Karl Marx’s ideological system has probably had the greatest influence on modern culture than any other modern theory. Though influential it is always perceived in a negative light in American society. It is viewed as being an old system that never will work. It is also commonly associated with evil Soviet Russia. But Marx would say that these views are just rhetoric from the other side that does not want society to know what Marxism actually is. Marxism is actually an extensive economic, psychological, and philosophical system that describes human interaction through capital and labor. Marx was greatly influenced by the German philosopher, Hegel. Marx will use Hegel’s form of dialectic to form his own theory of everything. Dialectic is a type of method at arriving at the truth. It consists of a thesis, an anti-thesis, and a synthesis. The thesis is the tradition while the anti-thesis is a counter or contradiction to the thesis. The synthesis takes the best from both to discover the truth. To understand dialectic is to understand a good portion of Marxism. Marx was greatly influenced by Hegelian dialectic and thus it pervaded his whole thought. This paper will broadly analyze and argue for and against Marxist thought on ideology, class conflict, labor, capital, and communism through revolution.
Loosely defined, ideology is a type of consciousness which expresses a worldview. Marx believes that ideologies are false and are promoted by the dominant class, namely the rich class to which he calls the bourgeoisie. The upper class uses ideology to keep the proletariat suppressed and ignorant. These beliefs are metaphysically determined by one’s culture and society. For Marx all ideologies do not get at the core of reality but rather distort it. Religion, philosophy, political theories, and other ideologies have benefited the bourgeoisie throughout history either directly or indirectly. Marx says that humanity must let go and get rid of these ideologies in order to rid ourselves of suppression (Lavine 295). A common criticism to the Marxist view on ideology is that it negates itself. If Marxism in itself is an ideology or theory that is set up by the upper class or used to promote some type of class, then shouldn’t Marxism itself be rejected? (Lavine 309) This view on ideology seems to be self-defeating and thus should be rejected. Marxism itself as a whole does not need to be entirely rejected, just this one aspect.
The idea of class conflict is at the core of Marxism. The class with that owns the means of production is always in constant conflict with the working class. The owner pays the worker for the labor that the worker produces in order to make the owner money. The capitalist owner does not view the worker necessarily as having intrinsic worth but rather as a being which works for him. The capitalist treats the worker like a cog in the money making machine. They have no intrinsic worth to their system and can easily be replaced. Of course with jobs that are more specialized such as dental work, nursing, or neuroscience, exploitation is less likely to occur. Workers with extremely special and refined labor skills are seen as having much more worth within a capitalist society. Marx is against the notion of divided labor.
Marx views that labor which is specialized and divided into categories is dehumanizing. Labor places people into one specific type of creative outlet or section of society (Lavine 292). This creative power must be developed and expressed in the world but the division of labor squashes it. Marx said in The German Ideology, “for as soon as labor is distributed, each man has a particular exclusive sphere of activity which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape” (Lavine 292). Marx sees work as enslaving. He sees it as binding. Man is not free to do whatever he wants and is also not free to be whatever he wants. Division of labor, according to Marx, is the fundamental problem with capitalism. It is the basis of all the problems associated with it. From the division of labor stems class conflict and promotion of ideology.
Capitalism is defined as few humans who own and control the major forces of the means of production as their private property and they employ workers who have nothing to sell but their own labor power, at least that’s what Marx would say (Lavine 313). But what exactly is capital? Capital is payment from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat for the work produced. Capital is given solely at the discretion of the owner and is based on the actual work. Exploitation occurs when the bourgeoisie sell the goods that the worker makes or produces or outputs. It occurs when the bourgeoisie makes an unfair surplus of capital. He would say that since the capitalist wants to make a profit and the only real way to make a profit is to pay the worker as little as possible exploitation must occur between the two classes of people (Lavine 313). A surplus can also be made by planning the obsolescence of a good being sold. If some good will break or wear out within a few years then people will have to buy new ones. The bourgeoisie can exploit the general public by giving them items that will not last very long. The bourgeoisie can create a cycle of capital with goods that fail at a determined time. With the acquiring of capital it is also possible that the bourgeoisie can overproduce and thus their business could go under. This can create an unstable and constantly changing economy. Capital sustains the existence of the business and is at the forefront of the owner’s mind almost obsessively. Marx sees this as being a huge problem. He sees this greed for capital and exploitation of the worker as being a very visible problem with capitalism.
Marx sees the ultimate way fix to capitalism is for the working class to revolt over the bourgeoisie. Marx believes that capitalism will destroy itself anyway. A revolution will bring in communism. If everything Marx has said up to this point is true, then a revolution must be necessary. The proletariat must learn the truth about exploitation and how the upper class suppresses them. The revolution consists of two stages. The first stage occurs when the proletariat overthrow the bourgeoisie through any means necessary. They must become dictators in order to make sure that the transition from the capitalistic society to a communistic one is complete. Everything must become private and owned by everyone. Everyone will own everything. All private property will be seized by the state controlled by the proletariat. The second part is more vague and idealistic. Marx says that man must realize that he is in control of what he makes and builds. He is in control of material objects. Man must also realize that economic hardships or issues are no longer a problem since everything is owned by everyone. Private property is completely meaningless at this point in the stage of the revolution (Lavine 315-317). This is purely idealistic though. Marx views this as a synthesis of primitive communism and the hardships of capitalism. Primitive communism is what humanity had before industrialization and capitalism. It is commonly explained as being a hunter and gatherer type of system. Marx dubbed his new synthesis “ultimate communism.” Here the dialectic is clearing seen as being an ultimate theory of everything.
So is Marxism actually true? Does it explain what is really going on between human relations amongst the classes? Marx was half-right. Parts of his theory are completely true and honest. Other parts are entirely false and quite evil. Marxist view on ideology is completely false because it presents a defeater for itself — namely that it destroys the whole notion of Marxism entirely. Also, all parts of determinism found within Marxism are false. Determinism is a belief that is impossible to hold because one cannot know the truth value of determinism as a belief. Determinism means that beliefs are determined by some other cause and thus belief in determinism is determined. Determinism must be rejected for anything to be remotely coherent. Marx was generally correct on how the bourgeoisie acts ethically with their workers and general society. Big corporations today act unethically whether internally or externally. They act with consequential motives. Everything is done for the sake of capital and thus it reduces all ethical motivations to rest on what makes more money. Greed is also extremely unethical yet it is promoted within capitalist thought. The love of money is the root of much evil. Capitalism is not inherently greed-driven though. One can be a capitalist and not be greedy. They do not have to focus solely on the worth of the capital they generate. Marx’s view on the nature of work is true — work is binding and limiting. This does not mean that division of labor is necessarily a bad thing. One should be free to choose an occupation and freely bind himself to it. The exploitive nature of the bourgeoisie is partly true. It is clearly seen that greed is found within many companies, especially American ones. Who’s to say that there is not any type of exploitation going on? And finally Marx’s communist revolution is not only false but evil. It is just as evil, if not more evil, than the capitalists he describes in his works. This revolution will not solve anything whatsoever. And Marx never addresses the psychological problem with all men — that men are inclined to do evil and not good. His idealistic utopia through some sort of revolution does not work in the real world. It seems to create more division.
What must then be done with Marxism? Should it be completely thrown out as being a viable theory? It should not because again, there is some truth to it. It needs to be interpreted as an ethical framework approaching economics. It also needs to be mixed with a Kantian ethic. Immanuel Kant said in his work Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, “rational beings stand under the law that each of them should treat himself and all others, never merely as means, but always at the same time as an end in himself” (Kolak 480). Kant says that every person should be viewed as having intrinsic worth and should be treated as an end in themselves. With this deonlogical ethic in place, along with a cleaned out and reinterpreted version of Marxism — one without revolution and determinism — only then can one get a true system of economics and understand class relations and roles fully.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.
Lavine, T. Z. From Socrates to Sartre: the Philosophic Quest. New York: Bantam, 1984. Print.