Erich Fromm 1961

7. The Continuity in Marx's Thought

Our presentation of Marx's concept of human nature, alienation, activity, etc., would be quite one-sided and, in fact, misleading if they were right who claim that the ideas of the "young Marx" contained in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts were abandoned by the older and mature Marx as remnants of an idealistic past connected with Hegel's teaching. If those who make this claim were right, one might still prefer the young to the old Marx, and wish to connect socialism with the former rather than with the latter. However, there is fortunately no such need to split Marx into two. The fact is that the basic ideas on man, as Marx expressed them in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and the ideas of the older Marx as expressed in Capital, did not undergo a basic change; that Marx did not renounce his earlier views, as the spokesmen of the above-mentioned thesis claim.

First of all, who are those who claim that the "young Marx" and the "old Marx" have contradictory views on man? This view is presented mainly by the Russian Communists; they can hardly do anything else, since their thinking, as well as their social and political system, is in every way a contradiction of Marx's humanism. In their system, man is the servant of the state and of production, rather than being the supreme aim of all social arrangements. Marx's aim, the development of the individuality of the human personality, is negated in the Soviet system to an even greater extent than in contemporary capitalism. The materialism of the Communists is much closer to the mechanistic materialism of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie that Marx fought against, than to Marx's historical materialism.

The Communist party of the Soviet Union expressed this view by forcing G. Lukacs, who was the first one to revive Marx's humanism, to a "confession" of his errors when Lukacs was in Russia in 1934, after being forced to escape from the Nazis. Similarly, Ernst Bloch, who presents the same emphasis on Marx's humanism in his brilliant book Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle Hope), [100] suffered severe attacks from Communist party writers, despite the fact that his book contains a number of admiring remarks about Soviet Communism. Aside from the Communist writers, Daniel Bell has recently taken the same position by claiming that the view of Marx's humanism based on the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts "is not the historical Marx." "While one may be sympathetic to such an approach," says Bell, "it is only further myth-making to read this concept back as a central theme of Marx." [101]

It is indeed true that the classic interpreters of Marx, whether they were reformists like Bernstein, or orthodox Marxists like Kautsky, Plechanow, Lenin or Bucharin, did not interpret Marx as being centered around his humanist existentialism. Two facts mainly explain this phenomenon. First, the fact that the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts were not published before 1932, and were unknown until then even in manuscript form; and the fact that German Ideology was never published in full until 1932, and for the first time in part only in 1926. [102] Naturally, these facts contributed a great deal to the distorted and one-sided interpretation of Marx's ideas by the above-mentioned writers. But the fact that these writings of Marx were more or less unknown until the early twenties and the thirties, respectively, is by no means a sufficient explanation for the neglect of Marxist humanism in the "classic" interpretation, since Capital and other published writings of Marx, such as the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law (published in 1844) could have given a sufficient basis to visualize Marx's humanism. The more relevant explanation lies in the fact that the philosophical thinking of the time from the death of Marx to the 1920's was dominated by positivistic-mechanistic ideas which influenced thinkers like Lenin and Bucharin. It must also not be forgotten that, like Marx himself, the classic Marxists were allergic to terms which smacked of idealism and religion, since they were well aware that these terms were to a large extent, used to hide basic economic and social realities.

For Marx this allergy to idealistic terminology was all the more understandable, since he was deeply rooted in the spiritual, though nontheistic tradition, which stretches not only from Spinoza and Goethe to Hegel, but which also goes back to Prophetic Messianism. These latter ideas were quite consciously alive in socialists like St. Simon and Moses Hess, and certainly formed a great part of the socialist thinking of the nineteenth-century and even of the thinking of leading socialists up to the First World War (such as Jean Jaurès).

The spiritual-humanistic tradition, in which Marx still lived and which was almost drowned by the mechanistic-materialistic spirit of successful industrialism, experienced a revival, although only on a small scale in individual thinkers, at the end of the First World War, and on a larger scale during and after the Second World War. The dehumanization of man as evidenced in the cruelties of the Stalinist and Hitler regimes, in the brutality of indiscriminate killing during the war, and also the increasing dehumanization brought about by the new gadget-minded consumer and organization man, lead to this new expression of humanistic ideas. In other words, the protest against alienation expressed by Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, then muted by the apparent success of capitalist industrialism, raised its voice again after the human failure of the dominant system, and led to a re-interpretation of Marx, based on the whole Marx and his humanist philosophy. I have mentioned already the Communist writers who are outstanding in this humanist revisionism. I should add here the Yugoslav Communists who, although they have not as far as I know raised the philosophical point of alienation, have emphasized as their main objection to Russian Communism their concern for the individual as against the machinery of the state, and have developed a system of decentralization and individual initiative which is in radical contrast to the Russian ideal of centralization and of complete bureaucratization.

In Poland, East Germany and Hungary, the political opposition to the Russians was closely allied to the representatives of humanist socialism. In France, Germany and to a smaller extent in England, there is lively discussion going on regarding Marx which is based on a thorough knowledge and understanding of his ideas. Of literature in German, I mention only the papers contained in the Marxismusstudien, [103] written largely by Protestant theologians; French literature is even larger, and written by Catholics [104] as well as by Marxists and non-Marxist philosophers. [105]

The revival of Marxist humanism in English-speaking countries has suffered from the fact that the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts had never been translated into English until recently. Nevertheless, men like T. B. Bottomore and others share the ideas on Marxist humanism represented by the aforementioned writers. In the United States, the most important work which has opened up an understanding of Marx's humanism is Herbert Marcuse's Reason and Revolution; [106] Raya Dunayevskaya's Marxism and Freedom, with a preface by H. Marcuse, [107] is also a significant addition to Marxisthumanist thought.

Pointing to the fact that the Russian Communists were forced to postulate the split between the young and the old Marx, and adding the names of a number of profound and serious writers who negate this Russian position does not, however, constitute a proof that the Russians (and D. Bell) are wrong. While it would transcend the limits of this volume to attempt as full a refutation of the Russian position as is desirable, I shall try, nevertheless, to demonstrate to the reader why the Russian position is untenable.

There are some facts which, superficially appraised, might seem to support the Communist position. In German Ideology, Marx and Engels no longer used the terms "species" and "human essence" ("Gattung" and "menschliches Wesen"), which are used in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Furthermore, Marx said later (in the preface to The Critique of Political Economy, 1859) that in German Ideology he and Engels "resolved to work out in common the opposition of our view to the ideological view of German philosophy, in fact, to settle accounts with our erstwhile philosophical conscience." [108] It has been claimed that this "settling of accounts" with their erstwhile philosophical conscience meant that Marx and Engels had abandoned the basic ideas expressed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. But even a superficial study of German Ideology reveals that this is not true. While German Ideology does not use certain terms such as "human essence," etc., it nevertheless continues the main trend of thought of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, especially the concept of alienation.

Alienation, in German Ideology, is explained as the result of the division of labor which "implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another." [109] In the same paragraph the concept of alienation is defined, as in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, in these words: "man's own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him." [110] Here, too, we find the definition of alienation with reference to circumstances already quoted above: "This crystallization of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now." [111], [112]

Fourteen years later, in his polemic with Adam Smith (in 1857-8), Marx used the same allegedly "idealistic" arguments which he used in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, arguing that the need to work does not constitute in itself a restriction of freedom (provided it is not alienated work). Marx speaks of the "selfrealization" of the person, "hence [of] true freedom." [113] Eventually, the same idea that the aim of human evolution is the unfolding of man, the creation of the "wealthy" man who has overcome the contradiction between himself and nature and achieved true freedom, is expressed in many passages of Capital, written by the mature and old Marx. As quoted earlier, Marx wrote in the third volume of Capital: "Beyond it [the realm of necessity] begins that development of human power, which is its own end, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can flourish only upon that realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its fundamental premise." [114]

In other parts of Capital, he speaks of the importance of producing "fully developed human beings," [115] the full development of the human race," [116] and "man's necessity to develop himself," [117] and of the "fragment of a man" as the result of the process of alienation. [118]

Since D. Bell is one of the few American writers interested in Marx's concept of alienation, I want to demonstrate why his position, which is in effect the same as that taken by the Russian Communists, for exactly the opposite motives, is also untenable. Bell's main claim is that to interpret Marx from the standpoint of the humanist writers quoted above is further myth-making. He claims that "Marx had repudiated the idea of alienation, divorced from the economic system, and, by so doing, closed off a road which would have given us a broader, more useful analysis of society and personality than the Marxiam dogmatics which have prevailed."

This statement is both ambiguous and erroneous. It sounds as if Marx, in his late writings, had repudiated the idea of alienation in its human meaning, and transformed it into a "purely economic category," as Bell says later on. Marx never repudiated the idea of alienation in its human sense, but he claimed that it cannot be divorced from the concrete and real life process of the alienated individual. This is something quite different from putting up the straw man of the "old Marx" who repudiates the "young Marx's" concept of human alienation. Bell must make this error because he accepts the whole cliché of the conventional interpretation of Marx. "For Marx the only social reality is not Man, nor the individual, but economic classes of men. Individuals and their motives count for naught. The only form of consciousness which can be translated into action -- and which can explain history, past, present and future -is class consciousness." In trying to show that Marx was not interested in the individual, but only in the mass, just as he was allegedly no longer interested in human, but only in economic factors, Bell does not see -- or does not mention -- that Marx criticized capitalism precisely because it destroys individual personality (as he criticized "crude communism" for the same reason), and that the statement that history can be explained only by class-consciousness is a statement of fact, as far as previous history is concerned, not an expression of Marx's disregard of the individual.

Unfortunately Bell misquotes a Marx text which is of decisive importance in order to prove his thesis. He says of Marx: "But in saying there is no human nature 'inherent in each separate individual' (as Marx does in the sixth thesis on Feuerbach) but only classes, one introduces a new person, a new abstraction."

What does Marx say in the sixth thesis on Feuerbach? "Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each separate individual. In its reality it is the ensemble (aggregate) of social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter more deeply into the criticism of this real essence, is therefore forced: 1) to abstract from the process of history and to establish religious temperament as something independent and to postulate an abstract -- isolated -- human individual. 2) The essence of man can therefore be understood only as 'genus,' the inward, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals." [119] Marx does not say, as Bell quotes, that "there is no human nature inherent in each separate individual," but something quite different, namely, that "the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each individual." It is the essential point of Marx's "materialism" against Hegel's idealism. Marx never gave up his concept of man's nature" (as we have shown by quoting the statement from Capital) but this nature is not a purely biological one, and not an abstraction; it is one which can be understood only historically, because it unfolds in history. The nature (essence) of man can be inferred from its many manifestations (and distortions) in history; it cannot be seen as such, as a statistically existing entity "behind" or "above" each separate man, but as that in man which exists as a potentiality and unfolds and changes in the historical process.

In addition to all this Bell has not properly understood the concept of alienation. He defines it as "the radical dissociation into a subject that strives to control his own fate and an object which is manipulated by others." As follows from my own discussion, as well as that of most serious students of the concept of alienation, this is a completely inadequate and misleading definition. In fact, it is just as inadequate as Bell's assertion that Zen Buddhism (like other "modern tribal and communal philosophies" of "reintegration") aims "at losing one's sense of self" and thus is ultimately antihuman because they [the philosophers of reintegration, including Zen] are anti-individual. There is no space to refute this cliché, except to suggest a more careful and less biased reading of Marx and of Zen Buddhist texts.

To sum up this point of the alleged difference between the young and the mature Marx: it is true that Marx (like Engels), in the course of a lifetime, changed some of his ideas and concepts. He became more adverse to the use of terms too close to Hegelian idealism; his language became less enthusiastic and eschatological; probably he was also more discouraged in the later years of his life than he was in 1844. But in spite of certain changes in concepts, in mood, in language, the core of the philosophy developed by the young Marx was never changed, and it is impossible to understand his concept of socialism, and his criticism of capitalism as developed in his later years, except on the basis of the concept of man which he developed in his early writings.