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,4 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,7 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,33 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,56 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,65 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.