Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

“The Humanist Marxist Tradition”: The Humanist Legacy of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Humanist Marxism (“The Humanist Marxist Tradition”: The Humanist Legacy of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-08-31

Summary of Context and Overall Objectives of the Project

The publication of Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 changed the course of Marxism and helped to influence the trajectory of the twentieth century. Appearing first in Russian in 1927, then in the original German in 1932, and then in French in 1933-4, the 1844 Manuscripts circulated in Central and Western European intellectual circles at a time when the European continent was increasingly falling under the sway of despotism. What was most revolutionary about these writings was the incontrovertible evidence they offered of a ‘humanist’ Marx: a Marx for whom communism consisted not in the mere abolition of private property in its negative sense, as was the case in USSR under Stalin, but in the wholesale re-arrangement of socio-economic life in a manner that would enable the maximal positive fulfilment of the ‘all-round individual’. As discussion of these Manuscripts became more and more widespread, and as the anti-colonial revolutions and anti-Stalinist politics swung into full gear, a diverse but distinct group of thinkers united in greater and lesser degrees of unity around a distinctively Marxist humanist thematic arose, spread across the world from Europe, to the Americas, to Africa, to China.

Focusing on figures such as C. L. R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Erich Fromm, Aimé Cesairé, Frantz Fanon, Henri Lefebvre, the Yugoslav Praxis philosophers, and Karl Kosík, among others, the present research is focused on resurrecting the shared concerns that enlivened their works, providing the first detailed consideration of the tradition as a tradition. In so doing, it not only places the works and engagements of these Marxist Humanist thinkers in relation to the debates (over humanism, ‘the human’, race, class, gender, authoritarianism, and other factors) that structured not only Marxism but the academy and wider social life in the twentieth-century and beyond, thereby revealing the enduring interest and significance that the tradition has for the manifest challenges of the present.
The following archives/libraries have been visited: C. L. R. James archives at University of the West Indies, St. Augustine (Trinidad); C. L. R. James Papers at the Oil Workers Trades Union, San Fernando (Trinidad); C. L. R. James papers at Columbia University, New York (USA); Erich Fromm Papers at New York Public Library, New York (USA); Raya Dunayevskaya Archives, Chicago (USA); Erich Fromm Archive, Tuebingen (Germany). The archival material sources at the above locations has proven invaluable in the progression of the research.

Two (joint-)edited collections on central figures to the tradition have been published: Erich Fromm’s Critical Theory: Hope, Humanism, and the Future (Bloomsbury, 2020; co-edited with Joan Braune; and Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism: Race, Class, Gender and the Dialectics of Liberation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021; edited with Kevin B. Anderson and Heather A. Brown A number of related journal articles in established outlets have accompanied the study: 'Adventures in the anti-humanist dialectic: Towards the reappropriation of humanism', European Journal of Social Theory (2022) and Re-interrogating normativity philosophical sociology and emancipatory critique, Distiktion (2019).

The work has been disseminated at major US academic conferences (American Sociological Association, American Political Science Association, American Philosophical Association, Caribbean Philosophical Association, among others). Aspects of the current research have also featured in Jacobin ( and on Jacobin Radio (2021).
The present research is the first full-length, dedicated research into the Marxist Humanist tradition. There have been smaller-scale discussions of aspects of the tradition, and some more localised (geographically specific) full-length studies of the tradition, but no existing study has looked at the entirety of the tradition in a full-length study, nor sought bring the issue of humanism to front and centre in a way that present research does.
In addition to the Marxist Humanist tradition literally changing the history of the twentieth century, the tradition has relevance today as we approach an area of political and economic turmoil, with authoritarianism on the rise and the real prospect of further economic (and ecological collapse). The issues of race, gender, and anti-authoritarianism (of the Left and Right) the characterise the Marxist Humanist tradition speak to us today as strongly again today as they did during the highpoint of the Marxist humanist tradition. Engaging with the multifarious and heterogenous thinkers of the Marxist thinkers offers us conceptual and practical resources in terms of navigating the crises of the present and on alighting upon a sustainable path to human and social flourishing.

The major outcome from the research is the projected publication, in good international press, of a sole-authored manuscript The Marxist Humanist Tradition: From the 1844 Manuscripts to the Present.