Marxism and Philosophy.
by Murzban Jal
(we apologise for the error in not identifying the author when this article was originally posted. Administrator)
Kant and Fichte soar to heavens blue
Seeking for some distant land,
I but seek to grasp profound and true
That which—in the street I find.
Karl Marx, ‘On Hegel’.
For it (dialectic philosophy) nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher.
Frederick Engels, Feuerbach and the end of Classical German Philosophy.
Again, what Mao fails to do here is to proceed to the properly Hegelian ‘identity of opposites’, and to recognize in the force of the Revolution in fighting and trying to annihilate its own essence, as in G.K. Chesterson’s The man who was Thursday, in which the secret police organizing the search for the anarchist leader and this mysterious leader at the end appears to be one and the same person (God himself, incidentally). And did Mao himself ultimately not play a similar role, a role of secular God who is at the same time the greatest rebel against himself?
Slavoj Žižek, ‘Introduction to Mao’s On Practice and Contradiction’.
The point raised by Marx, that there is an element of rationality in Hegel’s philosophy, despite it being enveloped in mysticism has led many a Marxist to decode the rational and mystical in Hegel. Since Engels’ Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy the ‘dialectical method’ was given the status of the revolutionary and the rational, whilst the ‘system’ was discarded as conservative and mystical. Unfortunately the point of the mystical in Hegel was not sufficiently analyzed, since Engels’ doctrinal statement on Hegel nor was it taken seriously by orthodox Marxism. It was left to thinkers following Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness, namely Theodor Adorno, Lucio Colletti, Herbert Marcuse, etc., who claimed that the mysticism in Hegel was not something to be forgotten or banished from philosophical reasoning. The mysticism in Hegel was a serious philosophical issue for Marx, which he continuously probed into starting with the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of State and culminating in Capital. Hegel’s central thesis is that philosophy is essential an idealism. This is what Hegel says in the Science of Logic: ‘Every philosophy is essential an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is actually carried out.’ Now this thesis of the hegemony of idealism is taken very seriously by Marx. This hegemony is not merely the counter-revolution of idealist philosophers, but something much more. What then is this ‘something more’ than the philosopher’s idealist dream? Marx defines philosophy as the ‘alienation of the human essence’. Consequently it is to this terrain of the estranged human essence whereby Marx articulates the history of class societies as being predicated on estrangement. Consciousness then is a ‘false consciousness’. Marx calls this the ‘estranged mind’, a concept picked up by Lukács who termed it the ‘reification of consciousness’. Marx’s entire philosophical oeuvre is consequently projected onto both the critique of this bourgeois-reified mind as well as the critique of class societies.
The Hegelian Prelude
Consider this very strange proposition: Once upon a time, a specter was seen haunting Europe, a specter that we now know as the specter of communism. One saw the specter. One was told that this specter was that of that the anti-Christ who was to demolish not only the Holy Family of the popes and czars, but most of all the most holy of the holies, private property and the state. But when one went near this specter then we found that it was human, in fact human all too human. This human then confronted the established powers of the world, formed the party of the proletariat and caused what Herbert Marcuse called the ‘radical act’, the act of 1917. This human claimed that this ‘act’ of 1917 did not as if happen automatically. In fact it stressed that it happened only due to a deep theoretical reflection, a reflection that was based on dialectical and revolutionary thinking. But 1917 unfortunately gave way to 1928, and the dreams and aspirations of communism gave way to despotic Asiatic state capitalism. The specter of communism gave way to the ghost of capitalism. History it seems started moving backwards.
A second specter thus appears alongside the first specter of communism and the ghost of capitalism that haunts us namely, the specter of history itself that argues for dialectical and revolutionary thinking. We hear another voice: ‘A specter is haunting the world, a specter of Hegel’. We hear something more: ‘All the Powers of the Old World have entered in holy alliance to exorcize this specter: the popes of positivism, the czars of analytic thought along with the great messianic philosophers: Karl Popper, Richard Rotry, Josef Stalin and Mao tse-Tung’.
It is in this framework of the thinking and speaking specter that one reflects back on 20th century revolutionary history: of the Bolshevik confrontation with the Mensheviks and the philosophers of praxis with the fatalists and theologians of the revolution. One sees Lenin in the midst of the First Imperialist World War reading Hegel, a reading that he stressed was so important that without understanding the entire Science of Logic it was not possible even to understand the first chapter of Marx’s Capital. So what is so significant that Hegel becomes important for the world revolution such that he becomes a scientist of revolution, almost a type of Darwin who draws the map of social evolution? And is not the Science of Logic a textbook for the algebra of the revolution where the ‘power of negativity’ is understood as the ‘soul’ of the dialectic? The aim of this essay is to inquire into an understanding of Hegel keeping in background the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution followed by the Stalinist counterrevolution and the triumph of the New Deal, Stalinism and fascism followed by the formation of Zionist Israel as the cunning policeman for imperialism in Asia. In this sense Hegel is not understood merely as a historicist avant la letter (most certainly not as a biologist-evolutionist), but as a psychoanalysist who takes his own doctrine of the ‘cunning of reason’ (die List der Vernunft) very seriously.
We therefore inquire into the production of revolutionary consciousness, that relates itself to the emergence of philosophical consciousness where the classical philosophical concerns of the true, the good and the beautiful, along with the main questions: ‘what is humanity?’ and ‘how is human freedom possible?’; are related directly to the questions of the world revolution. Thus the question of the emergence of revolutionary consciousness—a consciousness for itself, i.e. for the proletariat, for the revolution and for humanity—is related with its direct antagonist: the cunning of reason. We thus relate philosophical consciousness with the conflicting sites of the estranged mind and class struggles that are fought behind this estranged mind.
There are two intersecting and contradictory themes in a Marxist reading of Hegel. One that becomes a simple materialist reductionism—what is known in Marxism as ‘vulgar materialism’, a trend that Marxism since the Second International inherited, a trend that the Mensheviks and the Stalinist counterrevolution institutionalized—and the other is to read Hegel as the algebraist of the revolution, a trend found in Lenin, Lukács and Gramsci. In no way is the contrast that Marx highlighted—as the young student who penned verses of the ‘heavens blue’ and the street—as a typical Marxist contrast that opposes scholastic and idealist philosophies to the hustle and bustle of everyday life to be confused with Menshevism and Stalinism. Instead one reads this verse as echoing the contrasting notions of truth—the Hegelian one of seeking a utopian ‘distant land’ and truth of the street, the type of truth that made Gramsci call all people philosophers.1
Though Hegelian-Marxist scholarship largely rests on the philosophical shoulders of the trio of Lukács, Gramsci and Karl Korsch, it was Lenin in the middle of the first Imperialist World War who went to reading Hegel’s Science of Logic and then claiming that without understanding the entire Hegelian Logic it was impossible to understand even the first chapter of Marx’s Capital. Later it was the Marxist-Humanist Raya Dunayevskaya followed by Kevin Anderson who elaborated the radical importance of Hegelian logic for the construction of international revolution. Yet there was a tragedy that Anderson has noted:
Certainly none of the major Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century who were also leaders of the parties—not only Leon Trotsky, Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky, or Mao Zedong—with the sole exception of Gramsci (and even then those writings were locked away in prison or in party archives for many years afterward), had made that “return” to the Hegelian dialectic that Marx called “the source of all dialectic.” Nor did any of the younger layer of Bolshevik theoreticians, such as Bukharin or Yevgeny Preobrazhensky, make such a move. 2
So what is so specific that one has almost with the compulsion of necessity to ‘go back’ to Hegel (Lenin calls it a ‘return to Hegel’3), without which, as Lenin had lamented, one cannot understand even the first chapter of Marx’s Capital4? What we find is that whilst ‘Marx did not leave behind him a “Logic” (with a capital letter), he did leave behind the logic of Capital’5, a logic that one had to understand in order to understand the logic of revolution.
Engaging this Hegelian dialectic of revolution leads us to an understanding of the storm and stress that world history with the French Revolution had culminated in. Now this structure of the dialectic of revolution was built on a rigorous logic that critiques the mode of thinking from Aristotle to Kant. Hegel sought, as he himself said, to build a ‘structure of logic’ (namely dialectical logic) that would correspond to ‘the complete transformation which philosophical thought in Germany has undergone in the last twenty-five years with the higher standpoint reached in its awareness of itself’6. In an idealist sense, it was Hegel who had discovered the continent of knowledge—the continent of history. It is he who discovers ‘the characterization of dialectics: self-movement, the source of activity; the coincidence of the concepts of humanity with reality…’7 It is from this site of historical self-movement that we shall be able to engage Hegel with Marx. Firstly Hegel is involved in a tremendous theoretical revolution where he literally discovers the site of Vernunft (reason) that is different from the analytic level of understanding (Verstandt). Verstand has within the mechanism of human freedom. His main discovery? It is the discovery that reality does not comprise merely of being (Sein), but a Sein which has within it a Nichts (a nothing or non-being) which gives rise to becoming (Werden). What Hegel does is that he perfects not only the logic of European Enlightenment which culminated in the French Revolution. He perfects the process of the historicism and humanism itself :
The outstanding achievement of Hegel’s Phänomenologie and of its final outcome, the dialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle, is thus first that Hegel conceives the self-creation of humanity as a process, conceives objectification as loss of the object, as alienation and as transcendence of this alienation; that he thus grasps the essence of labour and comprehends objective humanity – true, because real humanity – as the outcome of humanity’s own labour. The real, active orientation of humanity to itself as a species-being, or his manifestation as a real species-being (i.e., as a human being), is only possible if he really brings out all his species-powers – something which in turn is only possible through the cooperative action of all of humankind, only as the result of history – and treats these powers as objects: and this, to begin with, is again only possible in the form of estrangement.8
The Terrible Duo—the ‘Mystical’ and the ‘Rational’.
Whilst we have the Hegelian legacy of Marxism, a legacy known to be critical, humanist and revolutionary, there has also been the exact opposite anti-Hegelian legacy: the legacy of ‘theoretical anti-humanism’ (the term that was made famous by Althusser); the anti-humanism that would be take messianic forms mastered by Stalin and Mao that repudiated the dialectic and the law of the negation of negation, as if history stopped with the advent of this terrible duo. We know that Francis Fukuyama also operated with this same form of bizarre logic, only replacing Stalin and Mao with his fantasized bourgeois liberal as the ‘last man’.
The question: ‘how revolution turned into counterrevolution?’ is almost irrevocably related with the mystical aspect subduing the rational within Hegelian philosophy. For what Marx did was write besides the ‘logic of capital accumulation’ also write the ‘logic of the accumulation of madness’ that class civilization had brought about. What I will say is that the very simplistic inversion of Hegel, where the abstract ‘Idea’ is replaced with the rational ‘Matter’, can never work. And it was this very simplistic manner of inverting Hegel, that the anti-Hegelian school had taken, and then repudiated. We know that this tradition did not remain only with Althusser, but also with the French and Italian post-structuralist thinkers from Felix Deleuze to Antonio Negri.
What we are saying is that this logic of capital is also understood as the logic of delusion, alienation (Entfremdung), reification (Verdinglichung), metamorphosis, disembodiment, neurosis and psychosis; the logistics that Marx outlined in his first chapter of Capital. And that is why we are saying that Marx did write a ‘phenomenology of the mind’, and that Capital was this phenomenology. It must be insisted that one cannot in any way abide by the old orthodox Marxist school which banished consciousness as a mere reflection of some hidden base. It is here that we go into the architectonics of the mystical and the rational. For instance when Marx wrote to Engels in 1858 that he wanted to ‘make accessible to the ordinary intelligence—in two or three printers sheets—what is rational in the method which Hegel had discovered but at the same time enveloped in mysticism’9, and when this claim was reiterated in the 1873 ‘Afterword to the Second German Edition’ of Capital Vol. I, when Marx wrote that Hegel made the dialectic stand on its head (Sie steht bei ihm auf dem Kopf)10; and it was necessary to invert (umstülpen) him in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell, he made possible, firstly a revolutionary reading of Hegel, and secondly a reading of the double histories of philosophy and class civilization.
But it was ‘Engels’ time honoured distinction’, to borrow Louis Althusser’s phrase11, that was drawn in Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy,12 between the conservative mystical system of Hegel and the radical and rational method that lay the basis for a post-Marx Marxist understanding of Hegel. This post-Marx Marxist understanding would draw line of demarcation between the mystical and the rational based on the philosophies of idealism and materialism, but divorcing this entire philosophical repertoire from the fetishism of commodity production. Whilst this distinction would form, on the one hand, the new understanding of the history of philosophy and the possibilities of the creation of a revolutionary humanism; it would also form the crux of orthodox Marxism, especially the ‘orthodoxy’ of the Second Internationalism that would convert this distinction into a doctrinal dogma.
Georgoi Plekhanov (the alleged ‘father’ of Russian Marxism) would embody this dogma. What does his doctrinal dogma do? It claims that the self-movement of the Hegelian Geist is replaced by an auto-moving, teleological ‘Matter’. And here it is important to note that Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, in contrast to metaphysical materialism, criticizes this form of contemplative philosophizing. What revolutionaries need is the activist conception of consciousness, and the consequent praxical type of theorization. When Lenin remarked in What is to be Done? that ‘without revolutionary theory there can be no revolution’13, he was advocating the philosophy of praxis. Remember that this Leninist philosophy of praxis is based on ‘devoted determination and energy’14. In contrast to this praxis inspired school, one knows how the above stated dogmatic misreading of Engels would crystallize not only in the philosophy of the Second International as Menshevik fatalism but would also culminate in Stalin’s counterrevolutionary coup against Revolutionary Marxism. The return of the repressed would not spare even the revolutionaries.
There is something that one must stress on, a feature that Engels’ rendering did not stress. For Marx, the problem of the Hegelian mystical was inherently bound to the phantom commodity. And that is why a historicist and humanist reading of Hegel would stress that the mystical is something inherent in class societies and could not be rendered as some sort of a Hegelian subjective logic. It is objective, in fact so objective, that its imprint could be felt much deeper than the rational side that Marxism chose to elaborate upon. A genealogy of this ‘mystical’ is necessary. On the one hand, this concept emerges in his 1843 critique of Hegel, where the ‘mystical’ is said to be a form of hyper-idealization, where the real material world is lost to create a phantasmagoria of a surreal unreality. What happens is that the Real appears as the Unreal, and the Unreal as the Real.
For Marx, one must stress, this mystical is irrevocably related to the idea of the ‘inversion’ that he continuously talked of. One needs to relate this mystical-inversion with Lenin’s definition of philosophy as the Holzweg, or simply as the lost path15. Philosophy as the ‘mystical’ (Marx’s reading of Hegel) and the Holzweg (Lenin’s reading of philosophy, or academic philosophy) is immediately related to philosophy as estrangement.
Considering Marx’s critique of alienation in general, we then relate this theme with Marx’s critique of philosophy itself. Consider Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State where he critiques Hegel for involving the process of inverted thinking: humanity is inverted to give way to the Geist, civil society is inverted to get the state. Humanity and civil society are thus not regarded as having ‘primacy’ (to borrow a term from Engels). Instead primacy is given to the state. And it is this inversion that Marx claims that produces the mystical. It can only be produced in the ontology of an inverted world. Thus: one relates the mystification and inversion of philosophical thinking expressed as the estranged mind,16 with the inversion of bourgeois reality itself.
Consider Marx, in Hegel the following pairs are inverted: subject/object, being/consciousness, empirical/transcendent, material/ ideal, finite/infinite, existence/essence, determinate / determined, etc., to get the reversed pairs: object/subject, consciousness/being, transcendent/empirical, etc., etc. Now not only is there an inversion, but also an erasure within each of the pairs to posit the world in the ‘form of the object’. What Hegel is left with is the transcendent-idealized-essence. The world appears as the hypostatized estranged signifier. So when Marx says that for Hegel reality appears as ‘the Idea’, claiming to be an ‘independent subject’, and functioning as the ‘demiurgos of the real world’ (der Demiurg des Wirklichen)17, he is saying that Hegel’s importance is found in the epistemological process of the mystification-inversion. What we claim is that this mystification-inversion is a mere superstructure for a deeper structural inversion. And this inversion implies the governance of the phantom commodity and the logic of capital accumulation. Marx defines this as the ‘personification of the thing and the reification (Verdinglichung) of the person’.18
What we get is this equation: mystification=inversion=reification which implies a depersonification of the human and the personification of the thing. And for Marx, the estranged and reified object would turn out to be the source of the distortion and reification of consciousness. In this way Marx draws the importance of the reading of idealist and speculative philosophy (as the estranged mind) so as to look into the estrangement of reality itself. The philosopher as the ‘philosopher’s philosopher’ is now not the disinterested philosopher seeking the philosopher’s stone but the ideologist. The philosopher constructs the logic of the reified mind. The ideologist creates the mass consciousness of bourgeois society. In this way the philosopher, both as the ‘philosopher’s philosopher’ as well as the ideologist becomes the embodiment and spokesperson of this distortion and bourgeoisiefication.
Hegel then becomes the great mimic of the inverted world. But having founded the continent of the philosophy of history he ceases to be the mimic and becomes the radical critic of everything that exists.
What we are stressing is that when Marx talked of relating Hegel to the problem of the mystical and the estranged mind, he was also using Hegel as an exemplar to critique the history of class society itself. Remember that when Marx is talking of the importance of understanding Hegel, he is relating Hegel as the philosopher who works in the ‘orbit of estrangement’19 and also working within the orbit of ‘value’ of bourgeois political economy20. He thus relates the mystical with the problem of value—‘and even here and there, in the chapter of value’, Marx claims to have, ‘coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him’21. Marx in the same paragraph talks of the ‘mystification’ in Hegel, indicating the relation of bourgeois political economy with the problem of the mystical22, just as in the early Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of State he related the ‘mystical’ with the ontological inversion performed by metaphysical philosophy—i.e., where subject and object, existence and essence, the real and the imaginary, civil society and the state are inverted. After all in ‘speculative philosophy’, so the young Marx had once announced, reality appears in ‘the reverse (umgekehrt)’23 Reality appears not as itself, but as another reality.24 The phantomatic-ghost returns once again.
The first point to be raised is that Marx’s philosophy is not a continuation of traditional philosophy. I have already stated it a number of times, what Marx calls the Aufhebung (transcendence) of philosophy25, a transcendence that involves a complete upheaval of philosophical reasoning. In this character of the aufheben, Marx poses the question of philosophy. Philosophy, so the young Marx had announced, is to be understood as a form of onto-theology and the ‘estrangement of the human essence’ (Form und Daseinsweise der Entfremdung des menschlichen Wesens)26. Philosophy is thus about the disembodiment of the body and the production of the spirit. What happens in this disembodiment is that instead of the German working class movement becoming what Engels once called ‘the inheritors of German Classical Philosophy’27, this disembodied spirit—the spirit devoid of the body—in the early 1930s marched not with German Classical philosophy but with German Mythology. And this is because of the neurotic character of the disembodied bourgeois spirit which went back to the understanding of philosophy not as praxis, not as emancipation, but as alienation of the human essence.
Marx, on the other hand, never bothered to pose or solve questions in the abstract onto-theological world of traditional philosophy, he insisted on a paradigm shift into a new realm—the realm of living humanity. One cannot pose questions in the phantasmagoria of the traditional philosophical world. In fact questions posed in this fantastic world are the questions posed by the reified mind, the estranged and deranged mind of class stratified societies. So what is this ‘reform of consciousness’, a reform that he demanded right from his doctoral studies on ancient Greek philosophy?28 In 1843 Marx wrote to Arnold Ruge:
The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out from its dream of itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions. Our whole object can only be—as it is the case in Feuerbach’s criticism of religion—to give religious and philosophical questions the form corresponding to man who can become conscious of himself. Hence our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analyzing the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in religious or a political form. It will then be evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality.29
Since the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, philosophy as the ‘estranged mind’ (entfremdete Geist)30, was related as ‘estranged form’ (entfremdeten Form)31 to estranged reality itself. Philosophy would be considered as estranged significations of a distorted reality itself. The manner of understanding philosophy and human civilizations would henceforth involve a radical break. Marxist philosophy has consequently to be defined as the critique of the genealogy of estrangement. One must remembered that the texts explicitly dealing with the question of alienation: Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of State and the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 would emerge on the scene of world philosophy only in the late 1920s and the early 1930s when they were published by David Ryzanov. These texts were completely unknown to an entire generation of revolutionary Marxists. Thus the early generation of Marxists, Karl Kautsky, Plekhanov, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky, did not know of these works. From these Plekhanov and Kautsky would render a form the contemplative materialism (which would be inherited by the Stalin school of falsification), whilst Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg would embody the praxis school of Revolutionary Marxism. Probably the greatest blunder, created by the ‘contemplationists’ would be the formation of the ‘copy theory’ in Marxist epistemology—the theory that states that the ‘mind’ is only a ‘copy’ of an objective reality that functions independent of the mind. The estranged mind would re-enter the corridors of philosophy, but this time disguised in the clothes of revisionist Marxism.
So what did Marx do with the burning questions of philosophy? Does Marxism pose the questions of an ‘objective reality’? If so, is this objective reality, to be understood as being ‘independent of the mind’? Or is the mind to be understood as a part of objective reality? Why should one separate the “mind” from “objective reality”? Would not the question of seeking an ‘objective reality independent of the mind’ be nothing but rephrasing the issue of a reality that is estranged from humanity? Would not these traditional questions of philosophy consequently be nothing but the reflection and expression of estranged, capitalist society itself?
Hegelian Logic and the Problem of the Doppelcharakter in Capital
Yet it is imperative to note that this logic of Capital has not only the logic of brutality inscribed within it, but also a type of insanity, an insanity that is reflected in the Faustian dilemma:
Two souls, alas, are housed in my breast,
And each will wrestle for the mastery there.32
There is, thus as Marx once said, the ‘one-sidedness and limitations’ of Hegel33 that one needed to grasp and understand. When Goethe’s Faust mentions the dialectical process of human consciousness: the conflict between good and evil, the finite and the infinite, temporality and eternity, suffering and ecstasy, he was bringing onto the front of human knowledge the question of the nature of existence, as well as the problem of the search for the transcendent world. Is consciousness empirical-material or has the possibilities of a post-material faculty? What is this post-material faculty? And why has this conflict between the material and the transcendent occupied the history of human thought? What were Marx’s response to this transcendent character of consciousness? A surface reading of Marx would claim that it seems that he gave no epistemological place to the question of transcendent consciousness. It is well known that he calls this form of consciousness as theological and ‘the opium of the people’34. But he does not dismiss this experience as nonsensical. Because this experience is real human experience, based on real human suffering, he claims that it of great importance to understand it. And which is the most popular type of transcendent consciousness? Religion, so Marx says, which is the ‘inverted consciousness’ of an ‘inverted world’35. It is also:
the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compedium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence (phantastische Verwirklichung des menschlichen Wesens) since the human essence has not acquired any true reality......Religious suffering is at the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. 36
So it is the conflict of these two realms that would occupy Marx too. For him, the schism is formed not only in consciousness, but (to borrow the language of historical materialism) is found in the base itself. The duplication and the process of doubling takes place because something is rotten in the state of the capitalist base itself. We call this process schizo-contextuality. Schizo-contextuality indicates the world of estrangement and is expressed in its most typical form as the capitalist mode of production. As the ‘rule of capital’ it is also the discourse of ‘dead substance’ and as ‘past materialized and dead labour’ becomes ‘a live monster that is fruitful and multiplies’37. Secondly this form of philosophical schizophrenia, we call, schizo-contextuality which indicates the transcendent character of the capitalist world itself. As Marx says the commodity is essentially ‘transcendent’38. The transcendent character of capitalism indicates also the process of disembodiment, or the loss of the bodily form. This process of disembodiment takes place in this conflicting world of the double character of the commodity, where we have firstly the conflict between use-value and value, the material and the ideal, the body and the mind; and secondly the erasure of the elements of use-value, the material and consequently the body itself. Now what is produced is the mind that is independent of the body: the estranged mind itself. This Marx calls the ‘language of commodities’39. And in these language games the double as the estranged other becomes a ‘thing of terror’40.
Now in Marx’s framework we find an ironical situation that arises. The estranged other--both as (the commodity), and the ‘duplicated’, ‘imaginary world’ (the entire bourgeois superstructure, especially religion and the state)—is manifested both a terrible thing as well as a loveable thing at the same time. How is this possible? For one Marx says that we are in the world of the commodity—which is not exactly a reasonable situation to be in. Thus the commodified world is not at all constituted within a ‘rational’ order of things. On the contrary we are now in the lands of utter irrationality where life under capitalism is given to the ‘alien object’41. This bourgeois world Marx calls the world of ‘magic and necromancy’42, where life takes a fantastic form (phantastische Form) different from reality43.
Now when Marx insists that consciousness is always predicated on a social being, he now says that capitalism and the deranged mind emanating thereon are grounded on this alien object, this object which appears as ‘a very trivial thing’, as well as ‘a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties’; and because it is ‘transcendent’ it ‘not only stands with its feet on the ground, but , in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table turning’ ever was’44. So this idea of capitalism as being utterly irrational forms the basis of his critique of alienated consciousness, because it is based on the theory of reification, which claims that life has been conferred on the inanimate object, and true life which belongs to humanity is totally erased. This Marx calls a ‘complete mystification’, because it is ‘the conversion (Verdinglichung) of social relations into things’45. Note how these things start acting on their own:
It is an enchanted topsy-turvy world, in which Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre do their ghost-walking as social characters and at the same time as mere things...(It is the world of) false appearance and illusion....this personification of things and the reification (Versachlichung) of production relations into entities, this religion of everyday life.....(It is) the world of illusion...and half-truths and unsolved contradictions....(The problem is that one) feel(s) completely at home in these estranged and irrational forms...the(se) forms (Gestaltung) of illusion.(s).....46
The double character of the estranged world has turned out to be a falsehood and negation of its essential double character (use value/value, material/ideal) when it totally obliterates the first part of each binary pole (use value or simply material existence itself). This is the exemplary madness that attracted the attention of both Marx and Freud. Freud calls this process psychotic because there is now a complete withdrawal from reality47, whilst Marx calls it the ‘estranged mind’ (entfremdete Geist), ‘the world thinking within its self-estrangement (Selbstentfremdung), i.e., comprehending itself abstractly’48. It is also:
the speculative or mental value (Gedankenwert) of man and nature--its essence which has grown indifferent to all real determinateness (wirkliche Bestimmtheit), and hence (as) unreal essence (unwirkliches Wesen)—is alienated thinking, and therefore thinking which abstracts from nature and real man: abstract thinking (das abstrakte Denken).49
So the bourgeois patient has become the philosopher. The world is not only the world as will and idea, but the world as neurosis and psychosis.
Standing on the Head
Why does humanity appear ‘upside down’ or literally ‘standing on its head’ (auf den Kopf gestellt erscheinen)?50 This concept of the inversion that Marx so oft evoked is not a metaphor, as thought by many a philosopher51, but a scientific category (Begriff) that explains the precise nature of Marx’s problematic itself. Consider Althusser here:
This is the basic logic implied by the famous theme of the ‘inversion’, the ‘setting back on its feet’ of the Hegelian philosophy (dialectic) for if it were a matter merely of an inversion, a restoration of what of what had been upside down, it is clear that to turn an object right round changes neither its nature not its content by virtue merely of a rotation! A man of his head is at the same man when he is finally walking on his feet. And a philosophy inverted is this way cannot be regarded as anything more that the philosophy reversed except in the theoretical metaphor: in fact, its structure, its problems and the meaning of these problems are still haunted by the same problematic.52
To counter this simplistic and false understanding of inversion one has to consider the streams of the ideas of inversion in Marx’s works. To proceed into the question of philosophy as well as the dominant ideologies of class histories as the inverted mind, Marx claims that an Aufhebung und Verwirklichung der Philosophie (transcendence and realization of philosophy) is necessary53. But what is this Aufhebung and why did Marx use this apparently Hegelian term? What did Marx and Hegel mean by this? Principally Aufhebung implies a ‘lifting up’, in which there is a transcendence, which preserves as well as abolishes reality at a higher level of being. For Hegel, Aufhebung:
has a twofold meaning....on the one hand it means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put an end to. Even ‘to preserve’ includes a negative element, namely, that something is removed from its immediacy and so from an existence which is open to external influences, in order to preserve it’. 54
For Marx there are multiple aufheben. In On the Jewish Question he proclaims an ‘Aufhebung of religion’,55 and an ‘aufzuheben of these real distinctions’,56 whilst in the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction Marx reiterates the ‘Aufhebung of religion as the (abolition) of the illusory happiness of the people’57. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx proclaims the ‘positive Aufhebung of all estrangement’58, followed by the explosive ‘Aufhebung of the basis’59 itself. This principle of the complete transcendence of estrangement with the Aufhebung of private property and the state (Aufhebung des Staates) remains the condition sine qua non of revolutionary Marxism. Humanity has itself to be understood as perpetual transcendences. In contrast to this historicist and humanist logic, Althusser claims that Aufhebung is a ‘sly concept’.60
The point now, in the theory and praxis of perpetual transcendences, (as we go against the spirit of Althusser) is to locate when in history, estrangement emerged, and if philosophy is to be understood as the estrangement of the human essence, then when in history did the reified mind appear? In which philosophical systems was this estrangement represented? Was there a class struggle in the realms of estrangement and philosophy? Should one understand the foundational systems of Greek philosophy, initiated by Anaximander of Miletus (c. 610-546 B.C.), author of the lost treatise On Nature who introduced the concept of arché (‘the primary principle’ or beginning of all things), Thales of Miletus (c. 624-547 B.C.), Anaximenes of Miletus (c. 588-525 B.C.), Anaxogoras of Clazomanea (c. 500-428 B.C.), Pythagoras of Samos (c. 580- 500 B.C.), the alleged ‘student’ of Zarathustra, followed by the legendary Socrates (469-399 B.C.), Democritus of Abdera (c. 460-370 B.C.), Plato (428-348 B.C.), Aristotle (364-322 B.C.) and then culminating in Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), as a straightforward ‘love of wisdom’? Or are these to be understood as the ‘estrangement of the human essence’? Or is there a combination of both wisdom as well as estrangement, making it a ‘love of estrangement’? Or is there a struggle between these two?
How does one seriously understand Marx’s statement of philosophy to be understood as the estrangement of the human essence? Or would philosophy include not only the estrangement of humanity, but also its appropriation? In fact it is the latter theme that interested Marx: philosophy as estrangement has to go through the Aufhebung in order that a true and human based consciousness can make its appearance. That is why Marx disagreed with the Hegelian essentialisms of converting the world into the ‘Idea’. The world is the world of humanity and sensuous nature. There can be no consciousness existing in the alienated form of the ‘Idea’. So in anti-thesis to estrangement, Marx says that, ‘consciousness [das Bewusstseins] can never be anything else than conscious being [das bewusste Sein] and the being of men [das Sein der Menschen] in their actual life process’61. There can never be any rational free floating consciousness. There can however be an irrational free floating phantasmagoric mind posed as the estranged mind. Consciousness is always embedded in the world, whether in rational or irrational forms. That is why Marx says that it is life (Leben) that determines (bestimmte) consciousness62. This theme would haunt the entire life span of Marx’s life: ‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but inversely (umgekehrt), their social existence that determines their consciousness’63. But what does speculative philosophy do? It remains is the bosoms of the heavens producing illusory phantoms. It soars to heavens blue.
This metaphor of the street, the flâneur, and consciousness that is this worldly, and that consciousness essentially belongs to this world, even in transcendent, irrational, psychotic forms was a theme that continuously occupied Marx and Engels (just as it occupied the minds of the French materialists in particular and the history of materialism in general) as also Freud’s critique of mental illness, not to forget Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, the surrealists and the modernists. So both the philosophical as well as the aesthetical modernists (whether the revolutionary Marxists, the avant-garde cubists or the impressionists) would operate in this worlding of the world. Marx’s insistence with the worldliness of consciousness (even as the estranged mind), was on the one hand the epistemological basis of his dialectical materialism, as well as the political critique of commodity production, the state and the hegemony of private property and estrangement. Remember Marx’s dictum: alienation creates private property64. Alienation not only creates private property, the state and human repression, it also creates the reified mind. So this theme of the conflict of human estrangement and the critique of estrangement, of the alienated human essence and the struggle to appropriate this human essence remains central for Marx’s studies.
The ‘mind’, so once Marx declared, is cursed and burdened with ‘matter’65. The theme that consciousness is always predicated on social being—a definite Feuerbachian theme would form the crux of revolutionary Marxism:
The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness is at first directly interwoven with the material intercourse of humanity—the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of humanity at this stage still appear as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of the politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Humans are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc.. that is, real active humanity, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms.....If in all ideology humans and their relations appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process........The phantoms formed in the brains of human beings are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to their material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, and all the rest of ideology as well as the forms of consciousness corresponding to these, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their actual world, also their thinking and the products of their thinking.66
In The German Ideology Marx makes a distinction between a ‘self-sufficient philosophy’ (as the estranged mind) and the scientific description of reality67. Let us now relate this self-sufficient philosophy as the estranged mind with the reading of the history of philosophy as the Aufhebung of philosophy. For Marx, this combination of the already mentioned Aufhebung and Verwirklichung implies a ‘lifting up’ (the first ‘moment’ in the dialectics of the Aufhebung) from the reified conditions of estrangement, whereby as the realization of philosophy, the Real that was hidden in the misty regions of the Imaginary and the Symbolic, appears. Now this appearance of the Real is the radical moment in the history of humanity. The history of philosophy will be the continuous games that involve the concealment and the revelation of the Real. But what is this ‘Real’? And how does this alleged borrowing of Lacan’s terms be able to shed light on Marx’s philosophical revolution? What does Marx do with the entire edifice of the history of philosophy, and why did Marx insist on going through the history of philosophy? Consider Marx: One cannot turn one’s back on philosophy and mutter a few irritable and banal phrases over its shoulder68. One has to go through these lost paths, one has to go through this estranged human essence. It is ‘necessary to study’, as Althusser once quoted Lenin, ‘the falsest of all false paths’ (der Holzweg der Holzwege)69. Dialectical materialism is the ‘theory of philosophy as a false path’70. And this study requires the most radical solution: the negation (Negation ) of philosophy, i.e., philosophy as philosophy. 71
In the Theses on Feuerbach Marx proceeds into the epistemological mechanisms of philosophy. Philosophy—or should one say pre-Marxist philosophy—as expressed in the binary oppositions of materialism and idealism emerges when humanity is itself fragmented into the binary forms of subject and object. The resultant schools of thought: idealism and materialism are the ‘false consciousness’ expressed therein. Materialism, so Marx claims, which includes the darling of the radical Young Hegelians, Feuerbach himself, conceives reality only in the form of object (Form des Objekts) and the binary opposite of contemplation (Anschauung)72. It does not grasp the activist character of radical humanity, it cannot grasp revolutionary praxis. It can only understand theory as ‘the only genuinely human attitude’.73 Note how this same metaphysics that Marx critiqued would emerge in the Marxist movement itself. Why is this so? What did Marxism of the Second International do? It created an estranged signifier called ‘Matter’. The entire human history is conceived as the teleological evolution of ‘Matter’. In this teleology one cannot not talk of consciousness and will. Thus there is no consciousness, no will in this metaphysics of matter. One should remember the counterrevolutionary impact of this metaphysics of matter in the international proletariat movement. Whilst this metaphysic was constructed by the ‘father of Russian Marxism’, Plekhanov, it was the ‘children’, Stalin and co. who converted this metaphysic into an onto-theology. The classical text of Stalin Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR proclaimed the greatness of the ‘laws of history’ existing ‘independently of human will’. The will was enslaved to these theological ‘laws’. The summary of Stalin was human consciousness exists only as a Platonic ‘mirror’ to the reified and personified ‘laws’ working independently of humanity (remember Plato’s Ideas?). Mao in response called Stalin a metaphysician (a highly derogatory term in Marxism). Stalin (himself trained as a priest) of course could not conceive of a revolutionary Marxism. This error of a ‘Matter’ devoid of humanity, was pontificated by Stalin as a ‘science’. The chief error was that all materialists (Feuerbach included, as the Theses on Feuerbach went) wrote their grand philosophies in the text of reality existing in the ‘form of the (estranged ) object’. Remember how Gramsci would critique this metaphysics as mechanical materialism and fatalism, and also how Lukács would call this episteme an ‘inverted Platonism’. Remember also how this object (in the ‘form of the object’), or ‘thing’ (Ding) becomes the personified thing in Marx’s theory of alienation and reification.
On the other hand, so Marx announced, the idealists seized the activist conception, but ‘only abstractly’, since, ‘idealism does not real sensuous activity as such’74. So what form of activity does idealism know of? It knows only of phantasmagorical activity. And what is this phantasmagoric activity? It is a form of activity constituted within a world where there is ‘absolutely no connexion with their physical properties and with the material relations arising there form’75. And why is there ‘absolutely no connexion’ with the physical and material life-worlds? Because we have now a reality posited which appears in ‘fantastic form (die phantasmagorische Form) of a relation between things’ (Verhältnisses von Dingen annimmt)76 In order to understand this phantasmagoric mind let us consider Marx:
In order, therefore to find an analogy we must have recourse to the mist enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the products of the human brain appear as independent beings (selbständige Gestalten) endowed with life and entering into relations with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of human hands. That is what I call the Fetishism which attaches to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.77
So what do we find? That with societies based on commodity production, a fetishism of the mind takes place, a process where humanity is estranged, and where life is conferred to the inanimate object. Note the relation of the ‘form of the object’ and the already mentioned ‘independent beings’ who are ‘endowed with life’. The fetishism of the mind indicates magical powers being bestowed onto inanimate objects. From now on the history of consciousness is dominated by this fetishized consciousness. Remember Marx’s statement, ‘in the history of civilization the conscious element plays a part so subordinate’.78 Just as Freud gives primacy to the unconsciousness, so too Marx studies this political unconscious as the fetishized mind. That is why Marx gives importance to the understanding of Hegel. That is why it is imperative to state that besides the dialectics of contradictions, Marx was also fascinated by the Hegelian phantasmagoria. Marx’s critique of Hegel’s philosophy in particular, and the history of philosophy in general i.e. as the entfremdete Geist is bound to the critique of the capitalist mode of production in particular as well as the history of class societies in general. Something is rotten and strange in the state of class societies whereby philosophy as estranging reason appears on the scene of world history.
One has to confront this rot and strangeness, before this rot and strangeness confronts and devours us.