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The foundation of both sociological and social thinking is formed by Karl Marx. He gave us the insight to see patterns of conflicts evolving and revolving around systems of inequality. Other theorists, like Weber, have argued against Marx’s ideologies, while others have used his ideas and thoughts in a unique way to understand society and the way inequality works. Max’s theory falls under the idea of enlightenment, positivism, and progress. Marx argues that societies change and history pushes on in response to some economic forces. He sees society functioning like a machine. He holds that scientific approach is the path to true knowledge that would liberate the oppressed in the society. For Marx, major historical changes happen because of the class struggle. He referred to the transition between the medieval and capitalist economy. Marx gives us a “spiritual existentialism in secular language” (Fromm, 1961. p. 5). To think like Marx, is, therefore, being critical of the inhumanities that human beings face. “Marx’s philosophy is one of protests; it is a protest imbued with faith in man, in his capacity to liberate himself and to realize his potentialities” (Fromm, 1961, p. vi).
The elements of capitalism, which Marx talks about, include class and class structure, value and exploration, industrialization, markets and commodification. According to Marx, all these elements provide the engine of historical change and eventually lead to the termination of capitalism.
Class and class structure: Marx views the dynamic behind history as a process of production. He is concerned with three issues under production: the actual process of production, the social relationship that form because of production, and the outcomes of production. For Marx, human history is a history of class struggle. Capitalism lifts economic work of all institutional forms. Under capitalism, the relationships people have with others are seen to be different from familial, religious, or political relations. In agricultural-based societies, for example, family and work coincided. All family members performed their farm work together. Capitalism lifted this work from farm to urban societies. It disembodied work from family and social relations. This movement has created dual spheres of home and work, each controlled by a specific gender. This led to men controlling their women’s entire life. Women, therefore, became property of man. Marx and Engels (1884/1978a) conclude in their findings that, “The modern family contains in embryo not only slavery….It contains within itself miniature all the antagonisms, which later develop on a wide scale within society and its state” (p. 737).
Marx then examines the second class under capitalism, which is bipolarization. It consists of the bourgeoisie, which is the class of small land and business owners and the lumpen proletariat which is the underclass. He argues that because the lumpenproletariat have no relationship to economic production, they will become less important in the dynamics of capitalism. The bourgeoisie will also shrink in number, because they are bought or pushed aside by the powerful capitalists. While most people see their business size as the result of hard work and competition, Marx sees it as a result of structural dialectic processes. Capitalists usually reinvest profit to make more profit. As they reinvest capital, the demand for labor goes up; this causes the number of the unemployed to shrink, leading to increase in wages. This in tern causes the profits to go down and capitalists find an opportunity to cut their production, creating a crisis in the economy. The crisis causes more workers to be laid off and small businesses to collapse. The small businesses are bought out and the once small-scale capitalists also start working for the larger capitalists. The process repeats over time leaving the capital to be centralized to fewer and fewer hands. Marx pointed that it will be easy to take over power from fewer capitalists, when the revolution comes. Finally, the gap between the workers and the owners widens leading to the reduction of conflict between the two parties.
Value and exploration: Marx compares and contrasts this theory with the political economists of those days. For the political economists, commodities, value, profit, private property, and the division of labor were seen as natural effects of social evolution. Marx, however, sees all these as instruments of oppression that affects people’s life chances. This is because people paid more for commodities more than its worth. Adam Smith (1776) came up with ways of measuring commodities. He argues that every commodity has two kinds of values: use-value and exchange-value. Use-value is the actual function value that a product contains, while exchange-value is the rate of exchange a commodity bears, when compared to other commodities. One could exchange a commodity that has a use-value with one that does not; but they both have exchange-value. What can be allowing these two commodities to be changed? Smith argues, and Marx agrees that the common denominator for all these is human labor: “Labor, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities” (Smith, 1776/1937, p.30). Marx equates labor with money, but maintains their distinction. He argues that the difference between use-value and exchange-value is that we pay more for a product than its use-value would indicate. Marx argues that capitalists are pushed to increase their profits and the level of surplus labor and, therefore, the rate of exploitation.
Industrialization, markets and commodification: Industrialization is the process through which work moves from being performed by humans to being performed by machines. It increases the level of production and market expansion. The aim of capitalists is to gain more profits. They, therefore, expand their markets in any direction. Such markets are always inherently susceptible to expansion, because they are always driven by the capitalists’ interest to gain more profits. Marx argues that as the market becomes more important in the society, and the use of money becomes more universal, money becomes the determining factor of all human relations. This expansive nature of the market is known as commodification. It describes how human life can be changed into something that can be sold and Marx sees this to be expanding at an ever-increasing rate. The drive for expanding profits and the endless potential for commodification is one of the main factors that have contributed to globalization.
Marx argues that societies change and history pushes on in response to some economic forces. These economic forces are brought by capitalists who want to get more and more capital while controlling the less fortunate.