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Hegel’s impact on Karl Marx

Kantian philosophy was the basis on which the structure of Marxism was built. It was developed by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel's dialectical method was taken up by Karl Marx. It was an extension of the method of reasoning by antinomies that Kant used. Hegel was the most prominent philosopher in Germany. His views were widely taught. His students were divided into right-wing and left-wing Hegelians. The right-wing Hegelians offered a conservative interpretation of his work. They emphasized the compatibility between Hegel's philosophy and Christianity. They were orthodox. The left-wing Hegelians moved to an atheistic position. The group included Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Friedrich Engels and Marx himself. Marx's view of history, is known as historical materialism. Hegel explained that this progressive unfolding of the Absolute involves gradual, evolutionary accretion. Hegel strongly opposed slavery in the United States during his lifetime and envisioned a time when Christian nations would radically eliminate it from their civilization. Marx accepted this broad conception of history. Hegel was an idealist and Marx sought to rewrite dialectics in materialist terms. He summarized the materialistic aspect of his theory of history in the 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: Marx emphasized that social development sprang from the inherent contradictions within material life and the social superstructure. This notion is often understood as a simple historical narrative, Primitive communism had developed into slave states. Slave states had developed into feudal societies. Those societies in turn became capitalist states and those states would be overthrown by the self-conscious portion of their working class, or proletariat, creating the conditions for socialism and ultimately a higher form of communism.

Marx did not study directly with Hegel, but after Hegel's death he studied under one of Hegel's pupils, Bruno Bauer, a leader of the circle of Young Hegelians to whom Marx attached himself. However, Marx and Engels came to disagree with Bauer and the rest of the Young Hegelians about socialism and also about the usage of Hegel's dialectic.

Marx's early writings are a response towards Hegel, German idealism. Marx stood Hegel on his head in his own view of his role by turning the idealistic dialectic into a materialistic one in proposing that material circumstances shape ideas instead of the other way around. Marx was following the lead of Feuerbach. His theory of alienation, developed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1932), inspired itself from Feuerbach's critique of the alienation of man in God. Marx criticized Feuerbach for being insufficiently materialistic. Marx began with the totality of social relations: labour, language and all which constitute our human existence. He claimed that individualism was an essence the result of commodity fetishism or alienation.

In one of his first works, The Holy Family, Marx said: “Not only does Proudhon write in the interest of the proletarians, he is himself a proletarian, an ouvrier. His work is a scientific manifesto of the French proletariat”. Marx disagreed with Proudhon's anarchism. Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy as a refutation of Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty (1847). Marx's revision of Hegelianism was also influenced by Engels' 1845 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England led Marx to conceive of the historical dialectic in terms of class conflict and to see the modern working class as the most progressive force for revolution. In late November 1859, Engels acquired one of the first 1,250 copies of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species and then he sent a letter to Marx telling: “Darwin, by the way, whom I'm just reading now, is absolutely splendid”. The following year, Marx wrote back to his colleague telling that this book contained the natural-history foundation of the historical materialism viewpoint. Marx wrote that Darwin's work is most important and suits his purpose that it provided a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle. In 1863, he quoted Darwin again within his Theories of Surplus Value (2:121), saying: “In his splendid work, Darwin did not realize that by discovering the 'geometrical progression' in the animal and plant kingdom, he overthrew Malthus theory”. Marx was influenced by classical materialism, especially Epicurus (to whom Marx dedicated his thesis “Difference of Natural Philosophy Between Democritus and Epicurus”, 1841) for his materialism.

The basic difference is in Marx's thought system there is no place of Idea. Matter is everything. Hegel emphasizes the concept of Idea, but Marx talks about matter. … In Hegel's opinion Idea is of first importance because it arises at first and matter is of secondary importance.

Marx accepts this process of evolution made by Hegel. He basically differed that in thought system there is no place of Idea. Matter is everything. In Hegel’s opinion Idea is of first importance because it arises at first and matter is of secondary importance.

Hegel emphasizes the concept of Idea, but Marx talks about matter. This is materialism.

Marx accepted the concept of dialectic from Hegel and applied it to the explanation of society. He also said that dialectic was also the clue to progress but this progress is not history and the culmination of progress is neither history nor Absolute Idea not even the National State of Germany.

Hegel had simply interpreted the history dialectically but he did not suggest how to change the history as well as society. In Marx’s view, function of philosophy was not to interpret the world, but to change it.

Marx applied dialectic to “justify” the proletarian revolution and radicalism. Hegel idealized the state through dialectical method and ultimately it culminated to fascism. Marx’s application of dialectic led to the proletarian revolution and establishment of communism.

Marx had no interest in metaphysics. Metaphysics is essentially an abstract way of thinking. Idea and metaphysics failed to allure Marx. To him matter was of primary importance. Both Marx and Engels had admitted that Hegelian dialectics had both idealistic and revolutionary aspects. Marx and Engels accepted the latter. Marx and Engels have converted Hegelian dialectics into materialist dialectics. This is not only a method but also a theory. This is a theory of development of the most general laws of development of nature, society and knowledge. Marxist method is materialist as well as dialectical. In Marxism, dialectics and materialism are not separate from each other. Marx expressed his indebtedness to Hegel in regard to dialectics but simultaneously he categorically stated his differences with Hegelian dialectics.

Let us quote few lines from his Capital:

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel the life process of human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which under the name of idea he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurges of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of the idea. With me, on the contrary the idea is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind and translated into forms of thought.”

Thus Marx agreed with the dialectics of Hegel but disagreed with the mystifying aspect.

In the thoughts of both Hegel and Marx there are seeds of revolution. For the first time Hegel pointed out that history is always in movement. It never stands at a particular pointer stage. Its movement is dialectical. “He insisted that it is not simply a bare sequence of events, but a gradual process of unfolding”. According to Marx the society also progresses and the method is dialectic. In the process of progress the latter stage is different from the former. Marx also said that the latter stage is developed from the former. Both Hegel and Marx insisted that there was reason behind the dialectical process and it is not guided and motivated by any external or any other force.

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