The following essay is an entry discussing and offering various criticism on Marxism and Karl Marx’s socialist theories, mainly the idea portrait in ‘The Communist Manifesto’.
“From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” is a slogan from Karl Marx’s ‘Critique of the Gotha program’ that simplifies the basis on which Karl Marx build his political argument. Karl Marx was a major socialist figure that emerged in the 19th Century and his ideas were the basis of various communist states throughout the past few decades. Karl Marx ideologies find its basis in George Hegel’s historical analysis found in ‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit’ which Marx studied during his years at the University of Bonn. Such thoughts included the opposition to Christianity and the condemnation of the Prussian rulers, which he wrote about in the liberal newspaper the ‘Rherinische Zeitung’, which later was shut down by the Prussian government. Marx shortly after started to reject Hegel’s abstract and idealistic philosophy and moved on to argue a materialistic adaptation if Hegel’s ideas.
Unlike Hegel’s belief that the changes that occurred throughout history were related to the restriction of freedom of the civil, Marx believed that the “history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. With this statement, Marx opens the first part of ‘The Communist Manifesto’, ‘Bourgeois and Proletarian’. He argued that during the history of civilizations there was one major common factor, that is the conflict between different social classes, such as the Freeman and the Slave, Patrician and the Plebeian, the Lord and the Serf and The Guild Master and the Journeyman. The Manifesto claims that society was back then finally simplified into two classes in direct conflict. The Bourgeoisie, the capital-owning class and The Proletariat, the working class. He accuses that the modern day drifted away from “antagonism” and instead it “established new classes, new conditions and new forms of struggle”. What Marx seems to not understand however is that social classes’ structure is more complicated than the two social categories he identifies. At this stage, Marx misidentifies the presence of the small population that made up the upper-middle-class. He describes the middle-class as a simplified version of class antagonism and that the middle class was taken over by the industrial businessman, “The Modern Bourgeois”.
The bourgeoisie has ended all “feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations”. Meaning that it has abolished the distinction between the “bound man and his natural superiors” and personal worth is now valued with the exchange values. Therefore, he says that value of a produced economic good is equally proportioned to the average number of labour hours required. This solution showed that Marx at this stage believed that Capitalists were underpaying the workers. Some might argue that this is economically inaccurate for the simple reason that other factors are taken into consideration when valuing the importance of a factor. Basic economic concepts show that besides the capital, supply and demand are also key features when valuing anything, in this case, the demand and the incompetence of the labourer.
He debates that what before was hidden by political and religious “illusions” are being open to the public shamelessly. He then says that the bourgeoisie needs traditional methods to survive and therefore try to expand their market territory by sustaining a global connection. Marx believes that this is done in a way to make sovereignty less manageable, which leads to the concentration of wealth and the dependence on the capitalist companies. Therefore the ‘Means of Production’ on which the bourgeoisie companies are build originate from feudal societies, and at some point, feudal relations “hindered production rather than advance it, resulting in the rise to power of the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, he then says a commercial crisis id due to arise as a result of over-production. Here is where the manifesto starts addressing the Proletariat, and he believes that the proletariats are becoming slaves of the manufacturing industry and the worker is being replaced by machinery. With the fear of this, Marx encourages all workers to unite and form their own unions, as he believes that unions formed by socialist activists have ingenuine interests. He claims that the workers within these unions are not fighting their own enemy, the capitalists, but instead standing with the enemy of the proletariat enemy. With this in mind, he suggests that the proletarians destroy private property as they do not own their own property. This might be considered an unjust statement as Marx did not take into consideration the workers who owned their own houses, fields, farms (etc..).
The main criticism the Manifesto faces comes with the various concepts Marx suggested to be abolished. In the second part of the book, ‘Proletarians and Communists’, Marx suggests that the private property is the luxury the wealthy have thanks to the capital produced by the workers. Marx addresses pro-capitalistic critiques who claim that private property is achieved through ‘hard commercial work’. He further argues that labourers do not acquire this kind of social privilege from the fruit of their labour. Therefore, Marx that the capital is a collective product, achieved by the many and benefited by the few. Marx’ solution is simple. He believes in a system where one is not paid to work, trading for goods and services with no currency and as a result, no capital is made. Additionally, non-conformist argues that if private property is abolished ‘universal laziness’ will overcome and thus no one will want to work. Marx answers that with the prior reasoning bourgeoisie would have been gone ages before because the capital is not acquired by the bourgeoisie themselves. As many believe, this theory is impractical. Marx doesn’t take into account the natural instinct of a human being as an animal. By referring to the famous theory of evolution by Charles Darwin, we can say that man has a natural desire to conquer areas to be able to survive. Moreover, other critiques such as the economist and political philosopher Fredrich Hayek said that the absence of a free market would lead to an authoritarian political regime and that capitalism is essential for freedom to grow in a national state.
Besides the privatization of possessions, Marx also called for an abolishment of other things. Firstly, he suggests the end of the ‘family’ as we know it. Although he himself admits that delicate topic to discuss, he believed that the family is created for “capital, on private gain”. Therefore, he believed that by eliminating the family he would also be a step closer to eliminate the capital. One must understand that Marx and Engels weren’t against the family as we know it, as an intimate domestic group but rather they were against the idea of inheritance of wealth and power, which reinforces the family class status quo. A rich family will give their children their possessions while a poor family’s child will have to keep working in order to survive. For a true Communist, this social injustice was unacceptable. On the other hand, we know that this idea is unrealistic. Clearly, this can be witnessed because even leaders who claim to be Communist do not practice this thought. Furthermore, this idea of abolishment flourished the ‘Marxist-Feminism ‘concept. When the state abolishes the family, he suggests that the woman is then liberated from the social submissive conditioning it had grown to live into. In addition, activists such as Silvia Ferdici contend that unpaid domestic labour is the foundation upon which capitalism is built.
Finally, Marx suggests the abolishment of countries and nationality. This strongly contrasts the philosophy of George Hegel. While Hegel suggests the idea of a ‘Geist’ that is a historical immaterial concept, Marx refuses to believe that there is any sort of immaterialism involved within politics as these gave way to “free competition with the domain of knowledge”. One might point out that with the restriction of knowledge and belief is a radical idea, but Marx simply says that they are missing the larger picture. This is not only evident by the elimination of a national identity, but also the unacceptance of religion, philosophy and moral thought. He believed that as time passes by, national differences are vanishing and therefore all workers should abolish the idea of a nationality and for one proletariat nation. He supports this suggestion with his belief that the right eternal truths are the one that are common truths all state societies share and that survive history such as the idea of ‘Justice’, which for him reflect the idea of class antagonism development. Although this idea might seem injudicious, a lot of inspirational speech is guilty of using similar ideas of motherland abolishment. Doesn’t the famous John Lennon song ‘Imagine’ preach the same form of unification of the people? irrespective of religion, race and nation?
At it is now taken to be the obvious, a lot of factors support the arguments of the impracticality of Marxism, and as the famous Slavoj Zizek said, the Marxist theory is a failure one, but what people fail to also realize is that some of Marx’s predictions are till this day valid. For example, the Great Recession of 2008, where we see that Marx’s prediction of persistent greed for profit from lead companies to systemise the workplaces while limiting workers’ wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more Europeans to take on debt. When there was no subprime borrows left to scheme, the whole system fell apart, just as Marx said it would.
Marx also believed that salaries would be controlled by “reserve army of labour”. By this, he expressed the capitalists’ wish to pay workers at least as possible and this is the easiest thing to do when there is a high rate of unemployment. Closely after the recession, the Marxist study that unemployment would keep wages fixed at a low amount while the capital kept on growing, was proved to be the reality of many. Profits were on a tear, while the companies’ productivity increased and not much was done to re-stabilize the unemployment situation. As Marx argues, company owners took advantage of the worker’s fear of being jobless. With this reason as well, one can argue that the best time for equitable growth is during times of “full employment” where workers can shift from one job to another, dependently only on their personal needs, without the fear of being unemployed.
In conclusion, Marx was inaccurate and unrealistic in a lot of aspects. Most of his writings focused on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with and this resulted in misinterpretation of the theory, such as that of Stalin’s. But his works still shapes few principles of the modern-day economy, such as progressive income tax, a system where governments try to fight income inequality. As Robert L. Heilbroner writes, “We turn to Marx, therefore because he is inescapable.” Today, in a world of both unheard-of wealth and poverty, where the richest own one percent of the world’s wealth, the famous cry, “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains,” has yet to lose its influence.