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Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung) 1893-1976. Born in the Hunan province of south central China; Mao’s father was a poor peasant who became rich from trading in grain. Mao helped to form the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921. He led the Long March (1934-35) to Yanan where, after the collapse of the Japanese army, he defeated the Nationalists and proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As ‘Chairman Mao’ he instituted the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-59) and the Cultural Revolution (which was at its height from 1966-68 but lasted several more years). After Mao’s death in 1976 there was a power struggle within the CCP, starting with the putting down of the ‘Gang of Four’ (which included Mao’s widow). (See also CHINA; MAOISM.)


J. Halliday & J. Chang, Mao: The Unknown Story, 2005

Mao online:


Maoism. This term is never used in China or by its supporters elsewhere. What is called ‘the thought of Mao Zedong’ is a synthesis of Leninism, China’s economic backwardness and Chinese philosophy.

Mao was basically a peasant revolutionary. At the time of the Chinese revolution (1949) the great majority of the population were peasants. Mao believed that the peasantry were discontented enough to be the agency of China’s capitalist revolution. In his Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan (1927), Mao admitted that the coming revolution would not be socialist: ‘To overthrow these feudal forces is the real objective of the revolution’.

His argument, derived from Lenin, was that capitalist development could be quickly telescoped into a ‘socialist’ society. Mao administered China’s capitalist industrialisation on the basis of a predominantly peasant population, combating the resulting contradictions (class struggles) with a state bureaucracy under strict CCP control and attempting to justify this by drawing on various elements of eastern philosophies. In On Contradiction (1937), Mao argued that class struggles would continue within a ‘socialist’ society and that the subjective will of the masses could overcome objective obstacles to economic development.

The key role assigned to the peasantry has meant that Maoism has been widely used as an ideology of peasant revolution in Third World countries. (See also CHINA; MAO.)


Brantly Womack, The Foundations of Mao Zedong’s Political Thought, 1982



Marx, Karl Heinrich (1818-1883). Born in Trier, south-west Germany, Marx was the son of a lawyer and raised as a Protestant Christian. He was a student at Bonn and Berlin universities before taking his Doctorate at Jena in the philosophy of science in ancient Greek philosophy. At Berlin he had come under the influence of Hegel’s philosophy. Marx was briefly but actively involved with the Young Hegelian movement which produced a radical liberal critique of religion and Prussian autocracy. Marx then took up journalism, and at some point in late 1843 to early 1844 he became a communist while living in Paris. Marx set out his new ideas, for self-clarification, in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). Just before he was expelled from Paris for being a subversive Marx had met Engels for the first time.

In Brussels, Marx and Engels sought to ‘settle accounts’ with their ‘former philosophical conscience’, Hegelian philosophy, and in so doing established the basic principles of their materialist theory of history in The German Ideology (1845). After being initially impressed with the anarchist Proudhon, Marx launched an attack with The Poverty of Philosophy (1846), his first published work. As a member of the Communist League, Marx wrote their Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). After being journalistically involved in the revolutions of 1848, Marx and his family moved to London. There he wrote two analyses of the 1848 revolutions: The Class Struggles in France (1850) and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851).

During the 1850s Marx intensified his study of political economy, courtesy of the British Museum Library. His main source of income during this period was Engels; but though often in dire poverty Marx was not the idle sponger he is sometimes made out to be. Marx was in fact a journalist for twenty years and was twice a newspaper editor (Rheinische Zeitung, 1842-3, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 1848-9). He wrote about 700 articles (many quite lengthy) up to 1862 when he gave up journalism.

The first result of Marx’s study in Britain of political economy came in a manuscript first published in 1941 under the title Grundrisse (Outlines). In 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy was published. This contains a Preface in which Marx gave a summary of the ‘general result’ which served as a ‘guiding thread’ for his empirical studies; and this Preface also contains the only auto-biographical account of Marx’s intellectual development we have. In 1865 Marx delivered a report to the General Council of the First International, later published as a pamphlet under the title Value, Price and Profit, arguing against the view that higher wages cannot improve the lot of the working class. In 1867 volume 1 of Capital (subtitled: A Critique of Political Economy) was published; volumes 2 and 3 were edited for publication posthumously by Engels.

As well as Marx’s theoretical concerns, moreover, he was a political activist. He was deeply involved in the First International, serving on its General Council from 1864 to 1872. After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, Marx became notorious through his defence of the Commune in The Civil War in France (1871). He corresponded with socialists world-wide but, for the last several years of his life, Marx’s health had deteriorated to the point where political work was impossible.

It is from Marx and Engels that we get that body of thought known as ‘Marxism’. This comprises the labour theory of value, the materialist theory of history and the political theory of the class struggle. These are tools of analysis, which have been further developed and modified by socialists, to explain how the working class are exploited under capitalism and how world socialism will be the emancipation of our class. The validity of Marx’s theories is independent of Marx the man. Nonetheless, criticisms of Marx have been made because of the misinterpretations and distortions of Marxism that have occurred in the twentieth century. (See also ENGELS; MARXISM.)


Marx online:

Francis Wheen, Das Kapital, 2006

Francis Wheen, Karl Marx: A Life, 1999


Marxism. The socialist theory formulated by Marx and Engels and further developed by socialists. Marx regarded himself as having given expression, in theory, to a movement that was already going on; it was the direct product of the recognition of the class struggle and the anarchy of production in capitalist society. Socialist theory arose in opposition to capitalism, but expressed itself in terms of already existing ideas. Marx’s close collaborator, Engels, identified three intellectual trends that they were able to draw upon:

  • Utopian socialism (Fourier, St. Simon, Owen)

  • German philosophy (Hegel, the Young Hegelians)

  • Classical political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo)

Socialist theory was a critical blending together of these three tendencies in the light of the actual class struggle.

The utopian socialists provided a constructive criticism of capitalism (its private property, competitiveness, etc.) and some interesting ideas about the possibilities of socialism (dissolving the distinction between town and country, individual self-development, etc.). But, lacking an adequate understanding of the class nature of society and social change, they were unable to see socialism as anything other than an ideal society, one that could have been established at any time. What was needed was a politics that acknowledged the class struggle.

An adequate theory of society and social change is what Marx was to contribute to socialist theory, providing it with a scientific basis. Hegelian philosophy tried to explain history, law, political institutions and so on, in terms of the development of ideas. Marx inverted this method and argued that the explanation lay not in the development of ideas, but in the development of social classes and their material conditions of life. Marx’s method for studying the general process of historical change is called the materialist conception of history.

By 1844 Marx had become a socialist and had reached the conclusion that the anatomy of ‘civil society’ (i.e. capitalism) was to be sought in political economy, in economics. Marx studied the classics of British political economy, Adam Smith and particularly David Ricardo. In Ricardo’s labour theory of value the value of a commodity was said to be determined by the amount of labour used in producing it. Profits, according to some of Ricardo’s followers, represented the unpaid labour of the workers; and so it was said that workers were not paid their full value and were cheated by their employers. Marx’s version of the labour theory of value explained exploitation, not by the capitalists cheating the workers, but as the natural result of the workings of the capitalist market. Marx pointed out that what the workers sold to the capitalists was not their labour, but their labour power; workers sell their skills, but have to surrender the entire product to the employer. Workers are exploited even though we are generally paid the full value of what we have to sell. Marx produced a theory of how the capitalist economy functioned which is still broadly acceptable today.

The Socialist Party has further developed Marx’s theories, and has made plain where it disagrees with Marx. We do not endorse Marx’s ideas regarding struggles for national liberation, minimum reform programmes, labour vouchers and the lower stage of communism. On some of these points the Socialist Party does not reject what Marx advocated in his own day, but rejects their applicability to socialists now. There are other issues upon which the Socialist Party might appear to be at variance with Marx, but is in fact only disputing distortions of Marx’s thinking. For example, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is usually understood in its Leninist interpretation. Indeed, it is a tragedy of world-historical proportions that Marx has been Leninized; what is basically a method of social analysis with a view to taking informed political action by the working class, has had its name put to a state ideology of repression of the working class. Instead of being known as a tool for working class self-emancipation, we have had the abomination of ‘Marxist states’.

Undeterred by these developments, the Socialist Party has made its own contributions to socialist theory whilst combating distortions of Marx’s ideas. In the light of all the above, the three main Marxist theories can be restated as:

  • The political theory of class struggle

  • The materialist theory of history

  • The labour theory of value

Marxism is not only a method for criticising capitalism; it also points to the alternative. Marxism explains the importance to the working class of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use and the means for establishing it. And while it is desirable that socialist activists should acquaint themselves with the basics of Marxism, it is absolutely essential that a majority of workers have a working knowledge of how capitalism operates and what the change to socialism will mean. (See also CLASS STRUGGLE; ENGELS; HISTORY; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE; MARX; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


Terrell Carver (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Marx, 1991 (online at:

Keith Graham, Karl Marx, Our Contemporary: Social Theory for a Post-Leninist World, 1992

Marxism online:


Materialism. In philosophy this is the view that everything that exists is, or at least depends upon, matter. Socialists can agree with that proposition, but then again so can many anti-socialists. In Marx’s theory of history materialism is usually referred to in a somewhat different sense. Marx called his theory the materialist conception of history, and he never used the terms ‘historical materialism’ (Engels’ term) or ‘dialectical materialism’ (Plekhanov’s term). In The German Ideology (1845), Marx had stated the materialist principles that were to serve as a guiding thread for his research: living people, their activities and their physical conditions of life. It is in this practical sense of the word (not in its acquisitive sense) that socialists are materialists in their outlook. (See also HISTORY; IDEALISM.)


Z.A. Jordan, The Origins of Dialectical Materialism, 1967

(online at:

Anton Pannekoek, Materialism And Historical Materialism, 1942

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Means of production. Land, factories, railways, offices, communications, etc. A mode (or system) of production is constituted by its forces and relations of production. The forces of production in capitalism include means of production and labour power. (See also FORCES OF PRODUCTION; RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION.)


Monetarism. A capitalist economic theory which holds that increases in the ‘money supply’ cause inflation. Indeed, persistent inflation is always a question of the ‘money supply,’ defined precisely as the supply of currency (notes and coins). Monetarists, however, usually include bank deposits in their definition of ‘money supply’. This is absurd since it attributes to banks the ability to create new purchasing power, whereas all they can do is redistribute existing purchasing power from their depositors to their borrowers. Only the central state can create new purchasing power, in the form of more currency.

The emergence of monetarism in the 1970s can be largely attributed to Milton Friedman. He has wrongly labelled Karl Marx a monetarist: ‘Let me inform you that among my fellow Monetarists were Karl Marx’ (Observer, 26.9.82).

Marx explained inflation on the basis of his labour theory of value. With convertibility (into gold) the price level is determined by the total amount of gold in circulation. Although prices rise and fall according to market conditions, there is no inflation (a sustained increase in the general price level). But with inconvertibility the required level of currency is determined by the total amount of commodities in circulation. If there is an issue of currency in excess of this amount, prices rise.

Of course, capitalism without inflation, as in the nineteenth century, no more solves working class problems than does capitalism with inflation, as in the years since the end of the Second World War. (See also INFLATION; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS.)


History of Economic Thought, on Monetarism:


Money. Historically, money developed on the basis of private property and the exchange of commodities. Money can function as a means of exchange, a measure of value, a general equivalent, a standard of price, a store of value.


Samezo Kuruma, Marx's Theory of the Genesis of Money, 2008


Morality. The rules which ought to govern human behaviour. Socialists are indignant about the effects of capitalism on people and the environment. However, the case for socialism is not grounded in morality but in material class interests. Marxism reveals, as no other theory can, how capitalism came into being, what its dynamics are, why it must exploit and what it must be replaced with. Morality does not exist in a timeless social and economic vacuum; the current (basically liberal) notions of rights, obligations, justice, etc. misrepresent the exploitative social relations of capitalism and are inappropriate to the struggle for socialism.

In all societies there must be rules of conduct or the society would fall to pieces. Thus in a socialist society, when it has been established, there will also be rules of conduct in harmony with its social basis. The moral outlook will be the custom, based on voluntary co-operation with common ownership and democratic control of the means of life. (See also IDEOLOGY; MARXISM; SCIENCE.)


Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality, 1985


Morris, William (1834-1896). The son of capitalist parents, he became a pioneer Marxian socialist. While a student at Oxford in the 1850s he was involved with a group of romantic artists known as the pre-Raphaelites because they reckoned that painting had degenerated after the Middle Ages with Raphael, the first Reformation painter. Morris tried his hand at painting but became more famous as a poet, though he was involved in a wide variety of arts and crafts.

Morris began his political life in the Radical wing of the Liberal Party. In the 1880 general election he worked for the return of Gladstone, but soon became disillusioned with the new Liberal government. In 1883 he joined the Democratic Federation, an association of working class radical clubs formed in 1881. Soon after Morris joined, it changed its name to the Social Democratic Federation, proclaiming Socialism as its aim and Marxism as its theory, though in fact it never did outlive its radical-Liberal origins as it continued to advocate the same reforms of capitalism. Morris set about studying Marxism and there can be no doubt that he did understand Marx’s ideas well enough to be regarded as a Marxist. But that was not all. John Ruskin had defined ‘art’ as the expression of man’s pleasure in his labour. Morris wholeheartedly endorsed this definition of art, with its implication that people would produce beautiful things - things of everyday use, not mere decorations - if they enjoyed their work. It was recognition that capitalism denied most people pleasure in their work that led him to become a socialist.

Hyndman, the man who had been largely instrumental in founding the Democratic Federation, was an authoritarian and tried to run the SDF as his personal organisation. This led to discontent and eventually, at the end of 1884, to a split in which Morris became the key figure in the breakaway Socialist League. Unlike the reformist SDF, the Socialist League saw its task as simply to make socialists. As Morris wrote:

Our business, I repeat, is the making of socialists, i.e., convincing people that socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles into practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible’ (Where Are We Now?, 1890).

Morris found himself as the main theorist of the Socialist League. He never denied that the working class could capture political power, including parliament; but his refusal to advocate the use of parliament to get reforms upset a group, including Marx’s daughter Eleanor, who in the end broke away from the Socialist League. This left Morris at the mercy of the real anti-parliamentarians and anarchists, who eventually came to dominate the League with their advocacy of violence and bomb throwing. In 1890 Morris and the Hammersmith branch seceded, carrying on independent socialist activity as the Hammersmith Socialist Society.

William Morris was an outstanding socialist activist: he frequently toured the country giving talks and wrote a prodigious amount of literature, culminating in his masterpiece about a socialist utopia, News from Nowhere (1890). He died in 1896, but eight years later the Socialist Party was formed from a group that broke with the SDF (and for much the same reasons as the League). The Socialist Party, when formulating its Declaration of Principles in 1904, drew heavily upon the Manifesto of the Socialist League that was drafted by Morris. (See also HYNDMAN; IMPOSSIBILISM; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


S. Coleman & P. O’Sullivan, William Morris and News from Nowhere: A Vision for Our Time, 1990

Fiona MacCarthy, William Morris: A Life For Our Time, 2003

Morris online: