Series-Critiques and Alternatives

Alternative Futures and the Present: Postcolonial Possibilities

Series-Critiques and Alternatives

A Critical Theory of Economic Compulsion: Wealth, Suffering, Negation


Los estudios sobre Marx hoy (Talk)


Brian K. Obach, Contemporary Sociology. A Journal of Reviews

Rethinking Alternatives with Marx: Economy, Ecology and Migration is a volume edited by Marcello Musto in which a number of renowned international scholars critically engage a wide range of Marxist concepts. Some reevaluate dominant interpretations of classic works while others apply concepts to contemporary conditions or to our potential future. Several of the authors draw not only on Marx’s vast body of published work, but also numerous unfinished works, notes, drafts, letters and other materials made available through MEGA (Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe), a project compiling the entire collection of writings by Marx and Engels. Thus, some of the work draws on material that may be new even to those well versed in Marxist literature.

This volume is part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms series that includes numerous edited volumes and sole-authored monographs addressing many facets of Marx, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Marxist theory, labor, and social movements. The subtitle for this volume, “Economy, Ecology and Migration,” is somewhat of a misnomer. Of course all the chapters address the economy, given its centrality to any Marxist analysis; but of the 13 chapters, just three focus specifically on environmental matters and three address migration. The rest cover an eclectic mix of subjects, all of which are loosely organized into four parts.

The first part, “Capitalism, Gender and Social Relations,” includes two chapters that explicitly concern gender questions. Both authors seek to expand notions of anti-capitalist struggle to allow space for gender and family. In her analysis of class, Himani Bannerji examines the whole set of social relations that constitute one’s class position. That would include family relations that are ultimately as vital to production as factory work. Silvia Federici takes Marx to task for his sparse and superficial analysis of gender given the essential economic contributions that women have made not just in terms of social reproduction, but as unpaid laborers in the home, as slaves, and as underpaid wage workers subject to an array of violence and abuse at the hands of capitalists and male workers exercising power over women through the “patriarchy of the wage.”

The following two chapters in this section depart from the gender theme. Bob Jessop refutes charges of Marxist determinism and calls for a “form analytic historical approach.” This recognizes that the course of class struggle is far from determined by economic or technological forces, but rather it is ever changing based on the state and economic terrain as well as shifts in organization, strategy, tactics and other fluid variables. Workers can pursue a wide range of gains short of revolutionary transformation. This section of the book concludes with a densely written but poetic chapter elaborating on Marx’s concepts of use and exchange value.

The second part of the book is dedicated to environmental crisis. All three authors in this section address the ecologically destructive tendencies innate to capitalism. While Marx has been characterized as a Promethean anticipating complete human domination of the natural world, Kohei Saito teases out the ecosocialist in Marx. Through a textual exegesis of Capital Volume 1, Saito argues that the wealth under communism that Marx alludes to does not necessarily mean material riches and that natural limits will persist. The “original unity” between humans and nature will be restored as will a balanced metabolism between the social and the natural.

The other two chapters in this section offer ideas about how we might achieve that balance. Razmig Keucheyen draws on the work of Gorz and Heller to propose how to collectively reconceive of “need” in ways that would be ecologically sustainable as we transition away from the destructive consumerism endemic to capitalism. Gregory Claeys expresses doubt about whether we will ever get there. Instead he predicts, “The planet will burn, and we will likely be exterminated fighting over the charred remnants” (p. 114). Despite his grim assessment, Claeys offers a series of reforms, from bans on advertising to population control, that he suggests would help mitigate the crisis.

Migration is the subject of the third section. The forced migration of peasants to the city during the enclosures is a central focus for Marx, as is the slave trade, but there is less published material on international worker migration. A long and detailed historical chapter by David Norman Smith draws on Marx’s unpublished works to assess his views on this subject. This includes an examination of competition among workers and the resultant nativism, an analysis very relevant to contemporary working-class struggles. On a related theme, Pietro Basso poses a challenge to current thinkers who, he argues, are misinterpreting Marx to promote what he views as anti-immigrant policies.

The final part of the book addresses an issue on which Marx was especially and perhaps intentionally unclear. It includes three chapters that consider what the future communist society will look like, or at least what it will not look like. Editor Marcello Musto examines the structural failure of the Paris Commune to inform the organization of the post-capitalist state, while Álvaro García Linera identifies the Soviet Union’s inability to move beyond state ownership and to secure true freedom for its people. Michael Brie takes up that theme in the final chapter as he theorizes about a communist society that incorporates liberal notions of individual liberty. Authors in this section comb Marx’s writings for ideas about how a post-capitalist social order can be constructed that meets human needs and allows for individual and social fulfillment, all while living within the natural limits of planetary systems.

As is evident, the chapters in this volume are very diverse in terms of focus, but they also differ greatly in terms of style, and even length. The shortest is just 13 pages while the longest is almost 70. Some chapters would be suitable for a lay audience, while others are geared toward those already in possession of a deep understanding of Marx. Some dissect historical developments while others speculate about the future. A positive interpretation of this would be that there is something here for everyone. A more critical view would be that the volume lacks focus. Either way, Rethinking Alternatives with Marx is a testament to the richness and persistent relevance of Marx’s work. After over a century and a half of examination, scholars can still find material over which to engage in fruitful debate. And, in a more practical sense, Marx can still offer insight into how to understand and to carry out struggle in a world characterized by exploitation, white supremacy, patriarchy, and ecological devastation. This volume allows us to continue to learn from one of the most brilliant social theorists of all time.

Past talks

Los estudios sobre Marx en nuestros días

Contrario a los pronósticos que anticipaban su caída definitiva en el olvido, en los últimos años Marx ha regresado a la atención de los académicos internacionales. El valor de su pensamiento ha sido reafirmado por muchos y sus escritos están siendo desempolvados en las bibliotecas de Europa, Estados Unidos y Japón.

Journal Articles

A Reappraisal of Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks: Family, Gender, Individual vs. State, and Colonialism

For a long time, the difficulty of examining Marx’s research in the final years of his life, especially the early 1880s, hampered our knowledge of the important gains he achieved. This is why all the biographers of Marx devoted so few pages to his activity after the winding up of the International Working Men’s Association[1]. Not by chance, they nearly always used the generic title “the last decade” for this part of their work. Wrongly thinking that Marx had given up the idea of completing his work, they failed to look more deeply into what he actually did during that period. But if there was some justification for this in the past, it is hard to understand why the new materials available in the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA²) – the historical-critical edition of the complete works of Marx and Friedrich Engels – and the volume of research on the “late Marx” since the 1970s have not led to a more significant change in this tendency[2].

Contrary to those who claimed that his intellectual curiosity and theoretical acumen faded in his final years, the recent scholarship on Marx has demonstrated that he continued to work whenever circumstances allowed it. He not only pursued his research but extended it to new areas (see Anderson 2010, and Musto 2020a). Marx went deeply into many other issues which, though often underestimated, or even ignored, by scholars of his work, are acquiring crucial importance for the political agenda of our times. Among these are individual freedom in the economic and political sphere, gender emancipation, the critique of nationalism, the emancipatory potential of technology, and forms of collective ownership not controlled by the state.

Furthermore, Marx undertook thorough investigations of societies outside Europe and expressed himself unambiguously against the ravages of colonialism. It is a mistake to suggest otherwise. Marx criticized thinkers who, while highlighting the destructive consequences of colonialism, used categories peculiar to the European context in their analysis of peripheral areas of the globe. He warned a number of times against those who failed to observe the necessary distinctions between phenomena, and especially after his theoretical advances in the 1870s he was highly wary of transferring interpretive categories across completely different historical or geographical fields. All this is now clear, despite the scepticism still fashionable in certain academic quarters.

In 1881 and 1882, Marx made remarkable progress in relation to anthropology, pre-capitalist modes of production, non-Western societies, socialist revolution and the materialist conception of history. He also closely observed the main events in international politics, as we can see from his letters expressing resolute support for the Irish liberation struggle and the Populist movement in Russia, and firm opposition to British colonial oppression in India and Egypt and to French colonialism in Algeria. He was anything but eurocentric, economistic, or fixated only on class conflict. Marx thought the study of new political conflicts, new themes and geographical areas to be fundamental for his ongoing critique of the capitalist system. It enabled him to open up to national specificities and to consider the possibility of an approach to communism different from the one he had previously developed.

Anthropology, Family and Gender: The Revolution of Morgan’s Ancient Society
Between December 1880 and June 1881, Marx’s research interests focused on a new discipline: anthropology. He began with Ancient Society (1877), a work by the U.S. anthropologist Lewis Morgan (1818-1881), which the Russian ethnologist Maksim Kovalevsky (1851-1916) had brought back from a trip to North America and sent to Marx two years after its publication.

What struck Marx most was the way in which Morgan treated production and technological factors as preconditions of social progress, and he felt moved to assemble a compilation of a hundred densely packed pages.[3] These make up the bulk of what are known as the The Ethnological Notebooks (1880-81).[4] They also contain excerpts from other works: Java, or How to Manage a Colony (1861) by James Money (1818-1890), a lawyer and Indonesia expert; The Aryan Village in India and Ceylon (1880) by John Phear (1825-1905), president of the supreme court of Ceylon; and Lectures on the Early History of Institutions (1875) by the historian Henry Maine (1822-1888), amounting to a total of another hundred sheets.[5] Marx’s comparative assessments of these authors lead one to suppose that he compiled all this material in a fairly short period in an effort to get really on top of it.

In his previous research, Marx had already examined and extensively commented on past social-economic forms – in the first part of The German Ideology, in the long section of the Grundrisse entitled “Forms Which Precede Capitalist Production,” and in Capital, Volume One. In 1879, his reading of Kovalevsky’s Common Land Ownership directed him once more to the subject. But it was only with the The Ethnological Notebooks that he engaged in more comprehensive and up to date study.

The aim of Marx’s new research was to widen his knowledge of the historical periods, geographical areas and thematic topics that he considered essential for his continuing critique of political economy. It also enabled him to acquire specific information about the social characteristics and institutions of the remote past, acquainting him with material that was not in his possession when he had written the manuscripts of the 1850s and 1860s. Finally, it acquainted him with the latest theories advanced by the most eminent contemporary scholars.

Marx devoted himself to these often time-consuming anthropological studies during the same period in which he aimed to complete Capital, Volume Two (see Musto 2018; 2019). The precise theoretical-political purpose behind them was to reconstruct the most likely sequence in which the different modes of production had succeeded one another over time, with a particular focus on the birth of capitalism. He believed that this would give his theory of the possible communist transformation of society stronger historical foundations.[6]

In The Ethnological Notebooks, Marx therefore put together compilations and interesting notes on prehistory, on the development of family bonds, on the condition of women, on the origins of property relations, on community practices in precapitalist societies, on the formation and nature of state power, on the role of the individual, and on more modern aspects such as the racist connotations of certain anthropological approaches and the effects of colonialism.

On the particular theme of prehistory and the development of family ties, Marx drew a number of priceless indications from the work of Morgan. As Hyndman recalled: “when Lewis H. Morgan proved to Marx’s satisfaction in his Ancient Society that the gens[7] and not the family was the social unit of the old tribal system and ancient society generally, Marx at once abandoned his previous opinions” (Hyndman 1911, 253-254).

It was Morgan’s research on the social structure of primitive peoples that allowed him to overcome the limits of traditional interpretations of kinship, including the one advanced by the German historian Barthold Niebuhr (1786-1831) in Roman History (1811-12). In contrast to all previous hypotheses, Morgan showed that it had been a grave error to suggest that the gens “postdated the monogamous family” and was the result of “an aggregate of families” (Morgan 1877, 515). His studies of prehistoric and ancient society led him to the conclusion that the patriarchal family should be seen not as the original basic unit of society but as a form of social organization more recent than was generally believed. It was an organization “too weak to face alone the hardships of life” (472). It was much more plausible to assume the existence of a form like that of the American native peoples, the sindiasmic family, which practised a “communism in living” (Marx 1972, 115).

On the other hand, Marx constantly polemicized against Maine, who in his Lectures on the Early History of Institutions (1875) had visualized “the private family” as “the basis out of which the sept and clan developed.” Marx’s scorn for this attempt to reverse time’s arrow by transposing the Victorian era into prehistory led him to assert that this “blockheaded Englishman started not from the gens but from the Patriarch, who later became the chief – what inanities!” (292) His mockery gradually reaches a crescendo: “Maine after all cannot get the English private family out of his head” (309); he “transports the Roman ‘patriarchal’ family into the very beginning of things” (324). Nor did Marx spare Phear, of whom he said: “The ass bases everything on private families!” (281).

Morgan gave Marx further food for thought with his remarks on the concept of the family, since in its “original meaning” the word family – which has the same root as famulus or servant – “had no relation to the married pair or their children, but to the body of slaves and servants who laboured for its maintenance, and were under the power of the pater familias” (Morgan 1877, 469). On this, Marx noted:

The modern family contains the germ not only of servitus (slavery) but also serfdom, since it contains from the beginning a relation to services for agriculture. It contains in miniature all the antagonisms within itself, which are later broadly develop in society and its State. (…) The monogamous family presupposed, in order to have an existence separate from others, a domestic class that was everywhere directly constituted by slaves. (Marx 1972, 120)

Developing his own thoughts elsewhere in the compendium, Marx wrote that “property in houses, lands and herds” was bound up with “the monogamous family” (210). In fact, as the Manifesto of the Communist Party suggested, this was the starting point of history as “the history of class struggle” (Marx and Engels 1976, 482).[8]

In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) – a book that the author described as “the fulfilment of a behest” and no more than a “meagre substitute” for what his “dear friend” had not lived to write (Engels 1990, 131) – Engels completed Marx’s analysis in The Ethnological Notebooks. Monogamy, he argued, represented the subjection of one sex by the other, as the proclamation of a conflict between the sexes hitherto unknown throughout preceding history. In an old unpublished manuscript, the work of Marx and myself in 1846, I find the following: “The first division of labour is that between man and woman for child breeding” (173). And today I can add: The first class antithesis which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamian marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamy [… is] the cellular form of civilized society, in which we can already study the nature of the antitheses and contradictions, which develop fully in the latter. (173-174)[9]

Engels’s thesis posited an overly schematic relationship between economic conflict and gender oppression that was absent from Marx’s – fragmentary and highly intricate – notes.[10]

Marx too paid close attention to Morgan’s considerations on parity between the sexes, which argued that pre-Greek ancient societies were more progressive in respect of the treatment and behaviour of women. Marx copied the parts of Morgan’s book that showed how, among the Greeks, “the change of descent from the female line to the male was damaging for the position and rights of the wife and woman.” Indeed, Morgan had a very negative assessment of the Greek social model. “Greeks remained barbarians in their treatment of women at the height of their civilization; their education superficial, (…) their inferiority inculcated as a principle upon them, until it came to be accepted as a fact by the women themselves.” Moreover, there was “a principle of studied selfishness among the males, tending to lessen the appreciation of women, scarcely found among savages.” Thinking of the contrast with the myths of the classical world, Marx added an acute observation: “the condition of the goddesses on Olympus is a reminder of the position of women, once freer and more influential. Juno greedy for power, the goddess of wisdom springs from the head of Zeus” (Marx, 1972, 121). For Marx, memory of the free divinities of the past provided an example for possible emancipation in the present.[11]

From the various authors he studied, Marx recorded many important observations on the role of women in ancient society. For example, referring to the work Matriarchy (1861) by the Swiss anthropologist Johann Bachofen (1815-1887), he noted: “The women were the great power among the gens and everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required, ‘to knock off the horns’, as it was technically called, from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of warriors. The original nomination of the chiefs also always rested with them” (Marx, 1972, 116).[12]

Property Relations, the Individual and the Function of the State
Marx’s reading of Morgan also gave him an angle on another important question: the origin of property relations. For the celebrated anthropologist established a causal relation between the various types of kinship structure and social-economic forms. In his view, the factors in western history that accounted for the affirmation of the descriptive system – which described blood relatives and specified everyone’s kinship (for example, “brother’s son for nephew, father’s brother for uncle, father’s brother’s son for cousin”) – and the decline of the classificatory system – which grouped blood relatives into categories without specifying proximity or distance in relation to Ego (“e.g., my own brother and my father’s brother’s sons are in equal degree my brothers”) – had to do with the development of property and the state (Brown 2012, 123, 104; 164, 136; see also Godelier 1977, 67-8, 101-2).

Morgan’s book is divided into four parts: (1) Growth of Intelligence through Inventions and Discoveries, (2) Growth of the Idea of Government, (3) Growth of the Idea of the Family and (4) Growth of the Idea of Property. Marx changed the order to (1) inventions, (2) family, (3) property and (4) government, in order to bring out more clearly the nexus between the last two.

Morgan’s book argued that, although “the rights of wealth, of rank and of official position” had prevailed for thousands of years over “justice and intelligence,” there was ample evidence that “the privileged classes” were a “burdensome” (Morgan 1877, 551) influence on society. Marx copied out almost in full one of the final pages of Ancient Society on the distortions that property could generate; it operated with concepts that made a deep impression on him:

Since the advent of civilization, the outgrowth of property has been so immense, its forms so diversified, its uses so expanding and its management so intelligent in the interests of its owners, that it has become, on the part of the people, an unmanageable power. The human mind stands bewildered in the presence of its own creation. The time will come, nevertheless, when human intelligence will rise to the mastery over property, and define the relations of the state to the property it protects, as well as the obligations and the limits of the rights of its owners. The interests of society are paramount to individual interests, and the two must be brought into just and harmonious relations. (551-2)

Morgan refused to believe that the “final destiny of mankind” was the mere pursuit of riches. He issued a stark warning:

The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It (a higher plan of society)[13] will be a revival, in a higher form (of society), of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes. (551-2)

Bourgeois “civilization,” then, was itself a transitory stage. It had arisen at the end of two long epochs, the “savage state” and the “barbaric state” (the terms current at the time), which followed the abolition of communal forms of social organization. These forms imploded following the accumulation of property and wealth and the emergence of social classes and the state. But sooner or later prehistory and history were destined to join up once again (see Godelier 1977, 124).[14]

Morgan considered ancient societies to have been very democratic and solidaristic. As for the present, he limited himself to a declaration of optimism about the progress of humanity, without invoking the necessity of political struggle.[15] Marx, however, did not envisage a socialist revival of “the myth of the noble savage.” He never hoped for a return to the past, but – as he made clear when copying Morgan’s book – looked to the advent of a “higher form of society” (Marx 1972, 139)[16] based on a new mode of production and consumption. This would come about not through mechanical evolution, but only through conscious working-class struggle.

All of Marx’s anthropological reading had a bearing on the origins and functions of the state. The excerpts from Morgan summarized its role in the transition from barbarism to civilization, while his notes on Maine concentrated on analysis of the relations between the individual and the state (see Krader 1972, 19). Consistent with his most significant theoretical texts on the subject, from the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law[17] (1843) to The Civil War in France (1871),[18] The Ethnological Notebooks also present the state as a power subjugating society, a force preventing the full emancipation of the individual.

In the notes he wrote in 1881, Marx stressed the parasitic and transitory character of the state:

Maine ignores the much deeper point: that the seeming supreme independent existence of the state is only seeming and that it is in all its forms an excrescence of society; just as its appearance itself arises only at a certain stage of social development, it disappears again as soon as society has reached a stage not yet attained.

Marx followed this up with a critique of the human condition under the given historical circumstances. The formation of civilized society, with its transition from a regime of common to individual property, generated a “still one-sided (…) individuality” (Marx, 1972, 329; cf also Krader 1972, 59). If the “true nature [… of the state] appears only when we analyse its content,” that is, its “interests,” then this shows that these interests “are common to certain social groups” and therefore “class interests.” For Marx, “the state is built on and presupposes classes.” Hence the individuality that exists in this type of society is “a class individuality,” which in the last analysis is “based on economic presuppositions” (329).

Against Racism and Colonialism
In The Ethnological Notebooks, Marx also made a number of observations on the racist connotations of many of the anthropological reports he was studying (see Krader 1972, 37; Ward Gailey, 2006, 36). His rejection of such ideology was categorical, and he commented caustically on the authors who expressed it in this way. Thus, when Maine used discriminatory epithets, he firmly interjected: “again this nonsense!” Moreover, expressions such as “the devil take this ‘Aryan’ jargon!” (Marx, 1972, 324) keep recurring.

Referring to Money’s Java, or How to Manage a Colony and Phear’s The Aryan Village in India and Ceylon, Marx studied the negative effects of the European presence in Asia. He was not at all interested in Money’s views on colonial policy, but he found his book useful for the detail it gave about commerce (see Tichelman 1983, 18).[19] He adopted a similar approach to Phear’s book, focusing mainly on what he reported about the state in Bengal and ignoring his weak theoretical constructions.

The authors whom Marx read and summarized in The Ethnological Notebooks had all been influenced – with various nuances – by the evolutionary conceptions of the age, and some had also become firm proponents of the superiority of bourgeois civilization. But an examination of The Ethnological Notebooks clearly shows that their ideological assertions had no influence on Marx.

Marx strongly opposed to colonialism anytime he could. In 1879 he had taken an interest in the land question in French-ruled Algeria. Based on the considerations written by Kovalevsky in the book Common Landownership: The Causes, Course and Consequences of Its Decline (1879), Marx was able to better criticize the negative changes introduced by French settlers in relation to the common landownership that existed in Algeria. From Kovalevsky, he copied down: “Formation of private landownership (in eyes of French bourgeois) is a necessary condition for all progress in the political and social sphere. Further maintenance of communal property ‘as a form which supports communist tendencies in the minds is dangerous both for the colony and for the homeland” (Marx 1975b, 405)[20]. He also extracted the following points from Communal Landownership:

the distribution of clan holdings is encouraged, even prescribed, first, as means of weakening subjugated tribes which are ever standing under impulsion to revolt; second, as the only way to a further transfer of landownership from the hands of the natives into those of the colonists. The same policy has been pursued by the French under all regimes. (…) The aim is ever the same: destruction of the indigenous collective property and its transformation into an object of free purchase and sale, and by this means the final passage made easier into the hands of the French colonists (Marx 1975b, 405).

As for the legislation on Algeria proposed by the Left Republican Jules Warnier (1826-1899) and passed in 1873, Marx (1975b, 411) endorsed Kovalevsky’s claim that its only purpose was “expropriation of the soil of the native population by the European colonists and speculators”. The effrontery of the French went as far as ‘direct robbery’, or conversion into “government property” (1975b, 412), of all uncultivated land remaining in common for native use. This process was designed to produce another important result: elimination of the danger of resistance by the local population. Again through Kovalevsky’s words, Marx (1975b, 408 and 412) noted:

the foundation of private property and the settlement of European colonists among the Arab clans [would] become the most powerful means to accelerate the process of dissolution of the clan unions. (…) The expropriation of the Arabs intended by the law had two purposes: 1) to provide the French as much land as possible; and (2) to tear away the Arabs from their natural bonds to the soil to break the last strength of the clan unions thus being dissolved, and thereby any danger of rebellion.

Marx (1975b, 412) commented that this type of “individualization of landownership” had not only secured huge economic benefits for the invaders but also achieved a “political aim (…): to destroy the foundation of this society”.

The same happened with India. Having examined forms of landownership in that country in the Notebooks on Indian History (664-1858), that he compiled in 1879-80, Marx described the invaders with such terms as “British dogs” (2001, 165, 176, 180), “usurpers” (155-56, 163), “English hypocrites” or “English intruders” (81). By contrast, the Indian resistance struggles were always accompanied with expressions of solidarity[21]. It was no accident that Marx always replaced Sewell’s term ‘mutineers’ with “insurgents” (Marx 2001 163-4, 184). His forthright condemnation of European colonialism was quite unmistakable.

In 1881, after profound theoretical research and careful observation of changes in international politics, not to speak of his massive synopses on India included in the Ethnological Notebooks, referring to the “East Indies,” Marx (1989, 365) noted: “Everyone except Sir Henry Maine and others of his ilk realizes that the suppression of communal landownership out there was nothing but an act of English vandalism, pushing the native people not forwards but backwards”. All the British “managed to do was to ruin native agriculture and double the number and severity of the famines” (368).

A similar example can also be found with relation to Egypt. When Joseph Cowen (1829-1900), an MP and president of the Cooperative Congress – Marx considered him “the best of the English parliamentarians” – justified the British invasion of Egypt[22], Marx expressed his total disapproval to his daughter Eleanor on January 9, 1883. Above all, he railed at the British government: “Very nice! In fact, there could be no more blatant example of Christian hypocrisy than the ‘conquest’ of Egypt – conquest in the midst of peace!” But Cowen, in a speech on 8 January 1883 in Newcastle, expressed his admiration for the “heroic exploit” of the British’ and the “dazzle of our military parade;” nor could he “help smirking over the entrancing little prospect of all those fortified offensive positions between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean and, into the bargain, an ‘African-British Empire’ from the Delta to the Cape”. It was the “English style”, characterized by “responsibility” for the “home interest”. In foreign policy, Marx concluded, Cowen was a typical example of “those poor British bourgeois, who groan as they assume more and more ‘responsibilities’ in the service of their historic mission, while vainly protesting against it” (Marx and Engels 1992, 422-3).

Marx also took a close interest in the economic side of what was happening in Egypt, as we can see from his eight pages of excerpts from “Egyptian Finance” (1882), an article by Michael George Mulhall (1836-1900) that appeared in the October issue of the London Contemporary Review. His own notes concentrated on two aspects. He reconstructed the financial blackmail operated by Anglo-German creditors after the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha (1830-1895), had dramatically plunged the country into debt. Moreover, he sketched the oppressive taxation system devised by Ismail Pasha that extracted a terrible price from the population, showing particular attention to, and solidarity with, the forced dislocation of many Egyptian peasants[23].

Theories of progress, hegemonic in the nineteenth century and widely shared by anthropologists and ethnologists, postulated that events would follow a pregiven course because of factors external to human action; a rigid sequence of stages had the capitalist world as its sole and uniform destination.

Within the space of a few years, a naïve belief in the automatic advance of history also took root in the Second International. The only difference with the bourgeois version was the prediction that a final stage would follow the inevitable “collapse” of the capitalist system: namely, the advent of socialism (itself subsequently defined as “Marxist!”) (Cf. Musto 2007, 479-480).

Not only was this analysis cognitively unsound; it produced a kind of fatalistic passivity, which became a stabilizing factor for the existing order and weakened the social and political action of the proletariat. Opposing this approach that so many regarded as “scientific,” and which was common to the bourgeois and socialist visions of progress, Marx rejected the siren calls of a one-way historicism and preserved his own complex, flexible and variegated conception.

Whereas, in comparison with the Darwinist oracles, Marx’s voice might seem uncertain and hesitant, he actually escaped the trap of economic determinism into which many of his followers and ostensible continuators tended to fall – a position, light years from the theories they claimed to have inspired them, which would lead many into one of the worst characterizations of “Marxism.”

In his manuscripts, notebooks and letters to comrades and activists, as well as in the few public interventions he could still make against declining physical capacities, Marx persevered with his efforts to reconstruct the complex history of the passage from antiquity to capitalism. From the anthropological studies that he read and summarized, he drew confirmation that human progress had proceeded more quickly in epochs when the sources of subsistence were expanding, from the birth of agriculture on. He treasured the historical information and data, but did not share the rigid schemas suggesting an inescapable sequence of stages in human history.

Marx spurned any rigid linking of social changes to economic transformations alone. Instead, he highlighted the specificity of historical conditions, the multiple possibilities that the passing of time offered, and the centrality of human intervention in the shaping of reality and the achievement of change (see Gailey 2006, 35, 44). These were the salient features of Marx’s theoretical elaboration in The Ethnological Notebooks and, more in general, in the final years of his life.

There is still so much to learn from Marx. Today it is possible to do this by studying not only what he wrote in his published works but also the questions and doubts contained in his unfinished manuscripts. This consideration is all the more valid for the complex, but very rich, notes that we call The Ethnological Notebooks.


Anderson, Kevin B. 2010. Marx at the Margins. On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies. Chicago: University Press
Bloch, Maurice. 1983. Marxism and Anthropology: The History of a Relationship. London: Routledge.
Brown, Heather. 2012. Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study. Leiden: Brill.
Dardot, Pierre and Christian Laval. 2012. Marx, prénom Karl Paris: Gallimard.
Dunayevskaya, Raya. 1991. Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Engels, Friedrich. 1990. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. In Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 26, 129–276. New York: International Publishers.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger (edited by). 1973. Gespräche mit Marx und Engels. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Godelier, Maurice. 1977. Perspectives in Marxist Anthropology. London: Verso.
Godelier, Maurice. 2012. The Mental and the Material. London: Verso.
Hyndman, Henry Mayers. 1911. The Record of an Adventurous Life. London: Macmillan.
Krader, Lawrence. 1972. “Introduction.” In Karl Marx, The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, edited by Lawrence Krader, 1-90. Assen: Van Gorcum.
Liedman, Sven-Eric. 2018. A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx. London: Verso.
Marx, Karl. 1972. The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, edited by Lawrence Krader Assen: Van Gorcum.
Marx, Karl. 1975a. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.” In Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 3, 3-129. New York: International Publishers.
Marx, Karl. 1975b. “Excerpts from M. M. Kovalevskij (Kovalevsky), Obschinnoe zemlevladenie. Prichiny, khod i posledstviya ego razlozheniya [Communal landownership: The causes, course and consequences of its decline].” In The Asiatic Mode of Production: Sources, Development and Critique in the Writings of Karl Marx, 343–412. Assen: Van Gorcum.
Marx, Karl. 1986. The Civil War in France. In Marx Engels Collected Works. Letters 1880–83, vol. 22, 307–359. New York: International Publishers.
Marx, Karl. 1989. Drafts of the Letter to Vera Zasulich: Third Draft. In Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 24, 364-369. New York: International Publishers.
Marx, Karl. 2001. Notes on Indian History (664–1858). Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.
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Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1992. Marx Engels Collected Works. Letters 1880–83, vol. 46. New York: International Publishers.
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Mehring, Franz. 2003. Karl Marx: The Story of His Life. London: Routledge
Morgan, Henry. 1877. Ancient Society. New York: Henry Holt.
Moses, Daniel. 2009. The Promise of Progress: The Life and Work of Lewis Henry Morgan. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
Musto, Marcello. 2007. “The Rediscovery of Karl Marx,” International Review of Social History 52 (3): 479-80.
Musto, Marcello. 2018a. Karl Marx. Biografia intellettuale e politica 1857-1883. Torino: Einaudi.
Musto, Marcello. 2018b. “The Writing of Capital: Genesis and Structure of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy.” Critique 46 n. 1: 11-26.
Musto, Marcello ed. 2019. Marx’s Capital after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism. London-New York: Routledge.
Musto, Marcello. 2020a. The Last Years of Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Musto, Marcello. 2020b. “Communism.” In The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Critical Interpretations, edited by Marcello Musto, 24-50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Musto, Marcello. 2020c. “New Profiles of Marx after the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA²).” Contemporary Sociology 49, n. 4: 407-419.
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Smith, David. 2021. “Accumulation and Its Discontents: Migration and Nativism in Marx’s Capital and Late Manuscripts”. In Marx 201: Rethinking Alternatives with Marx: Economy, Ecology, and Migration, edited by Marcello Musto. London: Palgrave.
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Webb, Daren. 2000. Marx, Marxism and Utopia. Aldershot: Ashgate.

1. See, for example, Mehring (2003, 501-32), Rühle (2011, 359-70), Vorländer (1929, 248-78), Nicolaevsky and Maenchen-Helfen (1976, 392-407), and McLellan (1973, 412-51). Even Maximilien Rubel (1957, 416-34), justly famed for his close textual studies, did not go beyond the limits of his predecessors in Karl Marx. Essai de biographie intellectuelle. In Marx: Life and Works, the French scholar wrote that “the last ten years of Marx’s life were like a slow agony” during which “his activity [was] limited to correspondence and a few articles”. But he added: “Nevertheless – even in a period so poor in published work – Marx filled about 50 notebooks, almost exclusively devoted to extracts from his reading. His ‘literary bulimia’ yielded nearly 3,000 pages of microscopic writing. To this should be added, finally, “tons” of statistical material which, at his death, left Engels dumbfounded” (1980, 100).
2. Biographies published in recent years exemplify how, even since the resumption of the MEGA² project, the work of the ‘late Marx’ has been overlooked by the vast majority of scholars. Jonathan Sperber’s (2013) insignificant Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life simply ignored Marx’s late writings. Gareth Stedman Jones’s (2016) lengthy Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion examined the whole period from 1872 to 1883 only in a short epilogue, while devoting five chapters (170 pages) to Marx’s early life (1818-1844), when he published only two journal articles and had just initiated the study of political economy, and three chapters (150 pages) to the time frame 1845-1849. In Sven-Eric Liedman’s (2018) 750-page A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx, there are only two very short sections dedicated to what Marx did after the Critique of the Gotha Programme. One of them – a superficial analysis of Morgan’s Ancient Society (Liedman, A World to Win, 507-13) – is strangely located before the consideration of writings like Herr Vogt (published in 1860) and Marx’s participation in the International Working Men’s Association (1864-1872). The choice of a non-chronological order impedes a clear understanding of Marx’s theoretical evolution during the final phase of his life. Common to all three of these biographies is a scant attention to the secondary literature.
3. To learn about the way Marx used to work and take notes from the books he used to read see Musto (2020c).
4. This title was given posthumously by Lawrence Krader (1919-1998), the editor of these manuscripts. However, the content of these studies is more accurately related to anthropology, hence the title of the section in the present article.
5. The parts from Phear and Maine were included in Karl Marx (1972, 243-336); Marx did not leave a precise dating of his work. Krader, the main researcher of these texts, argued that Marx first familiarized himself with Morgan’s book and then compiled the excerpts – see “Addenda” (87). See also Kautsky’s testimony from his trip to London in March-June 1881 that “prehistory and ethnology were then intensively preoccupying Marx” (Enzensberger 1973, 552).
6. According to Maurice Bloch (1983), Marx wanted first of all “to reconstruct a general history and theory of society in order to explain the coming to be of capitalism.” But he also had a “rhetorical” interest linked to the need for “examples and cases to show that the institutions of capitalism are historically specific and therefore changeable.” However, this second “rhetorical use of anthropological material was never completely separate from the historical use, and the mixture of the two became (…) the source of many problems” (10). Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval (2012), have written that “Marx’s main effort in his final years was to give a new historical foundation to the perspective of communism, at the risk of seriously endangering a theoretical edifice constructed on the basis of the nineteenth-century evolutionist and progressivist episteme” (667). Polemicizing against those who underrate the importance of Marx’s last notebooks, Heather Brown (2012, 147) argued that they “contain some of his most creative attempts at working through the development of human society.” On Marx’s conception of post-capitalist society see Musto (2020b).
7. The gens was a unit “consisting of blood relatives with a common descent,” see Henry Morgan (1877, 35).
8. In a note to the 1888 English edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Engels wrote: “The inner organization of this primitive communistic society was laid bare, in its typical form, by Lewis Henry Morgan’s crowning discovery of the true nature of the gens and its relation to the tribe. With the dissolution of the primeval communities, society begins to be differentiated into separate and finally antagonistic classes” (Marx and Engels 1976, 482).
9. In this work, Engels actually published some of Marx’s comments on Morgan’s book.
10. Cf. Raya Dunayevskaya (1991, 173): “Marx (…) showed that the elements of oppression in general, and of women in particular, arose from within primitive communism, and not only related to change from ‘matriarchy.’”
11. Cf. Brown (2012, 172): “in ancient Greece (…) women were clearly oppressed, but, for Marx, their mythology had the potential to illustrate to them (…) how much freer they could be.”
12. Brown (2012, 160ff), has diligently compiled many other considerations that attracted Marx’s attention.
13. The words in brackets were added by Marx (1972, 139).
14. For a critique of any possible “return to an original state of unity,” see Daren Webb (2000, 113ff).
15. Engels wrongly believed that Morgan’s political positions were very progressive. See, for example, Friedrich Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, March 7, 1884, where he wrote that Ancient Society was “a masterly exposé of primitive times and their communism. [Morgan had] rediscovered Marx’s theory of history all on his own, (…) drawing communist inferences in regard to the present day,” (Marx and Engels 1995, 115-116). Marx never expressed himself in such terms. On the thought of the American anthropologist, see Daniel Moses (2009).
16. According to Krader (1972, 14): “Marx made it clear, as Morgan did not, that this process of reconstitution will take place on another level than the old, that it is a human effort, of man for and by himself, that the antagonisms of civilization are not static or passive, but are comprised of social interests which are ranged for and against the outcome of the reconstitution, and this will be determined in an active and dynamic way.” As Maurice Godelier (2012, 78) pointed out, in Marx there was never any “idea of a primitive ‘El Dorado.’” He never forgot that in primitive “classless societies” there were “at least three forms of inequality: between men and women, between senior and junior generations, and between autochthons and foreigners.”
17. In this work, Marx analysed the “opposition” between “civil society” and “the state;” the state does not lie “within” society but stands “over against it.” “In democracy the state as particular is merely particular. (…) The French have recently interpreted this as meaning that in true democracy the political state is annihilated. This is correct insofar as the political state (…) no longer passes for the whole” (Marx 1975a, 30).
18. Thirty years later, the critique is more sharply focused: “At the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class antagonism between capital and labour, the State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism” (Marx 1986, 329).
19. See also Engels’s view of Money, as he wrote in his letter to Kautsky dated February 16, 1884: “It would be a good thing if someone were to take the trouble to throw light on the proliferation of state socialism, drawing for the purpose on an exceedingly flourishing example of the practice in Java. All the material is to be found in Java, How to Manage a Colony (…). Here one sees how the Dutch have, on the basis of the communities’ age-old communism, organized production for the benefit of the state and ensured that the people enjoy what is, in their own estimation, a quite comfortable existence; the consequence is that the people are kept in a state of primitive stupidity and the Dutch exchequer rakes in 70 million marks a year” (Marx and Engels 1995, 102-103).
20. The words in brackets are Marx’s, while those between quotation marks are from the Annales de Assemblée Nationale, 1873, VIII, Paris 1873, included in Kovalevsky’s book.
21. According to Anderson “these passages indicate a shift from [Marx’s] 1853 view of Indian passivity in the face of conquest;” he “often ridicules or excises (…) passages from Sewell portraying the British conquest of India as a heroic fight against Asiatic barbarism”. Since the articles on the Sepoy revolt, which Marx published in the New-York Tribune in 1857, his “sympathy” for the Indian resistance had “only increased” (Anderson 2010, 216, and 218).
22. Marx was referring to the war of 1882, which opposed Egyptian forces under Ahmad Urabi (1841-1911) and troops from the United Kingdom. It concluded with the battle of Tell al-Kebir (13 September 1882), which ended the so-called Urabi revolt that had begun in 1879 and enabled the British to establish a protectorate over Egypt.
23. Karl Marx, IISH Amsterdam, Marx-Engels Papers, B 168, 11-18. See David Smith (2021), whose comments on these notes bring out their relevance for us today.


Maurício Vieira Martins, Marxismo21

O escritor japonês Kohei Saito vendeu cerca de meio milhão de cópias em seu país com o livro O capital no antropoceno, que analisa a partir de uma perspectiva marxista as causas que promovem a aguda deterioração ambiental do planeta. Já o periódico alemão conservador Der Spiegel, na sua última edição de 2022, traz na capa um Marx de visual contemporâneo (com mangas curtas e braços tatuados…) e estampa a pergunta: “Afinal, Marx estava certo?”. Estes são apenas alguns exemplos de uma retomada do interesse pela obra de Marx que
vem ocorrendo no século XXI, a partir das evidências muito contundentes da gravidade das contradições da economia capitalista. Também no Brasil a produção de livros marxistas encontra um espaço próprio, ao qual vem se somar a recente tradução para o português do livro Repensar Marx e o Marxismo: guia para novas leituras, de autoria do pesquisador italiano Marcello Musto, professor da York University no Canadá. Dois livros de Musto já haviam sido publicados no Brasil: Trabalhadores, uni-vos!: Antologia política da I Internacional, publicado também pela Boitempo e O velho Marx: Uma biografia de seus últimos anos Boitempo (uma parceria da Boitempo e com a Fundação Perseu Abramo).

O conjunto de temas abordado por Repensar o marxismo é amplo:
dividido em dez capítulos, o livro abrange desde ensaios que se ocupam de alguns momentos determinados da biografia e do pensamento de Marx, como seus anos de juventude (capítulos 1 e 2), passando pelos estudos de economia política e jornalismo na década de 50 para o New-York Tribune (capítulo 4), chegando até o período de redação de O capital (capítulo 7). Há também dois capítulos dedicados à elaboração e posterior repercussão dos Grundrisse e de sua Introdução, famosos rascunhos preparatórios de O capital (capítulos 5 e 6). Além disso, o leitor encontrará um debate sobre a pertinência da oposição entre o chamado jovem Marx e o Marx da maturidade (capítulo 3), debate que encontra desdobramentos na investigação sobre o conceito de alienação (capítulo 8), desde sua apropriação por Marx até as repercussões na sociologia e na filosofia contemporâneas. Já o capítulo 9, “Evitar o capitalismo” discute a primeira recepção de Marx na Rússia, ainda durante sua vida. O livro se encerra no capítulo 10 com uma apresentação das novas descobertas da MEGA² -MarxEngels-Gesamtausgabe -, projeto editorial ainda em curso, responsável pela publicação da obra integral de Marx e Engels.

Dada a amplitude da investigação realizada por Musto, seria impossível comentar no presente texto cada capítulo do livro. Aqui, a opção será destacar alguns aspectos que me parecem particularmente fecundos [1], neste livro que consegue atingir tanto o leitor que tenha um conhecimento apenas inicial de Marx, como aquele que já dispõe de um trajeto na obra do pensador.

No meu entender, o primeiro aspecto a ser destacado diz respeito a uma ampliação da visão sobre qual foi o campo temático pesquisado por Marx ao longo de sua vida. Com efeito, os novos volumes publicados pelo projeto MEGA² nos apresentam um autor que inclui em seus estudos não somente a crítica da economia política e o conflito entre as classes sociais (temas classicamente associados ao nome do pensador alemão), como também outras preocupações que ingressaram com força na agenda teórica e política de homens e mulheres dos séculos XX e XXI. Dentre eles, merece destaque o interesse de Marx pela devastação ambiental levada a cabo pela produção capitalista. Nas palavras de Musto, “Marx se interessou cada vez mais pelo que hoje chamamos de ‘ecologia’, em particular pela erosão do solo e pelo desmatamento” (p. 310). [2]
Diferentemente de um elogio unilateral das forças produtivas – que supõe ingenuamente que o simples desenvolvimento tecnológico associado ao progresso da ciência seria capaz de produzir uma emancipação humana – encontramos em Marx uma preocupação com a devastação da natureza levada adiante pela racionalidade mercantil capitalista. Leitor atento das descobertas das ciências naturais de sua época – como atesta seu interesse pela obra, dentre outros, do cientista e bioquímico Justus von Liebig -, ele escreve em 1868: “o cultivo que, quando progride de maneira primitiva, não conscientemente controlada (obviamente, isso não se consegue sendo burguês), deixa desertos atrás de si” (apud p. 311). Ao invés do culto unilateral do produtivismo, encontramos em Marx a radiografia da destruição ambiental que a lógica do lucro traz em si.

O acesso a uma gama mais ampla de textos de Marx nos mostra também um pensador muito crítico à dominação colonial levada a cabo pela Europa ao redor do mundo. De modo diverso de um Edward Said que no seu célebre livro Orientalismo afirmava que Marx, excessivamente preso à ótica de sua época, não teria conseguido enxergar a alteridade de outras culturas, Musto escreve que “Entre os interesses de Marx, um lugar nada secundário foi ocupado pelo estudo
das sociedades não europeias e do papel destrutivo do colonialismo nas periferias do mundo” (p. 18). Notemos que tal alerta é oportuno tendo em vista que também alguns dos chamados estudos decoloniais mais recentes categorizam Marx como um pensador eurocêntrico, a ser sumariamente despachado para uma espécie de museu dos equívocos cometidos no passado. Todavia, quando se leva em conta principalmente os escritos tardios de Marx sobre, por exemplo, a violenta predação exercida pela Inglaterra sobre a Índia, vemos uma fisionomia bem diferente do pensador, que veicula uma crítica contundente ao próprio modo de produção vigente em sua Europa nativa. Nos Cadernos Etnológicos marxianos podemos ler: “a supressão da propriedade comum do solo não passou de um ato
de vandalismo inglês, que não impulsionou o povo indiano para frente, mas o empurrou para trás” (apud p. 266). Longe de um elogio da cultura europeia, Marx radiografa, no calor da hora, a violência estrutural e constitutiva de seu modo de produção capitalista.

Dito isso, é preciso reconhecer que descoberta de novos rascunhos, manuscritos preparatórios e cartas de Marx e Engels – missivistas contumazes – complexifica de modo considerável o trabalho dos pesquisadores que se dedicam com seriedade à obra dos autores. Basta lembrar que a MEGA² prevê a publicação de 114 volumes (cada um com dois tomos), colocando à disposição do público um material até então inédito. Esta é aliás uma dificuldade adicional para os leitores de Marx e Engels, que se veem diante de uma obra monumental, que simplesmente não cabe nos estreitos escaninhos da atual divisão do trabalho acadêmica, donde a observação: “a obra de Marx é uma gigantesca cultura de teoria crítica, que transita entre inúmeras disciplinas do conhecimento humano, cuja síntese representa uma tarefa árdua para todo leitor rigoroso.” (p.11)

Tal tarefa que se apresenta aos pesquisadores marxistas por vezes faz
pensar, acrescento, na saborosa referência do escritor argentino Jorge Luis Borges ao procedimento do Colégio de Cartógrafos de um Império fictício. Desconhecendo o princípio mais produtivo de uma cartografia – o de que o mapa deve ter uma escala significativamente diferente do objeto a ser mapeado – os cartógrafos produziram um gigantesco “Mapa do Império que tinha o tamanho do Império e coincidia ponto a ponto com ele” [3].  Mas Marcello Musto está bem longe deste perigo: ele consegue ter uma notável capacidade de síntese que lhe permite transitar por um número muito grande de temas biográficos e conceituais dentro da obra de Marx e de alguns de seus sucessores, mantendo sempre uma bússola que assegura o tônus da argumentação ao longo do livro.

Igualmente merecedor de atenção em Repensar Marx e os marxismos
vem a ser a refutação da ideia, amplamente difundida entre os críticos de Marx, de um suposto dogmatismo do autor, como alguém que veicularia certezas definitivas sobre os temas que pesquisa. Também aqui a leitura da correspondência de Marx e dos materiais preparatórios de seus livros nos mostra um pensador que, quando confrontado com limites de seu trabalho, se retifica de modo consistente. A este respeito, as sucessivas modificações que Marx imprimiu ao capítulo 1 de O capital são exemplares: ele se convence que a forma da exposição de fato não estava satisfatória. Em carta a Kugelmann de outubro de 1866, escreve abertamente: “mesmo as pessoas inteligentes não entenderam adequadamente a questão, em outras palavras, deve ter havido defeitos na primeira apresentação” (p. 204)

Mais do que isso, o próprio caráter processual do objeto de seus estudos – o modo de produção capitalista – lhe impunha a atualização permanente de suas teses. Basta lembrar o interesse com que Marx se dedica a estudar os mercados financeiros nos anos finais de sua vida, ciente das transformações que eles traziam para a acumulação capitalista: “Desde o outono de 1868 até a primavera de 1869, determinado a dar conta dos últimos desenvolvimentos do capitalismo, Marx compilou copiosos excertos de textos sobre os mercados financeiros e monetários…” (p. 209). Assim, ao invés de “vestir” a realidade com categorias previamente construídas (e aqui, a meu ver, o contraste com o tipo ideal de Weber é quase palpável), Marx se dedica a construir uma malha categorial que espelhe seu caráter processual e histórico.

Considerações adicionais sobre a disponibilidade de Marx em alterar aqueles tópicos de seu pensamento quando confrontado com questionamentos pertinentes podem ser encontradas no capítulo 9, intitulado “Evitar o capitalismo”. Nele, Musto detalha os esforços de Marx para combater uma imagem que começou a se formar já durante a sua vida, que afirmava que ele havia apresentado uma teoria universal do desenvolvimento das sociedades. O cotejamento com Nikolai Mikhailovsky e Vera Ivanovna Zasulitch sobre os possíveis desdobramentos da obshchina – comunidade rural presente numa imensa extensão territorial russa – evidencia um autor cauteloso ao lidar com questões que envolviam uma avaliação de sua própria teoria. Os longos rascunhos que precederam, por exemplo, a resposta às indagações de Zasulich sobre as transformações da obshchina mostram Marx explorando as diferentes variáveis a serem levadas em conta – sempre ligadas ao contexto histórico de cada formação social -, ao invés de pretender fornecer uma resposta pronta à sua interlocutora.
Nas palavras de Musto: “Por quase três semanas, Marx permaneceu imerso em suas cartas, ciente de que deveria fornecer uma resposta a um questionamento teórico de grande envergadura” (p. 264). Esta disponibilidade para uma atualização da teoria será reencontrada também na revisão da edição francesa de O capital, que envolve acréscimos e modificações em relação à edição alemã, a ponto de Marx atribuir à primeira “um valor científico independente do original” (apud p. 210).

Repensar Marx e os marxismos aborda também o debate em torno da
periodização da obra do pensador. Conforme é sabido, ao longo do século XX ganhou prestígio uma partição da obra que opunha o jovem Marx – que afirmava uma peculiar forma de humanismo – ao velho Marx, crítico da economia política burguesa. Por esta via, a bibliografia do século criou uma espécie de personagem que atenderia pelo nome de jovem Marx e que encontraria sua produção mais emblemática nos Manuscritos Econômico-Filosóficos de 1844. Levando isso em conta, em mais de um capítulo de Repensar Marx e os marxismos são feitas
referências a estes Manuscritos, apresentando seus méritos, mas também seus
limites reais. O texto de 1844 enfrenta de forma original questões que não eram tradicionalmente associadas ao marxismo, como aquelas referentes tanto à alienação objetiva como subjetiva dos trabalhadores, com toda a objetificação que o fenômeno acarreta nas relações humanas. A perspectiva emancipatória subjacente aos Manuscritos – publicados em sua íntegra apenas em 1932 – opunha-se à interpretação predominante de uma ortodoxia marxista, daí ser preciso enfatizar o “efeito disruptivo gerado por um texto inédito tão diferente dos cânones do marxismo dominante” (p. 94).

Levando em conta a existência de aquisições substantivas ocorridas na
juventude de Marx, Musto afirma que elas não autorizam uma partição tão excludente da obra entre o jovem Marx e o Marx da maturidade. Aqui, algumas palavras duras são dirigidas a Louis Althusser, o autor que mais difundiu a noção de uma ruptura epistemológica que separaria radicalmente diferentes fases da obra de Marx. Ocorre que a pesquisa textual e filológica posterior não corrobora tal hipótese, sustentada por Althusser mesmo em seus Elementos de autocrítica.
Lembrando que a categoria da alienação (Entfremdung) percorre a quase totalidade da obra de Marx, Musto aponta para a impossibilidade de que o suposto corte epistemológico “tivesse acontecido no desenrolar de algumas poucas semanas e pudesse ter sido concebido como algo tão rígido” (p. 84).

Contudo, feito o registro da importância de algumas categorias
desenvolvidas nos escritos de juventude de Marx, Musto não esconde suas próprias preferências: afirma que os longos anos de estudo de economia política e outras disciplinas levaram-no a alcançar patamares de investigação compreensivelmente mais elevados do que aqueles de sua juventude. Por esta razão, não é possível endossar a hipótese que seria como que a inversa da ruptura epistemológica: aquela que supõe existir uma identidade plena no interior do pensamento marxiano, “como se a obra de Marx fosse um único escrito, indistinto
e atemporal” (p. 96). Caso adotássemos esta via, ficaria interditada a apreensão do imenso esforço teórico realizado por Marx, esforço que lhe apresentou questões novas – referentes à estruturação econômica e política do modo de produção capitalista – para as quais simplesmente não dispunha de respostas em sua juventude.

Já no que diz respeito ao capítulo 8, “A concepção de alienação segundo Marx e nos marxismos do século XX”, parece-me que uma de suas implicações mais relevantes é colocar em xeque a perspectiva que supõe existir uma progressiva evolução das Ciências Sociais como um todo ao longo do tempo.
Amplamente difundida em vários ambientes acadêmicos, tal perspectiva afirma que a ciência temporalmente mais recente é necessariamente melhor do que a anterior (daí para se erradicar dos currículos universitários os autores do século XIX será apenas um passo…). Mas, ora, durante a leitura da apropriação que, por exemplo, a sociologia estadunidense do século XX fez da categoria alienação, é
impossível não pensar que tal sociologia ficou aquém da formulação original de Marx. Pois o que era nos textos deste último uma abordagem que apontava para um fenômeno social com uma fisionomia bem definida (a alienação enraizada no modo de produção da vida de uma sociedade capitalista), acaba adquirindo os contornos de uma condição humana universal. Na pena de autores como Melvin
Seeman ou Robert Blauner (escrevendo nas décadas de 50 e 60 do século XX) ocorre uma “espécie de hiperpsicologização da análise do conceito – que foi assumida na sociologia, bem como na psicologia, não mais como uma questão social, mas como uma patologia individual” (p. 231).

Se voltarmos agora a atenção para o debate político em torno do legado de Marx, o capítulo 10 de Repensar Marx e os marxismos traz vários elementos que atestam o visível contraste entre o projeto político e societário do autor e as experiências socialistas do século XX. Não seria este o momento para analisar um tema da magnitude das distorções do pensamento de Marx ocorridas nos manuais produzidos pela União Soviética, e mais ainda no cotidiano daquela sociedade. De todo modo, Musto chama a atenção para a distância existente entre
este último e o projeto societário encontrável na obra de Marx. Basta lembrar que: “Proponente da ideia de que a condição fundamental para o amadurecimento das habilidades humanas era a redução da jornada de trabalho, ele [Marx] foi assimilado ao credo produtivista do stakhanovismo. Convicto defensor da abolição do Estado, viu-se identificado como seu baluarte” (pp. 289-290). Alerta oportuno a ser feito, principalmente tendo em vista que o pensamento conservador continua a atribuir a Marx (falecido em 1883, não custa lembrar…)
a configuração assumida pela União Soviética mais de décadas após o seu falecimento. Cabe a nós, homens e mulheres do século XXI, relançar a originalidade de um projeto que esteja à altura do sentido emancipatório de seus fundadores.

Por fim, uma menção especial ao capítulo 7, intitulado “A escrita de O
capital: a crítica inacabada”. Alternando informações biográficas com decisões conceituais de Marx, nele encontramos nosso autor mergulhado na dificílima tarefa de concluir a redação do volume 1 de O capital. Musto persegue eficazmente seu objetivo de mostrar o erro que é considerar O Capital como uma obra acabada, trazendo material que atesta o seu caráter in progress, a ser aprimorado mediante o cotejamento com a realidade. No que diz respeito ao trabalho conceitual, merece destaque a importante carta a Engels, de 24 de agosto de 1867, onde Marx anuncia, orgulhoso, aqueles que lhe pareciam ser os dois melhores aspectos do volume I: “1. (isto é fundamental para toda a compreensão dos fatos) o duplo caráter do trabalho conforme se expressa em valor de uso ou valor de troca, que é trazido logo no primeiro capítulo; 2. O tratamento do maisvalor independentemente de suas formas particulares, como lucro, juros, renda da terra etc.” (apud p. 207). Incidentalmente, menciono que caberia talvez neste capítulo 7 um desdobramento, ainda que breve, do duplo caráter do trabalho a que Marx se refere. Isso nos levaria à categoria do trabalho abstrato, apontada por estudiosos contemporâneos (como Sohn-Rethel, W. Bonefeld, A. Jappe)
como uma das contribuições mais originais da economia política marxiana. [4]

Já no que tange as dificuldades pessoais de Marx enfrentadas para
concluir a redação de O capital, Musto detalha com segurança suas diferentes facetas. Num aspecto mais biográfico, salta aos olhos a situação de extrema pobreza em que vivia o autor de O capital. Acossado por credores, colocando seus bens na loja de penhores, impossibilitado de fornecer à sua família condições adequadas de vida (“as crianças não [tinham] roupas ou sapatos para sair”, ele escreve em 1863, apud p. 191), Marx estava em tudo distante da realidade vivida,
desnecessário dizer, por acadêmicos de países do dito primeiro mundo. A estas condições objetivas, soma-se também seu nível de autoexigência muito elevado, que raramente se dava satisfeito com o que escrevia (“também possuo o hábito de encontrar falhas em qualquer coisa que escrevi”, apud p. 185), modificando constantemente o material preparatório do que viria a ser O capital.
Adicionalmente, uma consciência aguda das transformações da economia capitalista o obrigava a incluir estudos suplementares, por exemplo, sobre o crescente papel dos mercados financeiros. Tudo isso resultava numa rotina de trabalho estafante: dedicando “dez horas por dia ao trabalho sobre economia” e muitas vezes sem dormir “antes das quatro da manhã”. As pressões externas e internas estouravam em seu próprio corpo. Marx passou a ser assolado com frequência por carbúnculos infecciosos que surgiam alternadamente em todas as
partes do corpo, causando-lhe um indescritível sofrimento que é descrito em detalhes em suas cartas. Marx, o mestre da pesquisa das contradições, se vê atravessado em seu organismo por elas. Descreve-se “como um verdadeiro Lázaro […], golpeado por todos os lados ao mesmo tempo’” (apud p. 194).

Para o leitor contemporâneo que acompanhe o detalhamento do
sofrimento contundente vivido por Marx e se pergunte sobre qual foi a eficácia, afinal, do trabalho estafante demandado pela redação de sua obra magna, acredito que o próprio pensador forneça a resposta. Referindo-se ao volume 1 de O Capital, ele escreve em 1864 ao metalúrgico Carl Kings: “Espero que eu agora possa, finalmente, terminá-lo em alguns meses e dê à burguesia um golpe teórico
do qual nunca se recuperará” (apud p. 281).
Não resta dúvida: o golpe foi dado.



[1] Agradeço a João Leonardo Medeiros pela cuidadosa leitura e sugestões feitas a esta resenha.
[2] Exceto quando houver indicação em contrário, as citações desta resenha são do livro de Marcello Musto. Quando sucedidas por apud, tratam-se de referências de Marx, citadas por Musto.
[3] Jorge Luis Borges. “Del rigor en la ciencia”. In El hacedor. Obra Completa, Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1974, p. 847.
[4] Por esta via, seria possível chegar também a um novo sentido do que seja abstração em Marx, afirmada não apenas como um produto do pensamento, mas como processo que transcorre no próprio real. “Essa abstração de trabalho humano geral existe…”. Marx, K. Contribuição à crítica da economia política. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2008, p. 56.