1. Introduction

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005


A) Towards a critical reassessment of Marx There was once a little sung refrain that went as follows: The 'communist world' is not communist: the 'free world' is not free. In the wake of the break up of the 'communist world' this has been all but drowned out by the triumphant cries of the ideologists of the Western bourgeoisie. We have been told that capitalism, the market and democracy have finally won; that communism is dead; that history is now well and truly at an end! But are we to accept that there is nothing left beyond the eternal rule of capitalism? Are we to believe that there is no hope of anything better than this alien world? Is there nothing left to play for than the tired old postmodernist jukebox?

No, on the contrary, if nothing else the fall of the Eastern Bloc has put paid to all the old illusions of 'existing socialist societies' and the inanities of so- called 'degenerate workers' states'. Now it is clear there is no 'Russian gold', only ourselves, the 'enemy within'. The way has been cleared for the reconstruction of communism; for the rebirth of the real negation of capitalism that first came of age with the First International more than a hundred years ago.

Yet, with the final collapse of Soviet Marxism, any such reconstruction of communism demands more than ever a critical reassessment of its most lucid theoretical exponent -- Karl Marx. Yet, as Paul Cardan(1) pointed out in the wake of the 'destalinization' of the 1950s, can a theory that sought not merely to interpret the world but to change it be separated from its own consequences? Can we simply return to a 'true' Marx unsullied by the iniquities of Stalin? Indeed not. But at the same time we cannot just as simply reject Marx out of hand.

Marx, with his efforts to reproduce the 'concrete in thought', has provided the most lucid theory of the essential movement of capitalist society which has now come to dominate the globe and within which we are all obliged to live. Indeed, as Mandel has pointed out: When Volume I of Capital was first published, capitalist industry, though predominant in a few Western European countries, still appeared as an isolated island encircled by a sea of independent farmers and handicraftsmen which covered the whole world, including the greater part even of Europe...

Since Marx wrote, capitalist technology and industry have indeed spread all over the world.

(Capital*I, p. 11) Hence: Today's Western world is much nearer to the 'pure' model of Capital than the world in which it was composed. (Capital *I, p. 12) Marx, therefore, cannot be confined to the nineteenth century as many would like to have it. Indeed, there can be no final farewell to Marx so long as capitalism persists.

Yet nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Marx's theoretical efforts were delimited by the limitations of his own epoch. Most importantly, as Debord once pointed out, as a revolutionary theory that sought to practically transform the world, Marx's theory was confined by the very weakness of the revolutionary practice of his time: The weakness of Marx's theory is naturally the weakness of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of his time. The working class did not set off the permanent revolution in Germany of 1848; the Commune was defeated in isolation.

Revolutionary theory thus could not yet achieve its own total existence. The fact that Marx was reduced to defending and clarifying it with cloistered, scholarly work, in the British Museum, caused a loss in the theory itself. The scientific justifications Marx elaborated about the future development of the working class and the organisational practice that went with them became obstacles to proletarian consciousness at a later stage. (Debord, 1967, Thesis 85) As a consequence, within the isolation of the British Museum, Marx's theory tended to become attenuated into merely an objective and deterministic science. Indeed it is this that allows Mandel to talk about the 'pure model' of Capital. But this: ...deterministic-scientific facet in Marx's thought was precisely the gap through which the process of 'ideologization' penetrated, during his own lifetime, into the theoretical heritage left to the workers' movement... Throughout his life, Marx had maintained a unitary point of view in his theory, but the exposition of the theory was carried out on the terrain of the dominant [bourgeois] thought and became precise in the form of critiques of particular disciplines, principally the critique of the fundamental science of bourgeois society, political economy. It is this mutilation, later accepted as definitive, which has constituted 'marxism'. (Debord, 1967, Thesis 84) Yet this deterministic-scientific exposition that we find in such works as Capital, and which has been taken as definitive by much of Marxism, is only one facet of Marx's theory; a particular, but necessary moment in its unfolding. As again Debord points out: What closely links Marx's theory with scientific thought is the rational understanding of the forces that really operate in society. But Marx's theory is fundamentally beyond scientific thought, and it preserves scientific thought only by superseding it; what is in question is an understanding of struggle, and not of law. 'We know only one science: the science of history.' (The German Ideology) (Debord, 1967, Thesis 81) Here, with Debord, we can begin to disentangle Marx's theory from its own practical consequences. Circumscribed by the very weakness of the communist and workers' movement of his time, Marx was unable to foresee how in practice his theory would be turned against itself. How capitalism would have to accommodate the growing power of the workers' movement and in doing so recuperate its theory as the ideology of labour. How, as such an ideology, Marxism would then come to serve as the 'last refuge of the bourgeoisie'(2) and the 'first defence of the bureaucrat' in capital's attempts to prevent communism.(3)

Yet, Marx's theory could only be turned against itself because its exposition and interpretation was one-sided; because its exposition in such works as Capital only stressed its scientific and objective side. This deterministic 'scientism' and 'objectivism' of Capital becomes clear once it is contrasted with Marx's more 'humanistic' early works, such as the 1844 Manuscripts. But these early works are themselves insufficient; they all point towards Capital. We cannot simply tear out and discard Capital and Marx's later critique of political economy, as writers such as Debord are wont to do.(4) It is, as we shall contend, necessary to determine how the Marxian theoretical project points both through and beyond Capital.

Any return to Marx must, therefore, at one and the same time seek to go beyond Marx to find the Marx that has been lost. But before we can make this impetuous leap beyond the Marx that has come down to us we must first of all understand in detail how it is that the Marx that we have is incomplete. It is towards such an understanding that is the task that we propose to take up in the pages that follow.

B) The incompleteness of Marx

How then are we to approach this problem of the incompleteness of Marx? Firstly, with the publication and translations of both the Grundrisse and Marx's earlier works it has become widely recognized that there is much more to Marx than just Capital. Yet even if we only consider Capital itself there is much to suggest that Marx's work was far from being done. Indeed, there is little doubt that Marx's greatest theoretical work was left unfinished. In fact, it may be said that Capital stands as one of the greatest unfinished theoretical works of the modern era.

As is perhaps well known, despite being over two decades in the writing, only the first of Capital's three volumes was ever published during Marx's own lifetime. The long arduous task of transcribing and editing the numerous manuscripts that provided the material for the subsequent two volumes was left to Marx's close friend and associate, Friedrich Engels. It was not until 1894, eleven years after Marx's death, that all three volumes finally appeared in print. Yet even then lengthy passages in these posthumous volumes proved too much even for the long and devoted efforts of Engels to transcribe into a final and finished form. Since Engels preferred not to interpose his own work or interpretations in place of these passages in the final published versions of these final two volumes, we still find them in little more than their original note form. As such they stand as witness to Capital as still a work-in-progress.

But this is not all. According to Marx's original plan of work of 1857, his 'book on capital' was to have been only the first of six books -- the other five being books on landed property, wage-labour, the state, foreign trade and the world market and crisis. Even if we accept Rosdolsky's contention that the first two of these five books were subsequently incorporated into the three volumes of Capital, this still leaves us the final three books unaccounted for. Were these three books abandoned, or do they point to the continuation of Marx's project through and beyond Capital itself? Furthermore, it may be asked, what happened to Marx's promise, which is repeatedly made in the course of Capital, of a separate work on the theory of competition, which was to have followed his 'general analysis', but which he never came to write?

Does all this not indicate that Capital was, even for Marx himself, part of a much larger theoretical project? A project that was to have developed through and beyond Capital as we find it?(5)

Despite such bibliographical evidence that Capital was part of a larger unfinished project, most commentators, whether Marxist or non-Marxists, have taken Capital, for all intents and purposes, as being complete. They have taken it as the culmination of Marx's life's work; as a definitive statement of his 'economics'. It has thereby been taken as an essentially closed work.

Yet, as we shall contend, it is through this very closure of Capital that Marx has been both assimilated in academia as a harmless alternative to orthodox bourgeois theories, and appropriated as the ideology of the surrogate bourgeois rulers of state capitalism. It is with this closure that Marx stands in a fundamental sense incomplete. However, as we have noted, in refusing such misappropriations of Marx it is insufficient merely to retreat to Marx's earlier works as often has been the case. It is necessary to locate Marx's incompleteness in Capital itself. To show how even this 'great scientific' work implicitly promises both the suppression and supersession of bourgeois science.

Central to our task will therefore be to show how, once placed within the trajectory of his theoretical project, Marx's exposition in the three volumes of Capital points beyond its immediate limits and closure, perhaps even at points escaping Marx's own conscious intentions.

How then do we propose to set about our task of revealing the incompleteness of Marx and the enactment of closure within his greatest work -- Capital? Let us first consider our underlying line of argument before considering the outline of its presentation.

In the pages that follow we shall seek to show that, in coming to focus on a critique of political economy -- which we then find presented in the three volumes of Capital -- Marx was obliged to impose a provisional two- fold closure in, what we shall term, his broader thematic of 'capitalism and its overthrow'. Without going into too much detail, this provisional two-fold closure can be summarized as follows.

Firstly, Marx, in making his critique of political economy, was obliged to close off class subjectivity in order to grasp the logic of capital as an objective and positive system of 'economic laws' which is apparently independent of human will and purpose. Symptomatic of this provisional closure is that although Marx elsewhere places class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as the driving force of the bourgeois epoch, in Capital he presents these classes as little more than 'character masks'. Indeed, the working class only enters in the principal analysis in Capital under the objective categories of labour-power and variable capital -- as a mere object of capital.

Secondly, we shall seek to show that in making his general analysis of what capital is, Marx is obliged to emphasize the unity of capital. Even though Marx's dialectical presentation requires that he must repeatedly posit capital as contradiction, in the course of his exposition in Capital he has to repeatedly resolve such contradiction into an ever more concrete unity. As a result the question of crisis and rupture in capital's development, which would appear so vital for the Marxian theoretical project, becomes repeatedly deferred throughout the three volumes of Capital. It thereby becomes so fragmented and marginalized that we find no unified theory of crisis in Marx. Instead we find various fragments of such a theory indicated and sketched out in the numerous digressions that are marginal to the main thrust of Capital.

How then are we to set out this thesis of a provisional two-fold closure in the chapters that follow?

It is in chapters 8, 9 and 10 that we shall actually consider how the two-fold provisional closure within Marx's broader thematic is inscribed within each of the three volumes of Capital. But before we can examine this enactment of closure in Capital itself we have first to place it in context. We have to see how both Marx's broader thematic and his critique of political economy became constituted out of the articulation of his practico-revolutionary and theoretical projects. We have to see how the political and theoretical imperatives of his time, and Marx's own responses to them, came to shape the overall trajectory of the Marxian project.

Consequently we begin, in chapters 2 and 3, by tracing out in broad outline the genesis and trajectory of the Marxian project in terms of its political, historical and biographical context. In chapter 2, we shall see how Marx, as a radical bourgeois democratic, came to adopt the Young Hegelian thematic of 'human alienation and human liberation'; and how, with his eventual political exile and growing commitment to the socialist and workers' movements, he came to push this Young Hegelian thematic beyond its own limits, superseding yet preserving it within a new thematic of 'capitalism and its overthrow' with the foundation of historical materialism. Then, in chapter 3, we shall go on to see how, through his confrontation with both classical political economy and his socialist adversaries, Marx was increasingly led to focus his theoretical concerns onto a critique of political economy, which eventually resulted in Capital.

Having considered the political and historical imperatives that determined the trajectory of the Marxian project we then turn to its internal theoretical imperatives in chapters 4 and 5. There can be little understanding of Marx's method or ontology, and hence little understanding of Capital and his critique of political economy, without an understanding of Marx's appropriation of Hegel's dialectic. In chapter 4 we therefore examine how the Hegelian dialectic emerged from classical German philosophy and how it came to be appropriated by Marx. We shall argue that Marx appropriates the Hegelian dialectic not merely by inverting it and placing it on a materialist footing, but by reconstructing it as a radically open, and implicitly plural, dialectic.

In chapter 5, we shall then see how this radical reconstruction of the Hegelian dialectic as not only a materialist but an open dialectic allows Marx to thematize capitalism as a transient mode of production whose persistence is only ever provisionally assured. As such it becomes necessary to see capitalist society in itself as being formed both through the 'objective logic of capital' -- as the dialectic of capital, as well as against itself -- the promise of the negation of capitalist society through the counter-dialectic of class struggle. Marx's broader thematic of 'capitalism and its overthrow' can then be seen as being constituted by the articulation of the dialectic of capital and the counter- dialectic of class struggle. In coming to focus on the problematic of political economy we find Marx closing in almost exclusively on the dialectic of capital. As a consequence we find the counter-dialectic of class struggle falling below the horizon of Marx's immediate analysis in the pages of Capital.

With chapter 6 we complete our contextualization of Marx's critique of political economy by returning to consider the particular historical and intellectual context of the late nineteenth century in which Marx actually came to inscribe his provisional closure with his critique of political economy, and in which it was then sustained as a final closure by the first generations of Marxists. This then leads us onto the consideration of the actual enactment of closure itself; the heart of our analysis.

In chapter 7 we shall consider how the provisional closure enacted with Marx's critique of political economy is reflected in Marx's methodological transition from the process of inquiry (Forschung), evident in the Grundrisse, to the method of presentation (Darstellung) that we find in Capital. Through a critical engagement with the seminal works of both Negri and Rosdolsky, we shall seek to show how this provisional closure is inscribed within both 'the problem of where to begin the critique of political economy' and the change in outline of Marx's overall plan of work between the Grundrisse and Capital.

In chapters 8, 9 and 10, we then proceed to consider how this provisional closure becomes enacted in each of the three volumes of Capital itself. Chapter 8 begins with Volume I. In the first part of this chapter we shall see how the opening chapters of Volume I serve to provisionally close off the question of crisis and the disunity of capital through the ultimate attenuation of Marx's abstract social labour theory of value to, what we shall term, a quasi-embodied labour theory of value. An attenuation which, as we point out in more detail in the concluding chapter, has allowed Marx to be readily, but erroneously, appropriated as the last of the classical political economists.

In the second part of chapter 8 we shall then proceed to consider how, with the theory of the production of surplus-value and the accumulation of capital that is set out in the remainder of Volume I, Marx comes to attenuate his broader theory of capitalist production as the historically contingent process of human alienation in the modern world to that of an objective process of exploitation. As a result we shall see how Marx's consideration of the worker as alienated subject so evident in his earlier works, becomes provisionally reduced to the worker as exploited object.

Having dealt with the enactment of closure within Volume I we shall then, in chapter 9, turn to consider its enactment in Volume II. Here we shall see Marx's necessary, but provisional, emphasis on the unity and persistence of capital is preserved through the resolution of the discontinuity inherent in capital's particular circulatory forms -- such as fixed, latent and suspended capital -- in the continuity of capital's overall process of circulation. But as we shall see, such a resolution is only ever tentative and provisional, and hence the possibility of rupture and crisis becomes visible within the very precariousness of capital's overall process of circulation.

In chapter 10 we shall then see how this possibility of rupture and crisis, that became increasingly visible through the precariousness of the overall circulation of capital, repeatedly erupts in the course of Marx's exposition concerning the distributional forms of surplus- value that we find in Volume III. However, as we shall argue, such eruptions of the question of rupture and crisis are still premature for Marx at this stage. Each marks a distinct digression from Marx's principal line of theoretical development that we find running through all three volumes of Capital and hence point beyond Capital itself. But as a consequence, we find no unified theory of crisis in Capital.

Having examined how Marx comes to inscribe his two-fold closure within each of the three volumes of Capital, chapter 11 steps back to consider the methodological structure of Capital as a whole, and in doing so draws our investigation into the enactment of closure in the three volumes of Capital together with our earlier discussion of Marx's appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic. Here we shall suggest that there is a close homology between the logical development and presentation of Hegel's category of the Notion with that of Marx's category of capital. But, as we shall argue, it is a homology that is only sustained insofar as the provisional closure inscribed in Capital is itself sustained. So that, unlike Hegel's Notion which is closed within itself, Marx's category of capital necessarily comes to point beyond itself as a transient social category.

Finally, and by way of a conclusion, chapter 12 will briefly return to consider the implications of the failure to recognize the provision nature of the closure that we find in Capital for the subsequent development of Marxism. To this end we shall consider two important perennial controversies of twentieth century Marxism: firstly, the controversy surrounding the issue of the importance of human praxis and human alienation to Marx, which brings out the implications of the first part of the two-fold closure; and secondly, the issue of the validity of Marx's labour theory of value, which brings out the implications of the second part of the provisional closure. As we shall seek to argue through our examination of these two particular controversies, the translation of the provisional closure in Marx into a final closure within Marxism has meant that Marxists have found themselves trapped between adherence to a rigid dogmatism, exemplified by the orthodox Marxism of the Second and Third Internationals, or else to a total capitulation to revisionism or bourgeois liberalism.

Here then, we have set out in broad outline the course of our thesis concerning the incompleteness of Marx. Let us now begin by considering the origins and formation of the Marxian project.


1. See Cardan (1961)

2. Here I lift the phrase -- 'Marxism: the last refuge of the bourgeoisie' -- from the arch-critic of the orthodox marxism of the Second and Third Internationals -- Paul Mattick. See Mattick (1983).

3. The notion that Social Democracy in both its Leninist and 'reformist' forms has served as a means for the prevention of communism is presented in Binns & Dixon (1990).

4.For a critique of both Debord and Situationism which centres on their failure to fully grasp Marx's critique of capital, and hence the importance of Capital, see Barrot (1987).

5.In recent years there has been a considerable amount of research into Marx's method following the intense debates that arose in the 1970s surrounding the question of the state and the validity and character of Marx's labour theory of value. Some notable examples of this research being Sayer (1983), Meikle (1985), Arthur (1986) and Banaji (1979). Such research has often, either implicitly or explicitly, come to the point of raising the question of the closure in Marx. Yet despite such efforts there has been little attempt to delineate in detail the closure and incompleteness of Marx, with perhaps the exception of Tony Negri, who, as we shall see, will serve as a vital point of departure for much of our analysis -- see Negri (1991) -- and Lebowitz (1992), who has done much to draw out the implications of Marx's 'missing book on wage labour'.