Georg Simmel did not pretend to usurp the subject matter of economics, ethics, psychology or historiography, but rather it concentrated on the forms of interactions that underlie political, economic, religious, and sexual behaviour. He also studied the Social Geometry where the 2 variable studied were numbers and distance.
On the other hand Karl Marx was a socialist theoretician and organiser and made history in the sector of Economy and also with his philosophical thoughts. However one can never forget the input he gave in the study of society. For Marx struggle rather than peaceful growth was the engine of progress; strife was the father of all things, and social conflict the core of historical process.
The forms found in social reality are never pure. Simmel argues how every social phenomenon contains a multiplicity of formal elements. Cooperation and conflict, subordination and super ordination, intimacy and distance all may be operative in a marital relationship or in a bureaucratic structure. Simmel also typed the people in the society through their phenomenological details. “The stranger” “the middle man” “the mediator” “the poor”. Through his relation with others, one gets his or her type. This was the way how classification was performed in his view. The stranger and the poor, as well as Simmel’s other types, are assigned their position by virtue of specific interactive relations.
Regarding social classes Marx could only see the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariats. According to Marx, there were only 2 classes, those which owned the means of production (capitalists), and those who sell their labour in order to increase the production.
One must note the dialectical approach which informs Simmels Sociology, bringing out the differences and the conflicts between every unit of the society that he analysed. In Simmel’s work one can note the connections but also the tensions between the individual and the society itself. Marx also mentioned this dialectic approach in his studies and this was one of those arguments where they agreed together.
In an interaction, a number of people are involved. According to Simmel, the number changes the form of the interaction. Dyad was one thing he studied. In a dyad, people can keep their individuality but in a triad, the individuality is lost. The different roles individuals chooses to take, will effect the interaction.
Simmel’s view on the modern man is that he is surrounded by a world of objects that constrains and dominated the individual in his needs and desires. Simmel claims that technology brings about “unnecessary” knowledge, meaning that knowledge that has no particular value but is simply the secondary product of the autonomous expansion of scientific activities.
Marx brought about the phenomenon of ‘Alienation’. He argued that nowadays, the workers are kept away from the final product and therefore they are alienated in order that they are always kept under control. Since the workers are not aware about the product they are finally doing, there is no more satisfaction in their job and they are working only for their wage.
But what do Marx and Simmel have indifferent?
After having made a small summary of their works and their theories, one can now easily say what do they have in similar and not.
The main differences between Marx and Simmel are that Karl Marx holds the Capitalist mode of production responsible for the contradiction of modern and industrialised society. On the other had, Simmel keeps the money economy responsible for the impersonalisation of social relations.
Marx’s theory is more concerned with the capitalist world of production and the relation between money, labour and the capital while Simmel concentrates on the distribution and circulation of goods which are held to constitute a value-creating sphere of exchange. Simmel’s work Philosophie des Geldes is an important critique of Marx’s political economy. In Marx’s work, money has different functions; a measure of value, medium of exchange, and a means of accumulating wealth. Marx continues by claiming that “embodied abstract labour and that the value of money was determined by the conditions of production”.
In his argument, Simmel sees money as representing a sociological phenomenon, and a form of human interaction. For Simmel economy is only a simply one form of exchange although exchange itself is of an utmost importance form of socialisation.
The laws of capitalism are reflected in both value theories. They differ from the formal-philosophical sociology of Simmel and the economic-historical analysis of Karl Marx. Marx focuses on the power of individualisation and freedom is of course far more problematic. The freedom of someone is easily maintained by the non-freedom of the many others.
According to Simmel, socialism cannot understand the personality of every individual except by destroying their own freedom, and this shows the total opposition from Marx stand.
And what do they have in common?
Regarding the division of labour, both Sociologists unify in their analysis and in common aspect comes out. Simmel claims that “the perfection of the product is attained at the cost of the development of the producer. The increase in physical and psychical energies and skills which accompanies one-sided activities hardly benefits the total personality; in fact it often leads to atrophy because it sucks asperity those forces that are necessary for the harmonious development of the full personality”.
Marx and Simmel agrees that by the division of labour there are processes like reification of cultural products, causing an increase in alienation between the individual and then products it owns. They argue that the producer is not anymore able to find his abilities in the product since the producer loses himself in the product due to alienation.
Another point where we find divergence between Marx and Simmel is when dealing with money. Georg Simmel claims that money destroying utility by saying “money is nothing but the vehicle for a movement in which everything else that is not in motion is completely extinguished… it lives in continuous self-alienation… and direct negation of all being in itself”. Of the same opinion was Marx. They both used religious analogies to underline the impersonal nature of money, and such theme of impersonalisation is clearly noted in Marx’s and Simmel’s writings.
Simmel rebuilt again some classical themes tackled by Marx, like objectification and alienation. This was done before discovering Grundrisse’s work done by Marx. Both Simmel and Marx see money as the purest form of reification; it is the best medium in a modern economic world we are living in today’s life. It transforms the quality into quantity and alienates people from their true existence which fragments the personality into formal properties.
These similarities and differences, found in the perspective on money and economy, together with the relations of production and interactions, brings us more aware of how important the study of society is. However, there is the constant of change which plays the utmost important part. It means that new perspectives may always arise especially when we live in a different society we had yesterday and from the one there is tomorrow.