Karl Marx, Anthropologist

By Thomas C. Patterson | Go to book overview

4

History, Culture, and Social Formation

Marx read widely in anthropology and history in the 1870s. He filled fifty notebooks about Russia and, between 1879 and 1882, took more than 450 pages of notes interspersed with commentaries on topics as diverse as prehistoric Europe, the history of India, Dutch colonialism, family and gender in Roman society, and American Indian societies (Anderson 2002; Smith 2002). Only about a third of the notes were transcribed and published by Lawrence Krader in The Ethnological Notebooks (Marx 1880–2/1974). It was the second time in his career that Marx read extensively about non-Western societies; the earlier one occurred between 1853 and 1859 when he wrote articles about India, China, and the Ottoman Empire for the New York Tribune (Avineri 1968). Marx's interest in anthropology and history raises two interrelated questions: If his overriding concern was capitalist society, as some have claimed, then why did he read so extensively about non-capitalist and pre-capitalist societies? Did his theoretical standpoint and understanding of these societies change in significant way between the 1850s and the 1870s?

The presupposition underlying the first question is that Marx saw the study of non-capitalist or pre-capitalist societies in the 1870s as distinct from and unrelated to that of capitalism. For later commentators, it was alternatively a grander project, a diversion from the really important project, pedantry, a sign of depression over the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, and even an indication of encroaching senility. In contrast, David Smith (2002: 78–9) has argued that it is difficult to sustain either the presupposition or the conclusions drawn from it, since Marx was still actively working on the second and third volumes of Capital in the 1870s, and, at the same time, was preparing a new edition of the first volume as well as a French translation which combined elements of the first and second German editions of that volume (Anderson 2002: 87). Smith further suggests that Marx's turn to anthropology and history had a lot to do with the subject matter that the latter was planning to discuss in the second volume. In volume one, as you will recall, Marx (1863–7/1976: 711– 61) discussed the “simple reproduction of capital” and drew most of his examples from the British Isles. In the second volume, he would discuss the “accumulation and reproduction of capital on an expanded scale” (Marx 1865–1885/1981: 565–99). Smith writes that, at this point,

Marx needed to delve further into the multicultural specificity of the world that capital-
ism was seeking to conquer.… Now he needed to know concretely, in exact detail, what

-91-

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Karl Marx, Anthropologist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chronology xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The Enlightenment and Anthropology 9
  • 2: Marx's Anthropology 39
  • 3: Human Natural Beings 65
  • 4: History, Culture, and Social Formation 91
  • 5: Capitalism and the Anthropology of the Modern World 117
  • 6: Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century 145
  • Notes 173
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 219
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