Skip to main content

The Legacy of Karl Marx

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Handbook of the History of Economic Thought

Part of the book series: The European Heritage in Economics and the Social Sciences ((EHES,volume 11))

  • 3888 Accesses


The citation of Blaug’s book, written in the tradition of the Whiggish mainstream, hints at the fact that Marx is still a challenge after the breakdown of the communist world at the end of the 1980s. Almost all modern sociological (for example Weber) and economic approaches are to a great extent a reaction to Marx’ (and Engels’) theory and critique of capitalism as a system of exploitation. Who was this German intellectual who had such an immense international impact on the history of thought and policy? Born in Trier in 1818, he enrolled at the University of Bonn at 17 to study law where he came under the influence of the radical Hegelian philosophy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 169.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 219.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 219.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. 1.

    Like most present day authors, Blaug severely criticizes Marx’ economic and social theory (for example 1997, p. 274). In the following we will argue against this tide in the better historian of economic thought tradition, that is, we will not criticize Marx’ theory from the confines of another “modern” system of economic thought and dominant public preconceptions. Instead, we will first try to understand Marx from the background of his time, his intentions and theoretical allegations and measure Marx according to the criteria of his own system.

  2. 2.

    For example the marginal revolution, the Austrian and Historical school, and at least the early general equilibrium and neo-classical theories.

  3. 3.

    The publication of the writings of Marx and Engels has not been finished yet; on the publication history of their works see Honneth (1999). There are two main series in German, the selected Marx-Engels-Werke (MEW) and the complete edition, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), both originally published in Russian. The excellent subject index is the best and easiest way to study what Marx and Engels themselves really said. The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, begun in 1975, based on MEGA, published by Lawrence and Wishart (London) and International Publishers (New York) were only partially as not available for us in Germany.

  4. 4.

    See for example Engel’s book on Die Lage der arbeitenden Klassen in England (MEW 2, pp. 228 ff.), first published in 1845. The criticism of the living and working conditions of that time are apparent in almost every sentence Marx and Engels wrote.

  5. 5.

    See the orthodox reconstruction of Marx’ class theory in Mauke (1971).

  6. 6.

    These dichotomies are explained in detail in Rutherford (1996) who shows that these basic orientations are still in the background of more recent discussions between different schools in economics, for example between old and new institutionalism.

  7. 7.

    In 1845, Marx and Engels already explained that socialism in one or some countries is an impossibility and could only end up in state capitalism with a new ruling class (see for example Djilas 1996), which lets the old state apparatus unchanged (MEW 3, pp. 34–36).

  8. 8.

    See the critical and kind-hearted letters of the humanistic father to Marx (Ergänzungsband, pp. 616–640, in the following EB).

  9. 9.

    See the letters from Jenny to Marx (EB, pp. 641–655) which express a lot of sorrow and love from an educated background.

  10. 10.

    Marx major field was jurisprudence and minor in economics and philosophy.

  11. 11.

    Examples for his romantic over-zealous poetics can be found in the EB (pp. 602–615).

  12. 12.

    For a much more critical understanding of Marx’ personal equation see the bibliography of for example Raddatz (1975); to get a glimpse of the complexity of Marx’ personality compare Raddatz with Fromm (1961); see also McLellan (1973) and Berlin (1939). A fair and readable overview on the “angry giant’s” live, time and ideas can be found in Heilbroner (1989, pp. 136 ff.).

  13. 13.

    In Marx’ view, the proponents of a dispassionate value-neutral attitude and analysis usually take the existing social structure for granted and legitimize it (un)consciously. This insight gave rise to Marx’ ideology critiques, for example in the economic field in his “Theories on surplus value” (MEW 26).

  14. 14.

    See for example Autorenkollektiv (1973), and compare with for example Garaudy (1970).

  15. 15.

    A more balanced discussion of Marx comes as part of the peace dividend after the end of the cold war.

  16. 16.

    For the profound impact of Hegel and Feuerbach on Marx see for example Avineri (1971).

  17. 17.

    Marx and Engels (1969).

  18. 18.

    This is no excuse of their historical short-term misinterpretations, often guided by the revolutionary hope that the proletarian revolution is just around the corner.

  19. 19.

    See for example Smith (1976, p. 277).

  20. 20.

    See for example Marx’ ironical but very true remarks in the EB (p. 564).

  21. 21.

    They have been elaborated more fully in for example Heller (1978, especially pp. 159 ff.).

  22. 22.

    Marx refers here to the distinction between the modes of having and being, see Fromm (1976).

  23. 23.

    Peukert (1994).

  24. 24.

    Wittfogel (1957) and Dutschke (1974).

  25. 25.

    Capital, vol. 1, Chap. 24. Sombart (1916, vol. 2, pp. 702 ff.) for example argued that historically it is more correct to say that manufactures and factories existed side by side from the inception and for a long time.

  26. 26.

    Dobb (1967) and Sweezy (1957).

  27. 27.

    An impressive, very critical but informed survey on the main Marxist schools and debates can be found in Kolakowski (1978–1979).

  28. 28.

    Althusser (1969).

  29. 29.

    Grundrisse (1974/1857–1858, pp. 29–31).

  30. 30.

    Weber (1968), Parsons (1966), and Luhmann (1998).

  31. 31.

    See for example EB, p. 551, MEW 3, pp. 32–33.

  32. 32.

    Smith also held a summing-up approach in which the three elements of income (labour, rent and profit) were added up; see Dobb (1973, Chap. 2).

  33. 33.

    We will not discuss other important and controversial aspects of Marx’ economic theory, for example his theory of absolute and differential rent and his schemes of reproduction; see for example Desai (1979).

  34. 34.

    We cannot elaborate this intricate problem further; see the review of the debate in Quaas (1992). The transformation problem has never been solved satisfactorily in the confines of a labour theory of value, but we do not know of any value theory without such central problems (for example how can we measure utility).

  35. 35.

    See for example Williamson (1987).

  36. 36.

    For this exercise we can take any modern mainstream textbook, for example Kreps (1990).

  37. 37.

    In his detailed and fair analysis of Marx’ thought, White shows in how far “the ground [for orthodox dialectical materialism in theory and praxis] had been prepared by Marx himself” (1996, p. 366). In Chap. 2, he highlights the romantic heritage in Marx which may explain much of his vision of society in the future.

  38. 38.

    Take the following sentence of the Communist Manifesto as an example: “The law, morality, religion, are for him so many bourgeois prejudices that hide just as many bourgeois interests” (Marx 1996, p. 11, MEW 4, p. 472). It may also be mentioned that the dialectical method was conducive as a diabolic instrument to justify inhuman activities. Unfortunately, Marx never wrote his promised book on method.

  39. 39.

    See for example the passages on private property and communism in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts (EB, pp. 533 ff.).

  40. 40.

    Marx was relatively sure that the increase in future wants could be compensated by technological innovations.

  41. 41.

    See Veblen (1995) and Frank (1985).

  42. 42.

    See the “century report” by the realistically enlightened Marxist Hobsbawm (1995).

  43. 43.

    As mentioned, the dogmatic aspect is already an undercurrent in Marx himself. It cannot be denied that dogmatic Marxism – besides the underdevelopment of Russia and the hostile environment after the revolution – is essentially responsible for the atrocities in the former communist countries. See Amalrik (1970) and Courtois (1998), the literary account by Köstler (1941), and the recent description of life under and after state communism by Bednarz (1998).

  44. 44.

    See the reconstruction of the debates and practical policies pursued in Elleinstein (1975), for the mostly unknown internal communist but heterodox debates see Wolter (1976).

  45. 45.

    As one of the examples for a further theoretical development see Hilderding (1947).

  46. 46.

    It is a fact that almost all leading members of the German green party who have official posts now are former members of diverse Marxist groups.

  47. 47.

    Reich (1945) and Marcuse (1966).

  48. 48.

    Offe (1996).

  49. 49.

    Thompson (1997), Hobsbawm and to a certain degree the research of the French “Annales” school.

  50. 50.

    Abendroth (1967).

  51. 51.

    Haug (1993).

  52. 52.

    Knoedler et al. (1999).

  53. 53.

    Horkheimer and Adorno (1999); see also Jay (1996) and Demirovic (1999).

  54. 54.

    Habermas (1985).

  55. 55.

    See for example Castoriades (1997).

  56. 56.

    We can briefly define globalization by the emergence of supertrader nations, the slicing up of the value chains and the internationalization of capital flows. For a comprehensive analysis see Axelrod (1995) and Dicken (1992).

  57. 57.

    An account of globalism in a non-dogmatic Marxian perspective, emphasizing the economic, cultural, social and ecological limits of globalization is given by Altvater and Mahnkopf (1997); see also Hirst and Thompson (1996) with a Marxist bias. For a more general critical perspective see Mander and Goldsmith (1997). Bourdieu et al. (1998) offer many life histories on the negative impacts of globalization on individual destinies.

  58. 58.

    On Marx’ concept of nature see Schmidt (1993).

  59. 59.

    The broad reception of books like the globalization trap by Martin and Schumann (1989) and Forrester’s (1997) terror of the economy demonstrate that many people in Europe are very sceptical about the fundamental changes taking place.

  60. 60.

    In Europe, unemployment is high and wage deterioration is not so strong. In the US unemployment is much lower but wages are stagnating or sinking.

  61. 61.

    See the yearly United Nations Development Reports; in the three composite dimensions of income, health and education one third of all countries are falling behind, some of them also in absolute terms.

  62. 62.

    Reich (1991) argues that a cleavage in income and living chances between the 20% working in the symbolic-analytical realm and the 80% performing routine activities will take place and lead to major social disruptions if not counterbalanced by public policy.

  63. 63.

    See the intricate analysis of Henwood (1997), who shows how Marxist ideas can inspire research if applied in a non-dogmatic way.

  64. 64.

    Like the car, oil, banking, and insurance industries, see the data collection by Sherman (1996).

  65. 65.

    In for example Germany behind the official social market regulative institutions like collective agreements there is a silent revolution to erode classical labour contracts and insurance. Among these innovations, part time labour without insurance, fictitious working independence, the lengthening of the time of probation etc. become usual.

  66. 66.

    See the profound essay by Narr and Schubert (1994) who argue that the reconciliation between freedom, solidarity and material well-being becomes more and more problematic.

  67. 67.

    See the critical report on the disappearance of the civil spirit in America due to the increase in the pursuit of egoistic material self-interest by Bellah et al. (1996).

  68. 68.

    The dialectical relationship between a commercial world culture and reacting defensive fundamentalism is shown in Barber (1996).

  69. 69.

    The influence and policies of the internationally operating dream factories in the entertainment sector are discussed in Barnet (1994).

  70. 70.

    The (self-)alienating character of modern life and behaviour is for example demonstrated in Reheis (1996).

  71. 71.

    In the debate on ethics this has been worked out by Walzer (1989).

  72. 72.

    Sennett (1998) argues that a socially dysfunctional corrosion of character and not the ascent of the children of freedom (U. Beck) takes place in the modern, flexible, networking economies because what is good behaviour in the economy (“flexibility”) turns out to be a catastrophe in social relationships (“unreliability”). This makes people unhappy and they try to play multiple roles as a behavioural response. But this provokes behavioural and motivational double standards Marx already castigated in his Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts 150 years ago.

  73. 73.

    The humanization of human relations, the de-differentiation of the subsystems, technological and GDP growth, etc.


  • Abendroth W (1967) Antagonistische Gesellschaft und politische Demokratie. Luchterhand, Neuwied

    Google Scholar 

  • Althusser L (1969) For Marx. Allen Lane, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Altvater E, Mahnkopf B (1997) Grenzen der Globalisierung. Westfälisches Dampfboot, Münster

    Google Scholar 

  • Amalrik A (1970) Voyage involontaire en Sibérie. Gallimard, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Autorenkollektiv (1973) Einführung in den dialektischen und historischen Materialismus. Verlag marxistische Blätter, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • Avineri S (1968) The social and political thought of Karl Marx. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Axelrod RM (1995) Die Evolution der Kooperation. 3rd. edn. Munich Oldenbourg

    Google Scholar 

  • Barber B (1996) Jihad vs. McWorld. New York Ballentine Books

    Google Scholar 

  • Barnet RJ (1994) Global dreams. Simon and Schuster, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Bednarz K (1998) Ballade vom Baikalsee: Begegnungen mit Menschen und Landschaften. Europa Verlag, München

    Google Scholar 

  • Bellah RN et al (1996) Habits of the heart. University of California Press, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  • Berlin I (1939) Karl Marx: his life and environment. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Blaug M (1997) Economic theory in retrospect, 5th edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu P et al (1998) Das Elend der Welt, 2nd edn. Universitätsverlag Konstanz, Konstanz

    Google Scholar 

  • Burchardt M (1997) Marxistische Wirtschaftstheorie. Oldenbourg, München

    Google Scholar 

  • Castoriades C (1997) The Castoriades reader. In: Curtis DA (ed) Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Courtois S (1998) Das Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus. Piper, Munich

    Google Scholar 

  • Demirovic A (1999) Der nonkonformistische Intellektuelle: Die Entwicklung der Kritischen Theorie zur Frankfurter Schule. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • Desai M (1979) Marxian economics. Basil Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Dicken P (1992) Global shift. Chapman, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Djilas M (1996) The new class: an analysis of the communist system. Unwin Books, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Dobb MH (1967) Studies in the development of capitalism. International Publishers, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Dobb M (1973) Theories of value and distribution since Adam Smith. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Dutschke R (1974) Versuch, Lenin auf die Füße zu stellen. Wagenbach, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Elleinstein J (1975) L’U.R.S.S., 4 vols. Editions Sociales, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Flechtheim OK (1978) Von Marx bis Kolakowski. Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Köln

    Google Scholar 

  • Forrester V (1997) The economic horror. Continental Books, Glendale

    Google Scholar 

  • Frank RH (1985) Choosing the right pond. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Fromm E (1961) Marx’s concept of man. F. Ungar, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Fromm E (1976) To have or to be? Harper and Row, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Garaudy R (1970) Marxism in the twentieth century. Scribner, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Habermas J (1985) The theory of communicative action. Beacon Press, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Haug WF (1993) Elemente einer Theorie des Ideologischen. Argument-Verlag, Hamburg

    Google Scholar 

  • Heilbroner RL (1989) The worldly philosophers, 6th edn. Touchstone, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Heller A (1978) Philosophie des linken Radikalismus. VSA-Verlag, Hamburg

    Google Scholar 

  • Henwood D (1997) Wall street. Verso, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Hilderding R (1947) Das Finanzkapital. Dietz, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Hirst P, Thompson G (1996) Globalisation in question. Polity Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Hobsbawm E (1995) Age of extremes. Joseph, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Honneth A (1999) Aus der Werkstatt eines kritischen Gelehrten: Die Marx-Engels-Ausgabe wird im Akademie-Verlag fortgesetzt, Frankfurter Rundschau, 13 March 1999, p ZB 3

    Google Scholar 

  • Horkheimer M, Adorno TW (1999) Dialectics of enlightenment. Verso, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Jameson F (1996) Actually existing Marxism. In: Makdisi S et al (eds) Marxism beyond Marxism. Routledge, New York, pp 14–54

    Google Scholar 

  • Jay M (1996) The dialectical imagination. University of California Press, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  • King JE (ed) (1990) Marxian economics, 3 vols. Edward Elgar, Aldershot

    Google Scholar 

  • Knoedler J et al (1999) Essays in political economy: an introduction to Marx, Veblen, Keynes. Bucknell, Mimeo

    Google Scholar 

  • Kolakowski L (1978–1979) Die Hauptströmungen des Marxismus, 3 vols. Piper, Munich

    Google Scholar 

  • Köstler A (1941) Darkness at noon. Cape, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Kreps DM (1990) A course in microeconomic theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Luhmann N (1998) Observations on modernity. Stanford University Press, Stanford

    Google Scholar 

  • Mander J, Goldsmith E (eds) (1997) The case against the global economy. San Francisco Sierra Club Books

    Google Scholar 

  • Marcuse H (1966) One dimensional man. Beacon Press, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Martin H-P, Schumann H (1989) Die Globalisierungsfalle. Rowohlt, Reinbek

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx K, Engels F (1940) The German ideology, Parts I and III, The Marxist-Leninist Library. Western Printing Services, Bristol

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx K (1974) Grundrisse. Dietz Verlag, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx K (1975a) Reflections of a young man on the choice of a profession. In: Marx K, Engels F (eds) Collected works, vol 1. International Publishers, New York, pp 3–9

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx K (1996) Later political writings. In: Carver T (ed) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx K, Engels F (1969) Deutsche Geschichte im 19. In: Fetscher I (ed) Jahrhundert. Fischer, Frankurt

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx K, Engels F (1974 ff.) Marx-Engels-Werke (MEW). Dietz Verlag, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx, K, Engels F (1998), “Capital,” vol. 3, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Collected works, vol. 37. International Publishers, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Mauke M (1971) Die Klassentheorie von Marx und Engels. Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • McLellan D (1973) Karl Marx: his life and thought. McMillan, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Myrdal G (1953) The political element in the development of economic theory. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Narr W-D, Schubert A (1994) Weltökonomie: Die Misere der Politik. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • Nove A (1995) An economic history of the U.S.S.R. Penguin Viking, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Offe C (1996) Modernity and the state. Polity Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Parsons T (1966) Societies. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs

    Google Scholar 

  • Peukert H (1994) Das klassische griechische Wirtschaftssystem und der Wirtschaftsstil unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Geld- und Bankwesens. Schriftenreihe des Forschungsprojekts Wirtschaftssysteme im historischen Vergleich, Frankfurt

    Google Scholar 

  • Quaas F (1992) Das Transformationsproblem. Metropolis, Marburg

    Google Scholar 

  • Raddatz FJ (1975) Karl Marx: Der Mensch und seine Lehre. Heyne, Munich

    Google Scholar 

  • Reheis F (1996) Die Kreativität der Langsamkeit. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt

    Google Scholar 

  • Reich W (1945) Character analysis. Organe International Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Reich R (1991) The work of nations. Knopf, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Roemer JE (1978) Neoclassicism, Marxism, and collective action. J Econ Issues 12:147–161

    Google Scholar 

  • Rutherford M (1996) Institutions in economics: the old and the new institutionalism. Camnbridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Sarkar S (1999) Eco-socialism or eco-capitalism. Zed Books, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmidt A (1993) Der Begriff der Natur in der Lehre von Marx, 4th edn. Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg

    Google Scholar 

  • Sennett R (1998) Der flexible Mensch. Berlin-Verlag, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Sherman HC (1996) Globalisierung: Transnationale Unternehmen auf dem Vormarsch. Ifo-Schnelldienst 49:3–13

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith A (1976) The wealth of nations. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Solzenicyn AI (1974) The Gulag archipelago. Harvill Press, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Sombart W (1916, 1927) Der moderne Kapitalismus, 3 vols. Duncker and Humblot, Munich

    Google Scholar 

  • Sraffa P (1972) Production of commodities by means of commodities. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Sweezy PM (1957) The transition from feudalism to capitalism. People’s Book House, Patna

    Google Scholar 

  • Thompson EP (1997) The romantics. Merlin Press, Suffolk

    Google Scholar 

  • Tönnies F (1991) Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt

    Google Scholar 

  • Veblen TB (1995) The theory of the leisure class. Penguin Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Vivelo FR (1978) Cultural anthopology handbook. New York, McGraw-Hill

    Google Scholar 

  • Walzer M (1989) Spheres of justice. Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Weber M (1968) Economy and society. In: Roth G, Wittich C (eds), 2 vols. Bedminster Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Williamson O (1987) Antitrust economics. Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Wittfogel KA (1957) Oriental despotism. Yale University Press, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolff RD, Resnick SA (1988) Economics: Marxian versus neoclassical. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolter U (ed) (1976) Die linke opposition in der Sowjetunion, 3 vols. Olle und Wolter, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Helge Peukert .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Peukert, H. (2012). The Legacy of Karl Marx. In: Backhaus, J. (eds) Handbook of the History of Economic Thought. The European Heritage in Economics and the Social Sciences, vol 11. Springer, New York, NY.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics