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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Gold!,
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Reviews of Marx's early Writings usually begin with `difficult'. This is perhaps due to the first piece; `Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of the State'. This is indeed difficult, particularly for anyone uninitiated to the fundamentals of Marxism. Marx himself suffered headaches and ill health when he read Hegel so you are in good company! The writings are chronological and show the process of Marx's intellectual development between 1843-44. They begin with his philosophical dissection of Hegel before moving onto the analysis of social and economic issues.
However it would be a real shame if readers are put off by the initial difficulty of the `Critique', which consists of 142 pages of closely argued philosophy, more on this later. Within the writings there is much more accessible and less `heavy going' material. I would recommend that new readers start with `A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right' of which only the introduction remains. This is a famous passage where Marx describes religion as `the opium of the people'. It is a broad sweeping analysis of the current balance of social forces in the main European powers at the time. Marx first outlines his concept of class struggle as the motive force of historical progress and identifies the proletariat as the class which is alone capable of liberating humanity as a truely universal class. He makes his break with pure philosophy for `praxis', the application of thought to human action. In embryo here are the concepts which will be brilliantly espoused in the Communist Manifesto in 1848. It would be a justifiable digression to read the first two chapters of the Manifesto at this point.
`The Jewish Question' is an impassioned polemic against Bruno Bauer (one of the Young Hegelians) on the issue of Jewish emancipation in Germany. Parts are quite difficult and it could be left, along with `Excerpts from James Mill's `Elements of Political Economy'', in the meantime, to tackle `The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts'.
The `Manuscripts' bring together his discoveries from the Critiques of Hegel's Doctrine of the State and Right in a synthesis as applied to man as `species being' within the sphere of bourgeois society. Here can be found the pure gold of the beginning of Marx's system. The fundamental critique of capitalism is laid out and Marx identifies the primary concepts which he would later enlarge in his `Theories of Surplus Value' and `Capital'. Included is his elaboration of communism where he develops the key concepts of `estrangement', `alienation' and `fetishism' which can only be transcended by a communist society. This section gives a rock solid basis for Marx's `humanism'. It is indispensable reading in order to appreciate the difference between `crude' communist ideas and also the further development of Marx's critique of capitalism.
Finally Marx turns to a broad critique of Hegel's philosophy. In this Marx again clearly states where he stands:
`Here we see how consistent naturalism or humanism differs both from idealism and materialism and is at the same time their unifying truth. We also see that naturalism is capable of comprehending the process of world history (p389).
This is a crucial passage and, if grasped, would allow one to grapple with the 'Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of the State' with a little more knowledge and confidence. It should be noted that, once read, the Critique then becomes the Genesis for the development of Marx's thought in the `Early Writings'. On the Critique it should be noted that, once the torturously difficult initial part is grasped it turns out to be a great read and, moreover, is very funny in many places!
I haven't covered everything even briefly. His letters to Ruge and the final article on `The King of Prussia' shouldn't be neglected. The Appendix includes the famous `Thesis on Feurbach' (1845) and his `Preface (to `A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy) written in 1859.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly dificult and complicated,
All this work was written when Marx was in his mid-twenties, but surprisingly contains some of his most heavy-going and demanding work. His philosophical work, such as his critique of Hegel's work is far more stretching than later political and economic writings. The stuff contained here, that relates to politics and economics is very enlightening, showing the birth of ideas that would become part of his later work.
The interesting and in-depth introduction is very helpful with regard to understanding the contents and putting them into context. This will help anyone familiar with Marx's oher work to see him in a different light and gain some idea of the gradual development of his theories.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First beginnings of Marxism,
Marx penned these writings in the years of 1843 to 1844 - this was around three to four years before his first great (co authored) work "The Communist Manifesto". I think the main item of interest is how Marx evolves in the course of these two years. The opening is his "Critique of Hegel`s Doctrine of the State". This is quite a dense philosophical work and should be read carefully in conjunction with the "Introduction" which greatly assists the reader in understanding Marx`s concepts.
Of greater interest will be the "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" which represents a small step on the road to what was to lead to his later opus magnus "Capital".
Marx, as usual, engages in some pungent observations of the capitalist system, for example: "No eunuch flatters his despot more basely or uses more infamous means to revive his flagging capacity for pleasure, in order to win a surreptitious favour for himself, than does the eunuch of industry, the maufacturer, in order to sneak himself a silver penny or two or coax gold from the pocket of his dearly beloved neighbour" or "Money is the pimp between need and object".
In addition, in view of recent economic events, the reader should also read "Excerpts of James Mill`s Elements of Political Economy" and digest Marx`s musings on the credit system. "Thus the credit relationship - both from the point of view of the man who needs credit and of him who gives it - becomes an object of commerce, an object of mutual deception and exploitation."
This is a worthwhile read for pointers to Marx`s later development of his ideas.
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Early Writings (Penguin Classics) by Karl Marx