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Marxist Ideology and Philosophy Essay

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Updated: Apr 27th, 2021

Despite a notable place among the philosophers of the 19th century, Karl Marx’s ideas still bear a hint of controversy. One of the reasons why the figure of Karl Marx is so controversial is that, unlike many other philosophies that promoted a change in economic, political, and social structure, the historical circumstances allowed his ideas to be practically implemented to a certain extent. Therefore, it is important to explore the reasons why Marxist ideology became so widespread in the context of Karl Mark’s relation to it. Also, the objective is to identify whether Karl Marx’s ideas or their interpretations were the reasons for controversy.

One of the first things that are important in estimating Karl Marx’s economic philosophy is that he never actually participated in the practice of creating communist states. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to judge the ideas and conceptions suggested by Karl Marx based on historical examples such as Mao’s doctrine or the USSR under Lenin and Stalin.

Karl Marx’s philosophical thoughts and ideas contributed to a variety of disciplines. He was a philosopher and economists from Germany, but his works resonated in many spheres of human knowledge, and the practical implementation of his ideas was attempted in many major countries[1]. Karl Marx’s most famous ideas concern the concepts of labor and class struggle. Being one of Hegel’s disciples, Karl Marx reworked the methodological basis created by his teacher and used his version of the dialectics method to define the idea of human nature at the different stages of the development of society[2].

In such a way, regardless of approval or disapproval of Karl Marx’s ideas, it is important to understand that some of the influences that his works caused were a result of the scale and angle at which the philosopher decided to view individuals, classes, and society.

Thus, it is also important to point out the fact that one of the reasons for the widespread of Karl Marx’s ideology or elements of his studies is that there was no alternative of a similar scale for the revolutionized societies. In the moment of critical change, the most stable asset for a revolutionized society is to bring both some structural elements and an idea that is grander than some personal goals[3]. In such a way, the Marxist ideology managed to combine both, which resulted in its success.

The structural aspect of ideology included the concept of the materialist conception of history. In other words, it is an atheistic interpretation of the progress of human society with a division into certain stages of societal development. Of course, Marx admits that there are some differences in the way various national and regional societies developed, and to which extend different societal stages or phenomena manifested themselves in a particular time or space, but, in a grander scheme of things, according to Marx, there are more similarities rather than differences. For example, the stage of ancient society with such a phenomenon as slave ownership reached different degrees across the world.

However, on a bigger scale of events, the phenomenon manifested itself, which is why it is an indication of similarities across different societies during one period of historical development[4]. Moreover, the reason for the existence of those similarities lies in the unified human nature that is common for all people. On the other hand, there are no explanations in Marxism regarding the fact how “communist or socialist society would require a revolution against existing capitalist society, they did not limit themselves to speculating about human development in a hypothetical socialist future”[5].

Because of the Marxist views on human nature and its interpretation of the historical process as a whole with a precise final goal at the end, the theoretical background of the ideology is quite structured and elaborated[6]. It is also paramount to point out the fact that such structure is one of the key factors in the spreading of communist ideas. Societal development, according to Marx, is to go through different stages to reach the communist phase, which is supposed to be the end of imposed labor and alienation of working classes[7].

During history, political, and, most importantly, economic development, different societal classes (apart from the stage of hunter-gatherers’ society) were in a state of struggle amongst themselves. One class always exploited the other and, according to Marx, in the context of capitalist society, the working classes are the objects of exploitation by the bourgeoisie[8].

On the other hand, in a communist society, supposedly, there should not be any class exploitation since each person should be working only within their abilities and be provided with everything just to satisfy their needs[9]. Such idealistic society, alongside a strong theoretical basis behind it, became a convincing element of ideology.

As an ideological instrument, the idea of communist society became widespread because it appealed to the masses in the revolutionized societies, and it gave hope or illusion to the people in such societies. In such a way, after revolutions and political feuds, manipulating communist ideology allowed the governments in revolutionized countries, such as, for example, the USSR, to maintain control over the crowd by providing them with a constructive narrative about the historical development. In addition to that, a prospect of communist society as a final objective for working classes became a motivation for the majority of people in communist countries[10].

As a result, the governments of such countries could also make use of labor provided by the working classes under the agenda of building a communist society. Those governments could have been using the masses to maintain economic stability or for their personal benefit[11]. Nevertheless, the main idea is that the concept of a communist society in countries that attempted to implement it as a tool of propaganda and ideological instrument than a political objective. In such a way, it is not entirely fair to suggest that the conceptions suggested by Karl Marx failed and led to controversies. However, the interpretations are given to them by different political figures who used Marx’s ideas as a means to influence people rather than as their economic and political objective.

Another thing that needs to be clarified in the relation to Marx’s influence on controversial societies is whether his critique of capitalist society should be interpreted as an intermediate call for action and revolution at any cost[12].

According to Burns, it is still a subject of scientific and philosophical debate whether the main idea of Karl Marx’s works is to criticize the capitalist society[13]. On one hand, the very taxonomy of economic classes, as well as the paradigm of the struggle between different classes, implicitly suggests that Marx, in a way similar to the ideas of utopian socialism, would criticize the capitalist model. However, on the other hand, such critique should be based on a variety of ethical factors, whereas Karl Marx did not provide any detailed ethical ground regarding the moral status of capitalist society.

Of course, it is important not to forget that Karl Marx’s main idea is that the communist society is as close to a flawless model as it could only get[14]. However, he did not directly participate, neither he approved any of the practical implementations of his ideas. Moreover, any “socialism should not be equated with Stalinism or Maoism, that the heart of socialism resides in struggles by laboring classes from below, and that if we are concerned with understanding the potential for alternative forms of human development, then we should look to such struggles”[15].

In conclusion, two main elements that made Marxism widespread were its strong theoretical basis and the final idea of the idealistic communist society that was used as a motivation and propaganda to stabilize the masses of people in revolutionized societies. The controversies of Marx’s ideas are related to the interpretations given to them by different political figures who used Marx’s ideas as a means to influence people rather than to the conceptions themselves.

Bibliography

Benjamin Selwyn. “Karl Marx, Class Struggle and labour-centred development.” Global Labour Journal: Sussex, 2013. pp. 48-70.

Karl Mannheim. Ideology and utopia. Routledge, 2013.

Karl Marx. A contribution to the critique of political economy. Palgrave, 2010.

Karl Marx. Economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844. London, 2012.

Karl Marx and David McLellan. Karl Marx: selected writings. Oxford, 2000.

Robert C Tucker. Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. London, 2001.

Thomas Oatley. International political economy. Cambridge, 2015.

Tony Burns. “The Idea of the “Struggle for Recognition” in the Ethical Thought of the Young Marx and Its Relevance Today.” Constructing Marxist Ethics: Brill, 2015, pp. 33-58.

W. Seay, “The Origins of Political Economy” ECON101/ INTL102, Virginia Commonwealth University. 2015.

Footnotes

  1. Karl Marx. Economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844. London, 2012, p. 50.
  2. W. Seay, “The Origins of Political Economy” ECON101/ INTL102, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2015.
  3. Karl Marx. A contribution to the critique of political economy. Palgrave, 2010, p. 19.
  4. Thomas Oatley. International political economy. Cambridge, 2015, p. 110.
  5. Benjamin Selwyn. “Karl Marx, Class Struggle and Labour-Centred Development.” Global Labour Journal: Sussex, 2013, p. 49.
  6. Karl Marx. A contribution to the critique of political economy. Palgrave, 2010, p. 32.
  7. Tony Burns. “The Idea of the “Struggle for Recognition” in the Ethical Thought of the Young Marx and Its Relevance Today.” Constructing Marxist Ethics: Brill, 2015, p. 33.
  8. Robert C Tucker. Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. London, 2001, p. 76.
  9. Benjamin Selwyn. “Karl Marx, Class Struggle and Labour-Centred Development.” Global Labour Journal: Sussex, 2013, p. 49.
  10. Tony Burns. “The Idea of the “Struggle for Recognition” in the Ethical Thought of the Young Marx and Its Relevance Today.” Constructing Marxist Ethics: Brill, 2015, p. 34.
  11. Benjamin Selwyn. “Karl Marx, Class Struggle and Labour-Centred Development.” Global Labour Journal: Sussex, 2013, p. 50.
  12. Karl Mannheim. Ideology and utopia. Routledge, 2013, p. 43.
  13. Tony Burns. “The Idea of the “Struggle for Recognition” in the Ethical Thought of the Young Marx and Its Relevance Today.” Constructing Marxist Ethics: Brill, 2015, p. 33.
  14. Karl Marx and David McLellan. Karl Marx: selected writings. Oxford, 2000, p. 21.
  15. Benjamin Selwyn. “Karl Marx, Class Struggle and Labour-Centred Development.” Global Labour Journal: Sussex, 2013, p. 49.
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