Marxism is diametrically opposite to Functionalism. Marxists are also known as conflict theorists. While functionalists see society as an inter related whole and strive towards harmony among its various parts, Marxists are interested in conflict and contradictions and corresponding change among various parts of the society. Marx is basically interested in relationship between people and the large scale structures they created.
Dialectical method :
A dialectical thinker does not believe in separating social values from social facts. For them, the purpose of sociological study is to find the solution of the problems which people face in a society. Though, the emotional involvement in study of a sociological phenomenon should not affect the accuracy of the findings. It was the passion and emotional involvement in studying a capitalist society which made Marx’s findings attractive enough to be adopted as an ideology by the revolutionaries across the world.
A dialectic thinker studies the past, present and future of a social phenomenon. So, Marx studied the historical roots of a capitalist system, the characteristics of capitalism in present world and, the future possibilities of a altered system, which would be best suited for the society. The source of future exist in the present, however, present can not determine the future due to dynamic nature of all social phenomena.
Human choices and ability to realize their potential are based on social and historical factors. Marx proposed various historical epochs which depict the inter relation between human potential and the social history ( social relations and institutions).
Historical materialism :
Before going into Marx’s material dialectic it is important to have a prior knowledge of a few terms viz., Super structure, Infrastructure, mode of production and means of production.
- Mode of production refers to forces of production and social relation of production.
- Forces of production refers to the technology, raw materials and scientific knowledge used during process of production.
- Social relation of production means relationship which people maintain with others in order to produce and meet their ends, for example, the relationship between a land lord and labourer.
- Forces of production and social relationship forms the economic base or infrastructure of the society.
- Economic base or infrastructure shapes the superstructure of society which comprises political, legal and educational institutions, and beliefs and value systems.
- Means of production are those components of forces of production which can be legally owned, for example, land, raw material; it does not include labour power in a capitalistic society unlike a slave society.
As the name suggests, Marx’s material dialectic is based on Hegelian dialectic. According to Marx, all historical societies are riddled with conflict and contradictions. Social relationships in different societies are that of exploitation of one group by the other. A conflict emerges between those who exercise power and those who are oppressed. The contradictions need to be resolved in order to maintain the social order.
The Epochs of History :
Marx divided history into different epochs, each epoch is associated with a particular mode of production.
“The first historical act is thus …, the production of material life itself.“
– Karl Marx, “The German Ideology”
First epoch or stage of history is primitive communism, which has a classless society, for example, hunting gathering societies. The resources are collectively owned and there is no private property. So, mode of production is socialistic in these societies. As people start living a settled life, agriculture becomes a dominant mode of production. People start acquiring private property in order to increase their produce from agriculture. Classes of those who own the property and those who do not, start emerging in this stage. Thus, this epoch ends with formation of class society.
Second epoch was slave society. A slave and land owning ruling class exploited slave labour for agricultural work. The private property kept on growing. Marx stated, the slave society exhausted itself, as it was not possible to keep conquering slaves. Thus, the ruling class developed a new system called Feudalism.
Third epoch was feudalism. The society is characterized by monarchy based on theocracy, hereditary castes and class and formation of nation states. This stage saw development of various classes like lords, serfs ( worked for land owning lord ) and a powerful merchant or capitalist class which emerged due to rapid increase in trade among nation states.
Fourth epoch was capitalism. Means of production are with capitalist class. In this stage capitalist class destroys the feudal class as their aspirations of profit making could not have been met in absence of labour class which was previously attached to feudal lords as their serfs. Marx is interested in this stage of history. A capitalist society is characterized by market economy, less intervention of government, emergence of new classes like bourgeoisie, petite bourgeoisie, proletariat. Driven by profit motive the over exploitation of working class by bourgeoisie leads to conflict and contradiction, and finally revolution.
Fifth epoch is socialism which is characterized by common property, system of communes ( rule by proletariat ). Marx believed, socialism would end the internal contradictions of a capitalist society.
Sixth and last epoch is communism characterized by statelessness, classlessness and no private property.
Thus, Marx epochs end with a society with no contradiction, there is no supreme class and no exploitation or oppression of one class by the other. Resources are not concentrated in a few hands but the whole nation.
Marx’s prophecy has not come true. The communist states have failed and capitalist democracy has been retained. There has even been a move towards a mix of capitalism and socialism. Some thinkers, such as Francis Fukuyama, have even proclaimed it to be the end of history, the end of the struggle for ideology. But is this true? Was Marx wrong? We will see in the subsequent posts how wrong we were, and why Marx, according to a 1999 BBC poll, is considered the greatest thinker of the millennium, and how his ideas are ever so more relevant today.