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Marx and Weber: Capitalism

1639 words (7 pages) Essay in Sociology

15/05/17 Sociology Reference this

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A comparison of Marx and Weber’s theories with respect to their ideas and interpretations on capitalism.

Marx’s view of the industrialist society he lived in was one of inequality and driven by capitalism. His ideas and interpretations of capitalism are based on historical precedent and industrialism. He calls the capitalist ownership class, the bourgeoisie, owning the means of production, whilst describing the working class, the proletariat, who provide the means of production. He viewed this capitalist system as being an unjust and unfair one which exploited the proletariat to provide profit and gains for the bourgeoisie. Marx saw capitalism as merely a progression of previous modes of production, such as slavery and feudalism, becoming a system of production of commodities which exploited the workers for the profitable gain of the capitalist bourgeoisie. In the feudal and slavery systems, however, the medieval lords and slave owners were responsible for the welfare of their workers. Whereas, in the capitalist society he saw the capitalists taking unfair advantage of the workers, with a minority owing and monopolising the ownership of the means of production, whilst gaining big profits at the expense of the workers.

Wage labourers produce commodities, goods which are produced for exchange. The commodities are sold on the market, and the capitalist pays the labourer a wage. The capitalist gives up some of his capital to the wage labourer in the form of wages in return for the use of his/her labour- power. Labour-power is thus itself a commodity; it is bought and sold

A labourer depended on the market value of his skills, or production, to earn a living which the capitalist would sell for maximum profit. However, this profit did not feed back down to the worker, instead it went into the pockets of the already wealthy capitalist. He believed that the workers were exploited for their labour in order to survive.

Marx believed that society had progressed through stages of history with each stage providing its own destruction to allow it to progress to a new stage. He believed that every stage of history only progressed to the next stage through a social revolution of some kind and gave it the term Dialectical Materialism . He believed that the economy and materialism are the driving forces behind historical change. He saw the main difference between men and animals, as man’s ability to produce his own living, in other words, man owns his own mode of production. However, he saw the workers ability becoming diminished in the factories and with manual labour, with the worker being alienated from his means of production by being given solely specific tasks to complete in a production line. Ultimately, he proposed that through the progression of history, capitalism would be overcome by a revolt of the working class in order for them to overcome their oppression by the capitalists, giving way to a fairer and equal society. He argued that economic structure should be planned to suit the people. Unfortunately in some cases, his theories were taken and twisted by others, giving way to an even more oppressive society, for example, communism in the Union of Soviet Republics (Russia) and the Republic of China, where the control of the working classes were still in the hands of the select few. In contrast, Weber believed that Marxist theories were too simple as he thought Marx saw mainly economic grounds being the driving force behind capitalism.

Weber’s ideas and interpretations on capitalism are predominantly derived from his major work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05). From most of the readings done for this essay, it would appear at first sight that Weber views religion as the driving force behind capitalism. However, this is too simplistic a view. Weber was not only interested in the role of religion in capitalism; he was also very interested in discovering the values behind the individual’s social behaviour. He saw workers doing what they do because of their commitment to their family, which is why people go to work although the work may not be great and the pay not very substantial. Weber is more interested in the actions of the individual and the affects of society on the individual; therefore, he defines sociology in a different way than Marx, believing that individuals are shaped by their own motives and desires. He liked to use categories and typologies, using three main categories, tradition, charismatic and legal rational authority. Weber had a wide range of interests, class, social stratification, modernity and religion. Being interested in discovering why capitalism was a ‘Western’ phenomenon and developed in certain European countries during the industrial revolution, he undertook a study of these countries. In his work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05), Weber makes a connection between protestant beliefs and the emergence of capitalism. Although religion did not bring about capitalism, Weber suggested that religion can cause social change, which in turn could fuel the process of capitalism. He uses Calvinism as an example of how change can be brought about. Calvinists believed that you were already predestined to go to heaven and were either among the “elect” or not, before you were born. Nothing that happened during your life here earth would alter this election. Calvinism was a puritan form of Protestantism, focusing on self denial, hard work and a predetermined selection for entrance into heaven. As Calvinists did not have any way of knowing whether or not they were part of the “elect”, they had to act as if they had been chosen; therefore, they lived good lives here on earth and worked hard. It was this ascetic work ethic that Weber believes drove capitalism as making a lot of money was a sign of hard work and no play. As they denied themselves any comfort and pleasures in life, the money they had over and above their meagre living expenses was ploughed into the business making them different from other money makers, in so much that, they made money for money’s sake which was not spent on the frivolities in life. Weber theorised that this Protestant ethic gave rise, encouraging and promoting modern capitalism. He argues that formal rationalisation (the rationale behind making money) would overtake religion and do away with it altogether. Weber saw capitalism as a process of rationalisation and argues that there are six factors which are necessary for capitalism to succeed :

  1. The appropriation of material means of production;
  2. Market freedom;
  3. Rational technology (principally mechanisation);
  4. Calculable law (forms of adjudication and administration which allow for predictable outcomes);
  5. Formally free labour (persons who voluntarily sell their labour-power but must do so to stave off starvation);
  6. And the commercialisation of economic life.

All these conditions are necessary ingredients in the rise of capitalism in Weber’s view . Weber also saw bureaucracy as playing a major role in capitalism.

Bureaucracy is the form of social organisation in and through which rational-legal authority is exercised and maintained. It is also the form which clearly takes hold with the advent of capitalist economic order. One does not cause the other to arise; they have a h3 affinity

Where Marx felt that alienation of the workers from thier products by division of labour within the capitalist system allowed exploitation of workers for capitalist gains, thereby limiting their true freedom, Weber believed that it was bureacracies and rationalisaton that restricted human freedom. Marx believed that man’s freedom under capitalism was deceptive and not true freedom. He believed that capitalist wage labour restricted the worker and was really a form of forced labour as the worker relied on his wage to live. The worker could only sell his labour for the price the capitalist would pay for this work or production and for Marx, capitalism was predominantly as system of commodity production and an economic driven system.

Weber argued that workers lost control of their work through the forces of rational controlled production and believed that it was inevitable that the bureacracy of the capitalist system would change processes in labour and production order to gain the best profit. “But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise” . Weber argued that in a capitalist society the individual join the organised structures and orginasations which are put in place to ensure an effecient structure to ensure the best profit. By joining these organisations, the individual loses their individuality and get cut off themselves and lost in the officialdom, and therefore, become alienated.

Weber tends to be seen, or portrayed, as much more pessimistic than Marx. Weber sees society becoming locked in an “Iron Cage” through bureaucracy, rationality and authority.

This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage

Marx was much more optimistic and saw the possibility of social change through a working class revolution, believing that social democracy is an alternative to capitalism.

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