AQA AS/A SOCIOLOGY ESSAY: CRITICALLY EXAMINE MARXIST PERSPECTIVES ON TODAY’S SOCIETY Classical Marxism is a conflict structural theory which argues that, rather than society being based on value consensus as functionalists would contend, there is a conflict of interest between different groups (social classes) because of the unequal distribution of power and wealth. Marxists are also interested in the way in which social change can occur, particularly in sudden and revolutionary ways. However, there are differences between Marxists especially over the way which social change can come about. For example, humanistic Marxists like Gramsci give a greater role to the conscious decisions and actions of human beings than do structural Marxists like Althusser, for whom social change comes as the product of changes within the structures of society. One of the key ideas of Marx was historical materialism. Materialism is the view that human beings have material needs such as food, clothing and shelter, and must therefore work to meet them. In so doing, they use the forces or means of production. In the earliest stages of human history, these forces were just unaided human labour, but over time people develop tools, machines and so on to assist in production i.e. there are innovations in technology. In working to meet their needs, humans also cooperate with one another: they enter into social relations of production – ways of organising production. Over time, as the forces of production grow and develop, so do the social relations of production change. In particular, a division of labour develops, and this eventually gives rise to a division between two social classes: a ruling class that owns the means of production and a subject class of labourers. From then on, production is directed by the ruling class to meet their own needs. Marx argued that in any class-based society – be it ancient, feudal or capitalist – one group gained at the expense of the other. According to Marx, capitalist society – such as the one we live in – is based on the division between two main classes – the Bourgeoisie (ruling class) and the Proletariat (subject class). The ruling class (or capitalist class) own and control the means of production, whereas the subject class (or wage-labourers) own nothing but their capacity to produce goods and services. These wage-labourers (sometimes crudely referred to as working class) are employed by the ruling class in return for a wage in order to produce goods and services that the ruling class can make a profit from. It works like this: the working class produce more than they themselves need for subsistence. The excess or surplus is appropriated (taken away) by the ruling class through the process of exploitation. Basically, the workers are paid less than the true value of the good that they produce. The surplus value created – which is the source of profit – is put to the capitalists’ own use. Following on from this, capitalism continually expands the forces of production in its pursuit of increasing profit. Production becomes concentrated in ever-larger units (e.g. factories with specialised machinery). Such technological advances de-skill the workforce. Together with increasing concentration of ownership, class polarisation is the result i.e. society divides into a minority capitalist class and a majority working class. Marx argues that under capitalism, workers experience alienation because they have no control and the increasing division of labour means that work becomes a futile, meaningless activity.
The principal reason workers are unaware of the true nature of their situation is due to false-class consciousness which is explained through ideology – a set of values and beliefs that justify (legitimise) the existing social order as inevitable, entirely acceptable and indeed, even desirable. This is because the capitalist mode of production which forms the economic base of society shapes or determines...
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