There is no single definitive Marxist theory; Marxist analysis has been applied to diverse subjects and has been misconceived and modified during the course of its development, resulting in numerous and sometimes contradictory theories that fall under the rubric of Marxism or Marxian analysis.

Marxism builds on a materialist understanding of societal development, taking as its starting point the necessary economic activities required by human society to provide for its material needs. The form of economic organization or mode of production is understood to be the basis from which the majority of other social phenomena – including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology – arise (or at the least by which they are directly influenced). These social relations form the superstructure, for which the economic system forms the base. As the forces of production (most notably technology) improve, existing forms of social organization become inefficient and stifle further progress. These inefficiencies manifest themselves as social contradictions in the form of class struggle.

According to Marxist analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises due to intensifying contradictions between highly productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and private appropriation of the surplus product in the form of surplus value (profit) by a small minority of private owners called the bourgeoisie. As the contradiction becomes apparent to the proletariat, social unrest between the two antagonistic classes intensifies, culminating in a social revolution. The eventual long-term outcome of this revolution would be the establishment of socialism - a socioeconomic system based on cooperative ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one's contribution, and production organized directly for use. Karl Marx hypothesized that, as the productive forces and technology continued to advance, socialism would eventually give way to a communist stage of social development. Communism would be a classless, stateless, humane society erected on common ownership and the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".



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