“Workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains”

Most important form of revolutionary socialism to be put forward. As an ideology it calls for the establishment of a socialist state as a first step towards becoming communist.

It was not the fact that Marx called for revolution through violence which marked him out as different but the fact that he developed a scientific rationale.

Many different theorists have looked at different things in people’s lives for example Hobbes looked for security, Bentham looked for happiness and JS Mill looked for individual fulfilment.

Marx believed in economic well being. He and Engels had seen the appalling conditions that people lived in and realised that even if these people became educated they were living in such conditions that their lives were not going to improve.

Your economic position determined your class in society but also your ability to lead a reasonable life.

The Dialectic – Two ideological opposing ideologies

Socialism needed belief and an empathy with the concepts of social justice, fairness and equality. The arguments for socialism were moral rather than political until Marx put together his scientific approach, by proving that socialism was the next inevitable step.

The 6 steps of Marx

  1. Primitive communism. in which there were no specialist jobs, everybody carried out all types of work. Human society was disorganised. Old communal form of living began to disappear replaced by a society where such specialisms were taken to extremes.
  2. Empire. The second stage saw some people gaining more power than others due to the acquired wealth they had. At the lower end you had slaves who worked like animals. However the society of these slaves, Marx argued came from barbarians and they would overthrow the Imperial system.
  3. Feudalism. End of the Imperial system saw the landed nobility looking after the peasantry in return for military service. Marx claimed this was overturned by the rise of the commercial class in the cities. This new class or bourgeoisie was more adaptable than the feudal lords.
  4. Capitalism. Marx felt that the bourgeoisie had created a false democracy that pretended to listen to the people, but really it was the capitalists who made the decisions because they controlled the economic wealth. However because the modern industry required a level of education of the workers that they would understand the system and know how to bring it down. The urban proletariat would destroy this stage of society.
  5. Socialism. This was the final stage before communism and it was needed to rid society of its bourgeois elements and re-socialise the workers. For a short period there would be a dictatorship of the proletariat.
  6. Communism. By now each individual would understand his or her equality with others and there was no bourgeois influence left then there would be no coercive institutions of the state required. This would have happened across the world leading to true harmony between nations. This meant that there would be no need for the state to defend itself. The state would wither away and laws would be developed by co-operative workers and by communities. There would be no opposition because everybody would agree that the communist system was benefiting everyone.

Marx had created a scientific method by which the stages were inevitable and the dialectic was a law of history. There was no real need for violent revolution but Marx just wanted it to happen asap and if this meant violence then so be it.

Surplus value

One of Marx’s key terms regarding the evils of capitalism was the concept of surplus value and that this value belongs to the workers. He argued that although the worker gets paid by the capitalist the amount is not always right. This is because the difference in cost of the item and the amount paid by the capitalist goes to the owner. In reality Marx is saying that this amount should be paid to the worker and actually the capitalist is stealing from the worker.

Marxism and the state

To Marxists the state is just an instrument by which the ruling classes keep the workers under control and keeps hold of the political processes.

Marxists also believe that Parliamentary Democracy is also a front by pretending to give people power through the ballot box.

This means that there would be two stages to true communism. Marxists would have to take control of the state after the revolution, even though this was something that they despised. During this time they would attempt to rid the country of the bourgeoisie and the middle classes, as Marx feared that these people were more than capable of overturning the revolution. When everybody was eliminated or re-educated would the need for the mechanisms of the state disappear. Then all the institutions of repression would wither away and communism could be achieved.

Revolutionary Socialism after Marx

Marx predicted that revolution would occur in Germany or Britain where there already was a capitalist society. However it was in Russia where it started in 1917, through the actions of Lenin.

His belief that a revolution could be started even though they had not reached the capitalist stage was achieved. To achieve this he used a small group of elite professional revolutionaries who could make this happen. He called these people the vanguard of the proletariat.

Lenin’s ideas came about from a phase of capitalism that he called imperialism, where the advanced nations would exploit the economically undeveloped nations. Russia would therefore have its cheap labour and vast natural resources taken by a colonial power.

He looked for huge industrial growth where the workers would experience socialism through propaganda and education. The peasantry would also come over to the cause.

He was looking for a speeded up version of Marxism, where socialist consciousness could be created; this is why he needed a small group of revolutionaries to run the state before a classless society would finally result in a communist state.

However this created a number of problems the most obvious being that the state had to be so enormous that it required constant monitoring by the communist party. This system became known a democratic centralism.

Any notion of democracy was a misnomer as there were no opposition parties and free elections as there could be no variations to Marxist-Leninist. This take on Marxism had to be embraced because the workers and peasants were not capable of running their own country.

What are the problems here?


  • 1924-29 saw a power struggle amongst some of the most senior Communist Party members. Resulted in Trotsky being exiled and Stalin taking control.
  • Stalin carried on with Marxist-Leninism but there were changes. We will never know if Lenin saw repression as key to his regime in Russia but Stalin used it, but he did differ in a number of ways.
  • Stalin viewed the peasantry with much distrust and he tried to turn them into workers by industrialising their farms through collectivisation. This solved the problem of creating socialism in a country that had not experienced industrialisation.
  • Socialism in one country was an isolationist policy but was also a way of controlling his people. They were not allowed to trade with any non socialist country and were not supposed to travel. This made Russia economically reliant on its domestic market.
  • Also he hoped that eventually there would be revolutions abroad because they saw how well Russia was doing
  • Stalin could see the benefits in achievement that capitalism brought but he could not offer financial incentives for production. Instead he set stiff targets with his 5 year plans for heavy industry. Rewards were career advancements and the honour of improving the country. This was his way of dealing with the Marxist idea that the proletariat did not need bourgeois incentives.

Mao Tse Tung

  • Claimed to be following Marxist Leninist thought in China but his reliance on Stalin meant his policies had some Stalinist elements.
  • Mao saw the peasantry as the revolutionary group not the workers as they were the ones being exploited.
  • He tried to prove that Marxism could be set up under any economic circumstances but to do this he had to change Chinese society.
  • The Cultural Revolution attempted to destroy the existing order and replace it with a socialist one set up by the peasantry and industrial proletariat.
  • Aspects of this revolution involved the swapping over roles with the peasants coming into the citites to become the teachers and professors and those people going into the countryside the farm the land.
  • This was passed on to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s


  • Clashed with Lenin on some of his interpretations of Marxism. He fully developed Marxist thought in order to work in a developing country. He saw Lenin’s attempts to stabilise the country through bureaucracy as development towards a system that they had just overthrown. Trotsky believed that there should be permanent revolution, where leaders and groups in power were changed every few years, therefore no gaining any significant influence or power. Eventually driven out of Russia.  
ULAW Banner
Register Now