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date: 18 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Karl Marx (1818–1883) is one of the least understood men in history. His philosophy, commonly known as Marxism, is frequently associated with the creation of a harsh totalitarian state and a rigidly organized society, where people toil like robots without personal incentives, wealth, or freedom. But although Marx called for a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system as described and advocated by Adam Smith, his vision was more utopian than draconian. Marx envisioned a better world, where work, wealth, and power would be returned to the people, where individuals would be able to find true happiness and fulfillment, and where workers would toil not merely for self-interest and individual profit but for the welfare of all, guided by the simple maxim, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

The Communist Manifesto was originally written to express the views of and generate support for the “Communist League,” a small organization of discontented workers and intellectuals. It contains three basic parts: first, Marx’s critique of the flaws and injustices of capitalism, focusing on the struggle between the bourgeoisie (middle class) and proletariat (working class); second, his alternative Communist vision for human society; and lastly, his views on the misleading doctrines of competing socialist ideologies. Marx’s theory is ultimately imbedded in a theory of history known as dialectical materialism, which asserts that economic inequality and class conflict have been the prime engines of historical change. Like Adam Smith before him, Marx believed that certain immutable laws governed history and human society. These laws must be rationally examined in order to comprehend the past and to predict and shape the future. It is for these reasons that Marxism is often called “scientific socialism,” for it is based on a systematic study of economic relations and the forces of production. Yet Marx’s model is also based on certain key assumptions about human nature and the most appropriate definitions and strategies for human progress, fulfillment, and happiness. Although he did not live long enough to witness the implementation of his vision, his ideas have inspired millions of followers in the twentieth century.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Birth of the Communist Manifesto, ed. Dirk Struik, 87, 89–92, 96–97, 103–04, 106–07, 109, 110–12. Copyright © 1971 International Publishers.

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