An Analysis of Karl Marx's Economic Determinism Essay
An Analysis of Karl Marx’s Economic Determinism
The Prussian philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883) was regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th century (History Guide, n - An Analysis of Karl Marx's Economic Determinism Essay introduction. pag.). In the mid-19th century, Marx, along with German philosopher Freidrich Engels (1820-1895), founded Marxism, a body of thought which espoused “(the important role of) class struggle…in understanding society’s development from capitalism to a socialist and ultimately classless society” (Answers, n. pag.). Some Marxists claimed that one of Marxism’s important points is economic determinism or the theory in which “economic factors determine non-economic spheres of life such as politics, religion and ideology” (Stillman, n. pag.).
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Economic determinism, in the view of Marx, argued that the supreme instinct in man is self-preservation (Spiritus-Temporis, n. pag.). Hence, human conduct was always entirely influenced by the basic laws of survival (Spiritus-Temporis, n. pag.). Man’s inclination towards survival is so intense that history itself became a timeline for which man has shown his increasing tenacity to exercise this instinct (Spiritus-Temporis, n. pag.). In the context of Marxism, this translated to the bourgeoisie’s creation of capitalism as a new social and economic order to protect their property-owning interests. However, the oppressed proletariat will rise to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a supposedly classless society.
The belief of economic determinism in the proletariat, particularly the worker, as a “social messiah” led to the interpretation that Marxism is an “atheized version of chiliastic eschatology” (Patton, n. pag.). Some historians argued that “both Marx and Engels were strongly influenced by British millenarianism of the 1840s” (Patton, n. pag.). Millenarianism referred to the idea of a thousand-year reign of peace and prosperity that will be established upon the return of the Messiah (Patton, n. pag.). But in the Marxist setting, the “Messiah” would be a group of Communists who will save the world by overthrowing capitalism (Palton, n. pag.). Communism, therefore, would be seen as “the final age of history” (Palton, n. pag.).
Murray Rothbard wrote in his article Karl Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist (1990) that communism was based on “reabsorption theology” (Rothbard, 127). The term “reabsorption” emphasized on the “inevitable endpoint of human history as well as its supposed starting point in a pre-creation union with God” (Rothbard, 127). In reabsorption theology, God created the human race, which will be reunited with Him on the Final Judgement (Rothbard, 129). In Marxism, the human race began with primitive communalism and will eventually evolve into the “classless society” that is being espoused by Communism (Rothbard, 129).
Reabsorption theology asserted that God created the universe out of “loneliness, dissatisfaction or to develop His undeveloped faculties” (Rothbard, 128). However, He gradually became dissatisfied with the universe because it promoted “diversity, individuality and separateness” (Rothbard, 128). As a result, man was alienated from God, from his fellow man and even from nature (Rothbard, 128).
The Marxist concept of alienation is derived from reabsorption theology’s idea of alienation (Rothbard, 128). Marx believed that aside from enabling a person to earn a living, work also largely affected his or her consciousness (Gaardner, 329). Under capitalism, where the worker works for someone else, his or her capacity to produce ends up as something that does not belong to him or her (Gaardner, 330). As a result, the worker becomes alienated to his work, and, at the same, to himself or herself (Gaardner, 330).
Nevertheless, reabsorption theory believed that history allowed both God and man to develop their talents and hone their skills (Rothbard, 129). This ran parallel to Marxism’s economic determinism, which argued that economic activity shaped history. Lastly, reabsorption theology affirmed the reunion of God and man (hence the term “reabsorption”) on the End of Days (Rothbard, 129). But this reconcilement between God and man was on a higher level (Rothbard, 129). As Rothbard puts it, “The painful state of creation is now over, alienation is at last ended, and man returns Home to be on a higher, post-creation level. History, and the world, have come to an end” (Rothbard, 129).
Meanwhile, Marxism’s ultimate goal is Communism – a “classless society” wherein the proletariat owned the means of production (Gaardner, 333). In addition, the policy regarding production will shift “from each according to his abilites, to each according to his needs” (Gaardner, 333). Hence, the worker’s alienation from his labor will cease (Gaardner, 333).
It is true that Marxism was created as a response to the social ills of the 19th century. However, it must be noted that “everything man touches becomes a mixture of good and evil” (Gaardner, 333). Although the intentions of Marxism were noble, Marx was not able to forsee how people will interpret and implement Marxism after his death. Therefore, it is no longer surprising if majority of the world’s so-called socialist governments were both formed and collapsed in the 20th century.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as an “utopia,” “promised land” or “ideal system.” The human race will always encounter new problems that cannot be solved by one ideology or belief system. In the end, it is the people – not some “all-encompassing philosophy” – who has the ability to change society, either for the better or for the worse.
“Dictionary: Marxism.” 2008. Answers.com. 19 March 2008
“Economic Determinism.” 2005. Spiritus-Temporis.com 19 March 2008
Gaardner, Jostein. Sophie’s World. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc., 2002.
Kreis, Steven. “Karl Marx, 1818-1883.” 30 January 2008. The History Guide. 19 March
Marx, Karl. “The Communist Manifesto.” The Marxist Reader. Ed. Emile Burns.
New York: Avenel Books, 1982. 21-59.
Patton, Jude. “Is Communism Dead?” 1990. M1-Garand.com. 19 March 2008
Rothbard, Murray N. “Karl Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist.” The Review of
Austrian Economics 4 (1990): 123-79.
Stillman, Peter G. “The Myth of Marx’s Economic Determinism.” April 2005. Marx Myths
and Legends. 19 March 2008 <http://marxmyths.org/peter-stillman/article.htm>.