Evaluation of Marxism: Criticism & Importance

By Ayesh Perera, published April 06, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD

What is Marxism?

  • Marxism argues that capitalism as an economic system is characterized by an exploitative and unequal relationship between a ruling minority (i.e. a capitalist class or bourgeoisie) which controls the means of production and monopolises wealth, and a powerless majority (i.e. a working-class or proletariat) which has its only resource, i.e. its labour­power, exploited by the bourgeois minority.
  • Marxism is a structuralist theory because it argues that the capitalist infrastructure – the economy - determines the shape of the superstructure, which is made up of all the other social institutions, including the state (government), the law and the criminal justice system.
  • The function of all these institutions is to serve ruling-class interests to maintain the capitalist economy and the class inequality that is the product of this arrangement.

Is Marxism Still Relevant Today?

While some ideas of Marxism may be outdated and may not necessarily be a comprehensive theory for social change, they can still help understand some of the key social mechanisms in a society divided by class. 

Marxism offers a way to understand history and economics, as well as an explanation of the global capitalist crisis. It can be argued that exploitation is still at the heart of a capitalist system enforced by those in the upper social classes. 

Marxism also captures how capitalism develops and impacts specific world regions, specifically how some regions are developed unevenly relative to one another. Marxists would argue that unregulated commodification comes with environmental hazards, the costs of which are becoming increasingly clear (Fasenfest, 2018)

Lack of Revolution

The biggest criticism of Marxism is that the revolution that he said would cause the development to a communist society has yet to occur.

Marxists see capitalism as an unstable system that will eventually result in a series of crises. The more that capitalism grows, the more people take advantage of it, and the more oppressed, degraded, and exploited the proletariat will be (Marx, 1873).

Eventually, capitalism will result in a revolt by the proletariat, according to Marxists. This will lead to the dismantling of capitalism to make way for a socialist or communist state.

Marx argued that a social revolution would mean changing the existing social and political system from a capitalist to a communist society. A communist society means there are no social classes or private property.

Marx was very vague on the conditions that would eventually lead to this revolution, and also what happens afterwards. It is not guaranteed that there will be social and economic equality in a communist society.

Despite Marx’s belief in the 1800s that the proletariat revolution would happen soon after, it did not happen in any advanced industrialized society.

Communist ideas have been introduced in some countries and have shown not to fare well. For instance, there was a fall of communism in the former socialist state of the USSR. So, while Marx’s idea of a communist society may sound promising in theory, it may not be fully sustainable in practice.

For many capitalist countries, the economic conditions gradually improved for the working class. Marx did not predict that there would be major reforms in capitalist societies, such as the working class being permitted the right to vote, abolishment of child labor, and the right of workers to join unions.

In contrast to Marx’s theory, many workers in capitalist countries are focused on improving their working conditions rather than starting a revolution.  

Economic Determinism

The most fundamental assumption of Marxism too, was a striking inconsistency. Marx reduced all phenomena to historicism, and concluded that all ideas are merely products of various economic forces throughout history.

Marx’s whole system is based on economics, and the view that economic factors are the sole cause of everything in society, from inequality to social change. Furthermore, according to Marx, societal forces were determined by economics which was in turn, supposedly determined by the fatalism of history.

Marxism can be criticized for being overly simplistic in the idea of society being split into two social classes. There are different levels of wealth in society, so it is more likely that there are several social classes. 

Likewise, Marx’s theory ignores other factors which can contribute to social inequality, such as a person’s race and religion. A person’s gender is also mostly ignored by Marxism. Feminists would suggest that gender provides a greater social division in society rather than social class. 

Weber argues that Marxism completely ignores the role of ideas in social change. He held that ideas were determined by human beings who were determined by societal forces.

This line of reasoning ironically implies that Marxism itself was nothing more than a set of thoughts that had been predetermined by prior events and phenomena. Marx’s own logic suggests that his approach was no better than any other philosophy that had emerged in history, and thus, should be accorded no special significance.

Communism Didn’t Work

Marx’s deafening silence on what would transpire following the attainment of the communist utopia unveils another problem with his theory. According to Marx, nothing is permanent, and everything changes.

Feudalism would become capitalism, and capitalism would become communism. However, after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of communism, the continuous process of alteration suddenly halts.

The proletariat would enjoy an eternal state of utopianism, and communism would not be transformed into anything else. Marx does not account for the halting of this process of constant change.

Moreover, history proves Marx wrong even in his assumption that communism would constitute the final state of affairs.

The fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, China’s gradual transition from communism to a market based economy testify not just to Marx’s flawed predictions but his intellectual naivete.

Russia, once the greatest champion of Marxism, now has as its leader Vladimir Putin, who has publicly renounced communism and styled himself has a staunch ally of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Moreover, countries such as China, India, Poland, etc., have moved progressively away from heavy-handed centralized economic planning. That Marxism has fallen short of its early advocates’ expectations is evident.

The Flawed Labor Theory of Value

Marxism’s most potent rallying cry for class warfare and a core tenet of Marx’s economic theory, the labor theory of value is rife with serious problems. Marx held that a commodity’s value could be measured and determined objectively by how much labor (e.g., the number of labor hours) expended for its production.

In other words, according to Marx, the amount of labor required to create a product decides its true value. However, as the economist Philip Wicksteed (1884) noted, “exchanged articles differ from each other in the specific desires which they satisfy” while “they resemble each other in the degree of satisfaction which they confer".

Thus, the subjective evaluations of the consumer cannot be discarded when assessing any product’s actual value. Moreover, each additional unit consumed of any commodity would diminish the marginal utility derived by the consumer therefrom.

Consequently, the consumer would pay progressively less for each additional unit although the cost of labor per unit may remain unaltered.

Historical Necessitarianism

Furthermore, omnipresent in Marx’s writings was a historical necessitarianism built upon the categorical rejection of human free will, whereby he argued that the rise and demise of capitalism, and the eventual triumph of global communism were inevitable.

He defended fatalism as a law as inexorable as gravity. However, Marx still made the appeal: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!”(Marx & Engels, 1848).

If all of history were predetermined and inevitable, there ought not to be any need for Marx to make such appeals; after all, history itself would ensure the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. His call for action, thus, was a self-evident self-defeating self-contradiction.

The Ironic Repudiation of Faith, Family and Culture

Additionally, Marx’s rejection of faith, family and culture is historically ironic (Marx, 1844). The only communities which had survived for long without claiming private property, and had embraced communal living as a norm, as called for by Marx, had been kibbutzim, monasteries and tribal families. Kibbutzim were voluntary.

Monasteries focused on the afterlife. Tribes were built on blood ties. Moreover, they all deeply embodied religious elements.

Despite Marx’s scientific tone, his purportedly comprehensive historical analysis overlooks the only historical experiments which could lend at least some empirical credibility to his theory’s underlying principles.

Marx’s Hypocrisy

Marx famously said: “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness”(Marx, 1844). Nonetheless, despite his abandonment of his Jewish heritage and his family’s faith, his philosophy retains the overriding structure and fundamental elements of any religion.

True, he does not allude to the Mosaic Law or the hope of a messiah. However, in the story of Marxism, Karl Marx is the messianic prophet, ordained by history, to lead the chosen people, the proletariat, from the bondage of the bourgeoisie and the slavery of capitalism, over the Red Sea of bloody revolution to the promised land of communist utopianism where they could live forever under the protection of an almighty, all-encompassing government.

About the Author

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Perera, A. (2022, April 06). Evaluation of Marxism: Criticism & Importance. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/Criticism-of-Marxism.html

APA Style References

Callinicos, A. (1983). Marxism and philosophy.

Dunayevskaya, R. (1964). Marxism and freedom. New York: Twayne Publishers.

Korsch, K. (2013). Marxism and philosophy. Verso Books.

Miliband, R. (2011). Marxism and politics. Aakar Books.