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Nigel Harris


(Summer 1962)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, p.30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx
Robert Tucker
Cambridge. 35s. (and a paperback)

This book is both excellent and disappointing. Excellent, for the critic of Marx who shows such sensitive exposition of the philosopher is rare; disappointing because the final estimate of Marx’s contribution to our thinking seems, alongside the earlier analysis, relatively shallow. Three quarters of the book traces the development of German philosophy through Hegel to Feuerbach and Hess, laying bare the intellectual roots of Marx’s philosophic writing of the 1840s. At the same time, the points of critical transition are indicated and criticised. Finally, the work of the ‘mature’ Marx is discussed in the light of what has gone before, with particular reference to the transition from the concept of alienation to that of the division of labour, and the charge that the later Marx (and, more pertinently, the work of Engels) is inconsistent with the younger. Here the author is exact and sensitive – all Marxists and those interested in Marx can hardly allow this book to go by without studying it deeply. It goes far to righting the balance induced by the arid Scholasticism of Stalinism, and is a very perceptive discussion of philosophic issues which were one of the promptings of the 1956 Revisionist movement amongst Polish intellectuals. However, Professor Tucker seems to do less than justice to the complexity and richness of the mature Marx’s work. Tucker’s work becomes increasingly bent towards proving his main hypothesis: that the paradigm usage of ‘alienation’ is as a psychiatric term indicating an abnormal personality at war with itself, and that Marx incorrectly projected this notion into a species-term – the implication being that Marx, in so projecting on to Society a notion only truly meaningful in relationship to abnormal individuals, created a Myth for which there could be no empirical verification, and which served irrational purposes not related to any specific class or social situation. There is not space here to answer the criticism – suffice it to note the most plausible evidence for this projection in the tension in Marx between social scientist and moralist. On the other hand, Tucker does not seek to justify or analyse his own notion of ‘Myth’ (or whatever ‘Non-Myth’ is), is liberal in the spuriously persuasive use of ‘real’ (i.e. the ‘real’ world) and the doubtful distinction between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ life. Moreover, he seems to think that notions concerning ‘individuals’ (as opposed to ‘classes’ or ‘societies’) are somehow more scientific in his own treatment than any other – to a certain extent he misinterprets Marx in the earlier works as discussing the problems of the individual, and not the problems of the species under capitalism (which leads him to see a transition to a social critique as an erroneous projection). In addition, Tucker does not appreciate or attempt to understand the social significance of Marxism – if he had, perhaps his book would have been even better. As it is, it is pretty good.

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Last updated: 19 March 2010