Karl Marx: the deification of Matter

This prophet of the philosophical and religious materialism of Modern Times deified Nature’s Body.

Marx’s teaching emerged, first of all, as a criticism of the Hegelian interpretation of Subject as Mind. Certainly, Marx, like many of his contemporaries, was impressed by a grandiose and, at the same time, elegant picture of Mind’s development, painted by Hegel, and he had nearly no objections as to the content of this development. Only… is it Mind that really develops? For Marx, in the capacity of What Truly Exists there can only be some developing Body, Which only at a certain stage of Its development becomes rational. An attempt at interpreting Subject as Body had been demonstrated by Schelling, but he, as Soviet philosophers would put it, was “hesitating” between materialism and idealism. Marx, however, in collaboration with Engels, unhesitatingly continued Schelling’s materialistic line and extended the action of materialistically interpreted dialectical laws of development to Human Society.

Karl was born on May 5th, 1818, in Germany’s oldest city, Trier, also known as the “Rome of the North”, into a Jewish family. His father was a well-to-do lawyer and also a progressive-minded man, an admirer of Voltaire, who had taken an active part in political reforms brought about in the Kingdom of Prussia under the patronage of an enlightened autocrat. Karl’s mother was only a model house-wife, although she later turned out to be a grand aunt of the founder of a transnational corporation, Philips Electronics. Soon after Karl’s birth, his father was baptized as a Lutheran.

Initially, the little Karl received home education. At the age of 12, he began to attend a gymnasium, the headmaster of which was his father’s friend, with whom he shared the ideas of freedom of thought. At 17, Karl entered the University of Bonn, but soon transferred to the University of Berlin. At his father’s insistence, he intensively studied law. However, the youth Marx’s own interests were concentrated in the field of history, then philosophy. During his university years, he also tried to compose poems, novels, and even plays. Besides, he learned languages, including English and Italian.

In 1841, he presented his graduate thesis titled “The difference between Democritean and Epicurean philosophy of nature”. This testifies to Marx’s ardour for spontaneous materialism at the time. And it is no mere chance: he was destined to take up the materialistic line in philosophy, but at a new level.

At the University of Berlin, the memories were still fresh of the “absolute idealist” Hegel who had reigned there just over a decade ago. Sure enough, the young Marx could not escape the great philosopher’s influence. He became a Hegelian, more precisely, “Young Hegelian”; he joined those who tried to fill Hegel’s “Logic” with a “real content”, that is, interpret it not as the development of Spirit, but as the development of Matter.

After graduating from university, Marx initially planned to engage himself in scientific research. But soon he realized that he could not openly express his atheistic views in the academic community under a “reactionary” political regime. For some time, he became a journalist and the editor of the “Rheinische Zeitung” newspaper. In parallel, he continued his philosophical quest.

In the meantime, Marx’s older fellow-philosopher, L. Feuerbach, had already “disclosed” the essence of religion. God had turned out to be an “alienated generic essence of Man”, whereas philosophical idealism had appeared as a “refined form of religion”. Marx enthusiastically welcomed those “discoveries” and set himself the task of the returning to Man of His lost essence, to “liberate” Him from religion and, at the same time, do away with philosophical idealism which “deified Man’s mind”.

So, “in reality” there is no God whatsoever, just as well as there is no Consciousness existing separately from Man. There is only Man, or, more precisely, Humankind. Why then does Man alienate Himself and deify His essence? Among the causes of such alienation, Feuerbach cites the misery of “man’s earthly existence”. And yet, the main cause, according to Feuerbach, is that Human Consciousness develops, and religion arises in the process as the early, oblique, self-consciousness of Man. In the course of Its development, Human Consciousness overcomes this alienation, after which the true religion will reign on earth, guided by the principle “Homo Homini Deus Est”. For Man is the supreme manifestation of Nature, so there is nobody to deify here, except Man.

Marx decisively rejects the last remnants of idealism and religion in Feuerbachian “materialism” (actually, it was not materialism, but rather an attempt at interpreting Subject as Human). Marx saw the causes of the above alienation of Man of His own essence exactly in the misery of “man’s earthly existence”. Thus, the point was to eliminate this misery. Marx focuses on studying the “material” side of people’s life and tries to find the decision to the basic problems of existence in the field of economics. First of all, he specified the concept of Man. He comes to the conclusion that Man, in real terms, is a community of people brought together by material, that is, economic relations (the relations of production, in the first place).

Marx sees the roots of the alienation of Man from His essence exactly in the sphere of production, when a thing produced by people is taken away from them and rules over them in the form of money, and when people themselves become a “commodity”. The logic of such a mode of production’s development results in a situation when the overwhelming majority of people, in fact, find themselves proletarians working for a handful of the owners of the means of production. Such an order of things can only be changed by a revolution: “the weapon of criticism cannot be replaced by the criticism by weapons”.

So, that’s what philosophy is turning out to be all about: “Just as well as philosophy finds its material weapon in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapon in philosophy”, – declares Marx. It means that “true” philosophy, compared to religion and philosophical idealism, is materialist philosophy, which, ultimately, is none other than the self-consciousness of the Proletariat and no less than Its awareness of the necessity to forcibly seize political power.

In 1843, the “Rheinische Zeitung” was closed by the authorities. Soon Marx married one of his high-ranking friends’ daughter with whom he had been engaged for many years, and moved with her to Paris. There, he established another newspaper, “The German-French Yearbooks”, contributing to which there were many eminent people of the time, among them the German poet H. Heine, the Russian revolutionary M. A. Bakunin, and also the merchant and journalist F. Engels, with whom Marx forged a life-long and fruitful friendship.

“The German-French Yearbooks” existed for as little as about a year. In 1845, Marx was expelled from Paris. He was allowed to move to Brussels provided that he should not publish materials in response to the latest political events. There, together with Engels, he wrote the work “The German ideology”, in which they, proceeding from the criticism of the newest German philosophy, formulated an integral concept of the materialist interpretation of history. They again concentrated on criticizing the inconsistency of Feuerbachian “materialism”, in which thinking had still been considered man’s basic activity. For Marx and Engels, however, man’s primary activity was precisely “material”, or “sensuous-and-objective” activity, which became being conscious of, in one way or another.

Incidentally, the famous “Theses on Feuerbach” were written by Marx as an outline for “The German ideology”. In them, he again tries to make it clear that the true Absolute Subject is not Mind, but Developing Matter. Hence, at the stage of Its development, when Human Society emerges, as primary should be recognized not thinking, but sensuous human activity, that is, “practice”. So, the proof of thinking is in practice. Ultimately, as the true human activity should be recognized the practical-and-critical, that is, revolutionary activity of transforming Nature, including Human Society.

Having reached the stage of Human Society, Matter keeps on developing basically as a “class struggle”. The main contradiction here is the one between the level of the production forces’ development and the form of their ownership. This contradiction is every time solved by a revolution directed against the ruling class of owners. This contradiction reaches its climax at the stage of “bourgeois” mode of production, when Society becomes split into the overwhelming indigent majority and a handful of the owners of the means of production. Then a communist revolution is brought about, which does not replace one ruling class by another, but results in the elimination of any social classes. A classless society that now emerges represents a certain return to primitive, pre-class society, but at a new level.

In 1847, Marx and Engels joined a secret society, “The League of the Just”, after which it came to be called more specifically, “The Communist League”. It was for this association that the friends wrote in 1848 “The Communist Manifesto”, which came out in London. In the manifesto, concrete measures were listed to be taken by the Proletariat after It had seized political power. These measures include, among other things, expropriating the “bourgeoisie” and introducing compulsory labour for all. Who could ever think that as little as the recognition of Nature as True Being and giving primacy to Its Body would be fraught with such upheavals for the mankind! Matter, wakened up by Marx, would give rise to a new religion which would be little different from both the historical Christianity and the religion of Reason that had swept through Europe.

Thanks to a cascade of 1848 democratic revolutions in Europe, Marx returned to Paris, and then went to Germany. There in Cologne, he started publishing the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” daily, which became the press organ of the above “Communist League”. The next year, after the revolution wave had subsided, the newspaper was closed by the authorities, and Marx eventually found himself in London, where he spent the rest of his days.

In London, the Marx family lived in relative poverty, getting by with much help from Engels. Marx spent most of his time at the British Museum libraries, working on his “Das Kapital”. In it, Marx explored the “material” side of human society’s life, in particular, on the transformation of money into capital, and of labour power, into a commodity. Marx’s main idea is that a wage labourer, when working for the owner of the means of production, produces commodities costing much higher than his wage. The surplus value that ensues as a result of such “exploitation” will be spent by the owner not on development or for the common good, but mostly for his own enrichment. This leads to wage labourers being impoverished, small owners, going bankrupt, mainstream population being proletarized, and all the riches being concentrated in the hands of the few.

According to Marx, man’s helplessness in the face of these elemental processes finds expression in religion, while striving of the propertied few to perpetuate their rule, in philosophical idealism. It is only a materialistic approach to human history and the “correct” awareness of the above processes, for Marx, enables one to curb the element of commodity production, bring about a communist revolution, and direct all the riches, whether stored or being produced, to the benefit of the entire society.

When in London, Marx would supplement his theoretical work with organizational activity. In 1864, he set up an international workers’ association, the First International.

In 1871, Marx evidenced a communist reformation attempt in France. He perceived the Paris Commune as the first experience of proletarian dictatorship and a prototype of a new-type state.

Marx also kept an eye on the processes going on in Russia. Considering the peculiarity of the country’s historical path, he did not rule out using certain features of its peasant community for the country’s communist reformation and thought highly of Russia’s Populist movement. Engels, who outlived his friend, had no more illusions about the Russian peasant community, which had already yielded to bourgeois decomposition by then. Giving the Populist movement its due, he, however, pinned his best hopes on the Marxist “Liberation of Labour” group set up by G. V. Plekhanov.

Karl Marx died in London on March 14th 1883, when he was 64.

Thus, the philosophical materialism of Modern Times, in its theoretical section, reached with K. Marx’s and F. Engels’ works its absolute climax and, actually, became a religion. They neglected Kant’s warning about Nature’s “subjectivity” and again recognized It as What Truly Exists. In doing so, they sincerely believed that they were reinterpreting the “Absolute Subject”, put forward by Fichte, reinterpreted by Hegel as “Mind”, and Which Feuerbach tried to revert to human appearance.

Marx and Engels put forward “Matter” in the capacity of “Absolute Subject,” i. e., out of Nature’s 3 Components they recognized Its Body as primary. Sure enough, they faced problems in explaining the emergence of Life and then Rationality. They found a way out by declaring Them to be stages in Body’s development, which seemed more “natural”, than inferring all the totality of Nature from Mind or Soul (Will-to-Life).

Originally, Body develops “groping in the dark”, driven by Its “inner contradictions”. The emergence of Consciousness means that Nature’s Body becomes conscious of Its being, that is to say, It becomes conscious of Its inner contradictions. At this stage, Matter appears as Human Society. Thus, all that happens in reality can be concisely characterized as the “material process of life”, which becomes “aware of itself”.

But you can be conscious of your existence “rightly” or “wrongly”. E. g., the right knowledge of the laws of Nature enables Man to use It to suit His own ends. In Human Society, too, certain laws are operating, which can be cognized “rightly” or “wrongly”. For example, the emergence of the idea of God or Gods, or of Absolute Mind are erroneous ideas, although quite explicable historically. Such erroneous ideas originate, first of all, from natural phenomena that are not yet cognized. But, most of all, they originate from the “wrong” awareness of what “really” goes on in Human Society.

What “really” goes on in Human Society can be designated as “production”, including human reproduction and also the production of things needed for survival (food, clothing, etc.). The development of production results in social inequality. Eventually, the means of production (tools, land, etc.) find themselves in the hands of some group of people, who do not work, but only own the means of production. Working are other people, who use those means of production, which they do not possess. Respectively, the labourers do not possess the product they have produced. They just get money for their labour, with which they can (or cannot) buy that product. As a result, Human Society finds Itself divided into “classes”, of which fundamental are the “owners of the means of production” and the “labourers”.

Respectively, philosophical idealism arises as a world outlook, servicing the owners of the means of production, who want to retain their property. They are quite content with “pure reason” or any purely theoretical constructions. Philosophical materialism, however, emerges as a world outlook of people, who express the interests of the indigent, who are not content with the existing relations of production and seek to change them. As for religion (faith in God or Gods), it appears as a world outlook of the poor themselves, expressing their helplessness in the face of the established relations of production. A “common” revolution only results in the change in the existing property relations. The proletarian revolution, however, leads to the complete socialization of the means of production and to the disappearance of social classes.

Such was roughly Marx’s train of thought. Materialism seems to be more “natural” philosophical teaching than idealism or the “philosophy of life”. But this “naturalness” is perceived rather than real. Being Human’s projection, Nature truly is an undivided unity of Mind, Soul, and Body. And any attempt to deify one of those Principles and infer the Other Two from It will be doomed to failure. And yet, all these three deification endeavours are necessary attempts by God, Who abides in Human, to define Himself, proceeding from a triune Nature that has revealed Herself to Him. In this sense, Feuerbach, who had tried to deify Human, was, perhaps, closer to truth. But he was mistaken, considering Human to be a natural being, and not a stage in the development of the Divine Person. Marx, however, while “correcting” Feuerbach, actually proposed to deify not just “Human”, but “Proletariat”.

Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. Philosophical materialism, i. e. the effective deification of Nature’s Body would inevitably result in an attempt of this Body’s incarnation, causing unprecedented social upheavals and find its supreme expression in the cult of the Leader. Then there will really be neither traditional religion, nor philosophical idealism, nor even the philosophy of life. But there will be no such things not due to natural causes, but because they will be banned, and their ideologists, crushed.

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