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What Is Marxism?

Marx believed members of the working class were oppressed.
Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
Marxism likely figured into much of Joseph Stalin's leadership of the Soviet Union.
Maoism, which is the guiding ideology of the Communist Party of China, evolved from Marxism.
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
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  • Originally Written By: Matthew F.
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Kheel Center, n/a, Alexander Micheichev, Franck Thomasse, Axellwolf
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2014
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Marxism is a political and economic philosophy that is based on theories of class struggle within societies. This philosophy was developed by Karl Marx — for whom it was named — and Friedrich Engels during the middle of the 19th century. It is often described as a form of socialism, an economic system in which resources and the means of production are publicly owned. Marxism calls for society's progression from capitalist oppression to a socialist, classless society through a worker's uprising, which it deems as necessary.

Class Struggles

Marx believed that history was a series of class struggles and uprisings. Under capitalism, he argued, members of the working class, which he called the proletariat, are oppressed and alienated by the wealthy elite, whom he called the bourgeoisie. The wealthy own the resources and means of production, and they inevitably pay their workers a smaller wage than their true value in order to make profits and increase their wealth. As the wealthy get wealthier, the inequality between the classes increases, leading to even greater oppression.

Other Dangers of Capitalism

Another of Marx's criticisms of capitalism was that the competition between similar companies would increase until one drove its competitors out of business and became a monopoly. The creation of powerful monopolies would allow for workers to be paid less and consumers to be charged more. Free market forces also would lead to wild swings in the economy, including times of severe depression.

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Workers' Uprising

The only way for the proletariat to overcome their oppression and avoid the pitfalls of capitalism, Marx believed, was through an uprising. This would allow the workers to take control of the resources and means of production. The government would then become what Marx called a dictatorship of the proletariat — in other words, the working people would rule. A socialist system would be established and eventually evolve into a communist society — one that includes common ownership of all resources and means of production, no class system and no monetary system.

Marxism's Influence

Marx's theories were detailed in two books he wrote, The Communist Manifesto, in 1847, and Das Kapital, in 1867. Although many of Marx's economic theories, such as the labor theory of value, were soon discredited, Marxism became a very influential concept in global politics during the 20th century. Marxism is widely considered to have led to the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922 and later the People's Republic of China, in 1949. There are many variations of Marxism that were developed after Marx's death in 1883, including Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism and Maoism.

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Discuss this Article

anon354279
Post 20

Karl Marx wanted man to break free from the idea of capitalism and the capitalistic idea of materialism. He felt that man should be free to express himself through his production of labor. The USSR is an outrageous misrepresentation of what Karl Marx intended for his socialist society.

BAU79
Post 16

Can someone explain to me the difference between socialism and Marxism? Are there even any real Marxist countries out there now?

vigilant
Post 15

How does political Marxism differ from the artistic or aesthetic Marxism that I heard so much about when I was in college.

It seemed like every class I took had to feature at least one essay from a Marxist perspective, regardless of how much of a stretch it may have been.

I never understood the link between the two. What does film theory have to do with what happened in Russia?

Ivan83
Post 14

This article does a good job of explaining the very basic outlines, but Marxism is really a complicated philosophy with a lot of historical factors and applications to consider. In the same way that Democracy is a huge term that means many things different to many different people, Marxism cannot be easily summarized. I mention this just to encourage interested readers to dig in a little deeper. There is a rich and interesting history to discover.

anon42070
Post 1

Great piece. I have finally found a piece that explains what the whole idea behind marxism is in simple language. Thanks.

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