Why does marx's social theory place so much emphasis on class conflict and economic processes?
Why does Marx's social theory place so much emphasis on class conflict and economic processes?
Karl Heinrich Marx, born in 1818 in Tier of Germany, is one of the greatest philosophers of all times. His work brought significant changes to the structures of societies. At his seventeen following his father advice Marx registered in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn and a year later at the University of Berlin.He placed great emphasis upon the dynamic of material production and economic progress but also on class struggle and conflict.
Marx was influenced by German idealism and philosophy, the French socialist tradition and British classical economics. He was described as a ‘deep lover of the French and German Enlightenment' but also as a ‘social scientist, a historian and a revolutionary. He examined history from a social behaviour perspective while also studying the various modes of production. His key goal was to provide an understanding of the nature of capitalism to enable people to regain control.
Marx separated history into different time periods according to the development of the methods of production. The fixed element of production was that labour was the main means of production. Capitalism was the final stage of the evolution of human societies and it came to replace Feudalism. In European towns, the transformation of Feudalism by Capitalism was evidenced by the rise of the manufacturing sector and the improvement of agriculture through mechanization. Machines replaced agricultural workers and this led to a rise in unemployment and consequently poverty. Marx saw capitalism “as a revolutionary mode of production which was fundamentally changing the course of civilisation” (Bob Jessop, Varieties of Marxism)
In 1848 Marx published the ‘CommunistManifesto' where he discussed the unequal distribution in the forces of production. Marx separated society into two opposite parataxis; the ‘Proletariat' and the ‘Bourgeoisie'. The Proletariat was the new class created under capitalism and was essentially the working class which owned nothing but its labour-power and was therefore obliged to sell this power to a capitalist bourgeoisie or face starvation. Proletarians were the modern wage labourers who were working in exchange for wages only sufficient for them to survive and feed their families. These wages did not allow for any savings to be made. On the other hand, the Bourgeoisie were the modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour. They were the powerful class which controlled the apparatus of state and the working class. Marx wanted to emphasize that a member of one class may well feel no antagonism towards members of other class.
Capitalism with the continuous modernisation of the means of production and the development of the division of labour between workers and owners started the process of social co-operation between social classes and made it possible to make economic plans for societies.
Even though capitalism aimed to embrace the idea that everyone should be working together to assist in production, the main objective of the capitalist system as it was being operated, was to increase the private profits of a few individuals. Hence, this objective had a negative impact on the future development of production as the money generated from increased production remained in the hands of capitalists while the labour workers (the ‘Proletariat') remained poor. As a result, those living in a capitalist society and not benefiting from it wanted to destroy it. Marx suggested that the increasing unhappiness within the poor working class due to the exploitation of them by the capitalists would urge those workers join together and fight capitalism. Consequently, a revolutionary outrage was inevitable.
As factories grew larger and the division of labour became more complex, workers started to join together to form groups for resistance - first individual workers of a factory would form a group and then they would join groups of workers from the entire country. One could even see workers from one country joining those of another in a revolution to stop capital exploitation. As Marx said “at first the contest is carried on by individual labourers, then by the workpeople of a factory, then by the operations of one trade….but with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes as total in greater masses, its strength grows…the workers begin to form combinations”.
Marx believed that the revolution against capitalism would lead to the development of a new classless society. On a letter that he wrote onMarch 5th 1852 he claimed to have proved : «1) that the existence of class some are linked to particular historical phases in the rise of production 2) that class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the change to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society. (Varieties of Marxism, B. Jessop)
Exploitation is possible in any society where the forces of production have developed by providing labourers the minimum wages needed for them to survive. According to Marx this is possible when we have a production surplus. The process of exploitation is the basis of economic class struggle in capitalism. A capitalist spends money to buy goods and later sells these goods for more money. Marx however disagrees with the argument that labour power was unique among commodities; only labour power has the capacity to produce goods and services of greater value than its own cost of production. He stated that in a capitalist economy only labour power produces a surplus value i.e. to add value in production. The mean of surplus value in the system of capitalist production is based on the fact that the value the capitalists pay for labour power is less than the value the labour adds to commodities. This exploitation can be in the form of demanding more working hours or giving lower wages. The capitalist owner will take the surplus product that the workers produced without compensating them in return. Workers are free to sell their labour at its price anywhere. Hence they are forced to enter the capitalist production process and experience all this exploitation as they have no other way to live.
Marx however was opposed to this system and visualised a society where the worker's effort would be rewarded and there would be an equal distribution of income. A main problem to be addressed was that as machines developed they started to replace labour, and this resulted in the alienation of proletariat workers.
Marx identifies four types of alienation. Firstly, “the proletariat is alienated from the products of his work, as he becomes the property of someone else. Secondly, he becomes self-alienated since he gets no satisfaction from his work, as he cannot express freely his abilities” (Alan B. Carter, Marx, a radical critique (1988)). Thirdly, the working process becomes monotonous and a kind of enslavement for the workers. Finally human beings become alienated from each other. Alienation can cause a class fight and reduce co-operation between classes. Hence afuture socialist society would need to remove the relationship between private property andwage labour, while also focusing on making people feel valued and respected.
In conclusion, Marx was fighting for an even and impartial society and also for a fair compensation of the workers. He wanted for them to be rewarded for the effort they placed and what they produced. Marx was opposed to capitalism from the very beginning. As revolution finally breaks out, Marx argues that “communists will provide political and intellectual leadership without regard to immediate party advantage or national differences” (Tarrell Carver, Marx's social theory (1982)). The workers would subject the economy to social control and would bring a new, fairer mode of production: socialism. Despite its strong disadvantages, capitalism is favoured by some countries. Marx ideas for communism might not proved to be as effective but they remain helpful in the development of a better capitalist system.