The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.
The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.
This was Marx’s response to thinkers who are materialist enough to see that people are conditioned by their social circumstances; to people who believe that the masses are conditioned by their education and all that is necessary to ‘produce better people’ is to provide a better education and upbringing.
What Marx wanted to show here is that these thinkers are not critically examining the basis of their own views and activity. They will argue, inconsistently, that people are passive products of their circumstances while believing their own thinking is based on rational insight into the nature of what the ideal society looks like and the kind of action people can engage in to bring about change. But they do not see, that they too, are also moulded and conditioned. They too have been produced by particular circumstances and education.
Like Althusser – they first split society into two; there is a superior being privy to a special education and experience who has a view on how the new man or woman might be brought into existence from among the masses but these superior beings are unable to critically examine their own thinking. That evaluation – of both being conditioned and producing the circumstances in which we can act – is critical.
It is the revolutionary practice.