The Political and Moral Economies of Marxism 2009-2010

The political, economic, and moral theories of Karl Marx and his followers continue to inform how modern individuals view the world. Few people, though, recognize the debt they owe this “poetic professor from London.” Besides these more subtle manifestations of the thought of Marx, politicians including Hugo Chavez, Fidel and Raul Castro, and Hu Jintao continue to invoke Marx’s name as a means of solidifying their credentials on the left. Despite the vast differences between Venezuela, Cuba, and China, these countries’ leaders all connect their regimes to a revered tradition with a long history of fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised. Ironically, these “Marxist” leaders have limited the freedoms and prevented the liberation of the very classes Marx himself fought for. Meanwhile, conservative critics of President Barack Obama’s consistently refer to his administration’s social and economic plans as Marxist in character, believing that this Cold War-era insult is still vitriolic enough to engender support for their cause. Both intellectually and politically, Marx and Marxism remain important influences on men and women’s daily existence.

This seminar intends to read the works of Karl Marx and his adherents and view these works through the prism of their historical and modern interpretations. That is, we will analyze how political leaders, intellectuals, the heads of social movements, etc., have invoked, adopted, and manipulated the work of Marx and his followers to advance their own social, cultural, and political programs. We will also use the work of Marx and Marxists as a means to better understand the current economic crisis. Discussion will be focused on the influence of Marxism on four world regions—North America, Latin America, Europe, and East Asia—and includes students from several disciplines. In addition to focusing on Marxist influence on particular world regions, we will also analyze how Marxism has informed transnational flows of ideas, capital, and people.