Analyse the main strengths and weaknesses of Marx's sociological thought.

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Adora Mba

Churchill Hall


Analyse the main strengths and weaknesses of Marx’s sociological thought.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”

Marx and Engels (1967, p.67)

Born in 1818, Karl Marx, using his philosophical and socialist ideas, attempted to show how conflict and struggle in social development were important in the development of a society. The works of Marx were influenced by three distinct intellectual traditions: German idealist philosophy, French socialism and British political economy. German idealist philosophy is an approach based on the thesis that only the mind and its content really exist. This philosophy maintains that it is through the advance of human reason that human beings progress. French socialism is a political doctrine that emerged during the French Revolution and emphasised social progress led by a new industrial class. British political economy was brought about by the social analysis of early capitalism by writers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo. (Bilton, Bonnett, Jones, 2002, p.476)  Using these concepts as a base to his theories, Marx further argued against the capitalist regime and was a firm believer of the revolution of the workers which would one day bring about the destruction of capitalism. Marx was also influenced by the philosophical ideas of Georg W.F. Hegel. However, unlike Hegel who was an idealist Marx was a materialist as he believed that the processes of reality as real, concrete existences in the social world. Hegel believed that although these processes were dynamic, they were an expression of development rather than being solid.

To Marx, history developed due to the sequence of modes of production. In every stage of human history there have been certain productive forces e.g. land, animals, tools etc which are a necessary means of survival in order to produce food, shelter and clothing. These are called the forces of production. Together with the relations of production between the workers and those who owned the forces of production, this resulted in the mode of production.  All human beings must employ the forces of production in order to meet basic economic needs. However, there has always been one class of persons who have owned the means of production. Marx argued that it is this ownership which leads to the most essential fact of materialist theory of history which is the division of society into economic classes.(Morrison, 1995).

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Marx saw societies as social systems which could be divided into two parts: the economic base and the superstructure. The economic base contained a particular mode of production as well as the economy and class relations. It is also the foundation upon which superstructures of political, legal, and social institutions are built. The economic base is also the basis of various forms of consciousness and knowledge.  According to Marx, political views and cultural ideas simply reflect economic divisions and struggles. Relating to the issue of exploitation, the economic base – the exploitative way it produces its goods – creates the superstructure ...

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3 Stars - A thorough and articulate essay that demonstrates a strong understanding of the conceptual aspects of Marxism, and good explanatory powers. Where this essay could be improved is with a greater focus on the question, and with a balanced structure designed to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Marxist thought more explicitly - the first part of the essay is more explanatory narrative than argument in favour of Marxism, whereas insufficient time is spent on the counter argument.