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York University

POLS 4906 3.0(A) (F)

Political Thought Capstone: Marx

Fall 2010

Course Director: Dr. Marcello Musto

Lecture Time: Tue, 11:30 – 14.30

Class Location: Vanier College 102

Office Location: 620 Atkinson College Office Hours: Tue. 15:30-16:30

Emails: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Phone: 416 – 736 2100 Ext. 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 and evaluation

Class Participation


Presentation (20 - 30 min.)


Final paper proposal


Final paper (5000 words)


Mid-term class participation marks will be available by appointment the week of 25 October; please contact me by email the week prior if you would like such an appointment.

Class participation

Attendance and informed participation at all class meetings is not only strongly recommended, but required. Students are expected to attend class regularly, complete the assignment readings on time and participate actively in class discussion. Participation will be marked for: attendance and quality of participation.


Each class will begin with 30 minutes of student presentations on the assigned readings for that session. Presentations should:

- give all the pertinent biographical information about the authors and the historical context in which the assigned texts were written

- provide an overview of the key arguments and information within the assigned readings

- identify the controversies explicitly raised or implied by the material

- critically analyse the materials

- conclude with three discussion questions for the group to consider.

Final paper proposal

Students are free to propose their own final paper topic in this course. Final paper proposals should be 3-4 pages and demonstrate that you have sufficiently researched this topic to conclude that it is a suitable topic for the final paper. Proposals should include the following information:

- Topic. You may choose any topic related to the topics contained within the course outline. Be as specific as possible

- An annotated bibliography of at least 3 sources you have consulted, not from the course outline. Each entry must include: a) the full and complete bibliographic citation; and b) a brief assessment of why you think the source will be useful for your paper

- Preliminary outline of the argument of your paper. This discussion should be a prose (i.e., not bullet-point) summary of your preliminary argument, that provides an outline of the argument you expect to make. It should also include a list of the probable sections into which your paper will be divided.

Final papers proposal will be due 23 November, in hard copy and by email. Late assignments will be penalized.

Final paper

The final research papers should be approximately 5000 words (including footnotes but not bibliography; roughly 15-20 pages double spaced 12 pt. times new roman font). The topic of the paper must be the one approved through the prewriting assignment. Strong papers will be clearly structured, written and argued, with rigorous evidence and documentation from a number of sources (1-2 per page of an assignment is a good rule of thumb). These sources may include the assigned readings, but must also evidence original research.

Final papers will be due 17 December, in hard copy and by email. Late assignments will be penalized.

Note: K. Marx’s Early Writings (Penguin, 1992), K. Marx – F. Engels Communist Manifesto (Verso, 1998) and K. Marx’s Grundrisse (Penguin, 1973) have been ordered for the bookstore and are available at Scott library. M. Musto (ed.), Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Routledge, 2008) is on library reserve. The volumes of Marx-Engels Collected Works are available online at and at Scott library. M. Musto and T. Carver’s articles are available on-line without charge to York students and will also be on library reserve. A list of texts by choice for the last two classes will be distributed during the course.

Schedule of Lectures and Required Reading

Sept 14 Introduction and Overview

Sept 21 Different Marx, Different Marxisms

Marcello Musto, “The Rediscovery of Karl Marx”, International Review of Social History, vol. 52 part 3, 2007: 477-498.

Sept 28 Education and Early Writings (1818-43)

“Letter to his Father (November 10 1837)”; “On the Jewish Question”; “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction”.

Oct 5 The Discovery of Political Economy (1844)

Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 .

Recommended: Marcello Musto, “Marx in Paris. Manuscripts and notebooks of 1844”, Science & Society, vol. 73, n. 3 (July 2009): 386-402.

Oct 19 First Outline of the Materialist Conception of History (1845-47)

“Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (1859); 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 ; Terrell Carver “The German Ideology Never Took Place”, History of Political Thought, 31(1): 107-127.

Oct 26 Bourgeoisie, Proletariat and Class Struggle (1848)

Manifesto of the Communist Party (with F. Engels); Eric Hobsbawm, “Introduction to The Communist Manifesto. A Modern Edition”, Verso 1998: 3-29.

Nov 2 Advancing the Critique of Political Economy: the London Notebooks and Marx as an Economic Journalist (1849-56)

“Wage-Labour and Capital”; Three articles by choice from the New-York Tribune; Marcello Musto, “The Formation of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. From the Studies of 1843 to the Grundrisse”, Socialism & Democracy, nr. 54 (2010): 66-100.

Nov 9 The First World Economic Crisis and the Grundrisse (1857-58)

Three articles by choice on the Economic Crisis from the New-York Tribune; Grundrisse (“Fragment on Machines”).

Recommended: Marcello Musto (ed.), Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Chap. 12: “Dissemination and Reception of the Grundrisse in the World:Introduction”), 2008: 179-188.

Nov 16 The Making of Capital (1859-81)

Capital, vol. I (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 23 Political Activities in the IWA (1864-72)

“Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association”; The Civil War in France.


Nov 30 The Studies of the Last Decade (1873-83)

“Notes on Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy”; Critique of the Gotha Programme; “Interview with Karl Marx (January 5 1879)”; “The Programme of the Parti Ouvrier” (with J. Guesde); “Letter (and Drafts) to Vera Zasulich”.

Dec 7 Marxisms after Marx

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

Dec 14 Is Marx still important today?

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