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The Social and Political Thought of Karl

Marx, by Shlomo Avineri
11.01.68 - 12:00 AM | by Loyd D. Easton !

Locating Marx!
The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx.!
by Shlomo Avineri.!
Cambridge University Press. 269 pp. $850.!

Toward the end of his life Marx exclaimed, I am not a Marxist, to underline the difference between his own views and those of his son-inlaw. Since that time, beginning with his collaborator, Friedrich Engels, there has been a massive, growing literature seeking to delineate the
differences between Marx's own viewsas expressed in what he actually said or wroteand the interpretations placed on those views by
his numerous followers of various wings and hyphenations. This literature has burgeoned in the last three decades with the availability since
1927 of Marx's early writings, which form the background to The Communist Manifesto and Capital. One of the aims of The Social and
Political Thought of Karl Marx by Shlomo Avineri, who teaches political theory at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is to close the gap
between the lively, general interest in Marx and a real acquaintance with his writings and his theory. Referring to Plekhanov, Lenin, and
Marx's early writings, Avineri well observes that much of what traditionally passes for Marxism is directly contradicted by Marx's own

Avineri's careful pursuit of a real acquaintance with Marx's writings and theory leads him to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law,

Marx's first systematic reckoning with Hegel dating from the summer of 1843. In that critique Avineri finds all the main achievements, as
well as dilemmas, of Marx's later thought. The presentation of this finding in Avineri's first main chapter fixes the themes and direction of his!

subsequent chapters; it is, moreover, the particular point of originality and uniqueness of the whole book. While there have been numerous
analyses of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844particularly the concept of alienationand some essays or chapters on
the theory of the state and democracy in the Critique of 1843, none of them is so detailed and close as Avineri's in showing how Marx's
distinctive view of the state, civil society, property, labor, and classes grew out of an internal criticism of Hegel's political philosophy, the logic
of which, as Marx saw it, led consistently to democracy rather than to constitutional monarchy. This involvement with Hegel necessarily
makes The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx hard reading, but Avineri's presentation is generally as clear, straightforward, and lively
as his complex subject allows.!


In going to the Critique of 1843 to find Marx's first formulation of his main themes, Avineri follows Marx's own indication of his grounding in
Hegel. Marx noted in the preface to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859, the classical statement of his leading thread, that in order to
resolve his doubts about the relation of socialism to economics, he first undertook a critical revision of Hegel's philosophy of law. Yet in spite
of this explicit reference, the Critique of 1843 has been generally neglected until nowprobably because of its incompleteness and its
extensive quotation of Hegel's dense paragraphsand only recently have its major sections been translated into English. Marx's reference
to it in 1859 is an important part of Avineri's evidence that there is no sharp cleavage between the thought of the young and the old Marx,
but rather continuity, with shifts of interest and emphasis. In fact, Avineri could have strengthened his case for continuity by a closer analysis
of some of Marx's writings prior to 1843 in the Rheinische Zeitung, where Marx bent Hegel's principles toward liberal democracy. In any
case, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx should definitively put an end to the claim that Marx's relation to Hegel was adventitious,
a flirting with Hegelian terminology.!


A central theme of the entire book is Marx's adherence to democracy, a position he arrived at in 1843 through an internal criticism of Hegel's
view of the state. Hegel saw the state as a genuine and full community, not merely the apparatus of government but a synthesis that
achieved the developing wholeness taking place in history and social life. Marx showed how, at a number of points, Hegel's constitutional
monarchy failed to meet this requirement and thus could not satisfy the demands of reason, could not realize the Idea as the developing
wholeness in history. For example, whereas with Hegel the civil service or bureaucracy is supposed to be a universal class, Marx contended
that it is actually a self-perpetuating interest and thus an illusory state. For Marx, illusions of this kind reflect the radical cleavage between
the state as a heavenly universality and actual civil society, the atomistic economic order which is based on labor and produces an
alienation from actual life. This alienationMarx uses the concept for the first time in this contextcan be resolved only through
democracy, self-determination of the people, where the universal class becomes truly universal as the class of every citizen through
unrestricted, universal suffrage. This end, Marx concludes, involves the dissolution of both civil society and the state, as it transcends
cancels but preserves in synthesisthe function of each taken separately. Such a synthesis, democracy, is the realization of socialized
man as a particular constitution, of man's communist essence. It is at once the realization of Hegel's premises and the core of what Marx
later called socialism and communism.!

As Marx wrote further about socialism and subsequently delineated the anatomy of civil society in economics, his thinking continued to be
informed by the view of democracy he had achieved in 1843. Hence The Communist Manifesto makes winning the battle for democracy
the precondition of that association where public power is no longer political as a state separate from society. Still later, the principles of the
Paris Commune are seen as involving a democratic self-government of producers through universal suffrage and an assembly
representing communes and cooperatives. Finally, the transition to socalism, according to Capital, will take place as the cooperative
movement spreads and corporations are increasingly controlled by their associated producers instead of by stockholders. So conceived,
socialism fulfills actual developments within capitalism, realizing the liberalism in the Rights of Man and the principles of 1789.!


Avineri's identification of Marx's central position with liberal democratic socialism, hardly distinguishable from John Dewey's new
individualism or the perspective of industrial democracy, is an appealing thesis and a welcome corrective to the view that Marx wanted
the state to run everything or that he was preoccupied with conspiratorial seizure of state power to create a dictatorship. Yet in some
respects Avineri oversimplifies and minimizes the ambivalences in Marx's political philosophy that have come to nurture opposing Marxisms.
For example, Avineri's claim that the Manifesto does not include nationalization of industry as such and assures transcendence of the
state, is not only contradicted by his citation of a long passage in which Marx calls for centralizing all capital, all instruments of production in
the hands of the State, but also slights the decisive change that occurred in Marx's thinking on the role of the state in the period between
the Manifesto and the Paris Commune. Buber's Paths in Utopia well indicates the state centralism in Marx that Avineri minimizes or

Further, Marx's endorsement of despotic inroads into property, forcible overthrow, and pushing the bourgeoisie to violence, makes it
difficult to dissociate his position, as Avineri tries to do, from the Blanquist putschism of the Communist League in the 1850's. Finally, it is
difficult to maintain that Marx clearly stood for the realization of liberalism and the Rights of Man when he so often contemptuously
dismissed such rights as deceptive baubles, mere ideological reflections of capitalist class interest. It should be borne in mind that Hegel
also called for transcendence of individual rights nurtured in civil society but at the same time gave attention to the preservation of their
substance in his defense of the rights of Quakers, of choice in employment, and of freedom of inquiry. In this respect Hegel was more
unequivocally liberal than Marx.!

Moreover, the overall unity that Avineri finds in Marx's philosophical premiseshis first principles of knowledge, praxis, and historyin the
end proves to be deceptive. Marx's own synthesis, as he shows, failed in its attempt to combine eschatology and dialectics. Here, Avineri
concludes, the internal weakness of Marx's thought is most evident. The implications of Marx's theoryhis view of history and society as
expressing dialectical praxiscalled for a proletarian political movement; yet, after 1852 Marx eschewed all political activity and devoted
himself to senseless, repeatedly falsified, predictions, under the spell of the evangelical truth that the millennium was around the corner.
But although Avineri points out this weakness, he is not sufficiently definite in analyzing it and in getting to its philosophical roots. A more
precise analysis would have revealed that the materialism which Marx took from Feuerbach was essentially an empiricismthe derivation
of concepts from perceptionand that in Feuerbach this empiricism involved a social dimension and a dialectical relation of subject and
object in praxis (though at the same time it asserted a commonsense realism about the independence of Nature, as Marx himself
occasionally did). Marx's main objection to Feuerbach's empiricism was that it was not historical, i.e., did not involve that historical
development which Marx saw, with Hegel, as dialectical and thus a rational necessity.!

If Avineri is not sufficiently definite about Marx's views of knowledge, praxis, materialism, and history, however, it is largely because Marx's
own thinking on these matters was never fully coherent. His views on these subjects appeared in unfinished manuscripts, aphoristic theses,
or prefatory suggestions about methodology. Throughout the 1850's and 60's his effort to fuse Hegel's dialectic of reason in history with
Feuerbach's empiricism and praxis remained fundamentally ambiguous in its intention. Had he worked out the treatise on logic and
dialectics he wanted to write but never did, the results might have been otherwise. As it is, Marx's philosophy, because of its incompleteness
and ambiguity, remains fundamentally open, and continues to pose basic problems for further philosophical reflection related to choices in

action and practice.!

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