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Engels and the Dialectics of Nature

In many ways, the history of Marxist theory is the story of a retreat from Marx's original thinking. Marx himself had premised his understanding on the interaction of real individuals in society: the effective freedom of human agency was his starting point and final hope. Within capitalist societies, he foresaw a rational history unfolding, driven forward by the global development of industrial production and cooperative labor, and, most critically, the resulting conflict between proletarian and capitalist, sharpened and consciously executed along the lines of their divergent interests. Through his original thinking, Marx presented a method of empirical research, an analysis of political economy, and an interpretation of history and its immanent sense—an interpretation that only the political agency of the enlightened proletarians could make meaningful. According to this interpretation, communism appeared as the emancipation of the individual from conditions of alienated self-realization: in addition to abolishing the oppressive property and class relations of capitalism, the individuals within a communist society consummated a transformation in their everyday lives. Through the medium of self-conscious cooperation, society could be restored to the purposeful control of the individuals actually constituting it.

"Orthodox" Marxists after Marx came to ignore or revise many of these aspects of his thought. Confronted with a cautious labor movement, the parliamentary success of socialist parties, and, finally, the victory of revolutionary Marxists in a precapitalist society, the orthodox attempted to consolidate Marxism as a comprehensive world view, capable of dependably orienting action amid the eruption of unforeseen occurrences. In the process, the theory bequeathed by Marx tended to lose the quality of being a mere method and hypoth-


esis about the meaning of history, to become instead a schematic timetable of historical development. Distrusting the uncertainties of human agency, the orthodox justified their theory in terms of predictable natural processes and universally applicable dialectical laws of motion: using this fixed matrix of categories to map the invariant structures of history, they could master unanticipated events by reference to the norm of natural development. What in Marx had been an immanent interpretation, open in principle to modification, became for the orthodox a scientifically confirmed transcendental standard, essentially unaffected by irregular perturbations in the phenomenal world of human affairs. In this context, Marx's own hopes for individual emancipation, the enlightenment of interest, and the practical intervention of men in history were obscured and often altogether suppressed.

Engels and Marx

Ironically, it was Marx's devoted colleague and collaborator, Friedrich Engels, who laid the theoretical foundation for the subsequent rise of orthodox Marxism. A master of popular exposition, Engels's prestige was enhanced by his lifelong association with Marx; in the formative years of Marxian socialism, he played a central role in expounding its "official" theory.

The relation of Engels's theories to Marx's own is complex and ambiguous. By no means a faceless follower, Engels in fact introduced Marx to the study of political economy; he actively participated at many points in developing historical materialism and made original contributions in applying the theory to such fields as politics, anthropology, and military history. Yet his writings frequently seem at odds with Marx, even when they profess to defend the latter's own theory. Never a mechanical expositor, Engels subtly revised entire aspects of historical materialism in the process of popularizing it. His own modesty helped conceal the extent of his contribution to Marxism—a contribution that needs to be distinguished from Marx's own.

In many respects, to be fair, Engels admirably preserved the integrity of Marx's thought. After the latter's death, he consistently disputed any interpretation that portrayed Marxism as reducing all


social phenomena to economic causes. "According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. . . . Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase."[1] His intransigent opposition to economic reductionism allowed Engels on occasion to maintain intact Marx's insistence on the contributions of consciousness to history. "In the history of society . . . the actors are all endowed with consciousness, are men acting with deliberation or passion, working toward definite goals; nothing happens without a conscious purpose, without an intended aim."[2] The task of scientific socialism lay in educating the proletariat to a clear consciousness of the "conditions and nature" of the act "which it is its destiny to accomplish."[3]

Other basic aspects of his thought, however, moved in a direction antagonistic to an appreciation of man's role in history. In attempting to consolidate and codify Marx's theory of history, Engels imposed a systematic schematizing foreign to the former's own approach. Originally a method of historical inquiry, Marx's theory was christened by Engels "historical materialism," a comprehensive world view rivaling (and imitating) Hegel's system in its encyclopedic pretensions. This development was precipitated by a need to provide the burgeoning social democratic movement with a Weltanschauung that might supplant the prevalent bourgeois systems. In Anti-Dühring , Engels himself virtually admitted as much; impelled by an occasion to prevent further "sectarian division and confusion" from developing within the German socialist party, he had set out to present positively the materialist viewpoint on a wide range of subjects. The result, as against his ostensible intentions, was "modern materialism" systematically developed—yet another world view in the contemporary constellation.

The principle vehicle of this metamorphosis was Engels's expansion of materialism into an all-encompassing cosmology. Marxism was no longer to be confined to the historical domain of human action. Engels indeed claimed that modern materialism, this "simple world outlook," was validated "within the positive sciences." By allying Marxism with natural science, he hoped to lay the basis for a philosophy of nature that could verify and illustrate the dialectical laws which distinguished modern from archaic materialism. While


for Marx history, including nature as it appears for man, comprised the field of dialectical understanding, for Engels the laws of dialectic were laws of nature. Nature rather than history became the "test of dialectics."[4] "Dialectical thinking" was in turn relegated to a summation of the results attained by positive science.

Dialectics and Darwin

Engels reduced dialectics to three laws: the laws of the transformation of quantity into quality; the interpenetration of opposites; and the negation of the negation. He believed these were uniformly applicable to the human and natural worlds. The impetus for this inflation of Marx's naturalism lay in the implicit belief of Engels that if dialectical laws could be verified in nature, then the validity of such laws in history would, as a consequence, have also to be admitted; the truth of dialectics in nature entailed the truth of Marx's concept of history.

Engels's doctrine apotheosized motion. Since "motion is the mode of existence of matter," only dialectics, which was "nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought," could fully elucidate matter in its various manifestations.[5] By framing laws of motion, dialectical thought progressively amassed an exact representation of the world. "The dialectics of the brain is only the reflection of the forms of motion of the real world, both of nature and of history."[6]

Marx himself had seen no need for such an external foundation to historical materialism, whether in nature or in general laws of history. In Engels's case, this generalized underpinning of materialism resulted in statements so broad as to be virtually meaningless. For example, he effusively praised dialectics for revealing "the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and passing away. . . . And dialectical philosophy is nothing more than the reflection of this process in the thinking brain."[7] Dialectics for Engels came to approximate a cosmic theory of evolution, accounting for the whole of natural and human history. In a speech at his comrade's graveside, he praised Marx's discovery of the "law of development" governing human history, an achievement on a par


with Darwin's discovery of the law of development governing natural history.[8]

Indeed, thanks to the example of Engels, orthodox Marxism was eventually based on an evolutionary version of positivism, stressing the primacy of objective laws of development, and dismissing subjective factors as epiphenomenal. Marx had wanted to dedicate Capital to Darwin, and Engels, following this lead, eagerly sought to incorporate the latest findings of anthropology into Marxism. On more than one occasion, he compared the findings of Darwin in biology and Morgan in anthropology to those of Marx in political economy and history.[9] The attractions of a neo-Darwinian evolutionary positivism were manifold. Evolutionary positivism promised nothing less than an empiricial explanation of chance and irrationality in the social world. As Engels once remarked, Darwin's discoveries spelled the collapse of metaphysical necessity. Yet Darwin's notion of evolution reinstated a qualitatively higher notion of necessity, incorporating chance. The laws of adaptation and heredity became guiding threads in an evolutionary development eventually issuing in a rational human order.[10] In short, evolutionary positivism could be interpreted as accommodating irrational digressions while guaranteeing rational progress, all without recourse to the subjective presuppositions of Enlightenment rationalism.

The evolutionary thesis thus conveniently accounted for the empirical diversity of man, the influence of accident, and the existence of unreason, at the same time as it preserved values and upheld a teleological end of history. Evolutionary positivism avoided the pitfalls of relativism while affording the prestige of ironclad natural laws. For Engels, it rescued Hegelian dialectic from mystification and delivered it over to natural scientific treatment: "The old teleology has gone to the devil, but the certainty now stands firm that matter in its eternal cycle moves according to laws which at a definite stage—now here, now there—necessarily give rise to the thinking mind in organic beings."[11]

For Engels, precise knowledge resided in a perfect reflection of this world of evolving matter in motion. The "materialist conception of nature" comprised "nothing other than the simple concept of nature, just as it presents itself to us, without any foreign admixture [ohne fremde Zutat ]."[12] Engels founded the possibility of such a perfectly reflective concept of nature in the very notion of evolutionary


materialism. Such a materialism portrayed the universe in its totality as composed of ascending levels of organized matter. "The motion of matter is not merely crude mechanical motion, mere change of place, it is heat and light, electric and magnetic stress, chemical combination and dissociation, life and, finally, consciousness."[13] The dialectical laws framed by consciousness could then appear simply as the emergent reflection of the dialectics objectively present in all matter, from the simplest to the most complex, including consciousness itself. Properly grasped, mind was matter conscious of itself.

Subjectivity and Nature

Engels's desire to ground his materialism in an autonomous dialectic of nature led him beyond Marx. To be sure, Marx, like Engels, had looked forward to a single science of man and nature. But in Marx's synthesis, nature was presented anthropologically: "The social reality of nature and human natural science, or the natural science of man are identical terms."[14] Marx consequently viewed history as the preeminent science: "We know only a single science, the science of history."[15] This divergence between Marx and Engels had implications for other aspects of Marxian theory. Indeed, the doctrine of Naturdialektik contradicted not only Marx, but on occasion his own presentation of historical materialism.

In arguing against economic reductionism, Engels had carefully preserved a margin of creativity for conscious agency. Yet the reflective theory of consciousness growing out of his work on the dialectics of nature could only with difficulty sustain an account of individuality that did not render it vacuous and wholly dependent on external circumstance. If consciousness merely reflected the objective world, subjectivity itself could hardly lay claim to any independent contribution to that world. Consistently extended, Engels's Naturdialektik suggested that man was always determined, and never determining. His recourse to a dialectics of nature thus helped weaken a significant aspect of Marx's original notion of historical materialism.

Engels was aware of this contradiction. Indeed, his late essay of 1886 on Feuerbach in effect attempted a reconciliation of creative human agency with evolutionary materialism. He avoided an immediate reductionism: "All the driving forces of the actions of any indi-


vidual person must pass through his brain and transform themselves into motives of his will in order to set him into action." Yet Engels proceeded to argue that the mind functioned as a "conveyor belt" of "driving forces," mediating the objective world and subjective will. As such, the mind had only a formal significance; its content, as opposed to its form, was determined by and derived from the objective world of matter.[16] Mind, as the highest form of matter, thus constituted an irreducible moment of the historical dialectic—but its contribution was purely formal.

Unfortunately, this synthesis, for all its ingenuity, narrowed the scope Marx had granted to human agency in transforming the contents of the material world. Marx had described how the individual could conceptualize an object, and then proceed to materialize that object, a totality of form and content, through labor. But Engels's conveyor belt metaphor undermined this teleological account, which Marx had used to stress the interpenetration of form and content, and to show the possibility of objectifying ideas in reality.

Engels's position indeed raised doubts about some of his own statements elsewhere. As he wrote in Dialectics of Nature , "Man is the sole animal capable of working his way out of the merely animal state—his normal state is the one appropriate to his consciousness, one to be created by himself."[17] Yet even in his appreciation of human practice, Engels tended to depart from Marx's position. For Marx, labor offered testimony to man's constitutive powers of objectification; the triumph of industry gave evidence of man's human faculties. Marx also used his concept of practice to attack that passive view which portrayed truth merely as a product of verified sense experience; he charged that this view ignored the historical constitution of the objective world by active subjects, and forgot that the very objects of sense-certainty were themselves usually the products of previous acts of individuals.[18] Engels, by contrast, presented practice primarily as an "infallible test" for the correctness of sense perception. In fact he employed the concept of practice in defense of the very contemplative understanding of truth that Marx had attacked: "So long as we take care to use our senses properly, and to keep our action within the limits prescribed by perceptions properly made and properly used, so long we shall find that the result of our action proves the conformity of our perceptions with the objective nature of the things perceived."[19]

This realignment of Marx's original appreciation of practice


helped attenuate Engels's understanding of the possible creativity of human beings in history. Where for Marx labor was "self-realization and objectification of the subject, therefore real freedom," for Engels labor became "the proof of necessity."[20] On this basis, Engels proffered his refutation of Kant's thing-in-itself. by "practice, namely experiment and industry."[21] Indeed, it may not be purely coincidental that where Engels derived his three laws of dialectics from Hegel's "Objective Logic," Marx modeled his analysis of labor on the treatment of causality and teleology in Hegel's "Subjective Logic." The paradigm of dialectics for Engels was no longer really human practice at all: rather, nature and its inevitable motion provided the new model for Marxian science.

Communism, Class Struggle, and Science

Engels did not confine his reinterpretation of Marxism to epistemology and science; he also altered the significance attached to socialism. Marx had portrayed communism as liberating individuals from alienating conditions of self-objectification: on the basis of an equitable satisfaction of wants, a communist society would permit individuals to freely develop their expressive capacities. Engels, by contrast, often presented socialism simply as a kind of efficient technical solution to problems of social engineering: "The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things." The conscious recognition of the social character of production Engels principally saw as a means of averting "disorder and periodic collapse."[22] Socialism then became primarily a promise of hitherto unattainable progress. "Only conscious organization of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect. . . . Historical evolution makes such an organization daily more indispensable. . . . From it will date a new epoch of history, in which mankind itself, and with mankind all branches of its activity, and especially natural science, will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade."[23]

An impoverished concept of freedom accompanied this narrowed vision of communism. According to Engels, "Freedom . . . consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature which is founded


on knowledge of natural necessity."[24] Marx by contrast held that this sort of freedom "in harmony with the established laws of nature" always remained confined within the "realm of necessity"; the "true realm of freedom," while it had as its basis the comprehension and control of natural necessity, existed beyond it, in the unfettered "development of human potentiality for its own sake."[25]

Engels's interpretation of communism affected his practical program for attaining it, as did his theory of consciousness. Occasionally, for example, he presented the class struggle as a datum wholly external to individual consciousness. "Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this actual conflict, its ideal reflection in the minds first of the class which is directly suffering under it—the working class."[26] Such a conception devalued class consciousness and enlightened interest as constitutive factors of class conflict. Engels insisted that the path to socialism was simply "discovered by means of the mind in the existing material facts of production."[27] These "facts" of production in turn threatened to become reified, self-activating categories in the hands of Engels; he even went so far as to speak of a mode of production "rising in rebellion" against a form of exchange—as if modes and forms were the real actors in history. History thus appeared self-contained and independent of creative human intervention: "This conflict between productive forces and modes of production is not a conflict engendered in the mind of man . . . it exists, in fact, objectively, outside us, independently of the will and actions, even of the men who have brought it on."[28]

Such comments supported his conception of historical materialism as an objectified schema that, when applied to the appropriate empirical data, automatically dictated correct tactics. "To me the historical theory of Marx is the fundamental condition of all reasoned and consistent revolutionary tactics; to discover these tactics one has only to apply the theory to the economic and political conditions of the country in question."[29] If modern socialism was merely the accurate reflection in thought of the "real" historical movement, then the collaboration of modern science with socialism might yield a rigorously valid description of history and the laws of development governing it. Together, modern science and socialism verified the laws of dialectic and thus rendered the insights of Marx into the process and stages of historical development self-evident as to their truth. "The more ruthlessly and disinterestedly science proceeds,


the more it finds itself in harmony with the interests and aspirations of the workers."[30] With Engels, socialism extended its welcome to the natural scientist as a revolutionary co-worker who would disclose a necessity that, once understood, irrevocably delineated the action of the (essentially passive) proletariat.

Nevertheless, more often than not, Engels in his comments on the actual socialist movement remained close to Marx's own positions. In fact, his thought can be seen throughout as pulling in two different directions simultaneously. On the one hand, Engels sought to secure, consolidate, and codify the theoretical advances inaugurated by Marx in the study of society; at this level, he tried to defend Marx's insights, including the latter's insistence on the importance of class struggle and the irreducibility of subjective factors in the historical process. On the other hand, he attempted to reformulate historical materialism as a sub-discipline within a more inclusive science of dialectics, embracing a dialectics of nature as its ultimate justification; at this level, his own reflex theory of consciousness implied a devaluation of subjectivity, and thus a revision of Marx's original thinking, with far-reaching implications.

Since Engels's commitment to an active pursuit of the class struggle was accompanied by his endorsement of an evolutionary science of historical materialism, his interpretation of Marx proved highly problematic: he raised the ambiguity of Marx's original theory to the level of outright contradiction. Nevertheless, to the extent that proletarians failed to press for a militant and class-conscious politics, the "scientific" side of Engels's outlook, with its promise of a progressive movement of history guaranteed by natural laws, proved an attractive—and authoritative—interpretation of Marx's position. The temptation to extend the dialectical cosmology of Engels into a purely objective (and thus implicitly reductionist) theory claiming the inevitability of socialism became virtually irresistable. Here as elsewhere, Engels, not Marx, pointed the way for orthodox Marxism.


The Rise of Orthodox Marxism

Orthodox Marxism attempted to consolidate "dialectical materialism" as an objective science. While the leading theorists of the Second International focused on such inherent economic contradictions of capitalism as the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, the major party philosophers, including Plekhanov and Labriola, developed Marxism in the direction of a globally explanatory world view. In the process, orthodoxy further sheared Marxism of its subjective components. As socialism became construed simply as an efficient reorganization of the economy harnessed to representative political institutions, problems of individual emancipation also faded from view. Finally, the success of the Russian Revolution established one variant of orthodox Marxism as an institutional dogma; Lenin inherited the objectivistic tradition from Plekhanov and elaborated it in new areas. Within the Soviet Union as well as without, orthodox Marxism assumed a quotidian political relevance.

Plekhanov and Labriola:
The Autonomy of History and the Passivity of Practice

G. V. Plekhanov and Antonio Labriola were almost alone among prominent Marxists in studying the "philosophy" of Marxism during the heyday of the Second International, between 1890 and 1914. Of the two, Plekhanov had the most influence ultimately, thanks to his role as the founder of Soviet Marxism.

Like Engels, Plekhanov presented Marxism as an integrated world view, encompassing a philosophy of nature as well as of history. He also insisted on its philosophical component, and sought to integrate the social theory of historical materialism within a more


comprehensive philosophical materialism. He called this comprehensive philosophy "dialectical materialism." According to Plekhanov, a proper understanding of dialectics made Marxism "competent to solve the problem of the rational cause of all that exists."[1] Plekhanov based his understanding of materialism primarily on Engels and on Feuerbach's materialist "correction" of Hegel. Although his own writings concentrated on theoretical problems of history and society, Plekhanov followed Engels in grounding the universal validity of dialectical thought in laws of nature; Engels, he wrote, had "found that the laws of dialectical thinking are confirmed by the dialectical properties of being."[2] Plekhanov also reiterated Engels's view that consciousness merely comprised the highest emergent form of matter, even if it could never be reduced to simple matter. Modern materialism "tries to explain psychic phenomena by these or those qualities of matter , by this or that organization of the human, or, in more general terms, of the animal body . "[3] Yet despite his doctrinal adhesion to a "dialectics of nature," Plekhanov placed the primary foundation of materialism in epistemology.

Here as elsewhere, Plekhanov largely relied on Feuerbach's example. He believed that Marx's thesis on Feuerbach showed that "man is induced to think chiefly by the sensations he experiences in the process of his acting upon the outer world."[4] Ignoring the fact that Marx had praised idealism for grasping the importance of intentional action and criticized Feuerbach for missing it, Plekhanov interpreted Marx's theses as a "masterly correction" rather than a fundamental critique. He even argued that Marxism could incorporate the essentials of Feuerbach's epistemology as its own. Such a materialist epistemology would take as its guiding theme the determination of consciousness by being.

At the level of social theory, Plekhanov, like Engels, spurned any form of economic reductionism; he granted the self-consciousness of the proletariat a central role in the struggle against capitalism. Both Plekhanov and Labriola advocated a kind of Marxian social psychology to support the Marxist theory of ideology; both also insisted on the interaction of intellectual and material factors. Labriola was particularly emphatic in stressing the importance of consciousness within history. "There is no fact of history which is not preceded, accompanied and followed by determined forms of consciousness,


whether it be superstitious or experimental, ingenuous or reflective, impulsive or self-controlled, fantastic or reasoning."[5]

But the attack by orthodoxy on reductionism was blunted by its insertion within an essentially mechanistic model of society. Plekhanov, for example, wanted the prestige of hard science behind modern materialism: "Modern dialectical materialism cannot discover the mechanical explanation of history. This is, if you like, its weakness ."[6] In Plekhanov's schema, the mode of production characterizing a society determined the structure of its economic relations, which in turn determined the psychology and consciousness of the individual men who interacted within society. Despite claims of reciprocal influence, Plekhanov argued that "the psychology of society is always expedient in relation to its economy, always corresonds to it, is always determined by it."[7] In this context, such dialectical laws as the "leap" from quantity into quality only served to render more ironclad what already had been presented as a closed mechanical system.

The orthodox version of historical materialism resulted in the elevation of history into an autonomous process, independent of human intervention. Claiming that progress in history was caused in a fashion wholly external to men and their intentional acts, Plekhanov asserted that Marx "regarded man's nature itself as the eternally changing result of historical progress, the cause of which lies outside man."[8] Despite his distinctive emphasis on the role of human insight, Labriola struck a similar theme: "Our aims are rational . . . because they are derived from the objective study of things, that is to say, from the explanation of their process, which is not, and which cannot be, a result of our will, but which on the contrary triumphs over our will and subdues it."[9]

Where Marx and Engels had portrayed history as the result of the collective activity of real individuals, the orthodox Marxists depicted an automatic history which implied the passivity of individuals. As Labriola saw it, the question after the rise of scientific socialism was simply "to recognize or not to recognize in the course of human events the necessity which stands over and above our sympathy and our subjective assent."[10] He felt that what predominated in Marx's practical precepts "was a discipline which had its source in the experience of necessity and in the precise doctrine which must proceed from the reflex consciousness of this necessity."[11] This conception of


practice delineated freedom as submission to necessity. Plekhanov, in attempting to find a positive role for the individual within Marxism, suggested another outcome: the glorification of the scientific thinker who adequately reflects necessity. "As human reason can triumph over blind necessity only by becoming aware of the latter's peculiar inner laws, only by beating it with its own strength, the development of knowledge, the development of human consciousness, is the greatest and most noble task of the thinking personality," a "completely and exceptionally idealistic " task.[12]

The passive tendency of orthodox Marxism resulted in a practical passivity, most clearly visible in the work of Karl Kautsky. Kautsky agreed with Plekhanov that "modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge." But the average workingman could obviously make no claim to such "profound scientific knowledge"; therefore, "the vehicles of science are not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia ." It followed that "socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without, and not something that arose within it spontaneously."[13] A passive epistemology here led to the very division of society "into two parts, one of which is superior to society" that Marx had warned against in his 1845 critique of the contemplative bias in traditional materialism.[14] Such contemplative materialism tended to foster a gradualist strategy. Despite his reiterated invocations of revolution and its imminence, Kautsky once confessed that "it is no part of our work to instigate a revolution or to prepare the way for it."[15] Since the socialist revolution was inevitable in any case, practice should focus on moral persuasion and legal reform, rather than direct action.

Revisionism, Orthodoxy, and the Communist Project

Orthodox Marxism conflated the ideal goal of communism with the given movement of empirical history, which scientific socialism presumably reflected. The passivity at the core of orthodox Marxism spelled the elimination of purposeful agency from social theory. By ignoring the teleology inherent in the labor process as Marx described it, and by devaluing the importance of enlightened interest


in the class struggle, orthodoxy lost Marx's basis for explaining the teleology immanent to the struggle for communism. Within orthodoxy, the goal of social emancipation rested entirely on the autonomous movement of history, which followed its own laws of development. Plekhanov therefore could not theoretically justify his own remark that "Marx and Engels had an ideal . . . the subordination of necessity to freedom "— especially when he added, quite properly, that "proceeding from this ideal [N.B.], they directed their practical activity accordingly."[16]

Both revisionist and orthodox Marxists fundamentally agreed that Marxism was an empirical science with no normative ethical claims as science . In this regard, the Marxism of the Second International reestablished the chasm between "is" and "ought" which Marx had attempted to bridge. As Rudolf Hilferding put it in his preface to Finance Capital , "Along with the theory, the politics of Marxism are also free of 'value judgements.' . . . To recognize the validity of Marxism (which implies the recognition of the necessity of socialism) does not at all mean to formulate evaluations or to indicate a line of practical conduct, since it is one thing to recognize a necessity and another to place oneself at the service of the necessity."

Since history according to the orthodox interpretation omitted the purposive intervention of men, any dispute over the actual tendencies of history threatened the socialist project itself. When Eduard Bernstein raised doubts about the empirical necessity of a socialist revolution, he was quickly attacked as a dangerous heretic imperiling the integrity of the Marxist theory. Almost inevitably, his critique of historical tendencies also forced the valuative role of subjectivity to the fore of the debate as well.

Unfortunately, Bernstein only inadequately grappled with the philosophical issues at stake. His alignment of revisionism with the contemporaneously influential neo-Kantian movement in philosophy sanctioned a duality of "is" and "ought," by approaching the goal of communism purely as an ethical issue. The theoretical correlate of an objective social situation where the revolutionary movement seemed quiescent appeared to be a purely subjective moral voluntarism. While Marx had felt that creative human practice unified "is" and "ought," objective causality and subjective teleology, orthodox Marxism banished subjective teleology in favor of a purely objective and necessary history, while revisionist Marxism reinstated


teleology on a transcendent moral plane. The impoverished objectivism of orthodoxy produced its obverse in a normative philosophy of ethical socialism.

The most alert orthodox theorists nevertheless recognized the genuine challenge posed by a revisionist ethics, which could present itself, with some justification, as the inevitable complement of the "value-free" Marxist science endorsed by Hilferding. The most subtle attempt to disarm revisionism of its potency in this area was arguably Max Adler's. In response to revisionist objections, he attempted to reintroduce subjective teleology into orthodox Marxism. In Adler's sophisticated scheme, teleology appeared on the immediate level of human reality and practice; from the standpoint of the social actor, teleology was an ineliminable "form of experience." But from the standpoint of the social scientist , Adler argued, the influx of individual projects into the social world had to be grasped within a strictly causal nexus; causality was the scientist's ineliminable "form of experience." "The positions of ends . . . now appears as the form of experience through which causality generally unfolds in the particular realm of being that is characterized as social being by its species consciousness . Thus the world as deed, human life and action, is grasped in all its powerful vividness without being either degraded to an appearance of free will or cancelled in an illusion of self consciousness; it can only be grasped as the other side of causal necessity, that, with its side of [empirical] occurrence, belongs to theoretical observation at the same time as , with its side of volition, it belongs to immediate experience. . . . The fundamental problem of social theory is [in this fashion] resolved. . . . The relation of personal freedom to social necessity."[17]

Adler's contribution had the advantage of securing a place for creative subjectivity and its practical projects within Marxism, even though his fusion of Kant and Marx left teleology and causality on separate planes of reality. However, Adler remained a lonely figure on the fringes of orthodoxy. Moreover, the convolutions of his position could have been avoided simply by restoring Marx's original comprehension of labor and its unity of teleology and causality.

Lenin as Philosopher:
Reflecting Necessity

The philosophical contributions of Lenin to these debates would not


merit attention, apart from the canonic status his works have since been accorded by communist parties throughout the world. Yet Lenin's writings have assumed an inestimable importance in the development of Marxism as an official dogma. His particular variant of orthodox Marxism has (unfortunately) dominated later Marxist discussions.

Following his teacher Plekhanov, Lenin founded philosophical materialism epistemologically. Man's objective knowledge of the real world was based on sensations, which truly reflected material objects. "For every scientist who has not been led astray by professional philosophy, as well as for every materialist, sensation is indeed the direct connection between consciousness and the external world; it is the transformation of the energy of external excitation into a state of consciousness."[18] Lenin, like Plekhanov, valued practice for the verification it offered of sense-data. He argued that Marx's concept of practice presented "the materialist theory, the theory of the reflection of objects by our mind, with absolute clarity: things exist outside us. Our perception and ideas are their images. Verification of these images, differentiation between true and false images, is given by practice."[19]

However, Lenin soon distinguished himself from Plekhanov by his shrill introduction of party polemics into philosophical discussions. His diatribes against idealism were animated by a conviction that idealism was reactionary, rather than a simply incorrect theory—political reactionaries espoused idealism; therefore it was false. Lenin often seemed most obsessed with the religious delusions idealism allegedly fostered. He categorically denounced religion in a critical approach wholly divergent from Marx's. Marx had remarked that "the religious reflex of the real world can . . . only . . . finally vanish, when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and nature."[20] Lenin however busied himself with detecting dangerous religious ideas within secular philosophy. He valued epistemological materialism as proof positive against any form of transcendentalism that might give comfort to religion. "Once you deny objective reality, given us in sensation, you have already lost every one of your weapons against fideism, for you have slipped into agnosticism or subjectivism—and that is all fideism wants."[21] Here as elsewhere, Lenin conflated metaphysical, epistemological, theological, and political questions.


In Materialism and Empirio-Criticism , Lenin painted a picture of the progressive attainment of empirical truth. He assumed that absolute truth was gradually approximated through the accumulating total of relative truths, each of which reflected accurately an independently existing object. The contribution of dialectics lay in its presentation of the "doctrine of development in its fullest, deepest and most comprehensive form, the doctrine of the relativity of the human knowledge that provides us with a reflection of eternally developing matter."[22] For Lenin, "knowledge can be useful biologically, useful in human practice, useful for the preservation of life, for the preservation of the species, only when it reflects an objective truth independent of man."[23]

Lenin did not limit his passive conception of knowledge to the sphere of inanimate objects. The social realm also appeared as an entity entirely divorced from the individual's consciousness of it. Where Marx himself had described conscious and practical individuals, capable of transforming social relations as well as nature through their power of purposeful agency, Lenin insisted that "social being is independent of the social consciousness of man . . . . The highest task of humanity is to comprehend the objective logic of economic evolution (the evolution of social life) in its generalized fundamental features, so that it may be possible to adapt to it one's social consciousness and the consciousness of the advanced classes of all capitalist countries in as definite, clear and critical a fashion as possible."[24] This orthodox Marxian theme of submission to necessity recurred throughout Lenin's work.

Some of Lenin's writings on organizational and strategic matters seemed nonetheless to contradict the passive implications of the epistemology elaborated in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism . In his dispute with the Russian economists, Lenin insisted on the irreducible importance of politics, ideology, and class consciousness to the development of a revolutionary movement; he presented such "subjective" conditions of revolution as "inseparably bound up with the objective condition" of a developed economic structure.[25] After the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Lenin similarly insisted on the importance of a "cultural revolution" to complement the political and social one; without such a cultural upheaval, there could be no question of achieving socialism.[26]

Lenin indeed took an activist, almost voluntarist, position as to


the role of the Bolshevik Party in organizing the proletariat as a political force. He was hardly content to let events simply take their course, and here he departed sharply from orthodox social democracy. "To say that ideologists (i.e., politically conscious leaders) cannot divert the movement from the path determined by the interaction of environment and elements is to ignore the simple truth that the conscious element participates in this interaction, and in the determination of the path. . . . They fail to understand that the 'ideologist' is worthy of the name only when he precedes the spontaneous evolution with conscious, evolutionary action."[27] Or, as Lenin asked rhetorically in What Is to Be Done ?, "What else is the function of Social Democracy if not to be a 'spirit' . . . raising the movement to the level of its program?"[28]

But what was the substance of the party's spiritual leadership? In what sense did the communist ideologue precede the spontaneous historical movement and "point out the road"? Lenin's discussion of "trade union consciousness" and his invocation of Kautsky make it clear that for him, as for Kautsky, what was at stake was the inability of the workers' movement to achieve science spontaneously. Social democracy had to assume the role of a spirit, because the workers themselves would remain an incoherent mass without the guiding light afforded by socialist intellectuals: "Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without , that is, only outside of the economic struggle, outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers."[29]

Ironically, Lenin's activist program, rather than wholly contradicting his epistemology, indirectly accorded with it. While Lenin used Kautsky's model of scientific consciousness injected into the class struggle from without for distinctly activist ends, both Lenin and Kautsky treated the proletariat as an inert object which in the first instance lacked any notion of the role cast for it by history, as comprehended by a purely objective socialist science. To paraphrase Lenin, the highest task of the proletariat was to comprehend the objective logic of economic evolution so that it might adapt to it. The vanguard would facilitate this adaptation.

Lenin thus dissolved the unity originally postulated by Marx between a spontaneous socio-historical development and the enlightenment of proletarian interests. The proletariat became a pure object, not only of history, but also of the Communist Party, which


claimed a monopoly on adequate consciousness. If in fact the party leaders were the only persons with a handle on the truth, then "amidst the gloom of autocracy," Lenin felt justified in dismissing "'broad democracy' in party organization" as "nothing more than a useless and harmful toy ."[30]

To be sure, the initiating role a critical consciousness assumed within the vanguard party indicated that, at least for one sector of society, social being was not independent of social consciousness. In this respect, Lenin's posthumously published Philosophical Notebooks , with their clear recognition of the centrality of practice to Hegel's (and Marx's) thought, offered a more consistent underpinning for his theory of practice than Materialism and Empirio-Criticism . Although the notebooks in general did not budge from Lenin's reflection theory of knowledge ("Life gives rise to the brain. Nature is reflected in the human brain."), Hegel's remarks on causality and teleology led Lenin to remark that "man's consciousness not only reflects the objective world, but creates it."[31] While cognition remained for Lenin the "eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object," this reflective relation to nature did "not immediately, not simply" coincide with its object.[32] Such epistemological refinements merely rendered Lenin's schema of history more consistent, however; even the activist side of his theory consigned the great majority, including the working class, to a reified passivity and objectivity, which the enlightened communist vanguard investigated and acted upon.

Despite his commitment to a revolutionary strategy, in short, Lenin in his philosophical writings realized the apotheosis of objectivistic Marxism. To his passive epistemology and contempt for democracy corresponded an unannounced eclipse of individual emancipation as a central goal of communism. As Lenin's quip after the revolution that "communism equals soviets plus electrification" implied, communism in Russia came to mean a technical reorganization and modernization of society, rather than a basic transformation abolishing the domination of man by man and of things over men. It was a development presaged by earlier orthodox Marxists. Kautsky's widely read explanation of the Erfurt Program, written in 1892, for example, contained no explicit reference to individual emancipation as a goal in its chapter on "The Commonwealth of the Future." Kautsky instead dwelled on the economic


reorganization of society that would enable the "socialist commonwealth" to "outshine in moral greatness and material wellbeing the most glorious society [Greece] that history has thus far known."[33] Here as elsewhere, Lenin summarized theoretically the movement of orthodox Marxism. Thanks to his unwavering practical commitment, he also established it in power.

Orthodoxy and the Liquidation of Subjectivity

Lenin, Kautsky, and Plekhanov all shared a devotion to a materialist world view that specified general dialectical laws of human history, developing out of, and verified by, general dialectical laws of nature. History and nature together comprised an evolutionary system issuing ultimately in communism, that social order incarnating man's rational mastery of natural necessity through its recognition. For orthodox Marxism, the attainment of this benign state increasingly was posed as a technical problem of economic reorganization and social planning. The early successes of socialist revolutions in underdeveloped countries such as Russia and China naturally reinforced such technical tendencies: when it is a matter of preventing starvation and death, the quest for the whole man tends to become a marginal concern.

Long before Stalin's dictatorship over the proletariat, the individual had vanished from orthodox Marxist theory. The leading Marxist philosophers of the Second International had each consolidated the objectivistic implications of Engels's dialectic of nature. As Louis Althusser has pointed out, the thesis of a dialectics of nature "has the polemical meaning that history is a process without a subject "; Lenin followed Engels in attempting "the elimination of the category of the Subject (whether transcendental or otherwise)."[34] Instead of placing man at the foundation of history, orthodox Marxism held that history itself created subjectivity. As Plekhanov remarked, "Man becomes a 'subject' only in history . . . . 'Economic' materialism is the reply to the question of . . . how the subjective side of history comes about."[35] From the orthodox understanding, history simply made men, rather than men also making history, as Marx had emphatically added. The dialectical materialism of


orthodox Marxism thus became a one-sided dissection of the undeniable power of objective circumstances in human affairs. Unfortunately, it remained incapable of consistently explaining how these circumstances arose in the first place.

This inability to comprehend origins was simultaneously an inability to grasp transcendence. Orthodox Marxism found itself in the embarrassing position of being unable to account theoretically for the revolutionary project. By presenting labor merely as the active verification of sense-data, orthodoxy ignored the idealistic aspects of practice in its teleological projection of an idea to be realized. Where for Marx practice had represented a creative unity of teleology and causality, for orthodoxy, practice simply confirmed causality: freedom as submission to necessity. The practice of the revolutionary movement was thus, by extension, prohibited from any creative mastery of historical possibility; orthodoxy consigned political practice to trail after empirical history, reflecting more or less adequately its autonomous imperatives (which supposedly pointed toward socialism).

The orthodox theorists thus consecrated Marxism as a purely objective dialectic in an attempt to secure its theoretical validity. Marx's original theory had rested on his optimistic expectations for the proletariat: the proletariat, in rationally acting on its interests, would emancipate the whole of society and institute communism. By the turn of the century, such expectations had come to appear highly questionable and even utopian. The proletariat, although increasingly organized in large political parties in Germany, France, and elsewhere, displayed little of the combative militancy so crucial to Marx's original conception. Faced with this failure of the subjective conditions for socialism, the orthodox Marxists responded by excising those conditions as necessary to communism. Socialism came to appear the inevitable result of an autonomous technical and economic evolution, governing the direction of historical development. Orthodoxy cast off the subjective aspects of Marx's rationalist legacy and instead solicited the support of natural science. In effect, the theory of orthodox Marxism liquidated the creative human subject. Its determinism offered the scant consolation of a mechanical guarantee.[36]


Revolutionary Rationalism:
Luxemburg, Lukács, and Gramsci

Despite a tenuous consensus among orthodox theoreticians within the Second International, several independent Marxists refused to ratify the standard interpretations of historical materialism. Rosa Luxemburg, for example, retained a basic confidence in the revolutionary potential of the proletariat; in this regard, she remained faithful to Marx's original understanding. As the reformist implications of orthodoxy gradually became apparent, Luxemburg and other revolutionary theorists on the left wing began to elaborate their own reading of Marx. The outbreak of world war and the Russian Revolution of 1917 finally combined to shatter the outlook of orthodox social democrats, the former by undermining their gradualist and internationalist program; the latter by rekindling revolutionary aspirations.

In the years immediately succeeding the revolution, Marxist philosophy underwent a renaissance and a metamorphosis, bolstered by a renewed hope for imminent social change. The leading figures in the revival of Marxist philosophy in the West—Georg Lukacs, Karl Korsch, and Antonio Gramsci—had in common an acquaintance with the Hegelian sources of Marxian thought and a dissatisfaction with the evolutionary positivism of orthodoxy. Spurred on by the practical example of Lenin as a resolute revolutionary, Lukács and Gramsci proceeded to redraw the boundaries of Marxian theoretical discourse.

Rosa Luxemburg and the Necessity of Socialism

Rosa Luxemburg stands as the key transitional figure between


orthodox Marxism and later theorists like Lukács. Although she joined Kautsky in attacking the revisionists at the turn of the century, she eschewed orthodoxy to develop an independent perspective, rooted in a relatively sanguine assessment of the proletariat and its potential for militantly pursuing its true class interests. In opposing neopositivist and neo-Kantian versions of Marxism, Luxemburg reaffirmed Marx's original rationalism within a new historical setting.

Unlike Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg viewed Marx's theory primarily as supplying a "method of investigation," rather than a system of unimpeachable categories. Her Marxism always remained open-ended and tentative: "It is not true that socialism will arise automatically and under all circumstances."[1] For her, as for Marx and Engels, history did not comprise an entity independent of consciousness and practice, but instead the field of subjective intervention through action. Socialist theory disclosed and analyzed historical and economic tendencies leading to the collapse of capitalism; yet without the contributions of an ongoing class struggle, these tendencies remained barren of real meaning. Where Plekhanov had claimed that the cause of historical progress "lies outside man," Rosa Luxemburg asserted that "only the working class, through its own activity, can make the word flesh."[2]

Luxemburg perceived the primary task of socialism as the return of the human world to conscious control. The central mystery of economics for her revolved around the rise of hypostatized social structures: how did a fixed social order develop in opposition to human intentions and volition? "In this manner the problem faced by scientific investigation becomes defined as the lack of human consciousness in the economic life of society."[3] The vitality of any social institution rested on the "active, untrammelled and energetic" participation of the "broadest masses of the people." The lack of such conscious participation condemned not only the alienated objectivity of capitalist social relations but also any political movement that shunned democracy.

If the proletariat was in fact to break the spell of blind necessity, then a central task of socialist theory and practice had to be the development among proletarians of an understanding of their common interests and the possibilities for a more equitable world. Social democratic leadership ought to enable the proletariat to "learn to take hold of the rudder of society, to become instead of the power-


less victim of history, its conscious guide."[4] It was a task dictating a persistent struggle against bourgeois pattens of thought within the proletariat. Particularly after experiencing working-class chauvinism during World War I, Luxemburg refused to presume an innate proclivity toward socialism on the part of the proletariat. "The immediate mission of socialism is the spiritual liberation of the proletariat from the tutelage of the bourgoisie, which expresses itself through the influence of nationalist ideology."[5] Yet Luxemburg, unlike Lenin, refused to vest the fate of the proletariat in the hands of an enlightened vanguard. The struggle for socialism depended on the conscious spiritual commitment of each individual proletarian. "Socialism must be created by the masses, by every proletarian. Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they must be broken. That is socialism ."[6]

In advancing such views, Luxemburg rejoined Marx's original position on the centrality of proletarian commitment and class struggle to the attainment of communism. At the same time, she emphasized the necessity of history: again like Marx, she combined hopes for the creative intervention of men in history with a deterministic theory of the tendencies to crisis and collapse inherent in capitalism. She shared with Marx the belief that the revolutionary initiatives of the proletariat flowed necessarily from its rational reaction to the contradictions of capitalism. Yet precisely because she retained Marx's rationalist and deterministic framework, it is interesting to note her reaction to World War I and the dissolution of the Second International.

Despite the cosmopolitan and antimilitarist line taken by the Second International, the German Social Democrats failed to resist the furies of nationalism unleashed by the onset of World War I. The extent of chauvinism among the working classes of Europe indeed suggested that the subjective conditions for socialism might be far more problematic than previously suspected. Such doubts concerning the eagerness of the proletariat for an international socialist revolution in turn threw into question the strict necessity of socialism, since in Luxemburg's eyes socialism was inevitable only insofar as the subjective condition of militant class struggle could be fulfilled. Her writings during the war urgently expressed her mounting uncertainty, as well as her unshakable conviction that a socialist society, in spite of setbacks, remained imperative.

While she still foresaw the inevitable collapse of capitalism, Lux-


emburg now defined two competing historical outcomes, both of them in some sense necessities, one leading to socialism, the other to barbarism. The individual thus was confronted with a choice. "The world rule of imperialism is a historic necessity, but likewise its overthrow by the proletarian international. Side by side the two historic necessities exist in constant conflict with each other. And ours is the necessity of socialism. Our necessity receives its justification with the moment when the capitalist class ceases to be the bearer of historical progress, when it becomes a hindrance, a danger to the future development of society."[7]

It is an odd necessity that requires ulterior justification; and it is an odd necessity that needs to be chosen to become necessary. But then, what was only implicit in Marx's synthesis of reason and necessity becomes explicit in Rosa Luxemburg's last writings: the "historic mission" of the proletariat was precisely "to transform historical necessity into reality."[8] Without a conscious political struggle waged by committed workers, socialism remained not merely devoid of content, but, so to speak, unnecessary. Ironically, in proportion as she admitted the possibility of barbarism, Luxemburg increasingly insisted on the necessity of socialism, if civilization was to avert catastrophe. "Socialism has become necessary not merely because the proletariat is no longer willing to live under the conditions imposed by the capitalist class but, rather, because if the proletariat fails to fulfill its class duties, if it fails to realize socialism, we shall crash down together to a common doom."[9] A new historical situation thus revealed that any Marxist version of historical necessity which incorporated men at its foundation had to be radically different from the orthodox understanding of necessity, with its reassuring but arid laws of historical development.

Georg Lukacs:
The Reification of Subjectivity

The Russian Revolution transformed the practical context of Marxian theory. Socialism no longer appeared a distant goal; militant action no longer seemed futile; the gloomy urgency of Rosa Luxemburg's wartime essays was replaced by a new spirit of combative optimism. With the end of the war and the collapse of social order in Germany and Hungary, a fluid historical situation emerged, foster-


ing apocalyptic hopes. Revolutionaries could believe in the "imminence of world revolution and the total transformation of the civilized world," as Georg Lukács has recalled.[10] The example of Lenin himself fueled such hopes. Against Marxist gradualism, with its cautious evolutionary positivism, Lenin epitomized the primacy of human action; this radical figure who had seized history by the reins attracted a new stratum of Western intellectuals to Marxism. Such communists as Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, and Karl Korsch brought to Marxism a fresh set of theoretical perspectives, coupled with an activist orientation.

The subjective and spiritual dimensions of Marxism slighted by orthodoxy were suddenly revived. Theorists expressed renewed interest in the nature of class consciousness and a refurbished faith in the revolutionary capabilities inherent in the proletariat. Events now suggested that Marx's original prognosis of proletarian militancy was not wholly mistaken. Socialism could appear plausibly as the inevitable rational goal of modern history: not coincidentally, the Marxist revival coincided with a Hegelian revival in several theoretical circles.

Lukács, a thinker influenced by Max Weber and Georg Simmel as well as Hegel, stands at the beginning of the contemporary renaissance of Marxist philosophical studies. In The Theory of the Novel , his last major pre-Marxist work, Lukács had described the modern era as "an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer given, in which the immanence of meaning in life has become a problem, yet which still thinks in terms of totality."[11] When Lukács transported this aesthetic yearning for wholeness into Marxism, he resurrected Marx's own hopes for a qualitatively new form of life.

He also briefly resurrected Marx's rationalist optimism, a rebirth vividly conveyed in his first Marxist essays, collected in Tactics and Ethics and published in 1919. The messianic significance of the Russian Revolution decisively colored his prose: "The message of reality," exclaimed Lukács, "Marxist reality, the unity of the historical process, is quite clear: the revolution is here ." The imminence of revolution invested the situation of the proletariat with an extraordinary moral urgency. Every proletarian, he asserted, was impelled to attain a clear sense of his true class interest, which necessarily surpassed the "merely given" to comprehend a "world-historical mission." While only Marxism could provide "intellectual leadership"


in this ongoing process "of making social development conscious," the inner essence and momentum of history seemed relatively unambiguous: for Marx had properly perceived world history "as a homogenous process, as an uninterrupted revolutionary process of liberation."[12]

The temper of these essays was impatient, impetuous, demanding, of a piece with a romantic reading of Lenin's accomplishment: "Decisions, real decisions, precede the facts ." One telling indicator of Lukács's optimism at this stage was his doctrine of the party. After describing orthodox socialist parties as the "external organizational expression" of the proletariat's immaturity, its "inability to impose its will and its interests on society," he proceeded to praise the Bolsheviks for dismantling the traditional party organization, and enabling "the proletariat to take all power into its own hands. . . . The parties have ceased to exist—now there is a unified proletariat ".[13]

The illusion of a revolution without political parties quickly dissipated, however: rationalist optimism gave way to rationalist pessimism. Under the impact of revolutionary setbacks in Hungary and Italy in 1919, and confronted with Lenin's critique of his position as "ultra-Leftist" in 1920, he was driven to reformulate his outlook and specifically to reconsider his position on the party. By 1923, when History and Class Consciousness was published, additional reasons for a reassessment could be found in Lukács's own theory of reification. The importance of this book was twofold. Not only did he analyze the formation and function of class consciousness, he also sharply posed the problems involved in liberating men from fixed and falsifying forms of thought. The rationality of the proletariat—its understanding of its "world-historical mission"—could no longer be taken for granted as an emergent result of historical development.

His theory of reification took as its starting point Marx's discussion in Capital of commodity fetishism. The development of capitalist society had created "the fetishistic character of economic forms, the reification of all human relations, the constant expansion and extension of the division of labor which subjects the process of production to an abstract, rational analysis, without regard to the human potentialities and abilities of the immediate producers; all these things transform the phenomena of society and, with them, the way in which they are perceived."[14] Under the reign of capital, society was mobilized for the accumulation of surplus value, rather


than the cultivation of human capacities—an omission which took its toll on the victims of the system and their understanding of their situation. Here Lukács invoked Max Weber as well as Karl Marx: within modern society, most men had become prisoners of bureaucratic routine and instrumental manipulation, creatures of closed categories. The reification represented in commodity exchange thus infected the subjects of exchange: the worker, enmeshed in unthinking activities overseen by the capitalist, was in thrall to bourgeois forms of thought.

For Lukács, as for Marx, the individual in a commodity form of exchange was immediately confronted with a "fantastic relation between things," rather than the actual relation between men which produced this appearance. One of Marx's main tasks in Capital had been the penetration of appearances such as the "free exchange" of wages for labor power to reveal the exploitative logic of capital. He also seemed to follow Marx in deriving fetishistic forms "from the primary forms of human relations."[15] But he refused to join Marx in premising theory on the concrete activity of real individuals. Instead, he asserted that "no path leads from the individual to the totality."[16]

Indeed, by 1923 Lukács felt that the prevalent reification of bourgeois society had prevented most individual workers from acquiring a "true, concrete self-knowledge of man as a social being ." The categories of bourgeois consciousness presented, not the reality of domination, but the unreflected appearance of free exchange. Marxist theory thus decisively outstripped proletarian practice: "We must never overlook the distance that separates the consciousness of even the most revolutionary worker from the authentic class consciousness of the proletariat."[17] Lukács thus reserved the possibility of true consciousness for classes alone; only a class as a whole could attain a "total point of view," and grasp the essential social relations. Sundered from Marx's original premise of individuals producing in society, and questioning the capacity of even the most enlightened individual workers for self-emancipation, his theory proceeded to present modern history as an ongoing struggle, not between interested individuals involved in antagonistic class relations, but between two conceptual entities, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The conceptual proletariat, catalyzed by a true class consciousness, became the general subject of a true history in his eyes. But the empirical proletarians did not immediately coincide with their con-


ceptual essence—a situation which only the enlightened efforts of the Communist Party could rectify. He thus assigned to the party the sublime role of bearing the authentic class consciousness of the proletariat, the "consciousness of its historic vocation," although he departed from Leninist orthodoxy by emphasizing the cultural and pedagogical aspects of the party's mission.[18] Nevertheless, for Lukács as for Lenin the concrete subjects of history—these particular proletarians—were deemed incapable of educating themselves, of acquiring a proper grasp of the social totality. Like the Great Legislator in Rousseau, the party in Lukács appeared a slightly fabulous creature—as if only the gnosis of the party's illuminati, by divining the "final goal," could rescue workers from the falsifying forms of thought typical of bourgeois society. Moreover, since Lukács tended to portray the subject of history ideally, as a collective "we," the individual workers threatened to become relatively inconsequential elements in a rigidly teleological movement governed by the party's interpretation of history and its "objective possibilities." Perhaps this is the real meaning of Lukács's remark that reification "over-individualizes" men: the quest for a unified totality here led, first, to the abandonment of real individuals as an ontological premise of theory, and then to an attenuation of individuation as a goal of communism.[19]

But these were not the critical aspects of his contribution. Instead, subsequent Marxists fastened on his understanding of class consciousness, and his insights, however problematically linked to a defense of the Leninist party, into the importance of a materialist pedagogy able to raise interests to the level of rational action. As the foremost philosopher of a genuinely dialectical theory of history, Lukács stimulated a new concern with the subjective aspects of Marxist theory, while redirecting attention to the human basis of revolutionary practice. If his own theory in History and Class Consciousness veered toward conceptual rigidity, perhaps this was but a by-product of his steadfast adherence to Marx's original rationalist hopes in an increasingly unpromising situation.

Socialism Beyond the Necessity of Reason

Despite his heresy in treating authentic class consciousness as the


demiurge of a true history, Lukács, like Rosa Luxemburg, retained Marx's necessitarian language. While he insisted on the importance of purposive action by the proletariat, he also presumed a rational end of history, which established the "concrete meaning" of each prior historical stage: "The objective evolution [of the economy] only gives the proletariat the possibility and the necessity [sic ] of changing society. But this transformation itself can only come about as the—free—action of the proletariat itself."[20] Both Lukács and Luxemburg thus advanced a concept of necessity that protected the proletariat's freedom to act; yet neither seriously doubted that when the proletariat finally did act, it would do so rationally, and thus bear out the necessity of communism. Here, as elsewhere, they preserved and extended Marx's rationalist understanding, although in Lukács's case only through the medium of an enlightened vanguard party.

Against this backdrop, Antonio Gramsci's studies assume a special significance. Like Lukács, Karl Korsch, and the Council Communists (particularly Anton Pannekoek), Gramsci was sensitive to the subjective aspects of social theory, what the Council Communists called its geistige factors. Gramsci, again like Lukács, came to Marxism indirectly, through the philosophy of Benedetto Croce and the Italian Hegelians, and under the influence of Georges Sorel and, later, Henri Bergson. In 1919, at a point when he was already committed to socialism, Gramsci had declared that "man is above all else mind, consciousness," and he greeted the Russian Revolution accordingly, as "The Revolution Against Capital ." "The Bolsheviks have denied Karl Marx, and they have affirmed by their action, by their conquests, that the laws of historical materialism are less inflexible than was hitherto believed."[21] Gramsci never abandoned his interest in the geistige elements of society, an interest he brought to Marxism in the form of such concepts as "consent" and "intellectual and moral leadership."

The Marxism of Gramsci's notebooks, compiled while he was imprisoned under Mussolini's regime, differed from the Marxism of Lukács and Luxemburg. Unlike these predecessors, Gramsci assigned the labor process a central significance for elaborating the philosophy of historical materialism. As a consequence, Gramsci insisted on the inseparability of homo faber from homo sapiens ; he also portrayed individuals, via labor, as actively shaping a world of objects and norms. "Ever man, in as much as he is active, i.e., liv-


ing, contributes to modifying the social environment in which he develops . . . in other words, he tends to establish 'norms,' rules of living and of behavior."[22] His eloquent appreciation of the individual's creative efficacy in labor permitted Gramsci to restore "individuals producing in society" at the basis of Marxian theory.

One must conceive of man as a series of active relationships (a process) in which individuality, though perhaps the most important, is not, however, the only element to be taken into account. . . . The humanity which is reflected in each individuality is composed of various elements: 1. the individual; 2. other men; 3. the natural world. . . . Each one of us changes himself . . . to the extent that he changes . . . the complex relations of which he is the hub. . . .  If one's own individuality is the ensemble of these relations, to create one's own personality means to acquire consciousness of them, and to modify one's own personality means to modify the ensemble of these relations. But these relations, as we have said, are not simple. Some are necessary, others are voluntary. . . . It will be said that what each individual can change is very little, considering his strength. This is true up to a point. But when the individual can associate himself with all the other individuals who want the same changes, and if the changes wanted are rational, the individual can be multiplied an impressive number of times, and can obtain a change which is far more radical than at first sight seemed possible. . . . Up to now the significance attributed to these supra-individual organisms [that the individual is related to] (both the societas hominum and the societas rerum ) has been mechanistic and determinist; hence the reaction against it. It is necessary to elaborate a doctrine in which these relations are seen as active and in movement, establishing quite clearly that the source of this activity is the consciousness of the individual man who knows, wishes, admires, creates . . . and conceives of himself not as isolated but rich in the possibilities offered him by other men and by the society of things of which he cannot help having a certain knowledge.[23]

Gramsci also diverged from Lukács and Luxemburg on the issue of necessity in history. Instead of preserving Marx's deterministic rhetoric, Gramsci openly challenged causal explanation in social theory. His interest in Bergson and Sorel facilitated his elaboration of a Marxism critical of its own rationalist premises. Earlier in the century, Sorel had criticized Marxism for relying on an unprovable notion of progress in rationality; Marx, he charged, had covertly assumed the Hegelian notion of a Weltgeist guiding history toward socialism. However useful as myth such a notion might be, it had


nothing to do with science; the socialist revolution would be absolutely unpredictable.[24] Gramsci took over and refined such skepticism.

He pointed out the intimate connection between necessity and rationalism in social theory. "It would appear that the concept of 'necessity' in history is closely connected to that of 'regularity' and 'rationality.'"[25] Not only did necessity depend on rationality, the rationality of social acts depended on their "necessity," on their predictable and regular occurrence. "If social facts cannot be predicted, and the very concept of prediction is meaningless, then the irrational cannot but be dominant."[26]

Gramsci thus faced a series of dilemmas. Predictability averted irrationality, but was prediction possible? How could such prediction proceed? What did it involve? Gramsci dismissed making mechanically objective laws the basis of social predictions. Such laws inappropriately excluded the subjective factor from history. "Objective always means 'humanly objective' which can be held to correspond exactly to 'historically subjective.'"[27] He rejected most "so-called laws of sociology" as having negligible value: "They are almost always tautologies and paralogisms."[28] In the realm of human affairs, Gramsci in fact denied the possibility of any "purely 'objective' prediction." "Anybody who makes a prediction has in fact a program for whose victory he is working, and his prediction is precisely an element contributing to that victory. . . . If one excludes all voluntarist elements, or if it is only other people's wills whose intervention one reckons as an objective element in the general interplay of forces, one mutilates reality itself."[29]

But rather than simply discarding the concept of social prediction as meaningless, Gramsci reinterpreted it. He argued that prediction could be viewed as a practical act, instead of a mechanical accounting of some quasi-natural and purely objective causality. Prediction would then so thoroughly involve subjective factors that a primary guarantee of the truth of a prediction would lie in the practical resolve of the predictor to make it true. "One can 'foresee' to the extent that one acts, to the extent that one applies a voluntary effort and therefore contributes concretely to creating the result 'foreseen.' Prediction thus reveals itself, not as a scientific act of knowledge, but as the abstract expression of the effort made, the practical way of creating a collective will."[30]

As a result of his investigations, Gramsci abandoned entirely the


concept of prediction applied to history. While the theorist still investigated "how in historical evolution relatively permanent forces are constituted which operate with a certain regularity and automatism," Gramsci's Marxism ignored any misplaced imperatives to construct a closed causal system of general laws.[31] He also refused to take the rationality of human action for granted; the problem was precisely to cultivate a rational subject, dedicated to realizing the goals of communism. This interest animated all of his investigations into ideological hegemony and intellectual leadership.

Communists had, as their crucial task, "to demonstrate that the necessary and sufficient conditions already exist to make possible, and hence imperative, the accomplishment of certain historical tasks." The accomplishment of these tasks was imperative not because they were "historically inevitable" but rather "because any falling short" would increase "the necessary disorder" and prepare the way for "more serious consequences."[32] In other words, Gramsci posed again Rosa Luxemburg's alternatives: socialism or barbarism. Action oriented toward the progressive end of history, communism, laid the grounds for a creative politics that might "dominate and transcend" given conditions, even as "one still moves on the terrain of effective reality."[33] Gramsci, like Lukács, thus restored to Marxism its pedagogical concerns and teleological dimension; the achievement of communism required the purposeful intervention of enlightened proletarians.

Although Gramsci's thought remained incomplete, what fragments do survive in his prison notebooks suggest that Gramsci had a sharper understanding than his contemporaries of the inadequacies of Marxism, both as a necessitarian outlook, and as a theory presupposing a rationalist view of man. With Gramsci, Marxism began to appear more as a political art than a natural science: there is something of Machiavelli's virtù and Bergson's intuition in his description of the great political leader. After his own fashion, he anticipated a sense of subjectivity new to Marxism, beyond either positivism or rationalism.


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