Karl Marx & Conflict Theory: Crash Course Sociology #6


You’ve probably heard of Karl Marx. He’s remembered as the father of divisive political
movements, and his name is sometimes still thrown
around in American politics as a kind of slur. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about Marx the philosopher.
Marx the scholar. In the 19th century, a time defined by radical
inequality and rapid technological and political change
in Europe, Marx was concerned with one question: What does it mean to be free? Starting from this question, Marx developed
an entire theory of history. And in doing so, he laid the foundation for
the paradigm of conflict theory in sociology, ultimately pushing the discipline to look
at questions of power, inequality, and how
these things can drive societal change. [Theme Music] If Durkheim was concerned with social
solidarity, with how society hangs together, Marx
was concerned with freedom. The question that Marx asked was “how can
people be free?” Because humans aren’t just naturally free. When you think about it, we’re actually incredibly
constrained. Our physical bodies have all kinds of needs
we have to meet in order to survive, and they’re
needs that we’re not really adapted to meet. Like, if you take a hummingbird and put it in the
middle of a forest somewhere, it’ll just go on about
its day, collecting nectar and living its life. But if you drop a person in the middle of
the woods, they’ll probably starve. Compared to other animals, Marx thought, we’re
incredibly poorly adapted to the natural world. In fact, the only way for us to survive in
nature is to change it, working together to
remake it to fit our needs. This is labor, he said, and we must labor
cooperatively in order to survive. As we labor, we change the world around us,
and gradually free ourselves from our natural
constraints. But what Marx saw was that just as we freed
ourselves from these natural constraints, we entangled ourselves in new social constraints. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble to explore
this some more. Think about it like this. Ten thousand years ago, basically everybody
spent all day trying to get food. In this “primitive communism,” as Marx called it,
people were strongly bound by natural constraints,
but socially very equal. Now compare that to the Middle Ages when, under feudalism, you have an entire class of people, the nobility, who never spent any time worrying about where their next meal would come from. But you also have the peasantry, who still
worked constantly, making food. In fact, they spent a lot of their time making
food for the nobility. People were producing more than they
needed to survive, but instead of that surplus
being equally distributed, society was set up so that some people
simply didn’t need to labor at all, while others
had to work harder. That’s not a natural constraint anymore, that’s
a social one. Working together allowed us to transcend our
natural constraints, Marx argued, but the way labor
is organized leads to massive inequalities. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, central to the question of freedom for
Marx is the question of labor, how it’s organized and who it benefits, and how this organization
changes over time. This focus on labor gave rise to the perspective created by Marx and his longtime collaborator Friedrich Engels – a perspective known as historical materialism. Historical materialism is historical because it
looks at change over time, and it’s materialism because
it is concerned with these questions of material reality – that is, how production is organized, and who has
things like food, or money, and who doesn’t. Now, it’s not that Marx didn’t care about
other things, like politics or religion. But he felt that they were secondary to the
production and control of resources. And I don’t mean secondary as in
less important; I mean secondary because he thought that if you wanted to understand those things, you had to understand the material reality they were based on first. In this view, the economy – that is, the
organization of labor and resources in a society – was the foundation, and everything else
– politics, culture, religion, even families – was what Marx called the superstructure,
which was built on top of material reality. So when Marx studied history, he didn’t focus
on wars and power struggles between states. Instead, he saw historical development in terms of
modes of production and economic classes. Now, “modes of production” might sound
like they’re about how stuff is made, but Marx
understood them as stages of history. Primitive communism, feudalism, and capitalism
are all modes of production. And modes of production are all defined by
a combination of forces of production and
relations of production. Forces of production are basically the technical,
scientific, and material parts of the economy – tools, buildings, material resources,
technology, and the human labor that makes
them go. In modern capitalism, the forces of
production include things like factories, oil,
and the internal combustion engine. But they also include cultural or social technologies,
like the idea of the assembly line and mass production. The relations of production, meanwhile, define
how people organize themselves around labor. Do people work for wages, or does everyone
produce and sell their own goods? How does ownership or property work? Is trade a central part of the economy? These are all questions about the relations
of production. And these questions are important because, if
you think in terms of social constraints and surplus, the relations of production specify how the
surplus is taken from the people who produce it,
and who gets to decide how the surplus is used. And, in capitalism, these relations aren’t
all that clear-cut. For one thing, we don’t have legally defined
classes. In feudalism, being a lord or a peasant was
a legal matter. If a peasant didn’t work, their lord could
legally punish them. But under capitalism there aren’t any legal
rules about who labors and who doesn’t. If you skip work you don’t get tossed in
jail, you just get fired. But Marx was a historical materialist, so in his view,
even in feudalism, classes weren’t really defined by laws, they were actually defined by their place
in the relations of production. And when Marx looked at industrial capitalism
taking shape around him, he saw two main classes: the working class (or proletariat) and the
capitalists (or the bourgeoisie). The proletariat are defined by the fact that
they don’t own or control the means of production – that is, the materials you need to use
in order to labor and produce goods. One way of thinking about the means of production
is as the inanimate part – the actual, physical stuff –
that makes up the forces of production. So this includes everything from the land
to stand on while you work, to the raw materials you need, like trees, and coal,
and iron ore, to the tools and machines you use. To simplify things dramatically, the proletariat are defined by the fact that, while they work in the factories and use resources to make things, they don’t own the factories or the things they make. The bourgeoisie are defined by the fact that
they do own the factories and the things that
are made in them. They control the means of production and the
products that come from them. It’s this difference in who controls the means
of production, Marx said, that leads to exploitation
in capitalism, in the form of wage labor. If the proletariat lack access to the means
of production, he argued, then they only have
one thing they can sell: their labor. And they must sell their labor.
If they don’t, they starve. Now you might argue that, hey, they’re being
paid, right? Well, Marx would counter that they’re only
being paid enough to live on, if barely. However, Marx would also argue that they’re
being paid less than the worth of what they
produce. And it is that difference – between the value of
the wage and the value of what’s produced – which
is the source of surplus in capitalism. You know this surplus as profit. And the bourgeoisie get to decide what to
do with the profits. Because of this, Marx believed that the bourgeoisie will always be looking to make profits as large as possible, both by driving down wages and by driving up productivity. And this leads to one of the big problems
with capitalism: crises. Specifically, crises of overproduction. Other modes of production had crises, too,
but they were caused by not having enough. In capitalism, for the first time in history,
there were crises of having too much. We reached a point where the forces of
production were so developed that we could
produce far more than we needed. But the vast majority of people couldn’t
afford to buy any of it. And so we had crises where the economy
collapsed, despite the fact that there was more
than enough to go around. Crises of overproduction are an example of
what Marx saw in every mode of production: the contradiction between the forces of
production and the relations of production. Marx understood history as a series of
advances in the forces of production – like, greater coordination among capitalists,
more technological complexity, and more
organizational innovation. But eventually, he said, those advances always
stall, as the forces of production run up against
the limits created by the relations of production. For example, in the early days of capitalism,
the relations of production included things like private ownership of property, competition
among capitalists, and wage labor. And these things allowed for explosive economic
growth. But eventually, these very same things became
limitations on the forces of production – stuff like
factories, technology, and human labor. That’s because capitalists drove wages down in pursuit
of profit, and they competed with each other, leading to
a lack of coordination in the economy. So you wound up with a population that couldn’t afford
to buy anything, while at the same time being offered
way more goods than it would ever need. And, with the economy in shambles, there’s
no way for the forces to keep developing – there’s no money to invest in new factories
or new technologies. So the relations of production that created
economic growth became precisely the things
that caused crises. Marx saw this as an impasse that all modes
of production eventually meet. So how do you get a society to move past it? Marx said, the way forward was class conflict. History is a matter of struggling classes,
he said, each aligned with either the forces
or relations of production. The bourgeoisie are aligned with the relations of production, he said, because these relations are what allow them to extract surplus from the workers. So they’re quite happy with the situation
as it stands. But the proletariat want change. They want the further development of the forces of production – of which their labor makes up a large part – and they want a complete change in the relations of production. They want an end to exploitation and they
want the surplus to benefit them. After all, it was their labor that created
the surplus. In short, they want revolution. And so this is Marx’s model of history: a
series of modes of production, composed of
forces and relations of production. These forces and relations develop together
until they eventually come into conflict, leading to a revolution by the oppressed class
and the institution of a totally new set of relations, where the workers benefit from
the efforts of their labor. Plenty of theorists followed in Marx’s wake,
taking his idea of historical materialism and expanding it to better deal with some
of the areas that Marx had left out. Particularly interesting here is the work
of the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, who
wrote in the years preceding World War II. One of the big questions implicit in Marx’s
theory is just how the bourgeoisie manages
to stay in power so effectively. And Gramsci answered this with the theory
of hegemony. He argued that the ruling class stays in power, in part, through hegemonic culture, a dominant set of ideas that are all-pervasive and taken for granted in a society. While they’re not necessarily right or wrong,
these ideas shape everyone’s understanding of the social world, blinding us to the realities
of things like economic exploitation. But hegemonic ideas don’t need to be economic
ones. They could just as easily be beliefs about
gender, or race. And this points to possibly Marx’s biggest
impact. While Marx’s model of history is specific
to economic conflict, we can see in it the essence of the broader sociological paradigm
of conflict theory. Conflict theory is the basic idea of looking at
power dynamics and analyzing the ways in which
struggles over power drive societal change, as all kinds of groups, not just workers and
owners, fight for control over resources. Marx’s ideas gave rise to a host of conflict theories in sociology, including Race-Conflict Theory, Gender-Conflict Theory, and Intersectional Theory. These theories give us ways to understand power, control, and freedom in modern society, and we’re going to be looking at them over the next couple of weeks. But for today, you learned about Karl Marx, historical materialism and Marx’s basic
perspective on history. You also learned about modes of production,
their development, and how they fit into Marx’s overall theory of historical development,
along with class struggle and revolution. And finally, we saw how Marx’s ideas gave
rise to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony, and
to conflict theories more generally. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the
Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s
made with the help of all these nice people. Our animation team is Thought Cafe, and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank all of our
patrons in general, and we’d like to specifically thank
our Headmaster of Learning David Cichowski. Thank you for your support.

100 Replies to “Karl Marx & Conflict Theory: Crash Course Sociology #6

  1. This 'primitive communism' thing is completely debunked by archaeology. People enslaved each other as soon as they got smart enough to do it.

  2. Marxism is way more than just labor. Is a revolution and total disruption of normality Capitalism is your right to own land and what you worked for in exchange for giving services to their people if you can't understand this you must check the socialist plans to overtake america. ( crt ) critical race theory and many others… Marxism is the ideology thats holding you back… To become independent. It is the ideology of victimhood manifested in recent times public schools, university's the media etc this ideology was created to destroy the means of productivity in a nation.

  3. LOL!!! And look how far their theories have brought mankind to – more conflicts, more revolutions, more wars, etc. without any peace in sight whatsoever. The real issue at hand is simple… mankind DOES NOT have Peace with God!

  4. Conflict theory only restricts class struggle. All those particular conflicts are part of the same broader conflict. That being class struggle. So for real social change we should stop looking at every small piece of the pie, but rather see it all as part of the bigger picture. Which ultimately really matters.

  5. I love communism but Chin Peng, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong are bunch of jerks who doesn't really know this ideology.

  6. the people who will own the means of production are those that have good ideas, that is how it is and should be, not those that simply "labour", working gives people the right to an income but also a cut to the originator of the idea and this works in a way that when society is stagnating (not many ideas) the stagnation drives people to come up with ideas and create work rather than depending on the old.

  7. I love a educational program supporting a man born into comfort, never worked a day in his life, and wrote a bunch terrible anecdotal theory based on generalities of history revolving around his eurocentric 19th century mind. Way to promote a man responsible for stifling innovation and promoting what has become the ethnocidal and genocidal idealogies of international and national socialism.

  8. So the guy who buys the wood, metal, paint and rubber to make pencils as well rents/purchases the land and building for the manufacturing plant, and also is liable for any debt if the company goes bankrupt should make the same pay as the guy whose skills are limited to cramming a piece of graphite into a piece of wood? Seems legit.

  9. I'm sure it's been said many times in this comment section, but, socialism has been a complete failure with a body count around 100,000,000. Socialism concentrates too much power in too few hands with the result always being piles of dead bodies.

  10. Atleast the peasants got free tax filing. Surely America would do that for its people.
    H&R Block: Excuse me, can you speak in english I don't understand you

  11. Feel free .. to steal other people’s money and hard work via the freedom to vote for people who will force you to do it … freely …

  12. Tribal people didn't spend all their time searching for food, they had more leisure time than we do. The idea that life was 'short brutish and harsh' was just nonsense dreamed up by nobel knuckleheads who never knew anything about the way tribal people actually lived.

  13. Man I’m really trying to get some information here for my sociology class ,but man her teeth give me the hugest distraction please redo the video ohh man

  14. Goshhh ka pas pas ba nimo ante uy. balaw pakog sabot sa imong English arang ka fastering pa jd. Te report na nako ugmaa tabanggg hihi now mag lisod sad kag sabot sa akong comment pangutan a nalang si Sir Marx. Peace ante

  15. You just scared all the capitalist fat pigs doing nothing and owning big companies/factories/farms run by their workers. They steal the fruits of labor of those workers and pay the workers only 2% of the profit and keep the rest. A worker is free either if he gets all profit made from his work or he just seize the jeans of production and abolish the concept of profit and loss once and for all. The end.

  16. This presentation pretty good Idea about Karl Marx and how looked at the sociological evolution in a more scientific way through the tools of production, labour and how the capitalist economy is going to grow like a Frankenstein and meltdown by it's own weight, an idea put forward more than 150, years ago, incredible,and true

  17. If I had one critique on these videos…..
    Why do you feel you have to talk as fast as you possibly can?
    Take a breath, enunciate. Your videos will be much better but, dare I say, easier to listen to.

  18. This woman in this video talks to fast! I'm trying to take notes, but I have to rewind the video because she rushes it through. Besides this, it is a good video with great information.

  19. But if I am a "capitalist", and am taking the risk in creating a business, then why should I NOT persue profits?

  20. To me, before any thought, Marxism is the denial of reductionism. The society does not reduce to the human individual. Society is a massive creature that has his own intentions. To belong to a society motivates the individual to exist. Perhaps Marxism is how the individual relates (or even how to communicate) with the social creature. As a very broad thought (another way of saying philosophy) Marxism brought central and radically "the real world" to the people. This was not the case in his time with thinkers. There was the idea of Truth (something very platonic. That is to say, if we pursue language (and therefore truth) we will end up with wisdom.) Truth overcomes all forces despite how the real world looks. But then Marx comes along and make this grand narrative and argues that: the real world is indeed what it looks like. There are no forces that the wisdom can reveal to us that we do not know. Of course the trick here is the question who is in the know? The people are in the know? But then they don't have time to brush up their idealogy.

  21. I might disagree with just about all of Marx's ideas, but I very much encourage clear concise videos such as this to get at what Marx actually believed. Thanks for a well-made video!

  22. If you have a hard time understanding Karl Marx and what he was saying & terminology meant, and would better understand through scales & graphs just look up "Ecological Economics" and it's "Three Factors of Production" and apply that to history & cultures.

  23. You are very helpful but at the same time very fast can you slow down a little so that it is easier to grasp information the first time rather than having to pause and rewind because you speeding. Thank you. @ CrashCourse

    But I also noticed it's not just you but many of the CrashCourse speakers that are unnaturally fast when talking🙆🏾‍♀️

  24. You can live in communism at any time by joining with like minds and doing it. For some reason communists think they have to take over governments to get what they want. For that reason you should oppose communism.

  25. Marx theories apply to today’s society especially with a wage gap. CEOs make millions like GMs make 22 mil a year. I think his theories get a bad name cause of the Soviet Union and how bad and corrupt they were and the dictator Stalin. And then bleeding out money to the military so they couldn’t feed people. China is ran by a dictator in a way. But his theories do make sense and is sad that it got tainted by the Soviet Union

  26. As I said before, Marxism wants to do philosophy not with language but with brutal (seemingly real) threat of over throw of the upper class with the masses taking to arms. That is the only force behind Marxism, as Marx intended. Before Marx, one way or another thinkers sided with God, therefore feudal society with king (some type of divine). On the other hand, Marx sided with Man which will be, again, the brutal history maker. Action is the primary mover. Language is secondary. We record with language the actions of the world, but it comes only after the actions ((or not)).

  27. This girl needs to learn how to SLOW DOWN! As a college student trying to take copious notes, it's hard to keep up when things are going by in seconds. Its annoying to have to pause, rewind, and listen all over again to get everything that is being said.

  28. Marx assumed that if power goes into the hand of proletariat, corruption will end, which is silly idea. As long as someone has power, corruption will remain. Power being equally distributed to everyone is not practical, democracy is as close as it get in distributing the power. Capitalism is also not very good idea. True Capitalism enhances already existing class differences. In a perfect society there will be some birth rights given to population like Education and health care, and minimum wedges, which will be controlled by government and everything else will work as a free economy. So in terms of basic needs it will be socialist but in every other sense it will be socialist.

  29. The problems of exploitation of workers doesn't have to be solved by Marksist ideas. The problems of exploitation of workers in America was solved by organized labor.

  30. The marxist communism that governs in Cuba since 1959 and in Venezuela since 1999 is the total violation of human rights.

    Karl Marx is the walking dead.

  31. Karl Marx ideology works in A PERFECT SOCIETY WHERE EVERYONE IS SELFLESS AND GOOD ….. hence it never works ….. instead it always leads to communism and dictatorship… Stalin , mousellini , Che Guevara , HITLER … hence Marx ideology even if not bad or good on its own ALMOST ALWAYS LEAD TO EVIL

  32. Karl Marx TALKED THE PROBLEM CORRECTLY ( power inequality among rich and poor )
    but HIS SOLUTION WAS WRONG …. ( take power from rich and then give it to government that works for all people … but That also means take power from elites but give the power to dictator of government instead who IDEALLY should be good and work for all people but as history tells THAT POWER ONCE GIVEN TO DICTATOR he takes the power for himself and does the same oppression to public ,,, so basically take power from one person and give it to another ) that’s why Marxism never works

  33. This is one of the smoothest introduction sociology course for somewhat-beginners. Though how I wish that there were a transcription and references down below for further reading and using in term papers 🙂 please make that happen, the internet :')

  34. Is there a conflict paradigm, based around the theories of Thomas Schelling or Gary Becker? Namely, are there Schelling Points, or focal points within social dimensions, and how does social location seek to determine values, since value is what economists base their theory around?

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