Theory and Terms

  • Marxist theory (19th C) whereas Marxism and Communism (20th C) eg Soviet Union
  • Marxism was a theory of revolutionary communism that classified itself as scientific socialism
  • Predicted the inevitable overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat
  • This was due to inevitable conflicts from contradictions in the capitalist system
  • Marxism is interested only in private property
  • Exploitation is a concept central to the theory of inevitable class conflict
  • Dialectical materialism was the label given by Engels to the theory of progress through economic conflict
  • Ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class
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  • Marxism views ideologies negatively to mean a partial and distorting class perspective
  • Marxism is not an ideology but a true and total scientific picture of reality
  • Marx contrasted his scientism with utopianism
  • However critics have labelled Marxism as utopian
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Terms 1

  • Materlialism - A theory based primarily on economic analysis
  • Dialectical materialism - a theory of progress through economic conflict
  • Private property - individual ownership of the means of production for profit
  • Class - a group sharing a relationship to the means of production such as ownership
  • Bourgeoise- the ruling class that owns the means of production
  • Proletariat- the working class that owns only its labour
  • Exploitation- extraction of surplus value from the proletariat to make profit
  • Alienation- estrangement from the product, work and fellow men
  • Surplus value- value created by labour in excess of its own (source of profit)
  • Class conflict- A clash of irreconcilable interests between proletariat and bourgeoisie, culminating in class struggle
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Terms 2

  • Ideology- a set of ideas and values that reflect and protect ruling class interests eg. bourgeois ideology in Capitalism
  • Hegemony- class ideological dominance- eg bourgeois hegemony in capitalism
  • Class for itself - A class conscious of its own common identity, interests and historical role
  • Scientific socialism - a label for Marxist theory which claims to be rationalist, objective, empirical, verifiable and predictive
  • Determinism- a predictive theory which says that events are caused by precedingevents therefore with knowledge of preceding events, future trends and tendencies can be deduced
  • The state- part of the superstructure- the political agent of the economic ruling class in every class stage
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Terms 3

  • Revolution- complete transofrmation of the economic, political and social systems
  • Dictatorship of the proletariat- atransitional period of class rule by the majority working class immediately after revolution in order to defend against counterrevolution by the bourgeoisie
  • Communism- final stage of classless society in which private property is eliminated, bringing the withering away of the state and the disappearance of class conflict, alienation and ideology
  • Withering of the state- the disappearance of the state as the political agent of class rule because of the abolition of classes
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Marx and Engels theory of class based societies

  • Primitive communism
  • Slave based society (slave owners and slaves)
  • Feudalism (Landowner and Serf)
  • Industrial Capitalism (Bourgeois and Proletarian)
  • Socialism (Interim to communism)
  • Communism (a classless society)
  • These economic and social developments were part of a long chain of human history culminating in an egalitatian, classless, stateless society
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The Marxist Argument

  • All of human history has been a series of class struggles from slavery to feudalism to capitalism
  • In all of these there are two main classes- the ruling and subject
  • The ruling class comprises those who own and control the means of production ; in capitalism this is the bourgeoisie
  • The subject class own only their labour power and are the proletariat
  • The bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat by extracting the surplus value
  • This is the only possible source of profit under capitalism
  • There is therefore an inescapable conflict of interests
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The Marxist Argument: Ruling Class Ideology

  • Every class has an ideology which reflect and protect its class interests
  • This changes in response to changes in the means of production
  • The ideology of the ruling class is dominant as they own the means by which ideas are transmitted- the media, education, political and legal processes
  • Marx called these the means of mental production
  • Politicians, civil servants, TV producers and presenters need not be members of the ruling class as such
  • However they always act as agents of the ruling class promoting its interests by defending and preserving the existing capitalist system and class hierarchy, by the partial nature and content of the ideas and values that they promote
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The Superstructure

  • Ideology is a partof what Marx called the Superstructure
  • Those means for controlling the oppressed of the ruling and economically superior class
  • The state is a part of the superstructure and as a result is always oppressive
  • The state exists to protect the ruling class through fear and coercion
  • Each economic system produces a superstructure that is appropriate for its needs
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Dialectical Materialism

  • Engels called Marx's theory of progress via economic conflict 'dialectical materialism'
  • Marxism is materialist as it sees economic factors as primary
  • It examines the course of human history and argues that progress throughout history is caused by conflict, in particular class conflict
  • 'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle'
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  • Under the oppression of capitalism workers suffer from alienation
  • They cannot relate to the productthey make nor to their fellow workers who they fear will take their jobs
  • Eventually economic crisis will make the workers aware of the fact that the capitalist system is only serving the interests of the ruling class
  • The workers will rise in revolution to overthrow capitalism and create a transitional phase of proletarian dictatorship
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End of History

  • When all industry is collectively owned, classes will have been abolished and communism will have been achieved
  • Only then will ideology - class based ideas and values - disappear
  • The state as the political agent of the ruling class will wither away
  • True direct democracy will develop and the end of history of conflict will be achieved
  • This analysis of human progress through economic conflict is not wishful thinking but scientific determinism
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Science and Utopia

  • Marx contrasted his scientism with utopianism
  • Utopianism is a form of poilitical theorising that develops an ethical critique and hence fundamental rejection of the existing social order by constructing a model of an ideal or perfect alternative
  • This is a utopia, based on highly optimistic assumptions about the perfectability of human nature and society
  • Marx was critical of earlier socialists and left wing anarchists such as Proudhon who he labelled utopian socialists because they criticised capitalism in a moralistic, emotion and irrational terms
  • Marx said they had no adequate analysis of the means of changing society
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  • Marx did not moralise about the evils of capitalism
  • He argued that the systems inevitable internal economic contradictions would cause it to self destruct
  • This has been shown in history in circumstances such as the fall of feudalism
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Is Marx Utopian?

  • Marxism has often been labelled as utopia
  • This is because it seems to foresee a perfect future world and because most other philosophies such as traditional conservatism and parliamentary socialist regard many aspects of the theory as an unattainable fantasy
  • Conservatism argues that the Marxist view of human nature is over optimistic.
  • Organic conservatives regard the concept of the disappearance of the state as wholly untenable
  • Parliamentary socialists argue that given the growing affluence and contentment of the working class in modern capitalism, we have 'missed the revolutionary bus' - Berki
  • Certainly themain problem for Marxists today continues to be the evidently non revolutionary nature of the western Working Class
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  • Since Gramsci in the 1920s Marxists have used the term Hegemony
  • Greek - Hegemon - Ruler
  • Denotes the predominance of one social class over the others
  • This stresses economic and political control exercised by the dominant class and also its success in projecting its own particular ideology
  • Itsideology is its own set of self serving ideas which deny, conceal and justify the material realities of exploitation and alienation
  • This exists in the estrangement of the proletariat from their work and their fellow men
  • This is accepted as common sense and part of the natural order by those who are subordinated and oppressed by it
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Burden of Proof

  • Mannheim criticised Marxism as a utopian ideology because it takes theside of the oppressed working class and to argue for a social transformation would benefit them disproportionately
  • Popper rejects Marx's claim to scientism because he sets not time limit for revolution and therefore cannot be disproved
  • It is not falsifiable in the way that any good scientific hypothesis should be
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  • Rejects the unsentimental scientism of Marx together with his insistence on the need for a transitional workers state after revolution
  • Anarchists fear a dictatorship of the proletariat would entrench itself as a self serving, coercive power that would never wither away
  • There were personal antagonisms between Marx and contemporary anarchists
  • Bakunin described him as a 'German authoritarian and an arrogant Jew who wanted to transform the general council of the First International into a personal dictatorship over the workers' in 1890
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Marxist Revisionists

  • The most significant post Marxist theorist was Lenin
  • He criticised Marx's belief in the inevitability of revolution, arguing that workers would not develop the consciousness necessary to lead a revolution
  • Instead it was necessary to have a Vanguard Party
  • This would consist of professional revolutionaries who would have the scientific understanding necessary to lead the workers forward from trade union consciousness to revolutionary class consciousness


  • Stalin built on Lenins centralist ideas
  • He rejected the internationalism of Marx and Lenin and argued that through state control and rapid industrialisation it was possible to build socialism within one country
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Marxism in Practice

  • Marxism has been tainted by the practice of 20thC communist regimes especially by Stalin in the Soviet Union and other dominions throughout Europe
  • However these regimes developed in circumstances so far removed from those demanded by Marxism (pre capitalist economies) and with antithetical characteristics such as the overbearing state as opposed to the withering away of it
  • Criticism of Marxist theory by reference to later practice is unfair and invalid
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Marx's Vision

  • Positive abolition of private property
  • Human self alienation
  • Real appropriation of human nature through and for man
  • It is therefore the return of man to himself as a social being - a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development
  • Communism as fully developed naturalism is humanism
  • 'It is the definitive resolution of the antagonism between man and nature, and between man and man' - Marx, 1843
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  • It is argued that contemporary capitalist globalisation is rendering Marxist theory more and more redundant
  • The bourgeoisie has via its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country
  • All old established national industries have or are being destroyed
  • They are dislodged by new industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from remote zones
  • In place of old wants satisfied by country production, we find new wants requiring products from distant lands
  • In place of old local and national seclusion and self sufficiency, we have universal interdependence of nations - Marx 1848
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