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Tag: Marx

Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image


Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image – Aspects of Marx’s Capital Today

Edited by Peter Osborne, Éric Alliez and Eric-John Russell

Contributors: Éric Alliez, Étienne Balibar, Tithi Bhattacharya, Boris Buden, Sara. R. Farris, John Kraniauskas, Elena Louisa Lange, Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri, Peter Osborne, Eric-John Russell, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Keston Sutherland

Drawn from a conference held to mark the 150th anniversary of the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, these essays from a range of internationally established contributors offer readers a snapshot of debates about the book’s current relevance across a variety of fields and contexts. The volume approaches Marx’s Capital as an exemplary text in the continuation of the tradition of post-Kantian European Philosophy through transdisciplinary practices of critique and concept construction. The essays are grouped into four sections: Value-Form, Ontology & Politics; Capitalism, Feminism and Social Reproduction; Freedom, Democracy and War; The Poetics of Capital/Capital. Each section is accompanied by an image from the 2008 film by Alexander Kluge, News From Ideological Antiquity: Marx – Eisenstein – Capital.

This book is available as a free ebook at the link below. The book will also be available as a paperback from Amazon in February 2019.



Capitalism: concept, idea, image

Peter Osborne 3

Value-form, Ontology & Politics

1 Form analysis and critique: Marx’s social labour theory of value

Elena Louisa Lange 21

2 Towards a new critique of political economy: from generalized surplus value to total subsumption

Étienne Balibar 36

3 From the commodity to the spectacle: Debord’s Marx

Eric-John Russell 58

4 Marxian ontology, today

AntonioNegri 88

Capitalism, Feminism & Social Reproduction

5 From the production of value to the valuing of reproduction

Tithi Bhattacharya 105

6 Social reproduction and racialized surplus populations

Sara R. Farris 121

Freedom, Democracy & War

7 It’s getting darker around the central sun of freedom: Capital, translation and the re-feudalization of capitalism

Boris Buden 135

8 Capital’s destinerrance as event and task

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak 164

9 Subjectivation and war: Marx and Foucault

Éric Alliez & MaurizioLazzarato 184

Poetics of Capital/Capital

10 The poetics of Capital

Keston Sutherland 203

11 The reflux of money: outlaw accumulation and territorialization in Breaking Bad

John Kraniauskas 219


Erik Olin Wright (1947-2019)

Link to: Archive of Erik Olin Wright’s work (mediafire, zip file, 244MB)

“One of Poulantzas’s most important contributions is his insistence that class relations cannot be understood solely in terms of economic relations; political and ideological relations must be brought into the understanding of objective class position itself. The weakness of his analysis, as discussed earlier, is that he has developed this principle in such a way that ideological and political criteria have effectively become coequal with economic relations themselves. For political and ideological relations to be integrated into a theory of the structural determination of class, it is necessary that this be done in a way that maintains the primacy of economic relations. We need, in other words, a criterion for the use of political and ideological relations which is itself determined by economic relations.

Our analysis of contradictory class locations provides us with such a criterion: the extent to which political and ideological relations enter into the determination of class position is itself determined by the degree to which those positions occupy a contradictory location at the level of social relations of production. The more contradictory is a position within social relations of production, the more political and ideological relations can influence its objective position within class relations. The more a position coincides with the basic antagonistic class relations at the level of social relations of production, the less weight political and ideological forces can have in determining its class position. In a sense it is the indeterminacy of class determination at the economic level which allows political and ideological relations to become effective determinants of class position.

Political and ideological relations can either tend to heighten or to counteract the contradictory quality of locations that are not completely determined at the economic level. For example, the ideological division between mental and manual labour, on which Poulantzas places such stress, would tend to deepen the contradictory class location of certain semi-autonomous employees. Many technicians with only minimal control over their immediate labour process would be located close to the boundary of the working class in terms of the three dimensions of class relations at the economic level, but would be pushed further from the working class by the status division between mental and manual labour. A strong union movement among white-collar employees, on the other hand, could constitute a political factor which pushed them closer to the working class. In this way, political and ideological class struggle become determinants of the objective class positions of contradictory locations at the economic level.”

Webpage of Erik Olin Wright 



The Dialectic of Sex (Shulamith Firestone, 1970)


Shulamith Firestone  – The Dialectic of Sex (1970)

In the following chapters we shall assume this definition of historical materialism, examining the cultural institutions that maintain and reinforce the biological family (especially its present manifestation, the nuclear family) and its result, the psychology of power, and aggressive chauvinism now developed enough to destroy us. We shall integrate this with a feminist analysis of Freudianism: for Freud’s cultural bias, like that of Marx and Engels, does not invalidate his perception entirely. In fact, Freud had insights of even greater value than those of the socialist theorists for the building of a new dialectical materialism based on sex. We shall attempt, then, to correlate the best of Engels and Marx (the historical materialist approach) with the best of Freud (the understanding of inner man and women and what shapes them) to arrive at a solution both political and personal yet grounded in real conditions. We shall see that Freud observed the dynamics of psychology correctly in its immediate social context, but because the fundamental structure of that social context was basic to all humanity – to different degrees – it appeared to be nothing less than an absolute existential condition which it would be insane to question – forcing Freud and many of his followers to postulate a priori constructs like the Death Wish to explain the origins of these universal psychological drives. This in turn made the sicknesses of humanity irreducible and incurable – which is why his pro posed solution (psychoanalytic therapy), a contradiction in terms, was so weak compared to the rest of his work, and such a resounding failure in practice – causing those of social/political sensibility to reject not only his therapeutic solution, but his most profound discoveries as well. . . [PDF]

See also: Further Adventures of the Dialectic of Sex: Critical Essays on Shulamith Firestone


Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today (Goldner, 1995)


Kevin Sloan, Our Modern Animal, 2013

Preface to the Swedish edition of Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today (Riff-Raff)

Loren Goldner, 2002

The core of the following text was actually written in 1988, before the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and was then slightly modified for its first publication in English (1991) to briefly take note of the 1989–91 »events». Over the past decade, it has been translated into seven other languages. The fact that it was written prior to the collapse (a collapse whose imminence I, like so many others, did not foresee), and continues to arouse international interest a decade later, is one indication that, whatever its flaws, it succeeded in resonating with some deep preoccupations of the contemporary world.

Indeed, since 1988, interest in the work of Amadeo Bordiga has only increased1, and seems on its way to eclipsing (hopefully with happier results) the earlier 1960s/1970s fascination with Antonio Gramsci, who was, not incidentally, Moscow’s point man for the eradication of Bordiga’s influence from the Italian Communist Party in the mid-1920’s.Of course, the great majority of »Gramscians» of the 1960’s and 1970’s were hardly aware of Gramsci’s real political role, but then they were hardly interested in the real politics of their own era either. The postwar Gramscians, particularly in the English-speaking world (we are thinking of figures such as Carl Boggs, admirer of 1970’s »Euro-communism») rode on the wave of »culturalism» which included the Frankfurt School and French post-structuralism, which appeared to them (as to the broader social stratum from which they came, the radicalized middle classes) as the worthy successor to »vulgar Marxism». (Had they been more than dismissively aware of Bordiga, they would undoubtedly classed him with such »vulgar Marxism».) The Gramscians, like other currents of the culturalist camp, greatly preferred discussions of cultural hegemony to the »vulgar Marxist» issues such as the critique of political economy, not to mention the »art of insurrection», and the decline of their influence parallels rather concisely the decline of the illusions of culturalism. Capitalism benefited greatly from the »cultural radicalism» of the 1960’s, which turned out to be a large part of the managerial wisdom of the 1990’s3.

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Crisis and Immiseration: Critical Theory Today


by A. Benanav and J. Clegg (2018)

The late 1960s saw an efflorescence of dissident Marxisms across Europe: operaismo in Italy, situationnisme in France, and what would become the Neue Marx-Lektüre in Germany. Marxian orthodoxy had entered into crisis after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. A ‘new left’ was now groping for new ideas, and a wave of worker–student revolts, erupting worldwide in 1968, seemed to require a critical theory of post-war capitalism adequate to the practical critique taking shape in the factories and on the streets. Just as a previous high-point of theoretical production in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917 had seen a revival of the critical spirit of Marx’s writings, so too the new generation of dissident Marxists carried out their own ‘return to Marx’ aided by the discovery and distribution of many of his unpublished manuscripts.

Members of the Frankfurt School acted as an intellectual bridge between these two high points of Marxian theorizing. In Germany, the work of Theodor Adorno – along with the writings of some of the more unorthodox associates of the Frankfurt School, such as Alfred Sohn-Rethel – had a major influence on emergent re-readings of Marx’s mature writings. This Neue Marx-Lektüre interpreted Marx’s theory of value through his discussion of fetishism, not as a theory of the determination of prices, but rather as a theory of the determination of social labor as price. Here the dissidents drew on Sohn-Rethel’s notion of ‘real abstraction’, in which the material life process is dominated by the abstract and impersonal social forms of value. On this view, Marx’s late critique of political economy was not an attempt to improve upon the classical political economists, as Marxian orthodoxy had it. Instead, his critique showed how their inverted perspective corresponded to the real inversions of the ‘perverted, topsy-turvy world’ of capitalist society. . .  [READ PDF]

source: SAGE Handbook for Frankfurt School Critical Theory, ed. Best, Bonefeld, O’Kane 2018

The Illusion of State Socialism and the Contradiction between Wage Labor and Capital


by Wolfgang Müller and Christel Neusüss (1970)

The following article provides a synopsis of different versions of the revisionist theory of the state, and of its immanent tendencies. Further, it outlines a critique of the establishment of income distribution as an autonomous sphere, independent of production, and of the way state socialism is presented as carrying out its specific functions, as Marx indicated by means of the Factory Legislation. Only on the basis of these preliminary considerations it is possible to relate the concrete manifestations of the state’s social and political-economic functions to the process of capital realization and its contradictory development. Although this deals with revisionist theories of the state, it is not an actual analysis of contemporary state socialism. Thus, the historical and material conditions within which the illusion of state socialism has come about are only touched upon. The history of theory is generally kept separate from the history of capital. Yet, it is necessary to critically evaluate the revisionist theorists’ reification of the state —or rather, of income distribution—as a preliminary analytical step. . . [READ PDF]

On the “State derivation debate” see:

Commentary on the Manuscripts of 1844 (Bordiga, 1959)


Amadeo Bordiga

“Commentarii dei manoscritti del 1844”: Il Programma comunista, Nr. 15-18, 1959.

Cornerstones of the communist programme

At the closing sessions of the meetings in Turin and Parma (including the corollarii[1] in the report of the first meeting) we dealt with the basics of our party doctrine, which ties in with the negation of individualism and personality; something with which not only the propaganda of the Western capitalist countries, but also that of Moscow’s friends and followers, is rife with disgrace. The fact that we want to go back over this aspect of our doctrine is linked to the demonstration that all the innovations and reforms announced at the last Russian party congresses continue to drift diametrically in the opposite direction to Marxist communism, whether in the case of theoretical statements regarding the structural changes made in the organization of the Russian economy or those that are outraged by the “revisionism” of Yugoslavia and others. We have again and again opposed all this to the actual programme of scientific communism and the doctrine of historical materialism, thus defending the indispensable theses that are so often denigrated – even by those who do not take sides for the Russian policy. These theses culminate in the party’s role as the bearer of the revolutionary dictatorship and its actual function, which is not based on the opinions of the individual and the stupid vote counting at elections, but is founded on the classical international invariant doctrine spanning centuries.

All this wealth of our original and powerful doctrine and method was once again denied at the last Russian party congress and trampled underfoot when the successive surrenders to capitalism went so far as to acknowledge the incentive of personal interest in the functioning of today’s economy! This bravura piece among the anti-Marxist theses has been expressed most shallowly, how could it be different, in the KPI’s report on the 21st Congress (Unità of 17 March 1959): “In agriculture, the principle is being restored” (the same eloquent verb can be found in Khrushchev’s report), “that individual interest should continue to be the main driving force in the development of collective farm organization.” In the “guiding principles” of the congress, this demand is embellished somewhat more subtly with the assertion, that in the works of Lenin and the founders of scientific communism there is a statement of the incentive of material interest. Not a particularly clever trick: One is the material interest that the exploited, who have to overthrow the privatist society, have in common, the other is the personal interest, whose motivation is the incentive to fuck over the class brothers.

Now, here however, there is talk of the characteristics of a socialist and (after the recent distortions) even communist society. And just for this reason the thesis of personal incentive reverses revolutionary Marxism, which is why we must return to its original content. We readily admit that the restoration of that principle – of personal interest – is on the agenda in Russia; it is one of the innumerable steps being taken by the worst of all counterrevolutions.

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The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation (1969)


by Margaret Benston (Monthly Review, 1969)

The “woman question” is generally ignored in analyses of the class structure of society. This is so because, on the one hand, classes are generally defined by their relation to the means of production and, on the other hand, women are not supposed to have any unique relation to the means of production. The category seems instead to cut across all classes; one speaks of working-class women, middle-class women, etc. The status of women is clearly inferior to that of men, but analysis of this condition usually falls into discussing socialization, psychology, interpersonal relations, or the role of marriage as a social institution. Are these, however, the primary factors? In arguing that the roots of the secondary status of women are in fact economic, it can be shown that women as a group do indeed have a definite relation to the means of production and that this is different from that of men. The personal and psychological factors then follow from this special relation to production, and a change  in the latter will be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for changing the former. If this special relation of women to production is accepted, the analysis of the situation of women fits naturally into a class analysis of society . . . [READ PDF]

The dangers of reactionary ecology



Out of the Woods

Influential metaphors for understanding the environment serve as a bridge between traditional conservatism and outright ecofascism.

We have so far introduced the ideas of thinkers we find useful, such as Murray Bookchin’s philosophy of technology, and James O’Connor’s notion of the second contradiction. Here we want to look at how ecological ideas can be deployed to support deeply reactionary politics. We will do this with a critical introduction to the oft-cited, though less often read, biologist Garrett Hardin.

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Bordiga and the Passion for Communism (Camatte,1972)


Jacques Camatte’s 1972 essay on Amadeo Bordiga, discussing the Italian Marxist’s notorious “invariance”, his “hermeneutics” of “the precise connection between the proletariat and theory”, his “prophetic vision” of the communist future, his identification of the party with the class, his disdain for the cult of personality, his “anti-gradualism”, the impact of the publication of the Grundrisse and the Economic Manuscripts of 1844 on his thought, his precocious environmentalism, his anti-individualism, and his failure to recognize the significance of May ’68, pointing out that despite all his contradictions and limitations “his works are full of starting points for new research”.

Bordiga and the Passion for Communism

by Jacques Camatte

“Passion is the essential force of man energetically bent on its object.”
Karl Marx

Men are the products of their time: some are capable of representing it, because the invariance of their thought overcomes the ideology of the ruling class or expresses the impetuous assault of the oppressed class; others dominate it, because they are capable of perceiving the moments of discontinuity which mark the beginnings of the new stages of the process of becoming of a given mode of production (especially the new modes of production). In the former case we have the thought of continuity, in the second, that of discontinuity. In other words, we have traditional thought (in the non-pejorative sense) and revolutionary thought. Rare are those who are capable of thinking in accordance with both modalities, since this is not a case of a duality constituted by a spatial juxtaposition, but rather that of a contradictory duality. It is very often the case that the past and tradition weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living and prevent the emergence, the eruption, of the present and the future—which nonetheless operate in reality—in thought. This is true both during periods of social peace as well as in times of revolutionary unrest, the former favoring traditionalist expressions, while the latter are more likely to favor revolutionary expressions.

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The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (Engels, 1876)

Evolution illustration

by Frederick Engels (1876)

This article was intended to introduce a larger work which Engels planned to call Die drei Grundformen der Knechtschaft – Outline of the General Plan. Engels never finished it, nor even this intro, which breaks off at the end. It would be included in Dialectics of Nature.


Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.

Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch, not yet definitely determinable, of that period of the earth’s history known to geologists as the Tertiary period, most likely towards the end of it, a particularly highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone – probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. [1] Darwin has given us an approximate description of these ancestors of ours. They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.

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Ordoliberalism and the Death of Liberal Democracy: An Interview with Werner Bonefeld


(Salvage 2017)

George Souvlis: Can you tell us a bit about your intellectual and political formation?

Werner Bonefeld: One of my most important formative experiences was factory work. Studying was easy in comparison. I studied at the Universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Edinburgh. At Marburg the Marxism on offer was very dogmatic. It did not encourage people to think for themselves. I left after two years to continue my studies at the Free University of Berlin. In Berlin a few things came together, as it were. My favorite Professor was Agnoli, who was one of the most distinguished Marxists of his generation. He allowed his students to think. He welcomed it. He was a great orator. Part of the degree programme was to do work-placement. I first worked as a removal man and then as a research assistant at the West-German teachers’ union, for which I got paid. Never before had I earned money by reading and writing (my research was into alternative schooling as opposed to public provision). I quickly understood the meaning of Marx’s insight that to be a productive labourer in not a piece of luck but a great misfortune. One might add, nor is it an ontological privilege, as a whole tradition of historical materialism saw it. I studied in Berlin at a time of great restlessness, from the peace movement to the squatter movement in the early 1980s.

I met Kosmas Psychopedis in Edinburgh during the 1980s. He visited John Holloway. Richard Gunn and John Holloway were my PhD supervisors. Kosmas was a character, and a good friend.

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Prisons and Class Warfare


Interview with Ruth Wilson Gilmore 

Clément Petitjean: In Golden Gulag, you analyse the build-up of California’s prison system, which you call “the biggest in the history of the world”. Between 1980 and 2007, you explain that the number of people behind bars increased more than 450%. What were the various factors that combined to cause the expansion of that system? What were the various forces that built up the prison industrial complex in California and in the US?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Sure. Let me say a couple of things. I actually found that description of the biggest prison building project in the history of the world in a report that was written by somebody whom the state of California contracted to analyse the system that had been on a steady growth trajectory since the late 1980s. So it’s not even my claim, it’s how they themselves described what they were doing. What happened is that the state of California, which is, and was, an incredibly huge and diverse economy, went through a series of crises. And those crises produced all kinds of surpluses. It produced surpluses of workers, who were laid off from certain kinds of occupations, especially in manufacturing, not exclusively but notably. It produced surpluses of land. Because the use of land, especially but not exclusively in agriculture, changed over time, with the consolidation of ownership and the abandoning of certain types of land and land-use. It also produced surpluses of finance capital – and this is one of the more contentious points that I do argue, to deadly exhaustion. While it might appear, looking globally, that the concept of surplus finance capital seemed absurd in the early 1980s, if you look locally and see how especially investment bankers who specialised in municipal finance (selling debt to states) were struggling to remake markets, then we can see a surplus at hand. And then the final surplus, which is kind of theoretical, conjectural, is a surplus of state capacity. By that I mean that the California state’s institutions and reach had developed over a good deal of the 20th century, but especially from the beginning of the Second World War onwards. It had become incredibly complex to do certain things with fiscal and bureaucratic capacities. Those capacities weren’t invented out of whole cloth, they came out of the Progressive Era, at the turn of the 20th century. In the postwar period they enabled California to do certain things that would more or less guarantee the capacity of capital to squeeze value from labour and land. Those capacities endured, even if the demand for them did not. And so what I argue in my book is that the state of California reconfigured those capacities, and they underlay the ability to build and staff and manage prison after prison after prison. That’s not the only use they made of those capacities once used for various kinds of welfare provision, but it was a huge use. And so the prison system went from being a fairly small part of the entire state infrastructure to the major employer in the state government.

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Jobs, Bullshit, and the Bureaucratization of the World


by Jason E. Smith

You probably first heard of him when reading, on or in the pages of The New Yorker, about his role as one of the “founders” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of you might have stumbled across him even earlier, when The New York Times published a short article on the openly anarchist anthropology professor whose politics, he lamented, thwarted his plans for tenure at Yale. Others, probably a bit younger, and having drifted into post-2008 “radical” politics, first found him on Twitter, where he assiduously maintains contact with almost 70,000 followers. Slightly older radicals will recognize him as an eager participant in and chronicler of the turn-of-the-century anti-globalization movement. SlateThe GuardianThe Financial Times and other organs of the prevailing powers open their column space to his reflections on technology, money, and Corbynism, or his calls for Western succor to the “revolutionary Kurds” of Rojava (who have, for years now, enjoyed the lethal air support of US war planes). The son of NYC leftists—his father fought in the storied Abraham Lincoln Brigades—and one of the venerable Marshall Sahlins’s last students, David Graeber is today best known for his monumental 2011 book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, which appeared just a couple of months before the establishment of the Zuccotti Park camp. That book, in the works for years, seemed, due as much to its timing as to its content, the theoretical and historical work most attuned to the Occupy Wall Street movement and its demands. Now, seven years after that publication—and the rise and folding up of that movement—Graeber has followed his earlier examination of the “barter myth” and the priority of debt over exchange relations throughout human history with a new book, this time on a contemporary matter: the “current work regime.” Or as he puts it in his insistently populist idiom, the “proliferation of bullshit jobs.”

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Meditations on a Corpse


new left review 111


Of the three most remarkable women thinkers born in the last century, Simone Weil (1909–43) was a year younger than Simone de Beauvoir, herself a little over a year younger than Hannah Arendt. From a secularized Jewish family in Paris, she declared herself a Bolshevik at the age of ten, and proved a brilliant student, first at the elite lyćee Henri IV and then at the École normale supérieure. There after listening to a homily on patriotism by the sociologist Célestin Bouglé—a fellow spirit of Durkheim, toast of today’s ‘social liberals’ in France—she got up and read out a speech of Poincaré in 1912, who took the country into the First World War two years later, advocating an invasion of Belgium. Bouglé, dumbfounded at this exposure of Entente hypocrisies, could think of no better answer than to announce it was 12 noon and time for lunch, a response that immediately became a legend in the school. When she passed her agrégation in philosophy in 1931, Bouglé made certain that the ‘Red Virgin’, as he called her, was not allowed to teach in an industrial town as she had requested. She was dispatched instead to Le Puy, a rural backwater. There, nevertheless, she was soon active in solidarity work with the local trade unions and writing in La Révolution prolétarienne, a libertarian journal of the left edited by militants expelled from the Communist Party.

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Cured Quail vol 1. (review)


Cured Quail, Glasgow, 2018. 224pp., £12, reviewed by J. Harvey

Against a backdrop of widening climate catastrophe and incessant war, representation appeared as focus of popular outcries in the so-called era of post-truth and new media. Cured Quail is a Marxist journal of critical aesthetics, self-published in 2018, that takes seriously the appearance of a generalized crisis of representation, truth and culture afflicting contemporary capitalist societies at the edge of disaster. In a society profoundly unable to represent anything other than its fragmented self, the very universality of language becomes threatened. Far from employing a deconstructionist or relativist approach, Cured Quail levels the charge of illiteracy against this society. The notion of illiteracy utilized here is similar to Adorno’s concept of the “speechlessness” of a new type of human being: that of a people who speak concretely and without illusion, but in the voice of a radio announcer, and who are ipso facto unable to openly express how the world could be any different. In their opening statement, the editors of Cured Quailshow an awareness that these solipsistic pitfalls are equally present in the academy, gallery, pamphlet and newsfeed. Cured Quail’s intervention is necessarily immanent as it does not proclaim to be external to these conditions.

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Capitalism as Religion (Benjamin, 1921)


A religion may be discerned in capitalism – that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers. The proof of the religious structure of capitalism – not merely, as Weber believes, as a formation conditioned by religion, but as an essentially religious phenomenon – would still lead even today to the folly of an endless universal polemic. We cannot draw closed the net in which we are caught. Later on, however, we shall be able to gain an overview of it.

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The Controversy About Marx and Justice


by Normas Geras (1989)

In this essay I review a fast-growing sector of the current literature on Marx and the controversy that has fuelled its growth. During the last decade or so, the keen interest within moral and political philosophy in the concept of justice has left its mark on the philosophical discussion of his work. It has left it in the shape of the question: did Marx himself condemn capitalism as unjust? There are those who have argued energetically that he did not; and as many who are equally insistent that he did — a straightforward enough division, despite some differences of approach on either side of it. To prevent misunderstanding, it is worth underlining at the outset that the question being addressed is not that of whether Marx did indeed condemn capitalism, as opposed just to analysing, describing, explaining its nature and tendencies. All parties to this dispute agree that he did, agree in other words that there is some such normative dimension to his thought, and frankly, I do not think the denial of it worth taking seriously any longer. The question is the more specific one: does Marx condemn capitalism in the light of any principle of justice?

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How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened)


by David Graeber, David Wengrow

The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of ‘agricultural revolution’ remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

It isn’t true.
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Durcheinander der Revolution. Umsturz als Transformation und Konstruktion


Von Bini Adamczak (2018)

Die Revolution, die eine gute Zukunft realisieren will, entstammt einer schlechten Gegenwart, die sie überwinden will. Ohne die gefrorene Gewalt dieser vorrevolutionären Strukturen lässt sich die entfesselte der revolutionären Bewegung nicht verstehen. Wer das stille Leid der Unterdrückten nicht sehen will, wird in ihrem schließlichen Schrei nichts anderes hören können als das Brüllen einer Barbarei, gegen die dieser eigentlich gerichtet ist. Denn zunächst ist die Aufgabe der Revolution negativ bestimmt, sie hat einen unerträglichen Zustand zu beenden. »Der Zweck der Revolution«, schrieb Theodor W. Adorno in einem Brief an Walter Benjamin bündig, »ist die Abschaffung der Angst« (Adorno 1994, 173). Insofern aber die Angst, die sich auf eine ungewisse Zukunft richtet, der Vergangenheit entstammt, ist das kommunistische Morgen nicht ohne kapitalistisches Gestern verstehbar. Die Revolution lässt sich nicht ohne Kenntnis der Welt erschließen, aus deren Zusammenbruch sie hervorgeht und aus deren Trümmern sie eine neue zu erschaffen hat.

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