Understanding Marx and Marxian Class Theory
A Simple Guide to Marx’s Class theory and Other Key Marxist Concepts
We present a simple guide to Marx, Marxian class theory, Marx’s theory of history, and Marx’s economic theories to help Westerners understand what Marx was all about.
Keep in mind this page is about Marxian class theory and what Marx and Engels thought, this page is not about me-as-a-person calling for Communism, or a workers’ revolution, or whatever conclusion one might jump to without reading the page carefully (just in case that isn’t obvious).
TIP: Marx’s class theory is partly a reaction to thinkers like Hegel, Mill, Locke, Smith, and Ricardo, but more-so a direct reaction to advents of the times like the “Condition of the Working Class in England.”
“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.” The Communist Manifesto
Marx Didn’t Invent the Communist Movement: The above quote is eluding to the fact that the Communist Manifesto was giving a movement already well underway a platform, it was not itself creating a movement.
The Difference Between Marxism and Communism: Marxism is the philosophy of Karl Marx, it spans history, economics, and politics. Communism is a very general ideology, of which there are many types, that is generally centered around state planning, workers’ empowerment, and the public ownership of the means of production. The Communist Manifesto is Marx and Engels giving the workers’ movements of the day a philosophical backbone. Communism in practice however isn’t limited to what Marx and Engels defined in the Communist Manifesto, instead it comes in many forms. “Marxist Communism,” that is Communism in the style of Marx (and Engels), is only one form. So, while Communism was influenced by Marx, it exists before, after, and generally outside of him. In short, Marxism and Communism are two very different things.
Marx was a Historian and He is Often Playing off The Work of Others or Commenting on History: One important thing to note before moving on is that Marx was a historian. He was drawing from the old peoples’ driven movements (like the movements of the French Revolution), identifying historic class structures, studying past economic systems, relating this all to the struggles of his modern day, and then using that to define systems existing in his day (and predicting how they would evolve). Interestingly, the famous Marx quote above is playing off Edmund Burke’s own spectre quote pertaining to the French Revolution which reads “. . . out of the tomb of the murdered monarchy in France has arisen a vast, tremendous, unformed spectre, in a far more terrific guise than any which ever yet have overpowered the imagination, and subdued the fortitude of man. Going straight forward to its end, unappalled by peril, unchecked by remorse, despising all common maxims and all common means, that hideous phantom overpowered those who could not believe it was possible she could at all exist.” Burke and Rousseau are no more responsible for the French revolution than Marx was for the Russian revolution… that is to say, a little bit, but indirectly (not directly) to be fair. Anyway, the concept is the same in all cases, it is philosophers noticing a spectre arising out of the ashes of a monarchical force and writing about it.
An Introduction to Marx, the Bourgeoisie, and the Proletariat
Before getting started, here is the basic “Marxian Class Fork” in the terms of the Communist Manifesto itself:
- By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour. CAPITAL.
- By proletariat, the class of modern wage labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live. LABOR.
In other words, Marx’s class theory is about the dynamics between labor and capital in the capitalist mode of production of the 1840’s – 1860’s (when he wrote his early work The Communist Manifesto and later work The Capital), and how the dynamics would lead to a revolution.
The problem, to not make you wait, is twofold: 1. that Communism never took off in industrialized societies and instead became favored by developing pre-industrial (at the time) countries like Russia and China, and 2. Marx forget to finish the part where he explained what exactly the angry workers were supposed to do after the revolution. Inevitably, this led to despots like Stalin (who used Communism as an excuse for tyranny).
This is to say, Marx’s theory had holes in it and unfortunate effects. Holes aside, Marx got a ton right. Below we look at the good and bad of Marx by focusing on his class theory (and its related economics). In doing this, we will cover the basics of everything Marx.
POLITICAL THEORY – Karl Marx.
“What the bourgeoisie [the upper-class capitalists of the third estate] therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.” – The Communist Manifesto
NOTE: The quote above the idea that the capitalists breed the inequality that leads to their own downfall (as wealth is concentrated in few-and-fewer hands, it creates a giant angry mob of alienated workers who itch for a revolution). In this sense, it isn’t the workers who bring the end to Capitalism for Marx, but the Capitalists themselves who usher in the end of the Capitalist mode of production. The context of this theory, and the terms used, are explained below.
TIP: This page explains Marx’s theory, it doesn’t advocate it. If I were to advocate theories I would suggest pairing the theories of figures like Novak, Friedman, Keynes, and Piketty, and then from there comparing them to figures like Smith, Marx, Mises, and Ricardo. One can also look to Locke and Mill. There is no one correct theory, instead each “sage of economics” offers their own insight in their own times (from their own nationalist, globalist, or left-right perspective). In Marx’s time, industrial capitalism was a bit of a terror and the workers were suffering under an oligarchy of sorts, much has changed since then in terms of technology and laws. See Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty Explained.
Marxian Class Theory
Marxian class theory (Marx’s class theory) is at the core of everything Marx. If you get his class theory, the centerpiece of his and Engels’ historic materialism and scientific socialism, you’ll understand “Marx” and why people do and don’t like him.
In words, Marxian class theory is the main thing one has to understand to comprehend Marx the philosopher, Marx the Historian, Marx the Economist, Engels, Communism, Scientific Socialism, and “Marx” the dirty word in Western capitalist society.
So let’s start there.
First, a quick reading list of key works, that is the Communist Manifesto, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (which are all primarily Engels explaining Marx in simple terms; Marx himself is rarely simple), and a brief video form introduction to the basics of Marxism.
A Brief Introduction to Marxism. Marxism on-paper is pretty interesting and admirable, but the devil is in the details (its excess of equality and call for revolution is ripe fruit for despots in-action; just like the other evolution of socialism Fascism falters in its excessive inequality, communism falters in its excessive equality; one might say they both “miss the mark“).
TIP: The first thing to know about Marx, as you may have already guessed, is: Most of what we attribute to Marx casually is generally the shared theory of both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In a most cases Engels work is simpler to understand (and in is in some cases more compelling), but judgements aside, Engels contributed to much of “Marx’s” theory and Engels actually founded Marxist theory together with Karl Marx.
A Quick Introduction to Marxian Terms
Marx “gave names to things” calling his concepts by names like:
- “Historical materialism“: the naturally occurring Darwinian evolution of governments based on the physical materials, i.e. capital, labor, and exchange AKA the factors of production, and the ensuing class struggle between the capitalist class (bourgeoisie) and the workers (proletariat) as an empirical science.
- “Scientific socialism“: treating the natural class struggle noted by historic materialism and its factors of production and exchange as an empirical science, by which the next cycle can be deduced using dialects.
- “Dialectic (the dialectic method)“: the art of abstraction as noted by the Greeks and as applied by Hegel to the metaphysic, but is applied by Marx and Engels to explain how the antitheses of labor and capital create a synthesis of Communism via a class struggle (i.e. they use the dialectic method to consider only the physical and empirical, while scoffing at the metaphysic, to create a theory of economics at the center of the different systems of government). They, in a sense, turn Plato’s forms on their head (or “turn Hegel’s theory on its head) to treat the evolution of governments as a purely empirical thing (and not a thing of moral virtues).
These concepts, and a few other important terms from Marxian economics and a few other related terms like “alienation” (the existential lack of meaning inherent in trading labor for capital that drives an agitator to agitate; for example, that which drives a worker to revolt), are all you really need to know to “get” Marx.
The terms aren’t simple, but the concepts are fairly easy to get with a little bit of time and effort (just like it is with Kant’s names for things like his “A priori and a posteriori,” no it isn’t that simple, but yes it is worth taking the time to understand).
Still, Marx’s whole theory fits together, so once you get it, you get Marx, the history of the west, and the forces of revolutionary times in history like the late 1700’s, mid 1800’s, the World Wars, and… the current rise of right-wing populism responding to global inequality.
With all the above in mind, Marx was more a historian and economist than a Revolutionary, we make a grave mistake as liberals (the general ideology of the west) by ignoring the historical, social, and economic theory underlying Marxian theories.
It is much better to “get” Marx, so we can get a better sense of the many different forms of socialism and how they relate or don’t relate to Marx, and so we can see where the theory went wrong in action under figures like Mao and Stalin.
Marxian Class Theory and The Class Struggle Between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat
With that introduction covered, lets get to the essence at the heart of Marx, “the Class Struggle” denoted by Marxian Class Theory.
The Marxian Class Theory is the idea there are two main (not only, but main) social classes in capitalist society (in the capitalist “mode of production“):
- There are upper-class bourgeoisie capitalists who own the means of production and control labor. Owners. In modern terms, “The Establishment.” Capital.
- There are lower-class proletariat workers who sell their labor. Wage Earners. In modern terms, “The Common People.” Labor.
Or, in the terms of the Communist Manifesto itself (as noted above):
- By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour. CAPITAL.
- By proletariat, the class of modern wage labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live. LABOR.
NOTES: In other words, the bourgeoise and the proletariat are the bourgeoise employers (capital) and proletariat workers (labor) of all the various social classes. Here the Bourgeoisie gives birth to its antithesis, the Proletariat, by exploiting labor for capital. For more see the Manifesto itself, Marx and Engels’ other work, or our page on class systems. There are other classes, like the lower-middle class and peasant class, but for the main idea we just need to focus on the two general groups; labor and capital).
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.” – The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels, on the historic class struggle that defines the socioeconomic cycles
In Marx’s theory, the proletariat is supposed to rise up in a revolution to abolish private property, capitalism, and the bourgeois before abolishing itself (thereby eliminating private property, social and economic inequality, and classism to create a global classless, nationless, and socially equal global society).
Why would the worker class rise up (and not say the lowest peasant class)? Simple.
The workers are, according to Marx the only revolutionary class (the other classes are being phased out by bourgeoise capitalism and are therefore reactionary and not revolutionary). Meanwhile, the bourgeoise cannot phase out the proletariat as they need them to maintain production (to the bourgeoise labor/proletariat is a kind of capital). Plus, the proletariat have already began to organize into Unions (a type of organization that only becomes easier as technology advances).
And why again would we want a revolution in the first place?
It isn’t that anyone wanted a revolution, no more than the liberals “wanted” a revolution with which to throw off kings.
Before the liberal revolutions kings oppressed people, so the lower classes teamed up against them to create “the liberal state.” However, in the system created by the liberals, the capitalist mode of production, the bourgeoisie became the new oppressors.
The capitalism in the liberal state has created such social, political, and economic inequality that it, to the Marxists, essentially demanded a workers’ revolution (a vehicle by which it could be taken into the next cycle via a new revolution).
As noted above: “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers,” – the final lines of Chapter 1 of the Communist Manifesto.
Just as the liberal revolutions took out the kings and paved the way for the bourgeoisie, which created the modern proletariat, the next cycle will see the proletariat take out the bourgeoisie… before finally taking out themselves.
This naturally occurring cycle isn’t about faults, or about a peasant class not being worthy of being the antagonist in the revolution, or about the upper-class being evil, it is just about the nature of capitalism and the class system, the inevitable wealth and power gap, and the inevitable reactions and revolutions.
This is why it is “scientific socialism,” and not just a ideological utopian socialism. It is a prediction based on history and the real social factors of production in historic cycles!
Scientific Socialism and the Communist Party
Marx’s theory was meant to be gleaned empirically from human history, not idealized with pure reason. This Baconian empiricism used by Locke to justify liberalism is the same used by Marx (who like the later fascists, saw everything as purely empirical). It is this empirical nature which justifies the term “scientific socialism” (the type of socialism that is actually Marxist and that became Communism; there are many types of socialism and the Manifesto of the Communist Party rejects most of them).
According to this theory, one should look at past socioeconomic social systems (like tribalism, feudalism, and then capitalism) in a Darwinian manner by looking at history as a series of naturally occurring historic stages, or modes of production, based on the relationship between capital and labor in an era (based on the historic class struggle that resulted in events like the French Revolution).
Indeed, if we look at the social classes, the evolution of governments, and the evolution of economy in history, Marx the historian presents a compelling theory. Learn more about the social class system. Or at least ponder the image above for a second to get an idea of the multi-tiered “third estate” social class Marx is talking about.
The idea is that the upper third estate that oppresses the working classes (the capitalists) won’t side with the common people (lowest class) or workers (second lowest) without a catalyst.
Young Marx, Old Marx, Revolution Through Democracy, Fascism, and How the Bourgeoisie Can Stop Populist Uprisings
For Young Marx, the catalyst was a workers’ revolution, and this inspired Communism (the ideology of the global Communist Party which is less a party and a global movement)… but with that in mind, Old Marx revised his theory to a more democratic one.
With that we can note, taking all his works into account, “Marx wasn’t much of a Marxist.” In the end he was a bit of… a mix of a radical social democrat / republican. Well that and a master historian, economist, and political thinker.
We are far too quick to judge Marx, of course, now you know why.
The upper-class never did like that theory of revolution to abolish bourgeoisie property.
They were all psyched about taking out the churches and kings, but not as excited about taking out the barons (wait, “we ARE the barons” they say!)
Luckily, not every theory calls for the abolishing of the upper-classes, consider, without extreme inequality, there is no catalyst!
So, the true power to offset populist revolutions lays not with the lower classes, and not even with the worker classes, but with the upper-classes and state themselves.
All they have to do is not screw everyone and create a giant power and economic gap in the greed. Heck, maybe they could even not corrupt the senate like it was 30 BC all over again. Simple.
TIP: Fascism (the other anthesis to global liberalism, the other “solution”) also arises due to many of the same reasons (inequality in the liberal state), and now you understand the causes of WW2 and the class struggle of the capitalist mode of production. So, do we solve inequality democratically, do we do deconstruction, do we turn to the populist right of Hitler, or do we turn to the populist left of Marx? Do we Third Way or Third Reich? Unfortunately for all of us, that question has yet to be answered. I’ll take this moment to offer an opinion then: I suggest Progressive Centrism and Bernie Sanders, this way we solution the problem by democratic means, by a gloriously peaceful revolution. I am fairy sure it is what old Marx would have wanted, especially if he could have seen how the World Wars unfolded.
FACT: According to the Communist Manifesto, the term “Commune” was the name taken in France by the nascent towns even before they had conquered from their feudal lords and masters local self-government and political rights as the “Third Estate.”.
Mode of production: In any cycle there are the materials and forces of production. Someone has to control and direct these things. Marx said each historic cycle was defined by an economic system based on how the division of labor and capital worked. Thus the main modes of production in history (tribal society, feudalism, and early and late capitalism, and then finally two forms of socialism) transformed from the lower form to the higher form via revolutionary or democratic means by way of a class struggle between the owners of the means of production and the producers. The idea is to look at this historically and empirically, that is “scientific socialism” (the theory that leads to Communism). That is the gist, it is explained more below (kind of sad that this whole theory gets boiled down to “Marx is bad cuz”, right? A quick view of the Wikipage on this should hammer in the concept. See Marx’s Theory of Class and Exploitation.
TIP: Marx’s whole thing was that he looked at history and noticed patterns, then he looked at economics and noticed patterns, then he combined all his knowledge into a theory of socialism. This theory went on to become the basis for Communism… then that theory was corrupted by despots. There is a world of difference between Marx’s work and “Marx” the dirty word in Western capitalist society. Marx wasn’t demanding the next historic cycle as much as he was predicting it as a response to the social, political, and economic inequality bred by the capitalist state. In the same way the Jacobins took France in the 1790’s, Young Marx simply predicted the next cycle would be taken by socialists via a workers revolution.
TIP: Consider Marx saw capitalism arise in a sort of ugly time when it was getting its sea legs, as Young Marx became Old Marx he revised his theory a bit to be less revolutionary and more democratic. By the end, Old Marx believed in Democratic Socialism. Consider, there are only a handful of social classes, and one or more must spur on a revolution, if a revolution is to happen (if we accept that historic cycles are defined by the class struggle). Young Marx thought the class that would do this would be workers, but that part of the theory was only theory, and only a small part. That point can’t be understated. There are countless forms of socialism, and each has different ideas on how change is accomplished or to what degree things should be changed.
TIP: Stalinism and Marxism are very different (and so is Leninism, Maoism, Democratic Socialism, Libertarian Socialism, etc, etc; socialism comes in countless authoritative and non-authoritative forms). Marx was a master philosopher, Lenin a revolutionary with a despotic streak, and Stalin a despot. They each had their pros and cons, but conflating the extreme authoritative socialist despots with the idealistic historians who favor humanist forms of socialism is more a thing of propaganda than practical reasoning. Rejecting all socialism “because Stalin” is easy, actually understanding Marx the economist, historian, and political philosopher and all the types of socialism is hard.
Karl Marx: Bourgeois and Proletarians.
TIP: One can translate the term “bourgeoisie” to the middle class… but in modern America, this is arguably a bad translation. America and the modern West has really accomplished a lot of what Marx thought would need to be done by revolution via democratic means (hinting that liberalism is perhaps less an old cycle meant to become history, but rather a solid foundation for a more just system). Today there is a lot of flexibility between classes, and “middle class” hardly implies a capitalist Baron who owns the means of production and profits off the exploiting of the working class (it can, but generally doesn’t). The bourgeoisie includes the investor class and business owners, but it really describes a oligarchical and Baron class above that who participate in things like Crony-capitalism. It describes the top of the modern third estate and generally parts of the second estate (here noting that America has no “first estate” in the classical sense). I would say in each “cycle” the bourgeoisie and proletariat are going to look different, and in each nation they will as well, so try not to get sidetracked here.
Alienation: Alienation is what one feels when they are disconnected from the fruits of their labor or otherwise… alienated. The concept is at the root of existentialism. And of course there was nothing more existential than being in the trenches of WWI, so the irony here is pretty thick. Still, you’ll need to understand this term.
Dialectics: Why two classes? First off, Marx is playing off of Hegel’s Dialectics, a theory that says every concept can be considered as an abstraction (every thesis can be considered with its antithesis). From this abstraction a “third way” is born (a new concept that can itself be considered as a duality). From the class struggle of the feudalists and their oppressed, capitalism was born. From the class struggle between the workers and bourgeoisie of the capitalist system, the next phase is born. This theory was then paired with the history of actual revolutions (which tended to occur between economic classes and generally the oppressed and oppressors; as one can see with the French Revolution and its estates in the image below). If you just ignore the part about Marx calling for a revolution (something he later back-tracks on while turning to Democracy; although he does so too late as the World War Despots used the Doctrine of a Younger Marx), then you are in for volumes of insanely smart and insight into our real world woes.
What is the Hegelian Dialectic?.
Marx is Predicting Revolution More Than Calling For it
According to Marx, viewing the history of classism and economy as an empirical social science, and as a political philosophy, shows that the next part of the cycle isn’t just a theory or an idea, but a necessary next step that will natural occur even if we all stick our head in the sand.
What I’m trying to say is that Marx didn’t really call for revolution as much as he predicted the uprising of the WWII civil religions Communism and Fascism in-action. He predicted that the proletariat would seek to overthrow the bourgeoisie (who had just previously overthrown the first two estates in the Revolutions to create the modern liberal west).
What I am saying is that, while there is good reason to critique Young Marx’s call for revolution and his conclusions of his theory, he wasn’t just calling for change, he was warning us of its inevitability.
The whole theory above is referred to as historic materialism.
Again, this means history is seen as historic cycles based on the class struggle related to the factors of production (the empirically evident materials) in a given mode of production.
Marx and his followers like their jargon, and while this is off-putting at first, it becomes rather useful once you “get it”. As, to get Marx you really only need to understand exactly what he means by “historic materialism”.
Basic Marxist Materialism Explained.
Strangely Enough, the Capitalist Bourgeoisie Didn’t Like this Theory
As you can imagine, the capitalist bourgeoisie made up of upper-class, business owners, shareholders, political elite, etc. have always hated this theory and Marx (to the extent that the pushback has resulted in the modern political parties in the U.S. and the global crisis of populism to some extent; wait or is that just Marx’s theory in action as a natural cycle?!).
The major backlash against Marx started in the mid 1800’s, but truly occurred after the Red Scare and the World Wars (where both fascism and communism are evolutions of Marx’s socialism in-action).
It is during the World Wars when the ideals of communism backfired heavily, proving the bourgeoisie weren’t just reacting negatively based on self-interest alone. In other words, while you can think what you want from my writing, I am notably pointing out that both Marx himself and even the most frustrating of modern Oligarchs aren’t wrong to revise Young Marx’s theory of a workers’ revolution… in practice they have not not bore good fruit (the rising up of Unions worked well enough, but the WWII civil regions obviously weren’t the best reaction to social, political, and economic inequality from a centered standpoint).
TIP: Marx also recognized a petite bourgeoisie class who own sufficient means of production but do not purchase labor power. This class is probably more prevalent today than ever, but it isn’t part of the core of Marx’s theories.
Marxism and social classes.
READ: Karl Marx Capital A Critique of Political Economy. This is the book Das Kapital translated from German and the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels February 1848.
TIP: In economics, especially Marxian economics, the factors of production are capital and labor, and the means of production is another word for capital. In this, the concept of capital includes all non-human assets (commodities). Labor includes all human assets. The capitalists in the capitalist mode of production control the factors of production and own the means of production since they direct the capital. The wage earners supply all the labor as they do the work, but don’t control the factors of production or own the means of production. We could be more nuanced and talk about entrepreneurial work, but that is not at the core of Marx.
TIP: In general, Marx’s materialism is the empirical concept that all reality can be found in matter and energy (the “material” world) not ideas (pure reason). Thus, like Locke, Marx is an empiricist and, like Mises, Marx thought “all action is human action.” This was an eccentric opinion for a collectivist to have. He was one of the first utopian philosophers to take a purely empirical and historic approach to an egalitarian social theory. Marx was influenced by Hegel, who also had a materialist theory, although Hegel, like Plato is to Aristotle, or Kant to Hume, favored the world of ideas.
Marx’s Theory of History
As touched on above, the other part of Marx’s theory to get, aside from the classes, is his theory of history. It is the idea that economics forms the foundation of government and this creates different stages of government.
Marx’s theory of history presents the idea that that capitalism is a stepping stone on the path to the final economic system.
Marx asserts that economic systems are naturally occurring and that capitalism is just an extension of feudalism, which arose from tribalism, which, in turn, developed from the state of nature. He saw Communism is a final, enlightened step.
Specifically, the theory of history divides governments developed from economics and technology into five historical social stages: Primitive communism or tribal society (a prehistoric stage), ancient society, feudalism, capitalism, and, lastly, Marx and Engel’s utopian Communism.
Marxist View of History.
FACT OR MYTH? Marx is reported to have said, “I am not a Marxist.” Although this may or may not be true, it shines a light on the difference between our intellectual ancestors and their detractors. The names you hear like Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes, Smith, Marx, Keynes, Mill, etc. are masters. These are thinkers who stood so high above others intellectually that we still know their names today. Marx was far too multi-faceted and intelligent to fit into the tiny box that was Marxism then or is Marxism today.
12. Marx’s Theory of History.
Marx’s idea is that the proletariat or working class, who in the mid-1800’s England and Germany seemed as though they had nothing left to lose. They felt “alienated” in the sense that they didn’t own or control the factors of production. Marx felt their hope was in rising against the bourgeois in an attempt to propel society from its historical capitalism into its final stage of communism.
The revolution wasn’t just about revenge on the bourgeois who profited off the labor of the workers; it was more practical. The bourgeoisie class wasn’t going to give up the current cycle by choice, by so the working class would need to do it.
Karl Marx – The Revolutionary Scholar I THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
Why a Workers’ Revolution?
Marx didn’t look to the proletariat because he admired all their qualities. Instead, he rationalized heavily to convince everyone, possibly including himself, that they could do it.
The reason he put his faith in a class that was not his own, was that he knew the bourgeois wouldn’t give up their favored position in capitalist society. Rather, the bourgeoisie has historically praised the capitalist philosophers and ignored utopians who decried the market-system.
Marx, the bourgeoisie, and anyone else who has read Smith knows that getting a class to act out of their self-interest is easy, but convincing a class to act against its interests is like herding cats.
Thus, Marx looks to the proletariat. This worked out poorly for the West in the 20th century as Russia, and other powers embraced cherry-picked versions of Marx’s theories, which led them not to utopia, but to war and, eventually, back to capitalism.
TIP: It is tempting to treat Marx, a radical philosopher, Lenin, a radical revolutionary, and Stalin a radical despot, as the same entity in the West. The problem here is that they are entirely different figures with wildly different historical lessons to teach. If someone can’t tell the difference between Stalin and Marx, we are in deep trouble when they show up at the ballot box or vote with their dollars.
What is Marxist Communism?
Finally, putting together the class theory, the history theory, and the revolutionary theory, we get to Marx’s theory of Communism, the last historical stage in his theory of history.
Marxist Communism is what Marx saw as the next stage after the capitalist mode of production. The worker’s revolution would abolish private property and classes and create common ownership of the means of production.
The exact mechanics of how this would work is a complex that Marx’s dealt with in his other works.
The problem in practice isn’t the ideals of utopia; it is the corrupt despots and tyrants who seize control of the otherwise equalized and centralized system. As the Russians well knew then, or at least we can be sure they know today, there is nothing more destabilizing to society than its total equalization. It is the ideal state for a state to be in if a tyrant seeks to gain control of the masses.
TIP: See Communism-Marxism from Wikipedia for a more detailed basic description.
Masters Of Money | Part 3 | Karl Marx.
What to Learn from Marx
Since a worker’s revolution doesn’t seem to lead directly to communism, but instead, in Marx’s terms, seems to revert to a past historical stage, then we have two choices.
We can either run from Marx, tail between our legs, and pray nobody ever reads him again or look at what he got right, what he got wrong, and perhaps find a better path forward.
What if the next step isn’t communism, but enlightened “fair-market” capitalism? What if the next revolution happens at the ballot box and boardroom? What if we lift up the working class and give them a stake in owning capital, as we see with 401ks and HSAs and companies providing shares as benefits? What if we educate the working class and help them join the bourgeoisie, while the bourgeoisie themselves take some pride in physical labor? What if we value our liberty and individual choice while still caring for the collective?
Or we can ask the question, “in the age of robotics in our near future when physical labor isn’t needed as much, will a proletariat continue to exist? Do we all become an either a lower or upper class of sorts?” Are we suggesting our robots will rise up against us? (Forgive me for getting metaphysical for a moment).
Marx appears to have seen many social forces accurately. It seems short sighted to demonize him to the point where nobody but the modern proletarian left even remembers his words. If anything, isn’t this more dangerous than discussing him honestly? As with Smith’s invisible hand, if we hide the idea, those who happen upon it in their study of libertarianism may see it as a final destination rather than a stepping stone. Aren’t we better off discussing these things openly? Do people doubt capitalism’s ability to defeat communism on its own merits?
Why Marxism Cannot Work.
TIP: A key concept with Marx and Engels is the way humans lived in the state of nature, and how they form social systems and governments. A core principle derived from Marx, but not developed by him specifically, Dialectical materialism, is a fusion of his dialectic. This was an extension of a Hegelian concept, which can be boiled down to the idea that truth is empirical and we project our ideals in the world around us, and materialism, the idea that social systems are derived from the material foundations; the factors of production are the materials. The jargon is complex. The basic idea is that we look to the state of nature, then trace how the factors of production organize in eras and then figure out where the system is going. When we have done this, we can guide society in the optimal direction, basing our ideas on empirical data.
In John Maynard Keynes’ essay Am I a Liberal? He critiques Marx and the British Labour Party, the British Conservative party, and the British Liberal party. His insight pairs well with Marx and the actual story we learn by studying the French Revolution and October Revolution.
Comparing Marx and the French Revolution
Let’s start with the French Revolution as seen through the lens of Marx. In this view, the bourgeoisie (including the Royals) oppressed the lower classes. See the flour war for instance. In the class struggle leading to the Revolution, the lower classes of the third estate became revolutionaries. They were represented by the proletarian Jacobins. To overthrow the bourgeoisie, the Jacobins teamed up with bourgeoisie intellectuals or “the intelligentsia,” as represented by the Girondins.
The revolution worked, but directly after the uprising heads started rolling. Many peasants on the “wrong side of the isle” lost their heads, but so did many bourgeoisie including both the conservatives, the Royals, and educated bourgeoisie the Girondins.
Eventually, the Thermidorian Reaction ended the Jacobin Reign of Terror, and this was what resulted in the Rise of Napoleon, a liberal despot.
The Worker’s Revolution turned into a bloodbath. The former allies of the worker party were the first to go. Then a despotic emperor who called himself a liberal took over.
Is that what you think happened during the Lenin’s October Revolution? While Lenin may have seemed acceptable from a historical point of view, but his usurper Stalin was far more brutal.
Marx knew about the French Revolution and had very stringent criteria for how technologically advanced the proletariat must be. He famously doubted that mid-to-late 1800’s Russia was advanced enough to evolve past their current state, which was arguably feudal in some respect. He didn’t think that this sort of revolution was the ideal way forward.
The Real Problem With Marx
The real problem with Marx, his disregard of the tyrannical nature of people and his economic theories related to communism aside, is his insistence on a class of angry workers overthrowing everyone else by force. This is an inherently unfair proposition to those that don’t want it, and an act that almost always ends poorly from a historic standpoint in practice.
Marx, seeing the rise of industrialization around him assumed that he was witnessing the final form of capitalism. But in retrospect, we can argue that he was not.
Later we would see the Roosevelts, Keynes, and Social Liberalism. Unions would get a foothold and voters more rights. Social security programs and assistance programs would create a safety net, and a mixed market would bear great fruit.
From the standpoint of America in 2017, we can see still see the problems of capitalism such as human-caused climate change and economic inequality and the long road ahead. We can also see the benefits that our market system brought us in practice like medical science, central heating, houses with indoor plumbing, cars, credit, and upward mobility, not to mention the internet, Facebook, and iPhones.
Despite its vices, in this era, capitalism can be shown to have a host of empirical virtues.
Moving forward, we can question if perhaps the next step is a more enlightened form of Capitalism. We can look at new ideologies like new neoclassical synthesis, neoliberalism, general progressivism, a strong working middle class, a lower class with dignity, help, and opportunity, and new types of self-made bourgeoisie like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerburg. We do not need to conjure up images of evil Robber Barons.
While no one can say for sure what the final mode of production looks like, I strongly feel that it involves a system in which all people can thrive, not a system where one class overthrows the other to inflict everlasting sameness-for-all.
Equality and liberty go hand-in-hand, and people are incentive based creatures. Let’s keep our incentives and heroes, and not cast aside liberty today for equality tomorrow to take a short cut.
Marx accused the past philosophers like Mill of being errand boys and apologists for the capitalists, but couldn’t it just be that they saw the same potential in markets that he saw in his communist utopia? Just like neoclassical synthesis respects Keynes and Smith, perhaps the next step forward is one that simply respects both Marx and Mill.
Ought I, then, to join the Labour Party? Superficially that is more attractive. But looked at closer, there are great difficulties. To begin with, it is a class party, and the class is not my class. If I am going to pursue sectional interests at all, I shall pursue my own. When it comes to the class struggle as such, my local and personal patriotisms, like those of every one else, except certain unpleasant zealous ones, are attached to my own surroundings. I can be influenced by what seems to me to be justice ad good sense; but the Class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie. – John Maynard Keynes hinting at the problem with class warfare of any kind.
The Bloody History of Communism Full.
TIP: See my theory of the separation of powers and element theory. It touches on how the classes can balance each other without eliminating or dominating each other. I see this, with a market-based system and a social safety-net as the best way forward.
TIP: Marx wasn’t born with the idea of a worker’s revolution. Instead, many of his other ideas came first. Marx embraced the idea of a workers revolution after meeting Engels. Likewise, early in his career, Marx had no economic theory. He focused on other aspects of society like alienation; he would later connect the idea of this existential alienation to the proletariat.
TIP: When people say “Marxism,” they may mean “Marx’s and Engels’ ideas.” They often mean the combined and cherry picked theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and others after both Marx and Engels had died post-October Revolution and Red Scare, although, Marx was very unpopular with the bourgeoisie capitalists in his lifetime too.
Communism | The 20th century | World History | Khan Academy.
- Historical materialism
- Scientific socialism
- Marx’s theory of alienation
- Manifesto of the Communist Party
"Understanding Marx and Marxian Class Theory" is tagged with: Capitalism, Economic Inequality, Essentialism and Existentialism, Left–right Politics, Liberalism and Conservatism, Money, Socialism, Types of Governments
A contribution to understanding Marxist economics. Brian Mitchell. UK.
The Myths and Fallacies of Capitalist Economic Ideology. Part 1:
A Contribution to Making Marxist Economics Easier to Understand and Prove.
The Classical Economists of England and France, such as the favourite of conservatives or capitalists: Adam Smith, along with David Ricardo, Jean Baptiste Say, Charles Fourier, James Mill, John Stewart Mill and several others were the original formulators of what became the Labour Theory of Value in Political Economy; and it was the most recent of these, Karl Marx, who tidied up their errors and loose ends into a fully comprehensive analysis of the workings of capitalism. His main popular work is called Capital.
“We are not presenting the world with a new principle, saying in a doctrinaire fashion: “Here is the truth – fall on your knees before it!” We are deriving new principles for the world, and deriving them from principles already inherent in the world. We are showing the world what it is in fact fighting for; and consciousness is something the world must acquire, even if it does not want to.”
(German writer and playwright Heinrich Heine, on Marxism.)
“It’s sensible, Anyone can understand it. It’s easy, You’re not an exploiter – so you can grasp it. Find out more about it. The stupid call it stupid, the squalid call it squalid, It is against squalor and against stupidity. The exploiters call it a crime, But we know it is the end of crime. It’s not madness but the end of madness. It’s not the riddle but the solution. It is the simple thing so hard to achieve.”
(German progressive writer and playwright Berthold Brecht.)
You have to ask why they keep screaming democracy, freedom and human rights at us from the rooftops when we have neither. When capitalists talk of democracy, freedom or human rights, they always mean one thing only – capitalism, which by its very nature can have neither. Less than 6 percent of the British people in 2017 own more that 88 percent of the country’s wealth. This tiny percentage of the population have given themselves the “freedom” and the “right” to own the immensely vast means of production of everything, indeed, the very means of subsistence of life itself, and profit enormously from the work of the overwhelming majority rest of us; who own no means of production, not even the means of subsistence of our lives, but only our ability to work, to sell our labour power for mere wages from those who have taken ownership of it all as their own private capital.
Having allowed allowed profits from capitalism to dominate every aspect of our lives, has given us less human rights to the means of life itself than a prehistoric hunter gatherer. As the MP who instigated the NHS Aneurin (Nye) Bevan found, parliament is just for public consumption, to fool the population into believing that we live under some kind of democracy, and noted that real power in Britain lies two miles to the east of parliament, in the corporate, financial and banking City of London. We are ruled by their corporate lobbying of parliament and their wealthy capitalist MPs, not any democracy.
Contrary to the British Registrar General’s seven or eight different social classes beloved by government, academic sociology and the media, there are only two classes in capitalist society worth considering, economic classes: (a) the capitalist class, a tiny percentage of the population, possibly now some five or six percent, who own the land, all the means of production, all the commodities produced, banking and finance, and all the profits made, and control political power; and (b) the working class, the overwhelming majority rest of us, probably now approaching some 88 percent of us, whose only means of subsistence is the wages the capitalist class chooses to pay us, assuming we have a job. Any other socio-economic classification is not only totally meaningless but deliberately misleading in order to confuse any socio-economic thinking.
Capitalist propaganda continuously tries to make people believe that Marxism is about communism. Marxism is neither about communism nor a plan for communism, it never has been. Mainstream capitalist education and media deliberately hides the fact that Marxism is a thorough analysis of capitalism and how it works. After all, Marx’s main three volume work is called Capital, where he says in its introduction:
“it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern [capitalist] society.”
(Karl Marx, in his introduction to his main economic work Das Kapital (Capital.)
However as a critique of capitalism, Marxism certainly implies the socialist solution to the horrors of capitalism. But Marxists leave the establishment, implementing and planning of socialist society up to each population or country to decide according to their different levels of historically existing conditions.
As mainstream propaganda never tires from telling us, it is certainly true that a socialist economy, just like any other economy, can have problems. But they are not problems of socialism or anything to do with socialist economics itself. If socialist countries have problems they are usually problems of production or distribution. As an imagined example, there may have been a shortage of toothpaste and a glut of toothbrushes on one side of town and the opposite on the other. But these problems are a result of errors or mistakes in planning or management of production or distribution of goods, not problems inherent in socialism. And even the most mildly socialist countries or any trying to resist imperialist domination are forced to operate under economic boycotts and blockades by the capitalist world. Socialist Cuba is a classical example of this.
Compare the problems of socialism with the very real and serious problems of capitalism all over the world and we see that the problems of capitalism are immensely vast and horrific compared with those of socialism.
Capitalism is completely anarchic and brutally competitive, both in terms of its competition with every other capitalist and every other country, and most especially in its fierce opposition to the working class majority everywhere. It has a vast world of inherent problems and massive contradictions, which are not possible to solve under capitalism.
Capitalism has problems of having to destroy massive unsellable surpluses of overproduced food because it is unprofitable on the one hand, and on the other hand underproduction of desperately needed necessities such as food and medicines; again because it is not profitable.
The capitalist world has mass poverty, starvation and the deaths of many millions of people in a vastly abundant world, millions of these being children. It has massive problems of homelessness along with unsellable building land and building materials on one hand, and unemployed building workers on the orher. The capitalist world is full of the continuing plunder of other nations of their cheap labour and raw materials. It perpetuates massively underdevelopment of countries in case they become independent or economic rivals or competitors. It perpetuates wars and the deaths of many more millions, racism, fascism, genocide, and maintains a world of massive rising debt amounting to the economic output of many poor countries in perpetuum, interventions and overthrows of popular democratically elected governments such as Arbenze’s Guatemala, Jagan’s Guiana, Mossadegh’s Iran and Allende’s Chile and so many others, imposing dictatorships on them. It maintains the massive wealth of a very small section of society alongside the poverty, homelessness, hunger and starvation of the overwhelming majority in this deeply troubled world. These are problems which continue to exist after more than a century of advanced capitalism. No socialist nation has had any of these problems.
Redistribution of capitalist owned wealth under any kind of social reformism, as in so-called social democracy, is impossible as capitalism by its very nature cannot be reformed in favour of the working class and therefore can never solve any of the problems inherent in capitalism. Only genuine socialism based firmly on Marxist economic principles can ever solve these problems:
“There must be something rotten in the very core of a social system which increases its wealth without diminishing its misery.”
“They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?”
(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)
“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”
(US Socialist leader Eugene Debs, in court convicted of opposing the US Sedition Act.|)
Contrary to capitalist propaganda, the exporting of socialism has never been a Marxist, Socialist or Communist policy.
Again, counter to mountains of capitalist propaganda, it has never been the policy of any modern communist or socialist party to “export” socialism or to impose it on other countries; which is not possible anyway, and is counter to Marxism:
“The victorious proletariat cannot impose on any other country its own idea of a happy life without doing damage to its own victory.”
“We’re not recommending socialism, but of course neither are we advising against it. … If they want to maintain capitalism in their own countries, let them maintain it for as long as they want. That is their own business. … In an academic discussion we can prove to them that socialism is better, more humane, more rational and fairer than capitalism, but we cannot go there and tell them: change your social system. … that is not our business. Nobody will ever want to change the capitalist system by force, to impose socialism… nobody will ever want to do that.” … “It is the imperialists who need weapons, since they are completely devoid of ideas. … Ideas don’t need weapons, if they can win the masses over to their cause. No one can think that the contradiction between capitalism and socialism can be settled by force. You’d have to be out of your mind to think that way, and that’s the way the imperialists think. That’s why they have military bases all over the world, threaten everybody and intervene everywhere. Where are the socialist countries’ military bases?”
(Cuban President 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)
“The history of a social system will be decided not by rockets, not by atomic and hydrogen bombs, but by the fact of which social system ensures greater material and spiritual benefits to man. … It is not true that we regard violence and civil war as the only way to remake society… The Communist system must be based on the will of the people, and if the people should not want that system, then that people should establish a different system. … If you feed the people just with revolutionary slogans they will listen today, they will listen tomorrow, they will listen the day after tomorrow, but on the fourth day they will say: “To hell with you!””
(Soviet President Nikita Kruschev.)
“The export of revolution is nonsense. … Without the support of millions, the best minority is impotent. … Every country makes its own revolution if it wants to, and if it does not want to, there will be no revolution. … We Marxists believe that revolution will occur in other countries as well. But it will come at a time when it is considered possible or necessary by the revolutionaries in these countries. … to assert that we desire to bring about revolution in other countries by interfering with their way of life is to speak of something that does not exist, and which we have never preached.”
(Soviet President Josef Stalin.)
“Communists are convinced that the future belongs to socialism. Such is the march of history. But this does not at all mean that we are going to engage in the ‘export of revolution’, in the interference in the affairs of other countries. The ‘export of revolution’ is altogether impossible. Socialism grows only on the soil of objective requirements of the social development of each particular country.”
(Soviet President Yuri Andropov, June 15 1983.)
“How can the Soviet Union be labelled imperialist? Where are its monopoly corporations? Where is its participation in multinational companies? What factories, what mines, what oilfields does it own in the underdeveloped world? What worker is exploited in any country of Asia, Africa and Latin America by Soviet capital? Soviet cooperation with Cuba and many other countries is based not on the sweat and sacrifice of exploited workers of other countries, but on the labour and efforts of the Soviet people.”
(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro.)
But it has always been a capitalist aim to force the capitalist system on the rest of the world.
On the other hand, capitalism is exported all over the world, yesterday as colonialism, today as imperialism, creating misery and death for many millions of humanity all over this very rich and abundant world:
“The Plan is for the United States to rule the world. The overt theme is unilateralism, but it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for the United States to maintain its overwhelming superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It says not that the United States must be more powerful, or most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful.”
(US Vice President Dick Cheney, June 2002
“The central concern of the foreign policy of the United States must be the creation of a world order which is oriented to the broadest possible extent towards our national interests as a free, democratic and capitalist great power.”
(US Wall Street Journal.)
“A collective action to eradicate international communism is not an act of intervention in the internal affairs of another State but is an act to uproot intervention.”
(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Chicago, New York Times, Nov 30 1954.)
“A war with the Soviet Union appears to me to be unavoidable. The idea of peaceful coexistence is simply humbug.”
(US General Kenny, Sept 1954.)
“Leadership towards a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership, and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self interest.”
(US Secretary of State Cordell Hull.)
“We shall have world government, whether or not we like it. The only question is whether world government will be achieved by consent or by conquest.”
(US banker, financial advisor to President Roosevelt, and Council on Foreign Relations member, James Warburg to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 17 l950.)
“Our fear that communism might someday take over most of the world blinds us to the fact that anti-communism already has.”
(US political economist, social scientist and author Michael Parenti.)
Because the aim of capitalism is only profit instead of satisfaction of people’s needs, the export of capitalism has always been a most essential need of capitalist economic dynamism. Capitalism of necessity must always stagnate within the limiting confines of its native national demographic boundary and must be exported to other countries, first as colonialism, and now as imperialism, plundering them of their vast resources of cheap labour and raw materials, and to flood their markets with otherwise unsellable surplus capitalist products in order for capitalism to survive without an inevitable collapse:
“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. … we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands… It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production… it creates a world after its own image.”
(Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto. [Note: Bourgeois: French, meaning owners of capital, capitalists, adopted by Classical Economics, Political Economy, Marxism etc.])
The widely understood validity of Marx’s refutation of capitalist economics is scientifically proven.
Every socialist minded person needs to study the basics of Marxist economics and understand it so as to be able to prove it, to categorically refute the deliberately misleading myths of capitalist economics. Only then will the popular majority be masters of society, and start to change the not only ridiculous but inherently murderous socio-economic division of society between the class of capitalists – the comparatively few owners of the means of production of social wealth, and the working class – the vast majority rest of society who own nothing but their ability to work for whatever wages the capitalist few decide to pay.
Capitalism’s self serving economic myths are clearly indefensible unscientific nonsense.
“A capitalist creates wealth no more than a person who milks a cow creates milk.”
“Marx’s great achievement was to place the system of capitalism on the defensive.”
(US writer Charles Madison.)
“The professional study of [capitalist] economics has become ideological brainwashing. It is a defense of the excesses of the capitalist system. … Capitalism is not about free competitive choices among people who are reasonably equal in their buying and selling of economic power, it is about concentrating capital, concentrating economic power in very few hands using that power to trash everyone who gets in their way.
(US economist David Korten.)
“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.”
“No longer could I resist the conclusion that capitalism was doomed. No longer must the livelihood of the community rest in irresponsible hands; blast furnaces remaining cold, mines undug and houses unbuilt, unless somebody’s private profit set forward the lighting, the digging and the building. Shivering miners could not dig the coal they needed, naked men could not weave their shirts and coats, nor could the man who lived seven in a single room enter a brickyard and build himself a house; though he kicked his heels for a dozen years in idleness, he must remain in misery if no one could make a profit from his labour. The public that needed these things and could produce them had no access to the land and machinery of production. Private profit took precedence of human life. Christian morality, if it was to be true to its mission, must find these things intolerable and demand reform.”
(The Dean of Canterbury Dr. Hewlett Johnson.)
“I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”
(Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani education activist shot by the Taliban and survived.)
Even early US presidents agreed with the Labour Theory of Value, which was further developed by Marx:
“Trade in general being nothing else but the exchange of labour for labour, the value of all things is justly measured by labour.”
(Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.)
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
(US President Abraham Lincoln, 1861. Superb Marxism Mr President!)
“All economic and political institutions are contrivances that should serve the interests of the people. When they fail to do so, they should be replaced by something more responsive, more just, and more democratic. Marx said this, and so did [US founding President.] Thomas Jefferson.”
(US political economist, social scientist and author Michael Parenti.)
The same ideas appeared long before Marx:
“The State should take the entire management of commerce, industry, and agriculture into its own hands, with a view of succouring the working classes and preventing their being ground to the dust by the rich.”
(11th Century Chinese statesman Wang An Shih – Eight centuries before Marx.)
Statements agreeing with Marx’s Labour Theory of Value were made before Marxism became popular and feared by the ruling class, who’s defensive aim since then has been to suppress, falsify and villify it. The following five quotes are from the economist beloved of capitalists or conservatives, the Scottish Classical Economist Adam Smith, all of which are identical to Marxism and later developed fully by Marx:
“The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes.”
(Adam Smith. This is the same as Marx’s Labour Theory of Value a century later.)
“The word value, it is to be observed, has two different meanings, and sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes the power of purchasing other goods which the possession of that object conveys. The one may be called ‘value in use;’ the other, ‘value in exchange.'”
(Adam Smith. This is exactly the same as Marx’s Use Value and Exchange Value.)
“The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command. Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities. The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.”
(Adam Smith. Marx’s Labour Theory of Value and Exchange Value is exactly the same as this.)
“Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price only. … labour, like commodities, may be said to have a real and a nominal price. Its real price may be said to consist in the quantity of the necessaries and conveniences of life which are given for it; its nominal price, in the quantity of money. The labourer is rich or poor, is well or ill rewarded, in proportion to the real, not to the nominal price of his labour.” … “Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and its value, to those who possess it, and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command.”
(Adam Smith. Marx’s Labour Theory of Value is exactly the same as this.)
“The value which the workmen add to the materials, therefore, resolves itself in this case into two parts, of which the one pays their wages, the other the profits of the employer upon the whole stock of materials and wages which he advanced. … The natural price, therefore, is, as it were, the central price, to which the prices of all commodities are continually gravitating.”
(Adam Smith. Marx’s Labour Theory of Value and of Surplus Value as the source of profit is exactly the same as this. Capitalists carefully use Smith’s work selectively to support capitalism, even though Smith himself did not, along with other classical economists.)
And as the following compilation shows, David Ricardo was another of the classical economists who understood what have now become Marxist economic principles:
“It is not by the absolute quantity of produce obtained by either class, that we can correctly judge of the rate of profit, rent, and wages, but by the quantity of labour required to obtain that produce. … The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not on the greater or less compensation which is paid for that labour. … The opinions that the price of commodities depends solely on the proportion of supply and demand, or demand to supply, has become almost an axiom in political economy, and has been the source of much error in that science. … There is no way of keeping profits up but by keeping wages down.”
(English classical economist David Ricardo, whose main work is Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. Like Adam Smith and other classical economists, he was an early formulator of the Labour Theory of Value later elaborated fully by Marx.)
Marxism is also verified by many other modern economists and leading or well known personalities all over the world:
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”.
(British Labour Party Clause 4, removed in 1995 by Blair’s New Labour. It must be restored.)
“Capitalism did not arise because capitalists stole the land or the workmen’s tools, but because it was more efficient than feudalism. It will perish because it is not merely less efficient than socialism, but actually self-destructive.”
(British born British Indian scientist, evolutionist and biologist John (J.B.S.) Haldane.)
“The worst enemy of humanity is U.S. capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own, a rebellion against a system, against a neoliberal model, which is the representation of a savage capitalism. If the entire world doesn’t acknowledge this reality, that the national states are not providing even minimally for health, education and nourishment, then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated. … We can not have equilibrium in this world with the current inequality and destruction of Mother Earth. Capitalism is what is causing this problem and it needs to end. … Capitalism and the thirst for profit without limits of the capitalist system are destroying the planet…Climate change has placed all humankind before a great choice: to continue in the ways of capitalism and death, or to start down the path of harmony with nature and respect for life. … Globalization creates economic policies where the transnationals lord over us, and the result is misery and unemployment.”
(Bolivian President Evo Morales.)
“there is no doubt in my mind, as many intellectuals have said, that it is necessary to transcend capitalism. But capitalism can not be transcended through capitalism itself; it must be done through socialism, true socialism, with equality and justice. I’m also convinced that it is possible to do it under democracy, but not in the type of democracy being imposed by Washington.” … “Privatization is a neoliberal and imperialist plan. Health can’t be privatized because it is a fundamental human right, nor can education, water, electricity and other public services. They can’t be surrendered to private capital that denies the people from their rights.” … “We must reduce all the emissions that are destroying the planet. However, that requires a change in lifestyle, a change in the economic model. … Capitalism is the specter, almost nobody wants to mention it… Socialism, the other specter Karl Marx spoke about… this is the direction, this is the path to save the planet, I don’t have the least doubt. Capitalism is the road to hell, to the destruction of the world. … We must go from capitalism to socialism.”
(Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.)
“My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system now doesn’t work either for the United States or the world, driving it from crisis to crisis, which are each time more serious.”
(Cuban leader 1959-2008 Fidel Castro. This is aptly explained by the Marxist Law of the Falling Rate of Profit, which the world sees happening ever more fiercely in modern times.)
“One of the chief arguments used in support of the policy of an open shop is that every man has an inalienable and constitutional right to work. I never found that in the [US] Constitution. If a man has the constitutional right to work, he ought to have a constitutional right to a job… A man has the right to work only if he can get a job…”
(US criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow. [The socialist Soviet Constitution guaranteed the right to a job by law, but capitalist Russia now has the usual capitalist unemployment and homelessness problem among many others. Cuba’s constitution also guarantees the right to life and all that this entails, which of course includes the right to a job. Naturally, the right to life itself is totally meaningless if it does not guarantee the right to the means of life – food, home, health, education and work.])
However, all the progressive statements of the pre-Marxist classical economists were soon dropped and kept quiet about as soon as capitalism advanced and Marxism became in massive popular opposition to it.
As all Marxists, socialists and communists know, and as anybody who has spent time in socialist populations or societies such as in Cuba, socialist economies eventually produce socialist people:
“Change the economic base and you will change human beings.”
If only good ideas and good intentions translated to great policy without fail. But alas, humans are complex and we constantly manage to botch things up and produce tyrants. It is almost impressive really.
The rhetoric of our time, the time of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Brexit, and popular unrest in Europe, appears to have a Marxist cast. Sanders’s proposals to reduce inequality are straight out of Piketty: tax wealth and give more people access to knowledge. Trump, since he admires authoritarian personalities, might be pleased to know that Marx supported free trade on a “the worse things get” theory: by driving wages lower, free trade increases the impoverishment of the working class and leads more quickly to the revolution. In the terms used everywhere today, on the left, on the right, and in the press: the system is “rigged” to reward “the elites.” Marx called them “the ruling class.”