Praxis pp 45-61 | Cite as

The Meaning of Marx’s Philosophy

  • Milan Kangrga
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 36)


Once one begins to talk about Marxian philosophy, there immediately arises the ineluctable and essential question, what Marxian philosophy is? For this reason we must first concern ourselves with this very posing of the question. But in raising the question what Marx’s philosophy is, and in raising it in just this form, we realize that it might provoke astonishment or critical objections such as whether and how such a question is possible at all today since Marx’s Capital appeared already a hundred years ago; and behind us (or better, before us) lies not only Marx’s whole philosophical opus but also the massive Marxist and Marxological literature, as well as the bourgeois critical writings which in the course of the last hundred years have endeavored to illuminate the Marxian philosophical point of view from all sides.


Human World Historical Movement Socialist Revolution Absolute Movement Marxian Philosophy 
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  1. 1.
    On this, Hegel in his Phenomenology of Mind: “The familiar as such is not known for the reason that it is familiar. It is the most common Self-deception, as well as the deception of others, to presuppose, in the process of knowing, something as familiar and thus to accept it.” G. W. F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes (6th ed., Hamburg, 1952), p. 28.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The theological-religious position is only apparently not positivistic in the sense indicated because of its reference to the essentiality of the ‘world beyond’. But it is always essentialistic, which means that man’s essence is contained already in what was in the beginning (God); and at the time of the ‘return’ to his pregiven essence (God), this position is what it was before, which means that the whole historical process of man’s becoming man is presented as something unimportant and superfluous, because everything important has already existed in the beginning (God); cf. our book Etički problem u djelu Karla Marxa [The Ethical Problem in the Work of Karl Marx) (Zagreb, 1963), pp. 216–226. Existentialism on the other hand insists on the (individual-existential) becoming of man within historical givenness (into which he was ‘thrown’ and in which he was ‘condemned’ to freedom), without requesting any essential change or destruction of the extant social-economic structures in which and through which man’s self-estrangement actually occurs because that is his alienated and reified world. For this reason existentialism in its ultimate consequences ends up in a moralistic recognition of the status quo, and thus in its reconciliation with it as what is real and human, which means the reasonable and essentially possible. Man is here conceived not as a historical being but is reduced to his biological-psychological-intellectual structure on the presupposition of pure subjectivity. Existentialism, too, therefore is a form of modern positivism.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, tr. M. Milligan and D. J. Struik, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol. 3 (New York, London, Moscow, 1975), p. 301.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    G. W. F. Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (Hamburg, 1959), p. 84. [Cf. The Logic of Hegel, tr. W. Wallace, §92, Oxford University Press, London, 1931, pp. 174–176 — Ed.]Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    On this question, Marx wrote as follows: “We see how subjectivism and objectivism, spiritualism and materialism, activity and passivity lose their antithetical character and thus their existence as such antitheses only within the framework of society. We see how the resolution of the theoretical antitheses is only possible in a practical way by virtue of the practical energy of man. Their resolution is therefore by no means merely a problem of understanding but a real problem of life, which philosophy could not solve precisely because it conceived this problem as merely a theoretical one.” Marx and Engels, op. cit., 302. In working out this standpoint, Marx could also build on German classical idealism, from Kant’s concept of ‘the primacy of practical reason’ to Hegel’s realization of this primacy; the whole Marxian position shows the road of its real, historical realization.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Marx explicitly stresses this anticipatory role of (philosophical) thought in the following words: “It takes actual communist action to abolish actual private property. History will lead to it; and this movement, which in thoughts we already know to be a selftranscending movement will constitute in actual fact a very rough and protracted process. But we must regard it as a real advance to have at the outset gained a consciousness of the limited character as well as of the goal of this historical movement — and a consciousness which reaches out beyond it.” Ibid., p. 313f.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    F. W. J. Schelling, System des transzendentalen Idealismus, Werke, vol. 2 (Leipzig, 1970), p. 265. (Italics added.)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    In speaking about the influence of past times which extend into the present and even further to the individuality of everybody, Schelling stresses in the same passage “that there is history only for him on whom, and for him insofar as, the past has had an effect” (ibid., p. 265. Accordingly, there is no abstract past of a people insofar as it has not been made conscious and meaningful, that is, transmitted by action into the future which is the true and only criterion for both past and present.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Rohentwurf (1858–59) (Berlin, 1953), p. 387.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Here we have in mind, among other works, Adam Schaff’s book with this title, Marxism and the Human Individual, ed. R. S. Cohen (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1970; original edition, Warsaw, 1965). At best, it is a counterposition or antithesis to the Stalinist dogmatism and positivism which is still alive, and which eliminated this problematic from its system in favor of fixed and absolutely objective natural laws of societal movements. But with Marx the whole undertaking no longer has anything to do.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Among contemporary Marxists the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski in particular has intensively studied this problem; cf. Leszek Kolakowski, Der Mensch ohne Alternative. Von der Möglichkeit und Unmöglichkeit, Marxist zu sein (Munich, 1961). In connection with this question which is especially interesting for our essay, Kolakowski says: “Nobody asks about the meaning of life unless he feels the need for changing it. It is a question that is dangerous for all those who see the meaning of their lives in the preservation of the status quo; hence it is a question unbearable for bureaucrats and conservatives”, (p. 192).Google Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1979

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  • Milan Kangrga

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