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Michael Heinrich on the Theoretical Development of Marx's Oeuvre - TV BOITEMPO Interview

Writing this biography, I was not only occupied with Marx’s life. I was also occupied a lot with his works. Now, in the 1st volume, only the dissertation plays a crucial role from the works of Marx. In the other volumes I will treat all of Marx’s larger works. By doing this (and I’ve already prepared a lot of this material) I became aware of (mainly) 2 things we have to rethink in a new frame. The first is the development of Marx’s works. There is this old controversy surrounding whether there is a continuity in Marx. There is the idea that Marx, from a very early point in time, had basically the same framework of analyzing and constructing theory and it only became more and more complete or precise, but without fundamental changes – the so-called “continuity thesis”. Or, was there a certain, sharp rupture by which we can distinguish the more philosophical, young Marx from the more economical, late Marx? Between these two points is a sharp break that means that the theoretical framework Marx used underwent big, fundamental changes.

I would say both possibilities are wrong. At first glance, this may seem a bit surprising because these alternatives are posed as an “either or”: either there is continuity or a sharp break. But I think both are wrong. The “continuity thesis” is wrong because we find a number of breaks. The break thesis is wrong because we cannot reduce all the breaks we find to just one or two big breaks that explain everything. We have to see that already, the very early Marx was working not only on one field – he was simultaneously working on different fields of knowledge: he was working on philosophy, politics, economics, history, and for certain times also on the natural sciences and mathematics. In all of these fields we can find very strong developments with breaks in between. There is, nowhere, a total continuity. There are always some breaks. But the breaks do not happen simultaneously. In one field we see a continuity of development and in another field there is a break. So, we must abandon the idea of a certain line of development – either a full line in the case of continuity or a line with a break (either in the middle or at the beginning) in the case of rupture. No, we cannot imagine the development of Marx as a line. We have to imagine it as a kind of matrix – a 2-dimensional field with certain lines, lines interfering, where one line has a break and another has no break. The development of Marx’s theory is much more complicated than we assumed in the past.

To illustrate this, I will give one short example: it is the relation between politics and economic theory. The usual view is that Marx started with political issues – especially when he was an editor of the Rhenish Newspaper in 1842-43. Then, through all of the conflicts, he discovered the importance of the economy and became occupied with economic theory. Then, after a long period of study, he produced Capital as his main work. In some respect, Marx supports this view with one of his very very few autobiographical notes, for example, a note in the preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in the year 1859. But this is not the whole story. Maybe Marx changed from politics, as his main field of occupation, to economic theory. Especially when he moved to London and started to study in the library of the British Museum where he found the biggest collection of economic literature that existed at the time. Nevertheless, Marx remained occupied with politics and also political theory, not only in his well-know works like 18th Brumaire or The Civil War in France. Very often, these 2 works are seen as the lonesome towers constructing Marx’s political theory. No, he was also occupied with politics, the state, and even with theoretical questions in the hundreds of newspaper articles he wrote in order to earn some money. In these articles, for example, for the New York Daily Tribune (for whom Marx wrote a large number of articles from the 1850s to the early 1860s), he was discussing the British policy in India, events in the British parliament, issues relating to the Spanish revolution in the first half of the 19th century. In the context of the Spanish revolution for example, he discussed questions of constitutionalism. You will find this nowhere else in Marx’s works. In the articles about British parliamentarism he also raises questions about the possibilities of parliamentary politics and so on.

So, when we take into account not only the big, well-know works of Marx, but also the hundreds of newspaper articles, then we see that the study of politics, of political theory, of state theory, always played a very important role for Marx. We cannot have this very simple picture of a transition from political theory to economic theory and say that unfortunately, he never wrote the book on the state that he planned to write. Of course, he never wrote this book, but we can find a lot of interesting material. In such a biographical study, I can show why Marx was doing what – in which context he wrote a political article, what was the meaning of it? I hope through this, I can also contribute to the discussion of the political theory of Marx, which does indeed have a number of sources even though the book on the state was never written.

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