Dialectical Materialism as proposed by Karl Marx and a History of Capitalism

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Marxism, or Scientific Socialism, is the name given to the body of ideas first worked out by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).[1] In their totality, these ideas provide a fully worked-out theoretical basis for the struggle of the working class to attain a higher form of human society. The study of Marxism falls under three main headings, corresponding broadly to philosophy, social history and economics – Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism and Marxist Economics. These are the famous “Three component parts of Marxism” of which Lenin wrote.

Dialectical Materialism is an essential pre-requisite to understanding Marx’s philosophy and is a major method upon which the entire doctrine of Marx is founded. It provides one with a logical and thorough world standpoint. Its textbook definition goes like this, “the Marxist theory (adopted as the official philosophy of the Soviet communists) that political and historical events result from the conflict of social forces and are interpretable as a series of contradictions and their solutions. The conflict is seen as caused by material needs.”

The Dialectical Materialism is the Marxist explanation of what people, Earth and the Universe are, and what makes them go around, it is the communist philosophy. It is professed to be radically different from all the other philosophies and is the device of social change as Marx himself quotes, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Everything that exists is material. Our musings, deliberations and thoughts are just impressions of material items in our physical minds. There are no spirits, divine beings or devils or whatever else that doesn’t have a physical structure. No “pure information” that isn’t an objective reality. This is Materialism. Everything that exists, is in logical inconsistency and conflict with something different, which comes in pairs. Magnetic poles, boys and girls, etc. They battle, and battle, and out of that battle, something new comes to fruition; after which something new to fight upon is found. This has no start and no closure. Whatever, or whoever isn’t battling, is dead, or is a figment of our creative mind. There is no need of God to give one the incentive to move or work, they do this by themselves. This is Dialectics.[2] According to this law the whole human history is in the continuity, in which each succeeding age is much more advanced than the preceding one – primitive communism led to Slavery which morphed into Feudalism, then Capitalism after which came Socialism and then eventually Communism.

Marxism is what is also known as conflict theory because it states that society is in conflict with each other, mainly the rich and the poor. It is an economic and political theory about the way things are and suggestions to where this is headed in the future. Marx never saw communism in the oppressive ways of the Soviet Union, rather he saw it as a way of liberation. He saw it as a way of getting the best out of all the people, not just those with money and power and a leveller way of creating a fairer society.[3] To understand Marxism, we have to visit its almost opposite, i.e., capitalism.

Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which a country’s trade, industry, and profits are controlled by private companies, instead of by the people whose time and labour powers those companies. This is largely the society that exists in modern times. What this essentially means is that the society today is based off of and controlled by a few people who own factories, businesses, shops, and other corporations. And these corporations aren’t jointly owned by the employers and their employees, but by the job providers only.

The origins of the economic, political as well as cultural system of capitalism date back to the 16th century, soon after the Black Death, which was largely a deadly plague characterized by the bubonic plague carried around by rodents who were very large in density and number. This plague caused the death of about 60% of all of Europe which essentially meant that the remaining people – optimistically – viewed as a chance to reform pre-existing trade practices. A new class of merchants emerged who began to trade with foreign nations. This hurt the local economy and also led to the practices of slavery, colonialism and imperialism.

Along the same timeline, feudalism, i.e., a hierarchal system which bonded farm labourers, commonly known as serfs to their masters as an exchange between labour and military protection and food and shelter, was largely being rejected and these tenants now found themselves unemployed and homeless; eventually leading them away from their homes and clustering in and around urban centres. They now sold their labour in a relatively new and highly competitive work environment trying their best to survive. The work they did was very low paid and often dangerous, even fatal at times; and thus, children were exploited as a means of cheap labour. The factory owners didn’t want to pay their workers a lot because this meant less profit for their own pockets.

 This was also the time when the State worked against their favour and collaborated with capitalists to concert a maximum wage along with clamping down on beggars. Thus, by the 18th century, England was and industrial nation and the revered Adam Smith published his work An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations; largely regarded as the bedrock upon which capitalism stands, making him popularly known as the “father of capitalism”.

This Industrial Revolution hence promoted a capitalist way of thinking or what is known as a capitalist ideology and also created two distinct classes of people; the Bourgeoisie or the capitalists and the Proletariat or the workers. This can be understood by drawing a parallel. The worker is a bus driver, waking up every day to go to work for a seven-hour job. He sells his labour and receives daily wages for this at the end of each day. This is achieved by him giving away about a third of his daily earnings to his employer and keeping the remaining to be spent on himself and his family. The employer here is the Bourgeoisie who merely earns profit off of the Proletariat’s hard work. [4]

Capitalism is therefore a relatively young method. Before the Plague, feudalism existed where serfs were paid for their work in kind and not cash. Going further back, the Roman society was largely a slave society; and going even further back to the era of our ancestors being cave men, there were no social classes, only close-knit tribal groups trying to survive to the best of their abilities – as the popular Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest goes. The capitalists and their interests needed to be protected against those of the Proletariat’s, in the way of forming unions, organising protests, attempting or actually taking over factories, etc. and this was achieved by authority figures, i.e., the police in modern times and centurions in the Romans slave society. Another popular way was blacklisting during the industrial era to the extent that the workers couldn’t find jobs in the future.

The October Revolution in the Soviet Union was the rise of a new system vis a vis socialism where the Proletarians held state power and the Bourgeoisie was pretty much non-existent. Any Proletariat wanting to go against the state was taken action against. Other examples of the same system are Vietnam and East Germany; and states where socialism is in the process of being formulated are India, Ecuador, etc. Modern day capitalism developed as science progressed making large-scale production possible through its advanced machinery and largely capitalist states are all of North America and South Korea, etc.

Marx saw this capitalist system as not only being very oppressive of the poor and greatly harmful for the environment but also as a system going out of its way to make sure the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor and the societal divide among the classes stays intact so as to generate more profits. He also strongly believed that eventually the Proletariat would recognise their power and empower themselves through education and media. They would then rise against those who are treating them unfairly and form a new system of society where all people would be treated equally and all corporations would be owned by everyone, or in other words, communally owned, and this is what Marx called communism.

Modern rejection of the system of capitalism can also be seen in various situations. The Washington Post conducted a survey in 2016 where a majority of millennials rejected the system outright and according to Salon almost 66% of them have no savings whatsoever for their retirement because they very deeply believe that the capitalist way of the economy will collapse completely by then. [5]This proves that the system of society which emerged during the times of Greek philosopher Plato but gained momentum during the time of contemporaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, has become only more and more increasingly popular.

[1] Lewis S. Feuer and David T. McLellan, Karl Heinrich Marx, ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, (Aug. 6, 2019, 4:57 PM), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Karl-Heinrich-Marx

[2] Lefebvre, Henri. Dialectical materialism. U of Minnesota Press, 2009.

[3] Joshua Muravchik, Marxism, 133 D’BIN OF HISTORY, 36-38, 37 (2002)

[4] Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “Bourgeois and proletarians.” Manifesto of the communist party (1848).

[5] Faiola, A. (2008). The End of American Capitalism?. Washington Post, 10.

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