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Was Marx right about anything?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/1/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,217 times Debate No: 9077
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (11)
Votes (2)




Marx is often seen as a significant theorist on many diverse topics such as economics, history and philosophy. Yet history has not been kind to his ideas.

His economic theories has never been useful in practice. He never finished his big economic work Capital some say because he never could counter the new theories of marginal theory that appeared at around the same time as the first volume of Capital. His theory of value is based on a theory of objective value based on work, when value is now widely recognized as being subjective.

His theories about historical development turns out not to work in practice. It was based on an idea of historical progress now widely discredited, and focused solely on parts of European history. The rest of the world has not followed the historical development in stages that he posited.

His philosophy is completely ignored outside fanatical Marxist circles, where dialectics are interpreted as meaning wildly different things by different people.

After 20 years of amateur Marxist studies, I have yet to find any idea that Marx contributed that isn't simply wrong. I therefore propose that in fact, all Marx's ideological contributions are incorrect.

Whoever that takes up this challenge will have three rounds (in which I can't even answer in the last) to find an idea that Marx came up with that can be shown to be correct. We already know that his historical and economical ideas are wrong, but maybe I have missed something?



I'd like to thank my opponent for challenging me to this debate. I would also like to clarify that I am not a Marxist; I do not agree with most of his beliefs and his proposed economic foundation of Communism. That said, I believe Karl Marx to be one of the most significant entities of the twentieth century. Throughout this debate, I will attempt to prove how some of his contributions (via ideals) have been beneficial to society. For instance, it's because of Marxist ideology that things like social security, pensions, paid holidays, unions, scholarships, etc. exist.

To clarify, according to the parameters set forth by the instigator, in order to win this debate I must provide at least ONE theory embraced by Marx for which he was "right." I'd like to wish my opponent good luck - this should be an interesting discussion.


1) Subjective Morality

First of all, Marx did not have a theory of morality; he had a theory of history. Marxism is not about what's right or wrong, but rather an ideology that predicts what will happen in history (capitalism failing society). Marx was contemptuous of people who judged things in moral terms. Marx believed that human morality was determined by the social structure of the State. In other words, one action may be justified at some points but not in others. Con must negate this notion.

2) Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is the Marxist methodology for interpreting history. The idea is to interpret all relations between groups of people as class relations and to interpret all conflicts as reflections of class struggles. A specific sequence of historical stages is part of the doctrine [1]. Marxism is not a rule for behavior or a program for action; it is supposed to be the theory of a deterministic mechanism that will produce the future, a theory of actions that will arise spontaneously because of historical circumstances. Much of Marx's assessment has been right, most notably his specifications regarding various ruling classes and the response to said classes (via revolution).

3) Atheism / Alienation

Karl Marx once famously said, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." I agree with this sentiment entirely. However, my beliefs are irrelevant to this debate. What's important is that I put forth a Marx ideal that is not "simply wrong" as my opponent suggests. Thus, I have given Con the first belief endorsed by Marx which he must combat with empirical data as to how Marx was wrong. In other words, my opponent must argue against Marx's philosophy of atheism.

Should my opponent choose to argue that atheism is a philosophy certainly not introduced by Marx and therefore irrelevant to this debate, I would like to elaborate on this point by discussing Marx's theory of alienation, which refers to the separation of things that naturally belong together, or to put antagonism between things that are properly in harmony. In the concept's most important use, it refers to the social alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature." Marx believed that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism, and that the idea of God has alienated the characteristics of the human being.

Marx's Theory of Alienation is based upon his observation that in emerging industrial production under capitalism, workers inevitably lose control of their lives and selves, in not having any control of their work. Workers never become autonomous, self-realized human beings in any significant sense, except the way the bourgeois want the worker to be realized. Alienation in capitalist societies occurs because in work each contributes to the common wealth, but can only express this fundamentally social aspect of individuality through a production system that is not publicly (socially) owned, but privately owned, for which each individual functions as an instrument, not as a social being.

Marx attributes four types of alienation in labor under capitalism. These include the alienation of the worker from his or her ‘species essence' as a human being rather than a machine; between workers, since capitalism reduces labour to a commodity to be traded on the market, rather than a social relationship; of the worker from the product, since this is appropriated by the capitalist class, and so escapes the worker's control; and from the act of production itself, such that work comes to be a meaningless activity, offering little or no intrinsic satisfactions [2].

4) Darwinism

"Darwin's work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle. ... Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, ‘teleology' in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained." -- Karl Marx

I don't need much of an argument here; science itself continues to produce a plethora of evidence that Darwinism or evolution (transmutation of species) is valid. Karl Marx was an avid Darwinist, meaning this philosophy regarding science and humanity was correct. Marx used Darwinism to explain his theories regarding social behavior, rights, etc.


I stand behind the aforementioned contentions in defense of some of Marx's principles, thus I will rest my case for now as to why Marx may not have been a total kook. I'll refrain from offering any new arguments unless/until my opponent successfully argues against them in favor of Marx being wrong about everything he stood for. Obviously I reserve the right to introduce new points in R2 (but not R3). Again I'd like to thank Con for the debate, and wish him good luck in future rounds.

-- L

Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting this challenge.

First a clarification, it is not enough to show that one theory embraced by Marx was right. I'm sure Marx was right about a lot of theories. He may have had the theory that Irish Whisky is generally a good drink for relaxing in the evening, in which case he would be perfectly (if subjectively) correct. No, the question is of any of Marx' own theories is correct. More exactly I said

"Whoever that takes up this challenge will have three rounds to find an idea that Marx came up with that can be shown to be correct."

This means that Atheism and Darwinism isn't relevant for this discussion, as these are not inventions of Karl Marx. That still leaves Marx' subjective morality, his historical materialism, and his theory of alienation. Let's look at these.

1) Subjective Morality

It is often repeated that Marx did not have a theory of morality, and that his theories are not about good or bad. This is false. Although he to my knowledge never states his morality or states that something is good or bad, it is obvious that he has opinions about good or bad. Take for example this part from Capital:

"The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this "free" proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working-class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as "voluntary" criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed."

Does anybody that read this honestly believe that he do not see things in questions of good and bad? Of course not. Marx has a very strong morality, and his texts are permeated by strong indignation over injustices and poverty throughout the ages. And thankfully so, as the claim that oppression would be morally acceptable in some historical situations would make Marx a morally reprehensible person.

But this is not about good or bad, but correct/incorrect. And here Marx's evident strong and absolute morality shows that the stated Marxist subjectivism is incorrect. Marx may have claimed that morality was subjective, but he himself did not believe it. The subjective morality of Marx is therefore incorrect, even by his own standards.

2) Historical materialism.

Marx view of history, as I mentioned already in my first answer, was incorrect. History simply does not proceed in stages with revolutions inbetween them. Marx theory of history was based on the misguided idea of dialectics, and shaped by a view of history that was completely eurocentric, and influenced by the 19th centuries fascination with the Roman empire. Even in Europe the only part of Europe that can be said to follow Marx historical view is the parts that were a part of the western Roman empire, except Moorish Spain.

The dialectic nature of historical materialism also means that Pro first needs to show that Marxist dialectics is correct, and that is one part that is suspiciously missing from the list.

History simply does not depend on class struggle. I will take the example I'm most familiar with. Sweden. The wars between Sweden and Denmark was a great influence in scandinavian history, and there ss no class struggle to be found. Those wars are to a large extent depending on economic interests, but not of class. Different parts of the nobility would be on different sides depending on where their interest was, for example. Sweden also never was feudalistic. It was obviously in a tribal state during the Viking Age, and became Capitalist in the 19th century, but inbetween there, and in both cases without any revolution, it was neither tribal, feudalistic, capitalistic or socialist. So we both need to invent a type of stage (or rather several) for Sweden alone, and explain why these stages changed without revolutions.

That is not to say there was not differences and conflicts between classes, or revolutions, in Sweden. But the revolutions did not change how societies economy worked, and the revolutions born out of class struggle were all beaten down, and lost, with only one exception. The riots that alerted the government that democracy was inevitable. But that again did not change any economy, it only made Sweden from a non-democratic capitalism to a democratic capitalism.

Historical materialism is simply not applicable on the real world, just as with most marxist/hegelian dialectics.

3) Alienation.

I'm happy you bring up alienation, as this is one of the least obvious of Marx' topics, and definitely one of the most difficult to disprove. This is because it is completely subjective. Indeed, Marx alienation is about creating a separation between things that are properly in harmony. But what is properly in harmony? There is no objective criteria for this. Does capitalism create a separation of people from their human nature? Well, then we first must agree on what this human nature is, and then agree that is has been separated and lastly agree that it is because of capitalism. The argument you put forward here is that workers lose control of their lives and selves because they don't have any control of their work.

But do they not have control of their work, first of all? Well, in one sense no. They get payed for doing the work the way the employer wants them too. How much control they have is up to the employer.

But firstly does this lead to a loss of control over the selves? No, of course not. This is based in Marx' limited view of humans. He sees them not as individuals, but only as class. For Marx, a person is his work. Nothing more, nothing else. This may have been a mistake that made sense in the poverty of the 19th century, but today we know very well that it is wrong. We are not our work. We are not our class. We are individuals.

That in itself is enough to disprove this reasoning, but there are more errors in it. Because is this loss of control over your work caused by being employed? No, it's a part of making money. If you do not sell your work, but sell the product of your work, by for example being a self-employed smith, you still have to manufacture what the buyers want. And money is not the cause either, even in a system of bartering you need to make things others want. Therefore, you can only be a self-realized human being in Marx world if you do not in any way depend on another person. We need, according to Marx, to be completely isolated individuals with no need or no cooperation from others to become human. I'm pretty sure most humans would not agree with this, and in fact I would claim that cooperation and codependency is a central part of humanity, and an isolated human is the one who is losing his humanity and getting alienation from his human nature.


Danielle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


I'm sorry my opponent forfeited this round, and hope the reason is not serious.


I'd like to thank my opponent for such a well thought-out second round, and apologize for missing the opportunity to post a R2 rebuttal. I am still in the process of moving and thus my internet activity will be limited until I am fully moved in (September). As a result of my forfeited R2, I will not offer any new arguments on my behalf. I agree with his premises that both Darwinism and Atheism are concepts that cannot be attributed to Marx himself; therefore subjective morality, historical materialism and Marx's theory of alienation will be the only issues up for discussion in this round.


Marx's theory of subjective morality does not have to do with Marx's own opinion of what he found to be good or bad, which is what my opponent argued against. Instead, his theory implies that because commercial transactions implied no particular morality beyond that required to settle transactions, the growth of markets caused the economic sphere and the moral-legal sphere to become separated in society. Subjective moral values become separated from objective economic value. Political economy, which was originally thought of as a "moral science" concerned with the just distribution of wealth, gives way to the separate disciplines of economic science, law and ethics [1].

In Capital (the work my opponent himself cited), Marx explains how commodity fetishism - the belief that value inheres in commodities instead of being added to them through labor - is an illusion which makes people believe that certain things have value in order to skew the effects of labor. In other words, my opponent's argument of, "Marx may have claimed that morality was subjective, but he himself did not believe it" does not effectively combat the point that Marx was trying to make: Human morality is determined by the social structure of the State. Since the social structure is based upon the control of material goods, economics determine morality. In other words, morality is determined by the means of production and distribution, thus they are subjective (to whatever is most profitable - not objective morals).


Con has presented an example of history which does not follow Marx's idea that all history revolves around class struggle. However, Marx himself took care to indicate that he was only proposing a guideline to historical research, and was not providing any substantive "theory of history" or "grand philosophy of history." He was vehemently against the materialist outlook when used as an excuse for not studying history.

According to Wikipedia, Historical Materialism is defined as: The causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life. The non-economic features of a society (e.g. social classes, political structures, ideologies) are seen as being an outgrowth of its economic activity.

So, just because Con has offered an example of history which does not revolve around class struggle doesn't eliminate Marx's ideology all together. Marx's concept of materialism is the study of the real economic and social life of man and of the influence of man's actual way of life on this thinking and feelings.

Marx's first concept of materialism is the premise is that human beings are able to create history. Since they are living human individuals, they need food, clothing, shelter, etc. to sustain their lives. Thus, the first historical act is to produce materials to satisfy these needs and to establish the relation to the rest of nature. Once these needs are met, new needs are created. Since human nature is flexible and changes over time, human beings have to create more materials to satisfy themselves. Now, an example of a non-material need is social interaction, hence people marrying, pro-creating, etc. These social relationships - which originate with the family but then extend outward - illustrate Marx's theory.

So, Marx indicates that human beings are social beings, not isolated individuals. Their activities manifest their relationship with nature and the society in which they are living. Here he focuses on social relations. He said, "By social we understand the co-operation of several individuals, no matter under what conditions, in which manner and to what end. It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a productive force" [2].

A material connection exists within human beings, which is determined by their needs and the means of production. This connection presents a history that is based on human beings economic activities (different from the political and religious ones). For Marx, history is nothing but the succession of the separate generations during each of which people exploit materials -the forms of capital. Thus on the one hand this continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances, and on the other hand modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity.

So, keeping this in mind, Con has not argued against Marx's historical materialism at all. For Marx, the activity in which human beings engage is sustaining their lives. The formation of human beings ideas is interwoven with the material activity and the material relationship with others. Such activities then generate means of production and social relationships [2]. Con merely argued against the concept of historical materialism by saying that dialectics is simply incorrect, though did not argue against it one bit.

Dialectics argues 4 principles:

1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time (this idea is not accepted by some dialecticians).
2. Everything is made out of opposing forces/opposing sides (contradictions).
3. Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one force overcomes the other (quantitative -->qualitative change)
4. Change moves in spirals, not circles. (Sometimes referred to as "negation of the negation")

Since Con did not prove why not one of these concepts is incorrect, simple for the purpose of DEBATE, these concepts - and thus historical materialism in general - must stand.


My opponent is correct in citing that "perfect harmony" is subjective. However, what Marx meant by alienation is that workers inevitably lose control of their lives and selves in the sense that they never become autonomous; the bourgeois defines the work/worker. Each contributes to the common wealth via their labor, but can only express this fundamentally social aspect of individuality through a production system that is not publicly (socially) owned, but privately owned, for which each individual functions as an instrument, not as a social being. Con agrees that the employer - not the worker - controls how much control the worker has. Thus, Con agrees with this Marxist idea.

Con tries to say that Marx is wrong because he only sees people as part of a class, and not individuals. This is contrary to the description of alienation above which details Marx's actual view. He merely uses class to label the groups of which people belong (i.e. small bourgeois , large working class).

Con writes, "I would claim that cooperation and codependency is a central part of humanity, and an isolated human is the one who is losing his humanity and getting alienation from his human nature." Not only do I agree, but Marx did as well. Hence - Communism! Under the Historical Materialism section of this round, I detailed the ways in which Marx noted that human beings were SOCIAL creatures who were not meant to be isolated. Thus Con's assessment of us needing to be isolated without cooperation from others to be human is blatantly false. Moreover, Con again agrees with Marx.

Debate Round No. 3
11 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by regebro 8 years ago
I stand corrected. Groucho Marx was indeed right about something.
Posted by DylanRobles 8 years ago
Marx once said something that definitely made him right about something. "Only one in 1,000 men is a leader, the other 999 follow women." Completely right.
Posted by regebro 8 years ago
Contradiction is not an argument.
Posted by Danielle 8 years ago
"I'm slightly disappointed that you chose to just repeat the three parts I already shown was incorrect again."

Obviously I'm going to challenge what you said was wrong and why. Isn't that the purpose of debate?
Posted by USAPitBull63 8 years ago
It's amusing to me how Marx embraced Darwinism, yet spawned the antithesis of "Social Darwinism."

Capitalism rules. (That isn't a pun.)
Posted by regebro 8 years ago
Probably not, but saying for example that I haven't argued against historical materialism is strange, when I argued that Marx historical views is clearly incorrect. And bringning up the obviously bogus dialectics is funny.

Anyhow, this is not about who is right, but who won. :-)
Posted by wjmelements 8 years ago
It almost appears to be a strategic forfeit.
Posted by regebro 8 years ago
I'm slightly disappointed that you chose to just repeat the three parts I already shown was incorrect again. I'm forced to yet again conclude that Marx was wrong in everything....
Posted by regebro 8 years ago
Some of them are subjective, yes. But most of them, and most of Marx's theories, are not about subjective things, but about how society, objectively works. Historical materialism and his economic theories are scientific theories that make statements about reality that can be verified.

And it turns out that the theories are completely objective and utterly incorrect from start to finish. None of the statements about reality that comes from these theories pan out.
Posted by mongeese 8 years ago
But none of those are right. And none of those are wrong. It's subjective.
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