Born a German on 5th May 1818, Karl Marx was an economist, journalist, philosopher, sociologist and a scientist. He is considered as one of the most important social thinkers in history. Although there are some who criticise his work, his theory of conflict is esteemed and persuasive. According to him, the structure of the society could be prophesied through ‘base and structure’. The idea is that a society’s economic character is the base and the societal institutes and culture rest on this base and is the superstructure. Marx says that a society is directed by its economy or base.

Conflict was main cause of change in society as Marx saw. He saw that there was conflict between the rich or the people responsible for production and the poor who were the labourers.

Marx also said that history had always witnessed these conflicts at times of societal revolution. The reason for these communal clashes was because one class tried to dominate the other these clashes are known as ‘class antagonisms’. Once feudalism had ended during his period he says, that a complete new revolutionary class was formed which dominated the labour class. The upper class was known as ‘bourgeoisie’ whereas the labour class was addressed as ‘proletariat’. The essence of revolution among the bourgeoisie class symbolized an essential modification in the societal framework. As Marx says in his book Marx and Engels, 1848, “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other—Bourgeoisie and Proletariat”.

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By the mid-19th century industrialization was thriving and the labour class were extremely exploited by the big manufacturers.

Their amenities were christened as “satanic mills” which was based on a poem written by William Blake. The despicable conditions of the working class were described in a book ‘The Condition of the Working-Class in England’, by a close friend of Marx – Frederick Engels in 1844.

In one of the paragraphs Engels describes, ‘Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world’.

Adding to all these problems were child labour, extended working hours, exposure to poisonous chemicals etc. which is why both Engels and Marx denoted to capitalism as the – dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Marx believed our doings defined about who we actually are.

Historically, despite the untiring effects of domination of certain class over the other, there was some humanity which did exist.

Although less but there was some type of connection between the product and the labour, enhanced by the nature and its effects which is also witnessed in the agricultural society. When we speak of rise of capitalism, industry and bourgeoisie revolution then the worker was only interested in his wages.

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Now for a worker the essence of humanity was absent, not because of natural but artificial circumstances.

Marx used ‘alienation’ to explain modern society. Alienation denotes the situation in which a person is sequestered and disconnected for his/her work, society or the one’s own intellect.

Would you like to read more about this topic? This book might interest you: Conflict Theory.