Marx’s mirrors

Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt. 2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man's essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man's essential nature. 3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species, and therefore would become recognised and felt by you yourself as a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary part of yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed both in your thought and your love. 4) In the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly confirmed and realised my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature.

Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.

This relationship would moreover be reciprocal; what occurs on my side has also to occur on yours.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl. Comments on James Mill, Éléments D’économie Politique (1844).

He [Stirner] discovers to his great displeasure that the two sides prominently appearing in history, the private interest of individuals and the so-called general interest, always accompany each other. As usual, he discovers this in a false form, in its holy form, from the aspect of ideal interests, of the holy, of illusion. He asks: how is it that the ordinary egoists, the representatives of personal interests, are at the same time dominated by general interests, by school-masters, by the hierarchy? His reply to the question is to the effect that the bourgeois, etc., “seem to themselves too small”, and he discovers a “sure sign” of this in the fact that they behave in a religious way, i.e., that their personality is divided into a temporal and an eternal one, that is to say, he explains their religious behaviour by their religious behaviour, after first transforming the struggle between general and personal interests into a mirror image of the struggle, into a simple reflection inside religious fantasy.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl; Engels, Frederick. The German Ideology, Volume I: Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner: Chapter 3: The Leipzig Council: Saint Max: The New Testament: “Ego”: 1. The Economy of the New Testament.

After learning in this fashion of the unity of “man” with “all things”, we now learn how he differs from “all things”.

“But man knows himself, he is conscious of himself. Whereas in other beings, the instincts and forces of nature manifest themselves in isolation and unconsciously, they are united in man and become conscious ... his nature is the mirror of all nature, which recognises itself in him. Well then! If nature recognises itself in me, then I recognise myself in nature. I see in its life my own life [... ]. We are thus giving living expression to that with which nature has imbued us” (p. 158).

This whole prologue is a model of ingenuous philosophic mystification. The true socialist proceeds from the thought that the dichotomy of life and happiness must cease. To prove this thesis he summons the aid of nature presupposing that this dichotomy does not exist in nature and from this he deduces that since man, too, is a natural body and has the properties which such bodies generally possess, this dichotomy ought not to exist for him either. Hobbes had much better reasons for invoking nature as a proof of his bellum omnium contra omnes [Hobbes, De Cive] and Hegel, on whose construction our true socialist depends, for perceiving in nature the cleavage, the slovenly period of the Absolute Idea, and even calling the animal the concrete anguish of God. After shrouding nature in mystery, our true socialist shrouds human consciousness in mystery too, by making it the “mirror” of this mystified nature. Of course, when the manifestation of consciousness ascribes to nature the mental expression of a pious wish about human affairs, it is self-evident that consciousness will only be the mirror in which nature contemplates itself. That “man” has to abolish in his own sphere the cleavage, which is assumed to be non-existent in nature, is now proved by reference to man in his quality as a mere passive mirror in which nature becomes aware of itself; just as it was earlier proved by reference to man as a mere natural body. But let us inspect the last proposition more closely; all the nonsense of these arguments is concentrated in it.

The first fact asserted is that man possesses self-consciousness. The instincts and energies of individual natural beings are transformed into the instincts and forces of “Nature”, which then, as a matter of course, “are manifested” in isolation in these individual beings. This mystification was needed in order later to effect a unification of these instincts and forces of “Nature” in the human self-consciousness. Thereby the self-consciousness of man is, of course, transformed into the self-consciousness of nature within him. This mystification is apparently resolved in the following way: in order to pay nature back for finding its self-consciousness in man, man seeks his, in turn, in nature — a procedure which enables him, of course, to find nothing in nature except what he has imputed to it by means of the mystification described above.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl; Engels, Frederick. The German Ideology, Volume II: Chapter 4: True Socialism: I: Die Rheinischen Jahrbücher Or The Philosophy of True Socialism: B. “Socialistische Bausteine” [“Cornerstones of Socialism” — title of an article by Rudolph Matthäi], Rheinische Jahrbücher, p. 155 et seq.

We next meet Kinkel again in London, and this time, thanks to his prison fame and the sentimentality of the German Philistines, he has become the greatest man in Germany. Mindful of his sublime mission Friend Gottfried was able to exploit all the advantages of the moment. His romantic escape gave new impetus to the Kinkel cult in Germany and he adroitly directed this onto a path that was not without beneficial material consequences. At the same time London provided the much venerated man with a new, complex arena in which to receive even greater acclaim. He did not hesitate: he would have to be the new lion of the season. With this in mind he refrained for the time being from all political activity and withdrew into the seclusion of his home in order to grow a beard, without which no prophet can succeed. After that he visited Dickens, the English liberal newspapers, the German businessmen in the City and especially the aesthetic Jews in that place. He was all things to all men: to one a poet, to another a patriot in general, professor of fine arts to a third, Christ to the fourth, the patiently suffering Odysseus to the fifth. To everyone, however, he appeared as the gentle, artistic, benevolent and humanitarian Gottfried. He did not rest until Dickens had eulogised him in the Household Words, until the Illustrated News had published his portrait. He induced the few Germans in London who had been involved in the Kinkel mania even at a distance to allow themselves to be invited to lectures on modern drama. Once he had organised them in this way tickets to these lectures flooded into the homes of the local German population. No running around, no advertisement, no charlatanism, no importunity was beneath him; in return, however, he did not go unrewarded. Gottfried sunned himself complacently in the mirror of his own fame and in the gigantic mirror of the Crystal Palace of the world. And we may say that he now felt tremendously content.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl. Heroes of the Exile (1852): IV: Kinkel in London.

Thus through the relative value-expression the value of the commodity acquires, first, a form different from its own use-value. The use-form of this commodity is, e.g. linen. But it possesses its value-form in its relation of equality with the coat. Through this relation of equality the body of another commodity, sensibly different from it, becomes the mirror of its own existence as value (Wertsein), of its own character as value (Wertgestalt). In this way it gains an independent and separate value-form, different from its natural form. But second, as a value of definite magnitude, it is quantitatively measured by the quantitatively definite relation or the proportion in which it is equated to the body of the other commodity.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl. The Value-Form: Appendix to the 1st German edition of Capital, Volume 1, 1867; translated by Mike Roth and Wal Suchting, Capital and Class, no. 4, Spring 1978, pp. 130-150.

Whilst the writer [European Messenger (St. Petersburg), May 1872, pp. 427-436] pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs, and whose crowning point is the universal crisis. That crisis is once again approaching, although as yet but in its preliminary stage; and by the universality of its theatre and the intensity of its action it will drum dialectics even into the heads of the mushroom-upstarts of the new, holy Prusso-German empire.

SOURCE: Marx, Karl. Capital, Volume I (1873), Afterword to the Second German Edition, January 24, 1873.

Note: There are many instances of the word ‘mirror’ in Marx’s work, including passages on value theory, the political reflections of concrete conditions, and sundry. Here are a few of the more interesting examples, the last being a clue to Marx’s scientific, dialectical method.

Quotable Quotes from The German Ideology by Marx & Engels

The German Ideology After 150 Years

Marx on Science, Religion, Historical Method

Science, Society, and Life:
Extract from "Private Property and Communism"
from the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of Karl Marx (1844)

Marx & Engels on the Science of History

Marx on good & bad abstraction in political economy

Marx on political economy vs reversion to Romanticism

The Climax of the Enlightenment
by Carlton J. H. Hayes

Dostoevsky’s Underground, Ideology, Reception:
A Very Select Bibliography

Ideology Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


[to the Critique of Political Economy, 1857]
(esp. (3) The Method of Political Economy

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