Socialism and Marx's Theory of Societal Evolution

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, U.S. National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow called on Americans to "put socialism on trial and convict it."  In order to successfully prosecute the defendant, Americans simply need to know the facts, and socialism will incriminate itself.

The facts are that socialism is just one step in a societal "theory of evolution" invented by Karl Marx that allegedly explains how human society develops over time.  According to Marx's theory, called "historical materialism," the purpose of socialism is to destroy capitalism, so that society can "progress" to its next evolutionary stage: communism.

In recent years, the word "change" has become synonymous with the Left.  Most famously, former president Barack Obama used it as the slogan for his 2008 presidential campaign.  Other leftists, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), also regularly use "change" as a rallying cry.  At first glance, "change" appears to be an innocuous word.  However, for those who are "woke," it has a specific meaning.

You see, "change" is the root concept of Marxism.

Contrary to popular belief, Marxism is not a standalone economic theory that merely advocates wealth redistribution.  Rather, Marx saw himself as a scientist who had discovered a universal "theory of change" that explains how all things in the world work.  This universal theory of change is called "dialectical materialism."

While dialectical materialism may sound like a complicated term, it isn't difficult to understand.  "Materialism" refers to the philosophical idea that the world consists solely of matter.  As Friedrich Engels, the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, stated: "The materialistic outlook on nature means no more than simply conceiving nature just as it exists, without any foreign admixture."  In other words, there is nothing supernatural in life, and there is no God — only the physical world is real.

While there is no omniscient being controlling the movements of the universe, materialism holds that nature is not chaotic or random.  Rather, materialism asserts that nature has an order to it and that all things are governed by natural law.  This natural law is called "dialectics."

Engels defined dialectics as "the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature."  As can be gleaned from Engels's quote, the first feature of dialectics is the belief that nothing in the natural world is ever static — all matter is constantly moving and changing.  This change, however, happens according to a pattern.

The dialectical pattern, which was originally developed by the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, consists of three parts: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.  The thesis is an initial positive force or idea.  It is countered by the antithesis, which is an opposing force or idea.  The synthesis is a new force or idea that is created by the conflict between the thesis and antithesis.

The process repeats, but not in a linear cycle.  Rather, the dialectic is progressive.  As Stalin wrote:

The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development should be understood not as movement in a circle ... but as an onward and upward movement ... as a development from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher.

Thus, dialectical materialism is not just a theory of change; it is a theory of evolution.

So, what does dialectical materialism have to do with socialism?  As mentioned above, dialectical materialism is a universal theory of evolution.  Consequently, Marx believed that it applies to all material things, including man.  Therefore, humans — and human society — are governed by the natural law of dialectics, like everything else.

The application of dialectical materialism to human society is called "historical materialism."  The word "materialism" here recognizes that the principles of the materialistic philosophy apply to society.  "Historical" refers to Marx's belief that the only way to understand how the dialectic works in a societal context is to examine the history of human society.

There is a problem, though.  Society is a vast, complex thing.  What part of society must be studied to reveal the dialectic?  As a materialist, Marx applied the dialectal method to the "material life" of society.

The "material life" of society refers to the way in which society produces the material things man needs to exist, such as food, clothing and shelter.  Put another way, the material life of society is its economic system or, to use Marx's term, its "mode of production."

After studying human history, Marx concluded there were five progressive modes of production in society: primitive communal, slave, feudal, capitalist, and communist.  He thought Western societies had evolved through the first three modes of production and were currently in the capitalist stage.  Significantly, the last mode of production, communism, was not "historical" per se, as it hadn't occurred yet.  However, Marx was convinced that his theory of societal evolution was so accurate that it could predict the future. 

Very little was written by Marx on how the dialectical process worked in previous modes of production.  Rather, his main focus was on the capitalist mode of production and how it evolves to the communist mode of production.  Indeed, The Communist Manifesto is Marx's attempt to describe how the unstoppable "forces of history" -- dialectics -- transform capitalist societies to communist societies. 

This is where socialism comes into play.

Marx stated that "between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one to the other."  He failed to provide a specific name to this period of fundamental change, but Marx's intellectual successor, Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, did.  Ulyanov — better known as "Lenin" — named this transitional period "socialist."

According to historical materialism, the "thesis" of the capitalist mode of production is an economic system where the means of production — the factories, land, natural resources, etc. — are privately owned by a capitalist class, or "bourgeoisie."  The bourgeoisie uses its material advantage to oppress the wage laborer class, or "proletariat," that owns nothing and, due to capitalist oppression, can never advance under capitalism.

Since capitalist oppression is based upon the private ownership of the means of production, the only way to "cure" oppression is to eliminate private property.  Thus, the "antithesis," or opposing force, of capitalism is socialism, which is designed to strip away the property rights of the bourgeoisie and eliminate the capitalist class.  When the socialist goal of abolishing private property is accomplished, the theory goes, oppression will no longer exist, and society will evolve to the classless, utopian "synthesis" of capitalism and socialism — the communist mode of production.

In his book, Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Stalin officially adopted Marx's theories as the official "world outlook" of the Soviet Union.  While the Soviet Union may have fallen, the Left's belief in Marx's theory of societal evolution — and socialism — continues.  Therefore, when leftists praise socialism and call for "change" or "progress," Americans must ask: "Change to what?" and "Progress towards what?"  The answer to both questions is communism.

The prosecution rests.

Jayme Sellards is a corporate attorney based in Jupiter, Florida.  He can be reached at

Image: NIMESH DUSRA via Wikimedia Commons.