Eco 357k

Introduction to Marxian Economics


Fall 2011
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:

TA: Eric Slusser:
Office: BRB 4.126
Office Hours: T 1-3pm, W 12-1pm, F 1-2pm. Email address:

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 will suffer.

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 leisure 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.

Study Materials

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:

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 status.


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 particular course.

1. The course must include at least three writing assignments per semester, exclusive of exams and quizzes.

2. The three or more writing assignments must total approximately 16 typewritten, double-spaced pages (about 4,000 words.)

3. A major rewriting of an assignment that requires additional original writing and not merely editing can be considered a separate assignment. 4. Students must receive timely and detailed critique following each writing assignment concerning the quality of their writing and suggestions for improvement. 5. The quality of the written expression must be an important component of the student’s course grade.

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.

Course Schedule