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Comparing Marxist vs Weberian in Terms of Class

Abstract

Marx and Weber both give us insight into the stratification of class in society. Marx builds upon a theory where there are two classes, a ruling class, and a subject class. He believes the proletariat will overthrow the capitalists because conflict is bound to rise due to unbalanced power. The first step to reversing power would be to create a social state. Next, everyone would work towards destroying capitalistic means of productions which would end the need of having classes. Eventually, a communist state would prevail and things would be the ruling factor and not people and their particular class. Weber on the other hand disagrees with the idea that a revolution will take place by the workers because he does not view class simply as the divide between worker and owner. He believes that along with class, status and party also make up the class situation. He does not overlook the other people in society in believes that workforces will be more employee and manager oriented rather than worker and owner oriented. Weber thinks that if people work hard they can easily move up the hierarchy and that lifestyles play a role in class divisions. Education, background, enunciation, dressing, and affiliation all come into play when stratifying classes. When we look at society today, Weber’s idea’s fit more fluidly into our systems. Marx’s ideas seem almost obsolete because he overlooked the idea of privatization. Weber’s idea still provides insight into how society is divided amongst classes.

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Marx vs. Weber

Karl Marx and Max Weber have contributed a lot to the discussion of the class system in society. Although they both agree that there are classes in a society where stratification methods differ completely, they are almost opposites. Marx says society is divided by class and that capitalism is a deemed failure eventually to be overthrown by communism. He identifies his two stratifications as the ruling class and the subject class. Weber on the other hand adds layers into his stratification by explaining the importance of status and party. Which classes are prevalent in society today is most in line with Weber’s theory although Marx lends insight too.

In the early republic, the working people’s challenge was to meet everyday needs. They worked day today to ensure that food goes into their stomach and that they survive. It was not uncommon to see the poor being controlled by the rich because they could afford to hire and fire them. (Rockman 3) Even today, in underdeveloped countries people spend their lives working just to fill their stomachs and never get a chance to beyond it. “Class…is a way for people who analyze the past and present to explain why – in societies ostensibly organized around the marketplace – some people go to bed hungry, some people are arrested for not working, and some people’s backbreaking labor does not pay enough to provide heat in winter.” (Rockman 4) Rockman says that when we look at the past we can categorize a group of people by their circumstances. He goes on by discussing that the American Revolution has almost created a classless society and that people can easily move up the hierarchy and that it is not meant to define borders of class depending on the inequalities people suffered in the past. (Rockman).

“The boundary problem dogs the concept of social class. Where to ‘draw the line’ between one social class and another and how to justify the apparently arbitrary choice of selecting only one or more of that various measures that are commonly employed in studies of social class: family background, education, occupation, income, life-chances, relation to the means of production.” (cited in Smith 1-2) Smith discusses that the probability theory of statistics should be used in understanding the class divide and its boundaries. In physics, the theory of probability tells us when an electron is present but not its exact location. In the same way, simply defining the boundaries of the class is not completely correct and efficient. It is better to say that classes do exist but the limit of their boundaries cannot be defined.

“Is a factory worker as important to society as the factory owner? Karl Marx (1818-1883) thought so. As on of the founders of socialism, Marx envisioned a society where people worked as equals. At the time, Europe was ruled by an upper class, which held all the wealth, and the working classes lived in poverty. But in the 19th century, the Industrial revolution reshaped society. As the ranks of the working class swelled, Marx believed class warfare was inevitable and the ruling class was doomed. In 1844, Marx and fellow philosopher Friedrich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, calling for a social revolution.” (A revolutionary idea) Marx believed that capitalism was a deemed failure and that eventually the working class would rebel and communism would prevail.

“Marx conceptualizes class as an objective structure of social positions,…holds to a undimensional conception of social stratification and cleavage, with class relations being paramount,…the essential logic of class relations and class conflict is one of exploitation, where political and ideological dominion are interpreted as merely the means by which exploitation is secured,… classes are an expression of the social relations of production” (Burris 2) Basically, Marx thought society was divided by class. The two major classes were the ruling class and the subject class. He thought that eventually there had to be conflict amongst the ruling and the subject class because the former had more authority and controlled the factories and workplaces where the latter worked in. In Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An Analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim, and Max Weber, Gidden’s said that according to Marx, “Classes are constituted by the relationship of groupings of individuals to the ownership of private property in the means of production. This yields a model of class relations, which is basically dichotomous [since some own and others do not, some work and others live off the fruits of those who labour]: all class societies are built around a primary line of division between two antagonistic classes, one dominant and the other subordinate.” (cited in Polarization of classes) He called the workers ‘proletariat’ and the owners ‘capitalists.’ Anyone who owned factories or workplaces that employed a large number of people was capitalist. He believed that this was simply a way of ruling another class and everything is according to the standard of the rulers. He felt that the division in society was split down the middle, breaking it into two pieces that were on opposite ends of the spectrum. This polarity would be the cause of a revolution and capitalism would fail and socialism would prevail. (Polarization of classes).

Once the working class would overthrow the capitalists they would create a socialist state where the standards would be set by the needs and demands of the previous power-stripped class, the proletariats. By dictating their interests to society the working class would eventually end the very root of capitalism which is produced through means of ownership. This would eventually lead to a higher standard of living and the economy would grow. Eventually, the cause of class divisions will be abolished making class an unnecessary means of state rule. Next communism would take place and the things that need to be done would be the guiding factors of society. (Polarization of classes).

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Max Weber said, “A ‘social class’ makes up the totality of those class situations within which individual and generational mobility is easy and typical.” (cited in Smith 1) He then says class situation means, “procuring goods, gaining a position in life, and finding inner satisfaction.”(cited in smith 3), and “class’ means all persons in the same class situation.” (cited in Smith 4) In contrast to Marx, Weber’s definition of the social class had more layers. First of all, Weber believed that in-class mobility and that an individual could move up or down the ladder. He then defined class situation somewhat similarly to Maslow’s Hiererchy of needs. Procuring goods can come underneath the category of fulfilling basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and eventually luxuries. Gaining a position in life also parallels Maslow’s diagram and finding inner satisfaction is in sync completely with Maslow as the final stage one hopes to get to.

“Weber’s analysis of class is constructed in the form of a theory of social action…holds to multidimensional view in which class relations intersect with and are often outweighed by other (nonclass) bases of association, notably status and party…domination is conceived as an end in itself, with its own independent force and logic… classes as common positions within the market.” (Burris 2) Weber thought that there were three divisions in society and that class was only one of them. ‘Status’ and ‘party’ were the two other layers to his theory. Weber said, “A property class is primarily determined by property differences, a commercial class by the marketability of goods and services and a social class makes the totality of those class situations within which individual and generational mobility is easy and typical.” (cited in Smith 4) His thoughts are more related to how we might think about the class system today. He related class with lifestyles: how people live, the way they speak, where they come from, where they get educated, and other factors that would sum up the person’s place in society.

“Marx conceptualizes production as an objective structure of relations between classes, whereas Weber analyzes market relations from the standpoint of the motives and strategies of human agents as they struggle to increase their share of societal rewards.” (Burris 16-17) Weber thought that not only the lifestyle but also where people wanted to go in the future determined their class. Along with lifestyle, if a person takes the right decisions and works hard enough, and manages to get past the hurdles he can get to the future he dreams of. Therefore, workers would be getting where they want to go by working hard and a revolution like the one Marx described would not be necessary. If there was some sort of frustration or discontentment the workers could always take action but it would be nothing as dramatic as what Marx said.

“Max Weber emphasizes the market, consumption and distribution, and regards classes as one.” (Polarization of classes) His main social classes are the labor class, the upper class (bourgeoisie), people without property and basic jobs, and the people with better jobs and a little property. “Max Weber’s model embraces three components of stratification—economic, status, and political power…status groups form the social order, classes the economic order, and parties make up the legal/political order. Each order is affected by one another.” (Polarization of classes) Weber viewed society as more than just a battle between the proletariat and the capitalists and included the other aspects of society into his class division.

The world today has evolved and changed greatly. The use of technology has reached great heights and redefined the way we live. If Marx and Weber were alive today they would truly be surprised to see that the theories they conjured up were truly applicable to different times. Although there are still similarities to the philosopher’s insights into the happenings of our world, a lot has changed. Weber’s theory makes more sense today compared to Marx. Marx had predicted the eventual fall of a capitalistic society and the rise of a socialist state. Unfortunately for Marx, this never happened. Unlike Weber, he overlooked the fact that there are other stratifying factors in society such as wealth and prestige and power and political affiliation. Unlike what Marx had set up as an example for his theory, the factory owner and a worker is not how most things operate today. Nowadays, employees mostly deal with managers, and hard work is rewarded and the Weberian concept is more prevalent. If the managers don’t listen employees can always take appropriate action and there has never been a revolution with a few exceptions such as China, Korea, etc. Communism was only prevalent in countries where the feudal system was still present but today even those countries have turned around and are at the peeks of technological revolutions.

“Weber notes that political membership or class situation has always been a common source of status groups. In the present day, class situation is certainly the most important factor, for lifestyle one can expect is basically conditioned by one’s economic situation.” (Polarization of classes) Weber’s ideas are still applicable today and give us insight into why there are class divisions and what these divisions are. In our society today, people associate with certain status groups, purchase certain status items, are seen with high-status people, and marry people on the higher level of hierarchy. “Weber notes that all groups with an interest in the status order react strongly against the idea that status is based purely on economic acquisition. Weber indicates the general effect of the status order: the hindrance of the free development of the market occurs first for those goods which status groups directly withheld from free exchange by monopolization. So direct participation in the economic world is considered as a taboo for some status group usually the most influential ones.”(Polarization of classes) This idea is apparent today when people theorize that certain influential people in the world control the greater majority. It is a popular belief that a few extremely wealthy individuals or perhaps a secret brotherhood dictate our lives today. This is in line with Weber’s idea that certain people don’t directly participate but indirectly control. Also, this could be the reason for bringing forth a Marx-like revolution. Although these so assumed dictators of the world don’t necessarily dictate in the factory owner and factory worker form the idea that a few control the others is there. Although this could be the means to a revolution it cannot be done as easily as Marx’s proposed steps because these controllers use power indirectly and they cannot be pinpointed out like a factory owner.

Weber successfully integrates the different layers of society that are still present today. He didn’t limit himself to two divisions and successfully predicted the divisions of classes that are still applicable today. His focus on all three aspects creates better examples of how society is divided by class today. For example, if we look at a Japanese Samurai, he has a high status in society because of the honorable work he does although he is poor. Also, someone like a government official would naturally have a higher status than a postman but coincidentally the former has a higher salary than the latter too. (Polarization of classes, 2007) “Weber’s model is one stratified by class and status, with power a further stratification divided by which parties or groups have power in common…It is a generally accepted fact that by the first quarter of the twentieth century the increase in commercial administration and technical labor cut across Marx’s bipolar class structure. By this time, the orthodox Marxist concept of a tendency towards radical polarization of class relations within developed capitalist societies proved obsolete.” (Polarization of classes).

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In conclusion, Marx and Weber both give us insight into the stratification of class in society. Marx builds upon a theory where there are two classes, a ruling class, and a subject class. He believes the proletariat will overthrow the capitalists because conflict is bound to rise due to unbalanced power. The first step to reversing power would be to create a social state. Next, everyone would work towards destroying capitalistic means of productions which would end the need of having classes. Eventually, a communist state would prevail and things would be the ruling factor and not people and their particular class. Weber on the other hand disagrees with the idea that a revolution will take place by the workers because he does not view class simply as the divide between worker and owner. He believes that along with class, status and party also make up the class situation. He does not overlook the other people in society in believes that workforces will be more employee and manager oriented rather than worker and owner oriented. Weber thinks that if people work hard they can easily move up the hierarchy and that lifestyles play a role in class divisions. Education, background, enunciation, dressing, and affiliation all come into play when stratifying classes. When we look at society today, Weber’s idea’s fit more fluidly into our systems. Marx’s ideas seem almost obsolete because he overlooked the idea of privatization. Weber’s idea still provides insight into how society is divided amongst classes.

Works Cited

“A Revolutionary Idea.” Current Events 106.18 (=2007): 5-5. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 2008.

Burris, Val. “The Neo-Marxist Synthesis of Marx and Weber on Class.” Darkwing. 1987. 2008. Web.

Craib, Ian. “What is Social Class?.” Group Analysis 35.3 (2002): 342. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 2008.

Löwith, Karl, T. B. Bottomore, and William Outhwaite. Max Weber and Karl Marx. Controversies in sociology, 12. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1982.

Milliken, Elizabeth. “Marx v. Weber.” 06Milliken. 2006. Web.

Polarization of Classes: Marx and Weber.” Fifth Dimension. 2007. Web.

Ringer, Fritz K. Max Weber: An Intellectual Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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Rockman, Seth. “Class and the History of Working People in the Early Republic.” Journal of the Early Republic 25.4 (Winter 2005): 527-535. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 2008.

Sayer, Derek. Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber. London: Routledge, 1991.

Smith, Ken. “Operationalizing Max Weber’s probability concept of class situation: the concept of social class.” British Journal of Sociology 58.1 (2007): 87-104. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 2008.

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