Weber and Marx

Weber and Marx
Some common views and fundamental differences


Marianne Weber: Max Weber. Ein Lebensbild ("Max Weber: A Biography", 1926) 

FROM MAX WEBER: Essays in Sociology 







Marx and Weber 

Upon taking over the editorship of the Archiv Für Sozialwissenschaft 
und Sozialpolitik, Weber proposed systematically to devote attention to 
the questions the Marxists had raised. Much of Weber's own work is of 
course informed by a skilful application of Marx's historical method. 
Weber, however, used this method as a 'heuristic principle.' As a view 
of world history, Marxism seemed to him an untenable monocausal the- 


ory and thus prejudicial to an adequate reconstruction of social and his- 
torical connections. He felt that Marx as an economist had made the 
same mistake that, during Weber's days, anthropology was making: 
raising a segmental perspective to paramount importance and reducing 
the multiplicity of causal factors to a single-factor theorem. 

Weber does not squarely oppose historical materialism as altogether 
wrong; he merely takes exception to its claim of establishing a single 
and universal causal sequence. Apart from whether or not he 'under- 
stood' dialectical thought in his reduction of it to a causal proposition, 
the approach did prove eminently fruitful. 

Part of Weber's own work may thus be seen as an attempt to 'round 
out' Marx's economic materialism by a political and mihtary materialism. 
The Weberian approach to political structures closely parallels the Marx- 
ian approach to economic structures. Marx constructed economic periods 
and located major economic classes in them; he related the several social 
and political factors to the means of production. In political matters, 
Weber looks for the disposition over weapons and over means of admin- 

Feudalism, for example, is characterized by Weber in terms of pri- 
vate property of the means of military violence (self-equipped armies) 
and in the corporate appropriation of the means of administration. The 
'ruler' could not monopolize administration and warfare because he had 
to delegate the implements required for such a monopoly to the several 
privileged groupings. In time, these latter become 'owners' in their own 
right. This attention to the control of the material means of political 
power is as crucial for grasping the types of political structure as is 
attention to the means of production in the case of Marx for grasping 
economic structures.* 

Whereas Marx is less careful in distinguishing between economic 
power and political power, Weber, as a liberal, is eager to keep these 
spheres clearly distinct. Thus, his criticism of most Marxist contributions 
is that they fail soberly to distinguish between what is strictly 'economic,' 
what is 'economically determined,' and what is merely 'economically 
relevant.' Pilgrimages to Rome are certainly relevant for the money 
market, but that does not make them economic enterprises. The im- 
port of religious or of poHtical ideas for economic institutions does not 

* See in this volume: 'Politics as a Vocation,' 'Bureaucracy,' and 'The Social Psychology 
of World Religions.' 


thereby transform these ideas into economic factors: the question con- 
cerns their 'economic relevance.' 

Having focused upon the struggle for the means of poHtical rule, 
Weber sees European political history since the feudal period' as an in- 
tricate parade of rulers, each attempting to appropriate the financial and 
military means that in feudal society were relatively dispersed. In fact, 
Weber formulates the very concept of the 'state' in terms of a 'monopoly' 
of the use of legitimate force over a given territory. The territorial aspect 
enters into the conception of the state in that Weber distinguishes coastal 
and inland states, great river states, and states of the plains. The geo- 
graphical factor also seems to have a dispositional bearing in that the 
coastal, and hence maritime, state offers opportunities for city democracy, 
overseas empire; whereas the state of the plains — for example, Russia and 
the United States — seems to favor schematization and bureaucracy, al- 
though of course this tendency is not without exceptions. 

With Marx, Weber shares an attempt to bring 'ideological' phenomena 
into some correlation with the 'material' interests of the economic and 
political orders. Weber has a keen eye for 'rationalizations,' that is, for 
'fictitious superstructures,' and for incongruities between the verbal as- 
sertion and the actual intention. He fought imperial and bureaucratic 
bombast, and especially the phrases of the Pan-Germanists and/or revo- 
lutionary 'literati,' with a wrath comparable to Marx's campaign against 
Victorian cant. 

The debunking technique by which ideological assertions are revealed 
as false cloaks for less respectable interests is obvious in Weber's attack 
upon the revolutionary left of 1918. Weber expressly stated at this time 
that Marxism is not a carriage, which one may arrest at will: he wished 
to extend the debunking of ideologies to include the 'proletarian interest,' 
and he attempted to narrow down this interest to the interests of the 
^literati, politicians, and revolutionary guardsmen in 'the spoils of vic- 
tory.' His debunking of socialist aspirations is also obvious in his reflec- 
tions on imperialism. Here he obviously accepts national units as histori- 
cal ultimates that can never be integrated into more comprehensive and 
harmonious wholes. At best there will be strong socialist nation-states 
energetically exploiting weaker states. The concept of the nation and of 
national interest is thus the limit of Weber's political outlook and at the 
same time constitutes his ultimate value. Yet it is characteristic of his 
restless analysis that he breaks down 'national sentiment' into a com- 
posite of various communal sentiments and attitudes. 


In addition to this attention to 'interests' and 'ideologies,' Weber's 
sociology is related to Marx's thought in the common attempt to grasp 
the interrelations on all institutional orders making up a social structure. 
In Weber's work, military and religious, political and juridical institu- 
tional systems are functionally related to the economic order in a variety 
of ways. Yet, the political judgments and evaluations involved differ 
entirely from those of Marx. For Marx, the modern economy is basically 
irrational; this irrationality of capitalism results from a contradiction 
between the rational technological advances of the productive forces 
and the fetters of private property, private profit, and unmanaged market 
competition. The system is characterized by an 'anarchy of production.'. 

For Weber, on the other hand, modern capitali^mis not 'irrational'; 
indeed, its institutions appear to him as the very embodiment of ration- 
ality. As a type of bureaucracy, the large corporation is rivaled only by 
the state bureaucracy in promoting rational efficiency, continuity of oper- 
ation, speed, precision, and calculation of results. And all this goes on 
within institutions that are rationally managed, and in which combined 
and specialized functions occupy the center of attention. The whole 
structure is dynamic, and by its anonymity compels modern man to be- 
come a specialized expert, a 'professional' man qualified for the accom- 
plishment of a special career within pre-scheduled channels. Man is thus 
prepared for his absorption in the clattering process of the bureaucratic 

The concept of rational bureaucracy is played off against the Marxist 
concept of the class struggle. As is the case with 'economic materialism,' 
so with 'class struggle': Weber does not deny class struggles and their 
part in history, but he does not see them as the central dynamic. Nor 
does he deny the possibility of a socialization of the means of produc- 
tion. He merely relegates this demand to a far distant future and dis- 
putes any hope of 'socialism for our time.' He does not see anything 
attractive in socialism. In his eyes, socialism would merely complete in 
the economic order what had already happened in the sphere of political 
means. The feudal estates had been expropriated of their political means 
and had been displaced by the salaried officialdom of the modern bureau- 
cratic state. The state had 'nationalized' the possession of arms and of i/ 
administrative means. Socialization of the means of production would 
merely subject an as yet relatively autonomous economic life to the 
bureaucratic management of the state. The state would indeed become 7' 
total, and Weber, hating bureaucracy as a shackle upon the liberal indi- 


vidual, felt that socialism would thus lead to a further serfdom. Tor the 
time being,' he wrote, 'the dictatorship of the official and not that of 
the worker is on the march.' ^ 

Weber thus saw himself as holding paradoxical opinions. He could 
not but recognize the inevitability of bureaucratic management in public 
administration, in large capitalist enterprises, and in politically efficient 
party machines. During the war he personally scolded the stupidity of 
the Berlin bureaucrats, yet in his classic account of bureaucracy he is 
very far from John Stuart Mill's verdict against 'pedantocracy.' On the 
contrary, for Weber nothing is more efficient and more precise than 
bureaucratic management. Again in his pride in bureaucracy, 'in spite 
of all,' one may discern an attitude comparable to Marx's admiration for 
the achievements of bourgeois capitalism in wiping out feudal survivals, 
the 'idiocy' of rural life, and various spooks of the mind. 

Marx's emphasis upon the wage worker as being 'separated' from the 
means of production becomes, in Weber's perspective, merely one special 
case of a universal trend. The modern soldier is equally 'separated' from 
the means of violence; the scientist from the means of enquiry, and the 
civil servant from the means of administration. Weber thus tries to 
relativize Marx's work by placing it into a more generalized context and 
showing that Marx's conclusions rest upon observations drawn from a 
dramatized 'special case,' which is better seen as one case in a broad series 
of similar cases. The series as a whole exemplifies the comprehensive 
underlying trend of bureaucratization. Socialist class struggles are merely 
a vehicle implementing this trend. 

Weber thus identifies bureaucracy with rationality, and the process 
of rationalization with mechanism, depersonalization, and oppressive 
routine. Rationality, in this context, is seen as adverse to personal free- 
dom. Accordingly, Weber is a nostalgic liberal, feeling himself on the 
defensive. He deplores the type of man that the mechanization and the 
routine of bureaucracy selects and forms. The narrowed professional, 
publicly certified and examined, and ready for tenure and career. His 
craving for security is balanced by his moderate ambitions and he is re- 
warded by the honor of official status. This type of man Weber deplored 
as a petty routine creature, lacking in heroism, human spontaneity, and 
inventiveness : 'The Puritan willed to be the vocational man that we have 
to be.'

One thought on “Weber and Marx

  1. A tőkekritikának módosulnia kellett, de távolról sem vált érdektelenné. Helyénvaló volt ez a Max Weber özvegye által sajtó alá rendezett hagyatékból közölt szemelvényed:


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