Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

but political economy knows the worker only as a working-animal – as a beast reduced to the strictest bodily needs. for the right of the unlimited explotation of the poor by the rich is still universally recognized – Schulz

(this post is primarily excerpts*)

I know that this is in large part a projection, but reading Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 was the antithesis of reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra, insofar as the former seems to be a celebration or embrace of humanity and a cry to save it, while the latter seems to care little for a large part of the human population. The Manuscripts are hardly a linear or cohesive group of writings – not least due to segments that are missing – but they do introduce concepts and ideas that seem to be critical to Marx’s later thought.

What I found most compelling, almost intoxicating, was Marx’s description of the worker. Much of this discussion is centered around an engagement with Smith and socialist and communist thinkers (mostly French) of his time. Indeed, large passages of the Manuscripts are quotations or paraphrasing of large sections of other works. Some of the most convincing and moving arguments against capitalism and the capitalist – in particular – come from these other sources:

“The value of labor is completely destroyed if it is not sold every instant. Labor can neither be accumulated nor even be saved, unlike true commodities. Labor is life, and if life is not each day exchanged for food, it suffers and soon perishes. To claim that human life is a commodity, one must, therefore, admit slavery.” (Buret, De la misère des classes laborieuses en Angleterre et en France)

And Marx’s engagement with Smith leads to powerful conclusions:

“…according to Smith, a society is not happy, of which the greater part suffers – yet even the wealthiest state of society leads to this suffering of the majority – and since the economic system (and in general a society based on private interest) leads to this wealthiest condition, it follows that the goal of the economic system is unhappiness of society.”

“But it is absurd to conclude, as Smith does, that since the landlord exploits every benefit which comes to society, the interest of the landlord is always identical with that of society. In the economic system, under the rule of private property, the interest which an individual has in society is in precisely inverse proportion to the interest society has in him – just as the interest of the money-lender in the spendthrift is by no means identical with the interest of the spendthrift.”

Marx’s portrait of the worker and the working class is slightly disturbing to read, underneath his description is a pulsing, almost ecstatic feeling of revolution: “Even in the condition of society most favorable to the worker, the inevitable result for the worker is overwork and premature death, decline to a mere machine, a bond servant of capital, which piles up dangerously over against him, more competition, and for a section of the workers starvation or beggary.”

“For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes which he creates over-against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. It is the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater this activity, the greater is the worker’s lack of objects.”

“As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions – eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.”

“The animal is immediately identical with its life-activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life-activity. Man makes his life-activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness.” “An immediate consequence of the fact that man is estranged from the product of his labor, from his life-activity, from his species being is the estrangement of man from man.” “If the product of labor does not belong to the worker, if it confronts him as an alien power, this can only be because it belongs to some other man than the worker. If the worker’s activity is a torment to him, to another it must be delight and his life’s joy. Not the gods, not nature, but only man himself can be this alien power over man.”

Marx blasts capitalism by way of a scathing critique of private property and the ‘political economy’ (politische Ökonomie): “Capital is thus the governing power over labor and its products. The capitalist possesses this power, not on account of his personal or human qualities, but inasmuch as he is an owner of capital. His power is the purchasing power of his capital, which nothing can withstand.”

“Thus in this double respect the worker becomes a slave of his object, first, in that he receives an object of labor, i.e., in that he receives work; and secondly, in that he receives means of subsistence. Therefore, it enables him to exist, first, as a worker; and second, as a physical subject. The extremity of this bondage is that it is only as a worker that he continues to maintain himself as a physical subject, and that it is only as a physical subject  that he is a worker.”

Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labor, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself. Private property thus results by analysis from the concept of alienated labor – i.e. of alienated man, of estranged labor, of estranged life, of estranged man. True, it is as a result of the movement of private property that we have obtained the concept of alienated labor (of alienated life) from political economy. But on analysis of this concept it becomes clear that though private property appears to be the source, the cause of alienated labor, it is really its consequence, just as the gods in the beginning are not the cause but the effect of man’s intellectual confusion. Later this relationship becomes reciprocal.”

“All wealth has become industrial wealth, the wealth of labor; and industry is accomplished labor, just as the factory-system is the essence of industry – of labor – brought to its maturity, and just as industrial capital is the accomplished objective form of private property.”

Marx outlines communism in the third manuscript, again drawing very frequently from other thinkers: “…communism is the positive expression of annulled private property – at first as universal private property.” “The category of laborer is not done away with, but extended to all men.”

Communism as the positive transcendence of private property, as human selfestrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return become conscious, and accomplished within the entire wealth of previous development.”

“Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.”

“That the entire revolutionary movement necessarily finds both its empirical and its theoretical basis in the movement of private property – in that of the economy to be precise – is easy to see.”

“The positive transcendence of private property at the appropriation of human life is, therefore, the positive transcendence of all estrangement – that is to say, the return of man from religion, family, state, etc., to his human, i.e., social mode of existence.”

“Communism begins from the outset with atheism; but atheism is at first far from being communism; indeed, it is still mostly an abstraction. The philanthropy of atheism is therefore at first only philosophical, abstract, philanthropy, and that of communism is at once real and directly bent on action.”

“my own existence is social activity, and therefore that which I make of myself, I make of myself for society and with the consciousness of myself as a social being.”

“…man is not lost in his object only when the object becomes for him a human object or objective man. This is possible only when the object becomes for him a social object, he himself for himself a social being, just as society becomes a being for him in this object.”

*If you want to read analysis or more from Marx, look to Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or

Marx would be challenging and interesting to analyze here, but I am traveling tomorrow and it is late, and I’ve already taken the dive into Locke. Mostly I’m just tired, and I doubt anyone reads this blog. It’s enough for me to say now that I find Marx very powerful, and I look forward to returning to him in the future.


One thought on “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

  1. Angie Heile

    I read your blog! All the time! Even if I don’t understand it! I’m like: “Ohh, blog post from WW! What’s it about? Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that guy. I’m on it. I understand this. What an interesting observation. Wait… what? Oh… I think I get it… no. No, I don’t. Ah ha, she made a joke there. I got that. Hm. Jeez. She must have incredible powers of concentration to read all this stuff in all these countries. Wow. Well, she can still write, I can tell that much. So, she must be doing okay. That’s the important part.”

    Big big hugs!!!! I miss you! XOXO!!!


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