Marxism is the adherence to the economic and political theories of Karl Marx (and Friedrich Engels), as expressed in writings such as Das Kapital (Capital), The Communist Manifesto and countless pamphlets.

Marxism is based on the Hegelian idea of Dialectic, specifically Social Dialectic, and envisages that socialism and eventually communism are inevitable replacements of capitalism, which is just a transitional phase of society.

Marxist thinking has never been fully put into practice, although various mutations have, from Social Democracy, through to Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. Most Marxists these days are not dogmatic, but use Marx's ideas as an inspiration for social change.

In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto, a writing that predicted class war, the overthrow of capitalism and a classless society. It was to prove most influential in the development of revolutionary ideas. These happenings would result in the "abolition of private property" to instate communism, which Marx believed was the key to solving Russia's problems.

Communism, also known as Marxism, is a concept or system of society in which the community rather than individuals owns major resources and means of production. Work is shared equally throughout the nation according to ability, and everyone has equal rights, standard of living and class. Run by and for the people, the economy would produce what the people needed, instead of what was profitable. Marx prophesised abundance and the disappearance of inequalities and coercive government.

Marx postulated that capitalism -- an economic model representing the Western economic systems as one in which money and power are progressively concentrated in the hands of a few -- was flawed and therefore bound to destroy itself. He argued that with the more goods a capitalist nation accumulated, the less use it would have for these goods; the more people it trained, the less it could utilise their talents.

With the collapse of capitalism, socialism would emerge as teh natural result, as a transition period before the ultimate very long-term goal of communism. Marx did acknowledge, however, that socialism could be built only under conditions of abundance. A poor country becoming a planned, egalitarian society would only succeed in generalising poverty and creating new conflicts over the distribution of society's resources. He figured that their system of government would spread over Europe, and that Europe would then assist Russia with money, resources and expertise.

Revolutionary groups, like Lenin's Bolsheviks, trusted Marx's judgement and tended to base most of their plans on his teachings.
Paper written for my introductory philosophy class (got an A, for what it's worth)

Marxism is based upon the assumption that private ownership of property is unethical. This stems from the perceived inequity afforded workers employed by a property owner who controls their means of production under a capitalistic political and economic system. Capitalism is based on the private ownership of production-the firms, workplaces and finance system. Capitalists make a living on this ownership by getting profit on their investments. There may be some parts of the economy under public ownership, but the privately run big companies are the most important part.

The "working class," as defined by Marxism, are those who exchange labor for wages. Marxism makes a clear distinction between those who own capital and those who earn a living by selling their labor, often making comparisons to the feudal system in medieval Europe. This distinction is highly misleading. In a free-market economy, anyone can own capital and indeed, many if not most "working class" people own stock in major corporations. People also have the freedom to move from one class to another and in many situations, so-called class distinctions are vague and mostly meaningless.

Marxism also holds that labor creates value, that workers create the wealth. Labor does play a big part in the production of goods, but capital and organization is in truth, even more important. It takes a huge amount of overhead in terms of machinery, tools, raw materials, administration and coordination to produce a car, for example. Workers are not compelled to work as under the feudal system, either. Companies hire workers of their own free will, and competition between companies keeps the working wage at a reasonable level, just as market competition regulates the prices of goods.

It all comes down to a fundamental argument about whether or not private ownership of property is moral. The fact that a free-market economy is both efficient and productive, whereas a communist economy is inefficient and sluggish aside, the primary reason Marxism is wrong is that it devalues the individual. The right of private property follows from the principle that human beings are first, and foremost individuals. When you think of a particular person, the single most important attributes you associate with that person are applicable specifically to that person, not to the group or society to which they belong. One's identity is not racial, professional or religious- it is individual. People make individual choices, and because of this, ethics, on the most basic level, must deal with how individual people interact with one another. Individual sovereignty demands that people be allowed to own that which belongs to them. The state has no right to assume ownership of all goods. Indeed, if you concede the state this much, that the state should be turned into something in effect resembling a nursing home, you lose all freedom in exchange for the security of less personal responsibility.

Marxism is not based upon the assumption that private ownership of private property is unethical.  Marxism (as propounded by Marx) is based upon a dialectical analysis of historical events and their causal relationship to evolving economic conditions.  Any moral judgement then passed on the perceived social relations engendered by these economic conditions is only a reaction to conclusions reached via Marx's philosophical process; it is not an intrinsic part of that process.

It is misleading to dismiss the 'meaning' of Marx's class distinctions on the basis that they are not applicable in a free-market economy beacause not only has no ideal free-market economy ever existed, but dominant economic systems in the period contemporaneous to Marx's writing were very far from free.  Furthermore, the coincident location of labour and capital in one individual does not negate the conclusions Marx comes to, even if he fails to fully account for it.  Marx draws contrasts, rather than comparisons to the medieval feudalism; the capitalist mode of production is, as viewed from a Marxist standpoint, a distinct evolution beyond a feudal system.

Labour creates value; without labour, production ceases.   Machinery, tools, raw materials, administration and coordination are not, together or individually, in themselves sufficient for production to take place.  The compulsion of a person to work (other than under a system of slave or indentured labour) comes not from any actual physical force, but rather from a contraction of alternatives.  Aside from in a society where alienation of the populace from the land has not taken place on a wide scale (untrue of most major countries even as early as Marx's nineteenth century), thus rendering subsistence agriculture a viable mode of existence, the alternatives offered are typically work or starve.  Starvation is, for obvious reasons, not any real alternative at all.

Even if it were the case that competition kept wages in line with prices, the criticism aimed by Marx at the capitalist mode of production is not based solely on highlighting its propensity to perpetuate widespread conditions of material poverty.  Rather, Marx points to the alienation of labour from the product of its endeavour, and thus the dehumanisation of the labourer through his inability to identify emotionally or intellectually with the substance or output of the major part of his waking life.  To be in work, to be fed and clothed and housed, all these are but little compensation for living a life where one's own emotional and intellectual interests as a social organism are not constantly and absolutely the paramount motivation for one's actions.

Marxism does not come down to a fundamental argument about whether or not private ownership of property is moral.  Marxism, as dialectical philosophical method posits that the abolition of a capitalist system is inevitable as a result of a deterministic process in which society gains consciousness of its own historical role.  As such, realisation of the evolutionary process through which social and political superstructures have passed is concurrent with rejection of those structures and the establishment of new forms in which private property will not be the means by which social relations are determined.  Even were Marx to refrain (and he does not) from passing moral judgement on past, present or future social structures, this does not effect the fact that his belief in the deterministic nature of historical events both explains the form of those structures in the past and the evolution they will go through in the future.

A Marxist viewpoint would point out that efficiency of productivity is not, in itself, a desirable aim.  A capitalist system, in treating material production, rather than humanity, as an end, is absolutely guilty of devaluing the individual. 

It is misleading to draw the main distinction as being between a capitalist societal form (as typified by North America or Western Europe of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries) and a 'communist' one (as typified by the Soviet Union or China in the twentieth century).  State ownership of property is merely the supplanting of individual ownership of private property by the ownership of said property by a centralised political elite.  The underlying social relations of labour to capital remain essentially unchanged.  It is the shattering of these relations that represents a realisation of Marxist predicitions, and thus the 'revolutionary' governments of Lenin or Mao can be taken to be 'Marxist' in name, but not in practice.  

There are certain things I understand about marxism and the marxist approach, but there are other parts that make no sense to me.

Marxists believe in dialectical materialsm, that societies evolve through competing paradigms of how resources are best produced and distributed. It is dialectical because it involves a theory of change, and materialistic because it believes that these things are driven by objective limits placed on scarce resources. Marxism also believes that social belief systems are based on material structures, that society invents and uses ideology to prop up these material systems.

I agree with all of that. I take it for granted, and most modern readers probably take it for granted, as well. These are revolutionary ideas, but ones that are now so integral to basic social science, that most educated people would believe them without thinking. There is a lot of extraneous material tied up in this basic analysis: Karl Marx and Frederich Engels were in their 20s, intoxicated with Hegelianism, and honestly that 1840s Germany was the perfect exemplar of all human societies. The amount that they ascribed the social classes of 19th century Europe as being objective, universal entities looks silly as we have a wider exposure to theories of class, race, ethnicity, gender, language, and the like. And their idea that they had discovered the end point of the dialectic also seems premature. They somehow missed guessing that capitalism and communism might themselves have a dialectic and a fusion system, which is what we are mostly living in now: state-moderated capitalism.

Societies proceed through development ways to use material resources, which leads to conflict, and resolution, and then societies invent stories to explain these material structures. Check. In broad strokes, this makes sense.

What I don't understand is how people who believe this, who believe this is an objective way to conduct social science, then spin into a story of heroes and villains that would make a scripter for a Saturday Morning Cartoon show say "This needs some nuance". I know that not all marxists believe this, but at least online, and even in the left wing media, the entire process of our economic system is described, without irony, as "Billionaires want to buy more yachts!". Historically, communists needed to motivate people with low levels of literacy, so using this type of shorthand made a lot of sense. And even now, perhaps its what a good propagandist does: just tell the most emotionally satisfying story. But it is troublesome to me that it is believed so broadly. Because I believe that the world that we live in today is a product of society optimizing the production and distribution of resources as well as it can, given the technology and social structures it has at the moment. I believe that when someone jumps in their F-150 and drives 10 miles to Walmart for a box of waffles, its not because a group of Gargamelish billionaires have programmed them to do that so they can afford another yacht: they are doing that because an evolutionary process has led to this point. And like all evolutionary processes, it is bringing about change.

So by following and believing the basic logical idea of Marxism, I manage to be completely cut-off from the emotional side of Marxism, at least as I usually see it expressed.

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