Is Marxism Still Relevant Today?

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The Industrial Revolution (1750-1850) had brought about significant changes in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation and technology and subsequently established an era of unprecedented economic growth in capitalist economies. It was within this era that Karl Marx had observed the deprivation and inequality experienced by men of the proletariat, the working class, who had laboured excessively for hours under inhumane conditions to earn a minimum wage while the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class, reaped the benefits. For Marx it was this fundamental inequality within the social and economic hierarchy that had enabled capitalist societies to function. While Marx’s theories, in many instances have been falsified and predictions invalid, his ideas about class struggle and conflict being a motivator for change is still relevant in contemporary society. The disparity of wealth between occupations in Australia demonstrates that class stratification is still inherent within society and the recent Qantas airline dispute is a relevant example of this. Marx’s theory of class struggle originates with his belief that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx & Engel, 1848). Marx had established that conflict between classes was the key driving force of history and the main determinant of social change. For Marx, conflict originates with the deterioration of a ‘false consciousness’ and the subsequent acquisition of a unified ‘class consciousness’. Marx argued that that proletariat was under the influence of a ‘false consciousness’ brought about with the acceptance of the dominant ideology that freedom and equality could be interpreted as an equal exchange of labour for wages (van Krieken et al., 2010). Marx however, perceived this as an exploitive relationship because in capitalism, the labourer only receives what is deemed sufficient to meet his basic needs for himself and his family, as opposed to the real value of his labour power. Marx had identified that the difference between the labourer’s wage and the value of the goods in which he produces is taken as profit, of which only the capitalist is the beneficiary (Habibis & Walter, 2009). Marx had theorised that, as a result of this exploitive relationship, alienation would occur. Marx argued that commodification of goods and services produced in conjunction with the lack of control over the end result would mean that workers would no longer recognise a connection with their labour, and hence become alienated from their labour. Only with the recognition of class exploitation and alienation would a class consciousness develop. Marx referred to class consciousness as a ‘class for itself’, denoting a collective self-awareness of the interests shared by members of a social group (van Krieken et al., 2010). Marx predicted that class consciousness would create a conflict of interest between classes and revolution would eventuate. The bourgeoisie would be overthrown, capitalism would collapse and a classless state would emerge as its successor (van Krieken et al., 2010). In post-modern times however, it is widely accepted that the opposite occurred. Critics insist that Marxism’s credibility was eradicated with the fall of the communist states within the ‘Eastern Bloc’. While others such as China, although still governed by a communist party, have adopted numerous capitalist policies (van Krieken et al., 2010). Marxism has also been criticised for its over-concentration on economic relationships and its tendency to overlook other forms of non-economic conflicts (Griffith, 2005). Feminists, for example, argue that the conflicts between male and female relations are not necessarily related to economics, but patriarchal. Furthermore, Marx like other social theorists at the time had ignored the role and contribution of women. Marx had described the proletariat of industrial societies where manual labour was involved; he did not however,...
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