Marx Myths & Legends

Peter Stillman

The Myth of Marx’s Economic Determinism

Karl Marx is often represented as an "economic determinist" who credited economic structures with a basic determining role in just about every aspect of human life, and simple models such as "base"/"superstructure" are often invoked to support this. Whilst it may be true that Marx understood individuals to have the scope for meaningful thought and action determined by their social context, as Peter G. Stillman shows, it does not follow that there is a direct causal relationship between "economic" circumstances and spheres such as religion, politics or culture.

Source: “The Myth of Marx’s Economic Determinism” was written for Marx Myths and Legends by Peter G. Stillman, in April 2005, and rights remain with the author, as per Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Licence 2.0.

Biographical information

Peter G. Stillman is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program in Environmental Studies at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.A. He has been teaching Marx there since 1970 and he has published five articles on Marx:
"A Critique of Ideal Worlds: Hegel and Marx on Modern Utopian Thought," in G. Saccaro del Buffa and Arthur O. Lewis, eds., Utopie per Gli Anni Ottanta: Studi Interdisciplinari sui temi, la storia, i progetti (Roma: Gangemi, 1986), pp. 635-673.
"Hegel, Marx, and Dialectic Theory" [review essay], International History Review III, no. 2 (May 1986), pp. 288-93.
"Marx's Enterprise of Critique," in J. Roland Pennock, ed., Marxism (NOMOS Series; New York: New York University Press, 1983), pp. 252-76.
"Scarcity, Sufficiency, and Abundance: Hegel and Marx on Material Needs and Satisfaction," International Political Science Review 4, no. 3 (Summer 1983), pp. 295 310.
"Property, Freedom, and Individuality in Hegel's and Marx's Political Thought," in J. Roland Pennock, ed., Property (NOMOS Series; New York: New York University Press, 1980), pp. 130-67.
He has also published articles on Hegel's political thought, ecological political theory, utopian thought, and aspects of French thought. He co-translated and co-edited a new version of Rouseau's Confessions and has just co-edited The New Utopian Politics of Ursual Le Guin's The Dispossessed, in which he also published a chapter on "The Dispossessed as Ecological Political Theory."

See also: for a full listing of his publications and other professional matters. The website does show his dog but does not indicate that he plays ice hockey and golf when he can.