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Historical Determinism - All that is Solid

Out of the combined resources of British political economy, German idealism, and French sociology, Karl Marx brewed a distinct and powerful synthesis: a scientific analysis of historical, social and economic change, from one mode of production to another, culminating in the dissolution of capitalism and the emergence of a communist society, in which the human powers for self development could finally be fully realized, equally and by all. The question is how far he did so at the cost of treating the individual as merely a passive vehicle in the process of social change, driven by forces over which he could exercise no control, and of which he could be, at best, only dimly aware.

In the lecture I'm going to discuss historical materialism and revolution in Marx. In class, we're going to focus on some of Marx's ideas (expressed perhaps most forcefully in the Manuscripts) about the relationship between labour and the individual, especially his ideas about alienation.

For class please read the following (very short!) texts/extracts: (if you really only have time to read one, I would suggest the extracts from the Manuscripts, as we're going to focus on that in class).

K Marx, and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto (lots of copies available via library catalogue - I favour, as ever, the Cambridge Texts in the Historical of Political Thought series).

Marx, Preface to Contribution to Political Economy - in library, also online here

Extract on alienation from the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 - see here

Questions to consider

According to Marx there are 4 aspects of alienation (or 'estrangement', as it is sometimes called). What are they? Is it only the proletariat who are alienated?

What is historical materialism? To what extent is it similar - or different - to other accounts of human history we have encountered on this course? (For example the emphasis on production)

Why are the proletariat the revolutionary class? (Indeed, in what ways are they the revolutionary class?)

What makes the predictions of the collapse of capitalism wrong? And are they wrong, or yet to be realized?!

Suggested Secondary Reading

Probably the best introductory secondary text on Marx is Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx (1985) - lots on the difficulties with Marx's account of revolution. Engages with Cohen (see below), aval at HX395.E44)

G.A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (1978) - absolutely classic (and thus very contentious!) text that emphasises Marx's technological determinism (a kind of scientific theory of history), as identified in the Preface, now widely held to have established analytical Marxism as a school of thought.

David Leopold, The Young Karl Marx: German Philosophy, Modern Politics, and Human Flourishing (2007) - my personal favourite book on Marx, this book looks at Marx's early writings, tackling interpretative problems about young vs old Marx and intellectual consistency.