Karl Marx was an ethnographer of his own time. An ethnographer is a social scientist who studies the behavior of human beings in their natural setting. According to Elster (1986), ethnographers gather and record data concerning human culture and societies. There are different research methods, which can be used in various sub-categories of this social study. Ethnographers such as Karl Marx had to be capable of finding the patterns in and comprehend the issues experienced by a wide sample of people with varied backgrounds. The field of ethnography is closely linked to the field of cultural anthropology. Ethnography views the society as a scientific field, where cultural anthropology normally involve the interaction with humans. Marx exposed the exploitation and oppression of working class individuals as directly associated with their loss of aesthetic sense of well-being. Marx suggested that human being create based on the laws of beauty. In this regard, this paper attempts to prove whether Marx was an ethnographer of his own time, regardless of some scholars claiming that he might not have been one in the traditional sense. The following discussion will include historical materialism, sources of Marx’s thoughts, Marx’s view on human nature, labor and alienation, political economy’s categories and Marx’s historical sociology among others in order to assert if Marx was an ethnographer.
According to Frisby & Sayer, 1986), historical materialism refers to a methodological approach to the study of economics, history and society. Karl Marx, as the materialist of history outset first, articulated this methodological approach. According to Marx (1964), historical materialism attempts to look for the changes and causes of development in human society. Historical materialism studies the manner in which human beings jointly produce the necessities of life. According to Marx & Engels (1968), social classes and the association between them, together with political structures reflect and they are founded on economic activity. Marxist thinkers have modified this theory since Marx’s time. Presently, the theory has various variants.
Marxist thinkers strongly believe that historical materialism started from the underlying reality of the existence of human beings. According to Frisby & Sayer (1986), it necessary for human beings to produce and reproduce the material necessities in order for them to survive. Marx modified this theory by affirming the significance of the fact that people must enter into definite social relations, especially production relations in order to produce and exchange. Nevertheless, production is not performed in the abstract or by entering random or arbitrary relations chosen willingly. Human beings willingly work on nature, though they do not do the same on work. The division of labor in which individuals not only do varied jobs indicates this, but also, according to Marxist theory, some survive from the sweat of other by simply owning production means. The way in which this is achieved is hugely dependent on type of the society.
Scholars who are familiar with historical materialism normally hypothesize that the society has moved via various modes or types of production Marx & Engels (1968). This implies that the production relations characteristics are influenced by the nature of productive forces. The productive forces could be the uncomplicated instruments and tools of the existence of early humans. In addition, the productive forces might also be the more developed technology and machinery of the current age. The major production modes identified by Karl Marx included feudalism, ancient society, tribal society and capitalism. In every social class, individuals interact with nature in order to live in different ways. Thee surpluses from the production are allotted in various ways. The ancient society was founded on a ruling class of slave owners. Feudalism was founded on serfs and landowners. Capitalist was founded on the working class and the capitalist class. According to Marx (1964), the capitalist classes are individuals who privately own the production means, exchange and distribution.
Karl Marx identified the relations of production of the society as the economic base of the society. Marx explained that certain political institutions, culture, laws, morality, ideas and customs also arise on the foundation of economic bases. These comprised the ideological or political superstructure of society. The superstructure not only has features corresponding to the character of economic base, but also has its origin in the economic base.
Sources of Marx’s Thoughts
The first source of Marx’s thoughts was the German philosophy. The Kantian philosophy is believed be the basis on which the Marxist theory was built, especially as it was articulated by Hegel. Immanuel Kant, who is also believed to have a significant influence on the modern philosophers, forwarded the Kantian philosophy (Frisby & Sayer, 1986). The dialectical method of Hegel that was taken by Marx was an elongation o the reasoning method used by Kant. Hegel was among the prominent philosophers in Germany by the time of his death. Hegel’s views were widely taught. However, his followers eventually split into left wing and right wing Hegelians. Politically and theologically, the right-wing Hegelians provided a conservative analysis of his work by emphasizing on the compatibility between Christianity and Hegel’s work. The left-wing Hegelians eventually took the atheistic positions. Many of the left-wing Hegelians were revolutionaries and they included individuals like Bruno Bauer, Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx. Marx historical view that came to be referred as historical materialism is particularly shaped by Hegel’s claim that reality need to be perceived dialectically. According to Hegel, the direction of history of humans is characterized in the movement from the fragmentary toward the real and the complete. Regardless of Marx accepting this wide idea of history, Hegel was idealist. Karl Marx wanted to rewrite Hegel’s dialectics in materialist terms. Marx strongly emphasized that social development arose from the intrinsic contradiction in the social superstructure and material life. This concept is frequently recognized as a plain historical native.
The second source of Marx’s thought was the French socialism. The industrial revolution in France had resulted into a new social life, which was widely advocating for widespread change in the society. The industrial working class widely advocated for change in the society by participating in collective actions such as strikes. According to Elster (1986), Karl Marx was the first socialist to make the opinion of self-emancipation. According to Marx, socialism could only be experienced by self-organization and self-mobilization of the working class. Different from other conspiratorial communists, Marx emphasized that there was strong force within the society that could lead to socialism. Marx suggested the contemporary working class was organized in a way that they would face punishment in their course of struggling towards achieving socialist objectives. In 1871, the French Army admitted defeat at the hand hands of Prussia. The French workers took the control of Paris because they feared that Prussian take-over. Marx rallied to the cause of Paris Commune.
The third source of Marx’s thoughts was the British political economy. According to Elster (1986), the foundation of Marxian economics can be traced to the critique of political economy first forwarded by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. According to Elster (1986), the origin of Marx’s economics can be traced to the British classical economists such as Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo and Adam Smith. Marx agreed by Smith claimed that the most significant beneficial economic consequence was the quick growth in the productivity capabilities. Marx also explained greatly on the concept that laborers might come to harm as capitalism emerged more productive. The claim by Malthus that the growth in population was the major cause of subsistence level wages caused Marx to develop an optional theory of wage determination.
Marx’s View of Human Nature
Marx’s theory human nature has significant place in his assessment of capitalism and conception of communism (Elster, 1986). The view of human nature also contributes to his materialistic idea of history. According to Marx, human beings are able to make or shape their own nature in order to exist. Nevertheless, Marx criticized the viewing of human nature as species that embodies itself in every person. Marx pointed out that man is a natural being endowed with natural powers. The powers exist in them as abilities and tendencies or instincts. Through these powers, man can influence his or her own nature.
Marx’s Historical Sociology
The Marxist sociology materialized around the late 19th or early 20th century. Alongside thinkers like Emile Durkeim and Max Weber, Marx is perceived as one of the influential thinkers in the early sociology (Elster, 1986). Most of the development in the Marxist sociology took place on the outskirts of academia. Some development pitted the this sociology against the bourgeois of sociology. For some time, the Russian Revolution that was inspired by Marxism strengthened the division. However, sociology soon found itself a fatality of the suppression of bourgeois science in communist nations. Whereas, after many decades, sociology was reestablished under communist nations, two different currents of thought emerged within Marxist sociology: Soviet Marxism and the Marxism in the West. The Soviet Marxism was developed in the 20th century in communist nations, and it served the interests of the state. On the other hand, the Western Marxism emerged around 1940s and was accepted in western academia. According to Marx (1964), there has been a reaction against the Marxist view in post-communists nations. This is because of its initial position that was supported by the state.
The Historical Sequence of Modes of Production
According to Marx, mode of production refers to a particular combination of social and technical production relations, and productive forces (Elster, 1986). These forces include the available knowledge and the power of human labor. The social and technical production relations include power, property and control relations controlling the productive assets of a society. Marx believed that participation and productive ability in social relations are two significant aspects of human beings. The specific modality of the relations in capitalist product is intrinsically in conflict with the development of the productive capacities o human beings (Elster, 1986). The modes of production in history include primitive communism, Asiatic, antique, feudalism, capitalism and socialism.
With regard to primitive communism, the society is viewed to be organized in traditional tribal structures. These structures are characterized by common values and consumption of the completely social product. Because there is no production of surplus, there is no likelihood of the emergence of a ruling class. Since this production mode lacks differentiation into classes, it is viewed to be classless (Elster, 1986). The production forces typifying this mode of production include both pre-and early agricultural production, Neolithic and Paleolithic tools, and thorough social control. This mode of production is common in modern hunter and gatherer societies.
The Asiatic mode of production is a divisive contribution to the theory of Marxist. It was initially utilized in explaining pre-feudal and pre-slave large earthwork constructions in Nile Valleys, China, India and the Euphrates (Elster, 1986). This mode of production has been said to be the early form of class society. The major form of property of this production mode is the religious possession of communities. The ruling class of such societies is usually the semi-theocratic aristocracy that claims to be the embodiment of the gods o earth. The production forces in such societies include massive construction, essential techniques of agriculture and storage of goods.
The antique production mode is almost similar to Asiatic, though differentiated in the property forms. In antique, the form of property is the possession of individual human beings. In this production mode, the ruling class seems to avoid the strange claims of being the embodiment of gods. The ruling class prefers to be the god’s descendants. Examples of such societies include the Ancient Roman and Greek. The production forces include the widespread use of animals in agriculture, advanced agriculture and advanced networks of trade (Elster, 1986).
The feudal production mode is normally characterized by system of the West between the rise of capitalism and the fall of the traditional European culture. The major form of property is land possession in joint contract relations. According to Elster (1986), the possession of human beings as serfs or peasants relies on their involved land. The ruling class in this mode of production is normally aristocracy or nobility. The forces of production comprise of sophisticated agriculture and the non-animal and non-human power devices.
There are two forms of capitalism mode of production: early and late capitalism. The inception of capitalist production mode covers period between mercantilism and imperialism (Elster, 1986). Capitalism mode of production is normally linked to the emergence of the contemporary industrial society. The major property form is the possession of services and objects via state-guaranteed contract. The major exploitation form is wage labor. In the early capitalism, the ruling class is the bourgeoisie that capitalizes on proletariat. Capitalism might result in one class or bourgeoisie that owns the production means for the entire society. Late capitalism is a worldwide form comprising of all the latest existing economic forms based on universal process of capital accumulation. The trademark of the late capitalism is financialization and consumerism.
The socialist production mode refers to the post-capitalist system, which emerges when capital accumulation is not sustainable because of the declining profit rates in production. Marx (1964) pointed that a socialist society would be organized in a way that directly fulfills the needs of human beings.
Ethnographers such as Karl Marx had to be capable of finding the patterns in and comprehend the issues experienced by a wide sample of people with varied backgrounds. Historical materialism refers to a methodological approach to the study of economics, history and society. Marxist thinkers strongly believe that historical materialism started from the underlying reality of the existence of human beings. Karl Marx identified the relations of production of the society as the economic base of the society. Marx explained that certain political institutions, culture, laws, morality, ideas and customs also arise on the foundation of economic bases. Marx’s theory human nature has significant place in his assessment of capitalism and conception of communism. The modes of production in history include primitive communism, Asiatic, antique, feudalism, capitalism and socialism.
Elster, J. (1986). An introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frisby, D., & Sayer, D. (1986). Society. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Marx, K. (1964). Selected writings in sociology & social philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. ( 1968). Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: selected works in one volume. New York: International Publishers,.