Approaching Marx’s Theory
This chapter emphasizes the extent to which significant social and political theories are not merely expressions of philosophy and intellectual comprehension. Rather, they are shaped by the actual social, economic, and political contexts in which they develop, and forged in processes of contestation that often involve profound divisions within society. This has been demonstrated by the work of Neal Wood and Ellen Meiksins Wood to be true with respect to the whole “canon” of Western political theory, and is no less true of the ideas of Karl Marx. While these ideas were deeply influenced by the far-reaching social, political, and cultural legacies of the French Revolution, and its many unresolved political issues, they also developed in response to the emerging social and economic relationships specific to capitalist production, as already systematized in the concepts of political economy. Although the politics of the French Revolution were grounded in the thoroughly precapitalist state and society of the ancien régime, and even in the mid-nineteenth century genuinely capitalist economic relations had barely spread beyond the English society in which they formed, Marx was able to discern their internal logic of development and emerging social domination through his critical encounter with political economy.