175 YEARS OF THE HOLY FAMILY - SANKAR

14 March 2019

When Engels left Paris after a short staying of only ten days with Marx at the end of August, 1844, he finished his portion of the book they planned. It was The Holy Family, first joint work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, where the duo first time jointly declared their final departure from the circle of the Young Hegelians. Thus a new ideology was announced for the emancipation of humanity.

Soon after the death of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on 1831, his followers were divided in two opposite sects, namely The Orthodox Hegelians and The Young Hegelians. They were also called as Right Hegelians and the Left Hegelians, respectively. The Orthodox Hegelians used to interpret Hegel’s philosophy in the conservative direction according to which the Supreme Absolute in Hegel’s philosophy had been embodied in the Prussian state of that time. Therefore, there was no further scope of any extension of political freedom.

On the contrary, the Young Hegelians did not accept this. They used to advocate that the scope of freedom is actually unlimited which could not be restricted either by the state or by religion. Thus the state and the religion were their chief enemies which had to be uprooted in the course of achieving human emancipation. Therefore, the premise of Young Hegelian thought was that the religion and the state were the base, on which rest of the categories of the society were built.

In order to understand The Holy Family which played a pivotal role in the course of genesis of Marxism it is of course imperative to have a clearer vision on the dynamics of thought inside the circle of Hegel’s followers. Hegel always considered himself as a staunch Lutheran Christian. His philosophy was completely mingled with his theological outlook. As Bruno Bauer remembered:

“Only Hegel, whose lectures I had heard from the first hours, held me immediately captive. For me it was as if, in these penetrating and simple truths, that nothing new came to be known but only the revelation of inborn knowledge, and from them my weak spirit was given back its calm and certainty. How great was that man’s simplicity and openness in the search for truth, and how holy his anger, when he spoke of how the very pillars of the church itself were apparently being destroyed by the ones who had been set up as its teachers and shepherds, and how great was the sorrow of his spirit, when he revealed how dogma and the display of eternal truth were cast aside and disdained by the moderns.” (Quoted in a thesis on New Hegelian movement by Nathan W Bjorge: The Inverted Essence: The Young Hegelian Critique of Religion 1835-45, 2009)

 Therefore, the first split among the disciples of Hegel took place with the publication of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined by David Strauss, one of the prominent Hegelians in 1935. Strauss argued in the book that the stories on Jesus described in Christian canon were mostly mythical and fictional. The Hegelian Orthodoxy could not accept this turn of Hegelian philosophical discourse. However, very soon a group of young disciples of Hegel had been gathered around the opinion advocated in The Life of Jesus in the University of Berlin. Eventually this group of young graduates in philosophy in the University started to be known as Young Hegelians. The differences of opinion gradually broadened, although within the general framework of Hegelian discourse, and started to embrace nearly all the fields of philosophical thoughts.

Since late twenties of the nineteenth century Bruno Bauer became a disciple of Hegel. At that time he was a student of philosophy in the University of Berlin. After completion of student life he received his teaching license in 1834. He started his teaching career on the next year in the same University. When the controversial book of Strauss was published Bauer launched his counter attack on Strauss and the famous ‘Life of Jesus’ debate began. However, within three years he was defeated completely. Although Strauss’ book was apparently theological, but actually it was a radical political text closely related to the issues of revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Therefore, throughout German political circle at that time The Life of Jesus appeared as a radical political symbol.

By 1840 Bruno Bauer made a U-tern in his career in philosophy and became a Young Hegelian. His three volume Critique of the Synoptic Gospels was published in 1940-42 where he made a further advancement from Strauss and reached in the conclusion that there was never the historical Jesus at all. Bauer wrote: “To the question of whether Jesus was an authentic historical figure, we replied that everything relating to the historical Jesus, all that we know of him, relates to the world of fancy, to be more exact - to Christian fancies. This has no connection with any man who lived in the real world. The question is answered by its elimination for the future.” (thesis, ibid). 

As the Young Hegelians started to come in dominance in the University of Berlin since mid-1830s, Bruno Bauer, the then Old Hegelian ideologue, left it and joined in the faculty of philosophy in the University of Bonn in 1839. However, his u-tern in philosophical understanding led his dismissal from the University in October, 1841 and he made a dramatic return in the University of Berlin as the supreme leader of the Young Hegelians. 

Marx arrived at the University of Berlin in 1836 at the age of 18, where he met Bauer as a teacher and was influenced by him in order to adopt Hegelianism. After Bauer’s come back at the University in 1941 Marx allied with him to carry forward the Young Hegelian campaign. However, interesting developments started to take place in the political scenario of Europe at that time which eventually created a split between them within two years.

The political lefts in Europe in the early decades of nineteenth century generally used to relate themselves with the French Revolution of 1789. However, they were mainly radical republicans. As the capitalist development started to move in a faster pace since 1820s, the organized working class began to appear in England and France. As a result the concept of socialism or communism started to make inroad in left radicalism and prepared a potential ground for future break up within the Young Hegelian movement. The Chartist movement in England was a magnificent development in this direction. It was the first mass movement of the working class in Europe. Since the early years of 1830s the demand to remove property restriction in the right to vote started to come to the fore. In 1838 a People’s Charter was drawn up for the London Working Men’s Association (LWMA) by William Lovett and Francis Place, two self-educated radicals, in consultation with other members of LWMA. The Charter had six demands:

  • All men to have the vote (universal manhood suffrage)
  • Voting should take place by secret ballot
  • Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years
  • Constituencies should be of equal size
  • Members of Parliament should be paid
  • The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished.

Huge participation of the working masses took place in favour of these demands. In June 1839, the Chartists’ petition was presented to the House of Commons with over 1.25 million signatures. It was rejected by Parliament. This provoked unrest which was crushed by the authorities. A second petition was presented in May 1842, signed by over three million people, but again it was rejected and further unrest and arrests followed.

When the Young Hegelians made their first split from Hegelian Orthodoxy the camp as a whole used to put emphasis to practice over theory, materialism over idealism, secular humanism over Christian Orthodoxy, continued dialectical process over complete totality, and negation over positive. However now, when the second split took place among the Young Hegelians themselves it took a different shape. The adherents of socialism/communism (Engels, Marx, Hess etc.) started to put emphasis to community over individual, “the people” over “the unique one”, the commune over republic, and proletariat over the bourgeoisie. “The Holy Family” of Marx and Engels was the first theoretical-philosophical assertion of this new position.

The first clash took place when as the editor of Young Hegelian journal Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland Times) Marx denied to publish the superficial and pretentious articles of the ultra-radical Berlin Circle of “The Free” in the autumn of 1842. At that time political parties were not very common formation in Germany, whereas in England or France it was common. German radicals generally use to organize themselves around particular beer-pubs or coffeehouses like Café Pilfax in Pest or Romberg’s Coffeehouse in Cologne. Young Hegelian “The Free” was such type of club which saw itself as a political party with a revolutionary character. Marx gradually entered in deep rooted differences with “The Free” where Bruno Bauer and his brother Edger Bauer, Max Stirner, Eduard Meyen and others formed a group which was sarcastically called by Marx as “The Holy Family”. 

“The Free” saw itself as a party but not an actual party, a party of the masses or of a particular class. According to Bruno Bauer and his comrades it was not the mass but some advanced individuals could change the world through ruthless criticism to everything. So they declared, “Criticism does not form any party and will have no party of its own; it is solitary because it is engrossed in its object and oppose itself to it. It isolates itself from everything.” Marx criticized heavily the position of the Young Hegelians. He ridiculed Bruno: “That is why he creates for himself a Holy Family, just as the solitary God endeavours in the Holy Family to end his tedious isolation from society.”

Marx fantastically show that those advocators of materialism actually landed in idealism. It was a crucial realization of Marx which led him to formulating a new philosophy which he more clearly elaborated in German Ideology. He proved that according to Critical Criticism the world was nothing but “a mere fancy of his brain” which led it to discard the role of the masses in creating the world history. Marx said, “Returning to its starting point, Absolute Criticism has ended the speculative cycle and thereby its own life’s career. Its further movement is pure, lofty circling within itself, above all interest of a mass nature and therefore devoid of any further interest for the Mass.”

Engels elaborated the significance and role of the proletariat magnificently in the book. The famous concept of Marx-Engels regarding the alienation or “human self-estrangement” was first described in The Holy Family. Therefore, the role of the proletariat was charted by them with such clarity. Let us have a look how they put down the departure from romantic point of view which Bruno Bauer and his comrades tried to ascribe to them. Engels wrote in The Holy Family: “When socialist writers ascribe this world historic role to the proletariat, it is not at all, as Critical Criticism pretends to believe, because they regard the proletariat as gods. Rather the contrary. Since in the full-formed proletariat the abstraction of all humanity, even of the semblance of humanity, is particularly complete; since the conditions of the life of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in their most inhuman form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, yet at the same time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of that loss, but through urgent, no longer removable, no longer disguisable, absolutely  imperative need—— the practical expression of necessity—— is driven directly to revolt against this inhumanity, it follows that the proletariat can and must emancipate himself.”

One hundred and seventy five years have passed since The Holy Family was written. However, the relevance of the book is still being felt. The reason, however, lies in an unfortunate fact. That is even after one hundred seventy five years of Marx’s battle the Marxists still are not Marxist, rather Young Hegelian as far as the philosophy is concerned. The ‘holy family’ is not destroyed, but still survives in the minds of the disciples of Marx. In different practical political movements when we receive a number of brain-made suggestions even from our serious minded Marxist friends, when we see the outright romantic politics in the revolutionary camp we cannot but reread The Holy Family where Marx-Engels ridiculed the Young Hegelians in the following fashion:

“Criticism, which is self-sufficient, and complete and perfect in itself, naturally cannot recognize history as it really took place, for that would mean recognizing the base Mass in all its mass-like mass nature, whereas the problem is precisely to redeem the mass from its mass nature. History is therefore freed from its Mass nature, and Criticism, which has a free attitude to its object, call to history: “You ought to have happened in such and such a way!” n

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Kabeer Katlat

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.