Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry based upon a materialist interpretation of historical development, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis of class-relations within society and their application in the analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. In the mid-to-late 19th century, the intellectual development of Marxism was pioneered by two German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxist analyses and methodologies have influenced multiple political ideologies and social movements throughout history. Marxism encompasses an economic theory, a sociological theory, a philosophical met and a revolutionary view of social change. There is no one definitive Marxist theory; Marxist analysis has been applied to a variety of different subjects and has been modified during the course of its development so that there are multiple Marxist theories.
Marxism is based on a materialist understanding of societal development, taking at its starting point the necessary economic activities required by human society to provide for its material needs. The form of economic organization, or mode of production, is understood to be the basis from which the majority of other social phenomena — including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology — arise (or at the least by which they are greatly influenced). These social relations form the superstructure, for which the economic system forms the base. As the forces of production (most notably technology) improve, existing forms of social organization become inefficient and stifle further progress. These inefficiencies manifest themselves as social contradictions in the form of class struggle.
According to Marxist analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises due to intensifying contradictions between highly-productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and private appropriation of the surplus product in the form of surplus value (profit) by a small minority of private owners called the bourgeoisie. As the contradiction becomes apparent to the proletariat, social unrest between the two antagonistic classes intensifies, culminating in a social revolution. The eventual long-term outcome of this revolution would be the establishment of socialism – a socioeconomic system based on cooperative ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one’s contribution, and production organized directly for use. Karl Marx hypothesized that, as the productive forces and technology continued to advance, socialism would eventually give way to a communist stage of social development. Communism would be a classless, stateless, moneyless society based on common ownership and the principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.
Marxism has developed into different branches and schools of thought. Different schools place a greater emphasis on certain aspects of Classical Marxism while de-emphasizing or rejecting other aspects of Marxism, sometimes combining Marxist analysis with non-Marxian concepts. Some variants of Marxism primarily focus on one aspect of Marxism as the determining force in social development – such as the mode of production, class, power-relationships or property ownership – while arguing other aspects are less important or current research makes them irrelevant. Despite sharing similar premises, different schools of Marxism might reach contradictory conclusions from each other. For example, different Marxian economists have contradictory explanations of economic crisis and different predictions for the outcome of such crises. Furthermore, different variants of Marxism apply Marxist analysis to study different aspects of society (e.g: mass culture, economic crises, or Feminism).
These theoretical differences have led various socialist and communist parties and political movements to embrace different political strategies for attaining socialism, advocate different programs and policies. One example of this is the division between revolutionary socialists and reformists that emerged in the German Social Democratic Party during the early 20th century.
Marxist understandings of history and of society have been adopted by academics in the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociological theory, art history and art theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology, and philosophy.