Marxism, class analysis and fundamental goals of socialism

The key ideas of Marxism are as follows:  

■ History was determined by a series of struggles and clashes and so comprised several stages, such as slave-based, feudal, capitalist and socialist, before culminating in a truly communist society. These economic stages in history were termed historical materialism.

■ Human beings were primarily motivated and defined by their economic situation and the dominant economic system of the time. As the majority were being exploited and robbed of the ‘full fruits of their labour’, it was vital that a sense of class consciousness was created.

■ Class consciousness would in turn create a sense of alienation and lead to the momentum and desire for radical change as awareness grew that the system was irrevocably flawed and unfair.

This class-based approach to history and society (centered on economics) led Marxists to view other forms of loyalty (e.g., religious faith or loyalty to a nation — nationalism/ patriotism) as ‘tricks’ of the ruling elites to trick the masses into complacency and obedience. In reality, the workers were being distracted from the objective of world revolution. This is why classical Marxism is typically atheistic and internationalist in outlook. 

■ The growing sophistication of capitalism was nevertheless sowing its seeds of destruction. In an urbanized industrial economy, it was argued, capitalism would ultimately become unsustainable as it would produce an exploited and thus alienated workforce (the urban proletariat) which if imbued with enough of a sense of class consciousness would rise and overthrow the capitalist elite and exploiters.

To foster this class consciousness, which is essential for the success of a revolution, the masses must be educated by dedicated Marxists, which is one of the key roles of a revolutionary party like Lenin's Bolsheviks. A revolutionary party could take power on behalf of the people and establish its dictatorship (dictatorship of the proletariat) to crush all opposition (counterrevolutionaries) and re-classify the masses to a communist way of thinking and behaving. Communist rule would mean a period of severe and harsh rule, but this would result in a better society in the end.