by Frank Caccioppoli
Marxism is a social political theory based on the writings of Karl Marx, a German writer and philosopher who lived from 1818 to 1883. According to Marxism, any capitalist society consists of an upper class which controls the means of production, and a working class which produces for society. Marx identified a class struggle between these two parts of a society and noted the inequality which exists as a result. According to the theories of Marxism, the only way to address this class inequality, and ensure that a society meets the needs of its people, is through economic reform and adopting various socialist policies.
Most Marxist writers are interested in applying these ideas to create such a society, rather than exploring these ideas only in theory, and for this reason, Marxism has also referred to the history of social movements inspired by Marx’s ideas. According to Marx, such a change could only come from the working class themselves, and it is for this reason that Marxism is associated with various revolutionary movements and considered to be a revolutionary ideology.
There have been several revolutions throughout history that were based on Marxism to varying degrees, unfolding in countries such as Russia and China, with varying degrees of success. The Russian Revolution of 1917 in particular led to a major shift in Marxist thought among scholars of western Europe, who had expected these revolutionary movements to have a greater hold among the more industrialized western nations (Ian Buchanan). As Ian Buchanan notes, this more pragmatic approach to Marxism became known as Western Marxism, but it is also known as cultural Marxism for its focus more on social or cultural issues rather than effecting change on a revolutionary level. Cultural Marxist thinkers include Walter Benjamin, Antonio Gramsci, and Gyorgy Lukacs.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. “Communist Manifesto, Excerpt (1848).” Encyclopedia of World Trade: From Ancient Times to the Present, edited by Cyntia Northrup, Routledge, 2013.
Buchanan, Ian. “Marxism.” A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Buchanan, Ian. “Western Marxism.” A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Carver, Terrell. “Marx, Karl.” Encyclopedia of Modern Political Thought. CQ Press, 1st edition, 2013.