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Introduction: The Making and the Dissemination of Le Capital

Capital: An Unfinished Masterpiece
In February 1867, after several years of hard work, Marx was finally able to give Engels the long-awaited news that Volume I of his masterpiece was finished. Marx went to Hamburg to deliver the manuscript and, in agreement with his editor Otto Meissner, it was decided that Capital would appear in 3 volumes. The first of them – ‘The Process of Production of Capital’ – was put on sale on 14 September. A few months before that date, Marx had written to his friend Johann Philipp Becker that the publication of his book was, ‘without question, the most terrible missile that has yet been hurled at the heads of the bourgeoisie (landowners included)’ (Marx to Becker, 17 April 1867, Marx and Engels 1987: 358).

Following the final modifications, the table of contents was as follows:

Preface
1. Commodity and money
2. The transformation of money into capital
3. The production of absolute surplus value
4. The production of relative surplus value
5. Further research on the production of absolute and relative surplus value
6. The process of accumulation of capital
Appendix to Part 1, 1: The form of value.
(Marx 1983: 9-10)

Despite the long labour of composition before 1867, the structure of Capital would be considerably expanded over the coming years, and various further modifications would be made to the text. Volume I therefore continued to absorb significant energies on Marx’s part even after its publication.

In October 1867, Marx returned to Capital, Volume II. But this brought a recurrence of his health issues: liver pains, insomnia and carbuncles (see Musto 2018). The new year began much as the old one had ended and at times he was even unable to attend to his correspondence. As soon as he could return to work, he took a great interest in questions of history, agriculture and ecology, compiling notebooks of extracts from works by various authors. Particularly important for him were the Introduction to the Constitutive History of the German Mark, Farm, Village, Town and Public Authority (1854), by the political theorist and legal historian Georg Ludwig von Maurer, and three German works by Karl Fraas: Climate and the Vegetable World throughout the Ages, a History of Both (1847), A History of Agriculture (1852) and The Nature of Agriculture (1857).

While affording Marx a little energy for these new scientific studies, the state of his health continued its ups and downs. Anyway, he was able to put together a group of preparatory manuscripts on the relationship between surplus value and rate of profit, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to decline, and the metamorphoses of capital – which occupied him until the end of 1868 (See Musto 2019: 26-7).

The next year, however, the carbuncles flared up with exhausting regularity and his liver took another turn for the worse. Despite his plan to finish Volume II by September 1869, which had once seemed realistic, his continuing misfortunes over the following years prevented him from ever completing the second part of his magnum opus.

There were, of course, also theoretical reasons for the delay. From Autumn 1868 to Spring 1869, determined to get on top of the latest developments in capitalism, Marx compiled copious excerpts from texts on the finance and money markets that appeared in The Money Market Review, The Economist and similar publications. His ever-growing interest in developments on the other side of the Atlantic drove him to seek out the most up-to-date information. He wrote to his friend Sigfrid Meyer that ‘it would be of great value […] if [he] could dig up some anti-bourgeois material about landownership and agrarian relations in the United States’. He explained that, ‘since [he would] be dealing with rent in [his] 2nd volume, material against H. Carey’s “harmonies” would be especially welcome’ (Marx to Meyer, 4 July 1868, Marx and Engels 1988: 61). Moreover, in Autumn 1869, having become aware of recent literature on socio-economic changes in Russia, he decided to learn Russian so that he could study it for himself. He pursued this new interest with his usual rigour.

The Search for the Definitive Version of Volume I and Le Capital
After many more interruptions and a period of intense political activity for the International Working Men’s Association, following the birth of the Paris Commune, Marx turned to work on a new edition of Capital, Volume I. Dissatisfied with the way in which he had expounded the theory of value, he spent December 1871 and January 1872 rewriting the 1867 appendix (See Musto 2018: 167-8). This led him to address again the first chapter itself, resulting in the manuscript known as ‘Additions and Changes to Capital, Volume I’ (Marx 1983: 1-55). During the revision of the 1867 edition, Marx inserted a number of additions and clarifications and also refined the structure of the entire book. Some of these changes concerned surplus value, the difference between constant capital and variable capital, and the use of machinery and technology. He also expanded the new edition from six chapters to seven books containing 25 chapters, themselves subdivided into more detailed sections. The new edition came out in 1872, with a print run of three thousand copies.

The year 1872 was a year of fundamental importance for the dissemination of Capital, since April saw the appearance of the Russian translation – the first in a long series (Musto and Amini, forthcoming 2023). Begun by German Lopatin and completed by the economist Nikolai Danielson, it was regarded by Marx as ‘masterly’ (Marx to Davidson, 28 May 1872, Marx and Engels 1989: 385).

In this year, too, the publication of the French edition of Capital got under way. Entrusted to Joseph Roy, who had previously translated some of Ludwig Feuerbach’s texts, it was scheduled to appear in batches with the French publisher Maurice Lachâtre, between 1872 and 1875. Marx agreed that it would be good to bring out a ‘cheap popular edition’ (Marx to Lafargue, 18 December 1871, Marx and Engels 1989: 283). ‘I applaud your idea of publishing the translation […] in periodic instalments’, he wrote. ‘In this form the work will be more accessible to the working class and for me that consideration outweighs any other.’ Aware, however, that there was a ‘reverse side’ of the coin, he anticipated that the ‘method of analysis’ he had used would ‘make for somewhat arduous reading in the early chapters’, and that readers might ‘be put off’ when they were ‘unable to press straight on in the first place’. He did not feel he could do anything about this ‘disadvantage’, ‘other than alert and forewarn readers concerned with the truth. There is no royal road to learning and the only ones with any chance of reaching its sunlit peaks are those who do not fear exhaustion as they climb the steep upward paths” (Letter 4 in Part IV of this volume; also Marx to Lachâtre, 18 March 1872, Marx and Engels 1989: 344).

In the end, Marx had to spend much more time on the translation than he had planned for the proof correction. As he wrote to Danielson, Roy had ‘often translated too literally’ and forced him to ‘rewrite whole passages in French, to make them more palatable to the French public’ (Marx to Danielson, 28 May 1872, Marx and Engels 1989: 385). Earlier that month, his daughter Jenny had told Kugelmann that her father was ‘obliged to make numberless corrections’, rewriting ‘not only whole sentences but entire pages’ (Jenny Marx to Kugelmann, 3 May 1872, Marx and Engels 1989: 578) – and a month later she added that the translation was so ‘imperfect’ that he had been ‘obliged to rewrite the greater part of the first chapter’ (Jenny Marx to Kugelmann, 27 June 1872, Marx and Engels 1989: 582). Subsequently, Engels wrote in similar vein to Kugelmann that the French translation had proved a ‘real slog’ for Marx and that he had ‘more or less had to rewrite the whole thing from the beginning’ (Engels to Kugelmann, 1 July 1873, Marx and Engels 1989: 515).

In revising the translation, moreover, Marx decided to introduce some additions and modifications. These mostly concerned the section on the process of capital accumulation, but also some specific points such as the distinction between ‘concentration’ and ‘centralization’ of capital. In the postscript to Le Capital, he did not hesitate to attach to it ‘a scientific value independent of the original’ (Marx 1996: 24). It was no accident that in 1877, when an English edition already seemed a possibility, Marx wrote to Sorge that a translator ‘must without fail […] compare the 2nd German edition with the French edition, in which [he had] included a good deal of new matter and greatly improved [his] presentation of much else’ (Marx to Sorge, 27 September 1877, Marx and Engels 1991: 276). In a letter of November 1878, in which he weighed the positive and negative sides of the French edition, he wrote to Danielson that it contained ‘many important changes and additions’, but that he had ‘also sometimes been obliged – principally in the first chapter – to simplify [aplatir] the matter’ (Marx to Danielson, 15 November 1878, Marx and Engels 1991: 343). For this reason, he felt it necessary to clarify later in the month that the chapters ‘Commodities and Money’ and ‘The Transformation of Money into Capital’ should be ‘translated exclusively from the German text’ (Marx to Danielson, 28 November 1878, Marx and Engels 1991: 346).

The drafts of Capital, Volume II, which were left in anything but a definitive state, present a number of theoretical problems. The manuscripts of Capital, Volume III have a highly fragmentary character, and Marx never managed to update them in a way that reflected the progress of his research. It should also be borne in mind that he was unable to complete a revision of Capital, Volume I that included the changes and additions he intended to improve his book. In fact, neither the French edition of 1872-75 nor the German edition of 1881 can be considered the definitive version that Marx would have liked it to be.

Marx through Le Capital
Following its original appearance in German in 1867, Capital was published in its entirety in only three more editions during Marx’s lifetime. All of them came out, at least in part, in 1872: the Russian translation in the month of March, the revised second German edition – in nine parts – between Spring of that year and January 1873, and the series of 44 instalments of the French translation, from September 1872 to May 1875.

The appearance of Le Capital, translated by Joseph Roy and revised by Marx himself, had considerable importance for the diffusion of his work around the world. It was used for the translation of many extracts into various languages – the first in English and Spanish, for example – as well as for compendia such as the one put together in 1879 by the Italian anarchist Carlo Cafiero, which received Marx’s approval and achieved a wide circulation. More generally, Le Capital represented the first gateway to Marx’s work for readers in various countries. The first Italian translation – published in instalments between 1882 and 1884 and then as a book in 1886 – was made directly from the French edition, as was the translation that appeared in another Mediterranean country (Greece) in 1927. In the case of Spanish, Le Capital made it possible to bring out some partial editions and two complete translations: one in Madrid, in 1967, and one in Buenos Aires, in 1973. Since French was more widely known than German, it was thanks to this version that Marx’s critique of political economy was able to reach many countries in Latin America more rapidly. Much the same was true for Portuguese-speaking countries. In Portugal itself, Capital circulated only through the small number of copies available in French, until an abridged version appeared in Portuguese shortly before the fall of the Salazar dictatorship. In general, political activists and researchers in both Portugal and Brazil found it easier to approach Marx’s work via the French translation than in the original. The few copies that found their way into Portuguese-speaking African countries were also in that language.

Colonialism also partly shaped the mechanisms whereby Capital became available in the Arab world. While in Egypt and Iraq it was English that featured most in the spread of European culture, the French edition played a more prominent role elsewhere, especially in Algeria, which in the 1960s was a significant center for the circulation of Marxist ideas in the Maghreb, as well as in the Levant, where two full Arabic translations of Capital appeared in Syria and Lebanon, in 1956 and 1970 respectively. Moreover, between 1966 and 1970, a serialized Farsi edition was produced in exile, in the German Democratic Republic.

The great significance of Le Capital stretched to other parts of Asia. The first Vietnamese translation of Volume I, published between 1959 and 1960, was based on the Roy edition. The highly rigorous studies of Marx in Japan in the second half of the twentieth century enabled a Japanese translation of Capital to appear there in 1979, preceded by two anastatic reprints of the French edition in 1967 and 1976. As to China, a Mandarin translation first came out in 1983 – in a series of publications to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Marx’s death.

Thus, as well as being often consulted by translators around the world and checked against the fourth German edition – published by Engels in 1890 –, Le Capital has until now served as the basis for complete translations into eight languages, to which we should add numerous partial editions in various countries (Marcello Musto and Babak Amini forthcoming 2023). One hundred and fifty years since its first publication, it continues to be a source of stimulating debate among people interested in Marx’s work.

In a letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, the last general secretary of the International Working Men’s Association, Marx himself remarked that with Le Capital he had ‘consumed so much of [his] time that [he would] not again collaborate in any way on a translation’ (Marx to Sorge, 27 September 1877, Marx and Engels 1991: 276). The toil and trouble that he put into producing the best possible French version were remarkable indeed. But we can certainly say they were well rewarded.

 

References
1. Still unpublished, these notes are included in the IISH notebooks, Marx-Engels Papers, B 108, B 109, B 113 and B 114.
2. In early 1870 Marx’s wife told Engels that, ‘instead of looking after himself, [he had begun] to study Russian hammer and tongs, went out seldom, ate infrequently, and only showed a carbuncle under his arm when it was already very swollen and had hardened’ (Jenny Marx to Engels, 17 January 1870, Marx and Engels 1988: 551). Engels hastened to write to his friend, trying to persuade him that ‘in the interests of the Volume II’ he needed ‘a change of life-style’; otherwise, if there was ‘constant repetition of such suspensions’, he would never finish the book (Engels to Marx, 19 January 1870, Marx and Engels 1988: 408). The prediction was spot on.
3. In 1867 Marx had divided Capital, Volume I, into chapters. In 1872 these became sections, each with much more detailed subdivisions.
4. For a list of the additions and modifications in the French translation that were not included in the third and fourth German editions, see Marx 1983: 732-83.
5. The editorial work that Engels undertook after his friend’s death to prepare the unfinished parts of Capital for publication was extremely complex. The various manuscripts, drafts and fragments of volumes II and III, written between 1864 and 1881, correspond to approximately 2,350 pages of the MEGA2. Engels successfully published Volume II, in 1885, and Volume III, in 1894. However, it must be borne in mind that these two volumes emerged from the reconstruction of incomplete texts, often consisting of heterogeneous material. They were written in more than one period in time and thus include different, and sometimes contradictory, versions of Marx’s ideas.
6. See, for example, Marx to Danielson, 13 December 1881: ‘In the first instance I must first be restored to health, and in the second I want to finish off the 2nd vol. […] as soon as possible. […] I will arrange with my editor that I shall make for the 3d edition only the fewest possible alterations and additions. […] When these 1,000 copies forming the 3d edition are sold, then I may change the book in the way I should have done at present under different circumstances’ (Marx and Engels 1993: 161).
7. See the section ‘The Early Dissemination of Capital in Europe’ in Musto 2020: 77-85.

Bibliography
Cafiero, Carlo (1879), Il Capitale di Carlo Marx brevemente compendiato da Carlo Cafiero, Milan: Bignami.
Marx, Karl (1983 [1867]) Das Kapital. Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie. Erster Band, Hamburg 1867 Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA2), vol. II/5, Berlin: Dietz Verlag.
Marx, Karl (1996 [1875]) ‘Afterword to the French Edition’, in Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 35: Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, Moscow: Progress Publishers, p. 24.
Marx, Karl, IISH, Marx-Engels Papers, B 108, B 109, B 113 and B 114.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1987) Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 42: Letters, 1864–68, Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1988) in Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 43: Letters 1868–70, Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1989) in Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 44: Letters 1870–73, Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1991) in Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 45: Letters 1874–79, Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich (1993) in Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 46: Letters 1880–83, Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Musto, Marcello (2018), Another Marx: Early Manuscripts to the International, London–New York: Bloomsbury.
Musto, Marcello (2019) “Introduction: The Unfinished Critique of Capital”, in Marcello Musto (Ed.), Marx’s Capital after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism, London–New York: Routledge, pp. 1-35.
Musto, Marcello (2020) The Last Years of Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Musto, Marcello and Amini, Babak eds. (2023 forthcoming), The Routledge Handbook of Marx’s ‘Capital’: A Global History of Translation, Dissemination and Reception, London-New York: Routledge.

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Tim Hayslip, Marx and Philosophy. Review of Books

The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretations, edited by Marcello Musto, consists of 22 chapters dealing with a wide variety of topics written by well-known contemporary Marxist thinkers. The reader is not confronted by a single argument, but rather with an overview of the remarkably fractious character of current Marxist scholarship. Consequently, any assessment of the book must inevitably be influenced by one’s overall assessment of Marx’s leading academic successors. In this brief review, I have chosen not to try to describe briefly all the chapters in the book, as an adequate treatment of each is impossible in the space allowed. Instead I have chosen to discuss some of its main limitations and consider a few chapters that focus on Marxism as a response to the conditions of the world.

Those with minimal prior knowledge of Marxist thought may benefit from beginning with the final chapter by the late Immanuel Wallerstein who provides an overview of how Marxism’s development has been connected to geopolitical developments. Wallerstein argues that the origins of Marxism both “as an ideology and as a movement,” arose not from Marx’s own conscious efforts but after Marx’s death when “Engels assumed the heritage with panache” (Wallerstein, 378). Engels’ frequent interventions into the politics of the nascent German Social Democratic Party (SPD) consolidated Marx’s theoretical legacy and established the SPD as an important locus for debates about political strategy.

Although factions within the SPD debated whether socialism could be achieved through an electoral path or if revolutionary insurrection would be necessary, and the SPD leadership spoke of the necessity of insurrection, they did little to develop a revolutionary avant-garde. The party instead focused on “creating a powerful network of structures in the larger ‘civil society’” (Wallerstein, 379).

Wallerstein describes a lasting schism developing between the factions over the question of whether to support `their’ nation’s war efforts in World War One. This schism was later solidified by the formation of the Communist Party of Germany and the course of the Russian Revolution. Conceptually, reformist and revolutionary parties diverged over the question of how to win socialism, with social democrats focusing on growing the welfare state and renouncing any attempt to control the means of production, while the USSR transformed Marxism into an apologia for ‘actually existent socialism’. However, in practice, the Soviet leadership and Western social democrats were increasingly united by supporting state-led economic development (Wallerstein, 380-2).

Yet, radicals increasingly abandoned both of these methods that “had not ‘changed the world’, as they had promised” (Wallerstein, 388). Some radicals added gender and ecological concerns to these classical Marxist concerns. Others embraced post-modernism and rejected the idea of an authoritative theory of history, a ‘metanarrative’, in favor of theoretical pluralism.

Wallerstein (389) writes that after the dissolution of the USSR, some Marxists “began to adopt openly neo-liberal arguments, or at best post-Marxist social-democratic positions. But once again reality caught up.” Reality manifested itself in the forms of capitalist malaise, neoliberalism, and the 2008 global financial crisis. Together, these realities grew the audience for critiques of the economic status quo and revived Marxism.

In the chapter he wrote, editor Marcello Musto documents how the early, utopian socialists were responding to a similar impetus: the inequalities that persisted in the wake of the French Revolution. These early socialists hoped to transform society by championing new ideas and egalitarian principles. They felt that “equality could be the solution for all the problems of society” (Musto, 27).

Marx criticized such moralism from above, insisting on the necessity of workers’ self-emancipation. The development of nineteenth century capitalism was enabling social progress that presented workers greater opportunities for personal development and enlightenment than ever before. However, they were unable to benefit fully from the “time that the progress of science and technology makes available [because what should be free time] is in reality immediately converted into surplus-value” (Musto, 43). Communism was then and still remains necessary for workers to freely control their own lives.

Musto quotes a response Marx gave when asked about the proper policy a revolutionary government would enact to establish a socialist society. He stressed that the proper policy “at any particular moment depends, of course, wholly and entirely on the actual historical circumstances” (Musto, 31). Furthermore, as Marx says, communism ought to be conceived not as “a state of affairs to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself, [but as] the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” (Musto, 35).

Since Marxists see reality itself as having contradictory elements, it should not be surprising that the various viewpoints espoused in The Marx Revival are contradictory. Readers familiar with Marx’s own writings and theories may also notice divergences from them. While this is to be expected given the historical development Wallerstein describes, a limitation of the book is that these dissonant viewpoints are not brought into conversation with one another.

The four entries for the “rate of profit” in the index are merely presented alongside one another. For those drawn to Marxism by Marx’s analysis of crises, the few entries concerned with Marx’s economics may itself be viewed as a shortcoming of the book, albeit a characteristic it seems to share with contemporary academic Marxism in general.

Alex Callinicos’ chapter titled ‘Class Struggle’ provides a sympathetic outline of Marx’s falling rate of profit theory. Briefly, competition forces businesses to “invest increasingly heavily in means of production” resulting in its growth relative surplus value (profit). Despite the tendency for return on investment to fall, Marx disagreed with David Ricardo’s denial of the possibility of wages and prices rising simultaneously. If an economy grows quickly enough, increasing real wages are consistent with rising inequality (Callinicos, 97). Thus, the distribution of income between wages and profits is not the root cause of falling profitability. Instead, faced with falling returns of their investments or even bankruptcy, capitalists are strongly incentivized to economize on all costs, including wages. In a related vein, Seongjin Jeong’s ‘Globalization’ describes how the development of the world market has sped economic growth and constituted “a powerful countervailing force to the crisis tendency of the falling rate of profit” (Jeong, 297).

The remaining two references for the rate of profit in the book appear in Michael Kratke’s chapter titled ‘Capitalism’. The first mention repeats Jeong’s assessment of the relationship between capitalism and globalization, while Kratke’s second mention shows the importance Marx assigned to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the central role it would play in how capitalism “would eventually undermine itself”. However, Kratke adds that “Marx failed to establish the falling rate of profit as a law connected to technological changes” (Kratke, 21). One could say that these writers are debating but without the opportunity to address one another’s arguments.

A fifth unlisted reference to the rate of profit appears in ‘Proletariat’ written by Marcel van der Linden. He argues that since Marx describes the proletariat as the source of profit, the profitability of slave plantations was inconsistent with the labor theory of value. That profit was simply interest earned on the purchase of slaves, rather than value they had created. Marx himself “was apparently not completely convinced of his own analysis” in which slaves were categorized as an anomalous form of surplus value-producing constant capital. While neither Marx nor contemporary Marxism are without faults, I was surprised to find an interpretation that reinforces the common trope that Marx was blind to forms of exploitation and oppression aside from those faced by the working class within a book clearly intended to provide a sympathetic introduction to his ideas.

Its presence is especially regrettable when we examine a passage central to van der Linden’s argument. Marx (Capital: Volume III, Penguin, 1981, 761-62) wrote, “The confusion between ground-rent itself and the form of interest that it assumes for the purchaser of the land … cannot but lead to the most peculiar and incorrect conclusions … for the slaveowner who has paid cash for his slaves, the product of their labour simply represents the interest on the capital invested in their purchase.” Far from agreeing with the slaveowner, Marx was declaring this perspective is “peculiar and incorrect” in that it mistakes surplus value for interest. The confusingly anomalous status of laboring slaves appearing to their ‘masters’ as surplus value-creating ‘property’ while actually being super exploited people enables the production of profit without the significant exploitation of wage-earners in a capitalist framework.

Still, these limitations should not taint what is otherwise a very worthwhile book and well-rounded representation of contemporary Marxism. Musto’s main achievement as editor is in compiling a collection of contributions that demonstrate the continuing relevance of the Marxist theoretical corpus to a wide variety of topics from gender relations to nationalism and from colonialism to religion. I hope that attentive readers who notice the disagreements between the chapters are thereby spurred to deepen their investigations.

The wide-ranging contents of this collection suggests that it should serve as an excellent text for college and university students who already possess some familiarity with Marxism, as well as an introduction to some of the main themes of academic Marxism for a wider audience of activists. As clouds seem to again be gathering for a geopolitical and economic storm, the audience for Marx’s critiques will almost certainly grow, and the world may soon become haunted by The Marx Revival.

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Of Le Capital

On September 17 of 1872 came out the French translation of Marx’s ‘Capital’, to which he contributed by developing his ideas about capital accumulation and colonialism. 150 years ago, this text helps us to better understand Marx as a thinker who expressed himself unambiguously against the ravages of colonialism.

In February 1867, after more than two decades of Herculean work, Marx was finally able to give his friend Friedrich Engels the long-awaited news that the first part of his critique of political economy was finished. Thereafter, Marx travelled from London to Hamburg to deliver the manuscript of Volume I (“The Process of Production of Capital”) of his magnum opus and, in agreement with his editor Otto Meissner, it was decided that Capital would appear in three parts. Brimming with satisfaction, Marx wrote that the publication of his book was, ‘without question, the most terrible missile that has yet been hurled at the heads of the bourgeoisie’.
Despite the long labour of composition before 1867, the structure of Capital would be considerably expanded over the coming years, and Volume I too continued to absorb significant energies on Marx’s part, even after its publication. One of the most evident examples of this commitment was the French translation of Capital published in 44 instalments between 1872 and 1875. This volume was not a mere translation, but a version ‘completely revised by the author’.

The Search for the Definitive Version of Volume I

After some interruptions due to his poor health, and after a period of intense political activity for the International Working Men’s Association, Marx turned to work on a new edition of Capital, Volume I, at the beginning of the 1870s. Dissatisfied with the way in which he had expounded the theory of value, he spent December 1871 and January 1872 rewriting what he had published in 1867. A reprint of Das Kapital that included the changes made by Marx came out in 1872. This year had fundamental importance for the dissemination of Capital, since it also saw the appearance of the Russian and French translations. Entrusted to Joseph Roy, who had previously translated some texts of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, it appeared in batches with the publisher Maurice Lachâtre. The first one was published 150 years ago, on September 17.

Marx agreed that it would be good to bring out a ‘cheap popular edition’. ‘I applaud your idea of publishing the translation […] in periodic instalments’, he wrote. ‘In this form the book will be more accessible to the working class and for me that consideration outweighs any other’, he argued with his publisher. Aware, however, that there was a ‘reverse side’ of the coin, he anticipated that the ‘method of analysis’ he had used would ‘make for somewhat arduous reading in the early chapters’, and that readers might ‘be put off’ when they were ‘unable to press straight on in the first place’. He did not feel he could do anything about this ‘disadvantage’, ‘other than alert and forewarn readers concerned with the truth. There is no royal road to learning and the only ones with any chance of reaching its sunlit peaks are those who do not fear exhaustion as they climb the steep upward paths”.
In the end, Marx had to spend much more time on the translation than he had initially planned for the proof correction. As he wrote to the Russian economist Nikolai Danielson, Roy had ‘often translated too literally’ and forced him to ‘rewrite whole passages in French, to make them more palatable to the French public’. Earlier that month, his daughter Jenny had told family friend Ludwig Kugelmann that her father was ‘obliged to make numberless corrections’, rewriting ‘not only whole sentences but entire pages’. Subsequently, Engels wrote in similar vein to Kugelmann that the French translation had proved a ‘real slog’ for Marx and that he had ‘more or less had to rewrite the whole thing from the beginning’.

In revising the translation, moreover, Marx decided to introduce some additions and modifications. In the postscript to Le Capital, he did not hesitate to attach to it ‘a scientific value independent of the original’ and stated that the new version ‘should be consulted even by readers familiar with German’. The most interesting point, especially for its political value, concerns the historical tendency of capitalist production. If in the previous edition of Capital Marx had written that ‘the country that is more developed industrially only shows, to those less developed, the image of its own future’, in the French version the words in italics were substituted with ‘to those that follow it up the industrial ladder’. This clarification limited the tendency of capitalist development only to Western countries that were already industrialized.
He was now fully aware that the schema of linear progression through the ‘Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production’, which he had drawn in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), was inadequate for an understanding of the movement of history. He did not see historical development in terms of unshakeable linear progress towards a predefined end. The more pronounced multilinear conception that Marx developed in his final years led him to look even more attentively at the historical specificities and unevenness of political and economic development in different countries and social contexts. This approach certainly increased the difficulties he faced in the already bumpy course of completing the second and third volumes of Capital. In the last decade of his life, 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 clearer thanks to Le Capital.

In a letter of 1878, in which Marx weighed the positive and negative sides of the French edition, he wrote to Danielson that it contained ‘many important changes and additions’, but that he had ‘also sometimes been obliged to simplify the matter’. Engels was of this opinion and did not include all the changes made by Marx in the fourth German edition of Capital that he published in 1890, seven years after Marx’s death. Marx was unable to complete a final revision of Capital, Volume I, that included the improvements and additions he intended to improve his book. In fact, neither the French edition of 1872-75, nor the third German edition – that came out in 1881 –, can be considered the definitive version that Marx would have liked it to be.

Marx through Le Capital

Le Capital had considerable importance for the diffusion of Marx’s work around the world. It was used for the translation of many extracts into various languages – the first in the English language, for example. More generally, Le Capital represented the first gateway to Marx’s work for readers in various countries (the first Italian and Greek translation were made from the French edition). Since French was more widely known than German, it was thanks to this version that Marx’s critique of political economy was able to reach Spain and many countries in Hispanic America more rapidly. Much the same was true for Portuguese-speaking countries.

Colonialism also partly shaped the mechanisms whereby Capital became available in the Arab world. The French edition played a prominent role in Algeria, which in the 1960s was a significant center for facilitating the circulation of Marxist ideas in “non-aligned” countries. The significance of Le Capital stretched also to Asia, as demonstrated by the fact that the first Vietnamese translation of Volume I (1959-60), was conducted on the French edition.
One hundred and fifty years since its first publication, Le Capital continues to be a source of stimulating debate among scholars and activists interested in Marx’s critique of capitalism. It has had a significant circulation, and the additions and changes made by Marx, during the revision of its translation, contributed to the anti-colonial and universal dimension of Capital that is becoming widely recognized nowadays thanks to some of the newest and most insightful contributions in Marx studies.

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When Marx Translated Capital

Today marks 150 years since the first French edition of Capital. This wasn’t just a translation but a “completely revised” work — showing how Karl Marx’s research continually renewed his critical perspective on capitalist development.

In February 1867, after more than two decades of herculean work, Karl Marx told his friend Friedrich Engels that the first part of his long-awaited critique of political economy was finally complete. Marx travelled from London to Hamburg to deliver the manuscript of Volume I (“The Process of Production of Capital”) of his magnum opus and, in agreement with his editor, Otto Meissner, it was decided that Capital would appear in three parts. Brimming with satisfaction, Marx wrote that the publication of his book was, “without question, the most terrible missile that has yet been hurled at the heads of the bourgeoisie.”

Despite the long labor of composition before 1867, the structure of Capital would be considerably expanded over the coming years, and Volume I itself continued to absorb significant energies on Marx’s part, even after its publication. One of the most evident examples of this commitment was the French translation of Capital, published in forty-four installments between 1872 and 1875. This volume was not a mere translation but a version “completely revised by the author” in which Marx deepened the section on the process of capital accumulation and better developed his ideas about the distinction between the “concentration” and “centralization” of capital.

Seeking the Definitive Version

After interruptions due to poor health — and after a period of intense political activity for the International Working Men’s Association — Marx turned to work on a new edition of Capital, Volume I, at the beginning of the 1870s. Dissatisfied with how he had expounded the theory of value, he spent December 1871 and January 1872 rewriting what he had published in 1867. A reprint of Das Kapital in German that included the changes made by Marx came out in 1872. This was a key year for the dissemination of Capital, since it also saw the appearance of the Russian and French translations. Entrusted to Joseph Roy, who had previously translated some texts of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, the latter appeared in batches with the publisher Maurice Lachâtre. The first one was published 150 years ago, on September 17, 1872.

Marx agreed that it would be good to bring out a “cheap popular edition.” “I applaud your idea of publishing the translation . . . in periodic installments,” he wrote. “In this form, the book will be more accessible to the working class, and for me that consideration outweighs any other,” he argued with his publisher. Aware, however, that there was a “reverse side” of the coin, he anticipated that the “method of analysis” he had used would “make for somewhat arduous reading in the early chapters,” and that readers might “be put off” when they were “unable to press straight on in the first place.” He did not feel he could do anything about this “disadvantage,” other than alert and forewarn “readers concerned with the truth.” As Marx wrote in a well-known sentence of the preface to the French edition of Capital, “There is no royal road to learning and the only ones with any chance of reaching its sunlit peaks are those who do not fear exhaustion as they climb the steep upward paths.”

In the end, Marx had to spend much more time on the translation than he had initially planned for the proof correction. As he wrote to the Russian economist Nikolai Danielson, Roy had “often translated too literally,” forcing Marx himself to “rewrite whole passages in French, to make them more palatable to the French public.” Earlier that month, his daughter Jenny had told family friend Ludwig Kugelmann that her father was “obliged to make numberless corrections,” rewriting “not only whole sentences but entire pages.” Subsequently, Engels wrote to Kugelmann in a similar vein that the French translation had proved a “real slog” for Marx and that he “more or less had to rewrite the whole thing from the beginning.”

In revising the translation, moreover, Marx decided to introduce some additions and modifications. In the postscript to Le Capital, he did not hesitate to attach to it “a scientific value independent of the original” and stated that the new version “should be consulted even by readers familiar with German.” The most interesting point, especially for its political value, concerns the historical tendency of capitalist production. If in the previous edition of Capital, Volume I, Marx had written that “the country that is more developed industrially only shows, to those less developed, the image of its own future,” in the French version, the words in italics were substituted with “to those that follow it up the industrial ladder.” This clarification limited the tendency of capitalist development only to Western countries that were already industrialized.

Following a more in-depth study of history, Marx was now fully aware that the schema of linear progression through the “Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production,” which he had drawn in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, in 1859, was inadequate for an understanding of the movement of history, and that it was indeed advisable to steer clear of any philosophy of history. He did not see historical development in terms of unshakable linear progress toward a predefined end. The more pronounced multilinear conception that Marx developed in his final years led him to look even more attentively at the historical specificities and unevenness of political and economic development in different countries and social contexts. This approach certainly increased the difficulties he faced in the already bumpy course of completing the second and third volumes of Capital.

In the last decade of his life, Marx undertook thorough investigations of societies outside Europe and expressed himself unambiguously against the ravages of colonialism. It would be wrong to suggest otherwise, and to attribute him a Eurocentric view of societal development. Marx criticized thinkers who, while highlighting the destructive consequences of colonialism, used categories peculiar to the European context in their analyses of peripheral areas of the globe. He repeatedly warned 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 clearer thanks to Le Capital.

In 1878, in a letter in which Marx weighed the positive and negative sides of the French edition, he wrote to Danielson that it contained “many important changes and additions,” but that he had “also sometimes been obliged — principally in the first chapter — to simplify the matter.” Later, Engels thought that these additions were simplifications not worth reproducing, and he did not include all the changes made by Marx to Le Capital in the fourth German edition of Capital, published in 1890, seven years after Marx’s death. Marx was unable to complete a final revision of Capital, Volume I. In fact, neither the French edition of 1872–75 nor the third German edition issued in 1881 can be considered the definitive version that Marx would have liked it to be.

Marx Through Le Capital

Le Capital had considerable importance for the diffusion of Marx’s work around the world. It was used for the translation of many extracts into various languages — the first in the English language, published in 1883, for example. More generally, Le Capital represented the first gateway to Marx’s work for readers in various countries. The first Italian translation — published between 1882 and 1884 — was made directly from the French edition. In the case of Spanish, Le Capital made it possible to bring out some partial editions and two complete translations: one in Madrid, in 1967, and one in Buenos Aires, in 1973. Since French was more widely known than German, it was thanks to this version that Marx’s critique of political economy was able to reach many countries in Hispanic America more rapidly. Much the same was true for Portuguese-speaking countries. In Portugal itself, Capital circulated only through the small number of copies available in French until an abridged version appeared in Portuguese, shortly before the fall of the Salazarist dictatorship in 1974. In general, political activists and researchers in both Portugal and Brazil found it easier to approach Marx’s work via the French translation than in the original. The few copies that found their way into Portuguese-speaking African countries were also in that language.

Colonialism also partly shaped the mechanisms whereby Capital became available in the Arab world. While in Egypt and Iraq it was English that featured most in the spread of European culture, the French edition played a more prominent role elsewhere, especially in Algeria, which, in the 1960s, was a significant center for facilitating the circulation of Marxist ideas in “non-aligned” countries. The significance of Le Capital stretched also to Asia, as demonstrated by the fact that the first Vietnamese translation of Volume I, published between 1959 and 1960, was based on the French edition.

Thus, as well as being often consulted by translators around the world and checked against the 1890 edition published by Engels, which became the standard version of Das Kapital, the French translation has served as the basis for complete translations of Capital into seven languages. One hundred and fifty years since its first publication, it continues to be a source of stimulating debate among scholars and activists interested in Marx’s critique of capitalism.

In a letter to his longtime comrade Friedrich Adolph Sorge, Marx remarked that with Le Capital, he had “consumed so much of [his] time that [he would] not again collaborate in any way on a translation.” That is exactly what happened. The toil and trouble that he put into producing the best possible French version were remarkable indeed. But we can say they were well rewarded. Le Capital has had a significant circulation, and the additions and changes made by Marx during the revision of its translation contributed to the anti-colonial and universal dimension of Capital that is becoming widely recognized nowadays, thanks to some of the newest and most insightful contributions in Marx studies.

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Karl Marx’s Final Years – with Mitch Jeserich (Interview)

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The end of the Italian government explained by Karl Marx

The government of national unity led by “technician” Mario Draghi has imploded due to political divisions that the former president of the European Central Bank could no longer contain.

Few know that, among the many topics to which he devoted his interest, Marx also dealt with the critique of the so-called ‘technical government’. As a contributor to the New York Tribune, one of the widest circulation dailies of his time, Marx observed the political and institutional developments that led to one of the first technical governments in history: the Earl of Aberdeen cabinet that lasted from December 1852 to January 1855.
Marx’s reports stood out for their perceptiveness and sarcasm. The Times celebrated the events that occurred in 1852 as a sign that Britain was at the beginning of a time ‘in which party spirit is to fly from the earth, and genius, experience, industry and patriotism are to be the sole qualifications for office’. The London-based newspaper called on ‘men of every class of opinion’ to rally behind the new government because ‘its principles command universal assent and support’. Similar arguments were used in February 2021, when Mario Draghi, the former President of the European Central Bank, became Prime Minister of Italy.

In the 1853 article A Superannuanted Administration: Prospect of the Coalition Ministry, Marx had scoffed at the viewpoint of The Times. What the major British newspaper found so modern and enthralling was for him sheer farce. When The Times announced ‘a ministry composed entirely of new, young and promising characters’, Marx mused that ‘the world will certainly be not a little puzzled to learn that the new era in the history of Great Britain is to be inaugurated by all but used-up octogenarians’. Alongside the judgments of individuals there were others, of greater interest, concerning their policies: ‘We are promised the total disappearance of party warfare, nay even of parties themselves’, Marx noted. ‘What is the meaning of The Times?’ The question is unfortunately all too topical today, in a world where the rule of capital over labour has become as feral as it was in the middle of the nineteenth century. The separation between economics and politics, that differentiates capitalism from previous modes of production, has reached a highest point. Economics not only dominates politics, setting its agenda and shaping its decisions, but lies outside its jurisdiction and democratic control – to the point where a change of government no longer changes the directions of economic and social policy. They must be immutable.

In the last thirty years, the powers of decision-making have passed from the political to the economic sphere. Partisan policy options have been transformed into economic imperatives which disguise a highly political and reactionary project behind an ideological mask of apolitical expertise. This shunting of parts of the political sphere into the economy, as a separate domain impervious to change, involves the gravest threat to democracy in our times. National parliaments, already drained of representative value by skewed electoral systems and authoritarian revisions of the relationship between executive and legislature, find their powers taken away and transferred to the ‘market’. Standard & Poor’s ratings and the Wall Street index – these mega-fetishes of contemporary society – carry incomparably more weight than the will of the people. At best political government can ‘intervene’ in the economy (sometimes, the ruling classes need to mitigate the destructive anarchy of capitalism and its violent crises), but they cannot call into question its rules and fundamental choices.

A prominent representative of this policy was former Italian Prime Minister Draghi, for 17 months leading a very broad coalition including the Democratic Party, his longtime enemy Silvio Berlusconi, the populists of the Five Star Movement and the far-right Northern League party. Behind the facade of the term ‘technical government’ – or as they say of the ‘government of the best’ or the ‘government of all the talents’ – we can make out a suspension of politics. In recent years, it has come to be argued that new elections should not be granted after a political crisis; politics should hand over the whole control to economics. In an article of April 1853, Achievements of the Ministry, Marx wrote that ‘the Coalition (“technical”) Ministry represents impotency in political power’. Governments no longer discuss which economic orientation to take. Now economic orientations bring about the birth of governments.

In recent years, in Europe the neoliberal mantra has repeated that, to restore market ‘confidence’, it was necessary to proceed rapidly down the road of ‘structural reforms’, an expression now used as a synonym for social devastation: in other words, wage cuts, attacks on workers’ rights over hiring and firing, increases in the pension age, and large-scale privatization. The new ‘technical governments’, headed by individuals with a background in some of the economic institutions most responsible for the economic crisis have gone down this path – claiming to do this ‘for the good of the country’ and ‘the well-being of future generations’. Moreover, the economic power and the mainstream media have attempted to silence anyone who has raised a discordant voice.
As of today, Draghi is no longer the Italian Prime Minister. His majority has imploded because of the too-different policies of the parties that supported him, and Italy will go to early elections on September 25. If the Left is not to disappear, it must also have the courage to propose the radical policies necessary to address the most urgent contemporary issues, starting from the ecological crisis. The last people who can carry out a program of social transformation and redistribution of the wealth are the ‘technicians’ – actually very political – like banker Mario Draghi. He will not be missed.

 

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The Rule of “Experts” Is Destroying Democracy

Among the many topics to which Karl Marx devoted his interest, one of the less well-known is his critique of so-called “technical government” — that is, governments led by supposed “experts” not affiliated with political parties. As a contributor to the New York Tribune, one of the widest- circulation dailies of his day, Marx observed the institutional developments that led to one of the first such governments in history: the Earl of Aberdeen’s cabinet in Britain, from December 1852 to January 1855.
Marx’s reports stood out for their perceptiveness and sarcasm. The Times celebrated these events as a sign that Britain was at the beginning of a time “in which party spirit is to fly from the earth, and genius, experience, industry and patriotism are to be the sole qualifications for office.” The London- based daily called on “men of every class of opinion” to rally behind the new government because “its principles command universal assent and support.”

Similar arguments were used in February 2021, when Mario Draghi became Italy’s prime minister. The fanfare around Draghi, who had been governor of the Bank of Italy from 2006 to 2011 and president of the European Central Bank from 2011 to 2019, was akin to that of the Times in 1852. All conservative and liberal press organs, including those of the moderate left, joined in a crusade against the irresponsible political parties and in favor of the “savior” Draghi. With his resignation on Thursday, the experiment has once again come to an end.
In the 1853 article “A Superannuated Administration: Prospect of the Coalition Ministry,” Marx scoffed at the Times’ viewpoint. What the major British newspaper found so modern and enthralling was, for him, sheer farce. When The Times announced “a ministry composed entirely of new, young and promising characters,” Marx mused that
the world will certainly be not a little puzzled to learn that the new era in the history of Great Britain is to be inaugurated by all but used-up octogenarians, bureaucrats who served under almost every Administration since the close of the last century, twice dead of age and exhaustion and only resuscitated into an artificial existence.
Alongside the judgments on individuals there were others, of greater interest, concerning their policies: “We are promised the total disappearance of party warfare, nay even of parties themselves,” Marx noted. “What is the meaning of The Times?”

The question is unfortunately all too topical today, in a world where the rule of capital over labor has become as feral as it was in the mid-nineteenth century. The separation between economics and politics, which differentiates capitalism from previous modes of production, has reached a high point. Economics not only dominates politics, setting its agenda and shaping its decisions, but lies outside its jurisdiction and democratic control — to the point where a change of government no longer changes the directions of economic and social policy. They must be immutable.

Economic “Imperatives”

In the last thirty years, the powers of decision-making have passed from the political to the economic sphere. Partisan policy options have been transformed into economic imperatives that disguise a highly political and reactionary project behind an ideological mask of apolitical expertise. This shunting of parts of the political sphere into the economy, as a separate domain impervious to change, involves the gravest threat to democracy in our times. National parliaments, already drained of representative value by skewed electoral systems and authoritarian revisions of the relationship between executive and legislature, find their powers taken away and transferred to the “market.” Standard & Poor’s ratings, the Wall Street index, and the bid-ask spread — these megafetishes of contemporary society — carry incomparably more weight than the will of the people. At best governments can “intervene” in the economy (sometimes, the ruling classes need to mitigate the destructive anarchy of capitalism and its violent crises), but they cannot call into question its rules and fundamental choices.

From February 2021 until his resignation last Thursday, Draghi was a prominent representative of this policy. For seventeen months he led a very broad coalition including the centrist Democratic Party, its longtime enemy Silvio Berlusconi, the populists of the Five Star Movement, and Matteo Salvini’s far-right Lega. Behind the facade of the term “technical government” — or as they say, the “government of the best” — we can see a suspension of politics.
This phenomenon is not new in Italy. Since the end of the First Republic in the early 1990s, there have been numerous governments with “technical” leadership or without political party representatives. These include the government of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, previously governor of the Bank of Italy for fifteen years, from 1993 to 1994 (and subsequently elected to the office of president of Italy from 1999 to 2006); the government of Lamberto Dini, former director general of the Bank of Italy, after a long career at the International Monetary Fund, in 1995-96; and the government of Mario Monti, the former European Commissioner for Competition with previous relevant experience on the Rockefeller Group’s Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group steering committee, and as an international adviser to Goldman Sachs, from 2011 to 2013.

In recent years, it has been argued that new elections should not be granted after a political crisis; politics should hand over total control to economics. In an April 1853 article, “Achievements of the Ministry,” Marx wrote that “the Coalition [‘technical’] Ministry represents impotency in political power.” Governments no longer discuss which economic orientation to take. Now the dominant economic orientations bring about the birth of governments.
In Europe in recent years, the neoliberal mantra has been repeated that to restore market “confidence” it was necessary to proceed rapidly down the road of “structural reforms” — an expression now used as a synonym for social devastation: in other words, wage cuts, attacks on workers’ rights over hiring and firing, increases in the pension age, and large-scale privatization.
The new “technical governments,” headed by individuals with a background in some of the economic institutions most responsible for the economic crisis, have gone down this path — claiming to do this “for the good of the country” and “the well-being of future generations.” Moreover, the economic powers and the mainstream media have attempted to silence anyone who has raised a discordant voice.

Following his resignation, Draghi is no longer to be Italy’s prime minister. His majority has imploded because of the too-different policies of the parties that supported him, and Italy will go to early elections on September 25. If the Left is not to disappear, it must also have the courage to propose the radical policies necessary to address the most urgent contemporary issues, starting from the ecological crisis. The last people who could carry out a program of social transformation and redistribution of the wealth are the “technicians” — actually very political figures — like the central banker Mario Draghi. He will not be missed.

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Another Marx New Profiles of an Evergreen

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How Will Russia’s War on Ukraine End?

The war in Ukraine is now in its fourth month. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has already caused the death of almost five thousand civilians and has forced almost five million people to leave their homes and flee abroad. These numbers do not include military deaths — at least ten thousand Ukrainians and probably more on the Russian side — and the many millions of people who have been displaced inside Ukraine.
The invasion has also entailed the mass destruction of cities and civilian infrastructure that will take generations to rebuild. The extent of major war crimes, like those committed during the siege of Mariupol, are yet to fully come to light.
Reflecting on the war so far, Marcello Musto sat down with Etienne Balibar, Silvia Federici, and Michael Lowy. Together, they discussed Russia’s culpability, the role of NATO, and paths toward ending the war.

MARCELLO MUSTO    The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the brutality of war back to Europe and confronted the world with the dilemma of how to respond to the attack on Ukrainian sovereignty.

MICHAEL LOWY  As long as [Vladimir] Putin wanted to protect the Russian-speaking minorities of the Donetsk region, there was a certain rationality to his policies. The same can be said for his opposition to NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe. However, this brutal invasion of Ukraine, with its series of bombings of cities, with thousands of civilian victims, among them elderly people and children, has no justification.

ETIENNE BALIBAR  The war developing before our eyes is “total.” It is a war of destruction and terror waged by the army of a more powerful neighboring country, whose government wants to enlist it in an imperialist adventure with no turning back. The urgent, immediate imperative is that the Ukrainians’ resistance should hold, and that to this end it should be and feel really supported by actions and not simple feelings. What actions? Here begins the tactical debate, the calculation of the efficacy and risks of the “defensive” and the “offensive.” However, “wait and see” is not an option.

MARCELLO MUSTO  Alongside the justified Ukrainian resistance, there is the equally critical question of how Europe can avoid being seen as an actor in the war and contribute instead, as much as possible, to a diplomatic initiative to bring an end to the armed conflict. Hence the demand of a significant part of public opinion — despite the bellicose rhetoric of the last three months — that Europe should not take part in the war.
The first point of this is to avoid even more suffering of the population. For the danger is that, already martyred by the Russian army, the nation will be turned into an armed camp that receives weapons from NATO and wages a long war on behalf of those in Washington who hope for a permanent weakening of Russia and a greater economic and military dependence of Europe on the US. If this were to happen, the conflict would go beyond the full and legitimate defense of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Those who, from the beginning, denounced the dangerous spiral of war that would follow shipments of heavy weapons to Ukraine are certainly not unaware of the daily violence perpetrated there and do not wish to abandon its population to the military might of Russia. “Nonalignment” does not mean neutrality or equidistance, as various instrumental caricatures have suggested. It is not a question of abstract pacifism as a matter of principle, but rather of a concrete diplomatic alternative. This implies carefully weighing up any action or declaration according to whether it brings nearer the key objective in the present situation: that is, to open credible negotiations to restore peace.

SILVIA FEDERICI  There is no dilemma. Russia’s war on Ukraine must be condemned. Nothing can justify the destruction of towns, the killing of innocent people, the terror in which thousands are forced to live. Far more than sovereignty has been violated in this act of aggression. However, I agree, we must also condemn the many maneuvers by which the US and NATO have contributed to foment this war, and the decision of the US and the EU to send arms to Ukraine, which will prolong the war indefinitely. Sending arms is particularly objectionable considering that Russia’s invasion could have been stopped, had the US given Russia a guarantee that NATO will not extend to its borders.

MARCELLO MUSTO  Since the beginning of the war, one of the main points of discussion has been the type of aid to be provided for the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russia’s aggression, but without generating the conditions that would lead to even greater destruction in Ukraine and an expansion of the conflict internationally. Among the contentious issues in the past months have been [Volodymyr] Zelensky’s request for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, the level of economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia, and, more significantly, the appropriateness of sending arms to the Ukrainian government. What are, in your opinion, the decisions that have to be taken to ensure the smallest number of victims in Ukraine and to prevent further escalation?

MICHAEL LOWY One could level many criticisms at present-day Ukraine: the lack of democracy, the oppression of the Russian-speaking minority, “occidentalism,” and many others. But one cannot deny the Ukrainian people their right to defend themselves against the Russian invasion of their territory in brutal and criminal contempt of the right of nations to self¬determination.

ETIENNE BALIBAR  I would say that the Ukrainians’ war against the Russian invasion is a “just war,” in the strong sense of the term. I am well aware that this is a questionable category, and that its long history in the West has not been free from manipulation and hypocrisy, or disastrous illusions, but I see no other suitable term.
I appropriate it, therefore, while specifying that a “just” war is one where it is not enough to recognize the legitimacy of those defending themselves against aggression — the criterion in international law — but where it is necessary to make a commitment to their side. And that it is a war where even those, like me, for whom all war — or all war today, in the present state of the world — is unacceptable or disastrous, do not have the choice of remaining passive. For the consequence of that would be still worse. I therefore feel no enthusiasm, but I choose: against Putin.

MARCELLO MUSTO  I understand the spirit of these observations, but I would concentrate more on the need to head off a general conflagration and therefore on the urgent need to reach a peace agreement. The longer this takes, the greater are the risks of a further expansion of the war. No one is thinking of looking away and ignoring what is happening in Ukraine. But we have to realize that when a nuclear power like Russia is involved, with no sizable peace movement active there, it is illusory to think that the war against Putin can be “won.”

ETIENNE BALIBAR  I am terribly afraid of military — including nuclear — escalation. It is terrifying and visibly not ruled out. But pacifism is not an option. The immediate requirement is to help the Ukrainians to resist. Let us not start playing “nonintervention” again. The EU is anyway already involved in the war. Even if it is not sending troops, it is delivering weapons — and I think it is right to do so. That is a form of intervention.

MARCELLO MUSTO  On May 9, the Biden administration approved the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022: a package of more than forty billion dollars in military and financial aid to Ukraine. It is a colossal sum, to which should be added the aid from various EU countries, and it seems designed to fund a protracted war. Biden himself strengthened this impression on June 15, when he announced that the US would be sending military aid worth a further one billion dollars.
The ever larger supplies of hardware from the US and NATO encourage Zelensky to keep putting off the much-needed talks with the Russian government. Moreover, given the historical precedent of weapons that were originally sent into active war zones but sticking around long after for different ends, it seems reasonable to wonder whether these shipments will serve only to drive the Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

SILVIA FEDERICI  I think that the best move would be for the US and EU to give Russia the guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO. This was promised to [Mikhail] Gorbachev at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, though it was not put in writing. Unfortunately, there is no interest in seeking a solution.
Many in the US military and political power structure have been advocating and preparing for a confrontation with Russia for years. And the war is now conveniently used to justify a huge increase in petroleum extraction and brush aside all concern for global warming. Already Biden has gone back on his electoral campaign promise to stop drilling on Native American lands. We are also witnessing a transfer of billions of dollars to the US military industrial complex, that is one of the main winners in this war. Peace will not come with an escalation in the fighting.

MARCELLO MUSTO  Let us discuss the reactions of the Left to the Russian invasion. Some organizations, though only a small minority, made a big political mistake in refusing to clearly condemn Russia’s “special military operation” — a mistake which, apart from anything else, will make any denunciations of future acts of aggression by NATO, or others, appear less credible. It reflects an ideologically blinkered view that is unable to conceive of politics in anything but a one¬dimensional manner, as if all geopolitical questions had to be evaluated solely in terms of attempting to weaken the US.
At the same time, all too many others on the Left have yielded to the temptation to become, directly or indirectly, co-belligerents in this war. I was not surprised by the positions of the Socialist International, the Greens in Germany, or the few progressive representatives of the Democratic Party in the US — although sudden conversions to militarism by people who, just the day before, declared themselves to be pacifists always have a shrill, jarring quality. What I have in mind, rather, are many forces of the so-called “radical” left, who in these weeks have lost any distinct voice amid the pro-Zelensky chorus. I believe that, when they do not oppose war, progressive forces lose an essential part of their reason for existence and end up swallowing the ideology of the opposite camp.

MICHAEL LOWY  It is no coincidence that the great majority of the world’s “radical” left parties, including even those most nostalgic for Soviet socialism, such as communist parties of Greece and Chile, have condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, in Latin America, important forces of the Left, and governments such as Venezuela’s, have taken the side of Putin, or have limited themselves to a sort of “neutral” stance — like [Luiz Inacio] Lula [da Silva], the leader of the Worker’s Party in Brazil. The choice for the Left is between the right of peoples to self-determination — as Lenin argued — and the right of empires to invade and attempt to annex other countries. You cannot have both, for these are irreconcilable options.

SILVIA FEDERICI  in the US, spokespersons for social justice movements and feminist organizations like Code Pink have condemned Russia’s aggression. It has been noted, however, that the US and NATO’s defense of democracy is quite selective, considering their record in Afghanistan, Yemen, Africom’s operations in the Sahel. And the list could go on.
The hypocrisy of the US’s defense of democracy in Ukraine is also evident when we consider the silence of the American government in the face of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine and constant destruction of Palestinian lives. It has also been noted that the US has opened its doors to Ukrainians after closing them to immigrants from Latin America, though for many fleeing from their countries was also a matter of life and death.
As for the Left, it is certainly a shame that the institutional left — starting with [Alexandria] Ocasio- Cortez — has supported sending arms to Ukraine. I wish that the radical media were more inquisitive concerning what we are told at the institutional level. For instance, why is “Africa starving” because of the war in Ukraine? What international policies have made African countries dependent on Ukrainian grains? Why not mention the massive land grabs at the hands of international companies, which have led many to speak of a “new scramble for Africa”? I want to ask, once again: Whose lives have value? And why do only certain forms of death arouse indignation?

MARCELLO MUSTO  Despite the increased support for NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine — demonstrated by the formal request of Finland and Sweden to join this organization — it is necessary to work harder to ensure that public opinion does not see the largest and most aggressive war machine in the world (NATO) as the solution to the problems of global security. In this story, NATO has shown itself yet again to be a dangerous organization, which, in its drive for expansion and unipolar domination, serves to fuel tensions leading to war around the globe. However, there is a paradox. Four months after the beginning of this war, we can certainly say that Putin not only got his military strategy wrong, but also ended up strengthening — even from the point of view of international consensus — the enemy whose sphere of influence he wanted to limit: NATO.

ETIENNE BALIBAR I am among those who think that NATO should have disappeared at the end of the Cold War, at the same time as the Warsaw Pact. However, NATO had not only external functions but also — perhaps mainly — the function of disciplining, not to say domesticating, the Western camp. All that is certainly linked to an imperialism: NATO is part of the instruments guaranteeing that Europe in the broad sense does not have genuine geopolitical autonomy vis-a-vis the American empire.
It is one of the reasons why NATO was kept after the Cold War. And, I agree, the consequences have been disastrous for the whole world. NATO consolidated several dictatorships in its own sphere of influence. It covered for — or tolerated — all sorts of wars, some of them hideously murderous and involving crimes against humanity. What is happening at the moment because of Russia has not changed my mind about NATO.

MICHAEL LOWY  NATO is an imperialist organization, dominated by the US and responsible for innumerable wars of aggression. The dismantling of this political-military monster, generated by the Cold War, is a fundamental requirement of democracy. Its weakening in recent years has led [Emmanuel] Macron to declare, in 2019, that the Alliance was “brain-dead.”
Unfortunately, Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine has resuscitated NATO. Sweden and Finland have now decided to join it. US troops are stationed in Europe in great numbers. Germany, which two years ago refused to enlarge its military budget despite [Donald] Trump’s brutal pressure, has recently decided to invest one hundred billion euros in rearmament. Putin has saved NATO from its slow decline, perhaps disappearance.

SILVIA FEDERICI  It is worrisome that Russia’s war on Ukraine has produced a great
amnesia about NATO’s expansionism, and its support of the EU and US imperialist policy. It is time to refresh our memory about NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, its role in Iraq, and its lead in the bombing and disintegration of Libya. Examples of NATO’s total and constitutional disregard for the democracy that it now pretends to defend are too many to count. I do not believe that NATO was moribund before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Quite the contrary. Its march through Eastern Europe and its presence in Africa demonstrates the opposite.

MARCELLO MUSTO  This amnesia seems to have affected many forces of the Left in government. Overturning its historical principles, the parliamentary majority of the Left Alliance in Finland recently voted in favor of joining NATO. In Spain, much of Unidas Podemos joined the chorus of the entire parliamentary spectrum in favor of sending weapons to the Ukrainian army and supported the huge rise in military spending. If a party does not have the courage to speak out loud against such policies, it makes its own contribution to the expansion of US militarism in Europe. Such subaltern political conduct has punished leftist parties many times in the past, including at the polls, as soon as the occasion has arisen.

ETIENNE BALIBAR  The best would be for Europe to be strong enough to protect its own territory, and for there to be an effective system of international security — that is, for the UN to be democratically overhauled and freed from the right of veto of the permanent members of the Security Council. But the more NATO rises as a security system, the more the UN declines. In Kosovo, Libya, and, above all in 2013, in Iraq, the aim of the United States and NATO in its wake was to degrade the UN capacities for mediation, regulation, and international justice.

MARCELLO MUSTO  Let us end on what you think the course of the war will be and what are the possible future scenarios.

ETIENNE BALIBAR  One can only be dreadfully pessimistic about the developments to come. I am myself, and I believe that the chances of avoiding disaster are very remote. There are at least three reasons for this.
First, escalation is probable, especially if the resistance to the invasion manages to keep going; and it cannot stop at “conventional” weapons — whose boundary with “weapons of mass destruction” has become very hazy. Second, if the war ends in a “result,” it will be disastrous in every eventuality. Of course, it will be disastrous if Putin achieves his aims by crushing the Ukrainian people and through the encouragement this gives for similar enterprises; or, also, if he is forced to halt and pull back, with a return to bloc politics in which the world will then become frozen.

MICHAEL LOWY  To propose a more ambitious objective, in positive terms, I would say that we should imagine another Europe and another Russia, rid of their capitalist parasitic oligarchies. [Jean] Jaures’s maxim “capitalism carries war like the cloud carries the storm” is more relevant than ever. Only in another Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals — postcapitalist, social, and ecological — can peace and justice be assured. Is this a possible scenario? It depends on each of us.

Either of these outcomes will bring a flare-up of nationalism and hatred that will last a long time. Third, the war, and its sequels, hold back the mobilization of the planet against climate catastrophe — in fact, they help to precipitate it, and too much time has already been wasted.

MICHAEL LOWY  I share these preoccupations, especially concerning the delay in the fight against climate change, which is now totally marginalized by the arms race of all the countries concerned by the war.

SILVIA FEDERICI  I too am pessimistic. The US and other NATO countries have no intention of assuring Russia that NATO will not extend its reach to the borders of Russia. Therefore, the war will continue with disastrous consequences for Ukraine, Russia, and beyond. We will see in the coming months how other European countries will be affected. I cannot imagine future scenarios other than the extension of the state of permanent warfare that already is a reality in so many parts of the world and, once more, the diversion of resources much needed to support social reproduction toward destructive ends. It hurts me that we do not have a massive feminist movement going to the streets, going on strike, determined to put an end to all wars.

MARCELLO MUSTO  I, too, sense that the war will not stop soon. An “imperfect” but immediate peace would certainly be preferable to the prolonging of hostilities, but too many forces in the field are working for a different outcome. Whenever a head of state pronounces that “we will support Ukraine until it is victorious,” the prospect of negotiations recedes further into the distance. Yet I think it is more likely that we are heading for an indefinite continuation of the war, with Russian troops confronting a Ukrainian army resupplied and indirectly supported by NATO.
The Left should strenuously fight for a diplomatic solution and against increases in military spending, the cost of which will fall on the world of labor and lead to a further economic and social crisis. If this is what is going to happen, the parties that will gain are those on the far right that nowadays are putting their stamp on the European political debate in an ever more aggressive and reactionary manner.

ETIENNE BALIBAR  To put forward positive perspectives, our goal would have to be a recomposition of Europe, in the interests of the Russians, the Ukrainians, and our own, in such a way that the question of nations and nationalities is completely rethought.
An even more ambitious objective would be to invent and develop a multilingual, multicultural Greater Europe open to the world — instead of making the militarization of the European Union, inevitable though it may seem in the short term, the meaning of our future. The aim would be to avoid the “clash of civilizations” of which we would otherwise be the epicenter.

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Journal Articles

War and the Left: Considerations on a Chequered History

The economic causes of war
While the science of politics has probed the ideological, political, economic and even psychological motivations behind the drive to war, socialist theory has made one of its most compelling contributions by highlighting the nexus between the development of capitalism and the spread of wars.

In the debates of the International Working Men’s Association (1864-1872), César de Paepe, one of its principal leaders, formulated what would become the classical position of the workers’ movement on the question: namely, that wars are inevitable under the regime of capitalist production. In contemporary society, they are brought about not by the ambitions of monarchs or other individuals but by the dominant social-economic model (De Paepe, 2014a; 2014b; Musto, 2014). The socialist movement also showed which sections of the population were struck hardest by the dire consequences of war. At the congress of the International held in 1868, the delegates adopted a motion that called upon workers to pursue “the final abolition of all war”, since they were the ones who would pay – economically or with their own blood, whether they were among the victors or the defeated – for the decisions of their ruling classes and the governments representing them. The lesson for the workers’ movement came from the belief that any war should be considered “a civil war” (Freymond, 1962: 403; Musto 2014: 49), a ferocious clash between workers that deprived them of the means necessary for their survival. They needed to act resolutely against any war, by resisting conscription and taking strike action. Internationalism thus became a cardinal point of the future society, which, with the end of capitalism and the rivalry among bourgeois states on the world market, would have eliminated the main underlying causes of war.

Among the precursors of socialism, Claude Henri de Saint-Simon had taken a decisive stand against both war and social conflict, regarding both as obstacles to the fundamental progress of industrial production. Karl Marx did not develop in any of his writings his views – fragmentary and sometimes contradictory – on war, nor did he put forward guidelines for the correct attitude to be taken towards it. When he chose between opposing camps, his only constant was his opposition to Tsarist Russia, which he saw as the outpost of counter-revolution and one of the main barriers to working-class emancipation. In Capital (1867) he argued that violence was an economic force, “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one” (Marx, 1996: 739). But he did not think of war as a crucial shortcut for the revolutionary transformation of society, and a major aim of his political activity was to commit workers to the principle of international solidarity. As Friedrich Engels also argued, they should act resolutely in individual countries against the dampening of class struggle that the propagandistic invention of an external enemy threatened to bring about at any outbreak of war. In various letters to leaders of the workers’ movement, Engels stressed the ideological power of the snare of patriotism and the delay to the proletarian revolution resulting from waves of chauvinism. Moreover, in Anti-Dühring (1878), following an analysis of the effects of ever more deadly weaponry, he declared that the task of socialism was “to blow up militarism and all standing armies” (Engels, 1987: 158).

War was such an important question for Engels that he devoted one of his last writings to it. In “Can Europe Disarm?” (1893), he noted that in the previous twenty-five years every major power had tried to outdo its rivals militarily and in terms of war preparations. This had involved unprecedented levels of arms production and brought the Old Continent closer to “a war of destruction such as the world has never seen” (Engels, 1990: 372). According to the co-author of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), “The system of standing armies has been carried to such extremes throughout Europe that it must either bring economic ruin to the peoples on account of the military burden, or else degenerate into a general war of extermination”. In his analysis, Engels did not forget to highlight that standing armies were maintained chiefly for internal political as much as external military purposes. They were intended “to provide protection not so much against the external enemy as the internal one”, by strengthening the forces to repress the proletariat and workers’ struggles. As popular layers paid more than anyone else the costs of war, through the provision of troops to the state and taxes, the workers’ movement should fight for “the gradual reduction of the term of [military] service by international treaty” and for disarmament as the only effective “guarantee of peace” (Engels, 1990: 371).

Tests and collapse
It was not long before a peacetime theoretical debate turned into the foremost political issue of the age, when the workers’ movement had to face real situations in which their representatives initially opposed any support for war. In the Franco-Prussian conflict of 1870 (which preceded the Paris Commune), the Social Democrat deputies Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel condemned the annexationist objectives of Bismarck’s Germany and voted against war credits. Their decision to “reject the bill for additional funding to continue the war” (Pelz, 2016: 50) earned them a two-year prison sentence for high treason, but it helped to show the working class an alternative way to build on the crisis.

As the major European powers kept up their imperialist expansion, the controversy on war acquired ever greater weight in the debates of the Second International (1889-1916). A resolution adopted at its founding congress had enshrined peace as “the indispensable precondition of any emancipation of the workers” (Dominick 1982: 343). The supposed peace policy of the bourgeoisie was mocked and characterized as one of “armed peace” and, in 1895, Jean Jaurès, the leader of the French Socialist Party (SFIO), gave a speech in parliament in which he famously summed up the apprehensions of the Left: “Your violent and chaotic society still, even when it wants peace, even when it is in a state of apparent repose, bears war within itself, just as a sleeping cloud bears a storm” (Jaurès, 1982: 32).

As the Weltpolitik – the aggressive policy of Imperial Germany to extend its power in the international arena – changed the geopolitical setting, anti-militarist principles sank deeper roots in the workers’ movement and influenced the discussions on armed conflicts. War was no longer seen only as opening up revolutionary opportunities and hastening the breakdown of the system (an idea on the Left since the Revolutionary War of 1792). It was now viewed as a danger because of its grievous consequences for the proletariat in the shape of hunger, destitution and unemployment. It thus posed a serious threat for progressive forces, and, as Karl Kautsky wrote in The Social Revolution (1902), they would in case of war be “heavily loaded with tasks that are not essential” (Kautsky, 1904: 77) to them, and which would make the final victory more distant rather than bring it closer.

The resolution “On Militarism and International Conflicts”, adopted by the Second International at its Stuttgart Congress in 1907, recapitulated all the key points that had become the common heritage of the workers’ movement. Among these were: a vote against budgets that increased military spending, antipathy to standing armies and a preference for a system of people’s militias, and support for the plan to create courts of arbitration to settle international conflicts peacefully. This excluded a resort to general strikes against any kind of wars, as proposed by Gustave Hervé, since a majority of those present deemed this too radical and too Manichaean. The resolution ended with an amendment drafted by Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin and Yulii Martov, which stated that

“in case war should break out […], it is the duty [of socialists] to intervene in favour of its speedy termination, and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war, to rouse the masses and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule” (Vv. Aa., 1972: 80).

Since this did not, however, compel the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) to make any change of political line, its representatives also voted in favour of it. The text, as amended, was the last document on war that secured unanimous support from the Second International.

More intense competition among capitalist states on the world market, together with the outbreak of a number of international conflicts, made the general picture even more alarming. The publication of Jaurès’s The New Army (1911) encouraged discussion of another central theme of the period: the distinction between offensive and defensive wars and the attitude to be taken to the latter, including in cases where a country’s independence was threatened (see Marcobelli, 2021: 155-227). For Jaurès, the only task of the army should be to defend the nation against any offensive aggression, or any aggressor that did not accept resolution of the dispute through mediation. All military action that came under this category should be considered legitimate. Luxemburg’s clear-sighted critique of this position pointed out that “historical phenomena such as modern wars cannot be measured with the yardstick of ‘justice’, or through a paper schema of defence and aggression” (Luxemburg, 1911). In her view, it was necessary to bear in mind the difficulty of establishing whether a war was really offensive or defensive, or whether the state that started it had deliberately decided to attack or had been forced to do so because of the stratagems adopted by the country that opposed it. She therefore thought that the distinction should be discarded, and further criticized Jaurès’s idea of the “armed nation”, on the grounds that it ultimately tended to fuel the growing militarization in society.

As the years passed, the Second International committed itself less and less to a policy of action in favour of peace. Its opposition to rearmament and war preparations was very lacklustre, and an increasingly moderate and legalistic wing of the SPD traded its support for military credits – and then even for colonial expansion – in return for the granting of greater political freedoms in Germany. Important leaders and eminent theorists, such as Gustav Noske, Henry Hyndman and Arturo Labriola, were among the first to arrive at these positions. Subsequently, a majority of German Social Democrats, French Socialists, British Labour Party leaders and other European reformists ended up supporting the First World War (1914-1918). This course had disastrous consequences. With the idea that the “benefits of progress” should not be monopolized by the capitalists, the workers’ movement came to share the expansionist aims of the ruling classes and was swamped by nationalist ideology. The Second International proved completely impotent in the face of the war, failing in one of its main objectives: the preservation of peace.

Lenin and other delegates at the Zimmerwald conference (1915) – including Leon Trotsky, who drafted the final manifesto – foresaw that “for decades war spending will absorb the best energies of peoples, undermining social improvements and impeding any progress”. In their eyes the war revealed the “naked form of modern capitalism, which has become irreconcilable, not only with the interests of the working masses […] but even with the first conditions of human communal existence” (Vv. Aa., 1915). The warning was heeded by only a minority in the workers’ movement, as was the call to all European workers at the Kienthal Conference (1916):

“Your governments and their newspapers tell you that the war must be continued to kill militarism. They are deceiving you! War has never killed war. Indeed, it sparks feelings and wishes for revenge. In this way in marking you for sacrifice, they enclose you in an infernal circle”.

Finally breaking with the approach of the Stuttgart Congress, which had called for international courts of arbitration, the final document at Kienthal declared that “the illusions of bourgeois pacifism” (Vv. Aa., 1977: 371) would not interrupt the spiral of war but would help to preserve the existing social-economic system. The only way to prevent future military conflicts was for the popular masses to conquer political power and overthrow capitalist property.

Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin were the two most vigorous opponents of the war. Luxemburg extended the theoretical understanding of the Left and showed how militarism was a key vertebra of the state. Displaying a conviction and effectiveness with few equals among other communist leaders, she argued that the “War on war!” slogan should become “the cornerstone of working-class politics”. As she wrote in the Theses on the Tasks of International Social-Democracy (1915), the Second International had imploded because it failed “to achieve a common tactic and action by the proletariat in all countries”. From then on, the “main goal” of the proletariat should therefore be “fighting imperialism and preventing wars, in peace as in war” (Luxemburg, 1915).

In Socialism and War (1915) and many other writings during the First World War, Lenin’s great merit was to identify two fundamental questions. The first concerned the “historical falsification” whenever the bourgeoisie tried to attribute a “progressive sense of national liberation” to what were in reality wars of “plunder” (Lenin, 1971: 299-300), waged with the sole aim of deciding which belligerents were this time to oppress the most foreign peoples and to increase the inequalities of capitalism. The second was the masking of contradictions by the social reformists – or “social-chauvinists”, as he (1971: 306) called them – who ultimately endorsed the justifications for war despite their having defined it as a “criminal” activity in the resolutions adopted by the Second International. Behind their claim to be “defending the fatherland” lay the right that certain great powers had given themselves to “pillage the colonies and to oppress foreign peoples”. Wars were not fought to safeguard “the existence of nations” but “to defend the privileges, domination, plunder and violence” of the various “imperialist bourgeoisies” (Lenin, 1971: 307). The socialists who had capitulated to patriotism had replaced the class struggle with a claim on “morsels of the profits obtained by their national bourgeoisie through the looting of other countries”. Accordingly, Lenin (1971: 314) was in favor of “defensive wars” – not, that is, the national defense of European countries à la Jaurès, but the “just wars” of “oppressed and subjugated peoples” who had been “plundered and deprived of their rights” by the “great slave owning powers”. The most celebrated thesis of this pamphlet – that revolutionaries should seek to “turn imperialist war into civil war” (1971: 315) – implied that those who really wanted a “lasting democratic peace” had to wage “civil war against their governments and the bourgeoisie” (1971: 315). Lenin was convinced of what history would later show to be imprecise: that any class struggle consistently waged in time of war would “inevitably” create a revolutionary spirit among the masses.

Lines of demarcation
The First World War produced divisions not only in the Second International but also in the anarchist movement. In an article published shortly after the outbreak of the conflict, Kropotkin (1914: 76-77) wrote that “the task of any person holding dear the idea of human progress is to squash the German invasion in Western Europe”. This statement, seen by many as ditching the principles for which he had fought all his life, was an attempt to move beyond the slogan of “a general strike against the war” – which had gone unheeded by the working masses – and to avoid the general regression of European politics that would result from a German victory. In Kropotkin’s view, if anti-militarists remained inert, they would indirectly assist the invaders’ plans of conquest, and the resulting obstacle would be even more difficult to overcome for those fighting for a social revolution.

In a reply to Kropotkin, the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta argued that, although he was not a pacifist and thought it legitimate to take up arms in a war of liberation, the world war was not – as bourgeois propaganda asserted – a struggle “for the general good against the common enemy” of democracy, but yet another example of the ruling-class subjugation of the working masses. He was aware that “a German victory would certainly spell the triumph of militarism, but also that a triumph for the Allies would mean Russian-British domination in Europe and Asia” (Malatesta, 1993: 230).

In the Manifesto of the Sixteen, Kropotkin (et al., 1916) upheld the need “to resist an aggressor who represents the destruction of all our hopes of liberation”. Victory for the Triple Entente against Germany would be the lesser evil and do less to undermine the existing liberties. On the other side, Malatesta and his fellow-signatories (1998: 388) of the anti-war manifesto of the Anarchist International (1915) declared: “No distinction is possible between offensive and defensive wars”. Moreover, they added that “None of the belligerents has any right to lay claim to civilization, just as none of them is entitled to claim legitimate self-defence”. The First World War, they insisted, was a further episode in the conflict among capitalists of various imperialist powers, which was being waged at the expense of the working class. Malatesta, Emma Goldman, Ferdinand Nieuwenhuis and the great majority of the anarchist movement were convinced that it would an unforgivable error to support the bourgeois governments. Instead, with no ifs or buts, they stuck with the slogan “no man and no penny for the army”, firmly rejecting even any indirect support for the pursuit of war.

Attitudes to the war also aroused debate in the feminist movement. The need for women to replace conscripted men in jobs that had long been a male monopoly – for a much lower wage, in conditions of overexploitation – encouraged the spread of chauvinist ideology in a sizeable part of the new-born suffragette movement. Some of its leaders went so far as to petition for laws allowing the enlistment of women in the armed forces. Exposure of duplicitous governments – which, in evoking the enemy at the gates, used the war to roll back fundamental social reforms – was one of the most important achievements of the main women communist leaders of the time. Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai, Sylvia Pankhurst and, of course, Rosa Luxemburg were among the first to embark lucidly and courageously on the path that would show successive generations how the struggle against militarism was essential to the struggle against patriarchy. Later, the rejection of war became a distinctive part of International Women’s Day, and opposition to war budgets on the outbreak of any new conflict featured prominently in many platforms of the international feminist movement.

The end does not justify the means and wrong means damage the end
The deep split between revolutionaries and reformists, widening into a strategic gulf after the birth of the Soviet Union and the growth of ideological dogmatism in the 1920s and 1930s, ruled out any alliance against militarism between the Communist International (1919-1943) and the European Socialist and Social Democratic parties. Having supported the war, the parties making up the Labour and Socialist International (1923-1940) had lost all credit in the eyes of the communists. The Leninist idea of “turning imperialist war into civil war” still had currency in Moscow, where leading politicians and theorists thought a “new 1914” was inevitable. On both sides, then, the talk was more of what to do if a new war broke out than of how to prevent one from beginning. The slogans and declarations of principle differed substantially from what was expected to happen and from what then turned into political action. Among the critical voices in the Communist camp were those of Nikolai Bukharin, a proponent of the slogan “struggle for peace”, and among the Russian leaders more convinced that it was “one of the key issues of the contemporary world”; and Georgi Dimitrov, who argued that not all the great powers were equally responsible for the threat of war, and who favoured a rapprochement with the reformist parties to build a broad popular front against it. Both these views contrasted with the litany of Soviet orthodoxy, which, far from updating theoretical analysis, repeated that the danger of war was built equally, and without distinction, into all the imperialist powers .

Mao Zedong’s (1966: 15) views on the matter were quite different. At the head of the liberation movement against the Japanese invasion, he wrote in On Protracted War (1938) that “just wars” – in which communists should actively participate – are “endowed with tremendous power, which can transform many things or clear the way for their transformation” (1966: 26-27). Mao’s (1966: 53) proposed strategy, therefore, was “to oppose unjust war with just war”, and furthermore to “continue the war until its political objective [is] achieved”. Arguments for the “omnipotence of revolutionary war” recur in Problems of War and Strategy (1938), where he argues that “only with guns can the whole world be transformed” (1965: 219), and that “the seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution” (1965: 225).

In Europe, the escalating violence of the Nazi-Fascist front, at home as well as abroad, and the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945) created an even more nefarious scenario than the 1914-18 war. After Hitler’s troops attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Great Patriotic War that ended with the defeat of Nazism became such a central element in Russian national unity that it survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and has lasted until our own days.

With the post-war division of the world into two blocs, Joseph Stalin taught that the main task of the international Communist movement was to safeguard the Soviet Union. The creation of a buffer zone of eight countries in Eastern Europe (seven after the exit of Yugoslavia) was a central pillar of this policy. In the same period, the Truman Doctrine marked the advent of a new type of war: the Cold War. In its support of anti-communist forces in Greece, in the Marshall Plan (1948) and the creation of NATO (1949), the United States of America contributed to avoid the advance of progressive forces in Western Europe. The Soviet Union responded with the Warsaw Pact (1955). This configuration led to a huge arms race, which, despite the fresh memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, also involved a proliferation of nuclear bomb tests.

From 1961, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union began a new political course that came to be known as “peaceful coexistence”. This turn, with its emphasis on non-interference and respect for national sovereignty, as well as economic cooperation with capitalist countries, was supposed to avert the danger of a third world war (which the Cuban missiles crisis showed to be a possibility in 1962) and to support the argument that war was not inevitable. However, this attempt at constructive cooperation was geared only to the USA, not the countries of “actually existing socialism”. In 1956, the Soviet Union had already crushed a revolt in Hungary, and the Communist parties of Western Europe had not condemned but justified the military intervention in the name of protecting the socialist bloc. Palmiro Togliatti, for example, the secretary of the Italian Communist Party, declared: “We stand with our own side even when it makes a mistake” (cit. in Vittoria, 2015: 219). Most of those who shared this position regretted it bitterly in later years, when they understood the devastating effects of the Soviet operation.

Similar events took place at the height of peaceful coexistence, in 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Faced with demands for democratization and economic decentralization during the Prague Spring, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided unanimously to send in half a million soldiers and thousands of tanks. At the congress of the Polish United Workers’ Party in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev explained the action by referring to what he called the “limited sovereignty” of Warsaw Pact countries: “When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries”. According to this anti-democratic logic, the definition of what was and was not “socialism” naturally fell to the arbitrary decision of the Soviet leaders. But this time critics on the Left were more forthcoming and even represented the majority. Although disapproval of the Soviet action was expressed not only by New Left movements but by a majority of Communist parties, including the Chinese, the Russians did not pull back but carried through a process that they called “normalization”. The Soviet Union continued to earmark a sizeable part of its economic resources for military spending, and this helped to reinforce an authoritarian culture in society. In this way, it lost forever the goodwill of the peace movement, which had become even larger through the extraordinary mobilizations against the war in Vietnam.

One of the most important wars in the next decade began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1979, the Red Army again became a major instrument of Moscow’s foreign policy, which continued to claim the right to intervene in what it described as its own “security zone”. The ill-starred decision turned into an exhausting adventure that stretched over more than ten years, causing a huge number of deaths and creating millions of refugees. On this occasion the international Communist movement was much less reticent than it had been in relation to the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Yet this new war revealed even more clearly to international public opinion the split between “actually existing socialism” and a political alternative based on peace and opposition to militarism.

Taken as a whole, these military interventions not only worked against a general arms reduction but served to discredit and globally weaken socialism. The Soviet Union was increasingly seen as an imperial power acting in ways not unlike those of the United States, which, since the onset of the Cold War, had more or less secretly backed coups d’état and helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in more than twenty countries around the world. Lastly, the “socialist wars” in 1977-1979 between Cambodia and Vietnam and China and Vietnam, against the backdrop of the Sino-Soviet conflict, dissipated whatever leverage “Marxist-Leninist” ideology (already remote from the original foundations laid by Marx and Engels) had in attributing war exclusively to the economic imbalances of capitalism.

To be on the left is to be against war
The end of the Cold War did not lessen the amount of interference in other countries’ affairs, nor did it increase the freedom of every people to choose the political regime under which it lives. The numerous wars– even without a UN mandate and defined, absurdly, as “humanitarian” – carried out by the USA in the past twenty-five years, to which should be added new forms of conflict, illegal sanctions, and political, economic and media conditioning, demonstrate that the bipolar division of the world between two superpowers did not give way to the era of liberty and progress promised by the neoliberal mantra of the “New World Order”. In this context, many political forces that once lay claim to the values of the Left have joined in a number of wars. From Kosovo to Iraq and Afghanistan – to mention only the main wars waged by NATO since the fall of the Berlin Wall – these forces have each time given their support to armed intervention and made themselves less and less distinguishable from the Right.

The Russian-Ukrainian war has again faced the Left with the dilemma of how to react when a country’s sovereignty is under attack. The failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a political mistake on the part of the government of Venezuela, and it makes denunciations of possible future acts of aggression committed by the United States appear less credible. It is true that, as Marx wrote to Ferdinand Lassalle in 1860 (Marx, 1985: 154; Musto, 2018: 132), “in foreign policy, there’s little to be gained by using such catchwords as ‘reactionary’ and ‘revolutionary’” – that what is “subjectively reactionary [may prove to be] objectively revolutionary in foreign policy”. But left-wing forces should have learned from the twentieth century that alliances “with my enemy’s enemy” often lead to counterproductive agreements, especially when, as in our times, the progressive front is politically weak and theoretically confused and lacks the support of mass mobilizations.

Recalling Lenin’s (1964b: 148) words in The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination:

“The fact that the struggle for national liberation against one imperialist power may, under certain circumstances, be utilized by another ‘Great’ Power in its equally imperialist interests should have no more weight in inducing Social Democracy to renounce its recognition of the right of nations to self-determination”.

Beyond the geopolitical interests and intrigues that are usually also in play, the forces of the Left have historically supported the principle of national self-determination and defended the right of individual states to establish their frontiers on the basis of the express will of the population. The Left has fought against wars and “annexations” because it is aware that these lead to dramatic conflicts between the workers of the dominant nation and the oppressed nation, creating the conditions for the latter to unite with their own bourgeoisie in considering the former as their enemy. In Results of the Discussion on Self-Determination (1916), Lenin (1964a: 329-330) wrote: “If the socialist revolution were to be victorious in Petrograd, Berlin and Warsaw, the Polish socialist government, like the Russian and German socialist governments, would renounce the ‘forcible retention’ of, say, the Ukrainians within the frontiers of the Polish state”. Why suggest, then, that anything different should be conceded to the nationalist government led by Vladimir Putin?

On the other hand, all too many on the Left have yielded to the temptation to become – directly or indirectly – co-belligerents, fuelling a new union sacrée (expression coined in 1914, just to greet the abjuration of the forces of the French left that, at the outbreak of World War I, decided to endorse the war choices of the government). Such a position today serves increasingly to blur the distinction between Atlanticism and pacifism. History shows that, when they do not oppose war, progressive forces lose an essential part of their reason for existence and end up swallowing the ideology of the opposite camp. This happens whenever parties of the Left make their presence in government the fundamental way of measuring their political action – as the Italian Communists did in supporting the NATO interventions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, or as does much of today’s Unidas Podemos, which joins its voice to the unanimous chorus of the entire Spanish parliamentary spectrum, in favour of sending weapons to the Ukrainian army. Such subaltern conduct has been punished many times in the past, including at the polls as soon as the occasion has arisen.

Bonaparte is not democracy
In the 1850s, Marx composed a brilliant series of articles on the Crimean War that contain many interesting and useful parallels with the present day. In Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century (1857), speaking of the great Muscovite monarch of the fifteenth century – the one considered to have unified Russia and laid the ground for its autocracy – Marx (1986: 86) stated: “One merely needs to replace one series of names and dates with others and it becomes clear that the policies of Ivan III […], and those of Russia today, are not merely similar but identical”. In a piece for the New-York Daily Tribune, however, in opposition to liberal democrats who exalted the anti-Russian coalition, he wrote:

“It is a mistake to describe the war against Russia as a war between liberty and despotism. Apart from the fact that if such be the case, liberty would be for the nonce represented by a Bonaparte, the whole avowed object of the war is the maintenance […] of the Vienna treaties — those very treaties which annul the liberty and independence of nations” (1980: 228).

If we replace Bonaparte with the United States of America and the Vienna treaties with NATO, these observations seem as if written for today.

The thinking of those who oppose both Russian and Ukrainian nationalism, as well as the expansion of NATO, does not show proof of political indecision or theoretical ambiguity. In recent weeks, a number of experts have provided explanations of the roots of the conflict (which in no way reduce the barbarity of the Russian invasion), and the position of those who propose a policy of non-alignment is the most effective way of ending the war as soon as possible and ensuring the smallest number of victims. It is not a question of behaving like the “beautiful souls” drenched in abstract idealism, whom Hegel thought incapable of addressing the actual reality of earthly contradictions. On the contrary: the point is to give reality to the only true antidote to an unlimited expansion of the war. There is no end to the voices calling for higher military spending and further conscription, or to those who, like the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, think it is Europe’s task to supply the Ukrainians with “the necessary weapons for war” (Borrell, 2022). But in contrast to these positions, it is necessary to pursue ceaseless diplomatic activity based on two firm points: de-escalation and the neutrality of independent Ukraine.

Despite the increased support for NATO following the Russian moves, it is necessary to work harder to ensure that public opinion does not see the largest and most aggressive war machine in the world – NATO – as the solution to the problems of global security. It must be shown that it is a dangerous and ineffectual organization, which, in its drive for expansion and unipolar domination, serves to fuel tensions leading to war in the world.

In Socialism and War, Lenin argued that Marxists differ from pacifists and anarchists in that they “deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism [sic!]) to study each war separately”. Continuing, he asserted that: “In history there have been numerous wars which, in spite of all the horrors, atrocities, distress and suffering that inevitably accompany all wars, were progressive, i.e., benefited the development of mankind” (1971: 299). If that was true in the past, it would be short-sighted to simply repeat it in contemporary societies where weapons of mass destruction are continually spreading. Rarely have wars – not to be confused with revolutions – had the democratizing effect that the theorists of socialism hoped for. Indeed, they have often proved to be the worst way of carrying out a revolution, both because of the cost in human lives and because of the destruction of the productive forces that they entail. Indeed, wars disseminate an ideology of violence, often combined with the nationalist sentiments that have torn the workers’ movement apart. Rarely favouring practices of self-management and direct democracy, they increase instead the power of authoritarian institutions. This is a lesson that the moderate Left, too, should never forget.

In one of the most fertile passages of Reflections on War (1933), Simone Weil (2021: 101) wonders if it is possible that “a revolution can avoid war”. In her view, this is the only “feeble possibility” that we have if we do not want to “abandon all hope”. Revolutionary war often turns into the “tomb of the revolution”, since “the armed citizenry are not given the means of waging war without a controlling apparatus, without police pressure, without a special court, without punishment for desertion”. More than any other social phenomenon, war swells the military, bureaucratic and police apparatus. “It leads to the total effacement of the individual before state bureaucracy”. Hence, “if the war does not end immediately and permanently […] the result will be merely one of those revolutions that, in Marx’s words, perfect the state apparatus instead of shattering it” or, more clearly still, “it would even mean extending under another form the regime we want to suppress”. In the event of war, then, “we must choose between obstructing the functioning of the military machine in which we ourselves constitute the cogs, or helping that machine to blindly crush human lives” (2021: 101-102).

For the Left, war cannot be “the continuation of politics by other means”, to quote Clausewitz’s famous dictum. In reality, it merely certifies the failure of politics. If the Left wishes to become hegemonic and to show itself capable of using its history for the tasks of today, it needs to write indelibly on its banners the words “anti-militarism” and “No to war!”

 

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Categories
Reviews

Josep Recasens Subias, Marx & Philosophy. Review of Books

The publication in 1933 of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 originated a debate around what place this text had in the work of Marx. The usage of ‘alienation’ that has a minor role in Capital rapidly established the belief of a split between the early and the late Marx. This split was defended by those who considered the early writings to be more essential than the late ones as they allegedly constitute the philosophical basis of Marxism. On the opposite camp, Althusser regarded the early writings as a residue of ‘Hegelianism’ that Marx had to get rid of before developing his relevant, ‘scientific’ thought on capitalist societies. A third position denied the existence of such a break and argued that there is a continuity in Marx’s thought, specifically on that of alienation. Nonetheless, this position was usually defended with a poor philological analysis of texts and quotations, mixing Marx’s early and late writings without caution.

In Karl Marx’s Writings on Alienation, Marcello Musto distinguishes these three positions and embraces the last one, trying to pay its pending debt, and gives a very complete selection of Marx’s writings on alienation from his main works. Musto’s central thesis is that Marx developed a theory of alienation that has a continuity in all his writings, from the Manuscripts of 1844 to Capital. This is true regardless of its progression and use of different expressions such as ‘alienation’, ‘dead (or objectified) labour over living labour’, and ‘reification’ or ‘fetishism’ (4) to explain the same phenomenon, or at least some aspects of it.

The book comprises two parts: the first is an introduction by Musto to the last century debates around alienation and the second consists of his careful selection of Marx’s writings on alienation. The latter is chronologically ordered and divided into three chapters (not treated as three different positions or stages Marx passed through), starting with the Manuscripts of 1844 and other early writings up until 1856. The second chapter contains the relevant passages from the Grundrisse (1857) and the Theories of Surplus Value (1861-63). The third chapter includes some parts of Capital and its preparatory notes (1863-1875). Each selected writings has an important introductory note by the editor that explains when and with what intention it was written, but also when it was published, by Marx or posthumously.

Musto’s introduction (almost a third of the book) has a twofold function. On the one hand, it sketches an interpretation of what Marx meant by alienation, giving indications on how to approach his work. On the other hand, Musto contrasts Marx’s theory of alienation to other philosophical theories that are supposed to treat the same phenomenon (French existentialists, Heidegger, Debord, American sociology, etc.), and also to other interpretations of Marx’s texts that were developed during the last century (Lukács, Althusser, Marcuse, etc.).

Musto reminds us that, contra Hegel’s transhistorical-ontological notion of alienation as objectification, alienation for Marx is not an ‘ontological’ conception of human beings or the condition of human labour in general. Rather, it is a phenomenon specific to the ‘capitalist, epoch of production’ (7). Central to Marx’s theory of alienation is the alienation of labour, which has a priority over the alienation from political or religious spheres. That is the reason why there are no fragments in this selection of the philosophical writings on alienation written before Marx started to study political economy. Marx accepts that ‘Labour’s realisation is its objectification’, but also adds that, ‘in the conditions dealt with by political economy this realisation of labour appears as loss of reality for the workers […] as alienation’ (52). Given that Marx ‘always discussed alienation from a historical, not a natural, point of view’ (7), his theory is not only different from Hegel’s, but also those who embraced Hegel’s conception of alienation as a phenomenon related to labour (e.g. Marcuse) and the French existentialists like Sartre who treat alienation as a kind of general human condition and not specifically in relation to labour.

Marx’s theory of alienation can be read in two different but related ways. The first emphasises the alienation of the worker from her conditions of production. Under capitalist conditions, labour takes the form of wage labour. The worker has no control over the products of her labour. Thus, ‘objectified labour, value as such, confronts him as an entity in its own right, as capital’ (102), as Marx notes. In this exchange between labour and capital, the capitalist appropriates surplus-value and invest it as capital again. If the worker is alien to the object of labour, then she becomes also alienated from the activity of labour, her species-being, and other human beings. Musto shows that Arendt and Fromm’s readings of Marx focused only on this type of self-alienation, developed in the early writings. Nonetheless, Musto correctly indicates that this subjective side of alienation is inseparable from the objective one that Marx fully developed later as the fetish-character of the commodity. With this Marx focuses on how the products of labour under capitalism dominate social relations between individuals. The editor concludes that ‘commodity fetishism did not replace alienation but was one aspect of it’ (34).

While Musto subscribes to the continuity thesis, nonetheless, he does not accept that there is a strict continuity in Marx’s theoretical position on alienation. The late works, compared with the earlier ones, offer ‘greater understanding of economic categories’ and ‘more rigorous social analysis’ (30). For example, they establish the link ‘between alienation and exchange value’ and provide critical insights on the ‘opposition between capital and ‘living labour-power’’ (ibid). The late works also demonstrate the emancipatory potentialities of the theory of alienation where ‘the path to a society free of alienation’ becomes ‘much more complicated in Capital’ (35), whereas in the early writings the philosophical conception of unalienated society remains to a large extent indeterminate and vague.

The second part of the book contains Marx’s well-known passages on alienation that are often discussed by the interpreters, including that of the Manuscripts of 1844. However, the major innovation of this editorial work lies in selecting the texts that are given less attention when the question of alienation is considered, despite some of them being the most extensive. Specifically, this omission usually excluded some late texts. One example is the Economic Manuscripts (1863-1865), written as preparatory manuscripts for Capital, whose selected paragraphs are translated by Patrick Camiller into English for the first time.

One of the main points of contestation in the debates around the theory of alienation is the apparent incompatibility or tension between Marx’s idea of workers being alienated from their ‘species-being’ and his thesis of not assuming a certain transhistorical conception of human essence. This incompatibility would raise two problems. The first, internal to Marx’s theory, relates to the incoherence of its premises. It seems inconsistent to deny the existence of a human essence but at the same time assume that workers are alienated from their ‘species-being’ (the term that can be regarded as another name for ‘human essence’). The second is ‘external’ and argues that, if one does not share Marx’s conception of human essence, then the critique of alienation cannot be accepted. This incompatibility could be solved by denying the continuation thesis and establishing that the later Marx abandoned the idea of species-being. As we have seen, Musto proposes another solution to the problem. He argues that Marx does not approach alienation from an ontological point of view, not even in the early writings, because Marx always discusses alienation in relation to a historical specific form of production. This idea allows Musto to shift the debate from the confusing philosophical and terminological debates of what human essence or ontology are, to the understanding of the specific functioning of capitalist mode of production. Nevertheless, Musto does not critically engage with the category of ‘species-being’ and its relation, if any, to Capital. Nor does Musto accept that discussing alienation in relation to a specific form of production could be compatible with the ontological point of view. The analysis of the relationship between alienation and ontology, marked with tensions and contradictions, requires further elucidation in the book.

The fact that the term ‘alienation’ is dropped altogether by Marx in his late writings could potentially call into question Musto’s thesis that the fetish-character of the commodity is an integral aspect of the theory of alienation. However, the usage of ‘alienation’ in the Grundrisse and other preparatory writings of Capital may confirm Musto’s idea that this absence was just to avoid unnecessary philosophical words in a work published for the public. Furthermore, Musto’s selection of Marx’s writings on commodity fetishism in chapter four helps us to elucidate the importance Marx gave to the theory of alienation in his magnum opus. It is true that there is no specific chapter allocated to the question of fetishism in Capital, but only a section that is considered by many as ‘unessential’ to the rest of the book. This led to the idea that fetishism, even if it is part of the theory of alienation, is not relevant to the understanding of the late Marx. Nonetheless, the so-called ‘drafts’ of Capital from 1857 onwards, mainly included in chapter three (the largest chapter of the selection and maybe the most elucidating one, despite being partially repetitive), demonstrate well that fetishism is viewed as an essential phenomenon of capitalist production and, thus, that of the critique of capitalism.

To conclude, Marx never wrote a developed account of his theory of alienation. This makes it difficult to say if there is a complete theory of alienation in Marx or just some fragmentary sketches of a possible theory that needs to be critically reconstructed. In any case, Musto’s editorial work offers an exhaustive collection of writings that allow the reader to form her own opinion without having to read the seemingly endless works of Marx. Musto does not offer a systematic exposition of Marx’s theory of alienation. Nonetheless, this is not his intention in editing this book. As he brilliantly shows in his introduction, the debate around Marx’s notion of alienation has been so distorted that it almost had nothing to do anymore with what Marx wrote. Karl Marx’s Writings on Alienation is one of the best resources we have to overcome past misinterpretations and to keep the ongoing debates on alienation close to Marx’s true emancipatory thought.