What are the strengths and weaknesses of Marxism?

Speaking toward Marxism as an analytic framework, its great strength can be found in how it widens our understanding and appreciation for class conflict and economic factors in shaping social and historical interactions. At the same time, it has the weakness of being a totalizing narrative, often to the point of becoming trapped in its own presuppositions. Additionally, it is also important to reflect on Marxism's political dynamics and the history of communism as inspired by Marx's writings.

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With a question such as this one, it is useful to specify just what you mean by Marxism, because there is Marxism as a school of socialism (predominantly associated with communism), but there is also Marxism as a school of historical and sociological analysis, which has the aim of explaining and understanding historical, political, and social trends through the lens of class struggle and economic factors.

The two are linked, especially given that Marx himself understood history as progressing towards an eventual classless society, but even so, Marxism as an analytic framework and Marxism as a political system are not, strictly speaking, the same thing and should not be conflated with one another. For this answer, as others have already spoken about the purely political dynamic, I will be speaking toward Marxism's advantages and disadvantages as an analytic framework.

In many respects, one of the greatest advantages of Marxism, especially within the context of nineteenth- and even early-twentieth-century intellectual circles, was the degree to which it broadened and expanded our understanding of historical causation, along with human political and social interactions. For example, the histories produced in this time period (and earlier) were primarily narrative based and often primarily concerned with the dominant political figures and events of any age. Marxist analysis thus actually served to deepen our understanding of historical causation, introducing new dynamics such as class and economic factors. Under the Marxist historians, you would see increased focus on financial or tax policies, for example, or on the experience of agrarian peasants or the urban poor.

However, at the same time, one of its great strengths was also its greatest weakness as an analytic model. Marxism is a very powerful mechanism for exploring historical and sociological causation, but it also tends to be a totalizing narrative: for Marxists, everything tends to be driven by class struggle and economic factors. This has the effect, however, of sidelining other competing influences: the role of contingency, for example, with the degree to which individuals or even pure chance can serve as hinges on which history turns, not to mention entire approaches to historical analysis such as intellectual and political history, to give two examples. In the process, Marxist analysis risks becoming a form of analytic dogma, trapped in its own presuppositions.

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One strength of Marxism is its idealism. It works to expose injustice and fervently believes that all people should be treated with equality and dignity. It asserts that everyone should share abundantly in the wealth of a society. In its vision of a classless world, in which there is no sexism, racism, or ethnic discrimination, it holds up a compelling image of a better life for the exploited. Like Christianity, it too offers hope of a "New Jerusalem": according to Marxism, the inevitable end of history is the throwing off of the yoke of oppression and the creation of a truly just society that will wipe all tears away.

On a more practical level, Marxism offers good ideas for alleviating economic inequality, such as lowering interest rates to almost zero to spur economic development and taking out the drag of other "rents" in the economy that produce nothing and yet suck out money that could be employed for useful purposes.

It rightly questions whether it is better to build a highway that can carry goods to a distant location or erect a garish palace as the monument to one person's ego. It argues for the social benefits of free education, free health care and state run utilities—benefits that can be adopted even by an economic system that does not want to come near to embracing Marxism.

On the negative side, however, a major weakness of Marxism is that it leads to state tyranny. When the state owns everything, it can easily repress individual freedoms, behave arrogantly, and badly misallocate resources. Classic Marxism sees this period of state ownership as a temporary experience that will end with the withering of the state in favor of a utopic anarchy, but it offers no realistic path for achieving this goal.

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Marxism is designed to do away with poverty--the state controls the means of production and allocates these according to one's needs.  Everyone is supposed to work hard and contribute to society.  This is supposed to be a type of utopia.  During the 1930s Marxism grew in popularity in the United States because the Soviet Union had such low unemployment numbers.  

 

In reality, Marxism has the capacity to be quite corrupt. This is in part because so-called "Marxist" states usually violate key principals of Marxism. When states have tried to implement a version of Marxism, bureaucrats often take more than their fair share while the people suffer. Additionally, without incentive, people lose their willingness to go "above and beyond" to get a job done.  People might do shoddy work in order to meet mandated quotas of production. Without individual incentive to improve, economic life could stagnate under Marxism.  Marxism is designed to create a utopia, but it fails to take human nature into account and one of it's greatest weaknesses is that it seems impossible to truly implement.

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The major weakness of Marxism is that it does not seem to work in the real world.  This is because it does not take into account the essential greediness and selfishness of the human being.  Marxism relies on people to work hard just because they should and to forego the ability to get rich from their efforts.  Unfortunately, in the real world, this does not happen and Marxist economies have always been inefficient and unproductive.

The major strength of Marxism is a theoretical one.  In theory, it would be a much more humane way to run a society.  It would be much better if we could have societies where no one oppressed any one else and where no one was poor.  This is what Marxism promises (though it has never been able to deliver it).

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