Issue 2, 2018: Marx from the Margins


Gianfranco Casuso

Taking up an Hegelian idea, Marx refers in Zur Judenfrage to the forms of inclusion and integration that a political state must guarantee. According to Hegel, freedom cannot be reduced to its individual form nor operate only by means of subjective moral reason: it has to be realized by virtue of the reciprocal recognition of individuals within a framework of rational institutions and practices that foster their self-realization, i.e. by way of their inclusion in a rational Sittlichkeit (Hegel 1986, §142-157). Against Bauer, Marx asserts for his part, that Jews do not have to renounce their religion in order to emancipate themselves politically and thus to have the possibility of such inclusive participation. That would have been precisely the end of the bourgeois political revolution: to relegate religion – like any other set of communitarian beliefs and practices – to the private sphere, thereby neutralizing difference and guaranteeing only an abstract political equality thanks to a formal right that exclusively serves the constitutive egoism of civil society (Marx 1972a, 367-370). But this, Marx holds, is insufficient for an authentic human emancipation.1 The problem lies, then, in a law made for unrelated individuals, for a fictitious “legal subject” that distorts the idea of the real individual (Gattungswesen) (ibid. 356-357, 370). As in Hegel, a broader, social notion of freedom is required (Neuhouser 2000), since human emancipation is only possible by virtue of the inclusion of human beings in social institutions and practices that encourage various types of intersubjective relationships which are equally necessary for their full self-realization (Marx 1972a, 370).

In his Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie, Marx seems to complement this perspective with the development of the categories of exclusion and emancipation linked to the figure of the Proletariat – and its roots in the Hegelian notion of the Pöbel (rabble) – which transcends his critique of formal Right. For Hegel, the emergence of the Pöbel is associated with indignation and insurrection (Empörung) against society (Hegel 1986, §244Z). It knows that its condition of absolute deprivation is based on the principles of modern civil society, which is understood as a space of competition where laws only protect atomism, reproduce inequalities and reduce the complex scope of human relations to the satisfaction of private interests, and do not represent a space for the confluence of free wills (Casuso 2017a). Material deprivation by itself does not produce the Pöbel; what is also necessary is the feeling of not being able to guarantee its subsistence or participate in the social advantages by its own means (Hegel 1986, §245).2 It knows that its situation depends on a social structure that hinders the fulfillment of its own ideals of freedom and universal emancipation, which remain an unrealizable possibility (Ibid, §230, 237). The Pöbel perceives this unjust contradiction and this generates indignation (ibid, §244Z). Its members are the excluded: those who abide by the norms of society without obtaining benefits from it or being able to recognize themselves as its co-authors. Thus, unlike the salaried worker who is subjected to exploitation (Ausbeutung), the excluded are not functional to society. In the same way, exclusion is not really a relationship, but a “non-relationship” in which there is no intentionality on the part of an Other, an identifiable agent that could benefit from that relationship. The agent of exclusion is, therefore, society as a whole or, rather, the processes of constitution of a society made to the measure of abstract and selfish individuals. Exclusion, in this way, should not be understood only as the impossibility of participating in the advantages of an already constituted society, but, mainly, as the negative side of the constitutive power of the social (Casuso 2017b). From this a fundamental (or ontological) form of exclusion emerges, one which Marx analyzes in relation to the specific mode of exclusion in modern society: the Proletariat.3 This category has similar characteristics to the Hegelian Pöbel (Marx 1972b, 390-391). As in Hegel, it does not refer only to poverty, but carries the feeling of indignation against a society in which proletarians do not find their own place, not even as workers exploited by an easily identifiable part of the society. Hegel argued that in light of this, the generation of alternative spaces of cooperation was necessary, as these would directly combat the causes of exclusion (Hegel 1986, §253). Corporations (Korporationen) can be taken as a model of this kind of association that allow social restructuring by normatively modifying some modes of human relationship and combating the disintegration, atomism and selfishness of a mercantile society (Casuso 2017a). In that sense, they represent the ethical moment in civil society, its truth (Hegel 1986, §256). As we saw above, Marx’s Proletariat is not seen simply or directly as the working class, that is to say, a class among others, but rather as “a class of civil society that is not a class of civil society” (Marx 1972b, 390). It is, therefore, a “part with no part” (Rancière 2004). In that sense, the resolution of the problem caused by the appearance of the Proletariat necessarily implies the solution of the problems of the social order in terms of emancipation (Marx 1972b, 390). Since this requires “a sphere that has a universal character by virtue of its universal suffering” (ibid), the Proletariat, by transcending the particular, by not properly being a part of society, is in a position to bring about a structural transformation that would universally affect the whole of society and that would be oriented towards a better realization of social freedom. In that sense, as Marx implies in Zur Judenfrage, a political revolution is not enough, because it implies simply replacing one part with another in a liberal struggle for power (Marx 1972a, 368).

As a negative ontological category, the excluded denotes those who do not take part in the constitution of a world to whose rules they are subjected. But this condition entails a critical potential that can lead to social reconfiguration through the exploration of unrealized possibilities which inhabit their experiences of “universal suffering”. Precisely by virtue of this universality, such experiences can be communicated and transcend particular interests. This, in addition, confers on the excluded – as can be observed in the current operation of social movements4 – an epistemic privilege that allows them to first perceive certain malfunctions, reveal social contradictions and contribute to their overcoming. This is something that the more limited category of Ausbeutung – and correspondingly that of the working class – cannot explain with the same degree of clarity.




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1] “Political emancipation, however, is a great step forward; but it is not the last form of human emancipation (...)” (Marx 1972a, 356).

2] This deprivation suffered by the excluded, as Hegel affirms, occurs in many dimensions: “It is impossible for them to maintain their rights through formal justice (...) due to the costs linked to the administration of justice. They also have a great disadvantage in terms of religion, as well as health and education” (Hegel 1983, 118).

3] “When the proletariat declares the dissolution of the hitherto existing world order, it merely declares the secret of its own existence, since it is in fact the dissolution of this order. When it demands the negation of private property, it is only laying down as a principle for society what society has laid down as a principle for the proletariat, what has already been incorporated in itself without its consent as the negative result of society.” (Marx 1972b, 391).

4] On the epistemic role of social movements today: Fricker (2007), Medina (2013) and Anderson (2016).


Gianfranco Casuso

Gianfranco Casuso is Associate Professor of Philosophy and director of the Research Group on Critical Theory at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. He received his PhD with a dissertation on deliberative democracy and social exclusion under the direction of Axel Honneth and Rainer Forst at the University of Frankfurt (2012). His areas of research include Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, German Idealism, Philosophy of the Human Rights, and Critical Theory. He is the author of Dimensionen der Exklusion. Sozialphilosophische Beiträge zu Macht und Demokratie (Karl Alber, 2013), coeditor of Las armas de la crítica (Anthropos, 2018), and has published several articles in academic journals.