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For the political ideology commonly associated with states governed by Communist parties, see Marxism–Leninism.

Marxism is a worldview and a method of societal analysis that focuses on class relations and societal conflict, that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, and a dialectical view of social transformation. Marxist methodology uses economic and sociopolitical inquiry and applies that to the critique and analysis of the development of capitalism and the role of class struggle in systemic economic change.

In the mid-to-late 19th century, the intellectual tenets of Marxism were inspired by two German philosophers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxist analyses and methodologies have influenced multiple political ideologies and social movements. Marxism encompasses an economic theory, a sociological theory, a philosophical method, and a revolutionary view of social change.

There is no single definitive Marxist theory; Marxist analysis has been applied to diverse subjects and has been misconceived and modified during the course of its development, resulting in numerous and sometimes contradictory theories that fall under the rubric of Marxism or Marxian analysis.

Marxism builds on a materialist understanding of societal development, taking as its starting point the necessary economic activities required to satisfy the material needs of human society. The form of economic organization or mode of production is understood to give rise to, or at least directly influences, most other social phenomena – including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology. Thus, the economic system and social relations are called a base and superstructure. As the forces of production (most notably technology) improve, existing forms of social organization become inefficient and stifle further progress. These inefficiencies manifest themselves as social contradictions in the form of class struggle.

According to Marxist analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises due to intensifying contradictions between highly productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and appropriation of the surplus product in the form of surplus value (profit) by a small minority of private owners called the bourgeoisie. As the contradiction becomes apparent to the proletariat, social unrest between the two antagonistic classes intensifies, culminating in a social revolution. The eventual long-term outcome of this revolution would be the establishment of socialism – a socioeconomic system based on cooperative ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one's contribution, and production organized directly for use. Karl Marx hypothesized that, as the productive forces and technology continued to advance, socialism would eventually give way to a communist stage of social development. Communism would be a classless, stateless, humane society erected on common ownership and the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".

Marxism has developed into different branches and schools of thought. Different schools place a greater emphasis on certain aspects of classical Marxism while de-emphasizing or rejecting other aspects of Marxism, sometimes combining Marxist analysis with non-Marxian concepts. Some variants of Marxism primarily focus on one aspect of Marxism as the determining force in social development – such as the mode of production, class, power-relationships or property ownership – while arguing other aspects are less important or current research makes them irrelevant. Despite sharing similar premises, different schools of Marxism might reach contradictory conclusions from each other. For instance, different Marxian economists have contradictory explanations of economic crisis and different predictions for the outcome of such crises. Furthermore, different variants of Marxism apply Marxist analysis to study different aspects of society (e.g. economic crises or feminism).

These theoretical differences have led various socialist and communist parties and political movements to embrace different political strategies for attaining socialism and advocate different programs and policies from each other. One example of this is the division between revolutionary socialists and reformists that emerged in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) during the early 20th century. Similarly, although the Bolsheviks of Russia declared Leninism and later Marxism–Leninism to be the only legitimate development of Marxism, the Mensheviks and many other social democrats worldwide considered them totalitarian deviations.

Marxist understandings of history and of society have been adopted by academics in the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology,

media studies, political science, theater, history, sociology, art history and art theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology, and philosophy.


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