Karl Marx


Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818. He studied at the University of Welimar, mixed with revolutionaries, went to Berlin and began to study economics there. He was then asked to leave Prussia. He went to Paris, met proudhon and read to writings of some French radicals there. Marx was very considerably influenced by Hegelian dialectics and by the English socialists and economists like Adam Smith, Ricarde and William Thompson. He borrowed for instance his ideas regarding his theory of surplus value from William Thompson’s inquiry into the Principles of the distribution of Wealth, published in 1826. Marx soon got tired of Utopian socialism. He became deeply interested in economic matters and began to contribute to the press. His writings show evidence of a very wide reading of English Economic theory from Adam Smith to J.S. Mill. During the revolutionary upheaval of 1848, Marx issued the Communist Manifesto written in collaboration with Frederick Engels.

The Communist Manifesto:

The communist manifesto deals with the evolution and achievements of the bourgeoisie class which arose out of feudalism and which gave birth to modern capitalism and was consequently responsible for the rise of the proletariat, economic anarchy and periodical crises. The Manifesto also showed that human history since the creation of private property had been a history of class struggle viz of conflict between freeman versus slave and of capitalist versus labourer etc. it also deals with the role fo the proletariat and with the revolutionary action of their leaders the Communists. The Manifesto also criticizes other socialist schools. Marxism being the outcome of the revolutionary unrest of the mid-nineteenth century Europe not only was his new economic order revolutionary in conception but Marx, unlike the Utopian Socialists advocated the use of force to capture the state which represented the machinery of  exploitation used by the possessing and ruling classes. The proletariat must resort to revolution for they “have nothing to lose in it but their chairs”. His editorship of the Rheinish Zeitung, his friendship with Frederick Engels and his controversies with Bauer, Ruge and Proudhon did much to develop Marx’s ideas. His Holy Family contains “the germs of the materialistic conception of history as well as the first attempt to give a social revolutionary interpretation to the class struggle between capital and labour”. The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) of Marx represents an anti-Proudhon attitude and embodies a critical survey of Utopian Socialism.


  1. The Communist Manifesto, drafted in cooperation with Frederick Engels.

  2. The Critique of Political Economy

  3. Das Capital – the chief theme of this book is the theory of surplus value

Intellectual Indebtness of Marx:

The political philosophy of Marx lies implicit in his essentially economy works. The writings of Karl Marx represent the classic exposition of scientific socialism but there is practically no single element in his writing which had not been anticipated more or less fully by previous writers. The materialistic interpretation of history had already been given by Harrington and others. The notion of a class war is set out by St. Simon in his Genevan Letters. Marx borrowed his theory of value from English socialistic thinkers. Marx’s main contribution to socialism was the outlining of deductions to be drawn from the generalization of earlier writers. The real value of Marx lies in is launching a sustained attack on the position of capitalism. “With Marx, socialism became international or cosmopolitan in scope in contrast to the associationism or national industrialism of his predecessors.” Marx attacked the existing capitalist institutions. He did not believe in the essential goodness of man. He conceived of a man more as an economic than a political animal.

The philosophy of Marx is divisible into three portions i.e.

  1. a purely philosophical section on dialectics

  2. pure economics

  3. historical materialism

The three corner stones of the political philosophy of Marx are the materialistic or economic interpretation of history, the doctrine of class struggle and the concept of surplus value. The theory of historical materialism begins in the Communist Manifesto and is expounded in the Critique of political Economy.

Marx on Surplus Value:

The Marxian theory of surplus value, which is one of the fundamentals of Marxism, is based on the notion that the value of every commodity depends on the amount of socially useful labour embodied in that commodity and that therefore labour is the only legitimate source of al value. Since the industrial revolution, the capitalists are in control of practically all the means of production. They create and control competitive conditions for labour and do not pay the labourer all that the labourer is entitled to in return for the value created by his labour. The labourer produces more value than he is paid for by the capitalist who appropriates the surplus as his profit. Industrial competition makes the capitalist bring down the wages of the labourer to the minimum necessary for mere subsistence. The labourer gets this minimum and is robbed of rent, interest and profits. His subsistence minimum is only a fraction of the value created by him and this fraction is becoming smaller and smaller with the extension of machinery. The amount of surplus value pocketed by the capitalist may be calculated as follows. Suppose a labourer works 10 hours a day but only 6 hours work is needed for his subsistence wage. The surplus value in this case extorted by the capitalist is equal to 4 hours work of the labourer.

Concentration of Capital:

The capitalist can control the wages of the labourer more successfully in large scale industrial units than in small ones. In other words large industrial concerns bring more profit to the capitalist than small ones. There is, therefore, a progressive tendency on the part of capitalism to bring about industrial combines and industrial consolidation. This means progressive concentration of capital and industry in the hands of fewer and fewer people. If the number of capitalists, to Marx is decreasing, that of ill-paid workers is increasing. The rich grow richer, the poor, poorer. This exploitation of labour by capital embitters the relations between the two and compels the workers to organize themselves and fight for their rights. This means class struggle.


If Darwin was responsible for the discovery of the law of evolution, in the economic world Marx discovered the evolutionary law of human society. To Marx, history represents a process of dialectic unfolding and evolution of mankind. It must be realized that the dialectics of Marx is based on the repudiation of Formal Logic which is based on the exclusion of contradiction and which takes a static view of things. Marx believed that the world of status is not the world of reality. Things keep on changing and reality is dynamic and evolutionary. Reality lies in the becoming, not in the Being. Economic relationships between men get crystallized into economic classes which become thesis and anti-thesis in the dialectic evolution of history. Marx stands for not only dialectic interpretation but also economic interpretation of history, though it is quite possible to have economic interpretation of history which is not dialectic. According to Marx, dialectics is “the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought”.

Definitions and Distinctions:

The progress of an idea by means of self-contradiction is a dialectic process. This progress is based on self-motion resulting from inherent contradiction. Every idea or phenomenon has its own self-motion arising out of an inherent impulse to development through contraction. “Contradiction is the root of all motion and all life”. There is a dialectical movement in nature and it is an onward and upward movement from the lower to the higher and from the simple to the complex resulting from a struggle of opposites or contradictions. This rules out the possibility of any eternal ‘principles’ or ‘systems’.

Materialist dialectics is to be distinguished from dialectic materialism. The former represents the changes or reflections in human thought arising out of the general development caused by the conflict of contradictions taking place in nature and in society. Dialectic materialism is not confined to thought but includes practical revolutionary section. 

Dialectic materialism is so called “because its approach to the phenomena of nature, its method of studying and apprehending them, is dialectical, while its interpretation of the phenomena of nature, its conception of these phenomena, its theory is materialistic”. Historical materialism is the extension of the principles of dialectic materialism to the study of social life, an application of the principles of dialectic materialism to the phenomena of the life of society, to the study of society and its history”. Dialectic materialism helps us to distinguish the contradictions of reality to understand their significance and follow their development (objective dialectics). The progress of concepts (subjective dialectics) must conform to the objective reality.

The Materialistic Conception of History:

Marx saw evolutionary changes in the ethical, religious, social, economic and political ideas and institutions of mankind. His conception of history is called materialistic to be distinguished from the idealistic conception of history of Hegel from whom Marx borrowed the dialectical method. According to Marx, human institutions and ideas and therefore actions are subject to endless change. The chief motive force which brings about this change in human things is not the Hegelian idea but the material conditions of life. It is not the consciousness of men which determines the material condition of life but it is the material conditions of life which determine their consciousness. Human history has, therefore, material basis. The most important material conditions of life are productive forces which are animate i.e. labourers, inventors and engineers etc and inanimate i.e. soil, raw material and tools etc. of all these, the manual and mental labourers are the most important. Next in importance to the forces of production are the ‘conditions of production’ which include the form of state, laws and the grouping of social classes. The conditions of production have definite reactions on political, legal and social institutions as well as on religious ethical and philosophical systems. The productive forces of society are the basis and civil institutions like law and government are the superstructure. The forces of production are the gift of nature; the conditions of production are created by man. Any expansion or improvement in the prductive forces makes the old laws, institutions and ideas unsuitable because these are more conservative in comparison with the forces of production. This results in discontent and society enters on a revolutionary period. There is a struggle in the social order for adaptation to new forces of production. The mutual relations between forces of production and conditions of production create conflict of interests and promote class-struggles till the old social order, full of contradictions gives place to a new one based on new conditions of production. That is why the essence of the historical development of human society has been so far the progressive dialectical unfolding and perfection of the productive force”.

This evolutionary view of society was borrowed by Marx from Hegel who viewed nature “as being involved in a process of evolution inherently propelled by the idea (a mystical God) to create and negate and recreate one stage after another, and each higher than the other, in eternal progression, each stage creating its own antagonism which negates it, at the same time creating a new and higher state”, nothing being final, absolute or sacred. Marx accepted this Hegelian process of evolution but substituted in place of the idea ‘the economic forces as the predominant dynamic agency of human society and its history”. To Marx, the economic power has been the ultimate power, which has determined the political and social relations between men. Marx thus subordinated politics to economics.

Economic Determinism:

There is a definite strain of determinism in the historical materialism of Marx. Social, political, ideological and institutional developments are the inescapable results of economic forces and developments. According to Marx, the ‘mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual process of life’. The final victory of the proletariat is inevitable and independent of our wishes. This is outside ordinary human control or activity. Marxism is determinist, though not fatalist. It does not entirely ignore the free will of man but it minimizes its importance by asserting that even the free will of man must work within the material conditions around it. The disharmony between forces of productions and means and conditions of production lies in the logic of facts and is independent of human will.

To Marx, all phenomena of history are a result of and determined by economic conditions. The system of production is the ultimate factor which determines the network of human relationship. Legal, social and political institutions even religion and philosophy, reflect and are determined by the economic conditions of the day. To a Marxian like Engels even Protestantism is ‘essentially a bourgeoisie religion’. The economic factor is the determining factor and all thical, religious, social and political systems converage on and reflects the systems of property and economic production. The economically dominant class pursues its own collective economic interest and harnesses art, religion, philosophy, law, social and political organization to its own use. It must be stated here that Marx puts his theory of historical materialism in two slightly different forms. According to the extreme form current ideology and institutions representing art, law, philosophy, religion and politics etc are a reflection of economic conditions. According to the mild for they are conditioned and determined by the prevailing economic system.

Criticism of Marxian Dialectic Materialism:

The dialectic Materialism of Marx has a good deal to recommend it for approval and acceptance if it is a mere statement that history records and represents an evolutionary growth and that economic conditions affect other institutions profoundly. But both the dialectics of Marx and his historical materialism must be accepted with qualifications.  According to Marxian dialectics history records a triple process i.e. there is an evolutionary growth of ideas and institutions, that this growth is conditioned by economic conditions and that institutions evolve by provoking their own antagonism and arriving at a compromise with these antagonism. To assert that this triple process is universal and infallible is warranted neither by facts nor by logic. Why should not a thesis provoke more than one antithesis and if it does what will be the synthesis? Then again, Marx overemphasizes the importance of economics in human affaris and human evolution. As pointed out by Engels, the economic factor though the most important is not the only factor in human affairs. ‘The economic condition is the basis but the various elements of the superstructure i.e. political, legal and philosophical theories and institutions also affect the historical struggles and ‘in many instances determine their form’. The religious factor has played a most important part before the dawn of the modern era. ‘Lutherism was something more than a protest against the sale of indulgences’. Nationalism has been a mighty factor in human history and relationship. It must be said lastly that the determinist factor in Marx’s dialectic materialism emphasizing the inevitability of evolutionary development of a particular kind and in a particular direction takes little notice of free human will and conscious human behaviour. It reduces mankind to the dead level of matter without consciousness and volition. The dialectics of Marx, implying as it does, a predetermined plan of social evolution is fatalistic, and it leads to an unwarranted simplification of highly complex situations.

The Notion of Class Welfare:

To Marx, the class represents a very important entity. It has a collective unity of its own and its characteristic beliefs, notions and heritage. The individual has importance principally because of his membership of his class. He imbibes the traditions and notions of his class by environment and education. Economic relationship between men gets crystallized into economic classes which become thesis and antithesis in dialectic evolution of mankind. The powers of the economically powerful class are transmitted into social rights and are translated into legal and political systems.

There has been, sys Marx class struggle since the breakup of the tribal community organization. In fact, humanity has evolved to higher stages of development through class conflicts. Each system of production has given rise to two principal but mutually hostile classes the owners and the toilers. In every society, the class which is able to control the means of production and distribution will govern that society. By economic necessity, it will have to govern oppressively and to exploit other classes. The exploited classes cannot survive unless they resist this oppression and exploitation. Through out human history, there has been class struggle between the exploiters and the exploited i.e. slaves against freemen, plebeians against patricians, serfs against barons, journeymen against guildsmen, bourgeoisie against landed aristocratic and the proletariat against the capitalists. 

It is the productive forces at the disposal of man which determine all his social relations. These relations give rise to definite interests which find expression in law. Every law protects a definite interest. The development of productive forces divides society into classes whose interests are not only different but antagonistic. In contemporary society, the struggle of the revolutionary working class, the proletariat, is causing the transition from one form of society to another i.e. from capitalism to communism though not the fist to discover the phenomenon of class struggle, Marx gave an exhaustive basis of class divisions and class struggles. Marx tries to prove that:

  1. The existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production.

  2. class struggle necessarily leads to dictatorship of the proletariat, and

  3. This dictatorship is only transitory leading ultimately to abolition of all classes and establishment of a classless society.

Marx believes that class-struggle in the modern period is simpler than earlier class struggles. This is because of greater polarization today compared with earlier times. The society, today, is getting split up into two great hostile camps or classes facing each other i.e. the capitalists and the proletariat. The other non-capitalist classes like the small manufacturer, the shop-keeper, the artisan and the peasant are conservative classes compared to the proletariat which is the only revolutionary class. They are getting more and more absorbed in the proletariat.

One of the greatest contributions of Marx has been his conception of the evolution of social classes and of the social struggles to which he gave precise form and due importance. “The history of all hitherto exiting society is the history of class struggles”. The economically dominant classes have been keeping down and exploiting the other classes. Marx believed that at first the landed aristocrats were in possession of political power but later on they had to yield to the bourgeoisie i.e. the middle class people who remained in poor for many centuries. Marx saw the further development of this evolutionary growth in the direction of the domination of the proletariat. Out of feudalism came the capitalist bourgeoisie and out of the latter arose the proletariat. The capitalist are creating, organizing and disciplining the proletariat and will be destroyed by the latter. The expropriators will be expropriated. “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry the proletariat is its special essential product”. The communist manifesto, issued in 1848, was designed as a programme of action for the communists who were to galvanize the workers into a self –conscious class for the coming struggle results in social change and progress. This process will culminate in the dictatorship of the proletariat which represents the highest social principle of progress and rational ordering of society. After the dictatorship of the proletariat has been realized the dynamics of class war would be followed by the static’s of classless society.

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat:

Marx realized that there was a deep-rooted economic antagonism between the capitalists and the proletariat i.e. the workers. He looked forward to the intensification of the conflict between the two, carried out on a worldwide scale. Though Marx believed in the inevitability of this class struggle and the ultimate victory of the proletariat, after a successful revolution he did not want to leave this development to the forces of economic evolution. He wanted that this revolution should be precipitated through organization and energetic action on the part of the workers. He favoured intensive open agitation and the formation of a great socialist political party. He believed that the International Workingmen’s Association, started in 1864, would create solidarity among workers and promote the proletarian revolution. The Marxian ideal was the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat by violent revolution and not through persuasion or peaceful evolution, resulting in the political and economic domination by the workers.

Marx believed that the workers would recognize their resources and by a political and social revolution would take over the political and economic control of the world, leading to the nationalization of the means of production and distribution. The capture of political power was necessary for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a communist society. This transformation from a capitalist to a communist and classless society must involve a period of transition of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat which was a necessary result of class-struggle. This dictatorship of the proletariat is but a transition to the abolition of all classes. “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state i.e. of the proletariat organized as a ruling class”. The proletariat will ultimately abolish its own supremacy as a class when society would be not a group of mutually hostile classes but an “association in which the free development of each should be the condition for the free development of all”.

There is a difference of opinion regarding the nature and character of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx himself says, “the first step in the working class revolution is the raising of the proletariat to the position of the ruling class the victory of democracy…. The proletarian movement is the conscious movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority”. The communist hold that this dictatorship means the despotic rule of the communist minority within the proletariat but the socialists hold that this means a socialist government by a proletarian majority. It will be a victory of democracy and not despotism of a minority. The workers who have seized power will be in overwhelming majority and there will be no necessity of despotism and repression. The dictatorship of the proletariat would be established by violent methods but would not be maintained by violence and repression. To Laski, the dictatorship of the proletariat means not the anti-thesis of democracy but the anti-thesis of the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’. It will be exercised through elected bodies and subject to public opinion. It will transform the unreal democracy of the capitalist society into the real democracy of the socialist society. To Lenin, “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is power won and maintained by the violence of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, power that is unrestrained by any laws”.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is not an end. It is a means to an end, namely the establishment of a society in which the basic principle of life and social organization would be, ‘from each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs’. The dictatorship of the proletariat is transitory in nature. After the socialist society has been established, the need for this dictatorship will not remain. The state will ‘wither away’. Things will administer themselves. There will be a society of the free and the equal.

Marx on the State:
According to Marx, the chief attribute of the modern state is not its promotion of the welfare to its people nor its right to political obligation and obedience but its coercion and that a class-coercion. The state is an agency of class-coercion in the hands of the dominant economic class rather than an association of citizens in pursuit of a common purpose. Said Marx: The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of 1he bourgeoisie as a 'Whole’. With the disappearance of the classes and the emerg­ence of classless society the need for the state will disappear and the state will 'wither away'.

Criticism of Marxian Fundamentals:

The fundamental theory of Marx viz. the theory of labour-value, has been, on the whole abandoned by a majority of modern Marxists who seem to make their choice between the theory of ‘final utility’ or that of 'economic equilibrium’. Marx himself tones down the angularity of his labour-value theory by constantly admitting that value also depends supply and demand. The law of concentration, as propounded by Marx, is not borne out by facts. The number of small independent manufacturers is actually increasing. Besides, the development of modern joint-stock companies shows that the concentration of industry does not necessarily imply centralization of property. The Marxian doctrine of class struggle is based essentially on the supposition that modern society is sharply divided into two classes only the capitalists and the labourers. Is there not an increasing differentiation even within the capitalist and working classes themselves? The materialistic interpretation of history while representing a modicum of truth represents an overemphasis on one aspect of history only. Marx envisages dictatorship of the proletariat as temporary development. But power dies hard. Will the proletariat relax its iron hold on men and affairs and not try to perpetuate its rule?

Marx and Hegel:

Marx uses the dialectics of Hegel if only in an inverted form. He explains, like Hegel, social development on dialectic basis. Hegel looked to German leadership, Marx to proletarian leadership as representing the culmination of dialectic evolution of society. ‘For Hegel the mechanism of history was warfare between nations; for Marx it was revolutionary struggle between classes’. Both were determinists and believed in a pre-determined goal for society. Both made the individual subserve a higher social entity which was the state with Hegel and class with Marx.

The main contributions of Marx to political philosophy relate to his theories about economic determinism, class-struggle, surplus value and the concentration of capital resulting in increasing misery of the proletariat whom Marx defined as “the class of modern labourers, who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live”. To Marx, “the most important factors in determining action either individual or social are economic”. Marx did not agree with Utopian Socialism for under the influence of Hegelism he could not accept the idea of final social forms. Marx was the first socialist who stressed the importance and pointed out the role of the proletariat. The economic emancipation of the working classes was to him a social problem of vital importance. His revolutionary socialism was based on the “labour-value theory with class warfare as a dynamic force”. The principle of class-struggle fo Marx carried with it the repudiation of the principle of democracy. Marx underrated the cementing force of nationality. He divided the civilized world into antagonistic classes on an economic basis. As such he was internationalist. The importance of Marx in the history of socialism is evident from the fact that Marxism is still the avowed creed of mutually contending socialist groups.

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