Gajo Petrović 1965


Robert C. Tucker: Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx

Source: Praxis, No. 1, 1965, pp. 122-126.
Transcribed: by Robert Stallaerts.

Robert C. Tucker: Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. Cambridge University Press, 1961, 263 pp.

It is usually too simple a procedure to divide a book into its “good” and “bad” sides. But there are books where such a procedure is justified, books which are so unequal and contradictory that the reviewer without falling into self-contradiction can both “praise” and “blame,” them. In my opinion Tucker’s Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx is a book of this kind. It has its successful parts where the author corrects certain widespread prejudices about Marx, but it also has parts which contribute to the generation of new misunderstandings.

Tucker sees very well that one should distinguish between Marx’s authentic Marxism and later Marxism; as the subject of his study he has chosen “Marx’s own Marxism — its pre-history in German philosophy before Marx, its genesis and evolution in Marx’s mind, and its basic meaning” (p. 11).

In discussing the prehistory and genesis of Marx’s thought Tucker rightly points out both the decisive importance of Hegel, and also Marx’s own originality even in his “Hegelian” phase. He also insists that after having suffered the influence of Feuerbach Marx did not simply reject Hegel. Feuerbach in fact “cured” Marx of his Hegelianism by giving him a life-long case of the disease, so that the new “anti-Hegelian” Marx was in a sense “more Hegelian than ever” (p, 97). In stressing the decisive importance of Hegel for the formation of Marx’s thought, Tucker does not diminish the impact of Feuerbach, and he emphasizes the often overlooked influence of Moses Hess.

In studying the evolution of Marx’s Own Marxism Tucker rightly maintains that there is “an underlying continuity of Marx’s thought from the early philosophical manuscripts to the later stage.” (p. 7), and he opposes the thesis that it is possible to discover two basically different Marxisms, even in the work of Marx himself. Accepting the division into “original” and “mature” Marxism, Tucker maintains that “the foundations of mature Marxism were laid in the act of creating original Marxism” (p. 167). In accordance with this he criticizes not only those who deny unity in Marx’s thought, but also those who like Herbert Marcuse assert that Marx’s early writings were “merely preliminary stages to his mature theory, stages that should not be overemphasized” (p, 168).

Through an analysis of the texts of Marx and Engels Tucker successfully shows that neither of them recognized the existence of two Marxisms and that Marx himself regarded his manuscripts of 1844 as the birthplace of mature Marxism (p. 170). A continuity connects Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Draft of the Criticism of Political Economy and Capital, so that Marx’s Capital is “ simply a farm in which he completed the book he started to write in his manuscripts of 1844. (p. 204). In stressing the unity of all the “economic” works of Marx, Tucker rightly criticizes the view that Marx was a political economist and asserts that Marx “always remained a critic of political economy” (p. 204). He also rejects the assumption that Marxism is “a scientific system of thought” (p. 12) and the view that Marx was the founder of “dialectical materialism conceived as a doctrine of nature separated from human history. According to Tucker dialectical materialism in this sense is “a development of the later, scholastic period of Marxism,” a period which to be sure began within the lifetime of Marx, but in the later writings of Engels, not in those of Marx.

Tucker regards self-alienation to be the central concept of original Marxism. Original Marxism presented history as a story of man’s self-alienation and ultimate transcendence of it in communism. (p. 188) Mature Marxism retells the tale in other words. “It remains however, essentially the same story (p, 188).

We can largely agree with the ideas summarized so far. One should mention however that these are not the original thoughts of Tucker although he expresses s them in his own way. They show that he agrees with a number of contemporary thinkers who in recent decades have revolted against the misinterpretation of Marx’s thought in Stalinism, and returned to Marx himself in an attempt to rediscover his authentic thought. There have been relatively few such endeavours in the English speaking area so far (although some that there have been are very important, such as those of E. Fromm). Thus the authentic thought of Marx is still insufficiently known there. Through emphasizing certain of the basic truths about Mans thought, Tucker’s book can therefore still play a positive role in the English speaking countries.

However the ideas presented above represent only the first step towards an understanding of authentic Marxism. This is not to say that Tucker does not take more than the first step. Going boldly into further analysis, he even achieves a considerable degree of originality; unfortunately just where he is most original, he is also weakest.

In the section on German classical idealism Tucker shows a tendency to a doubtful psychoanalytic approach in historico-philosophical analysis. He maintains that Kent’s philosophy “identified the neurotic personality as the normal mama (p. 38). In a reinforced form the same criticism its directed at Hegel. According to Tucker Hegelianism is an anti-Christian “religion of self-worship” and a “colosal embodiment and rationalization of pride” (p. 43). Solipsism is for Hegel “the philosophical goal and ideal” (p. 54), and knowledge is for him “aggrandizement of the self through aggression against the object” (p. 61), an “acquisitive process” through which the greedy knowing self appropriates all the world forms as its private property (p. 62). The generic tendency of man according to Hegel as interpreted by Tucker is megalomania (p. 66) !

Feuerbach’s opposition to religion is regarded by Tucker as “more anti-Hegelian that anti-Christian.” Hegelianism is “a philosophical and religious affirmation of pride,” whereas Feverbach’s philosophy, despite its apparent atheism, “contains elements of a critique of pride” (pp, 93-94). According to Tucker Marx followed Feuerbach in such an anti-pride orientation. Perhaps the essential difference between Marx and Hegel can be most clearly seen in their attitude towards the acquisitive drive “For Hegel the appropriation of the world cognitively as property of the ego is the way in which the spirit’s self-alienation is overcome and freedom is achieved. For Marx it is just the reverse. The acquisitive striving is the force that turns man’s creative activity into compulsive alienated labour and depersonalizes him. It is the ground and source of his alienation from himself.” (p. 143).

The supreme concern and the central theme of Marx’s thought was always man’s self-alienation and its transcendence. In this Marx was “very modern and in advance of his time” (p. 238). But how did Marx conceive self-alienation? In reminding us that ,,alienation” is “an ancient psychiatric term meaning loss of personal identity or the feeling of personal identity” (p. 144), Tucker maintains that Marx used this term exactly in this psychological-psychiatric sense. The process of self-alienation, as described by Marx, is according to Tucker “a recognizably psychiatric phenomenon, a sickness of the self” (p. 144).

Although at first he generally maintains that Marx conceived alienation as a psychological, or psychiatric tear Tucker later corrects himself in making a difference in this connection between “original” and “mature” Marxism. Whereas original Marxism interpreted alienation psychologically, the conflict of the alienated man with himself later became the conflict between “work” and “capital.” “Self-alienation was projected as a social phenomenon, and Marx’s psychological system turned into his apparently sociological mature one” (p. 175).

This change of system is especially reflected in that the “mature” Marx does not speak about self-alienation any more. But this does not mean that the content of the idea disappeared. Self-alienation was merely transformed into a social relation of production and got a new name. The “division of labour” became “the comprehensive category of mature Marxism corresponding to the category ,,self-alienation” in original Marxism” (p. 185). After 1844. Marx “read the division of labour as alienation. That is, he found the same meaning in the division of labour that he had preciously found in the idea of alienation” (p. 188). In trying to substantiate this assertion, Tucker observes:

In fact, all the symptoms that Marx had previously treated under the heading of “alienation” are now attributed to the disease of division of labour” (p. 190).

The picture of alienation painted by the young Marx is extremely highly valued by Tucker: “No work of literature or psychiatry known to this writer has portrayed with comparable descriptive power the destructive and dehumanizing essence of the neurotic process of self-alienation” (p: 215). But Marx’s decision to treat self-alienation as being, for all practical purposes, a social-relation of man to man, a decision allegedly made in 1844, is regarded by Tucker as “fateful” (p. 215). Thorough this decision Marx turned from philosophy to myth. From now an he represented the “internal Inferno” in the alienated- man as an “external Inferno” in society (p. 226).

Tucker thinks that according to his inner nature alienation is neither a fact of religion, nor a fact of political economy. “Inherently or in itself it is a fact of the life of the self, i. e. a spiritual or, as we say today, psychological fact.... No matter how many individual men may belong to this category it is always an individual matter” (pp. 239, 240). Therefore alienation can not be overcome through social action, especially not through violent action, but only by a “moral revolution” in the individual, “a revolution within the self” (p. 241).

Tucker holds that Marx was originally within reach of the insight that alienation is essentially a fact of individual psychology. This is seen from his assertion of 1845. that man alienates himself from himself when he produces under the pressure of an “egoistic need.” But Marx “failed to trace this egoism to its real source within the personality of the alienated individual himself,” and this is why he also failed to understand that “it is only there, and by the individual’s own moral effort, that the egoism can be undone and the revolutionary “change of self” achieved” (p. 240).

However not only did Marx not arrive at an adequate understanding of means for transcending alienation. In a very important sense, his whole system represented a flight from it. “Magnifying the problem to the proportions of humanity in general, Marx exempted alienated man in particular from all moral responsibility for striving to change himself. Self-change was to be reached by a revolutionary praxis that would alter external circumstances, and the war of the self was to be won through transference of hostilities to the field of relations between man and man. Men were told, in effect, that violence against other men was the only possible means by which they themselves could become new men. Not moral orientation but escape was the burden of this message. Marx created in Marxism gospel of transcendence of alienation by other means than those which alone can encompass the end, a solution that evades the solution, a pseudo-solution” (p. 241).

We cannot here enter into a discussion of all details of Tucker’s interpretation and evaluation of Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx. But we must say something at least about his main interpretative thesis that the “original” Marx conceived alienation as a “psychological,” and the “mature” Marx as a “social” fact, as well as about his basic belief that alienation was a fact of individual psychology which can be overcome only at an individual psychological level, through the personal moral efforts of individuals.

First of all it is an untenable view that the young Marx up to 1844. conceived alienation as a fact of individual psychology. In his essay “Toward the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right to mention just one example, Marx says that man is “no abstract being, squatting outside the world” that he is “the world of man, the state, society,” and in accord with this he maintains that the task of philosophy, “once the saintly form of human self-alienation has been unmasked, is to unmask self-alienation in its unholy forms.” As such “unholy” forms, “law” and “politics,” consequently certain forms of man’s social life are mentioned. In the same essay Marx maintains that man’s alienation cannot be abolished through philosophical criticism only, because the weapon of criticism cannot be a substitute for the criticism of weapons, and material force can be overthrown by material force only. As such a material force Marx in the same essay discovered the proletariat, and he proclaimed that the head of man’s emancipation is philosophy and its heart the proletariat. How one can maintain then that Marx at that time conceives alienation and de-alienation as individual psychological phenomena which can exist only at an individual-psychological level?

It would be odd to the point of actually being ridiculous to maintain that Marx conceived alienation as a fact of psychology, psychopathology, or psychiatry in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Tucker is himself obviously aware of this when he observes that the lever of the metamorphosis of the psychological conception of alienation into a socially interpreted division of labour should be sought in “Marx’s decision in the manuscripts of 1844 to treat man’s self-alienation as a social relation between the working man and another man outside him” (p. 185). However what appears to Tucker as a special decision taken in 1844, is only one of the aspects of Marx’s conception of alienation which had been developed in the Manuscripts, a conception according to which self-alienation is not only (and not in the first place) either a “psychological” or a “sociological” category, but is first and foremost a category of general philosophy, a category of “ontology” and “anthropology.” Self-alienation as it is analysed by Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts is something which can occur and actually does occur both with the individual man and with society, and not only with the “psychological” aspect of man’s life, but also with all the rest of them, with man as an integral being. This is why Marx even in this period does not see the road towards de-alienation either in an “internal moral rebirth of individuals, or merely in a social action changing “external circumstances,” but in a simultaneous “internal” and “external” revolutionary transformation, in a revolutionary praxis the essence of which is (as he observes in his third thesis on Feuerbach) in the coinciding change of circumstances and self-change.

The decisive message of the whole work of the “young” Marx is that the revolutionary change of inhuman “ external circumstances” is impossible without “inner” free, humane personalities which are ready to fight for such a change, and the full afflorescence of free personalities is impossible without a resolute change of inhuman social “ circumstances.” The “mature” Marx remained faithful to his “ original” viewpoint. The thesis that Marx originally conceived alienation psychologically is also unfounded, and thus the thesis that the mature Marx conceived alienation as an exclusively social fact is artificially constructed. The thesis that “division of labour” means for the mature Marx the same thing as self-alienation for the “original” Marx is in particular wrong. Neither for the “young” nor for the “old” Marx were self-alienation and division of labour the same thing, but the division of labour is one of the forms and expressions of man’s self-alienation, that form which characterizes the sphere of work (and this is however merely one of the spheres in which self-alienated man exists). Tucker says rightly that Marx ascribes to the division of labour all those characteristics which in other places, in his early writings, he ascribes to alienation. But it does not follow from this that self-alienation and division of labour are one and the same. It only means that division of labour as one of the forms of self-alienation, has all the general characteristics of self-alienation.

All Tucker’s objections directed against Marx’s alleged reduction of the problem of de-alienation to the problem of the “external” circumstances, are unjustified for the simple reason that Marx never reduced the problem in such a way. On the contrary one could rightly object that Tucker in his insistence on the “moral revolution” and inner change” as something which can be achieved quite independently from social “revolution” and from “external changes” does not oppose to Marx a “higher” and “profounder” conception, but only one variant of those one-sided, essentially conservative, and even reactionary conceptions which Marx knew, had in mind and in his work transcended.

When he ascribes to the “mature” Marx the conception of alienation as a social phenomenon, and appropriates to himself — a consistent development of the vague anticipation of the young Marx about alienation as a psychopathological phenomenon which can be abolished only through an internal moral change, Tucker in fact ascribes to Marx a caricature of one element or aspect of his integral conception, and appropriates to himself a caricatured form of another. However Marx’s conception is in neither of the two aspects (and especially not in their caricatures), and it is not even a synthesis of them. Alienation and de-alienation are for Marx primarily neither psychological, nor sociological phenomena, they are ontologico-anthropological. That philosophical angle of approach which is in-dispensable to see the phenomenon of alienation in the right way obviously remained strange and inaccessible to Tucker. Therefore, in rejecting the classification of Marx among “economists” and “scientists” he does not know where to place him; so he counts him among “moralists,” more specifically among the “moralists of a religious kind” (p. 21).

A choice between objective science and subjective morals seems unavoidable to those who do not understand the essence of philosophy as an activity through which the opposition between “science” and “morals,” between a mere factual “is” and unfounded evaluative “ought” is transcended and abolished.