The German philosopher Karl Marx had a lot to say about society. As the founder of the Marxist philosophy, he shaped the concepts of a theory that would evolve into a way of life that was foundational in the development of communism in the 20th century. Whether you agree with his views or otherwise, he was a revolutionary who sought to solve economic issues of his day. Here are 20 Karl Marx quotes that still apply to business today.
20. “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”
This is a quote that refers to the election process in government, but it is also applicable in the business world. When a new leader comes in there is always a chance for things to improve in the workplace, but it can also go the other way. In American society and with regards to big business and unionization, it’s important for workers to cast their vote for union representatives, and to be involved in the processes because the decision-makers have a say in the type of representation and negotiations you will receive in return for the monthly dues you pay.
19. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
This quote is applicable for everyone in business. We have education and the theories of business to help guide us in our decision making processes, but what we do with the information is up to us. You can launch your business and go with the status quo, or you can get innovative, think outside of the box and do something truly brilliant if you apply yourself and do some of the thinking on your own. Your views can be shaped by others but you have your own ideas and changing some of the traditional approaches can yield some positive results.
18. “Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.”
This is a quote that applies to everyday life but it also applies in business. When choosing partners in business and those that you will associate with on a daily basis, it’s best to work with those who genuinely care. These are the people who will work with you and who are dedicated to accomplishing a common goal.
17. “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
Capitalism can be a beautiful thing. It’s the basis of our economic system. We operate in a system of international trade where not all customers share our same views on economics, but we should value the opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy to create products and offer them for sale domestically and to foreign buyers. Even Karl Marx had to admit there was an inherent value in the system.
16. “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
We don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to the system that we work under. If you are an employee then you’re working under the rules that have already been established by the founders of the corporation. They did so in accordance with existing rules and regulations for the operation of business. If you found your own company, you will have some freedom to set your own rules, but you will always be required to stay within regulations previously set forth. We live and work within a system that does have rules but we also have a great deal of wiggle room in some areas of development.
15. “Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.”
In business, not all reason is based on a sound premise. We have people in our organizations who are great thinkers, or at least that is their belief. Just because someone can come up with a great theory and support it with words that sound plausible is not proof that their plans will truly be effective. Not all great sounding ideas translate into meaningful strategies that will actually work.
14. “Catch a man a fish, and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.”
This is one of the best quotes that apply to business from Karl Marx. In a capitalist society, our customers depend upon us to produce goods and services that they cannot otherwise obtain. The provision of these is how we earn our living and build our fortunes. If we tell our secrets and let everyone know how they can do it for themselves, we’re cutting our own throats and ending our opportunity to earn a living. It’s wise to keep the demand for your business high and to sell goods that have a high demand.
13. “The human being is in the most literal sense a political animal, not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society.”
This quote applies to office politics. It’s a reality that we cannot escape from. By nature, people tend to vie for positioning in the business world to secure their place and to justify their jobs. This is why you see some staff members do everything they can to rise to the top. It’s why we shmooze at company dinners and pitch new ideas to the execs, and try to impress those in authority over us. It’s not necessarily a bad thing unless you walk over someone else in your politicking.
12. “We should not say that one man’s hour is worth another man’s hour, but rather that one man during an hour is worth just as much as another man during an hour. Time is everything, man is nothing: he is at the most time’s carcass.”
This was Marx’s view on labor and the value of a man’s time. He pointed out that every person has just as much value and worth as another person. The old saying is that time is money and there are a lot of people who live by this principle. It deals with equality but it reminds us that in big business an hour that a man puts in on the job is viewed as a necessity and the focus isn’t on who is doing the work but rather that the work is getting done.
11. “Capital is money, capital is commodities. By virtue of it being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs.”
This was Marx’s view on the definition of capital. He points out that capital is many things including money and the value of the goods or assets that are owned. Capital can be used to multiply itself through its proper use and manipulation. This goes with the saying that you have to spend money to make money.
10. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”
In the business world, as in every other sector of society, we are influenced by those who are in power over us, whether it is a manager or the owner of a company. We often come to accept their views and philosophies and to incorporate them into our own belief systems, such as buying in to the mission or a vision of an organization and working together to accomplish a common goal.
9. “Men make their own history.”
We cannot forget that the things we do are helping to shape our personal histories. This is particularly true in business. When we look at some of the great business leaders who have come before us, like Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, and most recently Elon Musk, we see that these great innovators have made their own history, and each of us has the opportunity to do the same.
8. “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”
This quote refers to the abundance of convenience devices and services. In present times, we rely on electronics to perform functions that were once done manually by people. This is good for businesses to increase productivity, but it also reduces the need for man-hours and a lot of jobs have been eliminated because of automation.
7. “You must be aware that the reward for labour, and quantity of labour, are quite disparate things.”
Some jobs require a lot of work for a little amount of pay. For some, you are not rewarded with greater compensation for working harder or producing more. Hourly wages or exempt/salaried positions give you a set rate of pay regardless of how fast you are or how well you do your job. Your pay rate with regard to the amount of work you do is two different things.
6. “I am nothing but I must be everything.”
This is a fact of being one of the hundreds of workers on an assembly line. While it’s not always the case, it’s usually true that the executives of a major manufacturing company will not even know you exist, but you had still better perform at the highest level if you want to keep your job. You’re may not ever be acknowledged, but you’re a cog in the wheel and if productivity slips in your area, you might be replaced.
5. “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
The person who always has to have the last word is usually the person in the workplace that gets the most eye rolls. If it’s the owner of the company, it’s acceptable, but for other members of the organization, too much talking, too much debate and the constant rise to be the center of attention casts you in the role of the fool that Marx refers to.
4. “In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class antagonisms we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
There are the haves and the have nots. This is a fact of the world that we live in. There is a distinction between classes in business and it often leads to those in subordinate positions feeling a bit of discomfort when surrounded by superiors with tons of money when he or she is making a little above minimum wage. We all realize these distinctions are made by everyone involved.
3. “Money is the universal, self-constituted value of all things. Hence it has robbed the whole world of its proper value.”
Marx is saying that there are things in life that are more important than money, but it’s important to almost everyone. We place a high value on money, but if we strive to offer the best products and services in business, and we gain a reputation for being good at what we do, that reputation follows us through life.
2. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”
We can’t escape the fact that we’re affected by past generations in business, but we can break out of the rut. Entrepreneurs who are just starting out can no longer be satisfied with doing things the way their fathers or grandfathers did them. We are required to assess the changing climate of our clientele and to rise to their demands, which differ greatly from consumers of past generations.
1. “Moments are the elements of profit.”
This refers to the “aha” moment. In the business world, we are surrounded by opportunities that arise but if we don’t take advantage of them in time, they slip away. These are the moments that Marx refers to. Be ready to act when the opportunity presents itself.