The term Classical Marxism denotes the theory propounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

As such, Classical Marxism distinguishes between “Marxism” as broadly perceived, and “what Marx believed”; thus, in 1883, Marx wrote to the French labour leader Jules Guesde and to Paul Lafarge (Marx’s son-in-law) – both of whom claimed to represent Marxist principles – accusing them of “revolutionary phrase-mongering” and of denying the value of reformist struggle; from which derives the paraphrase: “If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist”. To wit, the US Marx scholar Hal Draper remarked, “There are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti- Marxists alike”.

Marxism is a particular political philosophy, economic and sociological worldview based upon a materialist interpretation of history, a Marxist analysis of capitalism, a theory of social change, and an atheist view of human liberation derived from, the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The three primary aspects are:

(i) The dialectical and materialist concept of history:


Humankind’s history is fundamentally that of the struggle between social classes. The productive capacity of society is the foundation of society, and as this capacity increases over time the social relations of production, class relations, evolve through this struggle of the classes and pass through definite stages (primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, and capitalism). The legal, political, ideological and other aspects (ex. art) of society are derived from these production relations as is the consciousness of the individuals of which the society is composed.

(ii) The critique of capitalism:

In capitalist society, an economic minority (the bourgeoisie) dominates and exploits the working class (proletariat) majority. Marx uncovered the interworking of capitalist exploitation, the specific way in which unpaid labour (surplus value) is extracted from the working class (the labor theory of value), extending and critiquing the work of earlier political economists on value.

Although the production process is socialized, ownership remains in the hand of the bourgeoisie. This forms the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society. Without the elimination of the fetter of the private ownership of the means of production, human society is unable to achieve further development, Advocacy of proletarian revolution: In order to overcome the fetters of private property the working class must seize political power internationally through a social revolution and expropriate the capitalist classes around the world and place the productive capacities of society into collective ownership.


Upon this, material foundation classes would be abolished and the material basis for all forms of inequality between humankind would dissolve. Classical Marxism conceived of capitalism as a world system with all its nexuses of trade, capital exports and imperialist domination. In real history, the conquest of capital, its universal role, results in a differential impact on pre-capitalist structures.

The differences are manifest in many types of amalgam of capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production. Such formations make room for capitalist surplus extraction, even though the former productive systems and power institutions remain largely unchanged. In that circumstance, classical Marxist position regarding the sequence of stages has to reckon with newer possibilities of historical transition. It is no longer enough to move from feudalism to capitalism.