Marx's Theory Of Class Essay

2711 words - 11 pages

Marx's definition of class. It's strengths and weaknesses. -Although the concept of class has a central importance in Marxist theory, Marx does notdefine it in a systematic form. Marx left this problem of producing a definition of the concept ofsocial class until much later. The manuscript of the third volume of Capital breaks off at themoment when Marx was about to answer the question: 'What constitutes a class?' Even withouthis definition of class, one can reconstruct how the term is to be understood in his writings.In the Communist Manifesto, Marx presents us with a theory of world history as asuccession of class struggles for economic and political power. The main classes of pre-capitalistsocieties are stated as: 'freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master andjourneyman'1. But the dominant theme of Western society is the conflict between the exploitingbourgeoisie and the exploited proletariat. Thus it is the class structure of early capitalism, and theclass struggles of this form of society, which constituted the main reference point for the Marxisttheory of history. This is asserted by the Communist Manifesto's famous phrase, that 'the historyof all hitherto existing society is the history of all class struggles'2.The history of 'civilized' society, for Marx, has been the history of different forms of classexploitation and domination. It is the form of class domination present which determines thegeneral character of the whole social structure. For example, the growing of wheat usingtraditional, non-mechanical techniques is compatible with a wide range of social relations ofproduction. A Roman citizen often owned slaves who worked his land growing wheat; a feudallord would seize the surplus wheat grown by the serf on the lands; the early capitalist farmersbegan to employ landless laborers to do their manual work for a wage which was less than thetotal value of the product which they created. In each case, wheat is grown on land by the laborof men and women, but the social arrangements are totally different. There are totally differentclass relationships, leading to totally different forms of society: ancient, feudal, and capitalist. Theone thing that unites these three arrangements is that in each case a minority class rules and takesthe surplus away from the producers. Each society, says Marx, embodies class exploitation basedon the relationships of production, or rather, the modes of production. The key to understanding- 2 -a given society is to discover which is the dominant mode of production within it. The basicpattern of social and political relationships can then be known.Since Marx concentrates his attention on the class structure of capitalist societies, it isonly proper to follow him. As stated before, the key classes in the capitalist mode of productionare the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or capitalists and landless wage laborers. While Marxrecognizes that there are other classes, the fundamental...

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