Discussion of Marx’s Understanding of ‘The Social’

Karl Marx was a German Sociologist, philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, journalist, and socialist revolutionary. He published with Friedrich Engels in 1848 the Manifest der Kommunistischen translated to the Communist Manifesto, which was been since renowned as being the most important piece of writing in the history of the socialist movement. Continuing he was also the author of the socialist movements equally as an important book, Das Kapital. The writing within this book by Marx and Engels formed the body of thought and belief known as Marxism. Firstly, the social is not something everyone can understand, there are numerous attempts of sociologists and other to tackle the definition of the social, however, the beauty of the social is that in many ways it can be subjective. There are no right or wrong answers. Renowned French sociologist Emile Durkheim developed theories of the social, that included functionalism, the division of labour, and anomie. These theories were founded on the concept of social facts, or societal norms, values, and structures, on the other hand, famous sociologist Max Weber’s understanding of the social, as he recognised that we need to understand individual meanings to understand how societies change unlike Marx’s theorem however he still had too much focus on society shaping the individual, symbolic interactionalism argues that individuals have more freedom to shape their identities. The social is still a question being thrown around today for answers, however, there is unfortunately just opinions and no real answer. However, within this essay, we will grasp an understanding of Karl Marx’s theory and interpretation of, the social.

Firstly, Karl Marx was most known for his work within analysis of society and the social however to have a complete understanding of his understanding we need to go back to the start of the human being and focus on his program for humanity, This work is equally as important for an understanding of the social as his other work the Communist manifesto and Das Kapital. Marx’s interpretation of human nature starts with human need and desire. He wrote in the economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844 saying ” Man is, first of all, a natural being. As a natural being and a living natural being, he is endowed on the one hand with natural powers, vital powers; these powers exist in him as aptitudes, instincts. On the other hand, as an objective, natural, physical, sensitive being, he is a suffering, dependent and limited being, that is, the objects of his instincts exist outside him, independent of him, but are the objects of his need, indispensable and essential for the realization and confirmation of his substantial powers.” (Marx, 1884). Marx is explaining how as individuals we go out and try to fulfil certain primary needs. This fulfilment in many ways opens the way for new needs and desires, human activity essentially struggles with nature that must fulfil our human needs, such as drink, food, clothing which then spread into us as humans, growing an intellectual side and artistic ability. Marx promotes this as people who discover themselves as productive beings who humanize themselves through their jobs and recreational labour. However human beings make their nature social while they naturalize themselves, by their labour and creativity achieving free awareness. Furthermore, becoming aware of his struggle against nature is what separates him from it. The dawning of consciousness is inseparable from the struggle. Man discovers “all that is called history is nothing else than the process of cheating man through human labour, the becoming of nature for man, man has thus evident and irrefutable proof of his own creation by himself” (Marx, 1884) To interpret what Marx is explaining you have to study all of what becomes before us and our inner social surroundings, making ourselves aware of our primary and secondary needs before trying to understand the social, you must require the skill set and knowledge of understanding why we exist, and our human nature. He promotes how it is quite simply impossible to have an opinion on the social without these tools. Because not knowing why we do certain tasks and activities on a day to day basis, or why we have a natural order and why we desire certain individual things.

Furthermore, with a brief understanding of human nature and human beings themselves, we can dive into the understanding of the social as a question. Karl Marx proposed answering that question with multiple theories across his career, most notably his theory called Marxism also known as the social conflict theory. This theory proposed by Karl Marx himself was about the conflict between the rich and the poor and from a sociological point of view it’s been portrayed as a political and economic philosophy. Which defined loosely translates to a view of the society as it is now, and suggestions of where society is heading. However, the danger from a sociologist’s point of view is we view the theory on what we already currently understand about communism and the politics and oppression of the old Soviet Union. However, Marx was not around to see communism in this way he saw it as freedom and a leveller in the way of creating a fairer society. Additionally, a way of getting the best out of all people, no matter the background. However, the best way to understand Marxism is to study the opposite, capitalism. Capitalism represents the type of society most people in the world live today with the exclusions of a few countries. On the other hand, Marx would describe capitalism as an economic system run by private ownership of the means of production. What this means is our society today is based on a few people who own factories, businesses, and other big corporations. These corporations aren’t run by the people who work for them such as the employees it is owned by the owners only. Marx was forming the ideas on capitalism during the industrial revolution when Europe, most significantly Great Britain went through a very dramatic change. Which when the old feudal system when lords of the manor owned the land meant that the ordinary people had freedom and rights to all the land. Which when the enclosure for these lands happened lots of people got kicked out and forced to move to the towns and cities and which were already getting fuller due to factories being built. As a result of this, there was lots of cheap labour happening, kids being forced to work, adults being forced to work long unthinkable hours for next to nothing, Which promoted to Marx that the industrial revolution was a capitalist way of thinking, a capitalist ideology, which went on two create two distinct types of groups, the factor owners who were middle class which Marx called the Bourgeoisie and the workers, working-class which Marx called the Proletariat. Marx was on the side of the proletariat because he saw them as being treated unfairly by the factory owners, not only did he only see them as being treated unethically or being oppressed he also saw the system as something that tried very hard to make sure the Proletariat stayed poor and the Factory owners stayed rich and got richer. This resulted in Marx’s views of capitalist society being based on a system that encourages inequality. As the rich will forever need someone or something to do the work they don’t want to do. This promotes the reason why Marxism is called a conflict theory because society is in conflict, the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, Marx also endorsed that at some point the working class would realise that they had the power to change things through personal development and education, hoping some members of the proletariat would begin to understand the system better and plan ways of changing/ erasing it. Marx believed that such significant change could only come about through revolution when eventually the workers rise up and overthrow those in charge and treating the proletariat wrongly. Marx also believed that in place of capitalism a new system would be established in which all people would be treated equally, and all the factories and businesses were owned by everyone. Marx as a result of this called this system communism.

In addition to this, a Manifesto with Frederick Engels called The Communist Manifesto published in 1848, argued that Marx was the prime writer however difficult to pin exactly where Marx work begins and Engels work ends. This manifesto was written in a time of political disturbance, where they both witnessed revolutions, coups, and rebellions. 171 years later and the manifesto is still relevant to this current day, due to Marx and Engels’s principles and their ideas of capitalism “resemble the restless, anxious and competitive world of 20th century global economy” (Cohan, 2000). The main ideas of The Communist Manifesto surround the ideas of society and the social in question. Marx generalization “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle” (Marx and Engels, 1848) in which fundamentally brought back classes, a hierarchy between people as Marx goes on to say while present society “sprouted from the ruins of feudal society this has not done away with the clash antagonisms”(Marx and Engels, 1848). Marx speaks on the social within question hear promoting that in the earlier periods within society there was arrangement of complicated class structures such as in the medieval times there were ‘feudal lords, vassals, journeymen’ Marx believed that these complicated class structures still exist today but in the two classes pronounced earlier the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Furthermore, the manifesto carries on to speak about the development of the industry has increased the strength of the proletarian, “the growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, makes the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating” (Marx and Engels 1848). As there are more of them, they are strong enough to come together and voice their opinions over reduced wages. By forming trade unions, Marx further argues the larger the union the bigger the chance of them changing the system. The Manifesto ends on Marx’s opinion on the social being questioned as he has tried to unite these proletarians and he was constantly upset by them competing with one another, trying to break the social justice they just received.

Criticisms of Karl Marx’s understanding of social stem from sociologists such as Max weber considered Marx choice of two social classes as too simple. Weber viewed social stratification ‘as a more complex interplay of three district dimensions” (Weber, 2005), the dimensions being class, status, and power. Marx was convinced that social status and power derived from a financial position therefore he didn’t find any reason at all to see it as district dimensions of social inequality. Continuing Weber opposed, as he acknowledged the stratification in industrial societies does have characteristically low status uniformity. Individuals may have a high rank on one dimension of society but a lesser position to another.

In conclusion, Karl Marx’s opinion on the social is revolutionary, not only did he not have as many resources as we have in the 21st century, he made some very important assumptions and correct predictions. Considering it has been 171 years since his manifesto has been released his work is still current and up to date. Whenever the question on answering the social, or the social in question his theories and work will still be relevant, his work is timeless. His ideas have been the inspiration to revolutions, coups, political systems, but unfortunately, they did not last, for example, the USSR was based on the communist system, yet it failed, and capitalism moved into the mess it left.


  • Harvard (18th ed.)
  • MARX, K., ENGELS, F., MOORE, S., & MCLELLAN, D. (1992). The Communist manifesto. Oxford, Oxford University Press.


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