Sociology / Marx – Class Struggle



From a Marxian view, a class is a social group whose member share the same relationship to the forces of production.


Classes did not exist in primitive societies since all members of society shared the same relationship to the forces of production. Classes emerge when productive capacity of society expands beyond the level of required subsistence. Private property and accumulation of wealth form basis for the development of class societies.

From a Marxian perspective, the relationship between classes is one of mutual dependence and conflict. However, the mutual dependency of two classes is not a relationship of equal or symmetrical reciprocity. Instead, it is a relationship of exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed.


  1. Conflicts over the distribution of economic rewards between the classes
  2. Easy communication between the individuals in the same class positions so that ideas and action programs are readily disseminated
  3. Growth of class consciousness in the sense that members of the class have a feeling of solidarity and understanding of their historic role
  4. Profound dissatisfaction of the lower class over its inability to control the economic structure of which it feels itself to be exploited victim
  5. Establishment of a political organization resulting from the economic structure, the historical situation and maturation of class consciousness.

Marx’s classic statement clearly establishes the most fundamental premise of all his theoretical work on the question of class:  “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Free men and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending class”.


In Marx’s view man is essentially a social being. He writes that ‘society does not consist of individuals, but express the sum of inter relations, the relations within which these individuals stand’.

An understanding of human history therefore involves an examination of these relationships, the most important of which are relations of production. The relationship between classes is one of antagonism and conflict. Thus class conflict forms the basis of the dialectic of social change.

Class divisions result from the differing relationships of members of society to the forces of production. The structure of societies may be represented in terms of a simplified two class model consisting of a ruling and subject class. The ruling class owes its dominance and power to its ownership and control of the forces of production.

The conflict of interest between the two classes stems from the fact that productive labour is performed by the subject class yet a large part of the wealth so produced is appropriated by the ruling class. Since one class gains at the expense of another, the interests of their members are incompatible.


Members of both classes, are largely unaware of the true nature of their situation, of the reality of the relationship between ruling and subject classes. Members of the ruling class assume that their particular interests are those of society as a whole, members of the subject class accept this view of reality and regard their situations part of the natural order of things.

This FALSE CONCIOUSNESS is due to the fact that relationships of dominance and subordination in the economic infrastructure are largely reproduced in the SUPER STRUCTURE of society. In Marx’s words the relations of production constitute ‘the real foundation on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which corresponds definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual process of life.

While the superstructure may stabilize society and contain its contradictions over long periods of time, this situation cannot be permanent. The fundamental contradictions of class societies will eventually find expressions and will finally be resolved by the dialectic of historical change. A radical change in the structure of society occurs when a class is transformed from a ‘CLASS IN ITSELF’ to a ‘CLASS FOR ITSELF’.

A class in itself refers to members of society who share the same objective relationships to the forces of production. Thus, as wage labours, members of the proletariat form a class in itself.

However a class only becomes a class for itself when its members are fully conscious of the true nature of their situation, when they realize they are fully aware of their common interests and common enemy, when they realize only by concerted action can they overthrow their oppressors, and when they unite and take positive, practical steps to do so.

Marx believed, that the contradictions of capitalism were sufficient to transform the proletariat into class for itself and bring about the downfall of bourgeoisie. He saw the magnitude of these contradictions and the intensity of class conflict steadily increasing as capitalism developed. Thus, there is a steady polarization of the two major classes.

Following are the MAIN CHARACTERISTICS of the theory of class struggle:

  1. THE DEVELOPMENT OF PROLETARIAT: the capitalist economic system transformed the masses of people into workers, created for them a common situation and inculcated in them an awareness of common interest. Through the development of class consciousness, the economic conditions of capitalism united the masses and constituted them into a class for itself
  2. THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPERTY: property divisions are the crucial breaking lines in the class structure. Development of class consciousness and conflict over the distribution of economic rewards fortified the class barriers.
  3. ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL POWER: according to Marx political power is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. The bourgeoisie use the state as an instrument of economic exploitation and consolidation of self-interest.
  4. POLARIZATION OF CLASSES: the whole society breaks up into two hostile camps, so to as – the haves and have not’s. The capitalists who own the means of production and distribution and the working classes who own nothing but their own labour.
  5. THE THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE: capitalists accumulate profit through the exploitation of labour. The value of any commodity is determined by the amount of labour it takes to produce it. Since employers have monopoly of the instruments of production, they can force workers to do extra hours of work, and profits tend to accumulate with increasing exploitation of labour.
  6. PAUPERIZATION: According to Marx poverty is the result of exploitation and not of scarcity. A minority of owners enjoy leisure and have luxury on the other hand increasing mass poverty and exploitation.
  7. ALIENATION: The worker is alien to the process and the product of the manufacturing process itself. The product of work becomes an instrument of alien purpose as well as his product of labour. Work is no longer an expression of man himself, only a degraded instrument of livelihood.
  8. CLASS SOLIDARITY AND ANTAGONISM: with the growth of class consciousness the crystallization of social relations into two groups becomes streamlined and the classes tend to become internally homogenous, and the class struggle more intensified.
  9. REVOLUTION: at the height of class war a violent revolution breaks out which destroys the structure of capitalist society. This revolution is most likely to occur at the peak of an economic crisis which is part of the recurring booms and repressions characteristic of capitalism.