Marxist Theory

In the humanities discourses there emerged two main basic assumptions as far as human existence is concerned:

Consciousness comes before existence
Consciousness comes after existence.
The basic assumption of Marxism is that Consciousness follows existence.

Now, you may ask, “What is consciousness? And what is existence?” Consciousness, simply, is about human beings’ knowledge and awareness of themselves. It constitutes the social, cultural, spiritual and economic conditions they either create or are created in. It is these elements and more that constantly shape and mediate humans’ perception of themselves; and we call consciousness. Existence, on the other hand, in its initial form is the materialization of the body in the universe. In simple words, it is about the act of being in the world or the universe at large.

The relationship between existence and consciousness and the nature of both have been, since a very long time in history, the subject of intensive debate among philosophers, scientist, scholars, intellectuals and laymen. To simplify the relationship in very minimal terms, I want you to think of your desktop computer, digital camera or any electronic gadget you use in your daily existence. The devices I mentioned are like human beings in two ways: 1. They have concrete physical dimensions through which they can be identified as what they are; 2. They have something in them called program or software because of which they do what they are supposed to do. The object you call a computer is made of various concrete elements that have mass and dimensionality. This mass and dimensionality on its own exists on your table, another object with mass and dimensionality, too. This existing combination of concrete mass and physical dimensionality, we call “a computer”, will not be able to function properly without something else that has no visible mass and physical dimensionality, we call “software” or “a program.” In fact, for the computer to be aware of itself as a computer, for it to be able to communicate with you, with other computers and other applications on your desk or in remote locations it needs to be conscious of itself and of the purpose of its existence. This level of consciousness is no less than what we call ”software.” Thus, the mass that indicates the existence of the computer is dead without the software; the same thing goes for the software that has no mass to fit in.

The epistemological polemics of existence revolve round what comes first. Is it the hardware or the software? For Marxism HARDWARE comes first, followed by SOFTWARE. The more advanced and developed the hardware, the more advanced and sophisticated forms of software it would require and generate. The opposite goes for idealistic philosophers who believe that software is made before the hardware.

To step out of this analogy and turn back to the human dimension, Marxism advocates, in line with Darwinism and all materialistic thinking, that people’s material existence and concrete physical environment determine the course of their consciousness; i. e., their identity, language, literature, belief, mode of expression, economy and politics.

From a Marxist point of view, people whose physical or material conditions of existence are primitive generate primitive forms of consciousness: primitive language, primitive systems of belief and primitive vision of the world at large. If those people strive to better their material existence through work and struggle, their consciousness will improve, too.

Reading on Marxist Theory

Marxism: History and Economy

Marxism and Literature