Classes, and class conflict.
The social relations of production involve different classes.
The basic determinant of one’s class is one’s relationship to the means of production.
For example in late capitalist society the two basic classes remaining are the owners of the means of production, i.e., capitalists, and those who own only their labour, i.e., the workers or proletariat.
So in any historical period dominant and subservient classes can be identified. Inequality in wealth and power was of fundamental moral concern to Marx.
Some groups come to dominate others and to win for themselves a disproportionate share of the society’s wealth, power and privileges.
The ultimate goal Marxists aim at is a classless society, i.e., a society in which all enjoy more or less equal wealth and power.
Marx said history is basically about the struggle between classes for dominance. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”.
Marxists stress that social analysis should focus on class structure and relations.
In other words the most important questions to ask about a society are to do with what groups in society dominate or gain most benefit from the status quo, or whose interests does the situation or policy or proposal serve most?
In capitalist society the capitalist class benefits most; i.e., those who own and control the means of production receive a disproportionate share of wealth, power, privileges and status.
There are other classes but as time goes on these are squeezed into either the small capitalist class or the large working class.
Note that there is an important distinction between big business, which includes the transnational corporations and banks, and small business.
Many small firms and family farms and shops are usually struggling, only providing their owners will low incomes.
These people are not investing capital in order to make profits from enterprises in which they have no other stake, so they are not really part of the capitalist class.
They are more like peasants who own and work on their own farms.
It is also important to note that most people own some wealth, such as their house, but this is not capital.
Most capital, i.e., factories, money, is owned by very few people, perhaps as few as 2% of the world’s people.
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