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Gepubliceerd op: 5 september 2023

Developing Towards Consciousness: On Rudi Dutschke's Revisions of Marxism-Leninism 

Sjors Schaap

The following article constitutes roughly half of a thesis concerning the transnational wave of reform movements that occurred in- and around 1968. And specifically the interpretation of the Prague Spring as a component thereof. Through a comparative approach, that thesis aims to ascertain its ideological commensurability with the predominantly western development. This was done in three logical stages; the rejection of Soviet government, the fundamental shortcomings of Marxism-Leninism, and the proposed alternatives. The article below applied those stages to the thinking of Rudi Dut-

Sjors Schaap behaalde in 2022 zijn Bachelor Geschiedenis in Utrecht, welke het cum laude predicaat werd toebedeeld. Hij studeert nu de master Politics, Culture, and National Identities aan de Universiteit van Leiden, waarbinnen ideologische vraagstukken en -ontwikkelingen centraal blijven staan. Er staat daarnaast ook een BA-diploma van het Zwolse conservatorium op zijn CV.

schke. This figure was selected to represent western reform movements for two reasons. Firstly, because of his ideological productivity and -leadership within the West-German student movement.[1] And, secondly, because it enables a charitable reading: Dutschke was the only western student leader to visit Prague during its ‘Spring’. And crucially, he considered that development intimately connected to his own struggle.[2] 



Rudi Dutschke was, like Marx himself,[3] a Utopohobe; in December 1967, he categorically rejected providing ‘grand sketches of how the future will look’.[4] Therefore, the student leader did not leave any comprehensive outline of his political theory. This absence of elaborate plans complicates an investigation of his thinking on Marxism-Leninism and its alternative. But these obstacles do not, however, preclude the reconstruction of ‘his’ Marxism. As Carsten Prien argues, a consistent set of convictions can be reconstructed into ‘Dutschkism’.[5] 

       Specifically in relation to Soviet communism, Dutschke was clear. For him, communism did not exist (yet).[6] Remarkably, he did not consider the Warsaw Pact countries and western nations to be fundamentally different: he defined the societal organization of Marxism-Leninism as ‘state capitalist’.[7] But Dutschke remained committed to Marxism. In fact, he defined his identity according to its dialectics. In Aufrecht Gehen, his unfinished autobiography, he stated;


‘Real identity can mean nothing else but placing one’s own individuality within the process of historical becoming [Gewordenheit], to develop all of one’s potential, and to work towards becoming able to break the historically determined [geworden] limits within the framework of objective possibility [ed. communism].’[8]


       In this quote, drenched in Marxist terminology, Dutschke proclaimed his identity to be entirely dedicated to the communist ideal. But he also categorically rejected Marxism-Leninism.


Finding the Negation to be Negated


Though not existing until Dutschke was 21 years old (and usually not considered helpful), the Berlin Wall provides a convenient separation in Dutschke’s criticisms on Marxism-Leninism. On the one hand, these followed from experiences within the German Democratic Republic; Dutschke grew up in East Berlin. And two days before the Wall was erected, he fled to its western sections.[9] There, he defined his rejection of Soviet communism in Marxist terms.

       In his Persönliche Genesis der Problemstellung[10] Dutschke wrote how early experiences shaped his convictions. The Christian terminology in the title is not coincidental as his earliest beliefs followed from prayers. Dutschke’s family maintained an active relation with God – crucially, Rudi considered Christianity and socialism to be ‘intimately connected through Luther’.[11] As such, both represented care for humanity and social justice in general. But, besides the eventual Soviet enforcement of atheism, Dutschke had more reasons to reject Marxism-Leninism. He questioned the Soviet Union’s proclaimed humanitarian aims as its army transformed from liberators into occupiers. The crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 only strengthened those doubts. That event, in fact, prompted Dutschke’s interest in the work of Georg Lukács,[12] which would profoundly impact Dutschkism. At eighteen, the German was himself coerced into conformity. He was barred from studying journalism due to ‘unsocial behaviour’ – thus destroying his dream to become a sports commentator.[13] After a three year management internship, Dutschke fled. He was, in his own words, ‘sick of the half-truths and lies’.[14]

       In the western sections of Berlin, Dutschke defined his rationale behind rejecting Marxism-Leninism in Marxist terms. The most prominent arguments for this rejection concerned the concepts of alienation[15] and class antagonisms. Dutschke felt that class antagonisms had resurfaced under Soviet communism. According to him, the apparatchik manifested a new ruling class.[16] Therefore, he considered the prerequisites for exploitation transformed, but not removed.[17] Concerning alienation, Dutschke stated in his diary that these regimes proved how ‘a sublation[18] of alienation does not automatically follow a change in property relations.’[19] Dutschke’s interpretation of the concept alienation provides important insights on his thinking. For him, this concept included a wide range of problems, such as the alienation of a person and her community, resignation to one’s circumstances, and a general lack of self-development. For Dutschke, alienation signified virtually every deficit of (personal) autonomy. And self-realization (the sublation of alienation) was consistently obstructed by the Marxist-Leninist apparatchiks.[20]

       A clear set of criticisms surrounding Marxism-Leninism can thus be discerned from Dutschke’s early life and his studies. He perceived the coercive tendencies of Soviet communism as contradictory to his own interpretation of socialism – which aligned with a Lutheran concern for well-being. During his studies, Dutschke defined two fundamental shortcomings within Soviet communism. Those were, firstly, resurfaced class antagonisms – ruling parties now opposed the interests general populace. And secondly, ‘alienation’, defined by Dutschke as the general disregard for personal autonomy.

The Western Path to Communism


Dutschke‘s 1974 dissertation Versuch, Lenin auf Die Füße zu stellen[21] locates the origins of aforementioned shortcomings through historical interpretation. Its title refers to Marx, who famously claimed to have ‘put Hegel on its feet’ by shifting the dialectical focus from Geist to material.[22] Dutschke made a similar claim concerning Lenin. Instead of judging his merits for socialism in general, he argued that Lenin’s ‘ism’ should be understood as a product of Russian.

       Dutschke’s central argument juxtaposes ‘half-Asiatic’- and West-European paths toward communism. Following philosophers like Wittfogel and Bloch,[23] he argued that Marxism-Leninism was primarily a product of Russian (and Soviet) particularities. This, in turn, ensured its inherent incompatibility in western societies.[24] Dutschke connected Russia’s historical trajectory to a disregard for personal autonomy, which he considered its product. In a rebuttal to criticism on Versuch, he traced Russian history from ‘half-Asiatic despotism’ after the Mongolian invasion, via the tsars, to Lenin and Stalin.[25] Because of this, Russia lacked the democratic tradition of Western Europe.[26]

       Dutschke developed the implications of this historical interpretation through Lukács’ thinking - who he considered representative for Western socialism.[27] According to Lukács, and (as shown above) Dutschke, historical developments towards ‘actual’ communism were not only defined by modes of production.[28] Culture, analogous to Marx’ ‘superstructure’, also determined how class antagonisms could be negated.[29] Crucially, these two aspects (economy and culture) are defined as interdependent. The mode of production defined culture, which simultaneously shaped economic relations. As such, Dutschke locates Marxism-Leninism’s disregard for personal autonomy and the enduring alienation within Russian culture.[30]

       Dutschke did not, however, follow Lukács entirely. According to the West-German, Lukács attempted to unite incommensurable concepts. For Dutschke, the Hungarian erroneously conjoined the Western Enlightenment ideal of freedom through individual autonomy with a Russian disregard for personal liberties.[31] Dutschke pinpointed this contradiction in Lukács’ support for a (Leninist) ‘revolutionary vanguard’,[32] which prescribes the leadership of ‘enlightened revolutionaries’ to ‘raise the consciousness of the not-yet enlightened masses’.[33] For the German, this was ‘half-Asiatic despotism’, thus enabling renewed class antagonisms. This antagonism manifested itself in the domination of the proletariat by (vanguard) communist parties. From this, the sublation of alienation among the general populace was consistently obstructed.

       The theoretical consequences of this observation become clear from Dutschke’s comments on Rosa Luxemburg. For him, Luxemburg’s death represented the end of attempts to unify democracy and socialism under Marxism-Leninism.[34] He stated cynically that after her death, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat was “freed” from its proletarian substance.’[35] As such, the guiding principles of Dutschkisms alternative are both negative and positive; Dutschke vehemently opposed vanguardism because of its perceived incompatibility with both the sublation of alienation and Western culture. But he also formulated a positive principle; Dutschke considered the ‘Luxemburgian inheritance’ which prescribed a merger of democracy and socialism as an ‘absolute necessity’.[36]


Transformational Praxis

To enact such synthesis of socialism and democracy, Dutschke reconceptualized the transitionnfrom capitalism to communism. For him, the proper path was not short and violent, but gradual. He defined this process as a development toward ‘collective individuality’.[37] Perhaps the most illustrative example of this reconceptualization is Dutschke’s reformulation of Marx’ eleventh thesis on Feuerbach; ‘philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it.’[38] While recovering from his attempted assassination,[39] he (accidentally) reformulated the second part of that sentence as ‘the point is to change yourself’.[40] This Freudian slip-of-the-tongue shows the qualitative turn of Marxism in Dutschkism.[41]

       Carsten Prien defines this turn as such: ‘the redefinition of the class struggle as humanities’ self realization through a dialectical process of self-transformation towards “collective individualism.”’[42] This ‘collective individualism’ is a product of Dutschkisms interpretation of individual- and societal transformations as a dialectal unity. Though not identical, Rudi (like Bloch)[43] rejected the interpretation of the self- and the community as opposites. He maintained that individual needs and desires can coincide with those of the collective, and how their juxtaposition served as a justification for class domination.[44] In other words: ‘collective individuals’ recognize societal needs as their own. From a development of such sensibilities, the student leader expected a parallel desire for the sublation of the negative aspects of capitalism; as mentioned before, Dutschke equated Marxism with social needs.[45] In this way, the unification of societal needs with individual desires (and vice versa) would ensure ‘actual’ communism. The praxis of Dutschkism thus becomes clear: it aimed to change society through transforming its members.

       To nurture the development of ‘collective individuals’, Dutschke aimed to reshape the dominant interpretation of society into one which did not oppose individualism, but one where citizens recognized societal needs as their own.[46] Dutschke defined the ultimate goal of this raising of consciousness as such: ‘the revolution that we want, is the revolution, that awakens the autonomy of the masses in all walks of life. And only then, to enact the societal changes when the majority is prepared to sustain that change.’[47] From this citation, Dutschke’s methodology to democratize socialism is clear. He places democracy first; communism would only happen with majority support. This was, in turn, fostered by exposing the antagonisms inherent to capitalism. And, of course, by emphasizing the superiority of socialism. In that manner, consciousness of Marxism’s ‘objective possibility’ to negate class antagonisms (and their concomitant alienation) would be strengthened.[48] To support this development, he moreover proposed to construct alternative institutions which would better align with societal needs and desires. These would ultimately represent popular interests – and therefore replace the institutions of (West-German) liberal democracy.[49] As a result, the revolutionary minority was to become a majority. Society would, then, develop itself towards actual communism through democratic means.[50]

       At this point, despite not directly pertaining to communism, Dutschke’s rejection of parliamentary democracy is important to mention. He delivered scathing criticisms on the distance between general society and politicians. According to him, representatives were inherently unable to embody the interests of the general public.[51] Therefore, Dutschke’s democratized socialism contained no professional politicians or party organizations.[52]

Merging Democracy and Socialism

Despite appearing contradictory at first sight, Dutschke’s simultaneous rejection of Soviet regimes and his persistent subscription to their ideals are compatible. For him, Marxism-Leninism did not represent communism, nor could it ever become actual communism. Instead of rejecting the promise of socialism, however, he redefined socialist praxis.

       This article uncovered three interconnected characteristics of Dutschkism. Firstly, how it considers the persistence of alienation and the transformation  of class antagonisms as the fundamental shortcomings of Soviet communism. And secondly, regarding his alternative, Dutschke categorically rejected vanguardism. He located the renewal of class antagonisms and alienation in the historical trajectory of Russia and what he interpreted as ‘half-Asiatic despotism’ continued in Marxism-Leninism. Instead, Western socialism necessitated democratic principles to conform to its culture. Finally, Dutschke sought to negate alienation, class antagonisms and vanguardism without dictating. To prevent authoritarian apparatchiks, he proposed the nurturing of ‘collective individuals’, where individual desires (or needs) were equated with societal wishes or necessities.

       Dutschke assumed, in turn, that society would automatically desire a communist future – without the flaws of capitalism or Marxist-Leninism.[53] Thus, ‘actual’ communism was only considered attainable through transformed desires. Democratic procedures were to ensure the alignment of individual- and societal goals, and communism would only become attainable once a majority desired it.


[1] Timothy Scott Brown, West Germany and the global sixties: the anti-authoritarian revolt, 1962-1978. New studies in European history (Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press 2013) 6. Power <>.

[2] Rudi Dutschke and Jacques Rupnik, ‘The misunderstanding of 1968: Interview with Rudi Dutschke’, Eurozine (republished in 2008 1978) <>.

[3] Jonathan Wolff and David Leopold, ‘8. Utopianism’, in: Edward N. Zalta ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Karl Marx (Spring 2021; Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University 2021) <>; Carsten Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’ (Ousia Lesekreis Verlag, Seedorf 2015).

[4] Rudi Dutschke zu Protokoll: Fernsehinterview von Günter Gaus‘ in: ibidem, 43. ‚Die Gesellschaft, die wir anstreben, ist ein sehr langfristiges Prozessresultat, das heißt wir können jetzt kein großartiges Gebilde der Zukunft entwerfen, wir können aber Gliederungsstrukturen sagen.‘

[5] Carsten Prien argues that Dutschke’s thinking was sufficiently consistent to provide it with its own ‘ism’. Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’.

[6] Ibidem, Es gibt noch keinen Sozialismus auf der Erde 139-150.

[7] Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Füsse zu stellen: über den halbasiatischen und den westeuropäischen Weg zum Sozialismus : Lenin, Lukács und die Dritte Internationale. Politik 53 (Berlin 1974); Dutschke Rudi, ‘Persönliche Genesis der Problemstellung’, in: Aufrecht Gehen: Eine fragmentarische Autobiographie (zp 1981) 137–152; Gunter Berkhahn and Rudi Dutschke, ‘Uber die allgemeine reale Staatssklaverei. Die Sowjetunion in der russischen Geschichte’, L’76 (1977) 135–162.

[8] Own translation. Dutschke, ‘Aufrecht Gehen: Eine fragmentarische Autobiographie’ (1981) 91. ‘Echte Identität kann ja wohl nichts anderes heißen, als die eigene Individualität in den Prozeß der geschichtlichen Gewordenheid einzuordnen, um all die eigene Latenz un Potenz zur Entfaltung zu bringen, daran zu arbeiten, die gewordenen Schranken im Rahmen der objektiven Möglichkeiten brechen zu können.‘

[9] Ulrich Chaussy, Die drei Leben des Rudi Dutschke: eine Biographie (Ch. Links 1993) 30-33.

[10] Dutschke, ‘Persönliche Genesis der Problemstellung’., 33-42. (‚Personal Genesis of the Problem’)

[11] Own translation. Dutschke, ‘Persönliche Genesis der Problemstellung’, 33.'Die soziale und die Glaubensfrage waren lutheranisch verknotet: man kümmerte sich um einzelne soziale Sorgen - aber politische Allgemeinprobleme standen kaum zur Debatte.

[12] Profoundly influential Marxist theoretician from Hungary. Particularly through his 'History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist dialectics.’

[13] Dutschke, ‘Persönliche Genesis der Problemstellung’, 36.

[14] Ibid.

[15] The concept alienation had been coined by a young Marx to signify the separation of two things that should be the same. The alienation of the labourer and her product, for example, signified for Marx that she no longer recognizes her work as her own. See also: Jonathan Wolff and David Leopold, ‘2. Alienation and Human Flourishing’, in: Edward N. Zalta ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Karl Marx (zp 2021). 

[16] Rudi Dutschke, ‘Persönliche Genesis der Problemstellung’, in: Aufrecht Gehen: Eine fragmentarische Autobiographie (zp 1981) 37. Den 'Marxismus-Leninismus' als direkte Kontroll- und Beherrschungsinstanz meines jungen Lebens'.

[17] Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, 139-150.

[18] Sublation is a common translation of the untranslatable Aufhebung. See also Julie E. Maybee, ‘Hegel’s Dialectics’, in: Edward N. Zalta ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020; Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University 2020) <>; Wolff and Leopold, ‘Karl Marx’.

[19] Rudi Dutschke and Gretchen Dutschke-Klotz, Jeder hat sein Leben ganz zu leben: die Tagebücher 1963-1979 (zp 2003) 17. Quoted from: Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’, 36.

[20] Berkhahn and Dutschke, ‘Uber die allgemeine reale Staatssklaverei. Die Sowjetunion in der russischen Geschichte’.

[21] Rudi Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Füße zu stellen: über den halbasiatischen und den westeuropäischen Weg zum Sozialismus: Lenin, Lukács und die Dritte Internationale. Politik 53 (Berlin 1974).

[22] Allen Wood, Karl Marx (London 2004) 219-223.

[23] Marcel van der Linden, Western Marxism and the Soviet Union: A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917 (Brill 2007) 218-221 <>; Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, Im gleichen Gang und Feldungsplan. Über Bloch, zum neunzigsten Geburtstag. Pages 154-157.

[24] Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Füsse zu stellen, 55.

[25] Berkhahn and Dutschke, ‘Uber die allgemeine reale Staatssklaverei. Die Sowjetunion in der russischen Geschichte’. Republished in: Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’. Original: Gunter Berkhahn and Rudi Dutschke, ‘Uber die allgemeine reale Staatssklaverei. Die Sowjetunion in der russischen Geschichte’, L’76 (1977), 135–162.

[26] Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Füsse zu stellen, 4-14.

[27] Ibid., 15-20, 199-268.

[28] Georg Lukács, ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’, in: History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist dialectics (version 1972) (mit Press 1923) 83-222.

[29] Leezenberg and De Vries, History and Philosophy of the Humanities, 211-214; Lukács, History and class consciousness, 46-55; Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, 'Konkret’, May fifth 1968, last interview before the attack, 140.

[30] Republished in Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’, 127–135. Compare also: Joe Pateman, ‘VI Lenin on Alienation’, Critical Sociology (2022).

[31] Dutschke Rudi, Aufrecht Gehen: Eine fragmentarische Autobiographie (Olle und Wolter, Berlin 1981) 47-57 and 150; Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’, 34.

[32] Dutschke, Versuch, Lenin auf die Füsse zu stellen, 180-198 and 240-246; Lukács, History and class consciousness, 320-339.

[33] Vladimir Ilich Lenin, What is to be Done? (Wellred Books 1935).

[34] Rudi, Aufrecht Gehen, 47 and 48.

[35] Ibid., 47.

[36] Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, 139; Dzintars Kalnins, ‘Masturbation or Practical Consciousness–Raising?
Rudi Dutschke’s Way to Democracy’ (2009).

[37] Rudi Dutschke, Podium discussion in Hamburg (1967) <>; Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, ‘Daß die Menschen als Brüder miteinander leben’ Weg zum neuen Menschen.

[38] Karl Marx, ‘Thesen über Feuerbach (aus Marx’ Notizbuch)’, Marxists Internet Archive (zp 1845) []. Own translation.

[39] A right-wing extremist attempted to assassinate Dutschke in April 1968, see also Chaussy, Die drei Leben des Rudi Dutschke, 233-290.

[40] Thomas Ehleiter, ‘Setze den Menschen als Menschen’, Die Neue (zp 5 January 1980); cited from Gretchen Dutschke, Wir hatten ein barbarisch schönes Leben (zp 2015) 202 and 203. This works better in German: ‚es kömmt drauf an, sie/sich zu verändern.‘

[41] Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’, 38.

[42] Ibidem, 37 (own translation).

[43] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope (1986 version). Studies in contemporary German social thought
(1st American ed; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 1954) 249-253 <>.

[44] Rudi, Aufrecht Gehen, 131; Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, 105-106.

[45] Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, Arbeitskonferenz des SDS in Frankfurt/Main, November 4 and 5 1968 95.

[46] Rudi Dutschke en Günter Gaus, Vince K. (vertaler), ‘‘On the Record’: A conversation between Günter Gaus and Rudi Dutschke.’, Midwestern Marx (1967) < dutschke-translated-with-comments-by-vince-k.html>.

[47] Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, 11 and 12. NDR-Sendung 'Rebellion der Studenten' von Christian Herrendoerfer und Winfried Scharlau, 10. August 1967.

[48] Ibid., "Tomaten sind ohnmächtig, Steine sind ohnmächtig" Jugendrevolte und Klassenkampf pages 77-98.

[49] Kalnins, ‘Masturbation or Practical Consciousness–Raising?’, 21-24.

[50] Dutschke, Mein langer Marsch, 80-87.

[51] Ibid., ‘Noch haben wir keinen Atomstaat’ Rote APO, grüne APO.; Kalnins, ‘Masturbation or Practical Consciousness–Raising?’.

[52] Rudi Dutschke, ‘Rudi Dutschke zu Protokoll: Fernsehinterview von Günter Gaus’, in: Mein langer Marsch: Reden, Schriften und Tagebücher aus zwanzig Jahren (Rowohlt 1980) 42-57.

[53] Prien, ‘Dutschkismus - die politische Theorie Rudi Dutschkes’.

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