Marx and Engels: on the relationship between the ruling class and the ruling ideas


The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas; hence of the relations which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an historical epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for domination and where, therefore, domination is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an ‘eternal law’.

The division of labour, which we already saw above as one of the chief forces of history up till now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and material labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the formation of the illusion of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive, because they are in reality the active members of this class and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves. Within this class this cleavage can even develop into a certain opposition and hostility between the two parts, but whenever a practical collision occurs in which the class itself is endangered they automatically vanish, in which case there also vanishes the appearance of the ruling ideas being not the ideas of the ruling class and having a power distinct from the power of this class. …

If now in considering the course of history we detach the ideas of the ruling class from the ruling class itself and attribute to them an independent existence, if we confine ourselves to saying that these or those ideas were dominant at a given time, without bothering ourselves about the conditions of production and the producers of these ideas, if we thus ignore the individuals and world conditions which are the source of the ideas, then we can say, for instance, that during the time the aristocracy was dominant, the concepts honour, loyalty, etc., were dominant, during the dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts freedom, equality, etc. The ruling class itself on the whole imagines this to be so. This conception of history, which is common to all historians, particularly since the eighteenth century, will necessarily come up against the phenomenon that ever more abstract ideas hold sway, i.e. ideas which increasingly take on the form of universality. For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, to present its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of universality, and present them as the only rational, universally valid ones. The class making a revolution comes forward from the very start, if only because it is opposed to a class, not as a class but as the representative of the whole of society, as the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class. It can do this because initially its interest really is as yet mostly connected with the common interest of all other non-ruling classes, because under the pressure of hitherto existing conditions its interest has not yet been able to develop as the particular interest of a particular class. Its victory, therefore, benefits also many individuals of the other classes which are not winning a dominant position, but only insofar as it now enables these individuals to raise themselves into the ruling class. When the French bourgeoisie overthrew the rule of the aristocracy, it thereby made it possible for many proletarians to raise themselves above the proletariat, but only insofar as they become bourgeois. Every new class, therefore, achieves domination only on a broader basis than that of the class ruling previously…

Once the ruling ideas have been separated from the ruling individuals and, above all, from the relations which result from a given stage of the mode of production, and in this way the conclusion has been reached that history is always under the sway of ideas, it is very easy to abstract from these various ideas ‘the Idea’, the thought, etc. as the dominant force in history, and thus to consider all these separate ideas and concepts as ‘forms of self-determination’ of the Concept developing in history. It follows then naturally, too, that all the relations of men can be derived from the concept of man, man as conceived, the essence of man, Man. This has been done by the speculative philosophy. Hegel himself confesses at the end of the Geschichtsphilosophie that he ‘has considered the progress of the concept only’ and has represented in history the ‘true theodicy’ (p. 446). Now one can go back again to the producers of the ‘concept’, to the theorists, ideologists and philosophers, and one comes then to the conclusion that the philosophers, the thinkers as such, have at all times been dominant in history: a conclusion, as we see, already expressed by Hegel.

The whole trick of proving the hegemony of the spirit in history (hierarchy Stirner calls it) is thus confined to the following three attempts.

No. 1. One must separate the ideas of those ruling for empirical reasons, under empirical conditions and as corporeal individuals, from these rulers, and thus recognise the rule of ideas or illusions in history.

No. 2. One must bring an order into this rule of ideas, prove a mystical connection among the successive ruling ideas, which is managed by regarding them as ‘forms of self-determination of the concept’ (this is possible because by virtue of their empirical basis these ideas are really connected with one another and because, conceived as mere ideas, they become self-distinctions, distinctions made by thought).

No. 3. To remove the mystical appearance of this ‘self-determining concept’ it is changed into a person – ‘self-consciousness’ – or, to appear thoroughly materialistic, into a series of persons who represent the ‘concept’ in history, into the ‘thinkers’, the ‘philosophers’, the ideologists, who again are understood as the manufacturers of history, as the ‘council of guardians’, as the rulers. Thus the whole body of materialistic elements has been eliminated from history and now full rein can be given to the speculative steed.

This historical method which reigned in Germany, and especially the reason why, must be explained from its connection with the illusion of ideologists in general, e.g., the illusions of the jurists, politicians (including the practical statesmen), from the dogmatic dreamings and distortions of these fellows; this is explained perfectly easily from their practical position in life, their job, and the division of labour.

Whilst in ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historiography has not yet won this trivial insight. It takes every epoch at its word and believes that everything it says and imagines about itself is true.

Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 67-71


Hegel on contradiction: part three


the negative relation to self (is) the innermost source of all activity, of all animate and spiritual self-movement, the dialectical soul that everything true possesses and through which alone it is true; for on this subjectivity alone rests the sublating of the opposition between Notion and reality, and the unity that is truth. The second negative, the negative of the negative…is this sublating of the contradiction, but just as little as the contradiction is it an act of external reflection, but rather the innermost, most objective moment of life and spirit, through which a subject, a person, a free being, exists.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 835-836


Part three/to be continued…

Hegel on contradiction

NGC 7714: Starburst after Galaxy Collision. ‘Observations indicate that the golden ring pictured is composed of millions of older Sun-like stars that are likely co-moving with the interior bluer stars. In contrast, the bright centre of NGC 7714 appears to be undergoing a burst of new star formation.’

…it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking, that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 439


Part one/to be continued…


The development of a philosophical current – from mysticism to materialism, from God to science

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Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

‘The German Idealists showed some interest in Nicholas of Cusa but the real revival of his thought was stimulated by…Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) who called him “the first modern thinker”…and by…Karl Jaspers.’

Dermot Moran, ‘Nicholas of Cusa and modern philosophy’, The Cambridge Companion in Renaissance Philosophy, Ed., James Hankins, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 173


‘Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist?’

Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’, 1440), II, 2, 100

‘since God is Infinite Actuality, He is the cause only of actuality. But the possibility of being exists contingently. Therefore, if the possibility were absolute, on what would it be contingent? Now, the possibility results from the fact that being [which derives] from the First cannot be completely, unqualifiedly, and absolutely actuality. Therefore, the actuality is contracted through the possibility, so that it does not at all exist except in the possibility. And the possibility does not at all exist unless it is contracted through the actuality.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 137

‘since the contraction of possibility is from God and the contraction of actuality is the result of contingency, the world—which, necessarily, is contracted—is contingently finite.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 139

‘without possibility and actuality and the union of the two there is not, and cannot be, anything. For if [anything] lacked any of these, it would not exist. For how would it exist if it were not possible to exist? And how would it exist if it did not actually exist (since existence is actuality)? And if it were possible to exist but it did not exist, in what sense would it exist? (Therefore, it is necessary that there be the union of possibility and actuality.) The possibility-to-exist, actually existing, and the union of the two are not other than one another. Indeed, they are of the same essence, since they constitute only one and the same thing’

Nicholas of Cusa, De possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’, 1460), 47

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G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

‘Hegel came forward with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has a cause because it is accidental, and just as much also has no cause because it is accidental; that the accidental is necessary, that necessity determines itself as chance, and, on the other hand, this chance is rather absolute necessity. (Logik, II, Book III, 2: Reality.) Natural science has simply ignored these propositions as paradoxical trifling, as self-contradictory nonsense, and, as regards theory, has persisted on the one hand in the barrenness of thought of Wolffian metaphysics, according to which a thing is either accidental or necessary, but not both at once; or, on the other hand, in the hardly less thoughtless mechanical determinism which in words denies chance in general only to recognise it in practice in each particular case.

While natural science continued to think in this way, what did it do in the person of Darwin?

Friedrich Engels 1860

Friedrich Engels in 1860

Darwin in his epoch-making work, set out from the widest existing basis of chance. Precisely the infinite, accidental differences between individuals within a single species, differences which become accentuated until they break through the character of the species, and whose immediate causes even can be demonstrated only in extremely few cases, compelled him to question the previous basis of all regularity in biology, viz., the concept of species in its previous metaphysical rigidity and unchangeability. Without the concept of species, however, all science was nothing. All its branches needed the concept of species as basis: human anatomy and comparative anatomy – embryology, zoology, palaeontology, botany, etc., what were they without the concept of species? All their results were not only put in question but directly set aside. Chance overthrows necessity, as conceived hitherto. The previous idea of necessity breaks down. To retain it means dictatorially to impose on nature as a law a human arbitrary determination that is in contradiction to itself and to reality, it means to deny thereby all inner necessity in living nature, it means generally to proclaim the chaotic kingdom of chance to be the sole law of living nature.’

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 217-221


Engels on dialectics, part two: either/or, both this and that

Pupils of children’s communes taking part in a mass spectacle in Palace Square, Petrograd, 1918

Dialectics, so-called objective dialectics, prevails throughout nature, and so-called subjective dialectics, dialectical thought, is only the reflection of the motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites and their final passage into one another, or into higher forms, determines the life of nature. Attraction and repulsion. Polarity begins with magnetism, it is exhibited in one and the same body; in the case of electricity it distributes itself over two or more bodies which become oppositely charged. All chemical processes reduce themselves to processes of chemical attraction and repulsion. Finally, in organic life the formation of the cell nucleus is likewise to be regarded as a polarisation of the living protein material, and from the simple cell onwards the theory of evolution demonstrates how each advance up to the most complicated plant on the one side, and up to man on the other, is effected by the continual conflict between heredity and adaptation. In this connection it becomes evident how little applicable to such forms of evolution are categories like ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. One can conceive of heredity as the positive, conservative side, adaptation as the negative side that continually destroys what has been inherited, but one can just as well take adaptation as the creative, active, positive activity, and heredity as the resisting, passive, negative activity. But just as in history progress makes its appearance as the negation of the existing state of things, so here also – on purely practical grounds – adaptation is better conceived as negative activity. In history, motion through opposites is most markedly exhibited in all critical epochs of the foremost peoples. At such moments a people has only the choice between the two horns of a dilemma: ‘either-or!’ and indeed the question is always put in a way quite different from that in which the philistines, who dabble in politics in every age, would have liked it put. Even the liberal German philistine of 1848 found himself in 1849 suddenly, unexpectedly, and against his will confronted by the question: a return to the old reaction in an intensified form, or continuance of the revolution up to the republic, perhaps even the one and indivisible republic with a socialist background. He did not spend long in reflection and helped to create the Manteuffel reaction as the flower of German liberalism. Similarly, in 1851, the French bourgeois when faced with the dilemma which he certainly did not expect: a caricature of the empire, pretorian rule, and the exploitation of France by a gang of scoundrels, or a social-democratic republic – and he bowed down before the gang of scoundrels so as to be able, under their protection, to go on exploiting the workers.

*  *  *

Hard and fast lines are incompatible with the theory of evolution. Even the border-line between vertebrates and invertebrates is now no longer rigid, just as little is that between fishes and amphibians, while that between birds and reptiles dwindles more and more every day. Between Compsognathus and Archaeopteryx only a few intermediate links are wanting, and birds’ beaks with teeth crop up in both hemispheres. ‘Either-or’ becomes more and more inadequate. Among lower animals the concept of the individual cannot be established at all sharply. Not only as to whether a particular animal is an individual or a colony, but also where in development one individual ceases and the other begins (nurses).

For a stage in the outlook on nature where all differences become merged in intermediate steps, and all opposites pass into one another through intermediate links, the old metaphysical method of thought no longer suffices. Dialectics, which likewise knows no hard and fast lines, no unconditional, universally valid ‘either-or’ and which bridges the fixed metaphysical differences, and besides ‘either-or’ recognises also in the right place ‘both this – and that’ and reconciles the opposites, is the sole method of thought appropriate in the highest degree to this stage. Of course, for everyday use, for the small change of science, the metaphysical categories retain their validity.

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 211-213


Part two/to be continued…

The ground of unrest and becoming

Arp 299: Black Holes in Colliding Galaxies (click to enlarge)

Arp 299: Black Holes in Colliding Galaxies (click to enlarge)

‘in the negative as such there lies the ground of becoming, of the unrest of self-movement – in which sense, however, the negative is to be taken as the veritable negativity of the infinite.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 166



From mysticism to materialism – ‘the tremendous power of the negative’, before which everything but change is doomed

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By arguing that Hegel was not only a mystic, but that he was specifically the consummate Neoplatonist, I address in my thesis the part his philosophy played in a continuum that was and is by its nature always open to development – running from the idealism of Plotinus (consciousness is primary) to its ‘inversion’ in the materialism of Marx (matter is primary). My thesis also argues that Hegel’s system, encapsulated in his Encyclopaedia, is based on Proclus’ triad of triads and that Hegel was fully aware of Cusanus whose De docta ignorantia was also structured on that triad, never mentioning him both because of the degree to which he was indebted to him and because of the implications of that acknowledgement. I provide evidence from Hegel’s own sources.

Konstantin Yuon

Konstantin Yuon, ‘A New Planet,’ 1921. Tempera on cardboard, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

I address Magee’s claim that Hegel was an Hermeticist and argue that Magee misrepresented both the Hermetica and Hermeticism in order to argue that claim. I also argue that the response of the bourgeoisie to the revolutionary core that Marx and Engels brought out in Neoplatonism is fundamental to why Hegel’s thorough-going Neoplatonism is not recognised and acknowledged. With ‘the tremendous power of the negative’ – the source of all development, before which everything is also ‘doomed’ – as that core, this current is the greatest current in Western philosophy, and now, as dialectical materialism, is the epistemology of the future.


The Crab Nebula and its pulsar

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‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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On the most deliberate, profound failure in social and intellectual responsibility by academic ideologues

Plotinus 204/5-270

Plotinus (204/5-270)

I quote Lloyd Gerson and Christian Wildberg from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, who both point to the immeasurable significance of Plotinus. In my thesis I argue for a developmental continuum from Plotinus via Hegel to Marx who ‘inverted’ that mystical current and stood it on its material feet. Where Marx had no interest in mysticism other than recognising it in Hegel’s philosophy, once this continuum has been acknowledged, it can be mined – particularly its weaknesses – to further develop dialectical materialism.


Porphyry’s edition of Plotinus’ Enneads preserved for posterity the works of the leading Platonic interpreter of antiquity. Through these works as well as through the writings of Porphyry himself (234 – c. 305 C.E.) and Iamblichus (c. 245–325 C.E.), Plotinus shaped the entire subsequent history of philosophy. Until well into the 19th century, Platonism was in large part understood, appropriated or rejected based on its Plotinian expression and in adumbrations of this.

Proclus (412-485)

Proclus (412-485)

The theological traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all, in their formative periods, looked to ancient Greek philosophy for the language and arguments with which to articulate their religious visions. For all of these, Platonism expressed the philosophy that seemed closest to their own theologies. Plotinus was the principal source for their understanding of Platonism.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), detail of relief ‘Cardinal Nicholas before St. Peter’ on his tomb by Andrea Bregno, church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), detail of relief ‘Cardinal Nicholas before St. Peter’ on his tomb by Andrea Bregno, church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome

Through the Latin translation of Plotinus by Marsilio Ficino published in 1492, Plotinus became available to the West. The first English translation, by Thomas Taylor, appeared in the late 18th century. Plotinus was, once again, recognized as the most authoritative interpreter of Platonism. In the writings of the Italian Renaissance philosophers, the 15th and 16th century humanists John Colet, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Thomas More, the 17th century Cambridge Platonists, and German idealists, especially Hegel, Plotinus’ thought was the (sometimes unacknowledged) basis for opposition to the competing and increasingly influential tradition of scientific philosophy. This influence continued in the 20th century flowering of Christian imaginative literature in England, including the works of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.

Lloyd Gerson, ‘Plotinus,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


It is an undeniable fact, although nowadays rarely acknowledged, that the general outlook and the principal doctrines of the Neoplatonists proved exceedingly influential throughout the entire history of western philosophy. Through Augustine (354–430) in the West and the 4th-century Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus) in the East as well as the pseudo-epigraphic writings of Dionysius the Areopagite (early 6th century), Neoplatonism profoundly influenced the emergence of mainstream and not so mainstream Christian theology (John Scotus Eriugena, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Meister Eckhart). In addition, by way of a pseudo-epigraphical treatise entitled Theology of Aristotle, Neoplatonic thought facilitated the integration of ancient philosophy and science into both Islam (especially through Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Avicenna [Ibn Sina]) and Judaism (Maimonides).

Hegel (1770-1831) with his Berlin students, Sketch by Franz Kugler

Hegel (1770-1831) with his Berlin students, Sketch by Franz Kugler

…It may even be true to say that even more than the writings of Plato and Aristotle themselves Neoplatonic ideas have continued to influence Western thinkers of the idealist persuasion, such as the Cambridge Platonists (who were really Neoplatonists), Leibniz, Hegel, Schelling, Fichte, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin, to name but a few.

Marx (1818-1883) in 1875

Marx (1818-1883) in 1875

…Perhaps another reason that this kind of thinking strikes the general public as arcane and alien may that the Abrahamic religions, even if they too posit a single divine principle as the source of all being, conceive of this principle as a person and maker. This vestige of pre-philosophical anthropomorphism bypasses the difficult questions that the last pagan thinkers so arduously struggled to answer when they sought to explain the existence of the diverse and complex physical world from a non-material principle that they assumed to be nothing but One.

Christian Wildberg ‘Neoplatonism,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 


Space: the distribution of matter


Gaia’s Milky Way


Black opal


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‘Galaxies form, galaxies spin, galaxies collide and merge’

The only absolute is change.