There is currently a discussion on the talk page on whether this FAQ represents proper policy for Marxistpedia. If you disagree with anything written here, feel free to leave your opinion. For another take on what the site is about, see Marxistpedia:Guidelines. This article is written from a specifically left-of-Leninism perspective. It opposes Stalinism and is critical of Trotskyism. A Trotskyist Marxism FAQ can be found here.
This page is intended for the absolute beginner; to address common misconceptions and to answer basic questions surrounding Marxism.
- 1 The Basics and Myths
- 1.1 What is Communism?
- 1.2 What is Marxism?
- 2 Marxist Theory
- 3 Marxist Theory (Other/Misc)
- 3.1 Proletariat
- 3.2 Bourgeois
- 3.3 Is Marxist communism authoritarian?
- 3.4 Is Marxism Libertarian?
- 3.5 What is the Marxist view on the state?
- 3.6 Why does communism need to be international?
- 4 Marxist Philosophy
- 5 About Marxistpedia
- 6 References
The Basics and Myths
What is Communism?
"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."
Communism is the movement to overthrow capital, therefore it's politics is firmly rooted in the current conditions of capitalism. It is not a society schematic, nor is it an 'ideal to be achieved'.
Why has communism always failed everywhere?
It would seem that 'communist states' or states headed by communist parties have resulted in an endless supply of mass murder, misery, and relapse back to capitalism. We maintain that the Russian revolution failed and degenerated, and that its degeneration spawned Stalinism. Stalinism has little to do with communism. The reasons for the failure of the Russian revolution are complex. There are various explanations offered, including isolation, Bolshevik counter-revolution, a large peasant population and backward conditions. Once its failure had consolidated and an ideology constructed to accommodate it, it was exported. Stalinism was used to establish regimes in China, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Madagascar, Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique, and Benin. More often than not, these Stalinists arrived to power via a coup, and in no such countries did they come into power through a social revolution as understood by Marxism. The Russian Revolution, therefore, was the only failed proletarian revolution (and its proletarian character is disputed); in other words, the one failure of the communist movement. The aforementioned regimes were all simply an extension of this one failure.
Nevertheless the history of the USSR shows that even a corrupted socialist model can know considerable successes. Soviet Russia managed to industrialize at a speed that was unheard of before that point, enabling it to defeat the Nazis during the Second World War. As is always the case with industrialization, this came at a considerable human cost. History clearly shows us that planned economies are basically functional, even without modern information processing and communication technology.
Why is the USSR considered non-communist?
Some would regard the rejection of the USSR as communist a No True Scotsman Fallacy. It is, however, inaccurate to state that communists disassociate from the USSR on the basis that it wasn't "true communism" or not "pure communism." Fundamentally, a transition from a mode of production to another is a qualitative change whereas 'true' and 'pure' are quantitative qualifiers. The Soviet Union wasn't not "true communism", it wasn't communist at all because there was no qualitative break from capitalism.
We do not articulate an ideal of communist society based on rationality or morality but based on a materialist analysis. This dictates that communism will be based on directly social labour and therefore will not have commodity production, currency, wage-labour, etc. Of course, one can argue that this is not realistic but that is a different argument. It doesn't make the Soviet Union communist.
The No True Scotsman Fallacy does not apply to situations where there is no such quantitative qualifier and where specific objective rules and parameters have been established. These parameters, again, from a Marxist perspective, are that communism is a stateless, classless, moneyless society. Similarly, those that ask this question will reject the notion of authoritarian regimes being democratic despite their claims to be, (all Stalinist states, and many other dictatorial regimes, all claimed to be democratic), yet the "No True Scotsman" nature of this is not disputed.
Communism killed 100 million people, why give it another chance?
Because of different material conditions. The economies in which these tragedies occurred were still in the very early stages of capitalist development, which according to standard Marxist theory isn't a suitable basis for transitioning to communism. Thus they had to engage in a policy of rapid industrialization in order to be able to compete with the global capitalist economy. In effect they had to condense the violence that a century of capitalism had wreaked on other societies into just a few decades. This obviously came at a significant human cost. Nothing of that kind would be necessary when transitioning from a developed capitalist economy today.
The claim communism has killed millions comes from the idea states like the USSR, People's Republic of China, etc were communist. As explained before, none of these countries were communist by any means, as communism by basic definition is classless, stateless, and moneyless. All of those things existed in so-called communist countries which means they were not communist. So communism has not killed millions of people.
Even if one wanted to make the claim it has then they would also have to acknowledge the death toll of capitalism which exists now and is killing thousands every day. The victims of capitalism can only be expected to go up in the coming century, during which the worldwide commons will be under increased threat. In order to effectively manage climate change and advanced automation, we need a new mode of economic organization. If we don't manage this, the victims of late capitalism will far outnumber those of 20th century "communism."
Can you show a successful example of communism?
There has never been a communist society to give an example of because communism is necessarily global and based on the complete negation of the law of value and commodity production, only after which the alienation of capitalist society ceases to exist, which were all present under so-called 'communist states'
What is Marxism?
It is simply the materialist critique of capitalism. Marxism is not a Weltanschauung (a comprehensive worldview) since a critique of political economy cannot be an ideology.
What are Marxist economics?
Was Marx a philosopher?
"Feuerbach is the only one who has a serious, critical attitude to the Hegelian dialectic and who has made genuine discoveries in this field. He is, in fact, the true conqueror of the old philosophy. The extent of his achievement, and the unpretentious simplicity with which he, Feuerbach, gives it to the world, stand in striking contrast to the opposite attitude [of the others]. Feuerbach’s great achievement is: (1) The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned; (2) The establishment of true materialism and of real science, by making the social relationship of “man to man” the basic principle of the theory; (3) His opposing to the negation of the negation, which claims to be the absolute positive, the self-supporting positive, positively based on itself."
Marx was decidedly not a philosopher; he was a critic of philosophy.
Is Marxism necessarily atheistic?
It is commonly thought Marx himself was an outspoken atheist who harshly criticized religion due to his quote about religion being the "opium of the people". However, this is not the case. It is true Marx was not religious and Marxism does not support belief in religions, but it is more nuanced than just an antithetical standpoint to the belief in God. Marxism does not regurgitate the beliefs of a crude atheist doctrine, to Marxists religion has to be understood as something symptomatic of the material conditions that constitute a society. In this way, Marxism transcends atheism by realizing that theism cannot be countered by asserting God's non-existence.
"The basis of religious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness because they are an inverted world...
To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears, the halo of which is religion."
As Marx points out, religion is a product of human consciousness that becomes the organizing principle of society as more believe it. Religion develops as an inverted world-consciousness because people are living in an inverted world. Tormented by their everyday lives in capitalist society, full of alienation, exploitation, poverty, and suffering causes people to require to an illusory happiness. Religion provides the promise of relief from this everyday hell in the "true world", heaven. In abolishing the destructive forces of capital, communism will abolish the conditions which necessitate this illusory happiness and allows the free full development of all individual life to take place, thus abolishing the need for religion. It can be concluded from this that Marxism is not inherently atheistic as is believed and does not seek to attack religion. "The opium of the people" quote is often taken out of context, opium was a popular painkiller so what Marx meant is that religion offers relief from some greater distress in a similar way to opium. Marxism is practical-critical when it comes to religion, the real critique of religion relies on a materialist analysis of why it is necessary for people to believe in God.
"All religions so far have been the expression of historical stages of development of individual peoples or groups of peoples. But communism is the stage of historical development which makes all existing religions superfluous and brings about their disappearance"
Isn't Marxism like a religion?
As explained in the previous answer, religion is an abstraction of human consciousness manifested from the need to escape real suffering. Religion comes from the material circumstances that create society and thus humanity. Marxism, however, is a material analysis of the conditions of existence. Marxism does not promise illusory happiness like religion, it promises real happiness resulting from the liberation of the oppressed. Along with this Marxism does not prescribe a certain way of living, individuals to praise, nor a moral theory.
It could be argued Stalinism is more like a religion. Stalin, who from a young age was brought up in a seminary and practiced his formative years as a priest, could have presupposed or at least contributed to him to forming his dogmatic ideology later in life.
What are the different types of Marxists?
What is Value?
See law of value
Why is Labour the source of value?
What is generalised commodity production?
What is Capital?
What is the Law of Value?
Marxist Theory (Other/Misc)
What is the Proletariat?
In Capitalism, the proletariat is the social class directly exploited by the bourgeois through wage labor. While the proletariat is often considered simply a manual factory laborer, other occupations paid in wages can be considered proletarian, such as farmers.
The proletariat is exploited by a number of factors. Firstly, he must labor for a capitalist in order to use the means of production to make a living, as almost all the means of production are privately owned, even land, which is most difficult to justify private ownership of, something even Adam Smith attested to. Secondly, via wage labor, the proletariat is paid less than the true value of his labor to the capitalist in order for the capitalist to profit. Finally, the proletariat must also buy products from the capitalist, as despite having labored to make them, he does not determine their fate.
The proletariat must also suffer alienation from the commodities he produces, since as mentioned above, he produces them not for his or society's benefit, but for that of his masters.
What is "Prole Drift?
"Prole Drift" is the tendency for stratas of the petit bourgeois to fall into the proletariat during times of economic hardship, as when he goes out of business, the one occupation most readily available for him is a manual laborer of some sort, as everyone's most basic skill is labor.
Marx originally thought that the proletariat would only increase in number while the petit bourgeois fell into their ranks over time as Prole Drift occurred, but in actuality, the middle class increased over time, an error he addressed in his Theories of Surplus Value
What is the lumpenproletariat?
To Marx, the lumpenproletariat is the social class below even the proletariat, in that it is alienated completely from society, and cannot even gain normal employment. Lumpenproletarians consists of criminals, prostitutes, deserters, gangsters, and other outcasts of society. However others use the term as a general reference to the class of society that both produces nothing and owns nothing, which in extention to the above examples includes police officers and soldiers.
Marx looked down on the lumpenproletariat, translating it as the the "dangerous class” in the Communist Manifesto describing them as "the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue." This was in contrast to Proudhon and Bakunin, founders of modern anarchism who saw revolutionary potential in the lumpenproletaiat.
Why is only the proletariat considered a revolutionary agent?
Every stage of historical development has a revolutionary class. For feudalism, the stage prior to capitalism (at least in western Europe), it was the bourgeois and petit bourgeois that were the revolutionary classes, ushering in liberal capitalism. In the age of liberal capitalism, it is the proletariat that is the revolutionary class. This is for a number of reasons, as listed below:
It is usually only the exploited, dispossessed class that is interested in its emancipation. While the petit bourgeois and to a much lesser extent the bourgeois may hold sympathies for it (as in the remarkable case of Friedrich Engels), usually the upper and middle classes will fight against socialism. However, there are still cases in which the petit bourgeois will side with the proletariat in a socialist revolution, usually when it is dispossessed as well, as in the Paris Commune of 1871. The proletariat is usually the best-educated and "conscious" of the dispossessed classes, as compared to peasantry (an almost extinct class now, but one worth mentioning for historical purposes), who were often illiterate, apathetic, deeply conservative, or a combination of all three flaws. During the July Revolution in France, for instance, it was the large, conservative masses of peasantry that elected Louis Napoleon, a reactionary Bonapartist dictator. The proletariat, being the product of industrialized, modern society, is literate, well-informed, and almost always at least center-left politically. There are few cases of a revolutionary peasantry, save that of Revolutionary early 20th century Russia, but such peasantry is often unintelligent or at least partially unsympathetic to socialism. Much of the peasantry of Russia were quite apathetic to social revolution, and reportedly cared very little when the Bolsheviks seized power. When a "vanguard party" opts to lead the revolution, the result is a party dictatorship alienated from the masses. This, unfortunately has been the case with most claimed social revolutions in the 20th century.
What is the Bourgeois?
Whereas the proletariat is the subject, exploited, disposed class in capitalist society, the bourgeois is the master, exploitative, and possessor class. The bourgeois own the means of production and the means of living, including, but not limited to: Factories, farmland, workshops, offices, and even housing. Obviously, the proletariat and bourgeois stand in direct opposition to one another, with differences irreconcilable, which is why any reform can only come at the benefit of one class and the expense of the other.
Historically, the bourgeois emerged as artisans and petty tradesman during the late stages of feudalism, and from there clashed with their rivals, the landlords of the estates. Feudal states were often physiocratic, preventing the bourgeois from industrializing (Marx details this hypocritical struggle in his second manuscript of his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.), as well as protectionist, preventing the bourgeois from gaining wealth through foreign trade. Bourgeois revolutions throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in Western Europe and the Americas almost destroyed feudalism, ushering in liberal capitalism.
What is the Petit Bourgeois?
The petit bourgeois is the predominant strata of the bourgeois, and the original bourgeois as well, being throughout history artisans and petty tradesmen. There primary difference from the bourgeois is that they either do not employ workers or do not employ them large scale, although they continuously strive to employ the proletariat. They are sometimes an ally to the proletariat, as under capitalism, they repeatedly fall into the proletariat during economic crises.
Communism stands in opposition to authoritarian social structures such as racism, sexism, and so on. As a transitional phase to communist society it supports the dictatorship of the proletariat, which would involve among other features the election of all representatives of the public order based on universal suffrage. It stands for the achievement of a social order based on social equality - communist society, and the eventual destruction of the state.
Certain ideologies have defined Marxist communism as authoritarian. For instance, anarchists argue that certain methods used by Marxist communists, such as the workers' state, are authoritarian. Bakunin argued that the workers' state would suffer from the same problems as the bourgeois state. He warned in his State and Anarchism that workers, "once they become rulers or representatives of the people, cease to be workers. And from the heights of the State they being to look down upon the toiling people. From that time on they represent not the people but themselves and their own claims to govern the people. Those who doubt this know precious little about human nature." Marx however, pointed out that "If Mr. Bakunin were au courant, be it only with the position of a manger in a worker's cooperative, he would send all his nightmares about authority to the devil."
A good solution to the famous rhetorical question Bakunin proposed, "Over whom will the proletariat rule?" in the dictatorship of the proletariat, would be the democratic election of all officials, as well as the ability to recall them. In his article, The Civil War In France, in which Marx describes the Paris Commune (a shortly-lived city-state that Marx considered as having been an example of a dictatorship of the proletariat), he also details their system of government. He explains that the commune was run by "...municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time." Not to mention that, according to Marx, the question was based off of a straw man interpretation of the "elevation of the proletariat from working class to ruling class," as all this really means is that the proletariat is in the position to use the mechanisms of the state in the form of force or coercion so as to win its battles. The day will not come when a worker can simply bark out orders to non-worker passerby on the street.
But the dictatorship of the proletariat does not just ensure freedom of suffrage, but also freedom from all the repressive organs of the state. In the article mentioned above, Marx goes on to describe the commune's attitude towards the army, police, and church. "The first decree of the Commune, therefore," he writes. "was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people" (this however, arguably led to the commune's destruction, as the commune could only muster a small portion of its army for its defense). As for the police, "Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune." Yet that was not enough, and "Having once got rid of the standing army and the police – the physical force elements of the old government – the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the “parson-power", by the disestablishment and disendowment of all churches as proprietary bodies. The priests were sent back to the recesses of private life, there to feed upon the alms of the faithful in imitation of their predecessors, the apostles."
The common misconception of communism as authoritarian really comes from the despotism and treason committed by other "Marxists" throughout history. At the same time, the erroneous conception of socialism as being the democratic alternative to communism comes in part from intellectual laziness allowing only a few weary glances at the Communist Manifesto and the ideology of various "Socialist" governments in Europe and Canada.
Marxist communism is distinguished from anarchism in that Marxist communism does not reject the authority of, for instance, the workers' state. Whether this is 'authoritarian' or not depends on which ideological current or tendency is being considered. While anarchists nominally reject such authority, in practice they have established their own workers' states, or similar, and in certain cases even protected or participated in the bourgeois state.
Is Marxism Libertarian?
This is a difficult question to answer, as how "Libertarian" Marxism can be described as depends largely on how one sees the Libertarian/Authoritarian dichotomy.
As mentioned above, Marxism is in opposition to traditional authoritarian social structures, but some aspects of Marxism may be described as "authoritarian" (or at least, non-libertarian). For instance, the very essence of Marxian social revolution is the forcible (but not necessarily violent) overthrow of the existing social system. This is to be carried out by the majority, so it is certainly not undemocratic, but the ruling classes of the old regime are to be defeated and suppressed against their will.
This does not mean that it cannot be described as Libertarian, however, as many Libertarian socialist groups throughout history have considered themselves "Libertarian," but have engaged in practices of suppression and coercion. During the Spanish Civil War, for instance, Libertarian socialists suppressed the church and its representatives, sometimes through violence. This was arguably justified as churches were spreading right-wing sentiment through the population. Yet, if one were to defined "Libertarianism" as opposition to such methods, then they could not qualify as libertarian.
There is a tendency of Marxism called "Libertarian Marxism," which holds that individual freedom is the ultimate goal and center of Marxism. This is supported particularly by the following statement by the Communist League (a group of early German communists that Marx and Engels joined) in their journal, shortly before they published Marx and Engel's famed "Communist Manifesto:"
We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced that in no social order will freedom be assured as in a society based upon communal ownership. The "communist who are out to destroy personal liberty" that they are referring to were the likes of Louis Auguste Blanqui, or "Blanquists," who sought to destroy capitalism by overthrowing it, like the Communist League, but after doing so, establish a closed dictatorship of the few that had participated in the revolution, or rather coup. Such a strategy was referred to as Putschism, coming from the French word Putsch, or coup. Marx and Engels were critical of this method, and in the early days of the communist movement sometimes refereed to themselves as "German Democratic Communists" so as to distinguish themselves from the Putschists.
While many Marxists agree that Marxism must not be considered undemocratic, some disagree with the Libertarian Marxist claim that freedom is at the center of Marxism, as their are arguably both "authoritarian" and "libertarian" notions in Marxism, as pointed out above. They argue that "Libertarian Marxism" is an oxymoron, and those that described themselves as belonging to this tendency or either "Marxian anarchists" or "Marxists that an anarchists would hold sympathies for." Not to mention that Marxists whom they admire, such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht
In conclusion, we cannot provide a definite answer to this question, save that it is up to the reader based off of his own conceptions of Libertarianism and Marxism.
What is the Marxist view on the state?
Marxists view the state not so much as a means of administering society (as even "stateless" communism will have means of administering society), but rather as an organ of class rule.
Is the capitalist state not a neutral arbiter?
In liberal ideology the bourgeois democratic state is, or should be, a neutral arbiter of justice that doesn't discriminate on the basis of class, religion, descent, and so forth. This weaves in nicely with methodological individualism. Each individual is judged purely on the merits of his character, leaving aside the context of structurally asymmetrical power relations, domination and subjugation -- therefore equating the oppressor and oppressed. This aside, we will make a case for why the capitalist state is structurally bend to the interests of the capital at the expense of labour.
Why does communism need to be international?
Proletarian internationalism is a pillar of communism. The objective and material basis for proletarian internationalism is the global socialisation of labour. A certain reactionary trend in socialism may promote self-reliant countries, proposing withdrawal from the imperialist world system, but this is both utopian and reactionary, undermining the objective basis for proletarian internationalism.
The current global division of labour necessitates a revolution of a corresponding scope. Lithium needs to be extracted from Bolivia and Australia to produce batteries for Sweden. Should one revolutionary territory face isolation it will be compelled to presume external trade relations and hence the penetration of the law of value into this territory. Capitalism will force its stamp on this isolated revolutionary territory.
What is historical materialism?
What is Marxist philosophy?
What is Materialist Analysis?
Why is Marxism Materialistic?
What is the Purpose of Marxistpedia?
The purpose of Marxistpedia is to provide a balanced, reliable, and informed educational resource for Marxism, free from mainstream liberal and Stalinist bias. Marxistpedia however, defers from existing resources for such information in that articles are constrained only to what is relevant to an understanding of Marxism.
Is yet another online encyclopedia necessary?
Wikipedia has an Arbitration committee which solidified in 2007 as a neoliberal and conservative stronghold that constantly controls the edits to undo any edit one makes to an article when it doesn't fit their ideology, even if it is well-sourced. Wikipedia also has around 200 edit filters currently enabled, 92 of which are secret and cannot be viewed by the community. Talking from experience, talk page comments referring to US propaganda activity on Wikipedia are deemed "unconstructive" and automatically blocked.
We decided our energy would be better spent on building our own platform than it would to fight turf wars, bots and sock puppets on wikipedia, many of which are well funded.
Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales is also a self-avowed Objectivist.
Are biographical articles permitted?
Yes, but only so much as the contained information is relevant to the development of Marxism. While Karl Marx's Hegelian influences and early liberal agitation are useful to know when examining the historical development of Marxism, it is difficult to see how his favorite blanket as a toddler (i.e. his early life), would be.
What politics is Marxistpedia associated with?
Marxistpedia is a Marxist wiki, but it specifically rejects certain tendencies normally considered a part of Marxism (Stalinism, Maoism, Hoxhaism, etc.).
Why is Marxistpedia Anti-Stalinist?
Marxistpedia opposes Stalinism insofar it does not consider it a form of Marxism, although it may be considered Marxian in that it is clearly inspired by Marxist ideas. Marxistpedia rejects the Stalinist claim that the various Stalinist states were examples of socialism or workers' states, and limits itself to presenting reliable information about these events, as well as the opinions of socialist tendencies.
Marxistpedia acknowledges some Stalinist contributions to Marxist theory while maintaining that many Stalinist claims (e.g. the idea of 'socialist commodity production') are inconsistent with a Marxist analysis. Marxistpedia is not "Anti-Stalinist" insofar it does not necessarily subscribe to any particular "Anti-Stalinism". For instance, the Anti-Stalinism of Bordigism is very different than that of Trotksyism, as the former only opposes Stalinism for allowing cooperation with reformist groups and for supporting the state capitalist USSR, while the latter criticizes almost every aspect of Stalinism. Marxistpedia thus does not criticize Stalinism from a certain angle, but rather presents the criticisms of different tendencies.
- —Karl Marx. The German Ideology
- —Karl Marx, Third Manuscript of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
- —Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law
- —Friedrich Engels, The Principles of Communism