Paresh Chattopadhyay, Studies in Marxism

Review of Sulle Tracce di un Fantasma. L’Opera di Karl Marx tra Filologia e Filosofia

Marx is a disregarded author. The systematization of his critical theory, the impoverishment which has accompanied its divulgation and diffusion, the manipulation and censorship of his writings and their instrumental utilisation for political ends have rendered Marx incomprehensible.

The new historical-critical edition of the Complete Works of Marx and Engels — Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) — aims to restitute integrally the writings of the two authors, originally left incomplete and, in large parts, still unpublished. This is particularly true of Marx’s work. The volume under consideration contains the results of the most recent research in this regard by some of to-day’s leading Marx scholars presented at a conference under the same title at Naples (Italy) in April, 2004.

Musto’s ‘Introduction’ to the collection offers the proper spirit of the new MEGA.

In spite of the enormous spread of Marx’s work and its mutation into Party-State ideology, there has not been till now an integral edition of Marx’s work. After Marx’s death an attempt at systematisation of his originally incomplete works was undertaken by Engels — especially by his publication of Capital, volumes two and three. Later the systematisation was rigidified as ‘Marxism’ mainly by Kautsky, further enhanced by the Russian Marxists ultimately appearing as ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Now, thanks to the new MEGA Marx’s works re-emerge in their original form.

After the ‘Introduction’ the papers are divided into four sections: (1) the new MEGA, (2) critique of philosophy and politics in young Marx, (3) Capital, ‘the incomplete critique’, (4) Marx to-day. In what follows we first give a résumé of the content before proceeding to offer a few remarks on the multidisciplinary papers, given our own limitations.


The first section begins with an excellent presentation by M. Neuhaus ‘Classic among the classics’ on the tortuous trajectory of the work of publication of the texts of Marx and Engels starting with the great work of David Riazanov which laid the historical-philological basis and created a whole scholarly edition of Marx-Engels editing through the publication of the first MEGA. The rise of the Nazi power and Stalin’s increasing terror — liquidating Riazanov along with his associates in the process — interrupted the MEGA work. The work recommenced in 1960s and 1970s in Moscow and Berlin under the auspices of the ruling Party. As regards the editorial principles of the new MEGA there was the postulate of completeness. Only a complete reproduction of the entire literary bequest of Marx and Engels was aimed at, both hitherto published and the unpublished — the latter just as they were left by their authors. However, the editors were placed in a difficult situation: balancing between the Party line and the demands of rigorous scientific editorial work. This tension could only end after 1989. After a short period of uncertainty faced by the project, the International Marx-Engels Foundation (IMES) was established in 1990 conjointly by the Institute of Social History (IISG) of Amsterdam and the Trier Karl Marx House of the Frederick-Ebert Foundation. Later MEGA became a part of the academic programme and was accepted as a project of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW). Most importantly the new MEGA was finally de-politicised and de-ideologised particularly as regards the editorial comments. Marx’s place among the great classics of European scientific thought has finally been restored. Neuhaus ends his excellent presentation by underlining the different kinds of challenges faced by the editors in bringing out an authentic edition of the works of the two authors.

G. Hubmann, in his important work of solid scholarship, ‘Incomplete Classics’, discusses the mode of editing the (German) classics in the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth and compares this with editing the works of Marx. Hubmann takes the cases of some great authors. Thus the edition of Hegel’s works — considered standard for a long time — contains some texts which were in fact created by his students and followers after his death from his lecture notes and sketches. Only now have Hegel’s authentic texts seen the light of the day in a historical-critical edition. Mutatis mutandis the same fate befell Max Weber’s Economy and Society, passing for a finished work, only corrected now in a new edition. The same goes for the works for Nietzsche and Burkhardt. Contrary to the new editing and publishing style, aptly called by Hubmann ‘philological deconstruction’, the earlier style aimed at completion and readability of the works left unfinished by the authors often following their presumed intention. Engels’s editorial work on Capital followed this conception.

In his article ‘Research on Marx in Japan’ I. Omura gives a neat presentation of the development of research on Marx and Engels and translation of their writings, particularly centred on the MEGA work group at the University of Sendai. The history of translation of the works of Marx and Engels, starting in 1904 reflects the history of the influence and spread of Marxism in Japan. In 1975 the complete works of Marx and Engels on the basis of the German editionMarx-Engels Werke (MEW) appeared in translation. After 1975 the translation of manuscripts of Capital, appearing in the second MEGA has continued. The Sendai group took charge of the second MEGA edition.

M. Sylvers in his article ‘Correspondence in MEGA’ discusses the importance of the correspondence between Marx and Engels as well as their own correspondence with others –altogether 15000 letters. Sylvers stresses the great importance of the correspondence not only for a clearer understanding of the thought and political activities of the two authors but also as an indispensable source of information on the dating and progress of their work.

G. Mario Bravo discusses in his excellent paper ‘Marx and Marxism in the Early Italian Left’ the diffusion, popularisation, vulgarisation of Marx and Marxism in Italy. The culture of Marx and Marxism progressed in Italy from a modest beginning where Labriola’s contribution was exceptional. Expansion and popularisation of Marxism took place notably between 1871 — facilitated by the work of the First International and the Paris Commune — and the start of the Fascist régime. There were all kinds of personalities, associations and parties of different tendencies in this process. The result was a Marxism devalued and rendered economicist — the exception being Labriola. In the first years of the twentieth century Italy saw a schematic, deterministic Marxism which nevertheless was able to attribute an identity to the workers’ movement. Beginning with the end of the First World War there arose a new breed of Marxists –Bordiga, Serrati, Gramsci for whom the history of Marxism was confounded with the history of socialism.

In the second section of the collection M. Cingoli’s paper ‘Marx and Materialism’ offers a three phase presentation of Marx’s changed position on materialism in his early years. The first is marked by the influence of romanticism, and Naturphilosophie, critique of materialism, preparation for his doctoral dissertation, articles in the Rheinische Zeitung, the second phase saw the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, while the third saw the Parisian manuscripts of 1844 and the Holy Family.

P. Thomas’spaper ‘The Carnival of Philosophy’ is a fine, neat presentation of Marx’s doctoral dissertation on Democritus and Epicurus. He shows Marx’s rejection of Hegel’s denigration of Epicurus as a post-Aristotelian minor philosopher. Thomas also forcefully argues against the idea that Marx’s materialism starts with his thesis.

G. Cacciatore’s ‘The democratic Marx’ offers a three-level analysis of the concept of democracy in Marx — historical-philological, philosophical, and political where the first is left out by him. During the early part of 1842-43 Marx, following Hegel, considered the state as the juridical-formal expression of the general interest. Only starting with his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843-44) Marx confronts the problem of democracy directly where he attacks Hegel’s devaluation of sensuous reality and Hegel’s inversion of the subject-object relation. It is finally with the German Ideology (1845-46) that there occurs Marx’s radical rupture with Hegel’s ‘pantheistic mysticism’ and his passage from liberal-democracy to communism.

M. Musto’s important contribution ‘Marx in Paris: the Critique of 1844’ deals with Marx’s Parisian manuscripts. It was only in Paris that Marx started to study political economy seriously with a stimulus from Engels’s earlier critique of political economy. Backed by an enormous amount of study and research Marx’s guiding principle was to demystify (bourgeois) political economy. In these manuscripts Marx particularly dwells upon the problem of ‘alienated labour’.

G. Borrelli in his contribution ‘Politics of the Communists in Marx’s early writings’ underlines the centrality of Marx’s writings between 1843 and 1852. He classes Marx’s intellectual work into three periods: the first from the Hegel-critique (1843) to EighteenthBrumaire (1852), the second between mid fifties and the end of sixties marked by the dominance of Marx’s economic writings and the third characterised by intense political work where the The Civil War in France (1871) and The Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) stand out. The author focuses on the third.

S. Kouvélakis’s ‘Marx and the Critique of Politics’ dwells on Marx’s early political theory in light of his Civil War in France (1871). The experience of the Paris Commune allowed Marx to rectify a certain number of earlier elaborations leading him to conclude that the 1789 French Revolution could not be repeated but could only be surpassed by a new revolution whose historical actor would be the proletariat, and that this revolution must destroy the state. Also the question of proletarian power was rethought.

R. Finelli starting the third section with ‘The Science of Capital as the “Circle of Prepositing-Positing”’ advances several propositions. He holds that the trajectory of German idealism from Fichte to Hegel led to a new criterion of truth in the theory of knowledge which the author calls the ‘circle of prepositing-positing’. Marx’s Capital precisely realised this new scientific paradigm. On this point the analogy between Marx and Hegel is as profound as the difference between them.

In his paper ‘A Transubstantiation is haunting’ G. Reuten claims to offer a new interpretation of the opening three chapters of Capital, I. Value’s introvert constituent is abstract labour in Chapter One while its extrovert constituent is money in Chapter Three. After introducing the concept of value-form in chapter one, Marx only occasionally uses the term, because this concept is concretised in money. Similarly ‘abstract labour’ after appearing in section one of Capital I as ‘simplified constituent of value’ almost disappears subsequently.

In his essay ‘Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic’ C. Arthur aims to establish a correspondence between Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic centring on Marx’s ‘exchange value’.

R. Bellofiore, in his article ‘Marx after Hegel’ envisages a ‘reconstruction of the Marxian (economic) theory’ which assumes a macroeconomic optic and emphasises that the capitalist process is a monetary sequence with bank money opening the circuit. This necessitates the abandonment of the theory of money as a commodity.

In his essay ‘Hegel, Schelling and Surplus Value’ E. Dusseladvances two theses: (1) Necessary relevance of Hegel’s Logic for Marx’s Capital and (2) Marx’s reconstruction of Hegelian categories in Capital through the introduction of Schelling’s way of viewing ‘surplus value’ appearing to capitalists as coming ‘ex nihilo’.

J. Bidet,in his paper ‘The Metastructural Reconstruction of Capital’, underlines that in Marx concepts such as value and surplus value are double faced — economic and juridical-political. Marx proceeds from commodity to the organised form — that is, socialism unaware that market and organisation are the two structural poles of capitalism. Thus Marx recognised two faces but not two poles. Marx also shows ambiguity on the question of ‘logical-historical.’

In his important, densely argued paper ‘Marx’s Process of Learning’ F. W. Haug considers the reproach addressed to Marx by some of his Hegel oriented readers that Marx’s trajectory of the critique of political economy, starting with the 1857-58 manuscripts and ending in his Marginal Notes on Wagner is a story of gradual regression, diluting his dialectic and popularising his work. At stake is the conception of the dialectic itself. Marx had effected a paradigmatic change both in philosophy with his ‘new materialism’ and in the critique of political economy during the period in question. This paradigmatic change is neither a symptom of decadence nor a sign of an exercise in vulgarisation. The critique of political economy is not a ‘system’ but a process of research and a process of learning of the researcher.

Opening the fourth section with his well worked and fine presentation ‘The Renewal of Political Economy’, M. Krätke stresses the irreplaceability of Marx in the process of renewing political economy. The author underlines that in the face of grossly unsatisfactory response of the conventional neo-classical economics to the economic problems of to-day, there is a revival of political economy where Marx’s ‘critique’ is not much in evidence. For the author Marx’s was a critique of economic categories in general and not of singular errors of singular theories. Similarly this critique, not limited to particular aspects of the capitalist mode of production, embraced its totality as well as its logical historical limits. However Marx has also left a number of problems with inadequate or no solution.

In his interesting paper ‘Why propose a finite communism?’ A. Tosel aims at a reformulation of the problematic of communism which is a result of a critical analysis of the Marxian theme which defines post-capitalist production as absolute production. In Marx’s early work he had precisely criticised Hegel’s substitution of finite human individuals by the absolute and infinite Idea. However in his critique of political economy Marx has the opposite stand. In communism the associated form replacing capital shows itself as the new infinite principle à la Hegel. It is time to develop the other Marxian concept of communist negation of capitalism, the determinate negation.

D. Jervolino,too, in his lucid presentation ‘Communism of Finiteness’ focuses on a vision of finite communism. Marx’s vision of a world of humans producing the historical world while producing themselves is also shared by the philosophy of modernity which goes back to Bacon who pioneered this idea encapsulated in his phrase ‘knowledge is power’. However, in reality, ‘everything is possible for the human’ has turned out to be ‘everything is possible over the human’. As opposed to the paradigm of production following a certain reading of Marx, Marx could also be read following the paradigm of finiteness.

In his article ‘Marxism, Globalisation and the Historical Balance sheet of Socialism’ D. Losurdo discusses the problems encountered by the builders of socialism in relatively backward lands faced with the globalisation of capital. Contrary to the earlier Marxian idea of building socialism abstracting from external obstacles, in to-day’s context of capital’s globalisation a country like China embarking on socialist construction has to compromise with capitalist countries in order to benefit from advanced technology without giving rise to a ‘new bourgeoisie. ’ In this regard Losurdo reproaches the Left critics who in the name of individual freedom condemn the socialist regimes.

In his interesting narrative ‘Contours of Anglo-Saxon Marxism’ A. Callinicos traces the trajectory of Marxism in Britain and the USA. Undistinguished before 1960s, Marxism underwent positive developments beginning with 1960s. In Britain New Left Review played in this an important role. In the USA the Frankfurt School had a positive impact on the radical youth. In Britain Althusser exercised a certain influence on the youth along with Trotskyism thanks to Deutscher and Mandel. Then in 1980s with the advent of neo-liberalism Anglo-Saxon Marxism suffered a downturn However, an important development in Britain was the appearance of the journal Historical Materialism.

The collection ends with a knowledgeable and fine paper, ‘The Current State of Research on Marx in China’ by Wei Xiaoping which neatly outlines the trajectory of Marx studies in China since 1949. This period has seen two editions of the works of Marx/Engels in Chinese — the first, a translation of the ‘Collected Works’ during 1956-1985 from their Russian version and the second a translation — in progress — from the original German of the second version of the MEGA. There is now a tendency among the Chinese scholars to move away from the USSR’s ‘simplified’ and ‘dogmatised’ Marxism to the original texts of Marx and Engels, partly also stimulated by what a number of them consider as the closeness of Marx’s writings on alienation (1844) and early capitalism in Capital vol. I to the contemporary events in China. There is also a tendency to consider Marx as outdated.


In this section we offer a few remarks — given our own competence and limitations — on the specific issues in some arbitrarily selected papers which we find thought provoking and/or problematical. Excluded from this purview are particularly those papers which by their very nature do not require any comment. We mean basically the narratives (or those more narrative than analytical) in the collection — excellent in themselves — like those of Neuhaus, Omura, Bravo, Callinicos and Wei Xiaoping. Our remarks do not exactly follow the order in which the papers are presented in the collection.

We start with Musto’s fine Prologo. He should be praised for raising an important issue almost alone in this collection namely that Marx is unique compared to the other classics in that in him there is an indissoluble bond between theory and practice around a concrete aim: real movement for abolishing the present state of things by overturning the existing social relations. Relegating Marx to the role of a mummified classic of the past who has nothing to do with the daily struggles of the present will be making Marx play the same mummifying role as that which was assigned to him by the Party-State. The unmatched critic of capital remains fundamental for capital’s abolition (pp. 23-24). Having said this we have to register a couple of reservations regarding certain of Musto’s statements. These basically concern Engels. In connection with what he considers as Engels’s contribution to the ‘process of systematisation’ of Marx’s work, Musto refers to Engels’s statement that his Anti-Dühring was ‘a more or less unitary exposition of the dialectical method and communist world view represented by Marx and myself’. Now, first, in this statement Engels used the term ‘coherent’ ( zusammenhängend) and not exactly the stronger term ‘unitary’ which would be in German einheitlich. However, a more important point about this 1885 ‘Preface’ is Engels’s declaration:

Since the conception exposed here was in its much bigger part founded and developed by Marx and in the smallest part by me, it was self understood between us that any exposition here could not be done without his knowledge. I have read to him the whole manuscript before its printing.

Again, according to Musto ‘Engels’s recourse to natural sciences opened the road to the evolutionist conception’ which would be affirmed in the workers’ movement, and added correctly that in the cultural climate of the end of the nineteenth century Marx’s thought was pervaded by Darwinism. However, if evolutionism means, as the dictionary says, a progressive view of social change without discontinuity, then it is not clear how Engels could have an evolutionary outlook any more than Marx. Musto has not given any textual evidence. We could only say that there was hardly any difference between the two friends — in praise and in criticism — on Darwin.

In his important paper Hubmann very justly reproaches the decades-long unilateral ‘statist interpretation’ of Marx’s materialism. He raises a very important point — the possibility of non-correspondence between the artistic and the material production of a society — and draws reader’s attention to Marx’s posthumously published ‘Introduction’ (1857) from which he cites Marx speaking of the ‘unequal relation of the development of material production with e. g. artistic production’. Here, according to him, ‘historical materialism reaches its limit’ (p. 63) particularly as regards the relation between basis and superstructure. While we share Hubmann’s criticism of the unilateral interpretation of Marx’s materialism, we submit that Marx’s own remarks on materialism in the same text we find more nuanced. First, the final section of Marx’s text in question poses certain issues like the relation between a society’s art and its stage of material production — which is Hubmann’s concern — in an open-ended, non-definitive way saying that ‘these are not to be forgotten’, Marx might probably have thought of returning to them later. Particularly and more importantly, as to the ‘unequal relation’ in question, Marx nevertheless views it in a specific social context namely, that the ‘Greek art and epic are linked with a specific form of social development’ and he adds that this Greek art far from being in ‘contradiction with the underdeveloped stage of society’ rather shows that it ‘could arise only under immature social conditions.’Secondly, in this text Marx speaks literally of the ‘dialectic of the concepts: forces of production and relations of production’ and the need of ‘determining the limits’ of this ‘dialectic’. So, first, there is no mention of materialism here, and, secondly, ‘limits’ here refer to those of ‘concepts’, abstracting from the ‘real differences’. In the Grundrisse (1857-58), too, Marx took a similar position while speaking of the need to correct the idealist way of presentation ‘giving the appearance of the dialectic of concepts’.

Coming to Musto’s paper on Marx’s 1844 ‘Manuscripts’, he should be credited for emphasising an important little-discussed side of this work. From Musto’s paper the ‘Manuscripts’ come out as what they really are — the beginning of Marx’s ‘Critique of Political Economy’ separating Marx apart from (bourgeois) political economy (classical or otherwise). The ‘guiding thread’ of Marx’s work is ‘demystifying political economy’ by showing the historical and not ‘natural’ character of the economic categories, the transitory character of the existing relations of production and particularly stressing ‘alienated labour’ as not at all a human but a specific product of commodity society (p. 164).

In Borrelli’s paper we find a number of points which are contestable of which we take up two important ones. First, regarding future (proletarian) revolution he poses the question, which force could undertake this task, and answers that it could not be the ‘individual political subject’. The ‘figure of subjectivity completely disappears’ from Marx’s writings beginning with the end of 1840s. In its place is affirmed the ‘primacy of collective subject, the working class’ (p. 188). In support of his position Borrelli refers to Althusser, ‘the greatest interpreter of Marx in the twentieth century’ (p. 188). It is surprising that Borrelli, instead of relying on Marx’s own texts for his position depends on Althusser who, we submit, is not the best source for knowing Marx’s texts. In fact one could cite a number of counter examples opposed to this false Althusser-Borrelli dichotomy. In neither of the periods of Marx’s writings mentioned above is it a question of (political) individuals undertaking the revolutionary task. In both it is the working class whose task it is supposed to be. Secondly, in the writings of both the periods individuals do appear as subjects. It is sufficient for our demonstration to refer to texts in the first period showing the working class as the agent of (proletarian) revolution and to texts of the second period where individual appears as subject. One or two specimens should suffice. As regards the first period, in a text (1843-44) Marx, after posing the question: ‘from where comes the positive possibility of German freedom’, answers: ‘from the formation of a class with radical chains.’ In a text composed shortly thereafter Marx (and Engels) write that at a particular stage of the development of the productive forces, where they become destructive forces, ‘a class appears which has to bear all the burden of society without enjoying its advantages, a class from which emanates the necessity of a fundamental revolution.’ As to the second period, in an important text in Grundrisse Marx traces the entire evolution of humanity’s social forms — beginning with classes — around the change in situation of the individual in society: personal dependence (under slavery and serfdom), personal independence together with material dependence (under capitalism) and, finally, ‘free individuality based on the universal development of the individuals and the domination of their common social productivity as their social power.’ In his well known ‘Preface’ (1859) while speaking of social revolutions Marx underlines that one must always distinguish between revolutions in material conditions of production and the juridical, political, religious, artistic, philosophical, in short ideological forms in which ‘individuals (Menschen)’ become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.’[xiii] InCapital, vol. 1 Marx speaks of ‘all sided developed individuals,’ [xiv] and of ‘totally developed individuals’, [xv] as well as of post-capitalist society as a ‘(re)union of free individuals’. [xvi] As regards the second point in Borrelli’s paper requiring comment, we refer to his contention (p. 190) that there is a contradiction between Marx’s ‘Address’ on the Commune (1871) — stressing workers’ self rule — and his ‘Gothacritique’ (1875), emphasising the need for proletarian dictatorship during the transition between capitalism and communism. Here again Borrelli brings in an authority to sustain his position — Hannah. Arendt who allegedly finds ‘between these two writings’ a ‘contradiction left unresolved by Marx’ (p. 190). First a formal point. Arendt, [xvii] while discussing Marx’s ‘Address’ (1871), does not refer to his ‘Gothacritique’. She counterposes this ‘Address’ to another ‘Address’ by Marx (and Engels) delivered to the ‘Communist League’ the date of which she puts by an utter confusion as 1873. This confusion was further confounded by Borrelli with the ‘Gothacritique’ whereas this second ‘Address’ was delivered twenty-five years earlier! Leaving aside this formal error, what exactly is the Arendt-Borrelli objection to Marx? Arendt opposes the (self)emancipatory message of Marx’s 1871 ‘Address’ to the position taken in the 1850 ‘Address’ namely, that the ‘proletariat must work for the most decisive centralisation of power in the hands of the state authority’. [xviii] Now this selective presentation of the 1850 position to oppose the 1871 position totally ignores that in the body of the text of the 1850 ‘Address’ it is the ‘associated proletariat’ which will ‘concentrate in its hands the principal forces of production’. [xix] Hence by ‘state authority’ (in Arendt’s quotation from the text) is meant the ‘associated proletariat’. There is however a much more important point. The statist aspect in this ‘Address’ taken over from the Communist Manifesto would undergo a critical revision by its authors under the great impact of the 1871 Commune as is seen in the 1872 ‘Preface’ of the Manifesto. Moreover one should also note that in the Commune Marx rather saw the vindication of his own consistent anti-state position. Coming to Borrelli’s own (not Arendt’s) opposition between the 1871 ‘Address’ and the ‘Gothacritique’ we submit there is no contradiction between workers’ self-rule in the first and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the second if we remember that already in the 1848 Manifesto the workers’ rule — and not one party rule in workers’ name — is presented as the outcome of the ‘autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’, signifying ‘conquest of democracy’ and if we further recall that the proletarian dictatorship refers to a ‘state not in the usual sense of the term’ in Engels’s well-known phrase pointing precisely to the Commune which had no special apparatus of repression. We submit that this is the meaning of Marx’s sentence in the ‘Gothacritique’ that during the ‘revolutionary transformation period’ the ‘state can only be (nichts andres sein kann) the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat). [xx] In other words, during this period the political power of the proletariat — that is, the proletarian self-rule — can have only this least repressive form (repressive just enough to put down the revolt of the ‘slave holders’, an infinite minority). Most unfortunately Borrelli makes an (inadmissible) amalgam, in this connection, of Marx’s position and the ‘political project of the communists’ (pp. 190-91).

Kouvélakis’s paper invites two quick comments. First, he holds that Marx’s theory of revolution is the antipode of economism and evolutionism which supposed that only the most industrialised countries were mature for a proletarian revolution, which was, according to Kouvélakis, the case of the Second International who could not imagine that ‘Marx and Engels had been able to skip altogether the ‘objective conditions’ and the ‘laws of historical development’ (p. 197). By trivialising through single quotation marks the terms ‘laws of historical development’ and ‘objective conditions’ of the proletarian revolution and asserting that only the Second International held this position and thereby absolving Marx and Engels from such a ‘sin’, the author has in fact obfuscated the whole materialist conception of history misrepresenting in the process the position of Marx and Engels for which he has not given any textual evidence. Let us simply recall Marx’s classic position on this question: no society founders before all the productive forces that it can contain are developed, and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been created within the old society itself. That is why ‘the humanity sets itself the tasks which it can solve, and the task itself arises where the material conditions of its solution already exist or are in the process of creation’. [xxi] To our knowledge Marx never abandoned this position. Is this not a ‘law of historical development’ from Marx’s point of view? A simpler, less dense version of essentially the same idea appears in the masterly account of Marx’s method by I. I. Kaufman, approvingly and admiringly cited by Marx in his ‘Afterword’ to Capital where Kaufman presents precisely Marx’s ‘law of history’ including ‘the law of motion of capital’. [xxii] To those who (the heroes of the Third International presumably) sought to ‘skip altogether’ the ‘objective conditions’ here is Marx’s reply:

Individuals create themselves a new world out of the historical acquisitions of their foundering world. In course of their development they must themselves first produce the material conditions of a new world. No effort of spirit or will can free themselves from this destiny. [xxiii]

A decade later Marx observed that if in the ‘existing society’ we do not already find the ‘material conditions of production and corresponding relations of commerce in a latent form for a classless society’, then all efforts at ‘exploding it’ would be ‘Donquixotism.’ [xxiv] This is again the message we read in Marx’s ‘Anti-Bakunin’ (1874). Secondly, Kouvélakis states that in his letter to Domela Nieuwenhuis (1881) Marx abandons ‘a definite form of insurrection’ marked by successive ‘journées’ and ‘barricades’ (p. 207, emphasis author’s). This is a surprising statement in as much as this letter at least explicitly contains not a trace of what the author is ascribing to Marx. On the other hand, Kouvélakis carefully avoids the most important thing Marx is doing here — reaffirming his materialist position on social revolution which Marx sums up with a telling algebraic metaphor: ‘we cannot solve any equation if it does not include in its data the elements of its solution’. [xxv] One should note that what Marx is saying here is perfectly in line with his 1859 statement which we mentioned above. It is in this light that Marx judges the work of the 1871 Commune in this letter.

In his paper Reuten claims he is offering a ‘new interpretation’ of Part I of Capital I with ‘implications for the interpretation of the whole work’ (p. 225). He says that ‘in Marx’s view money is a constituent element of value.’ Its ‘introversive constituent’ is abstract labour and its ‘extroversive constituent’ is money (p. 226, emphasis in text). [xxvi] We submit that Marx seems not to see things exactly this way. For him money is not a ‘constituent of value’. Money is rather ‘only a value-form of commodities’ [xxvii] and ’money-form is the finished form of value-form.’ [xxviii] The only ‘constituent’ or substance of value is ‘socially necessary labour’ or, under the commodity production as the social mode of production, ‘abstract labour’. Reuten, critical of Marx’s statement on money as a ‘measure of value’, says that this could mistakenly make one think of the existence of the entity of value independently of the measure that is, ‘independently of money’ (p. 227). Contrary to Reuten’s position, for Marx, value indeed exists independently of exchange value or value-form whose finished form is money-form. Money is the universal measure of value precisely because all commodities are, as values, materialised human labour and hence commensurable between them. ‘Money as the measure of value is the necessary phenomenal form of the immanent measure of value, the labour time.’ [xxix] In a world of use values money’s occupation would be gone.

The problem here is that Reuten does not seem to distinguish value from value-form or exchange value, [xxx] whereas this distinction, clearly made by Marx, is one of the crucial points of difference between Marx and the classics whom Marx faults for not making this distinction. [xxxi] Reuten does not seem to recognise the process of becoming of the money-form or the finished form of value- form. This process is clearly indicated by Marx when, speaking of the ‘difficulty of the concept of money-form’ he recalls the different stages of evolution of the value-form beginning with the ‘general equivalent form’ and going backward to the first or the ‘simple value-form’, and concludes that ‘ the simple value-form is the germ of the money-form.’ [xxxii]

Coming to the substance of value, what Reuten says could be presented in the form of following three propositions: (1) the immanent or ‘introversive constituent of value’ is undifferentiated ‘abstract labour’ (pp. 226-27), (2) there exists no obvious, unique way to measure ‘concrete labour’, the ‘introversive substance of value’, therefore Marx has recourse to the concept of ‘abstract labour’ as the ‘simplified constituent’ of value (p. 229, emphasis in text), (3) ‘abstract labour’ can be measured only if we assume that abstract labour is equal to concrete labour’ (p. 230, emphasis in text). When we analyse these propositions it appears, first, that Marx chose abstract labour rather than concrete labour to be the substance of value because the latter cannot be measured in a unique way. However, secondly, it seems that abstract labour also cannot be measured unless it is equalized with concrete labour. In other words, concrete labour, contrary to abstract labour, is measurable. So concrete labour appears to be both measurable and non measurable. We submit that this dialectic is beyond us. Again, assuming that by ‘constituent of value’ in the first proposition Reuten, following Marx, means ‘substance of value’, then, reading the first two propositions together, one could ask how concrete and abstract labour could both be the substance of value.

We are also told that once we have ‘fully constituted value in the presence of money’, the term ‘abstract labour’ almost disappears from the pages of Capital I (and finds no reference in the other two volumes) (pp. 229, 230). But then the question arises, does ‘abstract labour’ thereby cease to be the substance of value so that we have value simply as form but with no substance?

Reuten does not broach this point. In fact the term itself does not quite disappear. We see this at least in two places beyond Capital I — in the so-called ‘sixth chapter’ of Capital I, [xxxiii] which really forms the ‘transition ‘from volume I to volume II, [xxxiv] and in ‘Anti-Wagner.’ [xxxv] But the more important point is that if one remembers that for a society where ‘commodity production is the social mode of production’ [xxxvi] Marx takes ‘abstract labour’ as equivalent to ‘socially necessary labour’, then one could find the latter, standing for abstract labour as the value’s material substance, in many places in Marx’s work. [xxxvii]. Again, Reuten holds that the ‘term’ ‘value-form’ is “only occasionally used” after chapter I of Capital I because in chapter III the ‘concept’ is ‘concretised in its monetary expression’ (p. 227). Leaving aside the mixing up of ‘term’ and ‘concept’ in the presentation let us note that the ‘economic cell form of the bourgeois society’[xxxviii] isidentically expressed in Marx by the terms ‘value- form’, ‘commodity-form’, ‘exchange value.’ [xxxix] These three terms between them are used after chapter I at least 20 times in Capital I. Let us not be nominalists.

Bellofiore’s paper offers a good aperçu of the three volumes of Capital. However, his effort at ‘reconstructing Marxian theory’ in order to ‘avoid its leeways’ (p. 258) is not without problems.

We have space here only to deal with a couple of them. He starts by affirming that in his reading of Capital, ‘value is the monetary expression of labour alone’ (p. 253, emphasis in text). We submit it would be hard to support this statement on any ‘reading’ of Marx’s published texts. First, value is nothing but that ‘something common (das Gemeinsame) which manifests itself in the exchange relation or exchange value of commodities’ and ‘exchange value is the necessary form of expression of value’ whose ‘creative substance is labour.’ [xl] ‘Money-form is simply the finished form of value-form or exchange value’. [xli] Thus, instead of value being the (monetary) expression of labour, value itself — the creative substance of labour — is expressed by exchange value, hence by its finished form, money. Bellofiore’s position, therefore, is an inversion of Marx’s position. His ‘reading’ of Capital seems to ignore the distinction between value and exchange value.

In the author’s project of ‘reconstructing the Marxian theory’ the capitalist process is understood as ‘a sequence of monetary sequence, a circuit opened by bank money’ which has no value. This changed framework ‘necessitates the abandonment of money as a commodity’ (p. 258, emphasis in text). We submit that this is not a proper ‘reading’ of Marx’s monetary theory which is not simply a theory of commodity money. Commodity money in this theory of money is a ‘moment’ though an indispensable and basic ‘moment’ while another ‘moment’ is credit money. Marx attached great importance to the understanding of money as a commodity as opposed to all other commodities. [xlii] The starting point here is that ‘money does not originate in convention or in the state, but spontaneously in exchange whose product it is’. [xliii] To the same extent as the transformation of the products of labour into commodities is accomplished, ‘the transformation of one commodity into money is also accomplished.’ [xliv] Understanding this process is indispensable to comprehend the bourgeois production process itself. ‘It is the foundation of the bourgeois production process’ that money as the independent form of value ‘stands in opposition to commodities’, and this is only possible while a ‘distinct commodity becomes the general commodity in opposition to all other commodities.’ [xlv] This opposition is the ‘abstract and general form of all the antagonisms contained in bourgeois labour.’ [xlvi] Nothing of this profound logic has lost its relevance and lustre with the rise and dominance of credit money which has simply mystified and obscured the basic antagonisms. For all this, however Marx’s theory is not exclusively confined to commodity money. He speaks of ‘things without value, like paper’ functioning as the ‘symbol of gold money’ if its existence as symbol receives a legally sanctioned existence and thereby becomes ‘compulsory currency.’ While state’s paper money, the ‘finished form of the value token’ arises from metallic or simple circulation itself, ‘credit money belongs to a higher stage or higher sphere of the social production process and is regulated by completely different laws.’ [xlvii] Credit money has its ‘natural root in money’s function as a means of payment.’ [xlviii] Marx considers as ‘absurd’ the ‘question whether capitalist production in its present day range would be possible without credit money.’ [xlix] Perfectly aware of the importance of credit money in advanced capitalism, Marx nevertheless justifies his assumption of money as metallic money for Capital II on both historical and logical ground (s). Historical, because credit money had little role in the early stage of capitalist production, and logical, by the fact that

everything critical which Tooke and others have so far developed regarding circulation of credit money compelled them to go back repeatedly to the consideration of how would the thing present itself when based on purely metallic circulation. [l]

Though, contrary to his earlier plan, Marx did not (could not) treat credit under a separate rubric he did discuss to a non negligible extent — spread over his work — credit money including the money involved in ‘fictitious capital’ where ‘all connection with the valorization process disappears without leaving any trace.’ [li]

In his excellent presentation — closely argued and quite challenging — Krätke treats a large number of issues concerning Marx’s economic work to all of which unfortunately we cannot do justice, given space constraint. We propose to take up only a few of them for discussion.

According to the author Marx ‘began’ his ‘own critique of political economy’ in 1857 (p. 309). We submit that this critique really started in Marx’s 1844 manuscript(s) which Marx claimed to be the result of a ‘wholly empirical analysis’ based on ‘a conscientious critical study of political economy.’ [lii] In this first critique while praising Ricardo’s scientific attitude as shown in the latter’s ‘cynical expression’ of the ‘truth of political economy, freed from all human illusion’, as opposed to Sismondi, Marx asserts that ‘humanity exists outside and inhumanity inside political economy.’ [liii] In the manuscripts’ extensive notes on the economists Marx already debates the ‘unresolved questions left by them’, to cite Krätke’s words on Marx’s 1857-58 manuscripts (p. 310) (which — let us emphasise — carry over not a few ideas, sometimes textually, of the earlier manuscripts). Very justly Korsch observes that ‘contentwise’ the 1844 manuscripts ‘anticipate’ all the ‘critical-revolutionary perceptions of Capital.’ [liv] Again, in Marx’s long ‘learning process’ till 1882 an important place belongs to his ‘AntiProudhon’ (1847) where he considers himself (implicitly) as a ‘theoretician of the proletarian class’ as opposed to the ‘economists, the representatives of the bourgeois class.’ [lv] Marx wrote in 1859, ‘The decisive points of our view were first scientifically, even though polemically, indicated in my work against Proudhon’sMisère de la philosophie.’ [lvi] Years later referring to this book Marx observed, ‘it contains in germ the theories developed in Capital twenty years later.’ [lvii]

Krätke says that what Marx calls the ‘secret of critical conception’ did not lie ‘where Marxists had believed it to lie’ — not in dialectic, not in the standpoint of the working class — but in the ‘coherent continuation and correction of the defective analyses and attempts at systematisation’ of the earlier economists (p. 311). However, Marx’s own meaning of this phrase does not exactly correspond to Krätke’s explanation. In a letter to Engels (8. 1. 1868) Marx says that the ‘whole secret of the critical conception’ lies in his discovery of something which remained ‘inexplicable’ for the classics — the ‘double character of labour represented in the commodity’, following from the double character of the commodity. [lviii] On the question of Marx’s ‘critique of political economy’ as such Krätke holds — after having cited (p. 312) Marx’s 1858 letter to Lassalle where Marx speaks of his work as the ‘critique of the economic categories’ (Marx’s emphasis) — that the real scope of Marx’s project is seen in the fact that for the first time a critique was delivered which attacked not the singular phenomena and results of the capitalist mode of production but the ‘whole capitalist production relations, capitalism as a specific historical system of social production of wealth.’ (p. 313). All this is admirable. These indeed are some of the important dimensions of Marx’s ‘critique’. One does not frequently find a Marxist academic with such a lucid understanding of the significance of Marx’s ‘critique’. However, we submit this is still not the complete coverage of the significance of the ‘critique’. Marx himself came to its full significance through the so-called ‘learning process’. In his 1858 letter to Lassalle, referred to by Krätke, Marx speaks of his economic work as the ‘system of bourgeois (political) economy critically represented.’ [lix] A few years later in a letter to Kugelmann (28. 12. 1862) Marx says that his work is a ‘scientific endeavour to revolutionise science.’ [lx] But the most important thing about this ‘critique’ — its direct relation to the revolutionary ‘mission’ of the working class, Marx’s lifelong occupation — is fully revealed only in the Afterword to the second edition of Capital I, to the significance of which not many readers have paid sufficient attention. Obviously keeping in his mind — which Marx expresses in a number of places — that ‘political economy’ represented the bourgeoisie Marx wrote, concerning his own ‘critique’, ‘So far as such critique represents a class, it can represent that class whose historical mission is to revolutionise the capitalist mode of production and finally abolish classes — the proletariat.’ [lxi] It is in this spirit that Engels wrote in his review of the first edition of the book, ’Who has eyes to see, sees here the demand for a social revolution…here it is a question of the abolition of capital itself.’ [lxii] Bereft of this dimension there is a risk that Marx’s ‘critique’ could be seen simply as a ‘critique of political economy from the standpoint of political economy’ as Marx said about Proudhon’s Q’est-ce que la propriété. [lxiii]

The author opines that ‘probably’ in 1863 Marx abandoned the distinction between ‘capital in general’ and ‘many capitals’ in course of changing the (original) plan of his economic work (p. 315). Here we will not enter into the much debated question of Marx’s so called ‘change of plan’. The more pertinent question for us here is whether Marx had abandoned his important distinction between ‘capital in general’ and ‘many capitals’ after 1863 irrespective of the specific vocabulary used for these terms. That is, whether Marx had given up the crucial idea of capital’s totality versus individuality. Now, in his Grundrisse Marx considers ‘capital in general’ as equivalent to ‘capital as such’ and ‘capital of the whole society’ or the ‘total capital of a nation’. [lxiv] If we keep this equivalence relation in mind then it is not difficult to see that the opposition totality-individuality of capital far from vanishing continues to appear in Marx’s post 1863 texts. As there exist a fair number of examples, a couple of them will suffice here. Thus in Capital I Marx speaks of ‘total capital of a society’, of ‘fragmentation of social total capital into many individual capitals’ and says that ‘individual capitals form the aliquot parts of total social capital.’ [lxv] In the same book Marx brings out the revolutionary significance of the distinction. Thus speaking of the wage labourer as the ‘accessory of capital’ and being ‘bound to his owner’ he adds — in the French version of the book — that ‘only the owner is not the individual capitalist but the capitalist class.’ [lxvi] Similarly in Capital II Marx speaks of the ‘sum of individual capitals’ as equal to ‘social capital’ or, equivalently, to the ‘total capital of the capitalist class.’ [lxvii] Likewise in Capital III Marx qualifies ‘each particular capital’ as ‘a piece of total capital’ and ‘each capitalist’ as a ‘share holder in the total concern.’ [lxviii] Examples could be multiplied.

Krätke underlines that in order to use Marx’s incomplete project it is necessary to be aware of its ‘limits and shortcomings’ (p. 316), and he mentions quite a few of what he considers ‘unresolved problems’ in Marx’s work. The author should be credited for raising these issues. Given space constraint we deal with a couple of them. One of them concerns what Marx calls ‘socially necessary labour time’ as the determinant of value. Krätke rightly recalls the Marxian position that this labour time is ‘socially necessary’ only in the context of the prevailing conditions of production. Then he observes that the magnitude of value of the commodity produced could change over time. There is a possibility that the labour going into the production of machinery — a part of constant capital — could lose its value. This is a process of depreciation (of value) ‘radically different from the transfer of value analysed by Marx for the capitalist process of production’ (p. 317). Conceding that Marx was aware of the problem the author adds that Marx ‘never tried to resolve it systematically’ (p. 317). What exactly the term ‘systematically’ means here is not very clear. However, as a matter of fact Marx’s discussion of the problem of devaluation or depreciation — also called by him ‘destruction’ — of capital is much wider and deeper than what Krätke’s short sentence seems to indicate. This concerns capital in use and not in use, capital in a ‘normal’ economic situation and in a situation of crisis, capital with unchanging and with changing technology. The particular case mentioned by Krätke concerns devaluation of capital under changing technology leading to higher productivity of labour. Marx discusses this issue very clearly and stresses its importance for the turnover of capital. This devaluation Marx calls ‘moral depreciation’. Under technological change a part of the existing means of production — basically fixed capital — becomes unusable and is devalued, ‘destroyed’, before its normal circulation process is at an end or before its value reappears in the value of the commodity produced. ‘Machinery works wholly as means of labour, but posits its value to the product only in proportion in which the labour process devalues it.’ [lxix] Here the determination of value by socially necessary labour time takes on a new meaning. What determines the value of products is ‘not the labour time embodied in the products but the labour time currently (gegenwärtig) necessary.’ [lxx] In such a case of ‘devaluation of constant capital’ consequent upon new inventions the ‘labour time which it contains is no more socially necessary.’ [lxxi] ‘Its value is determined by the labour time necessary to reproduce either it or a better machine.’ [lxxii] Here is another clear statement:

We understand by the reproduction time of fixed capital the time necessary for its production, not the time which was necessary to produce it and which is contained in it, but which is or would be necessary to produce a new exemplar of the same kind. [lxxiii]

While justly faulting the current value-theoretical ideas of the Marxists where they scarcely take account of the ‘highly paradoxical’ Marxian category of ‘market value’ appearing in Marx’s analysis of competition of capitals, the author says that without the analysis of the formation of market value Marx’s distinction between ‘individual value’ and ‘social value’ of a commodity ‘as it already appears in Capital I — highly problematic and highly misleading — would remain a word play’, adding of course that Marx had the ‘correct intuition’ — for the first time in his 1864-65 manuscripts — that the formation of market value is contradictory and far from simple showing in fact that the quantities of values modified in the market and under definite conditions could generate (what Marx calls) ‘false social values’ (Krätke, p. 318). If Krätke considers the absence of analysis of the formation of ‘market value’ in the context of the discussion of ‘individual value’ and ‘social value’ in Capital I is a shortcoming we beg to differ. We submit that the problem in question here touches an important issue of Marx’s method of presentation in Capital I. In this work Marx does not take up competition of capitals which includes the formation of ‘market value’ while still investigating capital as such. Already a decade earlier Marx had underlined the general method: ‘the relation of many capitals will be explained after considering what they have in common, to be capital.’ [lxxiv] The same idea is elaborated in Capital I.

The general and necessary tendencies of capital are to be distinguished from its forms of appearance. The way in which the immanent laws of capitalist production appear in the outward movement of individual capitals, are validated as competition of capitals, … are for now left out of consideration. Scientific analysis of competition is only possible after the inner nature of capital is grasped. The apparent movement of heavenly bodies is understandable to one who knows their real movement. [lxxv]

The absence of the analysis of competition of capitals and consequently of the formation of market value while still at the stage of investigating the ‘inner nature of capital’ only shows Marx’s scientific method in Capital I. Marx would not commit the methodological error which he had detected in Ricardo who right at the beginning of his great book supposes ‘all the possible categories as given which should first be explained in order to show their conformity with the law of value.’ [lxxvi] On the other hand, in his discussion of individual and social value in Capital I [lxxvii] there are sufficient hints about what one was to find in his much more explicit and enlarged elaboration on ‘competition of capitals’ and ‘market value’ in the third volume of the book. Incidentally, even before 1864-65 Marx discusses these issues at some length in his 1861-63 manuscripts without employing the specific term ‘false social value’. [lxxviii] The same method of abstraction leads Marx to assume in Capital I equality of value and price. Thus while calculating the rate of surplus value Marx speaks of his ‘assumption that the product price=its value’ and adds in a footnote, ‘one will see in volume III that this equality even in the case of average price does not hold in this simple manner.’ [lxxix]

On Haug’s splendid, impeccably argued essay we have very little to say. Nevertheless we may be allowed to put across a couple of points. Haug writes that the ‘critique of political economy’ cannot be interpreted as a ‘system’ as in the old philosophy and that it should be considered as a ‘process of research with a process of learning’ (p. 296). Haug’s statement first of all reminds us that according to Engels Hegel was the last of the system builders, ‘Systematic philosophy after Hegel (was) impossible.’ [lxxx] Now, Marx’s ‘critique’ is undoubtedly a ‘process of research with a process of learning’. However, if we leave it at that there is a risk — as we mentioned earlier — that this will give the impression that the ‘critique of political economy’ is still consigned to the academic world, it has still not transcended ‘political economy’. As a matter of fact Marx’s ‘critique’ is intimately connected with overthrowing the existing social order in opposition to ‘political economy’ (classical or otherwise) which considers it as natural or eternal. Korsch has remarked that in Marx’s ‘critique’ it is a question of the ‘historical and theoretical mutation of the subject of economic science towards a total revolution in the bourgeois mode of production.’ Then he cites Rosa Luxemburg ‘in Marx there is theinversion of political economy into its opposite, into the completion of the socialist analysis of capitalism.’ [lxxxi]

After mentioning an anecdote due to Althusser that on an invitation from Gorki to join a discussion on ‘empiriocriticism’, Lenin declined and simply laughed (away), Haug remarks that we could have ‘escaped Stalin’s ‘Diamat’ if Lenin, instead of laughing, had ‘pursued a philosophical road which would have prevented state ideology to derive its legitimacy from him’ (p. 300). The question is whether Lenin was capable of pursuing such a road. We here simply mention Pannekoek’s and Korsch’s sharp critique of Lenin’s materialism which they considered as ‘bourgeois materialism’ — the same as Plekhanov’s — in the line of French materialism of the eighteenth century and of Feuerbach. Commenting on what he calls Pannekoek’s ‘magisterial work’ (on Lenin’s philosophy) Korsch notes Lenin’s ignorance of modern physics and Lenin’s ‘unbelievable distortion of Mach and Avenarius’, his ‘incapacity to go beyond the limits of bourgeois materialism’ and adds

Lenin attacked empiriocriticism not from the point of view of historical materialism but from that of materialism of the earlier period, bourgeois materialism, of a period of inferior scientific development. [lxxxii]

Finally, Haug has convincingly debunked those ‘purists’ who think that Marx had diluted his dialectic and linguistic rigour in the course of popularising his work. One could ask those critics: for whom, after all, Marx was writing? As his letter to Lachâtre (11. 02. 1875) makes clear, his ‘most important consideration’ was the ‘accessibility’ of his work to the working class.’ [lxxxiii] Again, in his letter to Cafiero (29. 07. 1879) Marx praised the latter for his (abridged) version of Capital I which was more accessible to the general public, compared to two other versions — English and Serb — which he criticised for their ‘pedantic attachment to the scientific form of development.’ [lxxxiv]

Losurdo starts his paper by asserting the commonplace that contrary to what Marx had thought there has been no revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, and that (by implication) it is in conditions of backward capitalism that revolution has taken place. We assume that by revolution here he means socialist revolution. He however specifies the initial act of this revolution — it is the ‘conquest of power by the communists’ (p. 347). We submit that though there have been a number of ‘conquests of power by the communists’ they have nothing to do with the proletarian conquest of power and that — it follows naturally — neither has there been any socialist revolution in the last century — at least not in Marx’s sense of workers’ self emancipation. We have to say that following the Leninist tradition — passed on to his disciples — Losurdo substitutes communist conquest of power for the ‘conquest of political power’ and thereby the ‘conquest of democracy’ ‘by the proletariat’, as theCommunist Manifesto underlines. [lxxxv] It is the political power of the working class, not a monopoly of power by the communists who are simply one of the working class parties, however advanced and forward looking the party might be compared to the other working class parties as the Manifesto underlines. As a matter of fact there has been no working class conquest of power in the twentieth century. Why should anyone assume that communist party’s power is working class power when this party is headed by a tiny group of non-proletarian radicalized intelligentsia totally detached from the site of capitalist exploitation, unchosen and unrevocable by the labouring people and accountable to no body outside the party that has on its own decided to seize power and acted on the decision — of course in the name of the working class — far and away from representing the ‘autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’, as the Manifesto stresses? The toilers had only one role to play both in the seizure of power and in its consolidation into party rule — to follow the party leaders and act on their commands. First calling itself proletarian dictatorship the regime ultimately claimed to be socialist — a ‘socialism’ which turned out to be a ‘planned’ commodity-and-wage labour society which, needless to say, was the exact opposite of a ‘union of free individuals’ as Marx had conceived socialism to be. The old state far from being destroyed was perfected into a state which in many respects turned out to be even more repressive than the old one — ‘uniting in the same hand economic exploitation and political oppression’ to use an apt phrase of the 1891 Erfurt Programme of the German Social Democratic Party (overseen by Engels). [lxxxvi]

Losurdo refers to three passages from Marx’s three works (p. 355). The first is from the German Ideology (hereafter Ideology) which he paraphrases into saying that communism is a society whence ‘every form of division of labour and even labour as such disappears.’ The second comes from the Communist Manifesto which says that once capitalism has been superseded ‘in place of the old society with its classes and class antagonisms appears an association in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.’ The third is from the Critique of the Gotha Programme where one reads that after the overthrow of the bourgeois political power there follows a revolutionary transition period under the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (before communist society begins). Let us examine Losurdo’s reading of these texts.

As regards the passage from Ideology Losurdo, after affirming its affinity with ‘utopian novels’, observes that while it could have some use in mobilising the masses it is a ‘hindrance’ (impaccio) rather than a help in constructing socialism (pp. 355-56). Now as regards the author’s particular reading of ‘labour’ here, we submit that it is incorrect in view of Marx’s own discussion on this point in the same book. It is not every form of labour and division of labour whose abolition Marx envisages in communism. It is forced labour and forced division of labour which have prevailed so far in ‘humanity’s pre-history’ (in Marx’s 1859 pregnant expression). While discussing communism the Ideology particularly focuses on labour under capitalism. Under this system for the majority of individuals labour has ‘lost all appearance of self-activity (Selbstbetätigung)’ and has become ‘negative form of self-activity.’ [lxxxvii] In all earlier revolutions the mode of activity always ‘remained intact’ and it was a question of a ‘different distribution of labour’ whereas the ‘communist revolution is directed against the earlier mode of activity, abolishes labour.’ [lxxxviii] As regards division of labour, so long as one’s activity ‘is not voluntarily (freiwillig) but naturally (naturwüchsig) divided’, the individual’s own activity becomes ‘a power alien and opposed to her which dominates her instead of being dominated by her.’ The moment labour begins to be divided ‘each one has an exclusive circle of activity which is forced on her and from which she cannot come out.’ This consolidation of ‘our own products into a material power over us escaping our control’ is one of the ‘high moments in the historical development till now.’ [lxxxix] And this is precisely what Marx says communism abolishes. In the same work Marx stresses that in order to reach their ‘self-activity’ individuals must appropriate the totality of productive forces and that this appropriation ‘can be accomplished only by an association and by a revolution.’ And

Only at this stage the self-activity coincides with the material life in conformity with the development of individuals into total individuals. To this corresponds the transformation of labour into self activity. [xc]

We stress that this position about labour and division of labour is not unique to Ideology. First, this comes directly from his earlier great Parisian manuscripts (1844). [xci] Later in his 1861-63 manuscripts Marx speaks of the existence of division of labour beyond capital where conditions of labour belong to the ‘associated labourers who relate to them as their own products and the material elements of their own activity.’ [xcii] In his ‘Inaugural Address’ to the International (1864) Marx opposes ‘slave labour’ and ‘hired labour’ to ‘associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind and a joyous heart.’ In Capital Marx seems to have returned to the language of 1840s. Thus he opposes ‘fragmented individual’ of the bourgeois society to the ‘integral individual’ or ‘totally developed individual’ of the future society.’ [xciii] Finally we see in the Gothacritique the same ideas as in Ideology . At a higher phase of the communist society, says Marx, the ‘servile subordination of the individual under the division of labour will disappear’, labour would become ‘not only the means of life but also life’s first need.’ [xciv]

The two other texts of Marx cited by the author are, according to him, of ‘a historical-political kind but with a difference’ — the Manifesto dealing with the long duration of the development of humanity as a sequel to the revolution and the Gothacritique treating the concrete measures to be adopted by the proletariat on the morrow of the conquest of political power (p. 355). Turning to the Manifesto (Losurdo does not discuss the Gothacritique any further) Losurdo utters the warning that in the name of the Manifesto’s stress on the ‘free development of the individual’ one must not condemn the ‘political power arising from the revolution’ facing the manœuvres of imperialism, ‘condemn the real movement in the name of one’s phantasies and deprive Marxism of every real emancipatory task.’ Specifically mentioning to-day’s China he insists that the free development of the individual ‘passes through the strengthening of the people’s power in the socialist countries’ (pp. 356, 357). Like the paper itself this reasoning is necessarily based on the author’s tall supposition (amounting to axiom requiring no demonstration) that the ‘political power’ in question is really ‘people’s power’ ruling the ‘socialist’ countries. We have no reason to accept this affirmation of the eminent philosopher. As regards the ‘Marxism’ professed by the rulers of these ‘socialist’ regimes ever since 1917 and accepted at face value by their apologists, it has nothing to do with Marx’s emancipatory perspective of socialism and it has only served these rulers as an ideological cover to legitimize their regimes in the name of Marx thereby infinitely degrading Marx. It is worth recalling that with all her sympathies for the new Bolshevik regime Rosa Luxemburg did not hesitate to take its leaders to task pretty severely on the score of (the absence of ) individual liberty [xcv]. Similar was the case with Victor Serge’s ‘internal critique’ of the new Bolshevik regime. [xcvi]

In Bidet’s otherwise highly thought provoking paper we read a couple of statements which are contestable. According to him, in spite of Marx’s scientific greatness in the elaboration of a new object, ‘political-economic’, his ‘weakness’ lies in the ‘unilateral or, rather, unipolar character’ of the construction. This relates to a ‘specific type of historicism’. In fact, continues Bidet, in spite of Marx’s declared ‘rejection of the historical-logical approach’, there emerges a ‘certain contamination between logical exposition and historical narration’ (p. 281, emphasis author’s). In Marx’s ‘social theory’, says Bidet, we are led ‘from the commodity form — the supposed general form of capital — to the organized form — supposed general form of socialism’ (p. 281, emphasis author’s). And he adds that ‘Marx could not recognize that market and organization constitute two structural poles of the modern form of society’ whereas the ‘exposition requires bipolarity from the beginning’ (p. 282, emphasis author’s). Let us discuss Bidet’s position. While holding correctly that Capital’s starting point is commodity production as the most general form of production under capitalism, Bidet contests what he considers as the ‘unipolarity’ of the point of departure inasmuch as both the ‘form organization’ and the ‘form market’ (should) constitute the starting point.’ It is strange’, Bidet adds, that ‘Marx only discovers’ the form organization in section IV (of Capital I) under the name ‘Co-operation’ (p. 285). Let us say a few words on Bidet’s critique. As regards Marx’s alleged non recognition of bipolarity under capital, we see the opposite in Marx’s texts. Thus

The division of labour in manufacture supposes unconditional authority of the capitalist over individuals who are simply members of an integral mechanism belonging to the capitalist; the division of labour in society puts independent producers opposed to one another who recognize no other authority but that of competition…Anarchy in the social division of labour and despotism in the division of labour in manufacture reciprocally condition each other. [xcvii]

Again, a variation on the same theme:

While on the basis of the capitalist mode of production the mass of immediate producers is confronted by the social character of their production in the form of strictest regulating authority and fully organized hierarchy and social mechanism of the labour process, there reigns among governors, the capitalists themselves, who confront one another only as possessors of commodities, the fullest anarchy. [xcviii]

As regards the ‘strangeness’ of Marx’s ‘discovery’ of ‘form organization’ only at a late stage in Capital I, we submit that Marx’s ‘discovery’ here is no more ‘strange’ than his ‘discovery’ of wage labour much later than commodity in Capital. Thus though he explicitly states right at the start of the book that commodity is the elementary form of capitalist wealth, just as explicitly does he emphasize that the ‘category of wage as yet does not exist at all at this stage of our presentation.’ [xcix] It is here a question of Marx’s method of presentation. As we mentioned earlier, Marx would not follow the wrong method of Ricardo who while supposing commodities — ‘and nothing else should be supposed when value as such is considered’ — also presented all the central categories of capital as simply given.[c] Hence Marx had first to develop all the mediations that the commodity has to go through before coming to the first form of capitalist organization in the chapter on ‘co-operation’ in Capital. As regards Marx’s so-called ‘historicism’, we do not want to venture into an extended exploration of this much debated subject. [ci] We simply underline here that it would seem strange to conceive of the ‘Materialist Conception of History’ — inexactly called ‘historical materialism’ –without history. [cii] This would run the risk of reducing materialism to an idealist play of mere ‘dialectic of the concepts’ without the real historical process being involved. Did not Marx say that the economic categories are ‘historical’ and not ‘eternal’ or ‘natural’ as they are with the economists. As Marx underlines, ‘economic categories carry their historical stamp.’ [ciii] We simply note that as regards ‘historicism’, far from being affected by ‘contamination’ — as if independently of Marx’s knowledge and will — between logical and historical, Marx, in a number of places, on the contrary, explicitly asserts the existence of both the processes. In the chapter on ‘co-operation’ in Capital I Marx writes that a multitude of workers working simultaneously within the same space or field of activity on the same kind of commodity under the command of the same capitalist ‘forms historically and conceptually the starting point of capitalist production.’ [civ] Here ‘conceptually’ of course means the same thing as ‘logically’. In an oft-quoted passage Marx writes: ‘It is altogether appropriate (sachgemäß) to consider the value of commodities not only theoretically but also historically as the prius to the prices of production’. [cv] Again, speaking of the circular movement of commodity both as the presupposition of the origin of capital and the latter’s product Marx observes: ‘This circular progression of our exposition corresponds as well to capital’s historical development.’ [cvi] Similarly in a letter to Engels (02. 04. 1858) Marx writes: ‘The passage from ground rent to capital is at the same time historical…In the same way the passage from ground rent to wage labour is not only dialectical but also historical.’ [cvii] And as a final example, ‘We started from circulation’, observes Marx, ‘to arrive at the capitalist production. This is also the historical passage (Gang).’ [cviii] One could also legitimately ask the question, what else is chapter 2 of Capital I if not a historical exposition of the passage from barter to money?


Let us conclude. The organizers of this valuable collection and particularly Marcello Musto, its editor, should be praised for bringing together and making available to the public (alas! not yet in English) [cix] the multidisciplinary contributions by some of the most distinguished Marx scholars of the day. Having said this, however, we have to register a couple of points in this connection. Engels observed in his well-known speech at Marx’s funeral that Marx was a ‘revolutionary before everything’ with a mission to ‘contribute to workers’ emancipation.’ In the present collection while a lot of emphasis is quite justifiably put on Marx as a great classic, hardly anybody — with almost the sole honourable exception of Musto — has touched on the uniqueness of Marx among the classics precisely on this point. Marx by no means was just another great classic. His theoretical work — apparently even as esoteric as Capital — is integrally connected with this revolutionary-emancipatory side. Indeed, Marx’s work is either revolutionary-emancipatory or it is nothing. Another regrettable absentee from this collection is any mention of the noble and heroic effort of Maximilien Rubel — a persona non grata with the state Marxists, East and West — to publish a de-ideologised integral edition of Marx and Engels with the incompleteness of Marx’s work as the point of departure — an effort undertaken long before the appearance of the new MEGA, starting with an article in France’s Revue Socialiste in 1952 with the title ‘The West owes to Marx and Engels a monumental edition of their works.’ Rubel’s second attempt was his project of publishing a Jubilee Edition (1883-1983) of Marx and Engels on the occasion of the centenary of Marx’s death. In his proposal Rubel said very clearly, ‘Truly Marx deserves better than to be edited by the Marxists for the Marxists’, and spoke against the ‘ideological appropriation of Marx’s thought by the institutions under the tutelage of political parties.’

Published in:

Studies in Marxism

Date Published

24 August, 2011


Paresh Chattopadhyay