Karl Marx. He is certainly not the greatest political philosopher in the world. But I daresay he is not quite as bad as many would claim. His critiques of capitalism are worth noting and will probably be discussed in this blog within the near future. But today we're going to deal more with his view of history and his dialectic.
A dialectic is a form of revisionist history, where you believe that one system will come up against an antithesis, which then forms a synthesis, which of course starts the process all over again. Quite unrealistically, this dialectic is almost always supposed to be consistently moving upwards until it eventually results in a utopia. YAY!
Such is the case with Karl Marx who has a dialectic of economic systems. As history has advanced, we have been developing better and better economic systems via this dialectic. In Marx's mind, these systems from the past and future include: from family/tribal, we moved to primitive communism (which involves a bit of social organization with just a tad of division of labor, then to a feudal economy, which leads to capitalism. Inevitably, capitalism collapses, resulting in communism, which easily transitions into an anarchist communist utopia.
This dialectic is driven by a material element. Specifically, Marx believed that all of history was ultimately about class struggles, or a conflict over the means of production.
In the Capitalist phase, we find ourselves in today, Marx believes that the main problem is that the bourgeoisie (to Marx, this means the class that owns most of society's wealth and means of production) exploit the proletariat (working) class.
A primary reason for this concern had to do with the labor theory of value. The labor theory of value indicated that every object must be worth as much only as the amount of time and labor invested to make it. Thus, subjective value is lost for the sake of purely the amount of time it takes to make a product.
But since the only value is in the amount of time the proletariat puts into manufacture of the product, it is unfair for the bourgeoisie to even make any money off of the work of the proletariat, seeing as how the bourgeoisie put in no effort to make that product.
Further, Marx believes that the fact that the worker never truly gets to see the final outcome of his work, the worker becomes alienated from himself. He comes to work everyday as part of his everyday routine, but he doesn't see what impact that work is making on the world. It's simply a way he spends his time.
Inevitably, for Marx, this alienation will cause the proletariat to revolt. Without the proletariat to create the products necessary for capitalism to prosper, capitalism will collapse. A communist dictatorship will then take its place.
From here, Marx's view of human nature takes over. As he believes that man is influenced by society, and indeed is basically good, but corrupted by society. Marx believes that as we change the society,, we change the man. This then makes man perfectible and allows for the "inevitable" dissolution of government, and the anarchist communist utopia.
Of course, it doesn't take that close of a look at history to know that Marx's economic determinism hasn't exactly happened as he would have thought. The proletariat did revolt, but capitalism survived. And it isn't about to go away anytime soon. Sorry, Mr. Marx. Sorry.