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Social Hierarchy In Marxism Essay

1242 words - 5 pages

What is the relevance of the term “social hierarchy” to the Marxist theory of thought?

I will explore this question using a definition of social hierarchy which states that it is a stratification of prestige and power. In Marxist theory of thought, who has power is defined by who owns the means of the production, meaning the resources, technology and human labour. Although there are many different types of social hierarchies, depending on what kind of power you are looking at (cultural, religious etc), Marxism defines power by economy, and so this is the form of social hierarchy which I will be working with in relation to Marxism.

Since Marx evaluated power according to economic ...view middle of the document...

Marx naturally observed that not all societies shared this organisation of modes of production, and that the variations were many. His stages went from primitive communism through to barbarism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and finally, communism. In both primitive communism and barbarism, it can be very difficult to create a social hierarchy that is in line with the Marxist school of thought. Here the power structure is often evenly distributed, complex or egalitarian. I will look closer at this in my upcoming ethnographic examples.

The two societies I am going to discuss are very close linked, as Marshall Sahlins studied them in comparison to each other in 1963.

The Melanesian area stretches from New Guinea to Fiji and leaders here have traditionally held power due to individual accomplishments and achievements (achieved statuses). Many young men create an extensive network of exchange and gift giving in order to win enough respect and prestige among the people, that they qualify to become “big men”. In most Melanesian societies all men, regardless of heredity, can enter the competition. Because one becomes a big man through correctly going about the reciprocal gift exchange with relatives and friends, and a gift giving to strangers, it is crucial that the young man does not become greedy and keep any surplus value to himself, but rather evenly distributes it to the people around him who have helped him or whose trust he needs to win. A big man does not have autocratic power and his power his not absolute, other big men can challenge him. This means that the gift exchange has to continue in a way that the people are content with, in order for the big man to keep his position. According to Marxist theory of thought, this society fits best into the description of primitive communism; a society that is based on equalitarian hunting and distribution of resources. One can back this up further by stating that there is actually no evident, economic social hierarchy among most of the Melanesian tribes; the entire system is based on reciprocity, and the one who distributes the most of his surplus value is often the one who wins most respect within his tribe.

The Polynesian area, where’s society was compared to that of the Melanesian by Sahlins, covers many islands between New Zealand and Hawaii. The typical Polynesian power system has been based on ascribed statuses and hereditary values. Agriculture has been the main source of income, and all land is owned by different landlords, who have workers cultivating and labouring the land for them. The landlords demand taxes of the people and all surplus value goes directly to the...

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