Marxist Approach to History and Politics

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Outline and assess the main aspects of Marx’s approach to understanding history and politics. Over 150 years after they were first coined, The Labour Theory of Value, Class Antagonisms and the Means of Production are all terms which are central to the revolutionary ideals of Karl Marx and are still widely used and referred to in contemporary political thought.  However, when considering how one can assess the Marxist paradigm on history and politics, there must be an understanding of the circumstances in which Karl Marx, one of the greatest political thinkers of the 19th century, was faced with. As many great political thinkers before and after him, Marx’s political ideology was partly shaped by his experiences, and is arguably the framework behind the inception of some of his greatest works such as the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Marx was born in Prussia at a time when a dynastic monarchy still maintained their rule and social woes were aggravated by the shift from Feudalism to an ever increasing Industrial society. As Marx continually moved from country to country, he began to develop dialectic political perspective and, after joining the Young Hegelians and becoming a political thinker, he began to write from a Hegelian viewpoint. His belief was that the method of thesis, antithesis and synthesis was to be best utilised when studying history, politics and the conditions of mankind in order to understand social stratification and emerging capitalism in the economic system. He also believed this method would create a concrete framework for society to follow in order to change the long standing socio-economic conditions of the past. As Marx himself claimed “The Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” Marx differed from many prolific philosophers before him as his theories centred on Materialism and the relationship between the forces and means of production, as opposed to what Marx dismissed as “theories based in idealist moral abstractions which dealt in notions of freedom, justice, fairness and equality”  which he claimed were propounded by other thinkers of the time. Both Marx and Engels strongly criticised other political scientists on the grounds that the Marxist method of “the understanding of history based on truly scientific socioeconomic analysis” was superior to any other analysis of society. Marx was influenced by political thinkers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Ludwig Feurbach, with many of his ideas on materialism and the role of the state deriving from their work. Marxism has established itself as an essential part of political and historical thought, and as Robert Tucker claims “Not to be well grounded in the writings of Marx and Engels is to be insufficiently attuned to modern thought”  Firstly and perhaps most importantly Marx was a champion of the enduring term “class struggle”, and was the first political thinker to thoroughly address the easily inherent vices of capitalism that were expanding in many of the richest Western European nations. Industrialisation during the nineteenth century had transformed the ways and means by which capitalist society produced and distributed goods, with longer working hours, less pay, and machinery which made the factory working environment hazardous. When Marx moved to London in 1849 he lived in abject poverty almost through choice. He lived amongst the working class and observed their plight, which he believed, was something that could be changed via an assessment of the institutions and the system which were creating their poverty. Marx believed that history was fundamentally based upon class antagonisms, whether it was the serfs against the landlords, vassals against lords or proletarian against bourgeoisie, Marx documented in his Communist Manifesto that “The history of all hitherto existing society, is the history of class stuggle” . Aside from being a typically Marxist quote, it also explains the way in which...
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