The German philosopher and sociologist Karl Marx (1818-1883) is the founder of conflict theory. His ‘theory of class conflict’ claims that due to society s ‘ never-ending competition for limited resources, it will always be in a state of conflict.
He focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production and the capitalists) and the proletariat (the working class and the poor). It means that in every historical epoch there are two social classes; the ‘haves’ i.e. oppressor or ruling class and the ‘have nots’ i.e. oppressed or ruled class which come into conflict that takes the revolutionary form triggering social change with the establishment of communist society (a society where the means of production is communally owned and controlled rather than just by few elites and powerful ones).
Hence, Marx argued that social class is economically determined and this economic inequality is the source of class conflict.
- Social class: A social class is an aggregate of persons who perform the same function in the organization of production. For e.g. bourgeoisie who owns the means of production and the proletariats who work for the capitalist bourgeoisie are two different classes as they perform an economic function.
- Class struggle: The perpetual tension, conflict, or antagonism between the owning and the non-owning class is called Class struggle. Not only is the class, but the class struggle also economically determined.
Major Works by Karl Marx
- The communist manifesto, 1848
- The Das Capital, 1869
Contribution to Sociology by Karl Marx
Marx contributed various concepts and theories in Sociology which are discussed below
The concept of ‘Class consciousness’
The term ‘class consciousness‘ was originally used by Marx to describe a situation when the proletariat becomes aware of its class position i.e. them being exploited by the bourgeoisie. Then, they unite sparking a struggle against the bourgeoisie that takes the form of revolution.
Theory of Class Conflict (also known as ‘Theory of Class Struggle’)
Marx argued that the history of all societies is rooted in class conflict as he mentioned “The history of the hitherto existing society is the history of the class struggles”. By saying this, he meant that at every stage in history, there is a conflict between the classes. Every society consists of two contendings (antagonistic) classes characterized by economic inequality, who come into conflict that takes revolutionary form resulting in social change with a classless society (i.e. Socialist society).
Karl Marx explained that in a capitalist society, there are two classes; the exploiter ‘bourgeoise’ (who are owners and controllers of means of production) and the exploited ‘proletariats’ (who are working class and works for the bourgeoisie). The exploited ones unite through class consciousness and start a revolution against the exploiter leading to the dictatorship of the exploited class (the proletariats) creating a classless (socialist) society.