Characterized as a whole Marxism is, as Gramsci put it., the philosophy of praxis. In the XIth thesis on Feuerbach, Marx states the essence of this philosophy: “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”  This famous thesis, however, can and has been interpreted in various ways.
Considered in isolation and independently of the meaning of praxis in Marx's works, the XIth thesis reduces to the statement that Marx’s philosophy is a revolutionary one—it is an interpretation of the world meant to change it. But if Marx’s thesis meant only that and no more, then Marxism would be just another philosophy, since it is not the first one to aim at the transformation of the world. French materialism in the 18th century was definitely revolutionary and politically active; it was definitely praxis-oriented and wanted to substitute a new, “correct” social order for the old one. But although politically radical, its revolutionary spirit was not philosophically revolutionary. To understand this a thorough analysis of Marx’s concept of praxis is needed. In earlier materialist theories, praxis was something externally forced upon a pre-given reality. It transformed reality, but it had no relation whatsoever to its structure; “. . . reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively.”  For Marx praxis is not a principle opposed to and struggling with reality, but reality itself. In fact, Kant himself revealed the secret of previous kinds of materialism when he separated pure from practical Reason, thus restricting praxis to moral practice and to the preservation and realization of individual autonomy. Hence, if we identify reality with what is given., then praxis cannot be real.
When Marx regarded reality not as object but as praxis, as human [45/46] sensuous activity, subjectively, i.e. when he saw object and subject in reality as inseparable and identical, he also criticized idealism. Idealism, he says, naturally “does not know . . . real, sensuous activity as such.”  Marx goes beyond all previous types of materialism and idealism by pointing out their essential identity, an identity found in their one-sidedness; that is to say, neither of them regards “human activity itself as objective activity.”  For so-called philosophical materialism the object is given, while activity itself in its “dirty-Jewish form of appearance”  becomes only external; and, though idealism regards activity as the essence of reality, it does away with the objective side.
The central concept of Marxist philosophy, its point of departure and arrival, is praxis. In practice subjective and objective aspects form an inseparable unity. The dialectical identity of subject and object in praxis, furthermore, is to be regarded as an ontological and not as an epistemological statement. For the individual subject of cognition, reality, exists solely as object, that is, as a thing in itself existing “objectively”, independently of the subject’s cognitive activity. To avoid misunderstandings, which emanate even from Marxists, the following must be said, and must be absolutely clear. The subject is not an isolated subject with its discrete consciousness. At the very moment when the subject is considered to be an “abstract, isolated human being”, social life becomes just as objectively “external” as nature. But, as Marx states it in the VIth thesis on Feuerbach, this isolated human being is a mere presumption: the presumption of the fetishistic consciousness. In the consciousness of the man of alienated society, of a society in which human relations appear in the form of relations between things, and thus, in which social movements seem to be activities of isolated persons, it is the isolated individual who appears as subject, as a bare subject; while the world in its totality, society and all of its members, just like nature, appear as objects, as bare objects. The idea which projects the essence of the real subject (that is, of the human species) beyond reality and which conceives reality in its totality (nature and society) as the object [46/47] of this transcendent subject must be regarded as the transcendent formulation of the appearance mentioned above (fetishistic consciousness). This appearance, however, does not cease to exist by being recognized as such. The consciousness of the fact that man's social relationships are the products of his own activities does not mean that man controls these relationships. Within these alienated social conditions, man's subjection still exists, even if he is not dependent upon forces outside him or upon laws independent of him, but on the products of his own activities. The recognition of the fetishistic appearance gives the subject the potentiality of bringing this dependency to an end through revolutionary activity, the potentiality of transforming the “natural” character of social laws.
The dialectical identity of subject and object is the secret of the revolutionary spirit, of Marxist philosophy; man can only get rid of the shackles of the fetishism of a "given" reality if he recognizes that the "given" reality is the product of his own activity. In this sense, even the most revolutionary bourgeois philosophy only "interprets" reality. Theoretically and practically, it only creates the preconditions for a possible realization of a political establishment adequate to already existing social conditions. Thus in reality, Marxist philosophy is the first to go beyond interpretation and to change the world, a world which is not already "given" but which is objectified human praxis itself. In this philosophy, praxis arrives at "self-consciousness", and that is why Marxism is a revolutionary turning-point in the history of philosophy.
We should not disregard the fact, however, that, by giving unity to object and subject, praxis is an objectifying activity. By discovering this, Marx succeeded in overcoming the limits of bourgeois materialism in a non-idealistic way. We have in mind this formulation: "it is the . . . production of material life which determines social life-processes". The means of production of material life presupposes nature, which is, in fact, only an object for the subject, for man. The identity of object and subject for Marx, in contrast to Hegel, is not realized in the Absolute Idea, not in a mystical way. Man is a [47/48] natural being who realizes and forms his own reality (social life) in the course of his everlasting, "forcing back" of the boundaries of nature. Praxis, the identity of subject and object, is nothing else but social life growing out of nature.
Thus Marx's philosophic approach is the comprehension of objectivity, of reality, as subjective, sensuously real human activity, as praxis. Can this approach be made consistent with the "scientific" approach, which considers its subject matter to be exclusively objective?, which regards its subject matter as an objectivity independent of man., as movements of objects determined by causal relations and by objective laws equally independent of man?, which endeavors to exclude from its subject matter every anthropomorphic and anthropocentric feature?, whose specific features, in contrast to human areas of knowledge, expels teleology from its domain? Is it not the case that the objective "scientific'' approach to reality thus has not removed itself from the approach of fetishizing objectivity, which had been the characteristic of materialism preceding Marx? Furthermore, do science and philosophy, then, necessarily complete one another in some sense?
The necessity and importance of science in human life and society can only be denied on the basis of some kind of romantic standpoint, according to which "human problems" can only be solved through the denial of technical achievements, by means of a return to some kind of ancient state of affairs where man and nature confronted each other without any mediations. But this can only be done by abolishing man's humanity. Even in the course of using the most primitive instruments, there is—consciously and unconsciously—a utilization of the causal relations of objective nature independent of man. When science constructs its deanthropomorphic view of nature, it does nothing but recognize, generalize, and systematize those presuppositions which are hidden in even the most primitive activities of our labor. It would I e very difficult to believe that science has achieved its practical successes in spite of, and not as a result of, its approach. A really effective science became possible precisely as a result of the rise of the deanthropomorphic approach of Galileo. [48/49]
Thus apparently, there are two conflicting approaches: that of philosophy, apprehending the object as subject, and that of “science”, knowing only the object and assigning the subject the task of reflecting the object. The contrast between the two approaches is not only theoretical; modern types of Lebensphilosophie, e.g. existentialism, definitely reject the “scientific” approach, denying that science can describe reality, regarding science only as a tool, one which can be very useful for achieving certain results, but which has nothing to do with reality. Within Marxism, too, we can find views rejecting the "scientific" approach, throwing out any kind of facticity, any objective laws of reality, recognizing the positivist standpoint in such approaches. This tendency states that any assumption of an object without a subject springs from the fetishistic consciousness of the world of bourgeois society, from an alienated consciousness for which social relations between men appear in the form of relations between things.
This criticism can be applied not only to bourgeois social science but to such interpreters of Marxism, too, who, from the philosophy of praxis and from the dialectical unity realized in it, "stepped back to philosophical materialism" (Gramsci). This interpretation, this stepping back, the danger of which has been called to our attention by Gramsci, characterized the entire official Marxism of the Stalin Era, and it "culminated" in Stalin's statements, according to which social laws, just as in the case of natural laws., "are the reflections of the objective reality in people's heads". This view is indeed the fetishistic consciousness created by alienation, by reified human relations. It reflects that state of affairs when "man's activity becomes a power alien and opposed to him, being subjected to it instead of being its ruler".
It by no means follows from Marx's view, that all of reality must be considered as man's own activity. However, if we say that deanthropomorphic natural science were also borne by such a fetishistic consciousness, we implicitly consider nature as human activity. By considering positivism to be the acceptance of such an objective view [49/50] of nature, we ourselves give ground to a positivistic account of natural science. More precisely, we thereby accept this interpretation, setting philosophy as the only possible interpretation of reality outside of this positivistic view of nature. The view which considers natural science not as knowledge of actual nature but only as a fixation of merely subjective experiences states exactly the same thing about the content of the theories of natural science as modern positivism.
It is not possible that the reality which is the subject matter of science is different from that of philosophy's? Also, that the subject matter of science, i.e. the reality described by it, is in fact a mere object not only for cognition but also for human objectifying activity?—while the subject matter of philosophy, the reality described by philosophy, that is, social life, praxis, is such an object which is at the same time the subject as well? In our opinion, this is the case. Consequently, the "scientific" and the "philosophical" modes of inquiry are not two different methods of approach to one and the same reality (in which it should only be asked whether the two are complementary to each other, or whether one of them should be eliminated in order to reach the right way of approaching reality) but both are the only possible ways of approaching their own subject matter.
Those who say that there is no object without a subject do not accept this solution, however. According to them, nature for man is given only in and thus it cannot be separated from praxis. Undoubtedly., they say, there is something resisting man's material activity, there is something confronting man; that can be called nature, if we care to call it that,, but the concrete structure of this something, those concrete forms in which it appears, its “rationality”, the causal relations and regularities valid in it, and thus everything that is seen by man as an object, can by no means be an objective characteristic of this something, i.e. a characteristic independent of human praxis, but it is, on the contrary, created by praxis. Arguments supporting this view cannot really be handled in a cavalier manner. Adherents of this view argue, first of all, that positing a "rationality" of nature, i.e. the supposition that some kind of regularities are at work in nature, [50/51] necessarily introjects a transcendent element into nature. Where does this rationality come from, if we do not posit some kind of reason which constructed it, a supernatural reason or a spirit? Order is an offspring of praxis, and the separation of "order" from praxis is just as much an alienated product as is the separation of regularities in society from human activity. Even if one admit the objective existence of a structure in nature, one existing prior to man, they ask, Where is that nature today? Humanized nature cannot be identified with nature "in itself". They also refer to Marx: "But nature too, taken abstractly, for itself, and rigidly separated from man, is nothing for man."  What is more, in defense of their view, they could even refer to the Marx of the "Theses on Feuerbach", to that Marx who drafts in a definite form his praxis-oriented dialectical philosophy: "The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question."  The same can be said about questions referring to an objective nature isolated from praxis. Marx's view on the relation of truth and praxis can only be interpreted correctly if we see that truth itself comes about only in praxis. Theory as a picture reflecting reality does not exist; it is a part of praxis, and thus does not stand above it.
First of all, we have to admit that for man nature in its "Being-for-itself" is really nothing. Nature is only given to us in praxis, in activity, Accordingly, the meaning of nature changes historically, not only in the sense that human activity transforms the originally given environment, i.e. it objectively changes "nature", but also in the sense—and this is more important—that man's picture of nature is constantly formed and transformed by man's metabolism with nature. Differences of interpretation are often a consequence of the fact that, by and within praxis, nature is penetrated more and more. The elementary particles of matter have by no means always belonged to what nature means to man. More and more, phenomena of a novel qualitative nature are discovered in nature, and, in most cases, that is why man is compelled to reinterpret those already at hand.
Since natural science always forms its view of nature by means of [51/52] the practice of a given age, then not even the most exact natural science can give man the view of nature; the natural sciences of an age cannot separate themselves—at least not radically—from the productive activities of their age, from their patterns of concrete objectifying activity. This does not force us to say that the view of nature of the sciences is a projection of an alienated social praxis. The concrete content and depth of our view of nature are bound to praxis, and nothing can be known of nature not connected with praxis, with the social mode of existence. This, and only this, is stated by Marx. But the fact that science's deanthropomorphic view of nature assigns a definite structure to nature reflects something which is the same as our description of it (without added human praxis), and is proved by praxis itself. It is explained by the fact that, to overcome the resistance of that particular "something", we need definite presuppositions, for the realization of our human purposes concerning nature is a function of our knowledge of nature. Nevertheless, we should not concentrate on partial elements. The realization of a practical task is not proof, in itself, of the truth of the concepts which make the solution possible. This can only be said by a pragmatist, who identifies truth with its possible use.
The difference between the concepts of praxis (as criteria of truth) in Marxism and pragmatism does not lie in the fact that in pragmatic theory truth is identified with usefulness, while for Marxism praxis is the criterion of truth. Using such phrases (and very often Marxists could not argue in any other way) the difference is only verbal. A Marxist would often add to the pragmatic account by saying that this truth is also objective. The difference is to be looked for somewhere else, in the interpretation of praxis itself. For the pragmatist praxis consists only in individual acts, but according to Marxism praxis is social life itself. The Marxian criterion of truth based on praxis is not to be identified with utility or success in definite, concrete actions. Several examples could be cited to show that false, or only relatively true, concepts make correct, purposeful action possible. The truth of man's view of nature as an historical process is verified by praxis in its entirety, by making possible man's domination over nature, [52/53] i.e. "forcing back nature's barriers" to a greater and greater extent. On the basis of the entirety of the unfolding of our view of nature, the truth of the individual aspects of knowledge is always relative, in the sense that the veracity of these aspects can be verified (in most cases) only by fitting them coherently into the whole of our view of nature, Furthermore, the "whole" is true only as a process. It can always have parts (often very important ones) which are false, whose falsity cannot be recognized at that particular stage.
In such an interpretation of the criterion of truth, the following argument against discovering objective truth about nature also turns out to be invalid. If the forcing back of natural barriers justifies the objective, deanthropomorphic view of nature, then, by analogy with this, one can say that praxis in its entirety is evidence of an "objective", i.e. fetishistic, alienated view of society. However, the difference between the two analogues, nature and society, is fundamental; for, while in relation to nature man does achieve his aims on the basis of an objective view of nature, the "objective" view of society has not led to the realization of such aims, even if some "objective" social theories have served as a ground for some effective social movements. Nevertheless, the result has never coincided with the purpose.
Thus the acceptance of IInd Thesis on Feuerbach, analyzing the relationship of truth and practice, by no means contradicts the setting up of nature as an object and the positing of an objectivity independent of man. Viewing nature purely speculatively, i.e. raising questions in such a way that any choice between speculations cannot function to transform nature, is really barren scholasticism; its truth is not only undecidable but any question concerning its truth is usually meaningless as well. The view of nature of the natural sciences is by no means on this level. The natural sciences have gradually become part of such moments of human praxis that are aimed at the transformation of nature; to that extent, they have become justified theoretically. Earlier descriptions of nature had raised such questions in a scholastic way, This was not just false natural science but a philosophy of nature, and as a philosophy of nature it was not a view of nature but was [53/54] directly a function of a very limited praxis. If we accept the view of nature of the natural sciences as a reflection of objective nature (historically determined by praxis), then we also must accept the rationality of nature, that there is an "order" in nature. It is, moreover, difficult to avoid positing a transcendent principle creating this order. But the world-view of the natural sciences does not set up the rational order of the changes taking place in nature. There is a reverse relation between nature and rationality: it is human rationality that conforms to the structure of nature. There is nothing mystical in this, and it does not involve any kind of transcendence. Man's activity is the basis of his rationality. Even the most primitive teleological setting—and without some such setting there can be no talk about labor—is opposed by “something”, by nature. The human telos can become objectified only if it takes into account the characteristics of that "something". The rational appearance of the characteristic traits of the "something" can be explained by the fact that human reason itself has been formed in a process lasting several thousand years, during which man "reached into nature's arrangement", an arrangement which is neither rational nor irrational, but is just as it is.
At the outset we pointed out that Marxism surpassed the Hegelian mythologized form of the identity of subject and object by conceiving human activity as objectifying. The object of this activity becomes, in the course of history, a part of the praxis that results in humanized nature. But at the same time, it never ceases to be nature, insofar as it "obeys" those laws which a non-humanized nature also obeys. In the Hegelian sense, humanized nature retains its original nature, while simultaneously losing it. Thus man cannot make himself independent of nature, even in the realm of freedom. Freedom and universality belong to Marx's concept of the human essence. Even in the most emancipated society, one free from alienation, this universality does not imply that man's possibilities have no limits. Though man can realize his goals, not only is the positing of these goals itself determined, but an adequate means must be found, in addition, for their realization. The adequacy of their means is determined by natural objectivities. [54/55] Man's freedom does not imply being thrown into nothingness. Men are placed in very definite, natural conditions, so man's freedom is achieved within his struggle against these conditions.
Thus science and philosophy do not differ in their way of approach; their difference has an objective foundation., i.e. it is rooted in reality. That reality which is constituted by pure objects must be handled as pure objects, i.e. “scientifically”. The other reality, however, which can only be seen as the unity of subject and object, i.e. as praxis, is adequately grasped only by philosophy. Any social science which posits society or even some of its elements as pure objects, viz. assigning objective regularities independent of human activity, apprehends society basically in a false, fetishized, alienated way, approaching it merely phenomenally.
Such a social science endeavoring to explore the unchanging "natural laws" of society will remain captured by the fetishistic, alienated social conditions; it is suitable for "interpretation" only, not for "transformation". This does not mean that the interpretation of society must be exchanged for a transformation of it. Change is possible only when we know how and what to change. The Marxian recognition of the dialectical unity of object and subject alone does not change society, does not create the realm of freedom. In a world where the dialectical unity of subject and object has been upset, where human products face man as powers independent of him, and where, consequently, the subject becomes an object, the situation must be surveyed thoroughly. This survey is the task of the so-called "specialized" branches of the social sciences, which describe the actual operations of social laws functioning as natural laws. But these specialized branches do not and cannot serve anything else but the continuation of alienated social conditions, if they are not subjected to a philosophical outlook.
If sociology sets before itself the task of revealing the actual functioning of a given social formation, it fulfills a very useful role. Such a role is useful so long as it does not consider social regularities as something man should "apply" or "exploit"; i.e. if we do not think of these regularities in the same way we conceive of natural laws. Sociology is fruitful when we clearly see and show that such laws are the products [55/56] of human activity, that with revolutionary activity man can do away with these laws. Furthermore, if by law, by "objective regularity", connections typical of those between natural phenomena are intended, then in the realm of freedom man does away with social laws in general. In a free society the movement of the society is subjected to the conscious aims of men and not to "objective" regularities. If by the "scientific" approach we mean considering the laws of the field investigated as something given independently of man, to which man must—willy-nilly—accommodate himself, then social science cannot be spoken of, or social science is turned into fetishistic consciousness. The philosophical view, based on the unity of subject-object, because it posits not the individual consciousness but the entirety of human activities as inseparable from its object, does not prevent social reality from being treated as objective in the ontological sense, i.e. from investigating causal connections, correlations in society, from exploring specific regularities in the society. For man to realize his aims (which grow out of social life), since "man" is not an individual realizing his will in some vacuum but is socialized mankind (even in the realm of freedom), he must clearly see the nature of the actual relationships among men. We also realize that social processes, praxis, are never isolated from their metabolism with nature, from labor; praxis is always built upon it. Such are the "objective" regularities of social life which can never be eliminated.
Those who are anxious about Marxism's adoption of positivist interpretations of social laws are justified in perceiving a danger. The practical voluntarism of the Stalinist period was really connected with a positivist, fetishized conception of law, and we cannot be said to have done away with this standpoint. Its theoretical antidote, however, is not a verbal declaration of the dialectical identity of subject and object outside their actual historical conditions. On the contrary, it is a consistent realization of this philosophical viewpoint in the social sciences, showing that the regularities of society are brought about historically, by human activity and can be [56/57] done way with by revolutionary praxis, Rejecting the "scientific" viewpoint or isolating it from philosophy is the standpoint of desperation; it is an expression of that despair which does not want to accept the Marxian approach to society. The rejection of an objective picture of nature is a consequence of the same fear and despair. The acceptance of social sciences subordinated to a philosophical standpoint does not entail shifting the scientific picture of nature over to society. This is altogether mistaken. The extrapolation of the view of nature to society cannot be permitted, even if in terms of a certain historical period we see that such a society also has "objective" laws. The boundaries between the different spheres of existence or forms of motion cannot be blurred; nature cannot be described on the pattern of society, nor can society be described on the pattern of nature. This we say without taking into account the fact that nature itself is divided into various spheres. The kind of causation which dominates the physical sphere has no bearing upon society, nor upon the biosphere. If, for example, the complex problems of the nature of physical causality (playing such a great role in the philosophy of nature in our age) is a philosophical question at all (and not that of natural science), then it comes from the fact that it often contains problems of social praxis.
When Planck takes sides with classical determinism in quantum mechanics, he certainly looks for the methodological determinants of the further development of physics. But since his classical conception of causality is just as compatible with experimentally controllable facts, and leads to the same practical consequences as the conception of Bohr or Heisenberg (who stand up for a static, non-determinism in quantum mechanics, and extend it generally throughout physics), the difference of the two conceptions comes from their (often unconscious) social conceptions. Planck's notion of the freedom of the will is only the Kantian freedom of the moral attitude remaining in the inner human sphere, which also is founded on the absolute determinism of the actions of men. For Planck man is totally unfree. Man's freedom serves [57/58] merely to "give a solid view for our miserable conditions, securing long-lasting coherency in our own ego for our everyday life, giving us inner peace". With Bohr we can show how far the raising of complementarity to a philosophical principle is connected with a disorientation of social values. Shall we say, then, that a philosophy of nature does not exist? No, it doesn't. More exactly the philosophy of Marxism, by placing the category of praxis at the center, made it clear that every question in the philosophy of nature was a derivative of social questions, and thus it separated natural science once and for all from philosophy. It is in the world-view of Marxism that natural sciences attain their complete objectivity, and it is here that the only objective, deanthropomorphic concept of nature can clearly be justified.
There are undoubtedly questions concerning nature to which the natural sciences of a given period cannot give an unambiguous answer, questions also in which accepted theories have not been experimentally verified. A question which cannot be verified by "exact" methods need not be a philosophical one. Philosophy is not to be distinguished from natural science by its speculative nature. These questions are either put wrongly—this element is exaggerated by neopositivism with its verifiability criterion—or they can be given an exact answer only when the experimental basis is altered. But they are not therefore philosophical questions. This does not mean, however, that such questions should be rejected in the spirit of neopositivism; it does not mean that philosophy should refuse to deal with questions such as these. For, even if nature is not part of praxis, natural science as a specific form of human activity is. Even if the questions mentioned are to be gradually absorbed by the natural sciences, philosophy should still keep vigilance, in order to make sure that natural science should not confine itself to manipulative functions; and should not give up gaining cognition of nature for ideological reasons. Here however philosophy can take the initiative as a critic only, since it cannot undertake the task of deciding such questions. With respect to nature, the reason for this is that a specifically philosophical approach, i.e. putting [58/59] the question based on the unity of subject and object, leads to transcendence, to a projection of some supernatural, anthropomorphic elements beyond nature. It is the "scientific" approach which brings about transcendence; it posits the motif determining history outside of society and man. In society the factor outside man (i.e. nature) does not determine any concrete direction of motion, only the single but fundamental law of the human world: man, if he wants to survive, must keep on maintaining his metabolism with nature. It, follows from what has been said, that philosophy is not the science of the most general laws of the world. Philosophy can be regarded as the science of the most general regularities of reality only if our image of society is created on the pattern of nature, i.e. only if we fall back on the fetishist conception of society of "philosophical materialism"; or if we do away with objectivity, and seemingly spread the dialectical unity of subject and object to all of reality (but, in fact, eliminate this unity by rendering the object a derivative of the subject., denying the objectivity of nature, and thus the objectifying nature of human activity).
Historical materialism is not an "application" of the general laws of reality to society; it is not deduced from dialectical materialism. Dialectical and historical materialism form an organic unity; it is a social philosophy, and at the same time the only possibility of laying the foundations of a non-fetishistic social science, one in complete harmony with the deanthropomorphic, objective conception of nature of the natural sciences. The unity of the world is not upset. Social life, praxis, is built upon natural objectivity, from which it emerged when teleological projects commenced.
INSTITUTE OF PHILOSOPHY
1. "Theses on Feuerbach". In Marx & Engels, Selected Works (New York: International, 1968), p. 30.
2. 1st thesis, ibid., p. 28.
5. Ibid. (Marx referred here with this ironic phrase to Feuerbach's condescension towards practice and Feuerbach's elevation of the theoretical attitude, to Feuerbach's lack of insight into revolutionary praxis, i.e. the dialectical type, viz. "practical-critical" activity—Editor.)
6. Karl Marx, "Critique of Hegel's Dialectic and General Philosophy", Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. In Karl Marx: Early Writings, trans. T. B. Bottomore (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. 217.
7. Thesis II, op. cit., p. 28.