Marxism is the set of philosophical, economic, political and social ideas elaborated by the Germans Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) in the middle of 1848.
His ideas spread throughout the world and influenced intellectuals from all fields of knowledge throughout the 19th and 20th centuries:
Origin of Marxism
Marx and Engels realized that work is the key concept of society. In this way, the whole history of mankind would go through the tension between the owners of the means of production and those who could only accomplish the task.
Thus, for Marxist theory class struggle would be “the engine of history.” The production of material goods would be the conditioning factor of social, intellectual and political life.
Marx and Engels contemplate the printing of their articles.
Marx and Engels reflected on human relations and the institutions that govern societies, such as private property, family, government, etc. This gives rise to the principles that underpinned Marxism, also known as ” scientific socialism.”
On the other hand, “utopian socialism” already theorized about the means capable of resolving the difference between the members of the proletariat and the ruling bourgeois class.
His ideals inspired various currents of thought that wanted to change capitalist structures such as anarchism, socialism and communism, among others.
Therefore, for Marxists, it is necessary to link thought to revolutionary practice, combining concept with praxis as a way of transforming the world.
However, those thinkers overestimated the predictability of human societies. After all, many of the countries that proclaimed themselves followers of Marxist ideas have not strictly followed their precepts.
Main Marxist Currents
The main currents of Marxism were social democracy, present in Western countries to the present day, and Bolshevism, extinguished with the fall of the USSR.
Moreover, the foundational work of Marxism is “ The Capital, ” published in 1867, 1885, and 1894, in three volumes, edited by Engels from Marx’s manuscripts.
This work remains a basic reading and is still influential in the fields of philosophy as well as in other areas of the humanities and arts.
Influence of Marxism
Marxism inspired several revolutions and governments, such as the Bolshevik of Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in Russia in 1917.
After World War II, some of these ideas were adopted in the formation of the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, North Korea, and Cuba.
The contradiction between the workers and the bourgeois was portrayed on the murals of Mexican Diego de Rivera
Developed on four fundamental levels, Marxist theory is grouped at the philosophical, economic, political, and sociological levels according to the idea of ”permanent transformation.”
It is explicit in this approach that the human being and society can only be understood through the forces that produce and reproduce the conditions of existence.
From this perspective, the analysis of the material conditions of human existence in society becomes fundamental.
On the other hand, Marxism was born from three intellectual traditions developed in nineteenth-century Europe, namely:
- the idealism German of Hegel;
- the political economy of Adam Smith;
- the political theory of utopian socialism, by French authors.
From these conceptions, it was possible to elaborate a study of humanity through materialism.
For Marx, history would be a process of continual creation, satisfaction, and recreation of human needs. These cannot be understood outside the historical context and their historically localized material determinism.
Knowledge liberates man through his action on the world, enabling even revolutionary action against the dominant ideology. It always seeks to camouflage the contradictions of the capitalist system.
Therefore, Marxism perceives the class struggle as a means to the end of this exploitation, as well as to the institution of a society where the producers would be the holders of its production.
Regarding the “state”, Marx realized that it would not be an ideal of morality or reason, but an external force of society that would rise above it.
However, this would in fact be a way of securing the domination of the ruling class by maintaining ownership.
Thus, the state would have concomitantly emerged private property as a way of protecting it, which makes any state, however democratic, a dictatorship.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels believe that the state uses various tools to effect its domination. Examples would be the bureaucracy, the territorial division of citizens, and the monopoly of violence guaranteed by a standing army.
Thus it is implied that armed revolution would be a way to destroy capitalist society.
Likewise, socialism would be the intermediate stage between the bourgeois state and Communism. In a communist society there would no longer be the division of society into classes, and the end of the capitalist mode of production.
This would be the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, characterized by the absorption of social functions destined for the state. Note that state characteristics also disappeared, such as bureaucracy and the standing army.
Finally, the proletarian government would cede to a communist society in which the state and property would be permanently extinguished.
Gains and Disposals
Among the various Marxist concepts, we highlight those of “surplus value” and “alienation”.
It refers to the worker, who produces more than was calculated, creating a value much higher than what is paid back in the form of salary.
Thus, this excess work is not paid to the worker. This value, according to the Marxist view, will be used by the capitalist to further increase his capital as well as the state of domination over the worker.
Finally, “surplus value” is the difference between what the worker receives (salary) and what he actually produced.
On the other hand, “alienation” occurs when the producer does not recognize himself in what he produces, causing the product to emerge as a separate power from the producer.
Historical and Dialectical Materialism
The historical materialism is a way to understand human societies from the manner in which material goods are produced and distributed among its members. This concept gave rise to the theory of “ Modes of Production”: Primitive, Asian, Slave, Feudal, Capitalist, and Communist.
On the other hand, dialectical materialism is basically class struggle, the contradiction between the interests of dominant and dominated which generates the historical transformations.
The definitive overcoming of one system by another would be the result of the struggles of a society divided into classes. In it the workers conduct the revolutionary process in which they take control of the state, as in the case of the French Revolution, when the bourgeoisie overcomes the nobility and takes its place.
Therefore, historical materialism and dialectical materialism are indeed interrelated concepts. The first would give a panoramic view and the second depicts the processes of social change.
Personalities influenced by Marxism
- Walter Benjamin
- Max Horkheimer
- Che guevara
- Zygmunt Bauman
- Florestan Fernandes
Curiosities about Marxism
- Marxist theory has become an ideology that has spread to regions around the world and underlies governments to this day.
- Marx called himself a materialist, not an idealist.
- Socialist economic reforms, based on Marxist concepts, were also responsible for millions of deaths in the last century caused by wars and widespread famine.
- The Russian Revolution was the largest social engineering experiment in human history.