The philosophical dimensions and interest of Karl Marx’s work were largely underestimated for a variety of reasons. First, the general disrepute of “speculative” as opposed to “empirical” thought in the later nineteenth century led Friedrich Engels and his collaborators to stress the hardheaded empiricism, scientism, and even positivism of Marx’s work when they undertook to turn it into the ideology of a mass movement during the 1880’s. Marx himself was probably involved in this effort. In any case, its success was ensured by consolidation of power in Russia by a group of Marxists schooled exclusively in this view. Second, the manuscripts of Marx that could shed a different light on the origins and foundations of Marx’s thinking were not widely available until the twentieth century. This fact is obviously not unconnected with the first. Here Marx’s complicity derives from his habit of keeping his philosophical way of thinking out of view in the works he prepared or authorized for publication, largely in order to preclude any intimation of idealism, which he felt would undermine the urgency of his message to the working class.
However, four of Marx’s works have thrown much light on his deeper philosophical roots, commitments, and habits. These works are Marx’s “Zur Kritik der hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie” (1844; Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1970); Ökonomische und philosophische Manuskripte (1844; Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 1947); Die deutsche Ideologie (1845-1846; The German Ideology, 1938); and Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1857-1858; Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, 1973), a rich but unwieldy group of notebooks sometimes called the “rough draft of capital.” It is on these works that the following sketch is based.