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Marxism is a particular political philosophy and economic worldview based upon a materialist interpretation of history, a Marxist analysis of capitalism, a theory of social change, and an atheist view of human liberation derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The three primary aspects of Marxism are:
Contemporarily, Karl Marx’s innovative analytical methods — materialist dialectics, the labour theory of value, et cetera — are applied in archaeology, anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociological theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology, and philosophy.
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The term Classical Marxism denotes the theory propounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As such, Classical Marxism distinguishes between “Marxism” as broadly perceived, and “what Marx believed”; thus, in 1883, Marx wrote to the French labour leader Jules Guesde and to Paul Lafargue (Marx’s son-in-law) — both of whom claimed to represent Marxist principles — accusing them of “revolutionary phrase-mongering” and of denying the value of reformist struggle; from which derives the paraphrase: “If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist”. To wit, the US Marx scholar Hal Draper remarked, “there are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike”.
Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818—14 March 1883) was a greatly influential German philosopher, political economist, and socialist revolutionary, who analytically addressed the matters of alienation and exploitation of the worker, the capitalist mode of production, and historical materialism. He is most famous for analysing history in terms of class struggle, summarised in the initial line introducing the Communist Manifesto (1848): “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. His ideas were influential in his time, and it was greatly expanded by the successful Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917 in Imperial Russia.
Friedrich Engels (28 November 1820–5 August 1895) was the nineteenth century German political philosopher and Karl Marx’s co-developer of communist theory. Marx and Engels met in September 1844; discovering that they shared like views of philosophy and socialism, they collaborated and wrote works such as Die heilige Familie (The Holy Family). After the French deported Marx from France in January 1845, Engels and Marx moved to Belgium, which then permitted greater freedom of expression than other European countries; later, in January 1846, they returned to Brussels to establish the Communist Correspondence Committee.
In 1847, they began writing The Communist Manifesto (1848), based upon Engels’ The Principles of Communism; six weeks later, they published the 12,000-word pamphlet in February 1848. In March, Belgium expelled them, and they moved to Cologne, where they published the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, a politically radical newspaper. Again, by 1849, they had to leave Cologne for London. The Prussian authorities pressured the British government to expel Marx and Engels, but Prime Minister Lord John Russell refused.
After Karl Marx’s death in 1883, Friedrich Engels became the editor and translator of Marx’s writings. With the Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) — analysing monogamous marriage as guaranteeing male social domination of women, a concept analogous, in communist theory, to the capitalist class’s economic domination of the working class — intellectually significant contributions to feminist theory and Marxist feminism.
Different types of thinkers influenced the development of Classical Marxism; the primary influences derive from:
and secondary influences derive from:
These are the principal concepts of Marxism:
A person is exploited if he or she performs more labour than necessary to produce the goods society consumes; like-wise, a person is an exploiter if he or she performs less labour than is necessary to produce goods. Exploitation is a matter of surplus labour — the amount of labour one performs beyond what one receives in goods. Exploitation has been a socio-economic feature of every class society, and is one of the principal features distinguishing the social classes. The power of one social class to control the means of production enables its exploitation of the other classes.
In capitalism, the labour theory of value is the operative concern; the value of a commodity equals the total labour time required to produce it. Under that condition, surplus value (the difference between the value produced and the value received by a labourer) is synonymous with the term “surplus labour”; thus, capitalist exploitation is realised as deriving surplus value from the worker.
In pre-capitalist economies, exploitation of the worker was achieved via physical coercion. In the capitalist mode of production, that result is more subtly achieved; because the worker does not own the means of production, he or she must voluntarily enter into an exploitive work relationship with a capitalist in order to earn the necessities of life. The workers entry into such employment is voluntary in that he or she chooses which capitalist to work for; the worker must work or starve, thus exploitation is inevitable, and the voluntarism of capitalist exploitation is illusory.
Alienation denotes the estrangement of people from their humanity (German: Gattungswesen, “species-essence”, “species-being”), which is a systematic result of capitalism. Under capitalism, the fruits of production belong to the employers, who expropriate the surplus created by others, and so generate alienated labourers. Alienation objectively describes the worker’s situation in capitalism — his or her self-awareness of this condition is unnecessary.
The historical materialist theory of history, also synonymous to “the economic interpretation of history” (a coinage by Eduard Bernstein), looks for the causes of societal development and change in the collective ways humans use to make the means for living. The social features of a society (social classes, political structures, ideologies) derive from economic activity; “base and superstructure” is the metaphoric common term describing this historic condition.
The base and superstructure metaphor explains that the totality of social relations regarding “the social production of their existence” i.e. civil society forms a society’s economic base, from which rises a superstructure of political and legal institutions i.e. political society. The base corresponds to the social consciousness (politics, religion, philosophy, etc.), and it conditions the superstructure and the social consciousness. A conflict between the development of material productive forces and the relations of production provokes social revolutions, thus, the resultant changes to the economic base will lead to the transformation of the superstructure. This relationship is reflexive; the base determines the superstructure, in the first instance, and remains the foundation of a form of social organization which then can act again upon both parts of the base and superstructure, whose relationship is dialectical, not literal.[clarification needed]
Marx considered that these socio-economic conflicts have historically manifested themselves as distinct stages (one transitional) of development in Western Europe.
The identity of a social class derives from its relationship to the means of production; Marx describes the social classes in capitalist societies:
Class consciousness denotes the awareness — of itself and the social world — that a social class possesses, and its capacity to rationally act in their best interests; hence, class consciousness is required before they can effect a successful revolution.
Without defining ideology , Marx used the term to denote the production of images of social reality; according to Engels, “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces”. Because the ruling class controls the society’s means of production, the superstructure of society, the ruling social ideas are determined by the best interests of said ruling class. In The German Ideology, “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is, at the same time, its ruling intellectual force”. Therefore, the ideology of a society is of most importance, because it confuses the alienated classes and so might create a false consciousness, such as commodity fetishism.
The term political economy originally denoted the study of the conditions under which economic production was organised in the capitalist system. In Marxism, political economy studies the means of production, specifically of capital, and how that is manifest as economic activity.
Note: this is a discussion of Marxism-Leninism as a school of thought. For a discussion of its political practice, see subsection Marxism#Marxism as a political practice below.
At least in terms of adherents and the impact on the world stage, Marxism-Leninism, also known colloquially as Bolshevism or simply communism is the biggest trend within Marxism, easily dwarfing all of the other schools of thought combined. Marxism-Leninism is a term originally coined by the CPSU in order to denote the ideology that Vladimir Lenin had built upon the thought of Karl Marx. There are two broad areas that have set apart Marxism-Leninism as a school of thought.
First, Lenin's followers generally view his additions to the body of Marxism as the practical corollary to Marx's original theoretical contributions of the 19th century; insofar as they apply under the conditions of advanced capitalism that they found themselves working in. Lenin called this time-frame the era of Imperialism. For example, Joseph Stalin wrote that
|“||Leninism grew up and took shape under the conditions of imperialism, when the contradictions of capitalism had reached an extreme point, when the proletarian revolution had become an immediate practical question, when the old period of preparation of the working class for revolution had arrived at and passed into a new period, that of direct assault on capitalism.||”|
The most important consequence of a Leninist-style theory of Imperialism is the strategic need for workers in the industrialized countries to bloc or ally with the oppressed nations contained within their respective countries' colonies abroad in order to overthrow capitalism. This is the source of the slogan
|“||Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World, Unite!||”|
which is Lenin's twist on the traditional socialist slogan.
Second, the other distinguishing characteristic of Marxism-Leninism is how it approaches the question of organization. Lenin believed that the traditional model of the Social Democratic parties of the time, which was a loose, multitendency organization was inadequate for overthrowing the Tsarist regime in Russia. He proposed a hardened cadre organization that disciplined itself under the model of Democratic Centralism.
Marxism-Leninism was closely associated with the figure of Joseph Stalin until his death. Eventually after the death of Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev became the leader of the Soviet Union, an act which ultimately lead to the splintering of the Marxist-Leninism into several competing schools of thought.
At the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev made several ideological ruptures with his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. First, Khrushchev denounced the so-called Cult of Personality that had developed around Stalin, which ironically enough Khrushchev had had a pivotal role in fostering decades earlier. More importantly, however, Khrushchev rejected the heretofore orthodox Marxist-Leninist tenet that class struggle continues even under socialism. Rather, the State ought to rule in the name of all classes. A related principle that flowed from the former was the notion of peaceful co-existence, or that the newly-emergent socialist bloc could peacefully compete with the capitalist world, solely by developing the productive forces of society.
Beginning around the 1970s, various communist parties in Western Europe, such as the Partito Comunista Italiano in Italy and the Partido Comunista de España under Santiago Carillo tried to hew to a more independent line from Moscow. Particularly in Italy, they leaned on the theories of Antonio Gramsci, despite the fact that Gramsci happened to consider himself an orthodox Marxist-Leninist. This trend went by the name Eurocommunism.
There are many proponents of Marxist-Leninism who rejected the theses of Khrushchev, particularly Marxists of the Third World. They believed that Khrushchev was unacceptably altering or "revising" the fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism, a stance from which the label "anti-revisionist" is derived. Typically, anti-revisionists refer to themselves simply as Marxist-Leninists, although they may be referred to externally by the following epithets.
Maoism takes its name from Mao Zedong, the erstwhile leader of the Peoples Republic of China; it is the variety of anti-revisionism that took inspiration, and in some cases received material support, from China, especially during the Mao period. There are several key concepts that were developed by Mao. First, Mao concurred with Stalin that not only does class struggle continue under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it actually accelerates as long as gains are being made by the proletariat at the expense of the disenfranchised bourgeoisie. Second, Mao developed a strategy for revolution called Prolonged People's War in what he termed the semi-feudal countries of the Third World. Prolonged People's War relied heavily on the peasantry. Third, Mao wrote many theoretical articles on epistemology and dialectics, which he called contradictions.
Hoxhaism, so named because the central contribution of Albanian statesman Enver Hoxha, was closely aligned with China for a number of years, but grew critical of Maoism because of the so-called Three Worlds Theory put forth by elements within the Communist Party of China and because it viewed the actions of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping unfavorably. Ultimately, however, Hoxhaism as a trend came to the understanding that Socialism had never existed in China at all.
Trotskyism is the usual term for followers of the ideas of Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was a contemporary of Lenin from the early years of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, where he led a small trend in competition with both Lenin's Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks; nevertheless Trotsky's followers claim to be the heirs of Lenin in the same way that mainstream Marxist-Leninists do, hence the preferred self-designation amongst Trotskyists of Bolshevik-Leninists. There are several distinguishing characteristics of this school of thought; foremost is the theory of Permanent Revolution. This stated that in less-developed countries the bourgeoisie were too weak to lead their own 'bourgeois-democratic' revolutions. Due to this weakness, it fell to the proletariat to carry out the bourgeois revolution. However, with power in its hands the proletariat would then continue this revolution (permanently), thus transforming it from a bourgeois to a socialist revolution, and from a national to an international revolution.
Another shared characteristic between Trotskyists is a variety of theoretical justifications for their negative appraisal of the post-Lenin Soviet Union; that is to say, after Trotsky was expelled by a majority vote from the CPSU and subsequently from the Soviet Union. As a consequence, Trotsky defined the Soviet Union under Stalin, as a planned economy ruled over by a bureaucratic caste. In The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky advocated for the position of a political overthrow against the majority around Stalin lest a capitalist counterrevolution were to take place in the USSR.
Western Marxism is a term used to describe a wide variety of Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe (and more recently North America), in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or the People's Republic of China.
Structural Marxism is an approach to Marxism based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French theorist Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the late 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside of France during the 1970s.
Neo-Marxism is a school of Marxism that began in the 20th century and hearkened back to the early writings of Marx, before the influence of Engels, which focused on dialectical idealism rather than dialectical materialism. It thus rejected economic determinism being instead far more libertarian. Neo-Marxism adds Max Weber's broader understanding of social inequality, such as status and power, to orthodox Marxist thought.
The Frankfurt School is a school of neo-Marxist social theory, social research, and philosophy. The grouping emerged at the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung) of the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. The term "Frankfurt School" is an informal term used to designate the thinkers affiliated with the Institute for Social Research or influenced by them: it is not the title of any institution, and the main thinkers of the Frankfurt School did not use the term to describe themselves.
The Frankfurt School gathered together dissident Marxists, severe critics of capitalism who believed that some of Marx's alleged followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx's ideas, usually in defense of orthodox communist or social democratic parties. Influenced especially by the failure of working-class revolutions in Western Europe after World War I and by the rise of Nazism in an economically, technologically, and culturally advanced nation (Germany), they took up the task of choosing what parts of Marx's thought might serve to clarify social conditions which Marx himself had never seen. They drew on other schools of thought to fill in Marx's perceived omissions.
Max Weber exerted a major influence, as did Sigmund Freud (as in Herbert Marcuse's Freudo-Marxist synthesis in the 1954 work Eros and Civilization). Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, crude materialism, and phenomenology by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on negation and contradiction as inherent properties of reality.
Cultural Marxism is a form of Marxism that adds a critical theory based Marxist analysis of the role of the media, art, theatre, film and other cultural institutions in a society, often with an added emphasis on race and gender in addition to class. As a form of political analysis, Cultural Marxism gained strength in the 1920s, and was the model used by the Frankfurt School at Columbia University; and later by another group of intellectuals at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, England.
Autonomism is a term applied to a variety of social movements around the world, which emphasizes the ability to organize in autonomous and horizontal networks, as opposed to hierarchical structures such as unions or parties. Autonomist Marxists, including Harry Cleaver, broaden the definition of the working-class to include salaried and unpaid labour, such as skilled professions and housework; it focuses on the working class in advanced capitalist states as the primary force of change in the construct of capital. Modern autonomist theorists such as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that network power constructs are the most effective methods of organization against the neoliberal regime of accumulation, and predict a massive shift in the dynamics of capital into a 21st Century Empire.
Analytical Marxism refers to a style of thinking about Marxism that was prominent amongst a half-dozen analytically trained English-speaking philosophers and social scientists during the 1980s. It was mainly associated with the September Group of academics, so called because they have biennial meetings in varying locations every other September to discuss common interests. The group also dubbed itself "Non-Bullshit Marxism" (Cohen 2000a). It was characterized, in the words of David Miller, by "clear and rigorous thinking about questions that are usually blanketed by ideological fog". (Miller 1994)
Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx develops his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. It was opposed by Louis Althusser's "antihumanism", who qualified it as a revisionist movement.
Marxist humanists contend that ‘Marxism’ developed lopsided because Marx’s early works were unknown until after the orthodox ideas were in vogue – the Manuscripts of 1844 were published only in 1932 – and it is necessary to understand Marx’s philosophical foundations to understand his latter works properly.
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Although Marx was intensely critical of institutionalized religion including Christianity, some Christians have "accepted the basic premises of Marxism and attempted to reinterpret Christian faith from this perspective." Some of the resulting examples are some forms of liberation theology and black liberation theology. Pope Benedict XVI strongly opposed radical liberation theology while he was still a cardinal, with the Vatican condemning acceptance of Marxism. Black liberation theologian James Cone wrote in his book For My People that "for analyzing the structure of capitalism. Marxism as a tool of social analysis can disclose the gap between appearance and reality, and thereby help Christians to see how things really are."
Georg Lukács (April 13, 1885 – June 4, 1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic in the tradition of Western Marxism. His main work History and Class Consciousness (written between 1919 and 1922 and first published in 1923), initiated the current of thought that came to be known as Western Marxism. The book is notable for contributing to debates concerning Marxism and its relation to sociology, politics and philosophy, and for reconstructing Marx's theory of alienation before many of the works of the Young Marx had been published. Lukács's work elaborates and expands upon Marxist theories such as ideology, false consciousness, reification and class consciousness.
Karl Korsch (August 15, 1886 - October 21, 1961) was born in Tostedt, near Hamburg, to the family of a middle-ranking bank official.
In his later work, he rejected orthodox (classical) Marxism as historically outmoded, wanting to adapt Marxism to a new historical situation. He wrote in his Ten Theses (1950) that "the first step in re-establishing a revolutionary theory and practice consists in breaking with that Marxism which claims to monopolize revolutionary initiative as well as theoretical and practical direction" and that "today, all attempts to re-establish the Marxist doctrine as a whole in its original function as a theory of the working classes social revolution are reactionary utopias."
Korsch was especially concerned that Marxist theory was losing its precision and validity - in the words of the day, becoming "vulgarized" - within the upper echelons of the various socialist organizations. His masterwork, Marxism and Philosophy is an attempt to re-establish the historic character of Marxism as the heir to Hegel.
Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 27, 1937) was an Italian writer, politician and political theorist. He was a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy. Gramsci can be seen as one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century, and in particular a key thinker in the development of Western Marxism. He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3000 pages of history and analysis during his imprisonment. These writings, known as the Prison Notebooks, contain Gramsci's tracing of Italian history and nationalism, as well as some ideas in Marxist theory, critical theory and educational theory associated with his name, such as:
Herbert Marcuse (July 19, 1898 – July 29, 1979) was a prominent German-American philosopher and sociologist of Jewish descent, and a member of the Frankfurt School.
Marcuse's critiques of capitalist society (especially his 1955 synthesis of Marx and Freud, Eros and Civilization, and his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man) resonated with the concerns of the leftist student movement in the 1960s. Because of his willingness to speak at student protests, Marcuse soon became known as "the father of the New Left," a term he disliked and rejected.
Jean-Paul Sartre (June 21, 1905 – April 15, 1980) was already a key and influential philosopher and playwright for his early writings on individualistic existentialism. In his later career, he attempted to reconcile the existential philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard with Marxist philosophy and Hegelian dialectics in his work Critique of Dialectical Reason.
Sartre was also involved in Marxist politics and was impressed upon visiting Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, calling him "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age".
Louis Althusser (October 16, 1918 – October 22, 1990) was a Marxist philosopher. He was a lifelong member and sometimes strong critic of the French Communist Party. His arguments and theses were set against the threats that he saw attacking the theoretical foundations of Marxism. These included both the influence of empiricism on Marxist theory, and humanist and reformist socialist orientations which manifested as divisions in the European Communist Parties, as well as the problem of the 'cult of personality' and of ideology itself. Althusser is commonly referred to as a Structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation and he is critical of many aspects of structuralism.
His essay Marxism and Humanism is a strong statement of anti-humanism in Marxist theory, condemning ideas like "human potential" and "species-being", which are often put forth by Marxists, as outgrowths of a bourgeois ideology of "humanity". His essay Contradiction and Overdetermination borrows the concept of overdetermination from psychoanalysis, in order to replace the idea of "contradiction" with a more complex model of multiple causality in political situations (an idea closely related to Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony).
Althusser is also widely known as a theorist of ideology, and his best-known essay is Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation. The essay establishes the concept of ideology, also based on Gramsci's theory of hegemony. Whereas hegemony is ultimately determined entirely by political forces, ideology draws on Freud's and Lacan's concepts of the unconscious and mirror-phase respectively, and describes the structures and systems that allow us to meaningfully have a concept of the self.
British Marxism deviated sharply from French (especially Althusserian) Marxism and, like the Frankfurt School, developed an attention to cultural experience and an emphasis on human agency while growing increasingly distant from determinist views of materialism. A circle of historians inside the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) formed the Communist Party Historians Group in 1946. They shared a common interest in 'history from below' and class structure in early capitalist society. Important members of the group included E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill and Raphael Samuel.
While some members of the group (most notably E.P. Thompson) left the CPGB after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the common points of British Marxist historiography continued in their works. They placed a great emphasis on the subjective determination of history. E. P. Thompson famously engaged Althusser in The Poverty of Theory, arguing that Althusser's theory overdetermined history, and left no space for historical revolt by the oppressed.
Post-Marxism represents the theoretical work of philosophers and social theorists who have built their theories upon those of Marx and Marxists but exceeded the limits of those theories in ways that puts them outside of Marxism. It begins with the basic tenets of Marxism but moves away from the Mode of Production as the starting point for analysis and includes factors other than class, such as gender, ethnicity etc, and a reflexive relationship between the base and superstructure.
Marxism remains a powerful theory in some unexpected and relatively obscure places, and is not always properly labeled as "Marxism". For example, many Mexican and some American archaeologists still employ a Marxist model to explain the Classic Maya Collapse (c. 900 A.D.) - without mentioning Marxism by name.
Marxist feminism is a sub-type of feminist theory which focuses on the dismantling of capitalism as a way to liberate women. Marxist feminism states that private property, which gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political confusion and ultimately unhealthy social relations between men and women, is the root of women's oppression.
According to Marxist theory, in capitalist societies the individual is shaped by class relations; that is, people's capacities, needs and interests are seen to be determined by the mode of production that characterises the society they inhabit. Marxist feminists see gender inequality as determined ultimately by the capitalist mode of production. Gender oppression is class oppression and women's subordination is seen as a form of class oppression which is maintained (like racism) because it serves the interests of capital and the ruling class. Marxist feminists have extended traditional Marxist analysis by looking at domestic labour as well as wage work in order to support their position.
Since Marx's death in 1883, various groups around the world have appealed to Marxism as the theoretical basis for their politics and policies, which have often proved to be dramatically different and conflicting. One of the first major political splits occurred between the advocates of 'reformism', who argued that the transition to socialism could occur within existing bourgeois parliamentarian frameworks, and communists, who argued that the transition to a socialist society required a revolution and the dissolution of the capitalist state. The 'reformist' tendency, later known as social democracy, came to be dominant in most of the parties affiliated to the Second International and these parties supported their own governments in the First World War. This issue caused the communists to break away, forming their own parties which became members of the Third International.
The following countries had governments at some point in the twentieth century who at least nominally adhered to Marxism: Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Republic of Congo, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Grenada, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, the USSR and its republics, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Vietnam. In addition, the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal have had Marxist governments. Some of these governments such as in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Chile, Moldova and parts of India have been democratic in nature and maintained regular multiparty elections, while most governments claiming to be Marxist in nature have established authoritarian governments.
Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union, with some exceptions, perhaps most notably Nepal.
The 1917 October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, was the first large scale attempt to put Marxist ideas about a workers' state into practice. The new government faced counter-revolution, civil war and foreign intervention. Many, both inside and outside the revolution, worried that the revolution came too early in Russia's economic development. Consequently, the major Socialist Party in the UK decried the revolution as anti-Marxist within twenty-four hours, according to Jonathan Wolff. Lenin consistently explained "this elementary truth of Marxism, that the victory of socialism requires the joint efforts of workers in a number of advanced countries" (Lenin, Sochineniya (Works), 5th ed Vol XLIV p418.) It could not be developed in Russia in isolation, he argued, but needed to be spread internationally. The 1917 October Revolution did help inspire a revolutionary wave over the years that followed, with the development of Communist Parties worldwide, but without success in the vital advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe. Socialist revolution in Germany and other western countries failed, leaving the Soviet Union on its own. An intense period of debate and stopgap solutions ensued, war communism and the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin died and Joseph Stalin gradually assumed control, eliminating rivals and consolidating power as the Soviet Union faced the events of the 1930s and its global crisis-tendencies. Amidst the geopolitical threats which defined the period and included the probability of invasion, he instituted a ruthless program of industrialization which, while successful, was executed at great cost in human suffering, including millions of deaths, along with long-term environmental devastation.
Modern followers of Leon Trotsky maintain that as predicted by Lenin, Trotsky, and others already in the 1920s, Stalin's "socialism in one country" was unable to maintain itself, and according to some Marxist critics, the USSR ceased to show the characteristics of a socialist state long before its formal dissolution.
In the 1920s the economic calculation debate between Austrian Economists and Marxist economists took place. The Austrians claimed that Marxism is flawed because prices could not be set to recognize opportunity costs of factors of production, and so socialism could not make rational decisions.
Following World War II, Marxist ideology, often with Soviet military backing, spawned a rise in revolutionary communist parties all over the world. Some of these parties were eventually able to gain power, and establish their own version of a Marxist state. Such nations included the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Romania, East Germany, Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and others. In some cases, these nations did not get along. The most notable examples were rifts that occurred between the Soviet Union and China, as well as Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (in 1948), whose leaders disagreed on certain elements of Marxism and how it should be implemented into society.
Many of these self-proclaimed Marxist nations (often styled People's Republics) eventually became authoritarian states, with stagnating economies. This caused some debate about whether Marxism was doomed in practise or these nations were in fact not led by "true Marxists". Critics of Marxism speculated that perhaps Marxist ideology itself was to blame for the nations' various problems. Followers of the currents within Marxism which opposed Stalin, principally cohered around Leon Trotsky, tended to locate the failure at the level of the failure of world revolution: for communism to have succeeded, they argue, it needed to encompass all the international trading relationships that capitalism had previously developed.
The Chinese experience seems to be unique. Rather than falling under a single family's self-serving and dynastic interpretation of Marxism as happened in North Korea and before 1989 in Eastern Europe, the Chinese government - after the end of the struggles over the Mao legacy in 1980 and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping - seems to have solved the succession crises that have plagued self-proclaimed Leninist governments since the death of Lenin himself. Key to this success is another Leninism which is a NEP (New Economic Policy) writ very large; Lenin's own NEP of the 1920s was the "permission" given to markets including speculation to operate by the Party which retained final control. The Russian experience in Perestroika was that markets under socialism were so opaque as to be both inefficient and corrupt but especially after China's application to join the WTO this does not seem to apply universally.
The death of "Marxism" in China has been prematurely announced but since the Hong Kong handover in 1997, the Beijing leadership has clearly retained final say over both commercial and political affairs. Questions remain however as to whether the Chinese Party has opened its markets to such a degree as to be no longer classified as a true Marxist party. A sort of tacit consent, and a desire in China's case to escape the chaos of pre-1949 memory, probably plays a role.
In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the new Russian state ceased to identify itself with Marxism. Other nations around the world followed suit. Since then, radical Marxism or Communism has generally ceased to be a prominent political force in global politics, and has largely been replaced by more moderate versions of democratic socialism—or, more commonly, by neoliberal capitalism. Marxism has also had to engage with the rise in the Environmental movement. A merging of Marxism, socialism, ecology and environmentalism has been achieved[where?], and is often referred to as Eco-socialism.
Social democracy is a political ideology that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many parties in the second half of the 19th century described themselves as social democratic, such as the British Social Democratic Federation, and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In most cases these were revolutionary socialist or Marxist groups, who were not only seeking to introduce socialism, but also democracy in un-democratic countries.
The modern social democratic current came into being through a break within the socialist movement in the early 20th century, between two groups holding different views on the ideas of Karl Marx. Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism, and syndicalism, arose at the same time (often by splitting from the main socialist movement, but also by emerging of new theories.) and had various quite different objections to Marxism. The social democrats, who were the majority of socialists at this time, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimed to uphold it), but wanted to reform it in certain ways and tone down their criticism of capitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved through evolution rather than revolution. Such views were strongly opposed by the revolutionary socialists, who argued that any attempt to reform capitalism was doomed to fail, because the reformists would be gradually corrupted and eventually turn into capitalists themselves.
Despite their differences, the reformist and revolutionary branches of socialism remained united until the outbreak of World War I. The war proved to be the final straw that pushed the tensions between them to breaking point. The reformist socialists supported their respective national governments in the war, a fact that was seen by the revolutionary socialists as outright treason against the working class (Since it betrayed the principle that the workers "have no nation", and the fact that usually the lowest classes are the ones sent into the war to fight, and die, putting the cause at the side). Bitter arguments ensued within socialist parties, as for example between Eduard Bernstein (reformist socialist) and Rosa Luxemburg (revolutionary socialist) within the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Eventually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the world's socialist parties fractured. The reformist socialists kept the name "Social democrats", while the revolutionary socialists began calling themselves "Communists", and soon formed the modern Communist movement. (See also Comintern)
Since the 1920s, doctrinal differences have been constantly growing between social democrats and Communists (who themselves are not unified on the way to achieve socialism), and Social Democracy is mostly used as a specifically Central European label for Labour Parties since then, especially in Germany and the Netherlands and especially since the 1959 Godesberg Program of the German SPD that rejected the praxis of class struggle altogether.
Although there are still many Marxist revolutionary social movements and political parties around the world, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, very few countries have governments which describe themselves as Marxist. Although socialistic parties are in power in some Western nations, they long ago distanced themselves from their direct link to Marx and his ideas.
As of 2007, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba, and the People's Republic of China had governments in power which describe themselves as socialist in the Marxist sense. However, the private sector comprised more than 50% of the mainland Chinese economy by this time and the Vietnamese government had also partially liberalised its economy. The Laotian and Cuban states maintained strong control over the means of production.
North Korea is another contemporary socialist state, though the official ideology of the Korean Workers' Party (originally led by Kim Il-sung and currently chaired by his son, Kim Jong-il), Juche, does not follow doctrinaire Marxism-Leninism as had been espoused by the leadership of the Soviet Union.
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A number of states declared an allegiance to the principles of Marxism and have been ruled by self-described Communist Parties, either as a single-party state or a single list, which includes formally several parties, as was the case in the German Democratic Republic. Due to the dominance of the Communist Party in their governments, these states are often called "communist states" by Western political scientists. However, they have described themselves as "socialist", reserving the term "communism" for a future classless society, in which the state would no longer be necessary (on this understanding of communism, "communist state" would be an oxymoron) – for instance, the USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Marxists contend that, historically, there has never been any communist country.
Communist governments have historically been characterized by state ownership of productive resources in a planned economy and sweeping campaigns of economic restructuring such as nationalization of industry and land reform (often focusing on collective farming or state farms.) While they promote collective ownership of the means of production, Communist governments have been characterized by a strong state apparatus in which decisions are made by the ruling Communist Party. Dissident 'authentic' communists have characterized the Soviet model as state socialism or state capitalism.
Marxism-Leninism, strictly speaking, refers to the version of Marxism developed by Vladimir Lenin known as Leninism. However, in various contexts, different (and sometimes opposing) political groups have used the term "Marxism-Leninism" to describe the ideologies that they claimed to be upholding. The core ideological features of Marxism-Leninism are those of Marxism and Leninism, that is to say, belief in the necessity of a violent overthrow of capitalism through communist revolution, to be followed by a dictatorship of the proletariat as the first stage of moving towards communism, and the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in this effort. It involves subscribing to the teachings and legacy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Marxism), and that of Lenin, as carried forward by Joseph Stalin. Those who view themselves as Marxist-Leninists, however, vary with regards to the leaders and thinkers that they choose to uphold as progressive (and to what extent). Maoists tend to downplay the importance of all other thinkers in favour of Mao Zedong, whereas Hoxhaists repudiate Mao.
Leninism holds that capitalism can only be overthrown by revolutionary means; that is, any attempts to reform capitalism from within, such as Fabianism and non-revolutionary forms of democratic socialism, are doomed to fail. The first goal of a Leninist party is to educate the proletariat, so as to remove the various modes of false consciousness the bourgeois have instilled in them, instilled in order to make them more docile and easier to exploit economically, such as religion and nationalism. Once the proletariat has gained class consciousness the party will coordinate the proletariat's total might to overthrow the existing government, thus the proletariat will seize all political and economic power. Lastly the proletariat (thanks to their education by the party) will implement a dictatorship of the proletariat which would bring upon them socialism, the lower phase of communism. After this, the party would essentially dissolve as the entire proletariat is elevated to the level of revolutionaries.
The dictatorship of the proletariat refers to the absolute power of the working class. It is governed by a system of proletarian direct democracy, in which workers hold political power through local councils known as soviets.
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself a Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party. He considered himself an advocate of orthodox Marxism. His politics differed sharply from those of Stalin or Mao, most importantly in declaring the need for an international "permanent revolution". Numerous groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist and see themselves as standing in this tradition, although they have diverse interpretations of the conclusions to be drawn from this.
Trotsky advocated proletarian revolution as set out in his theory of "permanent revolution", and he argued that in countries where the bourgeois-democratic revolution had not triumphed already (in other words, in places that had not yet implemented a capitalist democracy, such as Russia before 1917), it was necessary that the proletariat make it permanent by carrying out the tasks of the social revolution (the "socialist" or "communist" revolution) at the same time, in an uninterrupted process. Trotsky believed that a new socialist state would not be able to hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world unless socialist revolutions quickly took hold in other countries as well, especially in the industrial powers with a developed proletariat.
On the political spectrum of Marxism, Trotskyists are considered to be on the left. They fervently support democracy, oppose political deals with the imperialist powers, and advocate a spreading of the revolution until it becomes global.
Trotsky developed the theory that the Russian workers' state had become a "bureaucratically degenerated workers' state". Capitalist rule had not been restored, and nationalized industry and economic planning, instituted under Lenin, were still in effect. However, the state was controlled by a bureaucratic caste with interests hostile to those of the working class. Trotsky defended the Soviet Union against attack from imperialist powers and against internal counter-revolution, but called for a political revolution within the USSR to restore socialist democracy. He argued that if the working class did not take power away from the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bureaucracy would restore capitalism in order to enrich itself. In the view of many Trotskyists, this is exactly what has happened since the beginning of Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR. Some argue that the adoption of market socialism by the People's Republic of China has also led to capitalist counter-revolution.