Essay on Marx and Kojeve
Alexandre Kojeve and Karl Marx have multiple similarities in their influences and projects, but their differences in interpretation of these influences lead them to wildly different conclusions; with one putting his support behind a movement meant to bring the “end of history” and capitalism while the other proclaims that the “end of history” has already come with the French Revolution of 1789 and the rise of Capitalism. Kojeve and Marx are two of the most important theorists relating to Hegel, (who is, as well, incredibly important) so a comparison of them is best done through him.
Their similarities are enough for many to consider Kojeve a Marxist, but a unique Marxist, a “Marxist of the Right” as he called himself. Their clearest similarities are a result of their roots in Hegelianism, the work of and derived from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Marx himself was a self-proclaimed Hegelian for much of his life and some even argue that Marxism is trapped in Hegelianism in a way, despite Marx being so critical of it. Marx’s goal from the beginning was to bring Hegelian theory into a theory of class history. His starting point for this, which is where he coincides with Kojeve the most, is Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic. This Master-Slave dialectic is what provokes the idea of a history in motion, a history driven by conflict in both theorists. Kojeve and Marx both hold the idea of a catalyst of History who is necessary for any progression. Kojeve explains that one must pass through the position of slave to overcome the Master-Slave conflict entirely. This is the driving force of history for him. Like this, Marx sees that each mode of production in History contains conflict between a dominated class and a dominating class which is the driving force of History. He also shares the belief with Kojeve that one must pass through the dominated position to be a catalyst of history and overcome the conflict itself. They also shared the idea of an “End of History,” although vastly different from each other, that results from the slave or dominated person’s overcoming of the Master-Slave dialectic. In short, their similarities can best be summed up by their focus on the conflict(s) driving History and the constant motion of it.
Their differences, on the other hand, can be linked back mostly to Kojeve committing to a more ‘faithful’ reading of Hegel. Marx’s goals were to use Hegelian philosophy for a theory of class history, and a description of capitalism. Marx took this idea of the Master-Slave dialectic and used it as a model for the history of class struggle. He wanted to make Hegel’s dialectic less abstract by applying it to historical processes. He believed that a theory of History, which importantly retains an idea of motion and conflict, should not be centered around an abstract, universal conflict between a Master and a Slave, but around real conflicts between classes that had unique conditions and political relevance. In other words, he does not use the Master-Slave dialectic as a universal explanation of History, like Kojeve does, but instead uses it as a model for the process of overcoming a system and progressing history. In capitalism for example, there is a dominating class which owns property and a dominated class that works for the dominating class on that property. In this system, Marx believed, “workers” as a formal group were entirely dependent on the property owners just as the slave’s status as a slave depends on the Master. He believed that there must be a group to ‘pass through’ this identity of worker to overcome the system and progress history, just as the Slave. The difference is that class conflict, for Marx, stems from a division between producer and consumer; worker and boss at the base of each productive society rather than a desire for recognition (which is Kojeve’s idea). For Marx, the Slave is not a specific subject like it is for Kojeve. Instead, the worker in capitalism, the peasant in feudalism and the dominated class of all economic societies take the role of Slave (more accurately, the role of passing through the slave to realize history). Because of these differences in interpretation of Hegel and their respective projects, they are led to different conclusions. Kojeve thought the end of history purported by Hegel was true and had already happened. He saw Hegel’s system and the French revolution as proof of this. He took after Hegel in advocating for a universal and “perfect” state that would ‘realize the kingdom of Heaven on earth.’ Marx, however, was unsatisfied with Hegel’s conclusion. He still believed there would be an end of history, but it would not include a universal state, theological implications, and Capitalism, which were all attributes of Kojeve’s End.
Marx can be seen as a practical application of Hegel’s philosophy. Kojeve, in contrast, can be seen as a return to a traditional Hegel. Kojeve and Marx represent two opposite poles of Hegelianism, but their emphasis on Hegel immediately gives them especially important similarities, such as their view of history in motion, and the idea that conflict is the driving force. Marx implements this in a more material, and sociological way while Kojeve keeps his focus on the mind and constitution of Man himself.