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Brief Notes on Karl Marx Essay

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”

Karl Marx, a 19th century sociologist, philosopher and political economist who suggested a theory explaining the conflict between capital and labour, and the role of classes in the state, has had a profound influence on political thinking all over the world.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in Prussia. His family was Jewish, but later converted to Protestanism. Marx read law at university, majoring in history and philosophy. He concluded his university course in 1841. A revolutionary, he upset too many governments on the continent and eventually settled in London, where he died in 1883.

“ACCORDING TO MARX, human civilization has manifested itself in a series of organizational structures, each determined by its primary mode of production, particularly the division of labor that dominates in each stage.

“Ideology functions as the superstructure of a civilization: the conventions and culture that make up the dominant ideas of a society. The “ruling ideas” of a given epoch are, however, those of the ruling class: “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of their dominance”. Since one goal of ideology is to legitimize those forces in a position of hegemony, it tends to obfuscate the violence and exploitation that often keep a disempowered group in its place (from slaves in tribal society to the peasantry in feudal society to the proletariat in capitalist society). The obfuscation necessarily leads to logical contradictions in the dominant ideology, which Marxism works to uncover by returning to the material conditions of a society: a society’s mode of production.

“The material conditions existing at a given time period Marx refers to as the means of production. Any given time period’s ideology is most clearly revealed by uncovering the material conditions of production: the means of production, as well as the relations of production (the ways the society structures the relations between individuals, particularly through the division of labor), which together make up the mode of production: “life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things.

The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself” (48). For Marx, it is the materiality of human production that directly influences ideology: “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life”. Felluga, Dino. (2003) “Modules on Marx, Introductory Guide to Critical Theory” . 17 Mar 2004

Marx states that Capitalist society is formed of the Owning Class (Borgoisie), those who own and control the economic functions of society and who can thus shape society to suit themselves; and the Working Class (Proletariat), the workers. These classes have nothing in common; they are antagonistic and in conflict with each other. This struggle will ultimately lead to revolution and the establishment of a single class society.

All relationships are based upon Economics – even family relationships – economics is the fundamental driving force, surpassing even religion which he described as the Opium of the People. Understanding economic relationships is a crucial step if one wishes to gain control of them.

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