The young Marx was an active member of a radical leftist group called the Young Hegelians. They read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as the historical process of emancipation brought about by Western society’s philosophers and thinkers. They saw the philosophers as humanity’s only hope for a just future. Among this group Marx was one of the greatest Hegelian scholars.
Marx lost interest in the Young Hegelians, and their battle with the conservative Old Hegelians, when he stumbled upon materialism. Materialism rejected Idealism, replacing ideas with facts about the physical world. Marx’s combination of materialism with Hegel’s dialectic into dialectical materialism was unique. He showed great originality when he combined dialectical materialism with the concept of class warfare as the primary antithesis of society, an idea promoted by one of Marx and Engels’ mutual friends.
The idea, then, is that facts about the physical world cause ideas. Or more accurately, social relationships determine what people value, what laws they create, and how their religion is structured. People have to eat, and at the social science level, their beliefs will necessarily be conducive to this end. Individuals are free to act and believe whatever they want, but they are constrained to their class. If Hegel’s dialectical process is about humanity (“consciousness”) seeking rationality and freedom, for Marx communism is about making rational social relationships for the least powerful, yet most numerous class, when they become conscious of their ability to remove conflict and oppression out of human history by removing class warfare. The question not answered here, of course, is “What does does it take to remove class warfare?” We read how the aristocracy succumbed to the merchant class, the precursor to the capitalists (the bourgeoisie). Marx predicted the next historical step was the growing power and self-awareness of the proletariat, taking control of the seat of control (the state and the means of production) from the bourgeoisie, and, like the bourgeoisie made the aristocracy irrelevant, the proletariat would make the bourgeoisie irrelevant.