Marxist Theory

The writings of Karl Marx didn't make much impact into organizational theory in the US until the 1970's. Burawoy describes this development (1982) from Marx's later writings (Capital, Karl Marx:Early Writings, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy) through to Habermas (1971).

The Marxist approach began largely as a critique of the human relations school (Scott p. 115) "Marxists argue that organizational structures are not rational systems for performing work in the most efficient manner; rather, they are power systems designed to maximize control and profits. Work is divided and subdivided not to improve efficiency but to "deskill" workers, to displace discretion from workers to managers, and to create artificial divisions among the work force" (Scott quoting Braverman, 1974). "Hierarchy develops not as a rational means of coordination but as an instrument of control and a means of accumulating capital through the appropriation of surplus value" (Scott quoting Edwards 1979).

Human relations theories don't challenge the exploitive nature of organizations and merely give managers new psychological tools to control workers. For Marxists, rationality is an ideology itself. They see the organization as intimately a part of the larger historical and economic context of the nation-state it is in, highly influenced by govenmental and political structures (Burrell and Morgan, 1979).

Marxist theorists emphasize a historical perspective in examining organizations. They see current sociology as locked into the capitalist paradigm and unable to envision something other than a rational view for future organizations.

Marx saw that the social relations of production in a society as the primary source of class stratification and conflict. The problem wasn't in the individual characteristics of the workers but the inevitable consequences of their position in the labor system. Once laborers no longer owned the tools of production they were alienated from the dominant values of that society.

The main critique of Marxism was that is was tied to a particular historical period and ignored other environmental changes.


Marxist Explanations for the Creation of Organizations