Marxism Theory, Meaning, Ideology, and Criticism

Table of Contents

What Is Marxism?

Marxism meaning

Marxism is an economic, social, and political concept named after Karl Marx, which critically examines the impact of capitalism on labor, productivity, and economic development. The Marxist theory advocates for a worker revolution to overturn capitalism to favor communism. It also argues that class struggles and conflicts especially between the working class and the capitalists will eventually lead to revolutionary communism. Also, the theory clearly states these economic relations in a capitalist economy. Marxism, therefore, is the theory that focuses on class conflicts/struggles between the working class and capitalists. This concept encompasses the Marxist theory of class conflicts and Marxian Economics.

In literature, Marxism places paperwork within the context of class and assumptions pertaining to class.

Karl Marx explained that the power relationships that are in existence between the working class and the capitalists were exploitative in nature and with this, class struggles and conflicts are inevitable. He postulated that these class struggles will amount to a revolution whereby the working class would overthrow the capitalists and seize control of the economy.

In the 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels first formulated Marxism publicly. They propounded the theory of class struggle and revolution. Basically, Marxian Economics focuses on the criticisms of capitalism that Marx wrote about in his book in 1867 (Das Kapital.1).

Who is a Marxist?

A Marxist refers to someone who is in support of the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Their concerns are basically on the struggles of the workers in the middle class and the lower class, and economic inequality. The major goal of a Marxist is an economic revolution that results in a classless economy with an equal distribution of goods.

Characteristics of Marxism

Collective rights

Marxism places community needs above individual interests. It eliminates individual rights such as the right to produce freely and retain productive assets. For instance, Without property rights, a Marxist society may move entire communities from their various homes in order to embark on infrastructural developments.

Collective ownership

Marxism has a fundamental principle that pertains to the ownership structure of the properties. This states that all productive lands, buildings, vehicles, and machinery should be under the ownership and control of the state. Here, the state becomes the employer of labor, assigning work to each individual. Through the ownership of all capital, the state must typically implement central planning in order to organize all production processes. We often refer to this as collective ownership or community ownership. Practically, this may look like a monopoly where a single company all property and produces all goods or services.


The aim of designing Marxism is to appeal to those who feel trampled upon by the capitalists, or feel as if capitalism is not benefitting them. It, therefore, calls for conflict and revolution as this is opposed to reform and civility.


Lumpenproletariat is a term in Marxism for any individual who is not employable. Marx and Engels viewed this class of individuals as unthinking and prone to manipulation. When it comes to class struggles, the Marxist theory represents the interests of the proletariat, or working class, and is entirely dismissive of the lumpenproletariat.

Class struggle

Marxism philosophy views politics and history as a class struggle where the capitalists seek to dominate the working class.

Wealth redistribution

This theory promises to redistribute wealth evenly. This is based on the observation that the upper class is in ownership of most properties. It may be in the best interest of everyone to seize this property. This appears to be rational on the surface but has serious complications that should not be ignored. For example, a capitalist who has established a large company and is running it productively thereby creating high value. If a large collection of revolutionaries or bureaucracy takes over this company, it may run out of balance and become totally unproductive. By dramatically seizing the private ownership of this property, revolutionists are destroying the profit motive thereby creating instability and insecurity.


This is a theory stating that capitalism alienates the working class from their human nature. It supposes that alienation will depart and workers live in harmony with their nature when the workers are in ownership of capital. It is possible for this to be accused of magical thinking. For example, the Marxist theory supposes that coal miners in the Soviet Union were living in a joyful and peaceful state with human nature because they owned their mines.


The Marxist theory enforces absolute equality whereby the individual does not have the permission to do better than any other individual. Therefore, this diminishes or seizes the existence of the incentives to hard work, serve customers, develop talents, solve problems, etc. The idea that the people will work collectively work for the benefit of the community replaces these incentives. This assumes that capitalism does not have any altruistic motive while socialists are assumed to completely have these altruistic motives.

Low agency

The Marxist theory assumes that the individual has a low level of agency and is essentially a victim of systems. For instance, the theory views all capitalists as alienated whether they have the awareness of this alienation or not. By implication, workers that report high work or life satisfaction would be dismissed after having low self-awareness. This is primarily different from capitalism which embraces the ideology that people have the ability to pursue opportunities as well as being the best judge of their own happiness.


Marxism is a large critique of capitalism with the view that it is an oppressive economic system that does not go in accordance with human nature. This tends to focus on the distributive inefficiency of capitalism as only a few people can gather most of the wealth under the system. Another common criticism is environmental destruction through the creation of economic bad.

Historical materialism

This theory is based on the materialist view of history in which all societal features are assumed to base on economic structures thereby discarding every other element of human experience in favor of the view that human life is simply a struggle to control material resources. For example, Marx views religion as a tool of having control over the masses which opposes the element of human experience or as a human needs.

Commodity Fetishism

Karl Marx proposed the theory of commodity fetishism, that products and services have become objects of worship. This also encompasses the idea that material pursuits have miserably substituted real human needs. For example, the constant pursuit of luxury goods which most people perceive as creating social status as a substitute for earned respect from others.

Socialist pragmatism

This refers to the embrace of democratic socialism and social market economies that are based on democracy and capitalism but make use of regulations and taxation to improve things for the lumpenproletariat, working-class, and the middle class. This socialist pragmatism is marked by a willingness to work within the global capitalist system.

Historical determinism

Marxism is a form of historical determinism that views capitalism as a system that contains the seed of its own destruction and downfall. The theory portrays this downfall as an inevitable phenomenon. However, most of the predictions that Marx made with regard to capitalism have failed to materialize. For instance, he postulated that capitalism used more automation and less labor, and that profit margins would fall. The reverse has become the case. Also, Marx did not see the fact that a large number of the middle class would thrive, but this happened in the 20th century despite the ever-increasing automation.

Libertarian Marxism

This is a theory class that supposes that collectivism could thrive at a small scale with little or no state intervention. This, however, does not possess a ground theory of how this would work at the level of a large and complex society. This tends to be interesting when it comes to the design of small communities and cooperatives.

Capitalist realism

The term capitalist realism refers to the observation that the capitalist economy has produced massive improvements in the standard of living/quality of life, education, health, lifespan, and working environment such that it requires an active imagination to think that another system could replace it.

Marxism pros and cons

1) Advantages of Marxism

True equality

The Marxist concept helps in creating true equality though many have considered this as communism. The theory usually emphasizes human rights. The factors that form part of the Marxist foundation are equal gender roles, access to education, and health care facilities. Karl Marx believed that equality should exist before the law and societal services whereby every individual has an equal say and opportunity. His theory does not support any form of gender-based discrimination. This implies that every individual should be able to access the most important thing he is in need of. The individual should be able to access these needs irrespective of his job, activities, or where he lives.

Protects unions’ rights

Marxism helps encourage people to come together and form unions that will help people stand up for their rights. The purpose of this is to prevent any individual from experiencing exploitation from his manager or the capitalists. In turn, this puts a system of checks and balances in place so as to ease the achievement of maximum production. A common belief is that Marxism does not exploit workers, and the followers believe that it is a great idea to form unions.

Rare debt

Individuals and communities come together and work to achieve success. Farmers work towards crop and livestock production, doctors provide health services, producing firms produce finished products, etc. While individuals come together to provide for the needs of one another, the government distributes necessary resources. This chain of activities has helped in reducing the tendency of public debt.

Societal benefits

Looking at the theory of Marxism, it considers the entire society thereby enhancing societal benefits. It acknowledges every social force involved in the system including different group powers. Therefore, emphasizing the impact that class struggles have on society is a tool that is effective in explaining societal change. This helps to organize every society under capitalism where the capitalists maximize profits alongside the working class.

Helps with capitalism

Where large multinationals dominate the economy of the entire world, capitalists would state that the future lies with small businesses or small is beautiful. We can, however, consider the fact that the youthful aspect of capitalism has gone beyond recall. As far as Marxism is concerned, monopoly is unavoidable in a capitalist economy, where larger and small capitals yield the same result. In these modern days, monopolies and multinationals tend to take a wide range of possession of the world thereby granting them access to economies of scale, being able to manipulate commodity prices, gathering large sums of money, and having an influence on government policies. Marxism has been able to predict the inevitability of monopoly where the free market was standard.

2) Disadvantages of Marxism

Elimination of private ownership concept 

The Marxist ideology tries to eliminate the concept of individuals possessing private property. In this case, it is the state that provides a place to live for everyone since they are part of the community even as they contribute to the community’s common welfare. By implication, no single individual has control over where he lives or what he does to contribute to the growth of society. The theory suggests abolishing private ownership of property and business enterprises. This, in turn, makes it impossible for individuals to take advantage of opportunities as there will be no extra reward or added advantage for putting in extra efforts and working hard.

Tries to abolish religion

Though Marxism permits religion, no individual has the right to practice religion in an organized manner. This is because of the certainty that religion can place one group of people in a superior position over another. This certainly goes against the idea of equality that Karl Marx proposed. By implication, there would be no organized form of religion as he believed that people made use of religion to control others. As a result of this, people do not have the freedom to choose their spirituality.

No opportunities for entrepreneurs

There is usually no opportunity for entrepreneurship under this system. This means that even those who seem to have their own business venture are still working under the government. In essence, no individual can have his own sole proprietorshipcorporations, private limited liability companies, or private partnerships. The government is fully in control of everything.

Negative effects on education

Marxism has negative effects on the system of education. In this case, the educational sector will only implement the system that is under the absolute control of the government. The state determines the methodology of teaching, the construction of curriculum, and the system of conducting an examination. This does not grant permission to any other agency of education to have control over the educational system whether they are local or regional. Under this theory, economics occupies a vital position in the curriculum. Because of this, the educational sector views economics as the cornerstone of all human activities though this is not factual. This can actually result in the neglect of the creative faculty of children.

It can lead to communism

In the occurrence of Marxism, it is also possible for communism to result as a notion exists that this philosophy can be a resultant effect of dictatorship. This will provide no room for individualism thereby creating a dangerous society without any form of motivation. Theoretically, equality, where everyone has access to fair treatment, sounds great but yet, the individual is still out of the focus.

Marxist theory and ideology

The Marxist theory (Karl Marx theory) recognizes a tension that exists between the demands of capitalist accumulation and the requirements of social production. For the accumulation of profit to be successful, there has to be some displacement of costs outside the economic accounting of capitalism to parts of the natural world that have not been extended to future generations and to certain places.

This theory portrays that capitalism is one of the steps in the historical progression of economic systems that follow one another in a natural sequence. He postulated that interpersonal forces of history that play out through the behavior and conflict among social classes are the drivers of these economic systems. According to Karl Marx, every society is divided among a number of social classes where their members have more things in common with one another than they do with members of other social classes.

Elements of Karl Marx theories

The following are elements that describe Marx’s theories on how class conflicts/struggles would play out in capitalism;


The capitalist society comprises two classes, the bourgeoisie, or business owners who are in ownership and control of the means of production, and the proletariat, or workers who use their labor to transform raw commodities into valuable economic goods.

Ordinary laborers who do not have ownership of the means of production such as factories, buildings, materials, etc. possess little power under capitalism. It is also easy to readily replace workers in periods whereby there is a high rate of unemployment, thereby devaluing their perceived worth.

Profit maximization

To maximize profits, owners of businesses have the incentives to get most of the work done through their laborers while they pay these laborers the lowest possible wages. This brings about an unfair imbalance between the capitalists and the working class as the working class experiences exploitation from the capitalists for their own gain. Due to the fact that workers have just a little fraction of the personal stake in the production processes, Marx believed that this would alienate them from it. This also includes the alienation of their own humanity thereby making them resentful towards the capitalists or business owners.

Exploitation and rebellion leading to revolution

Also, the bourgeoisie employs social institutions which include government, media, educational sector, organized religion, and financial institutions as tools of weapons against the proletariat with the aim of maintaining their position of power and privilege. The exploitative relations that exist between these two classes, as well as the inherent inequalities, will amount to a revolution. This is where the working class rebels against the capitalists and seizes control of the means of production thereby abolishing capitalism.

Marx, therefore, stated that capitalism inherently contained the seed of its own destruction and downfall. The alienation and exploitation of the working class, which is peculiar to the capitalist economy will certainly push the working class towards rebelling against the capitalists/business owners and seize control over the means of production.

Enlightened leaders led this revolution, these leaders were known as the vanguard of the proletariat, who had a clear understanding of the class structure of society and unite the working class through the raising of awareness and class consciousness.

Due to this revolution, Karl Marx predicted that collective ownership of means of production would replace private ownership. This will take place first, under socialism and then under communism. In the final stage of human development, social classes and class struggle would cease to be in existence.

Marxism vs communism

Karl Marx is the key proponent of Marxism while communism to some extent was derived from Marxism.

Marxism is seen as a theoretical concept of understanding thoughts while communism is a possible practical application based on the Marxist ideology.

While Marxism is a method of seeing the universe as a system to analyze and predict, communism is a type of government as well as an economic system that governs a particular sector or a political movement.

Criticism of Marxism

Although the theories of Marx inspired many followers, many of his predictions never came to pass. He believed that an increase in competition rather than the production of better goods for consumption would amount to bankruptcy among capitalists as monopolies rise while fewer people are left to be in control of production. Former capitalists who became bankrupts would join the working class thereby creating an army of the unemployed. In addition, the market economy which has an unplanned structure would experience problems relating to demand and supply and this would amount to severe depressions.

Over the years, capitalism has not collapsed as a result of fierce competition.  Although markets do change over time, they have not amounted to the emergence of monopolies. Also, wages have risen and profits have not declined but economic inequalities have been on the increase in capitalist economies. Although recessions and depressions have occurred over the years, they have not been thought to be an inherent feature of free markets.


Leninism is a political ideology that a Russian Marxist revolutionary named Vladimir Lenin developed. The theory proposes that dictatorship of the proletariat should be established and a revolutionary vanguard party should be in charge as a political prelude towards establishing communism.


This refers to a communist ideology which was the main communist movement throughout the 20th century. It was the formal name of the state ideology which the Soviet Union adopted.


This refers to the working class, which is a class of wage earners especially those that earn their living through manual labor. It also refers to those who depend on daily or casual employment for support. In Marxist theory, the proletariat refers to a class of workers especially the industrial wage earners who do not have any capital and must sell their labor to survive. The term also refers to the poorest class of people that neither possess any property or own and control means of production.

Frequently asked questions

How do you explain Marxism?

Marxism is a theory that was propounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, named after Karl Marx which critically examines the effects of capitalism on labor, productivity, and economic development. It focuses mostly on class struggles and conflicts that exist between the working class and the capitalists. Also, the theory argues that this phenomenon can amount to revolutionary communism. The theory stated that the capitalist economy consists of two classes, the bourgeoisie, or business owners who are in ownership and control of the means of production, and the proletariat, or business owners who own and control the means of production.

What are the beliefs of Marxism?

Marxism believes that capitalism is one of the steps in the historical progression of economic systems that follow each other in a natural sequence. It also argues that class struggles and conflicts especially between the working class and the capitalists will eventually lead to revolutionary communism. The theory also believes that the power relationship that exists between the capitalists and the working class is exploitative in nature. This exploitative nature will push the working class towards rebelling against the capitalists thereby seizing control of the economy. It also believes that capitalism inherently contains the seed of its own destruction.

What is Marxism example?

Examples of Marxism today include telephone, large media, and an oil company that resulted from the combination of several smaller oil companies ( or oil conglomerates).

What is the difference between Marxism and communism? Is Marxism, communism?

While Karl Marx is the key proponent of Marxism, communism to some extent resulted from Marxism. Many view Marxism as a theoretical concept of understanding thoughts while communism is a possible practical application based on the Marxist ideology. While Marxism is a method of seeing the universe as a system to analyze and predict, communism is a type of government as well as an economic system that governs a particular sector or a political movement.

So we can say that the dominant form of communism is based on Marxism though there are non-Marxist versions of communism. In essence, Marxism is not the same as communism but Marxism can lead to communism.