Exploring Economic History

with Palgrave Macmillan

200 Years of Marx

The 200th Anniversary of Marx presents an ideal occasion to discuss the most current, urgent and decisive social, societal, ecological and global problems as presented in Capital’s third volume, argue Judith Dellheim and Frieder Otto Wolf.

Judith Dellheim and Frieder Otto Wolf, editors of The Unfinished System of Karl Marx: Critically Reading Capital as a Challenge for our Times (2018) and series editors for Luxemburg International Studies in Political Economy, address the longevity of Marx’s arguably finest work, Capital, and place the third volume in context with some of the most pressing challenges affecting society today.

Marx is being celebrated in 2018 or, more properly, his birthday is being celebrated. Many scientific and belletristic books are on the market. Many conferences, workshops and lectures have or will take place on occasion of Marx’s 200th birthday. The Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate and the City of Trier, where Marx was born, sponsored the state exhibition KARL MARX 1818-1883. LIFE. WORK. TIME. It will be on display in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier and in the City Museum Simeonstift Trier from 5 May to 21 October 2018. China offered to donate a 20-foot statue of Marx to the City of Trier. After controversial debates, the city council accepted the gift. The Trier Tourismus and Marketing GmbH has put together a selection of tours: “How Wine Turned Karl Marx Communist”, “Red Wine Tasting in Franco's Tower” and the culinary journey “Marx Serves It up”. The number of commercial activities is high. The profiteers don’t need to fear Marx. They praise him as a thinker of the 19th century. 

We are already in the 21st century. Neoclassicism, neoliberal theories, ideologies and above all politics have shaped societal developments. They seem to have perpetuated the bourgeois society with its capitalist mode of production and continually modernize both. But the social, societal, ecological and global problems have grown and keep growing ever more. At the same time and closely connected with this, the danger of barbarism has been increasing. Marx has explained the main reasons for this: the capitalist mode of production undermines the existence of the needed labour force by exploitation and destroys its basis, i.e. nature. And he explained how the accumulation of capital works. Accordingly, the most interesting questions for us are the following: Why did all the exploited working people, the socially excluded and the people suffering from the ecological crises or from the knowledge about them not effectively abolish the bourgeois form of our societies and, especially, the domination of the capitalist mode of production? Why have the people oppressed not been, at least, permanently fighting for bringing an end to both and for establishing a society that would be fully democratic, humanist and ecological? These two questions have to be raised again, without regard to the correctness or the imperfection of Marx’s theory. Raising both clearly will show what a reasonable occasion to discuss these issues is offered by this 200th anniversary of Marx. Those, however, who really want to celebrate it in such a way that the two questions are discussed in the sense of Marx will also have to answer a third group of questions: what did Marx really write? How has he been understood and interpreted? What have been the reasons and the causes for this? What does it mean for dealing with the current most urgent and decisive social, societal, ecological and global problems?

On the one hand and with our book in mind, it was easy to find authors who are interested in such a debate, but on the other hand, it was not so easy to find authors who are willing and capable to criticise themselves, to deal with the improved and first-time publication of Marx’s writings and with the recent results of the research on the real work of Marx and of his friend Friedrich Engels. But it has been even more complicated: to find authors additionally having the necessary competencies in political economy and economics to discuss issues of the third volume of the Capital. Our interest in the third volume is based on the following three main facts: It has been the work published under Marx's name which was most largely edited and supplemented by Engels. This publication has been the starting point of some of the most momentous theoretical debates within the socialist movement. The Marx-Engels research has now already yielded an unsuspected mass of hitherto unknown original sources. It has raised completely new questions. The third volume of Capital stresses the most and the most important issues for explaining the greatest crises of our time: the intertwined global financial and economic crises, food, energy and resources crises, political crises, environmental crises, societal and global gapes and inequalities, violence against human beings and nature – a complex global crisis of reproduction.

If we said, it has been difficult to find suitable authors, that is only partially true. We already had good experiences with Riccardo Bellofiore, Joachim Bischoff, Patrick Bond, Michael Brie, Stephan Krüger, Christoph Lieber and especially with Jan Toporowski. But we are very happy about the new cooperation with Fred Moseley, Georgios Daremas and Kohei Saito, whom we have already known from other contexts. However, we also hoped for completely new contacts with especially female authors, authors in the Central and Eastern European countries and on the Balkans. Unfortunately, these plans remained unfulfilled. This obstacle and the problems already mentioned reflect the weakness of the emancipatory-solidarity forces, of people working for a socialist transformation. This weakness is not a reflection of Marx’s theoretical failures or shortages, but rather of the inability or unwillingness of the alleged “Marxists” dealing with them and with objective contradictions, as they have presented themselves. On the one hand, Marx had shown how the accumulation of capital multiplies the working class and, on the other hand, he had shown how it integrates the working people ever more perfectly into the capital social relations. On the one hand, the socialization of labour in a capitalistic form creates an agreement of interests among the exploited; on the other hand, it always creates new hierarchies, competition and thereby conflicts of interests between them. The matter is becoming more and more complicated, when the on-going reproduction of the mode of production under growing contradictions has to be explained and when the efficacy of additional societal hierarchies in a globalising society (gender, ethnic, cultural, confessional, political, international) has to be integrated into an explanation of complex real developments. It is easy to quote Marx, when he derives one tendency from one side of one contradiction – like concentration of capital causes concentration of workers which then will destroy capital. But this is only one tendency of development among many and contradictory ones. And the quoted argument can also be used to underpin the statement that the simplifiers are right or that Marx and his theory are outdated resp. wrong. But this kind of argument can hardly be used to explain how and why the concentration of capital can bring forth hierarchies and contradictions of interests among the exploited, and multiply and exacerbate them. For developing a real, scientific understanding of these problems, the third volume of Capital is urgently needed. And even more, it is needed in order to become able again of developing political strategies to organise solidarity among the exploited and oppressed and with them from other social categories, while working on the destruction of the societal hierarchies, the power relations, the accumulation of capital, as they presently oppress us.

Such debates and political activities are not officially welcome to Trier. The Trier Tourismus and Marketing GmbH will not organise them. The Chinese present to Trier will not promote them, despite the many publications and quotations of Marx made in China. Only the real debates among those concerned and among those working in solidarity with the oppressed can bring this about.

Judith Dellheim is a senior research fellow at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin, Germany. She has worked in the foreign trade of the GDR. Since 1990, she has been working on economies of solidarity, on political parties and movements, and on economic policies. She has been a member of the Federal Board of the PDS in 1995–2003, a free-lance scientific consultant from 2004–2010, and senior researcher at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation since 2011. She is co-author of Rosa Luxemburg: A Permanent Challenge for Political Economy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Frieder Otto Wolf is Honorary Professor of Philosophy at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. He has been a lecturer in philosophy at this institution since 1973, and became Honorary Professor in 2007. He has served as a fellow at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and sits on the advisory board of several journals. He has published books and articles on political philosophy, the politics of labor, the politics of sustainability, political epistemology, and metaphilosophy, including as co-author of Rosa Luxemburg: A Permanent Challenge for Political Economy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).