Marxism is an economic and social system based upon the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. While it would take veritably volumes to explain the full implications and ramifications of the Marxist social and economic ideology, Marxism is summed up in the Encarta Reference Library as “a theory in which class struggle is a central element in the analysis of social change in Western societies.” Marxism is the antithesis of capitalism which is defined by Encarta as “an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, characterized by a free competitive market and motivation by profit.” Marxism is the system of socialism of which the dominant feature is public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
Under capitalism, the proletariat, the working class or “the people,” own only their capacity to work; they have the ability only to sell their own labor. According to Marx a class is defined by the relations of its members to the means of production. He proclaimed that history is the chronology of class struggles, wars, and uprisings. Under capitalism, Marx continues, the workers, in order to support their families are paid a bare minimum wage or salary. The worker is alienated because he has no control over the labor or product which he produces. The capitalists sell the products produced by the workers at a proportional value as related to the labor involved. Surplus value is the difference between what the worker is paid and the price for which the product is sold.
An increasing immiseration of the proletariat occurs as the result of economic recessions; these recessions result because the working class is unable to buy the full product of their labors and the ruling capitalists do not consume all of the surplus value. A proletariat or socialist revolution must occur, according to Marx, where the state (the means by which the ruling class forcibly maintains rule over the other classes) is a dictatorship of the proletariat. Communism evolves from socialism out of this progression: the socialist slogan is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” The communist slogan varies thusly: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
What were the Marxist views of religion? Because the worker under the capitalist regimes was miserable and alienated, religious beliefs were sustained. Religion, according to Marx was the response to the pain of being alive, the response to earthly suffering. In Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances.” Marx indicated in this writing that the working class, the proletariat was a true revolutionary class, universal in character and acquainted with universal suffering. This provided the need for religion.