This article is written by Sushree Surekha Choudhury from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. The article talks about the Marxist theory in detail. The article helps in understanding the Marxist theory through the phases of evolution and from a critically analytical point of view.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


Let us begin this article with a question. Questions, to be precise. What were your hobbies as a child? Or, what did you truly want to become when you grew up? Most of us would have an answer to this question that would not be a doctor, an engineer, or a corporate employee! Well, I wanted to become a writer. But look at all of us now, trapped within the claws of capitalism. This is exactly what Karl Marx did not wish society to become, slaves to capitalism. He made noteworthy contributions to history to help society rise from the roots of capitalism. Success, or failure? That is what we will analyse in this article. Though, would it not be absolutely amazing if we could follow our passions, or hobbies, without having to constantly worry about paying bills? Think about it. 

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In this article, we shall understand and analyse the Marxist theory and how it helped in shaping society. 

The Marxist history

Marxist theory or Marxism evolved in the mid-19th century by sociologist and philosopher, Karl Marx. Karl Marx’s ideas were further promoted by Friedrich Engels. Originally, Marxist theory consisted of three ideologies: philosophical anthropology, a theory of history, and an economic and political program. Karl Marx believed in his theories and vowed to make them a reality. Marx’s ideology was that one must not merely wish to interpret the world, but must change it. Marx believed that the world will transform only when the consciousness of the people living in it transforms. Marx studied the political, social, and economic reasons and impacts of class struggles and conflicts. His studies on class struggle were inspired by the works of David Ricardo, an English economist in the 17th century. Ricardo studied the capitalist market and its workings. He studied the practical aspects and factors influencing capitalism, like the conflicts of interest between landlords, employers, and workers. He predicted the decline of the agricultural labour force and small business owners in Europe. This would make the proletariat the majority of the population. 

Marxism has evolved through phases of history. It can be primarily categorised into:

Early Marxism (1878-1917)

Early Marxism was confined primarily to Europe. It studied society during the rule of the German Social Democratic Party in Europe. It talks about the depression (1873-1896), the rise of imperialism, party bureaucracy, and World War I

Middle Marxism (1917-1968)

Mid-Marxism widened its focus to include the whole world. It studied society during the communist rule in the USSR. It studied events like the ‘Great Depression’ of 1992, the rise of Stalinist counter-revolution and fascism, World War II, the Chinese revolution, and the rise of the US empire. 

Late Marxism (1968-1991)

Late Marxism studied the condition of world society in the Cold War period. It studied events like the fall of the communist parties and the unfortunate return of capitalism and imperialism.

Let us understand each phase in detail. 

Early Marxism

Marx studied a society that was divided into the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie were the people in whose hands power was concentrated, in a capitalist society, and the proletariat were the working class of labourers, who got paid for their labour. Marx opposed the theories of capitalism and how it led to the formation of society. He called it ‘reductive economism’ and believed that changing the world of capitalism was necessary. It was during the Second Industrial Revolution when class divisions were prominent. Marxism stated that the production forces had become the ‘basis’ of society and that everything was driven by them. 

Engelism heavily influenced Marx’s works. Engels’ studies were on similar lines of opposing capitalism and its consequences. However, it was during the period of the Great Depression. Engels died in 1895. Soon after, the Great Depression ended and capitalism extended its horizons and support in society. The coming years witnessed technological advances like the invention of automobiles, aeroplanes, etc. This further shifted people’s focus toward capitalism, since they perceived money as the means to an end. These studies were confined to bureaucratic societies in Europe and some parts of the US. This capitalism-driven society grew greedy for power, which ultimately led to World War I.

Middle Marxism

During this phase, Karl Marx’s focus shifted from Europe to the rest of the world as well. Marx studied the social status and conditions of people during World War II. Marx observed the social factors affecting people’s lives during Stalin’s governance in the Soviet Union. Lenin emerged as a politician, leader, and revolutionary during this time. Karl Marx observed that imperialism had emerged as a greater evil than capitalism outside Europe. Imperialism led to people’s mutilation and destruction in the name of industrial progress. Industrial progress was meant for the betterment of people and society, but instead, it led to mass destruction. Marx called the colonised people of the Soviet Union and other parts of the world as the ‘global proletariat.’ 

Lenin’s theories, or Leninism, were in alignment with Marxism. Lenin believed that imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism. Lenin believed that a communist revolution would end capitalism. He wanted to create a “one-party socialist state” through “centralised democracy.” Lenin wanted communist revolutions to occur globally by the leaders and believers of communism. However, Lenin died before he could bring his vision into reality, and capitalism rose. Nevertheless, the revolutionary movements and their leaders’ efforts to bring changes did not go in vain. The middle class and lower class people have developed a sense of social advancement. However, society continued to remain a ‘capitalist bourgeoisie’ society. 

Late Marxism

Though the revolutionary movements of Leninism-Marxism crumpled due to Lenin’s death, their impacts continued to be witnessed in different parts of the world for years. 1966-68 marked the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China. This was the first global anti-capitalist movement. Although it was not a success, it brought together people around the world with a common motive. 

During this time, Marxism focused on making good the things that were harmed during Stalin’s rule. There were many issues in the world during this time, and revolutionaries struggled to choose the appropriate subject to fight for issues like the problems of the proletariat, women, colored people, ethnic groups, sexual minorities, etc. After failed attempts, the Marxist theory developed deeper and tried to change the ‘manner’ of dealing with the subjects rather than the subjects themselves. 

Therefore, Marxist theory started focusing on the ‘production of human life.’ Marxism prescribed the production of human lives in two forms or approaches: direct and indirect. In the direct approach, Marxism talked about collective self-governing. This was the hierarchy and distribution of power, from bottom to topmost. The second approach was indirect to the production relations. This approach talked about people’s participation in the decision-making of society. It talked about the importance of the mass media, political interference, etc., in social decisions and parliamentary capitalism. 

What is Marxism 

Marxism deals with social, economic, and political factors affecting society. It talks about the ill effects of capitalism on society and the economy. Karl Marx propounded Marxist theories, or Marxism. Friedrich Engels worked on similar ideas to Marxism and dealt with economic factors affecting society. Marxism primarily exists on a belief that class conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are a consequence of capitalism and this will ultimately come to an end by revolutions. This will occur by the rise of one while the other falls. The bourgeoisie will ultimately fall after increased exploitation and conflicts. This will result in the rise of the proletariat, who will come to own the means of production. Marxism believes that capitalism will corrode society if it is not put to an end. Capitalism exploits the labour class or workers to benefit the industrial and factory owners. Marxism observes society and economy from the lenses of class conflicts and capitalism. 

‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx

‘The Communist Manifesto’ introduced Marxism and Marxist theories to the world in 1848 through this pamphlet – The Communist Manifesto. It was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The pamphlet serves as the primary source for understanding Marxist theories today. The pamphlet talked about communism and the ill effects and consequences of capitalism in society. Marx and Engels  opined that social inequality created due to capitalism would rise to an extent where the proletariat would rise and overthrow the system. This will lead to a classless society where people live in harmony and promote equality. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels reiterated  that a ‘spectre of communism’ is haunting Europe. They believed that the proletariat and working class of all countries would unite and overthrow capitalism. 

‘Das Kapital’ by Karl Marx

After the publication and success of The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx advanced his work and studies on capitalism and class struggle in a three-volume book called Das Kapital, which is German for ‘capital.’ Volume 1 of Das Kapital was published in 1867, and the other two volumes were published posthumously by Engels in 1885 and 1894, respectively. In these books, Marx focused on capitalism and its ill effects on society. He wrote about the self-destructive nature of capitalism. Karl Marx, in his book, denies the capitalist theory of labour, which states that an increasing population leads to more people working as a labour class to earn wages. He states that capitalism resulted in the invention of unemployment and that this unemployment led people to join the labour class. Capitalists treated the labour class as a ‘commodity’ and a means to make money. These capitalists, whom Marx named ‘bourgeoisie’ became greedy for capital and exploited the labour class. They made the workers work for extra hours and kept these proceeds for themselves. They engaged more and more workers and exploited them all, with the motive of wealth maximisation and profit maximisation. This created a class division. People were divided into the bourgeoisie (wealthy capitalist industry owners and factory owners) and the proletariat (the labour/working class). Karl Marx ended the book by stating the downfall of capitalism due to excessive exploitation. This will lead to the rise of the proletariat, who will create a society based on communism. The labour class will rule the world economy and gain political power. 

The Bourgeoisie and proletariat 

Marx’s analysis of society and the economy revolved around class conflicts. Marx divided the people of the world into two categories: bourgeoisie (those who controlled the means of production and were considered superior) and the proletariat (the labour class of people who worked for the bourgeoisie to produce goods and create money in the economy).

The Marxist theory stated that the two classes of people possessed opposite beliefs and interests. The bourgeoisie were focused on maximising capital and profits in their industries, while the proletariat were forced to work long hours for petty wages. This was during the industrial revolution and the urbanisation of society. However, Marxist theories of class conflict and struggle are relevant even today. The dynamics of division might have changed, but the ideology remains. Even today, there is a class of people who own the means of production and control the economy, and others who work for them to earn a decent living. 


Karl Marx clarified that the bourgeoisie were not synonymous with wealthy people. Their superiority in society can be calculated not from wealth but from control. They were not the people who had the most money or capital, but the ones who had the maximum control over a large population of society. This control was exercised on the labour class of people who were exploited by the bourgeoisie. Marxist theory defined the bourgeoisie as people who possessed the following elements:

  • They owned factories, industries, or other means of production.
  • They were engaged in producing goods in these factories.
  • They produced goods by employing the proletariat as the labour force.
  • The labour force produced goods but the bourgeoisie retained the maximum profits from production.
  • They paid money or capital to these workers for their labour. Generally, these wages were too low. 
  • They were not the majority in society. They existed in fewer numbers.
  • They contributed negligently to the means of production in these factories and other establishments.


Karl Marx stated that the majority of the population consisted of people whom he called the proletariat. The word ‘proletariat’ came from the ancient Roman empire to describe the people who did not own property. This was furthered by Karl Marx in his studies of society and the economy. He denoted the proletariat as workers of the world who possessed the following characteristics:

  • They consisted of the majority of the population.
  • They worked for minimum wages.
  • They did not have a share of the profits produced by them.
  • They did not own factories, industries, or other establishments of production.
  • They had no say or control over their conditions. It was controlled entirely by the bourgeoisie. 
  • They worked for the bourgeoisie who exploited them. 
  • They did not own property and constantly struggled while making very little money. 

Theory of class struggle 

Karl Marx talked about class struggle and incorporated it into his theories of society. Class struggle can be defined as social divisions among people where each class of people struggles and fights to gain a superior position in society and the maximum areas and means of production. Class divisions in society occur in a capitalist society on the basis of the means of production. People were divided into those who owned and those who did not. The bourgeoisie in a capitalist society monopolised the means of production. As a result, they gained economic and political power of the highest order. 

Commodities: the basis of class struggle

Karl Marx stated that the basis of class struggle is commodities like goods and services. Capitalist society treated labour and workers as commodities that helped in producing other commodities. They were not treated as humans, but rather as commodities that could be owned by the factory owners. These workers were weak and did not have the potential to impact a capitalist society since they owned no factories, establishments, raw materials, etc. They were easily replaceable at the option of their owners. This created continuous cycles of employment and unemployment. This further diminished their worth in society. These owners enjoyed superiority in their factories and in society at the cost of exploiting the workers. Profits were generated in factories due to workers, but this profit was constantly taken away by the factory owners, and in return, workers were exploited. Capitalism created a society based on commodities and class struggle, where one class constantly enjoyed benefits at the cost of the other. 

The structure of a capitalist society benefited only one class of people, i.e., the bourgeoisie. They gained and enjoyed political, economic, and social power. They were vested with the responsibility to govern society, run administrations, and make profits in a capitalist society. They used this political power to amend property rights and laws in their favour. They even suppressed news and media that tried to highlight this societal division. The bourgeoisie opted for organised religious strategies and further exploited the proletariat in the name of inflicting ‘divine punishment.’ The banking and finance sectors too supported the superiority of the bourgeoisie in favour of capitalism. The ease of availing of bank benefits was increased for the bourgeoisie and further hardened for the proletariat. It was nearly impossible for the workers and labour class of people to avail bank loans in absence of collateral security. They were landless and did not own any property. Thus, the banks denied their facilities to them. They trapped the workers with unnecessary debts and interest. Therefore, it became impossible for the proletariat to improve their social conditions.

Class revolution

Marxism talked about the evils of capitalism. It created enslavement and constantly exploited one class by another. Marx anticipated that slavery and exploitation would come to a point where the proletariat would start a revolution. Since they will own no stake in factories and other establishments, they will start actively revolting to end this exploitation and forced labour. If capitalism does not come to an end voluntarily or through natural evolution, it will come through forced revolution.

The capitalist factory owners focused on gaining capital, while the workers focused on earning a means of survival. This difference in needs for survival was the primary reason behind class conflicts as per Marxist theory. This unfair social condition will ultimately end with revolution. Marx believed that capitalism was destined to be destroyed by rebels of the proletariat. The Marxist theory stated that this revolution will lead to collective ownership of the means of production by the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which would ultimately give birth to socialism.  

Historical materialism

Marxist theories on society were also known as his theory of historical materialism. The theory of historical materialism was developed by both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Materialism denotes a materialistic world where economic factors and ‘materials’ or commodities are determinants of a person’s position and power in society. These factors formed society and also influenced its development. In a capitalist society, Marxism associated material conditions with means of production and stated that society and societal development solely depended on these factors in a capitalist society. 

Marxist theory of historical materialism studied society and societal development through different stages and phases that it went through. Thus, historical materialism studied society through its phases on the basis of economic factors and materialistic considerations. It stated that the economic structure of society was a superstructure and that it depended on the materialistic substructure. The Marxist theory stated that societal and economic development occurs through the following stages in ascending order:

Stage 1: Slavery

Stage 2: Feudalism

Stage 3: Capitalism

Stage 4: Socialism

Stage 5: Communism.

The Marxist theory stated that each of these stages is self-destructive in nature and this destruction would continue until communism is achieved. As society moves through these phases, human nature will evolve with an evolving society. The Marxist theories on society and human nature were as follows:

  • Marxism stated that society is a whole consisting of several parts. These parts are all interrelated and cannot be removed. These parts are social institutions, social groups, class divisions, philosophies and principles, governing rules and regulations, etc. As these parts of society are correlated and interdependent, they must be studied together. It will be incomplete if one part is studied without giving consideration to the other factors and parts influencing and affecting it.
  • Marxism believed that society is dynamic. It is ever-changing and evolving. These changes occur due to conflicts of interest, views, disagreements, etc. Therefore, Marx studied society as evolving over time and constantly affected by societal factors.
  • Marx talked about human nature and social relationships as an integral part of historical materialism. Marx believed that human nature could neither be termed as ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ It is dynamic and it has the potential to bring developments in society. Thus, historical materialism must be studied alongside the study of human nature. People maintain social relationships to commoditise and maximise wealth. This cause behind maintaining social relationships becomes a reason for class conflicts.

Marx stated the following outcomes of historical materialism. These are the factors determining social relationships and the evolution of society as per historical materialism:

  • Social relationships are an important dynamic in the Marxist theory of society.
  • Economic superstructure depends on material infrastructure.
  • Means of production drive the economy and as a consequence, drive society.
  • Social changes occur due to class conflicts.
  • Social reality and revolution affect social change.

Stages in Marxism

Marxism professed the development of society and the economy through phases or stages. Marx believed that world society would go through stages of development, ultimately leading to a communist society. He believed it to occur through the following stages:

Class conflicts and ending capitalism 

Marx believed capitalism to be a step in the economic development and progression of society. The Marxist theory stated that capitalism was a step toward the change in society which would ultimately lead to socialism, followed by communism. The Marxist theory suggested that such natural progression and change will take place through ‘class conflicts.’ Class conflicts were seen as ‘tools’ through the Marxist lens. According to the Marxist theory, the evolution of society will occur in the following manner:

  • A capitalist society is divided into the bourgeoisie (wealthy and powerful business owners) and the proletariat (labour class). 
  • The proletariat naturally had little or no power in society since they owned no means of production.  
  • They hold little value in society and are often subject to unemployment or slavery.
  • This social gap and injustice create an imbalance in society. 
  • This imbalance will ultimately lead to rebellion in the proletariat class. 
  • They will turn against the bourgeoisie  and their tools, like the government, media, banks, etc. 
  • This will ultimately lead to revolutions where the proletariat will fight for their rights and position in society. 
  • They will eventually bring change through this revolution, abolish capitalism, and rise as dictators of society. 

The dictatorship of the Proletariat 

Marxism believed that capitalism is self-destructive. It will come to an end with its own hands. Exploitation and inhumane behaviour toward the proletariat formed the basis of capitalism. It cannot last forever. The proletariat will ultimately revolt and rise. Marxism believed this to happen through some people of the proletariat class who would turn into rebels. Marx called them the “vanguard of the proletariat.” These people will bring together the proletariat globally and lead the revolution. 

Coined by socialist revolutionary Joseph Weydemeyer, the concept of “dictatorship of the proletariat” was incorporated into the Marxist theory of class conflict. It denotes the gaining and increasing political, social, and economic powers of the proletariat. Marx believed this to be a transitory stage – from capitalism to communism. State intervention would exist on resources and means of production and the ownership of means of production will transit from private bourgeoisie business owners to collective ownership of the rising proletariat. 

Internationalism and Communism 

The class conflicts and revolution will introduce communism to the world. Internationalism is the Marxist concept of uniting the world’s proletariat. As Karl Marx wrote in his book, The Communist Manifesto, “the workers of the world shall unite!” As internationalism unites the world’s proletariat, they start revolting for a common purpose – a world free from capitalism. As capitalism comes to an end due to revolutions, the proletariat will rise, and this will mark the beginning of communism. The proletariat will manage resources and means of production on the basis of equality. In a communist society, no person will be deprived of basic rights and freedom. Class conflicts and class struggles will come to an end, and the communist ideology of the “common good” will prevail. 

Karl Marx’s analysis of society

The Marxist theories have impacted society and have been a part of society’s evolution over time. Many theories of sociology have been adopted and influenced by Marxist theories and analysis of society. This has often been referred to as ‘Marxist sociology.’ These theories are:

Conflict theory

The sociological perspective of conflict theory has been inspired by the Marxist theories and principles of conflict in society. Conflict theory in sociology states that society is in perpetual conflict. This conflict is about available resources. Resources are limitedly available and every person wants access to those resources. Thus, there exists perpetual conflict and competition among people in society. 

Conflict theory further states that society is run by dominance. Society cannot run with mutual agreement and harmony. There will always be some classes of society dominating it. This is also how social order is maintained. Thus, the conflict theory in sociology is derived from the Marxist theory of social divisions and class conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. 

Critical theory

Critical theories and cultural studies in sociology have been derived from Marxism. This is a sociological approach to culture and literature. This theory explains the social, historical, and ideological constraints and barriers to culture. Critical theorists blame capitalism for these barriers to cultural freedom and development. 

Marxism criticised capitalism for constraining the good in society. This involves art, music, and culture. This ideology has been adopted in critical theory. Believers of this theory analyse political and economic barriers in society through  Marxist theories. They take into consideration factors like commodification, reification, fetishisation, etc., while analysing the critical theory. 

Karl Marx’s analysis of the economy

Marxism’s primary focus for analysing society has been on analysing the world economy over the centuries. Marx attributed the economy to the social conditions of people. He believed the world economy would go through stages of development, as mentioned below:

Marxist theory of economic development in society

Karl Marx developed theories of the evolution of economic development in society. This came along with the theory of class struggle. Karl Marx believed that economic development in society occurred through the following stages and phases:


This was the primitive stage of the economy and society. People worked for themselves to live in society. Working involved hunting, gathering, preparing shelter, clothing, and everything else on their own. There was no concept of buying things with money or the barter system. But, this also created evils in society. Human labour was undoubtedly the means to an end in every line of production and every aspect of livelihood. It became a powerful tool and the most important resource to have. It also created class divisions as some people emerged as superiors to others. These people started owning other people in the form of human labour. Soon, the approach of society became such that the one who owned the most human labour was treated as the most powerful. This birthed the evil of slavery. 


Slowly but gradually, the population increased. Hunting and gathering were no longer enough to meet the needs of all and feed all the people. This led to the development of agriculture, to grow food that could be fed to people to satisfy their hunger. Agricultural techniques, like sowing, harvesting, cultivating lands through tools, etc., were developed. Slavery primarily took the form of agricultural slavery. Human labour was engaged in agriculture and cultivation by their landowners. Landowners became the most influential and powerful people in society. Certain people held lands at the will of the King. They cultivated these lands by engaging human labour, and the produce was meant for the kingdom. Land revenue became the primary source of revenue. 


The industrial revolution introduced people to scientific means and values. The French revolution enhanced the sense and importance of freedom of speech and expression among people. These phases of change in technology and people’s minds led to many innovations and technological advancements. The shift from manual to agricultural labour was expanding further. labour was engaged in the textile and mineral sectors as well, which were gradually flourishing. A shift was witnessed in the textile and mineral industries from traditional agricultural labor. This shift also resulted in a mass movement of people from rural to urban areas. The shift of labour and demand from agricultural labour to industries also led to the decrease in importance of lands and the tenancy system. With the growing industries, the need for capital was felt. Money was the primary source for the industries to expand. Thus, the people who had money started to become powerful and influential in society. An evident shift was seen from the powerful landowners to powerful capital owners. This gave birth to capitalism, which corroded society within no time. People became greedy for power, which came from having more and more money. The factory owners and merchants became powerful in society. The bourgeoisie gained political power, and the proletariat continued to suffer at their hands.   

Propounders of capitalism stated that, in economic terms, it possessed the following traits:

  • Free trade,
  • Free markets,
  • Profits by establishments,
  • Private control of the means of production and resources, and 
  • Capitalism created a relationship of ‘Entrepreneur – wage labourer’ between people. 

Capitalism has evolved through the following stages to what we know of it today:

  • Merchant capitalism (merchants owned people and enslaved them in agriculture),
  • Industrial capitalism (factory owners or industry owners engaged labourers in factories),
  • Financial or imperial capitalism (one class works for another, earning money in a capitalist society), and 
  • Global capitalism (capitalism as we know it today, has become globally prevalent).


Marxism anticipated socialism as a stage that society would attain when capitalism would end. Marxism believed that intense capitalism would ultimately lead to class conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The proletariat and working class all across the world would unite and revolt. They would fight against state capitalism and put an end to it. This will give birth to a socialist economy. A dictatorship of the proletariat would run society and industries. They would own companies and industries. This would also change the manner of income distribution among workers. People would own income to the extent of their needs and not as per market conditions. Profits in the companies would be shared among all, as per their needs. The middle-class would emerge to be powerful and understand the importance of equality over capitalism. 


Socialism will create a changed society where people value others’ needs and create equality. Nobody will struggle to have a decent standard of living as the distribution of income will be done as per the needs of a decentralisation of power. Socialism will ultimately lead to communism. This will be a state of absolute equality. There will be complete decentralisation and states’ powers will disintegrate. There will be plenty of resources for everyone, and nobody will struggle at the hands of people more powerful than they are. Everyone will be equal and the concentration of power will end. People will give priority to the common good more than their individual or personal good. Classism will end in society and state capitalism will nowhere exist. War, international and national conflicts will come to an end. Everyone will live in harmony with one another.

Strands of Marxism

Marxism developed through stages. While Marxist theories started getting global acceptance and recognition, they inspired works, studies, and revolutions across the world. Marxism developed in various forms and names around the globe. Some of those noteworthy strands of Marxism were: 

German Marxism

After Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, German Marxism was taken over by the philosopher and writer Karl Kautsky. He wrote The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx in 1887. In this book, Kautsky focused on the economic factors affecting society. He followed similar ideologies and factors to determine society as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels did. Kautsky focused on the evolution of society. He talked about the increasing agony and misery of the working class. He believed that capitalism has increased with time and that this is the reason for the increased misery of workers. 

Kautsky believed in and supported social reforms and protective laws to regulate working class conditions in society. Kautsky believed that laws must be made to protect workers from exploitation and enslavement. Karl Marx’s theories of society stated that the working class will overthrow the capitalists or bourgeoisie to establish social order and end capitalism. Kautsky believed that these goals could be achieved in harmony. The existing social structure does not need to be changed. Social conditions of the working class can be improved with the help of protective and regulatory laws instead of overthrowing a system and class of people. Kautsky’s theories were based on international peace and harmony. He refuted war and violence as a means to achieve  desired goals in society. He believed ‘war’ to be a byproduct of capitalism. Thus, one cannot end capitalism using the tools created by it. 

Austrian school of thought

The Austrian school of thought or the Austrian school of economics differs in perspective from other generic schools. While Marxism analysed society from class divisions and class struggle, the Austrian school believed that strong moral introspection and change in people’s perspectives on economics and society shall result in the evolution of society. Carl Menger is regarded as the founder of the Austrian school of economics. He wrote Principles of economics in 1871 and presented ideas of the Austrian school of economics. 

As the concept developed, other philosophers like Ludwig von Mises, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, and Friedrich Hayek contributed to the development of the Austrian school of economics. The Austrian school of economics talked about the value of commodities, goods, and services. Instead of determining the economic value of goods and services in society using mathematical equations, the Austrian school of economics believed that the economic value of goods and services is subjective in nature. It differs from person to person, as what might be valuable to one might not be to another. The Austrian school of economics believed that factors like marginal utility and availability of resources determined economic factors in society. 

Marxism believed that society and the economy depended on the means of production and the labour force that helped in creating those means. However, the Austrian school of economics differed from the Marxist theory of labour force as the Austrian school of economics determined the value of products using marginal utility analysis.  

Russian and Soviet Marxism

Karl Marx’s Das Kapital was translated into Russian in 1872. Marx analysed Russian society since the inception of his work on society and economy. He observed the Russian structure of society. Russian socialists and philosophers believed in Marxist theories of the economy and society. Georgy Plekhanov introduced Marxism in Russia for the first time, but it was Lenin who professed Marxist ideology in Russia. He propounded Leninism based on Marxism, which later came to be known as Marxism-Leninism. Lenin aimed to bring revolution in Russia by changing the structure of society. He believed in the Marxist theory of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and professed it in Russia. 

Lenin believed that the rise of the proletariat and their dictatorship would end capitalism in Russia. It would also introduce democratic values in society. Lenin believed that a revolution led by the global proletariat would end capitalism in society. 

Marxist feminism

The fight for women’s rights has been prevalent in society since time immemorial. The fight for women’s rights became a movement, known as the Feminist movement. Feminism sought to uplift social conditions for women by granting them political, economic, cultural, and educational rights and equality in society. Feminism can be said to be one such movement or goal, which had similarities in socialst, Marxist, and capitalist approaches. Socialism, Marxism, and capitalism professed feminism, even though they followed different paths in doing so.

Socialist feminism believed that patriarchy is the biggest hindrance in the path of women’s empowerment and upliftment. Thus, socialist feminism aimed to end patriarchy in society. Capitalist feminism aimed to uplift women by enhancing their economic rights and freedom in society. They sought to provide equal opportunities to women in education, employment, and other economic rights. 

Marxist feminism aimed to uplift women’s social conditions. Marxist feminism believed in freeing women from being oppressed in society. Marxist feminists blamed capitalism for women’s social conditions. Capitalist society exploited women and burdened them with work. Women workers were paid less than men in a capitalist society even though they worked more than men. Thus, Marxist feminism believed that ending capitalism in society would end women’s plight as well. Marxist feminism believed the following essentials should be incorporated into society:

  • Creation of a classless society that would be free from class conflicts and struggle. 
  • There must be equal pay for equal work. Women should not be paid less for the same work due to gender discrimination.
  • Women should have bodily autonomy. Their sexual and reproductive life should be free from governmental interference and control.
  • Women should be given social wages, proprietary rights, and social involvement. Women should be able to own land and property.
  • Most women were largely engaged only in household activities in society. They were discouraged from working in industries and were paid less even if they did. Thus, Marxist feminism stated that women should be paid for housework. This ideology was way ahead of its time. 
  • Marxist feminism fought to end privatisation, or private ownership of property, as it created a gender gap and discrimination in society. It also limited the rights of women in society.

Maoism (Chinese version of Marxism)

Marxist ideologies were professed in China by Mao Zedong Sixiang of the Chinese Communist Party in the 19th century. This came to be known as ‘Maoism’ after his name. Chinese Maoism sought to bring changes to Chinese society during the late 19th – early 20th centuries. China was weak, divided, and disintegrated during this time. Mao Zedong was inspired by Marxism-Leninism in Russia. 

Maoism sought to initiate the Chinese revolution, led and joined by peasants of the state. While society considered them weak, Maoism believed them to be inherently powerful and to become the driving force of the Chinese revolution. As Marxism believed in the dictatorship of the proletariat, Maoism believed the peasants of China were to become the proletariat class in the state to lead revolutions. 

Maoism believed in the collective strength of human beings to end capitalism and the exploitation of peasants in society. It believed this strength and unity to overpower the industrial and economic dictatorship of the capitalist class in society. Maoism sought to bring changes in agriculture, economy, and industrial conditions in society to change society as a whole.

Communism, socialism, and capitalism: differences

Communism, socialism, and capitalism are different schools of thought and ideologies for the governance of society and the economy. Each ideology differs from the others in terms of its perception of governance. On the basis of equality and non-discrimination, Communism believes in concentrating power in the hands of governing authorities. Socialism focuses on a free state and a classless society. Capitalism is oriented to capital and speaks of a free market and free trade. It believes in making one class of society, the ones with maximum capital, more powerful than others. It is essential to know the differences between these three approaches to better understand society and the economy.

CommunismCapitalism Socialism
Communism professes the state’s control of resources and means of production. It dates back to the era of Marxism, where communism was associated with the rise of the proletariat in Marxist theories. Based on principles of equality, communism believes in the common good for all individuals, based on principles of equality. Capitalism believes in concentrating power in the hands of a private few. In a capitalist society, power is synonymous with wealth in a capitalist society. Capitalists believe in exerting power by using capital and wealth. Capitalism exploits one class of people (the proletariat) at the hands of another (the wealthy and powerful).Socialism believes in taking the middle ground, a balanced ground where power is neither concentrated in the hands of private individuals  nor completely vested in the government. Socialism believes in managing economic resources within reasonable limits and decentralisation of power.
It promotes complete state intervention in managing resources and the economy.The principles of laissez-faire are followed. Thus, there is no state intervention. It promotes a free market and free trade.It promotes fair distribution of resources and means of production  on the basis of people’s needs. Thus, there is a minimum state intervention while retaining powers in individuals’ hands.
The economic system is static.The economic system is dynamic.The economic system is flexible. 
Communism and communists aim to establish a communist egalitarian order in society. They believe it to be possible through revolutions.Capitalism is more inclined toward a free market and free trade. Capitalists aim to enhance economic and societal conditions with the help of capital. They believe in improvising society. They believe this can be possible only through the investment of capital. Socialism creates a mixed economy. It can exist in a capitalist society. Although it does not aim at or promote communism, the Marxist theory states that the consequence of socialism in society is communism. 

Marxist criticism

While Marxism and Marxist theories have existed in society for centuries, they have been subject to a fair amount of criticism over the years. Criticisms of Marxist theories are:

Criticism of class divisions

Marx divided society into two distinctive classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This division might have been relevant in the 18th – 19th century, but times have changed, and so has the societal structure. Society is no longer divided into a wealthy class and a labour class. Dimensions have changed. For instance, people invest in stocks and shares of businesses owned by wealthy individuals. Wealthy business owners invest their money in startups. People no longer work as slaves in the corporate world. There is labour legislation providing rights to the workers/employees and protecting their rights as well. Slavery is a criminal offense in all countries of the world. Thus, the Marxist theory of class division has become less relevant in the present day. 

Nature of capitalism

The nature of capitalism has changed from what it was two centuries ago. It is no longer as exploitative as it was during the 18th – 19th centuries. People are not divided into bourgeoisie and proletariat, and the proletariat does not suffer at the hands of the bourgeoisie. People work of their own free will and are paid minimum wages and standard salaries for their work. They are not treated as slaves by capitalism. People who are less wealthy as compared to others have the same rights and freedoms as those wealthier individuals. A section of society (proletariat, as per the Marxist theory) does not resist capitalism as they did two centuries ago. Present-day capitalism is state regulated. It is governed through rules, regulations, and laws that guarantee basic rights and freedoms to all. State intervention has minimised the injustices of capitalism. The concept of welfarism, or a welfare state, has overthrown the capitalist inequalities and enslavement of the working class.  

The misconception about control

Marxism argued that those who owned factories and were wealthy controlled the entire system of society. Marxism attributed wealth and capitalism to economic and political power in society. But, society today has changed. There are numerous fragments and divisions of society, consisting of wealthy and less wealthy people in different hierarchies. Simply put, power is not attributed to wealth. A journalist does not fear reporting against a wealthy businessman. A famous musician or other artist may favour or disagree with capitalist ideology. A social activist can procure a respectable and influential position in society, and it has nothing to do with his wealth. Governments ensure the protection of the poor and provide them with numerous benefits. Thus, control cannot be decided by the presence or absence of wealth. Wealthy individuals contribute to the state’s economy and are, therefore, respected in the state, but they do not enjoy absolute control over the state. Control is exercised by the government for the welfare of the people and the state. 

False consciousness

The Marxist theory stated that power was concentrated in the hands of wealthy businessmen (bourgeoisie) and that they created false consciousness with the help of this power. But it is evident that power or control and wealth are not synonymous any longer. The most wealthy are not the most powerful or most in control. Therefore, the Marxist theory of false consciousness is criticised. The most crucial proof of this is the independence of the media. The media does not fear wealthy individuals and does not create a false consciousness in their favour. Today, society is made up of individuals who are self-aware and conscious. They give little or no importance to class divisions in society. These people do not believe themselves to be enslaved or exploited by their employers. 

Criticism of the Marxist theory of alienation

The Marxist theory spoke of the alienation faced by the workers in a capitalist society. However, it does not hold true today. Corporate houses, companies, or companies do not alienate their employees and workers. Today, workers enjoy a respectable position in the organisation they work for and are fairly paid. Corporate houses and companies maintain managerial standards and rules. The employees’ dignity is given importance. Apart from these organisations, many people are self-employed today. They do not depend on anyone else for their employment or remuneration. Thus, the dynamics of capitalism have changed, and one class is no longer oppressed at the hands of the other. 

Many favour capitalism 

With changed dynamics and social conditions, not many people oppose capitalism. Many have grown to accept it as a standard norm, and others even favour capitalism and its ideologies. The world runs on money today. Everyone seeks to earn more to live the life of their choice. Capitalism facilitates this idea in a society where everything can be bought with capital. The Marxist theory has been criticised by proponents of capitalism as being narrow as it only looks at society from an economic point of view. Marxism believes that only economic factors are responsible for the evolution of society through the years. This ideology is opposed as being untrue. Many factors shaped society through history, like social values, customs, war, rulers, etc. Thus, the Marxist approach to capitalism is disagreed with by many. 

Failure of communism

In some parts of the world, Communism was adopted in favour of Marxist theories. The Communist Revolution of Eastern Europe was a failure. It failed to bring the social equality and justice that it aimed to bring. Contrarily, capitalism has been working well in society for centuries now. Over time, capitalist theories and approaches have improved, and the world today agrees with capitalism. Therefore, communism has failed to change society as Marxism believed it to do.

Criticism of relevance

The Marxist theories stated them to always be relevant. Marxism believes in the evolution of society in phases, where it will evolve from capitalism to communism through socialism. This has not happened. Socialism and communism failed in many parts of the world and they were not implemented through the phases that Marxism talks about. In fact, the Marxist theories of capitalism and society seem irrelevant today. Thus, Marxism is criticised for ignoring issues of social importance in the shadow of the economic evolution of society. 


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have played significant roles in shaping society. Marxist theories were furthered by Engels even after the demise of Karl Marx. Marxist theories were way ahead of their time when they were written. The basis of these theories was class conflicts, which were facilitated due to capitalism. Although people have developed an acceptance of capitalism, it continues to corrupt and corrode values in society even today. Many sections and classes of society suffer due to capitalism and capitalist principles dominating society. The critical theory stands true even today, as capitalism can be seen as a barrier to culture and literature. Though the Marxist theory is criticised for having become irrelevant today, its contribution to societal development is irreplaceable. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the primary objective of Marxist theory?

The primary objective of Marxist theory is to achieve a classless society. Marxism believes it to be possible through the attainment of communism in society.

What are the elements of Marxism?

Marxism consists of seven elements, namely:

  1. Dialectical Materialism
  2. Historical Materialism
  3. Stages of history
  4. Theory of labour
  5. Class struggle
  6. Socialist society/socialism
  7. Withering away of the state.

How is Marxism different from communism?

Marxism refers to the theories of class struggle and conflicts between two classes in society, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. Whereas, communism believes in a classless society that is attained by the theory of ‘common good’ based on equality.


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