Assess the merits and limitations of the ideas of Karl Marx

Marxism, or scientific socialism as it is also known, became particularly popular during the 1970s as the realisation that functionalism was flawed became apparent, as it regarded stratification as a divisive rather than an integrative structure. It takes its name from the founder Karl Marx (1818-1883), and centres around the grand theory that 'Capitalist society creates class inequalities and alienation, which can only be removed through the revolutionary actions of the working class'.

Surrounded by both support and critique, Marx has provided influence within politics and economics and an opposing argument to both Functionalism and Weberism as a sociological perspective. Marx noted that in order to survive we enter relationships in order to ensure production – The forces of production and the relations of production, which together form the economic basic or infrastructure of society. The other aspect of society, known as the superstructure is shaped by the infrastructure.

So for example, the education system is shaped by economic factors according to Marx: any change in the Infrastructure will thus lead to changes in the superstructure. This has been subject to numerous criticisms. Interactionists, for example, argue that Marx's concept of economic determinism places too much stress on the economy as determining all social life, and overlooks influences such as gender, ethnicity, Age and the power of the individual. Gramsci argues that it is not the economy that shapes society. Instead he refers to the way in which societies members are seen to construct society for themselves.

Marx claims that all societies today contain contradictions. What he meant by this is that one social group exploits another. This creates conflict of interests, as one social group, the owners of the means of production benefit off the back of others, a position he believed that could not continue. The first contradiction in Marx's view, Wages versus Profit Achieved by the Bourgeoisie, states that society operates mainly through class conflict. In particular he argues that in capitalistic society the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are fundamentally opposed.

Marx believed that real wealth was only created by the labour power of the workers, yet the wages that are paid to them is well below that taken in profit by the people who own the means of production. However, voting rights and the formation of trade unions have given the working class more power and influence in society than when Marx was writing, enabling workers to demand fair pay and working conditions. In spite of this there is still much evidence of opposing class interests and class conflict, such as strikes and industrial sabotage in the workplace.

In 1989 British Social Attitudes Survey reported that over half of the population of modern Britain still believes that there are strong conflicts between the rich and poor and between Workers and Managers. Secondly Marx argued that, in capitalism large numbers of workers acting collectively achieves production, which he refers to as Organisation versus the Nature of Ownership. In contrast, just one individual owns that means of production and the profits do not flow to the workers who have organised themselves collectively.

However, Dahrendorf recognised that today with the growth in the scale of business companies due to technological advances and the development of joint stock limited companies, the link between ownership and control of industry has been weakened. People can now effectively own the means of production via the share issues they own. Even though it is apparent that this is increasingly the case, as evidence in support of Marx, the means of production remain mostly privately owned in the hands of a small minority of the population, 10% of the population owns 53% of the wealth.