Marx and Weber: Conflicting Conflict Theories

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Two names that are repeatedly mentioned in sociological theory are Karl Marx and Max Weber. In some ways these two intellectuals were similar in the way they looked at society. There are also some striking differences. In order to compare and contrast these two individuals it is necessary to look at each of their ideas. Then a comparison of their views can be illustrated followed by examples of how their perspectives differ from each other.

Karl Marx was born in Trier, Germany in 1818. He came from a middle-class German-Jewish background. He attended first the University of Bonn, and later the University of Berlin. At the University of Berlin he was linked to the Young Hegelians. The Young Hegelians was a group that criticized German politics using Hegelian philosophy as their guide. (Farganis 2004, 23) Hegel's philosophy involved viewing "things as they are and as they have the potential to become in the future." (Farganis 2004, 23) Throughout Marx's works he looks at the relationships between wealth and power and the conflict that exists between the capitalist bourgeoisie who own the means of production and the proletariat that is the labor force behind production.

In Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, he begins to draw the line between the capitalist owner and the laborer class. As a result of the competition that is necessary for capitalist interests, society divides itself into two classes: the owners of property and the workers without property. (Marx 1964, 38) Marx argues that the worker becomes an object himself. The worker becomes alienated from the product he produces. Because of this separation of man and his product, the worker's "species-life" is also taken away from him. He later argues that private property is a result of the alienated labor. He states, "Only at the very culmination of the development of private property does this, its secret, reemerge, namely, that on the one hand it is the product of alienated labour, and that secondly it is the means by which labour alienates itself, the realization of this alienation."(Marx 1964, 42)

In The German Ideology, written with the aid of his friend Frederick Engels, he uses the term division of labor to explain the differences between the two classes of men. He declares, "the division of labor implies the possibility, nay the fact that intellectual and material activity—enjoyment and labour, production and consumption—devolve on different individuals, and the only possibility of their not coming into contradiction lies in the negation in its turn of the division of labour." (Marx & Engels 1974, 45) He is saying that two different worlds exist for man. There are those who produce yet can't enjoy, and those that enjoy what is produced. The line that separates the two worlds is the division of labor. Marx also claims that the class that is dominant materially is also dominant intellectually, that is, they control the ideas that the dominated class are subject to. He adds, "The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships that make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance." (Marx & Engels 1974, 45)Through the use of ideologies that support their dominance, the ruling class controls its ability to stay the ruling class.

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, he works with Engels again. Here Marx states that, "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." (Marx & Engels 1948, 26) Here he explains the development of the bourgeoisie and its eventual overtaking of feudalism as it related to the evolution of industry. He makes the claim that the bourgeoisie has become to powerful and that the very working-class that they have been oppressing have gained the "weapons" from them to get rid of them. (Marx & Engels 1948, 29) He...
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