John Grumley
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According to János Kis’s memory, the original Hungarian version of the book was first proposed by Márkus in the late 1960s. Márkus invited his two most capable students Bence and Kis to work with him on the project and, although it was written between 1970 and 1972, it was not published until 1992 after the collapse of the Eastern European Communist States in 1989 (T-Twins in Budapest). The book was meant to respond to the parallel defeats of the radical movements of 1968 in the West and the reform movements in the East, and to the deep disagreements and animosities between them. The title refers to the fact that Marx understood Capital as an explanatory theory of the capitalist system and a diagnosis of the erroneous way in which the system appears in both the everyday thinking of the participants and in mainstream (“bourgeois”) science. In other words, Marx claimed that the same theory that provides a true account of capitalist production and reproduction also provides an explanation for why everyday thinking and mainstream science are in systematic error in respect to their underlying fundamental nature. It was with this claim in mind that Marx added to the title of Capital the subtitle ‘A Critique of Political Economy’. Critique was meant to show that the picture of capitalism given by standard political economy was mistaken. Uncovering these errors reveals that the mechanisms of the capitalist system produce and reproduce not just social and economic inequalities but also a false view of their real own inner workings.

While most of Márkus’s books and papers were translated into English prior to his death in October 2016, this was not the case with this co-authored book, the most important of his Hungarian pre-exile works. An internal dispute over political tactics caused a rift between the generations of the Budapest School and this put a brake on the English translation of the book for over a decade.

In the intervening period, Márkus lectured in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney from 1978 until his retirement in 1998, George gave 25 lecture courses. Ágnes Heller, the most well-known member of the Budapest School, once observed that Márkus’s lectures were his great works and testified to his perfectionism. After Márkus’s death, his wife Maria Márkus and I undertook to establish the Márkus Archiv. This was to be a project committed to publishing some of his completed essays that had not yet been offered for publication. It would also undertake to transcribe hand-written lecture notes into electronic form and so make these accessible to students and scholars both in Australia and internationally. We approached Kis and Bence’s wife with the proposal to translate How Is Critical Economic Possible? into English. Kis, after a career as a political leader in the opposition to the Communist regime, had returned to philosophy and had become a distinguished professor with the Central European University, first in Budapest and now in Vienna. He was keen for the translation to go ahead and was able to recruit an excellent translator to the project: Bálint Bethlenfalvy.

It is testimony to the deep appreciation of ex-students and colleagues that, in the absence of any official sources of funding, a group clubbed together to pay for the translation. Those involved were Maria Márkus, until her death in 2017 and later Andras, Márkus’s youngest son, János Kis, Professor David Roberts from Monash University and my partner Pauline Johnson and myself. Working with Bálint, János Kis has devoted himself to the preparation of the manuscript for many months.

It is a timely publication. Since Márkus’s death in 2016 and Ágnes Heller’s death in 2019, international interest in the works of the Budapest School has continued to grow across China, Germany, Brussels, New York, and South America. The belated translation speaks to some of Márkus’s abiding preoccupations. This great master of the history of philosophy once remarked that he considered himself to be an expert of only one philosopher: that was Marx. Márkus spent 10 years of his life writing a critique of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy as elaborated in the unfinished volumes of Capital. It is not surprising that the final publication of this book by Brill in the book series Social and Critical Theory is eagerly awaited. We thank John Rundell for his assistance in this regard.

John Grumley

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