What are Marxist theories of inequality?
• Marxism is concerned for the poor and powerless. • It claims that society is in conflict between the rich who control everything and the poor who must work for the rich and gain little in reward for their work. • The rich are able to maintain their position of power through control of the law, the police and other forms of authority. • The rich also control the manufacture of ideas about society through controlling the media and education so poor people are taught to believe that capitalism is a good thing.
(AO1) What is the Marxist view of society?
(AO1) What causes inequality according to Marxists?
(AO2) What are the strengths of the Marxist view?
(AO2) What are the weaknesses of the Marxist view of inequality?
Summary of Key Points
Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) was an economist, philosopher and journalist who was motivated by concern for workers who were experiencing terrible poverty while all around was great wealth and power. He was a revolutionary who believed in working for a classless society.
Marxism was not a powerful force in sociology until the 1960s and 1970s when it formed the basis of a challenge to functionalism. It offered a better account of the divisions of society at that time than functional sociology did. Marxism also triggered many of the ideas that were adopted by feminists later in the 1970s.
Marxism is often referred to as a conflict theory. Functionalists see society as consisting of shared values. Marxists see society as being divided by conflict between the social groups, or classes who make up society. Marx believed that social change is the natural order of societies. In each form of society there are those who control property and those who work for them. In our society, which he called capitalist, and which is based on industrial production or goods, there are two basic classes of people. These are the bourgeoisie who own property, factories, wealth, technology and knowledge. Those who work for them are the proletariat and they own nothing but their own ability to work.
The bourgeoisie are able to control the proletariat through two mechanisms. These are the direct control through the exercise of power and the indirect control of people's minds through the use of ideology or ideas. It is the second means of control, ideology that is the most dangerous, because people come to accept certain ideas as being true or self-evident without really questioning them. We accept that some people are rich and others poor as being part of daily life and so there are very few challenges to the idea that the greed and selfishness of the rich are acceptable and should be copied by the rest of us.
How do Marxists explain inequality?
Karl Marx was a very prolific writer who changed his views as his life progressed. His most famous work of analysis, Das Kapital (or Capitalism) was never completed. In addition, Marx was writing about a late Victorian culture and our culture is technologically and socially rather different. Although many people work within the basic framework of his ideas, there are significant debates and discussion taking place between Marxists who do not agree on the details.
Antonio Gramsci was an Italian journalist and politician who suffered enormous physical hardship before he died in prison under the rule of the Fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini in 1937. Gramsci used the term hegemony to describe a culture in which the values of the ruling class become the common sense ideas of a whole culture. People who are part of the working class accept these ideas and instead of challenging the rich, accept their right to rule and to make important decisions for the rest of us. He saw religion as being one of the most important forms of mental control because it