Discovery of the Materialist Conception of History in the Writings of the Young Karl Marx

Author: Thomson, Ernie
The debate over the continuity between Marx's early and later writings is now more than fifty years old and final resolution of the debate seems as remote as ever. Since the early 1970's the "continuity view" proposed by Shlomo Avineri and Istvan Meszaros has been generally regarded as the most plausible account of the linkage between these writings, while the most prominent alternative to this view has been the widely-criticized "epistemological break" thesis proposed by French philosopher Louis Althusser in the 1960’s.

A review of the literature since the late 1970's indicates that the main arguments upon which the continuity view was based have been increasingly undermined as new knowledge of the circumstances of Marx's work in the 1840's has been developed. Marx's relationship to two "Young Hegelian" philosophers, Ludwig Feuerbach and Max Stirner, has emerged as an especially important aspect of the issue.

This study, drawing on the recent literature as well as additional original research in areas suggested by Althusser's discussion in his book For Marx, outlines a modified epistemological break thesis. In addition to showing that Marx was a "Feuerbachian" in 1843/44 and documenting his break with Feuerbach in 1845, the study will also explain why Marx broke with Feuerbach when he did and in the way he did, an explanation that is lacking in Althusser's discussion of Marx’s epistemological break. The explanation developed here is based on a study of the impact on Marx and Engels and the other Young Hegelians of Stirner's book The Ego and His Own, published in Germany in late 1844. The study concludes with a discussion of Marx's general intellectual development from 1843 through 1845.


“As someone who specializes in the history and development of sociological theory and someone who has always been interested in scholarship on Marx. I found this [book] a delight to read. Overall, what I found to be particularly enlightening and, at the same time enjoyable ….was the excellent “detective work” on the part of the author…..should be considered by any serious student of the history and development of Marxist theory….an important contribution to Marxist scholarship….” – Glenn A. Goodwin, PhD, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, Pitzner College

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface by Richard P. Appelbaum
Part I. Marx and Feuerbach
1. Ludwig Feuerbach
2. Marx and Feuerbach
Part II. The Epistemological Break
3. Max Stirner
4. Marx’s Epistemological Break
5. The German Ideology