From Hegel to Marcuse

by Lucio Colletti


Hegel's philosophy is based on three propositions. The first is that philosophy is always idealism:

The proposition that the finite is ideal constitutes idealism. The idealism of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being. . . . This is as true of philosophy as of religion; for religion equally does not recognise finitude as a veritable being, as something ultimate and absolute or as something underived, uncreated, eternal. [1]

The second is that the problem of philosophy is to realize the principle of idealism:

Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is actually carried out. [2]

The third is that the realization of the principle of idealism implies the destruction of the finite and the annihilation of the world, since, writes Hegel,

This carrying through of the principle depends primarily on whether the finite reality still retains an independent self‑subsistence alongside the being‑for‑self. [3]

The first proposition does not have to be explained: the principle of idealism is the Idea, the infinite or the Christian Logos. The second will be clarified below. The most difficult to understand is the third, which, it might be added, has also been given the least attention in studies on Hegel. This can be stated as (a) why idealism must destroy the finite and annihilate the world in order to be realized, and (b) how this annihilation can take place.

Point (a) is the easiest to solve. The principle of idealism implies the destruction of the finite because if the finite is allowed to survive, it becomes impossible to conceive of the infinite. Hegel writes:

The infinite, in that case, is one of the two; but as only one of the two is it itself finite, it is not the whole but only one side; it has its limit in what stands over against it; it is thus the finite infinite. There are present only two finites. [4]

And again (in the Encyclopedia):

Dualism, which renders the antithesis of the finite and the infinite insuperable, does not make the simple consideration that in this way the infinite is only one of the two; that in this way only something particular is yielded, of which the finite is the other particular. Such an infinite, which is only a particular, stands alongside the finite; in this it finds its limits or barrier; it is not what it should be, it is not the infinite but only finite. In such a relationship, where the finite is on one side and the infinite on the other, the former here, the latter beyond, the finite is credited with the same dignity of subsistence and independence that is attributed to the infinite. The being of the finite is made an absolute being; within this dualism it stands firm for itself. If, so to speak, it were touched by the infinite, it would be destroyed. But it cannot be touched by the infinite: an abyss, an unbridgeable gap is thus opened between the two; the infinite is fixed beyond, the finite here. [5]

We will offer a few explanations to help the reader to a full realization of the meaning of this text. The infinite as 'one of the two', that is, the false infinite, is the infinite of the 'intellect'. The infinite as entirety is the infinite of 'reason'. 'The main point is to distinguish the true concept of infinity from spurious infinity, the infinite of reason from the infinite of the intellect.' [6]

The 'intellect' (Verstand) is the principle of non‑contradiction, the principle of the mutual exclusion or separation of opposites. 'Reason' is the principle of dialectical contradiction or coincidence of opposites. The first is the logical universal which has its particular or real object outside itself. The second is the unity of finite and infinite in the infinite, the unity of thought and being in thought, i.e. 'sameness' and 'otherness', tauto‑heterology or dialectic.

The passage from the Encyclopedia, cited above, lists all the defects that Hegel attributes to the 'intellect'; (1) it lets the finite survive, it does not annihilate it but turns it into a 'firm being'; (2) it finitizes the infinite; (3) it poses the finite 'here' (diesseits), and the infinite 'beyond' (jenseits)—i.e. it makes the finite real or terrestrial existence, and the infinite something merely abstract or ideal.

The substance of the argument is that the 'intellect', the principle of non‑contradiction, is common sense, the point of view of materialism (empiricism) and of science. Everything that philosophy or idealism asserts—that the finite 'is not' and the infinite 'is'—the 'intellect' presents in the reverse order. Materialism and science are, therefore, the Unphilosophie, that is, the antithesis or negation of philosophy.

Let us now consider briefly the problem of the old or precritical metaphysics (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz), which also adopts the method of non‑contradiction. Hegel's thesis is that insofar as it is metaphysical, the principle of this philosophy is the infinite, the absolute; that this philosophy is therefore true philosophy or idealism. Its fault, however, lies in the method it uses. The content of this metaphysics is correct, the form is wrong. [7] The substance is 'philosophical', the method flatly 'scientific'. As a result, the use of the principle of non‑contradiction prevents the old metaphysics from realizing idealism.

The argument to which Hegel frequently resorts in support of this is an examination of the metaphysical proofs of the existence of God. An excellent example is provided by the cosmological proofs. 'Their starting point,' says Hegel, 'is certainly a view of the world in some way as an aggregate of chance occurrences', namely, as an accumulation of things without value. But while in principle these proofs recognize that the world is merely ephemerality and valuelessness, and that God and God alone is the true reality, the demonstrative method that they adopt in fact subverts the direction of their argument. They want to derive the existence of God from that of the world, maintaining that the existence of the creature can demonstrate that of the creator. In so doing, they do not realize that in their syllogism, the world, which is 'nothing', becomes the basis of the proof, and that God, who is everything, becomes a mere consequence or something mediated. The creature, which is secondary, becomes primary; the creator, who is primary, becomes secondary. Thus, says Hegel, Jacobi made the 'correct objection' that they 'seek the conditions (the world) for the unconditioned; the infinite (God) in this way is conceived as caused and dependent.' [8]

In other words,

metaphysical proofs of the existence of God are unsuccessful accounts and descriptions of the elevation of the Spirit from the world to God, because they do not express, or rather they do not emphasize, the moment of negation contained in this elevation; since the world is accidental it is implicit that it is only something ephemeral and phenomenal, in and for itself a nullity. The meaning of the elevation of the Spirit is that, while being does indeed belong to the world, it is only appearance not true being, not absolute truth; that absolute truth lies only beyond that appearance in God—only God is true being. This elevation, being a transition and mediation, is also the sublation of the transition and mediation, because that in whose mediation God could appear—the world is, instead, shown to be nullity. Only the nullity of the being of the world gives the possibility of elevation, so that whatever is the mediator disappears, whereby in this mediation itself, mediation is removed. [9]

The direction of the argument is, as we can see, that the 'intellect', the principle of non‑contradiction, is so closely tied to materialism that even when it is applied to metaphysical or idealistic premises, it distorts the meaning of 'philosophy' and forces it to say the opposite of what it has in mind. The finite, which is nothing, is consolidated by the intellect, which renders it a 'stable being' or foundation. It reduces the infinite, which is the true reality, to something caused and dependent. The finite, which is the negative, becomes the positive, i.e. effective existence. The infinite, on the other hand, which is the true real, becomes something unreal or negative, a 'void' beyond, 'something mental or abstract'.

Intellect and reason, then, are two distinct logics:

In ordinary inference the being of the finite appears as ground of the absolute; because the finite is, therefore the absolute is. But the truth is that the absolute is, because the finite . . . is not. In the former meaning the inference runs thus: the being of the finite is the being of the absolute; but in the latter thus: the non­being of the finite is the being of the absolute. [10]

Let us sum up what we have expounded. All 'true' philosophies are idealism, or at least they have idealism as their principle; materialism and science are Unphilosophie. Hence it all depends upon how far a philosophy can actualize this principle, that is, the realization of idealism. The condition upon which this realization depends is the destruction of the finite, the annihilation of the world. (Later we shall see how Hegel obtains this annihilation.) Once the finite is destroyed, the infinite, that is the Spirit or God, which 'intellectualist' metaphysics relegates to the 'beyond', passes from the beyond to the here and now and becomes existing and real. This is the realization of philosophy. It is the immanentization of transcendence, the 'secularization of Christianity', [11] the incarnation or actualization of the divine Logos. In other words, the difference between the old and the new metaphysics is the difference between ordinary theology and speculative theology, between theism and philosophy, between precritical metaphysics and absolute idealism.

Feuerbach saw this clearly. At the beginning of his 'Provisional Theses' he wrote: 'Speculative theology may be distinguished from ordinary theology by the fact that the divine Being, which the latter removes to . . . the beyond, is transposed to the here and now, making it present, determinate and actual.' [12] Speculative philosophy, he adds in the Principles, 'has made the God which in theism is only an imaginary being, a remote, indeterminate, vague being, into an actual, determinate being'. [13]


The problem of the 'realization' of (Hegel's) philosophy was the main problem for the Hegelian left (excepting Feuerbach and Marx). The most important thing, however, is that the problem now became political. It became the problem of the liberal‑radical revolution in Germany.

There is, so the argument ran, a contradiction in Hegel's philosophy between the 'principles' and the 'conclusions'. The principles are revolutionary, the conclusions conservative. The cause of this lies in the fact that the full maturity of Hegel's thought coincides with the period of the Restoration.

Hegel thus came to substantiate his own saying that every philosophy is only the thought content of its own age. On the other hand, his personal opinions were refined by the system, but not without their having influenced its conclusions. Thus, his philosophy of religion and right would certainly have emerged quite differently if he had abstracted more from the positive elements (von den positiven Elementen) that it derived from the education of the time, and had instead developed it from pure thought. All the inconsistencies, all the contradictions in Hegel come down to this. Everything in his philosophy of religion that seems too orthodox, and in his philosophy of the State too pseudo‑historical, must be judged from this standpoint. The principles are always progressive and independent, the conclusions—it cannot be denied—are occasionally lagging and even illiberal.

This passage is taken from an early work, Schelling und die Offenbarung, [14] which Engels published in 1842 under the pseudonym of Oswald, as spokesman for the Doktorclub in Berlin. All the basic motifs of the interpretation of Hegel's philosophy then in vogue on the left may be found here: (a) the discovery of a (presumed) contradiction in Hegel's philosophy between the (revolutionary) principles and the (conservative) conclusions; (b) the thesis that all the 'inconsistencies', all the 'contradictions' present in Hegel, both in his philosophy of religion and in his philosophy of the State, do not spring from ideas intrinsic to his thought, but are merely the price he paid to his epoch, the period of the Restoration. They were the product of the personal compromise by which Hegel attempted to solve the conflict between the audacity of his principles and the backwardness of the German situation.

It is not possible to enter into a more detailed analysis here. The main point of this line of interpretation is that, according to the left, the celebrated Hegelian identity of the Real and the Rational should not be understood as the observation or consecration of an existing state of affairs, so much as a programme to be actualized. The Hegelian identity signifies that the rational should be realized. Everything which is and does not correspond to reason, seems to be but in fact, is not; it must be subverted to make way for a new reality. Formally, the problem is the same as in Hegel; it is a question of actualizing philosophy, of realizing the Idea. But in reality everything is transposed into the terms of political revolution. The programme of realizing the Christian Logos, of the immanentization of God, has become the programme of the liberal‑radical revolution.

Some indications may be cited to illustrate the fortunes of this line of interpretation. After adopting it in his youth while he was still a left liberal, Engels resurrected this line of thought in 1888 in Ludwig Feuerbach, with the celebrated thesis of the contradiction in Hegel between the revolutionary dialectical method and the conservative idealist system. From Engels it passed to Plekhanov and Lenin, thus forming part of the orthodoxy of Russian 'dialectical materialism'.

Even before this, the interpretation of the Doktorclub and, in this case, of the young Engels had arrived in Russia in another way. It played a decisive part in the formation of the thought of the 'democratic revolutionaries' (Belinsky, Herzen, Chernishevsky), writers whose influence on Plekhanov and Lenin is well known.

This passage from the young Engels came to the knowledge of Belinsky (who warmly approved of it) through an almost literal transcription by his friend, the critic Botkin. [15] His text on Schelling and Revelation was also commented upon by Herzen in 1842 itself. Herzen wrote that Hegel lacked the 'heroism of consistency', the courage to accept the consequences of his own thought, the clear results of his own principles. He refused to do so because 'he loved and respected das Bestehende' (the existing state of things), because he 'realized that he would not bear the blow and did not wish to be the first to strike'. At the time it was enough for him to have achieve& what he had; but his principles 'were more faithful to him than he was to himself, i.e. to him, as a thinker, detached from his accidental personality, the epoch, etc.' Hence these principles survived him in the school of his younger followers. [16]

Later I shall attempt to say something about the rather different interpretation of Hegel (in relation to that of the Hegelian left), given by Feuerbach and the young Marx. [17] Here I need only point out that both in the Doctoral Dissertation and the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Marx totally rejects the idea of explaining Hegelian philosophy and its presumed contradiction between 'principles' and 'conclusions', as the result of any compromise that Hegel might have made with the Prussian State.

Marx writes in his Notes to the Doctoral Dissertation:

In regard to Hegel, it is out of mere ignorance (blosse Ignoranz) that his disciples explain this or that determination of his system by accommodation and the like or, in a word, morally (moralisch). . . . It is conceivable that a philosopher commits this or that apparent non‑sequitur out of this or that accommodation. He himself may be conscious of it. But he is not conscious that the possibility of this apparent accommodation is rooted in the inadequacy of his principle or in its inadequate formation. Hence, if a philosopher has accommodated himself, his disciples have to explain from his inner essential consciousness what for him had the form of an exotic consciousness. In this way what appears as progress of consciousness is progress of knowledge as well. It is not that the particular (partikulare) consciousness of the philosopher is suspect; rather, his essential form of consciousness is constructed, raised to a particular form and meaning, and at the same time superseded. [18]

However, the line of interpretation offered by Feuerbach and Marx, as is well known, has carried little weight in studies of Hegel. Even Lukacs's monograph on The Young Hegel, which refers at several points to Feuerbach's writings of 1839­43 and to Marx's Manuscripts (though not to his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right), nonetheless only accepts their interpretation in such a way as to adapt it to a quite differently directed discussion. It accepts it, so to speak, only to weaken its effectivity and the more actively . . . digest it.

Apart from the question of the 'dialectics of matter', which I shall discuss shortly, Lukacs's monograph proceeds in the direction already traced out by the Hegelian left. This was the more inevitable for Lukacs in as much as this interpretation, or at least its central argument (the contradiction between 'method' and 'system'), became, with Engels's Ludwig Feuerbach, as we have seen, the interpretative line of 'dialectical materialism'.

All the motifs indicated above, not excluding Hegel's substantial atheism and the 'diplomatic' duplicity of his thought (religious in the 'exoteric' form, atheist and revolutionary in the 'esoteric' form)—much in vogue in the Doktorclub and developed especially by Heine [19] are ably re‑adopted and valorized in Lukacs's monograph. From there they have spread to more or less the whole French coterie of neo‑Hegelians. In short, the argument (already developed by B. Bauer, Ruge, etc.) of the Zurückgebliebenheit of Germany, of the backwardness of contemporary German society as the 'key' to understanding Hegel's entire work, is given decisive importance in the work of Lukács.

Marcuse's Reason and Revolution operates entirely within this perspective. Hegel is the philosophical pendant to Robespierre. [20] ('Robespierre's deification of reason as the Être suprême is the counterpart to the glorification of reason in Hegel's system'.) Hegel's philosophy is the philosophy of the Revolution, because the identity of Real and Rational must be understood in the sense that Reason must be realized and that 'unreasonable reality has to be altered until it comes into conformity with reason'. [21] According to Hegel, the French Revolution enunciated reason's ultimate power over reality. 'The implications involved in this statement , lead into the very centre of his philosophy. . . . What men think to be true, right and good ought to be realized in the actual organization of their societal and political life.' [22]

The 'compromise' argument is similarly given prominence. The 'reconciliation' of Reason and Reality proclaimed by Hegel, the famous Versöhnung, does not derive from the very principles of his philosophy, but is the result of a subjective accommodation.

However, the radical purport of the basic idealistic concepts is slowly relinquished and they are to an ever‑increasing extent made to fit in with the prevailing societal form. . . . The particular form, however, that the reconciliation between philosophy and reality assumed in Hegel's system was determined by the actual situation of Germany in the period when he elaborated his system. [23]

Marcuse not only readopts the idea of the 'compromise', but even expands it—without it losing any of its psychologistic character, however. The conflict, the contradiction between Hegel's 'willingness to become reconciled with the social reality' of Germany and his critical rationalism or the impulse toward Revolution, that forms the basis of his philosophy, is not characteristic only of his thought, but of all German idealism. This 'will' towards reconciliation was instilled into German culture by the Lutheran tradition. [24]

This, in broadest outlines, is the interpretation of Hegel elaborated by Marcuse. But we should not have to preoccupy ourselves with it if he stopped there. In reality, what is new—and also in a certain sense important—in Marcuse, as compared with the whole left‑wing interpretative tradition and 'dialectical materialism' itself, is the rediscovery of a central motif in Hegel's thought, which, as we have already indicated, has almost always remained in the background. This is the theme of the destruction of the finite and the annihilation of the world. The 'social function' of Marcuse's philosophy today has its roots here.


We must now see how this destruction of the finite is achieved in Hegel and compare it with the significance it comes to assume in Marcuse. But before coming to this we should return to the interpretation of Hegel provided by 'dialectical materialism'.

Reduced to its essentials the interpretation is this: in Hegel the dialectic is a dialectic of concepts; after the materialistic 'inversion' affected by Marx and Engels, the Hegelian dialectic became, on the contrary, a dialectic of matter and of things. Marx inherited the 'dialectic' from Hegel, but rejected the 'system', i.e. idealism.

This interpretation of the 'inversion' is that elaborated by Engels in Anti‑Dühring and Ludwig Feuerbach, which then became the 'orthodoxy' in Russian dialectical materialism. It is the result of the blending of two quite distinct interpretative formulae.

In the Afterword to the second edition of Capital, Marx had spoken of the 'mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands', recalling his own early writings of 1843‑4; and, he added, the Hegelian dialectic 'must be turned right side up again if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell'. [25]

This formula from Capital, according to which we must distinguish between a rational kernel and a mystical shell within Hegel's dialectic itself, was married by 'dialectical materialism' with Engels's formula—born in the orbit of the Hegelian left—according to which the method represented the revolutionary aspect and the system the conservative side of Hegel's philosophy. The final result was that the rational nucleus became the Hegelian method itself, and the mystical shell merely the 'system'.

There is no need to prolong discussion of this question any further. The essential point which should be stressed is that both 'dialectical materialism' and its critics have always regarded the 'dialectics of matter' as the mark of 'dialectical materialism' itself. Marxism is held to be materialism by virtue above all of its dialectics of nature. The dialectic of 'things' and of 'matter' is held to be the pre‑eminent distinctive feature, the most evident and macroscopic difference between Marxism and Hegel.

In reality the situation is different. Not only does Hegel's system contain a Philosophy of Nature that is identical in every way with Engels's Dialectics of Nature, but all Hegel's philosophy is based on the 'dialectics of matter'—the dialectics of things and of the finite. It is possible to show from the texts themselves that 'dialectical materialism' was from first to last merely a mechanical transcription of Hegel's philosophy (the assertion that everything consists of itself and its opposite, itself and the negative of itself at the same time; the definition of 'motion' as 'contradiction', etc.). The real point at issue —but one which has never been posed either by Diamat or by its critics—is different: what does a 'dialectics of matter' really mean and does it, as has always been assumed, really imply a materialistic conception?

Firstly, to give a rough idea of the hermeneutic situation that has been created, it is worth giving at least one example, from Hegel's The Science of Logic. The passage opens with the assertion that all things are inherently contradictory. Then follows the definition of the dialectical nature of movement ('something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this "here" it at once is and is not').

Similarly, internal self‑movement proper, instinctive urge in general . . . is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self‑contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self‑identity is not as yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only insofar as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. [26]

Lenin's comment, accompanying his transcription of this passage in the Philosophical Notebooks, is revealing:

Movement and 'self‑movement' . . . 'change', 'movement and vitality', 'the principle of all self‑movement', 'impulse' (Trieb) to 'movement' and to 'activity'—the opposite to 'dead Being'— who would believe that this is the core of 'Hegelianism', of abstract and abstruse . . . Hegelianism? This core had to be discovered, understood, hinüberretten, laid bare, refined, which is precisely what Marx and Engels did. [27]

Let us leave Marx aside. It is clear that Lenin, like Engels, sees in this passage from the Logic the 'kernel' to be saved from Hegel's philosophy, the point at which a genuine realism erupts in contradiction with the 'shell' of the system, the 'mysticism of the Idea'. The conviction governing him at this point is the one that he erected as the criterion in all his reading of Hegel: 'I am in general trying to read Hegel materialistically; Hegel is materialism which has been stood on its head (according to Engels)—that is to say, I cast aside for the most part God, the Absolute, the Pure Idea, etc.' [28]

In reality, Lenin's reading of these pages is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. He has 'forced' himself to read Hegel 'materialistically' exactly at the point at which Hegel is in fact . . . annihilating matter. Far from representing the realistic moment in contradiction to the idealism of the system, the 'dialectics of matter' is the way in which Hegel destroys the finite and makes the world disappear.

This thesis may seem surprising but it is incontrovertible nonetheless. The chapter from The Science of Logic which opens with the assertion that 'all things are inherently contradictory', ends with a critique, as we have already noted, of the cosmological proofs of the existence of God. In these proofs God is made to depend on the world, because the 'intellectual' method used in these proofs was not capable of annulling the finite and making the world disappear. 'But the truth', says Hegel, 'is that the absolute is, because the finite is the inherently self‑contradictory opposition, because it is not. . . . The non‑being of the finite is the being of the absolute. [29]

The possibility, therefore, of demonstrating God as the unconditioned, without repeating the mistake of the old metaphysics which made God something caused and dependent, presupposes precisely the 'dialectical' conception of the finite. The contradictoriness of things, in fact, goes together with the ephemerality and nullity. The 'good God' and the 'mysticism of the Idea' are thus lodged precisely in those pages where Lenin, and Engels before him, believed they had found Hegel's 'materialism'.


We may now briefly deal with the dialectics of matter in Hegel, and exactly how this conception allowed him to destroy the finite. The question is dealt with at length in the Logic. Hegel's thesis is as follows. Philosophy has always considered the finite as ephemerality and nonbeing and, therefore, that philosophy 'worthy of the name' has always been idealism. But what prevented idealism from being 'realized' was the mistake of believing that the finite, precisely because it was ephemeral and valueless, should be kept separate and distinct from the infinite, itself kept 'pure and distant' from the former.

This 'intellectualist' separation of the two was, according to Hegel, the origin of all errors. Since the finite is 'incapable of union with the infinite, it remains absolute on its own side'. The possibility of 'passing over' into the other is denied it. Its ephemerality has no outlet. Also, since the non‑being of the finite is understood here as a negation 'fixed in itself', which 'stands in abrupt contrast to its affirmative', the intellect does not become aware of taking the finite as 'imperishable and absolute'. Being unable to perish, the ephemerality of things becomes 'their unalterable quality, that is, their quality which does not pass over into its other, that is, into its affirmative'. The finite never stops finishing and 'is thus eternal'. [30] The mors immortalis of Lucretius!

The way in which Hegel corrects this imposture of the old metaphysics is simple. He adopts the negative conception of the sensory world (the finite or the perceptible as non‑being) characteristic of the Platonic‑Christian tradition. But at the same time he develops it. He does not restrict himself to the mere negation of the finite, but integrates this negation with an affirmative proposition, complementing the thesis that 'the finite is not a true being', with the thesis that the 'finite is ideal'. (I refer here to the basic propositions stated initially.)

This innovation means in practice that he no longer says only: the finite has no true reality, it does not have a genuine existence; he adds that the finite has as 'its' own essence and basis the 'other' of itself, that is, the infinite, the immaterial, thought. The consequence is decisive. If the finite does have as its essence the 'other' of itself, it is clear that to be truly, or 'essentially' itself, it must no longer be itself—that is, the self which it is 'in appearance': the finite—but the 'other'. The finite 'is not' when it is truly 'finite'. Vice versa, it 'is' when it is not finite but infinite. It 'is' when it 'is not', it is 'itself' when it is 'the other', it is born when it dies. The finite is dialectical.

The innovation is simple but decisive. Hegel could say that he does not consider the finite, that he abandons and transcends it. Indeed, he does so, but merely by formulating the procedure in another way. Instead of stating clearly that he does not consider the finite, he says that he considers the finite for what it is not, or better still, that the finite has its opposite for its 'essence'. The resulting advantage is evident; the act by which he abstracts or detracts from the finite, Hegel can now present as an objective movement achieved by the finite itself in order to move beyond itself, and so pass into the essence.

I will limit myself, for reasons of brevity, to giving an outline of this process, without citing the relevant documentation. The thesis that each particular or finite is itself and its opposite, 'is' and 'is not', gives rise to a two‑fold movement, but of a different nature from that which 'dialectical materialism' has supposed. We are not dealing here with a horizontal movement from finite to finite but with a dual vertical passage: from 'here' to 'beyond' and from 'beyond' to 'here'.

The first movement. The finite has its opposite as its essence. This means that, in order to be itself, the finite must not be itself but the other, it must not be finite but infinite. That is, the ideal finite, the internal moment of the Idea, which is naturally no longer the eleatic idea, but 'sameness' and 'otherness', 'being' and 'non‑being' together, the 'identity of identity and non‑identity'. In order to grasp the finite in what it 'truly' is, we must not consider the finite but the infinite. To take the real particular, that is, the 'this', non‑contradictory determinateness, it is necessary to take the logical totality, that is the 'this as much as that', the tauto‑heterology or dialectic. The true reality is not the world but the Idea, being is not being but thought, that is spirit, or the Christian Logos.

The second and simultaneous movement. As the 'essence' of the finite is in the infinite, so the infinite has its own 'existence' in the other. The essence of the 'here' is in the 'beyond', but the latter, no longer having a reality over against it that confines it to the supra‑terrestrial world, passes from the 'beyond' to 'here'; that is, makes the finite its incarnation and terrestrial manifestation. The finite passes into the infinite, the infinite into the finite. The world is idealized, the Idea is realized.

Hegel calls this second movement die positive Auslegung des Absoluten, the positive exposition of the absolute. The finite, that is, the particular or the positive, does not express or represent itself, but becomes the means by which the absolute ex‑poses itself, i.e. externalizes itself and assumes a terrestrial form. The second book of The Science of Logic dedicates an entire chapter to the explanation of this process.

The illusory being is not nothing, but is a reflection, a relation to the absolute; or, it is illusory being in so far as in it the absolute is reflected. This positive exposition thus arrests the finite before it vanishes and contemplates it as an expression and image of the absolute. But the transparency of the finite, which only lets the absolute be glimpsed through it, ends by completely vanishing; for there is nothing in the finite which could preserve for it a distinction against the absolute; it is a medium which is absorbed by that which is reflected through it. [31]

The world has disappeared. What seemed finite is, in reality, infinite. An independent material world no longer exists. On the other hand, insofar as the finite is arrested in its disappearance, it is restored as the 'other' of itself. It is not the finite, but the exposition of the absolute. It is not, does not signify this determinate object—bread and wine, for example—it signifies the Spirit. Hier werden Wein und Brot mystische Objekte. [32] Bread and wine become mystical objects. 'The spirit of Jesus, in which His disciples are One, is, by external sentiment, present as an object, it has become real. [33] But this real is only die objectiv gemachte Liebe, dies zur Sache gerwordene Subjective. 'In the banquet of love, the corporeal disappears and only the sensation of life is present.' [34]

In a certain sense, as Marx says, all things are 'left as they are, while at the same time acquiring the meaning of a determination of the Idea'. [35] There was a world there before and it still is there, only now the 'host' is no longer flour and water. The 'principle' of idealism has been actualized. 'True' reality has been substituted for the annihilated world. However, Revolution has not occurred, only Transubstantiation.

Thus empirical reality is admitted just as it is and is also said to be the rational; but not rational because of its own reason, but because the empirical fact in its empirical existence has a significance which is other than it itself The fact, which is the starting point, is not conceived to be such but rather to be the mystical result. [36]

It is not possible here to dwell further upon the subject. The 'dialectics of matter' is the Pyrrhonism, the destruction—by means of the famous tropes of scepticism—of the certainty that sensory reality exists. Hegel confronts the question with admirable clarity in his chapter on ancient scepticism in the Lectures in the Philosophy of History and in his early text The Relation of Scepticism to Philosophy, where he shows how the storehouse of this scepticism, so dear to him (because it is scepsis about the reality of external things), lies in Plato's Parmenides. Scepticism is the negative side of the knowledge of the absolute (die negative Seite der Erkenntnis des Absoluten) and immediately presupposes Reason as a positive (und setzt unmittelbar die positive Seite voraus). [37] In fact, 'precisely because the finite is the opposition which contradicts itself in itself, because it is not, thereby the absolute "is".' On the other hand, the whole mystical‑religious slant hidden in this 'dialectical' concept of matter is explained by Hegel with a reference to Ficino.

Here we have within our grasp the total and incurable theoretical inconsistency of 'dialectical materialism'. It mistakes the 'dialectics of matter' of absolute idealism for materialism. Instead, it considers the materialistic principle of non‑contradiction or the 'intellect', which is the same thing, to be the principle of metaphysics. Engels takes metaphysics, that is, the romantic philosophy of nature, for science. For metaphysics he takes effective science, namely, modern experimental science. The result is a theoretical débâcle.

We may now briefly turn to two serious students of Hegel's thought: Feuerbach and Marx. Their criticism of Hegel is the exact antithesis of that made by the Hegelian left. For the left, there is a contradiction in Hegel between the Idea from which he starts, and the 'positive elements' which he presents as the contents of this Idea, that is, the real‑empirical factual data that he derives from his own epoch. The critique of Feuerbach and Marx, on the contrary, is based on the complementary nature of the two processes. The a priori 'purity' of the Hegelian Idea implies its substantiation, its identification with a real particular. In other words, the fact that Hegel denies the real premises of the Idea means that any empirical reality must then be revealed as an incarnation of this Idea, that is, as a 'vessel' of the Absolute. The philosophy which begins without real presuppositions, begins by presupposing itself, that is, it presupposes the Idea or knowledge as 'already' given, as always having been in existence. But this presupposed knowledge belongs together with its empirical contents which are dogmatic, i.e. not controlled and mediated by thought. Hegel's philosophy is therefore simultaneously an 'acritical idealism' and 'a positivism equally devoid of criticism'. Or, as Feuerbach's anticipation of this formula of Marx's goes, 'the philosophy, which begins with thought without reality, concludes consistently mit einer gedankenlosen Realität'. [38] It is better, therefore, adds Feuerbach, 'to begin with non‑philosophy and end with philosophy, than, on the contrary, like so many "great" German philosophers—exempla sunt odiosa—to open one's career with philosophy and conclude it with non‑philosophy'. [39] That is, to begin as a philosopher and to end up as an apologist for the Prussian State. (The complex logico‑gnoseological problems that this critique presupposes clearly cannot be dealt with here.)

Hence we conclude once again with the immanentization of God and the 'secularization of Christianity'. If there are commentators who cannot understand the concrete (historical) significance of this, the lengthy Anmerkung, that accompanies Section 552 of the Encyclopedia, is written for them.

The divine spirit must immanently penetrate the mundane: thus wisdom becomes concrete therein and its justification determined in itself. But this concrete inhabitation is the formations indicated by morality (Sittlichkeit): the morality of marriage against the sanctity of celibacy, the morality of wealth and income (Vermögens‑ und Erwerbstätigkeit) against the sanctity of poverty and its idleness, the morality of obedience towards the laws of the State against the sanctity of obedience without laws and obligations, slavery to conscience. [40]

Thus all the institutions of capitalist‑protestant society or bourgeois 'civil society' such as marriage, the family, entrepreneurial activity, obedience to State laws, appear to be permeated and inhabited by the Logos; that is, they appear as immanent concretizations of the divine Spirit, not historical institutions but sacraments.

If, then, there are Marxists who still fail to grasp what this immanentism, this inhabitation of the sensory by the super‑sensory means, let them rest assured; they, too, are provided for. The most rigorous definition given by Marx of the 'commodity' (the 'cell' of all contemporary society) in A Contribution to the Critique and in Capital is that it is 'sensory and super­sensory', ein sinnlich‑übersinnliches Ding—'a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties'. [41]


Finally, to Marcuse. Here the points to keep clear are as follows.

1. The interpretation of Hegelian Reason as mere subjective raison, the reason of the empirical individual, rather than the Christian Logos. Ergo—as on the left and especially in Bruno Bauer—a reading of Hegel along the lines of subjective idealism (Fichte). Reason is the 'Ich', the 'ego' and the 'mass', etc.; hence the interpretation of the Hegelian realization of the Christian Logos as a political programme through which to realize 'ideals', what reason prescribes for men. (The fundamental principle of Hegel's system, says Marcuse, is that, 'That which men believe to be true and good, should be realized in the effective organization of their social and individual life.' Compare instead Marx's letter to Ruge of September 1843: 'we shall not confront the world in a doctrinaire fashion with a new principle—here is the truth, kneel here!")

2. The insertion of the Hegelian motif of the destruction of the finite into this liberal‑radical idea of revolution (lacking in the entire interpretative tradition, except perhaps in Stirner and Bakunin); but while in Hegel this motif is linked to transubstantiation or the immanentization of God, lacking any theological significance, in Marcuse it tends to acquire the literal or ordinary meaning.

Hence the antithesis which is central to Reason and Revolution and also to One‑Dimensional Man; [42] the opposition between 'positive thought' and 'negative thought'. The first corresponds to the 'intellect', i.e. to the principle of non­contradiction as a (materialist) principle of common sense and science. The second corresponds to dialectical and philosophical 'reason'. 'Positive' thought is the thought which recognizes the existence of the world, the authority and reality of 'facts', vice versa, 'negative' thought is the thought which denies 'facts'. The finite outside the infinite has no true reality. The truth of the finite is its ideality. (Hegel said that, 'The proposition that the finite is ideal constitutes idealism.') 'Facts', insofar as they are external to and different from thought, and, therefore, insofar as they constitute the opposite of reason, are not reality but non‑truth. Truth is the realization of reason; it is the idea or philosophy translated into reality. Marcuse writes, 'According to Hegel the facts by themselves possess no authority. . . . Everything that is given must find a justification before reason, which consists of the reality of Man and nature's possibilities.'

The opposites of Hegel are Hume and Kant. Marcuse writes:

If Hume was to be accepted, the claim of reason to organize reality had to be rejected. For, as we have seen, this claim was based upon reason's faculty to attain truths, the validity of which was not derived from experience and which could, in fact, stand against experience.... This conclusion of the empiricist investigations did more than undermine metaphysics. It confined men within the limits of 'the given', within the existing order of things and events. . . . The result was not only scepticism but conformism. The empiricist restriction of human nature to the knowledge of 'the given' removed the desire both to transcend the given and to despair about it.

In Hegel, on the other hand,

the realization of reason is not a fact but a task. The form in which the objects immediately appear is not yet their true form. What is simply given is at first negative, other than its real potentialities. It becomes true only in the process of overcoming this negativity, so that the birth of the truth requires the death of the given state of being. Hegel's optimism is based upon a destructive conception of the given. All forms are seized by the dissolving movement of reason which cancels and alters them until they are adequate to their notion.

Hegel's philosophy is, therefore, a negative philosophy . . . It is originally motivated by the conviction that the given facts that appear to common sense as the positive index of truth are in reality the negation of truth, so that truth can only be established by their destruction . [43]

A formidable example of the heterogenesis of ends! The old spiritualist contempt for the finite and the terrestrial world re‑emerges as a philosophy of revolution, or rather . . . of 'revolt'. It is not a fight against particular socio‑historical institutions (such as 'profit', 'monopoly', or even 'socialist bureaucracy'); it is a fight against objects and things. We are crushed by the oppressive power of 'facts'. We suffocate in the slavery of recognizing that 'things' exist. 'They are there, grotesque, stubborn, gigantic, and . . . I am in the midst of Things, which cannot be given names. Alone, wordless, defenceless, they surround me, under me, behind me, above me. They demand nothing, they don't impose themselves, they are there.' [44] Before this spectacle of things, indignation grabs us by the throat and becomes Nausea. We may easily compare it with the roots of a tree! 'I was sitting, slightly bent, my head bowed, alone in front of that black, knotty mass, which was utterly crude and frightened me.' Here is the absurdity which cries vengeance to the sky: 'soft, monstrous masses, in disorder—naked, with a frightening, obscene nakedness'. [45] The absurdity is not that Roquentin should be pursuing his wretched little petty‑bourgeois débauche in the public parks, while a Daladier or even a Laval is in power. The absurdity lies in the roots of the tree. 'Absurdity was not an idea in my head, or the sound of a voice, but that long‑dead snake at my feet, that wooden snake. Snake or claw or root or vulture's talon, it doesn't matter. And without formulating anything clearly, I understood that 1 had found the key to Existence, the key to my Nauseas, to my own life.' [46]

The Manifesto of this destruction of things—which is what Marcuse too means by 'revolution'—he himself points out in Hegel's writings. Emancipation from the slavery of 'facts' coincides with the Night and Nothingness, which Hegel discusses in an early text, The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's Systems of Philosophy: 'Here in his first philosophical writings', Marcuse reveals, 'Hegel intentionally emphasizes the negative function of reason: its destruction of the fixed and secure world of common sense and understanding. The absolute is referred to as "Night" and "Nothing" in order to contrast it with the clearly defined objects of everyday life. Reason signifies the absolute annihilation of the common‑sense world.' [47]

No‑one will fail to realize that here we are dealing with familiar romantic themes. The Difference . . . is full of echoes of Schelling. But since Marcuse descends from Heidegger, perhaps we can see this celebration of Night and Nothingness (precisely where we were accustomed to expect the 'sun of the future') as an echo of Was ist Metaphysik? Heidegger is a master of the Nichtung. And if even Nichtung is not Vernichtung nor Verneinung, [48] this philosophical 'revolution' is hardly clear. It not only locates 'authentic' and no longer 'estranged' existence 'in the clear night of Nothing', but as if this were not enough, prey to some pedantic fury, it insists on specifying that 'Nothing itself annuls'.


To get straight to the point, the true direction of Marcuse's position lies in the so‑called 'critique of science'. The opposition of 'positive thought' and 'negative thought', of 'intellect' and 'reason', of non‑contradiction and dialectical contradiction, is above all else the opposition of science and philosophy. For Hegel, says Marcuse, 'the distinction between intellect and reason is the same as that between common sense and speculative thinking, between undialectical reflection and dialectical knowledge. The operations of the intellect yield the usual type of thinking that prevails in everyday life as well as in science.' [49]

This Hegelian and romantic critique of the 'intellect' re‑emerged precisely at the turn of the century, with the so‑called 'idealistic reaction against science'. [50] The two tendencies meet and coincide, as Croce saw well, in their critical‑negative aspect. In Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept, he comments upon Bergson's critique of science:

All these criticisms directed against the sciences do not sound new to the ears of those acquainted with the criticisms of Jacobi, of Schelling, of Novalis and of other romantics, and particularly with Hegel's marvellous criticism of the abstract (i.e. empirical and mathematical) intellect. This runs through all his books from The Phenomenology of Mind to The Science of Logic, and is enriched with examples in the observations to the paragraphs of The Philosophy of Nature. [51]

It is not possible here to describe all the variations on this 'idealistic reaction' against science. Entsteht die Wissenschaft vergeht das Denken. [52] Science is born, thinking departs. Let it pass as far as Heidegger is concerned, since he no longer deceives anyone. But this same commodity is today sold . . . on the left. Horkheimer and Adorno:

Science itself has no consciousness of itself; it is a tool. But enlightenment is the philosophy which identifies truth with scientific system. The attempt to establish this identity which Kant undertook, still with philosophical intentions, led to concepts which made no sense scientifically. The concept of the self‑understanding of science conflicts with the concept of science itself . . . With the sanctioning—achieved as a result by Kant—of the scientific system as the form of truth, thought set the seal on its own nullity, because science is technical performance, no less remote from reflecting upon its own ends than other types of labour under the pressure of the system. [53]

The essential point to note is that this critique of science is immediately presented as a critique of society, too. The scientific intellect is the form of thought which prevails in practice and in everyday life. The Allgemeingü1tigkeit of science, i.e. the universality of its statements, is identical with the impersonality and anonymity of social life. These developments are all already present in nuce in Bergson. Our intellect, says Creative Evolution, is a function which is 'essentially practical, made to present to us things and states rather than changes and acts'. But things and states are only views, taken by our mind, of becoming. There are no things, there are only actions. Therefore, if 'the thing results from a solidification performed by our intellect, and there are never any things other than those that the intellect has thus constituted', [54] this means that the natural world, which science presents to us as reality, is in fact only an artifact. Matter is a creation of the intellect, 'Things' are the crystals in which form takes and coagulates our vocation to objectify, to 'solidify' the world in order to act on it practically and transform it.

In addition to this original solidarity of science and materialism, there is the solidarity of materialism and society, of science and communal life. We objectify in order to act on the world, but this objectification is also a means towards intersubjective communication. Authentic or personal existence and social or impersonal existence result in two diverse subjects, one 'fundamental' and the other 'superficial' and 'fictitious'; 'two different selves, one of which is, as it were, the external projection of the other, its spatial and, so to speak, social representation'. The spatialization or materialization of reality, says Bergson, is already an opening to social life.

The greater part of the time we live outside ourselves, hardly perceiving anything of ourselves but our own ghost, a colourless shadow which pure duration projects into homogenous space. Hence our life unfolds in space rather than in time; we live for the external world rather than for ourselves [55] . . . This intuition of a homogeneous milieu . . . enables us to externalise our concepts in relation to one another, reveals to us the objectivity of things, and thus, in two ways, on one hand by getting everything ready for language, and on the other by showing us an external world, quite distinct from ourselves, in the perception of which all minds have a common share, foreshadows and prepares the way for social life. [56]

All the essentials are here in embryo, as we can see; science as objectification or reification, and society as estranged as alienated existence.

It is impossible for me to discuss the elaboration and development these themes underwent at the hands of the various currents of irrationalism and German vitalism. Here I can only indicate the decisive 'turn' that was signalled by Lukács's famous book in 1923. As the author himself recognized in a self‑critical declaration in September, 1962, [57] and later in the introduction to the English edition of History and Class Consciousness, it is based on a move from the theory of 'alienation' fetishism or 'reification') elaborated by Marx to that of Hegel. The analysis of capitalist fetishism is expounded in this work in the terminology of the Hegelian critique of the materialism of the scientific intellect and common sense. That is, the 'fetish' is not capital or commodities but natural objects external to thought. The division which capital introduces between the labourer and the objective conditions of labour is replaced by the distinction which the 'intellect' introduced between subject and object, with the consequence, as Lukács himself has since observed, that a 'socio‑historical problem is thus transformed into an ontological problem'. Capitalist 'reification' in this way becomes the product of the materialist intellect and of science, whose analytical vision of reality is denounced as 'positivistic and bourgeois'. Meanwhile the proletariat is equated with philosophical Reason, i.e. with that 'reason' which unifies or 'totalizes' (as they say nowadays) what the intellect and common sense spend all their time distinguishing.

The most important consequence of this shift was that by confusing Marx with Hegel, History and Class Consciousness presented the obscurantist contents of the idealist critique of science in the 'revolutionary' form of a critique of bourgeois society. Emerging from the school of Rickert and Lask, and influenced to no small extent by the vitalist Simmel's Philosophy of Money (the German Bergson), Lukács ended up, in this work, by inscribing Marxism itself in the arc of the idealistic reaction against science inaugurated at the turn of the century, whose remote presuppositions lie, as we have seen, precisely in the Hegelian critique of the 'intellect'.

The 'fetish' is the natural object investigated by science. 'Reification' or, as Bergson said, le chosisme, is the product of the scientific intellect that chops and breaks up (the famous morcelage) the fluid and 'living' unity of the real into the 'fictitious' outlines of the objects that have to be used for practical‑technical action. Alienation, in short, is science, technology. After absorbing these themes, Lukács broadcast them in his turn, enriched with fresh appeal. The old repugnance of philosophical spiritualism towards production, technology and science, in a word, the horror of machines, was now cloaked by the fascination of the critique of modern bourgeois society.

The kernal of Marcuse's philosophy is precisely here. Oppression is science. 'Reification' is to recognize that things exist outside ourselves. The dialectic of the 'here' and 'now'—i.e. the dialectic of the scepticism of antiquity—with which Hegel, at the beginning of the Phenomenology, destroys sensory certainty in the existence of external objects, appears to him as the emancipation of Man himself.

The first three sections of the Phenomenology are a critique of positivism and, even more, of 'reification' . . . . We borrow the term 'reification' from the Marxist theory, where it denotes the fact that all relations between men in the world of capitalism appear as relations between things. . . . Hegel hit upon the same fact within the dimension of philosophy. Common sense and traditional scientific thought take the world as a totality of things, more or less existing per se, and seek the truth in objects that are taken to be independent of the knowing subject. This is more than an epistemological attitude; it is as pervasive as the practice of men and leads them to accept the feeling that they are secure only in knowing and handling objective facts. [58]

The consequence of Marcuse's argument is an indiscriminate indictment of science and technology, or, to use Marcuse's expression, of 'industrial society'. If we examine it closely, the argument is the same as that which had already formed the basis for Husserl's Krisis (not to mention Horkheimer and Adorno's attacks on Bacon and Galileo). It has also been the theme which in recent decades has nourished all the publicity about the so‑called 'crisis of civilization' (for example, Jaspers' Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte). The 'evil' is not a determinate organization of society, a certain system of social relations, but rather industry, technology and science. It is not capital but machinery as such Marcuse, let no one be mistaken, is the product of that very tradition which today fears him so much.


In One‑Dimensional Man there is a short section, where the author takes his distance from Marx, which can provide our concluding point. Marcuse writes:

The classical Marxian theory envisages the transition from capitalism to socialism as a political revolution: the proletariat destroys the political apparatus of capitalism but retains the technological apparatus, subjecting it to socialization. There is continuity in the revolution: technological rationality, freed from irrational restrictions and destruction, sustains and consummates itself in the new society. [59]

Marcuse does not agree with this analysis because he believes that the roots of today's evil lie precisely in the technological apparatus as such. But he is right to locate here the basis of Marx's entire thought.

Capitalist development is the development of modern industry. Under capitalism this growth of modern industry is inseparable, according to Marx, from a series of seriously negative phenomena: exploitation, wage labour, the formation of the 'industrial reserve army', etc. But nevertheless, says Marx, under this cover capitalism prepares the conditions for the liberation of Man: an enormous increase in the productivity of labour (even though in the form of the 'intensification' of exploitation of labour power); the eradication of local and national boundaries and the unification of the world (even though in the form of a world 'market'); the socialization of Man, i.e. his unification with the species (although by means of the formation of the factory proletariat). The Manifesto states: The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. . . . In place of seclusion and self‑sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.

The meaning of this passage is summarized by Marx in the following formulae: Contradiction between modern productive forces and the capitalist envelope in which they have developed. Between the social nature of industrial production and the still private mode of capitalist appropriation.

The use and abuse of these formulae have rendered them virtually meaningless. But beneath the veneer of time it is not difficult still to recognize in them two important points. The first is that Marx does not deduce the nature and quality of the forces concerned in the transformation and liberation of modern society from a mere 'ideal' of philosophic Reason (which is, anyway, always the 'reason' or 'ideal' of X or Y) but from a scientific analysis of modern society itself. This means, therefore, not from an a priori evasion of the object under examination (the so‑called 'destruction' of the finite) but from the individualization of the role of the working class in the modern productive process. (Marx wrote to Ruge that: 'We do not anticipate the world dogmatically, but rather wish to find the new world through criticism of the old. Until now the philosophers had the solution to all riddles in their desks, and the stupid outside world simply had to open its mouth so that the roasted pigeons of absolute science might fly into it.') This means that the 'solution' is not deduced from any external deus ex machina, but that one appeals for it to real historical forces, internal to that society itself. The second is that precisely this function in the modern productive process makes the working class (from the mere manual labourer to the engineer) the historical agent through whom the new society can inherit the essentials of the old: the modern productive forces developed in its bosom, i.e. science, technology, industry, the critical spirit and the experimental style of life.

For Marx, and Marcuse is right this time, 'there is continuity in the revolution'. I would say that the difference between the revolution as a real historical act and the 'Promethean' attempt of the Great Refusal, is all here. The revolution is an act of real life; it is born from history and has the consciousness to give rise once again to real historical conditions. It is the liberation of forces accumulated by historical development. It is the recuperation, at a higher level, of all that humanity has seized in the course of its history. Seized from nature and seized from the irrational suggestions of myth.

Marcuse's Great Refusal, on the other hand, is defined precisely by its ahistoricity. It is a total negation of the existing. Having diagnosed that 'technology is the major vehicle of reification, he can only seek liberation either before history or after it. In either case, outside the bounds of common sense. 'Terror and civilization are inseparable.' 'The growth of culture has taken place under the sign of the hangman.' 'We cannot abandon terror and conserve civilization.' [60] These are aphorisms of Horkheimer and Adorno which help us to understand Marcuse's Great Refusal.

A barely cultivated literary taste would soon desire to turn elsewhere. A barely expert reader would recognize immediately their origin in Heidegger (Der Mensch irrt. Die Irre, durch die der Mensch geht, ist nichts . . . ) [61] Yet we must make allowances for them. These are the last 'flowers of evil' of the old spiritualism and of its impotent desire to destroy things: the swansong of two old gentlemen, slightly nihilistic and demodés, in conflict with history.

Postscript on Marcuse

For Marcuse, alienation, fetishism is not the product of wage labour, of the world of commodities and capital. The 'evil' for him is not a determinate organization of society, a certain system of social relations but rather industry, technology and science. It is not capital but machinery as such.

It is a fact that One‑Dimensional Man is entirely prisoner to this old assertion. The book is brilliant, it contains a series of minute and honest observations. But when the substance is examined it is easy to see that it is not an indictment of capital but of technology. Marcuse, who rebels against 'integrated thinking', does not realize that he is arguing like the most integrated of bourgeois sociologists. For him there is no difference between capitalism and socialism; what he fights is 'industrial society', 'industry' without class connotations, industry 'in itself'. Not machinery insofar as it is capital, not the capitalist employment of machinery, but machinery plain and simple.

In his analysis of the 'Industrial Revolution' in the chapter of Capital entitled 'Machinery and Heavy Industry', Marx frequently underlines the bourgeois economists' identification of machinery and capital.

Since, therefore, machinery considered alone shortens the hours of labour, but, when in the service of capital, lengthens them; since in itself it lightens labour, but when employed by capital heightens the intensity of labour; since in itself it is a victory of man over the forces of Nature, but in the hands of capital, makes man the slave of those forces; since in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital, makes them paupers—for all these reasons and others besides, says the bourgeois economist without more ado, the treatment of machinery in itself makes it as clear as noonday that all these contradictions are a mere semblance of the reality, and that, as a matter of fact, they have neither an actual nor a theoretical existence. Thus he saves himself from all further puzzling of the brain, and what is more, implicitly declares his opponent to be stupid enough to contend against, not the capitalistic employment of machinery, but machinery itself. [62]

Here Marx is aiming at the position of bourgeois apologetics. In this case, the identification of capital with machinery allows the determinate historical contradictions derived from the capitalist employment of machinery to be spirited away, i.e. to be presented as mere 'appearances'. On the other hand, it allows the positive advantage and qualification of machinery as such—i.e.—the increase in the productivity of labour—to appear as a merit of capital itself. Marcuse's position, which is certainly not that of the economists, nevertheless repeats its operations—but in the opposite sense. Marcuse equates machinery and capital, not in order to attribute to the latter the advantages of the former, but rather to impute to machinery the enslavement and oppression of the labourer for which in fact capital is responsible. In the first case, the result is the apologetic approach of Vulgärökonomie. In the second case, it is that of the so‑called 'romantic critique' of bourgeois society—i.e. a critique of the present, not in the name of the future but in the name of, and inspired by, 'nostalgia' for the past. For the economist, whoever wants modern productive forces, i.e. machinery and modern industry, must also want capitalist relations of production. (As Marx writes: 'No doubt he is far from denying that temporary inconvenience may result from the capitalist use of machinery. But where is the medal without its reverse? Any employment of machinery, except by capital, is to him an impossibility. Exploitation of the workman by the machine is therefore, with him, identical with exploitation of the machine by the workman.') [63] For Marcuse, on the contrary, whoever does not want exploitation, or rather (given that for Marcuse, in the final analysis, exploitation does not exist) whoever does not want . . . 'integration', must return to patriarchal conditions of life, or even perhaps to feudalism—a subject upon which our author expatiates like any highthinking social prophet. Taken to its extreme, Marcuse's approach leads to that cult of 'primitivism' and 'barbarism' which the abstract spiritualism of the bourgeois intellectual so easily turns into. His perspective, like that of Horkheimer and Adorno, is one of Luddism, as Lukacs recognized: 'If we say that manipulation has arisen as a consequence of technological development, then to fight manipulation we must transform ourselves into some kind of Luddites fighting technical development.' (See Gespräche mit Georg Lukacs, Hamburg, 1969.)

This reference to the 'romantic critique' of bourgeois society may seem amazing. This is, in fact, an adversary about which we never think. In reality, there is not just Marxism on the one hand and bourgeois‑capitalist ideology on the other; the game is more complex and has three players. No less than against bourgeois ideology, Marxism fights against 'the romantic conception that,' Marx says in his Grundrisse, 'will accompany the former as its legitimate antithesis until its dying day'.

Obviously, Marcuse is not Carlyle or Sismondi. But he is neither of these, apart from a series of obvious reasons, also because of the subtly apologetic implications of his entire argument. The concept of 'industrial society', the idea of 'industry' without class connotations, or industry 'in and for itself', that he shares with bourgeois sociology (see, for example, Dahrendorf), is to defer involuntarily to the great corporations. Industry and technology are oppressors everywhere, in Russia no less than in America. 'Soviets plus electrification' (Lenin) is an empty illusion. If we wish to escape oppression it is pointless to attempt socialism. The remedy that Marcuse proposes is in keeping with the gravamen of his analysis. It is enough for us all to oppose the system with the 'Great Refusal' and set sail together, perhaps, for Tahiti.

I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am not criticizing Marcuse in the name of the ideology of the Soviet bureaucratic caste. Nevertheless, in the case of this author our judgement cannot be anything but severe. Marcuse is a critic of Marx of long standing, and the bases of his criticism (see, for example, Soviet Marxism, London, 1958) are derived essentially from the old Social­Democratic revisionism. His attribution to Marx of the theory of 'absolute immiseration' and the 'theory of collapse' are derived from Bernstein (see pp. 22‑8). The theory of 'ultraimperialism' which he uses again and again to illustrate how neo‑capitalism is capable of anything, is derived from Kautsky (pp. 33ff.). His whole argument, from beginning to end, is an attempt to show that Marx has been surpassed! And the more general and vague the contents of his analysis, the more resolute Marcuse's conclusions. The Marxian theory of the proletarian revolution has been surpassed; 'the Marxist notion of the organic composition of capital', has been surpassed; and 'with it the theory of the creation of surplus value'. [64]

The first book by Marcuse that I read was Reason and Revolution in the second American edition (New York, 1965). The book contained a 'supplementary chapter' which was not reproduced in the recent Italian edition. If this chapter were translated today many ambiguities would disappear and Marcuse would be seen for what he is, a fierce critic of Marx and of socialism. Moreover, the concluding pages of One‑Dimensional Man appear even more significant as to the point of view from which he conducts his criticism. Here Marcuse acclaims 'the interior space of the private sphere'; he invokes 'that isolation in which the individual, left to himself, can think and demand and find'; he acclaims the 'private sphere' as the only one which 'can give significance to freedom and independence of thought'. How can we fail to recognize in this the old liberal rhetoric?


1 G. W. F. Hegel, The Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller, London, 1969, pp. 154­5. Modifications have been made in this translation to bring it into line with Colletti's usage. [—> main text]

2 ibid., pp. 154‑5. [—> main text]

3 ibid., p. 161. [—> main text]

4 ibid., p. 144. [—> main text]

5 Hegel, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Glockner, Stuttgart, 1929, Vol. 8, pp. 224‑5. [—> main text]

6 Hegel, The Science of Logic, op. cit., p. 137. [—> main text]

7 ibid., p. 816. On this most important page Hegel explains the difference between the critique advanced by Jacobi against the old metaphysics and that advanced by Kant. Jacobi's critique is directed against its 'intellectual' method; Kant's is a critique of its content, i.e. of the objects of the old metaphysics. Hegel declares himself on Jacobi's side. [—> main text]

8 Hegel, Sämtliche Werke, op. cit., Vol. 8, pp. 145‑7. Jacobi's critique of the proofs of the existence of God is outlined in Appendix VII of his Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn, 2nd edition, Breslau, 1789. [—> main text]

9 ibid. [—> main text]

10 Hegel, The Science of Logic, op. cit., p. 443. [—> main text]

11 L. Michelet, Entwicklungsgeschichte der neuesten deutschen Philosophie, Berlin, 1843, pp. 304 ff. [—> main text]

12 L. Feuerbach, Sämtliche Werke, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 222‑3. [—> main text]

13 ibid., p. 253. [—> main text]

14 MEGA (Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe), 1, 2, pp. 183‑4; Werke, op. cit., Supplementary Vol., Part 2, p. 176. We owe the rediscovery of these early writings of Engels to Gustav Mayer, the author of a monumental biography of Engels (Friedrich Engels, Eine Biographie, 2 volumes, The Hague, 1934; abridged English translation, Friedrich Engels: A Biography, London, 1936). [—> main text]

15 For further comparisons, See MEGA, I, 2, Einleitung, pp. xlvi‑clix. [—> main text]

16 A. Herzen, Selected Philosophical Works, Moscow, 1956, pp. 308‑9. [—> main text]

17 On the differences between Feuerbach and Marx on the one hand, and the young Hegelian left on the other, see the excellent study by M. G. Lange, 'L. Feuerbach und der junge Marx', in L. Feuerbach: Kleine philosophische Schriften, Leipzig, 1950. [—> main text]

18 L. D. Easton and K. H. Guddat, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, New York, 1969, pp. 60‑1. Karl Rosenkranz has also opposed this idea of a compromise in his Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's Leben, Berlin, 1844, p. 332. He writes: 'Already at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, Hegel had abandoned the seductive vagueness of the notions of people, liberty and equality in general, for the more precise concepts of State, estate divisions and government with universal obligations. At Jena he was even enthusiastic about the hereditary transmission of the monarchy as a basic determination of modem political life. Remembering this, we must dispel the notion that Hegel by deliberate deviation from his philosophic positions, created his concept of the State to accord with the interests of the Prussian government.' And further in the same text he sharply criticises the thesis that Hegel was 'senile, a man who unknowingly deviated from his own principles, since he did not have strength to deduce all their consequences' (p. 401). [—> main text]

19 Heine, Werke (ed. Elster), Vol. 5, pp. 148 ff.: '. . . I was following the master while he composed it [the music of atheism]; in obscure and circumlocutious terms, certainly, so that not everyone would decipher it; I often saw him looking anxiously about him for fear of being understood. . . . Once, when I was dissatisfied with the phrase "All that is real is rational", he smiled strangely and observed that it could also be read, "All that is rational must necessarily be".' The passage describing this (imaginary) meeting between Heine and Hegel is quoted by Lukacs in Der junge Hegel (Werke, Vol. 8, Neuwied and Berlin, 1967, pp. 569‑70). [—> main text]

20 H. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, New York, 1963, p. 5. [—> main text]

21 ibid., p. 61. [—> main text]

22 ibid., pp. 6‑7. [—> main text]

23 ibid., p. 12. [—> main text]

24 ibid., pp. 15 ff. [—> main text]

25 This metaphor of the 'kernel' or nucleus' and the 'shell' or 'cover' is Hegel's own, as Mario Rossi has shown in his Marx e la dialettica hegeliana, 2 volumes, Rome, 1960, where he quotes from Hegel: '. . . the rational, which is synonymous with the idea, realising itself in external existence, presents itself in an infinite variety of forms, phenomena and aspects; and surrounds its nucleus with a varied husk (seinen Kern mit der bunten Rinde) . . .' [—> main text]

26 Hegel, The Science of Logic, op. cit., p. 440. Cf. Engels, Anti‑Dühring, Moscow, 1959, pp. 166‑7; 'Motion itself is a contradiction: even simple mechanical change of position can only come about through a body being at one and the same moment of time both in one place and in another place, being in one and the same place and also not in it'—and a little further on, '. . . life consists precisely and primarily in this—that a being is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly originates and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases life, too, comes to an end, and death steps in.' [—> main text]

27 Lenin, Collected Works, op. cit., Vol. 38, p. 141. [—> main text]

28 ibid., p. 104. [—> main text]

29 Hegel, The Science of Logic, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 443. [—> main text]

30 ibid., Vol. I, p. 130. [—> main text]

31 ibid., p. 532. [—> main text]

32 Hegels theologische Jugendschriften, Tübingen, 1907, p. 298. [—> main text]

33 ibid., p. 299. [—> main text]

34 ibid. [—> main text]

35 Marx, Critique of Hegel's 'Philosophy of Right', op. cit., p. 8. [—> main text]

36 ibid., p. 9. [—> main text]

37 Hegel, Sämtliche Werke, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 230‑1. [—> main text]

38 L. Feuerbach, Samtliche Werke, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 208. [—> main text]

39 ibid. [—> main text]

40 Hegel, Encyclopedia, in Samtliche Werke, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 439. [—> main text]

41 K. Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 71. For a further development of this theme (the commodity as transcendent but real) see my Il Marxismo e Hegel, Bari, 1969, pp. 422 ff. [—> main text]

42 H. Marcuse, One‑Dimensional Man, London, 1964, Chapters V and VI. [—> main text]

43 Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, op. cit., pp. 26‑7. [—> main text]

44 J. P. Sartre, Nausea, London, 1965, p. 180. [—> main text]

45 ibid., pp. 181‑3. [—> main text]

46 ibid., p. 185. [—> main text]

47 Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, op. cit., p. 48. [—> main text]

48 M. Heidegger, Was ist Metaphysik?, Frankfurt, a.M., 11949, p. 31. [—> main text]

49 Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, op. cit., p. 44. [—> main text]

50 This expression, 'the idealistic reaction against science', was originally used in a positive sense by Aliotta in his book of 1912; it has rightly been reproposed—but with the meaning of a regressive phenomenon—by F. Lombardi in Il sense della storia, Florence, 1965, pp. 165 ff. [—> main text]

51 B. Croce, Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept, London, 1917, p. 556. [—> main text]

52 M. Heidegger, Über den Humanismus, Frankfurt, 1949, p. 39. [—> main text]

53 M. Horkheimer and Th. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung, Amsterdam, 1947, p. 104. [—> main text]

54 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. A. Mitchell, London, 1911, pp. 261‑2. [—> main text]

55 H. Bergson, Time and Free Will (Essai sur les données immédiates de la conséquence), trans. F. L. Pogson, London, 1910, p. 231. First French edition 1888. [—> main text]

56 ibid., p. 236. [—> main text]

57 In I. D. Fetscher, Der Marxismus, Vol. I, München, 1962. [—> main text]

58 Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, op. cit., p. 112. [—> main text]

59 ibid., p. 22. [—> main text]

60 Horkheimer and Adorno, op. cit., p. 256. [—> main text]

61 M. Heidegger, Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, Frankfurt, 1949, p. 22. On the same page, the notion of history as 'error'. [—> main text]

62 Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Chapter 15, p. 441 (my italics). [—> main text]

63 ibid., pp. 441‑2. [—> main text]

64 Marcuse, One‑Dimensional Man, op. cit., p. 28. [—> main text]

SOURCE: Colletti, Lucio. “From Hegel to Marcuse,” in: From Rousseau to Lenin: Studies in Ideology and Society [orig. Ideologia e Società, 1969], translated by John Merrington and Judith White (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), pp. 111-140.

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