Marxism – Theory and Methods

Lesson objectiveTo explore what Marxists believe
Lesson outcomes• Compare Marxism to different perspectives
• Evaluate Marxism
• Explain what Marxists believe

Preparing for my learning: Flip learning

Do some research on Marxism exploring what it is. Sociology focuses a lot on Marxism, but doesn’t really explore what the ideology really is. Doing this yourself helps you understand more about why Marxists believe what they do. Use the link below to help you.


Marxism came out of the 19th century by the sociologist Karl Marx. Marxism is a socio-economic perspective of the world. It is regarded as a macro perspective. A macro perspective believes individuals are governed by a greater force and that they are not in control of their own actions or future to some extent). What is this greater force you may ask? Simply the way the world works, operates and functions. This will be explored later. Marxism is a conflict theory – this means that it believes society is in constant conflict with something else. The whole theory revolves around two groups of people.

  • The Proletariat (workers)
  • The Bourgeoisie (owners).

Superstructure and base.

Marx’s philosophy was based on the idea that the economy was behind the creation of society, creating its norms, values and ideas. Marx divided this concept into two main parts:

1) Economic base (blue). This consists of two elements:

     a) Means of production – factories, labour, raw materials.

     b) Relations of production – private/ shared ownership and economic monopolisation.

2) The superstructure (red) – This consists of social facts e.g. family, education, the media etc. All of these are determined and controlled by the base structure.

Exploitation, alienation and dominant ideology. 

Surplus value is the profit a business makes. E.g. McDonalds will sell twice as many burgers as it needs to ensure it makes a profit. This can be maximised by low wages. This ensures an obedience labour power/ force. The proletariat, since they cannot open a business themselves, can only sell their labour by working for one. This creates class conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

Alienation is where dreams, ambitions and hopes of the Proletariat are changed to suit that of the Bourgeoisie. The reason for this is that the Proletariat become trapped in their current way of life. The cause of this was Capitalism. Capitalism is the current world that we live in where there are shops and every person or company is there to make a profit. The dictionary states the definition of Capitalism as “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state”. Since the aim of Capitalism is to ensure that profit is made and as stated this is usually by bigger businesses, this changes people’s norms and values. People become more materialistic. You know, when the new iPhone or Samsung comes out and everyone in school compares who has the most modern phone. This is called commodity fetishism.

​In order to control the Proletariat, competition is introduced as a distraction. Where is this competition? Every time you go for a job interview, or are set in schools to ensure who gets the best grades. I mean, schools used to grade students from A to E (now 1-9), showing similarities as grading meat with A being the best. This creates something called ideological status apparatus and this is where the proletariat believe there is no other way of life than Capitalism and have a lack of awareness (false consciousness).

How to change this? 

Marx believed that the only way to overcome this subjugation was to create a class consciousness (opposite of class consciousness), whereby the proletariat become aware of their exploitation. This would lead to the proletariat joining together, creating a revolution. This would eventually lead to Communism. 



  • It is a very influential theory shaping Neo-Marxism, Weberian sociology and more. This is because of its relevance even to today’s society (we still have Communism and Capitalism).
  • It shows the relationship between the state and its people and more importantly demonstrates the ability of the state to influence the people and individual groups.
  • The social inequalities existing today are explained through means of production focusing on the gap between income and profit. Take a look at this article ​from the Guardian.
  • Social inequalities are linked to social institutions and shows how the media, family etc can all affect someone’s life. 


  • Marxism overestimates the effectiveness of Communism. Towards the end of the Cold War, Communism was dismantled for many reasons, one being a lack of wealth (see the video below).
  • Marxism is too negative of capitalist societies. We are not saying it’s perfect, but it does have benefits e.g. people owning their own home etc. Some social facts e.g. education can be positive.
  • Marx’s two-class model (proletariat and Bourgeoisie) is inaccurate and too simplified. Look at the Great British Class Calculator.
  • Marxism focuses too much on the economic base system and its influence. It doesn’t take into account individual factors. Individuals themselves can actively take part in making themselves poor, etc. gambling, drugs etc. Marx would argue that it is social institutions that do not protect individuals from this, but is that really the only cause?
  • Marxism is a metanarrative and tries to explain everything. Society has become more interconnected through globalisation and therefore is too deterministic. It, therefore, lacks relevance today as social structures are far more fragmented.

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