Marxism: Definition & Basic Tenets Video

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Capitalism Lesson Plan

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Marxism
  • 1:08 Basic Goals
  • 2:20 Class Struggle
  • 3:14 The Five Eras
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Marxism has been one of the most influential doctrines of the last several centuries, but how much do you really know about it? In this lesson, we'll go over the basic tenets of Marxism and see what this ideology is all about.


We've seen many political ideas come and go over the last several centuries, but few have been as controversial and influential as Marxism. Based on the writings of 19th-century German intellectuals Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism is an economic and political doctrine that seeks to resolve the tension between social classes by controlling the means of production.

Basically, Marxists believe that governments should be used to prevent individuals from controlling and monopolizing economic prosperity. Because of this, Marxism is directly contradictory to capitalism, which supports a free market economy controlled by individual producers and consumers.

In fact, Marxism was intentionally developed as an alternative to capitalism, which Marx and Engels saw as ruining Western society in the individualized and unregulated world of child labor, income inequality, and monopolies, that was the 19th century. It was a compelling idea, and one that reshaped the world--for good or ill, depending on who you ask.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Marx and Engels

Basic Goals

While Marxism is a pretty complex ideology, we can boil its goals down to two basic ideas:

  1. Marxism aims to expose the contradictions of capitalism.
    Marx and Engels believed that capitalist ideologies were misleading, meant to keep workers submissive. For example, the free market was described as a democratic institution, one of the people, but it's built to benefit individuals above the collective good. Basically, the workers spend their time and labor to produce goods, but the free market (not the workers) determines the value of their work. As a result, the workers are alienated from society because their labor is appropriated by the market, a process that also alienates the other social classes from the humanity of the workers.
  2. Marxism is meant to introduce a pathway for the creation of a communist society.
    A communist society is one in which the means of production are taken away from individuals and controlled by the collective (represented by the state). Communism is an alternative to the free market system, something with which Marx and Engels could replace capitalism. The two weren't meant to coexist.

Class Struggle

To explore these ideas, Marxism is focused on the idea of social class, which it defines as a group of people categorized by their role in the economy, and specifically their relationship to the production of goods. In the capitalist society of the 19th century, Marx and Engels identified two primary social classes (each with minor divisions within it):

  1. At the top are the bourgeoisie, who are the people who own the means of production. These are the business owners, factory managers, and other people who don't actually make anything but oversee those who do.
  2. The opposite class is the proletariat, who are the workers who actually produce things.

Marx and Engels felt that capitalism kept the proletariat oppressed by the bourgeoisie

Class is the most important unit of human society to Marxism, and so all of human history can be explained through the struggle between social classes. Marx specifically identified five eras in human history.

The Five Eras

First was the era of primitive communism, when the first human societies shared and benefited equally from the products of everyone's labor. Next came the Ancient Epoch, where slavery was introduced and economies were split between the exploited slave who worked and the owners who didn't.

That eventually turned into a Feudal Society, where the peasantry worked, but all the benefits of their labor went to the landowning aristocracy and nobility. That relationship evolved into a Capitalist Society, where technological changes let the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat.

However, since the bourgeoisie don't actually own or control the proletariat the way masters owned slaves or nobles controlled peasants, capitalism allowed for the creation of greater freedom and the expansion of political rights.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account