Marx believed that the class struggle was the driving force of social change. Marx and Engels wrote in “The Communist Manifesto” (1848): “All history is the history of conflict.” Marx believed that “the character of social and cultural forms is influenced by the economic base of society specifically by the mode of production that is used and by the relationships that exist between those who own and those who do not own the means of production.
History is the story of conflict between the exploiting and the exploited classes. This conflict repeats itself again and again until capitalism is overthrown by the workers and a socialist state is created. Socialism is the forerunner to the ultimate social form of communism”
Thus it is clear that the Marxism theory of social change is essentially conflict-oriented. It is appropriately called the “Conflict theory of Change”. Marx as a conflict theorist considers society fundamentally dynamic, not static. He regards conflict as normal, not an abnormal process and he believe that “The existing conditions in any society contain the seeds of future social changes.
Marx conceived of four major successive modes of production in the history of mankind after the first stage of primitive communism: The Asiatic, the Ancient, the Feudal, and the Modern bourgeoisie form.
Each of these came into existence through contradictions and antagonisms that had developed in the previous order. “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed, and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society” (as quoted by Lewis Coser).
Free men and slaves, patricians and plebians, barons and serfs, guild masters and journey men, exploiters and the exploited, have confronted one another from the beginning of recorded times. The “class antagonisms specific to each particular mode of production led to the emergence of classes whose interests could no longer be asserted within the framework of the old order..” (Coser)
However, “the bourgeoisie relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production.” When they have been overthrown by a victorious proletariat, “the prehistory of human society will have come to an end.” and the dialectical principle that ruled the previous development of mankind ceases to operate, as harmony replaces social conflict in the affairs of men. These ideas portray Marx’s wishful thinking rather than his dreams.
As a creative thinker Marx had very strongly supported social change. “Philosophers have already interpreted the world; our present task is to change it” – Marx used to say. He never depended on the status quo. But in his analysis of social change he placed high premium on economic factors and neglected religious, political and other factors. He made conflict the driving force of history and undermined the importance of harmony and consensus.
Though Marx called man the main instrument of change, in his analysis of capitalism he reduced man to the level of a helpless creature. It is true that nobody can stop the future course of history. But it need not necessarily follow the particular course as expected and insisted upon by Marx and his followers.