In this essay I am going to look at modernity in relation to the work of Marx. I will look at his work on capitalism, including social class inequality, the bourgeoisie and proletariat, historical materialism, alienation and social change and how it contributes to the study and understanding of modernity. Modernity is seen as the modern age and is often identified with rationality, industrialisation, disenchantment and scientific belief (Collins Sociology Dictionary), which is said to cause social change, loss of social stability and is believed to threaten the solidarity within society.
However modernity is used by sociologists such as Marx to explain modern society. Marx used modernity to look at the contemporary world and believed it occurred due to changes in the economy. The emergence of the capitalist epoch, and the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, was believed by Marx to cause polarisation, as it made the class differences more distinct than that of the feudal epoch with the slave owners and slaves.
Although in some ways Marx did see this as an advantage as the bourgeoisie became richer and separated, which Marx predicted would lead to a revolution as the proletariat would become more powerful and overthrow the bourgeoisie, although this never occurred. (Haralambos and Holborn). Marx looked at the concept of historical materialism and how it can be used to explain historical events, in reference to the material basis of society. He was interested in studying how changes in the base of society led to changes in the superstructure.
In the feudal epoch the landowners exerted control over the workers, and the workers were tied to their master through loyalty and they needed the work in order to earn a living. This created a ruling class ideology that the workers were loyal to their masters, leading to the workers accepting their position within society. Thus Marx believed there has always been inequality of power and oppression of the lower classes within the material basis of society, as in every epoch inequality existed and has never been irradiated. The Communist Manifesto) However Marx predicted the last epoch to emerge would be the communist epoch and this would be like a utopia, where there would be no class inequality, ruling class ideology or religion, however this epoch has never emerged. This prediction could also be criticised, as in communist countries today, such as China inequality, poverty and religion still exist. (Haralambos and Holborn, The Communist Manifesto, Bourgeois and Proletarians. )
Modernity, industrialisation and trade led to change means of production, threatening tradition and leading to the farming and cottage industries dying out and factories becoming the sole mode of production. There was no longer the need for raw materials to be harvested, as they started to be brought in from abroad where they could be bought more cheaply, feeding the capitalist economy. The capitalist mode of production was seen to be better for the workers, than the feudal society as each member of the proletariat was independent, without a boss.
Therefore the workers were able to sell there labour to whomever they chose, instead of having to stay loyal and tied down to one boss. (The Communist Manifesto and Haralambos and Holborn. ) However Marx saw this as bad social change, due to modernity and an example of ruling class ideology, as he believed things were not free and equal as they seemed, and that the proletariat were no better off than the feudal slaves. He saw the capitalist epoch to be in fact less equal, as the factory jobs, were repetitive labour, where the mind was unimportant, thus many of the workers suffered from alienation.
The jobs were also designed so that anyone could do them, therefore the workers became interchangeable and had no freedom to sell their own labour anymore, leading to the proletariat growing, as skill was no longer essential, so factory workers were recruited from all social classes. Similarly workers lives could be bought and sold, like a commodity, leaving the bourgeoisie in a position to control the price of labour as they had all the power within society.
Similarly as the proletariat had little power, within society they had no choice other than to work in the factories. The Communist Manifesto and Thinking Sociologically. ) Marx looked at four types of alienation, the first describes how industrialisation and low skilled, low paid, manual labour in factories led to many workers becoming alienated due to separation from the material object they were producing. As the factory workers/proletariat put all their effort into producing products and then the product is taken away from them and sold by the bourgeoisie, with very little of the profit be given to the worker.
This therefore means their work has little purpose or meaning and little job satisfaction, making their lives dull and tedious. The second type of alienation involves depersonalisation and the worker becoming alienated from creativity. It involves the worker no longer valuing the product that they are putting their effort into, but instead just seeing it as just an object. Therefore when work hours are over, the worker takes up creative hobbies, which are types of work, but instead rewarding and creative work compared to their job. (The Communist Manifesto and Haralambos and Holborn. )
The third type of alienation is a direct response to modernity and how desacrilisation and disenchantment have taken place in the world, meaning that nothing is sacred anymore. As due to capitalism the natural world is no longer there to be explored and enjoyed, but instead it is used for raw materials, as the means of production, in factories. Therefore Marx believed people became alienated from the natural world in which they lived and were less able to live an independent existence, but instead they had to go out and work for other people in the form of low paid, unskilled, manual labour.
The fourth type of alienation involves the worker becoming alienated from themselves, as due to their undesirable, repetitive work they feel miserable and estranges workers from themselves. This psychological discomfort and alienation, Marx believed made the workers almost non-human as their work was not creative and the workers had little freewill. (The Communist Manifesto, Haralambos and Holborn, and The Managed Heart) Marx states how the factory work in Industrial times was not meritocratic, as there was little skill involved in the labour and the situation the proletariat were in, was not fair or just.
This was due to the fact that the bourgeoisie did little work, but gained the majority of the profit. Therefore the workers who succeeded within the capitalist society were those who accepted there position instead of trying to fight it, which also meant them giving up some of their personal freedom and accepting that if they were not passive, conforming workers they would not earn a wage. Thus it shows how even though modernity had occurred, the working classes position in society never really changed and in some respects the exploitation got worse. Haralambos and Holborn) Louis Althusser's ISA (ideological state apparatus) can be discussed in relation to this, as the proletariat were informally controlled by the bourgeoisie through ruling class ideology, in order to legitimise inequality and force the proletariat to conform. (Haralambos and Holborn). This is an important feature of modernity, which Marx outlines, as it displays how through modernity the proletariat/workers think they have choices and freedom.
However in reality they have no choices, as they have little power and are exploited through ideology. Therefore they become false class conscious and are unaware the extent to which they are exploited and oppressed. (Thinking Sociologically, Values Power and Action). This process of false class-consciousness thus fed the capitalist system, as it enabled the bourgeoisie to have the power and control and allowed as much profit as possible to be made.
This displays how through modernity and the emergence of capitalism inequality was maintained. It could be suggested that without the proletarian's conformity and false class-consciousness there would have been no labour force for production and industrialisation and modernity might not have occurred. (The Communist Manifesto). In conclusion Marx's study on capitalism, helps us to understand the social class inequality in relation to modernity.
As the emergence of industrial society led to the movement from the feudal epoch to the capitalist epoch, which subsequently caused polarisation. Therefore it can perhaps be concluded that industrialisation caused social class inequality to still exist, and in some ways, as suggested by Marx the proletariat's position in society to get worse. This was due to the fact that through ruling class ideology and the myth that the industrial society was more equal than the feudal society, they became more exploited, and oppressed.
Similarly the industrial society's factory work which was tedious, repetitive and had little intrinsic rewards for the worker, along with disenchantment and desacrilization led to alienation of the workers. (Haralambos and Holborn). Thus from this we can see that modernity included many different types of social change, including rationalisation, industrialisation, desacrilization and disenchantment, however even though this social change occurred, the lower classes position in society never really changed, as they were still oppressed and exploited by the upper class.