Notes on Marxism and the Political Left:


Some Terms:


Left, Right

(origins in the seating plan of the French National Assembly of 1789)



Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Famous writings: Communist Manifesto 1848

Das Kapital (3 volumes)


A Marxist Vision of History:

Aristocratic/ Feudal/ Religious/ Monarchical


Overthrown by a Bourgeois, Capitalist Revolution--->

(i.e. the Industrial Revolution)

Capitalism creates a proletariat class, which eventually overthrows Capitalism and creates a communal, or socialist system.




Why, according to Marx, does Capitalism contain within it the seeds of its own destruction?


The idea of classes


Democracy theorists have a positive view of electoral process mitigating the undue influence of the rich and powerful (Robert Dahl, for instance).† Marxists see the electoral system stacked against the poor.† From a Marxist perspective, what seem like choices (such as choices of whom to vote for) are not really choices because the candidates are pre-selected by the parties, by the political elites and the political system.


Where liberal theorists see a society of consensus and compromise between groups, Marxists see exploitation and conflict.


An industrial revolution metaphor for capitalism



Some key terms:






Overproduction/ Over consumption


The fundamental role of capital/ Structuralism


If inequality is ever-present, why isn't there more rebellion?


Why do people acquiesce to authority?




Hegemony (cite Gramsci)


Cognitive Liberation


The New Social History


Split Labor Market, terminology from Edna Bonacich, cited repeately by Wilson.

††††††††††† Aspects of the Split Labor Market:

††††††††††† * Two different racial groups (black and white) earning different wages for the same job

††††††††††† * The racial division among workers is created and enforced by high earning workers but suits the interests of the capitalists.

††††††††††† * Higher earning workers (whites) can reduce competition from lower wage ethnic groups by creating a racial caste system, or by creating systems of exclusion (i.e., immigration bans).

††††††††††† * Weakness and poverty make the lower status ethnic group more threating to high wage workers.

††††††††††† * The mere possibility of an influx of lower-wage workers can lead to a violent racial backlash from higher wage workers.

††††††††††† * Blacks in the US were historically excluded from the early industrial unions, then blacks were used as strike breakers by factory owners.



A three stage view of US race and labor relations history from Wilsonís Declining Significance of Race

Antebellum South/ Pre-Industrial, pre-1865

Early Industrialization/ Jim Crow

After Civil Rights (i.e. post 1965)

Marxist race relations in the south because the planter aristocracy was completely in control

Split Labor Market because poor whites in the South and North were fighting to keep blacks from infringing on their wages and their rights. Racial conflict magnified by the Great Migration, which put blacks into greater competition with whites.

Law prohibits unequal pay, so Split Labor Market no longer applies according to WJW.