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Marx and Weber: Capitalism

A comparison of Marx and Weber's theories with respect to their ideas and interpretations on capitalism.

Marx's view of the industrialist society he lived in was one of inequality and driven by capitalism. His ideas and interpretations of capitalism derive from historical precedent and industrialism. He calls the capitalist ownership class, the bourgeoisie, owning the method of production, whilst describing the working class, the proletariat, who provide the method of production. He viewed this capitalist system to be an unjust and unfair one that exploited the proletariat to provide profit and gains for the bourgeoisie. Marx saw capitalism as only a progression of previous modes of production, such as slavery and feudalism, becoming a system of production of commodities which exploited the personnel for the profitable gain of the capitalist bourgeoisie. Inside the feudal and slavery systems, however, the medieval lords and slave owners were in charge of the welfare of their employees. Whereas, in the capitalist society he saw the capitalists taking unfair good thing about the workers, with a minority owing and monopolising the ownership of the method of production, whilst gaining big profits at the trouble of the workers.

Wage labourers produce commodities, goods which can be produced for exchange. The commodities can be purchased on the market, and the capitalist pays the labourer a wage. The capitalist gives up some of his capital to the wage labourer by means of wages in substitution for the use of his/her labour- power. Labour-power is thus itself a commodity; it is bought and sold

A labourer depended on the market value of his skills, or production, to make a living that your capitalist would sell for maximum profit. However, this profit did not feed back down to the worker, instead it went in to the pockets of the already wealthy capitalist. He believed that the personnel were exploited because of their labour in order to survive.

Marx believed that society had progressed through stages of history with each stage providing its own destruction to permit it to progress to a fresh stage. He believed that each stage of history only progressed to the next stage via a social revolution of some kind and gave it the word Dialectical Materialism. He believed that the economy and materialism are the driving forces behind historical change. He saw the main difference between men and animals, as man's ability to create his own living, in other words, man owns his own mode of production. However, he saw the employees ability becoming diminished in the factories and with manual labour, with the worker being alienated from his means of production by being given solely specific tasks to complete in a production line. Ultimately, he proposed that through the progression of history, capitalism would be overcome by way of a revolt of the working class to allow them to overcome their oppression by the capitalists, giving way to a fairer and equal society. He argued that economic structure should be planned to suit the individuals. Unfortunately in some cases, his theories were taken and twisted by others, giving way to a far more oppressive society, for example, communism in the Union of Soviet Republics (Russia) and the Republic of China, where the control of the working classes were still in the hands of the select few. On the other hand, Weber believed that Marxist theories were too simple as he thought Marx saw mainly monetary grounds being the driving force behind capitalism.

Weber's ideas and interpretations on capitalism are predominantly derived from his major work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05). From most of the readings done because of this essay, it could appear at first sight that Weber views religion as the driving force behind capitalism. However, this is too simplistic a view. Weber had not been only thinking about the role of religion in capitalism; he was also very considering discovering the values behind the individual's social behaviour. He saw employees doing what they do for their commitment with their family, which explains why people go to work although the work might not exactly be great and the pay not very substantial. Weber is more considering the actions of the average person and the affects of society on the average person; therefore, he defines sociology in a different way than Marx, believing that folks are shaped by their own motives and desires. He liked to make use of categories and typologies, using three main categories, tradition, charismatic and legal rational authority. Weber had a wide range of interests, class, social stratification, modernity and religion. Being interested in discovering why capitalism was a 'Western' phenomenon and developed in certain European countries during the professional revolution, he undertook a report of these countries. In his work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05), Weber makes a connection between protestant beliefs and the emergence of capitalism. Although religion didn't lead to capitalism, Weber suggested that religion can cause social change, which could fuel the procedure of capitalism. He uses Calvinism as an example of how change can be brought about. Calvinists believed that you were already predestined to go to heaven and were either one of the "elect" or not, before you were born. Nothing that happened throughout your life here earth would alter this election. Calvinism was a puritan form of Protestantism, focusing on self denial, effort and a predetermined selection for entry into heaven. As Calvinists didn't have any way of knowing whether they were area of the "elect", that they had to act as if they had been chosen; therefore, they lived good lives here on the planet and worked hard. It was this ascetic work ethic that Weber believes drove capitalism as making big money was a sign of hard work no play. Because they denied themselves any comfort and pleasures in life, the amount of money they had in addition to their meagre living expenses was ploughed in to the business making them different from other money makers, in very much that, they made money for money's sake which was not spent on the frivolities in life. Weber theorised that Protestant ethic gave rise, encouraging and promoting modern capitalism. He argues that formal rationalisation (the rationale behind making money) would overtake religion and get rid of it altogether. Weber saw capitalism as an activity of rationalisation and argues that we now have six factors which are necessary for capitalism to achieve success :

  1. The appropriation of material means of production;
  2. Market freedom;
  3. Rational technology (principally mechanisation);
  4. Calculable law (forms of adjudication and administration which enable predictable outcomes);
  5. Formally free labour (persons who voluntarily sell their labour-power but should do so to stave off starvation);
  6. And the commercialisation of monetary life.

All these conditions are necessary ingredients in the rise of capitalism in Weber's view. Weber also saw bureaucracy as playing a major role in capitalism.

Bureaucracy is the form of social organisation in and by which rational-legal authority is exercised and maintained. Additionally it is the proper execution which obviously takes hold with the advent of capitalist economic order. One does not cause the other to arise; they have a h3 affinity

Where Marx felt that alienation of the employees from thier products by division of labour within the capitalist system allowed exploitation of employees for capitalist gains, thereby limiting their true freedom, Weber believed that it was bureacracies and rationalisaton that restricted human freedom. Marx believed that man's freedom under capitalism was deceptive rather than true freedom. He believed that capitalist wage labour restricted the worker and was really a kind of forced labour as the worker relied on his wage to live. The worker could only sell his labour for the purchase price the capitalist would purchase this work or production and for Marx, capitalism was predominantly as system of commodity production and an monetary driven system.

Weber argued that workers lost control of their work through the forces of rational manipulated production and believed that it was inevitable that the bureacracy of the capitalist system would change processes in labour and production order to get the best profit. "But capitalism is identical with the quest for profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise". Weber argued that in a capitalist society the individual join the organised structures and orginasations which are put in place to ensure an effecient structure to ensure the best profit. By joining these organisations, the average person loses their individuality and get take off themselves and lost in the officialdom, and for that reason, become alienated.

Weber is commonly seen, or portrayed, as a lot more pessimistic than Marx. Weber sees society becoming locked in an "Iron Cage" through bureaucracy, rationality and authority.

This order is currently bound to the technical and financial conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with monetary acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it'll so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter's view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the "saint just like a light cloak, that can be thrown aside at any moment. " But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage

Marx was much more optimistic and saw the possibility of social change through a working class revolution, believing that social democracy can be an alternative to capitalism.

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