The two founders of Marxism were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Karl Marx wrote “The Communist Manifesto” which lays out the foundations of Marxism. He also wrote ‘Das Kapital’. These volumes critically analysed capitalism. Engels edited in part ‘Das Kapital’ and he also wrote ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State’, a book which links capitalism to the family.
Historical materialism is the idea that development is in correlation to the emergence of the maintenance of social classes. Historical materialism sees history as progressive but rejects the idea that it is the actions of individuals. Marxists see that the key dynamism is economic development. Historical materialism is a theory of historical development through economic or material forces rather than political or social ones.
In the ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’ of 1844 Marx identified four types of alienation in labour under capitalism:
There is the alienation of the worker from the work he produces, from the product of his labour. The product’s design and the manner in which it is produced are determined not by its actual producers, nor even by those who consume the products, but rather by the capitalist class, which appropriates labour – including that of designers and engineers – and seeks to shape consumers’ taste in order to maximize profit. The capitalist gains control of the worker – including intellectual and creative workers – and the beneficial effects of his work by setting up a system that converts the worker’s efforts not only into a useful, concrete thing capable of benefiting consumers, but also into an illusory, concept – something called “work” – which is compensated in the form of wages at a rate as low as possible to maintain a maximum rate of return on the industrialist’s investment capital. Furthermore, within this illusory framework, the exchange value that could be generated by the sale of products and returned to workers in the form of profits is absconded with by the managerial and capitalist classes.
This is coupled with the alienation of the worker from working, from the act of producing itself. This kind of alienation refers to the patterning of work in the capitalist means of production into an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive, trivial, and meaningless motions, offering little, if any, intrinsic satisfaction. The worker’s labour is commodified into exchange value itself in the form of wages. A worker is thus estranged from the unmediated relation to his activity via such wages.
Capitalism removes the right of the worker to exercise control over the value or effects of his labour, robbing him of the ability to either consume the product he makes directly or receive the full value of the product when it is sold: this is the first alienation of worker from product.
There is the alienation of the worker from himself as a producer, from his or her “species being” or “essence as a species”. To Marx, this human essence is not separate from activity or work, nor static, but includes the innate potential to develop as a human organism. A man’s value consists in his ability to conceive of the ends of his action as purposeful ideas distinct from any given step of realizing them: man is able to objectify his intentional efforts in an idea of himself (the subject) and an idea of the thing which he produces (the object).
There is the alienation of the worker from other workers or producers. Capitalism reduces labour to a commercial commodity to be traded on the market, rather than a social relationship between people involved in a common effort for survival or betterment. The competitive labour market is set up in Industrial Capitalist economies to extract as much value as possible in the form of capital from those who work to those who own enterprises and other assets that control the means of production. This causes the relations of production to be based on conflict… i.e. it pits worker against worker, alienating members of the same class from their mutual Interest, an effect Marx called false consciousness.
Marx believed that capitalism can only thrive on the exploitation of the working class.
Marx believed that there was a real contradiction between human nature and the way that we must work in a capitalist society.
According to Marx, capitalism largely shapes the educational system. Without the education system, the economy would become a massive failure as without education we are without jobs and employment which is what keeps society moving. Education helps to maintain the bourgeoisie and the proletariat so that there can workers producing goods and services and others benefiting from it. Schools transmit an ideology which states that capitalism is just and reasonable. The ruling class project their view of the world which becomes the consensus view (hegemony).
Secondly, schools prepare pupils for their roles in the workforce. Most are trained to accept their future exploitation and provided with adult qualifications to match their future work roles. Bowles and Gintis introduced their correspondence theory that there is a close correspondence between the educational system and the workforce. This is essential for social reproduction. Marx also believed in the myth of meritocracy in that people are led to believe that we achieve according to merit in society. However, it could be related to class and affluence.
Marxists do not believe that society is based on a value consensus and operates to benefit all. The family is seen as one of a number of institutions which serves to maintain the position of the ruling class. The family is shaped by the requirements of capitalism to serve, support and maintain it. As the family is unit of consumption the economy largely relies on the funding of the family, they buy things which largely benefit a capitalist society. This also links to economic determinism which is another reason as to why the family is essential, without the family there would be no economy. The family also reproduce a labour force another thing that benefits the economy and the family have authority when raising children and conforming them to their ways of society.
Marx predicted that the working class would get poorer (pauperisation); that the rich would get richer and that society would move to two different diametrically opposed areas (polarisation); Marx believed that the middle class would be sucked into one of these areas but would not remain a separate entity and that a class struggle between the rich and the poor would lead to revolution in which the poor would remove the rich.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex