Nov 21, 2019 in Economics

The Comparison of Weber’s and Marx’s Explanations for the Development of Capitalism


A German economist, philosopher, and revolutionary sociologist Karl Marx was a great contributor to the history of capitalism development. The full title of Karl Marx’s work on the vision of market as a system is Capital: The Critique of Political Economy. The first volume was published in 1867 while the author was still alive. The beginning of this book is largely devoted to the properties and functions of money. This volume very clearly and in details illuminates the question of the historical trend of capital accumulation. Marx’s best friend Friedrich Engels published the second and third volumes in 1885 and 1894 posthumously. The second volume of Capital continues what Marx’s predecessor Francois Quesnay did not finish in his economic table. In particular, Karl Marx continued to develop his theory of the circulation of the social product. Moreover, in the second volume, he analyzes the reproduction of social capital. In order to do this, Marx analyzes the entire economy in general and not its individual parts, as the economists before him did. Marx also shows what mistake on this issue the representatives of the classical school made. 

The third volume of this work is devoted to such important issues as usury, commercial and money capital, and land rent. Moreover, the third volume covers the issue of obtaining the average rate of profit. In order to get the average profit rate, it is necessary to use the law of value. The novelty of this analysis is achieved again by examining the economy as a whole, rather than individual parts. The first thing analyzed by Karl Marx is the very origin of the surplus value. He then begins to analyze the ways of how this surplus profit is divided into land rent, interest and profit. Profit is the result of how the surplus value relates to the total capital, which is invested in the company. According to Marx, if a person increases productivity, there will take place the fastest growth of the constant capital (if to compare it with the variable capital). Marx stated that the production of various commodities dominated in the capitalist society. Leaning on this fact, he began his studies in the area of goods analysis. 

The main conceptual principles of Marx’s works

Marx believed that the production as a whole was a well-established system of human relations in which all the goods should be equated during the fulfillment of the exchange. Therefore, labor itself (rather than labor in a particular field of production) is common to all commodities. The magnitude of value is the amount of work or the working time that is socially necessary to produce any consumer value. According to Karl Marx, when people compare their various products, they unconsciously compare their very different kinds of labor. The product is, in fact, the essence of the time spent and "frozen" in the goods.

Marx suggested that the labor has a dual character. After he finished with the analysis of labor, he began to examine the properties of money. For a while, he was studying the origin of money, and then took up the historical development of money as such. In his point of view, the money was only the highest product of the development and production of commodity goods. Moreover, Marx was involved into a detailed analysis of the functions of money, especially at the beginning of his work Capital.

When a society reaches a certain stage in the development of trade relations, the money becomes the capital. According to Marx, the surplus value is the increase of the original cost of money that has been invested into circulation. In his opinion, this increase in cost makes money a capital.

There exist at least two prerequisites for the emergence of capital:

  1. The accumulation of money in the hands of individual citizens in terms of a sufficiently large level of production development;
  2. The availability of free workers, who are no longer "tied" to some land or some manufacture. On the other hand, these people have nothing but their labor power.

In the course of the history, every mode of production - ancient, feudal and capitalist generated the corresponding political organization to protect the interests of the ruling class. Large-scale industry and the general competition of modern capitalism created the modern liberal-democratic state, which allowed the bourgeoisie to implement their class interests most effectively.

Genesis of Weber’s capitalist views

German thinker Max Weber (1864-1920) is considered the founder of Western sociology and the founder of Western political science. In the works of purely political science content, he formed a number of fundamental political ideas that today have a scientific and methodological significance. The Protestant Ethic is a work that became a classic immediately after its publication. The 1870s became the period of Weber’s renaissance appearance and rapid development. Weber was a contemporary and a witness of the birth and emergence of capitalism as an ideological system, therefore in his work he outlined impressions and conclusions he gained from personal experience. In particular, in The Protestant Ethic he explains how religious beliefs may indirectly contribute to the success and the well-being of people. However, Weber's work bears not only a religious nature – tracing the genesis of capitalism, he delivers significant economic material, particularly in the area of labor rationalization.

The Spirit of Capitalism became the basic concept to explain which Weber explains and concentrates in his work. Nevertheless, according to Weber, these two words allowed human civilization not to perish in itself, but to make a big step forward towards improvement. Therefore, it is not surprising that the disclosure and the prerequisites of the development of the concept occupy a considerable part of author’s attention and a significant part of his work.

Weber is the scientist that most effective explored cultural and spiritual aspects of modern European capitalist system. He thus largely contradicted Marx's vision of the primacy of economic relations in the development of anything new. On the one hand, Max Weber recognizes Marx as an outstanding scientist who initiated the scientific study of capitalism and regarded capitalism a powerful factor in the progressive development in comparison with the feudal type of economy. On the other hand, he considers Karl Marx’s conclusion on the analysis of capitalism absolutely utopian. Weber admits that with the help of his work he wanted to show the failure of the Marxist principle according to which only economic relations in society determine the forms of social consciousness. 

The main conceptual principles of Weber’s work

In his work, Max Weber conducted a thorough research trying to prove that religious belief and religious ethics became the main incentive of capitalist society, and formed a specific "spirit of capitalism". By focusing on this side of arguments about capitalism, the author to some extent distracted from other factors that contributed to its occurrence.

The first chapter of his work endures the most of contextual load. Weber revealed the essence of the "spirit of capitalism" and the main factors because of which it arose. Among others, the author concentrates on three main factors. First, he focused on the spirit of rationality which formation was greatly influenced by the ancient science and Roman law. The second factor was the emergence of a free worker and industrialist. These carriers of liberated work actively ingrained in public life, and sustained their position in it along with the development of rationalism. Finally, the third factor was the Protestant religion, which most clearly embodied the essence of the new society. 

Weber operates with such concepts as time and money, money and credit, honesty, punctuality, diligence, efficiency, frugality, presence and visibility of the virtues, greed, vocation, and tradition. He shows on practical examples of capitalism and traditionalism osculation the advantages and disadvantages of each (traditionalism almost always loses).


Making preliminary findings based on the material presented in Weber’s and Marx’s works, one can claim that the economic growth of the world countries became possible because of the specific nature of the system - the system that developed before it was recognized as a system or justified as the ideology. The main feature of economies that emerged in Europe as a result of the decline of feudalism was their high pragmatism and lack of ideological ties with any principles except with economic efficiency and survival. This transformation and the transition from feudal to capitalist relations were not a surprise to mankind while capitalism was born naturally and gradually absorbed all spheres of life. According to Weber’s assumptions, it could happen because people penetrated the so-called "spirit of capitalism".

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