Marx/Engels, Durkheim and Weber

Marx/Engels, Durkheim and Weber
Social relations of production, or simply class structure, refer to the social relationships that people develop to facilitate production or delivery of offerings. From a Marxism perspective, social relations of production are created by bourgeoisie or capitalists, which include individuals who own the means of production, and the proletariat or the workers, which includes those who do not. Social class, from the perspective social relations of production, is the pattern of class relations that give a society its central character and is founded on the economy of any society. Marx used the phrase ‘mode of production’ to refer to a thorough organization of economic production in a given society and includes the means of production used by a given society, such as raw materials, machines, labor and the organization of the labor force as well as factories and other facilities. The social relations they give rise to a class struggle, which Marx argued that lead to the rise of proletariat and downfall capitalism. Marx believed that capitalist mode of production will be replaced by a proletariat mode of production that is based Communism, which involves collective ownership of the means of production (Marx & Engels, 1975).

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Historical materialism refers to the methodological approach of Marxist historiography that centralizes on human societies and their advancement over time. It presumes that they follow various observable tendencies. Historical materialism explores for the causes of advancement and transformation in human society in the ways through which people collectively produce the necessities of life. Social classes and the connection between them, together with the political structures and ideologies founded on and depict existing economic activity. Overall, Marx and Engels advocated to have recognized six successive stages in the advancement of material property in Western Europe. Marx saw that each epoch or stage introduced a new invention or created a new class that would eventually result in its collapse. Nonetheless, the collapse would not be a detrimental event since humanity at large would benefit with each step and advancement. Each passing stage would, therefore, improve the standard of living of the masses despite being doomed to its own collapse due of internal and class conflicts.
Primitive communism was the first stage and was characterized by proto-democracy, shared property as well as hunting and gathering (Engels, 1969). This stage ends with the development of private property, especially with the development of large-scale agriculture and the introduction of other productive properties. Slave society is the second stage, which marked the beginning of social society and characterized by class, statism, agriculture, private property, as well as authoritarianism and democracy. Feudalism is the third stage and is characterized by aristocracy, theocracy, hereditary clause, and nation-state. Capitalism was the fourth stage and was characterized by market economy, private property, wage labor, bourgeois democracy, and monopolistic tendencies. Socialism is the fifth stage and is characterized by labor vouchers, council democracy, and common property. Lastly, communism was characterized by propertylessness, classlessness, and statelessness.
In capitalism, the profit-motive guides all business practices. More so, individuals become freed from serfdom so that they can work for the capitalists and earn wages in exchange. The capitalist classes are at liberty to extend their laissez-faire practices. Although, capitalism, like slave society and feudalism, also has decisive shortcomings that introduce internal conflicts which results in its collapse. Capital buildup over time results in increased disparities. Additionally, since capital demands a return on investment, it also leads to increased revenues resulting from increased productivity by the working class.
The working class, which is a creation of the capitalist class tasked with production, is the greatest threat to capitalism. This is particularly the case when the workers are not paid the full value of what they produce. The rest is surplus value or capitalist’s profit, which Marx calls the “unpaid labor of the working class”. Capitalists are forced by technological advances and partially by competition to drive down the wages of the working class in order to increase their own profits, and this creates a more direct conflict between these classes, and gives rise to the development of class consciousness in the working class. The working class, through trade-union and other struggles, becomes conscious of itself as an exploited class (Engels, 1969). In Marx’s view, the struggles of the working class against the attacks of the capitalist class lead the working class to establish its own collective control over production.

Durkheim gives us a framework for making sense of the stability of life and the layers of integration, control, and regulation that maintain it (Lukes, 1999). Whereas Marx had an eye for conflict and disruption, Durkheim asks us to think of social solidarity and stability as something special to be explained, not as a default or taken-for-granted experience. For example, in the Rules of Sociological Method, Durkheim shows how crime is actually normal in society because without it, we would have no sense of what is morally acceptable. Durkheim’s theories remain central to a number of sociological subfields, including the sociologies of religion, criminology, law and deviance, culture, and more.

Durkheim attempts to determine the basis of social solidarity in society and how this has changed over time. Durkheim’s argument is that there are two types of social solidarity that determine how society holds together and what ties the individual to the society. The form of social solidarity in modern societies, with a highly developed division of labor, is called organic solidarity. Durkheim argues that the division of labor itself which creates organic solidarity, because of mutual needs of individuals in modern society. In both types of societies, individuals for the most part interact in accordance with their obligations to others and to society as a whole. In doing so, each person also receives some recognition of his or her own rights and contributions within the collectivity. Social morality in this sense is ‘strictly necessary’ for solidarity between people to occur. Without morality, societies cannot exist (Lukes, 1999).

The main substantive problem for Durkheim stems from an apparent moral ambiguity concerning the relationship between the individual and society in the contemporary world. On the one hand, with specialization and the highly developed division of labor, individuals develop their own consciousness, and are encouraged in this specialization. On the other hand, there are also moral ideas encouraging people to be well rounded, of service to society as a whole. These two seem contradictory, and Durkheim is concerned with finding the historical and sociological roots of each of these, along with how these two seemingly contradictory moral guidelines are reconciled in modern society.

By looking at morality, Durkheim is not pursuing a philosophical course, mainly in the realm of ideas. He is critical of moral philosophers who begin either from some a priori postulate about the essential characteristics of human nature, or from propositions taken from psychology, and thence proceed by deduction to work out a scheme of ethics. That is, Durkheim is attempting to determine the roots of morality by studying society, and changes in society. These forms of morality are social facts, and data from society must be obtained, and used to discover causes (Durkheim Lukes & Halls, 2014). The data used by Durkheim are observable, empirical forms of data in the form of laws, institutions (legal and other), norms and behavior. Durkheim generally adopted a non-quantitative approach, but in Suicide his approach is more quantitative.

In examining the roots of social solidarity, Durkheim regards the examination of systems of law as an important means of understanding morality (Lukes, 1999). He regards “systems of law” as the externalization of the inner core of social reality (solidarity) that undergoes qualitative changes from ‘mechanical’ to ‘organic’ solidarity. Since social solidarity is a concept that it not easily observable or measurable, Durkheim attempts to use systems of law as an index of forms and changes in social solidarity. Law constitutes such an index since it reproduces the principal forms of solidarity. Since systems of law can be studied historically and in contemporary societies, Durkheim felt that by tracing the development of different systems of law he could study the forms of social solidarity. From this, Durkheim begins to build a proof of the division of labor as the basis for the different forms of solidarity. He then attempts to show the nature of society, how it changes over time, and how this results in the shift from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity.

Durkheim does note that there can be problems in society that prevents division of labor from function as well as it could in modern society. First, there is anomic division of labor. When there are industrial and commercial crises, there may be a partial break in organic solidarity. Also, where there is conflict between capital and labor, this may be an unusual situation. Part of this is caused by the increased separation of employee and employer under capitalism, so that the conditions for a lack of solidarity are expanded as capitalism and the division of labor develops. This anomie is a sense of confusion and or lack of social regulation because of disruptions or rapid change in the division of labor.

Second, there is forced division of labor. This is where the division of labor is not allowed to develop spontaneously, and where some act to protect themselves and their positions. These could be traditional forms, which are external to the division of labor, or they could be castes, Weber’s status groups, or Marx’s classes. Any factors that prevent individuals from achieving positions which would be consistent with their natural abilities indicate a force division of labor. This could be inequalities in the structure of work or inadequate organization, with the wrong people in particular positions or incoherent organizational structures. Any interference with the operation of the division of labor that results in the position being filled by those who are not most apt for the position would be forced division of labor. Examples of the forced division of labor include societies with slavery or a caste system, where some individuals are prevented from participating normally in the division of labor. Interferences with equality of opportunity, such as discrimination in hiring or in obtaining educational opportunities, are examples of forced division of labor. Class and wealth also interfere with such equal opportunity, but Durkheim views this as abnormal and not the normal tendency (Lukes, 1999).
Having said that Durkheim was generally very optimistic concerning the development of the division of labor in developing an organic solidarity, Durkheim was also concerned with the state of modern society. The development of the division of labor did have the tendency to split people, and the organic solidarity might not be sufficient to hold society together. One solution for regulation that Durkheim discusses is the state. In some senses, Durkheim was a socialist, although not of the same type as Marx. For Durkheim, socialism “simply represented a system in which moral principles discovered by scientific sociology could be applied. While the principles of morality had to be present in society, the state could embody these in structures, fulfilling functions such as justice, education, health, social services, as well as managing a wide range of sectors of society. The state should also be the key structure for ensuring that these rules are moral and just. The appropriate values of individualism, responsibility, fair play, and mutual obligation can be affirmed through the policies instituted by the state in all these fields. The second major hope that Durkheim held was for what he called occupational groups (Lukes, 1999). The state could not be expected to play the integrative role that might be needed, because it was too remote. As a solution, Durkheim thought that occupational or professional groups could provide the means of integration required. These would be formed by people in an industry, representing all the people in this sector. Their role would be somewhat different from Weber’s parties, in that they would not be concerned with exercising power, and achieving their own ends. Instead, they would foster the general interest of society at a level that most citizens can understand and accept. What is seen especially in the occupational group is a moral power capable of containing individual egos, of maintaining a spirited sentiment of common solidarity in the consciousness of all the workers, of preventing the law of the strongest from being brutally applied to industrial and commercial relations. These associations could recognize common interests as well as common need for an integrative moral system. More so, moral system would serve to counteract the tendency toward atomization in modern society as well as help stop the decline in significance of collective morality.

Max Weber was exposed to four different methodological traditions used in the field of sociology directly or indirectly prior to his contributions to sociology. Most important of them are the idealistic method developed by Kant and Hegel, the positivistic method used by Auguste Comte and Mills, comparative method of Emile Durkheim, and dialectical materialistic method of Karl Marx. Weber was not convinced either with empirical arguments or with the rational approach to study the reality. He argued that behind every possible reality there is present natural causalities body of values forms of actions as well as source of motivations (Weber, Henderson ; Parsons, 2012). Therefore, every reality is a mixture of multiple attributes that cannot be studied either from rational stand or empirical standpoint. Weber asserts that since every possible reality has multi-dimensional aspect, no branch of knowledge can ever be able to study every possible dimension of reality.
Weber criticized the sociological commitment to the methods of science on the one hand and the application of the methods of science in the natural science on the other. He makes a distinction between the method of science and the philosophy of science. The methods of science are the steps, procedures used by the scientists to conduct research. The methods of observation, separation and verification are used in scientific research. To its contrast the philosophy of science is not concerned about the scientific procedures and methods rather it is concerned about the spirit and ethos of science. It believes that scientists being a professional body of people maintain objectivity while conducting a research. They maintain value neutrality and use relational rationality or substantive rationality while conducting research. Moreover, knowledge is absolute, and no possible branch of knowledge is absolutely objective or subjective. Subjectivity and objectivity are inter-twined and combined together explain the essence of reality.
Weber believes that sociology should not make an attempt to go for first rate generalizations to study facts as facts rather it must have to use subjective meanings to objective reality following spirit of science rather than the methods of science (Weber, Roth ; Wittich, 2013). To Weber mind always imposes a pattern on the sensory organs on the basis of which one explains the reality. Mind and matter, values and realities are complementary to each other. Thus effective negotiation between the both is the fundamental concern of sociological research. ‘Weberian’ sociology makes an attempt to establish interlink age between the both considering that sociology is concerned with subjective understanding of objective realities (Weber, Henderson ; Parsons, 2012). Weber believes that collectivity doesn’t have any life to think, feel or perceive. The basic unit of a social structure is social action. The concern of sociology is to understand the meanings associated with the action of the actor than mechanically studying action and its consequence using the methods of natural science.
Sociology being concerned with problem of understanding, Weber introduces the Verstehen method into the fold of sociology. He divides verstehen method in two types namelt direct observational verstehen and indirect explanatory verstehen (Weber, Henderson & Parsons, 2012). In case of the first method a researcher can look into the action of a body of people and predict the meaning behind their action and what they are going to do next. To its contrast indirect explanatory verstehen method should be used to understand the historic situations. The second method goes beyond observational method offering scope for the use of statistical method, historical method, comparative method, and explanatory method into the field of sociology. The essence of reality can be addressed through sociological research but not the totality of reality. Sociology must have to admit its limitations while conducting research on a given theme to have comprehensive understanding about it. The method of verstehen is a supplementary and not an alternative to other methods in sociology.

Weber believes that verstehen method may help a sociologist to gather sufficient information about a given reality and the information collected may be used by the researcher to construct hypotheses about the same problem to research on the same theme. Weber also believes that verstehen method explains the goal of sociology and sociological research to achieve this goal it must have to use a well-defined methodology and that methodology is as open and elastic defined as ‘Ideal Type’. Ideal type is a conceptual abstraction helping a sociologist to understand the essence of reality .The distinction between ideal type and actual type speaks about the intellectual dichotomy between Marx and Weber. Hence a sociologist requires a mental frame of reference to understand the essence of real capitalism in the real place. By collecting inference from the writings of others and adding to it his own observational judgments about capitalism, one can develop a mental frame of reference or a model or ideal type about capitalism to understand the essence of real capitalism implying that ideal type is a consciously developed model by sociologist to guide research.

Sociology can develop ideal type on the descriptive concepts used in the field of other branches of social science. Weber finds out that the concepts like capitalism, democracy, authority, bureaucracy, religion are loosely defined in the field of political science, economics and anthropology. Centering around them a sociologist can develop an ideal type and using it he can study various forms of capitalism. This approach will facilitate sociology to go for comparison on the basis of which generalizations can also be made (Weber, Roth & Wittich, 2013). This will introduce inter-disciplinary approach in the field of social sciences helping other branches of knowledge to take the help of sociological approach to authority or bureaucracy to research on the same theme in different other situations. Weber is the first scholar to conceptualize that sociology is not a prescriptive discipline rather it is a descriptive and interpretative discipline. A sociologist necessarily pursues a vocation he should not be guiding either social rebellion nor should operate as the high-priest of the society. Rather the concern of the sociologist is to conduct and guide research in order to study the essence of the reality in a value-neutral and rational manner.

Marx saw class divisions as the most important source of social conflict. Weber’s analysis of class is similar to Marx’s, but he discusses class in the context of social stratification more generally. Class is one dimension of the social structure. Social status, or “social honor,” is another. Both are significant contributors of social difference. Weber’s treatment of class and status indicates the manner in which the material basis of society is related to the ideological. Social conflict can result from one or the other, or both. Social action is motivated by both, though in some cases more one than the other. By bringing in status, Weber provides a more flexible view of the details of social differences, and their implications for the lived experience of social actors. In order to fully understand Weber’s perspective on stratification, it is important to understand the key concepts namely power, domination, communal and societal action.

Weber defines power as the ability of an actor(s) to realize his or her will in a social action, even against the will of other actors (Weber, Henderson & Parsons, 2012). Power relates to the ability to command resources in a particular domain. Economic power, then, is the ability to control material resources: to direct production, to monopolize accumulation, to dictate consumption. Domination is the exercise of authority. Possession of power in a sphere results in dominance. Weber articulated three ideal types of domination: charisma, tradition and rational-legal. Charismatic domination rests on the character of the leader. Through inspiration, coercion, communication and leadership, a particular individual may succeed in occupying a central role in the planning and co-ordination of social action. Traditional authority is based on the belief in the legitimacy of well-established forms of power. Tradition implies an inherent, natural, or metaphysical quality in the state of affairs that makes it resistant to challenges by reason. Rational-legal authority, which is shaped through bureaucracy, is based on a set of rules, and the belief in the legitimacy of the process of rule creation and enforcement. It tends to remain independent of particular individuals, because authority resides in the office, or the organizational position of the role and is exercised on the basis of knowledge and experience, not on personality or custom.

A communal action is oriented on the basis of a shared belief of affiliation. In other words, actors believe that they somehow belong together in some way. Their action stems from, and is coordinated by this sentiment. In contrast, societal action is oriented to a rational adjustment of interests. The motivation is not a sense of shared purpose, but rather, a recognition of shared interests.
Weber identified three aspects of class. These included a specific causal component of actors life chances; which rests exclusively on economic interests and wealth; and is represented under conditions of labor and commodity markets.1The possession of property defines the main class difference, since owners have a definite advantage and have privileged access to the sources of wealth creation, by virtue of ownership and control of the markets. Moreover, both forms of ownership yield advantages resulting from the ability to convert property to money. The property-less class is defined by the kinds of services individual workers provide in the labor market. Workers are classified as skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled. These distinctions are based on the value of different kinds of labor. Different wages result in different qualities in terms of the standard of living (Weber, Roth & Wittich, 2013).

Also, Weber did not believe that class interests necessarily led to uniformity in social action (Weber, Henderson & Parsons, 2012). Neither communal nor societal action is the inexorable result of class interest. Weber challenges, here, the Marxian notion of the primarily material basis of social action. He is not denying it outright, but rather, introducing an element of unpredictability. Weber did not believe that proletarian revolutionary action would arise as a certain result of structural contradiction. Communal or societal action may develop from a common class situation in certain conditions. Weber believed that the general cultural conditions played a large role in this determination. Intellectuals occupy a key position in this regard. Weber argued that the extent of the contrasts between the property owners and the property-less workers must become transparent to the workers in order for collective action around the issue of class to occur.
While class groups do not constitute communities, status groups normally are communities. Status is defined as the likelihood that life chances are determined by social honor, or, prestige. Status groups are linked by a common style of life, and the attendant social restrictions. Wealth is not necessarily the primary cause of status, though it is generally associated with it. Some forms of property ownership are connected with prestige, others are not. Wealth is a key determinant of the lifestyle differences upon which status depends. Weber notes that material monopolies are the most effective motives for the exclusiveness of a status group. Social restrictions, such as marriage patterns, residence, and so forth, follow from differences in wealth reflected in prestige.

Status distinctions are usually not ethnic. When carried to their fullest extent, as a caste system, perceived ethnicity is sometimes involved. In the case of caste, social distinctions are reinforced by legal and ritual restrictions. Caste usually develops into a functional system, by virtue of occupational differences. The dignity of high status groups is always worldly. It involves their distinctive life style, as manifest in patterns of association and consumption. Low status groups, on the other hand, project their sense of worth on salvation hopes. Their due, they believe, is guaranteed in the life to come. It is common for low status groups to believe that they enjoy a special relationship with their god or gods. Status divisions tend to codified on the basis of the stable distribution of economic power. When economic stratification is relatively invariant, status differences tend to increase (Weber, Henderson & Parsons, 2012).
Party class and status interests interact in the realm of the legal order, the arena of politics. Political power is, obviously, often based on class and status interests. Parties are the organizations of power. Their purpose is the struggle for domination. Parties commonly operate in the political/legal domain, but as an ideal type, parties are not restricted to this field. Although parties are based on class and status, they are usually organized across these distinctions (Weber, Roth & Wittich, 2013). That is, it is rare for parties to be based solely on class or status interests, such that a party of entrepreneurial class interest would be in competition with one based on high status. Since economic power binds class status together in some way, it is no surprise that parties reflect these complex patterns of interest.

Durkheim, E., Lukes, S., & Halls, W. D. (2014). The rules of sociological method: And selected texts on sociology and its method. New York: Free Press.

Engels, Frederick (1969), “The Principles of Communism”, Marx-Engels Selected Works, Volume-I, p. 81-97, Moscow, Progress Publishers.

Lukes, S. (1999). Emile Durkheim: His life and work : a historical and critical study. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1975): Manifesto of the Communist Party, Moscow, Progress Publisher.

Weber, M., Henderson, A. M., & Parsons, T. (2012). Max Weber: The theory of social and economic organization. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing.

Weber, M., Roth, G., & Wittich, C. (2013). Economy and society: : an outline of interpretive sociology. Berkeley u.a.: Univ. of California Press.


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