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York University

POLS 4090/5090 3.0A (F)

Classical Marxist Theory

Fall 2009

Dr. Marcello Musto

S612 Ross Bldg
Hours: Mon. 2:00-3:00; Thu. 2:00-3:00

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 416 – 736 2100 – 20241

Course Syllabus

Having been wrongly identified with the Soviet Union and ‘actually existing socialism’, Marx was almost unanimously written off after the fall of the Berlin Wall and consigned to oblivion. Yet, since the outbreak of the current international economic crisis, his thought has again been attracting major attention: the study of his work is reviving almost everywhere, and university courses on Marx are again in vogue.

This course will centre on the critical interpretation of some of Marx’s main writings. It will examine various phases of his intellectual output: early philosophical and political writings, studies of political economy, historical and political works from 1848-1852, journalistic pieces from the 1850s, the drafting of Capital, political activity in the International Workingmen’s Association, the last decade of his life and work. The study of his intellectual biography will, it is hoped, bring out the theoretical gains that were decisive for the development of his thought. Reconstruction of the period and of his personal circumstances will always place the texts in their historical context, and a close examination of the drafts and preparatory materials will show the influence of certain predecessors and contemporaries in the formation of his own ideas. Close attention will also be paid to philological insights contained in recent German volumes of the historical-critical Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (many of which are still unknown in the English-speaking world), and the resulting new interpretations of Marx’s unfinished manuscripts (for example, the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology and Volumes Two and Three of Capital) will be compared with the erroneous readings of these texts by the main twentieth-century variants of Marxism.

The final part of the course will look critically at some characteristics of the main schools of Marxism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and consider the most important works published in recent years on the continuing relevance of Marx’s thought for an understanding of the contemporary world and its problems.

Course Requirements – Undergraduate

Participation (incl. one 15-20 min. presentation)


1 short analytical paper (1250-1500 words)


1 one-page research paper proposal


1 research paper (4000-5000 words)


Course Requirements – Graduate

Graduate students will be expected to undertake all of the “recommended” reading assignments not required of undergraduate students. Graduate students will also submit an additional short paper identifying and tracing the development of the central argument in the text they have chosen for their seminar presentation.

Participation (incl. one 15-20 min. presentation)


2 short analytical paper (1250-1500 words) (2 x 15%)


1 one-page research paper proposal


1 research paper (4000-5000 words)


K. Marx’s Early Writings (Penguin, 1992) and K. Marx – F. Engels Communist Manifesto (Verso, 1998) have been ordered for the bookstore. Marx’s Grundrisse (Penguin, 1973) and M. Musto (ed.), Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Routledge, 2008) are on library reserve. The volumes of Marx-Engels Collected Works are available online at and at Scott library.

M. Musto “The Rediscovery of Karl Marx” is available on-line without charge to York students. Use the search feature to find the journal International Review of Social History, vol. 52 part 3 (2007), where you will find the article.

A list of texts by choice for the last two lectures will be distributed during the course.

Schedule of Lectures and Required Reading

Sept 10 Introduction and Overview

Sept 17 Education and Early Writings (1818-43)
“Letter to his Father (November 10 1837)”; “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction”; “On the Jewish Question”; “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction”.
Recommended: M. Musto, “The Rediscovery of Karl Marx”, International Review of Social History, vol. 52 part 3, 2007: 477-498.

Sept 24 The Discovery of Political Economy (1844)
Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 .

Oct 1 First Outline of the Materialist Conception of History (1845-47)
The German Ideology (Chap. I: “Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlooks”); The Poverty of Philosophy (Chap. II: “The Metaphysics of Political Economy”).

Recommended: Theses on Feuerbach ; “Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (1859); “Letter to Pavel V. Annenkov (December 28 1846)”.

Oct 8 Bourgeoisie, Proletariat and Class Struggle (1848)

Speech on the Question of Free Trade ; Manifesto of the Communist Party (with F. Engels).

Recommended: E. Hobsbawm, “Introduction to The Communist Manifesto. A Modern Edition”, 1998: 3-29.

Oct 22 Advancing the Critique of Political Economy: the London Notebooks and Marx as an Economic Journalist (1849-56).


“Wage-Labour and Capital”; The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; Economic articles for the New-York Tribune.

Oct 29 The First World Economic Crisis and the Grundrisse (1857-58)

Grundrisse (“Introduction” and “Fragment on Machines”); Articles on the Economic Crisis for the New-York Tribune; F. Engels, “Afghanistan”.

Recommended: M. Musto (ed.), Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Chap. I: “History, Production and Method in the 1857 Introduction”), 2008: 3-32.

Nov 5 The Making of Capital (1859-81)

Capital, vol. I (“Preface”, Chap. I, § 4: “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof”, Chap. 13: “Co-operation”, Chap. 25, § 3: “Progressive Production of a Relative Surplus Population or Industrial Reserve Army”; Part VII: “The So-called Primitive Accumulation”); Capital, vol. III (Chap. XXVII: “The Role of Credit in Capitalist Production”).

Nov 12 Political Activities in the IWA (1864-72)

Addresses, Resolutions, Circulars, Programmes of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA); The Civil War in France.

Recommended: “Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association”.

Nov 19 The Studies of the Last Decade (1873-83)


“Notes on Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy”; [Critique of the Gotha Programme]; “Marginal Notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehrbuch der politischen Ökonomie”.

Recommended: “Interview with Karl Marx (January 5 1879)”; “Workers’ Questionnaire”; “The Programme of the Parti Ouvrier” (with J. Guesde); “Letter (and Drafts) to Vera Zasulich”.

Nov 26 Marxisms after Marx

Recommended: A text by choice among a group of the most important Marxist writings (essays or chapters in books) of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.

Dec 3 Is Marx still important today?

Recommended: An article by choice among a group of brief journalistic pieces on the current importance of Marx.