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13

Early Writings

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Wolff, J. (2003). Early Writings. In Wolff, J. Why Read Marx Today?. Oxford University Press, USA, pp. 13-47

20

Essentially Marx tells us that while Feuerbach has noted the symptoms of a deeper malaise, he has done nothing to understand that malaise itself. The invention of religion was not simply an unfortunate mistake, but a response to the miseries of life on earth. Removing the opium leaves us only with undisguised pain. We still need to understand and remove the defects in the world, the ‘secular base’. Marx himself, in his hastily scribbled ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, puts the point I have just explained thus:

Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and selfcontradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. (M. 172)

We will never rid ourselves of religion, and religious alienation, until we first understand, and then remove, the condi- tion on earth that gave rise to it. Once the cause is removed, and the disease is cured, the symptom religion will wither of its own accord. This is a vital point. Religion is not to be suppressed or abolished as such. Under the right conditions it disappears on its own. The cause, the disease, Marx argues, is alienation of a different sort, primarily alienated labour.

—p.20 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago

Essentially Marx tells us that while Feuerbach has noted the symptoms of a deeper malaise, he has done nothing to understand that malaise itself. The invention of religion was not simply an unfortunate mistake, but a response to the miseries of life on earth. Removing the opium leaves us only with undisguised pain. We still need to understand and remove the defects in the world, the ‘secular base’. Marx himself, in his hastily scribbled ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, puts the point I have just explained thus:

Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and selfcontradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. (M. 172)

We will never rid ourselves of religion, and religious alienation, until we first understand, and then remove, the condi- tion on earth that gave rise to it. Once the cause is removed, and the disease is cured, the symptom religion will wither of its own accord. This is a vital point. Religion is not to be suppressed or abolished as such. Under the right conditions it disappears on its own. The cause, the disease, Marx argues, is alienation of a different sort, primarily alienated labour.

—p.20 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago
27

In sum, Marx has identified and criticized two dominant philosophical traditions. Materialism, from Hobbes to Feuerbach, is flawed because of its unreflective, ahistoric character, failing to understand the role human beings play in creating the world they perceive. But it is to be praised for understanding man’s continuity with the natural world. Idealism, in its final, Hegelian, form, understands the importance of historical development, but restricts this to the development of thought.

—p.27 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago

In sum, Marx has identified and criticized two dominant philosophical traditions. Materialism, from Hobbes to Feuerbach, is flawed because of its unreflective, ahistoric character, failing to understand the role human beings play in creating the world they perceive. But it is to be praised for understanding man’s continuity with the natural world. Idealism, in its final, Hegelian, form, understands the importance of historical development, but restricts this to the development of thought.

—p.27 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago
33

The lesson is that the capitalist economy renders some forms of behaviour rational and others irrational. So you had better do what the market mandates or you will be in trouble. Consequently we find ourselves dominated by the market. But what is the market? Simply the accumulated effects of innumerable human decisions about production and consumption. It is, then, our own product. From which it follows that, once more, we have come to be dominated by our own product. And even though it is our own product it is not under our control. Who, for example, wants the stock market to crash? But this happens, from time to time, as an unintended consequence of our own individual actions, each one of which may have seemed perfectly rational in its own terms. The market is like a monster we have accidentally created, but which now comes to rule our lives. As Marx puts it, we experience the ‘complete domination of dead matter over men’ (Colletti 319).

citation: Karl Marx: Early Writings by Lucio Colletti

—p.33 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago

The lesson is that the capitalist economy renders some forms of behaviour rational and others irrational. So you had better do what the market mandates or you will be in trouble. Consequently we find ourselves dominated by the market. But what is the market? Simply the accumulated effects of innumerable human decisions about production and consumption. It is, then, our own product. From which it follows that, once more, we have come to be dominated by our own product. And even though it is our own product it is not under our control. Who, for example, wants the stock market to crash? But this happens, from time to time, as an unintended consequence of our own individual actions, each one of which may have seemed perfectly rational in its own terms. The market is like a monster we have accidentally created, but which now comes to rule our lives. As Marx puts it, we experience the ‘complete domination of dead matter over men’ (Colletti 319).

citation: Karl Marx: Early Writings by Lucio Colletti

—p.33 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago
42

What, then, is human emancipation? Infuriatingly, Marx is nothing like as explicit about this as one would like. But one thing is for sure; political emancipation is not enough. We can see this by reflecting on the point that however pure and equal in its treatment of people the law may be, discrimination can nevertheless remain deep rooted in everyday life. To take an example from today, for more than thirty years it has been illegal in the UK to pay a woman less for doing the same job as a man. Yet statistics show that women are paid less than men in virtually every sphere of employment. As Marx puts it, ‘the state can liberate itself from a limitation without man himself being truly free of it’ (M. 51). This seems to hold for every liberal law. No law can encompass all possibilities. Without breaking the letter of the law people will find ways of employing people of their own social class, religion or race, or indulging their other prejudices.

—p.42 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago

What, then, is human emancipation? Infuriatingly, Marx is nothing like as explicit about this as one would like. But one thing is for sure; political emancipation is not enough. We can see this by reflecting on the point that however pure and equal in its treatment of people the law may be, discrimination can nevertheless remain deep rooted in everyday life. To take an example from today, for more than thirty years it has been illegal in the UK to pay a woman less for doing the same job as a man. Yet statistics show that women are paid less than men in virtually every sphere of employment. As Marx puts it, ‘the state can liberate itself from a limitation without man himself being truly free of it’ (M. 51). This seems to hold for every liberal law. No law can encompass all possibilities. Without breaking the letter of the law people will find ways of employing people of their own social class, religion or race, or indulging their other prejudices.

—p.42 by Jonathan Wolff 2 years, 10 months ago