The main concern of Marx’s thought is man, the suffering man, under the capitalist system of society. He is one of the greatest humanists the world ever has created. He is well-known for his revolutionary interpretation of man and society.
Marx presented his conception of human nature in his early work “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844”. All his later works may be regarded as only an endeavour to solve the problems of man from economic, social and there in his early work. Marx tried to give an account of man from economic, social and political standpoint. In the study of man Marx’s main mission is to determine the true cause of class exploitation, that is the economic disparity amongst men in the capitalist society and thereby to find out the solution to all socio-economic problems of humanity as a whole.

Man is a Natural Being
Marx has portrayed man as a natural being. Man, in his view, is a product of nature. As a natural being, as Marx comprehend, “he is on the one hand endowed with natural powers, vital powers- he is an active natural being on the other hand as a natural corporeal, sensuous objective being he is a suffering conditioned and limited creature like animals and plants”1.

It is to be noted here that ‘man is a natural being’ means man is a biological being. But at a certain stage of biological evolution some specificity human forms of social organisation (work, production and production relations) emerged. Since this stage of evolution man as an individual began to develop under the combined control of biological and social programme. And “man became bio-social in nature, the social life becoming more forceful”2. Thus, in the process of evolution the biological being gradually became modified and existed as a bio-social being.
According to Marx the objects of man’s needs which exist outside him are indispensable to the manifestation and confirmation of his essential powers. Hunger is an example of such needs for objects. “Hunder” therefore, as Marx says, “needs a natural being having a nature outside himself for the realization of his potentialities, has a great role to play in the system of nature.

Man is a Species-Being
Marx has described man as a species-being. In his view, as a species-being man can be distinguished from other living beings, for he possesses such qualities which are uniquely his own. Man’s natural powers and needs are common with other living beings, but species powers and needs are those which man alone possesses.

According to Marx man manifests himself as a species-being through activity of a kind that could only be done by human beings. Man is always aware of himself as member of a community and acts as a member of a community.
Man realizes his species his species-powers in the course of history by living and working with other men. Productive life is the life of the specifies-being. As Marx proclaims, “the whole character of a species . . . is contained in the character of its life activity and free, conscious activity, is man’s species character”4.

Conscious life activity distinguishes man from animal life activity. It is because of this that man is species-being.
In Marx’s treatment of man as a species-being what is remarkable is that species-character of man consists in free and conscious activity which can be realized, in true sense of the term, only in communism and not in the class society like capitalism.5
Man is a self-creative being

In most of his writing Marx has very emphatically described man as a self-creative being, a producer of his own labour, his won activities. Hegel described the Absolute Spirit as self-creative and “Marx applies this idea of the self-creative to man”6. The starting point of the whole Marxian theory is real, corporeal man who by nature goes on producing and consuming in the course of which he transforms the physical universe, society and himself.

Man’s potential, for Marx, is a given potential. Man is the human raw material which as such cannot be changed, just as the brain structure has remained the same since the dawn of history. Yet, man changes himself in the course of history, he developed himself, he is the product of history, since he makes history he is his own product. History is the history of man’s self-realization. As Marx writes: “the whole of what is called world history is nothing but the creation of man by human labour and the emergence of nature for man, he therefore, has the evident and irrefutable proof of his self-creation, of his own origtins”7.
The productive activity is the life of man as species-being. In creating nature which is adequate in producing food, clothes and a house man is forever remoulding nature. Marx’s whole concept of self-creation of man can be fully understood only in connection with his concept of work. In this context it is to be noted that labour and capital are not at all, for Marx, only economic categories, “they are anthropological categories, imbibed with value judgement which is rooted in his humanistic position”8.
Labour, for Marx, is an activity not a commodity. He originally viewed that man’s function was for self-activity, not for labour and spoke of the abolition of alienated labour as the aim of socialism. In his capital Marx has described labour thus:
“Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and nature participate and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates and controls the material reactions between himself and nature . . . by thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway”9.
Thus, in Marx’s treatment labour appears as self-expression of man, an expression of his physical and mental powers. In this process of productive activity man develops himself, changes his own nature and becomes himself. “Work is, as Erich Fromm maintained, therefore “not only a means to an end . . . the product but an end in itself, the meaningful expression of human energy”10.
As a rational, moral and creative being man is the product of his own activities, of a long course of social and cultural change. Thus, man creates himself and his environment and no longer needs to postulate a creator external to him. In this context it is also to be noted that Marx’s central criticism of capitalism lies not simply in the unequal distribution of wealth but in the perversion of labour into forced, alienated, meaningless labour, hence in the transformation of man into a crippled monstrosity.
Underestimating the active role played by labour, all merit for the swift advance of civilization, as Frederick Engles 12 conceived, was ascribed the mind, to the activity of the brain. Thus, in the course of time the idealistic world outlook has dominated men’s mind and even the natural scientists seem to ignore the part played labour in the process of historical development of mankind. As against such an outlook Marx and Englels have tried to establish the view that man is the creation of his own creative and productive labour and that such a labour has played a great role in the entire process of development of mankind.
Man is a Social Being
Marx’s conception of man as a social being plays a very significant role in his entire system. In a sense his whole philosophy of man revolves round the social nature of man. In his view, the being of man is really a social being. Even the development of the individuality of a man can be possible only within society and not outside of it. In his Grundrisse Marx says: ‘man in the literal sense of the world a zoon politikon, not only a social animal, but an animal which can develop into an individual only in society”13.
Further, Marx comprehends that the production of all means of life and the development of languages are possible only by the individuals living in society. Marx has analysed society as the sum of relationships between individuals and individuals as mediated through society. ‘Society’, as he proclaims, does not consist of individuals, it expressed the sum of connections and relationships in which individuals find themselves. It is as though one were to say; from the standpoint of society there are neither slaves nor citizens: both are men.”14

According to Marx men are invariably in close relationship with one another because their needs and the manner of satisfying them-create between them reciprocal relationship (e.g., sexual relations, exchange, division of labour).
Production is the realm of life where man’s social character emerges most clearly. There is, for Marx, a dialectical relation between man and society. There is, for Marx, a dialectical relation between man and society. In his view, ‘social character is the general character of the whole movement; just as society itself produces man as man, so is society produced by them.”15 By society producing man Marx means only that the capacities peculiar to man are developed in him by activities that are essentially social.16

Thus, the career and life goals that an individual adopts are also determined by social context. In short, man’s consciousness of himself and his relations with others and with nature are that of a social being. Marx, therefore, in his preface to the Political Economy, proclaims: ‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”17
According to Marx although man is always social by nature yet he is deprived of manifesting his social being in capitalist society; he gets full scope to manifest his social being only in communist society. Here Marx even equates the expression: “social being” with “human being”.
In communism man learns to view all of nature in terms of humanity. Here as Marx believes, “need or enjoyment has consequently lost its egoistic character.”18 With society viewed as the sum of interpersonal ties including people’s relations with each other’s objects Marx concludes that “communist society is the complete unity of man with nature- resurrections of nature- the consistent naturalism of man and the consistent humanism of nature.”19 In this order of society along with the resolution of the conflict between individual and society the conflict between man and nature resolved.
Man and Dialectics
Marx’s treatment of human nature is based on dialectics, the guiding principle of his system. By reversing Hegel’s dialectics Marx has tried to explain the emergence of human brain and human consciousness. In his Capital Marx proclaims: “My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but it is direct opposite. To Hegel the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which under the name of “The idea” . . . is the demiurgos of the real world and the real world is the only external, phenomenal form of the ‘the idea”. With me, on the contrary the ideal is nothing else that the material world reflected by the human mind and translated into forms of thought.”20

Thus, for Marx, matter is the matrix of the world process. ‘With him (Hedgel) it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell”.21 Marx has described dialectics as the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature human society and thought. In the language of F. Engels, “Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought.”22
Marx is going to establish such a view that men are not simply the products of circumstances and upbringing but that it is man who changes circumstances. Thus, there is a dialectical relation between circumstances and man, because circumstances make man and man makes circumstances.
In the third thesis on Feuerbach Marx proclaims: “The Material doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing and that therefore, changed men are products of the other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating.”23
Now it follows that for Marx, man not only acts upon nature, but also changes it and by changing it he changes himself too.
Man and Social Development
In Marx the problem of change and development of human nature is inevitably linked with the problem of change and development of human society. Marx’s account of development of society is based on his materialist conception of history. The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition- “That the production of the means to support human life and next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure.”24
As Engles writes the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but changes in the modes of production and exchange.25 Thus, the mode of production is the basis of the entire development of human society.
The guiding thread of Marx’s study is that in the social production of their life men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, “the real foundation”, on which rises “a legal and political superstructure” and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. According to Marx, mortality, religion, metaphysics etc. have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse alter, alone with their actual world, also their thinking and the products of their thinking.
Very significantly Marx proclaims that hitherto in process of development of society every social revolution has only transformed the system of exploitation from one ruling Class to another. But the goal of Socialist revolution 9i.e., communist movement or revolution), which differs in kind from all other previous revolutions of society, is the abolition of class exploitation. The historical inevitability of the socialist revolution for the emancipation of man is the principal conclusion drawn from the materialist conception of human society.
In the German ideology, Marx writes: “People cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. Liberation is a historian not a mental act and it is brought about by historical conditions.’26 According to Marx The4se “historical conditions” in which liberation of mankind in the true sense of the term is possible, can be attained only in communism which is the necessary outcome of the evolution of human society.
Now from the above discussion it becomes obvious that in his philosophy of man Marx is concerned not with an abstract man but with a concrete man, a man of history a suffering as well as struggling man. It also appears that he is the first thinker in the history of human thought to give an exposition of nature of man from a social-scientific perspective which is very much relevant in the context of present social reality.
It is also to be noted that Marx’s endeavour to show human being as identical with social being seems to be very much significant, because it is based on realistic as well as socialistic outlook.
Another significance of Marx’s philosophy of man lies in its great endeavour to establish the truth that human labour is not simply an economic category but an expression of creative human power which gets its true status only in communism.
It cannot but be mentioned that Marx’s endeavour to show the dialectical relation between man and nature, and man and society plays a historical role in the field of social science, because it makes us optimistic to change and thereby to build new man and new society.
Very significant in his philosophy of man Marx is not simply confined with his interpretation human nature he is also very much concerned with the emancipation of mankind as a whole which, for him, can be possible only in a classless society, i.e., in communism where all-round development of every individual man can be achieved.
Notes and References
1.Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, p.145.
2. Deb Kumar Banerjee (Ed.), Marx and His Legacy, p.27.
3.Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, p.145
4.Karl Marx, E.P.M. p.73
5. Man, for Marx, becomes alienated from his species-being through alienated labour under the capitalist system of production. Man‘s alienation, for Marx, can be overcome only in communism.
6.John Plamenatz, Karl Mar’s Phylosophy of Man, p.62.
7.Karl Marx, E.P.M. p.107.
8.Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of man, p.41.
9. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol.1, p.173.
10.Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of man, p.41.
11.According to economic laws the estrangement of the worker in his object is expressed thus: the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume; the more values he creates the more valueless, the more unworthy he becomes . . . the more civilized his object the more barbarous the worker. Karl Marx, E.P.M. pp.69-70.
12. According to Engels “ Labour is not only the source of all wealth but also the prime basic condition for all human existence and in a sense we have to say that labour created man himself”. By giving a brief description of the process of transition Engels has proclaimed, “The hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour.” F.Engels, The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to man, Marx and Engels, selected works, pp.354-355.
13.David Mclellan, Marx’s Grundrisse, p.17.
14.Ibid, p.77.
15.Karl Marx, E.P.M. p.98.
16.John Plamenatz Karl Marx’s Philosophy of Man, p.71.
17. Marx and Engels, Selected works, p.181.
18.Karl Marx, E.P.M. p.101.
19.Ibid, p.98.
20.Karl Marx, Capital, Vol1, p.29.
22.Frederick Engels, Anti-Duhring, p.162.
23.Marx and Engels, Selected works, p.28.
24.F. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Marx and Engels, Selected works, p.166.
25.Ibid, p.167.
26.Marx and Engels, The German Idealogy, p.42.

About the Author: Dr. Punyeswar Bora worked as Principal I/c at Dergaon Kamal Duwara College, Dergaon, Golaghat, Assam, India where he also acted as the Head of the Department of Philosophy. He did M.A in Philosophy and was awarded Ph.D degree from Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam. Further he was awarded M.Phil degree from Andhra University, Andhra Pradesh, India. He is currently writing some articles on socio-philosophical matters which are being published in some magazines and daily newspapers. [Read More]

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