Critical perspectives on Marx’s approach to Social Classes in Society

Scientific Essay, 2016

32 Pages




Marx’s theory of the two classes:

Karl Marx’s perspective:

Some differences of Marx and Weber's theory of social class:

The way in which Ralf Dahrendorf differs from Marx regarding social class:

The problems in the Marxist perspective of social class:

Real world of stratifications of people in modern society

The importance of the social mobility for individuals to move among social classes.

Education and social mobility:

Politics and social mobility of individuals:



Social class issues have taken a crucial role in the social sciences (Martti, 2000). The term ‘social class’ was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and has been used widely, particularly by sociologists and political-economic theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Ralf Dahrendorf and so on (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012). It is clear that societies have been stratified into various classes (Roberts, 2001). Social inequality and the differences between people are two such obvious characteristics in every society that it has become necessary to classify society into the different classes (Crompton and Gubbay, 1980). Furthermore, Steenberge (2012) states that "normally, individuals are grouped into classes based on their economic positions and similar political and economic interests within their culture". Inequalities can be seen as being stratified on the basis of social class and this has been a main area of Marx’s theory. Social class is a key to comprehending the different social opportunities available to different social groups and individuals in societies (Marsh et al, 2000).

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx saw the whole of society as likely to have just two huge classes; Bourgeoisie and Proletariat, which come into direct conflict with one another, especially in capitalist societies (Crompton, 1993). Whilst, Weber’s viewpoint about social class is analogous with Marx perspective, he supposed that having private property could have a role in the formation of social classes in societies (Reid, 1981). He also assumed that the variances between social classes in society might be a source of social conflict between them but viewed the conflict in a different way to Marx, as Weber had seen that the social struggle between the classes over making goods as a normal conflict in all societies. A further divergence in Dahrendorf and Marx perspectives is that the former focuses on the amount of power to explain the structure of social class in society.

Marx’s theory of the two classes:

Marx’s theory for understanding society and its issues has been seen as a central argument for both his followers and for those who wish for a different point of view from which to look at the social classes in other ways. In other words, those followers have attempted to continue and develop his understanding of society, it might be the same for social class issues and supporters who have been focused on his analyses and arguments in terms of social class issues (Saunders, 1990). Moreover, Cassidy (1997) pointed out that, Marxism might be gone, but his work and perspective still exert a crucial effort on capitalist society, and it rapidly generates a great sagacity in terms of the workers class “Proletariat”. Social conflict became a significant issue to Marx’s theory (Lindemann, 2000). Marxism is not only a political creed, it is also, a technique of acceptance and, particularly for his followers, this theory can be used to describe anything essential in society which involves class systems whether it be family, sexuality, art, music, literature, government, beliefs and so on (Mullard and Spicker, 2005). In his work, The Capital, he shows that in an advanced society only property owners and a non-owner class exist, and he saw the Bourgeoisie in modern society as owners of workers and production, he further believed that employees are meaningless to the production process, they have only their man power to sell, for a living (Ollman, 2004).

Despite the above arguments it is often disputed by hostile groups that the humanities should look at Marx to find a new and different approach to explain and cope with its issues and that, in this day and age, the social, political and economic circumstances of post modern societies are entirely different in comparison with Marx’s lifetime (Plant, 2002).

Karl Marx’s perspective:

At this point it is necessary gain a deeper understanding of Marx’s perspective. Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Trier; in the Rhine land of Prussia and he died in 1883 in London, England, he was a “sociologist, historian, and economist” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012). Furthermore, he was the greatest theorist and truth-seeker of his lifetime. ‘Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei’, the Manifesto of the Communist Party, was published by Marx with the help of Friedrich Engels in 1848; it is widely regarded as the most famous booklet in the history of the communist movement. He also was the writer of the movement’s greatest and most significant manuscript “Das Kapital” (Ibid). In addition, he established this crucial idea about the class structure of present societies in the forty years following the wave of European revolutions in 1848. It appeared to Marx that he was observing the occurrence of a new stage in which the separation between the two main social groups was intended to convert the central feature (Saunders, 1990). Moreover, Marxism is an approach that includes many differing perspectives; generally, this theory is a strong attempt to build a critique of development capitalist society (Sociology, 2005). As Marx saw it, all societies that had ever existed had been 'class societies' of one kind or another. There was, in his perspective, a monopolization of all material sources by one social group, the bourgeoisie, while the other huge social group owned nothing in modern society. One obvious instance was in early Rome where the land has been owned by one social group; however, the second group was required to work as slaves in order to get the subsistence, mainly food and shelter, required to live (Saunders, 1990). Additionally, in the Communist Manifesto that was published by Marx and Engels, they identified the two classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. At the end of his life, in Capital, Marx mentioned another one:

“The owners merely of labour power, owners of capital, and landowners, whose respective sources of income are wages, profit and ground rent, in other words, wage-labourers, capitalists and landowners, constitute then three big class of modern society based upon the capitalist mode of production”(Calvert, 1982, p 11).

Although, Marx starts with the powers of production, he rapidly goes on to the relationships of making goods that are centered on these powers. For him, the links between making goods can be seen as the crucial point to comprehending the whole social order and structure of society (Elwell, 2005).

Some differences of Marx and Weber's theory of social class:

During their lifetime, there were several different points of view between Marx and Weber; the greatest sociologists, economists and revolutionary thinkers of their day. Although, each of them had a quite unique perspective and different look at social class issues.

Marx and Weber investigated the social classes in various ways. There was a key role, in their perspective or methods, that was an important issue for humanitarian communities at this time and it was that of why there was inequality between the social classes, of why people had been stratified into differing social groups, and of what created this kind of division in society (Suchting, 1983). Marx and Weber looked at social changes in industrial societies. Marx had a dream for revolution while Weber was attempting to explore the causes of the development of capitalism. Both of them thought that human society was progressing in a way which was not suitable for human beings (Milliken, no date).

In Marx’s theory it can be seen that it was deeply related to production and historical materialism. He supposed that in developed society, dissimilar social classes were formed owing to the production processes at the time. More specifically, the relationship between the different social groups to the means of production; for instance, he mentioned that throughout the industrial revolution the whole of society had been divided into two social class, the factory proprietor class, also referred to as the capital class, which had monopolized and controlled everything which Marx termed the Bourgeois and the other class was the Proletariat which had nothing to sell other than their own labour in order to survive (Bilton, et al, 1996). He further stated that in certain circumstances, such as those which existed at the time, these classes directly struggled with one another, particularly in capitalist society (Suchting , 1983).

Marx believed that conflict between social classes in society had the result of controlling the production process causing a direct struggle with one another particularly in the industrial society (Suchting , 1983).

“The Marx’s view point of the proletariat is victim of the system and its potential gravedigger. As Marx clearly asserted in his preface to Capital, this class perspective is at the root of his critique of bourgeois political economy. It is from this social viewpoint that values as "justice" are reinterpreted: their concrete meaning is not the same according to the situation and the interests of different classes” (Lowy, 2007).

Weber’s thinking, in terms of social class, is similar to Marx, he believed that owning private materials played a role in the creation of social classes in societies, he also believed that the differences between social classes in society might be the cause of social struggle between them but not like that of which Marx mentioned. Weber had seen that the social conflict between the classes over production goods as a normal conflict in every society (Parkin, 1982). He viewed social class as "the totality of those class situations within which individual and generational mobility is easy and typical" (Gane, 2012, p. 98).

Weber thought that people had been stratified to different layers due to the dissimilarities emerging from “power, wealth and prestige” (Gane, 2012). He explained that individuals can use power and status to obtain opportunity and prosperity and to move from their class to another (Bilton, et al, 1996). Additionally, he believed that the inequalities which had been seen as the creation of social class were related to the market, and had no relation with who did or did not own private property as Marx had asserted. Weber stated that these differences were founded on the market ability or on the abilities which that person takes to the market. People with the top market capability, those individuals with the greatest abilities, may have better opportunities in life, which was the one thing which Weber believed could create differences among people and group them into various social classes in all societies (Bilton, et al, 1996).

The way in which Ralf Dahrendorf differs from Marx regarding social class:

Ralf Dahrendorf was a German-British sociologist, philosopher and liberal politician. He was born in 1st May 1929 and he died on 17th June 2009, at the age of 80 (Pick, 2009). His life covered the period after the industrial revolution, through World War I, and World War II, when many predictions, theories, social, and political-economic which social scientists had made had changed in terms of the world and its social structure. Furthermore, several social theorists changed their role or work to find new and modern approaches to explain society again and its issues, particularly after two wold wars. Ralf Dahrendorf was a critical theorist of the Marx’s theory in terms of social class and conflict theory (Hazelrigg, 1972). He was looking for other new perspectives to comprehend and explain the social struggle among social groups in society (Newman and Smith, 1999).

Dahrendorf’s concept of class is somewhat different to Marx’s. Marx's model emphasizes control of dimension-level position in the factory while Dahrendorf focus on the size of power (Robinson and Kelley, 1979). Marx saw that the struggles between property owners and workers as unavoidable. Therefore, as a result the class awareness and revolutionary will improve throw the circumstance (Weingart, 1969). While, Dahrendorf pointed out the clash between them will not occur if they cooperate with one another (Dahrendorf, 1959). He also thought that society is not perfect, in each society citizens are looking for solutions to cope with their problems, and that it is likely that in each society rules are made to be followed by everyone in the population; therefore, there is no purpose in overthrowing one another; moreover, that a powerful political group in society was motivated to organise all relationships among all social groups by law and this law could protect each individual’s rights in modern society (Keel, 2013).


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Critical perspectives on Marx’s approach to Social Classes in Society
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Saied Qadir Faqe Ibrahim (Author)Rebaz Jalal Mahmood (Author), 2016, Critical perspectives on Marx’s approach to Social Classes in Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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