Karl Marx on Alienation: Introduction, Part 2

(Suitable reading for researchers and students of philosophy, history of ideas, Marxism)

By Nasir Khan

Second, Marx’s critique of contemporary world is seen through the human perspective, in which alienation of labour obstructs the emergence of any true human community (Gemeinschaft) and thwarts the individual fulfilling his human potentialities. Man is reduced to a dehumanised existence. The individual and his social role form the nucleus of Marx’s thinking. Fritz Pappenheim rightly says: ‘This is the plight of the “dehumanised human being”, of the alienated man, which was Marx’s deepest concern and which became the central theme even of those of his writings which on the surface seem to deal exclusively with problems of economic history or economic theory’ (Pappenheim 1968, 83). Here the problem of man in Marx should not be seen in the narrow, factionalist discussion of ‘humanist Marx’ with another equally one-sided and illusory ‘scientism’ of some neo-Marxist writings. In my exposition, the humanistic concern of Marx is unmistakably emphasised. If we can pinpoint one theme which shows the continuity in Marx’s thought as a whole, then that is his concern for the human being, explicit or implicit, as the primary presupposition of his early, middle or mature age. I emphasise this point in the final chapter of this study as well.

Another aim of this study is to offer an adequate background to Marx’s immediate intellectual environment. First and foremost, it is the Hegelian heritage which forms the philosophical milieu of Marx’s early development. Of course, that does not rule out other influences. Merely due to the fact that Marx’s first systematic work is a critical commentary on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, I have thought it best to present Hegel’s political philosophy in Part 1 of chapter 3, followed by Marx’s exposition in Part 2. A good grasp of Hegelian ideas is indispensable for a critical appreciation of Marx even at this early stage. Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Phenomenology and the conception of alienation therein is analysed in chapter 7.

But between Marx and Hegel stands Feuerbach. At the early formative stage of Marx, Marx’s critical approach to Hegel is mediated through Feuerbach’s philosophy. Marx regards Feuerbach as the pulveriser of the Hegelian speculative philosophy; the liberator from the Hegelian ‘system’. I have considered it worthwhile to present Feuerbach’s philosophical views on religious alienation, man as Gattungswesen and his other views in some detail. Feuerbach in the history of ideas deserves a prominent place in his own right, being not merely as a secondary figure to supplement Marx. I have tried to redress the balance by offering an outline of his main theories in chapter 2. The impact of Feuerbachian views on Marx, no doubt, is substantial. For instance, Marx’s critique of Hegel takes place only under the Feuerbachian ‘transformational method’. Marx’s ideas on the question of religious alienation, his theory of man and his discussion of human nature, which form the bulk of this study, are closely related to Feuerbach’s philosophy. Even though Feuerbach is not accorded the importance, which, in the opinion of some writers he deserves (e.g. Wartofsky 1977), he continues to be of interest in our age for his critique of religion philosophically, despite its theological language. The humanist tradition has begun to see the relevance of Feuerbach in the cultural history of the present age. The theologians of established religions and of the divine mysteries meet in Feuerbach the theologian of man, who by any means happens to be a formidable figure to reckon with.

Of all the early works of Marx, the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts present most difficulties with what Istvan Meszaros calls, their ‘deceptive simplicity’ (Meszaros 1970, 12; for the difficulties of interpretation, see ibid., 12-2 0). For Louis Dumont, and with some justification, they are the ‘formless draft’ as the y were written by Marx for his own use, and were not meant for publication; nevertheless, he emphasises their importance ‘as precious evidence relating to the question of how Marx became Marx, of how, in particular, he built up his basic presuppositions regarding the place of economic phenomena among social phenomena in general’ (Dumont 1977, 113). Chapters 5 and 6 are devoted to Marx’s critique of political economy and the problem of the alienation of labour. I give considerable space to the discussion of Marx’s concept of human nature which Marx outlines in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. Chapter 7 exclusively deals with Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Phenomenology and the problem of alienation in this work. In chapter 8, I conclude the study with an appraisal of the theory of alienation within the specified area and period.

Finally, a few words about the procedure. Except for a limited number of cases, the citations from Marx for the period March 1843–August 1844, are from Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 3 (CW3) and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (translated by Milligan). Beside these, I have used other translations of Marx’s early works for comparison and evaluation of translations. In places the translations of McLellan and Bottomore are more effective and easy to understand, but I have opted to use the translations from Moscow to avoid any terminological confusion: the terminology used in various translations, as I have shown in 1.2. is varied. A few quotations from the German have been used to assist the clarification or emphasise some point. All references from the secondary sources are included in the text.

I have not thought it necessary to provide any exhaustive lists of the possible reading material, because in the form of presentation I chose, too many references would have made the text cumbersome in form. But there are other standard works with a different method of presentation having detailed references and footnotes, which should also be consulted. The range of secondary sources used in the work is quite wide, and is also of unequal character. Alongside some prominent philosophers and scholars a few writers of research articles have also been included. All the italics represent italics or underlinings in the original or the secondary sources unless otherwise stated. The abbreviations used are shown on a separate list.

(To be continued )

For downloading the book, click on the following:

Dr Nasir Khan. Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings March 1843 to August 1844 (1995)

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