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That's the gut reaction of most of us. Why is this? Why is the man who's ideas stimulated nearly half the world to revolution automatically rejected without even being seriously looked at by most of us the U.S. today? What's that you say? "History shows us that communism is an impossible system that leads to the greatest tyranny."
The fact is Marx is much more than communism. His most famous work is not called Communism but Capital. (The manifesto was a small pamphlet next to the thousands of pages of the planned four volumes of Capital). He is strongest in his analysis of the very history and machinery of this economic system. In fact, it is in his critique of capitalism (not his proposition of communism) that he is most original.
Today, we see yet another crisis in global capitalism. Almost all of us who seek understanding of this crisis do so using the very same conceptual tools of the capitalist doctrine itself. But what if there are incorrect assumptions that the governments, universities and media networks of the world continuously overlook?
Marx's Concept of Man serves as an introduction to such an analysis. It is a compilation of various manuscripts of the early Marx and is quite digestible--especially after Fromm's preface. Erich Fromm--a significant 20th century philosopher in his own right--introduces us to some of the most timeless aspects of Marx's concept of man in a way that makes his thought significant to this day.
This is a book that should, but given the existing political culture, won't be made required reading in schools and universities.
Eric Fromm was a humanist writer who lived from 1900 to 1980, and exerted a strong influence on Baby Boomers with his popular books. This book about Humanistic Marxism shook the intellectual world when it was first published in 1961. It rattled the conventional wisdom at the time it was first published. The West had, as Fromm readily admits, a glaring misconception of what Marxism meant. They could hardly be blamed for this misunderstanding. The only example the West had to look towards to see Marxism in action was to observe the Soviet Union. The Eastern Block shares responsibility in misconstruing the meaning of Marx. Its monumental government apparatuses, unwieldy bureaucracies, its virulent oppression of human rights, all these characteristics were definitely NOT how Marx envisioned a communistic society.
Fromm goes into great detail on the humanistic philosophy of Marxism. If Hobbes' Leviathan emerged to protect man from a state of nature, the true goal of society according to Marx is to provide the conditions by which man may reestablish his relationship with nature, with others, with society at large, and with himself. The impediment to this reestablishment is alienation, a common concept of Marx, which drives a wedge between man and the other elements to his life and to himself. As Fromm repeatedly reminds the reader, alienation does not simply exist in Western societies; it is equally prevalent in those countries under a so-called "Communist" form of government. Fromm states that the governments of Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev were simple totalitarian states.
There is a decided spiritual aspect to Marx, in that the goal of a person's life is self-realization. This self-realization, however, is one which allows a person to achieve their own personal goals, based on that person's abilities, talents and labor.
Fromm was addressing a world in the middle of the Cold War, and published in an America just emerging from the crushing conformity of the 1950's. It has continued relevance today, where the societal pressures are hidden and the urge to conform reemerging.
This is a short book and can be read in two or three sittings. It is a well worth read.
Reviewed in the United States on December 14, 2006
"Marx's Concept of Man" is essentially a pamphlet establishing the humanist, philosophical side of Marx as against the orthodox, Soviet view of Marx as tyrannical and economistic, and against the degree to which this view has seeped into academic literature in the West also. Famous Freudian Marxist Erich Fromm uses the "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" as well as "The German Ideology" to stress the importance of humanist concepts such as alienation, freedom, and creativity for Marx, and in so doing explains what these and similar terms mean in Marx' work. Fromm has clearly paid careful attention to Marx' philosophy, and this part of the book is quite good as a simple overview.
The second half of the book covers the English translation of the aforementioned "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" by Tom Bottomore, as well as excerpts from various other works by and about Marx meaning to show his humanism, his good nature, and his sensitivity to culture. Of special interest are the excerpts from the memoirs of those who knew Marx, like his daughter Eleanor as well as Paul Lafargue. These works are often quoted, but rarely does one find a larger part in English, not even in McLellan's biography.
Fromm goes a bit overboard here and there in stressing Marx' 'spiritual' nature. Although nothing Fromm writes is of itself incorrect, it may unwittingly reinforce the old canard of Marxism 'really' being a religion, and Marx a millennarian prophet, and so on. Fromm obviously rejects this old refrain, but should have made that clearer. In other aspects this collection is an interesting primer on Marx as thinker on human action and human nature, and sheds good light on this side of Marxist thought for those not familiar with it.
...someone dusted off Marx and took a good psychological look at the wealth in his writings! One needn't be a Marxist (I am not) to appreciate this fine book. My one concern is that Fromm is to Marx as Kaufmann is to Nietzsche: both men either ignore or euphemize the weaknesses in the visionaries they write about (e.g., Kaufmann's remark that Nietzsche's hateful, cynical, and demeaning remarks about women "do him little credit"). Nevertheless, this book provides a good compensation for the Western tendency to demonize a man very much misunderstood by those who turned his writings to political purposes.