Student Reader

Marxian Socialism

Hitler tried to do socialism, but some people rose against him when the war occurred. It is always good in any system to allow for differences.

Marx said religion is the opium of the people. But he was wrong. It is not religion itself, it is the use of religion by leaders to control the public mindset. Leaders said that if you are poor, be happy because those who suffer, lack, or lose are ripe for redemption. Why would this be preached to those who have nothing, are in pain and have been exploited? These principles are used to exploit those who are weak, so that riches may be accumulated off the backs of the poor.

Materialism in itself, however, does not suffice to identify the Marxist perspective. Adam Smith, for example, adopted an essentially materialist viewpoint in his theory of four historic "stages" of history -- hunting, pastorialism, settled agriculture, and commercial society -- in which the underlying method of organizing economic life determined the appropriate form of government and property relations. That which gives Marxist historiography its distinctive character is the fusion of a materialist starting point with a dialectical conception of the processes of historical change. That is why, despite the fact that Marx himself never used the phrase, Marxist history has come to be called "dialectical materialism" Heilbroner 1980, p 67 - 68
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Marxist Socialism

Socialism is cooperation for the welfare of persons in the society. Its emphasis on the community, unlike capitalism’s emphasis on the individual. Human nature requires group instinct: the drive to connect and pull together resources for society. The are many kinds of socialism, which largely fall into two groups: traditional (aka early, or classical) socialism and Marxist (aka revolutionary) socialism. Marxist socialism rests on the premise that the bourgeoisie (the haves) oppress the proletariat (the have-nots). Thus, the proletariat must unify to overthrow -- by any means necessary -- the bourgeoisie and all bourgeoisie institutions. What replaces capitalism will be a communist system run by the proletariat. This reflects Marx's assumption that humans are infinitely sharing, kind, angelic creatures; and that cut-throat individualism arises from capitalist indoctrination.

The class struggle under capitalism thus leads to the possibility of a final victory by the great masses of the individuals who will create a "dictatorship of the proletariat" (words that have since haunted Marxists, but that were not intended by Marx to imply a tyrannical rule). The dictatorship of the proletariat would establish the hegemony of the masses, the domination by the previously dominated. The vanquished class would be absorbed and disappear. A terminus of history would be reached in which a classless society would vindicate the long historical struggle. Heilbroner 1980, p 73

Capitalist systems use human capital to generate goods and wealth. All capitalist systems share the problem of inequality and exploitation. There are many different kinds of capitalism, and laissez-faire capitalism emphasizes the entrepreneurial, self-made individual. However, the problem with laissez faire is that we need each other. Individuals do not do things individually; they are part of a network. Every laissez-faire capitalist relies upon a network of people, from infrastructure to communication to power to water to loans. There is a dependence on something existing or which will be needed. Thus, in practical real terms there is no laissez-faire.

Traditional Socialism, as it existed before Marx, consisted of people sticking together for the welfare of their own group. The cooperation in that society is voluntary, not by force. This is employed to some extent in the United States as a mixed economy. Marxist socialism was revolutionary socialism. Marx said that by revolution we can be one class. The exploited class will rise up and run the society on a communist basis. But there has not been true communism; no society has arrived at that. Even Russian society under the Soviet Union was stuck at the revolution. They did not achieve communism, where there are no classes.

Marx argued that booms and busts would grow increasingly tumultuous, each one leaving more small firms driven from the field and more workers in ever-greater misery. That tumult eventually leads to an overthrow of the capitalist class. That this has not happened is a testament to the resilience of capitalism, and its great capacity to adapt to technological and political changes. Marx was aware of this adaptability, and in particular he thought that in democratic capitalist societies workers might restructure the system and make it more "civilized" without overthrowing it. In his view, however, capitalism could never be a just system, and efforts to reform it would simply prolong the oppression of the working class. Sackrey, Schneider and Knoedler, p 79

China (Mao), the Soviet Union (Lenin), Italian fascists, German fascists (Hitler) -- these are cited as famous examples of Marxian socialism. But in the present-day United States, Marx's influence is also felt, albeit applied within a capitalist framework. Labor unions are the most prominent example. The National Labor Relations Board (established in 1935 by an act of Congress) ruled that workers can form unions to demand fair wages and other basic needs, but may not engage in destructive practices. Unions empower the proletariat to withdraw their labor to demonstrate their power and demand improvements. The bourgeoisie's dependence on labor is why they hate unions. However, if capitalists are allowed to form corporations, then it is inequal if labor is prohibited from forming unions.

Problems with the Marxian solution

What problems would we face trying to implement full Marxist socialism? Marx's solution has four principal problems: unity and persuasion; violence and healing; establishing a new system; and absolute knowledge.

Marx (and Rousseaux) assumed that humans are totally angelic creatures at birth. Marx said that replacing bourgeoisie institutions with proletariat institutions will generate a communist end state cleansed of oppression. Those exploited in this system -- the have-nots, the proletariat -- are shoved in. Some capitalist systems make it impossible for the proletariat to even grow their own food. They are robbed of their independence. They must sell their own labor to survive. Those who benefit from this system are the bourgeoisie, who have a false consciousness that they are individual individualists, even when they extract from the proletariat.

Owing no doubt to the rising standard of material well-being of the working classes after about 1870 ... revolution has failed to materialize. Indeed, the productive successes of capitalism -- clearly recognized by yet insufficiently appreciated by Marx -- have not only defused the revolutionary temper of the working class, but have nurtured a growth of conservative sentiment that has strongly tied workers in most capitalist nations to the preservation of the existing system. Heilbroner 1980, p 134 - 135

The biggest challenge to sparking a Marxist revolution is persuading the proletariat to unite and rise at the same time. The masses lack immediate monetary and institutional power, and have doubts about being able to enact revolution especially when oppressed by a cruel elite worried about losing its position. The proletariat are a majority and the elite are a small group, but the proletariat are afraid after lacking power for so long. Most proletariat -- and even some elites -- must be convinced of the efficacy of the approach, and that when things change their conditions will improve. Machiavelli, long before Marx, recognized this: when you try to transform society, there are doubts even among those who are oppressed that things will be better for them in their new situation.

There must be a front group that is well persuaded and trained to mobilize the masses, since it takes a while to discard old habits traditions and alliance and move into new situation that will be Uncomfortable to a lot of people. It takes a while to bring a new system into place. Humans always connect to real and present things, not the abstract and the tomorrow. Humans in the United States believe in individualism and individual liberty, but there must be a certain amount of group consciousness. Like Katrina and nine eleven, everyone pulled together, but can they ordinarily be mobilized to cooperate and make sacrifices to make changes.

The most devastating problem with a Marxist revolution is violence and healing. Violence and murder are inherently a reign of terror where radicalism predominates. What can this solve? While violence and radicalism may be necessary at one time, the impact destabilizes all that follows. Even an essential and perfect surgery will cause pain, and one's body might not be the same afterward. A dead relative is not just finished; they become a source of pain and hurt felt by all their relatives. That is why Marxist revolutions have tried to replace blood relations with comrades.

Another issue is that Marxist revolutions must also quickly establish a new system that is effective for everyone, lest the revolution go to waste. This was the problem that the American Revolution faced when Daniel Shays' rebellion threatened the new government; the problem was addressed by the drafting of a new constitution.

The Manifesto has no aspirations or declarations with regard to political dissent, civil rights, social or sexual emancipation, or -- above all -- intellectual freedom. THe main battlegrounds on which liberty has been defeated in socialist countries are thus not even identified as a strategic territory by Marx and Engels. Heilbroner 1980, p 160

At the heart of Marxist revolutionary thought is an integral problem: humanity. Imperfection of knowledge. Humans lack a complete, total understanding of human nature. It is impossible to totally understand ourselves and others, and without that understanding it is impossible to craft a perfect society that includes every human being. The bourgeoisie may not be trusted, but nor can the proletariat be trusted. The Marxian solution is inherently imperfect.

For Marx the problem of freedom lay initially in revealing the peculiar and untenable conceptions of "the individual" in bourgeois thought. The problem of liberty that engrossed Stuart Mill -- the problem of the maximum permissible intervention of society into the presumably autonomous life of individuals -- was never seriously examined by Marx because he was more interested in a critique of its starting point -- namely, that individuals were in some sense prior to, and imaginable without, society. Heilbroner 1980, p 161
The individual to Marx is "the ensemble of social relations" ... The depiction of man as a creation of society presents as many problems as the conception of man as a primordial individual. For if the human animal is wholly created by society -- not by an innate "nature" -- it is impossible to define any limits to its behavior, save those given by physiology. Such a "plastic" notion of humanity -- the idea that mankind makes itself -- is generally regarded by Marxists as a great source of inspiration. Heilbroner 1980, p 162 - 163

Suggestions to improve Marxism

Marxist thought is almost entirely indifferent to, or ignorant of, any systematic consideration of the means of containing political power. The idea of creating a semi-independent structure of rights -- comparable to, although perhaps not including, property rights (conventionally defined) -- as a potential counterforce to the state, remains completely unexplored. Nor has there been any interest in examining such questions as the appropriate distribution of functions and powers among the organs of government, the election or removal of judges or civil servants, the appropriate behavior of elected representatives, and similar problems of democratic life. It is equally silent with respect to such problems as the means of assuring an independent press, the means by which political dissenters can be assured of income, the methods by which party elites can be controlled, etc. The most dangerous tendencies of political life are thus almost totally neglected in Marxist thought, or declared to be resolvable by "participatory democracy," a mode of political behavior that is never institutionally described. Heilbroner 1980, p 166

Suggesting improvements to Marxism requires a fundamental decision: is Marxism philosophical, or is it political? Indeed, Marx intended his work to make real political changes. However, a follower of Marx can still make the choice individually -- and most have chosen to follow Marx in philosophy, and let his values and principles inform rather than dictate. In this manner, many of Marxism's core problems are washed away.

Rather than pursuing Marxist purity, bathed in blood, one may let Marxism inform decisions within a capitalist system. Compromise and ingenuity may be the fruits of a seemingly intractable conflict between two forces with conflicting goals. In this manner, it is possible to pursue incremental changes. Unionization and fiscal policy are two means by which the proletariat may make steps that combine capitalism's efficiencies with respect for labor.

Also, time will show the failures and successes of governments employing varying degrees of Marxism. It will thereby be possible to decipher which political structures best complement Marxism.

Further, a true utopia includes every societal member; but Marxism inherently cannot, due to the challenge of imperfect knowledge. Therefore, there must be options available to citizenry. Rather than imposing a single, monolithic viewpoint on society, Marxist governments must find a way to embrace and celebrate diversity. A capitalist economy producing a single commodity is doomed to fail; and a Marxist economy abiding a single viewpoint is similarly unable to respond to the world and its unexpected events.

Marxism is not dead. It is alive, as both a method of understanding as a social, political, economic and philosophical reality. It is critical to understand the strength and weaknesses of Marxism and the ways in which it has been used in rhetoric, revolution and gradual shift.


Heilbroner, Robert. Marxism: for and against.1980. Toronto: George J McLeod Limited.

Nyong, Frances. 2013. Political Science 21 lectures, Pasadena City College.

Sackrey, Charles; Schneider, Geoffrey Eugene; Knoedler, Janet T; Jensen, Hans. 2010. Dollars and Sense, Economic Affairs Bureau.

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