Although there are many people who would disagree with the work of Karl Marx there are few who would doubt his contributions to economics. For much of the twentieth century one third of the world lived in economies that were strongly influenced by his ideas. Although the last few decades have seen the fall of many of these communist countries the ideas of Marx are still important today.
Karl Marx believed that economics was the driving force behind human society. He saw two important factors as determining how society functioned; the means of production and the relations of production. The means of production could be described as all those things that are necessary to produce goods such as labour, materials, and technology. The relations of production refer to the way humans interact with these means of production; for example master and slave. When combined together the relations of production and means of production are referred to as the mode of production.
Marx saw capitalism as the current mode of production but like other modes of production that had gone before it would not last. This was because it had an inherent flaw due to the fact that it required one group of people to exploit another group; the owners of industry exploit the worker. Those in power would be able to keep the lower classes in a state of false consciousness for a while, but eventually they would realize that they were being exploited and they would rise up and seize control of the means of production. After this everyone would have equal access to the means of production and there would be no need for any further conflict.
Marx believed that out of all the modes of production that had gone previously it was Capitalism that was the most exploitative. This was because it treated humans like just another part of the production process. He felt convinced that as industry grew it would lead to the workers feeling more and more alienated.
Although there have been many countries that claim to have made Marxism a reality there is much disagreement as to whether such a society has ever existed. Marx viewed his revolution occurring in a developed western country and this never really happened. His views have also been criticized for putting too much emphasis on class conflict and failing to take into account the effects of a growing middle class.