Marxism is a political and philosophical ideology which concludes that, as economics drives societal change, the working people of the world must unite and initiate reform by toppling the capitalist system. The Marxist theory is the brain child of German born political philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles.

History of Marxism

After meeting in September of 1844, Marx and Engles found that they shared a passion for the plight of the working class. A common burden formed from their distaste for class struggle and the injustice of capitalism prompted them to write The Communist Manifesto among other works. The core ideology of this infamous piece of literature is centered on a set of social, political, and economic world views known as socialism and communism. The Marxist model begins with a revolution by the working class to over throw the bourgeoisie (upper class), followed by socialism replacing capitalism. To better grasp the concept of Marxism one must understand the differences between capitalism, socialism, and communism. In capitalism, the capitalist or ruling class possesses all the wealth, owns all the business’s and controls employment of the working and middle class. Marx and Engle argue that the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished is vast in a capitalist society. Socialism on the other hand boasts of the working class controlling the wealth through public and common ownership of capital and businesses. The Marxist would contend that socialism is a less oppressive system that sets the middle class free from the brutal control of the ruling class. The desired inevitable result of an effective socialist community would be a transition into a classless system known as communism.

Marxism: Overview of the Lens

Marxism is political and economic theories based on Karl Marx. It is about the conflict between have/have not.
According to an article by David Prychitko, Karl Marx divided society into two classes, they are the working class and the Bourgeoisie. The working class are those individuals who sell their labor and do not own the means of production.
They can cheat the wealth, and if they revolt people in charge will lose. The Bougreoisie are those who own the means of productions and exploits the working class. There are two subdivision among the Bougreoisie: Very wealth and Petty Bourgeoisie those who hire labor, and also work themselves. Marx predicted the Petty Bourgeoisie would eventually be destroyed (Prychitko).

Primitive Communism

Primitive communism term used by Karl Marx and Friedric Engels to describe what they interpreted as pre-agrarian form of communism. People must work together or they will die. In a primitive communist society, all able bodies would work to obtain food and everyone must share in what they have produced or gathered. Primitive Communism ended with the development of private property, such as domestication of animals and agriculture turned primitive communism to class society (Brooks).

Slave Society

Slave society came from class society. Private ownership of property and the outright ownership and exploitation of individuals of one class (the slaves) by individuals or by another class (the slave owner). Slave society developed from primitive communal society and was replaced by Feudalism (Followers).

The slave society was replaced by feudalism.
Marx argued,

The feudal landlord exploited the peasants under his control by seizing a portion of their produce. However, the feudal lord did allow his work force to retain direct contact with the means of production-the land."

Marxism Notable Scholars

Without question Karl Marx is one of the most notable scholars that has contributed to the marxism lens. Marx is most famous for his writing in the Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx was born in Prussia in May of 1818. When Marx was six, he and the rest of his family were baptized as Protestants. In 1835 Marx attended college at the University of Bonn where he began studying law because his father's influence. While at college Marx realized his passion was literature and philosophy insteadof law. This change of interest didn't impress his father, and the dissapointment Marx felt from his father led to Marx misbehaving at school. Because of this behavior Marx was pulled out of the University of Bonn and put into the University of Berlin in 1836. At the University of Berlin Marx began to form his philosphical and political ideas. He graduated with a doctoral degree in Greek philosophy. After school Marx was unable to teach at universities because of his radical views, and then began a career in journalism. In february 1842 Marx married Jenny von Westphalen. Marx and his wife then moved to Paris where he continued his journalism career. Marx then met Frederich Engels, who would become a close friend and a coauthor in his writings. Marx and Engels began writing the Communist Manifesto together which is a work about a social change in which Marx wished to employ on the community, called marxism (Karl Marx).

Frederich Engels not only helped to finance the Communist Manifesto, but also added in data from his own experiences (Hunt). Engels was born in 1820. When he was twenty-two his father send him to work in their family's cotton factory located in Manchester, England. In 1844 when Engels and Marx met they became good friends and wrote the Communist Manifesto. Engels and Marx also worked together on a newspaper, and even after going back to Manchester, Engels always supported Marx and his family. In 1845 Engels wrote his own book on the working class conditions in England. After Marx died Engels continued to edit his work, and carried on Marx's ideas (Engels, Frederich).

Another scholar who picked up Marx's ideas is Valdimir Lenin. Lenin, becoming involved with the socialist movement organized the Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. Lenin was born on April 10, 1870 in Simbirsk, Russia. Lenin's older brother, Aleksandr was a big influence on Lenin and was a hero in Lenin's eyes. The execution of Aleksandr in 1887 devastated Lenin. The death of his brother encouraged Lenin to become involved in the social change as Aleksandr had done. Lenin became involved in underground organizations of the production of communist literature. Lenin was an influential figure in the movement towards communist and used many of Marx's ideas for the foundation of his own thinking (Vladimir Lenin).

Texts Under a Marxist Lens

The application of Marxist theory to literature serves to illuminate the economic and societal norms that typify the lens. Professor Juliet Schor’s “Decommercialization of Childhood” article illustrates the “have vs. have-not” viewpoint on a domestic level, detailing the pressure marketing and industry places on American youth to find success through materialism.

The oppression of the proletariat occurs not only economically but culturally as well. Schor’s article addresses concerns of parents toward their children and the corporate influence of television, movies and music. Schor, by her own admission, understands these concerns are “typically middle class” (12), as advertising and marketing target children in this demographic. Her analysis stresses the need for parents to construct healthy environments that educate and inform children of the peer pressures of advertising and media, which places a great deal of emphasis on the purchase or consuming of certain products in order to “fit in.” Importantly, Professor Schor notes that the influence of corporate culture can easily seep into “low-income and single-parent households, whose members usually have long hours and inflexible jobs, ever-present financial worries, and high-stress lives” (14).

Short of becoming a Marxist text in all but name, Schor makes a point to distinguish between economic practices between children and the greater capitalist world, stating that “big businesses rather than a generic world of money are the forces that children need to be protected from” (15). Healthy practices like trading cards and toys provide interaction among children, which can be encouraged and enabled independently of the corporate culture from which parents strive to shield their offspring (Schor 14). Schor does not advocate isolationism or a class uprising, but her call for oversight and protection of children’s development is a balanced tone of moderation that doesn’t dispel the obvious Marxist undertones.

The Marxist lens also yields fascinating results when applied to texts of other fields, such as Andrea Dworkin’s pro-feminist piece “I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There is No Rape.” Though coming from a feminist angle, Dworkin approaches the inequality between male and female with a Marxist’s edge, noting especially the economic disparities that make industries like pornography possible and keeping women forever docile. According to Dworkin, male supremacy—the bourgeois analog—means “you can hit…hurt…buy and sell women. It means that there is a class of people there to provide you with what you need. You stay richer than they are, so that they have to sell you sex. Not just on street corners, but in the workplace” (333).

Despite the severity of Dworkin’s rhetoric, she deviates from a straightforward Marxist interpretation by offering compromise to her oppressors. Instead of a proletariat vs. bourgeoisie dichotomy, in which there can be only one victor and no compromise, Dworkin makes a point to affirm the humanity of her enemies, the male (337). She is careful not to stoop to the perceived level of the oppressor, never treating her opponents as inferior even though the urge to do so is great. Dworkin understands the viewpoint of some men, fearful that if women were to get the “upper hand” in society, men would be delegated to the same second-class status women experience today. Contrary to a strictly Marxist viewpoint, Dworkin would rather share society with a reformed bourgeoisie rather than dissolve it altogether.

Notable Links

Works Cited:

Brooks, Mick. "Primitive Communism." Historical Materialism 1998: Web. February 2011.

Dworkin, Andrea. "I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There is No Rape." Letters from a War Zone, 162-71. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989. Print. 28 Feb. 2011.

"Engels, Friedrich (1820-1895)." Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia. 08 Sep. 2005. eLibrary. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.

Followers, Blind. "Marxism-Leninism." The worker 26 September 2010. Web. 4 March 2011.

Hunt, Tristram. "No Marx without Engels." History Today 4(2009):48. eLibrary. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.

Lenin, Vladimir. ABC-CLIO Interactive, 2001. eLibrary. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.

Marx, Karl. ABC-CLIO Interactive, 2001. eLibrary. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.

Prychitko, David. "Marxism." 2008: Libery. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.

Schor, Juliet B. "Decommercialization of Childhood." Born to Buy 2004. Random House, Inc. Print. 01 Mar. 2011.