• Karl Marx (1818–1883) is best known not as a philosopher but as a revolutionary communist, whose works inspired the foundation of many communist regimes in the twentieth century.
  • It is hard to think of many who have had as much influence in the creation of the modern world. 
  • Trained as a philosopher, Marx turned away from philosophy in his midtwenties, towards economics and politics. 
  • However, in addition to his overtly philosophical early work, his later writings have many points of contact with contemporary philosophical debates, especially in the philosophy of history and the social sciences, and in moral and political philosophy.
  • Historical materialism — Marx’s theory of history — is centered around the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they further and then impede the development of human productive power. Marx sees the historical process as proceeding through a necessary series of modes of production, characterized by class struggle, culminating in communism.
  • Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism is based on his version of the labour theory of value, and includes the analysis of capitalist profit as the extraction of surplus value from the exploited proletariat.
  • The analysis of history and economics come together in Marx’s prediction of the inevitable economic breakdown of capitalism, to be replaced by communism.
  • However Marx refused to speculate in detail about the nature of communism, arguing that it would arise through historical processes, and was not the realization of a pre-determined moral ideal.

Industrialization and Karl Marx 

  • The Industrial Revolution transformed societies around the world. Machines made the production of goods faster and cheaper. 
  • Advances in steam engine technology saw a number of industries adopt mechanization.
  • As demand for goods increased, transportation became more efficient. Farmers and peasants moved to the cities to take advantage of higher paid work in new factories. 
  • Workers were poorly paid and forced to live in cramped slums, while factory owners and industrialists made great profits and lived in luxury.
  • Against this background of economic and social change emerged a number of new philosophies and intellectual trends. 
  • Many of these theories began as a response to the changing world of the in


  • The German philosopher Karl Marx became one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th century. 
  • Marx’s most influential theories were published in the Communist Manifesto (1848) and the Das Capital (1867). 
  • Marx examined the other side of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, the gap between rich and poor.
  • Marx believed that all historical and social change was caused by class struggles between the bourgeoisie ’haves’ and the proletariat ‘have-nots’.
  • The bourgeoisie are the ‘haves’, the middle and upper classes. They have economic and political power. They own land and run businesses. They are capitalists.
  • The proletariat “have nots” are the lower classes, those who do not have economic or political power.
  • The proletariats provide labour on the land or work in the businesses owned by the bourgeoisie.
  • The proletariat is, according to Marx, exploited by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie employ proletarians in their factories. The proletarians are paid money for their labour. 
  • The bourgeoisie then use the proletarian labour to produce goods that are sold for more money than the wage of the proletarian. The bourgeois businessman keeps the profit and becomes wealthy from the labour of the proletariat.
  • The division of society into bourgeoisie and proletariat can be seen in the social changes which accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Workers were poorly paid, even exploited in some cases, by profit-driven factory owners. 
  • According to Marx, the proletarians would eventually tire of their exploitation and oppression and overthrow the capitalist bourgeoisie. 
  • The end result of the revolution would be the establishment of a communist society, a classless state where all means of production and property would be shared among all citizens.

What did Karl Marx believe would be the result of industrialization? 

  • Marx believed that industrialization would lead to the creation of two competing social classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
  • He further believed that the bourgeoisie, i.e., the owners and controllers of the means of production, would increase industrialization in order to maximize wealth. 
  • As industrialization increased, the size of the proletariat would increase until the proletariat was large enough and politically aware enough to revolt against the bourgeoisie take the means of production from them and usher in a period of socialism that would eventually evolve into communism.

For Marx:

  1. industrialization occurs in the West as a consequence of the development of capitalist class relations
  2. And then has an important impact on class relation by leading to a much higher level of the ‘Alienation’ of the worker
  3. The development is due to the increasing abstract nature of the relationship of employers and workers that occurs in industrial capitalism”


The capitalist employer in pre industrial society was still likely to have a personal knowledge and social interchange with the workers. The workers were likely to be employed in making a complete product within the relatively small factories employing mainly handicraft workers. The product made into a commodity was likely to be a complete product for which each worker could recognize the part they each played in its production.

With industrialization – and the high level of division of labour that the industrial factories used – a new form and far more intense form of ‘Alienation’ occurred:

a) the worker become not only alienated from the ownership of the commodity

b) but also far more alienated from the process of production as the factory line became the major mode of production. The high level of specialization meant that the workers were producing thousands of small parts of the commodity – parts so small and distant from the eventual whole commodity that they became alienated from any sense of pride in the production of the commodity.

  • In summary the industrial stage of capitalism lead to a huge leap in the alienation of the worker from their humanity in terms of alienation from

– pride in their workmanship

– a sense of belonging to a social community of workers

– control over the process of the production of the commodity

  • As well as their initial alienation from their control over the means of production that agricultural workers might have had in pre industrial capitalism. 
  • In addition this alienation was further increased by the processes of urbanization and separation from long term relationships characteristic of agricultural work even when working for a capitalist land owner. 
  • Marx believed that this excessive form of alienation was not due to industrialization in itself, but to the form that industrialization took under the political economic relations of capitalism.
  • Today environmentalists using the Marxian conflict perspective are using these concepts to indicate the nature of the problems we have as workers in addressing environmental problems.


  • Much of what is wrong with the world today is explicable in Marxist terms, i.e., as consequences of allowing profit motivation to determine production and distribution, which is what happens when a few capitalists own all the capital
  • The inevitable result is production of the most profitable things, not the most needed things.
  • In a world where there is enormous inequality this means investment goes into producing consumer goods and luxuries for people in rich countries, while the needs of billions of people are more or less ignored.
  • It means the rich few take most of the available resources because they can pay more for them (i.e., it is more profitable for capitalists to sell to the relatively rich), it means that much Third World productive capacity, especially land, goes into producing crops for export to rich countries when it should be producing food for hungry people.
  • In other words, in a capitalist system there is development of the wrong things (development in the interests of the rich) because what is done is that which is most profitable. 
  • Conventional development theory says that in time this approach will result in “trickle down” of wealth to all. 
  • After 50 years of this approach it is clear that there is very little tendency for this to happen.
  • Considerable wealth has flowed to poorer people in the Third World in recent decades, but the poorest 1 billion seem to have got poorer. 
  • Similarly, much that is wrong in the richest countries is explicable in these same terms.
  • We have great need for the production of many goods, such as cheap housing, but these things are not produced while there is excessive production of many luxuries and trivial items — because this is what maximizes return on private capital. 
  • We have an economy in which there is enormous waste, especially via production of items that are not necessary, or that will not last, trinkets and luxuries.
  • The global environment and resource problems and the bad distribution of resources between rich and poor nations indicate that we should greatly reduce this production — but this is not possible because ours is a capitalist economy. 
  • There would be a huge jump in unemployment and bankruptcy. Indeed it is an economy in which there is continual pressure to increase production and consumption all the time because capitalists always want to increase their factories, their sales and their income.
  • The last thing they want is to see reduced business turnover. 
  • Unemployment and automation are problems in this economy simply because capital is privately owned.
  • If a better machine is invented the capitalist who owns the factory receives all the benefit, while the workers lose their jobs. So of course there is a problem.
  • In a socialist economy the machine could be adopted without these effects. All would share in more free time or cheaper goods.
  • Similarly the only way a capitalist society can solve the unemployment problem is to find more things for displaced workers to produce, when we already produce much more than we need. 
  • These phenomena are well described by the Marxist term “contradictions”. Capitalist society inevitably involves huge contradictions because the forces of production clash with the relations of production.
  • A good example is the fact that the world could easily feed all people yet hundreds of millions are hungry while 1/3 of the world’s grain production is fed to animals in rich countries.
  • We have the productive capacity (forces of production) to solve this problem but this is not done because it is not in the interests of those who control capital.
  • They make more money selling the grain for feedlot beef production (i.e., there are capitalist relations of production, a capitalist organisation of production).
  • In other words, if you allow society’s capital to be privately owned then you will inevitably run into this sort of contradiction because often what s most profitable for capitalists to invest in is not what most needs doing. (An alternative economy might not necessarily eliminate all free enterprise or private capital, but it would involve control and monitoring of private enterprise to ensure that most investment goes where it is most needed. 

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