question from a novice

hfspc002 at hfspc002 at
Mon Jan 23 09:55:45 MST 1995

On Mon, 23 Jan 1995 HIST14 at wrote:

> My question for the members of this list is: where do I start?  Do I start
> with Marx himself (which seems logical), and if so, where in that huge pile
> of writings would be best to begin?  Or should I start with more recent

Begin with "Marx himself," absolutely.  Not out of reverence for some
"Master text" but because "Marx himself" will be mind-blowing while
"secondary" sources will dilute and mystify all the good parts.
Embarassingly enough, I "quit" reading Marx before I had barely begun
because so many appropriations of Marx made reading Marx seem profoundly
boring; it was only being forced to read "Marx himself" that brought me
back to a dialogue with "Marxism."  In any case, as for where to begin,
that depends how you want to approach Marx.  My personal choice is page 1
of Capital -- even if you never read the entire thing the first few
chapters explain a lot (about "Marx," about "Marxism," even about "post-"
and "neo-" Marxism, not to mention about power, economy, and the state).
But that's only my favorite because that's where I was told to begin; I
imagine you might have similar results starting with something like the
18th Brumeire.  I guess my only caution would be to stay away from
something like the Econ. & Philosophical Manuscripts at first just because
it requires a bit of Hegel to grapple with.

> writers?  And where would I look to find out about all these different
> Marxist traditions or to learn the distinction between a neo-Marxist and
> a post-Marxist.  This is just overwhelming.  I hope someone can help me out.

There are some good historical texts about "post-" and "neo-" Marxism that
might help; one good way to place some of this in historical context is to
read Anderson's In The Tracks of Historical Materialism or something like
that.  Althusser and Gramsci are both important figures, I think, in the
post- & neo- thing... "Ideology and ISAs" I guess is the canonical
Althusser text but be sure to check out "Marxism and Humanism" as well,
and for Gramsci the last section of the Prison Letters ("The Study of
Philosophy," I think) is really enlightening.

In any case all these suggestions represent my own biases & experiences
reading Marx and Marxism... I'm sure others on the list will add other
good suggestions and you'll be just as overwhelmed as you already are :)
The best thing to do is pick a place and dive in.... it will be difficult
but highly rewarding.

Good luck!

Ben Attias


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