Henri Lefebvre and Marxism: A view from the Frankfurt School

Le­fe­b­vre and con­tem­por­ary
in­ter­pret­a­tions of Marx

Al­fred Schmidt
Frankfurt, 1968

In re­cent years the lit­er­at­ure that has ap­peared about, for, and against Marx and Marx­ism has in­creased to the point where it can hardly be sur­veyed. Yet it would be false to con­clude that the de­bate over mat­ters of con­tent has been ad­vanced. To the ex­tent that this lit­er­at­ure does not speak the lan­guage of the Cold War and at­tempt to es­tab­lish a du­bi­ous “counter-ideo­logy,” it pro­duces (as polit­ic­al sci­ence or Krem­lino­logy) works full of in­form­a­tion con­cern­ing the state of So­viet Marx­ist doc­trines in terms of their de­pend­ence on cur­rent polit­ic­al trends. To the ex­tent that Marxi­an the­ory it­self still enters its field of vis­ion, it is dulled by the fact that people (gen­er­ally fol­low­ing Karl Löwith) clas­si­fy it in the his­tor­ic­al tra­di­tion of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Ni­et­z­sche, or else re­duce it to an ahis­tor­ic­al in­ter­pret­a­tion of the prob­lem­at­ic of ali­en­a­tion in the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts.

On the oth­er hand, the group of au­thors hon­estly in­ter­ested in the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of Marxi­an the­ory is ex­cep­tion­ally small. They are able to ab­stract from what still fre­quently passes for Marx­ism in the East­ern half of the world without deny­ing the ob­ject­ive sig­ni­fic­ance of the East-West con­flict for their thought. They have in­volved them­selves in­tens­ively with texts of Hegel and Marx, which by no means have fi­nally been dis­posed of, without fall­ing in­to the hair-split­ting on­to­logy — with its con­sec­rated body of quo­ta­tions — that is typ­ic­al for the post-Sta­lin­ist peri­od in So­viet philo­sophy. To this group be­longs Henri Le­fe­b­vre (who has re­cently be­come known in Ger­many through his acute ana­lys­is of Sta­lin­ism).1 His writ­ings are in­dis­pens­able to those who aim at an ad­equate (and there­fore crit­ic­al) un­der­stand­ing of Marx with­in the lim­its of the al­tern­at­ives that have been in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized in the polit­ic­al arena: either call­ing dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism a “wa­ter­tight world­view” (Robert Mu­sil) or dis­miss­ing it out of hand as a product of the dis­cred­ited nine­teenth cen­tury.

If a pub­lish­er has de­cided to bring out an edi­tion of Le ma­té­ria­lisme dia­lec­tique,2 a work that ap­peared over three dec­ades ago, it is be­cause it has scarcely lost its ac­tu­al­ity — aside from a few points that needed cor­rec­tion. The philo­soph­ic­al dis­cus­sion of Marx­ism that began dir­ectly after the First World War with Ernst Bloch’s Spir­it of Uto­pia and Georg Lukács’ His­tory and Class Con­scious­ness, and was es­pe­cially furthered by Karl Korsch, Her­bert Mar­cuse, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Ad­orno, broke off with Hitler’s seizure of power. There­fore, works on Marx from that peri­od, as well as those writ­ten in west­ern Europe in the late thirties, are still of great im­port­ance to us: not least be­cause those works ap­proached prob­lems in a way far more polit­ic­al and closer to real­ity than was pos­sible for the new West Ger­man at­tempts at an in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx after 1945, which re­mained more or less aca­dem­ic. These were all es­sen­tially centered on the “young Marx” in whom the au­thors (Thi­er, Po­pitz, Fromm) wanted to see an “ex­ist­en­tial thinker.”

Since Le­fe­b­vre’s book also seems at first glance to be­long to the ex­ist­ence-philo­soph­ic­al, mor­al­iz­ing, and ab­stract an­thro­po­lo­gic­al school of in­ter­pret­a­tion, it seems ne­ces­sary to make the read­er some­what more con­vers­ant with Le­fe­b­vre’s in­tel­lec­tu­al de­vel­op­ment.3 Only on that basis can the cent­ral concept of “ali­en­a­tion” in his Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism be un­der­stood and dif­fer­en­ti­ated from in­ter­pret­a­tions us­ing this concept in a sense al­most ex­actly op­posed to the Marxi­an one.

First, some dates in pre-World War II French philo­sophy. About the year 1930, the philo­soph­ic­al as­pect of Marx­ism began to arouse in­terest in France. At the same time, a broad gen­er­al re­ceptiv­ity to­ward Hegel, in­ter­woven with at­ti­tudes to­ward Kierkegaard, was an­nounced by Jean Wahl’s book, Le mal­heur de la con­science dans la phi­lo­soph­ie de He­gel. Wahl is in­clined to re­duce the rich­ness of Hegel’s work to the stage of the “un­happy con­scious­ness.” With this em­phas­is on the ro­mantic mo­ment in Hegel, it be­comes al­most im­possible to sep­ar­ate Hegel and Kierkegaard. Sub­sequently, the ap­pro­pri­ation of the ideal­ist dia­lectic is par­alleled by an in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx’s early writ­ings in the light of Heide­g­ger’s Be­ing and Time. This pro­cess led to the birth of the French vari­ety of ex­ist­en­tial on­to­logy: to ex­ist­en­tial­ism. It was com­pleted between 1933 and 1938, years in which Al­ex­an­dre Kojève gave his now fam­ous lec­tures on the Phe­nomen­o­logy of Spir­it4 at the Ecole des Hautes Et­udes be­fore stu­dents such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Mer­leau-Ponty, Ray­mond Aron, and R. P. Fes­sard. These lec­tures fol­low the same ques­tion­able lines as Wahl and see ac­cess to Hegel’s en­tire oeuvre in a single level of con­scious­ness. With Kojève, it is the much-com­men­ted-on chapter “De­pend­ence and In­de­pend­ence of Self-Con­scious­ness: Lord­ship and Bond­age.” Al­though he wants his in­ter­pret­a­tion of Hegel to be con­sidered “Marx­ist,” he does not fo­cus on Marx’s ma­ter­i­al­ist “in­ver­sion” of the dia­lectic. Rather, as Fetscher em­phas­izes, Kojève already sees in the phe­nomen­o­lo­gic­al dia­lectic it­self “all the ul­ti­mate con­sequences of the Marx­ist philo­sophy of his­tory.”5 Thus “mo­tifs of thought” that first arose from Marx’s cri­tique of Hegel are ascribed to Hegel. But even Marx’s po­s­i­tion is not done justice, since Kojève lags be­hind his claim that one should el­ev­ate one­self to real his­tory, that is, to the con­crete forms of hu­man re­la­tion­ships, which are de­term­ined dif­fer­ently at dif­fer­ent mo­ments in time. In­stead, he is sat­is­fied with the sterile defin­i­tion of a Heide­g­geri­an “his­tor­icity of ex­ist­ence” that is sup­posedly present in the Phe­nomen­o­logy of Mind as an “ex­ist­en­tial”6 and rad­ic­ally “fi­nite”7 an­thro­po­logy. Ac­cord­ing to Kojève, the an­thro­po­lo­gic­al char­ac­ter of Hegel­i­an thought be­comes un­der­stand­able only on the basis of Heide­g­ger’s em­phas­is on “on­to­lo­gic­al fi­nitude,” al­though the an­thro­po­logy of Be­ing and Time (which Kojève as­serts in op­pos­i­tion to Heide­g­ger’s in­ten­tion) adds noth­ing new to that de­veloped by Hegel.

The sup­posedly broad­er “an­thro­po­lo­gic­al-on­to­lo­gic­al basis”8 with which Kojève wants to dote dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism is more li­able to re­duce it to a doc­trine of in­vari­able struc­tures. Not the least of the ways that this would de­vel­op is in strictly polit­ic­al terms. In­so­far as Kojève breaks the struc­tur­al ele­ments of the Mas­ter-Slave dia­lectic away from its spe­cif­ic his­tor­ic­al back­ground (which must al­ways be thought of with it), he in­flates labor and the struggle for life and death in­to etern­al factors, à la so­cial Dar­win­ism. Stripped of every con­crete de­term­in­a­tion, man ap­pears as an es­sence “which is al­ways con­scious of his death, of­ten freely as­sumes it and some­times know­ingly and freely chooses it”; Hegel’s “an­thro­po­lo­gic­al philo­sophy” is viewed as “ul­ti­mately one… of death.”9 Ana­chron­ist­ic­ally, and thus in a way that fals­i­fies Hegel, Kojève equates the struggle for “re­cog­ni­tion” with a “fight for pure prestige.”10 Hu­man es­sence and know­ledge con­sti­tutes it­self with a de­cided “risk” of life. It is as if “self-con­scious ex­ist­ence is pos­sible only where there are or — at least — where there have been bloody fights, wars for prestige.”11 On the oth­er hand, it mat­ters little that he ab­stractly holds firm to the idea of the “realm of free­dom” that Hegel an­ti­cip­ated and that has to be real­ized by Marx­ism.12 It is a re­con­ciled con­di­tion that does not oc­cupy a situ­ation, in which neg­at­iv­ity (time and ac­tion in their present mean­ings) ceases, as do philo­sophy, re­volu­tions and wars as well: his “polit­ic­al-ex­ist­en­tial” an­thro­po­logy sharpened by “de­cision­ism” bears fas­cist­oid traces.13 If one starts from the premise that the Hegel and Marx ex­eges­is out­lined here was dom­in­ant in the France of the thirties, it be­comes clear that Le­fe­b­vre, even with all the un­avoid­able con­ces­sions to the spir­it of the times, took a path all his own. Op­posed to every on­to­logy, to the late-bour­geois as well as to the Sta­lin­ist ones, he de­veloped him­self in­to a crit­ic­al Marx­ist whose stand­ards grew out of a ma­ter­i­al­ist ana­lys­is of the course of his­tory. His aca­dem­ic teach­ers were hardly ap­pro­pri­ate to lead his thought in this dir­ec­tion. In Aix-en-Provence he stud­ied Au­gustine and Pas­cal14 with the lib­er­al Cath­ol­ic Maurice Blondel, and at the Sor­bonne he worked with Léon Brun­schvig, the “in­tel­lec­tu­al­iste” philo­soph­er of judg­ment who was an en­emy of every dia­lectic. What made Le­fe­b­vre (by no means without con­flict) turn to Marx­ism had little to do with uni­versity philo­sophy. It was the polit­ic­al and so­cial up­heavals of the post­war peri­od, and more par­tic­u­larly per­son­al prob­lems, psy­cho­ana­lys­is, and as­so­ci­ation with the lit­er­ary and artist­ic av­ant-garde, the sur­real­ist move­ment.15 Lastly, it was the sus­pi­cion, which turned in­to a firm con­vic­tion, that philo­sophy as it had been handed down to us had demon­strated that it in­creas­ingly was less able to come to grips with, not to men­tion mas­ter, the prob­lems posed by the his­tor­ic­al situ­ation of be­ing and con­scious­ness in so­ci­ety. At this point, the call of Marx and En­gels, in their early writ­ings, for the “neg­a­tion” of philo­sophy and the turn to­ward a prax­is “which would real­ize philo­soph­ic­al in­sight,” seemed to of­fer it­self to him. A pos­sib­il­ity seemed to open up, not only of more or less ar­tic­u­lately mir­ror­ing the frag­ment­a­tion de­vel­op­ing in mod­ern ex­ist­ence — the way it happened in ir­ra­tion­alist ideo­lo­gies — but of grasp­ing it con­cretely, that is, as something which could be tran­scen­ded.

Thus, from the out­set, Le­fe­b­vre’s Marx­ism is neither the pos­it­iv­ist­ic­ally lim­ited one of the nat­ur­al sci­ent­ist who seeks to sat­is­fy the needs of his world view, nor that of the prac­tic­al politi­cian to whom it is simply a means of ra­tion­al­iz­ing spe­cif­ic meas­ures. Fetscher cor­rectly in­dic­ates that fact,10 but when he sees the spe­cificity of Le­fe­b­vre’s view of Marx in an­thro­po­logy, more dis­cus­sion is re­quired, so as to avoid the mis­un­der­stand­ings that lie close at hand in such an in­ter­pret­a­tion.

First of all, as crit­ic­al the­or­eti­cians in gen­er­al have re­peatedly em­phas­ized, Marx is not con­cerned with a “philo­soph­ic­al an­thro­po­logy” in Schel­er’s sense of stat­ic pre­cepts con­cern­ing the “con­struc­tion of the es­sence of Man.” Such an an­thro­po­logy sets the im­possible task of demon­strat­ing the ex­act man­ner in which “all spe­cif­ic mono­pol­ies, achieve­ments and works of man­kind pro­ceed” from a “ba­sic struc­ture of the hu­man be­ing,” in­clud­ing his­tory and so­ci­ety, which, char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally enough, Schel­er handles in the ri­gid­i­fied form of “his­tor­icity” and “so­ciality.”17 However much an­thro­po­lo­gic­al writers have tried to in­cor­por­ate change and be­com­ing in­to the idea of hu­man nature, the con­tent of the his­tory of this idea must, nev­er­the­less, re­main ex­tern­al to these con­cepts, be­cause the way they pose the ques­tion is based on a strictly con­ceived hier­archy.

Marx is equally little con­cerned with prob­ing the etern­al struc­ture of hu­man labor in the man­ner of his fun­da­ment­al-on­to­lo­gic­al in­ter­pret­ers who, like Kojève, also want to end up with an an­thro­po­logy that is ba­sic­ally for­eign to his­tory. What emerges in Marx as the gen­er­ally val­id struc­ture of hu­man labor is a concept fixed by thought, in which con­di­tions com­mon to all stages of pro­duc­tion can be de­term­ined. “But,” says the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy, “the so-called gen­er­al con­di­tions of all pro­duc­tion are noth­ing but ab­stract mo­ments with which no ac­tu­al his­tor­ic­al stage of pro­duc­tion can be grasped.”18 This po­s­i­tion by no means typ­i­fies only Marx’s eco­nom­ic ana­lyses. Pre­cisely those early writ­ings, which are al­ways quoted in or­der to treat Marx as an on­to­lo­gist, yield little for such an in­ter­pret­a­tion.

Thus the Ger­man Ideo­logy stresses that by present­ing the prac­tic­al life-pro­cesses of men (not of man), in­de­pend­ent philo­sophy loses its “me­di­um of ex­ist­ence” and can be re­placed at best by a “sum­ming-up of the most gen­er­al res­ults, ab­strac­tions which arise from the ob­ser­va­tion of the his­tor­ic­al de­vel­op­ment of men.”19 To that sen­tence, Marx and En­gels un­equi­voc­ally add:

Viewed apart from real his­tory, these ab­strac­tions have in them­selves no value what­so­ever. They can only serve to fa­cil­it­ate the ar­range­ment of his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al, to in­dic­ate the se­quence of its sep­ar­ate strata. But they by no means af­ford a re­cipe or schema, as does philo­sophy, for neatly trim­ming the epochs of his­tory.20

As if the au­thors of these sen­tences had nev­er writ­ten them, the on­to­lo­giz­ing in­ter­pret­ers of Marx res­ol­utely make what are ex­pli­citly re­ferred to as help­ful con­cepts, the res­ults of the ana­lys­is of ma­ter­i­als, pre­cede the ma­ter­i­als as their con­stitu­ent be­ing. No dif­fer­ently did Ni­et­z­sche’s Göt­zen­däm­me­rung brand the πρῶτον ψεῦδος [“pro­ton pseudos” or primary lie — Eds.] of the meta­phys­ic­al en­ter­prise. Un­der the guise of rad­ic­al­iz­ing his­tor­ic­al con­scious­ness, his­tory is elim­in­ated. All that re­mains of it is that it ex­ists: his­tor­icity.Le­fe­b­vre cri­ti­cized both of these meth­od­o­lo­gic­ally in­ter­re­lated lines of in­ter­pret­a­tion, and not least of all Kojève’s “neo-Hegel­i­an de­vi­ation,”21 in which the “an­thro­po­lo­gic­al” and the “on­to­lo­gic­al” are linked. He ex­posed the weak­nesses of Ger­man ex­ist­en­tial philo­sophy (Jaspers),22 no less than those of French ex­ist­en­tial­ism and its Husser­li­an-Heide­g­geri­an roots.23 This fun­da­ment­al op­pos­i­tion is not weakened by the oc­ca­sion­al res­on­ances of an ex­ist­en­tial vocab­u­lary in Le­fe­b­vre’s writ­ings. He does not in­fringe on its ma­ter­i­al­ist char­ac­ter, yet for him Marx­ism is not a philo­sophy of be­ing, but a philo­sophy of concept.

The fact that in ret­ro­spect Le­fe­b­vre now terms his 1925 at­ti­tudes “ex­ist­en­tial­ist” should not be un­der­stood in the sense of the term es­tab­lished later. Rather, it means that he and his friends, un­der the pres­sures of the con­di­tions of the time and the ster­il­ity of of­fi­cial philo­sophy, wrestled with prob­lems which im­me­di­ately af­fected their men­tal (and not only men­tal) ex­ist­ence. Day-to-day per­son­al ex­per­i­ence ex­posed the lim­its that were set by the bour­geois world on the free de­vel­op­ment of hu­man tal­ents and needs, and showed the ex­tent to which mod­ern so­ci­ety suffered from a frag­men­ted self, which the young Hegel had already called the “foun­tain­head of the needs of philo­sophy.”24 Gran­ted, the cri­tique of this frag­ment­a­tion that Le­fe­b­vre un­der­took dur­ing the years 1925-1929 did not yet ful­fill the cri­ter­ia which he later de­veloped in the idea of a “cri­tique of every­day life.” To the ex­tent that it does not dis­ap­pear in­to the ab­stract im­me­di­acy of mere re­volt, it re­mains caught in just that schol­ast­ic philo­sophy of whose in­suf­fi­ciency, as we have said, no one was more con­scious than Le­fe­b­vre him­self. Dur­ing those years, even he suc­cumbed to the cult of the in­creas­ingly im­pov­er­ished self — a “with­draw­al neur­os­is,”25 which could grow to the point at which the in­ner self is en­tirely cut off from the out­er world and robbed of all con­tent, is driv­en to­ward its own self-de­struc­tion at the same time that it claims to be con­cerned with hu­man well-be­ing. At the same time, Le­fe­b­vre’s with­draw­al in­to pure in­ter­i­or­ity — more a symp­tom than a cri­tique of what ex­ists — is streaked with the slowly dawn­ing in­sight that the world does not ex­haust it­self in Bergson’s stream of con­scious­ness, that what mat­ters is find­ing one’s way back to ob­jects: Ret­rou­ver l’ob­jet.”26

However, Le­fe­b­vre’s de­sire to es­cape from the bind of cramped sub­jectiv­ity and to at­tain a more con­crete me­di­um of thought was not real­ized im­me­di­ately. When he ad­hered to Com­mun­ism in 1928, he saw less clearly than be­fore. True, in 1930 he read Hegel, and Marx’s Cap­it­al. But at first, the books that were de­cis­ive, as for many Marx­ist neo­phytes, were En­gels’ Anti-Dühring and Len­in’s Ma­ter­i­al­ism and Em­pirio-Cri­ti­cism — books which, be­cause of their ma­ter­i­al­ist overzeal­ous­ness, teach a massive ob­ject­iv­ism rather than a sci­entif­ic ob­jectiv­ity thor­oughly pen­et­rated by con­cepts. It is un­der­stand­able that after ad­opt­ing these dog­mat­ic po­s­i­tions, Le­fe­b­vre also in­ter­preted the later En­gels’ state­ments on pre­vi­ous philo­sophy (which are in fact am­bigu­ous) to mean that so­cial­ist the­ory, as a “pos­it­ive sci­ence,” ab­jures all philo­sophy. Thus, ma­ter­i­al­ism be­comes syn­onym­ous with a strict re­nun­ci­ation of ab­strac­tion. When Le­fe­b­vre be­came aware of the con­tra­dic­tion con­tained in that po­s­i­tion, namely that if one totally re­jects ab­strac­tion (in par­tic­u­lar, we must add, the the­ory of the equi­val­ency of ex­change, which is de­cis­ive for Marx), it is im­possible to jus­ti­fy the sci­entif­ic use of con­cepts, then con­flicts with the Party be­came in­ev­it­able. Since the late twen­ties, the Party had been con­cerned with its “Bolshev­iz­a­tion.” Un­der the pre­tense of ad­opt­ing the Len­in­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion­al mod­el, it was form­ing an ap­par­at­us to which, with Stal­in’s in­creas­ing in­flu­ence over non-Rus­si­an Parties, every in­tel­lec­tu­al ef­fort was ruth­lessly sub­or­din­ated.

One must start from this fun­da­ment­al pro­cess of trans­form­a­tion of the French Com­mun­ist Party in or­der to judge ad­equately the works Le­fe­b­vre pub­lished between 1930 and 1940. They were against both mod­ern au­thor­it­ari­an, ir­ra­tion­al ideo­logy27 and against the at­tempts of Party Com­mun­ists to either re­duce Marx’s teach­ings to a nar­rowly con­ceived eco­nom­ist­ic the­ory, or to broaden them in­to a pos­it­ive world view (“sci­entif­ic ideo­logy”) and an ab­stract meth­od­o­logy of the nat­ur­al sci­ences. Le­fe­b­vre, sim­il­ar to Karl Korsch in that re­spect, is not merely con­cerned with “situ­at­ing” Marx­ism with­in philo­sophy or with­in sci­ence, since Marx­ist spec­u­lat­ive philo­sophy tran­scends the em­pir­i­cism of all the in­di­vidu­al sci­ences. Le­fe­b­vre knows that the way philo­sophy and sci­ence merge in­to the spe­cific­ally Marx­ist concept of a cri­tique is dis­con­tinu­ous and, there­fore, it qual­it­at­ively changes them. That this cri­tique claims to be a sci­ence not only does not stand in op­pos­i­tion to philo­sophy, it rests pre­cisely on a philo­soph­ic­al dis­tinc­tion: that between im­me­di­acy and re­flec­tion, ap­pear­ance and es­sence.

These are cat­egor­ies linked with the name of Hegel. Le­fe­b­vre ex­pli­citly re­joined Hegel’s dia­lectic when in the early thirties he turned to ques­tions of lo­gic and of (his­tor­ic­al) meth­od, to the prob­lem of “real hu­man­ism” and to the the­ory of ideo­lo­gic­al il­lu­sion. At that point, just as Lukács had done pre­vi­ously in His­tory and Class Con­scious­ness, he came up against the prob­lem of the ob­ject­ive mean­ing of the Hegel­i­an meth­od for the Marx­ist one. He re­cog­nizes that this prob­lem can be ap­proached ad­equately only when the his­tor­ic­al char­ac­ter of the Marx­ist meth­od, en­er­get­ic­ally stressed by Lukács, is ap­plied not only to its ob­jects, but also to it­self. In oth­er words: neither for Marx nor for us is this meth­od a ma­ter­i­al­ist cor­rect­ive of Hegel that is giv­en once and for all. Just as Marx (and this is not simply a philo­lo­gic­al ques­tion) eval­u­ated his re­la­tion to Hegel quite dif­fer­ently at dif­fer­ent stages of de­vel­op­ment, we must also re­in­ter­pret afresh the Hegel-Marx re­la­tion with re­spect to con­tinu­ity and dis­crete­ness, and ac­cord­ing to the state of his­tory and the nature of our the­or­et­ic­al in­terests that are de­term­ined by it. Thus something like a well-roun­ded “Marx­ist im­age of Hegel” is im­possible for Le­fe­b­vre.28

He con­siders Hegel’s Lo­gic and Phe­nomen­o­logy from the view­point of a ma­ter­i­al­ist philo­sophy of his­tory which, as a “sci­ence of hu­man real­ity,”29 takes up in their trans­it­ory, his­tor­ic­ally con­crete de­term­in­a­tions those ques­tions that can be hy­po­stas­ized from philo­soph­ic­al an­thro­po­logy and the “ex­ist­en­tial” move­ment and ap­plied as such to a man in gen­er­al. Be­cause Le­fe­b­vre also terms, the Marx­ist sci­ence of hu­man real­ity a “gen­er­al an­thro­po­logy,”30 it seems ne­ces­sary to re­turn to Fetscher’s state­ment con­cern­ing the ba­sic­ally an­thro­po­lo­gic­al char­ac­ter of his un­der­stand­ing of Marx, es­pe­cially be­cause we have tried to de­scribe the way the an­thro­po­lo­gic­al-on­to­lo­gic­al in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx de­vi­ates from the po­s­i­tion of both Marx and of Le­fe­b­vre.

As we have said, Le­fe­b­vre’s concept of an­thro­po­logy does not aim at a supra­tem­por­al sub­stance; for him man is con­tained in what Marx calls “the world of men, state, so­ci­ety,”31 that is, in an his­tor­ic­al re­la­tion­ship that must, in turn, be ex­amined in its present con­crete form. The gen­er­al hu­man es­sence is whatever it is in its par­tic­u­lar mani­fest­a­tion; this es­sence, however, presents it­self at a par­tic­u­lar stage of the con­flict between man and nature. Per­haps one should say: at this stage, the stage of “pre­his­tory,” it is what it is not — an un­ful­filled prom­ise. In two re­spects, this rad­ic­al his­tor­ic­al and philo­soph­ic­al con­cep­tion of an­thro­po­logy serves a po­lem­ic­al func­tion for Le­fe­b­vre. First, he needs it to render con­ceiv­able the work the concept has to do epi­stem­o­lo­gic­ally, in terms of the “ma­ter­i­al­ity” pre­sup­posed by dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism. In ad­di­tion, it is op­posed to the gross re­duc­tion of the cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy in­to eco­nom­ism.

Marx stands in op­pos­i­tion to the meta­phys­ic­al theses of the later En­gels, can­on­ized by Stal­in and So­viet Marx­ism, that Nature as it ex­is­ted be­fore any hu­man or so­cial in­ter­ven­tion, con­tains a dia­lect­ic­al move­ment; in op­pos­i­tion also to Len­in’s at­tempt to “define” mat­ter as a real­ity in­de­pend­ent of con­scious­ness and to view cog­ni­tion as a copy of real­ity. For Marx the ma­ter­i­al­ist, dia­lect­ic­al cat­egor­ies ex­ist only as nod­al points in his­tor­ic­al prax­is, that is, in a ma­ter­i­al real­ity that is con­tinu­ally be­ing me­di­ated through hu­man ac­tions that also be­long to the ma­ter­i­al and ob­ject­ive world. Only this is “neg­at­iv­ity” — “a mov­ing and pro­du­cing prin­ciple.”32 It was not Marx’s job to “fix” gnos­eo­lo­gic­ally the ma­ter­i­als worked by labor, and in which labor is in­cor­por­ated: the spe­cif­ic de­term­in­a­tion of ma­ter­i­als is just as much a passing mo­ment of the pro­duc­tion pro­cess as is their very dis­ap­pear­ance. Every me­di­at­ing act re­con­sti­t­utes in a high­er form the im­me­di­acy that it des­troyed.

The ne­ces­sity, ex­pressed for the first time by the early Lukács, of lim­it­ing the valid­ity of the dia­lectic to the his­tor­ic­al and so­cial world33 has since then be­come the un­spoken pre­sup­pos­i­tion of every ser­i­ous in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx.34 Le­fe­b­vre could nev­er be on good terms with a “ma­ter­i­al­ism of the isol­ated ob­ject.” He al­ways con­sidered any concept of the ma­ter­i­al world that did not in­clude f its prac­tic­al (or at least po­ten­tially prac­tic­al) ap­pro­pri­ations as a pure ab­strac­tion. Since Marx­ism was taught in its Sta­lin­ized co­di­fic­a­tion for dec­ades, thinkers such as Sartre,35 for whom the sac­ri­fi­ci­um in­tel­lect­us was too great, hes­it­ated to ad­opt it for an un­ne­ces­sar­ily long time.

The as­pect of what Le­fe­b­vre calls an­thro­po­logy, which is dir­ec­ted against eco­nom­ism, is also a cri­tique of naïve-real­ist­ic con­scious­ness. Even Marx him­self, and not just his vul­gar­izers, oc­ca­sion­ally falls in­to the er­ror of rais­ing what he op­poses to a meth­od­o­lo­gic­al norm — the re­ific­a­tion of hu­man re­la­tion­ships. His present­ing the primacy of a neg­at­ive to­tal­ity over in­di­vidu­als sud­denly turns in­to a kind of tak­ing sides in fa­vor of that to­tal­ity. The re­ified power of his­tor­ic­al-eco­nom­ic pro­cesses, their ob­ject­ively ali­en­ated as­pect, swal­lows up the sub­ject­ive hu­man side, which is then taken in­to con­sid­er­a­tion only un­der the head­ing of “ideo­lo­gic­al re­flexes and echoes.”36 The spe­cific­ally so­cial mani­fest­a­tions dis­ap­pear in­to their eco­nom­ic es­sence. Le­fe­b­vre, not in­cor­rectly, be­lieves that he re­mains true to the idea of a cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy when he un­der­lines the ir­re­du­cib­il­ity of hu­man and so­cial spheres to the eco­nom­ic one.37 That idea con­sists of not ca­pit­u­lat­ing to the “nat­ur­al” ob­jectiv­ity of the his­tor­ic­al pro­cess as a whole. Marxi­an dia­lectic de­rives its claim to a great­er ob­jectiv­ity in com­par­is­on with clas­sic­al eco­nom­ists pre­cisely from the fact that it de­fet­ish­izes the world of com­mod­it­ies; that is, it re­veals the sub­ject­ive me­di­ations of that world.

Where­as by “ideo­logy” Marx meant primar­ily the realm of phe­nom­ena of con­scious­ness as split off from prax­is, in today’s so­ci­ety the ri­gid dif­fer­en­ti­ation between eco­nom­ic and noneco­nom­ic factors has be­come ques­tion­able. Today the ap­par­at­us, which, des­pite its cent­ri­fu­gal tend­en­cies, func­tions more and more smoothly, is already ideo­lo­gic­al. It is this ap­par­at­us that has not only shrunken hu­man con­scious­ness, even the un­con­scious, down to its mere mir­ror im­age, but also has at­rophied its gen­er­al modes of be­ha­vi­or, primar­ily in the area of the con­sumer. The ana­lys­is of that area38 should not be left to op­er­a­tion­al so­cial be­ha­vi­or­ism. Henri Le­fe­b­vre and Con­tem­por­ary In­ter­pret­a­tions of Marx For Le­fe­b­vre it is a sec­tion of a com­pre­hens­ive “the­ory of every­day life”39 that at­tempts to en­rich Marx­ism (fre­quently sub­jec­ted to eco­nom­ist­ic sim­pli­fic­a­tions) with a pre­vi­ously neg­lected so­ci­olo­gic­al di­men­sion.

We now turn to Le­fe­b­vre’s ex­tens­ive study of the concept of ali­en­a­tion, which made him fam­ous to a de­gree matched by scarcely an­oth­er philo­soph­er. From what has been said of his use of the term “an­thro­po­logy,” it should be clear that for him (as little as for Marx), there is no ques­tion of ri­gidly fix­ing in a few for­mu­lae the re­la­tion­ship between so­ci­ety, the in­di­vidu­al and nature. Thus, ali­en­a­tion must be re­defined ac­cord­ing to the his­tor­ic­al con­stel­la­tion in which those ele­ments in­ter­act; namely from the point of view of its “Auf­he­bung.”

Le­fe­b­vre’s trans­ition to so­cial­ism re­capit­u­lated the stages of Marx’s ‘‘self-un­der­stand­ing” to the ex­tent that his cat­egor­ies, like those of Marx, be­come pro­gress­ively more con­crete. Le­fe­b­vre’s in­de­pend­ent de­vel­op­ment in­to a Marx­ist the­or­eti­cian began with his study of the 1844 Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts, dis­covered in 1931, which in spite of their ab­stract­ness already had sub­stan­tially more con­tent than the then “of­fi­cial” ma­ter­i­al­ist on­to­logy. His study of the Marx of the Par­is peri­od found ex­pres­sion in what is cer­tainly Le­fe­b­vre’s most im­port­ant book from the thirties: Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism, writ­ten in 1934-1935, pub­lished in 1938.

The book had to have been re­jec­ted with­in the Party, if only be­cause it ap­peared at the same time as the His­tory of the Com­mun­ist Party in the So­viet Uni­on, which con­tained the chapter writ­ten by Stal­in, “On Dia­lect­ic­al and His­tor­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism.” Dur­ing the peri­od of Stal­in’s rule, this was clearly an oblig­a­tory text and, cor­res­pond­ingly, was quoted of­ten. Where­as for Marx, his­tor­ic­al and dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism (though he nev­er used the ex­pres­sions) had an identic­al con­tent, and where­as he al­ways ob­jec­ted to the “ab­stract ma­ter­i­al­ism of the nat­ur­al sci­ences… which ex­cludes the his­tor­ic­al pro­cess,”41 with Stal­in the the­ory (de­graded to a “world­view”) was dog­mat­ic­ally di­vided in­to dia­lect­ic­al and his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism, the lat­ter be­ing simply a spe­cial case of the former, which had to do with the most gen­er­al laws gov­ern­ing the de­vel­op­ment of mat­ter. Nature and his­tory are both frozen in­to things in them­selves: the con­stitutive role of hu­man prax­is for the chan­ging “ob­jectiv­ity” (and, thus, the corner­stone of Marxi­an dia­lectic) re­mained un­com­pre­hen­ded.

It is un­der­stand­able that Le­fe­b­vre’s book, which ex­pli­citly spelled out this last point and only gran­ted valid­ity to that ob­jectiv­ity whose char­ac­ter as product is per­ceived clearly, had come in­to con­flict with a doc­trine that in­vokes an im­me­di­acy un­pen­et­rated with re­flec­tion, yet which, non­ethe­less, still boasts of it­self as be­ing sci­entif­ic. At a point when the Party glor­i­fied the sev­en miser­able “ba­sic char­ac­ter­ist­ics” of the dia­lectic and of ma­ter­i­al­ism, which Stal­in enu­mer­ated like a cata­logue, as the high point of Marx­ist thought, such a view had to sow con­fu­sion since it des­troyed the “clar­ity” that had been at­tained by the cata­logers.

In Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism, Le­fe­b­vre fol­lows an em­in­ently philo­soph­ic­al in­ten­tion.42 In the face of the in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized sim­pli­fic­a­tions of the the­ory in­tro­duced by Sta­lin­ism and of its ant­ag­on­ism to hu­man­ity, he stresses the crit­ic­al, hu­man­ist­ic im­pulse of the the­ory. The fact that his start­ing point is the 1844 Manuscripts does not at all im­ply a de­valu­ation of the eco­nom­ic prob­lem­at­ic, as it does in the case of those in­ter­pret­ers for whom Marx’s work falls in­to “two parts which can­not be linked in any mean­ing­ful prin­cipled way.”43 On the con­trary, Le­fe­b­vre views Marx’s de­vel­op­ment as a uni­fied pro­cess in which the theme of “ali­en­ated labor” as well as its ideo­lo­gic­al de­riv­at­ives, are handled more and more con­cretely from stage to stage; from Marx’s book against Proud­hon to the The­ory of Sur­plus Value, there are no (eco­nom­ic in the more strict sense) texts that he does not cite. The fact that he holds firmly to this uni­fied point of view should be ap­praised all the more highly since he did not have avail­able the Out­line of the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy, the 1857-1858 “rough draft” [Ro­hent­wurf] for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy, which was pub­lished for the first time in Mo­scow in 1939 and 1941.44 He could not see a text nearly a thou­sand pages thick, which, in terms of the his­tory of Marx’s de­vel­op­ment, es­tab­lishes the link between the 1844 Manuscripts and the de­veloped ma­ter­i­al­ist eco­nom­ics of the middle and ma­ture Marx. The rough draft — still “philo­soph­ic­al” and already “eco­nom­ic” — is more ap­pro­pri­ate than any oth­er of Marx’s texts to place the dis­cus­sion of the re­la­tion­ship of Marx­ism to Hegel’s philo­sophy on a broad­er foot­ing, since Marx him­self, in his fore­words and post­faces, of­ten ex­presses him­self un­clearly and gives only sparse res­ults on this score. It also speaks for Le­fe­b­vre that he saw that with the pre­par­at­ory work to the 1859 Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy, Marx began a second, far more pos­it­ive ap­proach to Hegel. The dia­lect­ic­al meth­od is ne­ces­sary to really grasp as a sys­tem the struc­tur­al re­la­tion­ships between the cat­egor­ies that bour­geois eco­nom­ists have presen­ted merely as em­pir­ic­al res­ults, to tran­scend them crit­ic­ally.45 As Le­fe­b­vre shows, this meth­od has to de­rive the ali­en­a­tion that at first ap­pears only ab­stractly in the products and the activ­ity of the work­er from the spe­cific­ally so­cial char­ac­ter that products and activ­it­ies as­sume in cap­it­al­ism; that is, in a to­tal­ity that is just as much an ob­ject­ive struc­ture as it is a move­ment that would not ex­ist without the con­scious will and pur­pose of men. Nat­ur­ally the in­sight that through their activ­ity men con­tinu­ally bring forth just those con­di­tions to which they are sub­jec­ted at first ap­pears only to the the­or­et­ic­al con­scious­ness. In every­day prax­is, on the oth­er hand, “in­di­vidu­als are sub­sumed un­der so­cial pro­duc­tion, which ex­ists as if it were a des­tiny out­side them; but so­cial pro­duc­tion is not sub­sumed un­der the in­di­vidu­als who man­age it as their com­mon prop­erty.”46

All of Le­fe­b­vre’s work, in­clud­ing Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism, takes up the task of re­veal­ing the il­lus­ory char­ac­ter of this so­cial ob­jectiv­ity. Evolved through prac­tice, it can only be dis­solved through prac­tice. But, Le­fe­b­vre might be asked, what about the pos­sib­il­ity of the dis­sol­u­tion [Auf­he­bung] of ali­en­a­tion, of a real­iz­a­tion of the total man, if ali­en­ated con­di­tions — which Marx still pre­sup­poses in The Ger­man Ideo­logy — cease to be an “in­tol­er­able power against which men make a re­volu­tion”?47 Even un­der the con­di­tions of ef­fect­ive com­pet­i­tion, private in­terests were so­cially de­term­ined from the start and could be pur­sued only in a giv­en frame­work. And yet the gap between the in­teri­or and the ex­ter­i­or re­mained based on com­pet­i­tion, which pre­sup­posed a min­im­um of in­di­vidu­al con­sist­ency. Today, in the age of one-di­men­sion­al thought and re­la­tions (H. Mar­cuse), the re­l­at­ively spon­tan­eous pro­ced­ure of “in­tro­ject­ing” the ex­ter­i­or in­to the in­teri­or through a self that can also op­pose the ex­ter­i­or world is hardly pos­sible any longer. Men identi­fy them­selves im­me­di­ately with the so­cial whole, which tends to re­duce all op­pos­i­tion to si­lence with its op­press­ive abund­ance of goods.48 What be­comes of the mul­tiple sub­ject­ive forms of ali­en­a­tion (aes­thet­ic, psy­cho­lo­gic­al), which Le­fe­b­vre has ex­amined in all his books, and whose “pos­it­ive” — that is, crit­ic­al — side is only now com­ing to light, when so­ci­ety dir­ectly in­cor­por­ates whole sec­tors of the su­per­struc­ture in­to its polit­ic­al-eco­nom­ic pro­cess? Don’t they have to dis­ap­pear if the in­di­vidu­al’s iden­ti­fic­a­tion with the life­styles im­posed on him re­pro­duces it­self mech­an­ic­ally? What epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al value does the concept of ali­en­a­tion still pos­sess when ali­en­a­tion has ob­jec­ti­fied it­self as real­ity in such a way that it de­prives men of the pos­sib­il­ity of re­veal­ing it as, in Hegel’s term, a “dis­ap­pear­ing ap­pear­ance”? Marx’s crit­ic­al re­for­mu­la­tion of Feuerbach’s con­cep­tion of ali­en­a­tion refers to The Phe­nomen­o­logy of Spir­it, which im­plies, al­beit ideal­ist­ic­ally, that man, es­sen­tially “self-con­scious­ness,” has been cap­able of grasp­ing his own torn and shattered con­di­tion (and thus that of his world) and “with this know­ledge” has raised him­self above this frag­ment­a­tion.49 But already in Hegel, self-con­scious­ness can man­age to achieve this “only when re­volt­ing.” Though ma­ter­i­al­ist the­ory does not share the Hegel­i­an be­lief that a con­flict which has be­come con­scious is one which has been con­cretely mastered, it still pre­sup­poses that the trans­ition from the “class in it­self” to the “class for it­self” first takes place in in­di­vidu­al thought, and only then do “know­ledge” and “ac­tion” be­come one in col­lect­ive prax­is. Marx’s pre-1848 re­volu­tion­ary hu­man­ism as­sumes a fairly high (and in­creas­ing!) de­gree of in­de­pend­ence of sub­ject­ive forms of re­flec­tion from the re­la­tion­ships sup­port­ing them: the real pos­sib­il­ity of be­com­ing en­raged. The pos­sib­il­ity of re­volt is min­im­ized by the sub­sequent course of his­tory — not by the de­veloped cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy. The lat­ter’s in­sist­ence on the strict ob­jectiv­ity of the pro­cess as a whole sig­ni­fies more a qual­it­at­ively new level of cap­it­al­ism than a “sci­entif­ic” de­tour away from the needs of the in­di­vidu­al. Ni­et­z­sche un­der­scores the find­ings of Marx’s ana­lys­is of com­mod­it­ies when, in The Will to Power, he makes the sup­pos­i­tion that con­scious­ness may well be­come more and more dis­pens­able in the fu­ture and is “per­haps destined to dis­ap­pear and to make place for a full-fledged auto­mat­ism.”50 As op­posed to that no­tion, Le­fe­b­vre’s con­cep­tion of ali­en­a­tion seems harm­less, be­cause it holds all too firmly to the con­tinu­ity of the pre­requis­ites of in­di­vidu­al­ist­ic so­ci­ety, which were already be­com­ing de­bat­able in the second half of the pre­vi­ous cen­tury. He over­looks the fact that the­ory must ab­stract from in­di­vidu­als to the ex­tent that they be­come mere “per­son­i­fic­a­tions of eco­nom­ic cat­egor­ies.”51

Thus, Le­fe­b­vre is one of the few au­thors who do not erect a Chinese wall between Marx’s youth­ful and his ma­ture work, and who ex­am­ine both the “philo­soph­ic­al” motives of the eco­nom­ic writ­ings as well as the “eco­nom­ic” motives of the philo­soph­ic­al works. He rightly sees that the ap­pro­pri­ate path lead­ing to ques­tions con­cern­ing the dis­cip­line of his­tor­ic­al and dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism is to be found in the present­a­tion of the his­tory of its ori­gins.52 This in turn is not sep­ar­able from the his­tory of the sub­ject of its in­vest­ig­a­tion: bour­geois so­ci­ety, a con­cretum in which every his­tor­ic­al pro­cess is summed up. Marx, who starts from the fact that “eco­nom­ics” must first be cre­ated “as a sci­ence in the Ger­man sense of the term,”53 de­scribes his task in the fol­low­ing way: “The work in ques­tion…, is the cri­tique of eco­nom­ic cat­egor­ies, or… the crit­ic­al present­a­tion of the sys­tem of bour­geois eco­nom­ics. It is at the same time the present­a­tion of the sys­tem and through the present­a­tion the cri­tique of the sys­tem.’’54 Le­fe­b­vre’s writ­ings do take the Marxi­an de­sid­er­at­um of the “present­a­tion” of the­ory ex­tremely ser­i­ously. There are sev­er­al reas­ons why he leaves open many prob­lems when ques­tions about de­vel­op­ing the flow of the total cap­it­al of so­ci­ety ac­cord­ing to its ad­equate “concept” come up; why he hes­it­ates to ex­press the sys­tem­ic char­ac­ter of the world without re­ser­va­tions.

For one thing, he lets him­self be guided by the philo­soph­ic­al no­tion of the in­dis­sol­ubil­ity of the uni­verse in­to con­cepts that grasp it, apart from the fact that every sys­tem tends to des­troy the spe­cif­ic con­tent of the in­di­vidu­al be­ing, which is what ul­ti­mately mat­ters. For Marx, it is not primar­ily a ques­tion of the uni­verse in a meta­phys­ic­al sense, but of a uni­verse of facts that are me­di­ated through the neg­at­ive to­tal­ity of so­ci­ety. In­so­far as so­ci­ety is groun­ded in the ab­stract gen­er­al­ity of ex­change, and to that ex­tent re­sembles an ideal­ist­ic sys­tem, it re­mains linked to the nat­ur­al form of hu­man labor power and its products, that is, to qual­it­at­ively de­term­ined use value.

For an­oth­er thing, the sys­tem of eco­nom­ic cat­egor­ies Marx had in mind is by no means present in a single form in his writ­ings: if it were, a self-con­tained present­a­tion of the sys­tem would be pos­sible without dif­fi­culty. Thus, the ana­lys­is of forms of com­mod­it­ies as value, cap­it­al, and money, con­sists only in frag­ment­ary for­mu­la­tions.

Third, and lastly — and this is the most im­port­ant as­pect — un­der cur­rent his­tor­ic­al con­di­tions, which are much dif­fer­ent from those that Marx un­der­stood as cap­it­al­ism, every sys­tem­at­ic present­a­tion of the cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy must con­tain its own metac­ri­tique.

However great the ob­ject­ive dif­fi­culties in bring­ing the eco­nom­ic cri­tique to the point re­quired today, the ex­ist­ence of its ob­ject can­not be doubted. Now, as be­fore, pro­gress has the char­ac­ter of a “dens­ity” that “ex­ists” out­side man and that is as yet un­mastered. Only in this way can we ex­plain why for Le­fe­b­vre (sim­il­arly to Bloch, we may add) the crit­ic­al med­it­a­tion on sci­ence, to which Marx­ism once ima­gined to have raised it­self, re­turns to uto­pia. It is as if real­ity re­fused it­self to crit­ic­al thought to such a de­gree that it can only stand in a neg­at­ive re­la­tion to it. An his­tor­ic­ally un­am­bigu­ous me­di­ation between the bad that ex­ists and the bet­ter that is pos­sible is not present. It is not by ac­ci­dent that Le­fe­b­vre has re­course to the ro­mantic-sound­ing concept of “total man,” as it was used by the young Marx at a time when he had not yet the­or­et­ic­ally mastered the con­tent of his­tory. Today, when it ap­pears that we are no longer mas­ters of this con­tent, that concept is again ne­ces­sary in or­der not to fall in­to sheer his­tor­icism, in or­der to hold firm to the te­los of a ra­tion­ally in­stalled hu­man­ity.

Trans­lated by John Heck­man.


1 Henri Le­fe­b­vre, Prob­le­me des Marx­is­mus, heu­te (Frank­furt-am-Main: Suhr­kamp Ver­lag, 1965).
2 Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism, ed­ited by Gross­man (Lon­don: Cape, 1968). [Schmidt’s es­say ori­gin­ally ap­peared as an “Af­ter­word” to the Ger­man edi­tion of this work.]
3 He de­scribes its stages ex­haust­ively in the second volume of his ex­traordin­ary, part es­say­ist­ic, part lyr­ic­al, part auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al work, La som­me et le res­te (Par­is: 1959), un­der the title “L’iti­né­raire,” pp. 357-559 (Cf. also Le­fe­b­vre’s self-present­a­tion in the an­tho­logy Les phi­lo­so­phes français d’au­jourd’hui [Par­is: 1963], pp. 282-300.) A pre­lim­in­ary sum­mary is offered in Ir­ing Fetscher’s es­say, al­though it is more than a dec­ade old, „Der Marx­is­mus im Spie­gel der fran­zö­si­schen Phi­lo­soph­ie“, in: Marx­is­mus­stud­i­en, Schrif­ten der Stud­i­en­ge­meinsch­aft der Evan­gel­is­chen Aka­de­mi­en, vol. 3 (Tübingen, 1954), cf. es­pe­cially pp. 175-182. On Le­fe­b­vre’s po­s­i­tion after his ex­clu­sion from the Party, cf. my post­script to Prob­leme des Marx­is­mus, heute, op. cit., pp. 135-145. Also in­struct­ive is Gi­anni Bar­ba’s es­say, „Bib­li­o­graph­is­che Not­izen zum Werk von Henri Le­fe­b­vre“, in: Neue Kri­tik (Au­gust 1965), Heft 31: 24-28.
4 In­tro­duc­ti­on à la lec­ture de He­gel ed­ited by R. Queneau (Par­is: 1947). An abridged ver­sion ex­ists in Eng­lish: In­tro­duc­tion to the Read­ing of Hegel, ed­ited by Al­lan Bloom (N.Y.: Ba­sic Books, 1969). In ad­di­tion to Kojève, Jean Hyp­polite is es­pe­cially re­spons­ible for the re­cep­tion — me­di­ated through ex­ist­en­tial­ism — of Hegel in­to French con­scious­ness. Even Sartre’s Be­ing and Noth­ing­ness is un­think­able without Hegel’s Lo­gic. On French Hegel­ian­ism in gen­er­al, cf. Ir­ing Fetscher, „He­gel in Frank­reich“, in Ant­ares, vol. 1, no. 3 (1952).
5 Fetscher, Der Marx­is­mus im Spie­gel der fran­zö­si­schen Phi­lo­soph­ie, p. 183.
6 Kojève, In­tro­duc­tion to the Read­ing of Hegel, p 219.
7 Ibid., p. 259.
8 Kojève, He­gel Ver­such ein­er Ver­ge­gen­wär­ti­gung sei­nes Den­kens (Ger­man trans­la­tion of the above), Ed­it­or’s pre­face, p. 9.
9 Ibid., p. 201.
10 In­tro­duc­tion to Hegel, p. 41.
11 Ibid., p. 41.
12 Ibid., p. 1575.
13 This crit­ic­al char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of Kojève in no way de­tracts from his great ser­vices in the Marx­ist re­in­ter­pret­a­tion of Hegel (es­pe­cially the Phe­nomen­o­logy of Spirit) in this cen­tury. However — and it is this point that we are cri­ti­ciz­ing — Kojève’s thought is pre­ju­diced by the fact that he un­der­stands Hegel and Marx in terms of Heide­g­ger’s Be­ing and Time, which, among oth­er things, res­ults in his fall­ing back to the po­s­i­tion of an ahis­tor­ic­al Feuerba­chi­an­ism, which Marx left early in his ca­reer. In that he isol­ates and hy­po­stat­izes cat­egor­ies like “struggle,” “war,” and “prestige,” he comes close to that which, un­der the rub­ric “polit­ic­al an­thro­po­logy,” be­longs in the European pre­his­tory of right-wing au­thor­it­ari­an thought. Hence, the ex­pres­sion “fas­cist­oid.” (Au­thor’s note for the Amer­ic­an edi­tion.)
14 Pas­cal’s re­la­tion to Jansen­ism is the sub­ject of his doc­tor­al thes­is. Later Le­fe­b­vre de­voted a two-volume study to Pas­cal which is of great meth­od­o­lo­gic­al in­terest: Pas­cal (Par­is: 1949 and 1954).
15 In 1925, dur­ing the hero­ic phase of sur­real­ism, when Bre­ton was at­tempt­ing a sort of “pop­u­lar front” between Left in­tel­lec­tu­als and or­gan­iz­a­tions friendly to the Com­mun­ists, Le­fe­b­vre — who then, along with Georges Politzer, Norbert Guter­man, Georges Fried­mann, and Pierre Morhange, be­longed to the group Philo­sophies (which was as yet by no means Marx­ist-ma­ter­i­al­ist ori­ented) — came in­to con­tact with the Cent­ra­le sur­réa­liste. A con­tact which without doubt furthered Le­fe­b­vre’s politi­ciz­a­tion and broke off only in 1929, when he fully ad­hered to Com­mun­ism with Morhange and Politzer (who in the mean­time had be­come ed­it­or of the journ­al L’Es­prit). Cf. Maurice Nadeau, His­tory of Sur­real­ism (N.Y.: Mac­mil­lan, 1965), pp. 155, 161.
16 Der Marx­is­mus im Spie­gel der fran­zö­si­schen Phi­lo­soph­ie, cf. p. 176.
17 Max Schel­er, „Die Son­der­stel­lung des Men­schen“, in Mensch und Erde (Darm­stadt: 1927), p. 246. On the ma­ter­i­al­ist cri­tique of the mod­ern in­clin­a­tion to con­sti­tute something like a “uni­fied por­tray­al of man,” see Max Horkheimer’s sem­in­al es­say, „Be­mer­kun­gen zur phi­lo­soph­is­chen An­thro­po­lo­gie“, in: Zeits­chrift für So­zi­al­for­schung, IV, Jg, Heft 1 (Par­is: 1935). p. 1-25.
18 Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy (Ber­lin: 1951), p. 242.
19 Ger­man Ideo­logy (N.Y.: In­ter­na­tion­al Pub­lish­ers, 1947), p. 15.
20 Ibid.
21 Quoted by Fetscher, Der Marx­is­mus im Spie­gel der fran­zö­si­schen Phi­lo­soph­ie, p. 189.
22 On Le­fe­b­vre’s cri­tique of Jaspers, see Ren­con­tres in­ter­na­tio­na­les de Ge­nève, 1948 (Par­is/Neuf­châ­tel: 1949).
23 In a book which is no longer com­pletely ac­know­ledged by its au­thor, be­cause of its all-to-self-con­sciously Marx­ist ten­or, but which is non­ethe­less im­port­ant: L’ex­ist­en­ti­al­is­me (Par­is: 1946).
24 „Dif­fer­enz des Ficht­es­chen und des Schel­ling­schen Sys­tems der Phi­lo­soph­ie“, in Sämt­li­che Wer­ke, vol. 1, Glock­ner (Stut­tgart: 1958) p. 44.
25 L’ex­ist­en­ti­al­is­me, p. 20.
26 Ibid., p. 22.
27 See his stud­ies, Le na­ti­on­al­is­me cont­re les na­ti­ons (Par­is, 1937); Hit­ler au pou­voir. Bil­an de cinq an­nées de fas­cis­me en Al­le­ma­gne (Par­is: 1938); Ni­et­z­sche (Par­is, 1939), a book with a dif­fer­en­ti­ated ar­gu­ment which de­nounces both the Na­tion­al So­cial­ist’s mis­use of Ni­et­z­sche’s philo­sophy and, equally, those motives in Ni­et­z­sche’s thought which tend to­ward such a mis­use.
28 Noth­ing is more rev­el­at­ory for the bound­less dog­mat­ism of the Sta­lin­ist era than Zh­dan­ov’s po­s­i­tion in the 1947 philo­soph­ic­al dis­cus­sion, in which he dis­missed the “de­bate on Hegel” as a “re­birth of schol­asti­cism” with the words: “The prob­lem of Hegel has long been re­solved. There is no oc­ca­sion to take it up again.” In Über Kunst und Wis­sen­schaft (Ber­lin: 1951), p. 104.
29 La somme et le reste, vol. 1, p. 87.
30 Ibid.
31 „Kri­tik der He­geis­chen Recht­s­phi­lo­soph­ie“, in Marx/En­gels, Die hei­li­ge Fam­ilie (Ber­lin: 1955), p. 11.
32 Marx, „Kri­tik der He­geis­chen Dia­lek­tik und Phi­lo­soph­ie über­haupt“, in Ibid., p. 80.
33 Even here a dia­lectic struc­ture can­not be ascribed to it en bloc. See Al­fred Schmidt, „Zum Ver­hält­nis von Ge­schich­te und Na­tur im dia­lekt­ischen Ma­ter­i­al­is­mus“, in Ex­ist­en­ti­al­is­mus und Marx­is­mus (Frank­furt-am-Main: Suhr­kamp Ver­lag, 1965), pp. 103-155.
34 Ernst Bloch may ap­plaud En­gels’ re­cog­ni­tion of the dia­lectic of nature, but the concept of nature and mat­ter de­veloped in Das Prin­zip Hoffnung is not so much a re­fine­ment of En­gels, but something much dif­fer­ent: a mys­tic­al-tele­olo­gic­al cos­mo­logy.
35 Sartre’s astound­ing turn­ing-point in Cri­ti­que de la rais­on dia­lec­tique (Par­is: 1960), owes ex­traordin­ar­ily much to Le­fe­b­vre. When Sartre grasps the cat­egor­ies of his “phe­nomen­o­lo­gic­al on­to­logy” con­cretely and his­tor­ic­ally, he ex­plodes them He is con­cerned with ground­ing “Marx­ist know­ledge,” in op­pos­i­tion to Hegel’s ab­so­lute know­ledge, in a “his­tor­ic­al and struc­tur­al an­thro­po­logy” (cf. p. 108), for which “hu­man ex­ist­ence” (now viewed through its strict eco­nom­ic de­term­in­a­tion) is in­sep­ar­ably linked with the “un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man.”
36 The Ger­man Ideo­logy, p. 14.
37 Here he refers to Len­in, who in his 1894 po­lem­ic against the “pop­u­lists” already stressed that his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism con­sti­tutes not only the pre­con­di­tions of a crit­ic­al eco­nom­ics, but also of so­ci­ology. Cf. Werke, vol. 1 (Ber­lin: 1963), pp. 129-131.
38 It is avail­able in a highly ad­vanced form in the stud­ies of Ad­orno, Horkheimer, and Mar­cuse, who have furthered crit­ic­al and also psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic­al in­sights. They have at­temp­ted to sat­is­fy the de­mands of a “dia­lect­ic­al an­thro­po­logy” by mak­ing the so­ci­ety whole, in which everything in­di­vidu­al is im­prisoned, trans­par­ent even with­in the most private ex­per­i­ence.
39 It is based on the concept of ali­en­a­tion de­veloped by Le­fe­b­vre in the thirties and it is presen­ted in the work Cri­ti­que de la vie quo­ti­di­en­ne (Par­is: 1947). The second edi­tion, of which two volumes have ap­peared so far (Par­is: 1958 and 1962), is more im­port­ant meth­od­o­lo­gic­ally.
40 This had been pre­ceded by a series of im­port­ant pub­lic­a­tions, writ­ten in col­lab­or­a­tion with N. Guter­man. Le­fe­b­vre pub­lished the first trans­la­tion of the 1844 Manuscripts in the peri­od­ic­al Av­ant-Poste in 1933. In 1934, the in­tro­duc­tion to the Mor­ceaux chois­is de Karl Marx con­tained the ele­ments of a the­ory of con­scious­ness that tried to go bey­ond the sum­mary thes­is that con­scious­ness is a “re­flex” of be­ing. This the­ory was more closely ar­gued, es­pe­cially with ref­er­ence to the situ­ation of the Pop­u­lar Front at that time, in the 1936 book, La con­sci­ence mys­ti­fiée. In the same year as Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism, there ap­peared the Mor­ceaux chois­is de Hegel and a text which had been com­pletely un­known in France un­til then, Ca­hiers de Lé­nine sur la dia­lec­tique de He­gel. This last text had a long in­tro­duc­tion in which Le­fe­b­vre — in op­pos­i­tion to or­tho­doxy — called at­ten­tion to the ob­ject­ive mean­ing of Hegel­i­an philo­sophy for Marx­ism and, in par­tic­u­lar, at­temp­ted to show that a con­cep­tion of Len­in cen­ter­ing on Ma­ter­i­al­ism and Em­pirio-Cri­ti­cism, of 1908, is un­re­li­able. Both pub­lic­a­tions found al­most no echo in the Party. In 1940, the Ca­hiers as well as Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism were placed on the Otto list of books for­bid­den and to be des­troyed by the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­ity.
41 Das Ka­pit­al, vol. 1 (Ber­lin: 1955), p. 389.
42 In many re­spects he sees the prob­lem “Marx­ism and philo­sophy” dif­fer­ently today. Al­though in the thirties he had already dis­puted the view that dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism was a philo­sophy in the tra­di­tion­al sense, that is, a meta­phys­ic­al sys­tem, he still held firm to the view that it is still a philo­sophy: one which is free from the lim­its of pre­vi­ous philo­sophies. The Marx­ist idea of the “Auf­he­bung” of philo­sophy did not seem to of­fer any spe­cial prob­lem. In view of the fact that the “re­vo­lu­tion­iz­ing prax­is’’ in­to which philo­sophy was sup­posed to be dis­solved, nev­er oc­curred, Le­fe­b­vre today sees him­self forced to pose anew the ques­tion of the mean­ing of philo­sophy. In the ap­par­ent fail­ure of Sta­lin­ized Marx­ism, he thus no longer sees merely a de­vi­ation from au­then­t­ic “Marx­ist philo­sophy.” That concept it­self has in the mean­time be­come sus­pect to him. The crisis of Marx­ism is symp­to­mat­ic of a crisis of philo­sophy in gen­er­al. It should be re­flec­ted on by means of a “meta­ph­ilo­sophy.”
43 Be­gin­nings of it are found in La som­me et le res­te, vol. I, pp. 48 and 68; es­pe­cially in parts VI and VII of the second volume, “What Is the philo­soph­er?” and “Is There a Philo­sophy?” cf. pp. 659-761. Cf. also the lar­ger book which has ap­peared in the mean­time, Me­ta­ph­ilo­soph­ie (Par­is: 1965).
44 Ralf Dahren­dorf, Marx in Per­spekt­iv (Han­nov­er: 1952), p. 165. 44. Since pub­lished in a single volume by Di­etz, Ber­lin, 1953. [Known bet­ter in Eng­lish as the Grund­ris­se — Ed.].
45 Caught as he was in the then oblig­a­tory, yet ob­ject­ively sense­less, di­vi­sion of Marx­ism in­to his­tor­ic­al and dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism, Le­fe­b­vre sees the ori­gins of the lat­ter only at this point. The gen­er­al de­vel­op­ment of Marx and En­gels up to Poverty of Philo­sophy (1847) is sup­posed to be one to­ward “his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism” and to con­sist in a prin­cipled re­jec­tion of the Hegel­i­an dia­lectic. A thes­is which Le­fe­b­vre’s book, however much its struc­ture was de­term­ined by it, re­futes.
46 Marx, Grund­ris­se der Kri­tik der po­lit­ischen Öko­no­mie, p. 76.
47 The Ger­man Ideo­logy, p. 24.
48 Cf. Her­bert Mar­cuse, One-Di­men­sion­al Man (Bo­ston: Beacon Press, 1964), p. 9ff.
49 Phe­nomen­o­logy of Spir­it, p. 548.
50 WW, vol. 16 (Leipzig: 1922), Aph. 523.
51 Marx, Das Kapit­al, vol. 1, p. 8.
52 A pro­ced­ure he uses not only in Dia­lect­ic­al Ma­ter­i­al­ism, but also in the two im­port­ant books Pour connaître la pensée de Karl Marx (Par­is: 1948), and Pour connaître la pensée de Lénine (Par­is: 1957).
53 Marx to Las­salle, Let­ter of Novem­ber 12, 1858, in Marx/En­gels, Werke, Vol. 29 (Ber­lin: 1963), p. 567.
54 Marx to Las­salle, Let­ter of Feb­ru­ary 22, 1858, in ibid., p. 550.

3 thoughts on “Henri Lefebvre and Marxism: A view from the Frankfurt School

  1. Ross, I am a little surprised you think this philosophical and logical bumbler, Lefebvre, is worth bothering with — but, then again, given your penchant for promoting this stuff, maybe not.

    Like so many other fans of this Hermetic theory (i.e., Dialectical Materialism [DM]), Lefebvre had a tenuous grasp of Formal Logic:

    “Formal Logic asserts: ‘A is A’. Dialectical Logic is not saying ‘A is not-A’…. It says: A is indeed A, but A is also not-A precisely so far as the proposition ‘A is A’ is not a tautology but has real content. A tree is a tree only by being such and such a tree, by bearing leaves. blossom and fruit, by passing through and preserving within itself those moments of its becoming….” [Lefebvre (1968), ‘Dialectical Materialism’, p.41.]

    Lefebvre, again, just like other DM-fans, offers evidence from not one single logic text (other than perhaps that misnamed book inflicted on humanity by Hegel) in support of these odd ideas.

    However, I have shown how syntactically and semantically inept claims like these are over at Wikipedia:


    But in much more detail here:



  2. Pingback: The works of Henri Lefebvre | The Charnel-House

  3. Pingback: The works of Lefebvre – Urban Caucasus

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