The Logical Influence of Hegel on Marx. Rebecca Cooper 1925


Hegel’s influence on both the content and the terminology of the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels has indeed been so profound that a thorough understanding of these works may be said to presuppose an understanding of this relationship. Especially the terminology of the Marxists becomes intelligible only when approached through its Hegelian origin. Nevertheless, it is very easy for students of philosophy with some knowledge of Hegel to gain by a superficial reading of Marx an exaggerated and false impression that Hegel’s influence was dominant. Leaving aside what is original in the theory, it is wise to bear in mind that there are a number of other and non-Hegelian contributing factors of very great importance. Though it is the purpose of this study to investigate in detail only the Hegelian influence, some brief mention of these others seems necessary to a more accurate estimate of the one which is our chief concern.

There are in the first place a number of historical events which affected greatly both the Marxist economics proper, and the more general theory of historical materialism. These events were all revolutionary in character, and include the following of particular importance in this connection: the Indus-trial Revolution, the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, and the Commune of Paris.

The chief intellectual influences may be listed as follows: (1) the Utopian socialists, including the Frenchmen, Saint Simon and Fourier, and the English-man, Robert Owen; (2) the economists of the Manchester school, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, together with their precursors and their immediate followers; (3) that modification of the philosophy of Hegel himself, represented by the Left Movement of the Young Hegelians, in which connection the name of Feuerbach is outstanding.

Of the historical influences on the development of the Marxist theory, it may be said in general that the period in which the authors lived was peculiarly auspicious- for the birth of a revolutionary social philosophy. It was at the time when all the great revolutions of the early modern period were taking place, or had taken place recently enough to impress themselves strongly upon any careful social scientific study. The effects of the great Industrial Revolution were just being felt and well understood in continental Europe, and were a splendid source for Marx’s researches and generalizations regarding the concentration of capital, the displacement of workers by machinery and the growth of the “industrial reserve army,” the increasing (relative) misery of the proletariat, and the revolutionary spirit thereby engendered, and the entire matter of the disposal of surplus goods, involving the mad hunt for colonial markets with the inevitable result in world-wide imperialistic wars.

The French Revolution, though not such ancient history as to have lost its vital interest, was sufficiently distant in time to admit of accurate interpretation on the basis of subsequent developments. Marx was the first to elaborate the theory (since become the accepted view of all recognized historians) that the French Revolution was a typical bourgeois revolution, the two opposing classes being the old privileged caste and the new bourgeoisie, which had been chafing under the restraints imposed on business by the worn out institutions of the monarchy. The bourgeoisie won out completely, and the workers who did their fighting for them received the very doubtful reward of becoming the “free” wage slaves the capitalist class thus established. From this event Marx and Engels derived much of their theory of social revolutions, as well as their estimation of political democracy of the bourgeois type, popularized by the famous slogan, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” In the revolutions of 1848, the Marxists were made aware of the power and tenacity of resistance on the part of the old ruling class (exemplified in the strong stand of Metternich), and of the character of the needs and revolutionary expression of the proletariat as manifested by their participation in this highly confused, but essentially capitalistic revolutionary period. From the valiant, but abortive, proletarian revolution known as the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels obtained much of their theory of the role and function of the state as an oppressive organ belonging to the class in power, and the consequent attitude of the revolutionary proletariat toward it.

Marx was not a socialist when he left college after completing his work for the degree of doctor of philosophy. His opinions were rather those of the radical bourgeoisie. However, he became interested in the socialist doctrines to which his editorship of the Rhenische Zeitung exposed him. He therefore left Germany and went to Paris with the definite purpose, apparently, of familiarizing himself with socialist theories. He then studied the Utopian socialists with whom Engels was already familiar. The contributions of these Utopian socialists are listed by Engels as follows:[1] Saint Simon had a sophisticated view of the effect of economic conditions on historical events, and was probably the first to suggest the interpretation of the French Revolution as a strictly class-war; he held also that politics is the science of production. Fourier contributed chiefly a very acute criticism of the capitalist system; he pointed out its contradictory nature, and referred especially to the conflict resulting from an attempt to solve these contradictions, the result of which is that “under civilization poverty is born of superabundance.” Owen strongly hinted at the labor theory of value and the theory of surplus value when he expressed the view in common sense language that the difference between that which labor produces and that which it receives goes to the rich to pay their dividends and interest. Owen conceived the idea also of the measurement of value by the hours of work. And he came very close to an important principle of historical materialism when he maintained that communism could rest only on the foundation of machine production.

Of the English economists it is necessary to mention only Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the two foremost writers of the Manchester school, in whose doctrines are embodied all the important principles of their predecessors (though the Marxists made a thorough investigation of these original sources). The Manchester economists are famous for having propounded the highly revolutionary doctrine that there are natural economic as well as natural physical laws. Their most important economic law is that of the exchange of equivalents, from which follow certain principles very helpful to the free development of the rising young capitalist system. For example, the idea of mutual benefit through free trade took the place of the antiquated doctrines of the Merchantilists. The advocates of the principle of laissez faire in general found support for their views in the doctrine that economic laws govern the economic side of life, and there is therefore no danger of the confusion of anarchy. Whether the theory of social laws as contained in the Marxist system was de-rived from the Manchester economists, or from the philosophy of Hegel, is immaterial – it is sufficient to notice that it might have come from either source, and was probably taken partly from each, although it is certain that from Hegel was gleaned the principle of social laws governing social development and change over a period of time. The great contribution, however, of the Manchester school to the Marxist system of economics was the labor theory of value. Not only was it explained by these early economists that only value , equivalents can exchange for each other, but it was further argued that the basis for this equivalence, or of exchange value, is the labor required for the production of the commodities concerned. Of Marx’s indebtedness to Ricardo and Adam Smith for the labor theory of value there can be no doubt. He acknowledged it himself, and the character of his work makes it possible to refer to him as the last great follower of the Classical school, in whom the tendencies of this movement were carried to their logical conclusion, with the result that they reached a climax and developed into something new. And it was through Marx rather than through Mill that the labor theory of value, the most important and characteristic feature of the Manchestrian economics, was preserved and developed.

Since my entire problem consists of an attempt to discover the extent and character of the influence of Hegel’s philosophy on the Marxist social and economic theories, it will be interesting, and sufficient, at this point, to note some of the estimates of that influence made by the Marxists themselves, and by the more prominent authorities, both anti and pro-Marxist. It may be mentioned in passing that though the opinions of these latter are usually stated authoritatively enough, little proof, or even argument, is adduced in support of them.

The most illuminating judgment of all is contained in the preface to Capital. Marx here explains as follows: “My dialectical method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the ‘human brain, that is, the process of thinking, which under the name of ‘the Idea, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the’ real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of the Idea’. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

“The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of Das Kapital it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant mediocrities who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in the same way as the brave Moses Mendelsohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, that is, as a ‘dead dog’. I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being 1 the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”[2]

Engels, too, has some very penetrating views to offer on the subject. In Socialism, Utopian and Scientific[3] he says: “Hegel had freed history from metaphysics – he made it dialectic; but now idealism was driven from its last refuge, the philosophy of history; now a materialistic treatment of history propounded, and a method found of explaining man’s ‘knowing’ by his ‘being’, instead of, as heretofore, his ‘being’ by his ‘knowing’.” “Therefore,” he says in another work, “the dialectic of Hegel was turned upside down, or rather it was placed upon its feet instead of on its head, where it was standing before. And this materialistic dialectic which since that time has been our best tool and our sharpest weapon was discovered.”[4]

With this view of the matter all pro-Marxist scholars have inclined to agree. Thus we find Spargo[5] merely paraphrases these and similar statements. Labriola goes more deeply into the subject, treating the relationship from the point of view of an Hegelian (of the Left) as an all-important link in the dialectic movement of social thought.[6]

Seligman[7], Salter[8], Bonar[9], and Beer[10] are all non-Marxists, but they have expressed, or implied, full agreement with the judgment of the Marxists. Seligman and Bonar, especially, do little beyond paraphrasing and quoting from Marx and Engels, while Salter, and still more, Beer, make some attempt to estimate the contributions of Hegel, and to compare them with other intellectual and historical influences. For example, Beer makes this acute summary statement: “Marx was led to interpret these events” – that is, the French Revolution and the English Industrial Revolution – “in this way, and to make them the basis of his conception of history chiefly through the influence of Hegel, Ricardo, and the English anti-capitalist school following upon Ricardo. To the end of his life he clung to the opinion that dialectic, as Hegel formulated it, was indeed mystical, but, when materialistically conceived, contains the laws of the ‘ movement of society.”[11]

Another more doubtful, but more interesting type of Marxist criticism consists in attributing alleged errors in this system to an Hegelian origin. Thus Simkhovitch and Böhm-Bawerk in a rather general way attribute the “fallacies” of the Marxist analysis and general method to its relationship with the philosophy of Hegel. Simkhovitch for example, makes the statement that “to Engels this dialectic method was a fetish,” and attempts further to identify the revolutionary thought of the Marxists with the dialectical movement of Hegel’s logic, which proceeds by means of negations and negations of the negation.[12] Böhm-Bawerk, beyond a doubt the most original and capable adversary of Marxism, may well be quoted more fully, because he represents at its best this type of criticism: “Herein lies, I believe, the Alpha and Omega of all that is fallacious, contradictory, and vague in the treatment of his subject by Marx. His system is not in close touch with facts. Marx has not deduced from facts the fundamental principles of his system, either by means of a sound empiricism, or a solid economico-psychological analysis, but he founds it on no firmer ground than a formal dialectic. This is the radical fault of the Marxist system at its birth; from it all the rest necessarily springs.”[13] He further compares and estimates Hegel and Marx at the same time: “Marx, however, will maintain a permanent place in the history of social sciences for the same reasons and with the same mixture of positive and negative merits as his prototype, Hegel. Both of them – were philosophical geniuses Both of them, each in his own domain, had an enormous influence upon the thought and feeling of whole generations, one might almost say, even upon the spirit of the age. The specific theoretical work of each was a most ingeniously conceived structure, built up by a magical power of combination of numerous stories of thought, held together by a marvelous mental grasp, but, – a house of cards.”[14]

Three other critics, who share this attitude in a general way but apply it more particularly to one specific phase (at the present time the most vital phase) of the Marxist theory are Veblen, Skelton, and Bernstein. They agree in ascribing to a purely abstract, dialectical basis, the Marxist prognostication of a future state of communism. Thus, in each may be found the same idea, variously, but always cleverly, expressed. Veblen puts it this way: “To Marx, the neo-Hegelian ... the goal of the life-history of the race in a large way controls the course of that life-history in all its phases, including the phase of capitalism. This goal or end, which controls the process of human development, is the complete realization of life in all its fullness, and the realization is to be reached by a process analogous to the three-phase dialectic, of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, into which scheme the capitalistic system with its overflowing measure of misery and degradation, fits as the last and most dreadful phase of antithesis. Marx as a Hegelian is necessarily an optimist and the evil (antithetical element) in life is to him a logically necessary phase of the dialectic; and is a means to the consummation, as the antithesis is a means to the synthesis.”[15]

The statement of Bernstein, the great Revisionist, to the same effect is a fine example of an erroneous argument most convincingly expressed: Marx “retained in principle the Hegelian dialectical method, of which he said that;n order to be rationally employed it must be ‘turned upside down’, that is, put upon a materialist basis. But as a matter of fact he has in many respects contravened against this prescription. Strict materialist dialectics cannot conclude much beyond actual facts. Dialectical materialism is revolutionary in the sense that it recognizes no finality, but otherwise it is necessarily positivist in the general meaning of the term. But Marx’s opposition to modern society was fundamental and revolutionary (...) And here we come to the main and fatal contradiction of his work. He wanted to proceed (...) scientifically. Nothing was to be deduced from pre-conceived ideas; (...) And yet the final conclusion of the work, is a pre-conceived idea; it is the announcement of a state of society logically opposed to the given one. Imperceptibly the dialectical movement of ideas is substituted for the dialectical movement of facts.”[16]

And finally Skelton’s statement may be given as an excellent sample of the sort of popular, highly rhetorical, but manifestly unproven criticism to which the Marxists have from the first been subject: “One ray of light pierces the gloom of the class-struggle doctrine. The present conflict is to be the last, the victorious proletariat will have no inferior to oppress, and will usher in a class-less commonwealth, where the wicked will cease from troubling and the fighters be at rest. This eschatological side of the Marxist theory is, in all probability, not so much a theological echo as yet another illustration of Hegelian influence, the final cessation of class struggle being a deduction from the Hegelian postulate of the final reconcilement of the dialectic conflict in the attainment of an absolute synthesis. Only the teleological optimism of the Hegelian formula can explain Marx’s assumption that the clash of classes would lead, not to chaos and relapse to lower levels, as has happened before in the world’s history, but to the triumph of the oppressed and living happy ever after in classless Eden.”[17]

Of all the non-Marxist critics, however, Croce presents the most unusual interpretation – an interpretation which brings into light an all too neglected point, namely, the freedom with which Marx and Engels applied the dialectical principles on which it is alleged they were so dependent for their theory. Several pas-sages from Croce in this connection are well worth quoting: “ (...) the link between the two views” – of Hegel and Marx – “seems to me to be, in the main simply psychological. Hegelianism was the early inspiration of the youthful Marx, and it is natural that every one should link up the new ideas with the old as a development, an amendment, an antithesis. As to the Hegelian dialectic of concepts, it seems to me to bear a purely external and approximate re-semblance to the historical notion of economic eras and of the antithetical conditions of society.”[18] Farther along in his book, Croce says: “Then, too, there is the Hegelian phraseology beloved by Marx, of which the tradition is now lost, and which, even within that tradition he adapted with a freedom that at times seems not to lack an element of mockery.”[19]

It will be necessary to state my own conclusion here only very briefly. It agrees in general with the judgment of Marx and Engels, tempered, however, by a tendency to agree also with that of Croce that the relationship is merely psychological, rather than fundamentally logical. It seems to me that the system as it was presented by its authors is really related to Hegel in the way that they held, and therefore admits of quite a detailed comparison. However, it seems to me, too, that the main points of Marxism can, without serious alteration; be entirely divorced from the Hegelian logic, phraseology, and general method. It is necessary to bear in mind the distinction between the actual connection, with the system as originally presented, and the necessary connection, with the system as consisting of certain fundamental principles which are independent of the mode of statement employed by the Hegelian trained Marx and Engels. I am concerned in this study to discover in detail the actual connection, and I shall give only a brief suggestion of the possibility of a separation which shall leave the Marxist system intact.