“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles”
Tracing its origin to the classical works of Marx and Engels, Marxism now stands stiff as a cardinal political ideology in the mainstream. Dialectical materialism or historical materialism, as Marx never used this term directly, points to the fact that society is determined by the material conditions of any particular time period. With respect to this theory, Marx suggested five successive stages of social evolution.
Firstly, the initial human societies were characterized by hunting and gathering with the absence of private property, in the Marxist sense, that is, no single person or a group holds the means of production that produce a profit. Marx further suggests that developments in technology and other equivalent sophistication paved the way for the second stage, i.e., slave society.
Marx refers to the stage of slave society as the beginning of class society. Slave owning class owns the slaves as well as the land where the former was the cardinal means of producing profit. In order to capture more and more slaves, large scale expeditions and expansion projects were initiated that resulted in the administrative inconvenience of a colossal territory. Also, slave uprising and revolutions for freedom replaced the slave society with the third stage of feudal society.
The feudal society was characterized by different social groups that were ranked in hierarchical order based on their ownership of land. Feudal Europe had three prominent classes at the primus locus: the clergy, nobility and the third estate. The third estate was constituted by landless labourers and others of its kind. Gradually, the rich profit-seeking merchants formed a capitalistic class and consequently, the feudal lords were unwilling to accept the technological revolution that the capitalists wanted. The profit-driven capitalists were restricted by the feudal society, subsequently preventing them from making more profits. ‘Then begin the epoch of social revolution’ since the social and political organizations were hampering the development of capitalistic forces. A bourgeoisie revolution replaced the feudal society with the fourth stage of capitalism or capitalist society.
The capitalist society is characterized by a free market along with a minimalist state. The capitalist class own the means of production and control and regulate them via commercial enterprises or corporates that aim at profit maximization. Workers are rewarded in accordance with the contract with the capitalists in the form of wages. These wages are, however, only a fraction of the value added by the workers and this unpaid labour of the workers translates as the profit of the capitalists. Workers are, hence, not paid the true value of their labour and are, in other words, exploited. The capitalist era is also characterized by capitalist control over the state in the form of the instrumental and structural model of the capitalist state as discussed by the Miliband-Poulantzas’ debate. It is also characterized by monopolistic tendencies. In line with Marx, workers are ‘gravediggers’ of capitalism. The capitalists aim to drive down the wages of the workers to secure more profit and hence, it leads to class conflict shaped by the class consciousness of workers who realize themselves to be alienated. The working class strive to establish their own collective control over means of production. This leads to the fifth stage, that is, communism.
The workers mount a successful revolution against the capitalists and if successful, communism will be attained. Marx refers to the existence of two phases of communism: the first phase or the lower phase and the higher phase. Lenin equates the first phase with socialism that is characterised by a decentralized planned economy directed by worker’s communes or councils. Workers govern themselves through democratically elected communes and plan production and distribution of benefits and burdens of collective action. Marx refers to the existence of labour vouchers, a certificate that awards credits to the workers based on their real contribution in the production process that can be exchanged for goods. Finally, this will lead to a perfect state of communism where classes are abolished and class society would cease. The state will ‘wither away’ and ideologies will perish. The communist stage will be characterized by statelessness, classlessness and money-less ness, ideology-less ness.