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Marx's Eurocentric Theories of History and Revolution and their Hegelian Sources

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Presented at the 2016 American Political Science Association

Intellectual champions of Hegelian-Marxism from Lukacs to the present day have emphasized that the Hegelian dialectic provides the basis for a non-reductionist and humanistic understanding of Marx's theories of history and revolution. Traditionally counter posed to Hegelian-Marxism are the "orthodox" marxisms associated with the Second International and Stalinism that are said to have rendered Marxist theory dogmatic due to, among other reasons, their deterministic understandings of history and revolution. What is rarely scrutinized in recent literature however is the extent to which historically deterministic aspects of Marx's thinking carry over from the Hegelian heritage. This paper focuses on the 1843 text, Marx's Introduction to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, the text in which Marx first theorizes the proletariat as the agency of revolution and thereby centrally significant protagonist in his theory of history as well. Marx's concept of revolution is, as Robert Tucker pointed out, eurocentric dependent upon the historical conditions and context of the Industrial Revolution. In other words, the class that Marx identifies as historical agent in the 1843 Introduction is a class first created by conditions specific to Western Europe. Yet Marx theorized a world revolution. This tension has been problematic in the history of Marxism and is directly connected to the rethinking of revolutionary agency outside of advanced industrial nations. The eurocentrism however originates not in Marx's text but in the Hegelian text that he critiques. The Philosophy of Right is a "text of realization" that is, it claims that rationality had been achieved by state forms as then existed in 19th century Europe. Marx's rejoinder is to identify rationality with the class that is most dominated and thereby negates the social and political adumbrated by Hegel. Yet in engaging Hegel on his theoretical terrain Marx is enmeshed within Hegelian horizons. Notably these are not horizons in which the realization of human freedom is transitory as to place and mode of realization, as is arguably the case in earlier Hegelian texts but rather set within a post-Enlightenment European framework. In first theorizing world revolution, Marx's theoretical development was still grounded in the limitations of Hegel's later work. This paper seeks to elucidate these limitations, their sources and ramifications.


2016 American Political Science Association


Philadelphia, PA