Marx asserted that the key to understanding human culture and history was the struggle between the classes. He used the term class to refer to a group of people within society who share the same social and economic status (Marx K. and Engels F. 1945). According to Marx, class struggles have occurred in every form of society, no matter what its economic structure, or mode of production: slavery, feudalism, or capitalism. In each of these kinds of societies, a minority of people own or control the means of production, such as land, raw materials, tools and machines, labour, and money.
This minority constitutes the ruling class. The vast majority of people own and control very little. They mainly own their own capacity to work. The ruling class uses its economic power to exploit workers by appropriating their surplus labour. In other words, workers are compelled to labour not merely to meet their own needs but also those of the exploiting ruling class.
As a result, workers become alienated from the fruits of their labour (Marx K. and Engels F. 1945).
Marx perceived a class struggle raging between the bourgeoisies or capitalists who controlled the means of production, and the proletariat, or industrial workers. In their view, the bourgeoisie appropriated wealth from the proletariat by paying low wages and keeping the profits from sales and technological innovation for themselves. The central focus of Marx’s economic theory is the labour theory of value. According to Marx, the value of a good is determined by the quantity of labour required to produce it. The labour theory of value is in direct contrast to capitalist assumptions, which hold that productive value is a function of labour plus three additional factors; land (raw materials), capital and management (such as machinery and tools) generally placed a part in the production of goods. Since capital is nothing more than “stored-up labour” (that is, labour that had been used in inventing and constructing machines, tools and assembly lines) the only value capital contributes is determined by the proportion of labour required to eventually replace it. Marx valued capital less (R.H. Popkin and A. Stroll, 1989).
Since only human labour contributes to the value of a product, the total value of a commodity is equal to the total wage cost involved in its production. Within a capitalist system, however, the cost of a good always exceeds paid wages. The reason for this is that the employer, by virtue of his superior economic position, is able to obtain the full services of workers without paying them fully for the value of their productivity. Wage costs, in other words, are always less than the value of goods produced.
Marx called the difference between the two surplus values; it represents the value created by the labourer but appropriated by the employer. Since the ownership of a factory or business firm could not itself contribute to the value of production, any surplus value generated by a business manager represented the illegitimate appropriation of wealth by the bourgeoisie from the proletariat. Surplus value (profit), in other words, is a measure of the exploitation in society. This resulted into class consciousness which led to the people retaliating with their masters (R.H. Popkin and A. Stroll, 1989).
The newly revised minimum wage has been an issue to most investors and companies. This issue has been a source of concern to ignite the fire. Today almost all companies or institutions are complaining to adhere to the demand. This has resulted in civil protests to implement the revised policy of the general workers; hence this is a clear manifestation of the class theory orchestrated by Karl Marx. According to Marx “class consciousness” refers to the workers’ general resentment and feeling of being systematically cheated by the boss, where any aggressive action from complaining to industrial sabotage is viewed as evidence. Class consciousness is essentially the interests of a class becoming its recognized goals (G. Lukacs, 1971). These interests, for those who accept Marx’s analysis, are objective; they accrue to a class because of its real situation and can be found there by all who seriously look. Rather than indicating simply what people want, “interest” refers to those generalized means which increase their ability to get what they want, and includes such things as money, power, ease, and structural reform or its absence.
Whether they know it or not, the higher wages, improved working conditions, job security, inexpensive consumer goods, etc., that most workers say they want are only to be had through such mediation. Moreover, the reference is not only to the present, but to what people will come to want under other and better conditions. Hence, the aptness of C. Wright Mill’s description of Marxian interests as “long run, general, and rational interests.”The most long runs and rational interest of the working class lies in overturning the exploitative relations which keep them, individually and collectively, from getting what they want. Becoming class-conscious in this sense is obviously based on the recognition of belonging to a group which has similar grievances and aspirations, and a correct appreciation of the group’s relevant life conditions (G. Lukacs, 1971).
The realization of their grievances and their aspirations today, most Zambians have ganged up together to fight for better salaries and improved working conditions. This has even solicited some chaos and anarchy in some places, for instance the killing of the Chinese nation at Mamba quariaries due to the ill treatment triggered the majority Zambians to team up and voice out.
For Marx, life itself is the hard school in which the workers learn to be class-conscious, and he clearly believes they possess the qualities requisite to learning this lesson. In so far as people share the same circumstances, work in identical factories, live in similar neighbourhoods, etc., they are inclined to see things-the most important ones at least-in the same way. They cannot know more than what their life presents them with nor differently from what their life permits.
Indeed the life style of the people of Zambia is a good preaching sermon to unite them fight for a common cause due to the low wages given by investors. It is easy to distinguish the life style due to its commonality in their living standard. The standard of living is determined by the income received at the end of the day. The standard of living is quite below poverty datum line to the majority Zambians.
The inevitable outcome would be a revolution in which the proletariat, taking advantage of strikes, elections, and, if necessary, violence, would displace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class. A political revolution was essential, in Marx’s view, because the state is the central instrument of capitalist society. Rather than the proletariat’s conditions serving as a barrier to such rational thinking, Marx believes the reverse is the case. The very extremity of their situation, the very extent of their suffering and deprivation, makes the task of calculating advantages relatively an easy one. As part of this, the one-sided struggle of the working class-according to Engels, “the defeats even more than the victories”-further exposes the true nature of the system. The reality to be understood stands out in harsh relief, rendering errors of judgment increasingly difficult to make. The workers’ much discussed alienation simply does not extend to their ability to calculate advantages, in the matter is regarded as a passing and essentially superficial phenomenon.
Marx maintained that “the abstraction of all humanity, even the semblance of humanity” is “practically complete in the full blown proletariat.” A loophole is reserved for purposive activity, which is the individual’s ability to grasp the nature of what he wants to transform and to direct his energies accordingly. Marx held that productive activity is always purposive, and that this is one of the main features which distinguish human beings from animals. Class consciousness is the result of such purposive activity with the self as object, of workers using their reasoning powers on themselves and their life conditions. It follows necessarily from what they are, both as calculating human beings and as workers caught up in an inhuman situation. The workers are also prompted in their search for socialist meaning by their needs as individuals.
For Marx, society produces people who have needs for whatever, broadly speaking, fulfils their powers in the state in which these latter have been fashioned by society. These needs are invariably felt as wants, and since that which fulfils an individual’s powers includes by extension the conditions for such fulfilment, he soon comes to want the means of his own transformation; for capitalist conditions alone cannot secure for workers, even extremely alienated workers, what they want. Job security, social equality, and uninterrupted improvement in living conditions, for example, are simply impossibilities within the capitalist framework. Hence, even before they recognize their class interests, workers are driven by their needs in ways which serve to satisfy these interests (Wright Mills C, 1962). And, as planned action-based on a full appreciation of what these interests are-is the most effective means of proceeding, needs provide what is possibly the greatest boost to becoming class-conscious.
Both critics and defenders of Marx alike have sought to explain the failure of the working class to assume its historic role by tampering with his account of capitalist conditions. Thus, his critics assert that the lot of the workers has improved, that the middle class has not disappeared, etc., and, at the extreme, that these conditions were never really as bad as Marx claimed (Wolpe’s H. 1970). Indeed even in our daily life people are willing to continue working despite the merger salaries for them to continue earning a living which is quite retrogressive to well being of the people in general. This has made the work very difficult for the government, though the government is pushing for better salaries of its people to ensure the minimum wage is implemented. If it was not conditions which failed Marx, it could only have been the workers.
More precisely, the great majority of workers were not able to attain class consciousness in conditions that were more or less ideal for them to do so. Marx’s error, an error which has had a far-ranging effect on the history of socialist thought and practice, is that he advances from the workers’ conditions of life to class consciousness in a single bound; the various psychological mediations united in class consciousness are treated as one. The severity of these conditions, the pressures he saw coming from material needs, and his belief that workers never lose their ability to calculate advantages made the eventual result certain and a detailed analysis of the steps involved unnecessary. Class consciousness is a more complex phenomenon-and, hence, more fraught with possibilities for failure-than Marx and most other socialists have believed.
With the extra hundred years of hindsight, one can see that what Marx treated as a relatively direct, if not easy, transition is neither. Progress from the workers’ conditions to class consciousness involves not one but many steps, each of which constitutes a real problem of achievement for some section of the working class (Nicholaus M. 1969). First, workers must recognize that they have interests. Second, they must be able to see their interests as individuals in their interests as members of a class. Third, they must be able to distinguish what Marx considers their main interests as workers from other less important economic interests.
Fourth, they must believe that their class interests come prior to their interests as members of a particular nation, religion, race, etc. Fifth, they must truly hate their capitalist exploiters. Sixth, they must have an idea, however vague, that their situation could be qualitatively improved. Seventh, they must believe that they themselves, through some means or other, can help bring about this improvement. Eighth, they must believe that Marx’s strategy, or that advocated by Marxist leaders, offers the best means for achieving their aims. And, ninth, having arrived at all the foregoing, they must not be afraid to act when the time comes. These steps are not only conceptually distinct, but they constitute the real difficulties which have kept the mass of the proletariat in all capitalist countries and in all periods from becoming class-conscious.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Wright Mills C. 1962, The Marxists, New York, p.115.
Lukacs G. 1971, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingstone ;Cambridge Mass.
Marx K. and Engels F. 1945, The Communist Manifesto, trans. Samuel Moore, Chicago.
Nicholaus M. 1969, “The Unknown Marx,” The New Left Reader; Carl Oglesby, New York.
Popkin R. H. And Stroll A. 1989, Philosophy, Heinmann, Made Simple Books.
Wolpe’s H. 1970 “Some Problems Concerning Revolutionary Consciousness,” The Socialist Register; London, Miliband R. and Saville J.