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Project sketch

Modern social criticism begins with Karl Marx and has to elucidate itself about the origin of this trace. The research project seeks to foster such elucidation by focusing on the question of the birth and formation of the Marxian critique of society. To answer this question, the project assumes a Foucault-oriented, genealogical perspective on the criticism Marx performed in his writings. In doing so, it offers an understanding of critique as basically an activity, a social practice embedded in a specific realm of experience (social struggles and movements), and armed with a certain form of knowledge (historical materialism; historical and social science), which articulates society as fundamentally and antagonistically divided into classes. Based on this articulation, the Marxian critique principally changes its status from a formerly philosophical activity to a now partisan, performative practice that takes a stand within the class-antagonistic front lines. Critique here transforms itself into what Marx himself calls criticism in a hand-to-hand fight. This mode of exercising criticism always reckons with an opponent, who needs to be struck and defeated. Furthermore, it is always already aware of being situated within a configuration of contentions, in which the momentum of a radical revolution to a “classless society” is ultimately at risk.

International research on Marx so far has taken an occasional note of this mode of exercising criticism. It has, however, hitherto neither scrutinized its significance, nor questioned its possible relationship to those two languages of critique prevalent in the Marxian conception of critique, that is: the normative critique of an alienated way of life (early Marx) and the scientific critique of a capitalist sociation through “value” (late Marx). The research project at hand problematizes these inadequacies and intends to close the resulting research gap. It will reconstruct the emergence and continuing practice of this criticism in a hand-to-hand fight along three different periods in the Marxian oeuvre. In the first period (1845-1852), the project deals with the selected writings that form this novel mode of criticism; in the second period (1852-1862), Marx’ journalistic writings for the New York Tribune are analyzed with regard to this novel mode of criticism; eventually, the third period (1864-1875) will unfold the Marxian criticism in the Capital and other political writings from this period. The genealogical question raised is the same for all three analytic work areas: How and in which manner does the criticism in a hand-to-hand fight appear herein? Who is the targeted opponent, who is made out to be struck, and what is at stake? By answering these questions, the research project hopes to make a relevant contribution not only to the conceptualization of Marx´ critique of society, but to the elucidation of modern social criticism as well.