European Intellectual History Syllabus

42.346 Spring 2002

Study Questions on The Portable Karl Marx.

Please note that there is a Reader's Guide at the back of the book, which helps explain terms.

Kamenka's Introduction (pp. xi-xiv):

 Why does Kamenka think that studying Marx is important?

 Trace the major turning points in Marx's life and be  prepared to "chart" them on the blackboard.

 Kamenka says that Marx combined German philosophy, French politics, and English economics.  Explain what this means.

 Explain Marx's criticism of capitalism--according to Marx, why was it inevitable and necessary that capitalism be  overthrown in a revolution?


Marx the Man:  Documents, Letters, Reminiscences (pp. 5-71):

What were Marx's main personality traits?  What sort of person was he, and what did he seem to value?  (Think about how his personality compares to that of J. S. Mill.)  Be prepared to explain in detail your reaction to this "biographical" material.


The Formation of a Young Radical:  Early Writings, 1841-44 (pp. 75-124):

In the "Correspondence of 1843"  (pp. 92-95), what was Marx's criticism of German intellectual life in 1843?

In the Introduction to "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right " (pp. 115-124), why did Marx call religion "the opium of the people."

Hegel had argued that the Prussian was the greatest achievement of human history (the end of history).  What    was the main point of Marx's criticism of Hegel? 

What was Marx's main criticism of German philosophy in 1844?

What did Marx say Germany had to do to "join" the modern nations?  Explain.

Why for Marx was the proletariat the only class that could bring "human emancipation"?


Beyond Philosophy to Communism, Political Economu, and the Materialist Conception of History:  Transitional Writings, 1844-47 (pp. 125-195)

Consider the manuscript fragment "Alienated Labour" (from Economico-Philosphical Manuscripts of 1844, pp. 131-146).   What did Marx say was wrong with "political economy"?

According to Marx, why is labor a commodity?  Why is the product of a worker's labor an "alien object"?

What did Marx mean by "the relationship of the worker to production," and why is the worker alienated by the act of production?

According to Marx, why is the "fact" that man is alienated in the process of labor and from labor's products both dehumanizing and socially alienating?

According to Marx, what is the relationship of "the capitalist" to labor, and how is this relationship connected to alienation?

According to Marx, if private property is based on alienated labor, and if wages are "compensation" for alienated labor, then does raising wages solve the problem of alienation?  Explain.  If raising wages can not remove alienation that makes us "inhuman," what can?


From The German Ideology, vol. 1 (pp. 162-195)

Consider the section "The Materialist Conception of History" (163-171).  What does Marx mean by "mode of production"?

How does the division of labor "determine" the nature of society?

Explain the "mode of production" in tribal society; ancient (slave) society; and feudal society.

How does Marx link the mode of production in a given historical epoch to the system of political power in that epoch?

How does Marx explain the relationship between culture (law, religion, philosophy, etc.--what he often refers to in later work as "superstructure") and the "mode of production"?

Why is his view "materialist"?

Consider the section "On History" (pp. 171-173)  What does Marx say that we must take as our starting point in studying history and why?

What does he call "the first historical act" and why? 

What is the "third aspect" of historical/social activity?  Explain.

So for Marx, what do we look at to understand human history?

Consider the section "Consciousness and the Division of Labour" (173-183).  Why does Marx say 173-74 that  consciousness is a "social product"?

What does this section tell us about Marx's understanding of  the nature of history and historical change?


Consider the section "Law and the Materialist Conception of  History" (pp. 183-186).  How does Marx explain the purpose and the nature of the state in capitalist society?

How does Marx relate law to the development of private  property?  What for Marx is the purpose of Law?


Consider the section "The Role of Violence in History" (pp. 186-188).   Does Marx consider violence and war the driving force of  history?  Explain.


Consider the section "Communism as the End of History" (pp. 189-195).  What did Marx mean by communism, and why would it be "the end of history"?

Why did Marx consider abolition of classes necessary for real human freedom?


Revolution and Counter-Revolution:  Political Writings, 1848-1852(pp.. 197-323).

 The Manifesto of the Communist Party (pp. 293-241). 

Explain what Marx and Engels meant by the statement that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."

According to Marx and Engels, what are the classes of capitalist society and why do they "struggle"?

Why do Marx and Engels say that previously the bourgeoisie had played "a most revolutionary part"  in history?

Why do Marx and Engels call the bourgeoisie "its own grave digger"?

According to Marx and Engels, how had industrialization "created" a proletariat, and why was the working class a revolutionary force?

According to the Manifesto, what were the Communists'  aims in 1848?  Why did they want to abolish "bourgeois" private property?

Liberals considered the right to personal property as critical to the protection of all individual liberties--did Marx and Engels agree?

What did Marx and Engels say was necessary to have real freedom?        

What does the Manifesto say about the nature of the "bourgeois" family, marriage, and nationality?

Explain the "platform" points on pp. 227-28.

What was Marx and Engels' main criticism of the utopian socialists, and what did they consider useful in utopian ideas?


OK, now let's connect this to our earlier readings and discussions:

1)  What elements in Marx's methodology and in his basic ideas are clearly rooted in the traditions and ideas of the Enlightenment?

2)  What aspects of Marx's ideas appear to be rooted in (or at least resonate with) Romanticism?

3) In what ways were Marx's views a response to the internal political contradictions in European society highlighted by the French revolution?

4) In what sense were Marx's views a response to the internal social contradictions in European society highlighted by the industrial revolution?

5) Compare and contrast Marx's analytical methods and conclusions to those of Mill.


Note--Although we do not have time to discuss it in class, for an outstanding example of Marx as "contemporary historian," read the selections from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (pp. 287-323.   

Note--The works that we have discussed represent the approach that is sometimes described as the "Young Marx."  In his "mature" (later) work, Marx focused brilliantly on the history and political economy of capitalism, most famously in a three volume work entitled Capital.  For representative excerpts of "Late Marx" see pp. 325-328, 369-374, 394-432, 465-493, 505-507.

European Intellectual History Syllabus