German Ideology, The

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

German Ideology, The


(full title, The German Ideology: A Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, and Stirner and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets), a work by Marx and Engels containing the first full exposition of the materialist conception of history—historical materialism.

The work’s inception dates from the spring of 1845, when Engels came to Brussels. Marx expounded to him the materialist view of history in virtually finished form, and the two decided to develop jointly their new world outlook as a critique of post-Hegelian German philosophy. “Theses on Feuerbach” was written as an outline of the ideas to be elaborated in The German Ideology. The extant manuscript of The German Ideology was written between November 1845 and August 1846, and the addendum to the second volume (Engels’ “The True Socialists”) was written between January and April 1847. The manuscript was never completed. The work consists of two volumes, the first of which is devoted to a critique of the idealism of the Young Hegelians and the second to a critique of German petit bourgeois “true socialism.” The work’s theoretical foundation is contained in the first chapter of the first volume, entitled “Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook,” and the remaining parts are devoted chiefly to polemics. The second and third chapters of the second volume are missing from the manuscript.

The exposition of the materialist conception of history is arranged according to the following general outline: (1) premises, (2) the central idea, including a discussion of production, social intercourse, the political superstructure, and forms of social consciousness, and (3) conclusions.

In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels first enumerated the basic elements underlying their conception of history—people, their activity, and material conditions. The activity of people has two aspects: production (the relation of people to nature) and social intercourse (the relations of people to one another). Production and social intercourse affect each other, but the decisive factor is production. The extremely important tenet of historical materialism that material production plays the determining role in social life is fully developed in this work.

In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels first elucidated the dialectical interaction and development of the productive forces and relations of production. This most important discovery was formulated as the dialectic of the productive forces and the “forms of social intercourse” (social relations). It provided the key to understanding the overall structure of human society (its productive forces, relations of production, political superstructure, and forms of social consciousness) and the general laws of society’s historical development (the germ of the theory of social formations). The discovery of the dialectical relationship between productive forces and relations of production enabled Marx and Engels to demonstrate scientifically that the proletarian and communist revolution was inevitable because of the growing contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production in bourgeois society. It also permitted them to elaborate the materialist conception of history as a coherent idea and as the philosophical basis for the theory of scientific communism and thus to substantiate scientific communism for the first time in history.

The German Ideology lays the foundation for the Marxist theory of classes and class struggle, reveals the nature of the state in general and the bourgeois state in particular, and gives historical materialism’s basic formula for the relations between social existence and social consciousness. “Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life process. . . . Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook, 1966, pp. 29, 30).

The work contains the first explanation of the two basic material preconditions for the communist transformation of society: the development of productive forces and the formation of a revolutionary class, the proletariat. Discussing the first precondition, the authors define it as a fairly high level of large-scale machine production: “Only with the development of large-scale industry does the abolition of private property become possible” (ibid., p. 65). Marx and Engels describe the proletarian revolution as a twofold process, as a change in the conditions of life and at the same time a change in the people who make the revolution: “Revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of the ages and become fit to found society anew” (ibid., p. 50). In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels first stated that the proletariat must win political power and expressed in general terms the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat (ibid., p. 43). On the basis of the dialectical materialist conception of history, the authors outline their theory of the future communist society.

The authors summarize the idea developed in The German Ideology as follows: “Our conception of history depends on our ability to expound the real process of production, starting out from the simple material production of life itself, and to comprehend the form of intercourse connected with this and created by the mode of production (that is, civil society in its various stages), as the basis of all history; and to show it in its action as the State, and to explain all the different theoretical products and forms of consciousness, religion, philosophy, ethics, etc., etc., and trace their origins and growth from that basis; by which means, of course, the whole thing can be depicted in its totality (and therefore, too, the reciprocal action of these various sides on one another). This conception of history, unlike the idealistic view, . . . does not explain practice from the idea but explains the formation of ideas from material practice; and accordingly it comes to the conclusion . . . that not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history” (ibid., pp. 51–52).

Marx and Engels did not succeed in publishing the manuscript of The German Ideology. ”We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly,” Marx later wrote, “since we had achieved our main purpose—that of clarifying the matter for ourselves” (Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 13, p. 8). Apparently, only the fourth chapter of the second volume was published during their lifetime, in 1847. After Engels’ death a few sections of the manuscript were published: the third chapter of the second volume appeared in 1899; about half of the third chapter of the first volume was published in 1903–04 (Russian translation, 1913); and the second chapter of the first volume was issued in 1921. The crucial first chapter of the first volume was first published in the USSR by the Marx-Engels Institute. It was issued in Russian in 1924 (Archives of Marx and Engels, book 1, edited by D. B. Riazanov) and in German in 1926 (Marx-Engels Archiv, vol. 1, prepared by P. L. Veller). The entire manuscript was first published in 1932 in the USSR by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute. It was published in the original language under the editorship of V. V. Adoratskii (Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, part 1, vol. 5, prepared by P. L. Veller). The entire work appeared in Russian in 1933 (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., vol. 4, prepared by B. E. Bykhovskii). The 1924–26 and 1932–33 editions became the basis for many translations and reprints.

In 1965 and 1966 the Institute of Marxism-Leninism under the Central Committee of the CPSU published a new and so far the most complete edition of the first chapter, with the text arranged and divided according to the structure and content of the manuscript. The edition was prepared by G. A. Bagaturiia and edited by V. K. Brushlinskii and appeared in Voprosy Filosofii (nos. 10–11) in 1965 and as a separate publication in 1966. Similar editions were issued in German in 1966 (in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophic and several reprints), in Serbo-Croatian in 1967, in Georgian in 1968, in Ukrainian in 1968, in French in 1968 and 1970, in Italian in 1969, in English in 1969 and 1972, and in Finnish in 1972. Altogether the text of The German Ideology has been published in full or in part at least 150 times.


Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, part 1, vol. 5. Berlin, 1932. Marx and Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Marx and Engels. Feierbakh: Protivopolozhnost’ materialisticheskogo i idealisticheskogo vozzrenii (Novaia publikatsiia pervoi glavy “Nemetskoi ideologii”). Moscow, 1966.
Marx, K. “K kritike politicheskoi ekonomii: Predislovie.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 13, pp. 6–8.
Oizerman, T. I. Formirovanie filosofii marksizma. Moscow, 1962.
Cornu, A. Karl Marks i Fridrikh Engel’s, vol. 3. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from German.)
Bagaturiia, G. A. “Pervoe velikoe otkrytie Marksa.” In the collection Marks—istorik Moscow, 1968.
Bagaturiia, G. A. “Iz opyta izucheniia rukopisnogo nasledstva Marksa i Engel’sa.” In the collection Istochnikovedenie. Moscow, 1969.
Rossi, M. Marx e la dialettica hegeliana, part 2. Rome, 1963.
Michalik, M. Obrachunki filozoficzne Karola Marksa w “Ideologii niemieckiej.” Warsaw, 1966.
Andréas, B. , and W. Mönke. “Neue Daten zur Deutschen Ideologic “ Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, vol. 8. Hannover, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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