Marx's theory of human nature

Marx's theory of human nature occupies an important place in his
critique of capitalism, his conception of communism, and his
'materialist conception of history'. Marx, however, does not refer to
"human nature" as such, but to Gattungswesen, which is generally
translated as 'species-being' or 'species-essence'. What Marx meant by
this is that humans are capable of making or shaping their own nature to
some extent. According to a note from the young Marx in the Manuscripts
of 1844, the term is derived from Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy, in
which it refers both to the nature of each human and of humanity as a
whole [1]. However, in the sixth Thesis on Feuerbach (1845), Marx
criticizes the traditional conception of "human nature" as "species"
which incarnates itself in each individual, on behalf of a conception of
human nature as formed by the totality of "social relations". Thus, the
whole of human nature is not understood, as in classical idealist
philosophy, as permanent and universal: the species-being is always
determinated in a specific social and historical formation, with some
aspects being of course biological.

Contents [hide]
1 The sixth thesis on Feuerbach, and the determination of human nature
by social relations 
2 Needs and drives 
3 Productive activity, the objects of humans and actualisation 
3.1 Humans as free, purposive producers 
3.2 Life and the species as the objects of humans 
3.3 Humans as homo faber? 
4 Human nature and historical materialism 
4.1 Human nature and the expansion of the productive forces 
4.2 Human nature, developing needs, and class struggle 
5 Human nature, Marx's ethical thought and alienation 
5.1 Alienation 
6 Gerald Cohen's criticism 
7 References and further reading 
7.1 Primary texts 
7.2 Accounts prior to 1978 
7.3 Recent general accounts 
7.4 The debate over human nature and historical materialism 
8 Footnotes 
9 See also 

[edit] The sixth thesis on Feuerbach, and the determination of human
nature by social relations
Norman Geras claimed in Marx's theory of human nature (1983) that
although many Marxists denied that there was a "human nature" to be
found in Marx's words [1], there is in fact a Marxist conception of
human nature which remains, to some degree, constant throughout history
and across social boundaries. The sixth of the Theses on Feuerbach
provided the basics for this interpretation of Marx according to which
there was no eternal human nature to be found in his works. It states:

Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man
[menschliche Wesen = ‘human nature’]. But the essence of man is no
abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the
ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a
criticism of this real essence is hence obliged:

1. To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious
sentiment regarded by itself, and to presuppose an abstract - isolated -
human individual. 
2. The essence therefore can by him only be regarded as ‘species’,
as an inner ‘dumb’ generality which unites many individuals only in
a natural way. [2] 
Thus, Marx appears to say that human nature is no more than what is
made by the 'social relations'. Norman Geras's Marx's Theory of Human
Nature, however, offers an extremely detailed argument against this
position [2]. In outline, Geras shows that, while the social relations
are held to 'determine' the nature of people, they are not the only such
determinant. In fact, Marx makes statements where he specifically refers
to a human nature which is more than what is conditioned by the
circumstances of one's life. In Capital, in a footnote critiquing
utilitarianism, he says that utilitarians must reckon with 'human nature
in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical
epoch' [3]. Marx is arguing against an abstract conception of human
nature, offering instead an account rooted in sensuous life. While he is
quite explicit that '[a]s individuals express their life, so they are.
Hence what individuals are depends on the material conditions of their
production' [4], he also believes that human nature will condition
(against the background of the productive forces and relations of
production) the way in which individuals express their life. History
involves 'a continuous transformation of human nature' [5], though this
does not mean that every aspect of human nature is wholly variable; what
is transformed need not be wholly transformed. Marx did criticise the
tendency to 'transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the
social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of
property' [6], a process sometimes called "reification". For this
reason, he would likely have wanted to criticise certain aspects of some
accounts of human nature. Some people believe, for example, that humans
are naturally selfish - Kant [7] and Hobbes [8] [9], for example. (Both
Hobbes and Kant thought that it was necessary to constrain our human
nature in order to achieve a good society - Kant thought we should use
rationality, Hobbes thought we should use the force of the state - Marx,
as we shall see, thought that the good society was one which allows our
human nature its full expression.) Most Marxists will argue that this
view is an ideological illusion and the effect of commodity fetishism:
the fact that people act selfishly is held to be a product of scarcity
and capitalism, not an immutable human characteristic. For confirmation
of this view, we can see how, in The Holy Family Marx argues that
capitalists are not motivated by any essential viciousness, but by the
drive toward the bare 'semblance of a human existence' [10]. (Marx says
'semblance' because he believes that capitalists are as alienated from
their human nature under capitalism as the proletariat, even though
their basic needs are better met.) 

[edit] Needs and drives
In the 1844 Manuscripts the young Marx wrote:

Man is directly a natural being. As a natural being and as a living
natural being he is on the one hand endowed with natural powers, vital
powers - he is an active natural being. These forces exist in him as
tendencies and abilities - as instincts. On the other hand, as a
natural, corporeal, sensuous objective being he is a suffering,
conditioned and limited creature, like animals and plants. That is to
say, the objects of his instincts exist outside him, as objects
independent of him; yet these objects are objects that he needs -
essential objects, indispensable to the manifestation and confirmation
of his essential powers. [11]

In the Grundrisse Marx says his nature is a 'totality of needs and
drives, which exerts a force upon me' [12]. In The German Ideology he
uses the formulation: 'their needs, consequently their nature' [13]. We
can see then, that from Marx's early writing to his later work, he
conceives of human nature as composed of 'tendencies', 'drives',
'essential powers', and 'instincts' to act in order to satisfy 'needs'
for external objectives. For Marx then, an explanation of human nature
is an explanation of the needs of humans, together with the assertion
that they will act to fulfill those needs. (c.f. The German Ideology,
chapter 3 [14].) Norman Geras gives a schedule of the some of the needs
which Marx says are characteristic of humans:

...for other human beings, for sexual relations, for food, water,
clothing, shelter, rest and, more generally, for circumstances that are
conducive to health rather than disease. There is another one ... the
need of people for a breadth and diversity of pursuit and hence of
personal development, as Marx himself expresses these, 'all-round
activity', 'all-round development of individuals', 'free development of
individuals', 'the means of cultivating [one's] gifts in all
directions', and so on. [3]

Marx says 'It is true that eating, drinking, and procreating, etc., are
... genuine human functions. However, when abstracted from other aspects
of human activity, and turned into final and exclusive ends, they are
animal.' [4] [15]

[edit] Productive activity, the objects of humans and actualisation

[edit] Humans as free, purposive producers
In several passages throughout his work, Marx shows how he believes
humans to be essentially different from other animals. 'Men can be
distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything
else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from
animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a
step which is conditioned by their physical organisation.' [16] In this
passage from The German Ideology, Marx alludes to one difference: that
humans produce their physical environments. But do not a few other
animals also produce aspects of their environment as well? The previous
year, Marx had already acknowledged:

It is true that animals also produce. They build nests and dwellings,
like the bee, the beaver, the ant, etc. But they produce only their own
immediate needs or those of their young; they produce only when
immediate physical need compels them to do so, while man produces even
when he is free from physical need and truly produces only in freedom
from such need; they produce only themselves, while man reproduces the
whole of nature; their products belong immediately to their physical
bodies, while man freely confronts his own product. Animals produce only
according to the standards and needs of the species to which they
belong, while man is capable of producing according to the standards of
every species and of applying to each object its inherent standard;
hence, man also produces in accordance with the laws of beauty. [17] 
In the same work, Marx writes:

The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It is not
distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life
activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has
conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he
directly merges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from
animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being. Or,
rather, he is a conscious being - i.e., his own life is an object for
him, only because he is a species-being. Only because of that is his
activity free activity. Estranged labour reverses the relationship so
that man, just because he is a conscious being, makes his life activity,
his essential being, a mere means for his existence. [18] 
Also in the segment on Estranged Labour:

Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and
theoretically makes the species - both his own and those of other things
- his object, but also - and this is simply another way of saying the
same thing - because he looks upon himself as the present, living
species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free
being. [19] 
More than twenty years later, in Capital, he came to muse on a similar

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee
puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But
what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this,
that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects
it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that
already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.
He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works,
but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his
modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this
subordination is no mere momentary act. [20] 
From these passages we can observe something of Marx's beliefs about
humans. That they characteristically produce their environments, and
that they would do so, even were they not under the burden of 'physical
need' - indeed, they will produce the 'whole of [their] nature', and may
even create 'in accordance with the laws of beauty'. Perhaps most
importantly, though, their creativity, their production is purposive and
planned. Humans, then, make plans for their future activity, and attempt
to exercise their production (even lives) according to them. Perhaps
most importantly, and most cryptically, Marx says that humans make both
their 'life activity' and 'species' the 'object' of their will. They
relate to their life activity, and are not simply identical with it.
Michel Foucault's definition of biopolitics as the moment when "man
begins to take itself as a conscious object of elaboration" may be
compared to Marx's definition hereby exposed.

[edit] Life and the species as the objects of humans
To say that A is the object of some subject B, means that B (specified
as an agent) acts upon A in some respect. Thus if 'the proletariat
smashes the state' then 'the state' is the object of the proletariat
(the subject), in respect of smashing. It is similar to saying that A is
the objective of B, though A could be a whole sphere of concern and not
a closely defined aim. In this context, what does it mean to say that
humans make their 'species' and their 'lives' their 'object'? It's worth
noting that Marx's use of the word 'object' can imply that these are
things which humans produces, or makes, just as they might produce a
material object. If this inference is correct, then those things that
Marx says about human production above, also apply to the production of
human life, by humans. And simultaneously, 'As individuals express their
life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their
production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The
nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions
determining their production.' [21]

To make one's life one's object is therefore to treat one's life as
something that is under one's control. To raise in imagination plans for
one's future and present, and to have a stake in being able to fulfill
those plans. To be able to live a life of this character is to achieve
'self-activity' (actualisation), which Marx believes will only become
possible after communism has replaced capitalism. 'Only at this stage
does self-activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the
development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off
of all natural limitations. The transformation of labour into
self-activity corresponds to the transformation of the earlier limited
intercourse into the intercourse of individuals as such' [22].

What is involved in making one's species one's object is more
complicated (see Allen Wood 2004, pp16-21). In one sense, it emphasises
the essentially social character of humans, and their need to live in a
community of the species. In others, it seems to emphasise that we
attempt to make our lives expressions of our species-essence; further
that we have goals concerning what becomes of the species in general.
The idea covers much of the same territory as 'making one's life one's
object': it concerns self-consciousness, purposive activity, and so

[edit] Humans as homo faber?
It is often said that Marx conceived of humans as homo faber, referring
to Benjamin Franklin's definition of 'man as the tool-making animal' -
that is, as 'man, the maker' [23], though he never used the term
himself. Above, we indicated that one of Marx's central contentions
about humans was that they were differentiated by the manner in which
they produce and that thus, somehow, production was one of humans'
essential activities. In this context, it is worth noting that Marx does
not always address 'labour' or 'work' in such glowing terms. He says
that communism 'does away with labour' [24]. Furthermore, 'If it is
desired to strike a mortal blow at private property, one must attack it
not only as a material state of affairs, but also as activity, as
labour. It is one of the greatest misapprehensions to speak of free,
human, social labour, of labour without private property. “Labour”
by its very nature is unfree, unhuman, unsocial activity, determined by
private property and creating private property.' [25] Under Capitalism
'[t]he capitalist functions only as capital personified, capital as a
person, just as the worker only functions as the personification of
labour, which belongs to him as torment, as exertion' [26].

It is generally held that Marx's view was that productive activity is
an essential human activity, and can be rewarding when pursued freely.
Marx's use of the words 'work' and 'labour' in the section above may be
unequivocally negative; but this was not always the case, and is most
strongly found in his early writing. However, Marx was always clear that
under capitalism, labour was something inhuman, and dehumanising.
'labour is external to the worker - i.e., does not belong to his
essential being; that he, therefore, does not confirm himself in his
work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not
develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and
ruins his mind' [27]. While under communism, 'In the individual
expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of
your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly
confirmed and realised my true nature, my human nature, my communal
nature' [28].

[edit] Human nature and historical materialism
Marx's theory of history attempts to describe the way in which humans
change their environments and (in dialectical relation) their
environments change them as well. That is:

Not only do the objective conditions change in the act of reproduction,
e.g. the village becomes a town, the wilderness a cleared field etc.,
but the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in
themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves,
develop new powers and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and
new language. [29] 
Further Marx set out his 'materialist conception of history' in
opposition to 'idealist' conceptions of history; that of Hegel, for
instance. 'The first premise of all human history is, of course, the
existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be
established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their
consequent relation to the rest of nature.' [30] Thus 'History does
nothing, it “possesses no immense wealth”, it “wages no
battles”. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who
possesses and fights; “history” is not, as it were, a person apart,
using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the
activity of man pursuing his aims' [31]. So we can see that, even before
we begin to consider the precise character of human nature, 'real,
living' humans, 'the activity of man pursuing his aims' is the very
building block of Marx's theory of history. Humans act upon the world,
changing it and themselves; and in doing so they 'make history' [32].
But even beyond this, human nature plays two key roles. In the first
place, it is part of the explanation for the growth of the productive
forces, which Marx conceives of as the driving force of history.
Secondly, the particular needs and drives of humans explain the class
antagonism which is generated under capitalism.

[edit] Human nature and the expansion of the productive forces
It has been held by several writers that it is Marx's conception of
human nature which explains the 'primacy thesis' (Cohen, 1978)
concerning the expansion of the productive forces, which according to
Marx, is itself the fundamental driving force of history. If true, this
would make his account of human nature perhaps the most fundamental
aspect of his work. Geras writes, (1983, p107-108, italics in original)
'historical materialism itself, this whole distinctive approach to
society that originates with Marx, rests squarely upon the idea of a
human nature. It highlights that specific nexus of universal needs and
capacities which explains the human productive process and man's
organised transformation of the material environment; which process and
transformation it treats in turn as the basis both of the social order
and of historical change.' G.A. Cohen (1988, p84): 'The tendency's
autonomy is just its independence of social structure, its rootedness in
fundamental material facts of human nature and the human situation.'
Allen Wood (2004, p75): 'Historical progress consists fundamentally in
the growth of people's abilities to shape and control the world about
them. This is the most basic way in which they develop and express their
human essence' (see also, the quotation from Allen Wood above).

In his article Reconsidering Historical Materialism, however, Cohen
gives an argument to the effect that human nature cannot be the premise
on which the plausibility of the expansion of the productive forces is

'Production in the historical anthropology is not identical with
production in the theory of history. According to the anthropology,
people flourish in the cultivation and exercise of their manifold
powers, and are especially productive - which in this instance means
creative - in the condition of freedom conferred by material plenty.
But, in the production of interests to the theory of history, people
produce not freely but because they have to, since nature does not
otherwise supply their wants; and the development in history of the
productive power of man (that is, of man as such, of man as a species)
occurs at the expense of the creative capacity of the men who are agents
and victims of that development.' (p166 in ed. Callinicos, 1989) 
The implication of this is that hence 'one might ... imagine two kinds
of creature, one whose essence it was to create and the other not,
undergoing similarly toilsome histories because of similarly adverse
circumstances. In one case, but not the other, the toil would be a
self-alienating exercise of essential powers' (p170). Hence, 'historical
materialism and Marxist philosophical anthropology are independent of,
though also consistent with, each other' (p174, see especially sections
10 and 11). The problem is this: it seems as though the motivation most
people have for the work they do isn't the exercise of their creative
capacity; on the contrary, labour is alienated by definition in the
capitalist system based on salary, and people only do it because they
have to. They go to work not to express their human nature but to find
theirs means of subsistence So in that case, why do the productive
forces grow - does human nature have anything to do with it? The answer
to this question is a difficult one, and a closer consideration of the
arguments in the literature is necessary for a full answer than can be
given in this article. However, it is worth bearing in mind that Cohen
had previously been committed to the strict view that human nature (and
other 'asocial premises') were sufficient for the development of the
productive forces - it could be that they are only one necessary
constituent. It is also worth considering that by 1988 (see quotation
above), he appears to consider that the problem is resolved.

[edit] Human nature, developing needs, and class struggle
Some needs are far more important than others. In The German Ideology
Marx writes that 'life involves before everything else eating and
drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things'. All those other
aspects of human nature which he discusses (such as 'self-activity') are
therefore subordinate to the priority given to these. Marx makes
explicit his view that humans develop new needs to replace old: 'the
satisfaction of the first need (the action of satisfying, and the
instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired) leads to new needs'

Consider as a piece of evidence for this aspect of Marx's theory,
consider this statement by an auto-assembly worker named Gary Bryner,
quoted on pages 189-190 of Working (2004 edition, The New Press), a
collection of oral history by Studs Terkel. 'The almighty dollar is not
the only thing in my estimation. There's more to it - how I'm treated.
What I have to say about what I do, how I do it. It's more important
than the almighty dollar. The reason might be that the dollar's here
now. It wasn't in my father's young days. I can concentrate on the
social aspects, my rights.' We can see from this that Bryner believes he
is able to concentrate on less basic needs (for dignity, some say in
what he does) because his more basic needs (for 'the dollar' and the
things it can buy) are already met. Marx's understanding of the relation
of human nature to history reflects this view: the satisfaction of old
needs allows new ones to arise. In the case of the worker quoted, we can
see the historical relevance of this. His plant at Lordstown was on
strike [34], as workers rebelled against the attempted imposition of the
'Fordist' model of production. In this case, we can see an example of
how people's felt 'needs' are responses to the particular circumstances
of their lives, in relation to a commonly understood (rough) ordering of
priorities. The example seems to imply that needs and human nature might
have a place in an account of class struggle. Marx's writing supports
this view, he gives an explanation of the motivations of proletarian
revolution in terms of the failure of capitalism to satisfy their needs

The proletarian, for example, who like every human being has the
vocation of satisfying his needs and who is not in a position to satisfy
even the needs that he has in common with all human beings, the
proletarian whom the necessity to work a 14 hour day debases to the
level of the beast of burden, whom competition degrades to a mere thing,
an article of trade, who from his position as a mere productive force,
the sole position left to him, is squeezed out by other, more powerful
productive forces - this proletarian is, if only for these reasons,
confronted with the real task of revolutionizing his conditions. [35] 
In The Holy Family, he presents class conflict as arising from the
different responses of 'the propertied class' and the proletariat to
their differing class situations, both of which originate in the same
human nature.

The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same
human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and
strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as
its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. 'The
class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in
it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence. It is,
to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement the indignation at that
abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the
contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which
is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature.
Within this antithesis the private property-owner is therefore the
conservative side, the proletarian the destructive side. From the former
arises the action of preserving the antithesis, from the latter the
action of annihilating it. [36] 
The owners of property are driven by the meagre extent to which
capitalism satisfies their human nature to defend their position against
the proletarians, themselves driven to revolt by their 'indignation' at
the 'contradiction' between their 'human nature and conditions of life'.
Marx believed, by 1845 that 'things have now come to such a pass that
the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive
forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but, also, merely to
safeguard their very existence' [37]. This statement indicates that he
believed that the dynamics of capitalism were such that the proletariat
would not even get a chance to revolt against their alienation, because
they would have to revolt in order to stay alive before that
'self-activity' would even be on the horizon of their felt needs.

[edit] Human nature, Marx's ethical thought and alienation
Geras says of Marx's work that: 'Whatever else it is, theory and
socio-historical explanation, and scientific as it may be, that work is
a moral indictment resting on the conception of essential human needs,
an ethical standpoint, in other words, in which a view of human nature
is involved' (1983, p83-84). Marx's work is littered with indictments of
capitalism, very many of which reference cessary product of hard
proletarian struggle. He felt very strongly the need to differentiate
himself from this position.

[edit] Alienation
For the main article on this topic, see Marx's theory of alienation 
Alienation, for Marx, is the estrangement of humans from aspects of
their human nature. Since - as we have seen - human nature consists in a
particular set of vital drives and tendencies, whose exercise
constitutes flourishing, alienation is a condition wherein these drives
and tendencies are stunted. For essential powers, alienation substitutes
disempowerment; for making one's own life one's object, one's life
becoming an object of capital. Marx believes that alienation will be a
feature of all society before communism. The opposite of, alienation is
'actualisation' or 'self-activity' - the activity of the self,
controlled by and for the self.

[edit] Gerald Cohen's criticism
One important criticism of Marx's 'philosophical anthropology' (i.e.
his conception of humans) is offered by Gerald Cohen, the leader of
"Analytical Marxism", in Reconsidering Historical Materialism (in ed.
Callinicos, 1989). Cohen claims: 'Marxist philosophical anthropology is
one sided. Its conception of human nature and human good overlooks the
need for self identity than which nothing is more essentially human.'
(p173, see especially sections 6 and 7). The consequence of this is held
to be that 'Marx and his followers have underestimated the importance of
phenomena, such as religion and nationalism, which satisfy the need for
self identity. (Section 8.)' (p173). Cohen describes what he sees as the
origins of Marx's alleged neglect: 'In his anti-Hegelian, Feuerbachian
affirmation of the radical objectivity of matter, Marx focused on on the
relationship of the subject to an object which is in no way subject,
and, as time went on, he came to neglect the subject's relationship to
itself, and that aspect of the subject's relationship to others which is
a mediated (that is, indirect), form of relationship to itself' (p155).

Consequently, Cohen believes, 'A person does need to develop and ENJOY
his POWERS, he need s to gain and gain until he is the best and no one
else can overpower him, people are BAD" He must, as Hegel saw, find
something outside himself which he did not create, and to which
something inside himself corresponds, because of the social process that
created him' (p156). Cohen believes that people are driven, typically,
not to create identity, but to preserve that which they have in virtue,
for example, of 'nationality, or race, or religion, or some slice or
amalgam thereof' (p156-159). Cohen does not claim that 'Marx denied that
there is a need for self definition, but [instead claims that] he failed
to give the truth due emphasis' (p155). Nor does Cohen say that the sort
of self understanding that can be found through religion etc. is
accurate (p158). Of nationalism, he says 'identifications [can] take
benign, harmless, and catastrophically malignant forms' (p157) and does
not believe 'that the state is a good medium for the embodiment of
nationality' (p164).

[edit] References and further reading
All the quotations from Marx in this article have used the translation
employed by the Marxists Internet Archive. This means that you can
follow the external reference links, and then search on that page using
your browser's search function for some part of the text of the
quotation in order to ascertain its context.

[edit] Primary texts
The two texts in which Marx most directly discusses human nature are
the Comments on James Mill and the piece on Estranged Labour in the
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1932). Both
of these pieces date from 1844, and as such were written by the young
Marx; some analysts (Louis Althusser, etc.) assert that work from this
period differs markedly in its ideas from the later work.

[edit] Accounts prior to 1978
In certain aspects, the views of many earlier writers on this topic are
generally believed to have been superseded. Nevertheless, here is a
selection of the best writing prior to 1978. Much of it addresses human
nature through the strongly related concept of alienation:

Erich Fromm, Marx's Concept of Man. With a Translation of Marx's
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts by T. B. Bottomore, (1961). 
Eugene Kamenka, The Ethical Foundations of Marxism (1962). The entire
book can be read online [38]. 
István Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation (1970). Sections can be
read online [39]. 
Bertell Ollman, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist
Society (1971). Many chapters, including some directly relevant to human
nature, can be read online [40]. 
John Plamenatz, Karl Marx's Philosophy of Man, (1975). 

[edit] Recent general accounts
Marx's Theory of Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend by Norman Geras
(1983) is a concise argument against the view that Marx did not believe
there was something such as human nature, in particular the confusion
surrounding the sixth of the Theses on Feuerbach. 
Part I of Karl Marx by Allen Wood provides a highly readable survey of
the evidence concerning what Marx thought of human nature and his
concept of alienation. See especially chapter 2. The preface to the
second edition (2004) of Wood's book can be read online [41]. The first
edition was published in 1983. 

[edit] The debate over human nature and historical materialism
Pages 150-160 (i.e. chapter 6, section 4) of G.A. Cohen's seminal Karl
Marx's Theory of History (KMTH) (1978) contain an account of the
relation of human nature to historical materialism. Cohen argues that
the former is necessary to explain the development of the productive
forces, which Marx holds to drive history. 
This basic view is endorsed by Geras (1983) and Woods (1983, 2004). 
The view, however, was criticised by Andrew Levine and Erik Olin Wright
in an article entitled Rationality and Class Struggle, first published
in the New Left Review, 123, 1980. It can be found as chapter 1 of
Marxist Theory (ed. Alex Callinicos, 1989). 
It was also criticised by Joshua Cohen, in a review of KMTH in the
Journal of Philosophy, 79.5, 1982. 
G.A. Cohen draws out some difficulties with his own presentation in
KMTH in the article Reconsidering Historical Materialism. (First
published 1983 in Marxism: NOMOS XXVI, ed. Chapman and Pennock; now
available in Marxist Theory ed. Alex Callinicos, 1989; and in History
Labour and Freedom, G.A. Cohen, 1988). The article's contentions (for a
five point summary, see Callinicos pp173-4) concern the connection of
Marx's historical materialism to his 'philosophical anthropology' -
basically, his conception of human nature. 
Chapter 5 of G.A. Cohen's History, Labour and Freedom (1988) is
entitled Human Nature and Social Change in the Marxist Conception of
History and is co-authored by Cohen and Will Kymlicka. (First published
1988 in the Journal of Philosophy, 85.) The purpose of the chapter is to
defend Cohen's contention in his KMTH that there is an autonomous
tendency of the productive forces to develop, where 'autonomous' means
'independent of particular social relations'. The text is a response to
the criticisms of J. Cohen, Levine and Wright. That is, G.A. Cohen and
Kymlicka seek to show that there are no grounds for an 'a priori denial'
of the claim that 'extra-social features of human nature and the human
situation operate powerfully enough to generate an historical tendency
capable of overcoming recaltricant social structures' (p106). There may
be thought to be a tension between the claims of this article and those
of Reconsidering Historical Materialism. 

[edit] Footnotes
^ For a summary of claims to this effect in the literature, see Geras,
1983 pp50-54. 
^ See in particular Chapter Two 
^ Norming Geras, quoting Marx in his Marx and Human Nature (1983, p72)

^ First chapter of the 1844 Manuscripts 

[edit] See also
Parametric determinism 
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