Karl Marx Views on History

Table of Contents


Marxism perspective is concerned with the ways in which the production of space and place is implicated in the reproduction of specific social reforms that happen in history. Marx believed that the present order must first be destroyed by revolution before a truly socialist could evolve.

Marxist Theories of History

Economic determinism- the idea that the mode through which a society produces and distributes it’s wealth will determine it’s social political structure, laws and even superstructure like religion.

Here Karl Marx sees history as a series of class struggles as human evolved through five basic stages of society. For example man changes from the stage of nomads to the stage of settled living, hunting fruits gathering and the rearing of sheep giving way to domestication of plants and animals, then comes the urban culture and its rich diversity of vocations.

Categorization of people is necessary in order to handle this diversity which forms the basis of belief systems social hierarchy, codes of behavior, rules of punishment for crime, worship, recreation, family obligations and ties and the apparatus of ruling authority. However, throughout history, the grouping of people into economies of classes has had the effect of initiating class struggle. (Lazle, 2002)

The five stages in the economic determinism of history can be summarized as follows;

  • Primitive hunting and gathering societies which had no extra wealth and therefore no private property, social classes, class struggles or even the need for government.
  • Slave societies with a rich rolling class opposed by an oppressed underclass of slaves.
  • Feudal society with a noble class of landowning lords opposed by an oppressed class of serfs
  • Capitalist society with a rich class of factory owners (bourgeoisie) opposed by an oppressed class of factory workers (the proletariat)
  • Socialist societies run by the workers with no private property and thus no social classes or class conflicts.

Labor theory of value

It started that any product was only worth as much the workers were paid to make it. Anything a capitalist charged beyond this amount was called surplus value.

In Karl Marx’s theory of history he sees this as the beginning of a stage where capitalism is to be destroyed. (Lazle, 2002)

If capitalists charged more for a product than the cost of labor, there would be low sales since the workers are not paid through money to buy the goods. This would with time drive some owners out of business creating a smaller business class – who are richer in the society. To stay co-operative the smaller cartel of rich business men would have to invest more in efficient and expensive machines resulting in laying off workers with time.

This together with increased price of commodities would mean that there are even fewer workers to buy them and more owners of the business are the cycle repeated. Each time the above cycle repeats itself, the fabulously rich and desperately poor. This would trigger a revolution that would destroy the capitalistic order.

The triumphant workers would build a society where people as a whole owned everything in common. Private property would disappear and with it social classes, conflicts over property and any need for government, family and religion which are all seen in categorical times as instrumentals of the bourgeois oppression. There would be no rich or poor. (Lazle, 2002)

Means and modes of production

Marx’s analysis of history is based on his destruction between the means of production such as land, technology and natural resources and social relations of production (modes).

Marx observed that in any given society the mode of production changes and that the European societies had progressed from feudal mode of production to a capitalist mode of production. (Karl and Friedrich, 2004)

The capitalist mode of production is capable of great growth. He considered this to be the most revolutionary in history as it is constantly revolutionizing the means of production is the substructure of history while the mode (ideological arguments, people relations),about that history constitute a superstructure.

Historical inevitability – proletarians versus the bourgeois

The proletarians are workers i.e. those who sell labor power to earn income so as to survive. The bourgeous is a person who buys the labor power i.e. one who owns land and technology to produce. Marx believed that capitalism (a system where the means of production are owned by a few rich. Individuals were prone to periodic crisis. He proposed that over time, the capitalist would invest more and more in new technologies and less and less in labor.

This would in turn trigger severe crises. The crisis and conflict would then characterize collapse of the capitalistic system. He believed that this cycle of growth, collapse and growth. (Growth in the last phase because of the workers) rising up against the bourgeois) is necessary and thus historical inevitability’.

The socialism system (where the means of production are owned by all) would encourage social relations and would be less vulnerable to conflicts and crises. (Karl and Friedrich, 2004)

Marx’s Inspiration

Marx drew an inspiration for his ideologies for early socialist communal experiments.

Karl Marx drew inspiration from the 6 year industrial crisis in Europe 1848 – 1853.

The Marxism theory developed against capitalism. He views history based on perpetual resolution of opposition (rich versus poor, developed versus undeveloped abundance versus scarcity) in which each resolution produces its own contradiction. According to him to restore dignity and give individuals full control over self and destiny capitalism must be overthrowing and be replaced by communism.

Marxism’s Pros and Cons

Marx’s thoughts and ideas are valuable for pointing out the important of economics and class in history. Secondary many countries have had social reforms in history based on Karl Marx’s ideologies.

However Marx’s theory failed to account for the role of individual genius and stupidity in human affairs assuming that everyone would give up all individual possessions voluntarily for the common good. (Karl and Friedrich, 2004) Other negative effects of Karl Marx’s theories are;

  • Industrial production for consumer goods is woefully deficient
  • The upper layer of state functionaries enjoys life better than the rich and lords of the past.
  • Workers don’t enjoy better standards.
  • In fact Marx’s approach to history could not bring desired results. The disintegration of Soviet Union has proved this beyond reasonable doubt.


The system of though developed by Karl Marx propounds that the state through history, has been advised for the exploitation of the masses by a dominant class and the main agent of historical change. Economic classes and private property are the main cause of historical change. Marx also believed that society develops in stages in accordance with the development in factors of production (materials and instruments of labor).

Work Cited Source

Karl, M. and Friedrich, E. The Communist Manifesto, London, Broadview Press, 2004

Lazle, E. Introduction to system philosophy, New York, Prentice Hall, 2002

Marx and historical Materialism

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