Real Marxism: "Workers of the world, unite!"
China History

Research Report
Web Resources


    For more than a century, people have misidentified Marxism: It has been called Communism, Socialism, Maoism, Stalinism, Anarchy, and other things.  However, none of these philosophies is really Marxism!  The socioeconomic philosophy (formed in the late 1840's) by German progressive philosophers/social scientists, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, became the framework for future revolutionaries to emulate.  "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;" Marx wrote in a book introduction, "the point is to change it."

Historical Background

     "And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of classes," Marx wrote in a 1852 letter to a fellow Socialist.
    For a man who wrote those words, and who shaped the thoughts and ideas of millions over the centuries, Karl
Heinrich Marx-- and his philosophy--, had a humble beginning.  The father of Marxism was born on May 5, 1818 in the Rhineland town of Trier, Germany.  Coming from a middle-class home, where education was stressed, it was no
surprise that the 17 year old Marx decided to follow in his father's footsteps, and pursue law.  In 1835, he enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn.  By 1836, the elder Marx was displeased with his son's education and circle of liberal friends at Bonn, and sent him to the University of Berlin, where young Karl continued his studies for the next four years.
    In Berlin, Marx only found a more liberal circle to befriend.  He soon became a member of the Young Hegelian
movement, a group, which produced a radical critique of Christianity and,  opposed the Prussian autocracy.  Being a
member of the society, Marx and other liberals, were denied teaching positions in the German Universities.
    Finding this opportunity closed, in 1842, Marx began to write and edit "Rheinische Zeitung," a liberal newspaper
backed by industrialists in Cologne.  Marx and his wife, Jenny von Westphalen, were forced to flee to France after the
German government closed down "Rheinische Zeitung."  While in Paris, Marx met fellow radical German exiles, and
many influential French socialists.  These contacts changed the young man, and he wrote The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), which outlined a humanist conception of communism.  It was also at this time that Marx was first introduced to fellow German philosopher, Friedrich Engels, who would become his co-author, friend, and confidant for the rest of their lives.
    By 1845, both the Marx family and the Engels were living in London (after being expelled from France).  The two
men joined the Communist League, an organization of German émigré workers, based in London.  It was for this group, that Marx, 29, and Engels, 27, wrote their most influential, most widely read document, The Communist Manifesto (1848).  This declaration of a Socialist-Marxist position sparked revolts across Europe.  In response (and support) of the 1848 revolution in France, Marx wrote and published The Class Struggles in France and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
    Because of his fanatical devotion to the spread of this doctrine, Marx's family life was dismal at best.  The couple had 6 children, of which 3 died before reaching adolescence.  The family lived in poverty, often being supported by a loyal Engels, while Marx worked on further writings.  The family was living in permanent exile in the Soho quarter of London, and would never see Germany (as a complete family) again.
    Throughout this time Marx kept active: traveling to promote Socialist/Communist ideas, serving on the General
Council of the First International (a political revolutionary organization), and always writing.  After an exhaustive study of political economy, in 1867, Marx was able to publish Das Capital, (or On Capital, in English).
    Marx was one of the first and most ardent defenders of the Paris Commune, after it's suppression in 1871.  The
trip to France was one of the last he'd ever take.  For the last decade of his life, Marx was a virtual invalid, due to poor
health and over-work.  His oldest daughter and his wife, Jenny, died within a year of each other (1882 and 1883), and
these losses clouded the last years of his life.
    A year later, March 14, 1883, Marx died peacefully at his London apartment, and was buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London.  Fittingly, Engels was there to give the eulogy:

 "Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history... [he] also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production, and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival.  His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work."
           --Eulogy delivered by Friedrich Engels, at the grave-side of Karl Marx
    Marxism was a doctrine that emerged at the right time, through the right people, in the right way, to the right audience.
If any of the factors had been different, it might be difficult to pick Marx out from any number of German political and
social philosophers writing at this time.  Marx's unique ideology and principles of equality appealed to the mass of
underprivileged workers working for oppressive governments.  The system of change, and the plan of how to reach that
change, were exactly what Marx provided.

Research Report

    In technical terms, "Marxism is the theory of dialectical materialism based on communist practice" (Engels,
Dialectics of Nature, Introduction); In simpler terms, it is, "the theory and practice of working class self-emancipation,"
(Rick Kuhn,

The main, and most recognized, feature of socialism is public ownership of: the means of production, distribution, and exchange.  Marx never claims to found a new philosophy, he merely states that his form of Communism has two different points: one is to be a universal doctrine, and the second is that they understand the significance of a movement by the proletariat.  Both of these will bring about the desired effect, which is the abolition of all private property.  Marx's theory of Historical Materialism is the method for interpreting history.  The way to use this method is to interpret all relations between groups of people as class relations, and to interpret all conflicts as reflections of class struggles.  A specific sequence of historical stages is always part of the Historical Materialism doctrine.
    Most struggles in history are class struggles, and the new classes usually win power by revolution.  In Marx's theory, capitalism is naturally replaced by Socialism, due to a "proletarian revolution".
    As we see throughout history, when humans began to organize themselves in accordance to their relations to
production (the division of labor), classes in society formed based on the different positions and roles humans found and
created themselves in. What once was a society with little or no class structure, (i.e. a tribal or nomadic society) became a society that split many times, and divided itself into a diverse classes, which fulfill a broad range of 'production roles': As the productive forces of humans increases, class distinctions deepen too.
    It is at this point, that Marx coins new words to explain the modern worker.  'Proletariat' means, "the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live," (Marx, The Communist Manifesto).  In opposition to these workers, is the 'Bourgeois,' "the class of modern Capitalists, the owners of the means of social production and wage labor," (Marx, The Communist Manifesto).
    This working class develops a collective consciousness and that is precisely why Marxists base themselves on the
working class. It is the only class that can develop such a consciousness, precisely because of its position in production.  The bourgeoisie (small-business people, small-farms farmers, intellectuals isolated form the masses), is unable to do the same, because they are not being repressed by the system, as the proletariat are.
    At this point, both sides are so bitterly divided, that the only choice left is a revolution to overthrow the ineffective,
current ruling class-- the Bourgeoisie.
    There are four phases to the desired revolution:

1.-- The Destruction: Workers destroy any apparatus and good that is tied to their work.  The power of the workers
grows at this time.
2.-- The Awakening & Flexing:  The proletariat bands together and asserts their power.  There starts to emerge, a
universal character of the group as a whole.
3.-- The Recognition and Education of the Proletariat: The bourgeoisie tries to pacify the workers by educating them,
but this move only makes the workers better, and more determined to win the class struggle.
4.-- The Decisive Hour: The time at which  the rulers of the bourgeoisie become disillusioned and the class turns on
itself, with more of them joining the revolutionaries, than the current ruling powers.  This is when the class structure will
crumble, and Marxist-Socialist will take charge and form the new, equal system.

    The popular Socialist slogan of the day was, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his work."
Marx modified the Communist statement, for the Manifesto, and wrote, "From each according to his abilities, to each
according to his needs."  The government would be in charge of the economy, distribution, the welfare of the whole, and the equality of all.
    In their new classless society, everything is collectively owned by the people.  Distinctions between nations would
begin to disappear, as workers around the world found solidarity with one another.  Socialism knows no class boundaries.
    Other changes in government/society will include: heavy progressive or graduated income taxes; no 'rights of
inheritance'; centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of one national bank; centralized means of
communication and transport (run by the state); cultivating waste lands and the improving the soil; combination of
agriculture and manufacturing industries; equable population distribution over the country; free education for all children
in public schools, but with an education in industrial production as well; and the equal obligation of all to work (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter 2).

Historical Significance

    The repercussions of Marxism have truly been almost immeasurable.  Not only was a new ideology established, but the foundation laid for several of the most feared and suspected regimes.  The world still hearkens back to several Marxian ideas, when seeking relief from on oppressive government or overwhelming capitalism.
    Marx and other Marxists-Socialists worked for the enfranchisement of women, as well as the common workers.  In earlier doctrine of the movement, women were are a class that was still greatly ignored.  By working for the equality of genders, Marxism gained many female supporters and practicians as well.
    The Communist Manifesto was seen as the document that effectively tied all the workers of the world together,
regardless of country, and gave direction to their aspirations.  According to Marxist philosopher David McClellan, The
Communist Manifesto was the springtime of modern Socialist thought, because of it's simple, and still relevant, principles.
    Marxism was very effective in its attacks on privilege in feudal and capitalist societies, especially hereditary
privilege.  Marxists also helped the development of a labor movement that considerably increased the bargaining power
of workers relative to management.


Callinicos, Alex.  The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx.  Bookmarks Press: London,  1996.
Draper, Hal.  Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution. Monthly Review Press:  New York,  1976- 90.
Engels, Fredrick and trans. Clems Dutt,   Dialectics of Nature.  Progress Publishers: Moscow,  USSR,  1964.
Fried, Albert and Ronald Sanders (ed.),  Socialist Thought.  Ancor Books: New York, 1950.
Gandy, D. Ross.  Marx and History.  University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas.  1979.
Gottlieb, Roger S.  Marxism: 1844-1990.  Routledge Press: New York.  1992.
Harman, Chris.  How Marxism Works.  Bookmarks Press:  London,  1997.
Kemple, Thomas.  Reading Marx Writings.  Stanford University Press: California,  1995.
Marx, Karl and Fredrick Engels, David McClellan (ed.),  The Communist Manifesto.  Oxford University Press:
    Oxford, England,  1848.
Ollmann, Bertell (ed.),  Market Socialism: the Debate amongst Socialists.  Routledge Pub. Inc: New York,  1998.

Web Resources   (Marx bio page)  (40 key Marxist points; and comparisons to other popular "-isms")   (scroll down the page to get there)  (Marx and Engels topic archive)  (online version of The Comunist Manifesto, for those of you who don't want to go out and buy it.)     (saterical site, but good info, scroll down for choices)   (best easy intro to Marx's econ principles) (the Marxist Internet Archive) (I'd highly recommend the "Intro" link)   (see the "FAQ" and "Marxist Theory" links)   (for those of you interested in how Marxism spread to China)

Report compiled by: Amanda Jane Ault