Marx Myths & Legends

http://marxmyths.org

Resource Type:  Website
Cx Number:  CX12498

A critical reading of the work of Karl Marx now requires us to lay to one side the myths and legends which have obscured his ideas over the past one hundred and twenty years- distortions and misinterpretations to which perhaps no thinker has been more prone. In one sense, this is not difficult, because there is enough of his writing preserved, albeit in translation, for any of us to read Marx in his own words. Most however have been unwilling or unable to do this. The fifty volumes of the Marx-Engels Collected Works are forbidding, and when beginning as one almost inevitably does, with the received wisdom surrounding Marx’s name, there is much to discourage a reader from seriously taking on the task of understanding Marx. The aim of this project is thus to begin to challenge some of those myths in order to clear the way for a fresh reading of Marx that will hopefully be less prone to the distortions, misunderstandings and blatant falsehoods that have so far surrounded Marx. We believe that what Marx had to say remains of considerable relevance to an understanding of problems we face today, but that a reading of Marx now must maintain a critical caution which does not merely reproduce received ideas- positive or negative- about Marx’s work.

Abstract:  A critical reading of the work of Karl Marx now requires us to lay to one side the myths and legends which have obscured his ideas over the past one hundred and twenty years- distortions and misinterpretations to which perhaps no thinker has been more prone. In one sense, this is not difficult, because there is enough of his writing preserved, albeit in translation, for any of us to read Marx in his own words. Most however have been unwilling or unable to do this. The fifty volumes of the Marx-Engels Collected Works are forbidding, and when beginning as one almost inevitably does, with the received wisdom surrounding Marx’s name, there is much to discourage a reader from seriously taking on the task of understanding Marx. The aim of this project is thus to begin to challenge some of those myths in order to clear the way for a fresh reading of Marx that will hopefully be less prone to the distortions, misunderstandings and blatant falsehoods that have so far surrounded Marx. We believe that what Marx had to say remains of considerable relevance to an understanding of problems we face today, but that a reading of Marx now must maintain a critical caution which does not merely reproduce received ideas- positive or negative- about Marx’s work.

The distortion and questionable interpretation of Marx’s work is in many senses a direct result of his great success. His name became synonymous with a vast movement which not only changed, but virtually defined the twentieth century. The leaders of the communist parties needed to prove themselves true disciples of Marx, while anti-communists followed suit by attributing everything they hated to Karl Marx. Interpretation of Marx has thus been driven by a number of historical factors, and any attempts to gain, for example, a “scholarly” understanding have necessarily been secondary. Yet this is not to mourn any supposed loss of the purity of Marx’s thought to the struggles and conflicts in which he has been implicated! It is not simply a case of counterposing a “true” Marx to the Marx that gave his name to the movements of the twentieth century. To set against the distortions we cannot raise up a singular, uncontradictory Marx, abstracted from history and ultimately separable from everything that comes within “Marxism”, yet it remains that there is much in that received wisdom about Marx that is refutable, or at least rendered distinctly questionable, with a little attention to the textual and historical evidence.

There is thus, on the one hand, the generally negative task of demythologising Marx where we need primarily to just look at the evidence carefully. This task is the guiding one of “Marx Myths & Legends”, but on the other hand Marx interpretation must to some extent also involve a battle over facts, and the negative task is inextricable from a more positive interpretive one. In areas where controversies remain, we hope to present a heterodox and critically open account, whilst the project itself will be ongoing, with new texts added gradually to cover more areas of Marx mythology and take account of other areas of debate. We encourage readers to contribute their own Critiques & Rejoinders to the articles published here.

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