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Beliefs of Marxism

Beliefs of Marxism

Historical Materialism

"The discovery of the materialist conception of history, or rather, the consistent continuation and extension of materialism into the domain of social phenomenon, removed two chief defects of earlier historical theories. In the first place, they at best examined only the ideological motives of the historical activity of human beings, without grasping the objective laws governing the development of the system of social relations... in the second place, the earlier theories did not cover the activities of the masses of the population, whereas historical materialism made it possible for the first time to study with the accuracy of the natural sciences the social conditions of the life of the masses and the changes in these conditions."

Russian Marxist theoretician and revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, 1913.[10]
"Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand."

The historical materialist theory of history, also synonymous to "the economic interpretation of history" (a coinage by Eduard Bernstein),[12] looks for the causes of societal development and change in the collective ways humans use to make the means for living. The social features of a society (social classes, political structures, ideologies) derive from economic activity, an idea often conveyed with the metaphor of the base and superstructure.

The base and superstructure metaphor explains that the totality of social relations regarding "the social production of their existence" i.e. civil society forms a society's economic base, from which rises a superstructure of political and legal institutions, i.e., political society. The base corresponds to the social consciousness (politics, religion, philosophy, etc.), and it conditions the superstructure and the social consciousness. A conflict between the development of material productive forces and the relations of production provokes social revolutions, thus, the resultant changes to the economic base will lead to the transformation of the superstructure.[13] This relationship is reflexive; the base determines the superstructure, in the first instance, and remains the foundation of a form of social organization which then can act again upon both parts of the base and superstructure, whose relationship is dialectical, not literal.[citation needed][clarification needed]

Marx considered that these socio-economic conflicts have historically manifested themselves as distinct stages (one transitional) of development in Western Europe.[14]

  1. Primitive Communism: as in co-operative tribal societies.
  2. Slave Society: a development of tribal progression to city-state; aristocracy is born.
  3. Feudalism: aristocrats are the ruling class; merchants evolve into capitalists.
  4. Capitalism: capitalists are the ruling class, who create and employ the proletariat.
  5. Socialism: workers gain class consciousness, and via proletarian revolution depose the capitalist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, replacing it in turn with dictatorship of the proletariat through which the socialization of the means of production can be realized.
  6. Communism: a classless and stateless society.

Criticism of capitalism

"We are, in Marx's terms, 'an ensemble of social relations' and we live our lives at the core of the intersection of a number of unequal social relations based on hierarchically interrelated structures which, together, define the historical specificity of the capitalist modes of production and reproduction and underlay their observable manifestations."
—Martha E. Gimenez, Marxism and Class, Gender and Race: Rethinking the Trilogy[15]

According to the Marxist theoretician and revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, "the principal content of Marxism" was "Marx's economic doctrine".[16] Marx believed that the capitalist bourgeois and their economists were promoting what he saw as the lie that "The interests of the capitalist and those of the worker are... one and the same"; he believed that they did this by purporting the concept that "the fastest possible growth of productive capital" was best not only for the wealthy capitalists but also for the workers because it provided them with employment.[17]

Exploitation is a matter of surplus labour — the amount of labour one performs beyond what one receives in goods. Exploitation has been a socio-economic feature of every class society, and is one of the principal features distinguishing the social classes. The power of one social class to control the means of production enables its exploitation of the other classes.

In capitalism, the labour theory of value is the operative concern; the value of a commodity equals the socially necessary labour time required to produce it. Under that condition, surplus value (the difference between the value produced and the value received by a labourer) is synonymous with the term "surplus labour"; thus, capitalist exploitation is realised as deriving surplus value from the worker.

In pre-capitalist economies, exploitation of the worker was achieved via physical coercion. In the capitalist mode of production, that result is more subtly achieved; because the worker does not own the means of production, he or she must voluntarily enter into an exploitive work relationship with a capitalist in order to earn the necessities of life. The worker's entry into such employment is voluntary in that he or she chooses which capitalist to work for. However, the worker must work or starve. Thus, exploitation is inevitable, and the "voluntary" nature of a worker participating in a capitalist society is illusory.

Alienation is the estrangement of people from their humanity (German: Gattungswesen, "species-essence", "species-being"), which is a systematic result of capitalism. Under capitalism, the fruits of production belong to the employers, who expropriate the surplus created by others, and so generate alienated labourers.[18] In Marx's view, alienation is an objective characterization of the worker's situation in capitalism — his or her self-awareness of this condition is not prerequisite.

The identity of a social class derives from its relationship to the means of production; Marx describes the social classes in capitalist societies:

  • Proletariat: "those individuals who sell their labour power, and who, in the capitalist mode of production, do not own the means of production".[citation needed] The capitalist mode of production establishes the conditions enabling the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat because the workers’ labour generates a surplus value greater than the workers’ wages.
  • Bourgeoisie: those who "own the means of production" and buy labour power from the proletariat, thus exploiting the proletariat; they subdivide as bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie.
    • Petit bourgeoisie are those who employ labourers, but who also work, i.e. small business owners, peasant landlords, trade workers et al. Marxism predicts that the continual reinvention of the means of production eventually would destroy the petit bourgeoisie, degrading them from the middle class to the proletariat.
  • Lumpenproletariat: criminals, vagabonds, beggars, et al., who have no stake in the economy, and so sell their labour to the highest bidder.
  • Landlords: an historically important social class who retain some wealth and power.
  • Peasantry and farmers: a disorganised class incapable of effecting socio-economic change, most of whom would enter the proletariat, and some become landlords.

Class consciousness denotes the awareness — of itself and the social world — that a social class possesses, and its capacity to rationally act in their best interests; hence, class consciousness is required before they can effect a successful revolution.

Without defining ideology,[19] Marx used the term to denote the production of images of social reality; according to Engels, "ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces".[20] Because the ruling class controls the society’s means of production, the superstructure of society, the ruling social ideas are determined by the best interests of said ruling class. In The German Ideology, "the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is, at the same time, its ruling intellectual force".[21]

The term political economy originally denoted the study of the conditions under which economic production was organised in the capitalist system. In Marxism, political economy studies the means of production, specifically of capital, and how that manifests as economic activity.

"Marxism taught me what society was. I was like a blindfolded man in a forest, who doesn't even know where north or south is. If you don't eventually come to truly understand the history of the class struggle, or at least have a clear idea that society is divided between the rich and the poor, and that some people subjugate and exploit other people, you're lost in a forest, not knowing anything."

Cuban revolutionary and Marxist-Leninist politician Fidel Castro on discovering Marxism, 2009.[22]

Revolution, socialism, and communism

Marxists believe that the transition from capitalism to socialism is an inevitable part of the development of human society; as Lenin stated, "it is evident that Marx deduces the inevitability of the transformation of capitalist society [into a socialist society] wholly and exclusively from the economic law of motion of contemporary society."[23]

Marxists believe that a socialist society will be far better for the majority of the populace than its capitalist counterpart, for instance, prior to the Russian revolution of 1917, Lenin wrote that "The socialization of production is bound to lead to the conversion of the means of production into the property of society... This conversion will directly result in an immense increase in productivity of labour, a reduction of working hours, and the replacement of the remnants, the ruins of small-scale, primitive, disunited production by collective and improved labour."[24]

Classical Marxism

Main article: Classical Marxism

The term Classical Marxism denotes the theory propounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.[citation needed] As such, Classical Marxism distinguishes between "Marxism" as broadly perceived, and "what Marx believed"; thus, in 1883, Marx wrote to the French labour leader Jules Guesde and to Paul Lafargue (Marx’s son-in-law) — both of whom claimed to represent Marxist principles — accusing them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggle; from which derives the paraphrase: "If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist".[25] [26] American Marx scholar Hal Draper responded to this comment by saying, "there are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike".[27]

Criticism

Some Marxists have criticised the academic institutionalisation of Marxism for being too detached from political action. For instance, Zimbabwean Trotskyist Alex Callinicos, himself a professional academic, stated that "Its practitioners remind one of Narcissus, who in the Greek legend fell in love with his own reflection... Sometimes it is necessary to devote time to clarifying and developing the concepts that we use, but indeed for Western Marxists this has become an end in itself. The result is a body of writings incomprehensible to all but a tiny minority of highly qualified scholars."[28]

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