I did not originally set out to write a study of the young Karl Marx. The roots of the present volume lie in a broader, and rather different, project which I subsequently abandoned. When I should really have been reading other things, I found myself returning again and again to Marx's early writings. The allure of these texts may not be immediately apparent. After all, they have been described accurately as ‘a number of meagre, obscure, and often unfinished texts which contain some of Marx's most elusive ideas’.
Nevertheless, the writings of the young Marx seemed to me to possess two signal properties: they were suggestive, that is, they gave the impression of containing ideas worthy of further consideration; and they were opaque, that is, their meaning was far from transparent. It was these characteristics which led eventually to the writing of the present volume. In attempting to understand works which I found interesting but unclear, I hoped to reach a sounder judgement of their worth.
THE ‘DISCOVERY’ OF THE EARLY WRITINGS
Not everyone has been similarly beguiled by these early writings. They certainly failed to attract much attention from Marx's own contemporaries. Several of the most important of these texts, including the Kritik and the Manuskripte, were not written for publication, and their existence was discovered only after Marx's death. Other works were published at the time, but in radical periodicals with small and uncertain circulations.