Fact Checked

What Is Marxist Sociology?

Ray Hawk
Ray Hawk

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.

Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.

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.

A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.

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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Discussion Comments


I don't think Karl Marx ever intended Marxist sociology to be a solution for social problems. In fact, as far as I know, Marx did not believe that society could be fully understood because it's so complex. I doubt that Marx felt that there was a solution to social problems at all. I think what he wanted to get across is that social problems are bound to exist because of the tendency of the system to encourage conflict between people. But he doesn't really offer a remedy or an alternative system.

This is what I have understood from his works on sociology. I'm no expert though so if anyone wants to correct me or explain this better, please do.


@bear78-- I think this confusion arose because Marx's conflict theory is based on the concept of social classes and how the upper classes dominate over the others with resources and power. It's this idea that other ideologies have adopted and built upon. But it does not mean that Marx was a proponent of these ideologies.


I had to read the first sentence of the article twice! I thought that a mistake was made and that it should read "socialism" or "communism" instead of "capitalism."

I had no idea that Marxism actually doesn't promote communism. It's very true that this is what most people in the West think or assume. It's unfortunate that ideas that did not belong to Karl Marx were attributed to him like that. I'm happy that at least now I've understood what Marxist sociology truly means.

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    • Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
      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.
      By: axellwolf
      A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.