The Left Hegelian movement exemplified in the works of Cieszkowski, Bauer, Ruge and Hess was crucial in conscientizing the German intellectual circles to the problems of the German State once given philosophical legitimacy by Hegel. They rallied behind a single banner and battle cry – praxis!
It was this group that provided the context for the young Marx’s early discourses. But radical as the group’s rhetoric was, it nevertheless remained stuck in mere theoretical criticism with some political intents. It did not, in any way, metamorphose into a real political force fighting for social change.
The Left Hegelians were never real revolutionaries effecting forward-looking tactical courses of action. In fact, Lobkowicz considers them to be “nothing more than a small group of eccentrics with an oddly exaggerated self-confidence” whose illusions consist in the belief that their relentless criticism can transform social reality.
And were it not for Marx who later appropriated and pushed forward their idealistic revolutionary discourse, “the Left Hegelian movement would have remained an interesting, but hardly important, curiosity in the arsenal of philosophical radicalism in European thought.”
Did Marx say something about “praxis”?
The search for the concept of praxis in Marx’s work itself is far from easy. Though his whole philosophy has oftentimes been dubbed as the ‘philosophy of praxis’.
Antonio Labriola (1843-1904), an Italian Marxist, inspired by the Theses on Feuerbach, first interpreted Marxism as the ‘philosophy of praxis’. It was from his example that the more famous and influential Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) also elaborated a ‘philosophy of praxis’ in Marx. 
To our surprise, Marx presents no such extensive treatment of the concept. “As far as it seems evident, there is nowhere in his writings anything resembling a definition of ‘Praxis’; in fact, considering how central this notion is to his thought, one, time and again, is astonished to see how, relatively seldom Marx uses it.”
This then leaves it open to varied interpretations, the first direction of which was given by Engel’s speech at Marx’s graveside when he described Marx as having discovered two ‘fundamental laws’: the law of history (i.e., theory of historical materialism) and the law of society (i.e., theory of surplus value).
“Marx is the discoverer of the fundamental law according to which human history moves and develops itself, a law so simple and self-evident that its simple enunciation is almost sufficient to secure assent. Not enough with that, Marx also discovered the law [which] has created our actual state of society with its great class-division of capitalists and wages-labourers, the law according to which that society has become organized, has grown until it has almost outgrown itself, and according to which it will ultimately perish.”
But it has to be considered that during these times many of Marx’s early writings were not yet available. It is these early works, however, which are crucial to Marx’s discussion of praxis.
Leaving aside for the moment the long-standing debate on the value of these works within the whole Marxist corpus, we will explore the main lines of these early writings in order to help us clarify Marx’s concept of praxis.
[To be continued.]
Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University
For those interested, you can access the full arguments in my book entitled “Back to the Rough Grounds of Praxis” (Leuven: Peeters, 2005)
 N. Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice, 216.
 See. G. Petrovic, “Praxis,” in A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, ed. T. Bottomore et al., 438.
 N. Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice, 419.
 F. Engels, “Draft of a Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx,” in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 24 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1989), 463.
 F. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, trans. E. Aveling (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892) [see ‘introduction’ to the English edition]. See also K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 24, 281-325.
 G. V. Plekhanov, In Defense of Materialism: The Development of the Monist View of History (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1972 ); K. Kautsky, The Materialist Conception of History, ed., J. Kautsky (New Haven: Yale University, 1988 ); V. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism  in V. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 14 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing, 1962).
 Marx’s first systematic work, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ (1843), was first published in 1927. The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (also called Paris Manuscripts of 1844) were only discovered in 1932 and the full version of The German Ideology only saw print in the same year. The draft manuscript of Das Kapital, more commonly called the ‘Grundrisse’ (Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie), was first printed in 1939. All these happened long after ‘orthodox Marxism’ had crystallized its theory of ‘dialectical materialism’. For a historical treatment of Marx’s works, see, among others, P. Thomas, “Critical Reception: Then and Now,” in The Cambridge Companion to Marx, ed. T. Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991), 23-54; T. Carver, “Reading Marx: Life and Works” in The Cambridge Companion to Marx, ed. T. Carver, 1-22.