Marx and Freud, comparing their views of human nature

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In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels present their

view of human nature and the effect that the economic system and economic

factors have on it. Marx and Engels discuss human nature in the context of

the economic factors which they see as driving history. Freud, in

Civilization and Its Discontents, explores human nature through his

psychological view of the human mind.

Marx states that history '...is the history of class struggles' (9).

Marx views history as being determined by economics, which for him is the

source of class differences. History is described in The Communist Manifesto

as a series of conflicts between oppressing classes and oppressed classes.

According to this view of history, massive changes occur in a society when new

technological capabilities allow a portion of the oppressed class to destroy

the power of the oppressing class. Marx briefly traces the development of

this through different periods, mentioning some of the various oppressed and

oppressing classes, but points out that in earlier societies there were many

gradations of social classes. He also states that this class conflict

sometimes leads to '...the common ruin of the contending classes' (Marx 9).

Marx sees the modern age as being distinguished from earlier periods by

the simplification and intensification of the class conflict. He states that

'Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile

camps... bourgeoisie and proletariat' (Marx 9). The bourgeoisie, as the

dominant class of capitalists, subjugates the proletariat by using it as an

object for the expansion of capital. As capitalism progresses, this

subjugation reduces a larger portion of the population to the proletariat and

society becomes more polarized.

According to Marx, the polarization of society and the intense

oppression of the proletariat will eventually lead to a revolution by the

proletariat, in which the control of the bourgeoisie will be destroyed. The

proletariat will then gain control of the means of production. This

revolution will result in the creation of a socialist state, which the

proletariat will use to institute socialist reforms and eventually communism.

The reforms which Marx outlines as occurring in the socialist state have

the common goal of disimpowering the bourgeoisie and increasing economic

equality. He sees this socialist stage as necessary for but inevitably

leading to the establishment of communism. Human beings, which are

competitive under capitalism and other prior economic systems, will become

cooperative under socialism and communism. Marx, in his view of human nature,

sees economic factors as being the primary motivator for human thought and

action. He asks the rhetorical question, 'What else does the history of ideas

prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion

as material production is changed?' (Marx 29). For Marx, the economic status

of human beings determines their consciousness. Philosophy, religion and

other cultural aspects are a reflection of economics and the dominant class

which controls the economic system.

This view of human nature as being primarily determined by economics may

seem to be a base view of humanity. However, from Marx's point of view, the

human condition reaches its full potential under communism. Under communism,

the cycle of class conflict and oppression will end, because all members of

society will have their basic material needs met, rather than most being

exploited for their labor by a dominant class. In this sense the Marxian view

of human nature can be seen as hopeful. Although human beings are motivated

by economics, they will ultimately be able to establish a society which is not

based on economic oppression.

Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, presents a conception of...
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