Basis of Marxism


We live in a Capitalist society which benefits the bourgeoisie by keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor.

Capitalism - An economic system where the wealth of society is owned by a minority of the richest members of society who own the means of production.

Means of production - factories and information

The majority/lower class is called the proletariat and the minority/owners of the means of production are the bourgeoisie. They employ people to sell what they make with the means of production. Goods are sold for more than they cost to make, with the bourgeoisie keeping the profit when there is a surplus of money.

This arrangement is known as the relations of production, which exploits the subject class. 

Marx believes the proletariat will one day realise they are the majority of society and that there will be an uprising - afterwards, society will live under a communist regime.

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Relationship between bourgeoisie and proletariat

The relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is an exploitive one. 

It is also referred to as the relations of production. They are about exploitation and alienation. 

Capitalist class structure makes people feel tied to their jobs and their possessions. This leaves them with no sense of humanity. 

Alienation prevents the risk of revolution and strike. If people in the workplace feel isolated and alone, they will not talk amongst themselves. 

Profit requires making the most money possible. The Capitalist class must come up with a way to cover up the exploitation - this will occur as they create ideologies. 

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Ideology is the way in which people are told to think by those in power. 

As the bourgeoisie are in power, they use ideology as a way to convince the subject class that capitalism is normal, fair and right even though it so clearly is not. 

Society is made up of two main parts; infrastructure and superstructure.

  • Infrastructure is the economy of society - it is the roads, buildings and institutions that exist within society that are required for it to function. The way they are run is exploitive and involves the ruling class not paying enough once they have gained profit from the consumers.

Althusser came up with the concept of ideological state apparatus - also known as the tools used by the bourgeoisie in order to push Capitalist norms and values onto the proletariat. 

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False class consciousness

Ideology is responsible for false class consciousness - the proletariat are not aware of how they are being exploited by the bourgeoisie.

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Fredrick Engels

Commented on the family and its functions. 

The family emerged with the advent of private property. The nuclear family as we know it developed in an industrial society

Marriage represents mens' early attempts to pass on property to legitimate heirs - inheritance of property.

By ensuring sexual fidelity through marriage, the male could ensure any child was actually his. 

This meant the monogamous marriage and the nuclear family solve the problem of inheritance of private property.f

  • ideological reproduction - the family is an agent of socialisation as it passes on the values of the capitalist system - Discipline, hard work, obedience, respect for authority are passed onto children with the father being the central figure for this transmission. 
  • physical reproduction - the family rears the next generation of workers. This is very cheap for capitalism, as they don't have to near the costs of reproduction on the labour force. 
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Marxist Feminists

Margaret Bentson - women take on the responsibility of housework and childcare. 

This traditional role perpetuates capitalism. 

Women provide a happy, healthy workforce at no cost to the employer as they look after the men for free. 

Women make their husbands feel happy, safe and sexually satisfied and in turn they will continue to go to work. Women act as mothers and make their children understand the norms of society - the children will therefore grow up to be obedient workers and the cycle will continue at no charge to the bourgeoisie. 

Fran Ansley - women are "takers of ****" as their husbands very often come home from work in a terrible mood due to being exploited by the workforce - women are forced to absorb this anger. 

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Eli Zaretsky

Zaretsky argues the family is seen as a safe haven within society, however this is part of false consciousness. 

The nuclear family makes the proletariat happy by providing what appears to be a safe environment but actually they are just preventing the proletariat from becoming class conscious and starting a revolution. 

The family also acts as a unit of consumption as they require things like a cooker, T.V and so on and this increases the profits of the bourgeoisie. 

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Strengths of Marxism

  • A structuralist approach which links to major institutions. 
  • Has had a major influence upon Sociology
  • Emphasises the importance of the economy - unlike functionalism, which ignores it
  • Links the structural elements of society with the consciousness or thought of the individual - alienation. 
  • Acknowledges what people think of the way in which society is organised and their place in it. 

Functionalists agree with Marxists the idea that they examine functions performed by the family in the maintainance of capitalist society. 

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Weaknesses of Marxism

  • Functionalists criticise Marxism for over-emphasising conflict when there must be harmony within society for social order to exist. Marxists ignore the intimacy and loving relationships within the family. 
  • It is economically deterministic - everything revolves around money
  • Classic Marxism has ignored the women of society - ignores oppression
  • Russia and China have become capitalist and turned their backs on communism 
  • Society doesn't always operate for the ruling class. 
  • Ignores the positive benefits of the family as an institution. 
  • Ignores family diversity
  • Feminists - ignore gender inequality within society - family serves interest of men, not capitalism.

Engels - marriage existed in pre-industrial times therefore it may not be the case that people only marry to solve the issue of inheritance of property.

Lower class families who have nothing to pass down still engage in marriage.

Marxist feminists - women stay at home to look after the family whilst the men go out to work. This isn't actually the case in modern day society as women also go out to work. 

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