MARX—Excerpts from the Manifesto,
The German Ideology,and A Contribution
to . . . Political Economy

Adams & Searle's Intro: "Karl Marx [and] Friedrich Engels" (607-608)

• Adams & Searleís intro to Marx and Engels emphasizes that Marx gave Hegelís idealist dialectic a "materialist framework," one "that remains a critical resource for thinking and writing in virtually all disciplines of the humanities and social sciences." (607) In English studies, for example, "literature" becomes "analyzable as a symptom[!] of social situations" (607).

• Important to some of our readings (e.g., Althusser): "Marxist writers have frequently placed very heavy emphasis upon Marxism as a form of 'scientific' analysis" (607; but note the quot. marks!).

• Also noteworthy (and in opposition to the impression that Eagleton may have given) is that, in contemporary theory, Marxism is often combined with, is "visible in much of the work in feminist and gender theory, deconstruction, postcolonial studies, and New Historicism" (608).


Marx & Engels: from Manifesto of the Communist Party (609-614)

• Marxís main thesis for his dialectical materialism: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" (609A).

• Itís interesting to me as someone interested in postcolonial theory that Marx & Engels blame at least some of capitalismís rise/progress on colonialism: "The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonization of America, trade with the colonies . . . [all] gave to commerce" and industrialism "an impulse" towards "rapid development. . . . Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way" (609B). [Later:] "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere" (610B; like a cancer!?).

• But all this socio-historical development is ultimately material, originating in an economic BASE: "We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange" (609B; all the rest—ideas & ideology—are the SUPERSTRUCTURE).

Audience?—but then Marx and Engels do something strange, by blaming capitalism for attacking the old institutions & ideologies that Marxism itself ultimately attacks (e.g., religion)?: Capitalism has "left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment.' It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. . . . In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions [ah!], it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe" by converting these folks into "paid wage labourers" (610A). ("Illusions" rather explains it, but the tone still feels off. But in a way, then, you might say that crass materialistic capitalism had already "sown the seeds," had begun the disillusionment of society that Marxism aims to complete?! Later on, in fact, the Manifesto speaks of the revolutionary lower class finally seeing "[l]aw, morality, religion" as "so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests" (613; sounds like Eagleton!).

• But now—Marxism hasnít always been known for being sensitive to the human "Other" when itís not a matter of class: bourgeois commerce "draws all, even the most barbarian[!?], nations into civilization." The wording in the next passage is a little better?: "It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization[!?] into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image" (610B; cf. Hegelís master/slave?!). And then thereís urbanization: capitalism "has created enormous cities . . . and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life[?!]. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West" (611A; yikes).

• As environmentalists and ecocritics have noted, Marx & Engels wrote a good deal about the impact of capitalist industrialism on "Nature," although its eco-impact is quite muted here: "during" capitalismís "rule of scarce one hundred years," it "has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of natureís forces to man, machinery . . . steam-navigation, railways . . . clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?" (611A; yeah, Marx is actually being quite praiseworthy here—so: "never mind").

• Quite Hegelian is Marxís notion here that class conflict includes the "old thesis" (bourgeois capitalism) sowing the seeds of its own destruction: "Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells" (611A)!

The antithesis is the proletariat (see next section), who—of course—"goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie" (612A).
Ironically, the proletariat is able to better fight back, via unionization, etc., because "the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry" better allows "the workers of different localities [to get] in contact with one another" (612B). [And later, in the final paragraph:] "The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers . . . by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers[!]" (614A—as, again, the bourgeoisie sow the seeds of their own downfall).
Part of this irony is that the bourgeoisie must sometimes make alliances with the working class, against the old aristocracy, etc.—unwittingly sowing more seeds!: "In all these battles, it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for help, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie." Later, some of the bourgeois intelligentsia actually JOIN the proletariat in their cause (potentially creating, in the 20th-c. Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsciís terms, a new hegemony): "in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour . . . a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. . . . so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level[!] of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole" (613A).

• The PROLETARIAT: And "not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself [i.e., constant economic crises]; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons—the modern working class—the proletarians." Like the objects they produce, such people are already commodified (and alienated): they "live only so long as they find work, and" they "find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce"; and "[o]wing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character . . . . He becomes an appendage of the machine" (611B). [Later:] "Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine" (612A; thus the Marxist synonym "wage-slaves").


Marx: from The German Ideology (614-615)

• Note: This brief excerpt is from a section of The German Ideology titled "The Essence of the Materialist Conception of History."

• IDEAS issue from MATTER: "The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behavior" (614A-B).

Marx directly contrasts his materialism with his mentor Hegel—and with German Idealism in general: "In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth [from ideas to matter], here we ascend from earth to heaven [from matter to ideas]" (614B).

• And Marx claims that this philosophical reversal finally results in "science," not abstract philosophy: "Where speculation ends—in real life—there real, positive science begins" (614B).


Marx: from A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (615-616)

• As to be expected, Marxís interest in aesthetics involves "the relation of art as a whole to the general development of society" (615A).

• As wonderful as he finds Greek art, Marx is Hegelian through and through in perceiving history as progress; and so Greek art & culture represented the "childhood" of humankind, and thus we find it "charming": "Why should the social childhood of mankind, where it had obtained its most beautiful development, not exert an eternal charm as an age that will never return?" At last: "There are ill-bred children and precocious children. Many of the ancient nations belong to the latter class[?!—examples?]. The Greeks were normal children. The charm their art has for us does not conflict with the primitive character of the social order from which it had sprung" (615B).

• The other snippet chosen by Adams & Searle includes one of Marxís most concise & oft-quoted statements involving the relationship between base and superstructure: "In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society—the real foundation [the base], on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the social, political and intellectual life processes in general" (615B-616A). (What follows immediately after this quot. has already been quoted—twice—in the "general intro" outline of Marx's philosophy.)



Adams, Hazard, and Leroy Searle, editors. Critical Theory Since Plato. 3rd ed., Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.

---. "Karl Marx [and] Friedrich Engels." Adams and Searle, pp. 607-608.

Marx, Karl. "[From] A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy." 1859. Adams and Searle, pp. 615-616.

---. "[From] The German Ideology." 1932 [1846]. Adams and Searle, pp. 614-615.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. "[From] Manifesto of the Communist Party." 1848. Adams and Searle, pp. 609-614.

  —TCG, September 2016

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