On Marx's passage to communism

Cuba Colectiva, 1967, Oil on canvas


Author introduction to newly released book

“The reader finds in this book much more than a technical commentary on Karl Marx's youth production. From a detailed historical reconstruction of the intellectual debate in which Marx was involved, three moments in Marx's trajectory until his accession, in 1845, to communism stand out. The guiding thread of this cleavage, adherence to certain political programs, brings to the foreground Marx's controversies with Bruno Bauer, Moses Heß and Max Stirner – generally obscured by the emphasis on his relationship with Hegel and Feuerbach. In a record that does not omit the ambiguities and contradictions of this journey, an original and non-dogmatic reading of Marx’s work is rehearsed”
(Ricardo Musse).


The initial purpose of most of the following chapters was to serve as a mere auxiliary commentary to the reading of works produced by Karl Marx between 1841 and 1846. Our idea was simply to provide complementary/didactic materials to accompany the originals. In reality, we intended to go over the author's “youthful” production somewhat quickly, aiming to also address issues from other periods of his life. We considered that the analyzes about this period of Marx's production, despite the divergences, were well consolidated.

In the process of preparing these auxiliary reading comments – some resulting from prepared texts or classes given in previous years –, however, it became clear that there were gaps in ours and in most current approaches. It also seems to us today that much of what is found in Portuguese on the subject suffers from the evil of superficiality. With this in mind, this book is justified by the attempt – not necessarily successful – to shed light on possibly obscured features of Marx's complex transition to communism.

In our opinion, in the Portuguese-language literature on Marx's production of youth, what has already been repeated is repeated. The reproducibility characteristic of manuals has created a kind of automaton that to some extent hinders reflection. The degree of detail is almost always at the translation level of what has already appeared, for decades, in the introductions and footnotes of collections in more or less renowned foreign languages ​​(such as German Marx-Engels Work, MEW, but especially the English Marx and Engels Collected Works, MECW). Ultimately, such introductions and notes were drawn up under the orders of a Moscow long – to say the least – deteriorated by dogmatism.

In most analyses, Marx is presented as an infallible genius; the focus is only on the author's production, as if his works fell from the sky.[I] Nothing or practically nothing is said about the intellectual debate in which he was effectively inserted. What did Marx’s interlocutors really defend at the time? A relative treatment – ​​disregarding Hegel's production, of course – is given to the “problem” Ludwig Feuerbach. However, other important figures for the development of Marx, such as Bruno Bauer, Moses Heß and Max Stirner – not to mention others, secondary but not insignificant – are generally eliminated in a single paragraph of commentary (if not in mere phrasal adjectives) . In most cases, they are nothing more than names.

In fact, as it is assumed that no one will enter into the productions of such subjects, such literature is considered a no man's land and gross errors in content, dating, biography, etc. are produced. In our opinion, this does not produce a lively presentation – with the necessary color – of the object (Marx). Our research changed shape when we discovered this problem. We are faced with the fact that Marx's (and Engels') intellectual debate with the authors of his time deserved a slightly richer and more detailed treatment. We went into this not knowing exactly where we would be led.

In this sense, we can say that we arrived at some results that surprised us. Marx – as brilliant as he is – is not infallible. Sometimes, as we will see, he is the mere student and the parody. Works considered “famous” from his youthful theoretical production may have their images, language expressions and even general conceptions referred to those of other interlocutors of the period, who expressed themselves earlier and originally. Marx is also someone who makes shameful self-criticisms or who changes his position while pretending not to do so.

By shedding light on such issues, we do not want to in any way detract from our author. On the contrary, we want to value him, presenting him as much as possible as a living and contradictory subject. If you want a non-dogmatic intellectual stance towards the world, you must begin by understanding the creators of the so-called “Marxism” in a non-dogmatic way.

It is worth making two reservations: (i) this is not a biographical work. Here and there we struggle with the hidden desire to produce something like this. It is true that we had to rely on – and present quite frequently – biographical data on Marx and his companions. However, our main purpose always remained the presentation of comments on Marx's lyrics. Therefore, it is understandable that the reader sometimes complains about the lack of development of biographical elements.

(ii) This is not a dialectical work. Given the size and technical nature of this book, it is acceptable that the chapters presented here are read in isolation, together only with the works of Marx to which they refer. However, the degree of particularity that we were forced to reach at certain moments also points to the need to read the text as a whole. Not infrequently we pull the end of a thread whose end is in a much earlier chapter.


It is certainly inadvisable to anticipate results. Marx himself abandoned the “introduction” he intended for his work criticizing political economy, at the end of the 1850s, as it advanced much of what should result from the exposition. However, as we do not intend to carry out a dialectical work, and as this text has been longer than it should have been and has acquired a technical character, we believe it is worth bringing forward elements of what is to come. This way the reader will be able to position themselves and use what comes ahead as best suits them.

This book is divided into three parts, referring to what, in our view, are three moments in Marx's trajectory until his adherence to communism. Despite the existence of literature contrary to the subdivision of the author's work into periods, we believe that periodization is not only necessary for didactic purposes but also corresponds to reality.[ii] Each of these phases, from our point of view, expresses its own political program.

Erasing periodization would not only be counterproductive, but also ideological. For us, these phases are, roughly speaking, the one that goes from liberal positions to the defense of a radical bourgeois democracy (covering Marx's production from 1841 to the end of 1843); the “true socialist”, petty-bourgeois (which covers its production from the beginning of 1844 until the first half of 1845); and the properly communist one, which began in the second half of 1845 (or at the turn of 1846).

Evidently, there are shades, gradations, crossing points where traces of contiguous phases intersect. And, no less obvious, Marx's thought developed significantly, in different directions, with important corrections, after 1846. However, we believe that it was from there that the author obtained a certain “guideline” for future investigations.

The proposition of a “true socialist” phase is perhaps a relatively new element presented by us (at least in Portuguese-language literature). As we will seek to demonstrate, Feuerbachianism led Marx from the radical democratism of 1843 to the so-called “true socialism” (a political current theoretically led by Moses Heß) in 1844.

The usual descriptions of Marx's intellectual development – ​​when there is some periodization in them – admit the existence of a radical-democratic phase (sometimes characterized as “liberal”); however, they argue that from it the author would have passed directly – or with a Feuerbachian philosophical interregnum, not properly deduced as a political current – ​​to “communism”. In general, for such descriptions, the author's transition (with Engels) to communism would be recorded in the work The Holy Family, from the end of 1844.

In our opinion, this does not correspond to reality. As the texts of the interlocutors at the time attest, Marx and Engels were considered, until mid-1845, disciples of Feuerbach, or, particularly, of Heß (the one who derived socialist conceptions from Feuerbach's so-called “materialist” philosophy). This forced us to make a more careful analysis of Heß's work. As we will seek to demonstrate, Marx, in 1844, was not a communist, but a “socialist”. Despite the confluence between these two terms (also common today), at the time there was already differentiation,[iii] and, in 1844, our author is sufficiently clear – whenever he needed to be – about his preference for the term “socialism”. Highlight is given by our analysis, in this regard, to the Paris notebooks.

From our point of view, only by deducing Marx's (and Engels') belonging to the political current of “true socialism” can one correctly understand the meaning of his own texts critical of this current from 1846 onwards.

In reality, if Marx and Engels had stopped their theoretical and political productions at the end of 1844, they would not have played a prominent role in the history of international socialism or communism. At most, the so-called Marxism would be “Heßianism” (that is, it would not exist); the study of the works of Marx and Engels would be an activity for specialists; its production would be a secondary curiosity within the historical chapter referring to the intriguing German socialism of the Vormärz (period before the March 1848 revolution in Germany). In short: in 1844, Marx only began the process of theoretical and political rupture with his class of origin, which was conceptually completed only at the end of 1845 or beginning of 1846.

It is not originality to say that Max Stirner's theoretical production at the end of 1844 - particularly his book The Unique and its Property – It was fundamental to Marx and Engels' departure from Feuerbachianism (and its socialist current, “true socialism”). It is not original, but the issue is practically unknown in Portuguese-language literature. The habit of reading only the section “I. Feuerbach”, from the so-called German Ideology, led to ignorance regarding the central role of Marx and Engels' dialogue with Stirner.

It is not noticeable that most of the call German Ideology is against Max Stirner (as Marx's own wife, Jenny von Westphalen, attested). The truth is that in an attempt to counter Max Stirner's devastating critique of Feuerbachianism, Marx and Engels came up with absolutely new conceptions, theoretically unrelated to the previous ones. From this situation onwards, Feuerbachian “materialism” came to be considered by them as idealism and ideology (as well as the bulk of their own previous conceptions and the political current of which they were in fact part). In the pages to come, in addition to the detailed analysis of Max Stirner's work, we will highlight moments of self-criticism – not always expressly registered – on the part of Marx and Engels.

If it is not original to highlight the authors' dialogue with Max Stirner – considering what is available in foreign languages ​​–, we believe that we were happy to demonstrate how practically all the fundamental concepts of the new “conception of history” [Geschichtsauffassung] by Marx and Engelsappeared for the first time in the excerpt from the call German Ideology dedicated to the author of The only. Demonstrating this is relatively complex; required us to reconstruct the chronological process of writing the call itself German Ideology (for which we rely on other scholars).

However, once the task was accomplished, the fundamental dimension of Marx and Engels' dialogue with Max Stirner became clear. And more: given that this is par excellence the antipode of Feuerbachian substantialism in Young Hegelianism, it is clear that its depreciation – by scholars of Marx's theoretical and political development – ​​is part of the devaluation of our author's break with Feuerbach.

In short: the mistreatment currently given to Max Stirner's work, not consistent with what Marx and Engels themselves did, is part of the confusion that spreads about their distancing from the Feuerbachian political current of which they were part. Such confusion distorts the process of Marx's (and Engels') transition to communism. We will seek to demonstrate, throughout the book, that this confusion has – like everything, of course – political purposes.

In conclusion, we seek to compare our long analysis to that pointed out by Marx himself in his short intellectual autobiography of 1859. Furthermore, we will try to discredit some current interpretations of this text. In our opinion, it follows from the comparison that this long exposition is close to the literalness expressed by the studied author.

In the addendum, even if without the necessary detail and perhaps the necessary degree of rigor, we make a brief note about how, more or less after the death of our author, the “Marxism” in its foundation regressed certain philosophical conceptions to positions expressed by Marx and Engels at the end of 1844.

Rafael Padial He has a doctorate in philosophy from Unicamp.


Rafael A. Padial. On Marx's passage to communism. São Paulo, Editora Alameda, 2024, 630 pages. [https://amzn.to/3UJqyHi]

The launch in São Paulo will be today, April 14th, at 14:30 pm, with an author debate with Lincoln Secco and Ricardo Musse, mediated by Lucas Estevez.

Location: room 24 of the Philosophy and Social Sciences Building at USP (Avenida Professor Luciano Gualberto, 315).


[I] Recently in Brazil a commendable exception appeared, the biography of Marx by HEINRICH, M., Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018. To date, only its first volume has been published (including in the original German), but one can notice in it the appreciation of Marx's interlocutors at a higher level than usual.

[ii] Therefore, obviously, we do not claim that our periodization proposal corresponds to reality; just that a periodization is necessary as it is in line with reality.

[iii] As the works of Lorenz von Stein and Moses Heß attest, which we will comment on.

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