George C. Comninel
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POLS 3020
Utopia, Power and

POLS 3025
A Century of Revolution

POLS 4090
Classical Marxist Thought


Recommended Bibliography

Recommended Bibliography
Main Politics Website
POLS 4090  3.0

Classical Marxist Theory

Professor George C. Comninel 
Hours: Mon. 12:00-1:00; Wed. 12:00-1:00
Phone: 416-736-5265
S646a Ross Bldg.
This course is primarily concerned with the development of historical materialist thought by Karl Marx in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.  The course begins with Marx’s efforts in 1843 to clarify his radical political ideas by confronting the leading liberal and radical German political thought of the day.  We then will focus on the dramatic new direction that Marx’s thought took following his first encounter with the ideas of political economy, inspired by Frederick Engels, who had first-hand experience with the sort of capitalist society that political economy sought to describe. Marx’s critique of political economy – the theme central to his life’s work – will be explored both as the framework for developing his historical materialist method, and as the primary application of that methodology to the history of class societies.  

The goal of this exploration will be to reveal the general theoretical potential of historical materialist analysis through an appreciation of the historical specificity of its application to capitalism by Marx.  While on the one hand capitalism is a form of class society that emerged from a long history of class societies, it is on the other hand qualitatively different from all other societies in the apparently purely economic form that its class relations take. This historically unique character of capitalism will be seen to underpin Marx’s expectation that class struggle would bring about an epochal transformation of human social life, putting an end to the political domination and economic exploitation that has characterized the roughly ten thousand years known to history.  Marx’s political writings will be examined in light of this historical materialist analysis of the specificity of capitalism and its historical appearance. Particular attention will be paid to the issues raised by Marx’s presumption that capitalist society had been sufficiently established to form the basis for class politics across the whole of European society by the middle of the nineteenth century.  Finally, we will explore the connection between Marxist political ideas and political practice through an examination of Marx’s later political analyses.

Course Requirements – Undergraduate

Participation (incl. one 15-20 min. presentation) 30%
1 short analytical paper (1250-1500 words) 20%
1 one-page research paper proposal   5%
1 research paper (4000-5000 words) 45%


Karl Marx, Early Writings, Later Political Writings, and Capital (v.1) have been ordered for the bookstore.
All of these readings, as well as the other assigned readings, can be found on-lline. Follow the "Readings" link to access them.

The entire Marx-Engels Collected Works is available online, through York computers or using Passport York,  at :;brand=default
In addition, an extensive collection works by Marx and later Marxists is available at

Schedule of Lectures and Required Reading

Jan 10              Introduction and Overview

Jan 17            Issues of Historical Materialism: French Revolutions, Part I
G.C. Comninel, “Marx’s Context,” History of Political Thought, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 467-83
B. Nicolaievsky and O. Maenchen-Helfen, Karl Marx: Man and Fighter, pp. 1-60.
Recommended:  F. Engels, “Karl Marx”

Jan 24           Early Works:  1843
Early Writings: “Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of Law”; “On the Jewish Question”;
“Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction”

Jan 31            The Turning Point
Early Writings: 1844 Manuscripts (Note: read the section “Wages of Labour” first)
Recommended: Introduction by Colletti

Feb 7              The Original Political Project                    
Manifesto of the Communist Party

Feb 14            French Revolutions, Part II                 – SHORT ESSAY DUE –
The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Feb 21             Reading Week
Recommended: Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View

Feb 2             Foundations for the Critique of Political Economy - The Grundrisse    
Grundrisse, “Introduction”; Wood - "Historical Materialism in 'Forms which Precede Capitalist Production'"
Mar 7            Introducing the Critique of Political Economy - Capital   
Capital, Ch. I

Mar 14               Advancing the Critique of Political Economy - Capital    
Capital, Ch. I - XXII

Mar 21             Historicizing the Critique of Political Economy
Capital, Ch. XXIII - XXVIII
Recommended: “Labour Rent” (Capital, v. III, Ch. 47, Section II)
Mar 28            French Revolutions, Part III                  – PAPER PROPOSAL DUE –
The Civil War in France

Apr 4              Marx’s Politics of Revolution
Interview with Karl Marx; “Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy”;“Critique of the Gotha Programme”; “Circular Letter”;
Comninel, “Marx and the Politics of the First International”.

Apr 17                                                                        – TERM PAPER DUE –