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- Main article: Communism
Marxism is the philosophy, social theory and political practice based on the works of Karl Marx, a 19th century German socialist philosopher, economist, journalist, and revolutionary. Marx, often in collaboration with Friedrich Engels, drew on G.W.F. Hegel's philosophy, the political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and theorists of 19th century French socialism, to develop a critique of society which he claimed was both scientific and revolutionary. This critique achieved its most systematic (albeit unfinished) expression in his most famous work, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, more commonly known as Das Kapital. Since its inception and up to the present day, Marxism has been situated largely outside the political mainstream, although it has played a major role in history. Today, Marxist political parties of widely different sizes survive in most countries around the world.
- 1 Marxism and the world
- 2 The Hegelian roots of Marxism
- 3 The political-economy roots of Marxism
- 4 Class analysis
- 5 Marxist revolutions and governments
- 6 Criticisms
- 7 Endnotes
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Marxism and the world[edit | edit source]
Ever since Marx's death in 1883, various groups around the world have appealed to Marxism as the theoretical basis for their politics and policies, which have often proved to be dramatically different and conflicting. One of the first major political splits occurred between the advocates of 'reformism', who argued that the transition to socialism could occur within existing bourgeois parliamentarian frameworks, and communists, who argued that the transition to a socialist society required a revolution and the dissolution of the capitalist state. The 'reformist' tendency, later known as social democracy, came to be dominant in most of the parties affiliated to the Second International and these parties supported their own governments in the First World War. This issue caused the communists to break away, forming their own parties which became members of the Third International. The contemporary meanings of these terms was initially quite different: Lenin, for example, was considered a social democrat until the mutation of the latter movement.
Although there are still many Marxist revolutionary social movements and political parties around the world, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, very few countries have governments which describe themselves as Marxist. Although socialistic parties are in power in some Western nations, they long ago distanced themselves from their direct link to Marx and his ideas. As of 2005, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba, and the People's Republic of China had governments in power which describe themselves as socialist in the Marxist sense -- to a certain extent, also Venezuela. However, the private sector comprised more than 50% of the Chinese economy by this time and the Vietnamese government had also partially liberalised its economy. The Laotian and Cuban states maintained strong control over the means of production.
To Marx, the notion of a socialist state would have seemed oxymoronical, as he defined socialism as the phase reached when class society and the state had already been abolished. Instead, Marx would have described such self-proclaimed "socialist" states as the Soviet Union or China as workers' states, a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism. Once socialism had been established, society would develop new socialist relations over the course of several generations, reaching the stage known as communism when bourgeois relations had been abandoned. Such a development has yet to occur in any historical self-claimed Socialist state. Often it results in the creation of two distinct classes: those who are in government and therefore have power, and those who are not in government and do not have power -- thus inspiring the term State capitalism. These statist regimes have generally followed a command economy model without making a transition to this hypothetical final stage.
North Korea is another contemporary socialist state, though the official ideology of the Korean Workers' Party (originally led by Kim Il-sung and currently chaired by his grandson, Kim Jong-Un) Juche, does not follow doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism as had been espoused by the leadership of the Soviet Union. Libya is often thought of as a socialist state; it maintained ties with the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc and Communist states during the Cold War. Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, the leader of Libya, describes the state's official ideology as Islamic socialism, and has labeled it a third way between capitalism and communism.
Some libertarian members of the laissez-faire and individualist schools of thought believe the actions and principles of modern capitalist states or big governments can be understood as "Marxist". This point of view ignores the overall vision and general intent of Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, for qualitative change to the economic system, and focuses on a few steps that Marx and Engels believed would occur, as workers emancipated themselves from the capitalist system, such as "Free education for all children in public schools". A few such reforms have been implemented — not by Marxists but in the forms of Keynesianism, the welfare state, new liberalism, social democracy and other minor changes to the capitalist system, in most capitalist states.
To Marxists these reforms represent responses to political pressures from working-class political parties and unions, themselves responding to perceived abuses of the capitalist system. Further, in this view, many of these reforms reflect efforts to "save" or "improve" capitalism (without abolishing it) by coordinating economic actors and dealing with market failures. Further, although Marxism does see a role for a socialist "vanguard" government in representing the proletariat through a revolutionary period of indeterminate length, it sees an eventual lightening of that burden, a "withering away of the state."
The Hegelian roots of Marxism[edit | edit source]
- Further information: Marxist philosophy
Marx's rich and varied politico-theoretical preoccupations were initially influenced by his contact with Hegelian philosophy and its philosophical conception of history, but latter became mixed with very practical and material questions concerning the rising workers' movement of the 19th century. Marxism's philosophical roots were thus commonly explained as derived from three sources: English political economy, French republicanism and radicalism, and German idealist philosophy. Although this "three sources" model is an oversimplification, it still has some measure of truth. On the other hand, Costanzo Preve (1990) has assigned four "masters" to Marx: Epicurus (to whom he dedicated his thesis, Difference of natural philosophy between Democritus and Epicurus, 1841) for his materialism and theory of clinamen which opened up a realm of liberty; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from which come his idea of egalitarian democracy; Adam Smith, from whom came the idea that the grounds of property is labour; and finally Hegel. Although some have separated Marx's works between a "young Marx" and a "mature Marx" or also by separating it into purely philosophical works, economics works and political and historical interventions, Etienne Balibar (1991) has pointed out that Marx's works can't be divided into "economical works" (Das Kapital, 1867), "philosophical works" and "historical works" (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the 1871 Civil War in France which concerned the Paris Commune and acclaimed it as the first "dictatorship of the proletariat", etc.) Marx's philosophy is thus inextricably linked to his critique of political economy and to his historical interventions in the workers' movement, such as the 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program or the The Communist Manifesto, written with Engels a year before the Revolutions of 1848.
Hegel[edit | edit source]
- Further information: Hegel
Friedrich Hegel proposed a form of idealism in which the progress of freedom is the guiding theme of human history. Freedom progresses by the development of ideas into their contraries. That is, material circumstances in the world are dictated by a series of conflicts and subsequent compromises between ideas. Hegel believed that for every thesis in the history of humanity there arises an antithesis to counter it. In the conflict that follows a synthesis is formed. For example, in France during the 18th century that divine right absolutism of King Louis XIV would be a thesis on government. The radical liberalism of Robespierre would be an antithesis. Finally, the enlightened despotism of Napoleon would be a synthesis of the two. This process, dialectic, sometimes involves gradual accretion but at other times requires discontinuous leaps -- violent upheavals of previously existing status quo. World-historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte are, on the Hegelian reading, servants of a World Spirit (Weltgeist) whose Freedom has reconciled with the Necessity of History. Hegel's dialectical process included the personal as well as the natural, the ideal as well as the material.
The rupture with German Idealism and the Young Hegelians[edit | edit source]
- Further information: Young Hegelians
Marx did not study directly with Hegel, but after Hegel died Marx studied under one of Hegel's pupils, Bruno Bauer, a leader of the circle of Young Hegelians to whom Marx attached himself. However, Marx and Engels came to disagree with Bruno Bauer and the rest of the Young Hegelians about socialism and also about the usage of Hegel's dialectic. Having achieved his thesis on the Difference of natural philosophy between Democritus and Epicurus in 1841, the young Marx progressively broke away with the Prussian university and its teachings impregnated by German Idealism (Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel). Along with Engels, who observed the Chartist movement in the United Kingdom, he cut away with the environment in which he grew up and encountered the proletariat in France and Germany. He then wrote a scathing criticism of the Young Hegelians in two books, "The Holy Family" (1845), and The German Ideology (1845), in which he criticized not only Bauer but also Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own (1844), considered as one of the founding book of individualist anarchism. Max Stirner claimed that all ideals were inherently alienating, and that replacing God by the Humanity, as did Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity (1841), was not sufficient. According to Stirner, any ideals, God, Humanity, the Nation, or even the Revolution alienated the "Ego". Marx also criticized Proudhon, whom had became famous with his cry "Property is theft!", in The Poverty of Philosophy (1845).
Marx's early writings are thus a response towards Hegel, German Idealism and a break with the rest of the Young Hegelians. Marx, "stood Hegel on his head," in his own view of his role, by turning the idealistic dialectic into a materialistic one, in proposing that material circumstances shape ideas, instead of the other way around. In this, Marx was following the lead of Feuerbach. His theory of alienation, developed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1932), inspired itself from Feuerbach's critique of the alienation of Man in God through the objectivation of all his inherent characteristics (thus man projected on God all qualities which are in fact man's own quality which defines the "human nature"). But Marx also criticized Feuerbach for being insufficiently materialistic, as Stirner himself had point out, and explained that the alienation described by the Young Hegelians was in fact the result of the structure of the economy itself. Furthermore, he criticized Feuerbach's conception of human nature in his sixth thesis on Feuerbach as an abstract "kind" which incarnated itself in each singular individual: "Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man [menschliche Wesen = ‘human nature’]. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations." Thereupon, instead of founding itself on the singular, concrete individual subject, as did classic philosophy, including contractualism (Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau) but also political economy, Marx began with the totality of social relations: labour, language and all which constitute our human existence. He claimed that individualism was an essence the result of commodity fetishism or alienation. Although some critics have claimed that meant that Marx enforced a strict social determinism which destroyed the possibility of free will, Marx's philosophy in no way can be reduced to such determinism, as his own personal trajectory makes clear.
Criticisms of the "human rights"[edit | edit source]
In the same way, following Babeuf, considered as one of the founder of communism during the French Revolution, he criticized the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as a "bourgeois declaration" of the rights of the "egoistic individual", ultimately based on the "right to private property", which economism deduced from its own implicit "philosophy of the subject", which asserts the preeminence of an individual and universal subject over social relations. On the other hand, Marx also criticized Bentham's utilitarianism. Along with Freud and Nietzsche, Marx thus takes part among the trio of 19th century philosophers whom criticized this preeminence of the subject and its consciousness. According to Marx, the recognition of these individual rights was the result of the universal extension of market relations to all of society and to all of the world, first through the primitive accumulation of capital (including the first period of European colonialism) and then through the globalization of the capitalist sphere. Such individual rights were the symetric of the "right for the labourer" to "freely" sell his labor force on the marketplace through juridical contracts, and worked in the same time as an ideological means to discompose the collective grouping of producers required by the industrial revolution: thus, in the same time that the Industrial Era requires masses to concentrate themselves in factories and in cities, the individualist, "bourgeois" ideology separated themselves as competiting homo economicus. Marx's critique of the ideology of the human rights thus departs from the counterrevolutionary critique, by Edmund Burke, whom dismissed the "rights of Man" in favour of the "rights of the Englishman": it is not grounded on an opposition to the Enlightenment's universalism and humanist project on behalf of the right of tradition, as in Burke's case, but rather on the claim that the ideology of economism and the ideology of the human rights are the reverse sides of the same coin. However, as Etienne Balibar puts it, "the accent put on those contradictions can not not ring out on the signification of "human rights", since these therefore appears both as the language in which exploitation masks itself and as the one in which the exploited' class struggle express itself: more than a truth or an illusion, it is therefore a stake" . Das Kapital ironizes on the "pompous catalogue of the human rights" in comparison to the "modest Magna Charta of a day work limited by law":
"The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class... It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity "labour-power" face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no "free agent," that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him "so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited." For "protection" against "the serpent of their agonies," the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling. by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death. In place of the pompous catalogue of the "inalienable rights of man" comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear "when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins. Quantum mutatus ab illo!" 
But the communist revolution does not end with the negation of individual liberty and equality ("collectivism" ), but with the "negation of the negation": "individual property" in the capitalist regime is in fact the "expropriation of the immediate producers." "Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent laboring-individual with the conditions of his labor, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labor of others, i.e., on wage-labor... The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labor of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on co-operation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production." 
Criticisms of Feuerbach[edit | edit source]
What distinguished Marx from Feuerbach was his view of Feuerbach's humanism as excessively abstract, and so no less ahistorical and idealist than what it purported to replace, namely the reified notion of God found in institutional Christianity that legitimized the repressive power of the Prussian state. Instead, Marx aspired to give ontological priority to what he called the "real life process" of real human beings, as he and Engels said in The German Ideology (1846):
In direct contrast to German philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this, their real existence, their thinking, and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.
Also, in his Theses on Feuerbach (1845), in which the young Marx broke with Feuerbach's idealism, he writes that "the philosophers have only described the world, in various ways, the point is to change it," and his materialist approach allows for and empowers such change. This opposition between various subjective interpretations given by philosophers, which may be, in a sense, compared with Weltanschauung designed to legitimize the current state of affairs, and effective transformation of the world through praxis, which combines theory and practice in a materialist way, is what distinguish "Marxist philosophers" with the rest of philosophers. Indeed, Marx's break with German Idealism involves a new definition of philosophy; Louis Althusser, founder of "Structural Marxism" in the 1960s, would define it as "class struggle in theory". Marx's movement away from university philosophy and towards the workers' movement is thus inextricably linked to his rupture with his earliers writings, which pushed Marxist commentators to speak of a "young Marx" and a "mature Marx", although the nature of this cut poses problems. A year before the Revolutions of 1848, Marx and Engels thus wrote The Communist Manifesto, which was prepared to an imminent revolution, and ended with the famous cry: "Proletarians of all countries, unite!". However, Marx's thought changed again following Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's December 2, 1851 coup, which put an end to the French Second Republic and created the Second Empire which would last until the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Marx thereby modified his theory of alienation exposed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and would latter arrive to his theory of commodity fetishism, exposed in the first chapter of the first book of Das Kapital (1867). This abandon of the early theory of alienation would be amply discussed, several Marxist theorists, including Marxist humanists such as the Praxis School, would return to it. Others, such as Althusser, would claim that the "epistemological break" between the "young Marx" and the "mature Marx" was such that no comparisons could be done between both works, marking a shift to a "scientific theory" of society.
In 1844-5, when Marx was starting to settle his account with Hegel and the Young Hegelians in his writings, he critiqued the Young Hegelians for limiting the horizon of their critique to religion and not taking up the critique of the state and civil society as paramount. Indeed in 1844, by the look of Marx's writings in that period (most famous of which is the "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844", a text that most explicitly elaborated his theory of alienation), Marx's thinking could have taken at least three possible courses: the study of law, religion, and the state; the study of natural philosophy; and the study of political economy. He chose the last as the predominant focus of his studies for the rest of his life, largely on account of his previous experience as the editor of the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung on whose pages he fought for freedom of expression against Prussian censorship and made a rather idealist, legal defense for the Moselle peasants' customary right of collecting wood in the forest (this right was at the point of being criminalized and privatized by the state). It was Marx's inability to penetrate beneath the legal and polemical surface of the latter issue to its materialist, economic, and social roots that prompted him to critically study political economy.
Historical materialism[edit | edit source]
Marx summarized the materialistic aspect of his theory of history, otherwise known as historical materialism (although Engels was the one who coined this term and Marx himself never used it), in the 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.
In this brief popularization of his ideas, Marx emphasized that social development sprang from the inherent contradictions within material life and the social superstructure. This notion is often understood as a simple historical narrative: primitive communism had developed into slave states. Slave states had developed into feudal societies. Those societies in turn became capitalist states, and those states would be overthrown by the self-conscious portion of their working-class, or proletariat, creating the conditions for socialism and, ultimately, a higher form of communism than that with which the whole process began. Marx illustrated his ideas most prominently by the development of capitalism from feudalism, and by the prediction of the development of socialism from capitalism.
The base-superstructure and stadialist formulations in the 1859 preface took on canonical status in the subsequent development of orthodox Marxism, in particular in dialectical materialism (diamat, as it was known in the Soviet Union). They also gave way to a vulgar Marxism as plain economic determinism (or economism), which has been criticized by various Marxist theorists. "Vulgar Marxism" was seen as little other than a variety of economic determinism, with the alleged determination of the ideological superstructure by the economical infrastructure. However, this positivist reading, which mostly based itself on Engels' latter writings in an attempt to theorize "scientific socialism" (an expression coined by Engels) has been challenged by Marxist theorists, such as Antonio Gramsci or Althusser.
Some believe that Marx regarded them merely as a short-hand summary of his huge ongoing work-in-progress (which was only published posthumously over a hundred years later as Grundrisse). These sprawling, voluminous notebooks that Marx put together for his research on political economy, particularly those materials associated with the study of "primitive communism" and pre-capitalist communal production, in fact, show a more radical turning "Hegel on his head" than heretofore acknowledged by most mainstream Marxists and Marxiologists. In lieu of the Enlightenment belief in historical progress and stages that Hegel explicitly stated (often in a racist, Eurocentric manner, as in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History), Marx pursues in these research notes a decidedly empirical approach to analyzing historical changes and different modes of production, emphasizing without forcing them into a teleological paradigm the rich varieties of communal productions throughout the world and the critical importance of collective working-class antagonism in the development of capitalism.
Moreover, Marx's rejection of the necessity of bourgeois revolution and appreciation of the obschina, the communal land system, in Russia in his letter to Vera Zasulich; respect for the egalitarian culture of North African Muslim commoners found in his letters from Algeria; and sympathetic and searching investigation of the global commons and indigenous cultures and practices in his notebooks, including the Ethnological Notebooks that he kept during his last years, all point to a historical Marx who was continuously developing his ideas until his deathbed and does not fit into any pre-existing ideological straitjacket, including that of Marxism itself (a famously telling anecdote is the one in which Marx quipped to Paul Lafargue "All that I know is that I'm not a Marxist").
The political-economy roots of Marxism[edit | edit source]
- Further information: Marxian economics
Political economy is essential to this vision, and Marx built on and critiqued the most well-known political economists of his day, the British classical political economists. Political economy predates the 20th century division of the two disciplines, treating social relations and economic relations as interwoven. Marx proposed a systematic correlation between labour-values and money prices. He claimed that the source of profits under capitalism is value added by workers not paid out in wages. This mechanism operated through the distinction between "labour power", which workers freely exchanged for their wages, and "labour", over which asset-holding capitalists thereby gained control. This practical and theoretical distinction was Marx's primary insight, and allowed him to develop the concept of "surplus value", which distinguished his works from that of the classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Workers create enough value during a short period of the working day to pay their wages for that day (necessary labour); however, they continue to work for several more hours and continue to create value (surplus labour). This value is not returned to them but appropriated by the capitalists. Thus, it is not the capitalist ruling class that creates wealth, but the workers, the capitalists then appropriating this wealth to themselves. (Some of Marx's insights were seen in a rudimentary form by the "Ricardian socialist" school  .) He developed this theory of exploitation in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, a "dialectical" investigation into the forms value relations take.
Capital is written over three volumes, of which only the first was complete at the time of Marx's death. The first volume, and especially the first chapter of that volume, contains the core of the analysis and the critique of commodity fetishism. Hegel's legacy is especially overpowering here, and the work is seldom read with the thoroughness Marx urges in his introduction. According to his prescriptions, the method of presentation proceeds from the most abstract concepts, incorporating one new layer of determination at a time and tracing the effects of each such layer, in an effort to arrive eventually at a total account of the concrete relationships of everyday capitalist society. This investigation is commonly taken to commit Marx to a species of labor theory of value as described above. This and other intrinsic theories of economic value are incompatible with modern, predictive economics in which the theory of value is that of marginalism: on one side, technical production coefficients; on the other, subjective preferences. To neoclassical economists, the labor theory is the reason Marxism failed as an economic theory.
Marx critiqued Smith and Ricardo for not realizing that their economic concepts reflected specifically capitalist institutions, not innate natural properties of human society, and could not be applied unchanged to all societies. Marx's theory of business cycles; of economic growth and development, especially in two sector models; and of the declining rate of profit, or crisis theory, are other important elements of Marxist economics. Marx later made tentative movements towards econometric investigations of his ideas, but the necessary statistical techniques of national accounting only emerged in the following century. In any case, it has proved difficult to adapt Marx's economic concepts, which refer to social relations, to measurable aggregated stocks and flows. In recent decades, however, a loose "quantitative" school of Marxist economists has emerged. While it may be impossible to find exact measures of Marx's variables from price data, approximations of basic trends are possible.
Marx suggested that capitalist dynamics included the tendential law of a falling rate of profit. The general tendency could be explained by the actions of individual capitalists. Competition forced them to cut costs by boosting labour productivity, yet this technical change through mechanisation caused a corresponding fall in the "productivity of capital" (the output-capital ratio). As such the average rate of profit fell over the economy as a whole. Certain Marxist economists, such as Henryk Grossman and Paul Mattick Sr, have used this theoretical edifice to construct a theory of capitalist "breakdown". Others have explained it as an aspect of capitalist crisis, and prone to counter-tendencies during economic booms.
Marx argues that capitalism is, in the words of Ernest Mandel, an editor of Marx's Capital, a "gigantic enterprise of dehumanization," described as much in his theory of alienation as in his theory of commodity fetishism. In The Communist Manifesto, co-written with Engels and published in 1848, Marx and Engels describe the effects capitalism has on the individual and society: Capitalism "drowns the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalric enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism in the icy water of egotistical calculation."
The liberal challenge[edit | edit source]
The Austrian School were the first liberal economists to systematically challenge the Marxist school. This was partly a reaction to the Methodenstreit when they attacked the Hegelian doctrines of the Historical School; Marxist authors have decried the Austrian school as a "bourgeois" reaction to Marx. The Austrian economists were, however, the first to clash directly with Marxism, since both dealt with such subjects as money, capital, business cycles, and economic processes. Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk wrote extensive critiques of Marx in the 1880s and 1890s, and several prominent Marxists—including Rudolf Hilferding, a member of the Austromarxists —attended his seminar in 1905-06. In the middle of the twentieth century, prominent US economist Paul Samuelson also devoted several journal articles to alleged inconsistencies in Marxian theory. Later, neo-Ricardian Sraffians launched a significant attack on the labor theory of value.
Class analysis[edit | edit source]
From a Marxian point of view, class identity is configured in the base of the relations with the mode of production, in other words, a class, in the works of Marx (as opposed to the more common-sense idea that class is determined by wealth alone, ie. high class, middle class, poor class) is a collective of individuals who have a similar relationship with the means of production.
Marxists describe several social classes in capitalist societies, including primarily:
- the working class or proletariat, which Marx defined as "those individuals who sell their labor power, (and therefore add value to the products), and who, in the capitalist mode of production, do not own the means of production" who, he stated, were the origin of all social class. According to Marx, the capitalist mode of production establishes the conditions for the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat due to the fact that the worker's labor power generates an added value greater than his salary.
- the bourgeoisie, who are those who "own the means of production" and buy labor power from the proletariat, who are recompensed by a salary, thus exploiting the proletariat. The bourgeoisie may be further subdivided into the very wealthy bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie: those who employ labor, but may also work themselves. These may be small proprietors, land-holding peasants, or trade workers. Marx predicted that the petty bourgeoisie would eventually be destroyed by the constant reinvention of the means of production and the result of this would be the forced movement of the vast majority of the petty bourgeoisie to the proletariat. An example of this would be many small businesses giving way to fewer larger ones, without increasing the number of petty bourgeois bureaucrats required to administer each company.
From a Marxist perspective, the actually existing basic classes in today's advanced economies are the capitalist class, the new middle classes who engage in both labour and managerial responsibilities, self-employed proprietors, the working class and a lower "lumpenised" stratum. Many modern Marxists would argue that due to the modern global economy, most proletariats now exist almost entirely in the developing world; others argue that, although the imperial proletariat is relatively wealthy and widely incorporated into capitalist structures, this class remains of paramount importance in conflicts with the imperial bourgeoisie.
Marx's works founded "Historical materialism" (although he himself never reffered to the expression and talk about a "materialist conception of history") and most of Marx's work was aimed at the revolution of the economic system. Marx thought that "The philosophers have only interpreted the world differently; the point is, to change it." (Theses on Feuerbach). Communism is an economic system in which the people are the sole beneficiaries of the fruits of their labour, following the revolutionary dissolution of economic classes.
Some of these ideas were shared by anarchists, though they differed in their beliefs on how to bring about an end to the class society. Socialist thinkers suggested that the working class should take over the existing capitalist state, turning it into a workers revolutionary state, which would put in place the democratic structures necessary, and then "wither away". On the anarchist side people such as Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin argued that the state per se was the problem, and that destroying it should be the aim of any revolutionary activity.
Many governments, political parties, social movements, and academic theorists have claimed to be founded on Marxist principles. Social democratic movements in 20th century Europe, the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries, Mao and other revolutionaries in agrarian developing countries are particularly important examples. These struggles have added new ideas to Marx and otherwise transmuted Marxism so much that it is difficult to specify its core.
It is common to speak of Marxian rather than Marxist theory when referring to political study that draws from the work of Marx for the analysis and understanding of existing (usually capitalist) economies, but rejects the more speculative predictions that Marx and many of his followers made about post-capitalist societies.
Marxist revolutions and governments[edit | edit source]
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Marx's views on the structure of communist society[edit | edit source]
Other than control by the working class, Karl Marx laid out no plans for the structuring of a communist society or of the society that the working class would build on the way to communism. He assumed the working class could do that for themselves and that it would be a productive society able to meet the needs of the people and much more. The political parties who adopted his theories followed Marx in his optimistic approach and detailed plans for the structuring of socialist society were not put forth or developed. With the success of the October Revolution in Russia, a Marxist party (the Bolsheviks) took power, but without any blueprints for building the new society.
The October Revolution[edit | edit source]
1917 October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, was the first large scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers' state into practice. The new government faced counter-revolution, civil war and foreign intervention. Many, both inside and outside the revolution, worried that the revolution came too early in Russia's economic development as Marxism requires capitalism to have exhausted its mechanisms of growth before attaining socialism. Consequently, the major Socialist Party in the UK decried the revolution as anti-Marxist within twenty-four hours, according to Jonathan Wolff. Socialist revolution in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the Soviet Union on its own. An intense period of debate and stopgap solutions ensued, war communism and the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin died and Joseph Stalin gradually assumed control, eliminating rivals and consolidating power as the Soviet Union faced the horrible challenges of the 1930s and its global crisis-tendencies. Amidst the geopolitical threats which defined the period and included the probability of invasion, he instituted a ruthless program of industrialisation which, while successful, was executed at great cost in human suffering, including millions of deaths, along with long-term environmental devastation.
Modern followers of Leon Trotsky maintain that as predicted by Lenin, Trotsky, and others already in the 1920s, Stalin's "socialism in one country" was unable to maintain itself, and according to some Marxist critics, the USSR ceased to show the characteristics of a socialist state long before its formal dissolution.
Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary communist parties all over the world. Some of these parties were eventually able to gain power, and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Such nations included the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and others. In some cases, these nations did not get along. The most notable examples were rifts that occurred between the Soviet Union and China, as well as Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (in 1948), whose leaders disagreed on certain elements of Marxism and how it should be implemented into society.
Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People's Republics) eventually became authoritarian states, with stagnating economies. This caused some debate about whether or not these nations were in fact led by "true Marxists". Critics of Marxism speculated that perhaps Marxist ideology itself was to blame for the nations' various problems. Followers of the currents within Marxism which opposed Stalin, principally cohered around Leon Trotsky, tended to locate the failure at the level of the failure of world revolution: for communism to have succeeded, they argue, it needed to encompass all the international trading relationships that capitalism had previously developed.
The Chinese experience seems to be unique. Rather than falling under a single family's self-serving and dynastic interpretation of Marxism as happened in North Korea and before 1989 in Eastern Europe, the Chinese government - after the end of the struggles over the Mao legacy in 1980 and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping - seems to have solved the succession crises that have plagued self-proclaimed Leninist governments since the death of Lenin himself. Key to this success is another Leninism which is a NEP (New Economic Policy) writ very large; Lenin's own NEP of the 1920s was the "permission" given to markets including speculation to operate by the Party which retained final control. The Russian experience in Perestroika was that markets under socialism were so opaque as to be both inefficient and corrupt but especially after China's application to join the WTO this does not seem to apply universally.
The death of "Marxism" in China has been prematurely announced but since the Hong Kong handover in 1997, the Beijing leadership has clearly retained final say over both commercial and political affairs. Questions remain however as to whether the Chinese Party has opened its markets to such a degree as to be no longer classified as a true Marxist party. A sort of tacit consent, and a desire in China's case to escape the chaos of pre-1949 memory, probably plays a role.
In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the new Russian state ceased to identify itself with Marxism. Other nations around the world followed suit. Since then, radical Marxism or Communism has generally ceased to be a prominent political force in global politics, and has largely been replaced by more moderate versions of democratic socialism—or, more commonly, by aggressively neoliberal capitalism.
Criticisms[edit | edit source]
- See criticisms of socialism for a discussion of criticisms of socialism in general, not necessarily of the Marxist variety.
- See criticisms of communism for a discussion of criticisms of Communist states and Marxist theory in relation to communism.
Many proponents of capitalism have argued that capitalism is a more effective means of generating and redistributing wealth than socialism or communism, or that the gulf between rich and poor that concerned Marx and Engels was a temporary phenomenon. Some suggest that greed and the need to acquire capital is an inherent component of human behavior, and is not caused by the adoption of capitalism or any other specific economic system (although economic anthropologists have questioned this assertion) and that different economic systems reflect different social responses to this fact. Present-day mainstream economists reject Marx's use of the labor theory of value. In addition, the political repression and economic problems of several historical Communist states have done much to destroy Marx's reputation in the Western world, particularly following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the Soviet bureaucracy often invoked him in their propaganda.
Ironically, the collapse of the Soviet Union does echo one of the key predictions of Marxism-Leninism, which is that the state would gradually "wither away." Even in the capitalist West, the traditional institutions of 19th and 20th century republican government have been declining in importance. (However, the decline of the traditional state institutions has generally tended to make capitalists more powerful and the masses less powerful.)
Some aspects of Marxism have also been criticized from the Left. Democratic socialists and social democrats reject the idea that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict and violent revolution. Moreover, a large number of political groups (notably the Wobblies) attempt a synthesis of Marxist and anarchist traditions with the aim of a liberated workers society.
Some today question the theoretical and historical validity of "class" as an analytic construct or as a political actor. Similarly, the Marxist stages of history and theory of social evolution have been criticized. Some argue that class is not the most fundamental inequality in history and call attention to patriarchy or race. However, Marxists argue that these inequalities are linked to class and therefore will largely cease to exist after the formation of a classless society. The historian Robert Conquest argues that detailed analyses of many historical periods fails to find support for "class" or social evolution as used by Marxists. Marx himself admitted that his theory could not explain the internal development of the "Asiatic" social system, where most of the world's population lived for thousands of years. Many observe that capitalism has changed much since Marx's time, and that class differences and relationships are much more complex — citing as one example the fact that much corporate stock in the United States is owned by workers through pension funds. However, income and especially accumulated wealth still remain concentrated in a small elite of the population.
Still others criticize Marxism from the perspective of philosophy of science. Karl Popper has criticized Marx's theories as he believed they were not falsifiable, which he argued would render some particular aspects of Marx’s historical and socio-political arguments unscientific. Primarily, this stems from Marx's assertion that class revolt will be part of the process in overcoming capitalism. Critics claim that any attack upon this prediction results in a response of "but it will". A counter critism to this argument stems from the principle that most scientific theories are not truely falsifiable since they contain axioms which can not be disproved, for example, it is impossible to disprove the concept of energy. It can be noted that most theories in the social sciences are critised for not being scientific.
A common critique of Marxism points out that the increasing class antagonisms he predicted never actually developed in the Western world following industrialization. While socioeconomic gaps between the bourgeoisie and proletariat remained, industrialization in countries such as the United States and Great Britain also saw the rise of a middle class not inclined to violent revolution, and of a welfare state that helped contain any revolutionary tendencies among the working class. While the economic devastation of the Great Depression broadened the appeal of Marxism in the developed world, future government safeguards and economic recovery led to a decline in its influence. Capitalism during the time of Karl Marx was an increasingly global phenomena. It was stressed by Marx that the working class was also a growing international pheonomena and that capitalism would spread throught the world causing more of the worlds population to be seperated into two seperate classes. It is arguable that the phenomena of globalisation is steadily achieving these aims and class comparisons made in one part of the world usually do not portray the complete picture.
Marxism remained extremely influential in feudal and industrially underdeveloped societies such as Czarist Russia, where the Bolshevik Revolution was successful.  This problem with classical Marxist theory was known from the beginning of the 20th century, and much of the work of Vladimir Lenin was dedicated to answering it. Lenin argued that imperialism (which he considered to be the highest stage of capitalism) meant that exploitation was no longer confined within national boundaries, and the bourgeoisie of one country could exploit the proletariat of another. Specifically, he stated that capitalists from industrialized (wealthy) countries prefer to exploit the work force of non-industrialized (poor) countries, and agree to share some of their profit with the workers back home (in the form of social services and higher standards of living) in order to appease them and prevent revolution. Thus, Lenin concluded that the revolution could only start in the poor underdeveloped countries, such as Russia, and it would have to spread to the wealthy countries later on. See Leninism for more information.
Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union. Critics argue that the Soviet Union's numerous internal failings and subsequent collapse were a direct result of the practical failings of Marxism, but many past and present Marxists, especially Trotskyists, respond to this by arguing out that the Soviet Union's political system did not actually resemble true socialism at all. Marx analyzed the world of his day and refused to draw up plans of how a future socialist society should be run saying he did not "write recipes...for cook-shops of the future." Outside Europe and North America, communism has generally been superseded by anti-colonialist and nationalist struggles which sometimes appeal to Marx for theoretical support. In India, the southern province of Kerala was the first in the world to elect a coalition of Communist parties (see Communist Party of India) to power at the state level, in 1957. In the eastern state of West Bengal a coalition of Communist parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been democratically elected to power at the provincial level continuously since 1977.
Contemporary supporters of Marxism argue most generally that Marx was correct that human behavior reflects determinate historical and social conditions (and is therefore changing and can not be understood in terms of some universal "human nature"). More specifically, they argue his analysis of social class and commodities is still useful, that his critique of capitalism can be easily applied to the current global situation, and that alienation is still a problem.
Some members of the Frankfurt school, such as German philosopher Theodor Adorno rejected the inevitability of socialism on the grounds that pop culture is able to pacify and manipulate the population, thereby preventing revolution no matter how bad economic conditions become.
Endnotes[edit | edit source]
- Etienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, 1993, p.74 original edition
- Karl Marx, Das Kapital, chapter X, section 7
- Louis Dumont argued that Marx represented exacerbated individualism instead of holism as the popular interpretation of Marxism as "collectivism" would have it
- Karl Marx, Das Kapital, chapter XXXII, section 1
See also[edit | edit source]
Other articles about Marxism[edit | edit source]
- Analytical Marxism
- Antagonistic contradiction
- Council communism
- Contributors to marxist theory
- Communist Philosophy of Nature
- Criticisms of communism
- Economic determinism
- Dialectical materialism
- Dictatorship of the proletariat
- False consciousness
- Historical materialism
- Legal Naturalism
- Marx's theory of alienation
- Marxian economics
- Marxist film theory
- Marxist humanism
- Marxist historiography
- Marxist literary criticism
- Marxist philosophy
- Western Marxism
See al[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- E. Screpanti & S. Zamagna (1993): An Outline of the History of Economic Thought.
[edit | edit source]
- Marxists Internet Archive
- A Marxism FAQ - under construction
- Libertarian Communist Library Marxism archive
- Introductory article by Michael A. Lebowitz
- History of Economic Thought: Marxian School
- Modern Variants of Marxian political economy
- Rethinking Marxism: A journal of economics, society, and culture
- MRZine A project of Monthly Review Foundation
- Marxist.com In Defence of Marxism
- Pathfinder Books, Marxist bookstore online
- Marxism Page
- Marxist.net Marxist Resources from the Committee for a Workers' International
- Marxism FAQ
- The Open Society and Its Enemies. Volume II: The High Tide of Prophecy (Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath) critique by Karl Popper
- Debating MarxismMichael Albert (ParEcon) vs. Alan Maass (Marxism)
- Marx on India and the Colonial Question from anti-caste
Criticisms[edit | edit source]
- Exporting Marx Instead of Smith to Africa, by Christian Sandström
- Liberalism, Marxism and The State, by Ralph Raico
- A Farewell to Marx: An Outline and Appraisal of His Theories, by David Conway
- Marx Lite, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
- Marxist Dreams and Soviet Realities, by Ralph Raico
- Marxism, by David L. Prychitko
- Museum of Communism
- Marxism As Pseudo-science, by Ernest Van Den Haag
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