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Rather, his work teems with concepts appropriation, alienation , praxis, creative labour, value, and so on that he had inherited from earlier philosophers and economists, including Hegel, Johann Fichte , Immanuel Kant , Adam Smith , David Ricardo , and John Stuart Mill. What uniquely characterizes the thought of Marx is that, instead of making abstract affirmations about a whole group of problems such as human nature , knowledge, and matter , he examines each problem in its dynamic relation to the others and, above all, tries to relate them to historical, social, political, and economic realities.

In the social production that men carry on, they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

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The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and intellectual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men which determines their existence; it is on the contrary their social existence which determines their consciousness. Raised to the level of historical law, this hypothesis was subsequently called historical materialism. Although Marx reflected upon his working hypothesis for many years, he did not formulate it in a very exact manner: different expressions served him for identical realities.

If one takes the text literally, social reality is structured in the following way:. Underlying everything as the real basis of society is the economic structure. Marx says nothing about the nature of this correspondence between ideological forms and economic structure, except that through the ideological forms individuals become conscious of the conflict within the economic structure between the material forces of production and the existing relations of production expressed in the legal property relations.

Article Media. This leads to crises of "overproduction", capitalism's classic contradiction, in which people are forced to live on too little because they produce too much. How did capitalism originate, and where is it leading?

Marx, Marxisms and Social Work

Marx's materialist conception of history answers the first part of this question with an account of the transformation of feudalism into capitalism. He stresses the contradictions that arose through the growth of towns, population, technology and trade, which at a certain point burst asunder the feudal social and political forms in which production had been organized. Relations of lord to serf based on feudal rights and obligations had become a hindrance to the further development of these productive forces; over an extended period and after a series of political battles, they were replaced by the contractual relation of capitalists to workers.

With capitalists free to pursue profits wherever they might take them and workers equally "free" to sell their labor power to the capitalists however they might use it, the productive potential inherent in the new forces of production, especially in technology and science, grew to unmeasured proportions. However, if maximizing profits leads to rapid growth when rapid growth results in large profits, then growth is restricted as soon as it becomes unprofitable.

The periodic crises which have plagued capitalism from about on are clear evidence of this. Since that time, the new forces of production which have come into being in capitalism, their growth and potential for producing wealth, have come increasingly into contradiction with the capitalist social relations in which production is organized.

The capitalists put the factories, machines, raw materials, and labor power all of which they own into motion to produce goods only if they feel they can make a profit, no matter what the availability of these "factors of production", and no matter what the need of consumers for their products.

The cost to society in wealth that is never produced and in wealth which is produced but in forms that are anti-social in their character continues to grow and with it the need for another, more efficient, more humane way of organizing production. Within this framework the actual course of history is determined by class struggle. According to Marx, each class is defined chiefly by its relation to the productive process and has objective interests rooted in that relation.

The capitalists' interests lie in securing their power and expanding profits.

A Brief Introduction to Marxism

The class struggle involves everything that these two major classes do to promote their incompatible interests at each other's expense. In capitalism, the state is an instrument in the hands of the capitalists that is used to repress dangerous dissent and to help expand surplus value. This is done mainly by passing and enforcing anti-working class laws and by providing the capitalists with various economic subsidies "capitalist welfare". And, finally, the state is an arena for class struggle where class and class factions contend for political advantage in an unfair fight that finds the capitalists holding all the most powerful weapons.

An adequate understanding of the role of the capitalist state as a complex social relation requires that it be approached from each of these three angles: as an instrument of the capitalist class, as a structure of political offices and processes, and as an arena of class struggle. In order to supplement the institutions of force, capitalism has given rise to an ideology, or way of thinking, which gets people to accept the status quo or, at least, confuses them as to the possibility of replacing it with something better.

For the most part, the ideas and concepts which make up this ideology work by getting people to focus on the observable aspects of any event or institution, neglecting its history and potential for change as well as the broader context in which it resides.

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For example, in capitalist ideology, consumers are considered sovereign, as if consumers actually determine what gets produced through the choices they make in the supermarket; and no effort is made to analyze how they develop their preferences history or who determines the range of available choices 1arger system. As the attempted separation of what cannot be separated without distortion, capitalist ideology reflects in thought the fractured lives of alienated people, while at the same time making it increasingly difficult for them to grasp their alienation.

As the contradictions of capitalism become greater, more intense, and less amenable to disguise, neither the state nor ideology can restrain the mass of the workers, white and blue collar, from recognizing their interests becoming "class conscious" and acting upon them. The overthrow of capitalism, when it comes, Marx believed, would proceed as quickly and democratically as the nature of capitalist opposition allowed.

Out of the revolution would emerge a socialist society which would fully utilize and develop much further the productive potential inherited from capitalism. Through democratic planning, production would now be directed to serving social needs instead of maximizing private profit. The final goal, toward which socialist society would constantly build, is the human one of abolishing alienation.

Marx called the attainment of this goal "communism". Capitalism has obviously changed a lot in the hundred years since Marx wrote. In the basic relations and structures which distinguish capitalism from feudalism and socialism, however, it has changed very little, and these are the main features of capitalism addressed in Marx's theories.


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Workers, for example, may earn more money now than they did in the last century, but so do the capitalists. Consequently, the wealth and income gaps between the two classes is as great or greater than ever. The workers' relations to their labor, products and capitalists which are traced in the theory of alienation and the labor theory of value are basically unchanged from Marx's day.

Probably the greatest difference between our capitalism and Marx's has to do with the more direct involvement of the state in the capitalist economy primarily to bolster flagging profits and, as a consequence of this, the expanded role of ideology to disguise the increasingly obvious ties between the agencies of the state and the capitalist class.

From its beginnings, Marxism has been under attack from all sides, but the major criticisms have been directed against claims that Marx never made. For example, some have mistakenly viewed Marx's materialism as evidence that he ignored the role of ideas in history and in people's lives. Viewed as an "economic determinism", Marxism has also been criticized for presenting politics, culture, religion, etc. This would be undialectical. Viewed as a claim that labor is the only factor in determining prices equated here with "value" , the labor theory of value has been wrongly attacked for ignoring the effect of competition on prices.

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And viewing what are projections of capitalism's tendencies into the future as inviolable predictions, Marx has been accused of making false predictions. We are, in many ways, living in the world Marx predicted. Marx showed that recurrent crises were not an accidental side effect of capitalism, but a necessary and inherent feature, explains Nick Nesbitt, Princeton University professor of French and Italian and editor of The Concept in Crisis: Reading Capital Today.

That contradiction means capitalism is never stable, but forever shifting in and out of crises: The system depends on human labor while simultaneously eradicating it.

Capitalism is unfolding exactly as Karl Marx predicted

And the stakes are high. Marx analyzed capitalism as a social system, rather than a purely economic one. To be rendered superfluous by the system is damning to social wellbeing as well as economic livelihood.