By : Aliff Naif Mohd Fizam
The fiery image of Karl Marx, with his beard bristling with righteous anger, is etched in our minds. But the seeds of his revolutionary ideas were sown much earlier, during the fertile period of Young Hegelianism. Spanning roughly the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s, this era witnessed the formation of Marx’s critical perspectives, perspectives that would later blossom into the revolutionary theories that shook the world – the perspective of Young Marx. Among his early writings, the Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844 stands out as a pivotal text, offering a captivating glimpse into the intellectual ferment that shaped his rebellious spirit.
Marx’s early intellectual development was deeply rooted in the fertile soil of Hegelian philosophy. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s emphasis on the historical development of ideas, culminating in the ultimate realization of freedom and reason, resonated deeply with Marx. However, like a seed yearning for sunlight, Marx soon began to see the limitations of Hegel’s idealistic approach. He recognized that Hegel’s focus on abstract ideas failed to address the stark realities of the material conditions that shaped individuals and society. This realization planted the seeds of dissent within Marx, setting him on a path towards a more materialistic understanding of the world.
Surrounded by a vibrant group of like-minded thinkers known as the Young Hegelians, Marx engaged in critical debates that further honed his ideas. These discussions, akin to the clash of thunder and lightning, challenged the existing social and political order, creating fertile ground for a radical critique of capitalism.
Among these Young Hegelians, Ludwig Feuerbach had a particularly profound influence on Marx. Feuerbach’s emphasis on material reality and his scathing critique of religion resonated deeply with Marx’s own growing materialism. This provided Marx with a framework for analyzing social and economic structures, not focusing on abstract ideas but on the concrete realities of human activity and its impact on the world.
Alienation : The Root of Human Suffering
The Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844 reflects the synthesis of Marx’s Hegelian, Young Hegelian, and Feuerbachian influences. In this text, he introduces the concept of alienation, a concept that would become the cornerstone of his critique of capitalism. Marx argues that capitalism alienates individuals from their labour, their products, and ultimately, from themselves and from their fellow human beings. This alienation, he argues, is not merely an unfortunate side effect but the very root cause of human suffering, the driving force behind social conflict, and the fertile ground from which revolution would eventually spring forth.
Marx identifies four key forms of alienation under capitalism:
Alienation from the product of labor: Workers have no ownership or control over the goods they produce, leading to a sense of estrangement from their own creativity and effort. They become mere cogs in a machine, their labor stolen and their potential for self-expression stifled.
Alienation from the act of labor: The repetitive and monotonous nature of work under capitalism robs individuals of their autonomy and sense of purpose. They are reduced to mere tools, their work devoid of meaning and fulfillment.
Alienation from fellow human beings: Competition and exploitation inherent in capitalism create a sense of isolation and estrangement between individuals. Instead of cooperating and working together for the common good, individuals are pitted against each other in a constant struggle for survival.
Alienation from species-being: Capitalism prevents individuals from fully realizing their potential and living according to their true nature as social beings. They are deprived of the opportunity to develop their talents and creativity, leading to a sense of unfulfilled desires and unrealized dreams.
Marx’s ideas, of course, did not develop in a vacuum. His social and political context played a crucial role in shaping his critique of capitalism. The Industrial Revolution, with its stark inequalities and rampant exploitation of workers, exposed the harsh realities of capitalist society. The brutal conditions faced by the working class, the children forced to work in factories, the families living in squalor – these were not abstract ideas for Marx, but the lived experiences of the people around him. These injustices fueled his fire, driving him to seek revolutionary change.
Furthermore, the social unrest and revolutionary movements that swept across Europe provided fertile ground for Marx’s ideas to take root. The people were yearning for change, for a society that would break the shackles of oppression and exploitation. Marx, with his fiery rhetoric and scathing critique of the existing order, emerged as a powerful voice for the downtrodden, a beacon of hope for a better future.
The Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844 represents a turning point in Marx’s intellectual trajectory. It marks a transition from his early philosophical writings to his later focus on political and economic analysis. While this work presents a scathing critique of capitalism, it also hints at the potential for a new, more just society. The manuscript lays the groundwork for Marx’s later work, including Das Kapital. It introduces key concepts like alienation, class struggle, and the materialist understanding of history, which would become the cornerstones of his revolutionary socialist theory.
The Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844 offers a fascinating insight into the mind of a young Karl Marx. It reveals his intellectual journey from Hegelian idealism to his unique brand of materialist philosophy. This work is not merely a historical artifact; it remains a powerful critique of capitalism and a testament to the enduring legacy of Young Marx’s rebellious spirit. It serves as a reminder that questioning the unjust order and striving for a more just society are not only valid but also essential for the progress of humanity.
While the Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844 was written in the mid-19th century, its ideas remain relevant even today. The concept of alienation continues to resonate with workers who feel disconnected from their labour and exploited by the system. The issues of inequality, exploitation, and social injustice that Marx addressed are still prevalent in many parts of the world. In a world increasingly dominated by global capitalism, Marx’s critique of the system and his vision of a more just society continue to inspire activists, scholars, and revolutionaries around the world. His life and work serve as a testament to the power of critical thinking, intellectual courage, and the unwavering commitment to social change.
Young Marx was a rebel, a firebrand who challenged the injustices of his time. His early writings, particularly the Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844, offer a glimpse into the intellectual ferment that shaped his revolutionary ideas. The concepts he developed, such as alienation and class struggle, continue to be relevant today, offering valuable insights into the workings of capitalism and the potential for a more just society. By understanding the seeds sown by Young Marx, we are better equipped to navigate the challenges of our own time and strive for a better future for all.
Aliff Naif Mohd Fizam comes from Sungai Petani, Kedah. A Fellow at Lestari Hikmah Malaysia, he graduated in BA Political Science from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) which he also served as the President of the IIUM Student Union for 2022 until 2023. Much of his writing and involvement focused on political and leadership movements in Malaysia. His writings were published in Malaysia and Indonesia, in platforms such as IBTimes.id, Solidaritas and Alternatif.Press.