Gajo Petrović, “The ‘young’ and the ‘old’ Marx” (1964)


If the ques­tion about the “real” Marx is to have any sense, it can be neither merely fac­tu­al and his­tor­ic­al nor merely sub­ject­ive and eval­u­at­ive. The “real” Marx can be neither a heap of his­tor­ic­al “facts” nor a free cre­ation of some­body’s ima­gin­a­tion. He can be neither an en­tirely “ob­ject­ive” Marx, which once upon a time ex­is­ted “in it­self,” nor a purely “sub­ject­ive” Marx who some­body finds like­able or use­ful. It is im­possible to ex­pound the first, and the second is more than one man. The “real” Marx is the Marx to whom his­tory owes a debt, and the “real” Marx’s philo­sophy is Marx’s con­tri­bu­tion to the de­vel­op­ment of philo­soph­ic­al thought.


Sta­lin­ists and those who prac­tice Sta­lin­ist cri­ti­cism, while re­ject­ing it in word, op­pose the “old” Marx to the “young,” main­tain­ing that the “real” Marx is the “old.” They find the “young” Marx in­ter­est­ing merely as an his­tor­ic­al doc­u­ment, a testi­mony to Marx’s ori­gin­al im­ma­tur­ity and his gradu­al eman­cip­a­tion from Hegel­i­an and Feuerba­chi­an er­rors. By their out­cry against the “young” Marx they hope to con­ceal the fact that they have de­par­ted equally far from the “old” Marx. Marx­ism is a philo­sophy of free­dom, and Sta­lin­ism a “philo­soph­ic­al” jus­ti­fic­a­tion of un­free­dom.


The thes­is that the “real” Marx is the “young” one rep­res­ents the first, ill-con­sidered re­ac­tion of awakened Marx­ist thought against Sta­lin­ism. It is a neg­a­tion of Sta­lin­ism that makes con­ces­sions to Sta­lin­ism. Its sup­port­ers ac­cept the op­pos­i­tion between the “young” and the “old” Marx and at the same time mag­nan­im­ously sur­render the “old” Marx to the Sta­lin­ists.


The the­ory of ali­en­a­tion is not only the cent­ral theme of Marx’s “early” writ­ings; it is also the guid­ing idea of all his “later” works. The the­ory of man as a be­ing of prax­is is not a dis­cov­ery of the “old” Marx; we already find it in a de­veloped form in the “young” one. The “young” and the “old” Marx are es­sen­tially one and the same: Marx the fight­er against self-ali­en­a­tion, de­hu­man­iz­a­tion and ex­ploit­a­tion; Marx the com­batant for the full hu­man­iz­a­tion of man, for a many-sided de­vel­op­ment of man’s hu­man pos­sib­il­it­ies, for the ab­ol­i­tion of class so­ci­ety and for the real­iz­a­tion of an as­so­ci­ation in which the “free de­vel­op­ment of each is a con­di­tion of free de­vel­op­ment for all.”


The unity of Marx’s es­sen­tial thought does not pre­clude its de­vel­op­ment. Marx’s work is an un­re­mit­ting self-cri­ti­cism, a con­tinu­ous re­vi­sion of his own views. The di­vi­sion in­to the “young” and the “old” Marx only very in­com­pletely de­scribes this com­plex pro­cess. It is usu­ally held that the “ma­ture” Marx be­gins with the Poverty of Philo­sophy and the Mani­festo of the Com­mun­ist Party. The Marx of the doc­tor­al thes­is, the Marx of the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts and the Marx of the Ger­man Ideo­logy are sup­posed to be one and the same “young” Marx; the Marx of the Mani­festo and the Marx of Cap­it­al, one and the same “old” Marx. In fact Marx in Ger­man Ideo­logy is con­sidered as quite dif­fer­ent from Marx in Poverty of Philo­sophy or the Mani­festo. But not only is the op­pos­i­tion between the “young” and the “old” Marx un­ten­able; even the two­fold di­vi­sion of Marx’s de­vel­op­ment, which this op­pos­i­tion as­sumes, is du­bi­ous.


The fun­da­ment­al co­her­ence of Marx’s thought does not mean that it is an all-em­bra­cing and fin­ished sys­tem. The es­sen­tial truth­ful­ness of Marx’s thought does not mean that it is an etern­al truth for all time. Marx’s work is full of open prob­lems; it con­tains ques­tions without an­swers, searches without fi­nal res­ults. Some people find defin­it­ive solu­tions in Marx pre­cisely where he him­self saw dif­fi­culties. But what was merely a ques­tion for Marx can­not be a ready an­swer for us; what Marx him­self re­garded as a solu­tion may be­come a prob­lem for us. Great thinkers cast light far in­to the fu­ture, but every gen­er­a­tion has to work out for it­self a con­crete solu­tion to its own prob­lems.


Some people still think that the “old” Marx defin­it­ively par­ted com­pany with philo­sophy and philo­soph­ic­al “phras­eo­logy.” But what kind of “phras­eo­logy” is it when Marx in the first volume of Cap­it­al in­dicts bour­geois so­ci­ety be­cause in it “a gen­er­al or a banker plays a great part, but mere man [man as man], on the oth­er hand, a very shabby part”? Or when in the third volume he writes about the con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion that are most ad­equate to the “hu­man nature” of the pro­du­cers. Marx’s thought has a philo­soph­ic­al mean­ing when he, as in Ger­man Ideo­logy, dir­ectly re­nounces philo­sophy and also when he, as in Cap­it­al, main­tains that he is only flirt­ing with it.


Nev­er­the­less, in many re­spects Marx merely in­dic­ated his philo­sophy. En­gels’ and Len­in’s philo­soph­ic­al works — Anti-Dühring and Dia­lectics of Nature, Ma­ter­i­al­ism and Em­piri­ocriti­cism and Philo­soph­ic­al Note­books — are re­garded by some as a worthy sup­ple­ment to Marx, and by oth­ers as a com­plete fail­ure, in­ad­equate to the ba­sic sense of Marx­ism. In fact, En­gels, Plekhan­ov, and Len­in were right in feel­ing the need to de­vel­op more ex­pli­citly and fully the on­to­lo­gic­al found­a­tions of Marx’s philo­sophy. It is not their fault if they were un­able to do it on the level on which it could have been done by Marx him­self. Un­doubtedly the de­vel­op­ment of the on­to­lo­gi­co-epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al found­a­tions of Marx’s philo­sophy still needs to be done. It is il­lus­ory to think that a “pure” an­thro­po­logy or an “on­to­logy of man” free from gen­er­al on­to­lo­gic­al as­sump­tions is pos­sible. It is a du­bi­ous idea also that ques­tions of gen­er­al on­to­logy are merely a part of an on­to­logy of man.


It is the task of fol­low­ers of Marx to de­vel­op his thought in all dir­ec­tions. One of the as­pects of this task is a crit­ic­al ana­lys­is and eval­u­ation of new philo­soph­ic­al trends and phe­nom­ena. To be sure, there are some “Marx­ists” who do not see the dif­fer­ence between a Marx­ist cri­ti­cism of non-Marx­ist philo­sophy and an in­con­sist­ent yield­ing to it. The only con­sist­ent Marx­ist for them is Com­rade Os­trich, who in bury­ing his head in the sand clearly draws the bound­ar­ies between him­self and “the seem­ingly new philo­soph­ic­al schools and little schools” (and the ex­tern­al world in gen­er­al). In his at­tempt to evade an in­de­pend­ent ana­lys­is of new phe­nom­ena the dog­mat­ist simply la­bels them old. Cre­at­ive Marx­ism has no reas­on to fol­low his ex­ample.

The con­tinu­ity of Marx’s thought


The ques­tion about con­tinu­ity or dis­con­tinu­ity is one of the most im­port­ant and most top­ic­al in con­nec­tion with Marx’s thought, which is not to say that it is a vi­tal ques­tion only in con­nec­tion with Marx. There is no thinker for whom it is without con­sequence, be­cause in put­ting this ques­tion we are really ask­ing wheth­er we have to do with one or a num­ber of dif­fer­ent thinkers. It has, however, a spe­cial sig­ni­fic­ance where Marx is con­cerned, not only be­cause very dif­fer­ent an­swers to this ques­tion have been giv­en and ar­dently de­fen­ded in re­gard to him but also be­cause these di­verse “the­or­et­ic­al” an­swers have been con­nec­ted with di­ver­gent “prac­tic­al” aims and ac­tions.

The thes­is that there is a dis­con­tinu­ity in Marx’s thought has mainly ap­peared, and still ap­pears, in the the­ory about the fun­da­ment­al dif­fer­ences between the “young” or “im­ma­ture” Marx, rep­res­en­ted by his works up to 1844-1845 (ac­cord­ing to oth­ers up to 1847-1848), and the “old” or “ma­ture” Marx, rep­res­en­ted by his later works. This the­ory has many dif­fer­ent vari­ants.

In “Marx­ism”-Sta­lin­ism the the­ory is con­cret­ized in­to the thes­is that the ma­ture Marx, the sober sci­ent­ist-eco­nom­ist, tran­scen­ded and made un­in­ter­est­ing the young Marx, the ab­stract philo­soph­er-dream­er. Cri­ti­ciz­ing the “young” Marx’s philo­soph­ic­al ideal­ism and polit­ic­al lib­er­al­ism, Sta­lin­ists af­fect be­ing con­sist­ent re­volu­tion­ar­ies fight­ing against what is non-Marx­ist in the young Marx, against the mis­use of Marx’s ju­ven­ile fail­ings and mis­takes by the en­emies of so­cial­ism. However, the ques­tion ir­res­ist­ibly im­poses it­self: is not the al­leged puri­fic­a­tion of the young Marx from “Hegel­ian­ism” and “bour­geois lib­er­al­ism” in fact a “cleans­ing” of Marx’s thought from its hu­man­ist­ic es­sence, a prag­mat­ic “pre­par­a­tion” for mak­ing it ser­vice­able as a the­or­et­ic­al jus­ti­fic­a­tion of bur­eau­crat­ic, an­ti­so­cial­ist prac­tice?

Among non-Marx­ists, too, there are ad­her­ents of the thes­is who hold that the old, “sci­entif­ic” Marx, and not the young, “con­fused” one, is the “real” Marx; that al­though Marx’s polit­ic­al eco­nomy is re­l­at­ively the most valu­able part of his the­or­et­ic­al work, it is none the less ba­sic­ally wrong, or at least out­dated. It is be­com­ing more and more fre­quent, however, among the crit­ics of Marx­ism to make this op­pos­i­tion in fa­vor of the “young” Marx, and sim­ul­tan­eously to be­little the thought of the “young” Marx by de­clar­ing it an ill-con­sidered syn­thes­is of Hegel and Feuerbach. In both cases the ques­tion nat­ur­ally arises: is not the aim of pro­claim­ing either the “old” or the “young” Marx the only “true” Marx to re­strict Marx­ism to a more nar­row field (in which the crit­ic feels more con­fid­ent), and thus to make cri­ti­cism of it easi­er?

The thes­is that there is a con­tinu­ity in Marx’s thought has also been in­ter­preted in vari­ous ways, and its ad­her­ents have been ac­cused of hold­ing that Marx’s con­cep­tions nev­er changed at all, but al­ways re­mained ex­actly the same. Con­ceived in this way, the con­tinu­ity thes­is is ob­vi­ously un­foun­ded and it would be strange for any­body to ad­voc­ate it, since it im­plies that Marx was a nar­row-minded the­or­eti­cian in­cap­able of any de­vel­op­ment. And were any­one to try to de­fend it, it would be easy to re­fute him; it is not dif­fi­cult to show that some of Marx’s es­sen­tial views changed con­sid­er­ably.

I be­lieve in the con­tinu­ity of Marx’s thought, by which I do not mean that his views nev­er changed, that he was, so to speak, born with the beard, but rather, that there are not two fun­da­ment­ally dif­fer­ent and mu­tu­ally un­con­nec­ted Marxes. From his high school years to his death, Marx’s thought was con­stantly chan­ging, but there were no such turns in this pro­cess as would rep­res­ent a com­plete break with former ideas and the pas­sage to en­tirely dif­fer­ent or even op­pos­ite con­cep­tions. The “young” Marx is not an “ab­stract philo­soph­er,” nor is the “old” an “aus­tere sci­ent­ist”: Marx’s thought from be­gin­ning to end is a re­volu­tion­ary hu­man­ism, and only when it is con­sidered as a whole can it serve as an ad­equate the­or­et­ic­al basis of the re­volu­tion­ary struggle for a demo­crat­ic, hu­man­ist­ic so­cial­ism.


It is not dif­fi­cult to for­mu­late briefly the thes­is about the con­tinu­ity of Marx’s thought, as I have done in the pre­ced­ing es­say. But to jus­ti­fy it com­pletely one would have to ana­lyze ba­sic thoughts from his earli­est pub­lished and un­pub­lished manuscripts to his last writ­ings. Nev­er­the­less, al­though it is im­possible in a short space to “prove” the thes­is com­pletely, it is pos­sible to sup­port it at least par­tially — by com­par­ing the key ideas of some of his works that be­long to dif­fer­ent peri­ods of his life and have a de­cis­ive im­port­ance for those peri­ods.

What about con­sid­er­ing, for ex­ample, the re­la­tion­ship between Marx’s Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts, Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy, and Cap­it­al? This choice may seem ar­bit­rary, but it is by no means so. The three works be­long to dif­fer­ent peri­ods of Marx’s life: the first of them was writ­ten in the 1840s, i.e., in the first dec­ade of Marx’s the­or­et­ic­al work; the second, in the fifties, the second dec­ade of his work; and the third mainly in the six­ties and sev­en­ties, hence in the third and fourth dec­ades of his work. Al­though the writ­ing of the first two oc­cu­pied Marx for only a small por­tion of the dec­ades in which they were pro­duced, and des­pite the fact that he did not him­self either fin­ish or pub­lish any of the three,1 these works are rep­res­ent­at­ive of the peri­ods in which they were writ­ten. Marx’s let­ters show that he was ex­cep­tion­ally anxious to write them and that he re­garded them as more im­port­ant than many oth­er works that he fin­ished and pub­lished. And com­par­ing the con­tents of these works with oth­er works from the same peri­ods, we can es­tab­lish that these are works where Marx dis­cussed fun­da­ment­al prob­lems and came to de­cis­ive con­clu­sions, con­clu­sions that are ba­sic for oth­er works from these peri­ods.

Tak­ing the three works as a basis for ana­lys­is has one more spe­cial jus­ti­fic­a­tion. Those who ad­voc­ate the thes­is about the two dif­fer­ent Marxes very of­ten put for­ward as their main ar­gu­ment the al­leged un­bridge­able gap between the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts and Cap­it­al, main­tain­ing that the first work shows the hand of Marx the ab­stract philo­soph­er who solves con­crete so­cial ques­tions by spec­u­la­tion, where­as in Cap­it­al we have be­fore us Marx the sci­ent­ist, the eco­nom­ist who bases his con­clu­sions on scru­pu­lous em­pir­ic­al in­vest­ig­a­tion and the math­em­at­ic­al elab­or­a­tion of a “moun­tain of fac­tu­al ma­ter­i­al.” In dis­put­ing the thes­is about the two Marxes, we can­not by­pass either of the two works in­volved in this ar­gu­ment — or the third work, which is ig­nored be­cause it oc­cu­pies the place re­served for the al­leged “gap.”

The fact that Marx did not fin­ish and pub­lish his Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts does not mean that it con­sists of purely private notes not in­ten­ded for pub­lic­a­tion. From Marx’s pre­face, where he in­forms us that in pre­par­ing the manuscript for pub­lic­a­tion he gave up his ori­gin­al in­ten­tion of dis­cuss­ing in it law, mor­als, polit­ics, etc., which, he an­nounces, he will elab­or­ate crit­ic­ally in a sub­sequent series of pamph­lets, and in a sep­ar­ate work en­deavor “to present the in­ter­con­nec­ted whole, to show the re­la­tion­ships between the parts, and to provide a cri­tique of the spec­u­lat­ive treat­ment of this ma­ter­i­al,”2 it is ob­vi­ous that Marx wished to pub­lish this work. That he did not real­ize his in­ten­tion is ex­plained by the fact that after meet­ing En­gels at the end of Au­gust 1844 he de­voted him­self to the po­lem­ic­al work The Holy Fam­ily, which they planned and wrote to­geth­er (al­though much more of it was writ­ten by Marx than by En­gels). Marx did not be­lieve that his un­fin­ished manuscript thus lost its value and in­terest, and he in­ten­ded to fin­ish and pub­lish it later, as can be seen from the fact that on Feb­ru­ary 1, 1845, he signed a con­tract with C.W. Leske, a pub­lish­er from Darm­stadt, for a book en­titled A Cri­tique of Polit­ics and Na­tion­al Eco­nomy. Soon after fin­ish­ing The Holy Fam­ily, however, both he and En­gels got in­volved in po­lem­ics again and star­ted writ­ing the Ger­man Ideo­logy.

Marx did not cease his work on the Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy for any ex­tern­al reas­ons; he did so be­cause he was dis­sat­is­fied with what he had writ­ten. He was dis­sat­is­fied, however, not with the con­tent but with the form, which was, ac­cord­ing to him, af­fected by the liv­er dis­ease that had sud­denly at­tacked him. This is vividly test­i­fied to in his let­ters of that time, like the one to Las­salle of Novem­ber 12, 1858, in which he com­plained: “In all… that I wrote, I felt in the style the taste of the liv­er dis­ease. And I have a double reas­on not to al­low this writ­ing to be spoiled by med­ic­al causes: 1) It is the res­ult of a fif­teen-year-long in­vest­ig­a­tion, hence of the best years of my life. 2) It presents sci­en­tific­ally for the first time an im­port­ant view of so­cial re­la­tions. Con­sequently I owe it to the party not to dis­tort the mat­ter by the kind of dull, wooden writ­ing that is prop­er to a sick liv­er.”3

In Marx’s let­ters we also find a par­tial ex­plan­a­tion of his liv­er com­plaint. The ill­ness was caused to a con­sid­er­able ex­tent by in­tens­ive night work, which was stim­u­lated by the eco­nom­ic crisis of 1857, the fourth in the series of great eco­nom­ic crises of the nine­teenth cen­tury and the first that really as­sumed a world char­ac­ter, em­bra­cing both Europe and Amer­ica and all branches of eco­nom­ics.

Op­tim­ist­ic­ally ex­pect­ing that the crisis would in­flict a mor­tal blow on the cap­it­al­ist­ic so­cial or­der, Marx ap­plied all his en­ergy to work in or­der to round up his ba­sic con­cep­tions as soon as pos­sible, at least in broad lines. “I work madly throughout whole nights, sum­mar­iz­ing my eco­nom­ic stud­ies,” he writes to En­gels in Decem­ber 1857, “in or­der to have the found­a­tions ready be­fore the flood.”4


The com­par­at­ive study of the three works may at first give the im­pres­sion that they agree both in the ba­sic themes, which are eco­nom­ic, and in the lit­er­at­ure on which they rely, which is also eco­nom­ic, but that they nev­er­the­less dif­fer, partly in sub­ject mat­ter — be­cause the first work in­cludes philo­soph­ic­al as well as eco­nom­ic top­ics — but even more in the meth­od — be­cause the first work is char­ac­ter­ized by ab­stract philo­soph­ic­al reas­on­ing and the second and third by con­crete em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is.

Such an as­ser­tion might seem con­vin­cing. In the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts, in ad­di­tion to sec­tions de­voted to such eco­nom­ic phe­nom­ena as wage, profit, rent, money, we also find spe­cial sec­tions on dis­tinctly philo­soph­ic­al themes such as ali­en­ated labor and Hegel’s dia­lectics (the ed­it­or en­titled those sec­tions “Ali­en­ated Work” and “Cri­ti­cism of Hegel’s Dia­lectics and Philo­sophy in Gen­er­al”). In the Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy and in Cap­it­al, on the con­trary, there is no chapter that is ob­vi­ously de­voted to a philo­soph­ic­al top­ic. The dif­fer­ence in meth­od may also at first seem in­con­test­able. Cap­it­al abounds in his­tor­ic­al in­form­a­tion, stat­ist­ic­al facts, and math­em­at­ic­al com­pu­ta­tions, where­as there are none of these in Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts.

Against the view that the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts are ab­stract spec­u­la­tions without sup­port in em­pir­ic­al in­vest­ig­a­tions, there is, however, Marx’s state­ment in the pre­face to that work: “It is hardly ne­ces­sary to as­sure the read­er who is fa­mil­i­ar with polit­ic­al eco­nomy that my con­clu­sions are the fruit of an en­tirely em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is based upon a care­ful crit­ic­al study of polit­ic­al eco­nomy.”5 This state­ment, of course, can­not be de­cis­ive when one asks to what ex­tent Marx’s res­ults really were reached by an em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is, but it must at least be taken in­to ac­count when one dis­cusses his con­scious in­ten­tions and con­scious meth­od­o­lo­gic­al ap­proach.

And if em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is, or at least the in­ten­tion of em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is, was not ali­en to the “young” Marx, per­haps philo­soph­iz­ing was not ex­traneous to the “old.” In­deed, is not the abund­ant use of philo­soph­ic­al ter­min­o­logy in the Sketches and in the Cap­it­al an in­dic­a­tion of this?

The ques­tion leads us to the main thes­is of this es­say: des­pite the fact that the three chosen works are dif­fer­ent, they pos­sess a ba­sic unity, even an es­sen­tial iden­tity. First, all three rep­res­ent a cri­tique of the polit­ic­al eco­nomy and the eco­nom­ic real­ity of cap­it­al­ism and of every class so­ci­ety from a view­point that is not purely eco­nom­ic but above all philo­soph­ic­al. And they all con­tain a the­or­et­ic­al found­a­tion and a call for the real­iz­a­tion of a truly hu­man so­ci­ety in which man will no longer be ali­en­ated from him­self, will no more be an eco­nom­ic an­im­al, but will real­ize him­self as a free cre­at­ive be­ing of prax­is.

An ex­tern­al con­firm­a­tion for the crit­ic­al, “tran­seco­nom­ic” char­ac­ter of these works is provided by ex­pli­cit state­ments of Marx. In the pre­face to the 1844 Manuscripts he stresses the crit­ic­al nature of the work, char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as one cri­tique, which will be fol­lowed by oth­ers. And con­cern­ing the Sketches, Marx wrote to Las­salle: “The work that is first in ques­tion is the cri­tique of eco­nom­ic cat­egor­ies, or, if you like, the sys­tem of bour­geois eco­nomy presen­ted crit­ic­ally. This is at the same time the rep­res­ent­a­tion of the sys­tem and through the present­a­tion its cri­ti­cism.”6 The crit­ic­al char­ac­ter of Cap­it­al was stressed by Marx in the sub­title — “cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy” — but also, for ex­ample, in the epi­logue of the second edi­tion (1873) where he says that he used the dia­lect­ic­al meth­od in this work, and that it is “in its es­sence crit­ic­al and re­volu­tion­ary.”7

Such single state­ments can­not be re­garded as de­cis­ive con­firm­a­tion of the iden­tity of the ba­sic po­s­i­tion of the three works in ques­tion. The de­cis­ive con­firm­a­tion is offered by the whole con­tent of these works.

A fun­da­ment­al idea of Marx’s Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts is that man is a free cre­at­ive be­ing of prax­is who in the con­tem­por­ary world is ali­en­ated from his hu­man es­sence, but that the rad­ic­al form man’s self-ali­en­a­tion as­sumes in the con­tem­por­ary so­ci­ety cre­ates real con­di­tions for a struggle against self-ali­en­a­tion, for real­iz­ing so­cial­ism as a de-ali­en­ated, free com­munity of free men. And this is also the guid­ing idea of the Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy and of Cap­it­al.


Every frag­ment of a great lit­er­ary work ex­presses at least partly the mean­ing of the whole. Per­haps we will come closer to un­der­stand­ing Marx’s Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy if we care­fully con­sider the fol­low­ing pas­sage:

We nev­er find in the an­cients an in­vest­ig­a­tion of which form of own­er­ship of land, etc., is most pro­duct­ive, cre­ates the largest wealth. Wealth does not ap­pear as an end of pro­duc­tion, al­though, of course, Cato may in­vest­ig­ate which till­age of the ground is most re­mu­ner­at­ive, or Bru­tus may lend money at the best rate of in­terest. The in­vest­ig­a­tion is al­ways which form of own­er­ship cre­ates the best cit­izens. As an end in it­self wealth ap­pears only among a small num­ber of com­mer­cial na­tions — mono­pol­ists of the car­ry­ing trade — which live in the pores of the old world like the Jews in me­di­ev­al so­ci­ety. However, wealth is, on the one hand, a thing, it is real­ized in things, ma­ter­i­al products, which are con­fron­ted by man as a sub­ject; on the oth­er hand, as value it is a pure com­mand over ali­en work, with the pur­pose not of dom­in­a­tion but of private en­joy­ment, etc. In all forms it ap­pears in a thing-form either as a thing, or as a re­la­tion­ship by means of a thing, which lies out­side and ac­ci­dent­ally be­side the in­di­vidu­al. In this way the old view, ac­cord­ing to which man, al­though in a lim­ited na­tion­al, re­li­gious, polit­ic­al de­term­in­a­tion, ap­pears as the end of pro­duc­tion, seems very ex­al­ted com­pared with that of the mod­ern world, where pro­duc­tion ap­pears as the end of man, and wealth as the end of pro­duc­tion. But in fact, if one tears down the lim­ited bour­geois form, what else is wealth if not uni­ver­sal­ity of needs, cap­ab­il­it­ies, en­joy­ments, pro­duct­ive forces, etc., of in­di­vidu­als pro­duced in a uni­ver­sal ex­change? The full de­vel­op­ment of man’s dom­in­a­tion over nat­ur­al forces, those of nature so-called as well as those of his own nature? The de­vel­op­ment of one’s cre­at­ive pre­dis­pos­i­tions — without any oth­er pre­sup­pos­i­tion but the pre­vi­ous his­tor­ic­al de­vel­op­ment that makes this to­tal­ity of de­vel­op­ment, i.e., the de­vel­op­ment of all hu­man forces as such, not meas­ured by some pre­vi­ously giv­en stand­ard — to an end in it­self; where man does not re­pro­duce him­self in his def­in­ite­ness but pro­duces his to­tal­ity? Where he does not en­deavor to re­main something be­come, but is in an ab­so­lute move­ment of be­com­ing? In bour­geois eco­nomy — and in the epoch of pro­duc­tion to which it cor­res­ponds — this full de­vel­op­ment of the in­tern­al in man ap­pears as a com­plete empty­ing, this uni­ver­sal ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion as total ali­en­a­tion, and the de­moli­tion of all one-sided ends as the sac­ri­fi­cing of the end in it­self to an en­tirely ex­tern­al end. There­fore, the child­ish old world on the one hand ap­pears high­er. On the oth­er hand, it really is so in everything where a closed ap­pear­ance, form, and def­in­ite lim­it­a­tion is re­quired. It is sat­is­fac­tion from a lim­ited stand­point; where­as the mod­ern world leaves man dis­sat­is­fied, or is, where it ap­pears sat­is­fied with­in it­self, banal.8

What is the mean­ing of this pas­sage? What top­ics are dis­cussed here? What is the au­thor’s ap­proach? What are his theses?

If we con­sider care­fully the be­gin­ning of the pas­sage, we im­me­di­ately no­tice the terms: “own­er­ship of land,” “most pro­duct­ive,” “wealth,” “pro­duc­tion,” “till­age of the ground,” “most re­mu­ner­at­ive,” “lend,” “money,” “in­terest.” How many eco­nom­ic terms in only the first two sen­tences! But the rest of the pas­sage is equally rich in eco­nom­ic ter­min­o­logy: “com­mer­cial,” “work,” “ex­change,” “pro­duct­ive forces,” etc. Does this not show that eco­nom­ic themes are be­ing dis­cussed here? It is per­haps a too su­per­fi­cial way of reas­on­ing to judge the sub­ject mat­ter of a text on the basis of the terms used. It is not, however, only the terms that are eco­nom­ic here. The main con­tent of the pas­sage seems to be a com­par­is­on of an­cient and con­tem­por­ary con­cep­tions about the end of pro­duc­tion. And is not pro­duc­tion, at least in the sense in which it is used in the text, an eco­nom­ic cat­egory?

One may ob­ject that Marx is not speak­ing about pro­duc­tion here, or even about the end of pro­duc­tion, but about views con­cern­ing the end of pro­duc­tion. And he does not en­gage in gen­er­al the­or­et­ic­al con­sid­er­a­tions about any view, but com­pares an­cient and con­tem­por­ary views. He does not dir­ectly dis­cuss an eco­nom­ic phe­nomen­on, nor does he here con­sider any phe­nomen­on the­or­et­ic­ally and sys­tem­at­ic­ally. He gives an his­tor­ic­al com­par­is­on of two dif­fer­ent con­cep­tions. This ob­jec­tion can, however, be answered con­vin­cingly: the view of the end of pro­duc­tion is not a “ma­ter­i­al” eco­nom­ic phe­nomen­on, but it is nev­er­the­less an eco­nom­ic view. Thus the his­tor­ic­al con­sid­er­a­tion of an­cient and con­tem­por­ary views about the end of pro­duc­tion, al­though it is not a dir­ect in­vest­ig­a­tion of eco­nom­ic real­ity, is still an his­tor­ic­al in­vest­ig­a­tion of the de­vel­op­ment of eco­nom­ic views, and con­sequently be­longs to the sphere of eco­nom­ic in­vest­ig­a­tions in a broad sense. It is an in­vest­ig­a­tion on the bor­der­line between eco­nom­ics and his­tory.

Let us look more care­fully at the ques­tion with which Marx is here con­cerned: in what way and what sense is he con­cerned with the an­cient and the con­tem­por­ary views about the end of pro­duc­tion? Marx first es­tab­lishes what is the im­me­di­ate dif­fer­ence between the two views. Ac­cord­ing to the an­cient view, the end of pro­duc­tion is man; ac­cord­ing to the con­tem­por­ary, cap­it­al­ist con­cep­tion, the end of pro­duc­tion is wealth, and the end of man is pro­duc­tion. These state­ments can be re­garded as a con­stitu­ent part of a sci­ence that es­tab­lishes the dif­fer­ence between the views of dif­fer­ent peri­ods by an ob­ject­ive in­vest­ig­a­tion of his­tor­ic­al doc­u­ments.

Marx, however, does not stop at an ob­ject­ive re­gis­tra­tion of the dif­fer­ence between the an­cient and the con­tem­por­ary views about the end of pro­duc­tion; he main­tains that the an­cient is “very ex­al­ted” com­pared with the mod­ern. The main thes­is of the whole pas­sage is that the con­cep­tion of man as the end of pro­duc­tion is the “more ex­al­ted” (bet­ter, high­er, more hu­man) view. It is dif­fi­cult to call this fun­da­ment­al thes­is “eco­nom­ic,” be­cause it is first con­cerned not with eco­nom­ics, but with man.

Not only is this thes­is not “eco­nom­ic,” it is not really “sci­entif­ic.” It might be pos­sible to es­tab­lish by sci­entif­ic meth­ods wheth­er one of the two views was ac­tu­ally wide­spread in the an­cient, and the oth­er in the mod­ern world. But what sci­entif­ic meth­ods can es­tab­lish wheth­er one view is more “ex­al­ted” than the oth­er? What kind of ob­ser­va­tion, ex­per­i­ment, meas­ure­ment, in oth­er words, what em­pir­ic­al meth­od can es­tab­lish “ex­al­ted­ness”?

But the fact that Marx’s thes­is can­not be “sci­en­tific­ally proved” does not make it mean­ing­less or un­sup­port­able. In­deed, Marx tries to per­suade us of its truth. This “per­sua­sion” be­gins with the sen­tence: “But in fact, if one tears down the lim­ited bour­geois form, what else is wealth if not uni­ver­sal­ity of needs, cap­ab­il­it­ies, en­joy­ments, pro­duct­ive forces, etc., of in­di­vidu­als pro­duced in a uni­ver­sal ex­change?”

At first this sen­tence may be em­bar­rass­ing. Marx here seems to jump to quite an­oth­er ques­tion: what wealth really is. What is even more curi­ous, in an­swer­ing the ques­tion Marx denies what he said about it in the first half of the pas­sage, where he said that wealth is, on the one hand, a col­lec­tion of ma­ter­i­al products, things, and, on the oth­er hand, com­mand of the work of oth­ers for the pur­pose of private en­joy­ment. Now all at once we are in­formed that wealth is in fact something else, quite dif­fer­ent, namely uni­ver­sal­ity of needs, cap­ab­il­it­ies, en­joy­ments, pro­duct­ive forces, etc., of in­di­vidu­als. What do these dif­fer­ences and in­con­sist­en­cies mean?

If we re­flect a little more about Marx’s text, we real­ize that his thought is really pretty clear and con­sist­ent: if wealth is con­ceived of as a col­lec­tion of ma­ter­i­al things and com­mand over the work of oth­ers, then the view that man is the end of pro­duc­tion is “ex­al­ted” com­pared to the view that the end of pro­duc­tion is wealth. But the view that the end of pro­duc­tion is wealth need not be wrong or con­trary to the view that the end of pro­duc­tion is man, if “wealth” is in­ter­preted in an­oth­er way as:

  1. “uni­ver­sal­ity of needs, cap­ab­il­it­ies, en­joy­ments, pro­duct­ive forces, etc., of in­di­vidu­als pro­duced in a uni­ver­sal ex­change”;
  2. “the full de­vel­op­ment of man’s dom­in­a­tion over nat­ur­al forces, those of nature so-called as well as those of his own nature”;
  3. “the ab­so­lute de­vel­op­ment of one’s cre­at­ive pre­dis­pos­i­tions — without any oth­er pre­sup­pos­i­tion but the pre­vi­ous his­tor­ic­al de­vel­op­ment that makes this to­tal­ity of de­vel­op­ment, i.e., de­vel­op­ment of all hu­man forces as such, not meas­ured by some pre­vi­ously giv­en stand­ard, an end in it­self”;
  4. such de­vel­op­ment of one’s cre­at­ive pre­dis­pos­i­tions in which man “does not re­pro­duce him­self in his def­in­ite­ness, but pro­duces his to­tal­ity”;
  5. such de­vel­op­ment of one’s cre­at­ive pre­dis­pos­i­tion in which man “does not en­deavor to re­main something be­come, but is in an ab­so­lute move­ment of be­com­ing.”

Thus, ac­cord­ing to Marx, man is rich not when he pos­sesses many things or when he suc­cess­fully ex­ploits oth­er people, but when he uni­ver­sally de­vel­ops his needs, cap­ab­il­it­ies, cre­at­ive forces; when he does not re­pro­duce him­self in his def­in­ite­ness, does not en­deavor to re­main what he already is, but is in the “ab­so­lute move­ment of be­com­ing.” Can such a view of man’s wealth be re­garded as an “eco­nom­ic” doc­trine? Is it a sci­entif­ic con­cep­tion that can be em­pir­ic­ally proved, or is it a philo­soph­ic­al thes­is foun­ded on philo­soph­ic­al ar­gu­ment?

Marx’s thought in the part of the pas­sage ana­lyzed so far can be sum­mar­ized as fol­lows: the an­cient view that the end of pro­duc­tion is man is su­per­i­or to the new, cap­it­al­ist view that the end of man is pro­duc­tion, and the end of pro­duc­tion, wealth. If, however, wealth is con­ceived of not as the pos­ses­sion of things, but as the de­vel­op­ment of the cre­at­ive hu­man per­son­al­ity, the dif­fer­ence between the two views dis­ap­pears.

The ana­lys­is of the pas­sage is still not fin­ished. The thes­is that man’s wealth lies in the uni­ver­sal de­vel­op­ment of his cap­ab­il­it­ies and that the end of pro­duc­tion is the de­vel­op­ment of man might seem to be an ideal­iz­a­tion of man and his pro­duc­tion to those who re­gard philo­soph­ic­al theses as em­pir­ic­al de­scrip­tions of what in fact is. That Marx was not giv­en to ideal­iz­a­tion of man in his fac­tu­al ex­ist­ence can be seen from the part of the pas­sage already quoted. But in the text that fol­lows Marx also dir­ectly warns that he is not talk­ing of what is but of what can and ought to be, be­cause he re­gards the ex­ist­ing world as an ali­en­ated world in which man does not real­ize his hu­man nature, but something con­trary to it: “In bour­geois eco­nomy — and in the epoch of pro­duc­tion to which it cor­res­ponds — this full de­vel­op­ment of the in­tern­al in man ap­pears as a com­plete empty­ing, this uni­ver­sal ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion as total ali­en­a­tion, and the de­moli­tion of all def­in­ite one-sided ends, as the sac­ri­fi­cing of the end in it­self to an en­tirely ex­tern­al end.”

Thus Marx test­i­fies that he is con­cerned with a philo­soph­ic­al ques­tion and with a crit­ic­al, not apo­lo­get­ic or neut­ral, at­ti­tude to­ward the ex­ist­ing world. But al­though he takes care to pro­tect his thought from mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion as an apo­logy for, or em­bel­lish­ment of, the ex­ist­ing real­ity, Marx also warns against con­ceiv­ing of it as a cri­ti­cism of the con­tem­por­ary world from the view­point of the past. Re­peat­ing, at the end of the pas­sage, that the old world is in cer­tain re­spects high­er than the mod­ern (“in everything where a closed ap­pear­ance, form and def­in­ite lim­it­a­tion is re­quired”), he at the same time char­ac­ter­izes this old world as “child­ish,” and re­marks that it is “sat­is­fac­tion from a lim­ited stand­point.” This, however, does not do away with the thes­is that the old world is, in a qual­i­fied sense, high­er than the con­tem­por­ary. The old world sat­is­fies man from a lim­ited stand­point; the mod­ern world leaves him dis­sat­is­fied or sat­is­fies him in a banal way.


It is not ne­ces­sary to be an ex­pert on the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts to know that the view that man’s wealth is not the mere pos­ses­sion of things and dom­in­a­tion over oth­er men, but rather the full de­vel­op­ment of his cre­at­ive po­ten­ti­al­it­ies, was already stated in the 1844 Manuscripts. Nev­er­the­less let us quote one pas­sage:

It will be seen from this how, in place of the wealth and poverty of polit­ic­al eco­nomy, we have the wealthy man and the plen­it­ude of hu­man need. The wealthy man is at the same time one who needs a com­plex of hu­man mani­fest­a­tions of life, and whose own self-real­iz­a­tion ex­ists as an in­ner ne­ces­sity, a need. Not only the wealth but also the poverty of man ac­quires, in a so­cial­ist per­spect­ive, a hu­man and thus a so­cial mean­ing. Poverty is the pass­ive bond that leads man to ex­per­i­ence a need for the greatest wealth, the oth­er per­son. The sway of the ob­ject­ive en­tity with­in me, the sen­su­ous out­break of my life-activ­ity, is the pas­sion that here be­comes the activ­ity of my be­ing.9

The two pas­sages (this one from the Manuscripts and the oth­er from the Sketches) are, of course, not identic­al, but it is not dif­fi­cult to see that the con­cep­tion of man’s wealth is es­sen­tially the same in both.

The ideas ex­pressed in the Manuscripts were fur­ther de­veloped by Marx in the Sketches, and he did not aban­don them in Cap­it­al. Let us con­sider only this pas­sage from Cap­it­al:

However ter­rible and dis­gust­ing, un­der the cap­it­al­ist sys­tem, the dis­sol­u­tion of the old fam­ily ties may ap­pear, nev­er­the­less, large-scale in­dustry, by as­sign­ing as it does an im­port­ant part in the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion, out­side the do­mest­ic sphere, to wo­men, to young per­sons, and to chil­dren of both sexes, cre­ates a new eco­nom­ic basis for a high­er form of the fam­ily and of the re­la­tions between the sexes. It is, of course, just as ab­surd to re­gard the Teuton­ic-Chris­ti­an form of the fam­ily as ab­so­lute and fi­nal as it would be to ap­ply that char­ac­ter to the an­cient Ro­man, the an­cient Greek, or the East­ern forms, which, moreover, taken to­geth­er, form a series in his­tor­ic­al de­vel­op­ment. Moreover, it is ob­vi­ous that the fact of the col­lect­ive work­ing group be­ing com­posed of in­di­vidu­als of both sexes and all ages must ne­ces­sar­ily, un­der suit­able con­di­tions, be­come a source of hu­mane de­vel­op­ment, al­though in its spon­tan­eously de­veloped, bru­tal cap­it­al­ist form, where the laborer ex­ists for the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion, and not the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion for the laborer, it is a pes­ti­len­tial source of cor­rup­tion and slavery.10

This quo­ta­tion from Cap­it­al seem­ingly has noth­ing to do with the frag­ment from the Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy. A more care­ful com­par­is­on, however, shows in­ter­est­ing ana­lo­gies: just as the pas­sage from the Sketches at first seemed purely eco­nom­ic or eco­nomico-his­tor­ic­al, so this frag­ment from Cap­it­al at first seems so­ci­olo­gic­al or so­ci­olo­gi­co-his­tor­ic­al. Just as in the pas­sage from the Sketches Marx seemed to ideal­ize the an­cient view about the end of pro­duc­tion, so in the frag­ment from Cap­it­al it may seem that Marx is ex­tolling the old form of the fam­ily. In the first in­stance, however, Marx is not up­hold­ing either the an­cient or the con­tem­por­ary, cap­it­al­ist view­point, but re­gard­ing past and present from the view­point of the fu­ture; and in the second, he char­ac­ter­izes as folly the ab­so­l­u­tiz­a­tion of either the Chris­ti­an-Ger­man­ic, the Greco-Ro­man or the Ori­ent­al form of the fam­ily and at­tempts to dis­cov­er in an ob­served present the germs of a hu­man fu­ture. The pas­sage from Cap­it­al is not only ana­log­ous to the one from the Sketches; it ac­tu­ally re­peats its fun­da­ment­al thes­is, cri­ti­ciz­ing the bru­tal cap­it­al­ist­ic or­der where “the laborer ex­ists for the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion, and not the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion for the laborer.”

In­stead of “man” he here speaks of the “laborer,” but the fun­da­ment­al idea about the re­la­tion­ship between pro­duc­tion and the pro­du­cer is the same.

This does not mean that in Cap­it­al Marx only re­peated the Sketches, and in the Sketches, the Manuscripts, so that there is noth­ing new in either the Sketches or Cap­it­al. To give only one ex­ample, when in the Sketches Marx says that man is really man when he “does not en­deavor to re­main something be­come, but is in the ab­so­lute move­ment of be­com­ing,” this is cer­tainly one of the ways of ex­press­ing the es­sence of his philo­soph­ic­al po­s­i­tion, which is also in­her­ent in his oth­er works, but which, so far as I know, is not ex­pressed at any oth­er place in ex­actly this way. The same holds for many oth­er ideas ex­pressed in the Sketches and in Cap­it­al.

The pas­sage from the Sketches was not chosen en­tirely at ran­dom, but it is by no means the only one that is rich in in­ter­est­ing and im­port­ant philo­soph­ic­al con­sid­er­a­tions. There are many like it. But the sub­stance is not only in single pas­sages. This whole un­fin­ished manuscript is full of philo­soph­ic­al in­ten­tions, guided by philo­soph­ic­al ideas, and rich in philo­soph­ic­al in­sights. Thus it is a con­vin­cing testi­mony of the con­tinu­ity of Marx’s thought and makes it easi­er to grasp the es­sen­tial con­tinu­ity of the Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts and Cap­it­al.


1 Eco­nom­ic and Philo­soph­ic­al Manuscripts was writ­ten between Feb­ru­ary and Au­gust 1844, and pub­lished nearly half a cen­tury after Marx’s death in 1932 in two edi­tions with not quite identic­al texts: in Karl Marx, Friedrich En­gels, His­tor­isch-krit­ische Ges­amtaus­gabe, Er­ste Ab­teilung, Band 3, Marx-En­gels Ver­lag (Ber­lin, 1932); and also in K. Marx, Der his­tor­ische Ma­ter­i­al­is­mus. Die Frühschriften, Er­ster Band, Heraus­gegeben von S. Landshut und J.P. May­er, Al­fred Kron­er Ver­lag (Leipzig, 1932). The title un­der which they be­came fa­mil­i­ar ori­gin­ates from their So­viet ed­it­ors (Landshut and May­er en­titled them Nationalökonomie und Philo­soph­ie). The Sketches for the Cri­tique of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy were writ­ten between Oc­to­ber 1857 and March 1858, ed­ited and giv­en a title by the Mo­scow Marx-En­gels-Len­in In­sti­tute, and pub­lished by the Mo­scow Pub­lish­ing House for Lit­er­at­ure in For­eign Lan­guages (Ver­lag für Frem­d­sprac­hige Lit­er­at­ur) in two volumes in 1939 and 1941. Ow­ing to the war, most of this edi­tion per­ished, so that the work be­came ac­cess­ible only after it was re­pub­lished in Ber­lin after the war (Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie, Ro­hent­wurf, 1857-1858; An­hang, 1850-1859, Marx-En­gels-Len­in In­sti­tut, Moskau, Di­etz Ver­lag [Ber­lin, 1953]). As is well known, the title of Cap­it­al [Das Kapit­al: Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie], was giv­en by Marx him­self, and he suc­ceeded in fin­ish­ing and pub­lish­ing the first volume of it in 1867. The second and the third volumes, however, were ed­ited and pub­lished by En­gels in 1887 and 1894.
2 Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, pg. 90.
3 Marx and Las­salle am 12.XI, 1858, Las­salle-Nachlass, s. 136; quoted from K. Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie [Ground­work for a Cri­ti­cism of Polit­ic­al Eco­nomy] (Ber­lin, 1953), s. XIII.
4 Marx, En­gels, Prepiska, vol. II, pg. 279; cf. also, pg. 285.
5 Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, pgs. 90-91.
6 Marx, Las­salle, den 22.II, 1858, s. 116-117; quoted from Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie, s. IX.
7 Marx, Cap­it­al, vol. I, pg. lxiv.
8 Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie, ss. 387-388.
9 Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, pgs. 137-138.
10 Cap­it­al, I, pgs. 514-516; quoted in K. Marx, Se­lec­ted Writ­ings in So­ci­ology and So­cial Philo­sophy, ed­ited by T.B. Bot­to­more and M. Ru­bel, Pen­guin Books (1963), p. 259.