- For Marxists the ruling class is the economically dominant class, and the economically dominant class is the class that owns and controls the means of production. With economic power comes political power, and Karl Marx saw the ruling class as controlling the state. Furthermore, the ruling class is intellectually dominant, which Marx expressed as, “The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas.” The notion of a ruling class can obscure or oversimplify complexities of class rule. For example, as Marx himself notes in discussing various actual historical examples, the ruling class may be split into different sections, or may be difficult to determine, and the Soviet Union raised the question of whether or not its leadership constituted a new ruling class not defined in terms of its property ownership. The state itself may develop its own autonomy and interests separate from those of the dominant economic class, a complicating factor explored by Nico Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband. The issue of the ruling class’s ideas being the ruling ideas is a further issue of debate within Marxism, with Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, and the Frankfurt School’s focus on ideology raising the question of the extent to which ideology is instrumental in maintaining class rule.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.
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