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on 26 January 2012
Written a couple of years before The Communist Manifesto, Marx here takes issue with the 'Young Hegelians' and their understanding of history as fate, as abstraction, and the idealist ideas of some kind of absolute 'human spirit'. Instead, he argues that 'history' is the sum total of social activities, structures and relations - that we all exist in history and that nothing is, or can be, outside it. He thus places the control of history firmly in the hands of all of us, making us agents, rather than victims of some externally-derived fate.

Man (and woman, of course), the essence of the human is, for Marx, shaped by the material conditions in which s/he lives - conditions which are not pre-ordained, 'natural' or immutable, but which are socially and historically-constructed and which can, therefore, be challenged, resisted and overturned.

This isn't an easy read, especially since it assumes a prior understanding of the philosophical context against which Marx is situating himself, but it is a hugely exhilerating one. Whatever your political views, Marx is so crucial to modern thought not because of his vision of a 'communist' state, but because he changes the terms of discourse. His analysis, for example of the base (concrete social structures and relations) and the superstructure (the ideas, laws, philosophies, ethics etc. which support and legitimise the base) are the fundamental terms of cultural analysis with which we still work. By acknowledging these as historicised, constructed, and thus changeable, and by asking in whose interest they were first formed and continue to exist, he has paved the way for so many of the influential thinkers of the C20th (Lukacs, Williams, Hall, Barthes, Foucault, Kristeva, Cixous, Irigiray et al.).

This is abridged but for most students at an undergraduate level it's the first chapter which is most important and that is given here in full. If you want, or need, to read the text in full, the C.J. Arthur text is available online from [...]
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