Political Theory of Marx
Marxism, a body of doctrine developed by Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, by Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century. It originally consisted of three related ideas: a philosophical anthropology, a theory of history, and an economic and political program. There is also Marxism as it has been understood and practiced by the various socialist movements, particularly before 1914. Then there is Soviet Marxism as worked out by Vladimir Ilich Lenin and modified by Joseph Stalin, which under the name of Marxism-Leninism (see Leninism) became the doctrine of the communist parties set up after the Russian Revolution (1917). Offshoots of this included Marxism as interpreted by the anti-Stalinist Leon Trotsky and his followers, Mao Zedong’s Chinese variant of Marxism-Leninism, and various Marxisms in the developing world.
The key elements of Marxist thought as well as Marx’s commitment to emancipation suggest that Marxism is a theory for those with little and thus have the most to gain from a revolution, which seems to be the proletariats and the ‘periphery’. This paper aims to show that various elements of Marxism do indeed focus on ‘the weak’ and despite being such, Marxism continues to have growing relevance in the world politics given current geopolitical trends that could indicate a crisis in the capitalist world-system. These could make room for the rise of Marxism as a mainstream international relations theory. Generally, the weak are those who own little or no means of production and thus would have little power or say in the capitalist system. In keeping with Marx’s division of society into classes, the weak would be the working class (proletariats) while in terms of the world-system theory; the weak would be considered those countries in the peripheral and semi-peripheral zone. In contrast the powerful would be those who own the means of production and would thus have more power and say in the capitalist system. In terms of Marx’s division of society into classes, the powerful would be the bourgeoisie while in the terms of the world-system theory; the powerful would be the countries in the core. Marx was committed to the cause of emancipation and his interest in the development of an understanding of the dynamics of capitalist society was mainly to discover ways to overthrow the prevailing order and replace it with a communist society. Given Marx’s predisposition towards the empowerment of the working class and thus their emancipation, it strongly suggests that Marx’s theory would be mainly for the ‘weak’. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx mentioned, ‘The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.’ The use of words such as ‘exploitation’ denotes certain antipathy to the bourgeoisies’ method of spreading the capitalist mode of production. Furthermore, the main strands of Marxist thought seem to favour the weak. It is evident in both the World-system theory and Gramscianism. According to World Systems theorists, ‘the core, semi-periphery and periphery are locked in an exploitative relationship in which wealth is drained away from the periphery to the centre.’ Gramsci’s concept of hegemony reflects his conceptualization of power where, by cultivating Machiavelli’s definition of power arrives at the conclusion that power is ‘a mixture of coercion and consent.’
Some, finally, point to the anti-democratic practices of many Communist countries and claim that authoritarianism is inherent in Marxist doctrine. In fact, Marx's theories concentrate on advanced industrial capitalism with its imperfect but still functioning democratic institutions and he never thought that socialism could achieve its full promise in relatively poor, politically underdeveloped nations (Marx/Engels). Marxism, as defined here, has had its main influence among workers and intellectuals in capitalist countries, especially in Europe, who have used it as a major tool in defining their problems and constructing political strategies. In the Western countries, even non-Marxist intellectuals, particularly sociologists and historians, have drawn considerable insights from Marx's writings. In the Third World, Marxism—considerably modified to deal with their special mixture of primitive and advanced capitalist conditions—has clarified the nature of the enemy for many liberation movements. In the Communist countries, selected doctrines of Marx have been frozen into abstract principles to serve as the official ideology of the regimes. The influence of these three varieties of Marxism is as different as their content. In American capitalism's latest crisis, the combination of growing unemployment and worsening inflation has confounded all the usual experts. The most powerful nation in history cannot erase poverty, provide full employment, guarantee decent housing or an adequate diet or good health care to its people. Meanwhile, the rich get richer (Engels, Friedrich). Only Marxism, as an account ofthe rational unfolding of a basically irrational capitalist system, makes sense of our current chaos. In class struggle, it also points the way out. The rest is up to us.
In any event, for Marx, the fetishism of commodities originated in the peculiar social character of the labor that produced them. His conception of their nature derived itself from Hegel’s definition of “mystical,” and this definition, in turn, was Hegel’s reflection on Rumi’s poetry. It is indeed remarkable how far reaching the influence of Rumi can be, from inspiring a new genre of poetry to theories in political-economy. Rumi manages to influence the ideas of philosophers half a millennium after he wrote his poems and still continues to dance amongst us to the tune of a divine flute for what seems like eternity. Jamee calls him the revealer of a Book, whose Masnavi is the Koran in Persian, and Hegel calls him the embodiment of excellence.
Marx, Karl, Wage Labor and Capital.
Engels, Friedrich, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto.
Marx/Engels, German Ideology, Part 1.