What Is Capitalism? Theories of Marx and Marxism
Karl Marx gave his well-known work Capital the subtitle “A Critique of Political Economy”—not “how to be a communist,” or “why the Soviet Union is the best,” or “what is wrong with religion, freedom, and democracy.” Those non-existent subtitles describe some of the preconceptions many in the U.S. have about Marx and Marxisms, while the actual subtitle reminds us that Marx and Marxisms at their root simply try to examine the problems with both capitalism and the political and economic discourses that justify or ignore those problems. Today, many around the globe are also reflecting on capitalism’s problems, in the hope of imagining and realizing a better future. This course will trace some of the origins of that renewed inquiry, and examine its limits and possibilities in today’s world. First, we will introduce ourselves to the works of Marx and some of the varied traditions that have spun out of them, so no prior familiarity with that work or those traditions is required. By reading Marx’s own writings as well as social theory influenced by them, and by reading literature and watching film, art, and popular culture from around the globe, we will consider a diverse array of answers to questions like: How are activism and theory connected? How do racial, gender, economic, and political inequalities emerge and increase around the globe? Why does shopping make us feel so much pleasure, pain, or numbness? What was the relationship between Atlantic world slavery and capitalism, and how does racism thrive under capitalism? What are ideology and alienation? How might culture help us imagine our way out of the violence and inequality of social relations?