THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY AFTER 150 YEARS

by Ralph Dumain

As 1995 began I proceeded to organize a conference program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of The German Ideology. My inspiration at the time was neither the concept of ideology nor the formulation of historical materialism, but Marx's underappreciated concern for the constraints put upon human development, individually as well as collectively, including intellectual development, by the limitations of social circumstance. I focused my attention on the crippling effects of the division of labor on society and thought and the epochal significance of Marx's break with the intellectual class. (The peculiar collection of "quotable quotes" I selected were intended to illustrate this theme.) I was motivated to pursue this line of inquiry through my intensive engagement with the methdology of C.L.R. James.

I succeeded in assembling a conference program including two other distinguished speakers and myself. However, due to bureaucratic bungling, the program was cancelled at the last minute. A curious coincidence should be noted, for those interested in such things: the three of us, without consulting one another, had independently come to the conclusion, to paraphrase the title of one of the talks, that postmodernism is the new "German ideology." The title of my own talk was to be: "At the Breaking Point: The Intellectual's Alienation and the Division of Labor."

(26 August 2001)

Here is the text of my program announcement:

Never published during the lifetime of Marx or Engels, this joint work, written in 1845 and 1846 and then abandoned, is usually considered to be the founding work of Marxism, marking the turning point in the formulation of historical materialism. Abridgements of this huge work have been readily available for some time, but the complete text was made available in English only in 1964, sizable chunks of which are often dismissed as tedious and of interest only to the historian or specialist, particularly the several hundred pages devoted to scathing criticism of Max Stirner, the last of the Young Hegelians to make an impact on Marx. Yet, in addition to the parts usually excerpted and quoted there are gems buried in this text which should not be lost to the prospective reader of today. Moreover, there is a politics to the interpretation of this work, as anti-communists, anarchists, Stalinists, and others have clashed over its meaning.

What can we learn 150 years later, as we not only commemorate the meaning of this historic work for its time but face the conditions we now must face? Why did Marx break with the intellectual stratum in which he was nurtured? Who are the Young Hegelians of today, crippled by the division of labor, tossing jargon amongst themelves, unable to connect to the world outside except to advance their careers, stagnating as society as a whole stagnates, unable to make a conceptual leap to a higher stage of development?

(18 February 1995)


Quotable Quotes from The German Ideology by Marx & Engels

Ideology Study Guide

Marx & Individualism Reconsidered: Selected Bibliography

The Unknown Karl Marx

Antonio Gramsci, Organic Intellectuals, & the Division of Labor

"Socialist Individualism?" by Magnus E. Marsdal

Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography


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Uploaded 26 August 2001

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