Define this perspective and outline in detail its goals, methods,
fundamental concepts, and principle contributors.
Evaluate the usefulness of this perspective in understanding social life
and social interaction.
Issues to consider could include: famous and controversial theories; the
problem of social order; class, gender, ethnicity, media or religion
Teacher: Conor Bendle
Word count: 1,216
Due: Tuesday, 16th March 2004
No thinker in the 19th Century has had such a direct, deliberate and
powerful influence upon mankind as Karl Marx, and now his concept of
Marxism is a major perspective in modern sociology. Karl Marx’s
revolutionary philosophies lead to the practice of socialism and communism,
then ultimately the overthrow of an entire capitalist society and the state
institutions that had brought it into being, through the Communist
Revolutions in Eastern Europe and China during the last century. The main
concepts that create the theory of Marxism are: a criticism of capitalism,
a classless society and classical political economics.
Karl Marx’s famous
theories to help define Marxism include: dialectical materialism, the law
of development and the mode of production. Within his lifetime, a new
revolutionary practice was formed, and Marx’s name would be forever
associated with that practice (Kreis, 2003).
The German-born Karl Marx was a philosopher, social scientist, historian
and revolutionary, and possibly the most influential socialist thinker to
emerge from the nineteenth century (Kreis, 2003). He completed the greater
part of his work between 1844 and 1883, during periods of democratic
nationalism, trade unionism and revolution. He had an acute sense of
injustice and was repelled by the rhetoric of the intellectuals, who were
remote from reality, and the self-righteous contentment of the bourgeoisie,
as he found they were hypocritical and blinded by their wealth and status
Fredrich Engels was essentially a social philosopher, and was the co-
founder of the modern communist theory with Karl Marx.
In 1847 Engels and
Marx began writing a pamphlet based on Engels’ The Principles of Communism.
The 12,000-word pamphlet was finished in six weeks, written in such a
manner as to make communist theory understandable to a wide audience. It
was named The Communist Manifesto and was published in February 1848. After
Marx’s death in 1883 Engels devoted the rest of his life to editing and
translating Marx’s writings.
Marxism can sometimes be defined as the theory of dialectical materialism
based on communist practice. Dialectical Materialism is a way of
understanding reality; whether thoughts, emotions, or the material world.
The materialist dialectic is the theoretical foundation of Marxism, while
being communist is the practice of Marxism (Marxists.org, 2003), where
communists actively support the interests of the working class and live to
unite workers regardless of gender, nationality, race or ideology (Perry,
2002). Dialectics in Marx referred to opposing forces in reality: internal
and inherent forces whose mutual conflicts produce metamorphoses. Men are
products of their environment in general and their economic environment in
particular (Sowell, 1985). This dialectical idea of self-destruction
through self-fulfillment is predominantly stating that the culture destroys
itself by perfecting itself (Wolton, 1996).
Marx distinguished five broad stages in the formation of a bourgeois
He named these Modes of Production. In Marx’s writings the five
major historical modes of production are: primitive communism, the ancient
mode of production, Asiatic mode of production, feudism and capitalism
(Evans, 1993; Perry, 2002). Social development from the lowest stage to the
highest was marked by increases in human powers of production, the
elaboration of the division of labour, and the rise of the institution of
private property. The contradictions within the highest existing stage
(i.e.: a bourgeois society) would lead to its replacement by a still higher
stage: communism (Evans, 1993).
Socialism and communism were conceived as
future modes of production that would liberate humanity from exploitation
and oppression, using the general increase in the productive forces for the
general good. Marx and Engel maintained that this mode of production opened
a new possibility of a classless society: socialism. They devoted their
life’s work to the achievement of this goal (Perry, 2002).
In modern capitalism, large capitalist employers exploit workers by not
paying them the full worth of their labour. Marx considered that the
progression of capitalism, each technical advance and each accretion of
productivity, was bought at the price of the exploitation and suffering of
workers (Evans, 1993). In his theory on the capitalist system, Marx
referrers to the de-humanisation of the worker, with the implication that
this system of production denies them something that is their due as human
He argued that capitalism had either destroyed morality .