Was Marx Wrong?

December 14, 2011

Political economy, Political Theory


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Karl Marx predicted that the working class or proletariat would eventually overthrow the upper classes and establish socialist governments that controlled all means of production.  Marx believed that this would be due to a concept called class conciousness, the recognition of collective interests and personal identification with one’s economic group.  Marx thought that as nations became more industrialized the richwould grow richer at the expense of the proletariat, and this would cause the working class to rise up together.

My first criticism of Marxism is that Karl oversimplified the modern world’s very complex stratification system.  Marx divided the people of the world into two groups, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and completely forgot to take into account the many other factors that divide people into social groups, such as race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, and culture.  The American proletariat didn’t join the Soviet proletariat in revolution because they identified themselves first as Americans.

ImageMy second criticism of Marxism is that he incorrectly predicted what the modern world’s economic stratification would be like.  If Marx had been correct, the most industrialized nations in the world, countries like the United States and Great Britain, should have been the first to undergo revolutions.  However, instead of decreasing equality, industrialization tends to increase social equality.  Gerhard Lenski, an American sociologist, pointed out in his book Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification that industrialization usually creates a middle class of skilled and professional workers.  Anthony Giddens, another prominent American sociologist, argued in his book The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies that the middle class allows for more social mobility.

So, what do you think?  Maybe you believe that the Occupy movement is a sign of renewed tensions between the upper and lower classes.  Maybe you believe that mass industrialization only looks good when focused on a superpower like the United States and less appealing when we look at its effects on third world countries.  Maybe you believe that these third world nations are better off than they once were and will get better with increased industrialization. Was Marx wrong?

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5 Comments on “Was Marx Wrong?”

  1. andgoldberg Says:

    I think Marx has many valid points, but like you said, doesn’t take into account that our society has a complex social stratification. The proletariat and bourgeoisie is too generalizing. The occupy movement does sprout from the huge wealth disparity caused by the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Even though this is true, it’s not just simply a fight between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. There are so many different factors that play into the movement.

    Industrialization does look “good” in developed countries and superpowers like the US. I think industrialization would be beneficial for third world countries. These poor countries are constantly faced with deaths due to a variety of problems (poor living conditions, AIDS, etc.). Industrialization brings technology to countries, solving many of these issues. The wealth disparity is already present in the third-world countries, so why not lessen the impact of AIDS or poor living conditions by implementing industrialization?

  2. William Burton Says:

    Well, if you look at the occupy movement who’s primary concern is that the working classes are not being paid enough for supplying the capitalists with labor, you could argue that we are seeing the beginning of just such a situation in the united states.

    Also, the wealth gap in the U.S. is widening. while there is a middle class, a group somewhere between the poorest and the richest, that group is much more similar to the poorer part of our population, so much so that if viewing the data, it seems that we do not have a lower, middle, and upper class, but a lower, lowest, low, and upper class.

    If you look at the data of a Gini Index, you will see that the u.s. income disparity has been growing since the 70’s and is picking up speed.

    I think the claims you make in your blog post are too unsupported.

    • Karsten Smolinski Says:

      Yes, upper class wealth has been growing at a faster rate than that of the lower classes. What Marx predicted was that bourgeoisie wealth would grow at the expense of the proletariat. Instead, the Industrial revolution benefitted all classes of American society by eventually raising the standard of living for all Americans.
      As for America having an upper class, low class, lower class, and lowest class, its really much more like an American upper class, middle upper class, and lower upper class. You want to see a true “lowest” class go to a third world country. The daily plights of the majority of people in these countries compared to the primary concerns of the Occupy movement makes Americans look spoiled.

  3. afadel Says:

    I agree with the conclusions made in the post. I’d also point out that Marx misunderstood human nature. Focusing on political theory without a adequate understanding of metaphysics or ethics set him up for disaster. He failed to recognize that human beings do not work under compulsion. That human flourishing on earth requires independence and individual ambition.

    It doesn’t matter what country you look at, industrialization is always the cause of its success and of its citizens high standard of living. A prime example is Hong Kong over the past 50 years. Here’s a country with no natural resources or clear competitive advantage. But by advocating and pursuing free trade policies, while exercising limited government controls, the country has been able to prosper.

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