Group Members: Leslie-Ann Bolden, Michela Bowman, Sarah Kaufman, Danielle Jeanne Lindemann Selections from: The Marx-Engels Reader Karl Marx’s broad theoretical and political agenda is based upon a conception of human history that is fundamentally different from those of the social, and especially the philosophical, thinkers who came before him. Most importantly, Marx develops his agenda by drawing on and altering Hegel’s conception of the dialectical nature of the human experience. As Marx describes in his essay, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” and again in the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844,” Hegel did little to base his ideas in the “real” history of man.1 Instead, Hegel’s theory of the nature of man is a “mystical” one. Hegel sees history as a story of man’s alienation from himself. The spirit (Geist, God), is the “true” nature of man, and man must bring the spirit (God) back into himself through the powers of thought (most specifically, philosophy). Drawing on this idea, and also on Feuerbach (see The German Ideology), Marx constructs his conception of history by “standing Hegel on his head.” Unlike Hegel, Marx regards God or spirit as the projection of man’s “true” self. To understand the true self of man, Marx argues, one must understand his “real,” social, material conditions. He states: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (4). From this idea, Marx proposes to understand the alienated state of man through an understanding of what he terms “historical materialism.” By understanding the material conditions of man through history, Marx argues, man can come to understand his social and political conditions. As he states, “The sum total of these [material] relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on
The word ‘man’ is used here as a generic term to refer to both men and women.
which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness” (4). Likewise, Marx understands Hegel to “mystify” the relationship of the state to man. He criticizes Hegel for giving the state an “independent existence” from the people who create the state, “as if the actual state were not the people” (18). He goes on, instead, to advocate the idea that the state must be understood as “an abstraction.” As he writes, “the people alone is what is concrete” (18). To understand how man became alienated from his “true” self, Marx argues, man must be understood at his essence. He writes that man in his natural state, as a “species being,” is an individual who consciously engages in life-activity. For man, conscious life-activity goes beyond merely maintaining one’s physical state. As Marx asserts, “Man produces even when he is free from physical need…[H]e duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created” (76). He goes on to argue that estranging man from this free productivity essentially alienates him from his true form. Thus, Marx turns his attention from the spiritual sites of analysis that his philosophical predecessors focused upon, and turns to the question of how man became estranged from his “species being” state of free production. He accomplishes this, in the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” (1844 Manuscripts), by presenting a macro or societal viewpoint and showing the negative consequences that capitalism engendered in men, whereby they no longer felt connected to themselves, their social and familial relations, and society as a whole (74-75).
Marx writes that in past, non-capitalistic economic systems— for example, feudal society— a man worked for himself and produced and made what he needed for himself and his family, while trading on a...
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