Sunday, August 20, 2006


The Grundrisse and Marxism

Most of Marx's notebooks making up the Grundrisse were completely unknown for over 50 years after his death, and little studied until over 80 years after.
The notebooks making up the Grundrisse were first found and published, in their original German, in Russia in 1939 (a first volume) and 1941 (a second volume). Not only did the World War distract people from paying much attention at the time; only three or four copies of the volumes ever reached the West, so most Marxists did not even know they existed.
The Grundrisse was republished, in the original German again, in 1953. But 1953, with Stalin dying only that year and "de-Stalinisation" some years ahead, with the Cold War in full swing, and with the genuine (non-Communist-Party) Marxist left very beleaguered, was not a good time for creative or exploratory Marxist discussion. The Grundrisse began to attract attention only with the revival of the independent Marxist left at the end of the 1960s.
Roman Rosdolsky published his huge study of the Grundrisse, The Making of Marx's Capital, in German in 1968. An English translation of Rosdolsky came out in 1977. Penguin published an English translation of the Grundrisse itself in 1973.
A short book of accessible extracts from the Grundrisse, in English, edited by David McLellan, also came out in the early 70s.
In the 1970s the Grundrisse was often referred to in Marxist discussions. It is still widely enough read that Penguin keeps it in print. But the references have tapered off since the late 1980s, in a period dominated by defeats, setbacks, and retrenchment on the left. Paradoxically, there is a strong case that it is precisely the capitalism of microelectronics, globalisation, and privatisation dominant since the 1980s that makes ideas from the Grundrisse more relevant to us today.

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