Marxism and Revolution

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Page last edited: 16/07/2020


Marxism and Revolution


"The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundations on which the bourgeoisie produces and expropriates products. What the bourgeoisie produces above all are it’s own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."

Whereas Hegel’s theory of dialectical idealism saw the historical process as driven by ongoing conflict between competing ideas (thesis; antithesis; synthesis.), Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism or historical materialism suggested that gradual historical change could take place within a given mode of production but that eventually conflict between the forces of production and the social relations of production would give rise to a new mode of production.

Thus as a result of this conflict between the forces of production and the social relations of production the following transitions occur:

  • the transition from primitive communism to ancient society;
  • the transition from ancient society to feudalism;
  • the transition from feudalism to capitalism;
  • the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Marx did analyse all of these transitions but for our purposes it is most important to concentrate on the possibility of a transition from capitalism to socialism and before we can do this we have to have to define some important Marxist concepts and then show how these concepts are connected in the Marxist analysis of the transition from Capitalism to Socialism

Forces of Production, Means of Production, Social Relations of Production, Modes of Production

It is difficult to define precisely these Marxist terms because Marx’s use of them is not always consistent and expert theorists may disagree as to definitions to some extent

  1. The Forces of Production represent the scientific and technical knowledge available during a particular Mode of Production but they also include the Means of Production and, possibly labour as well .Under Feudalism scientific and technical knowledge was severely limited whereas under Capitalism (another Mode of Production) the Forces of Production improved enormously as Marx, despite his criticisms of Capitalism, was prepared to recognise.


  1. The Means of Production are the forces of production which can be legally owned. They include land, raw materials, buildings machinery and tools but not scientific and technical knowledge and not labour . The means of production are the resources which are used to produce final goods and services.
  2. .The Social Relations of Production are the relationships of ownership and control used to combine and manage the Means of Production in order to produce final goods and services. Under Feudalism, for example, in simplified terms, serfs would be tied to a particular piece of land; they would produce food mainly for their own consumption using simple agricultural implements but part of their production would also be given to the local Nobility who also owned the land worked by the serfs who also owed various other feudal dues to the Nobility.

3b. The Social Relations of production under Capitalism are much different. Now the Bourgeoisie own the Means of Production. The Proletariat are non-owners of the Means of Production. They work for wages but are at least free to change their employment if better opportunities arise, although they may not. Also, although the Bourgeoisie do not actually own labour, once the Proletariat begin to work for the Bourgeoisie, the Bourgeoisie do own labour power.

  1. The Modes of Production are different social systems corresponding to different levels of development of the Forces and Means of Production and to different Social Relations of Production. Marx refers to the Modes of Production listed below although during the historical process it is possible that elements of two distinct Modes of Production exist simultaneously. Thus, elements of Feudalism and Capitalism existed simultaneously in parts of C 18th Europe, for example.

Marx identified the following Modes of Production:

  • Primitive Communism where the means of production were very simple but communally owned such that no social classes existed so that there was no possibility of class conflict.
  • Slave society which involved conflict between Masters and Slaves.
  • Feudal society which involved conflict among the Nobility and the Serfs.
  • Capitalist society which involves conflict between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. In each of the last three cases, conflict arises from ownership and non-ownership of the Means of Production and for this reason Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto (1848) "The History of hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle."
  • Marx also discussed the Asiatic Mode of Production but not in much detail.

The final outcome of this class struggle, however, would be the transition from Capitalism to Socialism, the final Mode of Production in which private property would be abolished, social classes would disappear and the evils of Capitalism would be replaced by a classless, Socialist utopia.


According to Marx the revolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism contains the following elements:

  • Under capitalism economic power is monopolised by the Bourgeoisie whose main aim is production for profit rather than production for need. This means that the social relations of production (ownership and control) prevent the full utilisation of the highly developed forces of production.
  • Exploitation of the Proletariat means that they do not receive a fair share of the goods and services produced via the forces of production.
  • Periodic unemployment means that the factories and workers are often idle despite the obvious need for increased production so that, again the full potential of the forces of production is not being realised.(This is connected to Marx’s theory of the falling rate of profit, a questionable theory.)
  • Capitalism results in alienation which means that the full potential of the workers cannot be realised under capitalism.

Thus, in summary, according to Marx, the social relations of production under capitalism prevent the full development of the forces of production under capitalism.

Other aspects of the revolutionary process are;

  • Capitalism leads to increasing unemployment and poverty--- the Immiserisation
  • Production is increasingly concentrated among large companies and smaller companies and individual traders are forced out of business. The class structure is more and more simplified into 2 great classes--- the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat--- the so-called Polarisation thesis.
  • However, later on Marx noted that the growth of joint stock companies would lead to the growth of managerial positions, implying the growth of a middle class, a problem for orthodox Marxist class theory.
  • Nevertheless, now some people at least would notice that the bourgeoisie were actually receiving profit for contributing little or nothing to the production process.
  • The concentration of production in large factories in urban areas would make political organisation easier.
  • The Proletariat loses its false consciousness and turns from a class for itself into a class in itself. Revolution leads to the classless socialist utopia.

These then are the main aspects of Marx's theory of revolution. However Marx argued also that "there are countries such as America and England .... where the workers may attain their goal by peaceful means”. Engels also who outlived Marx by many years came in later life to believe quite strongly in the possibility of the parliamentary road to socialism. .Also while Lenin endorsed the revolutionary road to socialism and the concentration of power in the Bolshevik Party, [ a strategy carried to its worst extremes by Stalin] the German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg argued that socialism could be achieved only via the continuation of crucial political liberties such as free speech and free elections involving competing political parties.

Later Marxists have often argued that the parliamentary road to socialism might be preferable because violence would be avoided and any newly emerging socialist state would be based on the consent of the majority of the citizens. These arguments combined with the apparent lack of working class interest in revolutionary politics led the British Communist party in 1951 to endorse the parliamentary road to socialism, a strategy followed by other Euro-Communist parties.

  • Marxism and Contemporary Capitalist Societies.

It has been argued that capitalist societies developed in ways not predicted by Marx and that these developments have rendered Marxist theories of revolution increasingly irrelevant. Nevertheless contemporary Marxists continue to assert the relevance of Marxist theories modified to take account of changing political and economic circumstances. and on this basis they argue that capitalism remains a grossly exploitative, unequal, undemocratic and unfair political and economic system which  must be changed radically if its defects are to be corrected although some Marxists may well argue that such changes might be achieved via “revolutionary reformism” rather than by outright revolution.

Some of these issues are considered in my document on Marxism and Contemporary Capitalist Societies..