Introduction to Marxian Economics
Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9:00-10:00am, PAR 201
Professor Harry Cleaver
Office: BRB 3.162
Office Hours: T:8:00-10:00am, MW:10:00-11:00
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
TA: Eric Slusser:
Office: BRB 4.126
Office Hours: T 1-3pm, W 12-1pm, F 1-2pm.
Email address: email@example.com
Warning! Although this is a writing component
course, due to various circumstances, the recommended
number of registered students has been exceeded. No comparable increase in
teaching staff has been assigned. As a result, it is inevitable that both the
quantity and quality of help with improving your writing you are likely to get
Course Description: Content
Marxian economics is an analytical framework for studying the development
and crises of modern capitalist societies. Within that framework
it studies all the usual topics of economics: labor economics, macroeconomics,
the behavior of the firm, technological change, commerce and trade and
so on, at both the national and international levels. This course provides
an introduction to this body of work through the reading of Volume I of Karl
Marx's major work: Das Kapital, and through the application of that
work to the analysis of contemporary society and its crises.
In the roughly one hundred and thirty years since Marx died (1883) his work has
been used and abused by a
wide variety of people and political groups. Rather than presenting a survey
of the many and varied interpretations of Marx, I present my own interpretation
which is typical of one of many different approaches. You are thus presented
the opportunity of reading Marx in the original and then comparing that
reading with the interpretation I present in class. Studying Marx himself
gives you a basic point of reference for judging what I have to say as
well as a chance to develop your own interpretation. This provides, I believe,
a good beginning for anyone curious about Marx as well as for those
interested in further study of the history and current uses of Marxism.
In this course Capital is studied primarily
within the present. That is, the course is oriented toward the relevance
of Marx's ideas today rather than an interpretation of the text within
the mid-19th Century when it was written. This involves not only thinking
the analytical categories in the present, but also extending them to new
spheres of social relations which have developed since Marx wrote. Most
importantly this means extending the analysis to those periods of time
which workers have successfully liberated from factory and office work,
but which have been subsequently colonized by capitalist relations, e.g.,
the time of children, of housewives and of peasants, as well as the so-called
time of workers in general. We will look at how the struggle over work
in the factory and office is paralleled by a struggle over work in these
spheres of life, over the degree to which these periods of time can be
used by people for themselves and the degree to which they find
themselves reduced to the work of reproducing current class relations.
Course Description: Form
Given the number of students registered for this course, it will be primarily
a lecture course, although questions and interventions during the three weekly
lectures will be welcome. It is also a writing component coure which means you
will asked to submit three essays. Two of those essays you will submit directly
to the professor via e-mail, a shorter one you will post to Blackboard
forums where you can discuss each other's ideas. Both the professor and the
course teaching assistant will hold office hours.
You therefore have several obvious
opportunities to study and think about the material in this course: in lectures
you can listen and perhaps intervene, during office hours you have a chance for
one-on-one discussion with the professor and/or the teaching assistant, through
Blackboard forums you can discuss various issues with other class members and
finally during the composition of your essays you can use the act of writing to clarify and
organize your thinking. Beyond these opportunities, I would encourage you to take
the initiative and create one more: study groups. Getting together with other
students to discuss the material of the course on a regular basis (I am not talking
here about "cram" sessions before tests) gives you opportunities not only to ask
questions of your peers that you might hesitate to ask in class, but also to
answer others' questions, or suggest alternative interpretations. It is often
during such discusions that you find out just how well you really understand
things by discovering how well, or how poorly, you can articulate what you think you know.
Of Capital, I am asking you to read only the first volume (there
are three volumes, plus three more volumes on classical political economics).
I have ordered the most recent and most literal English translation by
Ben Fowkes, published by Penguin and Vintage in 1977. This edition also
has the advantage of containing, as an appendix, the hitherto unavailable
"6th Chapter." We will read Volume I beginning with Part VIII
on the historical emergence of capitalist class relations and continue
with Parts I to VII in order.
Along with the first volume of Capital, you should read my book,
Reading Capital Politically (RCP), which spells
out in some
detail my views on Marx, on his interpretation and on others' views. The
introduction situates my position among the various currents of Marxism,
and the other chapters provide a detailed analysis of Marx's concepts of
value in the first chapter of Capital. I have also included, on
the course website,
copies of several "prefaces" to the English editions and to various
foreign language editions of RCP. These prefaces in some ways update
my views in the book.
In the past, I have also asked students to supplement the sometimes dry, analytical material
of Capital, by reading some social literature dealing with the kind
of society and social problems Marx is talking about. The idea was to
look at the class problems of capitalist society from another angle, a
more human one where the emphasis is on the reality of individuals rather
than on "social science". To facilitate this, I ordered two novels
for the course: Elizabeth Gaskell's book Mary Barton, written in 1848
about working class life in Manchester
and Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, written in 1905 about the
life of Lithuanian immigrants working and struggling in and around the
meatpacking industry of Chicago. This semester, because of the writing
component work required in this course, I have NOT ordered these books. I still
recommend them, but their reading is not required.
You will also find, in the study guide to Capital that is provided
on the course website, a variety of passages taken from various works of fiction
which both illustrate the issues at hand and make them more concrete. The
"study guide" is made up
of a set of chapter-by-chapter outlines, commentaries, and
study questions (with possible answers to some of the questions), on Capital.
The text of Reading Capital Politically is also provided on the
course website along with old tests and supplementary materials
which are all designed to help you work your way through the books.
To help you work on your writing, I have ordered William Strunk & E. B. White,
Elements of Style, 4th Edition, New York: Longman, 1999. This is a
short but classic work on how to write clear English prose and essays. You will
probably find it very useful in reading the book to make note of things you
need to work on. When you get your essays back with commentaries and suggestions you
will also find it useful to add to your list problems that have been pointed out
to you. As the semester progresses, such a list can become a "check-list" of things
to watch for and correct in your own new compositions. There are obviously many ways
to write well; the "elements of style" recommended by Strunk & White are just one
set of "elements". But they do provide, I think, a useful point of departure in
developing your own "elements" of your own style.
Finally, in general, my lectures will be accompanied by Powerpoint
slides. I suggest printing-out the slides (you can do this with 3-6 to
a page) before each class and bringing them with you so you will not have
to take many notes, but can think and engage in in-class discussion instead.
Suggested Study Method
As a means of studying the materials listed above, I recommend, but do
not require, that you keep a notebook during the entirety of the course
consisting of the following:
- Your own notes summarizing Marx's arguments (chapter by chapter, section
by section) and also integrating them (across chapters, etc.),
- Class notes on my lectures and class discussions, and finally, most
- Your own comments on Marx, critiques of my comments and your own interpretations
of the subject matter.
The notebook could be designed as follows: a spiral or loose-leaf notebook
with notes spread across two opposing pages. The left page divided in two vertically
with the left column for notes on Marx and the right column for class lecture
notes, the right page for your own commentaries. I strongly recommend that
you keep your reading and note taking ahead of class lectures. If you have
read, studied and taken notes on material before it is covered in class,
then when you listen to the lectures, you will be in a much better position
to understand and evaluate what is being said, to ask questions or to offer
your own interpretations. If you get behind in this class, you are in real
trouble! The notebook can provide you with a unified, compact instrument
for studying and thinking about the materials. It would also be - along
with study groups - your best preparation for tests.
Intellectually speaking, there are no prerequisites other than a mind
which is open to trying to understand a completely new way of looking at
the world and a willingness to think hard about difficult questions. Prior
study of regular economics (micro, macro, etc) is not required. If you
have studied regular economics you will have the extra work of comparing
and contrasting that theory with what you are learning in this course.
The two theoretical and political paradigms are quite different and in
some ways diametrically opposed in terms of their object and methods.
This said, it is also true that the more background you have in English
history (from which Marx draws most of his examples), European philosophy
(especially Hegel), 19th Century European politics (within which Marx was
operating) and 20-21th Century American social history and class politics
(from which I draw most of my examples in lectures), the more you are going
to be able to absorb and critically evaluate the material in readings and
lectures. In terms of the economics department you must have upper division
In a nutshell: 60% of your grade will be based on your performance in fulfilling
writing assignments; 40% will be based on two tests, each covering approximately
one half the material in the course (20% each). There will be NO comprehensive final.
The Writing Assignments
What follows are the university requirements for a writing component course,
like this one, and the manner in which these requirements will be met in this
1. The course must include at least three writing assignments per semester,
exclusive of exams and quizzes.
Three writing assignments: a) an essay early in the course dealing with your
personal experience of learning and appropriation – especially, but not limited
to your experience with economics and Marxism.(25% of your grade) b) one short
essay on course content (10% of your grade) and c) a final essay towards the
end of the course on what you have appropriated (or not) from the course content.
(25% of your grade) The first and last essays are
to be submitted directly to the professor (see below). At least one of these assignments
must be revised and resubmitted for final grading.
2. The three or more writing assignments must total approximately 16 typewritten,
double-spaced pages (about 4,000 words.)
The first and last essay assignments on appropriation should be approximately
6 pages each; the shorter essay should be approximately 4 pages.
3. A major rewriting of an assignment that requires additional original writing
and not merely editing can be considered a separate assignment.
The last, five page essay on appropriation will amount to a major rewriting of
the first essay in the light of the material studied during the semester.
4. Students must receive timely and detailed critique following each writing
assignment concerning the quality of their writing and suggestions for improvement.
With respect to the short essay posted to Blackboard, you are invited to
provide at least one other person with feedback – both with respect to substance
and quality of writing. After you have written and submitted your own short essay,
read someone else’s and tell them what you think. With respect to the two essays
on appropriation, this is the tough part, given the large number of students
registered for the course and the limited time and energy of both the professor
and teaching assistant. We’ll do the best we can.
5. The quality of the written expression must be an important component of the
student’s course grade.
As indicated, the grades given on writing assignments will count for 60% of your
final grade. The grades you receive will reflect our judgement of the “quality of
your written expression.”
The “Appropriation” Essays
Largely because of the reading I have done and the thought I have been putting
into the course I teach on the Political Economy of Education, I have become
more and more convinced that studying course material without appropriating it
in some way is a royal waste of time. Therefore in all of my upper division
courses I am now asking that you think seriously about what you can appropriate.
By this I mean: figure out what new insights that you obtain while working on
the material in the course can be integrated into your life trajectory, either
as part of your intellectual development or in terms of your decisions about
how you behave in the world. In your first essay I want you to think about the
path that led you to this course and how you might make use of it. In the final
essay, I want you to explain what you have appropriated and how, or perhaps,
what you have NOT appropriated and why. These two essays will constitute a
substantial part of your grade, so you do well to take them seriously.
The first essay should be submitted by end of the third week of classes, i.e., for
Fall 2011 that would be Wednesday, September 14, 2011. It will be graded and
will be returned to you with comments, ASAP. The second essay must be submitted
by November 23, 2011 - the last class day before Thanksgiving Break. In both cases,
the essay should be about six pages long and e-mailed – as digital attachments
– in MSWord or a format openable by MSWord (do NOT send pdf’s) – to both the professor
and the teaching assistant. More detailed formatting instructions will be
provided in a Blackboard forum.
Repeatedly, I have discovered that many students, never having done anything
like this before, find this assignment difficult both to understand and to
execute. To clarify what I am asking for I have written an essay on
"Learning, Understanding and Appropriating" - that you can find among the
other supplementary materials on this website - that includes some examples,
including my own.
The other 40 per cent of your grade will derive from your scores on two tests,
each worth 20 per cent of your final grade and each covering about one half of
the material in the course. The second test will be given on the last day of class
and will only cover the second half of the course.
The tests generally consist of essay questions and require not only knowledge
of Marx's writings and my comments on them, but also the abilities to analyze,
to synthesize, to critique and to offer alternative interpretations. In short,
the tests (like the essays) require you to think and not simply to regurgitate
the material. Several old tests, complete with answers, are provided on the
course web page to give you an idea of the kinds of questions you might be
asked and the kinds of answers expected.
The short essay, to be posted to a Blackboard forum, will be due
on October 20.
NB: Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic
accomodations from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement,
Services for Students with Disabilities, 471-6259.
- First day of class, general overview of course, requirements. We will
dive directly into the material with the eighth section of Capital
and then, once you have seen something of Marx, I'll explain in more detail
my particular approach to his work.
- Capital, Pt. VIII: On Primitive Accumulation; and RCP,
Chapter 2. These chapters in Capital present Marx's most
of the emergence of capitalism. They concentrate on the origins of the
two classes, the rise of the bourgeoisie to power and the methods it used
to coerce much of the population into working for it. The second chapter
of Reading Capital Politically (RCP) gives an interpretation
of the nature of the changing forms of the class relationships of struggle
that emerged and continue within capitalist society. One emphasis will
be on the way the new relations were imposed and the resistance to that
- RCP, Introduction. This introduction contains
numerous references to
all kinds of political groups and writers with whom you may not be familiar.
Instead of being overwhelmed, concentrate on the analysis of different
kinds of Marxism and on what characterizes my "political" reading
- Capital, Pt. I: On Commodities and Money; and RCP, Chapters
3-5 (the rest of the book). Given some familiarity with Marx's political
views and his analysis of the emergence of capitalist society that places
commodity exchange at the center of social relations, we now turn to an
examination of his most methodically developed analysis of the class relations
of capitalist society: Capital, Pts. I - VII. In Part I, we find
a very abstract and dense analysis of commodity exchange in terms of "value."
Much debated among Marxists, and between Marxists and non-Marxists, the
category of value is understood in RCP as a concept which designates
both the imposed work which is at the core of the capital-labor relationship,
and the form of that imposition (exchange). Most students find this section
the hardest in the course - because of the abstractness of the discussion -
and the interrelated reading of Capital,
Pt. I and RCP is suggested. Lectures will provide a verbal exposition
of the interpretation of RCP, that is they will show how the categories
developed in this part are those of the class relations whose emergence
was analyzed in Pt. VIII.
- First Test
- Capital, Pt. II: On Money and Capital. These chapters make the
formal transition from the analysis of commodities and money in the abstract
to their role in the class relation. Because we will have already discussed
those class relations some of this material will be obvious. On the other
hand, much of the discussion of the roles of money will be new and important
in understanding money in class terms.
- Capital, Pt. III: Absolute Surplus Value and the Struggle over
Time. In this section Marx elaborates his analyses of exploitation and
surplus value under capitalism. He begins with the most fundamental form
of exploitation: the way capitalists during the height of their power forced
people to work longer and longer hours in order to generate more and more
profits, which, we will discover later in Pt. VII, could be used to put
ever more people to work. At the same time we also find his analysis of
how people resisted this reduction of the entirety of their lives to labor
and their "degradation to mere worker." Thus the story of absolute
surplus value is the story of the struggle over how much time people would
be forced to give up to business and how much time they would be able to
preserve for themselves. We will extend this analysis into the domain of
non-factory, unwaged work --in the home, in the school, in culture and
in the countryside.
- Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Mary Barton: Although I suggest
that you start reading this novel at the beginning of the course, you will
not be tested on it, and the material related to it, until the second test.
(NB: this novel is not required in Fall 2011.)
- Capital, Pt. IV: Relative Surplus Value and the Struggle over
Productivity and the Appendix. With workers' successes in blocking the
expansion of the working day, and ultimately in reducing it, capital has
been forced to become more subtle, to learn how to harness workers' imagination
rather than just putting their muscles to work. It has had to throw its
resources into developing technology and productivity. In these chapters
we find Marx focusing on the structure and social relations of work and
production -- a subject which today has been jettisoned by the economics
profession and adopted by other fields, such as sociology and psychology.
Here we also find Marx's discussion
of the cruelest paradox of capitalism: that the accumulation of workers'
imagination and creativity in ever new, more productive technology is used,
under capitalism, not to free them from labor but to further enslave them.
- Capital, Pt. VI: On Wages. In part, this is a continuation of
the analysis of the labor market begun in Chapter 6 and developed more
fully in Pts. III and IV, but it deals mainly with the various forms of
the money wage and how capital tries to manipulate them to extort more
work from people. We will see how Marx's analysis of the wage form can
be applied to a variety of non-wage situations including school-work and
- Capital, Pt. VII: On Accumulation and Crisis. These chapters
deal with the investment process and how profits are used to recreate the
class relation on an ever larger scale. Here profits appear not simply
as an end in themselves, desired by greedy bosses, but rather as the means
to the more general end of the expanded reproduction of the system itself.
Marx also shows how the accumulation of capital involves the accumulation
not only of waged workers but also of unwaged workers: the "unemployed"
reserve army. We will extend this discussion to other categories of the
unwaged. Finally, in this discussion of the aggregate process of growth,
Marx analyses the periodic crises of capitalism which we will examine in
terms of cycles of struggle, working class power and crises in class
- Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle: Although I suggest
that you start reading this novel, and the material that goes with it, as
soon as you have finished reading Mary Barton, you will only be
tested on it at the end of the course, in your third test.
(NB: this novel is not required in Fall 2011.)
- Second (and last!) test,
(this test will be given on the last day of classes, December 2, 2010).