MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Aufheben is a German word, crucial to Hegelian and Marxist thinking, for which there is no English equivalent.

Aufheben can be translated as to sublate, to abolish, to transcend or to supersede or even “to pick up,” “to raise,” “to keep,” “to preserve,” “to end” or “to annul.” Literally and originally, aufheben meant “to pocket,” as when someone pockets your payment but continues to work for you.

Something is aufheben when it is superseded by something else. “Supersede” and “transcend” do not carry the same connotation however as “abolish,” in which the old is actually terminated and got rid of by that which supersedes it; “sublation” carries the connotation of “including” the old in the new, but is altogether too platonic and misses the sense of “abolish.”

Engels authorised the use of “abolish” in the English translation of The Communist Manifesto where it talks of the aufheben of the family; this however gives leeway to those who would simply ban the institutions of religion, or dismiss the very existence of spiritual needs. The translators of the Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right variously used “abolish” and “supersede” according to context.

Generally speaking, when reading English translations of Marx and Engels, the words “abolish,” “supersede” and “sublate” are most likely translations of aufheben, and should be understood in that sense, as something being made obsolete by means of resolving the problems that gave rise to it in some new way.



Authority is power. Such power is used within the spectrum of left/right: whether to dictate and segregate, or to arbitrate and empower, etc. Authority is the person or institution who has the social position to verify that something is true or right in a particular culture or organisation.

Authority is a necessary component of every aspect of social life; the question is the extent and frequency of the need to seek authority and how authority is constituted in a given society.

For example, if someone announces that such and such a foodstuff causes cancer, one is entitled to ask “On what authority do you say that?” unless the person has themselves established authority to speak on the subject of oncology, in which case the question would be “On what evidence ...?”. Every society has a myriad of structures by means of which people are legitimated as authorities on this or that question: sometimes personal experience may be the decisive factor in authority, other times it may be membership of the clergy, but social activity and culture would be impossible without authority.

What is important is firstly, that there should be no authority that is not subject to accountability (democracy); no “God-given” authority, authority must be earned. A person who claims authority without accountability would be described as “authoritarian”, a term loosely used to describe a form of government in which the ruling power is not accountable to anyone else.

Secondly, any organisation that is excessively reliant on authority in its normal operations (as opposed to in times of crisis), is necessarily rigid, static and lacking in creativity. Autonomy needs to be developed so far as social conditions allow.

Thirdly, in working class organisations the highest authority is always the whole assembled membership, and authority can only be delegated from the assembled membership on a temporary basis and subject to recall.

See On Authority, Poverty of Philosophy, The Paris Commune, Rules of the Communist League.

Authoritarianism entered the language at the beginning of the twentieth century, in reference to governments which unduly interfered in the affairs of civil society.



Autonomy is the right and capacity of a person, country or people to determine their own actions.

Autonomy was in use as a description of nations and countries in the early 17th century but first came to be applied to individuals at the beginning of the 19th century. Along with democracy, it is one of the central values of Liberalism, but under capitalism, autonomy runs counter to the values of equality and Community. Only autonomy which is developed in concert with equality and community can provide genuine freedom.