Reading Karl Marx: Class, Politics, and Capital
Few figures inspire as much reverence and loathing as Karl Marx. But how often is he actually read? In this course we will read not his admirers, critics, or interpreters, but Marx himself. Our aim will be to understand the questions he asked, and why, as well as the answers he reached. His scope was wide-ranging, from Greek philosophy to a late fascination with ethnography, but we will focus strictly on Marx’s major project: explaining how one particular way of producing for our needs—capitalism—had dramatically remade societies. What, for Marx, is “capitalist society”? Why did it fascinate him? And on what grounds did he object to it?
We will begin with Marx’s discovery of capitalist society as a young philosopher, and then explore his turn to politics and history amid the 1848 revolutions and their aftermath. We’ll then move to his crowning intellectual achievement: the construction of Capital and its distinctive social theory. As we go, we’ll take up key Marxian themes, from alienation to class struggle to the vexed category of “value”. Our fourth and final session will be dedicated to the question about Marx that most confounds Marxists, namely how he hoped capitalism might be overcome.
Our readings will be drawn from Marx’s major texts, including the 1844 Manuscripts, the Communist Manifesto, Capital, and the Critique of the Gotha Programme, as well as works more recently discovered, such as Marx’s Grundrisse. Like detectives we will piece together Marx’s thinking about capitalism, unearthing plenty of surprises along the way. What were his questions in each text? What particular intellectual problems preoccupied him, and how did he grapple with them? And what insights—if any—can Marx provide into the world we call “capitalism” today?
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET (7:00-10:00pm GMT)
May 15 — June 05, 2022