Meaning, Features and Principles of Marxism

After reading this article you will learn about Marxism:

1. Meaning of Marxism

2. Features of Marxism

3. Principles.

Meaning of Marxism:

During his lifetime (1818-1883) Marx himself was not at all acquainted with the word Marxism. After his death Engels and his adherents circulated the term and since then we use the word Marxism.

The interesting fact is that he once said, “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” But one cannot infer from this that Marx rejected the main tenets of his doctrine. The interpreters of Marxism say that Marx never claimed that he had presented a clear and correct view about the social political and economic conditions of the world.

He studied the social, economic and political conditions of the various countries and specially the capitalist states of the world and on the basis of his study and investigation he drew certain conclusions. Behind every conclusion there are facts. Of course he has interpreted the facts and social-political-economic conditions.

In general terms Marxism is the world view of social, economic and political conditions. He has interpreted the facts he collected in the background of the particular idea or thought or what may be called philosophy. This we call Marxism.

So we quote Plekhanov:

Marxism is a whole world view and this view has been explained by a method or principle which is called dialectical materialism.

Marx explained and interpreted the political economy of the entire capitalist world and arrived at the conclusion that the economically powerful class which is capitalist exploits the entire society for its own benefits. He had not only exposed the naked character of exploitation, but also pointed out vehement protest against this exploitation.

The proletariat class is the victim of exploitation and naturally this class started to protest and the method of protest is revolutionary. Hence Marxism includes nature or various aspects of capitalism and revolutionary protest against it. He explained the nature of capitalist society in details and reactions against it.

Marx explained nature of capitalist society consciously and those who protested against it, they did it quite consciously. Marx explained capitalism with the help of facts contained in history. He never resorted to imagination and for this reason Marxist method is called materialist method as well as dialectical method. So Marxism is interpretation of history or bourgeois society by way of dialectical materialism.

Marxism consists of three elements. First is a dialectical philosophy borrowed from Hegel but transformed into dialectical materialism, from which, in turn, historical materialism derives.

In the second place Marxism is a system of political economy. It consists of labour theory of value and theory of surplus value. Marx drew his conclusions from these two concepts.

The labour theory of value was first formu­lated by Locke. Finally Marxism is a theory of state and revolution. Generally, Marxism includes all these three elements.

Marxism is, therefore, a composite social, political and economic picture of bourgeois society viewed through dialectical materialism. Karl Korsch (1886-1961) a German Marxist, has redefined Marxism in an essay published in 1935. The essay is entitled “Why I am a Marxist”.

Features of Marxism:

According to Korsch there are few important features of Marxism:

1. All the tenets of Marxism are particular and not general. It has not built up any general theory which is applicable in all places. Marx’s concept of “base” and “superstructure is a real concept, but its application differs from place to place. The only statements that are valid are particular descriptions of particular phenomena at a given stage of history”.

2. Marxism is not science or philosophy. It is simply a critical and practical analysis of existing society. Naturally it can be called a praxis. Marxism is based on exact and verifiable knowledge. It can be empirically tested or verified. Hence it is an empirical doctrine.

3. The central subject of Marxism is capitalist society. Marx scanned almost all the important aspects of capitalist society by applying dialectical materialism.

4. Its chief aim is not simply to analyse the capitalist society, but to change it. Marx has said that the philosophers have interpreted the world, but the real task is to change the world or society.

In the Third World countries Marxism means a guide to national liberation movement. Up to the end of the Second World War, Marxism was generally confined within anti-capitalist and anti-exploitation thought. But during the fifties and sixties of the last century almost whole of Asia and Africa was plunged in anti-imperialist struggle and the leaders of the liberation movement were inspired by Marxism.

In several cases Marxism was synonymous with anti-imperialism and anti-colonial- ism. In the light of Marxism (to some extent orthodox Marxism) colonial and imperial questions were being interpreted and this considerably enhanced the scope of meaning and definition of Marxism.

Particularly Lenin’s National and Colonial Questions were drafted in the light of Marxism. The ill-designs and conspiracy of imperialist powers were not only interpreted in the background of Marxism, but Marxism was treated as a powerful weapon to fight imperialist powers. In this way the purview of Marxism has increased perceptibly.

Fundamental Principles of Marxism:

It has been asserted that Marx in all his works followed certain fundamental principles and Kolakowsky puts it more categorically in the following words. There are certain “fundamental principles of Marx’s theory, from which he never departed. The whole of his work, down to the last page of Capital, was a confirmation and elaboration of these ideas”.

Let us briefly state (following Kolakowski) these fundamental principles:

1. Both Hegel and Marx have dealt with a basic question – How is man to be reconciled with him and with the world? Hegel was of opinion that mind of man passes through history and finally comes to realize what is the world.

This realisation is truth. Hegel also speaks of Spirit and man understands it through his realisation of the world. But Marx did not support the contention of Hegel. The opposite view of Hegel was first formulated by Feuerbach and Marx borrowed it from him.

According to Marx man is not concerned with Absolute Idea or Spirit but with the stark reality. This he tries to understand and explain in the background of his own life. He always interprets the world around him.

2. Both Hegel and Marx thought that man was the product of self-knowledge and he goes on reconciling with the world. But to Hegel the concept of self- knowledge is associated with Spirit or Absolute Idea. Marx has rejected it and has laid down the famous doctrine of alienation. That is, he tries to under­stand himself or the world around him through the alienation. The theory of alienation is the product of the alienated labour. In fact, alienation occupies a very important place in Marx’s theory.

3. In capitalist economy there is a division of labour which means that a labour produces a single or small part of an article. The capitalist system has introduced this division of labour to have better results. But its harmful consequence is with the passing away of time man is gradually alienated from the whole production system and finally the society.

He is ultimately converted into a machine. The division of labour no doubt helps the progress of industry of capitalist society. But man is the victim of its harmful effects. Again, this alienation is responsible for dehumanisation. According to Marx this dehumanisation is the greatest evil of capitalist society.

4. The general meaning of alienation is that it is the “subjugation of man by his own work, which has assumed the guise of independent things”. The entire economic process including production and distribution is beyond the control of workers. They work just like machine.

In other words, the workers are alienated from the mainstream of productive process and from here the dehumanisation starts. Hence alienation and dehumanisation are closely related and the entire capitalist system is absolutely responsible for this.

5. In the opinion of Marx, since alienation is the greatest evil of capitalist system the workers must be freed from this evil. But he has warned us by saying that there is no scope of freeing individuals from the curse of alienation because it is an integral part of the capitalist system.

The only way is the curses of alienation are to be removed. But in a capitalist system there is no possibility of freeing man from alienation.

6. If we go through Marx’s analysis we shall find that the only way of freeing man from alienation is the establishment of communism or communist society.

Let us put it in the words of Kolakowski:

“Communism puts an end to the division of life into public and private spheres and to the difference between civil society and the state, it does away with the need for political institutions, political authority and governments, private property and its source in the division of labour. It destroys the class system and exploitation; it heals the split in man’s nature and the crippled one-sided development of the indi­vidual”.

Hence communism and disappearance of alienation is almost same thing. That is why it has been rightly observed that the transcendence of alienation and communism are identical. The building up of a communist society will completely transform the existence of men and women.

7. Only in communism man gets the full opportunity to flourish his latent qualities and this makes him a perfect human being. In a capitalist society he is deprived of this. Man has many good qualities and abilities.

Capitalism suppresses them. But in communism he gets full scope to develop them and ultimately he arrives at the stage which he desires. Only in communism man frees him from all sorts of exploitation and bondage.

Communism creates an atmosphere which ensures the “realization of freedom, not only from exploi­tation and political power but from immediate bodily needs. It is the solution to the problem of history and is also the end of history”.

8. The Utopian socialists “imagined” that communism could be achieved through the repeated and fervent appeal to the capitalists. But Marx did not accept it. He thought that only through an intense struggle against the bourgeoisie a communist society can be finally built up. In his opinion the present age (when Marx was writing 1845-1883) is quite ripe for an intense struggle.

It is the duty of the working class to fully utilize the situation. The contradictions within capitalism have achieved the stage of maturity. There was maximum dehumanisation and this is intolerable.

A worker is no more than a commodity. He gets no respect as a human being. In other words, the capitalists treat him as a commodity. This is an unimaginable humiliation only communism can save him and to achieve it workers will have to fight.

Kolakowski says:

“The proletariat is not a mere agglomeration of suffering, degradation and misery but also the historical instrument by which man is to recover his heritage.”

9. About consciousness Marx’s opinion is clear. He says that the consciousness of the proletariat is not all. That is, it may be passive or active. If the consciousness is of the former type emancipation from exploitation will not be possible because the passive consciousness cannot do the job.

The consciousness must be active and must have a revolutionary spirit. The proletariat must be prepared for all sorts of hazards. Workers must fight against these. Naturally, consciousness of revolutionary category is the only way of emancipation. What Marx means is that without struggle emancipa­tion is not possible.

10. Marx also talked about various aspects of consciousness. For example, proletarians will be conscious of their own class. Again, be conscious of the fact that only struggle against the bourgeoisie is the way of freedom. Without prolonged struggle, communism cannot be achieved. Moreover, communism can be protected through continuous struggle.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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