On Re-Fucking the Communist Manifesto: or, Marx and Shit

Jonathan Stafford
  jonathan.a.stafford@gmail.com
  

Abstract

In an 1869 letter to Engels, Marx relates his grievances concerning the German social democrat Wilhelm Liebknecht, complaining of various tasks which Liebknecht had insisted that he ‘“must” do’. Among Liebknecht’s demands was that Marx edit [bearbeiten] the Communist Manifesto, a process strikingly expressed by Marx with the verb ‘umficken’. This word, which has been rendered variously in English translation as ‘re-fuck’ and ‘muck about’ is one which cannot be found in German dictionaries. Why would Marx, a meticulously scrupulous user of the German language, choose to employ an obscure, possibly neological swearword to convey an aspect of the process of literary production? Marx’s use of bad language is in fact widespread in his oeuvre, with the word ‘shit’ particularly appearing in scores of private correspondences, accompanying a more general preoccupation with dirt, excrement and the materiality of bodily functions. This paper explores the significance of Marx’s use of bad language, suggesting that dwelling upon this preoccupation reveals that, far from irrelevant, it constitutes a mode of the critique of capital which is tied up with the material reality of capitalism as an inherently wasteful, dirty and unpleasant system. The limits of capital are simultaneously rendered visible and negated through a linguistic expression which exceeds the limits of bourgeois good taste. Contrasting the proletariat who literally live in shit to the hypocritical bourgeois fixation with remaining aloof in both word and deed from the filthy reality of capital, Marx’s profane mode of literary production presents an inversion of bourgeois subjectivity which reveals that while faeces is simply natural, capital is in fact disgusting.

Karl Marx - literary production