is Orthodox Marxism?
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in
various ways; the point, however, is to change it. Marx:
Theses on Feuerbach.
This question, simple as it is, has been the focus
of much discussion in both proletarian and bourgeois
circles. But among intellectuals it has gradually become
fashionable to greet any profession of faith in Marxism
with ironical disdain. Great disunity has prevailed
even in the 'socialist' camp as to what constitutes
the essence of Marxism, and which theses it is 'permissible'
to criticise and even reject without forfeiting the
right to the title of 'Marxist'. In consequence it came
to be thought increasingly 'unscientific' to make scholastic
exegeses of old texts with a quasi-Biblical status,
instead of fostering an 'impartial' study of the 'facts'.
These texts, it was argued, had long been 'superseded'
by modern criticism and they should no longer be regarded
as the sole fount of truth.
If the question were really to be formulated in terms
of such a crude antithesis it would deserve at best
a pitying smile. But in fact it is not (and never has
been) quite so straightforward. Let us assume for the
sake of argument that recent research had disproved
once and for all every one of Marx's individual theses.
Even if this were to be proved, every serious 'orthodox'
Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern
findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of
Marx's theses in toto - without having to renounce his
orthodoxy for a single moment. Orthodox Marxism, therefore,
does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results
of Marx's investigations. It is not the 'belief' in
this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a 'sacred'
book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively
to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical
materialism is the road to truth and that its methods
can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the
lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction,
moreover, that all attempts to surpass or 'improve'
it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality
Materialist dialectic is a revolutionary dialectic.
This definition is so important and altogether so crucial
for an understanding of its nature that if the problem
is to be approached in the right way this must be fully
grasped before we venture upon a discussion of the dialectical
method itself. The issue turns on the question of theory
and practice. And this not merely in the sense given
it by Marx when he says in his first critique of Hegel
that "theory becomes a material force when it grips
the masses".  Even more to the point is the
need to discover those features and definitions both
of the theory and the ways of gripping the masses which
convert the theory, the dialectical method, into a vehicle
of revolution. We must extract the practical essence
of the theory from the method and its relation to its
object. If this is not done that 'gripping the masses'
could well turn out to be a will o' the wisp. It might
turn out that the masses were in the grip of quite different
forces, that they were in pursuit of quite different
ends. In that event, there would be no necessary connection
between the theory and their activity, it would be a
form that enables the masses to become conscious of
their socially necessary or fortuitous actions, without
ensuring a genuine and necessary bond between consciousness
In the same essay  Marx clearly defined the conditions
in which a relation between theory and practice becomes
possible. "It is not enough that thought should
seek to realise itself; reality must also strive towards
thought." Or, as he expresses it in an earlier
work:  "It will then be realised that the world
has long since possessed something in the form of a
dream which it need only take possession of consciously,
in order to possess it in reality." Only when consciousness
stands in such a relation to reality can theory and
practice be united. But for this to happen the emergence
of consciousness must become the decisive step which
the historical process must take towards its proper
end (an end constituted by the wills of men, but neither
dependent on human whim, nor the product of human invention).
The historical function of theory is to make this step
a practical possibility. Only when a historical situation
has arisen in which a class must understand society
if it is to assert itself; only when the fact that a
class understands itself means that it understands society
as a whole and when, in consequence, the class becomes
both the subject and the object of knowledge; in short,
only when these conditions are all satisfied will the
unity of theory and practice, the precondition of the
revolutionary function of the theory, become possible.
Such a situation has in fact arisen with the entry
of the proletariat into history. "When the proletariat
proclaims the dissolution of the existing social order,"
Marx declares, "it does no more than disclose the
secret of its own existence, for it is the effective
dissolution of that order."  The links between
the theory that affirms this and the revolution are
not just arbitrary, nor are they particularly tortuous
or open to misunderstanding. On the contrary, the theory
is essentially the intellectual expression of the revolutionary
process itself. In it every stage of the process becomes
fixed so that it may be generalised, communicated, utilised
and developed. Because the theory does nothing but arrest
and make conscious each necessary step, it becomes at
the same time the necessary premise of the following
To be clear about the function of theory is also to
understand its own basis, i.e. dialectical method. This
point is absolutely crucial, and because it has been
overlooked much confusion has been introduced into discussions
of dialectics. Engels' arguments in the Anti-Dühring
decisively influenced the later life of the theory.
However we regard them, whether we grant them classical
status or whether we criticise them, deem them to be
incomplete or even flawed, we must still agree that
this aspect is nowhere treated in them. That is to say,
he contrasts the ways in which concepts are formed in
dialectics as opposed to 'metaphysics'; he stresses
the fact that in dialectics the definite contours of
concepts (and the objects they represent) are dissolved.
Dialectics, he argues, is a continuous process of transition
from one definition into the other. In consequence a
one-sided and rigid causality must be replaced by interaction.
But he does not even mention the most vital interaction,
namely the dialectical relation between subject and
object in the historical process, let alone give it
the prominence it deserves. Yet without this factor
dialectics ceases to be revolutionary, despite attempts
(illusory in the last analysis) to retain 'fluid' concepts.
For it implies a failure to recognise that in all metaphysics
the object remains untouched and unaltered so that thought
remains contemplative and fails to become practical;
while for the dialectical method the central problem
is to change really.
If this central function of the theory is disregarded,
the virtues of forming 'fluid' concepts become altogether
problematic: a purely 'scientific' matter. The theory
might then be accepted or rejected in accordance with
the prevailing state of science without any modification
at all to one's basic attitudes, to the question of
whether or not reality can be changed. Indeed, as the
so-called Machists among Marx's supporters have demonstrated
it even reinforces the view that reality with its 'obedience
to laws , in the sense used by bourgeois, contemplative
materialism and the classical economics with which it
is so closely bound up, is impenetrable, fatalistic
and immutable. That Machism can also give birth to an
equally bourgeois voluntarism does not contradict this.
Fatalism and voluntarism are only mutually contradictory
to an undialectical and unhistorical mind. In the dialectical
view of history they prove to be necessarily complementary
opposites, intellectual reflexes clearly expressing
the antagonisms of capitalist society and the intractability
of its problems when conceived in its own terms.
For this reason all attempts to deepen the dialectical
method with the aid of 'criticism' inevitably lead to
a more superficial view. For 'criticism' always starts
with just this separation between method and reality,
between thought and being. And it is just this separation
that it holds to be an improvement deserving of every
praise for its introduction of true scientific rigour
into the crude, uncritical materialism of the Marxian
method. Of course, no one denies the right of 'criticism'
to do this. But if it does so we must insist that it
will be moving counter to the essential spirit of dialectics.
The statements of Marx and Engels on this point could
hardly be more explicit. "Dialectics thereby reduced
itself to the science of the general laws of motion
- both in the external world and in the thought of man
- two sets of laws which are identical in substance"
(Engels).  Marx formulated it even more precisely.
"In the study of economic categories, as in the
case of every historical and social science, it must
be borne in mind that ... the categories are therefore
but forms of being, conditions of existence ...".
 If this meaning of dialectical method is obscured,
dialectics must inevitably begin to look like a superfluous
additive, a mere ornament of Marxist 'sociology' or
'economics'. Even worse, it will appear as an obstacle
to the 'sober', 'impartial' study of the 'facts', as
an empty construct in whose name Marxism does violence
to the facts.
This objection to dialectical method has been voiced
most clearly and cogently by Bernstein, thanks in part
to a 'freedom from bias' unclouded by any philosophical
knowledge. However, the very real political and economic
conclusions he deduces from this desire to liberate
method from the 'dialectical snares' of Hegelianism,
show clearly where this course leads. They show that
it is precisely the dialectic that must be removed if
one wishes to found a thorough-going opportunistic theory,
a theory of 'evolution' without revolution and of 'natural
development' into Socialism without any conflict.
We are now faced with the question of the methodological
implications of these so-called facts that are idolised
throughout the whole of Revisionist literature. To what
extent may we look to them to provide guide-lines for
the actions of the revolutionary proletariat? It goes
without saying that all knowledge starts from the facts.
The only question is: which of the data of life are
relevant to knowledge and in the context of which method?
The blinkered empiricist will of course deny that facts
can only become facts within the framework of a system
- which will vary with the knowledge desired. He believes
that every piece of data from economic life, every statistic,
every raw event already constitutes an important fact.
In so doing he forgets that however simple an enumeration
of 'facts' may be, however lacking in commentary, it
already implies an 'interpretation'. Already at this
stage the facts have been comprehended by a theory,
a method; they have been wrenched from their living
context and fitted into a theory.
More sophisticated opportunists would readily grant
this despite their profound and instinctive dislike
of all theory. They seek refuge in the methods of natural
science, in the way in which science distills 'pure'
facts and places them in the relevant contexts by means
of observation, abstraction and experiment. They then
oppose this ideal model of knowledge to the forced constructions
of the dialectical method.
If such methods seem plausible at first this is because
capitalism tends to produce a social structure that
in great measure encourages such views. But for that
very reason we need the dialectical method to puncture
the social illusion so produced and help us to glimpse
the reality underlying it. The 'pure' facts of the natural
sciences arise when a phenomenon of the real world is
placed (in thought or in reality) into an environment
where its laws can be inspected without outside interference.
This process is reinforced by reducing the phenomena
to their purely quantitative essence. to their expression
in numbers and numerical relations. Opportunists always
fail to recognise that it is in the nature of capitalism
to process phenomena in this way. Marx gives an incisive
account  of such a 'process of abstraction' in the
case of labour, but he does not omit to point out with
equal vigour that he is dealing with a historical peculiarity
of capitalist society.
"Thus the most general abstractions commonly appear
where there is the highest concrete development, where
one feature appears to be shared by many, and to be
common to all. Then it cannot be thought of any longer
in one particular form."
But this tendency in capitalism goes even further.
The fetishistic character of economic forms, the reification
of all human relations, the constant expansion and extension
of the division of labour 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. In this way arise the 'isolated'
facts, 'isolated' complexes of facts, separate, specialist
disciplines (economics, law, etc.) whose very appearance
seems to have done much to pave the way for such scientific
methods. It thus appears extraordinarily 'scientific'
to think out the tendencies implicit in the facts themselves
and to promote this activity to the status of science.
By contrast, in the teeth of all these isolated and
isolating facts and partial systems, dialectics insists
on the concrete unity of the whole. Yet although it
exposes these appearances for the illusions they are
- albeit illusions necessarily engendered by capitalism
- in this 'scientific' atmosphere it still gives the
impression of being an arbitrary construction.
The unscientific nature of this seemingly so scientific
method consists, then, in its failure to see and take
account of the historical character of the facts on
which it is based. This is the source of more than one
error (constantly overlooked by the practitioners of
the method) to which Engels has explicitly drawn attention.
 The nature of this source of error is that statistics
and the 'exact' economic theory based upon them always
lag behind actual developments.
"For this reason, it is only too often necessary
in current history, to treat this, the most decisive
factor, as constant, and the economic situation existing
at the beginning of the period concerned as given and
unalterable for the whole period, or else to take notice
of only those changes in the situation as arise out
of the patently manifest events themselves and are therefore,
likewise, patently manifest."
Thus we perceive that there is something highly problematic
in the fact that capitalist society is predisposed to
harmonise with scientific method, to constitute indeed
the social premises of its exactness. If the internal
structure of the 'facts' of their interconnections is
essentially historical, if, that is to say, they are
caught up in a process of continuous transformation,
then we may indeed question when the greater scientific
inaccuracy occurs. It is when I conceive of the 'facts'
as existing in a form and as subject to laws concerning
which I have a methodological certainty (or at least
probability) that they no longer apply to these facts?
Or is it when I consciously take this situation into
account, cast a critical eye at the 'exactitude' attainable
by such a method and concentrate instead on those points
where this historical aspect, this decisive fact of
change really manifests itself ?
The historical character of the 'facts' which science
seems to have grasped with such 'purity' makes itself
felt in an even more devastating manner. As the products
of historical evolution they are involved in continuous
change. But in addition they are also precisely in their
objective structure the products of a definite historical
epoch, namely capitalism. Thus when 'science' maintains
that the manner in which data immediately present themselves
is an adequate foundation of scientific conceptualisation
and that the actual form of these data is the appropriate
starting-point for the formation of scientific concepts,
it thereby takes its stand simply and dogmatically on
the basis of capitalist society. It uncritically accepts
the nature of the object as it is given and the laws
of that society as the unalterable foundation of 'science'.
In order to progress from these 'facts' to facts in
the true meaning of the word it is necessary to perceive
their historical conditioning as such and to abandon
the point of view that would see them as immediately
given: they must themselves be subjected to a historical
and dialectical examination. For as Marx says: 
"The finished pattern of economic relations as
seen on the surface in their real existence and consequently
in the ideas with which the agents and bearers of these
relations seek to understand them, is very different
from, and indeed quite the reverse of and antagonistic
to their inner. essential but concealed core and the
concepts corresponding to it."
If the facts are to be understood, this distinction
between their real existence and their inner core must
be grasped clearly and precisely. This distinction is
the first premise of a truly scientific study which
in Marx's words, "would be superfluous if the outward
appearance of things coincided with their essence".
 Thus we must detach the phenomena from the form
in which they are immediately given and discover the
intervening links which connect them to their core,
their essence. In so doing, we shall arrive at an understanding
of their apparent form and see it as the form in which
the inner core necessarily appears. It is necessary
because of the historical character of the facts, because
they have grown in the soil of capitalist society. This
twofold character, the simultaneous recognition and
transcendence of immediate appearances is precisely
the dialectical nexus.
In this respect, superficial readers imprisoned in
the modes of thought created by capitalism, experienced
the gravest difficulties in comprehending the structure
of thought in Capital. For on the one hand, Marx's account
pushes the capitalist nature of all economic forms to
their furthest limits, he creates an intellectual milieu
where they can exist in their purest form by positing
a society 'corresponding to the theory', i.e. capitalist
through and through, consisting of none but capitalists
and proletarians. But conversely, no sooner does this
strategy produce results, no sooner does this world
of phenomena seem to be on the point of crystallising
out into theory than it dissolves into a mere illusion,
a distorted situation appears as in a distorting mirror
which is, however, "only the conscious expression
of an. imaginary movement".
Only in this context which sees the isolated facts
of social life as aspects of the historical process
and integrates them in a totality, can knowledge of
the facts hope to become knowledge of reality. This
knowledge starts from the simple (and to the capitalist
world), pure, immediate, natural determinants described
above. It progresses from them to the knowledge of the
concrete totality, i.e. to the conceptual reproduction
of reality. This concrete totality is by no means an
unmediated datum for thought.
"The concrete is concrete," Marx says,
"because it is a synthesis of many particular determinants,
i.e. a unity of diverse elements."
Idealism succumbs here to the delusion of confusing
the intellectual reproduction of reality with the actual
structure of reality itself. For "in thought, reality
appears as the process of synthesis, not as starting-point,
but as outcome, although it is the real starting-point
and hence the starting-point for perception and ideas."
Conversely, the vulgar materialists, even in the modern
guise donned by Bernstein and others, do not go beyond
the reproduction of the immediate, simple determinants
of social life. They imagine that they are being quite
extraordinarily 'exact' when they simply take over these
determinants without either analysing them further or
welding them into a concrete totality. They take the
facts in abstract isolation, explaining them only in
terms of abstract laws unrelated to the concrete totality.
As Marx observes:
"Crudeness and conceptual nullity consist in the
tendency to forge arbitrary unmediated connections between
things that belong together in an organic union."
The crudeness and conceptual nullity of such thought
lies primarily in the fact that it obscures the historical,
transitory nature of capitalist society. Its determinants
take on the appearance of timeless, eternal categories
valid for all social formations. This could be seen
at its crassest in the vulgar bourgeois economists,
but the vulgar Marxists soon followed in their footsteps.
The dialectical method was overthrown and with it the
methodological supremacy of the totality over the individual
aspects; the parts were prevented from finding their
definition within the whole and, instead, the whole
was dismissed as unscientific or else it degenerated
into the mere 'idea' or 'sum' of the parts. With the
totality out of the way, the fetishistic relations of
the isolated parts appeared as a timeless law valid
for every human society.
Marx's dictum: "The relations of production of
every society form a whole"  is the methodological
point of departure and the key to the historical understanding
of social relations. All the isolated partial categories
can be thought of and treated - in isolation - as something
that is always present in every society. (If it cannot
be found in a given society this is put down to 'chance'
as the exception that proves the rule.) But the changes
to which these individual aspects are subject give no
clear and unambiguous picture of the real differences
in the various stages of the evolution of society. These
can really only be discerned in the context of the total
historical process of their relation to society as a
This dialectical conception of totality seems to have
put a great distance between itself and reality, it
appears to construct reality very 'unscientifically'.
But it is the only method capable of understanding and
reproducing reality. Concrete totality is, therefore,
the category that governs reality.  The rightness
of this view only emerges with complete clarity when
we direct our attention to the real, material substratum
of our method, viz. capitalist society with its internal
antagonism between the forces and the relations of production.
The methodology of the natural sciences which forms
the methodological ideal of every fetishistic science
and every kind of Revisionism rejects the idea of contradiction
and antagonism in its subject matter. If, despite this,
contradictions do spring up between particular theories,
this only proves that our knowledge is as yet imperfect.
Contradictions between theories show that these theories
have reached their natural limits; they must therefore
be transformed and subsumed under even wider theories
in which the contradictions finally disappear.
But we maintain that in the case of social reality
these contradictions are not a sign of the imperfect
understanding of society; on the contrary, they belong
to the nature of reality itself and to the nature of
capitalism. When the totality is known they will not
be transcended and cease to be contradictions. Quite
the reverse. they will be seen to be necessary contradictions
arising out of the antagonisms of this system of production.
When theory (as the knowledge of the whole) opens up
the way to resolving these contradictions it does so
by revealing the real tendencies of social evolution.
For these are destined to effect a real resolution of
the contradictions that have emerged in the course of
From this angle we see that the conflict between the
dialectical method and that of 'criticism' (or vulgar
materialism, Machism, etc.) is a social problem. When
the ideal of scientific knowledge is applied to nature
it simply furthers the progress of science. But when
it is applied to society it turns out to be an ideological
weapon of the bourgeoisie. For the latter it is a matter
of life and death to understand its own system of production
in terms of eternally valid categories: it must think
of capitalism as being predestined to eternal survival
by the eternal laws of nature and reason. Conversely,
contradictions that cannot be ignored must be shown
to be purely surface phenomena, unrelated to this mode
The method of classical economics was a product of
this ideological need. But also its limitations as a
science are a consequence of the structure of capitalist
reality and the antagonistic character of capitalist
production. When, for example, a thinker of Ricardo's
stature can deny the "necessity of expanding the
market along with the expansion of production and the
growth of capital", he does so (unconsciously of
course), to avoid the necessity of admitting that crises
are inevitable. For crises are the most striking illustration
of the antagonisms in capitalist production and it is
evident that "the bourgeois mode of production
implies a limitation to the free development of the
forces of production".  What was good faith
in Ricardo became a consciously misleading apologia
of bourgeois society in the writings of the vulgar economists.
The vulgar Marxists arrived at the same results by seeking
either the thorough-going elimination of dialectics
from proletarian science, or at best its 'critical'
To give a grotesque illustration, Max Adler wished
to make a critical distinction between dialectics as
method, as the movement of thought on the one hand and
the dialectics of being, as metaphysics on the other.
His 'criticism' culminates in the sharp separation of
dialectics from both and he describes it as a "piece
of positive science" which "is. what is chiefly
meant by talk of real dialectics in Marxism". This
dialectic might more aptly be called 'antagonism', for
it simply "asserts that an opposition exists between
the self-interest of an individual and the social forms
in which he is confined".  By this stroke the
objective economic antagonism as expressed in the class
struggle evaporates, leaving only a conflict between
the individual and society. This means that neither
the emergence of internal problems, nor the collapse
of capitalist society, can be seen to be necessary.
The end-product, whether he likes it or not, is a Kantian
philosophy of history' Moreover, the structure of bourgeois
society is established as the universal form of society
in general. For the central problem Max Adler tackles,
of the real "dialectics or, better, antagonism"
is nothing but one of the typical ideological forms
of the capitalist social order. But whether capitalism
is rendered immortal on economic or on ideological grounds,
whether with naive nonchalance, or with critical refinement
is of little importance.
Thus with the rejection or blurring of the dialectical
method history becomes unknowable. This does not imply
that a more or less exact account of particular people
or epochs cannot be given without the aid of dialectics.
But it does put paid to attempts to understand history
as a unified process. (This can be seen in the sociologically
abstract, historical constructs of the type of Spencer
and Comte whose inner contradictions have been convincingly
exposed by modern bourgeois historians, most incisively
by Rickert. But it also shows itself in the demand for
a 'philosophy of history' which then turns out to have
a quite inscrutable relationship to historical reality.)
The opposition between the description of an aspect
of history and the description of history as a unified
process is not just a problem of scope, as in the distinction
between particular and universal history. It is rather
a conflict of method, of approach. Whatever the epoch
or special topic of study, the question of a unified
approach to the process of history is inescapable. It
is here that the crucial importance of the dialectical
view of totality reveals itself. For it is perfectly
possible for someone to describe the essentials of an
historical event and yet be in the dark about the real
nature of that event and of its function in the historical
totality, i.e. without understanding it as part of a
unified historical process.
A typical example of this can be seen in Sismondi's
treatment of the question of crisis.  He understood
the immanent tendencies in the processes of production
and distribution. But ultimately he failed because,
for all his incisive criticism of capitalism, he remained
imprisoned in capitalist notions of the objective and
so necessarily thought of production and distribution
as two independent processes, "not realising that
the relations of distribution are only the relations
of production sub alia species". He thus succumbs
to the same fate that overtook Proudhon's false dialectics;
"he converts the various limbs of society into
so many independent societies". 
We repeat: the category of totality does not reduce
its various elements to an undifferentiated uniformity,
to identity. The apparent independence and autonomy
which they possess in the capitalist system of production
is an illusion only in so far as they are involved in
a dynamic dialectical relationship with one another
and can be thought of as the dynamic dialectical aspects
of an equally dynamic and dialectical whole. "The
result we arrive at," says Marx, "is not that
production, distribution, exchange and consumption are
identical, but that they are all members of one totality,
different aspects of a unit. . . . Thus a definite form
of production determines definite forms of consumption,
distribution and exchange as well as definite relations
between these different elements.... A mutual interaction
takes place between these various elements. This is
the case with every organic body."  But even
the category of interaction requires inspection. If
by interaction we mean just the reciprocal causal impact
of two otherwise unchangeable objects on each other,
we shall not have come an inch nearer to an understanding
of society. This is the case with the vulgar materialists
with their one-way causal sequences (or the Machists
with their functional relations). After all, there is
e.g. an interaction when a stationary billiard ball
is struck by a moving one: the first one moves, the
second one is deflected from its original path. The
interaction we have in mind must be more than the interaction
of otherwise unchanging objects. It must go further
in its relation to the whole: for this relation determines
the objective form of every object of cognition. Every
substantial change that is of concern to knowledge manifests
itself as a change in relation to the whole and through
this as a change in the form of objectivity itself.
 Marx has formulated this idea in countless places.
I shall cite only one of the best-known passages: 
"A negro is a negro. He only becomes a slave in
certain circumstances. A cotton-spinning jenny is a
machine for spinning cotton. Only in certain circumstances
does it become capital. Torn from those circumstances
it is no more capital than gold is money or sugar the
price of sugar."
Thus the objective forms of all social phenomena change
constantly in the course of their ceaseless dialectical
interactions with each other. The intelligibility of
objects develops in proportion as we grasp their function
in the totality to which they belong. This is why only
the dialectical conception of totality can enable us
to understand reality as a social process. For only
this conception dissolves the fetishistic forms necessarily
produced by the capitalist mode of production and enables
us to see them as mere illusions which are not less
illusory for being seen to be necessary. These unmediated
concepts, these 'laws' sprout just as inevitably from
the soil of capitalism and veil the real relations between
They can all be seen as ideas necessarily held by the
agents of the capitalist system of production. They
are, therefore, objects of knowledge, but the object
which is known through them is not the capitalist system
of production itself, but the ideology of its ruling
Only when this veil is torn aside does historical knowledge
become possible. For the function of these unmediated
concepts that have been derived from the fetishistic
forms of objectivity is to make the phenomena of capitalist
society appear as supra-historical essences. The knowledge
of the real, objective nature of a phenomenon, the knowledge
of its historical character and the knowledge of its
actual function in the totality of society form, therefore,
a single, undivided act of cognition. This unity is
shattered by the pseudo-scientific method. Thus only
through the dialectical method could the distinction
between constant and variable capital, crucial to economics,
be understood. Classical economics was unable to go
beyond the distinction between fixed and circulating
capital. This was not accidental. For "variable
capital is only a particular historical manifestation
of the fund for providing the necessaries of life, or
the labour-fund which the labourer requires for the
maintenance of himself and his family, and which whatever
be the system of social production, he must himself
produce and reproduce. If the labour-fund constantly
flows to him in the form of money that pays for his
labour, it is because the product he has created moves
constantly away from him in the form of capital....
The transaction is veiled by the fact that the product
appears as a commodity and the commodity as money."
The fetishistic illusions enveloping all phenomena
in capitalist society succeed in concealing reality,
but more is concealed than the historical, i.e. transitory,
ephemeral nature of phenomena. This concealment is made
possible by the fact that in capitalist society man's
environment, and especially the categories of economics,
appear to him immediately and necessarily in forms of
objectivity which conceal the fact that they are the
categories of the relations of men with each other.
Instead they appear as things and the relations of things
with each other. Therefore, when the dialectical method
destroys the fiction of the immortality of the categories
it also destroys their reified character and clears
the way to a knowledge of reality. According to Engels
in his discussion of Marx's Critique of Political Economy,
"economics does not treat of things, but of the
relations between persons and, in the last analysis,
between classes; however, these relations are always
bound to things and appear as things." 
It is by virtue of this insight that the dialectical
method and its concept of totality can be seen to provide
real knowledge of what goes on in society. It might
appear as if the dialectic relations between parts and
whole were no more than a construct of thought as remote
from the true categories of social reality as the unmediated
formulae of bourgeois economics. If so, the superiority
of dialectics would be purely methodological. The real
difference, however, is deeper and more fundamental.
At every stage of social evolution each economic category
reveals a definite relation between men. This relation
becomes conscious and is conceptualised. Because of
this the inner logic of the movement of human society
can be understood at once as the product of men themselves
and of forces that arise from their relations with each
other and which have escaped their control. Thus the
economic categories become dynamic and dialectical in
a double sense. As 'pure' economic categories they are
involved in constant interaction with each other, and
that enables us to understand any given historical cross-section
through the evolution of society. But since they have
arisen out of human relations and since they function
in the process of the transformation of human relations,
the actual process of social evolution becomes visible
in their reciprocal relationship with the reality underlying
their activity. That is to say, the production and reproduction
of a particular economic totality, which science hopes
to understand, is necessarily transformed into the process
of production and reproduction of a particular social
totality; in the course of this transformation, 'pure'
economics are naturally transcended, though this does
not mean that we must appeal to any transcendental forces.
Marx often insisted upon this aspect of dialectics.
For instance: 
"Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect
of a continuous connected process or as a process of
reproduction produces not only commodities, not only
surplus value, but it also produces and reproduces the
capitalist relation itself, on the one hand the capitalist
and on the other, the labourer."
To posit oneself, to produce and reproduce oneself -
that is reality. Hegel clearly perceived this and expressed
it in a way closely similar to that of Marx, albeit
cloaked in abstraction and misunderstanding itself and
thus opening the way to further misunderstanding. "What
is actual is necessary in itself," he says in the
Philosophy of Right. "Necessity consists in this
that the whole is sundered into the different concepts
and that this divided whole yields a fixed and permanent
determinacy. However, this is not a fossilised determinacy
but one which permanently recreates itself in its dissolution."
 The deep affinities between historical materialism
and Hegel's philosophy are clearly manifested here,
for both conceive of theory as the self-knowledge of
reality. Nevertheless, we must briefly point to the
crucial difference between them. This is likewise located
in the problem of reality and of the unity of the historical
Marx reproached Hegel (and, in even stronger terms,
Hegel's successors who had reverted to Kant and Fichte)
with his failure to overcome the duality of thought
and being, of theory and practice, of subject and object.
He maintained that Hegel's dialectic, which purported
to be an inner, real dialectic of the historical process,
was a mere illusion: in the crucial point he failed
to go beyond Kant. His knowledge is no more than knowledge
about an essentially alien material. It was not the
case that this material, human society, came to now
itself. As he remarks in the decisive sentences of his
"Already with Hegel, the absolute spirit of history
has its material in the masses, but only finds adequate
expression in philosophy. But the philosopher appears
merely as the instrument by which absolute spirit, which
makes history, arrives at self-consciousness after the
historical movement has been completed. The philosopher's
role in history is thus limited to this subsequent consciousness,
for the real movement is executed unconsciously by the
absolute spirit. Thus the philosopher arrives post festum."
Hegel, then, permits
"absolute spirit qua absolute spirit to make history
only in appearance. ... For, as absolute spirit does
not appear in the mind of the philosopher in the shape
of the creative world-spirit until after the event,
it follows that it makes history only in the consciousness,
the opinions and the ideas of the philosophers, only
in the speculative imagination."
Hegel's conceptual mythology has been definitively
eliminated by the critical activity of the young Marx.
It is, however, not accidental that Marx achieved 'self-understanding'
in the course of opposing a reactionary Hegelian movement
reverting back to Kant. This movement exploited Hegel's
obscurities and inner uncertainties in order to eradicate
the revolutionary elements from his method. It strove
to harmonise the reactionary content, the reactionary
conceptual mythology, the vestiges of the contemplative
dualism of thought and existence with the consistently
reactionary philosophy which prevailed in the Germany
of the day.
By adopting the progressive part of the Hegelian method,
namely the dialectic, Marx not only cut himself off
from Hegel's successors; he also split Hegel's philosophy
in two. He took the historical tendency in Hegel to
its logical extreme: he radically transformed all the
phenomena both of society and of socialised man into
historical problems: he concretely revealed the real
substratum of historical evolution and developed a seminal
method in the process. He measured Hegel's philosophy
by the yardstick he had himself discovered and systematically
elaborated, and he found it wanting. The mythologising
remnants of the 'eternal values' which Marx eliminated
from the dialectic belong basically on the same level
as the philosophy of reflection which Hegel had fought
his whole life long with such energy and bitterness
and against which he had pitted his entire philosophical
method, with its ideas of process and concrete totality,
dialectics and history. In this sense Marx's critique
of Hegel is the direct continuation and extension of
the criticism that Hegel himself levelled at Kant and
Fichte.  So it came about that Marx's dialectical
method continued what Hegel had striven for but had
failed to achieve in a concrete form. And, on the other
hand, the corpse of the written system remained for
the scavenging philologists and system-makers to feast
It is at reality itself that Hegel and Marx part company.
Hegel was unable to penetrate to the real driving forces
of history. Partly because these forces were not yet
fully visible when he created his system. In consequence
he was forced to regard the peoples and their consciousness
as the true bearers of historical evolution. (But he
did not discern their real nature because of the .heterogeneous
composition of that consciousness. So he mythologised
it into the 'spirit of the people'.) But in part he
remained imprisoned in the Platonic and Kantian outlook,
in the duality of thought and being, of form and matter,
notwithstanding his very energetic efforts to break
out. Even though he was the first to discover the meaning
of concrete totality, and even though his thought was
constantly bent upon overcoming every kind of abstraction,
matter still remained tainted for him with the 'stain
of the specific' (and here he was very much the Platonist).
These contradictory and conflicting tendencies could
not be clarified within his system. They are often juxtaposed,
unmediated, contradictory and unreconciled. In consequence,
the ultimate (apparent) synthesis had perforce to turn
to the past rather than the future.  It is no wonder
that from very early on bourgeois science chose to dwell
on these aspects of Hegel. As a result the revolutionary
core of his thought became almost totally obscure even
A conceptual mythology always points to the failure
to understand a fundamental condition of human existence,
one whose effects cannot be warded off. This failure
to penetrate the object is expressed intellectually
in terms of transcendental forces which construct and
shape reality, the relations between objects, our relations
with them and their transformations in the course of
history in a mythological fashion. By recognising that
"the production and reproduction of real life (is)
in the last resort the decisive factor in history",
 Marx and Engels gained a vantage-point from which
they could settle accounts with all mythologies. Hegel's
absolute spirit was the last of these grandiose mythological
schemes. It already contained the totality and its movement,
even though it was unaware of its real character. Thus
in historical materialism reason "which has always
existed though not always in a rational form",
 achieved that 'rational' form by discovering its
real substratum, the basis from which human life will
really be able to become conscious of itself. This completed
the programme of Hegel's philosophy of history, even
though at the cost of the destruction of his system.
In contrast to nature in which, as Hegel emphasises,
 "change goes in a circle, repeating the same
thing", change in history takes place "in
the concept as well as on the surface. It is the concept
itself which is corrected."
The premise of dialectical materialism is, we recall:
"It is not men's consciousness that determines
their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence
that determines their consciousness." Only in the
context sketched above can this premise point beyond
mere theory and become a question of praxis. Only when
the core of existence stands revealed as a social process
can existence be seen as the product, albeit the hitherto
unconscious product, of human activity. This activity
will be seen in its turn as the element crucial for
the transformation of existence. Man finds himself confronted
by purely natural relations or social forms mystified
into natural relations. They appear to be fixed, complete
and immutable entities which can be manipulated and
even comprehended, but never overthrown. But also this
situation creates the possibility of praxis in the individual
consciousness. Praxis becomes the form of action appropriate
to the isolated individual, it becomes his ethics. Feuerbach's
attempt to supersede Hegel foundered on this reef: like
the German idealists, and to a much greater extent than
Hegel, he stopped short at the isolated individual of
Marx urged us to understand 'the sensuous world', the
object, reality, as human sensuous activity.  This
means that man must become conscious of himself as a
social being, as simultaneously the subject and object
of the socio-historical process. In feudal society man
could not yet see himself as a social being because
his social relations were still mainly natural. Society
was far too unorganised and had far too little control
over the totality of relations between men for it to
appear to consciousness as the reality of man. (The
question of the structure and unity of feudal society
cannot be considered in any detail here.) Bourgeois
society carried out the process of socialising society.
Capitalism destroyed both the spatio-temporal barriers
between different lands and territories and also the
legal partitions between the different 'estates' (Stande).
In its universe there is a formal equality for all men;
the economic relations that directly determined the
metabolic exchange between men and nature progressively
disappear. Man becomes, in the true sense of the word,
a social being. Society. becomes the reality for man.
Thus the recognition that society is reality becomes
possible only under capitalism, in bourgeois society.
But the class which carried out this revolution did
so without consciousness of its function; the social
forces it unleashed, the very forces that carried it
to supremacy seemed to be opposed to it like a second
nature, but a more soulless, impenetrable nature than
feudalism ever was.  It was necessary for the proletariat
to be born for social reality to become fully conscious.
The reason for this is that the discovery of the class-outlook
of the proletariat provided a vantage point from which
to survey the whole of society. With the emergence of
historical materialism there arose the theory of the
"conditions for the liberation of the proletariat"
and the doctrine of reality understood as the total
process of social evolution. This was only possible
because for the proletariat the total knowledge of its
class-situation was a vital necessity, a matter of life
and death; because its class situation becomes comprehensible
only if the whole of society can be understood; and
because this understanding is the inescapable precondition
of its actions. Thus the unity of theory and practice
is only the reverse side of the social and historical
position of the proletariat. From its own point of view
self-knowledge coincides with knowledge of the whole
so that the proletariat is at one and the same time
the subject and object of its own knowledge.
The mission of raising humanity to a higher level is
based, as Hegel rightly observed  (although he was
still concerned with nations), on the fact that these
"stages of evolution exist as immediate, natural,
principles" and it devolves upon every nation (i.e.
class) "endowed with such a natural principle to
put it into practice". Marx concretises this idea
with great clarity by applying it to social development:
"If socialist writers attribute this world-historical
role to the proletariat it is not because they believe
... that the proletariat are gods. Far from it. The
proletariat can and must liberate itself because when
the proletariat is fully developed, its humanity and
even the appearance of its humanity has become totally
abstract; because in the conditions of its life all
the conditions of life of contemporary society find
their most inhuman consummation; because in the proletariat
man is lost to himself but at the same time he has acquired
a theoretical consciousness of this loss, and is driven
by the absolutely imperious dictates of his misery -
the practical expression of this necessity - which can
no longer be ignored or whitewashed, to rebel against
this inhumanity. However, the proletariat cannot liberate
itself without destroying the conditions of its own
life. But it cannot do that without destroying all the
inhuman conditions of life in contemporary society which
exist in the proletariat in a concentrated form."
Thus the essence of the method of historical materialism
is inseparable from the 'practical and critical' activity
of the proletariat: both are aspects of the same process
of social evolution. So, too, the knowledge of reality
provided by the dialectical method is likewise inseparable
from the class standpoint of the proletariat. The question
raised by the Austrian Marxists of the methodological
separation of the 'pure' science of Marxism from socialism
is a pseudo-problem.  For, the Marxist method, the
dialectical materialist knowledge of reality, can arise
only from the point of view of a class, from the point
of view of the struggle of the proletariat. To abandon
this point of view is to move away from historical materialism,
just as to adopt it leads directly into the thick of
the struggle of the proletariat.
Historical materialism grows out of the "immediate,
natural" life-principle of the proletariat; it
means the acquisition of total knowledge of reality
from this one point of view. But it does not follow
from this that this knowledge or this methodological
attitude is the inherent or natural possession of the
proletariat as a class (let alone of proletarian individuals).
On the contrary. It is true that the proletariat is
the conscious subject of total social reality. But the
conscious subject is not defined here as in Kant, where
'subject' is defined as that which can never be an object.
The 'subject' here is not a detached spectator of the
process. The proletariat is more than just the active
and passive part of this process: the rise and evolution
of its knowledge and its actual rise and evolution in
the course of history are just the two different sides
of the same real process. It is not simply the case
that the working class arose in the course of spontaneous,
unconscious actions born of immediate, direct despair
(the Luddite destruction of machines can serve as a
primitive illustration of this), and then advanced gradually
through incessant social struggle to the point where
it "formed itself into a class". But it is
no less true that proletarian consciousness of social
reality, of its own class situation, of its own historical
vocation and the materialist view of history are all
products of this self-same process of evolution which
historical materialism understands adequately and for
what it really is for the first time in history.
Thus the Marxist method is equally as much the product
of class warfare as any other political or economic
product. In the same way, the evolution of the proletariat
reflects the inner structure of the society which it
was the first to understand. "Its result, therefore,
appears just as constantly presupposed by it as its
presuppositions appear as its results."  The
idea of totality which we have come to recognise as
the presupposition necessary to comprehend reality is
the product of history in a double sense.
First, historical materialism became a formal, objective
possibility only because economic factors created the
proletariat, because the proletariat did emerge (i.e.
at a particular stage of historical development), and
because the subject and object of the knowledge of social
reality were transformed. Second, this formal possibility
became a real one only in the course of the evolution
of the proletariat. If the meaning of history is to
be found in the process of history itself and not, as
formerly, in a transcendental, mythological or ethical
meaning foisted on to recalcitrant material, this presupposes
a proletariat with a relatively advanced awareness of
its own position, i.e. a relatively advanced proletariat,
and, therefore, a long preceding period of evolution.
The path taken by this evolution leads from utopia to
the knowledge of reality; from transcendental goals
fixed by the first great leaders of the workers' movement
to the clear perception by the Commune of 1871 that
the working-class has "no ideals to realise",
but wishes only "to liberate the elements of the
new society". It is the path leading from the "class
opposed to capitalism" to the class "for itself".
Seen in this light the revisionist separation of movement
and ultimate goal represents a regression to the most
primitive stage of the working-class movement. For the
ultimate goal is not a 'state of the future' awaiting
the proletariat somewhere independent of the movement
and the path leading up to it. It is not a condition
which can be happily forgotten in the stress of daily
life and recalled only in Sunday sermons as a stirring
contrast to workaday cares. Nor is it a 'duty', an 'idea'
designed to regulate the 'real' process. The ultimate
goal is rather that relation to the totality (to the
whole of society seen as a process), through which every
aspect of the struggle acquires its revolutionary significance.
This relation informs every aspect in its simple and
sober ordinariness, but only consciousness makes it
real and so confers reality on the day-to-day struggle
by manifesting its relation to the whole. Thus it elevates
mere existence to reality. Do not let us forget either
that every attempt to rescue the 'ultimate goal' or
the 'essence' of the proletariat from every impure contact
with - capitalist- existence leads ultimately to the
same remoteness from reality, from 'practical, critical
activity' and to the same relapse into the utopian dualism
of subject and object, of theory and practice to which
Revisionism has succumbed. 
The practical danger of every such dualism shows itself
in the loss of any directive for action. As soon as
you abandon the ground of reality that has been conquered
and reconquered by dialectical materialism, as soon
as you decide to remain on the 'natural' ground of existence,
of the empirical in its stark, naked brutality, you
create a gulf between the subject of an action and the
milieu of the 'facts' in which the action unfolds so
that they stand opposed to each other as harsh, irreconcilable
principles. It then becomes impossible to impose the
subjective will, wish or decision upon the facts or
to discover in them any directive for action. A situation
in which the 'facts' speak out unmistakably for or against
a definite course of action has never existed, and neither
can or will exist. The more conscientiously the facts
are explored - in their isolation, i.e. in their unmediated
relations - the less compellingly will they point in
any one direction. It is self-evident that a merely
subjective decision will be shattered by the pressure
of uncomprehended facts acting automatically 'according
Thus dialectical materialism is seen to offer the only
approach to reality which can give action a direction.
The self-knowledge, both subjective and objective, of
the proletariat at a given point in its evolution is
at the same time knowledge of the stage of development
achieved by the whole society. The facts no longer appear
strange when they are comprehended in their coherent
reality, in the relation of all partial aspects to their
inherent, but hitherto unelucidated roots in the whole:
we then perceive the tendencies which strive towards
the centre of reality, to what we are wont to call the
ultimate goal. This ultimate goal is not an abstract
ideal opposed to the process, but an aspect of truth
and reality. It is the concrete meaning of each stage
reached and an integral part of the concrete moment.
Because of this, to comprehend it is to recognise the
direction taken (unconsciously) by events and tendencies
towards the totality. It is to know the direction that
determines concretely the correct course of action at
any given moment - in terms of the interest of the total
process, viz. the emancipation of the proletariat. However,
the evolution of society constantly heightens the tension
between the partial aspects and the whole. just because
the inherent meaning of reality shines forth With an
ever more resplendent light, the meaning of the process
is embedded ever more deeply in day-to-day events, and
totality permeates the spatio-temporal character of
phenomena. The path to consciousness throughout the
course of history does not become smoother but on the
contrary ever more arduous and exacting. For this reason
the task of orthodox Marxism, its victory over Revisionism
and utopianism can never mean the defeat, once and for
all, of false tendencies. It is an ever-renewed struggle
against the insidious effects of bourgeois ideology
on the thought of the proletariat. Marxist orthodoxy
is no guardian of traditions, it is the eternally vigilant
prophet proclaiming the relation between the tasks of
the immediate present and the totality of the historical
process. Hence the words of the Communist Manifesto
on the tasks of orthodoxy and of its representatives,
the Communists, have lost neither their relevance nor
"The Communists are distinguished from the other
working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national
struggles of the proletarians of the different countries,
they point out and bring to the front the common interests
of the entire proletariat, independent of nationality.
2. In the various stages of development which the struggle
of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to
pass through, they always and everywhere represent the
interests of the movement as a whole."
1 Introduction to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy
of Right , p. 52.
2 Ibid., p. 54.
3 Nachlass I, pp. 382-3. [Correspondence of 1843].
4 Ibid., p. 398. See also the essay on Class Consciousness.
5 Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.
6 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,
(my italics). It is of the first importance to realise
that the method is limited here to the realms of history
and society. The misunderstandings that arise from Engels'
account of dialectics can in the main be put down to
the fact that Engels - following Hegel's mistaken lead
- extended the method to apply also to nature. However,
the crucial determinants of dialectics - the interaction
of subject and object, the unity of theory and practice,
the historical changes in the reality underlying the
categories as the root cause of changes in thought,
etc. - are absent from our knowledge of nature. Unfortunately
it is not possible to undertake a detailed analysis
of these questions here.
7 Ibid., pp. 298-9.
8 Introduction to The Class Struggles in France . But
it must be borne in mind that 'scientific exactitude'
presupposes that the elements remain 'constant'. This
had been postulated as far back as Galileo.
9 Capital III, p. 205. Similarly also pp. 47-8 and
307. The distinction between existence (which is divided
into appearance, phenomenon and essence) and reality
derives from Hegel's Logic. It is unfortunately not
possible here to discuss the degree to which the conceptual
framework of Capital is based on these distinctions.
Similarly, the distinction between idea (Vorstellung)
and concept (Begriff) is also to be found in Hegel.
10 Capital III, p. 797.
11 A Contribution to Political Economy, p. 293.
12 Ibid., p. 273. The category of reflective connection
also derives from Hegel's Logic. [See Explanatory Notes
for this concept].
13 The Poverty of Philosophy, p. 123.
14 We would draw the attention of readers with a greater
interest in questions of methodology to the fact that
in Hegel's logic, too, the relation of the parts to
the whole forms the dialectical transition from existence
to reality. It must be noted in this context that the
question of the relation of internal and external also
treated there is likewise concerned with the problem
of totality. Hegel, Werke IV, pp. 156 ff.
15 Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, Stuttgart,
1905, II, II, pp. 305-9.
16 Marxistische Probleme, p. 77.
17 Theorien über den Mehrvert, III, pp. 55 and
18 The Poverty of Philosophy, pp. 123-4.
19 A Contribution to Political Economy, pp. 291-2.
20 The very subtle nature of Cunow's opportunism can
be observed by the way in which - despite his thorough
knowledge of Marx's works - he substitutes the word
'sum' for the concept of the whole (totality) thus eliminating
every dialectical relation. Cf. Die Marxsche Geschichts-
Gesellschafts- und Staatstheorie, Berlin, 1929, II,
21 Wage Labour and Capital.
22 Capital I, p. 568.
23 Cf. the essay on Reification and the Consciousness
of the Proletariat.
24 Capital I, p. 578.
25 Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox,
Oxford, 1942, p. 283.
26 Nachlass II, p. 187. [The Holy Family, Chapter 6]
27 It comes as no surprise that at the very point where
Marx radically departs from Hegel, Cunow should attempt
to correct Marx by appealing to Hegel as seen through
Kantian spectacles. To Marx's purely historical view
of the state he opposes the Hegelian state as 'an eternal
value'. Its 'errors' are to be set aside as nothing
more than 'historical matters' which do not 'determine
the nature, the fate and the objectives of the state'.
For Cunow, Marx is inferior to Hegel on this point because
he 'regards the question politically and not from the
standpoint of the sociologist'. Cunow, op. cit. p. 308.
It is evident that all Marx's efforts to overcome Hegelian
philosophy might never have existed in the eyes of the
opportunists. If they do not return to vulgar materialism
or to Kant they use the reactionary elements of Hegel's
philosophy of the state to erase revolutionary dialectics
from Marxism, so as to provide an intellectual immortalisation
of bourgeois society.
28 Hegel's attitude towards national economy is highly
significant in this context. (Philosophy of Right, §
189.) He clearly sees that the problem of chance and
necessity is fundamental to it methodologically (very
like Engels: Origin of the Family S.W. II, p. 293 and
Feuerbach, etc. S.W. II, p. 354). But he is unable to
see the crucial importance of the material reality underlying
the economy, viz. the relation of men to each other;
it remains for him no more than an 'arbitrary chaos'
and its laws are thought to be 'similar to those of
the planetary system'. Ibid. §. 189.
29 Engels, Letter to J. Bloch, 21 September 1890.
30 Nachlass I, p. 381. [Correspondence with Ruge (1843)].
31 The Philosophy of History.
32 Theses on Feuerbach.
33 See the essay Class Consciousness for an explanation
of this situation.
34 The Philosophy of Right, § 346-7.
35 Nachlass II, p. 133. [The Holy Family, Chapter 4].
36 Hilferding, Finanzkapital, pp. VIII-IX.
37 Capital III.
38 Cf. Zinoviev's polemics against Guesde and his attitude
to the war in Stuttgart. Gegen den Strom, pp. 470-1.
Likewise Lenin's book, "Left-Wing" Communism
- an Infantile Disorder