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Reading Marx and Engels (Graduate)

By Marcus Rediker at the University of Pittsburgh

The course, offered at the request of graduate students, is designed to introduce the primary writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, which together constitute the origin of a body of theory that has had profound effects on the writing of history from its own day to the present. We will read these texts closely in order to understand the fundamental ideas of historical or dialectical materialism.

The works of Marx and Engels are available in many editions and translations, the biggest and most definitive being The Collected Works, which will eventually come to fifty volumes. There exist many collections of selected works, including those edited by Lewis S. Feuer, Karl Marx; Eugene Kamenka, The Portable Karl Marx; David McLellan, Karl Marx; and Robert C. Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader. Each contains some portion of our readings, and may be useful, but none has everything, and each tends to abridge texts we will read in their entirety.

Everyone should, at the beginning of the semester, read a general introduction to the lives and ideas of Marx and Engels. I would recommend Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx (1939); Frank Manuel, A Requiem for Karl Marx (1995); and David McLellan, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought (1974). Another book that will prove useful throughout the semester is Tom Bottomore, ed., A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, which offers useful short essays in definition of almost all major concepts and theories.

The class will meet weekly to discuss assigned readings. There will be a written assignment, due at the end of the semester, in which students will apply selected ideas of the course to their own fields and perhaps their own research projects. A preliminary schedule of readings, subject to change, follows.


  • Tom Bottomore, ed., A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (1983)
  • Frederick Engels, The Condition of The Working Class in England (1845)
  • Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884)
  • Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (1845-6)
  • Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848)
  • Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844)
  • Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)
  • Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations (from The Grundrisse, 1857-8).
  • Karl Marx, Capital, volume I (1867).

I recommend that you buy these books for your personal library.