Laws and rights move through the ages
Like an unending slow disgrace.
They hobble through the generations,
And softly steal from place to place.
What clever was grows into nonsense
And benefice becomes a plight.
Unlucky grandson, you be pitied,
Nobody offers you your right.
This is Chapter II (slightly edited) of a book by Dirk J Struik, The Birth of the Communist Manifesto, which outlines the situation in Europe which led up to the publication of The Communist Manifesto in February, 1848.
If sympathy proclaims that the exploitation of man by man must disappear completely; if it is true that mankind is moving toward a state of things in which all men, without distinction of birth, will receive from society according to their merits and be remunerated according to their work; then it is evident that the constitution of property must be changed ...
The year 1845 marks the beginning of Marxism as a new world outlook, a materialist philosophy with its own approach to the problems of the labor movement. To understand it we must have a look at the spiritual and social setting in which it originated. What strikes us in this period is its intellectual ferment. The ferment extended into all fields: science, literature, arts, philosophy, religion, even reaching into such domains as music and mathematics. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with Schiller’s Alle Menschen werden Bruder (all men will be brothers), Goethe’s Faust II, Heine’s, Shelley’s and Keats’s poems, Dickens’ and Balzac’s novels belong to this period. A feeling of heroism, of epic grandeur, runs through the best of literature. Faust and Prometheus, the legendary fighters for man’s delivery from the powers of darkness, are invoked: “Prometheus,” wrote Marx in his doctor’s dissertation, “is the principal saint in the philosophical calendar.” Writers, poets, philosophers were openly partisan, for or against the spirit of the French Revolution, some looking forward with expectation, others backward with nostalgia. It was the period of romanticism, and romanticism was history-conscious.
Europe had become vividly aware of the great changes that had occurred and were constantly occurring in all domains of life as a result of the Revolution. It filled many with hope: “It was a splendid sunshine,” wrote Hegel in his Philosophy of History; “all thinking human beings have participated in celebrating this epoch.” The search for the meaning of history pervaded literary and academic circles; leading historians tried not only to chronicle but to interpret what had been and what was happening. The British and the French revolutions became the subject of intensive research, each author having his own axe to grind.
Marx would learn much from the historians Thierry and Guizot, who came close to an interpretation of the French and English revolutions as a struggle of social classes; Thierry had been secretary to Saint-Simon, the great utopian reformer and interpreter of society in evolution, seen as a result of property relationships. This was indeed a far cry from the static philosophy of the Enlightenment with its stress on eternal and immutable laws like those of Newton. Law, philosophy, theology, religion, art were seen in their historical perspective; revolutionary breaks occurred in many fields.
To cite only a few examples, we think of the bible critique of Strauss, the new linguistics of the Grimms, the new mathematical physics, the new geometries, the discovery of the cell, as well as the critique of society culminating in socialism and communism. With the deepening of the sense of history came the concept of evolution, gradual or sudden, and the question not only of the meaning, but of the direction of history. Can we look not only into the past but also into the future, and thus make sense of history? Hegel went deep into all these questions in terms of his dialectics. Soon, in Marx’s hands, these different strains converged into a new philosophical outlook, dialectical and historical materialism.
This is the period of the rise of socialism. The disillusion following the defeat of the Jacobins, the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic reaction, the abandonment by the bourgeoisie of the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, the widespread misery in the wake of advancing technology, left many socially aware persons deeply disturbed. The economists, following Adam Smith and David Ricardo, had proclaimed that capitalism was the natural order of things. It was necessary to show that this “natural order” was in reality unnatural, that it could be broken, that there were social structures possible far more in conformity with human nature and far less dismal.
The men who took this approach became known as socialists and communists, depending on the degree of their radicalism. An early representative in England was William Godwin (1756-1836), author of Inquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) with a plea for a system of full equality in a society without state pressure. Godwin is therefore often considered the “father” of anarchism, that brand of radicalism which considers all state power as evil. Another early fighter for an egalitarian form of social justice was Gracchus Babeuf (1760-97) in France, the leader of the Conspiracy of the Equals under the Directory. He called for the reintroduction and strengthening of the Constitution of 1793 so that social and economic equality could be reached in a society without private property. His organization prepared for an armed uprising, but was betrayed by a spy. Its leaders were executed or exiled.
When, in the heady political atmosphere after the Revolution of 1830, socialist doctrines received a new lease on life, the ideas of the Equals found an influential spokesman in Philippe Buonarotti (1761-1837), an ancient Babouvist, exiled and at last, in 1830, back in France. In 1828 he had published the history of the Babouvist conspiracy in his Conspiration pour l’egalite dite de Babeuf, establishing an historic link between the radicals of 1789 and of 1830. Thus Marx became acquainted with the Babouvist ideas and although he saw the Equals as “crude, uncivilized materialists,” he appreciated them as vigorous champions of the workers, giving the first example of a communist party and carriers of a new world order.
By the time Bounarotti’s agitation reached France, the schemes of two radical reformers were being widely discussed. They were Claude Henri, Count of Saint-Simon (1760-1825; he renounced the title at the time of the Revolution, and Charles Fourier (1772-1837). They are, with their English contemporary Robert Owen (1771-1850), known as the great utopians; Engels, in his Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, has given a masterful sketch of these leading reformers of their age. It is sufficient to recall that both Saint-Simon and Fourier developed schemes of the good society as they envisioned it, Saint-Simon more in general outlines, Fourier in precise details.
Both were keen critics of the bourgeois social order, both had a sense of history, especially Saint-Simon. Neither of them had an understanding of the revolutionary role of the proletariat. Saint-Simon saw in history a struggle of classes, but for him they were the unproductive class of landlords, priests and rentiers, and the productive class of men engaged in science and industry, employers, technicians and wage workers.
His ideal society was to be governed by a global “economic parliament” of artists, scientists and industrialists, with bankers as executives. Fourier’s ideal society consisted of workers living in inner and outer harmony in beautiful community houses called phalansteres, and healways hoped for wealthy patrons willing to donate the funds to start his socialist communities. These patrons never turned up, but phalansteres have been tried, especially in the United States. They were all of short duration.
Neither the pupils of Saint-Simon nor of Fourier were interested in political activity; they relied on persuasion of well-meaning men and women. The Saint-Simonians, under the leadership of Bazard and Enfantin, were for a while very popular, especially between 1825 and 1832, among scientists and engineers with a social conscience. Their teachings were summarized in aphorisms such as:
All social institutions should aim at the moral, intellectual and physical improvement of the most numerous and poorest class. All privileges of birth to be abolished without exception. The task of each be according to his capacity, the wealth of each be according to his works.
The more ardent Saint-Simonians soon started a rather absurd religious cult under “Father” Enfantin as the bearded Messiah. The others dispersed; many capitulated to the charms of the Second Empire of Napoleon III, becoming leading administrators and engineers. One of them, De Lesseps, became the moving spirit in the construction of the Suez Canal. Others followed less glorious paths: “Under the Second Empire,” wrote Mehring in his History of German Social-Democracy, “the crudest forms of fraud on the stock market took place under the banner of Saint Simonism,” and the poet Heine mocked that the only cross the former martyrs carried was the cross of the Legion of Honor.
The Fourierists remained very active under the leadership of Victor Considerant (1808-93). Of his voluminous writings we only mention his confession of faith, the Principles of Socialism, Manifesto of Democracy in the Nineteenth Century (1843) — since it has often been cited as the source of inspiration for the Communist Manifesto — incorrectly, as we shall see.
Christian socialism was represented by the eloquent prophet Felicite de Lamennais (1782-1854). His Words of a Believer (1833), was a passionate plea for social justice. Translated into many languages and passing through more than a hundred editions, it was so influential that the Pope issued a special bull condemning it as a book small in size but huge in its depravity.
But Lamennais continued to plead for his ideal Christian community, meanwhile sharply criticizing the Saint-Simonians and other socialist sects as willing to sacrifice the freedom of the individual to the collective. Lamennais tried to accomplish inside the Catholic world that which somewhat later was undertaken in England among the Protestants by the influential divines, F D Maurice and Charles Kingsley. It seems that the latter coined the term “Christian socialist.” Incidentally, it was the clergyman Kingsley who, independently of Marx, discovered that religion is the “opium of the people.”*
*“We have used the Bible as ... an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded” (1848).
These utopian writers saw class conflicts primarily as moral conflicts. They did not address the working people, seeing in them only the poor and disinherited, not the potentially revolutionary fighters. Being in the first place radical philanthropists, utopians, they spoke by preference to the enlightened bourgeoisie.
However, with the increase in size and importance of the working classes, whether poor artisans or factory hands, a new generation of socialists appeared which expressed in varying degrees the aspirations of these sections of the population, although with still a good deal of utopianism. We may call them the doctrinaire socialists, and among them we find Louis Blanc, Etienne Cabet and Pierre Joseph Proudhon. All of them believed in peaceful transition. Of these, Proudhon was by far the most talented thinker.
Proudhon (1809-1865) was the first leading French socialist with a proletarian background. He was one of those roving artisans traveling from place to place to eke out a living who play such a vital role in this stage of the development and spread of socialist thought. He was a printer, self-educated, and first gained fame with his eloquent and provocative book What is Property? (1840). His answer was: Property is theft.
This is typical of Proudhon, whose extensive body of writings is full of such contradictions. Stripped of them, his main theme is that man should live in free association in a kind of federalist organization of social and national groupings. The ideal was anarchy; Proudhon coined the term in its modern sense. But his radicalism could not hide the fact that Proudhon’s doctrine amounted to an appeal for such reforms as would substantially benefit small producers and proprietors, and not the factory worker. Marx later called Proudhon petit-bourgeois. In accordance with his theory, Proudhon rejected the seizure of political power. However, for several generations his philosophy had a strong appeal to workers in France, Italy and Spain with little or no experience of modern industry, hence to small town and agricultural workers, whose militancy tended toward anarchism and syndicalism. In contrast, Marx’s philosophy appealed to the experience of the modern proletariat, to which Proudhon always showed an aversion.
The militants were usually organized in secret societies with fancy names such as Society of the Families or Society of the Seasons. They were engaged not only in communist propaganda, but also in plotting the violent seizure of the government. They were behind the insurrections of 1832, 1834, and 1839; in the latter, the Paris city hall was even for a short time held by the rebels.
The leaders were Auguste Blanqui (1805-1884) and Armand Barbes (1809-1870), both outstanding representatives of the professional revolutionary activist, a type that now begins to appear. Tireless conspirators, selfless devotees to the cause as they saw it, they had to spend many years in prison. Blanqui saw communism as the result of a historical development resulting from the actions of a more and more enlightened public, until at last “the triumvirate of Loyola, Caesar, and Shylock” would be overcome.
Marx had great respect for Blanqui, his dedication and adherence to the ideal of communism. But Marx saw the historical road to communism in the political and economic organization of the working class and not, like Blanqui, in the conspiratorial activity of a group of dedicated agitators plotting a coup d’etat without taking into account all the basic factors that make a revolutionary situation.
The Chartist movement in Great Britain was a loose united front formed by the most varied elements: pure trade unionists, fighters for the ten-hour day, friends of cooperatives, radical democrats, bourgeois reformers, humanitarians, advocates of moral persuasion and advocates of violence. There were also socialists among them. Their senior was Robert Owen.
Owen knew the modern factory system from the inside, since he had been the director of a large and profitable cotton mill in Scotland, where he had introduced working conditions which for the time were exemplary. Yet he felt more and more that the whole wage system was bad; his workers stayed in bondage. He agitated for the establishment of experimental cooperative communities, and from 1825 to 1828 conducted with his son such a community on a socialist basis at New Harmony in present Indiana.
After its failure he turned more and more to the labor unions as a sounding board for his theories and was active in the cooperative and Chartist movements. It was in his weekly, The New Moral World, that Engels wrote some of his first English articles (1843-1845). But Owen never understood that the class struggle itself develops the forces necessary for the overthrow of capitalism; he always clung to his belief in moral persuasion through the examples of model settlements, cooperatives, and labor banks. Thus he remained, like Saint-Simon and Fourier, a utopian. But he was one of the first socialists to bring his message to the labor movement where it belongs.
The silver-tongued orator of the Chartist movement, Feargus O’Connor (1796-1855), was hardly a socialist, although he dabbled in cooperative associations. In 1837 he began to edit The Northern Star, which became the leading Chartist paper. Two of its editors, Ernest Jones (1819-60) and George Julian Harney (1817-97), were militant trade unionists. Young Engels, then a clerk in a Manchester textile firm, contacted Harney and became a contributor. Both Jones and Harney were to become sympathetic to the ideas of Marx and Engels; Harney became a life-long friend.
Perhaps the keenest political mind of the movement was James O’Brien (1802-64), “the Chartist schoolmaster.” A pupil of Owen, he had communist sympathies; in 1836 he published an English version of Buonarotti’s history of Babeuf’s conspiracy. This shows that the socialist ideas began to stretch across the sea; he, Jones and Harney belonged to those left-wing Chartists who began to see the movement in international terms.
Harney was an organizer of a “Feast of Nations” held in London in September 1845, a banquet to commemorate the establishment of the French Republic in 1792. More than a thousand enthusiasts from many nations participated and cheered. Harney was one of the speakers. Shortly afterward he was among the organizers of the Society of Fraternal Democrats uniting the revolutionary exiles from the continent with the radical wing of the Chartists. In November 1847 this society organized another international meeting in London, commemorating the anniversary of the Polish insurrection of 1830. Among the speakers were Harney, Jones, Marx and Engels.
Socialism came to Germany only in the late 1830s, although writings by and about Saint-Simon and Fourier were already known in certain intellectual circles. Its apostle was a tailor named Wilhelm Weitling (1808-71). Like Proudhon he was born and bred in poverty; like him he led the life of a roving artisan. Reading voraciously after long working hours he gave himself an education and became a leader of radical workers, first in Germany, then in Switzerland and France. He organized workers’ societies as recruiting grounds for socialist clubs, often secret or semi-secret. His teaching was communist, actively revolutionary, inspired by the Bible.
We find him in 1835 in Paris, where there were hundreds of German artisans, mainly tailors and carpenters, and here he associated with the left-wing “League of the Proscribed”. After a stay in Switzerland he was back in Paris during 1837-41; there he agitated as a leading spirit of the “League of the Just”, organized in 1836 after a split in the radical wing of the “Proscribed”. The League was connected with Blanqui’s “Seasons” and had members elsewhere, even in Germany. In 1838 his confession of faith appeared: Humanity, as It Is and as It Should Be — influenced by Lamennais, and published at great sacrifice with the hard-earned pennies of his many devoted followers. In 1841 he went to Switzerland to assist in the organization of branches of the “Just”. Here he wrote his main work, Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom (1842), followed by the more popular, Gospel of a Poor Sinner. Here he proclaimed in prophetic language, like a revivalist preacher, his gospel of revolution, liberation and equality, attacked the forces of money and property, and called for a Messiah to lead the workers to a society of equals governed by scientists and sages. The workers, said Weitling, have no fatherland, which is a misconception foisted upon them by property owners. Jesus was a communist, primitive Christianity a shining example of equality and brotherhood.
These books served, in the forties, as a kind of Communist bible for the German-speaking revolutionary workers. Marx, in his early days as a communist, thought highly of them. Where, he asked, could the bourgeoisie show such a work as Weitling’s Guarantees in regard to its own emancipation? And he added: “It must be said that the German proletariat is the theoretician of the European proletariat just as the English proletariat is its political economist and the French its politician.”
A few years later Marx was far more critical of Weitling, and resented in particular his messianic egalitarianism, which led to mere phraseology and empty generalities. In 1846 it came to a break. Weitling, who after imprisonment in Switzerland had been wandering through Germany, England and Belgium, emigrated to the United States. Here, for many years, he was an active organizer of German immigrant artisans, but also indulged in chimerical utopian schemes. He never understood the necessity of political struggle, not even at the time of the Civil War.
In contrast to him, the Marxian immigrant Joseph Weydemeyer (1818-68) became an abolitionist and later saw active service as a colonel in the Civil War.
Other, non-socialist, strands were woven into the fabric of the philosophy of Marx and Engels. Where most socialists merely indicted capitalist society, these two felt the need to understand the mechanism. Where most socialists only stressed the desirability of a new world order, Marx and Engels sought the dynamics by which the change could be performed. This required a new outlook on the whole social and intellectual order, and for this they found the method in the highest form of philosophical thinking then developed, in German classical philosophy, and in particular in Hegel’s dialectics. In British classical economy they recognized the first attempt at a serious scientific analysis of the economics of capitalist society.
Great Britain had had its bourgeois revolution as early as the 17th century. Although it did not destroy the big landed estates it gave the middle classes considerable freedom to operate. During the 18th century capitalist industry was so well advanced that in 1776 the Scot Adam Smith could formulate the laws of this capitalist, free enterprise system with impressive clarity. In his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations he reduced politics, social activity and public morality to economic categories and recognized property as the essence of the structure of society. The greatest hope for the increase of the wealth of nations lay in the activity of sovereign individuals pursuing their natural self-interest, as far as possible unchecked. This increase was made possible by the improvements in the productive powers of labor, due to the division of labor. The “three great, original and constituent orders of every civilized society” were “the orders of people who live by rent, who live by wages and who live by profit.” Their reward was based on the most equal of all relationships, the exchange of commodities on a free and open market. Removal of the obstacles to this open market meant the pursuit of wealth and progress. Thus the two fundamental ideas of Smith were self-interest and natural liberty.
Smith was aware that labor* measures the value of a commodity, and that the interests of employers and workers were in conflict. Yet he claimed that both parties received an advantage from increase in natural wealth. This claim, however, was soon placed in serious doubt by the further development of the factory system. Humanitarians and radicals objected, refusing to believe that Smith’s “natural” order was so natural after all. Godwin preached his ideal community based on equality of all and was attacked by the pastor Thomas Malthus, in his Essay on the Principles of Population (1798). Here Malthus tried to prove mathematically that inequality, and hence poverty, is in the very nature of things because population tends to grow much faster than the means of subsistence. When David Ricardo in his Principles of Political Economy (1819) reformulated Smith’s theory in a more rigorous form, it was against Malthus’ and Ricardo’s “natural” order that the arrows of humanitarian and radical, as well as conservative, critiques were mainly aimed. Political economy became known as the “dismal” science.
These theories, amounting to a scientific analysis of the new, the capitalist society, were ignored by almost all socialists who relied more on appeals to humanitarian principles. One of the great steps forward taken by Marx and Engels was their realization that socialists should understand the laws underlying capitalist society because the operation of these laws leads to the possibility of socialism. What is and what should be, in direct contradiction to the utopians, stand in dialectical unity for Marx and Engels.
Their study revealed serious weaknesses in the classical theories of Smith and Ricardo. Marx’s analysis, which was to culminate in his discovery of the theory of surplus value, showed that the “natural” order of the classical economists was not natural but transitory. In the creation of a proletariat the capitalist order contained the elements of its own destruction and its replacement by a socialist order. The “dismal theory” was turned into one of the pillars of a new theoretical edifice, that of liberation of the working class.
Marx and Engels had already started out on this work years before the writing of The Manifesto — around 1844 when Engels was in Manchester, Marx in Paris. The final results were laid down, after more than 20 years of work, in the first volume of Capital (1867), to be followed later by two other volumes.
In Germany, as we have seen, the middle class was weak, propaganda for radical political change discouraged or forbidden. Yet the intellectual heritage was strong and deeply affected by the events of 1789. The existing ferment found an outlet in the world of ideas. Great battles were fought in academic halls, books, periodicals and beer parlors. It was the great creative period in philosophy, the time of the quartet — Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. These thinkers translated the political and social longings of Germany’s intellectuals into the search for the law and hence for the freedom of the mind. Our main attention must go to Hegel, at the climax of German classical philosophy.
Where the 17th-century philosophers Descartes and Leibniz searched for a universal science capable of solving all problems of nature, Hegel searched for a universal method capable of approaching the whole of the mind’s empire. His Phenomenology of the Mind (1806) — is a veritable journey on the three levels of personal, historical and ontological experience through all stages of human endeavor and thought until finally the mind in contemplation of the World Spirit finds true understanding and its final freedom.
Hegel’s method consisted in giving a novel and dynamic content to the ancient Greek concept of oral dispute, called dialectics. In Hegel’s teachings all concepts are placed in their endless array of mutual relationships, each concept analyzed in its limitations and contradictions, so that it could be “negated” and “transcended”into a fuller, more embracing concept, and a new understanding reached concerning the previous concept.
In his philosophy of law he starts with abstract free will, from there goes to the person and his property then to morality and to ethics. In developing these concepts he reaches from the family to civic society and from there to the conceptual climax, the State, as the “reality of the ethical idea.” In relations among different states world history reveals itself: world history is world judgment.
Concepts thus found their unity in their very contradictions, or, in Hegel’s language, in the unity (also, identity) of opposites. Key concepts are consciousness, self-consciousness, alienation, potentiality and actuality, thus expressing development, evolution — but far more, since they lead to the identity of object and subject in the Absolute, the World Spirit.
This meant on the historical level that Hegel strove to find a sense in history, seeing it as the gradual evolution of the World Spirit. Where Smith, whom Hegel had read, searched for a permanent natural order and found it in the capitalism of his day, Hegel taught that everything in existence carries the elements of its own destruction — or better, transcendence — forming a link in a chain — a chain, as he saw it, of progress. World history was judgment, yes, but also the development of the concept of freedom. “It is the true theodicy, the justification of God in history.”
This was idealism, not subjective but objective idealism, the subordination of the material world under the spell of the mind, seen as the World Spirit. But in terms of the social-economic world of Hegel’s day, where did it lead? With all his appreciation of the French Revolution (even of Napoleon: the World Spirit on horseback!) and the potentially revolutionary character of the dialectics, Hegel turned more and more conservative in his later days. Prussia, Germany, “got” him, as it “got” so many other brilliant men. His social theodicy ended with the Prussian State of his day, hopefully, but not necessarily, with a constitutional monarchy. He died in 1832, objecting to the July Revolution and the agitation for the Reform Bill in England.
When we now try to read Hegel it is hard to believe that his highly technical jargon (interspersed with brilliant aphorisms) once set the spirit of an entire generation on fire. But “Hegelizing” was the fashion and it even spilled across the border. This generation was passionately looking for a sense in history and found it in terms of Hegel’s dialectics, every person in his own way.
Many of the master’s pupils, in the political atmosphere of the July Revolution and its aftermath, moved forward, turning more radical — first in religious matters (which, in Germany, was also a matter concerning the state), then also directly in the political arena. Hegel had looked into the past and present, they wanted to look into the future. Since they were used to expressing their ideas in the customary jargon of the self-development of the mind, these Young Hegelians to a certain extent could get away with it under the existing censorship and police supervision. When they began to be more explicit they naturally met all kinds of harassment.
The Young Hegelians were a companionable lot, at any rate in the years around 1840, when they and their cronies gathered in beer and wine halls to drink, sing, talk and discuss the papers and books they were writing or planning. Leading these Free Berliners was the radical theologian Bruno Bauer (1809-82).
He and his brother Edgar proclaimed the history of mankind as the development, not of Hegel’s Absolute but of human “self-consciousness.” The task of the philosopher was to direct self-consciousness into higher phases, to the full emancipation of the individual. This task they called the Critique. Remaining entirely in the realm of thought, undisturbed by the grit of everyday life, they sought their own emancipation from the “masses.” Marx and Engels later ridiculed their snooty Critique as the “Critical Critique.”
Another leader was the publicist Arnold Ruge (1802-80); he had served six years in prison as a member of the Burschenschaft and thought in terms of radical political reform, a philosophy of action.*
(* This stress on a philosophy of action was inspired by the memory of Fichte, who had been a passionate patriotic leader at the time of Prussia’s humiliation by Napoleon.)
In the work of these leaders we see the beginning of the understanding that it is not the state that determines society, as in Hegel, but that society determines the State — a step, but only a first step, toward historical materialism. Marx and Engels frequented the Free Berliners for some time, Marx when a student at Berlin University, Engels, a few months after Marx, while serving in the military. Both at that time looked to the Bauers and Ruge for leadership.
The radical Young Hegelians were struggling in this way to pass from the nebulous domain of the spirit, where their master had stranded them, to the world of everyday life with its political problems. And so they felt the strong impact of another Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72), when he argued for a complete reversal of Hegel’s idealism, first in the field of religion, then in general philosophical speculation, in his Essence of Christianity (1841) and in his Preliminary Theses toward the Reform of Philosophy (1842).
Feuerbach returned, in a sense, to the materialism of the French Enlightenment, analyzing man as a product of nature, creating his ideas from his own life, or better, from the life of his whole species, in the struggle with nature around him. This sounds pretty obvious to most of us, but it came as a great eye-opener to those who for years had been operating with a disembodied Spirit. Moreover, Feuerbach enriched his materialism with some of Hegel’s dialectical thinking. This led him to abandon the 18th century theory that religion is the product of priestly deceit and Hegel’s conception of religion as a stage in the development of the World Spirit, and to look at religion as a product of man’s alienation from nature and himself. In short, it is not God who creates man, but man who creates God. Thus Feuerbach placed man back in his natural environment, and tried to show that man can reach a humanist attitude toward his fellow man.
At this point, however, as Marx and Engels would show, he failed to advance far enough. He underestimated seriously the fact that man is also the product of his social environment with its conflicts. Feuerbach’s man was still an abstraction from man as he really lives and acts. And secondly, another flaw in his dialectics, his philosophy was purely interpretative and lacked the dynamics necessary to inspire man to social, revolutionary action. No wonder that with all his sympathy for socialism in his moral philosophy he never moved much beyond the preaching of a general love of humanity. He stayed aloof from the class struggle.
Feuerbach thus remained wrapped up in his philosophical abstractions about man, or in his phrase, “species man,” collective man, in an attitude of remoteness from social struggles, strengthened by his solitary living in a small Franconian village.
But for a while he inspired the most politically active among the Young Hegelians. “Enthusiasm was general; we all became at once Feuerbachians,” wrote Engels many years later in retrospect. By this time some Young Hegelians were turning away from mere political reform toward socialism, guided by Feuerbach’s insistence that it was in the real world of collective man and his activity that the road to freedom lay. Marx was led toward socialism by his experiences as collaborator, later editor, of the democratic Rheinische Zeitung (1842-43), Engels by his experiences in the English textile industry and the Chartist movement (1843-45).
Still another young Hegelian who became a socialist via Feuerbach and a passion for the philosophy of action, even before Marx and Engels, was Moses Hess (1812-75). Hess was a Rhinelander like Marx and Engels. Beginning around 1837 he attempted to give a socialist color to the Jewish religion; the New Jerusalem, he claimed, could only be realized in a society without private property.
During a stay in France he absorbed French socialism, which he studied, and enriched by his knowledge of Hegel and Feuerbach and of political economy; he came close to scientific socialism. But he never was able to think these ideas through with the dialectical consistency typical of Marx and Engels. Although during the years 1844-48 he often worked closely with these younger men, and his writings were advanced for his time, he became more and more alienated. There always remained a mystical religious element in Hess’ thinking; in later years be became a forerunner of Zionism, although he always stayed, faithful to the socialist labor movement.
The vagueness in his thinking was shared by many German intellectuals who, in the years between 1844 and 1848, turned to socialism under the influence of German philosophy and some French-English socialism. They extended Feuerbach’s search for the natural, the humanistic “species man” into a more detailed study of property relationships and found in the change of these relationships the clue to the “true” man, thus becoming known as “true socialists.” They were a rather easy-going set of pleasant individuals with literary leanings, respectful of Hess and Feuerbach and somewhat in awe of Marx and Engels.
Marx and Engels were far from impressed by these “true socialists.” “They think that they have performed miracles when they translate statements which already have become trivialities into the language of Hegel’s logic and send this newly acquired wisdom into the world as something yet unheard of as the ‘true German theory,’ ” wrote Engels in 1845. This German fine letters socialism, which neither possessed the profundity of Marx’s and Engels’ thought, nor demanded the self-sacrificing devotion of these men and of Hess and Weitling, reflected the indecision typical of the German intellectual middle class as a whole. Yet neither Marx nor Engels ever broke their ties with them as absolutely as might be inferred from some of their utterances. Marx and Engels were hoping to win some of them over to their camp. And indeed, at least one, Weydemeyer, became a close associate.
“True socialism,” like Young Hegelianism as a whole, is now hardly ever remembered except as the subject of a spirited polemical section in The Communist Manifesto. It disappeared after 1848.
The Communist Manifesto was published in February 1848. Lenin wrote of it in 1914: “In this work the new world outlook is sketched with the clarity and expressive power of genius: the consistent materialism which also embraces the domain of social life, the dialectic as the most comprehensive and most profound theory of development, the theory of the class struggle and the world historical revolutionary role of the proletariat, the creator of the new, the communist society.” (Lenin, Karl Marx, 1914)