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Karl Marx and theory of Class Consciousness

Class-consciousness is the way in which the experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value systems, ideas, and institutional forms. If the experience appears as determined, class-consciousness does not. We can see logic in the responses of similar occupational groups undergoing similar experiences, but we cannot predicate any law. Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way.

Class consciousness is a category of Marxist theory, referring to the self-awareness of a social class, its capacity to act in its own rational interests, or measuring the extent to which an individual is conscious of the historical tasks their class (or class allegiance) sets for them. Carl Marx moved a step ahead and saw it as the first working class party. In “The Chartist Movement” he referred England to subsist as an awakened country: “But it is necessarily revolutionary, and the complete annihilation of Old England as an aristocratic country is the end which it follows up with more or less consciousness.

Its nearest object, however, is the attainment of a Parliamentary reform which should transfer to its hands the legislative power necessary for such a revolution. ” [4]. Karl Marx and the Concept of Class Marxists define a ‘class’ by its relationship to the ‘means of production’-such as factories, land, and machinery. Non-Marxists usually define classes by the type of employment (such as manufacturing/blue collar, white collar, or management), or by income.

In the Marxist view, capitalism consists of two social classes: those who sell their labour for survival (the proletariat) and those who hire labour to produce goods or services (the bourgeoisie). In non-Marxist theory, there are usually believed to be three or four classes: Working (blue collar or manual labourers), Middle (those who work in a non manual profession such as teaching, computing, or management), and upper (the rich, or those whose career is highly specialized and requires great education, such as stock brokers, politicians, judges, and millionaires).

Sometimes a forth class is added: The ‘Underclass’ or Lumpenproletariat – those who are unemployed, living on state benefits, or engage in ‘blue collar’ crime such as burglary, mugging, or drug dealing. Karl Marx was the first person to critically attack the privileges not just of a hereditary upper class, but also of anyone whose labour output could not begin to cover their consumption of luxury. The majority proletariat, which had previously been consigned to an unimportant compartment at the bottom of most hierarchies, or ignored completely, became Marx’s focal point.

He recognized the traditional European ruling class (“We rule you”), supported by the religious (“We fool you”) and military {“We shoot at you”) elites, but the French Revolution had already shown that these classes could be removed. Marx looked forward to a time when the new capitalist upper class could also be removed and everyone could work, as they were able, and receive, as they needed. Karl Marx defined class in terms of the extent to which an individual or social group has control over the means of production.

In Marxist terms a class is a group of people defined by their relationship to the means of production. Classes are seen to have their origin in the division of the social product into a necessary product and a surplus product. Marxists explain the history of “civilized” societies in terms of a war of classes between those who control production and those who actually produce the goods or services in society (and also developments in technology and the like). In the Marxist view of capitalism, this is a conflict between capitalists (bourgeoisie) and wage-workers (the proletariat).

For Marxists, class antagonism is rooted in the situation that control over social production necessarily entails control over the class, which produces goods — in capitalism this is the exploitation of workers by the bourgeoisie. The proletariats are the first class in history that can free everyone from alienation. They have no one beneath them to exploit so the only path they can take to freedom is to set up a classless society in which no one is exploited. This, they thought, would happen after a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and after an in-between period called the “dictatorship of the proletariats”.

Marx himself argued that it was the goal of the proletariat itself to displace the capitalist system with socialism, changing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a future communist society in which: “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. ” (Communist Manifesto) One of the curious results of certain class societies (or societies that are generally perceived to be based on class distinctions) is that people belonging to different social classes have different views on the class system as a whole, thus different forms of class-consciousness.

From this observation one can argue that class-consciousness in modern English society is quite blurred, a situation which exists in other modern societies as well. Marx saw class categories as defined by continuing historical processes. Classes, in Marxism, are not static entities, but are regenerated daily through the productive process. Marxism views classes as human social relationships, which change over time, with historical commonality, created through shared productive processes.

A 17th century farm labourer who worked for day wages shares a similar relationship to production as an average office worker of the 21st century. In this example, it is the shared structure of wage labour that makes both of these individuals “working class. ” Even though Marx was concerned with equality, his philosophy emphasizes materialism, economics, and politics. Many people argue that these are less important issues in an egalitarian society, where relative material and political equality result naturally from well-maintained, mostly non-competitive social relationships (kinship).

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