theory and method

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Marxism

Marx's idea

  • Marxism is a perspective based on the ideas of Karl Marx
  • Like Durkhiem, Marx saw both the harm caused by the modern industrial society that was taling shape in 19 th century Europe, and the promise of progress to a better world that it held.
  • Also like Durkhiem, Marx believed that it was possible to understand society scientifically& that this knowledge would point the way to a better society- indeed, he decribed his theory as 'scientific socialism'
  • in these ways, Marxism is a continuation of the Enlightenment project
  • Unilike F, however, M did not see progress as a smooth and gradual evolution. instead, he saw historical change as a contradictory process in which capitalism would increase human misery before giiving way to a classless communist society in which human beings would be free to fulfil their potential.
  • Marx believe that the classless society would need to be brouht into being by the conscious actions of human beings
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Historical materialism

  • Materialism is the view that humans are beings with material needs, sych as food and thererfore work to meet them. in doing so, they use the force of producation
  • in the earliest stage of human history, theses forces are just unaided human labour, but over time people develop tools, machine & so on to assist in producation.
  • in working to meet their needs, human also cooperate with one another they enter into social relation of producaton- ways of organising production
  • Over tme, as the forces of producation grow & devel, so too the social relations of producation also change.
  • in particular, a division of labour develops, and this eventually gives rise to a division between 2 classes - class that owns the means of producation & a class labourers
  • M refers to the forces & relations of producation together as the mode of producation.
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  • E.G., currently e live in a society with a capitalist mode of production. the the mode of production forms the economic base of society. this economic base shapes or determines all other features of society- the superstructure of institutions, ideas, belief & behaviour that arises from this base. e.g it shapes the nature of relion, law.education, the state &so on

Class society and exploitation

  • in the eearliest stage of human history, there are no classes. mo private ownership & no exploitation
  • Marx describes this early classless society as 'primitive communism'. but as the forces of producation grow, different typess of class society come and go
  • in class societies, 1 class owns the means of producation. this enables them to exploit the labour of others for their own benefits.
  • in particular, they can control society surplus product. this is difference between what the laborers actually produce &what is needed simply to keep them alive and working.
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  • Marxs identiified 3 succesive class societies, each with its own form of exploitation
  • ANCIENT SOCIETY- based on the exploitation of slaves legally tied to teir owners
  • FEUDAL SOCIETY- based on the exploitation of serfs legally tiied to the land
  • CAPITIALIST SOICIETY- based on the exploitation of free wage labourer

Capitalism

  • its is based on a division between a class of owners, the bourgeoise and a class of labourers, the proletariat
  • however capitalism has 3 distinctive feature
  • the proletariat are legally free and separeted from the means of producation. coz they dont own any means of producation, they have to sell their labour power to the bourgeoisie in return for aes in order to survive
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  • however, this is not an equal exchange. the proletariat do not receive the values of the goods that their labour produces, but only the cost of subsistence- of keeping them alive
  • the difference between the two is the surplus value- the profit thhat the capitalist makes by selling the commodities that the proletariat have produced
  • Secondly, through competition between cap'italists ownership of the means of producation becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
  • this competiton drives small independant producers into the ranks of the proletariat, until ultimately the vast majority are proletarianised.
  • competitioon also forces capitalist to pay the lowest wages possible, causing the immiseration of the proletariat.
  • thirdly, capitalism continually expands the forces of production in is pursuit of profit. producation becomes concentrated in ever-larger units. meanwhile, technological advances de-skill the work force.
  • Concentration of ownership and the deskilling of the proletariat together produce class polarisaiton. that is, society divides into a minority capitalist class
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Class Consciousness

  • According to Marx, capitalism sows the seeds of its own destructin. E.G., by polarising the classes, bringng the proletariat together in ever-larger numbers, and driving down their wages, capitalism creates the condition under which the WC can develop a consciousness of its own economic & political interests in opposition to those of its exploiters.
  • as a result, the proletariat moves from being merely a class in itself to becoming a class for itself, whose memebers are class conscious.

Ideology

  • for Marx, the class that owns the means of production also owns & controls the means of mental producation- the producation of ideas.
  • the dominant ideas in society are therefor the ideas of the economically dominant class.
  • the insttutions that produce and spread ideas, such as religion, education. and the media, all serve the dominant class by producing ideologies that legitimates the existing social order as desirable.
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  • ideology fosters a false consciousness in the subordinate classes and helps to sustain class inequality. howver, as capitlism impoverishes the workers, so they deveop class consciousness.
  • M believes that our true nature is based on our capacity to create things to meet our needs. alienation is the result of our loss of control over our labour & its products & therefore our separation from our true nature.
  • Alienation exists in all class socities, coz the onwers control the production process for their own needs. however, under capitalism alienation reches is peaks, for 2 REASONS:
  • Workers are completely separed fom and have no control over the forces of producation
  • the division of labour is at its most intense & detailed the workers is redduced to an unskilled labourer mindlesssly repeating a meaningless task.

The State, revolution and communism

  • the state exists to protect the interests of the class of onwers who control it. as such, they form the ruling class. the use the state as a eapon in the class struggles, to protect their property, suppress opposition & prevent revolution.
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  • Marx predicted the ultimate victory of the proletarian revolution & the establishment of comminist society on a world scale. he expexted the revolutionn to occur 1st of all in the most advanced capitalist socities.
  • however he wrote little about exactly how he revolution, would come about, which has led to debate amongst Marxists

Criticism of Marx

  • Marx has simplistic, one- dimensional view of inequality- he sees class as the only important divison
  • Weber argues that staus and power differences can also be important sources of inequality, independently of class.
  • similarly feminist argues that gender is a more fundamental source of inequality than class
  • Marxs 2- class model is also simplistic, e.g. Weber sub-divides the proletariat into skilled & unskilled classes, and includes a white-collar middle class of office workers and a petty bourgeoisie
  • Class polarisation has not occued. instead of the middle class being swallowed up by an expanding proletariat, it has grown, while the industrial WC has shrunk, at least in weatern societies. on the other hand, the proletiat in countries such as China and India is growing as a result of globalisation
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  • Marx's base-superstructure model is criticised for economic factors are the sole cause everything in society, including social change. critics argue tht this fails to recognise that humans have free will and can bring about vhange through their concious actions
  • the base-superstructure model neglects the role of ideas. e.g. Weber argues that it was the emergence of a new set of ideas, those of Calvinistic protestantism, which helped to bering modern capitalism into being.
  • marxs predicted that revolution would occur in the most advanced capitalist countries, such as Western Europe and North America. however, it is only economically backward countries such as Russia in 1917 that have seen Marxist-led revolution
  • however there have been instances where the WC have free themselves by their own concious effort- indicating that he gave a role to human action as well as economic forces
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the most

The 'two Marxism'

  • since MARX'S death is 1883, the absence of revolutions in the West has led many Marxists to reject the economic determinism of he base-superstructure model.
  • instead, they have tried to explain why capitalism has persisted and how it might be overthrown.we can identity 2 broad approaches to these questions, which GOULDER decribesas:
  • HUMANISTIC MARXISM -Marxism is a political critique of captalism as alienating and inhuman, and a call to overthrown it
  • SCIENTIFIC MARXISM- Marxism is a science. it discovers the laws that govern the workings of capialism.
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Gramsci & Hegemony

  • the most important example of humanisic Marxism is GRAMSCI introduces the concept of hegemony, or ideological & moral leadership of society, to explain how the ruling class maintains its position.
  • he argues that the proletariat must develop its own 'counter-hegemony' to win the leadership of society from the bourgeosie
  • Gramsci sees the RC maintaining its dominance over society in 2 ways:
  • COERCION- it uses the army, police, prisons and courts of the capitalist state to force other classes to accept its rule
  • CONSENT (HEGEMONY)- it uses ideas and value to persuade the surordinate classes that its rules it legitimate

Hegemony and revolution

  • in advanced capitalist societies, the RC rely heavily on consent to maintain rule, G agrees with M that they are able to do so coz they control the institutions that produce an spread ideas, such as the media.
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  • so long as the rest of society accepts RC hegemony, there will not be a revolution, even when the economic conditon might seem favourable
  • however, the hegemony of the ruling class is never complete for 2 reasons
  • the ruling class are a minority to rule, they need to create a power bloc by making alliances with other groups, such as the MC. they must therefore make ideological compromises to take account of the interests of their allies
  • the proletariat have a dual consciousness their ideas are influened ot only by bourgeois is ideology, but also by their material conditions of life- the poverty and exploitation they experience. this means they can 'see through' the dominant ideology to some degree
  • therefore there is always the possibility of RC hegemony being undermined, particularly at times of economic crisis, when the worsening material conditions of the proletriat cause hem to question the staus quo
  • however, this will only lead to revolution if the proletariat are able to construct a counter-hegemonic bloc. in other words, they must be able to offer moral and leadership to society
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  • in G's view, the WC can only win this battle for ideas by producing their own 'organic intellectuals'. by this means body of workers, orgnised into a revolutionary political party, who are able to formulate an alternative vision of how society could be run
  • this counter-hegemony would win ideological leadership from the ruling class by offerig a new vision of how society should be organised, based on socialist rater than capitalist values

Evaluation of Gramsci

  • G is accused of over-emphasing the role of ideas & under-emphasisng the role of bth state coercion & economic factors
  • E.G. workers may wis to overthrow capitalism but be reluctant to try coz they fear state repression or unemployment. they may tolerate capitalism simply because they feel they have co chice, not coz they accept the moral leadership of the RC
  • E.G Willis describes the WC lads he studied as 'partially penetrating' bourgeois idelogy- seein through the school's ideology to recoginise that meritocracy is a myth
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Althusser's structuralist Marxism

  • Whie humanist M sees as creative beings, able to make a history trouh their concious actions
  • for structural M , it is not peope's actions but social structures that really shape history and these are the proper subject of scientific enquiry. the task of the sciological is to reveal how these sturctures works
  • ALTHUSSER'S version of M rejects both economic determinism &humanism

Criticisms of the bases superstructure model

  • A rejects this mdel in favour of a more complec one, which CRAIB calls 'structural determinism'. in this model, capitalist society has 3 structures
  • ECONOMIC LEVEL-comprising all those activities that involve producing something in order to ssatisfy
  • POLITICAL LEVEL comprising all forms of organisation
  • IDEOLOGICAL LEVEL, involving the ways that people see themselves and their worlds
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Ideological and repressive state apparatus

  • in A'S MODEL, the state prforms poltical and ideological functions that ensure the reproducation of capitalism. he divide into 2 apparatuses
  • THE REPRESSIVE STATE APPARATUSES - these are the army, police, prison & so on that coerce the WC into complying with the will of the bourgeoisie
  • THE IDEOLOGICAL STATE APPARATUSES -these include, the media. education, the family, trade union and other institution. ISAS ideologically manipulate the WC into accepting capitalism as legitmate.

Althusser's criticisms of humanism

  • for structuralist M, our sense of free will is an illusionthe truth is that everything about us is the product of underlying social structures
  • A is therefore dismissive of humanism because they believe that people can use thei creativity, reason and frree will to control society.
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  • A argues that we are not the free agents that humanists think we are not- our belief that we possess free will and choice is simply false conciousness produced by the ideological state apparatuses
  • e.g we may believe that education gives us the chance to achieve what we are capable of, but this is an illusion- the myth of meritocracy
  • in reality, we are merely products of social structure that determine everything about us, preparing us to fit into pre-existing positions in the structure of capitalism.
  • therefore, in A's views, socialism will not come about coz of a change in conciousness but will come about coz of a crisis of capitalism resulting from what a calls over determination: the contradictions in the 3 structures that occur relatiely independently of each other, resulting in the collapse of the system as a whole
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Evalution of Althusser

  • A claim to oppose both humanism and determinism, but he is harsher on humanism.
  • although he rejects economic determinism,
  • he simply replaces it with a more complex 'structural determinism'
  • in which everything is determined by the 3 structure and their interrelationships
  • For humanistic Marxissts as GOULDNER, this scientific approach discourages political activism coz it stresses the role of structural fators that individuals can do little to affect
  • Similarly E.P THOMPSON criticises A for ignorinh the fact that it is the active struggles of the WC that can change society.
  • he accuses A of elitism- the belief that the Communist Party knows what is best for the workers, who should therefore blindly follow the Patry's lead
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  • while A believed he was developing a scientific analysis of society to help bring about progress to a better society,
  • his structuralist Marxism has been major influence on theories such as postmodernism that reject the very idea that scientific knowledge an be used to improve society.
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