On the Internationalization of the Dictionary

The core editorial team of the Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus (Historical Critical Dictionary of Marxism; HKWM) meets regularly in Berlin, though the authors come from countries on all continents, including but not limited to Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, France, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa and the USA. It is no coincidence that this international cooperation has only grown since the first volume was published in 1994. The project aims to do justice to the different tendencies and traditions of Marxism and to hopefully reflect its development across the world, a challenge which is posed anew with each volume. For this reason, international cooperation becomes particularly important. The abundance of Marxist approaches in the various fields and tendencies of economics, social and political sciences, ecology, feminism, cultural history, literary history, and aesthetics – in short, the entirety of the international spectrum of Marxist thought – can only be maintained and incorporated into the individual articles through international cooperation.

A dictionary of lively controversies

In addition to the international character of the topics, comparisons across national contexts serve as an important methodological aid in the work on the dictionary. They entail an ongoing learning process for everyone involved, i.e., for authors and editors alike. The process of creating an article requires that both the author and the editors gain a certain distance from their own positions. Nevertheless, the proximity of most researchers to certain theoretical traditions is not seen as an obstacle. Indeed, the authors can and should assert their own point of view in their articles by situating it in the context of relevant debates. In the best case, the dictionary articles showcase the lively controversy surrounding the different theoretical approaches to a keyword. The discussions at the annual Inkrit conferences should contribute to the success of this endeavour.

Another challenge pertains to the following tension: each article begins with an introductory “trailer” that formulates an outline of the problem as well as the keyword’s relevance to the present. Yet in defining the problem, the perspective particular to the research is implied. However, the results of the investigation are by no means fixed from the outset and in fact, the understanding of the problem usually changes in the course of the work on the material. It is not possible to “tell the story” of a lemma on the basis of a ”definitive” approach. This is due not only to the fact that we cannot foresee what questions will be posed tomorrow, but above all because the questions are not the same everywhere in the world, even if many of them contain a larger-scale, international relevance. The fundamental step is tying international debates back into the concrete historical conditions of their genesis. This gesture raises the prospect of a social-historical exposition of the issue which takes into account, as much as possible, how the nexus between historical-political developments, theoretical tendencies and social movements form an articulated whole in the respective countries and regions.

International conceptual history

The internationalisation of the HKWM operates to counter national essentialisations of the “other”, the “proper” and the “foreign”. It also provides a counterbalance to any account which would seek to elevate current issues to the absolute standard for the entire history of a term, or to declare past debates obsolete. To avoid these pitfalls, the dictionary strives for a historical-critical mode of research and exposition that is centred around engaging with and working out contradictions. It strives to develop a historical understanding of the terms and a critical relationship to history. Engaging with contemporary issues is central for the project, though posing them on the basis of a broader historical consciousness that avoids a parochial national framework can only be achieved through the confrontation of diverse social and conceptual historical developments at the international level. They guarantee that the dictionary can be a long-lasting, useful tool.

The project “Internationalisation of the Historical Critical Dictionary of Marxism”

In October 2017, arrangements were made to publish a Chinese edition of all volumes of the HKWM. The project is supported by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the School of Government of Peking University and InkriT. The first volume was published in summer 2018, the second in spring 2020 by Commercial Press in Beijing. Sinologist Hauke Neddermann is responsible for proofreading the articles translated into Chinese for the InkriT. Questions concerning the translation are discussed in a working group with equal representation, headed by Wolfgang Fritz Haug and Yu Keping. The sinologists Mechthild Leutner and Bettina Gransow-van Treeck are also members of this group.


In spring 2019, another chapter in the internationalisation of the HKWM began. With the help of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the InkriT has laid the groundwork for an additional ‘globalising’ boost for its dictionary project. Numerous articles have since been translated into English and Spanish. An international team, led by Dr. Victor Strazzeri, is coordinating their publication in online and print formats as well as the all-important search for new authors for future volumes. The ultimate aim of these efforts is to win over a new generation of Marxist and especially Marxist-feminist scholars from around the globe for the HKWM project and considerably expand its readership and reach. In addition to the annual InkriT conferences, the HKWM Blog aims to  create a forum that not only provides information about the history and current status of the project, but also strengthens international accessibility to its activities; it invites all those interested to actively engage with the project in the form, for example, of contributions about particular aspects and articles of the HKWM or how a current issue puts topics handled in its entries in a new light. The Blog will also publish interviews with editors and publishers, conversations with authors and much more.