Theories of Marx - Human Action and Social Structure, Alienation and False Consciousness

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In this seminar, I seek to analyse, discuss and evaluate the theories of Marx. Firstly, I will analyse the relationship between human action and social structure. Having completed the analysis, I will move on further to discuss and exemplify his theory of alienation. Lastly I will evaluate his theory of false consciousness.

Question 1
Human action and social structure are extremely prevalent in the works of Marx. In terms of the workers and capitalist classes, he postulates that they are not free but rather actors of the capitalist system. The workers are forced into labour to make a living, the force of circumstance (Elster, 1986:29) while the capitalist is forced to keep themselves in business. Elster (1986:29) argues that this is not entirely true as everyone is free to make a choice, the worker has a choice to work or to starve, whereas the capitalist has a choice to make a profit or find a way to keep in business. Therefore the social structure defines an individual's circumstances, if the individual is able to survive in the wealthy areas of the capitalist, they are defined and severely encouraged to live as capitalists or 'bourgeoisie' as was the definition by Marx, whereas if they are unable to survive in the area of the capitalist, they are confined to live as a worker or 'proletariat' as was the definition by Marx.

An example of Human action and social structure is found in the movie “Daens” (Stijn Coninx, 1992), where we find that the working class are depicted as poor people acting out the force of circumstance that Marx describes. They were pulled away from farms working as peasants and made to work for measly salaries at the factories. They are as easily fired as they are hired and are struggling to make a living for their families. In contrast to this, the factory owners are the ones in control of the situation and are fighting among one another as to who can make the best profit out of their factories. Most of their profit making is exemplified in the firing of staff or the reduction of their salaries. However there is the case of the socialist that is portrayed in the movie as standing out from the ordinary crowd and trying to get everyone to be aware that what the factory owners are doing is not politically correct. Socially, the Flemish (or factory workers) are only able to live in areas that have been allocated them, most live in squalor with poor ablution and access to basic resources like water and food is very limited, they are also limited with regards to religion as services were not held in their language, but rather in Latin. In contrast to the factory workers, the factory owners (or the capitalist class) live anywhere they choose and have access to all they desire. They are able to attend church services and most have access to a priest who will come to their house and tutor their children. The factory worker is therefore constrained to stay in their social structures as they are not able to make enough money to become like the capitalist as they can barely support themselves. The factory owner or capitalist is also constrained to stay in their social structures and keep up appearances, the priest (Daens) is severely frowned upon when he associates with the workers and takes their side. The church even goes so far as to punish him for his actions.

Question 2
Alienation is explained by Marx as a lack of meaning, a lack of self realisation and fulfilment. It was the idea of Marx that the worker become emancipated and work themselves out of their predicament and rise up against capitalism and overthrow it. It is in a sense a disconnection from reality, in that people are removed from having relationships with one another and the effort they put into the machine is reduced to the point that they are doing only a small part to contribute to the whole system Elster (1986:41-52).

The division of labour is said to be the cause of alienation, where the tasks assigned to people were broken...
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