Sociology 2240E-002, Group 6
November 14, 2012
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Main interest: historical basis of inequality under capitalism and how to change it.
Based on German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel
Basic idea is the centrality of contradiction
Hegel believed that the contradictions of historical change could be worked out in our understanding where Marx believed that these
contradictions could only be resolved by a life and death struggle that changes the social world.
Example: heart of capitalism is the contradictory interests of the capitalists who own private property and the means of
production and the workers who only have their labour power to sell. Capitalist‟s goal is to exploit laborers to increase efficiency
and profit, while worker‟s goal is to retain some of this profit for himself or herself.
Fact and Value
Social values are not separable from social facts; they are intertwined to foster possible solutions to the problems that currently exist.
Causal relationship does not flow in one direction (XY) ; it flows in a reciprocal fashion (XY) .
Example: Increasing exploitation may cause workers to become increasingly dissatisfied and militant, but the increasing
militancy of the workers may cause capitalists to react by becoming ever more exploitative.
Past, Present, Future
Two distinct implications:
1. Concern with the historical roots of the contemporary world (Marx was concerned with the sources of modern capitalism).
2. Attuned to current social trends in order to understand the possible futures directions of society.
Social phenomena is in a constant state of action and reaction, therefore defying a simple, deterministic model.
Dialectical model is thesis, antithesis, synthesis. There is a tension that must be overcome with action/choices to advance to the next stage.
This transformation is not inevitable, it can only occur through struggle.
Actors and Structures
The relationship between people and the large scale social structures they create.
Social structures help people reach fulfillment, but also represent a great threat to humanity.
Consider the past, present and future circumstances of both actors and structures.
Human beings are an „ensemble of social relations‟ – human nature is intertwined with specific social relations and institutional context
Thus, human nature is not static- it varies historically and socially
There is human nature in general (species being – potentials/powers that are uniquely human) , but more importantly is the way human
nature is „modified by each historical epoch‟
Working definition of human nature suggests how society should be changed
Our species being and human nature are intimately related to labour
1. The objectification of our purpose
o labour creates something in reality that previously existed in imagination – species being
o objectification – process where we create external objects out of our internal thoughts
2. The establishment of an essential relation between human need and the material objects of our need
3. The transformation of our human nature
labour encompasses all productive actions where we transform material nature in accordance with our purpose, not just economic
ex: artist – artwork is a representation of artists thought and the process of creation transforms the artist (ie. Awareness, new
We labor in response to our needs, but the labor itself transforms our needs, which can lead to new forms of productive activity.
The engine of human history
Labour is the development of our truly human powers and potentials. Labour is a social activity, thus transforms the individual and society.
“Man is in the most literal sense of the word a zoon politikon, not only a social animal, but an animal which can develop into an
individual only in society… Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as
men exist at all”.
Def‟n: the perverted relation between labour and human nature caused by capitalism
Labour is no longer an expression of our purpose, instead our purpose of work is to satisfy the capitalist through paid labour.
No longer an end in itself (expression of human capabilities), but just means to an end (earning money).
o Labour no longer transforms us because it is not our own.
Thus, we are alienated from our labour and true human nature
In a capitalist economy, workers are forced to sell their labour to survive.
What is animal becomes human, and what is human becomes animal.
Four Components of Alienation
1. productive activity – workers do not objectivate their ideas, and are not transformed by the labor in any meaningful way because they work
for the capitalists and the division of labour is specialized, which is boring and a means to an end (money).
2. product- Product of their labour does not belong to the workers. Things that we buy (made by others) are more of an expression of
ourselves than what we make at our jobs (means to money).
3. coworkers – isolation/division of labour (ie. Cubicle/assembly line) and interpersonal hostility/competition (raise/promotion, etc)
4. human potential – instead of work being the transformation and fulfillment of our human nature, work is where we feel least human, least
The Structures of Capitalist Society
Capitalism: economic system with large number of workers who own little and produce commodities for the profit of a small number of
capitalists who own the commodities, means of production, and the workers labour power.
Also, it is at the same time a political system, a mode of exercising power, and a process for exploiting the workers.
Primary cause of alienation
Use value: producing to satisfy ones own needs or an immediate associates needs
Tied to the physical properties of a commodity
Commodities are qualitatively different (ie. A pair of shoes protects our feet and bread nourishes us, shoes cannot satisfy
hunger just as bread cannot protect our feet)
Exchange value: producing for someone else (the capitalist) to be exchanged in the market for money or other objects.
Commodities are compared to one another
Exchange value is separate from the physical property of the commodity- any type of thing can have the exchange value of the
Fetishism of Commodities
Commodity and market become an independent, mystical external reality.
Fetish: a thing that we have made ourselves, but that we now worship as if it were a god.
Labour, the thing that makes us truly human, becomes a commodity that is bough and sold on the market – has an exchange value separate
Commodity is the source of alienation.
Economy takes on the function of the production of value
True value – the fact that labour produces it and someone needs it
Value represents human social relationship
Reification – “thingification”, or the process of coming to believe that humanly created social forms are natural, universal, and absolute
things, and as a result, those social forms do acquire those characteristics
Implies that social structures are beyond individual control and unchangeable
o becomes a self – fulfilling prophecy
But Marx said that the economy is not an objective, natural thing. It is a form of domination.
Capitalism is made up of particular types of social relations that tend to take forms that appear to be and eventually are independent of the
actual people involved.
Capital, Capitalists, and Proletariat
2 Proletariat – workers who sell their labour and who do not own their own means of production.
Would eventually loose own skills to machines.
Dependent on capitalists because they depend on their wages in order to live as a consumer to satisfy their needs.
Capitalists- those who pay the wages, ie. They own the means of production.
Capital – money that produces more money (invested rather than used for consumption).
“the starting point of capital” – circulation of commodities
1. Money Commodities (larger sum) Money [ M1CM2]
capitalist circulation of commodities primary goal is to produce more money (profit)
“buying in order to sell”
2. Commodities Money Commodities [C1MC2]
non capitalist circulation of commodities primary goal is that one can enjoy
capital is also a social relation – money becomes capital because of the social relation between the proletariat who do the work and must
purchase the product, and those who have invested the money (capitalists).
Capital cannot increase without exploiting the workers.
Necessary part of the capitalist economy
Results from the impersonal and objective economic system.
Coercion is the workers own needs, which now can only be satisfied through wage labour.
Workers appear to be “free labourers” but they must accept the terms given by the capitalists in order to survive. If they reject the terms,
someone else in the reserve army of the unemployed will – high turnover in unskilled, low wage work.
Workers are paid less than the value they produce which allows the capitalists to earn profit.
Surplus value: the difference between the value of the product when it is sold and the value of the elements consumed in the formation of
that product (including labor).
Reinvest profit to create more surplus value.
Note: surplus value is social relation and form of domination.
“Capital is like dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives more, the more labor it sucks.”
Capitalism is driven by incessant competition – capitalists may seem to be in control, but even they are driven by constant competition
the desire for more profit and more surplus value for expansion pushes toward the general law of capitalist accumulation – the capitalists
seek to exploit the workers as much as possible.
Result: class conflict.
Class: people in similar situations with respect to their control of the means of production
Defined in terms of its potential for common conflict over the surplus value.
A class truly exists when people become aware of their conflicting relation to other classes, move from just simply a class in itself to a true
class for itself.
Two main classes: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
Society will be increasingly polarized into two opposing classes – can only be resolved through a change in the capitalist
There are two transitory classes:
the petty bourgeoisie: who are small shop keepers, but they will merge into the proletariat as they do not have enough capital to
compete with the bourgeoisie and as their skills become obsolete due