Philosophy | By Branch/Doctrine | By Historical Period | By Movement/School | By Individual Philosopher
Philosophy: The Basics
A huge subject broken down into manageable chunks
Random Quote of the Day:

Marxism is a philosophical, political and social movement derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1829 - 1895) in the second half of the 19th Century. It is a theoretical-practical framework based on the analysis of "the conflicts between the powerful and the subjugated" with working class self-emancipation as its goal. It promotes a pure form of Socialism and provides the intellectual base for various subsequent forms of Communism.

According to Marx, it is class struggle (the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests) that is the means of bringing about changes in a society's mode of production, and that structures each historical period and drives historical change. Marx believed that a socialist revolution must occur in order to establish a "dictatorship of the proletariat" with the ultimate goal of public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

The other major element of Marx's philosophy, and one which underlies much of the rest of his work, is his theory of Historical Materialism (or the Materialist Conception of History), his attempt to make history scientific. It is based on the principle of Dialectical Materialism (a synthesis of Hegel's theory of Dialectics and the idea that social and other phenomena are essentially material in nature, rather than ideal or spiritual) as it applies to history and societies. Societies, and their cultural and institutional superstructures, naturally move from stage to stage as the dominant class is displaced by a new emerging class in a social and political upheaval. Although arguably more a political ideology than a philosophy as such, Marxism clearly has a major philosophical element in it, and that philosophy is essentially Hegelian in character. For more details, see the section on the doctrine of Marxism.

As a philosopher, Marx was influenced by a number of different thinkers, including the Kantian and German Idealist Immanuel Kant; the Hegelianists Georg Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 - 1872); the British political economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo (1772 - 1823); and French social theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Fourier (1772 - 1837), Henri de Saint-Simon (1760 -1825), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 - 1865), Flora Tristan (1803 -1844) and Louis Blanc (1811 - 1882).

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1829 - 1895) first met in person in 1844. The defining document of Marxism and Communism is "The Communist Manifesto", published jointly by Marx and Engels in 1848. The first volume of "Das Kapital" (Marx's ambitious treatise on political economy and critical analysis of Capitalism and its practical economic application) was published in 1867, with two more volumes edited and published after his death by Engels. For the most part, these works were collaborations and, while Marx is the more famous of the two, he was strongly influenced by Engels' earlier works, and Engels was also responsible for much of the interpretation and editing of Marx's work.

The first large-scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers' state into practice came with the Russian Revolution (or October Revolution) of 1917, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870 - 1924) and the Bolshevik Party (even though Russia was not an ideal candidate with a fully developed Capitalist system, as Marxist theory prescribed). Despite Lenin's exhortations, however, other countries did not follow suit, and attempted Socialist revolutions in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the newly-formed Soviet Union on its own.

Even in the early days of the Soviet Union, there were those, notably Leon Trotsky (1879 - 1940) and Rosa Luxemburg (1870 - 1919), who claimed that the form of Communism adopted there (especially after Joseph Stalin took control after Lenin's death in 1924) did not conform to Marxist theory, and much of the rest of the history of Socialism and Communism is replete with different factions claiming their legitimacy from Marxism.

Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary Communist parties all over the world, some of which were eventually able to gain power (e.g. the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba), and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People's Republics) eventually became authoritarian states with stagnating economies, which caused much debate about whether Marxism was doomed in practice, or whether these nations were in fact not led by "true Marxists".

By 1990, the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe had all abandoned Communist rule, and in 1991 the Soviet Union itself dissolved, leaving China, Cuba and some isolated states in Asia and Africa as the remaining bastions of Communism, although in most cases any identification with classical Marxism had long since disappeared.

In addition to the early Marxist pioneers (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg), mention should be made of the prominent later Marxist thinkers, including the Hungarian Georg Lukács (1885 - 1971), the German Karl Korsch (1886 - 1961), the Italian Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1937), the German-American Herbert Marcuse (1898 - 1979), the French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980), the German Jürgen Habermas (1929 - ), the Algerian-French Louis Althusser (1918 - 1990), and the British Marxists E. P. Thompson (1924 - 1993), Christopher Hill (1912 - 2003), Eric Hobsbawm (1917 - 2012) and Raphael Samuel (1934 - 1996).

Back to Top of Page
Philosophy | By Branch/Doctrine | By Historical Period | By Movement/School | By Individual Philosopher
Thank you for supporting philosophy!

The articles on this site are © 2008-2018.
If you quote this material please be courteous and provide a link.
Citations | FAQs | Inquiries | Privacy Policy