In the writings of Marx prior to 1844, economic factors play no important role: they appear merely as a loosely characterised aspect of more general socio-political relations, having no special significance in their own right. 1 In the works of 1844 and after, however, economic factors assume a central place in Marx's social thought, and the categories that come to the fore are those of the alienation of labour and the commodity form. While there are very significant differences between these notions, as they figure in the 1844 Manuscripts for example, and the discussions of labour and the commodity form in later writings such as Capital, there is nevertheless an undeniable measure of continuity. The continuity has usually been stressed by those who think that Marx's later enterprises gain in intelligibility and plausib ility if we posit some substantial degree of unity in underlying themes and aims from the works of 1844 onwards, and this approach has often been supported in terms of what can best be described as a biographical reading of Marx, one in which his oeuvre as a whole provides the relevant interpretative context, so that underlying continuities and themes form the basis for interpretation. Where more critical attention has been paid to the early writings, this has usually been in terms of an unfavourable comparison with the later writings, considered as the model, so that Marx's early work has been considered in terms of criteria whose appropriateness is often questionable. 2