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Marxist Theory of Power. Essential Ideas. Society is ruled by those who control the means of production – the economic base

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Marxist theory of power

Marxist Theory of Power

Essential ideas
Essential Ideas

  • Society is ruled by those who control the means of production – the economic base

  • Power is therefore held by the owning class (bourgeoisie) who dominate and exploit the working class (proletariat). These are the only 2 classes in society – you are either one or the other!

  • Proletarian obedience in an unfair system is achieved both through force and through ideological power with the creation of ‘false consciousness’ by the superstructure.


  • Marxists define capitalism as ‘commodity production’. A commodity being an item produced for sale in a market place.

  • Marxists oppose capitalism because they see it as anti social – workers get exploited via the wages system, and goods and services are only produced if they can be sold for profits

  • The motivation for production is therefore ‘greed’ rather than ‘need’

  • There is an essential conflict in capitalist society between owners and workers

  • Political Marxists suggest that eventually this conflict will lead to proletarian consciousness leading to communist revolution.

  • Power in capitalist society (both force and ideological power) is therefore deployed by the bourgeoisie to make sure such revolution does NOT happen and that existing capitalist system is reproduced and perpetuated.

  • Capitalism is seen by Marxists as the latest economic system in history – earlier systems such as feudalism were brought down by class conflict as will capitalism eventually. The struggle between classes is seen as the motor which drives history forwards.

Criticisms of marxist view of power
Criticisms of Marxist View of Power

  • Determinism – Marxism sees economics as the determinant of everything in society and everything in history

  • Capitalism has not developed in the ways Marx predicted – the class structure is more complex than the two class model offered – the distribution of power in society could therefore also be more complex

  • Contradictory? Revolutionary consciousness and false consciousness – early Marxists suggested that the experience of capitalism (low wages, long hours and exploitation) would result in the working class becoming conscious and revolutionary. Later Marxists have emphasised the role of the superstructure creating ‘false consciousness’ amongst the workers leading to the working class accepting and consenting to the capitalist system as natural and desirable.