Today we mourn the loss of Elmar Altvater - discussion partner, scholarly researcher and teacher, political comrade and friend. Elmar had been involved in the activities of the West German Left since the 1950s and was a member of SDS, the Socialist Bureau, the Greens, and finally the party DIE LINKE. He collaborated with the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in a variety of ways: as a speaker, author and interview partner. He intervened in the Left’s political and scholarly discussions since the 1960s with countless texts. In 1971, he and others founded the journal Probleme des Klassenkampfs (PROKLA), which he edited until 2007. The journal published significant contributions to the critique of political economy and the derivation of the bourgeois state, writings which enjoyed an international reception.
An important part of Elmar's work was his critical examination of the world market, the dependence of the countries of the Global South and the international debt regime. Elmar was widely connected and engaged in campaigns for debt relief for the countries of the Global South. He and Birgit Mahnkopf dedicated two important books to the critique of capitalist globalization. Broadening the critique of political economy, these books had an important influence on the discussion on the left: Grenzen der Globalisierung. Ökonomie, Ökologie und Politik in der Weltgesellschaft (The Limits of Globalization: Economy, Ecology and Politics in the Global Society) and Globalisierung der Unsicherheit – Arbeit im Schatten, schmutziges Geld und informelle Politik (The Globalization of Insecurity: Shadow Work, Dirty Money and Informal Politics). His engagement with Attac also drew from this critique of the "neoliberal counter-revolution" pursued by the Washington consensus.
Beginning in the 1970s, he dedicated himself to establishing an alliance between the trade unions and ecology movements. Elmar sought to bring together Marxian theory and political ecology, and devoted a great number of publications to this topic. His original attempt to integrate considerations of thermodynamics into the critique of political economy sparked numerous discussions. In recent years he dealt extensively with issues of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene, including his last contribution to the journal LuXemburg.
His final two books bear the titles Marx neu entdecken (Rediscovering Marx) and Engels neu entdecken (Rediscovering Engels). This is symbolic of Elmar's intellectual work and political commitment, and constitutes a programmatic challenge. We will miss his insistent emphasis that the left must contribute to solving the great issues of humanity.
Alex Demirović, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung (2 May 2018)
Translated by Zachary King