Spinoza formulates atheistic Judaism, the religion of Jewish Communists

by Peter Myers

Date August 24, 2004; update February 17, 2019.

My comments are shown {thus}.

Write to me at contact.html.

You are at http://mailstar.net/spinoza-pantheism.html.

Moses Hess, the 'Red Rabbi' who converted Marx and Engels to Communism, before coming out himself as a Zionist, wrote in Rome and Jerusalem that Jews are a race & a nation. Others say that Jews are a diaspora-based civilization. I argue that Jews constitute a religion, but that there is an atheistic variant of the Jewish religion.

Harry Waton, a Marxist Jew and yet "religious" too (like Moses Hess), argued that Marxism is a religion - a variant of the Jewish.

A religion can be non-theistic; Buddhism is.

Spinoza is difficult to read; it is best to read him through the thoughts of other people - i.e. people he influenced. He was very important to them, because he introduced a different concept of divinity. It was a higher concept, because earlier concepts (including in Judaism) were anthropomorphic and tribal.

He was deeemed an atheist; but he was a religious non-theist.

My own concept is something similar.

(1) Spinoza pioneered a new version of the Jewish religion - pantheistic Judaism
(2) Harry Waton, a Marxist Jew and Zionist, argues that Marxism is a religion
(3) Albert Einstein on Spinoza
(4) Moses Hess on Spinoza
(5) David Ben-Gurion on Spinoza
(6) Harry Waton on Spinoza
(7) Karl Marx on Spinoza
(8) How Spinozist was Marx?, by Chris Burford
(9) Schopenhauer on Spinoza

(1) Spinoza pioneered a new version of the Jewish religion - pantheistic Judaism

Spinoza pioneered a pantheistic version of Judaism, which is not theistic (therefore atheistic) yet religious. Albert Einstein, and many other Jewish non-theists, admired him.

Moses Hess, in Rome and Jerusalem, lavishes praise on Spinoza. David Ben-Gurion and Harry Waton, like Hess combining Communism and Zionism, similarly portrayed Spinoza as a major thinker.

Albert Einstein, in his writings about Cosmic Religion, pays tribute to Spinoza's re-definition of God in non-anthroporphic terms. Karl Marx wrote that Hegel used Spinoza's God to develop his concept of Absolute Spirit.

Spinoza writes of God, but his God is not the God of the Bible, a God that walks in a garden, wrestles with Jacob, appears to Moses in a burning bush or on a smoky mountain, or has a Chosen People. It's more like the God of the Deists.

In his denial of those anthropomorphisms, Spinoza has been considered atheistic.

Hegel's concept of "Absolute Spirit" looks like "God", but is it theistic? Is Hegel's God the God of the Bible?

Spinoza can be seen as pioneering a more elevated concept of divinity. For Jews of that persuasion he is the prophet who has made a new, higher, revelation of Judaism; and they consider Marx similarly.

By comparison, consider the Taoist notion of "Tao" as an expression of divinity that comes to us from 2500 years ago. The Tao Te Ching contains no creationist mythology, no anthropomorphisms, no historicism.

Around the same time, Heraclitus in Greece (Ionia, the edge of the Persian Empire) enunciated the concept of the Logos - unity through the clash of opposites - similarly a remarkable achievement.

On Heraclitus' Logos, see G. S. Kirk & J. E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, at the University Press, 1962), pp. 187-199. Also Lawrence H. Mills' Zoroaster, Philo and Israel, Part 1: Zoroaster and the Greeks (F.A. Brockhaun, Leipzig, 1903-4), pp. 89-95 and 100-106. Mills, an Avesta scholar, derives Heraclitus' metaphysics - the cosmic war of opposites, and Logos (an underlying unity) as Reason embedded in Nature - from Zoroastrian inspiration.

Zoroastrian thought articulates antagonistic polarity, in which one pole (the evil) must be destroyed. In contrast, Taoist thought is based upon complementary (yin/yang) polarity.

Heraclitus articulates a mix of antagonistic polarity (in which strife prevails between the poles) and complementary polarity (both poles being essential parts of the whole).

Thomas C. McEvilley presented a detailed case for mutual influence between India and Greece in the ancient world. The Persian Empire included both Ionia in the west (i.e. the Ionian Greeks) and parts of India in the east. The Persians adopted from the Assyrians the strategy of deporting troublesome communities to remote areas; they deported Ionian Greek rebels to the far east, where they later formed Greek kingdoms in Bactria (Afghanistan). The western Greeks and the eastern Greeks maintained contact for hundreds of years across the Persian Empire.

At times, the influence was from India to Greece; at other times, the reverse.

He wrote, in his book The Shape Of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies In Greek And Indian Philosophies (Allworth Press, New York, 2002):

"The period of unimpeded contact through the medium of Persia lasted approximately from 545 till 490. These dates include the heart of the brief moment of pre-Socratic philosophy. The work of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Parmenides, and others falls between them. Only the work of Thales seems clearly to have preceded this period, and even before the conquest trade routes between Greece and India were open and in use." (p. 18)

Joseph Needham showed that there had been early contact between China and the West, and mutual cultural exchange, by 1600bc (Science and Civilization in China. Volume I Introductory Orientations, Cambridge University Press 1961): needham-anthony.html .

Victor H. Mair, in his book Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World, shows that knowledge and ideas spread both ways across the Silk Road, from around 2000bc.

My essay Living Without Utopia (1994) is about the role of the two types of polarity in the history of thought: utopia.html. On Persian and Indian influence on thought and culture in Ancient Greece, see india.html.

If atheistic variants of Judaism are a religion, then Spinoza is the person who first formulated this atheistic religion which inspires Jewish Communists.

Astrophysicists Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe reject Big Bang creationism, and claim that the universe is eternal, without beginning or end, and that life on any planet does not begin with chemical evolution from non-life, but is seeded from elsewhere in the cosmos, by bacteria etc. present in comets, meteorites, and even in interstellar dust or dark matter.

Halton Arp, an associate of Fred Hoyle, is the new Galileo, an astronomer who disproved the Big Bang theory: science.html.

(2) Harry Waton, a Marxist Jew and Zionist, argues that Marxism is a religion




{p. 138} The communists are against religion, and they seek to destroy religion; yet, when we look deeper into the nature of communism, we see that it is essentially nothing else than a religion. That the communists seek to destroy all existing religions is not remarkable; all new religions had first to destroy the existing religions, to clear the terrain for its own existence. This was the case of Judaism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and all other religions. Next, when we disregard the scientific cloak of Marxism, we see that in essence it is nothing else than religion. Marx believed that he was a scientist, and he hated metaphysics; yet, he was the greatest metaphysician of modern times. And the greatness of Marx consists in just this that he was a religious metaphysician. His scientific theories may prove false, but his religious perception of the destiny of mankind will endure forever. Marx could say with Jesus: Heaven and earth shall pass, but my religious perception of the destiny of mankind will not pass. Since religion concerns itself about the future destiny of mankind, it follows that this idea of religion is the most vital idea that concerns mankind. ... The future justifies the past. Since religion is the most essential idea that concerns men, it follows that men of one religion will be far more intimately identified with one another than men of other ideas; and men who are opposed in religion will be far more

{p. 139} deeply opposed to one another than men who are opposed to one another in other ideas. This was the reason why religious struggles were always bloodier and more determined than all other struggles. Now, if men were free to choose their ideas, it would be correct to say that men struggle for and against ideas. But men are not free to choose their ideas; rather ideas choose men. Hence, it is not men that struggle for and against ideas, but the ideas struggle against one another. Since religion is the most essential idea, it follows that the struggles of religious ideas against one another are the most vital struggles in human existence. Now, communism and fascism are religious ideas, because they concern themselves about the future of mankind.

{end} More of Waton at religion.html.

(3) Albert Einstein on Spinoza


Albert Einstein on:

Religion and Science

In this file: Religion and Science, New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930 Science and Religion I, Address: Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939 Science and Religion II, Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, 1941 Religion and Science: Irreconcilable? The Christian Register, June, 1948

(3.1) Religion and Science

The following article by Albert Einstein appeared in the New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930 pp 1-4. It has been reprinted in Ideas and Opinions, Crown Publishers, Inc. 1954, pp 36 - 40. It also appears in Einstein's book The World as I See It, Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, pp. 24 - 28.

... The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.

How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.

... On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. ... A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people. {end}

(3.2) Science and Religion

This article appears in Einstein's Ideas and Opinions, pp.41 - 49. The first section is taken from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939. It was published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950. The second section is from Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941.

... At first, then, instead of asking what religion is I should prefer to ask what characterizes the aspirations of a person who gives me the impression of being religious: a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. ... {end}

(3.3) Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?

A response to a greeting sent by the Liberal Ministers' Club of New York City. Published in The Christian Register, June, 1948. Published in Ideas and Opinions, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1954.

... The interpretation of religion, as here advanced, implies a dependence of science on the religious attitude, a relation which, in our predominantly materialistic age, is only too easily overlooked. While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one and if those searching for knowledge had not been inspired by Spinoza's Amor Dei Intellectualis, they wouid hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.

{end} Albert Einstein, Communist and Zionist: einstein.html.

(4) Moses Hess on Spinoza

Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem: A Study in Jewish Nationalism, translated from the German with introduction and notes by Meyer Waxman, Ph. D. (Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1918, 1949).

{p. 41} And this love is the natural source whence springs the higher, intellectual love of God which, according to Spinoza, is the highest point to which the spirit can rise. Out of this inexhaustible fountain of family love have the redeemers of humanity drawn their inspiration.

{p. 43} Nay, I love life as well, only I love it in the sense the greatest thinker of the centuries, Spinoza, loved it. The more humanitarian, the holier, the more divine life is, the more does it appear that life and death are of equal value and equal worth.

{p. 47} Even the latest expression of the Jewish genius concerning life and death, namely, the teaching of Spinoza, has nothing in common with the sickly atomistic conception of immortality, a conception which dissolves the unity of life either in a spiritualistic way or in a materialistic manner, and whose highest religious and moral principle is the egoistic maxim, "everyone for himself."

... In the teaching of Spinoza, as in the teaching of the Jewish saints, the individual is not treated as a separate entity, but as a part of a whole. According to Spinoza, eter-

{p. 48} nity does not begin with our death, but always exists, is always present even as God himself.

... Spinoza was the first to conceive the reign of the spirit as an existing thing, as a factor in the present life.

{p. 57} Spinoza conceived Judaism to be grounded in Nationalism, and held that the restoration of the Jewish kingdom depends entirely upon the will and courage of the Jewish people.

{p. 59} Christian dualism received its mortal blow from the teachings of Spinoza, so does the existence of the ancient Jewish people, with its model family life, act as an antidote against this disease of dualism in practical life.

{p. 88} Saadia and Maimonides, Spinoza and Mendelssohn did not become apostates, in spite of their progressive spirit, though there were many fanatics who wanted to exclude them from Judaism, or, as in the case of Spinoza, had him excluded. Our modern rationalists would excommunicate from the Synagogue Jews who declare themselves Spinozists, if they only had the power.

{p. 122} The Messianic era is the present age, which began to germinate with the teachings of Spinoza, and finally came into historical existence with the great French Revolution.

{p. 165} Spinoza was a descendant of the Spanish Jews, who fled to Holland in order to escape the "holy" Inquisition.

{p. 187} Inasmuch as Spinoza's Works have already been translated into Hebrew, the time has come when we must defend this great Jewish teacher against misrepresentation on the part of Jewish scholars. The objection raised by Luzzato against Spinoza proves only that this great Hebrew scholar has wandered into a field in which he is a total stranger. The teaching of Spinoza, which derives the entire spiritual-moral system of life from the single idea of God as the ground of Nature and Thought, and which assigns the Knowledge of God as the highest aim of life, reconciles the apparent contradiction between philosophy and experimental science on the one hand and between reason and feeling on the other. Luzzato, who charges the system of Spinoza, which is an immediate outflow of the Creative Spirit with a lack of emotion, calling it a system of dry reason, displays only his own ignorance of the true nature of these problems and of their masterly solution by Spinoza.

The basic idea of the system of Spinoza, namely, that God is the only substance, the ground and origin of all being, is the fundamental expression of the Jewish genius, which has ever manifested itself in divine revelations from the time of Moses and the Prophets, down to modern days.

{p. 189} The typical expression of the Jewish genius, the genetic view, is essentially one with all its representatives, with Moses and the Prophets as well as with Spinoza. The first do not contradict modern science, their views are only divergent and different in external form from that of science but not contradictory to it. Nor is Spinoza's teaching contradictory to Jewish Monotheism. What Jewish revelation emphasized most is the unity of the creative

{p. 190} spirit, in opposition to the plurality of forces; and this idea has been expressed clearly also by Spinoza. The Bible, stripped of its anthropomorphic expressions, does not offer a single point which expressly contradicts the teachings of Spinoza. Moses himself says that the Knowledge of God is not found either in heaven or in the distances of space, but that the real revelation of God takes place within ourselves, in our spirit and heart. A similar expression occurs in the Talmud. "The Holy Presence never descended to earth, nor did Moses ascend to heaven." Must we consider the anthropomorphic expressions of the Bible as dogmas? If so, they will finally undermine the fundamental dogma of Jewish teaching which is so clearly enunciated in the Shema. Nor is the doctrine of the eternity of the spirit to be misunderstood. The eternity of the spirit does not begin after death, but is, like God, always present.

An external God, who does not manifest himself to men as an immediate ever-present Creator, is not the God of the Jews, Christians and Mohammedans, and can become as little the religious ground of the regenerated nations as pagan Polytheism and Pantheism.

{end} More from Moses Hess at rome-and-jerusalem.html.

(5) David Ben-Gurion on Spinoza





{p. 7} And in the modern period, from the time of Spinoza onward - as was the case with all modern cultured peoples - the scientific, experimental approach became stronger and deeper within us.

{p. 48} The ideas of Einstein and Newton, the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles, the dialogues of Plato and Buddha are not the products of a blind game of atoms and electrons running to and fro, but a living expression of something great and mysterious called "spirit," and this spirit is a part of the awesome and infinite being, no less than are the organs of man part of the human being {an idea reminiscent of the monism of Spinoza, and implying a group mind or soul}. We stand before a great and awesome mystery which no one is able to solve. There are those who call it by the name "God." I do not believe that by merely giving something a name we clarify and explain what does not lend itself to clarification and explanation.

{p. 111} was a native of Mesopotamia, and the greatest of the prophets and leaders of Israel, Moses our teacher, was a native of North Africa, in the Nile Valley. The great Jewish scientists and philosophers of the last few generations - Spinoza, Einstein, Freud, Robert Oppenheimer and others - were natives of Europe and America.

{Those "men of science" show up again on p. 287: "from the days of Spinoza to Marx, Freud, Einstein and the rest of the great Jewish scientists"; and in Ben-Gurion's article in LOOK magazine of January 16, 1962, envisaging a World Government ... "the increasing influence of the workers and farmers, and the rising political importance of men of science, may transform the United States into a welfare state with a planned economy": bengur62.jpg.
Ben Gurion, upholding Marxism of the Trotskyist kind but rejecting Stalinism, was advocating Convergence between the U.S. & the U.S.S.R.: convergence.html}

{p. 287} 3) Its influence on world history - despite its being a small nation deprived of its independence: Only the Greeks of the classical period had such an extraordinary influence on the shaping of world history as did the Jewish people. And this infiuence was not only apparent in those years when the Christian and Islamic religions were spreading among the nations of the world, but also in the last few hundred years, from the days of Spinoza to Marx, Freud, Einstein and the rest of the great Jewish scientists; and in the short period of the renewal of Israel's independence during which time the young, small state became a significant factor among "developing" nations on three continents: Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The secret of this threefold wonder lies in the immortal creation of our people in antiquity - the Bible, which has accompanied our people in all of its metamorphoses and wanderings for some 2,500 years.

In the books of the Bible, for the first time in human historiography, we are given the story of the birth, growth and struggles of a nation. The writing of Hebrew history predated the works of Herodotus and Thucydides and other books of history written by Greeks and Romans in days of old.

The Bible bequeathed to the Jewish people an awareness of its origin, its great past, its political, military, cultural and spiritual struggles with its neighbors, its moral and religious uniqueness, as well as its historical destiny for the future.

{end} More at bengur-bible.html.

(5.2) Recollections, by David Ben-Gurion, edited By Thomas R. Bransten (Macdonald Unit Seventy-Five, London, 1970):

{p. 124} How can the Lord be universal, asked Spinoza, and have a Chosen People? I won't argue the metaphysics of the point. But the message of the Chosen People makes sense in secular, rationalist and historical terms when turned around to describe an act of selection by Abraham and his successor of a God they had formulated. In other words, first came man, then his gods. This does not decrease the power of the Jewish God to work for good nor the validity of the Bible's message of righteousness.

{end} More at philos.html.

(6) Harry Waton on Spinoza




{p. 8} When the situation became so grave that the Jews themselves began to realize the gravity of the situation, the members of the Spinoza Institute of America asked me to formulate my program. In an address delivered by me before the members of the Spinoza Institute on October 23, 1938, I presented to them, in brief, my program. As a result of this address, a committee organized itself under the name: The Committee for the Preservation of the Jews, and this committee published my address under the title: A Program for the Jews.

{p. 68} ... The soul then perceives that she is part of God, she identifies herself with God and enjoys what Spinoza calls the Intellectual Love of God - it is the love of Jehovah of which the Bible speaks.

{p. 97} ... One who has made a deep study of the Bible, the Cabala, the deep works of Jewish thinkers, and the works of Spinoza, knows and understands the mind and the soul.

{p. 108} ... Who is Jehovah ? As we seek to know and understand Jehovah, we must begin with the philosophy of Spinoza, for his philosophy is only an explicit revelation of Jehovah. Spinoza begins with the Absolute. The Absolute is in himself; he has no relation to anything outside of himself, because there is nothing outside of the Absolute and independent of him. The Absolute is the causa sui; he exists eternally and infinitely by eternally and infinitely causing himself to exist. The Absolute is substance; his essence is from himself. The Absolute is life; he is eternally and infinitely living. The Absolute is thought; he is conscious of himself and thinks of himself. The Absolute in nature is prior to the world. This does not mean that the Absolute existed in himself, and then manifested himself as the world. Eternally and infinitely the Absolute manifested himself as the world; the world, therefore, is coeternal and coinfinite with the Absolute. But by nature the Absolute is prior to the world. This means that, while the world presupposes the existence of the Absolute, the Absolute does not presuppose the world.

... The Absolute is absolute thought, thought without any form. As thought, the Absolute reflects on himself. This selfreflection of the Absolute is the Infinite Intellect. ...

{p. 109} ... But, though matter is the least perfect and the most corporeal, it is none the less the Absolute. 68. The world has neither essence nor existence of its own; the world is merely the reflexion of the reflexion of the Absolute through the Infinite Intellect in an infinite series of infinite reflexions. ...

{p. 111} ... And now the question is: What is the aim of the Absolute? The aim of the Absolute is to realize himself in the material world, to make the world as perfect as he is, and to bring out material beings that shall know and understand him as Infinite Intellect. ...

{p. 112} ... From time to time, a Moses, a Jesus, a Spinoza ascended to Jehovah, and brought down to mankind light, knowledge and understanding. These immortals saw Jehovah face to face, and what they saw they imparted to mankind in a veiled manner, for mankind were not yet prepared to see Jehovah face to face. Man begins as an animal, but he is destined to attain to reason, become rational and morally autonomous. Then man will be prepared to realize the aim of Jehovah, and this man will realize by attaining to the intellect. The intellect is the soul wholly explicit, self-conscious and universally conscious. When man attains to the intellect, he then perceives that his intellect is part of the Infinite Intellect; that is, he then perceives that his soul is part of Jehovah. He then identifies himself with Jehovah in eternal and supreme intellectual love of Jehovah. This is the destiny of man. Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God Jehovah is One. And thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. But, while it is the destiny of man to identify himself with Jehovah, it is the destiny of Jehovah to realize himself in man. God, the Infinite Intellect, has as many names as he comprehends attributes, but God assumes the name, Jehovah, only when he realizes himself in man. Hence only on this earth and in man does God assume the name Jehovah.

{p. 113} ... But the Jews were chosen, not for their own sake, they were chosen to become the means through whom Jehovah will redeem all mankind. Salvation is of the Jews, but the Jews themselves will realize this salvation only through the salvation of the whole human race. It is therefore the historic function of the Jews to bring salvation to mankind.

{p. 115} ... Judaism is a religion that requires work, struggle and suffering. Judaism declares: man can be justified only by deeds, faith alone is not enough. To identify oneself with Jehovah through Judaism, one must constantly work, struggle and suffer. Judaism is not only the only historic religion, but it is also the only moral religion. Judaism prescribes rules for conduct in all cases. There is nothing a Jew can do which is not prescribed in the Bible how the Jew shall do it.

{p. 217} ... There never was a time when any Jew believed that Jehovah spoke to Moses or to the Prophets in any other sense than we believe today that God - that is, existence - reveals himself through the minds of a Spinoza, a Hegel, a Marx, an Einstein, and the like. Hence the expression: Thus saith Jehovah was only a form of speech, just as we use the expressions, according to Marxism, dialectics, relativity, and the like.

{end} More at watonpgm.zip.

(7) Karl Marx on Spinoza

Marxist archice search "Spinoza"


... The Holy Family by Marx and Engels

... century both in its later French variety, which made matter into substance, and in deism, which conferred on matter a more spiritual name.... Spinoza's French school and the supporters of deism were but two sects disputing over the true meaning of his system. ... The simple fate of this Enlightenment ... http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch06_3_d.htm 06/21/04, 29666 bytes ...

The Holy Family by Marx and Engels

... In Hegel there are three elements, Spinoza's Substance, Fichte's Self-Consciousness and Hegel's necessarily antagonistic unity of the two, the Absolute Spirit. The first element is metaphysically disguised nature separated from man; the second is metaphysically disguised spirit separated from nature; the third is the metaphysically disguised unity of both, real man and the real human species. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch06_3_f.htm 08/24/03, 23560 bytes ...

The German Ideology by Marx and Engels: Saint Max

... which were based on extremely worldly interests, though not, of course, of the stockjobbers, but of the "innumerable" masses. An earlier "priest" Spinoza, already in the seventeenth century had the brazen audacity to act the "strict school-master" of Saint Max, by saying: "Ignorance is no argument" ... http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch03c.htm 08/24/03, 42099 bytes ... {end}

(8) How Spinozist was Marx?, by Chris Burford


[Marxism-Thaxis] How Spinozist was Marx?

From: Chris Burford Subject: [Marxism-Thaxis] How Spinozist was Marx? Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 21:34:39 -0700

Passages confirming Marx's respect for Spinoza, from a search for Spinoza's name at http://search.marxists.org/

{NB: some of the search-results are works by Engels alone}

Marx's Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy 1839 6th Notebook

On the one hand, one could accept Baur's pronouncement that no philosophy of antiquity bears so much the character of religion as the Platonic. But it would only mean that no philosopher had taught philosophy with more religious inspiration, that to no one philosophy had to a greater extent the determination and the form, as it were, of a religious cult. With the more intensive philosophers, such as Aristotle, Spinoza, Hegel, their attitude itself had a more general form, less steeped in empirical feeling.

Marx Doctoral Dissertation 1841

Spinoza says that ignorance is no argument. [Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, Prop. 36, Appendix] If one was to delete the passages in the ancients which he does not understand, how quickly would we have a tabula rasa!

Rheinische Zeitung July 1842.

Machiavelli and Campanella, and later Hobbes, Spinoza, Hugo Grotius, right down to Rousseau, Fichte and Hegel, began to regard the state through human eyes and to deduce its natural laws from reason and experience, and not from theology.

German Ideology Chapter 3 1846

"Stirner" now has to introduce an empirical definition of right, which he can ascribe to the individual, i.e., he has to recognise something else in right besides holiness. In this connection, he could have spared himself all his clumsy machinations, since, starting with Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Bodinus and others of modern times, not to mention earlier ones, might has been represented as the basis of right.


Steuart remained even more of "a dead dog" than Spinoza appeared to be to Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing's time.

Capital Vol 1 1867 Footnote to Chapter 24 Section 3

He is as much at home in absurd contradictions, as he feels at sea in the Hegelian contradiction, the source of all dialectic. It has never occurred to the vulgar economist to make the simple reftexion, that every human action may be viewed, as "abstinence" from its opposite. Eating is abstinence from fasting, walking, abstinence from standing still, working, abstinence from idling, idling, abstinence from working, &C. These gentlemen would do well, to ponder, once in a way, over Spinoza's: "Determinatio est Negatio."

1873 Afterword to the Second German edition of Capital: in the course of defiantly paying his intellectual dues to Hegel, Marx repeats his earlier formula about the ridiculousness of calling Spinoza a dead dog:

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 'Epigonoi 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.

I have not attempted more explicit quotations from Engels, which exist in addition.

Michael Hardt's comment about Marx and Spinoza was that Spinoza was a communist before Marx.

Rather than "How Marxist was Spinoza?" which makes Marxism a standard of truth, the question might be better posed as "How Spinozist was Marx?"

So far these quotes show that Marx respected Spinoza.

Having now read Stuart Hampshire's "Spinoza - An Introduction to his Philosophical Thought", I am going to risk a few comments, and ask for corrections of emphasis or accuracy from others.

Following his rediscovery by the German Romantics, Spinoza was understood in his philosophy to advocate a sort of pantheism in which God was synonymous with nature. However that was in a materialist sense. In his struggle to distance himself from Judaism, Protestantism and Catholicism, Spinoza focussed his philosphical approach on a fundamental metaphysical comprehensive statement about the universe. This has the merit of avoiding empricist approaches to scientific inquiry. I suggest it is much more akin to Marx's comprehensive approach to data, than that of the English speaking empiricists.

Spinoza emphasised the interconnections of all things, which is very much a feature of dialectics. He also doubted the permanence of what we would normally call things, another feature, although he did not talk of contradictions.

His approach was a metaphysical approach inspired by the ideal of mathematics. Although like Marx, he had a relative theory of knowledge, of an ascent from limited to more complete knowledge, his metaphysical model had no place for time. Spinoza was clearly influenced by the development of philosophical thought, but according to Hampshire had no sense of human society being shaped and altered by history. Thus he could not be a forerunner of ideas of historical materialism.

Spinoza was rigorous enough to avoid the great philosophical compromise between religion and scientific experimentation: that God created the universe at the beginning, and scientists merely discover the objective workings of that universe. Spinoza ruled out an act of initial creation. Therefore if change were to come about, that would have to be through developments in the eternally pulsating nature of reality itself. I would suggest that his mathematical, timeless model actually prepares the ground for such a theoretical development, which was superior to the compromise of the Deists and their predecessors.

{Such a view, of an uncreated, eternally pulsating universe, is in accord with Indian thought. The very credible astrophysicist Fred Hoyle and mathematician Chandra Wickramasing put such a view in their books. Unfortunately, on account of their dissidence from Big Bang orthodoxy, the BBC did not see fit to grant them a documentary TV series: science.html}

Although Spinoza is an important and progressive contributor to ideas of bourgeois right, he interprets right as virtually synonymous with power. Therefore he has a materialist approach to the struggle of interests that make up the state. He also assumes that all humans have some power.

However he sees no historical progressive role for a working class, and has an ambivalent attitude to the multitude. But perhaps Marx's ideas about classes were more complex than some of his followers imply.

Spinoza's ontology is consistent with a universe made up of layered semi-permanent units, in conformity with modern complexity theory. So IMHO is Marx's perspective.

A fine human being, who was ahead of his time in seeing the implications of bourgeois society at its best. But despite the fact that he had no sense of historical development, still less of historical materialism, he was also very much a product of his historical era.

Chris Burford cburford@gn.apc.org London

{excursus Peter Myers September 16, 2008:

Hyam Maccoby wrote in The Secred Executioner: "The basic myth of the Jewish civilization was of the liberation of a nation of slaves, pitted against all the oppressive regimes of the world" (p. 182) maccoby.html

Yuri Slezkine, quoting Maurice Samuel's bookThe World of Sholom Aleichem (1943) wrote in The Jewish Century (2004):

"Pharaoh ... was preserved as an eternal witness for the benefit of the Torquemadas and the Romanovs." (p.106) slezkine.html

That is, Judaism, and Jewish thinking generally, makes the Exodus story a universal archetype, applying it not just to Egypt, but all "pagan" governments worldwide: thus Pharaoh = Tsar = Hitler.

The Zionist Jews just wanted to get out of Russia. But the Bolshevik Jews, unlike the Russians for whom the Tsar was their "little father", thought of themselves as slaves and him as the despotic Pharaoh to be overthrown.

Yet Egyptologist Robert Redford wrote in Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times (1992): "One final irony lies in the curious use to which the Exodus narrative is put in modern religion, as a symbolic tale of freedom from tyranny. An honest reading of the account of Exodus and Numbers cannot help but reveal that the tyranny Israel was freed from, namely that of Pharaoh, was mild indeed in comparison to the tyranny of Yahweh to which they were about to submit themselves." (p. 422)

Redford and archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman agree that there was no Exodus. The story was a confused memory of the expulsion of the Hyksos: archaeology-bible.html.

Chris Burford wrote, above, "But perhaps Marx's ideas about classes were more complex than some of his followers imply."

Admittedly, Marx made his hero Spartacus rather than Moses.

In the light of the statements of Maccoby and Slezkine about the basic myth of Jewish thinking, in the minds of the Jewish Bolsheviks Marx's "proletariat" must have seemed a modern representation of the purportedly Jewish slaves of Egypt.

Excavations of the town where the builders of the Pyramids lived showed that they were not built by slaves. Nor were they built by Jews. Instead, the main Jewish (Hebrew) presence in Egypt was as the Hyksos conquerors of the Nile delta: four-room-house.html.

But myths live on: the pen is mightier than the sword.

end excursus}

(9) Schopenhauer on Spinoza

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote of Spinoza in his book The World As Will and Representation, Volume II (Dover Publications, New York 1966):

{p. 644} In consequence of Kant's criticism of all speculative theology, almost all the philosophizers in Germany cast themselves back on to Spinoza, so that the whole series of unsuccessful attempts known by the name of post-Kantian philosophy is simply Spinozism tastelessly got up, veiled in all kinds of unintelligible language, and otherwise twisted and distorted. Therefore I wish to indicate the relation in which my teaching stands to Spinozism in particular, after I have explained its relation to Pantheism in general. It is related to Spinozism as the New Testament is to the Old, that is to say, what the Old Testament has in common with the New is the same God-Creator. Analogously to this, the world exists, with me as with Spinoza, by its own inner power and through itself. But with Spinoza his substantia aeterna, the inner nature of the world, which he himself calls Deus, is also, as regards its moral character and worth, Jehovah, the God-Creator, who applauds his creation, and finds that everything has turned out excellently, panta khala lian. Spinoza has deprived him of nothing more than personality. Hence for him the world with everything in it is wholly excellent and as it ought to be; therefore man ... should just enjoy his life as long as it lasts, wholly in accordance with Ecclesiastes ix, 7-10. In short, it is optimism;

{p. 645} hence its ethical side is weak, as in the Old Testament, in fact it is even false, and in part revolting. With me, on the other hand, the will, or the inner nature of the world, is by no means Jehovah; on the contrary, it is, so to speak, the crucified Saviour, or else the crucified thief, according as it is decided. Consequently, my ethical teaching agrees with the Christian completely and in its highest tendencies, and no less with that of Brahmanism and Buddhism. Spinoza, on the other hand, could not get rid of the Jews: quo semel est imbuta recens servabit odorem. His contempt for animals, who, as mere things for our use, are declared by him to be without rights, is thoroughly Jewish, and, in conjunction with Pantheism, is at the same time absurd and abominable (Ethics IV, appendix, c. 27). In spite of all this, Spinoza remains a very great man; but to form a correct estimate of his worth, we must keep in view his relation to Descartes. This philosopher had divided nature sharply into mind and matter, i.e., into thinking and extended substance, and had also set up God and the world in complete contrast to each other. As long as Spinoza was a Cartesian, he taught all this in his Cogitata Metaphysica, c. 12, in the year 1665. Only in his last years did he see the fundamental mistake of that twofold dualism; consequently, his own philosophy consists mainly in the indirect abolition of these two antitheses. Yet, partly to avoid hurting his teacher, partly to be less offensive, he gave it a positive appearance by means of a strictly dogmatic form, although the contents are mainly negative. Even his identification of the world with God has only this negative significance. For to call the world God is not to explain it; it remains a riddle under the one name as under the other. But these two negative truths were of value for their time, as for all times in which there are still conscious or unconscious Cartesians. In common with all philosophers before Locke, he makes the great mistake of starting from concepts without having previously investigated their origin, such, for example, as substance, cause, and so on. In such a method of procedure, these concepts then receive a much too extensive validity. Those who in most recent times were unwilling to acknowledge the Neo-Spinozism that had arisen, were scared of doing so ...

{end} More at schopenhauer.html.

Why atheistic Jews supported Communism: philos.html.

Write to me at contact.html.