Elmar Altvater (1938 - † 2018)

Elmar Altvater was Professor for International Political Economy at the Otto-Suhr-Institute for Political Sciences at the Free Univerity of Berlin until 2004. He died on 1 May 2018.

Elmar Altvater was an associated member of the IPE since its formation and contributed widely to the institute’s work: through presentations, publications, and through critical interventions and valuable advice. He was a friend, colleague and outstanding intellectual, who dedicated himself time of his life to the critique of the Political Economy.

As one of the internationally most recognized Marxist economists, he contributed substantially to the analysis of modern capitalism. In particular, his work concerning the world economy, the international financial system and the dependent development of the global South can be highlighted. This includes various essays for the journal PROKLA – Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialwissenschaft, which he co-founded in 1971 and whose work he shaped for more than three decades, and the book Grenzen der Globalisierung from 1996 (7th edition in 2007) which he wrote together with his life partner and former IPE director Birgit Mahnkopf and which became a classic among globalisation literature.

Following Marx, as well as the work by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen on thermodynamics and economic development, Elmar Altvater investigated the relationship between the capitalist economy and ecology. He insisted that economic transactions do not only exhibit a value dimension but also a material and an energetic dimension. This has been depicted in his books Sachzwang Weltmarkt (1987), Die Zukunft des Marktes (1991 – English translation The Future of the Market, 1993), Der Preis des Wohlstands (1992) and Das Ende des Kapitalismus wie wir ihn kennen (2005), in which he analyses the ecological contradiction of capitalism that today has manifested itself in climate change, the loss of biodiversity or the depletion of natural resources.

Elmar Altvater always understood himself as political intellectual. His critique of the predominant economic and political theories was motivated by the endeavor to understand social power relations which he aimed to overcome in a radical democratic, social and ecological sense. In his own words, as written in PROKLA in 2007, it is “the critique of the real political relations” which provoked the “critique of the categories, in which the world was interpreted” (our translation). For the IPE, Elmar Altvater’s work is motivation and commitment at the same time.

Selected Publications

  • The Capitalocene, or Geoengineering against Capitalism´s Planetary Boundaries, in: J.W. Moore (ed) 2016, Anthropocene or Capitalocene, Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism, Oakland (PM Press): 138-153
  • Engels neu entdecken. Das hellblaue Bändchen zur Einführung in die ´Dialektik der Natur´ und die Kritik von Akkumulation und Wachstum, Hamburg (VSA) 2015
  • Marx neu entdecken. Das hellblaue Bändchen zur Einführung in die Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, Hamburg 2015 (2. Auflage): VSA
  • Der große Krach oder die Jahrhundertkrise von Wirtschaft und Finanzen, von Politik und Natur, Münster 2010: Westfälisches Dampfboot
  • Vermessung der Utopie. Ein Gespräch über Mythen des Kapitalismus und die kommende Gesellschaft, Berlin 2010: Blumenbar (mit Raul Zelik)
  • Ablasshandel gegen Klimawandel. Marktbasierte Instrumente in der globalen Klimapolitik und ihre Alternativen. Reader des Wissenschaftlichen Beirats von attac, Hamburg: VSA (Hrsg. mit Achim Brunnengräber)
  • Konkurrenz für das Empire. Die Zukunft der Europäischen Union in der globalisierten Welt, Münster 2007: Westfälisches Dampfboot (mit Birgit Mahnkopf)
  • Das Ende des Kapitalismus wie wir ihn kennen, Münster 2007 (5. Auflage): Westfälisches Dampfboot
  • Grenzen der Globalisierung. Ökonomie, Ökologie und Politik in der Weltgesellschaft, Münster 2007 (7. Auflage): Westfälisches Dampfboot (mit Birgit Mahnkopf)
  • Der Preis des Wohlstands oder Umweltplünderung und neue Welt(un)ordnung, Münster 1992: Westfälisches Dampfboot
  • The Future of the Market: An Essay on the Regulation of Money and Nature After the Collapse of "Actually Existing Socialism", London 1993: Verso
  • Sachzwang Weltmarkt. Verschuldungskrise, blockierte Industrialisierung und ökologische Gefährdung. Der Fall Brasilien, Hamburg 1987: VSA