Review: Karl Marx, Early Writings

It’s rare that you get to see evidence of demonization in a writer, but you can see that with Marx. Accordingly, some essays are hard to read. That might not be entirely fair, though. Marx is dealing with Hegel–no easy writer himself–so one can’t exactly be clear. And to give credit to Marx, I think his critique of Hegel is interesting and points to tensions in the Hegelian system.

Thesis: Hegel cannot escape an alienation that exists between the people and the state.

Hegel’s logic: the Idea becomes a subject; other concepts, like political sentiment, become predicates of the Idea (Marx 65). The Idea is differentiated into its members.

At best Hegel can only say that the monarch embodies the abstract universality of the Idea. The concrete people do not. And concepts like “constitution” do not help at all. Constitutions do not create themselves; they are created. Yet, the constitution governs the legislature. How can the created control the creator?

Ontology of Violence

Hegel establishes the executive branch as the polar opposite of civil society. Each keep the other in check by suspicion. Marx rightly points out this cannot establish an organic union (116).


Money represents an object’s intrinsic worth. The real value of a thing is its exchange value, “which resides in money” (262). And in this situation, all labor is wage-labor (268). And wage-labor alienates labor from its subject and object. Marx then makes a wild statement that inanimate objects do the acting: “exchange is mediated necessarily by the objects of mutual production and mutual possession” (276).

For exchange to take place there must be a common element of quantity between the two. This must be labor.


*Marx says that the worker is on the side of society, and the interests of capitalists is against the interests of society (300), yet it is undeniable that capitalists produce technology (medicine, scientific advancements, etc) that benefit society.

*Marx revisited some of his problems in Capital years later. Labor isn’t homogenous, so how can it serve as a uniform medium of exchange? Gary North points out the major flaw: “ If all profits stem from the employment of human labor, then it follows that greater profits can be made in businesses that are labor intensive. The more machinery one employs in the production process, the less profit should be available, since there are fewer laborers present to exploit….Yet what we do see is precisely the reverse: the most profitable industries tend to be those in which large quantities of constant capital are employed (Marx’s Religion of Revolution, 123).

There is a simpler problem with the Labor theory: when men exchange, they aren’t exchanging on the supposed equality of a third term in the equation, but precisely on the inequality–the goods are unequal in the traders’ eyes.

*Marx sees all credit systems as the fat cat capitalist oppressing the poor borrower. He never imagines a situation where the creditor lends to the government.

*Marx has no concept of time-preference, where he sees production only as the gratification of immediate selfish needs (274).


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