Marx its major classes and the struggle between them

Marx
saw the structure of society in relation to its major classes and the struggle
between them as the engine of change in this structure. His was no equilibrium
or consensus theory. The conflict was not deviational within society’s
structure, nor were classes functional elements upholding the system. The
structure itself was a derivative of and ingredient in the struggle of classes.
Marx’s was a conflicting view of the modem, 19th century, society. Marx’s
theory lies in this historical method, that every stage of human development
arises from the contradictions emergent in the preceding stage. Market
economics is not the running out of universal principles, neither is it the
liable outcome of a given culture and a given context. Instead, capitalism is a
stage in the development of human history, shaped by the inevitable productive
technological forces unleashed by human inventiveness. Capitalism can also be
described as a systemic sensation driven by internal logic; the process of
capitalism is unusual to capitalism, but it can be understood and explained by
the logic of the dialectical method. Therefore, in this essay, I will be
arguing that the Marxian concept of social ‘class’ is relevant to the
contemporary political economy, yet it can be fundamentally different from, and
possibly cannot be derived from, the individual interests attributed by the
utilitarian school and classical British political economy (Coser, 1977, Karl
Marx-class theory. Available at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/marx6.html (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

 

Fundamental
forms of socialism are avowed in their opposition to capitalism, for example,
Marx, Blanqui, Lenin and their adherents. Socialism can be best seen as a
reaction to the perceived ill effects of capitalism was taking. Marxists and
communists, also known as ‘scientific socialists’, have viewed capitalism as
fundamentally flawed and irredeemable. Capitalism is associated with class
oppression, economic exploitation and inequality. History, according to Marx
and Engels, would inevitably replace capitalism with socialism and then communism
as capitalism reached a crisis stage. History moved forward according to the
dialectical contradictions inherent in the economic base. The proletariat only
has their labour value to offer and they are exploited as the bourgeoisie
expropriate it and retain a surplus. For the fundamentalist, capitalism must be
replaced, such reform was not enough. There was no way of reforming it
internally as political reforms such as universal franchise and trade union
rights had not been granted. The only way to progress was through a social
revolution as the capitalist class would relinquish power voluntarily.
Collective ownership and an end to private property would result, thus it would
herald an era of equality and fraternity, the culmination, which is ultimately
communism. Syndicalists, during the 19th century, had also advocated
revolutionary uprisings by workers who would take over the state, smash
capitalism and have government by the workers for the workers. As a result,
trade unions would structure this form of governance.

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On
the contrary, the most controversial element of Marx’s philosophy was his
apparent prediction that capitalism would inevitably be brought down by a
violent revolution. Furthermore, this would take place in those countries where
capitalism was at its most advanced stage. This is controversial for two main
reasons. The first is that the earliest Marxist revolution occurred in Russia,
which was most definitely not an advanced capitalist country. The second is,
revolutions did not occur in advanced capitalist countries such as Britain,
Germany and France. If this element of Marx’s analysis was wrong, it could be
argued, his whole theory must be flawed. The idea that historical change is
created largely by the actions of social revolutionaries is known as
voluntarism, whereas those who suggest that historical forces are outside our
control are usually known as determinists. Nevertheless, Marx found evidence
for the inevitability of revolution in a series of observations. He observed
that every historical economic system had contained the seeds of its own
destruction, which would grow, create conflict and ultimately destroy the very
system that had produced them. Capitalism was no exception to this law of
historical materialism. Hence, Marx saw revolution as the inevitable result of
the progress of capitalism. Because capitalism was the most developed of all
systems empirically, it would produce the most exploited and therefore the most
revolutionary class in history. Finally, Marx claimed that this final
revolution would be underpinned by the influence of philosophers who would
break away from the ruling class, which was their natural home, and join the
socialist movement. For example, in his work with Engels, ‘The Communist
Manifesto’, Marx stated, “The proletarians having nothing to lose but
their chains. They have a world to win.” (Instructor
and Johnson, B. (2003) Karl Marx’s
theories: Class differentiation and revolution, socialism & capitalism –
video & lesson transcript.
Available at: http://study.com/academy/lesson/karl-marxs-theories-class-differentiation-and-revolution-socialism-capitalism.html
(Accessed: 3 January 2017). Thus, Marx had called for a workers’
revolution where the proletarians would rise up against the bourgeoisie,
overthrowing capitalism.

 

A social class is a group of people sharing similar
socio-economic position in terms of ownership of wealth and occupation. For
socialists, classes are the main actors in history and the source of economic
and social change. ‘The Communist Manifesto’ supports this view with its
opening line stating, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the
history of class struggles.” (Coser, 1977, KarlMarx–class theory. Available at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/marx6.html, Accessed: 3 January 2017) This means that ever since human
society emerged from its primitive and relatively undifferentiated state, it
has remained essentially divided between classes who clash in the pursuit of
class interests. For Marx, a class was determined by the mode of production.
Under capitalism, it is essentially a dichotomy, a division between two
classes; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The latter have only their labour
to sell, for a wage. The relationship between the two is exploitative, the
labourer workers harder than he is paid, the capitalist keeps the ‘surplus
value’ of his labour, in other words, makes a profit. This was possible because
the upper class was able to control the state in its own interests. A class
struggle would inexorably drive the pattern of history towards revolution and
the emergence of a fairer society. For Marxists, class conflict is the motor of
history and the property-less proletariat will inevitably be driven to
overthrow the bourgeoisie property-owning capitalists through a violent
revolution. Marx believed ‘bourgeois ideology’ pervaded society and prevented
the working-class from recognising their own exploitation. For Lenin in Russia,
the capitalist proletariat would never reach true ‘class-consciousness’, that
is the realisation that they belonged to a certain class, without the
assistance of an intelligentsia, critically thinking persons. For Marx and his
followers, a revolution would herald a classless communist society, a real
democracy. By emancipating itself from capitalist exploitation, the
working-class emancipate itself from its own class identity and become fully
developed human beings. This occurs through a network of communication, where
they have become aware of their common fate. Therefore, individuals become part
of a cohesive class that consciously articulates their common interests, as
Carlyle put it, ‘Great is the combined voice of men’ (Coser,1977, Karl Marx-class theory.
Available at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/marx6.html, Accessed: 3 January 2017).  Moreover, Marx’s view of a class has
ramifications for his view of the state. Marxists believe that the state is not
neutral and is working in the best interests of all, but rather an agent of
class oppression. Marx’s dichotomous view of the class structure did recognise
no man’s land of the middle classes but he believed that their obligation to
sell their labour would mean that this intermediate class would become part of
the mass proletariat.

 

Conversely, Social
Democrats’ concept of class conflict may be more relevant to t the contemporary
political economy because, for social democrats, socialism is associated with a
narrowing of divisions between the middle and working class brought about by
policies of state intervention that redistribute wealth and give workers
rights. This will ensure class harmony without the need for a violent
revolution and the collapse of the state and capitalism. By the late 19th
century, enthusiasm for popular revolution diminished as the working-class
integrated into society with the suffrage extended. The middle-class did not
become part of a massive proletariat. Instead, deindustrialisation, a process
of ’embourgeoisement’ of the working-class and an erosion of the old upper
classes have left the majority of people as either lower or upper middle-class.
Additionally, many believe a managerial revolution has taken place whereby the
traditional structure of the capitalist world has metamorphosed as giant
national and international firms have led to a fissure between ownership and
actual control of industry. The former has dispersed through share ownership,
whereas the latter are in the hands of professional managers. As a result,
living conditions for the average person are certainly better than they were
when Marx and Engels wrote ‘The Communist Manifesto’ in 1848. Therefore, modern
capitalism had resulted in a more technologically skilled workforce. However,
the rise of food banks, zero hour contracts, austerity cuts and a rising wage
gap between the richest and the poorest have meant that a depressed minority
form a sizeable subclass or underclass in Britain today.

 

A feature of socialism that is related to collectivism is
common ownership of the means of production and distribution. Common ownership
was brought about in England in the 1640s and 1650s when the Levellers bought
tracts of land in the south of England and began to farm collectively with
equal distribution of output. However, it was the development of capitalism
that brought about a more complex set of views linking to the evils of private
property and the virtues of common ownership. Marxists are against the concept
of private property because they argue that the earth is given to humankind in
general. No individual has the right to claim that any part of it belongs to
him or herself. Moreover, claiming private property deprives someone else of
its use. Property increases inequality, especially between those who have and
those who lack property. Furthermore, the ownership of property, particularly
land and capital goods, gives rise to the exploitation by property owners of
those who lack property. On the contrary, common ownership provides a number of
good outcomes. For example, it imposes economic equality. Secondly, since many
socialists see collectivism as natural, common ownership creates or recreates a
natural state of society. It’s also possible to direct commonly owned property
to serve the interests of the whole community, not just those of fortunate
owners of property. Among socialists, the value of common ownership, along with
equality, social justice and collectivism, has declined in the modern era. The
failure of the socialist ‘experiments’ that were introduced in the USSR, China
and Cuba in the 20th century served to destroy faith in the idea of common ownership
by the state. Socialists usually modify their attitude to common ownership,
seeing it as a complement to private property rather than a replacement for it.

 

Marx’s theory of
Base & Superstructure shows that religion & media come about because of
the material world as a means of production. For Marx, ideology is a belief
system that distorts people’s perception of reality in ways that serve the
interests of the bourgeoisie. He argues that the class that controls economic
production also controls the production and distribution of ideas in society,
through institutions such as the church, the education system and the media. In
Marx’s view, religion operates as an ideological weapon used by the bourgeoisie
to justify the suffering of the poor as something inevitable and God-given.
Religion misleads the poor into believing that their suffering is honourable
and that they will be rewarded in the afterlife. For example, in Christianity,
it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a
rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Such ideas create a false
consciousness, which is a distorted view of reality that prevents the
proletariat from acting to change their situation. Correspondingly, Lenin
describes religion as ‘spiritual gin’ (Webb,
Westergaard, Trobe, Townend, 2016, p.8) – an intoxicant doled out to the
masses by the bourgeoisie to confuse them and keep them in their place.
According to Lenin, the bourgeoisie uses religion cynically to manipulate the
masses and keep them from attempting to overthrow the bourgeoisie by forming a
‘mystical fog’ (Webb, Westergaard, Trobe,
Townend, 2016, p.8) that obscures reality. Religion also legitimates the
power and privilege of the dominant class by making their position seem
divinely ordained. For example, the 16th-century idea of the Divine Rights of
Kings was the belief that the King is God’s representatives on earth and is
owed total obedience. Disobedience is not just illegal, but a sinful challenge
to God’s authority. Furthermore, Marx also sees religion as the product of
alienation. Alienation exists in all class societies but is more extreme under
capitalism. Under capitalism, workers are alienated as they do not own what
they produce and have no control over the production process, and thus no
freedom to prompt their true nature as creative beings. Alienation reaches a
peak with the detailed division of labour in the capitalist factory, where the
worker continuously repeats the same task, devoid of all meaning or skill. In
these dehumanising conditions, the exploited sees religion as a form of
consolation. Marx states that religion ‘is the opium of the people. It is the
sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world’ (Webb, Westergaard, Trobe, Townend, 2016, p.9).
Religion undertakes as an opiate to dull the pain of exploitation. But just as
opium covers pain rather than treating its cause, so does religion covers the
underlying issue of exploitation. Because religion misleads the view of the
world, it can offer no solution to earthly misery. Instead, its promises of the
afterlife create an illusion that distracts attention from the true source of
the suffering, namely capitalism.

 

Overall,
Marx’s importance on class conflict as directing the dynamics of social change,
his awareness that change was not random but rather the consequence of a
conflict of interests, and his view of social relations based on power all
contributed to the first scale of the class conflict. However, time and history
have quashed many of his assumptions and predictions. Capitalist ownership and
control of production have been divided. There are joint stock companies
forming most of the industrial sector, which are now almost operated by
non-capital owning managers. Whereas workers have not grown homogenous but are
divided and subdivided into different skill groups. Class strength has been
weakened by the development of a large middle-class and considerable social
mobility. Yet there has been a social levelling and an increasing emphasis on
social justice. Bourgeois political power has gradually weakened with an
increase in worker orientated statute and of labour-orientated parties, and
with a narrowing of the rights of and privileges of capital ownership. Finally,
the firmest manifestation of the conflict between workers and capitalists, the
strike, has been institutionalised through collective bargaining regulation and
the regulation of strikes.