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Class and Status by Karl Marx and Max Weber

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Marx and Engels expected the progressive overthrow of capitalism more than a century ago. Marx assumed a culture that was tailored to the nation-state and the dynamics of a capitalist economy would eliminate all social distinctions that impede the development; capitalists and workers would become nationwide groups. The analysis of England’s emerging working class revealed the power of vast and increasing numbers. Workers emerged as a significant agent of historical change as a result of massive deprivations. Under capitalism, Marx saw class struggles as the first chance for accurate historical prediction. He also claimed that the coming revolution would put an end to man’s exploitation by man. As a result, research, or science, and the strength of numbers were on the side of equality and justice, and society was reorganized.

Marx’s approach can be viewed as a group-formation theory. According to him, dominant classes are aware of their collective interests and have the organizational means to advance them, while oppressed classes continue to strive for class consciousness and organizational cohesion. The peasants and workers are ruled by and are dependent on the feudal landowners and capitalist who own the means of production. An owner’s class’s power is not limited to such a private exercise of economic supremacy. It erupts into a virtual dictatorship and a hegemon in the realm of ideas and social institutions. The premise is that when property rights are at stake, ownership causes the ruling class to think and behave in unison. Therefore, possession of property is the foundation for exercising law in all facets of society. However, ownership is just one factor in determining class and control. Deprivation is the other basis. Lack of familiarity and conflicting interests split the workforce in the crowded factories of the early nineteenth century.

Marx differentiated between class as a state of social life and class as a cause of collective action, between the fact that classes are unequal in their possession of the means of production and the significance of this disparity for a class as a spur to organization and action, in his early writings. Individuals do not form a community capable of collective action only because they share certain characteristics (like income, occupation, etc.). Rather, groups evolve when individuals with similar characteristics develop a collective consciousness and the ability to take coordinated action. Marx’s proletarian revolution prediction was based on the assumption that capitalist society must sweep aside any desires or social relations that might obstruct the establishment of two main classes. His economic analysis was designed to show that it was necessary in the long run. The bourgeoisie, according to Marx, would submerge all of human worth in the ‘icy waters of egotistical estimation’ in the upper strata. Factory output restrictions, which reduced it to a deadened uniformity, would have a similar effect on the staff. Their family life, religious values, and national identity would all be destroyed if they were subjected to such degradation. Now the workers would rise to reclaim their humanity because they had lost everything.

In Marx’s view this polarization of classes would lead to a revolution and usher in a new and more rational social order. He also combed the limited experience of English social history for proof that men’s basic interests are divided along class lines. He was persuaded that the growing distance between achievement and social organization’s responsibilities would force workers to embrace his doctrine. He also anticipated a revolution-born society in which ‘the method of material development’ would be ‘consciously controlled by freely associated men’.

Max Weber approached the topic from the groundwork laid down by Karl Marx. Wherever men are similarly placed by their ‘relative influence over goods and skills’, class situations exist. This regulation generates profits, obtains other commodities, elevates their social status, and contributes to a particular way of life. Many in a similar socioeconomic position are more likely to share similar sentiments and ideas, but not generally to take coordinated action. Class organizations, on the other hand, emerge only when there is a direct economic adversary, organization is theoretically simple, and specific aims are expressed by the intelligentsia. Weber acknowledged Marx’s explanation for such organizations’ performance.

Nonetheless, Weber’s approach differs from Marx’s in three ways. First, he dismisses the idea that a common class situation would lead to association, pointing out that many such situations result in amorphous mass reactions. The connection between class situation and class organization, according to Marx, is a necessary one that arises from the ‘rules’ of capitalist growth. For Weber this connection was problematic. Marx’s definition of class is treated as an ideal form, a rational construct based on observed tendencies, according to him. Second, Marx’s definition in economic determination of class conditions is broadened by Weber. Owning the means of production or being reliant on wage labor are also significant but unique circumstances. Beyond the land-labor-capital trichotomy that Marx inherited from classical economists, there are a number of property groups, commercial classes, and social classes. Weber agrees with Marx that class conditions are dictated by economic factors, but he adds that these situations are just as unstable as the economy. According to Weber, class situation is essentially a market situation, which varies according to individual experiences in response to changing economic constellations. Third, Marx believed that ‘bourgeois ideologists’ would contribute to the labor movement’s political radicalization. He argued that workers’ radicalizing experiences and ideologists’ radicalizing views are both reactions to capitalism’s persuasive framework. Weber, on the other hand, sees the reactions of the general public and a small group of culture-carriers as divergent. True, workers’ organizations with a class conscience exist, they are more likely to succeed if they are guided toward targets that are easily understood. However, these objectives are placed and perceived by men from outside their social class (intelligentsia).

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Weber agrees that workers’ economic and political unity will be able to transcend their initial interest division. However, religious or racial disparities stifle such unity. Successful class organizations generate new desires, including a new sense of social status. The process of organizing a class generates status differences that make it difficult to take coordinated action on a larger scale. Prestige is a foundation for community creation that lasts at least as long as the business situation. Weber describes a social order in which status is based on lifestyle, formal schooling, heredity, or occupation and is a ‘powerful claim to social esteem’. Typically, social inequality is used to describe the circle of social equals. Only certain types of acquisition and jobs are considered socially appropriate, and marriage and hospitality are restricted to that circle.

Status classes stifle the free flow of commerce by discriminating against ‘outsiders’. Aristocracies have prohibited commoners from owning land for decades. Land was intrinsically tied to the aristocratic way of life and remained a status symbol long after its economic viability had dwindled. Status groups based on ethnicity, language, place, or religion face similar considerations. When a choice must be made between social honor and economic gain, status classes may survive as long as social honor is favored.

The following is a list of class and status disparities. Economic interests unite people into classes. The obvious examples were classes focused on land ownership or inequality in a typical workplace. Marx recognized that status differences hampered class unity, but he only looked into these distinctions in his historical writings. He believed that his economic research had exposed the overarching limits of the class struggle, and thus of the ‘historical revolution as a whole’. Status classes, on the other hand, are based on personal experience. Before reaching adulthood, the person has taken part in his family’s claim to social status, occupational subculture, and educational level. Even if no deliberate effort is taken, families have a common way of life and attitudes. Families in similar situations, on the other hand, do not need to communicate and mobilize in order to discriminate against individuals they deem inferior. Weber recognized that even though they are torn apart by intense rivalries, their loyalty towards outsiders would remain intact.

The stability of status stratification is always vulnerable to the instabilities of economic change and social mobility, and men are always interested in using status distinctions to stabilize the economic advantages they have gained. Weber proposes a model of changing tendencies without forecasting a final outcome by assuming that class- or status-oriented behavior prevails only for a limited period. Note the comparison with Marx, who believed that economic determinants were decisive in the long run and predicted the end of capitalism on that basis.

Weber eliminates Marx’s reductionism by equating status groups with social divisions and seeing every group as a member of both the social and economic order. Groups are no longer considered an unavoidable side effect of economic organization. Rather, they are defined by mutual economic interests, a common way of life, and the exclusion of outsiders in order to increase the group’s chances of survival. Individuals should not build a sense of community simply because they share similar circumstances. A deliberate development of a shared consciousness and collective organization is needed.

Since Weber’s theory of human nature made the essential conditions of life the ultimate historical determinant, Marx saw all culture as a dependent variable. As a result, all theories embody and ‘refract’ the desires of groups such as capitalists and peasants, rather than intellectuals’ own. However, culture has its own set of material conditions: intellectual life changed in tandem with colonial expansion, industrialization, and the rise of the modern state. The invention of printing, the bureaucratization of government, the increased importance of formal schooling, and the emergence of a market for intellectual products are aspects of that transformation. Intellectuals are a social category in modern societies who are linked to the ‘material conditions of cultural development’, which allow for a great deal of mental and creative experimentation, both in freelancing and in universities. However, such liberty is accompanied by alienation. One writer in the United States has complained that the official indifference to matters of literary interest is evidenced by the lack of interference with authors. Osip Mandelstam observed that poetry is strength in the Soviet Union, where men are sent to labor camps simply for writing a poem. To be sure, intellectuals’ work may be appropriated by ‘money’ in universities and other organizations. Modern intellectual life, whether formally free or institutionalized, tends to shape cliques and schools of thought and style. And it is on this basis that intellectuals form class and rank distinctions that are distinct from similar distinctions in the broader society.

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Class and Status by Karl Marx and Max Weber. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/class-and-status-by-karl-marx-and-max-weber/
“Class and Status by Karl Marx and Max Weber.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/class-and-status-by-karl-marx-and-max-weber/
Class and Status by Karl Marx and Max Weber. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/class-and-status-by-karl-marx-and-max-weber/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Class and Status by Karl Marx and Max Weber [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/class-and-status-by-karl-marx-and-max-weber/
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