In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marx's Political Thought

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Biographies of Marx
  • Introductory Overviews of Marx’s Thought
  • More Substantial Studies of Marx’s Thought
  • Classical Marxist Developments of Marxism
  • The Present as a Historical Problem: Historical Materialism
  • Studies of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy
  • Applying Marx’s Critique of Political Economy

Political Science Marx's Political Thought
Paul Blackledge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0171


Karl Marx (b. 1818–d. 1883) is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential thinkers of the modern period. Nevertheless, although much of what he wrote has been sedimented into contemporary culture, many of his ideas, especially his political ideas, are far too scandalous ever to be fully incorporated into academic common sense. Part of the reason for this is that his legacy has consistently been attacked and misrepresented by individuals and groups who are, so to speak, on the other side of the barricades. At a much more interesting level, however, academic incomprehension of Marx’s thought is rooted in a structural gap between his totalizing methodology and academia’s tendency to fragment along disciplinary and sub-disciplinary lines. It is because Marx’s thought marks a profound break with this standpoint that any serious attempt to map his ideas onto the categories of modern academic thought will be fraught with dangers. Indeed, the deeply historical and revolutionary character of Marx’s thought makes it almost unintelligible from the essentially static perspective of modern theory. It is not that modern theory does not recognize change; it is rather that it tends to conceive it in effectively reformist terms: change is fixed within boundaries set by more-or-less naturalized capitalist social relations. Any attempt to write a study of Marx’s supposed political theory must therefore confront the problem that his thought cannot be fully incorporated within this standpoint. He was neither an economist nor a sociologist nor a political theorist, but his revolutionary theory involves the sublation of these (and more) categories into a greater whole. Consequently, though Marx’s thought can be said to have economic, political, and sociological, etc., dimensions, it cannot be reduced to an amalgam of these approaches, and critics should be wary of Procrustean attempts to fit aspects of his work into one or other academic sub-discipline, or indeed to reduce his conception of totality to a form of inter- or multi-disciplinarity. Specifically, whereas modern political theory tends to treat politics as a universal characteristic of human communities, Marx insists that it is a historical science: states, ideology, and law are aspects of broader superstructural relations that function to fix and reproduce minority rule within class-divided societies. Politics, from this perspective, is best understood as an epiphenomenon of the relations of production by which one class maintains its control over humanity’s productive interaction with nature: it has a beginning with the emergence of class societies, hopefully an end with what Marx calls the communist closure of humanity’s “pre-history,” and can only properly be understood by those involved in the struggle to overcome the conditions of its existence.


There are numerous Marxist journals available in the Anglophone world, each catering in differing degrees to academic and activist audiences from perspectives rooted in Marx’s legacy. The oldest continuously published journal on the English-speaking Marxist left is Science and Society, which was launched at the height of the “Popular Front” in 1936. Just over a decade later Monthly Review was launched in much less propitious circumstances at the beginning of the Cold War—and its editors faced the wrath of McCarthyism in the 1950s. Both journals were and continue to be open and independent vehicles of debate and analysis on the Marxist left. New Left Review, International Socialism, New Politics and Socialist Register were launched at the time of the British and American New Lefts at the turn of the 1960s and have continued publication as distinctive voices on the left long after the collapse of the movement that gave them life. Critique and Capital and Class came into being more than a decade later to cater to a new audience of ex-students who had been radicalized in the 1960s and subsequently moved into the academy. As the left went on the defensive in the 1980s, new journals such Capitalism Nature Socialism, Rethinking Marxism, Socialism and Democracy, and Studies in Marxism were launched to response to the crisis of Marxism as both social democracy and Stalinism retreated before neoliberal capitalism. More recently, since its launch in 1997 Historical Materialism has become an important voice on the academic Marxist left.

  • Capital & Class.

    Launched in 1977 by the Conference of Socialist Economists in the United Kingdom. The initial focus of Capital and Class was, as its title suggests, on economic issues. Subsequently, however, it has expanded its remit to include articles on all aspects of Marxist theory.

  • Capitalism Nature Socialism.

    Launched in 1988 by academics and activists in California, Capitalism Nature Socialism reflected a growing awareness that the emerging environmental crisis was a capitalist phenomenon best understood in terms drawn from but also extending Marx’s critique of political economy.

  • Critique.

    Launched in 1973 by Hillel Ticktin and others around him at Glasgow University, Critique is renowned for its analysis of Stalinism as a new and dysfunctional form of class rule and capitalism as an endemically crisis-prone system.

  • Historical Materialism.

    Launched in 1997 by British activists and academics many of whom were affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party, Historical Materialism was intended to be, and has largely succeeded in becoming, the leading Anglophone forum for debate and theoretical innovation on the academic Marxist left.

  • International Socialism.

    Launched in 1960 International Socialism was initially associated with a heterodox Trotskyist attempt by Tony Cliff and Michael Kidron to reorient the revolutionary left to the new postwar realities through, most importantly, their writings on Soviet state capitalism, the permanent arms economy as an explanation for the postwar boom, and “deflected permanent revolution” in the Third World. It has subsequently continued its focus on raising theory to the level of revolutionary practice and is linked to the British Socialist Workers Party.

  • Monthly Review.

    Launched in 1949 by independent Marxists in New York, Monthly Review became associated most importantly with the work on modern capitalism by Paul Baran and Paul Sweey and more recently with John Bellamy Foster’s contribution to a Marxist analysis of the environmental crisis.

  • New Left Review.

    Launched in 1960 by the merger of the two British New Left journals, Universities and Left Review and New Reasoner, New Left Review was initially conceived as a forum for activist debate. Very quickly thereafter it morphed into an austere academic journal under the auspices of Perry Anderson, Tom Nairn, and Robin Blackburn and subsequently played a key role as gatekeeper of ideas from the Continental left to the Anglophone world. After a brief flirtation with Trotskyism in the 1970s, NLR has since become associated with Anderson’s pessimistic anti-capitalism.

  • New Politics.

    Launched in 1961 by Julius and Phyllis Jacobson, New Politics is associated with Third Camp politics. This standpoint was most famously articulated in an essay first published in the journal in the journal in 1962: Hal Draper’s “The Two Souls of Socialism.” According to Draper, Marx’s ultra-democratic politics is best understood as a radical alternative to the statism of both Stalinism and social democracy which have more in common with each other than they do with his conception of socialism.

  • Rethinking Marxism.

    Launched in 1988 by academics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Rethinking Marxism was intended to confront the crisis of the left in the 1980s by literally rethinking Marxism in light not only of the retreat of the left over the 1980s but also of subsequent theoretical innovations beyond Marxism.

  • Science and Society.

    Launched in 1936 by left intellectuals close to or affiliated with the American Communist Party, Science and Society has nevertheless maintained itself as an independent and non-sectarian vehicle for debate on the Marxist left.

  • Socialism and Democracy.

    Launched in 1985 by academics and activists linked to the City University of New York, the initial editorial of Socialism and Democracy framed its future orientation to act as an arena of debate around a dual problematic: if modernization was to mean developing society as a whole then it needed to be through some form of socialism; while socialism and democracy are best understood not as alternatives but rather as two aspects of the same thing.

  • Socialist Register.

    Launched in 1964 on the basis of disagreements about the orientation of New Left Review, Socialist Register saw itself as continuing the socialist humanism associated with the New Reasoner tradition of the original New Left Review synthesis. It is an annual whose center of gravity has moved from England to Canada and the USA.

  • Studies in Marxism.

    Launched in 1993, Studies in Marxism is the in-house journal of the Marxism Specialist Group of the British Political Studies Association.

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