Library:Fundamental problems of marxism

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Marxism is an integral world-outlook. Expressed in a nutshell, it is contemporary materialism, at present the highest stage in the development of that view upon the world whose foundations were laid down in ancient Greece by Democritus, [1] and in part by the Ionian thinkers who preceded that philosopher. What was known as hylozoism was nothing but a naive materialism. It is to Karl Marx and his friend Frederick Engels that the main credit for the development of present-day materialism must no doubt go. The historical and economic aspects of this world-outlook, that is, what is known as historical materialism and the closely related sum of views on the tasks, method and categories of political economy, and on the economic development of society, especially capitalist society, are in their fundamentals almost entirely the work of Marx and Engels. That which was introduced into these fields by their precursors should be regarded merely as the preparatory work of amassing material, often copious and valuable, but not as yet systematized or illuminated by a single fundamental idea, and therefore not appraised or utilized in its real significance. What Marx and Engels’ followers in Europe and America have done in these fields is merely a more or less successful elaboration of specific problems, sometimes, it is true, of the utmost importance. That is why the term ‘Marxism’ is often used to signify only these two aspects of the present-day materialist world-outlook not only among the ‘general public’, who have not yet achieved a deep understanding of philosophical theories, but even among people, both in Russia and the entire civilized world, who consider themselves faithful followers of Marx and Engels. In such cases these two aspects are looked upon as something independent of ‘philosophical materialism’, and at times as something almost opposed to it. [2] And since these two aspects cannot but hang in mid-air when they are torn out of the general context of cognate views constituting their theoretical foundation, those who perform that tearing-out operation naturally feel an urge to ‘substantiate Marxism’ anew by joining it – again quite arbitrarily and most frequently under the influence of philosophical moods prevalent at the time among ideologists of the bourgeoisie – with some philosopher or another: with Kant, Mach, Avenarius or Ostwald, and of late with Joseph Dietzgen. [3] True, the philosophical views of J Dietzgen have arisen quite independently of bourgeois influences and are in considerable measure related to the philosophical views of Marx and Engels. The latter views, however, possess an incomparably more consistent and rich content, and for that reason alone cannot be supplemented by Dietzgen’s teachings but can only be popularized by them. No attempts have yet been made to ‘supplement Marx’ with Thomas Aquinas. It is however quite feasible that, despite the Pope’s recent encyclical against the Modernists, the Catholic world will at some time produce from its midst a thinker capable of performing this feat in the sphere of theory. [4]

I. Philosophical writings of Marx and Engels

The excuse ordinarily put forward for “supplementing” Marxism by one philosophy or another is that Marx and Engels never expounded their own philosophical views. This is not a very convincing reason, and even if the statement were well-founded, that would not be a justification for replacing the philosophical views of Marx and Engels by those of the first-comer, who in many respects regards matters from an entirely different angle. But the actual fact is that we have at our disposal data entirely sufficient to give us an accurate notion of Marx’s and Engels’ philosophical views.*

The definitive form assumed by these views was fully expounded, although in a somewhat polemical way, in the first part of Engel’s book, Herrn Eugen Duhrings Umwalzung der Wissenchaft (known for short as Anti-Dühring), of which several Russian translations exist. In the same author’s famous essay, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der \lassichen deutschen Philosophie (which I have myself translated into Russian, supplying a preface and explanatory notes), the ideas that form the philosophical basis of Marxism are set forth in a categorical manner. A short but brilliant account of the same views, as related to agnosticism, is given by Engels in his preface to the English translation of part of Anti-Duhring entitled Socialism Utopian and Scientific, As regards Marx, I may mention as of great importance to the understanding of the philosophical aspects of his teaching: first of all, his description of dialectical materialism as contrasted with Hegel’s dialectic idealism in the preface to the second edition of the first volume of Capital^ secondly, to various remarks made in the course of the same volume. Certain pages of Marx’s Misère de la philosophie are also of great importance in this connection.^ Finally, the general development of the philosophical ideas of Marx and Engels can be clearly deduced from a study of their early writings, which have recently been published by F. Mehring under the tide Aus dem literarischen Nachlass von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lassalle (Stuttgart, 1902).

In his doctorial dissertation, entitled Differenz der demokritischen und epifureischen Naturphilosophie, written when he was twenty-three years of age, Marx still discloses himself as an idealist of the Hegelian school; and the same remark applies to some of the articles reproduced by Mehring in the first volume of the Nachlass. But in the articles from the “Deutsch- Französische Jahrbücher” reproduced in the same volume, Marx has already adopted Feuerbach’s humanist standpoint. So, at this date, has Engels, who collaborates with Marx in the “Jahrbücher.” In the work entided Die heilige Familie, oder Kritik der hritischen Kritik, published in 1845, and re-issued in the second volume of the Nachlass, Marx and Engels have made some important strides in the development of Feuerbach’s philosophy. The direction in which they have been moving is shown by the eleven Theses on Feuerbach drafted by Marx in the spring of 1845 and published by Engels as an appendix to the before-mentioned essay on Ludwig Feuerbach. In a word, there is no lack of materials to throw light upon Marx’s and Engels’ philosophy, but those who want to use them must know how to do so, must be able to understand them. Now, present-day readers are not in a position to understand them, and, therefore, cannot make use of them.

Why is this? For various reasons. One of the chief reasons is that nowadays people are ill-informed : first, concerning the Hegelian philosophy, without a knowledge of which it is difficult to grasp Marx’s method; and, secondly, concerning the history of materialism, in default of a knowledge of which it is impossible to understand Feuerbach’s teachings clearly. Feuerbach, however, was in philosophy the immediate predecessor of Marx; and from Feuerbach was derived, in great measure, the philosophical foundation of Marx’s and Engels’ conception of the universe.

Generally speaking, Feuerbach’s “humanism” is portrayed as a very confused and vague doctrine. F. A. Lange, who has done so much to spread among the general public and the scientific world a completely erroneous idea of the essence of materialism and its history, refuses to regard Feuerbach’s humanism as a materialist doctrine. Lange’s example has been fob lowed by almost all subsequent writers on Feuerbach, whether in Russia or elsewhere. P. A. Berlin, who describes Feuerbach’s humanism as a sort of “bastard” materialism, has obviously been influenced by Lange. I must admit that I do not clearly understand what F. Mehring thinks about this question, although Mehring is the chief and perhaps the only expert in philosophy among the German social democrats. On the other hand, it is obvious that Marx and Engels regarded Feuerbach as a materialist. It is true that Engels drew attention to Feuerbach’s inconsistencies; but this did not prevent Engels from recognizing that the basic principles of Feuerbach’s philosophy were purely materialist. Nor could any one who has taken the trouble to make a careful study of Feuerbach’s teachings fail to hold that view.

II. Feuerbach and Marx

When I say this, I am aware that I am likely to surprise many of my readers. I shall not let that probability alarm me, for I agree with the ancient thinker who said that astonishment was the mother of philosophy. But to help my readers to overcome their astonishment and to advance a stage, I shall recommend them, above all, to ask themselves what it was that Feuerbach meant when, giving a short but characteristic sketch of his philosophical curriculum vitae, he wrote: “God was my first thought; reason, my second; and man, my third and last.” I contend that, beyond question, the problem is solved by three very significant utterances by Feuerbach. To begin with, he writes : “In the controversy between materialism and spiritualism, the affair turns . . . upon the human head. . . . As soon as we have ascertained the nature of the matter out of which the brain is made, we shall speedily attain clear views, likewise, as to all other kinds of matter, as to matter in general.” Elsewhere, he declares that his anthropology, that is to say his humanism, means only this, that man regards his own essence, his own mind, as God. He goes on to say that Descartes himself was not alien to such an anthropological outlook. What does all this mean? It means that Feuerbach took “man” as the starting point of his philosophical reasoning solely because he hoped, by setting out from man, to reach his goal sooner; and his goal was to give a sound idea of matter in general and of the relations between matter and “spirit.” Here, then, we have to do with a methodological procedure whose value was conditioned by the circumstances of time and place, that is to say by the methods of reasoning in vogue among the savants and the educated Germans, of that epoch; but its value did not in any way depend upon a particular conception of the universe.

The previously quoted words concerning the “human head” show that for Feuerbach, at the time when he wrote, the question as to the nature of the substance out of which the brain is made had been settled in a purely materialist sense. The same solution of the question had been adopted by Marx and Engels. It became the foundation of their own philosophy, as can be seen clearly in the before-mentioned works by Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Dühring, Let us proceed, therefore, to study this solution more closely, for in doing so we shall study the philosophical aspect of marxism.

In an article published in 1842, entitled Vorlaufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie (an article which, as we have seen, exercised a great deal of influence upon Marx), Feuerbach declared that : “the true relation between thought and being may be expressed as follows : being is the subject, and thought the predicate. Thought is conditioned by being, not being by thought. Being is conditioned by itself, has its basis in itself.”

Here we have a view of the relations between being and thought which was adopted by Marx and Engels and was by them made the foundation of their materialist conception of history. It was the most important outcome of the criticism of Hegelian idealism which, in its broad lines, had been made by Feuerbach himself. The general conclusions of that criticism can be summarised as follows: Feuerbach considered that the Hegelian philosophy had suppressed the contradiction between being and thought, a contradiction brought into striking relief by Kant. But, in Feuerbach’s opinion, it had only suppressed this contradiction by transferring the contradiction into the interior of one of the primary elements, namely thought. According to Hegel, thought is also being: “Thought is the subject; being is the predicate.” It follows that Hegel, and the idealists in general, only suppressed the contradiction by suppressing one of its constituent elements, by suppressing the being or the existence of matter, of nature. But the suppression of one of the constituent elements of the contradiction does not mean that the contradiction is solved. “Hegel’s doctrine that nature ‘is postulated’ by the idea, is nothing more than a translation into philosophical language of the theological doctrine according to which nature is created by God, material being by abstract or immaterial being.”t This does not apply only to the absolute idealism of Hegel. Kant’s transcendental idealism, according to which the outer world receives its laws from reason, instead of reason receiving its laws from the outer world, is closely akin to the theological conception according to which the divine reason dictates to the world the laws which regulate it.+ Idealism does not and cannot establish the unity of being and thought; on the con- trary, it ruptures that unity. The starting-point of the idealist philosophy (the ego as the basic philosophical principle) is utterly false. The starting-point of a true philosophy must not be the ego, but the ego and the tu, the “I” and the “you.” Only from this starting- point can we arrive at a sound understanding of the relations between thought and being, between subject and object. I am “I” for myself and simultaneously “you” for another person. I am at the same time subject and object. Furthermore, it is necessary to point out that “I” am not the abstract ego, the abstract being with which the idealist philosophy operates. I am a real being; my body is part of my essence; nay more, my body, considered as a whole, is my actual “self,” my true entity. What thinks is not the abstract being, but this real being, this body. Hence, in contradistinction to what the idealists contend, the real material being is the subject, and thought is the predicate. Herein we find the only possible solution of that contradiction between being and thought against which the waves of idealism beat in vain. This solution is not arrived at by suppressing one of the elements of the contradiction. Both elements are preserved and their true unity is made manifest. “That which for me, subjectively, is a purely spiritual, immaterial, non-sensible action, is in itself, objectively, a material, sensible action.”

The reader should note that Feuerbach, when he says this, is drawing near to the outlook of Spinoza, whose philosophy he already regarded with considerable sympathy at a time when he himself had scarcely begun to break away from idealism, at the time, that is to say, when he wrote his history of modern philosophy. In 1843, in his Grundsdtze, he remarked with much acuteness that pantheism is a theological materialism, is a negation of theology, but a negation which still professes a theological standpoint. Spinoza’s inconsistency is manifested by the way in which he mixes up materialism with theology; but, this inconsistency notwithstanding, Spinoza was able to give “a sound exposition, subject to the limitations of his day, of the materialist conceptions of the modern age.” Thus Feuerbach calls Spinoza “the Moses of the modern free-thinkers and materialists.”* In 1847, Feuerbach asks : “What does Spinoza mean when he speaks (logically or metaphysically) of substance and (theologically) of God?” To this question Feuerbach answers, categorically : “Nothing else but nature.” According to Feuerbach, the main fault of Spinozism is tliat “in this philosophy the sensible, anti-theological essence of nature assumes the aspect of an abstract metaphysical being.” Spinoza has suppressed the dualism of God and nature, for he regards natural phenomena as the actions of God. But, for the very reason that in his view natural phenomena are the actions of God, God becomes for him a kind of being distinct from nature and one on which nature rests. God is for him subject, and nature is predicate. Philosophy, now that it has at length definitely emancipated itself from theological traditions, must rid itself of this grave defect in the Spinozist doctrine, sound though that doctrine is at bottom. “Away with this contradiction!” exclaims Feuerbach. “Not Deus sive natura, but Aut Deus aut natura. That is where the truth lies.”t

Thus Feuerbach’s humanism is seen to be nothing else than Spinozism which has shed its theological lumber. This Spinozism, freed from its theological lumber by Feuerbach, was the philosophy which Marx and Engels adopted when they broke away from idealism.

But the freeing of Spinozism from its theological lumber implied the disclosure of the true materialist content of Spinoza’s philosophy. Consequently, the Spinozism of Marx and Engels is materialism in its most modern form.

Nor is this all. Thought is not the cause of being, but its consequence, or, to put the matter more precisely, its property or quality. Feuerbach said, “Folge und Eigenschaft” — its consequence and its property or quality. I feel and I think, not as a subject opposed to an object, but as a subject-object, as a real material being. And for me the object is, not only the thing which I perceive, but also the foundation, the indispensable prerequisite, of my perception. The outer world, the objective world, does not exist only outside me, but also within me, inside my own skin.'^ Man is only a part of nature, a part of being; that is why there can be no contradiction between his thought and his being. Space and time do not exist only as forms of thought. They are just as much forms of being. They arc forms of my contemplation. But they are this solely for the reason that I am myself a being that lives in time and space, and because I only perceive and feel in so far as I am such a being. Speaking generally, the laws of being are also the laws of thought. That was how Feuerbach put the matter.* Engels said the same thing, though in other words, in his polemic against Diihring.*’ It is already obvious how much of Feuerbach’s philosophy enters into the constitution of the philosophy of Marx and Engels.

If Marx began the elaboration of his materialist conception of history by a criticism of the Hegelian philosophy of right, he was only able to do so because Feuerbach had already completed his criticism of Hegel’s speculative philosophy.

Even when criticising Feuerbach in the before-mentioned theses, Marx often enough develops and amplifies Feuerbach’s ideas. Here is an instance from the domain of “gnosiology” (epistemology, the theory of cognition). According to Feuerbach, man, before thinking about the object, experiences its action on himself, contemplates it, feels it.

Marx has in view this idea of Feuerbach’s when he says : “The main defect of materialism, Feuerbach’s included, has hitherto been that it has only considered reality, the objective and sensible world, under the form of object, or under the form of contemplation, not as concrete human activity, not as a practical exercise, not subjectively.” It is this defect of materialism, says Marx, further, which explains why Feuerbach, in his book on the Essence of Christianity, regards only theoretical activity as genuinely human activity. In other words, Feuerbach emphasises the view that our ego cognises an object solely by exposing itself to the action of that object;* but Marx says that our ego cognises an object by reacting upon it. Marx’s view is absolutely sound. As Faust said: “In the beginning was the Deed.” No doubt, in defence of Feuerbach we may point out that, even in the process of our action upon objects, we only know their qualities in proportion as they, in their turn, act on us. In both cases, thought is preceded by sensation; in both cases, we begin by becoming aware of the qualities of objects, and not until after that do we think about them. Marx never denied this. For him, what was at issue was, not the undeniable fact that sensation precedes thought, but the fact that man is led to thought mainly by the sensations which he experiences in the course of his own action on the outer world. Since this action on the outer world is forced on him by the struggle for existence, the theory of cognition is, in Marx’s philosophical outlook, intimately connected with his materialist conception of history. It was with good reason that this same thinker who had formulated in opposition to Feuerbach the thesis we have just been discussing, wrote in the first volume of Capital : ‘'By acting on nature outside himself, and changing it, man changes his own nature.” The innermost significance of this utterance is only disclosed in the light of the theory of cognition formulated by Marx. We shall see by-and-by how admirably that theory is confirmed by the history of civilisation, and also by linguistic science. It must, however, be admitted that Marx’s theory of cognition is directly derived from Feuerbach’s. If you like, we can even say that, strictly speaking, it is Feuerbach’s theory, brilliantly rectified and given a profounder meaning by Marx.

Let me add, in passing, that this brilliant rectification was suggested by the spirit of the time. The inclination to contemplate the action and reaction between the object and the subject primarily from the point of view of the active part played by the subject, was the reflexion of the state of mind which animated society in the days when Marx and Engels were forming their outlook on the universe. The revolution of 1848 was close at hand.

III. Thinking and being in Feuerbach

IV. Emergence of historical materialism

V. The materialist dialectic as method

VI. Productive forces and geography

VII. Role of relations of production

VIII. Base and culture

IX. Interaction of base and superstructure

X. Man and necessity in history

XI. Economic base and ideology

XII. Against one-sidedness and schematism

XIII. Psychology of the epoch

XIV. Class struggle and ideas

XV. Necessity and freedom

XVI. Necessity and revolution