A Marx One Can Love

A Marx One Can Love

MARX’S CONCEPT OF MAN, by Erich Fromm (with a translation from Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts by T. B. Bottomore). Frederick Ungar, New York, 1961. 260 pp.

Hearing the old Lutheran chorals in a Bach oratorio, one is astonished to have quite a new experience as the richness of different contrapuntal textures unfolds. So one is pleased to find the ‘familiar ideas of Marx exposed by the author of Man for Himself, The Sane Society, and The Art of Loving, in the light of twentieth-century insights. Fromm uses the very words of the young Marx (and adds 100 pages of a long-forgotten manuscript which has not been accessible to English readers for a long time), but he relates them to the experience of a modern psychologist and philosopher on the one hand and to the tradition of non-conformist thought of the past and of non-Western cultures on the other hand. He sees Marx as one in the long series of mystics and existentialists from “prophetic messianism, Christian chiliastic sectarians, thirteenth-century Thomism, Renaissance utopianism and eighteenth-century Enlightenment,” to Kierkegaard and Zen Buddhism.

Were it merely for the pleasurable experience of relating these cross-currents of the world’s thought with the Marxian anthropology, this exploration would be rewarding in itself. For the English-speaking public (Fromm acknowledges his indebtedness to the German and French Marxicologists of the last thirty years) this is quite new. Marxian and socialist thought has rarely been recognized as part of, and indeed deeply embedded in, the strands of a sempiternal human yearning for fulfillment of the human personality.

With Fromm we are far away from the old-school textbook of Dial-Mat with its dry derivations from Hegel’s triad, Feuerbachian or Darwinian materialism and classical economics. He pits quotations, information, insight and wit against the superficial, nineteenth-century and Soviet interpretations which have made of Marx a mere follower of Holbach turned economist and social thinker. His refutation of the vulgarizers (both adversaries who built up the strawman of Marx the materialist, and disciples who canonized the collectivist economist Marx) is definitive and devastating.