Marx Questions for E492 Modern Critical Theory, Cal State Fullerton



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Assigned: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (651-55); from The German Ideology (655-56); from The Communist Manifesto (657-60); from Grundrisse (661-62); from "Preface" to A Contribution... (662-63); from Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 1 "Commodities" (663-71). Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2nd edition.

From Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (1844)

1. What basic philosophical error does Marx say the Political Economists commit when they enunciate the laws of economics – what is it that they fail to understand about private property, and what does that error lead them to suppose about certain aspects of the capitalist system? (652)

2. What does Marx appear to mean by his term "alienation"? In what specific ways are workers alienated? Why, according to Marx, is this process of alienation inherent in capitalist production, rather than a problem that we could fix while staying within the system? (653-55)

3. How does Hegel's Master/Slave dialectic apply to Marx's commentary about workers' alienation? How, for example, does the capitalist relate to the worker and to commodified objects? How do workers relate to the commodified objects they produce and to their employers? (651-55, general question)

4. Why, by implication in Marx, is labor central to human existence? What fundamental assumption/s about human beings underlie Marx's theory of alienation and his comments about labor? (general question)

From The German Ideology (1845-46)

5. What is a camera obscura? What does this term imply about the possibility of arriving at true statements about human relations? Does the figure imply that we can actually perceive ourselves and the world directly, or do you understand it differently? Explain. (656)

6. What basic philosophical error does Marx accuse German Idealists like Hegel and Kant of committing with regard to the relationship between ideas and material reality? How does the materialist philosophy of Marx and Engels, according to them, correct this error? (655-56)

From The Communist Manifesto (1857-58)

7. In what sense might Marx's notion of history as "the history of class struggles" be indebted to Hegel -- how does the Marxist formulation of the concept of struggle compare to the situation Hegel examines in the Master/Slave dialectic? (657-60, general question)

8. Trace the development of the bourgeoisie. That is, within and against what historical conditions did this class arise -- how did feudalism generate the bourgeoisie, and how did the bourgeoisie come into conflict with the basic property relations of the feudal order? (757-60

9. What distinguishes the "epoch of the bourgeoisie" from all previous ones? How does this distinction spell trouble for the continued existence of capitalism, according to Marx? (657-58)

10. How does Marx interpret the activities of the bourgeoisie, which he calls the "executive of the modern State" (659), once it begins to dominate in social and political affairs? Why does it deserve to be called "revolutionary" (659)? How does it strip away the illusions held by members of pre-capitalist societies, and with what does it replace them? (659-60)

11. We know that market societies produce objects for sale as commodities, but in what sense might they be said to create new desires, or "new wants" (660), as Marx calls them? Why should that sort of manufacturing of desire itself be necessary for the success of capitalism? Consider, for example, what might happen if we, as consumers in a modern economy, decided to buy only what we indisputably need. (659-60)

12. On 659, Marx describes capitalism as an international phenomenon that tends to give a "cosmopolitan character" to production and consumption all over the world. How would you relate his comments to what people today are calling "globalization"? Is capitalism fully compatible with the idea of separate, sovereign nation-states, or should we understand its demands upon those states as partially or entirely destructive? Explain. (general question)

13. On the whole, what attitude does Marx suggest that his readers should take towards the advent of the capitalist order? Does that advent sound like it could be slowed or even avoided, or does Marx see that as impossible? Is the arrival of capitalist production and relations a positive development in human affairs? Explain your rationale. (657-60, general question)

From Grundrisse (1857-58)

14. What is the source of Greek myth, according to Marx? That is, what conditions and needs led to its development? (661-62)

15. What, according to Marx, accounts for the fact that we can still enjoy Greek art even though we no longer believe in the Greeks' mythology? To what extent is he describing a kind of nostalgia for an irrevocably lost stage in human development? (661-62)

16. How does this selection demonstrate that Marx's status as an economic determinist (one who sees economic affairs as the direct basis for our ideas about the world and ourselves) is more complex than some of his "vulgar Marxist" followers? (general question, 661-62)

17. Our Norton editors call this selection from Grundrisse a rather hasty formulation, not a truly thought-out formulation of the relationship between art (an amazingly sophisticated element of the "superstructure") and the material basis of life. Nonetheless, what suggestions does the selection hold for us regarding the task of literary criticism and theory? (general question, 661-62)

From "Preface" to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)

18. What assumptions does Marx the "scientific socialist" make in this selection concerning the process of history and our ability to comprehend that process, describe it, and even make predictions on the basis of our understanding? (662-63)