Henri Lefebvre on Marx, Religion, Philosophy, Ideology & Politics


Marxian Thought and Sociology

This brief study grew out of what we have referred to elsewhere [1] as "a new reading of Marx." What we have in mind is not another "interpretation," but first and foremost an attempt to reconstruct Marx's original thought. The attempt seems worth making in view of the divergencies and contradictions that have marked the development of "Marxist" thought in our time.

To define the purpose of this book more closely, we shall begin by recalling Marx's conception of the dialectical movement of reality and truth. Our conclusions will come back to this point of departure. In between we will analyze the hypotheses involved in greater detail and develop a number of themes:

a. The "truth of religion"—what religion really is—is discovered in philosophy. This means that philosophy contributes a radical criticism of religion, that it lays bare the essence of religion, namely, the initial and fundamental alienation of the human creature, root of all alienation, and that it can demonstrate how this alienation came about. This particular truth was arrived at gradually, in the course of long and bitter struggles. Born of religion, philosophy grows up in ground religion has prepared and battles hard against it, not always victoriously.

b. The truth of philosophy—what philosophy really is—is discovered in politics. Philosophical ideas—views of the world, of society, and of man elaborated by philosophers—have always been related in some way to political issues and goals. This has been so whether the philosophers took their stand for or against the powers that be. A cultivated human reason arises in two contradictory yet closely linked ways: as raison d'état (law, the state's organizational capacity, its ideological power), and as philosophical reason (organized discourse, logic, systematic thought). This long philosophical and political development culminates in the perfect philosophical‑political system: Hegelianism. Its very perfection brings about its disintegration. The radical critique which accomplishes this salvages still usable bits and pieces from the wreckage: specifically, the method (logic and dialectics) and certain concepts (totality, negativity, alienation).

c. Now, are politics and the state self‑sufficient? Do they contain and control the truth of the reality that is history? Marx denies this Hegelian thesis. The truth of politics, and hence of the state, he maintains, is to be found in society: social relationships account for political forms. They are the living, active relationships among people (groups, classes, individuals). Contrarily to what Hegel thought, what he called "civil society" has more truth and more reality than political society. To be sure, these social relationships do not exist in some substantial, absolute fashion, they do not subsist "in the air." They have a material foundation—the productive forces, that is to say, tools and machines, also the way the work is organized. Tools and techniques, however, are used and are effective only within the framework of a social division of labor, are directly dependent on the social conditions of production and ownership, on the existing social groups and classes (and their conflicts). These active relationships taken as a whole make it possible to delimit the concept of praxis (social action).

This dialectical theory of truth and reality is inseparable from a given society's actual conduct of life. Both theory and practice are based upon one essential idea, that of "overcoming," of "going beyond"—it is this that unites them because this "going beyond" is at once theoretical and practical, real and ideal, is determined by both past and present activity. The Marxian "going beyond" entails a critique of the completed Hegelian synthesis: the latter in effect eliminates dialectical movement, historical time, and practical action. Religion can and must be overcome: it has been overcome in and through philosophy. The overcoming of religion means its disappearance: religious alienation, the root of all alienation, will be eradicated. The process of going beyond philosophy differs from the overcoming of religion: it is more complex. Against the traditional philosophies (including materialism with its emphasis on the abstract "thing") we must first of all rehabilitate the world of the senses, rediscover their richness and meaning. This is what is usually called Marx's "materialism." The speculative, systematic, abstract aspects of philosophy are rejected. But philosophy does not just vanish as if it had never been. It leaves behind it the spirit of radical criticism, dialectical thought which grasps the ephemeral side of existence, dissolves and destroys it—the power of the negative. Besides leaving us a certain number of concepts, it opens up the possibility of a full flowering of human potentialities—reconciliation of the real and the rational, of spontaneity and thought, and the appropriation of human and extra‑human nature. Man has an "essence," but this essence is not something given once and for all, a biological and anthropological datum going back to the earliest manifestations of humanity. It is a developing thing; more than that, it is the essential core, the quintessence of the actual process of historical development.

The human species has a history: like any other reality, "generic" man comes into being gradually. Philosophers have formulated the essence of man in several different ways; they have also played a part in developing it, in constituting it, by singling out certain crucial features which sum up social development. Philosophers proved incapable of realizing this philosophical project which in any case was incompletely and abstractly formulated. Consequently, to go beyond philosophy means to bring this project to realization, and at the same time to put an end to philosophical alienation. In the course of its sometimes acute conflicts with the state and political society, with all the forms of alienation (each of these presenting itself as an immutable, eternal essence—religion, politics, technology, art, etc.), philosophy is brought down to earth, becomes "worldly," sheds its philosophical form. It realizes itself in the world, it becomes the world’s actual doing and making.

Going beyond politics implies the withering away of the state and the transfer of its functions, also of the rationality it monopolizes (on which it superimposes its own interests, those of the government and the bureaucracy), to organized social relationships. More precisely, democracy holds the key to what is true about all political forms: they all lead to democracy, but democracy lives only by struggling to preserve itself, and by going beyond itself toward a society freed from the state and from political alienation. The rationality that is immanent in social relationships, despite their conflicts or rather in so far as these conflicts are stimulating and creative, is thus salvaged. The management of things will replace the coercive power of the state over people.

And so we come to a fundamental idea. Social relations (including juridical relations of ownership and property) constitute the core of the social whole. They structure it, serve as intermediary (that which "mediates") between the foundation or "substructure" (the productive forces, the division of labor) and the "superstructures" (institutions, ideologies). Though they do not exist substantially in the manner of things, it is they that have proved the most enduring over the ages. They render possible a future reconstruction of the individual on new foundations, so that he will no longer be negated, reduced to an abstract fiction, or driven back upon a self cut off from other selves. The immanent rationality which has been constituted and developed in the course of historical struggles between peoples, nations, classes, and groups, will be able to grow and bloom. Praxis is not confined to this rationality. In the broadest sense, praxis also includes the action of forces alien to man, those of alienation and alienated reason, i.e., ideologies. Neither the irrational nor the creative capacities that go beyond the rationality immanent in social life dare be left out of account. Nevertheless, this rationality, with its problems, its glaring gaps, and its potentialities, lies at the core of praxis.

When we get to the very heart of Marx's thought (which he took over from Hegel, transforming it), what we find is a search for an over‑all thesis concerning the relation between human activity and its accomplishments. We recognize the philosophical problem of the relation between subject and object, freed of abstract speculative trappings. To Marx, the "subject" is always social man, the individual viewed in his actual relationships with groups, classes, society as a whole. The "object" to him is the products of nature, the productions of mankind, including techniques, ideologies, institutions, artistic and cultural works. Now, man's relations with that which he produces by his unaided efforts are twofold. On the one hand he realizes himself in them. There is no activity that does not give form to some object, that does not have some issue or result which its author enjoys directly or indirectly. On the other hand—or rather, at the same time—man loses himself in his works. He loses his way among the products of his own effort, which turn against him and weight him down, become a burden. At one moment, he sets off a succession of events that carries him away: this is history. At another moment, what he has created takes on a life of its own that enslaves him: politics and the state. Now his own invention dazzles and fascinates him: this is the power of ideology. Now the thing he has produced with his own hands—more accurately, the abstract thing—tends to turn him into a thing himself, just another commodity, an object to be bought and sold.

In short, individual and social man's relation to objects is one of otherness and alienation, self‑realization and loss of self. Hegel had grasped this twofold process, but incompletely and imperfectly, getting his terms turned around or upside down. Marxian thought rectifies the distortion, puts human thought, human history (which Hegel understood, but "upside down") "back on its feet." Hegel viewed the process whereby products, goods, works are created as a process of alienation in which man's activity is swallowed up in the object; he viewed the alienating factor, namely, the abstractness of the thing created, as a product of human consciousness, of man reduced to mere consciousness of himself.

As for the process of disalienation, Hegel conceived of it one-sidely and speculatively. According to him, disalienation is achieved by philosophical awareness. According to Marx, it is achieved in the course of actual struggles, i.e., on the practical plane, and theory is but one means (element, stage, intermediary), a necessary but insufficient one, in these multiple, multiform struggles. Thus a specific alienation can be clearly defined only with reference to a possible disalienation, i.e., by showing how it can be overcome actually, by what practical means. The worst alienation is the blocking up of development.

This dialectical movement with its three fundamental concepts of truth, going beyond, and disalienation characterizes every aspect of Marx's writings, the order in which they were written, their inner logic, the very movement of his thought.

The critical attitude, the negative "moment" or stage, is fundamental to cognition. There can be no cognition without a critique of received ideas and existing reality, particularly in the social sciences. According to Marx, the foundation of all criticism is criticism of religion. Why? Because religion sanctions the separation of man from himself, the cleavage between the sacred' and the profane, between the supernatural and nature.

“The critique of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism . . . . The foundation of this critique is the following: man makes religion, religion does not make man.” [2]

Alienation is defined not only as man's losing himself in the external material world or in formless subjectivity; it is also, and above all, defined as a split between the objectifying and the subjectifying processes in the individual, so that the unity between them is destroyed. What religion is, is the consciousness of the man who has not found himself or who, struggling to find his essential reality, has lost it and gone astray. Such a man, however, is not some abstract being. He is social man: "This state, this society produces religion," a mistaken, split, isolated consciousness—"an inverted world." [3]

Philosophy claims to show the true nature of this world, and in a sense the claim is justified. Philosophy unmasks religion as the general theory of this inverted world, as its encyclopaedic guide, its popular logic, its "spiritual point d'honneur," and its moral justification. Philosophy liberates man from nonphilosophy, i.e., from fantastic ideas uncritically accepted. Consequently philosophy is the spiritual quintessence of its epoch.

In his doctoral thesis (1839/41) Marx had said that philosophy, essentially Promethean, rejects "all heavenly and earthly gods who do not recognize that man's consciousness is the highest divinity." [4] All the same, philosophy is no more than theory. It comes into being as the truth about the nonphilosophical world—religion, mythology, and magic—and is in turn confronted with a nonphilosophical world of a different, kind—a world of practical activities, ranging from the most mundane to the political. The philosopher comes into collision with these activities. He cannot affect them, he cannot organize them, he cannot transform them. He is thus led to the view that there is something intrinsically inadequate about philosophy. As he confronts the nonphilosophical world, his philosophical consciousness is split. Nor can he do anything to prevent this. He is driven on the one hand to this or that species of voluntarism, on the other hand to positivism. Thus two opposite tendencies arise. The first upholds the concept, the principle of philosophy: this is a theoretical tendency that attempts to derive practical energy from philosophy: the mind's power of becoming an active force in the world. The attempt comes down to one of realizing philosophy. The other tendency criticizes philosophy, stresses man's needs and aspirations, what is actually going on in history. This is an attempt to abolish philosophy. These two tendencies break up the historical process, split it in two, block its development. Both involve a fundamental error. That of the first is to suppose that philosophy can be realized without being abolished itself. That of the second is to suppose that philosophy can be abolished without being realized. [5 ]

Philosophy, in short, like religion before it, aims at changing the world but the philosopher can no more, realize his ambition than the religious man can realize his. To the extent he does realize it, he destroys himself. Philosophy defines the nonphilosophical world the philosopher is to penetrate and transform, yet cannot penetrate it, cannot change reality into truth by its own means. The image of man it forms cannot be made real.

Thus there is a philosophical alienation (which seeks to invest the world, to become historical and universal). Radical criticism shows first of all that "philosophy is merely religion translated into thought," hence equally to be rejected as another form of the alienation of the essence of man. "The philosophical consciousness is merely the consciousness of the alienated world." And "the philosopher (who is himself an abstract version of alienated man) sets himself up as the measuring rod of the alienated world." [6]

Actually, philosophical discussions have a political meaning in every case, i.e., they are related in some way to given social groups or classes, and to the conflicts among them. Philosophy differs from religion because it criticizes religion, from the state because its problems—and solutions—are not directly political. However, generally speaking, philosophical ideas are those of the dominant groups and classes. The philosophical currents that represent the interests, goals, and prospects of the oppressed have never been very strong, and have been readily defeated. Philosophers, advancing motives of their own, always came to terms with religion and the state, but despite such compromises inevitable conflicts arose within philosophy. Worse still, the most elaborate, the most systematic, the most dogmatic philosophies were all bound up with one or another bureaucracy. For every bureaucracy possesses a system of knowledge in self‑justification, which sets standards for filling its ranks and promoting its members, for legitimizing the hierarchical order.

In this view, [7] philosophical materialism is especially suitable for giving expression to the corporative and professional groups at the basis of a bureaucratized society—what is called "civil society." Spiritualism, on the other hand, is better suited for the "apparatus" of a narrowly political bureaucracy. However, there are constant mutual borrowings, encroachments, and compromises between the two.

Summing up, philosophy must be superseded, i.e., its project must be realized on the one hand, and on the other hand the philosopher's alienation, philosophical abstraction, systematized dogmatism must be rejected. Where is the truth of philosophy to be found? In the history of the state which epitomizes social struggles and social needs. The truth we are looking for is the social truth. [8] Once historical and social reality has been unmasked, philosophy loses all claim to autonomous existence; it is no longer needed. Its place would be filled by, at most, a summary of the most over‑all results to be extracted from the historical development. What are these results? Let us recall them: an image of human potentialities; the methods, concepts, and spirit of a radical criticism freed of all philosophical compromises. What use, then, do they serve? They are extremely important: the philosophical heritage is not to be scorned. Thanks to it we are enabled to lay out the historical materials in a meaningful order. Philosophy bequeaths us some valuable resources, on condition we do not, like the philosophers, expect it to supply us "with a recipe or schema within which to legitimize the setting up of historical epochs." [9] Philosophy takes us only to the point where the real problems arise: exposition of the past, the present, and the possible; a correct ordering of the materials of reality; the transformation of reality according to the potentialities it actually holds. Philosophy supplies us with some means for addressing ourselves to these problems, for formulating and solving them. In short, via the critical study of religion and the political state, it leads us as far as the social sciences. No farther.


Ideology and the Sociology of Knowledge

[. . .] it is erroneous to maintain that every ideology is pure illusion. It appears that ideology is not, after all, to be accounted for by a sort of ontological fate that compels consciousness to differ from being. Ideologies have truly historical and sociological foundations, in the division of labor on the one hand, in language on the other.

Man possesses consciousness; on this score the philosophers who formulated and elucidated the concept of consciousness were right. Where the philosophers went astray was when they isolated consciousness from the conditions and objects of consciousness, from it diverse and contradictory relations with all that is not consciousness, when they conceived of consciousness as "pure," but above all when they ascribed "purity" to the historically earliest forms of consciousness. In this way they raised insoluble speculative problems. For from the outset the supposed purity of consciousness is tainted with original sin. It cannot escape the curse of "being soiled with a matter that here takes the form of agitated layers of air, in short, language." Language is as old as consciousness. There is no consciousness without language, for language is the real, practical consciousness, which exists for other human beings, and hence for beings that have become conscious. Marx discovers that language is not merely the instrument of a pre-existing consciousness. It is at once the natural and the social medium of consciousness, its mode of existence. It comes into being with the need for communication, with human intercourse in the broadest sense. Consequently, being inseparable from language, consciousness is a social creation.

It remains to note what human beings communicate to one another, what they have to say. To begin with, the objects of their communications include the sensorily perceived environment and their immediate ties with other human beings. They also refer to nature in so far as it is a hostile power before which man feels helpless. Human consciousness begins with an animal, sensuous awareness of nature, though even at this stage it is already social. This gives rise to a first misrepresentation: a religion of nature which mistakes social relations (however elementary) for natural relations, and vice versa. What we might call "tribal consciousness" emerges out of earlier barbarism, earlier illusions, as productivity expands, as tools are perfected, and as needs and population increase. What had hitherto been a purely biological division of labor (based on sex, age, physical strength, etc.) begins to become a technological and social division of labor. As the society develops, it takes on ever new forms and subdivisions (city vs. countryside, social vs. political functions, trade vs. production—not to mention the ever sharper distinction that comes to be drawn between individual and social labor, partial and over‑all labor, etc.). So far as the development of ideologies is concerned, the most important division is that between physical and intellectual labor, between creative action (operations upon things with the aid of tools and machines) and action on human beings by means of nonmaterial instruments, the primary and most important of which is language. From this point forward, consciousness becomes capable of detachment from reality, may now begin to construct abstractions, to create a "pure theory." Theology supplants the religion of nature, philosophy supplants religion, morality supplants traditional manners and customs, etc. Ever more elaborate representations are built up, and overlay the direct, immediate consciousness, now felt to be at once crude and deluded, for having remained at the natural, sensorial level. When these abstract representations come into conflict with reality, i.e., with existing social relations, the social relations themselves have become contradictory, both as between themselves and between them and their social base—namely, the productive forces (the technological division and the social organization of labor).

These representations give rise to theories. Consequently, what we are dealing with is not detached, isolated representations, but ideas given coherent form by "ideologists," a new kind of specialist. Those who wield material (economic and political) power within the established social and juridical order also wield "spiritual" power. The representations, i.e., the consciousness of society, are elaborated into a systematic idealizing of existing conditions, those conditions that make possible the economic, social, and political primacy of a given group or class. Individuals active on the plane of praxis play an important part in forming the general consciousness and in excluding representations contrary to the interest of the ruling groups. As a result, "their ideas are the dominant ideas of their epoch," but in a way which leaves room for invention. For instance, when the king, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie are striving with one another for dominance, we find a political theory of the separation of powers. To understand a given ideology, we have to take into account everything that is going on in the higher circles of the society in question—classes, fractions of classes, institutions, power struggles, diverging and converging interests. It must also be kept in mind that the "ideologists" themselves are rarely active as members of their given class or group. This detachment on their part is passed on in their "treatments" of the realities they represent, whether in justification or condemnation. The theoretical conflicts are not unrelated to the actual conflicts discussed, but the verbalizations do not accurately, point by point, reflect the realities they represent. This leaves room for revolutionary ideas when a revolutionary group or class actually exists in the society, with a practical end in view: namely, the transformation of society through solving its problems, resolving existing contradictions.

According to Marx (and Engels), ideologies possess the following characteristics:

1 Their starting point is reality, but a fragmentary, partial reality; in its totality it escapes the ideological consciousness because the conditions of this consciousness are limited and limiting, and the historical process eludes the human will under such conditions of intervention.

2 They refract (rather than reflect) reality via pre-existing representations, selected by the dominant groups and acceptable to them. Old problems, old points of view, old vocabularies, traditional modes of expression thus come to stand in the way of the new elements in society and new approaches to its problems.

3 Ideological representations, though distorted and distorting not because of some mysterious fate but as a result of the historical process within which they become a factor, tend to constitute a self‑sufficient whole and lay claim to be such. The whole, however, comprises praxis, and it is precisely this that ideologies distort by constructing an abstract, unreal, fictitious theory of the whole. The degrees of reality and unreality in any ideology vary with the historical era, the class relations, and other conditions obtaining at a given moment. Ideologies operate by extrapolating the reality they interpret and transpose. They culminate in systems (theoretical, philosophical, political, juridical), all of which are characterized by the fact that they lay behind the actual movement of history. At the same time it must be admitted that every ideology worthy of the name is characterized by a certain breadth and a real effort at rationality. One typical example studied by Marx and Engels is German philosophy between the end of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth century. Every great ideology strives to achieve universality. The claim to universality is unjustified, however, save when the ideology represents a revolutionary class during the time it serves as the vehicle of historical interests and goals with genuinely universal significance. This was the case with the middle classes in the period of their rise to power.

4 Consequently, ideologies have two aspects. On the one hand, they are general, speculative, abstract; on the other, they are representative of determinate, limited, special interests. In setting out to answer all questions, all problems, they create a comprehensive view of the world. At the same time they reinforce specific ways of life, behavior patterns, "values" (if we may use here a terminology that does not occur in Marx's writings).

Ideologies are thus ignorant of the exact nature of their relations with praxis—do not really understand their own conditions and presuppositions, nor the actual consequences to which they are leading. Ignorant of the implications of their own theories, they comprehend neither the causes of which they are effects, nor the effects which they are actually causing; the real why and how escapes them. At the same time they are inescapably involved in praxis. They are at once starting points and results of action in the world (however effective or ineffectual). Ideological representations invariably serve as instruments in the struggles between groups (peoples, nations) and classes (and fractions of classes). But their intervention in such struggles takes the form of masking the true interests and aspirations of the groups involved, universalizing the particular and mistaking the part for the whole.

5 Since they have a starting point and a foothold in reality (in praxis), or rather to the extent that they do, ideologies are not altogether false. According to Marx, we have to distinguish among ideology, illusion, and lies, on the one hand, and ideology, myths, and utopias on the other hand. Ideologies may contain class illusions, have recourse to outright lying in political struggles and yet be related to myths and utopias. Historically, all sorts of illusory, deceptive representations have been inextricably mixed up in ideological thinking with real concepts—i.e. scientific insights. Sometimes the ideology has served as the vehicle of sound thinking, sometimes as agent of its distortion or suppression. The evaluation of ideological thinking can only be done post facto, patiently, with the aid of some more or less radical critical thought. The typical example cited by Marx and Engels is German philosophy. Thanks to Germany's economic and social backwardness, its thinkers were capable of speculative thought in the first half of the nineteenth century, whereas in the same period English thinkers were creating theories of political economy (the theory of competitive capitalism) and the French were operating on the plane of direct political action (making revolutions). The Germans transposed praxis to the realm of metaphysics. In their systems it is so heavily disguised as to be all but unrecognizable. This was perfectly in keeping with the actual prospects of their nation, which were at once limitless (in the abstract) and severely limited (practically speaking). At the same time, however, they did give expression to some new concepts—among others, the concept of dialectical change—which were eventually integrated in scientific theory and revolutionary praxis. It is incumbent on critical thought and revolutionary action to salvage what is valid from the wreckage of collapsing systems and crumbling ideologies.

6 Thus it may be said that ideologies make room for nonscientific abstractions, whereas concepts are scientific abstractions (for instance, the concepts of use value and of the commodity). Such concepts do not remain forever shrouded in the mists of abstraction; as we have seen, they are integrated in praxis, though we still have to specify just how. They enter into praxis in two ways: as a constraining factor, and as a form of persuasion. Abstract ideas have no power in themselves, but people who hold power (economic or political) make use of representations in order to justify their actions. Moreover, and—this is the main point, the most completely elaborated ideological representations find their way into language, become a permanent part of it. They supply vocabularies, formulations, turns of thought which are also turns of phrase. Social consciousness, awareness of how multifarious and contradictory social action can be, changes only in this way: by acquiring new terms and idioms to supplant obsolete linguistic structures. Thus it is not language that generates what people say. Language does not possess this magical power or possesses it only fitfully and dubiously. What people say derives from praxis—from the performance of tasks, from the division of labor—arises out of real actions, real struggles in the world. What they actually do, however, enters consciousness only by way of language, by being said. Ideologies mediate between praxis and consciousness (i.e., language). This mediation can also serve as a screen, as a barrier, as a brake on consciousness. Consider the words, symbols, expressions that religions have created. Revolutionary theory, too, has created its own language and introduced it into the social consciousness; the most favorable conditions for this occur when a rising class is mature enough to take in new terms and assimilate new concepts. Even then we must expect to run into formidable obstacles. These are created not only by voluntary actions of contemporaries, but also by long-accepted ideas reflecting contemporaries' limited horizons. An individual member of the middle class is not necessarily malicious or stupid, but he is incapable of rising above the mental horizon of his class. His outlook is formulated in the medium of language, which moreover is the language of society as a whole. Now, language—not only the language of ideologists (e.g., philosophers) but also of all those who speak—distorts practical reality. According to Marx, [27] neither thought nor language forms an autonomous domain. Language, this repository of ideas in the keeping of society as a whole, is full of errors and illusions, trivial truths as well as profound ones. There is always the problem of making the transition from the world of representations (ideas) to the real world, and this problem is none other than that of making the transition from language to life. The problem thus has multiple aspects—the actually existing language, ideologies, praxis, the class situation, the struggles actually going on. When the bourgeois speaks of "human" rights, "human" conditions, etc., he actually means bourgeois conditions, bourgeois rights, etc. He does not distinguish between the two because his very language has been fashioned by the bourgeoisie. [28]

Marx, then, tries to situate language within praxis, in relation to ideologies, classes, and social relationships. Language is important, but is not by itself the crucial factor. Let us go back briefly to the commodity. In one sense, every commodity is a sign: qua exchange value it is only the outward and visible sign of the human labor expended to produce it. However, “If it be declared that the social characters assumed by objects, or the material form assumed by the social qualities of labor under the regime of a definite mode of production, are mere signs, it is in the same breath also declared that these characteristics are arbitrary fictions sanctioned by the so‑called universal consent of mankind.” [29]

This view, according to which every commodity is a sign and which was much in favor during the eighteenth century, is ideological; it is not a conceptual, scientific account of the puzzling forms assumed by social relations. [30] In analyzing language or this other form, the commodity, we must isolate its formal character, but we must never separate it from its other aspects—content, development, history, social relations, praxis.

To gain a better understanding of the Marxian concept of ideology, we may compare it with the "collective representations" of the Durkheim school. In a way, every ideology is a "collective representation," but whereas to Durkheim society is an abstract entity, to Marx it results from practical interactions among groups and individuals. Thus a given ideology does not characterize a society as a whole; it arises out of individual inventions made within the social framework in which groups, whether castes or classes, struggle to assert themselves and gain dominance. On the other hand, ideologies do not affect individual minds from the outside, for they are not extraneous to, the real life of individuals. Ideologies utilize the language of real life, and hence are not vehicles of the coercive pressure society exerts on the individual (according to Durkheim's sociology). Those who use ideologies rarely hesitate to resort to force when this is justified by the same ideologies, in which case we have brutal constraint exercised by the powers‑that‑be. Ideologies as such, however, as instruments of persuasion, guide the individual and give him a sense of purpose. Viewed from outside, ideologies seem self-contained, rational systems; viewed from inside, they imply faith, conviction, adherence. In pledging his allegiance to a given ideology the individual believes he is fulfilling himself. In actual fact he does not fulfill himself, he loses himself, he becomes alienated, though this is not immediately apparent to him, and when it does become apparent it is often too late. Thus ideologies impose certain obligations on individuals, but these obligations are voluntarily accepted. The inner or outer penalties imposed by ideologies are expected, demanded by the individuals concerned. Thus the power of ideologies is very different from that of Durkheim's "collective representations."

Every society, every authority has to be accepted. A given social structure, with its specific social and juridical relations, must obtain the consensus of a majority, if not the totality of its members. No social group, no constituted society is possible without such adherence, and sociologists are justified in stressing this consensus. But how is the consensus arrived at? How do conquerors, rulers, masters, those in power make oppression acceptable? Marx and Engels have repeatedly emphasized the fact that no society is based on sheer brute force alone. Every social form finds its rationale in the society's growth and development, in the level its productive forces and social relations have attained. It is the role of ideologies to secure the assent of the oppressed and exploited. Ideologies represent the latter to themselves in such a way as to wrest from them, in addition to material wealth, their "spiritual" acceptance of this situation, even their support. Class ideologies create three images of the class that is struggling for dominance: an image for itself; an image of itself for other classes, which exalts it; an image of itself for other classes, which devalues them in their own eyes, drags them down, tries to defeat them, so to speak, without a shot being fired. Thus the feudal nobility put forward an image of itself—a multiple image with multiple facets: the knight, the nobleman, the lord. Similarly the middle class elaborated an image of itself for its own use: as the bearer of human reason in history, as uniquely endowed with good and honorable intentions, finally as alone possessed with capacity for efficient organization. It also has its own images of the other classes: the good worker, the bad worker, the agitator, the rabble-rouser. Lastly it puts forward a self-image for the use of other classes: how its money serves the general good, promotes human happiness, how the middle‑class organization of society promotes population growth and material progress.

No historical situation can ever be stabilized once and for all, though that is what ideologies aim at. Other forms of consciousness and rival ideologies make their appearance and join the fray. Only another ideology or a true theory can struggle against an ideology. No form of consciousness ever constitutes a last, last word, no ideology ever manages to transform itself into a permanent system. Why? Because praxis always looks forward to new possibilities, a future different from the present. The consensus an ideology succeeds in bringing about in its heyday, when it is still growing and militant, eventually crumbles away. It is supplanted by another ideology, one that brings fresh criticism to bear on the existing state of affairs and promises something new.

When we analyze more closely the views on ideology propounded by Marx and Engels, we make out the elements for an orderly outline of its origin and development.

a. First of all, some representations are illusory, for they arise prior to the conditions under which concepts can be formed. Thus, before the concept of historical time had arisen, there were representations concerning the succession of events, how the undertakings of a given society or group and its leaders were initiated and succeeded or failed as they did. Such representations had a mythical, legendary, epical, heroic character. Elaborated by still relatively undifferentiated social groups, they were refined by priests and poets. The same is true of the earliest representations of natural forces and of the few human acts as yet capable of modifying natural processes. Such representations ascribed to human beings, or rather to certain individuals, a fictitious power of control over the unknown, and so accounted for the lesser ability and inability of other men and of society as a whole to do as much.

b. Related to these elaborations arc the early cosmogonies and theogonies, images of the world which were often projected against a background of the actual life of social groups, and the actual organization in villages and towns. These great constructions included interpretations of the sexes (masculinity, femininity), of the family (according to division of labor, age), of the elements (often presented in pairs—earth and air, fire and water), of the relationship between leaders and subordinates, of life and death.

Were these grandiose images of society, time and space, a history scarcely begun, the prehistory of the race—were they ideologies? Yes and no. Yes, to the degree they justified the nascent inequalities among men, including possession (primitive appropriation) of a territory by a single group and seizure of the group resources—the scanty surplus product—by its leaders. No, because it is not yet possible to speak at this stage of classes or even of castes. No, because these constructions of the mind are works of art—more like monuments than abstract systems. They belong to the same category as styles in art history, compendia of moral wisdom, "cultures." They show to what extent rulers feel the need to justify themselves in the eyes of the vanquished and the oppressed: such works serve both to justify and to consolidate their rule.

c. It does not seem that in Marx's view mythologies can be regarded as ideologies. They are much closer to genuine poetry than to formal constructions. Marx thought that Greek mythology, the soil that nourished Greek art, was an expression of the real life of the people, an ever fresh source of the "eternal" charm of this art. The Greek myths and the Greek gods were symbols of man or rather of his powers. They gave in magnified form a picture of how human beings appropriate their own nature—in the various activities of their own lives (warfare, metal working), in games, love, and enjoyment.

Cosmogonies, myths, and mythologies are turned into ideologies only when they become ingredients in religion, especially in the great religions that lay claim to universality. Then the images and tales are cut off from the soil that nourished them, the beauty of which they represented to the eye and mind. Now they take on different meaning. The great religions' all‑inclusive character and claim to universality are marked on the one hand by abstractness and by loss of their original local flavor, and on the other by an ever growing gap between individuals, between groups, between peoples, and between classes. The great religions were born concomitantly with consolidation of the power of the state, the formation of nations, and the rise of class antagonisms. Religions make use not of a knowledge freed of illusion, but of illusions antedating knowledge. To these they add unmistakably ideological representations, i.e., representations elaborated in order to disguise praxis and to give it a specific direction. As theoretical constructions they alternate between a kind of poetry borrowed from the earlier cosmogonies and sheer mystification intended to justify the acts of the powers‑that‑be.

Incontestably, according to Marx, religion in general (religion to the extent it lays claim to universality, to representing the fate of mankind, of the human species) is the prototype and model of all ideology. All criticism begins and is renewed again with the criticism of religion. Radical criticism, i.e., criticism that goes to the roots, tirelessly keeps going back to the analysis of religious alienation.

Summing up Marx's thought, we can now formulate the sociological features of any ideology. It deals with a segment of reality, namely, human weakness: death, suffering, helplessness. It includes interpretations of the wretched portion of reality, consciousness of which, if taken in isolation and overemphasized, acts as a brake on all creation, all progress. By virtue of their link with "reality"—a reality transposed and interpreted—ideologies can affect reality by imposing rules and limitations on actually living men. In other words, ideologies can be part of actual experience, even though they are unreal and formal, reflect only a portion of human reality. They offer a way of seeing the world and of living, that is to say, up to a certain point, a praxis which is at once illusory and efficacious, fictitious and real.

Ideologies account for and justify a certain number of actions and situations which need to be accounted for and justified, the more so the wronger and more absurd they are (i.e., in process of being surmounted and superseded). Thus every ideology represents a vision or conception of the world, a Weltanschauung based on extrapolations and interpretations.

Another feature of ideologies is their perfectibility. An ideology may encounter problems, but not of a kind to shake it fundamentally. Adjustment is made, details are altered, but the essentials are left intact. This gives rise to passionate and passionately interesting discussions between conservatives and innovators, dogmatists and heretics, champions of the past and champions of the future. As a result, a given ideology becomes associated with a group (or a class, but always a group active within a class: other groups within this class may remain ideologically passive, though they may be most active in other respects). Within the group that takes up the ideology, it serves as pretext for zealousness, sense of common purpose, and then the group tends to become a sect. Adherence to the ideology makes it possible to despise those who do not adhere to it, and, needless to say, leads to their conversion or condemnation. It becomes a pseudo‑totality which closes in upon itself the moment it runs into its external or internal boundaries, whether limitations or outside resistances. In short, it becomes a system.

Man has emerged from nature in the course of the historical process of production—production of himself and of material goods. Consciousness, as we have seen, emerges at the level of the sensuous, and then rises above it without being cut off from it. This practical relationship, which is essentially and initially based upon labor, is consequently broadened to include the entire praxis of a society in which the various kinds of labor become differentiated and unequal. At this point, objects, situations, actions acquire specific "meanings" in relation to the over‑all "meaning" of social life and the course it follows. However, the human groups assigned to perform productive physical labor were unable for many a long century to elaborate a conception adequate to their situation, to the part they actually played in social praxis, which is the essence of their activity. Multiple conflicts are caused by the scarcity of goods, poverty, and bitter struggles over the tiny surplus of wealth produced. In the course of these conflicts, the conditions that made possible production of a surplus, however small, and sometimes production itself, were destroyed. In peace as in war, the interests of the productive groups were sacrificed. On the symbolic plane of ideology, these sacrifices were given an aura of ideality and spirituality. In actual fact, there was nothing mysterious about the sacrifice: the oppressed were sacrificed to the oppressors, and the oppressors to the very conditions of oppression—the gods, the Fates, the goals of their political actions. As a result, products and works acquired a transcendent significance, which amounted to an ideological and symbolic negation of their actual significance. All this served to justify the actions of the ruling groups and classes seeking to control the means of production and lay hands on the surplus product. Man's appropriation of nature took place within the framework of ownership, that is, the privative appropriation of the social surplus by privileged groups, to the exclusion of other groups, whether within the given society or outside it, and so gave rise to endless tension and struggle. Religion expressed this general attitude of the privileged groups and classes, which was broadened into an ideology that held out to other groups and classes the hope either of oppression eventually coming to an end one day or of being allowed to share in the advantages of oppression themselves.

The features we have just stressed in religion (or, more accurately, in religions which have theoretical systems) are also to be found in philosophy, though there are certain differences. The philosophers elaborate the incomplete rationality which is present in social praxis and confusedly expressed in language—the logos. Thus philosophy breaks off in turn from religion, from poetry, from politics, and finally from scientific knowledge, and as against these more or less specialized domains, claims to express totality. But religion, the state, and even art and science make the same claim. The difference is that, whereas the latter merely use the concept of totality for their own purposes, philosophy also refines it. Unlike the other ideological activities, philosophy contains a self-transcending principle. Philosophical systems reflect human aspirations, they aim at rigorous demonstrations, they express symbols of human reality. The systems eventually disintegrate, but the problems they raised, the concepts they formulated, the themes they treated do not disappear. They enter into culture, affect all thought, in short, become part of consciousness. The relationship between philosophy and praxis (including the consciousness of praxis) is thus more complex and far more fruitful than that between religion or the state and the same praxis.

Among the philosophical attempts at totality, i.e., at achieving a system at once closed and encompassing all "existents," the systems of morals are the most ideological in character. They set themselves above praxis, promulgating absolute principles and eternal "ethical" truths. They prescribe sacrifice for the oppressed, promising them compensations. They also prescribe sacrifice for the oppressors, when the conditions of their dominance are threatened. Consequently, every morality is dictated by the ruling class, according to its needs and interests in a given situation; the generality it claims is dubious, its universality illusory. It is not on the moral (ethical) plane that the universal is concretely realized. Morality substitutes fictitious needs and aspirations reflecting the constant pressure of the ruling class for the real needs and aspirations of the oppressed. More particularly, under capitalism human needs diverge sharply into highly refined, abstract needs on the one hand, and crude, grossly simplified needs on the other. This dissociation is sanctioned and consecrated by the bourgeois moralities. The latter go so far as to justify the state of non‑having—the situation of man separated from objects and works which are meaningful themselves and give concrete, practical meaning to life.

"The state of non‑having is the extremest form of spiritualism, a state in which man is totally unreal and inhumanity totally real: it is a state of very positive having—the having of hunger, cold, sickness, crime, degradation, stupor, every conceivable inhuman and anti-natural thing." [31]

Now, objects, i.e., goods, products, and works of social man, are the foundation of social man's objective being, his being for himself as well as for others. To be deprived of objects is to be deprived of social existence, of human relations with others and with oneself. Morality qua ideology masks this privation and even substitutes a fictitious plenitude for it: a sense of righteousness, a mistaken, factitious satisfaction in nonfulfillment of the self.

Political economy (at least in its beginnings) elaborates scientific concepts—social labor, exchange value, distribution of the over‑all income, etc. At the same time it contains an ideology. It is a "true moral science," even "the most moral of all the sciences." Its gospel is saving, i.e., abstinence. "The less you are . . . the more you have. . . . All the things you cannot do, your money can do." [32] Thus scientific concepts are all mixed up with a moralistic ideology, in a way its own authors do not notice. The wheat is separated from the chaff only later, in the name of radical criticism, in connection with revolutionary praxis.

Summing up: as Marx saw it, ideology involves the old problem of error and its relation to the truth. Marx does not formulate this problem in abstract, speculative, philosophical terms, but in concrete historical terms with reference to praxis. Unlike philosophy, the Marxian theory of ideology tries to get back to the origin of representations. It retains one essential philosophical contribution: emergent truth is always mixed up with illusion and error. The theory discards the view that error, illusion, falsity, stand off in sharp and obvious distinction from knowledge, truth, certainty. There is continual two-way dialectical movement between the true and the false, which transcends the historical situation that gave rise to these representations. As Hegel had seen, error and illusion are "moments" of knowledge, out of which the truth emerges. But truth does not reside in the Hegelian "spirit." It does not precede its historical and social conditions, even though it may be anticipated. Thus Hegel's philosophical—i.e., speculative, abstract—theory is transformed into a historical and sociological theory, a continuation of philosophy in the sense that it preserves the latter's universal character.

The representations men form of the world, of society, of groups and individuals, remain illusory as long as the conditions for real representation have not ripened. One notable example is how time was represented—a sense of society, of the city‑state, as existing in time—prior to the emergence of fully elaborated concepts of history and historical knowledge. These last are rooted in an active social consciousness of the changes taking place within the praxis. While the mists surrounding natural phenomena are being dispelled, the mystery (the opacity) of social life keeps thickening. While increasing human control over nature (technology, the division of labor) makes it possible to elaborate nonideological concepts of physical nature, the actions of the ruling classes throw a veil of obscurity over social life. Praxis expands in scope, grows more complex and harder to grasp, while consciousness and science play an increasingly effective part in it. Thus it has been possible for illusory representations (mythologies, cosmogonies) to become an integral part of styles and cultures (including Greek culture). They must now give way to knowledge. Revolutionary praxis and Marxism qua knowledge do away with the ideologies. According to Marx, Marxism has gone beyond ideology—it signals and hastens the end of ideology. Nor is it a philosophy, for it goes beyond philosophy and translates it into practice. It is not a morality, but a theory of moralities. It is not an aesthetics, but it contains a theory of works of art, of the conditions for their production, how they originate and how they pass away. It discloses—not by some power of "pure" thought but by deeds (the revolutionary praxis)—the conditions under which ideologies and works of man generally, including whole cultures or civilizations, are produced, run their course, and pass away.

It is on the basis of conscious revolutionary praxis that thought and action are articulated dialectically, and that knowledge "reflects" praxis, i.e., is constituted as reflection on praxis. Until then knowledge was characterized precisely by its failure to "reflect" reality, namely, praxis, could only transpose it, distort it, confuse it with illusions—in short, knowledge was ideological.

At the height of its development, ideology becomes a weapon deliberately used in the class struggle. It is a mystifying representation of social reality, or the process of change, of its latent tendencies and its future. At this stage—in contemporary racism, for instance—the "real" element is present; the human species does in fact include varieties and variations, ethnic groups and ethnic differences. But in racism extrapolation and transposition are carried to fantastic lengths; the extrapolation of a real element is combined with "values," and the whole systematized with extreme rigidity. Consequently racist ideology can hardly be mentioned in the same breath with such a philosophy, say, as Kant's. In the twentieth century, ideologizing has reached a sort of apogee within the framework of imperialism, world wars, and a monopolistic capitalism linked with the state. At the same time and because of this, ideology is discredited: extreme ideologizing is accompanied by a certain conviction that "the end of ideology" has been reached. But ideology is not so easily eliminated; to the contrary, it is marked by sudden flare‑ups and makes surprising comebacks. Aversion from ideological excess is no more than a pale foretaste of the transparency still to he achieved by revolutionary praxis and its theoretical elaboration on the basis of Marx's work.


Political Sociology: Theory of the State

In "On the Jewish Question," dating from about the same time [as “A Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right”, 1843] (Marx was twenty‑five), we read:

"Only where the political state exists in its completeness can the relation of the Jew, of the religious man generally, to the political state, and therefore the relation of religion to the state, be studied in its special features and in its purity. The criticism of this relationship ceases to be theological criticism when the state ceases to adopt a theological attitude towards religion, when its attitude towards religion becomes purely political. The criticism then becomes criticism of the political state. [52]

And Marx goes on to say: "Political emancipation from religion is not thorough‑going and consistent emancipation from religion, because political emancipation is not effectual and consistent human emancipation," i.e., where the Church has been separated from the state we have merely an emancipation, not a complete liberation. In other words, political emancipation and freedom coincide only partially; the former leads in the direction of freedom, yet is only a degree or historical stage in that process. Political emancipation is limited because the state can free itself from a limitation without man being really freed thereby; a state may become free, and yet its citizens remain unfree. This is true of all states that achieve independence, all new states, for instance; the people's belief that once they have achieved national independence they will immediately become free is an illusion. Consequently a state may be emancipated from religion, and yet the great majority of its citizens may still profess religious faith. The relation between the state, more particularly, between the "free" state and religion, is nothing but a relation between the men who constitute the state and the existing religions. Man frees himself from one particular limitation through the intermediary of the state, i.e., politically, but he himself rises above this limitation only in a limited way: when he declares he is an atheist through the intermediary of the state, i.e., when he declares that the state is atheistic, he remains religiously limited. The state interposes itself between man and human freedom; at best, when the state throws off one or another fetter, such as a state religion, this is no more than an intermediate stage in the realization of man's essence.

In an important passage of the same essay Marx criticizes the internal split within the political state between man and the citizen, between the private man and the public man, a split which also introduces division between the individual and society, and between the individual and himself:

"The individual leads not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, a double life, a heavenly and an earthly life, a life in the political community, wherein he counts as a member of the community, and a life in civil society, wherein he is active as a private person, regarding other men as a means, degrading himself as a means and becoming a plaything of alien powers. The political state is related to civil society as spiritualistically as heaven is to earth." [53]

This applies to the political state which has attained its complete development, i.e., the most modern, the most democratic state. The state is essentially of the same nature as religion even when it has set itself apart from religion and fights against it. There is a state religiosity inseparable from the very existence of the state because the state is in the same relation to real life as heaven to earth: it is above real life, it soars or seems to soar above it. It subdues real life in the same way as religion overcomes the limitations of the profane world.

"Man in his outermost reality, in civil society, is a profane being. Here, where he is a real individual for himself and others, he is an untrue phenomenon. In the state, on the other hand, where the individual is a generic being, he is the imaginary member of an imagined sovereignty; he is robbed of his real individual life and filled with an unreal universality." [54]

Marx criticizes the splitting up of rights into the rights of man and the rights of the citizen. Man and his consciousness are thereby torn between all‑embracing political, juridical, and philosophical fictions on the one hand, and narrow, limited realities on the other. The rights of the citizen are abstract, fictitious. All they grant the individual is an imaginary sovereignty within an unreal universality; as for the rights of man, they are in effect the rights of the selfish individual and, in bourgeois society, they come down to the right of ownership of private property.

"In the moments of heightened consciousness, the political life seeks to suppress its fundamental conditions, civil society and its elements, and to constitute itself as the real and uncontradictory generic life of the individual. It is, however, only enabled to do this by a flagrant violation of its conditions of life, by declaring the revolution to be permanent." [55]

Political life crushes everyday life, economic life, the life of real individuals. It destroys its own conditions when it seems to become more intense, when it sets itself above ordinary everyday life. It negates its own prerequisites "by declaring the revolution to be permanent." The "permanent revolution" ends inevitably in the restoration of religion, private property, and the elements of civil society, just as war ends in peace. Marx obviously was thinking of Jacobinism here, but what is in question is of far wider relevance. The concept of "permanent" or “total” revolution preoccupies, even obsesses Marx. He sometimes acclaims and proclaims it, sometimes distrusts it. The text quoted here is directed against the state, politics as such. History has known periods in which political life was so intense that it destroyed its own conditions of existence, when permanent revolution led to restoration of the status quo ante and "depoliticalization."

"The members of the political state are religious by virtue of the dualism between individual life and the generic life, between the life of civil society and the political life; they are religious to the extent that the individual regards as his true life the political life beyond his real individuality." [56]

Marx's critique is directed against political life itself:

"Religion is here the spirit of civil society, the expression of the separation and the alienation of man from man. The political democracy is Christian to the extent that it regards every individual as the sovereign, the supreme being, but this really signifies the individual in his uncultivated, unsocial aspect, the individual in his fortuitous existence, the individual just as he is, the individual as he is destroyed, lost, and alienated through the whole organization of our society, as he is given under the dominance of inhuman conditions and elements, in a word, the individual who is not yet a real generic being. The sovereignty of the individual, as an alien being distinguished from the real individual, which is the chimera, the dream, and the postulate of Christianity, is under democracy sensuous reality, the present, and the secular maximum." [57]

On several occasions Marx developed the thesis according to which democracy is to other forms of the state as Christianity is to other religions, Christianity places man at the summit, but this man is alienated. Similarly, democracy places man at the summit, but this man is alienated, too, not the real, fully developed man. Why? Because democracy is a political state.

Marx's criticism of the "rights of man" takes a similar line. The rights of man, he observes, are distinguished from the rights of the citizen. But what is man as distinguished from the citizen? Nothing other than a member of civil society. Why is the member of civil society called "man" pure and simple, and why are his rights called "the rights of man"? What can account for this?

"The so‑called rights of man, as distinguished from the rights of the citizen, are nothing else than the rights of the member of civil society, that is, of the egoistic individual, of man separated from man and the community. . . . The freedom in question is the freedom of the individual as an isolated atom thrown back upon himself. . . . The right of man to freedom is not based upon the connection of man with man, but rather on the separation of man from man. It is the right to this separation, the right of the individual limited to himself." [58]

The practical application of the right of man to freedom, Marx goes on to say, is his right to private property, and hence, the right to enjoy and dispose of his property at will, without regard for others, independently of society. It is the right of self-interest. Individual freedom in this sense is the basis of civil society. As a result, every man finds in other men not the realization but rather the limitation of his freedom. In short, none of the so‑called rights of man goes beyond the egoistic individual.

"Political man is only the abstract, artificial individual, the individual as an allegorical, moral person . . . . All emancipation leads back to the human world, to human relationships, to men themselves. Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one side, to the egoistic member of civil society, to the egoistic, independent individual, on the other side to the citizen, to the moral person . . . .

"Not until the real, individual man is identical with the citizen, and has become a generic being in his empirical life, in his individual work, in his individual relationships, not until man has recognized and organized his own capacities as social capacities so that the social energies are no longer divided by the political power, not until then will human emancipation be achieved." [59]

Not until individual man has reconquered himself, has put an end to political alienation, has recovered the social energies taken away from him, and has become a social being qua individual—not until he has recognized and organized his own energies as social energies (and we shall presently see the exact meaning of these terms), i.e., when the political form and power (the state) no longer exist outside him, above him—not until then is human (as distinguished from political) emancipation achieved. The road leading to freedom is full of obstacles and accidents, especially the political emancipations that are mistaken for true liberations.

Let us turn now to Marx's critical notes on Hegel's philosophy of the state, dating from 1843. [60] "The actual relationship of the family and civil society to the state," he writes, "is conceived of by Hegel as their inner, imaginary activity.'' In actual fact, family and civil society are presupposed by the state, whereas in Hegel's speculation this relationship is inverted. When you assert that the "subject" is the Idea—i.e., a mind or even a supermind, an absolute—the real subjects, such as civil society, families, and any or all actual circumstances become unreal "moments" of the Idea. This is a clear example of Hegel's panlogical mysticism, of how he hypostatizes the absolute Idea. Hegel does not take the object as his point of departure; he deduces the objective world from an Idea that is intrinsically complete in the realm of logic. In this way, concludes Marx, the political categories spring into existence as the most abstract logicometaphysical categories.

"Hegel starts from the state and makes man the subjectivized state; democracy starts from man and makes the state the objectivized man. Just as it is not religion that creates man, but man who creates religion, so the constitution does not create the people, but the people create the constitution. In a sense, democracy is to all political forms what Christianity is to all other religions. . . .

"Democracy is the essence of all state constitutions, it is socialized man as the constitution of a specific state; it is to other constitutions as the genus to its species, only here the genus itself appears as an existent, and hence as a particular species. . . . In monarchies, for example, or republics . . . political man has his particular existence side by side with nonpolitical, private man. Property, marriage, contracts, civil society . . . here play the part of contents, and the state that of pure form." [61]

Hegel, then, views the state as a form that organizes a formless content. Without the state the content would relapse into chaos. This conception of the state, derived from Hegel, is still frequently put forward in our own day.

"In democracy," Marx goes on to say, "the political state itself . . . is merely a particular content, something like the particular way of life of its people. . . . The modern French interpreted this in the sense that in a true democracy the state is eliminated.'' Complete and true democracy is not merely a political regime superior to others, but implies the disappearance of political democracy itself, i.e., of the state. On this score Marx takes up and develops an idea advanced by Saint‑Simon. According to the latter's well‑known parable, if any ten statesmen, ten generals, and ten princes were suddenly abducted from any country, the country would keep on functioning exactly as before. But if the ten leading scientists, the ten leading technicians, and the ten leading industrialists were abducted, society could no longer function.

At the time, this idea was "in the air" in France, thanks largely to Saint‑Simon's writings. Marx's criticism of Hegel is not confined to the theory of the state; his aim is not merely to replace it with his own theory of the state: his criticism foreshadows also his theory of the withering away of the state, of its eventual disappearance from history. It is a fundamental criticism, which goes much farther than mere analysis plus a few objections.

Marx devotes several pages of his critical notes to Hegel's "estates," i.e. partial groups such as trades, corporations, the family, etc. Among these Hegel mentions a propertyless "estate" dependent on "concrete" labor. This "estate," Marx observes, is more than just a part of civil society—in the modern state it is the foundation upon which all other "estates" rest.

Concerning the relations between the Estates and the Executive, Hegel wrote:

“It is important . . . to emphasize this aspect of the matter because of the popular, but most dangerous prej­udice which regards the Estates principally from the point of view of their opposition to the Executive, as if that were their essential attitude. If the Estates become an organ of the whole by being taken into the state, they evince themselves solely through their mediating function. In this way their opposition to the Executive is reduced to a show. . . . If they were opposed not merely superficially, but actually and in substance, then the state would be in the throes of destruction.” [62]

What Hegel is trying to say, is that the "Estates"—corporations, trades, we might say today, labor unions, in short, the components of civil society—are not really opposed to the government, and that to think otherwise is a dangerous mistake. They must be viewed as organs of the whole, i.e., integrated in the higher category of the state. Thus conciliation comes to the fore, conflict moves to the background. Hegel himself sees that if the contradictions between the components of civil society and the state were real, the state would be undermined and eventually destroyed. Marx carries Hegel's insight a step farther.

Criticism of the state (including the democratic state) is very explicitly and emphatically linked by Marx with criticism of philosophy and goes far beyond mere criticism of the Hegelian system. Both state and political institutions, he notes, are "representative." Now, "representation" (whether we take the term in the philosophical or the political sense) is always abstract in relation to concrete human beings. In science abstract concepts are gradually narrowed down, corrected, verified, and modified to grasp reality more fully and concretely. Political representation, however, is modified only politically, i.e., in the course of real action, actual struggles connected with society's political needs and the pressures of social forces. Here the process has a more dramatic character than in theoretical knowledge. The abstract character of political representation (the people's representatives and their representative institutions) can be palliated through reform, but never overcome. Revolutionary praxis does not aim merely at reforming the representative systems, but at abolishing them and replacing them with the rational management of things and human freedom, and with transparent, direct relationships between men.

Philosophical representations are just as abstract as political representation, and this abstractness is not the only thing they have in common. On the one hand, the concepts of freedom, justice, consciousness, rationality have both political and philosophical connotations, elements borrowed from both reality (praxis) and ideologies. Philosophy can be realized, the true and the good can enter into praxis only if freedom is more than political representation and justice more than a political ideal, in other words, only when democracy fulfills its aspirations and goals, going beyond its own political institutions. On the other hand, philosophical representations have always been bound up with political groups: it is in this sense that philosophy is ideological. More particularly, the great bureaucracies—those of the Church as well as those of the state—have given rise to systems. A bureaucracy needs an ontology. Materialism and its opposite, spiritualism, were the expression of, and served as the justification for, machineries of state which required the elaboration of a metaphysics. [63] Thus the theory of the abolition (i.e., realization) of philosophy is closely connected with the theory of the abolition of the supreme political abstraction, the withering away of the state.

According to Marx, there is no such thing as "true democracy." To him the sense of democracy is that it discloses the truth of politics. He sees it not as a system but as a process which comes down essentially to a struggle for democracy. The latter is never completed because democracy can always be carried forward or forced back. The purpose of the struggle is to go beyond democracy and beyond the democratic state, to build a society without state power.

Of special interest to political sociology today are Marx's notes on bureaucracy. Max Weber is frequently credited with having first drawn attention to the importance of bureaucracy and having initiated its analysis. And indeed his achievement is the more impressive for the fact that he did not know Marx's critical notes on Hegel's philosophy of the state. Marx did anticipate Weber: he was the first to subject bureaucracy to a critical study, taking as his point of departure Hegel's praise of it.

According to Hegel the "Civil servants and the members of the executive constitute the greater part of the middle class, the class in which the consciousness of right and the developed intelligence of the mass of the people is found."" He goes on to argue that the state should therefore favor the middle class; it is best served when it has a competent devoted officialdom whose powers—in the case of their misuse—are limited by the rights of the other components of civil society. Thus directly below the cultivated class, the elite of which fill the ministries, we have the rights of the corporations. Above that class are the political institutions and the sovereign. Below it fall the various groups of special interests. Above it is the general interest represented by the state and the government. Thus Hegel starts from the premise that the state is distinct from civil society (i.e., the "Estates," the "corporations," and the crafts or trades—which in his day described the chief divisions of civil society), and assigns to a bureaucracy the role of mediator between the two.

"And that's all there is to it!" Marx observes ironically. Hegel contents himself with an empirical description of bureaucracy. This description of how the modern state functions is in part objective, and in part reflects the favorable opinion bureaucracy has of itself. Hegel does not criticize it in depth, does not go beyond purely formal considerations, never inquiring into the content, whereas here more than elsewhere, form is inseparable from content. The fact is, according to Marx, bureaucracy comes down to a "formalism" applied to a content outside it. [65]

Interrelations among social groups account for their "representations," i.e., the way they see and understand themselves (or rather, misunderstand themselves). These representations are only partly rational, they do not adequately express the knowledge society or even any privileged group within it has of itself. It is only too true that the social division of labor—superimposed on the technological division—provides the bureaucracy with its basis, namely, the separation between particular and general interests, between private life and public life. We are aware of this, and Hegel recognized it in his fashion, but Hegel sanctions this separation, this split, by assuming that social relationships and representations developed on this foundation are just and true. He takes for granted the complete, definitive rationality of this state of affairs, although his own analysis of it proves the opposite. The existence of bureaucracy presupposes the existence of separate social units linked by means extraneous to their internal organization. As a result, the bureaucracy sees the corporations and estates as its material counterpart; the corporations and estates see the bureaucracy as their ideal counterpart. The ideas they have of each other are "ideological," though in the text under discussion Marx does not yet use this term. He uses philosophical terms: "The corporations are the materialism of bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy is the spiritualism of the corporations." [66] Actually, within civil (nonpolitical) society, the state is itself a corporation. The two social forms presuppose each other, overlap, refer to, and justify each other.

In Hegel's philosophy these relationships are presented as rational and harmonious. Actually, this philosophy is ideological, it masks and disguises reality. And yet the conflicts show through. Where a bureaucracy is set, the state interest (represented by this bureaucracy) becomes a distinct entity which encompasses both the special interests of the corporations and the other social bodies and the so‑called general interest, i.e., that of society as a whole. That is how, according to Hegel, the state and the bureaucracy inseparable from it become “actualized.” Although bureaucracy presupposes the existence of special groups, it is led to struggle against them in the course of defending its own interests. Let us now suppose that as a result of over‑all processes of growth organic bonds have begun to form between the various partial groups, and that society seeks to abolish the corporative structure which impedes its development. If this takes place, the bureaucracy will work very hard to preserve this structure. Why? Because the bureaucracy, a civil society within the political society, the state, would crumble away if the corporative structure, i.e., a state within civil society, were eliminated. From this situation derive the complex tactics and strategy of the bureaucrats. The crumbling away of the civil society within the political society (i.e., the bureaucracy) and of the political society within the civil society (the corporations and the corporative spirit) would mark "the end of spiritualism and its opposite, materialism." [67] Philosophical representations and political representation would lose their foundation, their reason for existence, Philosophy, with its ideological corollaries and implications, would disappear.

The definitive rationality Hegel ascribes to society and the state turns out to be peculiarly limited, "spirit" rather than reason, a metaphysical transposition, an absolutizing of the actually existing limitations which impede progress. In a society whose highest expression is the state, the limitations are experienced as transcendent in philosophy, religion, and other manifestations of the "spirit"—the same spirit which creates corporations within society—and the bureaucracy within the state. The corporative spirit and the bureaucratic spirit are occasionally in conflict, but form a defensive alliance whenever their existence is threatened by a movement of society as a whole.

Bureaucracy is a form, then, the form of a society dominated by the state, the actual content of which Hegel does not discuss, confining himself to the form of bureaucracy and asserting its rationality. Bureaucracy has this particular feature, that it tends to separate itself from its own content. It does not confine itself to formally organizing, to imposing its own form on, that content. It becomes a "formalism," and qua formalism it presents itself as superior "consciousness," "the will of the state," the actual state power. Thus a particular interest (bureaucracy's own) lays claim to universality while the general interest is reduced thereby to the status of a special interest. The bureaucracy, the apparatus of the state, profits from the very confusion it creates and feeds. It protects "the imaginary universality of the special interest," [68] namely, its own spirit. The bureaucracy recognizes the components of civil society only at this fictitious level. This clever transposition may be successful, for although each particular component turns its special interest against the bureaucracy, it accepts the bureaucracy and even supports it, using it as a weapon against the other particular components and special interests. As a result, "The bureaucracy qua the perfect corporation is victorious over the corporation qua imperfect bureaucracy." [69] It reduces the corporations to a mere appearance, but it wants this appearance to exist and to believe in its own existence in order to preserve its own conditions of existence as mere conditions (subordinate to it). Consequently, while every corporation tends to form a kind of little state within civil society, the bureaucracy is nothing but the state transmuted into a kind of civil (i.e., nonpolitical) society.

In the course of this transmutation, state formalism, i.e., the state qua formalism, becomes a reality. It constitutes itself as actual power, it gives itself a content. This means that the bureaucracy is a tissue of practical illusions. It is a sort of praxis but one shot through with illusions about itself, its place in the whole, its importance, and its competence. Realities, fictions, illusions are all mixed up together in the actual exercise of its functions. The bureaucracy embodies and furthers the illusion that the state is indispensable and rational. "The bureaucratic spirit is entirely Jesuitic, theological. The bureaucrats are the Jesuits and theologians of politics. The bureaucracy is la république prêtre." [70]

Once again analysis obliges us to reject Hegel's identification of the real and the rational, Being and knowing (or consciousness). Seen in its actual density, reality turns out to be full of gaps and disguises woven out of actually experienced illusions and illusions born of illusion. The state bureaucracy embodies a certain rationality, but it is an incomplete, deceptive, and even mendacious rationality. [ . . . . .]


Marx, Sa vie, son oeuvre, avec un exposé de sa philosophie. Paris, 1964. Cf.  pp. 42 ff.

2  Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843/44), opening lines.


Differenz der demokritischen und epikureischen Naturphilosophie, Preface.

5  The texts which this paragraph sums up may be found in Marx, Sa vie etc., and Oeuvres choisies de Marx, 2 v. Paris, Gallimard, 1964.

6  Ökonomisch‑philosophische Manuskripte aus dem jahre 1844, in Marx/Engels Gesamtausgabe, Marx‑Engels‑Archiv, Frankfurt, 1927 ff. (henceforth to be referred to as MEGA). First Section, v. III, p. 152.

7  Cf. K. Marx, "Aus der Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie," in MEGA, First Section, v. I, pp. 456 ff.

8  Letter to Ruge, September 1843. Ibid., p. 572.

Die Deutsche Ideologie, in MEGA, v. V, pp. 15‑16.

27  Ibid., MEGA, First Section, v. V, p. 424.

28  Ibid., p. 210.

29  Capital, v. I, p. 103.

30  Ibid.

31  Die Heilige Familie, MEGA, First Section, v. III, p. 212.

32  MEGA, vol. III, p. 129.

50  In Selected Essays, trans. H. J. Stenning. London, n.d. Leonard Parsons. P. 24.

51  Ibid., pp. 24‑5

52  Ibid., p. 50.

53  Ibid., pp. 55‑6.    1

54  Ibid., p. 56.

55  Ibid., p. 60.

56  Ibid., p. 66.

57  Ibid., pp. 66‑7.

58  Ibid., pp. 73‑4.

59  Ibid., pp. 83‑5.

60  MEGA, First Section, v. I, pp. 401‑553.

61  Ibid., pp. 434‑5.

62  Ibid., p. 484. Translation by T. M. Knox (Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1942. P. 197).

63  MEGA, v. I, pp. 497 f., 550 f­.

64  Hegel's Philosophy of Right, op. cit., p. 193­.

65  MEGA, v. V, p. 455.

66  Ibid.

67  Ibid.

68  Ibid.

69  Ibid., p. 456.

70  Ibid.

SOURCE: Lefebvre, Henri. The Sociology of Marx, translated by Norbert Guterman (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), pp. 3-14, 66-87, 127-143, 201-203, 206-207.

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