Get Your Dictum Right: It’s Not “Upside Down,” Stupid! It’s “Right Side Up”!

Reading yet another discussion of Marx on Hegel on dialectics. Encountering yet another misremembering of the famous Marxian dictum: Marx said we need to read Hegel materialistically, we need to turn him upside down. No, it’s “right side up,” stupid – stop misquoting this place, it’s getting annoying:

“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.


The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigones who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

Karl Marx, Afterword to the second German edition.

3 thoughts on “Get Your Dictum Right: It’s Not “Upside Down,” Stupid! It’s “Right Side Up”!

  1. I wonder if Marx is implicitly, perhaps even unconsciously, invoking Hegel himself with this metaphor. From the Preface to the Phenomenology: “For the naïve consciousness, to give itself up completely and straight away to science is to make an attempt, induced by some unknown influence, all at once to walk on its head. The compulsion to take up this attitude and move about in this position, is a constraining force it is urged to fall in with, without ever being prepared for it and with no apparent necessity for doing so. Let science be per se what it likes, in its relation to naïve immediate self-conscious life it presents the appearance of being a reversal of the latter; or, again, because naïve self-consciousness finds the principle of its reality in the certainty of itself, science bears the character of unreality, since consciousness “for itself” is a state quite outside of science. Science has for that reason to combine that other element of self-certainty with its own, or rather to show that the other element belongs to itself, and how it does so. When devoid of that sort of reality, science is merely the content of mind qua something implicit or potential (an sich); purpose, which at the start is no more than something internal; not spirit, but at first merely spiritual substance. This implicit moment (Ansich) has to find external expression, and become objective on its own account. This means nothing else than that this moment has to establish self-consciousness as one with itself.”

  2. Pingback: Get Your Dictum Right: It’s Not “Upside Down,” Stupid! It’s “Right Side Up”! | Research Material

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