Revolutionary Science

‘In 1858, not a single person in the world understood the Grundrisse except Marx, and even he had trouble with it. It was an altogether unique and in every sense strange product of the intellect, and must have appeared like the reflections of some man from a distant planet. Emerging from a rat hole of an apartment in a London slum a bearded foreigner in worn clothing makes his way to the British museum; writes articles all day for a newspaper in far-off New York; reads obscure treatises no one else has read; pores over a ton of government Blue Books ignored by all; returns to the slum, works deep into the night, piling up notebooks in an illegible script. Hegel? Adam Smith? Ricardo? Proudhon? Who knew or cared? If Marx had died in mid-1858 (it was not so distant a possibility) these seven winter work books might well have remained a book of as many seals. Instead, he emerged in 1863 as the only man in London – where working-class leaders from all over the world were in exile or visiting – who could precisely articulate the grounds for the general working class feeling that the emancipation of wage slaves required the abolition of slavery in its chattel form; the only man in 1864 who could formulate the elementary principles of unity for the first effective international association of workers; the only man within that association who could refute the narrow reformism of the trade union leaders and the doctrinaire anti-unionism of the utopians and anarchists, all in one coherent systematic argument. Amidst the enormous welter of sects, tendencies, utopias, schemes and hare-brained notions that rose to the surface like froth in a storm, there was only one person who had the basic outline of the entire historical movement firmly and clearly in mind; who had a concept of the whole, of its contradictions and limits, and of the road to its overthrow. If we are able to understand the Grundrisse at all today it is because Marx began and others have continued to demonstrate the actuality of its concept in practice and because history itself has leaped ahead. Much that could be expressed in 1857 and only in the form of a hopelessly abstract abstraction has become today so concrete and familiar as almost to become commonplace. Cataclysms, crises?..What is remarkable about all this…[historical]… development is not so much that is has developed but that Marx was able more than a century ago to grasp its outlines. This is a tribute not to his “genius” – that is a nonsense term – but to his method of work.’

(Martin Nicolaus, Foreword to the Grundrisse, 1993:  lv)

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