on January 3, 2010 by eldar in Evolutionary Marxism, Comments (0)

Marxism in One Page

No, that’s not “Marxism for dummies’. As usual on this site, the use of brain is not optional. However, if you are willing to use that strange organ in your head, the essence of Marxism can be summarized in about one page. This is that page.

Another fair warning: Marxism consists of two parts: socioeconomic model, which is still good and valid, and political… stuff, which was put on top of it and, frankly, never was good or valid. I am only talking about the socioeconomic model. Also, if you look at it, you’ll find that most of it does not belong to Carl Marx at all, he actually collected a number of ideas and theories developed by other, still very respectable people, starting with Adam Smith and Charles Darwin.

Under the hood Marxism is a Darwinian theory properly applied to human societies. One paragraph essence of Marxism is quite simple:

There is food, there are those who eat it.
There is no food, there are no those who eat it.

For humans, “food” means jobs or social positions
that bring food through production or redistribution of food.

When food is scarce, everything else is secondary.
The food was scarce all human history.
Hence, the human history is
the history of producing and redistributing food.


Here is an informal one page version:

  • The history of human kind can be presented as production and redistribution of food.
  • Environment, resources and technological level (production forces) define who and how produces the food (the worker class and mode of production).
  • Who and how produces the food (the worker class and mode of production) defines who and how takes it away from them (the exploiters class and production relations).
  • These parts (production forces, class of workers and class of exploiters, mode of production and production relations) define the social system.
  • Example from biology:
    • Beavers built a dam on a creek that flooded the meadow nearby.
      • Marsh plants began to grow. Mosquitoes began to multiply.
      • Mosquitoes are frogs’ food, so frogs began to multiply.
      • Herons, bitterns and other marsh birds eating frogs built nests around.
      • Otters stealing birds eggs came in.
    • Then something happened to the dam. Maybe beavers got eaten, or a bear accidentally broke it, does not matter what. The water left.
      • Marsh plants dried out and died.
      • Mosquitoes disappeared.
      • Frogs died or hopped away.
      • Marsh birds flown away and did not return next year.
    • But:
      • Meadow grasses began to grow, including those that bring grain.
      • Mice and other small rodents came in and began to multiply, eating that grasses and grains.
      • Foxes and owls from nearby forest came in hunting the mice.
    • See? There is food, there are those who eat it. There is no food, these is no those who eat it. Simple, isn’t it? Marsh-marsh plants-mosquitoes-frogs-herons-otters is one “social system”, meadow-grass-mice-foxes-owls is another. That’s it.
  • Now let’s get example from the human history:
    • In 16th Century England land was the most important resource, and most efficient use of land was to grow food.
      • Owners of the land wanted others to grow food on it.
      • Hence, a lot of people could support themselves and their families by being peasants. There were “jobs” for peasants, there were peasants.
      • A few other people were able to support themselves by owning (on behave of the King) the land, where peasants worked, and hence taking away food from peasants for themselves. Again, there were “jobs” for landlords, there were landlords.
      • The system was: land to grow food – peasants – landlords. There was land to grow food, there were peasants. There were peasants, there were landlords.
      • Landlords cannot survive without peasants, peasants would be very happy to live without feudal and other gangsters. Land to grow was the reason for peasants. Peasants were the reason for landlords.
    • In 16-17th Century England, it become more profitable to keep sheep on the same land, so the land for peasants disappeared.
      • Hence, peasants were thrown from the land they used to grow food. Less “jobs” for peasants resulted in less peasants.
      • Landlords mostly stopped exploiting peasants-growers, and become wool suppliers with voluntarily employed shepherds.
      • No land to grow – no peasants. No peasants – no medieval landlords.
      • Land for sheep – sheep and shepherds. Sheep and shepherds – wool producers.
    • At the same time, England started to produce a lot of wool textile. That’s why keeping sheep become more profitable than growing food.
      • Peasants, who lost their land, become vagabonds. A lot of them (~200 thousands, with the whole British population 3-3.5 million people) were hanged on crossroads for that, the rest become workers at manufactories, producing textile, and sailors, delivering textile to overseas markets.
      • Again, jobs for workers and sailors appeared, workers and sailors multiplied. There are jobs, there are people.
      • A few people become able to support themselves as owners of manufactories. Again, there are “jobs” for capitalists, there are capitalists. When you have a lot of workers producing textile, there are those who own manufactories and can support themselves by using workers labor.
      • The social system become: steam machines to power manufactories and looms to produce textile – workers – capitalists (manufactories owners). Technology created workers. Workers created capitalists.

Some will argue that it’s capitalists who created workers. However, imagine two identical islands, both with wool supply and textile mill. One island has workers but no mill owners, another has mill owners but no workers. Which one do you think will work?

Also, imagine yourself on the second island. You have the money, would you buy a mill? A reminder, there are no workers on that island. The answer is you won’t, because you cannot use it to produce money. The workers are the resource you need as a capitalist to make money. If there is no resource, there is no income. Hence, the main Marxists point: technology creates workers, who use this technology. Technology and workers create those who benefit from it.

You may use some euphemisms like “technology makes possible to be a worker” or “availability of technology and workers make it possible to produce textile”, but in the end you will say the same thing, just in a less clear way. As I am not in the business of dimming other people minds, I don’t use those complicated vague sentences.

Here is more formal definition of it:

  • The food (food and survival essentials, like shelter and fuel in cold countries) is the key to human history and social processes. Everything else matters only as something that’s convertible to food (including being part of food production or distribution).
    Example: Hollywood movies are convertible to food by selling tickets and copies on DVDs.
  • Human history and social development can be described in the terms of (a) making and (b) redistributing the food (and food equivalents).
  • Redistribution of food became a force in social systems at the time when productivity allowed to take part of the food from the producer, without dooming him and his family to the death by starvation. That’s the same time when humans moved from hunters and gatherers societies to more complex social systems based on domesticated crops and animals. That part of the produced food is called economic surplus.
  • Every society since that was divided into two classes of people, where the word “class” is used in the original taxonomy meaning – large group with the same characteristics.
  • These two classes of people are those who produce food, and those who redistribute economic surplus in their own favor.
  • Everything involved with creation of food is called productive forces, including resources, technology, and food (or food equivalent) producers. Everything involved in redistribution of food is called production relations.
  • Productive forces determine production relations, not the other way around.
    Simply put, you cannot use slave labor to create spaceships, they just won’t fly.
  • Productive forces, especially level of technology, define how we produce food – production method. The way we produce food (production method) defines who are the food producers (the workers class).
    Example: if you top technology is hoe, your food producers are farmers or slaves, who use hoes on the land to grow food. That kind of a food producer does not need an education (hoe is a very simple tool), can produce food from a really early age and until he is alive, and only needs to maintain himself at the basic survival and procreation level (the second part is essential for the social stability, or you will run out of hoe users in one generations, and then you’ll run out of food, and that will be the end of your society)
  • Who are the food producers defines how the food (economic surplus) is taken away from them. The way food taken away from food producers for redistribution defines the second class of the society.
    Example: If the product require some expensive equipment, which can be operated by relatively uneducated workforce (high school skills top), your producers are industrial workers. Owning them won’t bring any advantage, because you have surplus of available industrial workers, hence slave owner would not have any advantage in such economy. Owning large pieces of land would not result in any advantage, because factories only require a limited space, so medieval feudal won’t have any advantage in such economy. Owning the factory becomes a key for production, and hence capitalist who owns the factory has the advantage and can redistribute surplus in his own favor.
  • Again, environment, resources and, most importantly, technological level define who and how produces the food (and food equivalents). Who and how produces food, defines who and how redistributes that food.
  • These two classes define the social system. Slaves and slave owners in slavery societies. Peasants and feudal landlords in feudal societies. Workers and capitalists in early capitalism. Organized workers and management in socialism (or “industrial society”, if “socialism” sounds too scary for you).
  • Social system is how we produce food and how we redistribute food. Another equivalent definition is who and how produces food and who and how redistributes it in their own favor. That’s it.
  • Final point is that those who benefit from the system want to keep it even after production forces and technology are developed beyond the point when the old production relations work. Hence any change in social formation follows the same pattern: old relations start failing to produce the results, until finally everything blows up in some kind of unpleasant upheaval ending up with the new production relationships that fit technology level, production forces and the new production method.
  • Political part of classic Marxism claims that it’s a revolution, however, we know now that it may take different forms, including some peaceful ones, albeit still quite painful like a deep economic crisis resulting in significant changes to the laws (sounds familiar?)

Frankly, that all, folks.

Oh, yeah, and of course, those who produce food don’t like most of it taken away, and those who take it away, like that a lot. As you can guess, that sort of creates a conflict, which defines a lot of social processes and what’s happening in the society. In the end, human history and social processes can be viewed as one huge fight over the food and who eats it. You see why I say that Marxism is essentially a Darwinian theory applied to human societies?

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