request for sources: Marx versus Weber

James M. Blaut 70671.2032 at
Sun Nov 21 19:02:10 MST 1999

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Subject: Re: request for sources: Marx versus Weber
Date:    21-Nov-99 at 10:09



I have taught classical sociological theory for years, and one of the
things I have always emphasized is clarifying the differences between
Marx and Weber, especially their analyses of the origins and
development of capitalism.  This has been one of the most thoroughly
obfuscated and misinterpreted topics in all of Western Sociology.

The most common misrepresentation of the differences between Marx and
Weber is the argument that Weber recognized the role of ideas in
history, while Marx was an economic determinist.  This is false.
Both Marx and Weber recognized the role of ideas in history.  Marx
saw a dialectical relationship between ideal and material forces,
while Weber posited an elective affinity between them.

The major obfuscation consists of glossing over the very substantial
differences between Marx and Weber.  Marx and Weber had fundamentally
different conceptions and definitions of what capitalism is, and
therefore different analyses of its origins.

When you consider that Weber was a German nationalist who supported
imperialism and World War I and vehemently opposed the Bolshevik
revolution, it should be obvious that Weber and Marx had basic
differences about the origin and nature of capitalism and what the
working class should do about capitalism!

Below is an excerpt I wrote as part of a paper on classical
sociological theory.  After quoting from Marx's analysis of
"primitive accumulation" and Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism," tt analyzes the differences between Marx and
Weber in their interpretations of the origins of capitalism.

The only textbook in classical theory that partly clarifies the
differences between Weber and Marx is Zeitlin's "Ideology and the
Development of Sociological Theory."  However, the first (1968)
edition is the best.  Since then, Zeitlin has softened his critique
of Weber and become more of a Weberian.

I welcome comments and discussion.

Steve Rosenthal




"The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation,
enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the
beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning
of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins,
signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.  These
idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive

...These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial
system...Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a
new one...If money, according to Augier, 'comes into the world with a
congenital blood-stain on one cheek,' capital comes dripping from
head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt." (1867:754-760)


" Western civilization only, cultural phenomena have appeared
which...lie in a line of development having universal significance
and value.  Only in the West does science exist at a stage of
development which we recognize today as valid...Above all is this
true of the trained official, the pillar of both the modern State and
of the economic life of the West...the world has known no rational
organization of labour outside the modern Occident...We are dealing
with the connection of the spirit of modern economic life with the
rational ethics of ascetic Protestantism

...When we find again and again that, even in departments of life
apparently mutually independent, certain types of rationalization
have developed in the Occident, and only there, it would be natural
to suspect that the most important reason lay in differences of
heredity.  The author admits that he is inclined to think the
importance of biological heredity very great...when comparative
racial neurology and psychology shall have progressed beyond their
present and in many ways very promising beginnings, can we hope for
even the probability of a satisfactory answer to that problem."

The contrast between Marx's condemnation and Weber's celebration of
Western capitalism could hardly be more vivid.  Weber, of course, was
aware of the "blood and dirt" of which Marx wrote, but Weber analyzed
them as phenomena common throughout history that had no intrinsic
relationship to the spirit and nature of capitalism.  Weber's
repeated invocation of the uniquely rational character of Western
culture is ethnocentric, Eurocentric, and historically inaccurate.

Theory textbooks misrepresent the differences between Marx and Weber
when they claim that Weber rounded out Marx's one-sided economic
determinist interpretation of the rise of capitalism by giving more
attention to the role of ideas in historical change.  Both Marx and
Weber clearly recognized that ideas or culture played an important
role in the transformation from feudalism to capitalism.

Analysis of the Protestant Reformation figured prominently in both
Marx's and Weber's interpretations of the rise of European
capitalism.  Weber identified "rational organization" as the decisive
unique characteristic of Western capitalist civilization, and he
suspected that this cultural phenomenon would prove to be
biologically determined.

Weber argued that there was an "elective affinity" between the
Protestant Ethic and the "spirit of capitalism;" thus the Protestant
Reformation instilled in early capitalists an ascetic work ethic that
compelled them to acquire wealth through the rational organization of

Marx interpreted the Protestant Reformation as an aspect
of the struggle of the rising bourgeoisie against the feudal ruling
class.  He saw the Protestant ethic as an ideological weapon used by
capitalists to convince workers that hard work and obedience to their
bosses was demanded by god.  The Protestant ethic was meant to
control the behavior of the working class, not the behavior of the
bourgeoisie, who never led the ascetic life Weber described.

Thus, British historian E. P. Thompson (1963) verified Marx's
analysis by describing the "ideological terror" unleashed by
capitalists against workers during the industrial revolution in
England.  U.S. historian Gabriel Kolko (1961), showed that Benjamin
Franklin, portrayed by Weber as an ideal typical embodiment of the
spirit of capitalism, was no ascetic; he was fond of food, drink, and

Marx and Weber thus analyzed the role of ideas and the nature of
capitalism very differently.  Marx was a dialectical materialist who
insisted that ideologies arise out of material conditions and serve
the interests of contending social classes. Weber was an idealist
who insisted that ideologies have an independent or autonomous
existence, and that there may be an "elective affinity" between
ideologies and class interests.

Marx said that early capitalists got their wealth through genocide
and slavery, while Weber says that they got their wealth through
ascetic living and rational organization of production.

Marx and Weber had very different views of how capitalists extract
profits and of how European hegemony was established.  Marx said that
profits come from exploitation; Weber said that profits are derived
from rational organization.

Marx said that European global hegemony resulted from military
conquest and economic plunder.  Weber said that European global
hegemony resulted from the unique cultural values of Western
Civilization.  Marx saw capitalism as an exploitative and alienating
system that should be condemned and overthrown, while Weber
celebrated it as a unique Western invention.

It is therefore not so surprising that, during World War I, Weber
praised the German Army "which protects our country against
uncivilized people," and that in 1918 he proclaimed, "an army of
Negroes, Ghurkas and all other barbaric riff-raff in the world is
stationed at our borders, half crazy with rage, revenge, and greed to
devastate our country." (quoted in Ilse Dronberger, "The Political
Thought of Max Weber," 1971, p. 195).

Meanwhile, Marxists were organizing the "barbaric riff-raff" of the
world to transform the imperialist war into a civil war and overthrow
their capitalist ruling classes.

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