Karl Marx was born in Prussia in 1818, and is most famous for writing "The Communist Manifesto" with Friedrich Engels in 1848. His economic and social theories took hold in the latter half of the 19th century and inspired communist revolution in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe. While many of his economic predictions have yet to be fulfilled, his views on class conflict continue to influence sociologists around the world.
Class conflict lies at the heart of all Marxist social theory. As a witness to a maturing industrialized society, Marx became concerned by what he saw as the inevitable polarization of society by capitalism. Capitalist society was split into two parts: the bosses, or bourgeoisie, and the workers, or proletariat. The bosses owned and controlled the means of production and would exploit the workers in order to make a profit. This disparity -- where the bosses owned most of the stuff and had all the money while the workers suffered to make it for them -- inevitably leads to conflict. Workers feel alienated, trapped and without control.
Class conflict, in Marx's opinion, inevitably leads to revolution. In a capitalist society, workers must rise up against their bosses in order to regain control and value. This allows the workers to take over the means of production and force a redistribution of wealth in a fair and equitable manner.
In Marxist theory, the worker's revolution brings about a well-planned, classless society. This system is known as Communism. A communal society is based on the idea that every individual is valued and should be treated equally. Cooperation, rather than competition, is the driving force of economic development and social welfare.
The majority of Marx's critics argue against his view of capitalism as an anarchic system, pointing to the free market as an internally self-regulating system. They believe that the laws of supply and demand will win out over exploitation and unchecked monopolistic growth, and in many ways this has proven to be true. Also standing in critique of Marx's vision are the failed communist economies of Russia and Eastern Europe. Once heralded as the first in a world-wide revolution, these economies show that Karl Marx's vision is perhaps too simplistic for the realities of modern society.
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