, in the realm of the spirit as in the realm of matter. For society always possesses as many faculties and energies as it has needs........ Les attractions sont proportionelles aux Destinies” (cf. also Proudhon).
Herr Kuhlmann differs here from the socialists and the communists only by reason of a misunderstanding, the cause of which must be sought in his pursuit of practical aims and undoubtedly also in his narrow-mindedness. He confuses the diversity of faculties and capacities with the inequality of possessions and of enjoyment conditioned by possession, and inveighs therefore against communism.
“No one shall have there” (that is, under communism) “any advantage over another”, declaims the prophet, “no one shall have more possessions and live better than another.... And if you cherish doubts about it and fail to join in their vociferation, they will abuse you, condemn you, and persecute you and hang you on a gallows” (p. 100).
Kuhlmann sometimes prophesies quite correctly, one must admit.
“In their ranks then are to be found all those who cry: Away with the Bible! Away, above all, with the Christian religion, for it is the religion of humility and servility! Away with all belief whatsoever! We know nothing of God or immortality! They are but figments of the imagination, exploited and continually concocted by deceivers and liars for their advantage” (it should read: which are exploited by the priests for their advantage). “In sooth, he who still believes in such things is the greatest of fools!”
Kuhlmann attacks with particular vehemence those who are on principle opposed to the doctrine of faith, humility and inequality, i.e., the doctrine of “difference of rank and birth”.
His socialism is based on the abject doctrine of predestined slavery — which, as formulated by Kuhlmann, reminds one strongly of Friedrich Rohmer — on the theocratic hierarchy and, in the last instance, on his own sacred person!
“Every branch of labour,” we find on page 42, “is directed by the most skilled worker, who himself takes part in it, and in the realm of enjoyment every branch is guided by the merriest member, who himself participates in the enjoyment. But, as society is undivided and possesses only one mind, the whole system will he regulated and governed by one man — and he shall be the wisest, the most virtuous and the most blissful.”
On page 34 we learn:
“If man strives after virtue in the spirit, then he stirs and moves his limbs and develops and moulds and forms everything in and outside himself according to his pleasure. And if he experiences well-being in the spirit, then he must also experience it in everything that lives in him. Therefore, man eats and drinks and takes delight therein: therefore, he sings, plays and dances, he kisses, weeps and laughs.”
The knowledge of the influence which the vision of God exerts on the appetite, and which spiritual blissfulness exerts upon the sex impulse is, indeed, not the private property of Kuhlmannism; but it does shed light on many an obscure passage in the prophet.
For example, page 36:
“Both” (possession and enjoyment) “correspond to his labour” (that is, to man’s labour). “Labour is the measure of his needs.” (In this way, Kuhlmann distorts the proposition that a communist society has, on the whole, always as many faculties and energies as needs.) “For labour is the expression of the ideas and the instincts. And needs are based on them. But, since the faculties and needs of men are always different, and so apportioned that the former can only be developed and the latter satisfied, if each continually labours for all and the product of the labour of all is exchanged and apportioned in accordance with the deserts” (?) “of each — for this reason each receives only the value of his labour.”
The whole of this tautological rigmarole would be — like the following sentences and many others which we spare the reader — utterly incomprehensible, despite the “sublime simplicity and clarity” of the “revelation” so praised by A. Becker, if we had not a key in the shape of the practical aims which the prophet is pursuing. This makes everything at once comprehensible.
“Value,” continues Herr Kuhlmann like an oracle, “determines itself according to the need of all.” (?) “In value the work of each is always contained and for it” (?) “he can procure for himself whatever his heart desires."
"See, my friends,” runs page 39, “the society of true men always regards life as a school ... in which man must educate himself. And thereby it wants to attain bliss. But such” (?) “must become evident and visible” (?). “otherwise it” (?) “is impossible.”
What Herr Georg Kuhlmann of Holstein has in view when he says that “such” (life? or bliss?) must “become evident” and “visible”, because “it” would otherwise be “impossible” — that “labour” is “contained in value” and that one can procure for it (for what?) one’s heart’s desire — and finally, that “value” determines itself according to “need” — all this cannot be understood unless one once again takes into account the crux of the whole revelation, the practical point of it all.
Let us therefore try to offer a practical explanation.
We learn from August Becker that Saint George Kuhlmann of Holstein had no success in his own country. He arrives in Switzerland and finds there an entirely “new world”, the communist societies of the German artisans. That is more to his taste — and he attaches himself without delay to communism and the communists. He always, as August Becker tells us, “worked unremittingly to develop his doctrine further and to make it adequate to the greatness of the times”, i.e., he became a communist among the communists ad majorem Dei gloriam.
So far everything had gone well.
But one of the most vital principles of communism, a principle which distinguishes it from all reactionary socialism, is its empirical view, based on a knowledge of man’s nature, that differences of brain and of intellectual ability do not imply any differences whatsoever in the nature of the stomach and of physical needs; therefore the false tenet, based upon existing circumstances, “to each according to his abilities”, must be changed, insofar as it relates to enjoyment in its narrower sense, into the tenet, “to each according to his need”; in other words, a different form of activity, of labour, does not justify inequality, confers no privileges in respect of possession and enjoyment.
The prophet could not admit this; for the privileges, the advantages of his station, the feeling of being a chosen one, these are the very stimulus of the prophet.
“But such must become evident and visible, otherwise it is impossible.”
Without practical advantages, without some tangible stimulus, the prophet would not be a prophet at all, he would not be a practical, but only a theoretical, man of God, a philosopher. The prophet must, therefore, make the communists understand that different forms of activity or labour give the right to different degrees of value and of bliss (or of enjoyment, merit, pleasure, it is all the same thing), and since each determines his own bliss and his labour, therefore, he, the prophet — this is the practical point of the revelation — can claim a better life than the common artisan. [The prophet has moreover openly stated this in a lecture which has not been printed.]
After this, all the prophet’s obscure passages become clear: that the “possession” and “enjoyment” of each should correspond to his “labour”; that the “labour” of each man should be the measure of his “needs”; that, therefore, each should receive the “value” of his labour; that “value” will determine itself according to “need” ; that the work of each is “contained” in value and that he can procure for it what his “heart” desires; that, finally, the “bliss” of the chosen one must “become evident and visible”, because it is otherwise “impossible”. All this nonsense has now become intelligible.
We do not know the exact extent of the practical demands which Dr. Kuhlmann really makes upon the artisans. But we do know that his doctrine is a dogma fundamental to all spiritual and temporal craving for power, a mystic veil which is used to conceal all hypocritical pleasure-seeking; it serves to extenuate any infamy and is the source of many incongruous actions.
We must not omit to show the reader the way which, according to Herr Kuhlmann of Holstein, “leads from this sorrowful present to a joyful future”. This way is lovely and delightful as spring in a flowery meadow or as a flowery meadow in spring.
“Softly and gently, with sun-warmed fingers, it puts forth buds, the buds become flowers, the lark and the nightingale warble, the grasshopper in the grass is roused. Let the new world come like the spring” (p. 114 et seq.).
The prophet paints the transition from present social isolation to communal life in truly idyllic colours. just as he has transformed real society into a “society of ideas”, so that “led by his own idea he should be able to wander hither and thither, and contemplate everything in the minutest detail, as far as his time requires”, so he transforms the real social movement which, in all civilised countries, already proclaims the approach of a terrible social upheaval into a process of comfortable and peaceful conversion, into a still life which will permit the owners and rulers of the world to slumber peacefully. For the idealist, the theoretical abstractions of real events, their ideal signs, are reality; real events are merely “sign that the old world is going to its doom”.
“Wherefore do ye strive so anxiously for the things of the moment,” scolds the prophet on page 118, “they are nothing more than signs that the old world is going to its doom; and wherefore do ye dissipate your strength in strivings which cannot fulfil your hopes and expectations?"
"Ye shall not tear down nor destroy that which ye find in your path, ye shall rather shun it and abandon it. And when ye have shunned it and abandoned it, then it shall cease to exist of itself, for it shall find no other nourishment."
"If ye seek truth and spread light abroad, then lying and darkness will vanish from your midst” (p. 116).
"But there will be many who will say: ‘How shall we build a new life as long as the old order prevails and hinders us? Must it not first be destroyed?’ ‘By no means,’ answers the wisest, the most virtuous and the most blissful man. ‘By no means. If ye dwell with others in a house’ that has become rotten and is too small and uncomfortable for you, and the others wish to remain in it, then ye shall not pull it down and dwell in the open, but ye shall first build a new house, and when it is ready ye shall enter it and abandon the old to its fate"’ (p. 120).
The prophet now gives two pages of rules as to how one can insinuate oneself into the new world. Then he becomes aggressive:
“But it is not enough that ye should stand together and forsake the old world — ye shall also take up arms against it to make war upon it and to extend your kingdom and strengthen it. Not by the use of force, however, but rather by the use of free persuasion.”
But if nevertheless it comes about that one has to take up a real sword and hazard one’s real life “to conquer heaven by force”, the prophet promises his sacred host a Russian immortality (the Russians believe that they will rise again in their respective localities if they are killed in battle by the enemy):
“And they who shall fall by the wayside shall be born anew and shall rise more beauteous than they were before. Therefore” (therefore) “take no thought for your life and fear not death” (p. 129).
Even in a conflict with real weapons, says the prophet reassuringly to his sacred host, you do not really risk your life; you merely pretend to risk it.
The prophet’s doctrine is in every sense sedative. After these samples of his Holy Scripture one cannot wonder at the applause it has met with among certain easy-going slowcoaches.