Karl Marx: Introduction
This entry from Encyclopedia Britannica provides a thorough overview of Karl Marx’s life and work:
Your discussion task: What did you know about Marx before reading this article? What did you learn about him by reading the article?
The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto was written by Marx and his close collaborator Friedrich Engels, although Engels said later that it was mostly the work of Marx. It appeared in 1848, a year that saw revolutions against authoritarian regimes breaking out across Europe. It first became well known in the 1870s, however, as the result of a couple of events, notably a trial of some German social democratic leaders charged with treason. As it gained in popularity, its final sentence – “Workers of all nations, unite!” – became the rallying cry of many socialist and communist movements.
Please read the preamble and first chapter linked below. The excerpt interprets history as a class struggle between the proletariat (working class) and the bourgeoisie (middle class) in which the proletariat will eventually overthrow the bourgeoisie.
Your discussion task: Do the arguments made in the Manifesto make sense to you? What do you agree with, and what do you disagree with?
Means of production
Now that you have read a general encyclopedia article on Marx’s life and work, read this shorter but more focused reference article:
Karl Marx (Oxford Dictionary of the Social Sciences)
In this article Marx’s connections to work of the German philosopher Hegel are stressed. One of Hegel’s concerns was to understand human historical development; he and others are largely responsible for our notion that human society is always developing and evolving and improving. Marx was in a way applying this notion to the economic and social spheres of society: he saw human development as a class struggle in which the disadvantaged class of one era became the privileged class of the next.
Your discussion task: What do you think of Marx’s notion that conflict is inevitable between those who own the means of production and those who do not?
Marx’s influence is still felt today. For some, Marxism represents the hope for a new world order in which resources and capital are more equitably distributed. For others, Marxism is a scourge that will destroy western civilization.
In the 1930s the Institute for Social Research, also known as the Frankfurt School, was a group of Marxist-oriented academics in Germany who were exploring ways of applying Marx’s theories to the modern age. With the rise of the Nazis the group had to flee Germany, and most of them ended up relocating to the United States where they continued their research and publishing. The term “cultural Marxism” was first used to describe their broader cultural critique. But in the 1990s the term was co-opted by extreme American conservatives and became a sort of shorthand to describe their fears that adherents of the Frankfurt School were bent on destroying the “American way of life.” The intellectual historian Martin Jay commented in an article (“Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe”) that the message of cultural Marxism “is numbingly simplistic: all the ills of modern American culture, from feminism, affirmative action, sexual liberation and gay rights to the decay of traditional education and even environmentalism are ultimately attributable to the insidious influence of the members of the Institute for Social Research who came to America in the 1930’s.”
Watch this short video that outlines the history of the term in greater detail:
To see an example of cultural Marxism in action, read this article from American Thinker, a very conservative online publication:
Your discussion task: How does the article in American Thinker illustrate Martin Jay’s comments on cultural Marxism?
How relevant is Marx and Marxist thinking today? Look at these two articles:
Manifesto Destiny: The Enduring Sexiness of Karl Marx
Why Marxism is on the rise again
Your discussion task: What relevance does Marx have for us in the 21st century?
General Instructions for the Module Reviews
Please keep the following in mind:
- your answer should be uploaded as a Word document. If you don’t have Word, please save your answer as a .docx file in the word processor of your choice.
- your answer should be double-spaced.
- no title page, but there should be a title, your name should appear at the top, and there should be page numbers.
- answers should be within the specified word range.
- good essays have grammatically-correct sentences, coherent paragraphs, no spelling mistakes, and a clear argument or point.
Please note: the question may ask you to make use of the discussions that occurred in the module. There are two modes for viewing the discussion forums, GRID VIEW and READING VIEW. (You can change which you view by clicking on the settings – the gear icon – in the upper right-hand corner of your screen when you’re in the Discussions area of the course.) Play around with the two views to find the setting that works best for you. For example, when I’m reading your discussions during the week and commenting on some of them, I use the READING VIEW, but if I have to read and grade a lot of postings I use the GRID VIEW.
Specific Instructions for this Review
This week you’ve read a number of articles on Marx – his life, his work, the continuing influence of and debates surrounding his ideas. In this review, I’d like you to do two things:
- summarize the core of his thinking as you understand it;
- describe the general attitude towards Marx that was evident in the discussions.
Now, to complete this review, especially the second part, will require that you look at the discussions that took place. To put together your answer, you can concentrate on your own group’s discussion, or on the discussions of other groups (you now have reading access to all forums). A good way to answer this question is to identify particular comments or conversations that you think illustrate a larger point. If you quote a discussion, be sure to identify who was writing and the date of their contribution. Also, remember that if you quote a passage, you still need to explain its significance to your reader – don’t assume that the quotation explains itself. Finally, don’t pad your answers with quotations thinking that it’s an easy way to fill up space without having to provide an answer yourself – such responses are frowned upon.