‘Karl Marx was a German philosopher.’ It is with this seminal sentence that Leszek Kolakowski begins his great work on The Main Currents of Marxism: its Rise, Growth and Dissolution (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978). Both the two terms in the predicate expression are crucial. It is most illuminating to think of Marx as originally a philosopher, even though nothing in his vastly voluminous works makes any significant contribution to philosophy in any academic understanding of that term. It is also essential to recognize that for both Marx and Engels philosophy was always primarily, indeed almost exclusively, what they and their successors called classical German philosophy. This was a tradition seen as achieving its climactic fulfilment in the work of Hegel, and one which they themselves identified as a main stimulus to their own thinking. Thus Engels, in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, claimed that ‘The German working-class movement is the inheritor of German classical philosophy’.
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