A culture of war from the Soviets to Russia

The escalating violence of the Nazi-Fascist front in the 1930s brought the outbreak of the Second World War and created an even more nefarious scenario than the one that destroyed Europe between 1914 and 1918. After Hitler’s troops attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin called for a Great Patriotic War that ended on May 9 with the defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan. This date became such a central element in Russian national unity that it survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and has lasted until our own days. Under the guise of the fight against Nazism, a dangerous ideology of nationalism and militarism is hidden – today more than ever.

With the post-war division of the world into two blocs, the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) decided that the main task of the international Communist movement was to safeguard the existence of the Soviet Union. In the same period, the Truman Doctrine marked the advent of a new type of war: the Cold War. In its support of anti-communist forces in Greece, in the Marshall Plan (1948) and the creation of Nato (1949), the United States of America contributed to avoiding the advance of progressive forces in Western Europe. The Soviet Union responded with the Warsaw Pact (1955). This configuration led to a huge arms race, which, despite the fresh memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, also involved a proliferation of nuclear bomb tests.

With a political turn decided by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961, the Soviet Union began a period of “peaceful coexistence”. This change, with its emphasis on non-interference and respect for national sovereignty, as well as economic cooperation with capitalist countries, was supposed to avert the danger of a third world war (which the Cuban missiles crisis showed to be a possibility in 1962) and to support the argument that war was not inevitable. However, this attempt at constructive cooperation was full of contradictions.

In 1956, the Soviet Union had already violently crushed a revolt in Hungary. The Communist parties of Western Europe had not condemned but justified the military intervention in the name of protecting the socialist bloc and Palmiro Togliatti, the secretary of the Italian Communist Party, declared: “We stand with our own side even when it makes a mistake”. Most of those who shared this position regretted it bitterly in later years when they understood the devastating effects of the Soviet operation.

Similar events took place at the height of peaceful coexistence, in 1968, in Czechoslovakia. The Politburo of the CPSU sent in half a million soldiers and thousands of tanks to suppress the demands for democratization of the “Prague Spring”. This time critics on the Left were more forthcoming and even represented the majority. Nevertheless, although disapproval of the Soviet action was expressed not only by New Left movements but by a majority of Communist parties,

including the Chinese, the Russians did not pull back but carried through a process that they called “normalization”. The Soviet Union continued to earmark a sizable part of its economic resources for military spending, and this helped to reinforce an authoritarian culture in society. In this way, it lost forever the goodwill of the peace movement, which had become even larger through the extraordinary mobilizations against the war in Vietnam.

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

Taken as a whole, these military interventions worked against a general arms reduction and served to discredit socialism. The Soviet Union was increasingly seen as an imperial power acting in ways, not unlike those of the United States, which, since the onset of the Cold War, had more or less secretly backed coups d’état and helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in more than twenty countries around the world.

Lastly, the “socialist wars” in 1977-1979 between Cambodia and Vietnam and China and Vietnam, against the backdrop of the Sino- Soviet conflict, dissipated whatever

leverage “Marxist-Leninist” ideology (already remote from the original foundations laid by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) had in attributing war exclusively to the economic imbalances of capitalism.

Marx did not develop in any of his writings a coherent theory of war, nor did he put forward guidelines for the correct attitude to be taken towards it. However, when he chose between opposing camps, his only constant was his opposition to Tsarist Russia, which he saw as the outpost of counter-revolution and one of the main barriers to working-class emancipation.

In Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century – a book published by Marx in 1857 but never translated into the Soviet Union –, speaking of Ivan III, the aggressive Muscovite monarch of the fifteenth century who unified Russia and laid the ground for its autocracy, he stated: “one merely needs to replace one series of names and dates with others and it becomes clear that the policies of Ivan III, and those of Russia today, are not merely similar but identical”. Unfortunately, these observations seem as if written for today, in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Wars disseminate an ideology of violence, often combined with the nationalist sentiments that have torn the workers’ movement apart. Rarely favouring practices of democracy, they instead increase the power of authoritarian institutions. Wars swell the military, bureaucratic and police apparatus. They lead to the effacement of society before state bureaucracy. In Reflections on War, the philosopher Simone Weil argued that: “no matter what name it may take – fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat – the principal enemy remains the administrative, police, and military apparatus; not the enemy across the border, who is our enemy only to the extent that they are our brothers and sisters’ enemy, but the one who claims to be our defender while making us its slaves”. This is a dramatic lesson that the Left should never forget.


Sean Sayers, Emancipations. A journal of critical social analysis

In the final years of his life, Marx suffered repeated attacks of bronchitis and other illnesses. On doctor’s orders, he spent weeks on end convalescing by the sea, forbidden to exert himself. In the past, most biographers have passed over this period of Marx’s life very briefly, treating it as barren and unproductive. They can be forgiven for doing so, they had little to go on. Marx published very little in these
years, and only a few of his letters were known.
This situation has changed dramatically in recent years. A steady stream of archive material is becoming available with the regular appearance of new volumes of Die Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). This is a massive project to publish an “historical-critical” edition of all Marx and Engels’ writings in their original languages, including not only their published works, but also all their letters, drafts and notes (with all their variations, crossings out, corrections, etc.) – indeed, everything they
wrote, just as they wrote it.
This has been a very long time coming, some of this material dates back to the 1830s. The first attempt at such a publication was made soon after the Russian Revolution, by David Riazanov, the great Marx scholar and founder of the MarxEngels Institute in Moscow. He was removed from the project in 1931 (and he was
executed after a brief show trial in 1938). Publication of the volumes of this first MEGA – MEGA1 – was suspended after only 12 of the projected 42 volumes had appeared. The war against the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union then intervened and the project was abandoned. It was revived in a new and expanded form by Soviet and German scholars in the 1970s. The first volume of the second MEGA –
MEGA2 – appeared in 1975. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, responsibility for the project was transferred to a group of international scholars based in Amsterdam.
114 volumes are now planned (scaled back from the original 164), 52 volumes have appeared so far.
This new material is transforming our knowledge and understanding of some important aspects of Marx and Engels’ lives and work. It has shed a flood of new light on the last two years of Marx’s life, the subject of this book. Musto has used it to produce an exceptionally well researched picture of what was previously a little known period of Marx’s work. The book was originally published in Italian in 2016.
Since then, it has been translated into seven other languages. Now, at last, it is available in a very readable English translation by Patrick Camiller.
As Musto observes, most previous intellectual biographies of Marx have focused disproportionately on his early years. Musto cover only the final two years of Marx’s life, 1881-1883. Musto goes in detail through Marx’s correspondence and his notebooks to construct a detailed picture of what Marx was reading, writing, thinking
about and doing during this period. It is a fascinating and remarkably impressive story.
In 1881, Marx was not yet the “towering figure” (77) on the left that he was later to become. His work was familiar only to small band of followers and was only just beginning to reach a wider audience. Only a few of the works by which he is now known had been published and widely circulated, most notably the Communist Manifesto and the first volume of Capital.
Finishing Capital The main task facing Marx was to complete Capital. As Musto observes, there is no definitive edition even of Volume 1 of this work. It first appeared in German in 1867 with a second revised edition in 1873. Marx oversaw and contributed many further revisions and changes to the French translation, which appeared in instalments from 1872-1875. He planned to revise the book thoroughly for a third
German edition incorporating these changes, but he was not able to complete this.
In the 1870s he was working on Volume 2, and he produced a couple of fairly full drafts, as well as more fragmentary drafts of Volume 3. In 1879, however, because of repeated illness, his doctor ordered him to shorten his working day, and he did little further work on these manuscripts. They were edited and completed for publication by Engels after Marx’s death, Volume 2 appearing in 1885, Volume 3 in
Musto sees no evidence for the widely canvassed view that Marx was unable to complete Capital because of contradictions and problems that he encountered for his views. Marx was a notoriously meticulous author, never happy to publish until he had taken account the latest ideas and developments and incorporated them into his work.
Marx was in the habit of making notes on and copying out passages from the books that he was reading. With the publication of his notes in MEGA2 , we are now getting a very detailed record of this. He studied a remarkable range of topics. In this period, he read works on political economy, Russian society, collective property systems, anthropology, recent developments in the natural sciences (particularly
chemistry and physics) and even mathematics. Some of this reading was connected with his work on Capital, some was research to further his understanding of the genesis of capitalism, and some simply to satisfy his insatiable intellectual curiosity and desire for knowledge.
He had long decided not to attempt to reply to or correct the many
misinterpretations of his views that were in circulation, but in 1880 he read and wrote extensive critical comments on Adolph Wagner’s Manual of Political Economy (1879). [1]
He also kept up to date with many areas of the natural sciences, partly to find out about developments in organic chemistry relevant to agriculture that he was writing about in Capital, Volume 2, and partly from sheer interest. This extended even to mathematics. His study of mathematics had started in connection with economics but later acquired a life of its own. He said he thought about mathematics
for “relaxation” (35). He was particularly intrigued by problems with the calculus and wrote numerous and lengthy notes on this topic. [2]
In the late 1870s, he read a number of works on anthropology. He studied with great attention Lewis Morgan’s Ancient Society (1877), a pioneering work on American Indian tribal societies. He was particularly interested in the way Morgan showed that social relations change with the development of the productive forces.
He was also concerned to refute the then influential view, put forward by Henry Maine, in his Lectures on the Early History of Institutions, 1875, and others, that the nuclear family was the original building block of society, and to demonstrate that it was a product of later development. Engels later made extensive use of these notes, as he acknowledges, to write his account of the evolution of the family in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884). [3]

Developments in Russia
One of the main topics that occupied Marx’s attention during this period were economic, social and political developments in Russia. Earlier in his life, Marx had regarded Russia as the main centre of reaction in Europe, but after the abolition of serfdom in 1861 it became clear that things were changing. In 1869, he taught himself to read Russian, and he began to read about developments in Russia in
detail. By the final years of his life, he had studied Russian conditions very thoroughly and was in correspondence with a number of progressive Russian social thinkers.
The theory of historical development that Marx had put forward from the time he and Engels composed the writings that make up The German Ideology (1845-6), implied that a socialist society could come about only on the basis of a highly socialised system of production, of the sort that was being created by capitalism in Britain and other Western European countries. Although capitalism increased
exploitation and misery, it also created the conditions for overcoming capitalism by transforming production from an individual to a social process. This was a fundamental aspect of Marx’s theory of history, and he held to it throughout his work.
Whether and how these ideas applied to Russia was hotly debated in this period. Some maintained that the rural communes (obshchina) that still existed among the peasantry in Russia provided a basis of common ownership that would enable it to pass directly to socialism. Others argued that Russia would first have to go through a capitalist stage. Marx was often invoked in support of this latter position.
An influential writer who did so was N. K. Mikhailovsky. In November 1877, Marx had drafted a lengthy letter in reply to an article by him in a Russian periodical.
In the end Marx did not send this letter, and it came to light only after his death. In it, Marx denied that he had put forward a universal theory of history, and insisted that he never claimed that a capitalist phase of historical development was inevitable. He accused Mikhailovsky of transforming,

my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into a historico-philosophical theory of general development, imposed by fate on all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances in which they are placed, in order to eventually attain this economic formation which, with a tremendous leap of the productive forces of social labour, assures the most integral development of every individual producer. [4]

The issue was raised again in 1881 when he received a letter from Vera Zasulich, a socialist activist, asking him to set out his views on whether the rural commune in Russia could provide the basis for socialism. He drew on the letter to Mikhailovich that he had drafted in composing his response. This occupied him for the best part of a month and went through four full drafts, before the final version was sent off at
beginning of March.
Marx again insisted that his view that a stage of capitalist private property was inevitable applied only to Western Europe. Other paths were possible elsewhere. To understand real historical transformations, Marx insisted, it is essential to study individual phenomena separately. There is no “all-purpose formula of a general historico-philosophical theory”. [5]
Some have seized on Marx’s comments to argue that Marx entirely altered his views about the transition to socialism as a result of his studies of Russia in his final years. Musto sees no evidence of that. “The drafts of Marx’s letter to Zasulich show no glimpse of the dramatic break with his former positions that some scholars have
detected.” (69)
Although Marx denies that he ever suggested that all societies must inevitably pass through a capitalist stage, he did believe that socialism could be based only on highly socialised forces of production. He didn’t rule out the possibility that Russia could make a transition to socialism without going through a capitalist stage, but he did not positively endorse this view. And he disassociated himself from those, like Bakunin and Herzen, who did. Part of his hesitancy in responding to Zasulich was due to the care he took in expressing his views with precision. In particular, he argued, since Russia was,

Contemporary with a higher culture; it is linked to a world market dominatedby capitalist production. By appropriating the positive results of this mode of production, it is thus in a position to develop and transform the still archaic form of its rural commune, instead of destroying it. [6]

Just as Russia did not have “to pass through a long incubation period in the engineering industry … in order to utilize machines, steam engines, railways, etc.” – so it might be possible to introduce immediately “the entire mechanism of exchange … which it took the West centuries to devise” (67-8). Nevertheless, the rural commune was an archaic form, very different from socialism as he conceived of it,
and Marx remained sceptical that it could provide a basis for socialist development on its own. He returned to these questions in the Preface to the Second Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto written jointly with Engels in 1882. Again, he maintained that socialist transformation of the obshchina was possible, but that would depend on favourable historical conditions. He remained doubtful that it could simply be adapted as a basis for socialism. Russia would be able to avoid a capitalist stage before it could create a socialist society only,

If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that two complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for communist development. [7]

Marx and Engels
The joint authorship of this Preface by Marx and Engels is a clear indication of their agreement on these questions. Musto, however, insists on emphasising their differences. He continually contrasts the “flexibility” of Marx’s thinking, with Engels’ “overly schematic” views (27). Engels is dismissed as a precursor of “Second International” thinking that “produced a kind of fatalistic passivity, which … weakened the social and political action of the proletariat”. (32) Marx, by contrast, “rejected the siren calls of a one-way historicism and preserved his own complex, flexible, and variegated conception.” (32)
All this has a comfortingly warm and fuzzy feel about it, but Marx’s importance as a thinker is not like this. It lies in his ability to comprehend particular conditions within the structure of a quite specific and definite over-arching theory.
Marx’s “life purpose”, we are told, was “to provide the worker’s movement with the theoretical basis to destroy capitalism” (11).
The idea that Marx was champing to be at the barricades misrepresents
Marx’s character as it is revealed here. What comes out so strikingly from the picture that Musto draws is that Marx was driven, not so much by a restless activism, as by an insatiable intellectual curiosity and a desire for understanding and truth, often simply for its own sake. This is repeatedly demonstrated by the story that Musto tells,
but when he comes to summarise Marx’s attitudes in general terms, particularly in contrast to Engels, he tends to forget this and resort to platitudes. His asides about Engels constitute an unfortunate descent into caricature and stereotyping. His denigration of Engels is unwarranted and seems designed mainly to praise Marx by
comparison. It does nothing to enhance Musto’s picture of Marx and is the weakest aspect of the book. As my mother used to tell me, you can’t build yourself up by belittling your brother, and the same principle applies here.

Life and death
In the final chapter, Musto turns his attention increasingly to the domestic circumstances of Marx’s life. By 1881, Marx and his household – his wife Jenny, his youngest daughter Eleanor and their long-term servant Helene Demuth, together with three dogs – had moved from a spacious house at 1 Maitland Park Road in the
Chalk Farm area of North London into a more modest terraced house further along the same road, 41 Maitland Park Road (both have now been demolished). The house was full of books. When he was younger and poorer, Marx had relied on the British Museum Library, which was within walking distance of his homes. In his later years, he began to acquire books of his own in many languages, often donated by
admirers. Engels had by then retired from his job in Manchester and moved to an altogether grander house at 122 Regent’s Park Road, facing Primrose Hill, a 15 minute walk away. They saw each other regularly and corresponded frequently when either of them was out of London. His, wife, Jenny, was suffering from cancer of the liver. Her condition worsened in the summer of 1881, and she died in December, leaving Marx bereft.
They had been together for almost 40 years. Marx’s condition worsened. His doctor advised longer and more frequent visits to the coast to benefit from the sea air. He stayed for several weeks in Ventnor in the Isle of Wight. Then a trip further south for warmth and sun was recommended and in February 1882 he embarked on a journey to Algeria, stopping off on the way to visit his elder daughter, Jenny Longuet, and her family in Argenteuil, just outside Paris. This trip was not a success. When he got to Algeria, the weather was unseasonably cold and wet, and he suffered from a lack of
intellectual stimulation. After ten weeks he cut short his stay, and moved to Monaco on the French Riviera, and then back to England, again via Argenteuil.
He was staying again in Ventnor when he received news that his eldest
daughter, Jenny, had died of cancer. Marx was distraught. He returned to London. In the final months of his life, he was looked after by Eleanor, his youngest daughter, and their servant, Helene Demuth. He died peacefully sitting in the chair by his desk on March 24, 1883.
Musto combines a fascinating and detailed intellectual biography with an informative account of Marx’s life in his final years. His book is exceptionally well researched. In a running commentary, much of it in footnotes, he provides a detailed account of the scholarly literature in all the main European languages on the topics he is discussing. He writes in a clear and pleasing style. His book makes a major contribution to our understanding Marx’s life and work. It is highly recommended.


[1] Previously published as (Marx 1975).
[2] Previously published as (Marx 1983).
[3] Extended extracts from Marx’s original notes were published in (Marx 1974).
[4] MECW 24, 200. Marx and Engels works are cited from (Marx and Engels 1975),
abbreviated as MECW.
[5] MECW 24, 201.
[6] MECW 24, 362.
[7] MECW 24, 426.

Marx, Karl. 1974. The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx: (Studies of Morgan, Phear, Maine, Lubbock). Edited by Lawrence Krader. Assen: Van Gorcum.
Marx, Karl. 1975. “Notes on Adolph Wagner (1879-80).” In Texts on Method, 179– 219. Oxford: Blackwell.
Marx, Karl. 1983. Mathematical Manuscripts of Karl Marx. London : New York: New Park Publications.
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 1975. Collected Works [MECW]. 50 vols. London: Lawrence & Wishart.


The Last Years of Karl Marx (Book Launch)


Nupur Pattanaik, Critical Sociology

Marcello Musto is a Professor in Sociology at York University at Canada and in the book Rethinking Alternatives with Marx has revealed the resilience, power of Marxist ideas in the contemporary contexts of culture, gender equality, migrant rights and protection of the environment, the brilliant book illustrates the culture and society with Marxist viewpoints. The author has put together vari¬ous prestigious scholars, activists who guide us through the frontiers of the struggle for our times, from gender and race to migration and the climate crisis which suggests that Marx’s analyses are arguably resonating even more strongly today than they did in his own time. Marcus Musto has made the book by the efficient innovative perspectives on Marx’s points of view about ecology, migration, gender, the capitalist mode of production, the labour movement, globalization, social relations and the contours of a possible socialist alternative by delving deeper into a new critical discussion of some of the classical themes of Marx’s thought.
The book consists of four parts and each part is segmented into different chapters; the first part is about capitalism, gender and social relations which have been including four chapters that reflect about factory and family as spaces of capital, followed by Marx on Gender, Race and Social Reproduction With the third chapter which is about capital as a social relation form analysis and class struggle and the last chapter in this segment is about commodity and post-modern spectacle.
But in Marx, and in Hegel for that matter, the term functioned differently, less prominently culturally, but more as regards the family, economy and the relationship of both to nature. Rethinking Marx’s treatment of ‘gender’ relations confronts us with a paradox.
On one side, Marx’s approach to ‘gender’, as discussed in his major works, is at best wanting. Whether by gender we refer to male-female relations and the rules by which they are constructed or to the history and origins of the sexual division of labour and patriarchal domination in capital¬ism, in vain we turn to Marx for an analysis of these issues. New forms of governance that depend on collective networks and solidarity rather than profit-oriented market forces and hierarchical command structures.
The second part of this book which is about the environmental crisis and the struggle for nature divulges into three chapters which highlight Primitive Accumulation as the cause of economic and ecological disaster with Marx and the Environmental Catastrophe, with the seventh chapter ‘Finding a Way Out of the Anthropocene: The Theory of “Radical Needs” and the Ecological Transition’ by enlightening the readers in sum, takes capitalism at its word, and demand that our vital and qualitative needs be at last fulfilled.
The third part focuses on the most prominent issue of Migration, Labour and Globalization with three chapters like ‘Accumulation and Its Discontents: Migration and Nativism in Marx’s Capital and Late Manuscripts’ followed by ‘Marx on Migration and the Industrial Reserve Army: Not to Be Misused!’ and the last chapter ‘Globalization, Migrant Labour, and Capitalism: Past and Present’; the chapters deal with the most pertinent issues of migration, Migrant labour has been a feature of global capitalism since the latter’s, beginning. Capitalism needed labour from colonies, semi-colonies, and other parts of the world. Thus, while Atlantic slavery was supplying labour across the ocean, there was an increase in the mobility of labour in post manumission age, when capital became global and global trade became a defining feature of global capitalism.
Communism as a Free Association is the last part of the book which consists of three chapters where the first chapter is the Experience of the Paris Commune and Marx’s Reflections on Communism by the author following Communism as Probability and Contingency and the last chapter of the book which is about Uniting Communism and Liberalism: An Unsolvable Task or a Most Urgent Necessity? This details that humanity finds itself confronted with the task of con-sciously, deliberately and very rapidly revolutionizing its metabolic process and social relationship with nature, between this heaven and earth, its task is to face the plurality of mixed communist and liberal forms of regulating the complex relations of a multiplicity of actors and to shape these forms by solidarity.
The book by Marcello Musto who is an accomplished scholar has devoted his academic career to reviving the understanding of Marx’s ideas and their applications to the contemporary world, driven and passionate about the significance of Marx’s contributions in politics, sociology, the critique of political economy and philosophy, Musto has delivered seven books within the last 3 years. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of Marx’s work and highlights his relevance for finding alternative solutions to the most pressing current issues of capitalism and how it influences culture and society. Furthermore, the book is useful for researchers, academicians in understanding more about the role of capitalist culture in different dimensions of society.

Dr. Nupur Pattanaik
Central University of Odisha, India


As the West Goes to War, Crafting Peace Today (Talk)


The Left Has a Long, Proud Tradition of Opposing War

While political science has probed the ideological, political, economic, and even psychological motivations behind the drive to war, socialist theory has made a unique contribution by highlighting the relationship between the development of capitalism and war. The Left has long theorized its opposition to war, and the main positions of socialist theorists and organizations over the past 150 years offer useful resources for opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, as well as for continuing to oppose NATO.

Rarely have wars — not to be confused with revolutions — had the democratizing effect that the theorists of socialism hoped for. Indeed, they have often proved themselves to be the worst way of carrying out a revolution, both because of the human cost and because of the destruction of the productive forces that they entail. If this was true in the past, it is even more evident in contemporary societies where weapons of mass destruction are continually proliferating.

The Economic Causes of War

In the debates of the First International, César de Paepe, one of its principal leaders, formulated what would become the classical position of the workers’ movement on the question of war: namely, that wars are inevitable under the regime of capitalist production. In contemporary society, they are brought about not by the ambitions of monarchs or other individuals but by the dominant social-economic model. The lesson for the workers’ movement came from the belief that any war should be considered “a civil war,” a ferocious clash between workers that deprived them of the means necessary for their survival.

Karl Marx never developed any consistent or systematic position on war in his writings. In Capital, volume 1, he argued that violence was an economic force, “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” But he did not think of war as a crucial shortcut for the revolutionary transformation of society, and a major aim of his political activity was to commit workers to the principle of international solidarity.

War was such an important question for Friedrich Engels that he devoted one of his last pieces of writing to it. In his pamphlet “Can Europe Disarm?”, he noted that in the previous twenty-five years, every major power had tried to outdo its rivals militarily and in terms of war preparations. This had involved unprecedented levels of arms production and brought the old continent closer to “a war of destruction such as the world has never seen.”

According to Engels, “The system of standing armies has been carried to such extremes throughout Europe that it must either bring economic ruin to the peoples on account of the military burden, or else degenerate into a general war of extermination.” He emphasized that standing armies were maintained just as much for reasons of domestic politics as they were for external military purposes. They were intended “to provide protection not so much against the external enemy as the internal one,” Engels wrote, by strengthening the forces to repress the proletariat and workers’ struggles. As popular layers paid more than anyone else the costs of war, through taxes and the provision of troops to the state, the workers’ movement should fight for “the gradual reduction of the term of [military] service by international treaty” and for disarmament as the only effective “guarantee of peace.”

Tests and Collapse

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

As the major European powers kept up their imperialist expansion, the controversy on war acquired ever greater weight in the debates of the Second International. A resolution adopted at its founding congress had enshrined peace as “the indispensable precondition of any emancipation of the workers.”

As the Weltpolitik — the aggressive policy of imperial Germany to extend its power in the international arena — changed the geopolitical setting, anti-militarist principles sank deeper roots in the workers’ movement and influenced the discussions on armed conflicts. War was no longer seen only as hastening the breakdown of the system (an idea on the Left going back to Maximilien Robespierre’s slogan, “no revolution without revolution.”) It was now viewed as a danger because of its grievous consequences for the proletariat in the shape of hunger, destitution, and unemployment.

The resolution “On Militarism and International Conflicts,” adopted by the Second International at its Stuttgart congress in 1907, recapitulated all the key points that had become the common heritage of the workers’ movement. Among these were a vote against budgets that increased military spending, antipathy to standing armies, and a preference for a system of people’s militias.

As the years passed, the Second International commitment to peace lessened, and by the time of World War I, the majority of European socialist parties voted to support it — a course of action that had disastrous consequences. Arguing that the “benefits of progress” should not be monopolized by the capitalists, the workers’ movement came to share the expansionist aims of the ruling classes and was swamped by nationalist ideology. In this sense, the Second International proved completely impotent in the face of the war, ceding its own aim to preserve peace.

Against this backdrop, it was Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin who were two of the most vigorous opponents of the war. Articulate and principled, Luxemburg demonstrated how militarism was a key vertebra of the state and worked to make the “War on war!” slogan “the cornerstone of working-class politics.” As she wrote in The Crisis of German Social Democracy, the Second International had imploded because it failed “to achieve a common tactic and action by the proletariat in all countries.” From then on, the “main goal” of the proletariat should therefore be “fighting imperialism and preventing wars, in peace as in war.”

In Socialism and the War — among other writings penned during World War I — Lenin’s great merit was to identify two fundamental questions. The first concerned the “historical falsification” at work whenever the bourgeoisie tried to attribute a “progressive sense of national liberation” to what were in reality wars of “plunder.”

The second was the masking of contradictions by the social reformists who had replaced the class struggle with a claim on “morsels of the profits obtained by their national bourgeoisie through the looting of other countries.” The most celebrated thesis of this pamphlet — that revolutionaries should seek to “turn imperialist war into civil war” — implied that those who really wanted a “lasting democratic peace” had to wage “civil war against their governments and the bourgeoisie.” Lenin was convinced of what history would later show to be inaccurate: that any class struggle consistently waged in time of war would “inevitably” create a revolutionary spirit among the masses.

Lines of Demarcation

World War I produced divisions not only in the Second International but also in the anarchist movement. In an article published shortly after the outbreak of the conflict, Peter Kropotkin wrote that “the task of any person holding dear the idea of human progress is to squash the German invasion in Western Europe.”

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

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

Attitudes to the war also aroused debate in the feminist movement. The need for women to replace conscripted men in jobs — for much lower wages, in conditions of overexploitation — encouraged support for war in a sizable part of the newborn suffragette movement. Some of its leaders went so far as to petition for laws allowing the enlistment of women in the armed forces. Yet more radical, antiwar elements persisted. Communist feminists worked to expose duplicitous governments, which were using the war to roll back fundamental social reforms

Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai, Sylvia Pankhurst, and of course Rosa Luxemburg were among the first to embark lucidly and courageously on the path that would show successive generations how the struggle against militarism was essential to the struggle against patriarchy. Later, the rejection of war became a distinctive part of International Women’s Day, and opposition to war budgets at the outbreak of any new conflict featured prominently in many platforms of the international feminist movement.

With the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, violence escalated still further. After Adolph Hitler’s troops attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Great Patriotic War that ended with the defeat of Nazism became such a central element in Russian national unity that it survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and has lasted until our own days.

With the postwar division of the world into two blocs, Joseph Stalin taught that the main task of the international communist movement was to safeguard the Soviet Union. The creation of a buffer zone of eight countries in Eastern Europe was a central pillar of this policy. From 1961, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union began a new political course that came to be known as “peaceful coexistence.” However, this attempt at constructive cooperation was geared only to the United States, not to the other countries of “actually existing socialism.”

The Soviet Union had already brutally crushed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Similar events took place in 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Faced with demands for democratization during the “Prague Spring,” the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided unanimously to send in half a million soldiers and thousands of tanks. Leonid Brezhnev explained the action by referring to what he called the “limited sovereignty” of Warsaw Pact countries: “When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country toward capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.” According to this antidemocratic logic, the definition of what was and was not “socialism” naturally fell to the arbitrary decision of the Soviet leaders.

With the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Red Army again became a major instrument of Moscow’s foreign policy, which continued to claim the right to intervene in what it described as its own “security zone.” These military interventions not only worked against a general arms reduction but served to discredit and globally weaken socialism. The Soviet Union was increasingly seen as an imperial power acting in ways not unlike those of the United States, which, since the onset of the Cold War, had more or less secretly backed coups d’état and helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in more than twenty countries around the world.

To Be on the Left Is to Be Against War

With the onset of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Left is once again confronted with the question of how to position itself when a country’s sovereignty is under attack. It is a mistake for governments like Venezuela’s to refuse condemnation of the invasion. This will make denunciations of possible future acts of aggression by the United States appear less credible. We might recall Lenin’s words in The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination:

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

The Left has historically supported the principle of national self-determination and defended the right of individual states to establish their frontiers on the basis of the express will of the population. Making direct reference to Ukraine, in Results of the Discussion on Self-Determination, Lenin argued:

If the socialist revolution were to be victorious in Petrograd, Berlin, and Warsaw, the Polish socialist government, like the Russian and German socialist governments, would renounce the “forcible retention” of, say, the Ukrainians within the frontiers of the Polish state.

Why suggest, then, that anything different should be conceded to the nationalist government led by Vladimir Putin?

“The Left has historically supported the principle of national self-determination.”

On the other hand, all too many on the Left have yielded to the temptation to become — directly or indirectly — cobelligerents, fueling a new union sacrée. Such a position today serves increasingly to blur the distinction between Atlanticism and pacifism. History shows that, when they do not oppose war, progressive forces lose an essential part of their reason for existence and end up swallowing the ideology of the opposite camp. This happens whenever left parties make their presence in government the essential element of their political action — as the Italian Communists did in supporting the NATO interventions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, or as does much of today’s Unidas Podemos, which joins the chorus of the Spanish parliament in favor of sending weapons to the Ukrainian army.

Bonaparte Is Not Democracy

Reflecting on the Crimean War, in 1854 Marx opposed liberal democrats who exalted the anti-Russian coalition:

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

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

In today’s discourse, those who oppose both Russian and Ukrainian nationalism, as well as the expansion of NATO, are often accused of political indecision or simple naivete. But this is not the case. The position of those who propose a policy of nonalignment is the most effective way of ending the war as soon as possible and ensuring the smallest number of victims. It is necessary to pursue ceaseless diplomatic activity based on two firm points: de-escalation and the neutrality of independent Ukraine.

Furthermore, although support for NATO across Europe appears strengthened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is necessary to work harder to ensure that public opinion does not see the largest and most aggressive war machine in the world — NATO — as the solution to the problems of global security. It must be shown that it is a dangerous and ineffectual organization, which, in its drive for expansion and unipolar domination, serves to fuel tensions leading to war in the world.

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


William Clare Roberts, Political Science Quarterly

In The Last Years of Karl Marx, Marcello Musto provides an affectionate and careful journey through the final two years of Marx’s life. These years are, as Musto notes (p. 5), frequently neglected in full biographies. Marx prepared almost nothing for publication during these years—only a short (but important) preface to the Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. This was due, partly, to illness. He spent almost all of 1882 traveling—to the Isle of Wight, Algeria, and various spas in France and Switzerland—in search of relief from bronchitis and pleurisy. Moreover, these years were dominated by the deaths of his two Jennys: his wife in December of 1881, and his eldest daughter in the first days of 1883.
Despite this, Musto treats these years as intellectually fruitful. Because he was not publishing, reconstructing Marx’s intellectual life entails reporting on his reading notes. These are voluminous, even in these years of illness and grief, and the recitation of their contents can be a bit tedious. Despite Musto’s effort to inject some theoretical interest, the massive “annotated year‐by‐year timeline of world events”—from 91 BCE to the Treaty of Westphalia—that Marx produced late in 1881 (pp. 99–102) seems to have been a way of literally marking time as his wife succumbed to liver cancer.
However, Marx was also regularly corresponding with friends, family members, and activists in the international socialist movement, and his letters are a richer source of insight into theoretical and political questions. The Paris Commune of 1871 had dwarfed all the earlier experiments with communist colonies and cooperative factories. The workers had asserted their right to one of the great cities of Europe and governed it for two months. The destruction of the Commune, however, demonstrated a new that the city was dependent upon the countryside, and that a militant urban proletariat was helpless without the support of a revolutionary peasantry.
Marx, therefore, extended his research “to new areas” (p. 25), oriented above all by the possibility and prospects of social revolution in the countryside. This dovetailed with the development of revolutionary socialism in Russia, and with the question of whether or how the Russian peasant commune might play into this development. The most substantial chapter of Musto’s story treats Marx’s involvement with the Russian revolutionary movement and the questions about Russian social development that occupied populists and socialists.
At the same time, Marx was also involved in the creation and growth of working‐class political parties in France (pp. 44–48, 77–80), England (pp. 82–85), and Germany. (Musto’s book does not devote sustained attention to German Social Democracy. Engels corresponded much more actively than Marx with August Bebel, Eduard Bernstein, and Karl Kautsky, and this explains, even if it does not fully justify, this lacuna.) Musto repeatedly claims that Marx’s work in these years stands in sharp contrast with the “dogmatic, economistic, and Eurocentric” picture of Marx produced by the Marxist parties of the Second and Third Internationals (p. 4). His concluding thoughts on Marx are entitled, “What is certain is that I am not a Marxist” (pp. 118–21). Engels claimed that Marx declared this to his son‐in‐law Paul Lafargue, one of the chief propagators of Marx’s ideas in the French Parti Ouvrier. Musto’s book, however, convinces me that Marx
was very much a Marxist—not because he was actually dogmatic, economistic, and Eurocentric, nor because he actually agreed with the Lafargue and Guesde, but because Marx’s late research and correspondence presaged the debates and questions that would be the center of Marxist thought right up through 1917 and beyond. Even if this was not Musto’s intention, it is a valuable contribution.


Nicolás Arenas, Socialism and Democracy

The concept of alienation is probably one of the most slippery and controversial in Marxian theory. Since the publication of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in 1932, Marxist intellectuals all over the world have tried to fathom this theoretical category from different perspectives without reaching any consensus about its role in Marx’s thought. In this regard, its labelling as an “individual” or “subjective” condition by authors such as Martin Heidegger, Erich Fromm and the French existentialists has led to a historical misunderstanding of the phenomenon and its implications, dismissing its comprehension as an objective social issue that embodies the very nature of the conflict between capital and labour. Under these precepts, Marcello Musto outlines a concise but rigorous argumentation to introduce a selection of Karl Marx’s writings on alienation, demonstrating that the concept exceeds Marx’s problematisation in the Manuscripts of 1844 and constitutes a key element in later works such as Grundrisse and Capital.
Starting with a short review of the history of the concept, Musto
accounts for how the conceptualisation of alienation has changed
over the centuries. From Hegel’s adoption of the term to Lukács’s elaborations on reification, alienation has been used interchangeably along with the concept of “estrangement” to denote the phenomenon
through which the products of labour confront labour itself “as something alien, as a power independent of the producer” (Marx, quoted in Musto 2021: 6). In this sense, Musto notes the contrast between Hegel’s conception of alienation as an ontological manifestation of labour and Marx’s understanding of it as a historically situated condition that affects workers in the context of capitalist society. These distinctions are paramount to differentiate later conceptualisations made by thinkers related to the Frankfurt School and French existentialism, some of whom conceived of alienation as a subjective condition of the human consciousness, overlooking thus the social foundations and implications of the phenomenon. According to Musto, these misunderstandings around the concept were reinforced by theoretical systematisations such as the so-called “epistemological break” proposed by Socialism and Democracy, 2022Althusser, which establishes a separation between Marx’s Early Works (attributed to a “Young Marx”) and his Later Works (related to a “Mature Marx”). The dissemination of Marxian theory as a totality comprised the association of his early writings with a more philosophical approach that kept a strong filiation with Hegelianism, compared to the political economy perspective that characterised his later reflections including Capital. For Musto, these erroneous categorisations of Marx’s work and its continuity downplayed the theory of alienation, now confined to an early and more philosophical stage of a “young Hegelian Marx who had not yet developed Marxism” (Fetscher, quoted in Musto 2021: 17).
The misconceptions around the concept were reinforced after its
institutionalisation by American sociology, states Musto, which “saw
alienation as a problem linked to the system of industrial production,
whether capitalist or socialist, and mainly affecting human consciousness” (27). The phenomenon was thus related to the individual’s maladjustment to social norms, a conception that led to the “theoretical impoverishment” of the concept due to its scientization and neutralisation under academic research specialisations. According to Musto, these reductive conceptions of Marx’s theory of alienation ignore the complex character of the phenomenon as a social and intellectual condition that cannot be detached from the objective determinations of the opposition between capital and living labour-power. In relation to this, Musto shows that Marx, in the Grundrisse and in Capital vol. 1, treats alienation as an objective condition. In the Grundrisse, Marx refers to the process in which the exchange of labour power and products occurs as something “alien and objective” to the workers, involving their subordination to relations that exist independently of them.
This argument probably comprises the first outlining of the notion of
“commodity fetishism”, a process in which exchange value entails
“the social connection between persons [that] is transformed into a
social relation between things” (Marx, quoted in Musto 2021: 30).
Musto thus shows that the theory of alienation cannot be detached
from Marx’s account of commodity fetishism.
The concept of fetishism plays a crucial role in Musto’s argumentation. As Musto points out, it does not seem a coincidence that Lukács’s
concept of reification was coined based on Capital rather than the Manuscripts (which were not yet published when Lukács wrote History and Class Consciousness), even though reification has been historically
related to the phenomenon of alienation. Accordingly, Musto contends
that the elaborations by Marx on commodity fetishism in the first
chapter of Capital comprise “one of the best accounts of alienation”
2 Socialism and Democracy(33). In this sense, he argues that the displacement of the relation between producers to a relation between things is part of the same process through which the products of labour appear as something external (or “alien”) and independent to their producers. Therefore, what Lukács called reification presented alienation from the perspective of human relations, while the concept of fetishism addressed it in relation to commodities. In other terms, Marx’s elaborations on the processes of commodification are not necessarily separated from his reflections regarding the alien character of the products of labour, as “commodity fetishism did not replace alienation but was only one aspect of it” (34).
This last remark is probably one of the most interesting considerations in Musto’s introduction, as it demonstrates not only how some
of Marx’s categories have been distorted throughout history but also
that his epistemological conceptions are even more consistent than
some intellectuals have affirmed. Regarding this, the distinction
between a Marx more focused on “subjective issues” in his earlier
works, compared to the “materialistic” thinker that addressed the
objective nature of exploitation and the formation of capital in his
later works, leads to conceiving of his theory as entailing an epistemological excision between the subjective and the objective. However, some of the extracts from Grundrisse presented by Musto are clear about how Marx problematised the separation between the objective and subjective conditions in relation to living labour in the context of capitalist production. In this context, the alienation of the objective conditions of living labour capacity appears as a phenomenon determined by both objective and subjective factors, as “[t]he objective conditions of labour attain a subjective existence vis-à-vis living labour capacity” (Marx, quoted in Musto 2021: 30). Hence, the subjective and the objective are not two separate spheres in Marx’s epistemological perspective but two sides of the same coin. Although the author does not address in depth these epistemological aspects, his remarks throughout this book could influence significantly future philosophical discussions related to the supposed binarism between subjectivity and objectivity within the framework of Marxist theory and even to new ontological considerations regarding the dialectic between matter and idea.
In closing, Musto’s book constitutes a ground-breaking – and
necessary – vindication of the comprehensive character of Marx’s
thought and, particularly, of the concept of alienation as an objective
social phenomenon manifested in the historical reality of production.
While the main attraction for readers could be Marx’s writings,
Musto’s introduction reflects a fundamental commitment to delve
Book Review 3into those texts from a critical and renewed perspective. In this way, his compilation and analysis offer not only a rigorous examination but also a political gesture that illuminates the urgency of revisiting those theoretical categories that will enable us to identify the obstacles to constructing a postcapitalist society.


Marx’s Writings on Alienation (Book Launch)


Arkayan Ganguly, Critique. Journal of Socialist Theory.

Few of the numerous biographies of Marx, written both before and after the ‘New Revival’, betray any genuine concern for the tireless intellectual pursuits of his last years; instead, they turn their attention almost wholly to his earlier thoughts, which too are, more often than not, dealt in isolation – hence cut off – from his shaping life experience as a living continuum. In The Last Years of Karl Marx, 1881–1883: An Intellectual Biography Marcello Musto, determined to put to rest such uncritical intellectual prejudices, takes a firm stand against this trend. Drawing support from the huge corpus of Marx’s books, notebooks, letters, marginalia and even the comments of his adversaries, he paints the portrait of an embattled thinker, which nevertheless remains a sensitively nuanced one. At the same time, he correlates what he calls Marx’s ‘existential vicissitudes’ (p. 5) and his academic labours, in the process extending the focus from the subject’s ‘mind, thoughts and ideas’ to his ‘life, personality and character’,1 the coordinates within which the man and his works may be seen as being charted in graphic detail.

In 1859, in a defining gesture bearing on his pertinence as a political economist,2 Marx offered a clarificatory note on what characterized the nature and direction of his learning. Whether in his last years he continued to remain consistent with this specific self-clarification, the present review seeks to examine, in the light, that is, of Musto’s study.

The book opens ‘with a fateful question’ which John Swinton, walking along the beach in September, 1880, once put to Marx. Moving from topic to topic he finally asked what the ‘law of being’ is. While gazing upon the ‘roaring sea’ and the ‘restless multitude upon the beach’, and after a measured silence Marx responded, saying in a voice tempered with self-knowledge – ‘Struggle’ (p. 9)!

What this moment truly evokes is an image of the hero as he emerges in the finale of Beethoven’s Eroica. The ‘noble Poco Andante’3 section, resonating with the walk, the question and Marx’s contemplative gaze, ‘represents the apotheosis of the hero’, which gets ‘transfigured by a vast change of tempo and of instrumentation, and thundered out in all its splendour by the brass’ of ‘the Coda4 which follows it’,5 depicting Marx’s ‘Struggle’ succeeding, almost, as the culmination of his gaze. The music projects the undaunted hero, not as the one who is exalted above the struggling common soul, but as the one who ‘is free to resist myth, “to stand firm against fate,”’ holding ‘out “hope without the lie of religion”’6 and beseeches ‘the spirit of man, charged with the task of making the world as it “should be”’.7 In short, it can be claimed, the music captures Marx and his spirit. Indeed, Eroica in a sense helps unveil the purpose of the account Musto presents, which, to be precise, not only upholds the spirit of ‘late Marx’ but does, at the same time, place upon the readers a realization of the task they too by implication are ‘charged with’.

To return to Musto. He presents Marx in 1881 with his family – his wife diagnosed with cancer, daughter Jennychen in Paris, and he himself seriously ill; his friends, visitors, and his research apparatuses; a humble desk, an elaborate library, newspapers, government records, unpublished writings and the unfinished manuscripts of Capital II. Writing for self-clarification and recasting his thoughts, between end of 1879 and summer of 1880, among other things, Marx studied Maksim Kovalevsky’s Communal Landownership. His purpose was to know how the existing communal landownership and ‘possession rights’ (p. 19) in the colonies were abolished under the superimposed rule of capital with the lust to explore and plunder. The Spanish in Latin America, the British in India and the French in Algeria were but so many facets of colonial pillaging to secure economic gains while also fulfilling a ‘political aim’ (p. 21), that of eliminating resistance of the colonized by destroying their societal foundations.

Next, Musto records how Kovalevsky would introduce Marx to an American anthropologist, Lewis Morgan, whose Ancient Society led him to study anthropology between December 1880 and June 1881. His studies were later collected to form The Ethnological Notebooks. Although Musto refrains from an ‘exhaustive analysis’ (p. 6) of the Notebooks, the material provided in this book is by no means negligible. He maintains that Marx’s ‘precise theoretical-political purpose’ for studying anthropology was, first, to trace capitalism’s genesis through the ‘likely’ sequences in which the modes of production ‘succeeded one another’; and, second, explain the ‘historical foundations’ (p. 26) necessary for societal transformation.

From his anthropological studies, especially those centred round Morgan, Marx observed the following: the deduction of ‘the gens and not the family’ (p. 27) being the unit of ancient society; the identification of the beginning of ‘history as “the history of class struggle”’ (p. 28) by locating a ‘domestic class’ within the earliest monogamous family; the origin of property relations; and, the transformation of the state’s socio-cultural character from ‘barbarism’ to ‘civilization’ (p. 31) and the relation between the state and individuals.

However, Marx was opposed to the anthropologists’ faith in an evolutionary ‘pregiven course’; instead, he stressed the reality of changes through ‘human intervention’ (p. 33), thus prioritizing the role of political struggle. As on the side, Musto points out how, ironically, in the Second International, a belief analogous to that of the anthropologists in an inevitable progression leading up to socialism, and codified with the rigidity of a sanctified doctrine and advanced in Marx’s name, undermined the role of and need for the workers’ socio-political struggle (p. 32).

Shortly afterwards, between autumn 1881 and winter 1882, Marx studied world history to fill four notebooks, later titled the Chronological Extracts (p. 100), which Musto discusses in a subsequent chapter. He prepared notes on major historical developments from the first to the end of the seventeenth century. He focused on the entangled relationship between capitalism’s progress – beginning with scientific farming, maritime laws, and modern banking8 of the thirteenth-century ‘Italian maritime republics’ (p. 101) to the emergence of the world market – and the birth of the modern states as distinct from those of antiquity (p. 100).

In view of these two diverse studies which the book presents – the colonial and anthropological studies contra the Chronological Extracts – it seems fairly possible to draw the line of inquiry and method adopted by Marx. His inquiry begins with how capitalism instituted ‘categories that are historically specific to that social form’ – viz. private property, the atomistic patriarchal family and wage labour – by continually replacing the ‘commune system of living’, be it in the colonies or in the lands of its provenance. Further, through this inquiry, he seeks to establish even more concretely how capital, through a dynamism of these very historically specific categories, establishes a ‘form of domination, of heteronomy’ by implying history, understood as a natural historico-political ‘marche generale’, to be a ‘universal category of human social life’. Such a reconstruction remains very much in sync with his theory which regards history’s universality in social life, comprehended as ‘an immanently driven directional dynamic’ to be a ‘historically specific feature of capitalist society’ – a form of domination grounded in the ‘category of capital’.9 The upshot of all this is that this way of unraveling the historical specificities of capitalism by a composite reading of texts which runs against the grain of each other – the former condemning or opposing and the latter panegyrizing capitalism – forms a didactic dialectical alliance, which, as in early Marx, is very much there even in his later days.

By the Fall of 1881 Marx would compile the Mathematical Manuscripts. He would write ‘two short manuscripts’ on calculus as part of his study ‘on the history of differential calculus’. He attempted to demonstrate ‘the “mystical” foundation of … differential calculus’ (p. 34) and recast it by concluding how a ‘mathematically correct result is based upon an equally mathematically wrong presupposition at the very foundation  … [which] they’ – namely Newton, Liebniz, Lagrange, and d’Alembert – ‘did not know’!10 Ambitious as it may appear, the concluding statement with its contrasting features was perfectly sensible at a time when scholars used to frame their problematic under the continuing influence of the European Enlightenment tradition.11

However, his importance as a mathematician remains contested between those on one hand who dismiss him as of no significance, and on the other, those who uphold his interpretation on ‘operator calculus’.12 The upshot of the query undertaken is that, for Marx, learning a subject matter mandatorily involved a responsible critique of it, be it for self-clarifications or otherwise. Nevertheless, keeping this debate aside, Musto concludes that mathematics for Marx remained ‘a useful intellectual stimulus’ (p. 35) and a shelter during his personal crises.

Alongside this, Marx dealt with ‘socialist’ political economists. He criticized Adolph Wagner (pp. 24–25) for his purported attempt to lay bare the composition of value and its analysis independent of commodity relations, and Henry George (pp. 38–39) for his idea of creating ‘common property’ by means of a single-point tax on land.

In this context it is pertinent to note that, during Marx’s last years, advanced mathematics was applied in economics, especially by the marginalists – viz. Léon Walras, William Stanley Jevons, and Alfred Marshall. The absence of advanced mathematics in Marx’s economic writings and his mysterious silence regarding the marginalists – the presence notwithstanding of a copy of The progress of the mathematical theory of political economy, with an explanation of the principles of the theory by Jevons in his library13 – would go a long way to account for the dividing line between the economists supporting and opposing socialism.14 The problematic stands in need of a more comprehensive critical examination quite different from those available in plenty on rival economic theories: Marx contra the marginalists.

Another integral part of Marx’s intellectual constitution, to which Musto draws attention, was his role as a political activist – refusing to make predictions about the future socialist state for a socialist congress (p. 35), drawing the Electoral Programme of the Socialist Workers (p. 45), and preparing a 101-point questionnaire for the French socialist workers’ party (p. 46). Alongside this, he also scrupulously observed world historical, political, and economic events – study of the 1873 economic crash (p. 40); migration, ethnic violence, and working-class riot in San Francisco 1877 (p. 40), complications and crisis of the British administration in India (p. 42); and the ‘mass evictions’ in Ireland and criticism of the Land Law (Ireland) Act of 1881 (p. 43). Capturing Marx as an unfailingly vigilant observer and constant participant of ‘social conflicts developing at every latitude’, Musto closes the chapter by showing how he thereby evolved as a ‘citizen of the world’ (p. 48).

The second chapter, the heart of Musto’s book, deals with Marx’s critical assessment of the question of agency vis-à-vis the possibility of socialist transformation in Russia. Marx came to acknowledge peasantry as the revolutionary agent owing to the series of uprising and rabblement (byistva) in Russia, for, indeed, the two years following the 1861 Emancipation Edict’s promulgation witnessed about 1100 insurrections.15 There was also another overriding consideration: the percentage they formed (38% of total Russian population) as against only half a million industrial proletariat. This explains why he concurred with the prevailing Russian revolutionaries’ view that the Russian peasantry and not the proletariat was the potential agent of revolutionary social change.

True, Marx’s thoughts found an explosive purchase in Russia. Nevertheless, as Musto asserts, the significance in this context of Nikolai Chernsyshevky’s ‘left-wing anti-capitalist movement’ (p. 50) could not be belittled. To form an informed judgment of Russia’s socio-economic conditions, Marx taught himself Russian and read Chernyshensky carefully (p. 50).16

In view of the resulting shift in Marx’s theoretical focus Musto provides a short introductory note on Chernyshensky’s works (pp. 50–53), to which further additions are made for a more comprehensive evaluation. Chernsyshevsky in the tradition of Mikhail Lomonorov (1711–1766), Alexander Herzen (1812–1870) (p. 53), et al. firmly believed that given the vast land wealth, and the population historically growing very slowly in Russia – rendering Malthus’ theory of population infructuous17 – if the obshchina’s cooperative farming labour, driven by its common good,18 could be enhanced by fusing it with capitalist acceleration vectors (p. 50–51) – namely, the dynamic composite of technology, agronomy, innovative distribution of farming labour – then the growth in farming would set in motion unprecedented economic prosperity in Russia. Abundant land, farmed to promote enormous yield, low population, and an emancipated obshchina would set the conditions for Chernsyshevsky’s ‘scientific’ social transformation (p. 51): in short, the possibility of bypassing capitalism to attain socialism. This idea of a direct transition into socialism with the peasantry, no more to be dismissed as either ‘a sack of potatoes’19 or ‘an idle mob’ (p. 63) but as the potential revolutionary agent, opened a historical vista relatively new to Marx.

Previously, Marx had emphasized the expansion of capital being a ‘necessary pre-requisite’ (p. 54) for social change. Gleaning through his sprawling oeuvre, Musto depicts how capitalist production itself generates ‘the condition for’ emancipation of labourers (p. 56) by assimilating them into a cooperative whole under the gruelling conditions of production and establishing a ‘universality’ (p. 57) of working relations determined by socially necessary labour time. Simultaneously, the necessary ‘material premise[s]’ (p. 57) are supplied by its advanced productive forces. With the development of a political will for communism, a key component missing with the British workers (p. 49), the fetters of capitalist production can be broken by its own constitutive forces. However, Marx never codified this conviction into a teleological theory of social change.

In clarifying his views, Marx in his letter to Otecestvenniye Zapisky (1877), explained that his study of capitalism’s genesis was limited to Western Europe; it was not, unlike what Mikhailovky held, a universalist ‘historico-philosophical theory’ (p. 64) indifferent to widely divergent social conditions. Upon this view, then, capitalism was not a ‘condition precedent’ to socialism or communism; instead, societies evolving within historical parameters different from those of Europe, could, he argued, ‘develop [their] own historical foundations’ (p. 64), albeit demanding different strategies, but, ripen for a socialist revolution just as much as those arising out of class antagonism under capitalist production. It is in the context of such a broad explanatory paradigm that Musto prioritizes the theoretical insights in the drafts and the final letter to Vera Zasulich.

For a majorly agrarian Russia still at an embryonic stage of capitalism to become a privileged locus for a socialist transformation, ‘rebellion or resistance’ (p. 68) needed to be furnished with a few key vectors, which, according to Marx, were then present in Russia. They were, first, the opportunities to supplant parcel with collective labour (p. 70) provided by the obshchina with its cooperative labour process independent of ‘blood relations’ (p. 68) and organizational knowhow of the ‘artel’. Next, Russia’s coexistence with the capitalist world market would enable it to quarry the advanced forces of production to complement the cooperative labour process. Finally, a revolutionary ‘political will’ erupting in the rebellions which followed the imposition of the 1861 Edict and the newly emerging antagonistic property relations (p. 120–121) led Marx to conclude in favour of a possible socialist revolution there.

It is against the backdrop of what may be called theoretical mutation of this kind that Musto postulates a fruitful strategy of reading Marx. To start with, as he argues, Marx’s research method consists in testing previously formulated hypotheses within evolving historical conditions to try them out in order to evaluate their consistency and resolve doubts enabling the scope for opening new directions of studies. As for a general method, to be deduced from his research procedure, Musto maintains, any determination of possible historical courses should be based upon existing historical contexts and not abstract laws (p. 73) which German metaphysicians tend to champion. This explains why, as he seems to claim, through a relentless theoretical auto-critique, Marx liberated himself from the captivity of the tradition of the German Enlightenment thinkers to which he had begun by swearing allegiance.

Along with the above formulation another insight pertains to what Musto claims to be Marx’s newly developed conviction. That is, with an access to advanced productive forces, structurally similar socio-political conditions – cooperative working-relations, antagonistic class-relations and a defiant political will – within radically different modes of productions could stimulate headway into socialism. Through this insight, Musto, while highlighting Marx’s position on social transformation in Russia, simultaneously sheds light on an enlarged vision of revolution possibly breaking out in various historical conditions, extending way beyond his specific take on Russia. In doing so, he reiterates Marx’s insistence on attentively observing ‘historical specificities’ (p. 76). Unless the readers of Marx come to terms with this, any deep penetration into Marx’s unique dialectical method will continue to elude their grasp.

Notwithstanding the rich theoretical potentials the Zasulich papers possess, published in 1924, they would be routinely adduced as a standard proof of Marx’s ‘undermined capacity for work’.20 In the third chapter of his book, Musto addresses himself to the task of lifting this illegitimate burden Marx was long made to carry.

In the same chapter Musto has also brought into focus an unhappy historical concurrence: while his ideas began to spread, gaining wide recognition, (pp. 77–85) his health continued to deteriorate. Along with discussing the occasional trips made in the hope of improving his health, and the death, eventually, of his wife (pp. 94–99), Musto raises the question why Marx could never complete Capital II. In addition to his failing health, Musto advances two other contributory factors. First, Marx anticipated the upcoming industrial crisis to supply rich insights; next, he also wanted to study the changing socio-economic developments in Russia and America, analysing and tuning them to perfection before Capital II was made public (pp. 90–91).

Yet, Musto firmly maintains, the fact that Capital II and III remained incomplete should by means be made to weigh against Marx intellectually; on the contrary, he rather regards this incompleteness as testifying to the rigour of his critical method demanding a process of insistent examination and re-examination of his claims. What bears this out is that Capital I too never reached a ‘definite version’ (p. 93) as is evident from the additions and alterations he kept making in the German, the French (p. 93), and also the American edition.21 Commensurate as it is with his strategy of reading Marx, Musto asserts that any hunt for a ‘definite’ Marx would be futile since he, following his own chosen motto ‘De omnibus dubitandum’,22 never stopped pushing his interpretations to the extent possible in order to break new frontiers.

However, Musto remains silent about the analytical complexities – viz. those surrounding transformation of value, falling rate of profit, reproduction chain, or the Asiatic mode of production – which stalwarts like Achille Loria, Böhm-Bawerk, Oskar Lange, and all their epigones claim to have prevented him from completing Capital II and proceeding further.23 Following this line of thought, an assumption has been floated that those complexities had some bearing on the origin of his illness24 which, upon this view would rapidly blunt his intellectual productivity. Be this as it may, the contrasting views should not be regarded as a loss but rather as providing an opportunity for further research.

As his life drew to a close, though he was plagued by a number of debilitating infirmities, Marx’s passion for knowledge refused to grow any less. Sieving through numerous correspondences and exchanges, Musto in the final chapter chronicles those years. Mostly away from home, he was hoping to recover and get ‘down to any real work’ (p. 118), with a thorough revision, in particular, of the third German edition of Capital I being a top priority.

Unfortunately, returning to Capital remained a chimera. Nonetheless, he stayed immersed in a wide spectrum of studies and interests. They broadly encompassed, inter alia, a bewildering array of subjects: current affairs such as the ‘British invasion of Egypt’, the troublesome ‘ultra-revolutionary’ position of the French Workers’ Party (p. 119), the changing socio-economic conditions of Russia (p. 121); political and economic issues such as the condition of Arabs in French occupied Algeria (p. 109), the ‘financial blackmail’ by the Anglo-German creditors following Egypt’s debt (p. 119); and, natural and physical sciences such as the recent progress in thermodynamics, electricity and its applications, ecology, zoology, biology and physiology (pp. 116–117).

Musto has dealt in brief on Marx’s growing interests in the applications of electricity. What can be added to Musto’s account is the impact of the advances in the practical uses of electricity on production and their possible bearings on Marx’s theories. After the application of electricity in telegraph, the next big leap came in the early 1880s with the electrical motors in industries and electrification of street and building lights. The first World Electrical Congress (September, 1881) in Paris followed by the next held in Munich (1882) made clear that the production system in advanced countries would enter an altogether new phase.25 Such developments gave rise to a plethora of questions. Would these progressively qualitative changes in production not bear on Marx’s theories through changes in the organic composition of capital, the rate of profit,26 and, finally, the measurement of labour-time? Systematically to marshal the huge mass of notes he left behind demands a sensitive and conscientious grasp of the elusive intellectual design underlying what is apparently disparate. The book being a biography, albeit an intellectual one, it is not to such a task of any major systematization that Musto has addressed himself.

Nonetheless, with the vast erudition informing the book plus, of course, the moral energy such an enterprise involves, has a lot to offer. One of the cardinal merits whereby the reader stands to benefit substantially is its success in beating off the largely prevalent belief that Marx in his last years was reduced to no better than a sorry knight-errant haplessly entrapped in his own theoretical befuddlement. Discarding such beliefs and by stitching together the unfinished work in progress and the whole range of disciplines Marx was pre-occupied with in his last years, Musto in keeping with the new materials of Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA II)27 presents a systematically connected bold socio-political reading of Marx. His emphasis, in the present study he offers, is on the method Marx deploys as he looks critically into the historical process. To these accomplishments of the book, what should certainly be mentioned is the way, thanks to his lapidary prose, the valuable study engages the reader. While highlighting the book’s contributions, this review has attempted throughout to offer a few relevant critical upshots aimed at a further contextualization of the various studies with which late Marx was pre-occupied.

At this point, something like a complementary appreciation may not be amiss. Marx engaged in diverse studies not to satisfy interests peripheral or foreign to his project; his purpose was to assimilate natural sciences, social sciences and human history into his critique to expose, among other things, how their true potentialities were being undermined by being ‘forced into the service of capital’.28 In insistently exposing the truth, his critique simultaneously addresses the task of defining the new organization of society as a field of convergence of these disciplines freely developing in consonance with the new role assigned to people in relation to each other and also to nature. To further enrich Marx’s ideas, it now becomes imperative to develop them with these considerations and Musto’s book strongly points towards this direction.

For a world that has obstinately denied a system’s fundamentally exploitative core to be rooted in the appropriation of time,29 it perhaps is time to believe the Devil when with a canny insight he said ‘system teaches you how time is won’.30 To organize ‘struggle’ remains the need of the hour, and for that it is necessary to go back to the thoughts of the man who ‘has stood and yet stands behind more of earthquakes which have convulsed nations and destroyed thrones, and do now menace and appal crowned heads and established frauds’ (p. 8).

I wish to thank Aniruddha Lahiri, John Hutnyk, Marcello Musto and Himani Banneji, for their critical responses and suggestions that helped me clarify various aspects of this writing. My sincere thanks to the reviewers for their kind words and Christopher Recamara of Taylor and Francis Group for editorial assistance.

Additional information
Notes on contributors
Arkayan Ganguly
Arkayan Ganguly is an independent scholar and activist, with a strong interest in Marx and Marxism, currently pursuing graduate studies in Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, India. Email:
1 Paul J Korshin, ‘The Development of Intellectual Biography in the Eighteenth Century’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 73:4 (1974), p. 514.

2 Karl Marx, ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, Volume 29 (Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1987), p. 261.

3 Ludwig van Beethoven, ‘Symphony No.3 in E-flat Major (“Eroica”), Op.55’, in First, Second and Third Symphonies in full Orchestral Score (New York: Dover Publication, Inc., 1976), pp. 347–360 (Bar 349–430).

4 van Beethoven, op. cit., pp. 360–368 (Bar 431–473).

5 R.W.S. Mendl, ‘The “Eroica” Symphony’, The Musical Times, 65 (1924), p. 127.

6 Daniel K.L. Chua, ‘Beethoven’s Other Humanism’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 62:3 (2009), p. 572; Theodor Adorno, Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 169 and p. 174.

7 Daniel K.L. Chua, ‘Beethoven’s Other Humanism’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 62:3 (2009), p. 572; Theodor Adorno, Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 163.

8 Michael R Krätke, ‘Marx and World History’, International Review of Social History, 63:1 (2018), p. 15.

9 Moise Postone, ‘Capital and Temporality’, in Marcello Musto (ed.) The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 161.

10 Pradip Baksi, ‘The Historical Course of Development’, in Karl Marx Mathematical Manuscript: Together with a Special Supplement (Calcutta: Viswakosh Parishad, 1994), p. 78.

11 Karl Marx, Karl Marx Friedrich Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) IV/31: Naturwissenschaftliche Exzerpte Und Notizen Mitte 1877 Bis Anfang 1883 (Amsterdam: Akademie Verlag, 1999), p. 635.

12 Leon Smolnski, ‘Karl Marx and Mathematical Economics’, Journal of Political Economy, 81:5 (1973), p. 1192; Peter Hans Mathews, ‘The Dialectics of Differentiation: Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts and Their Relation to his Economics’, Review of Social Economy, 2019,, p. 12.

13 Karl Marx, Karl Marx Friedrich Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) IV/32: Die Bibliotheken Von Karl Marx Und Friedrich Engels (Amsterdam: Akademie Verlag, 1999), p. 355.

14 Smolnski, ‘Karl Marx and Mathematical Economics’, op. cit., pp. 1200–1201.

15 McClellon Woodford, ‘Russians in the IWMA: The Background’, in Fabrice Bensimon et al. (eds) “Arise Ye Wretched of the Earth”: The First International in a Global Perspective (Boston: Brill, 2018), p. 194.

16 Karl Marx, Karl Marx Friedrich Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) IV/32: Die Bibliotheken Von Karl Marx Und Friedrich Engels (Amsterdam: Akademie Verlag, 1999), pp. 184–187.

17 S.T. Turin, ‘Nicholas Chernyshevsky and John Stuart Mill’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 9:25 (1930), p. 32.

18 Natasha Grigorian, ‘Thomas Malthus and Nikolai Chernyshevsky: Thought Experiments an Visions of the Future’, Whatif Wasärewenn 2014,, p. 7.

19 Karl Marx, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1979), p. 187.

20 David Ryazanov, ‘The Discovery of the Draft (1924)’, in Teodor Shannin (ed.) Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and ‘the Peripheries of Capitalism’ (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), p. 129.

21 Regina Roth, ‘Concepts in Examining the Legacy of Karl Marx’, The European Journal of The History of Economic Thought, 25:5 (2018), p. 758 and pp. 771–777.

22 Karl Marx, ‘Confessions’, in Teodor Shannin (ed.) Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and ‘the Peripheries of Capitalism” (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), p. 140.

23 Ludo Cuyvers, ‘Why Did Marx’s Capital Remain Unfinished? On Some Old and New Arguments’, Science & Society 84:1 (2020), pp. 19–31.

24 Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion (London: Penguin Books, 2017), p. 419.

25 Karl Marx, Karl Marx Friedrich Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) IV/31: Naturwissenschaftliche Exzerpte Und Notizen Mitte 1877 Bis Anfang 1883 (Amsterdam: Akademie Verlag, 1999), p. 633.

26 Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1 transl. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 781 n. 11.

27 Marcello Musto, ‘Review Essay: The Rediscovery of Karl Marx’, International Review of Social History, 52:3 (2007), pp. 477–498; ‘Marx is Back: The Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) Project’, Rethinking Marxism, 22:2 (2010), pp. 290–291; ‘New Profiles of Marx after the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA2)’, Contemporary Sociology, 45:5 (2020), p. 416.

28 Karl Marx, ‘Outline of the Critique of Political Economy [Grundrisse], Second Instalment’, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, Volume 29 (Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1979), p. 90; Amy E Wendling, ‘Technology and Science’, in Marcello Musto (ed.) The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 367.

29 Michael R. Krätke, ‘Capitalism’, in Marcello Musto (ed.) The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), p. 11.

30 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: Parts One and Two (31st ed.) (Chicago: William Benton, 1989), p. 45.


Book chapter


1. Which Marx?
The return to Marx following the economic crisis of 2008 has been distinct from the renewed interest in his critique of economics. Many authors, in a whole series of newspapers, journals, books and academic volumes, have observed how indispensable Marx’s analysis has proved to be for an understanding of the contradictions and destructive mechanisms of capitalism. In the last few years, however, there has also been a reconsideration of Marx as a political figure and theorist.

The publication of previously unknown manuscripts in the German MEGA2 edition, along with innovative interpretations of his work, have opened up new research horizons and demonstrated more clearly than in the past his capacity to examine the contradictions of capitalist society on a global scale and in spheres beyond the conflict between capital and labour. It is no exaggeration to say that, of the great classics of political, economic and philosophical thought, Marx is the one whose profile has changed the most in the opening decades of the twenty-first century.

As it is well known, Capital remained unfinished because of the grinding poverty in which Marx lived for two decades and because of his constant ill health connected to daily worries. But Capital was not the only project that remained incomplete. Marx’s merciless self-criticism increased the difficulties of more than one of his undertakings and the large amount of time that he spent on many projects he wanted to publish was due to the extreme rigor to which he subjected all his thinking. When Marx was young, he was known among his university friends for his meticulousness. There are stories that depict him as somebody who refused ‘to write a sentence if he was unable to prove it in ten different ways’. This is why the most prolific young scholar in the Hegelian Left still published less than many of the others. Marx’s belief that his information was insufficient, and his judgements immature, prevented him from publishing writings that remained in the form of outlines or fragments. But this is also why his notes are extremely useful and should be considered an integral part of his oeuvre. Many of his ceaseless labours had extraordinary theoretical consequences for the future.

This does not mean that his incomplete texts can be given the same weight of those that were published. One should distinguish five types of writings: published works, their preparatory manuscripts, journalistic articles, letters, and notebooks of excerpts. But distinctions must also be made within these categories. Some of Marx’s published texts should not be regarded as his final word on the issues at hand. For example, the Manifesto of the Communist Party was considered by Friedrich Engels and Marx as a historical document from their youth and not as the definitive text in which their main political conceptions were stated. Or it must be kept in mind that political propaganda writings and scientific writings are often not combinable. These kinds of errors are very frequent in the secondary literature on Marx. Not to mention the absence of the chronological dimension in many reconstructions of his thought.

The texts from the 1840s cannot be quoted indiscriminately alongside those from the 1860s and 1870s, since they do not carry equal weight of scientific knowledge and political experience. Some manuscripts were written by Marx only for himself, while others were actual preparatory materials for books to be published. Some were revised and often updated by Marx, while others were abandoned by him without the possibility of updating them (in this category there is Capital, Volume III). Some journalistic articles contain considerations that can be considered as a completion of Marx’s works. Others, however, were written quickly in order to raise money to pay the rent. Some letters include Marx’s authentic views on the issues discussed. Others contain only a softened version, because they were addressed to people outside Marx’s circle, with whom it was sometimes necessary to express himself diplomatically. Finally, there are the more than 200 notebooks containing summaries (and sometimes commentaries) of all the most important books read by Marx during the long-time span from 1838 to 1882. They are essential for an understanding of the genesis of his theory and of those elements he was unable to develop as he would have wished.

2. New Profiles of a Classic Who Has Still A Lot To Say
Recent research has refuted the various approaches that reduce Marx’s conception of communist society to superior development of the productive forces. In particular, it has shown the importance he attached to the ecological question: on repeated occasions, he denounced the fact that expansion of the capitalist mode of production increases not only the theft of workers’ labour but also the pillage of natural resources. Another question in which Marx took a close interest was migration. He showed that the forced movement of labour generated by capitalism was a major component of bourgeois exploitation and that the key to fighting this was class solidarity among workers, regardless of their origins or any distinction between local and imported labour.

Furthermore, Marx undertook thorough investigations of societies outside Europe and expressed himself unambiguously against the ravages of colonialism. These considerations are all too obvious to anyone who has read Marx, despite the skepticism nowadays fashionable in certain academic quarters.

The first and preeminent key to understand the wider variety of geographical interests in Marx’s research, during the last decade of his life, lies in his plan to provide a more ample account of the dynamics of the capitalist mode of production on a global scale. England had been the main field of observation of Capital, Volume I; after its publication, he wanted to expand the socio-economic investigations for the two volumes of Capital that remained to be written. It was for this reason that he decided to learn Russian in 1870 and was then constantly demanding books and statistics on Russia and the United States of America. He believed that the analysis of the economic transformations of these countries would have been very useful for an understanding of the possible forms in which capitalism may develop in different periods and contexts. This crucial element is underestimated in the secondary literature on the – nowadays trendy – subject ‘Marx and Eurocentrism’.

Another key question for Marx’s research into non-European societies was whether capitalism was a necessary prerequisite for the birth of communist society and at which level it had to develop internationally. The more pronounced multilinear conception, that Marx assumed in his final years, led him to look more attentively at the historical specificities and unevenness of economic and political development in different countries and social contexts. Marx became highly skeptical about the transfer of interpretive categories between completely different historical and geographical contexts and, as he wrote, also realized that ‘events of striking similarity, taking place in different historical contexts, lead to totally disparate results’. This approach certainly increased the difficulties he faced in the already bumpy course of completing the unfinished volumes of Capital and contributed to the slow acceptance that his major work would remain incomplete. But it certainly opened up new revolutionary hopes.

Marx went deeply into many other issues which, though often underestimated, or even ignored, are acquiring crucial importance for the political agenda of our times. Among these are individual freedom in the economic and political sphere, gender emancipation, the critique of nationalism, and forms of collective ownership not controlled by the state. Thus, thirty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, it has become possible to read a Marx very unlike the dogmatic, economistic and Eurocentric theorist who was paraded around for so long. One can find in Marx’s massive literary bequest several statements suggesting that the development of the productive forces is leading to dissolution of the capitalist mode of production. But it would be wrong to attribute to him any idea that the advent of socialism is a historical inevitability. Indeed, for Marx the possibility of transforming society depended on the working class and its capacity, through struggle, to bring about social upheavals that led to the birth of an alternative economic and political system.

3. Alternative to Capitalism
Across Europe, North America, and many other regions of the world, economic and political instability is now a persistent feature of contemporary social life. Globalization, financial crises, the ascendance of ecological issues, and the recent global pandemic, are just a few of the shocks and strains producing the tensions and contradictions of our time. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, there is a growing global consensus about the need to rethink the dominant organizing logic of contemporary society and develop new economic and political solutions.

In contrast to the equation of communism with dictatorship of the proletariat, which many of the real world socialisms espoused in their propaganda, it is necessary to look again at Marx’s reflections on communist society. He once defined it as ‘an association of free individuals’. If communism aims to be a higher form of society, it must promote the conditions for ‘the full and free development of every individual’.

In Capital, Marx revealed the mendacious character of bourgeois ideology. Capitalism is not an organization of society in which human beings, protected by impartial legal norms capable of guaranteeing justice and equity, enjoy true freedom and live in an accomplished democracy. In reality, they are degraded into mere objects, whose primary function is to produce commodities and profit for others.

To overturn this state of affairs, it is not enough to modify the distribution of consumption goods. What is needed is radical change at the level of the productive assets of society: ‘the producers can be free only when they are in possession of the means of production’. The socialist model that Marx had in mind did not allow for a state of general poverty but looked to the achievement of greater collective wealth and greater satisfaction of needs.

This collective volume presents a Marx in many ways different from the one familiar from the dominant currents of twentieth-century socialism. Its dual aim is to reopen for discussion, in a critical and innovative manner, the classical themes of Marx’s thought, and to develop a deeper analysis of certain questions to which relatively little attention has been paid until now. Today, of course, the Left cannot simply redefine its politics around what Marx wrote more than a century ago. But nor should it commit the error of forgetting the clarity of his analyses or fail to use the critical weapons he offered for fresh thinking about an alternative society to capitalism.


Enzensberger, Hans Magnus (ed.) (1973), Gespräche mit Marx und Engels, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Marx, Karl (1976), Capital, Volume I, London: Penguin.
(1989), ‘Letter to Otechestvennye Zapiski’, MECW, vol. 24, pp. 196–202.
(1989), ‘Preamble to the Programme of the French Workers Party’, MECW, vol. 24, pp. 340¬–1.
Musto, Marcello (ed.) (2012), Marx for Today, New York: Routledge.
(2019), ‘Introduction: The Unfinished Critique of Capital’, in: Marcello Musto (ed.), Marx’s Capital after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism, London: Routledge, pp. 1–35.
(2020), ‘New Profiles of Marx After the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA²)’, Contemporary Sociology, vol. 49, n. 4: 407–19.
(2020), The Last Years of Karl Marx, 1881–1883: An Intellectual Biography, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
(ed.) (2020), The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Saito, Kohei (2017), Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy, New York: Monthly Review Press.


Babak Amini, Critical Sociology

Marcello Musto, one of the leading forces behind the recent revival of studies on Karl Marx, has produced yet another rigorous, insightful, and cohesive edited work. The book brings together some of the most renowned and innovative scholars in the world on topics that are urgently relevant to our contemporary situation. It engages with issues as broad as gender and social reproduction, ecology and migration, and Marxian visions of alternatives to capitalism. This volume is as much about rethinking alternative interpretations of Marx’s ideas as it is about their relevance to the question of alternatives to capitalism. To remain within the confines of this review, I will focus only on seven of the thirteen contributions in the book.
Himani Bannerji begins her chapter, ‘The Factory and the Family as Spaces of Capital’, with a familiar critique of family as a fundamental element for the reproduction of capital that is systematically made invisible and held to function mostly on the back of the unpaid labour of women. Bannerji then shows how her interpretation of Marx’s critique of capitalism perfectly accommodates this critique of family. She conceives of the fundamental relation between the family and the factory in Marx based on an expanded definition of ‘mode of production’ as a social rather than a mere economic relation. She illustrates the connection between family and class, consequently presenting the family as yet another space of class struggle just like the factory as integral parts of the reproduction of capitalist social relation. However, the chapter falls short of exploring the internal dynamics of class struggle within that space and in relation to the larger sphere of power struggle articulated in either class or non-class terms. Notably, the specific ways in which gender dynamics influence class struggle within and outside the family remains undertheorized in this chapter.
The role of gender in the reproduction of capitalist social relation is the core of Silvia Federici’s chapter, ‘Marx on Gender, Race, and Social Reproduction: A Feminist Perspective’. Less sympathetic than Bannerji towards Marx’s approach to social reproduction, Federici claims that Marx’s critique of political economy is still ‘written from a male viewpoint’ (p. 29). This is despite her acknowledgment of the generative quality of Marx’s ideas for feminism and his clear stance against the subjugation of women. Federici argues that Marx does not consider the gender question as structurally fundamental to the capitalist organization of production and the specific ways in which women are exploited. Federici draws parallels with Marx’s treatment of ‘race’ in his analysis but underscores where this breaks down particularly regarding Marx’s differential stance towards ‘race’ as integral to the working-class struggle. The chapter does not however engage with Marx’s manuscripts after the publication of Capital. This leaves open the question of the extent to which Marx began to incorporate the question of gender into his analysis more systematically as he did with regards to ‘race’ in the last fifteen years of his life.
The second part of the book turns to the socio-ecological question. Kohei Saito’s chapter, ‘Primitive Accumulation as the Cause of Economic and Ecological Disaster’, demonstrates the foundation of critical ecology in Marx’s analysis, particularly in Capital. Saito centers his interpretation on Marx’s conception of ‘primitive accumulation’ of capital and shows how the economic and the ecological are structurally linked in his framework. Accordingly, Marx’s conception of labour as a process between workers and nature lays the ground for understanding capital’s simultaneous exploitation of workers and nature. It is under capitalism that social and natural wealth appears as an immense collection of commodities – i.e. the commodification of labor-power and nature. Saito explains why Marx’s conception of communism is still sensitive to ‘natural scarcities’ while rejecting the ‘artificial scarcities’ produced by capital in its commodification of nature.
The core question of Gregory Claeys’s chapter, ‘Marx and Environmental Catastrophe’, is how socialists should come to terms with the current patterns of consumption, while recognizing the finite resources of our planet, and conceive of ‘some compensatory advantage’ (p. 121) to make their transformative project palatable to the middle classes for their support. Claeys argues that there is an ambiguity in Marx’s conception of needs in his rejection of slavish devotion to satisfying them and the limitless expansion of their fulfillment after the socialist revolution. He provides a historical overview of the transformation of consumption in the USSR and their resemblance to the West in seeing consumption as a byproduct of industrialization. Therefore, he calls for a rethinking of consumption. However, the complex process of building class power needed for such transformation is effectively replaced by a series of policy proposals, some of which are egalitarian (e.g. reduction of work time and increasing public luxury) while others seem strangely autocratic (e.g. legislation against fashion advertisement, and reduction of the population). The democratization of economic relations is dealt with in passing towards the end of the chapter.
Razmig Keucheyan, building heavily on André Gorz and Agnes Heller’s works, argues that a radical theory of needs is essential for our conception of overcoming capitalism. He holds that a radical theory of needs can lead us to a critique of capitalist destruction of nature. Keucheyan argues while capitalism increasingly provides the material basis necessary for the possibility of realizing ‘radical needs’ (loving, being loved, creativity, autonomy, etc.), it also prevents their actual realization as its development intensifies the process of commodification and therefore alienation in society. It is in the unfulfillment of these radical needs despite their growing material possibility that Keucheyan sees the seed of a revolutionary transformation of capitalism. Towards the end of the chapter, Keucheyan switches the focus to the sphere of production by arguing that ‘it is production – that is capitalist production – which determines needs’ (p. 139). Such a surprisingly deterministic account of the primacy of production overlooks the complex ways in which consumption and production are reciprocally linked in capitalism. It is also confused about the supposed locus of revolutionary transformation: among the affluent consumers whose satisfaction of radical needs has become increasingly hindered by the development of capitalism (p. 137), or among the producers whose critical position supposedly gives them constitutive power over the sphere of consumption (p. 140). The consideration of how transformative projects would impact different spheres of society is critical to carrying out a successful counter-hegemonic movement. However, this requires a nuanced understanding of the asymmetrical codetermination of these spheres – and in that not just in the Global North but in their combined and uneven development throughout the world.
David Norman Smith’s chapter, ‘Accumulation and its Discontents: Migration and Nativism in Marx’s Capital and Late Manuscripts’, shows how Marx was engaged in a radical expansion of his framework to incorporate an entangled history of capitalist development. Smith paints an astonishing picture of how the many different threads that Marx was following at least in the last two decades of his life, including his studies on anthropology, natural sciences, colonialism, global migration, dynamics of racism, and subaltern resistance, were all pieces of a coherent set of objectives that Marx had foreseen in advancing his critique of capitalism. While highlighting where Marx engages in elaborations, revisions, and corrections of his ideas, Smith illustrates a clear continuity between Marx’s late manuscripts and his earlier ideas. The chapter is particularly relevant to our contemporary predicament amidst mass migration, rising xenophobia, and racist policies. It explains how Marx, in his uncompromising commitment to working-class emancipation, made sense of the dynamics of racism and patterns of migration within the working class and their connection to the global dynamics of capitalism and colonialism.
The last part of the book explores the communist alternative to capitalism. Michael Brie’s chapter, ‘Uniting Communism and Liberalism: An Unsolved Task or a Most Urgent Necessity?’, explores the reasons behind the failure of the past experiences with 20th-century communism. He traces the failure of those movements in their ‘inability to do justice to the double demand of preserving the liberal heritage and implementing solidarity, communist objective’ (p. 314). The chapter traces the development of Marx’s solution to ‘the contradiction between the freedom of individuals and the sociality of their conditions of life’ (p. 324) that concerns any complex society towards his vision of communism as the association of free individuals. Brie argues that despite its elegance, it is effectively a deflection of this fundamental contradiction, with serious consequences for individual and civil liberties under communism. But in his attempt to offer the outlines of a solution, Brie falls back on an orthodoxy, arguably rejected by Marx himself, that separates socialism and communism, and reserves socialism as a mediation between communism and liberalism. This framework raises liberalism to a status with regards to individual and civil liberties that is unduly both in its theory and history. I believe Marx has much to offer concerning individual and civil freedoms in a democratic socialist/communist society. He succeeds in transcending the logical contradictions (not to mention the historical incoherency) of liberalism without scarifying its democratic elements – which within the liberal framework remain essentially unfulfilled. The reasons behind the colossal failure of much of the actually-existing socialism to uphold and enhance those essential freedoms should be sought elsewhere.
Overall, the contributions of this book illustrate the frontiers of Marxist scholarship on the most relevant topics of our time. Their innovative interpretations of Marx’s work, especially in the light of the publication of previously unknown manuscripts, question some of the most entrenched orthodoxies and demonstrate the relevance of Marx’s ideas for critical examination of capitalism and visions of alternative social relation.

Babak Amini
London School of Economics and Political Science, UK


Vico & Marx (Talk)