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II. The Life and Times of Karl Marx
IV. Human Nature
V. Economic Determinism and Historical and Dialectical Materialism
VI. The Rise and Collapse of Capitalism
VII. Socialism and Communism
VIII. The Role of the Professional Revolutionary
Socialist political philosophy has existed since the beginning of recorded history. It has also taken on a great number of forms since its emergence in antiquity. However, no theory of socialism has had a greater impact on the modern world than the philosophy constructed by the 19th-century German thinker Karl Marx. Marx’s theory of socialism originated from (and was a direct response to) the capitalist mode of production. Marx, particularly, focused on the relationship between capitalism as an economic system and industrial development in Western Europe during the middle of the 19th century. Along with his lifelong collaborator, Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), Marx wrote several epic volumes that impacted almost all Western political thought from his time through the present. Some of Marx’s most influential works, such as the first volume of Capital and The Communist Manifesto, were published during his lifetime. However, many of his significant writings, such as two subsequent volumes of Capital, the German Ideology and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, were published posthumously. In those volumes and in many more pieces, Marx developed an analysis of industrial capitalism that was both complex and comprehensive. After his death in 1883, Marx’s theory was repeatedly expanded on by devotees and detractors alike. Whether they offered a new interpretation of a particular aspect of Marxian thought or a rigorous critique of his ideas, all those who responded to Marx ensured that his ideas will continue to live far beyond his corporeal existence. More than a century after his death, Marx remains the unequivocal “father” of modern socialist thought.
To understand Marxism and its emergence, one must have some sense of the context in which it emerged, as well as of Karl Marx the man. It was a combination of his own experiences, the philosophical influences on his work, and the social and economic context of the 19th century that led to the emergence of one of the most powerful philosophical and ideological influences of modern times.
II. The Life and Times of Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Trier, Germany, on May 5, 1818, to Hirschel and Henrietta Marx. His father was one of the most respected lawyers in the city, a man who had converted from Judaism to Protestantism in order to keep his job. The young Marx grew up in a comfortable middleclass household and led a fairly uneventful life. At 17, he enrolled at the University of Bonn to study law. At Bonn, he spent a great deal of time “socializing” and running up rather large debts from his adventures at local beer halls. He also became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen, a prominent member of Trier society. When Marx’s father found out that Karl had been wounded in a duel, the elder Marx insisted that his son withdraw and enroll at the more “sedate” University of Berlin, in the Prussian Empire (Wheen, 2002).
At the University of Berlin, professor Bruno Bauer (1809–1882) introduced young Marx to the writings of the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and his philosophy of dialectical idealism. Bauer also introduced Marx to atheism and other radical political opinions that got Marx into trouble with the authorities. Marx was especially impressed by Hegel’s theory that a thing or thought could not be separated from its opposite. For example, the slave could not exist without the master, and vice versa. Hegel argued that unity would eventually be achieved by the equalizing of all opposites, by means of the dialectic (logical progression) of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The ultimate thesis was the “truth.” This was Hegel’s theory of the evolving process of history and the ideals that motivated history. Marx joined the Young Hegelian movement, which fiercely criticized both the Prussian aristocracy and its opposition (McLellan, 1973).
Following the death of his father (and source of financial support) in 1838, Marx decided to earn a doctorate and become a university professor. However, after completing his doctoral thesis at the University of Jena, a thesis which was a fierce critique of spiritualism and which laid out the basis of materialism, the idea that material reality produces thought in humans and not the other way around, Marx was unable to find a teaching position (largely because of his radical anti-Prussian views). In 1842, he found a job in Cologne as the editor of a newspaper, Rheinische Zeitung, which opposed the Prussian attempt to dominate the West German principalities. As editor, Marx wrote a number of editorials that compelled the local government, under pressure from the Prussians, to close the paper. Marx quickly married his fiancé Jenny and then emigrated to France, arriving in Paris at the end of 1843 (Mehring, 2003; Wheen, 2002).
In Paris, Marx made contact with several noteworthy radicals, including the exiled Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876), the idealist anarchist Pierre J. Proudhon (1809–1865), and Marx’s most important collaborator, Friedrich Engels, the son of a wealthy German industrialist. In Paris, Marx and Engels decided to work together, bringing to the table different skills: Marx was best at conceptualizing and abstraction, and Engels was better at communicating abstract concepts to a mass audience. Thus began a mutually beneficial lifelong partnership.
In 1844, the authorities expelled Marx. He moved his family to Brussels, Belgium, where he remained until 1847. Engels subsequently moved to England, where Engels’s family had cotton spinning interests in Manchester. Marx had already published several works that outlined his theory of materialism and its impact on the development of history and predicted the collapse of capitalism. In Brussels, Marx joined the Communist League, a group of German émigrés with its center in London. Marx and Engels became the major theoreticians of the organization, and at a conference of the League in London at the end of 1847, Marx and Engels were commissioned to write the program for the organization: The Communist Manifesto.
The Communist Manifesto was published immediately before the Year of Revolutions, 1848. These revolutions were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in the spring of 1848. Essentially it was a revolutionary wave that began with the French revolution of 1848 and then spread rapidly throughout Europe. Although most of the revolts were put down very quickly, a significant amount of violence occurred, with tens of thousands of revolutionaries executed.
The causes of upheaval were many, but one of the major factors was the rise of industrial capitalism in Europe and the rapid urbanization of the population that accompanied industrial expansion. Early capitalism had led to rapid economic expansion but was also accompanied by the widespread misery of the working classes. Unemployment, poverty, and the lack of a political voice via the right to vote all contributed to the beginning of the upheaval. Although the revolution in France had started as a protest movement led by the middle classes against the Orleans monarchy of Charles X, the last Bourbon king, it quickly became an uprising of the working classes in the cities.
Early in 1848, Marx moved back to Paris when the revolution first broke out and then on to Germany, where he founded, again in Cologne, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The paper openly opposed the Prussian autocracy and pressed for revolt. The paper was suppressed, and Marx fled to London in 1849 to avoid arrest, an exile that was to last the rest of his life.
In the early period of his exile, Marx was quite optimistic about the prospect for another major revolutionary upheaval that would destroy capitalism and all its evils. He rejoined a resuscitated Communist League in London and wrote two pamphlets that argued that another revolution was imminent, the Class Struggles in France and the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. As the years passed, he became more interested in the study of political economy in order to understand what led to the conditions for revolution. He spent the next years working in the British Museum and living in abject poverty in a three-room flat in the Soho section of London with his family. He had a total of six children and depended almost entirely on gifts from Engels, whose family business in Manchester was doing quite well. He also worked as foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune at this time (Barnett, 2009).
Despite all his problems Marx continued to work, and in 1867, the first volume of his greatest work, simply entitled Capital, was published. The volume is a detailed analysis of capitalism and how it created the conditions of abject poverty and worker alienation. Marx also deals with the issue of revolution, arguing that capitalism creates the conditions for its own destruction. In 1871, Marx began working on the second volume of Capital. He had been encouraged by the formation of the Paris Commune in March 1871 and the abdication of the French dictator Louis Napoleon but became despondent after the revolt collapsed. Volume 2 was never finished as Marx’s health and his wife’s deteriorated. Jenny Marx died in 1881, and Marx’s eldest daughter died in January 1883. Karl Marx died 2 months later, on March 14, 1883.
From Marx’s thousands of pages of writing (much published only after his death), some fundamental themes emerge. First, it is important to note that Marx built his theories on several assumptions that were prevalent in economic thought of the time. The first was the labor theory of value. The labor theory of value is a major pillar of traditional Marxian economics, which is quite apparent in Marx’s masterpiece, Capital. The basic claim is rather straightforward: The value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor that is invested into that commodity. For example, a primitive axe made of vines, wood, and a stone is more valuable than its component parts because of the labor invested in it. Or, if a pair of shoes takes twice as long to make as a pair of pants, then shoes are twice as valuable as pants, regardless of the value of the physical inputs. Although this theory has been disproven, early economists such as Adam Smith (1723–1790) and David Ricardo (1772–1823), who influenced Marx’s thought, were proponents of this idea. The theory meant that because all value was created by labor, capitalism stripped the producers of their humanity by extracting “surplus value” for the benefit of the capitalists.
Another prevalent assumption in economic theory of the time was the iron law of wages. Although the idea is most closely associated with Ferdinand Lassalle (1825– 1864) and Thomas Malthus (1766–1864), David Ricardo was said to subscribe to it. According to Lassalle, wages in capitalism are reduced to the cost of reproduction, or the amount required so that labor can physically reproduce itself by having children. This is because competition between firms requires that capitalists reduce the costs of production to be competitive. Because value is created solely by labor (according to the labor theory of value), then the primary cost of production is the cost of labor, or wages. Over time there is pressure to reduce wages to the minimal subsistence level, or the cost of reproduction. This idea was to play an important part in Marx’s argument regarding the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism.
Based on these common economic assumptions of the period, Marx fashioned a comprehensive view of the evolution of human history that included several key elements. The first is his view of human nature, the second is related to his views on economic determinism and historical and dialectical materialism and his explanation of capitalism’s inevitable collapse, and the third is the role of professional revolutionaries in facilitating the revolution.
IV. Human Nature
Marx’s theory of socialism originated from his unique perspective on human nature. Unlike most of the prominent Western political theorists before him, Marx did not adopt an essentialist conception of human nature. Rather, he and Engels asserted in German Ideology that at any given time in human history, the “natural” condition of humankind was significantly influenced by the material and social conditions that were dominant at that moment (Tucker, 1978). From this perspective, humans are not naturally born with anything at all (in direct contrast with many of the liberal theories of the 18th century that spoke of natural inalienable rights). In particular, these material or social conditions affect all that we do as human beings.
It is important to note that Marx did not think that humans were merely passive reflections of their environments (as would be the case if one were to argue in favor of nurture as opposed to nature). Indeed, as other contemporary thinkers associated with the positivist movement of the 19th century (especially Auguste Comte, 1798–1857), Marx believed that humans had the ability to shape and change their material conditions. As a result, Marx claimed that humans were participants in the crafting of their own consciousness rather than simply passive blank slates whose nature changed with arbitrary changes in material conditions (Tucker, 1978).
Although Marx would agree in general that human beings were not born with anything, he believed one impulse was natural to humans. Like all animals, humans confront their surroundings as they find them and then alter the material world through their productive capacity. Humans are unique, however, because they are the only animal conscious of their own productive acts and have a natural desire to produce what they can imagine. Therefore, Marx claimed, the symbiotic relationship between human consciousness and the given material conditions, at any point in history, becomes established by conscious human action (Tucker, 1978).
V. Economic Determinism and Historical and Dialectical Materialism
Based on his assumptions regarding human nature (that human beings are naturally economic beings), Marx argued that everything that human beings create therefore has some economic purpose. Thus, everything—religion, culture, laws, government—is designed for particular economic purposes, generally to keep the dominant class dominant. For instance, Marx noted that most laws made by the state were meant to protect property, an instrument by which one class rules another. In most of their writings, Marx and Engels seem to see the state as a neutral tool, much like a weapon (Evans, 1975). Similarly, religion has an economic purpose. As Marx notes, it convinces the oppressed of a better life after the current world (as long as they are obedient), thus making the oppressed accept their condition. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (Marx, 1844, para. 3).
Another important element of Marx’s theory is that history moves in distinct stages, and what causes movement from one stage to another is conflict, particularly class conflict. Here Marx draws on the notion of Hegelian dialectics. For Marx, class was defined by an individual’s relationship to the means of production. Means of production referred to those things that are used to produce other things. Thus, for example, land, water, and buffalo were the means of production for the Plains tribes of North America. These resources were used to produce other goods (such as shelter and tools). In Rome, the primary means of production were land and slaves. In modern industrial society, the means of production are the machines and factories used to produce other products that are then consumed. Class is determined by the extent to which people own most, some, or little of the means of production, or by their relationship to the means of production. It is generally conflict over control or access to the means of production that drives history.
For Marx, history is driven by the never-ending, cyclical process of humans’ acting on their material conditions, altering those surroundings, and, in turn, being affected by a newly generated set of material conditions. Inspired by Hegel’s distinctive theory of history and idealist philosophy, Marx postulated that human social and political development are advanced through conflict between antithetical class forces. Marx made a major departure from Hegel, however, on the nature of this conflict. Marx is said to have “stood Hegel on his head” by claiming that it was conflict rooted in the material conditions of existence that drove history, and not conflict over antithetical ideas, which Hegel asserted was the principal mover of human history. Thus Marx distinguished his own form of dialectic as dialectical materialism, in contrast to Hegel’s dialectical idealism.
Marx examined the dominant material conditions at various moments of human history and stated that each set of dominant conditions bred a set of conflictive conditions. In the hands of human beings, these contradictory conditions contributed to conflict; at times, this conflict became so deep and irresolvable that it transformed human development in profound ways. Marx asserted that human beings drove this process by acting collectively and particularly as members of an economic social class. As a result, for Marx and Engels, history moved in distinct stages or epochs, and within each epoch, one could find the contradictions (or class conflicts) that would pave the way to the next stage. Marx identified the following stages:
- Primitive communism
- Slave society
- Socialism and communism
Unlike earlier liberal democratic theory, which held that there had been a time in human history when humans did not live in a society (or the so-called state of nature), Marx argued that humans had always lived in some kind of society. The first of these societies he called primitive communism. Although Marx is associated with this term, primitive communism was most fully elaborated by Engels (1884), who thought of it as a period when the collective right to basic resources, egalitarianism in social relationships, and the absence of authoritarian rule and hierarchy all existed. This stage was characterized by a society much like the tribal communities of the North American Plains. Although humans possessed personal items (their clothes, some tools, etc.), there was no sense that individuals owned the major means of production—the land, the water, the buffalo, and so forth. Without private property (in this sense of ownership of the means of production), there were no classes to speak of. Since this was a classless society, it was communist. What made it primitive was the very low standard of living and the great dangers facing tribal members.
Eventually, primitive communism gave way to the next stage of history, slave society. Although Marx and Engels are not clear as to how primitive communism collapsed, there is a suggestion by Engels (1884) that it was a “natural” development. In other words, someone somewhere inevitably claimed a particular piece of land or a particular herd of cattle. This claim created the basis of the haves versus the have-nots, or class contradictions. Slave society was in many ways the first epoch with class contradictions. In slave society, the principal means of production were land and slave labor, as was the case in Rome. Wealth in slave societies was defined in terms of land ownership and slave ownership. In such societies, there were classes: those who owned most of the land and slaves (or most of the means of production), such as the large landholding patricians of Rome; those (such as artisans) who owned some of the means of production; and those who owned nothing, not even themselves (slaves). Societies such as Rome were rocked by internal conflicts among these classes for control over the means of production (such as the slave revolt led by the gladiator Spartacus in the 1st century CE). Eventually these conflicts led to the demise of slave society and the emergence of feudalism.
Feudalism, like slave society, was characterized primarily by agricultural production controlled by large estates of landholding nobles. However, unlike slave society, primary labor was based, not on slavery, but on peasant and serf labor. Although serfs were legally bound to land and could not freely leave, unlike slaves, who were property, serfs owned themselves. In feudalism, there were also other classes, particularly the merchants, or the early bourgeoisie. The early bourgeoisie, unlike the landholding nobility, derived their livelihood from the control of trade (such as ships, transport) and finance. With the expansion of trade routes east and west, the European bourgeoisie grew in economic status and demanded political power as a result.
VI. The Rise and Collapse of Capitalism
Ultimately, the bourgeoisie triumphed, and feudalism as an epoch gave way to capitalism. Unlike previous epochs, capitalism is based, not on agricultural production, but on industrial production. The dominant class, the bourgeoisie, created bourgeois democracy as a means to defeat the feudal lords and establish its supremacy. The other major class in capitalism is the proletariat. Members of the proletariat own none of the means of production, but they do own themselves. They sell their labor in exchange for wages. In the early period of capitalism, there were other classes, such as the petite bourgeoisie (little bourgeoisie), or those who owned some of the means of production (such as mom-and-pop merchants or owners of family farms). Over time, the petite bourgeoisie had been competed out of existence by larger, more efficient producers (the industrial bourgeoisie), and subsequently the petite bourgeoisie joined the ranks of the ever-expanding proletariat. Indeed, over time, a polarization of sorts would occur, with wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and the proletariat growing ever larger and more impoverished.
Somewhat surprisingly, Marx did not consider capitalism to be completely devoid of any positive impact on humanity. In fact, he claimed that capitalism provided a dynamic means to concentrate resources and convert those resources into unprecedented technical advances in very short order. Indeed, capitalism was the most efficient and productive epoch in human history. However, Marx asserted that this dynamism came at a severe price. First and foremost for Marx, capitalism facilitates an exploitative relationship between the two major social classes— the owners of capital (the bourgeoisie) and the working class (the proletariat). Briefly, Marx claimed that the profit (also known as surplus value) derived from the capitalist production process was merely the difference between the value generated by the proletariat and the wages that they earned from the bourgeoisie. Therefore, according to Marx’s conception, the proletariat generated all value as a result of its labor but had only a portion of that value returned to it by the bourgeoisie in the form of wages. Since the proletariat created surplus value, but the bourgeoisie enjoyed the fruits of that value, the bourgeoisie was effectively exploiting the proletariat on a consistent and ongoing basis.
Marx asserted that this exploitative relationship was an essential part of the capitalist production process. Among other things, surplus value was used by the bourgeoisie to reinvest, modernize, and expand its productive capacity. All members of the bourgeoisie had to expand the scope of their productive operations, or eventually they would be put out of business by rivals from within their own social class. Therefore, for Marx, capitalism could not continue as a mode of production without the unceasing exploitation of the proletariat, which comprises the majority of human beings in advanced industrial societies.
Not only did Marx claim that the capital–wage labor relationship was exploitative, but he also claimed that this economic relationship left the majority of human beings feeling estranged from their own humanity. Because Marx believed that productivity was a naturally human act, he concluded that the capital–wage labor relationship degraded something that was a fulfilling, meaningful, and free act into drudgery that was performed solely for the purpose of basic survival. Since humans constantly reproduced their material conditions and, in doing so, refashioned human nature, work performed for the sole purpose of survival ultimately served to alienate all members of the proletariat from their very humanity.
Marx predicted that capitalism, like every dominant economic mode of production before it, possessed internal contradictions that would eventually destroy the system. Not only was the everyday capital–wage labor relationship marked by exploitation, but the nature of the market system also guaranteed that the economy would slip into periodic crises that made the exploitative nature of the association between the bourgeoisie and proletariat clear for all to see. These would be revolutionary moments when the proletariat would achieve revolutionary consciousness, or the realization that the source of its misery was the system of capitalism itself, and would rise up and destroy it.
Classical economists of Marx’s time recognized the negative impact that periodic economic recessions had on capitalist economies, but they generally viewed such downturns as acceptable (some even considered them positive events) and temporary. Marx, on the other hand, interpreted these recessionary periods as a sign of profound contradictions inherent in capitalism. These recessions were moments of crisis, Marx thought, and not necessarily temporary in nature. Furthermore, Marx predicted that, over time, crisis periods would get progressively longer, recessions would get deeper, recoveries would be shallower, and times in between moments of crisis would get shorter. Ultimately, like all other modes of production before it, Marx claimed, capitalism would come to an end and be replaced by an economic system that had fewer internal contradictions.
VII. Socialism and Communism
Following the collapse of capitalism and the seizure of power by the proletariat, a transitional period would follow, socialism, ultimately leading to full-blown advanced communism. Marx spent very little space discussing his vision for socialism and communism, but he and Engels discussed it briefly in The Communist Manifesto (1848). He also referred to life under socialism in The German Ideology (1845), and he commented on the basic principles of socialism and communism in commentaries such as the Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). From these indications, the following picture emerges. During the transitional period, the proletariat uses the coercive power of the state to defend the revolution from the remnants of the bourgeoisie. However, because the “habits” of the past are not easily discarded, Marx and Engels contended, some form of exchange would continue. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx states that in a socialist society, the laborer will receive, in return for a given quantity of work, the equivalent in means of consumption, or the formula later adopted by the Soviet Union, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his labor.”
Over time, with continuing production comes the elimination of material want (a blessing of industrial capitalism that provided the productive basis for the communist epoch) as well as the disappearance of the last vestiges of the bourgeoisie. Under socialism, the proletariat would represent both the majority of society and the dominant class. Under communism, there would be no classes, because all would have equal access to the means of production. Production in such a system would be designed to serve human needs rather than extracting the highest possible levels of surplus value. Marx sums it up in the following words:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all around development of the individual, and all the springs of co operative wealth flow more abundantly only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! (Marx, 1875, Part I, para. 50)
Full communism would have some key characteristics (Marx & Engels, 1848). It would be a classless society, because class differences would disappear. One might wonder why class differences would disappear, given that Marx’s account of history was almost entirely based on class conflict as “naturally” arising. In part, their disappearance is one of the blessings of capitalist production. Capitalism is so materially productive that it would produce such abundance that no one would want for anything. Technology had provided for such material abundance that there would be no need for haves and havenots, that is, no classes. As a result, given that the state was seen as a tool of the dominant class, communism would ultimately be a stateless society as well, because the state would ultimately “wither away” of disuse. This idea was especially developed by Freidrich Engels in Anti Duhring (1877). Furthermore, communism would be a nationless society because, Marx and Engels believed, national identities were a product of capitalism, and such identities would disappear, to be replaced by a universalist proletarian identity. For Marx, under communism, people would be free to do all that they wish. He described life under communism in the following terms:
Communist society would make it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. (Marx, 1845, para. 10)
Some argue that Marx defies his own foundational philosophy by declaring that socialism and communism are a historic inevitability. However, there is little evidence that Marx genuinely believed that socialism or communism represented the essential next step in human history. In fact, in the The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels confess that the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat may very well be vicious enough that it leads to the destruction of humankind rather than the dawn of a new millennial age.
In sum, Marx expends much more of his intellectual career analyzing and critiquing capitalism than he does defining the nature of socialism and communism or life after the revolution. In general, this squares with his philosophical roots. If history is defined by human activity and conflict, as Marx postulated, then it would be impossible for anyone to describe future modes of production in any level of detail—the details by necessity would be provided by those who refashion history.
VIII. The Role of the Professional Revolutionary
What then is the role of the professional revolutionary, if the laws of history appear to predetermine the inevitable collapse of capitalism? For Marx, although the proletariat has a historic mission, this mission is not always clear. Thus a revolutionary party is needed to enlighten the proletariat and help form it into a class, which would then lead to the overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy and the subsequent conquest of political power by the proletariat. The role of the professional revolutionary party was to prepare the proletariat for its revolutionary mission by educating the masses as to their historic purpose.
Marx certainly encouraged members of the proletariat to be conscious of their class status and organize as producers into revolutionary unions, political parties, and fraternal organizations. He would leave the specifics to the many who would follow in his wake.
Marxism has been one of the most influential political ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Marx’s ideas not only inspired a variety of schools of thought, but his ideas have inspired a vigorous debate over a whole range of issues—such as the balance of the state and the market in production and the proper role of government in society. Indeed, one of the main criticisms of Marx and Engels is their tendency to underestimate the power of the capitalist state to stave off the inevitability of revolution. Indeed, Marx did not foresee the power of the welfare state in saving capitalism from itself.
Furthermore, the number of schools of thought that have derived from Marx’s ideas are too numerous to recite in a brief research paper such as this. However, those inspired by Marx fall roughly into two categories: revolutionary socialists and evolutionary socialists. Of all the revolutionary socialists, the writings of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (better known as Lenin) stand out as the most prominent. The Western European tradition of social democracy, in which the interests of the proletariat are represented by a political party that seeks to gain power through democratic elections, offers a stark nonrevolutionary contrast to Leninism. In spite of the intense differences between these two schools of socialist thought, both undeniably owe their foundational ideas to the work of Karl Marx. They are subjects of other research papers.
Although the study of Marxism after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has gone out of vogue in many intellectual circles, its relevance now has become increasingly apparent. The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands via corporate mergers and hostile takeovers, the disappearance of the petite bourgeoisie (family farmers and mom-and-pop enterprises), and the apparent collusion between big capital and the state—all were suggested by Marx and Engels. Perhaps a rediscovery of Marxism among students of political science would help them better understand the direction of the world in the 21st century.
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