Essay on Assessment of Marx’s Contributions to Sociology – Karl Marx was undoubtedly a great social thinker, profound scholar and a prolific writer. He was an idealist who committed himself to the cause of welfare of the working community. It is more appropriate to call him a social philosopher than a sociologist.
Marx has almost no influence on the development of early sociology which was dominated by the evolutionists, particularly social Darwinists. The mid twentieth century witnessed the rebirth of Marxist sociology. He has exerted a tremendous influence on a large number of sociologists.
He has made scholars discuss the problems which he had raised, and has opened up vast new areas of investigation. “Most of the modern social sciences owe their existence in greater or lesser degree to Karl Marx” – (Duncan Mitchell).
The Contributions of Marx:
1. Marxism – An Influential Political Dogma:
The Marxian ideas still constitute the gospel of revolution and his “Communist Manifesto” still remains the handbook of the revolutionaries throughout the world. “Marxism has become the state dogma and the creed of political orthodxy in many countries.”
His famous slogan, “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win” – still holds the sway over the working masses throughout the world. More than 1/3 of the world’s population has been swept away by the most appealing Marxian ideology.
2. Marx has provided a Comprehensive Theory of Social Change:
According to T.B. Bottomore, a leading expert on Marxist sociology, though Marx’s theory of class cannot be treated as a theory of stratification, it can definitely be treated as a comprehensive theory of social change. It can be considered as a tool for the explanation of change in total societies.
This is reflected by the Marxian view that “Societies are mutable systems in which changes are produced largely by internal contradictions and conflicts….” As Abraham and Morgan pointed out, “even the worst critics argue that Marxian theory provides an excellent framework for the analysis of conflict and change in modern society.”
3. Marx’s “Conflict Theory” is a Good Alternative to the Western “Functional Theory”:
During the recent years, especially after sixties, due to the efforts of C. Wright Mills and others Marx’s writings became quite popular in the West including America. There is one main reason for this. As Bottomore has pointed out, the “conflict theory” of Marx served in all respects as a “counter theory” to the “functional theory” which reigned supreme in the Western world.
The functional theory stresses the importance of social harmony, social equilibrium and social stability but undermines the role of conflict elements within the society that would lead to the changes in the structure of society. Marx’s theory of conflict removes this deficiency and thus provides an alternative to the functional theory. Further, Marx’s influence on contemporary sociological theory is growing and “Marxist Sociology” has already become an established branch of the discipline. [Abraham and Morgan]
4. Marx has enriched the Realm of “Sociology of Knowledge “:
On the basis of his philosophical writings one can reasonably say that Marx has given a great contribution to the realm of “sociology of knowledge”. Marx has said that there is a close relationship between ideas and philosophies on the one hand, and the social contexts and the social structures from where they emerged, on the other.
He established this in his “German Ideology”. Marx extended this logic and said, “Ideas must be traced to the life-conditions and the historical situations of those who uphold them” – (Lewis Coser).
5. Marxian Approach is an “Integral Approach”:
Marx has time and again stressed that we should have an “integral view” of the society and not a partial one. According to him, society is the net result of the interwoven social groups, institutions, beliefs, practices, ideas, principles and ideologies.
Hence, these constituent elements should not be studied independently or separately but as interconnected ones. This integral approach of Marx is of great sociological significance, says Bottomore.
6. Marx’s Views Served as Warnings to the Capitalists:
It can be said that the ultimate purpose of Marx was to achieve the welfare of the working community and to lay the foundations of .a classless, casteless society based on social harmony and justice. He sincerely believed that his purpose could be realised by a historic class struggle and by the destruction of the capitalist class.
His powerful writings, earnest efforts to save the labour community from exploitation, popularisation of socialist ideology, predictions of the future, and his clarion call to the working class to unite and fight against injustice, etc. – created a sort of awareness not only among the workers but also among the capitalists.
They started taking Marx’s predictions as “warnings” and his analysis of the capitalist regime as highly suggestive to correct themselves. As a result, they changed their approach towards them, brought out number of labour legislations to promote their interests and undertook many of the labour welfare programmes. Hence, we do not find that kind of exploitation of the labourers which Marx had witnessed during his lifetime.
Criticisms against Marxian Views:
Marx and his thoughts have been widely criticised. Probably, no other thinker’s views have been as widely criticised as those of Marx.
1. Marxian Idea of the “Polarisation of Classes” and “Self-destruction of the Capitalist Class is too Simplistic:
Marx’s theory of class conflict and his political ideas have been highly criticised. “His theory about capitalist society’s inevitable tendency towards radical polarisation and self-destruction is too simplistic and fallacious. The most distinct characteristic of modern capitalism has been the emergence of a large, “contended and conservative” middle-class, consisting of managerial, professional, supervisory, and technical personnel.
Marx neglected the importance of the role of this middle-class. “Today’s capitalism does not justify Marx’s belief that class conflict is essentially revolutionary in character and that structural changes are always the product of violent upheavals
2. The Relationship between Revolution and Class Struggle is not Clearly Brought forth in the Marxian Works:
As Dr. N. Jayaram has pointed out, “the relationship between revolution and class struggle is problematic. We are accustomed today to regard revolution as a sudden seizure of power, after which radical changes are made.
However, the “epoch of social revolution Marx refers to in the ‘Preface’ must mean the lengthy process of transformation of one mode of production (and treated social structure) into another. According to Marxist historians, the transition from fedualism to capitalism in Britain, took anything upto 500 years – a very long revolution”
3. Too Much Emphasis on the Role of “Alienation “:
Marx misjudged and even exaggerated the extent of alienation of the average worker. “The great depth of alienation and frustration which Marx “witnessed” among the workers of his day is not “typical” of today’s capitalism or its worker….” (Abraham and Morgan.)
Further, the workers tend to identify themselves not entirely and only with their working class groups, but also with a number of “meaningful” groups – religious, ethnic, caste, occupational and local. This does not mean that ‘alienation’ does not exist in the modern capitalist societies. It could rather be said that “alienation” results more from the structure of bureaucracy.
4. Marx has neglected or underestimated the Role of Non-economic Factors in Social Life:
Marx has been criticised for the undue emphasis he laid on the economic forces or factors. He has ignored other important sources of power. His assertion that economic forces play the determining role in bringing about social change and in leading to the historical class struggle has compelled his critics to dub his theories as “Theories of economic determinism”.
As we know all deterministic theories, in one way or the other, are one-sided and misleading; Much against the assertion of Marx, Max Weber has established that even the religious beliefs and attitudes contribute to the development of capitalism.
5. Marx is branded as a Political Propagandist:
More than being appreciated as an objective writer, Marx has been criticised as an advocate of a revolution. He has also been branded as a political propagandist and prophet.
Marx’s predictions about the downfall of capitalism have not come true. “Contrary to his belief, socialism has triumphed in predominantly peasant societies such as Russia and China. Whereas capitalist societies show no signs of destructive class war.” Capitalism at the height of its growth is still strong in America.
6. The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariats in their Typical Form are not found anywhere:
It is also commented that the Marxist division of capitalist society in to two sections – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not seen anywhere. As Raymond Aron has said, “The analogy between the rise of proletariat and the rise of bourgeoisie is sociologically false.
In order to restore the equivalence between the rise of bourgeoisie and the rise of the proletariat, the Marxists are forced to resort to something which they themselves condemn when practised by others, namely, ‘myth’.
7. Marxian Notion of Classless and Stateless Society are Utopian:
Marxist theory of social classes is ambiguous and debatable. His analysis of the rise of social classes may be applicable to the Western societies but not to Asiatic societies including the Indian society.
And Marx’s classless and stateless society is Utopian. Nowhere in the world, including in the so called communist societies such as Russia, China Cuba, Poland and the like, such state of affairs exist. Thus, Marx has been proved to be a failure in many respects.
8. Different Versions of Marxian Thought are Confusing:
In the Marxist circles also there is no consensus regarding Marxian thoughts. In fact, there are different versions of Marxist doctrine – the Soviet Version, the Chinese Version, the Western Version, and the like.
There is no way of knowing how Marx would have reacted to this development, had he been with us today. Raymond Aron observes: “In all probability, Marx who had a rebel’s temperament, would not be enthusiastic about any of the versions, any of the modalities of society which call themselves Marxist. But which would he prefer? An answer seems to me impossible and, in the last analysis, pointless
The contributions of Karl Marx to the development of social thought can hardly be exaggerated. He was undoubtedly a genius and a profound scholar. It is not an easy task to evaluate the contribution and influences of Karl Marx and his thoughts on his followers and opponents. Abraham and Morgan observe:
“That he has profoundly influenced Western thought, sociological, economic and political, cannot be denied. Although many of his predictions have not come true, the fact that those who have read his works have changed the world also cannot be denied.
Even the worst critics agree that Marxian theory provides an excellent framework for the analysis of conflict and change in modern society. And Marx’s influence on contemporary sociological theory is growing and Marxist sociology has already become an established branch of the discipline.”
1. The German Ideology, 1845, with Friedrich Engels.
2. The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847.
3. Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848, translated by S. Moore, New Edition -1952.
4. The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850.
5. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852 with F Engels
6. The Holy Family.
7. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Translated by N.I. Stone, 1904.
8. Das Kapital, [Vol. I in 1867, Vol. 2 and 3 published by Engels in 1865 and 1894.]
9. (a) The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844  and (b) Grundrisse -1973 – These two manuscripts were published after the death of Marx that too very recently.