Meaning of Liberalism:
Liberalism is a theory of reforms, for it has stood for reforms in economic, social and political fields. It is a theory of liberty, individual liberty, and individual autonomy, for it has argued in favour of the development of human personality. It is a theory of democracy, for
it has favoured constitutional government, government based on the consent of the people,
rule of law, decentralization, free and fair elections.
In social sphere, liberalism stands for secularism and a society that opposes, all kinds of social discrimination; in economic sphere, it favours a capitalistic economy, individual ownership of the means of production and maximum profit-earning motive, in political sphere, it stands for a democratic polity, individual rights and liberties, responsive and responsible government, free and
impartial judiciary and the like.
Features of Liberalism:
(1) Individual Liberty : Liberalism is essentially an ideology of liberty. Its love for individual
liberty is unquestionable. It has become libertarianism. For the liberals, liberty is the very
essence of human personality. It is a means to one’s development.
(2) Individual-centred theory : Liberalism begins and ends with individual. For liberals,
individual is the centre of all activities, the focal point; individual is the end while all other
associations, including the state, are the means, which exist for the individual. Individual is
the centre around which all things move.
(3) Capitalistic Economy : Liberalism advocates free-market economy, i.e., the capitalistic
mode of economy. It believes in private property system, regarding property rights as
sacrosanct; maximum profit as the only motive; capitalistic mode of production and distribution as the only essence; the market forces as the controlling means of economy.
(4) Limited State : Liberalism advocates the concept of limited state. The liberals view
the state as a means for attaining the good of the individual. They oppose every type of
totalitarian state. They are of the opinion that a more powerful state means a less free
(5) Opposed to Traditions/Superstitions : As liberalism rose as a reaction against
traditions/superstitions, it is, by its nature, opposed to all reactionary measures. Liberalism,
emerging from Renaissance and Reformation, stood, and actually stands, for reason and
rationalism. As against the feudal model of man as a passive being, liberalism favours a
model of man who is more active and more acquisitive.
(6) Democracy : Liberalism is an exponent of democratic government. It seeks to establish
a government of the people, by the people and for the people; a government that functions
according to the Constitution and constitutionalism; a government that upholds the rule of
law; a government that secures rights and liberties of the people. Liberalism, McGovern
says, is a combination of democracy and individualism.
(7) Welfareism : Liberalism is closely associated with welfarism. Welfarism, as a state
activity, is the idea that state works for the welfare of the people. The liberal concept of
state activity is one where the state serves the people. In other words, the welfare sate is
a ‘social service’ state.
Karl Marx and Frederich Engels realised clearly the adverse effects of capitalism and in the process, brought out what is called scientific socialism or Marxism (after the name of Marx). Those who contributed to the Marxian philosophy after Marx and Engels include, among others, V.I. Lenin (Russia), and Mao Zedong (China).
Marxism is based on certain assumptions/postulates. These are:
1) Nothing happens in the world on its own; there is always a cause -effect relationship
in what we see around. The relations of production (i.e., material relations among
the people), as the basis of society, provide the cause while the productive forces
constitute the effect.
2) The real development is always the material development (i.e., the economic development). The progressive development of productive forces indicates the progressive level of development.
3) The material (i.e. economic) factor is the dominant factor in both individual life and
4) Human being is born at a particular stage of social / material development, i.e., born
in a social setting which exists independent of him. But being an active being, human
being makes his own social setting. Marx had said, human beings are born in history,
but they make history.
5) Social classes, especially the opposing classes, through their struggle and following
the process of revolution, move in the forward direction. That is why the Marxists
say that every subsequent society is better than the preceding society.
6) Revolutions mean total and wholesome changes; they are not a negative force, but
are what Marx had called, the locomotives of history. When launched and successful,
revolutions take the society to a higher stage of development.
7) The state, being the result of a class society, is a class institution. By the time the socialist society becomes fully communistic, the state would, by then, have withered away.
Highlights of Marxism:
Marxism revolves around the following theoretical propositions.
Dialectical materialism is the sum-total of the general principles which explain as to
why and how social changes take place. The social changes take place because of the
material factors and through the dialectical materialistic method. The dialectical materialistic
method is a triple method. According to Marx,: Relations of Productions constitute the basis of the society at any given point of time. What are called the social relations among the people are, for the Marxists, the relations of production. Productive Forces constitute those elements which originate from the relations of production, but which, though opposite to the latter, promise more production through newer methods/devices.
Historical Materialism is also called the economic/materialistic/ deterministic interpretation of history. Each society is followed by a better one.
Theory of Surplus Value is another characteristic of Marxism. The surplus value is the difference between what the value a labourer produces and what he gets in the form of wages. In simple words, the labourer gets the wages; the employer, the profit. This surplus value makes the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. It is through surplus value that capitalists thrive.
Theory of Class Struggle is another tenet of Marxism. In the Marxian view, all hitherto
history has been the history of class struggle between opposing classes. In the classless societies, there is no class struggle because there are, in such societies, no opposing/ antagonistic classes. Class struggle, in class societies, (i.e., the capitalist society) is of mainly three types: economic, ideological, political.
Marxism advocates revolution. Revolutions, the Marxists say, are locomotives of history.
Revolutions occur when the relations of production come into conflict with the productive
forces, leading, thus, to a new mode of production.
Dictatorship of the proletariat means the rule of the working class. It is a state of the
workers in the socialist society which follows the capitalist society. The socialist society that follows the capitalist society after its abolition is a classless society. It is a classless society in the sense that all are workers wheresoever they work, in the office, in the factory or on the fields: each gets job according to one’s ability (‘from each according to his abilities to each according to his work’).
The communist society which follows the socialist society, will be both the classless society and the stateless society.
Gandhism stands for a non-violent state based on (i) the consent of the people (ii) the near
unity in the society. Gandhiji advocated decentralization of power: both political and
economic. The spirit of Gandhian democracy is the spirit of decentralization. Decentralization
means devolution of power at each level beginning from individual/ local unit and reaching
the apex. The essence of decentralization, according to Gandhiji, is that all powers flow
from below and go up, in ascending order.
The spirit of the Gandhian Ramrajya is that it is a self-regulating system where everyone is one’s own
ruler, and not a hindrance to one’s neighbours.
For Gandhiji no individual is the owner: all work and all are the workers; everyone gets for the
service one renders; the profit is not of the owner, but is what belongs to the community.
The employers are the trustees, and not the masters; the employees as necessary
components of the enterprises, are the workers and not the slaves.
Gandhiji was no Machiavelli. For Machiavelli, ends justify the means; for Gandhiji, means
justify the ends.
Gandhiji’s concept of Sarvodaya sums up his views on the kind of society he used to
dream. Sarvodaya, as Gandhiji had visualised, is the greatest good of all the members of
the society. It is the welfare of all. It is the good of the individual together with the good of
all the individuals, i.e., the good of each with the good of all. The concept of good in
Sarvodaya is not merely material, it is moral and spiritual as well.