Introduction to Western Political Thought
Professor Mithilesh Kumar Jha
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Karl Marx – III: Views on Politics, Communism
& Critical Assessment of his Thought
Hello and welcome everyone. This is the third and concluding lecture on Marx. In the
previous two lectures, we have discussed his theory on historical materialism, and also his
views on alienation, exploitation, and particularly, we will emphasize his views on class and
state. And how he argued that the class or proletariat as a class is the agent of change from
the capitalist mode of production to the communism that is the next stage of life.
In this concluding lecture, we will begin by discussing his views on politics and his
understanding of communism. In the second part of the lecture, today, we will focus on the
critical aspect of his thought and various criticisms leveled against Marx’s political thought.
Before concluding, we will try to understand the enduring legacy of Marx’s thought and
philosophy in the modern world.
And how it helps us to understand many of the challenges, such as socio-economic disparities
that we often come across within the nation, locality, and also at the global level. So, the
resources are appropriated or possessed by few and few individuals, and the majority of them
live in the absolute, dependent on the market forces or forced to sell their labor just for
survival. We will see in the concluding part of the lecture, today, the enduring legacy of
Marx.(Refer Slide Time: 02:37)
Let us start with the idea that Marx was a political philosopher. But he was a philosopher in a
distinct or unique sense. For him, the task of philosophy or a philosopher was not just to help
in the understanding or interpretation of the world. The primary and major responsibility for a
philosopher or a philosophy according to Marx, was to develop the ways and mechanism to
The idea was not just about interpreting the world or understanding the world. But how to
change it and this change was to ensure the greater freedom for individuals which capitalism
necessarily deny to the majority of its member. For him, the role of philosophy should not be
limited merely to interpretation. But should develop the roadmap to change it or transform it.
In this sense, there was a combination of theory and practice in Marx’s philosophy and much
of his later works developed. Particularly, his work on Capital or Communist Manifesto
developed based on his own personal and political engagement with the working-class
movement in England or France and other countries in Europe.
So, there was in his thought and theory, the combination of ideas and theory with the
practices and the rule of theory, and philosophy was not just in helping or making sense of
the world, but also, enabling the individual or community to change it for the better or to
organize it in a rational manner that would ensure maximum freedom for everyone and not
just for a few, as capitalism or modern bourgeois revolution had done. In Marx, you have this recognition of political revolution or liberal bourgeois revolution,
which acknowledged the rights of every man. But in the absence of economic freedom or
economic social rights, those freedoms are inadequate. According to Marx, for the majority
of people to realize their freedom, to live their life the way they want to live. In that sense,
many took his philosophy as a call to action.
The inspiration from Marx is not just to understand the world, theoretically. But also to
change it and one of the reasons for his perception or acknowledgment, as the theorist of
revolution is based on the fact that his works had shaped many historical and political events
in the modern worlds. For instance, the Chinese Revolution or Russian Revolution or in
Cuba, and other places, all derived inspiration from Marx's writing.
One of the significances of Marx is not just his writings or ideas that are contained in many of
his writings. But also, his influence on the actual event in history and it is on that basis, there
are the popular perception and misperception or incorrect perception about Marx and his
Thus, being a materialist, Marx’s life-long pursuit was to understand the functioning of
capitalism and the way exploitation, and alienation happened in the capitalist mode of
production. And what should be the means and mechanism to overthrow it. So, in Marx’s
writings, one thing is very sure and consistent, is the exploitative nature of capitalism.
The inherent contradictions in capitalism, according to his historical materialist
understanding must pave the way for the next stage of human history that is communism. His
life-long pursuit was not to understand the state or a polity or laws or rights. But to
understand the economic base of capitalist society and on that basis how to create a condition
of greater freedom or freedom for everyone in the society.
Marx’s primacy was indeed given to the economy and this we have discussed while we
discussed his views on class and historical materialism, the base-superstructure model, where
the economy is seen as part of the base that determines the superstructure. And in the
superstructure, there is polity, law, education.
So, in Marx, indeed primacy is given to the economy and it led many scholars to argue that
there is no consistent theory of politics and state. Unlike many thinkers, that we have covered
in this course, so you can recall social contracts tradition thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke,Rousseau, even Hegel or Kant, there is this acknowledgment of the rule of the state, even in
Machiavelli or Plato and Aristotle. Whereas in Marx, you do not find a very consistent
We have discussed it while discussing his theory of the state, the primary view of the state as
an instrument, and the secondary view, there is a kind of autonomy and yet it functions to
protect the interest of the bourgeoisie. In Marx, you do not have a thorough consistent
engagement with the idea of politics and state. We will discuss that, in Marx, you have a kind
of anti-political approach.
He did not consider politics as the base or a tool to understand the real nature of any society,
it has to be economy. That led many scholars to argue, there was no consistent theory of
politics and state in Marx. And this is valid to a great extent and Marx saw in politics and
state something which is the instrument of class exploitation.
So, politics and state, according to Marx was used in capitalism to protect the interest of those
who possess the means of production, the propertied class or bourgeoisie, in his vision of
future communist society. He argued that there would be no role in state or politics. So,
among the Marxists as well as non-Marxist scholars, there is a sharp debate about the
characterization of Marx as a humanist or a revolutionary thinker.
Marx’s early writing, where he engaged with the question of alienation and communism was
seen by many as true Marx. Whereas they see his later works as a betrayal from his early
works. We have discussed while discussing his theory of alienation and communism that in
Marx, there is a kind of concern or primacy for human freedom. So, like the enlightenment
thinkers, in that sense, he was also trying to envisage in life or his rational, social, political
order that would ensure real freedom for everyone and not just for a few.
According to Marx, capitalism denies that freedom for the majority was merely free to sell
their labor. So, there was no real, actual freedom for the majority of workers in capitalism. In
his early writings, the primary concern was to ensure is or think of a social order that would
ensure the freedom of everyone and also human being while performing the labor should not
be alienated from the labor, from the process of labor, from the product of their labor and also
from their fellow beings and species being. In Marx’s early writings, there is an approach to understand human nature in their real
material condition and think about society or polity that would maximize that freedom.
Whereas in the later writings of Marx, the focus was given to a scientific or deterministic
kind of understanding of human history based on modes of production. It should not
necessarily lead from one stage to the next and capitalism for him, is not the final stage of
history that must pave the way for the next stage. Because of its contradiction between the
two classes, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat.
And this division of classes led to a conflict that is unsustainable within capitalism and
therefore the next state is inevitable which is communism. That would be a classless society.
In the later writings of Marx, the focus was given to more on the scientific explanation or the
revolution or proletariat revolution. Therefore, many confusions about Marx and his writings,
whether he was the humanist thinking about human freedom or creating the conditions for
human freedom, or he was a revolutionary thinker who wanted to overthrow the capitalist
So, for many writers, the true Marx was there in his early writings. And later, Marx was the
kind of betrayal from that true Marx. However, much of Marx's perception, in the 19th and
20th centuries was based on his later works. There was a historical reason for that. Marx is
popularly known as associated with the popular revolution in the 20th century, the Chinese
Revolution, or Russian Revolution, or Cuban Revolution.
And in his early writings, he was known much after his works like German Ideology or
Communist Manifesto or Capital. So, early writings such as economic and philosophical
manuscripts were discovered much later, after the popular perception of Marx that is based
on Communist Manifesto, German Ideology, and Capital.
So, in that sense for many of his followers, the true philosophy of Marx was contained in his
later works that led to some kind of debate and confusion about considering Marx as a
revolutionary or humanist thinker. Both these positions are somewhat inaccurate. The truth is
the problems that Marx first identified in his early works, he went on to develop them fully in
his later years.
How to prevent human alienation or to create the condition of human freedom or overcome
the exploitation in the capitalist modes of production. These were some of the problems
which he identified in his earlier works, such as Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. And in his later works as well, he developed a more scientific and deterministic outlook. But
those problems, he tried to develop or overcome with his later works, such as Communist
Manifesto and German Ideology. So, there is no kind of fundamental break in Marx from
early writings and later writings.
(Refer Slide Time: 15:19)
Let us come to discuss his views on politics and communism, and ironically, Marx whose
philosophy had shaped or influenced the politics of every society in the world was essentially
like Plato and an anti-politics thinker. So, if you can recall, in our discussion on Aristotle,
there were different classes and different classes have different interests that led to some kind
And the art and science of politics were to manage or mediate these social conflicts. It is there
similarly in Machiavelli, where he also discussed that to sustain the republic, it was necessary
to have different classes and in fact in the institutional mechanism of the republic, to remain
sustainable, it is necessary to have those social classes and their conflicts. So, politics is to be
seen as an art and science of mediating those social interests or social conflicts.
In Marx, which is similar to Plato, the role of politics was to harmonize or ensure the
harmonious existence of human life. So, a theory of justice or life in the state, according to
Plato should be a perfect harmony or it is similar to Kantian perpetual peace. There is in
Marx, the ultimate or final stage of history that should be the perfect harmonious kind of
living where there should be no rule of politics and state. Politics for him was to be seen as an instrument of class oppression or class exploitation.
Therefore, his thought and philosophy shaped the politics of many countries, but himself,
Marx was an anti-politics thinker. He did not develop a systematic theory of politics and did
not consider politics as the basis of true understanding of any society or even any stage of
For Marx and the historical materialism, (17:37) we have seen the primacy or even the
significance was not associated with the political aspect of that society or historical change.
For him, the real base for social-economic change or transformation was the economy and
therefore, for Marx to understand a society such as capitalism, one should understand its
economic functioning rather than its political and legal promises.
So, he did not develop a kind of systematic theory of politics and according to him, politics
was not autonomous from the economic base. It is the centrality or primacy on which Marxist
theory of state, politics, and stages of history was based. According to Marx, politics had a
role to play only in a class-divided society.
That is when the society was divided between those who own the means of production and
those whose lives depend on that means of production or working for them, those who own
the means of production. So, along with the institution of the modern state, Marx saw politics
as an instrument of class domination and he argued that in communism, that would be the
highest and the final stage of history, state along with politics would wither away.
There was no role of politics and state in communism, according to Marx. And the reason for
that is in the absence of private property, there would be no class and if there would be no
class, there would be no conflict. In a classless society, life would be free and harmonious.
Hence, there would be no need for either state or politics to manage the class conflict.
In the Marxist or Marx’s scheme of things in communism, that would be a classless society
with no private property. There would be no need for politics and state, precisely because in
the classless society, everyone would live the life of freedom and there would be no conflict
between individual and the social men from one section to the other. Because if there would
be no class, there would be no class and no conflict. Life would be a kind of self-regulating
life or self-managed life. There is no need for state or politics. So, Marx argued that the inner contradictions of
capitalism and the law of history would inevitably lead to the next stage of development in
human history that equals communism and communism according to Marx, would be the
final or highest stage of history.
And as we have discussed in Hegel, the movement of dialectics from one stage to the next
stage of human progress, where Marx considered capitalism was not the final stage of history.
Although, it is necessary which leads from the life of scarcity to a life of abundance in terms
of production yet it is inherently contradictory because of the class nature of society.
So, only the minority possess the maximum wealth and the majority are merely free to sell
their labor dependent to work for those who possess the means of production. He was
envisaging a kind of life, where freedom was there not just for a few, but everyone in the
society. Communism, according to Marx, is the final and ultimate stage of history. Because in
the absence of classes in communism, there would be no contradiction.
And if there is no contradiction, there is no further movement in history. So, life would be
permanently peaceful or perpetually peaceful, and everyone would live according to their
abilities and work according to their needs. Now, the question is how to bring about this
transformation from capitalism to communism or revolution. So, the dominant view is that it
would be through a revolution led by the proletariat. This view is something perpetuated by
Engels or later on, by Lenin and other Marxist writers.
In Marx himself, you do not have a conclusive explanation of the road to revolution. It might
be revolutionary but it could be other ways of bringing about a transformation in the
economic conditions of life or the modes of production. According to this view that the
proletariat would bring about this transformation from capitalism to communism. It is argued
that they would first overthrow the capitalist system or state and establish the collective
ownership of the natural resources. This transitory phase is called the dictatorship of the
proletariat. (Refer Slide Time: 23:18)
Now, since all states, according to Marx, represented and protected the class interest, the
dictatorship of the proletariat would be to represent the interest of the workers. So, all forms
of state, according to Marx is representative of the class interest and it works only to protect
and perpetuate their class interest. It is true with feudalism or slavery or it is true in
Similarly, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be a class state that means it would protect
the interest of the working class. However, this dictatorship of the proletariat, according to
Marx is different in the sense that unlike other forms of state, it is based on the will or interest
of the majority and not the minority. So, in capitalism, only a few control maximum wealth,
and thereby, the rule or state in capitalism protects the interest of the few.
Similarly, in feudalism and other forms of state, but the dictatorship of the proletariat would
be different. Because it would be representative of the interest or will of the majority that is
the workers and they would protect their interest. After the establishment of this dictatorship
of the proletariat, they would abolish the institution of private property and work towards the
abolition of the class itself.
So, there would be no class of bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and other conflicts that exist in
the class society after abolishing the institution of private property, the dictatorship of the
proletariat must pave the way for self-regulating modes of harmonious living in the forms of
communism that is the crucial explanation in Marx. And that is also problematic because in many societies as we have seen historically when the
proletariat revolution took place, it did not lead to communism or a classless society. So, like
the previous revolution from feudalism to capitalism, the old ruling class was replaced by a
new ruling class and so it is true with the communism or communist revolution.
However, Marx was somewhat similar to his critique like, Hegel, Kant or Plato, which is a
kind of utopian or idealistic approach that the dictatorship of the proletariat, after capturing
the power or abolishing the private property would eventually pave the way for a stateless
society or a classless society that did not happen historically in the material real sense.
However, according to Marx, life in communism would be such that freedom of each, would
be the condition of freedom for all. So, it was complete in that sense, the union of the self
with society and community, and self with fellow beings. The freedom of each is possible on
the condition of freedom for everyone else.
This slogan, however, is somewhat confusing in the sense that in the real material world,
what does it mean, is not spelled out, neither Marx nor any other Marxist scholars explained
what did this term meant, that life in communism would be freedom of each on condition of
freedom for all.
So, it is a kind of project or an objective. But it did not have a clear explanation of what did it
mean to live a life in communism and exercise that freedom on the condition that freedom
was based on freedom for everyone else. Similarly, production would be governed by the
logic of each, according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
This phrase is again from Saint Simon, who was a socialist thinker and this idea of regulating
the production or labor in communism was fundamental in the communist living or
understanding of labor as explained in his theory of alienation. So, production is guided by
the need of the individuals and not the profit. It is the profit or the motive that leads the
capitalist to exploit the workers.
When the production was based on the need while performing the labor, human being
actualizes on self, the society, and its economic production would be based on its need
without exploitation. But when it was driven by profit and profit for the sake of profit and not
necessarily based on the actual need of the individual, it leads to exploitation or conflicts in
society. So, production in that society would be based on the principle of ‘each according to his
ability to each according to his needs’. Marx recognized essentially, the social nature of men.
However, he did not want the individuals to be subjected to the tyranny of society. In Marx,
there was a recognition that men realize their true human nature while living in association
In that sense, it was like Aristotle or other thinkers, who argued that man is by nature a social
animal. So, we develop ourselves while living among others. It is capitalism that alienates us
from others, friends, our relationships, where everyone in every relationship is transformed
into a commodity with its use-value and exchange-value.
Marx envisioned a life where an individual would live in communion with others and in
living that life, an individual must not be subjected to the tyranny of society. So, it is a
different explanation in Marx, where the communal mode of living or social living for the
individual is recognized. But the individual is not subjected and limited to the tyranny of
He or she should be free to express in whatever creative or intelligent way he or she desires
and in that sense, it is different from the liberal and market views on freedom-based merely
on one’s political and legal equality or freedom. In the absence of a real economic condition
of life or materialization of such freedom is not possible. Marx developed a unique sense of
human freedom prevalent in the community.
The human being lives in association with others yet expresses himself, creativity, and the
first condition for creating communism is to ensure maximum freedom. So, the individual is
not according to Marx, a subject of tyranny by the society or community that many proletariat
revolutions in different countries have practiced, where the state and objective of the state are
given priority over the freedom of individual citizens.
In Marx, the individual was not subjected to the tyranny of society. He was in favor of men,
women's equality and argued against the objectification of women as a sexual objects. So,
Marx’s views on communism were based on the following four premises: first, he rejected
crude communism, so crude communism and before Marx, there were many socialist
thinkers. And this reason why Marx called his philosophy communism and not socialism, before Marx
there was this thinking that private property a kind of theft. Proudhon and many other
socialist thinkers. However, the difference from their modes of thinking about communism,
to Marx is that, for him, the idea was not to bring everyone down to the same level and
having the sense of envy or position as in capitalism.
He was thinking or envisaging a form of life where these values of position or envy would be
abstract. For him, communism was not crude communism. That means the property should be
divided among everyone equally and all of them should continue to have a sense of position
in the absence of private property. Marx did not want a crude form of communism, where
everyone should be at the same level, and property should be divided equally.
Second, for him, workers as a class were the agent of revolution. So, the revolution and
transformation from capitalism to communism would be carried by the proletariat. Third, the
abolition of private property and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat was a
necessary pre-condition for communism and he differed it from many socialists and anarchist
We will discuss Bakunin, while we will discuss the criticism of Marx’s theory on the state,
later on in this lecture. But for Marx, a revolution from capitalism to communism necessitates
the dictatorship of the proletariat. Whereas for Bakunin and many other social anarchists, all
forms of state lead to the condition of un-freedom to the man. (34:47). In Marx, for
communism to bring about, it is necessary to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat that
would abolish private property.
Third, the cooperative modes of living without the food, or the cooperative modes of living
without alienation and exploitation of men by men would be possible only in a classless
society without state and politics. That is his idea of communism from capitalism through
different stages and a transition by establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, to a kind of
cooperative living, where there would be no classes, no private property, and everyone would
live, according to his ability or creativity without exploitation of men by men that
characterize the capitalist modes of production.
So, Marx was correct in explaining the existence of the ruling class and ruled in every
society. However, his conception of communism was as utopian or ideal as he accused the
Hegelian idea of the state to be. In his theory of communism, he was as idealistic or utopianas Hegel and many other thinkers, he accused of to be. The historical experiences of
communism in many countries had proved his predictions wrong and capitalism not only
survived and flourished but communist regimes in many countries, instead pave the way for
communism or the way at least Marx envisaged it, had perpetrated the worst form of tyranny.
(Refer Slide Time: 36:45)
Now, we move on to the critical assessment of his thought. Marx’s significant contribution to
the history of political thought was his theory of historical materialism and this theory of
historical materialism gave us a tool to understand the past and its various stages, historically
and materially. So, his emphasis on the actual and given or material existence of men, as the
basis of understanding the functioning of a society or its polity gave a new tool for social and
So, understanding of society and politics is incomplete without understanding the real, actual,
or material existence of man. He was a great materialist thinker and it was clear from his
assertion that the material existence of man would determine his consciousness and not
the consciousness that determines his material existence. And this was his sharp difference
from a Hegelian idea or Hegelian priority of idea over matter.
Similarly, his interpretation of exploitation and alienation in the capitalist modes of
production had shaped many historical and political events. It is still relevant in explaining
the periodic crisis in capitalism. There is a boom and burst in capitalism. And every time
there is a burst, people go back to Marx, and through them try to explain the next stage of
history. However, capitalism has so far not only survived, but it has every time resolved the tensions
or the periodic decline. However, Marx’s prediction that capitalism would destroy itself due
to its inherent contradiction was wrong, it has been proven wrong historically and capitalism
not only survived but flourished in the previous two centuries.
And the revolution that Marx envisaged never happened in the advanced capitalist country.
So, he thought, England or France with its working-class had the ideal material condition, to
develop the class consciousness that he was talking about. It would lead to the proletariat
revolution. But in these two societies that revolution never actually happened.
Louis Althusser had introduced the idea of an epistemological break in Marx’s writing, which
was similar to many other scholars who divided his work into two categories, young
humanist Marx and mature scientific or revolutionary Marx that we have discussed in the
introductory part of this lecture as well. This division of Marx was based on Marx’s
engagement with the Hegelian thought in his early years and eventual drift away from that in
his later years.
Later, Marx stopped using many of their Hegelian terms and used scientific and economic
determinism more as the basis of his theory, the practical, and material existence of life. So,
his popular perception as a revolutionary or scientific thinker is also based on Engel’s
characterization of his philosophy. (Refer Slide Time: 40:17)
Working on and publishing Marx’s unfinished manuscript after his death, Engels wrote that
just as Darwin, discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the
law of development of human history. There was a kind of deterministic, scientific theory
associated with Marx and his philosophy. According to that, capitalism must be overthrown
by workers through a revolution.
For many Marxists, in the late 19th and throughout the 20th century, Marx’s writing was the
scientific history or scientific theory that should necessarily lead to the next stage of human
history, that is communism. First, asserted by Engels and further perpetuated by Lenin and
other revolutionary thinkers. This idea became the basis of Marx as a scientific thinker
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