Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

(Relevant for Sociology optional for UPSC CSE)
Paper-1 ,Unit-4 : Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

  • Historical Materialism,
  • Mode of Production,
  • Alienation,
  • Class Struggle

Basic Understanding:

  1. Karl Marx’s (1818- 1883) thought was strongly influenced by: The dialectical method and historical orientation of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; The classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo; French socialist and sociological thought, in particular the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Marx was born in Trier, Prussia (present-day Germany). While he attended a Lutheran elementary school growing up, he later became an atheist and a materialist. In 1835, Marx enrolled in Bonn University in Germany where he took courses in law, however, he was much more interested in philosophy and literature. One year later, he enrolled him at the University of Berlin. Marx soon felt at home when he joined a circle of brilliant and extreme thinkers who were challenging existing institutions and ideas, including religion, philosophy, ethics, and politics. Marx graduated with his doctoral degree in 1841.
  2. After school, Marx turned to writing and journalism to support himself. In 1842 he became the editor of the liberal Cologne newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, but the Berlin government prohibited it from publication the following year. He then moved to Brussels, Belgium, where he founded the German Workers’ Party and was active in the Communist League. Here he wrote his most famous work Communist Manifesto. After being exiled from Belgium and France, Marx finally settled in London where he lived as a stateless exile for the rest of his life.
  3. In London, Marx worked in journalism and wrote for both German and English language publications. From 1852 to 1862 he was also a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, writing a total of 355 articles. He also continued writing and formulating his theories about the nature of society and how he believed it could be improved, as well as actively campaigning for socialism.
  4. Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics, which are collectively known as marxism, argue that all society progresses through the dialectic of class struggle. He was heavily critical of the current socio-economic form of society, capitalism, which he called the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” believing it to be run by the wealthy middle and upper classes purely for their own benefit, and predicted that it would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system, socialism. Under socialism, he argued that society would be governed by the working class in what he called the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” he believed that socialism would eventually be replaced by a stateless, classless society called pure communism.
  5. While Marx remained a relatively unknown figure in his own lifetime, his ideas and the ideology of Marxism began to exert a major influence on socialist movements shortly after his death. Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and in a 1999 BBC poll was voted the “thinker of the millennium” by people from around the world.
  6. In the late 1830s radical criticism for extreme change in existing socio-political conditions was made by the young Hegelians (a group of people following the philosophy of Hegel). This was the group with which Marx became formally associated when he was studying law and philosophy at the University of Berlin.
  7. Hegel’s philosophy was humanist in treating humanity as occupying a special, central place in the whole historical process and seeing that the very point of history was to improve and fulfil the human spirit. His ideas certainly had immense impact; he dominated German intellectual life and influenced most young German philosophers of the time. One of these was Marx, who appropriated much of Hegel’s scheme, certainly in his early writings.

Hegel: the dialectic of history:

  1. Hegel was the most influential thinker of the first half of the nineteenth century in Germany and, arguably, in Europe as a whole. Hegel’s philosophy aimed to give an account of history-as-a-whole. The history of all humanity can, he argued, be grasped as a single, unified, organised and rational progress. History might look like a mere accidental succession, one thing after another in a rather disorganised, chaotic sequence, but that impression is only superficial. Seen in the right way, history can be recognised as making up a coherent story about development and progress. Progress is not smooth, continuous and cumulative, but, rather, comes through struggle, conflict and discontinuity, which none the less is of an essentially logical kind.
  2. The crucial idea is that conflict is itself an orderly process, consisting in the creation and overcoming of oppositions. Compare the history of human beings to the growth of a plant from a seed. The seed contains the plant, and out of the seed grows the plant, destroying the seed. Thus the life of the plant is the development of the seed into what it has the potential to become: first, the shoot, eventually the fully grown plant. In the same way, consider history as the life of humanity, and see, therefore, that history is merely the unfolding of the potential which was present at the earliest stage of its being. History is the natural expression of the essential nature of human beings, just as the plant is the natural expression of the essential nature of the seed. Humanity must itself develop into what it has the potential to become.Note that Hegel takes it for granted that his history is a collective one, i.e. it is a history of humanity as a whole, or of large groups of people, not of particular individuals. Just as the seed is destined to turn into a plant of a specific kind, human beings— Hegel argues—are destined to develop towards complete freedom.
  3. What human beings essentially are will never be fully expressed if their capacity for development
    is restricted, inhibited by circumstances; the potential of humanity will only be fully developed when they are truly free, which means free of all circumstantial inhibition. Over the course of history, human beings necessarily represent something less than the true or full nature of humanity. For just as the full potential of the seed is only realised when the plant is fully matured, so the full potential of human beings will only be realised after the period of growth—i.e. history—is over. The achievement of complete freedom will be the ‘finished growth’ of human beings. Consequently, there will be an end to history. Since history is a process of change through which humanity develops its full potential, then when that has been realised there can be no further development and therefore no further history. History is directed towards an end in two senses:

    • In the form of a particular result;
    • In being directed towards a literal end or finish.

In what sense does humanity develop?

  • For Hegel, the primary manifestation of development was the development of the intellectual life, of the mind or spirit, the german term used by hegel is zeitgeist (i.e. ‘spirit of the age’). He held it to be plain, if one studied the history of a given people, that their art, religion and philosophy would at any given time have a certain uniformity, a common cast of mind, a shared outlook.
  • This concept reaffirms Hegel’s collectivist aspect, for it was his firm conviction that the commonality across many different thinkers was not a matter of mere coincidence; individuals were driven by larger, widespread influences affecting them all in similar ways. In short, the mind or the spirit that drives the historical process is the mind of humanity, as manifested in particular peoples and periods, not the mind of individual thinkers.
  • Hegel’s study of the mind was the study of the development of ideas, so naturally he concentrated upon those areas of society that were creative or expressive of ideas: art, abstract thought (particularly philosophy) and religion.
  • Hence hegel is termed an idealis. he thought that the true nature of history and human existence was to be understood in terms of the development of thought, of ideas.
Dialectical logic:
  1. Classically, truth is often sought in discussion—in dialogue, or dialectic. Hegel bases his logic on the model of discussion exemplified by Socrates in classical times. Discussion originates in disagreement, the conflict of oppositions, which spurs debate. The argument proceeds by the putting of one position and the countering of it by another, opposed position. The search for truth is not about standing pat on one’s own position, but about attempting to reach agreement with one’s opponent, to arrive at a conclusion both can accept. It incorporates elements of each of the two previously opposed positions, but now combines them in a third, new position that is improved and superior.
  2. In grossly simplified terms, we may glimpse Hegel’s dialectical logic as an exposition of the way in which seeming opposites can be reconciled and combined in a new unity. Of course, arriving at an agreed position might end that discussion, but it does not end all discussion, for this newly agreed position will be put in some other conversation, will provoke a counter-statement, initiate a new debate and a search for yet another more inclusive, mutually acceptable conclusion, and so on.
  3. This logical progression is the very stuff of history. Hegel is saying that history arises from conflict. Far from conflict being an undesirable and unnecessary blemish upon the face of human existence, it is the driver of history, the essential motor of progress. Conflict engenders new and better ideas and pushes towards a more comprehensive understanding. Conflict is not only necessary, but also productive, for conflicts are eventually resolved and result in improved outcomes before yet further conflicts are initiated.

Marx’s reformation of Hegel:

  1. Although he was the youngest member of the young Hegelians, Karl Marx inspired their confidence, respect and even admiration. They saw in him a ‘new Hegel’
  2. He was, however, skeptical of Hegel’s significance as a political thinker. Marx could not accept Hegel’s contention that the key to human emancipation lay in the development of philosophy, carrying people to the level of complete understanding of their own nature and thus to complete freedom through This. After all, this supposed final enlightenment and full elaboration of humanity’s progress coexisted with jails filled with political prisoners. Freedom in philosophy, freedom only in the mind, obviously was not the same as real political freedom. Therefore, Hegel’s idea of history could not offer an account of the progression of history to a real, i.e. practical, political freedom if it only resulted in freedom in theory. For Marx, the real history of human development could not be a history solely of thought or ideas; it would have to be a history of human life in the real world, i.e. the world of economic and political being.
  3. Despite this important reservation, Marx initially adopted much of the form of Hegel’s argument, i.e. the idea of a scheme for history-as-a-whole, and of history as a progressive development of the true character of human nature that could only be fully realised when history reaches its final stage. These ideas were taken over. So was the idea that the driving force of historical change was conflict. Change was structured in the dialectical pattern of conflict, resolution, further conflict and higher, more advanced resolution. It went through a succession of ever higher stages of development, with increasing degrees of freedom, eventually resulting in a final, full enlightenment and emancipation of humankind.

Production and human essence:

  1. Of course, Marx’s reservation referred to the inequality of the then existing society. At that stage only a very few individuals had participated in the development of human thought, or spirit, in the sense of its intellectual expression; the vast majority were excluded from the process of creating these purported expressions of human essence. This majority had been engaged in producing human history all right, but not by way of intellectual creation and discussion. Rather, it had produced human history through physical, not mental, effort, creating through its labour the actual conditions of human existence and the material conditions under which thinking, for example philosophy, might be done. Marx denied Hegel’s view that the human essence was to be found in thinking; he favoured the view that the human essence is to work.
  2. Work: Work, involving as it does the physical transformation of the world around us, literally changes
    our world, whereas thinking makes no physical difference to anything. Work also provides the most basic means to freedom, to liberation from necessity For, of course, our labour provides us with food, shelter and clothing, giving us some freedom from the challenges and pressures of nature. Further, progress in labour sets us free from the necessity for labour itself by giving us time and resources to do things other than labour, including the opportunity to engage in intellectual thought.
  3. This is not to say that thinking does not matter at all, for, of course, thinking is part of labour, part of what Marx calls ‘practical consciousness’, i.e. the thinking involved in and for the purposes of carrying out labour. Indeed, for Marx as for his predecessors, Aristotle and Hegel, the capacity for thought marks out human beings as distinctive; the capacity to think about things and to imagine them being otherwise enables human beings to envisage new (improved) ways of making the physical world meet their needs, bringing about changes in the physical environment itself. In this capacity they differ from animals, whose ability to alter the physical world is fixed in instinct-given ways; animals have no capacity for reflection and foresight.
    • The epoch to which Marx belonged had its beginnings in the French revolution. But its historical dimension coincided with those of the whole era of industrial and social revolutions and extended into modern era. This is reason for the lasting appeal of a body of thought (Marxian Thought) that is by no means free from history.
    • Before the age of thirty, Marx produced a number of works which together provide a relatively adequate outline of his “materialist conception of history”. Though Marx never wrote explicitly on historical materialism, his writings refer to it in a fragmentary fashion. For him, it was not a new philosophical system. Rather it was a practical method of socio-historical studies. It was also a basis for political action.
    • The framework for this theory was obviously derived from hegel. Like hegel, Marx recognized that the history of mankind was simply a single and non-repetitive process (Evolutionist). Likewise he also believed that the laws of the historical process could be discovered.
    • Marx deviated from Hegelian philosophy. Many others among the Young Hegelians found defects in Hegel’s ideas and they proceeded to build a new system of thought. But only Marx could consistently develop a new set of ideas which in fact superseded Hegelian theories about society. ……. Hegel was a liberal in the sense that he accepted the rule of law rather than the rule of individual person. His philosophy belonged to the idealist tradition. According to the idealist tradition, reason (idea) is the essence of reality, and the spirit of reason expresses itself during the course of history. Hegel argued that history comprises the growth of reason to awareness of itself. He considered constitutional state to be the summit or highest point of history. Hegel views history as ‘progress in the consciousness of freedom which is best expressed in philosophy & religion, and development in religious concept and idea shows the degree of the consciousness of freedom in particular forms of social organization. In other words, advances in religious and philosophical ideas-correspond with socio-political progress. For Hegel, human history was progressing in the direction of Christianity, the reformation, the French revolution and constitutional monarchy. He also held that only educated state officials, administering a constitutional monarchy, understood the ideas of human progress.

Karl Marx also developed his ideas of human history initially on the basis of Hegel’s views. But in course of time, he too joined hands with the Young Hegelians and eventually evolved his own ideas on the history of human society i.e.,Historical materialism. In doing so, he is said to have put Hegel on his head, i.e., Marx criticized Hegel’s conservative ideas on religion, politics and law.

  • Marx denied Hegel’s faith in idealism but adopted and adapted Hegel’s use of dialectical methodology.
  • According to Hegel, each thesis has its antithesis. The thesis represents the positive view, and the antithesis represents the opposite view. It means that each statement of truth has its opposite statement. The antithesis or the opposite statement is also true. In course of time, the thesis and antithesis are reconciled in the form of synthesis. The synthesis is the composite view.
  • As history progresses, the synthesis become a new thesis. The new thesis then has an antithesis, with eventual prospect of turning into a synthesis. And thus, goes on the process of dialectics.
  • While Hegel applied this understanding of the process of dialectics to the progress of ideas in history, Marx accepted the concept of dialectics but did not, like Hegel, perceive truth in the progress of ideas. He said that “matter is the realm of truth” and tried to reach the truth via “materialism”. This is why Marx’s theory is known as “historical materialism” while Hegel’s system is called “dialectical idealism”.

What is materialism?

Materialism seeks the scientific explanations of things, including even religion. The idea of materialism may be opposed to the concept of idealism. Idealism refers to a theory that ultimate reality lies in a realm of transcending phenomena “Ideas”. Materialism, on the other hand, contends that everything, that exists, depends upon matter. Historical materialism emphasizes the fundamental and causal role of production of material conditions in the development of human history.

  1. Production- It is not that people produce out of material greed or the greed to accumulate wealth. But the act of producing, the essentials of life, engages people into “social relationship”. According to Marx social relations, are over and above individuals. Marx says that as a general principle, the production of material requirements of life, which is a very basic necessity of all societies, compels individuals to enter into definite social relations that are independent of their will. This is the basic idea of Marx’s theory of society.
  2. Marx stresses that there are social relations which impinge upon individuals irrespective of their preferences. He further elaborates that an understanding of the historical process depends on our awareness of these objective social relations. In most of human history, according to Marx, these relationships are “class relationship” that creates class struggle. His contention is that the process of socio-political and intellectual life in general is conditioned by the mode of production of material life. On the basis of this logic, Marx tries to construct his entire view of history.
  3. He says that “new developments of productive forces of society” come in “conflict” with “existing relations of production”. When people become conscious of the state of conflict, they wish to bring an end to it. This period of history is called by Marx “the period of social revolution”. The revolution brings about “resolution of conflict”. Thus, for Marx, “it is the growth of new productive force which outlines the course of human history”. The productive forces are the powers society uses to produce material conditions of life. For Marx, “human history is an account of development and consequences of new forces of material production”. This is the reason why his view of history of “historical materialism”.
  4. Infrastructure and Superstructure: According to Marx, every society has its infrastructure and superstructure. Social relations are defined in terms of material conditions which he calls “infrastructure”. The economic base of a society forms its infrastructure. Any changes in material conditions also imply corresponding changes in social relations. Forces and relations of production come in the category of infrastructure. Within the “superstructure” figure the legal, educational and political institutions as well as values, cultural ways of thinking, religion, ideologies and philosophies.
  5. According to Marx, Forces of production comprise two elements: (a) means of production (tools, machines, factories, and so on); and (b) labour power (the skills, knowledge, experience and other human faculties used in the work). Relations of production are constituted by the pattern of economic ownership of means of production. At every stage of historical development, the owners of means of production constitute the dominant class and those left with labour power only constitute the dependent class.
  6. At certain points in time, Marx speaks in terms of transformation of society from one stage to another. In explaining the process of transformation, Marx has given us a scheme of historical movement.
  7. He develops the idea of social change resulting from internal conflicts in the theory of class struggle. For him, social change displays a regular pattern. Marx constructs, in broad terms, a historical sequence of the main types of society, proceeding from the simple, undifferentiated society of ‘primitive communism’ to the complex class society of ‘modern capitalism’. He provides an explanation of the great historical transformation which demolishes old forms of society and creates new ones in terms of infrastructural changes which he regards as general and constant in their operation. Each period of contradiction between the forces and the relations of production is seen by Marx as a period of revolution.
  8. Dialectical relationship between the forces and relations of production: In revolutionary period, one class is attached to the old relations of production. These relations hinder the development of the forces of production. Another class, on the other hand, is forward looking. It strives for new relations of production. The new relations of production do not create obstacles in the way of the development of the forces of production. They encourage the maximum growth of those forces. This is the abstract formulation of Marx’s ideas of class struggle.
  9. The dialectical relationship between the forces of production also provides a “theory of revolution”In Marx’s reading of history, revolutions are not political accidents. They are treated as “social expression of the historical movement”. Revolution is necessary manifestations of the historical progress of societies. Revolutions occur when the conditions for them mature. Marx wrote, ‘No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and the new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society’.
  10. He has also distinguished social reality and consciousness. For Marx, reality is not determined by human consciousness. According to him, “social reality determines human consciousness”. This results in an overall conception in which ways of human thinking must be explained in terms of the social relations of whom they are a part.
  11. After detailed analysis, we find that “historical materialism” is different from “economic determinism”. Marx recognized that without culture there can be no production possible. For him “mode of production” includes “social relations of production” which are “relations of domination and subordination” into which men and women are born or involuntarily enter. The “reproduction both of life and of the material means of life” cannot be understood without turning to the “culture, norms the rituals of the working people” over whom the rulers rule.

In other words:

  • The human essence is the capacity to labour, to work upon and modify the world about it, to shape it better in accord with human needs, thereby enhancing human existence and potential.
  • In short, labour is human nature—human essence itself. The capacity of labour has a cumulative character, since human beings can contrive new and improved ways of carrying out their work on the world, given their capacity for practical thought; e.g. the creation of tools increases human powers.

Change: quantity and quality.

  • The cumulative character of labour, however, is not smooth and continuous. Here another Hegelian notion informs Marx’s analysis: quantity into quality. Hegel had noted that many changes are continuous up to a point, and then they involve a drastic, discontinuous alteration. For example, if we heat or cool water for a time we get a continuous cumulative change, and the water just gets hotter or colder, but if we continue, then at a certain point there is a change not just of quantity—so many more degrees—but in nature or quality. The water starts to boil and turn into a gas, or freeze and turn into ice. This quantity-into-quality change is characteristic of historical processes, where a society changes in a cumulative way. For example, an agricultural society might expand the area of land under cultivation but, at a certain point, further changes are not possible except through a change in the whole nature of the society, and an agricultural becomes an industrial society.
  • Human beings develop tools—technology—to enhance their labour power, and in a given period of history a certain level of technology prevails, which is amenable to continuing improvement. At a certain point, however, a new, different kind of technology is created, which is superior. This emphasis upon the development of technology invites the view that Marx is a technological determinist, i.e. he sees the development of new technologies of production as giving rise to historical change. However, Marx was precisely concerned to oppose this kind of idea of technology as an independent force, since technology in itself is no more than an inert body of practical and technical knowledge. It takes the social relations between human beings to make a technology conceivable and practical. Economic, productive activity is a social, a collective affair. The prevailing form of technology might be among the forces of production, but the social relations of production are most critical.

The social relations of production:

  • A technology implies, so to speak, certain kinds of relations among people. For example, one person can operate a horse-drawn plough, but an industrial plant obviously requires the complex organisation of a team of individuals, involving, among other things, an elaborate division of labour into specialist tasks.
  • Economic change is never just a change in technology; it also requires a set of changes in social relations, and not just in the social relations involved in production itself. For example, an individual alone, someone living in isolation, remote from any neighbour, can operate the horsedrawn plough, but an industrial plant cannot be operated by members of a population that is as thinly scattered across a landscape as prairie farmers. People have to be resident near to the plant if they are to work there. Obviously, there is much more to this idea that economic relations require social relations of specific kinds, but this example indicates its force.

In summary, Marx’s idea that economic production is basic to the life of a society has at least a threefold justification:

  1. Productive activity is definitive of human nature.
  2. Productive activity is logically prior to other activities, in the sense that we cannot do anything else until we have met the conditions of our physical existence, i.e. we cannot theorise, or paint, or play sport until we have provided food, protection from the environment and so forth.
  3. The structure of productive activity has causal consequences for the form taken by other social activities. For example, an aristocrat and a peasant lived completely differently, i.e. the aristocrat could have a leisure-filled existence, but the overwhelming bulk of the peasant’s time was consumed in producing what was needed for his or her own (and, ultimately, the aristocrat’s) existence.

Ownership of the means of production:

  1. In production, there was often the difference between those who did the physical work, and those who supplied them with the means to do that work—access to land, or raw materials or technology—but did not themselves do it. The aristocrat controlled land and granted the peasant permission to work, the industrial employer controls the physical plant and machinery and pays workers wages to use them. The one who possesses ‘the means of production’, therefore, has power over the one who makes use of them.
  2. Hence for Marx the crucial division in society became not just that between those who worked and those who did not work in physical production, but more specifically one based on the existence of private property, i.e. between those who possessed—who owned—the means of production and those who did not. In production, the latter controlled (and exploited) the former. The exploitation consisted, in crudest terms, in the fact that those who did not work were able to have at least a portion of the product physically created in work handed over to them, though they had contributed nothing to its actual creation. The relationship of power, of control, which was found in economic relations based on private property, was reproduced in the wider society. Those who dominated within the process of economic production ruled the society; for example, the aristocrats who controlled the land also made up the ruling group within pre-industrial society. The key positions and relationships in society were those of class.


  1. Under any particular regime of production, there are many people who would stand in the same relationship to one another; in the productive process, as we have said, people either work, or own the means of production. Those people in the same position on one side of this divide were in the same class.
  2. The pattern of this divide not only exists in the economic sphere, but also obtains across all areas of life. Life in society, even in those areas most remote from physical production, is class divided, class based. Hence the concept of class is wider than the analysis of economic relations alone; it involves the analysis of the structure of society as a whole. This is another respect in which economic structures are ‘basic’ to society for Marx, for it is in terms of the relationships established around a given form of economic production that social class is formed, which, in its turn, becomes the fundamental relation around which all other social activities are structured.

Historical materialism:-

  1. Marx’s general ideas about society are known as his theory of “historical materialism”. Materialism is the basis of his sociological thought because, for Marx, material conditions or economic factor affect the structure and development of society. His theory is that material conditions essentially comprise technological means of production and human society is formed by the forces and relations of production.
  2. Why Marx’s theory of society, i.e. Historical materialism is historical?
    • It is historical because Marx has traced the evolution of human societies from one stage to another.
    • It is called materialistic because Marx has interpreted the evolution of societies in terms of their material or economic bases.
    • Materialism simply means that it is matter or material reality, which is the basis for any change.
    • The earlier view that of Hegel was that ideas were the cause of changeMarx opposed this view and instead argued that ideas were a result of objective reality, i.e., matter and not vice versa.
  3. At the outset historical materialism implies that in any given epoch the economic relations of society – the means whereby men and women provide for their sustenance, produce, exchange, and distribute the things they regard necessary for the satisfaction of their needs – exert a preponderating influence in shaping the progress of society and in moulding social, political, intellectual, and ethical relationship. In other words, all types of social relations prevailing at any stage of historical development are determined by economic conditions.
    • Marx’s argument in this behalf begins with the simple truth the survival of man depends upon his efficiency in the production of material things.
    • Production is, therefore, the most important of all human activity.
    • Society comes into existence primarily for the purpose of economic production because men in association produce more than men in isolation.
    • A perfect society will secure all the necessities of life to the satisfaction of all its members. But according to the dialectic concept, perfection comes through a very long process.
  4. As the process of material production holds the key to man’s social life changes in this process are responsible for all historical development.
    • Marx’s description of historical development is based on the concept of historical materialism. As Marx himself observed: “In the social production of their life men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure, the real basis on which rises a legal and political superstructure.”
    • According to this interpretation, mode of production in a given society constitutes its’ ‘base’; legal and political institutions, religion and morals, etc. constitute its ‘superstructure’ which are shaped according to the changing character of the base.
What is the reason behind changes in the mode of production?
  • Marx’s answer is: “at a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production … within which they have been at work hitherto; Then begins and epoch of social revolution.”
  • Man’s constant search for improvement of production (with a view to overcoming scarcity, etc.) leads to the development of forces of production. Means of production are improved by scientific discoveries and invention of new techniques and implements while labour power’s developed by the acquisition of new knowledge, education and training. The development of the forces of production leads to a contradiction between the forces of production and relations of production. The intensification of this contradiction ushers in a stage when the existing relations of production are no longer compatible with the level of development of forces of production. Its result is the breakdown of the existing mode of production and its superstructure. Thus, for example with the rise of industrialization in the sphere of forces of production, the pre-existing feudal system in the sphere of relations of production (that is, division of society into lords and serfs) is bound to collapse which is now replaced by a new capitalist mode of production.
  • This process of historical development can also be explained by dialectical method. According to the dialectic concept, the established order is a thesis which inevitably produces its own antithesis in the form of a new mode of production. ………In other words, as a result of some new invention or discovery, the productive forces come into conflict with the existing relations of production, particularly with the prevailing property system, which instead of furthering their development becomes the fetters upon it. As a result of the clash between the existing social relations and the new productive forces, a new revolutionary class emerges which overthrows the existing order in a violent revolution. The old order gives way to the new-slave society, which is replaced by feudal society; feudal society is replaced by capitalist society; capitalist society is replaced by socialist society…………. According to dialectical logic, every stage of society which falls short of perfection contains the seeds of its own decay. Marx saw his contemporary capitalist society into antagonistic classes – the “haves” and “have-nots”, the bourgeoisie and proletariat, the dominant and dependent classes-and the consequent exploitation of the dependent class. It was, therefore, doomed due interplay of its inherent contradictions.
Marx and Engels identified four main stages of past historical development:
  1. Primitive communism in which forms of production are light and communally owned;
  2. Ancient slave-owning society in which the means of production are owned by masters and labour
    for production is done by the slaves;
  3. Medieval feudal society in which the means of production are owned by feudal lords and labour for
    production is done by the serfs; and
  4. Modern capitalist society in which the means of production are owned by capitalists and labour for
    production is done by the proletariat – the property less workers.
  • At each stage, society is divided into antagonistic classes; the class which owns the means of production and controls the forces of production; dominates the rest, thus perpetuating tension and conflict.
  • At each stage of historical development, the forms of conditions of production determine the structure of society. Thus ‘the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord, the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist’.
  • The structure of society will in its turn breed attitudes, action, and civilizations. Therefore ‘all the social, political and intellectual relations, all religious and legal system, all the theoretical outlooks which emerge in the course of history, are derived from the material conditions of life’.
  • The forces of capitalism had heralded a new era of production process by destroying the feudal system. But Marx saw capitalism itself as a transitory phase. As George H. Sabine has elaborated: “The abolition of feudalism meant for Marx, the rise to power of the middle class and the creation of a political system which made its power effective. In its most developed form, as yet only partially reached, this system would be the democratic republic. The French Revolution, therefore, had been essentially political revolution. It had transferred social dominance from the nobility and the clergy to the industrial and commercial middle class; it had created the state as a typical organ of middle class repression and exploitation; and its philosophy-the system of natural rights in politics and economics – was the ideal justification and rationalization of the middle class right to exploit the worker.”
  • Thus, class-conflict was inevitable during the capitalist stage of historical development, and another revolution was in store. Marx therefore, anticipated a more profound social revolution by which the rising proletariat would displace the middle class from power as the middle class had displaced the older feudal class. This revolution would pave the way for the termination of the era of exploitations.

Contribution of Historical Materialism to Sociological Theory

  • The theory of historical materialism played an essential part in the formation of modern sociology. Marx’s ideas had been foreshadowed in the works of earlier thinkers as diverse in other respects as Hegel, Saint-Simon and Adam Ferguson. All of them greatly influenced Marx. He did so in a more precise and above all more empirical fashion than did his predecessors. He introduced an entirely new element to understand the structure of each society. It was derived from the relations between social classes. These relations were determined by the mode of production. It was this feature of historical materialism which was widely accepted by later sociologists as offering a more promising starting point for exact and realistic investigation of the causes of social change.
  • Historical materialism introduced into sociology a new method of inquiry, new concepts, and a number of bold hypotheses to explain the rise, development and decline of the particular forms of society. All of these came to exercise, in the later decades of the nineteenth century, a profound and extensive influence upon the writings of sociologists.
  • Originality of historical materialism was in its immense effort to synthesis in a critical way, the entire understanding of the conditions of human development. The desired system would be based upon rational planning, cooperative production, and equality of distribution and most important, liberated from all forms of political and social exploitation.
  • Historical materialism not only provides a method to understand the existing social reality; it is a method to understand the existence of other methods. It is persistent critique of the aims and methods of the social sciences.

Criticism of Historical materialism:

  • The philosophic basis of Marxist is purely material. It does not believe in religion, God as the change of heart feelings. His view regarding human nature is very narrow. In this opinion men is selfish and works only according to his class and interest. But along with it there are also feelings of mutual cooperation, sacrifice, love and sympathy too. Marx has neglected there aspects. In the words of famous socialist J.P. Narayan when people start suspecting about their morality, tradition philanthropic activities, materialism offers no answer for all this things.
  • According to Marxist thinker’s dialectical materialism is a master key to several locks. It means with the help of this methodology any kind of process of change could to explain and that is why it is purely scientific and universal. Weber appreciated the works of Marx that undoubtedly by change in infrastructure (economic structure) brought change into superstructure (human relations/consciousness). But there is possibility that even change in superstructures (religion) would being change in infrastructure (capitalism). Weber has proved in his famous theory ‘Protestant ethics and spirit of capitalism.
  • Similarly G. Myrdal opined that state and its policies are important factors for change and and because of state intervention there is change in infrastructure.
  • Melovan Djilas criticizes Marx as a utopian thinker because the kind of communist society which Marx talked about could never emerged and the communist society which emerged does not stick to Marxian Ideology.

Mode of Production (Forces And Relation of Production)

  • Role of production in human history became a guiding thread in Marx’s writings. People need food, clothing, shelter and other necessities of life in order to survive. They cannot get all these things ready-made from nature. To survive, they produce material goods from objects found in nature. Material production has always been still is the basis of for Karl Marx, the history of human societies is the story of how people relate to one another in their efforts to make a living. He said, “The first Historical act is….The production a material life. This is indeed a historical act, a fundamental condition of all history”
  • According to Marx, economic production or production of material life is the starting point from which society as an inter-related whole is structured. He speaks of reciprocity between economic factors and other aspects of historical development of mankind. The factor of economic production is all the same a key concept in explaining the changes that occur in society. He considers that forces of production along with relations production form the basis of economic and social history of every society.

Forces Of Production:

  • The forces of production are the ways in which material goods are produced. They include the technological know-how, the types of equipment in use and goods being produced for example, tools, machinery, labour and the levels of technology are all considered to be the forces of production.
  • In other words the forces of production include Means of Production and labour power. The development of machinery, changes in the labour process, the opening up of new sources of energy and the education of the workers are included in the forces of production. In this sense science and the related skills can be seen as part of the productive forces.
  • The development of forces of production reflects the constant struggle of human beings to master nature through their labour. In every social order there is a continuous change in the material forces of production. Sometimes, as in tribal societies, this change is produced by some natural and ecological phenomena, such as the dying up of rivers, deforestation in or exhaustion of the soil etc. Usually, however, this change is produced by a development in the instruments of production. Human beings have always attempted to better their lives and overcome scarcity.
  • The motive force is the rational and ever-present impulse of human beings to try to better their situation and overcome scarcity by developing the productive forces. Man is above all an animal that produces in society by acting upon nature through labour. The productive forces compel the creation and destruction of successive system of production relations between men. Productive forces have an intrinsic tendency to develop, as human being’s knowledge and mastery over nature increase.
  • Different socio-economic organisations of production which have characterized human history arise or fall as they enable or impede the expansion of society’s productive capacity. The growth of the productive forces thus explains the general course of human history. The productive forces, however include, as we have already noted, not just the means of production (tools, machines, factories and so on), but labour power, the skills, knowledge, experience, and other human faculties used at work. The productive forces represent the powers society has at its command in material production.
  • According to Marx, labour power is the capacity to do such useful work which increases the value of products. Workers sell their labour i.e. their capacity to do work which adds value to commodities. They sell their labour power to capitalist for a wage paid in cash.
  • Labour is the actual exercise of one’s power to add value to commodities. The category of labour power is used by Marx to explain the source of surplus value. Let us say that the capitalist invest money to buy goods and later sells them for more money than he invested. This is possible only if some value is added to those goods, labour power, according to Marx, is precisely that capacity which adds value to a commodity. In buying and using labour power the capitalist is able to extract labour and labour is the source of value.
  • The source of surplus value in capitalist system of production is located in the process whereby the value
    paid by capitalists for labour power is smaller than the value which labour power adds to a commodity.

Relation of Production:

  • According to Marx, in order to produce, people enter into definite relations with one another. Only within these social relations does production take place. Relations of production are the social relations found among the people involved in the process of production. These social relations are determined by the level and character of the development of productive forces.
  • ‘Forces’ and ‘relations’ of production are strongly interrelated. The development of one leads to a growing incompatibility or contradiction with the other. In fact, the contradictions between the two aspects of production ‘act as the motor of history’ (Bottomore). The chain of causation in historical development runs like this. The forces of production determine the superstructure. There is, however, quite a good deal of controversy regarding the primacy to the relations of production while in other places he describes forces of production as the prime mover of social change.
  • These relations are of two broad types. The first refers to those technical relations that are necessary for the actual production process to proceed. The second refers to the relations of economic control which are legally manifested as property ownership. They govern access to the forces and products of production.
  • Relations of production are the social relations of production. Relations of production are not merely the ownership of means of production. The employer’s relation to the worker is one of domination and the worker’s relation with co-workers is one of cooperation. The relations of production are relations between people and people whereas means of production are relations between people and things. The relations of production can influence the momentum and direction of the development of the productive forces.
  • Relations of production are reflected in the economic ownership of productive forces. For example, under capitalism the most fundamental of these relations is the bourgeoisie’s ownership of means of production while the proletariat owns only its labour power. The relationship of production can also dominate and generate changes in the forces. For example capitalist relations of production often do revolutionize the instruments of production and the labour process.

Mode of Production:

  • Mode of Production refers to the general economic institution i.e., the particular manner in which people produce and distribute the means that sustain life. The force of production and the relations of production together define the mode of production, e.g., Capitalistic mode of production, feudal mode of production, etc For Marx, the mode of production is the main determinant of social phenomena. Modes of production can be distinguished from one another by the different relationship between the forces and relations of production. For example, in the feudal mode of production, the lord does not possess direct control over the peasant’s forces of production and the disposition of the product.
  • In Marx’s writings historical periods are founded and differentiated on the basis of the modes of material production. In other words, the basis of history is successive modes of material production. The forces and relation of production are two aspects of mode of production. The productive forces or forces of production of society reflect the degree to which human beings control nature. The more advanced the productive forces, the greater is control over nature. In order to produce, people enter into definite relations with one another. Production is an integral unity between the forces of production and the relation of production. The forces of production shapes the relations of production and the two together define the mode of production. The successive modes of production are the basic element of a systematic description of history.
  • Crucial element in defining mode of production is ‘the way in which the surplus is produced and its use controlled’ (Bottomore). Surplus means the amount that remains surplus takes the form of profit. Surplus is produced by exploiting the working class and is sold for more than the wages given to the workers. Because production of surplus enables societies to grow and change, this factor is taken to be most important in defining mode of production.
  • Each mode of production has its specific relations of production. These are not developed by chance or by accident. They are deliberately ordered because they help the property owning class extract the surplus from the working people. Take an example, the relations of production under feudalism, in which the serf is dominated in all respects by the feudal lord, are necessary to enable the feudal lord to appropriate the surplus from the serf. If such a relationship is continued under capitalism it will fail. Therefore a new set of production relations develop under capitalism that enables the capitalist appropriate surplus value from the workers.
  • Neither the forces of production nor the relations of production are fixed and static. Even within a given mode of production the forces of production may change. In any society, we may find that over the years greater production follows improvements in technology. The capitalist nations are very different from what they were to hundred years ago, when capitalism was born. This change in the productive force has resulted in changes in the relations of production. The workers, today, may not be as exploited as the factory workers a hundred years earlier. Marxists would, however, argue that exploitation still remains, because the modern worker, with modern technology, produces more surplus value than his predecessors, and he does not proportionately earn that much more.

The four modes of production, identified by Marx during his studies of human societies

  1. Primitive-communal: The primitive-communal system was the first and the lowest form of organization of people and it existed for thousand of years. Man started using primitive tools; he learned to make fire, cultivation and animal husbandry. In this system of very low level of forces of production, the relations of production were based on common ownership of the means of production. Therefore, these relations were based on mutual assistance and cooperation. These relations were conditioned by the fact that people with their primitive implements could only withstand the might forces of nature together, collectively.
  2. Ancient mode of production: Ancient mode of production refers to the forms which precede feudal mode of production. Slavery is seen as the foundation of the productive system. The relation of masters to slaves is considered as the very essence of slavery. In this system of production the master has the right of ownership over the slave and appropriates the products of the slave’s labour. The slave is not allowed to reproduction.
    • If we restrict ourselves to agricultural slavery, exploitation operates according to the following modalities: the slave works at the master’s land and receives his subsistence in return. The master’s profit is constituted by the difference between what the slave produces and what he consumes. The slave was deprived of his own means of reproduction. The reproduction of slavery depends on the capacity of the society to acquire new slaves, that is, on an apparatus which is not directly linked to the capacities of demographic reproduction of the enslaving population. The rate of accumulation depends on the number of slaves acquired, and not directly on their productivity.
    • Slaves are different from the other members of the community in that they are rightfully deprived of offspring.
  3. Feudal mode of production: Just as capitalist exploited the workers or the ‘proletariat’, so did the feudal lords exploit their tenants or ‘serfs’. Capitalists grabbed surplus value and feudal lords appropriated land rent from their serfs.
    • Serfs, being legally unfree, were deprived of property rights, though they could use the ‘lord’s property. They were obliged to surrender their labour, or the product of their labour, over and above what was needed for family subsistence and the simple reproduction of the peasant household economy. Serfs or the producers were forced to ful fill the economic demands of an overlord. These demands could be in the form of services to be performer. These could also be in the form of dues to be paid in money or kind. The dues or taxes were levied on the family holding of the peasants. Thus, feudal rent whether in the form of services or taxes was an important component of the feudal mode of production. The feudal lord was able to force serfs on the basis of military strength. This power was also backed by the force of law. In this mode of production, serfdom implied a direct relation between rulers and servants. In feudal serfdom, the instruments of production were simple and inexpensive.
    • The evolution of the feudal system brought about the development of exchange of agricultural and manufactured products in regional markets, Special needs of the ruling class and high ranking Church officials gave an impetus to the growth of commodity production, including consumption goods such as silks, spices, fruits and wines. Around this activity developed international trade routes and mercantile centres. It laid the foundation for capitalist relations of production which were to become the main contradiction of the system and cause its downfall. In the course of this transformation, many peasants were expropriated from their lands and forced to become wage labourers.
  4. Capitalist mode of production: Capitalism refers to a mode of production in which capital is the dominant means of the production. Capital can be in various forms. It can take the form of money or credit for the purchase of labour power and materials of production. In capitalist mode of production, the private ownership of capital in its various forms is in the hands of a class of capitalists (Bourgeosie). The ownership by capitalists is to the exclusion of the mass of the population.
    • Marx distinguished industrial capitalists from merchant capitalists. Merchants buy goods in one place and sell them in another; more precisely, they buy things in one market and sell them in another. Since the laws of supply and demand operate within given markets, there is often a difference between the price of a commodity in one market and another. Merchants, then, practice arbitrage, and hope to capture the difference between these two markets. According to Marx, capitalists, on the other hand, take advantage of the difference between the labor market and the market for whatever commodity is produced by the capitalist. Marx observed that in practically every successful industry input unit-costs are lower than output unit-prices. Marx called the difference “surplus value” and argued that this surplus value had its source in surplus labour.
    • The capitalist mode of production is capable of tremendous growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies. Marx considered the capitalist class to be the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly revolutionized the means of production. But Marx argued that capitalism was prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labor. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labor is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew. When the rate of profit falls below a certain point, the result would be a recession or depression in which certain sectors of the economy would collapse. Marx understood that during such a crisis the price of labor would also fall, and eventually make possible the investment in new technologies and the growth of new sectors of the economy. Marx viewed capitalism as a historical phase, to be eventually replaced be socialism.

Asiatic Mode of Production:

  • The Asiatic mode of production is characteristic of primitive communities in which ownership of land is communal. These communities are still partly organized on the basis of kinship relations. State power, which expresses the real or imaginary unity of these communities, controls the use of essential economic resources, and directly appropriates part of the labour and production of the community.
  • This mode of production constitutes one of the possible forms of transition from classless to class societies; it is also perhaps the most ancient form of this transition. It contains the contradiction of this transition, i.e. the combination of communal relations of production with emerging forms of the exploiting classes and of the State.
  • Marx did not leave behind any systematic presentation of history of India. He set down his observations on certain current India question which attracted public attention, or drew materials from India’s past and present conditions to illustrate parts of his more general arguments. The concept of Asiatic Mode of Production is therefore inadequate for an understanding of Indian history and society.

Criticism of Mode of Production:

  • Mode of production is an abstract analytical concept. In any particular society at a particular point in time there may exist more than one mode of production.
  • However, it is possible to identify a dominant or determinant mode of production which gains primacy over all the other production system.
  • Particularly during the period of social revolution more than one mode of production coexist in the same society.


  • Marx has conceived of alienation as a phenomenon related to the structure of those societies in which the producer is divorced from the means of production and in which “dead labour” (capital) dominates “living labour” (the worker). Alienation literally means “separation from”. This term is often used in literature and Marx has given it a sociological meaning.
  • Let us take an example of a shoemaker in a factory. A shoe maker manufactures shoes but cannot use them for himself. His creation thus becomes an object which is separate from him. It becomes an entity which is separate from its creator. He makes shoes not because making shoes satisfies merely his urge to work and create. He does so to earn his living. For a worker this ‘objectification’ becomes more so because the process of production in a factory is divided into several parts and his job may be only a tiny part of the whole. Since he produces only one part of the whole, this work is mechanical and therefore he loses his creativity.

Given his borrowing from Hegel, it is not surprising that Marx’s criticism of his contemporary society was initially cast in terms of one of Hegel’s key concepts, alienation.

  • Alienation refers precisely to the separation of human beings from their very essence. Engagement in productive work should be the expression of human essence, thereby fulfilling the rich potential of human energy, imagination and creativity. It was clear to Marx that work in the developing industrial societies of the nineteenth century was very different. Far from being the fulfilment of their very being, work for industrial workers was experienced, at best, as a necessary evil and undertaken out of the need for survival. For the overwhelming majority it was a deadening experience—physically unpleasant, mentally unrewarding and spiritually numbing.
  • Further, the members of industrial society are alienated as a population, not just as a collection of individuals. Human essence is not the possession of individual beings, but of the species as a whole, and will be fully realised only when human beings have developed their full potential. The industrial society, however, was divided within itself between those who could enjoy physical comfort and intellectual stimulation, engaging in freely creative activity, e.g. of a cultural and artistic kind, and those who were reduced to being near-sub-humans in the foul and brutal conditions of the factory system.
  • Another aspect of alienation involves the misrepresentation of reality in the form of the self-denial of human essence when people misapprehend their own true nature. In their thinking, people come to underestimate their own powers, failing to realise that certain things are actually the product of their own, human effort and not of some other source. A leading example is religion, where people often take a fatalistic line towards what occurs because they believe God determines what happens to them and that they can have no control over their own fate. But Marx, the atheist, following another critic of Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, maintains that there is no God. God is just an idea made up by human beings, partly to muddle up and mislead people, partly to express unsatisfied human longings. By accepting the idea of God and taking such a fatalistic line, people are resigning their own capacity to control their own destiny, are wrongly thinking of themselves as subordinate to great, supernatural forces over which they can have. no control. In fact there are no occult beings or forces, so that everything that human beings can possibly be is within their own (collective) control.
  • A further example of this kind of alienation is Hegel’s own philosophy, where the human spirit, made up of ideas, achieves an almost occult existence of its own. This strange, superhuman force directs history from behind people’s backs, making use of them as unwitting pawns to carry out its plans. It is human beings, however, who produce ideas, including ‘the human spirit’, not the other way around, and it is human beings, not quasi-supernatural ideas, who make history. In so far as things are done behind people’s backs, then, they are done by other people, not ‘ideas’.
  • For Marx, another most important kind of alienation is the way in which people accept their economic situation, e.g. unemployment or badly paid labour, because they suppose that their fate is decided by economic laws over which they can have no control. The recent tendency of many governments to insist that the market is a near-infallible mechanism for regulating all activities, the possessor of greater wisdom than individuals or their governments are capable of, might show the persistence of this kind of conception. For Marx, the market cannot be some super-human, super-wise entity but only a set of relationships between human beings, something which human beings have created (albeit not by any conscious intention) and something which they potentially can control. He maintained that there is no need to accept that we are assigned a miserable fate by the nature of things, to which we simply have to resign ourselves. Human beings make themselves through their labour, they develop their own nature through changing the world about them, and they have (collectively) the capacity to reshape themselves by reshaping their physical, economic and social world.
Alienation manifests itself in four ways:
  1. The worker is alienated from the product of his labour, since what he produces is appropriated by
    the capitalist and the worker have no control over it.
  2. The worker is alienated from the act of production because all decisions as to how production is
    to be organized are taken by the capitalist. For the worker, labour ceases to offer an intrinsic
    satisfaction and instead becomes only a means for survival. It becomes a compulsion forced from
    without and is no more an end in itself. In fact, work becomes a commodity to be sold and its only
    value to the worker is its sale ability.
  3. Alienation from his real human nature or his species-being. Man is distinguished form the animal
    by his creative ability to do labour but due to above mentioned aspects of alienation man looses his
    distinctly human quality and gets alienated from his real human nature or his species-being.
    Prevalence of religion and belief in God as an independent power are the result of this selfestrangement of man. “The more man puts into God, the less he retains of himself”. The capitalist
    system stratifies man, destroys the human qualities and renders man to a state worse than animal.
    No animal has to work for its survival at other’s bidding while man has to do that in a capitalist
  4. The worker in a capitalist system is also socially alienated because social relation became
    market relations in which each man is judged by his position in the market, rather than his human
    qualities. Capital accumulation generates its own norms which reduces people to the level of
    commodities. Workers become merely factors in the operation of capital and their activities are
    dominated by the requirements of profitability rather than by their human needs.

Marx believed that men can be freed from his alienated existence only with the emergence of a communist society wherein each man shall work to affirm himself rather than working for self-destruction. Since Marx, ‘alienation’ has undergone a lot of change of meaning, though it has become one of the important concepts in mainstream sociology, especially in the writings of the American sociologists of 50’s and 60’s.

  • Max Weber disagreed with Marx regarding the factors leading to alienation and believed the alienation was an inevitable feature of modern industrial society irrespective of whether the means of production are owned privately or collectively. For Weber the cause of alienation lies in the rationalization of social life and predominance of bureaucratic organizations in modern industrial societies. The compulsive conformity to impersonal rules in bureaucratic organizations renders people into mere cogs in giant machines and destroys their human qualities. The American sociologists after World War II have further changed the meaning of alienation to adapt it to contemporary advanced industrial societies.
  • C.W. Mills states that the growth of the tertiary (service) sector in modern industrial societies has contributed to self alienation among the white-collar (non-manual) workers. In these societies, ‘skills with things’ have been replaced by ‘skills with persons’ which the non manual workers have to sell like commodities. Mills calls this ‘personality market’ since aspects of personality at work is false and insincere. Mills gave the example of a girl working in a department store, smiling, concerned and attentive to the whims of the customers. He states that the sales girl becomes selfalienated in the course of her work, because her personality becomes the instrument of an alien purpose. At work she is not herself.
  • Herbert Marcuse, talking of work and leisure in advanced industrial societies, says that both work and leisure alternate people from their true selves. Work is ‘stupefying’ and ‘exhausting’ while leisure involves modes of relaxation which only soothe and prolong this stupyfication and it is largely a pursuit of false needs.
  • Melvin Seeman: He applied Reputational Approach to study alienation. He has tried to define alienation in a comprehensive way. He argues that alienation could be decomposed into five separate elements; powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self estrangement. However, Seeman simply treats them as subjective dispositions which can be measured with the help of attitude scales.
  • Robert Blaumer has further developed four of these conditions and has related them with different type of technology. To him less technical job has less alienation. He saw less alienation in handicrafts & cottage industries & more in mechanized industries. He has plotted the relation between technology and alienation in the form of an inverted U-curve. According to him, level of alienation is low in craft industries like printing but it increased to a high level in assembly-line industries of mass production like automobile industry, but in process industries with high degree of automation, alienation tends to decline further because workers feel more involved and responsible. …………..However, as can be seen from the foregoing analysis the latter-day meaning of alienation has undergone change, it is no longer based upon objective conditions rather it has come to be identified with subjective dispositions.


  • Karl Marx concept of Alienation is unidimensional explanation of multidimensional phenomena. Different studies provided that in a similar working condition not essentially all people get alienated. In modern capitalism where human resource is precious, different measures are taken by the industries and authorities to improve the moral & efficiency of the worker.
  • Also in today’s world democracy recognize trade union, labour laws, arbitration council are there to protect the interest of worker. So there is less chance of alienation. With globalizations & the rise of service sector, chances of alienation are less because of high value for work culture & professionalism.
  • Now the workers are not only producer but also share holders of the company. Rather than getting alienated they are now involved in the management which motivates them to work hand for the company. Workers are also provided with medical and education facilities to their children.

…………..But in the changing scenario the exploitation and alienation of working class persists. Recent strikes of workers in many industries are the live examples. So we cannot outrightly deny the Marxist concept of alienation. The nature of alienation change but it still persists.

Class struggle (Class and Class Conflict):

  • Marx’s sociology is in fact, sociology of the class struggle. This means one has to understand the Marxian concept of class, before understanding any study into Marxian philosophy.
  • At a broader level, society could be divided into two major classes i.e. ‘haves’ (owners of land and/or capital) often called as bourgeoisie and ‘have-nots’ (those who own nothing but their own labour power), often called as proletariats. According to him a social class occupies a fixed place in the process of production’.


  • Under any particular regime of production, there are many people who would stand in the same relationship to one another; in the productive process, as we have said, people either work, or own the means of production. Those people in the same position on one side of this divide were in the same class.
  • The pattern of this divide not only exists in the economic sphere, but also obtains across all areas of life. Life in society, even in those areas most remote from physical production, is class divided, class based. Hence the concept of class is wider than the analysis of economic relations alone; it involves the analysis of the structure of society as a whole.
  • This is another respect in which economic structures are ‘basic’ to society for Marx, for it is in terms of the relationships established around a given form of economic production that social class is formed, which, in its turn, becomes the fundamental relation around which all other social activities are structured.

Classes and class conflict:

  • The idea of society as composed of classes is the key to the materialist implementation of Hegel’s dialectical concept. To reiterate: by ‘materialist’ we here mean nothing more than a view of history as the product of real, striving human beings, rather than of any occult or supra-individual forces such as God or the human spirit.
  • Classes are relational entities: one class can exist only if there are other classes; a ‘one-class’ society must be a no-class society, since to speak of a class is to speak of a collection of people who are differentiated from one or more other collections of people. The relationships between such classes are those of opposition.

Class interest:

  • The two classes of owners and workers have opposed interests, for the owning class can only meet the conditions of its physical survival—or, indeed, of its much more luxuriant style of existence—if it takes the means f rom those who create the things that can be consumed.
  • In Marx’s view, someone who does not take part in physical production is not entitled to a share of its product; thus those who do not work exploit those who do.
  • This conception of the fundamental organising character of class has implications for the way in which the structure of society as a whole is to be understood. The class nature of ownership and exploitation has consequences within the economic structure and also carries implications for the organisation of the rest of the society. Since the inequality between the owning class and the labouring class involves a social relationship of power and control, it cannot be narrowly defined as simply economic, because the difference of interest between these classes refers to freedom. The capacity of the owning class to deprive the physical producers of their physical product is a difference in power, a manifestation of the fact that the owners can restrict the access of labourers to the means of economic activity. When they do grant them access to these means, e.g. by renting land to farm, or hiring them for industrial work, the owners have the capacity to direct what they will do. In other words, those who labour are not free, a fact most starkly apparent in the case of the slave and also, albeit less starkly, in the cases of the peasant legally bound in service to the lord, and of the industrial worker hired for a wage to work under the control and direction of plant management.
  • Class conflict The conflict of interest between owning and labouring classes is, then, a conflict over power and freedom. It must pervade the rest of society’s organisation because the owners wish to protect andpreserve their position. For them to realise their own interest requires control not only over the immediate circumstances of economic production, but also over the way the rest of the society is arranged.
  • In Other words we can say that, Marx defined class in terms of the extent to which an individual or social group has control over the means of production. In Marxist terms a class is a group of people defined by their relationship to the means of production. Classes are seen to have their origin in the division of the social product into a necessary product and a surplus product. Marxists explain history in terms of a war of classes between those who control production and those who actually produce the goods or services in society (and also developments in technology and the like).

Criteria for Determination of Class:

According to Marxian Literature, a social class has two major criteria:

  • objective criteria
  • subjective criteria

Objective Criteria (class in itself)

  • People sharing the same relationship to the means of production comprise a class. Let us understand it through an example –all labourers have a similar relationship with the landowners. On the other hand all the landowners, as a class have a similar relationship with the land and labourers.
  • In this way labourers on one hand and land owners on the other hand could be seen as classes. However, for Marx, this relationship above is not sufficient to determine the class, as according to him it is not sufficient for class to be ‘class in itself’ but should also be ‘class for itself’.
  • What does this mean? By ‘class in itself’ he means the objective criteria of any social class. Obviously, Marx is not simply satisfied with objective criteria above. Hence he equally emphasize upon the other major criteria i.e., “Class for itself” or the subjective criteria.

Subjective Criteria (Class for itself)

  • Any collectivity or human grouping with a similar relationship would make a category not a class, if subjective criteria are not included. The members of any one class not only have similar consciousness but they also share a similar consciousness of the fact that they belong to the same class.
  • This similar consciousness of a class serves as the basis for uniting its members for organizing social action. Here this similar class consciousness towards acting together for their common interests is what Marx class – “Class for itself”.

To Understand class struggle, We need to understand Marx’s Differentiation of stages Of Human History and Class antagoism

Marx differentiated stages of human history on the basis of their economic regimes of modes of production. He distinguished four major modes of production which he called, will culminate into a stage called communism. Let us simplify this classification of societies or various stages of human history into– Primitive-communal, Slave-owning, and Feudal, Capitalist and Communist stages.

  1. The primitive-communal system: The primitive-communal system was the first and the lowest form of organization of people and it existed for thousand of years. Man started using primitive tools; he learned to make fire, cultivation and animal husbandry. In this system of very low level of forces of production, the relations of production were based on common ownership of the means of production. Therefore, these relations were based on mutual assistance and cooperation. These relations were conditioned by the fact that people with their primitive implements could only withstand the might forces of nature together, collectively.
    • In such a situation, exploitation of man by man did not exist because of two reasons. Firstly, the
      tools used (namely, means of production) were so simple that they could be reproduced by anyone. These were implements like spear, stick, bow and arrow etc. Hence no person or group of people had the monopoly of ownership over the tools. Secondly production was at a low-scale. The people existed more or less on a subsistence. Their production was just sufficient to meet the needs of the people provided everybody worked. Therefore, it was a situation of no master and no servant. All were equal.

      • …………….Gradually with time, man started perfecting his tools, his craft of producing and surplus production started taking place. This led to private property and primitive equality gave way to social inequality. Thus the first antagonistic classes, ‘slaves and slave-owners’, appeared. This is now the development of the forces of production led to the replacement of primitive communal system by slavery
  2. Slave-owing society: In the slave-owing society, primitive tools were perfected and bronze and iron tools replaced the stone and wooden implements. Large scale agriculture, live stock raising, mining and handicrafts developed. The development of this type of forces of production also changed the relations of production. These relations were based on the slave owner’s absolute ownership of both the means of production and the slave himself and everything he produced. The owner left the slave only with the bare minimum necessities to keep him from dying of starvation.
    • In this system, the history of exploitation of man by man and the history of class struggle
      began. The development of forces of production went on and slavery became an impediment to the expansion of social production. Production demanded the constant improvement of implements, higher labour productivity, but the slave had no interest in this as it would not improve his position.

      • With the passage of time the class conflict between the classes of slave-owners and the slaves became acute and it was manifested in slave revolts. These revolts, together with the raids from neighboring tribes, undermined the foundations of slavery leading to a new stage i.e. feudal system.
  3. Feudal System: The progressive development of the forces of production continued under feudalism. Man started using inanimate sources of energy, viz., water and wind, besides human labour. The crafts advanced, new implements and machines were invented and old ones were improved. The labour of craftsmen was specialized, raising productivity considerably. The development of forces of production led to emergence of feudal relations of production. These relations were based on the feudal lord’s ownership of the serfs or landless peasant. The production relations were relations of domination were more progressive than in slavery system, because they made the labourers interested, to some extent, in their labour. The peasants and the artisans could own the implements or small parts of land.
    • These forces of production underwent changes due to new discoveries, increasing demands for
      consumption caused by population increase and discovery of new markets through colonialism. All this led to the need and growth of mass scale manufacture. This became possible due to advances in technology. This brought the unorganized labourers at one place i.e. the factory.

      • This sparked off already sharpened class conflict leading to peasant’s revolution against landowners. The new system of production demanded free labourer whereas the serf was tied to the land, therefore, the new forces of production also changed the relations of production culminating into a change in the mode of production from feudalism to capitalism.
  4. Capitalist System: Class Conflict intensified under Capitalism. Large scale machine production is the specific feature of the productive forces of capitalism. Huge factories, plants and mines took the place of artisan workshop and manufacturers. In a century or two capitalism accomplished much in developing the productive forces than had been done in all the preceding eras of human history.
    • The vigorous growth of the forces of production was helped by the capitalist relations of production based on private capitalist ownership. Under capitalism, the producer (worker), the proletariat, is legally free, being attached neither to the land nor to any particular factory. They are free in the sense that they can go to work for any capitalist, but they are not free from the bourgeois class as a whole. Possessing no means of production, they are compelled to sell their labour power and thereby come under the yoke of exploitation.
      • Due to this exploitation the relatively free labourers become conscious of their class interest and organize themselves into a working class movement. Thus working class movement intensified its struggle against the bourgeois class. It begins with bargaining for better wages and working conditions and culminates into an intensified class conflict which is aimed at overthrowing the capitalist system. Marx said that the capitalist system symbolizes the most acute from of inequality, exploitation and class antagonism. This paves the way for a socialist revolution which would lead to a new stage of society i.e. communism.

“History of hitherto existing society is a history of class struggle”

  • According to Marx the mode of production of economic structure is the base or foundation of society. Any change in this infrastructure fundamental changes in the superstructure and consequently in the society. The changes in the mode of production are essentially changes in the forces of production and relations of production. In primitive communal stage there was no surplus production and hence it had no inequality and exploitation caused by the private ownership of means of the production. The means of production were common property of the community. With the development and improvements in the force of production there was increased productivity. This caused private ownership of means of production and change in the relations of production. This marked the end of the primitive-communal system and thus began the long history of inequality, exploitation and class conflict, coinciding with the emergence of slave-owing society.
  • In the slave-owning society the class conflict between the slave owners and slaves reached a peak causing a change in the mode of production from slavery to feudalistic mode of production. Marx has said that the history of hitherto existing society is a history of class struggle. This means that the entire history of society is studded with different phases and periods of class struggle. This history of class struggle begins in the slave-owing society, continues through feudal society where this class struggle is between classes of the feudal lords and the landless agricultural laboures or serfs. Due to change in mode of production and class struggle a new stage of society i. e, capitalism replaces the age-old feudal system.
  • In the capitalistic mode of production the class antagonism acquires most acute dimension. The working class movement gets concretized and reaches its peak. Through a class conflict between the class of capitalists and the class of industrial labourers, the capitalist system is replaced by socialism. This violent change has been termed as revolution by Marx.
  • That the contradiction between the forces and the relations of production is the basis of this antagonism. The bourgeoisie is constantly creating more powerful means of production. But the relations of production that is, apparently, both the relations of ownership and the distribution of income are not transferred at the same rate. The capitalist mode of production is capable to produce in bulk, but despite this mass production and increase in wealth, majority of the population suffers from poverty and misery. On the other hand, there are a few families who have so much wealth that one could not even count of imagine. These stark and wide disparities create some tiny islands of prosperity in a vast ocean of poverty and misery. The onus of this disparity lies on the unequal, exploitative relations of production which distribute the produce in an inequal manner. This contradiction, according to Marx, will eventually produce a revolutionary crisis. The proletariat, which constitutes and will increasingly constitute the vast majority of the population, will become a class that is, a social entity aspiring for the seizure of power and transformation of social relations.
  • Marx did the admirable task of sifting all this material and constructed anew set of social analysis. His analysis of class-struggle was a unique mix of simple basis principles with down-to-earth details.
  • According to Marx, the bottom rung of the social stratification is the proletariat. Below it there is no class and therefore emancipation of the proletariat will, in fact, is the emancipation of mankind. Marx accepts the right of the bourgeoisie to fight the final war. But for the proletariat the battle is for its very survival and it has to win.
  • The revolutions of the proletariat will differ in kind from all past revolutions. All the revolutions
    of the past were accomplished by minorities for the benefit of minorities. The revolution of the
    proletariat will be accomplished by the vast majority for the benefit of all. 
    The proletarian revolution will, therefore, mark the end of classes and of the antagonistic character of capitalist society. This would mean that the private ownership of property will be abolished. The proletariat will jointly own means of production and distribute the produce according to the needs of the members of the society. This stage is called the stage of dictatorship of proletariat. This stage will later on convert into a stateless society where the communist system will finally be established in the society. This stage is called the stage of dictatorship of proletariat.
  • This stage will later on convert into a stateless society where the communist system will finally be established in the society. This will also end all kinds of social classes and of all kinds of class conflicts for future. This will also mean delineation of the proletariat.

Critiques of Karl Marx

  1. In context of Class and Polarization of Classes: Unlike Marx, Weber talked about four classes, He defines the class as a group of individual who share a similar position in market economy and by virtue of that fact received similar economic rewards. Thus a person’s class situation, which is a market situation, which further shows his life chances. In this way Weber says that apart from two major classes, there is one more class who, though does not have the ownership of means of production, But the members receives high salaries because of their demand for services. The four classes are:
    • (i)Propertied Upper class (Bourgeoisie)
    • (ii)Propertied while collar workers
    • (iii)Petty Bourgeoisie
    • (iv)Manual worker class.
      • Because of distribution of struggle amongst two classes, the class struggle never becomes as acute as more suggested.
  2. In context of polarization of these classes – Weber sees no favour support the idea of polarization of classes. He finds that the petty bourgeoisie will never sink to the level of proletariat but rather they will go upward to the position of propertied white collar collared workers. And even more importantly Weber argues that the white collar middle class expands rather than contracts as capitalism develops. Because in his views the world is tending towards a more and more bureaucratization. Ex- People are going to depend heavily in bureaucrats. It shows the to polarization of two classes will not happen.
  3. In context of inevitability of revolution Max Weber rejects the views held by some Marxist, of the inevitability of the proletariat revolution for them, revolution may or may not happen. Weber suggests that individual manual worker, who is dissatisfied with his class, situation, may respond in following ways He may grumble, , sabotage industrial machineries (production process), go for strike, etc for this, there will be a trade union. The petty bourgeoisie, will not sink to the level of proletariat. It means the workers will not get a leadership. In this way Weber concludes that revolution is not inventible but it may be a possibility, which is remote.
  4. In the context of Superstructure(law, power . authority, : According to Marx, there is only one source of power and that is economic power but Weber finds three sources of power for this (1) on the basis of class and inequality (economy) (2) on the basis of inequal distribution of prestige status quo (social (3) party (political).
  5. In the Context of Class struggle. In Dahrendorf words “Instead of advancing their claim of members of homogenous group, people are more likely to compete with each other, as individuals for a place in the sun”. As a result class solidarity and intensity will reduced and (especially class conflict will reduced). The gap between social and economic inequalities will be reduced. It means clean struggle will be reduced. He found in his analysis that there is “Decomposition of Labour” (Skilled workers, Semi Skilled Workers and Unskilled Workers) and “Decomposition of Capital” (Owners and Managers)
    • Functionalist criticizes Marxist theory of stratification on three bases:
      1. On the basis of Universality:
      2. On the basis of indispensibity or inevitability.
      3. On the basis of functionality.
    • Functionalist argues that there has not been any society in the history of mankind, free from Class (stratification system). This is against the Marxist view point that the primitive community and communist societies are the classless societies. To prove it Parson has given an example of a primitive tribal society known as Sioux Indian of America which was stratified.
    • Functionalist argue that for proper functioning of society, stratification i.e. existence of classes (Stratification System) in society is inevitable. Talcott Parson & Davis and Moore firmly believed in it. They said that in absence of stratification, the society could work on the basis of equality and that will be an injustice for the talents and talented people will come against it. Secondly, without stratification, there will be chaos in society, which is the most unwanted thing for any society. This is a criticism of Marxist that ideology, in which it was opined that Class System (stratification) is exploitating and bad for society.
    • Unlike Marxist, the functionalist believed that Class System (social stratification) is functional for society. If there is no stratification, there will not be any development in society. And for development, skill and talent is required which varies from person to person. And so stratification becomes necessary and functional.
    • Functionalist like Davis and Moore & Michael Young, argue that talented people must be given important position in society and therefore they are the recipients of maximum rewards. This system brings forth a healthy society.
  6. In the context of establishment of communism: Though communism was established in
    USSR and China, but it was done after making, much manipulation in Marxist theory, so its validity is
    always questionable. Such critics have become even more important after the disintegration of
    USSR. In China, also, the kind of communism predicted by Marx does not exist.

    • The efforts to bring communist society in other countries like India could not be successful, because of the present of other mechanisms to sort out the problems in the system. The violent behavior and activity commit by Maoist cannot be accepted and a consensus can’t be made for such activities. Therefore, Marx is irrelevant as far as communism is concerned and these way difficult violent activities are undertaken to establish such kind of systems.

Relevence of Karl Marx Theory of Class Struggle:

  • Political level: Policies have been formulated to avoid class conflict. And generally democratic and socialist values are being established in all such societies or state to give everyone liberty and equal opportunities, without any discrimination. And it is to avoid any kind of conflict.
  • Economic term: (1) Agricultures (2) Industry
    • (1) Agriculture: Estate system in Europe and Zamindari system in India have been abolished and peasants have been given lot of benefits so that they could feel free to work in society.
    • (2) Industry: To check the conflict between employers and employers, Employees have been given many benefits like fixed wages, hikes in wages, medical facilities, provident fund, gratuity, bonus pension facilities etc. And all together HRD is working all together to make it happen.
  • At international level: In Political terms: preparation of different kinds of policies, so that a powerful state should not take the advantage to exploit the weaker states. To work the rules properly, United Nation has been established as an organisation internationally.
  • Globalization, Importance of WTO and World Bank, Interest of workers being taken care of, Child Labour being prohibited worldwide are the initiative to avoid conflict Internationally.

In developing countries special like in India:

  • To establish India, as Democratic, socialist India, the earlier discriminations on the basis of caste, sex, religion, race, have been completely abolished from the system. Many actions have been taken in this way like.
  • Removal of practice of untouchability, Abolition of Zamindari System (land reforms) and to avoid inequalities in economic terms, A guarantee of jobs (MANEREGA) has been provided to rural labourers and Reservation (Protective discrimination) has been extended to downtroden people.
  • Educational right has been provided to everyone and protection has been given to religious minorities and also there are different policies to eliminate poverty. Such changes are the outcome of struggle, directly or indirectly in societies.

Critical assesment of Marx

  • The theory of Marx is plagued by several methodological and conceptual problems. His theory about capitalist society’s inevitable tendency towards radical polarization and self-destruction is too simplistic and in error. The most distinct characteristic of modern capitalism has been the emergence of a large, “contented and conservative” middle-class consisting of managerial, professional, supervisory, and technical personnel. Modern corporations entail a separation between ownership and control; the capitalists who own the instruments of production are not necessarily the “effective” decision-makers. Also the wide spread ownership of the means of production through investment in stocks, and the great expansion of government role in the regulation of big business, redistribution of wealth and general social welfare functions were not anticipated by Marx.
  • Today’s capitalism does not justify Marx’s belief that class conflict is essentially revolutionary in character and that structure changes are always the product of violent upheavals; organized labor has been able to sway the balance of power and effect profound structure changes without violent revolution. Marx’s theory of labor and the deductive reasoning which flows directly from it namely the pauperization of these masses are wrong. If the value of surplus labor is the only basis of profit, there is no way to eliminate exploitation and profit accumulation. In fact, most socialist countries have a higher percentage of accumulation than do capitalist countries.
  • Marx misjudged the extent of alienation in the average worker. The great depth of alienation and frustration which Marx “witnessed” among the workers of his day is not “typical” of today’s capitalism or its worker who tends to identify increasingly with a number of “meaningful” groups-religious, ethnic, occupational and local. This is not to deny the existence of alienation but to point out that alienation results more from the structure of bureaucracy and of mass society than from economic exploitation
  • Marx also over emphasized the economic base of political power and ignored other important source of power. Moreover, Marx’s predictions about the downfall of capitalism have not come true. Contrary to his belief, socialism has triumphed in predominantly peasant societies whereas capitalist societies show no signs of destructive class war. And Marx’s classless and stateless society is an utopia; there can be no society without an authority structure or a regulatory mechanism which inevitably leads to a crystallization of social relations between the rulers and the ruled, with inherent possibilities of internal contradiction and conflict.
  • Marx is leveled as an economic determinist. Basically change is a complex phenomena where multiple factors continue simultaneously which led to change. If we analyse the human history, a factor at a particular time can be more important than other factor for social change. But Marx neglected other factors of social change except economic factors. Renaissance of Europe in 15th century period created revolutionary change where ideas were the main factors of change. In contemporary world, the Iranians Revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini was purely Cultural Revolution. Again the Turkish revolution under Mustafa Kamal Pasha was a political revolution.
  • Again the Gandhi mobilized the Indian marcs against the colonial rule on the basis of nonviolence & Satyagraha. Though the economic exploitation the British era was the cause of the mobilization but other factors like education, modernization & rising nationalism also played as important role. Change in a society is a complex phenomenon; so the Marxian analysis of historical change cannot give the clear picture of society.
  • Independence & the constitutional provisions regarding abolition of untouchability, Zamindari reservation for dispreviliged person has lead structural change in Indian Society. The social welfare scheme implemented by democratic wefarist states likes India has brought revolutionary change. Again here the basis of change is not the economic factor but the idea of democratic planning & social welfare goals.
  • …………….Before criticizing Marx, it is very clear that Marx was neither a scientist nor a sociologist. The historical naturalism is a philosophical representation of Karl Marx world view. Also he never wasted to put a sociological theory. He was a political agitator Marx main agitation is to bring the social reality of his time into the forefront of political debate.
  • Before Marx, Leezing tried to explain 3 stages of moral evolution of human society. The contemporaries of Marx tried to explain human evolution with the help of religious books. German thinker Emanuel Kant said that human history is a history of conflict for the freedom human being. This thought influenced Marx’s writings. Before Karl Marx sociologist like August Comte tried to explain the evolution of knowledge in history- Theological-metaphysical-positivism. Then Herbert Spencer contributed to the theory of evolution by telling that the society passes through two stages (Military – industry). L.H. Morgan, Oswald Spengler also talks about evolution of human history but before Karl Marx nobody talked the evolution of human history in materialistic term. Also, Marx was the 1st thinker who talked about how one stages change into another. Marx tried to establish a cause & effect relationship between changes (from one stage to another). Sociology is the scientific study of human interaction & Marx tried to explain the evolution of human history in a scientific manner. Though he did not use all the methods of science but he was not lacking scientific explanation.

Contribution of Marx to Sociology

  • Karl Marx never saw himself in the role of a sociologist, his prime concern being to bring about a revolutionary transformation in the then contemporary European society. Nevertheless, ideas of Karl Marx have greatly contributed to the development of modern sociology. In fact, he is the founder of the conflict tradition in modern sociology and his ideas have stimulated a lively debate which has enriched and discipline.
  • New perspective and a new approach: He contributed a new perspective and a new approach to the study of social phenomena. He highlighted the role of economic factors in shaping various institutions of society. This has been accepted as an academic methodology in social science.
  • Analysis of class and Class conflict: His theory of class and class conflict, though no longer relevant to a present day society, has been an immensely valuable contribution. It has stimulated further debate and research which enriched sociology as a discipline. Ralf Dahrendorf has modified the Marxian theory of class and class struggle to make it applicable to contemporary industrial societies.
  • Theory of social change: In Marx’s ideas, one can also find a theory of social change. Although, Marx’s
    predictions regarding the future of capitalist societies have been largely disproved by the developments of history in 20th century yet. Marx’s theory of social change remains a valuable tool to analyse continuity and change.
  • The concept of alienation is another important contribution to sociology. The concept of alienation was further developed by other sociologists like C.W. Mills and Herbert Marcuse, etc. to adapt it to contemporary societies.
  • Marxian ideas have influenced the thinking of many sociologists. Prominent among them being C.W. Mills and the ‘critical’ theorists of Frankfort School namely, Adorno, Habermas, and Marcuse. The ‘critical’ theorists have aimed to restore the philosophical dimensions of Marxism. They have developed a series of concepts intended to go beyond Marx to interpret the changes that have taken place in the world since his death. These consists mainly in adding the dimensions of social psychology to Marx’s work and emphasizing the basic proposition that, if society is increasingly under the artificial control of technocrats, any purely empirical approach to social reality must end up as a defence of that control. In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse attempted a synthesis of Freud and Marx. But it was One Dimensional Man which made Marcuse famous, particularly when some of its ideas seemed to offer an interpretation of the student revolts of the late 1960’s. Marcuse’s pessimism about the revolutionary potential of a proletariat dominated (along with the rest of society) by an all pervasive technocratic ideology led him to place his faith in the substratum of the outcast and the outsiders, the exploited and persecuted minorities such as students and blacks which would involve a meeting of the ‘most advanced consciousness of humanity and its most exploited force.’
  • Today Marxists are striking back. They blame imperialism for the failure of Marx’s prophecy. They argue that advanced industrialized nations have been able to fortify their capitalist economy by exploiting the rest of the world through colonialism and the “sovereign” multi-national corporations. Conflict sociologists make effective use of Marxian theoretical schema to explain the processes of class conflict and revolutionary movements around the world: conflicts between landless peasantry and landed aristocracy, between political and military elite, between incongruent status groups in newly emerging industrial societies, populist movements and conservative counter-revolutions, colonialism and imperialism, international conservative counter-revolutions, colonialism and imperialism, international conspiracies and ideological warfares, and between socialism and democracy.
  • Contemporary Marxist sociology has accumulated a considerable amount of “evidence” to substantiate the Marxian postulates that economic position is the major determinant of one’s life-style, attitudes, and behaviour, and that strategic position in the economic structure along with access to effective means of production and distribution hold the key to political power. The modern theory of power elite is only a variation of the Marxian theme.
  • Above all, Marx’s theory of class is not a theory of stratification but a comprehensive theory of social change-a tool for the explanation of change in total societies. This, T.B. Bottomore, a leading expert on Marxist sociology, considers to be a major contribution of Marx to sociological analysis: “…the view of societies as inherently mutable systems, in which changes are produced largely by internal contradictions and conflicts, and the assumption that such changes, if observed in a large number of instances, will show a sufficient degree of regularity to allow the formulation of general statements about their causes and consequences.”
  • Bottomore account for the recent growth of Marxist sociology. One important reason for the present revival of interest is the fact that Marx’s theory stands in direct opposition on every major point to the functionalist theory which has dominated sociology and anthropology for the past twenty or thirty years, but which has been found increasingly unsatisfactory. Where functionalism emphasizes social harmony, Marxism emphasizes social conflict; where functionalism direct attention to the stability and persistence of social forms, Marxism is radically historical in its outlook and emphasizes the changing structure of society; where functionalism concentrates upon the regulation of social life by general values and norms, Marxism stresses the divergence of interests and values within each society and the role of force in maintaining over a longer or shorter period of time, a given social order. The contrast between “equilibrium” and “conflict” models of society, which was stated forcefully by Dahrendorf in , has now become commonplace; and Marx’s theories are regularly invoked in opposition to those of Durkheim, Pareto and Malinowski, the principal architects of the functionalist theory”

A Briefing of Marxian perspective on the basis of above descriptions:

  • According to Marx, the world, including the social world, is better characterized by flux and change rather than by stability or permanence of phenomena.
  • Change is not random in the social world (as in the natural world), but orderly. In that uniformities and regularities can be observed and scientific findings can be made about them.
  • In the social worldthe key to this pattern of change can be found in men’s relationship in the economic order. Subsistence, the need to make a living, must be achieved in all societies. How, subsistence is achieved, affects the whole structure of any society.
  • Society can be viewed as an interrelated system of parts with the economy (infrastructure) influencing the other parts (superstructure).
  • According to Marx, man is essentially rational, intelligent and sensitive, but these qualities can be changed into their opposites if the social arrangements of a society are so badly designed as to allow some men to pursue their own interest to the detriment of others. This creates conditions for the conflicts between the deprived (proletariats) and their exploiters (bourgeoisie).
  • Social reality being an external reality, with its own independent existence, is amendable to sense perception and therefore methods of positive science can be employed. However, mere empiricism is not adequate in knowing the essence of human behavior therefore, empirical data have to interpreted from ‘historical materialist’ standpoint.
  • Change is a characteristic feature of human society and it takes place in an ordered fashion. Thus laws governing change can be discovered.
  • Change in the relations of production and the superstructure is normally preceded by conflict between groups having mutually opposed interests.
  • Conflict and changes in society must be explained in the light of the forces operating in the economic structure.
  • Man’s thinking and attitudes are shaped by the nature of society he lives in, especially, by the way he participates in the process of production, therefore it is very difficult to study one’s society in a detached and dispassionate manner as is required of science. Some men can, however succeed in being objective. Marx considered himself to be such a man.

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