Conflict Theory of Marx

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Lecture 10 Conflict theory of Karl Marx

Sociology developed in Europe in the 19th century, primarily as an attempt to understand the massive social and economic changes that had been sweeping across Western Europe in the 17th-19th centuries. These changes were later described as ‘the great transition’ from ‘pre-modern’ to ‘modern’ societies. [pic]

Ontological assumptions of Marxist Theory:

• structuralism,

• conflict,

• materialism

Epistemology of realism

Marx counts as a ‘key sociological thinker’, but

• Contrary to what one might infer from the history of Marxism after his death, Marx had little political or theoretical influence in his own lifetime. His collaborator, Engels was better known than Marx in the 1840s and 1950s.

• Yet Marx is often heralded as a founder of sociology. But Marx himself did not identify his writing with sociology. He dismissed this discipline as ‘rubbish’ on reading its founding father, Auguste Comte.

• Max Weber and Emile Durkheim often debated with Marx’s ghost in developing their own sociological approaches. Although Marxism has frequently been declared moribund, it has equally often been revived and integrated into current sociological thinking.

Who influenced Marx:
• The dialectical method and historical orientation of Hegel o The dialectic (way of thinking and the image of the world ' dynamic rather than static) o Idealism (only mind and psychological constructs exist, the ‘spirit’ of society) • The classical political economy of Smith and Ricardo o Labour as a source of all wealth

• French socialist thought, in particular the republican conception of Rousseau and Proudhon's critique of private property; • the young Hegelians, in particular Feuerbach and his idea of God as a projection maid by people of their human essence onto an impersonal force (materialist philosophy) Who was influenced by Marx:

Georg Lukács ; Vladimir Lenin; Louis Althusser ; Leon Trotsky; Antonio Gramsci ; Mao Zedong; Herbert Marcuse

Key issues of Marx’s theory:

• A Materialist Social Ontology

• Historical Materialism

• The Critique of Capitalism

• Ideology and ‘false consciousness’

• Class as a Social Relation

A Materialist Social Ontology

Hegelian idealism vs. Marxian materialism

Hegel treated the self-consciousness of the mind as a substantive, really existing, disembodied entity and regarded individual minds as fragments of the one true mind (or Absolute Spirit). The real world is a result of the self-realisation of the Absolute Spirit. “The real is rational”.

Why do we observe poverty, misery, and political oppression?

In true idealist fashion these evils were attributed to the grip of unsound ideas ' especially mystification and illusions produced by religion. Thus human emancipation would depend on overcoming such ‘false consciousness’.

Marx turned Hegel right side up.

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

The key feature of societies was how they organised material production.

Human emancipation required the material transformation of society rather than a mere change in consciousness.

Historical Materialism

is a distinctive method for analysing transforming historical development.

Class struggle vs. succession of modes of production

History is the history of class struggle Communist Manifesto (1848)

the class relations typify different historical epochs,

class relations are antagonistic ' class struggle

• the subordinate classes develop class consciousness and revolutionary movements to challenge the dominant class(es), • revolutions develop new modes of production and forms of social organisation.

1. History is a succession of modes of production

In the 1959 Preface to the Contribution to the...
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