Marx and Engels and the major leaders of the Second International represented a distinct and unusual path in socialist thought.
Here, Marx, not only associated capitalism with exploitation but also with alienation, a shortcoming which even affected those who benefited most from capitalism that is the bourgeoisie.
He also argued that the collapse of capitalism was inevitable, that dominant class of the future was the proletariat (that is the urban working class), who would not only inherit the structures provided by industrial capitalism, but would divert them from its exploitative course.
Marx’s analysis provided a sense of assurance that capitalism was bound to fade away.
His socialism was, he argued, scientific, i.e. based on the laws of the history of social development. Working out of the assumption that social relations constitute the core of economic structure and economic activity, Marx argued that a particular social set up created an economic dispensation with which it developed tensions over time. This led gradually to change. Capitalism, like feudalism before it, was bound to change.
Marx’s primary work (Capital), was distinguished, though, not by such broad philosophical positions, (albeit that they remained fundamental to his arguments). He was able to demonstrate exploitation of workers within capitalism with a degree of theoretical rigour that other theoreticians seldom brought to the subject.
Working out from the standard notice (shared by Smith, Ricardo and others), that all value of economic activity could be reduced to labour inputs, Marx fixed on the surplus that prices included, after wages and costs had been paid, and argued that the appropriation of this by the capitalist represented the scale of capitalist exploitation.
Unlike ‘liberals’, he did not regard that entrepreneurial functions could also be judged in labour inputs. ‘Surplus value’, moreover, according to Marx, came to be rendered in money and capital – an end in itself, independent of the production process and productive of rewards.
Competition among capitalists, however, and consequent fall in rates of profit in industry led to increasing exploitation and a steep rise in ‘contradictions’ between capital and labour. This, according to Marx, would lead unavoidably to the breakdown of capitalism. Marx clearly found such an approach one more ‘Utopian’ fixation.