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Main Tenets of Classical Marxism


Russias development in the postreform era made clearer with each passing year the utopianism of the Narodniks hopes of a peasant revolution. Some of them began to question the belief in a special destiny of the Russian people and its predetermined movement towards a communal organization of life. The experience of Western Europe seemed to suggest that capitalism was, after all, a necessary stage on the road of human progress. The era of the bloody revolutions of the 1840s, which had so unsettled A. Herzen and made him spurn Western European socialist theories, was now in the past. European workers had won the right to participate in the political process. The popularity of social-democratic parties which expressed the interests of wage labor was on the rise. And so was the influence and reputation of Marxism as the ideology of the working class. 

Karl Marx

Marxism represented a particular type of Socialism. Its founders were two German philosophers, Karl Marx (1818-1883) and his life-long friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). Working for several decades, starting in the turbulent 1840s, they had constructed a huge and comprehensive, albeit not entirely consistent, philosophical system. Their ideas were first presented in a systematic form in 1848 in the celebrated Manifesto of the Communist Party. They were then developed more thoroughly in the three volumes of Marxs Capital. The intellectual roots of Marxism included the eighteenth century Enlightenment, classical economics, utopian socialism and German idealistic philosophy - in other words, some of the main traditions of Western thought.

Most importantly, Marx and Engels tried to find a rational formula, a comprehensive social hypothesis that would sum up the evolution of mankind and indicate the course of its future development. One of the key elements of their theory was the idea of the natural-historical character of social development. The essence of it was that society developed in accordance with its own intrinsic laws which were no less objective than the laws of nature. For this reason each social formation appears only then and there, when and where appropriate conditions have matured for it. It subsequently gives way to a next formation when that new formation has been prepared by a different set of objective and subjective conditions.

In this sense, Marx presented social development as a natural social-historical process. To use a metaphor, just as a foetus in a mothers womb has to pass through necessary preliminary stages before it becomes a self-sustaining living organism, so, too,  social systems are conceived, develop,  pass from one qualitative stage to the next in accordance with certain objective laws.

The second fundamental Marxist principle in the explanation of historical process is materialism. Unlike idealism, which believes that it is the consciousness of men that determines their existence, materialism looks for objective foundations of the consciousness itself and finds them in the material life of people, in their concrete social conditions. Materialism as a methodological principle was used by Marx to uncover an economic base of society in the form of the mode of production. He argued that the mode of production of the material means of existence conditioned the whole process of social, political and intellectual life. It was not the consciousness of men that determined their existence, but, on the contrary, it was their social existence that determined their consciousness. Thus, in a complex description of historical events and social structures a certain objective foundation was discovered that seemed to hold the key to the understanding of the evolution of human society.

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Appearance of Marxism


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