A Crash Course on Karl Marx

Communism has not produced contentment and equality anywhere it has gained power.

Marxism is not the most important, the most imposing, or the most impressive philosophy in history. But until recently, it has clearly been the most influential. In just two generations, Marxism inundated one-third of the world—a feat accomplished only twice in human history (by early Christianity and by early Islam).

 

The following notes are based on an overview by Peter Kreeft. See also his book, Socrates Meets Marx: The Father of Philosophy Meets the Father of Communism (St. Augustine’s Press, 2012).

Who was Karl Marx?

A German philosopher-economist and a revolutionary socialist who founded Communism.

When did he live?

1818–1883.

What is the significance of his philosophy?

Marxism is not the most important, the most imposing, or the most impressive philosophy in history.

But until recently, it has clearly been the most influential. In just two generations, Marxism inundated one-third of the world—a feat accomplished only twice in human history (by early Christianity and by early Islam).

What is Marx’s most famous work?

The Communist Manifesto (1848), co-authored with Friedrich Engels.

What is the genre of The Communist Manifesto?

It is essentially a philosophy of history, past and future.

What was Marx’s view of the past?

Marx held a cynical view, reducing all of it to class struggle between:

  • oppressor and oppressed
  • master and slave

This includes all sorts of relationships, like:

  • king vs. people
  • priest vs. parishioner
  • guild-master vs. apprentice
  • husband vs. wife
  • parent vs. child

What was Marx’s view of the present?

There are only two classes:

  1. the bourgeoisie (the “haves”) — the owners of the means of production.
  2. the proletariat (the “have-nots”) — the non-owners of the means of production.

What was Marx’s view of future history?

Marx held a naïve vision:

  1. The proletariat (the have-nots) must sell themselves and their labor to the bourgeoisie (the owners) until the communist revolution.
  2. The communist revolution will eliminate (i.e., murder) the bourgeoisie
  3. As a result, classes and class conflict will thus be abolished, ushering in a millennium of peace and equality

How was Marxism structurally and emotionally like a religion?

Marx took over the forms and the spirit of his Jewish religious heritage, but not the content. He retained all the major structural and emotional factors of biblical religion in a secularized form.

  • Marx, like Moses, is the prophet who leads the new Chosen People, the proletariat, out of the slavery of capitalism into the Promised Land of communism across the Red Sea of bloody worldwide revolution and through the wilderness of temporary, dedicated suffering for the party, the new priesthood.
  • The revolution is the new “Day of Yahweh,” the Day of Judgment
  • Party spokesmen are the new prophets
  • Political purges within the party to maintain ideological purity are the new divine judgments on the waywardness of the Chosen and their leaders.

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