On the Possibility of Transcendental Materialism
Ferenc L. Lendvai
The concept of transcendentality, as we know, was introduced by Immanuel Kant in Section VII of his Introduction to his chef d'oeuvre, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, where he said that cognition is transcendental when it is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects. He subsequently examined the possibility of surpassing mere immanence without arriving in the sphere of an abstract transcendence. Kant's idealism is therefore neither immanent (subjective) nor transcendent (objective)-it is a transcendental idealism that seeks the potential and the limitations of cognition. This concept of transcendentality, although with certain modifications, remains unchanged in the subsequent development of German idealism, having in general preserved the formula 'transcendental idealism'. That this combination is not necessary is exemplified by Arthur C. Danto's words in his work Analytical Philosophy of History, saying that the primary task of philosophy is to draw the borderlines of our knowledge. This he performs with respect to the philosophies of history which he calls substantive or analytical-and this is fully analogous to drawing the borderline between transcendent and immanent philosophical knowledge.
It is a commonplace that Marx's theory is a continuation of the German classical philosophy-Hegel's in the first place. He, however, wanted to turn the 'upside down' idealist dialectics the right way up, as he said, and put it on a materialist basis. In doing so he followed not so much Feuerbach's example as the materialism of the English and French Enlightenment with which he had already been well acquainted, as is clear from his work Die heilige Familie. Feuerbach instead inspired Marx to preserve the humanistic pathos, which was present in the Prometheus cult in his doctoral dissertation, also on materialistic grounds, instead of the 'sunshine idealism' he praised in the recommendation. Only an 'anthropologic' materialism could naturally serve such purposes-the mature Marx, too, always categorically distanced himself from the metaphysical and natural scientific materialisms. He also distanced himself from Feuerbach's unhistorically anthropological materialism. His materialism can only be termed anthropological if anthropology is understood as a historical anthropology (as Marx himself said in his work Das Elend der Philosophie, history is none other than the constant transformation of human nature), thus 'historical' materialism at the same time. We may call it 'dialectic' materialism in the usual way, insofar as Marx too employed the dialectic apparatus Hegel had mobilised; and he described its essence in the Introduction to Das Kapital as a critical view, consequently this materialism can be also described as 'critical' materialism.
The basis of this critical materialism was, for Marx, science-and it really meant the base, rather than the superstructure itself. This is evident in that Marx expounded his theory as a critique of political economics on one hand, and as a critique of political economics on the other. (In the title versions of his main work, Das Kapital, and of its antecedents, the word 'critique' occurs more than once.) In the course of that critical treatment Marx distinguished the general features of production-in fact, man's material life-from its specific forms, in the first place from the developed system of the production of goods, the capitalist mode of production. Production in general is characterised by the fact that the productive subject, man, as the creator of his own world, enters into contact with the world of objects; more precisely, he creates them as objects (not in the metaphysical sense, that is)-a machine is a machine because it is used; a house is a house because it is inhabited, and things of nature are things of nature because they are learnt to be as such (see primarily the Introduction to Grundrisse). For Marx, the Kantian unknowable 'things in themselves' did not exist. He averred that a difference existed only between the 'already known' (already learnt) and the 'as yet unknown' (yet unlearnt) things. In that he is a follower of Fichte and Hegel: being in its entire abstract sense is in fact identical to not-being (see Hegel: Enzyklopädie, Vol. I, Par. 67), and things come into becoming (are created) only in the process of becoming something (Werden)-from the aspect of production, 'use values'. There is no metaphysical transcendence-the transcendental becomes continually immanent. At the same time, values do exist; man himself, his activity, can bestow things with values in this or that sense. There is value not only in economics but also in logic, aesthetics, ethics, even in religion. Marx's atheism is atheism not because he denies religious values but because he does not even predicate them to begin with.
Transcendence and immanence are, therefore, notions of relationship. Common exchange value too is transcendental when regarded from the physical aspect of things; as Marx ironically puts it in the chapter on fetishism of commodities in Das Kapital, no chemist has as yet discovered the exchange value in diamonds. Values therefore exist 'sensually above the senses' (sinnlich übersinnlich), he says. Similarly, the aesthetic value of a painting is not identical with the material of the canvas and the oils on it, although it cannot exist without them, just as the exchange value of diamond cannot exist without the physical and chemical reality of the diamond. A piece of cloth with stars and stripes on it is not normally used for dusting; on the contrary, such a use could well be described as sacrilegious. In a similar way, two pieces of wood fixed in the shape of a cross may have sacramental value. This is no fetishism in the Marxian sense, at least not necessarily so. Marx spoke about fetishism only in case we forget that in the last analysis we ourselves are the creators of our world and in it the world of values. Not as individuals, certainly, nor as members of a community, but as representatives of mankind, in the Kantian sense of 'necessary and general' transcendentality (see Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Introduction II and VII), i.e. as human beings to whose existence some anthropological and ontological specifics a priori belong. Man, Marx says in his Introduction to a critique of Hegel's philosophy of law, tears off the imaginary flowers that adorn (and thus conceal) the chains because he wants to wear the chains themselves but because he wants to pick living flowers without chains. Persons who do not recognize values that are transcendent compared to the merely natural immanence or, to put it in another way, for whom nothing is sacred, are in fact not human. It is not only the transcendent that turns immanent, but also the immanent turns transcendent-in the above sense, therefore, Marx's philosophy may even be described as 'transcendental' materialism.
How could Marx have spoken about the immorality of capitalism without presupposing all this, and how could he have moralised at length in Das Kapital about small children, for instance, from whose blood silk was woven or about working mothers who were unnaturally alienated from their own children? How could he have brought value judgment on capitalism, how could he have described it as an empire of total alienation-the world of 'sinfulness at the fullest' (vollendete Sündhaftigkeit)? Marx distinguished three fundamental forms of human existence. First was the immanent form of natural human existence, in which man in general is distinguished from the animal by his general anthropomorphic features (namely that man continuously produces his own world, while the animal does not)-but these qualities have not as yet developed according to man's own standards. The second is the genuine development of these most important human anthropological qualities, namely liberty and conscious being, in the course of which he rids himself of the primitive ties and unenlightened ignorance and becomes a free and conscious creator of his world-at the cost, however, that over and above nature which he seeks to dominate, he creates a second nature, the world of alienated social laws (in which these laws eventually lead to catastrophe much in the way of a house collapsing in an earthquake), and in which the subject and repository of the entire development is a ruling elite which uses the great masses as unwitting means or objects of this development, whether in good or bad circumstances. And Marx posits the existence of a third form, which is transcendent as compared to the second, and in which the genuine qualities of human life gradually return at the cost of going through the second form and without the naiveté of the first form, and this time in a way that they directly belong to man (and are not embodied in an alienated economy, the state or ideology). This is a materialised version of the Hegelian triple formula of 'being in itself', 'being other' and 'being for itself' or, as Marx himself referred to it, the famous formula of the negation of negation.
All this can only be found sporadically and covertly, "through a glass, darkly" (I Cor. 13:12): in his scientific analysis and directly Marx actually examined the capitalist mode of production, even though he described its antecedents and development as he saw them. In this he naturally employed hypotheses of a philosophical nature. After all we know full well that all sciences have paradigms, presuppositions and axioms that are assumed without proof and that can no longer be reduced to something else. (In case of rivaling scientific systems that confront or exist side by side, these exist separately in each system.) Such a presupposition is, for Marx, that capitalism is indeed technically the culmination and morally the nadir of human history, and that these two statements are closely interconnected. And if this period forms the centre of history, then it is possible that, to put it in terms of Teilhard de Chardin's famous evolution theory, logically there can be, and empirically there are gradations between this centre, the alpha point and the omega point, which the last grade attained does regard as steps leading to itself-this then could make for 'evolution', as the Introduction to Grundrisse puts it somewhat ironically. This is how Marx's periods of pre-capitalism and a post-capitalist perspective were born-and it is not difficult to point out that all this happened under the direct influence of Hegel's periods. In case it appears as a series of preconceived logical forms, this is in general a necessary consequence of taking up an arbitrary point, which no evolution theory could do without. And without an evolution concept we can only attain various versions of cyclical and eternal recurrence theories which the facts of history refute after all.
At the beginning of the so-called economic social formation (or of its various forms), therefore, we find the life world, to use a modern phrase, of the patriarchal industry of a family economy. The disintegration of this constitutes the first great period-with the societies of patriarchalism and the Antiquity, with a growing production and a system of private ownership, yet the dominance of natural economy and vestiges of communal ownership. Then, in Vico's words, the Christian-Germanic period of 'barbarism returned' did give the necessary momentum to this society to shed its final rigidity and to evolve the modern bourgeois society with the dominance of the production of goods, industrialism and free private ownership. Both great periods are based on coercive, i.e., slave labour, which in the first period is formal slavery and in the second a salaried slavery. There is nothing special about the production and appropriation of added value, for labour always creates more value than is necessary for its own reproduction, even in the case of an independent private labourer. The basis of all kinds of accumulation carried out by man is the fact, as Hegel revealed, that labour is an indirect desire and goal (see Die Wissenschaft der Logik, Vol. 3, Section 2, Chapter 3: Teleology): if we want to accumulate something, we obviously consume less than we are able to produce. However, since industrial production, as Marx expounded in Das Kapital, necessarily consumes its own basis, destroying the natural environment and reproduction of human life, it immediately is contained, once it is unable to extend these processes-the processes of external and internal colonisation, to refer to theories by Rosa Luxemburg and Jürgen Habermas-without obstacles. That is why Marx posits a third great period, predominantly post-industrial in character, in the development of economic social formations, in which economisation with time, social planning and collective control of ownership necessarily increase. To postulate such a post-historical transcendent period is, at least in itself, scientific in nature. In fact, it turns to utopia theoretically, and in practice it has led to the emergence of eschatological movements.
This unfavourable turn has had to do with the essential features and the peculiar historical circumstances of the birth of Marx's theory. It was, as we said, a continuation of the heritage of classical German philosophy, which in turn was the inheritor of the Christian, more precisely Protestant, religious tradition. Hegel emphasised in his History of Philosophy (Vol. 1, Introduction, B, 2.b.) that philosophy and religion only differ in form, not in content. Thus Marxism as theory necessarily took over and continued this heritage as well-certainly in a reversed form, as it were, and if Kant, Fichte and Hegel accomplished the secularisation of the Christian religion, Feuerbach and Marx certainly concluded its materialisation. The main point in this respect was to take over the eschatological views of Christianity, as a consequence of which an early salvation theory of some sorts, a secularisation of Christian parousia was to be felt in a cautious or less cautious way in the thought of Kant, Fichte and Hegel, as well as of Feuerbach and Marx. The proclamation of God's country on Earth was, for Kant, the universal society of the citizens of the world and the world state of eternal peace; for Fichte, the community of saints and the justification of mankind; for Hegel, genuine monarchy of the estates and the bourgeoisie and the state of reconciliation; for Feuerbach, the general rule of love; and for Marx, the realisation of communism. With some cautious reservations, primarily with Kant and Marx, who emphasized it was a process and declared that the final perfect status would never come true, this idea has nevertheless been present everywhere, and was to turn to an adulatory type, as with Fichte in the wake of Kant, or with several of Marx's followers, among them Bloch and Lukács, in the wake of Marx. All this is central to Marxism, just as the fact that Marx in his thesis of Feuerbach No. 11 drew the practical conclusion of all such antecedents, namely that philosophers up till then merely explained the world, but the real task is to change it-obviously conforming to the demands of philosophy (classical philosophy).
The realisation of such demands would have entailed that, as the young Marx put it, all those circumstances which philosophy deemed as unworthy of man ought to have been eradicated and such social circumstances to be created instead as stimulate men to adopt an aesthetic and ethical way of life, rather than the attitude of 'spiritual animal world' (geistige Tierwelt). Consequently, the alienated economic relations of society are to be abolished, the alienated state machinery and the equally alienated ideological forms, philosophy itself should be abolished, insofar as they should be realised in reality itself-in general, the rift between the bourgeois and citoyen side of human existence, or even more generally, between civilisation and culture, should be abolished. This idea was the continuation of old Utopian dreams of the Golden Age, the Coming and Return of the Messiah; in earlier times, in the Antiquity, it went back to the Jewish prophets and the Esseneans, and in later ages with Joachim of Fiore and Thomas More as mediators. This idea resurfaced again in the Reformation and the English and French Revolutions in religious or quasi-religious form with the Anabaptists, Levellers and Jacobins. In the wake of the English industrial revolution and the French social revolution, in the course of a major transformation of Europe when the relationships of modern bourgeois society emerged, these ideas were organised and reached a peak in theory and in practice in the systems of Utopian socialism and the socialist workers' movements. However, due precisely to its Utopian character, Utopian socialism was inadequate to become the ideology of the socialist workers' movements which were mainly concerned with the sphere of financial interests. Therefore it was possible for the Marxist 'scientific' socialism to take this place. Thus, as the young Marx again put it, one indeed found the weapons in the other-to what avail is another question.
The outcome, as soon as it appeared, was a series of catastrophes. Can the catastrophic consequences of this development be eliminated at least theoretically? We must realise that such consequences followed not from the idea itself, nor from the attempt at realising it, but from the form of the attempt at realising it-namely, from the movement character of this attempt. Though Marx himself is also responsible for this launching of the form as a movement, yet this feature does not necessarily follow from the theory. That ideas strain to be realised is natural-for what kind of a philosophy would it be if it were restricted to mere useless speculation. However, political movements and revolutions belong in the historical empire of necessities, rather than in free ethical action. The socialist movement obviously has a future for itself, but that is not necessarily contingent on Marxism and vice versa. Marxism as such has failed, for it forgot about Hegel's admonition that revolution was not possible without reformation and that renewal of the external was impossible without the renewal of the internal. To change the world-according to its inner standards-is our task indeed; realising this, however, can be a categorical imperative only from the aspect of our individual activity. The ethical (social ethical) thought that departs from Marx's theory and rids itself from the character of a political movement could be called in the following Marxianism, after the example of Kantianism and Hegelianism, rather than Marxism.
The eminent historian and philosopher of religion, Mircea Eliade, shows in his work The Saint and the Profane how the lifestyle of modern, formally non-religious man is full of magical, mythological and religious elements, without positing transcendence in the classical sense of the world. Modern man himself creates the 'spiritual' values that lift him above the mere immanent material existence, and which in fact make him a man. Thus the world of values emerges from and is tied to the world of immanence, although it also supersedes it-much in the way of the Kantian idea of knowledge which always begins with apperception but then surpasses it theoretically. The assumption of at least a prevailing, if not existing, transcendence-in neo-Kantian terms: gelten-existieren-which emerges from the sphere of immanence and supersedes it, using that sphere as a basis, should be the essence of a transcendental materialism. And if Marx's thought is cleansed from the debris which the political movement has deposited on it, that is, if it takes shape as Marxianism, then from this approach Marxianism, owing to and undertaking the philosophical and cultural heritage it takes as its point of departure, may consider itself as a radical Protestant view, even a version of 'God is dead' theologies. Because, as the Czech Marxian philosopher Vitézslav Gardavsky said, God is not entirely dead.