After reading this article you will learn about Class and Class Struggle:- 1. Definition of Class: Marx and Engels 2. Two-Class Model and Marx 3. Ruling Class Theory 4. Features of Marxian Concept of Class 5. Class-in-Itself and Class-for-Itself 6. Concept of Class and Lenin 7. Class Structure of Society 8. Forms of Class Struggle 9. Evaluation of Class Struggle 10. Causes of Class Struggle 11. Appraisal of Class Struggle.
- Definition of Class: Marx and Engels
- Two-Class Model and Marx
- Ruling Class Theory
- Features of Marxian Concept of Class
- Class-in-Itself and Class-for-Itself
- Concept of Class and Lenin
- Class Structure of Society
- Forms of Class Struggle
- Evaluation of Class Struggle
- Causes of Class Struggle
- Appraisal of Class Struggle
1. Definition of Class: Marx and Engels:
The Communist Manifesto, called the Bible of the working class, starts with the classic statement the history of all the hitherto existing society is the history of the class struggles. Hence, the history viewed by Marx and Engels is nothing but the history of the struggle between two opposing classes slaves and slave owners, feudal lords and serfs, and, finally, bourgeois and proletariat.
Such is the importance of class in Marx’s thought-system. Marx’s analysis centers around materialistic conception of history. History, in his view, is not the struggle of ideas; it is replete with incidents of class struggle.
If such is the importance of class, it is expected that Marx and Engels will give us a clear definition and elaborate analysis of class. Unfortunately we are disheartened.
Critics have viewed it from a different angle. They think that the concept of class is so important that Marx and Engels have left it to the judgment and wisdom of readers. They will frame their own views.
We, however, do not like to detain ourselves on the point why did they not give a clear definition and elaborate analysis? We simply hold the view that Marx perhaps had an intention to give a clear and rational analysis of class.
Some critics are of opinion that sudden death of Marx was the cause. But this argument is riot plausible even after Marx’s death Engels got enough time to define the concept. We think that neither Marx nor Engels did think it necessary to define the idea of class. Many political concepts have remained undefined and the idea of class is one of them.
The last chapter of third volume of Capital proposes to deal with the concept of class. He rises the question what constitutes the class? and the reply to this follows naturally from the reply to another question, namely – what makes wage labourers, capitalists and landlords constitute three great social classes? Marx may think it a reply to his question what is class? But in our consideration this is not a reply at all. Instead of defining a class he has simply offered to his readers a threefold classification of class.
He has further observed that there are three great groups of individuals who live on wages, profit and ground-rent. On the basis of the sources of revenue he wanted to distinguish three main classes.
The individuals who sell their labour power and get wage are called workers. Those who invest capital and earn profit and live on it are called capitalists. Persons getting rent from land are to be named as feudal lords.
Marx and Engels may be disinterested in defining class. But their readers are not disinterested at all. From the vast literature of Marx and particularly The German Ideology and Poverty of Philosophy the readers have built up definitions about class.
One such definition has been given by Plamenatz:
“The class a man belongs to depends on whether or not he owns property and on the type of property he owns”.
The proletarian does not own property in the normal sense of the term. Nor does he own natural resources or instruments of production. But he has his own labour power which he can sell to others or if he so wishes he can refuse to sell his labour. The capitalist is the owner of the sources or means of production.
He buys labour and invests capital. Some scholars of Marxism think that Marx and Engels have explained the concept of class in terms of property. If we interpret the concept in a wider sense we shall find that to define class in terms of property is quite relevant.
The industrial development of Britain in the first half of nineteenth century far surpassed that of other countries of Western Europe and Marx and Engels developed their thought primarily in that background.
The concept of class is no exception. Engels wrote his The Conditions of Working Class in England in the background of the industrial progress of Britain. Kolakowski rightly observes that Marx analysed the concept of class from the standpoint of the conditions that prevailed in Britain in his time.
Again, he writes “The definition of class is by no means a purely verbal or methodological question. The need for a definition arises from observation of the facts of the class struggle”.
A very important aspect of Marx’s theory of class is it shows “spontaneous solidarity in its opposition to other classes, though this does not prevent its members from being rivals to one another”.
An important aspect of Marx’s theory of class is he rejected Utopian socialist classification according to scale of income or relative share in the whole social product. Marx has also categorically stated that the precondition of the existence of class there must exits the consciousness about class.
2. Two-Class Model and Marx:
There is a common notion that Marx has envisaged a two-class model and this notion are primarily derived from the Manifesto.
Marx and Engels in the Manifesto have said that the history of human society, history that is recorded, is replete with struggles between two classes. They say freeman and slave; patrician and plebian, baron and serf; and guild-burgess and journeyman in a word oppressor and oppressed stood in sharp opposition each to other.
The society was, therefore, directly divided into two opposite classes. In earlier epochs there were class divisions and antagonisms between classes. But with the progress and change of society this antagonism began to assume new shapes and dimensions.
The bourgeois age is distinctly distinguished by a simplified two-class model. In their own words “More and more society is splitting into two great and directly contra posed class’s bourgeois and proletariat.”
A pertinent issue disturbs the mind of students of Marxism. Does the two-class model suit the real situation of society?
When Marx was writing The Manifesto in England the middle class was rising rapidly and was extremely eager to exert its influence on the administration.
Jeremy Bentham, the great utilitarian, propounded his theory of utilitarianism to make a strong plea for this class. Moreover, the century-old Industrial Revolution has succeeded in establishing the middle class and other small class’s in-between bourgeois and proletariat.
There were also other small classes. Bourgeois critics generally charge Marx by saying that by highlighting the two-class model he has showed no respect to the existing condition and picture of the society. But we refuse to accept this contention.
Nowhere in their writing Marx and Engels have said that there are only two classes. Central idea of the two class model is that if the classes are not posited in quite opposite directions there cannot be conflict.
We have already noted that Marx and Engels have viewed the concept of class from the angle of struggle. There are conflicts among other classes, but these are not sufficient to aggravate a situation for an intense struggle.
In several writings we get reference to petty bourgeoisie, farmers and other small classes. There is also the mention of the middle class. He has criticized Ricardo for mentioning the middle class. There are large numbers of men who cultivate land, but are not farmers or proletarians.
They constitute a class. Marx has also given a status of class to intellectuals. Marx has deprecated the role and functions of these classes particularly the intellectuals and middle class. Intellectuals are the salaried spokesman of the bourgeois class. Their chief functions are to theories the viewpoints of capitalists.
In his Class Struggle of France Marx points out a class lumpen-proletariat. They are the dropouts of the society. The lumpen-proletariat is a reactionary class. The lumpen-proletarians have no fixed livelihood. Most of the time they take the side of the capitalists. Their chief aim is to harvest certain amount of immediate gain by taking side of the capitalists.
The concept of two class-models is, we now think, quite clear. The main thing is contradiction. In The German Ideology Marx and Engels have said that certain number of people will constitute a class only when their interests are opposite to those of other people.
In the Eighteenth Brumaire the same idea with its elaborate form has been stressed by him. Here he includes the culture and environment into the ambit of contradiction.
It is, therefore, quite manifest that Marxian two-class model has a deeper and very significant perspective and meaning. It should be understood what he actually wants to say.
Many critics have challenged Marx’s two-class model. But these critics have failed to go into the depth of Marx’s view.
He admitted the existence of more than two classes. But his chief intention was in a capitalist society the class conflict was inevitable and, if so, there must exist only two classes whose interests are quite opposite.
3. Ruling Class Theory:
In order to have preliminary ideas about the concept of ruling class and its special importance in capitalist state we quote few lines from The German Ideology which is a very important work of Marx and Engels.
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is ruling the material force of society, is at the same time ruling its intellectual force.
The class which has the means of material production at its disposal consequently also controls the means of mental production so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it.
Explaining the concept of ruling class Gouldner maintains:
“What make a group ruling class are in the part the needs it satisfies, how acute and widespread they are, on the one hand, and their ability to exclude others from satisfying this need, on the other. What makes a group ruling class is its ability to monopolies a necessary service, to inhibit others from providing this service, and above all to present those receiving help from helping themselves and satisfying their own needs. What makes a group ruling class is that it can satisfy acute and recurrent mass needs, and that it can prevent others from doing so.”
The very term ruling class was most probably coined by Marx to throw light on the class structure and class domination system of capitalist society. The ruling class means- a class which is economically powerful and because of this it controls political system, needless to say in its favour.
Not only this, it controls the economic and cultural sides of the state. Simultaneously it prevents others from the access to these needs.
It controls the means of production and at the same time creates hindrances so that others cannot get any opportunity to control them.
To put it differently, the ruling class rules out the possibility of competition. There may be competition among the members of the ruling class. But the members of the non ruling class must not be allowed to enter into the domain of ruling class.
That is, proletarians will always remain proletarians. The fact is that the bourgeois class wanted to divide the society into two water-tight compartments. They will not get any scope to improve their lot.
The ruling class monopolizes the capacity -to satisfy the basic needs. This is not all. Other classes, at the same time, although they are needy, are prevented from doing this. The ruling class will have full scope to exercise authority.
While the minimum scope will never be offered to other classes. The ruling class subjugates all other classes to it.
The leadership and control of the ruling class are final and uncontested. It not only controls the material world but also the intellectual world. The thoughts and ideas of the society cannot go against the thoughts and ideas of the ruling class.
The ruling class achieves its objective not through military methods but through subtle propaganda and indoctrination. The dominant role of the ruling class is generally found in civil society. It controls almost all the important aspects of civil society.
4. Features of Marxian Concept of Class:
David McLellan points out few features of Marx’s theory of class. He says “Marx’s definition of class seems to vary greatly, not only with the development of his thought, but even within the same period. Marx often uses the term, in common with the usage of his time, as a synonym for faction or group.”
What McLellan wants to emphasize is that Marx did not adhere to any fixed notion about class. He viewed this in the background of existing conditions. With the change of economic conditions, structure and composition of class underwent changes. Marx had to accept it and incorporate it into his definition.
In the third volume of Capital Marx points out three different class’s capitalists, landowners and proletariat. In Marx’s time in England there were these three classes.
The industrialization created the former two classes and even the progress of industrialization failed to obliterate the feudal system. So, considering Marx’s time, this tripartite division is a realistic and rational one.
In the second half of the nineteenth century feudal lords constituted an important class. But he prophesied that under the impact of industrialization the land owning class would not be capable of surviving and practically that happened.
Under the economic pressure it will, in course of time, disappear. Some of them will be capitalists and others proletariat. Kolakowski and several other critics have observed that Marx viewed the class primarily in the background of struggle. Again, his class is associated with economic position or status.
We here hold the view that the question of struggle cannot arise without the rise of consciousness. That is, class-struggle is possible only when the members of the class are conscious of their position and condition.
The condition can be designated in simple language as suffering or exploitation. Consciousness again leads to hostility.
A class according to Marx will always view its own interests and will give priority to the interests and when doing this a conflict with another opposing class becomes inevitable. Hence consciousness, conflict and struggle are inevitably connected with the idea of class.
From the analysis of Marx another feature of class can easily be deduced. Class divisions, in general, have nothing to do with the natural differences of sex, race etc. Even there may be different classes within the same race or sex.
Marx and Engels do not subscribe to the bourgeois classification of class on the basis of political factors.
In Anti-Duhring Engels says:
“The warring classes of society are always the products of the mode of production and of exchange in a word, the economic conditions of their time.”
5. Class-in-Itself and Class-for-Itself:
Marx once said that he was not the first man to use the word class and the ideas related to it. We admit it. But it is undoubtedly true that two concepts class in itself and class for itself were for the first time used by him. These two phrases or terms are significant. A group of people in Marx’s view cannot be called a class. It must have certain features.
In The German Ideology and The Poverty of Philosophy Marx and Engels have elaborately discussed the matter.
The German Ideology contains the following uses on the formation of class:
“The separate individuals form a class only so far as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; in other respects they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class, in its turn, assumes an independent existence as against the individuals, so that the latter find their conditions of life predetermined”.
In the Poverty of Philosophy Marx says…”The proletariat is not yet sufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class, and consequently so long as the struggle itself of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie has not yet assumed a political character.”
Though Marx and Engels did not elaborate the idea of class a detailed study of the above- noted two books reveals that the concept of class occupied an important place in their entire thought system.
Since they were seriously thinking of the emancipation of the working class both of them paid maximum importance to the formation of class and its prospective role.
In The Poverty of Philosophy Marx has further observed:
“The economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle this mass becomes united and constitutes itself as a class for itself.”
Now let us explain the two phrases. The first phrase the class-in-itself refers to the objective fact of the class as an aggregate, defined by its position in the economy.
The second phrase class-for-itself refers to the members of this class when they have become aware of this identity as a class, aware of their common situation, and of their role in changing or preserving capitalist society. Such class consciousness is not included in the objective condition of the term “class”.
The ideas and ideology are determined by the economic bases of society. The class consciousness of the proletariat will follow this rule. The ideas men come to have are generally determined by the state of history in which they live and by the class position they occupy within it.
In the capitalist society the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas of the epoch. The proletarians are indoctrinated by the ideas of the ruling class. But in due course the class consciousness emerges among the proletarians.
The class-for-itself has deeper and wider implications which require clarifications. The proletarians must be fully conscious of their present condition (the extent and depth of exploitation) and they must also realize that the only way of emancipation is struggle against capitalists and bourgeois state administration.
The struggle may be intense and long-drawn and may require a lot of sacrifice. This type of consciousness and realization will make the proletarian class as a class for itself. But without political consciousness this realization will never be achieved.
In several works including the Poverty of Philosophy both Marx and Engels have strongly emphasised the immense importance of consciousness. In the Manifesto Marx has pointed out that the workers must be united without which there cannot be any political party. It is the consciousness which makes them hostile.
In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Marx says:
“In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented”.
It is be noted here that Marx and Engels were quite confident that mere formation of a class was not enough for launching a fierce and long drawn struggle against the very powerful capitalists and their state because the state was the instrument of exploitation and oppression. For that purpose Marx put so much emphasis on the distinction between class in itself and class for itself.
6. Concept of Class and Lenin:
There is no second opinion about Marx as a great thinker. But he does not systematically analyse different key concepts and this is the greatest weakness of Marxian philosophy. One such concept is class. Nowhere has he clearly defined class. The third volume of Capital just starts to analyse. But it does not proceed further.
The Poverty of Philosophy contains certain sporadic remarks. The German Ideology simply emphasizes the importance of the ruling class. We find some discussions in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. This is again inadequate.
It is not difficult to form a coherent view about class. We have done that. The students of Marxism desire to have a clear definition of class and that have been provided by Lenin. His small book A Great Beginning offers us a clear definition.
Let us see what he says:
“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labour and, consequently, by the dimensions and mode of acquiring the share of social wealth of which they dispose. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy”.
An analysis of Lenin’s definition reveals certain features. Within every system of production, classes occupy different or diametrically opposed position. The positions are determined by their relationship to the means of production.
The relationship, in turn, determines their role in the social organization of labour. Classes perform various functions in social production. A society is divided into antagonistic classes; one class controls the sources of production and the distribution system as a whole. Other classes are engaged in physical labour. That is they make possible the production.
Class divisions form the whole of social life and whole system of social relations. The relations may be material or ideological. Classes are connected by certain economic relations who enable the exploiting classes to appropriate the labour of the exploited.
The ruling class cannot keep its physical existence intact without exploitation. But the exploited class demands the end of exploitation. This demand is based on material and ideological ground.
The wealth is created by workers and, therefore, they have a legitimate claim over the wealth. The rationality of this claim is based on ideology. Ideology of emancipation; ideology of communism.
7. Class Structure of Society:
Marx has said that the capitalist mode of production has simplified the class structure of society and also the class antagonisms.
In earlier epochs there were both classes and class antagonisms, but they were in complex forms. Then chiefly two types of classes in any antagonistic class divided society basic classes and non-basic classes.
The basic classes are the classes which are engendered by the prevailing mode of production and without which such a move would be inconceivable. The slave-owning mode of production conditioned the existence of slaves and slave owners. These two were the basic classes.
Similarly, in the epoch of feudalism, peasants and landlords were two basic classes. Feudal mode of production was impossible without these two classes. The capitalist mode of production necessitated the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
The relations between the basic classes determine the essence of society’s socioeconomic system and the form of exploitation. The transition from one mode of production to another also changes the relations between the basic classes in a radical way.
In the slave society the slaves were the property of the slave-owners. While in the feudal system the peasants or serfs were no longer the property of the feudal lords.
They were free. The landlord had a claim over the labour of the peasants. Under capitalism the relationship between the proletariat and bourgeoisie underwent radical changes. The workers were exploited but they were free and independent of the capitalists. The capitalists could not force the workers to sell their labour.
Interpreting history from the standpoint of materialism Marx has come to the conclusion that in any mode of production normally there are two basic classes. On the other hand, the number of non-basic classes is never two.
The non-basic classes are also called transitional classes. With the arrival of new mode of production or any other factor the non-basic classes do not survive.
In other words, the existence of non-basic classes is determined by different socio-economic structures existing along with dominant mode of production. In the slave-owning society there were small-scale farmers and handicrafts.
In feudal society, as the towns developed, there arose new social strata comprising craftsmen organized in guilds, corporation, merchants and so on.
When capitalism was fully developed the old and one-time powerful feudalism ultimately disappeared.
It is because feudal system was incongruous with the capitalist structure of society. But though feudalism was destroyed very few feudal lords remained. These few landlords, however, failed to constitute a basic class in the regime of capitalism.
Marx has said that in capitalism there existed both basic and non-basic classes and this was an important feature of capitalist society.
Marx observed that in capitalist societies of some European countries there were many intellectuals who created influence among the educated section of society and they formed a separate class.
In Sheptulin’s language:
“Intellectuals, who are neither owners of the means of production, nor direct producers of material goods, make up the intelligentsia, which include researchers, writers, teachers, doctors, artists and some sections of white collar workers.”
In capitalist society the intellectuals serve different purposes. Some of them take side of the capitalists and help capitalist production. They join hands with the capitalists in propagation and elaboration of bourgeois ideology.
In other words, the main purpose of this section of intellectuals is to safeguard the interests of capitalists in all possible ways. The other section of the intellectuals throws in their lot with the working people. They fight workers’ cause and voice their interests.
In the antagonistic class structure of society there is another non-basic class which is called petty-bourgeoisie. It is not a full-fledged bourgeois class. But as capitalism develops the petty-bourgeoisie also disintegrates. A small portion of it adds to its wealth and joins the capitalists while the larger part goes bankrupt and become proletarians or semi-proletarians. This is a regular process. So far as middle class and petty-bourgeoisie are concerned there is no stability. Change from one class to another takes place.
8. Forms of Class Struggle:
The class struggle is not a transitory phenomenon. Throughout the recorded history of mankind there was always class struggle and only the establishment of a classless society will bring about an end to this struggle.
Marx and Engels have said in the Manifesto “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, baron and serf, guild burgess and journeyman in a word oppressor and oppressed stood in sharp opposition each to other. They carried on perpetual warfare that invariably ended either in a revolutionary change or else in common ruin of the contending classes.” The class struggle is not one but of various forms. What are the forms?
From the recorded history of the world Marx and Engels have discovered various forms of class struggle and they have also observed that the struggle among the classes takes place on reasons more than one.
The most important reason of the class struggle, according to Marx and Engels, is economic. If we look at the history we shall find that the workers started a struggle against the capitalists to get some economic concessions. To put it in another way, to safeguard the economic benefits and interests the workers took arms. That is why it is called economic class struggle.
The workers fight for higher wages, reduced working hour, improvement of working conditions. To fight for the economic benefits the workers at first formed organizations. Trade union is such an organisation.
Methods of struggle are strikes. Economic fight is of vital importance to the working class. This helps them to improve their economic conditions. But if the workers concentrate their efforts and energy simply on the fighting for economic benefits their emancipation from exploitation will never be realized.
That is why the Marxists have always advised that the economic struggle will never be their sole objective. Marxists are of opinion that significant though it may be the economic struggle is not in itself enough to do away with the capitalist exploitation. To achieve this there must be a political struggle.
There are various forms of political struggle. Such as; participation in the elections to parliament, local councils and other state organizations. Political struggle may also assume the form of demonstration, mass protestations against the arbitrary and repressive activities creating barricades and launching agitation.
The objectives of political struggle and economic struggle are different. The objective of the former is to overthrow the established government from power and seize political power while the purpose of the latter is to force the owners of industry and also the government to accept some basic economic demands. By means of both struggles the working class intensifies class struggle.
Marx and Engels have said that from history it appears that workers at first start movement for the fulfillment of certain economic demands and after that they start political struggle. But as to its importance it ranks first. The political struggle is more extensive and its repercussions are also greater. The whole political structure undergoes radical changes.
The capitalists and workers are set against each other. The economic struggle makes workers economically conscious and trade union conscious. But political struggle creates a political consciousness. For the emancipation of workers, capture of political power is a must and that end can never be attained without political consciousness.
Marx, Engels and their followers never have given too much emphasis upon trade unionism. It is a mode of struggle but trade unions are never the highest form of organisation. Political party belongs to that category.
Form the above analysis it is now obvious that political struggle is a must for the working class. It is also to be noted that, through economic struggle and formation of trade union, workers proceed towards political struggle. Political struggle is rather the highest form of class struggle.
The economic struggle cannot be minimized. It helps the workers to gain confidence in their capacity of launching a fierce struggle against the capitalists. The economic lot of the workers, at first, be improved and then they will be encouraged for a further struggle.
The ideological struggle is also an important form of class struggle. Marx and Engels have repeatedly stressed that the working class must realize the extent of the exploitation, and the nature of class interests. In order to be acquainted with that a complete training in ideology appears to be must. Engels took steps to that direction.
It is a must for the worker that they must know the laws of development of society, laws of the development of capitalism. All these they can get from the training or indoctrination of ideology.
The theoretical and ideological struggle of the working class is aimed at freeing the workers’ minds from bourgeois ideas and prejudices. Teaching of Marxist ideology raises the consciousness of the working class to a very higher level so the ideological form of class struggle is just as essential for final victory of the proletariat as-its other forms.
Marx and Engels have strongly emphasized the rise of consciousness, because only this consciousness can lead them to final victory. It is wrong to assume that only propagation of ideology will create a flood of consciousness in the minds of workers and practical activities are less important.
It is to be asserted here that ideological training and various forms of economic and political activities supplement each other. Ideological training sharpens the political and economic weapons. Again, participation in struggle will never be fruitful without training.
Lenin said “consciousness means the workers’ understanding that the only way to improve their conditions and to achieve their emancipation is to conduct a struggle against the capitalist factory owner class.” It is said that ideological struggle is a long and continuous process.
The mind and thought of working class and other weaker sections of society cannot be changed overnight. The indoctrination or training in ideology will take time because while the workers and their leaders resort to this task their counter-forces or parties do not sit idly. They also participate in counter- propaganda and, in this way, the struggle in ideological arena continues.
9. Evaluation of Class Struggle:
The above analysis of the forms of class struggle is not free form limitations. The economic class struggle is not completely separated from political class struggle. Workers very often resort to political methods of struggle in order to realize economic gains.
It is to be pointed out that the purposes of economic and political struggles coincide. Emancipation from oppression is the main objective of any struggle which may be economic or political.
Naturally a clear-cut line cannot be drawn between these two forms of class struggle. Sometimes it is found that the ultimate aim is the overthrow of government and economic factor evokes the determination to struggle.
One spectacular limitation of class struggle, in its economic form, is that it is not always general. Very often the workers of any particular industry or manufacturing concern launches a struggle against the owners and in that situation the workers of other industries may not ally with the agitating workers. If all the workers are not united a broad-based struggle will never be possible.
Marx and Engels have cautioned us by saying that the purpose of the class struggle will never be confined in the attainment of certain economic benefits or overthrow of government.
The ultimate aim will always be to ensure the dictatorship of the proletariat. In his famous letter to Wedeymeyer (March 3, 1852) Marx said, “What I did that was new was to prove that that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
When the proletariat will establish its overall authorities including the capture of political power then there will no longer exits any classes. So the purpose of the class struggle will be to set up a classless society. Though in Marxism class struggle occupies a prominent place, it has been said that there is hardly any place of complacency.
Even in socialist or communist society there is every possibility of emergence of counter-forces whose sole purpose is to scuttle the objectives of the working class; for that very reason some people think of permanent revolution or struggle. This type of struggle may also assume the form of class struggle.
Marx has also said that the proletarians shall use the class struggle as an instrument to achieve their goal. They must also release all sorts of efforts to intensify the class struggle. With the development of capitalism the contradiction between the capitalists and workers will increase.
In that case the active role the workers must play. Mere existence of contradiction is not a sufficient factor of the class struggle. Marx and Engels had no faith on the goodwill of the capitalists. That is why they have placed their reliance on the class struggle. The workers must also be prepared to continue the class struggle.
10. Class Struggle as the Motive Force of Development:
It has been held by Marx and Engels that the struggle between the owners of the means of production and the workers is a social, political and psychological reflection of objective conflicts. These conflicts lead to different reactions among the members of the different classes of bourgeois society. The objective contradiction within the capitalist economy has its subjective counterpart in the class struggle within the capitalist society.
In this struggle the wage-workers represent the expanding forces of production and owners represent the maintenance of established relations of production and with them the exploitation of un-propertied class.
The interests of these two contesting classes are diametrically opposite. The workers are determined to change or overthrow the existing system to bring an end of the exploitation.
The bourgeois class is determined to safeguard at any cost the existing system which is conducive to their interests. The objective of one class is not to be exploited and ‘that of the other is to perpetuate the exploitation.
So, to speak the truth, this situation (the opposite interests of the two major classes of capitalist society) is the prime cause of class struggle. History of human civilization is the sequence of contradictions. It is a struggle between the classes.
Marx has held that the revolution will result from the developing material forces of production as they come into conflict with the relations of productions. The economic contradiction is the prime cause of revolution and this revolution, in turn, leads to a radical change of society.
The workers firmly believe that sporadic and piecemeal efforts cannot improve their conditions and lift them from the morass of exploitation. The class struggle or radical revolution is the only means which can save the working class from exploitation.
Marx in this way has suggested that the class struggle is the motive force of development. The term “development” has a broader connotation in Marxism. It implies overall progress of the society.
The intensive class struggle will have the following consequences. There will be seen the development of productive forces. The straggle will ensure the productive capacity of workers. The owners of industries will introduce higher and improved technologies.
All these will lead to further development of industries. The struggle will also force the industrialists to shorten the working hours. Various other developments will follow.
The class struggle also gives an impetus to the development of production relations. Obsolete production relations are not automatically changed under the impact of productive forces that have developed within their framework.
The ruling class will resist any change in the relations of production. This class will support the old production relations, in order to overcome the resistance of the ruling class a more powerful force is required and that force is class struggle.
Marx has said that the ruling class will not easily surrender to the struggle of the working class. It will employ all its resources and strength to defeat the struggle of the working class. It will always adhere to the out-dated measures and techniques. Only a class struggle can bring about a change.
The ruling class does not want any development, because that may not maximize its profit or surplus value. The bourgeois theoreticians enthusiastically plead for reforms and compromise. But Marx summarily discards them. Without a struggle leading to revolution, progress or development is impossible.
Although the ultimate purpose of class struggle is development, its history reveals that this was not achieved in past as a single event of class struggle.
The class struggle proceeded step by step towards its apex goal. It can be illustrated in the following way. In the slave society the slaves fought against the slave owners not for changing the ownership of means of production or relations of production but for the abolition of slavery.
The uprisings of the slaves forced the slave-owners to accept the major demands of slaves such as ownership of land. That is, the slaves were awarded the ownership of land. This system converted the slaves into small peasants and serfs. Thus arose feudalism.
From history we come to know that in the feudal age the peasants struggle against the landlords to find out a way from exploitation. The end of slave-system and advent of feudalism could not draw a curtain over the exploitation.
Hence the class struggle continued-though in different forms and between different types of classes It is to be noted here that the feudal system, in comparison with slave system was a better and improved social system.
The class struggle made this possible. The peasants’ struggle in the feudal period played a very important part since it promoted the abolition of feudal mode of production and feudal production relations. Thus the peasants’ struggle against the feudal lords created certain positives steps for the advancement of society.
The slaves in the earlier epoch even could not imagine changing the relations of production and overthrowing authority.
Then came industrialization which completely changed the economic, political, social and cultural picture or situation of society. The industrial proletariat appeared and asserted itself as an independent force.
The misery leads the proletarians to demand for the abolition of private property. When the property is released from private control its full utilization becomes possible. The whole system of property or the sources of production are used for the development of society as a whole. Only the class struggle makes it possible.
Economic struggle is the first form of class struggle. It grows spontaneously out of the economic plight of the workers and is waged mainly for improvements in the terms for selling labour power, rather than for the complete abolition of such conditions.
The importance of the economic struggle is great since it gave rise to the first class organs of the proletariat—the trade unions. The proletarians, with the maturity of consciousness, come to realize that mere class struggle in economic form cannot free them from exploitation.
Capture of state power is essential. This leads to the revolution. The state as an instrument of exploitation loses its importance and ultimately it withers away. The whole force of society is employed for the development of all. And it is possible only in socialism.
It is because socialism is the only form or social system which stands for the development of all irrespective of any difference. The contention of the bourgeois ideologists is that the class struggle takes a heavy toll of life, property and cultural values and upsets the normal rhythm of society’s life.
It is negative and inhibits mankind’s all sorts of progress. Marx and Engels summarily reject this contention of the bourgeois ideologists.
One of the important advances of the materialist understanding of history is the conclusion that, far from being an inhibiting factor, the class struggle is a great motive force of the development of antagonistic societies. Without a class struggle there cannot be a transition from the old socio-economic system to a new one.
Some critics say that any uprising of peasants and workers cannot be called a class struggle, because for a clear-cut class struggle there must be a clear and well- defined class. Marx and Engels express the view that theoretically this may not be properly class struggle, but it creates a foundation of class struggle as well as of progress.
Speaking of the peasant war of 1524-26 in Germany, Engels noted that it “pointed prophetically to future class struggles, by bringing on to the stage not only the peasants in revolt—that was no-longer anything new—but behind them the beginnings of the modern proletariat, with the red flags in their hands and the demand for common ownership of goods on their lips”.
11. Causes of the Class Struggle:
We have so far discussed several aspects of class struggle. Now time has arrived to explore the causes of class struggle. The struggle, which occupies such important place in Marxism, is not due to the cantankerous nature of classes or people.
The bourgeois ideologists admit the existence of classes, but do not say that these classes are involved in irreconcilable conflicts, though there might be sporadic clashes.
The prime cause of this clash is the misunderstanding and it is resolved without disrupting the normal functioning of society. The bourgeois theoreticians particularly the sociologists, admit the existence of classes and differences in interests, but they do not admit that these differences will ultimately result in serious class conflict or struggle between the classes.
They are of opinion that all the conflicts are amicably settled by means of negotiations or mutual understanding. They also propagate that peaceful coexistence among the classes is rather the characteristic feature of society.
The bourgeois scholars further claim that in spite of the conflicts among the classes the total development of society has never been adversely affected. Rather it has progressed satisfactorily. Hence struggle between the classes can never be treated as a potent force of development.
Marx and Engels have held that mere communication gap is not the cause of conflict. The class struggle is caused by the diametrically opposed social positions and contradictory interests of the different classes. What is class interest? It is determined not by the consciousness of the class but by its position and role in the system of social production.
In the capitalist system of production the proletariat is deprived of the ownership of the means of production and is thus deprived of all privileges. The workers are also subjected to exploitation.
So the workers feel that it is capitalism which is the source of misery and suffering. Not any particular worker is victim of capitalist exploitation, but the working class as a whole. But the consciousness cannot be exiled from the domain of class interest.
The working class must be conscious of the extent and nature of exploitation and must also be conscious that only the overthrow of capitalism can emancipate this class. Hence the class interest and consciousness are inextricably connected.
The cause of the class struggle is the opposite nature of the interests. The interest of the capitalist class is to maximize the profit, whereas the interest of the working class lies in the enhancement of wage sufficient for comfortable living. Workers’ demand is quite rational in the sense that wage must always be proportionate to the contribution to production. To put the matter in simple language maximisation of profit is the objective of one class and maximum wage is the aim of another class.
These diametrically opposite interests cannot be reconciled. The socialist predecessors of Marx, particularly the Utopian socialists, heavily depended upon the goodwill and philanthropic mentality of the capitalists and they believed that the capitalists would concede some of the basic and legitimate demands of the working class voluntarily.
Adjustment and conciliation, they thought, were sufficient weapons to improve the economic conditions. But Marx and Engels have discarded this as absurd. It is impossible to think or assume that the capitalists will part with a portion of their profit.
The capitalists cannot deviate from the path of profit motive. The surplus value is the source of capital formation. Again, the exploitation swells the surplus value. On the other hand, the working class resorts to struggle not simply for survival but for the realization of their legitimate demands. Which the capitalists are not prepared to concede.
Class struggle in antagonistic capitalist society is not the result of any single factor. The immediate cause is the exploitation. But not always. There was exploitation in feudal society but this was free from class struggle.
The intransigence of the capitalists, the determination of the working class to abolish exploitation, rise of consciousness, the maturity of contradiction and the inability of the capitalists to provide long-term palliatives against the erosion of influence all these combined together to precipitate class struggle.
Appraisal of Class Struggle:
The class struggle constitutes the core of Marxism and the novelty lies in the fact that this leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The simple meaning is that the struggle of the proletarians against the bourgeoisie is not the sole objective, they must, after the struggle, establish the predominance over all.
Now to what extent the proletarians have been able to set up the dictatorship is an issue of great polemics. We have no intention to enter into the controversy because for academic purposes that will be a fruitless adventure. The scholars and critics do not agree on the causes of the failure of the proletarian movement.
About 100 years ago Lenin said “the proletariat economically dominates the centre and nerve of the entire economic system of capitalism.” This observation still holds good.
The scientific and technological revolution has changed the economic conditions of both workers and capitalists. But the major portion of the benefit has gone to the capitalists.
V. D. Zotov in The Marxist-Leninist Theory of Society writes “In the conditions created by state-monopoly capitalism and the scientific and technological revolution significant changes are taking place in the working class. These changes are not leading to the ‘disappearance’ of the working class, to the deproletarianisation of capitalist society. The tendency towards the steady growth of the working class, of its proportion in the population continues. In 1980 the working class totalled nearly 80 percent of the gainfully employed population in the USA and Britain, 77 percent in France, 60 percent in Italy and roughly 62 percent in Japan”. The capitalist mode of production is also proletarianising the peasants.
In order to get better economic facilities the peasants are relinquishing their traditional farming and joining the army of industrial workers. This is ruining them gradually. In U.K., USA and France there are no peasants in the traditional sense. It is a clear indication of the falsity of bourgeois plea that the number of proletarians is declining.
If the number of proletarians increases the class struggle is inevitable. Analysing the exact nature of capitalist society, V. D. Zotov has come to this conclusion.
The concept of class struggle propounded by Marx, Engels and subsequently elaborated by Lenin has been called ‘scientific’ on the ground that all of them have explained it from the background of historical materialism.
According to Marx and Marxists to explain any idea or concept in the light of historical materialism is scientific. In every epoch of social progress there were classes and also conflict among them.
Marx made this revolutionary conclusion by gathering facts from the study of history covering several centuries. It is very much unfortunate that the bourgeois scholars and theoreticians did not pay proper attention to this aspect of class struggle.
It is the credit of Marx and Engels that they have viewed it scientifically. They have said that the class struggle will lead to dictatorship of the proletariat. This is a logical and scientific conclusion.
If the workers are serious of their own emancipation and Marx believes that they are serious because they are conscious then they cannot stop at class struggle. They will make all efforts to establish their dictatorship.
Gouldner in The Two Marxisms says “Marx’s very conception of class struggle reveals the characteristic ambivalences between the structural scientific socialism, on the one hand, and his voluntaristic critical Marxism on the other. On the voluntaristic side, Marx argues that while capitalism’s development will make ever greater encroachments on the working class, pushing the value of labour power down to a minimum, nonetheless, the workers have a duty to keep on struggling, even for improvements that can only be temporary”.
It is the historical duty of the workers to go on struggling until capitalism is completely annihilated. If they stop struggling they will be cowards. In this voluntaristic mood, Marx holds, workers have a duty to struggle against capital.
The importance of class struggle can be viewed from another angle. So long as the wage system remains there is very little scope of the improvement of the workers’ conditions. The intransigent attitude of the capitalists is not solely responsible for this.
The structure of the capitalist society is so built up as not to allow considerable concessions to labourers. Under such circumstances the workers are forced to fight against the capitalists.
“Given its basic structure, there was little workers could do to improve their conditions in any fundamental way under capitalism and its wage system. Yet, they were to continue struggling, partly as a duty to themselves and history, partly to educate and to transform themselves in preparation for their overthrow of capitalism and its limits.”
Karl Marx’s observation all struggles are class struggles-has been challenged by his opponents. In any society there are several classes and conflicts frequently arise among them but these cannot be categorized as class struggles.
It may be religious conflicts. On cultural grounds conflicts may arise among different cultural groups. Conflicts may also arise between the ethnic groups and this is not rare at all. The religious conflicts were the characteristic features of the Middle Ages. But the religious and ethnic struggles cannot be called class struggle.
Marx thought that the rapid rise in the number of working class or proletarians was the prime cause of antagonistic relationship between the classes particularly two major classes. Unfortunately he forgot to note that with the rise of the number of proletarians they have also increased their status in the field of collective bargaining which has increased enormously.
It is unfortunate that Marx did not bring this aspect of capitalist society into serious consideration. The capitalists have also modified their behaviour and attitude towards working class. This has not led to the abolition of antagonism. But the workers today are in better position. Today we are faced with a peculiar situation which Marx and Engels could not foresee.
They thought that if the profit of the capitalists rises the miseries of the workers will also rise. Today we find a different picture. Profit has risen but not the misery.
The workers through collective bargaining have succeeded in enhancing their wages. The system of capitalism since Marx has undergone tremendous changes.
“Society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other; bourgeoisie and proletariat.” This is the observation of Marx and Engels.
Critics hold the view that the relationship between bourgeoisie and proletariat is not always bitter, though most of the time this is so. At present the capitalists adopt different methods to placate or appease the workers.
The workers are not only organized but also militant. Their unity can throw the capitalists into great troubles. The representatives of the two antagonistic classes sit round a table to find out the solution to outstanding problems.
The real situation forces them to come to a settlement. The pragmatism of these two classes does not allow the interests to be irreconcilable.
The bourgeoisie has nowhere been overthrown due to class struggle. In every capitalist society the bourgeoisie and proletariat are living side by side.
Miliband in Marxism and Politics says:
“This of course raises the whole question of the validity or otherwise of Marx’s and Engels’s belief in the inevitability of revolution.”
The workers will go on fighting against the bourgeoisie this conception is not supported by actual situations.
Marx nowhere has elaborated the notion of class, though it is a central part of his philosophy. The term proletariat has been explained by Engels in his Principles of Communism. But it is so brief that the whole discussion does not throw sufficient light on the subject.
Miliband has said that we do not know what exactly Marx and Engels meant by these two terms. This deficiency of Marx has encouraged bourgeois theoreticians to interpret the terms in their own way which harms Marxism. Marx might have been more cautious.
In the third volume of Capital Marx said “the stratification of classes does not appear in its pure form.” In spite of this frank admission, the pertinent question which crops up in our mind is his classification a realistic one?
The modern states are ruled by a large number of bureaucrats and officers. To what class these persons belong?
Similarly the army and police cannot be classified according to Marx’s specification. But the modern states cannot be imagined without army, police and bureaucracy. There are also various groups and subgroups in every capitalist party. Any analysis of class struggle minus these suffers from deficiency.
Marx’s theory of class and class struggle is not applicable to the Third World countries. The socio-economic condition of the Third World countries is different from that of developed countries.
“The class profile refers to the advanced capitalist countries. The very large question which arises is how far that profile and the propositions have application to other types of society the countries of the Third World. In regard to the Third World countries class relations are central determinant of their mode of being. But it is equally clear that classes involved in these relations are in some major ways different from those in advanced capitalist societies”.
Marx’s theory of class and class struggle has raised many eyebrows. Even Mao of China interpreted the term in the socio-economic and political atmosphere of China. The result is that Marx’s theory of class and class struggle and Mao’s idea on the same issue are different.
The interesting point is nobody has been able to challenge Mao’s theory of class struggle. Again, in the second half of twentieth century Marx’s theory of class struggle has faced few basic questions such as what is exactly a class. Does the existence of classes lead to conflict? What are the elements that constitute class?
According to Marx, economic element constitutes class and he derived this idea from the study of history. But from the same source we derive that there are many elements that form the structure of class. There are differences of opinion, but those differences did not result in class struggle.
Hence the concept of class and class struggle is extraordinarily complex. We believe that Marx did not pay sufficient thought and pay attention to the analysis of class and class struggle.
Class Interests, their Irreconcilability and Exploitation:
In the just concluded analysis we have dealt with various aspects of classes and class struggle. In this regard certain points need further clarification. Such as, does the existence of classes lead to class struggle? What is exactly meant by irreconcilable class interests? When the irreconcilable class interests lead to class conflict? If we study the vast literature of Marx and Engels we shall find that Marx was quite aware of the issues raised above.
In the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Marx clearly stated that the existence of two opposite classes does not mean a class conflict or it does not mean that there is a class and so the class will enforce its interests. There are many a gap between the lip and the cup.
From the record of history we come to know that there were two classes whose interests were opposite and one class was exploited by another, still the exploited class did not revolt. Another case may be cited. Irreconcilability of interests between two classes in past did not lead to exploitation. For example, the interests of the bourgeois and feudal lords were irreconcilable but one was not exploited by the other.
In spite of the irreconcilability of the interests between these two classes there was cooperation. There is thus a point to ponder over.
It is further to be noted here that even in a class constituted in Marxian sense there may exist Several subgroups based on group or parochial interests. There are classes but there are no subgroups are practically an unimaginable idea. We surmise that Marx realized this nature of class.
It is not expected that every class (in Marxian sense of course) shall be absolutely homogeneous. In such class there may exits small groups or factions and the interests of these groups or factions may be incompatible and sometimes may be irreconcilable. But this does not create an atmosphere of class or group conflict because either they are suppressed or do not get scope of exposure.
All the groups live under the big umbrella of a large class. In any society such sort of picture may be available. Society is always dynamic. With the change of economic, social and political situation the interests of the class as well as those of groups change and this change is not a potential reason of class struggle.
It is said that for a class struggle the incompatibility of interests must be stable, that is, it will continue for pretty long time. The members of the class must realize that further continuation of irreconcilability will cause irreparable damage to the interests. Unfortunately such type of situation does not always arise.
Again, irreconcilability is not always a reason of conflict. Let us explain it. The members of the class may hold different attitude to the idea of justice, interests and origin of classes. This difference creates disunity among the members of the classes making, difficult for class struggle. Because there must be strong unity among the members of the class.
It may be held by some members that by launching a struggle justice may not be achieved. Question may arise about the justification of this reason, but the members have the full freedom to adhere to different view.
If the class is intimately associated with the structure of society and if the members are of opinion that without changing the social structure a class struggle is impossible they will be quite reluctant to launch a struggle.
Marx and Engels have also talked about the objective class interests. It has been found that many people do not possess clear conception about class interests. What they hold are momentary interests or some impractical or imaginary interests.
Marx and Engels have said that the members of the class must have clear conception about the interests. Cloudy conception cannot act as an important factor of class conflict. If people are guided by momentary impulses the irreconcilability cannot produce results.
An important aspect of class struggle is that in any class struggle whatever may its form and magnitude be the most crucial role is always played by consciousness and along with it by spontaneity.
If it were not so the slaves could have revolted against the slave owners or there could have occurred fierce struggle between landlords and serfs.
There were sporadic conflicts, but the class struggle in Marxian sense never occurred. We have already referred to Marx’s observation in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. The French peasants formed a class and their interests stated in opposition to the interests of other classes. But they lacked two things political organization and, above all, class consciousness. The peasants of France were incapable of working and acting together.
The absence of unity among them stood in the way of launching a revolution. Here is the role of class consciousness. Every class must be fully conscious of what it is getting, what it wants to get, and the difference between the two and, finally, must be prepared to get it.
“The bourgeois have class consciousness; they work together to further their interests. They do not merely know what they want as individuals; they do not merely have personal ambitions. They have demands which they make in common they know what they want done on their behalf as a class, or if all of them do not know they have leaders who do know and whose leadership they accept. They are organized to make collective demands, and could not even decide what demands to make unless they were organized”.
This is the consciousness. The word consciousness is not a mere mouthful word—it has several vital aspects. The consciousness leads the members of the class to exert their demands to the proper authority. It creates organisation. Through the machinery of consciousness the workers are united. Through unity demands are placed collectively.
The importance of class-consciousness may be illustrated by an observation made by Marx in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
“But let there be no misunderstanding. The Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary but the conservative peasant; not the peasant that strikes out beyond the condition of his social existence, but rather the peasant who wants to consolidate this holding not the country folk who want to overthrow the old order through their own energy, but on the contrary, those who want to see themselves favoured by the ghost of the empire. It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant, not his judgment, but his prejudice; not his future but his past”. We have given here a long quotation simply to prove that Marx was quite aware of the role of consciousness in the various stages of class struggle. The purpose of class struggle is to end exploitation. “Exploitation is appropriation by some social classes or groups of the product of the labour of other classes, without compensation. It is engendered by the appearance of private ownership of the means of productions which brings about a division of society into antagonistic classes.”
We thus see that the emergence of exploitation is due to the rise of private property and division of society into opposite classes whose interests are incompatible. But the nature and extent of exploitation is not one-dimensional.
There are various types of exploitation. If the householder does not pay proper salary to his domestic help or driver of his car it is also form of exploitation. If an employer forces his subordinate to do extra work without additional payment it is also exploitation.
So we say that in every society there are various forms of exploitation. But every exploitation does not lead to conflict or struggle.
The economically powerful class, that is, the bourgeois, employ workers tor the purpose of production. But the capitalists deceive or exploit the worker by giving less than what they should get in exchange of the labour.
The capitalists make more and more profit through the appropriation of surplus value .The capitalists do not apply any coercive measure for the appropriation of greater profit. They force the workers to sell their labour at comparatively cheap rate.
Marx and Engels have analysed various ways adopted by the capitalists for the purpose of multiplying profit that is exploitation. One such technique is the application of the division of labour. The capitalists introduce division of labour for safeguarding and increasing their own monetary interests, but ultimately this method throws labourers into competition among themselves and narrows down the scope of employment.
Moreover, the workers are faced with monotony of work and they do not get job satisfaction. But they are forced to work for livelihood. According to Marx this is one type of exploitation and it is found in every industry.
Introduction of new and improved machinery makes many workers surplus. Competition among the workers rises considerably and they are forced to sell their labour at a lower level of wage and in this way wages decrease.
Marx in his Wage, Labour and Capital sums up the whole matter in the following words: “The more the productive capital grows, the more the division of labour and the application of machinery expand. The more the division of labour and the application of machinery expands the more the competition among workers expands and the more their wages contract”.
Industry develops, machinery improves and unemployment increases. This leads the workers to work at less and less wage. On the contrary, rapid industrialization and application of sophisticated machinery- enables capitalists to bag higher and higher profit.
Industrialization in this way clearly divides the society into two distinct opposite classes whose interests are not only antagonistic but irreconcilable. Sporadic protests and agitation sometimes take place and the workers resort to these in order to realize their legitimate demands.
The capitalists, in order to fight the protests and agitation, take the help of state machinery such as police and military because these are state controlled.
The rise in consciousness among the workers and building up of organizations ultimately make the struggle between workers on the one hand and the capitalists and state on the other hand a practical possibility, the chief aim of which is to bring about emancipation of workers. We thus conclude that, in Marxian philosophy, classes, class struggle and exploitation all are well-linked concepts.