Marx's Letter to Ruge
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Mon Aug 7 23:37:49 MDT 2000
This is the third in the series of letters Marx [age 25] wrote to his friend,
Arnold Ruge, during 1843 -- it is also the last in the eight letter exchange.
Marx and Ruge would include the entire series in the first and only edition of
their joint venture, the _Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher_, February 1844.
Marx is replying to Ruge's previous letter, in which Ruge proclaimed himself an
atheist and a vigorous supporter of the "new philosophers".
Marx's Letter to Ruge
Kreuzenach, September 1843
I am very pleased to find you so resolute and to see your thoughts turning away
from the past and towards a new enterprise. In Paris, then, the ancient
bastion of philosophy -- _absit omen!_ [may this be no ill omen!] -- and the
modern capital of the modern world. Whatever is necessary adapts itself.
Although I do not underestimate the obstacles,
therefore, I have no doubt that they can be overcome.
Our enterprise may or may not come about, but in any event I shall be in Paris
by the end of the month as the very air here turns one into a serf and I can
see no opening for free activity in Germany.
In Germany everything is suppressed by force, a veritable anarchy of the
spirit, a reign of stupidity itself has come upon us and Zurich obeys orders
from Berlin. It is becoming clearer every day that independent, thinking
people must seek out a new centre. I am convinced that our plan would satisfy
a real need and real needs must be satisfied in
reality. I shall have no doubts once we begin in earnest.
In fact, the internal obstacles seem almost greater than external difficulties.
For even though the question "where from?" presents no problems, the question
"where to?" is a rich source of confusion. Not only has universal anarchy
broken out among the reformers, but also every individual must admit to himself
that he has no precise idea about what ought to happen. However, this very
defect turns to the advantage of the new movement, for it means that we do not
anticipate the world with our dogmas but instead attempt to discover the new
world through the critique of the old. Hitherto philosophers have left the
all riddles in their desks, and the stupid, uninitiated world had only to wait
around for the roasted pigeons of absolute science to fly into its open mouth.
Philosophy has now become secularized and the most striking proof of this can
be seen in the way that philosophical consciousness has joined battle not only
outwardly, but inwardly too.
If we have no business with the construction of the future or with organizing
it for all time, there can still be no doubt about the task confronting us at
present: the _ruthless criticism of the existing order_, ruthless in that it
will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers
I am therefore not in favor of our hoisting a dogmatic banner. Quite the
reverse. We must try to help the dogmatists to clarify their ideas. In
particular, communism is a dogmatic abstraction and by communism I do not refer
to some imagined, possible communism, but to communism as it actually exists in
the teachings of Cabet, Dezamy, and Weitling, etc.
This communism is itself only a particular manifestation of the humanistic
principle and is infected by its opposite, private property. The abolition of
private property is therefore by no means identical with communism and
communism has seen other socialist theories, such as those of Fourier and
Proudhon, rising up in opposition to it, not fortuitously but necessarily,
because it is only a particular, one-sided realization of the principle of
And by the same token, the whole principle of socialism is concerned only with
one side, namely the _reality_ of the true existence of man. We have also to
concern ourselves with the other side, i.e., with man's theoretical existence,
and make his religion and science, etc., into the object of our criticism.
Furthermore, we wish to influence our contemporaries above all. The problem is
how best to achieve this. In this context there are two incontestable facts.
Both religion and politics are matters of the very first importance in
contemporary Germany. Our task must be to latch onto these as they are and not
oppose them with any ready-made system such as the _Voyage en Icarie_. [A
recently released book by Etienne Cabet, describing a communist utopia.]
Reason has always existed, but not always in a rational form. Hence the critic
can take his cue from every existing form of theoretical and practical
consciousness and from this ideal and final goal implicit in the _actual_ forms
of existing reality he can deduce a true reality. Now as far as real life is
concerned, it is precisely the _political_ state which contains the postulates
of reason in all its _modern_ forms, even where it has not been the conscious
repository of socialist requirements. But it does not stop there. It
consistently assumed that reason has been realized and just as consistently it
at every point in a conflict between its ideal vocation and its actually
This internecine conflict within the political state enables us to infer the
social truth. Just as religion is the table of contents of the theoretical
struggles of mankind, so the _political state_ enumerates its practical
struggles. Thus the particular form and nature of the
political state contains all social struggles, needs and truths within itself.
It is therefore anything but beneath its dignity to make even the most
specialized political problem -- such as the distinction between the
representative system and the estates system -- into an object of its
criticism. For this problem only expresses at the _political_ level the
distinction between the rule of man and the rule of private property. hence
the critic not only can but must concern himself with these political questions
(which the crude socialists find entirely beneath their dignity). By
demonstrating the superiority of
the representative system over the Estates system, he will _interest_ a great
party in _practice_. By raising the representative system from its political
form to a general one, and by demonstrating the true significance underlying,
it he will force this party to transcend itself -- for its victory is also its
Nothing prevents us, therefore, from lining our criticism with a criticism of
politics, from taking sides in politics, i.e., from entering into real
struggles and identifying ourselves with them. This does not mean that we
shall confront the world with new doctrinaire
principles and proclaim: Here is the truth, on your knees before it! It means
that we shall develop for the world new principles from the existing principles
of the world. We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly;
let us provide you with true campaign-slogans. Instead, we shall simply show
the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it _must_
acquire whether it wishes or not.
The reform of consciousness consists _entirely_ in making the world aware of
its own consciousness, in arousing it from its dream of itself, in _explaining_
its own actions to it. Like Feuerbach's critique of religion, our whole aim
can only be to translate religious and political problems into their
self-conscious human form.
Our programme must be: the reform of consciousness not through dogmas but by
analyzing mystical consciousness obscure to itself, whether it appear in
religious or political form. It will then become plain that the world has long
since dreamed of something of which it needs only to become conscious for it to
possess it in reality. It will then become plain that our task is not to draw
a sharp mental line between past and
future, but to _complete_ the thought of the past. Lastly, it will becomes
plain that mankind will not being any _new_ work, but will consciously bring
about the completion of its old work.
We are therefore in a position to sum up the credo of our journal in a _single
word_: the self-clarification (critical philosophy) of the struggles and wishes
of the age. This is a task for the world and for us. It can succeed only as
the product of untied efforts. What is
needed above all is a _confession_, and nothing more than that. To obtain
forgiveness for its sins, mankind needs only to declare them for what they are.
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Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222
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