Marxism is a philosophical, political and social movement derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1829 – 1895) in the second half of the 19th Century. It is a theoretical-practical framework based on the analysis of “the conflicts between the powerful and the subjugated” with working-class self-emancipation as its goal. It promotes a pure form of Socialism and provides the intellectual base for various subsequent forms of Communism.
According to Karl Marx, it is class struggle (the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests) that is the means of bringing about changes in a society’s mode of production, and that structures each historical period and drives historical change. Marx believed that a socialist revolution must occur in order to establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” with the ultimate goal of public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
The other major element of Marx’s philosophy, and one which underlies much of the rest of his work, is his theory of Historical Materialism (or the Materialist Conception of History), his attempt to make history scientific. It is based on the principle of Dialectical Materialism (a synthesis of Hegel‘s theory of Dialectics and the idea that social and other phenomena are essentially material in nature, rather than ideal or spiritual) as it applies to history and societies. Societies, and their cultural and institutional superstructures, naturally move from stage to stage as the dominant class is displaced by a new emerging class in a social and political upheaval. Although arguably more a political ideology than a philosophy as such, Marxism clearly has a major philosophical element in it, and that philosophy is essentially Hegelian in character. For more details, see the section on the doctrine of Marxism.
The unattributed content in this blog was written by Renaissance man, Luke Mastin. It is part of a series of blogs called “Philosophical Fundamentals” on Values of the Wise. It appears in a truncated format on a neat site called Philosophy Basics, and Luke’s other website is available here.
As a philosopher, Marx was influenced by a number of different thinkers, including the Kantian and German Idealist Immanuel Kant; the Hegelians Georg Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 – 1872); the British political economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo (1772 – 1823); and French social theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Fourier (1772 – 1837), Henri de Saint-Simon (1760 -1825), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865), Flora Tristan (1803 -1844) and Louis Blanc (1811 – 1882).
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1829 – 1895) first met in person in 1844. The defining document of Marxism and Communism is “The Communist Manifesto”, published jointly by Marx and Engels in 1848. The first volume of “Das Kapital” (Marx’s ambitious treatise on political economy and critical analysis of capitalism and its practical economic application) was published in 1867, with two more volumes edited and published after his death by Engels. For the most part, these works were collaborations and, while Marx is the more famous of the two, he was strongly influenced by Engels’ earlier works, and Engels was also responsible for much of the interpretation and editing of Marx’s work.
Imagine a Republican saying this: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our friends at Fox News or in the Tea Party. They’d likely label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor propaganda. ~ E. J. Dionne
The first large-scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers’ state into practice came with the Russian Revolution (or October Revolution) of 1917, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870 – 1924) and the Bolshevik Party (even though Russia was not an ideal candidate with a fully developed capitalist system, as Marxist theory prescribed). Despite Lenin’s exhortations, however, other countries did not follow suit, and attempted Socialist revolutions in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the newly-formed Soviet Union on its own.
Even in the early days of the Soviet Union, there were those, notably Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940) and Rosa Luxemburg (1870 – 1919), who claimed that the form of Communism adopted there (especially after Joseph Stalin took control after Lenin’s death in 1924) did not conform to Marxist theory, and much of the rest of the history of Socialism and Communism is replete with different factions claiming their legitimacy from Marxism.
‘Socialism’ is no more an evil word than ‘Christianity.’ Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches then Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.
Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary Communist parties all over the world, some of which were eventually able to gain power (e.g. the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba), and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People’s Republics) eventually became authoritarian states with stagnating economies, which caused much debate about whether Marxism was doomed in practice, or whether these nations were in fact not led by “true Marxists”.
By 1990, the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe had all abandoned Communist rule, and in 1991 the Soviet Union itself dissolved, leaving China, Cuba and some isolated states in Asia and Africa as the remaining bastions of Communism, although in most cases any identification with classical Marxism had long since disappeared.
In addition to the early Marxist pioneers (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg), mention should be made of the prominent later Marxist thinkers, including the Hungarian Georg Lukács (1885 – 1971), the German Karl Korsch (1886 – 1961), the Italian Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937), the German-American Herbert Marcuse (1898 – 1979), the French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980), the German Jürgen Habermas (1929 – ), the Algerian-French Louis Althusser (1918 – 1990), and the British Marxists E. P. Thompson(1924 – 1993), Christopher Hill (1912 – 2003), Eric Hobsbawm (1917 – 2012) and Raphael Samuel (1934 – 1996).
The economist Friedrich Hayek famously argued that market capitalism is better than central Soviet planning because it involves more people in decision making. But Hayek’s point holds true here: the German model is more effective than ours because it involves more people in decisions about what they do at work.
Here is a link to a smart opinion piece on democratic socialism and modern-day applications of Marxism in The Washington Post
I will now present some additional relevant quotations for your consideration. I welcome you to look up Marxism, economics, progressive economics, Socialism, social justice, economic justice and the like in this site’s free quotations database, The Wisdom Archive. It’s free, it’s deep, it’s broad, it’s diverse. With my compliments! ~ Jason
As even economists have conceded, the kind of person who maximizes those rewards with the brisk efficiency of a calculator — the famous Homo economicus— is happy, yet also by definition selfish. So what happens when our selfish campaign for happiness clashes, as it so often does, with the goals of others? ~ Stephen S. Hall
There was, for Karl Marx, an inherently exploitative dynamic within the capitalist system, for employers would always try to hire workers for less than they made from selling their products, then would pocket the difference as “profit.” Such profit was invariably hailed in the capitalist press as the employers’ reward for “risk-taking” and “enterprise,” but Marx insisted that these words were mere euphemisms for theft.
Soviet communism has been so successful in distorting and corrupting Marx’s ideas (and incidentally convincing the West that “Soviet Marxism” was the true interpretation of Marx) that it is very difficult to rid oneself of this distorted picture.
It is not needed, nor fitting here [in discussing the Civil War] that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effect to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded thus far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless. Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. ~ Abraham Lincoln
Yep, proud to be liberal. This is not to say that liberals cannot be tolerant to a fault, misguided, or Pollyannaish; they can. But c’mon, it’s not a derogatory term! – Communism was not synonymous with liberalism; it was an unjust, imperialistic bastardization of Marxism and socialism, which has vision and beauty marking it.
Marxism has been declared dead. Yet the questions Marx raised are still alive and pulsing, however the language and the labels have been co-opted and abused. What is social wealth? How do the conditions of human labor infiltrate other social relationships? What would it require for people to live and work together in conditions of radical equality? How much inequality will we tolerate in the worlds richest and most powerful nation? Why and how have these and similar questions become discredited in public discourse?
Few businesses show the skewed dynamics between employer and employees as clearly as Amazon. Its CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, with his wealth estimated at around $130 billion. He admits the near impossibility of spending these riches and commits $1 billion a year of his “Amazon winnings” to fund a personal project of space travel. Back on Earth, Amazon’s 560,000 employees earn a median salary of $28,000, its warehouse workers face strict efficiency targets that lead some to relieve themselves in trash cans, and hundreds of Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania-based workers are on food stamps. ~ Richard D. Wolff
…the real purpose of Socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.
I have spent a good deal of my life trying to write a history of labor’s century-long fight for progressively shorter work hours, and the accompanying dream of what Walt Whitman called the higher progress. This… [refers to] the confident expectation that economic progress was paving the way to humane and moral progress. After providing for the material necessities of life, technology would free us, increasingly, for better things. Eventually we would have plenty of time for family, friends, beauty, joy, creativity, God and nature. ~ Benjamin Hunnicutt
All I know is that I am not a Marxist.
The issue of economic justice, the issue of poverty, is the basis of most of the rest of the problems we have.
In his groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Immanuel Kant had argued that behaving morally towards others required one to respect them “for themselves” and not use them as a “means” to one’s own enrichment or glory. With reference to Kant, Marx now accused the bourgeoisie, and its new science of economics, of practicing “immorality” on a grand scale.
One of the darkest sides to the market economy that came to light was the large and growing inequality that has left the American social fabric, and the country’s economic stability, fraying at the edges: the rich are getting richer while the rest were facing hardships that seemed inconsonant with the American dream.
At their best, markets have played a central role in the stunning increases in productivity and standards of living in the past two hundred years. …[b]ut government has also played a major role in these advances, a fact that free-market advocates typically fail to acknowledge. On the other hand, markets can also concentrate wealth, pass environmental costs onto society, and abuse workers and consumers.
There is an answer ― a mechanism that can bring democracy into the workplace: worker cooperatives. Under the cooperative model, workers have decision-making power that corresponds to the risks and productivity of their employment. Each worker gets an equal vote on decisions, which are made on a majority basis. All share democratically in the company’s gains and losses. If mistakes are made that threaten, weaken or even destroy the enterprise, those mistakes will flow from the affected workers’ democratic decisions. ~ Richard D. Wolff
Consider that in 1964 the four most valuable American companies, with an average market capitalization of $180 billion (in 2011 dollars), employed an average of 430,000 people. Forty-seven years later, the largest American companies were each valued at about twice their former counterparts but were accomplishing their work with less than one-quarter of the number of employees.
There is a theme that threads through and ties together all the strands: many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great – the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself – to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.
Socialism has known increments of success, basic failure and massive betrayal. Yet it is more relevant to the humane construction of the twenty-first century than any other idea. ~ Michael Harrington
Arguments over the putative specificity of the Nordic model; the time, effort and sacrifices involved in a potential American move in that direction; the moral hazards of its pursuit; and the ordering of particular American priorities all seem like worthwhile ones to me. And I think that the stakes are high enough here — whether you much agree with my prescription, it’s hard to dispute the diagnosis that American liberalism is groaning under its burdens — to address them in good faith. ~ Elizabeth Bruenig