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 “catastrophic” parrying 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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. 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 question “Marx’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 their “activity.”
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 theoretical “overdevelopment” 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 an “Aufhebung” 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 of “German 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.
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.