About Karl Marx

Research Essay

Karl Marx, was unquestionably one of the most influential figures to emerge from the 19th century. His social, economic and political ideas diffused throughout the world and gave birth to a number of socialist movements around the world. Consequently, the success of Marxist ideas meant that the original ideas of Marx were distorted and his meanings adapted to a great variety of political circumstances through other revolutionary leaders and theorists; notably Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Though the two changed Marxism in their own way Lenin followed the policies more closely.

Karl Marx co-authored several works with Friedrich Engels worked to practically apply the humanitarian concepts of the German philosopher Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. Feuerbach, as an atheist attempted to explain religious phenomenon as a product of natural human feelings and "unrestricted subjective tendencies". Feuerbach's Atheism had a strong influence on Marx/Engels, who continued to discredit religion and follow with and build upon Feuerbach's concepts of subjective reality and materialism in future works.

Marx, however, was not without doubt on the theories of those he studied and those he developed himself and it was this doubt that led him into further study. It was this open and objective view to his own theories that brought Marx to the conclusion that legal relations and political forms originated in the material conditions of life - which Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (another early influence of both Marx and Engels), following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, encompassed within the term "civil society" - and that "the anatomy of this civil society... has to be sought in political economy." Marx's studies on this subject led him to the general conclusion that became the guiding principle of his further studies. In his own words:

"At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production... From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure."

This is part of Marx's idea of historical materialism, where human society has developed through "tribal society to the growth of cities (with their government, slavery and private property) and to feudal estates relying on oppressed serfs." given that "This history requires, first, human survival through eating, drinking, clothing and shelter, necessarily leading to the making of things, reproduction and social cooperation." Marx explained that this history led to a form of slavery know as division of labor; Exemplified in the structure of families where each member has his/her own duties to fulfill. Marx continues to relate this history the industrial revolution that would occur in his lifetime where society is more clearly separated into two separate classes. The thoughts and ideas developed by Marx to counteract this division and solve the disparity between the spread of wealth and property are what comprise the newly created economic movement known as socialism; a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

Socialism required that the present state and stratification of society must be changed and destroyed (through violent means, if necessary) to create a new level of socio-economic equality. To establish the new society, working men (henceforth referred to as the proletariat) organized and fought against the upper class capitalists (bourgeoisie.). Society, therefore, was a conflict between the social classes with the proletariat against capitalism and the bourgeoisie. This conflict, by the principles of Marxism, ended in victory for the proletariat (the goal of Socialism)

At this point Marx's and Engels policies began the transformation into the well known theories of Communism. As touched upon earlier, one Marx's critiques of the capitalist system was that it divided society into two distinct castes (the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie). It was after this understanding that Engels, in The Principles of Communism, defined communism as the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat, "Bourgeoisie vs Proletariat, revolution of the proles (Proletariats) leading to casteless, egalitarian society."

All of these thoughts and theories culminated in the creation of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. The manifesto, co written by Marx and Engels, is the embodiment of many of the central principals of Marxism. In summary, these principles include history as a series of class struggles, the alliance between the Proletariats and the communist party, various forms of communism and socialism, and a position of communism in relation to the opposition parties of the era. In more detail, the manifesto lays out a detailed plan that serves as a useful base of comparison for proximity to Marxist policies. It was a foundational work that had and influence on future political figures such Lenin and Stalin.

1. The expropriation of landed property and the use of rent from land to cover state expenditure;

2. A high and progressively graded income-tax;

3. A abolition of the right of inheritance;

4. The confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels;

5. The centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by the establishment of a state bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly;

6. The centralization of transport in the hands of the state;

7. An increase in the state ownership of factories and instruments of production, and the redistribution and amelioration of agricultural land on a general plan;

8. Universal obligation to work and creation of labour armies especially for agriculture;

9. The unification of agricultural with industrial labour, and the gradual abolition of the differences between town and country;

10. The public education of all children. Abolition of factory labour for children in its present form. Unification of education with economic production.

Unfortunately due to political hindrances Marx was unable to see the fulfillment of the principles he stood for. These principles, however, would still lead to various revolutions in Russia's history through other methods and political figures. After the death of Marx, his influential ideas led to the creation of formal political parties, the first of which was the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). The majority faction of the RSDLP was a group called the Bolsheviks (at the time named for their party majority) headed by none other than Vladimir Lenin. The Bolsheviks took power during the Russian Revolution of 1917 (giving Lenin a position at the uppermost echelons of power) and created the Soviet Union.

Lenin did not follow Marx's theories and plans exactly (no leader has or likely ever will) nevertheless, he took the fundamental theories of Marxism and shaped them to fit the needs of the changing circumstances of his country at the time of the Russian Revolution. In this way, the principles of the Bolsheviks were a foundation of Marx expanded with the architecture of Lenin.

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Engels and Marx portrayed communists as "the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others." This specific definition summarizes some of Lenin's essential principles. Lenin saw the Communist Party as a small group of elites who ruled over the proletariats for their own good. This group of elites, chosen because of their intellect and understanding of Marxist policy, given the task of instituting the principles of socialism through any means necessary, including violence. This aspect of Leninism appeared also in the insistence of a a dictatorship by the leaders of the Communist Party not the workers themselves. This he described as "The dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors"" This authoritarian elitism of a dictatorship over the proletariat rather than a dictatorship of the proletariat was one Lenin's significant departures from Marxism. Conversely, this departure bared the same motives as Marx; "...for the poor...for the people...restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists". Lenin's use of a small committed group created a level of organization and efficiency that might not have been otherwise possible. Considering that the merely the process and not the outcome of Marx and Lenin's plans were different,

Marx predicted a revolution that was supposed to occur within an industrialized and capitalistic nation. At the time of Lenin, Russia was neither of the two. When the Lenin employed the policy of war communism it had a drastic effect on the Russian economy. The policy of war communism, employed by Lenin and the Bolshevik during the Russian civil war, called for the seizure of private businesses and food and the nationalization of industry. The policy of war communism with an end to private business and distribution of food and resources to the people through the was largely in accordance with the policies of Marxism. Unfortunately, war communism gave farmers no incentive to grow surplus grain because it would just be taken from them by the government. As a result, many urban residents faced starvation and industrial productivity declined. In order to counter act the effects of war communism Lenin created the NEP (New Economic Policy). The fundamental policies of the NEP were the return of most agriculture, and small scale business and industry to private ownership while the government kept control of large scale industry, infrastructure, trade and banking. Money, which became useless due to inflation during war communism, was reinstated in 1922. The NEP was a step back from the goals of both Lenin and Marx, but was necessary due to the utter failure of war communism; Lenin himself acknowledged this with a quote regarding the NEP and the inherent partial capitalism "a few steps back would lead to a giant leap forward".
Lenin and his companions faced a difficult challenge when attempting to socialize Russia. They were unable to completely utilize the works of Marx since his were aimed at the industrialized nations such as Britain and Germany. To suit his purpose Lenin bent Marx's theories. These modifications were used to deal with Russia's backwards people and government and to jump over the capitalist phase

Lenin's death resulted in power struggles and in-fighting among possible replacement. In the end, Joseph Stalin conquered his adversaries (Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinovyev, Lev Kamenev, Nikolay Bukharin, and Aleksey Rykov,) and rose to power. Stalin had several notable policies and political practices including the 5 Year Plans and Collectivization. As well as these policies he was known for harsh totalitarian rule and political deception and secrecy.

In 1928 Stalin began the infamous Five-Year Plans that would drastically effect the soviet socio-economic climate. Stalin inherited the NEP from Lenin. Despite the end of the crisis conditions such as the Russian civil war and economic instability caused by war communism coming to a halt, Stalin chose to keep the policy in place. Stalin initiated the 5 year plans to advance Russian industry. Stalin said Russian industry was "fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us." He continued the use of 5 year plans in an effort to improve industry and later on, to stock pile military armaments.

During the same period in time Stalin commenced the process of agricultural collectivization. Under this policy, individual farms combined to be run as collective farms where farmers were given housing and a fixed income. The policy forced farmers to the collective farms rather than allowing the farmers to revolutionize themselves.

Furthermore, Stalin's regime employed various deceitful and totalitarian political practices and held several basic differences from Marxism. In a speech by Gregori Aleksandrov (a member of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party) at a Lenin Memorial Meeting, which the elite of the bureaucracy and all the members of the Political Bureau attended, Aleksandrov blatantly stated that reinterpretation of Marx's ideas to changing circumstances was necessary and advocated an idea of "socialism in one country". Marx, on the other hand advocated a dissolution of the state, and Stalin himself had earlier said that the concept of "socialism in one country" was not possible presenting an aberration of Marx's views between the two time periods.

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