Theory weekonemarx


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Theory weekonemarx

  1. 1. MARXISMMarxism is a structural, conflict theory.BackgroundMarxism is a theory about society that has developed from the work of Karl Marx.He lived from 1818 to 1883, so he was writing before Durkheim, but his ideas onlystarted to seriously challenge functionalism after the 1950s, when people startedto think that he had a better explanation for what was happening in society thanthe functionalists.Marx was also influenced by developments in the natural sciences and believed itwas possible to create a science of society. He shared some functionalist ideas. Heagreed that there were social forces that structured behaviour and that peoplewere socialised into norms and values.Where he differed was in his belief that society was based on conflict notconsensus, and that the socialisation process worked to make inequality seemnormal and acceptable.Conflict TheoryRead the following story:Imagine the following scenario. It is early morning in a Latin American country. A group ofagricultural labourers, both men and women, are waiting by a roadside for a bus to arriveto drive them to work. Suddenly two vans draw up and four hooded men jump out. Atgunpoint they order the labourers into the backs of the vans which then race away deepinto the surrounding countryside. At nightfall they are abandoned and the labourerstransferred into a large covered lorry. This is driven through the night deep into themountains. Before day-break it reaches its destination-a huge underground mine, builtdeep into the heart of a mountain. Here the labourers are horrified to find a vast army ofslaves toiling away, under constant surveillance by brutal guards. After being given ameagre meal, the labourers are forced to join this workforce.As they live out their desperate lives within this mountain world, some of the slaves try toescape. When caught they are publicly punished as a deterrent to the others. Twoattempts to escape result in public execution. As the labourers get older, they rely oneach other for companionship and their memories for comfort. They keep sane byrecounting stories of their former lives. In the fullness of time, children are born to them.Their parents are careful to tell these children all about their past. As these childrengrow up and have children of their own, they, too, are told these tales of theirgrandparents’ land of lost content. But for them these are handed-down historicalstories, not tales based on experience.As the years go by, though the facts of life within the mountain remain the same, theperception of life in it by the participants alters. By the time five or six generations ofslaves have been born their knowledge of the world of their ancestors’ past lives hasbecome considerably dimmed. It is still talked about, sometimes. But by now it is amisted world of fairy stories. All they know from experience is slavery. So far as any ofthem can remember, they have always been slaves. In their world, slavery is ‘normal’. In1
  2. 2. effect, to be a slave has come to mean something very different for them from what ithad meant for their original ancestors.A similar process occurs with the guards. As the view of themselves held by the slaves hasbecome altered over time, the necessity for naked force has become less and less. As,through socialisation, the slaves have begun to see their subordination as normal, theguards no longer brandish their guns and clubs. Because of this, they no longer seethemselves as the original guards had done. Both dominant and subordinate groups,knowing nothing else, have, through socialisation, come to see the facts of the inequalityin their world in a very different light from its original inhabitants.Though this story is rather larger than life, its telling does allow us to see the role ofsocialisation into cultural rules as conflict theorists see it. Their argument is that wemust be careful not to dismiss the presence of conflict in societies just because aconsensus seems to prevail. Naked force is only necessary so long as people seethemselves as oppressed. If they can be persuaded that they are not oppressed or if theyfail to see that they are, then they can be willing architects in the design of their ownsubordination. The easiest way to exercise power, and gain advantage as a result, is forthe dominated to be unaware of the fact of its existence.This story shows us how Marxists see society. They see a lot of inequality thatpeople seem to accept because they see it as normal. Marx argued that peoplehad a false consciousness, a false sense of what was going on, and that this wasdue to being socialised into thinking inequality was normal.Marxist theoryFor Marx the most important human activity is economic; the production ofmaterial goods. Humans first have to produce food, drink, shelter before they doanything else.A simple society in which humans just produce enough to survive is called asubsistence economy. Marx argues there is no inequality in a subsistenceeconomy because people are only just surviving. When people get themselvesorganised and produce more efficiently, they find they can produce more than thethings they need for survival. They produce a surplus. Once they have a surplus,decisions have to be made about what to do with it. Marx argues that at this pointinequality will, inevitably, start to develop.Marx argued that in any economic system some people would gain control ofeconomic production so that they could keep the surplus for themselves. Thiswould result in the formation of two social classes. The dominant class whocontrolled the economy he called the bourgeoisie (ruling class), and thesubordinate class who had to work for wages he called the proletariat (workingclass). The relationship between the two classes would always be one of conflict.This is because the bourgeoisie would want to keep wages low to maximise theirsurplus, and the proletariat would want wages as high as possible.This analysis applies to any economic system that has developed beyondsubsistence. The economic system that dominates today is capitalism. Capitalismallows private individuals to make, and keep, as much surplus (profit) as they can.2
  3. 3. Marxists argue that this involves the exploitation of the work force, who havelittle power to affect their wages and conditions of work.So, why do the working class put up with it? This is where the story of the‘slaves in the mountain’ fits in. Marx argues people are socialised into seeinequality as normal, and this really benefits the dominant class who are able tomaintain their advantages without being challenged.How are people socialised into accepting inequality?Marx sees the economy as the basis of society and calls it the infrastructure. Hesees all the other institutions of society, the political system, the educationsystem, the mass media, the family, religion, as developing out of the economicsystem, and he calls these the superstructure.It is the institutions of the superstructure that socialise people into acceptinginequality as normal.The family teaches children to not expect to be equal. Children are subordinateto their parents and learn this is normal.The education system teaches pupils that some are better than others, and that ifthey do not do well it is their fault; they are not very clever or they do not workhard.The mass media divert peoples’ attention away from inequality by making peoplethink that celebrities, football matches, sex, diets, music, are more important,and what they should spend their time thinking and talking about.Religion teaches people to accept their place in society and look forward torewards after death.The political system encourages people to think they take part in the governing ofsociety when in fact they have no influence on the economically powerful.All the ideas presented above that contribute to the belief that inequality isnormal and acceptable, are described as the ‘ideology of capitalism’. They areideas that justify and support capitalism. The institutions that produce these ideasare known as ideological state apparatuses.Marx did not believe this situation would go on forever.He predicted that those people who controlled the economy would get richer andricher. The working class, by comparison, would get poorer and poorer. At somepoint the working class would realise what was happening. They would changefrom a false consciousness to a class consciousness. Conscious of their exploitedclass position they would start a revolution. They would over throw the dominantclass and set up a communist society, in which no private individual could controleconomic production and keep the profits. Under communism all production isowned and controlled by the government.The weakest part of Marx’s theory is that the revolution has never happening, andcurrently private enterprise and capitalism are going from strength to strength.3
  4. 4. CRITICISMS OF MARXISM1. ‘No revolution’ criticismThe main criticism of Marx is mentioned above, and is the point that hispredicted revolution has not happened. Although those who control theeconomy have become richer and richer, most of the working class in Westernindustrial societies have become richer too. The class divisions that were clearin Marx’s time are much less clear today, and a large middle class has nowdeveloped between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Those societies thathave tried to follow communism have also not been successful., and have notremoved inequality.2. Interactionist criticismMarxism presents people as passive receivers of media messages.Interactionists would argue that people reflect on the world that is presentedto them, and are aware of media manipulation. Secularisation (the decline ofreligion) is also evidence that people make their own choices and do notnecessarily accept what they are told.3. Feminist criticismLike the functionalists, Marxists also ignore gender differences, and presentsocial class as the most important social division, not gender. Feministsdisagree with this.4. Functionalist criticismFunctionalists disagree with Marxists because they see society as based onconsensus. They have a more optimistic and positive view of human society.They focus on the good things that institutions provide for society as a whole.5. Postmodern criticismPostmodernists believe that Marxist analysis no longer describes society as awhole. It may be useful for understanding parts of society, at certain times,but it is not the general theory of how a society works, that Marx wanted it tobe.4
  5. 5. NOW fill in the answers to the following questions.1. Who was the originator of Marxism2. What did he think that society was based on?3. What human activity has to come first before all others?4. What is meant by a subsistence economy?5. What is a surplus?6. Who are the bourgeoisie?7. Who are the proletariat?8. Explain why these two social classes are in conflict with each other.9. What is capitalism?10.Why do Marxists think the working class are exploited?11.According to Marxists what does the family teach people?5
  6. 6. 12.What does education teach people?13.What does religion teach people?14.Explain how the mass media supports inequality.15.Explain how the political system encourages people to think they haveinfluence in society.16.What is the ideology of capitalism?17. What is false consciousness?18. What is class consciousness?19. What is communism?20.Identify 5 criticisms of MarxismABCDE6
  7. 7. 12.What does education teach people?13.What does religion teach people?14.Explain how the mass media supports inequality.15.Explain how the political system encourages people to think they haveinfluence in society.16.What is the ideology of capitalism?17. What is false consciousness?18. What is class consciousness?19. What is communism?20.Identify 5 criticisms of MarxismABCDE6