[Book] The Revolutionary philosophy of Marxism

Fundamental Problems of Marxism (Excerpts)

Georgi Plekhanov

1907

In his last major work, the “Father of Russian Marxism” elaborates on the origins, genesis, and explanatory power of dialectical and historical materialism. Written for the 25th anniversary of Marx’s death, it was published as a pamphlet in 1908. As most readers will know, Plekhanov subsequently moved to the right and joined the reaction against the Bolshevik Revolution. Nonetheless, his earlier defense and explanation of Marx and Engels’s intellectual and philosophical development remains of great interest to this day.

 

Marxism is an integral world outlook. Expressed in a nutshell, it is contemporary materialism, at present the highest stage in the development of that view upon the world whose foundations were laid down in ancient Greece by Democritus, and in part by the Ionian thinkers who preceded that philosopher. What was known as hylozoism was nothing but a naïve materialism. It is to Karl Marx and his friend, Friedrich Engels, that the main credit for the development of present-day materialism must no doubt go. The historical and economic aspects of this world outlook, that is, what is known as historical materialism, and the closely related sum of views on the tasks, method, and categories of political economy, and on the economic development of society, especially capitalist society, are in their fundamentals almost entirely the work of Marx and Engels. That which was introduced into these fields by their precursors should be regarded merely as the preparatory work of amassing material, often copious and valuable, but not as yet systematized or illuminated by a single fundamental idea, and therefore not appraised or utilized in its real significance.

What Marx and Engels’s followers in Europe and America have done in these fields is merely a more or less successful elaboration of specific problems, sometimes, it is true, of the utmost importance. That is why the term “Marxism” is often used to signify only these two aspects of the present-day materialist world outlook not only among the “general public,” which has not yet achieved a deep understanding of philosophical theories, but even among people, both in Russia and the entire civilized world, who consider themselves faithful followers of Marx and Engels. In such cases these two aspects are looked upon as something independent of “philosophical materialism,” and at times as something almost opposed to it. And since these two aspects cannot but hang in midair when arbitrarily they are torn out of the general context of cognate views constituting their theoretical foundation, those who perform that tearing-out operation naturally feel an urge to “substantiate Marxism” anew by joining it—again quite arbitrarily and most frequently under the influence of philosophical moods prevalent at the time among ideologists of the bourgeoisie—with some philosopher or another: with Kant, Mach, Avenarius, or Ostwald, and of late with Joseph Dietzgen. True, the philosophical views of J. Dietzgen have arisen quite independently of bourgeois influences and are in considerable measure related to the philosophical views of Marx and Engels. The latter views, however, possess an incomparably more consistent and rich content, and for that reason alone cannot be supplemented by Dietzgen’s teachings but can only be popularized by them. No attempts have yet been made to “supplement Marx” with Thomas Aquinas. It is, however, quite feasible that, despite the Pope’s recent encyclical against the Modernists, the Catholic world will at some time produce from its midst a thinker capable of performing this feat in the sphere of theory.

I. Philosophical Writings of Marx and Engels

Attempts to show that Marxism must be “supplemented” by one philosopher or another are usually backed up with reference to the fact that Marx and Engels did not anywhere set forth their philosophical views. This reasoning is hardly convincing, however, apart from the consideration that, even if these views were indeed not set forth anywhere, that could provide no logical reason to have them replaced by the views of any random thinker who, in the main, holds an entirely different point of view. It should be remembered that we have sufficient literary material at our disposal to form a correct idea of the philosophical views of Marx and Engels.

In their final shape, these views were fairly fully set forth, although in a polemical form, in the first part of Engels’s book Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science [Anti-Dühring] (of which there are several Russian translations). Then there is a splendid booklet by the same author, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (which I have translated into Russian and supplied with a preface and explanatory notes), in which the views constituting the philosophical foundation of Marxism are expounded in a positive form. A brief but vivid account of the same views, related to agnosticism, was given by Engels in his preface to the English translation of the pamphlet The Development of Scientific Socialism. As for Marx, I will mention as important for an understanding of the philosophical aspect of his teachings, in the first place, the characterization of the materialist dialectic—as distinct from Hegel’s idealist dialectic—given in the preface to Volume I of Capital, and, secondly, the numerous remarks made en passant in the same volume. Also significant in certain respects are some of the pages in The Poverty of Philosophy (which has been translated into Russian). Finally, the process of the development of Marx and Engels’s philosophical views is revealed with sufficient clarity in their early writings, republished by Franz Mehring under the title of From the Literary Remains of Karl Marx (Stuttgart, 1902).

In his doctoral dissertation “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature,” as well as in several articles republished by Mehring in Volume I of the publication just mentioned, the young Marx appears before us as an idealist pur sang [of pure blood] of the Hegelian school. However, in the articles which have now been included in the same volume, and which first appeared in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbüchern [Franco-German Annals], Marx—like Engels, who also collaborated in the Annals—was a firm adherent of Feuerbachian “humanism.”[1] The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism, which appeared in 1845 and has been republished in Volume II of the Mehring publication, shows us our two authors, that is, both Marx and Engels, as having made several important steps in the further development of Feuerbach’s philosophy. The direction they gave to this elaboration can be seen from the eleven “Theses on Feuerbach” written by Marx in the spring of 1845, and published by Engels as an appendix to the aforementioned pamphlet, Ludwig Feuerbach. In short, there is no lack of material here; the only thing needed is the ability to make use of it, that is, the need to have the proper training for its understanding. Present-day readers, however, do not have the training required for that understanding, and consequently do not know how to make use of it.

Why is that so? For a variety of reasons. One of the principal reasons is that nowadays there is, in the first place, little knowledge of Hegelian philosophy, without which it is difficult to learn Marx’s method, and, in the second place, little knowledge of the history of materialism, the absence of which does not permit present-day readers to form a clear idea of the doctrine of Feuerbach, who was Marx’s immediate precursor in the field of philosophy, and who in considerable measure worked out the philosophical foundation of what can be called the world outlook of Marx and Engels.

Nowadays Feuerbach’s “humanism” is usually described as something very vague and indefinite. F.A. Lange, who has done so much to spread, both among the “general public” and in the learned world, an absolutely false view of the essence of materialism and of its history, refused to recognize Feuerbach’s “humanism” as a materialist teaching. Lange’s example is being followed, in this respect, by almost all who have written on Feuerbach in Russia and other countries. P.A. Berlin, too, seems to have been affected by this influence, since he depicts Feuerbach’s “humanism” as a kind of materialism that is not quite “pure.” I must admit that I do not know for certain how this question is regarded by Franz Mehring, whose knowledge of philosophy is the best, and probably unique, among German Social Democrats. But it is perfectly clear to me that it was the materialist that Marx and Engels saw in Feuerbach. True, Engels speaks of Feuerbach’s inconsistency, but that does not in the least prevent him from recognizing the fundamental propositions of his philosophy as purely materialist.[2] But then these propositions cannot be viewed otherwise by anybody who has gone to the trouble of making a study of them.

II. Feuerbach and Marx

I am well aware that in saying all this I risk surprising very many of my readers. I am not afraid to do so; the ancient thinker was right in saying that astonishment is the mother of philosophy. For the reader not to remain at the stage, so to say, of astonishment, I shall first of all recommend that he ask himself what Feuerbach meant when, while giving a terse but vivid outline of his philosophical curriculum vitae, he wrote, “God was my first thought, Reason the second, and Man the third and last thought.” I contend that this question is conclusively answered in the following meaningful words of Feuerbach himself:

In the controversy between materialism and spiritualism … the human head is under discussion … once we have learned what kind of matter the brain is made up of, we shall soon arrive at a clear view upon all other matter as well, matter in general.

Elsewhere he says that his “anthropology,” that is, his “humanism,” merely means that man takes for God that which is his own essence, his own spirit. He goes on to say that Descartes did not eschew this “anthropological” point of view. How is all this to be understood? It means that Feuerbach made “Man” the point of departure of his philosophical reasoning only because it was from that point of departure that he hoped the sooner to achieve his aim—to bring forth a correct view upon matter in general and its relation to the “spirit.” Consequently, what we have here is a methodological device, whose value was conditioned by circumstances of time and place, that is, by the thinking habits of the learned, or simply educated, Germans of the time,[3] and not by any specificity of world outlook.4

The above quotation from Feuerbach regarding the “human head” shows that when he wrote these words the problem of “the kind of matter the brain is made up of” was solved by him in a “purely” materialistic sense. This solution was also accepted by Marx and Engels. It provided the foundation of their own philosophy, as can be seen with the utmost clarity from Engels’s works, so often quoted here—Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Dühring. That is why we must make a closer study of this solution; in doing so, we shall at the same time be studying the philosophical aspect of Marxism.

In an article entitled “Provisional Theses for the Reform of Philosophy,” which came out in 1842 and, judging by the facts, had a strong influence on Marx, Feuerbach said that “the real relation of thinking to being is only as follows: being is the subject; thinking, the predicate. Thinking is conditioned by being, and not being by thinking. Being is conditioned by itself … has its foundation in itself.”

This view on the relation of being to thinking, which Marx and Engels made the foundation of the materialistic explanation of history, is a most important outcome of the criticism of Hegel’s idealism already completed in its main features by Feuerbach, a criticism whose conclusions can be set forth in a few words.

Feuerbach considered that Hegel’s philosophy had removed the contradiction between being and thinking, a contradiction that had expressed itself in striking relief in Kant. However, as Feuerbach thought, it removed that contradiction, while continuing to remain within the latter, that is, within one of its elements, namely, thinking. With Hegel, thinking is being: “Thinking is the subject; being, the predicate.” It follows that Hegel, and idealism in general, eliminated the contradiction only by removing one of its component elements, that is, being, matter, nature. However, removing one of the component elements in a contradiction does not at all mean doing away with that contradiction. “Hegel’s doctrine that reality is ‘postulated’ by the Idea is merely a translation into rationalistic terms of the theological doctrine that Nature was created by God—and reality, matter, by an abstract, nonmaterial being.” This applies not only to Hegel’s absolute idealism. Kant’s transcendental idealism, according to which the external world receives its laws from Reason instead of Reason receiving them from the external world, is closely akin to the theological concept that the world’s laws were dictated to it by the divine Reason. Idealism does not establish the unity of being and thinking, nor can it do so; it tears that unity asunder.

Idealistic philosophy’s point of departure—the “I” as the fundamental philosophical principle—is totally erroneous. It is not the “I” that must be the starting point of genuine philosophy, but the “I” and the “you.” It is such a point of departure that makes it possible to arrive at a proper understanding of the relation between thinking and being, between the subject and the object. I am “I” to myself, and at the same time I am “you” to others. The “I” is the subject, and at the same time the object. It must at the same time be noted that I am not the abstract being idealistic philosophy operates with. I am an actual being; my body belongs to my essence; moreover, my body, as a whole, is my I, my genuine essence. It is not an abstract being that thinks, but this actual being, this body. Thus, contrary to what the idealists assert, an actual and material being proves to be the subject; and thinking, the predicate. Herein lies the only possible solution of the contradiction between being and thinking, a contradiction that idealism sought so vainly to resolve. None of the elements in the contradiction is removed; both are preserved, revealing their real unity. “That which to me, or subjectively, is a purely spiritual, nonmaterial and nonsensuous act is in itself an objective, material, and sensuous act.”

Note that in saying this, Feuerbach stands close to Spinoza, whose philosophy he was already setting forth with great sympathy at the time his own breakaway from idealism was taking shape, that is, when he was writing his history of modern philosophy.[5] In 1843 he made the subtle observation, in his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, that pantheism is a theological materialism, a negation of theology but as yet on a theological standpoint. This confusion of materialism and theology constituted Spinoza’s inconsistency, which, however, did not prevent him from providing a “correct—at least for his time—philosophical expression for the materialist trend of modern times.” That was why Feuerbach called Spinoza “the Moses of the modern free-thinkers and materialists.” In 1847 Feuerbach asked: “What then, under careful examination, is that which Spinoza calls Substance, in terms of logics or metaphysics, and God in terms of theology?” To this question he replied categorically, “Nothing else but Nature.” He saw Spinozism’s main shortcoming in the fact that “in it the sensible, antitheological essence of Nature assumes the aspect of an abstract, metaphysical being.” Spinoza eliminated the dualism of God and Nature, since he declared that the acts of Nature were those of God. However, it was just because he regarded the acts of Nature to be those of God, that the latter remained, with Spinoza, a being distinct from Nature, but forming its foundation. He regarded God as the subject and Nature as the predicate. A philosophy that has completely liberated itself from theological traditions must remove this important shortcoming in Spinoza’s philosophy, which in its essence is sound. “Away with this contradiction!” Feuerbach exclaimed. “Not Deus sive Natura [God or Nature] but aut Deus aut Natura [either God or Nature] is the watchword of Truth.”

Thus, Feuerbach’s “humanism” proved to be nothing else but Spinozism disencumbered of its theological pendant. And it was the viewpoint of this kind of Spinozism, which Feuerbach had freed of its theological pendant, that Marx and Engels adopted when they broke with idealism.

However, disencumbering Spinozism of its theological setting meant revealing its true and materialist content. Consequently, the Spinozism of Marx and Engels was indeed materialism brought up to date.

Further: Thinking is not the cause of being, but its effect, or rather its property. Feuerbach says: Folge und Eigenschaft, I feel and think, not as a subject counterposed to an object, but as a subject-object, as an actual and material being. “For us the object is not merely the thing sensed, but also the basis, the indispensable condition of my sensation.” The objective world is not only without me but also within me, inside my own skin.[6] Man is only a part of Nature, a part of being; there is, therefore, no room for any contradiction between his thinking and his being. Space and time exist not only as forms of thinking. They are also forms of being, forms of my contemplation. They are such, solely because I myself am a creature that lives in time and space, and because I sense and feel as such a creature. In general, the laws of being are at the same time laws of thinking.

That is what Feuerbach said. And the same thing, though in a different wording, was said by Engels in his polemic with Dühring.[7] This already shows what an important part of Feuerbach’s philosophy became an integral part of the philosophy of Marx and Engels.

If Marx began to elaborate his materialist explanation of history by criticizing Hegel’s philosophy of Right, he could do so only because Feuerbach had completed his criticism of Hegel’s speculative philosophy.

Even when criticizing Feuerbach in his Theses, Marx often develops and augments the former’s ideas. Here is an instance from the sphere of “epistemology.” Before thinking of an object, man, according to Feuerbach, experiences its action on himself, contemplates and senses it.

It was this thought that Marx had in mind when he wrote:

The chief defect of all previous materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that the object, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively.

This shortcoming in materialism, Marx goes on to say, accounts for the circumstance that, in his Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach regards theoretical activity as the only genuine human activity. Expressed in other words, this means that, according to Feuerbach, our I cognizes the object by coming under its action. Marx, however, objects by saying: our I cognizes the object, while at the same time acting upon that object. Marx’s thought is a perfectly correct one: as Faust already said, “In the beginning was the deed.”

It may of course be objected, in defense of Feuerbach, that, in the process of our acting upon objects, we cognize their properties only in the measure in which they, for their part, act upon us. In both cases sensation precedes thinking; in both cases we first sense their properties, and only then think of them. But that is something that Marx did not deny. For him the gist of the matter was not the indisputable fact that sensation precedes thinking, but the fact that man is induced to think chiefly by the sensations he experiences in the process of his acting upon the outer world. Since this action on the outer world is prescribed to man by the struggle for existence, the theory of knowledge is closely linked up by Marx with his materialist view of the history of human civilization. It was not for nothing that the thinker who directed against Feuerbach the thesis we are here discussing wrote in Volume 1 of Capital: “By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he [man] at the same time changes his own nature.” This proposition fully reveals its profound meaning only in the light of Marx’s theory of knowledge. We shall see how well this theory is confirmed by the history of cultural development and, incidentally, even by the science of language. It must, however, be admitted that Marx’s epistemology stems directly from that of Feuerbach, or, if you will, it is, properly speaking, the epistemology of Feuerbach, only rendered more profound by the masterly correction brought into it by Marx.

I shall add, in passing, that this masterly correction was prompted by the “spirit of the times.” The striving to examine the interaction between object and subject precisely from the point of view in which the subject appears in an active role, derived from the public mood of the period in which the world outlook of Marx and Engels was taking shape. The revolution of 1848 was in the offing.

III. Thinking and Being in Feuerbach

The doctrine of the unity of subject and object, thinking and being, which was shared in equal measure by Feuerbach and by Marx and Engels, was also held by the most outstanding materialists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Elsewhere I have shown that La Mettrie and Diderot—each after his own fashion—arrived at a world outlook that was a “brand of Spinozism,” that is, a Spinozism without the theological setting that distorted its true content. It would also be easy to show that, inasmuch as we are speaking of the unity of subject and object, Hobbes too stood very close to Spinoza. That, however, would be taking us too far afield, and, besides, there is no immediate need for that. Probably of greater interest to the reader is the fact that today every naturalist who has delved even a little into the problem of the relation of thinking to being arrives at that doctrine of their unity which we have met in Feuerbach.

When Huxley wrote the following words: “Surely no one who is cognizant of the facts of the case, nowadays, doubts that the roots of psychology lie in the physiology of the nervous system,” and went on to say that the operations of the mind “are functions of the brain,” he was expressing just what Feuerbach had said—only with these words he connected concepts that were far less clear. It was precisely because the concepts connected with these words were far less clear than with Feuerbach that he attempted to link up the view just quoted with Hume’s philosophical skepticism.

In just the same way, Haeckel’s “monism,” which created such a stir, is nothing else but a purely materialist doctrine—in essence close to that of Feuerbach—of the unity of subject and object. Haeckel, however, is poorly versed in the history of materialism, which is why he considers it necessary to struggle against its “one-sidedness”; he should have gone to the trouble of making a study of its theory of knowledge in the form it took with Feuerbach and Marx, which would have preserved him from the many lapses and one-sided assumptions that have made it easier for his opponents to wage a struggle against him on philosophical grounds.

A very close approach to the most modern materialism—that of Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels—has been made by August Forel in various of his writings, for instance in the paper Brain and Soul, which he read to the Sixty-Sixth Congress of German Naturalists and Physicians held in Vienna in 1894. In places Forel not only expresses ideas resembling Feuerbach’s but—and this is amazing—marshals his arguments just as Feuerbach did his. According to Forel, each new day brings us convincing proofs that the psychology and the physiology of the brain are merely two ways of looking at “one and the same thing.” The reader will not have forgotten Feuerbach’s identical view, which I have quoted above and which pertains to the same problem. This view can be supplemented here with the following statement: “I am the psychological object to myself,” Feuerbach says, “but a physiological object to others.” In the final analysis, Forel’s main idea boils down to the proposition that consciousness is the “inner reflex of cerebral activity.” This view is already materialist.

Objecting to the materialists, the idealists and Kantians of all kinds and varieties claim that what we apprehend is only the mental aspect of the phenomena that Forel and Feuerbach deal with. This objection was excellently formulated by Schelling, who said that “the Spirit will always be an island which one cannot reach from the sphere of matter, otherwise than by a leap.” Forel is well aware of this, but he provides convincing proof that science would be an impossibility if we made up our minds in earnest not to leave the bounds of that island. “Every man,” he says, “would have only the psychology of his own subjectivism … and would positively be obliged to doubt the existence of the external world and of other people.” Such doubt is absurd, however.[8]

Conclusions arrived at by analogy, natural-scientific induction, a comparison of the evidence provided by our five senses, prove to us the existence of the external world, of other people, and the psychology of the latter. Likewise they prove to us that comparative psychology, animal psychology and, finally, our own psychology would be incomprehensible and full of contradictions if we considered it apart from the activities of our brain; first and foremost, it would seem a contradiction of the law of the conservation of energy.

Feuerbach not only reveals the contradictions that inevitably beset those who reject the materialist standpoint, but also shows how the idealists reach their “island.”

“I am I to myself,” he says, “and you to another. But I am such an I only as a sensible [that is, material] being. The abstract intellect isolates this being-for-oneself as Substance, the atom, ego, God; that is why, to it, the connection between being-for-oneself and being-for-another is arbitrary. That which I think of as extra-sensuous, I think of as without and outside any connection.”

This most significant consideration is accompanied by an analysis of that process of abstraction which led to the appearance of Hegelian logic as an ontological doctrine.

Had Feuerbach possessed the information provided by present-day ethnology, he would have been able to add that philosophical idealism descends, in the historical sense, from the animism of primitive peoples. This was already pointed out by Edward B. Tylor, and certain historians of philosophy are beginning to take it, in part, into consideration, though for the time being more as a curiosity than a fact from the history of culture, and of tremendous theoretical and cognitive significance.

These ideas and arguments of Feuerbach’s were not only well known to Marx and Engels and given careful thought by them, but indubitably and in considerable measure helped in the evolution of their own world outlook. If Engels later had the greatest contempt for post-Feuerbachian German philosophy, it was because that philosophy, in his opinion, merely resuscitated the old philosophical errors already revealed by Feuerbach. That, indeed, was the case. Not one of the latest critics of materialism has brought forward a single argument that was not refuted either by Feuerbach himself or, before him, by the French materialists. But to the “critics of Marx”—to E. Bernstein, C. Schmidt, B. Croce, and the like—“the pauper’s broth of eclecticism” of the most up-to-date, German, so-called philosophy seems a perfectly new dish; they have fed on it, and, seeing that Engels did not see fit to address himself to it, they imagined that he was “evading” any analysis of an argumentation he had long ago considered and found absolutely worthless. That is an old story, but one that is always new. Rats will never stop thinking that the cat is far stronger than the lion.

In recognizing the striking similarity—and, in part, also the identity—in the views of Feuerbach and A. Forel, we shall, however, note that while the latter is far better informed in natural science, Feuerbach had the advantage of a thorough knowledge of philosophy. That is why Forel makes mistakes we do not find in Feuerbach. Forel calls his theory the psycho-physiological theory of identity. To this no objection of any significance can be raised, because all terminology is conventional. However, since the theory of identity once formed the foundation of an absolutely definite idealist philosophy, Forel would have done well to have straightforwardly, boldly, and simply declared his theory to be materialist. He seems to have preserved certain prejudices against materialism, and therefore chose another name. That is why I think it necessary to note that identity in the Forelian sense has nothing in common with identity in the idealist sense.

The “critics of Marx” do not know even this. In his polemic with me, C. Schmidt ascribed to the materialists precisely the idealist doctrine of identity. In actual fact, materialism recognizes the unity of subject and object, not their identity. This was well shown by the selfsame Feuerbach.

According to Feuerbach, the unity of subject and object, of thinking and being, makes sense only when man is taken as the basis of that unity. This has a special kind of “humanist” sound to it, and most students of Feuerbach have not found it necessary to give deeper thought to how man serves as the basis of the unity of the opposites just mentioned. In actual fact, this is how Feuerbach understood the matter: “It is only when thinking is not a subject for itself, but the predicate of a real [that is, material] being that thought is not something separated from being.” The question now is: Where, in which philosophical systems, is thinking a “subject for itself,” that is to say, something independent of the bodily existence of a thinking individual? The answer is clear: in systems that are idealist. The idealists first convert thinking into a self-contained essence, independent of man (“the subject for itself”), and then assert that it is in that essence that the contradiction between being and thinking is resolved, for the very reason that separate and independent being is a property of that independent-of-matter essence.[9] Indeed, the contradiction is resolved in that essence. In that case, what is that essence? It is thinking, and this thinking exists—is—independently of anything else. Such a resolution of the contradiction is a purely formal one, which, as we have already pointed out, is achieved only by eliminating one of its elements, namely, being, as something independent of thinking. Being proves to be a simple property of thinking, so that when we say that a given object exists, we mean that it exists only in our thinking. That is how the matter was understood by Schelling, for example. To him, thinking was the absolute principle from which the real world, that is, Nature and the “finite” spirit, followed of necessity. But how did it follow? What was meant by the existence of the real world? Nothing but existence in thinking. To Schelling, the Universe was merely the self-contemplation of the Absolute Spirit. We see the same thing in Hegel. Feuerbach, however, was not satisfied with such a purely formal resolving of the contradiction between thinking and being. He pointed out that there is no—there can be no—thinking independent of man, that is, of an actual and material creature. Thinking is activity of the brain. To quote Feuerbach: “But the brain is the organ of thinking only as long as it is connected with the human head and body.”

We now see in what sense Feuerbach considers man the basis of the unity of being and thinking. Man is that basis in the sense that he is nothing but a material being that possesses the ability to think. If he is such a being, then it is clear that none of the elements of the contradiction is eliminated—neither being nor thinking, “matter” or “spirit,” subject or object. They are all combined in him as the subject-object. “I exist, and I think … only as a subject-object,” Feuerbach says.

To be does not mean to exist in thought. In this respect, Feuerbach’s philosophy is far clearer than that of J. Dietzgen. As Feuerbach put it: “To prove that something exists means to prove that it is not something that exists only in thought.” This is perfectly true, but it means that the unity of thinking and being does not and cannot in any way mean their identity.

This is one of the most important features distinguishing materialism from idealism.

IV. Emergence of Historical Materialism

When people say that, for a certain period, Marx and Engels were followers of Feuerbach, it is often inferred that, when that period ended, Marx and Engels’s world outlook changed considerably, and became quite different from Feuerbach’s. That is how the matter is viewed by Karl Diehl, who finds that Feuerbach’s influence on Marx is usually highly exaggerated. This is a gross mistake. When they ceased being followers of Feuerbach, Marx and Engels continued to share a very considerable part of his philosophical views. The best proof of this is the Theses which Marx wrote in criticism of Feuerbach. The Theses in no way eliminate the fundamental propositions in Feuerbach’s philosophy, but only correct them, and—what is most important—call for a more consistent (than Feuerbach’s) application in explaining the reality that surrounds man, and in particular his own activity. It is not thinking that determines being, but being that determines thinking. That is the fundamental thought in all of Feuerbach’s philosophy. Marx and Engels made that thought the foundation of the materialist explanation of history. The materialism of Marx and Engels is a far more developed doctrine than Feuerbach’s. The materialist views of Marx and Engels, however, developed in the direction indicated by the inner logic of Feuerbach’s philosophy. That is why these views will not always be fully clear—especially in their philosophical aspect—to those who will not go to the trouble of finding out just which part of the Feuerbachian philosophy became incorporated in the world outlook of the founders of scientific socialism. And if the reader meets anyone who is much taken up with the problem of finding “philosophical substantiation” for historical materialism, he can be certain that this wise mortal is very much deficient in the respect I have just mentioned.

But let us return to the subject. Already in his Third Thesis on Feuerbach, Marx tackled the most difficult of all the problems he was to resolve in the sphere of social man’s historical “practice,” with the aid of the correct concept of the unity of subject and object, which Feuerbach had developed. The Thesis reads: “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing … forgets that circumstances are changed precisely by men, and that the educator must himself be educated.” Once this problem is solved, the “secret” of the materialist explanation of history has been uncovered. But Feuerbach was unable to solve it. In history—like the French eighteenth-century materialists with whom he had so much in common—remained an idealist.[10] Here Marx and Engels had to start from scratch, making use of the theoretical material that had been accumulated by social science, chiefly by the French historians of the Restoration period. But even here, Feuerbach’s philosophy provided them with some valuable pointers. “Art, religion, philosophy, and science,” Feuerbach says, “are but the manifestation or revelation of genuine human essence.” Hence it follows that the “human essence” contains the explanation of all ideologies, that is, that the development of the latter is conditioned by the development of the “human essence.” What is that essence? “Man’s essence,” Feuerbach replies, “is only in community, in Man’s unity with Man.” This is very vague, and here we see a border line that Feuerbach did not cross.[11] However, it is beyond that border line that the region of the materialist explanation of history, a region discovered by Marx and Engels, begins; that explanation indicates the causes which in the course of history determine the “community, Man’s unity with Man,” that is, the mutual relations that men enter into. This border line not only separates Marx from Feuerbach, but testifies as well to his closeness to the latter.

The sixth Thesis on Feuerbach says that the human essence is the ensemble of the social relations. This is far more definite than what Feuerbach himself said, and the close genetic link between Marx’s world outlook and Feuerbach’s philosophy is here revealed with probably greater clarity than anywhere else.

When Marx wrote this Thesis he already knew, not only the direction in which the solution of the problem should be sought, but the solution itself. In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right he showed that the mutual relations of people in society,

… legal relations as well as forms of state are to be grasped neither from themselves nor from the so-called general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, combines under the name of “civil society”… however, the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy.

It now remained only to explain the origin and development of the economy to obtain a full solution of a problem that materialism had been unable to cope with for centuries on end. That explanation was provided by Marx and Engels.

It stands to reason that, when I speak of the full solution of that great problem, I am referring only to its general or algebraic solution, which materialism could not find in the course of centuries. It stands to reason that, when I speak of a full solution, I am referring, not to the arithmetic of social development, but to its algebra; not to the causes of individual phenomena, but to how the discovery of those causes should be approached. And that means that the materialist explanation of history was primarily of a methodological significance. Engels was fully aware of this when he wrote: “What we need is not so much crude results as studies; results are meaningless if they are taken apart from the development that leads up to them.” This, however, is sometimes not understood either by “critics” of Marx—whom, as they say, may God forgive!—or by some of his “followers,” which is much worse. Michelangelo once said of himself, “My knowledge will engender a multitude of ignoramuses.” These words have regrettably proved prophetic. Today Marx’s knowledge is engendering ignoramuses. The fault lies, not with Marx, but with those who talk rubbish while invoking his name. For such rubbish to be avoided, an understanding of the methodological significance of historical materialism is necessary.

V. The Materialist Dialectic as Method

In general, one of the greatest services rendered to materialism by Marx and Engels lies in their elaboration of a correct method. Feuerbach, who concentrated his efforts on the struggle against the speculative element in Hegel’s philosophy, had little appreciation of its dialectical element, and made little use of it. “The true dialectic,” he said, “is no monologue by a solitary thinker with himself; it is a dialogue between the ego [I] and the tu [thou].” In the first place, however, with Hegel dialectics did not signify a “monologue by a solitary thinker with himself”; and, secondly, Feuerbach’s remark gives a correct definition of the starting point of philosophy, but not of its method. This gap was filled by Marx and Engels, who understood that in waging a struggle against Hegel’s speculative philosophy, it would be mistaken to ignore his dialectic. Some critics have declared that, during the years immediately following his break with idealism, Marx was highly indifferent to dialectic also. Though this opinion may seem to have some semblance of plausibility, it is controverted by the aforementioned fact that, in the Franco-German Annals, Engels was already speaking of the method as the soul of the new system of views.

In any case, the second part of The Poverty of Philosophy leaves no room for doubt that, at the time of his polemic with Proudhon, Marx was very well aware of the significance of the dialectical method and knew how to make good use of it. Marx’s victory in this controversy was that of a man able to think dialectically, over one who had never been able to understand the nature of dialectics, but was trying to apply its method to an analysis of capitalist society. This same second part of The Poverty of Philosophy shows that dialectics, which with Hegel was of a purely idealist character and had remained so with Proudhon (so far as he had assimilated it), was placed on a materialist foundation by Marx.[12]

“To Hegel,” Marx wrote subsequently, describing his own materialist dialectic, “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.”

This description implies full agreement with Feuerbach, first in the attitude towards Hegel’s “Idea,” and, second, in the relation of thinking to being. The Hegelian dialectic could be “turned right side up” only by one who was convinced of the soundness of the basic principle of Feuerbach’s philosophy, viz., that it is not thinking that determines being, but being that determines thinking.

Many people confuse dialectics with the doctrine of development; dialectics is, in fact, such a doctrine. However, it differs substantially from the vulgar “theory of evolution,” which is completely based on the principle that neither Nature nor history proceeds in leaps and that all changes in the world take place by degrees. Hegel had already shown that, understood in such a way, the doctrine of development was untenable and ridiculous.

“When people want to understand the rise or disappearance of anything,” he says in Volume I of his Science of Logic, “they usually imagine that they achieve comprehension through the medium of a conception of the gradual character of that rise or disappearance. However, changes in being take place, not only by a transition of one quantity into another, but also by a transition of qualitative differences into quantitative, and, on the contrary, by a transition that interrupts gradualness, and substitutes one phenomenon for another.”

And every time gradualness is interrupted, a leap takes place. Hegel goes on to show by a number of examples how often leaps take place both in Nature and in history, and he exposes the ridiculous logical error underlying the vulgar “theory of evolution.”

“Underlying the doctrine of gradualness,” he remarks, “is the conception that what is arising already exists in reality, and remains unobserved only because of its small dimensions. In like manner, when they speak of gradual destruction, people imagine that the nonexistence of the phenomenon in question, or the phenomenon that is to take its place, is an accomplished fact, although it is as yet imperceptible … But this can only suppress any notion of arising and destruction … To explain appearance or disappearance by the gradualness of the change means reducing the whole matter to absurd tautology and to imagining in an already complete state [that is, as already arisen or already destroyed] that which is in the course of appearing or being destroyed.

This dialectical view of Hegel’s as to the inevitability of leaps in the process of development was adopted in full by Marx and Engels. It was developed in detail by Engels in his polemic with Dühring, and here he “turned it right side up,” that is to say, he put it on a materialist foundation.

Thus he indicated that the transition from one form of energy to another cannot take place otherwise than by means of a leap. Thus he sought, in modern chemistry, a confirmation of the dialectical theorem of the transformation of quantity into quality. Generally speaking, he found that the laws of dialectical thinking are confirmed by the dialectical properties of being. Here, too, being conditions thinking.

Without undertaking a more detailed characterization of materialist dialectic (its relation to what, by a parallel with elementary mathematics, may be called elementary logic—see my preface to my translation of Ludwig Feuerbach), I shall remind the reader that, during the last two decades, the theory that sees only gradual changes in the process of development has begun to lose ground even in biology, where it used to be recognized almost universally. In this respect, the work of Armand Gautier and that of Hugo de Vries seem to show promise of epoch-making importance. Suffice it to say that de Vries’s theory of mutations is a doctrine that the development of species takes place by leaps.

In the opinion of this outstanding naturalist, the weak point in Darwin’s theory of the origin of species is that this origin can be explained by gradual changes. Also of interest, and most apt, is de Vries’s remark that the dominance of the theory of gradual changes in the doctrine of the origin of species has had an unfavorable influence on the experimental study of relevant problems.

I may add that, in present-day natural science, and especially among the neo-Lamarckians, there has been a fairly rapid spread of the theory of the so-called animism of matter, that is, that matter in general, and especially any organized matter, possesses a certain degree of sensibility. This theory, which many regard as being diametrically opposed to materialism, is in fact, when properly understood, only a translation, into the language of present-day natural science, of Feuerbach’s materialist doctrine of the unity of being and thinking, of object and subject. It may be confidently stated that Marx and Engels, who had assimilated this doctrine, would have been keenly interested in this trend in natural science, although far too little elaborated as yet.

Herzen was right in saying that Hegel’s philosophy, which many considered conservative in the main, was a genuine algebra of revolution. With Hegel, however, this algebra remained wholly unapplied to the burning problems of practical life. Of necessity, the speculative element brought a spirit of conservatism into the philosophy of this great absolute idealist. It is quite different with Marx’s materialist philosophy, in which revolutionary “algebra” manifests itself with all the irresistible force of its dialectical method.

“In its mystified form, Marx says, “dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.”

If we regard the materialist dialectic from the viewpoint of the history of Russian literature, we may say that this dialectic was the first to supply a method necessary and competent to solve the problem of the rational causes of all that exists, a problem that so greatly troubled our brilliant thinker Belinsky. It was only Marx’s dialectical method, as applied to the study of Russian life, that has shown us how much reality and how much semblance of reality there was in it …

XIV. Class Struggle and Ideas

… The obstacles met by present-day materialism as a harmonious and consistent theory are incomparably greater than those that Newton’s theory came up against, on its appearance. Against it are directly and decisively ranged the interests of the class now in power, to whose influence most scholars subordinate themselves of necessity. The materialist dialectic, “which regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and … lets nothing impose upon it,” cannot have the sympathy of the conservative class that the Western bourgeoisie today is. It stands in such contradiction to that class’s frame of mind that its ideologists naturally tend to look upon it as something impermissible, improper, and unworthy of the attention both of “respectable” people in general, and of “esteemed” men of learning in particular. It is not surprising that each of these pundits considers himself morally obliged to avoid any suspicion of sympathy with materialism. Often enough such pundits denounce materialism the more emphatically, the more insistently they adhere to a materialist viewpoint in their special research. The result is a kind of semi-subconscious “conventional lie,” which, of course, can have only a most injurious effect on theoretical thinking.

XV. Necessity and Freedom

… Marx very truly said that the greater the development of the contradiction between the growing productive forces and the existing social order, the more does the ideology of the master class become imbued with hypocrisy. The more the falseness of this ideology is revealed by life, the more elevated and virtuous does the language of that class become …

Incidentally, so immensely great are the advantages provided to the researcher by the Marxist method that even those who have willingly submitted to the “conventional lies” of our time are beginning to recognize them publicly. Among such people, for instance, is the American Edwin Seligman, author of a book published in 1902 under the title of The Economic Interpretation of History. Seligman frankly admits that scholars have shied away from the theory of historical materialism because of the socialist conclusions drawn from it by Marx. However, he thinks that you can eat your cake and have it too: “one can be an economic materialist” and yet remain hostile to socialism. As he puts it, “The fact that Marx’s economics may be defective has no bearing on the truth or falsity of his philosophy of history.” In actual fact, Marx’s economic views were intimately bound up with his historical views. A proper understanding of Capital absolutely implies the necessity of previous and careful thought on the celebrated preface to Critique of Political Economy. However, we are unable here either to set forth Marx’s economic views or to demonstrate the incontrovertible fact that they form merely an indispensable component of the doctrine known as historical materialism.[13] I shall add only that Seligman is sufficiently a “pundit” also to be scared of materialism. This economic “materialist” thinks it is going to intolerable extremes “to make religion depend on economic forces” or to “seek the explanation of Christianity itself in economic facts alone.” All this goes to show clearly how deep are the roots of those prejudices—and consequently of the obstacles—that Marxist theory has to fight against. Yet the very fact of the appearance of Seligman’s book, and even the very nature of the reservations he makes, give some reason to hope that historical materialism—even in a truncated or “purified” form—will in the end achieve recognition by those ideologists of the bourgeoisie who have not given up the idea of bringing order into their historical views.[14]

But the struggle against socialism, materialism, and other unpleasant extremes presupposes possession of a “spiritual weapon.” What is known as subjective political economy, and more or less adroitly falsified statistics, at present constitute the spiritual weapon mainly used in the struggle against socialism. All possible brands of Kantianism form the main bulwark in the struggle against materialism. In the field of social science, Kantianism is utilized for this purpose as a dualist doctrine which tears asunder the tie between being and thinking. Since consideration of economic questions does not come within the province of this book, I shall confine myself to an appraisal of the philosophical spiritual weapon employed by bourgeois reaction in the ideological sphere.

Concluding his booklet, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels remarks that when the mighty means of production created by the capitalist epoch have become the property of society, and when production is organized in conformity with social needs, men will at last become masters of their social relations, and hence lords over nature, and their own masters. Only then will they begin consciously to make their own history; only then will the social causes they bring into play produce, in ever greater measure, effects that are desirable to them. “It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”

These words of Engels’s have evoked objections from those who, unable in general to stomach the idea of “leaps,” have been either unable or unwilling to understand any such “leap” from the kingdom of necessity into the kingdom of freedom. Such a “leap” seemed to them to contradict that view on freedom which Engels himself voiced in the first part of his Anti-Dühring. Therefore, if we would see our way through the confusion in the minds of such people, we must recall exactly what Engels said in the book mentioned above.

And here is what he said. Explaining Hegel’s words that “Necessity is blind only insofar as it is not understood,” Engels stated that freedom consists in exercising “control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity.” This idea is set forth by Engels with a clarity quite sufficient for people familiar with the Hegelian doctrine referred to. The trouble is that present-day Kantians only “criticise” Hegel, but do not study him. Since they have no knowledge of Hegel, they have been unable to understand Engels. To the author of Anti-Dühring they have made the objection that where there is submission to necessity, there is no freedom. This is quite consistent on the part of people whose philosophical views are imbued with a dualism that is incapable of uniting thinking with being. From the viewpoint of this dualism, the “leap” from necessity to freedom remains absolutely incomprehensible. But Marx’s philosophy, like that of Feuerbach, proclaims the unity of being and thinking. Although, as we have already seen above, in the section on Feuerbach, Marxist philosophy understands that unity quite differently from the sense in which it is understood by absolute idealism, it (Marxist philosophy) does not at all disagree with Hegelian doctrine in the question we are concerned with, viz., the relation of freedom to necessity.

The gist of the whole matter is: precisely what should be understood by necessity? Aristotle already pointed out that the concept of necessity contains many shades of meaning: medicine is necessary for a cure to be effected; breathing is necessary for life; a trip to Aegina is necessary for a debt to be collected. All these are, so to say, conditional necessities; we must breathe if we want to live; we must take medicine if we want to get rid of an illness, and so on. In the process of acting on the world about him, man has constantly to do with necessity of this kind—he must of necessity sow if he would reap, shoot an arrow if he would kill game, stock fuel if he would get a steam engine operating, and so on. From the viewpoint of the neo-Kantian “criticism of Marx,” it has to be admitted that there is an element of submission in this conditional necessity. Man would be freer if he were able to satisfy his wants without expending any labor at all. He always submits to nature, even when he forces her to serve him. This submission, however, is a condition of his becoming free; by submitting to nature, he thereby increases his power over her, that is, his freedom. It would be the same under the planned organization of social production. By submitting to certain demands of technical and economic necessity, men would put an end to that preposterous order of things under which they are dominated by the products of their own activities, that is to say, they would increase their freedom to a tremendous degree. Here, too, their submission would become a source of liberation to them.

Nor is that all. “Critics” of Marx, who have become used to considering that a gulf separates thinking and being, know of only one shade of necessity; to use Aristotle’s wording, they imagine necessity only as a force that prevents us from acting according to our desires, and compels us to do that which is contrary to them. Necessity of this kind is indeed the opposite of freedom, and cannot but be irksome in greater or lesser degree. But we must not forget that a force seen by man as external coercion which is in conflict with his wishes may, in other circumstances, be seen by him in an entirely different light. As an illustration, let us take the agrarian question in Russia today. To the intelligent landowner who is a Constitutional-Democrat, the “forcible alienation of the land” may seem more or less a sad historical necessity—sad, that is to say, in reverse proportion to the size of the “fair compensation” given. But to the peasant who yearns for land, the reverse is true: the “fair compensation” will present itself as a more or less sad necessity, while “forcible alienation” is bound to be seen as an expression of his own unfettered will, and the most precious security of his freedom.

In saying this, I am touching upon what is perhaps the most important point in the doctrine of freedom—a point not mentioned by Engels only, of course, for its being self-evident to one who has gone through the Hegelian school.

In his philosophy of religion Hegel says, “Freedom lies in willing nothing but oneself.” This observation sheds a strong light on the entire question of freedom, insofar as that question bears upon social psychology. The peasant who demands that the landowner’s land should be transferred to him wants “nothing but himself”; the Constitutional-Democratic landowner who agrees to give him land no longer wants “himself” but that which history compels him to want. The former is free, while the latter wisely submits to necessity.

As with the peasant, it would be the same for the proletariat, which converts the means of production into social property and organizes social production on a new foundation. It would wish nothing “but itself,” and would feel quite free. As for the capitalists, they would, of course, at best feel that they were in the position of the landowner who has accepted the Constitutional-Democratic agrarian program; they could not but think that freedom is one thing, and historical necessity, another.

As it seems to me, those “critics” who have objected to Engels’s stand have failed to understand him, because while they are able to imagine themselves in the position of the capitalist, they are totally unable to imagine themselves in the proletarian’s shoes. I hold the opinion that this, too, has its social—and ultimately economic—cause.

XVI. Necessity and Revolution

Highly noteworthy is the fact that theoreticians of Protestantism in the United States of America seem unable to understand the contraposition of freedom and necessity that has been exciting the minds of so many ideologists of the European bourgeoisie. H. Bargy says that “in America the most positive instructors in the field of energy are little prone to recognize freedom of the will.” He ascribes this to their preference, as men of action, for “fatalist solutions.” He is wrong, however, since fatalism has nothing to do with the matter. This is to be seen in his own remarks about the moralist Jonathan Edwards: ‘Edwards’s point of view … is that of any man of action. To anyone who has had an aim once in his lifetime freedom is the faculty of putting all his soul in the service of that aim.” This is well put, and closely resembles Hegel’s “willing nothing but oneself.” But when a man “wills nothing but himself,” he is in no way a fatalist; it is then that he is precisely a man of action.

Kantianism is not a philosophy of struggle, or a philosophy of men of action. It is a philosophy of half-hearted people, a philosophy of compromise.

The means of removing the existing social evil, Engels says, must be discovered in the existing material conditions of production, not invented by one social reformer or another. Stammler is in agreement with this, but accuses Engels of unclear thinking, since in Stammler’s opinion the gist of the matter lies in ascertaining “the method with the aid of which this discovery must be made.” This objection, which merely reveals Stammler’s vague thinking, is eliminated by simply mentioning the fact that though the nature of the “method” is in such cases determined by a great variety of “factors,” the latter can all be ultimately referred to the course of the economic development. The very fact of the appearance of Marx’s theory was determined by the development of the capitalist mode of production, whereas the predominance of utopianism in pre-Marxist socialism is quite understandable in a society suffering not only from the development of the aforementioned mode of production, but also—and in greater degree—from the insufficiency of that development.

It would be superfluous to dilate on the matter. The reader will perhaps not complain if, in concluding this article, I will draw his attention to the measure in which the tactical “method” of Marx and Engels is intimately bound up with the fundamental theses of their historical theory.

This theory tells us, as we already know, that mankind always sets itself only such tasks that it can solve, for “the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the process of formation.” Where these conditions already exist, the state of things is not quite the same as it is where they are still “in the process of formation.” In the former instance the time for a “leap” has already arrived; in the latter instance the “leap” is, for the time being, a matter of the more or less distant future, “an ultimate aim” whose approach is prepared by a series of “gradual changes” in the mutual relations between social classes. What role should be played by innovators during the period in which a “leap” is still impossible? It evidently remains for them to contribute to the “gradual changes,” that is, they must, in other words, try to bring about reforms. In this way, both the “ultimate aim” and reforms find their place, and the very contraposition of reform and “ultimate aim” loses all meaning, is relegated to the sphere of utopian legends. Those who would make such a contraposition—whether they are German “revisionists” like Eduard Bernstein, or Italian “revolutionary syndicalists” like those who took part in the latest syndicalist congress in Ferrara—will show themselves equally incapable of understanding the spirit and the method of modern scientific socialism. This is a good thing to remember at present, when reformism and syndicalism permit themselves to speak for Marx.

And what healthy optimism breathes in the words that mankind always sets itself only such tasks that it can solve! They do not, of course, mean that any solution of mankind’s great problems, as suggested by the first utopian one meets, is a good one.

A utopian is one thing; mankind, or, more precisely, a social class representative of mankind’s highest interests in a given period, is something else. As Marx has very well said, “With the thoroughness of the historical action, the size of the mass whose action it is will therefore increase.” This is conclusive condemnation of a utopian attitude towards great historical problems. If Marx nevertheless thought that mankind never sets itself unachievable tasks, then his words are, from the viewpoint of theory, only a new way of expressing the idea of the unity of subject and object in its application to the process of historical development; from the viewpoint of practice they express that calm and courageous faith in the achievement of the “ultimate aim” which once prompted our unforgettable N.G. Chernyshevsky to exclaim fervently, “Come what may, we shall win.”

Notes

[1] Note to the German edition of 1910: Of considerable importance for a characterization of the evolution of Marx’s philosophical views is his letter of October 20, 1843 to Feuerbach. Inviting Feuerbach to come out against Schelling, Marx wrote the following: “You are just the man for this because you are Schelling in reverse. The sincere thought—we may believe the best of our opponent—of the young Schelling for the realization of which however he did not possess the necessary qualities except imagination, he had no energy but vanity, no driving force but opium, no organ but the irritability of a feminine perceptivity, this sincere thought of his youth, which in his case remained a fantastic youthful dream, has become truth, reality, manly seriousness in your case. Schelling is therefore an anticipated caricature of you, and as soon as reality confronts the caricature, the latter must dissolve into thin air. I therefore regard you as the necessary, natural—that is, nominated by Their Majesties Nature and History—opponent of Schelling. Your struggle with him is the struggle of the imagination of philosophy with philosophy itself” (Marx and Engels, Letter of October 3, 1843). This seems to show that Marx understood “Schelling’s youthful thought” in the meaning of a materialist monism. Feuerbach, however, did not share this opinion of Marx’s, as will be seen from his reply to the latter. He considered that already in his first works Schelling “merely converts the idealism of thought into the idealism of the imagination, and attributes just as little reality to things as to theIch, with the only difference that it had a different appearance, and that he replaced the determinate ‘Ich’ by the indefinite Absolute, and gave idealism a pantheistic coloring” (K. Grün, Ludwig Feuerbach: His Correspondence and Literary Remains).

[2] Note to the German edition of 1910: F. Engels wrote: “The course of evolution of Feuerbach is that of a Hegelian—a never quite orthodox Hegelian, it is true—into a materialist; an evolution which at a definite stage necessitates a complete rupture with the idealist system of his predecessor. With irresistible force Feuerbach is finally driven to the realization that the Hegelian premundane existence of the ‘absolute idea,’ the ‘pre-existence of the logical categories’ before the world existed, is nothing more than the fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extramundane creator; that the material, sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality; and that our consciousness and thinking, however suprasensuous they may seem, are the product of a material, bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter. This is, of course, pure materialism.”

[3] Feuerbach himself has very well said that the beginnings of any philosophy are determined by the prior state of philosophical thought

[4] Note to the German edition of 1910: F. Lange states: “A genuine materialist will always be prone to turn his glance to the totality of external Nature and consider Man merely as a wavelet in the ocean of the eternal movement of matter. To the materialist, Man’s nature is merely a particular instance of general physiology, just as thinking is a special instance in the chain of physical processes of life.” (History of Materialism)

[5] Note to the German edition of 1910: By that time Feuerbach had already written the following noteworthy lines: “Despite all the oppositeness of practical realism in the so-called sensualism and materialism of the English and the French—a realism that denies any speculation—and the spirit of all of Spinoza, they nevertheless have their ultimate foundation in the viewpoint on matter expressed by Spinoza, as a metaphysician, in the celebrated proposition: ‘Matter is an Attribute of God’” (K Grün, L. Feuerbach).

[6] Note to the German edition of 1910: “How do we cognize the external world? How do we cognize the inner world? For ourselves we have no other means than we have for others! Do I know anything about myself without the medium of my senses? Do I exist if I do not exist outside myself, that is, outside my conception? But how do I know that I exist? How do I know that I exist, not in my conception, but in my sensations, in actual fact, unless I perceive myself through my senses?” (K Grün, L. Feuerbach).

[7] Note to the German edition of 1910: I particularly recommend to the reader’s attention the thought expressed by Engels in Anti-Dühring, that the laws of external Nature and the laws governing man’s bodily and mental existence are “two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality.” This is the selfsame doctrine of the unity of being and thinking, of object and subject. Regarding space and time, see Chapter 5 of Part I of the work just mentioned. This chapter shows that to Engels, just as to Feuerbach, space and time are not only forms of contemplation, but also forms of being.

[8] Note to the German edition of 1910: Moreover, on his return from exile, Chernyshevsky published an article, “The Character of Human Knowledge,” in which he proves, very wittily, that a person who doubts the existence of the external world should also doubt the fact of his own existence. Chernyshevsky was always a faithful adherent of Feuerbach. The fundamental idea of his article can be expressed in the following words of Feuerbach: “I am not different from things and creatures without me, because I distinguish myself from them; I distinguish myself because I am different from them physically, organically, and in fact. Consciousness presupposes being, is merely conscious being, that-which-is as realized and presented in the mind” (K Grün, L. Feuerbach).

[9] Note to the German edition of 1910: Ernst Mach and his followers act in exactly the same way. First they transform sensation into an independent essence, noncontingent upon the sensing body—an essence which they call an element. Then they declare that this essence contains the resolution of the contradiction between being and thinking, subject and object. This reveals the grossness of the error committed by those who assert that Mach is close to Marx.

[10] Note to the German edition of 1910: This accounts for the reservations always made by Feuerbach when speaking of materialism. For instance, “When I go backward from this point, I am in complete agreement with the materialists; when I go forward, I differ from them” (K Grün, L. Feuerbach).

[11] Note to the German edition of 1910: Incidentally, Feuerbach too thinks that the “human being” is created by history. Thus he says: “I think only as a subject educated by history, generalized, united with the whole, with the genus, the spirit of world history. My thoughts do not have their beginning and basis directly in my particular subjectivity, but are the outcome; their beginning and their basis are those of world history itself” (K Grün). Thus we see in Feuerbach the embryo of a materialist understanding of history. In this respect, however, he does not go further than Hegel, and even lags behind him. Together with Hegel, he stresses the significance of what the great German idealist called the geographic basis of world history. “The course of the history of mankind,” he says, “is certainly prescribed to it, since man follows the course of Nature, the course taken by streams. Men go wherever they find room, and the kind of place that suits them best. Men settle in a particular locality, and are conditioned by the place they live in. The essence of India is the essence of the Hindu. What he is, what he has become, is merely the product of the East-Indian sun, the East-Indian air, the East-Indian water, the East-Indian animals and plants. How could man originally appear if not out of Nature? Men, who become acclimatized to any kind of nature, have sprung from Nature, which tolerates no extremes” (K Grün).

[12] Addendum to the German edition of 1910: It should however be noted that Feuerbach too criticized Hegelian dialectic from the materialist viewpoint. “What kind of dialectic is it,” he asked, “that contradicts natural origin and development? How do matters stand with its ‘necessity’? Where is the ‘objectivity’ of a psychology, of a philosophy in general, which abstracts itself from the only categorical and imperative, fundamental and solid objectivity, that of physical Nature, a philosophy which considers that its ultimate aim, absolute truth, and fulfillment of the spirit lie in a full departure from that Nature, and in an absolute subjectiveness, unrestricted by any Fichtean non-ego, or Kantian thing-in-itself.”

[13] A few incidental words in explanation of what has been said. According to Marx, “economic categories are only the theoretical expressions, the abstractions of the social relations of production” (The Poverty of Philosophy). This means that Marx regards the categories of political economy likewise from the viewpoint of the mutual relations among men in the social process of production, relations whose development provides him with the basic explanation of mankind’s historical movement.

[14] The following parallel is highly instructive. Marx says that materialist dialectic, while explaining that which exists, at the same time explains its inevitable destruction. In this he saw its value, its progressive significance. But here is what Seligman says: “Socialism is a theory of what ought to be; historical materialism is a theory of what has been.” For that reason alone, he considers it possible for himself to defend historical materialism. This means, in other words, that this materialism may be ignored when it comes to explaining the inevitable destruction of that which is and may be used to explain that which has been in the past. This is one of the numerous instances of the use of a double standard in the field of ideology, a phenomenon also engendered by economic causes.

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