Background to the 1844 Manuscripts
Some of us around Gathering Forces are reading a selection from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx. We should be careful not see this document as just a brilliant piece of writing coming from a solitary brain of an intellectual giant. Instead this writing is a powerful product of its time with all sorts of issues and events shaping its coming together. Four things which stand out in shaping this document are: a) Marx was breaking from Hegel who thought history moved through a world spirit and alienation was only mental. b) Marx was heavily influenced by the working class and specifically the Silesian weavers uprising in Germany. This was an important moment for Marx has it continued to propel him to break from bourgeois radicalism and left-wing Hegelianism. He saw that the movement of history was the process of production, that it was materially located in the working class. So two things are solved in this piece: alienation’s material dimension and the labor process as the central thread of human history. What placing the labor process as central to human history meant was that by only solving the contradictions in how humans work can we hope to build a radically new society. Or as Raya says, “He began with the proletarian activity at the point of production. He separated labor from product and from property, and looked for the contradiction within labor itself. It is through this contradiction that the laborer would develop, that is, would overcome the contradictions in the capitalist method of production (Marxism and Freedom, 55).” c) Marx was separating himself from the various dimensions of French socialism. It’s a big list so I won’t go into it here but folks can look up Utopian Socialism, Auguste Blanque, and Proudhon to get a sense of what I mean. d) He was using British political economy as a basis for his critique of political economy.