Marxism

Marxism

[mahrk-siz-uhm]
Marxism, economic and political philosophy named for Karl Marx. It is also known as scientific (as opposed to utopian) socialism. Marxism has had a profound impact on contemporary culture; modern communism is based on it, and most modern socialist theories derive from it (see socialism). It has also had tremendous effect on academia, influencing disciplines from economics to philosophy and literary history.

Although no one treatise by Marx and his coworker Friedrich Engels covers all aspects of Marxism, the Communist Manifesto suggests many of its premises, and the monumental Das Kapital develops many of them most rigorously. Many elements of the Marxist system were drawn from earlier economic and historical thought, notably that of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the comte de Saint-Simon, J. C. L. de Sismondi, David Ricardo, Charles Fourier, and Louis Blanc; but Marxist analysis as fully developed by Marx and Engels was unquestionably original.

Tenets of Marxism

Dialectical Materialism

The Marxist philosophical method is dialectical materialism, a reversal of the dialectical idealism of Hegel. Dialectical materialism presumes the primacy of economic determinants in history. Through dialectical materialism was developed the fundamental Marxist premise that the history of society is the inexorable "history of class struggle." According to this premise, a specific class could rule only so long as it best represented the economically productive forces of society; when it became outmoded it would be destroyed and replaced. From this continuing dynamic process a classless society would eventually emerge. In modern capitalist society, the bourgeois (capitalist) class had destroyed and replaced the unproductive feudal nobility and had performed the economically creative task of establishing the new industrial order. The stage was thus set for the final struggle between the bourgeoisie, which had completed its historic role, and the proletariat, composed of the industrial workers, or makers of goods, which had become the true productive class.

Economic and Political Theories

Supporting Marxism's historical premises are its economic theories. Of central importance are the labor theory of value and the idea of surplus value. Marxism supposes that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor required for its manufacture. The value of the commodities purchasable by the worker's wages is less than the value of the commodities he produces; the difference, called surplus value, represents the profit of the capitalist. Thus the bourgeois class has flourished through exploitation of the proletariat.

The capitalist system and the bourgeoisie were seen as riven with weaknesses and contradictions, which would become increasingly severe as industrialization progressed and would manifest themselves in increasingly severe economic crises. According to the Communist Manifesto, it would be in a highly industrialized nation, where the crises of capitalism and the consciousness of the workers were far advanced, that the proletarian overthrow of bourgeois society would first succeed. Although this process was inevitable, Marxists were to speed it by bringing about the international union of workers, by supporting (for expediency) whatever political party favored "the momentary interests of the working class," and by helping to prepare workers for their revolutionary role.

The proletariat, after becoming the ruling class, was "to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state" and to increase productive forces at a rapid rate. Once the bourgeoisie had been defeated, there would be no more class divisions, since the means of production would not be owned by any group. The coercive state, formerly a weapon of class oppression, would be replaced by a rational structure of economic and social cooperation and integration. Such bourgeois institutions as the family and religion, which had served to perpetuate bourgeois dominance, would vanish, and each individual would find true fulfillment. Thus social and economic utopia would be achieved, although its exact form could not be predicted.

Influence of Marxism

Political Influence

The first impact of Marxism was felt in continental Europe. By the late 19th cent., through the influence of the Internationals, it had permeated the European trade union movement, and the major socialist parties (see Socialist parties, in European history) were committed to it in theory if not in practice. A major division soon appeared, however, between those socialists who believed that violent revolution was inevitable and those, most notably Eduard Bernstein, who argued that socialism could be achieved by evolution; both groups could cite Marx as their authority because he was inconsistent in his writings on this question.

The success of the revolutionary socialists (hereafter called Communists) in the Russian Revolution and the establishment of an authoritarian Communist state in Russia split the movement irrevocably. In disassociating themselves from dictatorial Russian Communism, many of the democratic socialist parties also moved slowly away from Marxist theory. Communists, on the other hand, regarded Marxism as their official dogma, and it is chiefly under their aegis that it spread through the world, although its concepts of class struggle and exploitation have helped to determine alternative policies of welfare and development in many nations besides those adhering to Communism. However, although useful as a revolutionary ethic and also as a frame of reference and a cue to policy, Marxism has found far less practical application than is often presumed.

The Soviet, Chinese, and other Communist states were at most only partly structured along Marxist "classless" lines, and while such Communist leaders as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong staunchly claimed Marxist orthodoxy for their pronouncements, they in fact greatly stretched the doctrine in attempting to mold it to their own uses. The evolution of varied forms of welfare capitalism, the improved condition of workers in industrial societies, and the recent demise of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have tended to discredit Marx's dire and deterministic economic predictions. The Soviet and Chinese Communist regimes did not result in the disappearance of the state, but in the erection of huge, monolithic, and largely inefficient state structures.

In the Third World, a legacy of colonialism and anti-imperialist struggle have given Marxism popular support. In Africa, Marxism has had notable impact in such nations as Ethiopia, Benin, Angola, Kenya, and Senegal. In less stable societies Marxism's combination of materialist analysis with a militant sense of justice remains a powerful attraction. Its influence has significantly weakened, however, and seems likely to fade even more since the decline of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the fall of Communism has led many to predict a similar fate for Marxism. Much of Marxism, because of its close association with Communism, has already been popularly discredited.

Philosophical Influence

In recent years, many Western intellectuals have championed Marxism and repudiated Communism, objecting to the manner in which the two terms are often used interchangeably. A number have turned to Marx's other writings and explored the present-day value of such Marxist concepts as alienation. Among prominent Western Marxists were the Hungarian philosopher György Lukács and the Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci, both of whom viewed Marxism as a liberation from the rule of political economy and believed in its relationship to the social consciousness. Marxism's influence can be found in disciplines as diverse as economics, history, art, literary criticism, and sociology. German sociologist Max Weber, Frankfurt school theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, British economist Joan Robinson, German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, British literary critic Frederic Jameson, and the French historians of the Annales school have all produced work drawn from Marxist perspectives.

Bibliography

See S. Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (1968); G. Lukàcs, History and Class Consciousness (tr. 1971); P. Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (1976); R. Williams, Marxism and Literature (1977); D. McLellan, ed., Marx: The First Hundred Years (1983); A. W. Wood, Karl Marx (1985); J. Elster, An Introduction to Karl Marx (1986); B. Mazlish, The Meaning of Karl Marx (1987); T. Carver, A Marx Dictionary (1987); see also bibliographies under Marx, Karl; communism; socialism.

Ideology and socioeconomic theory developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The fundamental ideology of communism, it holds that all people are enh1d to enjoy the fruits of their labour but are prevented from doing so in a capitalist economic system, which divides society into two classes: nonowning workers and nonworking owners. Marx called the resulting situation “alienation,” and he said that when the workers repossessed the fruits of their labour, alienation would be overcome and class divisions would cease. The Marxist theory of history posits class struggle as history's driving force, and it sees capitalism as the most recent and most critical historical stage—most critical because at this stage the proletariat will at last arise united. The failure of the European Revolutions of 1848 and an increasing need to elaborate on Marxist theory, whose orientation is more analytical than practical, led to adaptations such as Leninism and Maoism; in the late 20th century the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's adoption of many elements of a free-market economy seemed to mark the end of Marxism as an applicable economic or governmental theory, though it is still appreciated as a critique of market capitalism and a theory of historical change. Seealso Communist Manifesto; dialectical materialism; socialism; Stalinism; Trotskyism.

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Marxism-Leninism is a communist ideological stream that emerged as the mainstream tendency amongst the Communist parties in the 1920s as it was adopted as the ideological foundation of the Communist International during Stalin's era.

However, in various contexts, different (and sometimes opposing) political groups have used the term "Marxism-Leninism" to describe the ideology that they claimed to be upholding.

History of the term

Within 5 years of Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin completed his rise to power in the Soviet Union. According to G. Lisichkin, Marxism-Leninism as a separate ideology was compiled by Stalin basically in his "The questions of Leninism" book. During the period of Stalin's rule in the Soviet Union, Marxism-Leninism was proclaimed the official ideology of the state .

Whether Stalin's practices actually followed the principles of Marx and Lenin is still a subject of debate amongst historians and political scientists. Trotskyists in particular believe that Stalinism contradicted authentic Marxism and Leninism, and they initially used the term "Bolshevik-Leninism" to describe their own ideology of anti-Stalinist (and later anti-Maoist) communism. Left communists rejected "Marxism-Leninism" as an anti-Marxist current.

The term Marxism-Leninism is most often used by those who believe that Lenin's legacy was successfully carried forward by Joseph Stalin (Stalinists). However, it is also used by some who repudiate Stalin, such as the supporters of Nikita Khrushchev.

After the Sino-Soviet split, communist parties of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China each claimed to be the sole intellectual heir to Marxism-Leninism. In China, they claim that Mao had "adapted Marxism-Leninism to Chinese conditions" evolved into the idea that he had updated it in a fundamental way applying to the world as a whole; consequently, the term "Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought" (commonly known as Maoism) was increasingly used to describe the official Chinese state ideology as well as the ideological basis of parties around the world who sympathized with the Communist Party of China. Following the death of Mao, Peruvian Maoists associated with the Communist Party of Peru (Sendero Luminoso) subsequently coined the term Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, arguing that Maoism was a more advanced stage of Marxism.

Following the Sino-Albanian split, a small portion of Marxist-Leninists began to downplay or repudiate the role of Mao Zedong in the International Communist Movement in favor of the Party of Labor of Albania and a stricter adherence to Stalin.

In North Korea, Marxism-Leninism was officially superseded in 1977 by Juche, in which concepts of class and class struggle, in other words Marxism itself, play no significant role. However, the government is still sometimes referred to as Marxist-Leninist - or, more commonly, Stalinist - due to its political and economic structure (see History of North Korea).

In the other three "communist states" existing today - Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos - the ruling Parties hold Marxism-Leninism as their official ideology, although they give it different interpretations in terms of practical policy.

Current usage

Some contemporary communist parties continue to regard Marxism-Leninism as their basic ideology, although some have modified it to adapt to new and local political circumstances.

In party names, the appellation 'Marxist-Leninist' is normally used by a communist party who wishes to distinguish itself from some other (and presumably 'revisionist') communist party in the same country.

Popular confusion abounds concerning the complex terminology describing the various schools of Marxist-derived thought. The appellation 'Marxist-Leninist' is often used by those not familiar with communist ideology in any detail (e.g. many newspapers and other media) as a synonym for any kind of Marxism.

References

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