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
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