Any introduction to the thought of Karl Marx should, perhaps, begin with the concept of the ‘dialectic’. Dialectic was the term used by Marx and Engels to describe their theory of social change, which occurred, according to Marxist theory, as a result of class struggle. This conflict itself was a result of the social formations which emerged out of the forms of economic production prevalent in any given society. Society was envisaged as passing through several phases, designated by Marx, the ‘antique’, ‘feudal’ and ‘bourgeois’. In the bourgeois phase — the nineteenth century about which Marx and Engels were writing — it was the capitalist mode of production which prevailed. According to this system, the means of production (the factories, the land, the machines and so on) were owned and controlled by one class (the bourgeoisie), although that class depended on the labour of another class (the proletariat) to maintain production. However, the proletariat received very little of the profits of their labour, these instead being appropriated by the owners and ploughed back into the capitalist machine. Marx referred to this as ‘alienation’, since the workers were alienated from the end result of the production process — and not simply in terms of profit, but also in terms of working conditions.
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