Marxism; the most misused word in the political dictionary? Just what exactly is it?
Karl Marx is, arguably, one of the most prominent figures of his time. His work has had long reaching effects for the past 150 years of global history. However, little is actually understood by the average person of his work. It is more than often seen as some sort of curse word, when something is seen as undesirable in politics it is frequently referred to, at least by the reactionaries, as ‘Marxism’, ‘Socialism’ or ‘Communism’. Which the large majority of the time is just plain wrong.
So what actually is Marxism? Well if you’ve ever asked yourself that question and tried to find out you’ll have noticed two things; one, that Marx, and ‘Marxists’, have written an astronomical amount of text. Two, that most of it makes so little sense that it hurts your head to even try and think about it (I’m a student of sociology and I could only handle three pages of ‘Das Capital’). So in this Hub I’ve aimed to make the work of Marx more digestible.
A few important words/phrases
Before I explain further I should give you some definitions...
Bourgeoisie- the Ruling Class and owners of the means of production
Petit bourgeoisie- the family business owners
Middle class- professional and skilled workers
Proletariat- the semi-skilled and unskilled workers
Lumpen Proletariat- the unemployed both skilled and unskilled (often referred to as the ‘reserve army of labour’).
Super structure- the structure of society within the capitalist epoch
Capitalist- dependent on capital (money or material)
Marx’s theory stems from an Ancient Greek concept of knowledge debate; A ‘Thesis’ is pitted against an opposing ‘Antithesis’ when the debate is concluded the end result is the ‘Synthesis’. Marx then applied this theory to the real world; he called this dialectical materialism. Marx applied this theory to groups of people;
Thesis(group A) vs. Antithesis(group B) = synthesis (new situation)
This led to the creation of the concept of the class conflict. Through this conflict between groups Marx believed society would develop in three main stages; the feudal, the capitalist and the social epoch.
The Feudal Epoch
The first epoch, the feudal one, is the conflict between the autocracy (the hereditary ruling) class, and the Bourgeoisie (the merchants). This conflict occurs because the Bourgeoisie wish to turn their economic power into political power. They become more powerful as the economy changes from one based on land ownership into one based on a cash economy.
This transition can happen for many reasons. For example within England the transition from feudal to capitalist happened because of the Black Death and the rising price of wool (random right?).
The conflict in this epoch is between the autocracy and the Bourgeoisie; the Proletariat would be used as workers and as soldiers in the conflict, but not for their own gain. When the autocracy are over thrown by the Bourgeoisie society moves to the Capitalist epoch.
The Capitalist epoch
The conflict within the Capitalist epoch is between the Bourgeoisie, who own the means of product, and the Proletariat who do not own the means of production. The Proletariat labour for the Bourgeoisie. The conflict arises because the Bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat.
The Proletariat out number the Bourgeoisie so the super structure is in place to keep the Proletariat suppressed; the superstructure is the hierarchy of society. The society’s norms and values are shaped by the Bourgeoisie through such means as religion, the ‘opiate of the people’, the government, the ‘state executive of the Bourgeoisie’, and though the introduction of conflict such as racism.
The alienation of the Proletariat; work should humanise man it provides social contact yet is productive and helpful. But under capitalism it dehumanises us. People become motivated by money which leads to a culture based on money and self interest.
This constant exploit of the proletariat leads to their pauperisation. The five main groups in society will go to the two extremes(polarise). The petit bourgeoisie, the family business owners, will either join the elite ranks of the bourgeoisie or their business will fail and they will become part of the proletariat. The middle class will become part of the proletariat as their professions will become deskilled. This pauperisation will lead to polarisation of wealth and a wider divide in society.
The Proletariat will then change from a ‘class in itself’ will change, though developing class consciousness, realising that they are all being exploited, into a ‘class for itself’; leading to a Revolution against the Bourgeoisie and the implementation of Socialism.
The Socailist epoch
In the Socialist epoch their will be communal ownership of means of production so that everyone is entitled to an equal allocation of the resources available. There will be only one social class meaning there will be no exploitation. As Marx famously wrote ‘From each according to ability to each according to need’. In this socialist society the state will whither away as it is no longer needed to keep the people under thumb. This is meant to be the final stage of history, a utopian society.
Although some claim Marx’s theory is dated he is one of the founding fathers of modern sociology; evidence based sociology. He used the Hansard, factory reports and questionnaires to support this findings, the beginning of modern social sciences. He’s given us the concept of social class which has been used in many theories since. Whether or not you agree with him Marx’s contribution is too large to ignore.
So there we have it, the thousands of words from Marx summed up in a short Hub. Hope you’ve found this Hub interesting, please feel free to comment. I’d be more than willing to answer any questions you have.