MARXISM

Last Updated 28/04/05

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  1. The Paper
  2. Basic Reading
  3. Topics

 


1. The Paper

The Marxism paper is predominantly addressed to those aspects of Marx's thought that have attracted the attention of analytical philosophers. Thus of Marx's copious writings, only a small proportion will be studied on this course, and only a few examples of the work of his many followers. Nevertheless, all of Marx's writings are relevant as background, and lectures are often given on the work of selected Marxists.

Although the paper is not divided into sections, the topics broadly fall into a number of distinct areas. The paper is usually designed so that students must answer questions on at least two of the areas listed below.

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2. Basic Reading

The best selection of works by Marx is Selected Writings, Karl Marx. Edited by David McLellan, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). Particular readings from Marx will be indicated in the sections below. Many primary texts can be found at www.marxists.org.

Of the general secondary sources on Marx, strongly recommended are:

Important collections of papers include:

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3. Topics

Historical Materialism

This is the part of Marx's work that has attracted most attention from analytical philosophers, following G. A. Cohen Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978) which gives the definitive ‘technological materialist' interpretation of Marx's theory of history. Cohen's interpretation is given a useful shorter statement in Chapter 1 of Cohen's History, Labour and Freedom: Themes from Marx, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) (Chs. 2-10 are also relevant). Topics emphasised by Cohen, and taken up by others include Marx's theory of historical change and development; the relationship between the economic base and the political superstructure; and the role of functional explanation in Marx's thought and in history. Allen Buchanan raises related questions concerning revolution and class struggle (‘Revolutionary Action and Motivation', in Cohen, Nagel and Scanlon). Marx's concept of ideology is explored by Michael Rosen in ‘The Problem of Ideology', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 70 (1996): 209-228.

Texts by Marx

Texts by Engels

Other Sources

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Early Writings

Marx wrote a Doctoral thesis in philosophy, and his early writings show German philosophy's influence upon him, while at the same time mark his attempt to broaden his position by studying and reacting to economic theory and contemporary politics. Thus in the early writings Marx is writing both as a philosopher and as a critic of philosophy. The concept of alienation is central to his view at this point, and it is used as a critical device in his early criticism of religion and society; money; and private property; and strongly influences his view of emancipation.

Texts by Marx

Secondary Sources

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Economics

Marx believed that his version of the labour theory of value provided the key to understanding the nature of capitalism; the origin of profit; exploitation and the breakdown of capitalism. This view has come under severe pressure, and it is commonly thought, even by those sympathetic to Marx, that the labour theory of value is fatally flawed. Nevertheless many of his economic insights survive.

Texts by Marx

Secondary Sources

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Political Thought

Much of Marx's writings concerns the analysis and development of various political concepts, including the state; the dictatorship of the proletariat; class. Certain of Lenin's writings take this process further.

Texts by Marx

Texts by Lenin

Secondary Texts

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Philosophy

Although Marx began as a philosopher, only his Early Writings include any explicit attempt to write on philosophical themes. What is often identified as Marxist philosophy—dialectical materialism—stems from the writings of Engels. Whether or not this accurately reflects Marx's own view remains controversial.

Texts by Marx

Texts by Engels

Secondary Texts

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Morality

Marx's views on morality generate if not a paradox, then certainly a puzzle. On the one hand there seems little doubt that he writes about capitalism from the standpoint of high moral outrage. On the other, on certain readings of Marx morality is merely a form of ideology, with no independent critical force. This has led to a variety of views on the place of the notions of morality and, more particularly, justice in Marx's thought. Reading on this topic should begin with the seminal paper of Allen Wood, ‘The Marxian Critique of Justice'. Related questions concern the nature of communism, for which Marx's most developed writing occurs in his Critique of the Gotha Programme.

Texts by Marx

Secondary Texts

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Twentieth-Century Marxism

The following are among the most interesting and influential of works by other writers in the Marxist tradition.

Original Works

Secondary Texts

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