References

Karl Marx (1818-1883)
A brief biography.

Philosophy Talk: Marx
Listen to this excellent radio program and take notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real Player is required for streaming audio.

Encyclopedia of Marxism
Part of the Marxists Internet Archive.  Very useful.

Marxists Internet Archive
A remarkably rich resource. The Subject Archive is a good place to start.

Marx and Engels: Communism
Garth Kemerling's commentary with links to biography and terminology.

Inequality.org
Economic data and analysis from a non-profit group of journalists, writers and researchers.

Heritage Foundation
A conservative think-tank with lots of economic information.

Beyond Capitalism
Leland Stanford's Forgotten Vision
by Lee Altenberg
Not a Marxist view, but an interesting instance of economic philosophy.

 

 

 

 

Karl Marx

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways — the point is to change it."
[Theses on Feuerbach]

Marx was out to move history and he certainly succeeded.  Communism and Marxism plays a leading role in the story of the twentieth century and probably will in the twenty-first.  Marx and Marxism are surrounded by myth and controversy. Let us try here to develop a few points about Marx's philosophy based on what he actually wrote.

Materialism
Marx's thought is grounded is a form of materialism: he regards all thought and idea as products of material conditions. 

"it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness."
[A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy]

What distinguishes him from other materialists (e.g. Hobbes) is that Marx is concerned with observable material processes, not a theory of the physical world based in theoretical physics. 

"Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life."
[The German Ideology]

The starting point for Marx is in an economic or technological account of human conditions.  People need to eat, stay warm, and procreate.  The processes by which any given people accomplish these things is the material economics of their existence. Economic, here, does not mean money (though money systems are economic systems). The main aspect of economics  is the is process of exchange.  Any way in which people exchange things of value (i.e. labor for food; trading goods; ideas for organization) counts as economic  in Marx's view. Humans are unique in the extent to which we manifest our wills by transforming our environment.  Such transformations are technological (in a broad sense).  Agriculture, social organization, even language will be considered technologies in this sense.

Much of philosophical thinking has been focused on the forms of consciousness or psychology of humans over time.  Hobbes, for instance, describes a state of nature that is defined by the individual instinct for self-preservation and lack of social order. Adam Smith's economic theory is based on a theory of human moral psychology.  Hegel describes history as the movement of ideas through time. 

Marx challenges all such prioritization of the mental.  Instead, he regards the economic realities as primary.  Only out of a context of human response to need and interaction among the individuals of the group, does any philosophically significant concept develop at all.  If we want to understand how people conceptualize the world and their place in it, we must start with analysis of their material conditions.

 

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