A Point of View on the Sayings and Beliefs of Karl Marx


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Marx – Engels: Assignment

“. . . not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history, also of religion, of philosophy and all other types of theory.”

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, ie. the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

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“The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships . . .”

The passages above are depictions of the distinction between thought and action. The quotes explain that criticism, constituting thought, is not the driving force of history, but the action of revolution is what motivates all types of theory, including philosophy and religion. When looking at the ideas of the ruling class, in this case the bourgeoisie, the passages suggest that the ideas and thoughts they encourage are simply ideal expressions of the ideas of dominance. All men are both products and potential changers of circumstances. The revolutionary situation is experienced by all classes as one of raging chaos.

Marx lived in an age in which the traditions of violent revolution were common to all classes. Marx never asserted that the social revolution could take place without the support of a majority of the population. Without this sort of reassurance, the revolution should be doubted and rethought. Yet, despite all the support that may be present, if it is not translated into power it is considered useless. These are the grounds Marx supports, which seem clear that he wants to change the world, as well as to interpret it. For Marx it seems that social change occurs as a result of growing tensions. There is a motion of history that is always activated by social groups, classes, whose interests coincide with the developing tendency. Therefore, to be a Marxist is to be a revolutionist.

The problem which Marx and Engels discuss is the thought of criticism not being enough of a driving force to motivate any type of theory, but that the action is most dominant. It seems strange that they would separate these two ideas, as thought and action go hand in hand. No one can act without thinking; isn’t thinking an action in itself? There is an evident relationship between these two things, impulsively and spontaneity are proof of this. It seems strange why Marx and Engels would suggest anything else. Perhaps it is because this is what their grounds were, they didn’t want to consider any other means of revolution as effective, just ultimate force would get what they wanted. Why could a revolution not be made peacefully? Why may not the ruling class voluntarily surrender its power rather than risk defeat or the destruction of the whole society in a civil war? These questions are hard to answer without asking others. When in history has this occurred before? We must think that Socialist revolution involves not simply the substitution of power of one class for the power of another with respect to the ownership of a particular private property, for example, but of the very existence of the private property itself. Workers would then have to resort to force to achieve the socialist revolution.

There are examples in history of revolution occurring without means of force. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) established India’s freedom though a non-violent revolution. He remained in South Africa for 20 years, suffering imprisonment many times. Despite all of this, he began to teach a policy of passive resistance to the non-cooperative South African authorities. Of course, there were many influences that encouraged him to act in this manner, but ultimately, he was successful. Rajendra Prasad became his disciple and joined his passive resistance against British rule in India. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated non-violence during the 1960’s, to protest against racial discrimination and inequality. Henry David Thoreau chose to go to jail than to support the Mexican War (1846-1848), yet another instance of passive revolution.

It seems to me that Marx focused on the most threatening and immediate means of revolution, rather than assessing the most effective. I am personally an advocate of non-violence and would not promote it in any form. Yet, I can’t help but think that if I was faced with the situations of the 19th century, that my train of thought might be a little different. Overall, I believe that Marx is a brilliant, driven man who has an opinion on everything. J Despite the content of his works, and the confusion it brought to my mind, I enjoyed the hours it took to finally understand interpretations by others as well as explanations of his writings.

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