Marx at the Margins by Kevin B. Anderson

Anderson, K. B. (2010) Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies, Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp. 365.

PDF Versions: Review by Dave Eden, Review by George Karavas, Review by Sandra Rein, Author’s Reply by Kevin B. Anderson.

Review by Dave Eden

One of the peculiarities of our period is that despite the continual declarations of the death of Marxism Marx remains our contemporary.  If Marxism has become heavily saturated under the weight and tragedies of the 20th Century, fresh readings of Marx prove to be invaluable to those who wish to understand and transform the world we live within.

Kevin B. Anderson’s Marx at the Margins is an excellent example of such a fresh reading. Anderson’s stated objective is to look at a series of Marx’s writings that is largely ignored: his journalistic work, the French edition of Capital, and unpublished writings from the end of his life, to unearth a Marx that thinks of the global human experience very differently from the Eurocentric determinist that he is so often cast as being (pp. 5-6). The Marx Anderson claims to find is ‘a much more multilinear theorist of history and society than is generally supposed, as some-one immersed (sic) the study of the concrete reality of Asian societies as well as Western capitalist ones, as a theorist who took account of nationalism and ethnicity as well was class’ (pp. 6-7). Here I wish look specifically at ‘Chapter 5’ where Anderson focuses on the Grundrisse and Capital.

The Grundrisse and Capital are the core works in which we can discover what Postone calls Marx’s ‘mature critical social theory’ (1993: 3). Anderson does effectively demonstrate the openness of Capital and Grundrisse. He argues that they are unfinished and they were constantly in a process of revision. It is only Engels’ decision that the 4th German edition of Capital was the ‘final’ one which gives Capital an appearance of finality (pp. 175-176). Anderson reminds us that these unfinished works need to be read more openly, and that Marx of the French edition seems to focusing his analysis of the specificities of European capitalist society and thus moving away from a universalist and deterministic position (p. 178).

Anderson argues that ‘discussion of non-Western societies, nationalism and race and ethnicity’ play a crucial role in Marx’s formulation of his understanding of capitalist society (p. 154).  Anderson’s close readings of this text ably demonstrate this claim. Anderson establishes how the Grundrisse doesn’t present a singular teleology of human society but rather is ‘multilinear’; it examines the conditions of property and labour in both European pre-capitalist societies and non-Western non-capitalists societies. Marx formulates his understanding of capitalism by comparing it to these societies, which for him remain bounded to production of use-values, rather than surplus-value (pp. 158-159). Anderson notes that Marx’s thinking of these non-capitalist societies did not reduce them to either a singular formation nor a simple stage on the way to capitalism, but rather was sensitive to their ‘differences and contradictions’ (p. 162). Anderson’s makes it clear that at this stage in his writing Marx did not think that capitalism is simply an advanced form of all other societies to which the latter would eventual move – but rather between capitalism and non-capitalisms is a complex series of interactions.

Whilst this is all admirably done, the problem with Anderson’s work is what he presents as the content of Marx’s critique of political economy. His presentation of Marx’s critique of capital stumbles to effectively portray the interrelationship between value and the money-form and capitalist organisation of labour. Anderson does acknowledge that in ‘Capital, Volume 1, the abstract and impersonal power of capital is itself an historical actor, a self-developing subject’ (p. 171). Later Anderson does point out how important the commodity-form is for Marx’s understanding of capital, and that one of the profound differences between capitalism and pre-capitalist class societies is that ‘noncapitalist societies, however oppressive they might be, had not perfected this veiling of social relations’ (p. 181). Yet Anderson’s reconstruction of Marx’s comparison of capitalist and non-capitalist societies focuses on is how labour is organised.  For example when looking at Marx’s comparison between capitalism and the ‘Indian Village System’ Anderson notes how whilst it ‘was on one level extremely conservative and restrictive… [it] offered a type of freedom lost to workers under capitalism: autonomy in the actual conduct of their work. This existed because there was as yet no separation of the workers from the objective conditions of production’ (p. 186). This is contrasted to the conditions under capitalism. Drawing on the 15th chapter of Capital ‘Machinery and Large-Scale Industry’  Anderson argues that the depiction of labour under capital was one of ‘increased alienation by making work into a repetitive drudgery’ but more importantly a domination of the worker by capital as an autonomous force (p. 186). The essential difference is that in the ‘Indian Village System’ (here playing the role of non-capitalist forms of domination) oppression takes on a direct personal or social form as there is no split between the labourer, their labour and the product of their work. Exploitation has to then be direct. Yet under capitalism labour is dominated by machinery at the point of production, machinery being the embodiment of the autonomous power of capital (p. 186).

Anderson then considers the importance of primitive accumulation and its global dimensions in the transformation of labour by which ‘formally unfree but factually free peasants were transformed into formally free but factually unfree wage laborers’ (p. 187). But what is not present in Anderson’s work is the understanding that the role that fetishized relations in the form of value, in the form of money, plays in the transformation from pre-capitalist to capitalist society. This is not to down play the role that violence takes in colonisation, but rather identifies a special quality of capitalism.  Value is the central critical category of Marx’s critique of capital. It explains how the vast diversity of human creativity is, due to the organisation of society for and by exchange, abstracted and regulated through reified forms.  Wealth under capitalist is commodified; ‘definite social relations’ become ‘the fantastic form of a relation between things’ (Marx 1990: 165) value functions as both the regulator of the relations of commodities (that is the reified relations between people) and stands alone and atop capitalist society in the form of money.

What Marx argued is that money throughout the history of class society works to dissolve social relations. Capitalism is both the success of this dissolution and the reorganisation of society on the basis of the accumulation of value which appears as money. In the Grundrisse Marx argued how the acidic nature of money, in that it dissolves relations between people and becomes fetishized embodied of wealth in general, is the ‘antithesis’ of ‘ancient communities’ (Marx 1993: 223). Yet in non-capitalist societies exchange existed on in the interstices between productive activity proper ‘like the gods of Epicurus in the intermundia, or like the Jews in the pores of Polish society’ (Marx 1991: 447). Thus money despite its power could only achieve the status of hoard or exist as ‘usurer’s capital’ and its ‘twin brother, merchant’s capital’ (Marx 1991: 728). In capitalism proper money, that is value, takes centre stage and leads to the reorganisation of society and production. Of course Marx’s critique is not simply a moralistic rejection of money, but a critique of the kinds of social relations that lead to the proliferation of the money-form, the same kind of social relations the proliferation of the money-form is part of creating.

It is the pursuit of value that compels the revolutionisation of production, the reduction of labour to seeming appendage of production and the deep dynamism of capitalist society. This is not simply an academic point but crucial to understanding capital’s history and present. Primitive accumulation whether in Europe or in areas colonised by Europe (which continues today) is always a mixture of force and the transformation of social relations through the ascendency of money. On one hand it is a process that ‘is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire’ through the violent separation of peasants and artisans from their land and tools (Marx 1990: 875). On other hand it is the molecular dissolution and reorganisation of daily life through the proliferation of exchange, the monetisation of being and the reorganisation of production (cf. Midnight Notes Collective 1992)

This interrelationship between force and the commodity, between state and market, as aspects of capitalist social relations, is key to a full critique of capital (cf. Holloway and Picciotto 1978; Clark 1991). It is one of the crucial tools that can help us understand, and hopefully change, the social organisation that produces the accumulation of wealth and misery, potential and unfreedom, crisis and dispossession that we see embodied in underwater hotels in Dubai and empty houses in Detroit, in refugee camps, slums and gated communities. Whilst Anderson helps us read Marx afresh his presentation of Marx’s gifts to us is less than it could be. The critique of value needs to return to the centre stage of anticapitalist thought.


Anderson, K. B. (2010). Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Socities. Chicago & London, University of Chigaco Press.

Clark, S. (1991). The State Debate. New York St Martin’s Press  Vol 1-69.

Holloway, J. and S. Picciotto, Eds. (1978). State and Capital: A Marxist Debate. London, Edward Arnold.

Marx, K. (1990). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. London, Penguin Classics. Vol.1

Marx, K. (1991). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. London, Penguin Books in association with New Left Review. Vol.3

Marx, K. (1993). Grundrisse: Foundation of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). London, Penguin Books.

Midnight Notes Collective (1992). The New Enclosures. Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War 1973-1992. M. N. Collective. Brooklyn,NY, Autonomedia  Vol 317-333.

Postone, M. (1993). Time Labour and Social Domination: A reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory. Cambridge, University of Cambridge Press.

Review by George Karavas

Reprints of Marx’s writing couldn’t fill the shelves of some bookstores fast enough as the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 raised doubts about the prospects of global capitalism. The renewed interest in Marx has emerged alongside an increasingly visible impact of industrialisation in the non-Western world, where migration from rural to urban areas and the transition from peasantry to wage labour has been occurring on an unprecedented scale (Hudis 2010: 76). It is against this backdrop that Kevin Anderson presents a work of recovery on some of Marx’s lesser-known writings, suggesting that the revolutionary theorist had some prescient and rarely acknowledged insights on the spread of capitalism throughout the non-Western world. The key argument is deployed in two parts. Firstly, from the 1850s onwards there is a clear change in Marx’s thinking regarding the trajectories of development for non-Western societies as the prominence of multilinear rather than unilinear accounts gradually develops in his writing. Secondly, Marx did not focus solely on class, neglecting other forms of discrimination but dedicated considerable thought towards theorising the dialectical relationship between class, race, ethnicity and nationalism.

The nuance that Anderson brings to these arguments is through a much wider reading of Marx’s work, in which changes in his thoughts and opinions become more clearly discernable. The book offers an extensive selection of Marx’s lesser-known writings that have only recently emerged in published form since the end of the Cold War. This includes journalistic writing, documents from Marx’s activism in the First International, letters as well as texts and notebooks from the historical and sociological literature Marx consulted in his later years. The two sets of writings that Anderson engages with include works on non-Western societies such as India and China in relation to capital and writings on national movements in Poland, Ireland and North America with regards to the American Civil War. Given that the broader argument here is that Marx changed his mind over time, Anderson appears to have let a loose chronology order the sequence of these works, allowing for changes between the early 1850s and the publication of The Communist Manifesto to be discernable by the 1870s when Marx began revising Capital to include new thoughts on multilinear development trajectories.

The key themes of the book clearly speak to those portrayals of Marx as the ethnocentric product of the Enlightenment or as a dispenser of grand narratives overly concerned with economic forms of exclusion. Anderson does not set out to wholly refute some such claims and recognises the problematic aspects of Marx’s work in writings such as The Communist Manifesto – “disturbing as it is in its ethnocentrism and implicit unilinearism” (Anderson 2010: 9). However, it is precisely by exploring Marx’s later writings that Anderson claims that a multiulinear view clearly develops. These writings reveal an interest in non-Western societies in Java, India, China and South America as part of an attempt to account for the differences in forms of social organisation. Marx was arguing that it appeared that different trajectories of development were evident in Europe and Asia and that a deterministic approach needn’t be essential. Communal forms of property relations in non-capitalist societies became a subject of interest as it became evident that other societies contained unique approaches to resisting bourgeois forms of property ownership and the possibility for a direct transition to communism. Marx developed the view that not all societies necessarily had to pass through a capitalist phase of development and that not all pre-capitalist societies needed to be understood as uniformly feudal. Anderson argues that eventually Marx “was explicitly attacking those who maintained the ‘feudal’ interpretation” (Anderson 2010: 211). Essentially Marx was “above all against simply carrying over concepts of social structure drawn from the Western European model into Indian or Asian social relations” (Harstick [1977: 13] cited in Anderson 2010: 211). The fact that Marx’s view changed on these topics and he attempted to develop a more dialectical perspective demonstrates that Marx was not simply content with developing “formalistic and abstract universals” (Anderson 2010: 244).

This argument develops further by demonstrating Marx’s a clear reluctance to support colonialism and any related notion that it possessed progressive characteristics. This stronger anti-colonialist position was demonstrated by Marx’s support for independence movements in China and India and evident in his support for the Chinese resistance against the British during the Second Opium War and the Sepoy uprising in India; “Marx again and again singles out resistance to the British, showing sympathy for the various Maratha, Mughal, Afghan, and Sikh forces arrayed against them” (Anderson 2010: 217).

Anderson shows that Marx was clearly concerned with race and nationalism as he developed a larger dialectical concept of race, ethnicity and class through writings on Poland, Ireland and the American Civil War. In his work on the Civil War, slavery came to be seen as connected to the labour movement. This was further demonstrated in the connection drawn between supporting the Polish independence movement and the Northern cause in the Civil War that led to the creation of the First International. From here the movement became involved in the Irish independence movement, with Marx demonstrating clear support for independence based on a view of the “constructive role played by nationalism” (Anderson 2010:151).

However, despite unpacking the aforementioned arguments, there is a limited engagement with specific critics of Marx with the exception of Edward Said. As outlined in Orientalism, Said argues that Marx exemplified a reproducer of Orientalist knowledge who presented a “homogenising view of the Third World” (Said 1978: 325). In a similar vein Said describes Marx’s ethnocentric assumptions about non-Western societies as displaying the “[t]he idea that regenerating a fundamentally lifeless Asia is a piece of pure Romantic Orientalism” (Said 1978:154). Despite this claim, Anderson argues that such a position appears less tenable upon considering that Said’s views are based largely on the article “The British Rule in India” published in the Tribune on June 25, 1853, which contrasts significantly with Marx’s later theorising on multilinear paths of development.

For some readers, the selectivity of addressing one theorist critical of Marx may demonstrate a weakness by failing to engage arguments from postmodern and postcolonial approaches that reflect similar conclusions to Said’s. This book may not also rescue the Marxist tradition from the margins of International Relations theory on account of its perceived limitations to adequately account for nationalism, the state and war (Linklater 1990). Another concern might be that while Anderson raises the issue of new insights impacting upon existing perspectives of global capitalism, it is only in the very final pages that this point is engaged with. However, despite these avenues suggesting further exploration is necessary, they are perhaps beyond the scope of the tasks set within the book and more likely the subject of another project.

To the extent that this book confronts some of the major contemporary criticisms of Marx, one of its key strengths lay in the implications of Anderson’s argument for such existing conclusions. This recovery of Marx’s work offers excellent insight into how his theory of social development and revolution changed in light of continuing research. It also relocates questions of social transformation in the non-Western world in response to capitalism and in relation to resistance struggles and social movements, within the Marxist field of inquiry. Whether this has implications for postcolonial approaches in their treatment on the relevance of Marx remains to be seen. If there has been one enduring tradition among Marxist approaches, it has been to find a enduring relevance in Marx’s work and Anderson offers us another window into the mind of a theorist seeking to account for a world changing dramatically under capitalism.


Anderson, Kevin. 2010. Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hudis, Peter. 2010. ‘Accumulation, Imperialism and Pre-capitalist Formations: Luxemburg and Marx on the non-Western world’. Socialist Studies 6 (2):75-91.

Linklater, Andrew. 1990. Beyond Realism and Marxism. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

Review by Sandra Rein[1]

Kevin Anderson’s latest book has been called “path-breaking” and praised for its academic scope and intellectual engagement with elements of Marx that have been treated as marginal at best. Without a doubt, these praises are highly deserved as Anderson has produced a work that not only connects mostly ignored elements of Marx’s oeuvre to his major published works, but challenges us to forget the Marx we think we know. Given the world-wide demand for alternatives and change and the current levels of activism that have been virtually unknown over the past 20 years, Anderson’s return to Marx in the context of non-Western peoples and the construction of national and ethnic identities is particularly timely.

For those who are unfamiliar with Anderson’s previous work, it may be helpful to provide some context for his latest book. In terms of intellectual “heritage”, Anderson identifies his reading of Marx from within a philosophical school of thought encompassed under the notion of Marxist humanism and closely associated with the works of Raya Dunayevskaya.[2] Marxist humanism, as articulated by Dunayevskaya and carried on by individuals influenced by her thinking, approaches Marx’s works as strongly influenced by the Hegelian dialectic and deeply grounded in the human content of value production in capitalist society. In other words, Marxist humanism begins from a premise that Marx’s analysis of capitalism is revolutionary because the very emancipation of human beings requires the transcendence of labour as the source of value production. In the late 1950s when Dunayevskaya was developing her philosophy of Marxist humanism, it was not particularly popular to challenge the notion that statified property and central planning were sufficient to realize a communist society – or, as Dunayevskaya did– to suggest that the newly emerging communist block was merely a form of state capitalism that continued to extract value from labour, alienating the worker from production even as property was consolidated in the state itself. Dunayevskaya’s interpretive framework drew from a close reading of Hegel’s dialectics, in-depth studies of Capital, and a broad engagement with Marx’s writings with careful attention to their humanistic and dialectical quality. Arguably, the precursor to Anderson’s most recent work can be traced to Dunayevskaya’s final book, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, which provocatively suggested that Marx had much more to say on gender and communal relations toward the end of his life than was generally understood or appreciated in the context of his so-called “economic” and “scientific writing”. In her work, Dunayevskaya turned to the “Ethnographic” notebooks of Marx to argue against the notion that the “old” Marx was no longer a creative thinker and to highlight that his anthropological studies were undertaken with the intent of understanding the history of human development in contexts that included race and gender. In her concluding paragraph, Dunayevskaya urged readers toward a new engagement with Marx:

What is needed is a new unifying principle, on Marx’s ground of humanism, that truly alters both human thought and human experience. Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks are a historic happening that proves, one hundred years after he wrote them, that Marx’s legacy is no mere heirloom, but a live body of ideas and perspectives that is in need of concretization. Every moment of Marx’s development, as well as the totality of his works, spells out the need for ‘revolution in permanence’. This is the absolute challenge to our age.[3]

Nearly 30 years after Dunayevskaya first published Rosa Luxemburg, Anderson has answered her call for a fresh look at Marx’s take on questions of ethnicity and race, in particular.

Anderson’s study brings together Marx’s writings on non-Western societies, specifically focused on India, China, Russia, Indonesia, Algeria; and his writings on Poland, Ireland and Black labor during the US civil war. Importantly, Anderson draws from Marx’s lesser known works: journalistic articles mostly published for the New York Tribune, his extensive notebooks, and letters and correspondence. Anderson justifies his turn to these texts noting “[Marx] emphasized that those [societies] like Russia, India, China, Algeria, and Indonesia possessed social structures markedly different from those of Western Europe. Throughout his writings, he grappled with the question of the future development of these non-Western societies. More specifically, he examined their prospects for revolution and as sites of resistance to capital” (p. 2). Anderson goes on to make an apparently audacious claim, that is, that Marx’s perspectives on these societies changed overtime, beginning with a Eurocentric and linear view of development but ending with a more multilinear and complex view of non-Western societies, the role of race in development and the possibility of realizing more equitable gender relations. And, according to Anderson’s argument, it is in this Marx, one often ignored, where we find a refreshed possibility for a revolutionary outcome quite different from the path dependency model of most post-Marx Marxism. Moreover, Anderson rejects any notion that “this Marx” is distinct from his work on capitalism, but is “…part of a complex analysis of the global social order of his time. Marx’s proletariat was not only white and European, but also encompassed Black labor in America, as well as, the Irish… Moreover, as capitalist modernity penetrated into Russia and Asia, undermining the precapitalist social orders of these societies, new possibilities for revolutionary change would … emerge from these new locations… Marx kept searching for new allies of the Western working class in its struggle against capital” (p. 3).

Anderson meticulously lays out his argument by following Marx’s development in chronological order, demonstrating significant changes in his treatment of non-Western peoples between the 1853 and 1883. Over six chapters, Anderson engages colonialism, slavery and racism, nationalism and class movements, and advanced ethnographic studies of precapitalist societies. Not only is Anderson extremely attentive to changes in nuance and language in Marx’s writings, he provides the reader with extensive textual proof of the emerging themes he has identified in Marx’s writings. For those who are unfamiliar with the Tribune articles or who have had little engagement with Marx’s notebooks and personal correspondence, the book serves as an excellent introduction and guide to documents that literally span several volumes of the MEGA. In addition to the main body of work, Anderson has also included an Appendix that helpfully explains to the reader the various “treatments” of Marx’s works since the 1920s and gives a general guide to the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe. Overall, the Marx that emerges from these texts is a theoretician who was not blindly Eurocentric or exclusively focused on Western Europe as the locus for revolutionary change. Anderson’s re-reading (and often “first time reading”) of Marx also demonstrates that a post-Marx Marxism that relies only on the now “orthodox” interpretations of Marx’s work is missing the real emancipatory potential Marx identified in movements other than the traditional working class of Western Europe. Further, Marx’s study of precapitalist social formations allowed him (and us) to envision the possibility of social forms that were not dominated by the logic of value production that underwrites the capitalistic form. As Anderson so nicely articulates, it is not that Marx sought to “return” to communal social forms (which he dialectically engaged) but that in the survival of elements of these forms there was embedded other types of social relationships that give hope to the idea that we might live differently.

If I have one critique of Anderson’s book, however, it lies in wanting more. Anderson is completely convincing in his reading of Marx’s works and the notion that there is more to the mature social theory of Marx than has generally been acknowledged by orthodox post-Marx Marxism. However, Anderson closes with the most provocative question of all: “What does Marx’s multicultural, multilinear social dialectic reveal about today’s globalized capitalism?” (p. 244). And his all-too brief answer is that the communal forms (of precapitalist Russia and India, in particular) have generally disappeared since Marx’s time; however, at the theoretical level, Marx’s analysis “…can serve an important heuristic purpose, as a major example of his dialectical theory of society” (p. 245). Anderson highlights the increased importance of the intersectionality of race, class, ethnicity, nationalism, and gender today. He tells the reader that Marx can help to critique issues like “…the toxic mix of racism and prisonization in the United States” or emerging demands for national autonomy (p. 245). Importantly, Anderson’s work allows us to see how Marx’s works have been misconstrued and applied to social theory with little respect for the totality of his analysis over time; he also provokes us to revisit Marx in the context of the global reach of capital today. Unfortunately, this is where Anderson ends this work … but leaving the hope that he will take up this “new Marx” in a subsequent book, dialectically engaging these same themes in the context of identifying the new loci of resistance to globalized capitalism. I can hardly wait for Anderson’s next work in this regard.

[1] University of Alberta

[2] Dunayevskaya’s most notable works include:  Marxism and Freedom (1958); Philosophy and Revolution: from Hegel to Sartre, and from Marx to Mao (1973); and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (1981).

[3] Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, 2nd edition.  University of Illinois Press: Chicago, 1991, p. 195.

Author’s Reply by Kevin B. Anderson

I am most grateful for the thoughtful reviews of Marx at the Margins by Dave Eden, George Karavas, and Sandra Rein, and to the editors of Global Discourse for publishing them.  Each of the three reviewers engaged important parts of the book. Karavas focused on the book’s response to postcolonial, Eden focused on capital and the value form, and Rein on the philosophical and political implications of its core arguments.  Below I will respond briefly to the issues raised by the three reviews.

Karavas points to two major themes of the book, Marx’s trajectory toward a more multilinear view of non-Western societies like India and Russia, and his consideration of ethnicity and race alongside class.  Here, Karavas has accurately rendered the book’s major themes.  As he also noted, the interpretations of Marx put forth in Marx at the Margins are at variance with currently dominant views of Marx in academic and intellectual circles.

In terms of changes in Marx’s views on non-Western societies, Karavas writes that in his last years, “Communal forms of property relations in non-capitalist societies became a subject of interest as it became evident that other societies contained unique approaches to resisting bourgeois forms of property ownership and the possibility for a direct transition to communism.”  While this is a generally accurate rendition of my argument, it passes over some nuances that I think are important, not only for my book, but also for a clearer understanding of Marx’s work.  As I argue in Marx at the Margins, Marx was in fact concerned with Asian and Russian communal social relations from his earliest writings on these societies, in the 1850s, and not only during his last decade, 1872-83.

What changed between these two periods was Marx’s interpretation of these communal social relations.  At the time of his much-criticized 1853 writings on India, he portrayed communal social forms as the foundation of what he called “Oriental despotism.” The more collectivist social relations found in these societies at the village level, he argued, created a very restrictive control by the village community – and above it, the state – over the individual. Already in the Grundrisse in 1857-58, however, he was beginning to see this differently, now characterizing communal forms as either despotic or democratic.

But in his last writings on communal social relations, Marx increasingly pointed to elements therein that might help to create a positive alternative to capitalism. Thus, in the 1880s, just before his death, he wrote that the Russian village, with its communal social organization, might be able to avoid the encroachments of capitalist modernity by (1) revolutionizing itself and overthrowing the landowner-based Tsarist autocracy and (2) linking up with leftist movements in the West.  In this way, Russia might not have to undergo the brutal process of primitive accumulation of capital sketched in the last part of Capital, Vol. I in terms of the fate suffered by the premodern Western European village.  Marx was not defending communal social relations in their existing forms in an unqualified fashion, however. For he also argued that they needed to be revolutionized from within and linked to the technological achievements of modernity from without. In this way, these indigenous social forms, and the defense of them against capitalist encroachment, could form the starting point for a wider communist transformation that would involve both large agrarian societies like India or Russia, and the revolutionary labor movements of already industrializing ones like Britain, Germany, or France.

Karavas also raises the issue of the book’s engagement with Marx’s critics.  Here too, he accurately portrays Marx at the Margins as an attempt to respond to critics of Marx’s writings on Asia and on nationalism/ethnicity.  Karavas is of course correct to argue that on the first issue, critiques of his writings on Asia and especially India, the book concentrates on Edward Said rather than numerous other postcolonial and postmodern thinkers.  In this case, it was felt that Said’s interpretation had by the 21st century become almost canonical, and thus his work could be taken as the exemplar for these traditions.

In the case of Marx on nationalism, there was no single critic who towered over the others in the manner of Said, but here, the resistance to the kind of argument Marx at the Margins was making has been even more determined and persistent. In textual terms, much of the critique of Marx on nationalism centers on his early — and sometimes ethnocentric — disparagement of some of the Slavic societies of Eastern Europe and the Balkans as “unhistoric” nations.  A possible factor contributing to the persistence and nearly hegemonic character of the critique of Marx on nationalism in recent decades could be found in the fact that there has been no large constituency supportive of Marxism in Eastern Europe and the Balkans in recent decades, far from it.  In contrast, consider the Saidian critique of Marx, which has been strongly contested from the beginning.  Part of this difference in terms of the intellectual status of the critique of Marx in these two respective situations probably lies in the fact that a rather large and vocal Marxist constituency continues to exist in places like India, where prominent thinkers like Aijaz Ahmad strongly challenged Said’s critiques of Marx.

A second factor in the persistence of the attacks on Marx on nationalism is a certain commonsense view that Marx would have had little of value to say about nationalism, given his focus on the class divisions within nations and on proletarian internationalism.

All of this has resulted in many cavalier dismissals of Marx’s writings on nationalism and ethnicity as a whole.  One prominent – and somewhat embarrassing – example, not mentioned in Marx at the Margins, could be found in Anthony Giddens’s study of the nation state, in which he quickly dispatched Marx:  “It is manifestly the case that Marx paid little attention to the nature and impact of nationalism, and the comments he does make are mostly neither instructive nor profound” (1987: 212). In a gesture that suggested a surprisingly careless use of scholarly sources, Giddens cited Solomon Bloom’s important early work on the subject, The World of Nations: A Study of the National Implications of the Thought of Karl Marx (1941), as the sole source for his peremptory declaration about Marx.  But Bloom’s view of the significance of Marx’s writings on nationalism ran exactly in the opposite direction of Giddens’s declaration. For example, Bloom had concluded his work with the statement that despite some limitations, “Marx’s contribution to the national question was more concrete than has been generally recognized.  His positive attitude toward nationality was in itself sufficient to set him apart from many another radical thinker and leader” (1941, p. 204). In his bibliography, Giddens cites Bloom, but none of Marx’s actual writings on nationalism or ethnicity.

A study of Marx’s writings on national emancipation, especially concerning Poland and Ireland, shows fairly easily that he was able to grasp the importance of the key revolutionary nationalist movements of his time and their relationship to the wider European and North American socialist and labor movements of his time.  As I tried to demonstrate in Marx at the Margins, these national issues were not side points for Marx, but at the core of his debates and controversies with rival socialist tendencies (mainly Proudhonist and Bakuninist) during the early years of the First International.  In Marx at the Margins, I did try to respond to serious scholarly critiques of Marx on nationalism and ethnicity such as those by Ephraim Nimni (1994), who carried out a textual analysis of Marx’s voluminous writings on nationalism.  I generally eschewed reference to the kinds of peremptory (and textually unsupported) critiques of those like Giddens, who seem to get a free pass so long as their target is Marx.

Marx’s alleged failure to come to grips with nationalism and ethnicity is unfortunately a stubbornly held view, one that persists among many scholars trained in earlier generations.  However, I think ground is shifting here, as seen in the appearance of a number of recent high-quality studies in this area that preceded Marx at the Margins, among them those by Erica Benner (1995), Michael Löwy (1998), and August Nimtz (2000; 2003).  I am glad that Karavas raises these issues in his review, which will likely remain important in the debate over Marx’s theorizing for some time to come.

Dave Eden’s review concentrates on the chapter in Marx at the Margins on Capital, Grundrisse, and Marx’s other critiques of political economy. This chapter was especially important in the composition of the book, because it was central to the argument that the topics of nationalism, ethnicity, and non-Western societies were not confined to Marx’s journalism and his notebooks, but also found their way into what are usually recognized as his core writings.  I am glad that Eden acknowledges the importance of the French edition of Capital and other evidence of Marx’s openness and of his moves toward a more multilinear perspective in the Grundrisse and elsewhere in his critique of political economy.

At one point in his review, Eden criticizes the way in which “Anderson’s reconstruction of Marx’s comparison of capitalist and non-capitalist societies focuses” on the issue of “how labour is organised.”  This is an accurate description of my approach, but I am puzzled as to why Eden sees it as problematic.  Here and elsewhere in my writings — and in this regard following in the tradition of those like Raya Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James — I have tried to focus on the nature of a given society’s production relations as the key determinant of whether it was capitalist or not.  (Thus, I have considered the former Soviet Union and Maoist China to be state capitalist, given the nature of economic production in those societies and despite the fact that they lacked private property in the means of production, let alone stock exchanges.) In this sense, alienated or fetishized labor, where relations between human beings at the point of production are typically thingified or reified, as Marx discussed in the first chapter of Capital, are the hallmark of capitalism and only capitalism.

Precapitalist social relations, even when brutally oppressive, did not generally take on this particular form.  Thus, in the same in fetishism section of Capital, Marx contrasts modern fetishized social relations with those of medieval Europe, which were both openly exploitative and marked by personal dependence.  As noted in Marx at the Margins, this language contrasting capitalist modernity with the medieval village was added after the first German edition of 1867.

Eden’s second critique concerns the role of money and its relationship to “fetishized relations in the form of value.”  Again, I think that Marx states pretty clearly in both Capital and the Grundrisse that the money form — or the various forms and roles that money takes on — are ultimately epiphenomenal as against the form of production relations of a given society.

Eden goes on to write: “What Marx argued is that money throughout the history of class society works to dissolve social relations. Capitalism is both the success of this dissolution and the reorganisation of society on the basis of the accumulation of value which appears as money.” I agree, at least in part, especially with the first sentence.  As Marx writes in numerous places, including his late notebooks on the Greco-Roman world, India, and other precapitalist societies, the money relation dissolves earlier social relations.  These were societies where money and merchant’s capital were extremely prominent.  Yet at the same time, as Marx saw it, these were not societies where social relations based on money were dominant; instead, older social relationships based upon large-scale landed property, which could normally not be bought and sold for money, predominated even in those precapitalist societies like Rome that seemed to have gone the furthest toward capitalism.

For Marx, especially in his last years, these were terribly important questions, not so much in terms of the history of class society in any academic sense, but in terms of the contemporary relevance of these questions for the global project of communist revolution. First, there was the fact that at the end of his life, 1877-82, Marx’s research notebooks and other writings suggest that he had become increasingly concerned with non-Western societies like Russia and India, the impact upon them of capitalist social relations, and their prospects for revolution.  (After the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, he was evidently searching for revolutionary possibilities outside Western Europe, especially given the fact that the most widely discussed edition anywhere of Capital, Vol. I, was the Russian edition, first published in 1872.)  During this same period, in addition to studying India closely and making voluminous notes on Russia (during which time he gained a working knowledge of the Russian language), he also made extensive notes on ancient Rome, still unpublished.  This was also the period in which Russian revolutionaries were asking him whether Russia was destined inevitably to go through the process of brutal uprooting of the peasantry that Marx had outlined in his description of early modern Western Europe, primarily England, in the section of Capital on “primitive accumulation.” At the time, the leading revolutionary movement in Russia was Populism, rooted in students and intellectuals who sought to make a Russian revolution in the villages of that still overwhelmingly rural country.

It was at this point that Marx wrote to his Russian supporters that he had not sought to develop in Capital a general theory of history for all times and places. To illustrate what he meant, he gave the example of ancient Rome, which, like Russia in the 1870s, had developed some of the features of a modern capitalist society:

At various points in Capital, I have alluded to the fate that befell the plebeians of ancient Rome.  They were originally free peasants, each tilling his own plot on his own behalf.  In the course of Roman history they were expropriated.  The same movement that divorced them from their means of production and subsistence involved the formation not only of large landed property but also of big money capitals.  Thus one fine morning there were, on the one side, free men stripped of everything but their labor-power, and on the other, in order to exploit their labor, owners of all the acquired wealth.  What happened?  The Roman proletarians became, not wage-laborers, but an idle ‘mob’ more abject than those who used to be called poor whites of the southern United States; and what unfolded alongside them was not a capitalist but a slave mode of production. (Shanin 1983, p. 136)

Thus, for Marx, the differences between ancient Rome and modern capitalism outweighed the similarities.  As to Russia and India in the 1870s, countries that had each — in different ways — experienced capitalist penetration but in each of which communal social relations (as Marx saw it) continued to dominate village life, the implication was that these societies might not go the way of modern capitalism, that their future was somewhat open on that score.  Thus, while I certainly agree with Eden’s notion — as he puts it, following Marx’s language in the Grundrisse and elsewhere — that the acidic character of money everywhere undermines ancient communities, I am concerned that too great an emphasis on such formulations by Marx runs the danger of, at least by implication, interpreting Marx as having developed a universal (and therefore ahistorical) theory of money and value.

A second key issue, raised directly by Eden, concerns the role of force in the global spread of capitalist domination: “But what is not present in Anderson’s work is the understanding that the role that fetishized relations in the form of value, in the form of money, plays in the transformation from pre-capitalist to capitalist society. This is not to down play the role that violence takes in colonisation, but rather identifies a special quality of capitalism.”  Again, I would argue that the core transformation that makes a society capitalist is the transformation of labor into a specific form of labor power in which social relations at the point of production are reified or fetishized, not the domination of money capital.  Clearly, while trade and money are not without importance for Marx, nor is the force used by capitalist countries to open up other societies as part of the creation of a world market.

Already in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels, in a passage tinged with an unfortunate ethnocentrism, wrote: “The cheap prices 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 the foreigners to capitulate” (1976, p. 488).  Here the stress was on how the unparalleled productivity of capitalist industry overwhelmed less efficient, precapitalist forms. But by the time of Capital, Vol. I, Marx gave far greater stress to the role of violence and warfare in the establishment of capitalist relations.  The immediate context was the primitive accumulation of capital in early modern Britain, as peasants saw their possessory landholdings expropriated, but the language Marx used suggests that he was considering developments beyond Britain’s shores as a key component of this process:  “In actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force, place the greatest part” (1977, p. 874).  Was this a change of position, or at least of emphasis, on Marx’s part?  I would tend toward the affirmative here, seeing this as an example of Marx’s intensifying critique of capitalism as his work developed, whereby earlier language about the progressiveness of capitalism assumed a far less prominent place. Of course, he never advocated a return to or a defense of precapitalist social relations, but the change of tone is evident in Capital when compared to the Communist Manifesto, or even the Grundrisse. Because of this, I would give somewhat greater weight to the role of force in the establishment and spread across the globe (and maintenance afterwards) of capitalist social relations.

Of course, once those relations are established, the value form kicks in with full force, but not until then.  I believe that that is why Marx altered in the French edition a key sentence in Capital — “the country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future” (Marx 1977, p. 91) — by adding the qualifier, “to those that follow it on the industrial path” (Marx 1985, p. 36).  At the same time, I think that twentieth-century Marxism gave too much weight to the political dimension, and I therefore cannot disagree with Eden’s conclusion: “The critique of value needs to return to the centre stage of anticapitalist thought.”

Nonetheless, I think the political and social dimension, especially when it concerns oppressed people struggling for their emancipation, cannot be left aside in any Marxist analysis that would aspire to play a part in a real change in the human condition, especially when one considers the revolutionary year 2011, which is still unfolding at the time of this writing.  This takes us to Sandra Rein’s review, which stressed both philosophical and political aspects of Marx at the Margins.

Rein concludes her review by asking about the book’s socio-political implications for today.  She calls attention to the importance of “the intersectionality of race, class, ethnicity, and gender today” as a theme prominent in this work’s interpretation of Marx, and its relation to real problems like racialized prisonization inside the U.S. or the continued importance of national autonomy in global politics.  Here, as I wrote in the book’s conclusion, there are some fairly clear connections between Marx’s writings in the nineteenth century and the racialized capitalism we continue to face today.  Moreover, the ways in which the Arab revolutions of 2011 helped to touch off some very serious protest movements in a number of industrially more developed countries, helps to show how Marx’s insights into the relationship of the Irish or Polish independence movements to labor inside Britain, Germany, or the U.S. remain very actual even 150 years later.  As Marx at the Margins stresses, Marx’s support for movements against racial, ethnic, and national oppression was never separated from the critique of capital, something that has been lacking in many radical social movements since the 1980s.  This has changed somewhat since Seattle 1999 and especially the economic crisis of 2008, which is one reason why the relationship of Marx’s thought to nationalism, race, and ethnicity seems to be an issue worth discussing today.

Rein also notes — in a tone that may indicate at least a slight disappointment — the suggestion in the conclusion, as she puts it, “that the communal forms (of precapitalist Russia and India, in particular) have generally disappeared since Marx’s time” and that therefore these writings by Marx have today more of a heuristic importance in terms of his dialectical theory of social change and revolution than any concrete application.  As also noted in that conclusion, in Marx’s time, agrarian societies with communal social relations in the villages formed a major part of the world’s population, perhaps even a majority.  Today, communal social relations in forms similar to those discussed by Marx in nineteenth-century India and Russia can be found only in a few places: Bolivia, Chiapas, the highlands of Guatemala, and a few other areas in the Global South.

But Rein’s concern — and she is not the first to raise it since the book’s publication — also leads me to a series of questions not addressed explicitly in the conclusion to Marx at the Margins. I think I could now add the following: Despite their much diminished geographic sweep since Marx’s time, vestiges of these earlier communal social relations continue to impact society, even once the peasants who had once lived under them migrate to urban areas, or even go abroad to Western Europe or North America.  Moreover, memories of those social relations can continue long after even their vestiges have become very faint. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, size is not the only determinant of a social formation’s political or social importance.  To take one prominent example, we have already seen over the past two decades how the struggle in Chiapas, a tiny, impoverished part of Mexico, helped to touch off a very wide social movement across Mexico (and beyond) that challenged not only the established political parties, but also the Mexican and the international left, forcing it to rethink many of its basic premises.

Rein also alludes to the philosophical foundations of Marx at the Margins by discussing the writings of the Marxist humanist and feminist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya, my intellectual mentor and to whom I dedicated the book (along with another pioneering scholar of Marx on non-Western societies, Lawrence Krader). I would like to take the opportunity afforded by Rein’s comments to address in more detail the relationship of Marx at the Margins to Dunayevskaya’s work.

First, I would like to note that Dunayevskaya’s concept of dialectic, while deeply Hegelian, avoided the trap of creating a grand totality into which all forms of difference and particularity would be collapsed.  To the contrary, she stressed the ceaseless movement of the power of negativity, an issue I have explored elsewhere in the introductions to two different edited collections of her writings on dialectics (Dunayevskaya 2002; 2012).  This was of course very different from the grand narrative style of much of Marxism, so often pilloried nowadays.

Second, while these kinds of methodological issues formed part of the background of Marx at the Margins, as Rein notes, Dunayevskaya also carried out some very specific, substantive work on the issues covered in my book in her Rosa Luxemburg Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (1982, see also Dunayevskaya 1985).   To be sure, Krader was the first to transcribe and discuss seriously a good many of Marx’s 1879-82 notebooks on non-Western and precapitalist societies and gender (Marx 1972), something the Russian Stalinists never did. But it was Dunayevskaya’s work that connected these late Marx writings to fundamental problems of Marxism in the late twentieth century.  Among these were the relationship of technologically underdeveloped societies to the core capitalist ones, that of national liberation to working class emancipation, and that of gender to class. In developing these issues, Dunayevskaya did not shy away from criticizing Marx’s most important colleague, Engels. While she shared much of Georg Lukács’s earlier critique – in History and Class Consciousness – of Engels’s somewhat mechanical materialism, a materialism that equated the dialectic to the experimental method of natural science, her own critique of Engels emphasized something else.  It revolved around the novel argument that Marx’s 1880-82 Ethnological Notebooks — a major source for Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State — showed a more nuanced view of the relationship of gender to class and to property than had Engels’s rather deterministic and economistically reductionist book.

In these ways, Dunayevskaya made the writings of the late Marx come alive for a new generation.  I am proud of the fact that during this period, my early work on the French edition of Capital (Anderson 1983), a project she suggested to me, was of at least some assistance to her in conceptualizing the contours of Marx’s last decade, although my little project was assuredly of much greater importance for my own development as a student of Marx.

In sum, Rein’s review has pushed me to consider some issues not addressed as directly or as fully in Marx at the Margins, whether on the contemporary relevance of Marx’s discussions of the revolutionary potential of societies where communal social forms still predominated, or on issues of dialectical methodology and the relationship of the book to Dunayevskaya’s work.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that I was most glad to read the three serious reviews of Marx at the Margins that are part of this symposium. It is to be hoped that the debate over the kinds of issues raised in the book — and in this symposium — will continue, as I think that it has not only a scholarly importance, but also some bearing on whether a new generation that is resisting capital in increasingly determined fashion will have a deep and lasting encounter with the writings of the greatest critic of capitalism, Karl Marx.


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