Reflecting on Marxist Ideologies
The world has lay witness to the onslaught of ideologies that sought to explain, justify, rationalize, and enlist supporters that push forward ideas that deemed to change the lives of most people for the better. Primarily, it was Marx and Engels, the pioneers of historical materialism, who proved that we are capable of penetrating the nature of society through these ideologies and fully revealing its complex and contradictory development. They overcame the shortcomings of the old sociology and created a qualitatively new theory of social development, historical materialism, thereby causing a revolution in social theories (Afansayev, 1987, p. 2). Marx suggested that self-realisation is inhibited not only by the instrumental attitude to one’s own activity that is fostered by wage labor but also by its self-interested motivation. He said that:
Man – and this is the basic presupposition of private property – only produces in order to have. The aim of production is possession. Not only does production have this utilitarian aim; it also has a selfish aim; man produces only his own exclusive possession. The object of his production is the objectification of his immediate, selfish need (Marx 1985, p. 118).
According to Marx, men and women are natural beings, part of the system of nature. Because of this, a human being is also what Marx calls an “objective being”. This means, to begin with, that a human being is “a conditioned and limited being like animals and plants”, that men and women are confronted by real and existent objects outside and alongside them, and their very survival depends on their relation to these objects. This led to Marx’s analysis of how humans exercise their “essential powers” is at the same time man’s “objectification” in dwelling on the establishment of an essential relation between human beings and the external objects of their need. Marx revealed in this passage how historical materialism inevitably led to capitalism as man strived to increase production, definitely validates the “objectification of his immediate, selfish need.”
Using historical materialism as a springboard, Karl Marx built his theoretical attacks against all ideologies, particularly capitalism, and denounced these as merely exploits that would further burden the working class. Marx’s writings on the conflicts inherent in capitalism led to the formulation of communist ideals and, many would say, to the rise of communist societies in the Twentieth Century. In the19th-century, Marx perceived the wealth created by capitalism and lashed out how poor the working and living conditions of laborers are, in his time. He decided that workers should take over ownership of businesses and share in the wealth. In 1848 he wrote The Communist Manifesto, outlining the process. According to Marx, communism is an economic and political system in which the state (the government) makes almost all economic decisions and owns almost all the major factors of production. It intrudes further into the lives of people than socialism does. For example, some communist countries do not allow their citizens to practice certain religions, change jobs, or move to the town of their choice (Margonis, 1993).
Marx viewed that all social and political phenomena and institutions arose from the economic base of productive means and modes. Roughly defined as raw materials, techniques, and human and mechanical energy, the means and modes of production were the economic foundations of society. Marx maintained that the essence of capitalist property is the control of the productive process and therefore the control over laborers. “Forced labor rather than low wages, alienation of labor rather than alienation of the product of labor are, according to Marx, the essence of capitalist exploitation”(Medio 1977, p. 384). Marx’s theory is based on the idea that the productive powers of society impose significant constraints on such things as forms of property and economic relations of domination and subjection.
Marx’s criticisms of capitalism make it clear in which social arrangements have failed utterly to accommodate the capacity for self-actualization, which the social powers of production have put within people’s reach. According to the Communist Manifesto:
The bourgeoisie during scarcely a hundred years of its rule has created productive powers more massive and colossal than all past generations together. The subjection of nature’s powers, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways… – what earlier century dreamed that such productive powers slumbered in the womb of social labor? (p. 56).
Thus, the idea of revolution and social change was re-established and brought to the level of the philosophical with a method of work for social analysis and political programming with the publication of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. From then on, the world soon witnessed the birth of socialist states founded along the ideological framework laid down by Marx though not without fundamental adjustments in form and substance. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx recognized the progression of the nature of struggle – of the shift in classes and how these classes would interact or affect each other and how these classes developed astride the political-economic line.
Whatever reality or the actual historical paths which societies took, appears not to easily yield predictions, in spite of the methodical construct that was suggested by Marx. As in Russia and China, it looked like there is no need to pass through a fully matured capitalist system with a substantial working class population; that there is a shortcut in seizing power incorporating the peasantry in the revolutionary model. Hence in Russia, for example, the anti-Czarist or anti-monarchial movement jumped to socialist reconstruction under the leadership of Lenin and the communist party in 1907. Later after World War II, China fell into the same pattern under Mao Zedong. Its anti-colonial characteristic blended well in the Marxist conception – a reaction to or liberation from the capitalist and imperialistic stranglehold.
Though with the fall of the Berlin wall in the 1980’s was considered the demise as well of the relevance and validity of Marxism as observed by Powers:
In little more than a decade, this sprawling capital (Moscow) has turned into Karl Marx’s worst nightmare… Now, Russia’s capital has more billionaires than any city but New York, hotels can cost several hundred dollars a night, and shops along Tverskaya Ulitsa (Tverskaya Street) are stocked with everything from silk, to cognac, to perfume (Powers, 2005).
However, there is some enigma left in Marxism, one of which is its predictive value. World War II for example, could be viewed as an example of how runaway capitalism or unbridled competition, left to its own accord could lead to the ultimate clash of power, a war in quest of global dominance:
Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacture no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry, the place of the industrial middle class, by industrial millionaires, the leaders of whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois. Modern industry has established the world-market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its time, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages. We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange (Marx, p. 52).
Marx in this passage written in the late 1840 was obviously describing the industrial revolution and the early capitalism. He linked that class conflict would escalate to a revolutionary condition and would be characterized by a power shift. But the class struggle in the industrial countries did not prosper. This was attributed to the fulfilment of some promises of classical liberalism leading to the greater welfare of human beings (Macdonald, 2002). In this sense, class conflicts and other social issues are being resolved under the premises and assumptions of “bourgeois-liberal” democratic rule.
With its juridical, military, police, and educational powers, Marx deem that the dominant classes use the state as an instrument for the social control of subordinate classes in a capitalist society. The state apparatus taken over by the proletariat would be used to ensure the working classes consolidation of power and control. Eventually, when all classes had disappeared and the society was classless, the state, as an instrument of the domination of one class over another, would wither away. However, in the historical reality of the Soviet system, the state, especially under Stalin, became an instrument of totalitarian repression (Strike 1988, p. 23).
However, as noted earlier, social change is not as simple as either-or proposition. And Marx continues to have that allure even to social animals born under modern capitalism. In a news account referring to a radio poll in United Kingdom organized by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg in his program, In Our Time, Karl Marx topped the poll as to the most revered philosopher. According to Seddon, the veteran Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm found it as a surprising result is because “The Communist Manifesto contains a stunning prediction of the nature and effects of globalisation.” Seddon contended that though Marx spawned some horrors, there are gentler tradition of democratic socialism which are lost and might have been attractive even to the intellectual middle class of even an old and stable democracy such as the UK (Seddon, 14 July 2005).
If Marx’s ideas still hold true to some segment of a modern capitalist society, there are those who see the horror associated with the thinking of Marx or what he represents. For instance, Whitehead (15 August 2005) accused that the teachers’ union in the US as influenced by socialist and that the direction of the educational system is taken from the Communist Manifesto and that the education now being provided is in preparation for a socialist, non-competitive society, geared to dependency, and government by central command, not for a free, democratic society. Also embedded in the abovementioned passage is the prediction embedded in the Communist Manifesto, that in the globalization of economy which have been the trend, drawing all the countries in the world along its path of a new global economic order, that even China one of the remaining bastion of communism is now an active player.
Moreover, critics like Nowotny (1997) countered that the communism forwared by Marx “has been perennially perceived to have been but a — certainly disastrous — evolutionary accident on the road of progress”. He said that once this error would have been corrected and once the communist system was removed, the countries concerned would, without any great difficulties, resume their rightful place on the ladder of economic and political progress. This would occur spontaneously. Errors could stunt or thwart the development. But, on the other hand, no special measures would be necessary to promote it. Markets and with them wealth; civic society and political institutions and with them democracy would install themselves without further ado. Some even claimed that this step back unto the ladder of political and economic evolution would be easier (Nowotny, 1997). Although communism is always seen as ‘the big bad wolf’, there are still studies that suggest that it is much better that developing communist countries to embrace communism first before venturing into capitalism.
Regardless of the numerous critical commentaries, it is still safe to profess that Marx’s ideas is valid addition to the sensibility of the modern person. This is in consideration with the swiftly changing world immensely more complicated with the “new world order”, including the existence of old culture and beliefs bringing to the fold ethnic and religious conflicts in some part of the globe like Middle East coinciding with modern industrial developments. Through his theories and ideas, Marx brilliantly revealed the inner dynamics of the capitalist labor process, without appearing to be apologetic as he bravely smashed distorted bourgeois perspectives. He lets his readers experience the plight of those who live only so long as they find work, and find work only if their labor increases capital for somebody else (Merrifield, 2000, p. 21).
For Marx, historical change is economically caused by the struggle to control production. Together with Engels, he defined how historical materialism could be drawn from the fact that material objects are needed as means for the exercise of human powers is of some importance because it suggests that the development of those powers. This was adherently advocated by Marx as a component of human self-realisation, may result in an expansion of material needs. This was a leeway to how Marxist economic determinism rested on the premise that the production and the exchange of products formed the basis of the social order. Social class divisions were determined by the means, modes, and ownership of production. The ideological rationales used to legitimize class domination rested on an economic base. Regardless of one’s ideological position, Karl Marx has to be recognized as formulating a powerful intellectual synthesis of Western thought. Marxist doctrine presents one perspective of analyzing historical, social, and educational forces and trends.
In our contemporary times, much of the world thrives in underdeveloped economies, the divide between the rich and poor countries seem to get bigger and bigger everyday. When we look at magazines, pictures of starving children in Africa lie in stark contrast with the lives of those men and women who bask in the lap of luxury. As long as there is that state of inequity, the philosophical constructs such that of Marx, which tackles the nature of how this divide had been increasing, would offer a glimmer of hope for change towards a better and humane world.
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Margonis, Frank. (1993, Fall). Marxism, Liberalism, and Educational Theory, Educational Theory, 43.4: 449.
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Nowotny, T. (1997). Transition from Communism and the Spectre of Latin-Americanisation”, East European Quarterly, 31.1: 69
Powers, John. (2005, August 14). Rise in Economy, Decline of Communism Make for a Mixed Capital. The Boston Globe.
Seddon, Mark. (2005, July 14). Kapital Gain. The Guardian.
Strike, K. (1988). Liberal Justice and the Marxist Critique of Education: A Study of Conflicting Research Programs, New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Whitehead, Bill. (2005, August 15). The Real Problem with Education. Santa Maria Times
Wood, A. W. (2004). Karl Marx. New York: Routledge.
 Marx indicated this by using French: usually he speaks of forces productives; but he occasionally also uses pouvoirs productifs or facultés productives.
 Marxists often treat this thesis as self-evidently true, while some critics of Marxism seem to think it is self-evidently false. However, Wood (2004, p. 274) decided that both judgments are wrong: the thesis seems to a highly problematic empirical one. For instance, Wood cited Plamenatz (Man and Society 2:281): ‘Given any one form of production, widely different systems of property are compatible with it. Some, no doubt, are excluded; the property relations of a tribal society are not compatible with industrial production as we know it today.
 According to Glassman (1991, p. 93), the Chinese Communist Party leaders saw Russia move from a backward, militarily weak nation to an industrializing nation with one of the most powerful military machines on earth. Most Americans, for instance, between 1948 and 1958, came to fear Russia’s military might, respect its scientific achievements, and accept the fact that basic industrial progress had been accomplished there.