Insightful critic of capitalism, terrible social architect.

Now that Marx has been liberated from the ironclad ideology of the East Bloc, a serious and frank discussion can take place about him and his philosophy. I've heard it said that the worst thing that could possibly happen to a thinker is for him/her to be placed on a pedestal. In spite of his biblical beard, Marx is neither a secular saint nor a prophet, as any reading of his works will reveal. Yet he made a profound influence on sociology and, to a lesser extent, economics. It is sad that most people have only read The Communist Manifesto, if anything. (And don't be confused by the title; the Manifesto is hardly an endorsement of Marxism-Leninism. I recall a Thomas Nast political cartoon from the 1870s that lambasted communism; but this was a much different sort of "communism.")

The rigid collectivism of Stalin's Russia contrasts sharply with the (rather myopic) vision of a future society. For while Marx rejected the individualism of Locke and Mill, he did not wish to sacrifice the individual to state interests. Still, the vision is hazy and open to interpretation. For instance, what of historical inevitability? From a strictly materalist 19th century view, I can see whereby Marx arrived at that conclusion, an abrogation of free will. But he did he know of quantum theory? One can say the human mind is an expression of this randomness introduced into the universe -- God playing dice. This is why Stalinism rejects quantum theory; for Marxism was adapted by the new Russian autocrats in order to lend legitimacy to their regime. It also seems that his conclusions were extrapolated from too little data. Still, the dialectic is much less important, in my estimation, than the concept of alienated labor.

Marx contradicted himself several times; compare The Civil War in France, written in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, and the comparatively authoritarian Manifesto, written in the aftermath of the events of 1848. From The Civil War in France Libertarian Marxism has been derived, combining Marxian analysis with Anarchist praxis.

For it is his analysis of capitalism that is most enduring. Say what you will about Capital; it is the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 that I find most enchanting. You see little of the concept of alienated labor in the Gründrisse, and hardly at all in Capital; this was a concept that, for some indeterminate reason, was abandoned by Marx as years passed. It is the young Marx who shares much in common with the existentialists, and his earlier work was and still is accepted by many great psychologists. (Marcuse, Fanon, et al.)

Capital is largely considered to be his magnum opus. One's view of it depends on one's view of the Labor Theory of Value. Myself, I am inclined to think that all wealth is created by labor -- that is, activity which imparts further use-value to an object. What do factory owners do? Do they produce, as their workers do? Nay, they control the means of production, thereby forcing workers to sell their labor to them. Back before the rise of capitalism -- in the Jeffersonian days of yore, when the Bourgeois were in the process of supplanting the nobility in Europe -- most workers were independent artisans and craftsmen and did not have to sell their labor. See why Jefferson's vision of an agrarian society is outmoded? As technology has progressed, the worker finds he can no longer survive independently. But certainly not that technology is a Bad Thing. But I digress...

Regardless of what one thinks of his work, one must acknowledge Marx was a genius on the level of Freud or Darwin, and had an impact as great as the other two thinkers. Marxian philosophy is interesting but perhaps no longer as relevant. I endeavour to study it -- as I do the philosophy of other thinkers -- but keep an open mind and not fall victim to dogmatism. YMMV.