Karl Marx and Communism

According to the German philosopher Karl Marx, poverty and misery will constantly torment the proletariat, or working class, because these are the unavoidable outcomes of capitalism. This situation is built into the capitalist system and will continue to exist unless a new system, communism, replaces the old. Karl Marx stated that once communism is established, the modes of production, such as machines and factories, would be owned by the people and the state. Therefore, production would finally be aimed at improving the lives of the masses and not just the lives of the ruling few. Marx put forward this analysis of the capitalist system and his idea of communism in his historic work, Manifesto of the Communist Party. He earlier laid down the basis of communism in a work he wrote in 1846 called The German Ideology. In 1867, he published Das Kapital, where he detailed his theories on capitalism and its inherent faults, which would lead to its collapse.

Marx’s theories have four elements:

  • A materialist interpretation of history
  • An analysis of capitalism
  • The eventual abolition of capitalism
  • The establishment of communism

Historical Materialism

Marx claimed that history is merely a succession of struggles and revolutions between social classes. These revolutions lead to changes in the existing power order. Marx was partly influenced by the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who argued that history is the dialectical outcome of spirit. However, Marx claimed the opposite, saying that material situations drove change in any historical period. He said that humans’ economic or material condition was dictated by their basic needs to survive and that without producing the tools to help in their survival, there would be no other human activity.

Two things make up the process of material production. One is the raw materials and the machines that transform these raw materials into products. The other is labor provided by the proletariat, or working class, which operates the machines to modify the raw materials. These two factors work together to propel history forward as societies become more sophisticated. However, in primitive times, these elements were crude and could be manipulated and produced easily. For example, a trowel and grains can quickly produce food. However, with the improvement of technology, significant changes in elements of production followed. For instance, miners originally used an axe and shovel to do their work. When machines for digging were invented, these miners then had to work for the owner of the machine. Workers did not have the wealth to buy their own machines, so they had to keep working for the ones who had the money and the machines. The machine owners, or business owners, eventually realized the advantage they had over the workers, and so since then, they have exerted efforts to preserve the situation. In Marx’s view, capitalism became established in this fashion. The business owners became the bourgeoisie, and the workers who worked for the bourgeoisie became the proletariat. The proletariat now had to face their new identities as mere parts of the production machine.

Analysis of Capitalism

The second element of Marx’s theory is his analysis of capitalism. Marx looked at history as a series of stages of development, from slavery to feudalism and then to capitalism. Each stage is characterized by a dominant social class that controls the production process and an oppressed, weaker class that is forced to labor and produce for the dominant class. Struggles between these classes in each stage of history lead to the downfall of the ruling class and their replacement by the next one. And so, the bourgeoisie toppled the aristocracy and substituted feudalism with capitalism. Using this line of reasoning, Marx prophesied that the proletariat would overpower the capitalists and establish communism in place of capitalism.

Marx admitted that since each stage of human history was inevitable, capitalism should be seen as inevitable too. The continuous improvement in production technology had no other direction except toward the capitalist system. However, what Marx saw as evil was the uneven distribution of power and wealth that capitalism brought on. While the proletariat work for long hours and are given poor wages, the capitalists enjoy the profits of the proletariat’s labor. Marx stated that in a capitalist system, workers are the ones who create a product’s value. Marx maintained that the amount of work applied to a product determines the product’s value. Yet the workers are not paid in proportion to their efforts because the capitalists take away the surplus-value. This is how capitalists gain profit. Eventually, the capitalists accumulate massive amounts of wealth so that they can now dictate their wishes to the state. In turn, the state implements the dictates of the capitalists, resulting in continuous misery for the workers.

The unfortunate situation of the proletariat is made worse by an unseen force called ideology. Ideology is the dominant ideas and beliefs in a given period in history, and the dominant ideology is always the ideas of the ruling social class. Therefore, in a capitalist society, the capitalists make sure that their ideology is spread through the instruments of the state, such as schools and churches. This constant dissemination of ideas that favor the ruling class results in a false consciousness that eventually infects the minds of the masses. And so, the ideology that capitalism is the perfect way of producing and consuming eventually becomes accepted by the masses. People are made to believe the lie that the economy is improving everybody’s lives. False consciousness also implants into the minds of the masses another ideology in the form of religion. It is part of the capitalist ideology to make workers believe that hard work, low pay, and a difficult life are all a part of God’s grand, mysterious plan. Religion is used by the ruling social class to numb the pain and bitterness felt by the working masses, prompting Marx to call religion “the opium of the people.” While being numbed by the ideologies of the capitalists, the proletariat also suffers from alienation. The term “alienation” is the term Marx used to refer to the fact that the products created by the workers are taken away from them and sold in the mass market. As a result, the workers feel estranged from the products of their labor. Alienation also describes how the workers feel only as parts of the machines that they operate.

Revolution and the Establishment of Communism

Marx explained that capitalism is a naturally unstable economic system and will therefore be the cause of its own collapse. The capitalist economy will inevitably suffer from a terrible succession of crises and expansions, while the proletariat will continue to endure low wages and miserable lives. Marx said that the proletariat would eventually be compelled to rise up against the bourgeoisie and forcibly take the modes of production and, with these, the powers of the state. What will follow is what Marx described as the revolutionary rule of the proletariat. Following the events of the past, the proletariat will enforce its ideology in the same manner that the bourgeoisie enforced its own when it overthrew the aristocracy. This way, the proletariat will be able to assert its interests and stop the capitalists from regaining power. When the time comes that the proletariat feels the capitalists no longer pose a threat, they will establish a communist society. This society will be characterized by common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes.