Marx argues that each of these eras was a necessary precursor to a new, socialist, era that would soon dawn. In his view, capitalism would disappear because it undermined human dignity, alienating human beings from the product of our labor, the process of labor, our fellow workers, and even authentic existence itself.
Socialism is a polarizing phenomenon in the United States, having caught the nation’s attention during the 2016 election cycle and continuing to exert an influence over the national conversation. There are many varieties of socialism, but what each has in common is an emphasis on material equality and communal property ownership.
In this post, we will focus on the most famous and widespread version of socialism—Marxism—and argue that it is a false religion that cannot deliver on its promises. But before doing so, we must first trace the broad contours of Marx’s life and thought.
Who Was Karl Marx?
Marx (1820-1895) was born into a prominent Jewish family. As a teenager, he converted to Christianity. Yet, while studying philosophy at the University of Berlin, he became a committed atheist.
Having become an atheist, he wanted to be able to make sense of the world without reference to God. He became an economic determinist, arguing that the logic of human history can be revealed by studying the economic “class struggle” that inevitably mustoccur when some “have” and others “have not.”
What Does Marx Mean by “Class Struggle”?
Marx argued that there have been four eras in human history.
At the dawn of human history was the Asiatic (hunter-gatherer) era, in which people struggled because they were at the mercy of nature.
Following the Asiatic era was the Ancient (slave-master) era, in which slave owners lorded over hunter-gatherers. This stage soon declined because it was impractical; the primary property (slaves) can get sick, die, or run away.
Next arose the Medieval (lord-peasant) era, in which slaves were replaced by serfs. This era was more practical; unlike slaves, serfs did not run away because they owned a percentage of their labor.
Finally, the capitalist (owner-worker) era emerged, in which working class people struggle because they are at the mercy of owners who pocket most of the capital form the workers’ labor.