Critically evaluate Marx's analysis of social class - Sociology Essay Example

Social class, it is a very simple phrase, but it is so hard to define this simple phrase - Critically evaluate Marx's analysis of social class introduction. Various attempts have been made to try to define social class by sociologists. None is completely satisfactory but most make an honest attempt at classification. Basically, most of the sociologists facing this case have their own opinions which are different between each other. Such as Durkheim, Weber and Marx. In this essay I shall take the Marx’s analysis of social class as a mail topic and evaluate his view on this topic.

How did Marx define class? It is rather ironic that Marx, a man whose name is synonymous with class, and who wrote extensively about class, should never have defined class in a definitive manner. Marx quite often used the term class to refer to quite different groupings of people. Like most terms Marx used class in quite a liberal and perhaps loose manner. however, possible to extract a definition of the concept of class from the writings of Marx. According to Marx a class is determined by its relationship to the means of production.


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By this what is meant is that a class is determined by its ownership or non-ownership of the means of production, that is, of raw materials, factories and land. Classes consist of individuals, people, who share a common relationship to the means of production and thereby share common interests. Those that own the means of production Marx called the Bourgeoisie (a French Term) while those who owned no productive private property, and who sold their labor-power, Marx called the Proletariat. These two great classes did not, by virtue of their very existence, share common interests.

Put simply, the bourgeoisie sought to lower, or keep constant, wages and thereby increase profits while the proletariat would seek to improve their living conditions by seeking higher wages. The two interests of these two classes were opposed and could not be solved within the confines of capitalism. This was one of the many contradictions that eventually lead to the replacement of capitalism by socialism. For Marx these irreconcilable interests were expressed in class struggle. Class struggle or class conflict (the two terms have a similar meaning) is conceived as the driving force behind history.

Marx famously writes in the Communist Manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”

Marx recognized that the world was not black and white, between the capitalist and the worker were a number of what he called “intermediate strata”. These are people who are neither the owners of substantial property or the means of production and thus employ a significant number of the proletariat nor sellers of labour to the bourgeoisie in return for a wage. One of his examples was the small shopkeeper, a man who rent or owns his property from which he conducts his business and uses members of his family to help run the small business.

Marx suggested that these people would decrease in number as time progressed. Also Marx’s view about middle class was that the successful members of the middle class would become members of the bourgeoisie, while the unsuccessful would be forced into the proletariat. In the last few years, many have argued that in North America, and perhaps on a world scale, there is an increasing gap between rich and poor and there is a declining middle. Evaluate the Marx’s view on social class; his ideas are as alive and relevant today as they ever were.

The success that Marx’s ideas are not deniable, but also, it is not perfect which still need to be examined and critically evaluate by society and human. I agree with some of his critics’ views on the valuation of the Marx’s idea. The same as their view, I think that history has failed to substantiate Marx’s views on the direction of social change. Thus they claim that class conflict, far from growing in intensity, has become institutionalized in advanced capitalist society. They see little indication of the proletariat becoming a class for itself.

Rather than moving towards a polarization of classes, they argue that class structure of capitalist society has become increasingly complex and differentiated. In particular, a steadily growing middle class has emerged between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Turing to communist society, critics have argued that history has not borne out the promise of communism contained in Marx’s writings. Significant social inequalities are present in communist regimes, and there are few, if any signs of movement towards equality.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s suggests that the promise of communism has been replaced by the desire for western-style democracies. Particular criticism has been directed towards the priority that Marx assigned to economic factors in this explanation of social structure and social change. Like Marx, Max Weber argued that the major class division is between those who own the forces of production and those who do not. Weber distinguished the following class groupings in capitalist society:

1.The propertied upper class 2. The property less white-collar workers 3. The petty bourgeoisie 4. The manual working class. In his analysis of class, Weber disagreed with Marx on a number of important issues. 1. Factors other than the ownership or non-ownership of property are significant in the formation of classes. In particular, the market value of the skills of the property less groups varies and the resulting differences in economic return are sufficient to produce different social classes. 2. Weber saw no evidence to support the idea of the polarization of classes.

Although he saw some decline in the numbers of the petty bourgeoisie (the small property owners) due to competition from large companies, he argued that they enter white-collar or skilled manual trades rather than being depressed into the ranks of unskilled manual workers. More importantly, Weber argued that the white-collar ‘middle class’ expands rather than contracts as capitalism develop. He maintained that capitalist’s enterprises and the modern nation state require a ‘rational’ bureaucratic administration which involves large numbers of administrators and clerical staff.

Thus Weber saw a diversification of classes and an expansion of the white-collar middle class, rather than a polarization. 3. Weber rejected the view which were held by some Marxists, of the inevitability of the proletarian revolution. He saw no reason why those sharing a similar class situation should necessarily develop a common identity, recognize shared interests and take collection action to further those interests. For example, Weber suggested that individual manual workers who are dissatisfied with their class situation may respond in a variety of ways.

They may grumble, work to rule, sabotage industrial machinery, take strike action, or attempt to organize other members of their class in an effort to overthrow. Weber admitted that a common market situation might provide a basis for collective class action but he saw this only as a possibility. 4. Weber rejected the Marxist view that political power necessarily derives from economic power. He argued that class forms only one possible basis for power and that the distribution of power in society is not necessarily linked to distribution of class inequities. Reference: HARALAMBOS and HOLBORN Sociology, Themes and Perspectives, fifth edition, page 36-37)

On the other hand, Dahrendorf’s conflict theory arose out of a critical evaluation of the work of Karl Marx (Dahrendorf, 1959). Dahrendorf accepted that Marx’s description of capitalism was generally accurate in the nineteenth century when Marx was writing, but he argued that in the twentieth century it had become outdated as a basis for explaining conflict. Dahrendorf argued that important changes had taken place in countries such as Britain and the USA.

They were now ‘post-capitalist’ societies. Dahrendorf claimed that, far from the two main classes becoming polarized, as Marx had predicted, the opposite had happened. The proportion of skilled and semi-skilled workers had grown, as had the size of the ‘new middle class’ of white -collar workers, such as clerks, nurses and teachers. In equalities in income and wealth had been reduced, partly because of change in the social structure, and partly because of measure taken by the state.

Social mobility had become more common, and crucially, the link between ownership and control in industry had been broken. Managers, rather than owners, exercise day-to day control over the means of production. In this circumstance, Marx’s claim that conflict was based upon the ownership or non-ownership of wealth was no longer valid. This was because there was no longer a close association between wealth and power. Shareholders, for example, might own the wealth of a company, but in practice they did not exercise close control over the management.

In view of these changes, Dahrendorf argued that conflicts were no longer based upon the existence of the two classes identified by Marx, nor were they based upon economic divisions. Instead, Dahrendorf saw conflict as being concerned with authority. In summary, Class, for Marx, is defined as a social relationship rather than a position or rank in society. In Marx’s analysis, the capitalist class could not exist without the proletariat, or vice-versa.

The relationship between classes is a contradictory or antagonistic relationship, one that has struggle, conflict, and contradictory interests associated with it. The structure and basis of a social class may be defined in objective terms, as groups with a common position with respect to property or the means of production. However, Marx may not be primarily interested in this definition of class. Rather, these classes have meaning in society and are historical actors only to the extent that they do act in their own interests, and in opposition to other classes.

Unlike much other sociologists, Marx’s classes are defined by class conflict. But according to Marx’s view, his view is only comparing with the period which he lived, because of this reason, confines of his view is very limited. It is just like Dahrendorf said that it was no longer valid, actually conflicts were no longer based upon the existence of the two classes identified by Marx, nor were they based upon economic divisions. Instead, conflicts as being concerned with authority.

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