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What are Karl Marx's thoughts on political ethics?

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Karl Marx thought that political ethics were incomprehensible except through understanding the economic base underlying a political system. He wrote in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that "the economic structure of society...[is] the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness." What this means is that what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior for politicians, that is to say, what is ethical, is basically what is necessary to keep the ruling classes in power. These systems of ethics were part of the "legal and political superstructure."

This has led some commentators to argue that Marx really did not believe in ethics, because they were meaningless in and of themselves. In terms of what Marx believed about proper political behavior, he strongly suggests that ethical behavior for its own sake was impossible in a capitalist system. The only truly ethical behavior, then, would be actions aimed at overthrowing this system. The only way to do that was to increase class-consciousness through one's political actions, making oppressed workers aware of the ways they were oppressed, and offering them the alternative of revolutionary change.

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