Dialectics of Labour: Chapter 7 – The Influence of the Phenomenology

Dialectics of Labour: Marx and his Relation to Hegel
by C. J. Arthur
first published, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1986
PART TWO: The Critique of Hegel

Chapter 7 – The Influence of the Phenomenology


The fact that
Marx hangs his criticism of Hegel largely on a passage from the last
chapter of the Phenomenology warrants the inference that the main influence
of the work on him is its dialectic in general. However, there is no
doubt that Marx could not have been so interested in it if he had only
acquainted himself with the rather abstract formulations in the
conclusion and the Preface. Clearly the way Hegel works through historical
material in the concrete to flesh out the dialectic of consciousness and
self-consciousness must have impressed Marx.

Accordingly, this chapter is
devoted to a discussion of some of the materials concerned. In
relation to this, there is first a myth to be refuted. [1]

Lordship and Bondage

There is a widely held view that Marx was profoundly influenced by
the master – servant (‘Herrschaft und Knechtschaft‘) dialectic in
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. This view was first popularized by
Jean-Paul Sartre, who refers in his Being and Nothingness (1943) to ‘the famous
“Master Slave” relation which so profoundly influenced Marx’; Sartre
does nor explain how he knows this. [2] Probably this remark reflects
the pervasive influence of Alexandre Kojève’s lectures on Hegel in the
1930s. Kojève presents a reading of the Phenomenology that centralizes
the place of the master – servant dialectic in it, in a quasi-Marxist
interpretation. Kojève may have assumed that Marx himself read it in the
same way. However, it is one thing to read Marxism back into Hegel, it
is another to generate it out of Hegel. Three years after Sartre we find
Jean Hyppolite again saying that the dialectic of domination and
servitude is the best-known section of the Phenomenology because of ‘the
influence it has had on the political and social philosophy of Hegel’s
successors, especially Marx’. [3]

As a matter of fact, despite the
assertions of numerous commentators to the contrary, Sartre and Hyppolite did not attend Kojève’s lectures. The myth that they sat at the feet of
the ‘unknown superior’ is now well established. Thus Wilfred Desan says
that the audience included Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Hyppolite; and,
more specifically, ‘Sartre learned to study Hegel in the classes of Kojève
just before W.W.Il’; but he does not give any evidence for it. [4] Let
us turn then to first-hand accounts. Kojève’s disciple Raymond
Queneau, who was responsible for collecting and publishing Kojève’s lectures
in 1947, has given a list of participants that does not include Sartre
or Hyppolite. [5] As far as Hyppolite is concerned, we have the
additional testimony of Madame Hyppolite that he did not attend ‘for fear of
being influenced’. [6]

However that may be, by the time Sartre and
Hyppolite made their equations between Hegel and Marx, a crucial document
of Kojève’s was already in the public domain. In the issue of Mesures for 14 January 1939 Kojève published a free translation, with
interpolated glosses, of the section of the Phenomenology entitled ‘Autonomy and
Dependence of Self Consciousness: Mastery and Servitude’. [7] Still more
interesting for our purposes is that Kojève includes as an epigraph
the following words of Marx: ‘Hegel . . . erfasst die Arbeit als das Wesen, als das sich bewährende Wesen des Menschen.’ (‘Hegel . . . grasps labour as the essence, as the self-confirming essence of man.’) No
reference is given, but in fact this is quoted from Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts,
which remained unpublished until the 1930s. Kojève, therefore, was one
of the first to make a direct connection between this judgement of
Marx’s on Hegel and the master servant dialectic in the Phenomenology.

Today it is dogmatically asserted in numerous books that Marx was inspired
by Hegel’s analysis of the labour of servitude. [8] This view is
false. Here I will attempt to show that this is so in the light of the
account above of the real significance of Marx’s critical appropriation of the Phenomenology.

If we are to examine the influence of Hegel’s Phenomenology on Marx, the crucial text to consider has to be the 1844 Manuscripts. As we have seen, Marx praises Hegel there for having grasped man
as the result of his own labour. Nearly all commentators, innocently
assuming that material labour is meant here, turn to the Phenomenology and find that there is indeed a fascinating discussion in the ‘master –
servant’ section of the significance of material labour, in and through
which the servant ‘finds himself’. Furthermore, the fact that this
labour is seen by Hegel as actualized in the context of servitude leads
some commentators to make the more extravagant claim that in his theory
of alienation Marx draws on this same section, Herbert Marcuse was
probably the first to do so; he says in his Reason and Revolution (1941) that Marx ‘described the “alienation” of labour in the terms of Hegel’s discussion of master and servant’. [9]

The only difficulty with these
presuppositions of the secondary literature is that Marx never refers to
this section of the Phenomenology – never mind giving it any
importance! – when, in his 1844 Manuscripts, he embarks on a ‘critique of Hegel’s
dialectic’. [10] He discusses the Phenomenology as a whole and draws
attention to its last chapter especially; he singles out three other
sections for praise; but none of them is on the master servant dialectic.
This should make us suspicious, therefore, of the claims made for the
Herrschaft und Knechtschaft‘ section. (Incidentally, although it is
popularly nominated the ‘master-slave’, the correct translation of
Knecht‘ is servant’ or ‘bondsman’. That this choice of terminology is deliberate is seen when we find that in his 1825 Berlin lecture on Herrschaft
und Knechtschaft
Hegel draws a distinction between der Sklave and der

Let us now rehearse the dialectic of lordship and
bondage. This section occurs early in the Phenomenology at the point where
consciousness is to turn into self-consciousness. Hegel believes that the
self can become conscious of itself only in and through the mediation
of another self-consciousness. The first stable relationship that
emerges in Hegel’s dialectical development of this topic is that of lordship
and bondage. The master is acknowledged as such by his servant, and he
achieves immediate satisfaction of his desires through goods and
services provided by the servant’s labour. The dialectic moves forwards
precisely through the servant, however, because ‘through work . . . the
bondsman becomes conscious of what he truly is’. Work forms and shapes the
thing; and through this formative activity the consciousness of the
servant now, in the work outside it, acquires ‘an element of permanence’;
for it comes to see in the independent being of the object ‘its own independence’.

‘The shape does not become something other than himself
through being made external to him’, says Hegel, ‘for it is precisely
this shape that is his pure being-for-self.’ The result of this
rediscovery of himself is that, ‘precisely in labour’, whose meaning seemed so
alien to him, the bondsman gains a sense of himself – ‘a mind of his
own’ so to speak. [12] These terms are superficially comparable to Marx’s
in that both Hegel and Marx see work not merely in its utilitarian
aspect but as a vehicle for self realization; thus they see the servant
rather than the master as the locus of a more developed human existence.
Fundamental differences between
Marx and Hegel become obvious when we
notice that, whereas Marx holds that only a change in the mode of
production recovers for the worker his sense of self and its fulfilment, Hegel
thinks that the educative effect of work, even within an exploitative
relation of production, is sufficient for the worker to manifest to
himself his own ‘meaning’ in his product. Furthermore, at this stage in
the phenomenological dialectic, as we shall see below, the condition of
‘fear and service’ is stipulated as necessary to this end; that is, to
the servant’s becoming objective to himself.

Remembering now the
crucial passage in Marx’s complex discussion of the Phenomenology, in which
Marx praises Hegel for grasping the importance of labour: does such a
judgement (as Kojève insinuates and so many later writers boldly assert)
rest on Hegel’s discussion of the labour of servitude? The first thing
that should give us pause is that immediately after this praise Marx
qualifies it by complaining that ‘the only labour Hegel knows and
recognizes is abstract mental labour’. The servant’s labour is clearly material, so this remark seems to show that not only has Marx not drawn on
that analysis, but he has actually forgotten about it and done Hegel an
injustice! [13]

What Marx does refer us to is ‘the dialectic of
negativity as the moving and producing principle’. Spirit comes to know itself
through producing itself, in the first instance as something alien
standing over against it. In the final chapter, as we have seen, the world
of estrangement thus brought to life is overcome, or negated, in a
peculiar way in that – as Hegel puts it – ‘self-consciousness has sublated
this alienation and objectivity . . . so that it is at home with itself
in its otherness as such’. When Marx refers to the final result of the Phenomenology being ‘the dialectic of negativity as the moving and
producing principle’ it is to this entire labour of spirit in the Phenomenology that he refers. Of course, in Marx’s view, man produces himself
through material labour. It would be a mistake, however, to assume
therefrom that he praises Hegel for what he says about material labour, such
as that of the servant. When Marx says Hegel grasps labour as the
essence he is talking not about what Hegel actually says about material
labour (hence the lack of reference to ‘Lordship and Bondage’) but about
the esoteric significance of the dialectic of negativity in spirit’s
entire self-positing movement (hence Marx’s claim that the only labour
Hegel knows is spiritual labour). Marx sees in Hegel’s dialectic of
negativity the hypostatization of the abstract reflection in philosophy of the
material process whereby man produces himself through his own labour,
a process which (Marx concurs with Hegel) must pass through a stage of

Nevertheless, Marx holds that Hegel’s discussion of the
problematics of alienation is embedded in speculative illusions, and
because of this it is a ‘merely apparent criticism’, shading over into
uncritical positivism. In this connection one must draw attention to the
sophisticated use of quotation by Kojève in the above-mentioned
epigraph to the effect that Hegel grasps labour as the essence. The passage
from which Kojève quotes is as follows – with Kojève’s ‘quote’

Hegel adopts the standpoint of modern political economy. He grasps
labour as the essence, the self-confirming essence of man
; he sees only the
positive and not the negative side of labour. Labour is man’s coming
to be for himself within alienation or as alienated man. [14]

passage is not so much praise, as criticism, of Hegel. It is praise only in
a paradoxical sense. As we have seen, in adopting the standpoint of
labour, both Hegel and political economy achieve an understanding, in
different ways, of the genesis, not merely of wealth, but of human being
itself. But, just because labour is identical with alienating activity,
the result is ‘man’s coming to be as alienated man’. Marx takes the critically adopted standpoint of labour, the standpoint of the critique of
labour as alienating; he projects the abolition of labour, its
transformation into free productive activity.

As we have seen, a crucial move
Hegel makes is to transform labour into spiritual activity; and hence
to project the overcoming of alienation as a revolution in
consciousness, namely, spirit’s achievement of absolute knowledge of itself and all
its works. It is necessary to locate the ‘master-slave’ dialectic
within this perspective of spirit’s development of its self-awareness. As we
have already noted, and now stress, it is an early moment in the story
of spirit’s recovery of itself. It is much less ‘concrete’ (in Hegel’s
terms) than cultural achievements such as law, art, religion and
philosophy. None the less, it is located at a turning point of some
importance, for the problem Hegel faces is how to develop dialectically self-consciousness out of the mere consciousness of external objects.
Consciousness cannot grasp itself in things. It must distinguish itself
absolutely from them through their radical negation. The consumption of
objects of desire accomplishes this in an evanescent way. To risk one’s life
in forcing another consciousness to grant one recognition represents a
more promising mediation. But the master finds himself frustrated in
reducing the vanquished to his servant, his thing. Self-consciousness can
only gain proper recognition through mutual respect such as that
accorded to individuals constituted in the legal and ethical relations Hegel
develops later in the story. At this stage Hegel is not really
discussing individuality, and a fortiori, not social relationships. (Hence
there is no discussion of master – master or slave – slave relationships.)
We are concerned here
with the most primitive level of
self-consciousness, that of self-consciousness in general as against consciousness of

In a neat reversal, the dialectic advances now through the
despised servant. As we have seen, he ‘finds himself’ through the negating
action of work on things. Hegel defines work as ‘desire held in check’;
that is to say, it involves putting a distance between the immediate
impulses of self-will and formative activity grounded in objective
principles. If you like, it is really the master who is a slave because his
object is the ‘unalloyed feeling of self-satisfaction’: that is to say,
he is a slave to his appetites; but his satisfactions are ‘only
fleeting’, lacking the permanence of objectivity. The servant, on the other
hand, in the work he creates, achieves mastery of his craft; it is he who
rises to the level of universal human reason. But Hegel introduces the
notion that ‘fear and service’ are necessary to induce the check to
desire and to ensure that consciousness rises above self-centred goals to
the freedom that comes from a consciousness of the ‘universal power’
of human creative activity. [15] Indeed, it is worth noting that in
Hegel’s Encyclopaedia ‘Phenomenology’ no mention is made of the worker
finding himself in his product; the emphasis in the outcome of the
‘master-slave’ there is on ‘community of need’ and the idea that ‘fear of the
lord is the beginning of wisdom’. [16] By contrast, in the Phenomenology Hegel says that, ‘albeit fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom,
consciousness is not therein aware of being self-existent’. But
‘through labour it comes to itself’. However, it turns out that both are
necessary: ‘for the reflection of self into self the two moments, fear and
service in general, as also that of formative activity, are necessary . . .’ [17]

The real point in all this is that it brings about an advance
to self-consciousness. Strictly speaking, it is not the material achievement that is important to provide a basis for Hegelian
self-consciousness, but rather the consciousness of the power of labour to transform
things. The servant becomes aware in this of the power of thought, of
universal concepts. This does not have much in common with Marx’s
interest in the realization of an objective being in forming the material
world, but it is of a piece with the project of the Phenomenology as a
whole. [18] As it is a spiritual odyssey it is quite wrong to place
special stress on this moment of material labour (as is the case with the
overly ‘Marxist’ readings of Marcuse and Kojève), for its importance lies
not in the material result but in the spiritual one. Only if one
accepts this can one fail to be surprised when the next twist of the
phenomenological dialectic brings us to the pure universality of thought in the
attitudes Hegel identifies with Stoicism and Scepticism. The split
between the lord’s satisfaction in his autonomy and the negatively
universal power developed on the servant’s side is re-worked at this new

Desire and work are found wanting from the point of view of free
self-consciousness; they fail to effect adequately the negation of
otherness. The self’s negating power cannot be enjoyed by the servant in the
product, but only in itself, the power of consciousness working within
itself. For the servant is not independent on his own account in the
objective world, since he is dominated by the fear of the lord and
subjected to his desires. Paradoxically, Hegel relies on just these
‘negations’ to make an advance, claiming that without this complete repression
and fear consciousness would remain bogged down in particularity and
servitude, that consciousness of freedom would be mere wilfulness and
obstinacy. Consciousness wins its freedom when its power and knowledge are
redirected inwards, when it deals with its own thought material. Now
consciousness says to itself: ‘In thinking I am free, because I am not in
another, but remain simply and solely in communion with myself.’ [19] This ‘freedom’ of inner life is compatible with any social position; as
Hegel says: ‘Whether on the throne or in chains . . . its aim is to be
free.’ [20] (It will be recalled that two prominent Stoics were the
emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Slave Epictetus.)

Does Marx, as Marcuse
and others claim, follow in his theory of alienation the terms of
Hegel’s master – servant dialectic? We have already said enough to cast doubt
on this. It would certainly be strange, as well, to refer to this
section to illustrate the claim that Hegel equates material labour with
alienation, because here labour is a recuperating moment in spirit’s drive
to realize its freedom in the face of the blankness of objectivity.
The peculiar thing about Hegel’s treatment is that, as we have seen, in
so far as his thematization of the servant’s labour touches on the
alienation involved in such activity, it is seen, on the one hand, as still sufficiently fulfilling for the worker to identify himself in it, and,
on the other hand, even as necessary to impel his consciousness to the
level of absolute negativity.

These points are illustrated if we ask
the question: does Hegel actually mention alienation in this section?
There are two terms to consider. The term ‘Entfremdung‘ does not occur;
the nearest Hegel comes to it is when he says that the labour seems to
have only ‘fremder Sinn‘; this sentence, however, is precisely that in
which the servant is said to discover himself in labour in spite of the
fact that it is orientated to the master’s desire. The term
Entäusserung‘ does not occur either at this point in the Phenomenology. But Hegel
does use it in his Encyclopaedia when he thematizes the master – servant
relationship. Here the labour-process is said to overcome ‘self-will’
and ‘the inner immediacy of desire’; this in turn is identified as
Entäusserung‘ (translated by Wallace as ‘divestment of self’ and by Petty
as ‘privation’). The point, nevertheless, is that this is treated
positively; it
makes possible ‘the beginning of wisdom’, the transition to
‘universal self-consciousness’. [21] We are very far from Marx now.

conclusion must be that Marx did not draw on Hegel’s analysis of the
labour of servitude in his theory of alienation. He fails to mention it
for the simple reason that it did not strike him as important.

remains to be noted that he does not cite this section in any other
writings, early or late. What we do find in a few places are echoes of its
terms. For example, in 1844 itself there is a somewhat obscure passage in
his notes on James Mill. [22] However, let us close this section with
an interesting quotation from Marx’s Capital manuscripts.

Hence the
rule of the capitalist over the worker is the rule of things over man, of
dead labour over the living, of the product over the producer . . .
Thus at the level of material production, of the life-process in the realm
of the social – for that is what the process of production is – we find
the same situation that we find in religion at the ideological level,
namely the inversion of subject and object. Viewed historically this
inversion is the indispensable transition without which wealth as such,
i.e. the relentless productive force of social labour, which alone can
form the material base of a free human society, could not possibly be
created at the expense of the majority . . . What we are confronted by
here is the alienation [Entfremdung] of man from his own labour. To that
extent the worker stands on a higher plane than the capitalist from the
outset, since the latter has his roots in the process of alienation and
finds absolute satisfaction in it whereas right from the start the
worker is a victim who confronts it as a rebel and experiences it as a
process of enslavement. [23]

‘The Critical Elements’

Marx finds that,
though in mystified form, Hegel tackles the problem of estrangement in
his Phenomenology: ‘even though man appears only as spirit, their lie
concealed in it all the elements of criticism, already prepared and elaborated in a manner often rising far above the Hegelian standpoint’. What
elements does Marx have in mind? As we have just seen, ‘lordship and
bondage’ is not mentioned. In fact, he cites three sections: ‘the unhappy
consciousness’, ‘the honest consciousness’ and ‘the struggle of noble
and base consciousness’. According to Marx, these separate sections
contain ‘the critical elements’ of whole spheres of estrangement such as
‘religion, the state, civil life, etc.’ [24] Unfortunately he gives us
no analysis of these sections. These phenomenological figures will be
touched on now in so far as they relate to the problem of alienated

Citation of the ‘unhappy consciousness’ explains Marx’s reference
to the sphere of religion because the most obvious source for Hegel’s
subject matter here is traditional forms of religious experience. Hegel
may well have intended to exempt Lutheranism from this category but
Marx would obviously include it too. Findlay even suggests that it applies
best to Kierkegaard’s morbid Protestant Christianity. [25] The
‘unhappy consciousness’ finds itself desiring and working but in work and
enjoyment it feels itself lost in superficiality; it does not identify
itself in the world but supposes itself to belong to an unreachable beyond.
Although it cannot help getting satisfaction from its work, it
attributes every success to God and endeavours to play down earthly life in
order to get closer to the absolute it supposes to lie beyond it. [26] Hegel’s critique relies on the view that activity, especially work, is
necessary to self-realization; and that self-consciousness must find its
satisfaction there and not rely on priestly mediators to direct it
towards salvation.

The ‘honest consciousness’ certainly seeks satisfaction
in work, in keeping busy so to speak; but this figure of consciousness
is presented as engaged on his enterprises as an individual. It turns
up in a section with the curious title ‘The spiritual animal kingdom’. [27] This seems to be Hegel’s attempt to characterize a form of
self-consciousness divorced from relations of inter-subjectivity. He deals
here with an individuality that takes itself to be self-sufficient, single
and specific. Hegel starts with some interesting remarks on the
significance of activity. He argues that ‘consciousness must act merely in
order that what it is in itself may become explicit for it’; in other
words, ‘an individual cannot know what he [really] is until he has made
himself a reality through action’. [28] The ‘work done’ (das Werk)
expresses the individual’s original nature. Marx would certainly find this
congruent with his own ontology, organized as it is around productive
activity. However, Hegel’s thematization of action soon slips towards
idealism. This is not because he focuses on certain particular forms of
activity. The work carried out could be material/physical or
intellectual. It is rather a question of the meaning he finds in it. At this point
it is valuable to cite Löwith’s opinion: for Hegel, he says, ‘work is
not a particular economic activity, to be contrasted, say, to leisure or
play, but the basic way in which man produces his life, thereby giving
form to the world . . . Work is neither physical nor intellectual in a
particular sense, but spiritual in the absolute ontological sense’ [29]

How, in the section under consideration, does Hegel spiritualize the
work? He argues that consciousness becomes aware that it need not
identify itself with any particular work, that it is universal because it
is ‘absolute
negativity’ in so far as it withdraws itself from any determinate or particular work’. [30] In so far as work takes its place as a
determinate particular in the world it passes into an ‘alien reality’.
For example, the interest of other individuals in my work is something
quite different from the work’s original interest. Hegel does not give
examples here, but one might recall the verdict of the market place on
new commodities, or the way literary and artistic products are
appropriated by audiences in ways quite unexpected by their authors. (Indeed
one might recall that Hegel’s own works have been read in many different
ways!) Even in its own terms, whether the work is a success depends on
‘fortune’, the selection of appropriate means, and so on. Consciousness
therefore takes an ‘idealistic’ attitude to work. The negation of the
work is itself negated, and consciousness takes the true reality to be
solely its own negativity. ‘In this way then’, says Hegel,
‘consciousness is reflected out of its perishable work into itself, and preserves
its concept and its certainty of what objectively exists and endures in
the face of the experience of the contingency of action.’ [31]

form of consciousness, then, busies itself with ‘the matter in hand’
(‘die Sache selbst‘) in abstraction from its moments – end, means and
object. It is true that ‘they all have this “matter in hand” as their
essence’, Hegel allows, ‘but only in such a way that it, being their abstract universal, can be found in each of them, and can be a predicate of
them’. [32]

It is at this point that Hegel identifies the ‘honest
consciousness’. ‘Consciousness is called honest‘, he says, ‘when it has . . .
attained the idealism which “the matter in hand” expresses . . .’. [33] Hegel emphasizes that this engagement is independent of results. If it
does not succeed in its action it has at least willed it, something was taken in hand. If everything goes wrong it still finds satisfaction
‘just like naughty boys who enjoy themselves when they get their ears
boxed because they are the cause of its being done’. [34] Hegel points
out that it is not even necessary to do anything at all: if ‘it should be an
event of historical importance which does not really concern him, he
makes it likewise his own; and an interest for which he has done nothing
is, in his own eyes, a party interest which he has favoured or
opposed, and even combated or supported’. [35] One recalls here the pater
who leaves trivial matters, like the choice of schooling for the
children, to his wife; while he concerns himself with important matters
such as whether war should be declared on Russia.

Hegel now enters
into one of his dialectical reversals. This man is not as honest as he
seems. Although he keeps busy he is not really in earnest about anything,
only about his own status in the matter. Others soon realize the
dissimulation involved. For example, should they point out that they
themselves have already accomplished the matter, or offer their help, the
result is a fit of pique on the part of the consciousness, whose interest
is really in its own action. The others are in turn put out by his
rejection, because they were only interested in their own self-satisfaction
too. Hegel says: ‘a consciousness that opens up a new field soon learns
that others hurry along like flies to freshly poured out milk, and
want to busy themselves with it . . . ‘ [36]

In this whole discussion one
is irresistibly reminded of the self-centredness and asocial sociality
of bourgeois life. Although Hegel’s discussion is quite general, most
commentators assume that he has particularly in mind the intellectuals
of his day, academics, specialists and artists of various kinds. [37] Obviously Marx found it amusing.

More seriously, however, what would
Marx make of the final outcome? Consciousness acquires the concept of a
common ‘matter in hand’, a work which is the concern of all and each,
and in which the particularity of the individuals is dissolved. Thereby
the ‘matter in hand’, Hegel argues, ‘no longer has the character of a
predicate, and loses the character of lifeless, abstract universality’. [38] It is a universal shared by all, a spiritual essence, ethical

In trying to look at this whole dialectic from Marx’s point
of view, let us remember the general verdict: we have here ‘all the
elements of criticism’ – ‘but still in estranged form’.

Clearly Marx
would agree with two points here: that human work has a universal
character, and that bourgeois individualism needs to be transcended. Less clear
is why Hegel’s discussion is objectionable. Recall the following
passage from Marx’s critique:

The rich, living, sensuous, concrete activity
of self-objectification is therefore reduced to its mere abstraction, absolute negativity – an abstraction which is again fixed as such and
considered as an independent activity – as sheer activity. Because this
so-called negativity is nothing but the abstract, empty form of that
real living act, its content can in consequence be merely a formal content
produced by abstraction from all content. [39]

This seems very
pertinent to the idea of absolute negativity Hegel evolves at the beginning
of this discussion. Instead of the universality of activity being
celebrated in the wealth of its content, the content vanishes in the purity
of absolute negativity. But did not Hegel himself find wanting such
abstract universality? Yes and no. The concept of ‘absolute negativity’
represents a real gain in the constitution of spirit, as is clear from its
retention in the overview given in Hegel’s ‘Preface’. The problem at
this stage of the phenomenological dialectic is that it is constituted
opposition to the real life of the individual subject. There is an
‘antithesis of doing and being’. The solution arrived at is to make the universal itself the real individual, which makes itself identical with
the entire content. The emphasis here, as in the rest of the story,
prioritizes logical forms over real content. [40]

The third section mentioned by Marx, ‘the struggle of noble and base consciousness’, is part of
an important stage of spirit’s development, namely, ‘self-estranged
spirit’ (‘Der sich entfremdete Geist‘). The historical allusions become
particularly clear here; the material draws on the world of eighteenth
century France up to, and including, the revolution. We are not therefore
dealing with absolute spirit and the total process of its recovery of
itself from alienation, but with a finite stage of its development. It
deals with the individual and his alienation from society. We are at a
richer, more concrete, level of development of consciousness than in the
previous stages considered, in that the self knows the substance of
social life as its spiritual essence, but society also faces the
individual as an ‘alien reality . . . in which it does not recognize itself’.
The individual and its world are estranged from each other. Even though
the individual knows that it belongs in that world and must find its
place there, to begin with it finds social institutions face it simply as
objectively given realities to which it must conform. It achieves
something within its world only in alienating itself from itself, in
leaving behind its natural self and moulding itself to these objective
requirements. This process of mediating the extremes (nature and society) is
Bildung‘ – perhaps here to be translated as ‘acculturation’. Hegel
says: ‘it is therefore through culture [Bildung] that the individual
acquires standing and actuality’. In observing this development, says Hegel,
we will see ‘the estrangement estrange itself and, through this,
return into its concept’. [41]

This second alienation needs explaining.
The idea is symptomatic of Hegel’s dialectic in general. Given a totality
within which two moments stand in an antagonistic opposition, this can
exist only through a mediating movement. If the estranged elements are
not transformed and brought into harmony, the mediating movement
itself must appear as an alienation. The original estrangement is sublated
in a second alienation. Earlier we discussed the case of labour: given
the estrangement of labour-power from its object, any reunification
under the aegis of wage-labour is alienating in itself and reproduces the
whole system of estrangement. Here, in Hegel, the self alienates itself
from its original nature in cultivating social skills and acquiring
power in society. In this way the original subject-object split is
overcome, but within estrangement.

Rousseau’s critique of his times rested in
just such a diagnosis, namely that natural and civilized man were at
odds. Even in his positive prescription we find a second alienation
solution. Lacking the political virtues of the ever pre-given unity of the
Greek polis, and thus beginning with ‘natural’ individuals, unity is to
be established politically in ‘the general will’ through ‘the total
alienation of each associate … to the whole community’. Moreover,
Rousseau stresses the fact that this involves taking away man’s ‘natural
resources’ and providing ‘new ones alien to him, and incapable of being
made use of without the help of other men’. [42]

Returning now to Hegel,
the social order is presented as structured in terms of state power
and wealth. It is in considering the possible attitudes of
self-consciousness to these that the ‘noble’, and ‘base’, consciousness appear. The
consciousness that takes a positive attitude towards each sphere is
called noble. It respects public authority and is grateful for its
enjoyment of wealth. The consciousness that adopts a negative relation to them
is base. It regards sovereign power as a fetter and it obeys only with
a secret malice, always on the point of revolt. It loves wealth but,
conscious of its temporary and contingent enjoyment, suspects it at the
same time. There are fairly obvious allusions in Hegel’s discussion to
the class struggles between the nobility and the third estate.

In a way
similar to the master-servant dialectic, Hegel then develops each side
into its other. The noble consciousness comes to see in the state and
wealth the power of an alien reality on which it depends. The base
consciousness learns to affirm itself even in its negative relation to

The dialectic advances next through the cultivated consciousness
that ‘sees through’ all this. It knows everything to be self-alienated,
and it adopts a detached and ironical attitude to social reality. Hegel
says that ‘the vanity of all things is its own vanity, it is itself vain; it is the self-centred self that knows, not only how to pass
judgement on and chatter about everything, but how to give witty expression to
the contradiction that is present in the solid elements of the actual world’. It seeks power and wealth while distancing itself from them in
its consciousness. Aware of the self-disruptive nature of all
relationships it achieves pure self-identity ‘as self-consciousness in revolt’. [43]

It is clear that Marx was impressed by this description of the
estrangement of individuals in the social institutions they themselves
sustain in their activity: a culture of ‘universal inversion and
estrangement’, as Hegel puts it. [44] State power and wealth appear as alien
powers, even ‘selves’, standing over against the individuals.

At the same
time, the general criticism Marx brings against Hegel’s reduction of
social forms to forms of consciousness applies with particular force
here. Indeed, the following comment of Marx’s must have been based on this
section: ‘when wealth, state power, etc., are understood by Hegel as
entities estranged from the human being, this only happens in their form
as thoughts.’ [45]

Since this sort of criticism was dealt with in the
previous chapter it will not be further laboured here. (The reader is
also referred to Richard Norman’s commentary where the application of
Marx’s criticism to this material is discussed with subtlety and clarity. [46]) Instead, let us pick up the reference in Hegel’s discussion to
‘the self-consciousness which rebels against this rejection of itself’
(Empörung = ‘rebellion’). [47] It will be recalled that in the passage
from the Capital materials quoted earlier in connection with the
master-servant dialectic, Marx also spoke of rebellion. But what is striking
about Hegel’s master-servant dialectic is the lack of any rebellion on
the part of the servant. The most one can say is, with Richard Kroner,
‘perhaps young Marx, reading this, found the germ of his future
programme’; he explains that ‘in any case, foreshadowed in these words [“mind
of its own”] is the pattern for a labour movement which was to make the
proletarian conscious of his existence and to grant him the knowledge
of having a “mind of his own”.’ [48]

In Hegel’s text the most one can
find is a reference to mere obstinacy. Gadamer comments: ‘obstinacy is
only thought to confirm freedom and is, in fact, a form of rebellious
dependency.’ [49] In fact, to speak here of rebelliousness is already
going too far. None the less, there is an interesting idea here. Hegel
clearly distinguishes the exercise of freedom from undisciplined
wilfulness. In a way, Marx could agree. Simple Luddism is not in itself
revolutionary; but he believes the proletariat potentially embodies universal
emancipation, not a merely partial standpoint. If one denies, as Hegel
does, the historical supersession of bourgeois society, then of course
the proletariat’s rebelliousness is mere particularism.

However, in
the dialectic of noble and base consciousness, Hegel explicitly speaks of
rebelliousness. Therefore, if one is looking for a place where Hegel
gives hints to Marx on rebellion it is here and not in the
master-servant dialectic. As a matter of fact, Marx explicitly acknowledges this
when composing The Holy Family later in 1844. Here is the passage:

propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human
self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened
in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The latter feels
annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the
reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel’s,
in its abasement the indignation {Empörung} at that abasement . . . [50]

It is possible, however, that Marx may not have had the Phenomenology in mind so much as the Philosophy of Right. [51] In the 1833 edition
Gans intercalated material from Hegel’s lectures on the subject. One
reads there: ‘a rabble is created only when there is joined to poverty a
disposition of mind, an inner indignation [Empörung] against the rich,
against society, against the government, etc.’. [52]

interesting point about the Philosophy of Right is that this idea of der Pöbel (translated by Knox as ‘rabble’), a mass of rebellious paupers with no
stake in the existing order, has been thought to be a source for Marx’s
conception of the modern proletariat, as he first defines it as class
in civil society but not of civil society. [53] Another source was
Lorenz von Stein’s book on French communism. [54]

To conclude these remarks
about the influence of Hegel on Marx, let us return to the
comprehending consciousness of absolute knowledge. It is interesting to notice
that Marx himself occasionally echoes the Phenomenology when he treats the
standpoint of the communist movement as such a comprehending
consciousness. In one place he states that the genesis of communism is rooted in
‘the entire movement of history’ and, therefore, it is ‘for its
thinking consciousness the comprehended and known process of its becoming.’ [55] This seems to amount to the same claim Hegel makes for absolute
knowledge when he says that it is ‘comprehended history’. [56]

None the
less, in Marx the objective dialectic of supersession is dominant. The
communist movement does not simply know itself to be ‘the riddle of
history solved’, but will actually abolish private property through a
revolutionary ‘negation of the negation’. In Hegel, on the contrary, the
shadowy status of absolute knowledge, as we noted earlier, leads some to
identify it with Hegel’s own achievement. Marx’s view of this appears
in The Holy Family in the following passage:

Already in Hegel the
absolute spirit of history has its material in the mass and finds its
appropriate expression only in philosophy. The philosopher, however, is only
the organ through which the maker of history, the absolute spirit,
arrives at self-consciousness retrospectively after the movement has ended.
The participation of the philosopher in history is reduced to this
retrospective consciousness, for the real movement is accomplished by the
absolute spirit unconsciously. Hence the philosopher appears on the
scene post festum. [57]

This is from a polemic of Marx against the Young
Hegelian Bruno Bauer. Bauer ‘overcomes Hegel’s half-heartedness’; he
‘consciously plays the part of world spirit‘ in opposition to the
masses, says Marx. Doubtless Marx takes the possibility of a personal
identification of the philosopher with absolute knowledge to be already
implicit in Hegel’s position.

Even if one insists on the objectivism of
Hegel’s unification of subject and substance, Dunayevskaya’s verdict still
has force: ‘because Hegel could not conceive the masses as “subject”
creating the new society, the Hegelian philosophy – though it had
replaced the viewing of things as “things in themselves”, as dead impenetrable
matter – was compelled to return to Kant’s idea of an external unifier
of opposites.’ She concludes ‘Hegel had destroyed all dogmatism except
the dogmatism of “the backwardness of the masses”.’ [58]


far as the separate sections of the Phenomenology are concerned, Marx
does not mention, and does not draw upon, the dialectic of ‘lordship and
bondage’. Of the three sections he mentions as evidence for ‘critical
elements’ in Hegel’s work, the most influential is ‘the struggle of
noble and base consciousness’. Here Hegel treats of the estrangement of
the individual from social institutions such as state power and wealth.
As always, Marx finds in Hegel that the idealist exposition of such
elements of criticism results in their presentation still in estranged

1 The following section is a
reworking of my article on the subject, ‘Hegel’s master/slave dialectic
and a myth of Marxology’, New Left Review, 142 (1983), pp. 67-75.

2 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943, trans. Hazel Barnes,
London, 1958, p. 237. Marcuse, in a review (Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research
, March 1948) of Being and Nothingness, says that ‘Sartre
makes reference to Marx’s early writings . . .’: Herbert Marcuse, From
Luther to Popper
, essays trans. Joris de Bres, London, 1983, p. 188. In
fact there is no such reference. Marcuse probably has in mind this
remark about the ‘master-slave’ influence on Marx – a view held
independently by Marcuse and which he had already linked to Marx’s early writings (see below).

3 Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s
‘Phenomenology of Spirit’
(1946), trans.
S. Cherniak and J. Heckman,
Evanston, 1974, p. 172. Also: ‘the famous dialectic of Master and Slave that
became the inspiration of Marxian philosophy’, Hyppolite, Studies on Marx
and Hegel
(1955), trans. J. O’Neill, New York, 1969, p. 29.

4 Wilfred Desan, The Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre (1965), New York, 1966, pp.
24, 50n.

5 Critique, nos. 195-6, 1963. The list is cited in Vincent
Descombes, Modern French Philosophy (1980), Cambridge, 1982, p. 10n.

6Interview with John Heckman; see his Introduction to the English
translation of Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure, p. xxvi. Heckman is under
the impression Sartre attended, p. xxiii.

7 Republished by Queneau, ‘In
Place of an Introduction’, as the first chapter of his Kojève
collection; the (partial) English translation of this collection of Kojève’s
lectures, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, ed. A. Bloom, trans. J. H.
Nicols, New York, 1969, includes it also as chapter 1.

8 Some
examples: Dirk Struik, Introduction to K. Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, New York, 1964, P. 36; Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: a
, Garden City, NY, 1965, p. 137; W. Desan, Marxism of
Jean-Paul Sartre
, p. 34; G.A. Kelly, ‘Notes on Hegel’s “Lordship and
Bondage” (Review of Metaphysics, 1966), reprinted in Hegel, ed. A.
MacIntyre, Garden City, NY, 1972, P. 190; Mark Poster, Existentialist Marxism in
Post-War France
, Princeton, NJ, 1975, pp. 13-15; Z. Hanfi,
Introduction to F.B., 42; Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel’s Dialectic, New Haven, Conn.,
1976, p. 73; Richard Norman, Hegel’s Phenomenology, Brighton, 1976,
pp. 53, 73; Joachim Israel, The Language of Dialectic and the Dialectics
of Language
, Brighton, 1979, P. 122; M. Petry, Introduction to Hegel,
The Berlin Phenomenology
, Dordrecht, 1981, p. lxxxix; Allen W. Wood,
Karl Marx, London, 1981, pp. 242-3; R.C. Solomon, In the Spirit of Hegel,
Oxford, 1983, p. 425.

9 Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution (1941), 2nd ed., London, 1954, p. 115. In fact Marcuse had already said in
his 1932 review of the 1844 Mss that Marx’s critical concepts point back
to the ontological categories of ‘labour’ and ‘domination and
servitude’ developed by Hegel in his Phenomenology (From Luther to Popper, pp.
13. 39). Pierre Naville gives prominence to Hegel’s discussion but
asserts that it is too simple to say this was Marx’s source – De
L’aliénation à la Jouissance
, Paris, 1957, p. 10. Those who do include Robert C. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, Cambridge, 1961, p. 147, and Joachim Ritter, Hegel and the French Revolution, (1956), trans. R.D.
Winfield, Cambridge, Mass., 1982, p. 120.

10 The only occurrence of the phrase ‘lordship and servitude’ is when Marx copies out the entire list of contents of the Phenomenology.

11 The Berlin Phenomenology (Petry), pp. 86-9. Der Knecht counts as ‘a member of the family’.

12 That is, ‘eigner Sinn‘ as against ‘fremder Sinn‘: G.W.9, 114-15; Phenomenology of Spirit. trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford, 1977, para. 195-6.

13 Werke Eb., 574; C.W.3, 333; E.W., 386. David McLellan, Marx Before
, London, 1970, notes this (p. 197).

14 Werke Eb., 574; C.W.3, 333; E.W., 386,

15 G.W.9, 115-16; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 196;
this is still clearer in The Berlin Phenomenology (Petry), pp.

16 Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, trans. W, Wallace, Oxford, 1971, paras.
434-5; the Nürnberg Propaedeutic (1808-I1) is mid-way in this respect;
the transition is to Reason, as in the Encyclopaedia, but the
importance of labour is still stressed; in J. Loewenberg’s Hegel Selections, New
York, 1929, p. 77.

17 G.W.9, 115-16; Phenomenology (Miller), para.

18 The same comparison between Marx and Hegel is to be found in
Charles Taylor, Hegel, Cambridge, 1975, p. 120; Hegel and Modern
, Cambridge, 1979, PP. 50-1.

19 Phenomenology (Miller), para.

20 G.W.9, 117; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 199.

21 Paragraph 435 of
the 1830 edition.

22 C.W.3, 227.

23 C.1 (Penguin), 990.

24 Werke Eb., 573; C.W.3, 332.

25 J.N. Findlay, Hegel: a Re-Examination,
London, 1958, P.100.

26 For Jean Wahl in La Malheur de La Conscience (1929), Paris, 1951, this figure is paradigmatic of the whole Phenomenology. He argues that the dialectical method is based in the historical
experience of humanity; ‘and for Hegel is not this experience something
more? Before being a philosopher he was a theologian’ (p. vi).

27 For pertinent remarks comparing Hegel with Darwin, Malthus and Hobbes, see Marx’s letter to Engels of 18 June 1862; Selected Correspondence, ed. S. Ryazanskaya, Moscow, 1965. p. 128.

28 C.W.9, 218; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 401.

29 Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche (l941),
London, 1965, p. 265.

30 G.W.9, 220; Phenomenology (Miller), para.

31 G.W.9, 223; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 409.

32 G.W.9,
224; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 411.

33 G.W.9, 224; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 412.

34 G.W.9, 224; Phenomenology (Miller), para.

35 G.W.9, 225; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 413.

36 G.W.9, 227; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 418.

37 Findlay, Hegel, p. 113;
Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure, p. 297; Kojève, The Reading of Hegel, P. 68.

38 G.W.9, 228; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 418.

39 Werke Eb., 585; C.W.3, 343.

40 For a comparison of Marx’s concrete universal
with Hegel’s see my essay ‘Dialectics and Labour’ in Issues in Marxist Philosophy, vol. I, ed. John Mepham and D.H. Ruben, Brighton. 1979.

41G.W.9, 264-9; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 484-91.

42 J.-J. Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. G.D.H. Cole, London, 1973, pp. 174,
194. For material on the influence of Diderot and Rousseau, see Stanley
Rosen, G. W. F. Hegel – an introduction to the science of wisdom, New
Haven, Conn., 1974.

43 G.W.9, 282; Phenomenology (Miller), para.

44 Phenomenology (Miller), para. 521.

45 C.W.3, 331.

46 Norman, Hegel’s Phenomenology, ch. 5 ‘History and alienation’.

47 G.W.9, 282; Phenomenology (Miller), para. 520.

48 Richard Kroner, Introduction, p.
50, to Hegel, On Christianity: Early Theological Writings, trans. T.M.
Knox, New York, 1961.

49 Gadamer, Hegel’s Dialectic, p. 71.

50C.W.4, 36.

51 Shlomo Avineri makes this connection; Hegel’s Theory of
the Modern State
, Cambridge, 1972, p. 97.

52 P.R. (Knox), p.

53 ‘Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie: Einleitung’ p. 181, in New MEGA, 1,2. T.B. Bottomore’s translation of Marx’s Early Writings,
London, 1963, started the fashion for rendering ‘einer Klasse der
bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, welche keine Klasse der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft
‘ as ‘in . . . but not of . . . ‘ (p. 58) thus producing a rhetorical
contrast not in the original straight contradiction; C.W.3 gives ‘of’ both
times (p. 186).

54 For the debate on the influence of Stein on Marx see Kaethe
Mengelberg’s Introduction to her translation of Lorenz von Stein, The History of
the Social Movement in France 1789-1850
(1851), Totowa, NJ, 1964.

55 Werke Eb., 536; C.W.3, 297; E.W., 348. Compare also C.W.3, 313,

56 For a somewhat exaggerated view of this parallel, see R. N. Berki, Insight and Vision: the Problem of Communism in Marx’s Thought, London,
1983, p. 56.

57 C.W.4, 86.

58 Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom, New York, 1958. p. 38.

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