Philosophy and Revolution: Twenty Sheaves of Questions

Gajo Petrović

1. Must philosophy always be written exclusively in the form of dissertations, where everything is systematically explained, argued, and illustrated? Has not philosophy already appeared in the form of epic poems, novels, short stories, and plays; in the form of prose poetry, dialogues, letters, and books of travel? Has it not been shown that philosophy can be successfully expressed in the form of theses (Feuerbach, Marx) and even of sermons and commands (Nietzsche)? Might one, then, try to say something in the form of questions? Is the, question (pitanje) not the form in which thought takes its nourishment (pitanje)? Indeed, are not “philosophy” and “revolution” precisely the concepts that question everything else, and should they not, then, be able to bear the cutting edge of every question?

2. Is philosophy the thought of Being, or is it the thought of revolution? If it is the former, is it a thought that thinks Being, or is it a thought that is thought by Being? If philosophy is a thought that thinks Being, is this thought an ascertainment of what is, a search for what can be, or a prescribing of what must occur? Is its calling to stigmatize the harmful, extol the useful, show the way to the desirable, strengthen the belief in what is achievable, support the hope in what is not yet lost, or incite to what might be dangerous? Is it a neighbor or a stranger to Being, its shepherd or its hunter, its sower or its mower, its bodyguard or its concentration camp, its prophet (porok) or its vice (porok)? Is it a little of everything or nothing but a rigorous, inexorable thought, which, while thinking Being in its essence, rejects all these metaphoric descriptions as a kind of children's wear which is not fitting for its seriousness, so that to all questions about what or who it is, it replies with self-confidence that it is, in itself, the thought of Being, in person and without any further additions?

3. If Being is what philosophical thought thinks, what is that Being? If what is not the proper question, then how is it? Does it exist regardless of whether anybody thinks it? And is it distinguished primarily by the way in which it exists regardless of whether it is being thought? Does it experience its being thought as a pleasure or a discomfort, an enrichment or an impoverishment, an extollation or a humiliation, a perfection or a desecration? Does it laugh indifferently at that thought which exerts itself for it, not realizing that all its efforts remain idle? Or perhaps it is


Being itself which strives after thought because it feels that without thought it remains incomplete and insufficient, nameless and voiceless?

4. If philosophy is the thought that thinks Being, can it at the same time be the thought that is being thought by Being? Is not a person, as a philosopher, one who, by philosophizing, reflects on Being? Are not people a species with a particular being and philosophy one of their most special activities? Or perhaps people, while thinking Being, do not think as particular beings existing in one of the possible modes of Being but as the beings with an exceptional relationship to Being, comprising within themselves all possible forms of Being? And is philosophy only one among our many thoughts, or is it the thought which we, as people, think, the thought through which Being talks to itself?

5. If philosophy is the thought of Being, can it also be the thought of revolution? Is not revolution one particular social phenomenon that may be the subject matter of history, sociology, or political science but by no means also of philosophy? Are not the philosophers stepping over not only the fields of sociology and political science but also directly over politics and political struggles, if they try to say something about revolution? Is it really a mere accident that the concept of revolution did not acquire citizenship in respectable technical dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy? Can a philosopher as a philosopher (not to say as a citizen) be interested in revolution? Or is revolution perhaps such an Important and specific phenomenon that philosophy, in addition to paying attention to many other interesting and important phenomena, must also pay some attention to this one that is so extolled and blamed, so exciting and fruitful? If not how could it be that a philosopher should not, out of professional duty be concerned with the nature of revolution? What, then, is revolution?

6. Is every putsch, every change in the individuals or groups in power, already a revolution, or is a revolution only a change in which power passes over from one class to another? Is every transfer of power from one class to another necessarily a revolution, or is it only such a transfer of power that is accompanied by the construction of a new social order? Is every replacement of one social order by another a revolution, or is it only such a supersession by which a "lower" order is replaced by a "higher" one? Is every transformation of a lower order to a higher one a revolution, or does revolution in the full sense establish an essentially different, classless society, a really human society in which the self-alienation of people disappears and the relationships between people become really human?

7. Is revolution merely a change in this or that aspect of the social order, or is it a change of the whole social order in all of its aspects? Is revolution merely a change of the social order, or is it a change in people? Is it a change in some of our activities or is it a transformation of the whole person? Is it every human transformation or only a transformation through which we become fundamentally different? Is it merely a transformation of people, or is it a change in the "universe," the creation of a basically different type of Being, a free, creative Being, essentially different from every Being that is not human, inhuman, or not yet fully human?

8. Is revolution bound to people or are revolutions in nonhuman nature also possible? Should not big and sudden changes in nature be acknowledged as revolutions? Would we not, in this way, give an ontological foundation to revolutions in history? Do not revolutions in history remain


inexplicable if we deny revolutions in nature? Or perhaps, on the contrary, by denying revolutions in nonhuman nature we make it possible to understand revolutions in history and in nature in general. Are not people exactly, as beings of revolution, beings of nature who transcend their mere naturalness? Are not revolutions in history the only "natural" revolutions?

9. But are there really any revolutions in history? Is revolution merely a transition from one historical state to another, so that it is, like everything else, also in history, or is it a leap out of history, a step into eternity and timelessness? Can the locomotive engines of history be their own wagons? Can midwives of the new society help at their own birth? Is a revolution without presuppositions possible? Is a revolution possible without absolute, ahistorical criteria and without negating the historically given? Can the antihistorical character of revolution be incorporated into history as a kind of absurd detail, or is it the essential thing that makes history possible?

10. Is revolution an event in conformity with natural laws or is it a violation of laws and legality? Is revolution an expression of necessity, or is it a stepping over into the realm of freedom? Does revolution realize the possible or open up new possibilities? Is it a production of the planned or a spontaneous creation of the unexpected? Is not free creative activity the essential characteristic of revolution?

11. Are revolutions condensed fragments of social progress or are progress and revolution basically as different as the constant repetition of the improved old and the free creation of the qualitatively new, as the controlled increase of humanity measured in ounces, and the full blossom of humaneness that cannot be weighed? Are revolutions the basis of all progress? Is progress the best preparation for revolution? Can revolution be incorporated into progress? Can progress be combined with revolution? Or is progress, with its goals, methods, and roads, all of which have been determined in advance, of necessity opposed to the revolutionary vision with its unrestraint and openness for possibilities?

12. Is revolution without revolutionary organizations possible? Is revolution with pseudorevolutionary organizations possible? Does not revolution entail a self-organization that renders the free creativity of all individuals feasible? Does not organization tend to subordinate the action of all too common interests as conceived by chosen individuals? Is the organization the criterion for what is revolutionary, or is the revolutionary deed the criterion for the revolutionary character of any organization? Is real revolution possible only in the framework of institutions, or are institutions the tombs of revolution? Does a "responsible" revolution remain within prescribed limits, or is every revolution a pitiless criticism of everything existing and a bringing to life of the unseen? Is self-management one of the goals of revolution, or is every revolution self-activity and self-organization, self-creation and self-government?

13. Do revolutions suffer from illusions, or are "revolutionary illusions" truths feared by reactionary forces? Do revolutions lean to romanticism, or is "revolutionary romanticism" a living reality abhorred by counterrevolution? Are revolutions prone to destruction, or is revolution "destructive" because it does not want to take part in the construction and reconstruction of the exploitive social order? Do revolutions eat their children, or are they themselves eaten by counterrevolutions?


14. Are we allowed to speak about revo1utions in the plural, or is only one, single revolution possible? If small and “relative,” "little" revolutions are possible, are they something peculiar, or are they revolutions only insofar as they participate In that single true, absolute and total Revolution?

15. Is the meaning and sense of revolution inside itself or in some later fruits it is supposed to bring, in a permanent condition it should establish? Can a revolution be victorious? Does not "victory" for a revolution mean its end, hence its defeat? What can follow after revolution if not counterrevolution? Is not the only possible true victory of revolution its further continuation? But can revolution be continued perpetually? Is not revolution exactly what is different from the customary, from that which lasts forever and repeats itself continuously?

16. Is revolution merely a transition from one form of Being to another, higher one—or perhaps a peculiar break, a leap, a "hole" in Being—or is it not only the highest form of Being but also Being in its fullness? Is not revolution the most developed form of creativity, the most authentic form of freedom? Is it not the field of open possibilities, the realm of the truly new? Is not revolution the very "essence" of Being, Being in its essence? And if revolution is Being itself, is not philosophy as a thought of Being by that very fact (and not in addition to it) the thought of revolution?

17. Can revolution get along without philosophy? Why should revolution not be able to manage without the thought of revolution? Is not revolution irrational, chaotic, immediate; is not thought rational, ordered, mediated? Is thought necessary to a volcanic eruption, especially if it is an eruption of humanity? But is revolution without thought really possible? Does revolution not presuppose conscious human will, commitment, and risk? Is it not led by a project of a possible future? Is not thoughtfulness the inner form of true spontaneity?

18. Can philosophy do without revolution? Why not? Were not many logics, methodologies, theories of knowledge, ontologies, ethics, and aesthetics elaborated without any help from revolution? Were not plenty of aporias and antinomies, subtleties and distinctions found and established without revolution? Is not that philosophy which associates itself with revolution a new one (not to say bent on innovations), hitherto unknown and unusual? Does it not represent a negation of all existing philosophy? However, must philosophy really be and remain always the same? Should it not deny itself if this is the condition for its becoming really thought? Is not the thought of revolution after all closer to great philosophies of the past than are the pseudoneutral scholastic disciplines that, at the highest technical level, engage in apologies for the existing order?

19. Can the thought of revolution merely think about revolution, without taking part in its realization? Does real thought only study, observe, and consider, or does it subvert the established, the antiquated, the consecrated, by opening up and creating the new and the not-yet-seen? To put it more briefly, is true philosophy merely the thought of revolution or is it the thought-revolution (thought as revolution)?

20. Are not general meditations about revolution only an obstacle for the concrete realization of revolution, or are these "abstract" musings perhaps a precondition for a true revolutionary attitude? Have revolutions failed thus far because there has been too much philosophizing about them


or because critical thought was suppressed? Have revolutions broken under the weight of philosophical books or under the pressure of economic interests and class privileges? Are the enemies of socialism those who exploit the workers or those who speak about that loudly? Are counterrevolutionaries those who live in magnificent palaces or those who refuse to be their court jesters?

Coda 1985: Introduction

The twenty sheaves of questions were written in 1968 and published in Serbocroatian and French the following year. [1] It may seem strange to publish now, in English, a text that was written that long ago. But the twenty sheaves of questions were not only a summary of my basic views at the time but also a program for their further elaboration, a program I still regard as both topical and not yet completed. In addition, I regard the “thinking of revolution," which I try to put forward in the sheaves, as the most promising interpretation of Marx, an interpretation that does not aim to remain an interpretation only. Of course, my own version of the thinking of revolution is not the only one. Indeed, there are at least two versions of thinking which should be more widely known than they are—those developed by Milan Kangraga and Danko Grlic. But it is my own version I want to pursue here. First, I want to comment briefly on the basic meaning and structure of the sheaves. Then I want to discuss the relationship between the interpretation of Marx's thought contained in them (its interpretation as the thinking of revolution) and two other widespread interpretations of that thought (its interpretation as historical materialism and as philosophy of praxis).

A Few Remarks on the Twenty Sheaves of Questions

Though I discussed philosophy and revolution in the form of questions, I do not want to suggest this is the only proper way of doing philosophy or the thinking of revolution. I regard this only as one possible way of writing philosophy—to be sure, one that is especially apt to stress the critical nature of philosophy, its capacity to bring everything into question.

It is not difficult to see that some of the questions are merely rhetorical. They more or less clearly suggest an answer; that is, they are really propositions in the guise of questions. But not all of them are of that type. Many are genuine questions, a challenge to thinking to find an answer, if it is possible to do so. Taken in isolation and regarded from the outside, those questions meant as genuine questions are not distinguishable from those meant only as disguised answers. Only in context is it possible to tell them apart.

The grouping of questions into sheaves was not made quite at random, so they should not be understood as heaps. Questions bound to one sheaf belong together: one should be careful not to untie them in such a way that those belonging together fall apart. Sheaves in the fields are always somehow ordered; those of which I speak now are numbered as well. These simplifying numbers serve as a warning that one should read the series in sequence. To understand them and to judge them one must have the patience to consider them one by one.

The first sheaf of questions is introductory. In the form of questions it considers the possibility of using that form for discussing philosophy


and revolution. This is essential, because if we deny this possibility, the remaining nineteen sheaves have little purpose. And if the first sheaf of questions represents a preliminary justification of the form of the whole text, then the last sheaf can be regarded as a subsequent and supplementary justification of its content (e.g., general meditations about revolution) in the form of a questioning refusal of some possible objections.

Sheaves 2 to 19 are concerned basically with one question, the one with which sheaf 2 begins: Is philosophy the thought of Being, or is it the thought of revolution? This question asks about philosophy—not about one or some of its qualities, but about what philosophy is (or rather can become). The question suggests we choose between "philosophy is the thought of Being" and "philosophy is the thought of revolution." Though it does not claim these are the only possible answers, in proposing to opt for one of the two it certainly gives them preference before others. Does the question exhibit some personal sympathy or affection for those two answers, or is it an intimation that those two important answers overshadow all others (though other answers may be important too)? Since the "or" seems exclusive, the question seems to demand that we commit ourselves to only one of the answers. Yet the demand need not be accepted. A question that is not posed properly may be rejected or corrected. This is exactly what happens to this question when we get to the sixteenth sheaf: is not philosophy as a thought of Being by that very fact (and not in addition to it) the thought of revolution? And this is further improved by the concluding question of the nineteenth sheaf: is true philosophy merely the thought of revolution or is it the thought-revolution (thought as revolution)?

Does this mean the initial question of the second sheaf is a failure, or is it, despite its inadequacy, indispensable? Is it possible to understand the meaning and the scope of the "thesis" that philosophy exactly as the thought of Being can (and ought to) be at the same time the thought-revolution (thought as revolution) if one does not understand also the possibility of the opposite view that philosophy can (and must) be only one of the two, either the thought of Being or the thought of revolution?

The second question of the second sheaf assumes that we have opted for the first of the two basic possibilities (philosophy is a thought of Being), and it asks how this should be understood. The question suggests that the thesis about philosophy as the thought of Being can be understood in two basic ways: philosophy is the thought that thinks Being, and philosophy is a thought that is being thought by Being. By simplifying this a little, it would be possible to say, according to the first view, the thesis that philosophy is a thought of Being means that philosophy is the thinking that has Being for its subject matter or object; according to another view, it means that philosophy is a thinking that, as a function or an instrument, belongs to Being.

The thought that fancies itself a subject degrading Being to its object will hardly ever reach that object. The thought that considers itself a function or an instrument will hardly ever become an authentic thought. Thus, if I use here some traditional technical terminology (such as subject and object), it is not to justify the traditional conceptual framework but rather to become conscious of it in order to get out of it. But let us leave terminology aside and come back to the "thing itself."


If we assume that philosophy is a thought that thinks Being, we can regard this relationship from two sides: from the side of thought and from the side of Being. We can ask how this thought (subject) is related to Being (object) and, more specifically, how it succeeds in thinking Being; but we can also ask what is meant by Being and how Being (the object) is related to thinking (the subject).

The third question of the second sheaf, assuming that philosophy is the thought that thinks Being, sketches some possible attitudes of thought to Being. The three basic possibilities mentioned (stating the facts, discovering essential possibilities, and prescribing the norms) only roughly indicate the problematics. The remaining questions of the second sheaf investigate more complicated and specific relationships of thought to Being.

The whole third sheaf of questions remains within the conception of philosophy as the thought that thinks Being. Yet it is not concerned with the re1ationship of thought to Being but with Being itself and its relationship to thought. As it is not difficult to see, the last question decisively rejects the idea that Being is a mere object passively enduring the activity of the thinking subject. In this way we come to the fourth sheaf, which considers the idea that philosophy is thought by Being. It concludes by asking, Is philosophy only one among our many thoughts, or is it the thought that we, as people, think, the thought through which Being talks to itself?

This ends the preliminary examination of the possibility that philosophy is a thought of Being. In the fifth sheaf the consideration of the second basic possibility begins, the possibility that philosophy is the thought of revolution. The preliminary consideration of that other possibility extends from sheaf 5 to sheaf 15, to be transformed in the next sheaf into a common examination of the two basic possibilities in their intrinsic connection or identity. Considering philosophy as the thought of Being—which by that very fact is not only the thought of revolution but also thought as revolution (sheaves 16 to 19)—is the very gist of the whole text.

But this is not my last word on the point. In a number of later publications I try to show that when philosophy becomes the thinking of revolution it is no longer philosophy in the old sense. The thinking of revolution is a new, higher type of thinking in which traditional philosophy is transcended and overcome (a little more about that below).

This is not to say that these sheaves of questions have lost their value. Sheaves 6 and 7, for example, suggest a certain concept that is of decisive importance for all subsequent sheaves and for the whole of my subsequent work. This is why I have tried to elaborate them in a "positive" way (also in the form of theses) in my paper "The Philosophical Concept of Revolution.” [2] That paper touches also on some of the questions in other sheaves, as do my books Philosophy and Revolution and The Thinking of Revolution. [3] However, many of these questions have not been satisfactorily discussed so far. Thus, I still regard the sheaves as my basic task and my actual program.

In the twenty sheaves I mention Marx only once (in the first sheaf): as a thinker who wrote philosophy in the form of theses. But I make no claim that this small system of questions has something to do with Marx. As a matter of fact, it is more important for me to develop an adequate interpretation (or, rather, proper thinking) of revolution than to give an adequate interpretation of Marx. But justice requires me to say that the


questions are inspired by Marx and that I regard their presentation of the thinking of revolution (as developed  in works by friends and by myself) as the most adequate interpretation of Marx. This claim has to be supported, which is what I want to do at least partly in the next section.

Historical Materialism, Philosophy of Praxis, and Thinking of Revolution

In order to support the claim that the thinking of revolution is the relatively best (i.e., most adequate, truthful, or fruitful) interpretation of Marx, I want to say a few words about the relationship between historical materialism, philosophy of praxis, and the thinking of revolution. However before I start discussing these three interpretations of Marx (let us call them that, though this description may be questionable, at least for the last of them), I want to indicate exactly why these interpretations have been chosen for a common consideration.

Marx has been interpreted in many different ways, not only as a historical materialist, a philosopher of praxis, and a thinker of revolution, but also, for example, as a dialectical materialist, a political economist, a critic of political economy, a political thinker, the founder of scientific sociology, and an ideologist of communism. So why are three interpretations chosen for consideration? The reason—not quite subjective and not simply objective—lies in the assumption that these are the interpretations that still have some chance to be taken seriously when claiming (1) that they most adequately show the basic meaning of Marx's thought, and (2) that they have some relevance for the topical problems of the contemporary world.

Some other interpretations of Marx, though still widespread, cannot be regarded as serious rivals to these three. Thus, the interpretation of Marx as a dialectical materialist was the official interpretation of his philosophy in some countries and in many communist parties (including Yugoslavia) in the 1950s and early 1960s. At that time, I was also writing essentially from that perspective. [4] Since then, no new variation of that conception has emerged (except, perhaps, Althusser's structuralist version of dialectical materialism, which has also pretty much gone out of fashion); thus there are no reasons to examine dialectical materialism anew.

Another interpretation I will not reexamine is one according to which Marx was primarily a political economist who founded the scientific study of the political economy of capitalism (for some he created the political economy of socialism as well). I would argue that it was shown long ago that Marx was not an economist but a critic of political economy. That is, in fact, an interpretation I do want to clarify here. Although alternative theories of political economy can be used to criticize one another, a critique of political economy as such can only be mounted from a viewpoint outside political economy. So we need to decide what Marx's standpoint was for his critique of political economy: historical materialism, philosophy of praxis, or the thinking of revolution? Or perhaps none of these.

Was Marx, then, a historical materialist? This interpretation of Marx's thought is one of the oldest and, at the same time, still one of the most widespread and vital. It owes its prestige and influence partly to its intrinsic merits and partly to the renown and influence of its author, Friedrich Engels, who expounded it in texts published when Marx was still alive (in "Karl Marx," in Anti-Dühring, and in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific)


and who repeated it concisely in his famous speech at Marx's graveside. [5] Of course, according to Engels, Marx's views cannot be reduced merely to historical materialism; we owe two major discoveries to Marx: the discovery of the "law of development of human history" (historical materialism) and the discovery of the "special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society" (surplus value). Marx also made a number of discoveries in different fields (allegedly even in mathematics). But Engels explicitly singled out historical materialism and the doctrine of surplus value as Marx's basic discoveries, historical materialism being the first and most important.

Engels's interpretation of Marx as primarily a historical materialist and a political economist became, with small variations, dominant among the theoreticians of the Second International. While partly disagreeing about whether Marx's alleged rejection of every philosophy was good or bad, and whether some kind of philosophy might be helpful nevertheless, they mainly agreed that the true and mature Marx was not a philosopher but a historical materialist and economist. The important theoretician of the Second International who insisted that Marx had a philosophy called “dialectical materialism" was G. V. Plekhanov. Due to his disciple, Lenin, this view became obligatory in the Third International. Then it was dogmatized and canonized in Stalinism and compromised by inhuman practices, which demonstrates the philosophical fragility of dialectical materialism and its inadequacy to Marx. Since then, the main current of Western Marxism and Western Marxology has returned to the traditional conception of Marx as a historical materialist and a political economist. The view of Marx as a historical materialist has also been the starting point for some contemporary attempts at the reconstruction and renewal of Marx's thought, that is, its modernization and adaptation to the spirit of the time. [6]

Yet Engels inspired not only the interpretation of Marx as a historical materialist and economist, as developed in the Second International, but also the view of Marx as a dialectical materialist, as developed in the Third International. While he was glorifying Marx as the founder of historical materialism and the scientific political economy, and passing in silence Marx as a philosopher, Engels, in his polemics with Dühring, entered a general philosophical discussion and ventured a number of rather pretentious philosophical statements. Similarly, in the manuscripts published posthumously as Dialectics of Nature, Engels engaged in constructing a kind of a dialectical and materialist philosophy of nature. This suggests that he wanted to fill the philosophical gap he felt existed in Marx. Thus, it may be possible to say that the theoreticians of the Second International (or their majority), in their interpretations of Marx, followed Engels's explicit interpretation, while Plekhanov, Lenin, and the Third International followed (and tried to explicate) the implicit interpretation expressed in Engels's own theoretical efforts.

However, we are not interested here primarily in the historical adventures of historical materialism but in its value as an interpretation of Marx and as an answer to the question about history and humankind. In its narrow, vulgar, or dogmatic version, historical materialism is a theory about the absolute dominance of the economic factor in history (economic determinism). Since this theory has been convincingly criticized both by Engels and by many others, we may leave it aside. In its broader version,


which we find in Engels and in many outstanding Marxists, historical materialism regards history as an interaction of different factors, in which the economic factor can be temporarily overpowered but comes through in the last analysis (or ultimately): "According to the materialist conception of history," wrote Engels in his famous letter to J. Bloch, "the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted....There is an interaction of all of these elements in which amid all the endless host of accidents ...the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary." [7]

In a number of papers I have criticized this broader version of historical materialism, especially its claim to be Marx's general theory of history (and the best theory of history overall). I have tried to show that historical materialism was not Marx's general theory of people and history but rather his critique of the self-alienated individual of class society ("man" as "economic animal") and of self-alienated human history (or, rather, pre-history). We are not as we are because we are, according to Marx, of necessity economic animals; we are self-alienated precisely because we remain on the level of economic animals. We are not, of necessity, split into mutually opposed spheres that relate in an external interaction; consequently, the economic sphere is not even necessarily ultimately the determining factor of history. On the contrary, as long as human history remains (even ultimately) determined by one of its spheres, we are still in the phase of pre-history, in the antechamber of true human history as the human creative being of praxis. True human history begins only when people begin to create and shape freely themselves and their human world.

At the time I was rethinking these issues, a number of Yugoslav (and non-Yugoslav) philosophers came to similar conclusions; thus the interpretation of Marx's thought as basically a philosophy of praxis developed and spread. This movement has produced detailed discussions of human freedom, creativity, alienation, and de-alienation, and it has developed the concepts of humanism and socialism in a new way. With the emergence of the philosophy of praxis the question about the relationship between historical materialism and the philosophy of praxis arose too. Some interpreters of Marx have come to think that the analysis of people as beings of praxis can be incorporated into the inherited theory of historical materialism as its partial enrichment or supplement. Others argue that the philosophy of praxis as a finally found, both adequate and fruitful interpretation of Marx can dispense with historical materialism.

In my opinion, the theory of historical materialism and the philosophy of praxis really can be connected, but only on the basis of the philosophy of praxis. In other words, the theory of historical materialism can be incorporated as a moment into the philosophy of praxis, but the philosophy of praxis cannot be incorporated into historical materialism. Historical materialism, or the materialist conception of history, as the phrase emphasizes, attempts to conceive history in a materialistic way. The materialistic character of historical materialism consists in that the determining role in history is attributed to a specific-material factor, the economic one. The decomposition of people into different factors, and the discovery of the ultimately determining material factor of historical development, is not something accidental but the very essence of historical materialism. Therefore, it is not clear how, except formally or nominally, the idea of a person


as a total being and of free creativity as the essential quality of a person can be incorporated into it. Insofar as there is some talk of praxis within historical materialism, praxis can only be conceived as a human activity, or as a set of such activities (such as economic or political activity). In the same way, freedom is here of necessity interpreted as the known necessity (or as an activity based on the known necessity), and creativity as a multidetermined transformation (a transformation determined by material needs, material laws, etc.) of the given. Only terminology remains here from the philosophy of praxis. Within the conception of historical materialism, socialism cannot be imagined as an essentially new, integral form of our being (our human, free being) but merely as a new social and economic formation. Thus, the road to socialism cannot be understood as a free human deed but only as the predetermined, lawful development of socioeconomic organizations and institutions.

However, if the philosophy of praxis cannot be forced into the narrow limits of historical materialism, it is itself sufficiently broad to encompass historical materialism—as a special theory. In the philosophy of praxis we are conceived as free creative beings who shape ourselves and our world through our activities. But exactly as a free being one can alienate oneself from oneself, become a self-alienated, unfree being, an economic animal. Exactly because we alienate ourselves from ourselves, the theory of historical materialism can be partly justified and validated as an explanation and criticism of the self-alienated society. However, taken out of the whole philosophy of praxis and rendered independent, historical materialism can only describe the mechanism of economic determination and exploitation in the class society; it cannot even express the decisive thesis that this society and people are self-alienated, inhuman. Unsatisfactory as a general theory of society and of people, an independent historical materialism is not sufficient even for a full understanding of class society. Describing the facticity of that society as it is, it cannot adequately understand its historical limitation because it cannot conceive of an essentially different, not-self-alienated society.

Opting for the philosophy of praxis, some are inclined to retain for it the traditional name "historical materialism." This terminology can only be inadequate and confusing. How can we call a theory "historical materialism" if its central concept, the concept of praxis, transcends the distinction between the material and the spiritual? It is quite conceivable that in a historical materialism (or in a materialist conception of history) the metaphysical (or ontological) concept of matter need not be central. But in a materialist conception of history, some materialist concept, a concept of some material entity or activity, should nevertheless be central. However, praxis as conceived by Marx is not a material activity as opposed to a spiritual activity but is the structure of every human activity insofar as it is free.

If the interpretation of Marx's thought as a philosophy of praxis is deeper and more adequate to Marx's thought as a historical materialism, it does not mean that it is also the best possible interpretation of Marx. Or, more precisely, it perhaps is the relatively best interpretation of Marx (if we take the word "interpretation" strictly), but, just as Marx was not merely an interpreter of former thinkers, those who today want to think in his spirit and on his level cannot remain merely interpreters of his thought. More


than any interpretation, that thinking is most faithful to Marx which does not remain only an interpretation—the thinking of revolution.

As is well known, the interpretation of Marx's thought as a philosophy of praxis has behind it a rather long history (or merely prehistory?): from the Italian Marxists A. Labriola and A. Gramsci, through early Lukács and Bloch, to H. Lefebvre and the Yugoslav praxis-philosophers. Precisely in that last group, It seems, the philosophy of praxis has been developed most fully and most consistently, so that here some of its difficulties and limitations have become best visible.

The journal Praxis was created as a forum for developing the philosophy of praxis. However, in the first issue the philosophy of praxis was already superseded, as can be seen in the editorial expressing the basic views of praxis-philosophers. [8] The editorial seems to testify that praxis-philosophers were already no longer merely praxis-philosophers, that they had become something else. It explains the need for the new journal in the following way: "Despite the abundance of journals, it seems to us that we do not have the one we wish: a philosophical journal which is not narrowly 'technical,' a philosophical journal which is not only philosophical, but also discusses the topical problems of Yugoslav socialism and of man and the contemporary world." And further: "In agreement with such views we want a journal that will not be philosophical in the sense in which philosophy is merely one special field, one scientific discipline, strictly separated from all the rest and from the everyday problems of man's life. We want a philosophical journal in the sense in which philosophy is the thought of revolution: a pitiless critique of everything existing, a humanistic vision of a truly human world and an inspiring force of revolutionary activity."

Praxis was not conceived as a vehicle for the philosophy of praxis but rather as a vehicle for the thinking of revolution. The central concern of praxis-philosophers has become not praxis but revolution (not in the usual sense!). To be sure, the sentence that follows immediately after the passage quoted above speaks in a different way: "The title Praxis has been chosen because praxis, that central concept of Marx's thought, most adequately expresses the sketched conception of philosophy." But this is obviously an inconsistency, or rather the original standpoint which here co-exists with the new one.

Was this reformulation of the philosophy of praxis into the thinking of revolution an instance of progress or regression? Does the thinking of revolution reject the philosophy of praxis, or does it include it in itself? Or are these two mutually irrelevant conceptions that can coexist in a peaceful way?

If Marx's philosophy is really the thinking of revolution, and if revolution is its central concept, this does not mean that the concept of praxis should be eliminated fr om it. The conception according to which Marx's thinking is a philosophy of praxis is not simply false, it is insufficient insofar as it stops halfway. In that conception we are regarded as beings of praxis, and praxis as free creative activity. The highest form (and also the essence) of praxis for Marx is revolution, a radical negation of the self-alienated society and person, creation of a truly human community composed of free human beings. Such a concept of praxis is not, of course, the only one possible; there have been many different ones. Exactly for this reason the very phrase "thinking of revolution" has an advantage over the


phrase "philosophy of praxis." But it is not only a matter of naming. Re­gardless of how we decide to name thought in the spirit of Marx, it is important to think what was, for him, also most important: the possibility of praxis as revolution.

However, the defect of the interpretation of Marx's thinking as the philosophy of praxis is not only in the name "praxis," nor (what is more important) in the hesitation to think praxis, in the spirit of Marx, as revolution, but is hidden in the name "philosophy." As is well known, Marx spoke about overcoming, superseding, and realizing philosophy. The leading theoreticians of the Second International interpreted this as a demand for a rejection of every philosophy. Opposed to such a positivist elimination of philosophy, Plekhanov and Lenin insisted that Marxism had a philosophy. Lenin, however, at the time strictly divided Marxism into three main parts: a philosophy, a political economy, and a politics. Not all advocates of Marx's philosophy have drawn such a sharp dividing line, but as a rule they more or less strictly divide Marxism into parts and discuss its problems within the limits they have drawn. Thus, revolution has been regarded as a social phenomenon, and the problems of revolution have been discussed within the limits of Marx's social and political theory. Philosophy has been reserved for a discussion of "more general" problems.

Viewing Marx's philosophy as the thinking of revolution means a radical break with this tradition and a revival of Marx's original insight, which brings philosophy and revolution together inseparably. In this new-old conception, philosophy does not live in a world of abstract generalities; it is concerned with the basic possibility (and reality) of our time and this is revolution. On the other hand, revolution should not be conceived merely as a political or social phenomenon. The true revolution would radically change people and society, creating a new, higher mode of Being. As such, revolution cannot be understood if it is studied merely inside the social sciences or within some special philosophical discipline such as the philosophy of politics or social philosophy. The problem of revolution is the central problem of the central philosophical disciplines—ontology and philosophical anthropology. However, even this is not quite right. More precisely, the phenomenon of revolution can be adequately thought only by a philosophy that is not divided into philosophical disciplines and is not separated from social sciences and from social praxis. In other words, the phenomenon of revolution can be thought adequately only by a philosophy that is no longer philosophy in the traditional sense, by a philosophy that has become the thinking of revolution. This means that the formulation in the opening editorial of Praxis should be corrected: We do not want philosophy in that sense in which it is the thinking of revolution; we believe that traditional philosophy should be transcended by the thinking of revolution.

The last statement can be again misunderstood as a plea for a positivist elimination of philosophy. However, this does not follow from what was said. The thinking of revolution presupposes and incorporates philosophy (i.e., what was essential in it). Far from being unphilosophical, it is in many respects more philosophical than any previous philosophy. Exactly for that reason, it cannot remain merely philosophical.



1. The twenty sheaves of questions were originally prepared to be read on August 21, 1968 as part of the Fifth Session of the Korcula Summer School, which was devoted to "Marx and Revolution." However, early in the morning of that day the news spread that the troops of the Warsaw Pact had invaded Czechoslovakia. The work of the school was interrupted, the invasion was discussed, and an appeal to world public opinion and a number of telegrams (such as a protest telegram to Brezhnev) were issued. The appeal was first signed by Ernst Bloch; the signatures of Herbert Marcuse, Serge Mallet, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Lucien Goldmann, Thomas Bottomore, Eugen Fink, Jürgen Habermas, and others followed. On August 22 the school resumed its work. Some of the papers that had been scheduled for the preceding day were squeezed into the remaining program, but I renounced reading mine. Thus, I first read my text at a Croatian Philosophical Society meeting in autumn 1968. It was published in the Belgrad Student, a paper that played an important role in the Yugoslav student rebellion of 1968, and then in the journal Praxis, nos. 1-2 (1969), which brought out the proceedings of the 1968 Korcula Summer School.

2. In M Marković and G. Petrović, eds., Praxis: Yugoslav Essays in the Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science , vol. 36, (Dordrecht, Boston, London : D. Reidel, 1979), pp. 151-64.

3. Philosophie und revolution (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1971); Filosofia y revolution (Mexico: Editorial Extemuoraneos, 1972); Filozofija i revolucija (Zagreb: Naprijed, 1973); Misljenje revolucije (Zagreb: Naprijed, 1978).

4. See my Filozofija i marksizam (Zagreb: Mladost, 1965), translated into English as Marx in the Mid-Twentieth Century (New York: Doubleday, 1967).

5. See K. Marx, F. Engels, Werke (Berlin, 1969), vol. 19, pp. 102-6, 209, 335-36.

6. Most important among those attempts is probably Habermas's reconstruction of historical materialism; see Zur Rekostruktion des Historischen Materialismus (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1976). A number of interesting attempts in the same direction have been collected in: U. Jaeggi and A. Honneth, eds., Theorien des historischen matenalismus (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1976), and A. Honneth and U. Jaeggi, eds., Arbeit, handlung, normativität: Theorien des historischen materialismus, 2 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1980).

7. Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), p. 640-41.

8. “A quoi bon praxis,” Praxis: A Philosophical Journal (International Edition), 1:1 (1965), pp. 3-7.


SOURCE: Petrović, Gajo. “Philosophy and Revolution: Twenty Sheaves of Questions,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana; Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), pp. 235-248.

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