It's been asserted in another answer here that:

Marxism is, of course, part of the spectrum of Liberal ideologies, though it is often maligned as being something 'other.'

Looking at the SEP page on Liberalism it does indeed start with spectrum-like notion:

Liberalism is more than one thing. On any close examination, it seems to fracture into a range of related but sometimes competing visions.

But Marxism is only mentioned once on the page, and not in an inclusive manner:

During and after the Second World War the idea that liberalism was based on inherently individualist analysis of humans-in-society arose again. Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies (1945) presented a sustained critique of Hegelian and Marxist theory and its collectivist and historicist, and to Popper, inherently illiberal, understanding of society.

So, in what sense is Marxism liberal and who considers it so? (By "who" I mean to ask if there any notable thinkers/theorists/movements etc. that hold such a view, i.e. classify Marxism as part of liberalism spectrum in some fashion.)

Clarification: since liberalism is a contested term, I'm being very liberal here in the sense that answers can pick their your favorite sense of "liberal" that might make the opening statement true. I.e. this isn't a "is Y an X: true or false?" kind of question, but "since by my choice of X I'm flummoxed by this statement that, I let you chose an X for which you think this is true, but please explain your reasoning." Of course, I expect an answer to still choose an X that is not completely idiosyncratic to this question, like say X = Marxism, making the statement trivially true, but some that is verifiable use of the term outside this question. I.e., if the answer is "it's true on Fox News because of the US usage of the terms", then that's a valid answer as far as I'm concerned, although a bit boring.

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    Downvoted because the question is fundamentally unanswerable without a definition of "liberal" that we can all agree on. The word meant different things at different times, and still means different things to different people. For instance, the Wikipedia article starts out by saying "Liberals... generally support free market, free trade, limited government, individual rights... capitalism...", but most US liberals are to greater or lesser degree opposed to all of those things: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism In US discourse, their liberal is much closer to a libertarian.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 4:15
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    @jamesqf: I'm being very liberal here: you can pick your favorite sense in which Marxism is liberal in answering the question. This isn't a "is X true or false" kind of question, but "since by my choice of X I'm flummoxed by this statement, I let you chose an X for which you think this is true." Of course, I expect an answer to still choose an X that is not completely idiosyncratic to this question, like say X = Marxism, making the statement trivially true, but some X that is verifiable use of the term outside this question. Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 7:15
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    How do you define "liberal"? In the US, liberal is used to refer to left ideologies. In most European countries and the UK, liberal refers to Right-center.
    – Karlomanio
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 16:18
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    @Eike Pierstorff: And when Marxists become the ruling class, don't they use that system of deception to perpetuate themselves?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 16:30
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    @Eike Pierstorff: "Marxism as planned by Marx" should be discussed on the Fantasy & Science Fiction site. See also the various lyrics to "The Big Rock Candy Mountain".
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 19:20

6 Answers 6


Liberalism according to Marx
One reason for many fruitless debates about Marx is that one tries to discuss his work in modern terms - many of which are found in his writings, but in rather specific sense, often different from how they are used today. Capitalism, Socialism, Proletariat are just a few obvious examples.

Liberalism also meant a specific thing to Marx - he associated it with the philosophy underpinning the capitalist society in his time. Workers (proletariat) create value, but the capitalist (bourgeois) gets most of the profit, because they own the means-of-production that the workers use in their work. What gives the capitalist the right to get a share of profit from the work that they have not done? - the fact that they own the means of production (the equipment, the raw material, etc.) It is the notion of the property right codified by the liberal ideology - the ideology that protects the individual property alongside other basic individual liberties.

In this sense Marx was against liberalism. He explicitly criticizes liberals in his writings - even in the Manifesto (which predates most of his published theoretical work.) (Another useful piece of trivia: the bourgeois party in Germany in Marx' time was called Progressives, so he was against the progressives as well.)

Marx also opposed engaging in political activity on the terms set by the bourgeois society - notably his Critique of the Gotha Program explicitly attacks such activity by what was to become the Social-Democratic party of Germany.

Economic liberalism
In Europe liberalism is used to designate first of all liberalism in economic sphere, somewhat close to the Marx' original use of term. However, In the century since Marx this current somewhat merged with the aristocratic and religious currents (which were separate in the times of Marx, and quite opposed to bourgeoisie) forming what one usually labels conservatives. Marx certainly would oppose this kind of liberalism.

Social liberalism
This is how liberalism is understood today in the US - advocating freedoms for minorities, sexual freedom, defending emigrants and poor, etc. The underlying idea is however that these freedoms should be assured by the government, via regulating business, wealth redistribution, affirmative action, etc.

Marx certainly subscribed to social freedoms - even to greater extent that social liberals - e.g., he would disapprove of limiting redistribution to national borders, something considered that quite normal today, but which he would consider as nationalism. (Incidentally, this is referred to as Nationalist socialism, not to be confused with National-Socialism.)

On the other hand, this kind of socialism (more precisely, social democracy) is inherently grounded in political engagement with the ruling classes, which, as already stated above, Marx opposed, as he generally opposed the social democracy. Moreover, for Marx government was by definition an enemy - a tool of oppression by the ruling class. No solution handed down or managed by the government would suffer for him. (In the Marxist literature solutions through government intervention are referred to as statism, which is a game of words on state+ism and static.)

To summarize: Marx would disapprove of this liberalism as well.

Marx believed that the workers should take initiative and responsibility for themselves. This is sometimes referred to as Socialism-from-below as opposed to the Socialism-from-above characteristic of the totalitarian communist states and modern social democracy (see The Two Souls of Socialism.) He believed in individual self-actualization, in freedom from any interference from above, in taking the responsibility for oneself and one's own future. In this sense his liberalism is closest to... Ayn Rand!

The difference between Marx and Ayn Rand is that she considers capitalism (in the original Marxist sense) as the political and social system, in which the self-actualization of individual can be achieved. Marx didn't believe in this - his analysis led him to believe that the proletariat would spontaneously rebel against this system... but he never specified what the social order would look like after the rebellion - only that there would be no private property (though he certainly disapproved of the Communist Anarchists.)

Thus, it is fair to say that Marx never really advocated for the Communist dictatorship, as in the USSR or China or for the modern Social Democracy, with all their shortcomings. In a sense, he cannot be held responsible for their abuses. On the other hand, he never showed another way forward or even demonstrate that such a way exists - in this sense he might be held morally responsible for the "revolutionary mistakes", which resulted from the good faith attempts to implement his vision. Alternatively: the systematic failures of the various attempts to build socialism via totalitarian or democratic means might indicate the impossibility of realizing Marx ideas in practice.

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    I don't think its fair to say Marx didn't advocate explicitly for a dictatorship, he called to "create a dictatorship of the proletariat", and he explicitly laid out the conditions that produced the examples you provided in the Communist Manifesto " "4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. 5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State..."
    – meowmeow
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 17:26
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    @meowmeow you have a point here. But he never spelled the system of government, as other utopists did. He left others to make obvious conclusions from his theory, but there's always w possibility to deny that he meant it. This is unlike, Lenin, Hitler and the like, who literally implemented their own theories.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 19:01
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    @meowmeow Could you give some input on this question?
    – Morisco
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 15:07

Marxist humanism is a very liberal (in American way) interpretation of the work of Karl Marx, especially the Paris Manuscript and his early theory of alienation.

Most of the authors whose books inspired liberal 1968 student revolt self-described themselves as Marxist humanists, e.g. Herbert Marcuse or Wilhelm Reich. Their new political movement called New Left shifted Marxists' attention from class struggle towards social issues such as civil and political rights, feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, gender roles and drug policy reforms.

Freudo-Marxism borrowed from Freud the theory of conflict between the individual and civilization. Marxists attempt to liberate people by creating a non-repressive society.

Also, some liberal feminist movements are inspired by the unfinished book of Karl Marx published by Engels. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Marxism attempts to liberate people from work, culture, religion, and morality therefore it is a liberal ideology.

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    I upvoting this, but looking at the (first) Wikipedia page you linked "Marxist humanism" seems based on ignoring the latter works of Marx, especially his Capital, which most people would consider his most influential. So I think this answer is a bit misleading. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 7:36
  • Speaking of Wikipedia pages and its take on US liberalism, interestingly neither "Modern liberalism in the United States" nor "social liberalism" (which is presented as wider-world version of US liberalism) mention Marx much... There's one passing mention on each page. Another, more historically oriented page "Liberalism in the United States " doesn't mention Marx at all. Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 7:50
  • @Fizz Marxist humanists claim that there is no distinction between young and mature Marx. The critiques point out that there is a major difference. There is a mention of Marxist humanism in these articles, it's called "New Left": "advocacy for social issues such as civil and political rights, feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, gender roles and drug policy reforms." Isn't that the liberalism today?
    – obdi
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 9:30
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    Marxism attempts to liberate people from work, culture, religion, and morality therefore it is a liberal ideology. That makes no sense, we could say that of every ideology. We can say that authoritarian ideologies attempt to liberate you from choice, anarchism and libertarians liberate you from the government. Every ideology is attempting to liberate you from something but you wouldn't call them liberal
    – Luis Rico
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 12:56
  • @Luis Rico term ideology was coined by Marx and Engels. Ever since Rousseau freedom is a moral obligation. All new ideologies attempt to fix society by providing more freedom to people. Maxists after the war concluded that eventually automation will be able to provide all goods that people need, so they focused on liberating humans from oppressive society 'be your self'' being their motto. An example is 'sexual revolution', named after the book of Marxist Wilhelm Reich. If that is not liberalism then what is?
    – obdi
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 15:52

The answer to this question is one of those 'hiding in plain sight' things: obvious to the point that it's almost invisible. But to the point...

The heart of Classical Liberal theory — 16th to 18th century Liberal philosophy, from a variety of well-known thinkers — is that individual human beings have intrinsic rights and liberties that should not be transgressed upon by powerful, politically-dominant groups. First among these rights and liberties was the concept of 'property'. Classical Liberal theorists all held that government — in that era, this meant monarchies and aristocracies — was illegitimate if it unjustly taxed or otherwise expropriated the property and wealth of the then-burgeoning 'commercial' sector (financiers, economic adventurers, colonialists, early industrialists, and other wealthy commoners...). People should be able to reap the rewards of their efforts, not see their profits and property whisked away to serve the interests of nobility.

The often-overlooked point, though, is that property was generally defined (after Locke, in his second treatise on government) by the investment of labor. To Locke's mind there was a great bounty of nature which was owned by no one, and ripe for the taking. Any man who went out and began harvesting, collecting, mining, processing, or otherwise investing labor in the extraction of some portion of nature's bounty was by that very act establishing that as his property, to do with as he would. If I dig a hole in a field and find a potato, that is my potato; if I find gold that is my gold. I own those things by right of my labor.

Shift forward to the mid-19th century. The feudal landscape is well on its way out; colonialism is at its peak, with political, social, and economic power shifting to the very commoners that Classical Liberalism was trying to defend. It seems as though Liberalism has won the day. But then Marx notices something odd and unfortunate. The very people who do the physical labor of growing, manufacturing, mining, or otherwise extracting and processing the bounty of nature — i.e., the ones who by right ought to be able to claim the final product as their property, to do with as they would — are instead sent home with a wholly inadequate wage. The end product is instead claimed by industrialists and capitalists, those who fund and develop the industry, but do no other labor. To Marx's mind this 'Liberal victory' has merely supplanted one expropriator for another. The noble class no longer violates the property rights of wealthy commoners; now the financier/industrialist class violates the property rights of poor laborers. Why should laborers settle for a flat, minimal wage while capitalists take the product of the laborers' efforts and sell it for what the market will bear?

In this sense, Marx was merely developing Locke's Liberal argument to a more universal understanding of property rights. It's not as though Locke wasn't aware of or concerned by this issue — he does worry about the nature of money and the problems of collective labor — but Locke doesn't resolve that issue or offer a comprehensive solution.

Marx is clearly developing Liberal theory in the proper sense of the word. The confusion develops because the term 'Liberal' (at that time and beyond) had come to be associated with capitalism, and capitalism had developed some extremely anti-liberal, exploitive features. Further, Marx's idealized philosophy of universal rights degraded over time (and through the typical paranoia of revolutionaries) into a number of oppressive authoritarian regimes. It's difficult to see the liberal thrust of Marx's philosophy through the problematic lens of Stalinism or Maoism.

  • It's a really interesting analysis, but I don't know to what extent anyone regarded Marx as extending classical liberalism, so much as bringing its contradictions to the fore. Lots of thinkers clearly use the rubble of their predecessors as their own foundation, without inheriting the philosophical mantle.
    – Steve
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 14:09
  • @Steve: Well, I can't speak to the opinions of the general public, which are driven by various factors. But in the philosophical world we tend to define a new paradigm by the degree it breaks from the previous paradigm. The Liberal paradigm was a clear break from the monarchic/aristocratic worldview that preceded it. I'm not certain that Marxism proper is a clear enough break to constitute a new paradigm. Socialist theory (Lenin and after) might constitute a new paradigm, but Marx never wrote much about socialism; he was too focused on the intersection of class and capitalism. Commented May 31, 2023 at 14:41

A highly pessimistic liberalism

The "classic" Marxism does not recognize the possibility or at least efficiency of any means that capitalists could use to prevent the self-destructive processes of the completely unregulated (hence fully liberal) economy. Marxism assumes that economy is always fully liberal, it cannot be any different and all efforts to add something different to it are mostly for propaganda only. Maybe the society looked like this when Marx and Engels were writing they first works.

In short, at least from they "Manifest" looks like capitalists "naturally" will get richer and richer while the working class be more and more pure, until the working class will more or less have nothing to eat so will be forced to do something about the current social order.

As a deviation from the positive liberalism, Marxism also assumes that free market is unable to stabilize the conditions of the working class. If the salary drops below the minimum that is required to sustain the life, the number of workers will not decline softly and peacefully, forcing to raise the salary and getting the job market balanced. Instead, workers with accept the salary offered for the short time and then the social explosion (they write exactly "explosion" in the Manifest) will follow.

  • There might be a problem definition wise in the sense, that afaik capitalism is DEFINED as the completely unregulated economy where capital becomes this social power. Also capitalists might not be a dedicated group of people but a role in that system, so trying to prevent that would not save capitalism but make them cease to be capitalists. Also it's self-desctructive because to those in the role of capitalists the de-regulation of the economy is beneficial, look how libertarians vow to cut regulations reduce taxes even if the state stabilizes the system that the economy relies on.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:42
  • Though with your idea that it's unlikely for society to explode like a nuke (to stay in your picture) that is the explosive material is compressed forms a critical mass and then detonates in an enormous fashion. Unless catalyzed by a particular event it's more likely that the pressure increases slowly and that means to decrease it are being taken or that it's a dirty bomb where only parts of society explode while the rest stays inert.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:47
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    Marx does not promise the great economy if the main rules of Liberalism are followed, but claims instead these are impossible not to follow and it will lead inevitably into revolution.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 15:54
  • That kinda depends on how you define "great economy" and "rules of liberalism". Capitalists would probably boast about numbers and peak developments, while opponents would criticize that individual liberty in the economic and social sphere is severely lacking due to the vast inequality and that even a raised general standard of living does a) not apply to all and b) does not help to mitigate that problem, but rather increases it. The rich live in the future and have the means to shape it while the poor live in the past and have to take what's left.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 10:18
  • So yeah this talk about inevitability of certain progressions, the absolute necessity of a revolution and the idea of actual capitalism (complete deregulation), are probably symptoms of the time that Marx lived in. That being said it's not entirely false that there are aspects of the mode of production that gears towards capitalism. And the social classes following from this economic production, have indeed changed very little despite massive technological advancements.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 10:22


Marx is one of the most polarizing figures in modern history: some people revere him as an essential philosophical voice for building a better world, others detest him as a disingenuous leech who's failed social ideas have led to considerable death and destruction. As with most things that are polarizing, the answer is somewhere in between. Most people who invoke Marx probably have done little to no research on the individual and likely have read none of his work. To understand what Marx believed, we need to lean on his writing directly. The following is an excerpt from his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,

Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man;

Marx believed that communism was the final state of the transcendence of man into a higher order of being. What makes communism the final state of transcendence for Marx? How does Marx define communism? Fortunately for us, Marx is often known as the father of communism and outlined his vision for it with Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto (1848),

The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few. In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.

Marx and Engels frequently describe communism in terms of class conflict, specifically bourgeoisie vs proletariat. Bourgeois generally refers to the capitalist in this context, which according to Marx and Engels:

To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.

Marx believed that every form of society is based on the antagonism of oppressed classes and oppressor classes. Oppressor classes will oppress up to a certain point so as not to create a revolution. Oppressors give generously to the oppressed only to serve their interest and maintain their position in the ruling class. The capitalist will siphon so much of the fruit of the laborers until the laborer becomes a pauper, and that the pauperism will increase much more quickly that industry can create wealth. Marx and Engles state that the oppressor class is unfit to rule, because it is too incompetent to maintain a sustainable state of existence for the oppressed.

Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.

Marx and Engles do not say that this arrangement is bad because the oppressed are being oppressed, its bad because the oppressors are not generous enough to sustain the oppressed while living off their labor. Marx believed that the solution would be for the laborers of society to awaken their class consciousness and revolt against the bourgeoisie. The process of awakening the proletariat, would be to relentlessly attack every aspect of the existing society until there is enough support to tear it down and begin anew.

To Marx, this process of tearing down society and building anew would be an ongoing and continuing process of rebuilding society, destroying it, rebuilding, until ultimately society becomes communist. The prescription for starting this journey to Marx and Engles would be:

Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable. 1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. 2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. 3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance. 4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. 5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State. 7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan. 8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. 9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country. 10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

People tend to think of communism in the economic sense primarily or with regard to the authoritarian regimes of the Soviet Union, PRC, etc. However, to Marx this economic sense seems to be slightly inaccurate. To Marx, communism was the ultimate transcendence of man; The economic prescription is merely designed to help materialize this state of man.

Let's continue this thread with his 1844 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, “man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. ” To Marx, man creates society that in turns creates man. It should be clear that his goal to reshape society is primarily intended to reshape the man within it first, as the lever that subsequently shapes society. Returning to the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being—a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man—the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution. (pp. 96–97)

We can see that Marx's vision of communism is clearly Utopian. He describes communism as a state where all conflict between man and other man and nature is resolved. Another interesting note here is that he alludes to man is a social being and that is what makes man human; Communism is a complete return of man to human to Marx. The economic and political baggage that typically accompanies communism is not actually communism by the definition of its founders. These things are simply tools to accelerate the Utopian state of communism from materializing in man.

Marx wanted man to reach the ultimate state of transcendence and to reach this state of transcendence, because what makes man human is society, all aspects of existing society must be constantly destroyed and renewed until transcendence is attained. To speed up this attainment, all things that recreate the existing culture must be targeted. What communism is exactly is not actually defined in much detail by Marx, even in The Communist Manifesto. Marx envisioned this state as a classless society where laborers received the full output of their labor and public power ceased to commingle with political power because political power ultimately ceases to exist. To be Marxist in the modern sense, is to generalize these principles and apply them to various causes. While Marx believed that society should ultimately be classless, he did prescribe a society on its journey to transcendence with at least two classes: State and non-State. There is certainly a power dynamic that has an opportunity to manifest here. In fact, considering that Marx has reduced society into what are opposing power dynamics of oppressed vs oppressor and that those who share his vision tend to view society in the same way, you might say its entirely predictable that State control would become oppressive; In fact, it would probably be desirable for those who share his vision for this to occur. If the State becomes oppressive, it will eventually expand and assimilate everything into itself which sets the stage for man to finally transcend. If the State is a part of everything and everything is 'public' then political power can finally decouple from public power because now that everything is public there is no need for petty political squabbles or politics at all. Real communism would require State control of everything and everyone to work for the State across the globe, which would require a global State. Real communism, based on this vision, is ultimately oppressive by design. This as a system that oppressively forces compliance and conformity to such a degree that it molds everyone who can be molded to fit within it. Those who cannot be molded are to be at best suppressed and 'reformed', and at worst discarded. The power to oppress unilaterally is granted to the State and who to oppress for what purpose is solely within the purview of the state. This is by design to reorient the power structures of society and elevate the proletariat to become oppressors until the bourgeois class has lost all the generational power it has accumulated and to create a society that does not generate future bourgeois classes. Marx states that only the proletariat who have been awakened can adequately recognize the world from the oppressed position, therefore only those who have been awakened are equipped to judge what is oppressive. The State shall be taken over by the awakened for the good of the oppressed class and grant itself the sole power to oppress in order to correct the injustice of the former oppressors, destroy all artifacts of the oppressor's culture and society, and create a new culture and society in the image of the oppressed. Since only those who have been awakened are equipped to judge, naturally those are the individuals who shall lead the new State and define the renewed culture and society.

Marxist thought can be summed up then as the following: 1. Society is a class struggle between oppressed classes and oppressor classes. 2. Society and culture generate humanity, and Society and Culture are generated by men. Change the man to change the society which changes future men. 3. All aspects of society must be continually destroyed and rebuilt to ultimately achieve a state of transcendence. 4. Anything that regenerates the existing society (capital) must be targeted: Inheritance, private property, public education, whiteness, patriarchy, the normal etc. 5. The State must consume all aspects of production, society, and culture. 6. Those who are awakened to the class struggles are the only ones equipped to lead this State. 7. The oppressors must be oppressed until they have paid appropriate penance for being part of the oppressor class as determined by the awakened.


Liberalism, in contrast, is typically understood as the foundation of Western Societies. In general Liberalism refers to an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms over the collective. The emphasis on individual rights is so pronounced that the preeminent English jurist William Blackstone wrote,"[B]etter that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.". Benjamin Franklin later echoed this sentiment, saying "That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.". This phrase was also similarly worded by Voltaire and ultimately has its roots in Jewish biblical tradition. The core principle is that destroying the freedom of a single innocent person is one of the most abhorrent things that can be done. The freedom of that single person, is more important than the net good that punishing 100 guilty people would offer.

The preamble of the American Declaration of Independence echoes these principles:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security

Liberalism, as generally understood, is a political and moral philosophy based on the rights of the individual, liberty, consent of the governed, political equality and equality before the law. In the American Liberal tradition, the government is considered a necessary evil that exists to protect the innocent people who operate in society in good faith from those who wish to victimize them: The government, in other words, exists to protect the individual rights of the citizens so that they may self actualize and pursue what makes them happy. To this end the founders defined a government with limited power that specifically enumerates what it is allowed to do. This hearkens back to the English Magna Carta which limited the power of the monarchy for the betterment of the English citizenry. The American founders largely envisioned a society where citizens were empowered and politically active in their localities and were predominantly self-governed, because a large all-encompassing State will ultimately destroy individual Liberty. Thus, Liberalism requires a responsibility for communities to self-govern. When the citizens abdicate this responsibility to the State, it must become oppressive to a degree to be effective. Benjamin Franklin was clearly opposed to this abdication of responsibility (similar ideas were echoed by Sam Adams, Benjamin Rush, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc.) in this regard: "A republic if you can keep it.". The indication is clear that it is the responsibility of the citizens to maintain the state and purpose of the government.

Another Ben Franklin quote with a similar position: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." This quote offers two ideas, the first is that Liberty is a trade-off with Security and that Liberty should be prioritized. The other is that this quote has to do with money. The founders generally believed that Liberty stems from property rights. English common law is also a testament to the importance of property rights in Liberal societies. George Mason writes,

All men have certain inherent natural rights of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

James Madison writes,

The term property in its particular application means that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in the exclusion of every other individual. In its larger and more just meaning, it embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and has a right and which leaves everyone else like advantage. In the former sense, a man’s land or merchandise or money is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has property in his opinions and free communication of them. He has a property of particular value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights

John Adams writes, “[p]roperty must be secured or liberty cannot exist."

Madison again, “Government is instituted no less for the protection of property than the persons of individuals.”

Clearly, and unequivocally, Liberalism (in the American tradition, at the very least) considers property rights an essential component of Liberty and the purpose of the State is to protect an individuals property rights.

Marxism vs Liberalism

Marxism clearly contrasts Liberalism in meaningful ways and in a technical sense, Marxism is actually Anti-Liberal. Marx calls specifically for the abolition of private property, while Liberalism views private property as a primary component of individual Liberty. Marx sought to use the State to confiscate the capital of the Bourgeoisie and 'return' it to the Proletariat. This is directly antagonistic to the Liberal value of the State existing to protect private property. Suggesting otherwise, is bastardizing the idea of property and labor itself. People who wish to conflate the ideas suggest that because you are forcing the Bourgeoisie to return what rightfully belongs to the Proletariat, it is Liberal because the government is protecting the property (labor) of the workers. The workers trade their labor for some form of compensation in a mutual agreement with those who have contracted labor. This is the backbone of every Liberal functioning economy and productive society. You own your labor, you choose what that labor is and who to rent it to. This is the Liberal perspective. You don't get to use the State to confiscate the capital that the people you rented your labor to skillfully accumulated. That's unequivocally illiberal. This becomes even more clear with Marx's prescriptions: "Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels." Don't like how the State operates, your property is confiscated. You move, all your belongings go to the State. You die, your kids get nothing: "Abolition of all rights of inheritance." The more you have, the more the State takes: "heavy progressive or graduated income tax."

The distinctions become even more obvious in contrast with the Liberal positions of a limited government with enumerated powers at the consent of the governed.

"5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State. 7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan."

The State claims oversight of your movement, finances, and labor under Marx's prescription.

Marx's vision of Communism is the ultimate transcendence of man where class distinctions cease to be necessary (Capitalist/Laborer in his vision, abstracted to other classes today). This is fundamentally illiberal. If people are free to choose their own path in life and how they self-actualize, you will see more distinctions appear between people as freedom increases. More choices = more paths in life = more potential outcomes. You will also see more evolution in ideas because people will be more free to explore and be creative. Marx's vision, while aimed at leveling the working class playing field, actually does the opposite in reality. It's a fundamentally oppressive idea by design, and Marx's prescriptions for attaining Communist transcendence explicitly call for suppression and oppression of privileged classes at the direction of the awakened.

Marx is considered the father of Communism, even a cursory analysis of the societies that adopted the ideology provide more than enough evidence to prove without a doubt it is incompatible with Liberalism. Every single Communist society crushes individual rights for the "good" of the collective society as directed by the Communist leadership. The previous century offered more than enough actual evidence of this than humanity should have the stomach for, yet here we are.

Marxism can exist comfortably in a Liberal society only because of the fundamental individual rights Liberalism offers, however Marxism is fundamentally Anti-Liberal at any reasonable analytical depth though his intentions may have been egalitarian.

  • "Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement". English is not my native language, but even I can tell you that the "transcendence" in this sentence does NOT refer to man but to "private property" which is further characterized as "human self-estrangement". Also how come you do not further articulate the relation of said private property given how central it is? Same for the class struggle text, while class struggle is a central terminology your interpretation is unrelated to the very text you quote and completely unrelated to Marx...
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 10:36
  • Thanks for the down-vote. In this sentence "Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement", Communism is the solution to private property as the source of human estrangement. Therefore, transcendence refers not to property, but to man. Marx clearly reiterates this in multiple other texts. Here's an example: "communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social" this obviously implies an event where man is transformed. There are multiple other quotes from his work that state the same thing in a different way.
    – meowmeow
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 14:22
  • Marx believed that the transcendence brought by Communism is a change in man where he has evolved beyond the desire or need for all forms of private property. That quote is simply another example of such sentiment.
    – meowmeow
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 14:24
  • Also in terms of liberalism, the U.S. and property rights the track record is not great and seldom "voluntary". Starting with proponents of liberalism being involved in (settlers and imperialist) colonialism/genocide/enslavement or how Madison was a slave owner. And how the U.S. fought a civil war over attempts to continue denying people their individual rights and and liberties citing property rights established and maintained by the state. So if these rights are universal the U.S. is an abject failure for most of it's history, if they are just privilleges than is it even an ideology?
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 14:24
  • Abject failure? Hardly. There are cases where these principles were not applied in US history, however on the balance it has been far more positive than the 100MM dead at the hands of Communist dictators who still enslave their populations.
    – meowmeow
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 14:25

The fundamental goal of the enlightenment and of the liberalism following it is the liberation of the individual from paternalism and oppression. People were encouraged to think for themselves and have a right to demand positive and negative freedoms rather than a necessity to be subservient to an oppressor. Now philosophers like Kant have argued with their categorical imperative that this should be a universal right.

However as hinted about in the first paragraph that leads to a very fundamental problem with liberalism. In that coming from a background of a movement resisting oppression, there's often unsurprisingly little restrictions made on individual liberties. On the contrary, why should you restrict yourself if you already are restricted by someone else, it's their "job" (and they shouldn't do it anyway) not yours. Some even go so far and make resistance a duty and oppression the failure of the oppressed rather than an act of malevolence of the oppressor.

And if you haven't guessed it by now many of these so called proponents of "liberty" ended up being oppressors, despots and tyrants themselves often enough putting the blame of their oppression on the oppressed. Whether that's their involvement in colonialism, racism, sexism, various forms of slavery and exploitation not based on the former, ... or their realization that the struggle all-vs-all often doesn't actually lead to the desired equalization of power and privilege, but rather to mass brutality and an might-makes-right tyranny, upon which they again threw themselves at the next best dictator to save them from the "tyranny of democracy".

But setting aside the blatant hypocrisy within liberalism, there's nonetheless the often genuine ideal of freedom and equality of true anarchism without master, slaves, gods or states that hold the individual small. Regardless of how lacking the implementations there are genuine ideas of republics where the country is not owned by a ruler but property of a community of people organizing themselves. And democracies where the organization within such a community is on the basis of equality rather than hierarchy and oppression.

So the political struggle of all parties not just preoccupied with their own privilege or buying into the conservative narrative that one should return to a "just hierarchy" is basically how these liberal ideal are to be realized.

How to ensure the freedom of the individual from oppression without allowing the individual to BE the oppressor, how to regulate the coexistence without being an authority oneself. Should it be an open struggle between equal participants? But are the participants equal or isn't this game already massively rigged? A perpetual competition of needs, demands and desires? But what if someone actually wins it? Could the gap between currently existing classes be bridged within the given system? Like does the system itself even allow for that? Can it be top down or is it counter-productive if people are educated and coerced into how to be free and self-reliant. Can it be bottom-up without people just taking over and replacing the actors but not the system?

These are not questions that can be answer straight forward and there are a lot of people who added their 2 cents and Marx was one of them. He had ideas that are very different from other liberals but given his stated goals he nonetheless was inspired by that goal.

PS: Though that refers largely to Marx himself. When it comes to "Marxism" and most notably "Leninism" and "Marxism-Leninism" (Stalinism) the thing is already getting more complicated. Because where Marx apparently envisioned a mass movement being power, Lenin went back to a Vanguard party seizing power. The soviets turned from spontaneous self-organized bottom-up organization (in councils = soviets), to a top-down dictatorship. The individual is no longer the maker of the revolution but rather seen as a roadblock to it, if they put their own well being over the joined struggle to achieve better conditions. And as such these concepts can take on very illiberal ideas, totalitarianism, surveillance state, indoctrination, cults of personality and despite the nominal change in ownership the effect of it was probably negligible for most workers.

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