Marx Overview

NOTE: slide-show version of this class here

The Basics

  • Born in Trier in 1818, died in London in 1883
  • University educated - philosophy/law/history
  • Strongly influenced by circle of intellectuals around university
  • Worked as journalist/newspaper-magazine editor/writer
  • Left Europe for England in late 1840s due to political pressure
  • Supported by friend/collaborator Friedrich Engels for much of his adult life


  1. The "young" Marx1 and the old Marx2
    1. Young Marx refers to the more humanistic Marx prior to the writing of the Communist Manifesto in 1848.
      1. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
        1. ALIENATION3 under capitalism contrasted with the full and authentic development of our human potential under communism
      2. The German Ideology (with F. Engels)
        1. HISTORICAL MATERIALISM4 with the basic idea one's nature and outlook depend on the material conditions in which one lives and that material conditions drive history, not ideas.
        2. It is here that we get the famous idea that Marx "turned Hegel on his head." Hegel is the dominant figure in 18th-19th century German philosophy. Greatly simplified, Hegel is an idealist — he described/explained history in terms of the evolution of ideas in which the ideas of each era emerge as a resolution to the contradictions of the ideas of the previous era. For Hegel, material stuff — actual relations among people, government, the economy, etc. are secondary, products of the "spirit of their times" (the Zeitgeist).
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            • A key component of Hegel's thinking is the DIALECTIC5. A dialectic is a battle of sorts between contradictory ideas. The result of the battle is new ideas that transcend the conflict. The ideas that go into the battle are called the thesis and the antithesis and the outcome is the synthesis.
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          • dominant ideology : "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force."6 Note how this turns Hegel around. Zeitgeist7 depends on who is in charge.
    2. The "later" Marx
      1. 1848 Communist Manifesto (with Engels)
        1. Communism as a social movement. Contrast with other forms of socialism. "Workers of the world, unite!"
        2. Social classes as primary social entities. History as class struggle ("The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle"8). Proletariat as class that can see clearly (cf. False Consciousness9)
      2. 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.
        1. "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness."
      3. 1860-80 Das Kapital
        1. Society structured as two class system: proletariat10 (workers) and bourgeoisie. The owners of the means of production, capitalists. In capitalism, they form the ruling class.11 (capitalists)
        2. Fundamental structure: capitalists own MEANS OF PRODUCTION12 (e.g., factories) and they hire labor, not the other way round
        3. EXPLOITATION.13 Capitalist pays wage. Worker puts the value into objects via labor (LABOR THEORY OF VALUE14). But in capitalist economy, wages are pushed down and extra profit (SURPLUS VALUE15) goes to the owners.
    3. The Readings
      1. "Alienated Labor"


Quotes to Know

You should be able to complete the following quotations, provide approximate citations, and an explanation.

Other Sources

The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European History. Lecture 24 The Age of Ideologies (2): Reflections on Karl Marx

Haase, Fee-Alexandra. 2009. "Revolutions as sensational writing. Karl Marx as London correspondent for The New York Tribune (1852–1861)." Neohelicon Volume 36, Number 1, 201-214. []

MARTIN, DOUGLAS. 2010. "Robert C. Tucker, a Scholar of Marx, Stalin and Soviet Affairs, Dies at 92" New York Times. Published: July 31, 2010. []

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