the mature Marx?

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Dec 25 03:25:51 MST 2000

Lou wrote:

>Supposedly "humanism" characterized the early Marx, which
>focused on the "human essence" and the priority of the subject.

Here's Marx's own explanation in his "Theses on Feuerbach" (1845):

*****   Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human
essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each
single individual.

In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.

Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence,
is consequently compelled:

1. To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious
sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract --
isolated -- human individual.

2. Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as "genus", as an
internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many
individuals.   *****

Marx's "Theses on Feuerbach" is not only a criticism of
left-Hegelianism but also a "self-criticism" of sorts, since Marx was
himself a young Hegelian once.  Althusser's "anti-humanism" is rooted
in his effort to clarify Marx's criticism of the conception of "human
essence" as "genus" which "naturally unites the many individuals,"
abstracted from the historical process.

George Snedeker wrote:

>So Marx never grew up? even in old age he remained the young Marx?

While there is _no_ need to attempt to _pinpoint_ an "epistemological
break" in Marx's writings, it is clear that Marx's thoughts developed
over time.  Marx realized that a simple inversion of Hegel wouldn't

Althusser writes in _For Marx_ (trans. Ben Brewster, NY: Verso, 1990
[first published as _Pour Marx_ in 1965]):

*****   This is not the place to embark on a study of the concepts at
work in the analyses of _The German Ideology_.  Instead, one
quotation that says everything.  On 'German criticism' he says: '_The
whole body of its inquiries has actually sprung from the soil of a
definite philosophical system, that of Hegel.  Not only in their
answers, but in their very questions there was a mystification.'  It
could not be better said that it is not answers which make philosophy
but the _questions_ posed by the philosophy, and that it is _in the
question_ itself, that is, _in the way it reflects that object_ (and
not in the object itself) that ideological mystification (or on the
contrary an authentic relationship with the object) should be sought.
(p. 66)   *****

In other words, Althusser, following Marx, argues that one becomes
snared in ideology by asking wrong questions -- questions that
ideologically lead one to think of "human essence" ahistorically.
Marx again: "Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that...the
abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of
society."  That's the crux of Althusser's quarrel with "humanism."

Here's Marx in _Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political
Economy_ (1857):

*****   Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders
of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this
eighteenth-century individual -- the product on one side of the
dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the
new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century --
appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past.  Not
as a historic result but as history's point of departure.  As the
Natural Individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not
arising historically, but posited by nature.   *****

This historicizing perspective (against anachronistic projection of
the capitalist present upon the world before capitalism, which makes
capitalism seem "natural & eternal") is what Marx gained
_laboriously_, struggling against commodity fetishism that inclines
"common sense" under capitalism to the idea of "human nature" as
"history's point of departure" posited by "nature."


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