Marxism and Structuralism

De Baripedia

These two concepts are different, but have some form of link between them. We will expose Marx's theories centered on class struggle and capitalist economics. Thus, by analyzing it, it is possible to understand the political issues related to the global transformation of the planet. Then we will see structuralism by trying to show the links that can exist between Marxism and structuralism that we also call structuralo-marxism.

We start from an analysis of Marxism around its founder who is Marx, then we pass to the analysis of structuralism with Claude Lévi-Strauss, then, finally, we will be interested in the influence of Marxist thought on politics.


Karl Marx : 1818 - 1883

Karl Marx en 1875.

Marx is a key personality of the 19th century. He will cross it, confronting the exceptional mutation of this century marked by the industrial revolution which goes beyond all the social, political and cultural frameworks of the old regime. We're being thrown into an upheaval that Marx is going to want to echo.

Born into a family of Jewish lawyers converted to Protestantism, he grew up in an easy and favorable environment that was not revolutionary, but conducive to intellectual development. He will combine three subjects: the law which enables him to understand that it is a science of the structuring of societies by its normative dimension which imprints society by its mode of functioning and regulation; history which offers a field of long duration to interpret events and phenomena. Rapidly, it will be marked by the readings of the first socialists. He then completed his studies in philosophy at the major universities of the time, Bohn and Berlin.

In 1841, Marx defended a doctoral thesis on Epicure[1]. Between 1841 and 1845, he began to absorb the first revolutionary doctrines that appeared and were already based on a revolutionary socialism that took into consideration a very hard world for work combined with a rise in power of capitalism called the "first capitalism". It is a capitalism of exploitation without social consideration of labour.

He lives in an environment that will quickly make him aware of political protest. Thus, from 1840, he became pre-revolutionary, being driven back from Prussia and France. In Germany, he became editor of the Rhineland Gazette, which got him into trouble, and as an opposition newspaper with a democratic and revolutionary tendency, as editor-in-chief he participated in the German revolutionary effervescence.

The history of Marx is the constitution of the revolutionary international. The emergence of the capitalist society sees the emergence of a diaspora of intellectuals and thinkers scattered in the great capitals that organize themselves, allowing the development of revolutionary thought.

In Paris, he met Engels, who was campaigning and reflecting on a number of reforms to be introduced. Thus, Marx will develop a revolutionary proletarian socialist theory that legitimizes violence; violence is an element of combat; the question of social violence is legitimate. The only way to transform society is to propose revolution. He is brought to justice and goes to Belgium from where he will also be expelled.

Starting from the Communist Party Manifesto in 1867, he began to question one of the major components of capitalism, as Weber had understood in his book on Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism, that in order to understand capitalism, one must integrate the question of capital.

For many years Marx wrote Le Capital until its publication in 1867. It revolves around a new specific vocabulary which is the concept of political economy. Economics is not outside politics, it conforms to and describes a political system. In other words, the economy is not outside society, but it is the basic premise that the economy is an integral part of society. Political economy links economic issues to the systems that regulate them.

Marx was delighted with the revolution of 1848 in France and the social conflicts that were born, all signs of the transformation of society through revolution.

From 1864 onwards, he was part of the International Socialist Workers' Party of which he was an eminent member. This movement will organize the pre-revolutionary socialist movements.

After Le Capital, he will ask himself about the commune. Finally, he will examine the relations between social classes and capital as well as the challenge of a collective struggle at the level of the European peoples.

Classes and class struggles

« Pyramid of Capitalist System », début du XXème.

Marx is both a political theorist, but also an economist to some extent. Some will prefer to call him a political philosopher. It touches on many areas by asking the central question of capital. First, we must start from an apriori of the Manifesto, saying that "the history of any society up to our days has been nothing but the history of class struggles".

What defines a class in the Marxist sense is a collective awareness of belonging to a group. The concept of class is fundamental to Marxist philosophy. It is the fact that individuals in a society end up grouping together according to a consciousness of belonging to a group that defines collective behaviour.

We are limited in our action by the fact that other classes have conflicting objectives and divergent interests.

From then on, society is founded on conflict through class struggle, which is not harmony, but conflict. It is the class struggle, with its historical effects and trends, that determines the existence of classes, not the other way around. At some point, people will have to fight in a social and political system forging class consciousness and creating a common identity. Modern society states a freedom that does not transcend class society.

In the 19th century, new forms of oppression emerged, i.e. new forms of domination which were the domination of the bourgeoisie. Modern bourgeois society has not abolished class antagonisms as the revolution proclaimed, it has only created new ones. It merely substitutes new classes: "Modern bourgeois society (...) has not abolished class antagonisms. All it has done is substitute new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle for those of the past".

Capital and salaried labour

The movement of capital

From there, he analyzed what bourgeois society was. He will question himself on the bourgeoisie which constitutes a particular economic order whose fundamental stake is the perpetuation of the production of value. In other words, the bourgeoisie's only destiny is to accumulate capital and perpetuate the production of this economic value. The bourgeois woman who only wants to reproduce capital has no specific thought towards the working class, except that the working class serves her in the production of capital. According to the Marxist definition of capital, capital is the production of a good or a value that weighs a cost of production (capitalist system). It induces a production of value which is market and which makes it possible to enrich oneself. Capital, in the practice of bourgeois economy, is the development of a given quantity of value. Thus, a differentiation is highlighted between having and mass of work. The holder of the capital has only one function which is to manufacture even more value

The origin of the added value

The value produced must produce added value. We must constantly produce added value, which is an infinite process of reinvestment. The value of capital is all forms of possible added value, including money, means of production being transcribed into a monetary value. It makes money and produces ever more value. The principle is that this value is not redistributed. The purpose of capital is to increase the monetary quantity. The capital gain is dissolved in the various forms of capital increase.

Work and overwork

Marx identifies two fundamental assets:

  • constant capital: which invests itself in means of production, it is the repurchase of new means of production to gather even more capital in machines, raw materials, or still in equipment. Any capitalist who does not reinvest is doomed.
  • variable capital: which is invested in salaries, it is the price of the labour force that the capital buys for a given time. Marx therefore explains capitalism in this logic by highlighting two limits:
  • "Absolute" added value: is obtained by extending working hours, so that workers can only reproduce their labour force by working longer. Thus capitalism is also a thought about the limit of the capacity to work.
  • "Relative" added value: is obtained by reducing work, by reducing the value of the labour force. A lower limit must be pushed back to increase productivity. A good example is the scientific organization of work.


Capital accumulation produces a double result:

  • the concentration of capital in its various forms. To produce ever more; showing an inconsistency between capitalism and monopoly, because capitalism destroys competition
  • the creation of an overpopulation of workers, which is the "population law" of capitalist society: the concentration of capital engages the concentration of the proletariat according to Marx, so there is no other means than to abolish this relationship by transforming the class economic struggle into a class political struggle, an organized struggle for the transformation of social relations.

The contradictions of capitalism

His object is the transformation of social relations. Capitalism cannot amend itself since it essentially has the concentration of capital and labour, so it must be destroyed by revolution. There is a fundamental contradiction between capital and labour. All capitalist societies aggravate class antagonism. As it concentrates on one side and massifies on the other contrast can only get worse.

Class struggles and communism

We must try to think of revolution: it is the collective awareness of its exploitation: the workers must become aware of their exploitation by explaining to them through the Manifesto and by constituting a revolutionary doctrine on which to engage the fight. The social class is a collective group identity because there is awareness by individuals, so even if there is dependence there is the ability to rebound through awareness - Marx's idea is that "the working class must break, demolish the ready state machine, and not just take possession of it. The institution and political system that allows the ruling class to govern must be demolished. The issue is not changing people, but changing systems.

The "Manifesto" Thesis

Fac similé de la couverture de l'édition originale

In the Manifesto, he describes the phases of revolution: "The first stage in the workers revolution is the constitution of the proletariat into a ruling class, the conquest of democracy. The proletariat will use its political domination to gradually wrest all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all the instruments of production in the hands of the state.

Measures for the State of the Proletariat :

  • expropriation of land ownership: expropriation of the rich and possessing
  • highly progressive tax
  • abolition of inheritance: condemnation of capitalist dynasties
  • confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels
  • forfeiture of property to the Crown
  • centralization of credit in the hands of the state
  • multiplication of national factories and production instruments
  • compulsory work for all;
  • combination of agricultural and industrial work
  • free public education for all children. There is a modern awareness of the need for a structured state that structures the social field. Modern elements appear in the analysis of the improvement of the functioning of society:
  1. the state: at the centre of the political process
  2. the organization of the proletariat into a dominant class
  3. transformation of production reports.

Marxism's dream is to achieve a classless society. When the bourgeoisie is eliminated is the reappropriated capital we must be able to arrive at a new society without classes and enemies. The criticism would be to say that Marx was wrong, he acquires a utopian dimension that does not take into account that the divergences, on the other hand the interests cannot necessarily be concordant, the power relations do not evaporate.

Of course, any class struggle is a political struggle. On the other hand, the revolution must be accepted in its capacity to destroy production capacity, but also in the violence it generates. Basically, we are in an interpretation that takes essence in Machiavelli's thought.

If there is no conflict in society, then the essence of politics must be rethought. It is a regulatory instrument that disappears without conflict.

So we can ask ourselves if there can be an administration of things without a policy?

When Marx says that every society has been marked by conflict, he puts forward the concept of structure. He postulates that every society is crossed by conflict.

Marx is a historian of civilizations and long periods, whatever the social, political and cultural nature of societies the problem arises. Marx postulates that there are structures that persist in societies, but are not necessarily visible, they give themselves in societies, but do not give themselves to be read immediately.


Claude Lévi-Strauss : 1908 - 2009

Claude Lévi-Strauss en 2005.

A philosopher, ethnologist and sociologist born in 1908, Claude Lévi-Strauss is a 20th century figure and one of the great founders of structuralist analysis.

He first studied philosophy and then ethnology. He then left for Brazil and in 1935 became professor of sociology at the University of Sao Paulo. Between 1935 and 1938, he studied the Indian tribes of the Amazon. His hypothesis is "the further I go, the more I can analyze what I live.

During the war, he went to the United States and began his thesis which he presented in 1949. This thesis is entitled Les structures élémentaires de la parenté. It is a reflection on the construction of related systems in Amazonian societies. Kinship logics are not random, they are programmed, it is a social organization a field of structure. Hence kinship is not of the order of freedom. The organizational constitution of a company is a kinship structure. All the reproduction of conscious and unconscious rules promotes the functioning of societies.

This is the first structuralist analysis of the social field between kinship and structure. Behind each individual case lies the structure of the sociological organization.

He acquired considerable influence and became the theoretician of structuralism. Returning to France, he brought together researchers from different fields, and in 1949 he became director of the practical school of social science studies at a chair of comparative religions. It is set up in a device where it will be able to work on the construction of the structures.

Behind Lévi-Strauss, there is a very complex stream of writing and structuralist scientific research. It is a reflection on the permanence of structures and their future. After his thesis, he produced a series of books which had a considerable influence on the analysis of myths. Myth is never a gratuitous object, it is a structuring narrative that produces a collective identity and builds a common future. Every society needs myths; from this myth, society produces its structure.

In 1958, he published Anthropologie structurale, in which he deployed all the elements of analysis of the different social fields of social organization and on how the fabrication of myths creates cohesion and coherence.

In the chapter on history and ethnology, he produces a critical vision that does not focus on particularity, but on structure as a form of timelessness. What interests her is that, at one point, it contains structures that can be compared. It produces a critique of ethnology and ethnography:

  • Ethnology: observes and analyses human groups considered in their particularity. It establishes documents that can be used by the historian. For him, he is only studying the science of particularity.
  • Ethnography: describes and analyses the differences that appear in the way they manifest themselves in different societies. He gathers the facts, and presents them according to requirements that are the same as those of the historian.

Then, he poses what he considers to be a more fundamental science of the origin of structuralism:

  • Linguistics: can provide the sociologist, in the study of kinship problems, with assistance that makes it possible to establish links that were not immediately perceptible. Through the structures of language, it allows us to question ourselves about links that were not immediately perceptible.
  • Sociology: can provide the linguist of customs with positive rules and prohibitions that make the persistence of certain cultural traits understandable.

Still in his book Anthropologie structurale, in his chapter on linguistics and anthropology, he states language as an architecture structuring the non-neutral social field that defines structural phenomena. Language can be considered as a product of culture; it sets out a structured way of functioning.

The idea is that rigorous methods of linguistics can be applied to social science methods. Since linguistics is the structural linguistics that states the conception of words.

Later, he offers another criticism by approaching the notion of archaism in ethnology. All recent history for a century and colonization have produced an antithetical discourse based on civilization on the one hand and the absence of culture on the other. All the discourse put in place since the 1830s is built around the notion of aid and not domination to bring to the peoples of undeveloped countries the power and culture of developed countries. Thus, Lévi-Strauss shows that it is necessary to revolutionize ideas, because what is called "primitive people" is by no means endowed with primitive behaviour, but on the contrary with structured social and political behaviour; they are not peoples without history, but peoples whose history itself escapes us in part because in many of these societies there is no transmission through the written word.

Thus, it produces a critique of archaism because it is necessary to manufacture new tools that can account for the weight of the structure

He then develops a passage on the sorcerer and his magic. It is no longer a question of thinking our modern societies on the principle of rationality, it is a question of returning to the structural weight that magic has in societies. Lévi-Strauss will work on what makes magic in a society and what its effectiveness is.

Basically, there are behaviours that can be explained by their social function in society. For René Girard, the sorcerer is endowed with an efficiency of rationality, because he is at the service of society and from a corpus of belief allows society to function; the sorcerer is not external to society, but he is fully actor, it is by this very fact an element of structure that makes social order.

For Lévi-Strauss, a myth is a story that presupposes an esoteric interpretation of the world, myths are a conceptualized way of thinking about the world where a structuralist interpretation appears. All traditional societies make myth and our contemporary societies will inherit these myths speaking timelessly of power. The value of a myth is its timelessness as a permanent structuralist narrative. Thus, they have no reason to disappear and reproduce.

If we look at the dimension of politics today, we realize that politics needs a sacred dimension of the function of politics necessary for its functioning. When the sacred is lost, there is no politics.

With Lévi-Strauss, we are in an area where structure is fundamental. The structure is of the decryption order, it does not reveal itself. Structuralist thinking makes it possible to analyse modes of society.

Marxist structuralism in the field of politics: Nicos Poulantzas (1936 - 1979)


As structuralism persists, a certain number of authors have sought to make the link between structuralism and Marxism, including Nico Poulantzas.

Poulantzas was a Marxist thinker and militant of the Greek Communist Party. He will draw heavily on Marx's analysis of fascisms and dictatorships, but also on questions of the link between political power and the state (political power and social classes). He had his hour of glory in the 1960s and 1970s.

Structuralist thinking without Marx could probably not have emerged, for he insists on thinking society and looking at society in a different way.

The thinking of the social sciences in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s was strongly marked by Marxism, because the issue of reflection in the social sciences was not detached from the problems of society, particularly from the paradigm of decolonization. In the 1950s and 1960s, the social sciences interacted with Marxism to understand the birth of these revolutionary struggles. In structuralism, there is a strong inspiration of Marxism without claiming it to the contrary of Poulantzas.

When he seeks to define the capitalist state, he will be interested in the construction of bourgeois domination in the authoritarian state. According to Poulantzas, the capitalist state is a "material condensation of power relations" between classes.

It describes a structuralist system of power organization that persists and is a tactical line of force that lives only by a very strong institutional structure. It will propose a structural-Marxist analysis on the concept of the national social state: the state participates in the constitution of social relations.

What characterizes the state crisis is a permanent crisis that makes the system work in order to make them work militarily. It extends the Marxist analysis, because we are in a mental and cultural pattern in the years 1950 - 1960 that has not changed in terms of structure including the structuring of the State. Thus, the State embodies this structuralist balance of power, the State is therefore no longer a regulator, but on the contrary a creator of divergences.

Although it is the engine of social action, the State only ratifies the social relations conceived by the dominant class. He did not regulate violence, he sought to reconcile Marxism and structuralism.

The state is a concentration of dominant forces. For Poulantzas, the constitution of authoritarian states can only be overthrown by popular struggle through revolution. Popular struggle makes it possible to define a strategic configuration for challenging these structures.

This thought is interesting, for he himself is caught up in his contradictions, for he thinks he can think things through, but the weight of structuralist thought draws on the side of the impossibility of interrupting it. He legitimizes violence as a natural act, even speaks of preventive counter-revolution as a measure of the state to defeat any revolution.



  1. Differenz der demokritischen und epikureischen Naturphilosophie.