2017 and 2018 mark several anniversaries whose significance for the critique of capitalist society is hard to diminish. It is Capital’s 150th anniversary in autumn 2017, the 170th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto in February 2018, and it would have been Karl Marx’s 200th birthday in May 2018.
Moreover, we are approaching the 100th anniversary of Russia’s February and October 1917 revolutions and the German revolution in November 1918. A further anniversary to commemorate in 2018 will be the 50th anniversary of the global upheaval in 1968.
As we reach the bicentennial of Marx’s birth, what lessons might we draw from his dangerous and delirious philosophical legacy? What precisely is Marx’s lasting contribution?
To better understand how Marx achieved his lasting global impact — an impact arguably greater and wider than any other philosopher’s before or after him — we can begin with his relationship to Hegel. What was it about Hegel’s work that so captivated Marx? As he informed his father, early encounters with Hegel’s “system,” which builds itself upon layer after layer of negations and contradictions, hadn’t entirely won him over.
The key factor in Marx’s intellectual legacy in our present-day society is not “philosophy” but “critique,” or what he described in 1843 as “the ruthless criticism of all that exists: ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.” “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it,” he wrote in 1845.
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Is Marx Still Relevant?