When Marx’s unpublished early works first appeared, in the 30s and later in the 60s and 70s, their reference to humanism supplied the theoretical foundation of a departure from the economical interpretations of Marxism, then dominant in the Soviet area and in the countries of the so-called realized socialism; they thus also provided with a new weapon those who opposed those regimes. The terms ‘alienation’ and ‘human essence’, found in the 1844 Economic and philosophic manuscripts, have been the focal point of interpretations of the world that have bound together the idea of a revolution of economic structures (to which communism has been associated) with the idea of a more general emancipation from forms of dominion of any kind, in order to recover a lost human essence. In the following decades, however, critics largely discarded this perspective, contesting the appropriateness of the categories of alienation and human essence. This happened in part due to self-criticizing hints from Marx himself, who, in the German ideology, distances himself from philosophers still employing an essentialist vocabulary in order to describe phenomena that should, instead, be explained in relation to the play of productive forces and of production relationships, and be analysed through a scientific approach. The matter is, however, still open. Even after disposing of naiveties of utopian and essentialist bend, phenomena of alienation keep drawing interest. A reflexion is needed in order to evaluate whether the critical role of the theme of alienation is to be considered exhausted, and whether ‘equivalents’ of the category of essence can be individuated, since it is in reference to this category that the diagnosis of an alienated world was initially introduced.
Keywords: Marx, Alienation, Human Essence, Essentialism, Humanism.