Karl Marx vs Max Weber: Differing Views on Social Class


Karl Marx and Max Weber had differing views on social class, thus contributing a lot to the field of sociology in several ways. Basically, the most important contribution the two made can be reflected in their unique and separate approaches to the theory of social class that leads to inequality in society.

Karl Marx

According to Marx, a class entails the grouping of individuals in relation to their economic prowess in society (Turner 142). He observed that a class is a particular group of members of a society with intrinsic behaviors and conducts towards certain materials or property, which may differ from the interest of other groups in the same society. For instance, it is the interest of the workers or laborers to increase their income through increased wages, while the capitalist would want to continue earning more through increased profit. Such differing interest separates the two classes in the society, even if the two groups aren’t aware of these intrinsic happenings.

Marx’s view of social class is directly linked to the means of production, who owns that means of production (capitalist), and who does the production (laborer). He saw conflict in the society as related to agriculture, with land (capital) ownership separated the rich and the poor. This conflict continued after the industrial revolution, where the main capital became factories, with owners employing factory workers. It was therefore one social class owning land, factories, people (workers), and another social class owning only their labor and nothing more. Similarly, the land and factory owners would impose a tax, do agriculture, and have others as their slaves, while the workers and peasants would be enslaved and work to get wages (Turner 142). This class consciousness is engrained in the minds of the people, thus defining the legal, cultural, social, and political setup of the society. Interestingly Marx does believe that such people as information dealers, journalists, clerks, civil servants have no contribution in the production process in the economy of the society. This, therefore, means that they did not constitute any class. Basically, Marx was more inclined towards socialism rather than capitalism, as he predicted that there would be a revolution where workers would rebel against their employers (Turner 142).

Max Weber

Weber’s works contrast that of Marx. Writing approximately a half of a century after Marx’s work, Weber viewed class as directly based on three basic areas in the society: the ability to control (power), personal possession (wealth), and prestige (Bertaux & Thomson 162). In other words, Weber had the view that society is rooted on several layers, more than just material or tangible possessions. This is fundamentally different from Marx’s views. It is critical to observe that Weber’s response to Marx’s theory is in form of a critique, where he says that Marxian theory of social class is basically dialectical since it does not have some other important aspects that control the society as politics and status of an individual or individuals in the society.

Based on the central foundation of social construct, Weber believed that the social system is set in an economic system where private owners of property gain more economic status, which helps them to get more empowered in the society. He saw politics as one factor that would lead to a formation of a state, which would consequently influence the distribution of wealth (Bertaux & Thomson 163). And politics was seen as a derivative of power. Weber’s critique of Marx’s sociological view is therefore seen as an opposition to socialism, in favor of capitalism. In fact, his critical works are said to be anchored in the belief that socialism is an unworkable economic system (Bertaux & Thomson 163).

Works Cited

Bertaux, Daniel & Thomson, Paul; Pathways to Social Class: A Qualitative Approach to Social Mobility. Broadbridge. Clarendon Press, 1997. Print.

Turner, Stephen. The Cambridge Companion to Weber. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. p.142. Print.