Economic and philosophical manuscripts

(1844)
   Written during Karl Marx’s exile in Paris after the proscription of the Rheinische Zeitung by the Prussian authorities, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (EPM) is often called The Paris Manuscripts. Not intended for publication, the manuscripts were rediscovered and published in 1930 by the Institute of Marxism–Leninism in the Soviet Union, which also gave the title and some chapter headings, finally reaching the West in 1953.
   Consisting of three interlinked texts, the second being incomplete, the manuscripts are a critique of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s views, a simultaneous endorsement of the importance of Hegel’s “theoretical revolution,” and a demystification of the Hegelian dialectic, to truly show the material condition of man. In essence, the manuscripts represent Marx’s first major declaration of his lifelong critique of capitalism and his most discrete conceptualization from which humanist condemnation of the commodity system arises. Marx uses an analysis of the classical political economists Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Jean-Baptiste Say to achieve this. Labor is not a constant value, it is contingent upon the dialectic of capital. Capitalism necessarily creates “two great classes opposing one another” because the character of the bourgeois superstructure and the nature of capital itself inevitably create monopolies. The bourgeoisie narrows, the proletariat is enlarged, the worker suffers, existentially and economically, in both the booms and crises caused by the contradictions of capital, thus labor is contingent. Marx uses Ludwig Feuerbach’s positive, humanistic criticism to further undo Hegel’s abstraction of man and condemns his classical political economy as noncritical. While the classical political economists recognize man as “the most wretched of commodities,” they also conceal his alienation.
   The most distinctive feature of the EPM is the comprehensive and systematic account of Marx’s theory of alienation as the social, psychological, and physical human consequence of capitalism. His conception of alienation is a whole theory, which contains factors with inter-transferable relations. Each manifestation of the concept across four different spheres of man’s life—relation to product, relation to activity, relations between men, and relation to his species life—appears in a different way because of its causal factor but is actually the same phenomenon. In capitalist society man is a commodity and in his labor he is lost to himself; he has a contingent existence that is manifested in capital.
   As well as a descriptive analysis, Marx also offers a normative program. Ideas are propelled by the material condition of humanity and there exists a dialectical movement of estrangement from the first annulment of private property to the “positive transcendence of private property,” the negation of the negation. In the opposition to Hegel’s speculative philosophy, the thesis of the subjectivity of man’s objective powers, that man can only be independent when he only owes his existence to himself, Marx suggests a sublation of idealism and materialism. The content of this early work is further expanded and made systematic in Marx’s later works, notably the Grundrisse and Capital.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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