- The importance of the concept of class struggle to Marxism is affirmed by its appearance in the very first line of the Communist Manifesto (1848): “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” For Karl Marx, the class struggle is an inevitable conflict process out of which emerges a revolutionary proletariat instilled with a fully developed sense of class consciousness and ready to overturn capitalism in favor of socialism.The conflict between classes begins with the emergence of distinct classes, which, in turn, is the product of the development of productive forces and the social division of labor. When a society enters a stage of surplus production, one class, in Marx’s time the bourgeoisie, is able to benefit via the expropriation of the surplus created by another, in Marx’s day the proletariat. Inevitably, this leads to class-based tensions as the two fall into direct conflict with one another, and so begins the process of the class struggle. As the proletariat, with its ever-developing sense of class consciousness, starts to realize its interests are pitted in direct opposition to those of the bourgeoisie, so begins the process of workers uniting to fight for their common cause, namely the replacement of capitalism with socialism and ultimately communism. Marx saw this struggle as taking various forms: political, economic and violent, with the final overthrow of capitalism most likely requiring violent revolution. However, Marx stated that revolution could only happen once the class struggle occurring in the individual factory spread through society to become a more general movement. As he and Friedrich Engels postulated in the Communist Manifesto, “the numerous local struggles” would have to make way for “one national struggle between classes” to produce revolution. Only at this point would the proletariat have become not merely a class “in itself” but one “for itself,” and as such one ready to organize for a socialist revolution, conscious of its identity, its enemy and its purpose. Following the proletarian revolution and the initial period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, social classes would disappear and class struggle would fade into history. The withering away of class boundaries would be followed by a withering away of the state and the emergence of a fully communist society characterized in part by the complete absence of classes and class struggle.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.
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