Sociological Contributions of Karl Marx

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Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) was a great philosopher and sociological thinker of his time. His thoughts and ideas were influenced by the sociological context of that era. His philosophical and sociological theories were mostly evolved against capitalism which was dominant during that period. Marxism was a revolt against that existing social discrimination. Karl Marx tried to resolve that situation with the best possible way and by considering broader picture of the structure of the society. His vision was to transform the society into Utopian (Ideal) society where there will be no struggle or conflicts between the members of the society i.e. class struggle. He mainly focused on the economy (Capital) as a base structure of the society. He believed that other superstructures such as education, religion, politics etc. are fundamentally associated to the base structure i.e. economy. He observed and derived those class struggles and conflicts are based on economic structure. Due to more inclination towards economical mode of production or material possession leads to alienation among the members of the society. These viewpoints were raised because of the capitalistic approach of the society in his time. There were two groups in the society. Bourgeoisie (Capitalist) were dominating and had material possessions and Proletariat (Workers) were working under them for their living. The lower class were the real producers but had no possession on their produce. However, the upper class had total control over the produce and enjoying all the benefits of it. In addition to that they were exploiting the lower class and keeping them away from all the rights they deserved in order to control them. Therefore to confront the capitalism and social inequality, Karl Marx produced negative dialectical method which eventually reviewed as conflict theory and became as his sociological contribution to the society.

Karl Marx Dialectics

Karl Marx was one of the followers of the German philosopher Hegel. According to Hegel, man is in continuous struggle to know himself. He means that self-understanding is the main purpose of human mind. This process involves thesis, antithesis and synthesis which collectively known as Hegel’s dialectic method. In this dialectic method, mind and ideas are the base structures which affects other structures. In this process, man identifies himself as a subject by treating others as an object. It gives rise to Master-Slave relationship where man suppresses others and treats them as slaves.

However, Karl Marx shapes his idea based on the same dialectic method by considering material as the base structure. He brings forth the materialistic view instead of Hegel’s idealistic view. Material wealth such as land, money and other assets become the cause of social class struggle. Also, according to Hegel, to ensure the interests which are universal is the purpose of the state or political society or civil society. Perhaps, Karl Marx refuted this by saying that state or political society defends their self-interest rather than working towards universal interests.

Here, Marx’s intention is to support the fact that individual or particular interests of small groups prevail over the interest of the larger group of the society due to unequal power and material distribution. In reality, the state misleads the community by being manipulative and deceptive. The state produces its own interests as universal interests and misleads people for their own cause. If we compare this to the present political situation of India then it is clearly seen that democracy in India is at stake due to few corrupt politicians and their business alliances. If any common man even tries to revolt against them then he or she will be suppressed by unusual means. It clearly supports that economic power plays an important role in domination and which finally becomes the dominant cause of human alienation i.e. Master-Slave relationship. Marx stresses that social revolution is the answer to this alienation. The proletariats, working classes, should engage themselves in striving for universal interests and to achieve it in order to have equal distribution of the economy and power. Marx was trying to bring out changes in socio-economical system and to make it utopian society which was his ultimate goal. He introduced his ideas and later those were considered as conflict theory which provided different perspective in sociological studies.

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Conflict Theory

Conflict is one of the important processes in social interaction. It arises due to social, cultural and religious differentiation existing in the society. It is universal and conscious process. It is not continuous and can be resolved by accommodation. It is an output of social classes, racial discrimination, gender identity, age differentiation and cultural gaps present in the society. It is an attempt to preserve the identity, position, power, wealth, status etc. It is struggle between the groups or in the groups in order to maintain one’s own cultural, social and religious values. It always creates tension and fear of insecurity in the society. It is a threat to the peace and harmony in the society.

Conflict theory is an end result of the dialectics of Karl Marx. It derives its strength from the historical facts that there were always struggles and conflicts in the society due to existing social classes. This conflict theory emphasizes on continual struggle and conflicts. According to this perspective, there is always change in the society. However, it refutes the possibility of social stability and social agreements. It highlights that society is in continuous flux and can never come to a point of social consensus. In this regard, social conflicts are not necessarily involved in outraging violence every now and then. However, it causes inevitable tension and fearful environment in the society. As a consequence, it affects the everyday life in the society. Due to this impact of social conflicts on the society; it is necessary for sociologists while studying any community, culture, institution or organization to keep in mind few questions such as “who is the profit maker, who is exploited and who tries to dominate on whom”.[6] The conflict theory is more inclined to study conflicts between genders, castes, socio-economical classes etc. Also, it is concerned to find privileged and non-privileged members in various institutions such as government, family, religion and education.

Conflict theory is a practical approach to look at the today’s society where inequality in terms of power, education, wealth and other means of production is already present. Even though it seems more negative to approach the society, it provides the base to think on the root causes of those and to find solution of those problems. It gives another perspective to make social changes in the society on the basis of redistribution of resources. It stresses on oppressed and marginalized people by the upper class of the society so that they can be motivated to fight collectively against injustice and inequality. For sociologist, it challenges to view the society from the point of view of the people who are mostly exploited by other classes.

Impact Of Karl Marx Theory On Society

Karl Marx had practical way to tackle the problems prevalent in the society. He studied the society and found that alienation is the major problem of the society which is rooted in the economical structures. This alienation gives rise to low self-esteem, lack of autonomy, lack of self-realization and destruction of human dignity in the lower classes of the society. The relationship between the master and laborer is not friendly. It was obvious that masters were exploiting there laborers in terms of getting more production, accumulating more wealth and to fulfill their needs. This exploitation was threat to the freedom of the individuals of the lower classes. They were encountering humiliation and unjust life.

He observed that there is lack in class consciousness in the lower class. They don’t have proper information and motivation in order to come together for a cause. Actually, they struggle for their daily livings which they don’t want to risk because there is no any other alternative to do so. They believe that taking risk will not worth and won’t be able to change anything. They live their lives by hoping that one day their life situation will change. Eventually, these reasons and justifications make their life more miserable. This kind of attitude never allows them to have co-ordination or cooperation among the members of the lower class. Marx believes that sense of cooperation and class consciousness can bring revolution in the society and will help them to get back their identity and human dignity.


The vision of Karl Marx was to change the society into utopian society. To have society free from injustice, inequality and conflicts was an idea of Marx. This sounds too idealistic to attain. This is a kind of dream world in itself. Even though, he was too radical and harsh in interpreting the society (economy based); his ideas were revolutionary and helped to fight against the evolving capitalism and exploitation of workers of that time. Also, it contributed and developed in other sociological and philosophical theories which ultimately improved the standard of the society.

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