AskDefine | Define Marxist

Dictionary Definition

Marxist adj : following the ideas of Marx and Engels


1 an advocate of Marxism
2 emotionally charged terms used to refer to extreme radicals or revolutionaries [syn: Bolshevik, pinko, red, bolshie]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Following the ideals of Marxism.



  1. One that believes in or follows the ideals of Marxism.




From Marxismus + -ist


  1. Marxist

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Marxism is the political philosophy and practice derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Any political practice or theory that is based on an interpretation of the works of Marx and Engels may be called Marxism. Despite being less important in the 21st century as the 20th, there is still a presence of Marxist approaches in academic fields of research; these include anthropology, media studies, Theatre, history, economics, literary criticism, aesthetics and philosophy. The constitution of the Communist Parties and Communist states was grounded in Marxism; the basic difference between Communism in general and Marxism, is that Communism aims at the realization of a "Communist society", while Marxism is a theoretical-practical framework based on the analysis of "the conflicts between the powerful and the subjugated". As a consequence of this, there are many scholars and thinkers who use Marxism as a framework for analysis but do not advocate a communist society.
While there are many theoretical and practical differences among the various forms of Marxism, most forms of Marxism share:
  • a belief that capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers by the owners of capital
  • a belief that people's consciousness of the conditions of their lives reflects the dominant ideology which is in turn shaped by material conditions and relations of production
  • an understanding of class in terms of differing relations of production, and as a particular position within such relations
  • an understanding of material conditions and social relations as historically malleable
  • a view of history according to which class struggle, the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests, structures each historical period and drives historical change
  • a belief that this dialectical historical process will ultimately result in a replacement of the current class structure of society with a system that manages society for the good of all, resulting in the dissolution of the class structure and its support (more often than not including the nation state)
The main points of contention among Marxists are the degree to which they are committed to a workers' revolution as the means of achieving human emancipation and enlightenment, and the actual mechanism through which such a revolution might occur and succeed. Marxism is correctly but not exhaustively described as a variety of Socialism. Some Marxists, however, argue that no actual state has ever fully realized Marxist principles; other Marxists, such as Autonomists claim Marxist principles cannot be realized in any state construct seen through the 20th Century, and would necessitate a reconceptualization of the notion of state itself.

Classical Marxism

Classical Marxism refers to the body of theory directly expounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The term "Classical Marxism" is often used to distinguish between "Marxism" as it is broadly understood and "what Marx believed", which is not necessarily the same thing. For example, shortly before he died in 1883, Marx wrote a letter to the French workers' leader Jules Guesde and to his own son-in-law Paul Lafargue, both of whom claimed to represent Marxist principles, in which he accused them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggles. Paraphrasing Marx: "If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist". As the American Marx scholar Hal Draper remarked, "there are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike."

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818, Trier, then part of Prussian RhinelandMarch 14, 1883, London) was an immensely influential German philosopher, political economist, and socialist revolutionary. Marx addressed a wide variety of issues, including alienation and exploitation of the worker, the capitalist mode of production, and historical materialism. He is most famous, however, for his analysis of history in terms of class struggles, as summed up in the opening line of the introduction to the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." The influence of his ideas, already popular during his life, was greatly broadened by the victory of the Russian Bolsheviks in the October Revolution of 1917. Indeed, there are few parts of the world which were not significantly touched by Marxian ideas in the course of the 20th century.
Friedrich Engels (November 28, 1820, WuppertalAugust 5, 1895, London) was a 19th century German political philosopher. He developed communist theory alongside Marx.
The two first met in person in September 1844. They discovered that they had similar views on philosophy and on capitalism and decided to work together, producing a number of works including Die heilige Familie (The Holy Family). After the French authorities deported Marx from France in January 1845, Engels and Marx decided to move to Belgium, which then permitted greater freedom of expression than other countries in Europe. Engels and Marx returned to Brussels in January 1846, where they set up the Communist Correspondence Committee.
In 1847 Engels and Marx began writing a pamphlet together, based on Engels' The Principles of Communism. They completed the 12,000-word pamphlet in six weeks, writing it in such a manner as to make communism understandable to a wide audience, and published it as The Communist Manifesto in February 1848. In March, Belgium expelled both Engels and Marx. They moved to Cologne, where they began to publish a radical newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. By 1849, both Engels and Marx had to leave Germany and moved to London. The Prussian authorities applied pressure on the British government to expel the two men, but Prime Minister Lord John Russell refused. With only the money that Engels could raise, the Marx family lived in extreme poverty.
After Marx's death in 1883, Engels devoted much of the rest of his life to editing and translating Marx's writings. He also contributed significantly to feminist theory and Marxist feminism in Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, conceiving, for instance, the concept of monogamous marriage as having arisen because of the domination of men over women. In this sense, he ties communist theory to the family, arguing that men have dominated women just as the capitalist class has dominated workers. Engels died in London in 1895.

Early influences

Classical Marxism was influenced by a number of different thinkers. These thinkers can be divided roughly into 3 groups:
Other influences include:

Main ideas

The main ideas to come out of Marx and Engels' collective works include:
  • Exploitation: Marx refers to the exploitation of an entire segment or class of society by another. He sees it as being an inherent feature and key element of capitalism and free markets. The profit gained by the capitalist is the difference between the value of the product made by the worker and the actual wage that the worker receives; in other words, capitalism functions on the basis of paying workers less than the full value of their labor, in order to enable the capitalist class to turn a profit. This profit is not however moderated in terms of risk vs. return.
  • Alienation: Marx refers to the alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature" ("Gattungswesen", usually translated as 'species-essence' or 'species-being'). He believes that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism. Under capitalism, the fruits of production belong to the employers, who expropriate the surplus created by others and in so doing generate alienated labour. Alienation describes objective features of a person's situation in capitalism - it isn't necessary for them to believe or feel that they are alienated.
  • Base and superstructure: Marx and Engels use the “base-structure” metaphor to explain the idea that the totality of relations among people with regard to “the social production of their existence” forms the economic basis, on which arises a superstructure of political and legal institutions. To the base corresponds the social consciousness which includes religious, philosophical, and other main ideas. The base conditions both, the superstructure and the social consciousness. A conflict between the development of material productive forces and the relations of production causes social revolutions, and the resulting change in the economic basis will sooner or later lead to the transformation of the superstructure. For Marx, though, this relationship is not a one way process - it is reflexive; the base determines the superstructure in the first instance and remains the foundation of a form of social organization which then can act again upon both parts of the base-structure metaphor. The relationship between superstructure and base is considered to be a dialectical one, not a distinction between actual entities "in the world".
  • Class consciousness: Class consciousness refers to the awareness, both of itself and of the social world around it, that a social class possess, and its capacity to act in its own rational interests based on this awareness. Thus class consciousness must be attained before the class may mount a successful revolution. Other methods of revolutionary action have been developed however, such as vanguardism.
  • Ideology: Without offering a general definition for ideology, Marx on several instances has used the term to designate the production of images of social reality. According to Engels, “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces”. Because the ruling class controls the society's means of production, the superstructure of society, as well as its ruling ideas, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class's best interests. As Marx said famously in The German Ideology, “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force”. Therefore the ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create false consciousness such as commodity fetishism (perceiving labor as capital ~ a degradation of human life).
  • Historical materialism: Historical materialism was first articulated by Marx, although he himself never used the term. It looks for the causes of developments and changes in human societies in the way in which humans collectively make the means to life, thus giving an emphasis, through economic analysis, to everything that co-exists with the economic base of society (e.g. social classes, political structures, ideologies).
  • Political economy: The term "political economy" originally meant the study of the conditions under which production was organized in the nation-states of the new-born capitalist system. Political economy, then, studies the mechanism of human activity in organizing material, and the mechanism of distributing the surplus or deficit that is the result of that activity. Political economy studies the means of production, specifically capital, and how this manifests itself in economic activity.


Marx believed that the identity of a social class is derived from its relationship to the means of production (as opposed to the notion that class is determined by wealth alone, i.e., lower class, middle class, upper class).
Marx describes several social classes in capitalist societies, including primarily:
  • The proletariat: "those individuals who sell their labour power, (and therefore add value to the products), and who, in the capitalist mode of production, do not own the means of production". According to Marx, the capitalist mode of production establishes the conditions that enable the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat due to the fact that the worker's labour power generates a surplus value greater than the worker's wages, a concept known as consumer surplus to modern economists.
  • The bourgeoisie: those who "own the means of production" and buy labour power from the proletariat, thus exploiting the proletariat. The bourgeoisie may be further subdivided into the very wealthy bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie.
    • The petit bourgeoisie are those who employ labour, but may also work themselves. These may be small proprietors, land-holding peasants, or trade workers. Marx predicted that the petit bourgeoisie would eventually be destroyed by the constant reinvention of the means of production and the result of this would be the forced movement of the vast majority of the petit bourgeoisie to the proletariat.
Marx also identified various other classes such as:
  • The lumpenproletariat: criminals, vagabonds, beggars, etc. People that have no stake in the economic system and will sell themselves to the highest bidder.
  • The landlords: a class of people that were historically important, of which some still retain some of their wealth and power.
  • The peasantry and farmers: this class he saw as disorganized and incapable of carrying out change. He also believed that this class would disappear, with most becoming proletariat but some becoming landowners.

Marx's theory of history

The Marxist theory of historical materialism understands society as fundamentally determined by the material conditions at any given time - this means the relationships which people enter into with one another in order to fulfill their basic needs, for instance to feed and clothe themselves and their families. . In general Marx and Engels identified five (and one transitional) successive stages of the development of these material conditions in Western Europe.
  1. Primitive Communism: as seen in cooperative tribal societies.
  2. Slave Society: which develops when the tribe becomes a city-state. Aristocracy is born.
  3. Feudalism: aristocracy is the ruling class. Merchants develop into capitalists.
  4. Capitalism: capitalists are the ruling class, who create and employ the true working class.
  5. Socialism ("Dictatorship of the proletariat"): workers gain class consciousness, overthrow the capitalists and take control over the state.
  6. Communism: a classless and stateless society.

Marxist school of thought

Western Marxism

Western Marxism is a term used to describe a wide variety of Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe (and more recently North America), in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or the People's Republic of China.

Structural Marxism

Structural Marxism is an approach to Marxism based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French theorist Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the late 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside of France during the 1970s.


Neo-Marxism is a school of Marxism that began in the 20th century and hearkened back to the early writings of Marx, before the influence of Engels, which focused on dialectical idealism rather than dialectical materialism. It thus rejected economic determinism being instead far more libertarian. Neo-Marxism adds Max Weber's broader understanding of social inequality, such as status and power, to orthodox Marxist thought.

The Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt School is a school of neo-Marxist social theory, social research, and philosophy. The grouping emerged at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung) of the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. The term "Frankfurt School" is an informal term used to designate the thinkers affiliated with the Institute for Social Research or influenced by them: it is not the title of any institution, and the main thinkers of the Frankfurt School did not use the term to describe themselves.
The Frankfurt School gathered together dissident Marxists, severe critics of capitalism who believed that some of Marx's alleged followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx's ideas, usually in defense of orthodox Communist or Social-Democratic parties. Influenced especially by the failure of working-class revolutions in Western Europe after World War I and by the rise of Nazism in an economically, technologically, and culturally advanced nation (Germany), they took up the task of choosing what parts of Marx's thought might serve to clarify social conditions which Marx himself had never seen. They drew on other schools of thought to fill in Marx's perceived omissions.
Max Weber exerted a major influence, as did Sigmund Freud (as in Herbert Marcuse's Freudo-Marxist synthesis in the 1954 work Eros and Civilization). Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, crude materialism, and phenomenology by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on negation and contradiction as inherent properties of reality.

Cultural Marxism

Cultural Marxism is a form of Marxism that adds an analysis of the role of the media, art, theatre, film and other cultural institutions in a society, often with an added emphasis on race and gender in addition to class. As a form of political analysis, Cultural Marxism gained strength in the 1920s, and was the model used by the Frankfurt School; and later by another group of intellectuals at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England.

Autonomist Marxism

Autonomism is a term applied to a variety of social movements around the world, which the ability to organize in autonomous and horizontal networks, as opposed to hierarchical structures such as unions or parties. Autonomist Marxists, including Harry Cleaver, broaden the definition of the working-class to include salaried and unpaid labor, such as skilled professions and housework; it focuses on the working class in advanced capitalist states as the primary force of change in the construct of capital. Modern autonomist theorists such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that network power constructs are the most effective methods of organization against the neoliberal regime of accumulation, and predict a massive shift in the dynamics of capital into a 21st Century Empire.

Analytical Marxism

Analytical Marxism refers to a style of thinking about Marxism that was prominent amongst English-speaking philosophers and social scientists during the 1980s. It was mainly associated with the September Group of academics, so called because they have biennial meetings in varying locations every other September to discuss common interests. The group also dubbed itself "Non-Bullshit Marxism" (Cohen 2000a). It was characterized, in the words of David Miller, by "clear and rigorous thinking about questions that are usually blanketed by ideological fog". (Miller 1996)

Marxist humanism

Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx develops his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. It was opposed by Louis Althusser's "antihumanism", who qualified it as a revisionist movement.
Marxist humanists contend that ‘Marxism’ developed lopsided because Marx’s early works were unknown until after the orthodox ideas were in vogue — the Manuscripts of 1844 were published only in 1932 — and it is necessary to understand Marx’s philosophical foundations to understand his latter works properly.

Marxist theology

Although Marx was intensely critical of institutionalized religion including Christianity, some Christians accepted the basic premises of Marxism and re-interpreted their faith from this perspective. Some of the resulting examples are liberation theology and black liberation theology. Pope Benedict XVI strongly opposed radical liberation theology while he was still a cardinal, with the Vatican twice condemning acceptance of Marxism and violence. Black liberation theologian James Cone wrote in his book For My People that "for analyzing the structure of capitalism. Marxism as a tool of social analysis can disclose the gap between appearance and reality, and thereby help Christians to see how things really are."

Key Western Marxists

Georg Lukács
Georg Lukács (April 13, 1885June 4, 1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic in the tradition of Western Marxism. His main work History and Class Consciousness (written between 1919 and 1922 and first published in 1923), initiated the current of thought that came to be known as Western Marxism. The book is notable for contributing to debates concerning Marxism and its relation to sociology, politics and philosophy, and for reconstructing Marx's theory of alienation before many of the works of the Young Marx had been published. Lukács's work elaborates and expands upon Marxist theories such as ideology, false consciousness, reification and class consciousness.
Karl Korsch
Karl Korsch (August 15, 1886 - October 21, 1961) was born in Tostedt, near Hamburg, to the family of a middle-ranking bank official.
In his later work, he rejected orthodox (classical) Marxism as historically outmoded, wanting to adapt Marxism to a new historical situation. He wrote in his Ten Theses (1950) that "the first step in re-establishing a revolutionary theory and practice consists in breaking with that Marxism which claims to monopolize revolutionary initiative as well as theoretical and practical direction" and that "today, all attempts to re-establish the Marxist doctrine as a whole in its original function as a theory of the working classes social revolution are reactionary utopias."
Korsch was especially concerned that Marxist theory was losing its precision and validity - in the words of the day, becoming "vulgarized" - within the upper echelons of the various socialist organizations. His masterwork, Marxism and Philosophy is an attempt to re-establish the historic character of Marxism as the heir to Hegel.
Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891April 27, 1937) was an Italian writer, politician and political theorist. He was a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy. Gramsci can be seen as one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century, and in particular a key thinker in the development of Western Marxism. He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3000 pages of history and analysis during his imprisonment. These writings, known as the Prison Notebooks, contain Gramsci's tracing of Italian history and nationalism, as well as some ideas in Marxist theory, critical theory and educational theory associated with his name, such as:
Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse (July 19,1898July 29,1979) was a prominent German-American philosopher and sociologist of Jewish descent, and a member of the Frankfurt School.
Marcuse's critiques of capitalist society (especially his 1955 synthesis of Marx and Freud, Eros and Civilization, and his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man) resonated with the concerns of the leftist student movement in the 1960s. Because of his willingness to speak at student protests, Marcuse soon became known as "the father of the New Left," a term he disliked and rejected.
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre (June 21, 1905April 15, 1980) was already a key and influential philosopher and playwright for his early writings on individualistic existentialism. In his later career, he attempted to reconcile the existential philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard with Marxist philosophy and Hegelian dialectics in his work Critique of Dialectical Reason.
Sartre was also involved in Marxist politics and was impressed upon visiting Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, calling him "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age".
However, in time Satre became disillusioned with marxism and ceased to share its ideology
Louis Althusser
Louis Althusser (October 16, 1918 - October 23, 1990) was a Marxist philosopher. His arguments were a response to multiple threats to the ideological foundations of orthodox Communism. These included both the influence of empiricism which was beginning to influence Marxist sociology and economics, and growing interest in humanistic and democratic socialist orientations which were beginning to cause division in the European Communist Parties. Althusser is commonly referred to as a Structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation.
His essay Marxism and Humanism is a strong statement of anti-humanism in Marxist theory, condemning ideas like "human potential" and "species-being," which are often put forth by Marxists, as outgrowths of a bourgeois ideology of "humanity." His essay Contradiction and Overdetermination borrows the concept of overdetermination from psychoanalysis, in order to replace the idea of "contradiction" with a more complex model of multiple causality in political situations (an idea closely related to Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony).
Althusser is also widely known as a theorist of ideology, and his best-known essay is Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation. The essay establishes the concept of ideology, also based on Gramsci's theory of hegemony. Whereas hegemony is ultimately determined entirely by political forces, ideology draws on Freud's and Lacan's concepts of the unconscious and mirror-phase respectively, and describes the structures and systems that allow us to meaningfully have a concept of the self.
E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm
British Marxism deviated sharply from French (especially Althusserian) Marxism and, like the Frankfurt School, developed an attention to cultural experience and an emphasis on human agency while growing increasingly distant from determinist views of materialism. A circle of historians inside the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) formed the Communist Party Historians Group in 1946. They shared a common interest in 'history from below' and class structure in early capitalist society. Important members of the group included E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill and Raphael Samuel.
While some members of the group (most notably E.P. Thompson) left the CPGB after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the common points of British Marxist historiography continued in their works. They placed a great emphasis on the subjective determination of history. E. P. Thompson famously engaged Althusser in The Poverty of Theory, arguing that Althusser's theory overdetermined history, and left no space for historical revolt by the oppressed.

Post Marxism

Post-Marxism represents the theoretical work of philosophers and social theorists who have built their theories upon those of Marx and Marxists but exceeded the limits of those theories in ways that puts them outside of Marxism. It begins with the basic tenets of Marxism but moves away from the Mode of Production as the starting point for analysis and includes factors other than class, such as gender, ethnicity etc, and a reflexive relationship between the base and superstructure.
Marxism remains a powerful theory in some unexpected and relatively obscure places, and is not always properly labeled as "Marxism." For example, many Mexican and some American archaeologists still cling to a Marxist model to explain the Classic Maya Collapse (c. 900 A.D.) - without mentioning Marxism by name.

Marxist Feminism

Marxist feminism is a sub-type of feminist theory which focuses on the dismantling of capitalism as a way to liberate women. Marxist feminism states that private property, which gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political confusion and ultimately unhealthy social relations between men and women, is the root of women's oppression.
According to Marxist theory, in capitalist societies the individual is shaped by class relations; that is, people's capacities, needs and interests are seen to be determined by the mode of production that characterises the society they inhabit. Marxist feminists see gender inequality as determined ultimately by the capitalist mode of production. Gender oppression is class oppression and women's subordination is seen as a form of class oppression which is maintained (like racism) because it serves the interests of capital and the ruling class. Marxist feminists have extended traditional Marxist analysis by looking at domestic labour as well as wage work in order to support their position.

Marxism as a political practice

Since Marx's death in 1883, various groups around the world have appealed to Marxism as the theoretical basis for their politics and policies, which have often proved to be dramatically different and conflicting. One of the first major political splits occurred between the advocates of 'reformism', who argued that the transition to socialism could occur within existing bourgeois parliamentarian frameworks, and communists, who argued that the transition to a socialist society required a revolution and the dissolution of the capitalist state. The 'reformist' tendency, later known as social democracy, came to be dominant in most of the parties affiliated to the Second International and these parties supported their own governments in the First World War. This issue caused the communists to break away, forming their own parties which became members of the Third International.
The following countries had governments at some point in the twentieth century who at least nominally adhered to Marxism: Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Republic of Congo, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Grenada, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, the USSR and its republics, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Vietnam. In addition, the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal have had Marxist governments. Some of these governments such as in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Chile, Moldova and parts of India have been democratic in nature and maintained regular multiparty elections, while most governments claiming to be Marxist in nature have established one-party governments.
Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union, with some exceptions, perhaps most notably Nepal.


The 1917 October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, was the first large scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers' state into practice. The new government faced counter-revolution, civil war and foreign intervention. Many, both inside and outside the revolution, worried that the revolution came too early in Russia's economic development. Consequently, the major Socialist Party in the UK decried the revolution as anti-Marxist within twenty-four hours, according to Jonathan Wolff. Lenin consistently explained "this elementary truth of marxism, that the victory of socialism requires the joint efforts of workers in a number of advanced countries" (Lenin, Sochineniya (Works), 5th ed Vol XLIV p418.) It could not be developed in Russia in isolation, he argued, but needed to be spread internationally. The 1917 October Revolution did help inspire a revolutionary wave over the years that followed, with the development of Communist Parties worldwide, but without success in the vital advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe. Socialist revolution in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the Soviet Union on its own. An intense period of debate and stopgap solutions ensued, war communism and the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin died and Joseph Stalin gradually assumed control, eliminating rivals and consolidating power as the Soviet Union faced the events of the 1930s and its global crisis-tendencies. Amidst the geopolitical threats which defined the period and included the probability of invasion, he instituted a ruthless program of industrialisation which, while successful, was executed at great cost in human suffering, including millions of deaths, along with long-term environmental devastation.
Modern followers of Leon Trotsky maintain that as predicted by Lenin, Trotsky, and others already in the 1920s, Stalin's "socialism in one country" was unable to maintain itself, and according to some Marxist critics, the USSR ceased to show the characteristics of a socialist state long before its formal dissolution.
In the 1920s the economic calculation debate between Austrian Economists and Marxist economists took place. The Austrians claimed that Marxism is flawed because prices could not be set to recognize opportunity costs of factors of production, and so socialism could not make rational decisions.
Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary communist parties all over the world. Some of these parties were eventually able to gain power, and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Such nations included the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and others. In some cases, these nations did not get along. The most notable examples were rifts that occurred between the Soviet Union and China, as well as Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (in 1948), whose leaders disagreed on certain elements of Marxism and how it should be implemented into society.
Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People's Republics) eventually became authoritarian states, with stagnating economies. This caused some debate about whether marxism was doomed in practise or these nations were in fact not led by "true Marxists". Critics of Marxism speculated that perhaps Marxist ideology itself was to blame for the nations' various problems. Followers of the currents within Marxism which opposed Stalin, principally cohered around Leon Trotsky, tended to locate the failure at the level of the failure of world revolution: for communism to have succeeded, they argue, it needed to encompass all the international trading relationships that capitalism had previously developed.
The Chinese experience seems to be unique. Rather than falling under a single family's self-serving and dynastic interpretation of Marxism as happened in North Korea and before 1989 in Eastern Europe, the Chinese government - after the end of the struggles over the Mao legacy in 1980 and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping - seems to have solved the succession crises that have plagued self-proclaimed Leninist governments since the death of Lenin himself. Key to this success is another Leninism which is a NEP (New Economic Policy) writ very large; Lenin's own NEP of the 1920s was the "permission" given to markets including speculation to operate by the Party which retained final control. The Russian experience in Perestroika was that markets under socialism were so opaque as to be both inefficient and corrupt but especially after China's application to join the WTO this does not seem to apply universally.
The death of "Marxism" in China has been prematurely announced but since the Hong Kong handover in 1997, the Beijing leadership has clearly retained final say over both commercial and political affairs. Questions remain however as to whether the Chinese Party has opened its markets to such a degree as to be no longer classified as a true Marxist party. A sort of tacit consent, and a desire in China's case to escape the chaos of pre-1949 memory, probably plays a role.
In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the new Russian state ceased to identify itself with Marxism. Other nations around the world followed suit. Since then, radical Marxism or Communism has generally ceased to be a prominent political force in global politics, and has largely been replaced by more moderate versions of democratic socialism—or, more commonly, by neoliberal capitalism. Marxism has also had to engage with the rise in the Environmental movement. A merging of Marxism, socialism, ecology and environmentalism has been achieved, and is often referred to as Eco-socialism.

Social Democracy

Social democracy is a political ideology that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many parties in the second half of the 19th century described themselves as social democratic, such as the British Social Democratic Federation, and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In most cases these were revolutionary socialist or Marxist groups, who were not only seeking to introduce socialism, but also democracy in un-democratic countries.
The modern social democratic current came into being through a break within the socialist movement in the early 20th century, between two groups holding different views on the ideas of Karl Marx. Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism, and syndicalism, arose at the same time (often by splitting from the main socialist movement, but also by emerging of new theories.) and had various quite different objections to Marxism. The social democrats, who were the majority of socialists at this time, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimed to uphold it), but wanted to reform it in certain ways and tone down their criticism of capitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved through evolution rather than revolution. Such views were strongly opposed by the revolutionary socialists, who argued that any attempt to reform capitalism was doomed to fail, because the reformers would be gradually corrupted and eventually turn into capitalists themselves.
Despite their differences, the reformist and revolutionary branches of socialism remained united until the outbreak of World War I. The war proved to be the final straw that pushed the tensions between them to breaking point. The reformist socialists supported their respective national governments in the war, a fact that was seen by the revolutionary socialists as outright treason against the working class (Since it betrayed the principle that the workers "have no nation", and the fact that usually the lowest classes are the ones sent into the war to fight, and die, putting the cause at the side). Bitter arguments ensued within socialist parties, as for example between Eduard Bernstein (reformist socialist) and Rosa Luxemburg (revolutionary socialist) within the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Eventually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the world's socialist parties fractured. The reformist socialists kept the name "Social democrats", while the revolutionary socialists began calling themselves "Communists", and soon formed the modern Communist movement. (See also Comintern)
Since the 1920s, doctrinal differences have been constantly growing between social democrats and Communists (who themselves are not unified on the way to achieve socialism), and Social Democracy is mostly used as a specifically Central European label for Labour Parties since then, especially in Germany and the Netherlands and especially since the 1959 Godesberg Program of the German SPD that rejected the praxis of class struggle altogether.


Although there are still many Marxist revolutionary social movements and political parties around the world, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, very few countries have governments which describe themselves as Marxist. Although socialistic parties are in power in some Western nations, they long ago distanced themselves from their direct link to Marx and his ideas.
As of 2007, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba, and the People's Republic of China - and to a certain extent Venezuela had governments in power which describe themselves as socialist in the Marxist sense. However, the private sector comprised more than 50% of the mainland Chinese economy by this time and the Vietnamese government had also partially liberalised its economy. The Laotian and Cuban states maintained strong control over the means of production.
Alexander Lukashenko president of Belarus, has been quoted as saying that his agrarian policy could be termed as Communist. He has also frequently referred to the economy as being 'market socialism'. Lukashenko is also an unapologetic admirer of the Soviet Union.
North Korea is another contemporary socialist state, though the official ideology of the Korean Workers' Party (originally led by Kim Il-sung and currently chaired by his son, Kim Jong-il), Juche, does not follow doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism as had been espoused by the leadership of the Soviet Union.
Libya is often thought of as a socialist state; it maintained ties with the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc and Communist states during the Cold War. Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, the leader of Libya, describes the state's official ideology as Islamic socialism, and has labeled it a third way between capitalism and communism.
In the United Kingdom, the governing Labour Party used to describe itself as a socialist political party and is a member of the socialist organisation, Socialist International. The Party was set up by trade unionists, revolutionary and reformist socialists such as the Social Democratic Federation and the socialist Fabian Society.


A number of states have declared an allegiance to the principles of Marxism and have been ruled by self-described Communist Parties, either as a single-party state or a single list, which includes formally several parties, as was the case in the German Democratic Republic. Due to the dominance of the Communist Party in their governments, these states are often called "communist states" by Western political scientists. However, they have described themselves as "socialist", reserving the term "communism" for a future classless society, in which the state would no longer be necessary (on this understanding of communism, "communist state" would be an oxymoron) — for instance, the USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Marxists contend that, historically, there has never been any communist country.
Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms.) While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident 'authentic' communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism.


Marxism-Leninism, strictly speaking, refers to the version of Marxism developed by Vladimir Lenin known as Leninism. However, in various contexts, different (and sometimes opposing) political groups have used the term "Marxism-Leninism" to describe the ideologies that they claimed to be upholding. The core ideological features of Marxism-Leninism are those of Marxism and Leninism, that is to say, belief in the necessity of a violent overthrow of capitalism through communist revolution, to be followed by a dictatorship of the proletariat as the first stage of moving towards communism, and the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in this effort. It involves subscribing to the teachings and legacy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Marxism), and that of Lenin, as carried forward by Joseph Stalin. Those who view themselves as Marxist-Leninists, however, vary with regards to the leaders and thinkers that they choose to uphold as progressive (and to what extent). Maoists tend to downplay the importance of all other thinkers in favour of Mao Zedong, whereas Hoxhaites repudiate Mao.
Leninism holds that capitalism can only be overthrown by revolutionary means; that is, any attempts to reform capitalism from within, such as Fabianism and non-revolutionary forms of democratic socialism, are doomed to fail. The first goal of a Leninist party is to educate the proletariat, so as to remove the various modes of false consciousness the bourgeois have instilled in them in order to make them more docile and easier to exploit economically, such as religion and nationalism. Once the proletariat has gained class consciousness the party will coordinate the proletariat's total might to overthrow the existing government, thus the proletariat will seize all political and economic power. Lastly the proletariat (thanks to their education by the party) will implement a dictatorship of the proletariat which would bring upon them socialism, the lower phase of communism. After this, the party would essentially dissolve as the entire proletariat is elevated to the level of revolutionaries.
The dictatorship of the proletariat refers to the absolute power of the working class. It is governed by a system of proletarian direct democracy, in which workers hold political power through local councils known as soviets.


Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself a Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed sharply from those of Stalin or Mao, most importantly in declaring the need for an international "permanent revolution". Numerous groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have diverse interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this.
Trotsky advocated proletarian revolution as set out in his theory of "permanent revolution", and he argued that in countries where the bourgeois-democratic revolution had not triumphed already (in other words, in places that had not yet implemented a capitalist democracy, such as Russia before 1917), it was necessary that the proletariat make it permanent by carrying out the tasks of the social revolution (the "socialist" or "communist" revolution) at the same time, in an uninterrupted process. Trotsky believed that a new socialist state would not be able to hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world unless socialist revolutions quickly took hold in other countries as well, especially in the industrial powers with a developed proletariat.
On the political spectrum of Marxism, Trotskyists are considered to be on the left. They fervently support democracy, oppose political deals with the imperialist powers, and advocate a spreading of the revolution until it becomes global.
Trotsky developed the theory that the Russian workers' state had become a "bureaucratically degenerated workers' state". Capitalist rule had not been restored, and nationalized industry and economic planning, instituted under Lenin, were still in effect. However, the state was controlled by a bureaucratic caste with interests hostile to those of the working class. Trotsky defended the Soviet Union against attack from imperialist powers and against internal counter-revolution, but called for a political revolution within the USSR to restore socialist democracy. He argued that if the working class did not take power away from the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bureaucracy would restore capitalism in order to enrich itself. In the view of many Trotskyists, this is exactly what has happened since the beginning of Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR. Some argue that the adoption of market socialism by the People's Republic of China has also led to capitalist counter-revolution.


Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought (, pinyin: Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng), is a variant of Marxism-Leninism derived from the teachings of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong (Wade-Giles transliteration: "Mao Tse-tung").
The term "Mao Zedong Thought" has always been the preferred term by the Communist Party of China, and the word "Maoism" has never been used in its English-language publications except pejoratively. Likewise, Maoist groups outside China have usually called themselves Marxist-Leninist rather than Maoist, a reflection of Mao's view that he did not change, but only developed, Marxism-Leninism. However, some Maoist groups, believing Mao's theories to have been sufficiently substantial additions to the basics of the Marxist canon, call themselves "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist" (MLM) or simply "Maoist".
In the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong Thought is part of the official doctrine of the Communist Party of China, but since the 1978 beginning of Deng Xiaoping's market economy-oriented reforms, the concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has come to the forefront of Chinese politics, Chinese economic reform has taken hold, and the official definition and role of Mao's original ideology in the PRC has been radically altered and reduced (see History of China).
Unlike the earlier forms of Marxism-Leninism in which the urban proletariat was seen as the main source of revolution, and the countryside was largely ignored, Mao believed that peasantry could be the main force behind a revolution, led by the proletariat and a vanguard Communist party. The model for this was of course the Chinese communist rural Protracted People's War of the 1920s and 1930s, which eventually brought the Communist Party of China to power. Furthermore, unlike other forms of Marxism-Leninism in which large-scale industrial development was seen as a positive force, Maoism made all-round rural development the priority. Mao felt that this strategy made sense during the early stages of socialism in a country in which most of the people were peasants. Unlike most other political ideologies, including other socialist and Marxist ones, Maoism contains an integral military doctrine and explicitly connects its political ideology with military strategy. In Maoist thought, "political power grows from the barrel of the gun" (a famous quote by Mao), and the peasantry can be mobilized to undertake a "people's war" of armed struggle involving guerrilla warfare in three stages.

Disputing these claims

Many academics dispute the claim that the above political movements are Marxist. Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms.) While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism. Further, critics have often claimed that a Stalinist or Maoist system of government creates a new ruling class, usually called the nomenklatura.
Marx defined "communism" as a classless, egalitarian and stateless society. To Marx, the notion of a communist state would have seemed oxymoronical, as he defined communism as the phase reached when class society and the state had already been abolished. Once the initial stage of socialism had been established, society would develop new social relations over the course of several generations, reaching the what Marx called the higher phase of communism when bourgeois relations had been abandoned. Such a development has yet to occur in any historical self-claimed socialist state.
Some argue that socialist states have contained two new distinct classes: those who are in government and therefore have power, and those who are not in government and do not have power. Sometimes, this is taken to be a different form of capitalism, in which the government, as owner of the means of production, takes on the role formerly played by the bourgeois class; this arrangement is refered to as "State capitalism". These statist regimes have generally followed a command economy model without making a transition to this hypothetical final stage.


details Criticisms of Marxism Criticisms of Marxism are many and varied. They concern both the theory itself, and its later interpretations and implementations.


The Labour theory of value is no longer accepted by modern economists, with the ideas of marginal utility being used instead.
Prominent economist Milton Friedman is of the opinion that free markets are the best and most efficient way of running the economy for the benefit of all. Marx and Engels never dedicated much work to show how exactly a communist economy would function, leaving socialism a 'negative ideology- having removed the price system, but with nothing to take its place.'
In the economic calculation debate between Austrian Economists and Marxist economists, the Austrians claimed that Marxism is flawed because prices could not be set to recognize opportunity costs of factors of production, and so socialism could not make rational decisions.
Individualists disagree with the basic approach of marxism, that of viewing all people as controlled by 'vast socio-economic forces', and instead focus on the importance of free individuals.


Criticisms of Marxism have come from the political Left as well as the political Right. Democratic socialists and social democrats reject the idea that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict and violent revolution. Many Anarchists reject the need for a transitory state phase and Anarcho-capitalists reject socialism entirely. Most thinkers on the left have rejected the fundamentals of Marxist theory, such as historical materialism and the labour theory of value, and gone on to criticize capitalism - and advocate socialism - using other arguments. Some contemporary supporters of Marxism argue that many aspects of Marxist thought are viable, but that the corpus also fails to deal effectively with certain aspects of economic, political or social theory.



  • Stanford: Stanford University Press.

See also

External links

General resources

Marxist websites

Specific topics

Critiques of Marxism

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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bolshevik, Bolshevist, Bolshie, Carbonarist, Carbonaro, Castroist, Castroite, Charley, Communist, Communist sympathizer, Cong, Fabian, Fabian socialist, Fenian, Fourierist, Guevarist, Jacobin, Jacobinic, Leninist, Maoist, Marxian, Marxist-Leninist, Mau-Mau, Owenite, Puritan, Red, Red Republican, Roundhead, Saint-Simonian, Sinn Feiner, Stalinist, Titoist, Trotskyist, Trotskyite, VC, Vietcong, Yankee, Yankee Doodle, agin the government, anarch, anarchic, anarchist, atomistic, avowed Communist, bolshie, bonnet rouge, collectivist, commie, commonsense, commonsense philosopher, communistic, criminal syndicalist, dialectical materialist, epistemological realist, fellow traveler, hylomorphous, hylotheistic, materialist, materialistic, mechanist, mechanistic, natural realist, naturalist, naturalistic, phalansterian, physicist, positivist, positivistic, realist, realistic, rebel, red, revisionist, revolutionary, revolutionary junta, revolutioner, revolutionist, revolutionizer, sans-culotte, sans-culottic, sans-culottish, sans-culottist, socialist, state socialist, subversive, syndicalist, terrorist, utopian socialist
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