An Outline of Marxist Theory

Dr. Morillo

ENG 476


Theses on Feuerbach (1845)

main point: warn against Idealism and develop a better, more critical version of materialism; to do so Marx turns to the self-contradictions within the key moving matter of working  human bodies in the world, people working to generate products and wealth

has an idea of the removal of these contradictions as a praxis, as "revolutionized in practice," by abolishing the divisions of labor and power in actuality, not just ideas about them

moves from any idea of human essence that is individual to an essence of humanity as "the ensemble of their social relations" (in workplaces, in markets especially); hence he socializes his theory even  more, noting directly in thesis 9 that prior "contemplative materialism" in Feuerbach is limited by the contemplation (too idealist) of single individuals (too asocial to capture real working people and their boss/worker relations)

sets his challenge to philosophy: to change the world by altering actual social relations, not just ideas about them

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

main point: if free, conscious activity is man's species character (76) how has he been distanced from that and can we return him to that character?

the pain of estrangement is its distance from this character; estranged people, a modern class of slaves, are prevented from being fully human

theory of 4-part alienation: of man from man; man from his work; man from product of his work; man from natural space, his surroundings

new, distinctive definition of private property as "the material, summary expression of aliented labor" not just as privately owned land or buildings

hones his critique of religion as intellectual alienation: "the more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself" (72) and that "communism begins with atheism" (85)

realizes that true freedom must be an emancipation of workers (80)

definition of communism still bears traces of the Hegelian terminology of negation (and the negation of the negation): "communism is the positve expression of annulled private property" (82) "Communism is the position as the negation of the negation and is hence the actual phase necessary for the next stage of historical development" (93)

first hint of women in "the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being" (83)

sketch of a dominant bourgeois capitalist ideology as "self denial, the denial of life and of all human needs is its cardinal doctrine" (95) man becomes sacrificed, empty being

notes the actual revolution will be severe and protracted --look out Europe (99)


German Ideology

Main point: claims the dominant German ideology is the philosophy of idealism. Marx's treatment of his former philosophical training becomes bitter and satiric: "When reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of knowledge loses its medium of existence." (155). Turns instead to a materialist history that is always a history of class struggle between those who work and those who own workers' labor.

Illusions vs. “the actual  (148)

First premise = living human individuals (149) 

Man is an animal who produces his own means of subsistence (150)

Fundamental social split = town vs. country (150)

First proletariat is intermediate between citizens and slaves (153)

Begins Sketching a definition of Ideology:

Mental intercourse of men = direct efflux of their material behavior (154)

(If) in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside down as if in camera obscura (154)

Examples of ideology = morality, religion, metaphysics

**Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life** (155)

Production of new needs = first historical act (157)

Language = practical consciousness and arises from need

Key division of labor = mental from material

Of contradiction: existing social relations comes into contradiction with existing forces of production (

A key fusion of class and gender

**first form of property is the family “where wife and children are the slaves of the husband” husband has the power of disposing the labor-power of others. Here division of labor and private property are identical


classes are determined by division of labor

 “It follows from this that all struggles within the State, the struggle between democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, the struggle for the franchise, etc. etc. are merely the illusory forms in which the real struggles of the different classes are fought”

The catalyst of revolution is having the great mass of humanity become propertyless as the contradictory production of an existing world of wealth (161)


Capital (1867)

key idea is commodity fetishism in which "a definite social relation between men" takes the "fantastic form of a relation between things...This I call the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labor" (321)

main point: develops labor theory of value in economic/historical terms. from use value, to exchange value, to surplus value

finds a new target to demystify: human labor in the abstract, because he feels it's key to the way political economists view the world of work, and is ultimately illusory

famously remarks on Robinson Crusoe as emblem of the way we carry ideologies with us and revitalize them unthinkingly. For Marx, a thorogh historicist, neither a person nor nature can be a tabula rasa, a blank slate. We are always prewritten by social forces

develops detailed narrative history from classical to present times

gets bogged down in minutiae as he seeks to perfect ideas perhaps in the crisis of confidence after the failures of the 1848 social revolutions in Paris and elsewhere

Two Marxist Literary Critics:

Jerome McGann (American, U Virginia)

main point: develops a romantic ideology centered not on Idealist philosophy, but on the belief among many poets and artists from 1798-1830 that art was the most important thing in the word, and could change the world because, in part, it was ABOVE ideologies

as corollary claims that academic critics tend to see their work as also ABOVE ideologies and calls for them to reflect on their own ideological limits

Terry Eagleton (British, U Lancaster)

main point: rehearses many modern European attempts (Louis Althusser and others) to come up with a theory of art that allows it to not simply be part of the illusions of any dominant ideology, mere bad faith, or mystification. the goal is to put art in service of the revolutionary working class

offers practical advice for literary critics: lists of ways to do Marxist interpretation by attending to histories of literature not as "texts" but as the material productions, the work, of writers and how they are conditioned by limits of technologies which change over time and by markets and the role of literature as commodity

asks us to recast matters of literary form and genre as concrete outlines of ideologies both dominant and emergent. Endorses Pierre's Macherrey's Theory of Literary Production in advocating that Marxist critics read literary productions for their gaps, fissures and silences as ghostly signs of ideologies at work in the world