Evaluation of Marxism

Marxism is a theory which builds upon the work and texts of the 19th-century theorist Karl Marx. 

Get started Sign up for free
Evaluation of Marxism Evaluation of Marxism

Create learning materials about Evaluation of Marxism with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    This explanation will work through evaluations of Marxism, exploring the advantages and disadvantages of the approach.

    • We will clarify the meaning and main points of Marxism

    • We will explore the importance and evaluation of Marxism, including its strengths and criticisms

    • We will look at the evaluation of Marxism and the family

    • We will study the evaluation of Marxism and education

    Evaluation of Marxism, in the photo is a close up of a statue of Karl Marx, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Marxism is based on the life's work of Karl Marx.

    What is Marxism?

    Marxism refers to the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, later developed by their followers to form the basis of communism (Oxford Languages, 2022).

    Marxist theory argues that currently, most societies are in the capitalist epoch. Within this epoch, the ruling class, otherwise known as the bourgeoisie, own the means of production.

    The means of production refers to raw materials and the elements which make up production, such as land, labour, factories, equipment, etc.

    The bourgeoisie then subordinates and exploits the working class, the proletariat, to maximise profits. One of the notable positions within Marxism is that all institutions in society benefit the ruling class and serve its needs and purposes.

    We will now move on to evaluate the ideas of Marxism by first exploring the perspective's importance to sociology and other disciplines.

    Take a moment to consider how the following institutions serve the needs of the bourgeoisie; the family, the media, religion, and the education system.

    Evaluation of Marxism: strengths

    The theories of Karl Marx have proven essential to many different subjects aside from sociology. Before delving into the criticisms, let's consider the strengths of Marxist theory:

    • Continuation: subsequent theorists have attempted to fill some of the gaps or solve some of the shortcomings of Marxist theory, leading to a long continuation of Marxist theory.

    • Framework: Marxist theory can be used as a framework for understanding the world.

    • Relevance: many theorists, some to be explored in this explanation, have found Marxism relevant to their own ideas, experiences, and current events.

    While Marxism is a popular sociological method, there are, in fact, many who critique the application of the approach. That will be the central premise of this explanation.

    Evaluation of Marxism

    The ideas of Karl Marx (and Friedrich Engels) put forward have not been free of criticism. In particular, Marxism has been evaluated due to focusing too much on class and ignoring other social groupings. The plausibility of communism is also called into question.

    Below, let's look closer at these evaluations of Marxism as a whole:

    • Class divisions: Marxism's focus on class divisions as the main source of social stratification has been criticised by theorists who believe other categories are more prominent dividers.
    • Gender, ethnicity, disability etc: Traditional Marxist theory focuses very little on gender, ethnicity, or other aspects of identity. It could be argued that, within his text, Karl Marx left issues outside of class struggle unaddressed.
    • Communism is unfeasible: Marx believes the final classless stage of society is communism, which is inevitable in capitalist societies. Some point to the Republic of China and the Soviet Union and argue that such a society does not work in practice.

    Karl Marx and Women's Emancipation

    There are many debates as to why, and whether, Karl Marx was silent considering the plight of women. Cox (2020) argued that Marx and Engels marched alongside women in Paris in London during women's liberation marches. Other Marx biographers, on the other hand, have alleged that Marx was sexist towards women. There is no general consensus.

    Marxism and the family

    The Marxist position on the family begins with the premise of exploitation. Marxists are critical of the nuclear family and the role it plays within capitalist society.

    Generational privilege and conditioning

    Through the family, the bourgeoisie can pass on wealth and privilege to their children, recreating unequal social structures. The family also serves the interest of passing on educational advantages.

    Wealthy families have the means to send their children to private schools and can afford experiences like field trips which working-class families may not.

    Another position many Marxists hold is that the family conditions working-class individuals to accept subordination. Diane Feely (1972) stated that the nuclear family socialises children into accepting hierarchy through submitting to parental authority. This is done through teaching passivity and trying to reduce all desires of rebellion. When children grow up, go to work, and enter wider society, they are more likely to accept the capitalist hierarchy.

    Cushioning the impacts of capitalism and the role of women

    Eli Zaretsky (1976) argued that within the family, the working class man had a space where he could be the boss, where he could soothe his frustrations about capitalism. This was a negative thing, because it meant the family absorbed the damage of capitalism, discouraging the working class from rising up against their conditions.

    Marxist feminists like Fran Ansley also asserted that, within the family, women predominantly suffer the consequences of men's unhappiness and powerlessness in the workplace. When men come home after a long day feeling alienated and frustrated at work, their wives, sisters or daughters often face the abuse.

    .

    Evaluation of Marxism and the family

    So then, what do other perspectives have to say about the Marxist view on the family? Let's consider Functionalism and widen our exploration of Feminism.

    Functionalism

    Functionalists hold a positive view of the family and are thus critical of the Marxist perspective on the family. Talcott Parsons even argued that Marxists are harmful and have misunderstood the function of the family. According to Parsons, the family fulfils the following functions:

    • It is the source of primary socialisation, ensuring a child grows up internalising the rules and norms of society

    • It also stabilises the adult personality, relieving adults from some of the stress they experience daily and regulating the emotional and sexual behaviour of the husband and wife.

    Feminism

    Feminists hold an equally critical position on the family and thus agree with Marxists on many of the positions they put forth. Many feminists agree that the nuclear family negatively impacts the lives of women.

    This is because families contribute to the social construction of gender roles and exacerbate gender differences in society. Capitalism often relies on a nuclear family structure in which the man is the breadwinner while his wife takes (unpaid) care of the household and raises the children, so he can devote himself fully to being a worker. Feminists recognise that this arrangement can disempower women, who are expected to do unpaid labour and rely on men their whole lives.

    There is also a branch of Marxist feminism which believes that once capitalism is eradicated gender equality will be achieved, as capitalism in particular benefits from rigid patriarchal gender roles. If women and men all work and earn the same income, women will be financially independent and will not be victims of patriarchy.

    Can you think of other ways families contribute to the social construction of gender? How does capitalism typically benefit from this gender socialisation?

    Evaluation of Marxism, a red bricked private school from the front, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Pictured above is a private educational institution. These institutions are one way the bourgeoisie can ensure their children have an academic advantage.

    Marxism and education

    Bowles and Gintis are two notable Marxists who have theorised on education, most notably developing the correspondence principle. This theory argues that students learn and internalise social norms and values within the educational system, which is accessible for capitalists to exploit.

    The correspondence principle essentially keeps working-class people "in their place" by preparing students for the workplace and life within the capitalist system.

    Consider the traits valued in students - being obedient, showing up on time, and not questioning authority. Capitalist systems also value these traits.

    Much of how children learn these rules is through enforcement. A child who does not show up for school on time, for example, will often face disciplinary measures such as detention or reprimanding from teachers and guardians alike. Adhering to strict deadlines, time-keeping, looking "professional", and receiving rewards and punishments directly linked to behaviour and performance are all aspects of the workplace that are normalised in school.

    Internalising all these norms, and with little time to do as they like, working-class students are less likely to misbehave or rebel as adults.

    Evaluation of Marxism and education

    But what do other theorists argue regarding the Marxist view on education?

    Deterministic

    The view put forward by theorists such as Bowles and Gintis has been considered deterministic by some - it presumes students are not active agents in their education and lack the ability to turn the tide.

    This is because not everyone is destined to become an undervalued worker with no autonomy. A working-class student could put in the effort, excel in their exams, obtain a Russell Group university education, and gain a high-paid position with authority.

    Different economies

    The prevailing modern economy may differ from those that Marxists like Bowles and Gintis, and indeed Marx himself, theorised about. It could be argued that the current economy needs critical workforces, not obedient ones.

    For instance, it is now commonplace for employees to have control of entire processes at work while also accepting responsibility for the outcomes.

    Evaluation of Marxism, a modern work space. open plan with many working on laptops, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Are the theories of Marxism truly applicable to modern societies where work is now done differently from the 19th century when Marx theorised?

    Evaluation of the importance of Marxism

    When evaluating the relevance and impacts of Marxism, we must account for the following:

    1. There are parts of modern society that Marxism struggles to explain.

    2. Marxism is a grand theory which attempts to define society in deterministic ways

    3. Not all evaluation of Marxism is negative. Other conflict theories, such as feminism, often align with Marxist theory.

    Evaluation of criticisms of Marxism

    When looking at criticisms of Marxist theory, it is also important to consider that:

    1. Those who criticise Marxism from the functionalist perspective can view society through rose-tinted glasses—often overlooking inequality and exploitation in the name of performing a function.

    2. Marxist criticism often overlooks how Marxism is relevant to modern society and the conditions of capitalism.

    Evaluation of Marxism - Key takeaways

    • Marxism refers to the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, later developed by their followers to form the basis of communism (Oxford Languages, 2022).
    • Marxism is a deeply influential theory due to its continuity, class-based framework, and relevance. However, it is criticised for focusing too much on class and too little on other categories, and for communism being unfeasible.
    • Marxists are critical of the nuclear family and the role it plays within capitalist society. The Marxist perspective on the family can be evaluated through the theories of functionalism and feminism
    • Marxist theory on education argues that the education system essentially keeps working-class people "in their place" by preparing students for the workplace and life within capitalism. This view has been deemed deterministic and outdated by some.
    • It is important to note that while Marxism is a grand theory and cannot explain all aspects of society, many other theories align with it, and criticism of Marxism often overlooks exploitation under capitalism.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Evaluation of Marxism

    What are the main criticisms of Marxism?


    • Class divisions: Marxism's focus on class divisions as the main source of social stratification has been criticised by theorists who believe other categories are more prominent dividers.  


    • Gender, ethnicity, disability etc: Traditional Marxist theory focuses very little on gender,  ethnicity, or other aspects of identity. It could be argued that, within his text, Karl Marx left issues outside of class struggle unaddressed.


    • Communism is unfeasible: Marx believes the final classless stage of society is communism, which is inevitable in capitalist societies. Some point to the Republic of China and the Soviet Union and argue that such a society does not work in practice.

    What are the strengths of Marxism?


    • Continuation: subsequent theorists have attempted to fill some of the gaps or solve some of the shortcomings of Marxist theory, leading to a long continuation of Marxist theory. 


    • FrameworkMarxist theory is a classic framework for understanding the world through a lens of class exploitation.


    • Relevance: many theorists, some to be explored in this explanation, have found Marxism relevant to their own ideas, experiences, and current events.


    What are the main points of Marxism what Marxism says about society?


    Marxist theory argues that currently, most societies are in the capitalist epoch. Within this epoch, the ruling class, otherwise known as the bourgeoisie, own the means of production. The bourgeoisie then subordinates and exploits the working class, the proletariat, to maximise profits.  

    What is the analysis of Marxism?


    Marxism is a key sociological theory but has points that leave it open to criticism. 

    What is the importance of Marxism? 

    Many theorists have found Marxism relevant to their own ideas, experiences, and current events. 

    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Sociology Teachers

    • 10 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner