THE title of Nicolaus Gopernicus' famous astronomical work of 1543, De revolutionibus orbium caelestium, is rendered in the German translation somewhat differently from the French. In German the work is called Über die Kreisbewegungen der Weltkörper, whereas the French title runs Des révolutions des orbes célestes. The German Kreisbewegung renders exactly the meaning of the Latin revolutio, which in the tradition of astronomy had become the standing expression for the cyclical movement of the heavenly bodies. On the other hand, anyone reading the French word revolution will think first of its social and political meaning, which the German Kreisbewegung does not suggest. Curiously enough, each translation preserves a particular aspect of the Latin term revolutio and its development. Actually, it goes back to the Greek notion, found already in Polybius and Aristotle, according to which change in the forms of political government happens in conformity to the law of cyclical movement, anahuklosis; and it is this basic idea of a cyclical movement, transferred as a metaphor from astronomy to politics, that has been passed on in the European tradition of the term revolutio. Even in the seventeeth century, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was hailed by the English Whigs as a true “restoration”, that is to say, as a completion of the return of the legitimate form of government, and of the lawful government, which Cromwell's Great Rebellion had overthrown. Not until the French Revolution of 1789 did there emerge the new meaning of révolution as a radical break with earlier history and the inauguration of an entirely new epoch in the history of mankind. The new content of the term was itself a creation of the revolution, brought to birth under the extreme pressure of the irresistible force of events. Revolutio changed from being Kreisbewegung to become revolution.
“German history enjoys the privilege of a movement which no people on the horizon of history went through before it or will go through after it. We have shared the restorations of the modern nations, without having undergone their revolutions. We were restored, first because other nations dared to carry out a revolution and second because other nations suffered a counter-revolution; the first time because our rulers were afraid, and the second because our rulers were not afraid. Led by our shepherds, we never found ourselves in the company of freedom except once—on the day of its burial.”
In this pithy summing up of the dilemma inherent in Germany's situation the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right mirrors accurately the development of the European revolutio-concept. Although Marx does not bring the historical complications of the terminology into his analysis, it is certainly encumbered with them. As we have seen from English history, “restoration” was originally another word for “revolution”. Equating “restoration” with “counter-revolution” only became possible as a result of the French Revolution. According to the traditional conception, Napoleon's emperorship and the course of events consequent upon it were a normal “restoration” in the eternal cycle or revolutio of forms of government. The dilemma of the German situation, therefore, according to Marx's analysis, was that, on the one hand, the ancient and medieval tradition was still alive in it, whilst, on the other hand, Germany felt the reaction, the repercussions of the “counter-revolutions” which followed on the real revolution that other modern nations had undergone. The Kreisbewegung participated in the reversion without really having had any share in the advance, the forward movement, that is to say, without having been a révolution.
The crucial question of how the German “vicious circle” might be broken through, in other words, the metamorphosis of Kreisbewegung into révolution, dominates Marx's life in the years 1842 to 1844. The question is concretized and given a historical location in the relation of Germany, on the one hand, to France and Britain, on the other. In this relation, there occurs the transition from the critique of theology via the critique of politics to the critique of political economy. Marx emigrates from Germany via France to England; his physical emigration is an embodiment of the emigration of his thinking, as conversely the development of his thinking follows closely in the wake of his European wanderings.
In this historical-cum-strategical thinking the Rhine plays a critical role. It was not for nothing that in the preliminary studies for the dissertation he had recalled that politician of the ancient world, Themistocles, who, when Athens was being threatened with destruction, chose a new element, the sea. Marx's decision to emigrate to Paris, “the new capital of the new world”, has the same dramatic quality about it as Julius Caesar's alea jacta est (the die is cast) at his crossing of the River Rubicon. Or to draw another parallel, the exodus from Egypt was followed by the crossing of the Jordan and the entry into the promised land.
Himself a Rhinelander by birth, Marx found it hard to breathe the academic and political air of Berlin. When his editorship of the Rheinische Zeitung fell foul of the Berlin censor, and the voice of progress in the Rhineland was consequently silenced, there was no place left for Marx in Germany. His final act is to write the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, completed in Kreuznach, where he had just married and was looking forward to leaving for Paris. Having arrived there, he composed the “Introduction”, which is very much dominated by the emigration from Germany to France. He has crossed the Rhine and now looks back on the past, to which he has definitely said farewell. It is a look back from the further side. The “Introduction” was published in the Deutsch-Franzäsische Jahrbücher, a German-language periodical, edited and brought out in Paris. The title of the journal epitomizes the programme; it is a watchword of pioneers en route for the new country. Had not Feuerbach declared already that the true philosopher must be of Gallo-German blood? The heart must be French, the head German; the head must reform, the heart inspire to revolution.
The theme is a guiding principle of Marx's thinking and living. We have already drawn a parallel between Marx's critique and that which underlies the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Marx's description of Kant's philosophy as the German theory of the French Revolution enshrines the correspondence and the distance between the two forms of critique. Whilst Kant's critique remained theory, Marx actually crossed the Rhine; the German theory of the French Revolution was transcended by a practical critique. The fierceness of his attack on Proudhon derives from the fact that in the theories of that Frenchman he met and recognized once more the original sin of German speculation. If Proudhon did not follow through to the extreme consequences of his own theory, he had only to thank his ill luck for being born a Frenchman and not a German. Proudhon's principle of equality is nothing other than the French counterpart to the German principle of self-consciousness. Equality is simply the German Ich = Ich in a French, that is to say, a political version. The ending of alienation always happens in the context of that form of alienation which is the prevailing factor: in Germany self-consciousness; in France equality as a political principle; in England the actual, material, practical need that is its own yardstick, and knows no other.
Marx is continually occupied during these years with this comparison between Germany, France and England. In a letter to Ludwig Feuerbach, sent from Paris, he gives a description of the French as opposed to the German character, taking his cue from a saying of Fourier's, “L'homme est tout entier dans ses passions”, i.e., man's passionate feelings comprise his whole being. The Frenchman contrasts his passion with the actus purus of German thought. In the Deutsche Ideologic the Germans are charged with never having had as yet a mundane, earthly basis for history, and consequently with never having had a historian. Although the French and the British are still caught up in political ideology, they at any rate have the merit of having made the first attempt to give the writing of history a material basis.
The comparison has a reverse side that brings out the positive significance of the German bent for theory. Hardly six months after the publication, in February 1844, of the first and only number of the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, Marx rounds upon the co-editor and co-founder of that journal, Arnold Ruge. In the German weekly, Vorwärts!, published in Paris, Ruge had written an anonymous article, Der König von Preussen und die Sozial reform, signed Von einen Preussen. In his attack, published in the same weekly, Marx analyses the recent uprising of the Silesian weavers, and concludes that none of the insurrections by French or British workers had had such a theoretical and deliberate character as this German uprising of June 1844. The German proletariat is the theoretician of the European proletariat, just as the British proletariat is its National—ökonom and the French proletariat its politician. Germany has as much a classic aptitude for social revolution as it is powerless and unfit to achieve a political one. For just as the impotence of the German bourgeoisie is Germany's political impotence, so the bent of the German proletariat, even apart from German theory, is the social bent of Germany. The disproportion between the philosophical and political development of Germany is not something abnormal. It is a necessary disproportion. Only in socialism can a philosophical people find its adequate praxis; or, in other words, only in the proletariat can it find the active element of its liberation. For an exposition of the main elements relevant to an understanding of this, Marx refers us to his recent “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.
The key to the “Introduction” does indeed lie in the dialectical critique of Germany as the historical embodiment of the theory. Not only Kant but Hegel, really, is the German theoretician of the French Revolution. The theory, however, is not theory pure and simple; it is the reality presented by Germany. That is why Marx is unable to criticize the reality of the German state and of German law directly, but is forced to take the indirect way, the critique of the German philosophy of state and law. If one wanted to proceed from the German status quo itself, even in the only appropriate way, i.e., negatively, the result would still be an anachronism. Even the negation of our political present is already covered with dust in the historical lumber-room of modern nations. If I negate the powdered pigtail, I still have an unpowdered pigtail. If I negate the German state of affairs in 1843, then according to the French computation of time, I am hardly in the year 1789, and still less in the focus of the present.
As the ancient peoples went through their pre-history (Vorgeschichte) in imagination, in mythology, so we Germans have gone through our post-history (Nachgeschichte) in thought, in philosophy. We are philosophical contemporaries of the present without being its historical contemporaries. German philosophy is the ideal prolongation (die ideale Verlängerung) of German history. If therefore, instead of the oeuvres incomplètes (the unfinished works) of our real history, we criticize the oeuvres posthumes of our ideal history, philosophy, then our critique is in the midst of the questions of which the present says, that is the question. What in progressive nations is a practical break with conditions presented by the modern state is in Germany, where such conditions simply do not as yet exist, a critical break in the first instance with the philosophical reflection (Spiegelung) of those conditions.
German philosophy of right and state is the only German history which is al pari (on a level) with the official modern present. The German nation must therefore join this its dream-history to its present conditions, and subject to a critique not only those conditions but also their abstract continuation. Its future cannot be limited either to the immediate negation of its real conditions of state and right or to the immediate implementation of its ideal conditions of state and right; for it has the immediate negation of its real conditions in its ideal conditions, and it has almost outlived the immediate implementation of its ideal conditions in the contemplation of neighbouring nations. We cannot abolish philosophy without making it a reality, any more than we are able to realize, to implement, philosophy without abolishing it.
Now the critique of the German philosophy of state and right, which acquired its most consistent, richest and latest form through Hegel, is both a critical analysis of the modern state and of the reality connected with it, and the resolute negation of the whole manner of the German consciousness in politics and right as practised up to now, the most distinguished, most universal expression of which, raised to the level of a science, is the speculative philosophy of right itself. If the speculative philosophy of right, that abstract, extravagant (überschwengliche) thinking on the modern state, the reality of which remains a thing of the beyond (ein Jenseits), if only beyond the Rhine (jenseits des Rheins), was possible only in Germany, inversely the German thought-image of the modern state which abstracts from real man was possible only because and in so far as the modern state itself abstracts from real man or satisfies the whole of man only in imagination. In politics the Germans thought what other nations did. Germany was their theoretical conscience. The abstraction and presumption (Überhebung) of its thought was always in step with the one-sidedness and stunted character (Untersetztheit) of its reality. If therefore the status quo of German statehood (Staatswesen) expresses the completion of the ancien régime, the completion of the thorn in the flesh of the modern state, then the status quo of German political science (Staatswissen) expresses the incompletion of the modern state, the defective condition of the flesh itself.
“In politics the Germans thought what other nations did.” In this aphorism is summed up the whole ambiguous relationship of Germany to the French Revolution. Because the Germans did not implement their theory themselves, it has therefore remained a Jenseits, a “world beyond”. Marx adds, “even though this ‘beyond’ lies only beyond the Rhine”. In this play on words the full ambiguity of the term Jenseits is plain to see. Marx has emigrated from Germany, he is criticizing his fatherland from beyond the Rhine (jenseits des Rheins), that is to say, he is living in the reality of the modern state, which German philosophy has merely thought, a reality, in other words, that for German philosophy remains a “beyond”. But the reality of the modern state is not just a “beyond” for German philosophy; it is a beyond also for real man, whom it satisfies only in imagination. In this respect, too, it is the case that other nations did in politics what the Germans had thought. Thus the modern state itself rests on a thought, it is a “thought reality”, a state “of the beyond”, which does not affect the real man.
Marx elaborates further on this pronouncement in both directions. If the other nations have done in politics what the Germans have thought, then German thinking would appear to have practical consequences, albeit “beyond” the Rhine. Thus the critique of the speculative philosophy of right is not an end in itself, but as the antithesis of German political consciousness the critique issues in problems (Aufgaben) which there is only one means of solving—practice.
However, what other nations have done as a result of German thinking is defective in the extreme; nor could it be otherwise, for their practice is based on a (German) idea, it abstracts from real man. Conversely, therefore, the question is: can Germany attain a practice à la hauteur des principes (at the level of principles), i.e., a revolution which will raise it not only to the official level of the modern nations but to the height of humanity, which will be the near future of those nations?
Thus Marx searches for the archimedian point whence the actual condition of Germany can be set in motion, a movement that will transform the “dream phase” of German politics into a human reality. In the political present this archimedian point is not to be found, not even in its negation; for the struggle against German politics today is a struggle against the past of the modern nations. So far as German history is concerned, those Germans who make it their occupation have completely frustrated any hope of a rebirth of Germany. The so-called “historical school” of jurisprudence (die historische Rechtsschule) declares every protest of the serf against the knout to be rebellion, once the knout is a time-honoured, historical one; just as the God of Israel only allowed His servant Moses to see Him from behind, after He had passed by (Exodus 33:23), so does history allow the “historical school” to see it only a posteriori. And then it is better perhaps to say nothing about those enthusiasts, Germanomaniacs, who seek the history of our freedom beyond (jenseits) our history, in the ancient Teutonic forests.
However, for Marx this does not conclude the search after German history. After all, there had been a time when the Germans did not leave “praxis”, the practical side, to other peoples, and when theoretical emancipation had a specific, practical significance for Germany. Germany's revolutionary past is in fact theoretical, it is the Reformation. Evidently, there really is in German thinking a practical, revolutionary potency.
Is it anything more than a potency? Marx's analysis of the Reformation reaches a negative conclusion. Luther overcame the bondage that arises from devotion, but only by replacing it with a bondage arising from conviction. He shattered faith in authority because he restored the authority of faith. He turned the papist priests into laymen because he turned laymen into priests. He freed people from an outward religiosity because he made religiosity the inner man. He freed the body from chains because he enchained the heart.
All the same, though protestantism was not the true solution, it did at least pose the problem correctly. It was no longer a case of the layman's struggle against the priest outside himself, but of his struggle against his own priest inside himself, his priestly nature (pfäffischen Natur).
The theoretical revolution which Germany underwent in the form of the Reformation was really a step forward, therefore, albeit a dialectical step, a sharpening and accentuation of all the problems. The Reformation shifted the field of battle to the inner man. The task now is to solve the problem posed by the Reformation. This subsequent step again starts with a theoretical revolution, simply because Germany is the stage of that revolution. As the revolution then began in the brain of the monk, so now it begins in the brain of the philosopher. This philosophical revolution has already begun, nay, in principle is already completed by the critique of religion, which ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man. And where the theoretical revolution ends, there the practical revolution begins; for the doctrine that man is the highest being for man is on a par with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable being.
The Reformation did not achieve this revolution in man's condition. Admittedly, the Protestant transformation of the German laymen into priests did emancipate the lay popes (Laienpäpste), the princes together with their clerisy (Klerisei), the privileged and the philistines. The philosophical revolution will complete this semi-emancipation, the philosophical transformation of priestly Germans into men will emancipate the people. Yet secularization will not stop at the confiscation of church estates, set in motion mainly by hypocritical Prussia, any more than emancipation stops at princes. At the time of the Reformation, the Peasant War, the most radical fact of German history, came to grief because of theology. Today, when theology itself has come to grief, the most unfree fact of German history, our status quo, will be shattered against philosophy. On the eve of the Reformation, official Germany was the absolute slave of Rome. On the eve of its revolution, it is the absolute slave of less than Rome, of Prussia and Austria, of country squires and philistines.
With this radical conclusion the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right lands up at the opposite pole to Hegel's Vorrede, the Preface to his Philosophy of Right. Hegel also draws the line from the Reformation through to his own time. What Luther initiated as faith in feeling and in the witness of the spirit is what the fully mature spirit has actually come to apprehend. Luther's emblem of the cross in the centre of a heart encircled by roses, Hegel interprets as the reconciliation with the actual, effected by speculative philosophy. Reason (Vernunft) is apprehended as the rose in the cross of the present. Whilst a half philosophy leads away from God, true philosophy leads to God; and so it is with the Prussian state, the true rationality of which Hegel perceived and demonstrated.
Marx comes to a radically opposite conclusion. The reconciliation with the actual, which Luther brought about in the heart of man, in faith, was not a real reconciliation, but it did radicalize the cross of actuality. In place of the religious yoke of Rome there came the profane yoke of the Prussian state; and the Reformation, far from liberating the German people, allied itself with the elitist emancipation of the German princes and violently crushed the peasants' revolt, the emancipation of the people. Whereas the outcome of Hegel's “true philosophy” is the Christian-German state, Marx's philosophy, which finishes off the monk Luther's half-completed work, ends in revolution.
And thus he completes Hegel's task as well. Hegel's philosophy is after all the only German history that stands on a level with the official modern present, the level of the French Revolution. If Hegel contends that philosophy is simply its own time apprehended in thoughts (ihre Zeit in Gedanken erfasst), then this must apply to the modern period which in Germany has not yet dawned. Genuine philosophy can do no other, therefore, than declare war on the present German situation; for it stands below the level of history, beneath all criticism; at the same time the circumstances of Germany are still the object of criticism, just as the criminal, who is below the level of humanity, is still an object for the executioner. Furthermore, the struggle against the current state of affairs in Germany is even of concern to the modern nations; for the German status quo is the straightforward completion of the ancien régime, and the ancien régime is the hidden flaw in the modern state.
This brings Marx to the crucial question: how, where and by whom are the present conditions in Germany to be overthrown? If speculative philosophy thought what the French Revolution did, how then is what is now being thought by genuine philosophy, that is, by the critique of speculative philosophy, to be done in Germany itself? Of course, the critique issues in problems to which only praxis, action, can provide a solution. But who is the subject of this praxis?
Systematically he sets about his enquiry. If Germany is an anachronism, then it can only attain the level of the modern nations by even now undergoing a “French Revolution”. In a sense that is indeed the task; which is why the “Introduction” finishes with a prediction of the day of German resurrection, which will be proclaimed by “the crowing of the cock of Gaul”. The rebirth of Germany will have to come, therefore, from a “French Revolution” in Germany. But the day of German resurrection will only come “when all inner requisites are fulfilled”. So the question is whether those “inner requisites” are present in Germany. Marx's enquiry leads to an unequivocally negative conclusion. In Germany there just is no common ground, no point of contact for a “French Revolution”. The French Revolution was brought about by the bourgeoisie, the third estate, which, with the opening of the celebrated instrument of Sieyès, flung in the face of its opponents the proud words, “I am nothing but I must be everything.” Certainly, the emancipation of the French bourgeoisie is only a partial emancipation of the French people, but this partial emancipation is a step on the way to universal emancipation. In Germany even this partial emancipation is inconceivable, because the German middle class entirely lacks the necessary courage and ruthlessness. Its moral self-respect is based solely on an awareness of being the general representative of the narrowness and mediocrity of all the other classes. In France every class of the nation is a political idealist and becomes aware of itself, not in the first instance as a particular class, but as a representative of social requirements generally. In Germany, on the other hand, where practical life is as spiritless as spiritual life is unpractical, no class in civil society has any need or capacity for universal emancipation until it is forced by its immediate situation, by material necessity, by its very fetters in that direction.
Thus in Germany the conditions for a “French Revolution” are absent. But even approached from the other side, the problem would seem to present an insoluble dilemma. The fact is, even if Germany were to have caught up with the French Revolution, still nothing would be achieved by that. For “it has almost outlived the immediate implementation of its ideal conditions in the sight of the neighbouring peoples.” Even in France the French Revolution is again almost a time past. It achieved a political emancipation, but not an emancipation of civil society. It was in no position to end the discord between the political state and civil society, which itself arises out of the inner conflict of civil society; on the contrary, it was responsible for creating that discord. Hegel saw it clearly enough; but he offered the mere semblance of a solution. In it he imitated in theory the practice of the modern state; for the status quo of German speculative political philosophy is an expression of the imperfection of the modern state. An implementation of philosophy was therefore to mean no benefit for Germany; it would only fall, half a century later, into the same trap as did France by means of the French Revolution. Thus Germany is not only powerless to take this revolutionary leap, but the leap itself is as yet without meaning and purpose. The crucial question remains, therefore, whether Germany can do a somersault that at one go will take it over the level of the modern nations on to the heights of real humanity. The very question seems senseless; for if Germany is in no state to pull itself out of the morass of the ancien régime, how could it ever at a single stretch outstrip the modern nations?
No, Marx replies, it is not the somersault, not the double leap, that is impracticable, but the single one. If a short vaulting-pole is going to land one in the ditch, then one must make the jump with a long pole; but in any event one has to do it in one go. It is not the radical revolution, not the general human emancipation which is a Utopian dream for Germany, but rather the partial, the merely political revolution, the revolution which leaves the pillars of the house standing.
At this point the problem returns in the dilemma that in Germany the basis for a revolution is absent. The theory is all there: in principle the critique of religion is completed for Germany; but for the necessary and logical transition to practice no point of contact would seem to exist. In fact, the theory will be implemented in a nation only to the extent that it is a realization of its needs. It is not enough that thought should incite to fulfilment; reality itself must incite to thought. Revolutions require a passive element, a material basis.
In its most extreme form the dilemma might be expressed as follows: are the theoretical needs going to be directly practical needs? The theoretical needs are the demands of German thought; but those demands are a long way ahead of the responses coming from the actual situation in Germany. Between the two there is an enormous dichotomy; yet in itself that is not enough to trigger off an explosion. The inner conflict has to be of similar intensity to the conflict inherent in civil society and the contradiction between civil society and the state; for only that kind of contradiction, which will cause the modern nations to explode, will be able to engender the rebirth of Germany.
The hard core of Marx's contention resides in the relationship between mind and matter, between thought and actuality. He is explicit in describing matter as a passive element; but “passive” is not the same thing as dead, inorganic. Even passivity may be a highly active element, different though the activity may be from that of mind. This specific activity of matter is expressed in the term “need” (Bedürfnis). Consciousness in itself, abstracted from being, cannot produce anything real. Only as conscious being, that is to say, only when passive matter has become conscious, active matter, can consciousness give rise to something actual, something real. That “potency” is enshrined in the “need”; for it is the urge to something else, to something more, by which the need can be satisfied. In this respect, hunger is an active element, if only in a negative sense. It is a material void that demands to be filled.
In a work written a year later, Die Heilige Familie (The Holy Family), Marx works out this idea in greater detail, in a historical analysis of materialism. I have already referred to that passage in my first lecture. In it he takes up again the question posed by the scholastic Duns Scotus, “whether matter can think” and the notion of the mystical thinker, Jakob Böhme, that the most important of the inherent qualities of matter is motion, not only mechanical and mathematical motion but still more impulse (Trieb), vital life-spirit (Lebensgeist), tension (Spannkraft) or the throes (Qual) of matter.
Although Marx makes no use of terms like “birth” or “rebirth” here, they come nearest to what he is getting at. In the process of birth, mother and child are in an extremely dire situation, they are surrendered to absolute passivity; yet it is precisely this process that represents the greatest activity, precisely this extreme “need” that is in a real sense productive and creative. In the birth-process “matter” is manifested as a fertile womb. Literally, what he says is this, “Only a revolution of radical needs can be a radical revolution; and it seems that precisely the preconditions and breeding-places for such needs are absent.” What in the spiritual and mental plane he calls a “precondition” is in the material plane a “breeding-place” (Geburtsstätte).
The preconditions and breeding-places of a radical revolution for Germany turn out on closer examination to be present indeed in the passive element, and to be so in two ways. In the first place, the very anachronism of Germany's situation provides a basis for the somersault that is to carry it at one go over the top of the modern nations on to the level of humanity. If Germany has gone along with the development of the modern nations only in theory, by means of abstract activity, it has, on the other hand, shared the sufferings entailed by that development without enjoying the advantages, without having participated in the partial satisfaction which the development provides. Corresponding to the abstract activity on the one hand is the abstract suffering on the other. That is why Germany will one day find itself on the level of European decadence, before ever having been on the level of European emancipation. It will be like a fetish-worshipper, pining away with the maladies of Christianity. As you could find the gods of all nations in the Roman Pantheon, so you will find in the Germans' Holy Roman Empire all the sins of all forms of state. Germany, as the flaw in modern politics which have constituted themselves a world of their own, will not be able to throw off the specific German limitations without overthrowing the general limitation of the modern political scene.
As a conclusion to Marx's argument, this train of thought would appear to point to a messianic role for Germany, which at the very moment it threatens to fall total victim to the diseases of the political present rises, as a desperate last measure, to unprecedented heights, to become the saviour of the modern world. This would indeed have to be the conclusion, if Germany's total development extended no further than to the boundaries of political development. Up to this point the argument has, after all, taken place within a political context. But almost unnoticed, a new element appears on the horizon. Entirely within the general line of argument Marx brings in this new element, first of all in a negative way, as an example of the German inability to conduct its affairs at the level of the modern nations.
The new element is industry and its associated science of modern economics. The relation of industry, of the world of wealth generally, to the political world is one of the major problems of modern times. With this definition Marx almost inadvertently introduces a new problem and adds a new dimension to his critique. The main theme of the “Introduction”, after all, is Germany's relation to the French Revolution, in other words, Germany's powerlessness to achieve a political revolution that could bring it on to the level of the modern nations. To that is now added a new dilemma: the relation of the French Revolution to the Industrial Revolution or, in Marx's words, the relation of the world of politics to the world of industrial wealth. That takes us from politics into the sphere of economics.
No wonder that, in this field too, Germany turns out to be hopelessly inadequate. In what form, after all, is this leading problem of modern times beginning to engage the Germans? In the form of protectionism, of the so-called “national economy”. Germanomania (Deutschtümelei), the bogey of the German nation, has passed from men to matter; and quite suddenly our cotton barons and iron heroes, the leaders of an up-and-coming modern capitalism, have turned into patriots. Thus people in Germany are beginning to acknowledge the sovereignty of monopoly on the inside through investing it with sovereignty on the outside. In other words, people in Germany are beginning precisely at the point where in France and Britain they are about to make an end. Whereas the problem in France and Britain is: Political economy or the rule of society (Sozietät) over wealth, in Germany it is: “national economy” or the mastery of private property over nationality. In France and Britain, then, it is a case of abolishing a monopoly that has been taken to its extreme consequences; in Germany it is a case of carrying through monopoly to its ultimate consequences. This will suffice as an example of the German form of modern problems, an example of how our history, like a raw recruit, still has to do extra drill in order to keep up with events already hackneyed and old.
Even on this new terrain, therefore, any point of contact for a German emancipation would seem to be lacking. Indeed, on the part of industrial wealth it is not to be expected; the activity in Germany is as hopelessly inadequate as is German economic theory. But Marx's argument comes out once more on the other side, with the passive element. Here the hopelessness of Germany's political situation would seem to converge with the hopelessness of its economic situation. Whilst industrial wealth affords no prospect of emancipation, the light of resurrection glimmers in the darkness of industrial poverty.
In Marx's first economic essay, his article on the legislation against wood-stealing, this theme is already adumbrated. There he takes up the cause of the poor, a class who occupy the same position in civil society as dead wood does in nature; so far, the very existence of an impoverished class is purely a custom of civil society, one that has not as yet found an adequate place within the orbit of the deliberate structuring of the state. Although as early as this article of 1842 he is championing the poor as a class against a rising capitalism, his argument concentrates entirely on their traditional rights of custom. Now, several years later, he takes a further crucial step—in fact, by introducing a new term, the proletariat. As opposed to poverty of the traditional kind, the proletariat is a fundamentally new phenomenon, the product of a new historical epoch. The proletariat begins to appear in Germany as a result of the rising industrial movement; for it is not the naturally arising (naturwüchsig entstanden) poor but the artifically impoverished (küunstlich produzierte), not the human masses mechanically oppressed by the gravity of society but the masses resulting from the drastic dissolution of society, mainly of the middle estate, that form the proletariat, although the naturally arising poor and the Christian-Germanic serfs are of course slowly but surely joining its ranks.
The proletariat is introduced into Marx's argument in one way for Germany, in another for France. In the first instance the French proletariat plays a political role, for it is the fourth estate, whose task is to complete the revolution only half accomplished by the third estate. The role of emancipator therefore passes from one class of the French nation to another, in rotation, until it ends up with the class which implements social freedom no longer with the provision of certain conditions lying outside man and yet created by human society, but rather organizes all conditions of human existence on the basis of social freedom. In France, even the proletariat is a political idealist, like the bourgeoisie; and so emancipation comes about there through mental and spiritual activity. Conversely, in Germany emancipation is the product of material passivity; it is not the way of conscious revolution, but merely the negative result of a completed process of dissolution.
The total decadence of German history converges with the process of dissolution set going by the industrial movement. It is by this negative means that the cleavage between the state and civil society, which Hegel had tried in vain to find a positive way of bridging, is actually superseded; for the dissolution of the state, the ancien régime, and the dissolution of civil society, modern society, at the same time signify the end of the conflict between the two. The proletariat is identical with the dissolution of a civil society isolated from the state; the proletariat no longer stands, like the bourgeoisie, in a onesided antithesis to the consequences, but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood. The proletariat is a sphere of society which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man, and so can win itself only through the complete winning back of man.
So the Industrial Revolution achieves for Germany what the French Revolution could not: the emancipation of the German, which is the emancipation of man. But this point is reached by a negative route. By heralding the dissolution of the present world order, the proletariat merely proclaims the secret of its own existence; for it is the factual dissolution of that world order. By demanding the negation of private property, the proletariat merely raises to the rank of a principle of society what society has raised to the rank of its principle, what was already incorporated willy-nilly in the proletariat, as the negative result of society.
With this the circle of the argumentation is completed. The case started with the proposition that for Germany the critique of religion is essentially finished. Indeed, as appeared in a later part of the argument, the critique of religion turns out to be the premise of all critique; for the critique of politics (the French Revolution) and the critique of economics (the Industrial Revolution) are merely the unmasking of the unholy guise of self-alienation, which in religion conceals itself behind a saintly mask. What was still lacking was the material complement, which corresponds to the theoretical subject of the critique, radical philosophy. Without this complement, theory could not pass over into the necessary practice.
Now, at the conclusion of the argument, the upper and lower halves of the complete circle have come together: mind and matter, consciousness and being, action and passivity, freedom and necessity. As philosophy finds its material weapon in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapon in philosophy; and once the lightning of thought has squarely struck this ingenuous soil of the people, the emancipation of the German into the man, the human being, will be accomplished. The only practically possible liberation of Germany is liberation from the point of view of that theory which proclaims man to be the highest mode of being for man. The head of this emancipation is philosophy, its heart is the proletariat. Philosophy cannot be made a reality without the abolition of the proletariat, the proletariat cannot be superseded without philosophy being made a reality. When all inner requisites are fulfilled the German day of resurrection will be proclaimed by the crowing of the cock of Gaul.
So ends the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. A radical critique, which stands in radical contrast to Hegel's philosophy and yet, in its form as a critique, presupposes that very philosophy. Hegel's Vorrede (Preface) to his Philosophy of Right hails the Christian-Germanic state as the rose in the cross of the present, as terminating through reason the discrepancy between the state and modern society. Marx propounds the total decadence of the Christian-Germanic and the completing of the discord, the discrepancy. Hegel sees philosophy as an apprehending of its own time, in thoughts; as a pointer to the future it always comes too late, for only completely formed actuality lends itself to being apprehended in thought, and the owl of Minerva spreads her wings only as twilight is descending. Marx's philosophy agrees that German philosophy does indeed always come too late; but whereas Hegel's Vorrede ends with the nocturnal flight of Minerva's owl, Marx's “Introduction” ends with the crowing of the cock of Gaul, which calls for the light of morning to appear. At the close of his Philosophy of History Hegel salutes the glorious sunrise of the French Revolution, the first attempt in human history to base the state wholly and exclusively on thought. Marx sees the French Revolution as indeed the sunrise of thought, but for that very reason as the illusory sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve round himself. The cock of Gaul does not crow to greet the dawn light of the French Revolution, for that sun has almost set again, and in the evening twilight it is the owl of Minerva who feels at home. No; the cock of Gaul salutes the day of German resurrection, that is the emancipation of man, of real man and real human society, universal man, who has ceased to recognize national frontiers.
The distance which separates Marx from Hegel is that between the radical critique of the Industrial Revolution, on the one hand, and the German theory of the French Revolution, on the other. If we were to leave it at that, however, we would be doing an injustice to Hegel's philosophy and at the same time misrepresenting Marx's relation to Hegel. For even Marx's critique of the Industrial Revolution links up with Hegel's philosophy of right, in particular with Hegel's analysis of civil society. It is much to the point that in the third part of Hegel's Philosophy of Right civil society is the subject of the second chapter, as the middle factor between the family on the one hand and the state on the other. In the totality of objective ethical life, civil society is the antithesis, following on the thesis of the family and followed by the synthesis of the state. Civil society is the radically negative element. In this Marx agrees with Hegel. That is why it is in Hegel's analysis of civil society that we find the principles of Marx's Critique of the Industrial Revolution.
Hegel depicts civil society as the “system of needs” (System der Bedürfnisse); but this system is the system of the “ethical order, split into its extremes and lost” (in ihre Extreme verlorenen Sittlichkeit). The system is the product of the dissolution of the system of the natural ethical order which assumes a form in the family and was embodied in the ancient state. What emerges from this process of dissolution is an assemblage of atoms, which is the battlefield where everyone's individual private interest encounters everyone else's, the model of Hobbes' bellum omnium contra omnes. Of course, individual egoism, which is the basis of civil society, is a totality of needs that can only be satisfied in the all-round interdependence of all individuals; and to that extent civil society does indeed form a system whereby the material well-being and rights of the individual are protected. But Hegel at once defines this system as “the external state”, as the “state based on need” and the “state as envisaged by the understanding” (section 183). That is to say, the system is not, like an organism, governed by an inner principle of organization, it has no mind or heart whence all the parts are derived; the cohesion is merely an external one, it rests on the well-understood private interest of individuals, in short, it is a system of needs. Individual needs are, on the one hand, dependent on individual caprice, are insatiable and unlimited, so that the individual in the pursuit of gratifications ruins both himself and the substance of his personality. On the other hand, the satisfaction of needs, of necessary as well as accidental needs, is subject to the quirks of external accident and caprice and is held in check by the power of universality. In these contrasts and their complexities civil society provides a spectacle of repellent luxury alongside want and of the physical and ethical degeneration common to them both (section 185).
Having stated at the outset these pernicious consequences of the rise of civil society, Hegel begins systematically to unravel the structure of this system of needs. Various writings of the young Hegel already point to a deep concern on his part with the study of political economy. In the Philosophy of Right he starts his analysis of “the system of needs” by unfolding the significance of this relatively young science, mentioning as he does so the names of the British economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and that of the Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Say. Ricardo's On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation had in fact been published only three years before, in 1817—an indication of just how intensely Hegel was following the development of economic science in Britain (section 189).
Hegel defines in some detail the relevant function of political economy (Staatsökonomie). The system of needs comprises a network of means to their satisfaction, means which, on the one hand, are external things, the property and product of the needs of others, while, on the other hand, they are produced by one's own work and effort. The universality of reciprocal relations which constitute this system is at the level of the understanding (Verstand). Hegel expressly limits the significance of political economy to the level of the understanding, just as he describes the system of needs as the state or sphere of the understanding. The understanding is the “show of rationality in this sphere of finitude” (das Scheinen der Venünftigkeit in diese Sphäre der Endlichkeit), where the term “show” renders the Greek phainomenon, itself suggestive of the idea of “appearance” (phenomenon) and the idea of a “semblance”. Reason (Vernunft) “seems to be manifest” and “is manifest” in the understanding (Verstand), just as conversely the understanding is the “manifestation” and the “show” of reason (Vernunft).
It is in this plane of the understanding that political economy operates. Its task is to explain the interrelations and movements of the system of needs in their qualitative and quantitative character and all their complexities. From the infinite multiplicity of particular data this science extracts certain simple, basic principles; in other words, it reveals the understanding operative in this multiplicity and directing it. This is enough to show the importance and the limitations of political economy. In the act of recognizing the show of rationality (reason) in the sphere of needs is vested a reconciliation with reality; but conversely, this is the field in which the understanding with its subjective aims and moral sentiments gives vent to its discontent and moral frustration.
Having thus assigned to political economy its limited function, in a manner which Marx's Critique of Political Economy is later on to take as its starting-point, Hegel begins to work out systematically, on an anthropological basis, the distinctive character of the system of needs. That character is intrinsic to the distinction between man and animal. An animal's needs and its ways and means of satisfying them are both alike restricted in scope (section 190). Though man is subject to this restriction too, yet at the same time he evinces his transcendence of it and his universality, first by the multiplication of needs and means of satisfying them, and second by the differentiation and division of concrete needs into single parts and aspects which in turn become different needs, particularized and so more abstract.
In Hegel's account of things, this distinction between man and animal has yet another special point to it, in that the force of the term “man” first becomes fully apparent here. Following the division made in the Philosophy of Right, he explains that in (abstract) right, in law, we are concerned with the person, in the sphere of morality with the subject. In the sphere of ethical life (Sittlichkeit) (the theme of the third part) we have before us, in the family, the family-member, in civil society as a whole, the citizen (burgher, bourgeois); here, from the standpoint of needs, we have the composite idea we call man. Thus this is the first time, and properly speaking the only time, to speak of man in this sense.
In an earlier context I lingered over this remarkable statement; and now I come back to the passage, because it contains a key to the understanding of Marx's Critique of Political Economy.
Hegel does not complete the summary; but it is obvious enough that it in fact leads on to the sphere of the state, where we are concerned with the burgher or citizen (qua citoyen). Hegel's thinking leads him to insert between the citizen as bourgeois and the citizen as citoyen a further term, the term “man”. We are in the area of civil society here, but only in one component part of it; for besides the “system of needs” aspect there are also those of the administration of justice (die Rechtsplege) and of “the police and the corporation” (die Polizei und Korporatiori). All the more significant, then, that in this special sphere of “the system of needs”, and really in this case alone, we are to speak of “man”, that is, of the composite idea we call “man”.
Thus Hegel reserves the term “man” especially for “homo economicus”, in so far as what is here in question is the “kind of need and satisfaction”. This homo economicus is also homo faber. He is distinguished from the animal by his typically human form of labour, which consists in the division of labour and, going along with that, the multiplication of needs and the means of satisfying them. On closer reflection we see that there is a polemical point to Hemel's terminology, aimed in particular at Rousseau. Without mentioning his name, Hegel attacks the idea that man in a so-called state of nature, in which he knew only supposedly simple, natural needs and means of satisfaction, once lived in freedom, that is to say, quite apart from the element of liberation intrinsic to work. As against that he argues that the natural need as such and the direct satisfaction of such need is no more than the condition of “the mental plunged in the natural”, in short, the condition of savagery and unfreedom. Freedom is to be found only in the reflection of mind into itself, that is, in the way the mental is distinguished from the natural and the way in which mind reflects on this distinction (section 194).
Man only comes to be man when he distinguishes himself from what is purely natural. When man frees himself from the strict natural necessity of need, he enters into relation to a necessity of his own making; he is no longer exclusively dependent on external contingency but instead acquires a relation to an inner contingency, to arbitrary choice, his own conscious choice.
Man rises above the animal through his ability to achieve, in principle ad infinitum, a multiplication and particularizing of his needs and of the means of satisfaction (section 191). Regarded from the standpoint of the individual, this leads to a progressive specification and abstraction of his needs; but in fact this particularizing and abstraction are just what leads to typically human society. For needs and means, as things existent realiter, become something that has being for others, by whose needs and work satisfaction for all concerned is defined. When needs and means become abstract in quality, abstraction is also a property of the relation between individuals. It is through this reciprocal relation that abstract needs and means become concrete, that is to say, social needs and ways and means of satisfaction (section 192).
Thus the “composite idea we call man” is homo socius, man in society, man as society. One might express Hegel's train of thought by saying that “civil society” has two aspects: the “civil” aspect of the citizen qua bourgeois and the aspect of “society”, that is, of man as the concrete totality of economic transactions, homo economicus.
Just as homo economicus can only exist as homo socius, so does the same thing apply to homo faber. The unlimited multiplication of needs leads to an infinite increase of dependence and want; for man is dealing with a material that offers infinite resistance (section 195). The answer to this want is work, which couples with the multiplication of needs a corresponding multiplication of the means of satisfaction. Through work the material directly supplied by nature is specifically adapted to these numerous ends by all sorts of different processes. In this way, the means of satisfaction acquire their value and utility, so that in what he consumes man is mainly concerned with the products of men. If this is the case with the multiplication of needs, it applies equally to the division of labour. Increasing abstraction is the very thing that intensifies the dependence of men on one another and their reciprocal relation. As homo faber, too, man is more and more man-in-society. At the same time, the abstraction of the production process makes work more and more mechanical, until finally man is able to step aside altogether and install the machine in his place (section 198).
With no less precision than the aspect comprising the “system of needs”, Hegel sketches the inner dynamic of the other aspect, the “civil” aspect of “civil society”. Originally, the family is the substantive whole; but civil society tears the individual from these ties, estranges the members of the family from one another and recognizes them as self-subsistent persons. Further, for the paternal soil and the external, inorganic nature which was a source of livelihood for the individual, it substitutes itself and subjects the existence of the family as a whole to dependence on itself, that is to say, on contingency. Thus the individual becomes a son of civil society, which has as many claims upon him as he has rights against it (section 238).
When civil society is left to develop unimpeded, then through its own dynamic it is liable to a steady increase in population and to unlimited industrial expansion. As intercourse between men becomes general, the accumulation of wealth intensifies, whilst, on the other hand, there is an equally permanent increase in the subdivision and restriction of particular jobs and with it an increase in the dependence and distress of the class tied to that sort of work (section 243). When the living-standard of a large mass of people falls below a certain subsistence level—a level regulated automatically as the one necessary for a member of the society—and when there is a consequent loss of the sense of right and wrong, of honesty and the self-respect of the man able and willing to exist by his own activity and effort, the result is to create a rabble (Pöbel). This in turn makes it doubly easy to concentrate inordinate wealth in a few hands (section 244).
According to Hegel's analysis, therefore, civil society finds itself caught in a vicious circle; it is like a ship parted from anchors and moorings. Hegel sketches the dilemma, without seeing any prospect of a solution within the framework of civil society itself. If the wealthier class were made directly responsible for ensuring the subsistence of the masses who are faced with poverty, then a minimum living-standard for the poor would be guaranteed; but this would go against the principle of civil society and the feeling of independence and self-respect on the part of its individual members. If, on the other hand, the requirements of these paupers be provided for by their being given work to do, that would still further increase overproduction. Hence it becomes apparent that, despite an excess of wealth, civil society is not rich enough, that is, does not possess sufficient resources to check excessive poverty and the creation of a penurious rabble. Hegel concludes this analysis by remarking that these phenomena may be studied on a large scale by taking the example of England and Scotland (section 245).
The insolubility of the dilemma carries Hegel's analysis on to the next step. He notes that this dialectic drives civil society—first and foremost, this particular society—to push beyond its own frontiers (über sick hinausgetrieben) and to seek markets outside its own limits among other nations that are more or less on the same economic and industrial level, in order to provide itself with the necessary means of subsistence (section 246).
However, the inner dynamic of civil society is more far-reaching still. Just as the basis for the principle of family life is the land, the soil, terra firma, so the natural element for industry is the ocean. In its pursuit of gain, industry abandons the dry land, embracing the element of flux, danger and the risk of destruction. At the same time, by using the sea as its highway it draws the most distant countries into its commercial activity and into a universal system of law. Worldwide commerce becomes the most potent instrument of culture, and through it trade acquires its significance in world history. Within this broad horizon, colonizing activity becomes the means whereby a highly developed civil society supplies itself with a new demand and field for its industry (section 248).
So even in Hegel's Philosophy of Right, civil society is driven by its inner contradiction and by the dialectic of its growth beyond its own frontiers. As in the course of its worldwide expansion it proceeds to play a role in world history, it encounters that history as the world's court of judgment (section 340). And as it creates an untenable and insoluble gulf between extreme wealth and extreme poverty on a massive scale, it is faced, as was once the Roman Empire, with the prospect of its own destruction (section 357). In the Christian-Germanic realm Hegel sees the solution of this dilemma in the context of world history: the reconciliation in Christ, prepared for by the people of Israel, with the cross of world history is consummated in the Christian-Germanic state.
Marx's Critique breaks open Hegel's solution and exposes it as the saintly form of man's self-alienation. For Germany he completes the critique of religion as a critique of the German state, that is, of Hegel's philosophy of the state. Thus Marx's Critique is at the same time the critique of the modern state which covers up the inherently impracticable nature of civil society without providing a solution. Friedrich Engels, in an article on Karl Marx (of 1896), puts it like this: “Taking Hegel's philosophy of right as his point of contact, Marx came to realize that the place to look for the key to an understanding of mankind's historical development is not the state envisaged by Hegel as the ‘crowning of the building’, but rather that ‘civil society’ he handled in so ill a fashion.”
The term which Engels uses here means literally “handled in such a step-motherly fashion”. That might lead us to imagine that Marx's role is to be that of the prince who married Cinderella. But really it is Hegel's Philosophy of Right that ends with the fairy-tale of a Cinderella “civil society” finally getting its kingdom in the shape of the “Christian-Germanic realm”. Marx's role is much more that of the step-mother, dragging Cinderella back to bitter reality and rudely disrupting Hegel's dream version of history. So we cannot do real justice to Hegel's description unless we take a close look at yet another term, namely, the term “key”. For Marx, civil society came to be the key to an understanding of mankind's historical development. We may recall the term “key” in the Preface to Marx's dissertation, where he claims to have found in Epicurus' philosophy of atoms the “key” to the real history of Greek philosophy. There again he discovers a key which remained hidden from Hegel's speculative thinking.
I made a point earlier of the connection between Marx's analysis of Epicurus' philosophy of atoms and his (Marx's) analysis of the atomistic “civil society”. This characterization of civil society as “atomistic” is Hegel's; but Hegel himself allowed this idea to get lost in his notion of the state. Marx is not deceived by this speculative solution. It is not the state that holds together the atoms of civil society, but they are held together because they are atoms only in a representational sense, in the heaven of their imagination—but in reality creatures enormously different from the atoms: not divine egoists but egoistic men.
And with that we are back to earth, where Hegel's “system of needs” serves to hold together egoistic human beings, the multiplication of that “composite idea we call man”, homo economicus. Marx detaches civil society from Hegel's Philosophy of Right as a whole: and this stone rejected by Hegel he makes the cornerstone of the building of his economic analysis. Not the construction of a new system, but the patient labour entailed by the Critique of Political Economy. For “the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy”. Critique is anatomy, the scalpel probes the material conditions of life, in which legal relations and forms of state are rooted. The critique of religion takes Marx across the Rhine, to Paris. The critique of politics brings him across the sea—the element that belongs to Hegel's “world history”—to London. So, embodied in Marx's life and in his work, the critique of religion is transferred via the critique of politics to that of political economy.