Compare and Contrast Marx and Weber’s Analyses of the Development of Capitalism

Topics: Marxism, Karl Marx, Sociology Pages: 5 (1529 words) Published: February 20, 2013
Compare and contrast Marx and Weber’s analyses of the development of capitalism

Capitalism is defined as ‘An economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit.’ It is based on the division between two classes, one of which owns the labour of the other. Not only do the upper classes, or the bourgeoisie, own the means of physical production but also the means of ‘mental production’. They control and manipulate society through the rule of education, religion and the media. Althusser distinguishes between repressive state apparatuses and ideological state apparatuses and argues about how the bourgeoisie manages to maintain its rule. He argues that the repressive includes the police and the army in which use physical force to control the working class as opposed to the ideological apparatuses such as the media and religion which control the development of ideas. A key component of capitalism is that the working class are forced to sell their labour in exchange for wages in order to survive. However, they do not receive an equal exchange for the labour they produce, but only the cost of subsistence. The difference of what the bourgeoisie receive from the labourers and the amount they pay back is called the surplus value, meaning the profit they make.

Max Weber was one of the founding fathers of sociology and contributed highly to our knowledge of how society works. Weber’s work can be highlighted by referring to his study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1905 (22 years after the death of Karl Marx in 1883). Weber argues that the Protestant Reformation introduced a new belief system of Calvinism (a form of Protestantism founded by John Calvin during the reformation) which promoted a high work ethic and which eventually led to the rise in capitalism. Calvinists believed that God preordains the ‘elect’ meaning of who would be saved after death and go onto heaven and who would not. This could not be changed through hard work or leading a good life as the decision had already been decided. This made Calvinists strive for success, with which they would reinvest into making more money, hence the development of capitalism. Weber distinguishes the differences between the capitalism of greed and wealth in past societies to those of present. Modern day people are pursing profit for its own sake rather than for consumption, hence why the Calvinists reinvested their wealth. Weber calls this the spirit of capitalism. He further argues that this was the reason capitalism was stronger in places like Europe and America and not in other places where Protestantism wasn't so established. Weber also distinguishes between many different existing forms of capitalism including ‘traditional capitalism’ and ‘booty capitalism’; however the crucial ideal type is the one named modern capitalism, or rational capitalism meaning the repetitive, ongoing economic activity on the basis of rational calculation. Understanding what needs to happen and what the best way of achieving it is, allows for reinvestment and the growth of economic enterprises. He argues that it is the rational side of modern capitalism that distinguishes it from other advanced economic areas such as China and India, both of which had higher and more advanced infrastructures in the 17th century compared to Europe and America. However, Weber is hugely criticised for his understanding of the rise in capitalism due to others believing that it was the peoples relationship with the material forces and there means of subsidence which drove the change.

Weber takes a key focus on religion and the impact that had on the rest of society as well as capitalism, whereas Marx focuses on class conflict. Marx argues that through industrialisation capitalism had been forced to increase due to growing separation of the two contrasting classes. One class is the exploiting bourgeoisie who own the means...

Bibliography: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1932). The German Ideology . Moscow: David Riazanov.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848). Manifesto of the communist party. London.
Max Weber (1978). Economy and Society. California: University of California Press.
Thomas Hobbes (1988). The Leviathan. London : Penguin .
Phil Bartle. (2007). Marx vs Weber. Available: Last accessed 10th October 2012.
Louis Althusser. (1970). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Available: 970. Last accessed 10th October 2012
Michael Lowy. (2006). Marx, Weber and the Critique of Capitalism . Available: . Last accessed 10th October 2012.
No Author. (1999). Max Weber. Available: Last accessed 10th October 2012.
D. Sayer, Capitalism and Modernity: An Excurses on Marx and Weber, pg. 4, London: Routledge, 1991.
Cuff, E. C., W. W. Sharrock and D. W. Francis, Perspectives in Sociology, third edition, London, Routledge, 1992.
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