Conflict Theory, Karl Marx, and The Communist Manifesto In order to understand Marx a few terms need to be defined. The first is Bourgeoisie; these are the Capitalists and they are the employers of wage laborers, and the owners of the means of production. The means of production includes the physical instruments of production such as the machines, and tools, as well as the methods of working (skills, division of labor). The Proletariat is the class of wage-laborers, they do not have their own means of production, and therefore they must sell their own labor in order to survive.
There are six elements to Marx’s view of class struggle; the first is that classes are authority relationships based on property ownership. The second is a class defines groupings of individuals with shared life situations, thus interests. The third is that classes are naturally antagonistic by virtue of their interests. The fourth is that imminent within modern society is the growth of two antagonistic classes and their struggle, which eventually absorbs all social relations. The fifth is that political organization and power is an instrumentality of class struggle, and reigning ideas are its reflection.
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The sixth is that structural change is a consequence of the class struggle. The following is a summary of The Communist Manifesto which demonstrated the above details. Bourgeoisie and Proletarians In this section Marx introduces several key ideas of his theory. This first section is where Marx introduces the idea of history as a class struggle. The Manifesto begins by addressing this issue in the first sentence which reads “The history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggles” (Marx & Engels, 7). In the earlier ages we saw a society consisting of feudal lords, guild masters, apprentices, etc. but with the expansion of the economic markets a new class arose, the bourgeoisie, which destroyed the feudal system. As the bourgeoisie developed so did the proletariat who are “wage-laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live” (Marx & Engels, 13). With the modern development of industry however the proletariat increased in number and became stronger thereby eventually destroying their bourgeois oppressors. As Marx says, “What the bourgeoisie, therefore produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.
Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (Marx & Engels, 19). Proletarians and Communists The Manifesto then discusses the relationship of the Communists and the proletarians. “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat” (Marx & Engels, 20). The primary goal of the Communist and the proletarian is the abolition of private property. Marx also addresses objections to Communism.
The first being the proposal to abolish the family, in which Marx replies that yes they do want to abolish the family in order to stop the exploitation children by their parents. The Communist is also criticized for their desire to abolish country and nationality, for which Marx replies, “workingmen have no country, and we can’t take from then what they don’t have” (Marx & Engels, 25). Socialist and Communist Literature In this section, Marx presents three subsets of Socialist and Communist literature. The first subset is Reactionary Socialism.
Reactionary Socialist include the Feudal Socialists, the Petty-Bourgeois and the German, or “True” Socialist. The second subset Socialism is Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism. The third subset is Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism. Marx argues that each of these approaches fail because they are missing a key component of the Communist theory. They all suffer from problems; which include: 1) They look to previous modes of social organization for a solution to present difficulties. 2) They deny the inherent class character of the existing conflict. ) They do not recognize that violent revolution on the part of the proletariat is the only way to eradicate the conditions of oppression. Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties The Manifesto concludes with a discussion about the role of the Communists as they work with other parties and also announces the communist intention to “everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (Marx & Engels, 41). As Marx thunders in conclusion, “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE! ” (Marx & Engels, 41). In other works by Marx the theme of bourgeoisie and the proletariat are still present. In 1850 Marx wrote The Class Struggle in France in which he states: “with this general prosperity…there can be no talk of a real revolution. Such as revolution is only possible in the periods when both these factors, the modern productive forces and the bourgeoisie forms of production, come into collision with each other. A new revolution is possible only in consequence of a new crisis. It is, however, just as certain as this crisis. ” (Clarke, 99) Critical Analysis In an article by Baynes he states that Marx’s “critique of bourgeois rights is hardly immanent. It proceeds, rather, on the basis of its own normative assumptions (radical egalitarianism) and distinct “binarisms”. These assumptions are in turn located within the teleological conception off history that has been rendered largely suspect today” (Baynes, 454-5).
Another criticism of Marxism is that “It should be borne in mind that Marx and most of his followers have devoted their attention primarily to showing the dynamics of capitalism, not to the preconditions for its emergence” (Collins, 978-8). Max Weber a noted conflict theorist was also critical of Marxism is his last work General Economic History. In the article Weber’s Last Theory of Capitalism: A Systematization, Collins states: The main disagreements between Marx and Weber have less to do with the origins of capitalism than with its future.
Weber thought that capitalism could endure indefinitely as an economic system, although political factors could bring it down. (Collins, 941) Turner on the other hand compared Marx’s theory of conflict to Georg Simmel’s theory of conflict and states that: For Simmel, conflict was considered to “cause” various outcomes for both the social whole and its sub-parts. The kind of outcome or functions of conflict for the systematic whole or its parts was seen by Simmel to vary with degree of violence and the nature of the social context.
Marx was also concerned with how conflict causes outcomes for social wholes, but unlike Simmel, he fixed attention largely on the causes of the conflict itself. Thus for Simmel, the sources of conflict remain unanalyzed with emphasis being placed on conflict intensity and its outcomes for different social referents, while for Marx, the variables involved in the emergence of conflict groups are given considerably more analytical attention than the variables affecting its outcome. Turner, 620) As seen above many have criticized Marx and his theory or they are avid followers, whatever the case The Communist Manifesto is a must read for those interested in class struggles and conflict theory as where a majority of the themes present in 1848 are still present in today’s “modern” capitalist society. Works Cited Baynes, Kenneth. “Rights as Critique and the Critique of Rights; Karl Marx, Wendy Brown, and the Social Function of Rights. ” Political Theory 28. 4 (2000): 451-468.
Clarke, Simon. “The Globalisation of Capital, Crisis and Class Struggle. ” Capital & Class 75 (2001): 93-101. Collins, Randall. “Weber’s Last Theory pf Capitalism: A Systematization. ” American Sociological Review 45. 6 (1980):925-952. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005. Turner, Jonathan H. “Marx and Simmel Revisited: Reassessing the Foundations of Conflict Theory. ” Social Forces 53. 4 (1975) 618-627.