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A2 Unit 1 - Power and Politics

6) Marxist perspective of power

Karl Marx said there is a limited amount of power in society, which can only be only be held by one person or group at a time.  Marx said these “groups” are the working and ruling classes. Under capitalism the ruling class hold all the power and use it to exploit the working class. This is the cornerstone of Marxism.

Marx believed the structure of society is determined by the nature of its economy, or its “economic base”.  So if the economy is capitalist, the rest of society will act under capitalist values. This is because capitalism dictates the ruling class will own the means of production, meaning they can control their workers, this is why many countries have all the power concentrated in the hands of the ruling class. Ralph Miliband said the political power in society was also held by those who control the economic base.

Stephen Lukes’ was a Marxist, and his 3 faces of power help explain how the ruling class maintain control of power in society. However, it is the 3rd face of power which Marxism especially focuses on. Marxists say that the ruling class use their power to socialize the working class into believing something which goes against their will, the ruling class ideology. This is known as a “false consciousness” as the working class don’t realise they have accepted the ruling class ideology as their own, allowing the values and morals of the ruling class to be universally accepted in society, ensuring the ruling class retain power.

Criticisms of the Marxism

–  Marxism is based upon the idea that the ruling class own the means of production. However, some critics point out that in some societies there has been a separation of ownership and control. This is where the person who owns the business hires a manager, rather than running it themselves. This questions whether the ruling class actually own and control the means of production.

– Another example of how the ruling class might not own and control the means of production is that many large companies are owned by shareholders, many of whom are working-class, so the working class now own some of the means of production, this contradicts the Marxist perspective.

+ However, John Scott argues against these two points, saying that even when ownership of a company is fragmented, one ruling class member can still have dominant control, something which the working class don’t have the money to be able to do.

–  Marxism fails to acknowledge any of the other forms of inequality other than the class divide. For example, Marxism doesn’t talk about women’s, gays of ethnic minorities rights.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


One thought on “6) Marxist perspective of power

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    Posted by Jeanett | February 1, 2014, 5:42 pm

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