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Marx's Use of "Class"

Author(s): Bertell Ollman


Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 73, No. 5 (Mar., 1968), pp. 573-580
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Marx'sUse of "Class"
BertellOilman

ABSTRACT
We attemptto derive Marx's theoryof class throughthe way he uses the term,rather
of his most generalstatementson the subject,whichis how
than throughan interpretation
class has usually been approached. "Class" is seen to referto social and economicgroupings
based on a wide variety of standards whose interrelationsare those Marx findsin the
real society under examination.By conceptualizinga unity of apparentlydistinctsocial
relations,"class" in Marxism is inextricablybound up with the truthof Marx's own analysis. Its utilityis a functionof the adequacy of this analysis.

What are the classes into which Marx


places theinhabitantsof capitalistsociety?
In Capital,he says thatin developedcapitalistsocietythereis onlya capitalistand
who are
a proletarianclass.' The former,
are describedin
also called thebourgeoisie,
the CommunistManifestoas "ownersof
themeansofsocialproduction
and employers of wage labor." In the same place, the
proletariatare said to be "the class of
modern wage-laborerswho, having no
means of productionof theirown,are rein order
duced to sellingtheirlabor-power
to live."2But, thoughMarx believedEuropean capitalismwas sufficiently
advanced
for a Communistrevolutionto occur,he
asserts elsewherein Capital that three
classes-capitalists,proletarians,
and landin theirmutualoppoowners-"constitute
sitionthe framework
of modernsociety."3
For Marx,thelandownerclass is composed
of ownersof largetractsof land and is almostalwaysfeudalin origin.Has thestandard by whichMarx assessesclass membership altered?4

Even wherethe basis fordistinguishing


classesappearsto be a group'srelationsto
the prevailingmode of production,the
questionis not the simpleone of whether
thereare twoor threeclasses,forMarx applies this label to severalothereconomic
units. Two outstandingexamplesare the
petty bourgeoisieand the peasants. The
formerare small shopkeepers
who own no
meansof productionor, sometimes,
a very
tiny morsel,and employat most a few
workers;and the latterare the ownersof
smallplots of land whichtheyfarmthemselves.Theirrespective
relationsto theprevailing mode of productionin capitalism
are not thoseof the capitalists,the proletariat, or the landowners.Where, then,
does Marx place small businessmenand
peasants when he talks of societybeing
made up of threeclasses? Also, it is not
easy to drawthelinebetweentheseclasses.

and are referred


to as a separateclassin a number
of otherplaces ("Introduction,"
A Contribution
to the Critiqueof PoliticalEconomy,translated
by N. I. Stone[Chicago,1904],p. 305). In "The
I
Karl Marx, Capital (Moscow, 1957), II, 348.
Eighteenth
Brumaireof Louis Bonaparte,"however,Marx treatsthemas a sectionof thebour2 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Comdemunist Manifesto, translated by Samuel Moore geoisie,claimingthat"largelandedproperty,
spiteits feudalcoquetryand prideof race,has
(Chicago, 1945), p. 12.
been renderedthoroughly
bourgeoisby the de3Marx, Capital (Moscow, 1959), III, 604.
velopmentsof modern society" (Marx, "The
' The landowners are included as one of the Eighteenth
Brumaire
ofLouisBonaparte"in Marx
"three great social classes" mentionedin Marx's and Engels,SelectedWritings
[Moscow,1951],I,
Introductionto the Critique of Political Economy 248).

573

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THE AMERICANJOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY

574

At what point does a small businessman bourgeoisie,we can assume, have been
stop being pettybourgeoisand becomea sweptunderthe rug of "capitalist."Most
however,thepeasants
capitalist?How muchland does a peasant oftenin his writings,
have to own beforehe becomes a land- are referredto as a separateclass whose
distinctivequalitiesare aptly summedup
owner?
Shouldwe admitas classesall thegroups in thephrase,"class of barbarians."9
thereare stillotherelementsin
mentioned,
Marx's contradictory
attemptsto cateto place. gorizetheintelligentsia
is extremely
revealthe populationthat are difficult
Are farmlaborers,for instance,proletari- ing of the problems encounteredin a
ans or peasants? The inclusionof rural straighteconomicdivisionof society.Usuwage workersas proletariatis requiredto ally,he speaksofdoctors,lawyers,journalwriters,
and priestsas "the
give validityto Marx's claimthatthe pro- ists,professors,
and spokesmen"
letariatcontainsthe vast majorityof peo- ideologicalrepresentatives
ple in capitalist society.5He must have of the bourgeoisie.10
Referringto petty
Marx exbeen awareof thefactthatindustrialwage bourgeoispoliticiansand writers,
in capitalist plains that what makes themrepresentaearnerswerea clear minority
Germanyat thattime.6On at least one oc- tivesof thisclass "is the factthatin their
casion,Marx statesexplicitlythatfarmla- mindstheydo not get beyondthe limits
borers are proletarians;yet, the whole whichthe latterdo not get beyondin life,
of theproletariat
as that they are consequentlydriven,theoweightofhis treatment
to thesameproblemand solutions
workersin industryargues against this.7 retically,
it is of to whichmaterialinterestand social posiAnd,wheneverMarx particularizes,
industrialworkersthathe speaks.
tiondrivethe latterpractically."'1"
The relationship
betweentheintelligentBeyondthis,thereis an indicationthat
extendstheclass of prole- sia and the capitalistclass is further
clariMarx sometimes
peasantsas fiedwhereMarx says the ideologistsof a
tariansto includesmall-holding
well,as whenhe states,"The owningpeas- class are those"who make the perfecting
and of theillusionof theclass aboutitselftheir
ant does notbelongto theproletariat,
therewherehe does belongto it by his po- chiefsourcesoflivelihood."This,he claims,
sition,he does not believethathe belongs is based on a divisionof labor inside the
to it."8Marx's pointis thatbecause of his class betweenmentaland physicalwork.12
indebtednessto various capitalists, the Though it would appear to be general,
etc.,thepeasant Marx carefullyrestrictshis own applicamortgageon his property,
does notreallyownhis plot of land,and is tion of this principleto the bourgeoisie.
actuallyworkingforsomeoneelse. Bring- From commentssuch as these,the intelliing thepeasantryinto the proletariatmay gentsiaand the capitalistsstand forthas
similarat thecore,who are merehelp account for Marx's divisionof ad- brothers,
areas of capitalvanced capitalist society into two main ly specializingin different
classes; the landownersand the petty ist "work."'13
' Marx and Engels, The GermanIdeology,transIated by R. Pascal (London, 1942), p. 69.
'See Edward Bernstein,EvolutionarySocialism,
translatedby Edith Harvey (London, 1909), p. 106.
'Marx says, "The capitalist tenant has ousted
the peasant,and the real tillerof the soil is just as
much a proletarian,a wage worker,as is the urban
worker" (H. Meyer, "Marx on Bakunin: A Neglected Text," Etudes de Marxologie, edited by
M. Rubel [October,1959], p. 109).
8 Ibid., p.

108.

"Marx, Capital, III, 793.


10Marx, "The Class Strugglesin France," Selected Writings,I, 129.
"EighteenthBrumaire,"op. cit., p. 250.
2
German Ideology, pp. 39, 40.
13 In the CommunistManifesto,the intelligentsia
are referredto as the "paid wage-laborers"of the
bourgeoisie(CommunistManifesto,p. 16). Marx's
terminologyhere suggests a strong likeness between the intelligentsiaand the proletariat.Nonetheless,the contextmakes it clear that their real
place even here is withinthe capitalistclass.

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MARX'SUSE OF "CLASS"

575

Thoughtheyare usuallysubsumedunder their monetarydealings with industrialthe capitalistclass, this does not preclude ists.17
Marx, on occasion,fromascribingto the
Marx also speaks of a "lower middle
a status,notjust as a class,but class" whichincludes"the small manufacintelligentsia
as a clusterof classes. In Capital,Volume turers,the shopkeeper,the artisan, the
I, forexample,he speaks of themas the peasant."118This class,it appears,picksup
"ideologicalclasses."14 If Marx sometimes some members from all the economic
amongthecapitalists classes mentionedearlier.What is the criputs theintelligentsia
and sometimes
puts themon theirown,he terion by which Marx determineswho
is obviouslychanginghis criteriafordecid- belongsto thelowermiddleclass? Judging
a class.
ingwhatconstitutes
by its membership,
it could be income,
to capitalists,proletar- power,or even distancefromthe extremes
Besides referring
ians, landowners,petty bourgeoisie,and of involvement
in theclass struggle.
One last example:what are we to make
peasants,"class" is also used to referto
groupscarved out of societyon another of the group Marx calls the "dangerous
basis than theirrelationsto the mode of class," otherwiseknown as the Lumpencontain proletariat,whichis said to be composed
Such groupsfrequently
production.
membersfromtwoor moreof theeconomic of "the social scum,thatpassivelyrotting
classes dealt withabove. What Marx calls mass thrownoffby thelowestlayersof old
the "ideologicalclass," forexample,seems society"?19It is spokenof elsewhereas "a
to be based on the role thesepeople play recruiting
groundforthievesand criminals
in societyat large,ratherthanin produc- ofall kinds,livingon thecrumbsof society,
tion.The rulingclasses,anothersocial unit peoplewithouta definitetrade,vagabonds,
appears to have people withouta hearthor a home."20By
foundin Marx's writings,
been markedout by the same measure: what standarddoes Marx judge memberthoseindividualswho take part in running ship in thisclass? It seemsto be a gatherthe countryor who help decide how it ing place for all the unemployedpoor,
shouldbe run are its members.'5In Great though Marx's term,"dangerousclass,"
Britain,the rulingclasses are said to be suggestsa certainactioncriterionas well.
composedof the "aristocracy,""money- The Lumpenproletariat
sell theirservices
Thus, they to thebourgeoisie,
ocracy," and "millocracy."'16
who use themas strikeinclude both capitalistsand landowners, breakers,labor spies, and fighters
against
most of whombelong to the aristocracy. the workersin timesof revolution.Such
The "millocracy"refersto ownersof fac- are their actions which make them the
torieswhichproducematerialsforclothing: "dangerousclass."2'
and the"moneyocracy,"
or "financearistoc- The pluralityof criteriaMarx uses in
racy,"refersto bankersand the like, who constructing
classes is reminiscent
of presearn theirentranceintothe capitalistclass ent-dayconfusionon thissubject.It is not
as hirersof wage labor and by virtueof enough to argue-as some have-that
1 Marx, Capital,translated by Samuel Moore
and Edward Aveling (Moscow, 1958), I, 446.

'Elsewhere, the latter group, or some part of


it-the big money lendersand usurers-is labeled
a "class of parasites" (Capital, III, 532).

'f Of this class, Marx says, "the class, which is


the rulingmaterialforceof society,is at the same
"Communist Manifesto,p. 27.
time its rulingintellectualforce" (GermanIdeol19Ibid.
ogy,p. 39). Though Marx uses the expression"rul20 "Class Strugglesin France," Selected Writings,
ing class" in ways which suggesta more functional
definition,this statementdoes serve notice where I, 142.
the real power of any ruling class lies for Marx.
' Engels, it is worth noting, has even more
"6Marx,"The Future Results of BritishRule in referentsfor "class" than Marx, especiallyin Germany: Revolution and Counter Revolution.
I, 321.
India," SelectedWritings,

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576

THE AMERICANJOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY

Marx's idea of class develops over time, systemof classes." The otherclassesmenfor many of the complicationswe have tionedcan be made moreor less consistent
drawnattentionto are foundin the same withthisdivisionon thebasis ofhintsMarx
workor in writingsof thesame period.If drops but nowheredevelops.These hints
"subdivisions
readersof this articlewill checkthe cita- are foundin his expressions,
tions which correspondto my footnotes of classes" and "transitionclasses."24The
occupational,
1, 3, 9, 14,and 17, theywillsee a sampling formerhelps us comprehend
contradictoryincome,and functionalunits withinthe
ofthevariousand apparently
relauses of "class" in the volumesof Capital. threegreatclasses based on differing
The conclusionremainsthat,fora variety tionsto theprevailingmodeof production.
and shipbuilders
of purposes,Marx dividessocietyup in as Millocracy,moneyocracy,
ways,speakingof theparts are all subdivisionsof the capitalistclass,
manydifferent
in each case as "classes."
just as skilled and unskilledworkersare
Any attemptto explainMarx's practice subdivisionsof theproletariat.
class" can be
The conceptof "transition
muststart with the admissionthat Marx
uses this term loosely, often puttingit used to justifyleaving out of the more
of the class system,
forwardas a synonymfor"group,""fac- generalpresentations
tion,"or "layer."This was onlyin keeping those groupswhichare in the processof
with the impreciseuse of "class" which disappearing.Small-holdingpeasants and
us was typicalof petty bourgeoisieare among the classes
RolfDahrendorfinforms
WhereMarx speaksof "ruling Marx sees disappearingin his own day.25
his period.22
block to takingthisway out
classes," "groups" or "factions"could be A stumbling
for"classes' withoutany alter- is that "transitionclass" is a highlysubsubstituted
ation in the meaning.Marx himselfuses jective concept even withinMarx's own
any class, afterall,
"rulingclass" and "rulingfaction"inter- analyticalframework;
changeablyin one instanceto referto the can be viewedas passingout of the picsame people.23 "Groups" could also be ture, dependingon the time span under
substituted for "classes" without any consideration.We saw Marx claim that,
change of meaning in the expression in fullydevelopedcapitalism,onlya capi"ideologicalclasses"; and either"group" talistand a proletarianclass exist; thereor "layer" would serve for "class" where fore,if thisis the periodone has in mind,
Afterthe
Marx talksof the "dangerousclass." With all otherclassesare transitional.
all due allowance made for loose word proletarianrevolution,however,the capiusage, however,Marx cannot escape the talist class, too, disappears; and, when
moreseriousaccusationof havinga litter communism
arrives,the proletariatas well
and of dissolves into the community.All referof standardsforclass membership
changingthemwithoutpriorwarning.
if
ences to "transitionclasses," therefore,
The implicationsof this disorderfor theyare to conveyanymeaningat all, must
Marx's class analysisof societyshouldnot make explicitthe timeperiodunder conbe carriedtoo far,since Marx's tripartite sideration.
divisionof societyinto capitalists,proleMarx's only attemptto presenta contarians,and landownersis the prevalent nectedaccountof class appearsat theend
most
one, and it is also the classification
24Marx, "The Bourgeoisie and the Counterin keepingwithhis othertheories.Hence,
Revolution,"Selected Writings,I, 63; "Eighteenth
we may in fairnessdub it the "Marxist Brumaire,"
I, 253.
SelectedWritings,

22Rolf Dahrendorf,Class and Class Conflictin


IndustrialSociety,translatedby the author (London, 1959), p. 4.
3"Class Strugglesin France," Selected Writings,
I, 130.

2 Communist
Manifesto,p. 16. Many groups,
such as the pettybourgeoisie,fall into both of the
above categories;theyare a subdivisionof thecapitalist class and, for the period in which Marx is
writing,a transitionclass as well.

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MARX'SUSE OF "CLASS"

577

of Volume III of Capital, but, unfortu- of fisheries."Here, the manuscriptbreaks


nately,he nevercompletedit.26Fromthese off.Whenconcentrating
on theproblemof
fewparagraphs,we learn thatwage labor- class, Marx takes a stand againstaffixing
ers, capitalists,and landownersconstitute thislabel to all kindsofsocialand economic
he himselfwas
the threelarge classes of modernsociety, groups,whichis something
Yet, he admitsthat,evenin Englandwhere guiltyof.
capitalismis mostdeveloped,"the stratifi- From our study of Marx's use of the
cationofclassesdoes notappearin itspure term"class,"we can suggesthowhe would
strataeven have finishedthis account.The qualificaform.Middle and intermediate
hereobliteratelines of demarcationevery- tionsforconstituting
a class that capitalless in rural ists possess and physiciansdo not are as
where(althoughincomparably
districts,than in the cities)." He believes follows:thecapitalistshave a directoperin capitalistsocietyare atingrelationshipto the mode of producthat developments
speedilyreducingall such stratainto the tion,whilephysiciansdo not; thecapitalists
capitalistor proletarianclass. The land- have distincteconomicinterests(the size
owners,too,are shortlyto go thesameway. of theirprofit)based on these relations
With the growingdivorce between the whichplace themin conflictwiththe promeansof productionand labor,Marx sees letariat and landowners,the other two
all workerseventuallybecomingwage la- groupsdirectlyinvolvedin capitalistproborers.As forcapitalists,the trendtoward duction,while the economicinterestsof
increasingconcentrationin industryen- physicians-thoughleaning toward those
largestheholdingsof somejust as it forces of the capitalistsin presentsociety-are
reallycompatiblewiththe interestsof any
othersinto the proletariat.
of
thethreegreatclasses; thecapitalistsare
own
"What
Marx repliesto his
question,
constitutesa class?" withanother,"What consciousof their uniquenessas a class
makeswage laborers,capitalists,and land- withintereststhatare opposedto thoseof
lords constitutethe three great social the two other main classes in society,
evenif theyare conscious
he leftbehindcon- whilephysicians,
classes?" The fragment
tainsonlythe firstpartof his answer:"At of themselvesas a distinctgroup,do not
firstglance-the identityof revenuesand view theirinterestsas being opposed to
sourcesof revenue.There are threegreat those of others; the capitalistsare organsocial groupswhosenumbers,the individ- ized in one or morepoliticalparties,which
whilephyuals formingthem,live on wages, profit, workto promotetheirinterests,
and groundrent,respectively,
on thereali- sicians-despite their pressuregroup aczation of theirlabor-power,theircapital, tivity-have no such organization;and,
and theirlanded property."Marx recog- finally,capitalistsexhibit a general cula way oflifeand set ofsocial
nizes that this standardalso enablesphy- turalaffinity,
sicians and officialsto be spoken of as values, which mark them off from the
whilephy"classes,""for theybelongto two distinct proletariatand the landowners,
groupsreceivingtheirrevenuesfromone siciansas a grouphave no suchdistinguishand thesame source.The samewouldalso ing features.27
of
be true of the infinitefragmentations
A threadwhichrunsthrough
all of these
interestand rank into whichthe division criteriais the hostilitya class displaysfor
of social labor splits laborersas well as
' Whetherthe culture,way of life,and social
capitalistsand landlords-the latter,e.g., valuesof capitalists
reallydiffer
morefromthose
into owners of vineyards,farm owners, of other sectionsof the populationthan the
of physicians
is not at issue.
mineownersand owners equivalentattributes
ownersof forests,

Allthatconcerns
us is thatMarxthought
theydid,
'Unless otherwise
signified,
whatfollowscomes for thisbeliefwas an important
elementin his
fromCapital,III, 862-63.
construction
of classes.

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578

THE AMERICANJOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY

its opponentclasses. Whetherin work, the wealth of social relationsthat Marx


politics,or culture,an essential defining sees boundup in it.
characteristic
of each class is its antagoOnly in advancedcapitalismis it possinism in this same sphere to others.For ble fora groupto qualifyas a class on all
the capitalists,this can be seen in their the criteriaI have listed. Hence, Marx's
hostile relationsto the workersand the assertionthat class is a "productof the
landownersat the point of production,in bourgeoisie."29
To take just one instance,
their political struggleto promotetheir the absenceof effective
communication
in
interestsat the expenseof these classes, earlier periods inhibitsthe exchange of
and in the culturalsideswipesthey are information
and contactswhich is essenforeverdirectingagainst them. Of the tial for class formation.
An awarenessof
bourgeoisie,Marx says, "The separatein- commoninterestsas well as co-ordinated
dividualsforma classin so faras theyhave action to promotethemare impossibilities
to carryon a commonbattle against an- forpeoplelivingin scatteredcommunities.
otherclass: otherwisetheyare on hostile
But if class is a productof capitalism,
termswith each other as competitors."28how can Marx speak of all historyas the
This commonbattleis foughton as many historyof class struggleor refer-as he
frontsas thereare criteriaforconstituting frequently
does-to the distinguishing
soa class. On each front,it is the fact of cial divisionsof previousepochsas "classbattleitselfwhichearnseach side its label. es"?30 To answer this query is also to
Hence,Marxcalls a societywhereonlyone demonstrate
howhe was able to referto so
class exists,such as occursaftertheprole- many groups in capitalist society as
tarianrevolution,
a classlesssociety.With- "classes." It is simplythat Marx applies
out an enemy,the antagonisticnatureof thislabel if a groupmeasuresup to only
the proletariatdisappearsand withit the some of the above standards.Whichthese
designation"class." "Who is the enemy?" are varieswithhis purposein makingthe
This is the nub of
is a questionthat can be asked whenever particularclassification.
the explanationfor Marx's apparentconMarx uses "class."
The secretof class in Marxismlies hid- fusionover class. If we want to discover
den in the socialistphilosopher'sconcep- the relevantcriteriain each case, we must
tualizationof it as a complexratherthan followup our question,"Who is the ena simple relation.In "class" Marx con- emy?" with one, "Why are they the enflatesa numberof social ties (relations emy?"Nothingthathas beensaid absolves
betweengroups based on various stand- Marx fromthe accusationof using"class"
ards) which are generallytreated sepa29Ibid.,p. 77. This is not to say that everycapirately.He viewsthemas interacting
parts talistsocietyhas a fullydevelopedsystemof classes.
ofan organicwhole,thesocietyin question, Marx refersto the United States as a place "where
such that developmentin any one neces- althoughclassesalreadyexist,theyhave not yetbefixed,but continuallychangeand interchange
sarilyaffects(moreor less,sooneror later) come
their elements in constant flux" ("Eighteenth
The
the others.
mistakemade in virtually Brumaire,"SelectedWritings,
I, 232). Marx never
all treatmentsof this subject, a pit we adequately explains this exception.
could only climb out of after fallingin
s" He says, "The historyof all hithertoexisting
ourselves,is to seekaftera unidimensional societyis the historyof class struggles"(Commup. 12). In a footnoteto the 1888
meaning.But, by this maneuver,class is nistManifesto,
Englishedition,Engels qualifiesthiswherehe says,
distortedto thenumberof major elements "that is, all writtenhistory."He points out that
left unreported.The various criteriafor in 1848 Marx and he did not know about the
establishing
class, therefore,
simplyreflect existenceof primitivecommunism(ibid.). In any
2

GermanIdeology, pp. 48-49.

case, Engels' qualificationdoes not affectour use


of this statement.

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MARX'SUSE OF "CLASS"

579

loosely,but it shouldhelp us comprehend There is a still more formidableobjection to Marx's use of "class." Besides
whatlies behindthisusage.3'
his standardswhenmovingfrom
changing
Whetherit was properof Marx to apply
thelabel "class" on thebasis of onlya few one groupto thenext,thesame group-as
of the relevantcriteriais open to dispute, indicatedby its popular name-may be
but thathe could not wait forall of them givenitsmeasureby a varietyofstandards.
to be satisfiedbeforeusing this termis Dependingon his purpose,Marx maymean
clear. Otherwise,he would have defined by "proletariat"all wage earners,the simhimselfout of the running,for even the plest and largestnet of all. Or he may
are occasion- meanthosewhopass one or any fewof the
capitalistsand theproletariat
ally seen to be withoutsome of the requi- income,cultural,political,and social tests
site attributes.He says of the proletariat, thathave beenlisted.Withtheshiftin criforexample,"Thus thismass is alreadya teria,thereis a shift,oftenof hugeproporto.
class in oppositionto capital,but not yet tions,in thenumberof people referred
The missingingredient This explains,of course,whysome groups
a class foritself."32
is class consciousness,the proletariat's -peasants, rural workers,intellectuals,
of theirlife situationand and shopkeepersbeing the prize examples
comprehension
theiracceptanceof the interestsand ene- -are sometimesfoundin one class and
in another.This objectionmight
sometimes
mieswhichaccrueto it.
proved
fatalforthosewishingto comhave
Elsewhere,Marx suggeststheproletariat
are not a class, because theylack a class- prehendMarx's viewsabout his contempowide politicalorganization.In a letterto rariesif certaintrendswere not apparent
Kugelmann,Marx speaks of his program in his use of class labels.Generally,
Marx's
of the FirstIn- commentson the proletariatonly apply
forthe GenevaConference
as helping"the organizationof to industrialwage earners,and his descripternational
theworkersintoa class."33In theCommuThese deficienciesare closelyrelated.Increased
linksthisup
nistManifesto,he specifically
class consciousnessadvances the cause of political
with the formation
of a politicalparty.34 organizationby creatinggreaterinterestin it, while
Insofaras class consciousnessremainsthe organizationalactivityheightensclass consciousness
achievementof a few,and beforesuch a throughthe propaganda it makes possible. Both
party exists,the proletariat,even in the deficienciesdisappearwith the furtherdevelopment
the capitalist mode of production: Marx says,
most advanced capitalisticsocieties,lack of
"The organizationof revolutionaryelementsas a
a class supposes the existenceof all the productive
forconstituting
two major qualifications
class.35A similarbreakdowncouldbe made forceswhich could be engenderedin the bosom of
p. 196).
of the capitalistsand, in fact,of all the the old society" (Povertyof Philosophy,
grounsMarx calls "crJq.p36
The most explicitstatementof this dualityoc35

3'

1To make his plurality of standards explicit,


which we would have liked, would have made it
necessaryforMarx to tell more than he "had time
for." It is simplythat the requirementsof getting
on withhis task of the momentforcedhim to subsume a great deal of the relationshe was treating.
On the one occasion when he sought to sketchout
the main relationsin "class," death intervened.

"2Marx,The Povertyof Philosophy(Moscow,


n.d.), p. 195.
' Marx, Lettersto Dr. Kugelmann(London,
1941), p. 19.
'

Communist
Manifesto,
p. 26.

cursin regardto theFrenchsmall-holdingpeasants,


of whom Marx says, "In so far as millions of
familieslive undereconomicconditionsof existence
that separate theirmode of life,theirinterestsand
theirculturefrom those of other classes, and put
themin hostileoppositionto the latter,they form
a class. In so far as thereis merelya local interconnectionbetween these small-holdingpeasants,
and the identityof theirinterestsbegets no community,no national bond and no political organization among them, they do not form a class"
("EighteenthBrumaire,"SelectedWritings
I, 303).
It appears that economicallyand culturally the
peasants are a class, but as regardsclass consciousness and politics, they are not.

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580

THE AMERICANJOURNALOF SOCIOLOGY

that Marx had difficulty


tions of capitalistsare usually meant for is understandable
this analysisin the form
and bankersas well as for in reconstituting
largemerchants
for"class."38
the ownersof the means of production. of a definition
For thosewho accept Marx's versionof
These are the chiefcharactersin Marx's
capitalistsocial relations,thekey concepts
realisticdrama,Capital.
This bringsus to thenextand, formany, in whichit is couchedare secondnature;
obvious question,"How usefulis Marx's "class" serves as a necessaryvehicle for
conceptof 'class'?" But, if our statement conveyingwhat Marx taught. For those
of whatMarx meantby "class"-garnered whodo notshareMarx's analysis,or somefromhis actual use of theterm-is correct, thingclose to it, usinghis concept"class"
this questionsimplymasks anothermore can onlydistortwhattheyhave to say. We
herein theutilityof this
profoundone concerningthe utility of are notinterested
in presentingMarxism
concept
as
an
aid
a unity
Marxismitself.By conceptualizing
of apparently distinct social relations, when the purposeis to criticizethe docbound up with the trine.Nor shouldour conclusionbe taken
"class" is inextricably
realityof theunityso posited,thatis, with as an argumentagainst using the word
sense,as long
the truthof Marx's own analysis.For the "class" in somenon-Marxist
criteriaMarx used for under- as this is made clear. One can definethe
interwoven
a class represents word "class" to suit practicallyany end,
standingwhatconstitutes
but it is altogetheranothermatterto use
the resultof his empiricalsocial studies.
It is only,in otherwords,because Marx Marx's concept"class" in ways otherthan
foundgroupsin his societywith differenthe did himself.
of language,but
Wordsare theproperty
relationsto theprevailingmodeof production, sets of opposingeconomicinterests concepts-and "class" is botha wordand a
based on these relations,a correspondingconcept-belongto a particularphilosophy
a grow- (way of viewingthe world) and share in
culturaland moraldifferentiation,
ing consciousnessamong these groups of all of thelatter'suniqueness.As a concept,
theiruniquenessand accompanyinginter- "class" cannotbe detachedfromthestructuredknowledgeit seeks to expressand of
ests, and-resulting fromthis consciouswhichit is, in thelast analysis,an integral
ness-the developmentof social and popart. Does Marx providean adequate aclitical organizationswhich promotethese countof
socialrelationsin capitalism?It is
intereststhat he constructedhis peculiar on theanswerto thisquestionthattheutilconcept of "class." Of overridingimpor- ity of Marx's conceptof "class" hinges.39
tanceis that"class" in Marxismis notjust
'R. N. Carew-Hunt, The Theoryand Practise
a label forgroupscarvedout of societyon
of Communism(London, 1963), p. 65. As we have
the basis of a discernibleset of standards, indicated,one possible exceptionto this rebuke is
but expressesas well the involvedinterac- the short,unfinishedchapter on class in Capital,
tionwhichMarx believedhe uncoveredbe- III, 862-63.
It is our view that the same analysis could be
Whencritics,such
tweenthesestandards.37
as R. N. Carew-Hunt,therefore,
ask com- made of Marx's other key concepts-"class struggle," "value," "surplus-value,""freedom,""laborof "class." power," "alienation," etc. Like "class," each explaininglyforMarx's definition
theyare asking,in effect,for the latter's presses an aspect of the social reality Marx
analysisof capitalistclass society; and it believes he uncovered, and, like "class," the full
S

37The interactionofferedhere is not meant to


be complete.One whole area which has not been
taken account of at all has to do with the role of
class in Marx's theoryof alienation.

meaningMarx attaches to these conceptscan only


be decipheredby examininghow he actually uses
them in his writings.All of them are equally unavailable to those who would use them to express
non-Marxistviews.

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