Class struggleClass struggle
is class conflict
looked at from a Marxist
perspective. In Marxist theory, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle", Karl Marx
, Communist Manifesto
It should be noted that Marx's notion of class has nothing to do with heredity caste. Nor is it exactly social class as we might otherwise understand it ie. upper, middle and lower.
In an age of capitalism, it is economic class. And membership of a class is defined by relations to the means of production. Marx talks mainly about two classes :
- Labor is anyone who earns their money by selling their labor power and being paid a wage for their labor time.
- Capital is anyone who makes their money by the surplus labor value they expropriate from the workers who create wealth.
What Marx points out is that members of each class have common interests with each other, but interests which lead to conflict with members of the other class.
An example of this would be a factory producing a commodity, let's say a factory that manufactures widgets. Some of the money gotten from selling widgets will be spent on things like raw materials (constant capital) in order to build more widgets. Once this is done, there is a pile of money left over to be divided up amongst the workers and the capitalists. It would be in the workers interest to have as much of that money as possible go to them, and as little as possible to the capitalist. It would be in the capitalists interests to have as much of that money go to them, and as little as possible go to the workers.
Marx felt that this was an irreconcible conflict that would last as long as capitalism. And he thought it would inevitably cause an extreme polarization of the classes, leading eventually the revolution that would destroy capitalism itself.
In practice things are more complex. There are other economic classes :
Marx noted that other classes existed, but said that as time (and capitalism) moved forward, other classes would disappear, and things would become stratified between until only two classes remained, which would become more and more polarized as time went on. Other classes are:
- the self-employed - these are people who own their own means of production, and thus work for themself. Marx saw these people swept away by the march of capitalism - such as family farms being replaced by agribusiness, or many small stores run by the owner being replaced by Wal-Mart, and so forth.
- managers and security officers - managers and policemen are intermediaries between capitalists and proletariat. Since they are paid a wage, technically they are workers, but they represent the capitalists interest, so in that sense they are unlike the proletariat. Interestingly enough, in the United States the Republican Congress made it illegal for managers and security guards to join workers industrial unions. This is seen as being done because the managers and guards, although workers, are there to represent the capitalist.
- the lumpenproletariat - those with no or tenuous connection to production. Since Marx, many states have tried to compensate for the difficulties experienced by workers due to cyclic unemployment. Unfortunately there is also a growing structural unemployment and some people are ending up permanently dependent on welfare. They form yet another economic class. Also, thieves of various kinds depend on crime for their income. Marx saw the problem of unemployment growing more acute as capitalism went on, so this class would exist prior to the foreseen revolution. Marx deemed the Lumpenproletariat as unimportant, and not playing a major role in the proletariat/capital class struggle. Since they would benefit in his view from a revolution, they would be on the side of the proletariat. This view was revised by followers of Marx like Mao who saw a greater role for the proletariat in class struggle.
People who do not believe in Marx's predictions think we will continue to have relationships between multiple classes in capitalism forever.