In addition to revolutions100 and capital150, we are planning marx200 for 2018: we plan to commemorate the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, who was born in Trier on 5 May 1818. A return to Marx necessitates a trip through the history of Marxism. This reappraisal has, however, long begun, in particular due to the rekindled interest in Marx in many countries since 1968. This interest has led to a number of key distinctions, the first of which is the need to differentiate between Marx as a person and Marxism.
Traditional Marxism greatly uniformed Marx: his works were seen as continuous progress that culminated in Capital. Capital, in turn, was treated as a single and closed text. Also, the supposed unity of Marx and Engels, which later included Lenin (‘Marxism-Leninism’) and became a real ideology, was re-analysed and re-appraised. One result of these new approaches to Marx was to separate Marx from Engels as well as Marx from Lenin. In making this differentiation, it was not about the quest for an ‘authentic’ Marx, its purpose was rather to break open the simplified earlier understanding of Marx and free his texts. The departure from a uniformed Marx and ideological Marxism has led to a new diversity of adoptions and interpretations of Marx. The understanding of Marx’s works has split into various interpretations, much like the capitalism-critical left itself, which today emphasises diverse contradictions, power relations and crises and recognises the individuality of multiple struggles.
Yet, this diversity and openness nonetheless must remain rooted in Marx. It might not be possible to interpret Marx- as with any great author- in a specific and uniform way due to the ambivalence and fragmentary nature of his work. Notwithstanding all the richness and ambiguity of Marx’s works, we need to take into account a fundamental theme. This theme surfaces as an argument against a uniform interpretation of Marx, as well as in the new multiplicity of interpretations: the desire to develop an adequate critique of the prevailing conditions is what drove Marx. This is what led him from his early critique of religion, to a critique of German ideology, then to self-critical reckoning with his ‘former philosophical conscience’ and, finally, to a critique of political economy.
It was this insatiable desire for a critique at the height of its subject matter, which Marx consistently created in his various creative periods and writings. His entire critique anchors itself in his struggle for an adequate description of the themes he was concerned with. Therefore Marx himself, needs to be understood, as a person and in his work, with regard to the appeal of the critique as well as its intrinsic power. His continual recurrence is also the recurrence of that which grew and grew rampant in Marx and his writings, with which he struggled and failed to come to terms and which cannot be halted - that which to him remained ‘holy’ even in his radical criticism of religion, namely, to ‘overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence’.