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The German Ideology

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1988 Prometheus Book edition

The German Ideology (German: Die deutsche Ideologie), also known as A Critique of the German Ideology,[1] is a set of manuscripts written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels around April or early May 1846. Marx and Engels did not find a publisher, but the work was retrieved and first published in 1932 by the Soviet Union's Marx–Engels–Lenin Institute. The book uses satirical polemics to critique modern German philosophy, particularly that of young Hegelians such as Marx's former mentor Bruno Bauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own. It criticizes "ideology" as a form of "historical idealism", as opposed to Marx's historical materialism (the "materialist conception of history"). The first part of Volume I also examines the division of labor and Marx's theory of human nature, on which he states that humans "distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence".


The first page of the manuscript

The text itself was written by Marx and Engels in Brussels in 1845 and 1846 but it was not published until 1932. The Preface and some of the alterations and additions are in Marx's hand. The bulk of the manuscript is in Engels' hand, except for Chapter V of Volume II and some passages of Chapter III of Volume I which are in Joseph Weydemeyer's hand. Chapter V in Volume II was written by Moses Hess and edited by Marx and Engels. The text in German runs to around 700 pages.[2]

Recent research for the new Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) indicates that much of the "system" of the "materialist conception of history" in the first part of the book was created afterwards by the Marx-Engels Institute.[3][4]

Through the publication of the first volume of "Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe" it was possible to show that "Marx and Engels did not write the manuscripts on the “German ideology” as part of a book project, but rather as part of a magazine project in which other authors (Moses Hess, Georg Weerth, Wilhelm Weitling, etc.) were also involved. For this reason, a manuscript written by Roland Daniels, which was edited by Marx and Engels for the planned quarterly publication, is being printed in this volume for the first time. In terms of content, it was not initially the systematic elaboration of one's own theoretical positions that was the concern, but instead the polemical debate with young Hegelian and socialist contemporaries. However, the focus of the criticism of Marx and Engels was not on Feuerbach (as was mostly assumed up to now), but on Max Stirner, the author of the radical individualist work “The Unique One and His Property”. It could be proven that the majority of what the recipients of the last century saw as chapter “I. Feuerbach” was originally written in controversy with Stirner. This also applies to the genesis of such central concepts as "ideology" and "petty bourgeois". In addition, there are numerous digressions in which Marx and Engels present their own positions (depictions of the historical development of the German bourgeoisie, the relationship between intellectual and material rule and the history of private property). It was only during the course of this discussion that Marx and Engels made the decision present their views in a separate chapter and combine them with a critique of Feuerbach. To this end, they removed central parts of the text of the Stirner and Bauer criticism from the context of their composition. These text developments are documented in detail in the apparatus volume. The text-critical apparatus with its discursive presentation of variants makes the drafting process transparent and, in particular, the intensive collaboration between Marx and Engels on the manuscripts comprehensible."[5]

General outline[edit]

Marx and Engels argue that humans distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence to support their needs; what individuals are coincides with their production in both how and what they produce. The nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production.[6]

How far the productive forces of a nation are developed is shown by the degree to which the division of labor has been carried. Also, there is a direct link between division of labor and forms of ownership.

The ruling class, in ruling the material force of society, is simultaneously the ruling intellectual force of society. They regulate the production and distribution of ideas of their age. As the ruling class changes with time, so too do the ideals and the new ruling class must instill upon its society its own ideas which will become universal. The ruling ideas are thought to be the universal interest. However, it is an illusion that the ideas of the ruling class are the communal interests.[7] This system will forever remain in place so long as society is organized around the need for a ruling class.[8]

To illustrate this theoretical framework, Marx draws on his formulation of base and superstructure. Historical development is the reflection of changes in the economic and material relations of the base. When the base changes, a revolutionary class becomes the new ruling class that forms the superstructure. During revolution, the revolutionary class makes certain that its ideas appeal to humanity in general so that after a successful revolution these ideas appear natural and universal. These ideas, which the super-structural elements of society propagate, then become the governing ideology of the historical period. Furthermore, the governing ideology mystifies the economic relations of society and therefore places the proletariat in a state of false consciousness that serves to reproduce the working class.[9]

"Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness no longer retain the semblance of independence; they have no history and no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their collective thinking."

In The German Ideology (as in his later texts, volume 1 and volume 3 of Capital), Marx discusses how primitive accumulation ‘alienates humans from nature’.[10]: 14 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Marx & Engels Selected Works". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 2021-05-31.
  2. ^ Hamilton, Christopher (2003). Understanding Philosophy for AS Level. Nelson Thornes.
  3. ^ "Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA)". mega.bbaw.de. Retrieved 2021-11-14.
  4. ^ Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). Herausgegeben von der Internationalen Marx-Engels-Stiftung Amsterdam. Erste Abteilung: Werke. Artikel. Entwürfe. Band 5: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Deutsche Ideologie. Manuskripte und Drucke. Bearbeitet von Ulrich Pagel, Gerald Hubmann und Christine Weckwerth. Berlin, Boston 2017.
  5. ^ "I/5 M/E - Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA)". mega.bbaw.de. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  6. ^ Marx, Karl. Simon, Lawrence (ed.). The German Ideology. Hackett Publishing Co. p. 107.
  7. ^ Marx, p. 120.
  8. ^ Karl Marx. "The German Ideology". Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 653–58. Print.
  9. ^ Marx, Karl, 2004. “The German Ideology”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Riv-kin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 653-8.
  10. ^ Driscoll, Mark W. (2020). The Whites are Enemies of Heaven: Climate Caucasianism and Asian Ecological Protection. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-1-4780-1121-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Terrell Carver and Daniel Blank, Marx and Engels's German Ideology Manuscripts: Presentation and Analysis of the "Feuerbach Chapter." New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • –––, Political History of the Editions of Marx and Engels's "German Ideology Manuscripts." New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • Sarah Johnson, "Farewell to the German ideology," in Journal of the History of Ideas 83, no.1, 2022.
  • Margaret A. Rose, Reading the Young Marx and Engels: Poetry, Parody, and the Censor. London: Croon Helm, 1978.

External links[edit]