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Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx and Negativity

Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx
and Negativity
Chris Arthur
In 1844 a turning point occurs in Marx’s philosophical development: for the first time he makes labour the central
category of his social ontology (1)
position of
importance it was never to lose. Productive activity, and
its alienation, are thematized in that most extraordinary
document containing the results of Marx’s first serious
study of political economy: the economic and philosophical
manuscripts written in paris in 1844. The development of
this theme bears a striking resemblance to the movement
from consciousness through to absolute knowing in Hegel’s
Phenomenology of Spirit. The non-accidental character of
this correspondence is confirmed when Marx turns aside to
settle accounts with the Hegelian dialectic, and the
Phenomenology in particular.

When Marx founds his new social ontology on the
principle of an historically developing social whole centred
in human practice, he could not neglect the inspiration of
Hegel’s dialectic of negativity, together with the problematic of estrangement and its overcoming, present in the
Phenomenology. Feuerbach’s blunt naturalism contains no
such principle of development, and – in spite of his materialism – he considers the problem of alienation only under
the rubric of ‘illusions of specu la tion’ • The main object of
this paper will be to explain how, on the one hand, Marx
can praise Feuerbach for counterposing to Hegel’s
negation the ‘self-sustaining positive’, while, on the other,
he can praise Hegel for expressing in his dialectic of
negativity the process whereby man produces himself
through his own labour.

In the first section of this paper I will rehearse the
movement of Mane’S investigation of alienated labour; next
I will examine his critique of Hegel’s Phenomenology; finally I will consider the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach on
Marx and demonstrate the true originality of Marx’s


1 Marx’s Theory of Alienation
(a) Labour under the rule of private property
Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts are justly famous for conceptualizing the situation of the wage-labourer as one of alienation. At first Sight, it appears that the worker’s alienation
in his labour is due to the subordination of labour to private property; because the worker has no property in the
means of production his labour-power is excluded immediately from the instrument and object of production owned
by another; his labour realizes itself therefore only
through the mediation of the wage-contract whereby it is
alienated to the master and works in his behalf. The
labourer treats his labour as a commodity; as a consequence he has no interest in the work itself but only in
the wage; labour does not belong to itself but to private
property. Marx comments trenchantly on the situation
endured by the worker: he executes plans he does not

form; he objectifies himself in his product only to have it
taken from him; he produces palaces but lives in hovels;
his labour creates beauty but deforms himself; the more
intelligence is embodied in the design of a factory system
the more machine-like and stupifying the routine of work,
so much so that the labourer faces machinery as a competi tor for his place; at work he does not feel at home; he
feels himself only when he is not working; his labour is
therefore not voluntary but forced labour; in it the worker
belongs not to himself but to another. Since, for Marx,
activity is the central determinant of human being, for as
men express their life so they are, the alienation of labour
is at the same time self-estrangement. (1844 Manuscripts,
pp.322-326 in Early Writings)
All this follows from the separation between labour
and private property, and the power of private property
over the immediate producer. The only certainty in the
worker’s life is that his destiny depends upon private property – on whether it has any use for the”labour he offers.

The immediate precondition of alienated labour appears to
be private property in the means of production.

It is noteworthy, moreover, that Marx commonly
speaks of the power of property or of capital, rather than
the domination of the property-owner or the capitalist.

Much more is involved here than a rhetorical figure. This
usage represents Marx’s insight into the real character of
social relationships in bourgeois society. This is: that the
nature of the relationships between persons follows from
their relationship to things. If one asks of two people
going into a factory why it is that one can boss the other
one around, the answer cannot be given in terms of the
personal qualities of the individuals concerned but only in
terms of their differing relation to capital. The one who
owns (or acts on behalf of) capital is thereby the master
of the other. Marx says:

Capi tal is … the power to command labour and its
products. The capitalist possesses this power not
on account of his personal or human properties but
in so far as he is the ~ of capital. His power
is the purchasing power of his capital, which
nothing can withstand.

Throughout his work Marx never tires of contrasting the
relationships of personal dependency in pre-capitalist society with the liberation from personal dependence established by the bourgeois revolution; but then there comes
the common dependence on impersonal relations; through
the mediation of money and capital new social dependencies arise. In feudalism there is the appearance of a
meaningful unity between the individual and the means of
production in that the land is individuated with its lord
and its serfs – just this particular estate is his and they
belong to it. Hence the proverb: ‘No land without its lord’

(p.318). Modern private property, by contrast, has an
abstract universal form: value. One can put one’s wealth

‘into’ anything – factories, land, works of art – without
ceasing to be ‘worth’ so much. Money dissolves all feudal
fixi ty and we find the modern saying – ‘Money has no
master’ – expressing the absolute contingency of the relationship between property and personality. We no longer
bow the knee to princes, but now, says Marx, ‘an
impersonal power rules over everything’ (p.366).

(b )Private property as the consequence of alienated labour
Unwary readers of the section on ‘estranged labour’ in the
1844 Manuscripts, then, assume that what is being claimed
is that the ·worker is alienated because he works under the
sway of capital; they are then astonished when Marx
suddenly turns round and says that private property is not
so much the cause as the consequence of alienation. Here
is the passage in question:

Private property is … the product, result, and necessary consequence of alienated labour (der
entausserten Arbeit), of the external relation of the
worker to nature and to himself…. It is true that
we took the concept of alienated labour ••• from
political economy as a result of the movement of
private property. But it is clear from an analysis
of this concept that if private property appears as
the ground, the basis of alienated labour, it is
much more its consequence, just as the gods were
originally not the cause but the effect of the confusion in men’s minds.

Later, however, this
relationship becomes reciprocal.

It is of the first importance to understand what Marx is
saying here, and the significance of his view of private
property as the realization of alienated labour (2). A clue
to the direction of his thought is given a few lines later
when he comments: ‘In speaking of private property one
imagines that one is dealing with something external to
man. In speaking of labour one is dealing immediately with
man himself’ (p.333). Nonetheless, as we shall see in a
moment, in the case of pre-capitalist society one is not
going too far from the truth in seeing property, e.g.

landed property, as an external condition of labour’s realization: but modern private property, held as capital, is
different. Capital, as a store of value, is internally
related to value-creating labour. Let me explain.

In the first part of the Mss. Marx stays close to his
sources in political economy-and shows from facts
admitted by political economy itself that the more the
worker produces the less he can call his own and ‘the
more he falls under the domination of his product, of capital’ (p.324). In its theory political economy says that
labour is the basis of production and exchange; Adam
Smith is quite clear that the real ‘wealth of nations’ lies
in the labour force and in improvements in productivity
brought about by the division of labour. The economy
appears to be founded on the movement of private property, on buying, selling, investing, profiting, but in truth
the essence of these relationships lies behind them in
labour and its relations and development. Marx says that
there is a paradox in that: ‘political economy starts out
from labour as the real soul of production, and yet gives
nothing to labour and everything to private property’!

(p.332). ‘Proudhon has dealt with this contradiction,’ Marx
continues, ‘by deciding for labour and against private
property’; but that is insufficiently dialectical; what we
are faced with is ‘the contradiction of estranged labour
with itself’ (p.332). Today, private property is, paradigmatically, capital, which is nothing but a store of value.

What is the origin of value? What is its substance?

Labour! Every time the worker labours, therefore, he
creates a value which, when realized on the market by the
employer, adds to his store of capital. The worker
produces and reproduces that which dominates him capital.

The relation of cause and consequence is grasped here
from the point of view of the being-in-process of the
totality rather than as an external conjunction of antecedent and consequent. Abstract alienated labour, and
self-expanding value, capital, stand in an internal relation
which structures the whole of capitalist society in such a
way that its reproduction depends on the constant
reflection-in-process of these moments into each other. To
prioritise labour is not to deny the reality of capital; but
its effectivity as the proximate ~noment in the worker’S
self-estrangement does not prevent Marx from grasping it
as the mediating moment in labour’s self-alienation,
posi ted by labour itself as its own otherness.

In grasping this dialectical relation of reflection in
otherness we are not dealing with the constant conjunction of otherwise unrelated elements but with a polar relation in which, if one can follow the movement of private
property as if it were the principal aspect, the ultimately
overriding moment must be labour, which alienates itself
in the capital to which it is subordinated.

In relating labour in its alienation to fully-developed
private property, that is, capitalist property, in this way,
Marx is well aware that relationships were different in
previous social formations. It is for this reason that I must
insist that when Marx gives priority to labour over property he is not posing it as historically antecedent but
rather as ontologically more fundamental in the social
totality established by their dialectic. The elements of the
relationship may well exist separately before entering on
this dialectic. Property may well have established itself
originally in the manner projected by Rousseau in his second discourse (at least as plausible as anything in Locke,
Smith, and company), imposing itself by force and fraud. It
is essential then to bear in mind that when Marx speaks of
labour as the basis of private property, this results from
an analysis of modern private property, property held as
capital, and, more particularly, means of production held
as capital.

If one looks, as Marx does at length, at pre-capitalist
social formations, there is no internal link between labour
and property as there is between labour as the substance
of value and capital as accumulated value – or as ‘dead
labour’ (as Marx sometimes calls it). The dialectical relationship between labour and private property is itself an
historically developed product. Hence it had not merely to
be discovered, but to be created.

In the main form of pre-capitalist property, namely
landed property worked by serfs or yielding tithes, there
is certainly an opposition between labour and property in
that, in virtue of the political ties of lordship and bondate, the exploitation of the propertyless mass of labourers
is effected. But this process of exploitation does not sustain the property relation itself. From an economic point
of view feudal property is an externally enforced condition determining one’s place in production and the possibility of gaining wealth (for example, the serf is condemned
to be an appurtenance of the land, the land itself is
inalienably linked to the system of primogeniture).

However, when private property is fully developed, it
is free from all restrictions and is universally alienable.

Along with the development of markets in all kinds of
commodi ties goes the reduction of land and labour themselves to alienable commodities. Possession now depends
no longer on political mediation, but on the effect of the
purely economic movement. It becomes inevitable, Marx
that the rule of the property owner should appear
as the naked rule of private property, of capital,
divested of all political tincture; that the relationship between property owner and worker should
be reduced to the economic relationship of
exploiter and exploited; that the personal relationship between the property owner and his property
should come to an end, and that property itself
should become purely material wealth ••••


What Marx traces in his treatment of pre-capitalist forms
is a movement from a situation where property is an
external condition of labour, that is to say, one just
‘finds’ that one is landless and must work for the propertied, to that in which property is labour’s product in the
capital relation. There is a shift from a state of estrangement between labour and its conditions of actualization
(appearing externally to it as another’s property) to the
constitution of a process of alienation sustaining the system of estrangement of labour from its object and itself.

Now the first relation may well be taken as an historically
prior condition of the second complex, but, when the
movement of the totality that is now constituted by the
relations of labour and capital develops, it is labour that
posits private property as its estranged self. Marx says:

It is only at the culminating point of the development of private property that this its secret reemerges, namely, that on the one hand it is the
product of alienated labour, and on the other it is
the means through which labour alienates itself,
the realiZation of this alienation.

The relation of immediate externality between labour and
its object remains in the new dynamic, not now as a precondition, but as the recurring moment at which the
worker is forced to sell his labour-power because he has
no other property; the whole system, including the reproduction of this very moment, is sustained by labour’s continual self-alienation (3). Private property, originally other
than labour, becomes in practice private property as alienated labour. Private property is unmasked as itself a
structure of alienation, not merely the (external) cause of
es trangemen t.

(c) Communism as the negation of the negation

Marx states that only that political economy which, from
Smith, took labour as its principle, and which no longer
regarded private property as nothing more than a condition external to man, can be regarded as a product of
modern industry (p.341).

In a very suggestive comparison, Marx, following
Engels, says of Smith that he was ‘the Luther of political
economy (p.342). Just as Luther attacked external religiosity in the form of fetish-worshipping, priests, ritual,
churches, etc., in order to implant God all the more firmly
in the hearts of the religious, so Smith mocked the mercantilists’ illusions about gold and other external forms of
property, in order to put labour as such all the more
firmly under the category of property as the inner essence
of value. However, this political economy cannot conceptualize the matter in a critical way because it takes property in all factors of production for granted. It sees
labour as necessarily gaining social recognition only as the
value of its product. It sees the social synthesis as
achieved only through money and exchange on the market.

Marx’s position allows us to grasp private property,
not as given, but as a historically specific set of relationships to labour. Moreover, only Marx’s position, taking
man and his labour as the basis, can envisage as a practical task the overcoming of alienation. It is to be
expected that those who hold property to be the basis of
alienation can only conceive of the transition to socialism
as an externally structured ‘final crisis’ of an economic
character where the working class and its struggle is put
in a secondary place. As the obverse face of this, transition is posited as the result of an ‘intervention’ by individuals or self-proclaimed vanguards, who are mysteri/usly
exempt from the one-dime.sionality of capitalism’s social
consciousness. Marx grasps the dialectical process of
self-alienation, and reappropriation, in the movement of
living labour as the basis for a self-transcending historical

In modern industry we find, Marx claims, that the
antithesis of propertylessness and property is not ‘an in12

l'”,l’ttrur tin Cift)er



different antithesis’ lacking any ‘active inner relation’

but, grasped as the antithesis of labour and capital, it is a
contradiction, ‘a vigorous relation, therefore, driving
towards resolution’ (p.345). However, only if labour is
grasped as the over-riding moment in the alienated
labour/private property complex can the conditions of a
real transcendence of estrangement be established. The
immanent movement of private property cannot abolish
itself, albeit that it produces its own grave-diggers. In the
dialectical opposition of private property and alienated
labour, the principal aspect of the contradiction becomes
the latter, so that Marx says that the fall of wage-labour
and private property – ‘identical’ (p.332) expressions of
estrangement – takes place ‘in the political form of the
emancipation of the workers’ (p.333).

The pattern whereby labour grasps its other as its
own self in estrangement from itself, and negates this
negation, has obvious parallels with Hegel’s Phenomenology
of Spirit, as does the positive meaning Marx attributes to
this abolution of private property. However, in order to
comprehend what Marx intends in speaking of ‘the positive
supersession of private property’ (p.348), we must first
review the central role of labour in Marx’s new

Through labour, through material production, humanity
comes to be what it essentially is. ‘The product of labour,’

says marx, ‘is the objectification (Yergegenstandlichung) of
labour’ (p.324). Through this process of production, therefore, the labourer realizes his potential and becomes objective to himself; but it is important to stress here
(because we will have to come back to it when we make a
comparison with Hegel) that this is possible only because
there exists external material with which to work; Marx
says: ‘the worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world’ (p.325). It is the material
in which his labour realizes itself and, in the absence of
any distortion of the relationship, this material production
is the mediation in which the unity of man with nature is
established. ‘It is therefore in his fashioning of the objective world that man really proves himself’ says Mrx.

‘Through it nature appears as his work and his reality •••
and he can therefore contemplate himself in a world he
himself created’ (p.329).

However, this happy lot is hardly that of the wagelabourer. In the conditions dealt with by political economy
– that is to say where labour is separated (through ‘second
order mediations’ (4» from its objective conditions of
realization (the material and the instruments of
production) – the objectification of labour is at the same
time its alienation, and the outcome is the estrangement
of the worker from the material basis of his existence and
life-activity (p.324).

Overcoming estrangement through communism means
the reappropriation of the ‘ontological essence’ of humanity which has constituted itself ‘through developed



industry, that is through the mediation of private property’, objectively as an external alien power (p.375).

Marx believes that the alienation of labour is the historically necessary process in which the richness of its
productive power emerges; private property is not a mistaken detour but the historically necessary form of development of wealth. Marx clearly distinguishes the ontological necessity of objectification from the historical fact
that this sphere has constituted itself in the shape of private property as a world of estrangement founded on the
alienation of labour. This means there is something positive in property, disguised by its alien form as the power
of capital, namely the welath of human self-development.

Marx says: ‘The meaning of private property, freed from
its estrangement, is the existence of essential objects for
man, both as objects of enjoyment and activity’ (p.375).

Previous communist doctrine, he points out, had not
‘grasped the positive essence of private property’ (p.348).

It is not a question for Marx of annulling private property
and all its works, then, but of taking possession of the
immensely powerful modern productive forces by and for
society. As he puts it, very generally:

Communism is the positive supersession of private
property as human self-estrangement, and hence
the true appropriation of the human essence
through and for man; it is the complete restoration
of man to himself ••. which takes place within the
entire wealth of previous periods of development ••••
The entire movement of history is therefore both
the actual act of creation of communism – the
birth of its empirical existence – and, for its thinking consciousness, the comprehended and known
movement of its becoming.

It is obvious, Marx points out, that communism understood
in this historical light does not emount to a revulsion from
the achievements of the epoch of private property, ‘an
impoverished regression to primitive simplicity’, as he puts
it (p.395), but the reappropriation of the objective expression of mankind’s essential powers through the destruction
of the estranged character of this reified world in which
they are embodied.

In contrast to this picture of communis:n as the result
immanent in history, crude communist ideology seeks an
empirical proof for itself in isolated examples of co-operation torn from their historical context.

As Marx

All it succeeds in showing is that by far the
greater part of this development contradicts its
assertions and that if it (communism) did once
exist, then the very fact that it existed in the past
refutes its claim to essential being (Wesen).

-We have seen that Marx starts from the objective
power of capital over the labourer. This alien power, upon
investiga tion, turns out to be the product of labour itself
in its estrangement. When Marx turns to the question of
the overcoming of alienation, therefore, this must take the
form, not of a mere abstract negation of private property,
but of a determinate negation which incorporates the positive appropriation of the estranged essence of man objectHied in developed industry under the guise of private property alien to the worker.

However, note Marx’s conclusion:

Communism is the act of positing as the negation
of the negation, and is therefore a real phase, necessary for the next period of historical development, in the emancipation and recovery of mankind. Communism is the necessary form and the
dynamic principle of the immediate future, but
communism is not as such the goal of human development – the form of human society.

It is important to understand this point if we are to see
why Marx’s dialectic differs from that of Iiegel.

Marx illustrates the point with the example of atheism. This is a peculiar kind of humanism because it depends for its sense on first of all positing what it denies. It
asserts the autonomy of man only through the negation of
God. First man is negated through being reduced to the
creature of God; but then the negation of the negation
reasserts the essentiality of man. This humanism is thoroughly infected by the opposite through which it developed itself. This is very clear in the Sartrean man who
says to himself ‘God is dead; I am abandoned; I am alone;
there is no commandment, I must take complete res”j?OilSfbility for my destiny.’ This kind of consciousness is that of
the man who first believed in God and then lost his faith.

It is quite different from that of the humanism· that never
knew God in the first place and hence could never feel
lost without him!

In the same way, socialism as ‘positive humanism’

stands on the ground of the essential relations of man to
himself and to nature. It does not require to be perpetually mediated through its understanding of itself as the
opposite of private property, although this is a necessary
historical stage (5). (We will have to recur to this topic,
and develop it, after we have discussed Hegelian
‘negativity’, and again in relation to Feuerbachian
‘positivity’ .)

2 The Critique of Hegel’s Phenomenology in Mark’s
It is time now to turn to the question of Marx’s understanding of his relationship to Iiegel (6). We find that he
writes a special section in the Mss. on the critique of
Hegel’s dialectic. This turns out to focus on the
Phenomenology, which he says is ‘the true birthplace and
secret of the Hegelian philosophy’ (p.383). In fact the most
detailed discussiion is on the closing chapter, Absolute
Knowledge, which, he says, ‘contains the concentrated
essence of the Phenomenology, its relation to the dialectic, and Hegel’s consciousness of both and- their interrelations’ (p.386) (7).

Let us first recall then the upshot of the
Phenomenology, picking up especially the theme of alienation (Entausserung) (8).

(a) Hegel’s Phenomenology
In the Phenomenology, Absolute Knowledge comprehends
that ‘objectivity’, standing over against a ‘subjectivity’

estranged from it, is brought forth only within the selfalienating movement of spirit. Marx points us (pp.387:93)
to the following crucial passage from the last chapter, in
which Hegel employs this term in summarizing his conclusions:

Surmounting the object of consciousness is not to
be taken one-sidedly to mean that the object
showed itself as returning into the self ••• but
rather that it is the alienation (Entausserung) of
self-consciousness that posits thinghood (die
Dingheit) and that this alienation has not merely a
negative but a positive meaning ••• for selfconsciousness ••• because it posits itself as object,
or the object as itself…. At the same time •••
self-consciousness has equally sublated
(aufgehoben) this alienation and objectivity too …

so that it is at home with itself in its otherness as
such.’ (9)
It follows from this that the estranged forms t.:iken on
by spirit in its objectification remain as they are; spirit
can feel at home, notwithstanding this estrangement,
because, in it, it is in its own other.

Indeed, the alienation””Of self-consciousness is given a
positive significance above in that it posits the self as
objective. Hegel insists that there is no need for spirit to
be afraid of such objectification:

Neither has the I to cling to itself in the form of

self-consciousness as against the form of substantiality and objectivity, as if it were afraid of alienating itself; the power of spirit lies rather in
remaining the self-same spirit in its alienation
(Entausserung) and … in making its being-for-itself
no less merely a moment than its in-itself (10).

(b) Marx’s assessment of Hegel
We are now in a position to consider Marx’s praise of
Hegel. He says:

“:he great thing in Hegel’s Phenomenology and its
fmal result – the dialectic of negativity as the
moving and producing principle – is that Hegel conceives . the self-creation of man as a process
objectification (Vergegenstandlichung) as loss ;f
o~j~ct, as alienation (Entausserung) and as sublatl0m (Aufhebung) of this alienation; that he therefore grasps the nature of labour and conceives
objective man ••• as the result of his own labour •••
which is at first only possible in the form of
estrangement (Entfremdung).

Marx is impressed by the dialectic of spirit’s actualization
of itself through positing itself in the form of objectivity
as the negative of itself and then negating this negation.

Marx sees in this the hypostatization of the abstract reflection in philosophy of man’s objectification through his
own labour. One should note particularly that he praises
Hegel for grasping objectification as alienation. Since it is
the historical experience of mankind that is reflected
here, Hegel’s greatness consists precisely in his granting it
recognition instead of glossing over it, and Marx generously credits Hegel with working out the elements of criticis,m of entire spheres, such as religion, the state, civil
socIety, and so forth – even if in mystified form (p.385).

However, Hegel has no solution to offer other than
that pseudo-movement which preserves the realm of
estrangement as a moment. As he puts it, spirit is ‘at
home in its otherness as such’. Simultaneously, spirit overcomes its estrangement from its world through knowing it
as its own work, while preserving that world of estrangement in the immediacy of its otherness. This ‘recollection’,
as Hegel calls it (11), leaves everything as it is. Hence
Marx says that, despite the ‘thoroughly negative and
critical appearance’ of the Phenomenology, the ‘uncritical
positivism’ of Hegel’s later works shines through (p.384).

This pseudo-solution arises because, consistently with his
idealism, Hegel identifies the human essence with selfconsciousness. Marx points out the following consequences:

All estrangement of human nature is therefore
nothing but estrangement of self-consciousness ….

The estrangement of self-consciousness is not
regarded as the expression … of real estrangement…. Instead, actual estrangement ••• is in its
innermost nature – which philosophy first brings to
light – nothing more than the appearance of the
estrangement ••• of self-consciousness. The science
which comprehends this is therefore called

Despite, the wealth of content in the Phenomenology
everythmg IS treated under the form of consciousness or
self-consciousness. This makes a big difference. Marx
points out that a natural being endowed with material
powers works upon real objects and in its alienation produces in this process a real world of estrangement; but ‘a
self-consciousness, through its alienation, can posit only
thingness (Dingheit)’ (p.389), an abstraction, a mere postulate of self-consciousness. It is clear that ‘thingness’ has
no independent being and as a postulate of self-consciousness is at the mercy of a retraction by the self-consciousness that postulated it. Hence a change in attitude abolishes the consciousness of estrangement because estrangement itself is understood only as an attitude taken up by


In a part of the manuscript that has been damaged it
is possible to reconstruct an argument whereby Marx compares a real historical solution to the problem of estrangement with a typically Hegelian idealist solution. If one
wanted to sublate the property in the manner of Hegel’s
Phenomenology, ~e seems to say, ,one might be satisfied
wIth the conSClOusness that pnvate property IS the
~st~an~e? essence of social man and believe that thereby
It IS fll1lshed as a ‘conquered moment’; but in fact ‘real
estrangement remains and remains all the more, the more
one is conscious of it as such’; hence the abolition of
estrangement can only be attained through communism
(12). Marx concludes: ‘In order to abolish the idea of
private property the idea of communism is quite sufficient.

It takes actual communist action to abolish actual private
property.’ (p.365). Revolutionary practice, not speCUlative
reconciliation, reconstitutes reality through an objective
reappropr,iati?~ of the estranged object, thereby producing
a new obJectlvlty free of estrangement from its producers.

As Lukacs says, Hegel’s mistaken view of alienation in
society has two aspects:

On the subjective side, there is the mistaken identifica tion of man and self-consciousness demonstrated and criticized by Marx; on the objective
side there is the equation of alienation and objectifica tion in general (13).

objectification except as resulting in estrangement;
but ,h e , see s ,t his a s n e c e s s a r y t 0 s P i r it’ s
actuahza tlOn of 1tself. Hegel speaks of this process
as one, o,f ‘pure simple negativity… which sets up
Opposltlon, and then again the negation of
opposition’. In itself, he goes on, ‘the life of God
and divine cognition’ is one of untroubled unity
with itself in itself ‘for which otherness and
estrangement and the overcoming of estrangement
are not serious matters’.

But its actualization is
marked by ‘the seriousness, the suffering, the patience,
~nd t~e labour of the negative’ (14). Spirit· must posit
Itself m the form of otherness. This negation of itself is
subsequently negated in its turn, when spirit recognizes
itself in these objective shapes, but this cycle of
negations is eternally necessary. Spirit can come to itself
only as the negation of the negation.

In so far as Hegel accepts the necessity for such
objectification he becomes uncritical of the sphere of
estrangement brought to life within that development.

Thus Marx can say correctly that ‘Hegel sees ••• selfobjectification in the form of self-alienation and selfestrangement as the absolute, and hence final, expression
of human life which ••• has attained its own essential
nature’ (p.396).

In the middle part of the Phenomenology, masses of
concrete hist?rical material, involving actual estranged
spheres of eXIstence, are brought within this framework
and the practical problems are provided with a pseudo~
~olution when spirit reconciles itself, both with objectivity
m general and with historically created objective
estrangement in particular.

(c) Hegel’s negation of the negation
Marx is prepared to give credit to Hegel for giving philosophical expression in the movement of ‘negation of the
negation’ to the historical achievement of labour in its
alienation. He says: ‘In grasping the positive significance
of the negation which has reference to i tsel f ••• Hegel
grasps man’s self-estrangement (and) alienation ••• as selfdiscovery (and) objectification •••• ‘ (p.395).

However, the incorporation of the problematics of
estrangement within the conceptual framework of absolute
negativity (p.396) means that Hegel’s critical apparatus is
quite unable to identify the specific historical origins of
alienation or the concrete historical conditions of its
supersession; thus he endorses the moment of estrangement

as an ontological necessity. Marx says: ‘Since this negation of the negation is itself still trapped in estrangement,
what this amounts to is a failure to move beyond the final
stage, the stage of self-reference in alienation •••• ‘ (p.398).

As we have seen, for Marx communism is the positive
supersession of private property as human self-estrangement. We have seen also that he characterizes ‘communism
itself – because of its character as the negation of the
negation, as the appropriation of the human essence
through the intermediary of private property – as being
not yet the true, self-originating position but rather a
position originating from private property’ (p.365). He concludes: ‘Only ‘when we have superseded this mediation which is, however, a necessary precondition – will positive
humanism, positively originating in itself, come into being’


This is the crucial difference between Marx and.

Hegel: Hegel stays within the circle of circles of his absolute while Marx wants to open out a new historical perspective subsequent to the supersession of alienation.

Marx sums up the relation of Hegel’s philosophy to real
history as follows – there are two aspects to it:

(1) ‘Hegel has merely discovered the abstract,
logical, speculative expression of the movement
of history.’

(2) ‘This movement of history is not yet the real
history of man … it is simply the procesSOI
his creation, the history of his emergence.’

The first point is that the abstract expression of the process of man’s creation of himself, through labour and its
alienation, is given in Hegel under the concept of ‘absolute negativity’, an abstract speculative version of activity which is empty of content and can be supplied with
any content accordingly. The other point is that in the
cycle of negation, and negation of the negation, Hegel
states as an absolute what is in real history relative only
to the process of emergence which culminates in the communist revolution; but ‘communism is not as such the goal
of human development’.

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3. Feuerbach and Marx
The influence of Feuerbach on Marx in the 1844
Manuscripts is indubitable, and acknowledged by Marx
himself when he speaks of him as ‘the only person who has
a serious and a critical attitude to the Hegelian dialectic
and who has made real discoveries in this field’ (p.39l).

What is more difficult to assess is the extent of the convergence and divergence of the two thinkers in their
appreciation of Hegel and, more especially, in their materialist programmes (15). Of particular interest – because
of its relevance to the perspective we have been
considering – is Marx’s judgment that a ‘great achievement
of Feuerbach is to have opposed to the negation of the
negation which claims to be the absolute positive, the
positive which is based upon itself and positively grounded
in itself’ (p.381).

(a) Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel
How did Feuerbach argue against the ‘negation of the negation which claims to be the absolute positive’? To begin
with, Feuerbach does not accept the substantiality
assigned to the mediated being, spirit, as opposed to that
which is immediate – the concrete and sensuously manifest. If the natural, material and sensuous is merely the
self-alienation of spirit, then it is only ‘something to be
negated’, he says, ‘like nature which in theology has been
poisoned by original sin’ (16).

Feuerbach says that
‘according to Hegel it is only the negation of the negation
that constitutes the true positing’ (17). But, he argues, ‘a
truth that mediates itself is a truth that still has its
opposite clinging to it’ (18). Spirit can come to itself only
through its mediation in its other, the material world. But,
Feuerbach asks rhetorically: ‘Why should I not proceed
directly from the concrete? Why, after all, should that
which owes its truth and certainty only to itself not stand
higher than that whose certainty depends on the
nothingness of its opposite?’ (19). The Hegelian philosophy,
he comments, ‘lacks immediaty unity, immediate certainty,
immediate truth’ (20).

Feuerbach argues at length that sensuous intuition
does possess immediate truth. Of course he is well aware
that the Phenomenology begins precisely with a refutation
of the standpoint of sensuous certainty; although sensuousness claims immediate certainty, it lacks the form of
truth; it is sublated in higher forms of cognition and
grasped ultimately in terms of spirit’s own objectification
of itself, its free product constituted as an otherness to
be intuited. Feuerbach responds that all that is refuted in
the Phenomenology is the logical ‘Here’ and ‘Now’ – which
does not touch the real sensuous object (21).

The second objection to the Phenomenology is that it
rests on the presumption of the identity of thought and
being. Feuerbach argues that the circle of thoughtde terminations can never reach the other of thought and
must collapse to formal identity merely.; difference is
unreal where there is no objective ground for it. Hegel
fails to produce an actual substance because it relies for
its content on forms of alienation, but, since these are
denied their independence from spirit, this means that
spirit is denied real substantiality. Feuerbach says:

Absolute thought, that is, thought which is isolated
and cut off from sensuousness, cannot get beyond
formal identity … for although thought or concept
is determined as the unity of opposite determinations, the fact remains that these determinations
are themselves only abstractions, thought determinations – hence, always repetitions of the selfidentity of thought ••.• The Other … posited by, th~
Idea itself, is not truly and in reality distinguished
from it (22).

Feuerbach concludes that:

The identity of thinking and being expresses,
therefore, only the identity of thought with itself.

This means that absolute thought is unable to
cleave itself from itself, that it cannot step out of
itself to be able to reach being (23).

This problem Feuerbach had very early identified as a crucial limitation, in his first doubts about the vexed question
of the transition in Hegel from Logic to Nature. He says:

‘If Nature did not exist, the logic, this immaculate virgin,
would never be able to produce it out of itself.’ (24)
Marx takes over this whole line of criticism more or
less intact. He says of this transition to Nature:

The absolute idea … ‘resolves to let the moment of
its … other being, the immediate idea, as its
reflection, issue freely from itself as nature’, this
whole idea, which conducts itself in such a strange
and baroque fashion, and which has given the
Hegelians such terrible headaches, is purely and
simply … abstraction which, taught by experience
and enlightened as to its own truth, resolves ••• to

relinquish itself and … in place of its self-absorption, to let nature, which it concealed within itself
as a mere abstraction, as a thing of thought, issue
freely from itself, that is to say … it resolves on
intuition…. The mystical feeling which drives the
philosopher from abstract thinking to intuition is
boredom, the longing for a content.

(pp.397 -98)
Marx follows Feuerbach too in saying that ‘The abstract
thinker who decides on intuition, intuits nature abstractly’

(p.398); hence ‘the whole of nature only repeats to him in
a sensuous external form the abstractions of logic’; it
follows that ‘nature as nature ••• distinct from these
abstractions ••• has no meaning, or only has the sense of
an externality to be superseded •••• ‘ (p.399).

(b) The Dialectic of History
The difficulty in interpreting Marx’s position arises when
we see that, although he does not explicitly say so, he
takes up a fundamentally different position from that of
Feuerbach with respect to materialism; and this in turn
allows Marx a deeper appreciation of Hegel’s merit. The
issue turns on the centrality of material labour in Marx’s
social ontology. For Feuerbach, whatever the qualifications he introduces, the main drift of his positive doctrine
is the assertion of an immediate unity between man and
the. rest of nature. He seems to identify mediation as such
with the distance thought introduces between man and the
object and to reject it accordingly. For Marx, by contrast,
the unity of man with the rest of nature is not immediate,
but established by labour, and hence changes and develops
with new forms of labour. The unity of man with nature is
always mediated in industry (p.355) and incorporates
within itself equally a struggle to bring into human use
the recalcitrant forces of nature. This gives rise to a historical dimension, which depends on changes in the mode of
production. This dimension is lacking in Feuerbach but
Marx finds it in Hegel, albeit raised to the level of purely
philosophical reflection which has lost touch with the real
basis of history in material labour. Nonetheless, Hegel’s
philosophy contains the idea of activity and, moreover, an
activity which develops through a stage of alienation and

Feuerbach sees Hegel’s negation of the negation only
as a contradiction of philosophy with itself: to this he
counter poses the positivity of sensuous immediacy. However, Marx looks deeper than Feuerbach into the historical
content of Hegel’s work, and its real achievement.

Feuerbach sees in Hegel’s problematic of alienation only
the self-delusion of a philosophy estranged from the real
wor Id – one which refuses to abandon itself to sensuousness. For Marx, Hegel’s speculative problematic is an
attempt to pose, and hence to solve, within philosophy a
real historical problem, which Marx sees in terms of the
necessity to supersede the rule of private property.

Hegel’s speculative solution is inadequate because the
problem is not so much a theoretical one as a practical
one (p.354).

But Feuerbach’s standpoint too cannot link up with
practice. He interprets the problem of estrangement as the
view of nature as the ‘otherness’ of the Idea (25); and the
theological as opposed to the human. This is interpreted
again as exclusively a problem of the consciousness of
theologians and philosophers. To this speculative illusion
Feuerbach counterposes the immediate truths of naturalism
and humanisi’Tl; he sets out to reform consciousness to this
effect. This makes him an idealist in practical philosophy as he himself naively confesses (26).

For Mane ‘positive humanism’ is a result of a real
historical development, a necessary sequence in the selfproduction of the ontological essence of man (p.349),
whereas for F euerbach it is seen in ethical terms.

Feuerbach posits the ‘communal essence’ of man as a fixed
abstraction based simply on the capacity for universal
mloltlJal recognition on the part of individuals. At best this

allows for an equally abstract criticism of the perversities
of theology and philosophy. In Marx the communal essence
is established through production in society (p.349). Its
estrangement is expressed in the development of the ‘division of labour’ (p.369) and ‘the money syste’11’ (p.323);
money is the mediation which both ties and separates the
individuals (the ‘cash-nexus’ of the Manifesto); it is the
‘estranged and alienating species-essence of man’ (p.37?);
a person’s bond with society lies literally ‘in his pocket’


However, this critique is not an
ethical-anthropological one, for it is grounded in an
ontology which allows for the development of alienation
and its super session to be grasped as historical necessities.

Thus Marx can assert ‘both that human life needed private
property for its realization and that it now needs the
abolition of private property’ (p.374).

In effect, Feuerbach falls below the level of historical
concreteness already attained by Hegel. One is inclined to
agree with Lukac’s verdict (28) that Hegel poses the
problem of estrangement as a problem of the structure of
social being, and in the development of the stages of
spirit the reality of the historical periods breaks through
their conceptual expressions in the aprioristic framework.

But, although Feuerbach uses a methodological dialectic in
evolving and situating his thought in the history of philosophy (29), his positive doctrine in effect rejects objective
dialectic altogether (30). (Marx, in later years, when
Germany treated Hegel’s dialectic as a ‘dead duck’, will
observe: ‘Feuerbach has much on his conscience in this
respect’ (31»
In this light, one must enter qualifications about
Marx’s (genuine) enthusiasm for Feuerbach at this stage of
his development. When he says Feuerbach’s great achievement is to have counterposed to the negation of the negation the self-subsistent positive, he has in mind primarily
the way in which Hegel uses the negation of the negation
to affirm the absolute as spirit (32). Marx agrees with
Feuerbach that this means Hegel’s problematic is essentially religious. In the second place Marx· has in mind the
way in which the idealist negation of the negation fails to
move beyond the stage of self-reference in estrangement
to a positive supersession. These two aspects of the
matter are connected, of course. However, on the first
point, Feuerbach rejects dialectics along with idealism;
while on the second point, Marx diverges at least as far
from Feuerbach as he does from Hegel, because for
Feuerbach ‘positive humanism’ is merely a philosophical
perspective produced by inverting religion and philosophy
so that speculative thought is brought down to earth,
while for Marx it is historically produced through the
supersession of real objective estrangement.

Marx is primarily interested in the historical dialectic,
and he wants to root communist revolution immanently in
it – hence his recuperation of Hegel’s dialectic of negativity in historical and materialist terms. Feuerbach rejects
Hegel’s negation of the negation altogether because he is
primarily interested in nature, which idealist dialectic
reduces to the status of an ‘externality’ to be sublated.

Here Marx is bound to go some of the way with
Feuerbach. However, although the Mss. contain some
pretty undigested lumps of Feuerbach’s naturalism, it is
already clear that Marx advances beyond Feuerbach’s
endorsement of the immediate unity of man and nature to
pose labour as their mediation. This provides him with the
ontological basis for his historical dialectic (33).

It has to be said that Marx fails in the 1844 Mss. to
state his differences with Feuerbach in an explicit
fashion (34). No doubt the general enthusiasm of Marx and
Engels for Feuerbach’s devastating critique of theology
and philosophy in the early 1840s led to an over-estimation of his contribution and a lack of interest in taking
any distance from him at the outset of Marx’s own development of materialist criticism. ‘Much later, Marx will
offer the more nuanced judgment that ‘compared with
Hegel, Feuerbach is very poor’ but that ‘after Hegel’ he

was important in opening the way out of the over-powering idealism of the absolute philosophy (35).

4. Marx and the ‘inversion’ of Heget


The upshot of all this is that in 1844 Marx presents us
with a synthesis of Political Economy, Hegel, and
Feuerbach: in the conception of man producing himself
socially and historically through material labour, within
the dialectic of alienation and its supersession.

In the final section of this paper I wish to consider
whether Marx’s synthesis is coherent or not.

Louis A.lthusser holds that the 1844 Mss. represent
nothing but an inversion of Hegel and that consequently
the dialectical form remains the same. It is the same man
that walks on his feet as when he stood on his head whether his activity is grasped as material or as spiritual.

Althusser holds that in Hegel we have ‘the simple
unity of a totality produced by the negation of the negation ••• a simple original unity which develops within itself
by virtue of its negativity, and throughout its development
only ever restores the original simplicity and unity in an
ever more “concrete” totality’ (36). ,”‘gain: ‘In a text as
beautiful as the night’ (an intentionally back-handed
‘the Phenomenology celebrates “the labour of the
nega tive” ••• and every philosopher trembles in his
soul as if he were in the presence of the
Mysteries. But negativity can only contain the
motor principle of the dialectic ••• as a strict reflection of the Hegelian theoretical presuppositions
of simplicity and origin ••• as a pure reflection of
the principle of alienation itself •••• ‘ (37)
Althusser alleges that ‘it is this “Hegelian dialectic” that
reigns in glory over Marx’s 1844 Mss.’ (38)
Let us consider this charge that the 1844 Mss., being
nothing but a materialist inversion of Hegel, are open to
the objections sustainable against Hegel’s dialectic. To
begin with: even a cursory reading of Marx’s criticism of
Hegel’s dialectic discloses that it is just his self-identical
totality that is the main object of attack. Only in a subsidiary place comes the criticism that Hegel does not know
real material labour but only the movement of mind. The
main thrust of the attack is on the way in which Hegel
uses the concepts of negation of the negation, and of
‘Aufheben’, to present spirit as at home with itself in its
otherness, having overcome, and yet preserved, estrangement as a moment in the absolute.

As we have seen, Marx follows Feuerbach in counterposing to Hegel’s self-identical totality a view of man as
an objective being constituted in and through objective
relationships. There is no suggestion in the text of man as
a subject requiring to negate objectivity as such through
grasping it as its own. On the contrary, Marx carefully
distinguishes objectification and objectivity as such, on
the one hand, from alienation and private property as specific historical determinants, on the other. As far as
Marx’s concept of practice is concerned, we have seen
that he pictures man as created in and through material
production, but he stresses that the worker can create
nothing without the sensuous external world (p.325) as
material for production. He speaks of the necessity for a
‘dialogue’ with nature (p.328).

In order to solve the problem of Marx’s conceptualisation of the totality within which material production goes
on, it is necessary to distinguish between an ‘identity’ of
opposites in which the ‘other’ is nothing but the self in
alienation, and a unity of opposites in which the other is
really distinct as a pole of the relationship, however
transformed in it.

It is clear that Marx conceives the unity of man and
the rest of nature as a uni ty of this latter type. The unity
is grounded in man’s natural origins (‘for man is a part of
nature’ – p.328); but the synthesizing moment is human
historical practice which takes up natural elements as

material in the development of industry, the ontological
foundation of properly human existence. It is clear that
this work is an open-ended, always to be furthered,

One can see now that the difference in content must
make a difference to the general form of working of the
dialectic when we stand it on its feet through grounding it
materialistically. It is the irreducible distinction between
man and the objective basis of his activity, however intermediated through labour and industry, that allows us to
grasp the dialectic of human practice as historical and

What then of Marx’s appropriation of the ‘negation of
the negation’ and of ‘alienation’ from Hegel? We have
seen that there is a big difference between Hegel’s
absolutization of these moments and Marx’s view that they
relate only to the history of mankind’s emergence, and are
to be superseded in socialism positively grounded on itself.

This is only possible in turn because his fundamental ontological frame of reference is the mediation of Man and
Nature in industry, while the problematic of alienation is
reduced to a historically relative stage – however prolonged – by inscribing within the fundamental mediations
the distorting effect of the secondary mediations: wagelabour and private property.

The Mss. borrowing of ‘negativity’ from Hegel’s
PhenomenOi’O’gY does not signify therefore a general ontological category but a logic of origins only. In this
dialectic Marx is very careful to distinguish his understanding of estrangement from Hegel’s preciselYln terms
of its inscribing within the more fundamental reality of
objectification. Spirit has as its negative something which
is merely its own other because objectification can only
be brought about within the absolute movement of negativity. The negative is easily negated in its turn simply
through recollection of the process of its origination in
alienation. For Marx the negative inheres in an objective
world from which the self is estranged – specifically the
alienation of labour produces private property; but private
property is by no means ‘nothing but’ labour in estrangement because this labour becomes embodied in material
form and the material, which is the stuff of the natural
form of the commodity produced, is drawn from the naturally given object of labour. What one can say is that value
is nothing but ‘crystallized labour’, that capital is nothing
but ‘stored-up dead labour’. Given that modern private
property takes the form of a value-holding, we see that
while, on the one hand, this may have a material embodiment (from land to works of art), on the other hand, it is
realizable as exchange-value on the market in abstraction
from its specific embodiment. With the abolition of private
property, its material bases, for example the modern productive forces, are retained, but the alien form of their
social existence as property is sloughed off.

Furthermore, overcoming alienation does not mean, as
in Hegelianism, encompassing all otherness; it just means
‘the destruction of the estranged character of the objective world’ (p.395).

Ian Hunt and Roy Swan in Radical Philosophy 30
(Spring 1982) claim that Marx’s concept of society in the
Mss. is, ‘after the Hegelian manner, conceived as encompassing ••• nature and natural history’, as taking up its
origin into itself. This is to read the text in a partial
manner. The crucial passage comes towards the end of the
section on ‘Private Property and Communism’. ‘Society is
••• the perfected unity (N.B. not ‘identity’) of essence of
man with nature •••• ‘ (p.349). The ‘human essence of nature’

is constituted through the real historical relationship of
‘industry’ (p.355); through this mediation of himself in
nature man has ‘proof of his self-mediated birth’ (p.357),
and questions about ultimate origins become redundant
once one grasps that man creates himself through his own
labour. The natural basis of human being which lies at the
ongm as a given condition becomes more and more the
object of human practice with the consequence (as Marx

formulates it in Capital) that in acting on external nature
man changes himself (39). Any ‘naturalism’ of the essence
is thereby rejected in favour of a historically developing
system of mediatedness.

However, it is important to distinguish the selfmediatedness of spirit established through absolute negativity from the self-mediatedness of human being established in and through material practice. Take this crucial
passage cited by Marx (p.400) from Hegel’s 1830

Spirit is nature’s truth. In this truth nature is vanishing, and spirit has resulted as the idea which
has attained being-for-itself, whose object as well
as subject is the concept. This identity is absolute
negativity, for whereas in nature the concept has
its perfect external objectivity, its alienation has
been sublated and the concept has become identical with itself. It ~ this identity only in that it is
a return from nature (40).

Marx charges Hegel with characterizing the externality of
nature as a defect, and with positing it as potentially
superseded from the outset (pp.399-400). From this we
must conclude that Marx could not simply replace the negating activity of thought with the material transformation
of practice, while yet holding nature in the same contempt. If Marx insists, following Feuerbach, that man acts
in the context of objective relationships, then his selfIT!ediatedness cannot be absolutized in the manner of
Hegel’s spirit; rather it is always relative to the real progress of industry. This is because he bases himself, not on
the identity of opposites, but on their unity, in this context. (Hunt and Swan agree this is true of the mature
The former conception always implies a return,
however more developed – a closed circle. The latter conception implies a spiral progress which is open-ended. In
spite of Hegel’s incorporation of history within his system,
his conception is ultimately ahistorical in that it requires
a fixed ‘end’ to development. Marx’s teleology, being
immanentized in a self-mediating subject with objective
relationships involves a perennial ‘starting over’ whenever
the objective room for development of a given social
totality is exhausted (41). Marx’s inquiry is into the
material stages of development of human history, not the
moments of movement of spirit’s production of itself out
of itself. In the latter case the end bends back on the
beginning which in some sense presupposes it. But Marx’s
inquiry into real history discloses the existence of distinct

stages of development which are complete in themselves
and are separated by real discontinuities, by revolutionary
transformations. The problem is to distinguish transitions
within a self-developing totality from transitions of a
more radical type – ontological breaks – which refound
the fundamental determinants of social being.

But to conceptualize a transition from the ‘relative
ontological continuity inherent in the unfolding of capital’

(Meszaros (42» to a qualitatively new history raised the
vexed question of ‘Aufhebung’ (sublation) in Hegel and in
Marx. Marx points out that in Hegel’s system sublation
plays a special role in which negation and affirmation are
brought together; thus, in spite of their sublation in the
course of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, abstract right, morality, family, civil society, state etc., ‘continue to exist’,
he points out, ‘but have become moments •.• which mutually dissolve and engender one another, moments of movement’ (p.393). In order to indicate the difference between
such preservation of a moment in a higher unity and his
own conception of the transcendence of property, Marx
resorts merely to the qualification ‘positive’, so that he
calls for ‘the positive sublation of private property’. But
one wonders if this is not a fundamentally different concept. In my opinion this issue has been insufficiently
studied in the literature (43) and I raise it now as an
important question for future research. It has a bearing on
the question of the transition to socialism …. For example: in
the transition from
capitalism to socialism
achievement of capitalism in developing the productive
forces is to be appropriated and preserved, not by
incorporating their alien form as private property within a
higher totality, but by divesting them of their alien form
through abolishing private property; it will not be the case
that socialism will recognize its productive forces as
marked by their origins in private property (once the
transi tional stage passes), even though Marx believes the
capitalist stage of their development was historically


Marx’s use of negation of the negation does not
effect a closure then – an end of history – because this
specific dialectic is inscribed, as the estrangement of
social being, within the more fundamental ontological
intermediations of man and nature. Hence the negation of
the negation brought about through communist revolution
opens out the possibility of a real human history no longer
carried on under the mark of estrangement.

Thanks are due to Gillnar Savran, Roy Swan, Jonathan Ree, and Roy Edgley.

Page numbers bracketed in the text refer to the English translation of the 1844
Mss. in Karl Marx: Early Writings, translated by Rodney Livingstone and Gregor
Benton, Harmondsworth, 1975. Sometimes the rendering has been changed after
consulting the German text in Marx-Engels Werke, Erganzungsband, Erster Teil,
Berlin 1968, and the translation in Marx-Engels Collected Works Vol.3, London





‘Social theory’ might be preferred to ‘social ontology’ in the text. I use ‘ontology’

here to indicate that set of fundamental categories through which the character
of the social sphere is delimited and the general framework for theory construction established. (I do not mean that a priori arguments can establish the necessity of these categories.) However, where idealist theorists try to purge social
categories of the natural, and biological materialists evacuate the social mediations, the strength of Marx’s category of ‘labour’ is precisely its double determination as the linking element.

Dirk Struik in the introduction to his edition of the Mss. (New York 1964) states:

‘But the whole tenor leads to Marx’s conclusion of the priority of property’ (p.45).

He says in a private communication to me that this was a slip. The text meant is
‘the priority of alienated labour’.

It is not surprising that commentators of an analytical rather than dialectical turn
of mind have proved unable to comprehend the interchanges of these determinations. The crucial passage is actually misquoted by Richard Schacht (Alienation,
London 1971) when he says Marx ‘contends that the dominance of the institution
of private property “is the basis and cause of alienated labour”, and thus also of
the alienation of the product’ (p.108).

In a private communication to me he admits that ‘is’ should have been outside the
quotation from Marx. However, he defends his interpretation as against the translation provided by Bottomore who gives: ‘although private property appears to be
the basis and cause of alienated labour, it is rather a consequence of the latter’

(Karl Marx Early Writings, trans. T.B. Bottomore, London 1963, p.131). The
German is: ‘wenn das Privateigentum als Grund, als Ursache der entausserten


Arbeit erscheint, es vielmehr eine Konsequenz derselben ist … ‘ Schacht suggests
an accurate rendering is: ‘if private property appears as the ground, the basis of
alienated labour, it is much more a consequence.’ He draws attention to the fact
that the phrase ‘erscheint als’ does not have the same counterfactual import as
would ‘erscheint zu sein’ and that it is often used to suggest ’emerges as’ – in
other words factual rather than counterfactual import. It is certainly true that
‘erscheinen’ does not have connotations of illusion in the same way as ‘scheinen’;
nevertheless in philosophical usage it is the appearance as opposed to the essence
of the matter, albeit that essence must appear. What we have here, I suggest, is
not the mere refutation of an illusion by Marx but a recognition that private property effects alienation, combined with an assertion that if one remains content
with this, one has not gone beyond the surface of things to the ~ of the
relationship – which may well be the reverse of appearances (Marx says in Capital
that if essence coincided with appearance there would be no need for science.)
Schacht has to face the fact that Marx frequently says that private property is
(not ‘appears as’) the consequence of alienation; for example just before the con:

tested paragraph he says: ‘Private property is therefore the product, the necessary result, of alienated labour, of the external relations of the worker to nature
and to himself.’ In a footnote (17 on p.108) Schacht comments on this: ‘But here
he is thinking of the accumulation of possessions and capital, rather than of the
institution of private property.’ In other words, given the institution of private
property, then it can be accumulated by individuals through labouring or exploiting others’ labour upon alienation. This interpretation is clearly untrue to the
text; however absurd Schacht may suppose it to be, Marx clearly sees the institution itself as consequent upon alienated labour, and although he does not say
much about the individual it would be more sensible in my view to see the latter’S
problem in having to alienate his labour as based on lack of property and the individual capitalist’s ability to appropriate alien labour as consequent on his property, i.e. the ~ of Schacht’s position. This is indeed the moment of truth in
the statement that private property appears as the basis of alienation. However,
to view this relation as static, and external, as a given, such that activity works
in a pre-existing institution, reifies the living social relation, instead of seeing it
as reproduced by that activity.

I take this happy expression from I. Meszaros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation
(London 1970).












A complete failure to understand this dialectic allows the attribution by certain
commentators of ‘communism as such’ to crude equalitarian communisms discussed
earlier in Marx’s chapter. This is obviously false because those are ideological
stages in the development of communist ideas, whereas here we are talking of a
‘real phase’. By ‘communism as such’ Marx understands ‘communism as the
opposite of private property’. Clearly the communist movement develops in opposition to private property. In some sense it is even the creation of the movement of
private property. But in a higher phase of development socialism stands on its own
feet so to speak (p.356) and ‘no longer needs such mediation’. For the confusion
on this issue see Early Writings (trans. Benton), p.358, fn.9; Collected Works 3,
p.603, fn.87; Meszaros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation – end of Chapter 5.

The argument of this section is very condensed. A full exposition is in my
‘Objectification and Alienation in Marx and Hegel’, Radical Philosophy 30, Spring
1982. To prevent misunderstanding, I should say that in what follows I am not
especially concerned with the adequacy of my summary to Hegel’s intentions, for I
am primarily concerned with Marx’s comparison of his standpoint with what he
takes to be Hegel’s phenomenology.

It is worth pointing out that Marx does not mention the Master-Servant section
which so many commentators insist was an influence. See my ‘Hegel’s MasterSlave Dialectic and a Myth of Marxology’ (forthcoming, New Left Review).

A point of terminology to bear in mind is that the translators of Hegel, and of
Marx, do not agree on the rendering of ‘Entausserung’ – some give ‘alienation’ and
others give ‘externalization’. I prefer and give here ‘alienation’. In Lukacs’

masterly work The Young Hegel the last chapter is entitled ”’Entausserung” as the
central philosophical concept of the Phenomenology of Spirit’. Lukacs writes: ‘In
themselves there is nothing novel about the terms “Entausserung” and “Entfremdung”. They are simply German translations of the English word “alienation” … ‘ (The Young Hegel, trans. R. Livingstone, London, 1975, p.538). The alternative to ‘alienation’, namely ‘externalization’, is the closest rendering from a
purely etymological point of view; and it is the usual choice of Miller in his
translation of the Phenomenology. For further discussion see my ‘Objectification
and Alienation ••• ‘.

G.W.F. Hegel, Gesammelte Werke Band 9 (Hamburg 1980), p.422; Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford 1977), trans. A.V. Miller, para.788.

Gesammelte Werke Band 9, p.431; Miller trans. para 804.

In the final paragraph of the Phenomenology (Miller, p.808).

Werke, p.553; Collected Works 3, p.313.

The Young Hegel, p.551. Lukacs repeats the point in the 1967 Preface to History
and Class-Consciousness (English trans. R. Livingstone, London

In the Phenomenology Hegel does not use the term ‘Vergegenstandlichung’ (objectification)! What we ~ find in a central place is the term ‘Entausserung’. I argue
in my ‘Objectification and Alienation ••• ‘ that when Lukacs complains that objectification is conceived by Hegel only as alienation, he is pointing to the absence of
Marx’s concept of the necessity of objectification – in the affirmative sense of
the establishment by an objective being of its essential relationships in, and
through labour upon, an objective world – and its replacement in Hegel’s problematic by a sense of estrangement.

Miller’s translation, paragraphs 18 and 19.

The ‘official’ story given by Engels in his well-known article ‘Ludwig Feuerbach’

is that the spell of Hegel was broken by Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity
(1841) which ‘placed materialism on the throne’ (p.367 – Marx-Engels Selected
Works in 2 vols, Vol.2). However, the picture is by no means so simple. I agree
with Herbert Marcuse who writes in a 1932 article on the 1844 Mss. as follows:

‘We know from the Theses on Feuerbach (1845) that Marx draws a line of demarcation between himself and Feuerbach through the concept of human practice. On
the other hand, he thereby (more precisely through the concept of labour) turns
back to Hegel over across Feuerbach…. The matter is therefore more complex
than simply a straight line development from Feuerbach to Marx subsequent upon
a renunciation of Hegel. What happens is rather that Marx at the origins of his
revolutionary theory once again appropriates, on a transformed basis, the decisive
achievements of Hegel’ (quoted by Hanfi, Fiery Brook, pp.2-3). Moreover, Engels’

account subtly misplaces the emphasis by presenting the Essence of Christianity
as the key text – for its naturalism and humanism. More important to Marx than
this was Feuerbach’s critique of Hegelian philosophy in such texts as Principles of
the Philosophy of the Future (1843). In 1843 Marx attempts a straightforward
application to philosophy of law of Feuerbach’s idea that the truth is present in
Hegel – but in inverted form. In this study there is nothing about labour and ~
fortiori no praise of Hegel for grasping man as his own product. But central to
the 1844 Mss. is the category of labour – which is missing in Feuerbach. I will
show below that it would be wrong to characterize the Mss. as some kind of materialist inversion of Hegel’s Phenomenology. This is Althusser’s view. In a somewhat confused passage on Marx’s development he says that a ‘sudden and total





























last return’ to the ‘Hegelian problematic inspires one absolutely unique text,
which is a rigorous attempt to “invert” Hegelian idealism: this text is the 1844
Manuscripts.’ (For Mar.x, London 1965), pp.35-36.

Grundsatze der Philoso hie der Zukunft (Principles of the Philosophy of the
Future; Samtliche Werke Zweiter Band neu Herausgegeben von Wilhelm Bolin und
Friedrich Jodl, p.276; Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1959; The Fiery Brook – Selected
Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, trans. and ed. Z. Hanfi (New York 1972), p.205.

S.W.2, p.276; Fiery Brook, p.206.

S.W.2, p.301; Fiery Brook, p.229.


‘Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy’; S.W.2, p.227; Fiery Brook,

‘Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy’; S.W.2, p.187; Fiery Brook, p.79.

‘Principles…. ‘; S. W.2, pp.310-11; Fiery Brook, p.237.

S.W.2, p.282; Fiery Brook, p.211.

‘Philosophische Fragmente’; S. W.2, p.363; Fiery Brook, p.270.

See on this G. Lukacs, Political Writings 1919-1929, ed. R. Livingstone (London
1972), p.211.

‘Preface to the Second Edition of the Essence of Christianity’; Fiery Brook,

p.157, Marx Grundrisse (Harmondsworth 1973).

Political Writings, pp.210-212.

This aspect is well brought out in M. Wartofsky, Feuerbach (Cambridge 1977).

Lukacs, Political Writings, pp.202-207; D. McLellan, The Young Hegelians and Karl
Marx (London 19695, p.18, p.112.

Marx an Engels, 11 Jan.1868; Marx-Engels Werke, Bande 32 (Berlin 1965), p.18.

The Young Hegel, p.559.

In their 1846 critique of Feuerbach, Marx and Engels write (wit)! the Preface to
his Essence of Christianity obviously in mind – see Fiery Brook, p.97): ‘Men can
be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or anything else you
like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they
begin to produce their means of subsistence…. This mode of production … is a
definite mode of life on their part…. What they are, therefore, coincides with
their production’ (Collected Works 5, London 1976, p.3I). They take Feuerbach
severely to task for his abstract contemplative materialism; the cherry-tree outside his window is only an object of sensuous certainty for Feuerbach as a result
of world trade; nature just as ‘given’ exists only on a few coral islands; the progression of industry has thoroughly transformed the objective world. As Lukacs
observes (Political Writings, p.190 and note; pp.202-203) to capitulate to intuition
is to dissolve becoming into being and to identify existence and essence – another
aspect of Feuerbach which Marx polemicizes against in the German Ideology.

Marx’s only expressed doubt about Feuerbach before the famous Theses of 1845 is
in a letter to Ruge of March 1843 in which he complains that Feuerbach ‘talks
too much about nature and too little about politics’ (Marx-Engels Werke, Band 27,
Berlin 1963, p.417). However, at this time Marx’s own work on ‘politics’ is clearly
following the Feuerbachian method of ‘inversion’ in a rather pure form. It is true,
however, that Marx is very concerned to find the ‘material forc;e’ (in the shape of
the proletariat) to complement philosophical criticism so that he already goes
beyond Feuerbach. On the other hand, in spite of his turn to ‘civil society’ as the
‘real basis’ there is as yet no properly materialist ontology grounding production hence a turn from politics to nature in the 1844 Mss. could even be represented
as an advance. Although I reject the Althusserian category of ‘break’ in the
periodization of Marx’s work, if I had to cite a date I would choose 1844 on this
account. However, it is better to see Marx’s whole development in terms of the
effort to unify theory and practice and his theoretical work as moving towards an
ever greater concretization. This does not mean, however, that Hegel is totally
abandoned with the materialist turn. We see here Marx tur,ning back across
Feuerbach to Hegel’s Phenomenology, while in the GrundrisSe and Capital there is
a ‘second return’ – this time to the Logic.

Marx to Schweitzer, January 1865, Selected Correspondence (Moscow 1965),

For Marx (trans. B.R. Brewster, London 1965), p.197.

For Marx, p.214.

For Marx, p.198n.

Capital. ch.7 )1976 Penguin edition), p.283.

Para.381. There is an English translation by W. Wallace of this part: Hegel’s
Philosophy of Mind (Oxford 1894).

As Meszaros says, there cannot be ‘a point in history at which we could say: “now
the human substance has been fully realized” … ‘ (Marx’s Theory of Alienation,

Marx’s Theory of Alienation, p.45.

Lukacs makes a helpful distinction between epistemological and ontological
Aufhebung in his Ontology: Hegel (trans. D. Fernbach, London 1978), pp.112-113.

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