My recent debilitating health problems have made it difficult for me to keep up with the comments on this blog. In an attempt to catch up, I am going to post two more or less extended replies as independent posts -- first some words about how to study Marx, and then some replies to comments on my CREDO. Marx first.
If you are trying to get a handle on Marx's thought, it is helpful to start by getting some sense of what he wrote, and especially about the relative volume of materials on various subjects. My English edition of the works of Marx and Engels runs to 42 volumes [my German edition is roughly the same length -- it is my Paris apartment]. Seventeen of those volumes are taken up with manuscripts [early versions of CAPITAL, etc. and Marx's enormous correspondence, most of which is with his life-long collaborator, Friedrich Engels, who was living in the north of England while Marx was living in London.] Several more volumes consist of Marx's reporting for the New York HERALD. Marx was what today we would call a foreign correspondent -- a stringer paid by the word. These newspaper articles deal with contemporary political events in Europe, and since Marx was notoriously dilatory about completing writing assignments on time, many of them, although published under his name, were written by Engels. Several volumes contain short books Marx wrote either on contemporary events [THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS NAPOLEON, THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE] or as attacks on figures on the left with whom he had theoretical disagreements [THE POVERTY OF PHILOSOPYY, and so forth]. There are also several volumes of what are best called juvenilia -- books and book reviews and journal articles written by Marx, or by Marx and Engels, when they were in their twenties. These focus for the most part on their internecine disagreements with other "Left Hegelians," which is to say young German intellectuals who chose to construe Hegel as a radical rather than as a reactionary philosopher. In this category are THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY and the uproarious THE HOLY FAMILY. There are also some unpublished manuscripts from those early days, about which more below.
And then there are the works of economics. CAPITAL itself is six volumes long -- Volumes One, Two, and Three, and the "fourth" volume, THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE, which is actually three volumes long. Add to that the CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY and the manuscripts now called the GRUNDRISSE and you have perhaps five thousand pages of serious economics. This was, and was conceived by Marx to be, his chef d'oeuvre, his hauptwerk, his masterwork. Only Volume One of CAPITAL was published in his lifetime, but the entire work was completed by him, and was published posthumously by Engels.
If you want to know something about Marx, you must engage with this vast body of economics, for Marx was, first and foremost, the most brilliant theorist of capitalism ever to live. Marx is unique among great economists. He was the first historian of economic theory. He read German, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Latin with ease, and had read everything that was available in his lifetime on economics -- the minor authors as well as the great ones. It may surprise you to learn that Marx had the very greatest respect for the work of Smith, Ricardo, and a number of lesser lights. He had contempt for the minor epigones of his own day, such as the egregious Nassau Senior, whom he called Vulgar Economists and took great delight in lampooning.
Marx was also the first great economic historian. His primary focus was on the development of capitalism in England, about which he wrote brilliantly, on the basis of his extensive archival research in the British Museum. Needless to say, we know a great deal more now than he knew then about the transition from the medieval feudal economy to the rapidly growing capitalist economy of the nineteenth century, but his work was decades, if not generations, ahead of his time.
Marx was a great political sociologist, anatomizing the connections between economic developments and political formations in a way that no one had done before.
And he was one of the truly great economic theorists. The brilliant Japanese mathematical economist, Michio Morishima, in his book MARX'S ECONOMICS, describes Marx as one of the great mathematical economists, and despite the fact that he uses little more than elementary arithmetic, Marx's structural and theoretical intuitions were astonishing. That is a large subject, and if anyone is interested in reading some modern mathematical economics devoted to articulating Marx's ideas in modern mathematical form, I will be happy to recommend half a dozen books.
Marx was not a philosopher, despite the fact that his doctoral dissertation was devoted to the ancient Greek materialists. Dialectical materialism was Engels' idea, and it is really just bad nineteenth century metaphysics. If you want to engage with Marx, you really must study the economics. By the way, contrary to popular opinion, Marx was a brilliant writer, and the early chapters of CAPITAL Volume One are among the most beautiful theoretical writings I have ever encountered.
But a funny thing happened to Marx on the way to immortality. He got hijacked by a bunch of Russian revolutionaries, and later by a bunch of Chinese peasant revolutionaries, and in his name both groups created dictatorial state capitalist regimes that murdered tens of millions of their own countrymen and suppressed genuine intellectual activity for generations. You can blame Marx for this, if you wish, just as you can blame Jesus for the Inquisition, or John Adams for George W. Bush, or Mohammed for Al Qaeda, and if you choose to do that, I am not going to waste any time arguing with you. But if you actually want to know something about Marx, then read him.
Two further words. At the end of the Second World War, Tito and his partisans had succeeded in driving the Germans out of what became Yugoslavia without the help of Russian troops. So Yugoslavia, while allied with Russia, was independent. A group of Yugoslav philosophers wanted to find some way to appropriate what they liked in Marx without buying into the oppressive state capitalist dictatorship of Stalin. They seized on some manuscripts written by Marx when he was twenty-six, and never published, in which they found a humanistic Marx, a lively Marx, a humane Marx as philosopher of the human condition, whom they could put up against the Soviet version of Marx's doctrines without rejecting Marx and thus seeming to throw their lot in with the capitalist West. These manuscripts, which came to be known as THE ECONOMIC-PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRUIPTS IF 1844, were used by them to defend a theory of a "break" between the young Marx and the mature Marx -- the theory of the Two Marxes. For reasons that I will explain if anyone at all is interested, I do not think there is a sharp break between the work of Marx in his twenties and Marx in his fifties -- just the sort of development and evolution one would expect in the work of a deep thinker.
Now, as to books. A small group of very gifted analytic philosophers -- most notably Gerald Cohen and Jan Elster -- several decades ago undertook to make Marx's thought compatible with their version of analytic philosophy, giving rise to a school of so-called Analytical Marxists. The two most notable contributions to this literature, both mentioned by commentators on this blog, were Cohen's KARL MARX'S THEORY OF HISTORY and Elster's MAKING SENSE OF MARX. In 1990, I wrote a long article exposing what I believed to be fundamental inadequacies in Elster's book. The essay was published in the CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, and can be found on-line. Cohen's book is a bravura performance, and to its credit pays more attention to what Marx actually said about economics and economic development, but I find it in the end scholastic and unhelpful.
OK. That's enough about that.