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Karl Marx and Marxism
Marxism can be defined as a method social inquiry which looks at economic, socio- economic and socio-political aspects of a society. In its attempt to explain social change, the method relies on the concept of historical materialism, the rise and development of capitalism as a mode of production and the study of opposites (dialectical view).
Marxism was founded by two Germany scholars namely Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from the start of the 19th century to mid-19th century. They rejected the ideas of realism, liberalism but focused on class struggle as the basis of international relations.
However, Karl Marx is seen as the most influential in the foundation and development of Marxism, thus the name of Marxism which was derived from his name. Marx was mostly interested in the study of society in terms of what he referred to as class struggle, which he argued was responsible for social change.
On his part, Friedrich Engels based his argument on the study of opposites, arguing that social change was as a result of conflicting ideas, which influence the actions of people in the society, the argument being that the idea which is more dominant over the others shapes social change within a given society (Marx 87).
Karl Marx sees people as both producers and products of the society in which they live. According to him, society is made up of different parts which influence each other but the economic part has the greatest influence. He argues that the history of human society is the history of tension and conflict.
As per the manifesto written by him and Friedrich Engels in 1848, ‘the history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle, that of free men and slaves, lords and serfs who stand in a relationship of an oppressor and oppressed and thus are always in constant oppositions to one another.
The conflict between the oppressor and oppressed is sometimes hidden or open war and at the end, they always have a reconstituted society. In the manifesto, Marx stated that ‘you do not have to be poor, nobody was born poor but the conditions that made man poor were created by man himself, and therefore can be changed by man’.
Karl Marx gave more attention to the economy, which he argued formed the base of society while the superstructure which comprises things like culture, religion, social life and media were a reflection of the economic mode of production of the society.
Karl Marx presented two class models of society namely the bourgeoisie and proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the capitalists who are few in number and are the owners of capital. They are also rich, powerful, oppressors, exploiters and they always win elections in democratic countries.
On the other hand, the proletariats are the workers, owners of labor and they are the majority in numbers but are powerless since they are oppressed and exploited by the rich and they always lose in elections in democratic nations. The proletariat can be described as a class in itself in the sense that they share same objectives and relationships to the means of production, that is, they are laborers who are paid in wages.
The two classes are always in conflict with each other because their interests are incompatible. While the bourgeoisie have the interests of maintaining the status quo which ensures their dominance, the proletariats are interested in changing the status quo which deprives them of good life.
However, the two classes are not aware of the nature of the circumstances which they live in but assume that the situations which they find themselves in are natural and nothing can be done to change them. This is what Karl Marx calls a false class consciousness.
The bourgeoisie are not aware that they are the exploiters while the proletariats are not aware that they are exploited or oppressed; they are also not aware that they are poor but assume that they are naturally supposed to be poor.
However; when the proletariats become aware of the reality, that is, when they know that they are exploited by the bourgeoisie, what follows is a revolution. Marx argues that the Russian revolution of 1917 was as a result of the realization of the proletariats that they were being oppressed by the bourgeoisie.
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According to Karl Marx, the defining features of social class are the ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production. He argued that those who owned the means of production were able to exploit those who did own them. Marx was of the view that both labor and capital were very essential in the stability of the economy.
This is because the capital cannot transform itself into wealth without the labor while the labor cannot create wealth without the capital. It therefore follows that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat must work together, because none can exist independently of the other. What this means is that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are equal shareholders in the wealth which is created through their interaction.
However, this is not always the case. This is because at the end of the production process, the sharing of the profits is not fair since the supply value is more appropriated by the bourgeoisie at the expense of the proletariat, who produces more labor which is not paid for.
According to Karl Marx therefore, the levels of profits made by organizations was inversely proportional to the level of exploitation of the proletariat. That is, the more the companies make profits, the higher the levels of exploitation and vice versa. In other words, what Karl Marx was arguing was that profit was synonymous with surplus value, which is labor that is not paid for.
Unfortunately, the proletariats are not aware of this and they even go to the extent of celebrating when they hear that the companies which they work for have made significant increment in the amounts of profits. Karl Marx understood work as alienating. His argument was based on the capitalistic mode of production which has its roots in the industrial revolution of 1600.
This mode of production is characterized by two groups of people namely the capitalists and the proletariats. According to Karl Marx, the proletariats own nothing except their labor, which they sale at cheap price to the capitalists.
Karl Marx also explained the concept of alienation which simply means the existence of some dividing forces between things which are essentially supposed to be in harmony with each other.
For example, man created and discovered religion, but the same man subjects himself to uncomfortable religious beliefs or practices like refusing to take medicine due to religious beliefs. In this situation, religion makes man uneasy, yet it is the same man who creates the religion.
Marx argued that the ideal purpose of work was to make man happy by enabling him move towards the actualization levels in his life. But due to the capitalistic economy, work is no longer playing its primary function in man, but rather, it is alienating him.
According to Marx, man can be alienated in three major ways namely the alienation from the results of labor, alienation from the other workers and alienation of the worker from him or herself.
Alienation from the results of labor happens when man works but he does not have a stake in the products of his labor and only gets his wages, which are way below the worth of the products of his labor. This is what Karl Marx calls exploitation, which creates profits in form of surplus. Paradoxically, the surplus is not attributed to the workers but rather to the capitalists.
Alienation from other workers takes place when the worker is transformed into a commodity to be used in the competitive capitalist economy. In this situation, the worker is not viewed as a social being but is tied to his or her work, in which he or she is paid as per his or her output.
Alienation of the worker from himself takes place when the worker is robbed of his ability or opportunity to enjoy the intrinsic value of work. In the capitalistic economy, personal life is separated from work, meaning that the worker is transformed into a machine. This makes him or her to work for the sake of working, but not as a way of serving humanity or quenching his passion to work in a certain field.
He writes about post capitalism and agrees that Marx’s description of capitalism was accurate in the 19th century but out-dated in the 20th century. This is because major changes took place in Western Europe and North America which are now post-capitalists.
Instead of the two social classes getting polarized as Marx had argued, the opposite has happened. For example, population of skilled workers has grown tremendously; inequalities in income and wealth have been reduced due to changes in social structure and the intervention by the State (Wallerstein 26).
Social mobility is now more common and he link between ownership and control have been broken. In the organizational context for example, managers, but not the owners of the business exercise day to day control of the organizations as well as over the means of production.
Under these circumstances, Marx’s argument that conflict was based on the concept of ownership of the means of production is therefore not valid today because there is no longer any close association between wealth and power.
Wallerstein went ahead to argue that conflict therefore was not about the control over the means of production but over authority, which according to him was a legitimate power attached to a particular social role. For example, a manager or a teacher has a right to make decisions in an organization or classroom regardless of the wishes of the workers or students respectively.
In all organizations, there are positions of dominance and subjection, some make decisions legitimately, others do not and this is the basis of conflict in post capitalism society.
Those in the subject positions have the interest of changing the social structure that deprives them of authority and those in dominant positions have the interest of maintaining dominant structure in many social situations not just economic ones and so nobody is confined to dominant or subject positions and therefore society presents a picture of plurality of competing dominant and subject positions.
Just like Marx, Wallerstein argued that there is a possibility of capitalism being replaced by socialism. According to him, false class consciousness may come to an end thus triggering revolutions which would eventually bring capitalism to an end.
His main ideas were centered on consumerism. He is one of the few scholars who loosely associated themselves with Marxism. One of his main points of departure from Marxism in regard to capitalism is that while Marx saw production as the key force behind capitalism, Baudrillard considered consumption as the key force behind capitalism (Tormey 73).
He also differed significantly with Marx in regard to the issue of use-value. While Marx saw needs as genuine and innate, Baudrillard saw them as being constructed by people and therefore, the needs preceded the production of goods. In this sense therefore, consumption was more important than production because the desire to consume certain goods comes before the goods are produced.
In his later works, Baudrillard completely rejected the ideas of Marx especially with regard to sign value of commodities. His argument was that commodities had a sign value which was one of the determinants of why people preferred certain commodities to others.
To him therefore, the cost of a commodity was not as much important as the sign value of the same commodity. On his part, Marx had argued that the cost of production was the key determinant of the value of commodities in the market economy.
Marx, Karl. Theories of Surplus Value Vols. 1-3, Amherst, N.Y, Prometheus Books, 2000. Print.
Tormey, Simon. Anticapitalism: A Beginner’s Guide, Oxford, Oneworld Beginners’Guides, 2004.Print.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. Geopolitics and Geoculture: Essays on the Changing World-System, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.