In this paper we are going to study the issues of classes’ theory as developed by a famous philosopher ”“ Karl Marx and try to apply it to the modern American society.
Marxism is a philosophy that was named for Karl Marx, it is also known as scientific socialism. Marxism has had a great influence on the development of the contemporary society, and modern communism is based on its main principles. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ theory is based on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Proletarian Internationalism. The philosophical method of Marxism is dialectical materialism, which is based on the Hegel’s theory of the dialectical idealism. Dialectical materialism presumes economic determinant to be the prima determinant in history. It is this method that concerns the history of society to be the “history of struggle”¯. “A specific class could rule only so long as it best represented the economically productive forces of society; when it became outmoded it would be destroyed and replaced”¯ (Marx, 234). The theory about classes was worked out during the beginning of modern industrial capitalism, but this is evident, that class structure has changed enormously since that time.
The notion class derives from the attitude of some social group to the means of production. Marx indicates several social classes: the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, the landlords, the farmers and the peasantry and others. The proletariat is “those individuals who sell their labor power, and therefore add value to the products, and who, in the capitalist mode of production, do not own the means of production”¯ (Marx, 145). The bourgeoisie presents the social class, which owns the means of production and so it exploits the proletariat. The bourgeoisie class could be further divided into the wealthy bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie. The second group could either employ workers or work themselves. They usually presented trade workers, small owners or land-holding peasants. Marx claimed that this class of bourgeoisie would soon become the proletariat. The landlords present an ancient class, which used to be important earlier and now this class only reminds us about its wealth and power. The peasantry and farmers are a disorganized class, which is unable to change anything. Karl Marx predicted its disappearance. According to Marx the proletariat, which consists of the industrial workers, is the only true productive class, which can develop economy and so rule the country. The main principles of Marx’ collective works are based on class consciousness, mode of production means of production, ideology, historical materialism, exploitation, political economy and some others. Class consciousness presumes the ability of a social class to act in its own rational interests. The means of production include the means of labor and the subject of labor. Means of production do not produce anything. They require labor power in order to produce something. These means include machines, tools, equipment, raw materials. Marxism is based on the assumption that workers can not handle the results of their work because capitalists possess all means of production (Kolakowski, 26).
Marx developed the concept of historical materials though he never used this term. Historical materialism is based on the idea, that the development changes of human society are caused by the changes of means to life. He put factors which influenced the society on the economic background and considered them from the economical point of view.Ā Marx used the term political economy in order to explain the conditions, under which capitalist system has been developed. Political economy became a study of ways humans organize material, distribute the products of activity.
Marx defined exploitation as the main reason of social injustice. He defined exploitation of one class by another as a key feature of capitalism and free market. Capitalists gain their profit from the difference between the value of the product and actual wages that workers receive. In this way workers get less, than their labor costs in reality, and this makes it possible for the capitalist class to gain additional profit. This is the reason why capitalists class becomes richer and working class becomes poorer. Workers produce goods and services, but final result belongs to the owners of plants and factories. Labor of workers is not paid accordingly and this finally leads to the alienation of their work. Marx defined alienation as a main result of capitalism. These ideas were suitable during the time when Marx created his philosophy. During that time workers really did not receive appropriate pay for their labor and exploitation of the working class by the class of capitalists was evident. The situation has changed since than, and nowadays we can not talk about the exploitation of working class in the countries of Western Europe and America.
Nowadays the general views on classes in society changed absolutely. For example intellectuals are not considered to be a single class any more, there are rather several classes included. Researchers state, that “on a more fundamental level, one of the most important developments in capitalist class structure over time has been the persistence, expansion, differentiation and institutionalization of mass, middle classes”¯ (Kolakowski, 112). This tendency was influenced by several historical factors. As peasants proved to have sufficient staying power under the imperialist system, the conclusion, that peasants are able to play the role of effective agents for adding labor power from the agricultural proletariat, was made. Globalization is actually making the peasants class weaker, but it still remains rather numerous.
Also the proletariat didn’t exist as the only class, but was split into several middle classes. Global economy started to rely upon a great number of wealthy consumers, which could bring profits. These are the results of structural adaptation to repeating overproduction cycles in early capitalism and the global middle classes help capitalism to survive. Along with constant change of the needs, they are buying a lot of various services and products. “And finally, the decentralization of state power within modern neocolonialism requires large classes of motivated overseers, guards and warlords. At times it seems that half the population is working to control the other half. As we shall see, this goes beyond mere appearances”¯ (Kolakowski, 231).
Nowadays, the notion of class in the United States is an object of controversy, as there are a lot of definitions. The most widely spread is the so-called three-class model: “the rich”¯, “the middle class”¯ and “the poor”¯. There are other models, which name more than twelve classes in America. Some models are based on the statement, that the modern society is classless. Usually classes are defined and divided according to income level, education, occupation and belonging to specific subculture or network. One of the most exact and real class systems was worked out by Dennis Gilbert, William Thompson, Joseph Hickey, and James Henslin. They point out: “an upper or capitalist class consisting of the rich and powerful, an upper middle class consisting of highly educated and well-paid professionals, a lower middle class consisting of college-educated professional sales and office assistants, a working class constituted by clerical and blue collar workers whose work is highly routinized, and a lower class divided between the working poor and underclass”¯ (Kolakowski, 236). Workers in the United States of America get up to 80 per cent of the cost of their labor in contrast to the not developed countries, where workers get only about 10 per cent of the cost of their labor. Economical structure represented in contemporary America can be classified as developed capitalism.
Despite there is a distinction between rich and poor, at the same time there is no exploitation of the working class. It is evident, that we can not talk about exploitation and alienation in the United States of America. Since these basic concepts of Marxism are not represented in the US, it is evident that this teaching can not be used in this country. (Sowell, 1985)Ā There is another problem, which may appear with Marxism in the United States. Marxism and Socialism often appear as foreign and even hostile ideologies for American citizens. Long period of confrontation with the Soviet Union, where Marxism used to be a leading ideology caused a lot of misinterpretations of this teaching. The United States of America is a country based on democratic traditions. Revolutionary struggle and struggle against slavery supported desires to follow democratic ideals. Marxism and Socialism as a dominant regime of utilitarian states, such the USSR, China, Cuba, made American citizens to associate it with Utilitarism. That is one of the reasons, why this ideology will be hard to follow in democratic American society. A vivid example of utilitarism is reflected in empires, which incarnated regimes of social injustice and governmental control over economy. All these factors, taken together, give enough reasons to think, that the teaching of Marxism can not be suitable for the United States of America. Economical reasons, such as free market and private property, which make the fundamental American liberties guaranteed by the constitution, and ideological improperty of Marxism for the American society, give enough ground to conclude, that this teaching will not fit into American political and ideological system.
Overall, in this paper we studied the notion of classes in the theories of Karl Marx along with modern changes in American society and class structure.