Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th century by two German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxism encompasses Marxian economic theory, a sociological theory and a revolutionary view of social change that has influenced political movements around the world.
The Marxian analysis begins with an analysis of material conditions, taking at its starting point the necessary economic activities required by human society to provide for its material needs. The form of economic organization, or mode of production, is understood to be the basis from which the majority of other social phenomena including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology arise (or at the least by which they are greatly influenced). These social relations form the superstructure, for which the economic system forms the base. As the forces of production, most notably technology, improve, existing forms of social organization become inefficient and stifle further progress.
These inefficiencies manifest themselves as social contradictions in society in the form of class struggle. Under the capitalist mode of production, this struggle materializes between the minority (the bourgeoisie) who own the means of production, and the vast majority of the population (the proletariat) who produce goods and services. Taking the idea that social change occurs because of the struggle between different classes within society who are under contradiction against each other, the Marxist analysis leads to the conclusion that capitalism oppresses the proletariat, which leads to a proletarian revolution.
Marxism views the socialist system as being prepared by the historical development of capitalism. Capitalism according to Marxist theory can no longer sustain the living standards of the population due to its need to compensate for falling rates of profit by driving down wages, cutting social benefits and pursuing military aggression. The socialist system would succeed capitalism as humanity's mode of production through worker's revolution. According to Marxism, Socialism is a historical necessity (but not an inevitability).
In a socialist society private property in the means of production would be superseded by co-operative ownership. A socialist economy would not base production on the creation of private profits, but would instead base production and economic activity on the criteria of satisfying human needs - that is, production would be carried out directly for use.
Eventually, socialism would give way to a communist stage of history: a classless, stateless system based on common ownership and free-access, superabundance and maximum freedom for individuals to develop their own capacities and talents. As a political movement, Marxism advocates the creation of such a society.
A Marxist understanding of history and of society has been adopted by academics studying in a wide range of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociological theory, art history and theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology, and philosophy.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher, political economist, and socialist revolutionary, who addressed the matters of alienation and exploitation of the working class, the capitalist mode of production, and historical materialism. He is famous for analysing history in terms of class struggle, summarised in the initial line introducing the Communist Manifesto (1848): The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles . His ideas were influential in his time, and it was greatly expanded by the successful Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917 in Imperial Russia.
Friedrich Engels (28 November 1820 5 August 1895) was a German political philosopher and Karl Marx s co-developer of communist theory. Marx and Engels met in September 1844; discovering that they shared like views of philosophy and socialism, they collaborated and wrote works such as Die heilige Familie (The Holy Family). After the French deported Marx from France in January 1845, Engels and Marx moved to Belgium, which then permitted greater freedom of expression than other European countries; later, in January 1846, they returned to Brussels to establish the Communist Correspondence Committee.
In 1847, they began writing The Communist Manifesto (1848), based upon Engels The Principles of Communism; six weeks later, they published the 12,000-word pamphlet in February 1848. In March, Belgium expelled them, and they moved to Cologne, where they published the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, a politically radical newspaper. Again, by 1849, they had to leave Cologne for London. The Prussian authorities pressured the British government to expel Marx and Engels, but Prime Minister Lord John Russell refused.
After Karl Marx s death in 1883, Friedrich Engels became the editor and translator of Marx's writings. With his Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) analysing monogamous marriage as guaranteeing male social domination of women, a concept analogous, in communist theory, to the capitalist class s economic domination of the working class Engels made intellectually significant contributions to feminist theory and Marxist feminism.
Early 20th century
The impact that Marxist theory had on the socialist movement became far more pronounced in the first part of the 20th century.
Late 20th century
In 1959, the Cuban Revolution led to the victory of anti-imperialist Fidel Castro (1926-) and his July 26 Movement. Although the revolution had not been explicitly socialist, upon victory Castro ascended to the position of Prime Minister and eventually adopted the Leninist model of socialist development, forging an alliance with the Soviet Union. One of the leaders of the revolution, the Argentine Leninist Che Guevara (1928 1967), subsequently went on to aid revolutionary socialist movements in Congo-Kinshasa and Bolivia, eventually being killed by the Bolivian government, possibly on the orders of the CIA, though the CIA agent sent to search for Guevara, Felix Rodriguez expressed a desire to keep him alive as a possible bargaining tool with the Cuban government; he would posthumously go on to become an internationally recognised icon.
In the People's Republic of China, the Maoist government undertook the Cultural Revolution from 1966 through to 1976 in order to purge capitalist elements from Chinese society and entrench socialism. However, upon Mao's death, his non-Marxist rivals seized political power and under the Premiership of Deng Xiaoping (1978-1992), Maoism was abandoned and much of the state sector privatised.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the collapse of most of those socialist states that had professed a Marxist-Leninist ideology. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the emergence of the New Right and neoliberal capitalism as the dominant ideological trends in western politics - championed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - led the west to take a more aggressive stand against the Soviet Union and its Leninist allies. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, the reformist Mikhael Gorbachev (1931-) became Premier in 1988, and began to move away from Leninist-based models of development towards social democracy. Ultimately, Gorbachev's reforms, coupled with rising levels of popular ethnic nationalism in the Soviet Union, led to the state's dissolution in 1991 into a series of constituent nations, all of which abandoned Marxist-Leninist models for socialism, with most converting to capitalist economies.
At the turn of the 21st century, Cuba remained the only officially Marxist-Leninist state, although a Maoist government led by Prachanda (1954-) was elected into power in Nepal in 2008 following a long guerilla struggle. The early 21st century also saw the election of socialist and anti-imperialist governments in several Latin American nations, in what has come to be known as the "Pink tide". Dominated by the Venezuelan government of Hugo Ch vez, this trend also saw the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; forging political and economic alliances through international organisations like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, these socialist governments allied themselves with Marxist-Leninist Cuba, and although none of them espoused a Leninist path directly, most admitted to being significantly influenced by Marxist theory.
The term Classical Marxism denotes the theory propounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As such, Classical Marxism distinguishes between Marxism as broadly perceived, and what Marx believed ; thus, in 1883, Marx wrote to the French labour leader Jules Guesde and to Paul Lafargue (Marx s son-in-law) both of whom claimed to represent Marxist principles accusing them of revolutionary phrase-mongering and of denying the value of reformist struggle; from which derives the paraphrase: If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist . American Marx scholar Hal Draper responded to this comment by saying, there are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike .
The historical materialist theory of history, also synonymous to the economic interpretation of history (a coinage by Eduard Bernstein), looks for the causes of societal development and change in the collective ways humans use to make the means for living. The social features of a society (social classes, political structures, ideologies) derive from economic activity; base and superstructure is the metaphoric common term describing this historic condition.
The base and superstructure metaphor explains that the totality of social relations regarding the social production of their existence i.e. civil society forms a society s economic base, from which rises a superstructure of political and legal institutions i.e. political society. The base corresponds to the social consciousness (politics, religion, philosophy, etc.), and it conditions the superstructure and the social consciousness. A conflict between the development of material productive forces and the relations of production provokes social revolutions, thus, the resultant changes to the economic base will lead to the transformation of the superstructure. This relationship is reflexive; the base determines the superstructure, in the first instance, and remains the foundation of a form of social organization which then can act again upon both parts of the base and superstructure, whose relationship is dialectical, not literal.
Marx considered that these socio-economic conflicts have historically manifested themselves as distinct stages (one transitional) of development in Western Europe.
Primitive Communism: as in co-operative tribal societies.
Slave Society: a development of tribal progression to city-state; Aristocracy is born.
Feudalism: aristocrats are the ruling class; merchants evolve into capitalists.
Capitalism: capitalists are the ruling class, who create and employ the proletariat.
Socialism: workers gain class consciousness, and via proletarian revolution depose the capitalist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, replacing it in turn with dictatorship of the proletariat through which the socialization of the means of production can be realized.
Communism: a classless and stateless society.
Criticism of capitalism
According to the Marxist theoretician and revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, "the principal content of Marxism" was "Marx's economic doctrine". Marx believed that the capitalist bourgeois and their economists were promoting what he saw as the lie that "The interests of the capitalist and those of the worker are... one and the same"; he believed that they did this by purporting the concept that "the fastest possible growth of productive capital" was best not only for the wealthy capitalists but also for the workers because it provided them with employment.
Exploitation is a matter of surplus labour the amount of labour one performs beyond what one receives in goods. Exploitation has been a socio-economic feature of every class society, and is one of the principal features distinguishing the social classes. The power of one social class to control the means of production enables its exploitation of the other classes.
In capitalism, the labour theory of value is the operative concern; the value of a commodity equals the socially necessary labour time required to produce it. Under that condition, surplus value (the difference between the value produced and the value received by a labourer) is synonymous with the term surplus labour ; thus, capitalist exploitation is realised as deriving surplus value from the worker.
In pre-capitalist economies, exploitation of the worker was achieved via physical coercion. In the capitalist mode of production, that result is more subtly achieved; because the worker does not own the means of production, he or she must voluntarily enter into an exploitive work relationship with a capitalist in order to earn the necessities of life. The worker's entry into such employment is voluntary in that he or she chooses which capitalist to work for. However, the worker must work or starve. Thus, exploitation is inevitable, and the "voluntary" nature of a worker participating in a capitalist society is illusory.
Alienation denotes the estrangement of people from their humanity (German: Gattungswesen, species-essence , species-being ), which is a systematic result of capitalism. Under capitalism, the fruits of production belong to the employers, who expropriate the surplus created by others, and so generate alienated labourers. Alienation objectively describes the worker s situation in capitalism his or her self-awareness of this condition is not prerequisite.
The identity of a social class derives from its relationship to the means of production; Marx describes the social classes in capitalist societies:
Proletariat: those individuals who sell their labour power, and who, in the capitalist mode of production, do not own the means of production . The capitalist mode of production establishes the conditions enabling the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat because the workers labour generates a surplus value greater than the workers wages.
Bourgeoisie: those who own the means of production and buy labour power from the proletariat, thus exploiting the proletariat; they subdivide as bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie.
Petit bourgeoisie are those who employ labourers, but who also work, i.e. small business owners, peasant landlords, trade workers et al. Marxism predicts that the continual reinvention of the means of production eventually would destroy the petit bourgeoisie, degrading them from the middle class to the proletariat.
Lumpenproletariat: criminals, vagabonds, beggars, et al., who have no stake in the economy, and so sell their labour to the highest bidder.
Landlords: an historically important social class who retain some wealth and power.
Peasantry and farmers: a disorganised class incapable of effecting socio-economic change, most of whom would enter the proletariat, and some become landlords.
Class consciousness denotes the awareness of itself and the social world that a social class possesses, and its capacity to rationally act in their best interests; hence, class consciousness is required before they can effect a successful revolution.
Without defining ideology, Marx used the term to denote the production of images of social reality; according to Engels, ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces . Because the ruling class controls the society s means of production, the superstructure of society, the ruling social ideas are determined by the best interests of said ruling class. In The German Ideology, the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is, at the same time, its ruling intellectual force .
The term political economy originally denoted the study of the conditions under which economic production was organised in the capitalist system. In Marxism, political economy studies the means of production, specifically of capital, and how that manifests as economic activity.
Revolution, socialism and communism
Marxists believe that the transition from capitalism to socialism is an inevitable part of the development of human society; as Lenin stated, "it is evident that Marx deduces the inevitability of the transformation of capitalist society [into a socialist society] wholly and exclusively from the economic law of motion of contemporary society."
Marxists believe that a socialist society will be far better for the majority of the populace than its capitalist counterpart, for instance, prior to the Russian revolution of 1917, Lenin wrote that "The socialization of production is bound to lead to the conversion of the means of production into the property of society... This conversion will directly result in an immense increase in productivity of labour, a reduction of working hours, and the replacement of the remnants, the ruins of small-scale, primitive, disunited production by collective and improved labour."
One of the 20th century's most prominent Marxist academics; the Australian archaeologist V. Gordon Childe. Marxism has been adopted by a large number of academics and other scholars working in various disciplines.
The theoretical development of Marxist archaeology was first developed in the Soviet Union in 1929, when a young archaeologist named Vladislav I. Ravdonikas (1894 1976) published a report entitled "For a Soviet history of material culture". Within this work, the very discipline of archaeology as it then stood was criticised as being inherently bourgeoisie and therefore anti-socialist, and so, as a part of the academic reforms instituted in the Soviet Union under the administration of Premier Stalin, a great emphasis was placed on the adoption of Marxist archaeology throughout the country. These theoretical developments were subsequently adopted by archaeologists working in capitalist states outside of the Leninist bloc, most notably by the Australian academic V. Gordon Childe (1892 1957), who used Marxist theory in his understandings of the development of human society.
Some Marxists have criticised the academic institutionalisation of Marxism for being too detached from political action. For instance, Zimbabwean Trotskyist Alex Callinicos, himself a professional academic, stated that "Its practitioners remind one of Narcissus, who in the Greek legend fell in love with his own reflection... Sometimes it is necessary to devote time to clarifying and developing the concepts that we use, but indeed for Western Marxists this has become an end in itself. The result is a body of writings incomprehensible to all but a tiny minority of highly qualified scholars."
Since Marx's death in 1883, various groups around the world have appealed to Marxism as the theoretical basis for their politics and policies, which have often proved to be dramatically different and conflicting. One of the first major political splits occurred between the advocates of 'reformism', who argued that the transition to socialism could occur within existing bourgeois parliamentarian frameworks, and communists, who argued that the transition to a socialist society required a revolution and the dissolution of the capitalist state. The 'reformist' tendency, later known as social democracy, came to be dominant in most of the parties affiliated to the Second International and these parties supported their own governments in the First World War. This issue caused the communists to break away, forming their own parties which became members of the Third International.
The following countries had governments at some point in the 20th century who at least nominally adhered to Marxism: Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Republic of Congo, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Grenada, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, the USSR and its republics, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Vietnam. In addition, the Indian states of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal have had Marxist governments, but change takes place in the government due to electoral process. Some of these governments such as in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Chile, Moldova and parts of India have been democratic in nature and maintained regular multiparty elections.
The 1917 October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, was the first large scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers' state into practice. The new government faced counter-revolution, civil war and foreign intervention. Lenin consistently explained "this elementary truth of Marxism, that the victory of socialism requires the joint efforts of workers in a number of advanced countries" (Lenin, Sochineniya (Works), 5th ed Vol XLIV p418.) It could not be developed in Russia in isolation, he argued, but needed to be spread internationally.
The 1917 October Revolution did help inspire a revolutionary wave over the years that followed, with the development of Communist Parties worldwide, but without success in the vital advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe. Socialist revolution in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the Soviet Union on its own. An intense period of debate and stopgap solutions ensued, war communism and the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin died and Joseph Stalin gradually assumed control, eliminating rivals and consolidating power as the Soviet Union faced the events of the 1930s and its global crisis-tendencies. Amidst the geopolitical threats which defined the period and included the probability of invasion, he instituted a ruthless program of industrialization which, while successful, was executed at great cost in human suffering, along with long-term environmental devastation.
Modern followers of Leon Trotsky maintain that as predicted by Lenin, Trotsky, and others already in the 1920s, Stalin's "socialism in one country" was unable to maintain itself, and according to some Marxist critics, the USSR ceased to show the characteristics of a socialist state long before its formal dissolution.
In the 1920s the economic calculation debate between Austrian Economists and Marxist economists took place. The Austrians claimed that Marxism is flawed because prices could not be set to recognize opportunity costs of factors of production, and so socialism could not make rational decisions.
The Kuomintang party, a Chinese nationalist revolutionary party, had Marxist members who opposed the Chinese Communist Party. They viewed the Chinese revolution in different terms than the Communists, claiming that China already went past its feudal stage and in a stagnation period rather than in another mode of production. These Marxists in the Kuomintang opposed the Chinese communist party ideology.
Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary communist parties all over the world. Some of these parties were eventually able to gain power, and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Such nations included the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and others. In some cases, these nations did not get along. Rifts occurred between the Soviet Union and China, as well as Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (in 1948), whose leaders disagreed on certain elements of Marxism and how it should be implemented into society.
Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People's Republics) eventually became authoritarian states, with stagnating economies. This caused some debate about whether Marxism was doomed in practise or these nations were in fact not led by "true Marxists". Critics of Marxism speculated that perhaps Marxist ideology itself was to blame for the nations' various problems. Followers of the currents within Marxism which opposed Stalin, principally cohered around Leon Trotsky, tended to locate the failure at the level of the failure of world revolution: for communism to have succeeded, they argue, it needed to encompass all the international trading relationships that capitalism had previously developed.
The Chinese experience seems to be unique. Rather than falling under a single family's self-serving and dynastic interpretation of Marxism as happened in North Korea and before 1989 in Eastern Europe, the Chinese government after the end of the struggles over the Mao legacy in 1980 and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping seems to have solved the succession crises that have plagued self-proclaimed Leninist governments since the death of Lenin himself. Key to this success is another Leninism which is a NEP (New Economic Policy) writ very large; Lenin's own NEP of the 1920s was the "permission" given to markets including speculation to operate by the Party which retained final control. The Russian experience in Perestroika was that markets under socialism were so opaque as to be both inefficient and corrupt but especially after China's application to join the WTO this does not seem to apply universally.
The death of "Marxism" in China has been prematurely announced but since the Hong Kong handover in 1997, the Beijing leadership has clearly retained final say over both commercial and political affairs.
In 1991 the Soviet Union was dismantled and the new Russian state, alongside the other emerging republics, ceased to identify themselves with Marxism. Other nations around the world followed suit. Since then, radical Marxism or Communism has generally ceased to be a prominent political force in global politics, and has largely been replaced by more moderate versions of democratic socialism or, more commonly, by neoliberal capitalism. Marxism has also had to engage with the rise in the Environmental movement. Theorists including Joel Kovel and Michael L wy have synthesized Marxism, socialism, ecology and environmentalism into an ideology known as Eco-socialism.
Social democracy is a political ideology that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many parties in the second half of the 19th century described themselves as social democratic, such as the British Social Democratic Federation, and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In most cases these were revolutionary socialist or Marxist groups, who were not only seeking to introduce socialism, but also democracy in un-democratic countries. Many social democrats reject the idea that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict, revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat.
The modern social democratic current came into being through a break within the socialist movement in the early 20th century, between two groups holding different views on the ideas of Karl Marx. Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism, and syndicalism, arose at the same time (often by splitting from the main socialist movement, but also through the emergence of new theories) and had various, quite different objections to Marxism. The social democrats argued that socialism should be achieved through evolution rather than revolution. Such views were strongly opposed by the revolutionary socialists, who argued that any attempt to reform capitalism was doomed to fail, because the reformists would be gradually corrupted and eventually turn into capitalists themselves.
Despite their differences, the reformist and revolutionary branches of socialism remained united until the outbreak of World War I. The war proved to be the final straw that pushed the tensions between them to breaking point. The reformist socialists supported their respective national governments in the war, a fact that was seen by the revolutionary socialists as outright treason against the working class (Since it betrayed the principle that the workers "have no nation", and the fact that usually the lowest classes are the ones sent into the war to fight, and die, putting the cause at the side). Bitter arguments ensued within socialist parties, as for example between Eduard Bernstein (reformist socialist) and Rosa Luxemburg (revolutionary socialist) within the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Eventually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the world's socialist parties fractured. The reformist socialists kept the name "Social democrats", while the revolutionary socialists began calling themselves "Communists", and soon formed the modern Communist movement, the Comintern.
Since the 1920s, doctrinal differences have been constantly growing between social democrats and Communists (who themselves are not unified on the way to achieve socialism), and Social Democracy is mostly used as a specifically Central European label for Labour Parties since then, especially in Germany and the Netherlands and especially since the 1959 Godesberg Program of the German SPD that rejected the praxis of class struggle altogether.
The term "socialism" could be used to describe two fundamentally different ideologies - democratic socialism and Marxist-Leninist socialism. While Marxist-Leninists (Trotskyists, Stalinists, and Maoists) are often described as communists in the contemporary media, they are not recognized as such academically or by themselves. The Marxist-Leninists sought to work towards the workers' utopia in Marxist ideology by first creating a socialist state, which historically had almost always been a single-party dictatorship. On the other hand, democratic socialists attempt to work towards an ideal state by social reform and are often little different from social democrats, with the democratic socialists having a more leftist stance.
The Marxist-Leninist form of government has been in decline since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Very few countries have governments which describe themselves as socialist. As of 2011, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, Cuba, and the People's Republic of China had governments in power which describe themselves as socialist in the Marxist sense.
On the contrary, electoral parties which describe themselves as socialist or democratic socialist are on the rise, joined together by international organizations such as the Socialist International and the Fourth International. Parties described as socialist are currently dominant in the democracies of the developing world and serve as the ruling party or the main opposition party in most European democracies. Eco-socialism, and Green politics with a strong leftist tinge, are on the rise in European democracies.
The characterization of a party or government often has little to do with its actual economical and social platform. The government of mainland China, which describes itself as socialist, allows a large private sector to flourish and is socially conservative compared to most Western democracies. A more specific example is universal health-care, which is a trademark issue of many European socialist parties but does not exist in mainland China. Therefore, the historical and cultural aspects of a movement must be taken into context in order for one to arrive at an accurate conclusion of its political ideology from its nominal characterization.
A number of states declared an allegiance to the principles of Marxism and have been ruled by self-described Communist Parties, either as a single-party state or a single list, which includes formally several parties, as was the case in the German Democratic Republic. Due to the dominance of the Communist Party in their governments, these states are often called "communist states" by Western political scientists. However, they have described themselves as "socialist", reserving the term "communism" for a future classless society, in which the state would no longer be necessary (on this understanding of communism, "communist state" would be an oxymoron)for instance, the USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms.) While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident 'authentic' communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism.
Marxism-Leninism, strictly speaking, refers to the version of Marxism developed by Vladimir Lenin known as Leninism. However, in various contexts, different (and sometimes opposing) political groups have used the term "Marxism Leninism" to describe the ideologies that they claimed to be upholding. The core ideological features of Marxism-Leninism are those of Marxism and Leninism, that is to say, belief in the necessity of a violent overthrow of capitalism through communist revolution, to be followed by a dictatorship of the proletariat as the first stage of moving towards communism, and the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in this effort. Those who view themselves as Marxist-Leninists, however, vary with regards to the leaders and thinkers that they choose to uphold as progressive (and to what extent).
Leninism holds that capitalism can only be overthrown by revolutionary means; that is, any attempts to reform capitalism from within, such as Fabianism and non-revolutionary forms of democratic socialism, are doomed to fail. The first goal of a Leninist party is to educate the proletariat, so as to remove the various modes of false consciousness the bourgeois have instilled in them, instilled in order to make them more docile and easier to exploit economically, such as religion and nationalism. Once the proletariat has gained class consciousness the party will coordinate the proletariat's total might to overthrow the existing government, thus the proletariat will seize all political and economic power. Lastly the proletariat (thanks to their education by the party) will implement a dictatorship of the proletariat which would bring upon them socialism, the lower phase of communism. After this, the party would essentially dissolve as the entire proletariat is elevated to the level of revolutionaries.
The dictatorship of the proletariat refers to the absolute power of the working class. It is governed by a system of proletarian direct democracy, in which workers hold political power through local councils known as soviets.
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself a Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed sharply from those of Stalin or Mao, most importantly in declaring the need for an international "permanent revolution". Numerous groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have diverse interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this.
Trotsky advocated proletarian revolution as set out in his theory of "permanent revolution", and he argued that in countries where the bourgeois-democratic revolution had not triumphed already (in other words, in places that had not yet implemented a capitalist democracy, such as Russia before 1917), it was necessary that the proletariat make it permanent by carrying out the tasks of the social revolution (the "socialist" or "communist" revolution) at the same time, in an uninterrupted process. Trotsky believed that a new socialist state would not be able to hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world unless socialist revolutions quickly took hold in other countries as well, especially in the industrial powers with a developed proletariat.
On the political spectrum of Marxism, Trotskyists are considered to be on the left. They fervently support democracy, oppose political deals with the imperialist powers, and advocate a spreading of the revolution until it becomes global.
Trotsky developed the theory that the Russian workers' state had become a "bureaucratically degenerated workers' state". Capitalist rule had not been restored, and nationalized industry and economic planning, instituted under Lenin, were still in effect. However, the state was controlled by a bureaucratic caste with interests hostile to those of the working class. Trotsky defended the Soviet Union against attack from imperialist powers and against internal counter-revolution, but called for a political revolution within the USSR to restore socialist democracy. He argued that if the working class did not take power away from the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bureaucracy would restore capitalism in order to enrich itself. In the view of many Trotskyists, this is exactly what has happened since the beginning of Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR. Some argue that the adoption of market socialism by the People's Republic of China has also led to capitalist counter-revolution. Most modern Trotskyist organisations are organised internationally, such as the International Marxist Tendency, International Socialist Tendency and the Committee for a Worker's International. They are mostly rather small groupings.
Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought (), is a variant of Marxism Leninism derived from the teachings of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong (Wade-Giles transliteration: "Mao Tse-tung").
The term "Mao Zedong Thought" has always been the preferred term by the Communist Party of China, and the word "Maoism" has never been used in its English-language publications except pejoratively. Likewise, Maoist groups outside China have usually called themselves Marxist-Leninist rather than Maoist, a reflection of Mao's view that he did not change, but only developed, Marxism-Leninism. However, some Maoist groups believing Mao's theories to have been sufficiently substantial additions to the basics of the Marxist canon, call themselves "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" (MLM) or simply "Maoist".
In the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong Thought is part of the official doctrine of the Communist Party of China, but since the 1978 beginning of Deng Xiaoping's market economy-oriented reforms, the concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has come to the forefront of Chinese politics, Chinese economic reform has taken hold, and the official definition and role of Mao's original ideology in the PRC has been radically altered and reduced (see History of China).
Unlike the earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Mao believed that peasantry could be the main force behind a revolution, led by the proletariat and a vanguard Communist party. The model for this was of course the Chinese communist rural Protracted People's War of the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually brought the Communist Party of China to power. Furthermore, unlike other forms of Marxism-Leninism in which large-scale industrial development was seen as a positive force, Maoism made all-round rural development the priority.
Mao felt that this strategy made sense during the early stages of socialism in a country in which most of the people were peasants. Unlike most other political ideologies, including other socialist and Marxist ones, Maoism contains an integral military doctrine and explicitly connects its political ideology with military strategy. In Maoist thought, "political power grows from the barrel of the gun" (a famous quote by Mao), and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war" of armed struggle involving guerrilla warfare in three stages.
Left communism is the range of communist viewpoints held by the Communist Left, which criticizes the political ideas of the Bolsheviks from a position that is asserted to be more authentically Marxist and proletarian than the views of Leninism held by the Communist International after its first two Congresses.
Two major traditions can be observed within Left communism: the Dutch-German tradition; and the Italian tradition. The political positions those traditions have in common are a shared opposition to what is termed frontism, nationalism, all kinds of national liberation movements and parliamentarianism and there is an underlying commonality at a level of abstract theory. Crucially, Left Communist groups from both traditions tend to identify elements of commonality in each other.
The historical origins of Left Communism can be traced to the period before the First World War, but it only came into focus after 1918 . All Left Communists were supportive of the October Revolution in Russia, but retained a critical view of its development. Some, however, would in later years come to reject the idea that the revolution had a proletarian or socialist nature, asserting that it had simply carried out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution by creating a state capitalist system.
Left Communism first came into being as a clear movement in or around 1918. Its essential features were: a stress on the need to build a Communist Party entirely separate from the reformist and centrist elements who were seen as having betrayed socialism in 1914, opposition to all but the most restricted participation in elections, and an emphasis on the need for revolutionaries to move on the offensive. Apart from that, there was little in common between the various wings. Only the Italians accepted the need for electoral work at all for a very short period of time, and the German-Dutch, Italian and Russian wings opposed the "right of nations to self-determination", which they denounced as a form of bourgeois nationalism.
Dispute that the Soviet Union was Marxist
Marx defined "communism" as a classless, egalitarian and stateless society. To Marx, the notion of a communist state would have seemed an oxymoron, as he defined communism as the phase reached when class society and the state had already been abolished. Once the lower stage towards communism, commonly referred to as socialism, had been established, society would develop new social relations over the course of several generations, reaching what Marx called the higher phase of communism when not only bourgeois relations but every class social relations had been abandoned. Such a development has yet to occur in any historical self-claimed socialist state.
Even within the Stalinist state at its height, there were repressed expressions of Marxist orthodoxy, revealed after the fall of the USSR, arguing that it had developed new class structures: those who are in government and therefore have power (sometimes referred to as the political class), and those who are not in government and do not have power, the working class. This is taken to be a different form of capitalism, in which the government, as owner of the means of production, takes on the role formerly played by the capitalist class; this arrangement is referred to as "state capitalism." These statist regimes have generally followed a planned economy model without making a transition to this hypothetical final stage.
Some academics such as Noam Chomsky disputed the claim that the political movements in the former Soviet Union were Marxist. Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms). While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism.
Marxists can interpret the Manifesto differently, and therefore all variants cannot be covered in this article.
At least in terms of adherents and the impact on the world stage, Marxism-Leninism, also known colloquially as Bolshevism or simply communism is the biggest trend within Marxism, easily dwarfing all of the other schools of thought combined. Marxism-Leninism is a term originally coined by the CPSU in order to denote the ideology that Vladimir Lenin had built upon the thought of Karl Marx. There are two broad areas that have set apart Marxism-Leninism as a school of thought.
First, Lenin's followers generally view his additions to the body of Marxism as the practical corollary to Marx's original theoretical contributions of the 19th century; insofar as they apply under the conditions of advanced capitalism that they found themselves working in. Lenin called this time-frame the era of Imperialism. For example, Joseph Stalin wrote that The most important consequence of a Leninist-style theory of Imperialism is the strategic need for workers in the industrialized countries to bloc or ally with the oppressed nations contained within their respective countries' colonies abroad in order to overthrow capitalism. This is the source of the slogan, which shows the Leninist conception that not only the proletariat, as is traditional to Marxism, are the sole revolutionary force, but all oppressed people:
Second, the other distinguishing characteristic of Marxism-Leninism is how it approaches the question of organization. Lenin believed that the traditional model of the Social Democratic parties of the time, which was a loose, multitendency organization was inadequate for overthrowing the Tsarist regime in Russia. He proposed a cadre of professional revolutionaries that disciplined itself under the model of Democratic Centralism.
Marxism-Leninism after Stalin
For better or worse, Marxism-Leninism as a body of thought and practice was closely identified with the figure of Joseph Stalin after the death of Lenin. After the death of Stalin, the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev made several ideological and practical ruptures with his predecessor which lead to the eventual split of Marxism-Leninism into two main branches, post-Stalin "Moscow-aligned" communism and anti-revisionism. In turn, these branches evolved into multiple schools of thought over time.
Post-Stalin Moscow-aligned communism
At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev made several ideological ruptures with his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. First, Khrushchev denounced the so-called Cult of Personality that had developed around Stalin, which ironically enough Khrushchev had had a pivotal role in fostering decades earlier. More importantly, however, Khrushchev rejected the heretofore orthodox Marxist-Leninist tenet that class struggle continues even under socialism. Rather, the State ought to rule in the name of all classes. A related principle that flowed from the former was the notion of peaceful co-existence, or that the newly emergent socialist bloc could peacefully compete with the capitalist world, solely by developing the productive forces of society.
Beginning around the 1970s, various communist parties in Western Europe, such as the Partito Comunista Italiano in Italy and the Partido Comunista de Espa a under Santiago Carillo tried to hew to a more independent line from Moscow. Particularly in Italy, they leaned on the theories of Antonio Gramsci, despite the fact that by 1921 Gramsci believed that a Communist Party in the Leninist sense was needed. This trend went by the name Eurocommunism.
There are many proponents of Marxist-Leninism who rejected the theses of Khrushchev. They believed that Khrushchev was unacceptably altering or "revising" the fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism, a stance from which the label "anti-revisionist" is derived. Usually, they are referred to externally by the following epithets, although anti-revisionists typically refer to themselves simply as Marxist-Leninists.
Maoism takes its name from Mao Zedong, the erstwhile leader of the Peoples Republic of China; it is the variety of anti-revisionism that took inspiration, and in some cases received material support, from China, especially during the Mao period. There are several key concepts that were developed by Mao. First, Mao concurred with Stalin that not only does class struggle continue under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it actually accelerates as long as gains are being made by the proletariat at the expense of the disenfranchised bourgeoisie. Second, Mao developed a strategy for revolution called Prolonged People's War in what he termed the semi-feudal countries of the Third World. Prolonged People's War relied heavily on the peasantry. Third, Mao wrote many theoretical articles on epistemology and dialectics, which he called contradictions.
Hoxhaism, so named because of the central contribution of Albanian statesman Enver Hoxha, was closely aligned with the People's Republic of China for a number of years, but grew critical of Maoism because of the so-called Three Worlds Theory put forth by elements within the Communist Party of China and because it viewed the actions of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping unfavorably. Ultimately, however, Hoxhaism as a trend came to the understanding that Socialism had never existed in China at all.
Trotskyism is the usual term for followers of the ideas of Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky, the second most prominent leader of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky was a contemporary of Lenin from the early years of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, where he led a small trend in competition with both Lenin's Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks; nevertheless Trotsky's followers claim to be the heirs of Lenin in the same way that mainstream Marxist-Leninists do. There are several distinguishing characteristics of this school of thought; foremost is the theory of Permanent Revolution. Another shared characteristic between Trotskyists is a variety of theoretical justifications for their negative appraisal of the post-Lenin Soviet Union; that is to say, after Trotsky was expelled by a majority vote from the CPSU and subsequently from the Soviet Union. Trotsky characterized the government of the USSR after his expulsion as being dominated by a "bureaucratic caste" and called for it to be overthrown. Trotskyists as a consequence usually advocate the overthrow of socialist governments around the world that are ruled by Marxist-Leninist parties.
Left communism is the range of communist viewpoints held by the communist left, which criticizes the political ideas of the Bolsheviks from a position that is asserted to be more authentically Marxist and proletarian than the views of Leninism held by the Communist International after its first two congresses.
Although she lived before left communism became a distinct tendency, Rosa Luxemburg has been heavily influential for most left communists, both politically and theoretically. Proponents of left communism have included Herman Gorter, Anton Pannekoek, Otto R hle, Karl Korsch, Amadeo Bordiga, and Paul Mattick.
Prominent left communist groups existing today include the International Communist Current and the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party. Also, different factions from the old Bordigist International Communist Party are considered left communist organizations.
Western Marxism is a term used to describe a wide variety of Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe (and more recently North America ), in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or the People's Republic of China.
Structural Marxism is an approach to Marxism based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French theorist Louis Althusser and his students.In Althusser's theory, the structural order of the capitalist mode of production is distinct both from the actual, real agents involved in its relations and from the ideological forms in which those relations are understood. Structural Marxism was influential in France during the late 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside of France during the 1970s.
Autonomism is a term applied to a variety of social movements around the world, which emphasizes the ability to organize in autonomous and horizontal networks, as opposed to hierarchical structures such as unions or parties. Autonomist Marxists, including Harry Cleaver, broaden the definition of the working-class to include salaried and unpaid labour, such as skilled professions and housework; it focuses on the working class in advanced capitalist states as the primary force of change in the construct of capital. Modern autonomist theorists such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that network power constructs are the most effective methods of organization against the neoliberal regime of accumulation, and predict a massive shift in the dynamics of capital into a 21st century Empire.
Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx develops his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. It was opposed by Louis Althusser's "antihumanism", who qualified it as a revisionist movement.
Marxist humanists contend that Marxism developed lopsidedly because Marx s early works were unknown until after the orthodox ideas were in voguethe Manuscripts of 1844 were published only in 1932and it is necessary to understand Marx s philosophical foundations to understand his latter works properly.
Marxism-Deleonism, is a form of syndicalist Marxism developed by Daniel De Leon. De Leon was an early leader of the first US socialist political party, the Socialist Labor Party. This party exists to the present day. De Leonism lies outside the Leninist tradition of communism. The highly decentralized and democratic nature of the proposed De Leonist government is in contrast to the democratic centralism of Marxism-Leninism and what they see as the dictatorial nature of the Soviet Union. The success of the De Leonist plan depends on achieving majority support among the people both in the workplaces and at the polls, in contrast to the Leninist notion that a small vanguard party should lead the working class to carry out the revolution. Daniel De Leon and other De Leonist writers have issued frequent polemics against 'democratic socialist' movements, especially the Socialist Party of America, and consider them to be "reformist" or "bourgeois socialist". De Leonists have traditionally refrained from any activity or alliances viewed by them as trying to reform capitalism, though the Socialist Labor Party in De Leon's time was active during strikes and such, such as social justice movements.
Marxist feminism is a sub-type of feminist theory which focuses on the dismantling of capitalism as a way to liberate women. Marxist feminism states that private property, which gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political confusion and ultimately unhealthy social relations between men and women, is the root of women's oppression. According to Marxist theory, in capitalist societies the individual is shaped by class relations; that is, people's capacities, needs and interests are seen to be determined by the mode of production that characterises the society they inhabit. Marxist feminists see gender inequality as determined ultimately by the capitalist mode of production. Gender oppression is class oppression and women's subordination is seen as a form of class oppression which is maintained (like racism) because it serves the interests of capital and the ruling class. Marxist feminists have extended traditional Marxist analysis by looking at domestic labour as well as wage work in order to support their position.
Criticisms of Marxism have come from various political ideologies. Democratic socialists and social democrats reject the idea that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict and a proletarian revolution. Many anarchists reject the need for a transitory state phase. Other critiques come from an economic standpoint. Economists such as Friedrich Hayek have criticized Marxism for allocating resources inefficiently.
Some contemporary supporters of Marxism argue that many aspects of Marxist thought are viable, but that the corpus is incomplete or outdated in regards to certain aspects of economic, political or social theory. They may therefore combine some Marxist concepts with the ideas of other theorists such as Max Weber: the Frankfurt school is one example.
V. K. Dmitriev, writing in 1898, Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz, writing in 1906-07, and subsequent critics have alleged that Marx's value theory and law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall are internally inconsistent. In other words, the critics allege that Marx drew conclusions that actually do not follow from his theoretical premises. Once these alleged errors are corrected, his conclusion that aggregate price and profit are determined by, and equal to, aggregate value and surplus value no longer holds true. This result calls into question his theory that the exploitation of workers is the sole source of profit.
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Jon Elster, An Introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge, England, 1986.
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Robinson, Cedric J. : Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, 1983, Reissue: Univ North Carolina Press, 2000
Rummel, R.J. (1977) Conflict In Perspective Chap. 5 Marxism, Class Conflict, and the Conflict Helix
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