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Theoretical works

The Communist Manifesto
Das Kapital

Sociology and anthropology

Alienation · Bourgeoisie
Class consciousness
Commodity fetishism
Cultural hegemony
Exploitation · Human nature
Ideology · Proletariat
Reification · Socialism
Relations of production


Marxian economics
Labour power
Law of value
Means of production
Mode of production
Productive forces
Surplus labour
Surplus value
Transformation problem
Wage labour


Anarchism and Marxism
Capitalist mode of production
Class struggle
Dictatorship of the proletariat
Primitive accumulation of capital
Proletarian revolution
Proletarian internationalism
World Revolution


Marxist philosophy
Historical materialism
Dialectical materialism
Analytical Marxism
Marxist autonomism
Marxist feminism
Marxist humanism
Structural Marxism
Western Marxism
Libertarian Marxism
Young Marx

Prominent figures

Karl Marx · Friedrich Engels
Karl Kautsky · Georgi Plekhanov
Rosa Luxemburg · Anton Pannekoek
Vladimir Lenin · Leon Trotsky
Georg Lukács · Guy Debord
Antonio Gramsci · Karl Korsch
Che Guevara · Frankfurt School
J-P Sartre · Louis Althusser


Criticisms of Marxism

All categorised articles
Communism Portal

Marxism, in a narrow sense, refers to the thoughts and theories of Karl Marx and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels. It also refers to, in a broad sense, diverse thoughts, theories, and practices based upon the principal ideas of Marx and Engels.

Various, and often mutually incompatible, thoughts, theories, and movements of Marxism have emerged since late nineteenth century. Those variants appeared mainly for three reasons. First, Marx developed his thoughts over the years and changed his perspective on what the focal points of his thoughts should be. Thus, one's understanding of Marxism changes depending upon what one takes as the central idea of his thoughts. Second, Marx's thoughts contain ambiguities that allow a broad range of interpretations. Third, the social, economic conditions within which Marx formulated his thought radically changed throughout the century. Marx developed his theories based upon the critique and analysis of capitalism as it existed in Europe during the first half of nineteenth century. Capitalism, however, radically changed its form over the century. Furthermore, social conditions found in Europe do not necessarily reflect conditions found in other parts of the world. Marxists therefore had to modify Marxism to meet both historical and regional conditions. Fourth, the first Marxist state established by Lenin became a totalitarian state under Stalin; consequently, Western pro-Marxist intellectuals became doubtful of Lenin's interpretation of Marxism. Western Marxists developed different interpretations of Marxism by incorporating diverse methodologies of psychoanalysis, existentialism, and literary theory. Third World Theory, Maoism, Juche Ideology, and other regional variations also emerged.

Marx presented a Messianic vision to liberate mankind from its various chains. He formulated a unique, comprehensive theory by incorporating the philosophies of Hegel, Feuerbach, and others, British classical economics according to Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and the socialist theories of Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. His criticism of capitalism, theory of emancipation, critique of ideology, and passion to liberate the poor and the suppressed have been inspirational for many. The inherent problems of Marxism, however, became apparent when socialist states became suppressive police states and their economies failed. The failure of Marxism is also contributed to the rise of a postmodern skepticism of any grand all-solving theory ("grand narrative"), such as Marxism.


The Utopian vision of Marx's thought in the establishment of a classless, ideal, communist society came to an end with a series of counter-factual social realities that it produced and economic failure. Marxism as a thought or movement can be broadly divided into certain types.

Classical Marxism

Ideas and thoughts developed by Marx and Engels.

Social democratic Marxism

Various trends of Marxism were created in Europe after Marx. The major one was Social Democracy in Germany by Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein renounced the ideas of violent revolution and economic determinism, and proposed a peaceful acquisition of hegemony through parliamentary democracy.

Austrian Marxists such as Max Adler, and Otto Bauer, equally renounced violent revolution and argued for the needs of a moral foundation to promote socialism. They attempted to integrate Kantian ethics into Marxism.


Russian Marxists, such as Alexander Bogdanov, interpreted Marxism from an empirical perspective, employing Ernst Mach's critical empiricism. After World War I, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin, Georgy Plekhanov, Leon Trotsky, and others called for the needs of violent revolution and the concentration of power to the community party. Marxism-Leninism was also formulated at his time.

The dictatorial power of the community party, which was supposed to be temporary, became permanent at the time of Stalin, who established a totalitarian state.

Stalinism, however, induced criticism by other Marxists, and various forms of Marxism emerged. Post-Stalin Marxists were critical of the economic determinism of Marxism-Leninism and elaborated other aspects of Marx's thought.

European Marxism

György Lukács, Karl Korsch, and Antonio Gramsci took up the class consciousness of the proletariats and stressed the importance of their internal, self-conscious practices. They were all critical of the economic determinism of Marxism-Leninism.

Frankfurt School: Max Horkheimer, Adorno, and others Frankfurt school theorists were critical of Marx-Leninism and the orthodox interpretation of Marxism, which included ideas of economic determinism, the special role of the communist party, and the role of workers in a communist revolution; totalitarianism and its manifestation in Nazism and communism; and American capitalist mass culture. The theorists of the Frankfurt school thus developed “Western Marxism” based upon ideas taken from Georg Lukács, Sigmund Freud, and Max Weber. Beginning with Horkheimer’s program of “interdisciplinary materialism,” members including Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Jürgen Habermas applied and developed their studies in diverse social, cultural, historic, and psychoanalytic spheres, resulting in critical theory.

Jean-Paul Sartre developed the theory of alienation in Marx's thought, which are found in Marx's early manuscripts, by employing existentialism. Louis Althusser, on the contrary, developed a structualist interpretation of Marxism.

Eastern Marxism

Mao Zedong, a Chinese communist leader developed what is called Maoism. Maoism is a variant of Marx-Leninism.

Kim Il-sung, a North Korean communist leader, developed a unique form of Marxsim called Juche Thought. He added a psudo-religious worship of Kim Il-sung (Kimilsunism) into Marxism, which is not found in any previous Marxist theories and practices including Stalinism and Maoism.

Classical Marxism

The concept of Classical Marxism is, strictly speaking, a debatable notion. Due to inherent ambiguity and changes of Marx's perspectives over the years, what should be identified as the core of Marx's own theories is debatable. The notion of classical Marxism, nevertheless, is broadly defined in contract to later developments by other Marxists after Marx and Engels.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Main article: Karl Marx
Karl Marx—Co-founder of Marxism (with Engels)

Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818, Trier, then part of Prussian Rhineland—March 14, 1883, London) was an immensely influential German philosopher, political economist, and socialist revolutionary. Marx addressed a wide variety of issues, including alienation and exploitation of the worker, the capitalist mode of production, and historical materialism. He is most famous, however, for his analysis of history in terms of class struggles, as summed up in the opening line of the introduction to the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." The influence of his ideas, already popular during his life, was greatly broadened by the victory of the Russian Bolsheviks in the October Revolution of 1917. Indeed, there are few parts of the world that were not significantly affected by Marxist ideas in the course of the twentieth century.

Main article: Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was the co-founder and a proponent of Marxism.

Friedrich Engels (November 28, 1820, Wuppertal–August 5, 1895, London) was a nineteenth century German political philosopher who developed communist theory alongside Marx.

The two first met in person in September 1844. They discovered that they had similar views on philosophy and on capitalism and decided to work together, producing a number of works including Die heilige Familie (The Holy Family). After the French authorities deported Marx from France in January 1845, Engels and Marx decided to move to Belgium, which then permitted greater freedom of expression than some other countries in Europe. Engels and Marx returned to Brussels in January 1846, where they set up the Communist Correspondence Committee.

In 1847, Engels and Marx began writing a pamphlet together, based on Engels' The Principles of Communism. They completed the 12,000-word pamphlet in six weeks, writing it in such a manner as to make communism understandable to a wide audience, and published it as The Communist Manifesto in February 1848. In March, Belgium expelled both Engels and Marx. They moved to Cologne, where they began to publish a radical newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. By 1849, both Engels and Marx had to leave Germany and moved to London. The Prussian authorities applied pressure on the British government to expel the two men, but Prime Minister Lord John Russell refused. With only the money that Engels could raise, the Marx family lived in extreme poverty.

After Marx's death in 1883, Engels devoted much of the rest of his life to editing and translating Marx's writings. However, he also contributed significantly to feminist theory, conceiving, for instance, the concept that monogamous marriage arose because of the domination of men over women. In this sense, he ties communist theory to the family, arguing that men have dominated women just as the capitalist class has dominated workers. Engels died in London in 1895.

Early influences

Classical Marxism was influenced by a number of different thinkers. These thinkers can be divided roughly into 3 groups:

Other influences include:

Main ideas

The main ideas to come out of Marx and Engels' collective works include:

  • Means of production: The means of production are a combination of the means of labor and the subject of labor used by workers to make products. The means of labor include machines, tools, equipment, infrastructure, and "all those things with the aid of which man acts upon the subject of labor, and transforms it".[1] The subject of labor includes raw materials and materials directly taken from nature. Means of production by themselves produce nothing—labor power is needed for production to take place.
  • Mode of production: The mode of production is a specific combination of productive forces (including the means of production and labour power) and social and technical relations of production (including the property, power and control relations governing society's productive assets, often codified in law; cooperative work relations and forms of association; relations between people and the objects of their work, and the relations between social classes).
  • Base and superstructure: Marx and Engels use the “base-structure” metaphor to explain the idea that the totality of relations among people with regard to “the social production of their existence” forms the economic basis, on which arises a superstructure of political and legal institutions. To the base corresponds the social consciousness which includes religious, philosophical, and other main ideas. The base conditions both, the superstructure and the social consciousness. A conflict between the development of material productive forces and the relations of production causes social revolutions, and the resulting change in the economic basis will sooner or later lead to the transformation of the superstructure.[2] For Marx, though, this relationship is not a one way process—it is reflexive; the base determines the superstructure in the first instance and remains the foundation of a form of social organisation which then can act again upon both parts of the base-structure metaphor. The relationship between superstructure and base is considered to be a dialectical one, not a distinction between actual entities "in the world."
  • Class consciousness: Class consciousness refers to the awareness, both of itself and of the social world around them, that a social class possesses, and its capacity to act in its own rational interests based on said awareness.
  • Ideology: Without offering a general definition for ideology[3], Marx on several instances has used the term to designate the production of images of social reality. According to Engels, “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces.”[4] Because the ruling class controls the society's means of production, the superstructure of society, as well as its ruling ideas, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class's best interests. As Marx said famously in The German Ideology, “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”[5] Therefore the ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create false consciousness such as commodity fetishism (perceiving labor as capital ~ a degradation of human life).
  • Historical materialism: Historical materialism was first articulated by Marx, although he himself never used the term. It looks for the causes of developments and changes in human societies in the way in which humans collectively make the means to life, thus giving an emphasis, through economic analysis, to everything that co-exists with the economic base of society (e.g. social classes, political structures, ideologies).
  • Political economy: The term "political economy" originally meant the study of the conditions under which production was organized in the nation-states of the new-born capitalist system. Political economy, then, studies the mechanism of human activity in organizing material, and the mechanism of distributing the surplus or deficit that is the result of that activity. Political economy studies the means of production, specifically capital, and how this manifests itself in economic activity.
  • Exploitation: Marx refers to the exploitation of an entire segment or class of society by another. He sees it as being an inherent feature and key element of capitalism and free markets. The profit gained by the capitalist is the difference between the value of the product made by the worker and the actual wage that the worker receives; in other words, capitalism functions on the basis of paying workers less than the full value of their labour, in order to enable the capitalist class to turn a profit.
  • Alienation: Marx refers to the alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature" (Gattungswesen, usually translated as "species-essence" or "species-being"). Alienation describes objective features of a person's situation in capitalism—it is not necessary for them to believe or feel that they are alienated. He believes that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism.


Marx believed that the identity of a social class is derived from its relationship to the means of production (as opposed to the notion that class is determined by wealth alone, that is, lower class, middle class, upper class).

Marx describes several social classes in capitalist societies, including primarily:

  • The proletariat: "Those individuals who sell their labour power, (and therefore add value to the products), and who, in the capitalist mode of production, do not own the means of production." According to Marx, the capitalist mode of production establishes the conditions that enable the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat due to the fact that the worker's labour power generates an added value greater than the worker's salary.
  • The bourgeoisie: Those who "own the means of production" and buy labour power from the proletariat, who are recompensed by a salary, thus exploiting the proletariat.

The bourgeoisie may be further subdivided into the very wealthy bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie. The petit bourgeoisie are those who employ labour, but may also work themselves. These may be small proprietors, land-holding peasants, or trade workers. Marx predicted that the petit bourgeoisie would eventually be destroyed by the constant reinvention of the means of production and the result of this would be the forced movement of the vast majority of the petit bourgeoisie to the proletariat.

Marx also identified various other classes such as the

  • The lumpenproletariat: Criminals, vagabonds, beggars, and so on. People that have no stake in the economic system and will sell themselves to the highest bidder.
  • The Landlords: As a class of people that were historically important, of which several still retain some of their wealth and power.
  • The Peasantry and Farmers: This class he saw as disorganized and incapable of carrying out change. He also believed that this class would disappear, with most becoming proletariat but some becoming landowners.

Marx's theory of history

The Marxist theory of historical materialism understands society as fundamentally determined by the material conditions at any given time - this means the relationships which people enter into with one another in order to fulfill their basic needs, for instance to feed and clothe themselves and their families.[6] In general Marx and Engels identified five successive stages of the development of these material conditions in Western Europe.[7]

The First Stage may be called Primitive Communism, and refers in general to the hunter-gatherer societies in which there are many individual possessions but no private property in the Marxist sense of the term. Many things, such as land, living quarters, food and other means of existence, may be shared (commonly owned) in various ways.

The primitive communism stage begins with the dawn of humanity and ends with the development of private property, such as cattle and slaves, and the rising of city-states.

Private property in the terminology of Marx's time, for Marx himself, and for Marxists today, does not mean the simple possessions of a person, but the ownership of productive property or property which produces a profit for the owner, such as corporate ownership, share ownership, land ownership, and, in the case of slave society, slave ownership, since the slaves worked the land, mines and other means of producing the material means of existence.

The Second Stage may be called Slave Society, considered to be the beginning of "class society" where private property appears.

The slave-owning class "own" the land and slaves, which are the main means of producing wealth, whilst the vast majority have very little or nothing. Those with no property were the slave class, slaves who work for no money, and in most cases women, who were also dispossessed during this period. Slave society collapsed when it exhausted itself. The need to keep conquering more slaves created huge problems, such as maintaining the vast empire that resulted. The Roman Empire, for example, was eventually overrun by what it called "barbarians."

The Third Stage may be called Feudalism, where there are many classes such as kings, lords, and serfs, some little more than slaves. A merchant class develops. Out of the merchants' riches a capitalist class emerges within this feudal society. However, the old feudal kings and lords cannot accept the new technological changes the capitalists want. The capitalists are driven by the profit motive but are prevented from developing further profits by the nature of feudal society where, for instance, the serfs are tied to the land and cannot become industrial workers and wage earners. Marx says, Then begins an epoch of social revolution (The French Revolution of 1789, Cromwell in Britain, etc) since the social and political organization of feudal society (or the property relations of feudalism) is preventing the development of the capitalists' productive forces. [8]

Marx paid special attention to the next stage. The bulk of his work is devoted to exploring the mechanisms of capitalism, which in western society classically arose "red in tooth and claw" from feudal society in a revolutionary movement.


Capitalism may be considered the Fourth Stage in this schema. It appears after the bourgeois revolution when the capitalists (or their merchant predecessors) overthrow the feudal system. Capitalism is categorized by the following:

  • Free Market economy: In capitalism the entire economy is guided by market forces. Supporters of Laissez-faire economics argue that there should be little or no intervention from the government under capitalism. Marxists, however, such as Lenin in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, argue that the capitalist government is a powerful instrument for the furtherance of capitalism and the capitalist nation-state, particularly in the conquest of markets abroad.
  • Private property: The means of production are no longer in the hands of the monarchy and its nobles, but rather they are controlled by the capitalists. The capitalists control the means of production through commercial enterprises (such as corporations) that aim to maximize profit.
  • Parliamentary democracy: the capitalists tend to govern through an elected centralized parliament or congress, rather than under an autocracy. Capitalist (bourgeois) democracy, although it may be extended to the whole population, does not necessarily lead to universal suffrage. Historically it has excluded (by force, segregation, legislation or other means) sections of the population such as women, slaves, ex-slaves, people of color or those on low income. The government acts on behalf of, and is controlled by, the capitalists through various methods.
  • Wages: In capitalism, workers are rewarded according to their contract with their employer. However their hours or rate of work are often subject to increase outside their immediate control, and their wage is, in any case, but a fraction of the true value produced by their labor. The unpaid labor of the working class is the essential component of the profit for the capitalist, because the worker is not paid the true value of his labor: he is exploited
  • Warfare: Capitalism spreads from the wealthiest countries to the poorest as capitalists seek to expand their influence and raise their profits. This is done directly through war, the threat of war, or the export of capital. The capitalist's control over the state can thus play an essential part in the development of capitalism, to the extent the state directs the warfare or other foreign intervention.
  • Monopolistic tendencies: The natural, unrestrained market forces will create monopolies from the most successful and/or vicious commercial entities.

In capitalism, the profit motive rules and people, freed from serfdom, work for the capitalists for wages. The capitalist class are free to spread their laissez-faire practices around the world. In the capitalist-controlled parliament laws are made to protect wealth and the wealthy.

But, according to Marx, capitalism, like slave society and feudalism, also has critical failings—inner contradictions that will lead to its downfall. The working class, to which the capitalist class gave birth in order to produce commodities and profits, is the "grave digger" of capitalism. The worker is not paid the full value of what he or she produces. The rest is surplus value—the capitalist's profit, which Marx calls the "unpaid labour of the working class." The capitalists are forced by competition to attempt to drive down the wages of the working class to increase their profits, and this creates conflict between the classes, and gives rise to the development of class consciousness in the working class. The working class, through trade union and other struggles, becomes conscious of itself as an exploited class.

In the view of classical Marxism, the struggles of the working class against the attacks of the capitalist class lead the working class to struggle to establish its own collective control over production - the basis of socialist society. Marx believed that capitalism always leads to monopolies and leads the people to poverty; yet the fewer the restrictions on the free market (for example, from the state and trade unions), the sooner it finds itself in crisis.


After the working class gains class consciousness and mounts a revolution against the capitalists, Communism, which may be considered the Fifth Stage, will be attained, if the workers are successful.

Lenin divided the period following the overthrow of capitalism into two stages: First socialism, and then later, once the last vestiges of the old capitalist ways have withered away, communism. Lenin based his 1917 work, The State and Revolution, on a thorough study of the writings of Marx and Engels. Marx uses the terms the "first phase" of communism and the "higher phase" of communism, but Lenin points to later remarks of Engels which suggest that what people commonly think of as socialism equates to Marx's "first phase" of communism.

Socialism may be categorized by the following:

  • Decentralized planned economy: Without the market, production will be directed by the workers themselves through communes or workers' elected councils.
  • Common property: The means of production are taken from the hands of a few capitalists and put in the hands of the workers. This translates into the democratic communes controlling the means of production.
  • Council democracy: Marx, basing himself on a thorough study of Paris Commune, believed that the workers would govern themselves though system of communes. He called this the dictatorship of the proletariat, which, overthrowing the dictatorship (governance) of capital, would democratically plan production and the resources of the planet.
  • Labor vouchers: Marx explained that, since socialism emerges from capitalism, it would be "stamped with its birthmarks." Economically this translates into the individual worker being awarded according to the amount of labor he contributes to society. Each worker would be given a certificate verifiying his contribution which he could then exchange for goods.

Marx explains that socialist society, having risen from a self conscious movement of the vast majority, makes such a society one of the vast majority governing over their own lives:

The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.[9]

Now the productive forces are truly free to develop, but in a democratically planned way, without the vast waste of anarchic capitalist society, its wars and destruction of the planet. One of the primary tasks of the workers in the socialist society, after placing the means of production into collective ownership, is to destroy the "old state machinery.” Hence the bourgeoisie's parliamentary democracy ceases to exist, and fiat and credit money are abolished. In Marx's view, instead of a dictatorship of capital, in which rulers are elected only once every few years at best, the state is ruled through the dictatorship of the proletariat with the democratically elected workers' commune to replace the parliament:

The Commune was formed of the municipal councilors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at any time. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class…. The police, which until then had been the instrument of the Government, was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen's wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves…. Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the instruments of physical force of the old government, the Commune proceeded at once to break the instrument of spiritual suppression, the power of the priests…. The judicial functionaries lost that sham independence… they were thenceforward to be elective, responsible, and revocable.[10]

The commune, in Marx and Engels' view, modeled after the Paris Commune, has a completely different political character from the parliament. Marx explains that it holds legislative-executive power and is subservient only to the workers themselves:

The Commune, was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time… Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent and repress [ver- and zertreten] the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people constituted in communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for workers, foremen and accountants for his business.[10]

Marx explained that, since the first stage of socialism would be "in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges," each worker would naturally expect to be awarded according to the amount of labor he contributes, despite the fact that each worker's ability and family circumstances would differ, so that the results would still be unequal at this stage, although fully supported by social provision.

Fiat money and credit whose values were determined by anarchic market forces are abolished. Instead, in his Critique of the Gotha programme, Marx speculated schematically that from the "total social product" there would be deductions for the requirements of production and "the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc" which latter deduction "grows in proportion as the new society develops," and, of course, deductions "for those unable to work, etc." After these deductions the workers could divide up the wealth produced by their labor and everyone could be simply given a "certificate from society," which could then be exchanged for products. This schematically introduces a means of exchange ("the same principle" that is, money) in socialist society but with the speculative element removed.

In this way, each worker is paid according to the amount of labor contributed to society, in other words according to the agreed difficulty, length of time, and intensity of his labor. All goods (such, for instance, as housing) are priced in a greater degree according the amount of labor required to produce them, which the individual worker can buy with his labor voucher.

What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.[11]

Only if this new socialist society manages to end the destructiveness of capitalism and leads to a higher quality of life for all will socialist society be successful. As socialism raises everyone's quality of life above the precarious existence they knew hitherto, providing decent health care, housing, child care, and other social provision for all without exception, the new socialist society begins to break down the old inevitably pecuniary habits, the need for a state apparatus will wither away, and the communist organization of society will begin to emerge. Socialism, in the view of Marxists, will succeed in raising the quality of life for all by ending the destructive contradictions which arise in capitalism through conflicts between competing capitalists and competing capitalist nations, and ending the need for imperialist conquest for the possession of commodities and markets.


Some time after socialism is established society leaps forward, and everyone has plenty of personal possessions, but no one can exploit another person for private gain through the ownership of vast monopolies, and so forth. Classes are thus abolished, and class society ended. Eventually the state will "wither away" and become obsolete, as people administer their own lives without the need for governments. Thus, communism is established, which has the following features:

  • Statelessness: There is no government or nations any more.
  • Classlessness: All social classes disappear, everyone works for everyone else.
  • Moneylessness: There is no money, all goods are free to be consumed by anyone that needs them.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx describes communism as:

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.[9]

Few applications of historical materialism, the philosophical system used by Marxism to explain the past progressions of human society and predict the nature of communism, account for a stage beyond communism, but Marx suggests that what has ended is only the "prehistory"[8] of human society, for now, for the first time, humans will be no longer be at the mercy of productive forces (for example, the free market) which act independently of their control. Instead human beings can plan for the needs of society and the preservation of planet, inclusively, democratically, by the vast majority, who now own and control the means of production collectively. By implication, then, only now does the real history of human society begin.

Marxist schools of thought

Western Marxism

Western Marxism is a term used to describe a wide variety of Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe (and more recently North America), in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or the People's Republic of China.

Structural Marxism

Structural Marxism is an approach to Marxism based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French theorist Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the late 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside of France during the 1970s.


Neo-Marxism is a school of Marxism that began in the 20th century and hearkened back to the early writings of Marx, before the influence of Engels, which focused on dialectical idealism rather than dialectical materialism. It, thus, rejected economic determinism being instead far more libertarian. Neo-Marxism adds Max Weber's broader understanding of social inequality, such as status and power, to orthodox Marxist thought.

The Frankfurt School

For more details on this topic, see Frankfurt School.

The Frankfurt School is a school of neo-Marxist social theory, social research, and philosophy. The grouping emerged at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung) of the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. The term "Frankfurt School" is an informal term used to designate the thinkers affiliated with the Institute for Social Research or influenced by them: It is not the title of any institution, and the main thinkers of the Frankfurt School did not use the term to describe themselves.

The Frankfurt School gathered together dissident Marxists, severe critics of capitalism who believed that some of Marx's alleged followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx's ideas, usually in defense of orthodox Communist or Social-Democratic parties. Influenced especially by the failure of working-class revolutions in Western Europe after World War I and by the rise of Nazism in an economically, technologically, and culturally advanced nation (Germany), they took up the task of choosing what parts of Marx's thought might serve to clarify social conditions which Marx himself had never seen. They drew on other schools of thought to fill in Marx's perceived omissions.

Max Weber exerted a major influence, as did Sigmund Freud (as in Herbert Marcuse's Freudo-Marxist synthesis in the 1954 work Eros and Civilization). Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, crude materialism, and phenomenology by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on negation and contradiction as inherent properties of reality.

Cultural Marxism

Cultural Marxism is a form of Marxism that adds an analysis of the role of the media, art, theater, film, and other cultural institutions in a society, often with an added emphasis on race and gender in addition to class. As a form of political analysis, Cultural Marxism gained strength in the 1920s, and was the model used by the Frankfurt School; and later by another group of intellectuals at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England.

Autonomist Marxism

Autonomism is a term applied to a variety of social movements around the world, which the ability to organize in autonomous and horizontal networks, as opposed to hierarchical structures such as unions or parties. Autonomist Marxists, including Harry Cleaver, broaden the definition of the working-class to include salaried and unpaid labor, such as skilled professions and housework; it focuses on the working class in advanced capitalist states as the primary force of change in the construct of capital. Modern autonomist theorists such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that network power constructs are the most effective methods of organization against the neoliberal regime of accumulation, and predict a massive shift in the dynamics of capital into a twenty-first century Empire.

Analytical Marxism

For more details on this topic, see Analytical Marxism.

Analytical Marxism refers to a style of thinking about Marxism that was prominent amongst English-speaking philosophers and social scientists during the 1980s. It was mainly associated with the September Group of academics, so called because they have biennial meetings in varying locations every other September to discuss common interests. The group also dubbed itself "Non-Bullshit Marxism" (Cohen 2000a). It was characterized, in the words of David Miller, by "clear and rigorous thinking about questions that are usually blanketed by ideological fog" (Miller 1996).

Marxist humanism

Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx exposes his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. It was opposed by Louis Althusser's "antihumanism," who qualified it as a revisionist movement.

Marxist humanists contend that ‘Marxism’ developed lopsided because Marx’s early works were unknown until after the orthodox ideas were in vogue—the Manuscripts of 1844 were published only in 1932—and it is necessary to understand Marx’s philosophical foundations to understand his latter works properly.

Key Western Marxists

Georg Lukács

Georg Lukács (April 13, 1885–June 4, 1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic in the tradition of Western Marxism. His main work History and Class Consciousness (written between 1919 and 1922 and first published in 1923), initiated the current of thought that came to be known as Western Marxism. The book is notable for contributing to debates concerning Marxism and its relation to sociology, politics and philosophy, and for reconstructing Marx's theory of alienation before many of the works of the Young Marx had been published. Lukács's work elaborates and expands upon Marxist theories such as ideology, false consciousness, reification, and class consciousness.

Karl Korsch

Karl Korsch (August 15, 1886-October 21, 1961) was born in Tostedt, near Hamburg, to the family of a middle-ranking bank official.

In his later work, he rejected orthodox (classical) Marxism as historically outmoded, wanting to adapt Marxism to a new historical situation. He wrote in his Ten Theses (1950) that "the first step in re-establishing a revolutionary theory and practice consists in breaking with that Marxism which claims to monopolize revolutionary initiative as well as theoretical and practical direction" and that "today, all attempts to re-establish the Marxist doctrine as a whole in its original function as a theory of the working classes social revolution are reactionary utopias."[12]

Korsch was especially concerned that Marxist theory was losing its precision and validity—in the words of the day, becoming "vulgarized"—within the upper echelons of the various socialist organizations. His masterwork, Marxism and Philosophy is an attempt to re-establish the historic character of Marxism as the heir to Hegel.

Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891-April 27, 1937) was an Italian writer, politician and political theorist. He was a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy. Gramsci can be seen as one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century, and in particular a key thinker in the development of Western Marxism. He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3000 pages of history and analysis during his imprisonment. These writings, known as the Prison Notebooks, contain Gramsci's tracing of Italian history and nationalism, as well as some ideas in Marxist theory, critical theory and educational theory associated with his name, such as:

  • Cultural hegemony as a means of maintaining the state in a capitalist society.
  • The need for popular workers' education to encourage development of intellectuals from the working class.
  • The distinction between political society (the police, the army, legal system, etc.) which dominates directly and coercively, and civil society (the family, the education system, trade unions, etc.) where leadership is constituted through ideology or by means of consent.
  • "Absolute historicism."
  • The critique of economic determinism.
  • The critique of philosophical materialism.
Louis Althusser

Louis Althusser (October 16, 1918-October 23, 1990) was a Marxist philosopher. His arguments were a response to multiple threats to the ideological foundations of orthodox Communism. These included both the influence of empiricism which was beginning to influence Marxist sociology and economics, and growing interest in humanistic and democratic socialist orientations which were beginning to cause division in the European Communist Parties. Althusser is commonly referred to as a Structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation.

His essay Marxism and Humanism is a strong statement of anti-humanism in Marxist theory, condemning ideas like "human potential" and "species-being," which are often put forth by Marxists, as outgrowths of a bourgeois ideology of "humanity." His essay Contradiction and Overdetermination borrows the concept of overdetermination from psychoanalysis, in order to replace the idea of "contradiction" with a more complex model of multiple causality in political situations (an idea closely related to Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony).

Althusser is also widely known as a theorist of ideology, and his best-known essay is Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation.[13] The essay establishes the concept of ideology, also based on Gramsci's theory of hegemony. Whereas hegemony is ultimately determined entirely by political forces, ideology draws on Freud's and Lacan's concepts of the unconscious and mirror-phase respectively, and describes the structures and systems that allow us to meaningfully have a concept of the self.

Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse (July 19,1898-July 29,1979) was a prominent German-American philosopher and sociologist of Jewish descent, and a member of the Frankfurt School.

Marcuse's critiques of capitalist society (especially his 1955 synthesis of Marx and Freud, Eros and Civilization, and his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man) resonated with the concerns of the leftist student movement in the 1960s. Because of his willingness to speak at student protests, Marcuse soon became known as "the father of the New Left," a term he disliked and rejected.

E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, and Eric Hobsbawm

British Marxism deviated sharply from French (especially Althusserian) Marxism and, like the Frankfurt School, developed an attention to cultural experience and an emphasis on human agency while growing increasingly distant from determinist views of materialism. A circle of historians inside the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) formed the Communist Party Historians Group in 1946. They shared a common interest in "history from below" and class structure in early capitalist society. Important members of the group included E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, and Raphael Samuel.

While some members of the group (most notably E.P. Thompson) left the CPGB after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the common points of British Marxist historiography continued in their works. They placed a great emphasis on the subjective determination of history. E.P. Thompson famously engaged Althusser in The Poverty of Theory, arguing that Althusser's theory overdetermined history, and left no space for historical revolt by the oppressed.

Post Marxism

Post-Marxism represents the theoretical work of philosophers and social theorists who have built their theories upon those of Marx and Marxists but exceeded the limits of those theories in ways that puts them outside of Marxism. It begins with the basic tenets of Marxism but moves away from the Mode of Production as the starting point for analysis and includes factors other than class, such as gender, ethnicity, and so on, and a reflexive relationship between the base and superstructure.

Marxist Feminism

Marxist feminism is a sub-type of feminist theory that focuses on the dismantling of capitalism as a way to liberate women. Marxist feminism states that capitalism, which gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political confusion and ultimately unhealthy social relations between men and women, is the root of women's oppression.

According to Marxist theory, in capitalist societies the individual is shaped by class relations; that is, people's capacities, needs and interests are seen to be determined by the mode of production that characterises the society they inhabit. Marxist feminists see gender inequality as determined ultimately by the capitalist mode of production. Gender oppression is class oppression and women's subordination is seen as a form of class oppression which is maintained (like racism) because it serves the interests of capital and the ruling class. Marxist feminists have extended traditional Marxist analysis by looking at domestic labor as well as wage work in order to support their position.

Hartmann’s main argument is that a Marxist analysis of women’s oppression overlooks gender-specific issues that are extremely relevant. They remove gender from the equation and simply focus on women becoming wage workers and owning property, assuming that this is the root of the problem. The main focus should not be on women’s relationship to the economic system, but with women to men as well. She suggests that they are not getting to the real meat of the issue by virtually ignoring men’s place in the oppression of women. Despite the fact that women and men have somewhat similar experiences under capitalism, Marxist feminists fail to discover how they might be different.

Marxism as a political practice

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Since Marx's death in 1883, various groups around the world have appealed to Marxism as the theoretical basis for their politics and policies, which have often proved to be dramatically different and conflicting. One of the first major political splits occurred between the advocates of "reformism," who argued that the transition to socialism could occur within existing bourgeois parliamentarian frameworks, and communists, who argued that the transition to a socialist society required a revolution and the dissolution of the capitalist state. The "reformist" tendency, later known as social democracy, came to be dominant in most of the parties affiliated to the Second International and these parties supported their own governments in the First World War. This issue caused the communists to break away, forming their own parties which became members of the Third International.

The following countries had governments at some point in the twentieth century who at least nominally adhered to Marxism: Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Republic of Congo, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Grenada, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, the USSR and its republics, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Vietnam. In addition, the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal have had Marxist governments. Some of these governments such as in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Chile, Moldova, and parts of India have been democratic in nature and maintained regular multiparty elections, while most governments claiming to be Marxist in nature have established one-party governments.

Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union, with some exceptions, perhaps most notably in Nepal.


The 1917 October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, was the first large scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers' state into practice. The new government faced counter-revolution, civil war and foreign intervention. Many, both inside and outside the revolution, worried that the revolution came too early in Russia's economic development. Consequently, the major Socialist Party in the UK decried the revolution as anti-Marxist within twenty-four hours, according to Jonathan Wolff. Lenin consistently explained "this elementary truth of marxism, that the victory of socialism requires the joint efforts of workers in a number of advanced countries" (Lenin, Sochineniya, 5th ed Vol XLIV). It could not be developed in Russia in isolation, he argued, but needed to be spread internationally. The 1917 October Revolution did help inspire a revolutionary wave over the years that followed, with the development of Communist Parties worldwide, but without success in the vital advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe. Socialist revolution in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the Soviet Union on its own. An intense period of debate and stopgap solutions ensued, war communism and the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin died and Joseph Stalin gradually assumed control, eliminating rivals and consolidating power as the Soviet Union faced the horrible challenges of the 1930s and its global crisis-tendencies. Amidst the geopolitical threats which defined the period and included the probability of invasion, he instituted a ruthless program of industrialization which, while successful, was executed at great cost in human suffering, including millions of deaths, along with long-term environmental devastation.

Modern followers of Leon Trotsky maintain that as predicted by Lenin, Trotsky, and others already in the 1920s, Stalin's "socialism in one country" was unable to maintain itself, and according to some Marxist critics, the USSR ceased to show the characteristics of a socialist state long before its formal dissolution.

Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary communist parties all over the world. Some of these parties were eventually able to gain power, and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Such nations included the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and others. In some cases, these nations did not get along. The most notable examples were rifts that occurred between the Soviet Union and China, as well as Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (in 1948), whose leaders disagreed on certain elements of Marxism and how it should be implemented into society.

Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People's Republics) eventually became authoritarian states, with stagnating economies. This caused some debate about whether or not these nations were in fact led by "true Marxists." Critics of Marxism speculated that perhaps Marxist ideology itself was to blame for the nations' various problems. Followers of the currents within Marxism which opposed Stalin, principally cohered around Leon Trotsky, tended to locate the failure at the level of the failure of world revolution: for communism to have succeeded, they argue, it needed to encompass all the international trading relationships that capitalism had previously developed.

The Chinese experience seems to be unique. Rather than falling under a single family's self-serving and dynastic interpretation of Marxism as happened in North Korea and before 1989 in Eastern Europe, the Chinese government—after the end of the struggles over the Mao legacy in 1980 and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping - seems to have solved the succession crises that have plagued self-proclaimed Leninist governments since the death of Lenin himself. Key to this success is another Leninism which is a NEP (New Economic Policy) writ very large; Lenin's own NEP of the 1920s was the "permission" given to markets including speculation to operate by the Party which retained final control. The Russian experience in Perestroika was that markets under socialism were so opaque as to be both inefficient and corrupt but especially after China's application to join the WTO this does not seem to apply universally.

The death of "Marxism" in China has been prematurely announced but since the Hong Kong handover in 1997, the Beijing leadership has clearly retained final say over both commercial and political affairs. Questions remain however as to whether the Chinese Party has opened its markets to such a degree as to be no longer classified as a true Marxist party. A sort of tacit consent, and a desire in China's case to escape the chaos of pre-1949 memory, probably plays a role.

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and the new Russian state ceased to identify itself with Marxism. Other nations around the world followed suit. Since then, radical Marxism or Communism has generally ceased to be a prominent political force in global politics, and has largely been replaced by more moderate versions of democratic socialism—or, more commonly, by aggressively neoliberal capitalism. Marxism has also had to engage with the rise in the Environmental movement. A merging of Marxism, socialism, ecology, and environmentalism has been achieved, and is often referred to as Eco-socialism.

Social Democracy

Social democracy is a political ideology that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Many parties in the second half of the 19th century described themselves as social democratic, such as the British Social Democratic Federation, and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In most cases these were revolutionary socialist or Marxist groups, who were not only seeking to introduce socialism, but also democracy in un-democratic countries.

The modern social democratic current came into being through a break within the socialist movement in the early twentieth century, between two groups holding different views on the ideas of Karl Marx. Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism, and syndicalism, arose at the same time (often by splitting from the main socialist movement, but also by emerging of new theories) and had various quite different objections to Marxism. The social democrats, who were the majority of socialists at this time, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimed to uphold it), but wanted to reform it in certain ways and tone down their criticism of capitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved through evolution rather than revolution. Such views were strongly opposed by the revolutionary socialists, who argued that any attempt to reform capitalism was doomed to fail, because the reformers would be gradually corrupted and eventually turn into capitalists themselves.

Despite their differences, the reformist and revolutionary branches of socialism remained united until the outbreak of World War I. The war proved to be the final straw that pushed the tensions between them to breaking point. The reformist socialists supported their respective national governments in the war, a fact that was seen by the revolutionary socialists as outright treason against the working class (since it betrayed the principle that the workers of all nations should unite in overthrowing capitalism, and the fact that usually the lowest classes are the ones sent into the war to fight, and die, putting the cause at the side). Bitter arguments ensued within socialist parties, as for example between Eduard Bernstein (reformist socialist) and Rosa Luxemburg (revolutionary socialist) within the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Eventually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the world's socialist parties fractured. The reformist socialists kept the name "Social democrats," while the revolutionary socialists began calling themselves "Communists," and soon formed the modern Communist movement.

Since the 1920s, doctrinal differences have been constantly growing between social democrats and Communists (who themselves are not unified on the way to achieve socialism), and Social Democracy is mostly used as a specifically Central European label for Labour Parties since then, especially in Germany and the Netherlands and especially since the 1959 Godesberg Program of the German SPD that rejected the praxis of class struggle altogether.


Main article: Socialism

Although there are still many Marxist revolutionary social movements and political parties around the world, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, very few countries have governments which describe themselves as Marxist. Although socialistic parties are in power in some Western nations, they long ago distanced themselves from their direct link to Marx and his ideas.

As of 2005, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba, and the People's Republic of China—and to a certain extent Venezuela had governments in power which describe themselves as socialist in the Marxist sense. However, the private sector comprised more than 50 percent of the mainland Chinese economy by this time and the Vietnamese government had also partially liberalized its economy. The Laotian and Cuban states maintained strong control over the means of production.

Alexander Lukashenko president of Belarus, has been quoted as saying that his agrarian policy could be termed as Communist. He has also frequently referred to the economy as being "market socialism." Lukashenko is also an unapologetic admirer of the Soviet Union.

North Korea is another contemporary socialist state, though the official ideology of the Korean Workers' Party (originally led by Kim Il-sung and currently chaired by his son, Kim Jong-il), Juche, does not follow doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism as had been espoused by the leadership of the Soviet Union.

Libya is often thought of as a socialist state; it maintained ties with the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc and Communist states during the Cold War. Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, the leader of Libya, describes the state's official ideology as Islamic socialism, and has labeled it a third way between capitalism and communism.

In the United Kingdom, the governing Labour Party describes itself as a socialist political party and is a member of the socialist organisation, Socialist International. The Party was set up by trade unionists, revolutionary and reformist socialists such as the Social Democratic Federation and the socialist Fabian Society.


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Main article: Communism

A number of states have declared an allegiance to the principles of Marxism and have been ruled by self-described Communist Parties, either as a single-party state or a single list, which includes formally several parties, as was the case in the German Democratic Republic. Due to the dominance of the Communist Party in their governments, these states are often called "communist states" by Western political scientists. However, they have described themselves as "socialist," reserving the term "communism" for a future classless society, in which the state would no longer be necessary (on this understanding of communism, "communist state" would be an oxymoron) — for instance, the USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Many Marxists contend that, historically, there has never been any communist country.

Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms.) While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident "authentic" communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism.


Main articles: Marxism-Leninism and Leninism

Marxism-Leninism, strictly speaking, refers to the version of Marxism developed by Vladimir Lenin known as Leninism. However, in various contexts, different (and sometimes opposing) political groups have used the term "Marxism-Leninism" to describe the ideologies that they claimed to be upholding. The core ideological features of Marxism-Leninism are those of Marxism and Leninism, viz. belief in the necessity of a violent overthrow of capitalism through communist revolution, to be followed by a dictatorship of the proletariat as the first stage of moving towards communism, and the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in this effort. It involves subscribing to the teachings and legacy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Marxism), and that of Lenin, as carried forward by Joseph Stalin. Those who view themselves as Marxist-Leninists, however, vary with regards to the leaders and thinkers that they choose to uphold as progressive (and to what extent). Maoists tend to downplay the importance of all other thinkers in favor of Mao Zedong, whereas Hoxhaites repudiate Mao.

Leninism holds that capitalism can only be overthrown by revolutionary means; that is, any attempts to reform capitalism from within, such as Fabianism and non-revolutionary forms of democratic socialism, are doomed to fail. The goal of a Leninist party is to orchestrate the overthrow the existing government by force and seize power on behalf of the proletariat, and then implement a dictatorship of the proletariat. The party must then use the powers of government to educate the proletariat, so as to remove the various modes of false consciousness the bourgeois have instilled in them in order to make them more docile and easier to exploit economically, such as religion and nationalism.

The dictatorship of the proletariat refers to the absolute power of the working class. It is governed by a system of proletarian direct democracy, in which workers hold political power through local councils known as soviets (see soviet democracy).


For more details on this topic, see Trotskyism.

Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself a Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed sharply from those of Stalin or Mao, most importantly in declaring the need for an international "permanent revolution." Numerous groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have diverse interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this.

Trotsky advocated proletarian revolution as set out in his theory of "permanent revolution," and he argued that in countries where the bourgeois-democratic revolution had not triumphed already (in other words, in places that had not yet implemented a capitalist democracy, such as Russia before 1917), it was necessary that the proletariat make it permanent by carrying out the tasks of the social revolution (the "socialist" or "communist" revolution) at the same time, in an uninterrupted process. Trotsky believed that a new socialist state would not be able to hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world unless socialist revolutions quickly took hold in other countries as well.

On the political spectrum of Marxism, Trotskyists are considered to be on the left. They supported democratic rights in the USSR, opposed political deals with the imperialist powers, and advocated a spreading of the revolution throughout Europe and the East.

Trotsky developed the theory that the Russian workers' state had become a "bureaucratically degenerated workers' state." Capitalist rule had not been restored, and nationalized industry and economic planning, instituted under Lenin, were still in effect. However, the state was controlled by a bureaucratic caste with interests hostile to those of the working class. Trotsky defended the Soviet Union against attack from imperialist powers and against internal counter-revolution, but called for a political revolution within the USSR to restore socialist democracy. He argued that if the working class did not take power away from the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bureaucracy would restore capitalism in order to enrich itself. In the view of many Trotskyists, this is exactly what has happened since the beginning of Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR. Some argue that the adoption of market socialism by the People's Republic of China has also led to capitalist counter-revolution.


For more details on this topic, see Maoism.

Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought (Chinese: 毛泽东思想, pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng), is a variant of Marxism-Leninism derived from the teachings of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong (Wade-Giles transliteration: "Mao Tse-tung").

The term "Mao Zedong Thought" has always been the preferred term by the Communist Party of China, and the word "Maoism" has never been used in its English-language publications except pejoratively. Likewise, Maoist groups outside China have usually called themselves Marxist-Leninist rather than Maoist, a reflection of Mao's view that he did not change, but only developed, Marxism-Leninism. However, some Maoist groups, believing Mao's theories to have been sufficiently substantial additions to the basics of the Marxist canon, call themselves "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" (MLM) or simply "Maoist."

In the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong Thought is part of the official doctrine of the Communist Party of China, but since the 1978 beginning of Deng Xiaoping's market economy-oriented reforms, the concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has come to the forefront of Chinese politics, Chinese economic reform has taken hold, and the official definition and role of Mao's original ideology in the PRC has been radically altered and reduced (see History of China).

Unlike the earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Mao focused on the peasantry as the main revolutionary force which, he said, could be led by the proletariat and its vanguard, the Communist Party of China. The model for this was of course the Chinese communist rural Protracted People's War of the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually brought the Communist Party of China to power. Furthermore, unlike other forms of Marxism-Leninism in which large-scale industrial development was seen as a positive force, Maoism made all-round rural development the priority. Mao felt that this strategy made sense during the early stages of socialism in a country in which most of the people were peasants. Unlike most other political ideologies, including other socialist and Marxist ones, Maoism contains an integral military doctrine and explicitly connects its political ideology with military strategy. In Maoist thought, "political power comes from the barrel of the gun" (one of Mao's quotes), and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war" of armed struggle involving guerrilla warfare in three stages.

Juche ideology

For more details on this topic, see Juche.

The Juche Ideology (Juche Sasang 주체사상 in Korean; or Chuch'e; approximately "joo-chey") is the official state ideology of North Korea and the political system based on it. Kim Jong-il has explained that the doctrine is a component part of Kimilsungism, after its founder and his father, Kim Il-sung. The core principle of the Juche ideology since the 1970s has been that "man is the master of everything and decides everything." The official biography Kim Il Sung by Baik Bong had previously described this as saying that the masters of the North Korean revolution are the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the Korean people, who must remake themselves, under its leadership. Juche literally means "main body" or "subject"; it has also been translated in North Korean sources as "independent stand" and the "spirit of self-reliance."

Juche theory is a type of Marxism ideology, but it is built upon the deification and mystification of Kim Il-sung (1912-1994). Its religious or pseudo-religious characteristics distinguish Juche ideology from all other forms of Marxism including Marx-Leninism of the former Soviet Union, European Neo-Marxism, Maoism, and even Stalinism. Juche ideology characterizes Kim as the “eternal head of state,” a Messianic liberator of mankind, and describes North Korea as a chosen nation, and North Koreans as a chosen people who have a mission to liberate mankind. While fear and terror are used to externally dominate the masses in a totalitarian state, Juche Ideology is a tool for the internal domination of their minds.


Some libertarian members of the laissez-faire and individualist schools of thought believe the actions and principles of modern capitalist states or big governments can be understood as "Marxist." This point of view ignores the overall vision and general intent of Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, for qualitative change to the economic system, and focuses on a few steps that Marx and Engels believed would occur, as workers emancipated themselves from the capitalist system, such as "Free education for all children in public schools." A few such reforms have been implemented—not by Marxists but in the forms of Keynesianism, the welfare state, new liberalism, social democracy, and other changes within the capitalist system, in most capitalist states.

To Marxists these reforms represent responses to political pressures from working-class political parties and unions, themselves responding to perceived abuses of the capitalist system. Further, in this view, many of these reforms reflect efforts to "save" or "improve" capitalism (without abolishing it) by coordinating economic actors and dealing with market failures. Further, although Marxism does see a role for a socialist "vanguard" government in representing the proletariat through a revolutionary period of indeterminate length, it sees an eventual lightening of that burden, a "withering away of the state."

Disputing these claims

Many academics dispute the claim that the above political movements are Marxist. Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms). While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism. Further, critics have often claimed that a Stalinist or Maoist system of government creates a new ruling class, usually called the nomenklatura.

However Marx defined "communism" as a classless, egalitarian and stateless society. Indeed, to Marx, the notion of a socialist state would have seemed oxymoronical, as he defined socialism as the phase reached when class society and the state had already been abolished. Once socialism had been established, society would develop new socialist relations over the course of several generations, reaching the stage known as communism when bourgeois relations had been abandoned. Such a development has yet to occur in any historical self-claimed Socialist state. Often it results in the creation of two distinct classes: Those who are in government and therefore have power, and those who are not in government and do not have power—thus inspiring the term "State capitalism." These statist regimes have generally followed a command economy model without making a transition to this hypothetical final stage.


Criticisms of Marxism are many and varied. They concern both the theory itself, and its later interpretations and implementations.

Criticisms of Marxism have come from the political Left as well as the political Right. Democratic socialists and social democrats reject the idea that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict and violent revolution. Many Anarchists reject the need for a transitory state phase and some anarchists even reject socialism entirely. Some thinkers have rejected the fundamentals of Marxist theory, such as historical materialism and the labour theory of value, and gone on to criticize capitalism—and advocate socialism—using other arguments. Some contemporary supporters of Marxism argue that many aspects of Marxist thought are viable, but that the corpus also fails to deal effectively with certain aspects of economic, political or social theory.


  1. Institute of Economics of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. (1957). xiii.
  2. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  3. Marxmyths, Ideology and False Consciousness. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  4., Letter to Franz Mehring. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  5., The German Ideology. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  6. Marx and Engels, The German Ideology. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  7. Marx makes no claim to have produced a master key to history. Historical materialism is not "an historico-philosophic theory of the marche generale imposed by fate upon every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds itself." (Marx, Karl, Letter to editor of the Russian paper Otetchestvennye Zapiskym, 1877) His ideas, he explains, are based on a concrete study of the actual conditions that pertained in Europe.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Marx, Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Marx and Engels, The Civil War in France. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  11. Marx and Engels, The Critique of the Gotha Programme. Retrieved February 18, 2009.
  12. Karl Korsch, Ten Theses on Marxism Today. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
  13. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Avineri, Shlomo. The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx. Cambridge University Press, 1968. ISBN 978-0521096195
  • Dirlik, A. The Origins of Chinese Communism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0195054538.
  • Elster, J. Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1987. ISBN 978-2735101153.
  • Kołakowski, Leszek , and P.S. Falla. Main Currents of Marxism its Rise, Growth, and Dissolution. Oxford University Press, 1981. ISBN 978-0192851079.
  • Lenin, V. I. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy. New York: International, 1927.
  • Mao, Z., & Schram, S. R. The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung. New York: Praeger, 1969. ISBN 978-0275670733.
  • Marx, K., & Padover, S. K. The Karl Marx Library. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. ISBN 978-0070480797.
  • McLellan, David. Marxism After Marx. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 978-1403997289.
  • Merquior, J. G. Western Marxism. London: Paladin, 1986. ISBN 978-0586084540.
  • Parkes, Henry Bamford. Marxism: An Autopsy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1965. ISBN 978-0226646817.
  • Screpanti, E., & S. Zamagni. An Outline of the History of Economic Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0198774559.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. New York: William Morrow, 1985. ISBN 0688064264.
  • Wood, A. W. Karl Marx. The Arguments of the Philosophers. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. ISBN 978-0710006721.

External links

All links retrieved November 7, 2022.

Marxist websites

Critiques of Marxism

General Philosophy Sources

The works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Marx: Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843), On the Jewish Question (1843), Notes on James Mill (1844), Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1844), Theses on Feuerbach (1845), The Poverty of Philosophy (1845), Wage-Labor and Capital (1847), The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Grundrisse (1857), Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Theories of Surplus Value, 3 volumes (1862), Value, Price and Profit (1865), Capital vol. 1 (1867), The Civil War in France (1871), Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), Notes on Wagner (1883)

Marx and Engels: The German Ideology (1845), The Holy Family (1845), Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Writings on the U.S. Civil War (1861), Capital, vol. 2 [posthumously, published by Engels] (1885), Capital, vol. 3 [posthumously, published by Engels] (1894)

Engels: The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1844), The Peasant War in Germany (1850), Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (1852), Anti-Dühring (1878), Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), Dialectics of Nature (1883), The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886)


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