Elmar Altvater
Born24 August 1938 Edit this on Wikidata
Died1 May 2018 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 79)
Political partyThe Left (Die Linke)
Formerly: Alliance 90/The Greens

Elmar Altvater (Kamen, Province of Westphalia, 24 August 1938 – 1 May 2018)[1] was Professor of Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of the Free University of Berlin, before retiring on 30 September 2004. He continued to work at the institute, and published articles and books.[2]


As a student, Altvater studied economics and sociology in Munich, and attained a doctorate with a dissertation on "Environmental Problems in the Soviet Union". At the Otto-Suhr-Institut, he was active in socialist research groups, working with among others Klaus Busch, Wolfgang Schoeller and Frank Seelow, and he gained fame as one of Germany's most important Marxist philosophers, who strongly influenced the political and economic theory of the 1968 generation of radicals.[2] His analysis, centered on the logic of capital accumulation crisis in state interventions is key to the Marxist theory of state-derivationism.[3] Altvater argues that the state performs four general maintenance functions particular capitalists cannot undertake: providing an initial legal system with property and contract law, regulating the class struggle between workers and owners of capital, enforcing terms of international trade and market expansion through military presence, and providing infrastructure.[4]

In 1970, he co-founded the German journal PROKLA - Journal for Critical Social Science[5] of which he remained an editor. In 1971 he became university professor in political economy at the Otto-Suhr-Institut. Apart from questions of development theory, the debt crisis, and the regulation of markets, he remains preoccupied with the effects of capitalist economies on the environment.

Altvater was a noted critic of the political economy and author of numerous writings on globalization and critiques of capitalism. A standard work is his book The Limits of Globalization (1996), written with his companion Birgit Mahnkopf.[6]

Altvater supported the German Greens for some time, but after the 1999 military intervention in Kosovo (which as a member of the governing coalition the party had to support) increasingly maintained a critical distance. He was a member of the Bundestag Commission of Inquiry The World Economy - Challenges and Answers (1999–2002). Altvater was a supporter of ATTAC (he was a member of its Scientific Advisory Board[7]) and the World Social Forum.

Altvater has coined the term "Capitalocene", which is used by environmentalists as an alternative to the Anthropocene.[8]

Primary literature


  1. ^ Elmar Altvater: Geboren am 24. August 1938 in Kamen – gestorben am 1. Mai 2018, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung
  2. ^ a b "Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaft: Prof. Dr. Elmar Altvater". Archived from the original on 19 July 2011.
  3. ^ Barrow, C.W. (1991). Critical Theories of the State: Marxist, Neo-Marxist, Post-Marxist. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, pg. 79.
  4. ^ Altvater, E. (1973). "Notes on Some Problems of State Interventionism (I)." Kapitalistate I: pp. 97–108.
  5. ^ http://www.prokla.de/, the Publication, in German
  6. ^ http://d-nb.info/gnd/115428844, listings in the German National Library, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
  7. ^ "ATTAC Scientific Advisory Board" (in German). Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
  8. ^ Schwägerl, Christian (2011). The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet. p. 65.