Karl Marx was a German economist philosopher and sociologist best known for his theory on capitalism and communism. Marxism is a conflict perspective which challenged functionalism which was developed by Emile Durkheim and became quite instrumental in the 1940s. Marx proposed a system in his book, ‘the communist manifesto’ which gained a lot of support and became practiced by many nations around the world.
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Marx’s theory is based on criticizing capitalism. He identified 2 main classes in society: The Bourgeoisie or the Capitalist class and the Proletariat. The bourgeoisie controls the productive forces or forms the base in the economic base in society. They own the land and factories/machines that are needed to produce goods which could then be sold for profit. The proletariat makes money by selling their labor which is always below the market price of what they produced. Marx argues that the capitalist class increase their wealth by exploiting the working class. They take the surplus value for their usage and therefore maintain their wealth. According to Marx, through the exploitation of the proletariat, revenue is accumulated. He also argued that the economic base controlled the superstructure; those who have wealth also have political control.
Marx had a unique view of history known as historical materialism. This means that you cannot understand the past by focusing on its people, politics, wars, religion, etc. Instead, according to Marx, history was shaped by the material conditions, how they changed over time and the struggles between those in power and the subjects of their oppression.
The result of idea-based control is false consciousness – where working-class are deluded into thinking that everything is fine and that the state of their poor working conditions is unavoidable. In Marxist terms, the masses suffer from false awareness of people’s position in society and do not realize their common interest against their exploiters.
Marx believed that he had realized the truth: that capitalism is unjust and people just hadn’t realized it. He knew that political action was necessary to bring about revolutionary class consciousness and abolish private property and with it the desire for profit and exploitation. In a communist society, people would have greater freedom and be happier.
Marx’s concept of social class is too simplistic. The class structure today is more complex than Bourgeois-Proletariat making it harder to integrate the classes into one another. Today, there are several social classes, with an extensive middle class, who invest in corporations run by the ‘capitalist class’. Marx argued that those who control the economic base, control the entire economic superstructure. However, many organizations today have at least some level of relative autonomy from Bourgeoisie control. It should also be noted that much of the press is critical of the elite.
In practical theory, capitalism is less exploitative today. A good example of that would be when Henry Ford, the famous car manufacturer, realized that paying good wages to his workers would create demand for the cars he produced – a process which leads to workers being less exploited and ‘buying into’ the system. In the United Kingdom, the state now provides universal health care, education, pensions and social security, as well as assuring a minimum wage. All of these things act as a safety net to make sure that the worst excesses of capitalist abuse are reduced.
In today’s modern company, there is considerably less alienation. Workers have significantly more say because of unionization and better management techniques and strategies. There are more than 4 million self-employed individuals who are in control of the terms and conditions of their working lives.
Marx developed this theory for industrial societies, but the failure of it in Russia and Europe proved it wrong. However, this is working well in agricultural societies today but that was not Marx’s intention.
Many sociologists today would argue that Marx’s theory is no longer relevant – rather than researching to create the perfect society, we should be focusing our attention of much more specific, modern and localized social issues.
Marxism was criticized for being economically deterministic. Marx argued that economic laws shaped society as well as history. However, it can be proven that many other factors shape history. Different societies have responded differently to the spread of communism. The Communist Revolutions in Eastern Europe and Russia did not lead to greater equality and freedom as Marx would have hoped. However, modern Marxists would argue that the state communism of Eastern Europe was hardly true communism.
Contemporary Marxist sociologists argue that Marxism is still relevant in many ways.
The ruling class has more power because they own land. Land is a natural existing thing which shouldn’t be charged for. They did not create it so why should they sell it. It should remain with the state who then issues it as best fit.
One of the things that have a lot of control over us is media. Mainstream media is controlled by a few wealthy individuals who promote beliefs which maintain the bourgeoisie’s position in society. Working-class people are made to accept this and through this, the proletariat is exploited without their realizations. Through this false consciousness, the concentration of wealth is divided. A large percentage of it sits with the bourgeoisie. 54% of Britain’s wealth lies with only 20% of the populations. The money doesn’t trickle-down which is extremely problematic.
Work is still Alienating for many people. They work in poor conditions. Workers have become individualized because they don’t realize they are under ideological control. Social media networking services like Facebook and Twitter run on free labor. Through the users’ use of the site, the creators make money. Media portrays the ‘ideal’ life and the working class are oblivious of their exploitations through that.
Media encourages the idea of a ‘perfect’ nuclear family. It is showcased in TV programmers and advertising. Parents end up competing for that perfect family. They buy the nicest house, the best car, etc., and all that money goes to the bourgeoisie. Men and women work harder to improve profits for the company they work for, in hopes of getting a raise. Much of that salary is put into to try to provide that lifestyle. The ruling class then make more profits by selling goods and services. People start working overtime which deteriorates their health. Children also grow up watching their parents live this lifestyle and try and mimic this manner thus never getting out of that vicious cycle.
The schools that children are sent to also emphasize this lifestyle. They are encouraged to strive higher and taught that money equals success. From when kids first start school, they are taught obedience. This is good for capitalism as it creates students who will become good workers. Through that obedience training, the students will not question authority thus being prey to exploitation. Private schools cannot be afforded by the average family. Government schools have a worse environment, with lesser skilled teachers. This again plays into the whole concentration of wealth. Schools play a big part in one’s life; they shape who you are. Private and public school students are not provided with the same facilities. Private school kids have a better chance to succeed, but it’s not the child’s fault. One’s future depends on who your parents were. If they are wealthy and well known, their children have an obvious advantage in life compared to the kids who grew up in single-parent homes. It is primarily a result of your birth circumstances.
The relevance of Marxism in today’s society is an ongoing debate. Certain aspects of it do not apply today anymore such as the class system, while other aspects are still very much a problem such as the concentration of wealth and the rise of capitalism. Though society has changed and grown a lot since when Marx first proposed this theory, Marxism cannot be undermined as the history of the world was transformed by Marx’s theory and nationalism but the world is continuously changing due to the impact of science.