To the Feuerbachian concept of species is related what could be called the humanism of the young Marx. To the extent that the Feuerbachian concept of species is equivalent, with a mere change in terminology, to the Hegelian concept of mind, the humanism of the young Marx is just a camouflaged repeat of Hegelianism. To the extent, however, that the Feuerbachian concept of species allows, on the other hand, the very substance and content of the Hegelian ontology to escape it, it is empty and so appears absurd. To this extent, it is noteworthy to see that Marx is instinctively preoccupied with the attempt to give a sense to this concept once again and, in order to do this, to restore to it precisely the Hegelian philosophical content which was lost in Feuerbach, who retained only remnants of it.1 This is where Marx is closest to Hegel, and materialism but another name for idealism. But just as in the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, the other texts of 1843 and especially those of 1844, in which the humanism of the young Marx is expressed, contain a deep-seated contradiction. This is due to the fact that in them a thought moves in search of itself, one which, despite the Hegelianism with which it is burdened still and in a certain way more than ever, has as its sole aim the rejection of this burden.
The main themes which together constitute the humanism of the young Marx are: the critique of religion, the concept of humanism as such and the affirmation of the identity of humanism and naturalism, the theory of revolution and of the proletariat, and the mythological concept of history.
Humanism properly speaking: the identity of humanism and naturalism
In Feuerbach the critique of religion leads to anthropology. What is substituted for the God of theology and what claims to take its place is the species. However, the actual content of the concept of species in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts can be easily recognized; it is the relation between man and nature. It is from Feuerbach that Marx borrows the interpretation of the species as the relation between man and nature and, to an even larger extent, the manner in which this relation is understood. What characterizes the relation between man and nature according to Feuerbach is that this is first of all and at one and the same time a relation of man to man. The first relation, in fact, that can he grasped in man himself is his relation to the woman. This relation is a natural relation; it rests on a natural determination, virility, and addresses itself to a natural determination, femininity, in such a way that, obeying nature and aiming at nature, it opens, precisely, onto a human being. The first nature which, conforming to its nature, offers itself to man is thus a human nature. And it is in this way that, from the very start and in its very origin, the humanism of the young Marx appears as a naturalism and, reciprocally, this naturalism as a humanism.2 How is this natural relation, properly speaking, a species relation? How does this sensuous fact contain already in itself the ideality of the universal? This is a question that must not be overlooked. For the human species is defined by its relation to the species as such. Inasmuch as the natural relation of man to woman is a species relation, it is not originally a relation to the individual, to this woman considered in herself and for herself, in her empirical individuality, in her irreplaceable singularity, but, precisely and simply, in relation to the species, to the “human.” The Thou is, as Feuerbach says, only the “representative of the species.” Man needs some “Other,” whoever this may be; in his relation to a Thou it is to this Other in general, in reality, that he addresses himself. The so-called sensuous and concrete relation of a man to a woman signifies opening up to a universal. This opening resides in the individual as such and defines him insofar as he is this need of the Other. In this way the secret ontological homogeneity of I and Thou appears in the relation that defines them. Insofar as he is the need of the Other, the individual attests to the fact that he is more than an individual, more than a self-sufficient determination — the error of Christianity lies precisely in conceiving of the individual in this way — but that he is instead inhabited by the species, in such a way that what is experienced in him is nothing other than the will of the species to realize itself. Just as Thou, I, finally, is but the representative of the species and the place of its advent. This immanence of the species in the individual can indeed be seen in the isolated individual. Not only in his need but also in his language, in thought, in that metaphysical situation in which man constantly perceives himself in light of the universal as relating to himself, as being other than himself, as being able to take the place of the Other as Other can take his place, as being a man. The immanence of the species in the individual is what defines man’s inner life and makes it possible. “The inner life of man is the life which has relation to his species, to his general, as distinguished from his individual, nature. Man thinks — that is, he converses with himself… Man is himself at once I and Thou; he can put himself in the place of another, for this reason, that to him his species, his essential nature, and not merely his individuality, is an object of thought.”3
Under its apparent naturalism, the Feuerbachian thesis, taken up again by Marx in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, according to which the relation to nature is identical with the relation to man, thus refers to a dialectic of the universal. The relation of man to nature and to man is not maintained only in the polemic against Christianity; it is not intended only to recall the force of nature in the face of the presumptuous attempts to raise man above nature and to ignore it.4 The effective character of the species is not limited to sexuality,5 to the natural relation between men and women6 which, precisely, forces the individual to consider himself as but a part of the species.7 In Feuerbach himself, the theme of nature originally grasped as the other man is rooted in German metaphysics, and we are reminded of this by the commentary on Boehme’s thought proposed in The Essence of Christianity, to which we have already referred in our study of the 1843 manuscript. For Boehme, it is known, the generation within God of the Son is the process in which the absolute sets itself in opposition to itself in order to present itself to itself as object. “The second Person (the Son) is God distinguishing himself from himself, setting himself opposite to himself, hence being an object to himself. The self-distinguishing of God from himself is the ground of that which is different from himself… God first thinks the world in thinking himself: to think oneself is to beget oneself, to think the world is to create the world.”8 In Boehme, this self-differentiation of God is, according to Feuerbach, only the “mystic paraphrase” of the “unity of consciousness and self-consciousness…”9 Self-consciousness objectifies itself; it thus sets before itself another self-consciousness so that the latter constitutes, precisely, the first object. The first countenance offered to me by the world is that of a self. More specifically: the self as object is the world as such. Consciousness, that is to say, consciousness of an object, is, therefore, first of all self-consciousness. This original unity of consciousness and self-consciousness is expressed in turn by Feuerbach’s anthropology: “The first object of man is man.”10 Feuerbach develops this thesis in psychological language: “The ego first steels its glance in the eye of a thou before it endures the contemplation of a being which does not reflect its own image. My fellow man is the bond between me and the world.”11
The thesis of the identity of naturalism and humanism thus finds its explicit ontological ground in the affirmation — borrowed from Hegel by Feuerbach but which here attests to an earlier origin — that objectivity rests on intersubjectivity. However, the fact that objectivity is founded upon intersubjectivity reveals no less explicitly the nature of intersubjectivity itself and allows it to appear as constituted, precisely, by objectivity and as having its own ground in the latter. Objectivity, then, is constituted first of all by a self, but how? It is because self-consciousness objectifies itself, because the original structure of consciousness is indeed objectification, opposition, and differentiation itself, that that of which it is conscious is at one and the same time an object and a self. In this way, what is expressed in the human figuration of nature is nothing other than the metaphysical nature of an original power which is objectification itself, which is the power of objectivity. It is because objectivity reigns in the first place as objectification and internal self-differentiation that what is produced under this reign is the relating of a self to itself, of one Self to a Self in the form of an object, “intersubjectivity.” Right after stating that “the first object of man is man,” Feuerbach adds, “The sense of nature, which opens to us the conscious ness of the world as a world, is a later product; for it first arises through the distinction of man from himself.”12 And again, even more explicitly, if this be possible: “The last distinction that I can think is the distinction of a being from and in itself… The cosmogonic principle in God, reduced to its last elements, is nothing else than the act of thought in its simplest forms made objective.”13
The act of objective thought, the internal self-differentiation of being understood as self-consciousness, this is the metaphysical content at which Hegel aims. In returning to Boehme, whom he finally reproaches for no more than a “mystic” transposition of the metaphysics of self-consciousness, Feuerbach, far from breaking with German philosophy, continues it, liberates the horizon of his own problematic and, with apparent modifications in the vocabulary, transmits it intact to Marx, who in 1844 takes it up again in its most profound and most fully developed form, in its Hegelian form. Hegel conceives of objectivity in a radical manner, as the self-objectification of consciousness. Inasmuch as objectivity — the world, “nature” in Feuerbach’s terms — must be understood as the objectification of consciousness, it is not an in-itself, it is nothing that can stand by itself, but only the result of a process, its product. The means of access to objectivity, consequently, is not itself anything stable, a set essence, but precisely this process itself and its completion. Hegel understands Being-in-the-world immediately as production. To say that this production is that of consciousness and that it stems from it signifies: (l) it is consciousness itself which realizes this production, and this production is the work of consciousness; (2) because it is the work of consciousness, this production is realized in accordance with the nature of consciousness, it is an “objectification,” a making into an object; (3) what results from this production, finally, is consciousness itself in the form of the ob-ject, since the objectification of consciousness is a self-objectification. That the result of the objectification of consciousness is consciousness itself — that, in the language of anthropology, “nature” is “human” — this is, in its turn, to be understood in two ways: consciousness as result designates, on the one hand, being-conscious, the fact of being conscious, and this, precisely, as an object, as the objective condition as such, and, on the other hand, “nature,” what offers itself as ob-ject, in this condition of objectivity, namely, consciousness again, the first natural being, what anthropology recognizes immediately as its object, “man.”
Hegel also interprets the objectification process as “negativity” because it is purely and simply the negation of being, of beings, or, yet again, the self-negation of being which allows it to exist as object. Understood as negativity, the objectification process is again described as “labor,” a term by which Hegel underscores the specifically active character of objectification itself as such. It is in this way that he speaks of the “labor of the negative.”14 Labor understood in this way does not yet refer to the specific human activity by which men produce the objects required for their subsistence: this is instead the internal structure of being as it has been perceived in German metaphysics since Boehme, this is the objectification process understood as internal self-differentiation which Hegel thinks of first of all under the concept of labor, this is the nature of consciousness itself. But when Hegel, as a reader of Adam Smith, encounters labor in the specific role it is prepared to play, and which it is already playing, in nineteenth-century society, the role it has in fact played since the origin of humanity, since men have “labored” in order to live, he immediately interprets labor as negativity. With the interpretation of concrete labor as negativity and as objectification, German metaphysics enters the realm of economics. The latter, conversely, or rather the vital elementary phenomena which serve as its basis — need, activity, production in its relation to manufactured products, etc. — provides this metaphysics with a new field, one that is no longer constituted by the simple sphere of thinking and of representation but precisely by that of existence, of life coming to grips with nature in need and in labor. The year 1844 is precisely the time when the young Marx throws himself passionately into his studies of political economy, pursuing them in the light of Feuerbach’s anthropology, that is, in the light of Hegelianism as well. Because the human species has finally no content and no meaning other than self-consciousness, the latter, its internal structure, its self-completion as self-objectification, the understanding of this completion as production, negativity, and labor, the definition of the object as the Self’s own product and as constituted by the Self itself inasmuch as it is the production of the Self by itself, all of this defines the condition of man and of what happens to him in such an obvious manner that Marx himself becomes aware of this. “The importance of Hegel’s Phenomenology and its final result — the dialectic of negativity as the moving and producing principle — lies in the fact that Hegel conceives of the self-creation of man as a process, objectification as loss of object [Entgegenständlichung], as alienation and as supersession of this alienation; that he therefore grasps the nature of labor and conceives objective man — true, because real man — as the result of his own labor.” And yet again: “He [Hegel] sees labor as the essence, the self-confirming essence, of man.”15 Thus man is the product of his own labor in the same way as and on the basis of one and the same process of self-objectification; the object of consciousness is consciousness itself in the identity of consciousness and self-consciousness. The “self-creation of man” is a “process”; it is both “objectification and “loss of object” [Entgegenständlichung], that is to say that it produces man as object but in such a way that the object produced is precisely man himself. Marx indicates even more specifically that the object, that nature, is man by presenting this object as the externalization and, consequently, as the exhibition of “species-powers,” that is, of the very essence of man. It is against the background of objectification, of externalization, that man’s manifestation and realization are possible, his being-for-himself, giving himself to himself as object. In this self-givenness, against the backdrop of an externalization which identifies this self-givenness with a creation, the species of man finds its source and its completion. “The real, active relation of man to himself as a species-being, or the realization of himself as a real species-being, i.e. as a human being, is only possible if he really employs all his species-powers.”16
In this way the opposition of man and animal is explained. Whereas the latter is identified with its activity, which it performs in a sort of immediateness, human activity is, on the contrary, a conscious activity, which means that man distinguishes himself from his activity, sets himself in opposition to it and takes it, precisely, as an object. The internal structure of species labor is that of consciousness as an oppositional structure. “Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness… Only because of that is he a species-being. Or rather, he is a conscious being, i.e. his own life is an object for him, only because he is a species-being.”17
The opposition between consciousness and life against the background of consciousness understood as this very opposition determines the first formulation of the concept of alienation that appears in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, making its Hegelian character most evident. Because species-activity is the conscious activity to which life activity, animal activity must be subordinated — since the axiological relation of the subordination of life to consciousness is the expression of the ontological definition of consciousness as the negation of life — alienation consists precisely in the reversal of this relation, in the submission of species-activity to life activity. The situation of the worker who works to eat and not to liberate within himself the being of labor as such, namely becoming oneself in the world in the form of self-consciousness, is the concrete expression of this alienation, in which one can read the very meaning, although now inverted, of the struggle between consciousnesses, namely the definition of oneself as a conscious being and not as a mere “living thing”: “In the same way as estranged labor reduces spontaneous and free activity to a means, it makes man’s species-life a means of his physical existence. Consciousness, which man has from his species, is transformed through estrangement so that species-life becomes a means for him. “18
In what, more specifically, does species-labor consist? We have seen that the human species is defined by the relation to the species as such and so implies an opening to the universal. It is this very opening which defines species-labor. Whereas animal activity is urged on by need as an activity that is partial, one-sided, and individual, so that its result is of significance only to the animal itself, providing only a sensuous, individual satisfaction which remains part of its body, human labor, on the contrary, is modeled on the pattern of things, taking as its law of construction the universal laws of nature, creating objects in accordance with these laws, objects standing in and of themselves, possessing their own inner finality, that is to say, universal objects. By creating objects in accordance with the laws of nature, the objects of nature itself, man reproduces nature, and his action has an objective and universal significance.19 However, acting in this way, creating in accordance with the aesthetic laws of nature, man realizes his own essence, an essence which is precisely the relation to the species as such, the opening to the universal. “The practical creation of an objective world, the fashioning of inorganic nature, is proof that man is a conscious species-being, i.e. a being which treats the species as its own essential being or itself as a species-being.”20 By creating in accordance with the laws of the species and by making these laws apparent in the object he creates, by making them objective, man thus renders objective his own capacity for creation following the laws of the species, making objective his relation to the species. It is this relation to the species that is displayed in the reproduction of nature; it is the essence of man, who objectifies himself in the object of human labor. “The object of labor is therefore the objectification of the species-life of man.”21 It is in this way that human labor is truly realized as self-consciousness by virtue of the fact that its object, the object that it creates in the objectification which constitutes it, is nothing other than the objectification of the relation to the universal as such and, consequently, the objectification of consciousness itself. In the object of his labor, in nature reproduced, man, says Marx, “can contemplate himself in a world he has created.”22
Alienation then names what takes place when, taking away from man the object of his labor, at the same time one takes away his own Self, his true species-life, takes it away precisely to the extent that this true life does not exist for itself, does not exist for man except as an object, as objective species-life. “In tearing away the object of his production from man,” says Marx, “estranged labor therefore tears away from him his species-life, his true species-objectivity.”23 This true species-objectivity, however, is none other than nature, what nature has become for man, a nature which makes the various species apparent and the species of man within these. What is torn away from man in the object of his labor is at one and the same time his nature and nature itself, so that now deprived of all nature, he is more destitute than the animal. Alienated labor, Marx again states, “transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.”24
Because in the object of his labor man gives himself his own Self, because he himself becomes this object, objectification has the radical meaning of self-realization, it is positivity. Because alienation is produced only to the extent that man is robbed of the object of his labor, that is to say, of his own self as object, such alienation is tied to a contingent condition, to that situation in which, precisely, the worker works for another, for the industrialist who robs him of the product of his labor and appropriates it for himself. It is in a determined historical situation that objectification signifies alienation. If this situation is eliminated, then alienation will disappear, while objectification, on the contrary, will be able to be carried out fully, to be the radical ontological realization that it signifies. The dissociation of alienation and objectivity implied by the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, which is taken up again by Lukács in particular and which is held to characterize Marx’s own position in opposition to that of Hegel, belongs in fact to the horizon of the Hegelian problematic and unfolds within it. Defining being in terms of self-objectification, the possibility of alienation, if not its actual realization, under stood as located within this very objectification (when my being is constituted as an object, then it can be taken away from me and handed over to the fate of the world), these form the prior framework within which — and within which alone — the question of the connection between objectivity and alienation, their possible unity and dissociation, can arise. Just when thought finds itself in the presence of a decisive “economic” problem, that of the relation of the worker to the product of his labor and to his labor itself, it seems obvious once more that this problem is shaped and argued against the background of German metaphysics, which itself is never elucidated. Lukács’ alleged reexamination of Hegelianism is simply another example of this.
Marx described more precisely the conditions under which objectification is positive, but he still secretly borrows the conditions and the content of this positivity from Hegel. This is the reason why these conditions prove to be directly and at one and the same time the conditions of a possible alienation. By “assuming the positive supersession of private property,” that is, by considering objectification in its positive aspects, leaving aside all alienation, the claim that “man produces man” — a claim by which humanism gives a positive sense to the critique of religion — is now made more explicit in the claim that he “produces… himself and other men.”25 Man produces himself not only because he creates the object required for his subsistence but precisely because this object is the objectification and the realization of his capacity to create in accordance with the species-law. But this object is offered to another for his contemplation or his consumption. In the second case, man has produced the existence of other men, he has kept them alive. In the first case, which also includes the second, man offers an object to others to experience, an object which is the realization of the human essence, the objectification of human labor, of the ability to create in accordance with the species-law. What is given to others to experience is therefore this very ability; it is this essence which is each person’s own essence, the essence of man as universal essence. Inasmuch as the other experiences in and through this object the creative essence of the species, the universal essence, his own essence, it is the essence of experiencing which is modified within him and which becomes the experiencing of the universal, self-consciousness.
What is meant by the fact that man “produces himself and other men” is therefore to be understood in the strict sense. Summing up a part of the manuscript that has been lost, Marx says of man that “the object, which is the direct activity of his individuality, is at the same time his existence for other men, their existence and their existence for him.”26 Existence here does not mean sheer existence, subsistence, but, precisely, the existence of man. This is not life, it is the ability to work according to the laws of the species, it is the possibility of the relation to the universal and of the universal itself which is realized and brought into existence. The object that I create is my existence for the other; this means that in it I make manifest what I am and what I do — a species-being working in light of the universal. It is the other’s existence, because the species existence it displays is precisely the other’s essence and, in providing him with the opportunity to experience his own essence, it provides him with his own proper existence in addition to the consciousness of what he is. The object is, therefore, the existence of the other man for man, that is for me, as the one who created the object because as the other finds his existence in the object I have created, he thus finds in it his existence for me.
The object, says Marx, is social. By this it may seem first of all, and most often, that the object is created by me for the other, that the object of my work is the object of his need. And in the same way, the object of my need is the object of his work. To say that the object is social means that it carries this origin in itself, that it comes from the other for me and from me for the other. In this origin lies the object’s “social and human nature,” which is nothing but the objectification and realization of man’s social nature. In the production which escapes alienation, in which each person realizes himself in the object of his work while satisfying the needs of the others, “I would have the joy of having produced in the individual manifestation of my life the direct manifestation of your life, and so of having affirmed and realized directly in my individual activity my true nature, my social, human nature.”27 Still speaking of non-alienated production, Marx further states: “The supersession of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes; but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become human, subjectively as well as objectively. The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object, made by man for man.”28 Just what is meant by “made by man” and “for man” must nevertheless be kept constantly in mind. “Made by man,” precisely, does not mean “coming from an individual” and intended for an individual, coming from a living being and intended for a living being, intended to maintain life within him. Made by man means coming from one who works in the light of the laws of beauty, one who indeed has this relation to the laws of nature. Coming from man means making this relation objective, making the universal itself an object so that in this object the other can recognize his own essence, his species essence, recognize himself as man. This is why “I can only relate myself to a thing in a human way if the thing is related in a human way to man,”29 if it is the objectification of the universal and its becoming-for-itself.
It is true that the social object carries within it the relation obtaining between individuals and that it expresses this relation. Coming from one individual and being given to another appears as the first characteristic of the object of labor. Is not the putting into relation of different individuals, intersubjectivity, the very essence of the “social” and its definition? But why is it that the object of my labor is capable of being given and is in fact given to another and why must this be so? Why, if not because it is first and foremost precisely an ob-ject? It is inasmuch as the object is spread out in the extendedness of exteriority that it is there in front of us, bathing thus in the light of being, that it is there precisely for each and every one and can be there for all. It is because labor is objectification that its object can be social. Objectification does not only objectify the species-essence of man, his ability to relate to the universal; it first of all opens the milieu in which this essence can appear and be given, the milieu of objectivity which is the universal itself. So it is against the background of the universal itself and of its unfolding that the universal becomes apparent and can be experienced. It is in this radical sense that labor is the universal’s self-objectification and its becoming-for-itself. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, the concepts of the social, of society, and of the human express nothing other than this absolute ontological event.
The individual himself is only the place of this event — the self-fulfillment of the universal as objectification and self-manifestation — which constitutes his very life, his species-life, “social” life. “The individual is the social being. His vital expression — even when it does not appear in the direct form of a communal expression, conceived in association with other men — is therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. Man’s individual and species-life are not two distinct things… Man, however much he may therefore be a particular individual… is just as much the totality, the ideal totality, the subjective existence of thought and experienced society for itself,”30 that is to say, the “subjective” existence of the universal, its becoming-for-itself in objectivity.
And just as Feuerbach, who defined the individual in terms of his relation to the species, was able to present the actual existence of another individual as contingent, so Marx affirms in the above-cited text that the social manifestation of “individual” life is neither necessarily nor in the first place a “collective” existence; rather it is precisely the manifestation of the universal upon which, as in Hegel, all possible intersubjectivity is founded. “Social activity and social consumption,” Marx again states, “by no means exist solely in the form of a directly communal activity and a directly communal consumption… even if I am active in the field of science, etc. — an activity which I am seldom able to perform in direct association with other men — I am still socially active because I am active as a man. It is not only the material of my activity — including even the language in which the thinker is active — which I receive as a social product. My own existence is social activity. Therefore what I create from myself I create for society, conscious of myself as a social being.”31 “Society” is finally nothing other than the “objective mind.” It is the place in which the universal becomes objective, in which the essence of man is there for each and every one.
Because society is this place where the essence of man is there for man, where man attains self-consciousness, nature is made really homogeneous to man only when it is identified with, precisely, man’s self-consciousness, with society. “The human essence of nature exists only f or social man; for only here does nature exist for him as a bond with other men… only here does it exist as the basis of his own human existence. Only here has his natural existence become his human existence and nature become man for him. Society is therefore the perfected unity in essence of man with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the realized naturalism of man and the realized humanism of nature.”32 What ultimately exists, being as it is understood and defined by the identity of naturalism and humanism, is “natural existence become human existence,” it is nature become society, and it is society itself as the objectification and the realization of the species-essence, as the mind’s self-realization. The theme of society has played a decisive role in the modes of thought stemming from Marx, but it is only in the most absurd manner that this theme of the “social” subsists in Marxism inasmuch as the latter presents itself as a materialism, inasmuch as that which is thought under the term “social,” or rather that which thinks the social dimension, is a metaphysics of the universal.
The theory of the proletariat and revolution
Feuerbach’s critique of religion serves only as a starting point for Marx’s own problematic, which immediately goes beyond it in the direction of something else, namely of reality. This is why all of Marx’s texts concerning religion evince a sudden break, that is, they break with the plane which encompasses both religious thought and the critique of religion itself, to the extent that this critique connects religion, understood as a set of representations, to consciousness, understood as the source and basis of these representations. As early as 1844 Marx’s thought attempts to break with the notion of consciousness as basically incapable of displaying within itself the origin of religious representation as well as its liquidation, and so to break explicitly with the philosophy of consciousness. This is the apparent sense of the Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Man, as Feuerbach showed, projects his own essence onto God. But why? Because this essence is not fulfilled on the plane of reality. Religion is an illusory realization of the human essence, illusory because it is produced on the plane of representation, of mere thought, of the imagination, and so a representation that is not really one, a “fantastic” realization. As such, as the fantastic realization of the human essence, religion is the expression of its genuine nonrealization and at the same time a compensation for this, the imaginary satiation of that which is not really satisfied. Under these conditions, the problematic can only turn away from the sphere of the imaginary and illusory realization of the human essence in order to turn toward the sphere of its real nonrealization, toward the actual situation “which has need of illusions.” Thus the critique of religion in fact takes leave of religion itself and of its relevant problems in order to turn toward something else, toward the life of men here below, precisely toward reality, understood as the reality of society.33
On the Jewish Question expresses this same movement of thought in the direction of reality. Whereas Bruno Bauer wanted to solve the paradox of the Christian State by asking both Jews and Christians to give up their religion, that is to say, their particularity, in order to open themselves, precisely, to political universality, to become full-fledged citizens of a State which itself would be areligious, that is, capable of being this universality fulfilled, the rational State, Marx, on his part, shows that this dialectic is inoperative because it is still foreign to reality. To ask both Christians and Jews to give up their religion is to postulate a mere change in their consciousness. The fact that this consciousness, relinquishing its particularity on either side, opens itself to the universal in free citizenship, this is just what remains foreign to reality to the extent that reality resides not in the State but in civil society. In this way, the elimination of religion on the level of the State, the atheist State, which allows private religion to subsist along with, in general, whatever is affirmed or recognized on the plane of the State, this is flatly contradicted on the real plane of civil society. The political emancipation of religion is an illusion because political emancipation as such is an illusion. All that counts is real emancipation, which Marx continues to call, following Feuerbach and Bauer himself, “human” emancipation.34
Therefore, if the critique of religion always leads to reality, the question of knowing what this reality is can be formulated as follows: what is the reality discussed in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, inasmuch as this is social reality?
This has already been answered in the problematic: it is the reality of self-consciousness. We are then presented with the following indisputable self-evidence: the passage that the critique of religion wants to make in the direction of reality, in the direction of a sphere foreign to that which encompasses both religion and the theological critique of religion as we find them in Bauer and in Feuerbach, is purely an illusion, if the reality to which it leads does not differ from that which it claims to escape. It is true that Marx explicitly rejects Bauer’s atheism, considered a pure modification of consciousness, and that he explicitly calls for a different sort of ground for religion itself. Is not civil society basically different from the representation of a God external to man? But in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts society is the development and the result of the self-objectification of the human essence, which itself is nothing other than this self-objectification which defines at one and the same time the structure of consciousness and that of labor: “The object of labor is therefore the objectification of the species-life of man; for man reproduces himself not only intellectually, in his consciousness, but actively and actually, and he can therefore contemplate himself in a world he has created.”
In the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, this reference to reality is no less ambiguous. Indeed, it is not reality itself that is taken as the theme of reflection but its expression in law and in politics. To say that “the criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of earth” means that “the criticism of religion” turns into “the criticism of law and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.”35 Marx gives as the reason for this thematic shift, in which philosophy is substituted for reality, the backwardness of Germany in relation to other peoples, a backwardness which leads the Germans to experience, for example, the Restoration without having had a Revolution. It is only on the theoretical level, in its philosophy, that Germany is able to maintain a relation with the real and to manifest its contemporaneity with history. German philosophy, however, is the critique of religion. The passage from the critique of religion to reality, to the extent that reality now designates in a precise manner German reality, is thus nothing other than this passage to the critique of religion. The problematic is contained inside a circle which Marx, it is true, immediately breaks. If theory, namely the critique of religion, is in German reality the only real element corresponding to history and to the internal requirement of its fulfillment, should not the whole of German reality be made homogeneous with what it already includes that is present and living? Does not German theory then contain the “principles” upon which the rest of German reality is to be organized and constructed? “We must then ask ourselves: can Germany attain a practice à la hauteur des principes, that is to say, a revolution that raises it not only to the official level of modern nations but to the human level that will be their immediate future?”36
Attaining a practice that measures up to its principles means for German reality: becoming homogeneous with philosophy, and for philosophy this means: becoming German reality itself, realizing itself therein. By following the path that leads from the critique of religion to reality understood as German reality, understood in the first place as the critique of religion itself and in the second place as the reality of German society which must come to conform to this critique, to philosophy, the problematic is not, properly speaking, contained inside a circle for it has achieved the following self-evidence: the reality to which the critique of religion leads is not a reality of an order other than that of the reality of this very critique, other than the reality of consciousness, other than the reality of philosophy; quite the contrary, its structure is the same. Only on this condition will German reality be able to realize German philosophy, the philosophy of self-objectification, of alienation — on the condition, that is, that this structure indeed be its own. Such is, once again here, the inevitable presupposition of the surprising meeting of thought and reality: the secret homogeneity of their common essence. A homogeneity such as this renders illusory the opposition — even the mere difference — between German theory and practice; it signifies their profound affinity and, precisely, their homogeneity. The question Marx poses to Germany thus becomes fully transparent: “Will the theoretical needs be directly practical needs? It is not enough that thought should strive to realize itself; reality must strive towards thought.”37
However, German reality does not strive toward thought and is not homogeneous with its theoretical requirements. Marx’s entire analysis will show, precisely, in the break that opens up between, on the one hand, the German philosophical requirements that are adequate to contemporary history and so to its immediate future and, on the other hand, the archaism of German society, “the enormous gap that exists between the demands of German thought and the responses of German reality.”38 The demands of German thought are contained in the radicalism of its theory, in the critique of religion to the extent that this ends in “the doctrine that for man the supreme being is man.” Such a doctrine, overdetermined as it is by both the idealist conceptions of the autonomy of consciousness and the Hegelian descriptions of mastery and servitude means that man’s total liberation is called for, that is to say, it involves the no less radical rejection of his alienation and, precisely, of all servitude. This meaning is made all the more obvious if we refer, with Marx, to “Germany’s revolutionary past,” which, just as its present, “is also theoretical”: the Reformation. We are familiar with the famous text on Luther, who “certainly conquered servitude based on devotion, but only by replacing it with servitude based on conviction. He destroyed faith in authority, but only by restoring the authority of faith. He transformed the priests into laymen, but only by transforming the laymen into priests. He freed mankind from external religiosity, but only by making religiosity the inner man. He freed the body from its chains, but only by putting the heart in chains.”39 Germany’s “revolutionary” past signifies the inner servitude of man, that is, his most radical alienation, and this is why it is the condition for Germany’s theoretical revolutionary present which signifies the most radical liberation, because, by eliminating the external God, it eliminates precisely the inner faith in this God. Germany’s revolutionary theoretical demand is, therefore, the demand for a radical alienation as the condition for a radical liberation.
The response of German reality to its theoretical demand is nonexistent. Where in German society do we see the growth and development of a “radical” alienation, a situation which gets bogged down in an ever greater, ever graver contradiction, letting a wall build up before it, a wall growing ever higher until it becomes insurmountable, until the only solution lies in the brutal destruction of this wall, the total suppression of this alienation? Where is the passion for the universal, the will to carry things through to the end, which alone could call for, demand an absolute dénouement? What class in Germany bears within itself the violence of this passion or actually possesses this will? Let us take a look: “What a spectacle! A society infinitely divided into the most diverse races which confront one another with their petty antipathies, their bad consciences and their brutal mediocrity.”40 Marx strives in vain to present this mediocrity as the sum of the failings of all other regimes and of all other peoples, as if an accumulation of particular wrongs could take the place of the absent cause of a radical revolution.41 The fact that German reality does not constitute a response to the demands of German thought is acknowledged as the analysis progresses, when, unable to find in this reality the conditions for “universal human emancipation,” the condition for at least “the partial, merely political revolution”42 is sought. A partial revolution means that a class emancipates itself but only by establishing its domination over the other classes. In so doing it makes the others believe that it struggles not for itself but for society as a whole, that its goals are universal goals. Only on this condition is it able to arouse general enthusiasm, to captivate the rest of society. And yet this illusory realization of the universal is brought about only against the background of opposition. One class can sum up and embody in itself the positive goals of society only if another class gathers together in itself the wrongs and vices of this society. The latter erects the barrier, defines the obstacle, constitutes the opposition which has to be overcome so that what is positive in the positive class of society can be liberated and brought to completion.43 Thus in 1789 the French bourgeoisie not only needs to make itself believe and to have others believe that in its goals and in its ideals it represents and realizes the emancipation of the whole of society; at the same time it must also show what must be destroyed if these goals and these ideals are to be realized, that is to say, there must exist some “negative representation of society” — namely the clergy and the nobility along with their “privileges”; the suppression of these privileges will thus permit the advent of the universal and the establishment of “general rights.” The suppression of the negative, the negation of the negation as the possibility of the advent of the universal and of the liberation that will accompany it, this is already the condition for political revolution, of all revolution, even “partial” revolution.
The conditions for a simple political revolution do not exist in Germany any more than do the conditions for a general revolution. Due to the practical mediocrity of the German classes, there is not one that possesses the idealism which would allow it to claim to stand for the whole and to reshape the entire society in its own image, nor is there any German class capable of standing as an obstacle to this project of general emancipation, which itself does not exist. Whereas in France “each class of the people is a political idealist” and so claims to be directed toward the general interest and to realize it, so that “the role of emancipation therefore passes in a dramatic movement from one class of the French people to the next,” in Germany, “no class of civil society has the need and capacity for universal emancipation.”44 There is really no response in Germany to the demands of German thought or to the necessity for a revolution.
This is why Marx will construct it. To construct a response to the demands of German thought means to address oneself to reality, to turn to it not in order to display it or to recognize it — it does not exist — but precisely to turn to what does not exist in order to sketch the framework, the form, the structure of what should be and will be, that is, what will fit into this framework, take on this form, comply with this structure. The German question is the rough draft and the mold of a “reality” which will be shaped by this very question. The German question is not a simple question. As the rough draft and the mold of what will be and what will occur, of the being to come, the German question indeed defines the condition of its occurrence, of its possible-being, of its ontological structure. The German question is the being of the response. The German question is German theory, theory as such. The response is practice, as the practice of theory, a practice which is made possible and defined by it. To the extent that practice is constructed in accordance with theory, finding in theory its rough draft and its mold, practice — reality — is the object of a construction a priori. How then is German reality constructed insofar as it is constructed a priori by German theory? German theory, in its completed form, is the critique of religion, the theory of a radical liberation considered as the suppression of a radical alienation. Since it finds its law of construction in the a priori of German theory, German reality has to or will have to offer itself as this radical alienation whose negation will be radical liberation, that is, it will be German emancipation but as “universal human” emancipation.
Marx states explicitly that German theory determines what its practice must be: “The only liberation of Germany which is practically possible is liberation from the point of view of that theory which declares man to be the supreme being for man.”45 The fact that practice is determined by theory and that this, in turn, leads to a concept of emancipation which is defined and realized as the suppression of alienation, all this is no less clearly affirmed: “The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that for man the supreme being is man, and thus with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is a debased, enslaved, neglected and contemptible being.”46 However, these social conditions do not exist, German reality does not respond to the German question. This is why we say that Marx constructed this reality a priori. And the reality constructed a priori in accordance with the demands of German theory, which, in accordance with the theses of German philosophy, is nothing other than the law of this construction, is the proletariat. The construction a priori of the proletariat is contained in the following text: “So where is the positive possibility of German emancipation? This is our answer. In the formation of a class with radical chains, a class [Stand] which is the dissolution of all classes, a sphere which has a universal character because of its universal suffering and which lays claim to no particular right because the wrong it suffers is not a particular wrong but a wrong in general; a sphere of society which can no longer lay claim to an historical title, but merely to a human one, which does not stand in one-sided opposition to the consequences but in all-sided opposition to the premises of the German political system; and finally a sphere which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from — and thereby emancipating — all the other spheres of society, which is, in a word, the total loss of humanity and which can therefore redeem itself only through the total redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society as a particular class is the proletariat.”47
Because its reality is constructed a priori in accordance with the prescriptions of German philosophy, the proletariat manifests in its being its compliance with the structure of theory, a compliance which founds their affinity and which appears in this affinity as the way in which they mutually serve one another: the proletariat enables philosophy to be realized by giving itself an actual, “material” content; the proletariat provides philosophy with its weapons while, reciprocally, finding in philosophy its law of construction, along with its law of development and thus its law of action. “Just as philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its intellectual weapons in philosophy; and once the lightning of thought has struck deeply into this virgin soil of the people, emancipation will transform the Germans into men.”48
The reality of the proletariat, insofar as it is constructed a priori in compliance with the prescriptions of German philosophy, is presented as a particular reality which becomes universal — a particular class which ceases to be a particular class — in such a way, however, that this is the universalization of the negative, that it is itself the development of alienation — not a “particular wrong” but a “wrong in itself” — and that it is precisely in and through the development of this radical and universal alienation that liberation and regeneration take place, as a liberation which is itself universal, as the liberation not of one class of society but of all classes, not of one nation, Germany, but of “man.” As we see, Marx still conceives of liberation in the same way as did Bauer in The Jewish Question, as a passage from the particular to the universal; the particular determination that has to be abolished is, however, no longer that of the Jew or of the Christian but of the particular class on the one hand and of the nation on the other. With respect to the term in which the particular is resolved in its suppression, this is once again here, as in Bauer, the universal, and its advent is also thought of by Marx as the advent of “man.” However, the presuppositions which guide Marx in his analysis go back much farther than this. As the movement from the particular to the universal, a movement taking place through the mediation of negation and the suppression of this negation, the reality of the proletariat is dialectical. What then is the dialectic?
The dialectic is usually presented as a concept whose meaning is held to have been first of all ideal, spiritual, the model of which was said to have been proposed to Marx by Hegel, who himself took up the grand theme of the dialectic as it had found its most celebrated and most remarkable expression in Platonism. The dialectic is first and foremost the dialectic of ideas, their necessary interconnection following the schema of opposition and synthesis. Marx is supposed to have maintained this schema, while at the same time radically changing its sense by applying it to another domain, no longer that of ideal determinations but that of reality, that is to say, of nature or, yet again, of “matter.” Actually, it is Engels who explicitly realized this mutation in the concept of the dialectic, or rather its simple transfer from one region of being to another by constructing and proposing a “dialectic of nature.” Did not Marx himself, however, claim to have set the dialectic back on its feet, that is, precisely, to have sought and to have located its movement in reality before finding it in what is but its reflection, in the movement of ideas and of the mind?
One may venture the gravest doubts concerning the legitimacy of such an interpretation of nature and of the role of the concept of the dialectic in German philosophy at the beginning of the nineteenth century. First of all, it is false to suppose that in Hegel the dialectic had solely an “ideal” meaning, involving only the world of consciousness or of thought, the “human” world, in contrast to the domain proper to nature,49 as if the latter remained in itself foreign to the dialectical movement and outside it dominion. Quite the opposite, it is only within the dialectical process that nature reaches being; and this is so, on the one hand, because the alienation of mind is realized only if this alienation becomes truly radical, if nature exists not only for consciousness which is alienated in nature, that is for the mind and as its own proper alienation, but in itself in the actuality of absolute opposition, as the term that is really other, foreign to the mind; on the other hand, this is so because beings attain being only in this condition of opposition, only to the extent, then, that they are penetrated by the negativity of the dialectic. Because it grounds the being of nature and so belongs to it and constitutes it, the Hegelian dialectic in no way allows itself to be bound up inside the sphere of “consciousness,” a sphere which for Hegel does not exist as such, in its alleged separation from the sphere of being. Instead, consciousness is being itself in its actuality, nature itself in its condition of object, the unfolding and the reign of nature in accordance with its own proper structure.
Because it refers to nature, the Hegelian dialectic allows the trace of its real origin to appear in itself. This origin is definitely not to be found in Platonism. It is always after the fact, and only in order to confirm what it considers to be self-evident that German thought refers to ancient philosophy and, for example, to Plato. The original character of the German dialectic can be seen, precisely, in its specific origin, which lies in medieval alchemy, where intuitions or illuminations, research, and work reach their culmination in the circle of thinkers and philosophers grouped around Paracelsus. By claiming to make gold out of lead, alchemy implies directly as the prior theoretical presupposition supporting its practical undertaking that the ground of reality is not made up of fixed things, of immutable elements, but that it is instead change. Or again: change cannot be understood as the mere substitution of one element for another, as replacing one body with another, as will be the case in Cartesian mechanism, with its conception of movement as a chain of bodies which move together.50 Quite the opposite, change as it is considered by alchemical practice and as it is presupposed by this practice, is a change in the body itself; it is the internal and real transformation of one being into another, in such a way that this “other” is nothing but the transformed-being of the first, the becoming-other of the being itself. A becoming such as this, the becoming-other of a being, is inscribed in it as its very reality, as a constitutive potentiality of its being and which determines this being. To the extent, then, that the being of beings is understood as becoming, as the potentiality of becoming other, reality can thus appear and be understood as “dialectical.”
Given this becoming which is immanent in reality, this universal movement of things as they pass into one another, it is then only too easy for man to base his action upon this fact in order to effect transformations in bodies which are already inscribed in them virtually. These transformations are in no way indifferent; they are ordered on the basis of a teleology which is immanent in each thing and which places within it as constituting the very nature of the thing the uneasiness and suffering of waiting. The alchemist is attentive to this uneasiness and this suffering; his knowledge of nature is truly metaphysical, it goes beyond stable appearances and moves back to the obscure will which inhabits each thing and which is directed at fulfilling its being by transforming itself into what for it will be, precisely, its fulfillment. This hunger, this painful desire, this incompleteness, and this unfulfillment characterize, for example, the being of lead and determine it as “dark,” “bereft,” “disconsolate,” as long as it has not become gold and has not taken on its glorious brilliance.
The concept of the dialectic originally understood in this way as a dialectic of beings, as an ontic dialectic, received a radically new meaning when Jacob Boehme had the unprecedented intuition — an intuition which was decisively to determine the German metaphysics of the great post-Kantians and, through this, the entire history of Western thought — the intuition that passing into the other does not lead to the production of a new and privileged being in which the dark element finds its consolation, but instead to the advent of that which is more than any particular being, to the advent and to the actual becoming of being itself in its phenomenality. For the passage of one being into another is its passing into the condition of ob-ject, its coming into the light of the world. The dialectic of nature no longer has a limited meaning; it no longer concerns the play of its elements and their mutual transformation; rather it is nature as a whole, it is the whole of what is that attains being to the extent that the reign of the other is established, the reign of objectivity which is that of nature itself. Inasmuch as it no longer designates the transformation of one particular thing but rather the liberation of its being, the dialectic of beings has become the dialectic of the object, and ontic dialectic an ontological dialectic. This is precisely the sense of the dialectic in Hegel.
To the extent to which the dialectic has an ontological meaning and to which becoming other defines the becoming of objectivity in which the being of nature unfolds, the structure of the dialectic appears at one and the same time to be the structure of consciousness itself, such as Hegel understands this, that is to say, not as a sphere closed in upon itself in the silent tautology of identity but precisely as the development of objectivity in the movement of alienation. This is why alienation, in Hegel, has a positive meaning, because it defines the very structure of being; this is also why alienation must be radical and mind be brought down to the level of nature, because the extreme point of alienation is at one and the same time the being of mind, as it is the being of nature itself. This is not all: in the movement by which a being is alienated as it becomes an object, it enters into the realm of universality and bathes in its light; the dialectical process is the passage from the particular to the universal. Finally, because alienation is the original formation of objectivity and because it liberates this objectivity along with the being which is in the latter, alienation is at one and the same time this liberation and the actual becoming of mind. The thesis of a radical emancipation which would have its condition in a radical alienation is rooted in the very structure of the dialectic, understood as the structure of consciousness, of experience and of being. Feuerbach was to confer upon the concept of alienation a purely negative meaning, but its original ontological meaning secretly subsists in German metaphysics. To this original meaning, in any event, is connected the dialectical interpretation of the proletariat in the 1843-1844 Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, an interpretation in the light of which the structure of the proletariat appears as the structure of consciousness itself such as this is understood in German metaphysics.
The concept of dialectic in German metaphysics is, however, overdetermined by conceptions of another order. Actually, the dialectic, to the extent that it signifies change, cannot have its exclusive and truly primary origin in nature, inasmuch as the latter offers instead the image of a certain permanence and of stable being. The very movements and diverse changes which affect the being of nature display a certain regularity, when they do not present a cyclical form in which the idea of change moves beyond itself in the direction, precisely, of permanence. The alchemist’s intuition of a transformation that takes place within things and that constitutes their true nature had to be fought for and had, in a certain sense, to be postulated in the face of appearances to the contrary. If it does not lie in the content of external experience, where can one find not the idea but above all the actual experience of change and of transformation considered real, immanent, and lived change, internal transformation, if not in life itself? It is individual subjective life as it occurs in the immediate experience of its radical phenomenological immanence which reveals this change within itself, inasmuch as it changes and as it is itself “change,” in the flow of its impressions and of its hidden affective tonalities; and in this flow the latter never stop passing into one another in an incessant movement that is life itself.
We are unable to show here how, in this passing which is not in time but which is time, the affective modalities of life do not originate and occur therein by chance, how they stem not from the world and its future but from life itself and its essence, as modalities which are willed and ordained by it, as the very modes of its realization and as the history of its essence [historial].31 Let us simply state: it is because these modalities originate in the ontological passivity which determines the essence of life and which constitutes it from the outset as affective that these modalities are themselves presented and are posited as affective, more precisely, as suffering and as joy and as their incessant “passing back and forth.” For the essence of suffering lies in the radical passivity of life and in its sufferance and as such includes, to the extent that life’s sufferance is its original self-givenness in the adequation of an undivided immanence and the experience of its own plenitude, the possibility and the essence of the opposite determination, the possibility and the essence of its unceasing transformation into joy. The original essence of the dialectic lies in life to the extent that it contains within itself the a priori and pure possibility of its fundamental tonalities and along with this the possibility of their reciprocal transformation.
It is in the original essence of the dialectic, inasmuch as it lies in life and expresses the eidetic regularities of its fundamental tonalities, that one should seek the determinations it will later possess in an explicit manner on the level of thought such as, for example, the law of opposites. The more life is caught up in the suffering of its being as it is limited and tied to itself, and the more it experiences as a burden the absence and the impossibility of any transcendence, of any overcoming, the more this overcoming is realized, the more one can feel in and through this very suffering the emergence of one’s own being, its silent advent and the experience of its ultimate ground. In this way, Kierkegaard was able to conceive of the extreme point of suffering, despair, as leading the self to the most radical test both of itself and of the life within it, to delve through its own transparence into the power that has posited it. Thus, generally speaking, we can explain the religious or mystical conceptions which express the metaphysical essence of being understood as life and which relate the history of its essence [historial] in the simultaneous or successive blossoming of opposites in the dramatic passing from negative to positive, from destitution to plenitude, from suffering to joy. From the nearest to the farthest, per augusta ad augusta. The higher the star is in the heavens, the deeper is its reflection in the sea. It is this dramatic passing between opposites that provides the religious idea of sacrifice with its force and perhaps with its ontological content as well. If we now call suffering “alienation” and use “liberty” to refer, on the contrary, to the positive expansion of affectivity, then alienation is the condition for all liberation and the primary mode of its fulfillment. If we call it death, then death is the condition for life. In Christ’s passion and in his sacrifice the metaphysical law of life is revealed and is expressed, insofar as its essence lies in affectivity, insofar as the blow struck against life lays bare its intangible essence, insofar as the wound made in the soft, white flesh gushes with blood, insofar as suffering reveals what it is that suffers at the very heart of this suffering, the absolutely living being of life.
As has been rightly said: the proletariat is Christ. The proletariat is the one — for, just like Christ, the proletariat is a person — who must go to the very limit of suffering and of evil, to the sacrifice of his being, giving his sweat and blood and ultimately his very life, in order to reach — through this complete self-annihilation, through this self-negation which is a negation of life — the true life which leaves all finiteness and all particularity behind, which is a complete life and salvation itself. “He who wants to save his life shall lose it, and he who wants to lose it will be truly alive.” In its own way, the proletariat is involved in the dramatic history of opposites and fulfills this history, fulfills the sacrifice, strips itself down, loses itself completely and so has access to redemption, which constitutes the recovery and the reconquering of true being, revival and regeneration. “A sphere,” states the text we are discussing, “…which is, in a word, the total loss of humanity and which can therefore redeem itself only through the total redemption of humanity.” The critique of religion claimed to take us out of the religious sphere and to release us from its fantastic constructions, claimed to lead us into the domain of reality and, more precisely in the 1843-1844 Introduction, into the domain of German reality, of German history, and of the proletariat which is being formed there. But the proletariat is just a substitute for the Christian God, the history that it animates and will fulfill is merely the profane transcription of a sacred history.
However, it is far from the case that the religious and mystical conceptions to which we have been compelled to refer have themselves had any direct influence on the texts we are analyzing. Instead, this influence is exerted through the mediation of German metaphysics. It is by way of the remarkable works of G. Cottier, on the one hand, and of de Negri, on the other, that we are able to specify just how German metaphysics became imbued with these religious themes to begin with, so that in their turn Marx’s 1844 texts and finally Marxism itself were determined by these same themes. At the source of what he terms the kenotic schema — in accordance with which reality, in order to reach its fulfillment, must first of all annihilate itself by passing into its opposite so that, out of the annihilation of this opposite and in this way alone, the schema of realization understood as self-negation and as the negation of this negation can at last emerge in its plenitude — Cottier rightly cites the passage from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (2:6-9) in which he recounts in the following terms what could be called the history of Christ’s essence, that is to say, at once his personal history and his being: “For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave. Bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape, he humbled himself, and in obedience accepted even death — death on a cross. Therefore God raised him to the heights and bestowed on him the name above all names…” ἐκένωσεν in Greek denotes the act by which Christ strips himself, empties himself of his divinity, that is to say, of his very being, and thereby annihilates himself in order to take on the human condition, in such a way, however, that this privation is pushed to the extreme, that it constitutes the act of taking on humanity in what in it is most extreme, its limiting situation, death, and even more, death in its most ignominious form, the death reserved for those sentenced to death and for slaves. For it is only in this way, when it is pushed to its own limit and to the end point of its being, that the opposite is itself annihilated to permit the return of the full positivity of the absolute in regeneration. Cottier’s presentiment concerning the role Luther played in transmitting this “kenotic schema,” that is to say, in the formation of German metaphysics as dialectical thought, has its source in the fact that Luther translated ἐκένωσεν by hat sich selbst geäußert, thus taking Christ’s privation as his alienation.32
Actually, it is the entire Lutheran problematic which can appear in many respects as a prefiguration and at times an explicit preformation of dialectical thought. Indeed, the founder of the Reformation rises to this level of thought in his effort to resolve the difficulties of the Christian paradox, difficulties which all converge on the question of the possibility of uniting opposites, of presence sub contrario or yet again of communicatio idiomatum. The problems that lead to this question and that occupy all of Luther’s attention are notably those concerning Christ on the cross and the Eucharist. They are posed in this way: how can it be that in a slave who has been crucified and has died a God can exist and can live, or rather, God himself; how, then, under this contrary appearance [sub contrario] can the divine essence be present? And likewise in the Eucharist, which Luther termed the impanatio, how is the real presence of Christ in the bread to be understood? That one and the same person, namely Christ on the cross, could be at one and the same time spiritual and carnal, sinner and just, bad and good, thus both dead and living, suffering and blessed, active and at rest, just as the bread is itself also the body of Christ, is explained by the communicatio idiomatum, that is, by the union of opposing properties. In this union each of the properties remains itself and, consequently, the properties continue to oppose one another, but in their meeting they form a new essence which contains these opposites and reunites them in a higher union. Luther, in one of his last treatises, called De praedicatione identica de diversis naturis, which is analyzed by de Negri, strives to justify rationally the communicatio idiomatum by showing that understanding it implies giving up syllogistic logic and replacing the copula “is” with a thought of becoming, of werden, in which the passage from one property into another and even into its own opposite is realized. To the objection that this passage from the same to its opposite is irrational, Luther replies, and in this strikingly foreshadows Hegel, that such a passage defines, precisely, true reason, that which conceives becoming and not identity as the essence of things, in short, a dialectical reason.53
The properly spiritual meaning of Luther’s thought must not, however, be forgotten. It is not only the ontic properties of things that are involved in the communicatio and are thus submitted to the power of the dialectic. The law of opposites, its paradox, and its supersession concern and define first and foremost the life of each believer, his experience along the road to salvation. What characterizes this road is that it can by no means be considered to be a progress, a continuous improvement of moral life as a result of personal effort and will. Quite the contrary, it is only with heartfelt contrition, by slipping into absolute despair and by giving oneself up to the revolt against God, in and through this spiritual death, that faith and salvation can be born. In this, one element of the subsequent idea of the dialectic becomes apparent — the radical nature of opposition as the condition for its radical suppression and for the advent of universality, since it is by losing everything and only by absolute fault that everything can be recovered. This is the sense of the criticism of indulgences, which is not directed at the mere fact of this trade but at the Catholic conception of graduated penitence, proportional to the wrong. It is the very idea of proportioning and of measuring that appears inadequate and completely unrelated to salvation if the latter implies, as the sphere in which it emerges, total evil, the abyssal consciousness of sin in the soul of the sinner. It is obviously under the influence of Luther and of Lutheran theologians that Kierkegaard conceived his dialectic of the Treatise on Despair to which we have alluded.
Recognizing the spiritual significance of Lutheran thought leads us to the origin of the dialectic, to lived experience. This sheds new light on the evidence that has already been encountered in our own problematic, according to which the primary reality of passage and the very place where its concept arises is in life, in the passage which is itself understood as a lived experience, as the experience of the transformation of life in its own proper and fundamental tonalities. For it is precisely when life, in the very course of its experience, is lived as modification and, what is more, as radical self-modification in the passage from despair to certainty, that it is elevated to the intuition of spirituality. But then it must be said that already in Luther, and consequently from its inception, the concept of dialectic allows its basic ambiguity to appear. This consists in a μετάβασις εἰς ἄλλο γένος in the incontestable μετάβασις by virtue of which what is considered to be a law of the spiritual world and which is discovered in it is found to have been transferred to another region of being, to the domain of material things and their properties. For the identical predication of opposites no longer concerns only the phenomenological becoming of the Erlebnisse, their silent growth out of life and its essence; identity no longer designates this original and concrete essence as the condition of the possibility of what happens to it and thus happens in it; it is to the whole of what is, and first and foremost to material beings, that the communicatio idiomatum, the new “reason,” is alleged to apply. The dialectical schema is isolated from the conditions that give it its original validity; it becomes a formal structure under which anything and everything is alleged to be subsumed. The possibility of subsumption lies neither in the nature of what is submitted to the schema nor in its prior examination, in making evident at least a possible adequation of the latter, of this particular nature, to the former, to that schema. It is the schema itself, the formal structure of the dialectic, which justifies the subsumption by reason of its own and somewhat magical power. Form has become content. Being itself, whatever it may be, whatever concrete form it may possess in each instance, comes to be in self-negation and comes to be to the extent that this negation is carried to term, that is to say is, in its turn, negated. Everywhere and always the negative signifies the genesis of being and its advent. Everywhere and always: not only when the negative designates the suffering of sacrifice, or despair, and the upsurge in it and through it of the limitless experience which thought cannot name, but also when what is involved is an objective event inscribed in the course of nature or of history — when what is involved is the advent of objectivity itself, of “nature” and of “history” as such and as the whole of being.
However, the founding power of the negative is coupled with an axiological meaning which, like this power, is ascribed to its secret origin, to the capacity of suffering to liberate in itself the being of life, to the capacity of evil grasped in its phenomenological actuality, just where it is indeed an “evil,” to be a “good.” Just like the power of the negative, its positive axiological meaning is transferred along with it and so comes into play along with it, plays where it plays. On the one hand, the simple course of events, whether natural events or human events, is not indifferent but is always oriented toward the coming of that which, as the negation of its condition, is more than it, and history has a “sense.” As we have seen, even the alchemical transformation of things obeys an immanent teleology which leads to what is considered an “end” and a completion in terms of all the earlier modifications. On the other hand, to the extent that the concept of dialectic adds to the initial ontic meaning it has in alchemy or in Luther the decisive ontological meaning it contains in Boehme or in Hegel, it is now the production of objectivity, the phenomenology of mind, which is presented as the finality of the entire process, as the result which secretly drives it.
German metaphysics acquires and conveys three meanings of the concept of dialectic: (1) its original affective meaning, in accordance with which it designates life and the dichotomy of the tonalities within it, their sudden mutation, the paradoxical bond of suffering and joy, of love and hate; (2) an ontic meaning, in accordance with which the transformation is extended to “things” and alleged to define the being of every being; (3) an ontological meaning, by virtue of which the dialectic defines and determines this being as it is thought and grasped in itself, the opposition of objectivity and the world. The ontic and ontological meanings are the μετάβασις of its original meaning, the tardy and precritical extension to all that “is” of the original essential history of being in the life of radical subjectivity. In the μετάβασις, the properties that belong to the single region of being in which they have been perceived, that is, to the original being of life, are also extended to the whole of being and are held to constitute its structure. We must not simply repeat the brilliant critique which Kierkegaard was to address to Hegel and say that the negative cannot be used to designate anything and everything, cannot function at one and the same time as an ethical, metaphysical, ontological, and, we might add, ontic concept, for the problem lies in the way in which the negative operates in each case, and this cannot be resolved by the equivocation of homonymy. Producing a nature, objectification, cannot be the same thing as what despair destines us for — and which signifies, precisely, the impossible objectification of life — nor is the history of the world that of the individual.
The threefold meaning of the concept of dialectic conveyed by German metaphysics is present in the construction a priori of the proletariat and secretly determines it, determines the German question to which German reality has to respond, the reality of Prussian society during the first half of the nineteenth century. To determine the reality of a particular society, even of society in general, on the basis of the concept of dialectic as this happened to be constituted in the movement of Western metaphysics as the result of various and sundry conceptions, of religious, theological, theosophical, alchemical, ontic, and ontological conceptions, and even more as the unrecognized expression of the essence of life, is to accomplish a new μετάβασις, the μετάβασις of the dialectic itself in a domain totally foreign to its place of birth, and is to give to the elements that constitute it a sense they do not possess. The first philosophy of labor presented in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts marked the invasion of economics by German metaphysics; the construction a priori of the proletariat and the theory of revolution that it defines mark the invasion of politics and history by German metaphysics. This is what is stated involuntarily and yet with sharp clarity by a famous proposition: the proletariat is the inheritor of classical German philosophy.54
Following the shift to the domain of material things, what can be the meaning of the structure of the objectification process of consciousness or of the affective dialectic of life, the “power of the negative”? If it is not the simple German designation of their objective condition, can the negation of a bridge or a house then mean only their destruction, sheer annihilation? In what way does this process of destruction, in itself and of itself, the quality and the force, so to speak, to make something new surge forth, something that is greater in the order of reality or of perfection, a wider bridge, a bigger house? And yet this is the really magical quality belonging to the negative in the concept of revolution. Revolution is nothing other than the negative in its claim to perform itself the work of being, the negation which is to define and to produce all positivity. The concept of revolution reflects the metaphysical identity of being and nothingness but by transposing it, absurdly, onto a level where it loses any possible sense, onto the ontic level.
Given this, is there any reason to say, in the absence of any reference to actual material reality, that the concept of revolution is empty, robbed of all possible effectiveness? However, the concept of revolution gathers within itself the constituent elements of the dialectical schema. The revolution performs the redeeming catastrophe, the life-giving radical negation, and in this resembles the proletariat whose history it concentrates in a dramatic summary. And yet, as has been sufficiently demonstrated, it is from life that the dialectical schema as it is presented in the concept of the proletariat, which is summed up in that of the revolution, is secretly borrowed; it is the dichotomy of affectivity which founds its oppositional structure and its pathos. From this moment on, the political heaven loses its transparency and its lightness, the empty concept of revolution is filled all at once and becomes a sphere of total investment. In it, all the powers of life are represented and find an imaginary prolongation: in destruction the death instinct, in regeneration the life instinct, in the loss of alienation suffering, in the victory over alienation and reconquest of joy, in the passage from destruction to regeneration the very movement of life, of life which is always ahead of itself, in the ambiguity of attraction and repulsion, in the secret connivance of anguish and happiness. Revolution is the imaginary representation of what is produced and can only be produced in us. Revolution is a fantasy of life.
The mythology of history
The concept of revolution, just as that of the proletariat which is its agent, if not to say its officiating priest — the proletariat, Marx writes in The Class Struggles in France, comprises “the high dignitaries of the revolutionary interests”55 — names no particular reality which would be limited to a moment in time and in history. Not only does the proletariat bring about the advent of the universal, since it is that particular class which denies itself as such and in so doing abolishes all the other classes, thus taking man out of the finiteness or restrictive and oppositional determination and giving him back to himself — inasmuch as the being of man is, precisely, the universal — but for this very reason, because the proletariat realizes the essential history of the universal, it is the essence of history that is accomplished in it, if indeed history has a sense, if it is that metaphysical adventure in which the poverty and the limitations of origins are gradually overcome and finally superseded in the major event of total realization. To the extent that history finds the condition for its possibility, along with its sense and its essence, in revolution, history also borrows from the latter its structure, the structure of temporality proper to it. History’s time is thus in no sense the homogeneous milieu within which a succession of events unfolds; it is not an evolution but a revolution; it does not occur as a progress but as its opposite, as the development of the contrary, the opposite, the obstacle, as the slow construction of the wall whose sudden collapse will free being in all its fullness, will inaugurate the new Kingdom. This is why the coming of the universal, the establishment of a human order, is not the result of a linear progress at the end of which man would gain possession of himself; it is not winning man over [le gain de l’homme] but his “revival” [son «regain»], a new conquest which occurs by way of the “total loss of man.” The time of history, history itself, is the development of alienation as the condition for reappropriation. Moreover, this is why the present of history is not a simple present, that which is here and now, purely and simply, a state of things, but the moment of a fall, a time of distress, for it is only out of the excessiveness of this distress and only when suffering becomes universal that salvation will come. The present announces this salvation and recognizes its coming in the very coming of catastrophe. All of history is held in this present which gathers history together within itself and which dominates history; history is the instant in which the contradiction is condensed, in which amid collapse and general upheaval the past all at once swings into the future.
The extent to which this apocalyptic and messianic conception of history is an offshoot of German metaphysics could be easily demonstrated if we had the time here to recall the grand themes of German Romanticism as these appear, notably, in Schlegel, Novalis, Hölderlin, Hegel, or Schelling.56 In the latter, for example, becoming commences by positing an initial bastard principle destined to be suppressed; thus it is presented as a strange process which begins by pursuing the slow construction of what it will then tear down and which undoes what it has already done. This way of getting at the definitive and the true by first of all asserting the contrary appearance, this disguising of one’s deep intentions, is what Schelling calls the irony of God,57 an irony which Marx, in his turn, thinks he recognizes at the heart of history. Significant in this regard are the historical-political writings — in particular those composed at the time of the 1848 revolution and during the rise to power of the future Napoleon III. Examining the revolutionary process in France during the years 1846-1851, Marx divides this period into two parts, the first of which has just ended before his own eyes and thus belongs to the past, leading to the December 2 coup d’état; the second is just in the process of occurring, and its description is at the same time a prophecy, and this Marx interprets, precisely, as the construction of a secret finality in the guise of an apparent counterfinality. “It [the revolution] goes about its business methodically. By December 2, 1851 it had completed one half of its preparatory work; it is now completing the other half. First of all it perfected the parliamentary power, in order to be able to overthrow it. Now, having attained this, it is perfecting the executive power, reducing it to its purest expression, isolating it, and pitting itself against it as the sole object of attack, in order to concentrate all its forces of destruction against it. And when it has completed this, the second half of its preliminary work, Europe will leap from its seat and exultantly exclaim: ‘Well worked, old mole’.”58
The construction of the contrary which, in turn, is handed over to destruction, this “method” which is the method of revolution and of history, is presented by Marx in the opening lines of The Class Struggles in France, where he explicitly offers it as the object of his demonstration. Only “by creating a powerful and united counterrevolution; only in combat with this opponent did the insurrectionary party mature into a real party of revolution. To demonstrate this is the task of the following pages.”59 It is as this contrary necessary for the development of the process that the bourgeoisie intervenes and develops, assembling together within itself all the contraries, all the property-owning classes in order to constitute the absolute obstacle. “The first task of the February republic was rather to complete the rule of the bourgeoisie by all the property-owning classes to enter the political arena along with the financial aristocracy.”60 Because this opposition is necessary for the development of the revolutionary process, that is for its own development, the proletariat must participate in its formation, assist in the ascension of the bourgeoisie, pursue along with it the common struggle against the archaic element which continues to oppose the triumph of the bourgeoisie. “At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, the landowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeoisie.”61
However, if the proletariat, whose actions are like those of Schelling’s God, can secretly savor the setting up of this complex system of which it is to be the ultimate beneficiary, the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, caught up in the ineluctable process of this strange history of which it understands only the short-term positions and consequences, finds itself in an uncomfortable and, in a word, dialectical situation. The bourgeoisie constitutes the contrary which is posited only to be destroyed, and its destruction begins with its inception.62 In 1850 the bourgeoisie’s self-destruction passes by way of the rise to power and the triumph of Bonaparte, and Marx shows with subtlety how, in order to defend itself, the bourgeoisie throws itself into the arms of its enemy and is forced, in order to ensure its survival as it confronts the people and the “Montagne” which represents the latter, to sacrifice its own parliamentary regime.63 The irony of history does not simply hand the bourgeoisie over to Bonaparte; it establishes Bonaparte’s reign only to isolate it in turn and to set up in opposition to it the whole of the people, so that “the overthrow of the parliamentary republic contains within itself the germ of the triumph of the proletarian revolution.”64
In addition to the divine irony which continually poses the contrary of what it wants to do and so does what it wants only in and through the annihilation of what it does not want, in Schelling we also find the reason for this irony, which is therefore not sheer madness. This kind of “reason” resides in the divine will or, if one prefers, in the law of being according to which “all possibilities must occur.”65 It is not a matter of choosing from among all possibilities the best one and abandoning the others to the nothingness of that which will never be, but instead of bringing it about that all possibilities are realized and come into being so that the great law of being is indeed accomplished, the law of the total exhibition and the total realization of being. History is precisely the milieu in which this law is accomplished. This history will thus be a total history, the history in which all that can be does occur, the history of all virtualities, so that everything shows itself and can show itself, so that nothing remains hidden. This is why history is the history of contraries, why it provokes their occurrence and requires that each blossom forth fully, that each unfold completely all of the potentialities that it implies, because it is important that all of these potentialities66 come to fulfillment and be displayed in full light. This is why the work of history is radical; it cannot tolerate anything within itself that is unfulfilled or obscure; it seizes the secret in each thing, uncovers it and in this assigns to it its end; it realizes all possibilities and destroys them in one and the same movement, and as a great purifying fire, it consumes everything along its path and leaves nothing standing. “History,” says Marx in the 1843-1844 Introduction to his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, “is thorough and passes through many stages while bearing an ancient form to its grave.”67 Inasmuch as it is the archaic German regime that is identified suddenly, on the contrary, with the historical present and with history itself, Marx, accordingly, writes in the same text: “Germany, which is renowned for its thoroughness…”68 Being thorough, in this context, is to make revolution not merely by overthrowing what is in the summary and brutal negation of a state of things but, rather, by the much more subtle interplay which allows a situation to develop, leads the contrary to its term and the contradiction to its greatest degree of tension, thereby exhausting the possible. “But,” Marx will again state in The Eighteenth Brumaire, “the revolution is thorough.”69 Indeed, in the revolution the process of exhausting possibilities, which strews them one after the other like empty carcasses along the road it follows, is accelerated.
In the first French revolution the rule of the Constitutionalists was followed by the rule of the Girondins, and the rule of the Girondins by the rule of the Jacobins. Each of these parties leaned on the more progressive party. As soon as it had brought the revolution to the point where it was unable to follow it any further, let alone advance ahead of it, it was pushed aside by the bolder ally standing behind it and sent to the guillotine. In this way the revolution moved in an ascending path. In the revolution of 1848 this relationship was reversed. The proletarian party appeared as the appendage of petty-bourgeois democracy. It was betrayed and abandoned by the latter on April 16, on May 15, and in the June days. The democratic party, for its part, leaned on the shoulders of the bourgeois-republican party. As soon as the bourgeois republicans thought they had found their feet, they shook off this burdensome comrade and relied in turn on the shoulders of the party of Order. The party of Order hunched its shoulders, allowed the bourgeois republicans to tumble off, and threw itself onto the shoulders of the armed forces. It believed it was still sitting on those shoulders when it noticed one fine morning that they had changed into bayonets. Every party kicked out behind at the party pressing it forward and leaned on the party in front, which was pressing backward. No wonder each party lost its balance in this ridiculous posture, and collapsed in the midst of curious capers, after having made the inevitable grimaces. In this way the revolution moved in a descending path.70
It is, in truth, the process of history itself which becomes more evident when it gathers itself together and accelerates in the revolutionary process. History in general is this radical movement which actualizes possibilities only in order better to exhaust them and to lead them, by way of their power, to their impotence and to their death.
Because it does nothing halfway and because it is thorough, because it forces each possibility to produce all the virtualities it holds within itself and to display them in the light of developed-being, history, which is the place of this exhibition and its essence, is also the place and the essence of truth. What is characteristic of truth is that it appears when its time has come, as Hegel states in the preface to T he Philosophy of Right. History, however, is this time of truth in which every particular being has to prove what it truly is. By unmasking each thing down to its innermost being, history evaluates it in terms of what it contains of actual positivity; history judges it. Weltgeschichte ist Weltgericht. In a talk he gave as part of the celebration of the London Chartist organization on April 14, 1856, Marx, alluding to the secret court of Saint-Vehme, which in the Middle Ages avenged the evil deeds committed by the powerful, marking a red cross on the houses of those to be punished, stated in conclusion: “Today the mysterious red cross marks all the houses in Europe. History itself renders justice and the proletariat will carry out the sentence.”71
How does history render justice? The truth of history is the objectification of being in which being arrives at itself in the actuality of its object-condition. The truth of history is the unfolding of the world. History is, precisely, the history of the world. History is a foreground bathed in light, the stage upon which that which cannot remain enveloped in the night of virtuality steps forward in order to account for itself and to be developed. History is a theater, the theater of the world. On the stage of this theater, possibilities, one by one, come to play their role; these are the figures in which the absolute appears, the successive forms in which it is realized. The characters of history, Hegel’s peoples or empires, Marx’s classes, even individuals insofar as they speak in the name of these peoples or these classes or of some great cause and thus incarnate them, have only a short time, the time to say what they have to say and to play their role. History reclaims them and collects them in the mausoleums it erects to their glory, unless it relegates them to its dungeons or its wastebins. Certain characters, it is true, do not want to leave the stage; others try to make a comeback; they then recite empty lines and go through the motions of a second death. History is also a history of ghosts; death the second time around is comedy.72 Marx was obsessed with the aesthetic categories of Hegelian romanticism, and it is from them that he takes the opening lines of the Eighteenth Brumaire: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all the great events and characters of world history occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”73
In truth, all the Hegelian categories, as if they too wanted to play their role a second time, little by little invade this “materialist” history, giving it an air of déjà vu. And it is not only words but concepts as well which, here and there, confer upon history a common structure, an identical way of being realized. This realization takes on, everywhere and in all cases, the form of dialectical opposition, of the titanic confrontation of contraries and of their fight to the death. Against the backdrop of this tragedy, in the perpetual play of birth and death, at the heart of this “bacchanalian revel, where not a member is sober,” the ridiculous heroes and their empty gesticulating appear for but a moment, as a crest of foam on a vast wave before it breaks and is no more. However, the obstacle and evil are the secret motor at the heart of this process. The opposition of antagonistic forces is a spiritual combat. The schema of redemptive negation can be recognized under the materialist gaugue of the dialectic; it continues to shine forth in these lines added onto Capital: “In history, just as in nature, putrefaction is the laboratory of life.”74
What indeed could be the relation between history which obeys the kenotic schema, which is nothing other than this very schema — history pursuing the slow construction of the contrary and suddenly collapsing in the liberating catastrophe — and real history, the history of individuals, of their needs, of their works, of the instruments with which they produce? In particular, how is it that the perfecting of these instruments, the innumerable inventions that in every instance appear under particular conditions with respect to particular problems, precise technical problems, how is it that the series of these specific modifications, where each calls for the other, where each is situated as a prolongation of another, how is it that this slow transformation of activities which are diverse and yet which always complement one another and coordinate with one another to some extent, in short, how is it that this whole positive development could signify sheer negativity and the growth of the negative, of evil as such, the formation of the “contrary,” in a word, an increasing alienation and, in this alienation and through it, in the sudden destruction of this contrary, the liberation, the blossoming forth of all the essential potentialities of life — how could this actualize in succession or rather at one and the same time, in the same instant, “the complete loss of man and the complete revival of man”? Let us ask once again, more precisely, by what miracle the historical present comes to offer itself as the first term in a process which German metaphysics elaborated at an earlier time in the philosophical act by which it thematically posed other problems? How can one hide the arbitrariness of the decision which ascribes to this particular present rather than to another the task of realizing the negative and first of all of identifying with it? Does not this identification of the present with a moment of the dialectical process presuppose the secret ontological homogeneity linking all of real history, to which the present belongs, to a process such as that which defines the structure of ideal objectivity, the ontological homogeneity of reality and of pure ideality as such? It is said that Marxist materialism wants precisely to transfer the dialectic from the spiritual sphere to that of reality. But is it not this transfer which is an aberration and which carries the absurdity of the μετάβασις to its extreme? And then just what could be meant by the opposition of “materialism” and idealism?
The dialectical conception of history implies, however, other presuppositions which, in the final analysis, concern the metaphysical problem of being, presuppositions which Marx’s thought, all at once discovering the anti-Hegelian intuition that has secretly animated it from the start, will now recognize and denounce.
1 “Compared with Hegel,” Marx will later say, “Feuerbach is extremely poor” (Marx to JB Schweitzer, London, January 24, 1865, in The Poverty of Philosophy, [New York: International Publishers], 1963, pg. 194).
2 Cf. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in Early Writings, pg. 347.
3 Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, pg. 2.
4 “Only by uniting man with nature can we conquer the supranaturalistic egoism of Christianity” (ibid., pg. 270).
5 “…sex is the cord which connects the individuality with the species” (ibid., pg. 170).
6 “Man and woman together are the existence of the race” (ibid., pg. 167).
7 “Hence the man who does not deny his manhood is conscious that he is only a part of being, which needs another part for the making up of the whole of true humanity” (ibid.).
8 Ibid., pg. 81.
10 Ibid., pg. 82.
12 Ibid., pgs. 82-83; our italics.
13 Ibid., pgs. 85-86; italics correspond to those of the French translation of Feuerbach.
14 Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, trans. JB Baillie (New York: Harper Colophon Books), 1967, pg. 81.
15 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, pgs. 385-386.
16 Ibid., pg. 386.
17 Ibid., pg. 328; our italics.
18 Ibid., pg. 329.
19 Cf. ibid.
20 Ibid., pgs. 328-329.
21 Ibid., pg. 329; Marx’s italics.
25 Ibid., pg. 349.
27 Marx, Engels, Historisch-Kritische Gesamtausgabe Werke (MEGA) (Berlin: Dietz Verlag), 1975, 1, 3, pg. 547.
28 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, pg. 352.
29 Ibid., note.
30 Ibid., pgs. 350-351.
31 Ibid., pg. 350; Marx’s italics.
32 Ibid., pgs. 349-350; Marx’s italics.
33 A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction, in Early Writings, p 244; D, I, pgs. 350-351.
34 On the Jewish Question, in Early Writings, pg. 216; D, I, pgs. 350-351.
35 A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, pgs. 244-245; D, I, pg. 379.
36 Ibid., pg. 251; D, I, pg. 385.
37 Ibid., pg. 252; D, I, pg. 386.
39 Ibid., pg. 251; D, I, pg. 386.
40 Ibid., pg. 246; D, I, pg. 381.
41 Cf. ibid., pgs. 253-255; D, I, pgs. 387-388.
42 Ibid., pg. 253; D, I, pg. 387.
43 Cf. ibid., pg. 254; D, I, pg. 388.
44 Ibid., pgs. 255-256; D, I, pg. 390.
45 Ibid., pg. 257; D, I, pg. 391; our italics.
46 Ibid., pg. 251; D, I, pg. 385.
47 Ibid., pg. 256; D, I, pg. 390.
48 Ibid., pg. 257; D, I, pg. 391.
49 This is notably the erroneous interpretation offered by Kojève in his Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (Paris: Gallimard), 1947, pg. 472, note; pgs. 483-485, note.
50 As we know, Cartesian physics was constituted in opposition to the Aristotelian conception of nature as a living power. If German dialectic, as its germ is found in alchemy, can claim an origin in ancient thought, one must look in the direction more of Aristotle than of Plato. But as regards the problem which occupies us here, alchemy cannot simply be reduced to a distant echo of Aristotelianism for the sole reason that alchemy establishes and conceives of a real and total transformation of things rather than the mere completion of their own essence.
51 We refer the reader who is interested in these problems to our work, The Essence of Manifestation (The Hague: Nijhoff), in particular §70.
52 “It is,” says Cottier, “from Luther’s translation of the letter to the Philippians that Hegel borrowed the term Entäußerung out of which he forged the substantive but which he also often uses in the form of the verb” (L’Athéisme du jeune Marx [Paris: Vrin], 1950, pg. 28).
53 On all of this, cf. Enrico de Negri, La teologia di Lutero, Rivelazione e Dialettica (Firenze: La Nuova Italia Editoria), 1967, pg. 315. We should also like to mention the German translation of this work: Offenbarung und Dialektik Luthers Realtheologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft), 1973, XV, pg. 229.
54 The exact sentence by which Engels’ book, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, is concluded is the following: “The German working-class movement is the inheritor of German classical philosophy” (London: Lawrence and Wishart), 1968, pg. 632.
55 Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France: 1848-1850, trans. Paul Jackson, in Surveys from Exile, ed. with an Introduction by David Fernbach (New York: Vintage Books), 1974, pg. 90.
56 On the question cf. G. Cottier, Du romantisme au Marxisme (Alsatia, 1961), pg. 40.
57 It is remarkable that the major example given by Schelling of this irony of God is precisely that of Christ on the cross.
58 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, trans. Ben Fowkes, in Fernbach, Surveys from Exile, pg. 237; our italics.
59 The Class Struggles in France, pg. 35.
60 Ibid., pg. 43; Marx’s italics. Here one finds another idea which belongs to this dialectic of opposites, namely that in the process which devours them, these opposites become less and less numerous, clumping together to form larger and larger, ever more compact masses, so that all of this finally ends in the gigantic confrontation of two opposites which confront one another alone, the bourgeoisie (or capitalism) and the proletariat.
61 The Communist Manifesto, pg. 75.
62 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pg. 189. Marx returned to this idea in The Communist Manifesto: “The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself” (p. 327). And once again: “The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education; in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie” (ibid., pg. 331).
63 Cf. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pgs. 181, 186.
64 Ibid., pg. 236.
65 W. Jankélévitch, L’Odyssée de la conscience dans la dernière philosophie de Schelling (Paris: Alcan), 1932, pg. 196.
66 In this way the existence of evil is justified not only because evil itself is presented as something possible which, as such, has to be fully realized, but also for the more profound reason that it is perhaps nothing other than this summons of the possible, this exigency to try and to do everything, nothing other than temptation. The vertigo experienced when we confront the possible also expresses the metaphysical law of being and of its deepest volition, and this under the appearance of evil and even if it is lived as sin.
67 The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, pg. 247; D, I, pg. 382.
68 Ibid., pg. 257; D, I, pg. 391.
69 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pg. 236.
70 Ibid., pg. 170.
71 In Riazanov, Karl Marx, homme, penseur et révolutionnaire, pg. 52.
72 Cf. Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, pgs. 247-248; D, I, pg. 382.
73 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pg. 146.
74 Œuvres, I (La Pléiade), pg. 995. It is interesting to note that this sentence does not appear in the German text and that Marx added it on to the French translation. In this final concession to rhetoric can be recognized the swan song of the dialectic. (Trans, note: The corresponding text in the English translation, Capital, 1, Part IV, Section 9, pg. 490, does not include this addition).