Despite the predictions that consigned it to eternal oblivion, Karl Marx’s thought has returned to the limelight in recent years. Faced with a deep new crisis of capitalism, many are again looking to an author who in the past was often wrongly associated with the Soviet Union, and who was too hastily dismissed after 1989. After the waning of interest in the 1980s and the “conspiracy of silence” in the 1990s, new or republished editions of his work have become available almost everywhere. The literature dealing with Marx, which all but dried up twenty-five years ago, is showing signs of revival in many countries.
Marx’s writings are presently being published in German under the auspices of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA²) project, the critical historical edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels, which resumed serial publication in 1998. The purpose of this course is to reconstruct the stages of Marx’s thought in the light of the textual acquisitions of MEGA², and hence to provide a more exhaustive account of the formation of Marx’s conceptions than has previously been offered.
The great majority of researchers have considered only certain periods, often jumping straight from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 to the Grundrisse (1857-58). The study of priceless manuscripts, and of interesting interim results, has remained the preserve of a narrow circle of scholars capable of reading the German-language volumes of MEGA². One of the aims of this course is to make these texts more widely known, and to debate on the genesis and unfinished character of Marx’s works.
Altogether, the Marx that emerges from this examination of his work in the areas of post-Hegelian philosophy, the materialist conception of history, scientific method, alienation and political thought at the time of the International Working Men’s Association is a thinker very different from the one presented for such a long time by his detractors as well as many ostensible followers.
If we bear in mind not only the well-known works, but also the manuscripts and notebooks of extracts in MEGA², the immensity and richness of Marx’s theoretical project appear in a clearer light. The notebooks of excerpts, and the recently published preparatory drafts of Capital, show the huge limitations of the “Marxist-Leninist” account – an ideology that often-depicted Marx’s conception as something separate from the studies he conducted, as if it had been magically present in his head from birth – but also of the debate in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, the participants in that debate could not consider the totality of Marx’s texts, and even some of these they treated as thoroughly finished works when that was far from being the case.
At a time when Marx’s ideas have finally been liberated from the chains of Soviet ideology, and when they are again being investigated for the sake of analyzing the contemporary world, a more faithful account of the genesis of his thought may not be without important implications for the future – not only for Marx studies, but also for the re-founding of a critical thought that aims to transform the present.