To Robert McIver (5 December 1957)

From Karl Polanyi
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Dear Bob,

All my careful planning has been upset. For reasons beyond my control a meeting fixed for Saturday, December 14th, had to be advanced by a week. This make it doubtful whether other duties may not interfere with our tentative lunch date of Tuesday, December 17th. If so, I should be greatly disappointed. At present I cannot yet be sure how long I will be able to stay, and so please let the date stand, unless you hear from me.

We have here the fattest subject for exalted gossip in a long time: Marx’s 1844 Tract on philosophy, you remember, was published first in 1932, well after Lenin’s death. Marx’s main subject there was Hegel, whose crucial early works were not published till many years after Marx and Engels were dead. It now turns on that Hegel had anticipated both Ricardo and Marx in deducing from Ferguson and Adam Smith the structure of a competitive market economy which he categorically declared to be doomed. Incidentally, he had gleaned his moral insights from Diderot, whose Rameau’s nephew” (from a still unpublished MS.) Goethe had translated into German. Diderot’s dialogue served Hegel as an (unwittingly done) analysis of a pre-revolutionary society (somewhat as he might regard Dostoievsky’s Aljosa – Ivan talks as samples of the dialectic of another pre-revolutionary society, to wit, Russia. (This is to quote Jean Hyppolite, the eminent French Hegelian).

The tremendous sensation to come is caused by a veritable chain-reaction of discoveries preformed in the time sequence of the facts adduced above. The “early Marx” and the “theological Hegel” had been ignored. Yet before Marx had reversed Ricardo and Hegel, Hegel had gone beyond either and developed a sort of general sociology from metaphysical and moral concepts. A prophetic vision of a business world evolving under its own laws forced with Hegel the apocalyptic logic called ‘dialectic’ into existence. The heat and the passion of the oeuvre was generated by his dedication to politics and publicists tasks on a titanic scale. And as eventually “Das Kapital” conceived as a pamphlet against bourgeois economic ideology resulted in a monumental faulty theorem, Hegel’s premature attempt at encompassing the new natural science, the nascent economic ideology plus evolutionism culminated in the absurdity of a Prussian “finis” written to history. Marx at least changed it into Socialism. To set history’s watch right, a new look at our tools will be needed.

Lukacs’s 1948 book adds a new chapter to the gossip of the gods. For a prima facie Marxist analysis does greatly help to understand Hegel’s predicament. But gossip breeds gossip. Marx himself had been nurtured on the works of a genius who had started on the study of the English economists fifty years before him, but had learnt from Burke and Napoleon that the impossible may last. Hence ‘backward Germany’ turned him against liberal democracy, as ‘backward Russia’ turned Lenin against democratic socialism. I do not mean that in order to master the future we should turn history into gossip. Nevertheless the facts of life must be faced, even if the skeletons look queer.

I have now waded through more than half of Lukacs’s 720-page book on ‘Der Junge Hegel’. Turning some of it inside out, and patching up the rest from my ‘early Marx studies of twenty-five years ago, seasoned with Landshut’s new Introduction to the 1953 re-edition of the “Frühschriften”, the masterly Hyppolite and a grand Jesuite monograph of 650 pages on Dialectical Materialism by G.A. Wetter (1953), (which I scanned) a veritable Odyssey of the human mind unfolds.

I hope we can meet sometime soon.


Karl Polanyi

P.S. Wetter’s erudite study is praised to the high skies by communist critics. He is a trained philosopher who follows strictly the papal party line of Communism the anti-Christ, but happens to be extremely critical of capitalism. He is meticulously exact in his presentations and careful in his argumentations – the perfect craftsman. He accepts all essential positions of classical Marxism, but decisively rejects one of four (?) tenets of Dialectical Materialism. As he shows, it implies irreducible atheism, which, he insists, is the raison d’être of that philosophy (rated by him as very poor). In an Annex addressed this time “to orthodox Catholics inly”, he reveals his personal position. At its heart there is a mystic elaboration of a legend of “Eve and the Serpent” which is set out as an allegory of cosmic evolution from dead Nature to Conscious Man and – through the New Eve! – to Jesus Christ, The Saviour. Except for this last stage, it is just Hegelianism in usum Delphini, - with the Virgin at the center. How simple! And if the New Adam was alright, why not a New Eve? And if Adam labored, so did Eve. Birth is as creative as Labor, and at least as ‘dialectic’. Wetter’s figure is utterly Shavian. And at any rate he is the greatest living authority on Dialectical Materialism. Which is as it should be.


KPA: 50/01, 224-225 & 249-250