"Re-engagement with Marx" since the 1960s
The "re-engagements of Marx" that occurred after the Second World War, mainly (though not only) in the West, are associated with the societal decampment and rupture of the late 1960s – student movements, civil rights struggles, the "New Left." "1968" was followed by the "red decade" of the 1970s, which ended, at least in the history of the German Federal Republic, with the "German Autumn." Since the rupture associated with the signum of 1968, there has not been a comparable sea change within post-Marx theory and debate. Rather, later debates and theoretical developments represent continuations and offshoots of the re-engagements of the 1960s.
"Re-engagement with Marx," initially referred to by the general term "neo-Marxism," occurred mainly in the industrialised countries of the West, but also within the niches of real existing socialism. Indeed, the re-engagement with Marx was ultimately a worldwide phenomenon. On the one hand, it distanced itself from the way Marx was engaged with both in the real socialist states and in the socialist, communist and social democratic parties and organisations of the West; on the other hand, it was also a return to Marx's texts.
The debates conducted within Western and heterodox Marxism had, as it were, paved the way to this return. It was mainly Capital and texts associated with it, such as the Grundrisse and the Theories of Surplus Value, that were now read anew and reinterpreted. But the re-engagement with Marx by no means exhausted itself in returning to an "authentic" Marx; nor did it limit itself to mere re-readings of his work. The re-engagement with Marx was instead characterised by a search for new social, political and cultural forms, and for new forms of knowledge acquisition and education. This, in turn, had practical consequences not least for those circles who were driving the re-engagement with Marx forward: from self-organisation in reading and project groups to the reform of traditional communist, socialist and social democratic forms of representation and the development of new forms of organisation beyond the left's party and movement traditions.
In brief, both thematic renewal within the field of Marxism and the new forms of engaging with Marx occurred in the context of what is generally described as the "New Left" or the "New Social Movements." Engagement with Marx was not so much motivated by purely academic concerns. The driving force behind it was, rather, a need for new social, political and cultural practices and a need to bring Marx up to date, relating Marx-based critique to post-war society, then in the process of consolidating itself, as well as to the development of mass and pop culture and changing gender relations, but also to real existing socialism, natural relations, ecology and so on.
It was with this re-engagement with Marx, at the latest, that there began a period of pluralisation, multiplication and fragmentation. In the course of this development, veritable readings have emerged, i.e. relatively distinct methods of appropriating Marx, and in particular Capital. For instance, there have emerged structuralist, post-structuralist and deconstructivist readings; workerist, post-workerist and biopolitical readings; readings based on the theory of value and the analysis of form, on the philosophy of praxis and on Gramsci – to name only the best known. These readings are strongly informed by the politico-social and intellectual context of their countries of origin, which is often evident in them to this day.
One current within this re-engagement with Marx is now described as "post-Marxism." While it is occasionally associated with the final collapse of real existing socialism in 1989, it already began to emerge during the 1970s and has been strongly influenced by French philosophy. This current is associated with the writings of, among others, Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Félix Guattari, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe and Slavoj Žižek.
Since the final collapse of real existing socialism in 1989, the Marx-based critique of society has come to address new issues: the politics of neoliberalism and the economics of finance capitalism, so-called globalisation, new wars, new technologies and media, ecology and climate change, etc. In contrast to the 1960s and 1970s, however, the debate on Marx is no longer embedded in a worldwide situation of decampment and rupture. While the debate was originally conducted at universities, engagement with Marx now occurs only within certain niches, often wholly outside the academy and classical political organisations, sometimes even in the form of isolated individual efforts. A growing internationalisation of the debate on Marx is, however, also evident.