Marxism 101: Conflict theory

In the previous tutorial the Marxist concept of exploitation was discussed. From the nature of exploitation under a Capitalist system and that society can only have members of the Bourgeoisie or the Proletariat, conflict will always exist between the two classes. This is known as Conflict theory.

Exploitation necessitates conflict between the two classes because the interests of the Proletariat contradict those of the Bourgeiosie. The Bourgeiosie make profit by maximising the exploitation of the Proletariat. However, the Proletariat wish to sell their labour at the highest price. The ultimate goal is the same for both classes: to get the most value for money. But, the Bourgeoisie gets the most value for money by having the Proletariat produce as much for them as possible at the lowest price and the Proletariat gets the most value for money by producing as little as possible at the highest price. This is in direct contradiction of each other.

It is for the reason why Marxists will often mention the ‘contradictions of capitalism’. The contradictions of capitalism are the principles it presupposes that are in opposition to one another, which will ultimately result in crises that will determine its downfall. The contradictions that come from the exploitative nature of capitalism is not something known only to capitalism, but to previous economic systems (or as Marxists will call Modes of Production). Slavery and Feudalism involved practices of exploiting what was produced from the labor of others. And although capitalism has obvious differences and Marx acknowledges that capitalism is a progress from slavery and feudalism, the exploitation through class divisions was carried on.

The exploitation, according to Marx, ultimately leads to conflict between those being exploited against those doing the exploiting. This leads to revolutions that cause the economic system to collapse and become replaced by a new one. This occurred with slaves and slaveowners, Feudal Lords and Serfs, and Marxists believed this would occur with the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. Hence why this is known as ‘Conflict Theory’. There is much debate on the legitimacy on Marxists claims of the inevitable collapse of capitalism, since it has demonstrated such resilience for the last century through crises (the great depression, global financial crisis, and so on). However, Conflict theory remains a popular theory among both philosophers and sociologists.

The basics of conflict theory is based on the study of history, which is fundamental to the philosophy of Marxist thought. This is called Historical Materialism, which will be discussed in the next tutorial.

I highly recommend the website marxists.org if you are interested in Marxist literature.

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Andrew Tulloch

I have a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, with a Political Science minor. I am currently completing my honours degree in Philosophy.

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