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Karl Marx & Communism

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Karl Marx (1818-83)

Introduction of Karl Marx as a thinker
  • Marx is a Socialist thinker
Political school of though
  • Conservative (Rightist)
  • Liberal (Centrist)
  • Socialist (Leftist)
Rise of Socialism 

It originated in the forms of workers’ movements known as left movement. Socialist were concerned with exploitative situation in which workers were living. Their aim was to uplift the situation of workers and to end their exploitation.

Difference between Liberalism and Socialism
  • For Liberals, liberty is a prime concern whereas for Socialist equality is prime concern.
  • For Socialists liberal concept of equality is formal and Socialist concept of equality is substantive (Real).
  • Formal equality means equality before law & equality of opportunity. (FR)
  • Substantive equality:- Social and Economic equality. It is an equality of outcome. (DPSP)
  • Socialism is an umbrella ideology (meta-ideology). 
  • Marx called his Socialism as “Scientific Socialism”. 
  • Marxism is also known as Communism. 
  • Communism is a goal of Marxian Socialism. Communism is Marx’s Utopia.

Features of Communism/Communist Society
  • Communism is Classless and Stateless Society. Classless Society means abolition of Social and economic inequalities. Communism is Critical of State. Marx viewed state as an instrument of exploitation. Marx was critical of Nation and Nationalism. For Marx, nationalism is an ideology created by capitalist to protect their interest by breaking the solidarity among the working classes.
  • In a communist’s society self-help group or voluntary associations will perform the task which as state is performing.
  • We see similarity between Marx and Gandhi. Both can be considered as anarchists.
Why Karl Marx calls Socialism as Scientific Socialism and earlier socialist as Utopian Socialist?
  • Philosophers have tried to interpret the world, what matters is how to change the word. 
  • Marxism is Praxis (Theory + Action).
Violence is mid-wife of change
  • Praxism is Theory + Action or action oriented theory. For him theory without action has no relevance.
Socialist before Karl Marx           
  • St. Simon
  • Charles Fourier
  • Robert Owen
Marx called them Utopian because he believed that Socialism will not come in the manner these thinkers were suggesting. Hence he called them as philosopher and calls his understanding as Scientific.

Methods of Early Socialist

They advocated peaceful method appealing to the conscience of the Capitalists (Similar to Gandhi)

Marx’s view of method
  • According to him, things will not change in the favor of workers until and unless they go for violent overthrow of capitalism. According to Karl Marx violence is the mod wife of change.
  • No new work takes place without pain and bloodsheds. Those who are benefited by the system will not give their privileges willingly. 
  • Similar view regarding the nature of political action required by masses is expressed by Mao, who held that “Power flows form the barrel of the GUN”
  • Thus Marxism is a revolutionary doctrine.  
  • Marx was Socialist in his approach 
  • Marx was materialist in his approach
  • Marx was critics of Ideas, Ideology and Religion. 
  • According to him matter is the ultimate reality. 
  • Ideas distort reality. He calls ideology as “False Consciousness”. 
  • He calls religion as Opium of masses.
  • According to him Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle has been responsible for the creation of a system of Social stratification.
Criticism of PLATO
  • He established that idea is REAL.
  • Idea is Superior to matter.
  • Those who are engaged in the world of ideas are Superior Human Being. 
  • They are involved in the most important tasks. 
  • Philosophers and intellectual class are to be made rulers. 
  • He deprived those who involved in the manual jobs from governance establishing them unfit for ruling. 
  • He held that producer class is as copper class/third class & intellectual class is first class or men of gold.
For Marx, the intellectual class is also an exploiter class and enemy of working class.
  • It is not our consciousness that determines our existence rather it is our existence that determines our consciousness.
  • According to him God has not made man but man has made god. 
He was a critic of Hegel  
  • According to Hegel “Real is Rational and Rational is Real”
  • It implies that idea is ultimate reality. In this context Marx held that Hegel is standing on his head, he has to stand on his feet.
  • Regarding Plato’s view that thinking is more important than labor, Marx held that “In order to think one has to live. In order to live one has to eat. In order to eat one has to produce.” Thus the task of production is more important for Human existence.
Marx called his thinking as science and Idealism, liberalism, religion or nationalism as ideas and ideologies. 

Method of Karl Marx
  • MARX is called as Structuralist.
  • He tries to determine the structure of society.
  • According to him economy is a basic structure of society. 
  • He gave primacy to economics in his analysis. 
  • Thus Marxism is also known as economic determinism.
  • Marxist mode of analysis is mono-casual where economic factor is over determined. 
  • Marx has also utilised the concept of dialectics (of matter). {No co-existence> Struggle}
Meaning of Dialectics
  • It denotes struggle
  • It denotes that the co-existence is not possible 
  • Dialectics also means that every next step is superior than the previous step e.g. Liberalism is better than feudalism. Socialism is superior than liberalism.
  • Dialectic term is also used in Marxist literature to determine the movement of history.
  • Dialectic ends when history ends. For Marx communism is the end of the history.
  • In dialectics, next stage is superior stage and the last stage is the ultimate stage. 
Phases of thinking of KARL MARX

Young MARX
  • Most important work: Economic and Philosophic manuscripts
  • Marx concept of alienation 
  • Young Marx is a philosopher 
  • Young Marx is a Humanist 
  • Followers of young Marx are called as Neo-Marxist
Mature Marx

Important Work
  • Communist manifesto: Deals with the political program. Here Marx is more politician than a philosopher. Followers of communist manifesto are called as Orthodox Marxist. (Soviet Marxist e.g. Lenin)
  • It deals with the program of revolution in capitalist societies where capitalism is fully developed.
  • Useful in understanding nature of capitalism in its advanced stage.
18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte  
  • This book is relevant to understand those societies where capitalism is not fully developed and different mode of production co-exists.
  • 1st Situation: where capitalism is fully developed. State is an instrument of capitalist class. E.g. USA.
  • 2nd Situation: Societies where the capitalism is not fully developed. 
  • State is not an instrument but an equilibrium maker & most powerful. Societies where state is more powerful (where executive is more powerful) are called as Bonaparte State. (e.g. India, Pakistan, Third world countries.)
Influence on KARL MARX

Three major influence on Karl Marx
  • German Philosophy 
    • HEGEL
  • British School of Political Economy
    • Recardoj Theory of Labor
  • French Revolution 
    • He was influenced by socialist idea (Equality & Fraternity) of French Revolution.
    • Louis Blanc
Key principles of MARXISM
  • Historical Materialism 
  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Concept of Class struggle
  • Criticism of Capitalism
  • Theory of Revolution
  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • It is a Marx’s understanding of Human History.
Objective of Karl Marx

His objective was to end capitalism and to establish communism. Hence he wanted to understand underlying causes behind social changes. Hence he wanted to understand the law of history.

Historical materialism is also known as “Materialistic interpretation of History”. It implies that material changes are responsible for social changes or end of one stage and the beginning of other stage. 

Marx has given his theory of history after analyzing Hegel’s theory of history.
Hegel’s view of History
  • For Hegel idea is the moving force of History.
  • History is the unfolding of the universal spirit 
  • State is a monarch of God on earth 
God is universal Altruism: Hegel

Hegel’s Dialectics 

Hegel has used dialectics to explain the nature if movement of history. According to him history moves in dialectical manner. 

Meaning of Dialectical manner

Contradiction is a moving force of history. History ends when contradiction ends.
He has given three laws of dialectics:
  • Unity of opposites
  • Negation of negation
  • Quantity changes into quality
Difference in Hegel and Marx concept of Dialectics 
  • Hegel talks about dialectics of ideas
  • Marx replace idea by matter 
  • For Marx change happens due to dialectical movement of matters & not ideas.
State is a monarch of God on Earth

Above statement is justification of State by Hegel. Hegel establishes that a state represents god on this earth. It implies that people should pay their obedience towards the State. There is no other institution which is superior to the state. He explains state as a monarch of God on earth with the help of his theory of history. 

According to him when we look at worldly things we get the realisation of God. God has first expressed himself through non-material objects like land, water etc. Then God expressed himself through living objects, first through birds, animal, human being followed by family, civil society and ultimately State. State is an institution where God or absolute idea or universal spirit has unfolded itself completely on the earth.

He compares state with God. The feature if God are:
  • Universalism 
  • Altruism
State also represents universal altruism. He explains these features of State by comparing a state with other institutions.
  • Family: Features of family are particularism and altruism
  • Civil Society: Features are universalism and egoism.
  • State: is the nest institution. State is the ultimate synthesis. State is an institution where the negatives of earlier institutions end. State represents end of contradiction. 
Marx criticism of Hegel

Marx had to criticize Hegel because Hegel’s theory equates sate with the God. In this situation there are limited chances of revolution. Hence Marx has established that Hegel’s theory generate false consciousness. It distorts reality. 

The reality is, the State does not represent universal altruism but state is an instrument of a rich class. He even goes to the extent of suggesting that the religion is opium of masses. He denies the existence of God. He held that the God is created by Human. Thus he denies that idea can be real.

It is not our consciousness that determines our existence but our existence which dermines our consciousness. 

Above statement tells about the Marx conception of REALITY. For Marx matter is real and idea is superficial. This statement is given in context of Criticism of Hegel’s conception of history. 

HEGEL’s Conception of History

Hegel has established that idea is the ultimate reality. According to HEGEL “Real is Rational”. For Hegel, history is movement of ideas. The political purpose of Hegel is giving philosophy of history was to suggest that “State represents God.”

Marx contradicts Hegel & establishes that matter is ultimate reality. He says that our consciousness doesn’t determine our existence. The understanding of the existence based on our consciousness will distort the reality.

It means that we are not what we think. Ideas/Ideologies generate false consciousness. Working classes should not be misguided by these ideologies or by religion. They should develop true consciousness by understanding their material existence. He was sure that once working classes will generate true consciousness they are bound to rise in revolt against capitalism.

How Marx has developed his theory of History?

In order to give the laws of history Marx begins with finding out the first historical act of man.

According to him production, rather than contemplation, was the first act of man. He says that “In order to live one has to eat…one has to produce.” It is for the purpose of production to satisfy the appetite of man has formed the society. 

Society is nothing but division of labor. Thus the foundation of society is in the act of production. Structure of production is the basic structure of society. Other structures are super structures.    

Superstructure is never independent of base. Superstructure is the shadow of base. The class which controls the basic structure also controls the superstructure.

Components of Economic Structure
  • Mode of production (e.g. Feudalism, capitalism, socialism)
  • Means of production
  • Forces of production
  • Relation of production
Means of production: Land, labor and capital.

Forces of production: Technology of production

Manpower, horse power, machine power

Relation of production

What relation person has with the means of production- this forms person’s class. According to Karl Marx there are only two type of relation of production:
  • Owners those who have (haves) [Dominant Class]
  • Non-owners (have nots) [those who do not have means of production-exploited class]
The real interest is interest of class. The dominant and exploited class have conflicting interest. Those interests are irreconcilable. Hence class struggle is inevitable fact of life in a class divided society. According to him:

“History of all hitherto existing societies have been the history of class struggle”

Marx’s theory of class and class struggle
“History of all hitherto existing societies have been the history of class struggle”
The above statement gives Marxist view of history. Marx has given materialistic interpretation of history. Change from one stage to other is because of change in mode of production. According to Marx, economy is the basic structure. 

Hence to understand history, we have to understand dynamics at the level of economic structure.
  • Economic structure comprises of means of production, force of production & relation of production. Change happens because of all the three factors but most important factor has been the class struggle.
  • According to him, the movement of history is dialectical in nature. History ends when dialectics ends/when contradiction between labor and capital ends.
  • He has given following phases of human history:
    • Pre-historic age (Primitive Communism): Features of Primitive communism:
      • Property was held in common
      • No private property was existing 
      • It was a classless society or everyone  belongs to the same class
      • Division of labor was natural i.e. between hunter and gatherer
Why he talks about primitive communism?

He wants to counter the liberal argument that right to property is a natural right. He also wanted to show that there was a time when man lived without private property. Man can also live without private property in the future.

1st stage of Human society: Slave society

Society was divided into two classes:
  • Master 
  • Slave
Next Stage: Feudalism 
  • Lords
  • Serfs
After this came CAPITALISM: The classes were:
  • Capitalists 
  • Laborers 
Next Stage is SOCIALISM: Socialism will come because of revolution by the working classes. Here also two classes would be existing:
  • Capitalists 
  • Workers
Difference between SOCIALISM and CAPITALISM
  • In capitalism, capitalists are the dominant class whereas in socialism workers are the dominant class.
  • For Marxist, the capitalist democracy is democracy only for rich. It is dictatorship of masses. 
  • In socialism democracy for masses (People’s democracy) will be established and dictatorship of proletariat class of capitalist class will be established. 
  • Have nots/Those who have nothing.
  • Exploited class of the society
  • Proletariat class is the revolutionary class
In Socialism the principle of distribution will be “To each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” In capitalism “To each according to his ability, to each according to his work” exists only for name sake. Workers do not get their due share. Capitalist take their undue advantage.

Chinese communism: is against feudalism.

In socialism there will be proper application of this principle. In socialism works will be dominant class. After capturing the state they will bring necessary changes so that socialism will be transformed into communism. 

Dictatorship of Proletariats (DoP) is a transitional stage in Marx scheme of things. 

For Marx DoP was supposed to be the transitional stage however in practice in all countries where communist revolution took place it became permanent and there was transformation of Socialism into communism. In practice DoP could not be established only Dictatorship of communist party is established. 

Why it happened?

It happened because Lenin introduced Communist party in Marxist scheme of revolution in Russia (same in Chinese Revolution by Mao). Communist party became Vanguard of revolution. After revolution all power came into the hands of the party.

Next stage is Communism
  • End of history because of end of contradiction because of end of classes. 
  • It is perfect society according to Marx
  • Since classes will end, state will end.
  • State has been instrument of capitalist class, now this function is over thus state will wither away. 
  • Function performed by the State will be now performed by voluntary association or self-help group.
In communism the principle of distribution will be “to each according to his ability to each according to his need”. 

Communism is need based society. Communism is a caring society. Society taking care of the needs of the man.

For Marx it is a state of perfect freedom and perfect equality.


Marx project class struggle as determinant of history. Marxism is not a theory of history rather a political ideology justifying revolution and inspiring working classes for their emancipation.

Marx analysis of capitalism
  • Capitalist dig their own graves.
  • Capitalism is a system full of contradictions.
  • Capitalism is bound to get destroyed because of inner contradictions.
  • Capitalism is a system which runs on profit.
  • Capitalists have to ensure their profit to run their Enterprises, however it is not so easy.
  • It is neither good for worker nor good for capitalists, however it is more painful for workers.
  • Capitalists have to adopt various means to retain profit. He has to lower down the cost of production to retain the profit. Capitalist had to cut down the wages of workers.
  • Wages of workers are already less. It is determined by the needs of Capitalism.
  • The law of wages in capitalism is to pay to the workers only that much which is sufficient for him to live and come back to work. He cannot be given more than that.
  • Workers has to come back to work, he cannot be given surplus so that he has the liberty for not coming to work again. 
  • According to Marx, Value in a particular good is because of labor. Capitalist do not give share in profit to the workers.
  • Workers are already paid less and its wages are further squeezed thus bringing more hardships.
  • Capitalists also face competition. If one capitalist introduces new technology other is forced to introduce. 
  • It ultimately results into a situation where markets are full of products but people do not have purchasing power resulting into depression in the economy. Depression means more people losing jobs and joining the rank of proletariats. 
  • In the process small investors or petty bourgeoisie will also join the proletariat class. 
  • There will be social imbalance. On one side there will an extreme poverty & hardship and on the other hand extreme wealth. 
  • At this time society will be polarized into two classes:
    • A small section of rich &
    • A huge no of poor
  • Middle class disappears.
  • This is a stage for revolution.
Why revolution will take place at this point?

According to Karl Marx, proletariats will develop revolutionary consciousness. Marx has discussed consciousness at two levels:
  • Class in itself 
  • Class for itself 
Class in itself is a stage representing lower level of consciousness. Class for itself represents higher level of consciousness when class takes up arms to defend its interest.  (ORTHODOX MARXISM)

Marx Principle of Alienation

What is Alienation?

Alienation means separation. It was Hegel who talked about Alienation of man form god. The Alienation of man can end in this world by observing the laws of the state. 

Karl Marx discussed about alienation which man experiences because of capitalist mode of production. For Marx alienation can end only when capitalist mode of production is changed into communist mode of production.

Method to end Alienation
  • Violent revolution to overthrow capitalism
Context of the theory 

The theory is in the context of Marxist criticism of capitalist society. Capitalist societies claim that they have provided freedom and liberties to their people. However the reality is different. There is no true liberation. 

Capitalism far from liberating man has actually alienated him. Capitalism takes away all the freedom of man. In capitalism market is god which determines all our choices.

For Marxist freedom means freedom from necessities. 

Marxist explanation of Alienation
  • He starts with explaining the essential features if the human nature.
Characteristics of human nature
  • Man is social by nature: it means that it is a natural requirement of human nature to be in the company of others.
  • Man is creative by nature: Man feels pleasure in the process of creation and by the products he creates.
  • He explains that capitalism is inhuman. It does not allow human being to realize their true nature. It is the market that dominates and alienates. 
  • Alienation is experienced by both capitalists as well as workers however experience of pain is more in case of workers than capitalists.
  • He explains alienation of workers at different levels:
    • Worker is alienated from the process of production. Production has become over specialized and mechanized. The position of worker is nothing more than “Cog in the Wheel”
    • Alienated from the product of his labor. Capitalist purchase the labor of the worker and he does not have any control or ownership over the product of his labor.
    • He explains alienation from the society. Capitalism does not permit him to realize his social nature. System of wages is such that he does not have a luxury of not going to work and to go for realization of his social nature.

Cumulative effect of all the 3 types of alienation is ‘man is alienated form himself’. He is not in a position to lead his life according to his choice. 


Solution lies in changing the system. There is no option but to overthrow the system. Capitalism needs to be replaced by communism. Alienation will end only in communism. Communism will give freedom from necessities. 

Marx makes distinction between liberty and freedom. Freedom is superior to liberty. State of freedom reflects presence of certain condition. Simply by mentioning fundamental rights in the constitution does not give freedom to the masses. Freedom comes only when people don’t have to struggle for the basic necessities of life.

Marx view on STATE

We can see two distinctive ideas about the state in the Karl Marx’s work:-
  • Based on the communist manifesto: 
    • This is known as instrumentalist approach
    • It means state is and instrument of capitalist class.
  • State is nothing but executive committee of the Bourgeoisie classes.
  • Above statement is Marx analysis of the state in the capitalist society. 
  • The purpose of Marx is to inspire working classes to revolt against the state. 
  • Marx has criticised theories projecting state as God or representing universal spirit or general will.
  • Marx applies his base and Superstructure theory to show that the state is an institution of superstructure. Superstructure has no autonomy of its own.
  • The class which dominates the economic structures also controls the political structure. 
  • Ideologies like, state represents general will or the characteristic feature of the state is universal altruism is nothing but false consciousness.
  • The scientific understanding of the society is based on the historical materialism shows that the state is nothing but the instrument of Bourgeoisie classes.
  • Altruism of state is not for all but only for the Bourgeoisie classes.
  • State doesn’t represent general will but will of the capitalist class. 
  • He doesn’t give significance to the State, he calls state nothing more than executive committee. 
  • Function of the state is to implement the decision taken by the capitalist class. 
  • Hence workers cannot expect justice from the state and have no option but the revolution.          
  18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Structural approach/Perspective of the State 
  • It is also known as relative autonomy theory of the state. 
  • According to Marx it is not necessary that State is always the instrument of Capitalist classes.
  • The relationship between state and class depends upon prevailing social and economic conditions.
  • In societies where capitalist mode of production is fully developed and other mode of production has ceased to exist state is an instrument. 
  • Reason, capitalists are controlling mode of production. 
  • However in societies where different mode of production co-exists, it means when one class is not able to dominate the entire economic structure.
  • In this situation State gains relative autonomy. 
  • State cannot be taken as an instrument of a particular class.
  • It appears as if state is equilibrium maker. 
  • States trying to establish balance of power among the society. 
  • This perspective is called structural perspective because sate is not to be overlooked but, state to be taken into consideration.

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