• SCLY4 Essay Marxism

    Marxism was developed in the 1800's, to encourage the lower classes to uprise against the unjust exploitations of capitalism. It was also a reaction to the Functionalism theory, as Marx agreed that society can be understood scientifically, and sought to continue in the enlightenment. However, although Marx and Durkheim agreed on the importance of sociology, their theories themselvesare fundamentally different.Marx saw the baseof society as a battle between bourgeoisie and proletariat, and believed thatmany of the traditions,beliefs and institutions praisedby functionalistswere in fact a means of reproducing the exploitative class cycle. From this concept Marx built his theory, which sought to revolutionise society working on the principle that 'proletariats have nothing to lose but their chains'. Many have since argued that Marxism is a naive theory, and one that is no longer relevant to our society- especially since the creation of a Welfare State and blurring divisions between classes. But some would argue that the class struggle still rages on, and is even more evident in our increasingly capitalist and monetary driven culture. With the election of our nineteenth Etonite Prime Minister and plans to reduce welfare and increase the cost of education, the topic of class struggle is perhaps at a peak of relevancy.

    Marx argued that societies shift into capitalism derives from the basic human instinct to seek material needs- e.g. food, clothing and shelter. These predisposed ideals manifest themselves into capitalism when 'means of production' are used in order to work to achieve these items. The basic principle of Marxism is that the means of production should be owned communally, and their fruits shared out, so that everybody is equal; thus ousting poverty and strengthening the community. In our current capitalist society there is a fundamental divide between those whom own the means of production, and can therefore assert power over others and control society (the bourgeoisie) and those who must work for the bourgeois and are thus effectively controlled by them (the proletariat). Marx argues that this division infiltrates all aspects of society- the superstructure of institutions, beliefs and behaviour; forexample, capitalism shapes the nature of religion, law, education, the state etc. However,thishas not always been the case, Marx explains that society has evolvedintoits increasingly capitalist stateas a result of the changing means of production.Although exploitation has been a constant in our society, the exploitationhas not always been focussed onfree wage labourers. In ancient societyslavery exploited thedestitute;in the feudal society serfs, who were legally tied to the land, were exploited by the wealthy land owners. Whereas inmodern, capitalist society, the labourers are exploited by their employers, who control the surplus profit, while rewarding the workers with just the necessary amount to live and continue providing cheap labour.Although this is a more subtle method ofcontrol and exploitation it it still as controlling as its predecessors; this evolution reveals that societyis more willing toaccept exploitation asthe method of doing so becomes more sophisticated and internalised into our norms. People may be less aware of this method of control because, unlike slaves or serfs, thelabourer is legally freeand seperated from the means of production, they are even protected by employment laws andsupported by thewelfare system. However,inorder togain a better quality of life and support their families, they have to sell their labour to the bourgeoisie.But this isnota fair trade, the proletariat does notreceive the value of thegoodsthat they have produced, and are instead rewarded just the cost ofsustenance, meaningthat their quality of life is not proportional to the work they do. But the bourgeoisie benefitfrom the surplus profit received fromselling thegoods, meaning that the work of themajority of the population only benefits a small minority of people(forexample, it is estimated that, as of 2009, 22% of the British population live in a low income household). This is a result of the competitive nature of capitalism, in which fewer and fewer people are among the privileged owners of the means of production, this concentration results in giant translational corporations which have driven smaller business owners into irrelevancy and placed them on par with the proletariat. This competition also forces capitalists to pay the lowest wages possible, resulting in the immiseratin of the proletariat. Furthermore, many skilled labourers are becoming obsolete, as technological advances mean that the work of labourers is no longer necessary and depreciates in value. These changes culminate in a polarisation of the classes, where there is a division between the majority of working classand minority capitalist class that 'face each other as two warring camps'. Marx argues that, in this respect, capitalism is self defeating- that by treating workers so unjustly and creating a rivalry between the two opposing classes it creates the perfect conditions for the working class to develop a consciousness of its own economic and political interests. Creating a shift froma class in itself, to a class for itself who are aware that capitalism must be overthrown. However, the capitalists are aware that this consciousness would end their reign of exploitation, and therefore try to subdue the working class by controlling the institutions that produce and spread ideas (e.g. religion, education, the media). All of these institutions create ideologies that legitimise the social order as desirable or unavoidable. This creates a 'false consciousness' which sustains inequality, however Marx argues that it is inevitable that the workers will eventually become immune to capitalist propaganda and recognise their position as 'wage slaves'. This could also be spurred by the alienation felt by those who no longer have control overtheir labour and its products, and therefore defy our human nature to create things to meet our needs. Alienation is felt most strongly under capitalism, because workers have no control whatsoever overthe forces of production, and because the worker is reduced to monotonous and menial work. Marx believed that in order to end this cycle the lower class would have to revolt against the 'ruling class' of the state (police, prisons, courts etc) which are the 'armed bodies of men' that ultimately control and suppress the proletariat. Thus becoming the first revolution by the majority against the minority, and the first revolution to spread throughout the world, effectively abolishing all government. This revolution would aim to remove the state and create a classless, communist society; human needs would be placed before the economy, there would be no exploitation, alienationor private ownership.

    However, this theory has been subject to heavy criticism, on both it's views about capitalism and it's description of an ideal communist replacement. Many argue that Marx's views of inequality are simplistic and one dimensional; Weber notes that status and power differences can also be sourcesof equality, e.g. a 'power elite' can rule without actually owning the means of production, as seen in the former Soviet Union. Weber also argues that Marx's two class model issimplistic, he presents an alternative model which sub divides the proletariat into skilled and unskilled classes, and includes a white- collar middle class of office workers and a petty bourgeoisie. Feminists argue that the theory does not acknowledge gender inequalities, even within class, for example, historically women have been neglected from both the work force and the capitalists, having to rely on their husbands wealth; even in modern society women are still not financial equals to men, a fact ignored by traditional Marxism. Also, Marx's theory of class polarisation has proved to be incorrect, instead the middle class has fused into the expanding proletariat, while the industrial working class has shrunk to reflect the economic climate. On the other hand, unlike othertheoriesMarxism does not have a Western bias, and Marx's theory is correct in countries such as China and India, in which the proletariat is growing as a result of globalisation. It is also argued that Marxism places too much emphasis on economic determinism, and thus ignores the importance of free will; if economic factors are the sole cause of everything in society, humans cannot bring about change through conscious actions. It also ignores the role of ideas, Weber argues that it was Calvinist ideas that brought about capitalism, rather than a natural reaction to shifting means of production. Thistheory would better explain the willingness to accept inequalities of class divisionsand how institutions of society (i.e. religion) seem to encourage capitalism. But, Marx cannot be critiqued as completely deterministic, there are instances when he argued that 'men make their own history', which indicates that he place some importance on human action. Nevertheless, it could be argued that this is an example of self- contradiction and inclarity in the theory, indeed there are several loose ends within his explanations, e.g. Marx wrote relatively little about how the revolution would come about; other theories, such as functionalism, are more well rounded and properly developed. On a basic level, it could be argued that this theory is incorrect because no such revolution has occurred, although there were communist stirrings in the earlytwentieth century, when the 'spectre of communism' loomed over Europe, communism mainly succeeded in inciting fear rather than class consciousness. Marx predicted that the overthrow of capitalism would first occur in the most economically advanced countries, such as Western Europe and North America, before spreading throughout the world. In reality, only economically backwards countries, such as 1917 Russia, have experienced a Marxist lead revolution

    The absence of Western revolutions has led manyNeo- Marxists to reject the economic determinism of the base- superstructure model and find different explanations as to why capitalism has persisted and how it may be overthrown. Gouldner (1973) identifies two approaches to these questions: humanistic Marxism and scientific Marxism. An example of humanistic Marxism is the work of Antonio Gramsci, who introduced the concept of hegemony, ideological and moral leadership of society, to explain how the ruling class maintains its position. He believed that in order to defeat capitalist society, the working class must develop a 'counter- hegemony'. He disputed Marx’s' belief that economicdeterminismwill result in the destruction of capitalism, believing that this will merely create the preconditions for revolution, ideas play the central role in bringing it into fruition. Gramsci believed that the ruling class maintain control by using coercion from the justice system to force other classes to except their rule, and by using hegemony to persuade the working class into providing consent. Gramsci agrees with Marx’s' argument that the ruling class control institutions that create and spread ideas inorder to convince the proletariat to support hegemony, as long as there is support from the working class there will never be a revolution, regardless of how dire the economic situation. But the hegemony of the ruling class is never complete, as they are a minority and must make alliances with the other groups, such as the middle class, in order to create a power bloc, to do this some of their ideologies must be compromised or diluted. Furthermore, the proletariat have a dual consciousness, their ideas are influenced by bourgeois ideology, but also by their living conditions and the poverty and exploitation they experience, which means that they can 'see through' the dominant ideology to some extent. This means that society is always susceptible to proletariat uprising, but in order to do thisa counter- hegemonic bloc must be created, to offer moral and ideological leadership to society. Gramsci believes that 'organic intellectuals' must create a revolutionary political party to create an alternative vision of society, this idea led to his involvement as leader of the first Italian Communist Party.

    Gramsci has been criticised for over emphasis of the role of ideas and neglecting the role of state coercion and economic factors. For example, he fails to acknowledge that the proletariat may feel intimidated, and fear state repression or unemployment, and thus tolerate capitalism because they have no realistic alternative. However, the majority of Neo- Marxists agree with Gramsci's approach, and stress the role of ideas and consciousness. Paul Willis (1977) described the working- class lads he studied as 'partially penetrating' bourgeoisie ideology, because they were able to recognise meritocracy as a myth.

    The opposing stance, scientific Marxism, is adopted by Louis Althusser, who believed that it is social structures that shape history and must be scientifically studied. Althusser rejected the base- superstructure model, in favour of the more complex 'structural determinism' which explains that society has three levels: economic (all activities that involve production), political (all forms of organisation) and ideological (how people see themselves and their world). Whereas the base- superstructure model has a one- way causality (the economic level determines everything about the other two levels), Althusser's model argues that the political and ideological levels have relative autonomy and can even affect what happens to the economy. It is argued that the state is responsible for performing the political and ideological functions in order to ensure the reproduction of capitalism. He divides the state into two apparatuses: the repressive state apparatuses, which are the traditional Marxists view of 'armed bodies of men' who coerce the proletariat into accepting the bourgeoisie control;and the ideological state apparatuses, who manipulate the working class into choosing capitalism as a desirable system (e.g. media, education system, the family, trade unions etc). Scientific Marxists view free will as an illusion, and believe that everything is a result of underlying social structures; Ian Craib (1992)analogizes that society is a puppet theatre, we are merely puppets, and these unseen structures are the hidden puppet master, determining all our thoughts and actions. Therefore, communism will not result from a conscious decision to uprise, but because of a crisis of capitalism resulting from over- determination, the contradictions of the three structures will result in the collapse as the system as a whole.

    Humanistic Marxistsbelieve that this theory discourages political activism, by arguing that individuals can do little to change structural factors. Leading Marxist historian E.P. Thompson (1978) to criticise Althusser for ignoring the fact that it is the active struggles of the working class that can change society. He accuses Althusser of elitism, the belief that the Communist Party should be blindly followed by the workers. But his views are supported by some sociologists, Craib argued that Althusser 'offers the most sophisticated conception of social structure available in the social sciences'. Ironically, Althusser's structuralist Marxism has also been a major influence on theories such as postmodernism, that reject the idea that scientific knowledge can be used to improve society.

    To conclude, although Marxism was a very relevant theory at the time of its conception, when class divisions were obvious and poverty was a problem which affected many people. Most people would argue that communism is no longer a legitimate threat to our current society, and that classis no longer a major issue.Furthermore, the utopia described by Marx is a pipe dream that would never create a truly equal society, as proved by the failure of communism in Russia, where the powerful managed tomanipulate the system. However, Marxism has never been practiced in it's purest form, instead being adapted to the advantage of the bourgeoise (e.g. stalinsim), so it cannot be fully ascertained that Marxism would not work.


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