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Karl Marx & Jenny Marx

THE MARX PARTY – KARL MARX’S REVOLUTIONARY HOUSEHOLD

Love & Capital: Karl & Jenny Marx & the Birth of a Revolution

By Mary Gabriel,
Little, Brown & Company 2011
707 pages, $39.99

Review by Barry Healy

October 19, 2012 — Green Left Weekly — The spectre of Karl Marx still haunts the capitalist world. Only 11 people attended his funeral in 1883 and the corporate press still loves to dance on his grave, constantly declaring that his ideas are irrelevant. Yet with every economic crisis all eyes return to Marx’s masterpiece, Capital, to understand what is really going on in our economic system.

How did this extraordinary work get produced? What circumstances fed the creative process?

Through Mary Gabriel’s intimate biography we see that hardship ― unrelenting, heartbreaking miserable poverty ― was the physical context. But in greater measure, love and unstinting generosity of the spirit nurtured the flame of creativity and rebellion.

The author of The Communist Manifesto and Capital, Marx was hounded from country to country in Europe before settling in London to further his revolutionary work. With him every inch of the way, physically, intellectually and emotionally was his family.

Few lives have been lived as intensely as that of Karl Marx. And through this book the zeal that his entire family shared is honoured.

His wife Jenny, his collaborator, transcribed his notoriously indecipherable handwriting so that printers could read it. As such, she was fully united with his thought processes and shared his outlook.

As is clear in this book, she was fully as much a revolutionary as her husband, but in no way such a public figure.

However, she was recognised as a lynchpin of the exiles who swirled around their household, an essential part of the underground movement Marx and his key collaborator Frederick Engels were leading.

Their surviving three daughters were also his collaborators, first as his secretaries and then as revolutionary activists in their own right. Also part of the close-knit group were the household maid Helene Demuth (mother of Marx’s illegitimate son, Freddy) and Engels.

It was this household that was the core of the “Marx party” ― the revolutionary grouping that pulled together such a huge circle of revolutionaries that the political police of several countries spied on them ― and was a key origin of the world socialist movement today.

Marx and Engels’ project was to coordinate and lead, as far as possible, the entire revolutionary movement ― first in Europe and later the globe ― and to have Marx’s investigation of the operations of capitalism published.

Both tasks were Herculean and almost beyond the capabilities of human flesh. A well-funded political office could have achieved the first and a placidly tenured academic could have accomplished the second.

Trying to organise a revolutionary centre without resources in the stinking, disease-ridden backstreets of Victorian London was hard enough. But trying to achieve a ground-breaking analysis of the operations of the entire economic system with nothing but a desk and broken chairs was near impossible.

The stress of producing Capital drove Marx to near distraction. He missed deadlines (by decades), and his body rebelled against him. He suffered sleeplessness, headaches, boils all over his body and a persistent liver complaint.

Other political work would loom large and he would gain apparent relief from his research by diving into the political melee.

The force that drove Marx was shared by them all and made for a terribly difficult, poverty-stricken existence. When Capital, volume 1, was finally published, after 20 years in the writing, Marx observed that he had “sacrificed my health, happiness, and family” to complete the book. Among sacrifices shared with Jenny were the death of four children due to poverty.

We are lucky that Marx and just about everyone in his circle were great letter writers. This biography, which focuses on the personal and the familial, would have been impossible without the great trove of letters. As Engels lived mostly in Manchester, daily letters between the two collaborators were necessary.

The Marx family, which essentially included Engels, was characterised by astonishing intellectualism, great playfulness and passion.

It is clear that Marx, for all his public political work, was an introvert. That trait made him prickly and challenging in public but a joy to his family and friends in private. Evenings at the Marx home would be spent with the family performing scenes from Shakespeare’s plays or reciting poetry in various languages.

Marx loved books and found relief from sickness and hardship through such things as teaching himself Danish or studying advanced calculus.

Gabriel pulls no punches about Marx’s personal failings. Marx was quite capable of selfishness and foolishness, not least of which was his fathering of a baby with Helene Demuth while Jenny was in Germany begging money from rich relatives so the family could survive.

Of all of the characters in this epic, Demuth and Freddy are the least developed, which is a great pity, because they were not minor figures. Evidently they wrote less than the others.

Engels looms large as the benefactor who generously opened his purse not only to the Marx family but to other revolutionaries in need.

Gabriel is no Marxist, rather she is a liberal who appears to have been awakened to Marx’s brilliance through researching this book.

She is very good at conveying the physical and political setting of each stage of the Marx family journey and she ably summarises important political texts. That is very useful for situating these writings in their context and makes this book a useful reading guide to Marx’s writings, similar to Alan Brien’s Lenin, The Novel for Lenin’s works.

Gabriel’s political grasp is a bit thin at times. Unaccountably, she underestimates the importance of Marx and Engels’ work in support of the Union forces in the American Civil War. She pictures Marx spending the war reading newspapers in a cafe.

In Marx at the Margins, Kevin Anderson showed that Marx was personally involved in the effective ban on slave cotton that the Manchester workers maintained for the duration of the conflict. That was at the expense of their own livelihood, an outstanding example of working-class solidarity.

Moreover, when the British government tried to enter the war on the side of the south, Marx was responsible for a huge demonstration that stopped the government in its tracks. In that manner, Marx and Engels made no small contribution to the victory over slavery in the US, a world historic event.

To counteract these deficiencies, this book could be read together with Anderson’s book and Karl Marx, Man and Fighter by Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen Helfen.

What shines through Gabriel’s book is not just the extraordinary hardships that were endured by the Marx family, but the love shared. This family was committed to a socialist vision and worked tirelessly towards it.

Turning these pages to find out what happened, both the joy and the heartbreak, is very easy. Gabriel draws the reader into their world.

Originally at LINKS: http://links.org.au/node/3067

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Karl Marx

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE THREE VOLUMES OF KARL MARX’S ‘CAPITAL’

New from MR Press!

An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital
by Michael Heinrich 
translated by Alex Locascio 

“An excellent little introduction to Marx’s masterpiece.”
—Doug Henwood, editor, Left Business Observer
 
“A ‘must-read’ in our time of crisis.”
—Paul LeBlanc, La Roche College; author, From Marx to Gramsci 
 
“The best introduction to Capital I have read.”
—Michael Perelman, California State University, Chico; author, The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism 
 
“A brilliant presentation of Marx’s Capital.”
—Paddy Quick, St. Francis College; member, Union for Radical Political Economics
 
“Likely the best short introduction to Marx’s Capital to ever appear in English.”
—Riccardo Bellofiore, University of Bergamo, Italy; co-editor, Re-Reading Marx
 
“The best and most comprehensive introduction to Marx’s Capital there is.”
—Werner Bonefeld, Department of Politics, University of York
 
“A fundamental reinterpretation and understanding of Marx’s theory.”
—John Milios, National Technical University of Athens, Greece

Heinrich’s modern interpretation of Capital is now available to English-speaking readers for the first time. It has gone through nine editions in Germany, is the standard work for Marxist study groups, and is used widely in German universities. The author systematically covers all three volumes of Capital and explains all the basic aspects of Marx’s critique of capitalism in a way that is clear and concise. He provides background information on the intellectual and political milieu in which Marx worked, and looks at crucial issues beyond the scope of Capital, such as class struggle, the relationship between capital and the state, accusations of historical determinism, and Marx’s understanding of communism. Uniquely, Heinrich emphasizes the monetary character of Marx’s work, in addition to the traditional emphasis on the labor theory of value, thus highlighting the relevance of Capital to the age of financial explosions and implosions. 

Michael Heinrich teaches economics in Berlin and is managing editor of PROKLA: Journal for Critical Social Science. He is the author of The Science of Value: Marx’s Critique of Political Economy between Scientific Revolution and Classical Tradition, and editor, with Werner Bonefeld, of Capital and Critique: After the “New Reading” of Marx. Translator Alexander Locascio was previously active in the U.S. labor movement and now lives in Berlin, where he is a member of the party Die Linke and of ver.di, the German service workers union.

First published at: http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/news/distributed/new-from-mr-press-an-introduction-to-the-three-volumes-of-karl-marxs-capital-by-michael-heinrich

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World Crisis

SPACES OF CAPITAL, MOMENTS OF STRUGGLE: EIGHTH ANNUAL HISTORICAL MATERIALISM CONFERENCE

Central London

10–13 November 2011

The ongoing popular uprisings in the Arab world, alongside intimations of a resurgence in workers’ struggles against ‘austerity’ in the North and myriad forms of resistance against exploitation and dispossession across the globe make it imperative for Marxists and leftists to reflect critically on the meaning of collective anticapitalist action in the present.

Over the past decade, many Marxist concepts and debates have come in from the cold. The anticapitalist movement generated a widely circulating critique of capitalist modes of international ‘development’. More recently, the economic crisis that began in 2008 has led to mainstream-recognition of Marx as an analyst of capital. In philosophy and political theory, communism is no longer merely a term of condemnation. Likewise, artistic and cultural practices have also registered a notable upturn in the fortunes of activism, critical utopianism and the effort to capture aesthetically the workings of the capitalist system. 

The eighth annual Historical Materialism conference will strive to take stock of these shifts in the intellectual landscape of the Left in the context of the social and political struggles of the present. Rather than resting content with the compartmentalisation and specialisation of various ‘left turns’ in theory and practice, we envisage the conference as a space for the collective, if necessary, agonistic but comradely, reconstitution of a strategic conception of the mediations between socio-economic transformations and emancipatory politics.

For such a critical theoretical, strategic and organisational reflection to have traction in the present, it must take stock of both the commonalities and the specificities of different struggles for emancipation, as they confront particular strategies of accumulation, political authorities and relations of force. Just as the crisis that began in 2008 is by no means a homogeneous affair, so we cannot simply posit a unity of purpose in contemporary revolutions, struggles around the commons and battles against austerity. 

In consideration of the participation of David Harvey, winner of the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, at this year’s conference, we would particularly wish to emphasise the historical and geographical dimensions of capital, class and struggle. We specifically encourage paper submissions and suggested panel-themes that tackle the global nature of capitalist accumulation, the significance of anticapitalist resistance in the South, and questions of race, migration and ecology as key components of both the contemporary crisis and the struggle to move beyond capitalism.

There will also be a strong presence of workshops on the historiography of the early communist movement, particularly focusing on the first four congresses of the Communist International.

The conference will aim to combine rigorous and grounded investigations of socio-economic realities with focused theoretical reflections on what emancipation means today, and to explore – in light of cultural, historical and ideological analyses – the forms taken by current and coming struggles.

Deadline for registration of abstracts: 1 May 2011

See: http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/conferences/8annual/submit

Preference will be given to subscribers to the journal and participants are expected to be present during the whole of the event – no tailor-made timetabling for individuals will be possible, nor will cameo-appearances be tolerated.

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