Communism as Critiqued by Marx–Part 2: Introduction and Overview

By Jake Hollis


Note: Communism and socialism are treated as synonymous in this article as they were by Marx and Engels. What is today termed ‘socialism’ (free healthcare, basic income, free education, and so on) will be called ‘social-democracy’ or ‘the welfare state.’


The title “Communism as Critiqued by Marx” may seem wrong—it is not. But shouldn’t it be like “Communism as an Idea from Marx”? Not at all. To use Marx’s own biting words against philosophers, Marx didn’t “have the solution of all riddles lying in [his desk], and the stupid, exoteric world had only to open its mouth for the roast pigeons of absolute knowledge to fly into it” (Marx, 1843). On the contrary, communism was the emergent result of a “ruthless criticism of all that exists” (ibid.), including socialism.

The fundamental results of such criticism were laid out in an 1852 letter from Marx to a J. Weydemeyer, nine years after setting out on his “ruthless criticism”:

“… [A]s to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them… What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat [meaning the working class—JH], (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” (Marx, Marx to J. Weydemeyer, 1852)

What are the key ideas that stand out from Marx’s conclusions? In my reading, the fundamental line of continuity within these three conclusions is the notion of class society’s self-abolition: that capitalism, by its own laws, (1) exhausts its ability to continue profit-making, and (2) exponentially produces a mass of propertyless workers who seek to liberate themselves, a liberation which can only occur coinciding the abolition of capital and of all class systems (cf. Chapter 4 of The Holy Family and The Principles of Communism).

From here, it would help to refer ourselves to Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology, which decidedly states:

“Communism is, for us, not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” (Marx & Engels, The German Ideology, 1845)

To reiterate this point, communism can express two things: either “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” (the proletarian revolution against capital) or the subsequent mode of production which “[results] from the premises now in existence” (that which capitalism is leading to). We will see that these—the subjective factor of workers and the objective factor of capitalism’s self-destructive production—are one and the same later. For now, let us sketch out the path of inquiry Marx followed, that path which led him to his theories.

Throughout my personal readings of Marx and Engels’ works and with some guidance offered by Karl Korsch’s 1923 work, Marxism and Philosophy, I see it is best to give the following outline of Marx’s initial critiques:

  1. Marx followed Feuerbach’s trend of reversing Hegel’s notion of alienation;


  1. Marx critiqued Feuerbach’s materialism and unified critical theory and revolutionary practice (cf. Theses on Feuerbach);


  1. Marx discovered the proletariat as the rightful heirs of German Idealism (cf. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, The Holy Family, and The German Ideology); and


  1. Marx continued to dedicate his life to studying the class struggle, the result of which can only end in the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie or barbarism (1845 and on).

Next, we will introduce Georg Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Marx’s relation to their philosophic systems, detailing points one and two. 



Communism as Critiqued by Karl Marx

Note: Communism and socialism are treated as synonymous in this article as they were by Marx and Engels. What is today termed ‘socialism’ (free healthcare, basic income, free education, and so on) will be called ‘social-democracy’ or ‘the welfare state.’
I will never claim to be an expert on Marx—a position that, I think, is ridiculous. This series of articles on Marx, scientific socialism, and its emergence as the radical sublation of liberal philosophy (particularly German idealism) belongs to an 18-year-old student who has, not even a year ago, just obtained the right to vote and buy cigs and, more importantly, has only been reading Marx for roughly three years. My interpretation of what I’ve read has changed drastically throughout these years and will hopefully change again.

This kept in mind, my only aspiration in writing these very short, introductory articles is to invite the reader to take up Marx themselves, for I think Marx (and, really, his method of critique) is indispensable for a generation that is feeling the brunt of neoliberalism’s attack on labor, a reemerged threat of nuclear war, a crushing crisis of student debt, a continuous militarization of the police-state, a racist ‘War on Drugs’ to feed prison labor, policies of ‘never-ending war,’ global warming and its consequential disasters, a surge in mental illnesses such as depression, and an increasing threat of white supremacy against non-white people. I cannot think of an aspect of the status quo that isn’t openly decaying in front of the masses of people.

It would be unjust, then, to not clarify why the promises of the state and the ‘American Dream’ are not materializing for the overwhelming majority, and would be even more unjust to lull the struggling workers, students, and youth into a naïve hope that ‘everything will be okay in the end.’ This is the work of contemporary capitalism’s ideological apparatus; and Marxism sets itself the task to radically critique the powers-that-be’s conception of these issues.

This means, fundamentally, that Marxism is not an impartial science which any member of any class can pick up, use, and dispose of. There are no ‘Marxian’ economics, nor are there Marxian anthropologies, sociologies, philosophies, etc. Marxism is the Kritik (German for critique/criticism) of all of these fields of study, seeing them as ideology, justifications for the continued existence of capitalist production and the theoretical practices of the ruling class, viz. the capitalist class. One cannot be a Marxist while studying, say, political economy and a non-Marxist at home. To do so would mean that one’s study is half-hearted and incomplete, for the Marxist critique of political economy necessarily ties itself to certain practical conclusions, conclusions that are favorable to communism, that show its necessary origin in the self-destructive nature of capitalist production. Marxism is not a profession, but the “ruthless criticism of all that exists” (Marx, 1843) which—as we will learn—can only be from the standpoint of the wage-laboring class.

This necessary devotion to critique and method, as opposed to dogmatism and system, is personally why I feel Marxism is a worthwhile ‘weapon’ workers, students, the youth, and, in general, all oppressed groups can use to make sense of their situations and, most importantly, change it (cf. Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach). The campaign promises of politicians in bed with the rich mean absolutely nothing, a feature of the capitalist state that has become strikingly evident with the presidency of Donald Trump and his cabinet of businessmen and women. In such a time, I’ve seen struggles erupt and criticism of the status quo arise. It is, however, pertinent that this recent wave in the class struggle does not fall for past mistakes and dead ends, but takes up a ruthless critique of both the contemporary ideology and the ‘movements’ led by liberals and the middle classes, and thus locates the working-class position in all these issues—a position, Marx will argue, that is the only position “which alone can form the real basis of a higher form of society, a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle” (Marx, 1867).