Sociology – Conflict Theory of Karl Marx

Conflict Theory of Karl Marx

Sociology Honours

Conflict Theory deals with the malaise of inequality between different groups in society. This theory is the brainchild of the nineteenth century German philosopher Karl Marx. He said that the society evolves through different stages such as

• Feudalism
• Capitalism
• Socialism

Nineteenth century Europe was a capitalist society where the upper class called the ‘bourgeois’ thrived, although in relatively small numbers. These people were a minority in society, where as the majority were poor, and were called the ‘proletariat’. Despite being in majority, the proletariat had little say in matters relating to society. In contrast the bourgeois had the power and influence to sway the society in the way they liked. This was because the bourgeois owned factories and resources where the poor proletariat slogged for a living to produce saleable goods. The goods were traded and the profit was pocketed by the owners who belonged to the bourgeois class. The workers got no share of it.

The poor laborers had no say in the way the goods were produced and sold. They remained contented with the wages they received. The laborers depended on the owners for their means of living, and the owners depended on the laborers for running the production facilities. Despite such mutual interdependence, the laborers were never consulted on matters related to administration. This led to inequality of both wealth and power between the ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletariat’. The gulf between the two classes widened with time.

Gradually, the labor class realized that they are being ‘exploited’. Such resentment gave rise to ‘class consciousness’ when individual workers felt they all belonged to a certain ‘class’ that was being exploited.

Karl Marx felt that with passage of time, the working class could unite and forcibly take over the factories and other resources of production. The bourgeois class would vanish. Marx, therefore, thought that the economic model of capitalism was unsustainable, and would self-destruct itself. Famously, he said, “Capitalism contains the seed of its own destruction.”

‘Thesis’, ‘Anti-thesis’ and ‘Synthesis’

These are some of the terms used by Karl Marx to explain his Conflict Theory’. ‘Thesis’ means the state of society where the bourgeois enjoy huge wealth, power and influence, and the ‘proletariat’ are the underdogs who are condemned to lifelong manual work, and no benefit other than their meager wages.

‘Anti-thesis’ is the state of society where the labor class is all powerful and the bourgeois are pushed to the sidelines.

When the two systems – Thesis and Ant-thesis – interact, ‘synthesis’ happens. Under this system, some among the workers are chosen to run the day-to-day administration of the factories, and the owners withdraw from the scene although they remain the owners. In curse of time, these mid-level managers become too powerful creating a backlash from both the workers and the owners. The tussle between the managers and the owners creates an Anti-thesis. In the same way, the tussle between the workers and the mangers creates a different type of Antithesis.

Flaws of Marx’s Conflict Theory

Despite the doom and death of Capitalism as so loudly predicted by Karl Marx, capitalism has survived and even flourished. This is because capitalism has undergone several course corrections to overcome the risks of a full scale revolt by the working class. The capacity of capitalism to adapt itself to pressures was not foreseen by Marx.

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