Marx’s Class Conflict and Titanic

How would have the 20th century of the world developed if Karl Marx (1818-1883) was not born? It could plainly be stated that the history of the 20th century received its basic theories from Marx. Half of all people in the world lived in countries of the 20th century that inherited Marx's theories, for one hundred years after Marx's death. Many people agree that Marx has been one of the most important people who still influence world history. One of Marx's theories on 'class conflict' is an important work, along with the theory 'alienation', because through these theories, Marx explained social theory. This essay will examine the theory of Marx's class conflict, focusing on the presence of inequality and oppression in society, associated with the movie, Titanic (1997).

The theory of class conflict explains the human social history between two classes, the exploiting and the exploited. This social theory, one of the major theories developed by Marx, also founded the basis of communism. According to Marx (1848, chap. 1), "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" - This is the common theory of Marxism. This statement explains that all existing circumstances of history have caused class conflict and that history has been improved by class conflicts. The class conflict was explained by Marx and Engels through the book, The Communist Manifesto (1848). They pointed out that classes, such as, freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, opposed each other. Moreover, their society was obviously divided by classes. There are two classes defined by the ownership of property in the society, one is "the bourgeoisie, who own the factories and corporations and form the ruling class" and another one is "the proletariat, the mass of workers, who [are] exploited by this ruling class (Berger 1982, p. 44)". Marx believed that capitalism, as a socioeconomic system made the classes, which causes internal tension leading to its destruction and resultantly displaced by communism, so communists must promote the destruction and prepare for displacement (Morrow and Torres 1995, p. 121). Marx's view was economic sight. The two classes have interests in common, thus, they are in conflict with those of another class as a whole. This is turn leads to conflict between individual members of different classes (Berger 1982, p. 45). In addition, Marx did not recognise other systems of classification. Through the Marx's view, only the classes between employer and employee are substantial system of classification and others, which classify classes by religion, race, and nation, are not the system. Marx believed the reason being that they are not natural or useful to humans.

The movie, Titanic (1997) is about the sinking of the Titanic, an Olympic-class passenger liner. It is based on real story of the Titanic; more than 1500 people died and only 700 people rescued on its Maiden voyage from England to New York on 15 April, 1912. The main story of this movie is about the love of two passengers- Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater - of different social classes. Through their love, this movie conveys the inequality between first-class passengers and third-class passengers.

There are two parties in the Titanic. Under the deck, is allocated to the poorer, third-class passengers. Their party is fabulous – natural, humanistic, and active, so everybody enjoys it. However, on the deck, the party of the first-class passengers is boring – conventional formalities, burdensome protocol, and cheap conversations. Through these parties, the movie portrays first-class passengers as foolish as well as the first-class passengers being 'worldly-minded' people.

The mother of the heroine, Rose DeWitt Bukater, is primarily concerned with her daughter's marriage to Karl- a rich man from the steel industry- in order to sustain their depreciating family. Karl gives a big diamond to Rose DeWitt Bukater in order to interest her mind. Jack Dawson saves Rose's life when Rose attempts suicide, later being invited to a party for first-class passengers. One of the first-class passengers, Molly Brown, previously a poor woman who became rich from the mine industry, introduces the people in the party; Duff Gordon, who earns lots of money from women's flashily and Guggenheim, who travels with his immoral girlfriend. During the party, when the conversation goes to the theory of Freud, psychologist, the shipowner asks, "Who is Freud? Is he a passenger?". This movie portrays the high-class people as foolish people without any 'basic' knowledge.

Although Jack and Rose are of different social classes, they fall in love. Meanwhile, the Titanic collides with an iceberg. During the Titanic’s sinking, the crew lock steel doors under the deck, in order to blockade the path of third-class passengers, who want to get onto lifeboats. The crew also threaten to kill passengers with guns because the priority for boarding life-boats is allocated to first-class passengers. While only one lifeboat remains, the third-class passengers break the barriers and doors, intruding onto the deck. At the same time, a member of ship-crew named Willy kills a third-class passenger then kills himself. The passenger killed was a friend of Jack. Additionally portrayed is a third-class woman, who unable to board a lifeboat, gives her children sleeping pills, further inducing sleep by telling a story. Moreover, Karl- Rose's fiancé- bribes the crew and uses a girl, in tears because she lost her parents, to get on a lifeboat, forcing a third-class passenger out of the boat using an oar.

On the one hand, the shipowner, who does not know Freud, also unfairly gets the lifeboat for women and children. Meanwhile, Willy, the crew-member, looks at him with a mocking laughter and anger, while lowering the boat. The captain, who has administrative responsibilities and experiences, seemed to have plenty of confidence in himself earlier, but later loses his resolve and does not make any order during the two hours of the Titanic's sinking. Showing his role allegorically, he is portrayed to die in the ship’s steering room.

On the other hand, the crew, including Willy, maintain their role aboard until the last moment. In fact, extremely few crew who row life-boats, survive. The members of a string quartet forego personal survival and play music until their death.

The 700 first-class passengers, as the ‘chosen people’ on lifeboats, see the final moments of the Titanic and the other 1500 people, which descend into the North Atlantic Ocean, as despairing third-class passengers. The sinking resulted primarily in the death of women, consisting of 45% in the third-class, 16% in the second-class, with only 3% in the first-class.

In conclusion, the scenes of the Titanic prove that "history is based on unending class conflict (Berger 1982, p. 44)" as Marx stated. This movie conveys that the inequality and unfair treatment between the bourgeoisie and proletariat must be corrected. Maximilian Weber, who was interest in the inequality of Marx's time, defined the class as equivalent to 'life chance' (Bendix 1977, p. 85). The differences between the classes provide value to decisions in the span of human life. The passengers of the Titanic had their destinies decided through classes. The sinking of Titanic, which combined the destiny of survivors with the deceased, proves resolutely that 'class' is indeed, 'life chance'.

Bendix, R. 1977, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Berger, A. A. 1982, Media Analysis Techniques, Sage Publications, Beverley Hills.

Marx, K. & Engels, E. 1848, 'Bourgeois and Proletarians', Manifesto of the Communist Party, viewed 1 April 2008, <>.

Morrow, R. A. & Torres, C. A. 1995, Social Theory and Education: A Critique of Theories of Social and Cultural Reproduction, State University of New York Press, Albany.

Kappelman, T. 1998, Titanic: A Critical Appraisal
, viewed 1 April 2008, <

Phillips, D. W. 2007, The Titanic Numbers Games, viewed 1 April 2008, <

Wikipedia 2008, Class conflict, viewed 1 April 2008, <>.

Wikipedia 2008, Marxism, viewed 1 April 2008, <>.

Wikipedia 2008, Max Weber, viewed 1 April 2008, <>.

Workers World 2008, Marx and 'Titanic', viewed 1 April 2008, <>.


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