Karl Marx work is a dystopia. Dystopia represents a deplorable way of life where the conditions of living are characterized by misery, injustice, poverty and violence. The members of such a society dream of improving their lives and are engaged in constant struggle with the ruling class. The reverse of dystopia is utopia where life is generally good.
Most dystopias regulate the lives of their citizens by imposing undue restrictions on their social life. The society is usually classified into different classes with relatively low or no chances of upward social mobility. Upward social mobility refers to the ability to move up the social ladder into a higher social grouping. In a typical dystopia however, the only state is the only social group. The activities of the society are therefore strictly regulated by the government at different levels. In addition, the state and religion are inseparable. Dystopia also does not recognize the concept of family and nature; the societies are strictly urban. Generally, in a dystopia the state has undue control over the economy and politics.
To begin with, Karl Marx expressly states that from the ancient times society has always been grouped into classes which he refers to as a complicated arrangement of society into various orders. In ancient Rome, society was grouped into patricians, knights, plebeians and slaves while in the middle Ages there were feudal lords, vassals, guild masters, journeymen, apprentices and serfs (Marx & Engels, 1969).
In modern day, the society is classified into two groups; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the owners of the means of production while the proletariat having no means of production, are the workers. The two classes are engaged in bitter rivalry as the proletariat are oppressed and treated inhumanely by the bourgeoisie. According to Marx, the situation can only correct itself if the proletariats take control of the state organs through a revolution. These together with other examples that will be discussed in the paper demonstrate how Karl Marx views society as a dystopia.
Karl Marx work demonstrates at least four dystopia situations. First, he heavily criticizes the bourgeoisie as taking the place occupied by the lords in ancient societies. The bourgeoisie present themselves as the reformists of society while in actual sense they oppress the proletariat. The government, he states, is just but a committee of the bourgeoisie and acts to advance their interests. The bourgeoisie have established free trade which according to Marx is blatant exploitation veiled in political and religious illusions (Marx & Engels, 1969).
The bourgeoisie has developed unprecedented productive forces in the history of mankind. They have subjected nature to man through the advancement of science and developed machinery which has led to the establishment of great industries. This is seen as being beneficial to the society in general as more jobs have been created for the proletariat. However, in actual sense this only enhances exploitation. The proletariat continues to exchange their labor for income and their employment is guaranteed if their labor leads to an increase in the means of production. The failure to which translates to the loss of their jobs. In addition, the ruling class has stripped noble occupations such as law and medicine of their honor by turning them into mere means of earning a living. Members of such professions are therefore no longer bound by the integrity required of such professions. Instead, they put their personal interests before their work and perceive their well being as being paramount to the well being of the society (Marx & Engels, 1969).
Karl Marx also dismisses the concept of family. The family, defined as the basic unit of society, is a mere instrument of trade. The bourgeoisie family is founded on capital gain and private interest. On the other hand, in essence there is no family among the proletariat. The existence of the bourgeoisie family is determined by the continued existence of the proletariat family. The proletariats by offering their labor ensure provide regeneration for the capital employed by the bourgeoisie. This is explains why Marx views labor as being more important than capital as in the absence of labor, capital alone cannot bring forth additional capital. If the proletariat family is extinguished then the bourgeoisie family is also extinguished as this represents the beginning of the death of capital. Therefore, the family exists as long as capital exists.
In the bourgeoisie society, capital exists autonomously and has individuality. On the other hand, the individual is dependent and has no individuality. Capital is accorded preferential treatment as it is only through capital that the existence of society is guaranteed. The bourgeoisie society therefore considers the living labor as a means of increasing the accumulated labor. The ruling class therefore invents ways of expanding the existing population in preparation of future labor demands. The individual only exists because capital exists; in the absence of capital the individual has no place or meaning in society. This explains the exploitation of labor in capitalistic societies. The only reprieve for the laborer is the trade unions which fight to ensure that the worker is paid an equitable remuneration based on his or her work.
In the current society, only nine tenths of the society is accorded the right to private property. This means that the accumulated wealth of the entire society in the hands of a few individuals. Marx uses this to justify the abolition of the right to private property through communism (Marx & Engels, 1969). This illustrates another instance of dystopia as those who do not own property are engaged in continuous labor for the owners of the means of production. This can only be corrected by a classless society where equity and fairness are the underlying principles.
On the other hand, Marx work also constitutes of utopian elements. To begin with, the ideal society according to him is not stratified into classes. There are no owners of the means of production and there are no laborers. The society is controlled by the state which constitutes of the proletariat. All the members of the society are committed to the state and work together for the common good of the society (Marx & Engels, 1969). Society is based on equity as all its members are accorded similar treatment by the law. This to a very great extent is impractical.
The impracticability of Marx’s proposition is well demonstrated by the fact that no two single individuals are similar in society. There are those with great ambitions and not easily satisfied with what they have already achieved no matter how great. On the other hand there are those individuals who are easily contended and do not harbor extreme ambitions. These two individuals cannot coexist peacefully in a communist setting. Capitalism on the other hand enhances competition and the private ownership of property. Through competition, society receives its equal share of talent and is able to advance immensely. This is seen as one of the major benefits of capitalism as much as it is criticized for the inequalities that prevail in society. This can nevertheless be remedied by adopting a mix of capitalism and socialism in society.
Marx’s suggestion that politics and economics should be ideally in the hands of the government is utopic. To begin with, due to the massive resources at its disposal, any government even that with noble intentions is bound to become authoritarian. Secondly, society will never be totally gratified with the government even if it does its best to serve all the needs of its people. This therefore means that the government can only serve the people well if it exists through a system of checks and balances. This ensures that into does not deteriorate into authoritarianism. Mechanisms must also be developed to replace any government that is deemed to no longer be relevant. The easiest way to do this is through frequent free and fair elections. This ensures that the masses have a say in the manner in which they are governed. However, as has been seen in the past, most communist governments tend to be authoritarian with little regard for human rights especially those who are seen to be opposed to them.
Marx, K. & Engels, F. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Marx/Engels selected works. Progress Publishers, Moscow. 1969.