Karl Marx’s Socialism

Karl Marx in 1882

Karl Marx was a German economist and philosopher who enormously influenced the economies of many nations and world politics. He was the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, a pamphlet that became the foundation of the communist movement. In this famous pamphlet, Marx stated that capitalism would eventually collapse and be replaced by socialism and then communism.

For Marx, socialism is an economic structure that allows people to realize their full potential. In a socialist society, Marx believed that workers would not feel alien to the products of their labor. In Marxist literature, the term “alienation” is constantly mentioned. This alienation refers to workers’ common sentiments that they feel foreign to the results of their work. In a socialist economic structure, the conditions for production would enable workers to achieve their rationality and independence fully and would end the exploitation of the working class. As Marx envisioned, socialism is an economic and political arrangement wherein the government owns the mode of production. Socialism is founded on the concept that state ownership of the methods of production will eliminate exploitation and therefore lead to a more just and equal society.

Marx did not use the word “socialism” when he referred to the first stage of a communist society. Marx simply called this early stage the stage that has not achieved its eventual goal. The word “socialism” was made popular by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin.

Marx’s Vision of Socialism

Marx’s vision of socialism is based on his understanding of man. It is clear to Marx that socialism is not an economic structure where workers are mere automatons like gears in a wheel within a larger wheel. Socialism is not aimed at preserving the dominion of the state machine over the workers. Socialism’s goal is the development of man through the creation of a method of production wherein workers would not feel detached from the products of their efforts. This economic structure would also enable workers not to feel alienated from their work and other people, ensuring that workers can feel their power through their work and regain their connection with the world. In the third volume of Das Kapital, Marx explains that socialism’s purpose is to create a system that eliminates the vast differences between the workers (proletariat) and the bourgeoisie (owners of the mode of production, or capitalists). When these differences are eliminated, the dominion that coerces workers to work in undesirable situations will weaken and fade away, along with the disappearance of low salaries.

The Inevitable Collapse of Capitalism

Marx argued that the capitalist system would undoubtedly collapse. This collapse is unavoidable because of the faults that are built into the system itself. In a capitalist system, big companies will inevitably emerge as dominant in the market. These giant companies would naturally try to expand and grow bigger by buying smaller companies. These purchases would lead to a monopoly, wherein only a small group of people or capitalists control the materials and means of production, and eventually power.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population would be deprived of these opportunities and suffer poverty. The common people would not have the money to buy products produced by capitalists. Workers who have been suffering from low salaries would not be able to purchase products on the market. In contrast, if workers were only being paid the right amount, they would be able to continuously buy products from capitalists. According to Marx, if this were the situation, workers would be able to support the continuation of capitalism.

Elements of Socialism

An important element of socialism is that workers work cooperatively, not competitively. Marx added that workers produce objects in a sensible way and should not feel alienated or estranged from the products of their work. These concepts naturally lead to workers gaining control of the modes of production and not being dictated to by the demands for more production. The workers themselves become involved in the planning and implementation of the system, leading to the development of democracy in the production process.

The workers’ involvement in the planning and implementation of production would eliminate the unpredictable shifts in the market that is a necessary part of a capitalist system. Incentives would be set within a socialist economy, so some form of imbalance would remain. However, this would eventually be in a much-reduced form because workers would then be part-owners of the modes of production. By participating in the production process, instances of inequality will be lessened while power and dominance will be more evenly divided. A system of compensation would be established on merit and would follow the doctrine of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.”

Marx predicted that because workers would no longer feel alienated from their work and from their products, they would become independent and no longer be powerless in the process of production and consumption. Eventually, they would be able to make their lives the focus of their efforts, instead of laboring for a living. However, Marx clarified that socialism is not the goal itself, but the requirement for achieving a better life for workers. Marx believed that the time had come when man had finally developed the economic means to free workers from poverty and the emptiness of blind labor. He explained that socialism is not merely abstract theorizing or an escape from the real world. He added that socialism is not a plea to return to a primitive way of life but is actually a turning point in history, where workers may finally rise beyond being cogs in the wheel of production and consumption.

The Purpose of Socialism and Real Human Needs

The goal of socialism, then, is freedom. But Marx envisioned freedom that was much more progressive than the democracy of his time. The freedom that Marx had in mind was the kind that allowed workers to use their own capacities of production to connect themselves to the material world. A socialist society attends to the needs of men. However, critics of socialism counter these ideas of Marx by pointing out that capitalism does the exact same thing — it attends to the needs of man. They argue that companies and advertising firms have created a massive culture of advertising that is used to sense the needs of society. Supporters of socialism claim that this criticism is misguided. They state that in order to understand socialism as Marx imagined it, one should keep in mind that Marx separated man’s real needs from his artificial needs. These artificial needs are only developed in man by the products themselves. Marx’s arguments flow from his understanding of the nature of man. He contends that man’s natural needs are to be found in his nature. These natural needs can only be observed when a man is separated from his artificial environment. These artificial needs are experienced by man as being very serious, as serious as his real needs. The real needs of human beings are simply those that contribute to their improvement as human beings. 

Modern society may interpret real needs as natural needs and artificial needs as obsessive needs, ones that are brought about by consumerist culture. The danger that false needs present is that people are sometimes aware of them while remaining unmindful of their true needs. Marx, therefore, prescribed the medicine that should cure a man of this confusion, to make him come to his senses and help him identify his real needs, and free him from his artificial needs. To Marx, the intention of socialism is to cater to man’s natural needs. This goal can only be worked on when the means of production are placed in man’s interests and under his control when capitalists can no longer force workers to work and create artificial needs.

Marx’s vision of socialism is an outcry against the unjust treatment of workers during his time. A famous philosopher born after Marx’s lifetime stated that the present social and economic situation is founded on the absence of love. If this statement is accurate, then it can be said that Marx’s idea of socialism is a criticism of this absence of love, characterized by the treatment of workers as mere parts of a machine and the irresponsible use of nature as raw materials in production. To Marx, the man who is free from the sense of alienation does not exploit nature but instead works with nature and feels the life of the objects he created with his own labor.

The Function of the State

In Marx’s view, the state is merely a tool used by the more dominant class to continue exploiting the weaker class. Therefore, the state exists only because two classes exist and because the more powerful of these two conflicting classes needs an instrument to maintain the present state of affairs.

However, after the workers have revolted and started to implement the socialist system of economy, the state will be in their control. As the socialist system gradually develops, the state’s functions slowly change. The old concept of ownership and modes of production will be slowly replaced by state control. Eventually, the state changes from its use as a tool of political power into an instrument of economic management.