What Is Marxist Sociology?

Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2014
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Marxist sociology is a loosely-defined branch of sociology that promotes the idea of capitalism that is based on scientifically-sound principles of an equitable distribution of wealth. The political and sociological view of Marxism itself has been utilized by nations, such as with the communist model practiced by the former Soviet Union for Marxism-Leninism ideology, to promote various principles that Karl Marx himself didn't endorse. This makes defining Marxist sociology increasingly difficult, as in western nations like the US, the concept is often attributed to a wide range of radical political views. Nations with entrenched social democratic policies such as in the European sector often see Marxist sociology as a form of communism, and other viewpoints have typically categorized it as a form of historical materialism.


Reductionist approaches to getting at the essence of what Marxist sociology actually is define it as a form of conflict theory. Conflict theory is a sociological theory that emphasizes the idea that leadership and economic prosperity emerge out of direct conflict among individuals to dominate and influence each other. This seems to belie the underlying principle of Marxism itself, however, that promotes equality for the working class, which is more in line with consensus theory. Consensus theory is in direct opposition to conflict theory and promotes the idea that societies prosper most when they reach a consensus about fundamental truths. One of the fundamental tenets of Marxism, however, is the description of the struggle between labor and capital interests in economies, which is in line with conflict theory approaches to cultural growth.

Where the study of sociology differs in Marxist sociology is in that many people appear to take the approach too literally. Though learning sociology can be an academic exercise, applying its principles in the real world can be problematic. Some sociologists believe that Marxist sociology is, in fact, an approach to a pure, scientific aspiration of how a capitalist economy would ideally function. It is, in many respects, a critique of flaws in current capitalist systems, but not a practical model that can be used to correct them. The field of sociology also crosses many interdisciplinary barriers in order to be complete and Marxist sociology is viewed as being best defined through added understanding gained in economics, political science, and history as well.

The fundamental beliefs of Marxist sociology are based on historical materialism. Historical materialism states that all human social expressions and structures, from the fundamental social unit of the family to artwork and government institutions, are founded on economic need, and are directly influenced by class struggles among the populace. These beliefs are translated into Marxist sociology to include the ideas of the emancipation of the working class and the praxis of scientific knowledge, or its direct use to benefit the population as it is uncovered. Capitalist development is therefore tied inexorably to social class, and the more that these two arenas diverge, the more likely economic crisis and revolution are to take place.


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