Sunday, 24 June 2007

Old Marx Vs Yound Marx

First an apology, I have been delayed from contributing to this blog due to a number of largely work-related factors, as Engels poignently remarked at Marx's funeral oration: "man must, before all else, eat, drink, live and clothe himself, and then only can he engage in politics, science, art, religion, etc!" [1]

My first exposure to Marx as a teenager was via the 'Philosophical and Economic manuscripts' - and to some extent - these paved the way for the development of much of my thought on topics surrounding Marx and Marxism and my understanding of it. These are essencially the early writings of Marx (identified by some as spanning the period up until the publication of the German Ideology). The great deal of theory on early and late Marx seems to have grown exponentially with time. It may perhaps be said that this point relates to the relatively more recent publication of a lot of Marx's earlier writings.

Comments that have been made with regards to the early 'humanistic' Marx - attributable here to Easton in his 'Alienation and the Early Marx' - are an important reference point for how we understand the development of Marxist thought. Reading Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" it becomes clearly apparent the entirely unproblematic reading of 'Socialism' or indeed 'Marxism' that have been utilised by opponents (as though such a homogenous entity ever existed).

There are - unsurprisingly - discernable differences within the work of 'early and late' Marx, the suggestion found within the 'Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts' that Man himself becomes a commodity is quite a contrast to a later Marxist conception of man's exploitation on the basis of the nature of his ability to sell his labour a valorisation of capital (i.e the production of surplus value in conflict with the interests of the owners of the means of production). While, in other sections of the Manuscripts Marx describes briefly the "palaces" capitalism produces, alongside the worker's "hovels" - hinting at the later work of Engels's 'Condition of the Working Class in England'. The concepts of alienation, an inherent 'human nature' (or species-being) and the commodification of this human nature are some of the key characteristic features of the work.

The point Easton makes - that we may distinguish two distinct Marxs) relates to an understanding of a later deterministic Marx (as expressed by Capital and Theories of Surplus Labour) betraying the early humanistic Marx. It is noted, for example, that the topic of alienation is not something to which Marx does not returns in detail in later works [2]. While it may be said that we find within works such as 'Theories of Surplus Value' a scope for later deterministicly inevitable relationship to capitalist crisis - with millennial overtones of future joy, serenity, prosperity, and justice - in which development seems intrinstictly caotic and prone to dramatic crisis.

I remember once being asked quite good-naturedly by a fellow student which was the 'right' Marx - the early or the late: I gave a fairly perfunctory reply and then went away and had a good think. While The Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 were I believe published posthumously, it seems clear that we should not view any of the formative writings of the period as 'fixed' in stone, expressing rigidly unchanging thought. At the risk of providing a cop-out, In much the same way that Marx adapted to the changing political situation within which he was writing, and responded to this fact - so should we, illustrating the dialogical and dialectical nature of any application of this thought.