Marxism is an economic and political philosophy named for Karl Marx. It is also known as scientific (as opposed to utopian) socialism. Marxism has had a profound impact on contemporary culture. Modern communism is based on it, and most modern socialist theories originated from it.
Karl Marx was born in Trier, Germany in 1818. His ancestors were Jewish rabbis. Prior to his birth, around 1816, his father, Heinrich, converted to Christianity. He did this in order to continue practicing law after the Prussian government passed a law denying Jews the opportunity to serve in this profession. His mother finally converted when Karl was seven.
In daily life, the family did not really demonstrate much interest in religion, but his parents raised Karl in an atmosphere of religious toleration. He even attended a religious school, though the purpose was for a superior academic education rather than for religious training.
For his higher education, Marx attended Bonn University. He later worked on his doctorate at Berlin University. During that time be became a committed atheist and turned into a political and social radical. His views were so radical, that it became difficult for him to get a job as a professor, so he turned his main focus to political activism. In order to share his ideas with a wider audience, he became the editor of a business periodical which also had a bent toward radical political viewpoints. In that position he was able to more fully develop and express his philosophy of dialectical materialism.
In 1843 he met Frederich Engles who became his closest friend, as well as a benefactor and collaborator. They both had much the same beliefs and were very much philosophical and political soul-mates. That same year, because of his radical activism, the German government closed his publication and expelled him from Germany. From there he moved to Paris.
Not too long after that, his radical activism got him in trouble again and he was kicked out of France. From there he moved to Brussels, Belgium where, in 1948, Marx and Engles wrote the Communist Manifesto.
Following its publication he was expelled from Belgium, and he attempted to go back to Germany. But when he returned, he was once again kicked out. He tried, once more, to live in France. But they, too, banished him again and he finally ended up in London.
Because of his devotion to his cause, he basically lived a paupers life. He was often reduced to begging money from friends and relatives to pay his debts. He finally achieved some measure of financial success and stability after publishing Das Kapital in 1867. He died in 1883.
Basic Beliefs and Practices
Marxism is not just a political and economic philosophy. It is actually an comprehensive way of looking at and explaining the world. As such it affirms an atheistic religious viewpoint and a contempt for philosophy. Although no single writing by Marx, and his associate Friedrich Engels, covers all aspects of Marxism, the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital develop his ideas most completely.
The core of Marxism is expressed in the concept of dialectical materialism. This philosophy asserts that economic factors are the primary determinants of the flow of history. From this foundation, Marx developed the basic thesis that the history of society is actually the history of class struggle.
According to his assumptions, a specific class could only stay in power as long as it was the best representative of the class which is most economically productive. When it could no longer do that, it would be destroyed and replaced. He believed that through this process a classless society would eventually emerge.
According to Marx’s theory, the capitalist society of his day had destroyed the unproductive feudal nobility which went before, and had replaced it with a new industrial order. In his mind, the stage was set for one final struggle between the capitalist class (bourgeoisie), which had completed its historic role, and the working class (proletariat) who had become the new productive class. He believed that it was these industrial workers who would complete the revolution by overturning capitalism and create a true classless society.
The Marxist god is humanity’s inevitable march toward societal perfection based on the economic principals of dialectical materialism. All of this is built on the understanding that there is no supernatural God, but that mankind is master of his own destiny.
Marxism denies the worth and freedom of the individual. Individuals have value only as they promote the common good of society.
Salvation is achieved as individuals deny their own personal desires and find the place where they can most effectively contribute to the collective society.
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality)
The only thing that exists is matter which is evolving and eternal.
2. What is the nature of our material reality? (Material reality)
Matter is eternal and the universe, as it now exists, is the result of the eternal operation of natural laws. That matter has evolved into human societies which are moving steadily toward a unified classless society.
3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
Human beings are nothing more than complex biological machines. They are the result of the operation of evolutionary processes over billions of years. An individual’s value is tied to the ability to be productive for the common good of society.
4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
At death, the individual life form simply ceases to exist.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
Knowledge is merely a chance happening because of a high level of evolution in the human animal.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality)
Right and wrong are tied to the betterment of society. Things which contribute to the improvement of society are good and things that detract are bad.
7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
There is no transcendent meaning in history. It is, simply, a linear progression of events moving from the past to the future.
The fundamental concepts of Marxism are expressed in two of Karl Marx’s works.
1. The Communist Manifesto is Marx’s blueprint for overthrowing capitalism.
2. Das Kapital teaches that the capitalist class exploits the working class.
Evidence for the Authority
There is no empirical evidence that Marx’s opinions about the nature of reality are actually true. In fact, virtually everywhere that Marxist principles have been put into practice, the result has been dictatorships, genocide and economic destruction.
© 2006 Freddy Davis