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Reviewed by Bill Bowring: Philip Cunliffe  “Lenin Lives! Reimagining the Russian Revolution 1917-2017”

Lenin Lives! Reimagining the Russian Revolution 1917-2017

Reviewed by Bill Bowring

Zero books, Charlotte, NC, 2017. 136pp., £9.99 pb
ISBN 9781785356971


Philip Cunliffe’s narrative account of how history might have happened comes with an enthusiastic endorsement by the founder of the Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. His University of Kent colleague Sean Sayers wrote “What if the hopes of the Russian Revolution had been realised? Setting out from this question Cunliffe shines a great deal of new critical light on our times. Hugely thought-provoking and entertaining. Full of contentious ideas and stimulating insights. A fire cracker of a book.”

There is no questioning Cunliffe’s expertise concerning the Russian Revolution, and what actually happened; and as he explores what might have happened in various parts of the world, he shows broad knowledge and genuine scholarly inquisitiveness. The book is always stimulating, and well-written. Cunliffe also has a wicked sense of humour.

Dr Cunliffe is a Senior Lecturer in International Conflict at Kent University, teaches a module on “Marxism: Politics and International Relations”, and dedicates the book to his students on the module. He completed his PhD in the War Studies Department at King’s College London, examining developing countries’ personnel contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations. His critically acclaimed third book Legions of Peace: UN Peacekeepers from the Global South (Hurst, 2013) was based on his doctoral research.

So Cunliffe has splendid credentials. Nevertheless, for me at least this is a very odd book, for several reasons.

First, and highly relevant to the title of the book, Lenin, far from “living!” is put gently to a rather obscure sleep by Cunliffe. Chapter Three of the book is entitled “The Best Possible World: Global Socialism”. On p. 70 there is a section entitled – knowingly – “Lenin’s Last Struggle”. I cite the passage on p. 71, in full:

Lenin lives a few years longer into the 1920s, his health less battered by the strain of defending an isolated Russian Revolution. But in this timeline too, his last years are also consumed with a strenuous fight – not against Stalinism, but rather for the global right of nations to self-determination. Attacking the giants of German Marxism from a remote socialist outpost in the East, he is initially castigated and then eventually patronized as the great but backward-looking starik – “Old Man” – of the Revolution, increasingly out of time and too liberal in his concern for protecting the political rights of small nations in the new era of grand revolutionary federations.

Indeed, in this version Lenin has no need to warn his fellow Bolsheviks against Stalin, or to engage in his last struggle with Stalin over the right to independence of Georgia and the federative principle for Soviet Russia, with the right to secede. In Cunliffe’s counter-factual, Stalin continues his career as an obscure administrator, is secretly jealous of Trotsky’s success as a military leader, but remains a loyal Trotskyist until he dies in the 1950s (111)! This is one of the reasons that I admire Cunliffe’s sense of humour.

However, for myself, I consider that two of Lenin’s great achievements were his principled theoretical understanding of the right of nations to self-determination, drawing on Marx and Engels on Poland and Ireland, and fierce polemics with the Austro-Marxists Karl Renner and Otto Bauer; and his stunning implementation of his policy after 1919, with independence for Finland, the Baltics, Poland, and the federative principle in the first Soviet constitutions.

In fact, Lenin’s health was fatally damaged not so much by the strain of defending the Revolution, as by the Left Social Revolutionary Fanny Kaplan who on 30 August 1918, convinced that he was a traitor to the Revolution, shot him outside the Hammer and Sickle factory. Two bullets hit him, one passing through his neck, puncturing part of his left lung, and stopping near his right collarbone; the other lodging in his left shoulder. Lenin survived but never fully recovered. This helped to bring about his early death a few years later. Or perhaps in Cunliffe’s alternative version the shooting never happened either. In his counter-factual world, German socialism, which then spreads around the world, is victorious in 1925 (66).

Another example of Cunliffe’s sense of humour: the capitalist enclave in socialist Germany is named – the German Democratic Republic!

Second, the heroes and heroines of anti-colonial and national liberation struggles also disappear from this alternative history. Colonial empires are destroyed by revolution in the colonial powers, not by uprisings from below. More surprisingly, feminism and civil rights also “become redundant” in the improved twentieth century (111). Somehow the oppression of women, and patriarchy, magically disappear. Feminists might well consider that male privilege and violence and discrimination against women are too deep-rooted to be eradicated so speedily.

Third, Cunliffe imagines what might have been the consequence of the victory of socialism in developed industrial Germany rather than backward Russia. Here he joins the Marx of 1848 in believing that victory against capital would release the productive forces from the shackles of production relations, and would lead to abundance. Thus, he has the new socialist states drawing on Marx’s guidance, so that their “overarching” emphasis is “less on redistribution than on relentlessly improving labour productivity as fast as possible.” (88) Cunliffe adds that Marxism was not designed for the “poverty-stricken, rural and deeply uneven” countries of Latin America, but was designed to uplift, transform and improve the most advanced societies, “building not only on the civic and political freedoms of liberalism but also the economic achievements of capitalism” (90).

Nowhere, as far as I could see, does Cunliffe mention the environment, the planet as a whole, or the effects on it of rapid industrialisation. It is now increasingly understood that Marx’s later work, was characterised by his “turn from a utopian view of technological progress, and his growing recognition of the ecological limits to capital accumulation.” (Bob Jessop) The words cited are from one of many enthusiastic reviews of Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2017, reviewed here). Winner of the Deutscher Memorial Prize 2018. Michael Heinrich added: “Saito has not only an excellent knowledge of Marx’s oeuvre, he is also occupied with Marx’s sources. He provides an exciting journey, showing how deeply ecological questions are connected to Marx’s unfinished project of a ‘Critique of Political Economy’.” Cunliffe has apparently not noticed these developments in the understanding of Marx’s theoretical development.

Similarly, Cunliffe does not mention Marx’s investigation, towards the end of his life, of a road to socialism which did not have to pass through industrialisation, namely the Russian peasant commune. See Teodor Shanin Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and the Peripheries of Capitalism(Routledge, 1983). Marx studied and became adept in Russian, and after several drafts wrote to the Russian revolutionary Vera Zasulich on 8 March 1881.

The question remains: what is Cunliffe’s stand-point? This is not immediately clear from the book itself. But it is well known that he is closely associated with the former Living Marxism or LM network, known for promoting libertarian and anti-environmentalist ideas. Cunliffe with his Sovereignty And Its Discontents (SAID) Working Group, has been a sponsor of The Battle of Ideas organised by the Academy of Ideas (Institute of Ideas), since at least 2004, and he has participated and presented several times more recently. He like the former director and founder of the Institute of Ideas, Claire Fox, who is now an MEP for the Brexit Party, is a passionate supporter of Brexit. He describes himself on Twitter as a “Brexit Bolshevik”. He helped to found the “The Full Brexit”, a pro-Brexit campaigning network. He will be a speaker at The Battle of Ideas in September 2019.

And on 19 July 2019 he re-tweeted Bjorn Lomburg, author of ‘Cool It’ and ‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ (“which challenges widely held beliefs that the world environmental situation is getting worse and worse”), himself tweeting: “Lomborg deserves a medal for being one of the few to retain his sanity among the global intelligentsia.” Lomburg’s tweet?: “Unbridled alarmism: No, our current trajectory is about 4°C, not 6°C. No, 4°C is not the end-of-the-world, it is a problem, equivalent to reducing average income by about 3-4% in 2100 (when OECD will be 200-500% as rich as today and Africa 300-2,200% richer)”.

So I too recommend the book, for many of the same reasons as Sean Sayers. But Dr Cunliffe might have been rather more up-front as to where he is coming from, politically.

24 July 2019

Minority Rights in Russia

Trial observation in Madrid – the Catalan Referendum Case

Report by Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister


I visited Madrid on Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 February, invited (at extremely short notice) by International Trial Watch – Catalan Referendum Case (, which is a coalition of civil society organisations

  • Associacio Catalana per a la Defensa deis Drets Humans (ACD ddhh)
  • Col-lectiu PRAGA
  • Institut de Drets Humans de Catalunya
  • Iridia – Associació Irídia, Centre per la Defensa dels Drets Humans (
  • NovAct International Institute for Nonviolent Action
  • OSPDH – Observatorio del Sistema Penal y los Derechos Humanos (OSPDH) de la Universidad de Barcelona (

I represented

  • the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), of which I am President,
  • the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) of which I am an Executive Committee Member.

I was one of three international observers on those days. The others were:

John Philpot, Avocat, practising in Montréal, Canada

Paul Newman, Lawyer in Bangalore, India

I am grateful for the support I received from Anais Avo and Andres Garcia, lawyers and activists in Iridia; and from Professor Louis Lemkow Zetterling, of the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals – Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB). I now have close contact with all three.

The accused

The 12 accused are (from


Oriol Junqueras Vies


Former Catalan vice president and ERC leader


Oriol Junqueras is the most senior political figure to face trial in the Supreme Court. He was the Catalan vice president and the finance minister at the time of the referendum, as well as the main independence leader along with then-president Puigdemont.

While Puigdemont left the country following Madrid’s takeover of Catalan institutions, Junqueras stayed and was subsequently incarcerated on November 2, 2017. While in prison, he ran as ERC’s candidate for president in the December 21 election.

Pro-independence parties had held on to a parliamentary majority but lost it last spring when the Supreme Court suspended Junqueras and other MPs charged in the Catalan trial, and they rejected being replaced. Junqueras will have spent 467 days in precautionary detention by the time the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 25 years in prison for rebellion and misuse of public funds


Jordi Turull Negre


Former regional minister for the presidency and spokesman for the government of Catalonia


As the presidency minister and cabinet spokesperson, Jordi Turull was one of the highest-ranking government officials during the independence referendum. He entered prison on November 2, 2017, only to be released a month later on a €100,000 bail.

Elected as an MP for Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) party, led by Puigdemont, he was proposed by the former president as his successor, when Spanish courts prevented Puigdemont from retaking the post at a distance. He entered prison again on March 23, a day before he was to be elected as Catalan president in parliament.

He was subsequently suspended as MP, and prevented from retaking his post as presidency minister while in prison. Turull will have spent 359 days in precautionary detention when the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 16 years in prison for rebellion and misuse of public funds


Joaquim Forn Chiarello


Former regional interior minister


As the interior minister, Joaquim Forn was in charge of Catalonia’s own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, during the independence referendum. Accused of not doing enough to stop the vote, Forn has denied any “political interference” with the Mossos’ work.

Along with Junqueras, Forn is the only minister who’s stayed behind bars consistently since November 2. He is to run for Barcelona mayor as JxCat’s candidate. Forn will have spent 467 days in precautionary detention when the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 16 years for rebellion and misuse of public funds


Raül Romeva Rueda


Former regional minister for foreign affairs, institutional relations and transparency


After a decade serving as a member of the European Parliament for the Greens-EFA, Romeva returned to Catalonia in 2015 to lead pro-independence parties in a unity list.

He served as foreign action minister until Spain triggered Article 155 of the constitution to suspend the Catalan government, following a declaration of independence. He spent a month in jail, was released on bail, and was later re-imprisoned in March 2018. Elected as an MP for ERC, the Supreme Court suspended him last July. Romeva will have spent 359 days in precautionary detention when the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 16 years for rebellion and misuse of public funds


Dolors Bassa Coll


Former social affairs minister


Dolors Bassa was the minister of social affairs when the referendum took place. She was released on bail after spending a month in prison from November to December 2017.

A member of ERC, she left her seat in parliament before appearing before the Supreme Court in March last year but was imprisoned regardless. Bassa will have spent 359 days in precautionary detention when the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 16 years for rebellion and misuse of public funds


Josep Rull Andreu


Former minister for land and sustainability


A close ally of Puigdemont, Josep Rull has served as a member of the Catalan parliament for more than two decades. After spending one month in jail and being released on bail, he was imprisoned again last March.

Catalan president Quim Torra proposed that he retake his post as territory minister while in prison, but Spanish courts blocked his appointment and later suspended him as an MP. Rull will have spent 359 days in precautionary detention when the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 16 years for rebellion and misuse of public funds


Meritxell Borràs Sole


Former regional minister for governance, public administration and housing


Catalonia’s governance minister during the independence referendum, Meritxell Borràs quit politics after spending 33 days in prison, thus abandoning a career spanning more than 20 years. Summoned to court last March, she was allowed to walk free while most of her colleagues were again incarcerated.


Prosecutor’s request: 7 years in prison + €30,000 fine for misuse of public funds and disobedience



Carles Mundó Blanch


Former justice minister


Just like Borràs, Carles Mundó quit politics after spending 33 days in jail in late 2017 for his role in the independence bid. He was the justice minister during the referendum.


Prosecutor’s request: 7 years in prison + €30,000 fine for misuse of public funds and disobedience


Santi Vila i Vicente


Former regional minister for business and knowledge


Santi Vila was always sceptical of unilateral moves to independence while a member of the Puigdemont cabinet. He was part of the government when the referendum was called, and the day before the declaration of independence, he stepped down from his post and from politics altogether soon afterward. This, after spending one day in prison. He was not MP in Parliament during that period, and said his department spent no money on referendum logistics.


Prosecutor’s request: 7 years in prison + €30,000 fine for misuse of public funds and disobedience.



Carme Forcadell Liuis


Former parliament speaker


Forcadell has been one of the main key players in the road to independence since its beginning in 2012. The first years, she was leader of a large grassroots pro-independence organization, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and from 2015 as parliament speaker.

The Spanish Constitutional Court sent her several warnings and the Spanish prosecutor filed criminal lawsuits against her while in office, for allowing debates and votes on independence. Forcadell, however, repeatedly stated that she always respected freedom of speech and the rights of MPs. She will have been behind bars for 327 days when the trial starts.


Prosecutor’s request: 17 years in prison for rebellion.


Jordi Sànchez Picanyol


Former grassroots leader


Jordi Sànchez took over ANC leadership in 2015 when Forcadell entered institutional politics. He led a protest outside the Catalan economy department on September 20, 2017, as a response to Spanish police raids against the referendum organization.

No-one was injured but the protest was considered a “tumultuous” one, and Sànchez was charged with sedition, and then rebellion. The grassroots leader maintains all pro-independence demonstrations in that period were peaceful. Yet he was incarcerated pending the trial, and when sessions start, he will have spent 484 days behind bars.

While in jail, he stepped down as ANC leader, was elected as MP for Puigdemont’s candidacy JxCat, attempted to be sworn in as Catalan president, and was then suspended as MP.


Prosecutor’s request: 17 years in prison for rebellion.


Jordi Cuixart Navarro


Grassroots leader


Jordi Cuixart is the only official to be judged who has never held any public post in politics. During the 2017 referendum, he was president of Òmnium Cultural, another large pro-independence organization, and is accused of the same events as Sànchez.

Both were the first leaders to be sent to precautionary jail in October 2017, and Cuixart will also have spent 484 days in prison when the trial starts.

Unlike Sànchez, he was not involved in the December 2017 election and remained Òmnium’s leader. This organization has dramatically increased its members since then, to 130,000.


Prosecutor’s request: 17 years in prison for rebellion.


All the elected politicians would be barred from holding public office for long periods of years if convicted.



The alleged crimes

The accused are charged with the following crimes arising out of the organisation of the independence referendum on 1 October 2017.




Article 472
A conviction for the offence of rebellion shall be handed down to those who violently and publicly rise up for any of the following purposes:

  1. To fully or partially repeal, suspend or amend the Constitution;
  2. To declare the independence of any part of the national territory
  3. To disaffect from obedience to the Government any armed force.

Article 473
1.  Those who, inducing the rebels, have promoted or sustain the rebellion, and its ringleaders, shall be punished with a sentence of imprisonment from fifteen to twenty- five years and absolute barring for the same time; those who act as subaltern commanders, with that of imprisonment from ten to fifteen years and absolute barring from ten to fifteen years, and mere participants, with that of imprisonment from five to ten years and special barring from public employment and office for a term from six to ten years.

  1. If weapons have been used, or if there has been combat between the rebellious force and the sectors loyal to the lawful authority, or when the rebellion has caused criminal damage to publicly or privately owned property, cutting off telegraphic and telephone lines, the airwaves, railways or any other kind of communications, with serious violence against persons, demanding contributions or diverting the public funds from their lawful investment, imprisonment shall be handed down, respectively, of twenty- five to thirty years for the former and from fifteen to twenty- five years for the second, and from ten to fifteen years for the latter.

Article 478
Should whoever commits any of the felonies foreseen in this Chapter be an authority, the punishment of barring foreseen in each case shall be substituted by that of absolute barring for a term from fifteen to twenty years, except if that circumstance is specifically included in the criminal classification concerned.



Article 544
Conviction for sedition shall befall those who, without being included in the felony of rebellion, public and tumultuously rise up to prevent, by force or outside the legal channels, application of the laws, or any authority, official corporation or public officer from lawful exercise of the duties thereof or implementation of the resolutions thereof, or of administrative or judicial resolutions.

Article 545
1.  Those who have induced, sustained or directed the sedition or who appear as the main doers thereof, shall be punished with a sentence of imprisonment from eight to ten years, and with that ten to fifteen years if they are persons with the status of an authority. In both cases, absolute barring for the same term shall also be imposed.

  1. Apart from those cases, a punishment from four to eight years imprisonment and of special barring from public employment and office for a term from four to eight years shall be imposed.



Article 432
1.The authority or public officer who, for profit, steals or allows a third party, with the same intention, to steal public funds or property he has under his charge due to his duties, shall incur a sentence of imprisonment from three to six years and absolute barring for a term from six to ten

2.A sentence of imprisonment shall be imposed from four to eight years and that of absolute barring for a term of ten to twenty years, if the embezzlement is especially serious, in view of the value of the sums embezzled and the damage or hindrance caused to the public The same penalties shall be applied if the items misappropriated are listed due to their heritage or artistic value, or if they are goods assigned to public catastrophe relief.

3.When the amount embezzled does not reach the sum of 4,000 euros, the penalties imposed shall be a fine exceeding two and up to four months, imprisonment from six months to three years and suspension from public employment and office for a term of up to three



Article 410
1.Authorities or civil servants who openly refuse to duly fulfil court resolutions, decisions or orders of a higher authority, handed down within the scope of their respective powers and complying with the legal formalities, shall be punished with a fine from three to twelve months and special barring from public employment and office

Article 73
Authorities or civil servants who openly refuse to duly fulfil court resolutions, decisions or orders of a higher authority, handed down within the scope of their respective powers and complying with the legal formalities, shall be punished with a fine from three to twelve months and special barring from public employment and office

Article 74
1. Notwithstanding what is set forth in the preceding Article, whoever perpetrates multiple actions or omissions, in the execution of a preconceived plan or taking advantage of an identical occasion, that offend one or several subjects and infringe the same criminal provision or provisions that are equal to or of a similar nature, shall be punished as the principal of a continued felony or misdemeanour with the punishment stated for the most serious offence, that shall be imposed in its upper half, it being possible to reach the lower half of the higher degree of punishment.


Criminal organisation

Article 570 bis
1. Whoever promotes, constitutes, organises, co-ordinates or directs a criminal organisation shall be punished with a sentence of imprisonment from four to eight years, if it has the purpose or object of committing serious felonies, and with a sentence of imprisonment from three to six years in other cases; and whoever actively participates in the organisation, forms part thereof or co-operates financially or in any other way therein, shall be punished with imprisonment from two to five years if its purpose is to commit serious felonies, and with a sentence of imprisonment from one to three years in other

For the purposes of this Code, a criminal organisation is construed to be a stable group formed by one or more persons, for an indefinite term, in collusion and co-ordination to distribute diverse tasks or duties in order to commit felonies, as well as to carry out reiterated commission of misdemeanours.

  1. The penalties foreseen in the preceding Section shall be imposed in the upper half when the organisation:
  2. a) is formed by a large number of persons;
  3. b) possesses weapons or dangerous instruments;
  4. c) has advanced technological resources for communication or transport that, due to their characteristics, are especially fit to facilitate commission of the offences or the impunity of the accused.

Should two or more of those circumstances concur, the higher degree penalties shall be imposed.


The three prosecutors

There are three prosecutors:


Public Prosecution Ministry

The Public Prosecution Ministry, without prejudice to the functions entrusted to other bodies, has as its mission, the promotion of Justice in defence of the rule of law, the rights of citizens and the public interest protected by the Law, ex officio or at the request of the interested parties, as well as to ensure the independence of the Courts and to seek before them the promotion of social interest (art. 124 EC). The Public Prosecution Ministry exercises its functions through its own bodies, in accordance with the principles of unity of operation and hierarchical subordination subject in all cases, to the rule of law and impartiality. The basic law that regulates the Spanish Public Prosecution Ministry is the Organic Statute of the Public Prosecution Ministry, approved by Law 50/81, of 30th December, and modified by Law 24/2007, of 9th October. The Public Prosecution Ministry is a single body for the entire State and its members are the authority for all purposes, always acting as representatives for the whole Institution.


Solicitor General of the State

The Solicitor General of the State represents the State and depends functionally on the Ministry of Justice. It is the governing body for the services that provide legal assistance to the State and to other public institutions. It is led by the Solicitor General of the State and appointed by the Council of Ministers.


People’s Prosecution

A concept regulated in article 125 of the Spanish Constitution, giving legitimacy to any citizen to present themselves in a criminal judicial process, even if they have not been directly affected by the crime in question. It is a form of civic participation in the justice system and characteristic to Spain; it does not exist in other countries. Even though it is permitted both for individuals and corporate entities, it is very common for it to be carried out by groups, associations or even political parties.

The people’s prosecution is being carried out by VOX, the far-right political party in Spain founded on 17 December 2013, by former members of the People’s Party (PP).

The ICJ’s analysis

I agree with the position of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) published on 12 February 2019 (

The very broad definition of the offence of rebellion being applied in this case risks unnecessary and disproportionate interference with rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly. The twelve political leaders – including high-ranking Catalan government officials – have been charged in connection with their part in the administration on 1 October 2017 of a referendum on Catalonian independence. The referendum was conducted despite having been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. The voting process during the referendum was partially suppressed by the police, with credible reports of the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force in breach of Spain’s international law obligations.

Interference with peaceful political expression and protest must be justified as strictly necessary and proportionate under international human rights law. Where peaceful protests or political actions, even if declared unlawful by the authorities, provoke an excessive response by the police, it is solely the police and other state authorities who should be held responsible for the violence. It is crucial that the Supreme Court, in its consideration of these charges, takes full account of Spain’s obligations under international human rights law.

The ICJ is concerned that prosecutors, and the Supreme Court in admitting the indictment in the case, have ascribed an unduly broad meaning to the offence of “rebellion” under article 472 of the Criminal Code. According to that article, the offence requires violent insurrection to subvert the constitutional order. But the referendum organizers are not accused of using or advocating violence. Rather, they are being tried on the basis that they should have foreseen the risk of intervention and the use of force by the police. It is therefore alleged that the defendants were criminally responsible for the violence that ensued from their decision to carry on with the referendum, despite it being declared illegal.

Although the Supreme Court has held that the use of force by Spanish law enforcement authorities during the repression of the referendum of 1 October 2017 was “legitimate and, as such proportionate”, international observers have concluded that such use of force was excessive and disproportionate. In accordance with international human rights law, the mere fact that the use of force is considered to be legal under national law, does not of itself mean that it can be considered to be necessary and proportionate.

The Supreme Court has further already accepted that, if the facts alleged by prosecutors are proven, they could amount to the offence of sedition, which is committed by those that that rise up publicly and in a tumultuous way, by force or by unlawful means, to impede the implementation of laws or of authorities’ orders.

Vague, broadly defined offences of sedition or rebellion risk violation of the principle of legality, as well as arbitrary and disproportionate interference with human rights. In a highly sensitive and politicised case such as that of the Catalonian referendum, they would set a dangerous precedent for the targeting of peaceful independence movements and political dissent, not only in Spain but internationally.

Several of the accused have already been held in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods, further exacerbating the severity of the interference with rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and casting doubt on the proportionality of the response.


I arrived in Madrid on the morning of 19 February, and attended the hearing at the Supreme Court in the afternoon. I and the other two observers were not hindered in entering the court or the large, ornate court-room.

The judges sit – see picture, at the head of the court-room.

The presiding judge, with a 7 judge panel, is Justice Manuel Marchena Gomez. He is the President of the Criminal Chamber of the Court. He was born in 1959, 59 years old. He has been a prosecutor, judge, and professor.

The other judges are:

Antonio del Moral Garcia

Luciano Varela Castro

Andrés Martinex Arrieta

Juan Ramón Berdugo Gómez de la Torre

Ana Maria Ferrer Garcia

Andrés Palomo del Arco





Picture from El Pais, J.J.GUILLEN EFE

According to the Catalan newspaper, El Nacional[1]:

[Judge Marchena] has let the defence lawyers have twice as much time to make their points as they are allowed, according to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)[2] – the court whose presence hangs permanently over this courtroom. He has let family members enter the Supreme Court room where the accused are held during recesses. He has let the accused wear yellow ribbons. He did not cut off the political discourse of Oriol Junqueras, even though he had warned he didn’t want political meetings. Indeed, the seven judges who are hearing the independence leaders’ case remained silent and unfazed, and at no time interrupted the former Catalan vice-president, but rather, simply listened attentively, without making notes of any kind.

Marchena has allowed the prisoners to sit alongside their lawyers. Although it will have to be behind them, since the number of defence lawyers is so large, they won’t all fit right beside their clients.

Manuel Marchena was especially severe with the public prosecutor and the state solicitor, and also with the private prosecution led by Vox, of course. And strict he will have to be, because Vox’s status as a political party – combined with the calling of a Spanish general election – further complicates the role of this private prosecution and of Manuel Marchena himself, who has to act as referee.

The accused, as appears in the photo above, sat in the centre of the Court, with defence lawyers with them or to their left, and the prosecutors on the right. There were empty seats in the rear of the court, with seats reserved for the press, for the families, and for the public. The presence of international observers was not announced.

I had no translation during the session I observed, so I could not know whether the defence lawyers told the judges of the presence of observers, nor could I understand what was said.

I heard Raül Romeva, the former Foreign Action Minister, give evidence. He was not interrupted by the judges, and spoke at length. He showed a video film of a large, peaceful demonstration in Barcelona. The few interventions made by Judge Marchena appeared to be normal and restrained.

I was told that most of the defendants have agreed to answer questions from the Public Prosecutor and Solicitor General, but not from VOX.

In the evening the international observers had dinner in the hotel with some of the defence lawyers. We were told of the extreme and disproportionate nature of the charges against their clients, but we were not told of any hindrance suffered by the defence.

On the morning of 20 February I was not taken back to the Supreme Court, but to a room in what appeared to be a temporary office centre, where there was a large TV screen with direct transmission from the Supreme Court, and excellent simultaneous translation into English. It was thus possible to see the judges, prosecutor, and accused close-up.

I saw Josep Rull, the former Territory Minister, answering questions from the Public Prosecutor. The questioning was restrained and not aggressive, and Mr Rull spoke as long as he wanted to in answer. He was reminded a couple of times by Judge Marchena to try to answer the questions put to him, and not to make so many political points. But he was not hindered in saying what he wanted to say.

I was struck by the fact the Prosecutor did not ask Mr Rull any questions relating to violence, which is an essential ingredient of “rebellion”. Questions were directed much more to the misuse of public funds in organising a referendum which the Constitutional Court had declared to be illegal.

I was obliged to leave to return to England after lunch.

Although it had been intended that I should give interviews to the Spanish and Catalan media, this did not happen. It had also been intended that I should meet Senator Laura Castel from Tarragona, but this did not happen either.

[1] Gemma Liñán “Judge Manuel Marchena’s balancing act, with one eye on European justice” 18 February 2019 at

[2] Spain ratified the ECHR on 24 November 1977, and the ECHR came into force for Spain on 4 October 1979

Russia’s Criminal Justice System – from Tsar Alexander II to President Putin

SCRSS Digest, Spring 2019

A typical recent criticism of Russia reads as follows: “Although the equality of arms and the right to adversarial trial are guarantees of the Russian Constitution, many cases show deep flaws within the criminal justice system and gross misconduct of the judiciary and prosecution. This includes using fabricated evidence, forced confessions and impunity for perpetrators of crimes.”[1] There is truth in this, especially in politically high profile cases. But is it the whole story?

What follows is a summary of the lecture I gave at SCRSS on 19 October 2018, and draws on some of the material in my 2013 book Law, Rights and Ideology in Russia: Landmarks in the destiny of a great power (Routledge). I previewed the book in an article in the SCRSS Digest in the Spring 2012 issue, pages 5-7.

I start in the early 19th century. In March 1814 the Russian Army entered Paris, having defeated Napoleon – and returned to Russia having achieved its objectives. Russia appeared to be invincible. Ten years later, the Decembrist revolt of 26 December 1825, led by progressive aristocrats who wanted to prevent the accession of Nicholas I, to abolish serfdom and to establish a constitutional order in Russia, was crushed. Nicholas, a political conservative, ruled from 1825 to 1855.

Criminal justice under Nicholas was aptly summed up as follows: “The secret inquisitional procedure, with its soulless records, with its formal evidence evaluated in advance and prescribing to the judge his decision, could be nothing else but a source of cruelty and inequity. The judge was deprived of liberty of decision, and bound by the rule of formal evidence. He could not acquit or condemn according to his conviction, but only act in conformity with the scale of value of evidence set forth by law. His sentence, though formally correct, was very often nothing but a flagrant injustice.”[2] And “the best evidence in the whole world” was considered by the law to be the confession of the accused.”

However, the Russian Empire lost the Crimean War, which lasted from October 1853 to February 1856, to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. Nicholas I died on 2 March 1855, succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander II. Alexander was not a liberal, but could see that survival of the Empire and of Tsarism dependent on radical reform. On 3 March 1861 in the Emancipation Manifesto, serfdom was abolished. Abolition of slavery in the USA came a few years later.  Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (ratified in December 1865) abolished slavery in the United States. Russia had led the way.

Abolition of serfdom was followed by the Great Legal Reforms of Alexander II. On 20 November 1864 he signed the decree which enforced four Regulations including Regulations of Criminal Proceedings, and Regulations of Punishments Imposed by Justices of the Peace – in Russian Мировой суд, a direct translation from the English institution established by Edward II in 1361).

Alexander established a unified judicial system, and fundamental innovations in criminal trials. These included the principle of equality of the parties, the introduction of public hearings, trial by jury (again, modelled on English practice), and a professional Bar. Previously there was no legal representation in criminal cases. The powers of the Procurator were substantially reduced, and mainly concerned prosecution in the criminal courts.

The most famous case of jury trial was the acquittal in 1878 of the social revolutionary Vera Zasulich (1851-1919). Her comrade, Alexei Bogolyubov, refused to remove his cap in the presence of Colonel Trepov, the notorious governor of St. Petersburg. Trepov ordered him to be flogged. A group of six revolutionaries decided to assassinate Trepov. On 24 January 1878 Zasulich, shot and seriously wounded Trepov in front of witnesses. She was tried by jury, and the judge was the famous legal reformer Anatoly Koni. The sympathetic jury found Zasulich not guilty. She went on to become a Marxist, and, famously, corresponded with Karl Marx as to whether Russia could achieve socialism through the peasant commune. Judge Koni was a great legal reformer until the 1917 Revolution, became a leading law lecturer in Soviet Russia, and died in 1927.

The Bolsheviks abolished trial by jury and justices of the peace, but the Bar continued during the Soviet period as an independent profession, remunerated by fees, and defending the accused in cases of economic and political crimes. Fearless advocates, often Jewish, in the Soviet period included my colleagues Yuriy Shmidt (1937-2013) in Leningrad and Semeon Ariya (1923-2013 in Moscow). I have a book of Ariya’s defence speeches in Soviet courts. They continued, with their colleagues, in representing defendants persecuted by the post-Soviet regime. However, the Public Prosecutors regained their full Tsarist powers, and as Vladimir Terebilov – Minister of Justice and Chairman of the USSR Supreme Court – wrote in his book The Soviet Court, published in Russian and English in 1973 and 1986, a prime function of the Soviet court was to educate the public in intolerance of crimes, respect for the law, and the rules of socialist community life.

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 has meant the restoration of many of the great reforms of Alexander II. An experiment in trial by jury in 9 regions started in 1993, and covered the whole of Russia from 2003. Justice of the Peace courts were restored from 1998.

This restoration of 1864 took place against the backdrop of a revolutionary transformation in Russia’s attitude to international law. In the USSR, there were two key principles of international law: state sovereignty, and non-interference in internal affairs of states. So the USSR ratified UN human rights treaties, but did not permit external scrutiny of domestic legality.

Under the first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, Russia adopted a new Constitution in 1993, with guarantees for the whole range of human rights and civil liberties, and a provision establishing the supremacy in Russian legal system of international law. This has been explained by the Supreme Court in Resolutions of 2003 and 2013.

In 1996 the Russian Federation joined the Council of Europe (CoE) and in 1998 ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which immediately became part of Russian law. For the first time every person under Russian jurisdiction could complain of violations of the ECHR to the European Court of Human Rights, and thousands have done so. As a result legal textbooks and court judgments are now full of references to European human rights, and there have been substantial changes to Russian law and procedure.

In 2000 I had the honour of being nominated by the Council of Europe to serve as one of three CoE experts working with Dmitry Kozak (now Deputy Prime Minister), Yelena Mizulina of the State Duma, Judge Radchenko of the Supreme Court, and Vladimir Shults, Deputy Director of the FSB. We drafted the new Criminal Procedural Code, which introduced the principle of adversariality into the Russian criminal process, transferred the power to remand on bail or in custody pre-trial, with a presumption for bail, from prosecutors to judges, and many other changes. These reforms have been strengthened by judgments of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, referring to Strasbourg principles and judicial decisions.

Indeed, in the period from 2000 to 2003, President Putin encouraged these and other reforms, spoke often of the “dictatorship of law”, cited Judge Koni, and referred to himself as following in the footsteps of Alexander II. The arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in late 2003, the expropriation of his oil company Yukos, his two criminal trials, and imprisonment in Chita, where Decembrists had been sent to serve their sentences after 1825, marked the end of this reform period.

Today, less than 1% of criminal trials in Courts of General Jurisdiction end in acquittals (15-20% in jury trials), lower than the acquittal rate in the USSR; and the judges are not, as in the UK, former advocates, but are drawn almost entirely from law enforcement and court administration. Members of the Russian Bar fight hard for their clients, but judges frequently read out the indictment prepared by the prosecutor by way of a judgment. All too often criminal proceedings are abused for the purpose of “criminal corporate raiding”, illegal takeovers and political vendettas. The further reform of criminal justice in Russia will require a new generation of genuinely independent judges.

[1]Stefanie Lemke (Maastricht University) “Who Holds Russia’s Judges and Public Prosecutors to Account? How the International Community Fails to Effectively Address Judicial Harassment of Human Rights Defenders in the Russian Federation” 29 January 2018 at

[2] Samuel Kutscheroff “Administration of Justice Under Nicholas I of Russia” The American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Apr., 1948), pp. 125-138, at p.138

‘Marx’ by Terrell Carver, reviewed by Bill Bowring


Polity, Cambridge, 2018. 222pp., £16.99 pb
ISBN 9781509518173

Reviewed by Bill Bowring

Why another book on Karl Marx?

Publications in the last decade have included Karl Marx by Paul Thomas (Reaktion, 2012); Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life by Jonathan Sperber (Liveright, 2013); Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones (Harvard, 2016); and Marx’s Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital by William Clare Roberts (Princeton, 2017).

Terrell Carver has reviewed several of these texts for the Marx & Philosophy Review of Books, and he is a formidable scholar of Marx and Engels, listing no less than 14 of his publications from 1983 to 2017 in the Bibliography of this new book.

In particular, I was fascinated by publication in 2014 of his two volumes with Daniel Blank,  A Political History of the Editions of Marx and Engels’s ‘German Ideology Manuscripts’, and Marx and Engels’s ‘German Ideology Manuscripts’: Presentation and Analysis of the ‘Feuerbach Chapter’ (Palgrave, 2014), reviewed on this site by Chris Arthur, where the reader can also find a critique by Meade McCloughan and responses and corrections from Carver. This was the “book” assembled as late as 1932 from manuscripts written by Marx and Engels but never published in their lifetimes, and published in English in 1970, edited by Chris Arthur, as “their major early philosophical work”.

In his new book Carver repeats (24) that both the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology which are “now not only canonical but generally top of the list of excerpted ‘must-reads’ for students” were both “artefacts of twentieth century editorial scissors-and -paste practices, coincidentally published ‘in full’ in separate volumes in 1932.” Indeed, Carver’s first chapter is entitled “Making Marx ‘Marx’”, a process which, he says, did not begin until 1872 with the republication in a ‘feature’ edition including a signed authorial preface, of the – by then – historical document (as Marx and Engels pointed out in their Forward) Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848, as The Communist Manifesto. Carver points out that until that point Marx “was very little known, and then hardly favourably, outside the limited circles of German socialism”.

Carver also reminds us that Marx published only one substantial  book in his lifetime:  Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, published in German in 1867, with a French translation in 1872-5, a second German edition in 1872, and a third German edition including his substantial revisions in the French version, in 1883. The English translation, of the third German edition, was first published in 1887, only a few years before Marx’s death in 1883. A fourth German edition was prepared by Engels in 1890.

So why this new book? Carver states (8) that he is “…aiming for a refreshed way of encountering Marx, taking on board scholarly researches of textual and contextual significance, but also focusing the reader’s attention on the roles that his ideas and thinking have come to play – even if in uncredited form – in today’s political practices and academic cultures.” While his approach “does not aim to answer the impossible question, ‘What would Marx say now?’ it does, Carver says, encourage the practical question ‘How does reading Marx stimulate me to think again?’”

Thus, Carver presents what he himself calls a “set of essays” on topics to think about when reading Marx. Carver organises the book in five thematic chapters, which highlight selected ideas in pairs, first in their present day context, then working back to Marx himself. In this spirit, Chapter 2 is entitled “Class Struggle and Class Compromise”; Chapter 3 “History and Progress”; Chapter 4 “Democracy and Communism/Socialism”; Chapter 5 “Capitalism and Revolution”; and Chapter 6 “Exploitation and Alienation”. I entirely support Carver’s desire to avoid “making a spurious claim that [Marx’s] ‘thought’ was a unity (or intended as such), that it culminated in tidy-minded ‘theories’ (or scientific or political ‘doctrines’) achieved largely through purely intellectual struggle, or that ‘it’ – the thought – was really Marx himself the political activist.” (10).

I was curious therefore as to which aspect of the present day would command Carver’s attention. To my surprise this was the Occupy Wall Street protest movement that began on 17 September 2011, and lasted with diminishing effect until about 2013. Carver presents its main ideas and slogans on pages 35-6. Here he links Occupy to Marx’s early journalism in 1842-3 (pages 39, 41 and 42), notably “On the Theft of Wood”, in which, Carver says, Marx’s appeal was to “logic, fact and commonalities of moral experience – all without an ‘ism’” – adding that Occupy supporters fortunately for them, had the benefit of the US Bill of Rights, respected by the judiciary (this now sounds rather over-optimistic). Carver returns to Occupy to argue that there was “more compromise in Marx’s activities than he generally gets credit for” (56), though Marx and Engels, in their correspondence during the economic crisis of 1857-8, the first global ‘meltdown’, lacked, according to Carver, Occupy’s context of immediate popular activism.

Carver returns to Occupy in his discussion, in Chapter 3, of Marx’s theory of history, or lack of it (61-3), commenting that the absence of history lectures at Occupy events and debates does not mean that participants “aren’t making assumptions and using presumptions that are about history. These presumptions are about what is and is not significant in human affairs and how new history-in-the making (i.e. a better future) will drive present struggles forward.” (63). Later, in Chapter 4, Carver discusses Marx’s “Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction”, published in February 1844, and credits Marx with developing a brief but explicit strategy for, and understanding of, political activism that anyone in Occupy could readily understand (98). In Chapter 5, Carver refers to Marx’s 1844 summary of Engels’s article “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy” of the same year, which Marx found inspirational, and adds that “It would not be difficult to find similar sentiments at any Occupy or climate-change protest” (119). And in Chapter 6, “Exploitation and Alienation”, Carver notes that “Occupy was less concerned with such abstractions as alienation – much less human nature … and more with distribution of property and the capture of democratic institutions by corporate interests.” (165).

It may be seen that Carver pays particular attention to Marx’s early writings and seeks to show their present day relevance by invoking the Occupy movement. But for me this was an (already) outdated distraction from Carver’s bracing debunking of the construction of Marx as a systematic thinker, bequeathing a canon of works – another Kant or Hegel. Carver rightly insists (172) that “In relation to collecting his own works, Marx was – as ever – an activist/journalist in his public persona, and his self-defined canon was a reflection of that.”

In this regard it is odd, for me, that Carver seems to miss some important works which support his thesis. Marx was a passionate and merciless polemicist, in particular his unveiling at length of British collusion in the Russian menace in “The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston” published in American and British journals in 1853-6, and “Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century”, published in The Free Press in 1856-7.

And in 1860 Marx took a whole year out from writing Capital to complete his Herr Vogt, answering at book length, published in German, the slanders against him, Engels and their supporters, by the revolutionary democrat (and Bonapartist agent) Karl Vogt in 1859, using forged police evidence produced against them in the 1852 at the time of the Cologne Communist Trial. Vogt alleged that they had engaged in secret and violent conspiracies and that Marx had acted as their dictator. The Prussian courts had denied Marx the right to sue Vogt, so Marx wrote his substantial book. An English translation was published in 1982. It is said that Engels considered Herr Vogt better than the “Eighteenth Brumaire”; Lassalle spoke of it as “a masterpiece in every respect”; Ryazanov thought that “in all literature there is no equal to this book”; Mehring wrote of its “being highly instructive even today” as to how to expose and deal with “a spy in the workers’ movement” – the subtitle of the English translation.

However, my chief criticism of Carver’s approach is his apparent downplaying of Marx’s achievement, on which he spent so many years, in writing and re-writing Capital. Marx did not underestimate his own achievement. In a letter of 17 April 1867 Marx wrote to Johann Philip Becker that “ I left London by steamer last Wednesday and after a tempestuous crossing reached Hamburg on Friday afternoon to deliver the manuscript of the first volume to Mr Meissner there… It is without question the most terrible missile that has yet been hurled at the heads of the bourgeoisie (landowners included).” History has shown that Marx was on this point quite right. Marx’s analysis of capital’s insatiable drive for valorisation, and of the law of value from which not even the most rapacious capitalist can escape any more than she can escape the law of gravity, has lost none of its relevance.  Carver seems not to have noticed some very serious recent work, notably (for me) Michael Heinrich’s An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital (2012)  and Alex Callinicos’s Deciphering Capital (2014) to name but two, quite apart from Evald Ilyenkov’s classic The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital (1982).

On 18 July this year, in a review of a recent collection published on this website, I highlighted a chapter by Michael Heinrich entitled “A Short History of Marx’s Economic Critique”, in which, while insisting that

we find in Marx a whole series of attempts, discontinuations, shifts, new concepts and new beginnings” (a view he shares to some extent with Carver), Heinrich adds that “Marx did not expect people to take action against capitalism on moral grounds, but because of the fact that their immediate vital interests are constantly put into question. When people repeatedly resist those relationships, however, they will learn to fight, not only for an immediate improvement in their situation under capitalism, but also, from time to time, to challenge the very existence of capitalism as such. Marx’s Capital is quite helpful in those struggles.

Despite my criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new book by Terrell Carver, and recommend it for scholars of Marx, as well as for absolute beginners.

15 November 2018

Great letter from the great anti-Zionist Jewish scholar Dr Ephraim Nimni,

Dear BBC

Your coverage in the World at One BBC radio 4 today 29th July 2018 is  an affront to freedom of speech and an anti-Semitic offense to the many Jews that do not support Zionism, as well as a serious breach of the BBC Charter.

Your reporter showed complete ignorance of the use of the terms “Zion” “Zionism” and “antisemitism” When you present a biased point of view, you are obliged by the BBC Charter to also air the opposite Jewish point of view. I refer to the Jewish view, orthodox and secular, that rejects Zionism as part of Judaism
For the information of your ignorant Journalist. The term Zionism was coined in the late nineteen century and has nothing to do with the long history of the Jewish people. Political Zionism is not an ethnicity nor a religious term but a nationalist political ideology. As such it can be challenged, and on occasions called racist by Jews and others. To call Jews that challenge Zionism as racism as “anti-Semites” is itself an act of antisemitism, which the BBC is guilty of. Furthermore, by ignoring the fundamental fact that there is a plurality of Jewish opinions on Israel, and that a significant number of Jews for religious and secular reasons reject the idea of Jewish state, you are seriously contravening the BBC charter by not providing impartial information.

For example, the ultra-orthodox Jewish group the “Naturei Karta” every year, burns the Israeli flag during the Jewish festivity of Purim. To accuse these God Fearing Jews of antisemitism is not only a travesty but an act of antisemitism itself. See:…/Zionism/judaism_isnot_zionism.cfm
This not to condone burning of flags which I oppose, but simply to show that there is a plurality of Jewish views on Israel and Zionism. To call Anti-Semites those Jews who deny the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, is totalitarian, preposterous and anti-Semitic.

Another example, This is a prominent secular Jewish organization that calls Israel an Apartheid State.

More to the point, here you have a Jewish organization in the UK and a large number of Jews that condemn the actions of the pro Zionist Jewish UK newspapers on the Labour party.
They also say:
We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations. Israel does not represent us <Jews> and cannot speak for us when committing crimes against Palestinians and denying their UN-stipulated rights.…/global-jewish-organizations-condemn-a…/

See also the debate below…/antisemitism-ihra-definition-…
The IHRA definition of Antisemitism has been challenged in numerous occasions because it wrongly includes the criticism of Israel as a form of antisemitism. This is a serious matter because the two are not related and it shields Israel for the gross violations of human rights and it is systemic discrimination of its non-Jewish citizens, which constitute 24% of the population of the State of Israel.
The senior Israeli journalist of the liberal newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Klein argues that “Israel Uses Diaspora Jews as Human Shields” he says Israel is a danger to the world’s Jews. It calls itself their protector, but doesn’t care about the consequences for them of its actions. Jews abroad pay the price of hostility to Israel.
Following your disastrous program the BBC Charter REQUIRES YOU TO INTERVIEW SOMEONE THAT HOLDS THE OPPOSING POINT OF VIEW. You are therefore obliged by the Charter of the Corporation to interview someone like your professional colleague Mr Yossi Klein, of the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz. SEE:…/.premium-israel-uses-diaspora-jew…

On the IHRA definition of antisemitism See the opinion of the distinguished Jewish Barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC.…

For all the above, you are required by the Charter of BBC to air the opposing point of view from the biased and badly research program presented today 29 July at the Radio 4 World at One.

Dr Ephraim Nimni

Review of Sara R Farris (ed) Returns of Marxism: Marxist Theory in a Time of Crisis

Returns of Marxism: Marxist Theory in a Time of Crisis

Haymarket, Chicago, 2016. 396pp., $22 / £19.99 pb
ISBN 9781608465743

Reviewed by Bill Bowring

 This rich collection was initially published in 2014 by the International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE), which opened in Amsterdam in 1982. One of the founding Fellows of IIRE was Ernest Mandel. The book is edited by Sara R. Farris, who teaches sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

The 20 chapters in the volume (including the Introduction) are all revised texts of papers presented during a two year seminar series at IIRE between 2007 and 2009, and a number of them are revised versions of earlier publications. The readers is therefore offered a series of insights into the state of Marxist theory some 10 years ago. Nonetheless, this reasonably priced collection is highly recommended, and contains, together with some oddly short chapters, some real gems.

In her Introduction Sara R. Farris writes: “The collection of essays presented in this volume aims to demonstrate the richness, rigour and importance of Marx s thought for developing alternative worldviews and politics in the present. We hope the reader will find these texts interesting and useful not only in her efforts to make sense of the world that surrounds us, but also in her fight against the many forms of injustice brought about by capitalism.”

Is this hope fulfilled?

The texts are divided into six different sections, with the aim of proposing, according to the editor, “a path for reading them as contributions to broader significant problematics within the Marxist tradition” (7). The sections have impressively diverse headings: Reading Capital (five chapters); Re-Reading Marx (three chapters); Marxism and International Politics (three chapters); Historicising Historical Materialism (three chapters); Feminism and Queer Marxisms (two chapters); and Many Marxisms (three chapters) – and an Introduction by Sara R. Farris.

The 22 authors of the chapters, only four of whom, disappointingly, are women, are geographically diverse, drawn from nine countries: two scholars from Australia, one from Canada, two from China, two from Denmark, three from England, five from Germany, one from Italy, five from Netherlands, and one from Scotland. The shortest chapter is 13 pages: Jeffrey Webber on the re-groupment of popular forces against Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Peter Drucker on socialist feminist questions about queer activism is 14 pages. The longest chapters, 25 pages each, are Guglielmo Carchedi on “The Crisis and Marx’s theory of knowledge”, and Frieder Otto Wolf on “What ‘capitalism’ is, what it means to be against it, and how to end it.”

For this reviewer a high point of the collection is the chapter by Michael Heinrich, “A Short History of Marx’s Economic Critique” (63-86). This is an excellent translation into English of a revised version of Heinrich’s 2009 “Theoriegeschichte der Marxschen Ökonomiekritik” in the collection Hello Marx: Zwischen “Arbeiterfrage” und sozialer Bewegung heute (Peter Bedcherer and Karen Schierhorn (eds), Hamburg: VSA Verlag). The title is rather deceptively modest for what is a lucid and bracing introduction to Heinrich’s central message: that Marx was categorically opposed to the assumption that he had established a “socialist system”. As Heinrich insists, “Above all, there are no texts to be found that show directly or indirectly that he wanted to build any kind -ism.” (66). Later in the article Heinrich explains that rather than a single consistent oeuvre, or, as for Althusser, a simple break between a younger, more philosophical Marx and a later focus on political economy, “we find in Marx a whole series of attempts, discontinuations, shifts, new concepts and new beginnings.” (72).

Heinrich concludes by declaring that “Marx did not expect people to take action against capitalism on moral grounds, but because of the fact that their immediate vital interests are constantly put into question. When people repeatedly resist those relationships, however, they will learn to fight, not only for an immediate improvement in their situation under capitalism, but also, from time to time, to challenge the very existence of capitalism as such. Marx’s Capital is quite helpful in those struggles. It may well turn out, as a self-confident Marx once claimed, to be “the most terrible missile that has yet been hurled at the heads of the bourgeoisie (landowners included).” (80-81, quoting Marx to Becker 17 April 1867, MECW vol. 42, p. 358).

At the conference “Capital.150: Marx’s Capital Today” held in London on 20 September 2017, Heinrich’s topic was “Communism in Marx’s Capital”, and is available at This is well worth watching especially as he was speaking on a panel with three great young female Marx scholars, Tithi Bhattacharya on “Social reproduction theory: conceiving capital as social relation”; Lucia Pradella on “Marx’s Capital and the power of labour: imperialism, migration, and workers’ struggles”; and Beverly Silver on “Marx’s general law of capital accumulation and the making and remaking of the global reserve army of labour” – all on the same YouTube video. When he was asked by a participant whether he could sum up Marx’s lifetime of research and writing in one word, Heinrich replied “Struggle!” This reviewer agrees. It is now abundantly clear, as Heinrich insists, that there is no predetermined end of capitalism, but struggle is an open-ended process – “much is possible but nothing is for sure” (81).

Another chapter which caught this reviewer’s close attention is “Towards a Critical Political Economy of European Governance”, by Jan Drahokoupil, Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, and Laura Horn, from Germany, Netherlands and Denmark (193-213). This is a revised version of their Introduction to their edited volume on neoliberal governance in the European Union, Contradictions and Limits of Neoliberal European Governance: From Lisbon to Lisbon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). The revision has left in place a number of rather tantalising references to chapters in their collection, referred to, confusingly, as “this volume” ( 207, 208, 209).

Of particular interest to this reviewer is the fact that the authors mobilise a “critical realist perspective” for their critical political economy, drawing on Roy Bhaskar’s explosive 1979 The Possibility of Naturalism and Margaret Archer’s 1995 Realist Social Theory, as well as Hubert Buch-Hansen’s 2006 paper “Beyond rationalism and constructivism: a critical realist intervention in EU studies”, delivered at the ESA Critical Political Economy Workshop in Amsterdam, the “Amsterdam Project”. They stress “the dialectical interplay of structure and agency over time in which agency is never pre-social but always operating within the bounds of given social structures while the latter are at the same time dependent upon (individual, collective, strategic or less strategic) human agency for their reproduction or transformation.” (199) Furthermore, the authors start from the idea that (social) reality is stratified, “and that therefore we need research strategies that are able to probe at the deeper levels of non-observable but real structures that account for what we observe empirically.” This methodology, which Marx described as “science”, was, as the authors point out, developed in Andrew Sayer’s 1992 Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. The 1971 edition of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks also provides a rich source of development in the authors’ illuminating if brief analysis of the nature of the EU and its institutions.

Another thought-provoking chapter is Bertel Nygaard’s “Reconsidering Bourgeois Revolution” (247-70), drawing on his 2007 PhD Dissertation, which was in Danish. The focus is on the French Revolution of 1789-1799. Nygaard first points out “significant tensions in traditional uses of the category ‘bourgeois revolution’ through an outline of main points in its conceptual development, then suggesting a revised model for reconstructing the important issues involved in ‘bourgeois revolution’ while attempting to avoid the difficulties of earlier uses.” (248) Of particular interest is Nygaard’s focus on Marx’s notebooks of 1843-4, in which Marx conceived the French Revolution “not primarily in socio-economic class terms but as the foremost example of political emancipation, that is, the separation of the social sphere from the political sphere.” That is, the emergence of ‘the state as such’, the pure state, recognising each social individual as a citoyen, a public social being. The other side to this process was the emergence of the privatised social or economic sphere of human lives, the sphere of bourgeois existence. (253) Nygaard notes Marx’s insistence, basic to him and to Engels, that analysis should begin from the concrete and historically specific character of the object, not transhistorical schematism. (254)

Elsewhere, Carchedi’s chapter, mentioned above, proposes a reading of the theory of value as the necessary framework to articulate a theory of subjectivity and knowledge production, a Marxist theory of knowledge as the condition of possibility for a theory of crises. Bellofiore’s chapter, on the other hand, exotically entitled “Chrysalis and Butterfly, Ghost and Vampire: Marx’s Capital as the ‘Gothic critical economy of zombie capitalism,” (41-62, with no references), attempts to assess the nature of contemporary capitalism in terms of ‘centralisation’ without ‘concentration’, whereby financial capital is increasingly central to valorisation and workers’ organisation and struggles are made more difficult by the schizophrenic emergence of the labourer as a ‘traumatised’ worker, a ‘manic-depressive’ saver and an ‘indebted’ consumer.

Finally, this is indeed a rich collection, to be acquired and savoured.

Bill Bowring studied philosophy at the University of Kent, became a human rights barrister, and now teaches international law and human rights at Birkbeck College, London. He is International Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, and President of the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights.

18 July 2018



Higher education in danger – presentation at Academic Freedom as a Human Right Workshop, 9-10 June 2018 Ankara

Academic Freedom as a Human Right

Workshop, 9-10 June 2018



Bill Bowring – notes for

Higher education in danger


Common factors.

Populism. Authoritarian and nationalist leaders. Trump, Putin, Erdogan. Netanyahu, Orban, May.

The consequences of intervention in Iraq, Libya, Syria – migrants risking their lives to reach a place of safety. Climate change means that there will be irresistible

Trade Wars. A war between capital in the US, EU, Russia, China.

Brexit for the UK – leaving the EU. May wants to denounce the European Convention on Human Rights, which she sees as protecting terrorists.

Brexit and May’s politics driven by xenophobia and fear/hatred of migrants, as well as the fanatical imposition of marketisation and commodification in education, health, the legal system. Young criminal defence barristers are now on strike.

Income inequality: OECD 2015 – Gini coefficient

Most unequal:

Mexico 0.459

Chile 0.454

Turkey 0.398

USA 0.39

Lithuania 0.381

Russia 0.376

UK 0.36


Privatisation of higher education.

Free university education started in 1962. This ended when student fees were introduced under Labour in 1998 at £1000 a year. In 2004 – raised to £3000. November 2010, proposals to increase to £9,000 a year. Mass student protests. 9 December 2010, the student Alfie Meadows. 13 charged, 50 injured. 8 March 2013 Meadows and others acquitted.

£9000 a year, that is a debt of £27000 for a three year law degree. This has created the opportunity for the entry of for-profit institutions. Within 1 km of University of London, BPP University and University of Las. Offering a law degree for the same price. Then the vocational year for qualification as a barrister or solicitor, for £20,000. So a debt of £47,000 when the prospects of entry to the professions are very small.

Of 250 students in the first year, maybe 25 have a real chance of becoming practising lawyers.

Where has the money gone? Not into academic salaries – real cuts of 20% in the last years. Increasingly casualised teaching. Sessional teachers in most subjects who have zero-hours contracts. My PhD student from Iran who is teaching two courses at my university and courses at others, and can barely live. No sick pay, no holiday pay, no job security.

Competition for students between Higher Education Institutions. Expensive building projects, especially Student Centres and other facilities.

“By decoupling the payment of fees from the subsidy of individual universities, and making them cover the full cost of provision, the field has been made attractive to for-profit organisations. The intention, pushed further in the 2015 Green Paper, is to encourage new ‘providers’ offering cheapness and flexibility. But in the eyes of critics it is part of a wider neoliberal programme of opening public services to globalised corporations, paving the way for general privatisation.”

Salaries of more than £300,000 a year for Rectors, 10 times more than academics.

Now a crisis with pensions, from a scheme which gave a fixed pension depending on final salary, to a scheme dependent on investments, maybe losing 20%.

So 14 days of strikes, leading to new negotiations. Loss of salary.

This is the operation of the market, the commodification of higher education, the possibility for private institutions to make huge profits.

UK’s counter-terrorism Prevent policy. Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) imposes a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. We have a campaign “Educators not Informants”.



The whole of civil society is under pressure and persecution in contemporary Russia. At the same time, the Federal government is putting substantial resources into raising the international ranking of Russian HEIs.

The European University at St Petersburg was founded in 1994. It is a private post-graduate and research HEI, which exists, basically on donations from Russian big business and on its own capital. It does not receive government money. To begin with it financed itself with grants from American and European NGOs, for example Soros Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation. The activity of these organisations is now considered undesirable in Russia, and since 2007 EUSP has not received money from them.

According to the last published accounts (2015) EUSP has capital of 382.4 million roubles. Its board of trustees includes the banker Oleg Vyugin, ex-minister of finance, close to Mr Kudrin.

EUSP is considered to be one of the best non-governmental HEIs in Russia. It is the only Russian HEI in the LSE list of 100 best centres of political science. In January 2017 it was awarded top rating by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, under the yearly evaluation introduced in 2012.

However, in early 2017 it lost both its licence to educate students, and the building it has occupied since 1994.

This is against the background of the assault on civil society which began in 2012, with the Law on Foreign Agents.

From 14 to 18 March 2016 EUSP underwent a check-up by Rosobrnadzor, the Russian state agency for control of education. From 1 April 2016 there was a “complete cessation” of state accreditation for EUSP’s programmes. The university’s leadership announced that this would not affect teaching.

On 6 May 2016 the accreditation of the university was withdrawn.

In June 2016 the Office of the Prosecutor on the request of the Deputy of the St Petersburg Legislature, now a Russian State Duma deputy, Vitaliy Milonov, started another investigation by Rosobrnadzor. 120 violations found. Mostly building faults etc.

22 August 2016 EUSP sent its report in response, about 1,800 pages of documentation.

On 23 August 2016 a further investigation was announced, and EUSP provided 8,500 pages, and 32 violations remained. Rosobrnadzor ordered that work cease on 30 September 2016.

On 20 September Rosobrnadzor forbade EUSP to take new students because of failure to comply with its orders. No new students have been taken since then.

Rosobrnadzor applied to Justice of the Peace courts 4 times. Problems include confirmation of qualifications of lecturers.

9 December 2016 Rosobrnadzor announced the cancellation of the Licence of EUSP. 7 December, forbidden to carry out any kind of educational activity from 7 December. From 14 December students were sent to other HEIs.

After an international protest, on 13 December cancellation of the Licence was reversed.

6 February 2017 EUSP received a letter from Rosobrnadzor withdrawing its objections to attestation of lecturers – and gave its positive evaluation of the qualifications of lecturer-practitioners (not defined)

What if Ilyenkov had known Marx’s transcription of Spinoza?


Al-Farabi Journal, Kazakhstan

№ 1 (45) 2014 ж.



Bill Bowring

What if Ilyenkov had Known Marx’s Transcription of Spinoza?….13

Вниманию наших читателей представляется статья Билла Бауринга, при­уроченная редколлегией журнала к 90-летию со дня рождения выдающегося российского философа Э.В. Ильенкова. Публикацией данной работы журнал продолжает исследовательскую традицию в области диалектической логики, в развитие которой Эвальд Васильевич внес неоценимый вклад.

Автор статьи – Билл Бауринг – живет в Колчестере, самом старом городе Англии, преподает в Университете Лондона, является профессором права и ба­калавром по специальности «Философия». Со студенческих лет он увлекается философией Спинозы и является его поклонником. Знакомство Билла Бауринга с творчеством Э.В. Ильенкова состоялось в 1979 г., когда партия, в которую он входил, осуществляла перевод и публикацию «Ленинской диалектики и мета­физики позитивизма» Э.В. Ильенкова, и все читали его «Диалектику абстрактно­го и конкретного в «Капитале» Маркса». Автор не изменяет своей первой любви – философии и продолжает изучение творческого наследия выдающегося фило­софа, выступая в дискуссиях и научных обсуждениях не только в своей стране, но и за рубежом. В Англии существует круг поклонников творчества Э.В. Ильенко­ва, есть интернет веб-сайт.

УДК 1(091)141

Bill Bowring – Birkbeck College, University of London


 Introduction. My own interest in Spinoza was sparked by reading, in the early 1980s, one of the later works of E.V. Ilyenkov (1924–1979), for me the most interesting of the philosophers working in the USSR, his Dialectical Logic, especially Essay Two, «Thought as an Attribute of Extension».* Ilyenkov also made extensive reference to Spinoza** in the first two sections of Chapter One of the revised version, for translation into German in 1979, of The Dialectics of the Abstract and Concrete in Marx’s Capital (Abstract and Concrete), first published in Russian in 1960, and in English in 1982.*** It is a curious fact, to which I will return, that all Ilyenkov’s references in Dialectical Logic but one are to Spinoza’s Ethics, with one reference to On the Improvement of the Understanding (Improvement), while all the references in Abstract and Concrete are to Spinoza’s Improvement. I wonder whether Ilyenkov only had Volume 1 of the two volume Selected Works.


* E.V. Ilyenkov (1977) Dialectical Logic (Moscow: Progress) – published in Russian by Politicheskaya Literatura in 1974.

** Ilyenkov’s engagement with Spinoza was through the Collected Works in two very handsome volumes, with a variety of translations, published in 1957 (Moscow: Politicheskaya Literatura), in a large edition of 30 000. Vol 1 contained: an introduction by V. V. Sokolov; A Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being (translated by A. I. Rubin); The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy (translated by V. V. Sokolov) ; Appendix on Metaphysical Thought (translated by V. V. Sokolov); On the Improvement of the Understanding (translated by Ya. M. Vorovskiy); Ethics (translated by N. A. Ivantsov). Volume 2 contained: A Theologico-Political Treatise (translated by M. Lopatkina); Political Treatise (translated by S. M. Rogovin and V. V. Chredin); Correspondence (translated by V.K. Brushlinskiy).

*** E.V. Ilyenkov (1982) The Dialectics of the Abstract and Concrete in Marx’s Capital (Moscow: Progress Publishers) revised edition for translation into German 1979, first published in Russia in 1960.

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Ilyenkov was, as far as I know, not aware of the fact that in March to April 1841, at the age of 22, Karl Marx made extensive transcriptions from Spinoza, together with other philosophers as I outline below, as part of his reading for his doctoral thesis The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.* These notebooks were published by Dietz Verlag in the GDR in 1976, a year before Ilyenkov’s death, in two volumes. Volume 1 contains Marx’s transcriptions in Latin and German; Volume II contains translations from Latin into German, and notes, the «Apparat». A translation into French, by Maximilien Rubel, with an Introduction by Rubel, appeared in 1977.**

Marx had a calligrapher to transcribe at length in Latin, using the 1802 edition of Spinoza’s works published in Jena, from the Theologico-Political Treatise, and from the Correspondence, but not at all from Improvement or Ethics.***

The following questions arise for consideration in this paper. Were Marx and Ilyenkov reading, in effect, two quite different Spinozas? Or was each of them reading Spinoza instrumentally, in order further to develop their own ideas?

Ilyenkov and Spinoza

As Sergei Mareev points out****, although Ilyenkov’s views were formed under the influence of Marx and German classical philosophy, both he and L. S. Vygotsky gave tremendous significance to Spinoza’s ideas. Mareev argues that Ilyenkov did not simply continue the «line» of Spinoza in Soviet philosophy; for the first time he «opened» Spinoza to Mareev and his generation. Before Ilyenkov the Soviet philosophical public knew Spinoza as a mechanical determinist, or as Spinoza the atheist. The last Soviet and first post-Soviet textbooks on Spinoza interpreted him in the spirit of Stalin’s «diamat», as a Cartesian dualist.

Nevertheless, in the collection Evald Ilyenkov’s Philosophy Revisited, published in 2000 following a Symposium in 1999*****, Spinoza did not make much of an appearance. An exception was the section «Iljenkow und das zweite Buch der “Ethik”«, in Wolfgang Jantzen’s chapter «Leontjew, Iljenkow und die Meschetscherjakow-Debatte – Methodologische Bemerkungen».****** Nikolai Veresov, in his chapter «Vygotsky, Ilyenkov and Mamardashvili» discussed Ilyenkov’s attitude to A. N. Leontiev’s «psychological theory of activity». He wrote:

«The main role of such a theory comprised the concept of activity (Tätigheit, deiatelnost’). Activity for Ilyenkov was not a super-category or explanatory

* Karl Marx (1976) Marx/Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), IV Vierte Abteilung : Exzerpte Notizen Marginalien Band 1(Berlin: Dietz Verlag).

** Maximilien Rubel (1977) “Marx à la rencontre de Spinoza” and “Karl Marx: Le Traité Théologico-Politique et la Correspondance de Spinoza: trios cahiers d’étude de l’année 1841” Cahiers Spinoza Numéro 1 Éditions Réplique, Paris, pp.7–159.

*** Marx used the edition edited by Henr[-icus] Eberh[ard] Gottlob Paulus (1802) Benedictus de Spinoza: Opera quae supersunt omnia. Iterum dedenda curavit…. Vol 1. Ienae.

**** Sergei Mareev (2007) “Spinoza v sovetskoi filosofii (Spinoza in Soviet philosophy)” 2 (59) Logos 187–200, at, p. 198.

***** Vesa Oittinen (ed) (2000) Evald Ilyenkov’s Philosophy Revisited (Helsinki: Kikimora Publications).

****** Oittinen (2000) p. 85–88.

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principle. On the contrary, and following Spinoza and Marx, activity was treated as a substance from which both subject and object derive».*

  1. G. Novokhatko, of the Spinoza Archive, however, contributed a whole chapter, Ilyenkov i Spinoza (Ilyenkov and Spinoza).** Although much of the chapter concerned Ilyenkov’s relations with Vygotsky and Leontiev, and his critique of Fichte, the author selected the following passage from Dialectical Logic:

Only by proceeding from the idea of substance could the thinking body understand both itself and the reality with and within which it operated and about which it thought… having once understood the mode of its action (i.e. thought), the thinking body just so comprehended substance as the absolutely necessary condition of interaction with the external world.***

The collection ended with the publication for the first time of Ilyenkov’s 1970 «The Science of Logic».**** This did not refer to Spinoza. However, the passage cited by Novokhatko correctly identified Ilyenkov’s main innovation, and his main point of departure from Spinoza, his concept of the «thinking body» (mysliashchee telo).

According to Mareev, for Ilyenkov Spinoza was first and foremost a monist. He cites a famous passage from Dialectical Logic:

«The brilliance of the solution of the problem of the relation of thinking to the world of bodies in space outside thought (i.e. outside the head of man), which Spinoza formulated in the form of the thesis that thought and extension are not two substances, but only two attributes of one and the same substance, can hardly be exaggerated. This solution immediately rejected every possible kind of interpretation and investigation of thought by the logic of spiritualist and dualist constructions…».*****

Ilyenkov’s special contribution was his assertion that

There are not two different and originally contrary objects of investigation – body and thought – but only one single object, which is the thinking body of living, real, man (or other analogous being, if such exists anywhere in the Universe), only considered from two different and even opposing aspects or points of view.******

According to Ilyenkov, this «simple and profoundly true idea», that thought is a property, a mode of existence of the body, the same as its extension, was expressed by Spinoza in the language of his time, as the insistence that thought and extension are two attributes of one and the same substance «real infinite Nature». Ilyenkov’s original assertion was that «It is in man that Nature really performs, in a self-evident way, that very activity that we are accustomed to call ‘thinking’».*******

Later, in the revised edition of Abstract and Concrete, Ilyenkov pointed out what in his view was wrong with Spinoza:

* Oittinen (2000) p. 137.

** Oittinen (2000) p. 293–306.

*** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 60–61.

**** Oittinen (2000) p. 331–372.

***** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 43.

****** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 31.

******* Ilyenkov (1977) p. 32.

What if Ilyenkov had Known Marx’s Transcription of Spinoza?16 Әл-Фараби | 1 (45) 2014

It would hardly be appropriate to discuss here the short-comings of Spinoza’s conception, as they are well known: Spinoza failed to understand the connection between thinking and practical activity with objects, between theory and practice, the role of practice as the only objective criterion of the truth of a concrete concept.*

In other words, Spinoza failed to grasp the concept of the «thinking body», as well as the fact that, according to Ilyenkov, the human intellect comes into being through the co-activity of the hand and the mind.

Ilyenkov in the Marxist context

In his approach to Spinoza, Ilyenkov most certainly departed from Diamat. But he followed an approach to Spinoza which can be traced through Hegel to Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and Bukharin.

G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) was a close reader and critic of Spinoza, but insisted in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy that «It is therefore worthy of note that thought must begin by placing itself at the standpoint of Spinozism; to be a follower of Spinoza is the essential commencement of all Philosophy».** In his The Science of Logic (1812) , in his «Remark; The Philosophy of Spinoza and Leibniz»*** he wrote : «Determinateness is negation – is the absolute principle of Spinoza’s philosophy; this true and simple insight establishes the absolute unity of substance».**** In the chapter on «The Notion in General» he wrote Besides, a standpoint so lofty and so intrinsically rich as the relation of substance, far from ignoring those assumptions even contains them: one of the attributes of Spinoza’s substance is thinking.*****

Ilyenkov was most certainly aware of these passages.

I will return to Marx below; but Plekhanov relayed the following, often-cited conversation between himself and Engels:

«Thus, according to you» I asked «old Spinoza was right when he said that thought and extension are nothing other than two attributes of one and the same substance?» «Of course “answered Engels “old Spinoza was completely right».******

Engels himself very rarely referred to Spinoza directly, but the following passage from the Introduction to his Dialectics of Nature is thoroughly Spinozist in tone and content: «… we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it».*******

* Ilyenkov (1982) p. 22.

** G.W. F .Hegel (1995) Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Medieval and Modern Philosophy. Volume 3 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), Spinoza 252-289, at p. 257.

*** Hegel’s Science of Logic (1969) Translated by A. V. Miller (London: George Allen & Unwin) p.536-40).

**** Hegel (1969) p. 536.

***** Hegel (1969) pp. 580–581.

****** Conversation Plekhanov and Engels – G.V. Plekahnov Sochineniya Vol.20 p.363; or G. V. Plekhanov “Bernstein and Materialism”. In Sochineniya Vol.XI (Moscow-Petrograd, 1923) p. 22.

******* F. Engels (1964) Dialectics of Nature (1883) Third Revised Edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers) p. 40.

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Plekhanov in turn considered that «contemporary materialism… is more or less based on Spinozism».* And in his 1908 Materialismus Militans (Reply to Mr Bogdanov)** he wrote in a footnote:

According to Spinoza, the thing (res) is the body (corpus) and at the same time the idea of the body (idea corporis). But since he who perceives himself, also has a perception of his own perception, the thing is a body (corpus), the idea of a body (idea corporis) and finally the idea of the idea of the body (idea ideae corporis). It can be seen from this how close Feuerbach’s materialism is to Spinoza’s teaching.

Lenin followed Hegel’s lead. In his «Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic» he wrote: «Determinateness is negation…» (Spinoza) Omnis determinatio est negatio, «this statement is of immeasurable importance…».***

Nikolai Bukharin was, after Lenin, the most philosophically-minded Bolshevik leader****. In his Philosophical Arabesques, written in prison following his arrest on 27 February 1937, he showed his deep sympathy with Spinoza*****. He referred to «… the totality of everything concrete… All the storms of becoming are played out in it, and it itself “flows” in infinite time and space, which exist merely as forms of its being. This is the great substance of Spinoza’s causu sui; it is natura naturans and natura naturata simultaneously, stripped of their theological baggage.******

Answering critics of Bolshevik «idealism», he wrote: «In the first place our worthy opponents are no doubt aware that Plekhanov defined Marxism (of course with a grain of salt) as a type of Spinozism. And we all know what Spinozism is».******* In a section on «Freedom and Necessity», Bukharin wrote the following in relation to Lenin’s Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic:

This is precisely the same view that Spinoza presented in his renowned Ethics, a view he «demonstrated» more geometrico, or in an exact «geometric manner».

Spinoza protested in every possible way against the widespread view that «human beings have unlimited strength and depend on nothing apart from themselves». Spinoza seized brilliantly on this fundamental, this abstract vacuity of «pure will» taken «in itself», that is, outside of all relationships. Pure will is in fact a myth, although the sensation associated with an act of will may be one of complete freedom. «A child thus imagines that it freely wants the milk that feeds it; it gets angry, it thinks it freely seeks revenge; if it gets scared, that it freely

* G.V. Plekhanov (1956) Izbranniye filosofskiye proizvedeniyai (Collected philosophical works) Moscow Vol.2, p. 339.

** G.V. Plekhanov (1973) Voinstvuyushchii Materializm (Materialismus Militans (Reply to Mr Bogdanov) (Moscow: Progress Publishers).

*** V.I. Lenin (1963) Collected Works Vol.38 Philosophical Notebooks (London: Lawrence & Wishart), p.108.

**** Burzhuaziya (Baruch Spinoza and the Bourgeoisie) Bibliotek “Ogonyok” Zhurnalno-gazetnoye obyedineniye, Moscow 1933 at – a thoroughly superficial account.

***** Nikolai Bukharin (2005) Philosophical Arabesques (London: Pluto Press).

****** Bukharin (2005) p. 90–91.

******* Bukharin (2005) p. 175.

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wants to run away».* But here, as we see, what is always involved is necessity in Aristotle’s third sense, and it is only about this necessity that we are talking in the present instance. This necessity is the main object, the center of the whole problem; in no way is it the «constraint» mentioned by Aristotle.

Ilyenkov would not have known of these writings; but Bukharin would not have been alone among the Bolsheviks in his enthusiastic interest in Spinoza.

Ilyenkov’s instrumental engagement with Spinoza – Dialectical Logic

I have already indicated that Ilyenkov quoted from two texts of Spinoza only. His use of them was in my view entirely instrumental, in the sense that he took Spinoza as assisting him in working out his own philosophy.

  1. Campbell Creighton, the translator of Dialectical Logic, did not seek to translate the Russian of the translation from Latin by N. A. Ivantsov from which Ilyenkov drew, but instead used that of W. H. White from Great Books of the Western World. A much better translation into English in my view is that of the Spinoza scholar Edwin Curley in the Penguin edition (Penguin).**

In Dialectical Logic, in only the second essay out of eleven, Ilyenkov’s aim was to establish his concept of the «thinking body». In order to do so, his citations from Ethics were selective and in some respects contrary to Spinoza’s own teaching. Not that Ilyenkov should be criticised for this. He was not writing an exposition of Spinoza.***

Andrey Maidanskiy analysed precisely this substantial difference between Ilyenkov and Spinoza in 2002. He wrote.****

In the texts of Spinoza the expression «thinking body» (corpus cogitans) is nowhere to be found. Moreover, Spinoza directly states that the thinking thing is the mind, and not the body: «Part II Definition 3: By idea I understand a concept of the mind which the mind forms because it is a thinking thing».*****

In Spinoza’s Metaphysical Thoughts the term res cogitans is defined precisely:

We have said that the human mind is a thinking thing. From this it follows that, merely from its own nature and considered only in itself (ex sola sua natura, in se sola spectata), it can do something, to wit, think, that is, affirm and deny.******

Thus it is not the body, but the mind which thinks. Ilyenkov without any basis saw in Spinoza’s philosophy a directly contradictory truth: «It is not a special

* Penguin (1996) p. 73.

** Benedict de Spinoza (1996) Ethics translated by Edwin Curley (London: Penguin Books).

*** This point is made by Vesa Oittinen (2005) “Evald Il’enkov as an Interpreter of Spinoza” v.57 n.3 Studies in East European Thought pp. 319–338.

**** Andrey Maidansky (2002) “Ponyatiye myshleniya u Ilyenkova i Spinozy (The concept of thinking in Ilyenkov and Spinoza)” 8 Voprosy filosofii (Problems of Philosophy) pp. 163–173, at. (accessed on 23 January 2013).

***** Penguin (1996) p. 32.

****** Spinoza (2002) Complete Works (translations by Samuel Shirley) (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company) Appendix Containing Metaphysical Thoughts, Part II, Chapter 12, p. 209.

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«soul» that thinks… but the body of man itself».* However, according to Spinoza, the body does not think, it is only the object of some ideas (and by no means all). Maidansky cites Spinoza’s Letter IV, addressed to Henry Oldenburg, a passage transcribed by Marx as I show below: «… you say: perhaps thought is a corporeal action… I by no means grant it…».** In an article published in English a year later***, Maidansky observed that for Ilyenkov, while Spinoza had rightly defined the relation of the ideal to the real in general, he could not solve the riddle of the birth of the human intellect. Ilyenkov’s advance on Spinoza was to hold that the ideal arises from real action, the co-action of a hand with an external thing.****

Having correctly cited several propositions of Spinoza on pages 61 to 68, footnotes 10, 14 and 15, Ilyenkov argued the following:

In other words, an adequate idea is only the conscious state of our body identical in form with the thing outside the body. This can be represented quite clearly. When I describe a circle with my hand on a piece of paper (in real space), my body, according to Spinoza, comes into a state fully identical with the form of the circle outside my body, into a state of real action in the form of a circle. My body (my hand) really describes a circle, and the awareness of this state (i.e. of the form of my own action in the form of the thing) is also the idea, which is, moreover, ‘adequate’.*****

Ilyenkov gave no reference for this, and, indeed, there is none. This passage appears nowhere in Spinoza. Ilyenkov was putting his own philosophy into Spinoza’s mouth. As will be seen, Ilyenkov may well have had in mind a passage from the OIU, but this is not Spinoza. In fact, in Ilyenkov’s thought, Spinoza’s teaching had been transmuted into «action philosophy».

Immediately after this passage, Ilyenkov cited Postulates IV and VI in Part II «Of the Mind» of Ethics******, and the White translation is good enough. He then cited the last sentence of the proof (demonstration) of Proposition 14, out of context. The passage as a whole reads, in the Penguin translation*******:

  1. 14: The human mind is capable of perceiving a great many things, and is the more capable, the more its body can be disposed in a great many ways.

Dem: For the human body is affected in a great many ways by external bodies, and is disposed to affect external bodies in a great many ways. But the human mind must perceive everything which happens in the human body. Therefore, the human mind is capable of perceiving a great many things, and is the more capable [-,NS: as the human body is more capable], q.e.d.

* Ilyenkov (1977) p. 32.

** Elwes Corr (1951) p. 283.

*** Andrey Maidansky (2003) “The Russian Spinozists” 55 Studies in East European Thought pp.199–216.

**** Maidansky (2003) pp. 209–210.

***** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 69.

****** Penguin (1996) p. 44.

******* Penguin (1996) p. 44.

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Ilyenkov continued*:

In other words, the more numerous and varied the means it has to ‘move and arrange external bodies’, the more it has ‘in common’ with other bodies.

But this is not Spinoza’s position at all; Ilyenkov was not simply paraphrasing Spinoza. He was developing his own activity theory.

A page or so later**, Ilyenkov cited Proposition 39 of Spinoza. In the Penguin translation it is as follows:

  1. 39: If something is common to, and peculiar to, the human body and certain external bodies by which the human body is usually affected, and is equally in the part and in the whole of each of them, its idea will also be adequate to the mind.

Ilyenkov did not cite the demonstration.

Cor (corollary).: From this it follows that the mind is the more capable of perceiving many things adequately as its body has many things in common with other bodies.

In the text of Dialectical Logic, this was completely garbled. Ilyenkov returned to Proposition 38, and the following, in the Penguin translation:

From this it follows that there are certain ideas, or notions, common to all men. For all bodies agree in certain things, which must be perceived adequately, or clearly and distinctly, by all.

And then on the same page Ilyenkov went right back to Proposition 26:

  1. 26: The human mind does not perceive any external body as actually existing, except through the ideas of the affections of its own body.***

Thus, Ilyenkov reversed Spinoza’s logical sequence; and then jumped almost to the end of the Ethics to Part V, «Of Human Freedom», Proposition 39:

  1. 39: He who has a body capable of a great many things has a mind whose greatest part is eternal.****

Ilyenkov stated***** that there follows from this Proposition something which in Spinoza’s text precedes it by several pages, and again took a line (shown underlined) out of context, which is part of the proof of Proposition 25 in Part V.

  1. 25: The greatest striving of the mind, and its greatest virtue is understanding things by the third kind of knowledge.

Dem: The third kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of certain attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the essence of things, and the more we understand things in this way, the more we understand God. Therefore, the greatest virtue of the mind, that is, the mind’s power, or nature, or its greatest striving, is to understand things by the third kind of knowledge.******

* Ilyenkov (1977) p. 69.

** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 71.

*** Penguin (1996) p. 50.

**** Penguin (1996) p. 178.

***** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 72.

****** Penguin (1996) p. 173.

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From this selective arrangement Ilyenkov extracted the following:

Therefore the real composition of psychic activity (including the logical component of thought) is not in the least determined by the structure and arrangement of the parts of the human body and brain, but by the external conditions of universally human activity in the world of other bodies.*

But this again is Ilyenkov’s «activity philosophy» and has nothing to do with Spinoza’s own teaching.

There is one further citation from Spinoza in Dialectical Logic, although the English translation omits the footnote which is to be found in Ilyenkov’s Russian text. In Essay 8, «The Materialist Conception of Thought as the Subject Matter of Logic», Ilyenkov elaborated on his central concept of the ideal:

Determination of the ideal is thus especially dialectical. It is that which is not, together with that which is, that which does not exist in the form of an external, sensuously perceived thing but at the same time does exist as an active faculty of man.**

For this he quoted not from the Ethics, but from Improvement, as follows:

A definition, if it is to be called perfect, must explain the inmost essence of a thing, and must take care not to substitute for this any of its properties… If a circle is defined as a figure, such that all straight lines drawn from the centre to the circumference are equal, everyone can see that such a definition does not in the least explain the essence of a circle, but solely one of its properties.

  1. If the thing in question be created, the definition must (as we have said) comprehend the proximate cause. For instance, a circle should, according to this rule, be defined as follows: the figure described by any line whereof one end is fixed and the other free. This definition clearly comprehends the proximate cause.***

Once again, it can be seen that Ilyenkov’s appropriation of Spinoza was undertaken not in order to explain Spinoza, but to advance his own philosophical position – which is, of course, not a criticism. Ilyenkov created his own Spinoza, the better to express his original ideas.

Ilyenkov’s instrumental engagement with Spinoza – The Dialectics of the Abstract and Concrete in Marx’s Capital

It would appear that Ilyenkov added to Abstract and Concrete a passage referring to Spinoza in the very last years of his life; Abstract and Concrete was first published in Russia in 1960, but without that passage. The translator of the English version, Sergei Syrovatkin, used the standard Elwes translation of Improvement.

Ilyenkov started**** with the following:

Consistent materialists realised the weakness of the nominalistic view of the concept, its vulnerability to idealist speculations and errors. Spinoza stressed that

* Ilyenkov (1977) p. 72.

** Ilyenkov (1977) p. 264.

*** Spinoza “On the improvement of the understanding” Dover Edition 1955 Volume 2, translated by R. H. M. Elwes, p. 35 – Elwes.

**** Ilyenkov (1982) p. 17.

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the concept of substance, expressing the «first principle of nature», «cannot be conceived abstractedly or universally, and cannot extend further in the understanding than it does in reality».

In fact the passage in question is:

But since the first principle of nature cannot (as we shall see hereafter) be conceived abstractly or universally, and cannot extend further in the understanding than it does in reality, and has no likeness to mutable things, no confusion need be feared in respect to the idea of it, provided (as before shown) that we possess a standard of truth. That is, in fact, a being single and infinite; in other words, it is the sum total of being, beyond which there is no being found.

Ilyenkov therefore omitted the heart of Spinoza’s notion of substance.

On the following page, Ilyenkov attributed to Spinoza a reference to «the mode of ‘chaotic experience’ uncontrolled by reason».* This is not to be found in Spinoza, and the passage cited, jumping back several pages in Improvement, is:

The second mode of perception cannot be said to give us the idea of the proportion of which we are in search. Moreover its results are very uncertain and indefinite, for we shall never discover anything in natural phenomena by its means, except accidental properties, which are never clearly understood, unless the essence of the things in question be known first.**

For a critique of Spinoza, Ilyenkov cited a long passage:

Now that we know what kind of knowledge is necessary for us, we must indicate the way and the method whereby we may gain the said knowledge concerning the things needful to be known. In order to accomplish this, we must first take care not to commit ourselves to a search going back to infinity – that is, in order to discover the best method for finding out the truth, there is no need of another method to discover such a method; nor of a third method for discovering the second, and so on to infinity. By such proceedings, we should never arrive at the knowledge of the truth, or, indeed any knowledge at all. The matter stands on the same footing as the making of material tools, which might be argued about in a similar way. For, in order to work iron, a hammer is needed, and the hammer cannot be forthcoming unless it has been made; but, in order to make it, there was need of another hammer and other tools, and so on to infinity. We might thus vainly endeavour to prove that men have no power of working iron. But as men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection; and so gradually mounted from the simplest operations to the making of tools, and from the making of tools to the making of more complex tools and fresh feats of workmanship, till they arrived at making, with small expenditure of labour, the vast number of complicated mechanisms which they now possess.

* Ilyenkov (1982) p. 18.

** Elwes (1955) p. 11.

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So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations gets again fresh instruments or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds until it reaches the summit of wisdom.*

Ilyenkov’s gloss was as follows:

Here Spinoza attempts a fundamentally materialist interpretation of the innateness of ‘intellectual instruments’, deducing it from man’s natural organisation rather than from the ‘God’ of Descartes or Leibniz.

What Spinoza failed to understand was the fact that the originally imperfect ‘intellectual instruments’ are products of material labour rather than of nature… that is merely an organic shortcoming of the entire old materialism.**

Finally, Ilyenkov cited the passage we have already seen, concerning the definition of a circle, also cited in Essay 8 of Dialectical Logic.

Spinoza was therefore not, for Ilyenkov, «Marx without the beard»; rather, Spinoza in his hands was an effective weapon, suitably adapted, in the war against Diamat, all the better for carrying the seal of approval of the Marxist and Bolshevik tradition.

Marx and Spinoza

Marx began his philosophical notebooks in 1839, with materials for his doctoral dissertation The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, which he submitted in 1841.*** He made 141 pages of transcripts of Epicurean Philosophy – Diogenes, Epicurus, Sextus Empiricus, Democritus, Epikurus and others, and Seneca to the beginning of 1840. In 1840 he made 27 pages of transcripts from Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul); in March 1841 29 pages of transcripts from Leibniz in Latin and French; from January to March 1841 19 pages of transcripts from David Hume in German translation; from March to April 1841 43 pages of transcripts in Latin from Spinoza; during the same period 11 pages of transcripts from Rozencranz’s History of Kantian Philosophy; and from the beginning of April to the end of May 1842 87 pages of transcripts on the History of Art and Religion – the Bonn notebook. The transcriptions from Spinoza were the most substantial.

It will be recalled that in the first half of 1842 Marx was engaged in polemical journalism, in defence of freedom of expression, his «Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction»**** and, in the Rheinische Zeitung, «Debates on Freedom of the Press and Publication of the Proceedings of the Assembly of the

* Ilyenkov (1982) p. 19; Elwes (1955) pp. 11–12.

** Ilyenkov (1982) pp. 19–20.

*** Karl Marx (1975) Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW) Vol.1 (London: Lawrence & Wishart) pp. 32–105.

**** Karl Marx (1975) MECW Vol 1 pp. 109–131 written between 15 January and 10 February 1842.

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Estates».* In September-November 1844 he and Friedrich Engels wrote The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and Company.**

Marx’s Notebook was headed «Spinoza›s Theoligisch-politischer Tractat (written by the calligrapher) von Karl Heinrich Marx. Berlin. 1841 (in Marx’s own handwriting)» – «Spinoza’s Theologico-political Treatise by Karl Heinrich Marx».*** Marx did not start at the beginning of the Treatise. The first transcription was from Chapter 6 of the Treatise, «Of miracles».**** In particular, Marx transcribed the following passage:

Further, as nothing happens in nature which does not follow from her laws, and as her laws embrace everything conceived by the Divine intellect, and lastly, as nature follows a fixed and immutable order; it most clearly follows that miracles are only intelligible as in relation to human opinions, and merely mean events of which the natural cause cannot be explained by a reference to any ordinary occurrence, either by us, or at any rate, by the writer and narrator of the miracle.*****

Marx next turned to Chapter 14, «Definitions of faith»******, especially the following: …philosophy has no end in view save truth: faith, as we have abundantly proved, looks for nothing but obedience and piety. Again, philosophy is based on axioms which must be sought from nature alone: faith is based on history and language, and must be sought for only in Scripture and revelation*******…followed by Chapter 15 «Theology not subservient to reason».********

At this point Marx made an abrupt shift to a later chapter focusing on more political issues: Chapter 20, «Freedom of thought and speech»********, «that in a free state every man may think whatever he likes, and say what he thinks»********, including:

If men’s minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease… However, we have shown already that no man’s mind can possibly lie wholly at the disposition of another, for no one can willingly transfer his natural right of free reason and judgment, or be compelled to do so And the true aim of government is liberty.

* Karl Marx (1975) first article Rheinische Zeitung No.125 5 May 1842 MECW Vol 1 pp. 132–181.

** Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1975). The book was first published in February 1845, Frankfurt am Main. The work was never translated into English in either man’s lifetime; 1956 English translation by Richard Dixon and Clement Dutts and is taken from the 1845 German edition; MECW Volume 4, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, Moscow).

*** Benedict de Spinoza A Theologico-political Treatise Unabridged Elwes Translation Dover Publications Inc, New York 1951. For a recent fascinating historical contextualisation of this work, see Susan James (2012) Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion and Politics: The Theologico-Political Treatise (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

**** Elwes TPT (1951) pp. 81–97.

***** Elwes TPT (1951) p. 84.

****** Elwes TPT (1951) pp. 182–189.

******* Elwes TPT (1951) p. 189.

******** Elwes TPT (1951) pp. 190–199.

******** Elwes TPT (1951) pp. 257–259.

******** Elwes TPT (1951) p. 257.

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Next, Marx went back one chapter, to Chapter 19, «Of the outward forms of religion» – «It is shown that the right over matters spiritual lies wholly with the sovereign. And that the outward forms of religion should be in accordance with public peace, if we would obey God aright»; to Chapter 18, «Of certain political doctrines» – «From the commonwealth of the Hebrews, and their history, certain political doctrines are deduced», to Chapter 17 «Of the Hebrew theocracy» – «It is shown that no one can, or need, transfer all his rights to the sovereign power», and to Chapter 16, «Of the foundations of a state» – «Of the natural and civil rights of individuals; and of the rights of the sovereign power».

Marx then jumped to Chapters 7 to 13, on the interpretation of scripture; and finally Chapters 1 to 5, on prophecy, prophets, divine law and ceremonial law.

What can we conclude? We have no evidence other than the choices Marx made in his transcription – the directions he gave to his calligrapher. First, therefore, it would appear that he was grappling with religion and sorting out for himself the materialism and indeed substance monism which were the foundation for his and Engels’s work. Second, we know that issues of censorship and freedom of expression were the subject matter of Marx’s first public writings. So those were the sections of the Treatise to which Marx turned first. Maximilian Rubel asks:

Comment expliquer ce curieux regroupement de chapitres?… Tout au plus pourrait-on presume que l’étudiant Marx a voulu retenir les enseignements du Traité dans l’ordre qu’il jugeait plus conforme à l’esprit et aux necessities de l’époque où il vivait, d’où l’inversion des deux grands themes qui font l’objet du Traité, la religion et la politique.

Marx and Spinoza’s Correspondence

As with the Treatise, Marx did not take the Correspondence in order. He went straight to Letter XXXII (XIX) from Spinoza to William de Blyenburgh, December 1664, in which Spinoza explained why «I cannot admit that sin and evil have any positive existence, far less that anything can exist, or come to pass, contrary to the will of God».* From that letter Marx returned to Letter II (II) of August 1661 to Henry Oldenberg, in which Spinoza wrote:

I will begin then by speaking briefly of God, Whom I define as a Being consisting in infinite attributes, whereof each is infinite or supremely perfect after its kind. You must observe that by attribute I mean everything which is conceived through itself and in itself, so that the conception of it does not involve the conception of anything else. For instance, extension is conceived through itself, but motion is not.**

That was followed in his transcription by Letter IV (IV) from Spinoza to Oldenburg, with the following highly significant passage, already referred to by Maidansky, as noted above:

* Elwes Corr (1951) p. 332.

** Elwes Corr (1951) p. 277.

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But you say: perhaps thought is a corporeal action: be it so, though I by no means grant it: you, at any rate, will not deny that extension, in so far as it is extension, is not thought, and this is all that is required for explaining my definition…*

Marx transcribed from letters V, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XIII, XIV and referred to Letter XV, from Spinoza to Henry Oldenburg, which includes:

… I will premise that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or deformed, ordered or confused.**

Letters XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX are followed by Letter XXI, and XXIII. This contains Spinoza’s careful explanation:

… I should like briefly to explain here, in what sense I assert that a fatal necessity presides over all things and actions. God is in no wise subject to fate: I conceive that all things follow with inevitable necessity from the nature of God, in the same way as еveryone conceives that it follows from God’s nature that God understands himself.***

Letter XXIV is followed by Letter XXV of 7 February 1676, Spinoza to Oldenburg:

When I said in my former letter that we are inexcusable, because we are in the power of God, like clay in the hands of a potter, I meant to be understood in the sense, that no one can bring a complaint against God for having given him a weak nature or infirm spirit.****

Letter XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII (Spinoza to Simon de Vries), XXIX, XXX, and finally LXXIV, a magnificent retort to Albert Burgh, his former pupil, who had recently become a Catholic, and had condemned his former friends:

You cannot possibly deny, unless you have lost your memory as well as your reason, that in every Church there are thoroughly honourable men, who worship God with justice and charity.

… what distinguishes the Romish Church from others must be something entirely superfluous, and therefore founded solely on superstition.

For I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy, I know that I understand the true philosophy. If you ask in what way I know it, I answer: In the same way as you know that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles…

… and also examine the history of the Church (of which I see you are completely ignorant), in order to see how false, in many respects, is Papal tradition, and by what course of events and with what cunning the Pope of Rome six hundred years after Christ obtained supremacy over the Church*****…

* Elwes Corr (1951) p. 283.

** Elwes Corr (1951) p. 290.

*** Elwes Corr (1951) p. 301.

**** Elwes Corr (1951) p. 305.

***** Elwes Corr (1951) p. 414–419.

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Although Marx made no transcription from Ethics or from On the Improvement of the Understanding, his close attention to the Correspondence would have given him more than a competent understanding of Spinoza’s philosophy. However it is highly likely, in my view, that his motivation in selecting these passages was to equip himself for his left-Hegelian critique of religion, and for his pursuit of radical democracy and freedom of expression as against the Prussian authorities.

It has been noted that Marx entitled his transcription «Spinoza’s Theologico-political Treatise by Karl Heinrich Marx». Like Ilyenkov, he in effect constructed his own Spinoza. Alexandre Matheron put it this way:

Ayant éliminé ce qui, du texte de Spinoza, ne l’intéressait pas ou ne pouvait server à son eventual projet, Marx reconstitute un autre texte, qui a sa coherence proper, et dont il semble avoir tenu à faire ressortir toutes les articulations.*

Matheron provided a detailed analysis of Marx’s selections, and the way that Marx through his selection really did produce a Marxian Spinoza. In his view two extreme hypotheses were possible: «… peut-être Marx projette-t-il sur Spinoza ses propres idées, peut-être s’en sert-il au contraire comme d’un repoussoir…».** Matheron’s conclusion was that despite Marx’s radical re-working, Spinoza’s fundamental theses (les theses maîtresses) had not been falsified by him. One thing is certain: the young Marx was a particularly attentive reader.

Spinoza in Marx’s works

It has been pointed out that Marx seldom referred directly to Spinoza in his writings, and commentators such as Perry Anderson regard his few citations as «of the most banal sort». That for me shows a lack of attention by Anderson.*** Indeed, certain citations are of great interest, in showing precisely how Marx deployed Spinoza explicitly.

In his 1842 «Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction», referred to above, Marx wrote the following:

«Verum index sui et falsi» (Truth is the touchstone of itself and of falsehood (Spinoza, Ethics Part II, Prop 43)**** «As the light makes both itself and the darkness plain, so truth is the standard both of itself and of the false».*****

and a few pages later he referred to Kant, Fichte and Spinoza.

In 1844, in The Holy Family, he wrote:

The dispute between Strauss and Bauer over Substance and Self-Consciousness is a dispute within Hegelian speculation. In Hegel there are three elements, Spinoza’s Substance, Fichte’s Self-Consciousness and Hegel’s necessarily antagonistic unity

* Alexandre Matheron (1977) “Le Traité Theologico-Politique vu par le jeune Marx” Cahiers Spinoza Numéro 1 Éditions Réplique, Paris, pp. 159–212, p. 161.

** Matheron (1977) p. 212.

*** Perry Anderson (1976) Considerations on Western Marxism (London: New Left Books) p. 64 fn. 30.

**** Penguin (1996) p. 58.

***** “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction” MECW Vol 1 pp.109–131 written between 15 January and 10 February 1842, at p. 112.

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of the two, the Absolute Spirit. The first element is metaphysically disguised nature separated from man; the second is metaphysically disguised spirit separated from nature; the third is the metaphysically disguised unity of both, real man and the real human species.

Within the domain of theology, Strauss expounds Hegel from Spinoza’s point of view, and Bauer does so from Fichte’s point of view, both quite consistently. They both criticised Hegel insofar as with him each of the two elements was falsified by the other, whereas they carried each of these elements to its one-sided and hence consistent development. — Both of them therefore go beyond Hegel in their criticism, but both also remain within his speculation and each represents only one side of his system. Feuerbach, who completed and criticised Hegel from Hegel’s point of view by resolving the metaphysical Absolute Spirit into «real man on the basis of nature», was the first to complete the criticism of religion by sketching in a grand and masterly manner the basic features of the criticism of Hegel’s speculation and hence of all metaphysics.*

Finally, in 1858, in the Grundrisse, unpublished until 1939, Marx wrote:

The act of production is therefore in all its moments also an act of consumption. But the economists admit this. Production as directly identical with consumption, and consumption as directly coincident with production, is termed by them productive consumption. This identity of production and consumption amounts to Spinoza’s thesis: determinatio est negatio. – note 11. ‘Determination is negation’, i.e. given the undifferentiated self-identity of the universal world substance, to attempt to introduce particular determinations is to negate this self-identity. (Spinoza, Letters, No.50, to J. Jelles, 2 June 1674.).**

This incidentally shows that Marx was familiar with letters of Spinoza which he had not transcribed.

Although he intended to do so, Marx never wrote a text dealing specifically with philosophy, and instead turned his attention from very early to a critique of political economy.

But strong claims, with which I agree, have been made for Marx’s Spinozism. Yirmiyahu Yovel, in his Spinoza and Other Heretics***, asserted that

Marx used Spinoza’s thought far more than he admitted. Spinoza was above all a counterbalance and corrective to Hegel, restoring the concept of nature and man as a concrete, natural being from what seemed to Marx his immersion in the lofty and semireligious heights of the Hegelian Geist… Marx’s new philosophy of immanence, though strongly influenced by Hegel and his milieu, goes back to Spinoza in more ways than one. Indeed, Spinoza is almost always present in

* Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism.

** Against Bruno Bauer and Company Chapter VI 3) f) The Speculative Cycle of Absolute Criticism and the Philos-ophy of Self-Consciousness at.

*** MECW Volume 4, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975.

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Marx’s thought. But, we may add, the actual presence of Spinoza in Marx far surpasses his direct mention by name.

In the view of Maximilien Rubel, «Les traces ‘spinoziennes’ dans la correspondence de Marx, sans être fréquentes, témoignent de l’intensité de cette rencontre».* Yovel also confirmed my sense that Marx turned to Spinoza especially for the critique of religion:

Just as the young Marx was ploughing his way through Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise and affixing his own name to the excerpts he diligently copied from it, Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1841) was bringing Spinoza’s critique of religion up-to-date. The link between the two books was too timely and apparent for Marx to overlook.**

Yovel further identified correctly the manner in which Marx read in order to equip himself for the struggle with the Prussians:

But Marx, diligent student of the Theologico-Political Treatise, could not fail to see the link it established between theory and practice on the one hand, and between political and religious emancipation on the other.***

Finally, Yovel, without referring to Ilyenkov, identified precisely the manner in which Ilyenkov would, without knowing about Marx’s transcriptions, discover a rich source of inspiration in (his own) Spinoza:

The entity which Marx considers ontologically self-sufficient is not «nature» in the homogenous sense of Spinoza, but a dialectical interaction of nature and man, whereby each affects the other in a practical mode (work, shaping, reproduction). The hyphenated term man-in-nature seems more adequate to express this idea than Marx’s man and nature, since Marx clearly does not have a simple conjunction in mind but a dialectical reciprocity.

This is Ilyenkov’s «thinking body», in the context of his «activity philosophy».


Eugene Holland has summarised**** the return of Spinoza in the 20th century, and his impact on Marxist and critical thinkers in the post-WWII period:

Althusser’s efforts to expunge Hegelianism from Marx’s work involved replacing Hegel with Spinoza in many respects, although the extent of Althusser’s reliance on and confidence in Spinoza remains unclear.***** More dramatically, Antonio Negri has argued in favor of Spinoza’s materialism, suggesting it is an important, early-modern precursor of Marx’s fully modern materialism.******

* Rubel (1977) p. 24.

** Rubel (1977) p. 80.

*** Yovel (1992) p. 83.

**** Eugene Holland (1998) “Spinoza and Marx” Cultural Logic, v.2, n.1, at. m

***** See Louis Althusser (1997) “The Only Materialist Tradition” in Warren Montag and Ted Stolze (eds) The New Spinoza (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), pp. 3–20.

****** Antonio Negri (1999) The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

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Pierre Macherey has staged a direct confrontation between Spinoza and Hegel, stressing the degree to which the former eludes the grasp of the latter’s history of philosophy, and therefore represents an important alternative to Hegelian views.* Gilles Deleuze, finally, has mined the western philosophical tradition for alternatives to Hegel, among which Spinoza must be counted as one of the most important.**

To these should be added Althusser’s co-worker Etienne Balibar, whose Spinoza and Politics is in my view and perhaps his, one of his best works.*** And Vesa Oittinen has analysed Althusser’s «left-voluntarist» reading of Spinoza****, especially in Reading Capital.*****

Recently, the intellectual historian Jonathan Israel has written a series of books seeking to reinstate Spinoza as a philosopher in his own time, and as a key figure of the enlightenment and its intellectual and political explosions.****** Israel has been joined by the almost equally prolific philosopher Steven Nadler.******* I mentioned in my Introduction Moses Hess and the remark attributed to him that Spinoza was the prophet of the French Revolution. The religion-inclined historian Samuel Moyn, a scholar of Emanuel Levinas, who regards the Enlightenment and especially the French Revolution as diversions in human history and the history of ideas********, reprimanded Israel for suggesting, in effect, that Spinoza caused the French Revolution.******** There followed an acerbic exchange in which Israel described Moyn’s review as nonsense, and asked Moyn whether he should be described as a gnat or a vulture********. Connoisseurs of academic sword-play should consult these articles. The more serious point is that Spinoza arouses the same degree of controversy and passion as he did in his own time, in Marx’s time, and in the USSR.

* Pierre Macherey (2012) Hegel or Spinoza (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

** Gilles Deleuze (1992) Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (New York: Zone Books); and Gilles Deleuze (1988) Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (San Francisco: City of Lights Books).

*** Etienne Balibar (2008) Spinoza and Politics (London: Verso).

**** Vesa Oittinen (1994) “Althussers linksvoluntarische Spinoza-Lektüre”, pp. 19–24 in Vesa Oittinen Spinozistische Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang).

***** Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar (2009) Reading Capital (London, Verso).

****** Jonathan I. Israel (2002) Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (new ed Oxford: OUP); (2008) Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (Oxford: OUP); (2011) Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790 (Oxford: OUP); (2011) A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

******* Steven Nadler (2001) Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press);(2006) Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press); (2011) A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Trea-tise and the Birth of the Secular Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

******** Samuel Moyn (2012) The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

******** Samuel Moyn “Mind the Enlightenment” The Nation 31 May 2010, at. (accessed on 19 January 2013).

******** Jonathan Israel, Samuel Moyn “Spinoza and Vultures and Gnats, Oh My!” The Nation 5 July 2010, at (accessed on 19 January 2013).

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Just as with Marx and Ilyenkov, Spinoza has been deployed in order to serve as a foundation for systems of ideas which Spinoza would never have countenanced. Both Marx and Ilyenkov read Spinoza very closely indeed, and were profoundly influenced by a variety of his works. They both (re)constructed their own Spinozas, for their own purposes. I am sure Ilyenkov would have been delighted to find that Marx was like him excited and confirmed in his outlook by Spinoza; I do not think he would in any way have changed his «action philosophy». In the final analysis, Spinoza is in no way diminished by these very different engagements: his continuing relevance and power are strikingly confirmed.

My response to the open letter on Russia drafted by David Miller and Piers Robinson.

My response to the open letter on Russia drafted by David Miller and Piers Robinson.

Dear David and Piers,

I would not sign this letter.

My attitude to the present Russian regime, a reactionary authoritarian regime on a par with those of Erdogan and Trump, mirrors that of Karl Marx to the Russian Empire, which he characterised as “the gendarme of Europe”. In 1856 he wrote: “ It is in the terrible and abject school of Mongolian slavery that Muscovy was nursed and grew up. It gathered strength only by becoming a virtuoso in the craft of serfdom. Even when emancipated, Muscovy continued to perform its traditional part of the slave as master. At length Peter the Great coupled the political craft of the Mongol slave with the proud aspiration of the Mongol master, to whom Genghis Khan had, by will, bequeathed his conquest of the earth.” Putin, a true heir to the Russian Tsars, whom Marx detested, regards Lenin not only as a German spy but as the spy who destroyed the Russian Empire, and placed an atomic bomb under the USSR leading to its collapse, the greatest tragedy in his view of the 20th century – which is why there was no 1917 commemoration in Russia last year.

Amongst other things I represent at Strasbourg the widow, Marina, of Aleksandr Litvinenko who was murdered with Pollonium radioactive material in 2006 by Russians, one of whom is now a member of the Russian Duma, with consequent immunity. Mrs May has form. As Home Secretary, she blocked a public inquiry into the murder, and Marina only secured an inquiry by going to the Court of Appeal against May’s decision. The Russian regime has ridiculed May’s threats – Russia will not be visited by the Royal family! – and the Kremlin says this morning that the UK’s reaction added at least 10% to Putin’s vote yesterday. Boris Johnson could not avoid yesterday on Marr the fact the Tory Party has received huge sums of money from Russians close to the Kremlin. And a star of British capital, BP, owns 20% of the Russian state oil company Rosneft, making huge profits. The Russian regime does not fear the UK. On the contrary, it laughs at the posturing of May, Johnson and the others.

My colleagues the lawyer Stanislav Markelov, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the human rights activist Natasha Estemirova, and the leading opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, were all murdered in circumstances where operatives have been sentenced, but those who ordered the murders have impunity, with very strong suspicion focused on the Kremlin. The regime is now rounding up and torturing anarchists and anti-fascists. See…/…/sevastopol-anarchist-who-expo…/…/…/call-soli-actions-russian-anarchists.

The Russian regime is also complicit in Turkey’s crimes against Afrin and the Kurdish resistance. Russia had troops in Afrin and was providing air cover. The week before Turkey’s attack, senior Turkish officials visited Moscow and spoke with Mr Shoigu, the Russian Minister of Defence. Russian forces withdrew, and the Russian regime gave a green light to Turkey. See…/russia-helping-turkey-afrin-180……/russia-green-light-turkeys-afri……/sipan-hemo-russia-betrayed-the-kur…. Putin and Erdogan have Kurdish blood on their hands.

Another six years of President Putin is a much greater threat to world peace than the antics of May and Johnson.

Kind regards,


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