1. On page 43, Coser quotes Marx as saying that one of the most important things to keep in mind for understanding society is that the “first historical act is the production of material life itself.” What do you think this means to Marx and why is it important for his approach to social theory?
Marx argued that what happens in the society is generally determined by people’s conscious aims. As such, the laws of society are the product of the interactions between the members of the society. Marx’s historical materialism is based on principle that social being determines social consciousness. Furthermore, the social being encompasses the material life of society. According to Marx, material life of society is more important than people’s productive activity and the economic relations between them. This idea is the basis of Marx’s premise that “life involves before everything else eating, drinking, housing, clothing and various other things. The fact historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself”. Arguably, the essential feature lies in the fact that society is composed of conscious human beings with primary needs that should be satisfied to keep them alive. The labor of these people produces material wealth. Marx argues that material production forms the basis on which the state, the legal conceptions, institutions, and religious ideas have been evolved. Thus, Marx considers material life more important than material production because the latter is the product of the former.
2. Marx’s class theory (48-50) was developed at the dawn of the Industrial Age (which is important to know). According to Marx, what is class?
According to Marx, classes are generally defined and structured on the basis of relations concerning work and labor and ownership of property and the means of production. For Marx, economic factors govern social relationships in capitalism. The classes in capitalism identified by Marx are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie refers to the owners of capital. They purchase and exploit labor power in an objective to accumulate wealth. On the other hand, the proletariat refers to the owners of labor power. They only have the ability to work and no other resources. These workers do not have any property and have to work for income in order to survive. The relationship between these two classes is antagonistic, leading to class struggle. The bourgeoisie seek to reduce wages and make workers work more intensively while the proletariat wants more wages and less work.
3. Where do classes come from? How might class relations be different today? According to Marx, why do societies change? What is the central process?
According to Marx, classes are the product of the forces that define the mode of production. As such, classes are an aspect of the economic relations in the society. Furthermore, Marx asserts that the various forms of struggle between classes in the society revolve around the control and use of property, the means of production, as well as the manner in which they are used. As such, Marx concludes that societies change as a sequel of class struggle, indicating that a society’s economic structure plays a central role in the process.
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