The Theory of Social Conflict– A Marxist Perspective

While most theorists before and after him came up with several theories of consensus as a driving factor of societal change and the basis for the existence for society’s framework, Marx suggested the exact opposite. He propounded that individuals and groups in a society interact on the basis of conflict rather than consensus and this makes up his social conflict theory. By focusing on relations between the classes of the bourgeois and the proletariat, he highlighted their co-existence as a product of conflict rather than consensus. The famous notion of ‘debate’, also prevalent in Marx’s views, considers his framework as a ‘materialist’ basis for understanding change in human societies.

Marx specifically focuses on the class conflict and through his definitions, descriptions and analysis of the industrial class and the working class, he defines a capitalist system wherein the minority of the rich, oppress the poor who are forced to work for them due to their financial needs. This owner-worker relationship is not consensual or arising out of mutual trust, rather it is the infinite conflicts prevalent between the two that keeps the relationship strong. Describing a sort of chaos in society’s order and a bond wherein both have no option but to rely on each other due to financial and economic purposes and of course, the capitalist structure of economy, he states that there needs to be a prevalent conflict of interests where the owner has a relative advantage as the legal system lies in his favour. Describing it as anything but harmony, rather a constrained relationship of legal and social standing in the society as he describes his notion of the ‘superstructure,’ again circling back to class conflict. The only possibility that would resolve this conflict would be with the inception of a classless, socialist society. His debate furthers with the conception of the ‘commodity’ and in the case of a worker, he only becomes poorer as he produces more wealth. The more commodities he creates, the cheaper the commodities become.

His approach is however, seen as rather ‘materialist’, and in some ways even primitive as, through each society that he creates for Western Civilization- the ancient society, the feudal society and the capitalist society, there is a clear class conflict between the master and the owner. Considering primitive communism to be the most efficient and smooth, the rest which follow have been looked at from a rather narrow capitalist angle. While conflict theories still hold relevance and that too,a huge one to understand change in society, Marx’s perspective has been seen to be solely focused on the financial constraints, the economic divide and the distribution of power through the very notion of ‘money’. Even as he elaborates, in The Communist Manifesto, on the two classes he considers to comprise the world, it is with an emphasis on the material divide as the bourgeois class is the industrial class with factories and power although they are in minority, the proletariat, in majority is rather suppressed and subjugated as a commodity owing to their material disadvantage and need to survive in human society.

While this criticism can be understood as yet another point of a debate, I believe Marx’s point is anything but primitive. To categorize something that is rather the foundation of all further theories and classifications as primitive is akin to the categorisation of apes as an ancient primitive race, when in fact, they still exist. The very evolution of our homo sapiens race from apes makes them our roots, our foundation and our origins. Similarly, the class conflict and his social conflict theory, while focussing more towards the materialist aspects, does hint at the larger picture of the prevalent chaos under the illusion of harmony, a desire for economic gain and power that shall never cease to exist and the divides one’s culture and its interpretations and definitions creates. These ‘primitive’ barriers still exist and the class conflict, while not as explicit, still remain a huge part of the evolving world today. With every age, the classes are not abolished or broken down, the divide only ‘evolves’, transforms and takes a variety of forms with the evolution of mankind.

Picture Courtesy- Mental Floss



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