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Class Conflict

Because of an unequal distribution of resources, caused by a variety of factors, different classes arise in all societies and this ultimately leads to class conflict. As Marx wrote (Marx 1964:200):

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes

Marx called the two opposing classes the “proletariat,” the huge mass of workers who are poor and are exploited by the ruling classes, and the “bourgeoisie,” the ruling classes who are rich, and own the factories and corporations that are dominant in Capitalist societies.

The bourgeoisie own the newspapers and television stations and social media and use them to dominate the thinking of the masses and prevent them from organizing and revolting. The bourgeoisie tries to convince the masses that class differences are natural and that, if poor people work hard enough, they can become rich and wealthy. Marx called this “false consciousness.” He wrote (Marx 1964:78):

The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that in consequence the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are, in general, subject to it. The dominant ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas, and thus of the relationships which make one class the ruling one; they are consequently the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the whole extent of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in their whole range and thus, among other things, rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age. Consequently their ideas are the ruling ideas of their age.

For Marx, then, the ideas which the masses hold are those promulgated by the ruling classes in their own interest. The ideas that members of the proletariat have about their status and possibilities are, then, the ideas the ruling classes want them to have.

The ruling classes, Marx added, believe in their own messages and employ writers and artists and other “conceptualizing ideologists” who “make it their chief source of livelihood to develop and perfect the illusions of the class about itself.” So the ruling classes have convinced themselves that the class structure found in society is natural and good. The ruling classes argue that if something is natural—like the class system and economic relations that exist in society-it cannot be changed; if something is historical it can be changed.

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