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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 (Talk)

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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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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.

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War and the Left: Considerations on a Chequered History (Talk)

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Reviews

Carlos L. Garrido, Midwestern Marx

Marcello Musto’s anthology of Karl Marx’s Writings on Alienation[1] is both comprehensive and concise, containing within the span of 100 pages the three decades long development of the theory through more than a dozen published works and posthumously published manuscripts. Additionally, Musto’s introduction to the anthology exceptionally captures: 1) the deviations the concept suffered in its 20th century popularization (both by friends and foes of Marxism); and 2) the bifurcation in Marxism which was depicted in the 1960s debate around the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (EPM), which created what Musto rightly depicts as “one of the principal misunderstandings in the history of Marxism: the myth of the ’Young Marx’” (20).[2]

The concept of alienation can be traced back to G.W.F. Hegel’s 1807 text, The Phenomenology of Spirit, where the terms entäusserung (self-externalization) and entfremdung (estrangement) are used to describe the moments wherein spirit’s “essential being is present to it in the form of an ‘other.’”[3] After Hegel’s death, the concept retained vitality through the Young Hegelians, who shifted its focus to the realm of religious alienation.[4] A leading text in this tradition is Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (1841), where alienation depicts the process through which the human species essence is projected onto God.[5] While shifting the focus from religion to political economy, it is from this tradition from which Marx and Engels would blossom in the early to mid-1840s.[6]

However, since the concept rarely saw the light of day in their published work, it was “entirely absent from the Marxism of the Second International,” and from general philosophical reflection in the second half of the 19th century (4). In this time, concepts that would later be associated with alienation were developed by Émile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber, but in each instance they “thought they were describing unstoppable tendencies, and their reflections were often guided by a wish to improve the existing social and political order – certainly not to replace it with a different one” (4).[7]
​Stemming primarily from Marx’s analysis of the fetishism of commodities in Capital Vol I, Georg Lükacs’ 1923 text, History and Class Consciousness, reintroduces the theory of alienation into Marxism through his concept of ‘reification’ (verdinglichung, versachlichung). For Lükacs, reification described the “phenomenon whereby labour activity confronts human beings as something objective and independent, dominating them through external autonomous laws” (4-5). However, as Musto notes, and as Lükacs rectifies in the preface to the 1967 French republication of his text, “History and Class Consciousness follows Hegel in that it too equates alienation with objectification” (5).

The equation of alienation and objectification is the central philosophical error which creates the grounds for the ontologizing of alienation. For Marx, objectification is simply “labor’s realization,” the process wherein labor gets “congealed in an object.”[8] When human labor produces an object, we have objectification. Only under certain historically determined conditions does objectification become alienating. As Marx writes in the EPM,

The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object [i.e., objectification] an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him; it means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.[9]

​​This distinction between objectification and alienation is retouched more thoroughly in the Grundrisse, where Marx says that

Social wealth confronts labour in more powerful portions as an alien and dominant power. The emphasis comes to be placed not on the state of being objectified, but on the state of being alienated, dispossessed, sold; on the condition that the monstrous objective power which social labour itself erected opposite itself as one of its moments belongs not to the worker, but to the personified conditions of production, i.e. to capital.[10]

The bourgeois economists are so much cooped up within the notions belonging to a specific historic stage of social development that the necessity of the objectification of the powers of social labour appears to them as inseparable from the necessity of their alienation vis-à-vis living labour… [But] the conditions which allow them to exist in this way in the reproduction of their life, in their productive life’s process, have been posited only by the historic economic process itself… [These] are fundamental conditions of the bourgeois mode of production, in no way accidents irrelevant to it. [11]

As I have argued in relation to the fetishism of commodities, alienation is also not simply a subjective illusion which one can overcome through becoming conscious of it. It isn’t merely a problem of how one observes the world. Instead, in a mode of life wherein the relations of production are necessarily governed by this condition of estrangement, alienation sustains an objective, albeit historically bound, existence. The ontologizing and/or subjectivizing of the theory of alienation purport key philosophical and political deviations from how Marx conceived of the phenomenon. These deviations naturalize the phenomenon and blunt the revolutionary edge in the Marxist analysis of how it can be overcome.

Musto wonderfully shows how the 20th centuries’ popularization of the term resulted in Marxist (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer, Fromm, Sartre, Debord, etc.) and Non-Marxist (Baudrillard, Arendt, Melman, Nettler, Seeman, Blauner, etc.) deviations along the lines of an ontologizing or subjectivizing of the phenomenon of alienation. In some instances (e.g., US sociologists), even the critical spirit with which the theory of alienation was formulated was removed and “skillfully dressed up… by defenders of the very social classes against which it had for so long been directed” (28). In the case of the ‘Marxist’ deviations of the theory, these often ended up in a pessimism and utopianism foreign and at times antagonistic to the writings of Marx and Engels. As Adam Schaff argued in Marxism and the Human Individual, these classical forms of revisionism “lead in fact to an elimination of everything known as scientific socialism.”[12]
From this historical and objective understanding of alienation, Marx formulates in the EPM four ways in which alienation occurs in the capitalist form of life: 1) alienation of the product, wherein the object of labor confronts the laborer as something hostile and alien; 2) alienation in the process of production, i.e., in the social relations through which the work takes place; 3) alienation from the ‘species-being’ of man as an animal with the unique ability to consciously, creatively, and socially exert mental and physical labor (as a homo faber and sapien) upon nature to create objects of need and aesthetic enjoyment; and 4) alienation from other humans and their objects of labor. Apart from the Feuerbachian essentialism in the language of number 3 (e.g., species-being, species-essence), the pith of this 1844 formulation of the theory will be enriched in his later work, especially in the Grundrisse, where it is given its most systematic consideration.

Along with what Kaan Kangal has called the ‘Engels debate,’ the 1960s debate around the EPM depicted the great bifurcation that existed in Marxism.[13] On the one hand, the Western humanist tradition “stress[ed] the theoretical pre-eminence” of Marx’s early work. On the other, the Eastern socialist (and Althusserian) tradition downplayed it as the writing of a pre-Marxist Marx, still entrapped by Hegelian idealism or a Feuerbachian problematic (18).[14] Both of these traditions create an “arbitrary and artificial opposition” between an “early Marx” and a “mature Marx” (15). Those who held on to the early writings as containing the ‘key’ to Marxism were, as Musto rightly argues, “so obviously wrong that it demonstrated no more than ignorance of his work” (16). However, those who dismissed these early writings often landed in a “decidedly anti-humanist conception” (e.g., Althusser’s theoretical anti-humanism) (ibid). These two sides mirror one another on the basis of an artificial and arbitrary division of a ‘young’ and ‘mature’ Marx.

Musto rejects this dichotomy, and in line with the Polish Marxist Adam Schaff (along with Iring Fetscher, István Mészáros, and others), provides a third interpretation which identifies a “substantive continuity in Marx’s work” (20). This continuity, however, is not based on a “collection of quotations” pulled indiscriminately from works three decades apart, “as if Marx’s work were a single timeless and undifferentiated text” (ibid). This tendency, which dominated the discourse around the continuum interpretation, is grounded on a metaphysical (in the traditional Marxist sense) and fixated understanding of Marx’s life’s work. It finds itself unable to tarry with a difference mediated understanding of identity, that is, with the understanding that the unity of Marx’s corpus is based on its continuous development, not an artificially foisted textual uniformity. It would be a Quixotic delusion to read the youthful Manuscripts of 44 as identical to the works which were produced as fruits of Marx’s laborious studies of political economy in the 1850-60s. The comprehensive, concrete, and scientific character of Marx’s understanding of political economy and the capitalist mode of life achieved by the 1860s makes the indiscriminate treatment of these works seem all the more foolish.

Instead, the continuity interpretation sees what a careful reading of Musto’s anthology shows, namely, that the theory of alienation constantly develops, sharpens, and concretizes beyond the limitations inherent in the ”vagueness and eclecticism” of its initial stages (21). As Schaff and Musto argued, “if Marx had stopped writing in 1845-46, he would not – in spite of those who hold the young Marx to be the only ‘true’ one – have found a place in history,” and if he did, it would probably be in a demoted “place alongside Bruno Bauer and Feuerbach in the sections of philosophy manuals devoted to the Hegelian Left” (ibid).[15]

It is impossible to stamp out hard and fast ‘stages’ or ‘epistemological breaks’ in Marx’s thought; he was constantly evolving his thinking according to new research and new concrete experiences.[16] Such a stagist approach can only lead to a confused nominalist reading of Marx, for every time he read or wrote something new, a ‘new’ Marx would have to be postulated. Marx’s life work must be understood as a dynamic, evolving unity, wherein, as Schaff argued, “the first period is genetically linked to the later ones.”[17] The same could be said, in my view, of his theory of alienation. As his understanding of political economy and the capitalist mode of life concretizes, his understanding of the phenomenon of alienation does as well.
Concerning the global split in Marxism manifested through these debates on alienation, I would like to add that although some prominent ‘orthodox’ or ‘official’ Soviet thinkers dismissed the theory of alienation, we cannot synecdochally apply the flaws of these on all Marxist thinkers in the Soviet Union, or on Marxism-Leninism in general. For instance, in the Soviet tradition of creative Marxism, the theme of alienation is not so easily dismissed as in Althusser or the more orthodox Soviet Marxists. Evald Ilyenkov, one of the prominent thinkers in this tradition, says in 1966 that he “personally approves” of the EPM’s theory of alienation and sees it as “a healthy and fruitful tendency in Marxist theoretical thought.”[18] In addition, his reading of the EPM and the theory of alienation with respect to the rest of Marx’s life’s work falls in line with Musto’s and Schaff’s continuum interpretation. As Ilyenkov argues,

If anything has been lost in this process, it is only that some parts of the specifically philosophical phraseology of the Manuscripts have been replaced by a more concrete phraseology, and in this sense, a more exact and stronger one. What occurs here is not a loss of concepts but only the loss of a few terms connected with these concepts. For me this is so unquestionable that all the problems of the early works are actually rendered more fully later, and moreover, in a more definitive form. It is quite obvious that the process of the “human alienation” under the conditions of an unhindered development of “private property” (in the course of its becoming private-capitalistic) is viewed here more concretely and in more detail.[19]
Concerning the relation of EPM to Capital Vol I Ilyenkov adds that

The Manuscripts can be a help in the text of Das Kapital itself in scrutinizing those passages that could otherwise be overlooked. If such passages are overlooked, Das Kapital easily appears as an “economic work” only, and in a very narrow meaning of the term. Das Kapital is then seen as a dryly objective economic scheme free from any trace of “humanism” – but this is not Das Kapital, it is only a coarsely shallow interpretation.[20]

​This tendency, however, is not limited to the tradition of Soviet creative Marxism. Even in famous manuals such as the Konstantinov edited Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, the theory of alienation is treated with great care, and critiques akin to Musto’s and Schaff’s are provided for the 20th century revisionist formulations of the theory.

It is also important to note that Schaff himself was largely aligned politically with Marxism-Leninism, and when criticizing the Soviet dismissals of the theory of alienation he emphasizes his political proximity to those Marxist-Leninists he is arguing against.[21] Additionally, he openly criticizes those in the West which have weaponized the theory of alienation to attack socialism, and which have reduced Marxism, through their interpretation of alienation, to moralistic discourse devoid of its scientific core.[22] There is nothing, in my view, incompatible about a non-dogmatic Marxism-Leninism and the militant humanism of the early Marx’s theory of alienation, or of this theories’ further concretization throughout his life.
​To return to the continuity thesis, Musto’s selection of Marx’s writings eloquently demonstrates the theoretical superiority of this third interpretation. Musto classifies the writings into three key generations: 1) from 1844 to 1856; 2) from 1857 to 1863; and 3) from 1863 to 1875. What becomes clear in these selections, especially in the transition from the first to the second generation, is the immense development in the categories of political economy which would ground Marx’s discourse of the phenomenon of alienation (which, as occurs throughout his work, sometimes takes place without using the term ‘alienation’ itself). By the time the Grundrisse is written (1857-58), it is as if the 1844 EPM’s theory of alienation returned with theoretical steroids, “enriched by a greater understanding of economic categories and by a more rigorous social analysis” (30). In this second generation, the two manuscripts Marx writes after he publishes A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), namely, On the Critique of Political Economy (1861-63) and Theories of Surplus Value (1862-63), will also elaborate and sharpen the understanding of the categories developed in the Grundrisse, subsequently enrichening the theory of alienation as well.

The third generation consists of Capital Vol I, its preparatory manuscripts, and the manuscripts of Capital Vol III which Engels would edit and publish after Marx’s death. Of specific importance here is the famous “Results on the Immediate Process of Production,” also known as the “Unpublished Chapter VI.” This 1863-4 manuscript was omitted from Capital Vol I for largely unknown reasons. Ernest Mandel, who wrote the introduction to the 1976 English publication of Volume one, which included this manuscript as an appendix, said that

​For the time being, it is impossible to give a definitive answer to that question… Possibly the reason lay in Marx’s wish to present Capital as a ‘ dialectically articulated artistic whole’. He may have felt that, in such a totality,’ ‘Chapter Six’ would be out of place, since it had a double didactic function: as a summary of Volume 1 and as a bridge between Volumes 1 and 2.[23]

​Nonetheless, as Musto notes, this manuscript enhances the theory of alienation by “linking [Marx’s] economic and political analysis more closely to each other” (126). Beyond this manuscript, the theory of alienation takes on a new shape in the formulation of the fetishism of commodities in section four of Capital Vol I’s first chapter. The fetishism of commodities is a new term, but not a new concept, it describes a phenomenon which the theory of alienation already explained. For instance, as stated in Capital, the fetishism of commodities describes the conditions wherein “definite social relations between men” assume “ the fantastic form of a relation between things.”[24] This same wording is used in one of the Grundrisse’s formulation of alienation:

The general exchange of activities and products, which has become a vital condition for each individual – their mutual interconnection – here appears as something alien to them, autonomous, as a thing. In exchange value, the social connection between persons is transformed into a social relation between things.[25]

​Besides section four of chapter one, Capital Vol I is scattered with commentary on the inversion of dead and living labor (especially in chapter 11 and 15), a theme which is central to the theory of alienation. These themes are also present in various passages from Capital Vol. III (1864-75), which is the last text Musto pulls from for the third generation of writings on alienation.

Lastly, the theory of alienation has always been inextricably linked with how Marx conceived of communism. As the theory concretizes, the idea of communism does as well. Under a communist mode of life, the conditions which perpetuated an alienated form of objectification would be overcome. Here, the “social character of production is presupposed” and makes the product of labor “not an exchange value,” but “a specific share of the communal production.”[26] The mediational character of commodity production and the exchange value dominated mode of life would be destroyed. Production and the mode of life in general will be aimed at creating the conditions for qualitative human flourishing. As Marx writes in Capital Vol. III,

The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends; it lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production proper. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature. But this always remains a realm of necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite.[27]

If I may add something to Marcello’s superb analysis in the introduction, it would be the ecological dimension the theory of alienation acquires in Marx’s analysis of the metabolism between human society and nature, and subsequently, of the alienating ‘rifts’ capitalist production creates in this metabolic relation. The quote referenced above shows how a rational governance of the human metabolism with nature is central to Marx’s idea of communism.

As John Bellamy Foster has argued, “the concept of metabolism provided Marx with a concrete way of expressing the notion of alienation of nature (and its relation to the alienation of labor) that was central to his critique from his earliest writings on,” and in so doing, it “allowed him to give a more solid and scientific expression of this fundamental relation.”[28] Hence, if the alienation of labor is tied to the alienation of nature, a non-alienated communist mode of life must necessarily seek to overcome this alienation of nature through the aforementioned rational governance of human society’s metabolism with nature.

Although grounded scientifically on Justus von Liebig’s work on the depletion of the soil, this ecological dimension can be traced philosophically to the EPM and the central role nature has in the alienation of labor. Faced with the existential crisis of climate change, this ecological dimension in Marx’s theory of alienation and critique of capitalist production acquires a heightened sense of immediacy.

Additionally, if we consider Marx’s concept of the metabolic rift within the theory of alienation, then its rediscovery did not have to wait until Lükacs’ 1923 History and Class Consciousness, for a part of it could be seen in the ecological dimension of August Bebel’s 1884 text Women Under Socialism, in Karl Kautsky’s 1899 text on The Agrarian Question, in Lenin’s 1901 The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx,” and more directly in the work of Bukharin, Vernadsky, and others in the 1920/30s tradition of Soviet ecology.[29]

In sum, Musto’s anthology is an essential requirement for all interested in Marx’s theory of alienation, and his introduction to the selection displays that great erudition of Marxist history and theory which those that are familiar with his work hold in the highest esteem.

Notes and References

[1] The parenthetical numbers which appear throughout this review refer to pages from Musto’s book.

[2] For a more detailed assessment of this ‘myth’ see: Marcello Musto, “The Myth of the ‘Young Marx’ in the Interpretation of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844,” Critique 43, no 2 (2015)., pp. 233-60.

[3] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford University Press, 1977., pp. 114.

[4] For more on the Young Hegelians see: Lawrence S. Stepenlevich, The Young Hegelians: An Anthology, Humanity Books, 1999.

[5] My video for Midwestern Marx, “Alienation – Feuerbach to Marx,” describes the concept’s transition from Feuerbach to Marx’s Manuscripts of 44.

[6] The Feuerbachian influence which the younger Engels was under is usually understated. I would direct the reader to Engels’ 1843 review of Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present (written before The Conditions of the Working Class in England), where this influence is as, or if not more, evident then than in the writings of the younger Marx.

[7] I would add to the list Max Scheler’s 1913 book Ressentiment and Edmund Husserl’s 1936 book, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, which expands on the arguments of his 1935 lectures on “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man.”

[8] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Great Books in Philosophy, 1988., pp. 71.

[9] Ibid., 72.

[10] The Grundrisse is an unfinished manuscript not intended for publication, in passages like these, where editing could’ve improved what was said, its manuscript character shines forth.

[11] Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books, 1973., pp. 831-2.

[12] Adam Schaff, Marxism and the Human Individual, McGraw-Hill, 1970., pp. 16. I was excited to see Musto’s frequent usage of Schaff, a thinker far too undervalued in our tradition.

[13] I use ‘depicted’ instead of ‘produced’ because the split originated well before the 1960s debate, the debate simply manifested what was already a previous split. For more on this split see Domenico Losurdo, El Marxismo Occidental, Editorial Trotta, 2019.

[14] ‘Feuerbachian problematic’ is how Althusser describes it in his essay “On the Young Marx.” For more see Louis Althusser, For Marx, Verso, 1979., pp. 66-70.

[15] Schaff, Marxism and the Human Individual., pp. 28.

[16] To see how this was done in his later years see: Marcello Musto, The Last Years of Karl Marx, Stanford, 2020. For a shortened version of some of the points made in this text, my review article might be helpful.

[17] Ibid., pp. 24.

[18] Evald Ilyenkov, “From the Marxist-Leninist Point of View,” In Marx and the Western World, ed. Nicholas Lobkowicz, University of Notre Dame Press, 1967., pp. 401.

[19] Ibid., pp. 402.

[20] Ibid., pp. 404.

[21] Schaff, Marxism and the Human Individual., pp. 21.

[22] Ibid., pp. 15-16.

[23] Marx, Capital Vol 1, Penguin Books, 1982., pp. 944.

[24] Ibid., pp. 165.

[25] Marx, Grundrisse., pp. 157.

[26] Marx, Grundrisse., pp. 172.

[27] Karl Marx, Capital Vol III, Penguin Books, 1981., pp. 958-9.

[28] John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology, Monthly Review, 2000., pp. 158.

[29] For all the flaws Bukharin’s Historical Materialism textbook has, chapter five on “The Equilibrium between Society and Nature” provides a laudable reintroduction of Marx’s concept of metabolism and metabolic rifts.