SOCY 151: Foundations of Modern Social Theory

Lecture 10

 - Marx's Theory of Historical Materialism


We review Marx’s theory of alienation and pick up with the transition from the young Marx to the mature Marx who breaks with Hegelian thought and the Young Hegelians. Reflecting on the disappointed hopes of the French Revolution, Hegel wrote that the civil servants in France represent the universal class. In direct contrast, Marx writes that the state only appears to be the universal class. He then goes about writing his theory of exploitation to argue that the workers, as the only fully alienated class, represent the universal position. He responds to Feuerbach with his eleven theses arguing for his own brand of historical materialism. Many of his “Theses on Feuerbach” remain very famous and widely-associated with Marx’s oeuvre, including the last thesis, thesis eleven: the point of philosophy is not only to understand the world, but to change it.

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Foundations of Modern Social Theory

SOCY 151 - Lecture 10 - Marx's Theory of Historical Materialism

Chapter 1. The Importance of Marx’s Theory of Alienation [00:00:00]

Professor Iván Szelényi: Well I would like to get started. Good morning. In the discussion section I realized I sort of screwed my last lecture. It didn’t come quite clearly through; either Hegel or Marx’s theory of alienation. So I would like to come back to the theory of alienation and how Marx gets to The Paris Manuscripts, before we get into historical materialism.

And let me just make two introductory comments about this. One important point I tried to make is you have to be–I think one purpose of my lectures in Marx is to alert you that there were two Marx’s, not just one, and you are likely to know only about one Marx. Right? This is Marx, who had the theory of class struggle and the theory of exploitation–right?–and who was a theorist of Communism. But you may know very little about Marx, the idealist, the Hegelian, the humanist, whose central idea was the notion of alienation. Right? Whose major concern was about the human conditions under modernity and wanted to overcome it. And, you know, these two very different Marx’s appeal to very different audiences. In fact, the first Marx–the humanist, the Hegelian, the idealist–was almost forgotten for a very long time, and was rediscovered by the 1960s onwards, generally. So it’s very important to see that most likely that what you heard about Marx–and I suppose most of you have never read any text from Marx–is a biased view. You only know one Marx and not both. And my point is to try to introduce you to the complexity, that you meet both Karl Marx. Right?

The second point is that–what I found frustrating in the discussion section yesterday, which was one of the worst I did in the last couple of years–not ever in my life I did even worse discussion sections, but this was real bad–that, you know, the importance and the significance of Marx’s theory of alienation did not come through. And I obviously did a very bad job, because there are very few texts, written in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which are so powerful and so influential, and so broadly influential, on theories of the twentieth century, than exactly this text on alienation. You can think about literature–right?–and you can see the extraordinary impact of the idea of alienation in literature. Some of you may have read Albert Camus, the French novelist–The Stranger. This is right out of the theory of alienation. You may be familiar with Franz Kafka, right? There you go. That’s the sense of alienation. You may have watched ever the play, wonderful play, of Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt. That’s about alienation. Right? So in the twentieth century literature, we are full with the senses of alienation.

And so is twentieth century social theory. There is no twentieth century social theory without the theory of alienation. By the way, it’s interesting, because The Paris Manuscript, for the first time, was published only in 1931. Nevertheless, the idea was already beginning to creep in earlier. Smart people read the theory of alienation in Marx earlier; Georg Lukács, for instance. And then the Frankfurt School. There is no Adorno, there is no Horkheimer, there is no Marcuse, without the theory of alienation. And I can go even further. There is no cultural theory without the theory of alienation. There is no Bauman, there is no Kolakowski, without the theory of alienation. This is a very important idea.

So I have to come back to this and to try to show you how he arrives at this point, and why he abandons it–why the second Marx is emerging. And then we get, starting with the second Marx, the first step towards the second Marx is the “Theses on Feuerbach, what I want to talk about today. And I’ll try to economize with my time, right? Right? I have to learn from Adam Smith–right?–to be more utilitarian and to make sure that means and ends do match with each other.

Okay, let’s come back to Hegel and Hegel’s theory of alienation. Because I don’t think–from the discussion section my sense was I did not make it clear enough, what Hegel’s theory is. And well let me try to labor on this. As I said, you know, he was an idealist, and I hope I explained it to the extent it is necessary. I will come back to this when I will be talking about the “Theses on Feuerbach” and The German Ideology. But he really thought that somehow consciousness precedes material existence, and that’s what made him into an idealist. How religious he was I actually don’t know. This is not a religious, not a theological proposition. Right? The idea is that before the physical world existed, there has been an absolute spirit. Right? At the origin of the world, there is an absolute spirit existing, and that exists in the material world as such.

And then his central idea is that you can describe the history of the universe as a problem of alienation, as a problem of gradual separation, as I said, from subject and object. This is a very important idea, and we will have to deal with this in Marx. And even if you are dealing with twentieth century theories, critical theory, this is a central notion of, you know, subject and object.

Let me try to labor on this a minute. And I have to do it on the blackboard. So Hegel’s fundamental idea is that when you have the absolute spirit–right?–and this is not a personal God but just the idea. Here this is a situation of totality. The absolute spirit is at the same time subject and object, united in itself. Right? And that’s what Hegel calls totality. And there’s the term totality being used later on in critical theory. And we are saying we are searching for totality, we are searching for the unity of subject and object.

Well in Hegel’s, the second stage is that subject and object are divided from each other. <> There is the material world without consciousness, and consciousness becomes absolute consciousness because it’s kind of projected the material world out of itself. Right? And this is the–this is the situation of alienation. Object becomes separate. Then, as human beings emerge, subject and object beginning to merge. Right? Consciousness emerges. Right? Consciousness–right? These are subject–this is you–and object are the conditions of your life. Right? Another person you are interacting with is an object of your interaction. Or the conditions of your life. Right? The objective conditions. This room. At Yale University the construction which is going out there–right?–is our objective conditions. Right? And you are the subject who are reflecting on it. But because you are gaining some consciousness, you are beginning to conquer the objective conditions of your life.

And what he’s suggesting, that alienation will overcome when your subject will be able to control the objective conditions of your life. Right? Where your consciousness is adequate to your existence. Right? When you are the master of your life, you are a master of your conditions. It is not the conditions which rule you, but you are the master of the conditions. Right? That is the key idea in Hegel.

And Marx is very much following this idea. I mean, he of course eliminates the whole idea of absolute spirit. Right? He doesn’t want to deal with the idea of absolute spirit. For him this is too speculative. He’s also bothered by the idea that you can overcome the problem of alienation simply by thought. Right? Marx’s project is to bring this whole idea of alienation down to earth, to everyday experience, to your experience and your experience of, I would use the term, modernity, until 1944 [correction: 1844]. Marx does not have a concept of capitalism or capitalist mode of production. Right? He even just vaguely thinks about private ownership. He’s really trying to conceptualize modernity, modern industrial urban life, as distinct from earlier communal life–the life what we had in more intimate communities, peasants of the villages or whatever. Right? He tries to conceptualize this.

He sees this as a progress, modernity as a progress. But we have to pay a heavy price for it, and the price what we pay for this modernity is the separation of subject and object. Right? The peasant in a village was not separated from the objective conditions of his existence. It was united with the objective conditions. It was bound to the earth. Right? Even the slaves were not separated from the objective conditions of their existence. They were treated as objects. Right? There was no subject separated from the object. So the unique–this is Marx, this is not Hegel anymore–the unique feature of alienation, that you have this separation from subject and object, in modern conditions. Right?

And I think this is why Marx’s theory of alienation survived Marx’s theory of exploitation. That the young Marx survived the old Marx; the first Marx survived the second Marx. Because we can all relate more if you have a good lecturer, and who brings more effectively to you what he’s getting at. You can relate more, you can say much more, “Oh yeah, I feel alienated in this class.” Right? “That makes no sense to me.” Right? “This doesn’t make any sense to my life, and I have to sit there because I’m a sociology major and I have to take this bloody class.” Right? Then you are alienated. Right? And this is when you will–that’s what you will say. Right? “I am alienated because I have to do this nonsense because they force me to do so.” Then you are alienated. This is exactly what Marx is getting at. Right?

Well in a way it is your choice. Right? You declared a sociology major. Right? But then you are forced to do stuff what you don’t really want to do. So it doesn’t mean that you are not free. You are free, but within your freedom you are alienated because you don’t control your conditions, and it looks like that within your freedom, within your free choice, you are forced to do stuff. Right? This is what Marx is trying to get at. You think you are free, you think you are equal with others, and you are really not free. Because the objective conditions, what you created for yourself–right? You got into trouble. Right? Who forced you to be a sociology major? Nobody. And then you are in the trouble that you have to do– take certain hurdles. But you feel alienated and you don’t feel that your whole personality is being developed. Right? To put it with John Stuart Mill, you don’t feel self-development. Then you are alienated, unduly so. Right? Is that a bit coming closer to it? Makes more sense? All right.

Now let me therefore also show you how Marx gets to it. I think this is very important. And I skipped all of this stuff because I was trying to get very quickly–I was trying to get too quickly–to the notion, Marx’s theory of alienation. And now I would like to correct this. And I already foreshadowed in my last lecture that these are formidable years for Marx, 1843 and 1844. In two years his intellectual development is quite extraordinary.

Chapter 2. Intellectual Developments towards the Theory of Alienation [00:15:06]

Let me follow you through of these intellectual developments. In the summer of 1843, he writes this book, Contributions to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right; or Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Well Hegel has gone through a long development intellectually. He started out as a radical, an admirer of the French Revolution, and as he was getting older he was becoming more and more conservative and was becoming concerned about the consequences of the French Revolution. And as he became, you know, more conservative, he was–he said, “Well what is happening with the French after the French Revolution is not really what I wanted. Because now the French Revolution is actually splitting the society in two classes, capital and labor.” It’s not exactly the terminology what he means, but that’s what Hegel is getting at in The Philosophy of Right. “And who can tell who is right and who is wrong? They are in conflict with each other. The employers or the owners want something, and the workers want something else. They both represent particularistic interests.

But where is the universalistic interests?” So asked Hegel. There must be some universal justice. To put it in the terminology we used in this course before, there must be something like common good, which brings capital and labor together. Where will this common good come from? And in The Philosophy of Right he offers an interesting theory. He said it will come from the government, it comes from the state. The state should represent the universal instance. And then he said, “Well, you know, the society, modern bourgeois society which emerged as a result of the French Revolution, is divided into these particularistic classes. But we need a universal agent, a universal class, which represents the common good, and this must be the government, this must be the class of civil servants.” And in the book, Philosophy of Right–which is his kind of last major book, writes it not long before he dies–he argues these are the civil servants who constitute the universal class.

Now this is not a silly idea. We do think about it this way. And yes, I mean, he builds in many respects, in a more sophisticated way, on Locke and Rousseau and the idea of general will, particularly in Rousseau. Right? And this is the state which should represent the general will. Right? And we also occasionally think about it this way. Right? There are all these conflicts around this country, and we expect the government to express the universal interest, to innervate the general will. We expect occasionally the federal government to do that, and the federal government occasionally does it. You have read about the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, who was the agency which made sure that the states actually obey the laws and integrates the schools? It was the federal government. Right? It was Bobby Kennedy who went down and made sure that the southern states do follow the rules. Right? We expected the government to express the universal interest. Right? So it’s not silly.

But Marx, in a way, said, “Well, that’s not that simple. Hegel is naïve about the government.” And he said, “Well the government is not that non-partial as we would like it to be.” Right? If you are rich, you have more influence on what the government does, rather when you are poor. Right? There are lobbyists in Washington DC, and you probably have very little leverage on these lobbyists. Big business has a lot of leverage on these lobbyists. Right? And they, of course, have a great deal of pressure on what the legislature will do. Just follow what is happening with the healthcare legislation. Well you can call your congressman and you can send emails, you know, and can send letters, and ask them to do something. But believe me, when the pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of money and tells a senator, you know, “Unless you vote this way or that way, we probably may not be able to support your next electoral campaign”–right?–then it will make more impact than your individual email. Right? Not that you should not send individual emails. Send it. Right? Be involved. But be aware that the government is sent to be more responsible for big business.

“So”, he said, “How can it be universal class?” That’s really the point what he’s making in The Philosophy of Right. Right? The state is not universal. It pretends to be universal. It has to pretend to be universal in order to be legitimate, but really it is not universal. And the civil servants are, of course, not a universal class. Occasionally they are quite corrupt. Right? Not in the United States, of course, but in some countries I can think of civil servants are corrupt. Right? You know, and then they are offered, you know, a free seat, you know, on a private jet, they accept it. And then they accepted it, they do something for the owner of that private jet. Right? So there are some civil servants who are not all that innocent–right?–and they can be influenced. So it is not all that universal class. They are–not all civil servants are angels. Right? Some of them are, some of them are not.

In fact, he concludes the unfinished book, “that really the problem is that we don’t have universal suffrage”; writes he in 1843. And he said, “Let’s have universal suffrage, and then if we in free elections universally elect the representatives, the problem will be gone.” As we know, he was not quite right. Right? We have all equal vote but we do not have all equal voice. Right? I think that’s–but Marx here is still a bourgeois liberal; as of the summer of 1843 believes the problem will be solved.

Now let me rush through and show you the kind of intellectual development–and I briefly pointed out to this. These are the three important steps which follows this abandoned manuscript. He now enters the road of radicalization, moves away from Hegel, and tries to carve out his own intellectual and political project. And he writes the paper “On the Jewish Question” in which he says, “Well Hegel is right. We need something universal. We should not allow society just to be the struggle of particularistic interests.” Right? This is in a way against Adam Smith’s utilitarianism. It’s not enough that individuals fight each others’ interests out, and that will end up to a universal good. We need some universal good to be achieved, and it will not simply achieved by particularistic interests followed. That is Marx’s point.

But then he writes an introduction to the Critique– Contributions to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. And in this introduction he said, “Well, we need something; universal emancipation. But who will bring universal emancipation to humankind?” Right? He’s looking for an agent who can carry this out. And in the introduction, he said, “This will be the proletariat.” Well you may say now he’s entering the wrong road–right?–and he’s entering a very–he’s basically painting himself in the corner, where he will be for the rest of his life, trying to show that indeed the proletariat will emancipate us all, and will create a good society as such. But people, when they are reading the introduction–and I will give you a few citations from it because it’s a beautiful piece of work. In many ways it is wonderful poetry. He has some extraordinary framing of the problem.

But then, you know, his critics said, “What a nonsense.” You know? “Why on earth the proletariat? As we all know, the workers are dumb. I mean, you are saying that we, the critical philosophers, we cannot emancipate humankind? But you think that these ordinary workers, with alienated consciousness, they will bring us an unalienated world? How comes? What nonsense is this?” So that’s when he writes The Paris Manuscripts, and tries to now bring the whole idea of alienation down to earth, to fill it with some economic content. That’s why now he tries to relate it to commodity production, and make the claim that though in modern society everybody’s alienated, but they are only the workers who are fully alienated, and their interest is to overcome the alienation. That’s what–this is why he tries to argue that alienation will bring the working class to emancipate humankind; that is the project.

Of course, he never publishes the book, because after he wrote it down, he said, “Well”–I suppose he said, “Well, this is quite nicely written. I have a couple of good ideas. But nobody will believe me.” Right? “The working class will not go on the barricades and die because I am telling them that they are alienated.” Right? “They don’t care about alienation. I have to come up some– some better reason, you know, why the working class will revolt.” And that’s the end of the young Marx.

And now he’s beginning to read Adam Smith and Ricardo and political economy. Right? And he’s beginning to develop his theory of exploitation. This is the young or mature Marx, and we will talk about him very briefly. Now just a couple of ideas here. Right?

Chapter 3. On the Jewish Question: Universal Emancipation [00:27:27]

What about “On the Jewish Question”, what is at stake? Bruno Bauer wrote a paper on the origins of anti-Semitism, and he said, “We have anti-Semitism in Germany because the state is Christian, and as long as the state is Christian it will discriminate against the Jews. So the solution is to separate the state and the church, to have political emancipation. Right? And if we have political emancipation, we abolish anti-Semitism.”

Now Marx takes his point here and he said, “Look, this guy is completely wrong. Look at the United States, the church and the state are separated, and in the nineteenth century there was quite a bit of anti-Semitism in the United States.” Not only in the nineteenth century. In this very institution, in the 1920s and ’30s, there was a lot of anti-Semitism. There’s a wonderful sociologist, Jeremy Karabel, who wrote a great book about admission policies of Ivy League universities in the 1920s, and he was able to prove that Ivy League universities, including Yale, actually applied a quota. They never admitted more Jews to Yale than the average Jewish population in the United States. Believe it or not. It was never official policy but it was practiced all the time. So, I mean, there was anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism can exist if the state and church are separated, if the state is supposed to be secular.

And Marx said, “Where does come like racism come from?” He said it comes from, what he said, civil society. He doesn’t have the notion of capitalism. He said this is rooted in people’s everyday experience and interest. Right? Anti-Semitism comes from civil society because some people feel threatened by the Jews. Why is there, you know, anti-African American feelings? Because some people feel threatened by African Americans. Right? And this is why there is racism. So you have to fix the problems in civil society. The problem is in civil society, not in the state. Therefore what you need is universal emancipation. That’s the bottom line of “On the Jewish Question.” Is that reasonably clear? Okay, then let’s go further.

Chapter 4. Introduction to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [00:30:21]

And this is the Introduction. Well there are some wonderful stuff in this. It’s more poetry than–it is certainly not social science. I would say more poetry, but very forcefully done. Well he said, “What we have to do is to move beyond Feuerbach, who simply sort of contemplated on the situations.” And he said, “Once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked”–that’s what Feuerbach did. Right? He did show that alienation is our–we’re projecting our alienation by creating God. Right? He said, “Now the task is to unmask self-estrangement or alienation in its unholy form.” Right? In the everyday life–in your everyday experience–especially in your economic activities. That is the point what he tries to make.

Then he goes further and he says, “Well the Young Hegelians said ‘Be a critical critic; criticize the Hegelian theory’.” And I think this is a fantastic sentence; again, it’s beautiful poetry. Very dangerous and let a lot of trouble in history. In a way I wish he would not have written it down. But I love that he did write it down, because it’s a beautiful sentence. “The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism by weapons.” Right? Well it’s not enough to be critical in thought. You have to be critical in action. Right? You have to act on it. Just do not just talk. Do something about it. That’s what it says. Well I think this is, you know, one of the strongest sentences I have read in social science literature. Right? “The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism by weapons.”

Well this is also a great sentence. “Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has grabbed the masses–gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem.” Woo. That’s quite something. Right? What he–right? He said, “Well the question is what is a good theory, what will help you emancipate yourself? Good, the essence of good theory, that it grabs you, it grips you.” Right? When you say, “Uh-huh, it did hit me.” This is theory. Right? But it can only be when it is ad hominem, when it addresses your problems. Right? A theory, what you are lost, you don’t know why it is relevant for your life, is no good.

I would even go as far, the theory which is boring is bad theory. What you need is fascinating theory. You have to be fascinated. You have to be shocked. Right? You have to say, “Yes, now I will live differently after I–this theory I understood.” Right? It has to move you. That’s the good theory. I think that’s a wonderful point, and very powerfully done.

And then he said, “Well, what–well we say that the theory has to grab the masses, but what kind of masses? Whom? Who is our audience?” Well, and he says, “In order to carry out a revolutionary change.” It’s not enough to have a theory, not enough to have ideas. “You may need”, he said–it’s very problematic but very crucial to understand the downside, the bad side of Marxism–“a passive element, a material base.” Right? As you see, no matter how much Marx glorifies the working class, he thinks about them as a passive element. Right? Simply as a material base. And that is–who is that? The proletariat. And why? “Because it has nothing to lose but its chains. It has a universal character, and this is why it is a universal class.”

And, you know, in 1843, it may have been quite right. The working class probably had little else to lose but its chains. Certainly in 2009 it’s usually not true. The working class has much more to lose than its chains. Right? It has probably its own nice suburban house. They probably own two cars. They probably even have some pension fund, on the stock exchange. Even ordinary workers check out what the Dow Jones did yesterday, because it affects the impact. But in his times it was probably true. So this is how he gets to the problem. It is the proletariat which will be the universal class. And now you are already familiar with The Paris Manuscript, and I will not talk about this.

That’s why he wants to show that the proletariat is the most alienated. And that makes–follows logically. I think it damages, to some extent, the theory of alienation, because it narrows it too much down. The focus is too much down on the working class, and in a way too much down on working class, working on industrial production in firms. But really, the message of alienation is much broader. It tries to convey you some general experience of modern life where we do not feel at home. This is the big framing of the problem in the early twentieth century. Homelessness, the homeless mind; that we feel homeless in this world, searching for a home. That’s the sense of alienation. That’s what Marx tried to capture here; in a way, unfortunately, mis-specified. Too much emphasis on workers, just because he’s beginning to have this political project and wants to find a revolutionary class.

And, you know, he abandons it. “This is ridiculous, you know. I have to put my show together.” And then he does; beginning to develop what he calls historical materialism. So let’s get into that one. And I have ten minutes to do it, and that’s all right. If necessary I will come back to this.

Chapter 5. Historical Materialism [00:37:51]

So Marx is developing what he calls historical materialism. And I will suggest it is making–it is done in two steps. First, he’s emphasizing dialectics in his criticism of Feuerbach. Feuerbach is a materialist all right, but he’s a mechanical materialist, and Marx wants to bring dynamics in his materialism. And he will argue that this has to–he historically specified material force. And this is what he will do in The German Ideology. But what is dialectical? I don’t want to waste time on this. I want to get straight into “The Theses on Feuerbach”, which is a very short text, but very deep.

So here are the eleven Theses of Feuerbach, on “Theses on Feuerbach.” He tries to carve out what his new approach will be. And these are the eleven pieces–very short. He said Feuerbach’s materialism was simply reflective. It actually meant subject and object remained separated, and the subject reflected on the object outside of the subject, dominating the actions of the subject. But it is assumed that there are objective conditions irrespective from the subject, and you only reflect on the subjective conditions. And he said, “Well in the new materialism truth is a practical question.” And I will talk about this in a minute. It means you have to bring, by human practice, subject and object together. You have to change the objective conditions of your life. That’s, you know, not a passive agent, not over-determination. Marx is always read as a determinist. No. As I will say, Marx’s philosophy is a philosophy of praxis; praxis, practical activity is a key of Marx’s theory.

Man- man changes circumstances. And how? We will elaborate on this. But, you know, we get–you know, we were born in certain conditions, but we can change it. Right? Then, but in order to change really the–we can’t act alone. We have to cooperate. That’s thesis four. He said that Hegel, he thought it can be done in thinking. No. Feuerbach thought we can do it in contemplation. Marx said, “No, it can be only done by social practices.”

V, VI. Well old materialism was looking at the individual. Right? Now I will look at the collective, social relations–relational, what I’m suggesting is relational. Well religion is also a social product; this is a kind of by the way. Social life is practical, follows from what we have said. Well contemplation implies isolated individuals in society. Well we offer a view of socialized humanity, that we all act together and there’s collective action, which brings change.

And then the most controversial and most important one. So far the philosophers have interpreted the world. Now the point is to change it. Right? Good theory is not just describes, it gives you a prescription what to do about your life. That’s the kind of theory what we want.

That’s the “Theses on Feuerbach.” Just eleven sentences basically. Great sentences. Sort of all materialism is reflective. Right? “The chief defect of Feuerbach is that things”, he said–the German term is Gegenstand–“is reality, sensuousness”–feeling through our senses, right?–“is considered only in the form of the object”; that we sense the objects outside of our contemplation. But sensuousness is not perceived as human action, activity. Right? We simply feel the stuff but we don’t do anything about that. He said, “Sensuous activity is what I emphasize.” Well new materialism.

This is, you know, one of the most important sentences Marx wrote down. “Well the question whether objective truths can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory, but it is a practical question. Man must prove truth that this worldliness of his thinking in practice.” Right? It’s not a speculative thing, whether a question of truth. “The test of the pudding is in the eating”; he says elsewhere. The Italian Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, who died in the prison of Mussolini, called Marxism “the philosophy of praxis.” That’s the essence of Marxism, that the truth is not the subject reflecting on the object, but the interaction of the subject between the object. Right? That the subject changes the object in order to meet the need of the subject. That’s the major point–the separation of subject and object.

The assumption that there are objective conditions which are outside of our possible action, is what later Marxists will call positivism. Marxism is not positivist. It believes that we can change the world, rather than just to accept the world. Right? Well I don’t have to talk– don’t have enough time to talk about Gramsci. Just one word: in fact he called Marxism as a philosophy of praxis, because he was writing his major work in the prison of Mussolini, and was smuggling this book out they called The Prison Notebooks. It was smuggled out before he died. And he knew that, you know, the prison guards will read it. So he did not want to write down the term Marxism. When he meant Marxism, he wrote it ‘the philosophy of praxis’. And of course the stupid Fascist guards did not know what on earth philosophy of praxis is. So they did not know he was writing about Marxism. But I think he got a very important point. This is indeed an important feature of Marxism. Well man changes circumstances.

Well circumstances are changed by man. And this is again an important sentence. “The educator must himself be educated.” And those of you in my discussion section yesterday, this is what you did: you educated the educator. I realized I did not get, you know, the theory of alienation through quite effectively. So I went back and corrected my course. Right? “The educators must be educated.” Right? I think it’s a great sentence.

Well, and one needs to discover the role of the masses. Now that’s very much Marx’s political project, coming in. But an important project. Right? That you cannot do by yourself. Right? If you want to achieve something, you have to cooperate. You know? You need cooperation with others. Right? Otherwise nothing can be achieved.

Well Hegel’s starting point was abstract thinking. Feuerbach, he’s a materialist, he thinks what is real is what we can grasp with our senses. Marx said, “No. This is sensuous practical activity.” It has to be sensuous, but it has to be practical. This is something what Jürgen Habermas loved, the German philosopher. He said, “This is the real Marx, who sees the essence of all sensuous human activity being the core.” Later Marx is a reductionist, because he reduces sensuous activity to economic activity. Here Marx perceives all sensuous activity, including human interaction between us, including sexual interaction among us, as a sensuous activity. Right? As a material reality. There is not so much conflict between Marx and Freud as it appears. Now let me go further.

VI. Old materialism looks at the individual. Right? And this is Marx’s big obsession. The problem with modernity is the isolated bourgeois individual, and we have to overcome this isolated individual, and we have to engage each other in human interaction. He is a communitarian, right? He is a communist, right? He does not want to have isolated individuals, right? He wants human interaction.

Well I’ll skip this one: religion is also a social product. Social life is practical; this is again quite obvious, and I can probably skip this one. And here again, you know, the isolated individual; that’s the problem, that you do not see that really what we can achieve is always interacting with each other, building on each other. A single individual will not change anything. Well, and therefore we stand for socialized humanity. The standpoint of old materialism is civil society, and the isolated bourgeois individual in civil society, and we are talking about a human society, where we are brothers and sisters, where we have solidarity, where we act in concert and in solidarity.

And now comes the most controversial pieces, what I hate and what I love. I love because again I think it is wonderfully done, hate because it’s desperately wrong. Right? Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it. In some ways, this follows from the earlier ideas, namely praxis. Truth is a practical question. Philosophy only makes sense if it changes your life. If you just read the philosophy text, or the theoretical text, for Foundations of Modern Social Thought, to make sure that we will fall asleep, then the text did something wrong, and I did something wrong. Right? If the texts are right, and if my lectures are right, if you start reading “The Theses on Feuerbach”, you cannot fall asleep. Right? You may have to take a sleeping pill to quiet down and to sleep because the idea disturbs you, because you feel now you have to change the world rather than to accept it. All right. Thank you.

[end of transcript]

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