Karl Marx (1818-1883), the great philosopher, historian, political economist and father of Marxism, was born on this day in 1818. Although born in the early 19th century, the relevance of Karl Marx's ideas for analysing 20th and 21st century capitalism, as well as for understanding the political and economic struggles and changes of his own day, remain vital and essential.
To celebrate, we're bringing you an extract from one of his most famous political works, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.
The Value Controversy, published by Verso in 1981, followed a series of debates over Marx's labor theory of value that began with the publication of neo-Ricardian economist Piero Sraffa's The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (1960), and which took particular salience in socialist economic theory with the 1977 publication of Ian Steedman's Marx After Sraffa. Including contributions by Pradeep Bandyopadhyay, G.A. Cohen, Michel De Vroey, Sue Himmelweit, Geoff Hodgson, Makoto Itoh, Anwar Shaikh, Ian Steedman, Paul Sweezy, and Erik Olin Wright, the collection was designed — according to its editors — "to present a comprehensive yet accessible overview of the discussion to date."
G.A. Cohen's essay, reproduced below, was initially published in the Summer 1979 issue of Philosophy and Public Affairs; one year after the appearance of his Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, a foundational document of Analytical Marxism.
It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the
cities where they trade,
Dug the mines and built the workshops,
endless miles of railroad laid,
Now we stand outcast and starving, 'mid
the wonders we have made . . .
Solidarity, by Ralph Chaplin (to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic)
This essay shows that the relationship between the labour theory of value and the concept of exploitation is one of mutual irrelevance. The labour theory of value is not a suitable basis for the charge of exploitation laid against capitalism by Marxists, and the real foundation of that charge is something much simpler which, for reasons to be stated, is widely confused with the labour theory of value.
For Marx, the greatest achievement of the Paris Commune was its "actual working existence", and we should certainly not exclude its geographical organisation and defensive arcitecture from this category. Ahead of Kristin Ross' discussion with Alberto Toscano at Goldsmiths tonight on the political imaginary of the Paris Commune, we share a series of maps created by Leopold Lambert detailing the shifting architecture of the Commune over time. You can download a high-resolution version of the map here.
From Lambert's essay:
History tends to describe the city where events unfold themselves as a mere context, indifferent to the action that it hosts … I wanted to illustrate how the city, through its constructive, destructive and modificative logics plays a biased role in these historical events. As Karl Marx pointed out in The Civil War in France (1871), many things could have given the Commune higher chances to survive (a more organized offensive against Versailles in the beginning of its existence, the use of the Banque de France left untouched, a more comprehensive defensive strategy etc.), but the thing that the Commune has lacked the most is likely to be time itself, in an effort to transform and subvert the capitalist, imperialist and militarized logics that contextualized the urban fabric in which it was attempting to exist.