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Reflections on Karl Marx and Revolution

May 7, 2009


Marx is a complex composite influenced by Hegel as well as the post Hegelian thought that influenced the Young Hegelian Leftists, which modified Hegel’s historic approach to dialectical theory.  Following Hegel’s death two primary camps developed – the Right and the Left.  Several key individuals influenced the philosophy of the Leftist Young Hegelians, shaped their thought, and created tension between the Prussian/Christian monarchy and the Leftists.  Key figures are Strauss and his influential position on Christianity, Cieszkowski and his Philosophy of Action (which focused on the future rather than history), Brauer’s focus upon the “self-conscious” central role of the spirit in the opposing/negative world, and Ruge who for some time served as the editor of the Leftist journal.  Marx is connected to these individuals if not directly as in the case of Brauer, indirectly through connections in Berlin.  This philosophy developed to focus upon a philosophy of rejecting the historicity of Hegel in favor of the philosophy of negation, a position of atheism, and a political view sponsoring revolution as a primary mode of action.  Nonetheless, it is imperative to understand that while the Leftists influence Marx in that he accepted some of their philosophies and agreed with the problems they found as needing solutions, he is quite distinguishable in that he had a different view of how history affected the development of society (Chapter II).


Even though his first work, his doctoral thesis, entitled On the Differences between the Natural Philosophy of Democritus and of Epicurus is largely influenced by the Young Hegelian thought there is the beginning of Marx’ attempt to identify himself that would place him somewhere between the rational utopians and the conservative positivists.  Within this work, there is seen influence of Hegelian historical approach to the world state of condition as well as acceptance of an anti-utopia view of the history and progress of the world (99).  Moreover, there is the influence, which comes from Hellenistic philosophy and Aristotle’s power of the self-conscious as it relates to the philosophical freedom of the spirit.  His thesis, shaped by Hegelian logic, focused upon Epicureanism.  Thusly, Marx begins to state basic premises that later evolve into his theories regarding praxis, false consciousness and emancipation (perhaps the concept of human potential) (102, 104, 106).  The statement: “the spirit should not remain submissive to existing facts, nor yet believe in the absolute authority of normative criteria which it discovers freely in itself without regard to those facts, but should make of its own freedom a means wherewith to influence the world” seems to postulate self-consciousness as a means of obtaining human potential, hence actualization of freedom “parenclisis” (101, Chapter III).


Comparatively speaking Moses Hess and Karl Marx each positively influenced each other.  On the other hand, Marx came to reject most of Feuerbach’s propositions.  Hess developed his own philosophy of communism from the works of Hegel.  Influenced by Hegel, French socialism and the Young Hegelian Leftists, Hess moved from a philosophy of the historical past to the future and from attempting to interpret history to projecting future action.  For Hess, human freedom climaxes in future action and this is the essence of “free action”.  Ultimately, revolution leads to regeneration of society, fulfills Christianity; the result is an authentic religion of love (110).  However, this religion of love has no priests, churches, dogmas, Higher Deity, belief in immortality or education based upon fear.  The statement “there will be no more antagonism between public order and freedom” illustrates this… (110). This transformation is a precondition of communism.  “Moral and social slavery proceeds only from spiritual slavery; and … contrariwise, legal and moral emancipation is bound to result from spiritual liberation.” This illustrates further his thoughts that self-awareness was a vital part of future social harmony and identity of the individual and the collective interest (110).  Hess and Marx met and most likely shared ideas, hence it is possible to see the mutual influence in concepts of alienation, polarized wealth and poverty leading to revolution, religious and economic alienation, and the need to express free creative activity as a means to identify self-consciousness (113).  Feuerbach’s first book The Essence of Christianity, summarized on page 116 espouses the conclusion that the consciousness of man toward an object creates in man the true manifestation of what man are (114).  This contrasts with Hegel’s view that alienation is positive or at least may lead to positive manifestations (116).  Hegel proposed that alienation as an external force may lead to better understanding of self.  What is external and alien is through a process of enrichment absorbed (internalized) and allows fulfillment of self-actualization.  For Feuerbach, the alienation is “evil”.  Thus, religion serves to objectify humans to a level of inferiority and never allows full realization of the human being (religious mystification); it opposes the individuality of self, wastes human energy, and detracts from true value of man as an end unto himself (116).  Marx, from his statements (religion is as an opiate) rather than viewing religion as a central negative force focuses on economic influences that bear upon ultimate social realization.  As Feuerback continues to modify his position in later writings he strays further from Hegel and Marx and comes to reject his position more (118, Chapter IV).


As editor of the Young Hegelian paper and later as writer, Marx had the opportunity to shape and develop his theories.  Early articles dealt with themes of censorship, property and the essence of freedom.  The Landtag law offered the opportunity to develop his concerns for the rights of humans and the role of law and the state.  Landtag made illegal the ancient tradition of allowing peasants to collect scrap wood and brush from the lands.  Marx concluded that revoking this right of the peasants promoted private property interests of a few, and limited the rights of all people.  Natural rights of all were restricted.  Like Hegel, real law (natural) is distinguished from state law.  State law promotes institutions and is protected by police.  Real law promotes the realization of freedom and should never restrict it (121).  In considering the freedom of press, the written word is an end unto itself.  Later writings that were instrumental to Marx early construction were Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, On the Jewish Question, and Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.  In both articles regarding Hegel, Marx quickly diverges from Hegelianism (123).  Four points of divergence are worthy of stating in relation to the first article: 1) the state is not an independent entity separate from the people which comprise it, 2) as with religion, the state is to be a reflection of the people which organize it, not the converse, 3) the proper aim of democracy is to make government the instrument of man, and 4) humans are not mere moments or stages in development of the universe.  In conclusion, the state may not legitimately set the pace for the general mood of the people, but rather the people have the power to set the mood for the state (124).  Hence, civil authority should dictate political authority (124).  When the state becomes a “tool” of a select few, the state stops being a mediator or as Hegel claimed a synthesizer, and becomes a tool of special interest groups (125).  In his work On the Jewish Question, it is noteworthy that the only way man may rediscover himself is by individual true consciousness and as bearer of the total community (127).  A particular point is that in writing Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx conceptualizes what will serve to be his principle that the proletariat has a special mission as a class.  It will be the heart of the emancipation philosophy that will ultimately serve to liberate and abolish the class system and private property (130).  It is the realization of revolution, which is in itself a violation of history that will enable the simultaneous fulfillment of the emancipation (127,128).  This awakening of consciousness will be the heart of his theory of scientific socialism.  Ultimately, this will serve to unify political and social life and serves to establish six principles noted on page 131 (Chapter V).


In the “Paris Manuscripts” Marx constructs the “full and perfect reconciliation of human essence and existence” (141).  Humanity and humankind’s being are harmonized in communism.  These writings serve to provide a partial theme for his later work Capital.  Within this context, the themes of labor and alienation are more clarified.  Labor is the basic characteristic of humankind and serves to establish a human consciousness and oneness with the world.  This serves to form a social relationship with nature (138).  Alienation comes not only as labor is commoditized but also as the worker comes to be alienated from both the work he/she performs as well as the product constructed.  This leads to animalized feelings, which serve to destruct human ability thereby penalizing not only the individual but also the larger community.  Noteworthy is that this alienation not only occurs to the individual proletarian but also to the capitalist in the form of becoming the object of money.  Hence, the capitalist becomes an abstraction of “money-power”.  An excellent quote regarding the capitalist is on page 139.  Private property, division of labor and human alienation are not mistakes.  Rather they are natural historic progression to a state in which natural conditions develop and “indispensable” future liberation may occur (141).  This leads to Marx finding that from within, from inner understanding an act occurs and it is this act which in turn affects the subject thereby allowing the subject to understand it.  In other words, the subject and the act coincide; this brings about self-recognition (144, Chapter VI).


Socialist ideas arose in light of the Industrial and French revolutions.  A central conviction of all the myriad socialist groups is that uncontrolled concentration of wealth and unrestricted competition creates misery (183).  Only an organized redistribution of production and exchange would end poverty and oppression that accompanied this concentration of wealth and limited competition.  Socialism (Leroux) came to be qualified by many diverse means by which to achieve the correction of the problem (183).  Of those categorized as utopian three propositions arise that anticipate Marx.  These are categorized as historiosophical, capitalist, and socialist future (220-21).  Within each of these categories several points may be listed which exemplify a propositional statement or viewpoint of what Marx comes to postulate.  One particular socialist, Proudhon, a seeker of social justice, a son of a brewery worker, whose slogan was “property is theft” received particular criticism from Marx (224-7).  In summary, Marx concluded that Proudhon failed to note that the historical process is a dynamic process (227).  Technology drives the change that occurs and no amount of moralizing, attempting to revise outmoded structures or simply removing an obstacle (contender) will bring social upheaval.  Rather, only the historical process of struggle will eventually elevate the proper party (the proletariat) to revolution whereby class will be reduced to one level with no differences (227).  In turning to the summation of Marx, it is necessary to note The Communist Manifesto.  Within this short but complete document lays his theory of society and his beliefs for action.  With this work, there are no further revisions.  Within this document are the influence of Engels’ writings of the dialectic nature and materialism.



Kolakowski, Leszek. 1976. Main Currents of Marxism. —-: Oxford Paperbacks. Vol. 1, Ch 2-7, 10.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. 1906. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr & Company.

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