What Is Marxism?. Emile Burns 1939


Marxism is a general theory of the world in which we live, and of human society as a part of that world. It takes its name from Karl Marx (1818-1883), who, together with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), worked out the theory during the middle and latter part of last century.

They set out to discover why human society is what it is, why it changes, and what further changes are in store for mankind. Their studies led them to the conclusion that these changes – like the changes in external nature – are not accidental, but follow certain laws. This fact makes it possible to work out a scientific theory of society, based on the actual experience of men, as opposed to the vague notions about society which used to be (and still are) put forward – notions associated with religious beliefs, race and hero-worship, personal inclinations or utopian dreams.

Marx applied this general idea to the society in which he lived – mainly capitalist Britain – and worked out the economic theory of capitalism by which he is most widely known. But he always insisted that his economic theories could not be separated from his historical and social theories. Profits and wages can be studied up to a certain point as purely economic problems; but the student who sets out to study real life and not abstractions soon realises that profits and wages can only be fully understood when employers and workers are brought into the picture; and these in turn lead on to a study of the historical stage in which they live.

The scientific approach to the development of society is based, like all science, on experience, on the facts of history and of the world around us. Therefore Marxism is not a completed, finished theory. As history unfolds, as man gathers more experience, Marxism is constantly being developed and applied to the new facts that have come to light. The most out standing of these developments, since the death of Marx and Engels, have been made by V. I. Lenin (1870-1924), and by Joseph Stalin, who has continued Lenin’s work in building up the new socialist society in Russia.

The result of the scientific approach to the study of society is knowledge that can be used to change society, just as all scientific knowledge can be used to change the external world. But it also makes clear that the general laws which govern the movement of society are of the same pattern as the laws of the external world. These laws which hold good universally, both for men and things, make up what may be called the Marxist philosophy or view of the world.

The following chapters deal with Marxist theory in the fields which are of most immediate interest. It is essential, however, for the student to realise from the outset that Marxism does not claim recognition because it is based on abstract moral principles, but because it is true. And because it is true, it can be and should be used to rid humanity for ever of the evils and misery which afflict so many in the world today, and to help men and women forward to full development in a higher form of society.