Between Marx, Marxism, and Marxisms – Ways of Reading Marx’s Theory


The objec­tive of the fol­low­ing obser­va­tions is to offer a rough overview of cen­tral ways of read­ing Marx’s the­o­ry. These are to be pre­sent­ed – by means of a few select­ed top­ics – as Marxisms that can be rel­a­tive­ly clear­ly delim­it­ed from one anoth­er, and the his­to­ry of their recep­tion and influ­ence will be eval­u­at­ed with regard to the com­mon-sense under­stand­ing of “Marx­ist the­o­ry.”

A dis­tinc­tion will be made between the hith­er­to pre­dom­i­nant inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx, pri­mar­i­ly asso­ci­at­ed with polit­i­cal par­ties (tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism, Marx­ism in the sin­gu­lar, if you will), and the dis­si­dent, crit­i­cal forms of recep­tion of Marx (Marxisms in the plur­al), with their respec­tive claims of a “return to Marx.” The first inter­pre­ta­tion is under­stood as a prod­uct and process of a restrict­ed read­ing of Marx, in part emerg­ing from the “exo­teric” lay­er of Marx’s work, which updates tra­di­tion­al par­a­digms in polit­i­cal econ­o­my, the the­o­ry of his­to­ry, and phi­los­o­phy. Sys­tem­atized and ele­vat­ed to a doc­trine by Engels, Kaut­sky, et al, it suc­cumbs to the mys­ti­fi­ca­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion and cul­mi­nates in the apolo­getic sci­ence of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism. The oth­er two inter­pre­ta­tions, specif­i­cal­ly West­ern Marx­ism as well as the Ger­man neue Marx-Lek­türe (“new read­ing of Marx”), usu­al­ly explore the “eso­teric” con­tent of Marx’s cri­tique and analy­sis of soci­ety, often con­sum­mat­ed out­side of insti­tu­tion­al­ized, cumu­la­tive research pro­grams, by iso­lat­ed actors in the style of an “under­ground Marx­ism.”

In order to char­ac­ter­ize both ways of read­ing, some strong­ly trun­cat­ed the­ses, lim­it­ed to a few aspects, must suf­fice. In par­tic­u­lar the ambi­tious propo­si­tion, first for­mu­lat­ed by Karl Korsch, of an “appli­ca­tion of the mate­ri­al­ist con­cep­tion of his­to­ry to the mate­ri­al­ist con­cep­tion of his­to­ry itself” – one that goes beyond the mere pre­sen­ta­tion of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry, towards an imma­nent the­o­ret­i­cal cri­tique that crit­i­cal­ly con­sid­ers the con­nec­tion between his­tor­i­cal forms of prax­is and the­o­ret­i­cal for­ma­tions of Marx­ism – can­not be car­ried out here. In addi­tion, a con­sid­er­a­tion of those read­ings which are crit­i­cal of Marx or Marx­ism can also be dis­re­gard­ed here, inso­far as their pic­ture of Marx usu­al­ly cor­re­sponds to that of tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism.

I there­fore begin with the hege­mon­ic inter­pre­ta­tive mod­el of tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism, and only at the end of my pre­sen­ta­tion will I con­clude with a few pos­i­tive deter­mi­na­tions of what I regard as the fun­da­men­tal sys­tem­at­ic inten­tion of Marx’s work. I do this pri­mar­i­ly because a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed read­ing of Marx’s work can only be gained in the course of the learn­ing process­es of West­ern Marx­ism and the neue Marx-Lek­türe.

I. Marxism

The term “Marx­ism” was prob­a­bly first used in the year 1879 by the Ger­man Social Demo­c­rat Franz Mehring to char­ac­ter­ize Marx’s the­o­ry, and estab­lished itself at the end of the 1880s as a dis­cur­sive weapon used by both crit­ics and defend­ers of “Marx’s teach­ings.” The birth of a “Marx­ist school,” how­ev­er, is unan­i­mous­ly dat­ed back to the pub­li­ca­tion of Anti-Dühring by Friedrich Engels in the year 1878, and the sub­se­quent recep­tion of this work by Karl Kaut­sky, Eduard Berstein, et al. Engels’ writ­ings – even if the terms “Marx­ism” or “dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism,” the self-applied labels of tra­di­tion­al read­ings, do not yet appear in them – sup­plied entire gen­er­a­tions of read­ers, Marx­ists as well as anti-Marx­ists, with the inter­pre­ta­tive mod­el through which Marx’s work was per­ceived. In par­tic­u­lar, the review of Marx’s Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my (1859), the late work Lud­wig Feuer­bach and the End of Clas­si­cal Ger­man Phi­los­o­phy (1886), and the sup­ple­ment to Vol­ume III of Cap­i­tal (1894/95), achieved an influ­ence that can hard­ly be under­es­ti­mat­ed. Above all, how­ev­er, it was Anti-Dühring that was to be styl­ized as the text­book of Marx­ist the­o­ry as well as a pos­i­tive depic­tion of a “Marx­ist world­view”: for Kaut­sky, “there is no oth­er book that has con­tributed so much to the under­stand­ing of Marx­ism. Marx’s Cap­i­tal is greater. But it was first through Anti-Dühring that we learned to cor­rect­ly read and under­stand Cap­i­tal.” And for Lenin, it is one of the “hand­books of every class-con­scious work­er.”1

At the same time, a gen­er­al char­ac­ter­is­tic of the his­to­ry of “Marx­ism” is con­sum­mat­ed: the ini­tia­tors of the the­o­ret­i­cal cor­pus regard it as “unnec­es­sary […] to them­selves make an appear­ance as eponyms […] the eponyms are not the real speak­ers” (Georges Lab­i­ca). In many respects, Marx­ism is Engels’ work and for that rea­son actu­al­ly an Engel­sism. In what fol­lows I will name only three points which an ide­ol­o­gized and restrict­ed recep­tion of Marx could draw upon.

I.1 The Ontological-Determinist Tendency

Sci­en­tif­ic social­ism was con­ceived of as an onto­log­i­cal sys­tem, a “sci­ence of the big pic­ture.” The mate­ri­al­ist dialec­tic func­tions here as a “gen­er­al law of devel­op­ment of nature, soci­ety, and thought,”2 while nature serves for Engels as a “proof of dialec­tics.”3 Engels already under­takes a false anal­o­gy between his­tor­i­cal-social process­es and nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na by the mere fact that in his elu­ci­da­tion of the main fea­tures of the dialec­tic, ref­er­ence to sub­ject and object is miss­ing. “Nega­tion of the nega­tion” or the “trans­for­ma­tion of quan­ti­ty into qual­i­ty” are iden­ti­fied in the changes in the phys­i­cal state of water or in the devel­op­ment of a grain of bar­ley. Against a sta­t­ic point of view, dialec­tic is sup­posed to demon­strate the “becom­ing,” the “tran­si­to­ry char­ac­ter” of all exis­tence, and is bound to tra­di­tion­al dichotomies of the phi­los­o­phy of con­scious­ness, such as the so-called “great basic ques­tion of all phi­los­o­phy “as to which com­po­nent of the rela­tion­ship between “think­ing and being” has pri­ma­cy.5 The dialec­tic is split into “two sets of laws,” into the dialec­tic of “the exter­nal world” and the dialec­tic of “human thought,” where­by the lat­ter is under­stood to be mere­ly a pas­sive men­tal image of the for­mer.6 Engels con­stricts – even dis­torts – the three ele­men­tary prax­is-philo­soph­i­cal motifs of Marx, which he had par­tial­ly still advo­cat­ed in his ear­li­er writ­ings:

  1. The recog­ni­tion that not only the object, but also the obser­va­tion of the object is his­tor­i­cal­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly medi­at­ed, not exter­nal to the his­to­ry of the mode of pro­duc­tion. Against this, Engels empha­sizes that “the mate­ri­al­ist out­look on nature means noth­ing more than the sim­ple con­cep­tion of nature just as it is, with­out alien addi­tion.”8 The naive real­ism of the the­o­ry of reflec­tion sys­tem­atized by Lenin9 and oth­ers – which falls prey to the rei­fied appear­ance of imme­di­a­cy of that which is social­ly medi­at­ed, the fetishism of an in-itself of that which exists only via a his­tor­i­cal­ly deter­mined frame­work of human activ­i­ty – already obtains its foun­da­tion in Engels’ writ­ings.10 As “things refer to con­scious­ness and con­scious­ness refers to things,”11 the con­cepts of prax­is and the sub­jec­tive medi­a­tion of the object, as well as ide­ol­o­gy-crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, have hard­ly any place in this par­a­digm.
  2. The con­cept of Natur­wüch­sigkeit (“the state of being nat­u­ral­ly derived”), which Engels had used in The Ger­man Ide­ol­o­gy in a neg­a­tive sense, is now turned into a pos­i­tive con­cept. The sub­la­tion of spe­cif­ic social laws rest­ing upon the uncon­scious­ness of social actors is no longer pos­tu­lat­ed; rather, Engels pos­tu­lates the con­scious appli­ca­tion of “the gen­er­al laws of motion […] of the exter­nal world.”12
  3. If Marx writes in the The­ses on Feuer­bach that “all mys­ter­ies which lead the­o­ry to mys­ti­cism find their ratio­nal solu­tion in human prac­tice and in the com­pre­hen­sion of this prac­tice,”13 Engels reduces prax­is to the exper­i­men­tal activ­i­ty of the nat­ur­al sci­ences.14 Admit­ted­ly, ambiva­lences and prax­is-philo­soph­i­cal motifs can also be found in the writ­ings of the late Engels, which were large­ly blot­ted out by the epigones. Nonethe­less, Engels, bundling togeth­er the sci­en­tism of his epoch, paves the way for a mech­a­nis­tic and fatal­is­tic con­cep­tion of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism by shift­ing the accent from a the­o­ry of social prax­is to one of a con­tem­pla­tive, reflec­tion-the­o­ry doc­trine of devel­op­ment.

The vul­gar evo­lu­tion­ism of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Euro­pean Social Democ­ra­cy is a near­ly ubiq­ui­tous phe­nom­e­non.15 For that rea­son, it is not just for Kaut­sky, Bern­stein, and Bebel that the deter­min­is­tic con­cept of devel­op­ment and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary meta­physic of a prov­i­den­tial mis­sion of the pro­le­tari­at16 occu­py a cen­tral place in Marx­ist doc­trine. Accord­ing­ly, human­i­ty is sub­or­di­nat­ed to a “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly ver­i­fi­able” automa­tism of lib­er­a­tion. That which presents itself in the mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic garb of a fetishism of laws is ulti­mate­ly noth­ing oth­er than a his­tor­i­cal meta­physic with a social­ist sig­na­ture17: pre­cise­ly the inver­sion of sub­ject and object that Marx had crit­i­cized. A process con­sum­mat­ed behind the back of social actors is attrib­uted a moral­ly qual­i­fied aim.18 Ulti­mate­ly, in the Erfurt Pro­gram of the Ger­man Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, this rev­o­lu­tion­ary pas­siv­i­ty19 is cod­i­fied at an offi­cial lev­el as con­sis­tent Marx­ism: the task of the par­ty is to remain braced for an event that will “nec­es­sar­i­ly” hap­pen even with­out inter­ven­tion, “not to make the rev­o­lu­tion, but rather to take advan­tage of it.”20 The onto­log­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion and the ency­clopaedic char­ac­ter of Engels’ delib­er­a­tions also feed the ten­den­cy to inter­pret sci­en­tif­ic social­ism as a com­pre­hen­sive pro­le­tar­i­an world­view. Ulti­mate­ly, Lenin will present the “Marx­ist doc­trine” as “omnipo­tent,” a “com­pre­hen­sive and har­mo­nious” doc­trine that “pro­vides men with an inte­gral world out­look.”21 Cor­re­spond­ing­ly, the neg­a­tive con­cept of ide­ol­o­gy is neu­tral­ized into a cat­e­go­ry for the deter­mi­nate being of con­scious­ness in gen­er­al.

All of these devel­op­ments, which undoubt­ed­ly con­sti­tute a the­o­ret­i­cal regres­sion, ulti­mate­ly cul­mi­nate in the the­o­ry of “Marx­ism-Lenin­ism” con­ceived of by Abram Deborin and Josef Stal­in. If for Lenin, Marx­ism con­sti­tutes – despite all empha­sis upon the polit­i­cal – a “pro­found doc­trine of devel­op­ment”22 that calls atten­tion to breaks and leaps in nature and soci­ety, in the case of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism the nat­u­ral­ist-objec­tivist cur­rent is ele­vat­ed to a state doc­trine. The cen­tral argu­men­ta­tive fig­ure will be: what is valid for nature must also be valid for his­to­ry. Or: nature makes leaps, there­fore so does his­to­ry. Polit­i­cal prax­is is thus under­stood as the con­sum­ma­tion of his­tor­i­cal laws. This impres­sive log­ic is per­fect­ed in Stalin’s work “Dialec­ti­cal and His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism” – for decades an author­i­ta­tive work in the Marx­ist the­o­ry of the East­ern Bloc. His­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism stands for the “appli­ca­tion” and “exten­sion” of onto­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples to soci­ety, which implies an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal essen­tial­ism (a the­o­ry of reflec­tion, which in the form of Dialec­ti­cal Mate­ri­al­ism con­ceives of “being” and “think­ing” inde­pen­dent of the con­cept of prax­is) and a soci­o­log­i­cal nat­u­ral­ism (a devel­op­men­tal log­ic – to be “con­scious­ly applied” or “accel­er­at­ed” by the par­ty as the high­est tech­no­crat­ic instance23 – exist­ing inde­pen­dent of human agency).24

I.2 The Historicist Interpretation of the Form-Genetic Method

If Lenin’s state­ment that “none of the Marx­ists for the past half cen­tu­ry have under­stood Marx” – a dic­tum that in this case how­ev­er also applies to Lenin him­self – has any valid­i­ty, then it is cer­tain­ly with regard to the inter­pre­ta­tion of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Even 100 years after the pub­li­ca­tion of the first vol­ume of Cap­i­tal, Engels’ com­men­tary was wide­ly regard­ed as the sole legit­i­mate and ade­quate assess­ment of Marx’s cri­tique of econ­o­my. No read­ing in the Marx­ist tra­di­tion was as uncon­tro­ver­sial as the one casu­al­ly devel­oped by Engels in texts such as the review of Marx’s Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my (1859) or the sup­ple­ment to Vol­ume III of Cap­i­tal (1894). Here, con­sid­er­ably more explic­it­ly than in the objec­tivist con­cep­tion of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism, Marx­ism is Engel­sism.

Against the back­ground of his con­cep­tion of reflec­tion, Engels inter­prets the first chap­ter of Cap­i­tal as a simul­ta­ne­ous­ly log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion of “sim­ple com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion” devel­op­ing toward the rela­tions of cap­i­tal­ist wage labor, “only stripped of the his­tor­i­cal form and divert­ing chance occur­rences.”25 The term “log­i­cal” in this con­text basi­cal­ly means noth­ing more than “sim­pli­fied.” The method of pre­sen­ta­tion, the sequence of cat­e­gories (com­mod­i­ty, the ele­men­tary, expand­ed, and gen­er­al forms of val­ue, mon­ey, cap­i­tal) in the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my is accord­ing­ly “sim­ply the reflec­tion, in abstract and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly con­sis­tent form, of the his­tor­i­cal course.”26 The exam­i­na­tion of the gen­e­sis of the mon­ey form is under­stood as the descrip­tion of “an actu­al event which real­ly took place at some time or oth­er” and not as “an abstract men­tal process that takes place sole­ly in our mind.”27 In no oth­er pas­sage of his work does Engels so dras­ti­cal­ly reduce his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism to a vul­gar empiri­cism and his­tori­cism, as is made evi­dent by his asso­cia­tive chain “mate­ri­al­ism – empir­i­cal­ly ver­i­fi­able facts – real process” vs. “ide­al­ism – abstract thought process – pure­ly abstract ter­ri­to­ry.”

With the “log­i­cal-his­tor­i­cal” method, Engels pro­vides a catch­phrase that will be recit­ed and stressed ad nau­se­am in the Marx­ist ortho­doxy. Karl Kaut­sky, in his enor­mous­ly influ­en­tial pre­sen­ta­tions, under­stood Cap­i­tal to be an “essen­tial­ly his­tor­i­cal work”28: “Marx was charged with rec­og­niz­ing cap­i­tal to be a his­tor­i­cal cat­e­go­ry and to prove its emer­gence in his­to­ry, rather than men­tal­ly con­struct­ing it.”29 Rudolf Hil­fer­d­ing also claims that “in accor­dance with the dialec­tic method, con­cep­tu­al evo­lu­tion runs par­al­lel through­out with his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion.”30 Both Marx­ism-Lenin­ism31 and West­ern Marx­ism32 fol­low Hil­fer­d­ing in this assess­ment. But if the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my is inter­pret­ed as his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, then con­se­quen­tial­ly the cat­e­gories at the begin­ning must cor­re­spond direct­ly to empir­i­cal objects, for exam­ple a dubi­ous pre-cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­ty not deter­mined by price, and the analy­sis of the form of val­ue must begin with the depic­tion of a coin­ci­den­tal, money­less inter­ac­tion of two com­mod­i­ty own­ers – with Engels’ so-called “sim­ple pro­duc­tion of com­modi­ties,”34 an eco­nom­ic epoch he dates from 6000 BC to the 15th cen­tu­ry AD. Accord­ing to this con­cep­tion, Marx’s law of val­ue35 oper­ates at times in this epoch in a pure form “unadul­ter­at­ed” by the cat­e­go­ry of price, which Engels illus­trates with the feigned exam­ple of a money­less “exchange” between medieval peas­ants and arti­sans.

Here we are deal­ing with a trans­par­ent social inter­re­la­tion­ship between imme­di­ate pro­duc­ers who are at the same time the own­ers of their means of pro­duc­tion, in which one pro­duc­er labors under the watch­ful eye of the oth­er, and there­fore “the peas­ant of the Mid­dle Ages knew fair­ly accu­rate­ly the labor-time required for the man­u­fac­ture of the arti­cles obtained by him in barter.”36 Under the con­di­tions of this “nat­ur­al exchange”, it is not some nor­ma­tive cri­te­ri­on that is for him “the only suit­able mea­sure for the quan­ti­ta­tive deter­mi­na­tion of the val­ues to be exchanged,”37 but rather the abstrac­tion of a labor-time con­scious­ly and direct­ly mea­sured by the actors. Nei­ther the peas­ant nor the arti­san is so stu­pid as to exchange unequal quan­ti­ties of labor38: “No oth­er exchange is pos­si­ble in the whole peri­od of peas­ant nat­ur­al econ­o­my than that in which the exchanged quan­ti­ties of com­modi­ties tend to be mea­sured more and more accord­ing to the amounts of labor embod­ied in them.”39 Accord­ing to Engels, the val­ue of a com­mod­i­ty is deter­mined con­scious­ly by the labor, mea­sured in time, of indi­vid­ual pro­duc­ers. In this the­o­ry of val­ue, mon­ey does not play a con­sti­tu­tive role. On the one hand, it is an expe­di­ent and lubri­cant to trade that is exter­nal to val­ue, but on the oth­er it serves to obscure the sub­stance of val­ue: sud­den­ly, instead of exchang­ing accord­ing to hours of labor, at some point exchange is con­duct­ed by means of cows and then pieces of gold. The ques­tion of how this notion of every com­mod­i­ty being its own labor-mon­ey40 can be rec­on­ciled with the con­di­tions of pri­vate pro­duc­tion based upon the divi­sion of labor is not posed by Engels. Engels – as will be elab­o­rat­ed by the neue Marx-Lek­türe – prac­tices exact­ly what Marx crit­i­cizes in the case of the clas­si­cal econ­o­mists, above all Adam Smith: a pro­jec­tion onto the past of the illu­so­ry notion of appro­pri­a­tion through one’s own labor, which in fact only exists in cap­i­tal­ism; neglect of the nec­es­sary con­nec­tion between val­ue and form of val­ue41; a trans­for­ma­tion of the “objec­tive equal­iza­tion” of unequal acts of labor con­sum­mat­ed by the objec­tive social rela­tion­ship itself into a mere­ly sub­jec­tive con­sid­er­a­tion of social actors.42

Up until the 1960s, Engels’ the­o­rems con­tin­ued to be passed on undis­put­ed. Along with his for­mu­la (once again tak­en from Hegel) of free­dom being the insight into neces­si­ty, and the draw­ing of par­al­lels between nat­ur­al laws and social process­es, they gave sus­te­nance to a social-tech­no­log­i­cal “con­cept of eman­ci­pa­tion,” accord­ing to the fol­low­ing premise: social neces­si­ty (above all the law of val­ue), which oper­ates anar­chi­cal­ly and uncon­trolled in cap­i­tal­ism, will be, by means of Marx­ism as a sci­ence of the objec­tive laws of nature and soci­ety, man­aged and applied accord­ing to a plan. Not the dis­ap­pear­ance of cap­i­tal­ist form-deter­mi­na­tions, but rather their alter­na­tive use char­ac­ter­izes this “social­ism of adjec­tives” (this term comes from Robert Kurz) and “social­ist polit­i­cal econ­o­my.”43 There is a sig­nif­i­cant dis­pro­por­tion between, on the one hand, the empha­sis upon the “his­tor­i­cal,” and on the oth­er, the absence of a his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic and socio-the­o­ret­i­cal­ly reflect­ed con­cept of eco­nom­ic objec­tiv­i­ty. This is made evi­dent by the irrel­e­vance of the con­cept of social form in the dis­cus­sions of tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism, in which it is at most is con­sid­ered to be s a cat­e­go­ry for ide­al or mar­gin­al cir­cum­stances, but not a con­sti­tu­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic of Marx’s sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion.44

I.3 The Critique of the Content of the State

Engels’ the­o­ret­i­cal state­ments con­cern­ing the state in The Ori­gin of the Fam­i­ly, Lud­wig Feuer­bach, Anti-Dühring, and his cri­tique of the Erfurt draft pro­gram of the SPD from 1891, con­sti­tute the source of the tra­di­tion­al Marx­ist con­cep­tion of the state. In Lud­wig Feuer­bach, Engels states that the fact that all needs in class soci­eties are artic­u­lat­ed through the will of the state is “the for­mal aspect of the mat­ter – the one which is self-evi­dent.”45 The main ques­tion of a mate­ri­al­ist the­o­ry of the state, how­ev­er, is “what is the con­tent of this mere­ly for­mal will – of the indi­vid­ual as well as of the state – and whence is this con­tent derived? Why is just this willed and not some­thing else?”46 The result of this pure­ly con­tent-based ques­tion con­cern­ing the will of the state is for Engels the recog­ni­tion “that in mod­ern his­to­ry the will of the state is, on the whole, deter­mined by the chang­ing needs of civ­il soci­ety, by the suprema­cy of this or that class, in the last resort, by the devel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive forces and rela­tions of exchange.”47 Fur­ther­more, in his delib­er­a­tions in The Ori­gin of the Fam­i­ly Engels works with uni­ver­sal-his­tor­i­cal cat­e­gories onto which mod­ern des­ig­na­tions like “pub­lic author­i­ty” are pro­ject­ed, and con­stant­ly assumes “direct rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion, imme­di­ate forms of class rule”48 in order to explain “the” state, which is con­se­quen­tial­ly under­stood as a mere instru­ment of the rul­ing class. From this con­tent-fix­at­ed and uni­ver­sal-his­tor­i­cal way of con­sid­er­ing the state, it can be deduced that Engels los­es sight of the actu­al­ly inter­est­ing ques­tion, name­ly as to why the class con­tent in cap­i­tal­ism takes on the spe­cif­ic form of pub­lic author­i­ty.49 The per­son­al def­i­n­i­tion of class rule extract­ed from pre-cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tions ulti­mate­ly leads to reduc­ing the anony­mous form of class rule insti­tu­tion­al­ized in the state to a mere ide­o­log­i­cal illu­sion, which, in the man­ner of the the­o­ry of priest­ly decep­tion, is inter­pret­ed as a prod­uct of state tac­tics of decep­tion. Engels in any case attempts to make the class char­ac­ter of the state plau­si­ble by refer­ring to “plain cor­rup­tion of offi­cials” and “an alliance between the gov­ern­ment and the stock exchange.”50 Nonethe­less, in Engels’ work there still exists, despite the pre­dom­i­nance of the instru­men­tal­ist/­con­tent-fix­at­ed per­spec­tive, an unmedi­at­ed coex­is­tence between the deter­mi­na­tion of the state as the “state of the cap­i­tal­ists” and of the state as “ide­al total cap­i­tal­ist.”51 The last def­i­n­i­tion con­ceives of the state “not as a tool of the bour­geoisie […] but rather as an enti­ty of bour­geois soci­ety,”52 and an “organ­i­sa­tion that bour­geois soci­ety takes on in order to sup­port the gen­er­al exter­nal con­di­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion against the encroach­ments as well of the work­ers as of indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­ists.”53 But the spe­cif­ic for­mal aspect of mod­ern state­hood is not yet explained by this ref­er­ence to func­tion­al mech­a­nisms. Engels also paved the way for the the­o­ry of state-monop­oly cap­i­tal­ism.54 In the Cri­tique of the Draft Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pro­gram of 1891 he writes: “I am famil­iar with cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion as a social form, or an eco­nom­ic phase; cap­i­tal­ist pri­vate pro­duc­tion being a phe­nom­e­non which in one form or anoth­er is encoun­tered in that phase. What is cap­i­tal­ist pri­vate pro­duc­tion? Pro­duc­tion by sep­a­rate entre­pre­neurs, which is increas­ing­ly becom­ing an excep­tion. Cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion by joint-stock com­pa­nies is no longer pri­vate pro­duc­tion but pro­duc­tion on behalf of many asso­ci­at­ed peo­ple. And when we pass on from joint-stock com­pa­nies to trusts, which dom­i­nate and monop­o­lise whole branch­es of indus­try, this puts an end not only to pri­vate pro­duc­tion but also to plan­less­ness.”55 Final­ly, in Anti-Dühring Engels writes of the state as real total cap­i­tal­ist: “The more pro­duc­tive forces it takes over into its pos­ses­sion, the more it actu­al­ly becomes a real aggre­gate cap­i­tal­ist, the more cit­i­zens it exploits.” Here Engels reveals a lim­it­ed under­stand­ing of pri­vate pro­duc­tion, and a ten­den­cy to equate state plan­ning and monop­oly pow­er with direct social­iza­tion, rein­forced by his con­struc­tion of the fun­da­men­tal con­tra­dic­tion and his ten­den­cy to iden­ti­fy the divi­sion of labor with­in a fac­to­ry and the divi­sion of labor in soci­ety. Engels does note that “the trans­for­ma­tion, either into joint-stock com­pa­nies, or into state own­er­ship, does not do away with the cap­i­tal­is­tic nature of the pro­duc­tive forces,”57 but nonethe­less sees an imme­di­ate tran­si­tion to social­ism set­ting in as a result, where­as the con­cepts of monop­oly and state inter­ven­tion remain “eco­nom­i­cal­ly com­plete­ly unde­ter­mined.”58 Engels thus sug­gests that the work­ers’ move­ment mere­ly has to take over the forms of cor­po­rate book­keep­ing in joint-stock com­pa­nies and the com­pre­hen­sive plan­ning by monop­o­lies devel­oped in cap­i­tal­ism. For Engels, the bour­geoisie has already become obso­lete through the sep­a­ra­tion of own­er­ship and man­age­ment func­tions.59 The “trans­for­ma­tion of the great estab­lish­ments for pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion into joint-stock com­pa­nies and state prop­er­ty” demon­strates, accord­ing to Engels, “how unnec­es­sary the bour­geoisie are for that pur­pose”, i.e. for man­ag­ing “mod­ern pro­duc­tive forces”: “All the social func­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist are now per­formed by salaried employ­ees. The cap­i­tal­ist has no fur­ther social func­tion than that of pock­et­ing div­i­dends, tear­ing off coupons, and gam­bling on the Stock Exchange, where the dif­fer­ent cap­i­tal­ists despoil one anoth­er of their cap­i­tal. At first the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion forces out the work­ers. Now it forces out the cap­i­tal­ists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the work­ers, to the ranks of the sur­plus pop­u­la­tion, although not imme­di­ate­ly into those of the indus­tri­al reserve army.”60

Review­ing this his­to­ry of recep­tion (only rough­ly out­lined here), one could claim that Marx­ism in the form pre­sent­ed here was a rumor about Marx’s the­o­ry, a rumor that was grate­ful­ly tak­en up by most crit­ics of “Marx” and mere­ly sup­ple­ment­ed with a minus sign. In fact such an asser­tion – as accu­rate as it may be over­all – makes things too easy, in that it dis­re­gards cer­tain devi­a­tions from the dom­i­nant doc­trine that also under­stood them­selves to be Marxisms, while also regard­ing the above mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions as com­plete­ly exter­nal to Marx’s own the­o­ry, thus exclud­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of any incon­sis­ten­cies or the­o­ret­i­cal-ide­o­log­i­cal ambi­gu­i­ties in Marx’s work. To clar­i­fy this ques­tion, a glance at the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed read­ing of Marx’s texts worked out in the so-called “recon­struc­tion debates” will be use­ful.

In this respect, tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism should be under­stood here as an elab­o­ra­tion, sys­tem­ati­za­tion, and assump­tion of dom­i­nance of the ide­o­log­i­cal con­tent of Marx’s work – with­in the frame­work of a recep­tion by Engels and his epigones. Prac­ti­cal influ­ence was almost exclu­sive­ly allot­ted to these restrict­ed and ide­ol­o­gized inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx’s the­o­ry, as his­tor­i­cal deter­min­ism or pro­le­tar­i­an polit­i­cal econ­o­my.

II. Western Marxism

The for­ma­tion of a West­ern Marx­ism61 aris­es from the cri­sis of the social­ist work­ers’ move­ment in the wake of the First World War (the col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al as a result of the pol­i­cy of defense of the father­land, the defeat of rev­o­lu­tions in Cen­tral and South­ern Europe, the emer­gence of fas­cist forces, etc.). Here it is Georg Lukács’ and Karl Korsch’s texts pub­lished in 1923 which assume a par­a­dig­mat­ic char­ac­ter. Above all Lukács is con­sid­ered the first Marx­ist the­o­rist who at the lev­el of social the­o­ry and method­ol­o­gy called into ques­tion the hith­er­to self-evi­dent assump­tion of the com­plete iden­ti­ty of Marx’s and Engels’ the­o­ries. At the cen­ter of his cri­tique stood Engels’ neglect of the sub­ject-object dialec­tic as well as his con­cept of a dialec­tic of nature, to which the fatal­ism of Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al Marx­ism was ori­ent­ed. Against this ontol­o­giza­tion of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism into a con­tem­pla­tive world­view, Lukács, like West­ern Marx­ism as a whole, under­stands Marx’s approach to be a crit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry of social prax­is. Against the sci­en­tis­tic talk of “objec­tive laws of devel­op­ment” of social progress, Lukács posits the cri­tique of ide­ol­o­gy of rei­fied con­scious­ness, deci­pher­ing the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion as a his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic form of social prax­is ossi­fied into a “sec­ond nature,” and empha­siz­ing rev­o­lu­tion as a crit­i­cal act of prac­ti­cal sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Self-descrip­tions such as “phi­los­o­phy of prax­is” (Gram­sci) or “crit­i­cal the­o­ry of soci­ety” (Horkheimer) there­fore do not con­sti­tute code words or con­cep­tu­al equiv­a­lents for offi­cial par­ty doc­trine, but rather empha­size a learn­ing process from which “aris­es a crit­i­cal, action-ori­ent­ed cur­rent of thought of Marx­ist her­itage.”62 Although West­ern Marx­ism at first pos­i­tive­ly adopt­ed the activist impuls­es of the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion, its lead­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives would quick­ly come to reject the doc­trine of Lenin­ism, above all its con­tin­u­a­tion of a nat­u­ral­is­tic social the­o­ry and its false uni­ver­sal­iza­tion of the expe­ri­ence of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. Georg Lukács’ cri­tique of Bukharin’s “The­o­ry of His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism” serves as an exam­ple of the for­mer. In his cri­tique, Lukács charges that Bukharin’s the­o­ry, with its con­cepts of the pri­ma­cy of the devel­op­ment of the forces of pro­duc­tion and the seam­less appli­ca­tion of the meth­ods of nat­ur­al sci­ence to the study of soci­ety, is fetishis­tic and oblit­er­ates the “qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence” between the two sub­ject areas of nat­ur­al and social sci­ences, thus acquir­ing “the accent of a false ‘objec­tiv­i­ty’ and mis­tak­ing the core idea of Marx’s method, name­ly the ascrip­tion of “all eco­nom­ic phe­nom­e­na to the social rela­tion­ships of human beings to one anoth­er.”63

In his Prison Note­books, Gram­sci pro­vid­ed the exem­plary cri­tique of the fix­a­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy upon the mod­el of the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion. Ini­tial­ly, he had greet­ed the Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion as a “rev­o­lu­tion against Karl Marx’s Cap­i­tal,”64 that is to say as a refu­ta­tion of the alleged­ly proven impos­si­bil­i­ty of social­ist rev­o­lu­tion in indus­tri­al­ly back­wards coun­tries. In an almost reli­gious man­ner, he cit­ed the vol­un­taris­tic “social­ist annun­ci­a­tion” as a source of a col­lec­tive social­ist “pop­u­lar will” against a class con­scious­ness mechan­i­cal­ly derived from the econ­o­my and the lev­el of its forces of pro­duc­tion. Lat­er, Gram­sci would con­front the Marx­ism of the Third Inter­na­tion­al with his the­o­ry of hege­mo­ny, which rejects the “war of maneu­ver” of a frontal attack upon the repres­sive state appa­ra­tus as being a use­less rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy for mod­ern West­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties. Accord­ing to Gram­sci, with­in these social for­ma­tions “civ­il soci­ety” is com­posed of a labyrinthine struc­ture of appa­ra­tus­es in which pat­terns of thought and behav­ior are gen­er­at­ed which exhib­it an iner­tia that can­not be shak­en by grandiose polit­i­cal deeds. The Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ary mod­el is also con­demned to fail­ure in the West because the belief in the uni­ver­sal nature of expe­ri­ence of the Bol­she­viks with a cen­tral­ist-despot­ic Tsarism leads to a dis­re­gard for the rel­e­vance of ide­o­log­i­cal social­iza­tion by means of the appa­ra­tus­es of civ­il soci­ety, and their effect: sub­jec­tion in the form of autonomous agency. How­ev­er, both Lukács and Gram­sci remain loy­al to the “exclu­sive­ly pro­le­tar­i­an” con­cep­tion of rev­o­lu­tion to the extent that the for­mer, despite his reflec­tions upon rei­fied con­scious­ness, still attrib­ut­es an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal priv­i­lege to the pro­le­tari­at guar­an­teed by its eco­nom­ic posi­tion, while Gramsci’s strate­gi­cal­ly moti­vat­ed the­o­ry of civ­il soci­ety is fix­at­ed upon the room for maneu­ver of the work­ing class.

With the attempt at a social-psy­cho­log­i­cal explo­ration of the drive/structural foun­da­tions of the repro­duc­tion of an “irra­tional soci­ety,” above all in the form of author­i­tar­i­an and anti­se­mit­ic atti­tudes, the Frank­furt Insti­tute for Social Research, after Max Horkheimer’s assump­tion of its direc­tor­ship in 1931, achieved a lev­el of reflec­tion that oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives and cur­rents of West­ern Marx­ism could not match, and which gives up on the reas­sur­ing sup­port of an imag­ined class con­scious­ness of the pro­le­tari­at. Final­ly, the empir­i­cal class con­scious­ness of the pro­le­tari­at as the only exist­ing class con­scious­ness is sub­ject­ed to analy­sis, while the “irra­tional,” emo­tion­al dimen­sions of social prax­is ignored by oth­er the­o­rists, such as the social dimen­sions of the libid­i­nal, are con­sid­ered. This the­o­ret­i­cal insight into the uncom­pro­mis­ing nature of crit­i­cal the­o­ry is at the same time an admis­sion of the his­tor­i­cal process of an increas­ing rift between eman­ci­pa­to­ry the­o­ry and the per­spec­tive of rev­o­lu­tion­ary prax­is. With the prop­a­ga­tion of social­ism in one coun­try, the Bol­she­viza­tion of the West­ern Com­mu­nist Par­ties, and the estab­lish­ment of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism as the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy of the Third Inter­na­tion­al after the mid-1920s, there begins the char­ac­ter­is­tic iso­la­tion of the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of West­ern Marx­ism: this cur­rent is left with nei­ther polit­i­cal influ­ence nor (with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of the Frank­furt Insti­tute for Social Research) the insti­tu­tion­al foun­da­tions for a nor­mal schol­ar­ly prax­is. The gen­er­al char­ac­ter­is­tics of this Marx­ist for­ma­tion – its sense for the Hegelian lega­cy and the crit­i­cal-human­ist poten­tial of Marx’s the­o­ry, the incor­po­ra­tion of con­tem­po­rary “bour­geois” approach­es to elu­ci­date the great cri­sis of the work­ers move­ment, the ori­en­ta­tion towards method­ol­o­gy, the sen­si­ti­za­tion to social-psy­cho­log­i­cal and cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na in con­nec­tion with the ques­tion con­cern­ing the rea­sons for the fail­ure of rev­o­lu­tion in “the West”66  –pro­vides the frame­work for a new type of restrict­ed exe­ge­sis of Marx. This is essen­tial­ly char­ac­ter­ized by the neglect of prob­lems of pol­i­tics and state the­o­ry, a selec­tive recep­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue, and the pre­dom­i­nance of a “silent ortho­doxy” con­cern­ing the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Although the first to under­stand the char­ac­ter of cap­i­tal­ist rule the way Marx did – anony­mous, objec­tive­ly medi­at­ed, and hav­ing a life of its own – the “found­ing doc­u­ment” of West­ern Marx­ism, Lukacs’ His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness, avoids a recon­struc­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of cap­i­tal­ism. Instead of an analy­sis of Marx’s dialec­tic of the form of val­ue up to the form of cap­i­tal, which in the the­o­ry of real sub­sump­tion offers an expla­na­tion of the con­nec­tion – so deci­sive for Lukács – between com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and the alien­at­ed struc­ture of the labor process, one finds mere­ly an analo­giz­ing com­bi­na­tion of a val­ue the­o­ry reduced to the “quan­ti­fy­ing” val­ue-form (due to an ori­en­ta­tion towards Simmel’s cul­tur­al cri­tique of mon­ey) and a diag­no­sis, ori­ent­ed towards Max Weber, of the for­mal-ratio­nal ten­den­cy of the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the labor process and mod­ern law. Until the mid-1960s it seems that no West­ern Marx­ists extend­ed their debate with tra­di­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx into the realm of val­ue the­o­ry. Some posi­tions go even fur­ther than this silent ortho­doxy, and – with­out hav­ing seri­ous­ly engaged with the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my – con­trast the “human­ist cul­tur­al crit­ic Marx” with the “econ­o­mist Marx” or even regard a “Marx­ism” with­out a cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my as being pos­si­ble.67

III. The “Neue Marx-Lektüre”

It was first with­in the frame­work of the “neue Marx-Lek­türe” (“New Read­ing of Marx”), which emerged in the mid-1960s, that prob­lems of state the­o­ry and eco­nom­ic the­o­ry once again played a role out­side of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism. This new wave of recep­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry was also more or less sit­u­at­ed out­side of Stal­in­ism and Social Democ­ra­cy. Along­side the new read­ing in West Euro­pean coun­tries, there were iso­lat­ed rudi­ments of a “new read­ing of Marx” occur­ring in East­ern Europe.68 Its gen­e­sis in West Ger­many coin­cid­ed with phe­nom­e­na such as the stu­dent move­ment, the first jolts to belief in a per­pet­u­al and polit­i­cal­ly man­age­able post-war pros­per­i­ty, the break­ing up of the anti-com­mu­nist con­sen­sus in the course of the Viet­nam War, etc., yet remained, despite its rad­i­cal eman­ci­pa­to­ry claims, con­fined large­ly to acad­e­mia. Here, we dis­tin­guish between this “new read­ing of Marx” in a broad­er sense69, and one more nar­row­ly defined.70 Where­as the for­mer was an inter­na­tion­al phe­nom­e­non, the lat­ter was con­fined pri­mar­i­ly to West Ger­many. If the for­mer still remained pre­dom­i­nant­ly trapped with­in Engel­sian dog­ma with regard to the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, the lat­ter fore­ground­ed the revi­sion of pre­vi­ous his­tori­cist or empiri­cist inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx’s form analy­sis. In terms of con­tent, a three­fold aban­don­ment of cen­tral topoi of tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism was con­sum­mat­ed in the main threads of the debate, them­selves con­tra­dic­to­ry and in no way shared by all par­tic­i­pants: a move away from a sub­stan­tial­ist the­o­ry of val­ue71; aban­don­ment of manip­u­la­tive-instru­men­tal con­cep­tions of the state72; and a move away from labor move­ment-cen­tric inter­pre­ta­tions of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, or inter­pre­ta­tions based on a “labor-onto­log­i­cal” rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry (or even upon rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry as such).73 This new read­ing artic­u­lates its the­o­ret­i­cal efforts in the form of a recon­struc­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry.

With regard to the cri­tique of econ­o­my, a crys­tal­liza­tion of cen­tral ques­tions and research tasks occurred with­in the frame­work of the 1967 col­lo­qui­um “100 Jahre ‘Kap­i­tal.’”74 A rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Marx’s cri­tique was envi­sioned from the method­olog­i­cal per­spec­tive of social the­o­ry: the ques­tion as to the orig­i­nal object of Cap­i­tal (eco­nom­ic form-deter­mi­na­tion), the par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of sci­en­tif­ic pre­sen­ta­tion (the dialec­tic of the forms of val­ue), as well as the con­nec­tion between the three vol­umes (“cap­i­tal in gen­er­al – many cap­i­tals”) are posed anew, as dis­tinct from quan­ti­ta­tive approach­es, and with a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis upon the sig­nif­i­cance of the Grun­drisse. With­in the field of the con­flict between “crit­i­cal” and “struc­tur­al” Marxisms, tran­si­tion­al moments of flight from exist­ing method­olog­i­cal tra­di­tions arise, oblique to the clas­si­cal points of con­flict75: both struc­tural­ist anti-his­tori­cism as well as Hegelian fig­ures of thought (“pro­gres­sive-regres­sive method,” “return to the foun­da­tion”) play an impor­tant role in this.

Ini­tial­ly with a lot of “ifs and buts”76, and on some points remain­ing with­in the chan­nels of tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism, the New Read­ing of Marx acquired more clear­ly defined con­tours over the course of the 1970s.

Tra­di­tion­al read­ings of Marx’s the­o­ry
Clas­si­cal Assump­tion of the Marx­ism of the 2nd and 3rd Inter­na­tion­als Marx = Engels (uni­fied par­a­digm, coher­ent argu­men­ta­tion, closed “world­view”)
Lev­els of the crit­i­cal-recon­struc­tive read­ing
Lev­el 1: e.g. Back­haus (Mate­ri­alien parts 1 and 2) Engels → exo­teric vs.
Marx → eso­teric
Lev­el 2: e.g. Althuss­er (Read­ing Cap­i­tal); A. Schmidt; Back­haus (Mate­ri­alien) Marx → exo­teric meta-dis­course vs.
Marx → eso­teric real analy­sis
Lev­el 3: e.g. Back­haus (Mate­ri­alien parts 3 and 4); Hein­rich (Sci­ence of Val­ue) Marx → exoteric/esoteric meta-dis­course
Marx → exoteric/esoteric real analy­sis

Against the clas­si­cal myth of the com­plete equal­i­ty between the par­a­digms of Marx and Engels, with regard to both his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism and the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, Engels’ com­men­taries were crit­i­cized as large­ly inad­e­quate to Marx’s work and remain­ing at a pure­ly “exo­teric” lev­el that per­pet­u­at­ed tra­di­tion­al par­a­digms. Thus, in 1974 Hans-Georg Back­haus empha­sized with regard to val­ue the­o­ry that the cri­tique was aimed “at an inter­pre­ta­tive premise which until recent­ly was con­sid­ered one of the few uncon­test­ed ele­ments of the Marx­ist lit­er­a­ture, and which struc­tured the recep­tion of Marx’s val­ue the­o­ry with­out being chal­lenged: the mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion, touched off by Engels, of the first three chap­ters of Cap­i­tal as a val­ue and mon­ey the­o­ry of what Engels called ‘sim­ple com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion.’”77 Back­haus assumes that “pro­ceed­ing from this fun­da­men­tal error, Marx­ist val­ue the­o­ry nec­es­sar­i­ly inhib­it­ed the recep­tion of Marx’s val­ue the­o­ry.”78 If there­fore at this lev­el an ini­tial dis­tinc­tion is made between a Marx­ist the­o­ry and Marx’s the­o­ry, a prob­lema­ti­za­tion of Marx’s meta-the­o­ret­i­cal self-under­stand­ing also occurs ear­ly on. Louis Althuss­er had already affirmed, with the aid of a “symp­to­matic” read­ing direct­ed against a sub­ject-cen­tric inten­tion­al­ist hermeneu­tic, that Marx’s work rep­re­sents a sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion in the the­o­ret­i­cal prax­is of the analy­sis of cap­i­tal­ism, which at the meta-the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el is super­im­posed upon by a dis­course inad­e­quate to this prob­lem­at­ic. Althuss­er defines the tasks of a recon­struc­tion as the removal of the inad­e­quate meta-dis­course and the trans­for­ma­tion of its dom­i­nant metaphors, which he reads as symp­toms for the absence of an ade­quate self-reflec­tion of the real pro­ce­dure of the analy­sis of cap­i­tal, into con­cepts.79 As dis­tinct from Althuss­er and his dual­ist con­cep­tion of the rela­tion­ship between the real object and the object of knowl­edge80, this issue is usu­al­ly for­mu­lat­ed in the recon­struc­tion debate with­in the the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work of a Marx­i­an cri­tique of ide­ol­o­gy: Marx dis­tin­guish­es between “eso­teric” and “exo­teric” lev­els in the works of clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­my. If the for­mer con­tains insights into the social con­text of medi­a­tion of the bour­geois mode of pro­duc­tion, the lat­ter is con­tent with an unmedi­at­ed descrip­tion and sys­tem­ati­za­tion of the objec­tive forms of thought of the every­day con­scious­ness of social actors, remain­ing trapped in the rei­fied illu­sion of the imme­di­a­cy of phe­nom­e­na which are in fact social­ly medi­at­ed. So the “exo­teric” argu­men­ta­tion can­not be traced back psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly to sub­jec­tive defi­cien­cies or even con­scious attempts at decep­tion on the part of the­o­rists. It results from a deter­mi­nate form of thought which is the sys­tem­at­ic and ini­tial­ly invol­un­tary prod­uct of the forms of social inter­course of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion. The recon­struc­tion debate would now apply the esoteric/exoteric dis­tinc­tion to Marx’s work itself.

Ulti­mate­ly, even in the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my and in his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism – that is to say in the the­o­ret­i­cal prax­is regard­ed at the pre­vi­ous stage of recon­struc­tion as an intact “eso­teric” lay­er – “exo­teric” con­tent and con­cep­tu­al ambiva­lence “between sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion and clas­si­cal tra­di­tion”81 are man­i­fest. The doc­trine of the invi­o­la­bil­i­ty of the pre­sen­ta­tion of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my in Cap­i­tal is final­ly dis­card­ed. In place of the leg­end of a lin­ear pro­gres­sion of knowl­edge on Marx’s part, there appeared the recog­ni­tion of a com­plex coex­is­tence and inter­pen­e­tra­tion of progress and regres­sion in the method of pre­sen­ta­tion and the state of research of Marx’s cri­tique of econ­o­my. Ulti­mate­ly, the increased pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the pre­sen­ta­tion of the analy­sis of the forms of val­ue from the Grun­drisse to the sec­ond edi­tion of Cap­i­tal was point­ed out. This pop­u­lar­iza­tion, to the extent that it increas­ing­ly con­cealed the form-genet­ic method, offered points of ref­er­ence to his­tori­cist and sub­stan­tial­ist read­ings.82

IV. Learning Processes within Marxism

Since there is not enough space with­in the frame­work of this text to elu­ci­date even approx­i­mate­ly the aspects of a sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion – inter­nal learn­ing process­es, but also regres­sions to tra­di­tion­al eco­nom­ic and his­tor­i­cal-philo­soph­i­cal posi­tions in Marx’s work – I will attempt to briefly men­tion some of the points arrived at in the above-men­tioned learn­ing process­es with­in Marx­ism.

Marx’s the­o­ry does not affirm some kind of auto­mat­ic lib­er­a­tion; rather, it should be under­stood as the the­o­ret­i­cal instance of a body of work, medi­at­ed by analy­sis and cri­tique, con­tribut­ing to the lib­er­a­tion from the automa­tism of an irra­tional mode of social­iza­tion. Marx’s asser­tion that he grasps the devel­op­ment of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion as “a process of nat­ur­al his­to­ry,”83 often cit­ed by both Marx­ists and anti-Marx­ists as proof either of the high­est sci­en­tif­ic sta­tus of Marx’s work or of unsci­en­tif­ic prophe­cy, should be under­stood as a crit­i­cal state­ment. “Nature” or “nat­u­ral­ness” are neg­a­tive­ly deter­mined cat­e­gories for a social sys­tem that, on the basis of its con­sti­tu­tion by the pri­vate divi­sion of labor, asserts itself with regard to social actors as a relent­less machine using up abstract labor, as a “des­tiny of val­ue” beyond all col­lec­tive and indi­vid­ual con­trol and yet repro­duc­ing itself by means of their activ­i­ty.

Marx’s the­o­ry is “a uni­fied crit­i­cal judg­ment on pre­vi­ous his­to­ry, to the effect that men have allowed them­selves to be degrad­ed into objects of the blind and mechan­i­cal process of its eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment.”84 While Marx does suc­cumb to a his­tor­i­cal opti­mism that often tips over into a phi­los­o­phy of his­to­ry in the declam­a­to­ry sec­tions of his works, this is fun­da­men­tal­ly con­tra­dict­ed by his sci­en­tif­ic cri­tique of philoso­phies of his­to­ry and polit­i­cal econ­o­my.85 But it is pre­cise­ly from these clich­es that the Marx­ism of the Sec­ond and Third Inter­na­tion­als, as well as the more edu­cat­ed among those who dis­dain Marx, paste togeth­er an abstruse sys­tem of iron his­tor­i­cal neces­si­ties, up to and includ­ing a “law of the sequence of social for­ma­tions” which estab­lish­es the “gen­er­al his­tor­i­cal­ly nec­es­sary ten­den­cy of the progress of the human species.”86

The cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, which in the form of Marx’s late works “does not with­stand com­par­i­son with the imma­nent claim of the pro­gram­mat­ic dec­la­ra­tion in The Ger­man Ide­ol­o­gy,”87 name­ly of pre­sent­ing the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion in its total­i­ty, can be pre­sent­ed as a process of four cri­tiques: 1) the cri­tique of bour­geois soci­ety and its destruc­tive “nat­ur­al” forms of devel­op­ment, against the back­ground of the real, objec­tive pos­si­bil­i­ty it gen­er­ates of its own eman­ci­pa­to­ry tran­scen­dence, 2) the cri­tique of the fetishized and back­ward every­day con­scious­ness of social actors sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed by these social rela­tions, 3) the cri­tique of the entire the­o­ret­i­cal field of polit­i­cal econ­o­my88, which uncrit­i­cal­ly sys­tem­atizes these com­mon per­cep­tions, and 4) the cri­tique of utopi­an social crit­i­cism, which either con­fronts the sys­tem of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion with a mod­el of social lib­er­a­tion, or pre­sumes to bring iso­lat­ed eco­nom­ic forms to bear against the sys­tem as a whole by means of reforms.89 The cri­tique is there­fore not imma­nent in the sense that it would affirm the deter­mi­na­tions of exchange, bour­geois ideals, pro­le­tar­i­an demands for rights, or indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion (which is sub­sumed to cap­i­tal) against cap­i­tal­ism as a whole.

The method of the cri­tique of econ­o­my can be described as the “devel­op­ment” or “analy­sis of forms.” It aims to grasp the spe­cif­ic social­i­ty of his­tor­i­cal­ly dis­tinct modes of pro­duc­tion. Where­as “bour­geois” approach­es con­duct at best a sci­ence of the repro­duc­tion of soci­ety with­in spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal forms, a cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my must be con­ceived of as a sci­ence of these forms.90 Polit­i­cal econ­o­my oper­ates at the lev­el of already con­sti­tut­ed eco­nom­ic objects, takes them empir­i­cal­ly as a giv­en, or can only jus­ti­fy their exis­tence in a cir­cu­lar man­ner, with­out con­cep­tu­al­ly pen­e­trat­ing the sys­tem­at­ic process of their con­sti­tu­tion. It suc­cumbs to the self-mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist world of objects as a world of nat­ur­al forms91, thus depriv­ing humans of the abil­i­ty to con­fig­ure and alter their fun­da­men­tal struc­tures.

In con­trast, form-analy­sis devel­ops these forms (such as val­ue, mon­ey, cap­i­tal, but also law and the state) from the con­tra­dic­to­ry con­di­tions of the social con­sti­tu­tion of labor, “clar­i­fies them, grasps their essence and neces­si­ty.”92 Form devel­op­ment is not to be under­stood as the retrac­ing of the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of the object, but rather the con­cep­tu­al deci­pher­ing of the imma­nent struc­tur­al rela­tion­ships of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion. It unscram­bles the appar­ent­ly inde­pen­dent, appar­ent­ly objec­tive­ly ground­ed forms of social wealth and the polit­i­cal com­pul­sion of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion as his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic and there­fore – albeit in no way arbi­trar­i­ly or in a piece­meal man­ner – as change­able forms of prax­is.

Tra­di­tion­al as well as West­ern Marx­ism had com­plete­ly ignored the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sci­en­tif­ic poten­tial of Marx’s approach, his the­o­ry of the mon­e­tary con­sti­tu­tion of val­ue. Above all, the neue Marx-Lek­türe crit­i­cized the empiri­cist-his­tori­cist mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the method of pre­sen­ta­tion that start­ed with Engels, and the “pre­mon­e­tary” inter­pre­ta­tion of the the­o­ry of val­ue in Cap­i­tal, but also ambiva­lences in Marx’s work itself and the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of his method, which meant “for­go­ing a sys­tem­at­ic elab­o­ra­tion of fun­da­men­tal ideas of val­ue the­o­ry and method­ol­o­gy.”93 Engels and Tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism inter­pret­ed dif­fer­ent lev­els of abstrac­tion of the pre­sen­ta­tion of the laws of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion in Cap­i­tal as empir­i­cal­ly coequal lev­els of a mod­el of his­tor­i­cal­ly dis­tinct modes of pro­duc­tion. Thus cat­e­gories such as abstract labor, val­ue, and the ele­men­tary form of val­ue were rein­ter­pret­ed in an empiri­cist way, and the con­nec­tion between com­mod­i­ty, mon­ey, and cap­i­tal – con­sid­ered essen­tial by Marx – was trans­formed into a coin­ci­dence. Marx­ism thus oper­at­ed on a method­olog­i­cal and val­ue-the­o­ret­i­cal ter­rain that Marx had crit­i­cized with regard to clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics. How­ev­er, Marx’s cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my is dis­tinct from an alter­na­tive polit­i­cal econ­o­my in pri­mar­i­ly two respects: in the first instance it is not the the­o­ry of sur­plus-val­ue, but rather the form the­o­ry of labor that dis­tin­guish­es Marx from clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Marx crit­i­cizes the way polit­i­cal econ­o­my unre­flec­tive­ly pre­sup­pos­es the form of “val­ue,” nev­er ques­tion­ing its gen­e­sis, unable to grasp labor that takes the form of val­ue as a his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic social form (the ques­tion is not raised as to “why labour is rep­re­sent­ed by the val­ue of its prod­uct”94). Polit­i­cal econ­o­my there­fore oper­ates fun­da­men­tal­ly with­in the field of fetishis­tic forms. More­over, Marx crit­i­cizes the pre­mon­e­tary char­ac­ter of its val­ue the­o­ry, since it “treat[s] the form of val­ue as a thing of no impor­tance, as hav­ing no con­nec­tion with the inher­ent nature of com­modi­ties,”95 mean­ing it does not dis­tin­guish between intrin­sic and exter­nal mea­sure of val­ue as cat­e­gories exist­ing at two dif­fer­ent lev­els of the­o­ret­i­cal abstrac­tion, and does not grasp the neces­si­ty of the mon­ey-form for the exchange of com­modi­ties. Mon­ey is under­stood as a pure­ly tech­ni­cal instru­ment which for rea­sons of con­ve­nience takes the place of exchange on the basis of cal­cu­la­tions of labor-time mag­ni­tudes. In Marx’s work, on the oth­er hand, mon­ey is devel­oped as a nec­es­sary moment in the process of com­mod­i­ty exchange. With­out a gen­er­al form of val­ue, com­modi­ties can­not rep­re­sent val­ue for each oth­er, and would be reduced to the sta­tus of prod­ucts. One must there­fore pro­ceed from the “equip­ri­mor­dial” con­sti­tu­tion of abstract labor as a log­i­cal­ly pri­or imma­nent mea­sure of val­ue, and mon­ey as the exter­nal mea­sure of val­ue. In this sense, Marx speaks of the sub­stance of val­ue as a result obtained in exchange which fur­ther­more first acquires an intertem­po­ral exis­tence as cap­i­tal. In con­trast to the empiri­cism and ahis­tori­cism of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, Marx’s approach thus reveals itself to be a per­cep­tion of essence in the sense of the recon­struc­tion of a struc­ture and sys­tem of agency which is empir­i­cal­ly not imme­di­ate­ly per­ceiv­able – by means of the elab­o­ra­tion of a non-empir­i­cal the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el which first makes pos­si­ble the expla­na­tion of empir­i­cal forms of appear­ance, such as mon­ey. Marx fol­lows “a prin­ci­ple of the devel­op­ment of eco­nom­ic cat­e­gories by dis­tin­guish­ing between dif­fer­ent lev­els of abstrac­tion.”96 Cat­e­gories such as abstract labor or val­ue there­fore have no imme­di­ate empir­i­cal ref­er­ents. The sequence of the cat­e­gories of com­mod­i­ty and mon­ey is not to be under­stood as a his­tor­i­cal sequence of inde­pen­dent­ly exist­ing cir­cum­stances, but rather as a con­cep­tu­al analy­sis.

Overview of the Marxisms

Impor­tant The­o­rists Cen­tral Ref­er­ence Texts of Marx/Engels Core Con­cept: Marx’s The­o­ry as…
Tra­di­tion­al Marx­ism [1878ff.] [F. Engels], K. Kaut­sky, E. Bern­stein, Lafar­gue, F. Mehring, A. Bebel, G. Plekhanov, etc.(= 1st Gen­er­a­tion); V.I. Lenin, L. Trot­sky, R. Lux­em­burg, N. Bukharin, M. Adler, R. Hil­fer­d­ing (= 2nd Gen­er­a­tion) Claim: Doc­trine of the mate­ri­al­ist con­cep­tion of his­to­ry as the cen­ter of the col­lab­o­ra­tive works of Marx and EngelsEngels: Anti-Dühring, Lud­wig Feuer­bach, “Review of A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my (1859) etc.Marx: Cap­i­tal Vol. 1 – Chap­ter 32, “Pref­ace” to Cri­tique (1859), Man­i­festo (M/E) Closed, coher­ent pro­le­tar­i­an world­view and doc­trine of the evo­lu­tion of nature and his­to­ry (“becom­ing and pass­ing away”)
West­ern Marx­ism [1923ff.] G. Lukács, K. Korsch, E. Bloch, H. Lefeb­vre, Frank­furt School, A. Gram­sci, K. Kosik, Yugoslav Prax­is-Group (G. Petro­vic, P. Vran­ic­ki, etc.), Budapest School (A. Heller, G. Markus, etc.), L. Kofler, J.-P. Sartre Claim: Human­ist ear­ly work as inter­pre­ta­tive frame­work for the “sci­en­tif­ic” lat­er worksMarx: “The­ses on Feuer­bach,” 1844 Man­u­scripts, The Ger­man Ide­ol­o­gy (M/E) Crit­i­cal-rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry of social prax­is (“sub­jec­tive medi­a­tion of the object”)
neue Marx-Lek­türe [1965ff.] [Pre­de­ces­sors: I.I. Rubin, E. Paschuka­nis] H.G. Back­haus, H. Reichelt, D. Wolf, H.D. Kittstein­er, M. Hein­rich, SOST, Pro­jekt Klassenanalyse/PEM, S. Breuer, State-Deriva­tion Debate (B. Blanke, D. Läp­ple, MG, J. Hirsch, W. Müller/ Ch. Neusüß, N. Kost­ede, etc.) Claim: appre­hend­ing the whole Marx, or lat­er works as inter­pre­ta­tive frame­work for the ear­ly worksMarx: Grun­drisseCap­i­tal Vol. I first edi­tion, Urtext, “Results of the Imme­di­ate Process of Pro­duc­tion” Deci­pher­ing and Cri­tique of the Forms of cap­i­tal­ist social­iza­tion by means of log­i­cal-sys­tem­at­ic method of pre­sen­ta­tions (“form-devel­op­ment and cri­tique”)

– Trans­lat­ed by Alexan­der Locas­cio

Image thanks to f2b1610.

  1. Karl Kaut­sky, quot­ed in Gareth Sted­man Jones, “Engels und die Geschichte des Marx­is­mus,” in Klassen, Poli­tik, Sprache. Für eine the­o­rieori­en­tierte Sozialgeschichte (Mün­ster: West­fälis­ches Dampfboot,1988), 234n; V.I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Com­po­nent Parts of Marx­ism.” All Eng­lish quo­ta­tions from Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Kaut­sky tak­en from the ver­sions avail­able at 

  2. Fred­er­ick Engels, “Dialec­tics” in Dialec­tics of Nature

  3. Engels, “Intro­duc­tion” in Anti-Dühring

  4. Engels, “Hegel” in Lud­wig Feuer­bach and the End of Ger­man Clas­si­cal Phi­los­o­phy

  5. Ibid. 

  6. Engels, “Marx” in Lud­wig Feuer­bach. 

  7. Karl Marx, “The­ses on Feuer­bach.” 

  8. Engels, “Notes and Frag­ments” in Dialec­tics of Nature

  9. Above all in Mate­ri­al­ism and Empiri­o­crit­i­cism, styl­ized by Marx­ism-Lenin­ism as the clas­si­cal text­book of dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism along­side Anti-Dühring. Here, Marx­ism becomes an ide­ol­o­gy in the strict Marx­i­an sense: a sys­tem­iza­tion of the forms of thought of a rei­fied com­mon sense. Con­cern­ing the polit­i­cal-praga­mat­i­cal back­ground of the text, usu­al­ly dis­re­gard­ed in ML, see Johannes Busch-Weßlau, Der Marx­is­mus und die Legit­i­ma­tion poli­tis­ch­er Macht (Frank­furt: Cam­pus Verl, 1990), 30. 

  10. Falko Schmieder points to the a pri­ori role of the medi­um of pho­tog­ra­phy as a foun­da­tion of this naive real­ism in phi­los­o­phy, as well as the fun­da­men­tal com­mon­al­i­ties between Engels, Lenin, and Feuer­bach; Lud­wig Feuer­bach und der Ein­gang der klas­sis­chen Fotografie. Zum Ver­hält­nis von anthro­pol­o­gis­chem und His­torischem Mate­ri­al­is­mus (Berlin: PHI­LO-Ver­lag, 2004), 213. 

  11. Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Waren­form und Denk­form (Frank­furt: Suhrkamp, 1978),114. 

  12. Engels, “Marx” in Lud­wig Feuer­bach

  13. Marx, “The­ses on Feuer­bach.” 

  14. Engels, “Mate­ri­al­ism” in Lud­wig Feuer­bach. 

  15. For more on this, see the study of Hans-Josef Stein­berg [1967], Sozial­is­mus und deutsche Sozialdemokratie. Zur Ide­olo­gie der Partei vor dem 1. Weltkrieg (Berlin-Bonn: 1979), above all 45, 63. Approach­es toward a social his­tor­i­cal expla­na­tion are offered by idem, 145-150; Dieter Groh, Neg­a­tive Inte­gra­tion und rev­o­lu­tionär­er Atten­tismus. Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie am Vor­abend des Ersten Weltkrieges (Frank­furt: Ull­stein Taschen­buchvlg, 1974), 58-63; Oskar Negt, “Marx­is­mus als Legit­i­ma­tion­swis­senschaft,” in N. Bucharin/A. Deborin – Kon­tro­ver­sen über dialek­tis­chen und mech­a­nis­tis­chen Mate­ri­al­is­mus (Frank­furt: Suhrkamp, 1974); Anto­nio Gram­sci, Philoso­phie der Prax­is. Eine Auswahl (Frank­furt: S Fis­ch­er, 1967),1386. 

  16. For a cri­tique, see Alexan­drine Mohl, Vere­len­dung und Rev­o­lu­tion. Oder: Das Elend des Objek­tivis­mus. Zugle­ich ein Beitrag zur Marxrezep­tion in der deutschen Sozialdemokratie (Frank­furt 1978); Rolf Peter Siefer­le, Die Rev­o­lu­tion in der The­o­rie von Karl Marx (Berlin: Ull­stein, 1979); Ingo Elbe, “‘Umwälzungsmo­mente der alten Gesellschaft’ – Aspek­te der Rev­o­lu­tion­s­the­o­rie und ihrer Kri­tik bei Marx,” 2002. 

  17. Ernesto Laclau and Chan­tal Mouffe point out the Dar­win­ist-Hegelian char­ac­ter of this con­cep­tion: “Dar­win­ism alone does not offer ‘guar­an­tees for the future,’ since nat­ur­al selec­tion does not oper­ate in a direc­tion pre­de­ter­mined from the begin­ning. Only if a Hegelian type of tele­ol­o­gy is added to Dar­win­ism – which is total­ly incom­pat­i­ble with it – can an evo­lu­tion­ary process be pre­sent­ed as a guar­an­tee of future tran­si­tions”; Hege­mo­ny and Social­ist Strat­e­gy (New York: Ver­so, 2001), 20. 

  18. For more on this, in an instruc­tive man­ner, see Heinz Dieter Kittstein­er, “Bewusst­seins­bil­dung, Parteilichkeit, dialek­tis­ch­er und his­torisch­er Mate­ri­al­is­mus. Zu eini­gen Kat­e­gorien der marx­is­tisch-lenin­is­tis­chen Geschichtsmethod­olo­gie,” Inter­na­tionale Wis­senschaftliche Kor­re­spon­denz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeit­er­be­we­gung. Jg. 10, 1974. 

  19. See Groh, Neg­a­tive Inte­gra­tion, 36. 

  20. Kaut­sky, quot­ed in Stein­berg, Sozial­is­mus und deutsche Sozialdemokratie, 61. See also Ethics and the Mate­ri­al­ist Con­cep­tion Of His­to­ry. Accord­ing to Kaut­sky, the prospects for free­dom and human­i­ty are not “mere expec­ta­tions of con­di­tions which only ought to come, which we sim­ply wish and will, but out­looks at con­di­tions which must come, which are nec­es­sary.” Kaut­sky defends him­self against inter­pre­ta­tions of neces­si­ty “in the fatal­ist sense, that a high­er pow­er will present them to us of itself,” but assumes an irre­sistible imma­nent his­tor­i­cal-eco­nom­ic com­pul­sion toward rev­o­lu­tion, where­by the imma­nent com­pul­sive laws of cap­i­tal­ism and the for­ma­tion of the pro­le­tari­at as a suc­cess­ful rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject play the same role: “unavoid­able in the sense, that the […] cap­i­tal­ists in their desire for prof­it [!] rev­o­lu­tion­ize the whole eco­nom­ic life, as it is also inevitable that the work­ers aim for short­er hours of labor and high­er wages, that they orga­nize them­selves, that they fight the cap­i­tal­ist class and its state, as it is inevitable that they aim for the con­quest of polit­i­cal pow­er and the over­throw of cap­i­tal­ist rule. Social­ism is inevitable because the class strug­gle and the vic­to­ry of the pro­le­tari­at is inevitable.” 

  21. Lenin, “Three Sources.” 

  22. Lenin, Karl Marx: A Brief Bio­graph­i­cal Sketch With an Expo­si­tion of Marx­ism

  23. On the para­dox­es of this com­bi­na­tion of vol­un­tarism and deter­min­ism, see Charles Tay­lor, Hegel (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1977). 

  24. It is pre­cise­ly West­ern Marx­ism that – against Marx­ism-Lenin­ism – empha­sizes the non-onto­log­i­cal char­ac­ter of Marx’s mate­ri­al­ism; see Max Horkheimer, “Tra­di­tion­al and Crit­i­cal The­o­ry” in Crit­i­cal The­o­ry: Select­ed Essays (New York: Con­tin­u­um, 1972), as well as Alfred Schmidt, The Con­cept of Nature in Marx (New York: Ver­so, 2014). Stal­in deter­mines the com­po­nents of Marx’s the­o­ry as fol­lows: Dialec­tic: a uni­ver­sal log­ic of devel­op­ment empha­siz­ing dis­con­ti­nu­ity, which teach­es that every­thing can be con­ceived of as in a state of becom­ing and decay­ing; Mate­ri­al­ism: a con­tem­pla­tive ontol­ogy which teach­es that con­scious­ness is mere­ly a reflec­tion of a nature exist­ing inde­pen­dent and out­side of con­scious­ness; His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism: the appli­ca­tion of dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism to his­to­ry; uni­ver­sal his­tor­i­cal laws are class strug­gle, the dialec­tic between forces of pro­duc­tion and rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, root­ed in the pri­ma­cy of the devel­op­ment of the forces of pro­duc­tion (casua sui con­cept of forces of pro­duc­tion), and ulti­mate­ly the law of progress of suc­ces­sive social for­ma­tions. 

  25. Engels, “Karl Marx: Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my. Review by Fred­er­ick Engels.” 

  26. Ibid. 

  27. Ibid. 

  28. Kaut­sky [1886], Karl Marx’ ökonomis­che Lehren. Gemein­ver­ständlich dargestellt und erläutert von Karl Kaut­sky, 21. (Berlin: 1922), viii. 

  29. Kaut­sky, quot­ed in Rolf Heck­er, “Ein­fache Waren­pro­duk­tion,” 1997. 

  30. Rudolf Hil­fer­d­ing, Böhm-Bawerk’s Crit­i­cism of Marx

  31. M.M. Rosen­tal [1955], Die dialek­tis­che Meth­ode der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie von Karl Marx (Berlin: Dietz, 1973). 

  32. See Ernest Man­del, Marx­ist Eco­nom­ic The­o­ry (New York: Month­ly Review Press: 1970). 

  33. “This makes clear, of course, why in the begin­ning of his first book Marx pro­ceeds from the sim­ple pro­duc­tion of com­modi­ties as the his­tor­i­cal premise, ulti­mate­ly to arrive from this basis to cap­i­tal – why he pro­ceeds from the sim­ple com­mod­i­ty instead of a log­i­cal­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly sec­ondary form – from an already cap­i­tal­is­ti­cal­ly mod­i­fied com­mod­i­ty.” Engels, “Pref­ace” in Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, Vol­ume 3. 

  34. Ibid. This inter­pre­ta­tion of the analy­sis of the form of val­ue is also adopt­ed by Kaut­sky, in The Eco­nom­ic Doc­trines of Karl Marx

  35. That is to say, the law of val­ue dis­cussed by Marx. See Engels’ “Sup­ple­ment” to vol­ume 3. 

  36. Ibid 

  37. Ibid. 

  38. “Or is it believed that the peas­ant and the arti­san were so stu­pid as to give up the prod­uct of 10 hours’ labor of one per­son for that of a sin­gle hours’ labor of anoth­er?”; and who­ev­er does so learns “only through mis­takes.” Ibid. 

  39. Ibid. 

  40. In con­trast, see Marx’s cri­tique of the notion of labor-mon­ey, or the notion of a pre-mon­e­tary com­mod­i­ty exchange in A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my and in the Grun­drisse

  41. See foot­note 33 in chap­ter one of Cap­i­tal, Vol­ume 1. 

  42. For Marx’s view, see for exam­ple: “Adam Smith con­stant­ly con­fus­es the deter­mi­na­tion of the val­ue of com­modi­ties by the labour-time con­tained in them with the deter­mi­na­tion of their val­ue by the val­ue of labour; he is often incon­sis­tent in the details of his expo­si­tion and he mis­takes the objec­tive equal­i­sa­tion of unequal quan­ti­ties of labour forcibly brought about by the social process for the sub­jec­tive equal­i­ty of the labours of indi­vid­u­als”; A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my.  

  43. Accord­ing to Marx­ism-Lenin­ism, “val­ue func­tions as an instru­ment of the planned admin­is­tra­tion of the social­ist process­es of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of book­keep­ing and con­trol of the mass of labor and of con­sump­tion. Cor­re­spond­ing­ly, the rela­tion of val­ue is con­scious­ly imple­ment­ed”; Wolf­gang Peter Eich­horn, “Wert” in G. Klaus and M. Buhr, ed. Philosophis­ches Wörter­buch, Bd. 2 (West Berlin: DEB, 1985), 1291. With­in this frame­work, social­ism con­sists “mere­ly in the rev­o­lu­tion­ized way of cal­cu­lat­ing the same social deter­mi­na­tion of the prod­ucts of human labor as exists in the cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­ty econ­o­my,” as Ste­fan Gri­gat crit­i­cal­ly notes; “Kri­tik und Utopie,” Weg und Ziel, 4 (1997): 20. Thus, alleged­ly Marx­i­an com­mu­nism degen­er­ates into a sort of Proud­hon­ian sys­tem of labor notes, as Diethard Behrens and Kor­nelia Hafn­er also observe: “all hith­er­to exist­ing con­cep­tions of the tran­si­tion to social­ism resort to mod­els of imme­di­ate cal­cu­la­tion of labor-val­ue and util­i­ty”; “Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Sozial­is­mus. Von der Kri­tik des Proud­hon­is­mus über die rus­sis­che Mod­ernisierungs­dik­tatur zum real­sozial­is­tis­chen Etiket­ten­schwindel” in Anton Pan­nekoek, Marx­is­tis­ch­er Antilenin­is­mus (Freiburg, 1991), 226. See here also Michael Hein­rich, Die Wis­senschaft vom Wert. Die Marxsche Kri­tik der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie zwis­chen wis­senschaftlich­er Rev­o­lu­tion und klas­sis­ch­er Tra­di­tion (Mün­ster: West­fälis­ches Dampf­boot, 1999), 385-392; and Kittstein­er, “Bewusst­seins­bil­dung.” 

  44. For exam­ple, Engels, “Marx” in Lud­wig Feuer­bach. 

  45. Ibid. 

  46. Ibid. 

  47. Ibid, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  48. Gert Schäfer, “Einige Prob­leme des Ver­hält­niss­es von ‘ökonomis­ch­er’ und ‘poli­tis­ch­er’ Herrschaft,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – Staat­s­the­o­rie. Mate­ri­alien zur Rekon­struk­tion der marx­is­tis­chen Staat­s­the­o­rie (Berlin: Ull­stein, 1974). 

  49. Com­pare Pashuka­nis, The Gen­er­al The­o­ry of Law and Marx­ism: “why is the appa­ra­tus of state coer­cion cre­at­ed not as a pri­vate appa­ra­tus of the rul­ing class, but dis­tinct from the lat­ter in the form of an imper­son­al appa­ra­tus of pub­lic pow­er dis­tinct from soci­ety?” 

  50. Engels, “Bar­barism and Civ­i­liza­tion” in The Ori­gin of the Fam­i­ly, Pri­vate Prop­er­ty, and the State. No won­der, then, that Lenin refers affir­ma­tive­ly to this “expla­na­tion,” with its the­o­ry of agents and influ­ence. 

  51. Engels, Anti-Dühring. [Translator’s Note: The offi­cial trans­la­tion of “ideeller Gesamtkap­i­tal­ist” in the Marx-Engels Col­lect­ed Works ren­ders this unsat­is­fac­to­ri­ly as “the ide­al per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the total nation­al cap­i­tal,” when in fact “ide­al total cap­i­tal­ist” is more accu­rate.] 

  52. Johannes Busch-Weßlau, Der Marx­is­mus und die Legit­i­ma­tion poli­tis­ch­er Macht, Frank­furt, Cam­pus-Ver­lag, 1990). 

  53. Engels, Anti-Dühring

  54. Hans Hol­ger Paul, Marx, Engels und die Impe­ri­al­is­mus­the­o­rie der 2. Inter­na­tionale (Ham­burg, 1978). 

  55. Engels, “A Cri­tique of the Draft Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pro­gram of 1891.” 

  56. Schäfer, “Einige Prob­leme,” cxxxi.  

  57. Engels, Anti-Dühring

  58. Schäfer, “Einige Prob­leme,” cxxxiv. 

  59. This old chest­nut will lat­er be pre­sent­ed by Wolf­gang Pohrt and oth­ers as a deep insight about “late cap­i­tal­ism.” 

  60. Engels, Anti-Dühring

  61. The term was prob­a­bly first used in a Lenin­ist polemic against Lukács’ His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness (see Rudolf Walther, “Marx­is­mus” in O. Brun­ner, ed., Geschichtliche Grund­be­griffe. His­torisches Lexikon zur poli­tisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutsch­land, Bd. 3, [Stuttgart: E. Klett, 1982], 968), but did not achieve greater sig­nif­i­cance, nei­ther as a polem­i­cal for­mu­la­tion nor as a self-descrip­tion by the the­o­rists com­mon­ly sub­sumed under the name (such as Lukács, Korsch, Bloch, the Frank­furt School, Gram­sci, Lefeb­vre, etc.). Here, I fol­low Per­ry Anderson’s usage of the term in Con­sid­er­a­tions on West­ern Marx­ism (New York: Ver­so, 1987). As fruit­ful as the con­cept of West­ern Marx­ism might be as a heuris­tic mod­el, its lim­its must be clear­ly shown; see the cri­tique of Ander­son by Wolf­gang Fritz Haug, “West­lich­er Marx­is­mus?” in Plu­raler Marx­is­mus, Bd. 2 (Ham­burg: Argu­ment, 1987) and Michael Krätke, “Marx­is­mus als Sozial­wis­senschaft” in Haug, Mate­ri­alien zum His­torisch-kri­tis­chen Wörter­buch des Marx­is­mus (Ham­burg: Argu­ment, 1996), 77. 

  62. Wolf­gang Fritz Haug, Philoso­phieren mit Brecht und Gram­sci (Ham­burg: Argu­ment, 1996), 8. For a cri­tique of the “code word the­sis” with regard to Gramsci’s work, see Haug, “Ein­leitung,” in Anto­nio Gram­sci, Gefäng­nishefte 6. Philoso­phie der Prax­is (Ham­burg: Argu­ment, 1995), 1195-1209. 

  63. Georg Lukács, “N. Bucharin: The­o­rie des his­torischen Mate­ri­al­is­mus (Rezen­sion)” in N. Bucharin/ A. Deborin: Kon­tro­ver­sen über dialek­tis­chen und mech­a­nis­tis­chen Mat­er­al­is­mus, 289, 284. 

  64. Anto­nio Gram­sci, “The Rev­o­lu­tion Against Cap­i­tal.” 

  65. A sci­en­tif­ic psy­chol­o­gy can­not be found in the thought of most rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Marx­ism, apart from pos­i­tive ref­er­ences to Pavlov’s behav­ior­ism. Psy­cho­analy­sis was most­ly reject­ed, if not demo­nized as “bour­geois-deca­dent”. Hel­mut Dah­mer offers a crit­i­cal overview of such reac­tions in Libido und Gesellschaft. Stu­di­en über Freud und die Freud­sche Linke (Frank­furt: Suhrkamp, 1982), 241-277; with­in the frame­work of West­ern Marx­ism, it was pri­mar­i­ly Lukács who dis­tin­guished him­self in the con­dem­na­tion of Freud. Gram­sci by his own admis­sion “was not able to study Freud’s the­o­ries” 

  66. As fur­ther char­ac­ter­is­tics of West­ern Marx­ism, Ander­son names the recourse to pre-Marx­i­an phi­los­o­phy in order to clar­i­fy the method of a crit­i­cal social the­o­ry; the incor­po­ra­tion of con­tem­po­rary “bour­geois” the­o­ries: an eso­teric writ­ing style; a rather pes­simistic appraisal of his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment marked­ly diver­gent from the tri­umphal­ist dic­tion of clas­si­cal Marx­ism and Marx­ism-Lenin­ism; a pref­er­ence for prob­lems of aes­thet­ics. 

  67. For exam­ple, Erich Fromm’s Marx’s Con­cept of Man or Jür­gen Haber­mas’ “Recon­struc­tion of His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism.” 

  68. The first attempts at a new read­ing of Marx already occurred in the 1920s, on the part of the Sovi­et authors Isaak Illich Rubin and Evge­ny Pashuka­nis. See I.I. Rubin, Essays on Marx’s The­o­ry of Val­ue, and Evge­ny Pashuka­nis, The Gen­er­al The­o­ry of Law and Marx­ism. Their aware­ness of prob­lems of aspects of Marx’s the­o­ry with regard to val­ue and legal the­o­ry was not even matched in a rudi­men­ta­ry way for a long time, in the East or the West. Only with the debates since the end of the 1960s did this change some­what. 

  69. As described by Hein­rich “Kom­men­tierte Lit­er­aturliste zur Kri­tik der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie,” in Elmar Alt­vater, Rolf Heck­er, Michael Hein­rich, Petra Schaper-Rinkel, ed., Kap­i­tal. doc. Das Kap­i­tal (Bd. 1) von Karl Marx in Schaubildern und Kom­mentaren (Mün­ster: West­fälis­ches Dampf­boot, 1999), 207; and Urs Jaeg­gi, “Einige Bemerkun­gen zur Ortho­dox­ie und zum Dog­ma­tismus im His­torischen Mate­ri­al­is­mus,” in Axel Hon­neth, ed., The­o­rien des His­torischen Mate­ri­al­is­mus (Frank­furt: Suhrkamp, 1977), 146. It is also referred to under the label of “Neo-Marx­ism.” 

  70. As defined by Hans-Georg Back­haus, Dialek­tik der Wert­form. Unter­suchun­gen zur Marxschen Ökonomiekri­tik (Freiburg; ça ira, 1997). See also Hein­rich, “Kom­men­tierte Lit­er­aturliste,” 211. 

  71. See Hein­rich, Die Wis­senschaft vom Wert, and Hel­mut Brentel, Soziale Form und ökonomis­ches Objekt. Stu­di­en zum Gegen­stands- und Meth­o­d­en­ver­ständ­nis der Kri­tik der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie (Opladen: West­deutsch­er, 1989). 

  72. Con­cern­ing the so-called “state deriva­tion debate,” see Nor­bert Kost­ede, “Die neuere marx­is­tis­che Diskus­sion über den bürg­er­lichen Staat. Ein­führung – Kri­tik – Resul­tate,” Gesellschaft. Beiträge zur Marxschen The­o­rie (1976): 150-196; and Gerd Rudel, Die Entwick­lung der marx­is­tis­chen Staat­s­the­o­rie in der Bun­desre­pub­lik (Frank­furt: Cam­pus-Ver­lag, 1981). 

  73. Ste­fan Breuer, Die Krise der Rev­o­lu­tion­s­the­o­rie. Neg­a­tive Verge­sellschaf­tung und Arbeitsmeta­physik bei Her­bert Mar­cuse (Frank­furt: Syn­dikat, 1977); Mohl, “Vere­len­dung und Rev­o­lu­tion”; Hel­mut König, Geist und Rev­o­lu­tion. Stu­di­en zu Kant, Hegel und Marx (Stuttgart: Klett-Cot­ta, 1981); or the writ­ings of the Kri­sis group. 

  74. Alfred Schmidt and Wal­ter Euch­n­er, ed., Kri­tik der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie heute. 100 Jahre “Kap­i­tal” (Frank­furt: Europäis­che Ver­lagsanstalt, 1968). 

  75. The “crit­i­cal Marx­ism” of the Six­ties, of which Alfred Schmidt was the pri­ma­ry advo­cate, empha­sizes the neg­a­tive and his­tor­i­cal­ly lim­it­ed char­ac­ter and claim to valid­i­ty of a “mate­ri­al­ism of sec­ond nature,” but tends to regard method­olog­i­cal indi­vid­u­al­ism as an ade­quate descrip­tion of com­ing com­mu­nist rela­tions. The “sci­en­tif­ic” Marx­ism of the Althuss­er school empha­sizes, against indi­vid­u­al­is­tic the­o­ries of a “con­sti­tut­ing sub­ject,” that actors are mere­ly bear­ers of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tions, but on the basis of the ten­den­cy of its cat­e­gories to assume uni­ver­sal-his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter (Balibar’s com­bi­na­torics of lev­els, Althusser’s con­cepts of prax­is and ide­ol­o­gy), ele­vates the inde­pen­dence of rela­tions of pro­duc­tion to a sci­en­tif­ic norm). 

  76. Back­haus, Dialek­tik der Wert­form, 11. 

  77. Ibid., 69. 

  78. Ibid. 

  79. See Louis Althuss­er, “From Cap­i­tal to Marx’s Phi­los­o­phy” in Louis Althuss­er and Eti­enne Bal­ibar, Read­ing Cap­i­tal

  80. See Althuss­er and Bal­ibar, Read­ing Cap­i­tal. The dif­fer­ence between the struc­tural­ist and the crit­i­cal-recon­struc­tive read­ing is not lim­it­ed to this point. Where­as the for­mer attempts to unmask Hegelian­ism as an inedaquate meta-dis­course, for the lat­ter, ref­er­ence to Hegel on ques­tions of method­ol­o­gy is often regard­ed as the roy­al road to under­stand­ing Marx’s work. 

  81. This is the sub­ti­tle of Heinrich’s book, Die Wis­senschaft vom Wert: see Back­haus’ cri­tique of his own the­o­ret­i­cal premis­es in the first two parts of his Mate­ri­alien (Back­haus, Dialek­tik der Wert­form, 132n). 

  82. For a crit­i­cal per­spec­tive on some aspects of these the­ses, see Dieter Wolf, Ware und Geld. Der dialek­tis­che Wider­spruch im Kap­i­tal (Ham­burg: VSA, 1958) (repub­lished in 2002 under the title Der dialek­tis­che Wider­spruch im Kap­i­tal). Wolf also crit­i­cizes ten­den­cies with­in the neue Marx-Lek­türe that iden­ti­fy Marx’s dialec­ti­cal method with log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions, thus lend­ing Marx and his method a pati­na of irra­tional­ism; see his cri­tique of Col­let­ti and Göh­ler. Irra­tional­ist posi­tions are also found today by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Kri­sis and Exit groups and the Ini­tia­tive Sozial­is­tis­ches Forum Freiburg. 

  83. Marx, “Pref­ace to the First Ger­man Edi­tion.” 

  84. Schmidt, Con­cept of Nature, 41. 

  85. On Marx’s cri­tique of philoso­phies of his­to­ry, see: Hel­mut Fleis­ch­er, Marx­is­mus und Geschichte, (Frank­furt: Suhrkamp, 1975); Kittstein­er, “Bewusst­seins­bil­dung”; Andreas Arndt, Karl Marx. Ver­such über den Zusam­men­hang sein­er The­o­rie (Bochum: Ger­mi­nal, 1985), 50-76; Rolf Heck­er, Carl-Erich Voll­graf, Richard Sperl, ed., Geschichte und mate­ri­al­is­tis­che Geschicht­s­the­o­rie bei Marx (Ham­burg: Argu­ment, 1996). 

  86. G. Stiehler, quot­ed by Jaeg­gi, “Einige Bemerkun­gen,” 153. For a “cri­tique” of Marx that tries to sell this as the authen­tic posi­tion of Marx, see the usu­al works by Karl Pop­per. 

  87. Hel­mut Reichelt [1970], Zur logis­chen Struk­tur des Kap­i­tal­be­griffs bei Karl Marx (Freiburg: ça ira, 2001), 73. 

  88. See Hein­rich, Die Wis­senschaft vom Wert. 

  89. On this see Brentel 1989, chap­ter 5. 

  90. On this see Hein­rich, Die Wis­senschaft vom Wert, 380-384. 

  91. In the com­plete form in the so-called “Trin­i­ty For­mu­la” of the the­o­ry of the com­po­nents of val­ue. For a cri­tique of neo­clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics, see Hein­rich, Die Wis­senschaft vom Wert, 62-85. 

  92. Marx, “Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right.” 

  93. Jan Hoff, Kri­tik der klas­sis­chen poli­tis­chen Ökonomie. Zur Rezep­tion der wert­the­o­retis­chen Ansätze ökonomis­ch­er Klas­sik­er durch Karl Marx (Köln: Pap­py­Rossa, 2004). 

  94. Marx, Cap­i­tal, Vol­ume 1

  95. Ibid. 

  96. Hoff, Kri­tik der klas­sis­chen poli­tis­chen Ökonomie, 78. 

Author of the article

is a researcher at the University of Oldenburg.