From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism ” --Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
"In short, far from supporting Marxism, this theory [natural selection] merely serves, if transferred back from natural history into the society from which it was orginally borrowed, to eternalize and justify as though grounded in nature itself, the barbarous economic relations of the particular historical epoch of bourgeois capitalism." --Human Nature: The Marxian View, page 64, Vernon Venable, 1945, see Marx's theory of human nature
Marxism is a worldview and method of societal analysis that focuses on class relations and societal conflict, that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, and a dialectical view of social transformation. Marxist methodology uses economic and sociopolitical inquiry and applies that to the analysis and critique of the development of capitalism and the role of class struggle in systemic economic change.
In the mid-to-late 19th century, the intellectual tenets of Marxism were inspired by two German philosophers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxist analyses and methodologies have influenced multiple political ideologies and social movements. Marxism encompasses an economic theory, a sociological theory, a philosophical method, and a revolutionary view of social change.
According to Marxist analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises due to intensifying contradictions between highly productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and private appropriation of the surplus product in the form of surplus value (profit) by a small minority of private owners called the bourgeoisie. As the contradiction becomes apparent to the proletariat, social unrest between the two antagonistic classes intensifies, culminating in a social revolution. The eventual long-term outcome of this revolution would be the establishment of socialism – a socioeconomic system based on cooperative ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one's contribution, and production organized directly for use. Karl Marx hypothesized that, as the productive forces and technology continued to advance, socialism would eventually give way to a communist stage of social development. Communism would be a classless, stateless, humane society erected on common ownership and the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".
Marxist understandings of history and of society have been adopted by academics in the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, political science, theater, history, sociology, art history and art theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology, and philosophy.
While Marxism had a significant impact on socialist thought, pre-Marxist thinkers (before Karl Marx wrote on the subject) have advocated socialism in forms both similar and in stark contrast to Marx and Engels' conception of socialism, advocating some form of collective ownership over large-scale production, worker-management within the workplace, or in some cases, a form of planned economy.
Early socialist philosophers and political theorists:
- Gerrard Winstanley, who founded the Diggers movement in the United Kingdom
- Charles Fourier, French philosopher who propounded principles very similar to Karl Marx
- Louis Blanqui, French socialist and writer
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer whose works influenced the French Revolution
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French politician writer.
The Peasants' War (Deutscher Bauernkrieg in German, literally the German Peasants' War) was a popular revolt that took place in Europe during 1524–1525. It consisted, like the preceding Bundschuh movement and the Hussite Wars, of a series of both economic and religious revolts in which peasants, townsfolk and nobles all participated.
At its height in the spring and summer of 1525, the conflict, which occurred mostly in the southern, western and central areas of what is now modern Germany plus areas in neighboring Alsace and modern Switzerland and Austria, involved an estimated 300,000 peasant rebels: contemporary estimates put the dead at 100,000. It was Europe's largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to the French Revolution of 1789.
Cultural Marxism is a generic term referring to a loosely associated group of Marxists who have sought to apply critical theory to matters of family composition, gender, race, and cultural identity within Western society.
Freudo-Marxism is a loose designation of several twentieth-century critical theory schools of thought that sought to synthesize the philosophy and political economy of Karl Marx with the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud.
Freudo-Marxism seeks to use the tools of psychoanalysis to diagnose the ills of society. Just as Freudianism views an individual's ego and super-ego as shaped by his unconscious id, Marxism views a society's culture and institutions as shaped by its underlying economic system. Thus a society's economic system and its relations of production function as its unconscious id; a society's culture functions as its ego; and a society's legal system, police and military function as its super-ego. From this point, Freudo-Marxism aims to reveal the illness of a society's underlying economic system by analyzing its cultural products.
Marxist film theory
Marxist film theory is one of the oldest forms of film theory.
Sergei Eisenstein and many other Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s expressed ideas of Marxism through film. In fact, the Hegelian dialectic was considered best displayed in film editing through the Kuleshov Experiment and the development of montage.
Marxist literary theory
Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing literary criticism informed by the philosophy or the politics of Marxism. Its history is as long as Marxism itself, as both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels read widely (Marx had a great affection for Shakespeare, as well as contemporary writings like the work of his friend Heinrich Heine). In the twentieth century many of the foremost writers of Marxist theory have also been literary critics, from Georg Lukács to Fredric Jameson.
False consciousness or false needs is the Marxist thesis that the Culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity, or genuine happiness. Herbert Marcuse was the first to demarcate true needs from false needs.
Guy Ernest Debord (December 28, 1931 – November 30, 1994) was a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International (SI). His book The Society of the Spectacle (1967) was a catalyst for the uprising of May 1968.
Working class (or lower class, labouring class) is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs (as measured by skill, education and lower incomes), often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes. Working classes are mainly found in industrialized economies and in urban areas of non-industrialized economies.
Marx's theory of alienation
Marx's theory of alienation (Entfremdung in German), as expressed in the writings of young Karl Marx, refers to the separation of things that naturally belong together, or to antagonism between things that are properly in harmony. In the concept's most important use, it refers to the alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature" (Gattungswesen, usually translated as 'species-essence' or 'species-being'). Marx believed that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism. His theory relies on Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1841), which argues that the idea of God has alienated the characteristics of the human being. Stirner would take the analysis further in The Ego and Its Own (1844), declaring that even 'humanity' is an alienating ideal for the individual, to which Marx responded in The German Ideology (1845).
In Marxist theory, commodity fetishism is a state of social relations, said to arise in complex capitalist market systems, in which social relationships are defined by the values that are placed on commodities. The term is introduced in the opening chapter of Karl Marx's main work of political economy, Capital, of 1867.
Marx's use of the term fetish can be interpreted as an ironic comment on the "rational", "scientific" mindset of industrial capitalist societies. In Marx's day, the word was primarily used in the study of primitive religions; Marx's "fetishism of commodities" might be seen as proposing that just such primitive belief systems exist at the heart of modern society. In most subsequent Marxist thought, commodity fetishism is defined as an illusion arising from the central role that private property plays in capitalism's social processes. It is a central component of the dominant ideology in capitalist societies.
- Influences on Karl Marx
- Marx's theory of human nature
- Marxian class theory
- Marxian economics