In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels present their
view of human nature and the effect that the economic system and economic
factors have on it. Marx and Engels discuss human nature in the context of
the economic factors which they see as driving history. Freud, in
Civilization and Its Discontents, explores human nature through his
psychological view of the human mind.
Marx states that history '...is the history of class struggles' (9).
Marx views history as being determined by economics, which for him is the
source of class differences. History is described in The Communist Manifesto
as a series of conflicts between oppressing classes and oppressed classes.
According to this view of history, massive changes occur in a society when new
technological capabilities allow a portion of the oppressed class to destroy
the power of the oppressing class. Marx briefly traces the development of
this through different periods, mentioning some of the various oppressed and
oppressing classes, but points out that in earlier societies there were many
gradations of social classes. He also states that this class conflict
sometimes leads to '...the common ruin of the contending classes' (Marx 9).
Marx sees the modern age as being distinguished from earlier periods by
the simplification and intensification of the class conflict. He states that
'Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile
camps... bourgeoisie and proletariat' (Marx 9). The bourgeoisie, as the
dominant class of capitalists, subjugates the proletariat by using it as an
object for the expansion of capital. As capitalism progresses, this
subjugation reduces a larger portion of the population to the proletariat and
society becomes more polarized.
According to Marx, the polarization of society and the intense
oppression of the proletariat will eventually lead to a revolution by the
proletariat, in which the control of the bourgeoisie will be destroyed. The
proletariat will then gain control of the means of production. This
revolution will result in the creation of a socialist state, which the
proletariat will use to institute socialist reforms and eventually communism.
The reforms which Marx outlines as occurring in the socialist state have
the common goal of disimpowering the bourgeoisie and increasing economic
equality. He sees this socialist stage as necessary for but inevitably
leading to the establishment of communism. Human beings, which are
competitive under capitalism and other prior economic systems, will become
cooperative under socialism and communism. Marx, in his view of human nature,
sees economic factors as being the primary motivator for human thought and
action. He asks the rhetorical question, 'What else does the history of ideas
prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion
as material production is changed?' (Marx 29). For Marx, the economic status
of human beings determines their consciousness. Philosophy, religion and
other cultural aspects are a reflection of economics and the dominant class
which controls the economic system.
This view of human nature as being primarily determined by economics may
seem to be a base view of humanity. However, from Marx's point of view, the
human condition reaches its full potential under communism. Under communism,
the cycle of class conflict and oppression will end, because all members of
society will have their basic material needs met, rather than most being
exploited for their labor by a dominant class. In this sense the Marxian view
of human nature can be seen as hopeful. Although human beings are motivated
by economics, they will ultimately be able to establish a society which is not
based on economic oppression.
Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, presents a conception of...
Cited: Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Ed. James Strachey.
New York: W.W. Norton, 1961.
Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York:
International Publishers, 1994.
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