Topics: Sociology, Social class, Marxism Pages: 21 (4898 words) Published: December 31, 2012
Karl Marx
1818-1883 by Dr. Frank Elwell

This presentation is based on the theories of Karl Marx as presented in his books listed in the bibliography. A more complete summary of Marx’s theories (as well as the theories of other macrotheorists) can be found in Macrosociology: The Study of Sociocultural Systems, by Frank W. Elwell. If you would like to receive a .pdf file of the chapter on Marx please write me at and put Marx.pdf in the subject line.


Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a socialist theoretician and organizer, a major figure in the history of economic and philosophical thought, and a great social prophet.

Personally, I like to call him the last of the old Testament prophets. He basically prophesized that man would someday create a paradise on earth. That we would all someday live in brotherhood, sharing our talents and our wealth.

But in this presentation we will focus on his role as a sociological theorist. His writings have had an enormous impact on all of the social sciences, but particularly upon sociology.

Major Intellectual Contributions:
1. Elaboration of the conflict model of society, specifically the theory of social change based upon antagonisms between social classes; 2. The insight that power originates primarily in economic production; and 3. His concern with the social origins of alienation.

Social Evolution
Marx’s vision was based on an evolutionary point of departure. Society was comprised of a moving balance of antithetical forces that generate social change by their tension and struggle.

Social Evolution
Struggle, rather than peaceful growth, was the engine of progress; strife was the father of all things, and social conflict was the core of the historical process.

Forces of Production
Marx believed that the basis of the social order in every society is the production of economic goods. What is produced, how it is produced, and how it is exchanged determine the differences in people’s wealth, power, and social status.

Relations of Production
For Marx, the entire social system is based on the manner in which men and women relate to one another in their continuous struggle to wrest their livelihood form nature.

Relations of Production
"The first historical act is…the production of material life itself.” Marx goes on to say that “this is indeed an historical act, a fundamental condition of history.”

Relations of Production
In other words, unless this act is fulfilled (the production of material life), there would be no other, All social life is dependent upon the quest for a sufficiency of eating and drinking, for habitation and for clothing.

Relations of Production
This quest to meet basic needs is central to understanding social life—and is as true today as it was in prehistory.

Relations of Production
The quest to meet basic needs were man’s primary goals at the dawn of the race and are still central when attempts are made to analyze the complexities of modern life.

Secondary Needs
When basic needs have been met, this leads to the creation of new needs. Man (and woman) is a perpetually dissatisfied animal. Man’s struggle against nature does not cease when basic needs are gratified.

Secondary Needs
The production of new needs evolve when means are found to allow the satisfaction of older ones. Humans engage in antagonistic cooperation as soon as they leave the communal stage of development in order to satisfy their primary and secondary needs.

Antagonistic Cooperation
Marx argued that because human beings must organize their activities in order to clothe, feed, and house themselves, every society is build on an economic base. The exact form social organization takes varies from society to society and from era to era.

Division of Labor
The organization of economic activities leads to the division of labor which causes the formation of classes; over...
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