Questions on Marx


"Manifesto of the Communist Party"

1.  Here, in no particular order, are some terms from the readings for today.  Write for 10 minutes using these terms to reconstruct the story that Marx is telling about politics and economics.  We will use this to "prime the pump" for our discussion.  (N.B. Neither of Marx's texts is a "story" [fictional narrative]).

alienation   bourgeoisie     religion      family      slavery    class struggle     revolution     base    superstructure

centralized production   slaves/slavery  proletariat    industrial middle class   macroeconomics   feudal system

social/economic utopia      communism       oppression        world market       capitalist        object/objectification

intellectual creations

2.  Now share what you wrote with others in a small group.  Working together, find quotations that back up your understanding. The class should divide into four groups.

3.  Now as a whole class, let us share our understanding of Marx's two texts and come to a common understanding of WHAT he is saying.

4.  Go back and work in your groups; each group should take one of the following questions.  We will then discuss your answers as a whole class.






"The Alienation of Labor"

5.  Here are some key terms:  slavery, alienation, wages, laborer, commodity, objectification, social rank, class antagonism, feudal system, self-interest, exploitation, capital.

6.  Page 131, left column:, full par. 2:  How can the laborer become POORER the more s/he produces?

7.  Page 131, right column, full par. 1:  "The more people place in God, the less they retain in themselves."  "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."  What does Marx mean, and do you agree?

8.  What types of estrangement/alienation does Marx identify?

9.  Why does labor alienate?  Discuss the following flow chart:

            Private property --> estranged labor --> wages. 

10.  How can you eliminate estrangement?

11.  Have you had an alienating experience with labor?  Are you alienated from the papers in GNED 102?


Here are some other questions from the GNED website (note that the page numbers are off):

Activities:  Small Groups

As a post-Cold War generation, most of today’s students are not familiar with the rhetoric and ideas of Communism.  Moreover, Marx’s 19th century writing style often repels students initially.  Consequently, Marx’s terminology and dialectic analysis need careful attention.  Below is an activity that allows the class as a whole to thoroughly analyze Marx’s arguments without requiring that each member of the class painstakingly assess each sentence.

Divide the class into seven groups of approximately three students each.  Have them read the short assigned section and answer the questions provided.  These questions have a specific answer and identifying that answer will help students follow Marx’s logic.  After each small group has answered its questions thoroughly have each group share its answers with the class in the assigned order.  If each group accurately understands its part, this will provide a concise summary of Marx’s argument.  For maximum effectiveness, the instructor should check with the groups as they prepare, clarifying confusion that would likely surface.  Once students understand Marx’s argument the possibilities for discussion are endless!

1. Answer found on pages 80-81:  According to Marx the history of all existing societies is what? What has the “modern bourgeois society” contributed to this history? What role did Europeans' “discovery” of America play in the bourgeoisie’s transformation of society? 

2. Answers found on page 81:  What has modern industry done? According to Marx what has the bourgeoisie done when it has gotten the upper hand (this is a long list)?  In one word, what has the bourgeoisie done? What has the bourgeoisie done to physicians, lawyers, priests, poets, and scientists?  What has the bourgeoisie done to the family? What is essential for the bourgeoisie to exist?

3. Answers found on page 82:  What does the bourgeoisie need to survive?  What does this lead the bourgeoisie to do? What are the consequences of this behavior? What results from the rapid improvement of production? What is the “heavy artillery” for the bourgeoisie? What does the bourgeoisie do to the country (rural areas)? What then results from this change?

4. Answers found on page 83:  What does Marx compare the “modern bourgeois society” to?  Why? What epidemic soon results? What are the characteristics of this result? How does bourgeois society respond? According to Marx, the bourgeoisie “forged the weapons that bring death to itself.”  What are these weapons? List the many things that Marx laments labors must contend with.  List the consequences of “extensive use of machinery” and the “division of labor.”  

5. Answers found on page 84:  What has “modern industry” done to the master craftsman and skilled labor? As the proletariat progresses through “various stages of development” what happens when the proletariat become “concentrated in greater masses”?

6. Answers found on page 85:  What problems plague the “organization of the proletarians”? According to Marx, what is the only class that can “stand face to face with the bourgeoisie?   Why? Why is the lower middle class not revolutionary according to Marx? What are the conditions of the proletariat?  

7. Answers found on page 86:  According to Marx what is the mission of the proletariat?   How is the proletarian movement different from all previous historical movements?   What is essential for the survival of the bourgeoisie?  


Discussion Questions:

1. Define the terminology as related to Marx's work: alienation, estrangement, political economy, capitalism, life activity, etc.  How can the students relate these terms to themselves?

2. What was the political and economic environment of Europe, the U.S., and Russia in the late 1830s and early 1840s when Marx was influenced by world events and wrote Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844?

3. Based on Marx's definition and today's economy, what jobs do you, as a student, consider alienating?  Why?

4. You have previously discussed readings on education and discussed its purpose and meaning for your future.  Now, after reading "Alienation of Labor," what criteria are needed in a job or career to keep you from becoming estranged from your chosen position?

5. You have also discussed various community structures and your place in the community.  How does Marxism fit with what you consider to be your role in the community?

6. How does Marx describe a life activity, and why is it so important to the human species?

7. Is elimination of private ownership of property necessary for a true democracy?  Why or why not?