Study/Discussion Questions on Marx's "Preface" and "Outline"

1. The brief text of the "Preface" is, with the exception of "The Communistic Manifesto" and perhaps the last of the "Theses on Feuerbach" Marx's most famous text, and it has got to be one of the most important two-page texts ever written. I'd urge everybody to read it two or three times, thinking about questions such as:

a. What are "relations of production"

b. What are "forces of production"

c. How are relations and forces of production related to one another?

d. What constitutes the "superstructure" of a society?

e. What are the relations between the superstructure and the relations and forces of production?

f. What is the underlying cause of social revolutions?

g. Why does "mankind always set itself only such tasks as it can solve" and how could Marx possibly know whether this claim was true?

h. Why are bourgeois productive relations the last antagonistic form of productive relations?

2. Marx claims (Outline, p. 1) that the independent individual is the culmination of history rather than its origin and impetus. Does this conflict with Mill's view that the laws of social development derive from the laws of individual psychology?

3. In Marx's views are there any general laws of society or economics? Does Marx think that it is a mistake to see general laws? (Outline pp. 2-3)

4. Marx argues that though it seems as if one should begin with the concrete complexity of society (9), one needs to "move analytically towards ever more simple concepts . . .towards ever thinner abstractions until [one had] arrived at the simplest determinations." One then needs to "retrace the journey" until the who is represented "as a rich totality of many determinations and relations" (10). What does he mean? How, if at all, is this related to Mill's view on the deductive method?

5. What, if any, connection is there between simpler concepts or "determinations" and historical order.

6. Marx maintains that "the most general abstractions arise only in the midst of the richest possible concrete development." What examples does he give of this? Why should it be true?

7. What do you make of his comments concerning Greek art?