What Is Marxism?

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

- Karl Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party

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Karl Marx thought that industrial capitalism had an in-built self-destructive tendency. Capitalism would lead to great technological progress, which would in turn lead to more menial and repetitive careers being replaced by automation processes. Remember how in Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin develops a twitch in his wrists from doing nothing but tightening pairs of bolts for months on end? Why not have a robot do that? The idea was that after the technological boom, we’d be able to get robots to do this type of stuff for us. But then what? It seems we’ll get a big vacuum in the job market for people without elite educational degrees. And if we don’t do anything about that, presumably, we’ll get mass unemployment. And if there’s mass unemployment, no one will be able to buy anything, which will tank the entire economy, including the fortunes of the one percenters, who rely on people purchasing things to continue turning a profit.

But according to our guest, when people read Karl Marx today, they often lose sight of two important things. One is that he’s actually kind of a fan of capitalism, in the sense that he thinks capitalism and technological process will lead to the elimination of menial labor. Communism can only gets going once that process is finished. The second thing is that the purpose of communism isn’t for us to altruistically spread the wealth around. The purpose of communism is just to prevent the world economy from imploding! So in a way, it’s just as easy to pitch communism as a project driven by self-interest/self-preservation.

Sound familiar? It should. As our guest observes, Donald Trump tapped into these exact worries during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Listen to Brian Leiter explain why we should think about Marx on the Elucidations podcast

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The 21st century has already welcomed back Karl Marx (1818-1883), rather on the assumption that he had faded away and has now returned to haunt us. After the financial crashes of 2008, his leonine face appeared on international news magazine covers, feature articles in quality broadsheets, TV documentaries and blogposts. The questions Why now? and Why Marx? are easily answered: capitalism suddenly appeared unstable, unmanageable, dangerously fragile and anxiously threatening. It was possibly in an unstoppable downward spiral, pushing individuals, families, whole nations into penury and subsistence. It also appeared hugely unfair and internally contradictory in very dramatic ways: banks ‘too big to fail’ would get taxpayer bail-outs, recklessness and fraud would go unpunished, the super-rich beneficiaries of oligarchical stitch-ups would maintain their ‘high net worth’. Invocations of risk, competition, ‘free’ markets and rising living standards for all no longer seemed credible. So what were we all to think?...

Continue reading Terrell Carver's article: 21st Century Marx

Further Reading

Karl Marx (1818–1883) is best known not as a philosopher but as a revolutionary, whose works inspired the foundation of many communist regimes in the twentieth century. It is hard to think of many who have had as much influence in the creation of the modern world. Trained as a philosopher, Marx turned away from philosophy in his mid-twenties, towards economics and politics. However, in addition to his overtly philosophical early work, his later writings have many points of contact with contemporary philosophical debates, especially in the philosophy of history and the social sciences, and in moral and political philosophy. Historical materialism — Marx’s theory of history — is centered around the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they further and then impede the development of human productive power. Marx sees the historical process as proceeding through a necessary series of modes of production, characterized by class struggle, culminating in communism. Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism is based on his version of the labour theory of value, and includes the analysis of capitalist profit as the extraction of surplus value from the exploited proletariat. The analysis of history and economics come together in Marx’s prediction of the inevitable economic breakdown of capitalism, to be replaced by communism. However Marx refused to speculate in detail about the nature of communism, arguing that it would arise through historical processes, and was not the realisation of a pre-determined moral ideal...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Karl Marx by Jonathan Wolff

Bonus Webcomic

Marxist Business Consulting - Existential Comics

Related Topics

 Capitalism | Critical Theory | CultureEconomics | HegelThe Industrial Revolution | Justice | Political Philosophy | Power | Revolution | Sociology

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