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UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT THROUGH MARXIAN PERSPECTIVE

SOCIOLOGY RESEARCH PAPER


UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT THROUGH MARXIAN
PERSPECTIVE
PROJECT SUBMITTED TO:
DR. UTTAM KUMAR PANDA
(ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY)

PROJECT SUBMITTED BY:


KEVIN JAMES
Semester I, Section A

ROLL NO. 76
SUBMITTED ON: 26.08.2013

HIDAYATULLAH NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY


RAIPUR, CHHATTISGARH
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I, Kevin James, would like to humbly present this project to Dr. Uttam Kumar Panda.. I
would first of all like to express my most sincere gratitude to Dr. Uttam Kumar Panda for his
encouragement and guidance regarding several aspects of this project. I am thankful for being
given the opportunity of doing a project on Understanding Conflict through Marxian
Perspective.
I am thankful to the library staff as well as the IT lab staff for all the conveniences they
have provided me with, which have played a major role in the completion of this paper.
I would like to thank God for keeping me in good health and senses to complete this
project..
Last but definitely not the least, I am thankful to my seniors for all their support, tips and
valuable advice whenever needed. I present this project with a humble heart.

KEVIN JAMES

SEMESTER I, SECTION A, ROLL NUMBER 76


BA LLB (HONS.)

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CERTIFICATE OF DECLARATION

I hereby declare that this research work titled Understanding Conflict through
Marxian Perspective is my own work and represents my own ideas, and where others ideas or
words have been included, I have adequately cited and referenced the original sources. I also
declare that I have adhered to all principles of academic honesty and integrity and have not
misrepresented or fabricated or falsified any idea/data/fact/source in my submission.

...
(KEVIN JAMES)

Date:

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AIMS AND OBJECTIVES


I.
II.
III.

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To understand the term Conflict in a general sense.


To study in detail about the Marxian Perspective of conflict.
To critically analyse the Marxian Perspective of conflict.

SOCIOLOGY RESEARCH PAPER

UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT THROUGH MARXIAN PERSPECTIVE

TABLE OF CONTENTS
1) AIMS AND OBJECTIVES...4

2) INTRODUCTION..6.

3) RESEARCH METHODOLOGY.7

4) WHAT IS CONFLICT? ...................................................................8

5) MARXIAN PERSPECTIVE OF CONFLICT...10

6) AN ANALYSIS OF THE MARXIAN PERSPECTIVE15

7) CONCLUSION.20

10) REFERENCES.21

INTRODUCTION
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The conflict theory was derived from the writing of Karl Marx. Marxism as a theoretical
perspective became popular in sociology only in the 1970s, about a hundred year after the death
of its founder Karl Marx in 1883. Though he always wrote regarding economic issues, it was his
ability to relate economic issues to sociology that made his contribution to the field of sociology
unique. Even his critics admit that his contribution to the field of sociology is invaluable. The
current popularity of Marxism is due to the decline of functionalism, its promise to provide
answer to questions which functionalism is ill-equipped to provide with, intellectual fashion and
the crisis faced by both contemporary socialist and capitalist societies. Marxism is a
comprehensive worldview for understanding the social world. It provides the theoretical
weapons needed to attack the mystifications of capitalism and the vision needed to mobilize the
masses for struggle. Marxism is a source of interesting and suggestive ideas, many of which
remain useful for contemporary social scientific analysis. Many people thought that the death of
socialism, both in reality and in the imagination, has spelled the final death of Marxism.
Nonetheless, Marxism continues to offer the most comprehensive critique of capitalism as well
as a compelling guide to feasibility. Marxism is an analytically powerful tradition of social
theory of vital importance for scientifically understanding the dilemmas and possibilities of
social change and social reproduction in contemporary society. Particularly if one wants to
change the world in egalitarian and emancipatory ways, Marxism is indispensable. This does not
mean, however, that every element within Marxism as it currently exists is sustainable. For
Marxism to be considered a social scientific theory it must be continually subjected to challenge
and transformation. Marxism is not a doctrine, a definitively established body of truths. But
neither is Marxism simply a catalogue of interesting insights. 1

1 GIDDENS, ANTHONY, SOCIOLOGY 15-19 (2010).

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RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

NATURE OF RESEARCH
This research work is descriptive in nature. It describes the perspective of Karl Marx on the
concept of Conflict.

SOURCES OF DATA
This study is done with the help of secondary data. This secondary information has been
obtained from published sources such as books, journals, websites, doctrines, research works etc.

MODE OF CITATION
A uniform mode of citation has been adopted and followed consistently throughout this paper.

WHAT IS CONFLICT?

The idea of conflict is basic to our understanding and appreciation of our exchange with
reality of human action. Conflict can be treated broadly as a philosophical category denoting the
clash of power against power in the striving of all things to become manifest. Or, conflict can be
seen simply as a distinct category of social behaviour, as two parties trying to get something they
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both cannot have. Moreover, conflict can be apprehended as a potentiality or a situation, as a
structure or a manifestation, as an event or a process.
The concept of conflict is multidimensional; it envelops a family of forms. We select one
depending on our analytical purposes and practical problem. Because the purpose of this project
is to primarily understand conflict, we shall first consider conflict as a general category. From
this most general conception we can work towards comprehending social conflict, and providing
the background for introducing the Marxian perspective of the same.
What then is conflict? Conflict is a balancing of powers, of capabilities to produce
effects. It is a clash of powers. But note. Conflict is not a balance, an equilibrium, of powers. It is
not a stable resultant. Conflict is the pushing and pulling, the giving and taking, the process of
finding the balance between powers.
Most fundamentally, therefore, conflict is correlative to power. Power, simply, is the
capability to produce effects; conflict is the process of powers meeting and balancing. To
understand what powers succeed requires comprehending their conflicts; to understand conflict
involves untangling the powers involved.
Conflict is therefore universal. Our learning about ourselves, others, and reality, our
growth and development, and our increasing ability to create our own heaven or hell, comes
through conflict. The desire to eradicate conflict, the hope for harmony and universal
cooperation, is the wish for a frozen, unchanging world with all relationships fixed in their
patterns--with all in balance. One in which we cannot hope nor plan for a better tomorrow, but
can only follow our inevitable course, with the determined ups and downs of a wooden horse on
a merry-go-round.2
Social conflict is the confrontation of social powers. All social conflicts involve interests.
A social power is a social interest, that is, one oriented towards other selves. And social conflict
is the opposition and balancing of such interests. Some examples of different forms of conflicts
of interest are:
(i)

Conflicts of practices or rules: Which is sometimes called conflicts of rights,


concern the correctness or applicability of formal or informal norms. Do regulations
governing television apply to cable TV? Are anti-pornography laws constitutional? Is

2 RUDOLPH J. RUMMEL, POWER KILLS: DEMOCRACY AS A METHOD OF NON VIOLENCE (1997)


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a part-time worker eligible for unemployment compensation? Disagreements as to the
answers to such questions also can be decided in a disinterested fashion. However,
questions of practice often are imbedded in normative frameworks, such as whether
government ought to be more involved in regulating society or whether a scientist
ought to be governed by methodological rules. Thus, such disagreements become
conflicts of interest--conflicts between the wants, desires, and needs of the opposing
parties.
(ii)

Conflicts of goods: These are conflicts of positive, inverse, or incompatible interests.


Two people want the same office; two disagree over a debt; or one wants the
Democrats to win an election while the other wants the Republicans to win. Several
such examples can be found under this category.

(iii)

Conflicts of ideas: These are ideological conflicts, concerns over what is right or
wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. Often, what is meant here is conflict between
systems of values or norms which underlie a person being Buddhist, communist,
egalitarian, materialist, hedonist, and so on. Such conflicts are always conflicts of
interest. They always involve needs, sentiments, the superego, and a person's
superordinate goal--always engage a person's motivational calculus and his integrated
personality. Conflicts of ideas are pure conflicts of social power.

MARXIAN PERSPECTIVE
The theory of class struggle or class conflict is central to Marxian thought. In fact,
Marxian sociology is often called the sociology of class conflict. The main premise of the
Marxian class theory is to be found in the opening sentences of his famous work the The
Communist Manifesto, 1848 which reads as follows: 3
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and
slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor
and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now

3 MARX, KARL, COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1976)


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hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of
society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. 4
It is clear from above, that at every stage in history, there is a way between the classes.
The landowner exploits the landless, and the factory owner exploits the workers. Between
classes, there is endless antagonism and hatred. Class conflict is the severest form of class
antagonism.
Marx says that according to the relentless law of history, a particular class owns and
controls the means of production, and by virtue of this exploits the rest of the people. The
capitalist class makes use of the state as an instrument of oppression and exploitation. Thus at
every stage there are broadly two classes: The owners of means of production, that is, exploiters
on one side and the exploited on the other. History presents nothing but the record of a war
between classes, every exploiting class at each stage gives rise to an opposite class, Hence thesis
and antithesis can be noted. Feudal barons and capitalists form the thesis, and the serf and the
proletariat respectively constitute the antithesis, Marx gave a call to the workers to overthrow the
thesis of capitalism by the antithesis of organised labour. 5

ESSENTIAL ASPECTS OF THE MARXIAN THEORY OF CLASS CONFLICT


Marx developed the theory of class conflict in his analysis and critique of the capitalist society.
The main ingredients of this theory of conflict have been enlisted by Abraham and Morgan
which may be briefly described here:6
The Development of the Proletariat
Accentuation of capital is the essence of capitalism. In Raymond Arons words, The essence of
capitalist exchange is to proceed from money to money by way of commodity and end up with
more money than one had at the outset. Capital is gained, according to Marx, from the
exploitation of the masses of population, the working class, The capitalist economic systems
transformed the masses of people into workers, created for them a common situation and
inculcated ion them an awareness of common interest. Through the development of class
4 GOKHALE, B.K., POLITICAL SCIENCE THEORY AND GOVERNMENTAL MACHINERY 423-424 (1972)
5 RAO, C.N. SHANKAR, SOCIOLOGY: PRINCIPLES OF SOCIOLOGY WITH AN INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL THOUGHT, S.,
724 (2012)
6 Ibid note 7

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consciousness, the economic conditions of capitalism united the masses and constituted them
into a class for itself7
Importance of Property
According to Marx the most distinguishing feature of any society is its form of property. An
individuals behaviour is determined by his relations to property. Classes are determined on the
basis of individuals relation to the means of production. Means of production or forces of
production represent a type of property which in the capitalist society are owned by the
capitalists, Here an individuals occupation is not important but his relations to the means of
production, are important. Property divisions are the crucial breaking lines in the class
structure.8

Identification of Economic and Political Power and Authority


From a Marxian perspective, political power emerges from economic power. The power of the
ruling class therefore stems from its ownership and control of the forces of production. The
political and legal systems reflect ruling class interests. In Marxs words: The existing relations
of production between individuals must necessarily express themselves also as political and legal
relations. The capitalists who hold monopoly of effective private property take control of
political machinery. Their interests are clearly reflected in their political and ideological spheres.
As Raymond Aron points out Political power, properly so called is merely the organised power
of one class for oppressing another. The political power and ideology this seem to serve the
same functions for capitalists that class consciousness serves for the working class.
Polarisation of Classes
In the capitalist society there could be only two social classes. 1) The capitalists who own
the means of production and distribution and 2) the working classes who own nothing but their
own labour. Though Marx had repeatedly referred to the intermediate state such as the small
7 ABRAHAM, FRANCIS & MORGAN, JOHN, H., SOCIOLOGICAL THOUGHT, 37 (1989)
8 HARALAMBOS, M. AND MARTIN HOLBORN, SOCIOLOGY: THEMES AND PERSPECTIVES, 39-40 (2004)
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capitalists, the petti bourgeoisie, and the lumpenproletariat, he was of the firm belief that at
the height of conflict these would be drawn into the ranks of the proletariat. Raymond Aron has
termed this proves as proletarianisation.
Theory of Surplus Value
Marx believed that the capitalists accumulate profit through the exploitation of labour. In
fact, the relationship between the capitalists and workers is not only one of dominance and
subordination, but also of exploitation. The workers produce more wealth in the form of food,
manufactured goods and services than is necessary to meet their basic needs. In other words,
they produce surplus wealth. But they do not enjoy the use of the surplus they have created.
Instead, those who own the means of production are able to seize this surplus wealth as profit
for their own use. According to Marx, this is the essence of exploitation and the main source of
conflict between the classes.

Pauperisation
Exploitation of the workers can only add to their misery and poverty. But the same
exploitation helps the rich to become richer. As Marx says the wealth of the bourgeoisie is
swelled by large profits with corresponding increase in the mass of poverty; of pressure of
slavery, of exploitation of the proletariat. In every mode of production which involves the
exploitation of man by man, majority of people, the people who labour, are condemned to toil for
no more than the barest necessities of life. With this, society gets divided into rich and poor. To
Marx, poverty is the result of exploitation of scarcity.
Alienation
The process of alienation is central to the Marxian theory of class conflict. The economic
exploitation and inhuman working conditions lead to increasing alienation of man. Alienation
results from a lack of sense of control over the social world. The social world confronts people as
a hostile thing leaving them alien in the very environment they have created. The workers caught
in the vicious circle of exploitation find no way to get out of it. Hence they lose interest in work.
Work becomes an enforced activity, not a creative and a satisfying one. The responsibility of the
worker gets diminished because he does not own the tools with which he works, he does not own
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the final product too. He is a mere cog in a machine and nothing else. This situation of alienation
ripens the mood of the worker for a conflict.

Class solidarity and antagonism


With the growth of class consciousness among the working class, their class solidarity
becomes cystalised. The working class becomes internally more homogeneous and this would
help to intensify the class struggle. Because of this class feeling and solidarity, the workers are
able to form unions against the bourgeoisie. They club together in order to keep up the rate of
wages. They form associations in order to make provisions beforehand for occasional revolts.
Here and there contests break out into riots.
Revolution
When the class struggle reaches its eight, a violent revolution breaks out which destroys
the structure of capitalist society. Thus revolution is most likely to occur at the peak of an
economic crisis which is part of the recurring booms, and repressions characteristic of
capitalism. Marx predicted that the capitalists would grow fewer and stronger as a result of their
endless competition; that the middle class would disappear into the working class, and that the
growing poverty of the workers would spark a successful revolution. Marx had asserted, unlike
other wars and revolutions, this would be a historic one.
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat
Marx felt that the revolution would be a bloody one. This revolution terminates the
capitalist society and leads to the social dictatorship of the proletariat. Since the revolution
results in the liquidation of the bourgeoisie, they will cease to have any power and will be
reduced to the ranks of the proletariat. Thus, the inevitable historical process destroys the
bourgeoisie. The proletariat, then establish their social dictatorship. But this expression, social
dictatorship of the proletariat has become a topic of controversy among the communists
themselves. Many have abandoned the treacherous phrase particularly after the tyrannical
Stalinist and post-Stalinist dictatorships. Marx himself had written that he differentiated himself

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from those communists who were out to destroy personal liberty and who wish to turn the world
into one large barrack or into a gigantic warehouse.

Inauguration of the Communist Society


After attaining the success in the revolution, the workers in course of time, would create a
new socialist society, In this new society the means of producing and distributing wealth would
be publicly and not privately owned, This new socialist society would be a classless and a
casteless society fee from exploitation of all sorts, The state which has no place in such a society
will eventually wither away. In this society nobody owns anything but everybody owns
everything. Each individual contributes according to his ability and receives according to his
needs.9

ANALAYSIS OF MARXIAN PERSPECTIVE


9 Ibid note 5 at pg. 734-736
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THE POSITIVES:
A Comprehensive Theory of Social Change
According to T.B. Bottomore, a leading expert on Marxist sociology, though a Marxs
theory of class cannot be treated as a theory of stratification, it can definitely be treated as a
comprehensive theory of social change. It can be considered as a tool for the explanation of
change in total societies.10 This is reflected by Marxian view that Societies are mutable systems
in which changes are produced largely by internal contradictions and conflicts. Even the worst
critics argue that Marxian theory provides an excellent framework for the analysis of conflict and
change in modern society.11
A good Alternative to the western Functional Theory:
During the recent years, especially after sixties, due to the efforts of C. Wright Mills and
others, Marxs writings became quite popular in the west including America. There is one main
reason for this. As Bottomore has pointed out, the conflict theory of Marx served in all respects
as a counter theory to the functional theory which reigned supreme in the Western world.
The functional theory stresses the importance of social harmony, social equilibrium and social
stability but undermines the role of conflict elements within the society that would lead to the
changes in the structure of society.12 Marxs theory of conflict removes this deficiency and thus
provides an alternative to the functional theory. Further, Marxs influence on contemporary
sociological theory is growing and Marxist Sociology has already become an established
branch of the discipline.

A Warning to the Capitalists


It can be said that the ultimate purpose of Marx was to achieve the welfare of the working
community and to lay the foundations of a classless, casteless society based on social harmony
10 BOTTOMORE, T.B., SOCIOLOGY: A GUIDE TO PROBLEMS AND LITERATURE (1986)
11 Ibid note 5
12 Ibid note 10
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and justice. He sincerely believed that his purpose could be realised by a historic class struggle
and by the destruction of the capitalist class. His powerful writings, earnest efforts to save the
labour community from exploitation, popularisation of socialist ideology, predictions of the
future, and his clarion call to the working class to unite and fight against injustice etc. created a
sort of awareness not only among the workers but also among the capitalists. They started taking
Marxs predictions as warnings and his analysis of the capitalist regime highly suggestive to
correct themselves. As a result, they changed their approach towards them, brought out number
of labour legislations to promote their interests and undertook many of the labour welfare
programmes. Hence, we do not find that kind of exploitation of the labourers which Marx had
witnessed during his lifetime.
An Integral Approach
Marx has time and again stressed that we should have an integral view of the society and
not a partial one. According to him, society is the net result of the interwoven social groups,
institutions, beliefs, practices, ideas, principles and ideologies. Hence these constituent elements
should not be studied independently or separately but as interconnected ones. This integral
approach of Marx is of great sociological significance, says Bottomore.13

THE NEGATIVES:
Classless and Stateless society is Utopian
Marxist theory of social classes is ambiguous and debatable. His analysis of the rise of
social classes may be applicable to the western societies but not to Asiatic societies including the
Indian society. And Marxs classless and stateless society is utopian. Nowhere in the world,
including in the so called communist societies such as Russia, China, Cuba, Poland and the like,
such state of affairs exist. Thus Marx has been proved to be a failure in many respects.
Pure Bourgeoisie and the Proletariats do not exist
It is recommended that the Marxist division of capitalist society in to two sections the
bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not seen anywhere. As Raymond Aron has said, The analogy
between the rise of the proletariat and the rise of the bourgeoisie is sociologically false. In order
13 Ibid note 10
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to restore the equivalence between the rise of bourgeoisie and the rise of the proletariat, the
Marxists are forced to resort to something which they themselves condemn when practised by
others, namely, myth.
Marx has neglected or underestimated the Role of Non-economic factors in social life
Marx has been criticised for the undue emphasis he laid on the economic forces or
factors. He has ignored other important sources of power. His assertion that economic forces play
the determining role in bringing about social change and in leading to the historical class
struggle, has compelled his critics to dub his theories as Theories of economic determinism. As
we know all deterministic theories, in one way or the other, are one sided and misleading; Much
Against the assertion of Marx, Max Weber has established that even the religious beliefs and
attitudes contribute to the development of capitalism. 14
Too much Emphasis on Alienation
Marx misjudged and even exaggerated the extent of alienation of the average worker.
The great depth of alienation and frustration which Marx witnessed among the workers of his
day and not typical of todays capitalism or its worker. Marx witnessed among the workers of his
day is not typical of todays capitalism or its worker Further, the workers tend to identify
themselves not entirely and only with their working class groups, but also with a number of
meaningful, groups religious, ethnic, caste, occupational and local. This does not mean that
alienation does not exist in the modern capitalist societies. It could rather be said that alienation
results more from the structure of the bureaucracy.15
Polarisation of classes and Self-destruction of the capitalist class is too simplistic
Marxs theory of class conflict and his political ideas have been highly criticised. His
theory about capitalist societys inevitable tendency towards radical polarisation and selfdestruction is too simplistic and fallacious. The most distinct characteristic of modern capitalist
has been the emergence of a large, contended and conservative middle-class, consisting of
managerial, professional, supervisory, and technical personnel. Marx neglected the importance of
the role of this middle class. Todays capitalism does not justify Marxs belief that class conflict

14 RAYMOND ARON, MAIN CURRENTS IN SOCIOLOGICAL THOUGHT 181 (1998)


15 Ibid note 5 at p. 743-745
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is essentially revolutionary in character and that structural changes are always the product of
violent upheavals.16

CONCLUSION

The theory of class struggle often known as the theory of class conflict is one of the most
important theories given by Karl Marx. The contributions of Karl Marx to the development of
social thought can hardly be exaggerated. He was undoubtedly a genius and a profound scholar.
It is not an easy task to evaluate the contribution and influences of Karl Marx and his thoughts on
his followers and opponents. He has profoundly influenced western thought, sociological,
economic and political thought. That being said though, Marxism as a theory has been losing its
16 Ibid note 8
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relevance in the modern world. After the fall of U.S.S.R. and other socialistic states, the Marxian
views are now treated as an ideology which is now no more relevant. The most intriguing thing
about Marxs theories is that they are half practical and half imaginary. Although many of his
predictions have not come true, the fact that those who have read his works have changed the
world also cannot be denied. Even the worst critics agree that Marxian theory provides an
excellent framework for analysis of conflict and change in modern society. Marxist sociology has
already become an established discipline.

REFERENCE
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(India) Ltd., Mumbai, 1986.
2) Coser, Lewis, A., Masters of Sociological Thought, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New
York, 1979
3) Giddens, Anthony, Sociology, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010.

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4) Haralambos, M. and Martin Holborn, Sociology: Themes and Perspectives, Harper
Collins Publishers Ltd., London, 2004.
5) Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976.
6) Morrison, Ken, Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formation of Modern Social Thought, Sage
Publications, London, 1995.
7) Ritzer, George, Sociological Theory, Tata-McGraw Hill, New Delhi, 1996.
8) Rao, C.N. Shankar, Sociology: Principles of Sociology with an introduction to Social
Thought, S. Chand, New Delhi, 2012
9) Rummel, Rudolph J., Power Kills: Democracy as a method of Non Violence,
Transaction Books, New Brunswick, N.J., 1997
10) Gokhale, B.K., Political Science Theory and Governmental Machinery, Himalaya,
1972
11) Aron, Raymond, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, Transaction Publishers,
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12) Abraham, Francis & Morgan, John, H., Sociological Thought, Wyndham Hall Press,
1989

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