Karl Marx 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883

Asked to write a few paragraphs on Marx’s death anniversary for The People’s Daily (China)… (who knows if it will get in):
Karl Marx 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883

130 years after Marx passed away his words are still relevant. His critical perspective and his depth of thought remain something from which we can learn. To teach Marx today, as we do at Goldsmiths, requires careful reading of his inspired, always interesting and yet often difficult and changing work. It is not enough to know just a few of the slogans of Marx and Engels, the reader must work to understand what his life’s effort was trying to achieve – a critique of political economy and a complete transformation of the social and economic exploitation of a brutal capitalism and emergent colonialism. So the reader must read Marx in his context then and in the reader’s context now – this of course changes the reader, as Marx also knew. Marx himself read widely, and wrote with humour, learning and passion. His texts remain essential for anyone who would grasp history, or know the current economic turmoil of our present world.

To remember Marx today is not only to memorialise an historical figure. Marx changed the way the world thinks. He is arguably the most important social scientist who ever lived, and yet his works can be reread anew and be found useful, in different ways, by each generation that follows. Marx changes with the times because his thought is rich, and his dialectical method is able to bend in ways that reveal the underpinnings of each fluctuation of political fortune. To read Marx thoroughly is an all-important formative moment for every scholar. There are other authors – Freud, Darwin, de Bouvoir – but who has really changed the world?
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In recent years another Marx emerges from the archives. More of his writing is translated and published (it is not all out even yet) and a more careful assessment of his concepts of subsumption, original accumulation, labour theory of value and composition of capital becomes possible. His work on credit, banks and fictitious money can help us understand the global crisis, and his notion of cycles and time of capital provides a welcome wider perspective. In Europe, as with elsewhere across our planet, political upheavals bring readers back again and again to Marx, as always because the books of Marx are not answers, but tools for making those answers. For the unity of the workers of the world, for the ‘ruthless criticism of everything that exists’ and for the redistribution of the surplus of production in a planned way to each according to their need. It would be a smart student who picked up the book of Capital of the first time, and joined with others in reading groups, seminars or college classes, to work out what all that fuss was about. Read Marx again, you have nothing to lose but your chains.
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- Professor John Hutnyk teaches the course Capitalism and Cultural Studies – a lecture course on Marx’s Capital – at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
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