Karl Marx & Conflict Theory: Crash Course Sociology #6

You’ve probably heard of Karl Marx. He’s remembered as the father of divisive political
movements, and his name is sometimes still thrown
around in American politics as a kind of slur. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about Marx the philosopher.
Marx the scholar. In the 19th century, a time defined by radical
inequality and rapid technological and political change
in Europe, Marx was concerned with one question: What does it mean to be free? Starting from this question, Marx developed
an entire theory of history. And in doing so, he laid the foundation for
the paradigm of conflict theory in sociology, ultimately pushing the discipline to look
at questions of power, inequality, and how
these things can drive societal change. [Theme Music] If Durkheim was concerned with social
solidarity, with how society hangs together, Marx
was concerned with freedom. The question that Marx asked was “how can
people be free?” Because humans aren’t just naturally free. When you think about it, we’re actually incredibly
constrained. Our physical bodies have all kinds of needs
we have to meet in order to survive, and they’re
needs that we’re not really adapted to meet. Like, if you take a hummingbird and put it in the
middle of a forest somewhere, it’ll just go on about
its day, collecting nectar and living its life. But if you drop a person in the middle of
the woods, they’ll probably starve. Compared to other animals, Marx thought, we’re
incredibly poorly adapted to the natural world. In fact, the only way for us to survive in
nature is to change it, working together to
remake it to fit our needs. This is labor, he said, and we must labor
cooperatively in order to survive. As we labor, we change the world around us,
and gradually free ourselves from our natural
constraints. But what Marx saw was that just as we freed
ourselves from these natural constraints, we entangled ourselves in new social constraints. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble to explore
this some more. Think about it like this. Ten thousand years ago, basically everybody
spent all day trying to get food. In this “primitive communism,” as Marx called it,
people were strongly bound by natural constraints,
but socially very equal. Now compare that to the Middle Ages when, under feudalism, you have an entire class of people, the nobility, who never spent any time worrying about where their next meal would come from. But you also have the peasantry, who still
worked constantly, making food. In fact, they spent a lot of their time making
food for the nobility. People were producing more than they
needed to survive, but instead of that surplus
being equally distributed, society was set up so that some people
simply didn’t need to labor at all, while others
had to work harder. That’s not a natural constraint anymore, that’s
a social one. Working together allowed us to transcend our
natural constraints, Marx argued, but the way labor
is organized leads to massive inequalities. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, central to the question of freedom for
Marx is the question of labor, how it’s organized and who it benefits, and how this organization
changes over time. This focus on labor gave rise to the perspective created by Marx and his longtime collaborator Friedrich Engels – a perspective known as historical materialism. Historical materialism is historical because it
looks at change over time, and it’s materialism because
it is concerned with these questions of material reality – that is, how production is organized, and who has
things like food, or money, and who doesn’t. Now, it’s not that Marx didn’t care about
other things, like politics or religion. But he felt that they were secondary to the
production and control of resources. And I don’t mean secondary as in
less important; I mean secondary because he thought that if you wanted to understand those things, you had to understand the material reality they were based on first. In this view, the economy – that is, the
organization of labor and resources in a society – was the foundation, and everything else
– politics, culture, religion, even families – was what Marx called the superstructure,
which was built on top of material reality. So when Marx studied history, he didn’t focus
on wars and power struggles between states. Instead, he saw historical development in terms of
modes of production and economic classes. Now, “modes of production” might sound
like they’re about how stuff is made, but Marx
understood them as stages of history. Primitive communism, feudalism, and capitalism
are all modes of production. And modes of production are all defined by
a combination of forces of production and
relations of production. Forces of production are basically the technical,
scientific, and material parts of the economy – tools, buildings, material resources,
technology, and the human labor that makes
them go. In modern capitalism, the forces of
production include things like factories, oil,
and the internal combustion engine. But they also include cultural or social technologies,
like the idea of the assembly line and mass production. The relations of production, meanwhile, define
how people organize themselves around labor. Do people work for wages, or does everyone
produce and sell their own goods? How does ownership or property work? Is trade a central part of the economy? These are all questions about the relations
of production. And these questions are important because, if
you think in terms of social constraints and surplus, the relations of production specify how the
surplus is taken from the people who produce it,
and who gets to decide how the surplus is used. And, in capitalism, these relations aren’t
all that clear-cut. For one thing, we don’t have legally defined
classes. In feudalism, being a lord or a peasant was
a legal matter. If a peasant didn’t work, their lord could
legally punish them. But under capitalism there aren’t any legal
rules about who labors and who doesn’t. If you skip work you don’t get tossed in
jail, you just get fired. But Marx was a historical materialist, so in his view,
even in feudalism, classes weren’t really defined by laws, they were actually defined by their place
in the relations of production. And when Marx looked at industrial capitalism
taking shape around him, he saw two main classes: the working class (or proletariat) and the
capitalists (or the bourgeoisie). The proletariat are defined by the fact that
they don’t own or control the means of production – that is, the materials you need to use
in order to labor and produce goods. One way of thinking about the means of production
is as the inanimate part – the actual, physical stuff –
that makes up the forces of production. So this includes everything from the land
to stand on while you work, to the raw materials you need, like trees, and coal,
and iron ore, to the tools and machines you use. To simplify things dramatically, the proletariat are defined by the fact that, while they work in the factories and use resources to make things, they don’t own the factories or the things they make. The bourgeoisie are defined by the fact that
they do own the factories and the things that
are made in them. They control the means of production and the
products that come from them. It’s this difference in who controls the means
of production, Marx said, that leads to exploitation
in capitalism, in the form of wage labor. If the proletariat lack access to the means
of production, he argued, then they only have
one thing they can sell: their labor. And they must sell their labor.
If they don’t, they starve. Now you might argue that, hey, they’re being
paid, right? Well, Marx would counter that they’re only
being paid enough to live on, if barely. However, Marx would also argue that they’re
being paid less than the worth of what they
produce. And it is that difference – between the value of
the wage and the value of what’s produced – which
is the source of surplus in capitalism. You know this surplus as profit. And the bourgeoisie get to decide what to
do with the profits. Because of this, Marx believed that the bourgeoisie will always be looking to make profits as large as possible, both by driving down wages and by driving up productivity. And this leads to one of the big problems
with capitalism: crises. Specifically, crises of overproduction. Other modes of production had crises, too,
but they were caused by not having enough. In capitalism, for the first time in history,
there were crises of having too much. We reached a point where the forces of
production were so developed that we could
produce far more than we needed. But the vast majority of people couldn’t
afford to buy any of it. And so we had crises where the economy
collapsed, despite the fact that there was more
than enough to go around. Crises of overproduction are an example of
what Marx saw in every mode of production: the contradiction between the forces of
production and the relations of production. Marx understood history as a series of
advances in the forces of production – like, greater coordination among capitalists,
more technological complexity, and more
organizational innovation. But eventually, he said, those advances always
stall, as the forces of production run up against
the limits created by the relations of production. For example, in the early days of capitalism,
the relations of production included things like private ownership of property, competition
among capitalists, and wage labor. And these things allowed for explosive economic
growth. But eventually, these very same things became
limitations on the forces of production – stuff like
factories, technology, and human labor. That’s because capitalists drove wages down in pursuit
of profit, and they competed with each other, leading to
a lack of coordination in the economy. So you wound up with a population that couldn’t afford
to buy anything, while at the same time being offered
way more goods than it would ever need. And, with the economy in shambles, there’s
no way for the forces to keep developing – there’s no money to invest in new factories
or new technologies. So the relations of production that created
economic growth became precisely the things
that caused crises. Marx saw this as an impasse that all modes
of production eventually meet. So how do you get a society to move past it? Marx said, the way forward was class conflict. History is a matter of struggling classes,
he said, each aligned with either the forces
or relations of production. The bourgeoisie are aligned with the relations of production, he said, because these relations are what allow them to extract surplus from the workers. So they’re quite happy with the situation
as it stands. But the proletariat want change. They want the further development of the forces of production – of which their labor makes up a large part – and they want a complete change in the relations of production. They want an end to exploitation and they
want the surplus to benefit them. After all, it was their labor that created
the surplus. In short, they want revolution. And so this is Marx’s model of history: a
series of modes of production, composed of
forces and relations of production. These forces and relations develop together
until they eventually come into conflict, leading to a revolution by the oppressed class
and the institution of a totally new set of relations, where the workers benefit from
the efforts of their labor. Plenty of theorists followed in Marx’s wake,
taking his idea of historical materialism and expanding it to better deal with some
of the areas that Marx had left out. Particularly interesting here is the work
of the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, who
wrote in the years preceding World War II. One of the big questions implicit in Marx’s
theory is just how the bourgeoisie manages
to stay in power so effectively. And Gramsci answered this with the theory
of hegemony. He argued that the ruling class stays in power, in part, through hegemonic culture, a dominant set of ideas that are all-pervasive and taken for granted in a society. While they’re not necessarily right or wrong,
these ideas shape everyone’s understanding of the social world, blinding us to the realities
of things like economic exploitation. But hegemonic ideas don’t need to be economic
ones. They could just as easily be beliefs about
gender, or race. And this points to possibly Marx’s biggest
impact. While Marx’s model of history is specific
to economic conflict, we can see in it the essence of the broader sociological paradigm
of conflict theory. Conflict theory is the basic idea of looking at
power dynamics and analyzing the ways in which
struggles over power drive societal change, as all kinds of groups, not just workers and
owners, fight for control over resources. Marx’s ideas gave rise to a host of conflict theories in sociology, including Race-Conflict Theory, Gender-Conflict Theory, and Intersectional Theory. These theories give us ways to understand power, control, and freedom in modern society, and we’re going to be looking at them over the next couple of weeks. But for today, you learned about Karl Marx, historical materialism and Marx’s basic
perspective on history. You also learned about modes of production,
their development, and how they fit into Marx’s overall theory of historical development,
along with class struggle and revolution. And finally, we saw how Marx’s ideas gave
rise to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony, and
to conflict theories more generally. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the
Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s
made with the help of all these nice people. Our animation team is Thought Cafe, and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank all of our
patrons in general, and we’d like to specifically thank
our Headmaster of Learning David Cichowski. Thank you for your support.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. That part where you said "but if you drop a person into the middle of the woods they'll probably starve" is actually flawed. Animals rarely die of old age. The most common causes of death for wild animals are predation, starvation, and disease. Old age can make them more susceptible to disease and predation, but it almost never ultimately ends up being the cause of death. This is why so many species of animals (with some exceptions like the Great White Shark) live longer in captivity.

  2. thanks , its helpful to understand Conflict theory in more easily, but the portion of hegemony needs to be explained little more ..

  3. Marxism is perfect. Perfect equality, perfect freedom, kindness, compassion, everyone’s needs being met, people working as much or as little as they want however they want and being happy with where you’re at in life and community.

  4. 2 minutes in and I already know this is a attempt at praising communism. While completely ignoring that communist countries still have the have and have nots

  5. For me it's some how helpful. Just one feedback to the presenter. Your presentation is quite good but it will be more better if you slower your tempo a little bit so that the listener will have enough time to understand the words.

    Thank you. Please no offence.👍

  6. This is a good video. It actually shows why his philosophy made sense 100 years ago and not today. This is a great video to show why this doesn't work today. The workers have more control of the means of production. Education has made that possible. A company that has the smartest workers in certain positions do better. Because we are not locked to a certain land, we can negotiate the best situation for yourself based off of your education and skills. Not possible when Marx developed his philosophy.

  7. This woman is an idiot human beings are very well adapted to surging in this world how does she think we survived prior to civilization we were in the forest finding things to eat. Wow

  8. Thank you Crash Course! Seriously is amazing to have you, to better understand theories and all subjects relating to my classes. Thanks so much!

  9. It would be great if you would slow down while speaking. I enjoy what you’re saying just have to keep going back to catch it.

  10. PLEASE MAKE MORE CRASH COURSE VIDEOS. BECAUSE THIS IS REALLY HELPFUL. I am learn so much. Desipte what everyelse says.

  11. I came here to try to understand (or to at least get a glimpse onto) what Karl Marx's theory and what his critiques on capitalism were all about.
    I didn't quite get it, and I'll gladly have someone to explain to me. But let me expose my views first.

    So, firstly,
    In the "primitive communism… people were strongly bound by natural constraints, but socially very equal". I don't get that. Virtually every social group (be it animal or human) had and will have a social hierarchy, as long as there will be the (for lack of a better word) "drive" to improve life . There is "the dominant lion" in a pack, as well as there's a dominant chimpanzee, and "man". Now I can see why that difference could be seen as less evident back then ("they were socially equal"), but they were also suffering from a way lower life quality. Comparing the two time frames, what I can see is that people will get the benefits from "life improvements" in different ways, according to their social position. The poor will get better, and also that will be nothing compared to the exponential growth in wealth of the rich. But also that's how value works. If someone/something had or represented higher value back then (well it became a symbol), its value will exponentially grow over time.

    What is all about "defining classes"?
    Look, this is how I see it. If (human) life wants to improve, it's at competition. Something will come off better than other things, which we regard as "higher value". Looking into it, I understand that Marx was concerned (mainly) about the poor – the working class – "getting poorer" by being exploited by the rich – the bourgeoisie. He is right to be concerned about that. We do not need to let the system become (too) corrupt (all systems are corrupt in one way or another).
    But what's the point of calling the rich "the exploiters" and the working class "the exploited"? Isn't that in itself an act of exploitation? Apart from that, let's say that indeed the tables will turn and everyone will be equal. Then what? It's not like people will suddenly become saints. The ones who will get the chance will still want more, and the ones that are not capable of keeping themselves on the right track will blame the ones who can, for not helping them – and surprise-surprise we are back at where we are now.
    If the answer to that is "well, you can regulate the way in which people will be granted more", that's basically what the law is supposed to be for. And if "educating" people is the solution, why not just start from that?

    Thirdly, if the premise is that "economic history" is about the poor battling with the rich, then Marx says that… the solution is to have… another battle? What is that supposed to lead to? Because as far as I see it, that violence will cause nothing else than violence, which is what the last century showed.

    I've never been in a debate about this before and I am posting this comment because I believe that there is more that I need to know in order to understand, so please try to explain to me what Marx's theory is (actually) trying to say.

    Edit1: I don't know why the bold is so weird. It looks just fine from editing it.
    Edit2: nvm I got it

  12. Why is it that when people point out the flaws of capitalism, they’re automatically called communist? It doesn’t have to be one extreme to another. A compromise could be made but instead everyone just want to fight for a side where neither is optimal.

  13. Social conflict that moves in a circular and ascending fashion is an example of Hegel's Dialectic. Class conflict ends when we move from a consumer producer society to a resource based and guild society. When we crowd fund projects in solidarity with other workers we can dismantle the fact that we otherwise only have our labor to sell… Like if you want to structurally enslave the masses to work in shitty office jobs where the surplus value of their time and labor is largely expropriated, sell them a condominium with no power to grow food or have any social autonomy…. If you want free time and choice its "Back to the land y'all" HMU if you want to change your life… Look up Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord and it will blow your mind. The Matrix in real life is defined by the mathematical inevitability of a fixed number of rich and poor relative to resource power and the dominant social forces that are driving production.

  14. I think there would have to be a balance of some kind between his ideas and capitalism (one of his great friends was a capitalist whose father owned a plantation)… but I personally see the Marxist ideology as God – rejecting, wishful thinking that refuses to concede to the corrupt nature of man's very heart.

  15. Just ask someone from East Germany If life was hunkey-dorey before the Berlin Wall came down!?!?
    I have & it’s nothing like all these Over Zealous lefty Programmed/Educated loony tunes & their propaganda!

  16. Under french revolution Karl Marx was one of the those revolutionary political personality who fought for freedom n despite the dispoitic power of the king aka Loius 16, he really did some stuff for the revolutionary movement, he wrote a book on Communism which did brought change as well, he was smth rly! He's just one of those who hella understand Feudalism, capitalism n stuff as well

  17. I just finished reading the communist manifesto and I gotta say lady, you did a splendid job. Most people just characterize marx into the soviet union era communism when he actually had sound ideas but I guess the people at crash course are better than that.

  18. It's the very root of all conflicts of the western world nowadays because it stimulates the hatred among men and women, rich and poor, etc. Thanks to the highest "intelligences" in universities that take this nonsense to serious: a philosopher who never worked that "brilliantly" explains economy solving all problems of the world causing psychological wars in all levels. May God save us.

  19. So many anti Marx Trolls really need to educate themselves. Marx was a philosopher. He lived in London for a great deal of his life. In fact he's buried in London.
    His ideas are very good and have nothing to do with communist dictatorships he escaped from.
    I got shouted down by an idiot a few weeks back who was convinced Marx was a political leader who killed millions … Crazy 😂

  20. "Society was set up", lol. Some peasants/people were worse off than others; some peasants/people were better off than others. I hope most people today reject Monarchy. Ability and character lead to massive inequality. "Capitalism" is a propaganda term referring to free-market economics. Increasing productivity drives prices down because of competition; lower prices benefit the public. Apparently, Marx wasn't right about anything.

  21. Thank you for this explanation but one thing Marx didn't value was risk in business which deserves reward if it works and skill sets which is why I don't agree with him. Fact hierarchies existed before civilization. That's not a social construct and you can know that because animals have hierarchies even crustaceans…

  22. Wow what a great informative video. So in regards to the impasse Marx predicted between the forces and relations of production….isn't that exactly what's bound to happen with automation ? As more and more workers are automated out of the economy and spending drops, production will simultaneously reaches new levels of efficiency and we'd be in a situation that sounds very similar to the crisis of overproduction mentioned in the video.According to Marx's theory then that should be when there is a revolution and we move past capitalism and into socialism…

  23. Thank you for the terrific and concise video. In what works does Marx present the theories presented in the video (or, where would you suggest i go on with further reading on the subject)?

  24. And then we all starve to death – never forget , this lead to the death of 100 million people. Capitalism doesn’t create crisis, nature is made of death and renewal- and that’s the foundation of reality

  25. Antônio Gramsci lead to Postmodernism… and here we are with fragile egos wanting “freedom” from reality itself… let’s also remind the kids that a long long long time ago there were a group of radicals who created a dynamic movement also looking for freedom- that movement lead to Catholicism which lead to a subdivision who were also looking for freedom.. which lead to the Protestants… but there is more…. a long looooong time ago there were a group of radicals who revolutionized our nomad ways … they also were looking for freedom.. and they came up with the agricultural revolution…and here we are now breaking our backs and ever more distant from nature and reality itself. The next after Gramsci , Derrida, Foucault, and all this garbage is virtual reality and into hard drives we goooooo

  26. As someone who is strongly pro-capitalism and holds a highest honors degree in finance, I'm glad you discussed Marx. I may not agree with him, but this provides me the other side of the coin that I wasn't exposed to in my degree.

  27. I love this explanation! Very concise and clear. We could learn a lot by how this information is presented here.

    I only wish you made the distinction between labor and labor power- specifically, the worker is exploited not only because she is paid less than the value of her labor, but because her actual time is owned by the capitalist as long as she is employed.

  28. Thank you for objectively sharing this ignorant, dangerous ideology. It is important that people know about Marx’s ideas, and the flaws within and dangers of adopting this ideology!

  29. As we sit here in 2019 commenting on an internet video on our smartphones and tablets. Capitalism and free markets have freed more people from poverty than any economic system in human history

  30. Dear lord, even his explanation of feudalism is simplistic. Even with all the exploration and too high taxes, people lived within feuds for protection, the feudal lord did not "just rob their food"

  31. Don't understand why Marxism has such a negative connotation in America and UK – what Marx said sounds perfectly reasonable and logical. Why do people throw around the word Marxist like its an insult, and look in horror at people that claim to be Marxists? Take Corbyn in the UK – his policies are perfectly reasonable yet the media, Tory government and his own Labour party MPs brand him a Marxist with disgust and bigotry and say he should never be allowed to be PM. What happened in the old Soviet Union and China seem a lot different to Marx's theories, those countries were authoritarian dictatorships with limited freedoms.

  32. Very nice video but could you maybe talk a little bit slower? By brain can't process the ideas at this pace 😅
    Also, love your glasses!

  33. The white working class is the one that has the surplus labor exploited the most but socially they are also repressed the most across all liberal spectrums. Meanwhile the people crying about exploitation are doing the exploiting

  34. Marx knew about the Fractional reserve Banking that is the real reason behind economic crisis, it have been a dominating the world since 1800. and it makes money flow from the poor to the rich , making it hard to trade goods that the poor want to sell.

  35. 10:17 we did not learn, as you said, implementing that this your speech broadcasts the one and only way to view something,
    we listened to your theories and reflections around a topic, of which there are many different theories and reflections to be had from other people.

  36. If they create a society with no classes, no exploitation or inequality… What will there actually be?

  37. "in capitalism, if you don't work you don't get thrown in jail, you get fired" *then your home is taken under the threat of kidnapping, imprisonment and death when when the government says you have no right to exist on their land. Now you can't grow your own food unless you're willing to face the violence of state vagrancy laws.
    But yeah, you don't "have" to work or participate under a tyrannical system of governance by the landed gentry, but if you don't, you should just go somewhere and die before you end up in a private profit prison and are forced to labor against your will. Either way, you will participate in the economic pyramid scheme of socialism for the wealthy and rugged individualism for everyone else.

  38. Their are three classes people: those who pay taxes, those who don’t pay taxes and the government. The means of production doesn’t matter, it’s money that matters. Those that fund the government can influence its policies by not doing that anymore. Lords were better of then peasants because they paid taxes.

  39. Meanwhile every sociologist like Durkhiem, Hagel wrote as a professionals but Marx was nether a professional Sociologist nor an economist. He wrote while woking in British archives. He was infact a humanist.

  40. The capitalism of today is very different from the capitalism of Marx era so we should thank Marx for his revolutionary writings that forced the Capitalists to make the workplace more holistic

  41. A neutral look at Marx?
    You going to put out a neutral view on Hitler's philosophy next?
    Both are deplorable but Marxist ideology was responsible for more death and deprivation last century than Hitler's philosophy. Not emphasizing this makes this video pure propaganda

  42. its taking from capitalism and redistributing their wealth, its control over how much any " one " can have. But notice they ALL are in politics where they have finances for life,security ,insurance benefits, which we are forced to pay ,whether there be income in the treasury or not..USA is now over $250 TRILLION in debt due to social services and BIG Socialist/ Marxist now sitting on top of us as IF owe them something ??

  43. This 'primitive communism' thing is completely debunked by archaeology. People enslaved each other as soon as they got smart enough to do it.

  44. Marxism is way more than just labor. Is a revolution and total disruption of normality Capitalism is your right to own land and what you worked for in exchange for giving services to their people if you can't understand this you must check the socialist plans to overtake america. ( crt ) critical race theory and many others… Marxism is the ideology thats holding you back… To become independent. It is the ideology of victimhood manifested in recent times public schools, university's the media etc this ideology was created to destroy the means of productivity in a nation.

  45. LOL!!! And look how far their theories have brought mankind to – more conflicts, more revolutions, more wars, etc. without any peace in sight whatsoever. The real issue at hand is simple… mankind DOES NOT have Peace with God!

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