The point of departure is the eschatological question: how is man to be reconciled with himself and the world? According to Hegel this comes about when Mind, having passed through the Agony of the Cross, which is the travail of history, finally comes to understand the world as an exteriorization of itself; it assimilates and ratifies the world as its own truth, divests it of its objective character.

Marx, like Hegel, looks forward to man’s final reconciliation with the world, himself, and others. Following Feuerbach against Hegel, he does not see this in terms of the recognition of being as a product of self-knowledge, but in the recognition of sources of alienation in man’s terrestrial lot and in the overcoming of this state of affairs. On the other hand, he disagrees with Feuerbach’s view that alienation results from the mythopoeic consciousness which makes God the concentration of human values; instead, he regards this consciousness as itself the product of the alienation of labour.

Alienated labour is a consequence of the division of labour, which in its turn is due to technological progress, and is therefore an inevitable feature of history. Marx agrees with Hegel against Feuerbach in seeing alienation not merely as something destructive and inhuman but as a condition of the future all-round development of mankind. But he dissents from Hegel in regarding history up to the present time not as the progressive conquest of freedom but as a process of degradation that has reached its nadir in the maturity of capitalist society.

Alienation means the subjugation of man by his own works, which have assumed the guise of independent things. The commodity character of products and their expression in money form has the effect that the social process of exchange is regulated by factors operating independently of human will. Alienation gives rise to private property and to political institutions. The state creates a fictitious community where human relations inevitably take the form of a conflict of egoisms. The enslavement of the collectivity to its own products entails the mutual isolation of individuals.

Leszek Kolakowski – Main Currents of Marxism. Vol. 1, Recapitulation


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