The core of this course will be a close reading of Marx’s work. The texts selected will be taken in largely chronological order. In the first, and shorter, part of the course we will look at the development of Marx’s ideas about history and social change up to 1848, that is, to about the time of The Communist Manifesto. This will cover Marx’s early encounters with Hegel, with Feuerbach and Stirner, with 18th and early 19th century political economy, and with Proudhon. In the second, and longer, part of the course, we will begin by looking at his account of the failures of the 1848 revolutions (especially in France) then we will turn to his more theoretical writings. We will read selected extracts from the Grundrisse and from Capital Vol. 1. If we have time, after that we will look briefly at some significant later works, including perhaps his dispute with the Russian anarchist, Bakunin.
There will be no attempt to divide the reading into topics. However, we will be concerned to explore certain key themes. These will include: the concept of critique and the related notions of ideology and science; the concepts of alienation and fetishism; Marx’s conceptions of history and social change; exploitation; the concept of capital; Marx’s conception(s) of freedom and his relationship to liberalism; the tension between his critique of utopianism and the advocacy of communism.
The course will focus on Marx. However, it will be concerned to place Marx in the intellectual context of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought (especially but not only German idealism). We will also look at one or two significant 20th responses to/developments of Marx’s ideas, including Lukács on reification, Benjamin on history, and perhaps Althusser on contradiction and overdetermination.