Capitalism is defined as an economic "system of wage-labour and commodity production for sale, exchange, and profit, rather than for the immediate need of the producers" (Marshall, 1998: 53). As observed by Karl Marx, capitalism transformed a small proportion of a society's population into capitalists, or those who own the factories and industrial businesses, while the larger proportion of the population became wage labourers, a grouping which Marx called the proletariats. These workers gain the wages needed to live through the sale of their labour to capitalists in the capitalistic industries (Macionis, 1997: 76). Though both Karl Marx and Max Weber, sociologists living during the 19th century, observed this economic system, each conjectured a different explanation for its rise.
[...] The structure which Marx focuses on in his explanation of capitalism is the economic infrastructure, and the social institutions built upon, and further conveying, the ideas of this infrastructure. Max Weber disagreed with the oversimplification of history which Marx uses in his explanation for the rise of capitalism, especially Marx's belief that ideas simply reflect the mode of production. Weber believed that ideas also have a transforming power, and modern society was a product of both the combination of new techniques of thinking and technological change. [...]
[...] Though both Marx and Weber observed the alienation created by capitalism, Marx offers an explanation as to how this alienation will be overcome, and the exploitation of capitalism ended by a proletariat revolution resulting in socialism. Weber disagreed with this interpretation, believing that "socialisation of the means of production would merely subject an as yet relatively autonomous life to the bureaucratic management of the state" (Gerth and Mills, 1991: 49). In other words, the state's bureaucratic authority would expand, exercising greater control over each individual. [...]
[...] Though disagreeing on the rationality of the capitalist system, both Marx and Weber believed that this economic system created alienation and isolation. Weber felt that this alienation stemmed from the dehumanisation of individuals by the capitalist bureaucratic systems. For example, these systems tended to impersonally treat people as expendable cases rather than individuals. Though each sociologist agrees that alienation is a direct result of industrial capitalism, Weber's explanation for the rise of capitalism is distinctive from Marx's. Weber's main concern with Marx's explanation was its oversimplification of history and the dismissal of the transforming power of ideas. [...]
[...] In other words, Weber attempts to understand the ideas of Calvinism which gave rise to capitalism through the investigation of the interactions of Calvinists. Also, Weber's explanation is guided by a micro-level, action paradigm because he focuses his investigation of society on the social interactions between individuals, rather than on the overall social institutions upon which Marx's explanation is based. Conclusion Though both Weber and Marx characterised modern industrial capitalism as a system of alienation and isolation of individuals, each explained its rise differently. [...]
[...] Using the idea of materialism, Marx traced class conflict through the different stages of history in order to explain the rise of modern industrial capitalism. Marx explained the concept of class in terms of economic factors, defining classes in relation to the means of production, or the technological and social means by which production is carried out in a society (Giddens, Sociology, 1993: 757). He considered that a class is made of people who have a common relationship to the means of production. [...]
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