A Rational Critique of Marxism and Communism - XI
(Selections from the book:
Reason, Romanticism and Revolution: M. N. Roy)
1. “Marx and Engels took over from Hegel much more than “the revolutionary side of his philosophy”. The dialectic process of history can never be independent of the dynamics of thought. Therefore, the founders of dialectical Materialism inherited from Hegel a considerable element of Idealism together with the dialectical method. The feat of having reversed Hegelian dialectics so as to manufacture Materialism out of Idealism was a figment of imagination. As a matter of fact, there is little of essential difference between Hegel’s idealistic conception of the evolutionary process of history and the Marxist doctrine of historical determinism. Hegel’s philosophy of history was essentially humanist. The dynamic concept of the Idea in dialectic relation to nature and history showed the escape out of the vicious circle of metaphysical speculations, and provided a basis for action with high ideals, for participation in the affairs of the secular world with the object of remaking it, and with the conviction that the thinking man had the power to do so”. (Pages: 376, 377)
2. “Rational Idealism, as distinct from theology and teleology, was logically bound to culminate in materialist monism; similarly, materialist philosophy must include recognition of the objective reality of ideas, with their own dynamics, if it is not to degenerate into vulgarity, or relapse into Newtonian natural philosophy, which makes room even for an anthropomorphic God”.(Page: 377)
3. “The philosophical foundation of Marxism (dialectical Materialism) was laid in the years preceding the publication of the communist Manifesto. During that period Marx, ably seconded by Engels, carried on a bitter controversy with the Young Hegelians and the philosophical Radicals who called themselves “German Socialists” – all disciples of Feuerbach. In that controversy, which has become an integral part of the Marxist system, its founders defended Hegel against all his pupils who represented the materialistic and naturalist tendencies in his system against his mystic Idealism.
The implication of Hegel’s memorable reference to the French Revolution as the first effort of man to be guided by reason (*) was put in plain language by Heine. All the Hegelian Radicals – Young Hegelians and German Socialists – enthusiastically hailed the poet’s discovery of revolutionary implication of their master’s teachings. Heine declared: If we can weaken people’s faith in religions and traditions, we will make Germany a political force.” The spirit of the Renaissance at last challenged the deep-rooted influence of the Reformation in Germany. David Strauss, Feuerbach, the Baur brothers, Moses Hess. Gutzkow, Mundt, Karl Gruen, Czolbe and a whole host of radical thinkers followed Hegel’s lead.
In the earlier years of his career until he chose to assume the role of the prophet of an inevitable revolution, Marx also belonged to that distinguished company. In those early days, he believed that an industrially and politically backward country like Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century could contribute nothing to the advance of European civilization except a philosophical understanding of human aspirations and historical processes, Yet, later on, he bitterly attacked the German Socialists exactly for holding this view.”(Pages: 384, 385)
4. “It was Feuerbach who first revolted against Hegelian idealism and blazed a new trail. He is generally recognized in the history of philosophy as the pioneer of the nineteenth century materialist revival. David Strauss shares the honour with him. Feuerbach was the first to reject the Hegelian conception of the dialectical process of history as the self- realisation of the Absolute Idea. Searching for the origin of idea, which undoubtedly was the motive power of history, Feuerbach located it in social anthropology. He came to the conclusion that physical nature preceded spirit; that thought was determined by being, “I do not generate the object from the thought, but the thought from the object’ and I hold that alone to be an object which has an existence beyond one’s own brain.” Feuerbach’s Philosophy of the Future, therefore, came to be known as dialectical Materialism as against the dialectical Idealism of Hegel.
Though recognized as the founder of dialectical Materialism, Feuerbach would be more correctly described as an expounder of sensationalism of the eighteenth century tradition. He broadened the basis of sensibility by placing man in the context of nature as its integral part. In other words, he revived Humanism, and found the incentive in the Hegelian system. “The new philosophy makes man, including nature as the basis of man, the one universal and highest object of philosophy.” (Pages: 386, 387)
5. “Marx’s criticism of Feuerbach and his followers, as recorded in the unpublished manuscript now issued with the title “German Ideology”, is very fragmentary and incoherent. His only bias, at that time, (between 1844 and 1848), was to prove that Hegel was great and Karl Marx his only prophet; to deny that Socialism required any philosophical justification; and to disprove that there was any historical connection between the French Enlightenment and the post-Hegelian philosophical Radicalism.
That is how Marx began his ideological war. His completely negative attitude to the positive outcome of the Hegelian era is remarkable because it betrays a woeful lack of historical sense. His failure to grasp the historical significance of the religious mode of thought is also surprising. Because of that defect in his historical sense, Marx was unable to appreciate the importance of religious criticism. Religion provided the moral sanction for the continuation of the political and social status quo. To undermine its authority, therefore, was a revolutionary act of fundamental significance. The Young Hegelians did that. But Marx failed to appreciate the revolutionary significance of their bold attack on religious tradition and ecclesiastical orthodoxy. He scornfully dismissed their endeavour, which was a precondition for the revolt against the established order incited by Marx in the Communist Manifesto. “The entire body of German philosophical criticism from Strauss to Striner is confined to criticism of religious conceptions.” [Karl Max, German Ideology] Undoubtedly, it was so, and therein lies the importance of the intellectual efforts of the Hegelian Radicals. In the tradition of the Renaissance, they raised the standard of a philosophical revolution, which was to create the ideological preconditions for political and social revolution. But Marx did not really believe that man was the maker of his destiny; his view of history and social evolution was essentially teleological, fatalistic. Therefore, he combated Feurbach’s Humanism disseminated by his followers who called themselves “true Socialists”, and developed by a succession of brilliant scientists.” (Pages: 389, 390)
6. “To fight philosophical Radicalism which approached the problems of political revolutions and social reconstruction from the humanist point of view, Marx was compelled to defend his French and English forerunners of Socialism, whom he later on ridiculed as utopians.”(Page: 391)
7. “Marx rejected Feuerbach’s humanist Materialism on the ground that it regarded man as an isolated individual. The criticism was entirely uncalled for. “The individual man by himself does not contain the nature of man in himself, either in himself as a moral or as a thinking being. The nature of man is contained only in the community, in the unity of man with man. Isolation is finiteness and limitation; community is freedom and finality.”[Feuerbach, Philosophie der Zukunft]. This is clear enough to prove that Feuerbach’s Humanism did not deny the necessity of organization; but being the logical outcome of man’s age long struggle for freedom, it would not subordinate the sovereign individual, the creator of the civilized society, to his creation, to an imaginary collective ego of the community. While Feuerbach really went further than Hegel, Marx took over his organic conception of society, which denies the possibility of individual freedom.”(Pages : 391, 392)
8. “The essence of religion is primitive rationalism; man creates gods as hypotheses for an explanation of natural phenomena. Because man is rational by nature, rationalism is the essence of man. To have discovered this real essence of man was a great advance in the struggle for freedom. The aggregate of social relations presupposes existence of individuals, who entered into relation. They did that because of their essence of rationality; obsessed with the Hegelian organic conception of society, Marx ignored the self-evident truth that society is an association of individuals. That obsession led him to take society as simply given, as if by Providence, and regard social relations as the ultimate reality. Social relations result from the activities of individuals constituting the society. Being human creations, they can be altered by man. Human will and human action are the primary factors of social existence.” (Page: 392)
9. “In its formative stage, Marxism was a defence of Hegelian Idealism as against the materialist naturalism which the Young Hegelians and the philosophical Radicals deduced from the system of the Master. The fascination for dialectics drove youthful Marx to reject the scientific naturalism of the eighteenth century as mechanical and unhistorical. The implication of his criticism was that the Enlightenment did not take a fatalistic view of history, but recognized the creative role of man.”(Page: 393)
10. “In his controversy with the Young Hegelians and the followers of Feuerbach, Marx allowed no place to mental activity in the process of social evolution; indeed not even in the process of development of man himself. “Man can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence – a step which is conditioned by their physical organization.” [Karl Max, German Ideology]. The brain indeed is a part of the physical organization; and sensation and perception can be explained as physical functions. But conceptual thought is a purely mental phenomenon, and it distinguishes the most primitive man from the highest animal. The discovery of fire might have been an accidental physical act without any thought. But subsequent application of fire for the purposes of the most primitive human existence presupposes mental activity. Therefore, even a nodding acquaintance with anthropology should not permit the assertion quoted above.” (Page : 393)
11. “On the authority of Hegelian Idealism, (#) Marx denied that there was anything stable in human nature, and asserted that human nature is the ensemble of social relations. “The eighteenth century idea of human nature was defective; traditionally, it was deduced from the doctrine of Natural Law; scientifically, it was based upon pre-Darwinian biology, which still believed in unchanging species, and the classical dictum natura non facet saltus. Marx not only rejected it, but also combated Darwinian gradualism, which contradicted his theory of revolution. The rejection of the eighteenth century belief in human nature thus was not brought about by a greater biological knowledge, but on the authority of Hegelian idealism.
Marx found in Hegelian dialectics philosophical support for his theory of revolution. Therefore, dialectics became his sole criterion for judging all other philosophies; and dialectics is admittedly an idealistic conception. Revolutions are not brought about by men; they take place of necessity, that is to say, are predetermined. The dialectical Materialism of Marx, therefore, is Materialist only in name; dialectics being its cornerstone, it is essentially an idealistic system. No wonder that it disowned the heritage of the eighteenth century scientific naturalism and fought against the humanist Materialism of Feuerbach and his followers.”(Pages : 394, 395)
12. “Man, according to Marx, being a physical organization, his relation to matter is the relation of one material entity to other material entities. Where does consciousness and intelligence appear in the interaction of dead matter? In other words, what makes man different from a lump of dead matter? Begging all these crucial questions, which materialism must answer to be convincing, Marx simply takes man for granted as an elementary undefinable, as the “personification” of the Hegelian Absolute Idea.”(Page : 395)
13. “The “economic man”, whose appearance coincides with the production of his means of subsistence, may be nothing more than the ensemble of social relations. But the human species has a much older history, which vanishes in the background of the process of subhuman biological evolution. Marx entirely ignored that entire process of the becoming of man before he entered into social relations. Consequently, Marx knows nothing of the human nature which underlies the ensemble of social relations, and induces men to enter into those relations.
That substratum of human nature is stable; otherwise the world of men could not be differentiated from the world of animals, ruled by the laws of the jungle. That rock bottom of human nature antedates the economic and political organization of society. The origin of mind is tobe traced in his physical and biological history. In that sense mental activities are determined in the earlier stages by physical existence and thereafter by social conditions. But the becoming of man involves the parallel process of mental and physical activities. The relation between the two is not that of causality, but of priority. From primitive consciousness mind evolves in the context of a biological organism. The latter being an organization of matter, the priority of being must be conceded to matter.
Marx did not carry the analysis of mental phenomena far enough, beyond the dawn of social history. Therefore, on the one hand, his Materialism is dogmatic, unscientific and, on the other hand, the negation of a constant element in human nature leads to the negation of morality. Without the recognition of some permanent values, no ethics is possible. If they are not to be found in human nature, morality must have a transcendental sanction. The choice for Marxist Materialism, therefore, was between the negation of abiding moral values and relapse into religion. Theoretically, it chose the first, although in practice dogmatism eventually also put on it a stamp of religious fanaticism.” (Pages : 395, 396)
1. (*) “For the first time since the sun appeared in the heavens, and the planets began to revolve around it, man took up his stand as thinking animal and began to base his view of the world on reason” (Hegel).
“As a student, he shared with Schelling a highly critical attitude towards the political and ecclesiastical lassitude of his country and subscribed to the doctrine of liberty and reason. There is a story that after the battle of Jena, the two young enthusiasts, Schelling and Hegel, one morning went out to the neighbouring forest and danced around a “tree of liberty” which they had planted there”.(Pp-374, Pp-375, RRR)
2. (#) “There is nothing which is not an intermediate position between being and non-being.” (Hegel). (Pp-398, RRR)
(to be continued)
Reason Romanticism and Revolution
Ajanta Books International,
L – UB, Jawahar Nagar,
Delhi - 110007