GV4G7      Half Unit
Marx and Marxism

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Jan Kandiyali


This course is available on the MSc in Political Theory. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 2 groups.

The deadline for applications is 17:00 on Tuesday 29 September 2020. You will be informed of the outcome by 17:00 on Wednesday 30 September 2020.

Course content

This course will provide a detailed assessment of Karl Marx’s political philosophy. It is divided into three sections. The first will focus on Marx’s early writings, which contain his critique of liberalism, his analysis of religion, and his depiction of alienated labour under capitalism. The second will consider the materialist theory of history, the view that history is characterised by the development of productive power, as well as his theory of the state and ideology. The third will focus on Marx’s economics and ethics: his view that capitalism is inherently exploitative and the vexed debate about whether such exploitation constitutes an injustice. In this part of the course we’ll also consider his vision of communism. In addition to the writings of Marx, we will also read some contemporary writings in the analytical Marxist tradition. The focus throughout will be on understanding and assessing Marx’s complex arguments. The course should be of interest to MSc students taking existing courses on liberalism and justice but also to students in Law, IR, Sociology, and International History.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. This course includes a reading week in LT Week 6.

Formative coursework

One formative essay of around 2,000 words.

Indicative reading

McLellan, D., Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000).

Cohen, G.A., Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000).

Elster, Jon, Making Sense of Marx (Oxford: OUP, 1985).

Wolff, Jonathan, "Karl Marx", Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.): https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/ 

Wood, Allen, W.  Karl Marx, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).


Gareth Stedman-Jones, Anthony Grayling and Frances Wheen talking about Marx's life and ideas: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9jg

Jonathan Wolff talking about Marx's concept of alienation: http://philosophybites.com/2008/05/jonathan-wolff.html 


Essay (80%, 3000 words) and blog post (20%).

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 31.4
Merit 62.8
Pass 5.8
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2019/20: 22

Average class size 2019/20: 10

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication