Introducing Western Sociologists

Introducing Western Sociologists

Question

Why do classes come into conflict according to Karl Marx ?

Answer
(i) Marx and social grouping or classification of the people : For Marx, the most important method of classifying people into social groups was with reference to the production process, rather than religion, language, nationality or similar identities. He argued that people who occupy the same position in the social production process will eventually form a class. By virtue of their location in the production process and in property relations, they share the same interests and objectives, even though they may not recognise this immediately.

(ii) Formation of classes through historical process : Classes are formed through historical processes, which are in turn shaped by transformations in the conditions and forces of production, and consequent conflicts between already existing classes. As the mode of production — that is, the production technology and the social relations of production — changes, conflicts develop between different classes which result in struggles.

(iii) Example : For instance, the capitalist mode of production creates the working class, which is a new urban, property-less group created by the destruction of the feudal agricultural system.

(iv) Serfs and Small peasants : Serfs and small peasants were thrown off their lands and deprived of their earlier sources of livelihood. They then congregated in cities looking for ways to survive, and the pressure of the laws and police forced them to work in the newly, built factories. Thus a large new social group was created consisting of property-less people who were forced to work for their living. This shared location within the production process makes workers into a class.

(v) Marx as a proponent of class struggle

: Karl Marx was a proponent of class struggle. He believed that class struggle was the major driving force of change in society. In the Communist Manifesto (which was also a programme of action). Marx and Engels presented their views in a clear and concise manner. Its opening lines declare. ‘The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.

(vi) Course of human history and nature of the class struggle : They went on to trace the course of human history and described how the nature of the class struggle varied in different historical epochs. As society evolved from the primitive to the modern through distinct phases, each characterised by particular kinds of conflict between the oppressor and theoppressed classes. Marx and Engels wrote, ‘Freeman and slave, the patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried out an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight. The major opposing classe of each stage were identified from the contradictions of the production process.

(vii) Bourgeoisie owned all the means of production : In capitalism the bourgeoise (or capitalist) owned all the means of production, (such as investible capital, existing factories and machinery, land and so on). On the other hand, the working class lost all the means of production that it owned (or had access to) in the past. Thus, in the capitalist social system, workers had no choice but to sell their labour for wages in order to survive, because they had nothing else.

(viii) Classes do not automatically engage in coflict : Even when two classes are objectively opposed to each other, they do not automatically engage in conflict. For conflict to occur it is necessary for them to become sujectively conscious of their class interests and identities, and therefore also of their rivals’ interests and identities. It is only after this kind of ‘class consciousness’ is developed through political mobilisation that class conflicts occur. Such conflicts can lead to the overthrow of a dominant or ruling class (or coalition of classes) by the previously dominated or subordinated classess — this is called a revolution.

(ix) In Marx’s theory, economic processes created contradictions which in turn generated class conflict. But economic processes did not automatically lead to revolution — social and political processes were also needed to bring about a total transformation of society.

(x) Presence of ideology : The presence of ideology is one reason why the relationship between economic and socio-political processes becomes complicated. In every epoch, the ruling classes promote a dominant ideology. This dominant idelogy, or way of seeing the world, tends to justify the domination of the ruling class and the existing social order. For example, dominant ideologies may encourage poor people to believe that they are poor not because they are exploited by the rich but because of ‘fate’, or because of bad deeds in a previous life, and so on.

(xi) Conflict with rival ideologies :

However, dominant ideologies are not always successful, and they can also be challenged by alternative worldviews or rival ideologies. As consciousness spreads unevenly among classes, how a class will act in a particular historical situation cannot be pre-determined. Hence, according to Marx, economic processes generally tend to generate class conflicts, though this also depends on political and social conditions. Given favourable conditions, class conflicts culminate in revolutions.

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