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Marx’s Theory of Social Class.

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MARX'S THEORY OF SOCIAL CLASS. Many different schemes have been used to identify social classes or divisions of rank and wealth. However, it was only in the 1st three decades of the 19th century that the term 'class' gradually replaced 'estate', 'rank' and 'order' as the word used to denote divisions within society. The change of vocabulary reflected the diminishing significance of rank and ascribed or inherited qualities in general and the growing importance of possessions and income in determining social position. The word 'class' comes to us from the Romans, who used the word to divide the population into a No. of groups for the purposes of taxation. However, Marx was the 1st person to give the concept of class a significant meaning. According to Marx, "classes emerge where the relations of production are a differentiated division of labour which allows for the accumulation of surplus products that can be appropriated by a minority grouping which thus stands in an exploitative relationship to the mass of producers." Marx usually uses the words 'herrschaft' and 'klassenherrschaft'. These in English can be translated as 'rule / domination' and 'class rule / class domination'. Marx's various analyses of class domination are all primarily directed towards the end of explaining the characteristic structure and dynamics of a bourgeois society and conceptual precision is secondary in importance to this over-riding focus of attention. ...read more.


All historical class societies show a more complicated system of relationships, which overlap the dichotomous access of class structure. Thus in bourgeois society, these complicating groupings are: i. Middle-class including small merchants and self-employed professionals such as doctors and lawyers. Marx believed that as the capitalist system evolved, the middle-class would eventually be crushed and forced into the proletariat (working class / wage labourers). ii. Marx excluded farmers and peasants from his conception of class because he believed that the drama of historical change would occur in the urban industrial area of capitalist societies, and rural people would play little or no part in shaping social change. The fact that communist revolutions have come in backward, rural societies rather than advanced industrial areas, is an embarrassment to Marxist theorists. iii. Finally, there is a heterogeneous cluster of individuals in the 'lumpenproletariat' who stand on the margins of the class system, because they are not wholly integrated into the division of labour. These are composed of thieves, criminals of all kinds living on the crumbs of society, vagabonds etc... The degree to which a class constitutes a homogenous entity is historically variable. Subordinate gradations exist in all classes. Marx himself distinguishes the division in the capitalist class between financial and industrial capitalists. According to Marx, the ordering of classes and the nature of class conflicts change considerably with the emergence of successive forms of society. ...read more.


In class societies, "the ruling ideas of every age are the ideas of the ruling class." An individual or group may develop ideas, which vary from the prevalent ideas of his age, but these views will not come into prominence unless they articulate with the interests held by the dominant class. Thus, many of the ideas, which were used in contructing machines during the industrial revoution, had bee known for years but their rapid application and spread only occurred when the expansion of capitalism generated the need for capitalists to augment production beyond what was possible through handicraft manufacture. Every new class, Marx states, achieves its domination only on a broader basis than that of he previously dominant class, whereas the opposition of the non-dominant class against the new ruling class later develops all the more profoundly and sharply. But this is only possible through the formation of an increasingly numerous class of property-less wage-labourers. Bourgeoisie society universalizes class relationships around a single class-division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Its this that, in fact, provides for a fundamental difference between bourgeoisie and other forms of class societies which have preceded it whereas previous revolutionary classes, once they have acquired power, have sought to protect the position they have acquired by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. The proletariat cannot come to a position of domination except by abolishing its own previous mode of appropriation and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. ...read more.

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