Philosophy 281: Marxist Philosophy


Instructor Information

Gary Zabel, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy, UMB

Office: Wheatley 5/040

Office Hours: Tues/Th 3:00 - 3:45 and by Appointment



Course Description

We are living through a revival of interest in the work of Karl Marx. Pronounced dead by conservatives and liberals alike with the collapse of the so-called “actually existing socialist states” of Russia and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991, Marx was first re-examined sympathetically by such right-wing publications as the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, and the Financial Times. What a paradox! Marx’s thinking was embraced by the journalistic representatives of the very capitalism he dedicated his life to transcending. With the communist movement no longer a threat, the right-wing economic press argued that it was necessary to study Marx’s thought in order to understand capitalism and its recurring crises. The conservatives who embraced Marx, however, may now be regretting it, since global capitalism entered a protracted crisis with the financial collapse of 2008, a crisis met with new uprisings and movements in which Marxists are playing a role. 

As Marxism has revived both as economic theory and, to some extent, as political practice, Marxist and Marx-inspired philosophers have become prominent once again on the world intellectual scene. Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Antonio Negri, and others now draw large crowds in Europe, Latin America, and even the United States.

This course is meant to be a contribution to the revival of interest in Marxist philosophy. In it we will read and discuss three kinds of texts:

1) Selections from the work of the two most important influences on Marx’s philosophy, G.W.F. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach.

2) Marx’s own writings, including the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Theses on Feuerbach, the German Ideology, Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, and selections from the Grundrisse and Capital

3) Selections from the work of  two important 20th century Marxist philosophers: Georg Lukács and Louis Althusser

The course is divided into six sections (see tabs at the top of this page):

1) Hegel and Feuerbach

2) The Young Marx

3) Historical Materialism and the Critique of Ideology

4) Commodity Fetishism , Surplus Value, and Reification

5) The Problem of Historical Agency

6) Communism


1. Regular class attendence and participation

2. Weekly readings

3. One class presentation

4. Midterm exam (5-7 pages)

5. Final paper (10-15 pages)


The course requirements have the following weight in determining the final grade for the course:

Class attendance, participation, and presentation = 25%

Midterm exam = 25%

Final paper = 50%