Marxism is a philosophical system developed by Marx and Friedrich Engels. The theory is also known as dialectical materialism, under which matter gives rise to mind. Dialectical materialism is based on social and political institutions progressively changing their nature as economic developments transform material conditions. This is the basis for communism. The reverse theory would be capitalism. While communism in some forms can be traced to various utopian ideas, the theoretical basis for the communist countries is from Karl Marx, an impoverished German, and his colleague Friedrich Engels.
Marx believed that all the evil in the world could be attributed to a class struggle between the “haves,” the wealthy, who controlled the means of production and the “have nots,” the workers, who actually did the laboring. Marx saw greater and greater wealth being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer, while the masses, the workers, were being deprived of the rightful fruits of their labors. Marx envisioned a world union of the Working Classes, where the proletariat would arise and overthrow the bosses. Then, with the workers controlling everything, everyone would work to the limits of his (or her) abilities, and everyone would receive all he or she needed.
Marx envisioned this taking place first in the highly industrialized countries of Germany and England, not in largely rural and illiterate Russia. Lenin’s contribution to Marxist theory was the concept of the weakest link: that Russia, as the weak link in the chain of industrialized countries, should be the first to overthrow the bourgeois and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. As we can see in recent years, things did not go according to his plan.
Marx’s economic theories were complicated and mostly very wrong. Central to his conception of economics was the labor theory of value. According to this theory, the amount a product was worth depended on how much labor was put into it. In reality, a product is worth how much you can sell it for. Marx thought that capitalists, the people who owned the means of production, would constantly push to get more and more labor out of workers, the people who comprised the proletariat, so they could get more and more profits.
In his view, competition tended to merely lower wages. In the end, the smaller capitalists would not be able to compete and would become part of the proletariat as well. When the proletariat finally became large and oppressed enough, it would rise and overthrow the capitalists and take control of the means of production and operate them for the public good. Today, we acknowledge that competition also lowers prices, which makes goods cheaper for everyone.
Marx’s view of new technology was also rather backward. He saw it as tending to make workers redundant, which is true, and thus making workers more desperate for work and driving wages down. He failed to realize that gains in productivity also make goods cheaper for everyone, including workers, and that the savings in one industry could be invested in another and result in greater employment in the end. Rising productivity is actually essential to rising standards of living over the long run.
Marx often used the views of other philosophers, like Hegel and Feuerbach to support his social theories. Feuerbach, for instance, was very critical of religion. Hegel saw human history as the progression from bondage to freedom. Freedom is achieved as the desires of the individual are integrated into the unified system of the state, in which the will of one is replaced by the will of all. This theory is shown in his division of history into three stages, the first of which is in the ancient orient where only the ruler was free, the second in Greece and Rome where some were free, and modern world where all are considered free. This view of history divided Hegel’s followers into left- and right-wing camps, with leftists like Marx turning the dialectic of Spirit into the dialectic of economic conditions and rightists stressing the unity of the state and breathing new life into Protestantism.
When Marx wrote about revolution, in many ways he did not have a clear idea regarding its logistics. It is one thing to write about expropriating the expropriator; it is quite another to figure out just how to do it. Marx assumed that the ruling class, capitalists, would not relinquish power without a fight, so he foresaw a violent struggle. Toward the end of his life, however, Marx began to waver on this as well as some other important issues. But it was not until after his death that Marxists (revisionists) began to come up with concrete strategies to bring about revolution via nonviolent parliamentary participation.
Marx had the idea that the people should rise from the lower classes and overthrow the rich or ruling class. His error in assuming classes was that in a capitalist system, where there is no monarchy, there is no distinct social class, and upward mobility of the middle class is a dynamic. Social distinctions are made, but are made in standards of living that are only guaranteed by the hard work and risks of engaging in profit making business. Limits of upward mobility are only limited by the lack of talent and hard work.
In a Utopian society such as the one Marx envisioned, there would not be the need to invest hard work and risks for greater returns. Without motivation and hard work, Utopia is only a dream, and living standards will probably seek the lowest level of subsistence. This has proven true in most all such experiments with communism.
Even the lowest level in a good capitalist society gains advantages as the standard of living rises. The rising tide raises all boats. Some boats may not be as grand as others but are adequate for those who apply their talents and energy. In the Marxist social model, there is a trend toward mediocrity at best and mere survival at worst. Competition and striving seem to gravitate toward the best of all worlds even for the least of us. We can, in effect, enjoy the fruits of the efforts of others and aid their ascension while enjoying these benefits.
Utopia is a situation of unrealistic expectations where there is not a drive to excel and compete. A pie that is small and divided evenly is still a small piece of pie. On the other hand, a larger and more magnificent pie has the potential of satisfying needs although the wedge is narrower.