Karl Marx and Marxism

Marxism is the economic theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that has been enlarged and improved upon by their supporters. It also encompasses the political and social spheres and is the foundation for the ideology and implementation of communism. Marxism is a wide-ranging theory about a given society, its economy, and the class conflicts within it. Marxism came into existence in 1848 when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto, a pamphlet that discusses class struggles, the eventual collapse of the capitalist system, and its replacement by socialism and then communism. Marx and Engels wrote the manuscript in response to the request of the Communist League. 

The Theory of Class Conflict

According to Marxism, the whole history of societies is brought about by class conflicts. He says that these class struggles are a law of history and the main engine that pushes changes in economic development. Marx explains that class conflict is present in any society that has different social classes because these classes are in a continuous battle for the means of production. Marx believes that every society contains different social classes and that the means of production are always the point of competition between these classes. This competition results in the division of social classes in society. 

Two main classes exist in a capitalist economic structure: the bourgeois, or business owners, and the proletariat, also known as workers. The bourgeois owns the means of production, while the proletariat turns materials into finished products. Being the owners of the modes of production, the bourgeois is the class that wields economic power and has more political influence. The proletariat is neither wealthy nor politically influential. This imbalance in power allows the bourgeois to keep the proletariat under their control and dictate the rules of their relationship. 

Society’s Four Stages of Development

Marx identified four stages that a society undergoes in its ability to produce. The first stage is primitive communism, wherein tribal societies cooperate to keep their collective production going. The next stage is the slave society, wherein tribal city-states come into being and give rise to the aristocracy. This is followed by the third stage, called feudalism, in which the ruling class is the aristocrats, and the traders become the bourgeois. The final stage is capitalism, characterized by the capitalists’ domination, who dictate the nature of work and compensation that the proletariat has to accept. Marx did not claim to have unlocked the mystery of human history but instead explained that his thoughts were based only on a serious examination of real situations in Europe. 

The Root of Class Conflicts

Marx states that capitalism’s main feature is commodities, which can be divided into goods and services. He says that in a capitalist system, workers are mere commodities offered on the market. Whether they are against this situation or not, workers are helpless because they lack political influence and do not control the modes of production, which include machines and raw materials. Moreover, workers can be easily substituted with other workers during difficult economic times. Marx further states that business owners always provide minimal salaries to workers. This enables the business owners to squeeze out the maximum amount of effort from workers and, simultaneously, increase their profits. The foundation on which the capitalist system rests is the same foundation on which slavery is based. Both are established on exploitation, imposed by the smaller, more powerful social class on the larger but weaker one. On top of these, business owners take the added value that is the inevitable result of the workers’ efforts. Then they sell the products on the mass market, separating them from the lives of those who work to produce them. This separation of the products of labor from the laborers is the central meaning of the often-used term in Marxism — “alienation.” 

The Architecture of Capitalism, According to Marxism

Business owners are perpetually devising new ways to keep and accumulate more power against the working class. Meanwhile, the authorities in government, who portray themselves as the high priests of economic growth, implement the desires of the business owners because they hold the means of production. And so, this is how political power uses laws and rights to keep the present imbalance intact. According to Marxism, the media plays down the imbalance of power and instead promotes the merits of capitalism. At the same time, the religion of the state offers fantasies of divine rewards and punishment to ease the pains of the workers and calm them down and accept the existing situation. The perpetuation of capitalism is also strengthened by banks who step in and rescue the bourgeois every time a financial crisis threatens them.

The Social Classes

Marxism lists different social classes based on who owns the modes of production and who controls the labor force.

The Proletariat

This class sells their labor capacity on the market in exchange for basic wages to attain the basics of existence. This class has no ownership of equipment and resources to start production independently. In a capitalist system, the proletariat is used by the bourgeois to create an excess value on the products of labor that is higher than the proletariat’s salary.

The Lumpenproletariat

This is a class made up of people who lie outside society’s accepted circles. These are prostitutes, criminals, and beggars. They are not concerned with the power imbalance and have no stake in any political upheavals. This class is unaware of its own class and will not participate in the inevitable revolution. 

The Bourgeoisstrong

This class holds the means of production and therefore wields economic power and political influence. Being the holder of power, it subjugates the proletariat under its dictates of working conditions and limited wages. 

The Petite Bourgeois

The petite bourgeois is made up of people who work and, at the same time, can pay for labor. This class is exemplified by trade workers and small business operators. 


This is a social class that owns considerable power and wealth.


Like the lumpenproletariat, the members of this class are widely dispersed and do not have the ability to initiate social or economic change. Some members may eventually become proletariat, while others may become landowners.

Marxism defines class consciousness as a social group’s awareness of its characteristics and its capability to achieve its needs. A class can initiate a social revolution against the existing power structure only if it is aware of its existence and situation as a social class.

Social Revolution

Marx asserted that the capitalist system is an instrument one social class uses to exploit a weaker social class. Business owners, or the bourgeois, engage in this exploitation by providing only poor wages to the proletariat, ensuring that the proletariat will only have the basic finances to carry on with their basic existence. This way, the workers will not have any financial momentum to improve their lives. On the other hand, the proletariat unavoidably forms feelings of hostility towards the bourgeois. They feel they are an integral part of the production process and deserve a larger wage. On top of this, they feel that their work degrades them and only enables them to survive one day at a time. Eventually, the proletariat will feel the necessity to overthrow the power-holders, the business owners, by rising and starting a social revolution. When one social class is concerned with the accumulation of capital and power while the other is burdened with survival, revolution necessarily follows. 

Marxism claims that a social class’ amount of control over the modes of production is the root of the conflict. Marxism argues that there is no other way to eliminate the existing imbalance of power except through revolution. 

According to Marx, the capitalist system is bound to destroy itself. He expressed this in a powerful way when he stated that the bourgeois is digging its own grave. Large companies would eventually buy small companies, and this would make way for a monopoly. When this happens, only a small part of the population will have control of production. At the same time, the rest of the population will not have the capacity to buy the capitalists’ products. Marx said that the proletariat cannot endure its miseries forever and would eventually rise up and take control of the means of production. After this revolution achieves its purpose, the common ownership of the modes of production would then be put in place. As a result, a socialist economic structure would be set in place of the old system. The new system will run not on the competition for increased profits but on cooperation to achieve the improvement of human lives.