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4. Hegel in Marx

4. Hegel in Marx
The Obstetric Motif in the Marxist Conception of Revolution

History … has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction along with the task simultaneously the solution.

Rosa Luxemburg “The Russian Revolution”
I have read somewhere that Bertrand Russell having once been a Hegelian forsook Hegel because so he said he was revolted by what Hegel had said about mathematics. It was Russell's impression so I seem to recall that Hegel had disparaged mathematics.
Now if Russell indeed forsook Hegel for the stated reason that was probably a good thing but his reason for doing so might not have been so good.
For it is not clear that Hegel disparaged mathematics itself.1 What is clear is that he thought that standard mathematics as it was commonly practiced was a bad model for philosophy. He thought that philosophy should not imitate the standard mathematical proof procedure which so Hegel thought demonstrates that something is true without displaying why it is true. The kind of proof Hegel disliked was one after the provision of which it could remain mysterious that the theorem in question was true even though it had certainly been proved to be true.
Let me present three paragraphs from Hegel's preface to his Phenomenology of the Spirit.2 As you read them you might bear in mind whatever you may remember of the proof of the Pythagorean theorem which says that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal in area to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. I ask you to bear the theorem in mind because if Hegel has a point then following as we shall see Schopenhauer we may look to the standard Euclidean proof of the Pythagorean theorem for an illustration of his point. (Bracketed insertions in quoted passages here and elsewhere in this book my own.)
The real defectiveness of mathematical knowledge however concerns both the knowledge itself and its content [that is both the way we know it and what therefore we know]. Regarding the knowledge the first point is that the necessity of the construction is not apprehended. This [that is the construction] does not issue from the Concept of the theorem; rather it is commanded and one must blindly obey the command to draw precisely these lines instead of an indefinite number of others not because one knows anything but merely in the good faith that this will turn out to be expedient for the conduct of the demonstration. Afterward this expediency does indeed become manifest but it is an external expediency because it manifests itself only after the demonstration.
Just so the demonstration follows a path that begins somewhere—one does not yet know in what relation to the result that is to be attained. As it proceeds these determinations and relations are taken up while others are ignored although one does not by any means see immediately according to what necessity. An external purpose rules this movement.
The evident certainty of this defective knowledge of which mathematics is proud and of which it also boasts as against philosophy rests solely on the poverty of its purpose and the defectiveness of its material and is therefore of a kind that philosophy must spurn.—Its purpose or Concept is magnitude. This is precisely the relation that is not essential and is void of Concept.3 The movement of knowledge therefore proceeds on the surface does not touch the matter itself not the essence or the Concept and is therefore not comprehension.4
As Walter Kaufmann suggests a passage from Schopenhauer's World as will and Idea bears comparison with what Hegel says here and illuminates it.5 Schopenhauer complains about standard mathematics in the way that Hegel did but he helps us to understand what Hegel was complaining about by purporting to supply for the case of the Pythagorean theorem what Hegel said was missing in standard mathematics.
What Euclid demonstrates is indeed that way one has to admit compelled by the principle of contradiction; but why things are that way one is not told. One therefore has almost the uncomfortable feeling that attends a sleight of hand; and in fact most Euclidean proofs are strikingly similar to that. Almost always truth enters through the back door.… Often as in the Pythagorean theorem lines are drawn one knows not why: afterwards it appears that they were nooses that are unexpectedly tightened and captivate the assent of the student who now has to admit amazed what in its inner context remains totally incomprehensible for him—so much so that he can study all of Euclid without gaining any insight into the laws of spatial relations; instead he would merely learn by heart a few of their results. This really empirical and unscientific knowledge is like that of a doctor who knows disease and remedy but not their connection.… Just so the Pythagorean theorem teaches us to know a qualitas occulta of the right-angled triangle. Euclid's stilted really crafty proof leaves us when it comes to the why and the accompanying familiar simple figure offers at a single glance far more insight into the matter … than that proof:
We can recover the insight that Schopenhauer thinks his diagram provides by numbering its parts as follows:
The following proof would I presume have satisfied Schopenhauer:
1 is a right-angled triangle.
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = the square on its hypotenuse.
5 + 2 + 3 + 6 = the sum of the squares on its other two sides.
You can see that 1 + 4 = 5 + 6.
So You can see that 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 5 + 2 + 3 + 6.
So You can see that Pythagoras’ theorem is true.
(Of course that demonstration applies to isosceles right-angled triangles only but Schopenhauer proceeds to add rather heroically: “In the case of unequal sides too it must be possible to achieve such intuitive conviction; indeed this must be so in the case of every possible geometric truth if only because its discovery always was prompted by such an intuitive necessity and the proof was thought out only afterward.”)
In the proofs that Hegel and Schopenhauer find wanting there is no false premise and no invalidity in the derivation of the conclusion. The geometer undoubtedly does prove what he sets out to prove. And Schopenhauer acknowledges that: he does not conceal the anger which the geometer's success induces in him. Schopenhauer is angry because so he thinks it remains mysterious why what is shown to be true turns out to be true. We are never made to see its necessity in the proven proposition itself as Schopenhauer thinks we do once we are provided with his diagram. And that is why this mathematics represents a bad model for philosophy to emulate. This mathematics provides no insight no seeing into the truth it purveys. The unexplanatory proofs of Euclidean geometry are a bad model for philosophy because in philosophy—so Schopenhauer and Hegel insist—we need to be shown not just that but why the demonstrable truth is true and not all demonstrations do that for us. The fundamental status of philosophy within the architectonic of knowledge imposes this demand on philosophers.
We can call this the demand for (full) comprehensibility. It is a demand that we put in a cognitive condition where everything has been made clear And for Hegel and indeed for Schopenhauer this means a further thing: that we need to see how the answer resides within the question how the solution develops out of the problem. Each step toward the solution must be seen to relate naturally to the previous step the opening step being the exposition of the problem itself. Hence the emphasis both in Hegel and in Schopenhauer on the unsatisfactorily external character of Euclid's approach: he is an engineer who applies a scheme of independent design not a midwife who derives a solution from within. The defect in Euclid's proof is so Hegel says that “the construction … does not issue from the concept of the theorem.”
Now when I say that for Hegel this further thing is required I call it “further” because one need not agree with Hegel that the demand for comprehensibility implies that the solution must be seen to grow out of the problem. Plato’ and Descartes so one might argue insisted on comprehensibility without giving it that particular dialectical twist. But if one thinks as Hegel did that thought is inherently developmental that it progresses by getting itself into difficulties which induce an endogenous recovery then it is natural that the demand for comprehensibility should take this form—the form that is of an insistence that the answer will become apparent that it will shine forth from the question when the question is posed in an especially clear form. So in the case of the Pythagorean theorem the answer about the relationship among the squares can be read off the question when the question is posed in its lucid Schopenhauerian form.
The distinction between proofs that are and ones that are not fully comprehensible may not possess the depth that Hegel discerned in it. Maybe it is just certain forms of familiarity or limits on intelligence that make the difference between finding a proof comprehensible and not finding it so. Maybe every proof is comprehensible for a sufficiently powerful mind. I cannot address that question here. Instead let me summarize this preamble to my discussion of the obstetric motif in Marxism by noting three theses of strictly increasing strength about problems and their solutions (meaning here by “solutions” thoroughly satisfactory solutions): the third thesis entails the second and the second entails the first. The present interest of the theses is that as we shall see they have both theoretical readings that fit with the Hegelian critique of the limits of conventional mathematics and political readings that fit with the Marxist critique of the limits of utopian socialism.
(i) If there is a solution to a (genuine) problem then it will be found if and (only) when the problem is presented in its fully developed form.
(ii) There always is a solution to a (genuine) problem (but (by (i)) it will be found if and (only) when the problem is presented in its fully developed form.)
(iii) The completion of the development of a (genuine) problem and only that provides its solution. Its solution is the consummation of the full development of the problem.
Now as I said this doctrine—that the full development of a problem always issues in its solution—has both theoretical and political readings. That is because we can understand “the development of a problem” either as the development of its exposition or as the development not of its exposition but of the problem itself of the problematic object or situation world. In the first case the problem is solved when its formulation is consummated; in the second when the problem itself is consumated when it reaches its highest pitch. (Hegel's idealism might be thought to prejudice this distinction between the development of a problem and the development of its formulation; but however that may be we can readily make the indicated distinction.)
The political reading of the three theses reads “the development of a problem” as the development of a problematic situation: in this case a social situation. Consider for example the problem posed by capitalism as Marx and Engels envisaged it—the problem to describe it simply of massive power to produce alongside massive poverty. As that problem deepens its solution looms as and because the problem deepens.
Thus in its political reading thesis (i) explains why the utopian socialists had no sound solution to the social problem: it was not yet sufficiently developed for a solution to it to be discernible. And thesis (ii) proceeds to reassure us that now that the problem is acute a solution to it must be forthcoming. Finally thesis (iii) adds that the desired solution will come from the development of the problem itself: the solution-providing proletarian revolution is the outgrowth of the problem of the contradictions of capitalism itself. (Thesis (iii) adds to (ii) the motif that the solution is exposed within the problem when the full development of which (ii) also speaks has been completed.) Thesis (iii) is also the foundation of the Marxist criticism of utopian socialists who think that they will find a solution to the social problem by turning their backs on existing society and seeking a superior social form rather than by studying actual social problem in its depth. All that the socialist theorist has do is to make the task facing the proletariat more explicit. So we read this in the final paragraph of Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific: “To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish—this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement scientific socialism.”6 The “momentous act” the proletariat is called upon to accomplish is the revolutionary act that solves the historical problem. The revolution is the problem's resolution.
Notice that (ii) and (iii) are in their social readings incredibly optimistic doctrines. Little could be more optimistic than (iii) with respect to the means of effecting social change. The structure of this optimism relates as follows to the structure of the Engelsian optimism which was given in proposition r in Lecture 3 section 13. Proposition r speaks of a period when critical ideas arise—when that is there is a social problem. Thesis (iii) tells us that solutions come with the full development of a problem: the solution comes out of the fully developed problematic structure which in the case that r treats is a mode of production. So (iii) provides the general doctrine which r illustrates.
It follows that the central claim in Marxisms celebration of the supposed scientificity of its politics—namely that its politics teases solutions out of developing problems—descends from a Hegelian idea which few would now regard as consonant with the demands of rigorous science. And notice how strong that central claim is. Scientific socialism offers no ideals or values to the proletariat. What the communists do (see the second sentence of the passage from Engels quoted two paragraphs back) is simply to tell it like it is to tell the proletariat how it is.
I now want to indicate how deeply entrenched this obstetric doctrine was in classical Marxism.
I begin with the letter of November 10 1837 which Marx wrote to his father in Trier when he was nineteen after he had spent just over a year studying law in Berlin.
In this letter Marx reports a turbulent progress that he has undergone. He has left behind a stage of personal development in which he “believed in a complete opposition between what is and what ought to be” and now finds himself at a point where he sees more harmony between what is and what ought to be. Marx summarizes his new viewpoint in this flourish: “If the gods had before dwelt above the earth they had now become its center.”7
The letter is fascinating partly because a little psychotically Marx associates his now abandoned world-denying idealism with a particular soaringly yearning way in which he had been missing his sweetheart Jenny who remained in Trier when Marx went off to Berlin.8 Here is part of his analogy between his love for Jenny whom he experienced as (not Marx's phrase) “out of this world” and his love of world-rejecting ideals: “My heaven and art became a Beyond as distant as my love. Everything real began to dissolve and thus lose its finiteness. I attacked the present feeling was expressed without moderation or form nothing was natural everything was built of moonshine. I believed in a complete opposition between what is and what ought to be.”9
He proceeds to associate the duality of the rejected idealism with what he calls “the unscientific form of mathematical dogmatism where one circles round a subject reasoning back and forth without letting it unfold its own rich and living content [which] prevented any grasp of the truth.”10
So Marx here imitates Hegel's disparagement of the duality in standard mathematics the duality between the problem on the one hand and its exogenously derived solution on the other. And the desired contrast; where the problem “unfold[s] its own rich and living content” and thereby dissolves and therefore solves itself also reappears.
The text continues:
The mathematician constructs and proves the triangle but it remains a pure abstraction in space and does not develop any further; you have to put it beside something else and then it takes up other positions and it is the juxtaposition of these different things that gives it different relationships and truths. Whereas in the practical expression of the living world of ideas in which law the state nature and the whole of philosophy consist the object itself must be studied in its own development arbitrary divisions must not be introduced [after the fashion of what Hegel calls Verstand the Understanding] and it is the ratio [the rational essence] of the object itself which must develop out of its inner contradictions and find unity within itself.”11
It is in virtue of this shift of attitude that “the gods” no longer dwell “above the earth” but “become its center” which is to say that Marx has “left behind the idealism … of Kant and Fichte and [come] to seek the idea in the real itself” as Hegel did.12 Marx too now seeks the solution in the problem.
Note that Marx applies this doctrine of radical endogeny—this principle that solutions grow in and out of problems—to every “living” subject matter. (He does not apply the doctrine to standard mathematics but that is because it is not alive.) A few years later in 1842 he expressly applies it to political problems and their solutions although he is not yet a Marxist who thinks of such problems and their solutions in materialist terms. Thus he writes in an article entitled “The Centralization Question” (Rheinische Zeitung May 17 1842): “It is the fate of a question of the day that the question not the answer constitutes the main difficulty. True criticism therefore analyzes not the answers but the question. Just as the solution of an algebraic question is found the moment the problem is put in its purest and sharpest form13 any question is answered the moment it becomes an actual question. World history itself has only one method: to answer and settle old questions through new ones.”14
For a question to be actual is for it to be fully developed: the contrast with actuality is potentiality.
A year later in 1843 Marx wrote a pair of very important letters to Arnold Ruge a fellow radical-a person that is who believed in democracy freedom of speech and other liberal reforms but who was not any more than Marx himself then was a full-blooded socialist. In these letters Marx continues to think of social reform as fundamentally reform of consciousness and the task of the social reformer is understood obstetrically: he must deliver the new consciousness from the womb of the old.
The interior difficulties [i.e. “the difficulties within our reform movement”] almost seem to be even greater than the exterior ones [i.e. “the difficulties posed by our enemies”]. For even though the “whence” [i.e. the current problem] is not in doubt yet all the more confusion reigns over the “whither” [i.e. the solution]. It is not only that a general anarchy has burst out among the reformers. Everyone will have to admit to himself that he has no exact view of what should happen. However that is just the advantage of the new line that we do not anticipate the world dogmatically but wish to discover the new world by criticism of the old…
On our side the old world must be brought right out into the light of day the new one given a positive form. The longer that events allow thinking humanity time to recollect itself and suffering humanity time to assemble itself the more perfect will be the birth of the product that the present carries in its womb.…”15
… We do not then set ourselves opposite the world with a doctrinaire principle saying: “Here is the truth kneel down here!” It is out if the world's own principles that we develop for it new principles. We do not say to her “Stop your battles they are stupid stuff. We want to preach the true slogans of battle at you.” We merely show it what it is actually lighting about and this realization is a thing that it must make its own even though it may not wish to.
The reform of consciousness consists solely in letting the world perceive its own consciousness by awaking it from dreaming about itself in explaining to it its own actions. Our whole and only aim consists in putting religious and political questions in a self-conscious human form.…16
So our election cry must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas but through the analysis of mystical consciousness that is not clear to itself whether it appears in a religious or a political form. It will then be clear that the world has long possessed the dream of a thing of which it only needs to possess the consciousness in order really to possess it. It will be clear that the problem is not some great gap between the thoughts of the past and those of the future but the completion of thoughts of the past. Finally it will be clear that humanity is not beginning a new work but consciously bringing its old work to completion.
So we can summarize the tendency of our journal in one word: self-understanding (equals critical philosophy) by our age of its struggles and wishes. This is a task for the world and for us. It can only be the result of united forces. What is at stake is a confession nothing more. In gel its sins forgiven humanity only needs to describe them as they are.17
The Hegelian thesis that the solution to a problem comes with its full development can as I said in section 3 above be interpreted as applying to the development of the formulation of the problem and as applying to the development of the problem itself. The recently quoted texts show that these two interpretations of the Hegelian thesis can be joined together within the obstetric point of view. For it is the political midwife who in the words of “The Centralization Question” “puts the problem in its purest and sharpest form.” It is the political midwife who in the words of the September letter to Ruge “shows the world what it is actually fighting about.” By advancing “self-understanding.” by consummating the formulation of the problem she brings the problem itself to term.18 But it is possible for her to do so only when the autonomous development of the problem has reached its penultimate stage-when that is the pregnancy is complete.
Now it is somewhat extraordinary to apply the Hegelian doctrine about conceptual problems to social and political problems even when one thinks as Marx shows he did in the quoted youthful exuberances that social consciousness is at the center of historical change. But it is surely even more extraordinary to continue in this vein when one has shifted the site of historical development from a politics of consciousness to a politics centered on modes of production and their revolutionary transformation. Yet after Marx has irreversibly effected that shift we find him saying in The German Ideology: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established an ideal to which reality [will] I have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”19
And the point is not of course that the movement is guided by an ideal other than communism but rather that it does not need an ideal a supraterrestrial inspiration a God “above the earth”20 any more than a question requires an answer that comes from beyond the question. A question gets its answer when it is properly put; it develops its answer as it develops itself. Similarly that by which the movement replaces the present state of things a state that it “abolishes” just depends on the completion of its movement. “Abolishes” is aufhebt21 the Hegelian word for dialectical transition which literally means “raises up” but which in Hegel means “transforms and completes raises up to a higher form.” The movement “abolishes” in that very special sense the present state of things but it does not annihilate the present state of things: it draws up from it what is growing within it.
There is be it further noted a nice ambiguity here in the word “movement” (Bewegung) for it can denote both a movement or process in history and a movement in the organized political sense. The political movement swims with the current and is thereby part of the current. We are moving with history and that is here assimilated to thinking a problem through to its conclusion. And Marx calls communism a real (wirkliche) movement because as he thinks of it it is a movement in reality itself not one approaching reality from without. The task of the scientific socialist revolutionary is simply to join that movement in the world to connect with the changing reality which is the self-transforming mode of production. To adopt and adapt a slogan of the American 1960s: the duty of every revolutionary is to help make the evolution.”22
Marx presented his theory of history in systematic fashion in only one place in the 1859 preface to his book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The obstetric metaphor is deeply impressed on that statement. In a stretch of text part of which I quoted in Lecture 3 section 14 Marx insists that the consciousness of contending groups during periods of social transformation “must … be explained … from the contradictions of material life from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production”—an insistence which matches propositions p and q in Lecture 3 section 13. Marx then goes on to say:
No Social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”23
It follows from these statements24 that whenever a social order has exhausted its progressiveness has exhausted what it has to give humanity by of increasing its productive power then with wonderful convenience a new order is available to replace the exhausted order and to take progress further and moreover the new order will be found in the society itself: that confidence confirms Engels’ proposition r (see Lecture 3 section 13).
And so we get the happy result that in a phrase from Capital “the problem and the means for its solution arise simultaneously.”25 Social repair like—conceptual repair as Hegel conceived it—cannot come from without and always will be found within provided that the thing is really broken.
The utopian project is therefore both impossible and unnecessary. It is impossible to reconstruct society by following a design that comes from without and it is unnecessary to seek any such design because a broken society is in process of reconstructing itself. Midwifery is needed not engineering.26
What makes Marxian socialism realistic according to Marx and Engels is that it is in Engels’ words “nothing but the reflex in thought of this conflict [i.e. the capitalist contradictions] in fact”: “The means of getting rid of the incongruities [in the existing social order] that have been brought to light must also be present in a more or less developed condition within the changed modes of production themselves.… Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this [capitalist] conflict in fact; its ideal reflection in the minds first of the class directly suffering under it the working class.”27
Modern socialism is the ideal reflection of a conflict first says Engels in the minds of the workers; but then so we can add that reflection is perfected by their theoretical representatives. Modern socialism the socialism of Marx and Engels is thereby a reflection which knows itself to be a reflection.
This means that there are two successive moments in reality's assertion of itself in consciousness the first being its manifestation in the proletarian movement and the second its manifestation in the political completion of that movement in organized form. The second and first moments are respectively mentioned when Marx says of the First International that it “has not been hatched by a sect or a theory. It is the spontaneous growth of the proletarian movement which itself is the off spring of the natural and irrepressible tendencies of modern society.”28
So on the one hand “the working class have no ideals to realize but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society is pregnant”29 and on the other just as the workers do not invent ideals so their theoretical representatives simply take and perfect the position which the workers have struck in their response to the developing reality so that “communism now no longer mean[s] the concoction by means of the imagination of an ideal society as perfect as possible but insight into the nature the conditions and the consequent general aims of the struggle waged by the proletariat.”30
I end this parade of texts with a passage from Rosa Luxemburgs 1918 essay “The Russian Revolution” in which she uses the Marxian distinction between utopian and scientific socialism to criticize the étatiste signs of Lenin and Trotsky. What she says in the passage is breathtakingly sanguine but not more so than the parallel passages from the writings of Marx and Engels that were presented above “History …— just like organic nature of which in the last analysis it forms a part—has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction along with the task simultaneously the solution”31
Marxism's evolutionary view of the movement toward socialism has an interesting implication for Marxism's attitude to social reform.32 Marxist are prepared to work for change within capitalism because they can view such change as part of capitalism's self-transformation into socialism. Since utopians lack the concept of capitalist self-transformation they cannot see reform in that way and they often see no value in it or regard it as counterproductive.
The point is illustrated by the posture of those highly utopian sects (there are some in Britain) which contemn all change within capitalism (such as successful struggles for higher wages and better working condition because it is (merely) change within capitalism. Marx could have been referring to such sects when he said in The Poverty of Philosophy that “The [utopian] socialists want the workers to leave the old society alone the better to be able to enter the new society which they have prepared for them with so much foresight.”33
And Engels made a similar point in the brilliant work of his youth The condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 when he said that
the Socialists are thoroughly tame and peaceable accept our existing order bad as it is so far as to reject all other methods but that of wining public opinion. Yet they are so dogmatic that success by this method is for them … utterly hopeless.… They acknowledge no historic development and wish to place the nation in a state of communism once overnight not by the unavoidable march of its political development up to the point at which this transition becomes both possible and necessary.34
To be sure Marx and Engels perceived danger to the cause in a political perspective that myopically limited itself to reform. Marx warned against such reformism in the proper sense of that term in his 1865 address Wages Price and Profit”:
The working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects but not with the causes of those effects … that they are applying palliatives not curing the malady. They ought therefore not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights.… Instead of the conservative motto “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword “Abolition of the wages system.”35
But “Wages Price and Profit” was nevertheless written as an attack on “Citizen Weston's” view that the battle for higher wages was pointless. Marx opposed not partial transformations of capitalism some of which (e.g. the Ten Hours Bill) he described as a “victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of properly”36 but restricting political activity to a “war against the effects of the existing system instead of simultaneously trying to change it.”37 Nevertheless the limited-aim “guerrilla fights” were “unavoidable.”
Reform movements without a revolutionary dimension were dangerous because they led the proletariat astray. But it does not follow that I success in achieving humanizing reforms was to be avoided for fear that it would pacify the proletariat. I cannot think of a text where Marx or Engels affirms this repugnant view whoever might have held it later.
Recall (see Lecture 3 section 12) what according to Marxism makes scientific socialism possible when scientific socialism in fact arises and also what ensures that the dominant socialism of that time will be scientific: it is that capitalism has reached such a pass that both the society which will solve the problems it creates and the means of bringing about that society are discernible in capitalism itself. Socialism is now in prospect not because principles warranting it have been discovered but be cause the socialist revolution is simply the completion of what capitalism has done to itself a completion which it is in the interest and within the capacity of the proletariat to effect.
Utopian socialism did not arise accidentally. Capitalism had to reach a particular stage of its development for the insights of utopian socialism to be possible a stage sufficiently advanced to generate a kind of socialism but at which the limitations of utopian socialism were unavoidable since the stage was not advanced enough to generate scientific socialism.38
For Marx and Engels it was inevitable in two sense that socialism should have been utopian before it was scientific.
First only a utopian socialism could have arisen at the actual time—that is roughly speaking the first third of the nineteenth century— when utopian socialism in fact arose. If there was to be any socialism at that time then it was fated to be a utopian one. So socialism had to be utopian before it was scientific in the sense that it could only be a utopian socialism that appeared before the time when as a matter of fact scientific socialism appeared.
Second—and this I grant is a more freely interpretative (of Marx and Engels) a suggestion—scientific socialism had to have a utopian precursor. It had to be preceded by utopian socialism because (if I may here put a Marxian dictum to special use) being precedes consciousness and scientific socialism is socialism risen to consciousness of itself.39 So utopian socialism had to come before scientific in the sense of the order in which they appeared independently of the particular times when either appeared.
Was it also necessary that utopian socialism come to be at all? I cannot cite textual material which bears decisively on this question but an affirmative answer would follow from the claim that scientific socialism had to have a utopian precursor together with the proposition no doubt believed by Marx and Engels that scientific socialism was bound sooner or later to arise when capitalism had reached the relevant stage
If scientific socialism is socialism risen to consciousness of itself it is also history risen to consciousness of itself. In his Manuscripts of 1844 Marx described communism as “the solution of the riddle [das Rätsel] of history [which] knows itself to be this solution.”40 He is here thinking of communism more as a form of society than as a movement but he might later be prepared to say the same of the communist movement. For although people have always made history it is only with the advent of the communist movement that they make history knowing what they are doing. Previous history makers’ conceptions of themselves were riddled with illusion.
I have put a certain reflexivity at the center of scientific socialism's self-description: it is in its own account of itself a socialism that unlike earlier socialism understands its own character. It is a socialism that is self-aware and it counts thereby as history's achievement of self-awareness too. And this reflexivity reproduces in modified form a theme in the philosophy of Hegel that I have not thus far mentioned.
Hegel teaches that the mind can understand itself only by understanding its own history and moreover that what enables it to understand its history is its having undergone that history. Hegel's Phenomenology traces the genesis of mind in general in order that the individual reading it can come through that reading to an understanding of himself. I quote Jon Elster's splendid formulation of this element in Hegel's outlook: “The process that enables the mind to understand its history is identical with that history.”41 As consciousness widens and deepens so too grows its capacity to explain its own genesis and content.
Partly analogously the practice of scientific socialism is governed by its understanding of its place in history. It knows itself and what it must do because it understands that place and it possesses that understanding only because enough history has unfolded for understanding of history—and thus of the utopians who could not understand themselves—to be possible.
For Hegel the science of mind cannot exist until the mind has reached a point when it can develop that science and then the science of mind is nothing but the mind's exposition of how it reached that point. For scientific socialism the science of society and history cannot exist I until history has reached a stage where such a science is possible and then the science if it is not nothing but at least crucially involves an exposition of how that stage has been reached. For utopian socialism theory is developed independently of the world and practice is the attempt by the subject (thought of as counterposed to the world) to make the world conform to the demands of theory. That is how utopian socialism misconceives its own theory and practice because it is ignorant of its own worldly character because it fails to understand where its movement came from and where it is going. For scientific socialism by contrast theory develops out of the world and the practice it animates is therefore part of the world's self-trans formation. There is accordingly no problem or not the same problem of getting the world to conform to the demands of theory in the scientific socialist conception of the relationship binding world theory and practice.
In the usage of The German Ideology a set of ideas qualifies as an ideology not merely because it is false or even because the falsehood in it is explained by its service of a class interest. A set of ideas is an ideology only if those who have the ideas attach to them a false account of why they have those ideas and of how the ideas they have relate to reality. It constitutive of ideology that subscribers to it believe that they believe it for purely intellectual reasons and not because of social developments which they are engulfed42 and they consequently believe that ideas in which do not derive from social development can give direction to social development: they pose as engineers as masters of history and not as its midwiving servants. It follows that what makes the utopian socialists utopian also makes them ideologists in the German Ideology sense43 and that what makes Marxist socialism scientific ensures that it is not (in that derogatory sense) an ideology.
Not all doctrines need or have a conception of themselves a subdoctrin about how and why the doctrine of which it is a subdoctrine comes to appear. That Marxism possesses such a doctrine is a deep fact about it for the subdoctrine is required to vindicate Marxism against the change that it too is an ideology. In its own view of itself it is not an ideology because it is aware of its own worldly origin and it can proclaim its development by the world without prejudice to its claim to truth because it is the voice of the proletariat and the proletariats historical eminent rids it of the need for illusions. The proletariat is the first class in history that can prosecute a world-historical role without wearing mantle of untruth. It can do so because it need not purvey illusions to gain allies. For unlike feudal and capitalist classes it needs no allies since it is by its nature and its numbers the universal class the representative of humanity as such.44
Marxism's (sub)doctrine about itself was a source of epistemic pride and a protection against the embarrassments facing beliefs traceable to nonrational sources that were canvassed in Lecture 1 above.
The obstetric conception of political practice is patently false. Whether or not the beliefs about history that sustained it were tenable a hundred years ago and more no one could defend them now.
One way of seeing why obstetricism is false and at the same time how possible for Marxists to have confidence in it is by comparing the first and second halves of a long Rosa Luxemburg sentence the second half of which was quoted at the close of section 4 above. Let us look at the whole of her sentence (I have italicized the word that separates the two halves of the sentence by introducing a subordinate clause):
The socialist system of society should only be and can only be a historical product born out of the school of its own experiences born in the course of its realization as a result of the developments of living history which—just like organic nature of which in the last analysis it forms a part—has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction along with the task simultaneously the solution.
The first half of this sentence is true interesting and important. Luxemburg probably thought that the second half which is far stronger and which unlike the first half affirms the obstetric doctrine follows from or restates what is said in the first. But one may believe against the full utopian doctrine that socialism can be achieved only through an intervention in history that is sensitive both to history and to what it has wrought—one may that is affirm the first part of Luxemburg's sentence—yet steadfastly resist the reassurance offered in its second part. And that is a reassurance which after the sorry history of the twentieth century we can no longer enjoy and which it is moreover dangerous to crave.
For I believe not only that the obstetric conception is false but also that it has done a great deal of damage. If you think of politics obstetrically you risk supposing that what Lenin called “the concrete analysis of a concrete situation”45 will disclose transparently what your political intervention must be so that you do not expect and therefore do not face the uncertainties and hard choices with which a responsible politics must contend.
It might be objected that a vulgar construal of the obstetric doctrine is required to support the inference from it that political practice is easy. After all the specific task allocated by Marx to socialist politics a task which falls within the obstetric metaphor is that of “shortening and lessening the birth pangs”46 of the arrival of the new society and that could be a very difficult and consequential operation. One might believe consistently with obstetric doctrine that we are indeed now in an era of transition to socialism the birth pangs of which have been rendered immensely more protracted and more ghastly than they needed because of unwise political choices of communists in Russia and Germany in the first third of the twentieth century. One might say that obstetricism is consistent with a proper emphasis on the difficulty of political labor and therefore does not justify a cavalier attitude to politics but the examples which prompt that thought might also be thought to show how strongly obstetricism encourages a cavalier attitude even if it does not justify it. If you're sure you're bound to get the answer it's easy to think you've already got it.
And whether or not obstetricism justifies and/or encourages a less than appropriately sensitive and circumspect attention to problems of socialist strategy the problem of how to overturn capitalism it certainly appears to justify a criminal inattention to what one is trying to achieve to the problem of socialist design. In the preceding part of the paragraph from which the Luxemburg sentence quoted above is drawn she criticizes those who see the creation of socialism as the application of a recipe conceived in advance.47 To be sure and in virtue of the truth of the first part of Luxemburg's sentence one must not write inflexible recipes which ignore possible constraining conditions of the kitchen in which the meal is to be cooked. Yet one must write recipes and thereby reject the obstetric perspective (according to which the baby is what the baby is not what the midwife designs it to be so hat—to mangle metaphors—midwives indeed don't write recipes for future kitchens).48 The history of socialist failure shows that socialists do need to write recipes land not only as that history suggests in order to know what to do with power but also in order to attract the masses of the people who are very reasonably wedded to the devil they know. Unless we write recipes for future kitchens there's no reason to think we'll get food we like. So if we don't like the heat of the kitchen we're in we (that is those of us who remain socialists) had better write recipes for future kitchens.49
In Lecture 5 I shall examine Marx's dictum that “religion is the opium of the people.” We shall see that the opium sentence can be understood within the terms of the obstetric motif.
Lecture 5 ends with a look at Marx's invocation of proletarian agency and that will prepare the ground for Lecture 6 in which I show that the classical Marxist conception of the proletariat is not (any longer) sustainable so that whatever is meant by calling Marxism scientific socialism it cannot now maintain its pretension to that designation without transforming itself radically. The particular ways in which the classic doctrine is false mean that we need to get out of obstetric space but without of course entering utopian space in every sense. We have to work with social forces if not perhaps always in the direction in which they are disposed to go. We have to be guided by the first half of Rosa Luxemburg's overloaded sentence.