History, in a phrase likely wrongly attributed to Mark Twain, never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme. Thirty years after the Cold War ended in the implosion of the Soviet Block and, thus, in a major historical rupture (and after Francis Fukuyama offered himself up to serve the victorious power as court thinker with his triumphant hymn of the final victory of the liberal-democratic, capitalist West), a new global antagonism holds the world in a tight grip: the deepening external contradiction between the ‘Western model’ and the ‘Chinese model’. How this conflict should be interpreted remains disputed, especially among fellow Marxists. For Vijay Prashad, Director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, the West’s hostility towards China has long escalated into a ‘New Cold War’ (Prashad 2021). Cultural studies scholar Dai Jinhua 戴锦华, on the other hand, considers the term ill-fitting to “encapsulate the tremors, chaos, and instability of our new global situation” (Dai 2021). What is clear, in any case, is that the increasing aggressiveness, with which China is viewed in the West as a ‘systematic rival’, casts a vast shadow. At this point, it has even begun to darken the prospects for intellectual engagement with China in depressing ways. All scope for cooperation, naturally set at the interspace of the liminal in-between, is crushed destructively as a result of the bellicose confrontation of the blocs – including, ultimately, the space for scientific cooperation.
Against this backdrop, the Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism (HKWM) remains an untimely timely project. Since 2017, scholars and translators have been working in a transnational, transcultural, translingual cooperative with two centres — one in Beijing, one in Berlin — on the 马克思主义历史考证大辞典 (Makesizhuyi lishi kaozheng da cidian), i.e. on the Chinese edition of HKWM, the second volume of which was published in April 2021. The translation into Chinese is a defiant project against the times — a work in direct opposition to it. In our daily workshop, we think collaboratively across borders, striving in solidarity for mutual understanding. The fact that our focus is on humankind’s unfulfilled dream of overcoming destructive antagonisms, so that the object and the practice of research are to a certain extent one and the same, positions the HKWM doubly at odds with any bloc and war thinking that dictates the exclusive either/or binary as a fundamental stance. History, it does indeed rhyme.
For all those who indulge in anti-Chinese, anti-Marxist fantasies of ‘decoupling’, and who want to see the bridges between West and East burn, our German-Chinese cooperative may be a provocation. For us it is and remains: necessary. After all, the collective translation process involves more than just transferring articles from the source language to the target language. The real challenge is of a different order: How can the discourse about a linguistically, culturally specifically articulated universal — namely, the globally circulating, locally appropriated human fantasy of the realm of freedom in which the dictates of necessity have been overcome — be conveyed from one determinate, determinating context to another without falsely negating either the universal or the particular? This is a problem that can only be tackled in cooperation, through an intentionally multi-perspective exchange (Neddermann 2021).
Drawing on the discourse of the Zapatistas, the HKWM is projected as a “world in which many worlds have a place” (W.F.Haug 2002). For this reason alone, a truly Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism can never assume the dichotomous logic that drives the bloc confrontation. In the 1980s, the dictionary already sought and found its place between the frozen battlefronts as a cooperative sphere of thought with plural-universal perspectives (W.F.Haug 1994). In the multiverse of Marxist knowledge, mediation can be successful when differences are measured and actively worked through. This might be uncomfortable at times, even painful. But it is the only way.
Therefore, the German-Chinese cooperation — the joint translation work, the proofreading work, the publishing work — is characterised less through the absence of friction than through its productive friction. The relationship between the HKWM, essentially orientated along the ‘Luxemburg-Gramsci line’ (F.Haug 2012), and Chinese Marxism, which in relevant parts is a Marxism in power that has become a state, which is determined by its own, partly opposite historical experiences and necessities, is by no means uncontradictory. The dialogue, thus, is a continuous struggle between proximity and distance, between association and disassociation, between analysis and critique. It is not a self-perpetuating process, and there is by no means any guarantee of success. The results are all the more encouraging: vol. 1 and vol. 2 of the Chinese edition have already been published, vol. 3 has been completely translated and is currently being edited in Beijing and Berlin, and the translation of vol. 4 is currently in preparation.
The challenges facing humankind do not stop at national borders. Globally circulating financial flows, data flows, commodity flows cannot be restrained by local societies, especially not by competing capitalist societies. Climate catastrophe and ecological collapse continue to degrade living conditions; the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is circling the globe in ever new variants. We cannot survive a new cold war. And for the HKWM, whose claim and mission is to always be a place of productive reflection on the history and the future of humanity, one thing is certain: there is only one way forward, and it can only be done together, in transnational cooperation – in Berlin, in Beijing, and worldwide.
Hauke Neddermann (Berlin)
Translated by Vanessa Gravenor
Dai J., “The new Cold War? That is the question”, Episteme 5, 2021, online: www.positionspolitics.org/the-new-cold-war-that-is-the-question/
F. Fukuyama, “The End of History?”, The National Interest, vol. 16, 1989, 3-18
F. Haug, “Luxemburg-Gramsci Line”, trans. by G. M. Goshgarian, online: http://inkrit.org/neuinkrit/index.php/en/hcdm/articles
W. F. Haug, “Eine Welt, in der viele Welten Platz haben: Zum Historisch-Kritischen Wörterbuch des Marxismus”, Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Geschichtswissenschaft: Aspekte einer problematischen Beziehung, Stefan Jordan, Peter T. Walther (eds.), Waltrop: Spenner 2002, 421-34
Id., “Vorwort”, HKWM 1, 1994, I-VI
H. Neddermann, “Ein kooperatives Projekt in konfrontativen Zeiten: die chinesische Ausgabe des Historisch-kritischen Wörterbuchs des Marxismus”, Deutsch-chinesische Kooperationen in Bildung und Wissenschaft: Akteure, Interessen, Chancen, Chen Hongjie, Mechthild Leutner, H.Neddermann, Pan Lu (eds.), Berlin/Münster: Lit 2021, 109-18
V. Prashad, “US creates divide, not with China, but between humanity and imperialism” (2021) (Interview with Lu Yuanzhi), Global Times, 22.07.2021, online: www.globaltimes.cn/page/202107/1229305.shtml