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POLS323 Marxism: Classical and Contemporary

Major figures in classical and contemporary Marxism, criticisms of Marxism, and Marxist analysis of current issues including alienation, inequality, economic crisis, imperialism, war, climate change, media bias, and democracy.

This paper will complement and traverse themes in the political theory, international relations, comparative politics and domestic politics streams in Politics.

Paper title Marxism: Classical and Contemporary
Paper code POLS323
Subject Politics
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level POLS points or one of GEOG 210, GEOG 214, GEOG 228, GEOG 310, GEOG 328, GEOG 374, HIST 217, HIST 223, HIST 229, HIST 252, MFCO 102, MFCO 202, PHIL 227, PHIL 232, SOCI 202, GEND 201, GEND 208, GEND 308
Schedule C
Arts and Music

The course assumes that students have no prior knowledge of Marxism.

Teaching staff
Associate Professor Brian Roper
Paper Structure


  1. What is Marxism? Is Marxism Still Relevant? Why Classical and Contemporary Marxism?

Section 1: Laying the Foundations: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

  1. Karl Marx: Brief Biographical Sketch and ‘Marx in Soho’
  2. Karl Marx: Intellectual Significance, Biography and Historical Context
  3. Marx’s General Theory of History: Dialectical and Historical Materialism
  4. Marx's Critique of Capitalism: Analysing Capitalist Exploitation
  5. Marx's Critique of Capitalism: Analysing Capitalist Economic Crisis
  6. Marx's Critique of Capitalism: What is Alienation? What's Wrong with Liberal Democracy?
  7. Frederick Engels'; Contribution to Establishing Marxism: Biography, Early Development of Historical Materialism and Marxian Socialism, Dialectics, and Critical Analysis of Women's Oppression

Section 2: Classical Marxism: Overview, Context and Key Figures

  1. German Social Democracy, Classical Marxism and Vladimir Lenin's Theory of Revolution
  2. Marxist Conceptions of Socialist Organisation from Marx to Lenin and Beyond
  3. Rosa Luxemburg: Reform or Revolution?
  4. Rosa Luxemburg: The Mass Strike and Luxemburg's Critique of the Bolsheviks
  5. Leon Trotsky: The Fight Against Stalinism
  6. Antonio Gramsci: Hegemony and Contradictory Consciousness
  7. Georg Lukacs: History and Class Consciousness
  8. The Classical Marxist Vision of Socialism: Revolution, Socialism and Participatory Democracy

Section 3: Contemporary Marxism

  1. Marxist Economics: The Global Financial Crisis and its Aftermath
  2. The Political Economy of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Great Lockdown, and its Aftermath
  3. Marxist Educational Sociology: Neoliberalism's War on Higher Education
  4. Marxist International Relations: Imperialism and the Causes of War
  5. Applying Marxism in Practice: Trotskyism and The International Socialist Tradition
  6. Marxist Ecology: Analysing the Causes of Resource Depletion, Habitat Destruction, and Global Warming
  7. Socialist and Marxist Feminism: Capitalism, Gender Inequality, Intersectionality and Women's Liberation
  8. Digital Disconnect: The History and Political Economy of the Internet
  9. The Ideological Bias of the Corporate Media: Manufacturing Consent?

Conclusion: Results and Prospects

  1. The Democratic Socialist Alternative to 21st Century Capitalism
Teaching Arrangements

Two 50-minute lectures, plus a 50-minute tutorial that runs on from the second weekly lecture.


Core text:
Paul D'Amato, The Meaning of Marxism, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2014.

There is also a course reader. Other key sources are available in the Reserve Section of the Central Library.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Information literacy, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this paper will be able to:

  • Recognise the central figures in Classical Marxism
  • Understand some of the most important theoretical ideas in the Marxist tradition
  • Understand the central features of Marxian (and critical realist) methodology
  • Understand some of the most common and influential academic criticisms of Marxism and the responses to these criticisms by contemporary Marxist scholars
  • Recognise internationally influential contemporary Marxist scholars
  • Understand how Marxists analyse a number of important contemporary issues including the Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath, imperialism and war, gender inequality, global warming, neoliberalism and tertiary education, political economy of the internet, and pro-business media bias.
  • Provide a considered and informed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Marxist tradition of thought
  • Apply Marxist concepts in order to make sense of current events and issues and also to better understand the relationship between biography, social structure and historical change

Thus, a major outcome is "the development in graduates of lifelong learning skills so that graduates are prepared to go on learning after graduation".

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 15:00-15:50 9-14, 16, 18-22
B1 Thursday 15:00-16:50 9-13, 22
Thursday 15:00-17:50 14, 16-21