Marxism is the name given to a set of ideas, theories, and political ideologies that developed out of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The term itself is difficult to define due to conflicting interpretations. After Marx's death, the term Marxism came to describe a holistic worldview (German: Weltanschauung) that included theories of philosophy, history, politics, economics, and science.
Marxism is derived from the name of the German revolutionary Karl Marx. The term was popularized by Karl Kautsky who considered himself an "orthodox" Marxist during the dispute between the orthodox and revisionist followers of Marx. Kautsky's revisionist rival Eduard Bernstein also later adopted use of the term. Engels did not support the use of the term "Marxism" to describe either Marx's or his views. Engels claimed that the term was being abusively used as a rhetorical qualifier by those attempting to cast themselves as "real" followers of Marx while casting others in different terms, such as "Lassallians". In 1882, Engels claimed that Marx had criticized self-proclaimed "Marxist" Paul Lafargue, by saying that if Lafargue's views were considered "Marxist", then "one thing is certain and that is that I am not a Marxist".
It is difficult to establish a precise definition of Marxism, and different definitions may depend on the area of focus of different scholars, but it can roughly be defined as the application of the materialist method to the study of social phenomena. It regards the material reality and class conflict of a given society as driving forces behind its historical, social, and cultural development. Therefore, while Marxism begins with the study of history and society, it holds clear implications for philosophy, culture, human nature, and the history of human thought.
Marxist analysis begins with an analysis of material conditions, taking at its starting point the necessary economic activities required by human society to provide for its material needs. The form of economic organization, or mode of production, is understood to be the basis from which the majority of other social phenomena — including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology — arise (or at the least by which they are directly influenced). These social relations form the economic system, and the economic system, the superstructure. As the forces of production (technology, skill, productive methods) improve, existing forms of social organization become inefficient and stifle further progress. As Karl Marx observed:
At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.— Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Preface
These inefficiencies manifest themselves as social contradictions in society in the form of class struggle. Under the capitalist mode of production, this struggle materializes between the minority (the bourgeoisie) who own the means of production and the vast majority of the population (the proletariat) who produce goods and services. Since social change occurs through class struggle, this exploitative and oppressive relationship must lead to proletarian revolution, as capitalists, forced by falling profit rates, must drive down wages, cut social benefits and pursue military aggression, tending to lower the living standards of the laboring majority. The capitalist organization of society would be overthrown and succeeded by a socialist one in which the means of production are cooperatively operated and owned in common. According to Marxism, especially as arising from crisis theory, socialism is a historical necessity (but not an inevitability). [dubious ]
Instead of the pursuit of private profits, a socialist economy would pursue the satisfaction of human needs — that is, producing for use. As Engels observed:
Then the capitalist mode of appropriation, in which the product enslaves first the producer and then the appropriator, is replaced by the mode of appropriation of the products that is based upon the nature of the modern means of production: upon the one hand, direct social appropriation, as means to the maintenance and extension of production — on the other, direct individual appropriation, as means of subsistence and of enjoyment.— Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, Ch. 24
The complexity of Marx's writings allows for misreadings, misinterpretations, or misplacing emphasis, and even abuse. Placing emphasis on specific aspects of Marxist analysis produces differing branches of Marxism which may even de-emphasize or reject other aspects of Marxist thought or combine Marxist analysis with non-Marxian concepts. Some strains focus on one aspect of Marxism as the determining force in social development — such as the mode of production, class, power-relationships or property ownership — while diminishing others or arguing that current research makes them irrelevant. [example needed] Thus, despite sharing similar premises, different schools of Marxism might reach contradictory conclusions from each other; for instance, different Marxian economists have contradictory explanations of economic crises and different predictions for the outcome of such crises. Furthermore, different variants of Marxism apply Marxist analysis to study different aspects of society (e.g. mass culture, politics, or sexism). Marxist understandings of history and of society have been adopted in a wide range of academic fields, including archaeology, anthropology, media and culture studies, political science, history, sociology, economics, geography, literary criticism, and philosophy. The application of Marxist theory to a socialist political program is called (after Marx) scientific socialism. Marxism in total can be viewed as a world-outlook, although arguably, [who?] this comprehensive vision of Marxism originated with the efforts of Karl Kautsky, Friedrich Engels, and Georgi Plekhanov after Marx's death.
The Law of value
Revolution and dictatorship
Communism, in Marxism, is the supposed "end goal" of history. It is supposed to come after socialism, when the world is all socialist and opposition to such is virtually gone. It is a stateless, classless, and moneyless society.
Karl Marx wrote little about communism himself, since he believed that it would be rather pointless to speculate about something that would pretty much be determined by the material conditions of a time way after his, which would be nigh impossible to predict accurately. He considered it idealist to seriously theorize as to how communism will be like, as this would more or less impose what are merely one's ideas as to how communism will be like onto something that is largely determined by material conditions; in absence of actual evidence of such since once again, the material conditions of communism's time are speculative since the future hasn't happened yet, thus cannot really be studied scientifically. Nonetheless, there are a couple of occasions where Marx does write about it, for instance in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Therein he describes it as "the riddle of history solved" and as the resolution of various conflicts that have existed throughout all previous history: the conflicts between man and nature, between man and man, between freedom and necessity, and between individual and species.
There is also mention of communism in The German Ideology, where Marx suggests that in a communist society, the division of labor would not force people into narrow occupational roles. One could, as Marx writes, "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, breed cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I like, without ever becoming a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic". In the same passage, Marx claims that the split between the particular interests of the individual and the common interest of society would disappear under communism. This is in line with his earlier remarks about communism resolving such conflicts as that between man and man, and between the individual and the species, which is a notion crucial to Marx's vision of communism. Marx immediately goes on to say that it is out of this very contradiction between the interest of the individual and the community that the state develops as an independent entity. The overcoming of this contradiction in consequence delegitimizes the state, which thus withers away in time. [better source needed]
Marxism, as a system of thought, has undergone significant changes since Marx's early writings. In the last years of Marx's life the foundations were laid for a Marxism as a "worldview", specifically with the publication of Anti-Dühring by Friedrich Engels in 1877. In the following years this system of thought would become Orthodox Marxism which, aside from certain revisionist trends, would remain the "official" Marxism until the creation of the Soviet Union, at which point Leninist interpretation(s) would dominate Marxist ideological trends. The rise of Leninism, however, would also lead to criticism and innumerable alternative schools of thought within Marxism.
Classical Marxism: 1840s to 1880s
This period can be said to begin with Marx's early writings. In an 1843 letter, Marx outlined his attitude to philosophy, politics, and history:
"On the other hand, it is precisely the advantage of the new trend that we do not dogmatically anticipate the world, but only want to find the new world through criticism of the old one. Hitherto philosophers have had the solution of all riddles lying in their writing-desks, and the stupid, exoteric world had only to open its mouth for the roast pigeons of absolute knowledge to fly into it. Now philosophy has become mundane, and the most striking proof of this is that philosophical consciousness itself has been drawn into the torment of the struggle, not only externally but also internally. But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be. Therefore I am not in favour of raising any dogmatic banner. On the contrary, we must try to help the dogmatists to clarify their propositions for themselves."
Marx's system of thought would always remain critical in nature. Although he did give indications of how society would develop, he did not put forward grand schemes or plans for a futuristic society. In his 1881 notes on Adolph Wagner's General or Theoretical Economics, Marx wrote that he never established a "socialist system".
Engels on his role in the development of Marxism:
I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years' collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, but the greater part of its leading basic principles belongs to Marx ... Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name.
Despite his modesty, Engels' later writings such as Anti-Dühring helped lay the foundation for a reframing of Marxist ideas. This reframing or re-interpretation would transform Marx's theories into a comprehensive system of thought. This new ideology would later be called "worldview Marxism".
Orthodox Marxism: 1880s to 1910s
After Karl Marx's death, the followers of his ideas would begin to systematize his thought and reduce it to a series of doctrines that could be easily explained to adherents of the growing socialist movement. It was during this time that Marxist ideas became Marxism. As early as 1896, Karl Kautsky would describe Marx's ideas as Marxism and describe himself and other socialists as "we Marxists". This signalled the transformation of Marx's ideas into a coherent and all-encompassing worldview that included fields such as philosophy, history, economics, and politics.
"No one will deny that the most important element in the foundation of Marxism, the fundamental law so to say which penetrates the whole system, is its specific philosophy of history which bears the name of the materialist interpretation of history. With it Marxism stands or falls in principle; according to the measure in which it suffers limitations will the position of the other elements towards one another be affected in sympathy."
Not only was Marxism now a coherent worldview with its own philosophy and theory of history, but also presented as a kind of science which could be divided into parts that were "pure" and "applied":
"Everything in the Marxist characterisation of bourgeois society and its evolution which is unconditioned – that is, everything whose validity is free from national and local peculiarities – would accordingly belong to the domain of pure science; but everything that refers to temporary and local special phenomena and conjectures, all special forms of development, would on the other hand belong to applied science."
Nonetheless, this period of Marxist thought would later come under criticism for its reliance on overly "mechanical" and "theoretical" (i.e. non-practical) interpretations of Marxist thought, resulting in an alleged neglect of important problems regarding not only philosophy but also political issues.
In Marxism and Philosophy, Karl Korsch wrote:
"The so-called orthodox Marxism of this period (now a mere vulgar-Marxism) appears largely as an attempt by theoreticians, weighed down by tradition, to maintain the theory of social revolution which formed the first version of Marxism, in the shape of pure-theory. This theory was wholly abstract and had no practical consequences - it merely sought to reject the new reformist theories, in which the real character of the historical movement was then expressed as un-Marxist. This is precisely why, in a new revolutionary period, it was the orthodox Marxists of the Second International who were inevitably the least able to cope with such questions as the relation between the State and proletarian revolution."
Leninism: 1910s to 1920s
Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolsheviks, would advance even further the idea of Marxism as a weltanschauung, or worldview.
In a 1913 article, Lenin wrote:
"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism."
Lenin's ability to simplify Marxism into easily understood "doctrines" would prove to be of great use during the early growth of Leninist parties following the Russian Revolution. After his death, both Trotskyist and Marxist-Leninist parties would later rely on his formulations in defining and framing Marxism as an ideology.
Western Marxism and Marxism-Leninism: 1920s to 1980s
A new school of thought within Marxism developed during the 1970s and 1980s. This school attempted to re-interpret core Marxist ideas by applying mathematical and analytical tools to the basic theses of Marxist theory. This school of thought can be said to begin with G.A. Cohen's work Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defense, first published in 1978. In this work Cohen mounts a defense of Marx's theory largely based on "old fashioned historical materialism" in which "history is, fundamentally, the growth of human productive power."
In the introduction written for the new edition of the book in 2000, Cohen wrote:
"In each sense of 'analytical', to be analytical is to be opposed to a form of thinking traditionally thought integral to Marxism: analytical thinking, in the broad sense of 'analytical', is opposed to so-called 'dialectical' thinking, and analytical thinking, in the narrow sense of 'analytical', is opposed to what might be called 'holistic' thinking. The fateful operation that created analytical Marxism was the rejection of the claim that Marxism possesses valuable intellectual methods of its own. Rejection of that claim enabled an appropriation of a rich mainstream methodology that Marxism, to its detriment, had shunned."
John Roemer, another prominent member of the analytical school of thought, considered that typical Marxist theory relied on overly teleological concepts and a lack of explanation for "mechanisms" by which phenomena occur.
In a 1985 article, Roemer wrote:
"In Marxian social science, dialectics is often used to justify a lazy kind of teleological reasoning.
"What Marxists must provide are explanations of mechanisms, at the micro level, or the phenomena they claim come about for teleological reasons."
The belief that Marxism contains no ethical judgements derives from some comments made by Marx and Engels. In The Communist Manifesto, for instance, morality is listed together with law and religion as "bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests". It is true that for Marx, morality is part of the ideological superstructure of society, is determined by the economic basis, and serves to promote the interests of the ruling class, but it does not follow from this that all morality is to be rejected. What has to be rejected is morality that serves the interests of the ruling class. Once communism has been established and classes have disappeared, however, class morality may be superseded, to what Engels called "a really human morality".
Examples of bourgeoisie morality are:
- Capitalists own the proceeds of their investments
- If someone finds or discovers something first, it belongs to them alone (this is embodied within the notion of private property)
- Individuals and the ego are of greater importance than the collective
- Letter to Bernstein, 1882.
- Marx, A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer, Chapter 9
- Heinrich, Michael. An Introduction to Karl Marx's Capital, p4, 2004.
- Marx, Karl. Letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843.
- Marx, Karl. Notes on Wagner, 1881.
- Jackson, T.A. A Great Socialist, 1935.
- Heinrich, Michael. Ibid.
- Kautsky, Karl. The Aims and the Limitations of the Materialist Conception of History, part 1, 1896.
- Bernstein, Eduard. Evolutionary Socialism, ch.1, 1899.
- Bernstein, Eduard. Ibid.
- Korsch, Karl. Marxism and Philosphy, 1923.
- Lenin, Vladimir. The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism, 1913.
- Cohen, G.A. Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defense, p X, 2000.
- Cohen, G.A. Ibid. p XVII, 2000.
- Roemer, John E. 'Rational Choice' Marxism: Some Issues of Method and Substance, 1985.