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Marx, Karl(1818–83) a German philosopher who produced a new theory about historical change based upon conflict between competing groups in his book Das Kapital. The first volume was published in 1867, with the remaining volumes, edited by Friedrich Engels, being published posthumously in 1885 and 1894. Marx argued that at each stage in history one particular class in society would become powerful because of its ownership of the means of production. In the meanwhile, however, another class would be developing whose interests clashed with those of the dominant class. Finally, the new class would overturn the old and set itself up as a new dominant group. For example, under feudalism, the aristocracy predominated because of its control of the land, then it gave way to the capitalists who gained ascendancy because of their control of capital.
Capitalists were able to drive a hard bargain with workers over wage rates, and the low-paid exploitation of the working class permitted factory owners to accumulate even greater wealth and to gain monopoly power. Workers produce goods and services of value, but because they are paid so little, capitalists are able to appropriate much of this value for themselves in the form of high profits. Marx predicted that this exploitation would eventually provoke a revolution in which the ‘property-less proletariat’ would overthrow the dominant capitalist class and take over the means of production. Initially under socialism, the nation's productive assets would be acquired and controlled by the state, but eventually, under COMMUNISM, the workers themselves would collectively own the means of production, with goods and services being distributed according to people's needs. See alsoCENTRALLY PLANNED ECONOMY, LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.