What Is Marxism?
People talk about Marxism repeatedly in the media and on social media, especially on YouTube, but rarely do people actually understand what is meant by the term, “Marxism.” Some think it’s just another word for communism, which it isn’t.
Communism was believed to have been the final stage in Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism; it’s a small part of the theory and process.
In a nutshell, Marxism can be summarized with one sentence: it’s the theory that economics is the driving force – or the primary agent – of historical change, and that through class struggle between the working class (wage-laborers) and the bourgeoisie (the people who own the business, property, etc), we’ll eventually come to a classless society.
In more simplified terms, it’s the idea that the manner in which money is made in society is the primary cause of its development across time.
Marxism Is A Theoretical System Of Analysis
Additionally, Marxism is a theoretical system of analysis, which regards capitalism as a force of exploitation, and emphasizes the importance as well as the effect of class conflict on the history of the world.
Marx and Engels believed hatred between classes, the working people, and the rich people, (the proletariat and the bourgeoisie), was caused by the structure of the capitalist system.
Within the capitalist system – argued Marx – lies a deep-seeded contradiction between the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
In other words, the proletariat is the guy who works in the factory and makes no money for 8-12 hours a day, and the bourgeoisie is the ruling class, the “boss;” the person who makes the decisions and the rules.
Because of the worker’s tiny salary, the bourgeoisie can take home a majority of the profit made, and use it to enrich themselves in both cash, status, and influence.
Eventually, the workers will become conscious of their position in society and feel it’s unjust, and rise up against the owners.
One of the reasons the theory is so popular is because of its simplicity, and its relatability. When you’ve struggled with the works of people like Nietzche and Hegel, reading Marx seems like a dream.
It’s so easy to understand, straightforward, and makes a lot of sense.
Theory Of Alienation
And a part of the Marxist theory that stands out to many people for the first time is the “theory of alienation.”
It’s the idea that the proletariat is building products which typically would be an extension of themselves.
In other words, when a person builds something with their hands, (maybe, you’ve never done it), it makes you feel satisfied and proud of your work.
There is definitely a connection there. If you’re the one to build the dresser, carry it all the way up the stairs, and place it in your bedroom, there’s a connection and appreciation to it that wouldn’t be there had you paid someone else to do it.
However, if your job is to stand at an assembly line; you’re just one of the 50 people who screw a single wood-screw into the product, or even worse, the person who applies the adhesive.
There’s no connection to what you’ve made. No time was spent gathering the materials, the tools, thinking about its design, or struggling through the difficult parts.
You’re just a cog in the machine. That’s the theory of alienation.
The worker puts his hard day’s labor into something he normally would call his own, however, when the work is done for the capitalist class/the boss/the bourgeoisie, the work no longer belongs to him.
The worker doesn’t care about his work, artisanship, or craft anymore, because why would he? He’s not benefiting from the results of his hard work, but the boss or the owner of the business is.
Because the worker doesn’t care about the fruits of his labor, he feels alienated from it, and every day when he goes to work, it feels like he’s working away at someone else’s dream. Because he is.
When the average man becomes so out of touch with his own work, the proletarians’ revolution becomes inevitable, where the workers rise up against their “oppressors,” and then establish a socialist society, one where everything is owned in common by the people, where the distribution of resources goes to each person based on their “needs.”
As the forces of this socialist society increasingly become advanced, the end result is: communism, a place in the universe that’s free of class, judgment, alienation, exploitation, discrimination, and its mantra or modus operandi is thus: “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need.”
And There’s More
However, there are more tenets of the philosophy.
The two most important foundations of a Marxian theory is historical materialism and dialectical materialism.
Historical materialism is an attempt to understand history through the focus on society’s development over time.
In other words, the material conditions of a society, ie how wealth is created, distributed, and who is in possession of it, determines how the society organizes itself including all social relations.
For further explanation, the line at the beginning of the article is another way of defining it, “economics is the driving force of historical change.”
it means that the way wealth is created, distributed, who is in possession of it, how people earn a living, what people eat, what natural resources are consumed; these are the things which determine the structure of our society, both the economic and social.
It’s nothing else, not religion or anything like that. Marx thought religion was a tool used by the owners of society to keep the masses docile.
Marxism posits that how we make money and who gets it is ultimately the primary determinant of what our civilization looks like.
Oil is the backbone of our economy, it’s the lifeblood of our economic system and it powers nearly every aspect of it. A Marxist would argue that a lot of our problems as a civilization could be traced back to our dependency on oil, which could be true.
Marxist philosophy actually makes a lot of sense. A lot of the primary theories making up the philosophy seem to be true because economics undoubtedly play a key role in how we conduct ourselves as a society. Considering most spend eight hours a day at work, creating wealth is a large part of our day every single day.
However, the world is multivariate, and so our philosophies should be too.
The issue is: when we have people who are so certain of Marxist philosophy that they’re willing to completely revolutionize our economic system without any knowledge of how the “perfect” society would be set up.
And to make it worse, they’re going to set up a society based on Marxian principles, when it has the tendency to lead to totalitarianism: Venezuela, China (although, now they’re closer to what’s called Free-Market Totalitarianism), Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea, and so on and so forth.
The other problem is that, like all ideologies, the people adhering to them can become myopic. A person heavily invested in a way of looking at the world might explain the world’s phenomena as caused by one primary factor.
Dialectical and Historical Materialism
Regarding dialectical materialism, for Marx and Engels, the material world is something which exists, independently of our perception of it. Ideas can rise only as reflections or products of the material world.
Historical materialism is an extension of dialectical materialism.
Dialectical materialism leads us to look at the way people behave, to understand that their actions, beliefs, and thoughts are a reflection of their surrounding environment, including the economic and political structure of society.
They are a product of their environment, and when taking this same principle and using it as a lens for which to look at historical change, we understand history and society develop based on material and economic conditions.
The changes in and development of society are a result of the conflicts and interactions in the material world.
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
If we look back into the past at medieval society, we can see that society was structured in a manner vastly different in comparison to today.
For instance, you had the king at the top and the serfs at the bottom. The serfs worked for the king and gave him practically all of their farmed goods in exchange for the right to farm the land.
This is what’s called the ‘thesis,’ in Marxist, or Dialectical Materialist terminology. The thesis is the old way of doing things. It’s the former structure of society.
Then, you have what’s called the antithesis. This is the new way of doing things.
All of a sudden, the people are conscious of everything they’re putting up with and decide they want a republic, a place where they can vote in elected representatives who can speak for them.
This is the antithesis, it’s the new way of doing things. It’s the new structure of society, and the struggle between the two to implement the new organization of civilization is the synthesis.
The synthesis is the competition between the old way and the new way of doing things, it’s the rivalry between the thesis and the antithesis.
Marx believed that the material world, the world before us, the actual earth and everything on it, is real and our interpretation of it is a direct reflection of the world.
And how this relates to the evolution of society and the fuel of historical change: the proletariat, or the workers, are forever fighting against the bourgeoisie who are oppressing them.
It’s called, “class struggle.” According to Marx, no matter at which point you look at history, there is always at least one group, who, as a class, controls the resources and the actions of the individuals beneath them in status.
Kings, pharaohs, queens, politicians, and presidents always have a say regarding the every-day limitations of the average person.
The goals of the workers and the goals of the owners of production can’t be realized at the same time.
Because these two can’t co-exist, eventually, the proletariat realizes they’re being taken advantage of and overthrows the rule of the bourgeoisie, forming the “synthesis.” Marx calls this fight the “class struggle.”
It’s More Than Just “Communism”
That’s a summary of Marxist thinking in a nutshell. A lot of people think that Marxism is simply “communism,” when in reality, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, and some parts of the theory actually make a lot of sense. It’s one of the reasons why universities to this day still feature his theories heavily in their courses.
At times, a Marxist perspective is helpful and can explain things, however, like many other issues in life, it can’t explain every single thing in society.
There are other factors, variables, and circumstances in life that determine what goes down. It isn’t just the “economic structure” of society that dictates how people behave and what they’re willing to deal with, although, undoubtedly, economic structure and its effects on social relationships is certainly a factor.
The lesson is to always keep an open mind, don’t live in an echo-chamber where you’re listening to the same opinions and points of view over and over again.
I hope you appreciated this article. Share it if you like it, or hate on it in the comments section. It’s up to you.