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Outline Marx's view of class in capitalist society, and explain what you see as the major problems with this approach?

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Introduction

Outline Marx's view of class in capitalist society, and explain what you see as the major problems with this approach? Marx analyzed class in relation to the ownership of capital and the means of production. He divided the population into those who owned property and those who were propertyless, the capitalist class and the proletariat. He recognised the existence of groups that did not fit this framework e.g. peasants but suggested that these were hangovers of the pre-capitalist economy that would vanish with the maturation of the capitalist system. Class was more than just a way of describing the economic position of different groups. Marx saw class as tangible collectivities and as real social forces with the capacity to change society. However criticism refers to social class as no longer being relevant to the understanding of modern societies. Jorgensen, (1997) suggests Marx saw the origins of a class society rooted in the change of agriculture. The earliest forms of society Marx refers to as a "primitive communism" where nobody owned property and the land belonged to everyone. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", The Communist Manifesto, (1848). The beginnings of a class system occurred with the development of sophisticated agricultural techniques. The notion of communal land changed and property boundaries were marked. Some people became more powerful than others did by acquiring and controlling the land. From this an increasingly powerful few owned the land and property and the rest worked for them. ...read more.

Middle

Gidden's suggests that this view underlies the assumption that classes are mere inequalities in the distribution of income and that class conflict can be "alleviated or eliminated" by the introduction of measures which minimise the differences between incomes. According to Hughes et al, (1995), Marx retained his firm belief that class played a major role in the transformation of capitalism. In pre-capitalist production, producers would bring goods to the market, sell their goods for money and buy other goods to sustain themselves and their families. Money would not function as capital but be a means of exchanging commodities of equivalent values. However, Marx argued that in capitalist production, the general relationship between money and commodities differs. The capitalists use money to produce commodities and the commodities are then sold at a profit to produce more money. However, according to Hughes et al, (1995), capitalists are drawn into two fundamental conflicts, competition from other capitalists and unavoidable conflict with the workers. Craib (1997) suggests that Marx spoke little about social class but that when he did he referred to social groups as being classes, concentrating on only two social classes. The significance of social class is still debated. It is sometimes suggested that class has no relevance to everyday life in contemporary society and ethnicity, gender or other factors have replaced it. Craib, (1997), suggests that Marx's analyses of class and class structure is useful but recognizes a problem understanding why conflict does not occur as indicated from Marxist analysis. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, Bradley, (1996), criticises Marx for his failure to perceive the growing social and economic significance of new middle class, instead Marx concentrates on the relationship between capital and labour. Overall Bradley notes that the Marxist theory is useful but that insufficient attention is paid to other social grouping for example the unemployed and that Marx does not take into account gender or race and ethnicity. Also Marx's notion of class struggle and social revolution has been rejected by Weberians. Weber believed that social revolution would be an unlikely outcome and if did occur would not improve ordinary citizens lives but add to bureaucracy and tyranny. Weber also didn't feel it was a simple matter of one class in conflict with another, but that it would be more complex, with conflicts occurring within classes as well as between them. The "post-industrial" and "postmodern" frameworks inspire new approaches to class and criticise the Marxist Class theory. Bell, (1974), suggests that technological change would lead to the upgrading of the occupational structure. A new technical and professional elite would emerge, replacing the propertied capitalist class. Bell, (1974), suggests the general prosperity would be brought by post-industrial change and would mean that remaining manual workers would experience better working conditions, an increased standard of living and enhanced leisure time. Bell contradicts Marx's theory of "proletarianization and revolution". Postmodernism offers a more flexible approach moving the analysis of class to a broader framework dealing with its relation to other aspects of inequality, gender, race and age. However it still has traces of the frameworks of industrialization and capitalism from which it evolved. It still remains "economistic" and prefers to use an occupational definition of class. ...read more.

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