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Karl Marx


Karl Marx, in full Karl Heinrich Marx, (born May 5, 1818, Trier, Rhine
province, Prussia [Germany]—died March 14, 1883, London, England), revolutionary,
sociologist, historian, and economist. He published (with Friedrich Engels) Manifest der
Kommunistischen Partei (1848), commonly known as The Communist Manifesto, the most
celebrated pamphlet in the history of the socialist movement. He also was the author of the
movement’s most important book, Das Kapital. These writings and others by Marx and Engels
form the basis of the body of thought and belief known as Marxism. (See
also socialism; communism.)
Early Years

Karl Heinrich Marx was the oldest surviving boy of nine children. His father, Heinrich, a
successful lawyer, was a man of the Enlightenment, devoted to Kant and Voltaire, who took part
in agitations for a constitution in Prussia. His mother, born Henrietta Pressburg, was from
Holland. Both parents were Jewish and were descended from a long line of rabbis, but, a year
or so before Karl was born, his father—probably because his professional career required it—
was baptized in the Evangelical Established Church. Karl was baptized when he was six years
old. Although as a youth Karl was influenced less by religion than by the critical,
sometimes radical social policies of the Enlightenment, his Jewish background exposed him
to prejudice and discrimination that may have led him to question the role of religion in society
and contributed to his desire for social change.

The Communist Manifesto

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Alternative Titles: “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei”, “Manifesto of the Communist Party”

The Communist Manifesto, German Manifest Der Kommunistischen Partei, (1848;

“Manifesto of the Communist Party”), pamphlet written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to
serve as the platform of the Communist League. It became one of the principal programmatic
statements of the European socialist and communist parties in the 19th and early 20th
The Manifesto embodied the authors’ materialistic conception of history (“The history of all
hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”), and it surveyed that history from the
age of feudalism down to 19th-century capitalism, which was destined, they declared, to be
overthrown and replaced by a workers’ society. The communists, the vanguard of the working
class, constituted the section of society that would accomplish the “abolition of private property”
and “raise the proletariatto the position of ruling class.”
The Manifesto opens with the dramatic words “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of
communism” and ends by stating, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They
have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite.”
Das Kapital
 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Das Kapital, (German: Capital) one of the major works of the 19th-century economist and
philosopher Karl Marx (1818–83), in which he expounded his theory of the capitalist system, its
dynamism, and its tendencies toward self-destruction. He described his purpose as to lay bare
“the economic law of motion of modern society.” The first volume was published in Berlin in
1867; the second and third volumes, edited by his collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820–95),
were published posthumously in 1885 and 1894, respectively.

Karl Marx.Photos.com/Thinkstock

Much of Das Kapital spells out Marx’s concept of the “surplus value” of labour and its
consequences for capitalism. According to Marx, it was not the pressure of population that
drove wages to the subsistence level but rather the existence of a large army of unemployed,
which he blamed on the capitalists. He maintained that within the capitalist system, labour was a
mere commodity that could gain only subsistence wages. Capitalists, however, could force
workers to spend more time on the job than was necessary to earn their subsistence and then
appropriate the excess product, or surplus value, created by the workers.
Because all profit results from an “exploitation of labour,” the rate of profit—the amount per unit
of total capital outlay—depends largely on the number of workers employed. Because machines
cannot be “exploited,” they cannot contribute to total profits, though they help labour produce
more useful products. Only payroll capital—“variable capital”—is productive of surplus value and
consequently of profit. The introduction of machines is profitable for the individual entrepreneur,
to whom they give an advantage over his competitors. However, as outlay for machinery grows
in relation to outlay for wages, profit declines in relation to total capital outlay. Thus, for each
additional capital outlay, the capitalist will receive less and less return and can attempt to
postpone his bankruptcy only by applying pressure on the workers. Ultimately, according to Das
Kapital, the “capitalist class becomes unfit to rule, because it is incompetent to assure an
existence to its slave within his slavery.” Consequently, the capitalist system collapses, and the
working class inherits economic and political power.
Although Marx approached capitalism as an economist and prided himself on
the conceptual rigour of his work, Das Kapital—especially the first volume—is rich
in empirical description. Marx praised the work of the Factory Inspectorate, from whose reports
he drew vivid and terrifying examples of the overwork and ill-treatment from which British
working people suffered. His savage description of so-called “primitive accumulation”—the
process whereby Britain was transformed from a precapitalist to a capitalist economy—is a
polemical rather than an analytic triumph.

Friedrich Engels, (born Nov. 28, 1820, Barmen, Rhine province, Prussia [Germany]—died Aug.
5, 1895, London, Eng.), German socialist philosopher, the closest collaborator of Karl Marx in
the foundation of modern communism. They coauthored The Communist Manifesto(1848), and
Engels edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapitalafter Marx’s death.
Engels became a communist in 1842 and discovered the proletariat of England when he took
over the management of the Manchester factory belonging to his father’s cotton firm.


Karl Marx (1818-1883) was primarily a theorist and historian (less the evil pinko commie demon
that McCarthyism fretted about). After examining social organization in a scientific way (thereby
creating a methodology for social science: political science), he perceived human history to
have consisted of a series of struggles between classes--between the oppressed and the
oppressing. Whereas Freud saw "sexual energy" to be the motivating factor behind human
endeavor and Nabokov seemed to feel artistic impulse was the real factor, Marx thought that
"historical materialism" was the ultimate driving force, a notion involving the distribution of
resources, gain, production, and such matters.

The supposedly "natural" political evolution involved (and would in the future involve)
"feudalism" leading to "bourgeois capitalism" leading to "socialism" and finally to "utopian
communism." In bourgeois capitalism, the privileged bourgeoisie rely on the proletariat--the
labor force responsible for survival. Marx theorized that when profits are not reinvested in the
workers but in creating more factories, the workers will grow poorer and poorer until no short-
term patching is possible or successful. At a crisis point, revolt will lead to a restructuring of the

For a political system to be considered communist, the underclasses must own the means of
production--not the government nor the police force. Therefore, aside from certain first-century
Christian communities and other temporary communes, communism has not yet really existed.
(The Soviet Union was actually state-run capitalism.)

Marx is known also for saying that "Religion is the opiate of the people," so he was somewhat
aware of the problem that Lenin later dwelt on. Lenin was convinced that workers remain largely
unaware of their own oppression since they are convinced by the state to be selfless. One might
point to many "opiates of the people" under most political systems--diversions that prevent real
consideration of trying to change unjust economic conditions.

Marxist Criticism

According to Marxists, and to other scholars in fact, literature reflects those social institutions
out of which it emerges and is itself a social institution with a particular ideological function.
Literature reflects class struggle and materialism: think how often the quest for wealth
traditionally defines characters. So Marxists generally view literature "not as works created in
accordance with timeless artistic criteria, but as 'products' of the economic and ideological
determinants specific to that era" (Abrams 149). Literature reflects an author's own class or
analysis of class relations, however piercing or shallow that analysis may be.

The Marxist critic simply is a careful reader or viewer who keeps in mind issues of power and
money, and any of the following kinds of questions:

 What role does class play in the work; what is the author's analysis of class relations?
 How do characters overcome oppression?

 In what ways does the work serve as propaganda for the status quo; or does it try to
undermine it?

 What does the work say about oppression; or are social conflicts ignored or blamed

 Does the work propose some form of utopian vision as a solution to the problems
encountered in the work?

Marxism (Britannica)
Marxism, a body of doctrine developed by Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, by Friedrich
Engels in the mid-19th century. It originally consisted of three related ideas: a philosophical
anthropology, a theory of history, and an economic and political program. There is also Marxism
as it has been understood and practiced by the various socialist movements, particularly before
1914. Then there is Soviet Marxism as worked out by Vladimir Ilich Lenin and modified
by Joseph Stalin, which under the name of Marxism-Leninism (see Leninism) became the
doctrine of the communist parties set up after the Russian Revolution (1917). Offshoots of this
included Marxism as interpreted by the anti-Stalinist Leon Trotskyand his followers, Mao
Zedong’s Chinese variant of Marxism-Leninism, and various Marxisms in the developing world.
There were also the post-World War II nondogmatic Marxisms that have modified Marx’s
thought with borrowings from modern philosophies, principally from those of Edmund
Husserl and Martin Heidegger but also from Sigmund Freudand others.

Marxism encompasses a wide range of both scholarly and popular work. It spans from the early,
more philosophically oriented, Karl Marx of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of
1844 and the German Ideology, to later economic works like Das Kapital, to specifically
polemical works like The Communist Manifesto. While our focus is not Marx’s own contributions
to philosophy or political economy, per se, it is important to note that the sheer breadth of
scholarship rightly regarded as “Marxist” or “Marxian,” owes itself to engagement with texts
ranging across the works of a younger, more explicitly Hegelian, “philosophical Marx” to those of
the more astute, if perhaps more cynical, thinker of his later work, to the revolutionary of
the Manifesto’s “Workers unite!” Hence, while it is not surprising to see an expansive literature
that includes feminist, anti-racist, and environmental appropriations of Marx, it is also not
unexpected to see considerable conflict and variation as a salient characteristic of any such
compilation. Indeed, it is difficult to capture the full range of what “Marxism” includes, and it is
thus important to acknowledge that to some extent the choice of organizing category is destined
to be arbitrary. But this may be more a virtue than a deficit since not only have few thinkers had
more significant global impact, few have seen their work applied to a broader range of issues,
philosophic, economic, geopolitical, environmental, and social. Marx’s conviction that the point
of philosophy is not merely to know the world but to change it for the good continues to infuse
the essential bone marrow of virtually every major movement for economic, social, and now
environmental justice on the beleaguered planet. Although his principle focus may have been
the emancipation of workers, the model he articulates for understanding the systemic injustices
inherent to capitalism is echoed in Marxist analyses of oppression across disciplines as
otherwise diverse as political economy, feminist theory, anti-slavery analyses, aesthetic
experience, liberation theology, and environmental philosophy. To be sure, Marxism is not Marx;
it is not necessarily even a reflection of Marx’s own convictions. But however far flung from
Marx’s efforts to turn G. F. W. Hegel on his head, Marxism has remained largely true to its
central objective, namely, to demonstrate the dehumanizing character of an economic system
whose voracious quest for capital accumulation is inconsistent not only with virtually any vision
of the good life, but with the necessary conditions of life itself.
Marxist literary criticism
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing literary criticism based on socialist and
dialectic theories. Marxist criticism views literary works as reflections of the social institutions
from which they originate. Most Marxist critics who were writing in what could chronologically be
specified as the early period of Marxist literary criticism subscribed to what has come to be
called "Vulgar Marxism." In this thinking of the structure of societies, literary texts are one
register of the Superstructure, which is determined by the economic Base of any given society.
Therefore, literary texts are a reflection of the economic Base rather than "the social institutions
from which they originate" for all social institutions, or, more precisely human social
relationships, are in the final analysis determined by the economic Base. According to Marxists,
even literature itself is a social institution and has a specific ideological function, based on the
background and ideology of the author.
A Marxist critics' concern with a literary text, will be to examine the narrative and character's
ways of getting and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political
activities, including education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology,
the media, and so on. Marxism focuses on the relationship between the perceived lower
working class of society or proletariat, also known as the Infrastructure, and the Superstructure,
or upper class of society referred to as the bourgeoise in Karl Marx's (1818-83) discussions. A
Marxist analysis of a text will explore the ways in which the ruling influencers of society can be
said to oppress the lower class in some shape or form, while acting with their own interests.
This includes the act of commodification and exploitation of the labour of the working class.

A Marxist reading of The Great Gatsby may examine the ways in which Tom Buchanan's
exploitation of George Wilson indicate the ‘surplus value’ whereby ‘the bourgeoise pockets the
difference between what they pay their workers and the value of the goods produced by the
workers’ (Moore, Aiken & Chapman, 2006). This can be seen when Tom appears to sell his car
to George; ‘When are you going to sell me that car?’ ‘Next week; I’ve got my man working on it
now.’ […] ‘maybe I’d better sell it somewhere else after all’ (p. 17) This passage demonstrates a
scenario whereby the bourgeoise exercise control in their option of market, whilst determining
the product value of one’s labour, a nuance that conveys from a Marxist perspective, the typical
attitude of the bourgeoise who only acknowledge the proletariat as a tool to suit their interest.
Marxist interpretations

The Economic Class

A Marxist approach to The Great Gatsbymight be concerned with the representations of social
class, and the ways in which power and wealth are attained and retained by the characters.
Looking at the novel as a whole, it is seen to depict mostly the very wealthy members of society,
who do not work and spend much of their time at leisure. There are some minor characters who
are less wealthy, and a smaller number of servants and workers who are glimpsed working in
the novel.
Tom and Daisy never work, and Tom is said to be extraordinarily rich. He was a footballer, but
having retired from this at a very young age, is now ‘restless’ and diverts himself with acquiring
commodities, reading racist texts and his many affairs.
Nick is one of the less wealthy characters, and works in the stock exchange, but is still
financially secure as his family is economically stable enough to support him in his work. Nick’s
occupation as a ‘bond man’ is never described in detail; it involves trading in debt, which was a
growing aspect of the economy, enabling the boom in consumer spending which supported the
growth in manufacture. This was a new type of stock trading at the time and Nick has to learn
about it himself.
Gatsby is introduced at the height of his power and success, and is associated purely with
pleasure and extravagantly expensive pursuits such as throwing parties, driving luxury cars and
going out in a hydroplane. However, we see hints of Gatsby’s work, in the secretive phone calls
and references to gangster activity, and it becomes clear that his wealth is based on criminality.
Unfair privilege
The darker aspects of the American economy are embodied in the figures of Gatsby, Wolfsheim
and the menacing, shadowy voices of Slagle and other callers. Bootlegging, fixing sporting
events and cheating are clear examples of a social and economic system which is unfairly
organised to privilege some people over others. Gatsby also seems to use a network of
contacts in order to escape justice, as he presents a ‘white card’ to the policeman when caught

Changing class
An element of Gatsby’s life which would be interesting to a Marxist critic is the revelation that he
began life as the son of ‘shiftless and unsuccessful farm people’ and had been consistently
determined to change his economic status. Marxist ideology would not recognise this as an
achievement, since this mobility merely reinforces the unfair economic divide between rich and
poor as opposed to dismantling the system completely.

The glass ceiling

Socially aspirational, Gatsby hides his origins, concocting elaborate stories to pretend he has a
higher status. This highlights the distinctions made in American society between ‘old money’
(inherited wealth, based on a long family tradition of wealth) and the ‘newly rich’ such as Dan
Cody and Gatsby (each becomes a millionaire in a short space of time). Tom and Mr Sloane,
in Chapter 6, clearly recognise the subtle social distinction, while Gatsby does not, leaving him
excluded from their supper party.
Nick’s comments would require consideration in a Marxist reading of the text:
The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of
himself. He was a son of God – a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that – and he
must be about His Father’s Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty.

Such a blasphemous claiming of Jesus’ words from the New Testament in Luke 2:49) establish
Gatsby as having great ambition, if not delusions of grandeur. The ‘business’ appears, however,
to be very worldly and ‘vulgar’, a reference to the pursuit of money – the total opposite
of Christ’s teaching in Luke 6:20-21.

The proletariat
George Wilson is the antithesis of Gatsby, someone who has worked hard and diligently for a
long time, without gaining wealth or status. Wilson comes into contact with the wealthy people of
West Egg and East Egg, as he attempts to make money from repairing and trading used cars
and selling gas, but his hard work seems to facilitate their easy lives. Even in killing Gatsby, it
could be argued that Wilson is exploited by Tom, doing the work that Tom is not willing to
A Marxist reading of the text would focus on Wilson as a representative of the proletariat, and
the depiction of the valley of ashes, located on the journey between Long Island and New York
City. It has been said that Fitzgerald based this location on the Corona Ash Dumps, a place
where ashes were dumped from coal furnaces. This waste product of a booming industry is
perhaps analogous with the idea of workers being dispensable and worthless. Aside from
Michaelis, who has a role as narrator via Nick, almost all the other workers in the text are
anonymous, such as Nick’s ‘Finnish woman’, the faceless chauffeurs, butlers and other

Female economic status

The highest status female characters in the text do not work, although Jordan is apparently
‘absolutely in training’ as she is a professional golfer. However, her reputation is tainted by
rumours of cheating, we never see her working, and Tom dismisses her claim to be in training
with the comment, ‘How you ever get anything done is beyond me.’ Moreover, Daisy and Jordan
are often presented as motionless, sitting or reclining, and when they do move it is ‘languidly’.
Myrtle differs from these women in that her socio-economic status is much lower, but she is
more active in seeking to attain the symbols of wealth when she is staying at Tom’s apartment
and using his money. She is single-mindedly acquisitive:
I’m going to make a list of all the things I’ve got to get. A massage and a wave and a collar for
the dog and one of those cute little ashtrays where you touch a spring, and a wreath with a
black silk bow for mother’s grave that’ll last all summer.

It could be argued that, as Tom’s mistress, and in many ways similar to the wives in the rest of
the novel, Myrtle has access to his wealth in return for her domestic and sexual contribution to
the partnership. Daisy, in this respect, is very similar to Myrtle as she values Tom’s wealth so
highly that she prefers Tom despite her apparent love for Gatsby. This occurs twice, underlining
the idea that Daisy appraises Tom’s wealth as greater and more secure. Gatsby and Tom are
equally degraded in this competition, yet each encourages Daisy to judge them in material
terms rather than on any personal aspects.

Emotion before economics

However, a Marxist reading might closely examine the moment when Gatsby appears to
prioritise love over money:
Well, there I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden
I didn’t care. What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what
I was going to do?

The ambiguity of this passage leaves the reader uncertain whether ambition has really been
abandoned or whether Gatsby has found a way to incorporate his relationship with Daisy into
his ‘business’.
Another comment about Gatsby, explaining:
he knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable
breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God implies that his relationship limits
his ambition. This is expressed in religious terms but may have a worldly meaning. These are
matters of great importance for interpreting the novel, since so many readers see Gatsby as
tragically devoted to Daisy, whereas it can be argued that he is always primarily devoted to
money and that Daisy merely represents money.

Social critique

As with feminist interpretations, Marxist readings of the novel might highlight any forms of
challenge to the status quo. There is no overt criticism of the social and economic system but it
could be argued that Nick’s narrative implicitly criticises the hedonism and excess of the
characters depicted, and by extension, the period in which the novel is set.
For some critics, Gatsby himself represents America, his dream the American Dream, and his
death the inevitable failure of that ideal; this can lead directly into a Marxist exploration of the
text, using the American Dream as a starting point for examining the motivations and outcomes
of each character. The problem with this approach is that there is an inescapable seductiveness
associated with wealth in this novel. Nick expresses this in his use of words such as ‘gorgeous’,
‘thrilling’ and ‘lovely’. His description of Daisy’s voice is a very good example of this, and it is
only revealed towards the end of the novel that her voice is ‘full of money’ and that this is the
true source of her attractiveness. The glamour of the novel exerts a powerful force to obscure
the reality of this society, and this must be attributed to the use of Nick as a narrator, a character
who is morally ambivalent to the extent that he is quite complicit in the cover-up surrounding the
deaths of Myrtle and Gatsby.
Sociological criticism examines literature in the cultural, economic, and political context in
which it is written or received. “Art is not created in a vacuum,” critic Wilbur Scott observed, “it is
the work not simply of a person, but of an author fixed in time and space, answering a
community of which he is an important, because articulate part.” Sociological criticism explores
the relationships between the artist and society. Sometimes it looks at the sociological status of
the author to evaluate how the profession of the writer in a particular milieu affected what was
written. Sociological criticism also analyzes the social content of literary works—what cultural,
economic or political values a particular text implicitly or explicitly promotes. Finally, sociological
criticism examines the role the audience has in shaping literature. A sociological view of
Shakespeare, for example, might look at the economic position of Elizabethan playwrights and
actors; it might also study the political ideas expressed in the plays or discuss how the nature of
an Elizabethan theatrical audience (which was usually all male unless the play was produced at
court) helped determine the subject, tone, and language of the plays.

An influential type of sociological criticism has been Marxist criticism, which focuses on the
economic and political elements of art. Marxist criticism, like the work of the Hungarian
philosopher Georg Lukacs, often explores the ideological content of literature. Whereas a
formalist critic would maintain that form and content are inextricably blended, Lukacs believed
that content determines form and that therefore, all art is political. Even if a work of art ignores
political issues, it makes a political statement, Marxist critics believe, because it endorses the
economic and political status quo. Consequently, Marxist criticism is frequently evaluative and
judges some literary work better than others on an ideological basis; this tendency can lead to
reductive judgment, as when Soviet critics rated Jack London a novelist superior to William
Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, and Henry James, because he illustrated the
principles of class struggle more clearly. But, as an analytical tool, Marxist criticism, like other
sociological methods, can illuminate political and economic dimensions of literature other
approaches overlook.

E.g. Heathcliff: A Product of Social Environment; The American Dream in The Great Gatsby;

Collapse of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman; The Twisted Human Nature
in Wuthering Heights