Marxism is the collective name of a group of economic and political ideas. The work and philosophy of Karl Marx forms the basis for all these ideas. Let’s have a closer look.
Marxism and Class Struggle:
- Karl Marx (1818-1883) was basically a theorist and historian. After a close study of social organizations in a scientific way, he concluded that human history consists of a series of struggles between classes–between the oppressed and the oppressing. As Freud saw “sexual energy” to be the governing factor behind human activities and Nabokov experienced to feel artistic impulse was the real factor, Marx thought that “historical materialism” was the ultimate driving force, a notion involving the distribution of resources, gain, production, and such matters.
- Marx said that in Capitalist society there are two classes; bourgeois and proletariat.
- Bourgeois: According to English Living Oxford Dictionary, the bourgeois(in Marxist contexts) is the capitalist class who own most of society’s wealth and means of production.
- Proletariat: According to English Living Oxford Dictionary, the Proletariat are working-class people regarded collectively (often used with reference to Marxism).
- In bourgeois capitalism, the authoritative bourgeoisie depend upon the proletariat–the labor force responsible for survival. Marx theorized that when profits are not reinvested in the workers but in creating more factories, the workers will grow poorer and poorer until no short-term patching is possible or successful. At a crisis point, revolt will lead to a restructuring of the system. He stated that the revolt will bring about a revolution and equal distribution will take place by proletariats coming into power and a communist political system will come into being.
Marx and Religion:
- Marx’s analysis and critique of religion is perhaps one of the most famous and most quoted by theist and atheist alike. Marx is known for saying that “Religion is the opiate of the people,” so he was somewhat aware of the problem that Lenin later dwelt on. Lenin was convinced that workers remain largely unaware of their own oppression since they are convinced by the state to be selfless. One might point to many “opiates of the people” under most political systems–diversions that prevent real consideration of trying to change unjust economic conditions.
- Karl Marx, writes in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:
- “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”
Recent Interpretation of Marxist Analysis of Religion:
- “Religion…is the opium of the people”. But what does it mean to equate religion with opium? Opium is a drug that kills pain, distorts reality, and an artiﬁcial source of solace to which some poor souls can become addicted; so is the religion. Friedrich Nietzsche argues that the ‘true’ or literal meaning of a word is one “to which one has become accustomed due to frequent use…a metaphor… whose metaphorical nature has been forgotten. The same happened to this Marxist text of religion what it meant is lost due to the negative use of Opium in then society.
- I will begin rethinking this text ﬁrst by looking brieﬂy at Europe in the nineteenth century. In Europe, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, opium was largely an unquestioned good. Such was its importance as a medicine that in the ﬁrst years of the nineteenth century, people would have understood “opium of the people” as something we could translate into twentieth century idiom as “penicillin of the people”. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, its medical uses had largely been supplanted by other medicines. It is between these two periods that Marx penned opium as his metaphor for religion.
- In 1820s England, there were somewhere between 16,000 and 26,000 completely unregulated opium sellers (Berridge and Edwards 1980:25). Because it was relatively inexpensive and used for such a wide range of ailments, every British home had laudanum in the cupboard (Butel 1995:37). Between the 1830s and 1850s, opposition to opium-use grew, particularly on the newly formed ‘temperance’ and ‘public health’ movements. Despite these anti-opium movements, opium continued to be widely accepted, and as late as the 1860s, up to 20% of all medicines sold in England were opium based.
- In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the movements against the opium trade, and intemperance, and for public health, joined forces with the medical intoxication experts. With the constitution of a new knowledge-régime (Foucault 1978:109–33) came the concept of ‘opium addiction.’ Due to these stances British Parliament grant control over opium-use to the physicians and pharmacists. And this use of Opium as negative connotations is still in vogue till date.
- The difference of attitude towards the use of Opium in the era of Marx when it solely meant as medicine and cure for all ailments and the later era which ultimately abhorred its use cause the main dilemma. On the basis of this difference, we here can claim that Marx`s use of opium is not something to be understood in the negative perspective, as its use was for cure so for Marx religion stood as the cure of all evils and problems.
Theory of Alienation:
- Marx posts a question about the nature and development of capitalism. How the ways in which the people earn their living do affects their bodies, mind and daily lives?
- Alienation may be described as a condition in which men are dominated by forces of their own creation, which confront them as alien powers.
- In his theory of alienation Marx answers this question. Worker do not own the machines and other tools which they use in the process of production rather they are owned by the capitalists to whom the workers sell their abilities and potential in return for wage.
- This system displays four sorts of relations which lie at the core of the Marxist theory of alienation.
- The worker is alienated from his or her productive activity.
The worker is alienated from his productive activity means that the worker is the actual person who is engaged in the production process. He undertakes all the labor the production but he is unaware of what will happen to this production and how will things happen.
- The worker is alienated from the product of that activity.
The worker is alienated from the product of that activity means that the worker produces the finished goods. He is the one who is engaged in the labeling and packing of the product but he is unable to use the product. He has no authority over price fixation or the market to be targeted. So he is alienated from his own product.
- The worker is alienated from other human beings.
The worker is alienated from other human beings means that the owner urges the workers to produce more and more products and for this he gives them meagre bonus as well which in turn takes away one worker from other worker by involving them in competition. This competition and striving to gain more and more money that human workers starts developing hate for other workers as well. Being alienated from the objects of his labor and from the process of production, man is also alienated from himself–he cannot fully develop the many sides of his personality
- According to Marx, and other scholars in fact, literature reflects and depicts those social institutions from which it emerges. Literature reflects class struggle and materialism: think how often the quest for wealth form the structure of society and behavior of people in dealings. So Marxists generally view literature “not as works created in accordance with timeless artistic criteria, but as ‘products’ of the economic and ideological determinants specific to that era” (Abrams 149). Literature reflects an author’s own class or analysis of class relations.
- The Marxist critic simply is a careful reader or viewer who keeps in mind issues of power and money, and any of the following kinds of questions:
- What role does class play in the work; what is the author’s analysis of class relations?
- How do characters overcome oppression?
- In what ways does the work serve as propaganda for the status quo; or does it try to undermine it?
- What does the work say about oppression; or are social conflicts ignored or blamed elsewhere?
- Does the work propose some form of utopian vision as a solution to the problems encountered in the work?
- The worker is alienated from the distinctive potential for creativity.
The worker is alienated from the distinctive potential for creativity means that the worker has no power over product manufacturing, product designing and product prices rather he is given a standard formula and design in compliance of which he has to work. This takes away the creative potential of the worker and makes him a robot who works on the given instructions.