150 Years of the Grundrisse

The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the clan. Only in the eighteenth century, in ‘civil society’, do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations.(Source)

The Grundrisse was the last of the trilogy of Marx’s mature works- the other two being Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy and Das Capital– to be published. Indeed, these notebooks were published one hundred years after they were written, leading Marcello Musto to comment that the work was published after ‘one hundred of years of solitude’. It is a tribute to Marx’s genius that he wrote this huge tome as a means of clarification of his own thoughts and as a preparation for his magnum opus, Das Capital, though some of its thoughts went into Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy as well. He did not intend it for publication.

Interestingly, the Grundrisse  begins with the individual, in the realm of material production, of course, unlike the Critique and Capital, that begin with the most central and abstract categories of capitalism- commodity, value and labour.

As Marcello Musto remarks in his article on the 150 years of the Grundrisse:

Today, 150 years after its composition (see the volume Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy 150 Years Later), the Grundrisse demonstrates Marx’s enduring capacity to explain the capitalist mode of production.  Its insightful analysis of the great historical role of capitalism, or of the creation of an ever more cosmopolitan society than the one that preceded it, goes together with a critique of the obstacles and internal contradictions that capitalism places in the way of a more complete development of society and the individual.  The Grundrisse is also exceptionally valuable for the many observations, such as those on communist society, which Marx was never able to develop elsewhere in his incomplete oeuvre.  It seems highly likely that new generations approaching Marx’s work will experience for themselves the fascination of these manuscripts.

Having said this, I must admit that I haven’t yet got around reading the tome, except for snatching the initial few pages. It has less to do with the work itself and more to the fact that I came late to Grundrisse, it was tough to get hold of when I was in the phase of my study of marxist works, and it came to me when I was well into reading fiction. Amends will however be made, and I already have the top most item on my next year’s resolution!

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