The Marxist Theory on Class Struggle: The History of Human Relations has been one of Class Struggle Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

A continuous struggle is going on in the world of Karl Marx, for as long as there is an exploiter and an exploited. Karl Marx lived and struggled all his life for the emancipation of the working man who was reduced to a common serf. There is continuing class struggle as people with the same interests form a class to fight for their freedom.

Class struggles exist in any given society when its production powers are falling. This is what happened to the cities of Europe during Marx and Engel’s time. By contrast, primitive societies have no class because their labour tends to be similar and all members of society work hard for their daily subsistence. Unlike in a class society where there is difference between labour and capital; one has to work while the other produces the capital. Here, class struggle is evident. (Wood 2004, p. 97)

Commentators and Marxist critics do not have only one interpretation of the term class struggle. Many would say that it is about material struggle of the classes in society. Others would say that it is used as a metaphor. In the true sense, it is economic in nature. But it is material because it is a struggle for the material means that members of society desperately need. The social order depends upon the results of class struggle, or there cannot be order if class struggle causes social upheaval or conflict or chaos.

In the Marxist philosophy, class struggle means battle of opposing classes. There have been class divisions in society based on the relation of individuals to property and means of production. Because of these class struggles, changes are inevitable. (Chatterjee 2010, p. 24)

Marx believed that world history has been characterized by class struggle. Class struggles are the result of economic development or of society’s forces of production. Tools, technologies and industries are the driving forces in history’s class struggles. These forces can change human relations. (Lowi and Harpham 1997, p. 255)

What are classes? Classes are ‘economic groupings’ in society that depends on their relation to the production process. The moneyed class or the capitalists, those who own the means of production are grouped into one class, while the labourers and the proletariat belong to another; they are also known as the exploiting and the exploited classes (Erckel 2008, p. 6).

Marx’s concept of class is first based with objectively defined interests which are the results of exploitation and oppression in production: the capitalists or the moneyed class dominating the labourers or the have-nots. To talk of it objectively, people have an interest not to be exploited or oppressed, or under control by others.

And this kind of domination can only be countered by collective action. Individual welfare can be realized by upward social mobility at least by some people but not by many people. It forms a class. Class interests motivate people into forming organized interest groups. Marx’s concept of class is not definite although he clearly defined the terms proletariat and bourgeoisie. (Elster 1986, p. 123)

In understanding human societies, Marx considered the economic conditions and how people acted in answering the necessities of life. Stratification is the result of the power struggles due to scarce food or materials. (Tischler 2007, p. 208) Likewise, in understanding societies, Marx also examined how production was organized, which depended on the forces of production, like raw materials and technology, and who took control of production. (Gasper 2005, p. 24)

Moreover, class divisions always exist in a society at any given time. The state was created by capitalists, the owning class, to defend their interests and to oppress the labourers of production, by means of a legal tool, the police. In the Marxist view, therefore, the state was created to serve the interests of the ruling class which is the minority. (Chatterjee 2010, p. 24)

Members of a class are in a similar economic situation and a class is formed because of the members’ ‘economic determinism’, or the members have the will to advance economically. (Erckel 2008, p. 5)

Historical Materialism

Marx’s concept of history is unique; unique in the sense that he has a pattern for it, although he disregarded progress when talking of history. He would talk of material history. In his writing, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx defined human beings as producers.

Human production is composed of material and social. Men and women met their needs by transforming nature. They organized and needed tools in the process. In production, people cooperate with each other. Through this process, they form the forces of production and the social aspect which is the relation of production. (Callinicos 2011, p. 92)

Marx and Engels formulated the materialist concept of history. Historical materialism states some bold theses about factors of historical change. According to this theory, social development is triggered by progress when social needs are met because of the presence of productive forces, which are the means of production and labour power).

In this process of production, the workforce composed of men and women, enter into social relations. This economic relation is called the economic structure of society, and the economic base is called the mode of production.

This mode of production undergoes change because of internal tensions and contradictions, termed by Hegel as dialectic. The productive forces come into conflict with the rest of the forces of production. The result is a class struggle. It also creates a social revolution. (Derek et al. 2011, p. 1072)

The Communist Manifesto: The Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels divided humanity into two social classes – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The book is a history of how classes struggled and survived. (Marx and Engels 1994, p. 157)

The Communist Manifesto sets the tone that we are living in a class society. History states that this is so. The classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, were hostile to each other. They are related in the sense that one cannot exist without the other: the labourer works for his existence, the capitalist provides the food, but the labourers must work for the capitalist. But their historical relation is that of a class struggle.

By this background, Marx sets the real intention of the Communist Manifesto, that the only way that the proletariat could be saved from poverty, slavery, exploitation and oppression, is to overthrow capitalism, abolish clash society, eliminate the state and establish a communist order through the formation of a communal ownership wherein there is no more class.

The proletarian revolution was what Marx was aspiring for. It would be the end of capitalism and there would be a new world order where private property does not exist. (Rühle, Paul, and Paul 2005, p. 131)

By 1848, Marx publicly announced that they had no country. At a time when Europe was being ruled by kings and nobles, and in the United States there were millions of slaves, Marx had in mind that the bourgeoisie was taking over; taking over because the capitalists will fall by the continuing mass actions of the united working class.

Bourgeoisie originally meant people living in urban cities. In short, Marx called the members of this class ‘the owners of means of capitalist production’ (Randall 1964, p. 25). They are the professionals and owners of small businesses, what we call now entrepreneurs. During those times, small businessmen were capitalists who could oppress people in their own way.

The Communist Manifesto pictured Europe as being in the midst of a social and political upheaval between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This social upheaval was marred by strikes and lockouts, sabotage and bankruptcies, problems in businesses, trade unionism, the ‘class consciousness’ of the proletariat, and so on.

The Romantics of the time would announce that progress was brought about by conflicts of opposing views. It was inevitable because by that development would be brought, although the word development was not yet known at that time.

Dialectic: Hegel’s Romantic thought

Marx thought that what was happening in Europe at the height of the industrial revolution was only a chapter of the universal history. Marx followed Hegel’s Romantic teaching that the struggle was a ‘continuous evolutionary sequence’ of events between opposing classes and that the struggle would produce something higher.

The process of struggle and evolution was termed by Hegel as ‘dialectic’ and it included absolutely everything about God and man (Randall 1964, p. 27). Because of the contradictions of partial truths, which are termed thesis and antithesis, a higher truth (synthesis) can be reached (Erckel 2008, p. 5).

Marx expounds his concept of historic materialism through economic determinism, but this is contradicted by Wilfredo Pareto (as cited in Erckel 2008, p. 5) who argued that there are factors in pursuing a common interest, and these, aside from economic determinism, should not be disregarded.

Marx’s division of social classes pointed only to the workingmen and the middle class, but in contemporary time, we have the upper, middle and lower classes. Although this division is influenced by economic factors, there are other reasons such as education or profession. (Erckel 2008, p. 5)

Continuing class struggle

Hegel’s philosophy included God and spirit in the concept of dialectic. But Marx did not believe in God and spirit, thus he focused on the material things and the material world, the earthly, visible, and tangible. Communism focused on material things; it proposed that private property should not be practiced in society.

The bourgeoisie was worried about losing their property. But why should they be? asked Marx. They stole those properties from the hands of the proletariat, the farmers and labourers. It is they, the bourgeoisie, who oppressed the proletariat and reduced them to the level of a commodity. (Marx, Engels, Tucker 1972, p. 56)

The proletariat should struggle so that in the final countdown, it becomes the most powerful. That is the concept of Hegel’s dialectic, without God and spirit. Hegel’s dialectic is Marx’s scientific way of contemplating the world. (Boudin 2008, p. 20)

According to Marx, the bourgeoisie cry out that the communists want to abolish the people’s freedom when it fact they are the ones who have enslaved the majority in factories and industries? The bourgeoisie cry out that communism wants to abolish the state, culture, religion and belief in God, and even the family, but it is they who have deprived the workers of a state, culture, a true religion and a decent family because of their oppressive character against the workers.

The bourgeoisie has objectified the worker or made him into an object, a commodity, in fact, he is lower than an object. The worker is not concerned of money and profits; he is after his and his family’s survival. He is after food for him and his family. The capitalist member of the bourgeoisie is concerned of profits and more profits. More good and products have to be produced to create more profits; the labourer must work double time. The products and commodities are more important than the workingman.

At the height of the industrialization, labourers were dying in factories. Workers received no benefits and health programs for themselves and their families, and they received very low wages. The workplace was like a dungeon – no safety measures, no ventilation, etc. In the process of class struggle, the proletariat is reduced to an animal, like a horse. Human labour is like animal labour. Man is paid only for the work he has done. He has to eat in order to work again the next day. Man’s humanity is lost. He is now like an animal.


When Marx announced that they had no country, he was expecting a reaction from the motivated working class, the working class and the members of the unionized group. But Marx and Engels over reacted in staging a revolutionary atmosphere for The Communist Manifesto. There was no reaction in the cities.

A Marxian revolution is the result of class struggle, when the oppressed overthrows the oppressor, the capitalists of his time. Karl Marx conceived of political emancipation for the working man whom he said was not yet called human being.

He said a major step ahead is political emancipation wherein the class struggle will move forward, but it is not yet human emancipation. Real human emancipation will be conceived when the alienating and oppressive nature of capitalism are gone and class oppression is no longer possible, and the ‘bourgeois property’ has been eliminated. (Parla and Davison 2004, p. 95)

Marx, Engels and Lenin conceived that a revolution of the working class, after a long history of class struggle, would finally be realized after the global spread of capitalism. Marx was waiting for this, a real revolution of the working class not of the middle class Europe. The spread of capitalism would intensify the horrible and piteous conditions of the majority of human beings. But it did not.

Technology prospered. Information revolution and globalisation spread like wildfire. Capitalism is like a virus that spreads with considerable speed to the four corners of the world. The capitalist soared to the skies with his vast wealth. The ordinary labourer today remains exploited. Karl Marx is long gone and his class struggle continues, for how long, nobody knows.


Boudin, L 2008, The theoretical system of Karl Marx, Wildside Press LLC, London.

Callinicos, A 2011, The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx, Haymarket Books, London.

Chatterjee, A 2010, International relations today: concepts and applications, Dorling Kindersley (India) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

Derek, G, Johnston, R, Pratt, G, Wtts, M, & Watmore, S. 2011. The dictionary of human geography, John Wiley & Sons, USA.

Elster, J 1986, An introduction to Karl Marx, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Erckel, S 2008, Marxist and neo-Marxist theories of class, GRIN Verlag, Nordestedt, Germany.

Gasper, P 2005, The communist manifesto: a road map to history’s most important and political document, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Haymarker Books, Chicago.

Lowi, T and Harpham, E 1997, “Political theory and public policy: Marx, Weber, and a republic theory of the state”, in K Monroe (ed.), Contemporary empirical political theory, University of California Press, London.

Marx, K and Engels, F 1994, “The communist manifesto”, in L Simon (ed.), Karl Marx, selected writings, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis.

Marx, K, Engels, F, and Tucker, R 1972, The Marx-Engels reader, University of Michigan, Michigan.

Parla, T and Davison, A 2004, Corporatist ideology in Kemalist Turkey: progress or order? Syracuse University Press, New York.

Randall, F 1964, “Introduction”, in J Katz (ed.), The communist manifesto: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Pocket Books, London.

Rühle, O, Paul, E and Paul, C 2005, Karl Marx: his life and work, Kessinger Publishing, United States of America.

Tischler, H 2007, Introduction to sociology, Thomson Learning Inc., California.

Wood, A 2004, Karl Marx (second edition), Routledge, London.

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