Brief Analysis Of Karl Marx's Views On The Relationship Between Social Change, Socioeconomic Class Structure And Ideology

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As James Farganis (1993) notes, Karl Marx "continues to be of interest . . ." (p. 27) to many sociologists. According to Alan Swingwood (1991), "During the course of the 1840's and 1850's, Marxism emerged as the first sociological theory which identified scientific analysis with the interests of a specific socioeconomic class . . . " (p. 61). Since the notion of socioeconomic class division is discussed frequently in popular subjects such as economics, sociology, psychology, criminology,communication studies, etc., it is important and interesting to study Marx's ideas on class division as they relate to the concept of social change and ideology. Rationale on Why Topic was Chosen While reading the works of Swingewood (1991) and Farganis (1993),it became a challenging task to see and understand how Marx's numerous ideas intertwined. This compelling challenge drew interest and therefore resulted in this brief analysis of Marx's ideas on the relationships that exist between social change, socioeconomic class differences and ideology, as we understood them. Drawing on Swingewood (1991) and Farganis (1993) to Understand Marx This paper is centered around the theme of social change, and how/if socioeconomic class and ideology influence social change or vice-versa. According to Swingewood (1991), "Pre-Marxist socialism lacked both a theory of social change and a grasp of society in terms of the relations between economic organization and the social and political system . . .basing the necessity for socialism on changes in human nature" (p. 61). In order to understand the quote, one must develop an understanding of the concept of human nature. According to Farganis (1993), Karl Marx and Frederick Engels viewed societies as being divided into conflicting and stratified classes on the basis of two criteria: ownership of the means of production - land,commercial enterprises, factories, and wealth - and the ability to purchase and control the labor of others. When viewed in light of Marx's and Engel's terms, human nature seems to be based on the goal of capital gain. When analyzing human nature and socioeconomic class division in terms of social change, Marx believed that ultimately, the wealthy gain the ability to influence important social institutions: the government,the media, the schools, and the courts. Those in power have access to the means necessary to create and promote a reality that justifies the exploitation of the lower class working population. According to Farganis(1993), this version of reality is so influential that even those who aren being exploited come to accept it. This understanding shows Marx's views on the way that social change is affected by socioeconomic class. Marx's views show how socioeconomic class division is crucial in trying to hinder change, socioeconomic class division is the primary means by which the powerful classes in society prevent protest and revolution, which often result in huge changes within society. As long as large numbers of people believe that wealth and success are products of individual hard work and effort rather than social inequalities, resentment toward the wealthy will decrease because inequalities are perceived as fair and deserved. In briefly reflecting on how this perceived relationship between socioeconomic class and social change, it is interesting to look at how the third variable of ideology comes into play in Marx's theory. According to Swingewood (1991), Marx believes that "Society is explained not through ideas but rather ideas through society: ideas have no history other than as elements of society and history" (p. 72). Marx and Engels viewed the theory of ideology as a relationship between social structure and thought systems. Further defined: "ideas are merely the passive reflections of an external economic order. Knowledge is epiphenomenal, the product of objective social interests and thus incapable of exercising an active role in society and social change" (p.72). Marx's outlook on ideology directly relates to knowledge, since ideas and the ability to think critically are generally associated with knowledge. Marx seems to believe that people acquire knowledge not necessarily in order to acquire more wealth and power, which, as seen previously, influences social change, but because of a collective earning by society to learn. Marx also puts great emphasis on knowledge in terms of concrete, tangible 'proof' of existence rather than ideology, which he says is, "distorted thought" (p. 72). Marx says, " . . . Life is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life" (p. 73). Although Marx's theory shows a direct relationship between social change and socioeconomic class, he outwardly says that ideology does not affect social change. When analyzing ideology in terms of socioeconomic class, Marx says ideology in fact, "mystifies real relations . . . of class interests" (p. 72). Marx strictly believed that, "the forces of production 'constitute the economic structure of society . . ." (p. 73). According to Marx a "thinker's" real motives for acquiring knowledge are not as a means of wealth and movement from one socioeconomic class to another, but that, "motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all" (p. 73). Reflection and Conclusion In looking at Marx's ideas it was found that Marx seemed to believe that, a relationship exists between social change and socioeconomic class, but he does not believe ideology influences these. In going over the literature presented in Farganis (1991), and Swingewood (1993), we found there to be little evidence presented by Marx to support his disbelief in ideology's relationship to social change and socioeconomic class. We would challenge Marx's view on ideology and say that it does,in fact, have an influence on social change. We believe that people not only strive to acquire knowledge for personal and social fulfillment, but people also want to develop themselves intellectually as a means of critically thinking about ways to acquire more wealth and power in society. People want to learn how to discover ideas on how to make business run better, and more efficiently. We see this process as ideology. People throughout society are striving to learn more in order to increase their capital gain, they are also going to create social change. An example of this is today's concept of education. More and more students are told that more education is needed beyond the high school level in order to acquire a good job with good pay, etc. Though there are still those who feel education is necessary regardless of capital gains, many feel it is a necessity because of the desire to better his or her opportunities further in life. This changes society in that more and more students are pursuing a college education and more and more students are entering the work force with ideas and critical thoughts on how to better business. As we see it, ideology is developed through education and knowledge and is a critical factor influencing social change and socioeconomic class. What place would Marx feel education has in society since he sees knowledge as having such little impact on social change? If Marx views economic inequality as an important factor in creating a system of class stratification, does a person possessing wealth and power have authority over a worker, therefore forbidding the worker from striving to raise to the next class level?

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