Does Karl Marx’s Critique of Capitalism Still Hold True in the 21st Century?

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The economic system now corresponds to capitalism, which affects all strata of society, making huge gaps between them culturally and socially. Since humanity has gradually come to capitalism, one cannot put responsibility for these developments on anyone. However, there must be a critique since moving away from this economy to a more humanistic one is necessary (Swain, 2012). One of the critics of capitalism is Karl Marx, whose ideas explain the decisiveness of this system (Fuchs, 2019). Marx’s critique of capitalism is relevant and necessary for the 21st century.

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Marx understood capitalism as an economic order characterized by private ownership of the means of production for the price-determining market, constant profit maximization, and the contradiction between wage labor and capital. Marx’s theory was formed from the thought of Hegel’s figure and the assumptions of the cyclical nature of history (Fuchs, 2020). Marx evaluated the world in terms of material, social conditions, and internal conflicts, rather than relying on the development of the spirit world (Lanuza, 2016). Materialism runs through the whole theory of communism and class struggle. Marx saw the struggle as the revolutionary engine of history (Gronow, 2016). It was fixing its materiality in its events and people rather than its spirit. Marx also developed the idea of a basic superstructure system, according to which new theories of reorganization and change in being were superimposed on the significant strata (Marx et al., 2018; Fuchs, 2020). As a result, according to Marx, any change is an attempt to realize human freedom bound to the material and social environment.

The relevance of Marx’s critique of capitalism stems from the postulates and principles formed in Capital. Marx examined classical industrial capitalism and showed that specific socio-economic patterns characterized it (Gronow, 2016). Marx showed that the capitalist system in its initial definition is commodity production. The latter is based on the separateness of producers and the social division of labor (Kocka, 2018). Correspondingly, where producers are set apart and the division of labor develops, the market will progress (Marx & Engels, 1978). Marx showed that the market is a historically limited system of social relations between people (Pradella, 2017). He noted that there is no natural and eternal “mechanism” of interaction between agents and information exchange in the economy.

Marx proved that a human will not always seek to maximize money and minimize labor. Man behaves differently under the domination of other social relations outside the market system. But under the authority of the market, human qualities, values, and motives begin to subordinate to the power of goods and money (Swain, 2012). For the modern market, the problem of following someone’s ideals without possessing information about work is relevant (Kocka, 2018). As a result, society is poor in creativity but rich in productivity and the stimulation of constant renewal of values.

Consequently, it is possible to consider the critique of economics under capitalism as an analysis of the commodity and capitalist relations and the class antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (Fuchs, 2019). Marx emphasizes that revolutionary overcoming of exploitation and class domination is possible only if the basic economic categories of capitalism are overcome (Marx et al., 2018). He also draws attention to the fact that capitalism conditions the barriers to human freedom (Lanuza, 2016). Marx defines humanity in capitalism as alienated and enslaved. Central to the philosophy is the concept of labor, the interaction with nature (Avineri, 2019). Marx reasonably criticizes capitalism, speaking of working not to benefit consumption values but for attaining exchange values (Gronow, 2016). It is a relevant idea in the 21st century since production is now directed toward workers. Their work shapes the market, but people do not receive good pay and benefits.

In the last few decades, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) project, which aims to publish the complete manuscript collections of Marx and Friedrich Engels, has further convinced researchers of the lack of any definitive Marxian thought. MEGA underscored as never before the inherent incompleteness of Marx’s critique of political economy, a consequence of the inability of any single individual to complete such a vast project. Furthermore, MEGA defines the materialistic-scientific nature of the project, requiring ongoing historical and empirical research, which the imposition of abstractions could not replace. The MEGA project makes it possible for modern man to find points of intersection between his judgments about capitalism and classical postulates and derive an informed opinion. Through this work, new realities of the 21st century are revealed to which the Marxian critique of capital must be applied.

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Thus, Karl Marx’s theory is reflected in the contemporary world, shaping human attitudes toward capitalism and its manifestations. The cyclicality of historical events under the influence of revolutionary movements lies at the center of Marx’s philosophical ideas, which opens our eyes to the problem of the end of 21st-century capitalism. Marx’s ideas remain relevant because they allow us to appreciate the organization of the market and its constant change, which is detrimental to society and class struggle. In addition, the notion of the alienation of the human person under modern capitalism requires a reconsideration of attitudes toward universal values. Forming projects to study Marx’s ideology allows us to look at capitalism from a different angle and establish that Marx’s critique of the political economy criticizes capitalism in general.


Avineri, S. (2019). The communist manifesto and the revolutions of 1848. In Karl Marx: Philosophy and Revolution (84-100). Yale University Press.

Fuchs, C. (2019). Karl Marx in the age of big data capitalism. In C. Fuchs & D. Chandler (Eds.), Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Capitalism, Labour and Politics in the Age of Big Data (53-72). University of Westminster Press.

Fuchs, C. (2020). Ideology. In Communication and capitalism: A critical theory (15, 217-234). University of Westminster Press.

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Gronow, J. (2016). The theory of increasing misery and the critique of capitalism. In On the formation of marxism: Karl Lautsky’s theory of capitalism, the marxism of the second international and Karl Marx’s critique of political economy. (276-287). Brill.

Kocka, J. (2018). Capitalism and its critics: A long-term view. In U. Bosma & K. Hofmeester (Eds.), The lifework of a labor historian: Essays in honor of marcel van der Linden (35, 71-89). Brill.

Lanuza, G. M. (2016). The dialectical foundations of Marx’s sociology of conflict: Methodological implications for the study of conflicts. Philippine Sociological Review, 64, 103-133.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1978). The Marx-Engels reader. (Tucker, R. C., Eds.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Marx, K., Engels, F. & Varoafakis, Y. (2018). The communist manifesto. Vintage.

Pradella, L. (2017). Marx and the global south: Connecting history and value theory. Sociology, 51(1), 146-161.

Swain, D. (2012). Alienation: An introduction to Marxs theory. Bookmarks Publications.

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DemoEssays. "Does Karl Marx’s Critique of Capitalism Still Hold True in the 21st Century?" November 17, 2022.