Marxism encompasses the theories of German intellectual Karl Marx, particularly those laid out in the Communist Manifesto. The "Communist Manifesto" was jointly written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and first published in 1848. Marxism is critical of capitalism and looks toward a communist future, which Marxism believes can only be achieved through revolution.
The Marxist approach to the interpretation of history is known as historical materialism. Karl Marx believed that the evolution of society throughout periods in history could be determined by the use and possession of the different modes of production. According to this theory, the Communist Manifesto suggested that the history of society could be categorised by its economic characteristics. The first category, primitive communism, was non-hierarchical and featured no forms of ownership. Next, a slave society saw the formation of social class. The third period focuses on feudalism where a few aristocrats belong to one class and a large number of peasants belong to another. The fourth time period describes capitalism, a time where capitalist machine-owners have the majority of wealth while the larger group of workers have very little. Marx suggested that a final period of history would be a communism, believing that this would be logical conclusion in which a classless society with shared ownership of means of production would evolve.
Capitalism and Society
Marxism criticises the capitalist economy and its effect on society, suggesting that capitalism leads to people becoming detached from society as workers have specific roles, in producing a single part of a machine for example, and are not involved in the greater task of designing or building the machine. Nor do they work together with people as they are fixed on one task and value is only given to them in relation to their job. This prevents workers from gaining satisfaction, which is important in achieving self-worth and spiritual well-being. The "Communist Manifesto" also suggested that capitalism detached the middle class factory-owners or bourgeoisie from society by exploiting the working masses.
Capitalist Production and Social Class
Marx contended capitalism creates a hierarchy of economic classes, that these classes are alienated from the other and that each class can be defined by its relationship with production and capitalism. According to this philosophy, the major two classes in a capitalist society were the bourgeoisie, defined by the fact that they owned or ran businesses and the proletariat, or workers. The categories could also be subdivided. A Marxist belief is that the cost of goods should be relative to the work and time involved in its production instead of the capitalist approach of making profits, which exploits workers and inhibits social mobility.
Marxist theory believes revolution is the only way of achieving true social change as those that have wealth and power would not abandon their privileges willingly and that this change was inevitable as the theory of historical materialism demonstrated. The
"Communist Manifesto" suggested that the conditions created by Industrialization had made revolution a possibility as large number of workers had been trained to work together in factories. Although there were small uprisings of labourers when the "Communist Manifesto" was published, no great change was brought about in the majority of capitalist societies.
- Temple University College of Liberal Arts: An Introduction to Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto
- The University of New South Wales: School of Social Sciences and International Studies;"Marxist Theory; A Brief Introduction"; Ted Trainer; March 2010
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; "Karl Marx"; Jonathan Wolff; June 2010