Louis Althusser, “On The Young Marx” (1960) and “Evolution of the young Marx” (1974)

The­or­et­ic­al ques­tions

To Au­guste Cornu, who de­voted his life to a young man called Marx.

Ger­man cri­ti­cism has, right up to its latest ef­forts, nev­er quit­ted the realm of philo­sophy. Far from ex­amin­ing its gen­er­al philo­soph­ic­al premises, the whole body of its in­quir­ies has ac­tu­ally sprung from the soil of a def­in­ite philo­soph­ic­al sys­tem, that of Hegel. Not only in their an­swers but also in their ques­tions there was a mys­ti­fic­a­tion.

Karl Marx, The Ger­man Ideo­logy

The peri­od­ic­al Recherches In­ter­na­tionales of­fers us el­ev­en stud­ies by Marx­ists from abroad “on the young Marx.” One art­icle by Togli­atti, already old (1954), five from the So­viet Uni­on (three of which are by young schol­ars, twenty-sev­en to twenty-eight years old), four from the Ger­man Demo­crat­ic Re­pub­lic, and one from Po­land. Ex­eges­is of the young Marx might have been thought the priv­ilege and the cross of West­ern Marx­ists. This work and its present­a­tion show them that they are no longer alone in the per­ils and re­wards of this task.1

Read­ing this in­ter­est­ing but un­even2 col­lec­tion has giv­en me the op­por­tun­ity to ex­am­ine a num­ber of prob­lems, clear up cer­tain con­fu­sions, and put for­ward some cla­ri­fic­a­tions on my own ac­count.

Con­veni­ence of ex­pos­i­tion is my ex­cuse for en­ter­ing on the ques­tion of Marx’s early works in three ba­sic as­pects: polit­ic­al, the­or­et­ic­al, and philo­soph­ic­al.

The polit­ic­al prob­lem

First of all, any dis­cus­sion of Marx’s early works is a polit­ic­al dis­cus­sion. Need we be re­minded that Marx’s early works, whose his­tory and sig­ni­fic­ance were well enough de­scribed by Mehring, were ex­humed by So­cial Demo­crats and ex­ploited by them to the det­ri­ment of Marx­ism-Len­in­ism? The hero­ic an­cest­ors of this op­er­a­tion were named Landshut and May­er (1931). The Pre­face to their edi­tion may be read in Molit­or’s trans­la­tion in the Costès edi­tion of Marx (Œuvres philo­sophiques de Marx, t. IV, pgs. XIII, LI). The po­s­i­tion is quite clearly put. Cap­it­al is an eth­ic­al the­ory, the si­lent philo­sophy of which is openly spoken in Marx’s early works.3 Thus, re­duced to two pro­pos­i­tions, is the thes­is which has had such ex­traordin­ary suc­cess. And not only in France and in Italy, but also, as these art­icles from abroad show, in con­tem­por­ary Ger­many and Po­land. Philo­soph­ers, ideo­logues, theo­lo­gians have all launched in­to a gi­gant­ic en­ter­prise of cri­ti­cism and con­ver­sion: let Marx be re­stored to his source, and let him ad­mit at last that in him, the ma­ture man is merely the young man in dis­guise. Or if he stub­bornly in­sists on his age, let him ad­mit the sins of his ma­tur­ity, let him re­cog­nize that he sac­ri­ficed philo­sophy to eco­nom­ics, eth­ics to sci­ence, man to his­tory. Let him con­sent to this or re­fuse it, his truth, everything that will sur­vive him, everything which helps the men that we are to live and think, is con­tained in these few early works.

So these good crit­ics leave us with but a single choice: we must ad­mit that Cap­it­al (and “ma­ture Marx­ism” in gen­er­al) is either an ex­pres­sion of the young Marx’s philo­sophy, or its be­tray­al. In either case, the es­tab­lished in­ter­pret­a­tion must be totally re­vised and we must re­turn to the young Marx, the Marx through whom spoke the Truth.

This is the loc­a­tion of the dis­cus­sion: the young Marx. Really at stake in it: Marx­ism. The terms of the dis­cus­sion: wheth­er the young Marx was already and wholly Marx.

The dis­cus­sion once joined, it seems that Marx­ists have a choice between two par­ry­ing dis­pos­i­tions with­in the ideal or­der of the tac­tic­al com­bin­at­ory. 4

Very schem­at­ic­ally, if they want to res­cue Marx from the per­ils of his youth with which his op­pon­ents threaten them, they can either agree that the young Marx is not Marx; or that the young Marx is Marx. These ex­treme theses may be nu­anced; but their in­spir­a­tion ex­tends even to their nu­ances.

Of course, this in­vent­ory of pos­sib­il­it­ies may well seem de­ris­ory. Where dis­puted his­tory is con­cerned, there is no place for tac­tics, the ver­dict must be sought solely in a sci­entif­ic ex­am­in­a­tion of the facts and doc­u­ments. However, past ex­per­i­ence, and even a read­ing of the present col­lec­tion, proves that on oc­ca­sion it may be dif­fi­cult to ab­stract from re­l­at­ively en­lightened tac­tic­al con­sid­er­a­tions or de­fens­ive re­ac­tions where fa­cing up to a polit­ic­al at­tack is con­cerned. Jahn sees this quite clearly:5 it was not Marx­ists who opened the de­bate on Marx’s early works. And no doubt be­cause they had not grasped the true value of Mehring’s clas­sic work or of the schol­arly and scru­pu­lous re­search of Au­guste Cornu, young Marx­ists were caught out, ill-pre­pared for a struggle they had not fore­seen. They re­acted as best they could. There is some of this sur­prise left in the present de­fense, in its re­flex move­ment, its con­fu­sion, its awk­ward­ness. I should also add: in its bad con­science. For this at­tack sur­prised Marx­ists on their own ground: that of Marx. If it had been a ques­tion of a simple concept they might have felt them­selves to have less of a spe­cial re­spons­ib­il­ity, but the prob­lem raised was one that dir­ectly con­cerned Marx’s his­tory and Marx him­self. So they fell vic­tim to a second re­ac­tion which came to re­in­force the first re­flex de­fense: the fear of fail­ing in their duty, of let­ting the charge en­trus­ted to them come to harm, be­fore them­selves and be­fore his­tory. In plain words: if it is not stud­ied, cri­ti­cized and dom­in­ated, this re­ac­tion could lead Marx­ist philo­sophy in­to a “cata­stroph­icpar­ry­ing move­ment, a glob­al re­sponse which in fact sup­presses the prob­lem in its at­tempt to deal with it.

To dis­com­fit those who set up against Marx his own youth, the op­pos­ite po­s­i­tion is res­ol­utely taken up: Marx is re­con­ciled with his youth — Cap­it­al is no longer read as On the Jew­ish Ques­tion, On the Jew­ish Ques­tion is read as Cap­it­al; the shad­ow of the young Marx is no longer pro­jec­ted on to Marx, but that of Marx on to the young Marx; and a pseudo-the­ory of the his­tory of philo­sophy in the “fu­ture an­teri­or” is erec­ted to jus­ti­fy this counter-po­s­i­tion, without real­iz­ing that this pseudo-the­ory is quite simply Hegel­i­an.6 A de­vout fear of a blow to Marx’s in­teg­rity in­spires as its re­flex a res­ol­ute ac­cept­ance of the whole of Marx: Marx is de­clared to be a whole, “the young Marx is part of Marx­ism”7 — as if we risked los­ing the whole of Marx if we were to sub­mit his youth to the rad­ic­al cri­tique of his­tory, not the his­tory he was go­ing to live, but the his­tory he did live, not an im­me­di­ate his­tory, but the re­flec­ted his­tory for which, in his ma­tur­ity, he gave us, not the “truth” in the Hegel­i­an sense, but the prin­ciples of its sci­entif­ic un­der­stand­ing.

Even where par­ry­ing is con­cerned, there can be no good policy without good the­ory.

The the­or­et­ic­al prob­lem

This brings us to the second prob­lem posed by a study of Marx’s early works: the the­or­et­ic­al prob­lem. I must in­sist on it, as it seems to me that it has not al­ways been re­solved, or even cor­rectly posed in the ma­jor­ity of stud­ies in­spired by this sub­ject.

In­deed, only too of­ten the form of the read­ing of Marx’s early writ­ings ad­op­ted de­pends more on free as­so­ci­ation of ideas or on a simple com­par­is­on of terms than on a his­tor­ic­al cri­tique.8 This is not to dis­pute that such a read­ing can give the­or­et­ic­al res­ults, but these res­ults are merely the pre­con­di­tion of a real un­der­stand­ing of the texts. For ex­ample, Marx’s Dis­ser­ta­tion may be read by com­par­ing its terms with those of Hegel’s thought;9 the Cri­tique of Hegel’s Philo­sophy of Right by com­par­ing its prin­ciples with those of Feuerbach or those of Marx’s ma­tur­ity;10 the 1844 Manuscripts by com­par­ing their prin­ciples with those of Cap­it­al.11 Even then, the com­par­is­on may be either su­per­fi­cial or pro­found. It may give rise to mis­un­der­stand­ings12 which are er­rors for all that. On the oth­er hand, it can open up in­ter­est­ing per­spect­ives.13 But such com­par­is­on is not al­ways its own jus­ti­fic­a­tion.

In­deed, to stick to spon­tan­eous or even en­lightened as­so­ci­ation of the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments is to run the risk of re­main­ing the pris­on­er of an im­pli­cit con­cep­tion only too close to the cur­rent aca­dem­ic con­cep­tion of the com­par­is­on, op­pos­i­tion and ap­prox­im­a­tion of ele­ments that cul­min­ates in a the­ory of sources — or, what comes to the same thing, in a the­ory of an­ti­cip­a­tion. A soph­ist­ic­ated read­ing of Hegel “thinks of Hegel” when it reads the 1841 Dis­ser­ta­tion or even the 1844 Manuscripts. A soph­ist­ic­ated read­ing of Marx “thinks of Marx” when it reads the Cri­tique of the Philo­sophy of Right.14

Per­haps it is not real­ized of­ten enough that wheth­er this con­cep­tion is a the­ory of sources or a the­ory of an­ti­cip­a­tion, it is, in its naïve im­me­di­acy, based on three the­or­et­ic­al pre­sup­pos­i­tions which are al­ways ta­citly act­ive in it. The first pre­sup­pos­i­tion is ana­lyt­ic: it holds that any the­or­et­ic­al sys­tem and any con­sti­tuted thought is re­du­cible to its ele­ments: a pre­con­di­tion that en­ables one to think any ele­ment of this sys­tem on its own, and to com­pare it with an­oth­er sim­il­ar ele­ment from an­oth­er sys­tem.15 The second pre­sup­pos­i­tion is tele­olo­gic­al: it in­sti­tutes a secret tribunal of his­tory which judges the ideas sub­mit­ted to it, or rather, which per­mits the dis­sol­u­tion of (dif­fer­ent) sys­tems in­to their ele­ments, in­sti­tutes these ele­ments as ele­ments in or­der to pro­ceed to their meas­ure­ment ac­cord­ing to its own norms as if to their truth.16 Fi­nally, these two pre­sup­pos­i­tions de­pend on a third, which re­gards the his­tory of ideas as its own ele­ment, main­tains that noth­ing hap­pens there which is not a product of the his­tory of ideas it­self and that the world of ideo­logy is its own prin­ciple of in­tel­li­gib­il­ity.

I be­lieve it is ne­ces­sary to dig down to these found­a­tions if we are to un­der­stand the pos­sib­il­ity and mean­ing of this meth­od’s most strik­ing fea­ture: its ec­lecticism. Where this sur­face ec­lecticism is not hid­ing com­pletely mean­ing­less forms a search be­neath it will al­ways re­veal this the­or­et­ic­al tele­ology and this auto-in­tel­li­gib­il­ity of ideo­logy as such. When read­ing some of the art­icles in this col­lec­tion, one can­not help feel­ing that even in their ef­forts to free them­selves from this con­cep­tion, they still re­main con­tam­in­ated by its im­pli­cit lo­gic. In­deed it seems as if writ­ing the his­tory of Marx’s early the­or­et­ic­al de­vel­op­ment en­tailed the re­duc­tion of his thought in­to its “ele­ments,” grouped in gen­er­al un­der two rub­rics: the ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ments and the ideal­ist ele­ments; as if a com­par­is­on of these ele­ments, a con­front­a­tion of the weight of each, could de­term­ine the mean­ing of the text un­der ex­am­in­a­tion. Thus, in the art­icles from the Rhein­is­che Zei­tung the ex­tern­al form of a thought which is still Hegel­i­an can be shown to con­ceal the pres­ence of ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ments such as the polit­ic­al nature of cen­sor­ship, the so­cial (class) nature of the laws on the theft of wood, etc.; in the 1843 manuscript (The Cri­tique of Hegel’s Philo­sophy of Right), the ex­pos­i­tion and for­mu­la­tion, though still in­spired by Feuerbach or still Hegel­i­an, con­ceal the pres­ence of ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ments such as the real­ity of so­cial classes, of private prop­erty and its re­la­tion to the State, and even of dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism it­self, etc. It is clear that this dis­crim­in­a­tion between ele­ments de­tached from the in­tern­al con­text of the thought ex­pressed and con­ceived in isol­a­tion, is only pos­sible on con­di­tion, that the read­ing of these texts is slanted, that is, tele­olo­gic­al. One of the most clear-headed of the au­thors in this col­lec­tion, Nikolai Lap­in, ex­pressly re­cog­nizes this: “This kind of char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion… is, in fact, very ec­lect­ic, as it does not an­swer the ques­tion as to how these dif­fer­ent ele­ments are com­bined to­geth­er in Marx’s world out­look.”17 He sees clearly that this de­com­pos­i­tion of a text in­to what is already ma­ter­i­al­ist and what is still ideal­ist does not pre­serve its unity, and that this de­com­pos­i­tion is in­duced pre­cisely by read­ing the early texts through the con­tent of the ma­ture texts. Fully de­veloped Marx­ism, the Goal are the mem­bers of the tribunal which pro­nounces and ex­ecutes this judg­ment, sep­ar­at­ing the body of an earli­er text in­to its ele­ments, thereby des­troy­ing its unity. “If we start with the con­cep­tion Marx then had of his philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion, the 1843 Manuscript emerges as a per­fectly con­sist­ent and com­plete work,” where­as “from the view­point of de­veloped Marx­ism the 1843 Manuscript does not emerge as an or­gan­ic­ally com­plete whole, in which the meth­od­o­lo­gic­al value of each ele­ment has been rig­or­ously demon­strated. An ob­vi­ous lack of ma­tur­ity means that an ex­ag­ger­ated at­ten­tion is paid to cer­tain prob­lems, where­as oth­ers of ba­sic im­port­ance are no more than out­lined…’18 We could not ask for a more hon­est re­cog­ni­tion that the de­com­pos­i­tion in­to ele­ments and the con­sti­tu­tion of these ele­ments is in­duced by their in­ser­tion in­to a fi­nal­ist per­spect­ive. I might fur­ther add that a sort of “del­eg­a­tion of ref­er­ence” of­ten oc­curs, which fully de­veloped Marx­ism con­fers on an in­ter­me­di­ate au­thor, for ex­ample, on Feuerbach. As Feuerbach is reckoned to be a “ma­ter­i­al­ist” (though, strictly speak­ing, Feuerbach’s “ma­ter­i­al­ism” de­pends es­sen­tially on tak­ing Feuerbach’s own de­clar­a­tions of ma­ter­i­al­ism at their face value) he can serve as a second cen­ter of ref­er­ence, and in his turn make pos­sible the ac­cept­ance of cer­tain ele­ments in Marx’s early works as ma­ter­i­al­ist by-products, by vir­tue of his own pro­nounce­ment and his own “sin­cer­ity.” Thus the sub­ject-pre­dic­ate in­ver­sion, the Feuerba­chi­an cri­tique of spec­u­lat­ive philo­sophy, his cri­tique of re­li­gion, the hu­man es­sence ob­jec­ti­fied in its pro­duc­tions, etc., are all de­clared to be “ma­ter­i­al­ist.”… This “by-pro­duc­tion” of ele­ments via Feuerbach com­bined with the pro­duc­tion of ele­ments via the ma­ture Marx oc­ca­sion­ally gives rise to strange re­dund­an­cies and mis­un­der­stand­ings; for ex­ample, when it is a mat­ter of de­cid­ing just what does dis­tin­guish the ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ments au­then­tic­ated by Feuerbach from the ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ments au­then­tic­ated by Marx him­self.19 Ul­ti­mately, as this pro­ced­ure en­ables us to find ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ments in all Marx’s early texts, in­clud­ing even the let­ter to his fath­er in which he re­fuses to sep­ar­ate the ideal from the real, it is very dif­fi­cult to de­cide when Marx can be re­garded as ma­ter­i­al­ist, or rather, when he could not have been! For Jahn, for ex­ample, al­though they “still” con­tain “a whole series of ab­stract ele­ments” the 1844 Manuscripts mark “the birth of sci­entif­ic so­cial­ism.” 20 For Pajit­nov, these manuscripts “form the cru­cial pivot around which Marx re­ori­ented the so­cial sci­ences. The the­or­et­ic­al premises of Marx­ism had been laid down.”21 For Lap­in, “un­like the art­icles in the Rhein­is­che Zei­tung in which cer­tain ele­ments of ma­ter­i­al­ism only ap­pear spon­tan­eously, the 1843 Manuscript wit­nesses to Marx’s con­scious pas­sage to ma­ter­i­al­ism,” and in fact “Marx’s cri­tique of Hegel starts from ma­ter­i­al­ist po­s­i­tions” (it is true that this “con­scious pas­sage” is called “im­pli­cit” and “un­con­scious” in the same art­icle).22 As for Schaff, he writes squarely “We know (from later state­ments of En­gels) that Marx be­came a ma­ter­i­al­ist in 1841.”23

I am not try­ing to make an easy ar­gu­ment out of these con­tra­dic­tions (which might at little cost be set aside as signs of an “open” in­vest­ig­a­tion). But it is le­git­im­ate to ask wheth­er this un­cer­tainty about the mo­ment when Marx passed on to ma­ter­i­al­ism, etc., is not re­lated to the spon­tan­eous and im­pli­cit use of an ana­lytico-tele­olo­gic­al the­ory. We can­not but no­tice that this the­ory seems to have no val­id cri­terion whereby it could pro­nounce upon the body of thought it has de­com­posed in­to its ele­ments, that is, whose ef­fect­ive unity it has des­troyed. And this lack arises pre­cisely be­cause this very de­com­pos­i­tion de­prives it of such a cri­terion: in fact, if an ideal­ist ele­ment is an ideal­ist ele­ment and a ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ment is a ma­ter­i­al­ist ele­ment, who can really de­cide what mean­ing they con­sti­tute once they are as­sembled to­geth­er in the ef­fect­ive liv­ing unity of a text? Ul­ti­mately, the para­dox­ic­al res­ult of this de­com­pos­i­tion is that even the ques­tion of the glob­al mean­ing of a text such as On the Jew­ish Ques­tion or the 1843 manuscript van­ishes, it is not asked be­cause the means whereby it might have been asked have been re­jec­ted. But this is a ques­tion of the highest im­port­ance that neither real life nor a liv­ing cri­tique can ever avoid! Sup­pose by chance that a read­er of our own time came to take ser­i­ously the philo­sophy of On the Jew­ish Ques­tion or of the 1844 Manuscripts, and es­poused it (it has happened! I was about to say, it has happened to us all! and how many of those to whom it has happened have failed to be­come Marx­ists!). Just what, I won­der, could we then say about his thought, con­sidered as what it is, that is, as a whole. Would we re­gard it as ideal­ist or ma­ter­i­al­ist? Marx­ist or non-Marx­ist?24 Or should we re­gard its mean­ing as in abey­ance, wait­ing on a stage it has not yet reached? But this is the way Marx’s early texts are only too of­ten treated, as if they be­longed to a re­served do­main, sheltered from the “ba­sic ques­tion” solely be­cause they must de­vel­op in­to Marx­ism… . As if their mean­ing had been held in abey­ance un­til the end, as if it was ne­ces­sary to wait on the fi­nal syn­thes­is be­fore their ele­ments could be at last re­sorbed in­to a whole, as if, be­fore this fi­nal syn­thes­is, the ques­tion of the whole could not be raised, just be­cause all to­tal­it­ies earli­er than the fi­nal syn­thes­is have been des­troyed? But this brings us to the height of the para­dox from be­hind which this ana­lytico-tele­olo­gic­al meth­od breaks out: this meth­od which is con­stantly judging can­not make the slight­est judg­ment of any to­tal­ity un­like it­self. Could there be a franker ad­mis­sion that it merely judges it­self, re­cog­nizes it­self be­hind the ob­jects if con­siders, that it nev­er moves out­side it­self, that the de­vel­op­ment it hopes to think it can­not defin­it­ively think oth­er than as a de­vel­op­ment of it­self with­in it­self? And to any­one whose re­sponse to the ul­ti­mate lo­gic that I have drawn from this meth­od is to say “that is pre­cisely what makes it dia­lect­ic­al” — my an­swer is “Dia­lect­ic­al, yes, but Hegel­i­an!

In fact, once it is a mat­ter of think­ing pre­cisely the de­vel­op­ment of a thought which has been re­duced to its ele­ments in this way, once Lap­in’s naïve but hon­est ques­tion has been asked: “how are these dif­fer­ent ele­ments com­bined to­geth­er in Marx’s fi­nal world out­look?,” once it is a mat­ter of con­ceiv­ing the re­la­tions between these ele­ments whose des­tiny we know, the ar­gu­ments we can see emer­ging are those of the Hegel­i­an dia­lectic, in su­per­fi­cial or pro­found forms. An ex­ample of the su­per­fi­cial form is a re­course to the con­tra­dic­tion between form and con­tent, or more pre­cisely, between con­tent and its con­cep­tu­al ex­pres­sion. The “ma­ter­i­al­ist con­tent” comes in­to con­tra­dic­tion with its “ideal­ist form,” and the ideal­ist form it­self tends to be re­duced to a mere mat­ter of ter­min­o­logy (it had to dis­solve in the end; it was noth­ing but words). Marx was already a ma­ter­i­al­ist, but he was still us­ing Feuerba­chi­an con­cepts, he was bor­row­ing Feuerba­chi­an ter­min­o­logy al­though he was no longer and had nev­er been a pure Feuerba­chi­an: between the 1844 Manuscripts and the ma­ture works Marx dis­covered his defin­it­ive ter­min­o­logy; it is merely a ques­tion of lan­guage.25 The whole de­vel­op­ment oc­curred in the words. I know this is to schem­at­ize, but it makes it easi­er to see the hid­den mean­ing of the pro­ced­ure. It can on oc­ca­sion be con­sid­er­ably elab­or­ated, for ex­ample, in Lap­in’s the­ory which, not con­tent with op­pos­ing form (ter­min­o­logy) and con­tent, op­poses con­scious­ness and tend­ency. Lap­in does not re­duce the dif­fer­ences between Marx’s thought at dif­fer­ent times to a mere dif­fer­ence of ter­min­o­logy. He ad­mits that the lan­guage had a mean­ing: this mean­ing was that of Marx’s con­scious­ness (of him­self) at a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in his de­vel­op­ment. Thus, in the 1843 Manuscript (The Cri­tique of Hegel’s Philo­sophy of Right) Marx’s self-con­scious­ness was Feuerba­chi­an. Marx spoke the lan­guage of Feuerbach be­cause he be­lieved him­self to be a Feuerba­chi­an. But this lan­guage-con­scious­ness was ob­ject­ively in con­tra­dic­tion with his “ma­ter­i­al­ist tend­ency.” It is this con­tra­dic­tion which con­sti­tutes the mo­tor of his de­vel­op­ment. This con­cep­tion may well be Marx­ist in ap­pear­ance (cf. the “delay of con­scious­ness”), but only in ap­pear­ance, for if it is pos­sible with­in it to define the con­scious­ness of a text (its glob­al mean­ing, its lan­guage-mean­ing), it is hard to see how con­cretely to define its “tend­ency.” Or, rather, it is per­fectly clear how it has been defined once we real­ize that, for Lap­in, the dis­tinc­tion between ma­ter­i­al­ist tend­ency and con­scious­ness (of self) co­in­cides ex­actly with “the dif­fer­ence between the ap­pear­ance of the ob­ject­ive con­tent of the 1843 Manuscript from the view­point of de­veloped Marx­ism and what Marx him­self re­garded as the con­tent at the time.”26 Rig­or­ously un­der­stood, this sen­tence sug­gests that the “tend­ency” is noth­ing but a ret­ro­spect­ive ab­strac­tion of the res­ult, which was pre­cisely what had to be ex­plained, that is, it is the Hegel­i­an in-it­self con­ceived on the basis of its end as its real ori­gin. The con­tra­dic­tion between con­scious­ness and tend­ency can thus be re­duced to the con­tra­dic­tion between the in-it­self and the for-it­self. Lap­in im­me­di­ately goes on to say that this tend­ency is “im­pli­cit” and “un­con­scious.” We are giv­en an ab­strac­tion from the prob­lem it­self as if it were the solu­tion. Nat­ur­ally, I am not deny­ing that in Lap­in’s es­say there are not in­dic­a­tions of a way to a dif­fer­ent con­cep­tion (now I shall be ac­cused of lapsing in­to the the­ory of ele­ments! The very concept of “tend­ency” must be re­nounced if it is to be really pos­sible to think these ele­ments), but it must be ad­mit­ted that his sys­tem­at­ics is Hegel­i­an.

It is not pos­sible to com­mit one­self to a Marx­ist study of Marx’s early works (and of the prob­lems they pose) without re­ject­ing the spon­tan­eous or re­flec­ted tempta­tions of an ana­lytico-tele­olo­gic­al meth­od which is al­ways more or less haunted by Hegel­i­an prin­ciples. It is es­sen­tial to break with the pre­sup­pos­i­tions of this meth­od, and to ap­ply the Marx­ist prin­ciples of a the­ory of ideo­lo­gic­al de­vel­op­ment to our ob­ject.

These prin­ciples are quite dif­fer­ent from those hitherto con­sidered. They im­ply:

  1. Every ideo­logy must be re­garded as a real whole, in­tern­ally uni­fied by its own prob­lem­at­ic, so that it is im­possible to ex­tract one ele­ment without al­ter­ing its mean­ing.
  2. The mean­ing of this whole, of a par­tic­u­lar ideo­logy (in this case an in­di­vidu­al’s thought), de­pends not on its re­la­tion to a truth oth­er than it­self but on its re­la­tion to the ex­ist­ing ideo­lo­gic­al field and on the so­cial prob­lems and so­cial struc­ture which sus­tain the ideo­logy and are re­flec­ted in it; the sense of the de­vel­op­ment of a par­tic­u­lar ideo­logy de­pends not on the re­la­tion of this de­vel­op­ment to its ori­gins or its end, con­sidered as its truth, but to the re­la­tion found with­in this de­vel­op­ment between the muta­tions of the par­tic­u­lar ideo­logy and the muta­tions in the ideo­lo­gic­al field and the so­cial prob­lems and re­la­tions that sus­tain it.
  3. There­fore, the de­vel­op­ment­al mo­tor prin­ciple of a par­tic­u­lar ideo­logy can­not be found with­in ideo­logy it­self but out­side it, in what un­der­lies [l’en-deçà de] the par­tic­u­lar ideo­logy: its au­thor as a con­crete in­di­vidu­al and the ac­tu­al his­tory re­flec­ted in this in­di­vidu­al de­vel­op­ment ac­cord­ing to the com­plex ties between the in­di­vidu­al and this his­tory.

I should add that these prin­ciples, un­like the pre­vi­ous ones, are not in the strict sense ideo­lo­gic­al prin­ciples, but sci­entif­ic ones: in oth­er words, they are not the truth of the pro­cess to be stud­ied (as are all the prin­ciples of a his­tory in the “fu­ture an­teri­or”). They are not the truth of, they are the truth for, they are true as a pre­con­di­tion to le­git­im­ately pos­ing a prob­lem, and thus through this prob­lem, to the pro­duc­tion of a true solu­tion. So these prin­ciples too pre­sup­pose “fully de­veloped Marx­ism,” but not as the truth of its own gen­es­is, rather, as the the­ory which makes pos­sible an un­der­stand­ing of its own gen­es­is as of any oth­er his­tor­ic­al pro­cess. Any­way, this is the ab­so­lute pre­con­di­tion if Marx­ism is to ex­plain oth­er things than it­self: not only its own gen­es­is as something dif­fer­ent from it­self, but also all the oth­er trans­form­a­tions pro­duced in his­tory in­clud­ing those marked by the prac­tic­al con­sequences of the in­ter­ven­tion of Marx­ism in his­tory. If it is not the truth of in the Hegel­i­an and Feuerba­chi­an sense, but a dis­cip­line of sci­entif­ic in­vest­ig­a­tion, Marx­ism need be no more em­bar­rassed by its own gen­es­is than by the his­tor­ic­al move­ment it has marked by its in­ter­ven­tion: where Marx came from, as well as what comes from Marx must, if they are to be un­der­stood, both suf­fer the ap­plic­a­tion of Marx­ist prin­ciples of in­vest­ig­a­tion.27

If the prob­lem of Marx’s early works is really to be posed, the first con­di­tion to ful­fill is to ad­mit that even philo­soph­ers are young men for a time. They must be born some­where, some time, and be­gin to think and write. The schol­ar who in­sisted that his early works should nev­er be pub­lished, or even writ­ten (for there is bound to be at least some doc­tor­al can­did­ate to pub­lish them!) was cer­tainly no Hegel­i­an… for from the Hegel­i­an view­point, early works are as in­ev­it­able and as im­possible as the sin­gu­lar ob­ject dis­played by Jarry: “the skull of the child Voltaire.” They are as in­ev­it­able as all be­gin­nings. They are im­possible be­cause it is im­possible to choose one’s be­gin­nings. Marx did not choose to be born to the thought Ger­man his­tory had con­cen­trated in its uni­versity edu­ca­tion, nor to think its ideo­lo­gic­al world. He grew up in this world, in it he learned to live and move, with it he “settled ac­counts,” from it he lib­er­ated him­self. I shall re­turn to the ne­ces­sity and con­tin­gency of this be­gin­ning later. The fact is that there was a be­gin­ning, and that to work out the his­tory of Marx’s par­tic­u­lar thoughts their move­ment must be grasped at the pre­cise in­stant when that con­crete in­di­vidu­al the young Marx emerged in­to the thought world of his own time, to think in it in his turn, and to enter in­to the ex­change and de­bate with the thoughts of his time which was to be his whole life as an ideo­logue. At this level of the ex­changes and con­flicts that are the very sub­stance of the texts in which his liv­ing thoughts have come down to us, it is as if the au­thors of these thoughts were them­selves ab­sent. The con­crete in­di­vidu­al who ex­presses him­self in his thoughts and his writ­ings is ab­sent, so is the ac­tu­al his­tory ex­pressed in the ex­ist­ing ideo­lo­gic­al field. As the au­thor ef­faces him­self in the pres­ence of his pub­lished thoughts, re­du­cing him­self to their rig­or, so con­crete his­tory ef­faces it­self in the pres­ence of its ideo­lo­gic­al themes, re­du­cing it­self to their sys­tem. This double ab­sence will also have to be put to the test. But for the mo­ment, everything is in play between the rig­or of a single thought and the them­at­ic sys­tem of an ideo­lo­gic­al field. Their re­la­tion is this be­gin­ning, and this be­gin­ning has no end. This is the re­la­tion­ship that has to be thought: the re­la­tion between the (in­tern­al) unity of a single thought (at each mo­ment of its de­vel­op­ment) and the ex­ist­ing ideo­lo­gic­al field (at each mo­ment of its de­vel­op­ment). But if this re­la­tion­ship is to be thought, so, in the same move­ment, must its terms.

This meth­od­o­lo­gic­al de­mand im­me­di­ately im­plies an ef­fect­ive know­ledge of the sub­stance and struc­ture of this ba­sic ideo­lo­gic­al field, and not just an al­lus­ive know­ledge. It im­plies that as neut­ral a rep­res­ent­a­tion of the ideo­lo­gic­al world as that of a stage, on which char­ac­ters as fam­ous as they are non-ex­ist­ent make chance en­coun­ters, will not do. Marx’s fate in the years from 1840 to 1845 was not de­cided by an ideal de­bate between char­ac­ters called Hegel, Feuerbach, Stirner, Hess, etc. Nor was it de­cided by the same Hegel, Feuerbach, Stirner and Hess as they ap­peared in Marx’s own works at the time. Even less by later evoc­a­tions of great gen­er­al­ity by En­gels and Len­in. It was de­cided by con­crete ideo­lo­gic­al char­ac­ters on whom the ideo­lo­gic­al con­text im­posed de­term­in­ate fea­tures which do not ne­ces­sar­ily co­in­cide with their lit­er­al his­tor­ic­al iden­tit­ies (e.g. Hegel), which are much more ex­tens­ive than the ex­pli­cit rep­res­ent­a­tions Marx gave of them in these same writ­ings, quot­ing, in­vok­ing and cri­ti­ciz­ing them (e.g. Feuerbach), and, of course, the gen­er­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics out­lined by En­gels forty years later. As a con­crete il­lus­tra­tion of these re­marks, the Hegel who was the op­pon­ent of the young Marx from the time of his doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion was not the lib­rary Hegel we can med­it­ate on in the solitude of 1960; it was the Hegel of the neo-Hegel­i­an move­ment, a Hegel already summoned to provide Ger­man in­tel­lec­tu­als of the 1840s with the means to think their own his­tory and their own hopes; a Hegel already made to con­tra­dict him­self, in­voked against him­self, des­pite him­self. The idea of a philo­sophy trans­form­ing it­self in­to a will, emer­ging from the world of re­flec­tion to trans­form the polit­ic­al world, in which we can see Marx’s first re­bel­lion against his mas­ter, is per­fectly in ac­cord with the in­ter­pret­a­tion dom­in­ant among the neo-Hegel­i­ans.28 I do not dis­pute the claim that in his thes­is Marx already showed that acute sense of con­cepts, that im­plac­ably rig­or­ous grasp and that geni­us of con­cep­tion which were the ad­mir­a­tion of his friends. But this idea was not his in­ven­tion. In the same way, it would be very rash to re­duce Feuerbach’s pres­ence in Marx’s writ­ings between 1841 and 1844 to ex­pli­cit ref­er­ences alone. For many pas­sages dir­ectly re­pro­duce or para­phrase Feuerba­chi­an ar­gu­ments without his name ever be­ing men­tioned. The pas­sage Togli­atti ex­trac­ted from the 1844 Manuscripts comes straight from Feuerbach; many oth­ers could be in­voked which have been too hast­ily at­trib­uted to Marx. Why should Marx have re­ferred to Feuerbach when every­one knew his work, and above all, when he had ap­pre­ci­ated Feuerbach’s thought and was think­ing in his thoughts as if they were his own? But as we shall see in a mo­ment, we must go fur­ther than the un­men­tioned pres­ence of the thoughts of a liv­ing au­thor to the pres­ence of his po­ten­tial thoughts, to his prob­lem­at­ic, that is, to the con­stitutive unity of the ef­fect­ive thoughts that make up the do­main of the ex­ist­ing ideo­lo­gic­al field with which a par­tic­u­lar au­thor must settle ac­counts in his own thought. It is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that if it is im­possible to think the unity of an in­di­vidu­al’s thought while ig­nor­ing its ideo­lo­gic­al field, if this field is it­self to be thought it re­quires the thought of this unity.

So what is this unity? Let us re­turn to Feuerbach for an il­lus­tra­tion whereby we can an­swer this ques­tion, but this time to pose the prob­lem of the in­tern­al unity of Marx’s thought when the two were re­lated. Most of the com­ment­at­ors in our col­lec­tion are mani­festly troubled by the nature of this re­la­tion, and it gives rise to many con­flict­ing in­ter­pret­a­tions. This em­bar­rass­ment is not merely the res­ult of a lack of fa­mili­ar­ity with Feuerbach’s writ­ings (they can be read). It arises be­cause they do not suc­ceed in con­ceiv­ing what it is that con­sti­tutes the ba­sic unity of a text, the in­tern­al es­sence of an ideo­lo­gic­al thought, that is, its prob­lem­at­ic. I put this term for­ward — Marx nev­er dir­ectly used it, but it con­stantly an­im­ates the ideo­lo­gic­al ana­lyses of his ma­tur­ity (par­tic­u­larly The Ger­man Ideo­logy)29 — be­cause it is the concept that gives the best grasp on the facts without fall­ing in­to the Hegel­i­an am­bi­gu­ities of “to­tal­ity.” In­deed, to say that an ideo­logy con­sti­tutes an (or­gan­ic) to­tal­ity is only val­id de­script­ively — not the­or­et­ic­ally, for this de­scrip­tion con­ver­ted in­to a the­ory ex­poses us to the danger of think­ing noth­ing but the empty unity of the de­scribed whole, not a de­term­in­ate unit­ary struc­ture. On the con­trary, to think the unity of a de­term­in­ate ideo­lo­gic­al unity (which presents it­self ex­pli­citly as a whole, and which is ex­pli­citly or im­pli­citly “lived” as a whole or as an in­ten­tion of “to­tal­iz­a­tion”) by means of the concept of its prob­lem­at­ic is to al­low the typ­ic­al sys­tem­at­ic struc­ture uni­fy­ing all the ele­ments of the thought to be brought to light, and there­fore to dis­cov­er in this unity a de­term­in­ate con­tent which makes it pos­sible both to con­ceive the mean­ing of the “ele­ments” of the ideo­logy con­cerned — and to re­late this ideo­logy to the prob­lems left or posed to every thinker by the his­tor­ic­al peri­od in which he lives.30

Take a spe­cif­ic ex­ample: Marx’s 1843 Manuscript (The Cri­tique of Hegel’s Philo­sophy of Right). Ac­cord­ing to the com­ment­at­ors this con­tains a series of Feuerba­chi­an themes (the sub­ject-pre­dic­ate in­ver­sion, the cri­tique of spec­u­lat­ive philo­sophy, the the­ory of the spe­cies-man, etc.), but also some ana­lyses which are not to be found in Feuerbach (the in­ter­re­la­tion of polit­ics, the State and private prop­erty, the real­ity of so­cial classes, etc.). To re­main at the level of ele­ments would be to fall in­to the im­passe of the ana­lytico-tele­olo­gic­al cri­tique we dis­cussed above, and in­to its pseudo-solu­tion: ter­min­o­logy and mean­ing, tend­ency and con­scious­ness, etc. We must go fur­ther and ask wheth­er the pres­ence in Marx of ana­lyses and ob­jects about which Feuerbach says little or noth­ing is a suf­fi­cient jus­ti­fic­a­tion for this di­vi­sion in­to Feuerba­chi­an and non-Feuerba­chi­an (that is, already Marx­ist) ele­ments. But no an­swer can be hoped for from the ele­ments them­selves. For the ob­ject dis­cussed does not dir­ectly qual­i­fy the thought. The many au­thors who talked of so­cial classes or even of the class struggle be­fore Marx have nev­er to my know­ledge been taken for Marx­ists simply be­cause they dealt with ob­jects which were even­tu­ally destined to at­tract Marx’s at­ten­tion. It is not the ma­ter­i­al re­flec­ted on that char­ac­ter­izes and qual­i­fies a re­flec­tion, but, at this level the mod­al­ity of the re­flec­tion,[31] the ac­tu­al re­la­tion the re­flec­tion has with its ob­jects, that is, the ba­sic prob­lem­at­ic that is the start­ing point for the re­flec­tion of the ob­jects of the thought. This is not to say that the ma­ter­i­al re­flec­ted may not un­der cer­tain con­di­tions modi­fy the mod­al­ity of the re­flec­tion, but that is an­oth­er ques­tion (to which we shall re­turn), and in any case, this modi­fic­a­tion in the mod­al­ity of a re­flec­tion, this re­struc­tur­a­tion of the prob­lem­at­ic of an ideo­logy can pro­ceed by many oth­er routes than that of the simple im­me­di­ate re­la­tion of ob­ject and re­flec­tion! So any­one who still wants to pose the prob­lem of ele­ments in this per­spect­ive must re­cog­nize that everything de­pends on a ques­tion which must have pri­or­ity over them: the ques­tion of the nature of the prob­lem­at­ic which is the start­ing-point for ac­tu­ally think­ing them, in a giv­en text. In our ex­ample, the ques­tion takes the fol­low­ing form: in the Cri­tique of Hegel’s Philo­sophy of Right, has Marx’s re­flec­tion on his new ob­jects, so­cial class, the private prop­erty/State re­la­tion, etc., swept aside Feuerbach’s the­or­et­ic­al pre­sup­pos­i­tions, has it re­duced them to the level of mere phrases? Or are these new ob­jects thought from the start­ing-point of the same pre­sup­pos­i­tions? This ques­tion is pos­sible pre­cisely be­cause the prob­lem­at­ic of a thought is not lim­ited to the do­main of the ob­jects con­sidered by its au­thor, be­cause it is not an ab­strac­tion for the thought as a to­tal­ity, but the con­crete de­term­in­ate struc­ture of a thought and of all the thoughts pos­sible with­in this thought. Thus Feuerbach’s an­thro­po­logy can be­come the prob­lem­at­ic not only of re­li­gion (The Es­sence of Chris­tian­ity), but also of polit­ics (On the Jew­ish Ques­tion, the 1843 Manuscript), or even of his­tory and eco­nom­ics (the 1844 Manuscripts) without ceas­ing to be in es­sen­tials an an­thro­po­lo­gic­al prob­lem­at­ic, even if the “let­ter” of Feuerbach is it­self aban­doned or su­per­seded.[32] It is, of course, pos­sible to re­gard it as polit­ic­ally im­port­ant to have moved from a re­li­gious an­thro­po­logy to a polit­ic­al an­thro­po­logy, and fi­nally to an eco­nom­ic an­thro­po­logy, and I would agree com­pletely that in Ger­many in 1843 an­thro­po­logy rep­res­en­ted an ad­vanced ideo­lo­gic­al form. But to make this judg­ment pre­sup­poses that the nature of the ideo­logy un­der con­sid­er­a­tion is already fa­mil­i­ar, that is, that its ef­fect­ive prob­lem­at­ic has been defined.

I should add that if it is not so much the im­me­di­ate con­tent of the ob­jects re­flec­ted as the way the prob­lems are posed which con­sti­tutes the ul­ti­mate ideo­lo­gic­al es­sence of an ideo­logy, this prob­lem­at­ic is not of it­self im­me­di­ately present to the his­tor­i­an’s re­flec­tion, for good reas­on: in gen­er­al a philo­soph­er thinks in it rather than think­ing of it, and his “or­der of reas­ons” does not co­in­cide with the “or­der of reas­ons” of his philo­sophy. An ideo­logy (in the strict Marx­ist sense of the term — the sense in which Marx­ism is not it­self an ideo­logy) can be re­garded as char­ac­ter­ized in this par­tic­u­lar re­spect by the fact that its own prob­lem­at­ic is not con­scious of it­self. When Marx tells us (and he con­tinu­ally re­peats it) not to take an ideo­logy’s con­scious­ness of it­self for its es­sence, he also means that be­fore it is un­con­scious of the real prob­lems it is a re­sponse (or non-re­sponse) to, an ideo­logy is already un­con­scious of its “the­or­et­ic­al pre­sup­pos­i­tions,” that is, the act­ive but un­avowed prob­lem­at­ic which fixes for it the mean­ing and move­ment of its prob­lems and thereby of their solu­tions. So a prob­lem­at­ic can­not gen­er­ally be read like an open book, it must be dragged up from the depths of the ideo­logy in which it is bur­ied but act­ive, and usu­ally des­pite the ideo­logy it­self, its own state­ments and pro­clam­a­tions. Any­one who is pre­pared to go this far will, I ima­gine, feel ob­liged to stop con­fus­ing the ma­ter­i­al­ist pro­clam­a­tions of cer­tain “ma­ter­i­al­ists” (above all Feuerbach) with ma­ter­i­al­ism it­self. There is much to sug­gest that this would cla­ri­fy some prob­lems and dis­sip­ate some oth­er, false, prob­lems. Marx­ism would thereby gain an ever more ex­act con­scious­ness of its own prob­lem­at­ic, that is, of it­self, and even in its his­tor­ic­al works — which, after all, is its due, and, if I may say so, its duty.

Let me sum­mar­ize these re­flec­tions. Un­der­stand­ing an ideo­lo­gic­al ar­gu­ment im­plies, at the level of the ideo­logy it­self, sim­ul­tan­eous, con­joint know­ledge of the ideo­lo­gic­al field in which a thought emerges and grows; and the ex­pos­ure of the in­tern­al unity of this thought: its prob­lem­at­ic. Know­ledge of the ideo­lo­gic­al field it­self pre­sup­poses know­ledge of the prob­lem­at­ics com­poun­ded or op­posed in it. This in­ter­re­la­tion of the par­tic­u­lar prob­lem­at­ic of the thought of the in­di­vidu­al un­der con­sid­er­a­tion with the par­tic­u­lar prob­lem­at­ics of the thoughts be­long­ing to the ideo­lo­gic­al field al­lows of a de­cision as to its au­thor’s spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ence, i.e., wheth­er a new mean­ing has emerged. Of course, this com­plex pro­cess is all haunted by real his­tory. But everything can­not be said at once.

It is now clear that this meth­od, break­ing dir­ectly with the first the­or­et­ic­al pre­sup­pos­i­tion of ec­lect­ic cri­ti­cism, has already33 de­tached it­self from the il­lu­sions of the second pre­sup­pos­i­tion, the si­lent tribunal over ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory whose val­ues and ver­dicts are de­cided even be­fore in­vest­ig­a­tion starts. The truth of ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory is neither in its prin­ciple (its source) nor in its end (its goal). It is in the facts them­selves, in that nod­al con­sti­tu­tion of ideo­lo­gic­al mean­ings, themes and ob­jects, against the de­cept­ive back­cloth of their prob­lem­at­ic, it­self evolving against the back­cloth of an “an­chyl­ose” and un­stable ideo­lo­gic­al world, it­self in the sway of real his­tory. Of course, we now know that the young Marx did be­come Marx, but we should not want to live faster than he did, we should not want to live in his place, re­ject for him or dis­cov­er for him. We shall not be wait­ing for him at the end of the course to throw round him as round a run­ner the mantle of re­pose, for at last it is over, he has ar­rived. Rousseau re­marked that with chil­dren and ad­oles­cents the whole art of edu­ca­tion con­sists of know­ing how to lose time. The art of his­tor­ic­al cri­ti­cism also con­sists of know­ing how to lose time so that young au­thors can grow up. This lost time is simply the time we give them to live. We scan the ne­ces­sity of their lives in our un­der­stand­ing of its nod­al points, its re­versals and muta­tions. In this area there is per­haps no great­er joy than to be able to wit­ness in an emer­ging life, once the Gods of Ori­gins and Goals have been de­throned, the birth of ne­ces­sity.

The his­tor­ic­al prob­lem

But all this seems to leave the third pre­sup­pos­i­tion of the ec­lect­ic meth­od in the air; the pre­sup­pos­i­tion that the whole of ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory oc­curs with­in ideo­logy. Let us take up this point.

I am afraid that, with the ex­cep­tion of the art­icles by Togli­atti and Lap­in and above all Ho­ep­pn­er’s very re­mark­able piece,34 the ma­jor­ity of the stud­ies offered here ig­nore this prob­lem or de­vote only a few para­graphs to it.

But ul­ti­mately, no Marx­ist can avoid pos­ing what used a few years ago to be called the prob­lem of “Marx’s path,” that is, the prob­lem of the re­la­tion between the events of his thought and the one but double real his­tory which was its true sub­ject. We must fill in this double ab­sence and re­veal the real au­thors of these as yet sub­ject­less thoughts: the con­crete man and the real his­tory that pro­duced them. For without these real sub­jects how can we ac­count for the emer­gence of a thought and its muta­tions?

I shall not pose the prob­lem of Marx’s own per­son­al­ity here, the prob­lem of the ori­gin and struc­ture of that ex­traordin­ary the­or­et­ic­al tem­pera­ment, an­im­ated by an in­sa­ti­able crit­ic­al pas­sion, an in­transigent in­sist­ence on real­ity, and a prodi­gious feel­ing for the con­crete. A study of the psy­cho­lo­gic­al struc­ture of Marx’s per­son­al­ity and of its ori­gins and his­tory would cer­tainly cast light on the style of in­ter­ven­tion, con­cep­tion and in­vest­ig­a­tion which are so strik­ing in these Early Writ­ings them­selves. From it we would ob­tain, if not the root ori­gin of his un­der­tak­ing in Sartre’s sense (the au­thor’s “ba­sic project”), at least the ori­gins of the pro­found and far-reach­ing in­sist­ence on a grasp on real­ity, which would give a first sense to the ac­tu­al con­tinu­ity of Marx’s de­vel­op­ment, to what Lap­in has, in part, tried to think in the term “tend­ency.” Without such a study we risk a fail­ure to grasp what pre­cisely it was that saved Marx from the fate of most of his con­tem­por­ar­ies, who is­sued from the same en­vir­on­ment and con­fron­ted the same ideo­lo­gic­al themes as he did, that is, the Young Hegel­i­ans. Mehring and Cornu have car­ried out the sub­stance of this study and it is worth com­plet­ing so that we may be able to un­der­stand how it was that the son of a Rhein­ish bour­geois be­came the the­or­eti­cian and lead­er of the work­ers’ move­ment in the Europe of the rail­way epoch.

But as well as giv­ing us Marx’s psy­cho­logy this study would lead us to real his­tory, and the dir­ect ap­pre­hen­sion of it by Marx him­self. I must stop here for a mo­ment to pose the prob­lem of the mean­ing of Marx’s evol­u­tion and of its “mo­tor.”

When ec­lect­ic cri­ti­cism is faced with the ques­tion, “how were Marx’s growth to ma­tur­ity and change pos­sible,” it is apt to give an an­swer which re­mains with­in ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory it­self. For ex­ample, it is said that Marx knew how to dis­tin­guish Hegel’s meth­od from his con­tent, and that he pro­ceeded to ap­ply the former to his­tory. Or else, that he set the Hegel­i­an sys­tem back on to its feet (a state­ment not without a cer­tain hu­mor if we re­call that the Hegel­i­an sys­tem was “a sphere of spheres”). Or, that Marx ex­ten­ded Feuerbach’s ma­ter­i­al­ism to his­tory, as if a loc­al­ized ma­ter­i­al­ism was not rather sus­pect as a ma­ter­i­al­ism; that Marx ap­plied the (Hegel­i­an or Feuerba­chi­an) the­ory of ali­en­a­tion to the world of so­cial re­la­tions, as if this “ap­plic­a­tion” could change the the­ory’s ba­sic mean­ing. Or fi­nally, and this is the cru­cial point, that the old ma­ter­i­al­ists were “in­con­sist­ent” where­as Marx, on the con­trary, was con­sist­ent. This in­con­sist­ency-con­sist­ency the­ory which haunts many a Marx­ist in ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory is a little won­der of ideo­logy, con­struc­ted for their per­son­al use by the Philo­soph­ers of the En­light­en­ment. Feuerbach in­her­ited and, alas, made good use of it! It de­serves a short treat­ise all to it­self, for it is the quint­essence of his­tor­ic­al ideal­ism: it is in­deed ob­vi­ous that if ideas were self-re­pro­du­cing, then any his­tor­ic­al (or the­or­et­ic­al) ab­er­ra­tion could only be a lo­gic­al er­ror.

Even when they do con­tain a cer­tain de­gree of truth,35 taken lit­er­ally these for­mu­la­tions re­main pris­on­er to the il­lu­sion that the young Marx’s evol­u­tion was fought out and de­cided in the sphere of ideas, and that it was achieved by vir­tue of a re­flec­tion on ideas put for­ward by Hegel, Feuerbach, etc. It is as if there was agree­ment that the ideas in­her­ited from Hegel by the young Ger­man in­tel­lec­tu­als of 1840 con­tained in them­selves, con­trary to ap­pear­ances, a cer­tain ta­cit, veiled, masked, re­frac­ted truth which Marx’s crit­ic­al abil­it­ies fi­nally suc­ceeded in tear­ing from them, and for­cing them to ad­mit and re­cog­nize, after years of in­tel­lec­tu­al ef­fort. This is the ba­sic lo­gic im­plied by the fam­ous theme of the “in­ver­sion,” the “set­ting back on to its feet” of the Hegel­i­an philo­sophy (dia­lectic), for if it were really a mat­ter merely of an in­ver­sion, a res­tor­a­tion of what had been up­side down, it is clear that to turn an ob­ject right round changes neither its nature nor its con­tent by vir­tue merely of a ro­ta­tion! A man on his head is the same man when he is fi­nally walk­ing on his feet. And a philo­sophy in­ver­ted in this way can­not be re­garded as any­thing more than the philo­sophy re­versed ex­cept in the­or­et­ic­al meta­phor: in fact, its struc­ture, its prob­lems and the mean­ing of these prob­lems are still haunted by the same prob­lem­at­ic.36 This is the lo­gic that most of­ten seems to be at work in the young Marx’s writ­ings and which is most apt to be at­trib­uted to him.

Whatever the status of this view, I do not be­lieve that it cor­res­ponds to real­ity. Nat­ur­ally, no read­er of Marx’s early works could re­main in­sens­ible to the gi­gant­ic ef­fort of the­or­et­ic­al cri­ti­cism which Marx made on all the ideas he came across. Rare are the au­thors who have pos­sessed so many vir­tues (acu­ity, per­sever­ance, rig­or) in the treat­ment of ideas. For Marx, the lat­ter were con­crete ob­jects which he in­ter­rog­ated as the phys­i­cist does the ob­jects of his ex­per­i­ments, to draw from them a little of the truth, of their truth. See his treat­ment of the idea of cen­sor­ship in his art­icle on the Prus­si­an Cen­sor­ship, or the ap­par­ently in­sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ence between green and dead wood in his art­icle on the Theft of Wood, or the ideas of the free­dom of the press, of private prop­erty, of ali­en­a­tion, etc. The read­er can­not res­ist the trans­par­ency of this re­flect­ive rig­or and lo­gic­al strength in Marx’s early writ­ings. And this trans­par­ency quite nat­ur­ally in­clines him to be­lieve that the lo­gic of Marx’s in­tel­li­gence co­in­cides with the lo­gic of his re­flec­tion, and that he did draw from the ideo­lo­gic­al world he was work­ing on a truth it really con­tained. And this con­vic­tion is fur­ther re­in­forced by Marx’s own con­vic­tion, the con­vic­tion that shines through all his ef­forts and even through his en­thu­si­asms, in short, by his con­scious­ness.

So I will go so far as to say that it is not only es­sen­tial to avoid the spon­tan­eous il­lu­sions of the ideal­ist con­cep­tion of ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory, but also, and per­haps even more, it is es­sen­tial to avoid any con­ces­sion to the im­pres­sion made on us by the young Marx’s writ­ings and any ac­cept­ance of his own con­scious­ness of him­self. But to un­der­stand this it is ne­ces­sary to go on to speak of real his­tory, that is, to ques­tionMarx’s path” it­self.

With this I have re­turned to the be­gin­ning. Yes, we all have to be born some day, some­where, and be­gin think­ing and writ­ing in a giv­en world. For a thinker, this world is im­me­di­ately the world of the liv­ing thoughts of his time, the ideo­lo­gic­al world where he is born in­to thought. For Marx, this world was the world of the Ger­man ideo­logy of the 1830s and 1840s, dom­in­ated by the prob­lems of Ger­man ideal­ism, and by what has been giv­en the ab­stract name of the “de­com­pos­i­tion of Hegel.” It was not any world, of course, but this gen­er­al truth is not enough. For the world of the Ger­man ideo­logy was then without any pos­sible com­par­is­on the world that was worst crushed be­neath its ideo­logy (in the strict sense), that is, the world farthest from the ac­tu­al real­it­ies of his­tory, the most mys­ti­fied, the most ali­en­ated world that then ex­is­ted in a Europe of ideo­lo­gies. This was the world in­to which Marx was born and took up thought. The con­tin­gency of Marx’s be­gin­nings was this enorm­ous lay­er of ideo­logy be­neath which he was born, this crush­ing lay­er which he suc­ceeded in break­ing through. Pre­cisely be­cause he did de­liv­er him­self, we tend too eas­ily to be­lieve that the free­dom he achieved at the cost of such prodi­gious ef­forts and de­cis­ive en­coun­ters was already in­scribed in this world, and that the only prob­lem was to re­flect. We tend too eas­ily to project Marx’s later con­scious­ness on to this epoch and, as has been said, to write this his­tory in the “fu­ture an­teri­or,” when it is not a mat­ter of pro­ject­ing a con­scious­ness of self on to an­oth­er con­scious­ness of self, but of ap­ply­ing to the con­tent of an en­slaved con­scious­ness the sci­entif­ic prin­ciples of his­tor­ic­al in­tel­li­gib­il­ity (not the con­tent of an­oth­er con­scious­ness of self) later ac­quired by a lib­er­ated con­scious­ness.

In his later works, Marx showed why this prodi­gious lay­er of ideo­logy was char­ac­ter­ist­ic of Ger­many rather than of France or Eng­land: for the two reas­ons of the his­tor­ic­al back­ward­ness of Ger­many (in eco­nom­ics and polit­ics) and the state of the so­cial classes cor­res­pond­ing to this back­ward­ness. At the be­gin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tury, Ger­many emerged from the gi­gant­ic up­heav­al of the French Re­volu­tion and the Na­po­leon­ic Wars deeply marked by its his­tor­ic­al in­ab­il­ity either to real­ize na­tion­al unity or bour­geois re­volu­tion. And this “fatal­ity” was to dom­in­ate the his­tory of Ger­many throughout the nine­teenth cen­tury and even to be felt dis­tantly much later. This situ­ation whose ori­gins can be traced back to the peri­od of the Peas­ants’ War, made Ger­many both ob­ject and spec­tat­or of the real his­tory which was go­ing on around it. It was this Ger­man in­ab­il­ity that con­sti­tuted and deeply marked the Ger­man ideo­logy which was formed dur­ing the eight­eenth and nine­teenth cen­tur­ies. It was this in­ab­il­ity which ob­liged Ger­man in­tel­lec­tu­als to “think what the oth­ers had done” and to think it in pre­cisely the con­di­tions im­plied by their in­ab­il­ity: in the hope­ful, nos­tal­gic, ideal­ized forms char­ac­ter­ist­ic of the as­pir­a­tions of their so­cial circle: the petty bour­geois­ie of func­tion­ar­ies, teach­ers, writers, etc. — and with the im­me­di­ate ob­jects of their own ser­vitude as start­ing-point: in par­tic­u­lar, re­li­gion. The res­ult of this set of his­tor­ic­al con­di­tions and de­mands was pre­cisely a prodi­gious de­vel­op­ment of the “Ger­man ideal­ist philo­sophy” whereby Ger­man in­tel­lec­tu­als thought their con­di­tions, their hopes and even theiractiv­ity.”

It was not the at­trac­tion of a witty turn of phrase that led Marx to de­clare that the French have polit­ic­al minds, the Eng­lish eco­nom­ic minds, while the Ger­mans have the­or­et­ic­al minds. The coun­ter­part to Ger­many’s his­tor­ic­al un­der­devel­op­ment was an ideo­lo­gic­al and the­or­et­ic­alover­de­vel­op­ment” in­com­par­able with any­thing offered by oth­er European na­tions. But the cru­cial point is that this the­or­et­ic­al de­vel­op­ment was an ali­en­ated ideo­lo­gic­al de­vel­op­ment, without con­crete re­la­tion to the real prob­lems and the real ob­jects which were re­flec­ted in it. From the view­point we have ad­op­ted, that is Hegel’s tragedy. His philo­sophy was truly the en­cyc­lo­pe­dia of the eight­eenth cen­tury, the sum of all know­ledge then ac­quired, and even of his­tory. But all the ob­jects of its re­flec­tion have been “as­sim­il­ated” in their re­flec­tion, that is, by the par­tic­u­lar form of ideo­lo­gic­al re­flec­tion which was the tyr­ant of all Ger­many’s in­tel­li­gence. So it is easy to ima­gine what could be and what had to be the ba­sic pre­con­di­tion for the lib­er­a­tion of a Ger­man youth who star­ted to think between 1830 and 1840 in Ger­many it­self. This pre­con­di­tion was the re­dis­cov­ery of real his­tory, of real ob­jects, bey­ond the enorm­ous lay­er of ideo­logy which had hemmed them in and de­formed them, not be­ing con­tent with re­du­cing them to their shades. Hence the para­dox­ic­al con­clu­sion: to free him­self from this ideo­logy, Marx was in­ev­it­ably ob­liged to real­ize that Ger­many’s ideo­lo­gic­al over­de­vel­op­ment was at the same time in fact an ex­pres­sion of her his­tor­ic­al un­der­devel­op­ment, and that there­fore it was ne­ces­sary to re­treat from this ideo­lo­gic­al flight for­wards in or­der to reach the things them­selves, to touch real his­tory and at last come face to face with the be­ings that haunted the mists of Ger­man con­scious­ness.37 Without this re­treat, the story of the young Marx’s lib­er­a­tion is in­com­pre­hens­ible; without this re­treat, Marx’s re­la­tion to the Ger­man ideo­logy, and in par­tic­u­lar to Hegel, is in­com­pre­hens­ible; without this re­turn to real his­tory (which was also to a cer­tain ex­tent a re­treat) the young Marx’s re­la­tion to the la­bour move­ment re­mains a mys­tery.

I have de­lib­er­ately stressed this “re­treat.” The too fre­quent use of for­mu­lae such as the “su­per­ses­sion” of Hegel, Feuerbach, etc., tends to sug­gest some con­tinu­ous pat­tern of de­vel­op­ment, or at least a de­vel­op­ment whose dis­con­tinu­it­ies them­selves should be thought (pre­cisely along the lines of a Hegel­i­an dia­lectic of Auf­hebung) with­in the same ele­ment of con­tinu­ity sus­tained by the tem­por­al­ity of his­tory it­self (the story of Marx and his time); where­as the cri­tique of this ideo­lo­gic­al ele­ment im­plies largely a re­turn to the au­then­t­ic ob­jects which are (lo­gic­ally and his­tor­ic­ally) pri­or to the ideo­logy which has re­flec­ted them and hemmed them in.

Let me il­lus­trate this for­mula of the re­treat by two ex­amples.

The first con­cerns those au­thors whose sub­stance Hegel “as­sim­il­ated,” among them the Eng­lish eco­nom­ists and the French philo­soph­ers and politi­cians, and the his­tor­ic­al events whose mean­ing they in­ter­preted: above all, the French Re­volu­tion. When, in 1843, Marx sat down and read the Eng­lish eco­nom­ists, when he took up the study of Ma­chiavelli, Mont­esquieu, Rousseau, Di­derot, etc., when he stud­ied con­cretely the his­tory of the French Re­volu­tion,38 it was not just a re­turn to Hegel’s sources to veri­fy Hegel by his sources: on the con­trary, it was to dis­cov­er the real­ity of the ob­jects Hegel had stolen by im­pos­ing on them the mean­ing of his own ideo­logy. To a very great ex­tent, Marx’s re­turn to the the­or­et­ic­al products of the Eng­lish and French eight­eenth cen­tury was a real re­turn to the pre-Hegel­i­an, to the ob­jects them­selves in their real­ity. The “su­per­ses­sion” of Hegel was not at all anAuf­hebung” in the Hegel­i­an sense, that is, an ex­pos­i­tion of the truth of what is con­tained in Hegel; it was not a su­per­ses­sion of er­ror to­wards its truth, on the con­trary, it was a su­per­ses­sion of il­lu­sion to­wards its truth, or bet­ter, rather than a “su­per­ses­sion” of il­lu­sion to­wards truth it was a dis­sip­a­tion of il­lu­sion and a re­treat from the dis­sip­ated il­lu­sion back to­wards real­ity: the term “su­per­ses­sion” is thus robbed of all mean­ing.39 Marx nev­er dis­avowed this his de­cis­ive ex­per­i­ence of the dir­ect dis­cov­ery of real­ity via those who had lived it dir­ectly and thought it with the least pos­sible de­form­a­tion: the Eng­lish eco­nom­ists (they had eco­nom­ic heads be­cause there was an eco­nomy in Eng­land!) and the French philo­soph­ers and politi­cians (they had polit­ic­al heads be­cause there was polit­ics in France!) of the eight­eenth cen­tury. And, as his cri­tique of French util­it­ari­an­ism, pre­cisely for its lack of the ad­vant­age of dir­ect ex­per­i­ence,40 shows, he was ex­tremely sens­it­ive to the ideo­lo­gic­al “dis­tan­ti­ation” pro­duced by this ab­sence: the French util­it­ari­ans made a “philo­soph­ic­al” the­ory out of the eco­nom­ic re­la­tion of util­iz­a­tion and ex­ploit­a­tion whose ac­tu­al mech­an­ism was de­scribed by the Eng­lish eco­nom­ists as they saw it in ac­tion in Eng­lish real­ity. I feel that the prob­lem of the re­la­tion between Marx and Hegel will re­main in­sol­uble un­til we take this re­ad­just­ment [décalage] of view­point ser­i­ously, and real­ize that this re­treat es­tab­lished Marx in a do­main and a ter­rain which were no longer Hegel’s do­main and ter­rain.

What were the mean­ings of Marx’s loans from Hegel, of his Hegel­i­an her­it­age and in par­tic­u­lar of the dia­lectic, are ques­tions that can only be asked from the vant­age point of this “change of ele­ments.”41

My second ex­ample: In their ar­gu­ments with­in the Hegel they had con­struc­ted to an­swer to their needs, the Young Hegel­i­ans con­stantly asked the ques­tions which were in fact posed them by the back­ward­ness of the Ger­man his­tory of the day when they com­pared it with that of France and Eng­land. The Na­po­leon­ic de­feat had not in­deed greatly altered the his­tor­ic­al dis­lo­ca­tion [décalage] between Ger­many and the great na­tions of West­ern Europe. The Ger­man in­tel­lec­tu­als of the 1830s and 1840s looked to France and Eng­land as the lands of free­dom and reas­on, par­tic­u­larly after the Ju­ly Re­volu­tion and the Eng­lish Re­form Act of 1832. Once again, un­able to live it, they thought what oth­ers had done. But as they thought it in the ele­ment of philo­sophy, the French con­sti­tu­tion and the Eng­lish Re­form be­came for them the reign of Reas­on, and they there­fore awaited the Ger­man lib­er­al re­volu­tion primar­ily from Reas­on.42 When the fail­ure of 1840 re­vealed the im­pot­ence of (Ger­man) Reas­on alone, they looked for aid from out­side; and they came up with the in­cred­ibly naïve yet mov­ing theme, the theme which was simply an ad­mis­sion of their back­ward­ness and their il­lu­sions, but an ad­mis­sion still with­in those il­lu­sions, that the fu­ture be­longed to the mys­tic­al uni­on of France and Ger­many, the uni­on of French polit­ic­al sense and Ger­man the­ory.43 Thus they were haunted by real­it­ies which they could only per­ceive through their own ideo­lo­gic­al schema, their own prob­lem­at­ic, in the de­form­a­tions pro­duced by this me­di­um.44

And when, in 1843, Marx was dis­il­lu­sioned by his fail­ure to teach the Ger­mans Reas­on and Free­dom and he de­cided at last to leave for France, he still went largely in search of a myth, just as a few years ago it was still pos­sible for the ma­jor­ity of the stu­dents of co­lo­ni­al sub­ject na­tions to leave home in search of their myth in France.45 But when he got there, he made the fun­da­ment­al dis­cov­ery that France and Eng­land did not cor­res­pond to their myth, the dis­cov­ery of the class struggle, of flesh and blood cap­it­al­ism, and of the or­gan­ized pro­let­ari­at. Thus an ex­traordin­ary di­vi­sion of la­bour led to Marx dis­cov­er­ing the real­ity of France while En­gels did the same for Eng­land. Once again we must use the term re­treat (not “su­per­ses­sion”), that is, the re­treat from myth to real­ity, when we are deal­ing with the ac­tu­al ex­per­i­ence which tore off the veils of il­lu­sion be­hind which Marx and En­gels had been liv­ing as a res­ult of their be­gin­nings.

But this re­treat from ideo­logy to­wards real­ity came to co­in­cide with the dis­cov­ery of a rad­ic­ally new real­ity of which Marx and En­gels could find no echo in the writ­ings ofGer­man philo­sophy.” In France, Marx dis­covered the or­gan­ized work­ing class, in Eng­land, En­gels dis­covered de­veloped cap­it­al­ism and a class struggle obey­ing its own laws and ig­nor­ing philo­sophy and philo­soph­ers.46

This double dis­cov­ery played a de­cis­ive part in the young Marx’s in­tel­lec­tu­al evol­u­tion: the dis­cov­ery be­neath [en-deçà] the ideo­logy which had de­formed it of the real­ity it re­ferred to — and the dis­cov­ery bey­ond con­tem­por­ary ideo­logy, which knew it not, of a new real­ity. Marx be­came him­self by think­ing this double real­ity in a rig­or­ous the­ory, by chan­ging ele­ments — and by think­ing the unity and real­ity of this new ele­ment. Of course, it should be un­der­stood that these dis­cov­er­ies are in­sep­ar­able from Marx’s total per­son­al ex­per­i­ence, which was it­self in­sep­ar­able from the Ger­man his­tory which he dir­ectly lived. For something was hap­pen­ing in Ger­many none the less. Events there were not just feeble echoes of events abroad. The idea that everything happened out­side and noth­ing in­side was it­self an il­lu­sion of des­pair and im­pot­ence: for a his­tory that fails, makes no head­way and re­peats it­self is, as we know only too well, still a his­tory. The whole the­or­et­ic­al and prac­tic­al ex­per­i­ence I have been dis­cuss­ing was in fact bound up with the pro­gress­ive ex­per­i­ment­al dis­cov­ery of Ger­man real­ity it­self. The dis­ap­point­ment of 1840 which broke down the whole the­or­et­ic­al sys­tem be­hind the neo-Hegel­i­ans’ hopes, when Fre­d­er­ick Wil­li­am IV, the pseudo-“lib­er­al,” changed in­to a des­pot — the fail­ure of the Re­volu­tion of Reas­on at­temp­ted by the Rhein­is­che Zei­tung, per­se­cu­tion, Marx’s ex­ile, aban­doned by the Ger­man bour­geois ele­ments who had sup­por­ted him at first, taught him with facts what was con­cealed by the fam­ous “Ger­man misery,” the “phil­istin­ism” de­nounced with such mor­al in­dig­na­tion, and this mor­al in­dig­na­tion it­self: a con­crete his­tor­ic­al situ­ation which was no mis­un­der­stand­ing, ri­gid and bru­tal class re­la­tions, re­flex ex­ploit­a­tion and fear, stronger in the Ger­man bour­geois­ie than any proof by Reas­on. This swept everything aside, and Marx at last dis­covered the real­ity of the ideo­lo­gic­al opa­city which had blinded him; he real­ized that he could no longer project Ger­man myths on to for­eign real­it­ies and had to re­cog­nize that these myths were mean­ing­less not only abroad but even in Ger­many it­self which was cradling in them its own bond­age to dreams: and that on the con­trary, he had to project on to Ger­many the light of ex­per­i­ence ac­quired abroad to see it in the light of day.

I hope it is now clear that if we are truly to be able to think this dra­mat­ic gen­es­is of Marx’s thought, it is es­sen­tial to re­ject the term “su­per­sede” and turn to that of dis­cov­er­ies, to re­nounce the spir­it of Hegel­i­an lo­gic im­plied in the in­no­cent but sly concept of “su­per­ses­sion” [Auf­hebung] which is merely the empty an­ti­cip­a­tion of its end in the il­lu­sion of an im­man­ence of truth, and to ad­opt in­stead a lo­gic of ac­tu­al ex­per­i­ence and real emer­gence, one that would put an end to the il­lu­sions of ideo­lo­gic­al im­man­ence; in short, to ad­opt a lo­gic of the ir­rup­tion of real his­tory in ideo­logy it­self, and thereby — as is ab­so­lutely in­dis­pens­able to the Marx­ist per­spect­ive, and, moreover, de­man­ded by it — give at last some real mean­ing to the per­son­al style of Marx’s ex­per­i­ence, to the ex­traordin­ary sens­it­iv­ity to the con­crete which gave such force of con­vic­tion and rev­el­a­tion to each of his en­coun­ters with real­ity.47

I do not pro­pose to give a chro­no­logy or a dia­lectic of the ac­tu­al ex­per­i­ence of his­tory which united in that re­mark­able in­di­vidu­al the young Marx one man’s par­tic­u­lar psy­cho­logy and world his­tory so as to pro­duce in him the dis­cov­er­ies which are still our nour­ish­ment today. The de­tails should be sought in “Père” Cornu’s works, for, with the ex­cep­tion of Mehring who did not have the same eru­di­tion or source ma­ter­i­al, he is the only man to have made this in­dis­pens­able ef­fort. I con­fid­ently pre­dict that he will be read for a long time, for there is no ac­cess to the young Marx ex­cept by way of his real his­tory.

I merely hope that I have been able to give some idea of the ex­traordin­ary re­la­tion between the en­slaved thought of the young Marx and the free thought of Marx by point­ing out some thing which is gen­er­ally neg­lected, that is, the con­tin­gent be­gin­nings (in re­spect to his birth) that he had to start from and the gi­gant­ic lay­er of il­lu­sions he had to break through be­fore he could even see it. We should real­ize that in a cer­tain sense, if these be­gin­nings are kept in mind, we can­not say ab­so­lutely that “Marx’s youth is part of Marx­ism” un­less we mean by this that, like all his­tor­ic­al phe­nom­ena, the evol­u­tion of this young bour­geois in­tel­lec­tu­al can be il­lu­min­ated by the ap­plic­a­tion of the prin­ciples of his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism. Of course Marx’s youth did lead to Marx­ism, but only at the price of a prodi­gious break with his ori­gins, a hero­ic struggle against the il­lu­sions he had in­her­ited from the Ger­many in which he was born, and an acute at­ten­tion to the real­it­ies con­cealed by these il­lu­sions. If “Marx’s path” is an ex­ample to us, it is not be­cause of his ori­gins and cir­cum­stances but be­cause of his fe­ro­cious in­sist­ence on free­ing him­self from the myths which presen­ted them­selves to him as the truth, and be­cause of the role of the ex­per­i­ence of real his­tory which el­bowed these myths aside.

Al­low me to touch on one last point. If this in­ter­pret­a­tion does make pos­sible a bet­ter read­ing of the early works, if the deep­er unity of the thought (its prob­lem­at­ic) casts light on their the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments, and the ac­quis­i­tions of Marx’s ac­tu­al ex­per­i­ence (his his­tory; his dis­cov­er­ies) il­lu­min­ate the de­vel­op­ment of this prob­lem­at­ic, and this makes it pos­sible to settle those end­lessly dis­cussed prob­lems of wheth­er Marx was already Marx, wheth­er he was still Feuerba­chi­an or had gone bey­ond Feuerbach, that is, of the es­tab­lish­ment at each mo­ment of his youth­ful de­vel­op­ment of the in­tern­al and ex­tern­al mean­ing of the im­me­di­ate ele­ments of his thought, there is still an­oth­er ques­tion that it leaves un­answered, or rather in­tro­duces: the ques­tion of the ne­ces­sity of Marx’s be­gin­nings, from the vant­age point of his des­tin­a­tion.

It is as if Marx’s ne­ces­sity to es­cape from his be­gin­nings, that is to tra­verse and dis­sip­ate the ex­traordin­ar­ily dense ideo­lo­gic­al world be­neath which he was bur­ied, had, as well as a neg­at­ive sig­ni­fic­ance (es­cape from il­lu­sions), a sig­ni­fic­ance in some sense form­at­ive, des­pite these very il­lu­sions. We might even feel that the dis­cov­ery of his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism was “in the air” and that in many re­spects Marx ex­pen­ded a prodi­gious the­or­et­ic­al ef­fort to ar­rive at a real­ity and at­tain cer­tain truths which had already in part been re­cog­nized and ac­cep­ted. So there ought to have been a “short-cut” to the dis­cov­ery (e.g., En­gels’ route via his 1844 art­icle, or the one Marx ad­mired in Di­et­z­gen) as well as the “round­about” route that Marx took him­self. What did he gain by this the­or­et­ic­al “long march” that his be­gin­nings had forced on him? What profit was there in start­ing so far from the end, in so­journ­ing so long in philo­soph­ic­al ab­strac­tion and in cross­ing such spaces on his way to real­ity? Prob­ably the sharpen­ing it gave to his crit­ic­al in­tel­li­gence as an in­di­vidu­al, the ac­quis­i­tion of that his­tor­ic­ally in­com­par­able “clin­ic­al sense,” ever vi­gil­ant for the struggles between classes and ideo­lo­gies; but also, and in his con­tact with Hegel par ex­cel­lence, the feel­ing for and prac­tice in ab­strac­tion that is in­dis­pens­able to the con­sti­tu­tion of any sci­entif­ic the­ory, the feel­ing for and prac­tice in the­or­et­ic­al syn­thes­is and the lo­gic of a pro­cess for which the Hegel­i­an dia­lectic gave him a “pure,” ab­stract mod­el. I have not provided these ref­er­ence points be­cause I think I can an­swer this ques­tion; but be­cause they may per­haps make pos­sible, sub­ject to cer­tain sci­entif­ic stud­ies in pro­gress, a defin­i­tion of what might have been the role of the Ger­man Ideo­logy and even of Ger­man “spec­u­lat­ive philo­sophy” in Marx’s form­a­tion. I am in­clined to see this role less as a the­or­et­ic­al form­a­tion than as a form­a­tion for the­ory, a sort of edu­ca­tion of the the­or­et­ic­al in­tel­li­gence via the the­or­et­ic­al form­a­tions of ideo­logy it­self. As if for once, in a form for­eign to its pre­ten­sions, the ideo­lo­gic­al over-de­vel­op­ment of the Ger­man in­tel­lect had served as a pro­paedeut­ic for the young Marx, in two ways: both through the ne­ces­sity it im­posed on him to cri­ti­cize his whole ideo­logy in or­der to reach that point be­neath [en-deçà] his myths; and through the train­ing it gave him in the ma­nip­u­la­tion of the ab­stract struc­ture of its sys­tems, in­de­pend­ently of their valid­ity. And if we are pre­pared to stand back a little from Marx’s dis­cov­ery so that we can see that he foun­ded a new sci­entif­ic dis­cip­line and that this emer­gence it­self was ana­log­ous to all the great sci­entif­ic dis­cov­er­ies of his­tory, we must also agree that no great dis­cov­ery has ever been made with out bring­ing to light a new ob­ject or a new do­main, without a new ho­ri­zon of mean­ing ap­pear­ing, a new land in which the old im­ages and myths have been ab­ol­ished — but at the same time the in­vent­or of this new world must of ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity have pre­pared his in­tel­li­gence in the old forms them­selves, he must have learnt and prac­ticed them, and by cri­ti­ciz­ing them formed a taste for and learnt the art of ma­nip­u­lat­ing ab­stract forms in gen­er­al, without which fa­mili­ar­ity he could nev­er have con­ceived new ones with which to think the new ob­ject. In the gen­er­al con­text of the hu­man de­vel­op­ment which may be said to make ur­gent, if not in­ev­it­able, all great his­tor­ic­al dis­cov­er­ies, the in­di­vidu­al who makes him­self the au­thor of one of them is of ne­ces­sity in the para­dox­ic­al situ­ation of hav­ing to learn the way of say­ing what he is go­ing to dis­cov­er in the very way he must for­get. Per­haps, too, it is this situ­ation which gives Marx’s early works that tra­gic im­min­ence and per­man­ence, that ex­treme ten­sion between a be­gin­ning and an end, between a lan­guage and a mean­ing, out of which no philo­sophy could come without for­get­ting that the des­tiny they are com­mit­ted to is ir­re­vers­ible.

Decem­ber, 1960


1 The in­terest shown in the study of Marx’s early works by young So­viet schol­ars is par­tic­u­larly note­worthy. It is an im­port­ant sign of the present dir­ec­tion of cul­tur­al de­vel­op­ment in the USSR (cf. the “Present­a­tion,” pg. 4, n. 7).
2 In­con­test­abiy dom­in­ated by the re­mark­able es­say by Ho­ep­pn­er: “À pro­pos de quelques con­cep­tions erronées du pas­sage de Hegel à Marx” (pp. 175-90).
3 See Molit­or, trans., Œuvres philo­sophiques de Marx, ed. Costès, vol. IV, “In­tro­duc­tion” by Landshut and May­er: “It is clear that the basis for the tend­ency which presided over the ana­lys­is made in Cap­it­al is… the ta­cit hy­po­thes­is that can alone re­store an in­trins­ic jus­ti­fic­a­tion to the whole tend­ency of Marx’s most im­port­ant work… these hy­po­theses were pre­cisely the form­al theme of Marx’s work be­fore 1847. For the au­thor of Cap­it­al they by no means rep­res­ent youth­ful er­rors from which he pro­gress­ively lib­er­ated him­self as his know­ledge ma­tured, and which were cast aside as waste in the pro­cess of his per­son­al puri­fic­a­tion. Rather, in the works from 1840 to 1847 Marx opened up the whole ho­ri­zon of his­tor­ic­al con­di­tions and made safe the gen­er­al hu­mane found­a­tion without which any ex­plan­a­tion of eco­nom­ic re­la­tions would re­main merely the work of a good eco­nom­ist. Any­one who fails to grasp this hid­den thread which is the sub­ject-mat­ter of his early works and which runs through his works as a whole will be un­able to un­der­stand Marx… the prin­ciples of his eco­nom­ic ana­lys­is are dir­ectly de­rived from “the true real­ity of man’…” (pp. XV-XVII). “A slight al­ter­a­tion in the first sen­tence of the Com­mun­ist Mani­festo would give us: “The his­tory of all hitherto ex­ist­ing so­ci­ety is the his­tory of the self-ali­en­a­tion of man’…” (p. XLII), etc. Pajit­nov’s art­icle, “Les Manuscrits de 1844” (Recherches, pgs. 80-96) is a valu­able re­view of the main au­thors of this “young Marx­ist” re­vi­sion­ist cur­rent.
4 Ob­vi­ously, they could calmly ad­opt their op­pon­ents” theses (without real­iz­ing it) and re­think Marx through his youth — and this para­dox has been tried, in France it­self. But ul­ti­mately his­tory al­ways dis­sip­ates mis­un­der­stand­ings.
5 W. Jahn, “Le con­tenu économique de l’aliénation” (Recherches, pg. 158).
6 Cf. Schaff: “Le vrai vis­age du jeune Marx” (Recherches, pg. 193) and also the fol­low­ing ex­tract from the “Present­a­tion” (pp. 7-8): “Marx’s work as a whole can­not be ser­i­ously un­der­stood, nor Marx­ism it­self as thought and as ac­tion, on the basis of the con­cep­tion of his early works he happened to have when he was work­ing them out. Only the op­pos­ite ap­proach is valu­able, that is, the ap­proach which un­der­stands the sig­ni­fic­ance and ap­pre­ci­ates the value of these first fruits (?) and enters those cre­at­ive labor­at­or­ies of Marx­ist thought rep­res­en­ted by writ­ings such as the Kreuzn­ach note­books and the 1844 Manuscripts via Marx­ism as we have in­her­ited it from Marx and also — it must be plainly stated — as it has been en­riched by a cen­tury in the heat of his­tor­ic­al prac­tice. In de­fault of this there is noth­ing to pre­vent an eval­u­ation of Marx by cri­ter­ia taken from Hegel­ian­ism if not from Thom­ism. The his­tory of philo­sophy is writ­ten in the fu­ture an­teri­or: ul­ti­mately, a re­fus­al to ad­mit this is a deni­al of this his­tory and the erec­tion of one­self as its founder in the man­ner of Hegel.” I have em­phas­ized the last two sen­tences de­lib­er­ately. But the read­er will have done so him­self, as­ton­ished to see at­trib­uted to Marx­ism pre­cisely the Hegel­i­an con­cep­tion of the his­tory of philo­sophy and, as the sum­mit of this con­fu­sion!, find him­self ac­cused of Hegel­ian­ism if he re­jects it… . We shall soon see that there are oth­er motives at is­sue in such a con­cep­tion. At any rate, this quo­ta­tion clearly demon­strates the move­ment I have been point­ing out: Marx is threatened in everything by his youth, so he is re­cu­per­ated as a mo­ment of the whole and a philo­sophy of the his­tory of philo­sophy is con­struc­ted to this end, a philo­sophy which is quite simply — Hegel­i­an. Ho­ep­pn­er calmly brings this in­to per­spect­ive in his art­icle (‘A pro­pos du pas­sage de Hegel à Marx,” Recherches, pg. 180): “His­tory must not be stud­ied from the front back­wards, search­ing for the heights of Marx­ist know­ledge its ideal germs in the past. The evol­u­tion of philo­soph­ic­al thought must be traced on the basis of the real evol­u­tion of so­ci­ety.” This is Marx’s own po­s­i­tion, ex­tens­ively de­veloped in the Ger­man Ideo­logy for ex­ample.
7 “Present­a­tion,” pg. 7. The reas­on­ing is un­am­bigu­ous.
8 Cf. Ho­ep­pn­er (op. cit., pg. 178): “It is not a ques­tion of know­ing what Marx­ist con­tent a Marx­ist in­vest­ig­a­tion might today be able to read in­to such pas­sages but rather of know­ing what so­cial con­tent they had for Hegel him­self.” Ho­ep­pn­er’s ex­cel­lent po­s­i­tion on Hegel, op­pos­ing Kuczyn­ski who looks in Hegel for “Marx­ist” themes, is also un­re­servedly val­id for Marx him­self when his early works are be­ing read from the stand­point of his ma­ture works.
9 Togli­atti, “De Hegel au marx­isme” (Recherches, pgs. 38-40).
10 N. Lap­in, “Cri­tique de la philo­soph­ie de Hegel” (Recherches, pgs. 52-71).
11 W. Jahn, “Le con­tenu économique du concept d’aliénation du trav­ail dans les oeuvres de jeun­esse de Marx” (Recherches, pgs. 157-74).
12 For ex­ample, the two quo­ta­tions in­voked by Togli­atti to prove that Marx su­per­seded Hegel are pre­cisely a pla­gi­ar­ism of writ­ings of Feuerbach! Ho­ep­pn­er, hawk-eyed, has spot­ted this: “The two quo­ta­tions from the Manuscripts (of 1844) used by Togli­atti to show that Marx had by then lib­er­ated him­self from Feuerbach merely re­pro­duce in es­sen­tials the ideas of Feuerbach ex­pressed in the Pro­vi­sion­al Theses and the Prin­ciples of the Philo­sophy of the Fu­ture” (op. cit., pg. 184, n. 11). It would be pos­sible to dis­pute the proof-value of the quo­ta­tions in­voked by Pajit­nov on pgs. 88 and 109 of his art­icle “Les Manuscrits de 1844” in the same way. The mor­al of these mis­takes is that one should closely read one’s au­thors. It is not su­per­flu­ous where Feuerbach is con­cerned. Marx and En­gels dis­cuss him so much, and so well, that it is easy to be­lieve that one knows him in­tim­ately.
13 For ex­ample, Jahn: a sug­gest­ive com­par­is­on between the the­ory of ali­en­a­tion in the 1844 Manuscripts and the the­ory of value in Cap­it­al.
14 See foot­note 5.
15 This form­al­ism is ex­cel­lently cri­ti­cized by Ho­ep­pn­er with re­spect to Kuczyn­ski (op. cit., pgs. 177-8).
16 In the the­ory of sources it is the ori­gin that meas­ures the de­vel­op­ment. In the the­ory of an­ti­cip­a­tion it is the goal that de­cides the mean­ing of the mo­ments of the pro­cess.
17 Lap­in, “Cri­tique de la Philo­soph­ie de Hegel” (Recherches, pg. 68).
18 Lap­in, op. cit., pg. 69.
19 Cf., e.g. Bakouradzé, “La form­a­tion des idées philo­sophiques de K. Marx” (Recherches, pgs. 29-32).
20 Jahn, op. cit., pgs. 160 and 10.
21 Pajit­nov, op. cit., pg. 117.
22 Lap­in, op. cit., pgs. 58, 67, and 69.
23 Schaff, op. cit., pg. 202.
24 I ask this ques­tion with re­gard to some third party. But we all know that it is asked of all Marx­ists who make use of Marx’s Early Writ­ings. If their use of them lacks dis­cern­ment, if they take es­says like On the Jew­ish Ques­tion or the 1843 and 1844 Manuscripts for Marx­ist writ­ings, if this in­spir­a­tion gives rise to con­clu­sions for the­ory and for ideo­lo­gic­al ac­tion, they have in fact answered the ques­tion, what they do an­swers for them: the young Marx can be taken as Marx, the young Marx was a Marx­ist. They give openly the an­swer that the cri­tique I am dis­cuss­ing gives un­der its breath (by avoid­ing any an­swer at all). In both cases, the same prin­ciples are at work, and at stake.
25 Jahn, op. cit., pg. 173, “In The Ger­man Ideo­logy… his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism found its ad­equate ter­min­o­logy.” But as Jahn’s own es­say shows, it is a mat­ter of something quite dif­fer­ent from ter­min­o­logy.
26 Lap­in, op. cit., pg. 69.
27 Of course, like any oth­er sci­entif­ic dis­cip­line, Marx­ism did not stop at Marx any more than phys­ics stopped at Ga­lileo who foun­ded it. Like any oth­er sci­entif­ic dis­cip­line, Marx­ism de­veloped even in Marx’s own life­time. New dis­cov­er­ies were made pos­sible by Marx’s ba­sic dis­cov­ery. It would be very rash to be­lieve that everything has been said.
28 Cf. Au­guste Cornu: Karl Marx et F. En­gels (PUF Par­is), Vol. 1, “Les années d’en­fance ef de jeun­esse. La Gauche hégélienne,” the chapter on “la form­a­tion de la Gauche hégélienne,” es­pe­cially pgs. 141 ff. Cornu quite cor­rectly in­sists on the role of von Cieskowski in the elab­or­a­tion of a philo­sophy of ac­tion of neo-Hegel­i­an in­spir­a­tion, ad­op­ted by all the young lib­er­al in­tel­lec­tu­als of the move­ment.
29 This is not the place to em­bark on a study of the con­cepts at work in the ana­lyses of The Ger­man Ideo­logy. In­stead, one quo­ta­tion that says everything. On “Ger­man cri­ti­cism” he says: “The whole body of its in­quir­ies has ac­tu­ally sprung from the soil of a def­in­ite philo­soph­ic­al sys­tem, that of Hegel. Not only in their an­swers, but in their very ques­tions there was a mys­ti­fic­a­tion .” It could not be bet­ter said that it is not an­swers which make philo­sophy but the ques­tions posed by the philo­sophy, and that it is in the ques­tion it­self, that is, in the way it re­flects that ob­ject (and not in the ob­ject it­self) that ideo­lo­gic­al mys­ti­fic­a­tion (or on the con­trary an au­then­t­ic re­la­tion­ship with the ob­ject) should be sought.
30 This con­clu­sion is cru­cial. What ac­tu­ally dis­tin­guishes the concept of the prob­lem­at­ic from the sub­ject­iv­ist con­cepts of an ideal­ist in­ter­pret­a­tion of the de­vel­op­ment of ideo­lo­gies is that it brings out with­in the thought the ob­ject­ive in­tern­al ref­er­ence sys­tem of its par­tic­u­lar themes, the sys­tem of ques­tions com­mand­ing the an­swers giv­en by the ideo­logy. If the mean­ing of an ideo­logy’s an­swers is to be un­der­stood at this in­tern­al level it must first be asked the ques­tion of its ques­tions. But this prob­lem­at­ic is it­self an an­swer, no longer to its own in­tern­al ques­tions — prob­lems — but to the ob­ject­ive prob­lems posed for ideo­logy by its time. A com­par­is­on of the prob­lems posed by the ideo­logue (his prob­lem­at­ic) with the real prob­lems posed for the ideo­logue by his time, makes pos­sible a demon­stra­tion of the truly ideo­lo­gic­al ele­ment of the ideo­logy, that is, what char­ac­ter­izes ideo­logy as such, its de­form­a­tion. So it is not the in­ter­i­or­ity of the prob­lem­at­ic which con­sti­tutes its es­sence but its re­la­tion to real prob­lems: the prob­lem­at­ic of an ideo­logy can­not be demon­strated without re­lat­ing and sub­mit­ting it to the real prob­lems to which its de­formed enun­ci­ation gives a false an­swer. But I must not an­ti­cip­ate the third point in my ex­pos­i­tion (see foot­note 45).
31 Such is the mean­ing of the “ba­sic ques­tion” dis­tin­guish­ing ma­ter­i­al­ism from all the forms of ideal­ism.
32 Cf. the ex­cel­lent pas­sage by Ho­ep­pn­er, op. cit., pg. 188. See also pg. 184, n. 11.
33 Already, be­cause the suc­cess of this rup­ture as of the whole of this lib­er­a­tion pro­cess, pre­sup­poses that real his­tory is be­ing taken ser­i­ously.
34 op. cit.
35 Let us say: of ped­ago­gic truth. As for the fam­ous “in­ver­sion” of Hegel, it is a per­fect ex­pres­sion for Feuerbach’s project. It was Feuerbach who in­tro­duced it and sanc­tioned it for Hegel’s pos­ter­ity. And it is re­mark­able that Marx cor­rectly at­tacked Feuerbach in The Ger­man Ideo­logy for hav­ing re­mained a pris­on­er of Hegel­i­an philo­sophy pre­cisely when he was claim­ing to have “in­ver­ted” it. He at­tacked him for ac­cept­ing the pre­sup­pos­i­tions of Hegel’s ques­tions, for giv­ing dif­fer­ent an­swers, but to the same ques­tions. In philo­sophy only the ques­tions are in­dis­creet, as op­posed to every­day life, where it is the an­swers. Once the ques­tions have been changed it is no longer pos­sible to talk of an in­ver­sion. No doubt a com­par­is­on of the new re­l­at­ive rank of ques­tions and an­swers to the old one still al­lows us to talk of an in­ver­sion. But it has then be­come an ana­logy since the ques­tions are no longer the same and the do­mains they con­sti­tute are not com­par­able, ex­cept, as I have sug­ges­ted, for ped­ago­gic pur­poses.
36 Cf. foot­note 35.
37 This de­sire to dis­sip­ate all ideo­logy and re­turn to “the things them­selves,” to “un­veil ex­ist­ence” [zur Sache selbst… Da­sein zu enthüllen] an­im­ates the whole of Feuerbach’s philo­sophy. His terms are the mov­ing ex­pres­sion of this. His tragedy was to have car­ried out his in­ten­tions and yet to have re­mained a pris­on­er of the very ideo­logy he des­per­ately hoped to de­liv­er him­self from, be­cause he thought his lib­er­a­tion from spec­u­lat­ive philo­sophy in the con­cepts and prob­lem­at­ic of this same philo­sophy. It was es­sen­tial to “change ele­ments.”
38 Lap­in (op. cit., pgs. 60-61) is ex­cel­lent on this point. But these in­tel­lec­tu­al “ex­per­i­ments” of Marx’s do not meas­ure up to the concept of “tend­ency” (a concept too broad and ab­stract for them, and one which also re­flects the end of the de­vel­op­ment in pro­gress) in which Lap­in wants to think them. On the oth­er hand, I am in pro­found agree­ment with Ho­ep­pn­er (op. cit., pgs. 186-187): “Marx did not reach his solu­tion by re­sort­ing to some ma­nip­u­la­tions of the Hegel­i­an dia­lectic, but es­sen­tially on the basis of very con­crete in­vest­ig­a­tions in­to his­tory, so­ci­ology and polit­ic­al eco­nomy… the Marx­ist dia­lectic was in its es­sen­tials born of the new lands which Marx cleared and opened up for the­ory… Hegel and Marx did not drink at the same source.”
39 If there is any mean­ing to the term “su­per­sede” in its Hegel­i­an sense, it is not es­tab­lished by sub­sti­tut­ing for it the concept of “the neg­a­tion-which-con­tains-in-it­self-the-term-neg­ated,” thereby stress­ing the rup­ture in the con­ser­va­tion, for this rup­ture in con­ser­va­tion pre­sup­poses a sub­stan­tial unity in the pro­cess, trans­lated in the Hegel­i­an dia­lectic by the pas­sage of the in-it­self in­to the for-it­self, then to the in-it­self-for-it­self, etc. But it is pre­cisely the sub­stan­tial con­tinu­ity of a pro­cess con­tain­ing its own fu­ture in germ in its own in­ter­i­or­ity which is in dis­pute here. Hegel­i­an su­per­ses­sion pre­sup­poses that the later form of the pro­cess is the “truth” of the earli­er form. But Marx’s po­s­i­tion and his whole cri­tique of ideo­logy im­plies on the con­trary that sci­ence (which ap­pre­hends real­ity) con­sti­tutes in its very mean­ing a rup­ture with ideo­logy and that it sets it­self up in an­oth­er ter­rain, that it con­sti­tutes it­self on the basis of new ques­tions, that it raises oth­er ques­tions about real­ity than ideo­logy, or what comes to the same thing, it defines its ob­ject dif­fer­ently from ideo­logy. There­fore sci­ence can by no cri­ter­ia be re­garded as the truth of ideo­logy in the Hegel­i­an sense. If we want a his­tor­ic­al pre­de­cessor to Marx in this re­spect we must ap­peal to Spinoza rather than Hegel. Spinoza es­tab­lished a re­la­tion between the first and the second kind of know­ledge which, in its im­me­di­acy (ab­stract­ing from the to­tal­ity in God), pre­sup­posed pre­cisely a rad­ic­al dis­con­tinu­ity. Al­though the second kind makes pos­sible the un­der­stand­ing of the first, it is not its truth.
40 Cf. The Ger­man Ideo­logy pgs. 447-454: “The the­ory which for the Eng­lish still was simply the re­gis­tra­tion of a fact be­comes for the French a philo­soph­ic­al sys­tem.” (p. 452).
41 See Ho­ep­pn­er, op. cit., pgs. 186-187. One fur­ther word on the term “re­treat.” Ob­vi­ously it should not be un­der­stood as mean­ing the ex­act op­pos­ite of “su­per­ses­sion,” ex­cept meta­phor­ic­ally. It is not a ques­tion of sub­sti­tut­ing for the un­der­stand­ing of an ideo­logy via its end some kind of un­der­stand­ing of it through its ori­gins. All I wanted to il­lus­trate was the fact that even with­in his ideo­lo­gic­al con­scious­ness the young Marx demon­strated an ex­em­plary crit­ic­al in­sist­ence: an in­sist­ence on con­sult­ing the ori­gin­als (French polit­ic­al philo­soph­ers, Eng­lish eco­nom­ists, re­volu­tion­ar­ies, etc.) which Hegel had dis­cussed. But with Marx him­self, this “re­treat” ul­ti­mately lost the ret­ro­spect­ive as­pect of a search for the ori­gin­al in the form of an ori­gin, as soon as he re­turned to Ger­man his­tory it­self and des­troyed the il­lu­sion of its “back­ward­ness,” that is, thought it in its real­ity without meas­ur­ing it against an ex­tern­al mod­el as its norm. This re­treat was there­fore really the cur­rent res­tor­a­tion, re­cu­per­a­tion, and resti­tu­tion of a real­ity which had been stolen and made un­re­cog­niz­able by ideo­logy.
42 This was the “lib­er­al” mo­ment of the Young Hegel­i­an move­ment. Cf. Cornu, op. cit., Ch. IV, pgs. 132 ff.
43 A theme widely de­veloped by the neo-Hegel­i­ans. Cf. Feuerbach: Pro­vi­sion­al Theses for the Re­form of Philo­sophy, para­graphs 46 and 47 (Mani­festes philo­sophiques, op. cit., pgs. 116-117).
44 At the heart of this prob­lem­at­ic was the im­plic­a­tion of the de­form­a­tion of real his­tor­ic­al prob­lems in­to philo­soph­ic­al prob­lems. The real prob­lems of bour­geois re­volu­tion, polit­ic­al lib­er­al­ism, the free­dom of the Press, the end of cen­sor­ship, the struggle against the Church, etc., were trans­formed in­to a philo­soph­ic­al prob­lem: the prob­lem of the reign of Reas­on whose vic­tory was prom­ised by His­tory des­pite the ap­pear­ances of real­ity. This con­tra­dic­tion between Reas­on, which is the in­tern­al es­sence and goal of His­tory, and the real­ity of present his­tory was the neo-Hegel­i­ans’ ba­sic prob­lem. This for­mu­la­tion of the prob­lem (this prob­lem­at­ic) nat­ur­ally com­manded its solu­tions: if Reas­on is the goal of His­tory and its es­sence, it is enough to show its pres­ence even in its most con­tra­dict­ory ap­pear­ances: the whole solu­tion is thus to be found in the crit­ic­al om­ni­po­tence of philo­sophy which must be­come prac­tic­al by dis­sip­at­ing the ab­er­ra­tions of His­tory in the name of its truth. For a de­nun­ci­ation of the un­reas­ons of real His­tory is merely an ex­pos­i­tion of its own reas­on at work even in its un­reas­ons. Thus the State is in­deed truth in ac­tion, the in­carn­a­tion of the truth of His­tory. It is enough to con­vert it to this truth. That is why this “prac­tice” can be defin­it­ively re­duced to philo­soph­ic­al cri­tique and the­or­et­ic­al pro­pa­ganda: it is enough to de­nounce the un­reas­ons to make them give way, and enough to speak reas­on for it to carry them away. So everything de­pends on philo­sophy which is par ex­cel­lence the head and heart (after 1840, it is only the head — the heart is to be French) of the Re­volu­tion. So much for the solu­tions re­quired by the way the ba­sic prob­lem was posed. But what is in­fin­itely more re­veal­ing, and of the prob­lem­at­ic it­self, is to dis­cov­er by com­par­ing it to the prob­lems raised for the neo-Hegel­i­ans by real His­tory that al­though this prob­lem­at­ic does provide solu­tions to real prob­lems, it does not cor­res­pond to any of these real prob­lems; there is noth­ing at is­sue between reas­on and un­reas­on, the un­reas­on is neither an un­reas­on nor an ap­pear­ance, the State is not liberty in ac­tion, etc., that is, the ob­jects which this ideo­logy seems to re­flect in its prob­lems are not even rep­res­en­ted in their “im­me­di­ate” real­ity. By the end of such a com­par­is­on, not only do the solu­tions giv­en by an ideo­logy to its own prob­lems fall (they are merely the re­flec­tion of these prob­lems on them­selves), but also the prob­lem­at­ic it­self — and the full ex­tent of the ideo­lo­gic­al de­form­a­tion then ap­pears: its mys­ti­fic­a­tion of prob­lems and ob­jects. Then we can see what Marx meant when he spoke of the need to aban­don the ter­rain of Hegel­i­an philo­sophy, since “not only in their an­swers, but in their ques­tions there was a mys­ti­fic­a­tion.”
45 Cf. Marx, let­ter to Ruge, Septem­ber 1843.
46 Cf. En­gels: Um­risse zu ein­er Kritik der Nazionalökonomie; Marx later re­ferred to this art­icle as “gen­i­al” — it had a great in­flu­ence on him. Its im­port­ance has gen­er­ally been un­der­es­tim­ated.
47 It will be read­ily un­der­stood that to speak of a lo­gic of emer­gence is not to sug­gest, with Bergson, a philo­sophy of in­ven­tion. For this emer­gence is not the mani­fest­a­tion of I know not what empty es­sence, free­dom or choice; on the con­trary, it is merely the ef­fect of its own em­pir­ic­al con­di­tions. I should add that this lo­gic is re­quired by Marx’s own con­cep­tion of the his­tory of ideo­lo­gies. For ul­ti­mately, our con­clu­sion as to the real his­tory of Marx’s dis­cov­er­ies arising from this de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges the very ex­ist­ence of the his­tory of ideo­logy. Once it is clear that the im­man­ent­ist thes­is of the ideal­ist cri­tique has been re­futed, that ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory is not its own prin­ciple of in­tel­li­gib­il­ity, once it has been grasped that ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory can only be un­der­stood through the real his­tory which ex­plains its form­a­tions, its de­form­a­tions and their re­struc­tur­a­tions, and which emerges in it, then it is es­sen­tial to ask, what sur­vives of this ideo­lo­gic­al his­tory it­self as a his­tory, and ad­mit that the an­swer is noth­ing. As Marx says, “Mor­al­ity, re­li­gion, meta­phys­ics, all the rest of ideo­logy and their cor­res­pond­ing forms of con­scious­ness, thus no longer re­tain the semb­lance of in­de­pend­ence. They have no his­tory, no de­vel­op­ment; but men, de­vel­op­ing their ma­ter­i­al pro­duc­tion and their ma­ter­i­al in­ter­course, al­ter, along with their real ex­ist­ence, their think­ing and the products of their think­ing” (The Ger­man Ideo­logy, pg. 38). To re­turn to our start­ing-point, I say — and the fol­low­ing two reas­ons are one and the same reas­on — that “the his­tory of philo­sophy” can not be writ­ten “in the fu­ture an­teri­or,” not simply be­cause the fu­ture an­teri­or is not a cat­egory of his­tor­ic­al un­der­stand­ing — but also be­cause strictly speak­ing the his­tory of philo­sophy does not ex­ist.

The evol­u­tion of the young Marx


If I were asked to sum up in a few words the es­sen­tial thes­is which I wanted to de­fend in my philo­soph­ic­al es­says, I would say: Marx foun­ded a new sci­ence, the sci­ence of His­tory. I would add: this sci­entif­ic dis­cov­ery is a the­or­et­ic­al and polit­ic­al event un­pre­ced­en­ted in hu­man his­tory. And I would spe­cify: this event is ir­re­vers­ible.

A the­or­et­ic­al event. Be­fore Marx, what one could call the “His­tory Con­tin­ent” was oc­cu­pied by ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tions de­rived from the re­li­gious, mor­al or leg­al-polit­ic­al sphere — in short, by philo­sophies of his­tory. These claimed to of­fer a rep­res­ent­a­tion of what hap­pens in so­ci­et­ies and in his­tory. In fact they only suc­ceeded in mask­ing, with­in dis­tort­ing and mis­lead­ing con­cepts, the mech­an­isms which really do gov­ern so­ci­et­ies and his­tory. This mys­ti­fic­a­tion was not an ac­ci­dent: it was linked to their func­tion. These con­cep­tions were in fact only the the­or­et­ic­al de­tach­ment of prac­tic­al ideo­lo­gies (re­li­gion, mor­al­ity, leg­al ideo­logy, polit­ics, etc.) whose es­sen­tial func­tion is to re­pro­duce the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion ( = of ex­ploit­a­tion) in class so­ci­et­ies. Marx “opened” the “his­tory con­tin­ent” by break­ing with these ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tions. He opened it: by the prin­ciples of his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism, by Cap­it­al and his oth­er works. He opened it: for, as Len­in says, Marx only laid the “corner­stones” of an im­mense do­main which his suc­cessors con­tin­ued to ex­ploit, and the vast ex­tent of the field and the new prob­lems posed de­mand an un­re­mit­ting ef­fort.

A polit­ic­al event. For Marx’s sci­entif­ic dis­cov­ery has been since the very be­gin­ning and has be­come more and more the ob­ject and the stake of a fierce and im­plac­able class struggle. When he demon­strated that hu­man his­tory is the his­tory of class so­ci­et­ies, there­fore of ex­ploit­a­tion and of class dom­in­a­tion, and thus fi­nally of class struggle, when he demon­strated the mech­an­isms of ex­ploit­a­tion and of cap­it­al­ist dom­in­a­tion, Marx col­lided dir­ectly with the in­terests of the rul­ing classes. Their ideo­lo­gists let fly against him, and even now are still in­tensi­fy­ing their at­tacks. But the ex­ploited classes, and above all the work­ers, re­cog­nized “their” truth in Marx’s sci­entif­ic the­ory: they ad­op­ted it, and made it a weapon in their re­volu­tion­ary class struggle. This re­cog­ni­tion bears a name in his­tory: it is the uni­on (or, as Len­in said, the “fu­sion”) of the labor Move­ment and Marx­ist the­ory. This en­counter, this uni­on, this fu­sion, has nev­er taken place spon­tan­eously or eas­ily. For the labor move­ment, which ex­is­ted long be­fore the ap­pear­ance and spread of Marx­ist the­ory, came un­der the in­flu­ence of petty-bour­geois ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tions, like uto­pi­an so­cial­ism, an­arch­ism, etc. A great deal of work and a very long ideo­lo­gic­al and polit­ic­al struggle were needed be­fore the uni­on could take place and ac­quire a his­tor­ic­al ex­ist­ence. The very con­di­tions of its real­iz­a­tion and ex­ist­ence mean that this uni­on can­not be a once-and-for-all vic­tory. It does not ex­ist in isol­a­tion from the class struggle, and must be in­cess­antly de­fen­ded in the course of a bit­ter class struggle against the de­vi­ations and crises which threaten it: the evid­ence is the treach­ery, yes­ter­day, of the Second In­ter­na­tion­al, and today the split in the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­ist move­ment.

One fact is in­dis­put­able: for a hun­dred years the whole his­tory of hu­man­ity has de­pended on the uni­on of the labor move­ment (and of the op­pressed peoples) and Marx­ist the­ory (which be­came Marx­ist-Len­in­ist the­ory). We only need to step back a little to see that, in dif­fer­ent but con­ver­gent forms, this real­ity now eas­ily dom­in­ates the scene of world his­tory: the struggle of the pro­let­ari­at and of the op­pressed peoples against Im­per­i­al­ism. This fact is ir­re­vers­ible.


We could sat­is­fy ourselves with these re­marks. But if we wish (whatever our place in this struggle) to ad­vance in the ex­plor­a­tion of the “his­tory con­tin­ent,” or (what, in one pre­cise re­spect, comes to the same thing) to ar­rive at an act­ive un­der­stand­ing of the forms of the present-day pro­let­ari­an class struggle, we must go fur­ther. We must ask ourselves: un­der what con­di­tions was Marx’s sci­entif­ic dis­cov­ery pos­sible?

This ques­tion may look like a de­tour. But it is not. It may look like a the­or­et­ic­al ques­tion. In fact it has polit­ic­al im­plic­a­tions which are clearly vi­tal.


When in my earli­er es­says I showed that Marx’s sci­entif­ic dis­cov­ery rep­res­en­ted a “break” [coupure or rup­ture] with pre­vi­ous ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tions of his­tory, what did I do? What did I do when I spoke of a “break” between sci­ence and ideo­logy? What did I do when I spoke of ideo­logy?

I de­veloped a form­al ana­lys­is, whose sig­ni­fic­ance must now be in­dic­ated and whose lim­its must be traced.

Above all, I ar­rived at a con­clu­sion. I took cog­niz­ance of a fact, of a the­or­et­ic­al event: the ap­pear­ance of a sci­entif­ic the­ory of His­tory in a do­main hitherto oc­cu­pied by con­cep­tions which I called ideo­lo­gic­al. Let us leave aside for a mo­ment this de­scrip­tion: ideo­lo­gic­al.

I showed that there ex­is­ted an ir­re­du­cible dif­fer­ence between Marx’s the­ory and these con­cep­tions. To prove it, I com­pared their con­cep­tu­al con­tent and their mode of func­tion­ing.

Their con­cep­tu­al con­tent: I showed that Marx had re­placed the old ba­sic con­cepts (which I called no­tions) of the philo­sophies of His­tory with ab­so­lutely new, un­heard-of con­cepts, not to be found in the old con­cep­tions. Where the philo­sophies of His­tory talked about man, the eco­nom­ic sub­ject, need, the sys­tem of needs, civil so­ci­ety, ali­en­a­tion, theft, in­justice, spir­it, liberty — where they talked about “so­ci­ety” it­self — Marx began to talk about the mode of pro­duc­tion, so­cial form­a­tion, in­fra­struc­ture, su­per­struc­ture, ideo­lo­gies, classes, class struggle, etc. I con­cluded that there was no con­tinu­ity (even in the case of clas­sic­al polit­ic­al eco­nomy) between the sys­tem of Marx­ist con­cepts and the sys­tem of pre-Marx­ist no­tions. This ab­sence of a re­la­tion of con­tinu­ity, this the­or­et­ic­al dif­fer­ence, this dia­lect­ic­al “leap,” I called an “epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al break” [coupure or rup­ture].

Their mode of func­tion­ing: I showed that in prac­tice Marx­ist the­ory func­tioned quite dif­fer­ently from the old pre-Marx­ist con­cep­tions. It seemed to me that the sys­tem of ba­sic con­cepts of Marx­ist the­ory func­tioned like the “the­ory” of a sci­ence: as a “ba­sic” con­cep­tu­al ap­par­at­us, opened to the “in­finitude” (Len­in) of its ob­ject, that is, de­signed cease­lessly to pose and con­front new prob­lems and cease­lessly to pro­duce new pieces of know­ledge. Let us say: it func­tioned as a (pro­vi­sion­al) truth, for the (end­less) con­quest of new know­ledge, it­self cap­able (in cer­tain con­junc­tures) of re­new­ing this first truth. In com­par­is­on, it ap­peared that the ba­sic the­ory of the old con­cep­tions, far from func­tion­ing as a (pro­vi­sion­al) truth, for the pro­duc­tion of new pieces of know­ledge, ac­tu­ally tried in prac­tice to op­er­ate as the truth of His­tory, as com­plete, defin­it­ive and ab­so­lute know­ledge of His­tory, in short as a closed sys­tem, ex­clud­ing de­vel­op­ment be­cause lack­ing an ob­ject in the sci­entif­ic sense of the term, and thus only ever find­ing in real­ity its own mir­ror re­flec­tion. Here too I con­cluded that there was a rad­ic­al dif­fer­ence between Marx’s the­ory and earli­er con­cep­tions, and I talked about the “epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al break” [coupure or rup­ture].

Fi­nally, I called these earli­er con­cep­tions ideo­lo­gic­al, and un­der­stood the “epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al break,” the proof of which I had es­tab­lished, as a the­or­et­ic­al dis­con­tinu­ity between Marx­ist sci­ence on the one hand, and its ideo­lo­gic­al pre­his­tory on the oth­er. I should spe­cify: not between sci­ence in gen­er­al and ideo­logy in gen­er­al, but between Marx­ist sci­ence and its own ideo­lo­gic­al pre­his­tory.

But what al­lowed me to say that the pre-Marx­ist con­cep­tions were ideo­lo­gic­al? Or, what comes to the same thing, what sense did I give to the term ideo­logy?

An ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tion does not carry the in­scrip­tion ideo­logy on its fore­head or on its heart, whatever sense you give to the word. On the con­trary, it presents it­self as the Truth. It can only be iden­ti­fied from out­side, after the event: from the stand­point of the ex­ist­ence of a Marx­ist sci­ence of His­tory. I re­peat: not simply from the stand­point of the ex­ist­ence of Marx­ist sci­ence as sci­ence, but from the stand­point of Marx­ist sci­ence as the sci­ence of His­tory.

In fact, every sci­ence, as soon as it arises in the his­tory of the­or­ies and is shown to be a sci­ence, causes its own the­or­et­ic­al pre­his­tory, with which it breaks, to ap­pear as quite er­ro­neous, false, un­true. That is how it treats it in prac­tice: and this treat­ment is a mo­ment in its his­tory. Nev­er­the­less there al­ways ex­ist philo­soph­ers who will draw edi­fy­ing con­clu­sions; who will draw out of this re­cur­rent (ret­ro­spect­ive) prac­tice an ideal­ist the­ory of the op­pos­i­tion between Truth and Er­ror, between Know­ledge and Ig­nor­ance, and even (provided that the term “ideo­logy” is taken in a non-Marx­ist sense) between Sci­ence and Ideo­logy, in gen­er­al.

This ef­fect of re­cur­rence (ret­ro­spec­tion) is also a factor in the case of Marx­ist sci­ence: when this sci­ence ap­pears, it ne­ces­sar­ily shows up its own pre­his­tory as er­ro­neous, but at the same time it also shows it up as ideo­lo­gic­al in the Marx­ist sense of the term. Bet­ter, it shows up its own pre­his­tory as er­ro­neous be­cause ideo­lo­gic­al, and in prac­tice treats it as such. Not only does it in­dic­ate er­ror — it ex­plains the his­tor­ic­al reas­on for er­ror. Thus it rules out the ex­ploit­a­tion of the “break” between the sci­ence and its pre­his­tory as an ideal­ist an­ti­thes­is of Truth and Er­ror, of Know­ledge and Ig­nor­ance.

On what prin­ciple does this dif­fer­ence, this un­pre­ced­en­ted ad­vant­age rest? On the fact that the sci­ence foun­ded by Marx is the sci­ence of the his­tory of so­cial form­a­tions. Be­cause of this it gives, for the first time, a sci­entif­ic con­tent to the concept of ideo­logy. Ideo­lo­gies are not pure il­lu­sions (Er­ror), but bod­ies of rep­res­ent­a­tions ex­ist­ing in in­sti­tu­tions and prac­tices: they fig­ure in the su­per­struc­ture, and are rooted in class struggle. If the sci­ence foun­ded by Marx shows up the the­or­et­ic­al con­cep­tions of its own pre­his­tory as ideo­lo­gic­al, it is there­fore not simply to de­nounce them as false: it is also to point out that they claim to be true, and were ac­cep­ted and con­tin­ue to be ac­cep­ted as true — and to show why this is so. If the the­or­et­ic­al con­cep­tions with which Marx broke (let us say, to sim­pli­fy mat­ters: the philo­sophies of his­tory) de­serve to be called ideo­lo­gic­al, it is be­cause they were the the­or­et­ic­al de­tach­ments of prac­tic­al ideo­lo­gies which per­formed ne­ces­sary func­tions in the re­pro­duc­tion of the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion of a giv­en class so­ci­ety.

If this is true, then the “break” between Marx­ist sci­ence and its ideo­lo­gic­al pre­his­tory refers us to something quite dif­fer­ent from a the­ory of the dif­fer­ence between sci­ence and ideo­logy, to something quite dif­fer­ent from an epi­stem­o­logy. It refers us on the one hand to a the­ory of the su­per­struc­ture, in which the State and ideo­lo­gies fig­ure (I have tried to say a few words about this in the art­icle on “ideo­lo­gic­al state ap­par­at­uses”). It refers us on the oth­er hand to a the­ory of the ma­ter­i­al (pro­duc­tion), so­cial (di­vi­sion of labor, class struggle), ideo­lo­gic­al and philo­soph­ic­al con­di­tions of the pro­cesses of pro­duc­tion of know­ledge. These two the­or­ies are based in the last in­stance on his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism.

But if this is true, Marx’s sci­entif­ic the­ory it­self must an­swer the ques­tion of the con­di­tions of its own “ir­rup­tion” in the field of ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tions with which it broke.


The great Marx­ists (Marx above all, En­gels, then Len­in) cer­tainly felt that it was not enough to note the ap­pear­ance of a new sci­ence, but that an ana­lys­is must also be provided, in con­form­ity with the prin­ciples of Marx­ist sci­ence, of the con­di­tions of its ap­pear­ance. The first ele­ments of this ana­lys­is can be found in En­gels and Len­in, in the form of the “three sources” of Marx­ism: Ger­man philo­sophy, Eng­lish polit­ic­al eco­nomy, and French so­cial­ism.

But this old meta­phor of “sources,” which con­tains in it­self ideal­ist no­tions (ori­gin, in­ter­i­or­ity of the cur­rent, etc.), must not lead us in­to er­ror. What is quite re­mark­able about this “clas­sic­al” the­ory is, first, that it at­tempts to un­der­stand Marx’s dis­cov­ery not in terms of in­di­vidu­al or ori­gin­al geni­us, but in terms of a con­junc­tion of dif­fer­ent and in­de­pend­ent the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments (three sources). It then presents this con­junc­tion as hav­ing pro­duced a fun­da­ment­ally new ef­fect in re­spect of the ele­ments which entered in­to the con­junc­tion: an ex­ample of a “leap” or “qual­it­at­ive change,” an es­sen­tial cat­egory of the ma­ter­i­al­ist dia­lectic.

But En­gels and Len­in do not stop there. They do not de­fend a purely in­tern­al, purely “epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al” con­cep­tion of the ap­pear­ance of Marx­ist sci­ence. They re­call that these three the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments ex­ist against a his­tor­ic­al back­ground: a ma­ter­i­al, so­cial and polit­ic­al his­tory, dom­in­ated by de­cis­ive trans­form­a­tions in the forces and re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion, by cen­tur­ies of class struggle pit­ting the rising bour­geois­ie against the feud­al ar­is­to­cracy, and fi­nally dom­in­ated by the first great ac­tions of the pro­let­ari­an class struggle. In a word, they re­mind us that it is prac­tic­al (eco­nom­ic, polit­ic­al, ideo­lo­gic­al) real­it­ies which are rep­res­en­ted the­or­et­ic­ally, in more or less ab­stract form, in Ger­man philo­sophy, Eng­lish polit­ic­al eco­nomy and French so­cial­ism.

They are rep­res­en­ted, but at the same time they are also de­formed, mys­ti­fied and masked, be­cause these the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments are by nature pro­foundly ideo­lo­gic­al. It is here that the de­cis­ive ques­tion arises.

In fact it is not enough to point out that the con­junc­tion of these three the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments caused Marx­ist sci­ence to ap­pear. We must also ask how this ideo­lo­gic­al con­junc­tion could pro­duce a sci­entif­ic dis­junc­tion, how this en­counter could pro­duce a “break”. In oth­er words, we must ask how and why, when this con­junc­tion took place, Marx­ist thought was able to leave ideo­logy: or, again, what the dis­place­ment was that pro­duced such a prodi­gious trans­form­a­tion, what the change was that could bring to light what was hid­den, over­turn what was ac­cep­ted, and dis­cov­er an un­known ne­ces­sity in the facts.

I want to pro­pose the first ele­ments of an an­swer to this ques­tion, by pro­pos­ing the fol­low­ing thes­is: it was by mov­ing to take up ab­so­lutely new, pro­let­ari­an class po­s­i­tions that Marx real­ized the pos­sib­il­it­ies of the the­or­et­ic­al con­junc­tion from which the sci­ence of his­tory was born.


This can be demon­strated by run­ning through the main lines of the “mo­ments” of the “evol­u­tion” of the young Marx’s thought. Four years sep­ar­ate the lib­er­al-rad­ic­al art­icles of the Rhein­is­che Zei­tung (1841) from the re­volu­tion­ary break [rup­ture] of 1845, re­cor­ded in the Theses on Feuerbach and The Ger­man Ideo­logy, in the fam­ous phrases pro­claim­ing the “set­tling of ac­counts with our erstwhile philo­soph­ic­al con­scious­ness,” and the ar­rival of a new philo­sophy which will no longer “in­ter­pret the world” but “change it.” In these four years we see a young son of the Rhen­ish bour­geois­ie move from bour­geois-rad­ic­al polit­ic­al and philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tions to petty-bour­geois-hu­man­ist po­s­i­tions, then to com­mun­ist-ma­ter­i­al­ist po­s­i­tions (an un­pre­ced­en­ted re­volu­tion­ary ma­ter­i­al­ism).

Let me spe­cify the as­pects of this “evol­u­tion.”

We see the young Marx at the same time change the ob­ject of his thought (roughly, he moves from law to the State, then to polit­ic­al eco­nomy), change his philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion (he moves from Hegel to Feuerbach, then to a re­volu­tion­ary ma­ter­i­al­ism), and change his polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion (he moves from rad­ic­al bour­geois lib­er­al­ism to petty-bour­geois hu­man­ism, then to com­mun­ism). Al­though these changes are not com­pletely in phase, there are pro­found links between them. But they should not be fused in­to a single, form­less unity, be­cause they in­ter­vene at dif­fer­ent levels, and each plays a dis­tinct role in the pro­cess of trans­form­a­tion of the young Marx’s thought.

We can say that, in this pro­cess, in which the ob­ject oc­cu­pies the front of the stage, it is the (class) polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion that oc­cu­pies the de­term­in­ant place; but it is the philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion that oc­cu­pies the cent­ral place, be­cause it guar­an­tees the the­or­et­ic­al re­la­tion between the polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion and the ob­ject of Marx’s thought. This can be veri­fied em­pir­ic­ally in the his­tory of the young Marx. It was in­deed polit­ics which al­lowed him to move from one ob­ject to an­oth­er (schem­at­ic­ally: from Press Laws to the State, then to polit­ic­al eco­nomy), but this move was real­ized and ex­pressed each time in the form of a new philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion. On the one hand the philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion ap­pears to be the the­or­et­ic­al ex­pres­sion of the polit­ic­al (and ideo­lo­gic­al) class po­s­i­tion. On the oth­er hand this trans­la­tion of the polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion in­to the­ory (in the form of a philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion) ap­pears to be the con­di­tion of the the­or­et­ic­al re­la­tion to the ob­ject of thought.

If this is true, and if philo­sophy really does rep­res­ent polit­ics in the­ory, we can say that the philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion of the young Marx rep­res­ents, in its vari­ations, the class the­or­et­ic­al con­di­tions of his thought. If this is true, then it is no sur­prise that the break of 1845, which ushered in a new sci­ence, is first ex­pressed in the form of a philo­soph­ic­al break [rup­ture], of a “set­tling of ac­counts” with an erstwhile philo­soph­ic­al con­scious­ness, and in terms of the pro­clam­a­tion of an un­pre­ced­en­ted philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion.

This as­ton­ish­ing dia­lectic can be seen at work in the 1844 Manuscripts. When you ex­am­ine them closely, you ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­tent of the the­or­et­ic­al drama which Marx must have lived through in this text (he nev­er pub­lished it, he nev­er re­ferred to it again). The crisis of the Manuscripts is summed up in the un­ten­able con­tra­dic­tion between polit­ic­al and philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tions which con­front one an­oth­er in the treat­ment of the ob­ject: polit­ic­al eco­nomy. Polit­ic­ally, Marx wrote the Manuscripts as a com­mun­ist, and thus made the im­possible the­or­et­ic­al gamble of at­tempt­ing to use, in the ser­vice of his con­vic­tions, the no­tions, ana­lyses and con­tra­dic­tions of the bour­geois eco­nom­ists, put­ting in the fore­front what he calls “ali­en­ated labor,” which he could not yet grasp as cap­it­al­ist ex­ploit­a­tion. The­or­et­ic­ally, he wrote these manuscripts on the basis of petty-bour­geois philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tions, mak­ing the im­possible polit­ic­al gamble of in­tro­du­cing Hegel in­to Feuerbach, so as to be able to speak of labor in ali­en­a­tion, and of His­tory in Man. The Manuscripts are the mov­ing but im­plac­able symp­tom of an un­bear­able crisis: the crisis which brings an ob­ject en­closed in its ideo­lo­gic­al lim­its up against in­com­pat­ible polit­ic­al and the­or­et­ic­al class po­s­i­tions.

We find the solu­tion of this crisis in the Theses on Feuerbach and in The Ger­man Ideo­logy: or at least we find a claim that it is solved, the “germ” of a “new con­cep­tion of the world” (En­gels). The change which the Theses briefly in­dic­ate is a change, not in Marx’s polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion, but in his philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion. Marx fi­nally aban­dons Feuerbach, breaks with the whole philo­soph­ic­al tra­di­tion of “in­ter­pret­ing the world,” and ad­vances in­to the un­known ter­rit­ory of a re­volu­tion­ary ma­ter­i­al­ism. This new po­s­i­tion now ex­presses Marx’s polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion in philo­sophy. In oth­er words: Marx was tak­ing a first step, but a de­cis­ive and ir­re­vers­ible one, to­wards pro­let­ari­an class the­or­et­ic­al (philo­soph­ic­al) po­s­i­tions.

Here again it is polit­ics which is the de­term­in­ant ele­ment: the ever deep­er en­gage­ment in the polit­ic­al struggles of the pro­let­ari­at. Here again it is, from the the­or­et­ic­al point of view, philo­sophy which oc­cu­pies the cent­ral place. It is as a con­sequence of this class the­or­et­ic­al po­s­i­tion that Marx’s treat­ment of his ob­ject, polit­ic­al eco­nomy, takes on a rad­ic­ally new char­ac­ter: break­ing with all ideo­lo­gic­al con­cep­tions to lay down and de­vel­op the prin­ciples of the sci­ence of his­tory.

This is how I take the liberty of in­ter­pret­ing the the­ory of the “three sources.” The con­junc­tion of the three the­or­et­ic­al ele­ments (Ger­man philo­sophy, Eng­lish polit­ic­al eco­nomy, French so­cial­ism) could only pro­duce its ef­fect (Marx’s sci­entif­ic dis­cov­ery) by means of a dis­place­ment which led the young Marx not only onto pro­let­ari­an class po­s­i­tions but also onto pro­let­ari­an the­or­et­ic­al po­s­i­tions. Without the polit­ics noth­ing would have happened; but without the philo­sophy, the polit­ics would not have found its the­or­et­ic­al ex­pres­sion, in­dis­pens­able to the sci­entif­ic know­ledge of its ob­ject.

I will add just a few words more. First to say that the new philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion an­nounced in the Theses is only an­nounced; it is not there­fore giv­en to us at a stroke or readymade; it con­tin­ues to be de­veloped, si­lently or ex­pli­citly, in the later the­or­et­ic­al and polit­ic­al work of Marx and his suc­cessors, and more gen­er­ally in the his­tory of the uni­on between the labor move­ment and Marx­ist the­ory. And this de­vel­op­ment is de­term­ined by the double ef­fect of Marx­ist-Len­in­ist sci­ence and prac­tice.

Second, to point out that it is no sur­prise that the ad­op­tion of a pro­let­ari­an philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion (even “in germ”) is es­sen­tial to the found­a­tion of a sci­ence of his­tory, that is, to an ana­lys­is of the mech­an­isms of class ex­ploit­a­tion and dom­in­a­tion. In every class so­ci­ety these mech­an­isms are covered-up/masked/mys­ti­fied by an enorm­ous coat­ing of ideo­lo­gic­al rep­res­ent­a­tions, of which the philo­sophies of his­tory, etc., are the the­or­et­ic­al form. For the mech­an­isms to be­come vis­ible, it is ne­ces­sary to leave these ideo­lo­gies, that is, to “settle ac­counts” with the philo­soph­ic­al con­scious­ness which is the ba­sic the­or­et­ic­al ex­pres­sion of these ideo­lo­gies. It is there­fore ne­ces­sary to aban­don the the­or­et­ic­al po­s­i­tion of the rul­ing classes, and take up a po­s­i­tion from which these mech­an­isms can be­come vis­ible: the pro­let­ari­an stand­point. It is not enough to ad­opt a pro­let­ari­an polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion. This polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion must be worked out in­to a the­or­et­ic­al (philo­soph­ic­al) po­s­i­tion so that the causes and mech­an­isms of what is vis­ible from the pro­let­ari­an stand­point may be grasped and un­der­stood. Without this dis­place­ment, the sci­ence of His­tory is un­think­able and im­possible.


I will add, fi­nally, to come back to where I began, that this de­tour via the con­di­tions of the ap­pear­ance of the sci­ence of his­tory is not a mat­ter of schol­asti­cism. On the con­trary: it brings us back to earth. For what was de­man­ded of the young Marx is still, and more than ever, de­man­ded of us. More than ever, in or­der to “de­vel­op” Marx­ist the­ory, that is, in or­der to ana­lyze the new cap­it­al­ist-im­per­i­al­ist forms of ex­ploit­a­tion and dom­in­a­tion, more than ever, in or­der to make pos­sible a cor­rect uni­on between the labor move­ment and Marx­ist-Len­in­ist the­ory, we need to stand on pro­let­ari­an po­s­i­tions in the­ory (in philo­sophy): to stand on such po­s­i­tions, which means to work them out, on the basis of pro­let­ari­an polit­ic­al po­s­i­tions, by means of a rad­ic­al cri­tique of all the ideo­lo­gies of the rul­ing class. Without re­volu­tion­ary the­ory, said Len­in, there can be no re­volu­tion­ary move­ment. We can add: without a pro­let­ari­an po­s­i­tion in the­ory (in philo­sophy), there can be no “de­vel­op­ment” of Marx­ist the­ory, and no cor­rect Uni­on between the labor move­ment and Marx­ist the­ory.