There was a time, in the not too distant past, when Marxism was not taught in conjunction with world history, for fear that young people would ignorantly gain the false impression that this manner of thinking has merit. They were taught only that Marxism was a prelude to communism, and communism was bad. This was especially true during the 1950’s and 1960’s Cold War era.
As time has moved into the 21st century, scholars have adopted a tepid tolerance toward the study of Marxism, but it is still regarded dubiously in most scholarly, politically, and economic circles.
Marx was unhappy with the societal climate of his time, in which the working class (proletariat) were being exploited by the upper/middle class (bourgeois) by using the labor of the working class to fatten their own wallets. Marx envisioned a revolutionary society in which everyone’s needs are met, and no class divisions exist. This system, also known as “socialism”, was Marx’s vision for the perfect society.
Marxism began with a “bottom up” approach; that is to say, the needs of a society should begin with economic need at the base, then build upwards to construct the economic climate that will provide for those needs.
Marx held capitalism in complete disdain, claiming that it would be the ruination of all societies, leaving them no alternative but to claim socialism as the sole answer to survival. Marx contended that capitalism would inevitably lead to a revolution by the working class due to the strain that it placed upon the oppressed workers, thus separating them from their own humanity.
There are three basic doctrines of Marxism: Classical Marxism, Academic Marxism, and Political Marxism.
While Marxism itself has become diluted and divided, it is not a form of government in and of itself. Some have erroneously lumped Marxism with communism as being synonymous, but they are not. Marxism believes that capitalism is a misguided system that will result in a revolution between the classes, with communism as the only logical result.
Classical Marxism had nine main points of thought for consideration and resolution:
Alienation: The separation of a person from his humanity by the exploitations of capitalism.
Base and superstructure: Economic needs, according to Marx, are the basis of all societal action. The needs need to be determined, then the superstructure of the aspects which will provide for those needs will commence.
Class consciousness: The awareness of the classes of society and their importance to the overall picture.
Exploitation: Marx vehemently asserted that a society of classes will result in one class taking advantage of (or exploiting) another.
Historical materialism: Marx was the first to identify this phenomenon, which is the study of the way in which humans have been affected by, and struggled to attain, material wealth.
Means of production: The manner in which workers produce products.
Ideology: According to Marx, this is only a term that is used to express the manner in which people are persuaded to believe representations as if they were reality.
Mode of production: The means implemented to generate production. This includes machinery and human labor.
Political economy: Peruses the manner of production, and how it interfaces with the economy.
Academic Marxism refers to the basic tenets of Marxism that have been adopted and studied by scholars with various points of reference. It was academic Marxism that inspired Joseph Stalin to incorporate the classless ideology into modern communism.
Marxism Throughout History
Vladimir Lenin was the first person who tried to institute Marxism’s classless society into a genuine political framework. He attempted this as a result of the October Revolution, and achieved some success as he interspersed Marxism with socialist concepts to bring about communism. He was never able to conquer the capitalist countries of western Europe, an effort which his successor, Joseph Stalin, also championed.
While the concept seemed altruistic, reality was not. As the communist societies lost their stations (classes), they also lost their humanity. Workers became slaves, working under inhuman conditions. This was especially true in countries such as China and the USSR.
Other countries who embraced Marxism were easily identifiable by the phrase “The People’s Republic of” before the name of the country. The names were deceptive however, because these governments became notorious for oppression and flat economic growth.
China has modified its Marxist roots somewhat, and the results appear to be favorable. The USSR, however, failed in 1991 and began the uneasy transition into capitalism. They no longer follow the tenets of Marxism, socialism, or communism.
It is interesting to note the various incongruous aspects of Marx and his assertions. As he protested the plight of the working class in his many writings, including the Communist Manifesto, he was not a manual laborer himself. In fact, most of his time was spent researching, discussing economics, politics, and other pertinent topics of the day. When he was not engaging in this type of collaboration, he was writing, having authored a number of documents promoting his political and socio-economic views.
The utopia he envisioned was described by Marx as a new society in which humanity would no longer be self-alienated and would thus be free to live independent of the bondage of their former lives as laborers. The political state would only be needed to ensure the continuance of the self-alienation. Ideally, the concept sounds noble. Realistically, the classless society meant that the status quo was the best for which anyone could hope. Opportunities for self-improvement were non-existent, as people lost their individuality as they blended into one mass of society.
Marx claimed that the best society was one in which those who were capable would work to supply the needs of all.