Explaining the different types of Marxism.

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Marxs ideas

Karl Marx (1818-83) created the traditional marxist view.

He saw both the harm caused by modern industrial society and the promise of progress that it held.

Like Durkheim, Marx believed that it was possible to undestand society scientifically (scientific socialism) and that this knowledge would point the way to a better world. Marxism is therefore a continuation of the Enlightenment project.

Marx was a theorist and a revolutionary socialist and his ideas came to form the basis of communism.

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Historical Materialism

Materialism is the view that humans are beings with material needs, such as food and water, and must work to meet them using the Forces of Production.

These forces were firstly just unaided human labour, but over time people developed tools such as machines. Humans are also able to cooperate with each other, entering into social relations of production- ways of organising production.

Over time as the forces of production develop, social relatinos of production also change. The division of labour develops which also is a division between two classes- a class that owns the means of production and a class of labourers.

Production is then directed by the class of owners to meet their own needs. The forces and relations of production together are the mode of production.

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Class society and exploitation

The earliest stage of human history (primitive communism) everything is shared and there are no class divisions. But due to the forces of production growing, different types of classes occured leading to divisions within them.

In class societies, one class owns the means of production, enabling them to exploit the labour of others for their own benefit. They control societies surplus product- the difference between what the labourers actually produce and what they need to subsist.

Marx identifies 3 successive class societies;

-Ancient society-Based on the exploitation of slaves legally tied to their owners.

-Feudal society-Based on the eploitation of serfs legally tied to the land.

-Capitalist society- Based on the exploitation of free wage labourers.

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It is based on the division between a class of owners, the ruling class, and a class of labourers, the working class. But unlike earlier class societies, capitalism has 3 distinctive features;

1. The working class are legally free and seperated from the means of production. Therefore the W.C. need to sell their labour to the R.C. in return for wages.

2.Through competition, ownership of the means of production becomes concentrated in ever fewer hands. e.g. today's giant transnational corporations. This competition causes the R.C. to pay the lowest possible wages so that the R.C. benefit from the cheap labour.

3. Capitalism conitually expands the forces of production in its pursuit of profit, production becomes concentrated in ever-larger units and technnological advances de-skill the workforce.

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Class Conciousness

Capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. Polarising the classes, bringing the W.C. together in ever larger neumbers and driving down their wages means capitalism creates the conditions under which the W.C. can develop a conciousness.

Capitalists need to use the means of force to ensure they control the W.C. so that they dont gain an awareness of being exploited which may lead to a revolution.

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The class that owns the means of material production (e.g. factories) also owns and controls the means of mental production- the production of ideas.

-The dominant ideas in society are therefore the ideas of the economically dominant class-spread by institutions such as religion, education and the media.

- However, as capitalism impoverishes the workers, the begin to see through capitalist idealogy and develop class consciousness.

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It is the result of our loss of control over our labour and its products and therefore our separation from our true creative nature.

-Under capitalism, alienation reaches its peak because workers are completely seperated from and have no control over the forces of production, and because the division of labour is at its most intense.

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The state, revolution and communism

The state exists to protect the interests of the class of owners who control it- the ruling class. the state is made up of 'armed bodies of men'; these consist of the police, the army, prisons and courts.

-Previous revolutions had always been one minority class overthrowing another, but the W.C. revolution that overthrows capitalism will be the first revolution by the majoirty against the minority.

-It will abolish the state, create a classless communist society, abolish exploitation, replace private ownership with social ownership, and end alienation.

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Criticisms of Marx


-Marx sees class as the only important division, however Weber argues that status and power differences can also be important sources of inequality, e.g. a 'power elite' can rule without actually owning the means of production, as in the previous Soviet Union.

-Marx's two-class model is simplistic. Weber sub-divides the W.C. into skilled and unskilled classes, and includes a white-collar middle class of office workers.

2.Economic Determinism

-Marc's base-superstrucutre model is criticised for economic determinism. it fails to recognise that humans have free will anc can bring about change through their conscious actions.

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Humanists-Gramsci and Hegemony

His concept of hegemony, or ideological and moral leadership, explains how the R.C. maintains its position. He sees the R.C. maintaining dominance in 2 ways;

1. Coercion- the army/police and courts of the capitalist state force other classes to accept its rules.

2. Consent (Hegemony)- the R.C. use ideas and values to persuade the W.C. that their rule is legitimate.

However, R.C. hegemony is never complete because the R.C. are a minority and have to make ideological compromises with other classes.

-The W.C. have a dual class-consciouness- they know they are being exploited but do nothing about it because they need money to support their families.

-Although the R.C. hegemony may be underminded by an economic crisis, this will only lead to revolution if the W.C. create a counter-hegemonic bloc. They must produce their own organic intellectualls/ ideas which clash with the existing ideas. 

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Structuralists- Althusser

It is not people's actions but social structures that shape history. The task of Sociology is to reaveal how these structures work. Althusser's version of Marxism rejects both economic determinism and humanism.

Criticisms of the base-superstructure model

Althusser's structural determinism is much more complex than Marx's. His model contains 3 structures or levels of capitalist society.

1.The economic level-comprimising all those activities that involve producing something in order to satisfy a need.

2.The political level-compromising all forms of organisation.

3.The ideological level-involving the ways that people see themselves and their world.

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Structuralists- Althusser

Ideological and Repressive State Apparatus

Although the economic level dominates in capitalism, the other two levels perform indispensable functions. The state performs political and ideological functions that ensure the reproduction (continuation) of capitalism.

He divides the state in 2 'apparatuses':

1.The Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs)- the 'armed bodies of men' that coerce the W.C. into complying with the will of the R.C. this is how Marxists have traditionally seen the state.

2.The Ideological State Appartuses (ISAs)- they manipulate the W.C. into accepting capitalism as legitimate. This is a much wider definition of the state than the traditional Marxist view.

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Althusser's Criticisms of Humanism

For structuralist Marxists, free will, choice and creativity are an illusion- everything is the product of underlying social structures.

-Humans are merely puppets and these unseen structures are the hidden puppet master, determining all our thoughts and actions.

-For Althusser, socialism will not come about because of change in consciouness- as humanistic Marxists argue- but because of a crisis of capitalism resulting from what he calls 'over-determination': the contradictions in the 3 structures that occur relatively independently of each other.

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