Had a bit of a discussion with Ruth today (new work type person), she seems to believe that class is an artificial categorisation of people's wages. Class is a natural phenomenon that occurs when their is a surplus product in society.
In modern capitalist society there are two grand classes that directly oppose one another, the bourgeoisie (the capitalists, the owners of production) and the proletarians (the workers, whose only ability to live is by selling their ability to labour to the capitalists). This is a fundamental, and natural difference that all can see (because it's not artificial categorisation).
For someone who claims to be "left wing" saying the people on benefits are a separate class to the proletariat is as close to insanity as you can get, the people on benefits are in constant flux of working and not working - as capitalist society suffers from over-production full employment is impossible except for the rare times when the capitalists give up the market for improved production under a planned economy (i.e. during a major war), therefore it is normal for elements of the workers to not be in work.
She then went on to say how poor she was under Thatcher, well there's someone using Marxist class theory to their advantage! Thatcher understood the *real* classes in society, fed false ideology of sub-"classes" in order to break the proletariat apart (people on benefits, genders, races, the "middle class" etc etc), so she could destroy the backbone of the working people, the trade unions.
For someone who announces to everyone that she's left wing she really doesn't understand how society works, nor how to resist attacks upon the people from the capitalists, you don't resist attacks by believing ideology designed to ensure the continuation of capitalist society. Try using the scientific method to understand the real roles of class within society and you'd do a much better job and fighting for the proletariat.
I'm now republishing an article which I had previously hosted on my former website:
Marx did not invent class nor did he discover the existence of classes. He was more than prepared to point out that historians had long before discovered classes. Even Adam Smith, the famous economist and High Priest of Capitalism, had talked of classes years before Marx put pen to paper. Indeed Marx modestly admits:
"And now to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before the bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society."
How did Marx define class? It is rather ironic that Marx, a man whose name is synonymous with class, and who wrote extensively about class, should never have defined class in a definitive manner. Marx quite often used the term class to refer to quite different groupings of people. Like most terms Marx used class in quite a liberal and perhaps loose manner. It is, however, possible to extract a definition of the concept of class from the writings of Marx. According to Marx a class is determined by its relationship to the means of production. By this what is meant is that a class is determined by its ownership or non-ownership of the means of production, that is, of raw materials, factories and land.
Classes consist of individuals, people, who share a common relationship to the means of production and thereby share common interests. Those that own the means of production Marx called the Bourgeoisie (a French Term) while those who owned no productive private property, and who sold their labour-power, Marx called the Proletariat. These two great classes did not, by virtue of their very existence, share common interests. Put simply, the bourgeoisie sought to lower, or keep constant, wages and thereby increase profits while the proletariat would seek to improve their living conditions by seeking higher wages. The two interests of these two classes were opposed and could not be solved within the confines of capitalism. This was one of the many contradictions that eventually lead to the replacement of capitalism by socialism.
For Marx these irreconcilable interests were expressed in class struggle. Class struggle or class conflict (the two terms have a similar meaning) is conceived as the driving force behind history. Marx famously writes in the Communist Manifesto:
"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 hidden now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes"
But what exactly is class struggle or class conflict? Upon hearing these words many will simply assume that what is meant is simply violent struggle between opposing classes. Violent struggle is, however, only one manifestation of class struggle. Class struggle may take various forms: political, economic and ideological. Class struggle can be anything from the activities of a political party to the writing of a letter to the local paper. Perhaps the best way to define class struggle is to define it as social action that results from the different interests of classes and which is necessary according to Marxists in order for class consciousness to develop. Class struggle is thus essential with regard to any transition to socialism.
Marx was also concerned with explaining the origins of class and of classes. Other historians and commentators were prepared to take for granted the existence of particular classes, almost as if these classes had always existed. According to Marx classes had not always existed. Classes only exist when the material conditions, with regard to production, necessary for their existence have come into existence. A class does not emerge simply because one day a group of people decide: lets exploit that other group of people. In order for classes to exist a surplus-product must be produced. In order for a surplus product to be produced the forces of production must have developed to a certain extent.
What exactly is a surplus-product? A surplus-product is not an overabundance of material goods, too many things produced, far more than is actually needed or wanted. A surplus-product refers to the fact that when the forces of production develop to a certain level this enables a class of non-producers or parasites to emerge. A small minority are able to live on the labour of others. A surplus is produced in that the producers produce enough to satisfy their own basic needs plus those of the non-producers. Only when this becomes possible does the existence of classes become possible. During the epoch of primitive communism private property was so simplistic and commonplace that classes did not emerge. All had the necessary means of production to produce for themselves and everyone had to produce, to some extent, if they were to meet basic needs.
So as we now see when the forces of production develop to a certain extent, enabling the production of a surplus-product, is it becomes possible for classes to emerge. Each epoch of history was for Marx characterized by the existence of certain classes. The difference between all preceding epochs and the epoch of capitalism was, for Marx, that the class structure was becoming ever more simple. A dichotomous class structure was developing. Marx writes:
"Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat."
The middle strata, or petty bourgeoisie, would in time either be pulled up into the ranks of the capitalist class or pushed into the ranks of the Proletariat. The capital of the petty bourgeoisie would not be able to compete with the ever greater concentration of capital in just a few hands. Competition would drive them from the market.
For Marx there were a number of factors which he believed would lead to potential revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the capitalist class. These factors were called contradictions. Perhaps the best way to explain contradictions, although perhaps not the most accurate, is to describe them as the seeds of destruction of a given economic system. Each economic system has within it the seeds of its own destruction, that is, certain contradictions. These contradictions give expression to, and are eventually resolved through, the dynamic element of class struggle. One of these contradictions was the tendency for capital to become ever more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands while workers were ever more concentrated in cities and factories. The social nature of production was thus contrasted increasingly with the private nature of productive property.
But why if all these contradictions existed did the working-class not seek to overthrow this exploitative system of production? Marx accounts for this by making a distinction between a class in itself and a class for itself. A class in itself simply refers to an aggregate of individuals all sharing a common relationship to the means of production and thereby sharing common interests. A class for itself was a class that was conscious of those interests. But what was it that stopped a class in itself from developing into a class for itself?
For Marx the answer was to be found in ideology. The ruling class, the capitalist class, not only controls the means of production it also sets out to control the beliefs of the people. It propagates an ideology, or ideologies, which are distortions of the truth. An ideology is a set of beliefs and values which distort the truth and serve to preserve the status quo, that is, the existing relations of production. Marx writes:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class, which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal , has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it..."
To put it simply, the institutions that make up civil society: the Church, Schools and particularly the media all propagate, to a greater or lesser extent, bourgeois ideology. For example, newspapers are owned by wealthy proprietors or companies which make huge profits. Much of these profits come from advertising which is placed by companies. A similar situation exists with regard to all forms of media. As these proprietors make such substantial sums of money from the capitalist system it is unlikely that their ideological position would be anything other than, at least, sympathetic to the interests of the capitalist class. Newspapers and TV companies are very rarely, if ever, owned by the destitute.
For Marx, however, ideology can only slow down the transition from capitalism to socialism. The contradictions that beset capitalism, and the continuing crises of capitalism, will eventually lead to the Proletariat fulfilling its role as the "grave-diggers" of the bourgeoisie.