Introducing Marxism: Summary
- Marx presents an analysis of long term historical change involving transitions between successive Modes of Production.
- I have concentrated in this introductory summary on Marx' analysis of the nature of C19th Century capitalism and his predictions of the revolutionary transition to socialism.
- C19th Century capitalist societies are presented as class societies in which the two major social classes are the property owning Bourgeoisie and the property-less Proletariat. In Marxist terms class membership is determined by ownership or non -ownership of property [or in Marx' terms the means of production].
- Capitalism is seen as a dynamic economic system which nevertheless contains the seeds of its own destruction
- The social relations of production between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat involve exploitation and conflict since the Bourgeoisie's opportunities to generate profits depend upon its capacities to exploit the Proletariat.
- The Bourgeoisie is seen as an economically and politically dominant class because it controls the private sector of the economy and exercises considerable indirect control over the State. The Bourgeoisie retains its power primarily by ideological manipulation but does sometimes resort to force involving the reliance on the support of the police and/or the armed forces.
- Marx makes an important distinction between the Economic Base [or Infrastructure] of capitalist societies and the Superstructure of capitalist societies which Marx believed to be heavily influenced by the nature of the Economic Base which, according to his critics lays him open to the charge of excessive economic determinism.
- Marx' class theories have attracted criticism from Weberian, Functionalist and Postmodernist perspectives and it has been argued also that he and his fellow Marxist have overstated the importance of class inequalities to the relative neglect of inequalities based around age, disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
- Marx' predictions of socialist revolutions in advanced Western capitalist economies have not materialised because, according to his critics, capitalist societies have changed in ways not predicted by Marx and, depending upon one's taste, the ideologies of Conservatism or Liberalism or non-Marxist Socialism provide much more accurate depictions of the capitalist system than does Marxism.
- Where Marxist -inspired revolutions have occurred they have degenerated into centralised party dictatorships and certainly have not led to the emancipation of the working class as Marx had hoped and expected.
- Neither is it likely that the Western European working classes will become revolutionary classes in the foreseeable future
- Nevertheless despite all of these criticisms modern Marxists continue to argue that Marxist theories, suitably modified to take account of modern conditions, still provide us with the most accurate insights into the nature of contemporary capitalism which in their view remains a grossly unequal, unjust, exploitative system which restricts our capacities for self-development. As Jimmy Reid once said "the rat race is for rats" and, as human beings, we must reject it in favour of something better.
Click here for a recent Guardian article on the resurgence of Marxism.
Click here for Michael Portillo's BBC Radio 4 two part series entitled Capitalism on Trial. Mr Portillo interviews both supporters and critics of capitalism but he himself is a strong supporter of the capitalist system. E
Rat Race, Invisible Hand or something in between? The debate continues.