The paper describes the life of the outstanding sociologist of the 19th century Karl Marx. It provides information about the connection between Marx’s life and his contributions to sociology. There is a definition of Conflict Theory and its detailed description. Karl Marx devoted all his life developing the image the perfect system: the communist society which is understood as a classless society with no ethnical, racial or gender discrimination. The thoughts of Marx concerning his contemporary capitalistic society are presented in this paper along with the communist ideas about how a new system will make lives of the working class better. Karl’s life has been very hard for him because he was not understood or accepted in many countries at that time. His idea of conflict perspective has a great impact on contemporary sociology because he donated a lot of personal knowledge to create this theory.
Karl Marx and the Conflict Theory
Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Prussia in 1818 and was one of the nine children in the family. His family was quite wealthy because his father was a lawyer and had a successful career. Both of his parents were Jewish, but Karl’s father decided to turn to Christianity at the age of 35. When Karl was 6 he was also baptized along with other children. Despite the fact that he attended Lutheran elementary school when he was a boy, he became an atheist, rejecting Jewish and Christian religions (Manuel 1995). It was the first step for him in becoming the creator of such notions as socialism and communism, as people know them now.
As an average student, Marx was educated at home until the age of 12. Then, at the age of 17, at the initiative of his father, Karl entered the University of Bonn. His father wanted him to attend the law course and become a lawyer in the future. However, Karl was much more interested in literature and philosophy than in acquiring knowledge in law and justice. Karl Marx was quite a creative person and eager to devote himself to art and poetry. That is why he paid little attention to his classes and actively participated in a student’s life. Thus, after being imprisoned for drunkenness, financial debts, intruding and disturbing the peace, his father decided to transfer him to the University of Berlin, which was considered much stricter. In Berlin, Karl met a group of young people who influenced his outlook and changed his ideas about ethics, morality, religion, and politics. Those people challenged almost all the existing ideas of society and argued with a variety of questions.
Marx was an ambitious supporter of materialism and rejected the ideas about God and the influence of religion. He and his friend Friedrich Engels claimed that the physical matter is all that is true and real. There are many factors that led Karl Marx to his major contributions to sociology. He was a person with an overwhelming amount of life experience and knowledge.
After graduation, Marx began working as a journalist and writing articles to support his ideas. He was writing for the liberal newspaper “Rheinische Zeitung,” but soon Berlin government prohibited it from publishing. Later, when Karl got married and moved to Paris, he continued his writings, but in 1845, he was expelled from France (Marx 2013). There was no place and no country where his ideas would have been accepted. Forced to live in France, he went to Belgium, Brussels. There, he founded a Communist Correspondence Committee, aiming to bind all socialists from Europe. A lot of people were inspired by his ideas and in 1847 at Central Committee meeting in London, he and Engels were asked to write so-called “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei,” which is now called “The Communist Manifesto.” However, shortly after the work was published Karl was expelled from Belgium and went to France again. He tried to anticipate the socialist revolution there but was deported again. His native country Prussia refused to give him citizenship back and he went to London, where he stayed for the rest of his life.
Karl Marx held a very active life position. When he moved to London, he continued working as a journalist for “New York Daily Tribune,” he found the German Workers’ Educational Society and the Communist League’s headquarters. Nevertheless, his main interest was devoted to capitalism and economic theory. In 1867, the first volume of his famous “Das Kapital” was published. The main topics of that work included political economy, wage labor, the world market, foreign trade, and capital. He spent the rest of his life working on this book and its additional volumes, but he did not manage to complete them, thus, the last two volumes were published by Engels (Marx 2013).
Karl Marx became a founder of the conflict perspective or conflict theory. Conflict perspective sees social life as a constant competition and that every change which undergoes the society is provoked by class conflict. The thing that attracted attention in Marx’s views was his morality and insights into the relations between values and institutions. He believed that capitalism was the last historical stage before communism. The stability and order are the main features of functionalism, but conflict theory is about people, who constantly fight for power, money, wealth and other segments of good living. People who possess some values usually want to keep them, and people who do not have them always want to possess them. Conflict theory lies in reducing the class struggle and building an equal society, ruled by the working class (Turner 1985).
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According to conflict theory, social order is built on the domination of those who have power over those who are subordinate to them. The perspective is mainly oriented on social control, rather than on consent and conformity of people. All groups of people seek advantages for their own interests and needs, and they constantly face problems concerning the control of resources. Conflict perspective pays huge attention to race, class, and gender. They are the things that cause the fiercest struggles in society. Unlike other theories of sociology that focus on positive features of society, conflict perspective prefers to focus on the negative ones. As was mentioned above, conflict theory supports change in social structure, even if it leads to social revolution. It is the main feature which distinguishes conflict theorists from functionalists, who avoid any social change and support status domination and discrimination of the poor (Anderson and Taylor 2009).
Nevertheless, there are some respects which are common for both conflict theory and functionalism. The social world in both theories is considered a system of parts. Also, the goal of both is to analyze the impact and influence of some processes on the system as a whole. According to Marx, the conflict theory focuses on the conflicts and tensions among the parts of the system. Conflict sociologists, such as functionalists, tend to analyze macrostructures. They examine the tensions between employers and employees, social classes, ethnic and racial populations, nation-states, communities and other segments of social structure. The conflict perspective is oriented on big events that form different communities and societies (Turner 1985).
Although Marx ideas did not find any kind of support during his life, they found their recognition little later in Eastern Europe and Asian countries in the 20th century. Karl Marx saw the misery and poverty of workers and peasants at that time. He spent all his life for the cause of revolution, which would improve the lives of those people. He made a range of contributions into sociology and this question in particular. Karl achieved some insights into his contemporary society. The society from his point of view was held together more by the power, than by common ideas. Power was everything at that time (as it is now). People who possessed power could manipulate others and give them commands. Power lied in property, in owning the means that were vital for people’s survival and economic system. The power is in hand of those who possess factories and plants, land in agricultural societies. All the people depend from that power and let themselves be exploited. Marx emphasized that the unequal distribution of power is the driving force of conflict among the members of society. Marx claimed that every type of economic system that ever existed, such as slavery, feudalism, and capitalism, represent a typical order of relationship between people who own property and those who do not. However, it is inevitable that those who do not have power always seek to gain it, but when they achieve it, there is always someone who wants to take it from them (Turner 1985).
Many new fields of study were opened for sociologists by Marx. He provided a variety of questions for solving such as the way the resources are distributed; how exactly they are used to manipulate people; tensions and conflicts that emerge and how they influence and change the society. He was holding the idea that societies are not stable and governed by beneficial exchanges and democratic rules (Turner 1985).
Marx never denied that his thoughts and ideas were not completely original. He united other people’s thoughts into one major idea. He took the mixture of people’s beliefs and reflected them into his “Communist Manifesto.” This work presented the idea that all people are born free at the beginning, but despite that, the prejudices of a society seal these people in chains. In the “Manifesto,” Marx tries to distinguish communism from other social movements and proposes to people special social reforms along with the description of constant conflicts between bourgeoisie and proletariat. In the 1840s, Europe was influenced by the wave of revolutions and Marx used that as an advantage for promoting his ideas and point of view. He wanted all the personal properties to be abolished, and all ownership of all means of production to be centralized in the hands of the state. Besides that, he demanded the education of children to be free and child labor in factories to be abolished. Marx also presented the idea that everybody should be equally obliged to work and that the income tax should be limited by the amount of one’s salary. It is the system which is used nowadays: the more money a person earns, the more he should pay for taxes. It is a way to a stable and successful economy. According to Marx, sooner or later all the proletarians would get tired of being exploited and oppressed and would go striking against the bourgeoisie. As a result, the revolution would lead to the establishment of a Communist society.
Marxism faced a lot of controversial opinions. It made people think about their society and see it from another perspective. There were also several offshoots of Marxism. One group of people agreed with most of the ideas but still argued about some points. Another group agreed with other ideas but did not support all of them. The main area of criticism concerned the fact that Marx did not pay enough attention to the different cultural patterns and individual country’s traditions. He focused mainly on the economic shell, while he should have extended his views to non-economic issues.
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Another thing that caused a lot of criticism toward Marx’s person was the way he expressed his ideas. He used very open interpretations about the result of the proletariat revolution and was really vague in writing. People who chose to support him believed that his theories gave hope for the working class. They were inspired by Marx’s strong intention to make the lives of the poor better. Of course, that was also the reason why bourgeoisie did not support the idea of communist society. It was not beneficial for them in any way.
The reasons why in the 19th century Karl Marx’s ideas were faced with a hostile lie in the narrow pattern of thinking of the capitalistic society. Marx offered something fresh and new to this world, and that was worth at least a chance for life. He created a ground for conflict theory, which has developed since his times and contributed all his knowledge to it. People can agree or disagree with Marxism, but they cannot deny the influence of it on them. Although Marx did not live to see his ideas brought into life, he would be proud to see the successfulness of such communist countries as the former Soviet Union and China. Marxist theories left its imprint on so many countries and societies that it is impossible now to ignore their existence.