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The Marxism philosophy is the brainchild of Karl Marx with the assistance of Friedrich Engels in the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Marxism philosophy is more synonymous with the philosopher Karl Marx. Marx was a German-born philosopher, political economist, and sociologist. The Marxist theory was mainly a product of studies that were aimed at investigating the working class citizens and the role that they play in society. The basis of the Marxism philosophy is contained within “The Communist Manifesto”, a book by both Marx and Engels in 1848. The book’s main ideas alluded to the element of class struggles in the then European society.
The advent of Marxism philosophy coincided with the burgeoning industrial revolution. The oppression of the working class citizens was a major issue in the nineteenth century. Eventually, Europe became the playground of social revolutions and this situation only added credence to Marxism. There have been concerns that the original intentions and constituents of Marxism philosophy have been altered over time. This essay outlines the intentions of the nineteenth century Marxism philosophy including some of its most prominent constituents.
One of the core ideologies behind the concept of Marxism is that of social reality. Marx and Engels are the brains behind this philosophy and they were both interested in representations of social realities. Engels was of the view that most social philosophies had the right intentions but they were motivated by false unconsciousness. Therefore, “the real motive forces impelling people to do things are mostly unknown to them” (Balibar, 2013, p. 18).
This translates into a situation where most social studies are not purely ideological but subtle nudges from unknown forces. According to the original Marxism philosophy, most of the prevailing social ideas are mainly motivated by the needs of the ruling class. Therefore, it is likely that the ideas of the ruling class will always control the entire society and also form a superstructure of the said society. The conclusion was that the “ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create false consciousness such as commodity fetishism” (Sperber, 2013). The underlining factor in Marxism philosophy is that the ideologies that are given credit for social consciousness are not reliable in the long run.
Another prominent concept in Marxism philosophy is the fact that all human beings have needs and wants. Consequently, the hallmark of all societies is to align its production abilities in a manner that matches the needs and wants of its people. Marx was of the view that historical data indicates that the goal of all past societies has been to improve their position using all available means. This ideology also indicates that the only reason why political and ideological concepts exist in history is to impact social improvement. However, Marxism also notes that the needs, desires, and demands of different social classes often clash or contradict with those of others (Haldane, 2016).
For example, when the business-owning class strives to make bigger profits, the working class could suffer from this desire when they earn lower wages. Low wages translate into higher profits for business owners and lower satisfaction for the workers. Early Marxism is premised upon the concept of class struggle and this is also the basis of Marx’s view on other relevant factors. According to Marx, the ruling class is at the center of the class struggle because in all societies this group controls the means of production and/or capital.
In capitalist societies, it is common for capital to be in the hands of private citizens and not by state agents or the working class. The group that owns or controls capital is also the group that dominates other social aspects. For example, in most capitalist societies the wealth holders also happen to be the dominant players in democratic and parliamentary forms of government. Therefore, the semblance of equality of classes in capitalist societies is a fallacy. Nineteenth-century Marxism indicated that even the existing political systems are designed to give an impression of equal representation and democracy when the truth is that these institutions only support the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Nineteenth-century Marxism uses the concept of base-structure to underline the idea of social versus economic production. According to Engels and Marx, the two philosophers behind Marxism, “base-structure is the concept that is used to explain the wholeness of people’s relationships with regards to how the social production of their existence creates the economic basis for legal and political institutions” (Sperber, 2013, p. 59).
On the other hand, the concept of base-structure is corresponded by different forms of social consciousness including philosophical, religious, and other leading social ideologies. The base-structure concept is in charge of conditioning both social consciousnesses and superstructures. The class struggle is embodied within a perpetual development whereby there is a conflict between opposing forces. For instance, the conflict between productive forces and the factors of production is the main cause of social revolutions.
Furthermore, the result of any social revolution is a change in economic alignment and the subsequent alteration of superstructures. Marxism considers any changes in the superstructure not to be a definite process but a reflexive one. In this case, the superstructure does not change completely but is always remains as the basis of any social organization. The concept of how the base relates to the superstructure has henceforth been used as a basis for scientific and historical socialism.
In the early days, the Marxism philosophy was mainly concerned with the method of production and its related concepts (Schrift & Conway, 2014). Some of these close relations include having humans as means of production, tools, labor, power, land, and raw materials. Although these aspects are the material factors of production, Marxism also includes socially inclined elements in regards to the aforementioned process. For instance, several social concepts affect production including the control relations that govern the core assets of any society. Social production elements are often entrenched within a society in the form of laws that govern associations, cooperation, and other forms of relations.
Although these laws give the impression that there is a means of protecting individual interests, they mostly work by protecting the interests of certain classes while ignoring those of other ones. The concept of production methods is also closely related to that of a political economy.
Before Marx came up with the Marxist philosophy, he had mostly worked as a political economist. Political economy was a concept that mostly referred to the analysis of the circumstances under which production was controlled in the context of a capitalist nation. Consequently, the political economy is concentrated on the modes of human activity that manipulate materials and distribute surplus or deficits of the production process (Haldane, 2016). Political economies were major determinants of the resulting form of both capitalistic and political climates within any society. The political economy also determined how the revolutions of the 1800s began and ended.
Marxism has since become synonymous with economic factors as opposed to the other issues of class and historical economies. However, the nineteenth-century Marxism has strong connections to economic analysis. Karl Marx gives credence to the importance of economic systems in Marxism through his book, “Das Kapital”. In this book, the philosopher turns more to the concepts of classical economists than to those of philosophers. However, in this branch of Marxism, the author mostly concentrates on the concept of surplus-value. The main principle in “Das Kapital” is that human beings are productive by nature. Therefore, the key to the well being of any economy is the value it derives from human labor. Within the realm of Marxism, economic aspects can be considered as either relative or wholesome.
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Nineteenth-century Marxism was a prominent philosophy that touched on several disciplines including politics, history, and economics. Although the development of this philosophy is mostly attributed to Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels also made significant contributions. The main argument in the classical form of this theory is that society develops through phases, but capitalism is always a determinant of this progress. Social struggles are also brought about by the need to realign the methods of ownership among other economic foundations. Eventually, several aspects of Marxism have changed but class struggles have remained constant. The class that controls capital also controls society by default. Furthermore, workers are likely to be exploited for profit to be increased.
Balibar, E. (2013). Masses, classes, ideas: Studies on politics and philosophy before and after Marx. London, UK: Routledge.
Haldane, B. (2016). The Marxist philosophy and the sciences. London, UK: Routledge.
Schrift, A. D., & Conway, D. (2014). Nineteenth-century philosophy: Revolutionary responses to the existing Order. New York, NY: Routledge.
Sperber, J. (2013). Karl Marx: A nineteenth-century life. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.