Karl Marx
Marx old
Born 1818

Trier, Prussia

Relevant Work Capital, Volume I and "Theses on Feuerbach"


(NATC, 2nd ed.) and PDF

Biography Edit

  • Karl Marx was born in Trier, Prussia (a region now part of Germany) on May 5, 1818
  • Marx studied political economics and Hegelian philosophy at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena, eventually receiving his doctorate in April 1841 for a thesis on the Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus
  • In 1842 he edited a radical newspaper in Cologne, but the German authorities, angered by his criticisms, forced him to resign the following year
  • He then traveled to Paris, where he and Engels, whom he had met in Cologne, began their collaboration
  • Marx and Engels' most significant publication of the decade appeared in London in 1848: Manifesto of the Communist Party, soon know by and reprinted with the shorter title The Communist Manifesto
  • In this intense pamphlet, Marx describes the triumphs of capitalism: the creation of a world market, world literature, and cosmopolitanism; the misery that capitalism imposes on the masses; the class struggle between the exploiters (owners) and the exploited (workers); the connection of people primarily via cash; the inevitability of revolution; and the dawn of a new, class-free society
  • The Communist Manifesto quickly became the position paper of militant working-class movements everywhere
  • Viewed as an instigator of unrest and anarchy during a time of widespread social upheaval, Marx was forced to flee from both France and Germany in the late 1840's to eventually find refuge with his family by settling in London.
  • He resided in London for the remainder of his life
  • His major works during these decades are the Grundrisse, a manuscript of some 800 printed pages (1857-58), published 1939-41); the multi-volume Theories of Surplus Value (1860's, published 1905-10); and Das Kapital, volume 1 of which appeared in 1867 (trans. 1886), with volume 2 and 3 each published posthumously in 1885 and 1894 respectively with edits by Engels.

Capital, Volume 1 Edit

Background and Historical ContextEdit

"To many it may seem perverse to study Marxist theory today, given the collapse between 1989 and 1991 of Communist governments in the Soviet Union and in the nations of Eastern Europe...The fall of particular regimes, 'Marxist' more in name than ideas, does little to lessen the impact of Marx's relentless, fascinated, shocked (and shocking) examination of capitalism and its cost to the men and women caught in its grasp." (NATC 647)

Key Words and Terms Edit

Ideology Critique - ". . . the demystifying exposure of how class interests operate through cultural forms, whether political or legal, religious or philosophical, educational or literary."

Hegemony - The way in which a dominant societal group manufactures assent to its beliefs and practices peacefully through ideology.

Commodity - An external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind and is then exchanged for something else. Commodity Fetishism - The tendency to attribute to commodities(including money) a power that really inheres only in the labor expended to create commodities.

Use-Value - inextricably tied to the physical properties of the commodity; that is, the material uses to which the object can actually be put. Exchange-Value - the exchange relation of commodities is characterized precisely by its abstraction from their use-values.

Labor-Power - The abstraction of human labor into something that can be exchanged for money. The system or labor-power relies on the belief that the laborer chooses freely to enter into a contractual relationship with an employer, who purchases that worker's labor-power as a commodity and then owns the goods produced by that worker. Surplus-Value - the surplus produced over and above what is required to survive, which is translated into profit in Capitalism.

Key Quotations Edit

"The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. I t is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."

"Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic" (Marx 666).

"The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour-power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quanity of value of the products of labour; and finally, the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products" ( Marx 664)

"A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social charater of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of labour" (664)

"...From the moment that men in any work for one another, their labour assumes a social form" (664).

"Whenever, by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. we are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it" (Marx 666).

"The religious world is but a reflex of the real world. And for a society based upon the production of the commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values. . ." (Marx 669).

"If then the unnactural extension of the working-day...shortens the length of life of the individual labourer, and therefore the duration of this labour-power, the forces used up have to be replaced at a more rapid rate and the sum of the expenses for the reproduction of labour-power will be greater...It would seem therefore that the interest of capital itself points in the direction of a normal working-day" (672).

Discussion Edit

Commodity Fetishism Edit

Marx's Capital, Volume 1 focuses around a concept called "commodity fetishism," the ascription of god-like qualities to an object which separates it from the human labor that made it. In Capital, Marx argues that consumers attribute monetary value or power to commodities as finished products when, in reality, the value lies in the labor-time put into creating the commodity. Commodities appear as objects of fetishism that have an existence of their own, obscuring the labor put into them. In other words, when consumers see a commodity in a store, the relationship that forms is between the commodity and the consumer, not the labor and the consumer. Marx touches on alienation between the laborers and the owners of production, with the latter owning and selling the products produced by the laborers. For Marx, "the categories of the bourgeois economy consists of forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production, viz,. the production of commodities" (666). Essentially, the use-value of objects belongs to them independently of their material properties, while their value, on the other hand, forms a part of them as objects. On one hand, the use-value of objects is realized without exchange by the direct relation between man and object. On the other hand, value is realized only by exchange, by means of a social process.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

"As a social and cultural theory, Marxism demands of its followers ongoing critical scrutiny and self-questioning of its own basic texts, which are suggestive but sometimes flawed and often incomplete. Marx and Engels underestimate, for example, the extraordinary power of capitalism to turn back and absorb opposition, and apparently they overlooked the damaging overstatements and reductiveness that mar their arguments. Moreover, through Marx was acutely responsive to the economic and political situation of workers, he appears incapable of actually seeing and making imaginative contact with them and their families, of conveying how they live, think, and feel. Even in his most illuminating work, Marx often mirrors the dehumanizing tendencies that his radical critiques of capitalism condemn" (650).

Related Works Edit

  • Marx, Karl. Grundrisse.
  • Aristotle. Poetics.
  • Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own.
  • McCall, Leslie. "The Complexity of Intersectionality."
  • Gilbert and Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic.
  • Haraway, Donna. A Manifesto for Cyborgs.
  • Woolfe, Cary. "Human, All Too Human."
  • Horace. Ars Poetica.
  • Gramsci, Antonio. The Formation of Intellectuals.
  • Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses."
  • Foucault, Michael. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1.
  • Fanon, Frantz. "The Wretched of the Earth: from on National Culture."
  • Braidotti, Rosi. "Animals, Anomalies, and Inorganic Others."
  • Moretti, Franco. "Graphs, Maps, and Trees."
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. "How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine."
  • Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
  • A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

References Edit

1 Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.