Traversing emancipation between heaven and earth: the applicability of Marx’s conception of emancipatory alternatives

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There has been renewed interest in recent years in Marx’s vision of alternatives to capitalism within his well-known writings as well as his recently published manuscripts. This burgeoning literature has shed light on the inseparability of Marx’s critique of capitalism and his conception of emancipatory alternatives and broadened the extent to which Marx elaborated on the notion of postcapitalist society. These theoretical explorations have been complemented by a series of new intellectual biographies of Marx which have further demonstrated how Marx’s political engagements with various movements during his life influenced his theoretical works. This paper revisits the apparent tension between Marx’s theoretical commentaries on the economic and political dimensions of his vision for alternatives to capitalism, which indeed set highly complex and demanding criteria for a radical emancipatory project, and his practical preoccupations with radical movements that he engaged with, which always took a strategically nuanced and pragmatic approach to their possibilities and limitations. The paper traces this nonlinear dynamic by examining the evolution of Marx’s conception of radical emancipation in Capital, Civil War in France, and Critique of Gotha Programme, in conjuncture with Marx’s activities around the International Workingmen’s Association, the Paris Commune, and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany. It argues that the notion of “praxis”, while a foundational necessity, is insufficient to unpack the basic congruities and essential incongruities between Marx’s theoretical and practical considerations on emancipatory alternatives. Instead, the paper proposes the centrality of form analysis in Marx’s conception of radical emancipation and his assessment of political strategies towards a postcapitalist society. Such form-analytical perspective on the reciprocity of theory and practice illuminates pathways beyond dichotomies between reform and revolution while maintaining a grounded anti-capitalist approach to emancipatory projects.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 May 2023
EventCritical Emancipations - KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 12 May 202313 May 2023


ConferenceCritical Emancipations
Internet address


  • Marx
  • capitalism
  • Socialism
  • intellectual history
  • social theory
  • post-capitalism
  • Marxism


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