Engels shows manuscript to Marx

Study Guide for


Chapter I of “The German Ideology”

Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlooks

Preface. Innocent and childlike fancies

People: Ludwig Feuerbach, Young Hegelians, Hegel, Utopians.

Questions for discussion:
1. Can you explain the first half of the first paragraph in terms of the concepts of modern life?
2. Can you give examples of the three programs to “liberate people from imaginary beings”?
3. Can you explain what Marx means in the final paragraph in terms of socialist ideas?

Part A. Idealism and Materialism

§  I . The Illusions of German Ideology

Terms: Absolute Spirit, Fictitious Capital, Ideology, Critique, Substance, Self-consciousness, System, Religion, Dogmatism, Consciousness.

Questions for discussion:
1. What explanation does Marx give for the character of German ideology, “the connection of German philosophy with German reality”?
2. Can you think of present-day examples of people who criticise their own “teacher”, but do so within the conceptual and practical framework they learnt from their teacher?
3. Can you give a plausible and convincing defence of the view of the “Old Hegelians”?
4. What is the argument between the “Old Hegelians” and the “Young Hegelians” and why is Marx so contemptuous of the Young Hegelians?

§ II . First Premises of the Materialist Method

Terms: Being, Empiricism, Abstract, Individual, Nature, Labour, Mode of Production, Relations of Production, Division of Labour, Forces of Production, Tribal Society, Slave Society, Private Property, Proletariat, Feudal Society, Politics, Idealism, Positive, Science.

Questions for discussion:
1. Can Marx legitimately just cite “the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live” as his premises? How else could one begin a science?
2. “Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence” Is this just a nice piece of rhetoric justifying labour as the criteria for distinguishing humans from animals, or is it something more than that?
3. Give an example from the present-day of “Each new productive force ... causes a further development of the division of labour.”
4. “The various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many different forms of ownership”. Can you give examples from recent times of different forms of ownership arising on the basis of changes in the division of labour?
5. Can you give examples of what Marx calls “the language of real life”?
6. Can you examples to show that “in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down”?
7. What roles does Marx assign to philosophy in the final paragraph of this section?

§ III. History: Fundamental Conditions

Questions for discussion:
1. What are the three “moments” of history, three fundamental conditions which Marx outlines at the beginning of this section, and what is the fourth?
2. “Language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well.” Can you explain “for that reason alone”?
3. What does Marx call thr first true division of labour?
4. Marx says that if consciousness conflicts with the existing social relations, this can only be because the existing social relations have come into conflict with the forces of production. Explain.

§ IV. Private Property and Communism

Terms: Exchange, Invisible Hand, Alienation, Communism, Market, Contradiction, Proletariat.

Questions for discussion:
1. What is the relation between property and division of labour? and in what way does Marx contradict the conception derived from day-to-day experience in bourgeois society?
2. “Communist society ... makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, ... just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic” How seriously can we take this? Isn't this the most extreme utopianism? What do you think?
3. Marx's remark in footnote 2 about struggles within the state being reflections of wider struggles; how does this fit with the idea of the state as an instrument of one class against another?
4. How does it happen that trade, which after all is nothing more than the exchange of products, rules the whole world?
5. “Individuals certainly make one another, physically and mentally, but do not make themselves.” What does this mean?
6. “Communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples 'all at once' and simultaneously” — is this possible? or does this not mean what it seems to mean?
7. “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” — what is the point that Marx is making here? And how is it consistent with the point about “real premises” at the start of this chapter?

Part B. The Illusion of the Epoch

Terms: Civil Society, State, Spirit,

Questions for discussion:
1. How can Marx refer to the state as “idealistic superstructure”?
2. What has “the history of communism proved.”?
3. In "Preconditions of Real Liberation": is this not a determinist or fatlist position? to say that liberation is impossible until the material conditions for a new mode of production are in existence?
4. “As far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with history, and as far as he considers history he is not a materialist.” Explain.
5. How does Marx prove that the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas of any epoch?
6. Exactly how can a class give its ideas the form of universality and why? and what is meant by “hegemony”?
7. Outlines the three steps by which an idealistic theory of history is created.

Part C. The Real Basis of Ideology

Questions for discussion:
1. Enumerate the difference stages in the development of the division of labour and productive forces that Marx mentions from the Middle Ages up to capitalism.
2. In what sense do these further extensions in the division of labour bring about a unification of productive forces?
3. What is meant by the separation of the state from civil society?
4. What is meant by the illusion that property is based on private will, and that law is based on general will?

Part D. Proletarians and Communism

Terms: Class, Bourgeoisie, Bourgeois Society, Individualism, Freedom, Communitarianism, Equality, Means of Production, Universal, Distribution.

Questions for discussion:
1. Can you describe the process by which, according to Marx, the bourgeois emerged as a class?
2. How does personal freedom develop, what is the relation between personal freedom and the community, and how does this differ from the liberal idea of this relation?
3. What contradiction does Marx see as the driving force in social development?
4. How does Marx explain that “consciousness can sometimes appear further advanced than the contemporary empirical relationships”, and why does this need explaining?
5. What is Marx's position on the role of force in history?
6. Can you give present-day illustrations of the productive forces appearing to have an independent existence?
7. “Modern universal intercourse can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all.” Explain. 8. Can you put in your own words teh four points which close this chapter on the possibility, necessity and specific charcter of the social revolution?

Andy Blunden, 2002