Review article on Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies by Kevin Anderson that discusses the book in light of Marxism in India and globally. Originally appeared in Economic & Political Weekly (Mumbai, India), Vol. 54, No. 3, here — Editors
Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies is a path-breaking book dealing with the understanding of non-Western societies and their historical dynamics. This work was first published in 2010, and has been brought out again in 2016 as an expanded edition. For India in particular and South Asia in general, this book is of critical importance since a large part of it deals with Karl Marx’s painstaking analysis of the Indian subcontinent. In a certain way, it is a response to Edward Said’s presentation of Karl Marx as a “Romantic Orientalist” (Anderson 2010a: 17–20; Leonard 2012).
The book has six chapters, where the following themes are broadly outlined: the colonial encounters in the 1850s; the relation of national emancipation to revolution where the relation between Czarist Russia and Poland is studied; the interlinking of race, class and slavery where the Civil War in the United States is noted as the “Second American Revolution;” the case of Ireland where Irish nationalism and the class question are discussed; the epistemological movement from Grundrisse to Capital; and finally, Marx’s “late writings” on non-Western and pre-capitalist societies.
This book is important for a number of reasons. First, it traces the evolution of Marx’s works from his studies on Asia (especially India), Russia, Ireland and Poland in the form of articles written for the New York Tribune in the 1850s to the almost unread (if not unknown) Ethnological Notebooks (Marx 1974). While Anderson concentrates on the Ethnological Notebooks, it is also important to note his earlier claim that “the Ethnological Notebooks, contains only about half of Marx’s 1879–82 notes on non-Western and pre-capitalist societies” (Anderson 2002a: 90).
Unlike his 1995 book Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism, which is a work in Marxist philosophy, this work is a historical exposition of Marx’s thought. His major contribution in Marx studies is that he not only places the Ethnological Notebooks as central to the “other Marx,” the Marx who is freed from the prejudices of bourgeois ideology, but that he furthers the available knowledge of Marx on non-Western societies. He does this by discovering more knowledge of the Notebooks. The Notebooks appeared for the first time as late as 1972, published by Lawrence Krader. But since then, much water has flowed below the revolutionary bridge, and due to the initiative of the Marx–Engels–Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), especially Anderson’s involvement in bringing out a new edition of the Notebooks, much more on the extracts of Maxim Kovalevsky, Robert Sewell and Karl Bücher has come out. This exceeds the Krader edition which mentions Lewis Henry Morgan, John Budd Phear and Henry Summer Paine.
What is most important is Anderson’s analysis of Marx’s understanding of the heterogeneous character of pre-capitalist societies. If the Ethnological Notebooks is defined as an important work, then so is Marx’s Grundrisse. For readers in India, what is important is that the idea of the Asiatic mode of production is brought out. Anderson is, thus, unlike the Indian Marxist thinkers like D D Kosambi, R S Sharma, and Irfan Habib, who argue (in their own different ways) of an “Indian feudalism.” Moreover, the myth of the deterministic Marx is broken when Anderson quotes Marx where
“the different types of Roman and Germanic private property can be derived from (ableiten von) various forms of Indian communal property.” (Anderson 2010a: 161; Marx 1978: 33, n)
It should be—as I shall say a little later—“commune property” and not “communal property.”
Evolution of Marxist Thought
While the leitmotif of Anderson’s book is on the heterogeneous character of pre-capitalist societies, the central questions that this book raises are: “Is there a smooth evolution in Marx’s thoughts on history and revolution, or was there some sort of an epistemic mutation (not an “epistemological break”) where Marx critiqued the necessity of “capitalism as the midwife of communist revolutions?” I am talking of an epistemic break, since Louis Althusser’s version of an “epistemological break” is alien to Anderson’s mode of reasoning. Instead, Anderson says that Marx “alters his perspective,” that is, the perspective on Russia (2002a: 86), or that there are “changes” (for the French edition of Capital, Vol I) and “other important changes” in drafting his various editions of his magnum opus (Anderson 2002a: 86).
The argument in this book is on the so-called “changes” of Marx on the idea of history. Anderson talks of “continuing evolving stances” (2010a: 154). In his essay “Not Just Capital and Class,” he talks of the “links” binding Marx’s evolution of thought (Anderson 2010b). A dialectical reading of Marx will have to concentrate on both the links and the changes. The main issue for readers in India and South Asia is:
“What was Marx’s attitude on commune (the alleged “communal”) property, which in the 1853 writings he characterised as the “foundation” of “Oriental despotism” to the Grundrisse which also noted the “democratic” character of these pre-capitalist social formations?” (Anderson 2011: 174)
The questions central to his work are: Is history unilinear, that is, moving from primitive communism, via slave and feudal societies to capitalism and awaiting as if for the ushering of communism? In this case, is capitalism inevitable and should non-Western, pre-capitalist societies give way to capitalism?
While we know that advocates of capitalism, exemplified by Francis Fukuyama in his End of History, have argued for a unilinear view of history, it is also said that (with complete different political and ethical connotations) Marx (at least for some time, may be in the Manifesto of the Communist Party) had this teleological and unilinear argument. This unilinear argument is downrightly deterministic. But, it would also be Eurocentric where non-European societies would necessarily have to be in the shadows of Europe. According to this narrative, Europe is dynamic and revolutionary. The rest of the world is static and sluggish, totally dependent on Europe. Not only would the Manifesto be said to be in this genre, but also (or primarily) Marx’s writings on Asia for the New York Tribune (in the 1850s).
To understand the argument, it is necessary to understand the passage from the Manifesto, which seemingly valorised the idea of capitalism (or to be precise, capitalism of the West European type) as a historically revolutionary society, where it is said that
“the bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization.” (Marx and Engels 1975: 39; Anderson 2002a: 85)
The Manifesto is of course, a celebrated revolutionary text, considered an ode to world revolutions. This text also says that
“the cheap process of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.” (Marx and Engels 1975: 39)
The question that Anderson raises is: Was Marx (at least for some time) in some shadow of Eurocentric thought where certain societies were marked as “barbarian” and “static,” as if, colonialism (though unintentionally) would appear as a “progressive” moment in world history? Does, as Marx and Engels note, the bourgeois indeed “create(s) a world after its own image”? (Marx and Engels 1975: 39). Anderson is indeed of the view that Marx had a certain element of Eurocentric thought. For him, the “turning point” (2010a: 52–56) was 1858–60, when he draws the non-West European world in the arena of historical reasoning.
For Anderson, however, it is necessary to note a kind of European shadow that falls on the rest of the world that appears in the early works of Marx and Engels (that is, till the late 1850s). This is what Anderson (2010b) says
“In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels write famously in praise of Western capital’s penetration of Asia, of its ‘battering down of all Chinese walls’ and of its drawing ‘even the most barbarian nations into civilization’ (MECW 6: 488). Here they seem (1) to view Western colonial incursions into Asia, including England’s notorious First Opium War against China of 1839–42, as on the whole a progressive and beneficial undermining of Oriental “barbarism” (italics mine, M J) and (2) to assume that the rest of the world would sooner or later follow in the footsteps of the more technologically advanced Western European nations. Marx and Engels’ praise for this early stage of capitalist globalization can be seen as part of their overall sketch of the achievements of capitalism in Western Europe and North America, a sketch that is followed by a withering critique of capitalist exploitation. However, they do not follow their praise of Western colonialism in Asia with a similar critique. Instead, Marx held in 1848 to an implicitly unilinear model of development in which India and China would, as they were swept more deeply into the world capitalist system, over time develop similar contradictions to those of the already industrializing countries of Western Europe and North America.”
The question is: Was Marx at the time of the Manifesto a unilinearist who then changed his mind? Anderson warns against such one-sided views. He instead argues for a more “nuanced” and “balanced reading” (Anderson 2002a: 85). He warns that Marx cannot be read as being “trapped in a grand narrative of modernization that subsumed all particularity and difference” (Anderson 2002a: 85). He says that Robert Tucker’s view that Marx held that “it was the fate of non-western societies like that of India to go the way of bourgeois development” (Anderson 2002a: 85) is totally false. Instead, see how the same argument goes in the French edition (1872–75) of Capital, Vol I (the edition which Marx himself advocated) where Marx writes, “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to those which follow it on the industrial path (echelle) the image of its own future” (Anderson 2002a: 87–88).
In fact, way back in 1983, Anderson mentions the French edition of Capital, Volume I as the “unknown” Marx’s Capital, Vol I (Anderson 1983: 71–79, 1997) and in Marx at the Margins re-stresses the importance of reading this French edition (2010a: 171–80). This view is rather ignored by Marx scholars, who at best prefer to read the Progress Publishers’ edition or the ones translated by Ben Fowkes (Marx 1990) and David Fernbach (Marx 1985). The importance of the French edition was highlighted by Maximilien Rubel (1981). More often than not, despite Antonio Gramsci’s chiding of the positivism and mechanical materialism inherent in the communist movement, it is more of this same determinism that dominates our understanding of Marxism, because critical and original readings are completely forgotten.
Importance of Marxology
It is at this juncture—in order to highlight the importance of Anderson’s book—that I must stress on the need to engage with the original texts of Marx, even to be critical of Engels’ interventions (especially in the second and third volumes of Capital). But, even the first volume with the Moore–Aveling translation cannot be above the hermeneutics of suspicion. See, for instance, this celebrated translation, which Engels stated in 1886 to be the translation that shall “bear a joint responsibility for the whole” (Engels 1983: 13). Engels (1983: 13) also talks of “the inevitable social revolution.” While in German it appears as “die unvermeidliche soziale Revolution” (Engels 1993: 40), which seems to echo the idea that Marx does talk of the “inevitable breaking up” of capitalism (Marx 1983a: 29), in actuality what is seen in Marx’s original is “notwendigen Untergangs” (Marx 1993: 28), which implies “necessary ruins.” So, does Marx ever talk of “laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results” (Marx 1983b: 19), which appears in the Moore–Aveling translation? Going to Marx’s original, we find that these words are literally not present. Instead, what we see is the sentence “Es handelt sich um diese Gesetze selbst, um diese mit eherner Notwendigkeit wirkenden und sich durchsetzenden Tendenzen” (Marx 1993: 12), which literally means that the laws of capitalism are working, even knitting with my translation of “eherner Notwendigkeit” as “brazen necessity” and “durchsetzenden Tendenzen” as “forceful tendencies.”
For Anderson, a certain form of “Marxology” is necessary, almost like David Riazanov’s (1998) first Marxological intervention. Riazanov was the first person who founded the celebrated MEGA to publish the collected works of Marx and Engels. The reading of Marx’s 1861–65 Economic Manuscripts, which stretches into five volumes of the Marx/Engels Collected Works (MECW) and resulted in the publication of Capital and the Theories of Surplus Value (Anderson 2010a: 163), should be done with caution that one cannot collapse the text of Engels into the text of Marx (and to consequently differentiate Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks from Engels’ The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State). Simultaneously, the reader needs to dissolve the myth of “iron laws” and the “inevitable revolution” in not only a philosophical rendering (which was done by Gramsci and György Lukács), but also performed in a Marxological manner.
To be a Marxist, one has to become a Marxologist. Once one understands this rigour, one is able to understand that the “notion of one country following the path of another is explicitly limited to those that are moving toward industrialization” (Anderson 2002a: 88). This passage is of great importance in the contemporary era of “forced globalization.” It shows that if there are no “iron laws of history,” there are thus “alternative paths” available for revolutions and human development (Anderson 2002a: 88). In fact, not only is Marx denying the complete
historical inevitability of capitalism for the entire globe (note Marx is outrightly against globalisation), he also denies the universality of feudalism. Thus, on his noting on Kovalevsky, he denies that precolonial India was feudal (Anderson 2010b).
This alternative argument of non-positivist history (and consequently humanistic history) is clearly found, what I will call, throughout Marx’s repertoire. The most prominent argument in favour of non-positivist history comes out very clearly in his 1853 “The Future Results of British Rule in India” itself when he chides the rampage of colonialism on India and talks of “the regeneration of the great and interesting country” (Marx: 1976: 85). Also, Marx was no positivist who prophesised the breakdown of all pre-capitalist societies. Instead, as Anderson (quoting George Lichtheim ) said, Marx saw “some genuine virtue” in the “stability of ancient village communities” (2010a: 162) and in his Notes on Indian History, Marx showed “pronounced sympathy for the Marathas, while occasionally expressing disdain for their warlordism” (2010a: 216). However, in the now self-declared “post-secular” world of Islamophobia where the contribution of the Mughals is heavily discounted, it is important to note how Marx talks of Akbar who “made Delhi into the greatest and finest city then existing in the world” (Marx 1960: 32; Anderson 2010a: 216). For Marx (as Anderson demonstrates), the opposition is between the Indians (Marathas, Mughals, Afghans and Sikhs) against the tyranny of the colonial British (2010a: 217). The British are “upstart Europeans [that is, English] zemindars” who have “amasse[d] immense fortune by oppressing the ryots” (Marx 1960: 90, Anderson 2010a: 217).
This alternative (anti-capitalist) view comes out even clearer in his 1877 letter to the Narodniki journal Otechestvenniye Zapiski and finally in his 1881 draft letter to Vera Zasulich (then Narodniki, soon to become a close aide of Vladimir Ilich Lenin in his Iskra group, later to be with the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party). Marx (1977: 154) here seems to be saying quite something else. This is how the argument goes:
“In any event the research has advanced far enough to establish that: (1) the vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman, etc., societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies; (2) the causes of their decline stem from economic facts which prevented them from passing a certain stage of development beyond a certain point, and from their historical background which is in no way analogous to that of the Russian Commune of today. One should be on one’s guard when reading the histories of primitive communities written by bourgeois historians. They do not stop at anything, even outright distortion. Sir Henry Maine, for example, who was an ardent active supporter of the British government in its policy of destroying Indian communes by force, tells us hypocritically that all noble efforts on the part of the government to support these communes were thwarted by the elementary force of these laws!”
The questions remain inconclusive: “Did Marx shift his ideas of non-western societies which he had in the 1850s, whereby by 1868 he locates the presence of commune property in Ireland and Russia?” (Anderson 2002a: 86, 2010a: 44, 50, 52, 138). The question whether Marx also altered his understanding of commune property remains unanswered too. A small note on translation is necessary since Anderson calls it “communal property” (2010a: 138), like Teodor Shanin’s rendering of the 1882 “Preface to the Russian Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party” where what is penned is “peasant communal ownership” and “primitive communal ownership of the land” (Shanin 2009: 139), unlike the Progress Publisher edition that mentions “land owned in common by the peasants” and “primeval common ownership of land” (Marx and Engels 1977: 100). However, S W Ryazanskaya’s translation (Progress Publishers) of Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy uses the term “communal property” (Ryazanskaya 1978: 33, n).
More questions emerge: Did Marx redraft or totally annihilate the idea of oriental despotism (an idea that was central in the 1850s)? Is then the idea of “commune property,” a presence that did not exist in some exotic past, but it “had persisted in parts of rural Germany,” as Anderson notes, “until their own time?” (2010a: 139).
It must be stressed that, for Anderson, there is a distinct
“possibility that non-capitalist societies might move directly to socialism on the basis of their indigenous communal (commune) forms, without passing first through the stage of capitalism.” (2010a: 224)
Besides this very important strand in this book, we have the other important motif of putting the ideas of nationalism and ethnicity central to Marxist reasoning. In this way, Anderson is saying that some sort of “class fetishism” exists in the dominant discourses of Marxism, where only and solely class—as it emerged in Western Europe—is taken as a master narrative. All other social formations are totally purged. In India, we can recall the narrative of caste which is swept below the master narrative of the Eurocentric idea of class. For Anderson, this is Eurocentric discourse at its worst that needs to be erased from the Marxist discourse. This book, thus, involves a Marxist–humanist form of erasure. One erases Eurocentrism to produce the narrative of historicism and humanism.
Marx and Human Essence
I am talking of “the other Marx,” a humanist Marx, when I am dealing with this important book. This humanist Marx is not only a non-positivist, non-scientistic Marx, but also a non-Messianic Marx. One must note that Anderson belongs to the Marxist–humanist school of thought heralded by Raya Dunayevskaya (one-time associate of Leon Trotsky), who probably was the first person to understand that Stalinist Soviet Union was a state capitalist society and the grave of international revolutions. Dunayevskaya, then developed an “alternative” (and alternative that even Trotsky and the Fourth International could not provide), an alternative that fused Marx’s critique of alienation in modern capitalist society in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 with the questions of gender, class and race. The question of the commune as the springboard of world revolutions was also a theme that was a part of her repertoire.
After all, one must remember that for Marx, the idea of “the human essence” (das menschliche Wesen) formed his understanding of communism. Recall that for Marx, communism is a synthesis of humanism and naturalism (Marx 1982: 90, 1964: 235). It is these ideas of humanism and naturalism that now re-enter the stage of revolutionary history. For
Anderson, there is no unilinear history, but multilinear history, a history that is complex and unevenly determined. The communes that would be declared as passé by a certain kind of evolutionist Marxism, would once again come marching in. Humanism and naturalism would form the core philosophical component of the communes. As I said (as Anderson notes), “Marx was concerned with the persistence of communal (commune) forms, even into his own century” (2010a: 224).
In this case, could there be a radical shift in the way one imagines the very idea of revolution? Would the idea of proletarian revolution, then, not be diminished to a reductionist reading of Marx where only and solely the industrial proletariat would count as the bearers of revolution, while other classes and social formations are merely incarnations of this imagined proletariat? Or, would multilinear revolutions see things otherwise? Multilinear revolutions do not despise all pre-capitalist social formations. They do not despise the peasantry. One cannot misread the “peasant question” in Marx’s (1852) Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and convert the peasantry as a mere “sack of potatoes” (Anderson 2002b).
Consider Marx and Engels’ (1975: 100–01) “Preface to the 1882 Russian Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party”:
“Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West? The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.”
Nationality and Revolution
In a world now increasingly breaking its capitalist promise of globalisation, where nations are turning inward and hostile, the “national question” has to be posed and reposed. Not only this, one also has to ask whether nation states are inevitable, or as Marx talked of skipping the capitalist mode of production, could one also skip the formation of nation states.
Now we know that the “national question” appears in Marxism, in Marx and Engels’ writings on Ireland, India, Persia and Poland, and its most important moment appears in the debate between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. The latter debate is of great importance. For Luxemburg (1909), the “Polish national question” was basically a question of the Polish gentry and landlords which would inevitably efface the proletariat question.
However, it was not Luxemburg’s idea of the national question that gripped the minds of the world communist movement, it was that of Lenin. For Lenin, there is a rigorous “line of demarcation” (a term that I recollect from his What Is to Be Done? a term that Louis Althusser uses in his Lenin and Philosophy) between nationalism of the oppressed and that of the oppressor. But, this goes back to the basic question— What is the idea of nation in Marx? One needs to stress this issue, since the legacy of Stalin bears a heavy load on the national question.
Consider Lenin, who in 1922 talked of a certain trend in the Russian communist movement as “chauvinistic Great-Russian riff-raff” (Lenin 1977: 688) where “that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist” appeared as the leader of the Soviet proletariat. History knows Stalin as this great Russian chauvinist. And, as we all know there would be terrible consequences that the left movement would have to bear because of the Stalinist legacy. We know that Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question would have a bearing of terrible consequences in defining the national question.
We then forget the contributions of Otto Bauer and Karl Renner. Would nations (and nation states) then be capitalist states unlike “dynasty states” (Renner 1978: 118), where states were “the property of dynasties and the people were only the objects of their rule—objects not subjects of the state administration?” (Renner 1978: 118). One must stress what the national “burden” has done in the 20th century. One can remember the formation of modern (even “secular”) Turkey and the genocide of the Armenian people, the brutal partition of the Indian subcontinent, the formation of Zionist Israel and the mass evacuation of the Palestinian people from their homeland, the wars in the Balkans in the post-Soviet era, etc. It is in this situation that I would repeat the question— “Are nation states inevitable? Consider Renner (1978: 118):
“This process of the formation of nation states can be regarded as the political, law of motion of the 19th century. It is based on the economic transition of simple commodity production, a development which transcends the old feudal class system into its various estates, and leads to the triumph of the bourgeoisie. The nation state is the state idea of rising capitalism.”
It is also in this context that one recognises how the British, Prussian, Russian and the Austro–Hungarian empires in the 19th century had literally kept people of subdued nationalities in an enslaved condition. It is thus that Anderson says that “national emancipation” is central to revolution. And as he quotes Marx and Engels, “the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation” (Anderson 2010a: 58; Marx and Engels 1975: 51).
For Marx, the national question is related directly to the agrarian revolution, political power, the expropriation of the expropriators, but most of all to the abolition of private property (Marx and Engels 1975: 47). However, in this dialectical weaving of uneven elements, one cannot go into any form of class reductionisms. The proletariat, for Marx, is not a messianic figure. Instead, as Anderson says, it is wrong that “Marx was only interested in working class movements, which did not exist in agrarian Poland” (2010a: 57). After all, Marx’s keen interest is in following the Irish question where he saw Fenianism (the Irish republican movement) as what Anderson calls a “new type of resistance movement” (2010a: 129).
As Marx (1986a: 143) said, “the Irish question is therefore not simply a nationality question, but a question of land and existence. Ruin or revolution is the watchword, all the Irish are convinced that if anything is to happen at all it must happen quickly.” And the “domination over Ireland at present amounts to collecting rent for the English aristocracy” (Marx 1986a: 143). After all, in Ireland “1,100,000 people have been replaced with 9,600,000 sheep (Marx 1986a: 142). If this sounds familiar it is because in the age of globalisation, peasants in India are devalued, if not in favour of sheep, then at least in favour of cows.
Likewise, Marx’s advice to the English workers was to side with the Irish freedom movement and “make Repeal of the Union,” that is, repeal against the forced union between the English and the Irish (Marx 1986b: 140). Marx’s anti-colonial summation (in relation to Ireland) can be understood as self-government and independence from England, agrarian revolution and protective tariffs against England (Marx 1986b: 149; Anderson 2010a: 130).
Anderson most certainly situates new ways of understanding Marx’s analysis on colonialism and resistance. After all, colonialism essentially destroys all economic life in the occupied territories. As Marx noted,
“between 1783 and 1801 every branch of Irish industry flourished. The Union which overthrew the protective tariffs established by the Irish parliament, destroyed all industrial life in Ireland.” (Marx and Engels 1986b: 149; Anderson 2010a: 130)
In a world that wants both occupation as well as self-determination (many a time through terrorist means), Marx warns against these types of conspiratorial activities. On 13 December 1867, the Fenians attempted bombing outside Clerkwell Goal in London. Marx (1986c: 150), writing to Engels, called this a “very stupid thing.” He also claimed that the London masses would be “driven to the arms of the government party” (Marx 1986c: 150). The London proletarians should not be allowed to be “blown up” (Marx 1986c: 150). Such sort of
activity—Marx calls this “secret, melodramatic sort of conspiracy”—have a “kind of fatality” (Marx 1986c: 150).
After all, it is against this kind of fatality, driven by what Engels (1986: 150) calls “few specialized fanatics” who are in the “arson business” that Marxism should strive for. For Engels, these specialised fanatics’ motto is: “After all something must happen, after all something must be done.”
But, then, one cannot realise the “idea of liberating Ireland by setting a London tailor’s shop on fire” (Engels 1986: 150).
There is much more to Marx than what the 20th-century history presented him. Most certainly capitalism cannot be the “end of history” and most certainly Donald Trump cannot be the “last man.” But, then, it cannot be the case where Stalin and Stalinism could redeem history from the end of history and the last men. Anderson’s claim is that there has to be an alternative and there indeed is an alternative to the violent capitalist narrative. After all, it is necessary to state that bourgeoisdom (with its sorcery and conjuring tricks, as the authors of the Manifesto inform us) brings in “momentary barbarism” where “breaks out an epidemic” with “famine, a universal war of devastation” etched in its very cranium (Marx and Engels 1975: 40).
However, this time, the barbarism of bourgeoisdom may not be momentary. In a world that is probably turning almost suicidal in an apocalyptic sense, it is necessary to also understand Marx, as what Anderson calls, “a theorist of environmental modernity” (p 129). Maybe what Marx called the celebration of the “archaic” in the 1881 letter to Vera Zachlich, is this celebration of environmental modernity, a modernity that understands that humanity and nature have to synthesise.
But, is the world ready for this naturalistic-humanism? Or, do we want to transform ourselves from momentary barbarians to permanent ones?
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Murzban Jal ([email protected]) is with the Centre for Educational Studies, Indian Institute of Education, Pune.