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Marx Vs. Weber: A Comparative Analysis

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Karl Marx v. Max Weber: Comparitive Analysis

C. Wright Mills places both Weber and Marx in the great tradition of what he calls the "sociological imagination" a quality that "enables us to grasp both history biography and the relationship between the two within society". (Mills, 12) In other words both theorists were dealing with the individual and society not either one to the exclusion of the other. Mills further writes that both Marx and Weber are in that tradition of sociological theorizing that leans towards sociology as "a theory of history,"(Mills, 30) sociology as (in this tradition) an encyclopedic endeavour, concerned with the whole of man's social life. Thus these two giants of sociology have a considerable amount in common but how do they differ? Karl Marx and his sociological theories have proven invaluable to sociological thinkers throughout history, as many who followed would use Marxist theories as a foundation on which to build their own, including Max Weber. However, this is not to say that influential thinkers such as Weber did not develop their own theoretical practices and ideals regarding society and the individual, in fact, Weber's work, though influenced by Marxist thought, would bring him to conclusions that differed greatly from that of Karl Marx. Max Weber, a Germany political economist would become a man later proclaimed as one of the "fathers of sociology" focused mostly on the influence of religion on society, however also wrote influential work in the fields of economics and politics, which had extremely large affects on his sociological theories. Though appreciative of Marx's theoretical formulations, Weber also became highly critical of the Austrian thinker. Like Marx, Weber had a wide ranging set of interests: politics, history, language, religion, law, economics, and administration, in addition to sociology. His historical and economic analysis does not provide as elaborate or as systematic a model of capitalism and capitalist development as does that of Marx. But the scope of his analysis ranges more widely than that of Marx; is examines broad historical changes, the origins of capitalism, the development of capitalism, political issues, the nature of a future society, and concepts and approaches that Marx paid less attention to; religion, ideas, values, meaning, and social action. Marx as a sociologist saw society as in a constantly evolving state of conflict. This conflict is between classes. Classes determined primarily by their position relative to the means of production or the way of making a living. "The first historical act is the production of material life itself" (Marx, 60). The evolution of this conflict between the classes follows a dialectical pattern and for Marx this was the pattern of history. Marx's vision of history goes from the domestication of animals and a very limited division of labour wherein there was a common relationship to the means of production and therefore a classless society , through increasing complexity and division of labour to the creation of antagonistic classes. It is a fundamentally, but not exclusively, economic analysis . All aspects of society; law, art, religion, cannot be reduced to economics but that economic relationship to the means of production is at the root of Marx analysis. Society is not a collection of individuals for Marx. The individual and individual aspects of society can only be understood in relation to the whole. The ideological implications of this analysis for twentieth century communism were destructive of freedom and many, many lives. The power the analysis generated through its collective empowerment of many disenfranchised was also intensely liberating. Marx based much of his beliefs on one of the foundations of his work, a theory known as "Historical Materialism". The most basic assumption in historical materialism being that social activity is profoundly influenced by the material problems of producing food, clothing, and shelter in order to stay alive, or simply continue to exist. (Layder, 35) This theory illustrates Marx's belief that social activity revolves around the way in which society produces goods in order to survive. When Marx speaks of social production, he refers to the way by which we produce things. For him it is the concrete, material social production that determines the ideas that circulate in society. In other words, for Marx, material determines ideas. Marx, and comparatively

Weber as well, support the idea that "the economic foundation of society is the most important factor in understanding its overall functioning, and for social analysis generally." (Layder, 35) Extending from this view of economic activity as the most important factor in human society, Marx goes on to describe the division of society into two major classes, and how the struggle between two classes is the driving force behind the historical and social movement of mankind. Marx and Engels argue in The Communist Manifesto that the sole factor stimulating progress in a capitalist society is the exploitation of one class by another, with one class controlling the means of production, and the other being the driving force behind that production, yet receiving

little in recompence. Throughout history,according to Marx, society has been based on the oppression of classes, but the lower class must be sustained at some level in order for the oppression to continue at the same rate. However in an industrial society, the poor get poorer and the rich richer, thus since the bourgois cannot guarantee survival at some level, the proletariat are destined to rise up against their oppressors.The Communist Manifesto details the ways in which modern society must move past these class relations which become irreconcileable with a capitalist society.

Class antagonisms, Marx insists, simply cannot be eliminated without widespread political, social, and economic revolution to remove the oppressive power of the bourgois, as well as the source of that power, private property and the economic system that allows it. This economic system, Marx argues is the cause of oppression, due to its natural ability to give one person power to exploit another. Marx reiterates throughout The Communist Manifesto that simple political reform will do nothing to rid society of class antagonisms. Though they may raise the standard of living, Marx insists, the proletariat remain powerless in political and economic society. Class struggle is essential to the progression of society to what Marx sees as the ultimate goal, a society wherein all men are equal, the Communist utopia that would be the end of history.

Weber vehemently disagreed with Marx's view



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