Marxist Theory Marxist Theory

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Marxist Theory Marxist Theory

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Marxist Theory


Marxist Theory

-Based on philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-1883)

-German philosopher and economist

“Whoever controls the means of production (factories) in a society controls society.”


What do Marxists believe?


and keeping economic power is the motive behind all social and political activities

(education, philosophy, religion, government, the arts, science, technology, the media)


Economics is the base and the social/political and ideological realities are built on top of it



There’s Two Kinds of People in the World:

Bourgeoisie (haves) – those who control the world’s natural, economic, and human resources

Proletariat (have


) – the majority of the population who perform the manual


that keeps the wealthy rich.

Question: what would happen if the proletariat banded together (all voted one way? Boycotted a company?)


Hey Baby, Nice Class

Five basic groups in Western society:



lower class (limited career/educational opportunities),


class (own a home/car, can send kids to college),

upper class (two homes, nice vacations, luxury car, etc), the super-rich (the American ‘aristocracy’)


Fight the power!

Marxists believe the lower classes are held back by ideologies

Ideology: a belief


Undesirable (negative) ideologies promote repressive political agendas

; to be accepted by the citizens, they pass themselves off as “natural”


1. Classism


ideology that equates your value as a human being with the social class to which one



2. Patriotism

Keeps poor

from country A fighting against poor from country B while the military-industrial complex rakes in the profits


3. Religion

Religion is used

to keep the poor satisfied with their lot in life (e.g. with the promise of a better afterlife)


4. Consumerism


can be as “good” as a richer person if I buy the same things;



profits for the wealthy who manufacture those products


5. Alienated Labour


factory workers produce only a small part of the whole


are disconnected from the products and the value of their





warn against seeing people and things only for what they can do for us.

Marxists propose that we think about things/people as having three different values


A) Use Value

Buy a

book for the pleasure of reading, or a doorstop. Useful


Date a guy because he’s funny and has a nice smile.


B) Exchange Value


sell the book for money to buy something else

I go on a date with a guy because I think he’ll take me somewhere fancy and pay!


C) Sign-Exchange Value


carry the book around so people will see it and think I’m smart/that book cost a lot!

I go on a date with a guy because he’ll introduce me to other rich

people and make my friends jealous


Marxist Theory

Literature is a reflection of culture, and culture can be influenced by literature….

…which means that literature can instigate revolution!


Questions Marxists ask

Does the work reinforce (intentionally or not) capitalist or classist values? Critics should expose and condemn that agenda.

How might the work critique capitalism or classism? Critics should recognize if a text has a Marxist agenda.

Is the work ideologically conflicted (e.g. condemns some capitalism but also celebrates overconsumption?)

How does the text reflect (intentionally or not) the socioeconomic conditions of the time it was written or set?

How might the work be seen as a critique of organized religion? Does religion in the text function to keep a character(s) from resisting oppression?


Marxist Video


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