Annotations to “Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right” – II

Clara Figueiredo, untitled 2_essaio Filmes Vencidos_Analog photography_digitalized_Moscow_2016


Comments, paragraph by paragraph, on the “Introduction” to Karl Marx’s book

Comment on paragraph 26

From it until the conclusion of the article, Marx seeks to demonstrate that the moment of truth is coming, and why this moment is of type x, not y.

In the first theoretical approximation of the radical revolution as the only way out for Germany, he highlights: (a) revolutions, in order to occur, require the conjunction of two elements: a liability, the material base; another, theoretical-active, critical thinking that 'seeks to realize itself'; (b) for that, the theory has to become effective in a people. That is, to be the realization of popular needs; (c) the radical-democratic revolution will leave behind the monstrous discrepancy between the demands of thought and the banal responses that the mediocre German reality gives them; and (d) at the heart of this problem lies the 'discrepancy of civil society with the state and with itself'. Despite the announced arrival of a revolutionary epoch of a new type, Marx continues to wonder about the conditions for coupling theoretical needs with practical demands. In his words: 'It is not enough for thought to try to realize itself; reality must compel itself towards thought'. This convergence in time, this meeting of two needs that intertwine in the pre-revolutionary conjuncture, is what authorizes the expectation of the outbreak of the radical event in a short period of time.

Having established the main terms of his first theory of revolution, Marx proceeds to analyze the difficulties to be faced by radical democrats.


Comment on paragraph 27

It reads almost as if it were a listing of the obstacles facing revolutionary intellectuals in alliance with the German people. Among them, the following stand out: (a) the mismatch between the German situation and that of 'modern nations'. While the latter have already passed through the 'intermediate steps of political emancipation', Germany has only climbed, and even then only theoretically, those constructed by Hegel's speculative philosophy; (b) this view of the history of modern revolutions as a ladder whose ascent, once completed, frees people from the phantasmagorias of the theological heavens in the same movement by which it produces the new reality man-world-society-state-history is symptomatic. , to be characterized by transparency and harmony in permanent conjunction. This is the great 'salto mortale', the challenge posed both to Germany and to the modern world as a whole. Is Germany capable of the jump? Yes, but only if, in the course of the leap itself, the German people cross not only their own barriers, but also those that mark the life of historically modern societies, contemporary with each other.

For the Germans to be able to make what is ultimately a double leap, they will have to feel not only their own limitations, but also modern European ones as their own. They must perceive the modern obstacles, in terms of sentiment and others, as if they were Germans, not least because they are actually also real obstacles to overcoming internal misery. As apparently external as they appear, they limit the future of the German people. It is imperative, therefore, in revolutionary awareness not to separate the 'world beyond the Rhine' from the 'Rhine world'. As a result, the circle circumscribing those who live in the advanced nations is the object of the revolutionary theory and practice of backward Germany. How to do this? At this point we still don't know. But as for Germany, we know well: 'A radical revolution can only be the revolution of real needs, for which precisely the presuppositions and the starting point are lacking'. It is therefore necessary to confront what at first sight is an unbreakable limit, a system of shortages endowed with gigantic weight.

Then, Marx responds to the challenge launched by himself and launches a strategic alert regarding the foreseeable future of Germany, in case the revolution is not radical.


Comment on paragraph 28

If it does not revolutionize, Germany will be condemned to suffer the pains of modern states and advanced societies, which will be imposed on them from the outside, together with their particular suffering, generated by their own misery. The Germans will live in the worst of all possible worlds: subjected to the negative side of the modern, all its shortcomings, and even more dominated, internally, by the modern-medieval system, the absolutist monarchical-constitutional regime. In this desperate scenario, they will not even enjoy the partial satisfactions that the modern state and society offer their populations. Crucial is this reference to the 'partial satisfactions' that come mixed with the pains generated by the very development of the modern world. Partial satisfactions, whether those of the modern world or those that illusively fall from the German political-religious sky, are what Marx rejects. The radical revolutionary wants to abolish the pains of all societies, so that, in their place, the victorious revolutions can establish the full satisfactions of the generic being, the only ones consistent with the historical advent of the truly human man, of the man who is a god for man. .

The idea that, in the absence of a radical revolution, the persistence of Germany's underdevelopment will mix its own ills with those that will be inflicted on it by the developed states and societies, making German misery even more miserable, will reappear in Marx's texts throughout of the trajectory that leads the young philosopher to become a critic of political economy. This conservation, which is innovation, takes on other forms and other contents. The theme will be, duly modified, from time to time the object of Marx's reflections over the decades. The idea will undergo notable transformations, will be rearranged, reformulated, inserted into another theoretical and practical matrix. Even so, the question of the teratological mixture of modern deficiencies with those of backwardness, after all the transformations that characterize the Marx of maturity, will not fail to haunt his texts. Just read Chapter 8 of Book I of 'Capital', especially the part entitled “The Hunger for Surplus Work. Manufacturer and boyar', for us to realize this: a certain air of kinship persists between the combat article written in 1843 and the capital work, partially published in 1867.


Comment on paragraph 29

When going deeper into the treated themes, Marx turns mainly to the German governments, these governments and their actions duly inserted in a structure that combines several determinant elements: the conditions (not the spirit…) of the time; Germany's unbearable situation; the narrow view of German training; and the 'lucky instinct', an abominable natural trait of all these governments. The result? A system characterized by perverse determinations, a singular combinatory art that distinguishes the German powers, the intertwining of the civilized wounds of the modern world with the barbaric needs of the German world framed by its 'ancien régime' made up with constitutional dyes. For Marx, the result of this alchemy, if not radically undone, is entirely predictable: Germany will find itself drowned by modern flaws without having overcome those of backwardness.

In this context, the paragraph also registers a critique by Marx of the illusions of constitutionalism, whether those of the civilized European world or those of the uncivilized German world, which, in its liberal face, shares the illusions of the moderns, however alienated Germany may be. to the reality of advanced countries. The text reaffirms that Germany is its political deficiency experienced as a world of its own, and that the attempt to revolutionary dismantle this 'status quo', if it materializes as a merely political mutation, that is, partial, will prevent the establishment of the really new. If that happens, the German people, by allowing themselves to be deceived by the movement that proposes partial emancipation, will not even be able to break down their specific barriers. Avoiding restraint, it will necessarily have to go far beyond it, it will also have to break down 'the general barriers of current politics', both German and those in force in advanced states and societies.

Having outlined this panorama, Marx proceeds to consider what, in the German context, is or is not utopian. He opposes the utopian to the necessary because it is primarily a matter of thinking and acting with a view to radically revolutionary rupture.


Comment on paragraph 30

The text anticipates the easiest criticism, that which results from the immediate and unreflected assessment according to which the radical democratic revolution is a utopian dream, a vain fantasy. On the contrary, he points out: it would be utopian to think that a partial, merely political revolution could be successful, even if it did break out. The paragraph actually signals an internal debate within the revolutionary camp. Should the German revolution, given the filter of reality, be dosed, merely political, or ambitious in the extreme? If carried out as a measured revolution, would it leave the German world of backwardness buried in the past and inscribe Germany in the modern world that begins 'beyond the Rhine'? What's the point of that?

Marx, by contradicting this project of partial revolution, goes back to the root of the thing. What is the basis of the idea of ​​a tailor-made revolution to undo German misery? The answer occupies the second part of the paragraph. For Marx, the ultimate foundation of those who think of a moderate revolution – an event as superficial as the very superficiality of the proposal – does not reach the heart of the question. Its defenders refuse to see the obvious, the historical impossibility of this type of political and social transformation in 1843 Germany. worldwide'. This fraction, based on its 'particular situation', only apparently achieves the universal emancipation of society because, ultimately, it does not break with its class particularity. In fighting for its own emancipation, the class, fraction or estate that actually emancipates itself claims to be carrying out 'the universal emancipation of society'. On the surface of appearance, a part is transubstantiated into the whole by propelling a dynamic that has something mystical about it. With that, the project of universal emancipation fails.

But that's when the 'caveat' and the dog appear: such a class politically liberates the entire society, but only under the assumption that the entire society finds itself in the same situation as the class that liberates itself. That is, that the whole society has or can easily acquire money and culture. This type of revolution starts, therefore, from a fanciful egalitarian assumption, from a non-existent homogeneous situation. He believes in the impossible: that the economic and cultural privilege of some is extended to all.

In paragraph 31, Marx goes on to expose his view of partial revolution as an illusion.


Comment on paragraph 31

At first, it seems to be analyzing partial revolutions in general. But at the conclusion of the paragraph it is clear that he has the French revolution in mind, at least as a concrete illustration of the 'model' exposed in strong lines in the previous paragraph.

The main points of this paragraph, as rich in ideas as it is problematic in its articulation, would be: (a) the class that fulfills the first two conditions or presuppositions, money and culture as its practically exclusive property, can indeed play, for having historically assured the double privilege, its revolutionary role, basically limited to its own liberation; (b) this class must be able to awaken in itself and in the mass of the people a moment of enthusiasm; (c) during this moment of total mobilization, by definition transitory, the class-estate fraternizes and mixes with society in general; (d) during this special moment, in which a part presents itself as the totality of civil society, what this fraction proposes as a claim is sentimentally recognized by the rest of society as being its general interest, that is, the other parts delegate to a fraction the role of universal representative; (e) in this period, which has a lot of reciprocal collective enchantment, a delirium in which all classes in revolt participate, both the one that represents the whole and the rest of the people with them momentarily in solidarity, the 'representative of the universal' manages to pass on her demands and rights as demands and rights of all. What is in fact particular becomes an illusory set of universal demands. Happy moment, this one, for the class that acts on behalf of the whole, duly mandated by him. In the name of the momentary that borders on the mystical, a class rises to the effective, albeit illusory, 'universal domain' . Illusory because it is the domain of a class, not of the whole. Illusory and effective because the domain is exercised in the name of the interests of all members of the rebel society. Effective because it inscribes the revolution in the flow of history.

Throughout the process, the class representing the universal crystallizes its 'emancipatory position'. With it assured, it exercises the privilege of politically exploring all other spheres of society with a view to realizing its concrete and particular interest. This operation is ensured by the back-and-forth game between the universal and the particular throughout the concrete revolutionary process.

To accomplish this historic feat, the class that is particular in reality but universal in the symbolic register needs much more. Revolutionary energy and the class feeling confirming its invoked transformative role are not enough to carry the process forward. In the course of time in which one becomes the representative of all, it is indispensable that a part of society – other strata or classes – be perceived and understood by the mass, that is, by the group of those who recognize in the other their universal representative, as the pole opposite, the enemy, the preferred object of total political and social exclusion. Thus, in practice, the illusory convergence between what is real, the revolution of the people, an actor somewhat undefined in the text, but endowed with revolutionary desires and aspirations, and the emancipation more real than the real – because wrapped in the illusory – of a particular class. In Marx's words: '(…) so that a status (Exhibitors) asserts itself as a stratum of the whole society, it is necessary that, inversely, all the defects of society be transferred to another class'. In other words: for partial revolutions to take place as a process necessarily laden with illusions and enthusiasm, it is imperative that a particular and universal figure be built in the people's sentiment and thought, the opposite pole of the 'state of all society'. '. Something like a scapegoat must carry away all the accumulated resentment. Whether the scapegoat is real or fictitious matters less than the role that will be assigned to it, that of the negative universal. The final sentence of the paragraph clarifies the two opposite meanings, that of the universal positive and that of the universal negative, Marx for that resorting to the French revolution, during which the negative-universal was objectified in the nobility and the clergy, while the positive-universal it was embodied by the bourgeois class.

Paragraph 32 contrasts the requirements and assumptions of this partial revolution scheme with the prevailing situation in Germany.


Comment on paragraph 32

The fundamental thesis: the model or scheme of incomplete revolutions is divorced from German reality.

In this opposition between what was emblematically lived by the French and the German misery that in 1843 demanded a revolutionary overcoming that went far beyond what was accomplished 'beyond the Rhine' in 1789, Marx declares utopian the thought that he sustains as an ideal to be pursued a revolution in something similar to the french. For him, the idea of ​​a bourgeois revolution, whose main reference is France, if transferred to Germany, proves to be a practical impossibility. Everything that is real in Germany conspires against this bourgeois project of revolution controlled by a 'universal estate', a category that in itself suffers from a flagrant logical contradiction. Why impossible? Because what Germany lacks in 1843 is exactly what France has in the second half of the 18th century. Marx then elaborates his list of German shortages, contrasting them with French abundance.

What the Germans lack: (a) consistency, penetration, courage, intransigence; (b) 'greatness of soul', even if only momentarily; (c) that genius that arms the material force that we know was passive in Germany in 1843; (d) that revolutionary audacity that says with Sieyès: 'I am nothing and should be everything'. On the other hand, the Germans are left with the inability, on the part of any class or status, to identify with the 'popular soul'. Furthermore, on the moral plane, a complex marked by modest selfishness is revealed to be subject to the curb of narrowness. Your elements? German morality and honesty held sway over classes as well as individuals. Hence, in Germany, all classes manifest in their behavior the impossibility of going beyond themselves. Instead of that, passivity prevails which compensatoryly triggers, in each status, class or fraction, the compulsion to oppress those who are hierarchically below. Finally, it is indispensable to take into account the fact that the middle class's feeling about itself makes it 'the universal representative of the philistine mediocrity of all other classes'. Nothing to do with the positive universality of the French bourgeois class at the beginning of the 1789 revolution.

Despite this structural laziness, struggles are incessantly waged within civil society. Day by day, multiplicity of conflicts. Beneath this veneer, however, an undeluded eye perceives the petty horizon that runs through them all. The final effect or vector of these sterile disputes is negligible in terms of bourgeois revolution. Only one exception, a record that passes almost in silence: '(…) the proletariat is already starting to fight against the bourgeoisie'.

The following paragraph continues the deepening of the picture of differences between revolutionary France of 1789 and Germany of 1843, a clearly passive-bourgeois society.


Comment on paragraph 33

In France, a historic movement of the first magnitude in which: '(…) the role of emancipator is successively assumed, in a dramatic moment, by the different classes of the French people, until finally reaching the class that realizes social freedom'. Without being directly mentioned, the French proletariat is recognized as an essential part of the drama. Its role, that of overcoming what was established by the bourgeois revolutionary path. In parallel, we think that the same scheme of successive exhaustion of dramatic moments is used in the analysis of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

In Germany, whose misery constitutes a politically inverse situation to that of France, the dynamics of 1789 are exiled from reality. In Germany, '(…) universal emancipation is the 'conditio sine qua non' of all partial emancipation'. Then the decisive question is raised: who can lead Germany to universal emancipation?

In Germany, '(…) no class of civil society has the need and the capacity to realize universal emancipation'. The logical consequence of this assessment would be to condemn Germany and Germans to perpetual material and spiritual misery. Clearly not so, says Marx. But, he warns, the German revolutionary potential will not be fully realized '(…) until it (a class in civil society) is forced to do so (ie, forced to realize universal emancipation) by its immediate situation, by material necessity and by its own fetters'. It therefore becomes clear: the class that can carry out the radical democratic revolution is the one that is being moved by at least three structural factors: its immediate situation, its material needs and the weight of its own shackles. On the other hand, no class could carry out, in the Germany of 1843, the limited, partial, merely political bourgeois revolution.

Because this is so, the small paragraph 34 is limited to formulating the big question: “'Where, then, is the positive possibility of German emancipation to be found?' The determination of this positive possibility of emancipation will occupy the following four paragraphs.


Comment on paragraph 35

The answer is unequivocal: in the German case, the positive possibility of emancipation has a material side, the proletariat. The class lives what is made explicit both in terms of its immediate situation and the material needs that oppress it and the evident shackles that imprison it. The proletariat bears radical shackles; it is and is not a class of civil society because it is properly the dissolution of all estates. His suffering is not particular, but universal. Hence it does not claim any particular right. Hence his opposition to the German political system is not one-sided but comprehensive. For this very reason, the proletariat is a sphere of society that cannot emancipate itself without emancipating all other spheres. The German proletariat, the exact opposite of the bourgeoisie which pretended to represent the whole with a view to overthrowing French absolutism. Appointed the main, albeit passive, actor of the total revolutionary drama, Marx proceeds, in paragraph 36, to the analysis of the ongoing formation of the German proletariat.


Comment on paragraph 36

It is worth mentioning that the text of the “Introduction” to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right has the tone of a manifesto that brings it closer, in terms of rhetorical power, to what will be the Communist Party Manifesto, five years later. In the language and style in which the critical, the historical, the prophetic, the passionate, the dialectical and the analytical converge, the Introduction describes and condemns not only the German situation, but equally rejects the broader process that was developing in Europe all as a result of the growing strength of what Marx in 1843 called the 'emerging industrial moment', a dynamic in which he perceived his own tensions and characteristic conflicts. With this scenario in mind, it emphasizes some points: (a) the proletariat is created by artificially produced poverty; (b) there is another poverty, yes, but the other, peasant, is of a 'natural' nature; (c) the proletariat is distinguished from the 'human mass mechanically oppressed by the weight of society'. In other words, artificially produced poverty, natural poverty and the mechanical oppression of the human mass constitute the group of people oppressed by a somewhat mysterious agent, the weight of society; (d) the proletariat is 'the mass that comes from the acute dissolution of society'. In this process, Marx gives importance to another dissolution equally in fieri, that of sectors of the middle class who pass to the proletarian condition, and still explicitly refers to the peasantry, the mass of 'natural poverty and Christian-Germanic servitude' that also swells the ranks of the proletariat.

The subsequent paragraph right at the beginning marks a leap in Marx's thought, which passes from the analysis of the German world order to that of the modern world order, the proletariat being seen as destined to overcome both.


Comment on paragraph 37

The reader was following the exposition according to which the German proletariat was the result of the industrial movement that in fact defined the characteristics of both modern and backward societies and states throughout Europe. In this framework, the German proletariat would be a particular case of a general dynamic that permeated the continent.

At the beginning, a proclamation: the proletariat – probably the European proletariat, not the German one, the latter had just begun to take shape, List through – is the harbinger of the dissolution of the world order. In this process, in this repeal in progress in the XNUMXth century, it is up to him to revolutionize the established order even because he himself is of that order the factual dissolution. For the rest, the text seems to reflect the demands of the European proletariat in general, among them the demand for the denial of private property of which the class is the incarnation. We are close to Proudhon, but far from the notion of capital as a social relation, as a process of producing goods, as a process of infinite self-valorization and as a scheme of exploitation of the workforce with which the Marx of the coming years will work.

The last two sentences, a somewhat mysterious contrast between the German king and the proletariat around the notion of property. The first, a kind of affirmation of the property right of the proletariat, opposed to that of the German king. This surprising formulation perhaps refers to something accepted, on an abstract level, by the political economy of the time, especially by supporters of the labor theory of value. As it is up to the proletariat to be the main material agent in the construction of the new world, to be engendered by the radical democratic revolution, the 'revolutionary work', task of the class that is the dissolution of all the others, gives it a certain right of 'property' . As a worker in this very special sense, the proletariat has the property right over what will result from its activity in the radical transformation of the modern world seen as its raw material. Therefore, in these terms, the revolutionary class can be understood as the owner of the new world to be established.

As for the German king, at the very moment when he declares the people as his property, he is in reality not affirming himself as an owner, but declaring as such the private owner, the bourgeois, the class that has privileged access to wealth and culture. , if we think of the French revolution. In this reading, two figures almost overlap, that of the effective owner, the bourgeois, and that of the imaginary owner, the modern-absolutist monarch. One acts in the field of civil society while the other acts in the heights of the laughable anachronistic State.

The paragraph immediately following, in turn, brings together the main threads that, intertwined, combine the two forces – one, 'intellectual'; the other, 'material' - which will move German, European and, by extension, world history, by jointly operationalizing the project of human emancipation structured on three planes since the previous century. They are: the critique of religion, by Feuerbach; the political and material, by the French Revolution and by the 'industrial movement'; and, on the intellectual-revolutionary level, that proposed by the philosophy of radical-democratic praxis. The 1840s, therefore, the fundamental alliance between the proletariat and the philosophical praxis that goes beyond itself is being elaborated in plain sight.

Let's move on to paragraph 38, such a short and deeply problematic text.


Comment on paragraph 38

In it, the celebration of the decisive meeting on which the hopes of revolutionary intellectuals are based, the link between the philosophy of praxis and the strength of the proletariat. This imbrication, a major event brought about by the history of modern Europe and German backwardness, will result in a revolutionary structural change both in the Germany of mediocrity and in Europe located 'beyond the Rhine', whose order, European or world, no longer matters, will also be in the same movement cancelled.

For today's reader, the explicit vision will very possibly seem excessively intellectualized and voluntarist when determining what would be the revolutionary combination underlying the movement of destruction that simultaneously points to the emergence of the future world of human emancipation. At the limit, Marx's 1843 vision would, if interpreted from today's lens, have something elitist in attributing clearly different revolutionary roles to the two main elements of the transforming equation, the one embodied by those of the philosophy of praxis that is the praxis of philosophy , and, at the other end, that attributed to proletarians. The former appear as the 'lightning of thought'. The others, like 'the naive soil of the people'. As a conclusion, Marx states: '(…) and as soon as the lightning has penetrated deeply into this naive soil of the people, the emancipation of the Germans in men will be completed”.

Paragraph 39 closes the article, being a kind of summary of the results achieved.



What is the point of meticulously analysing, in Brazil in 2021, the text of a young man who, we know, was abandoning, without ever completely abandoning it, the speculative philosophy that was running out, Marx being about to enter the field of history social, the critique of political economy and, decisively, in the proletarian world of the second half of the 19th century?

For each reader, a reading and a response. For my part, not even an answer. Only, at the end of the reading, a suggestion: possible readers who arrive at the 'Introduction' for the first time, try to perceive in each paragraph and in the entirety of the article, and for that, escaping the easy mechanisms, what can be transferred of Marx's analysis concerning German misery and the other, that of the effectively modern world, in an eventual exercise of evaluation of the Brazilian misery in which we have lived for so long, and also as a help to understand in more depth the directions of the globalized neoliberal world that the we are all suffocated by the progress that is a storm.

Certainly, with the use of this fragile reading key, the 'old' becomes 'current'. Deep down, beyond our eventual appropriations, the article, an important station on Marx's path, remains as a radical instigation and as an effort at a first-order historical-analytical interpretation of the German world intertwined with the mid-19th-century modern world, both in expresses crisis.

*Tadeu Valadares is a retired ambassador.

To read the first part of the article click on



Karl Marx. Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Sao Paulo, Boitempo, 2005.


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