“Marx thought that with the development of capitalism, the capitalist and working class would become increasingly antagonistic (something he referred to as class struggle). As class conflicts became more intense, the two classes would become more polarized, with the petty bourgeoisie becoming deprived of their property and dropping into the working class. This analysis is still reflected in contemporary questions about whether the classes are becoming more polarized, with the rich getting richer and everyone else worse off, as we have seen...
Why do people support such a system? Here is where ideology plays a role. Ideology refers to belief systems that support the status quo. According to Marx, the dominant ideas of a society are promoted by the ruling class. Through their control of the communications industries in modern society, the ruling class is able to produce ideas that buttress their interests.
Much of Marx’s analysis boils down to the consequences of a system based on the pursuit of profit. If goods were exchanged at the cost of producing them, no profit would be produced. Capitalist owners want to sell commodities for more than their actual value-more than the cost of producing them, including materials and labor. Because workers contribute value to the system and capitalists extract value, Marx saw capitalist profit as the exploitation of labor. Marx believed that as profits became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few capitalists, the working class would become increasingly dissatisfied. The basically exploitative character of capitalists, according to Marx, would ultimately lead to its destruction as workers organized to overthrow the rule of the capitalist class. Class conflict between workers and capitalists, he argued, was inescapable, with revolution being the inevitable result. Perhaps the class revolution that Marx predicted has not occurred, but the dynamics of capitalism that he analyzed are unfolding before us.
At the time Marx was writing, the middle class was small and consisted mostly of small business owners and managers. Marx saw the middle class as dependent on the capitalist class, but exploited by it, because the middle class did not own the means of production. He saw middle-class people as identifying with the interests of the capitalist class because of the similarity in their economic interests and their dependence on the capitalist system. Marx believed that the middle class failed to work in its own best interests because it falsely believed that it benefited from capitalist arrangements. Marx thought that in the long run the middle class would pay for their misplaced faith when profits became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few and more and more of the middle class dropped into the working class. Because he did not foresee the emergence of the large and highly differentiated middle class we have today, not every part of Marx’s theory has proved true. Still, his analysis provides a powerful portrayal of the forces of capitalism and the tendency for wealth to belong to a few, whereas the majority work only to make ends meet. He has also influenced the lives of billions of people under self-proclaimed Marxist systems that were created in an attempt, however unrealized, to overcome the pitfalls of capitalist society...
Conflict theory also sees society as a social system, but unlike functionalism, conflict theory interprets society as being held together through conflict and coercion. From a conflict-based perspective, society comprises competing interest groups, some with more power than others. Different groups struggle over societal resources and compete for social advantage. Conflict theorists argue that those who control society’s resources also hold power over others. The powerful are also likely to act to reproduce their advantage and try to shape societal beliefs to make their privileges appear to be legitimate and fair. In sum, conflict theory emphasizes the friction in society rather than the coherence and sees society as dominated by elites.
From the perspective of conflict theory, derived largely from the work of Karl Marx, social stratification is based on class conflict and blocked opportunity. Conflict theorists see stratification as a system of domination and subordination in which those with the most resources exploit and control others. They also see the different classes as in conflict with each other, with the unequal distribution of rewards reflecting the class interests of the powerful, not the survival needs of the whole society (Eitzen and Baca Zinn 2010). According to the conflict perspective, inequality provides elites with the power to distribute resources, make and enforce laws, and control value systems; elites use these powers in ways that reproduce inequality. Others in the class structure, especially the working class and the poor, experience blocked mobility.
Conflict theorists argue that the consequences of inequality are negative. From a conflict point of view, the more stratified a society, the less likely that society will benefit from the talents of its citizens; inequality limits the life chances of those at the bottom, preventing their talents from being discovered and used. To the waste of talent is added the restriction of human creativity and productivity.”
sociology the essentials
by Margaret L. Andersen and Howard F. Taylor