4. Totality and dialectic in Hegel and in Marx
In the previous two chapters we sketched out both the formation and the development of Marx's theoretical project within its broad political and historical context. We saw how, with his growing commitment to communism and the cause of the emerging proletariat, Marx came to break with Young Hegelianism and its thematic of 'human alienation and liberation' to found his new perspective of historical materialism -- within which he could then articulate a new thematic of 'capitalism and its overthrow'. We then saw how Marx was increasingly led, both logically and politically, to focus on his subsequent critique of political economy, which finally culminated in the three volumes of Capital.
But, while it is important to place Marx's theoretical project within its broader political and historical context -- to show its intricate connection with the development of his practico-revolutionary project, and to indicate its historical delimitations -- this descriptive treatment is insufficient for our purposes. If, as we shall contend, Marx's critique of political economy inscribes a vital provisional closure within his broader thematic, if we are to show how the trajectory of the Marxian project points beyond Capital, then we must look at its internal and logical imperatives; its dialectical method and purpose. This requires us to return once more to consider Marx's break with classical German philosophy in general, and his appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic in particular.
As Scott Meikle1 has pointed out, Marx can only be adequately understood as an essentialist. An essentialism that can be traced back through Hegel to the philosophical tradition founded by Aristotle. Indeed, much of the misunderstandings of Marx, in particular the travesties wreaked upon his thought by contemporary analytical Marxism, is rooted in the predominance within modern philosophy and methodology of an anti-essentialist analytical atomism.(2) For Marx, as for indeed for Hegel and Aristotle, the world could not be explained by reducing everything to simple externally related determinants. On the contrary it had to be explained in terms of complex self-developing totalities.
The importance of Marx's conception of totality has been well expressed by Lukacs: It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxism and bourgeois thought, but the point of view of totality. The category of totality, the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts is the essence of the method which Marx took over from Hegel and brilliantly transformed into the foundations of a wholly new science. (Lukacs, 1971, p. 27) But to set out from the point of view of the totality means to adopt a dialectical method. As Lukacs proceeds to argue: In Marx the dialectical method aims at understanding society as a whole. Bourgeois thought concerns itself with objects that arise either from the process of studying phenomena in isolation, or from the division of labour and specialisation in the different disciplines. It holds abstractions to be 'real' if it is naively realistic, and 'autonomous' if it is critical.
Marxism, however, simultaneously raises and reduces all specialisations to the level of aspects in a dialectical process. This is not to deny that the process of abstraction and hence the isolation of elements and concepts in the special disciplines and whole areas of study is of the very essence of science. But what is decisive is whether this process of isolation is a means towards understanding the whole and whether it is integrated within the context it presupposes and requires, or whether the abstract knowledge of an isolated fragment retains its 'autonomy' and becomes an end in its self. In the last analysis Marxism does not acknowledge the existence of independent sciences of law, economics or history etc. (Lukacs, 1971, p. 28) If nothing else this indicates that Capital can not be simply considered in isolation as his 'economics'; to which we may add a 'Marxist politics', a 'Marxist sociology' and so forth. It is not an 'economics' or a 'political economy' but a critique of political economy that is part of a revolutionary critique of bourgeois society as a whole. As a critique it can only be understood dialectically.
In response to the various misreadings of the first editions of Volume I of Capital, Marx himself sought to stress this vital point. While in German intellectual circles of the time Hegel was considered a 'dead dog', Marx rallied to Hegel's defence: I...openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker [Hegel]... The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being 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. (Capital I, p. 29) By examining the dialectical method through which the Marxian project unfolds we shall be able to discern its inner logical imperatives that point beyond Marx's critique of political economy; and thus beyond Capital.
In this chapter we shall return to examine, in much greater detail than in chapter 2, Marx's appropriation of Hegel's dialectic and Marx's final break with German philosophy We shall show how Marx did not merely invert Hegel's dialectic onto a materialist basis but at the same time how he came to transform the closed dialectic of Hegel into a radically open dialectic. This will then prepare ground for chapter 5, in which we shall see how Marx's radically open dialectic becomes provisionally closed within his critique of political economy. But before this we shall, in the opening section, briefly sketch out the emergence of Hegel's conception of both the dialectic and totality in the context of the development of classical German philosophy.
A) Totality and dialectic in Hegel i) Classical German philosophy3 The great rallying cry of the emergent bourgeoisie of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was that of reason. By proclaiming the omniscience of reason the intellectual representatives of this rising class sought to dissolve all the mystifying dogmas and traditional conceptions that supported the old feudal order.
They called for a new age of reason, an era of enlightenment -- that is for the age of capitalism. But as the eighteenth century began to draw to a close -- with the approach of the French Revolution -- social tensions and conflicts began to increase as the old order in Europe began to crumble. The advance of capitalist relations, which tore individuals from the certainties and securities of feudalism and placed them at the mercy of impersonal market forces, brought with it growing antagonisms between both individuals and classes. As each class, and indeed each individual, sought to rationalize their own particular interests against those of their rivals and competitors, the social uncertainties and insecurities fostered a growth in both solipsism and scepticism. Reason increasingly became viewed as mere sophistry and hypocrisy -- a cloak with which to disguise particular material self-interests. With this growth in scepticism everything and every explanation became subject to doubt.
With the advance of scepticism the call to reason began to lose its certitude. The confidence of the bourgeoisie in themselves as heralds of a new world became sapped, while those voices calling for a return to the certainties of the old world were strengthened. In Britain and France, where the bourgeoisie had established itself beyond such doubt, the response of this advance of scepticism was to seek out the certainties of their everyday practical affairs. The intellectual representatives of the British and French bourgeoisie therefore sought refuge in the material facts of political economy and the natural sciences. The speculative rationalism of the seventeenth century, which had sought truth in the operations of pure thought, gave way to an empiricism which sought truth in material facts verified through observation of the real and objective world.
In the relatively backward conditions of Germany at this time there was no such refuge. The weak and far from established German bourgeoisie still needed reason as its ideal with which to assert itself over and against the forces of the old order. There could be no retreat to political economy and the natural sciences. The defence of reason as an ideal against the advance of scepticism could only be made on the high ground of philosophy. It was as such a defence that classical German philosophy arose in the late eighteenth century.
The fundamental problem of classical German philosophy was ethical. Despite the 'war of all against all' of bourgeois society, and the scepticism and solipsism that this engendered, the classical German philosophers sought to establish the basis for a rational and universal morality. But this raised the epistemological problem of how such a rational and universal morality could be known to be true; which in turn raised the question of the rules and method thought -- that is of logic. Hence classical German philosophy became preoccupied by the three interrelated issues of ethics, epistemology and logic.
ii) Kant The leading figure in the emergence of classical German philosophy was Kant. Kant sought to establish a firm moral ground for the isolated bourgeois individual of his time. An island of moral certainty in the midst of the sea of venial self-interest. As we shall see, in order to hold at bay the contradictions and conflicts of the real world and establish the ground for a universal morality, Kant had to on a fundamental dualism which was constructed out of a series of rigid antinomies within his philosophical system, not only in terms of his ethics, but also in terms of his logic and epistemology.
For speculative rationalism the essence of 'Man' had been reason. 'Man' distinguished himself from all other living beings by his conscious thought, and it was this ontological point of departure that Kant sought to rescue as his basis for a rational and universal morality. But, more than this, the speculative rationalists had attempted to derive truth through the simple operation of pure thought independently of the material world. However, against such speculative rationalism, the empiricists of Kant's time had argued that 'Man' was first and foremost a sensory being. 'Man' could only gain any certain knowledge through sensory data of the diverse material world. This implied that, since there could be no certain knowledge beyond material reality known to the human senses, there could be no rational basis for a universal morality over and against the immediate sensory perceptions of each human being. Each individual could therefore act only in accordance with the promptings of their own sensory understanding and desires.
Kant rejected such amoral conclusions implicit within empiricism and its attendant materialism. Instead he argued that there existed a set of moral principles -- categorical imperatives -- that were universal. These moral injunctions, being universal, existed prior to any social or sensory context. They were therefore both purely rational and supra-historical. Yet, unlike the speculative rationalists, Kant did not reject the materiality of 'Man'. Rather he posited 'Man' as a duality; as both a rational and a sensuous being. This ethical duality was constructed in terms of Kant's antinomy between the 'Moral Man' and the 'Sensuous Man'.
As rational beings, human individuals were capable of going beyond the immediate world of the senses to postulate what ought to be. They were capable of formulating a moral world. At the same time, human individuals were sensory and material beings with immediate sensory needs and desires. Hence each human individual had the option of acting in accordance with either their moral or sensory selves.
If everyone acted in accordance with their moral self then this would promote the greatest common good, ought would become is and the moral world would be realized. However, even though the vast majority of individuals would inevitably choose the to follow their sensuous selves, thwarting the actions of those who chose the moral path, there was still for Kant a moral obligation for each individual to obey the categorical imperatives. These moral injunctions were not to be subordinated to other ends, nor were they to be chosen piecemeal or suspended under particular circumstances. They had to be applied consistently and as a whole, regardless of their effectiveness at any one time. Only in this way would human individuals act as the 'Moral Man' and free themselves from the dictates of the senses and realize their own essence as rational beings.
Yet this ethical position of Kant could only be sustained by first establishing the grounds for the certainty of knowledge and reason from which such categorical imperatives could be rooted and accepted as being universal. Indeed, the centrepiece of Kant's philosophy -- The Critique of Pure Reason -- is for the most part devoted to this epistemological task, and it was written well before Kant's principal work on ethics -- The Critique of Practical Reason.
Whereas the empiricists viewed the mind as a mere mirror that simply reflected the 'facts' of the material world into consciousness, Kant conceived of the mind as instrument that actively gave form to such bare materials facts and thereby made them intelligible. By itself, the world immediately apparent to the human senses was merely a mass of formless and thus meaningless data. In order to make such data intelligible the mind has to give it form -- it has to shape it and order it if is to make sense. But for Kant, this implies that the material world external to the conscious mind cannot be known other than through the actions of thought. It can never be known in-itself -- as nomena -- but only ever in its mentally constructed forms as phenomena.
With this line of argument Kant completely undercuts the empiricist's assertion of the supremacy of sensory data as the basis of knowledge. Yet with this we find Kant once more introducing a dualism into his thought, this time in his epistemology, which directly underlies the dualism of his ethics. We now have the antinomy of knowable phenomena and unknowable nomena; between the mind of the knowing subject and the world of material objects that are unknowable in themselves. A separation that echoes that of the 'Moral' from the 'Sensuous' 'Man'.
Like his ethics, Kant proposes that there exists a universal set of rules that governs the mind's appropriation of sensory data. Pre-existent to the appropriation of any particular sensory data, these rules of thought form an apriori knowledge without which such sensory data would be meaningless, since such data would be the content of knowledge without its form.
In unearthing this apriori knowledge, Kant had to separate it out from its application in the various empirical sciences which sought to understand the sensory world. Kant was anxious to avoid the trap of claiming that these forms and categories of 'pure' knowledge could produce by themselves any new knowledge of the material world. They were after all only forms of knowledge that by themselves had no content. It had been such a claim that had led to the downfall of speculative rationalism at the hands of the empiricists. Instead Kant laid great stress on his insistence that these forms of thought -- his 'transcendental logic' -- were merely a 'canon of judgement' which had strict limits beyond which it could not safely go. Such logic could protect us from error but could not extend or enlarge our range of knowledge independently of any sensory content.
With this Kant came to construct a threefold division within his epistemology. Firstly there was the formless content of immediate Sensory Perception. With the application of the apriori forms of knowledge this content was given a meaningful form as understandable phenomena within the second level of knowledge -- that of Understanding. Thirdly, by separating out the action of thought within the process of understanding these forms of thought could become their own content. With this, knowledge reached its third level -- the level of Reason.
At the level of Understanding the object of thought is external to the mind and is therefore unknowable in- itself. It can only be known through the forms with which it is appropriated by thought -- as phenomena. However, with the reflexivity of thought at the level of Reason, thought becomes its own object; the content and form of knowledge thus become one and the same. As such, with Reason, thought can become certain of the knowledge of its object in-itself -- as nomena. Hence, within the realm of Reason thought can become certain of itself.
So, by opposing Reason to Understanding and Sensory Perception, Kant was able to preserve a degree of epistemological certainty upon which to construct a rational and universal ethics. He was able to salvage reason as the basis of bourgeois morality against the ravages of scepticism and solipsism that had been fostered by empiricism and materialism.
But Kant was only at the beginning of classical German philosophy.
iii) Hegel While Kant stood at the opening of the era of classical German philosophy, Hegel brought it to its culmination. The one event which more than anything else separated these two great German philosophers, and which brought their two systems into confrontation, was the French Revolution. Kant's philosophy was formed before the outbreak of the French Revolution, and as such represented the plight of the isolated bourgeois individual trapped within the decaying feudal order. Hegel's philosophy, in contrast, was formed in the aftermath of these great events, and took up the perspective of the bourgeoisie as a triumphant class seeking to organize society in its own interests.
For Hegel, reason was not a flickering candle used to guide the solitary individual, but the beacon to the whole world. Indeed, in his formative years Hegel is said to have welcomed Napoleon's invasion of his native Germany on the grounds that it would bring the gains of the French revolution to German soil. He had embraced the French Revolution as heralding the new age of reason which he then sought to crown with his own philosophy.
So what effects did these two differing perspectives that were separated by the revolutionary events in France have on the respective philosophies of Kant and Hegel?
For both Kant and Hegel thought was the very being of 'Man'; and the essence of thought was Reason. Hence, for both these idealist philosophers the essence of 'Man' was Reason. As we have seen, from the Kantian perspective of the isolated bourgeois individual Reason appeared as given -- that is, it stood before each individual as a ready made apriori knowledge. As such, in contradistinction to the contingency and contradictions of both Sensory Perception and Understanding, Reason presents itself as the common high ground upon which to construct a universal morality that may be adopted by all 'reasonable men'.
However, from Hegel's perspective, Reason could not be simply taken as given. While Reason was pre-existent to each individual, and therefore appears from the perspective of the individual as being an apriori knowledge, this was not true for society as a whole. For Hegel. Reason was the result of centuries of human thought. It therefore had to be shown how Reason had come about as the result of the history of human thought, and how it was then appropriated by each individual mind. For this, as we shall see, Hegel had to become a dialectician.
Kant had little time for dialectics.(4) For him such a mode of thought belonged to the sophistry that arose within the contradictory realm of Understanding and did not belong to the higher realms of thought represented by Reason. Fleeing from the conflicts of bourgeois society, Kant could only see dialectics as a cloak for self- interest. From Hegel's perspective, however, each conflicting self-interest was merely a particular aspect of the totality of bourgeois society. It was through the very conflict and resolution of such contradictory self- interests that bourgeois society came to constitute itself as a social totality that ensured the common good. The ultimate resolution of such conflicts being embodied in the laws and institutions of the modern bourgeois state and church.
For Hegel, just as the modern state as the totality of bourgeois society was constituted as the ultimate resolution of the contradictions of particular self- interests, so Reason was constituted out of the resolution of the contradictory and contingent ideas of Sensory Perception and Understanding. Each conception developed by the Understanding would come into contradiction with its opposite. Both of these opposed conceptions would expose the one-sided and inadequate nature of the other obliging the mind to pass over into a more complete synthesis, thereby realizing these two opposites as being both grounded in a greater whole. Through such a dialectical progression thought would gradually reveal Reason as the totality of knowledge.
So, it is as a dialectical movement of totalization, which resolves the conflicts of particular interests and conceptions, that Reason becomes the common ground for all 'Men' -- for all citizens -- and this becomes concretely expressed in the laws, rights and duties of the modern state. This, however, is the result of Hegel's philosophical system. Hegel had to first show how Reason comes into the consciousness of both the individual and of society.
While for Hegel, Reason, and with it the heights of philosophical knowledge, is available to all 'Men' as rational beings, it is not simply given. It is the result of a long and arduous mental labour. The mind has to make the long ascent from the level of immediate Sensory Perception, through the realms of Understanding the objective and material world before it can reach the heights Reason and true philosophical knowledge. But in making this long ascent each individual will find that they are tracing out, albeit in abbreviated form, the long ascent made over thousands of years by the great thinkers of history. For Hegel, therefore, the first step of epistemology was history.
In his first major work -- Phenonenology of Spirit -- Hegel seeks to follow the coming to consciousness of Reason for both the individual and for humanity as a whole. As Lukacs has shown, Hegel consequently traces out the ascent of thought to Reason three times.
Firstly, in what Hegel terms the Subjective Spirit: Hegel presents...the evolution of individual consciousness from its lowest form, merely immediate perception of the world, right up to the highest categories of reason as these appear in individual consciousness. What is common to the different kinds of consciousness manifested is that it is everywhere confronted by an already established, alien world (nature and society). By coming into conflict with this world, and interacting with it, consciousness gradually ascends to its higher forms. (Lukacs, 1975, p. 472) So even at the end of this ascent: ...the individual consciousness stands opposed to an unknown objective reality. This appears as fixed and alien because the determinations and mediations which are what makes objective reality and the role of the individual consciousness in it what they are, have not crossed the threshold of consciousness. Implicitly [an sich], however, they are already present and effectual. (Lukacs, 1975, p. 472)
Once they do cross the threshold of consciousness, and thereby become explicit, we return and embark on the second ascent -- which Hegel terms the Objective Spirit. With this Hegel brings: ...the consciousness of the individual to the stage where he is in a position to understand his own history, the history of the human race, in its reality. It is therefore comprehensible, indeed absolutely essential, that he should recapitulate the actual course of history from the new hard won vantage point.
Of course, he now does so in quite a different way. History had previously [in the ascent of the Subjective Spirit] provided a shadowy, enigmatic backcloth for the phenomenological unfolding of consciousness of the individual. Now, however, it appears as a coherent rational order. (Lukacs, 1975, p. 485) Hegel does not, however, trace out history in its entirety but rather concentrates on what he sees as its three crucial stages in the development of human thought. These are identified and commented upon by Lukacs as follows: 1) 'Objective Spirit: the ethical order'' (The society of antiquity and its dissolution) 2) 'Spirit in Self-Estrangement : the discipline of culture ' (the rise of civil society, the ideological crisis in the Enlightenment and the world crisis of the French Revolution). 3) 'Spirit Certain of Itself: morality'.
(Hegel's utopian dream of Germany under the domination of Napoleon). (Lukacs, 1975, p. 486) In the third and final ascent -- the ascent of the Absolute Spirit -- Hegel recapitulates the development of thought through history once more, but now on the basis of the results of the previous ascents of consciousness. At the end of this third ascent the individual consciousness comes to recognize itself as an expression of human thought as a whole -- with the absolute -- and thereby becomes reconciled with the apparently alien objective world as its own mental creation.
Despite changes in emphasis in Hegel's philosophy as he grew older, the Phenomenology remained the basis upon which he constructed his mature philosophical system. The development of his later works, such as his Encyclopedia, Science of Logic and Philosophy of Right, all echo the dialectical development that can be seen at work in the Phenomenology, and all find their epistemological basis within it. All these works, then, rest on the question of history.(5)
Indeed, as we shall see, it was the historical character of Hegel's that was of particular interest to Marx in his efforts to overcome the ahistorical character of bourgeois political economy. But ultimately for Hegel history was merely the first step of epistemology. It was merely the means through which to establish the self- certainty of knowledge and thus of Reason.
For Hegel, Reason was not produced through history but merely revealed. For him Reason stood outside of history - it was suprahistorical -- and was only revealed to human consciousness through the history of human thought guided by the Absolute Spirit. With the full revelation of Reason by the Absolute Spirit, history, for all intents and purposes, had come to end. And indeed, in claiming to reveal Reason, Hegel had to bring history to a close with both himself and the bourgeois epoch.
As Lukacs has argued, for the 'Young Hegel', the French Revolution had announced the imminence of the new age of reason and thus heralded the 'end of history'. However, the defeat of Napoleon and the failure of the new world to emerge as the 'Young Hegel' had hoped led the 'Old Hegel', from the comfort of his position as the state philosopher of Prussia, to conclude that the 'new age' had in fact been in existence since the Reformation. Thus unlike, the 'Young Hegel' for whom history was the playing out its great finale, for the 'Old Hegel' history was well and truly over.
Luckacs, following Marx, characterizes this shift in Hegel's perspective on history as a shift from a position of 'uncritical utopianism' to a position of an 'uncritical positivism' which, as we shall see, mirrors a similar shift between the 'Young' and 'Old' Marx. But more on this later. We must now see how Marx came to appropriate Hegel's dialectic and conceptions of both history and totality.
B) Totality and dialectic in Marx Whereas Kant may be classified as a liberal, complaining that the world is not completely what it ought to be, Hegel, in the end, was an arch-conservative. For Hegel the alienation and conflicts that abounded within capitalist society were the necessary playing out of the conclusions of a history that was for all intents and purposes over. The role of the philosopher was merely to look on. There was no question of trying to change the world for the world was now complete. Instead the philosopher had to be content with summing up the great intellectual labours that had gone before, and with the knowledge of the absolute that these efforts had revealed. As the 'Old' Hegel puts it: "One word more about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case has always comes on the scene too late to give it. As thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there cut and dried after its process of formation has been completed. The teaching of the concept, which is also history's inescapable lesson, is that only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over and against the real and that the ideal apprehends this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itself into the shape of an intellectual realm.
When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood.
The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk. (Hegel, 1952, p. 12) Marx on the other hand was a radical and a revolutionary. For him the question was not merely to 'interpret the world but to change it'. Marx had to place himself, not at the end of history, but at the centre of history-in-the-making. Marx's association with the proletariat and his direct experience of political repression and exile meant that he could not simply look for a change in his own attitude to the world to reconcile himself to its inherent evil. He had to demand real material changes. A demand that required him to become an unequivocal materialist.(6)
However, Marx recognized that, despite its conservative and idealist character, Hegel's dialectic contained a 'rational kernel' hidden within its 'mystical shell'. In confronting Hegel, Marx sought to invert Hegel's dialectic and reconstruct it on a materialist footing. He sought to turn this vital weapon of the bourgeoisie's most sophisticated defender against bourgeois society itself..
How then did Marx come to appropriate and reconstruct the Hegelian dialectic? How did it come to serve him in his battle against bourgeois political economy?
i) dialectic as ontology As we saw, in chapter 2, Marx's critique of Hegel developed from within the Young Hegelian thematic of human alienation and human liberation. Indeed, it was the very question of human alienation that drove Marx to challenge the very ontological basis of Hegel's dialectic. We must therefore reconsider the development of this critique in a little more depth.
For the Young Hegelians the source of human alienation -- and therefore the point of departure for human liberation -- lay within the realm of religious ideas. As a consequence their confrontation with Hegel, and the Old Hegelians, had centred on his defence of the established Protestant Church. However, as Lukacs has ably demonstrated, Hegel in his formative years had himself been concerned with the question of human alienation in modern society, particularly with regard to religion. For the 'Young' Hegel Christianity seemed to impose itself over and against the individual consciousness as an external and somewhat inhuman set of moral injunctions issuing from an other worldly God. As such it contrasted unfavourably with the more immediately human religions of the classical world.
However, the Young Hegel did not confine his criticisms of the alienation of modern bourgeois society simply to religion. Indeed for the formative Hegel, this 'positivity' of Christianity extended beyond the realm of religion to pervade the realm of public affairs, where again the modern state contrasted unfavourably with the more humane and intimate ancient polis; and even economics, where Hegel lamented the alienated relations between people that had arisen with the modern monetary economy.(7) To this extent, and unknown to Marx, Hegel went beyond his latter day critics within the Young Hegelian movement.
However, Hegel did no linger long in his nostalgia for the long lost world of antiquity. Instead he came to view such 'positivity' of the modern world as an inevitable part of human development. A development which had in any case revealed such 'positivity' -- such human alienation -- as being little more than an appearance. Once the individual consciousness had ascended to the heights of philosophical Reason it could recognize itself as a constituent moment of the absolute; of both God and the state. The apparently alien world of modern society would then become reconciled as the individual consciousness's own creation. The apparent 'positivity' of this world would then vanish giving rise to a perception that would far surpass the immature immediacy of antiquity.
For Hegel, then, alienation was a necessity, but it was a necessity that would ultimately prove to be only apparent. It was a necessary stage in the unfolding of human consciousness that was ultimately annulled and superseded through a mere change in attitude. In terms of religion, this supersession had been made with the Reformation, which for Hegel had overcome the externality of the old Catholic Church, which had placed the priest between 'Man' and God, by placing God within each individual consciousness.
Hegel was driven to such conservative conclusions, despite his youthful protestations, by his idealist ontological premises. A point that escaped his Young Hegelian critics who failed to challenge them. So what were these ontological premises that Marx came to overturn?
For Hegel, as an idealist, being was thought, and, as we have previously noted, for him the essence of 'Man' was therefore Reason. As such, the objectification of 'Man' in the natural world was necessarily an act of alienation. In thinking about the external world of objects consciousness had to go beyond itself into its other. It had to negate itself in the alien world of natural of unconscious objects. This process of objectification was therefore at one and the same time a process of alienation.
However, once thought recognized its understanding of the natural world as the work of Reason then it could return to itself. Thought would have negated its own negation and reasserted itself over and against the natural world. With this negation of the negation the alienation of the individual consciousness would be both annulled and superseded within the community and totality of Absolute Reason. It would recognize itself -- its essence -- as a rational being.
It was this ontological dialectic of consciousness which was then used by Hegel in his defence of modern bourgeois society. Mirroring the dialectical movement of consciousness, Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right, explains the development of the will of the individual into reconciliation with the Will of the State. Just as the individual consciousness must enter the alien world of objects, so the individual subject must leave the intimate world of the family to 'make a living' in civil society. But civil society, and with it the market economy, at first confronts the individual as an alien world of competing wills each striving for their own self- interest over and against all others.
Yet it is through such competing and opposed interests that modern society becomes constituted and each of its members sustained. Once the individual comes to recognize that her own needs are met through the competition within civil society; and once she realises that her own rights to property and liberty are ensured through the rights of others -- by the very universality of these rights -- she comes to recognize herself as a particular citizen of the state whose rights and duties are the general expression of her own will. She becomes reconciled to the state and her own particular role within it. Hence, just as the alienated condition of consciousness is negated as a moment in the totality of Reason, so the political and economic negation and alienation of the individual will in civil society is negated within the totality of the modern state.
In order to develop his critique of this defence of the bourgeois state and society Marx's first task was to strike at its heart by reconstructing Hegel's idealist ontology in materialist terms. For a starting point to such an ontological inversion Marx looked to Feuerbach. Indeed, as we saw in chapter 2, it was through the materialism of Feuerbach that Marx had began his critique of Hegel's theory of the state by showing that individuals and classes were not merely particular expressions of the idea that was given a material expression in the state, but rather the ideal state was an abstraction arising from the real concrete individuals and classes that made up the materially existing state and society.
So what was this materialist ontological starting point that Marx found in Feuerbach? How did it contrast with that of Hegel?
In taking being as thought, and Reason as the essence of 'Man', Hegel's idealist ontology opened with the very exclusion of nature. For Hegel, 'Man's' objectification in nature was merely an intermediary step through which the individual conscious subject came to identify herself with the absolute -- with God as Reason or, in less mystical terms, with the totality of human thought. So, Hegel's ontological dialectic began with the immediate opposition of 'Man' to nature and ended with the annulment of nature in the self-identity of thought.
Feuerbach directly inverted this ontological starting point. For Feuerbach, human beings were first and foremost natural and sensuous beings. They were not simply thinking subjects but had a natural and objective being. As a result, Feuerbach took as his starting point the immediate unity of 'Man' with nature. But this did not mean Feuerbach simply reduced 'Man' to an indifferent product of nature. He did not deny the importance and distinctiveness of consciousness -- 'Man' as a rational being. However, the essence of 'Man' was no longer Reason as such, but 'Man's species being'; that is 'Man' as a subjective/objective thinking animal. Consciousness and reason were therefore a natural, but not an exclusive part of what it was to be human.
This was a vital advance for Marx. With what Marx came to call real humanism, Feuerbach had gone beyond all his contemporaries within the Young Hegelian movement by discarding the idealist ontological point of departure of German philosophy, without at the same time falling foul of the vulgar materialism of the eighteenth century which had sought to reduce human thought and action to mechanical and chemical causation. Indeed, it opened the way for Marx to reconstruct Hegel's dialectic on a materialist footing.
The Hegelian dialectical movement of the self- estrangement of self-consciousness in the objective and natural world could now be reinterpreted as the self- estrangement of 'Man' from his 'species being'. The consequences of this for Feuerbach had been that Hegel's 'theology' had now to be reconstructed as an 'anthropology'. It was no longer sufficient to rationalize the blind faith of Christian theology through its supersession in philosophy, as Hegel had proposed, but to retrieve 'Man's' essence -- his species being -- which had ceased to correspond to his existence in contemporary religious thought. For Feuerbach, Christianity could not be simply redeemed by recognizing the rationality behind its faith since it was irredeemably an unnatural religion that denied the sensuality of 'Man'.
However, in developing Feuerbach's critique of Hegel into politics and political economy Marx was obliged to begin to go beyond Feuerbach. This becomes readily apparent by the 1844 Manuscripts. In this work, in which he brings Hegel, political economy and communism into a critical confrontation with each other, it becomes clear that Marx's ontological point of departure is no longer the immediate opposition of 'Man' to nature of Hegel and idealist philosophy, nor the immediate unity of 'Man' to nature of Feuerbach; rather, the relation of human beings to nature is now one of a mediated unity of opposition.
For Marx, like Feuerbach, human beings are natural and sensuous beings and as such are a product of nature. Yet human beings distinguish themselves from the rest of nature by their conscious transformation of their environment. Indeed, as Marx points out in The German Ideology: Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence. (Marx, 1970, p. 42) Through the mediation of human praxis -- human labour -- human beings become distinguished from the rest of nature but are at the same time united with it. Through the process of acting on the external natural world, by objectifying themselves within it, human beings not only transform nature in accordance with their own needs and desires but in doing so develop these very needs and desires and thereby come to transform themselves. Human praxis serves to develop human nature at the same time as making nature more human.
Hence, for Marx, there is a dialectical relation of 'Man' and nature, but unlike Hegel, the starting point of this ontological dialectic is the mediation of human praxis. This has important implications for the question of human alienation.
As both Arthur and Meszaros have pointed out, in the 1844 Manuscripts Marx considers the mediation of human praxis as two-fold.(8) Firstly, there is human praxis as a transhistorical mediation of human beings to nature in which, as we have seen, human beings are both distinguished and united with nature and each other as social beings. Indeed, it is through the very objectification and externalization of human praxis that human beings produce themselves as human. As Marx elaborates: The practical creation of an objective world, the fashioning of inorganic nature, is proof that man is a conscious species-being ... It is true that animals also produce. They build nests and dwellings, like the bee, the beaver, the ant etc.
But they produce only their own immediate needs or those of their young; they produce one-sidely, while man produces universally; they produce only when immediate physical need compels them to do so, while man produces even when he is free from physical need and truly produces only in freedom from such need; they produce only themselves, while man reproduces the whole of nature; their products belong immediately to their physical bodies, while man freely confronts his own product. Animals produce only according to the standards and needs of the species to which they belong, while man is capable of producing according to the standards of every species and of applying to each object its inherent standard; hence man also produces in accordance with the laws of beauty.
It is therefore in his fashioning of the objective that man really proves himself to be a species-being. Such production is his active species life. Through it nature appears as his work and reality. The object of labour is therefore the objectification of the species-life of man: for man reproduces himself not only intellectually in his consciousness, but actively and actually, and he can therefore contemplate himself in a world he himself created." (MEW, p. 328) Thus for Marx, as opposed to Hegel, the objectification of 'Man' is not necessarily at one and the same time an act of alienation. On the contrary, through the process of objectification human praxis human beings realize their human essence -- their 'species being'.
However, at the same time, it is true that nature may prove recalcitrant to human efforts. Indeed, human praxis may become overwhelmed by natural forces that are beyond its control. Famines, floods and diseases can all thwart and annul the results of human labour. As such nature stands opposed to human beings as an alien force. However, with the exception of those circumstances in which human praxis works against its own purposes -- such as in the case of the over tillage of the land and the subsequent impoverishment of the soil -- such natural alienation lies outside of human praxis; it stands as an external limit of the efficacy of human praxis. This is not the case with the social alienation that may arise with human praxis as second order mediation.
The appropriation of nature through human praxis is necessarily a collective process. The relation of 'Man' to nature therefore involves the social relations of 'Man to Man', which are themselves historically specific. This becomes most apparent within bourgeois society. Under capitalism human beings as direct producers find themselves excluded from nature and the means with which to produce their own subsistence by the social institution of private property. As a consequence the worker has to sell her own labour-power to the property- owner -- the capitalist -- in order to survive. The worker therefore find that she is alienated from her own productive activity by the social mediation of private property.
Hence the process of labour becomes a process of alienation. As Marx elaborates: ...labour is external to the worker ie does not belong to his essential being; that he therefore does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind. Hence the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working. His labour is therefore not voluntary but forced, it is forced labour... Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, the human brain and the human heart detaches itself from the individual and reappears as the alien activity of a god or of a devil, so the activity of the worker is not his own spontaneous activity. It belongs to another, it is a loss of his self. (MEW, p. 326) As a consequence the worker: ...makes his life activity, his being [Wesen], a mere means to his existence. (MEW, p. 328) For Marx then, only under certain historically specific circumstances, such as those that exist within capitalist society, does the process of the objectification of human beings become at the same time a process of alienation. The error of bourgeoise apologists, such as Hegel, was to conflate these historically specific second order mediations of human praxis -- those of human alienation -- with the transhistorical first order mediations of human objectification. Human praxis, or more specifically human labour, within capitalist society had therefore to be consider as two-fold; as both a process of objectification and, at the same time, as a process of alienation.
So, with his theory of alienation, which he first sets out in the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx lays the ontological foundations for his critique of bourgeois society, which then became developed in his later works, and at the same time affirms the ontological possibility of communism. Against Hegel, Marx is able to show that alienation is not an ontological necessity of human labour but is rather historically contingent. Hence, despite all the denials of Hegel and the bourgeois political economy, communism as a society of free and unalienated human praxis emerges as an ontological possibility.
However, in the course of developing his theory of alienation against both Hegel and the political economists, Marx was increasingly driven into a confrontation with Feuerbach. Feuerbach's ontological starting point of the immediate unity of 'Man' and nature - which as we have seen Marx had already abandoned by the 1844 Manuscripts -- meant that he could only conceive of alienation as the separation of 'Man's' ideas from his natural and essential being. Therefore, for Feuerbach, despite his materialist intent and starting point, ended up as little more than an idealist, demanding no more than the reform of religion. Indeed, by the time of The German Ideology Marx had lumped his erstwhile mentor with the rest of the Young Hegelians.
For Marx, unlike Feuerbach, the source of alienation lay in the economic and material organization of society. It was therefore a real alienation that demanded a real and practical revolution, rather than merely a revolution in ideas. A point he presses home in his Theses on Feuerbach as follows: Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self- contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself, be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then be destroyed in theory and in practice. (Marx, 1970, p. 122) But what was to constitute the basis of this 'practical revolution'? The abolition or redistribution of private property that the socialists demanded? No, not quite! Such socialist demands did recognize the need for a practical and material change in the economic organisation of society but for Marx they did not go far enough. Against the demands of the socialists -- or 'crude communists' -- Marx argues that private property is not the primary cause of alienated labour but its consequence. Under capitalism, private property, in the form of capital, does not stand independently of labour but is labour itself. Capital, as the classical political economists recognized, was merely the accumulation of alienated labour. It was labour standing against itself as an alien power.
It is therefore not sufficient simply to abolish or negate private property, since this may merely mean collectivising it. With such communism: "...the community is simply a community of labour and equality of wages, which are paid out by the communal capital, the community, as universal capitalist. Both sides of the relation are raised to an imaginary universality -- labour as the condition on which everyone is placed and capital as the acknowledged universality and power of the community. (MEW, p. 346) Rather the task of communism is for Marx: ...the positive supersession of private property as human self estrangement, and hence the true appropriation of human essence through and for man; it is the complete restoration of man to himself as a social, i.e. human, being, a restoration which has become conscious and which takes place within the entire wealth of previous periods of development. (MEW, p. 348) While the socialists were correct to accuse the political economists of overlooking the human degradation and impoverishment brought about by the unrestrained development of private property, and as a consequence to demand a new socialist society, they had failed to grasp the innerconnection of the lack of property to property itself -- of labour to capital. For Marx, the socialists merely juxtaposed the poverty of the working masses to the wealth of the propertied classes. As Marx observes: The antithesis between propertylessness and property is still an indifferent antithesis, not grasped in its active connection, its inner relation, not yet grasped as contradiction, as long as it is not understood as the antithesis of between labour and capital (MEW, p. 345) As a consequence, the socialists, for Marx, not only failed to grasp the communist project, but also all too easily fell into a moralistic utopianism. As such, their understanding of capitalist society fell far below that of the bourgeois political economists, who clearly acknowledged labour as the 'subjective essence of private property'.
However, it must be said that in the 1844 Manuscripts Marx is not so much concerned with opposing and overcoming the inadequacies of contemporary socialist theories but with clarifying his relation to both Hegel and classical political economy. Indeed, Marx makes little attempt to explore in depth the theories of such prominent contemporary socialists as Proudhon as was to do a few years later; and it may be said that the 'crude communism' that he presents in these manuscripts is something of a caricature in some places.(9) But it is through this confrontation of 'crude communism' and classical political economy that we can see Marx making his reappropriation of the Hegelian dialectic.
With classical political economy's recognition of labour as the 'subjective essence of private property' -- of capital as the accumulation of objectified and alienated labour -- Marx was able to draw a direct parallel with the critique of Hegel's theory of the reformation as the historical supersession of the externality of Catholicism. As Marx remarks: Engels was therefore right to call Adam Smith the Luther of political economy. Just as Luther recognized religion and faith as the essence of the external world and in consequence confronted Catholic paganism; just as he transcended external religiosity by making religiosity the inner essence of man; just as he negated the idea of priests as something separate and apart from the layman by transferring the priest into the heart of the layman; so wealth as something outside man and independent of him -- and therefore only to be acquired and maintained externally -- is abolished [aufgehoben]. I.e. its external and mindless objectivity is abolished inasmuch as private property is embodied in man himself and man himself is recognized as its essence -- but this brings man himself into the province of private property, just as Luther brought him into the province of religion. So although political economy, whose principle is labour appears to recognize man, it is in fact nothing more than the denial of man carried through to its logical conclusion: for man himself no longer stands in relation of external tension to the external essence of private property -- he himself has become the tense essence of private property. What was formerly being-external-to- oneself, man's material externalisation, has now become the act of alienation... (MEW, p. 342) Taken from a materialist perspective it becomes clear for Marx that: ...Hegel's standpoint is that of the modern political economy. (MEW, p. 386) Indeed, once his ontological conflation of objectification and alienation -- the conflation of the two orders of mediation of human praxis -- is recognized and real sensuous 'Man' is substituted for self- consciousness and the Absolute Spirit, it becomes clear that Hegel's dialectic is descriptive of the alienated movement of modern bourgeois society -- albeit in abstract and idealist terms. However, it is these very abstract and idealist terms that allow Hegel to go beyond the political economists to address the question of alienation. While the political economists recognized the antithesis of labour and capital they could never admit this as a contradiction, nor could they accept that: The worker is the subjective manifestation of the fact that capital is man completely lost to himself, just as capital is the objective manifestation of he fact that labour is man lost to himself. (MEW, p. 344) For political economy, which is only concerned with understanding the objective laws of the capitalist economy, the alienation of 'Man' is always beyond their concern. It enters only as a natural presupposition of their analysis. In contrast: The importance of Hegel's Phenomenology and its final result -- the dialectic of negativity as the moving and producing principle -- lies in the fact that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process, objectification as loss of object [Entgegenstandliching], as alienation and as supersession of this alienation; that he therefore grasps the nature of labour and conceives objective man -- true, because real man -- as the result of his own labour. The real, active relation of man to himself as a species-being, or the realisation of himself as a real species-being, i.e. as a human being, is only possible if he really employs all his species-powers -- which again is only possible through the cooperation of mankind and as a result of history -- and treats them as objects, which is at first only possible in the form of estrangement. (MEW, p. 385) For Hegel the problem of alienation is not a given presupposition; he can therefore pose the possibility of the overcoming of human alienation. But because: The only labour Hegel knows and recognizes is abstract mental labour. (MEW, p. 386) Hegel need not admit the possibility of communism. The return of 'Man to himself' becomes a matter of mental attitude; a reconciliation to the objective economic laws of bourgeois society.
However, it is not sufficient to merely place Hegel's dialectic on a materialist footing, any more than it was sufficient to simply invert his ontological starting point as with Feuerbach. Whereas the political economists took private property as natural, Hegel conflated private property with nature. Hegel's dialectic describes the loss of abstract mental labour in the external and alien world of nature and its subsequent return to itself. However, the loss of real labour in private property could not be so easily resolved through a simple act of reconciliation -- through an act analogous to the culmination of Hegel's dialectic in a 'negation of the negation'. It was not sufficient simply to substitute real material labour for Hegel's abstract mental labour, since this would simply end up describing bourgeois society as it is. Instead it was necessary to reconstruct Hegel's dialectic not only as a materialist dialectic but also as a radically open dialectic. We shall return to this important point in due course, but before this we shall consider Marx's appropriation of Hegel's dialectic as history.
ii) the dialectic as history Whereas Hegel placed himself at the end of history, the Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts placed himself at its beginning. For Marx at this time, the bourgeois epoch was not the culmination of history, but of pre-history; it did not realize the full development of humanity, but rather its self-estrangement in private property. It was only with the positive supersession of private property, and with it human alienation, in a free and unalienated communist society that history would at last begin. It would only be then that human beings would return from their self-estrangement in private property, and it would only be then that humanity would come to fully know the world and transform it in accordance with their own fully developing needs and desires.
It was this radical shift in historical perspective -- this leap into communism -- that the Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts was able to gain the critical distance necessary to confront Hegel and the political economists and thereby refute their denial of the possibility of communism. But, at the same time, it also allowed Marx to go beyond the utopian socialism of the time by showing how such socialism was not utopian enough; how it failed to break from the essence of bourgeois society, and therefore how it could never get beyond capitalism itself. Marx's leap into communism was utopian but it was a critical utopianism.
However, while Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts defined the tasks of communism and demonstrated the ontological possibility of a communist society, he failed at this stage to develop the historical possibility of communism. It was clear for the Marx of 1844 that it was not sufficient merely to change people's ideas; it was necessary to transform the real social and economic relations of production to bring communism into being. It was also clear that capitalism prepared the economic and material conditions for a communist society of plenty. But it was less clear as to how the communist revolution could come about. How could a communist society emerge out of capitalism?
To answer this Marx had to place himself within history. He had to go beyond the Young Hegelian thematic of 'human alienation and human liberation' to his new thematic of 'capitalism and its overthrow'. But, as we saw in the previous chapters, this implied not only a distinct and final break with Young Hegelianism in general but with Feuerbach in particular. The Marx of The German Ideology is no longer concerned with the abstract Feuerbachian 'Man' but with 'real historical man'. For it was not 'Man' as such that would overthrow capitalism for Marx, but the revolutionary proletariat, historically and necessarily produced by capitalism itself.
How then does Marx place himself within history? How does he make Feuerbach's abstract 'Man' into 'real historical man'? And how does this inform the communist project for the critique and practical overthrow of capitalism?
As Marx stresses against the idealism of the Young Hegelians in The German Ideology, it is on the basis of the production of their own material subsistence that human beings produce themselves as social beings. The basis of history is therefore not the apparently independent development of ideas but the development of the real production of material life. As Marx argues: The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals.
Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature...
The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.... The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production. (Marx, 1970, p. 42) However, human individuals do not produce on their own, but rather through and within society under a given social division of labour. How human individuals come to express their life therefore depends on how they relate to others through the historically given social organization of production. As Marx himself states: ...the existing stage in the division of labour determines...the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instruments, and product of labour. (Marx, 1970, p. 43) Therefore, in the first instance, as social beings, human beings are produced out of the historically determined material conditions of society. It is from this material and historical basis that human consciousness then arises: The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics etc. of a people.
Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas etc. -- real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life- process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process. (Marx, 1970, p. 47) So, with The German Ideology, it becomes clear that, as social beings, human beings and their ideas arise out of a given material and historical context. Hence, human nature, the 'essence of man' is historically determined. Feuerbach's 'species being' now emerges as an empty abstraction; it is necessary to consider 'real historical man' -- human beings as members of distinct social groups and classes with a given organization of society.
It terms of social change this has important implications. Firstly, against the conservatives, if human nature is not fixed but historically determined, then communism cannot be denied by an appeal to immutability of human nature. Secondly, against the 'true communist' it becomes clear that there cannot be simply an appeal to some abstract humanity to change its ideas. Communism demands a social revolution that will transform the material basis of society. A social revolution that can only be brought about out of class conflict and on the basis of given material preconditions: These conditions of life, which each generation finds in existence, decide also whether or not the periodically recurring revolutionary will be strong enough to overthrow the basis of the entire system. And if these material elements of a complete revolution are not present (namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the formation of a revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate conditions of society up till then, but against the very 'production of life' till then, the 'totality of activity' on which it was based), then, as far as practical development is concerned, it is absolutely immaterial whether the idea of this revolution has been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of communism proves. (Marx, 1970, p. 59) So, against the idealism of Young Hegelianism and 'true communism', Marx asserts that revolution cannot be brought about by an act of sheer will, or by 'changing people's ideas', it demands certain material and objective preconditions. But it is also clear that for Marx, while 'circumstances make men', it is also true that 'men make circumstances'. In consciously acting on the world human beings do in fact make history. As Marx was to proclaim a few years later: Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. (MESW, p. 97) For Hegel, history was not a human creation but a divine revelation. Hegel could therefore only consider history in its result. As such, history appeared as a self- developing singular totality which culminated with Hegel himself and contemporary bourgeois society. Indeed, for Hegel, bourgeois society, as the inevitable outcome of history, was necessarily implicit from the beginning of history. It was the very telos of history's self- development.
By taking history simply as result, history, for Hegel, came to serve as merely an affirmation of present capitalist society. Yet, for Marx, despite such conservative implications, this telelogical view of history was a decisive advance over the view of history as simply a chain of random events. Indeed, Marx himself can also be seen to take history in its result, but in materialist terms. For Marx, from the perspective of capitalist society history can indeed be seen as the self- development of a singular totality. It can be seen as the self-development of the forces of production which inevitably develop over and against the will and purposes of human beings.
As such, history appears as a sequence of distinct forms of societies, based on given modes of production, each of which then serve as stages in the development of production towards its culmination with capitalist mode of production, which then provides the material preconditions for communism. But this simply rewrites Hegel's dialectic in materialist and productivist terms. History is now made not by some alien God but by alien objective and material conditions. It denies that human history is made by human beings. History becomes predetermined in its result.
But in positing history as a sequence of modes of production, each giving rise to distinct forms of society, history, considered as process, emerges as a series of distinct social totalities. A plurality of totalities whose persistence is only provisional, and which are thus merely transitory. A transitoriness that then can be applied to the capitalist mode of production as well.
Each mode of production defines the material preconditions for the interaction and of real historical human beings, the terrain of conflict for the historically specific classes which it forms, and prescribes the consciousness that such human beings have of such interactions. But each mode of production can only persist insofar as it can contain the social conflicts it may engender. The outcome of such conflicts, while delimited to certain distinct possibilities, are always uncertain, and, at their extreme, contain the possibility of the transition to a new mode of production and society.
For Marx then, history as a universal singular totality must become replaced by a plurality of totalities once we move from the perspective of history as result to history as process; that is, once we place ourselves within history.(10) But this also implies a transformation in the very terms of the Hegelian dialectic, which we shall now briefly examine.
iii) Dialectic as logic As we have already noted, Hegel brings the dialectic of history to close with himself. For him the dialectic of history was only the means through which the absolute and the eternal revealed themselves. Once revealed, all that was left was the reaffirmation of the absolute. History was at and end. Stripped of its 'mystical' garb Hegel's dialectic of history stands as an affirmation of bourgeois society. Bourgeois society stands as the inevitable culmination of history; as its absolute and eternal truth. For Hegel, the restless change and incessant conflicts apparent within bourgeois society ultimately serve to reaffirm it. Indeed, it is through these very contradictions that bourgeois society is produces itself as a totality. In short, for Hegel, the more things change the more they stay the same.
As a consequence, while Hegel's dialectic recognizes, and indeed embraces, opposition and contradiction, it must ultimately always seek their resolution; it must always reaffirm their identity. Hegel's dialectic is therefore a closed dialectic. It is a dialectic of identity through difference that denies rupture or antagonism; a dialectic of identity in opposition. This becomes clear if we return once more to Hegel's ontological dialectic.
As we have seen, for Hegel the individual self- consciousness can only affirm its own identity through externalizing itself into the alien world of natural objects. However, in doing so the identity of the individual consciousness becomes negated by the multiplicity of objective determinations. Yet in coming to know this external world the individual self- consciousness comes to recognizes its knowledge as absolute; as Reason. Hence, the individual consciousness comes to affirm its own identity as rational thought over and against the non-conscious natural world of objects. Thus through the supersession of the opposition of the conscious subject and the non-conscious objective world of nature, self-consciousness finds its resolution in the self-identity of Absolute Reason.
Yet as Marx points out, Hegel's dialectic does not really supersede nature as object: The way in which consciousness is, and in which something is for it, is knowing. Knowing is its only act. Hence something comes to exist for consciousness in so far as it knows that something.
Knowing is its only objective relationship. It knows the nullity of the object, i.e. that the object is not distinct from it, the non-existence of the object for it, in that it knows the object as its own self-alienation; that is, it knows itself -- i.e. it knows knowing, considered as object -- in that the object is only the appearance of an object, an illusion, which in essence is nothing more than knowing itself which has confronted itself with itself and hence with a nullity, a something which has no objectivity outside knowing. Knowing knows that when it relates itself to an object it is only outside, alienates itself; that it only appears to itself as an object, or rather what appears to it as an object is only itself." (MEW, p. 392) By beginning with being as consciousness Hegel excludes nature from the very start. The opposition of consciousness to nature is only an apparent opposition. Consciousness never really goes beyond its own realm. Its self-identity is thereby assured.
Marx, in contrast, begins with the human praxis as the mediation of human beings with nature. Human beings are natural objective/subjective beings but at the same time distinguish themselves from nature through their conscious praxis. Marx therefore starts not with identity but with mediation -- with the unity of opposition of human beings with nature. Since neither term is implicitly excluded from the start, this opposition emerges as a real and persistent opposition that can not be resolved once and for all. Marx's dialectic thereby becomes a radically open dialectic.(11)
With this shift of emphasis within Marx's open dialectic onto mediation -- onto the dialectic as the movement of a unity of opposition -- their is no longer any guarantee that contradictions will be resolved within the unity of the totality. Such unification is only ever provisional. There is always the possibility of contradiction turning into an irresolvable antagonism, into rupture and the dissolution of the totality. Crisis and revolutionary change becomes a real possibility.
As we shall see, an understanding of Marx's dialectic, as not merely a materialist dialectic, but as an open dialectic is vital to understanding the development of Marx's critique of bourgeois society. Indeed, while on the objective side Capital can be seen as nothing more the unfolding of the unity in opposition of value and use- value, on the subjective side the persistence of capitalism rests for Marx on the provisional unity in opposition of capital and labour -- of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
1. See Meikle (1985).
2. Indeed, up until relatively recently English speaking Marxism has been dominated by the Analytical tradition. The most notable contemporary examples of which being Elster (1986) and Roemer (1986). An important part of this tradition has given rise to what has become known as neo-Ricardian or Sraffian Marxism in the realm of 'marxist economics'; a school of economic thought which we shall consider in more detail in Chapter Twelve.
3. The following discussion concerning the relation of Kant, Hegel and Marx has drawn extensively, not only on Lukacs, but also on the work of Norman (1981).
4. Kant dismissal of dialectics is quite explicit: 'However various were the significations in which the ancients used 'dialectic' as the title for a science or art, we can safely conclude from their actual employment of it that with them it was never anything else than the logic of illusion. It was a sophistical art of giving to ignorance, and indeed to intentional sophistries, the appearance of truth, by the device of imitating the methodological thoroughness which logic prescribes, and using its 'topic' to conceal the emptiness of its pretensions.' (Kant, 1961, p. 99).
5. For a comparison of Kant's, Hegel's and Marx's conception of history, see Meszaros (1986)
6. For a discussion of the confrontation between the conservative dialectic of Hegel and the revolutionary dialectic of Marx, see Hook (1962).
7. These radical criticisms advanced by the Young Hegel were set out in the first formulations of his philosophical system which are contained in his 'Jena writings': see Harris & Knox (1979) and Rauch, (1980). These early writings, originally intended as lecture notes, were not published until 1931 and as a consequence were unknown to Marx and his contemporaries. For a critical examination of these 'Jena writings' and there relation to both the mature writings of Hegel and to Marx, see Arthur (1988).
8. See Arthur (1986) and Meszaros (1970).
9. For example, in the section 'Private property and Communism' Marx derides the 'crude communist' proposal for the 'community of women'. Yet, as D. Struik has noted, there is little evidence that any of the socialist that Marx could of been referring to advanced any such proposal.
10. For a more detailed consideration of the plurality of Marx's dialectic compared with the singularity of Hegel's dialectic, see Swan & Hunt (1982).
11. This reconstruction of the terms of the dialectic made by Marx is briefly considered by Nicolaus in his forward to the English translation of the Grundrisse.