Pour Hegel: Marx’s lifelong debt to Hegelian dialectics

Head on over to The Charnel-House for an insightful analysis of Marx’s interest and dependence upon Hegel, even in his “late” work.

The Charnel-House

By now it should be obvious to anyone who has looked at Karl Marx’s entire corpus, both published and unpublished works, that the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was an abiding influence on his thought. Marx certainly had no patience for those “the ill-humored, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel a “dead dog,” much in the same way that the Leibnizian philosopher Moses Mendelssohn treated Spinoza like a “dead dog.” This is amply evident both in the 1873 postface to his masterpiece, Capital, as well as in private letters written to friends and colleagues between 1866 and 1870.

In this post, I will adduce clearly that Marx still held Hegel in high regard up to and beyond the publication of his “mature” works (if one still insists, following Althusser and Colletti, upon drawing a rigid distinction between the Young Marx and Old Marx). Even further, I…

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About jleavittpearl

Philosopher and Theologian out of Pittsburgh PA.

Posted on June 27, 2014, in Reblogs. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. As comrades will soon see when they read the comments at the end of this rather poor article Ross inflicted on his readers, he totally ignores the only summary of “the dialectic method” Marx published and endorsed in his entire life, which Marx also calls “my method”. Here is part of it (for Ross to ignore some more):

    “After a quotation from the preface to my ‘Criticism of Political Economy,’ Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method, the writer goes on:

    ‘The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence…. With the varying degree of development of productive power, social conditions and the laws governing them vary too. Whilst Marx sets himself the task of following and explaining from this point of view the economic system established by the sway of capital, he is only formulating, in a strictly scientific manner, the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have. The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx’s book has.’

    “Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?”

    [Postface to the second edition of Das Kapital, bold added.]

    Comrades will no doubt notice that in this summary not one single Hegelian concept is to be found — no “contradictions”, no change of “quantity into quality”, no “negation of the negation”, no “unity and identity of opposites”, no “interconnected Totality”, no “universal change” –, and yet Marx still calls this the “dialectic method”, and says of it that it is “my method”.

    So, Marx’s “method” has had Hegel completely excised –, except for the odd phrase or two, “here and there”, with which he merely “coquetted”.

    Ross ignores all this, and is reduced to scratching around in Marx’s masterpiece looking for a few crumbs of comfort — at the end of which all he found were two passages (both ambiguous) and one footnote (same comment) in the thousands of pages that comprise its three volumes.

    So, whatever he might have said elsewhere (mostly in unpublished letters) in practice, Marx did treat Hegel as a ‘dead dog’.

    Also see the discussion here:


    • I appreciate Ross’ post, as I think it marks a continued interest in Hegel within Marx’s thought that is often unduly downplayed. That being said, I find arguments that Marx is nothing other than Hegel inverted as uncompelling as those which posit no relation whatsoever. Rather, Marx’s relation to Hegel’s methodology seems considerably more nuanced.

      In certain texts, e.g. the first of Marx’s “Theses on Feueurbach” Marx appears to be offering a “third way” around both materialism (a la Feuerbach) and idealism (which I take here to be “orthodox hegelianism”), a way which I would suggest is precisely that which bears the title elsewhere “my method”. There he seems to want to derive certain insights from both idealism (the Hegelian conception of activity) and materialism (the materialist interest in lived sensation), while also thoroughly critiquing both. If these theses are paradigmatic of his broader project or methodology (a notion which Michel Henry has put forward quite compellingly in “Marx: a Philosophy of Reality”) than his relationship to Hegel will not be merely one of complete disdain or abandonment. Rather, as the (in)famous texts in the preface to Capital seem to epitomize, he understood his relationship to Hegel to considerably more nuanced than a raw rejection.

      This seems sufficient evidence to suggest that Hegel played, and continued to play, a not insubstantial role in sculpting Marx’s thought, even if, as Ross notes, the two develop their methods from different “foundations” and even if, as you note, their reading of “dialectic” bears many dissimilarities.

  2. I’m sorry, could you post this version of my comment:

    Of course, my argument has never been that Hegel had no influence on Marx, only that by the by the time he came to write Das Kapital he had abandoned him root and branch, as the details I posted above and at Ross’s site quite clearly indicate.

    This is quite apart from the fact that, as I have shown at my site, Hegel’s method/philosophy makes not one ounce of sense.



    • My concern ( which it seems in the other comment thread is shared by Ross’), is that your insistence upon Marx’s abandonment of Hegel seems more dependent on your own disdain for Hegel’s thought, and support of Marx’s thought than upon the textual evidence (the old: I like A, and hate B, so it isn’t possible that A and B contain common key insights).

      But that being said, I’m not going to touch the “Hegel’s philosophy” makes not one ounce of sense” with a ten foot pole. That seems like a recipe for disaster, and I couldn’t have less interest in getting involved in that quagmire.

  3. Well, I despise all ruling-class mystics like Hegel, but it doesn’t end there: I can show, and have shown, why his philosophy makes not one ounce of sense. [That doesn’t amount to a refutation of Hegel, since, in order to do that I would have to show his ‘theory; is false. In fact, it is far too confused for anyone to be able to say whether or not it is false (or indeed true/valid).]

    Now, it is certainly possible (but highly unlikely) that Ross and the failed tradition in which his ideas are situated are right about Marx. [Those who wish to defend the tradition view of Marx will have to come up with some new hard evidence if that were to be the case.] If can be shown from Marx’s published writings that “his method” and “the dialectic method” he used isn’t at all like the one he quoted in the Postface, then then I’ll be the first to apologise. But, then that outcome would profoundly affect Marx’s status as a scientific student of the dynamic of capitalist society, and, along with others, my opinion of him would drop through the floor.

    But, I don’t think it is possible for Ross, or the scores of others with whom I have debated this on the Internet over the last six or seven years — the vast majority of whom make the same points Ross made, and who also ignore the only summary of his method that Marx published and endorsed in his entire life — to do this. It’s almost as if it is doesn’t exist!

    And then they have the gall to accuse me of ignoring Marx!

    • This is by far one of the most bizarre comment thread interactions I’ve ever participated in.

      I must say, that I am concerned by the absolutism and selfassurance of the rhetoric that is being used here. “Not one ounce of sense,” ” the failed tradition in which his ideas are situated.” This phraseology seems to function as a rhetorical battering ram of, what seems to me to be, unwarranted lack of exegetical nuance.

      Surely, no one is suggesting that Marx is simply Hegel redux. But to dismiss Marx’s quite explicit claims to a continued interest and dependence on Hegel, in his published as well as his unpublished works (and your insistence in a strong absolute distinction between the two is odd), seems disingenuous. Certainly the absence of Hegel from certain of Marx’s writings, by no means invalidates the evidential character of his presence in other writings.

      Moreover, the claim that “my opinion of him would drop through the floor” if he retained certain methodological relations to Hegel, seems to further reinforce my previously stated fear, that your insistence upon Marx’s utter rejection of Hegel is merely a transference of your opinion of Hegel (that he has zero value), onto Marx (who seems to hold a more nuanced view of Hegel, as holding some value, even if the predecessor is not to be taken whole cloth).

      Alas, since you have already indicated that you have been waging this war for “the last six or seven years,” I don’t see a horizon arising in the near future. So I will bid you adieu, and attempt to escape what is, for me, not a particularly emotionally or intellectually engaging debate.

      But I nontheless encourage you to continue your debate on the original post.

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