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Karl Marx

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

The texts presented in this section cover what may be thought of as two distinct periods in the intellectual development of Karl Marx (1818-1883): the preceding and following periods of the European-wide popular revolts of 1848. The early Marx, from the start a zealous advocate of a sort of secular Judeo-Christian morality that critiqued the inequalities of his day, was chiefly philosophical. It was during this period that he developed his notion of alienation that he would carry into his later analysis of surplus value and the exploitation of the proletariat. The alienation of the individual described a state of affairs in which, for one reason or another, all of one’s essence was not fully possessed. The tradition of alienation goes back most directly to the German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831), who argued that one could perceive one’s true relation to the world, and thereby advance history. This is the dynamic taken up by Marx in his early work. When he took up economic analysis in a more concrete fashion, he transposed the notion of alienation into the social relations of the shop-floor, a place in which workers gave their labor for wages. He argued that this alienation was surplus value, or the profit of the capitalist—something that was rightfully the possession of the worker.