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Karl Marx Conception of Democracy

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Karl Heinrich Marx was born in 1818. He wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848 which deals with clash of the class in the society, denounced capitalism. He predicted that socialism will displace capitalism just as the latter had replaced feudalism. He argued that the structural organization of capitalism was itself a predisposing factor for its demise.  He foresaw the emergence of a communism as a result of the class system.  In 1844 he wrote the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts which portrayed his communist ideas greatly influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach.  His thought on capitalism laid depicts one scholar who was in touch reality (Bendix, 1974)

Karl Marx’s Conception of Democracy and why he considered himself a democrat

The topic of democracy raises fundamental questions among its adherents and critics. It encompasses myriad rules and procedures with the aim of achieving certain objectives in society ranging from equality to justice thus making it the most heated debatable issue especially in our time. Critics see it as a scheme by the proponents to install the elites on the others.  Karl Marx and the Leninists through their scholarly writing have been able to define the concept of democracy and denounce the legitimacy of monarchies.  Karl Marx views capitalist monarchy as a source of evil designed to ensure the success of elite interests. An analysis of Marx’s understanding of democracy he reveals some stunning resemblance with classical philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. Marx view is that democracy reveals the political concept of economic system and therefore it’s an avenue to translate economic procedures into juridical-political terms. Proponents of representative participation argue that it brings justice and equality in the society. Marx differs with them by suggesting that this participation must entail individual participation from every member of the community (Springborg, 1984)

A closer investigation of democracy by Marx reveals some understanding: To begin with, that it reveals a distinctive relationship with politics that is not found in hereditary systems or among the aristocrats.  This basis of democracy makes it more complex than just procedures that can be put down. It therefore transcends the legal rules and practices if the perspectives and the values of every state and individuals are considered. Secondly, Marx’s terms participaroty democracy where the adherents believe that every individual must participate through representation as misinformed and misdirected.  Thirdly, he term political participation as political suffrage because it’s not representative.  He goes ahead to argue that  the bond between the political and the social is characterized by universal suffrage and therefore voting is not a mere thought relation between the social and the political because it’s the direct and immediate relationship between the two if seen from a philosophical perspective. His understanding underscores a very fundamental relationship between the civil society and the state because the pursuit of universal suffrage divorces the political from the society. (Springborg, 1984)

Taken together, his views seem startling though with conventionalism. Some critics believe that his sentiments seem to underscores some communist undertones. Marx concept of democracy further demonizes the state terming it as a generic constitution with the monarchies as the species because the political government is the demos whereas democracy should entail a people driven government.  A constitution based on democratic principles will therefore be the product of men.  Democracy should form the essence of every constitution. In his very own words he relates democracy to Christianity saying that just as Christianity is to other religions so is democracies to every political constitution. Democracy is the avenue through which the individual and the state, species and the political achieve their meaning.

He refers to democracy as the genus to the other species (constitutions) which is very different from those that are existent. While keeping his illustration of Christianity, he says that democracy is the Old Testament whereas the others are generics. He was referring to aristocracies and monarchies.  He further contrasts that the law came into existence because of the good man and not the other way round. Democracy is the very human essence but we see is that man is limited only to legal existence. This is what differentiates democracy from other political forms according to Marx. His defense contrasts those of Hegel who advocated for constitutional monarchy as the ideal form of a state. Hegel opposed Marx’s view of democracy and defended constitutional monarchy arguing that no regimes be it aristocracy or monarchy exhibited the longevity and ideology that matches it. (Springborg, 1984)

Hegel maintained that it’s misleading to regard democracy on the basis of virtue alone. According to Hegel, this represents the weak fabric of democracy because in the first place sovereignty of people is one of the most ambiguous and unresolved notions among men. Karl Marx understanding of true democracy implies that the political state ceases to exist and democracy governs itself. Marx argument in the Critique seems to relinquish some of the radical views on absolute democracy.  He recognizes the fact that it becomes very weird and absurd considering the fact every individual has to participate in the decision making process of a state just because they have a right to do so.

His appeal to rationality concurs with Hegel’s views on validity of representatives to mediate.  Hegel defended the state saying that it’s the shadow of the whole society (Springborg, 1984)

Marx suggests otherwise though, that these constitutional monarchies do not entail participation of every person in the decision making process. Marx is against the principle of political participation which is postulated as representative by the Hegelians. He however alludes to the fact that the question of participation whether through representatives of the society or the individuals remains a contentious one. But he refutes Hegel’s conception that representatives of individuals can be termed as participatory. This allness principle did not go down well with him because it’s an external plurality which adds no value to the intrinsic value of individuality neither does it diminish it.

Marx rationale is that individuals must occupy an integral position in the state by so doing their social existence automatically becomes their real participation. The false political representation advocated by Hegel is abstract in the essence it leads to the divorce of the state and the society. Hegel’s stance reinforces the existence of legislature as a representative of the civil society.

The question of participation clearly draws the line between Hegel and Marx ideologies of governments. Karl Marx gives the example of single political decisions which clearly portray that not every individual participates in fulfilling them. But if they did then the society would be superfluous one.

Although he dismisses the collective principle of state, he concurs that society taken together is more superior to its constituents. This underscores the conflicting interest between the state and the society.  This radical individualism propounded by Marx seems to refute the existence of society as a corporate entity. (Springborg, 1984)

Relationship between Democracy and social equality

Marx treats social equality as constituent of democracy.  However he refutes the Hegelian position on the question of social equality because it follows the same pattern of thinking as that of representative participation of constitutional monarchies. Marx view of social equality is also deeply rooted in the understanding that all individuals are equal and therefore entitled to the same economic privileges. He says that this equality cannot be substituted and be termed as socially representative.  Each individual has spectacular differences and therefore taking few as representative is quite misleading. Society is complex and has differentiated individuals with non-distinctive personalities.

Therefore equality can only be termed as the as peoples with similar abstractions.  The question of social equality among the individuals is a moral wish because Mother Nature has discriminatively distributed resources and possessions.  So according to Hegel, equality is primarily on the externals but does not regard the innate individual differences.  Hegelian thought says that society is a collection of individuals and their arithmetical abstraction forms the criteria for equality.  Marx sharply differs with them saying that equality can only be attained when distribution and justice is tailor made to meet every individual’s need.  By saying this, Marx was meant to show that equality is an extension from capitalism.

The question of equal possession is inadequate and is based on the generalization of abstractive nature of individuals. Equality should be informed by the differences between individual wants and therefore their resources leads to exchange and fulfill the social equation. The natural disparities between individuals should form the basis for social equality rather than the aggregate conglomeration of their needs under Hegelian school of thought. So social equality can only be attained through the process of exchange. Social equality becomes the product of the integration between individuals through exchange as they stand in social equality to one another.  The production of one individual satisfies the need of the other individual. In essence, according to Marx social equality is a sub set of democracy and that the two are inseparable because like democracy, social equality leads to the fulfillment of the individual needs (Burkhart, 1997)

Comparison between Marx and Schumpeter view on Democracy

John Schumpeter elaborated the topic of democracy theory held by classical theorists. He disputed the fact that democracy could lead to the common good because the political elites manipulated everything at the disadvantage of the electorate.  The rule by the people concept, according to Schumpeter, was undesirable.  He championed the minimalist modal whereby democracy characterizes a condition that makes the elites more or less like a free market economy. The legitimacy of the voting pattern in support of legislative governments is not in itself a sufficient fulfillment of democracy because these governments grossly fall short of instituting participatory policies for the people but instead advocate their own selfish interests.

He predicted that capitalism will result out of hungry appetites by the elites in the society to amass wealth at the expense of the citizens.  Schumpeter says that modern democracy emerged with capitalism and that the end will correspond to their deeds because of this causal dependence.   Democracy will wane in relevance and will slowly be replaced by socialist regime.  He further says that the capitalist society is well positioned to exercise democracy because that eliminates the ambiguity of decision making because capitalists are likely to be more organized than will otherwise be attained under a socialist regime. He also states that bourgeoisie democracy puts emphasis on equality and liberties and that democracy is difficult to be achieved in any state unless there is a good majority of individuals than can agree on the basis of their organizational pattern. This is very difficult to fulfill even in the most developed of the economies.

He concedes that democracy will never outstrip capitalism. Achieving the democratic gains will therefore be very difficult. Schumpeter says that through suppression of the electorate, the governments will be able to deal with dissents and cause the loss of freedom. He notes that a state devoid of democratic principles strips the basic rights of citizens against that government. Democracy is suppressed when a state censors the press in to cover the ills they commit against the citizens (Hardy, 1945)

Why Democracy is contrary to Capitalism according to Marx

Marx said that capitalism would cease to exist because of the inability of the economy to distribute resources equally. According to Marx, class reverses the gains of a free and democratic society. The emergence of capitalism eradicates social equality. He even predicted the rise of a capitalist society and a revolution that will ultimately culminate in the demise of capitalism.

As a result equity will be the bench mark for justice in the society.  He says that the elites do champion their own interests whereas the lower cadre classes have to content with attaining class consciousness and self pity.  The capitalist classes have the monopoly over the economy and social structure making all of them to think in the same pattern without due regards for the electorate or the minority. Marx says that because of poverty people tend to develop their own interests at the expense of the common good for the whole society. He terms capitalism as only a stage in historical development and will soon be history.  His sentiments seem to find some relevance in the modern society when the civil rights movements are greatly gaining political popularity. Revolutionaries are common scenario in the Third World countries where citizens live on less than a dollar a day. This class system erodes the gains under a purely democratic state.  However, Marx’s prediction of the eventual demise of capitalism is something to watch (Bendix, 1974)


The contribution of Karl Marx in the field of democracy, communism and capitalism are indispensable. His approach towards these fundamental issues depicts one man who had a very brilliant mind during his time. But most of his predictions are yet to be fulfilled while most of them seem far fetched and illusionary. Aspects of Marxism are slowly waning casting aspersions on the validity of some of his prepositions.  His theory on democracy and social equality is completely the opposite of what we see in modern capitalist society. It seems impractical if the collapse of communism is anything to go by. This is necessitating a rethinking in this political thought and offer new and practical conceptualization of society.  History has dealt a serious blow to the noble ideas propounded by these theorists. Contrary to his predictions we have not seen the elite class impoverished. Socialism in the current political and economic dispensation is impractical. His tenets of democracy, however, laid the foundation of modern day democratic institutions though with capitalist ideologies. Class system continues to be a fundamental characteristic of the modern capitalist system. 


Springborg, P(1984). Karl Marx on Democracy, Participation, Voting and Equality. Political Theory. Sage Publications, Inc. Vol.12 (4). Nov. 1984 Issue, pp.537-556

Hardy, C. (1945). Schumpeter on Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. The Journal of Political Economy. The University of Chicago Press. Vol. 53(4) pp.349-300)

Bendix, R. (1974). Inequality and Social Structure: A comparison of Marx and Weber. American Sociological Review.  American Sociological Association. Vol. 39(2).pp149-161

Burkhart, R. (1997). Comparative Democracy and Income Distribution: Shape and Direction of the Causal Arrow. The Journal of Politics. Vol.59(1), pp143-155

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