Marx and Democracy

September 20, 2022

Terrell Carver

Tuesday, September 20, 7:00PM–9:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

Sponsored and Organized by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

In political terms, Marx was much more of a democrat than many of his followers have wanted to admit. His political allies in the 1840s were 'bourgeois liberals', and he was wholly on the side of struggles and revolutions to establish constitutional regimes. In terms of suffrage and economics, he was of course a 'left' democrat, but one who advocated working-class action against middle-class forces only with great reluctance, and only when they turned against egalitarian values. Many of his 'political' works have been devalued, compared with those that have taken pride of place as 'theory'. And some of his 'theoretical' works make more sense when read contextually as political interventions. One of these is 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte', which contains a novel theory of democracy, but one not yet appreciated either in the literatures on Marx or on democratic theory. Marx argues that representative democracy and authoritarian/military dictatorship are not poles apart as political constructions, but rather balanced 'on a knife's edge' by ever-present political forces. His account of French revolutionary and counter-revolutionary politics points to the crucial role of elected politicians in representative democracies and how easily they can be turned to abolish the very institutions that they had sworn to uphold. This theory clarifies many of the conflicts and struggles that have taken place since that time—and indeed are occurring in the present—in apparently 'democratic' countries worldwide.


Terrell Carver is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Bristol, UK. He has published widely on Marx, Engels, and Marxisms, including texts, translations, and biography; and on sex, gender, and sexuality, including masculinities, feminist theory, and queer studies. He is co-editor-in-chief of Contemporary Political Theory, and co-general-editor of three book series: Routledge Innovators in Political Theory (Taylor & Francis); Marx, Engels, and Marxisms (Palgrave); Globalization (Rowman & Littlefield). His latest books are Marx (Polity, 2018); Engels Before Marx (Palgrave, 2021); The Life and Thought of Friedrich Engels, 30th anniversary edition (Palgrave, 2021); Masculinities, Gender and International Relations (Bristol University Press, 2022). He also teaches discourse and visual analysis as interpretive methods for an IPSA summer school at the National University of Singapore.