2. The formation of the Marxian project

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005

2. The formation of the Marxian project


Marx's lifetime was a period of unprecedented social, economic and political change. From his birth in 1818 to his death in 1883, Europe, if not the world, was transformed out of all recognition by the changes wrought by the industrial revolution and the rapid urbanization that went with it. This was perhaps nowhere more so than in his own native Germany. In 1818 Germany was little more than a collection of petty-states that surrounded the two great autocratic powers of Prussia and Austria which together rested on a relatively backward rural economy. By the early 1880s, however, Germany, now united under the domination of Prussia, had become one of the major industrial powers of the world. An industrial power whose economic might was on the point of surpassing even that of the one time 'workshop of the world', Britain.

It was during Marx's lifetime that industrial capitalism came of age. In these decades, during which industrial capitalism came into its own throughout Western Europe, the nature of capital, as an alien power with its own objective laws of motion which served to produce enormous wealth beside mass poverty, was clear for all to see. Yet what placed Marx above so many of his contemporaries was that he was both able and willing to look beyond the immediate contingencies of his time to grasp the essential laws of motion of capitalism as an historically specific mode of production. It was this very ability to identify the real tendencies in the development of capitalism, within which he then sought to root the revolutionary communist project, that made Marx the foremost socialist thinker of his time.

Indeed, it was this perceptive foresightedness that has made Marx such a formidable thinker, not only for the nineteenth century, but also for our own time. It is a formidability that has all too easily demanded a total acceptance or a total rejection of his contemporary relevance. Yet while it is true that the conditions of his own time allowed him to perceive the essential conditions of our own, it is equally true that these historical conditions imposed their own limitations on the development of what we may term the Marxian theoretical project.

However, it must not be forgotten that Marx did not seek simply to interpret the world he was in; he sought to change it. The formation and development of his ideas cannot be separated from the evolution of his political commitment to change. An evolution that led him from the radical democracy of his formative years to his commitment to communism and the cause of the proletariat. His theoretical project can only be fully understood as part of his much broader practico-revolutionary project which aimed to practically transform society. A practico- revolutionary project that both informed his theory and propelled it forward; defining and forming its questions into a distinct thematic.

This is all too easily forgotten once Marx's theoretical work is dissected in terms of the various academic disciplines such as philosophy, politics and economics. But it is vital to remember this if we are to understand the delineate the theoretical delimitations imposed within Marx.

So, before looking at the delimitations of Marx's theory as such, our first task must be to situate it in both its historical and political context. We must trace out both the formation and development of Marx's theoretical project and place it in both the context of the specific political imperatives that both informed it and impelled it forward, and the particular historical circumstances from which such imperatives arose. Only after examining the political and historical circumstances that made the Marxian project possible, but at the same time circumscribed it, will it then be possible to discern how it comes to point beyond itself -- how it is that Marx is, indeed, incomplete.

Hence we shall begin, in this and the following chapter, by tracing out both the formation and the development of Marx's theoretical project and seek to place it within its broader political and historical context.(1) In the course of this brief sketch of both the formation and development of Marx's project, which could warrant a substantial work in themselves, we shall, in these two preliminary chapters, have cause to touch on several important points that will be considered in more detail later in the text.

* * The formation of Marx's project It was with The German Ideology and Marx's Theses on Feuerbach that Marx, in partnership with Engels, arrived at historical materialism. Indeed, it is with these writings that Marx can be said to have finally become a Marxist. Written between the Autumn of 1845 and the Summer of 1846, these two works expound the basis of historical materialism through a devastating polemic against the radical thinkers of Germany at that time.

It is with The German Ideology that Marx opens the way for the Marxian theoretical and practico-revolutionary project. A project which had the immediate practical effect of providing him with the critical philosophical grounds from which he was able to fight his political adversaries both inside and outside the early socialist movement and to develop the theoretical basis for communism. Hence, although The German Ideology was not published until long after Marx's death, its conclusions are clearly evident in his subsequent political polemics -- such as The Poverty of Philosophy and the Communist Manifesto -- as well as in his later works.

How then did Marx come to the point of writing The German Ideology? How did he come to the point of founding his theoretical project of historical materialism? How indeed, did Marx become a Marxist?

Marx was born and grew up in Trier in Germany. In 1835 Marx became a student at Bonn University before moving to Berlin where he studied at the University of Berlin until the completion of his doctoral thesis in 1841.

Germany at this time was to a large extent socially and economically backward compared to the more industrially advanced European nations such as Britain and France. The old feudal institutions had only recently been destroyed and many of their old remnants and practices still persisted. Furthermore, Germany was still divided into numerous petty-states and it was only in 1834 that these states took the first step towards forming a modern bourgeois nation-state by agreeing to unite into a single customs union -- the Zollverein -- which served to lift the numerous trade barriers that had up until then frustrated the development of German capitalism.

Yet even with the stimulus of an enlarged home market German capitalists found themselves overwhelmed by the competition from their rapidly developing British counterparts. The abolition of serfdom, which had only occurred as late as the beginning of the century, had tended to benefit the large aristocratic landowners who had been amply compensated for the surrender of the feudal dues and had taken the opportunity to develop their own distinct agrarian economic interests as landlords. These agrarian interests were often in open conflict with those of the emerging industrial bourgeoisie. The economic weakness of the emerging industrial bourgeoisie meant that it was unable to impose its political domination and as a result found itself excluded from the political process by the 'junker' landlords who were able to retain their traditional hold on political power. The political and economic tensions that arose between these two conflicting propertied classes found their resolution and mediation within the all pervasive Prussian State bureaucracy.

As Marx himself argues in The German Ideology, the effect of Germany's backwardness was that the real political and economic struggles that occurred elsewhere in Europe were fought out in Germany to a large extent in the realm of ideas. The real struggles became refracted into matters of philosophy. The Prussian State bureaucracy sought its philosophical justification within the works of Hegel. The rational, yet Christian, all encompassing Hegelian philosophy mirrored the all encompassing and rational aspirations of the Prussian State machine. It is perhaps not surprising then that when the real social tensions brought about by the beginnings of Germany's industrialization in the 1830s emerged they became focused on the philosophy of this Hegelian orthodoxy.

On arrival in Berlin in 1836 Marx found himself in the middle of a developing controversy between the radical Young Hegelians, who sought to turn the works of the late Hegel against the prevailing Hegelian orthodoxy and thus implicitly against the Prussian State, and the conservative Old Hegelians, who sought to defend the traditional Hegelian orthodoxy.(2) Marx gravitated towards the Young Hegelians and the politics of bourgeois democratic radicalism that this implied.

The criticisms of the Young Hegelians did not pass unnoticed however, threatening as they did the ideological basis of the Prussian establishment. With the appointment of a new minister of culture, Eichorn, the Prussian establishment began to restrict the academic freedom of the Young Hegelians through direct censorship and through the control of academic appointments. As a result Marx was obliged to abandon all hopes of an academic career and instead, along with many other Young Hegelians at this time, turned to journalism. In 1842, a few months after completing his doctoral thesis, Marx left Berlin and returned to Bonn. Here Marx began to contribute to the Rheinische Zeitung and within a short while became closely involved in running this journal to the point where, in October 1842, he was made editor-in- chief.

The Rheinische Zeitung was a political journal that sought to represent the views of the more radical and liberal wing of the emerging bourgeoisie of the rapidly industrializing Rhineland. As a consequence, his work for this journal led Marx to apply his thought to the pressing practical and political problems that were confronting Germany at that time. Marx could no longer remain confined to the realm of pure philosophy, as he had been able to do in his studies in the backwaters of Berlin. He had now to apply his philosophical education to the harsh social and economic realities that were readily apparent in relatively advanced industrial towns of the Rhineland. Marx's efforts to come to grips with these problems are clearly evident in his articles for the Rheinische Zeitung at this time which show a distinct shift away from the purely critical philosophy of Young Hegelianism towards an overtly political radicalism.

At this time socialist and communist ideas were becoming increasingly popular amongst radical intellectual circles in Germany, no doubt stimulated by the repressive attitude of the Prussian State authorities. Since the German proletariat was still too undeveloped to produce such ideas itself these ideas were mainly imported directly from France. Young Hegelians, such as Mosses Hesse, took up such ideas and translated them into a purely philosophical form of socialism, which became known as 'true communism'. Such philosophical socialism was a logical extension of Young Hegelianism, with its radical criticisms of established religion being extended into a radical criticism of the existing state and society. However, Marx at this time did not at once follow this radical extension of Young Hegelianism. Attempts by 'true communists' to 'smuggle' such ideas into the Rheinische Zeitung were met by derision from Marx, and led him to distance himself from such 'true communists', and indeed Young Hegelianism in general.(3) For Marx, now concerned with real political and practical issues, such utopian ideas lacked a 'real practical foundation'.

The growing popularity and radicalism of the Rheinische Zeitung under Marx's editorship brought with it the increasing attention of the state censors. In early 1843 the Rheinische Zeitung was closed down and Marx, later in the year, was obliged to leave Germany for Paris.

While French capitalism and industrialization lagged behind that of England, it was still far in advance of Germany, particularly in Paris. This, added to the strong revolutionary and political traditions passed down from 1789 and 1830, meant that there existed in Paris a relatively strong and politicized working class movement with distinct socialist and communist ideas. Hence in France, socialist ideas were not merely confined to radical intellectual circles, as had been the case in Germany, but had real practical foundations which, as a result, reflected pressing social, political and economic issues. As a consequence, once in France, Marx soon gave up his reservations regarding communism and socialism and became a committed communist. Indeed, while mixing with the French and German workers living in Paris, Marx came to the conclusion that it would only be with revolutionary action by the proletariat and the establishment of a communist society that the social problems of mass poverty and alienation, that were so evident to any concerned social observer, would be able to find their final resolution.

Marx's conversion to communism did not however distract him from his theoretical efforts, nor from the questions raised by Hegelian philosophy. On the contrary, it provided him with the means and commitment to go further. Freed from his responsibilities of editing the Rheinische Zeitung Marx now devoted his time in exile in Paris to a radical confrontation with Hegelian philosophy. A confrontation that was to lead him towards an indepth study and critical appropriation of political economy that was ultimately to result in his greatest work -- Capital -- more than two decades later.

a) Feuerbach At this time Marx had become greatly influenced by the work of Ludwig Feuerbach. Indeed, it could be said that Marx was at this time a Feuerbachian. And it was armed with the criticisms of Feuerbach that Marx began his critical confrontation with Hegelian philosophy. For Marx, Feuerbach had gone the furthest of all the Young Hegelians. All the Young Hegelians had recognized the alienated human condition of the modern world, particularly with regard to religion and the modern Christian Church, and all of them had sought the means for the liberation of humanity from this predicament. But whereas all the Young Hegelians had pursued this thematic of human alienation and human liberation by seeking to radicalize the philosophy of Hegel, Feuerbach, in contrast, launched an uncompromising attack on the very foundations of Hegel's philosophical system.

Feuerbach refused to accept Hegel's idealist starting point and instead insisted that religion and philosophy must start, not with the mind and ideas, but with real sensuous human beings. The problem of Christianity and modern philosophy for Feuerbach was that they had become alienated from the real nature of human beings and had thereby come to exist apart from real life. Therefore, for Feuerbach the task of human liberation was to construct a new humane religion and philosophy that would correspond to the essential nature of 'Man' -- to his 'species being'.

What was important for Marx in Feuerbach was this materialist starting point that opened the way for a much more radical and total critique of Hegel, and the bourgeois order that he defended. Although those Young Hegelians who had become 'true communists' had gone beyond simply developing critiques of religion and philosophy to address social and political questions, they were always bound by their failure to break with Hegel and his idealism. Whereas Hegel and the Old Hegelians came to affirm the world through a simple change in attitude, these Young Hegelians equally sought to change the world, and liberate humanity, by a mere change in attitudes and perceptions brought about by their own 'ruthless criticism'. Although Feuerbach's critique of Hegel failed to go very far beyond religion and philosophy to address social and political questions, in contrast to the 'true communists', the materialist starting point of his critique suggested the need, that had become so apparent to Marx, for real social and economic change.

Marx's theoretical task therefore became that of developing and extending Feuerbach's critique of Hegel and Christianity so that it could address the pressing real and practical social problems of bourgeois society. Thus in Marx's theoretical works of this period -- the most notable of which are A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Introduction., A Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of the State, On the Jewish Question and the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts -- we see Marx developing the Young Hegelian thematic of human alienation and human liberation in Feuerbachian terms through a critique of Hegel, firstly by extending it into realm of politics and the state, and then, when it became clear that this was insufficient, to the question of political economy.

Yet, as we shall see, in developing and extending the Young Hegelian thematic to address the political and economic basis of human alienation, Marx was obliged to go beyond Young Hegelianism, even in its Feuerbachian form, to the point where he could establish historical materialism and, with it, his own thematic of capitalism and its overthrow.

Let us at this point briefly consider this confrontation between Marx and Hegel.

b) Hegel

It is perhaps not surprising that Marx, who had so recently experienced the repressive nature of the Prussian State as the editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, should have directed his critical faculties against the Prussian State; nor is it surprising, given his schooling in Hegelian philosophy, that he should begin his attack on the Prussian State through a critique of Hegel. But what is the significance of this critique of Hegel in the formation of the Marxian project? Why has it been considered by many to be of such importance in understanding the later development of Marx's theory?

We have already noted the relative backwardness of Germany in the 1840s, and this relative backwardness had been even more acute in the earlier decades of the century when Hegel was writing. Indeed, in making his philosophical defence of the post-Restoration Prussian State in his Philosophy of Right Hegel is found defending a state that was still marked by the remnants of its feudal past, and was in many respects far from what we would now consider as being an exemplary modern bourgeois state. Thus, for example, we find Hegel defending, as ideal, a sovereign monarch whose powers would far exceed those that would be countenanced as ideal in any latter day bourgeois democracy.

It would seem then, that in making his critique of Hegel, Marx was confining his attack to the defence of the particularly backward Prussian State of the early nineteenth century. Why should such a seemingly parochial critique of an arch-conservative such as Hegel have any continuing importance in the development of Marx's theory? Why should he have not turned his attention to France or Britain, as he was later to do with his critique of political economy, whose bourgeois development was well in advance of that in Germany?

Hegel's defence of the Prussian State, as a philosophical defence, sought to present the actual existing Prussian State as a manifestation of the ideal state. To this degree, for Marx, Hegel came to universalize his defence of the Prussian State into a defence of the modern bourgeois state in general. Of course Marx was well aware of the relative backwardness of Germany and its institutions, but, as Lucio Colletti argues: Nonetheless, in spite of...strikingly pre-bourgeois or anti-bourgeois features in Hegel's thought Marx does not take him to be the theorist of the post- 1815 restoration. He is seen, rather, as the theorist of the modern representative state. The Hegelian philosophy of law and the state does not reflect the historical backwardness of Germany but -- on the contrary -- expresses the ideal aspiration of Germany to escape from that backwardness. It is here and only here (on the plane of philosophy rather than that of reality) that Germany manages to be contemporary with France and England and stay abreast with the 'advanced world'. (MEW, p. 29) Thus Marx saw Hegel's Philosophy of Right as not merely a philosophical apology for the Prussian State as such, but the basis for an apology for the bourgeois state in general. An apology that could be universalized due to its very conservative idealism. Yet, as we shall see, it was this very speculative idealism, which could dispense with empirical detail, that provided the opening for Marx's critique of Hegel.

Under the cloak of his idealist dialectical method Hegel was, for Marx, able to make a far more illuminating and sophisticated analysis of the bourgeois state than would have been the case for a more empirical and materialist bourgeois apologist. Hegel readily recognized the alienated and conflictual relations that arise within bourgeois society. Indeed, in the Philosophy of Right, Hegel, having begun with the isolated will of the bourgeois individual, investigates in detail how the wills of individuals come into mutual conflict within the war of all against all of the market place and bourgeois civil society. However, for Hegel such conflicts are ultimately resolved and reconciled within the totality of the state, which is itself the actually existing expression of the historical revelation of the Absolute Spirit -- of God.

As a consequence we find in the Philosophy of Right a movement of revelation in which concrete categories are revealed to be subordinated as the means to the end of the ever more abstract and ideal. A movement of revelation that proceeds from civil society to the state, and then to God, which then serves to reveal a reverse movement of determination.

Taking Feuerbach's materialism as his point of departure, Marx criticizes Hegel for inverting the relationship of ideas to reality -- and thus of the predicate to the subject. On this basis Marx seeks to show how Hegel's movement of revelation is in fact the actual movement of determination. The state is not the political realization of the Idea of the Absolute Spirit revealed through the course of history but is rather the product of the real relations of bourgeois civil society.

The implications of this line of argument that we find in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Introduction., A Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of the State and On the Jewish Question is that Marx is driven to the conclusion that, in order to understand how the state arises out of the real material conflicts of bourgeois civil society, and in order to address the pressing political questions of his day that arise from the state acting as an alien political force acting over and against society, it is necessary to examine the economic relations that serve to constitute civil society. Indeed, it becomes readily apparent to Marx that the basis of the alienation of the modern world lies in the organization of the economy. This becomes evident in the last of his major works in this period, The 1844 Manuscripts.

With the 1844 Manuscripts, which are perhaps the most important of Marx's 'early writings', Marx finally brings his critique of Hegel and classical German philosophy to the terrain of the economic. It is here that he finally fully confronts the idealism of German speculative philosophy with the 'social question' -- that is the social problem of the alienated and immiserated material existence of the proletarian masses.

In the first of these manuscripts, Marx sets out the results of his preliminary research into the writings of the political economists concerning the all important 'social question'. As Marx shows through extensive quotation, bourgeois political economy did not seek to hide the plight of the working class; on the contrary, their analysis of how the bourgeois economy not only generates enormous wealth, but also mass poverty, was far more perceptive than any of their socialist critics. Rather, these champions of the bourgeois order took such mass poverty and alienation as socially inevitable. For them, the 'poor would always be with us', since for them there was no alternative to capitalism.

Hence, Marx establishes the position that the fault of the political economists was not, as many socialists insisted, that they failed to understand the 'social problem' but that they took it to be inevitable. This fault arose because they assumed capitalism was natural, and hence the single and eternal social form for the organization of production and society. Having identified both the perceptiveness and the fundamental error of bourgeois political economy, Marx was then able to turn its empirical materialism against the idealism of German speculative philosophy in the remaining manuscripts.

By rewriting Hegel in materialist terms, Marx finds that Hegel 'takes the standpoint of political economy'. Indeed, as Marx reveals, Hegel is able to go further than the political economists in recognizing capitalist production as both a process of alienation, and a specific product of history. Yet Hegel can only do so, without betraying his own bourgeois perspective, because he ultimately denies the materiality of human labour, and with it the very materiality of the 'social problem'. He is thereby able to deny the 'social problem', seeing the resolution of human alienation as merely a question of a change in attitude to the world.

So, here in the 1844 Manuscripts, Marx uses the empirical materialism of political economy as the fulcrum with which to overturn the idealist and speculative philosophy of Hegel. Yet in doing so Marx comes to identify and rescue the 'rational kernel' of Hegelian philosophy from its 'mystical shell' -- that is, its dialectical method. Indeed, it is through this confrontation between Hegel and political economy that we find how Marx in these manuscripts comes to appropriate Hegel's dialectic, not only by placing it on a materialist footing, but, as we shall see in chapters 4 and 5, by reconstructing it as a radically open and plural dialectic. It is with this appropriation of the Hegelian dialectical method, that Marx, as we shall see, was able to develop his subsequent critique of political economy beyond the preliminary criticism that he had reached in 1844.

However, the importance of the 1844 Manuscripts is not only that in them we find the culmination of Marx's critique of Hegel; it is also within these manuscripts that we find the beginnings of Marx's break with Feuerbach. As we shall see in chapter 4, where we shall consider the 1844 Manuscripts in more detail, in the course of Marx's confrontation with Hegel and bourgeois political economy, it became clear that Feuerbach's ontological starting point of real sensuous human beings - 'Man's species being' -- was no longer sufficient. It now became necessary to start with human praxis -- the interaction of human beings with nature.

However, Marx had yet to develop this divergence from Feuerbach into an explicit break. This was only to occur after the establishment of his life-long collaboration with Engels which was only just beginning at this time.(4)

c) Engels

In the Summer of 1844 Marx met Engels and established a friendship that was last the rest of his life. Engels, like Marx, had been influenced by Young Hegelianism and had also made the transition from radical bourgeois politics to a commitment to communism and the cause of the proletariat. Although Engels had only flirted with Young Hegelian ideas, attending a few lectures while at military school in Berlin, he was far more acquainted with the practical political and economic issues and conditions of the day. Engels's family business commitments meant that he was obliged to make frequent journeys between England and Germany which gave him first hand experience of the conditions of advanced industrial capitalism that were developing in the industrial centres of England and the misery and mass poverty that had been brought in its wake. He had also fostered direct contacts with leading members of the British Chartist Movement, the first mass proletarian movement, which at that time was at its height. Hence, whereas Marx had made the transition to communism and the cause of the proletariat to a large degree on the basis of abstract reasoning and reflection -- so that he could pose the question of how to liberate humanity, and then found the solution as communism achieved through the revolt of the proletariat as the 'universal class' - Engels made his transition far more on his basis of the immediate experience and observations of the effects of capitalism and the efforts of the working class to resist it.

Undoubtedly Engels had an important complementary effect on Marx, encouraging him to take a more empirical direction in his thought. Through Engels Marx was led towards a greater concern with the practical everyday questions of political economy and the politics and conditions of the advanced working class of England. But Engels also inspired Marx with the importance of their historical situation.

Engels, at this time, was enthused with the belief that social revolution was fast approaching, not merely in England where Chartism was organizing the working class into a mass political movement, but also in Germany which he believed could not remain far behind. This enthusiasm is clearly reflected in a series of reports which he wrote for the radical English paper The New Moral World. For example Engels wrote: A short time ago I visited several towns on the Rhine and everywhere I found that our ideas had gained, and were daily gaining more vantage ground than when I last left those places. Everywhere I found fresh proselytes, displaying as much energy in discussing and spreading the idea of Communism as could possibly be desired. (MECW Vol. 4, p. 234) Engels admits later in this article that most of these 'proselytes' were middle class, but contented himself with the argument that it could be only a matter of time before the growing German proletariat would make these ideas their own.

Engels's belief in the approach of the social revolution was underpinned by his theory of economic crisis. In his article 'Outlines of a critique of political economy', which was to serve as an important starting point for Marx, Engels had set out his position on political economy and its relation to the social question. In this work Engels had examined the various controversies that had arisen within bourgeois political economy with regard to the plight of the working masses, and had concluded that none of the various protagonists had grasped the root of the problem as lying in private property. Hence, for Engels, none of these protagonists could understand how great wealth could coexist with mass poverty; nor how feverish economic activity of periods of economic boom would necessarily give way to the enforced idleness of economic slumps.

For Engels, the problem was that the institutions of private property not only deprived the producers of the right to their own produce, but at the same time they were driven to restrict the producers' consumption. In order to maximize profits, wages, and hence the ability of workers to consume, would be ceaselessly driven below that necessary to absorb the increase in the mass of commodities produced by the great advances in the productivity of labour brought about by the application of modern technology. As a result capitalism was doomed to ever worsening crises of underconsumption, crises that would ultimately lead to the overthrow of the domination by private property.

However, while he set out his 'underconsumptionist' theory of crisis in his 'Outlines of a critique of political economy', it is in his 'Speeches in Elberfield' that we find Engels most clearly relating his theory of crisis to the prospect for social revolution in Germany. In the first of these speeches Engels compares the chaos and misery of capitalism to what would be possible within a communist society and consequently establishes the desirability of overthrowing capitalism. Then, in his second speech, Engels seeks to demonstrate the economic necessity of such an overthrow by showing how economic crisis and breakdown is inevitable.

For Engels, English capitalists were reaching the limits of their domestic markets. With wages in England pressed to the barest minimum in order to maximize profits, and yet with the rapid advances being made in the productivity of labour, English manufacturers faced a huge surplus of production which now threatened to swamp the rest of Europe, including Germany. Faced with the prospect of most of her domestic industry being ruined by this flood of cheap but high quality manufactures, the German bourgeoisie had few viable options.

If Germany retained its current import tariffs then most of her industry would go to the wall, creating the conditions for social revolution. If, however, tariffs were raised to protect the infant German industries until such time as they could compete with those of England then, either the ruin of German industry by a flood of English imports would merely be delayed, which would be the case if tariffs were removed too early or German industry was unable to catch up with its English rivals, or else a trade war would break out between equally competitive German and English industry leading to their mutual ruin. If, as a third case, Germany permanently raised its tariffs, then German industry would eventually, like its English counterparts, find its domestic markets over-saturated and face a crisis of underconsumption. Thus Engels concludes: ...the unavoidable result of existing social relations, under all circumstances, and in all cases, will be social revolution. (MECW Vol. 4, p. 262) Marx undoubtedly shared Engels's belief in the approach of the social revolution at this time. This is clearly illustrated by Marx's reply to Ruge's attempt to diminish the importance of the Silesian workers' uprising of June 1844.

Ruge, who had been a close friend and fellow Young Hegelian of Marx but who had not gone along with Marx in taking up the cause of communism and the proletarian revolution, published in the journal Vorwarts an article which had argued that the workers' uprising had been weak and insignificant, a fact borne out by the lack of alarm shown by the Prussian State, as represented by the King of Prussia. Furthermore, he proceeded to argue that the nonpolitical nature of the 'Germans' meant that the social distress that was the inherent cause of the uprising would never be recognized as being a general problem and hence such particular uprisings could never solicit a general solution to the problem of mass poverty.

For Marx, for whom the Silesian uprising was clear evidence of the revolutionary potential of the German proletariat, Ruge's article could not be left undisputed. Hence Marx was swift to make his reply in an article entitled 'Critical marginal notes on the article "The King of Prussia and Social Reform by a Prussian"'. In this article Marx first of all seeks to dismiss the notion, implicit throughout Ruge's article, that the solution to the 'social problem' lies in its recognition by the progressive bourgeoisie. As Marx is at pains to make clear, when Ruge talks about the 'Germans' he is talking about the German bourgeoisie. But for Marx it is not because they are German that the German bourgeoisie fail to recognize the 'social problem' and hence introduce the necessary economic and political reforms to solve it, rather it is because they are bourgeois and as a consequence are dependent for their very economic position on the maintenance of the 'social problem'.

To demonstrate this Marx draws on Engels's 'Outlines of a critique of political economy' to show how even in England the various factions of the propertied classes were unable to agree on the nature of the 'social problem' even if they recognized it. As Marx observes: According to the Whig, the main source of pauperism is the monopoly of big landownership and the prohibitive legislation against the imports of corn. According to the Tory, the whole evil lies in liberalism, in competition, and in excessive development of the factory system. (MECW Vol. 3, p. 192) Neither the Tories nor the Whigs could find a complete solution to the 'social problem' because each side represented economic interests that depended on the domination of the mass of working people. Instead they could at most only see one side of the problem which least threatened the economic interests that they sought to represent.

In making this reply Marx thereby makes it clear that not only can the 'social problem' be solved solely through the revolutionary economic transformation of society, but that political positions are ultimately determined by economic self-interest and hence such a radical transformation can only be brought about by the proletariat itself. But Marx does not stop there. He attempts to demonstrate, against the pessimism of Ruge, that a proletarian revolution is not only a general possibility but a real possibility in Germany itself! Against Ruge's insistence that the Silesian uprising was weak and ineffectual Marx argues that it was advanced, at least in terms of its class consciousness: The Silesian uprising begins precisely with what the French and English workers uprisings ended, with consciousness of the nature of the proletariat. (MECW Vol. 3 p. 201) Furthermore, it is the very political weakness of the German bourgeoisie that Ruge laments which for Marx offered the German proletariat its greatest advantage over its French and English counterparts in carrying out its revolutionary tasks: For, just as the impotence of the German bourgeoisie is the political impotence of Germany, so also the capability of the German proletariat -- even apart from German theory -- represents the social capability of Germany. (MECW Vol 3, p. 202) It was this shared belief in the imminent prospect of social revolution -- what is more a social revolution in which Germany would be at the forefront -- that spurred both Marx and Engels into an intensive period of theoretical activity which within little more than a year of their collaboration resulted in them founding the 'new world view' of historical materialism.

Towards historical materialism

a) Against Young Hegelianism In 'The history of the communist league' Engels recalls the theoretical and practical tasks facing both Marx and himself during this period: It was our duty to provide a scientific foundation for our view, but it was equally important for us to win over the European and, in the first place, the German proletariat to our conviction. (MESW, p. 443) In the absence of a mass revolutionary proletarian movement Marx and Engels could only seek to confront the existing radical and critical theory out of which any future proletarian theory would have to develop. This meant that they had now to engage with the remnants of Young Hegelianism.

Marx and Engels's optimism regarding the prospects of proletarian revolution was not shared by many of their former Young Hegelian associates. Those, such as Ruge, while sympathetic to the plight of the proletariat and for the idea of a communist society had little confidence in the proletariat's ability to carry out a communist revolution. For others, such Edgar and Bruno Bauer, the motive of historical change remained, as with Hegel, in the realm of ideas and thus belonged to the pure thought of critical intellectuals. For them it would be philosophers like themselves, armed with a relentless criticism of everything -- a critical criticism -- that would be the agents of change, not the immiserated and ignorant proletariat.

It was against such ideas put forward by Edgar and Bruno Bauer that Marx and Engels wrote their first collaborative work The Holy Family. Indeed, it was ideas, such as the Bauers', which stemmed from speculative idealism that Marx and Engels saw as the greatest obstacle to the spread of the own conceptions, which at this time they termed 'real humanism' in deference to Feuerbach. As they comment in the introduction of this work: Real Humanism has no more dangerous enemy in Germany than spiritualism or speculative idealism which substitutes 'self-consciousness' or 'the spirit' for the real individual man... What we are combating in Bauer's criticism is speculation reproducing itself as a caricature. We see in it the most complete expression of Christian-Germanic principle which in the last effort, transforms 'criticism' itself into a transcendent power. (Marx, 1956a, p. 15) So with The Holy Family we find Marx turning his attention away from developing a critique of Hegel out of a Young Hegelian standpoint to launch an attack on Young Hegelianism itself. Indeed, in The Holy Family we find a scathing and mocking polemic which lays to rest Marx's and Engels's former adherence to Young Hegelianism, and which reaffirms their commitment to materialism and communism. Against the disdain for the proletariat held by such radical German thinkers as the Bauer brothers and their consequent retreat into the cloistered battle of ideas in the face of the repression of Prussian State, Marx proclaims: The question is not what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat at the moment considers as its aim. The question is what the proletariat is, and what consequent on that being, it will be compelled to do. (Marx, 1956a, p. 53) Here, in lucid political terms, we find Marx asserting the primacy of being over thought through which he and Engels and himself came to overthrow not only the pretensions of Young Hegelianism but the whole of classical German philosophy, including Hegel, and the basis upon which they came to establish historical materialism. Yet with The Holy Family Marx and Engels have yet to make their break with classical German philosophy complete. They are still only attacking that part of it represented by the Bauer brothers and their followers. It is not until The German Ideology that Marx and Engels can be said to have finally made the break, and it is only with this work that it can be said that historical materialism was finally formed.

So what is it then that makes The German Ideology such a watershed in Marx's theoretical development? Why is it that it is only with The German Ideology that it is considered that historical materialism truly comes into existence, so that Marx can finally be said to have become a Marxist? The answer is that with The German Ideology Marx finally breaks with Feuerbach.

b) Against Feuerbach As has already been mentioned, during his exile in Paris Marx was very much under the influence of Feuerbach; so much so in fact that at the time it could have been said that Marx was little more than a Feuerbachian. In the 1844 Manuscripts, for example, Marx has nothing but praise for Feuerbach:

Feuerbach is the only one who has a serious, critical attitude to the Hegelian dialectic and who made genuine discoveries in this field. He is in fact the true conqueror of old philosophy. (MECW Vol. 3, p. 328) While in The Holy Family Marx rallies to the defence of Feuerbach's emphasis on human passions against the oblique but mocking attacks of Edgar Bauer. Yet, less than a year later, Marx and Engels write in The German Ideology : In reality and for the practical materialist, i.e.

the communist, it is a question of revolutionising the existing world, of practically attacking and changing existing things. When occasionally we find such a view with Feuerbach, they are never more than isolated surmises and have much too little influence on his general outlook to be considered here as anything else than embryos capable of development. Feuerbach's 'conception' of the sensuous world is confined on the one hand to the mere contemplation of it, and on the other to mere feeling; he says 'Man' instead of 'real historical man'. (Marx, 1846, p. 62) Here, in The German Ideology, Feuerbach becomes lumped together with all the other Young Hegelians and charged with fighting 'ghostly battles' in the realm of pure thought which have no practical grounding or implications.

As we have already noted, the importance of Feuerbach to Marx had been that, rather than attempting to rescue the radical kernel of Hegel's system from its conservative conclusions -- which had been the common approach of other Young Hegelians -- Feuerbach had rejected Hegel outright by adopting an immediately materialist starting point. Feuerbach had abandoned Hegel's idealist starting point of the Absolute Spirit and replaced it by the material and sensuous 'Man'. It was from this starting point that Feuerbach then proceeded to make his critique of Hegel's defence of established Christianity.

Marx, as we have also noted, took up this starting point and extended Feuerbach's critique of Hegel from the realm of religion and ideology into those of politics and economics. However, in extending Feuerbach's critique in such a direction Marx had been obliged to operate with Feuerbach's rather abstract conception of 'Man' and humanity's 'species being' in more and more concrete and historical terms. Indeed, as we shall see in more detail in chapter 4, by the 1844 Manuscripts Marx had come to abandon Feuerbach's immediate identity of 'Man' and nature as the starting point of his dialectic and had replaced it by a relation of 'Man' to nature mediated by human praxis. As we shall see, by introducing human praxis as the ontological starting point for his dialectic and then considering its alienation in the form of wage-labour, the direction of Marx's analysis moved unavoidably towards undermining the original ahistorical and anthropological point of departure of Feuerbach.

Yet as we have observed, in 1844 Marx still remained firmly committed to the importance of Feuerbach. While rapidly developing his critique to bursting point, Marx still remained within the anthropological shell of Feuerbach's critique. However, in the Spring of 1845, shortly after moving to Brussels, Marx wrote his eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, which together with The German Ideology mark his complete break with Feuerbach.

What then stimulated this sudden break? Perhaps the most important event which stimulated it was the publication of Max Stirner's book The Ego and His Own.

c) Against Stirner Up until the publication of Stirner's book, Marx and Engels could be content to concentrate their polemics on those Young Hegelians who sought to dismiss communism and social revolution in favour of 'critical criticism'. It was relatively easy for Marx and Engels to mock such Young Hegelians for dealing with idealist abstractions which were divorced from practical reality and thus impotent against the encroachment of the existing social order. They could claim that by siding with the proletariat and taking a clear communist and practically materialist position they had firmly placed themselves on the ground of reality. Of course Marx and Engels could have been charged with idealizing the capability of the proletariat and of being utopian but this paled into insignificance when compared with the ineffectual idealist pretensions of their opponents. However, with the publication of The Ego and His Own such complacency had to change.

In The Ego and His Own Max Stirner brings the Young Hegelian movement to its logical conclusion by turning all the means that it had used to criticize religion and the establishment against itself. Indeed, Stirner draws out the arguments of the Young Hegelians, particularly that of Feuerbach, to a devastating conclusion by exposing its very weakness as simply another embodiment of what it sought to criticize in previous philosophy and religion.

In relation to Feuerbach, Stirner argues that Feuerbach's 'Man' is itself an abstraction alien to the real individual's ego, and as such an abstraction, it can only return to oppress the real concrete individual ego just as the abstract notion of God does according to Feuerbach: The supreme being is indeed the essence of man, but, just because it is his essence and not he himself, it remains quite immaterial whether we see it outside him and view as 'God', or find it in him and call it the essence of 'Man' or 'Man'. I am neither God nor Man... (Stirner, 1971, p. 41) The basis for reality was, for Stirner, the real individual ego, and the will of that ego; all else was merely alienated abstractions that could only serve to ensnare the individual will. But Stirner did not stop there. From this uncompromisingly individualistic stance Stirner launched a devastating criticism of the ideal of communism. For Stirner, communism, in holding up the ideal of a human community undivided by private property, merely held up another ideal abstraction which, like that of God, would end up crushing the individual will under the alien demands of 'society' and 'humanity'. As a consequence, for Stirner, each individual would find themselves obliged to sacrifice themselves for the 'common good' and submerge their own individuality within the uniform collectivity of the 'community' and 'humanity', just as the church and state demanded in the name of God and the law.

So, with Stirner, the Young Hegelian attempt to overcome the alienation of modern society by returning to 'Man' to his essence is fatally flawed. Even communism, where Marx and Engels had hoped to find the return of humanity to its true essence, now, with Stirner, appeared as a forlorn hope, since this very essence was now itself revealed as being necessarily alien to the really existing individual ego. The only answer was for each individual ego to pursue its own will and desires regardless of others.

Clearly this attack on communism, even if for the most part directed at the ideas of the 'true communists' within the Young Hegelian movement, had an important impact on Marx and Engels. Not only did Stirner challenge the very notion of communism in general, he also exposed the very weakness of Feuerbach's conception of human essence upon which Marx and Engels had developed their own theory of communism. By attacking Feuerbach, Stirner threatened not only to bring down the whole edifice of the communist theory of Marx and Engels, but also threatened to discredit them in the eyes of the radical circles of Germany to whom they were still regarded as extreme Feuerbachians. It is perhaps no surprise then that a reply to Stirner takes up a large, if now neglected part of Marx and Engels's subsequent work, The German Ideology, nor is it a surprise that in this work they suddenly seek to distance themselves from Feuerbach.

In their polemic against Stirner in The German Ideology, Marx and Engels seek to demonstrate that his own conception of the individual ego is itself a 'ghostly abstraction' that has been torn from its real historical and social context. As Marx and Engels proceed to argue, in his fight against illusions, Stirner himself fails to see how these illusions themselves emerge from the real historical and material world. As a result Stirner's struggle against the dominance of alien abstractions and illusions only takes place within his own head. Hence, like all Young Hegelians, Stirner is trapped within idealism. His efforts to change the world only amount to a change in attitude of mind.

In order to press home their attack on Stirner's idealism Marx and Engels had to emphasize the historical and material nature of human beings. The individual ego does not just appear out of nowhere with its own self- determined will and desires but is the product of a given historically determined society with given material circumstances. However, in stressing this Marx and Engels had to break completely with the Feuerbachian conception of an eternal human essence, of 'Man' as a 'species being', so as to posit the human essence as something historically defined. This emerges most clearly when they turn to defend their conception of communism against Stirner's attacks.

Against Stirner's view that communism would reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator -- to the level of the pauper -- Marx and Engels argue that in bringing communism about the proletariat would necessarily come to transform itself. Thus rather than the communist revolution bringing the return of humanity to its essential being -- an essential being which Stirner took to be no more than the existence of the bulk of humanity, the proletariat, with all the poverty and ignorance that entails -- it would transform the essence of humanity. In transforming the world the proletariat would transform itself. As they remark: 'Stirner' believes that the communist proletarians who revolutionise society and put the relations of production and the form of intercourse on a new basis -- i.e. on themselves as new people, on their mode of life -- that these proletarians remain 'as of old'... In revolutionary activity the changing of oneself coincides with the changing of circumstances. (MECW Vol. 5, p. 214) Conclusion Hence, against Stirner, Marx and Engels were obliged to make their complete break with Young Hegelianism. They could no longer regard themselves as radical Feuerbachians. Yet in this very break, in this very discontinuity through which historical materialism was born, we can still see the thematic of Young Hegelianism - of human alienation and human liberation -- preserved within its very supersession.

In making their break from Feuerbach, Marx and Engels sought to replace 'Man' by 'real historical man'. It was now no longer sufficient to reveal that 'Man' was alienated, and from this to seek the means for his liberation. It was now necessary to show how human beings became alienated in specific historical circumstances and within given material conditions; and it was therefore necessary to show how these historical circumstances and material conditions could be overturned so as to facilitate the liberation of humanity.

The immediate problem was therefore to see how human beings were alienated within existing capitalist society, and how the very conditions of this alienation could provide the means for the liberation of humanity through a communist revolution. The Young Hegelian thematic thereby was both preserved and superseded in the new thematic of 'capitalism and its overthrow' which was politically and practically inscribed within the new 'science' of historical materialism through which Marx and Engels now sought to apprehend the world and its history.

The final break with Young Hegelianism, however, brought with it a final break with the radical German intellectual circles that had up until then been the main focus for Marx's political and theoretical activities. As we shall see in the next chapter, Marx was now increasingly propelled into the practical politics of the still embryonic socialist and workers' movements, both in England and on the continent An involvement that, as we shall see, in turn propelled Marx towards his critique of political economy.

Hence, as we shall argue, not only was it a logical necessity of his new thematic to understand what capitalism is in itself, but also that such an understanding became a political imperative imposed by Marx's political involvement in the contemporary socialist and workers' movements. It was from both of these logical and political imperatives that Marx was driven to make his critique of political economy as the first moment in the elaboration of his new thematic of capitalism and its overthrow.


1. The biographical basis for both this and the following chapter draws extensively upon the work of McLellan, who has done much to place Marx's thought in its biographical context for the English speaking world. See McLellan (1973).

2. For a more detailed introduction to Marx's relation to the various figures within the Young Hegelian movement, see McLellan (1969) or Hook (1962).

3. See Marx's letter to Ruge, 30th of November 1842, (MECW I, p. 393)

4. For an account of Engels's own intellectual development from Young Hegelianism to his collaboration with Marx and the intellectual relationship between Engels and Marx, see Carver (1983, 1989). We shall ourselves return to consider the question of the intellectual relationship between Engels and Marx, particularly in their final years, in chapter 12 when we come to consider the impact of Engels on the development of early Marxist orthodoxy.