Comparison of Weber’s and Marx’s Perspective on the “Conflict Theory”


A conflict theory is a theory describing the role exercised by a person or group of people to influence and control others in producing social order. Otomar and Paul (2002) say that a society functions so that each of the social individuals or groups struggle to maximize their benefits (what is referred as capitalism), developing the social changes which are demonstrated in politics and revolutions.

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The “conflict theory” was a perspective developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and was associated with both Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Max Weber (early 1900 century). The conflict theory is found to be one of the sociological models which are used today to understand the social world/society. It’s based mainly on three major components: firstly conflict is a common social feature which describes our society happenings. Secondly conflict describes the different social groups we have in our society which tend to have different conflicting values and interests and how this affects people who are living in the same community. And lastly the third component shows how the different powerful and the subordinate social groups in our society compete for the limited available resources in the society. The importance of sociology as a science is to study people in different social groups, and how this people interacts with each other in the sharing the limited resources in the society (Otomar and Paul, 2002).

Karl Marx a Germany socialist, who proclaimed himself as a philosopher and an economist, used two terms to describe the major classes of the society which were; Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. These terms referred to the Capitalists, the employers of poor laborers, and the producers with ownership of the machinery, tools of production and the skills, and the wage laborers themselves who actually survive by working for these capitalists. Six elements are used in Marx’s view of class struggle; first classes are dominance and directive relationships of the people in our society based on property ownership. Secondly another class describes groupings of individuals who tend to have shared life situations, thus interests. Thirdly these social classes are however antagonistic by the fact that they are focused in diversified interests towards the community resources. Fourthly the development of the two different but opposing social classes lies on mainly their struggle to survive in the community, which leads to deletion of all social relationship which is essential to govern the modern society. Fifthly in the modern society economical organization, governance and power is thus the main idea which is interpreted in the class struggle demonstrating the dominance ideas. And finally there is development of the dominance structural classes seen in the modern society.

These six elements described above led to Karl Marx describing history as a class of struggles. Later the guidebook written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1825-95) in 1800s suggested that a given course of action can be followed by the proletariat to overthrow communism and lead to a classless society. Marx here using the economic structure of the society described how the social capitalism lies in the power of private property, where the capitalists misuse the workers. This was shown by the virtue that the capital, owned by a simple minority in the society, was used to exploit the workers who are the majority by creating huge margins of profits and paying them what is less for their labor (Otomar and Paul, 2002).

Then he classified the two as; material forces of production and social sources of production, referring to the means of production and division of labor and specialization respectively leading to this social relationship. As a result of this there is development of political oppression leading to the economic power where the capitalist have the opportunity to safeguard their economic interests. This political oppression takes place in the society in more different ways such as: religion society tends to serve these very capitalist interests by pacifying the majority of workers population; and the elites are either paid directly or indirectly by capitalists, spending their time and knowledge/skills in emphasis and justification to the society the existing social and economic arrangements (Rummel, 1991).

On the other hand Max Weber used three concepts of social relationship which are; power, group status/honor and class to describe the source of the social classes as they appear in the modern society. He suggested that all communities have their resources distributed unequally based on the three concepts listed above, most specifically power, which literally refers to the act of a chance of a man or a group of men to acquire their will in the society even when the other people in the same society who are participating in the same are against. But classes which emerge as a result of social action are due to the difference on the ownership or lack of ownership of properties hence the whole idea of capitalism. The status order which best describes how social honor is distributed in our society also may be used to describe how the resources in our society are distributed between the different antagonistic classes in our community.

Weber and Marx showed that capitalism requires the availability of a free but asset less labor, the sale of production factors in the market and concentration of all these factors in the market by the capitalist entrepreneurs. Marx also did not consider technology which is the major driving force for any given economy; neither did he put a consideration to the calculable laws nor the citizenship, social ethics, bureaucratization, and their antecedents’ components referred to as the Weber’s chain (Collins, 1998).


On the ideas of these two great sociologists, I agree with both theorists but partially disagree with some of the Marx’s ideas since he concentrated most of his attentions primarily to showing dynamics of capitalism but not following the preconditions for its emergence, in contrary to what Weber did. This makes the two ideas complementary to each other as the concepts not discussed by Marx were well tackled by Weber (Collins, 1998 pp. 39).


Otomar J. and Paul E. (2002). Using Conflict Theory. London, Cambridge University Press

Randall Collins (1998). Weberian Sociological Theory. London, Cambridge University Press

Rudolph J. Rummel (1991). The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices of Interpersonal, Social, and International Conflict and Cooperation. New York, Transaction Publishers