The young Marx on constituent power and “true democracy.”

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Marx and Marxism is commonly charged with having neglected politics and the development of a theory of politics. However, this presumption ignores Marx’s unfinished and unpublished 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of State, where he engaged political theory at length – an engagement, which propelled him towards his subsequent critique of political economy. It is the aim of the proposed paper to reconstruct and reinterpret his argument focusing in particular on his conceptualization of constituent power and “true democracy.” In the 1843 Critique Marx argues that democracy is the foundation and content of all other constitutions and/as political forms (monarchy, aristocracy, etc.). Democracy in this sense does not connote a specific political form, but the content that constitutes them – a form of constituent power. The point is that all political forms of rule presuppose and rely on the tacit consent and continuous participation of the governed. However, oftentimes these political forms appear to maintain sovereignty over and against them. This is made possible through the division of society against itself in classes – allowing the sovereign state to appear to stand above and beyond the conflicts of civil society. Marx therefore concludes that all these political forms are democracies in contradiction with themselves. Marx proceeds to suggest that it is possible to overcome these contradictions and develop an adequate political form of democracy, which he describes as “true democracy,” which presupposes the abolition of private property and with it, class society alongside the division between the political and the economic, which maintains the abstraction of (sovereign) political forms from their content.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date10 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2016
EventMarx Nu - Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 9 Sep 201610 Sep 2016


ConferenceMarx Nu
LocationAarhus Universitet


  • Karl Marx
  • democracy
  • constitution
  • G. W. F. Hegel
  • Sovereignty

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