Karl Marx’s theories, called dialectical materialism, were first introduced in the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. Later, Marx continued to work out his theories in Das Kapital. How were those theories presented and explained?
Marx’s Work of Theories
Marxism was presented as a science of revolution, rejecting earlier thinkers as merely ‘utopian socialists’ whose plans were not based on material realities. Karl Marx’s doctrine was scientific socialism which brought together many contemporary concerns like, evolution, science, mass politics. It drew on French politics, English economics, and German philosophy.
The doctrine exercised considerable appeal, promising keys to history and progress. It showed the emphasis that there was a comprehensive explanation for what was experienced. Communists compulsively invoked the adjective ‘concrete’ to stress being grounded in reality.
Marx’s Contrasting Ideas to Hegel’s Idealism
Overturning Hegel’s ‘idealism’, Marx stated that the basis of reality did not lay in ideas, but matter. Hence his doctrine was based on historical or dialectical materialism, seeing human reality as at base economy. There could be no just law as such, but only a legal system protecting the interests of the ruling class. For Marx, religion was feeble as a transparent illusion, an ‘opiate of the masses’ to distract them from their misery.
Marxism offered something different and scientific: it presented a tableau of human history, a dramatic narrative of progress, with roles played by the toiling masses and economic forces like industry. Marx and Engels stated that certain exceptional individuals could rise above their class origins to survey and influence the historical process as a whole.
Learn more about the rise of brutal ideological regimes that promised total solutions.
History of Class Struggles
Marx and Engels stated that the history of all hitherto existing society was the history of class struggles. Clashes through the dialectic process, the society passed historically through phases of different modes of production. First, an original stage of primitive communism before property existed, then came an ‘Asiatic mode,’ which was public slavery, yoked to the state and then, in classical antiquity, private slavery. In the Middle Ages, feudalism was ready to fade, the new ascendant middle classes had played a progressive role, and the French Revolution was an example of their rising to power.
Era of Capitalism
Mankind had reached the penultimate stage of history, Capitalism. A new working class, the so‐called proletariat confronted the owning class, the bourgeoisie. The etymology of the term ‘proletarian’, which Marx used, was derived from the classical Latin proles—offspring. In Marx’s usage, proletarians were people who had nothing to sell but their labor and were the lowest class in society.
Due to relentless competition and low wages, the proletariat was constantly growing, as the bourgeoisie got smaller, with once prosperous people dropping down into the proletariat. The proletariat’s growing misery drove it to revolution, a process called pauperization or immiseration.
The ones who were not full‐fledged members of that idealized group, Marx looked down on those he called the Lumpenproletariat. Lumpen in German meant rags, so this harsh term referred to the ragged poor, unemployed, criminals, bohemians, dropouts. Those were not the saviors or the peasants he had in mind. According to Marxism, the proletariat had no country of its own. Nationalism was an illusion, and Marx saw race and ethnicity as epiphenomena, rapidly fading away in a globalizing modernity.
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Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto
Marx and Engels opened their Communist Manifesto with the ringing declaration, ‘A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of communism’.
Their movement was already an irresistible force. In a call to arms, they thundered that Communists disdained to conceal their views and aims and openly declared that their ends could be attained only by the forcible overthrowing of all existing social conditions.
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat
After an international workers’ revolution, the end of history ensued. That evocative concept did not mean that time ceased, but the logic of history had reached its necessary endpoint. Marx and Engels called that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ in which the working class took over state power and abolished all class distinctions. The state was to wither away, leaving a classless society free of private property, in which equal individuals would find fulfillment in work.
Vague Outlines by Marx
The transition stage, was socialism, giving way to full, perfect communism. But the vague outlines of that future did not detract from its appeal. Marx did not devote himself to spelling out in detail what the end of history would be like, as that was too close to the unscientific utopianism he scorned.
But it was assumed that Marx was only theorizing, never intending to have his ideas put into practice because Marx himself had stated, “Philosophers hitherto have only interpreted the world in various ways; the thing is, however, to change it”.
This is a transcript from the video series The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Mark’s Admiration for ‘Bourgeoisie’
Marx protested against the crimes of the bourgeoisie, but, at the same time, also admired them, because they had been, world movers and shakers. Globalization was a force that Marx was enthusiastic about, which was the future. For that reason, Marx hated imperial Russia, among the states of Europe, as autocratic, backward, and reactionary. The same logic led Marx and Engels to despise small nations as well. Marxism was called Eurocentric for suggesting that all countries would go through the phases first seen in Europe.
Learn more about the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
In Marx’s writings, there was a frequent ‘double register’. As an example, on the one hand, he took a remote, dispassionate Olympian perspective on the bourgeoisie and on other exploiting classes, which was presented as nonjudgmental, scientific, and neutral analysis. In addition, his writings also contained moral outrage against the rich. With maturity, Marx’s emphasis was on science.
Hidden Religious Dimension
There was religious dimension hidden in Marxism, resembling a secular religion with the proletariat playing the role of the Messiah, Marx himself as a kind of Moses showing the way forward with revolution representing redemption, and after that, communism as paradise or the Kingdom of God. The historian Robert Service, saw a religious impulse encoded within Marxism. Some scholars saw a similarity between the tradition of Talmudic argument and debate and the intense ferocity of intellectual combat within Marxism. Others said that Marx’s main preoccupation was the end times, the apocalypse.
Common Questions about Communism
The main points of the Communist Manifesto are that the history of all existing society was the history of class struggles. The doctrine was scientific socialism which brought together many contemporary concerns like, evolution, science, mass politics.
According to Marx, the proletariat is the working class who takes over state power and abolishes all class distinctions. The state is to wither away, leaving a classless society free of private property, in which equal individuals find fulfillment in work.
Karl Marx is considered the father of communism. He drafted various theories about communism which were published in the Communist Manifesto and later in Das Kapital. His theories are referred to as Marxism.
Marx protested against the crimes of the bourgeoisie, where a new working class, the proletariat confronted the owning class, that bourgeoisie. But, at the same time, Marx also admired and respected the bourgeoisie, because according to him, they were, world movers and shakers.