Sociology 250

October 7, 2002

Conclusion to Marx

1. Predictions

In the realm of predictions, Marx is often held to a higher standard than other theorists – since socialist revolution and communism have not developed in the industrial capitalist countries, the failure of this prediction is often considered to demonstrate the incorrectness of his views. But Marx tended to make more predictions than other theorists and many of his predictions concerning the future of capitalism have occurred while others have not.

Some of the of predictions that have taken place are as follows:

At the same time, some of Marx’s predictions have not taken place:

Other developments are mixed:

2. Concepts

Alienation. While Marx did not directly analyze this issue in his later writings, the concept of alienation has proved to be very useful in analyzing labour processes and other parts of society. Marx’s emphasis on the material roots of alienation (in work, in social relations, in organization of society) is a useful counter to the view that alienation results from personal problems or individual maladjustment. The later writings of Marx on capitalism also contain detailed analyses of the manner that work processes dehumanize workers and extract surplus value from workers.

Labour theory of value. While economists generally consider the labour theory of value outmoded or incomplete, it still provides a useful way of thinking about how value is created in human societies – by using human labour productively and creatively. Marx’s view of exploitation is still a useful way to consider how the workplace is organized and profits created.

Classes and class struggle. Marx considered these to be the driving force of human history. While other social movements (race, gender, sexuality) are also decisive, any analysis of the dynamics of capitalism has to include class as a key concept and class struggle as a decisive social relationship.

3. Analysis of capitalism

Division of Labour. Unlike Durkheim, Marx did not consider the division of labour in capitalism to create harmonies of interest and organic solidarity. Rather, Marx considered "the division of labor as one expression of society’s problem, while Durkheim saw it as the solution to the problem." (Adams and Sydie, p. 161)

Cycles. As noted above, Marx made contributions to the analysis of economic cycles, and was the first political economist to attempt to analyse these and see them as integral to the structure and development of capitalism.

Globalization. Much of the Marxian analysis of the importance and influence of markets – how they dominate society and how they expand to new geographic regions, new products, new populations – is useful in examining the roots and effects of contemporary globaliztion.

Labour process. Marx’s description of the labour process, with employers controlling jobs and their structure, location, and processes, and workers being required to work, having little control over work, and being exploited, provides a good way of examining the labour process in contemporary society. The division of the working day into necessary and surplus labour time, with struggle between employer and worker, helps understand work processes today.

4. Methodology

The methods used by Marx differ from those of many sociologists. Key features of his methodological approach are the following:

Dialectical method. Marx used and developed the Hegelian dialectical approach. While it is difficult to understand all aspects of this method and attempts to apply it may confuse, the concept of struggle and contradictory forces is a key to understanding social relationships. Writers using a Marxian approach look for inequalities, exploitation, and oppression, and the struggles and contradictions that result from this. While harmonies and solidarity also exist in society, many social relationships, ideas, and aspects of social structure are contradictory and a dialectic approach can help understand or explain these.

Materialism and human labour. While Marx may have underestimated the independence of ideas and consciousness from their material roots, the emphasis on the material roots of society, social structure, labour processes, and culture improve our understanding of these. Key to understanding social relationships are the organization of work and labour (both paid and unpaid), our connections with the natural world (environmental issues), and who gains and who loses from these.

Historical-theoretical method. In many ways, ideas and methodological approaches from the Enlightenment were well worked out by Marx. Marx combined the use of reason with careful observation of the social world – the study of history and the society around him. As he constructed his analysis of alienation and theory of value, he developed theoretical models using abstraction (concepts such as value, exploitation), these models also explained the historical developoment of capitalist society.


Many of the ideas of Marx have been widely applied in other sociological approaches. Look for ways that later writers incorporate ideas and concepts from Marx, argue against these, or combine a Marxian approach with other approaches.


Last edited October 14, 2002

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