Karl Marx (1818–83) was a German philosopher, economist, and social theorist who laid the philosophical groundwork for communism. In contrast to more abstract philosophers, Marx believed that philosophy should actually make a practical difference in people’s lives. As he stated, “The philosopher have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
Marx’s views on the eventual triumph of communism were rooted in the dialectical approach of Georg Hegel in which history is viewed as a continual struggle between a thesis and antithesis which eventually leads to a new synthesis. How does this work in regard to Marx? Marx viewed human history as a struggle between two great classes. The first class is the bourgeoisie (thesis) which consists of those in control of the economic forces. These are the owners of industry including factories and businesses. The second class is the proletariat (antithesis) which consists of the wage-earning workers. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie oppress the proletariat, but this situation would not always occur. Eventually, through inevitable economic forces, the working class would rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie oppressors. This overthrow would involve a new synthesis in which the workers would control the means of production and equally share the goods and services. This new state for humanity is communism.
This inevitable march toward communism, according to Marx, can be seen in the outworking of history. The feudalistic society of the ancient and medieval eras gave way to capitalism. Although capitalism has brought some good such as increased production, it is inherently unstable since the vast majority of workers who support this system are mistreated and dehumanized. Within capitalism, the workers are slaves of thebourgeoisie in that they are not paid sufficiently or recognized for their work. The workers make the owners of industry rich while they themselves are oppressed and poor. Eventually, though, the working class would get stronger until they revolt and overthrow the bourgeoisie. Capitalism, then, will give way to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and socialism will develop. As socialism continues to develop, the “state” will begin to evaporate and then a classless society will appear.
Marx’s theory is referred to as “dialectical materialism.” Unlike Hegel who stressedGeist (“Spirit” or “Mind”) as the controlling factor in history, Marx stressed economic factors as the driving forces in history. Das Kapital is Marx’s explanation of Marxist economics. In 1848, Marx worked with Friedrich Engels to publish the Communist Manifesto.
Marx was convinced that the economic and social forces of history would lead to the overthrow of capitalism. But with the decreasing number of communistic nations and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the twentieth century, many have declared the death of Marx’s theory.