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What are the main tenets of Marxism?

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The main tenets of Marxism include the belief that capitalism creates exploitative class divisions, with the bourgeoisie owning the means of production and the proletariat providing labor. Marxism advocates for the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeoisie through revolution, abolish private property, and establish an egalitarian society where resources and labor are distributed based on need and ability, transcending political borders.

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Marxism is a way of examining and critiquing the socio-economic conditions and class status. It promotes a transition to a more egalitarian arrangement based primarily on the following observations and principles.

  • Marxism acknowledges that there exists a historical tendency to divide people into social classes that are characterized by inequality and injustice. This results in a constant state of class struggle.
  • Marxism acknowledges that unfettered capitalism creates a system in which the majority of labor is performed by a class of people who do not reap the most benefits from their labor.
  • This labor is done to benefit an elite class instead of benefiting the needs of all.
  • The elite use many tools, such as organized religion and the promotions of racial, ethnic, and gender prejudices to help maintain their power.
  • It is the responsibility of the labor class itself to emancipate themselves from this exploitive system. Relying on the elite class to level the playing field means perpetual exploitation.
  • It is likely that a violent revolution is the only way for the working class to secure their rights and privileges.
  • An egalitarian society requires the elimination of private property.
  • This is an international struggle that transcends political borders. In fact, a true Marxist revolution would lead to the end of nations themselves and result in a global community.
  • Once this has occurred, resources and labor will be divided based upon needs and abilities without regard to previous social stations.
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Marxism was developed by Karl Marx, a nineteenth-century German philosopher. His theory seeks to explain the nature of society and consists of a number of key tenets.

  • Capitalism (the dominant economic and social system of our society) is, by its nature, exploitative.
  • The reason for this exploitation is that capitalism has created two distinct classes of people: the upper class, or bourgeoisie, and the workers, or the proletariat.
  • To work out a person's class, we must look at his or her relationship to the means of production. These are the factories, workshops and pieces of land which enable a society to produce goods. According to Marxism, the bourgeoisie owns the means of production while the proletariat is forced to work on it.
  • This relationship is exploitative because the bourgeoisie profit from the labor of the proletariat. In contrast, the proletariat earns a meager subsistence wage and have become alienated from their labor.
  • The only way to change this system of exploitation is for the proletariat to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie. Marx believed that this revolution was inevitable.
  • To create an equal society, the proletariat will abolish private property and take control of the means of production. Everyone will, therefore, be equal in society and nobody will suffer from exploitation or alienation.
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Marxism can be summarized as a philosophy in which revolutionary thinking gives rise to social, political, and economic changes that accommodate all individual needs. Marxism describes a situation where the masses work in production but do not get the benefit of enjoying the surplus of their production. The surplus is enjoyed by a few members of the society known to control the factors of production. Based on the described situation, Marxism comes into sharp contrast with capitalism.

In capitalism, social classes are evident, and they are defined by the economic capacity of the individual. A simple distinction would be between those who own the factories of production and those who perform the production activities. Marxism envisions a situation where revolutions exchange capitalism for socialism as an inevitable part of human attempts to address problems presented by capitalism. 

Socialism is expected to apportion proceeds of production based on individual contribution and needs. Communism is described as a development of socialism where class distinctions do not exist and proceeds of production are distributed based on individual needs.

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The main tenet of Marxism, as described by Marx and Engels themselves in their 1848 work Communist Manifesto, and in Marx's magnum opus Capital, is this: History is best understood as a series of class antagonisms. One's membership in a class, according to Marx, was defined by one's relationship to the predominant means of production in a society. By Marx's time, the Industrial Revolution had led to the creation of mills and factories as well as the complex financial institutions that made these businesses possible. So Marx thought that the Industrial Revolution had ushered in a new and final period of class conflict between what he called the "bourgeoisie," the owners of the factories and mills and the capitalists who backed them, and the "proletariat," or working class that did not own the means of production. Over time, Marx thought that striving for efficiency and higher profits would necessarily drive more people into the proletariat and further alienate them from the value of the things they produced. It would also lead to more wretched conditions for workers. Eventually, the industrial working class, the proletariat, would rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie, just as that class had done to the old nobility. This would be, Marx thought, the end of history, as class conflict would end. The proletarian revolution would usher in a classless society, and property ownership would no longer be the standard for social class. Marx thought this process would be inevitable because of the relentless logic of the profit motive that drove capitalists to constantly seek higher efficiency, even at the expense of alienating the working class.

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