No thinker in the 19th Century has had such a direct, deliberate and powerful influence upon mankind as Karl Marx, and now his concept of Marxism is a major perspective in modern sociology. Karl Marxs revolutionary philosophies lead to the practice of socialism and communism, then ultimately the overthrow of an entire capitalist society and the state institutions that had brought it into being, through the Communist Revolutions in Eastern Europe and China during the last century. The main concepts that create the theory of Marxism are: a criticism of capitalism, a classless society and classical political economics.
Karl Marxs famous theories to help define Marxism include: dialectical materialism, the law of development and the mode of production. Within his lifetime, a new revolutionary practice was formed, and Marx’s name would be forever associated with that practice (Kreis, 2003). The German-born Karl Marx was a philosopher, social scientist, historian and revolutionary, and possibly the most influential socialist thinker to emerge from the nineteenth century (Kreis, 2003). He completed the greater part of his work between 1844 and 1883, during periods of democratic nationalism, trade unionism and revolution.
He had an acute sense of injustice and was repelled by the rhetoric of the intellectuals, who were remote from reality, and the self-righteous contentment of the bourgeoisie, as he found they were hypocritical and blinded by their wealth and status (Kreis, 2003). Fredrich Engels was essentially a social philosopher, and was the co-founder of the modern communist theory with Karl Marx. In 1847 Engels and Marx began writing a pamphlet based on Engels’ The Principles of Communism. The 12,000-word pamphlet was finished in six weeks, written in such a manner as to make communist theory understandable to a wide audience.
It was named The Communist Manifesto and was published in February 1848. After Marx’s death in 1883 Engels devoted the rest of his life to editing and translating Marx’s writings. Marxism can sometimes be defined as the theory of dialectical materialism based on communist practice. Dialectical Materialism is a way of understanding reality; whether thoughts, emotions, or the material world. The materialist dialectic is the theoretical foundation of Marxism, while being communist is the practice of Marxism (Marxists. rg, 2003), where communists actively support the interests of the working class and live to unite workers regardless of gender, nationality, race or ideology (Perry, 2002). Dialectics in Marx referred to opposing forces in reality: internal and inherent forces whose mutual conflicts produce metamorphoses. Men are products of their environment in general and their economic environment in particular (Sowell, 1985). This dialectical idea of self-destruction through self-fulfillment is predominantly stating that the culture destroys itself by perfecting itself (Wolton, 1996).
Marx distinguished five broad stages in the formation of a bourgeois society. He named these Modes of Production. In Marxs writings the five major historical modes of production are: primitive communism, the ancient mode of production, Asiatic mode of production, feudism and capitalism (Evans, 1993; Perry, 2002). Social development from the lowest stage to the highest was marked by increases in human powers of production, the elaboration of the division of labour, and the rise of the institution of private property.
The contradictions within the highest existing stage (i. e. : a bourgeois society) would lead to its replacement by a still higher stage: communism (Evans, 1993). Socialism and communism were conceived as future modes of production that would liberate humanity from exploitation and oppression, using the general increase in the productive forces for the general good. Marx and Engel maintained that this mode of production opened a new possibility of a classless society: socialism. They devoted their lifes work to the achievement of this goal (Perry, 2002).
In modern capitalism, large capitalist employers exploit workers by not paying them the full worth of their labour. Marx considered that the progression of capitalism, each technical advance and each accretion of productivity, was bought at the price of the exploitation and suffering of workers (Evans, 1993). In his theory on the capitalist system, Marx referrers to the de-humanisation of the worker, with the implication that this system of production denies them something that is their due as human beings.
He argued that capitalism had either destroyed morality or turned it into a palpable lie (Wilde, 1998). As the capitalist system grew richer, the majority of people in it became impoverished (Evans, 1993). Marxism is a necessary point of exodus for understanding capitalism’s deep structure (Kennedy, 2001). What passed for Marxism became the official religion of the Soviet Union and in turn Eastern Europe, China and various other parts of the globe (Roseberry, 1997). From being the inspiration of the labour movement or persecuted revolutionaries it was transformed into its opposite: a state ideology.
Marxism-Leninism became a new political term. It was a label of Lenins approach to Marxism at the beginning of the twentieth century, in a capitalist Russia emerging from Feudalism. Marxism-Leninism was the official state political theory of the former Soviet State and was enforced throughout most of the former Eastern European socialist governments of the twentieth century (Evans, 1993). Marxism claims to be a universal theory, a theory that can comprehend the dynamics and conflicts of society in their totality.
Marxism rejects the idea that there needs to be different theories to explain different experiences. Marxism claims its method can be used to explain quite clearly the experience of women and ethnic oppression. It sees the repression of women and societys ethnic groups resulting from the general formation of society as a whole (Wolton, 1996). The experience of women and ethnic groups can be elucidated from the broader analysis of the workings of a capitalist society. The privatised and isolated experience of women is a result of their responsibility of the home and family.
The formation of a capitalist society has to be taken into account in understanding womens oppression (Wolton, 1996; Perry 2002). Despite fierce criticism of Marxism from feminist and Black Nationalist historians, Marxists were consequently amongst pioneers of womans and black history. Shelia Rowbothams Hidden From History (1973) helped to open up the field of radical womens history, while Marxists C. L. R. James, Eric Williams and Eugene Genoveses work on black slavery and Peter Fryers Staying Power (1984) on the black experience in Britain played a similar role in black history (Perry, 2002).
Marx was able to construct metaphysics, an epistemology, a social theory, a philosophy of history, a political philosophy and a theory of revolution (Kennedy & Galtz 1996). He was a man whose ideas, insightfulness and importance even non-Marxists cannot deny. His analysis of the capitalist mode of production serves as a near history of the Industrial Revolution in England. His discourse on alienation is as provocative today as it was when he first discussed it in 1844.
His analysis of society although devised in the course of an effort to understand the mid-nineteenth-century-capitalist world resulted in the construction of a set of concepts, which work remarkably well when applied to any era. Marx was an intellectual, a philosopher, historian and revolutionary whose total life experience was that of the 19th century. Marxist concepts have helped historians and sociologists ask new questions and change the way society is viewed. The concept of Marxism helped form the society of the twentieth century and ultimately the society we know today.