Marxism (methods in context)

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Marx's ideas:

Marxism is a perspective based on the ideas of Marx.

Like Durkheim, Marx saw both the harm and promise of modern industrial society (which was taking shape in the early 19th century in Europe).

Marx believed that it was possible to study society scientifically and that this knowledge would point the way to a better society.

Described his theory as 'scientific socialism."

Marx is a continuation of the enlightenment project.

However, unlike functionalists, he did not see progress as a smooth and gradual evolution.

Instead, he saw historical changes as a contradictory process in which capitalism would increase human misery (before giving way to a classless, communist society in which humans would be able to achieve their full potential.)

Marx was a revoluntionary socialist as well as a theorist.

"Philosophers have merely interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it."

After his death, Marx's ideas came to form the basis of communism, a political movement that was enormously influential in shaping the modern world.

Marxism became the official doctrine of the former Soviet Union and other communist states.

1.Historical materialism

Materialism is the view that humans are beings with material needs (such as food, clothing, shelter) so they must work in order to provide for these needs.

In doing so, they have to use the 'force of production,' (otherwise known as the means of production).

In the earliest stage of human history, these forces were unaided human labour.

However, over time, peopel developed tools and machines in order to assist in easier and more efficient production.

In working to meet needs, humans also cooperate with one another.

In order for this to work, they must enter into 'social relations of production,' (ways of organising production."

As forces of production grow and develop, the social relations of production also have to change.

A division of labour develops which has given rise to 2 classes.

1 A class that owns the means of production.

2. A class of labourers.

From them on, production is directed by the class of owners to meet their own needs.

Marx refers to the forces and relations of production together as the 'mode of production.'

The mode of production forms the economic base of society.

The economic base of society determines all other aspects of society.

The economic base is the superstructure of institutions.

2. Class society and exploitation:

In the earliest stage of human history, there are classes/ private ownership/ no exploitation.

Everyoen worked and everything was shared.

Marx described this early, classless society as 'primitive communism."

But as the forces of production grow, different types of society come and go.

In class societies, one class owns the means of production.

This enables the society who owns the means of production to exploit the labour of the other class for their own gain.

They can control society's 'surplus product,' (the difference between what laboureres actually produce and what is needed just to keep them alive and working.)

Marx identifies 3 successive class societies (each with its own form of exploitation):

1. Ancient society: based on the exploitation of slaves who were legally tied to their…


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