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May 28, 2013 / C H Thompson

Marxism continued

by Sam Cook a former student

Marx’s conflict approach was developed in 19th century by Karl Marx (1818-83) in the context of the rise of modernity. Marx argued wealth and power were unequally distributed in society and sought to explain how one minority group (1% ruling-class) in society maintained its dominance over the majority (working-class).

Marx’s main argument was capitalism was a new form of social organisation (new at the time he writing) born out of the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution saw people move from living in the country to the towns. This revolution was an outcome of modernity, where mankind started to believe it could understand and therefore control the world around him/her. One useful example of this ‘understanding’ is evident in Adam Smith’s work on economics.

Adam Smith was the first theorist of what we commonly refer to as capitalism and readers can listen to Laurie Taylor and guests discussing the extent of Smith’s influence. Though Adam Smith never used the term capitalism, Karl Marx did when he identified the exploitation of workers within Adam Smith’s economic model.

Marx argued the bourgeoisie (ruling-class) used the capitalist economic system to extract surplus value from the proletariat (working-class). Marxism is seen as a conflict approach because of the class conflict the above system creates between the two social-classes ( the opposite of the consensual approach Durkheim, Parsons etc. argue). Contemporary Marxists argue globalisation has created a global bourgeoisie based on the evidence of a global 1% of ruling-class owning the means of production.

The above position brought to life the significance of social-class, whereas functionalists Davis & Moore discuss stratification as a consensual division of labour structured around role allocation. Marx asserts a division of labour (yes, same term as functionalists) as being an exploitative system reliant on the ruling-class exploiting the working-class in order to make surplus profit from working-class labour force. Marx said what’s clever about this process is the working-class aren’t even aware they’re being exploited because ruling-class ideology creates a false-consciousness for the working classes.

From the above his main argument is the capitalist means of production (economic base) shapes (determines) the rest of society (superstructure). To put it another way capitalist production influences the way the rest of society operates. For example everything is run for profit, hospitals, schools, retirement homes etc. and this is seen as normal and inevitable by the working-classes.

To better understand the relationship between the economic base and superstructure look at the image below. Then examine the image beneath it and see what happens when the economic base is changed.

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