Karl Marx's Influence on Sociology and Political Thought

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There can be no doubt over the wide-ranging influence of Karl Marx’s theories on sociology and political thought. His concept of communism overcoming the socioeconomic pitfalls of capitalism has not been a theory that has seen the light of day in the way that he may have hypothesised. There have been many throughout history that have misrepresented Marx’s writing, which begs the question, if pure communism in the original Marxist sense is at all possible given that humanity appears to have an innate ‘need’ for hierarchy and a thirst for power.

Capitalism appears to satisfy the ‘need’ for power and acquisition above all else, and the evidence is seen in the growth of global wealth, which certainly does not amount to equal wealth. The gap between affluent and poor is ever increasing, which includes inequalities of life chances and participation in mainstream society. However, harsh evidence does not appear to change or transform capitalism, hence, Marx’s concept of economic class struggle remains a contested issue.

This essay will explain and explore the concept of capitalism and how Marx believed that the origins and the dynamics of capitalism were intricately woven into the fabric of class struggles throughout history. In fact, this notion opens the first part of the Communist Manifesto with the now famous quote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx and Engels, p 79).

An understanding of the historical basis of capitalism is essential given that Marx based his work around the concept of historical materialism, originally derived from his development of Feuerbach’s “Hegelian inversion”. Historical materialism is a concept explaining the vital function of human production for the sole purpose of basic subsistence. Without the means of subsistence, humanity would fail in all other activities and functions. Marx rejected Hegel’s dialectics based on a movement of human thought and ideas, and argued that dialectics involved contradictions based on an economic system, otherwise known as dialectical materialism. Therefore, the dynamic for change eventually created by a process of dialectics lies in the conflict between two opposing factors (Lee and Newby 2000, pp. 114 - 119).

Marx conceived the base and superstructure approach that defines capitalist society. The base relates to all that is a function of production in society and conversely, the superstructure, which can be said to be derived from the base, relates to the values, culture, ideology and the governing bodies of society. The former creates and supports the latter by a process of legitimisation of the economic activities, and in turn, the superstructure ensures the processes remain in place. Class domination plays a large part in this process of organisation; for example, private education providing better opportunities for advancement and primary socialisation into the higher echelons of society. However, a counter argument...

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