A new book by a veteran scholar connects political economist Karl Marx's thoughts from his early years to his later writings.

Eric Rahim in his work titled A Promethean Vision : The Formation of Karl Marx's WorldView, has, in tracing the trajectory of Marx's thought, made an admirable intellectual contribution to the history of ideas.

This review will make Rahim's analysis a point of departure to develop further his point about Marx's concept of human consciousness - a concept that is central to both the 'early' Marx as well as the 'mature' Marx.

In clarifying the idea of human consciousness, it would be necessary to at least indicate the complexity of relationship between the individual and history that Marx faces.

In both the 'early' Marx and the 'mature' Marx, there is the idea that awareness of human potential, as well as its actualisation, are both constituted in human engagement in the world.

Early on, Marx poignantly points out that the dialectic of capitalism. It opens up historically unprecedented possibilities of the development of productive forces which could liberate humans from scarcity and, thereby, enable the full realisation of the human potential.

The idea of ''abstract labour'' - necessary to show that two quite different things can have equal value on the basis of the quantity of labour embodied in them - requires not only the proposition that human labour is inherently valuable, but also the view that all human beings are equal.

In fact, Aristotle poses the question of how two different things can be equal because, for them to be equal, there has to be something common to both.

Marx observes that the brilliance of Aristotle lay in the fact that he raised the question which was beyond his time. But it could only be answered in another epoch, where the ''equality of labour had acquired the status of a popular prejudice..''

Rahim's excellent work brings out the importance of human agency in the conceptual framework of Marx. In this context, Rahim explores both the commonality as well as the sharp differences between Georg Hegel and Marx.

As he argues, for Hegel, actuality is not objective, but develops with the movement of the ''spirit''. But Marx, while retaining the active element in Hegel's formulation, substitutes ''active man'' for Hegel's active spirit.'' This is a valuable insight.

Marx criticises German philosopher and anthropologist Ludwig Feurbach's materialist doctrine, for assuming that there is a deux ex machina in history, whereby historical change is determined by material circumstances.

In his third thesis on Feuerbach, Marx postulates : ''The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that therefore changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances.''

Herein lies, the open-ended nature of the dialectic between the individual and history. Transformative change requires a consciousness to be developed for grasping the nature of capitalism and uniting the oppressed classes in joint struggle to actualise human possibilities.

Only then can human consciousness become a material force in history. Only then can the transformation that lies dormant in the womb of history, light up a new day. 

The World Students Society thanks review author Dr. Akmal Hussain, an economist, author and social activist. He is currently Distinguished Professor and Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Information Technology, in Lahore.


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