Marxist theory has been applied to a number of literary endeavors, in part because that theory is so spot-on about the relations of production and the conflict between the ruling class and the working class. So prescient was much of Marx’s economic theory that today it is not beyond ridiculous to apply a Marxist interpretation to something as seemingly disconnected from the real world as…SpongeBob SquarePants. And yet, it is theoretically sound to impress a reading upon that cartoon which situates restaurant owner Mr. Krabs as the very image of a greedy capitalist who exploits his employees to a criminal degree which leaves workers like Squidward and SpongeBob himself into two different examples of a state of alienation from the product they create to the point eventually part of Krabs’ agenda as a business owner is to stimulate and maintain policies of distraction to keep both workers from arriving at a consciousness of their role as exploited cog in the machine. While such a critical interpretation might seem to spring directly from the pages of Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, the truth is that the real turning point of Marxism which has facilitated its point of strength within the arena of critical engagement came with the publication of the generally less famous The German Ideology.
Published in 1846, The German Ideology represents the point at which Marxism as most people understand it (or, more often, misunderstand it) as it is the publication that collects and forwards ideas which Marx can finally call his own, rather than ideas highly influenced and inspired by those of Hegel. It is the Hegelian quotient that was still underlying Marxian concepts as late as his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, published—as should be obvious—two years before The German Ideology. The nature of what gets kicked out of Marxism with this turn of direction is the notion of self and the subsequent distancing objectification of all external stimuli. What is welcomed into Marxist critical thought and, indeed, will become the foundation for nearly ever published work that follows are conceptual elements revolving around the relations of production, class warfare, the value of working individual versus the importance of capital and even, yes, the coming Armageddon when the proletariat achieve class consciousness and goes to war against the bourgeoisie.
In fact, the long history of Marxist revolutions around the world and the longed-for hope of some kind of Marxist-inspired revolution to stem the tide of runaway capitalism that has left 90% of the world’s richest in the hands of less than 10% of the world’s greediest human beings really begins here in the pages of The German Ideology more so than in The Communist Manifesto. Spread throughout the pages of his influential text is a specter of the whole of world history being a struggle between the classes of the haves and the have-nots. Even more to the point is that The German Ideology consistently presents a vision of this struggle as a conflict that must eventually be resolved through the act of revolution. Those who would present The Communist Manifesto as Marx’s guide to violent confrontation between the despotism of capitalism and the hope for future equality that is socialism have gotten it wrong.
The German Ideology is an ideology of revolution through the unification of the workers of the world.