Marxism Lesson for Kids: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:04 What Is Marxism?
  • 0:35 How Did Marxism Come About?
  • 1:50 Marxism's Changing Meaning
  • 2:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Carol PeQueen

Prior to working in a college Elementary Education program, Carol was a 3rd grade teacher. She holds a PhD in Instructional Design.

Let's learn about Marxism and how it changed history. See Marx's ideas about work, social classes of people, and governments, and learn how the term Marxism has changed meaning over time.

What Is Marxism?

Did you know ideas can change history? Well, Marxism sure did. Marxism came from the writings of two German men who lived in the 1800s, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Their best-known works are The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867). The ideas in these famous books became what we call 'Marxism' and have motivated thinkers and leaders ever since. Sometimes these leaders have taken drastic actions as a result, including starting revolutions and wars.

How Did Marxism Come About?

In the 1800s, many people across Europe worked hard but still struggled to pay for the basics. Even children had to work from morning to night, and workers often went hungry. Marx and Engels saw that exploitation of workers, meaning treating people unfairly and gaining profit from it, was a serious problem. The two writers eventually came to see all of history as a class struggle. The common workers, which Marx and Engels called the proletariat, struggled to be treated fairly. They were taken advantage of by the class who held power: the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels believed that in a perfect world, such classes would not exist. But the world they knew was far from perfect.

Marx and Engels put together all their ideas, and the result became known as Marxism. Here's how the dictionary defines Marxism: 'the political, economic, and social theories of Karl Marx, including the belief that struggle between social classes is a major force in history, and there should eventually be a society in which there are no classes.'

Marx and Engels thought the workers (proletariat) would become so unhappy they would rise up and start a revolution. When this didn't happen, the two thinkers were forced to adjust their ideas. They were trying to come up with ways society could get better over time. In the end, they wanted all people free from being exploited and being poor. But this hasn't happened, even today.

Marxism's Changing Meaning

When you hear the word Marxism today, people usually are not talking about the narrowly-defined theory that Marx and Engels developed. Marxism has taken on a much broader meaning. But how?

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