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“The ignorant classes are the dangerous classes” (Galbarith). Though it may

appear remote, the quote signifies the proletarian revolution predicted by Marx once they

are no longer ‘ignorant’ of their interests. Karl Marx, the famous sociologist, has used the

concept of class to account for the evolution of society through history till present time.

To evaluate the claim if class indeed exists as the ultimate determining factor for the

dynamics of any society and thus acts as its independent variable, one needs to examine

how far Marx’s theories are still relevant today in contrast to other equally important

theories such as those of Max Weber concerning status and parties, and of Feminists.

Before proceeding further it is important to establish what Marx really meant by

class. For Marx classes are defined in terms of relationship to means of production. One

class, which has access to means of production, is called “bourgeoisie” where as other,

which does not have access to it is called the “proletariat”. Both of them have opposing

interests, as bourgeoisie tries to exploit proletariat by paying them low wages and the

latter tries to get the maximum pay for their work from the former. Although the two

classes can exist in further subgroups such as petty bourgeoisie and lumen proletariat,

these will eventually merge with one or another when a revolution is imminent. For

Marx, the main difference between two is that the bourgeoisie are aware of its goals in

terms of profitability, however this is not the case for the other (Lee and Newby).

                Having established the meaning of class, it is now important to ascertain how

relevant is class in present society. The capital structure of the corporate world has

changed significantly since the era of Marx due to the formation of management teams,

which has resulted in devolution of control from the real owners. This is in stark contrast

to bourgeoisie of the Marx’s time, which held both ownership and control. However it is

important to note that this is just a camouflaged perception as the real owners still

eventually have the control because the decision to select the management team lies with

them. Another aspect of the corporate world is that there has been a distribution of

ownership of companies, as it has now become a kind of public property with issue of

shares (Lee and Newby). Despite new form of ownership in forms of shares, family

businesses representing bourgeoisie class, accounts for about 64 percent of US GDP

(“Family business statistics and Family Business Facts”). Also, although there is minority

ownership in business enterprises, it accounts only for 15 % of US businesses and 99

percent of these businesses falls in small category (“Minorities in Business, 2001”).

These statistics indicate that major amount of control still lies with a certain class. This

shows one of the situations where working of society reduces down to concept of class

and thus makes it an independent variable.

Relevance of Marx can also be justified by analyzing his theory of immiseration

in present day and Marxist’s view on the new middle class. Marx predicted that before

proletarian revolution, the working class would be earning a living that will not even be

even sufficient for their basic needs (Lee and Newby). Though this immiseration is

clouded by the general embourgeoisement in form of middle class, the official statistics

present a different picture. According to a recent United Nations study, 1 % of the

world’s population owns 40 % of the global wealth (Roberts).This statistic shows how a

huge proportion of the world’s population is deprived of wealth and is concentrated in

extremely limited hands. A further statistic makes immiseration theory even more clear.

A report by Internal Service Revenue, American’s tax collectors, found out that the

earning of bottom 50 percent population fell down to 12.8% in 2005 from 13.4% in 2004

(Roberts). As far as the issue of evolution of new middle class is concerned, which

signifies social mobility from proletariat to bourgeoisie, Marxists claim it is only a

consequence of new service jobs in the industry and therefore can not be seen as moving

up on a social ladder itself (Lee and Newby). Based on these arguments class can once

again be seen as the ultimate determinant at the core for society.

            The above arguments showed how far class stays as constant and how functioning of

 society depends on it, however for sociologist like Max Weber there are factor such as

status and parties, which exist in independence. Class constituted as power for Marx, but

Weber argues that Marx has missed the main determinant of power, which is status. For

Weber, status, which is honor in society, is unevenly distributed in society and people

with similar form of honor form a specific status group. One consequence of this is social

closure where entry to further people is stopped. This is observed in case of marriages,

where marriage outside a certain group is restricted. A utopian example in this case is that

of Hindu caste system. Special status groups justify their uniqueness due to specific

worldly characteristics such as beauty or association with noble past where as low level

status groups justify their uniqueness by a reward in the world hereafter (Fekete). In

contrast to status groups, parties are organizations built in order to pursue a certain form

of organized social action. The only difference between classes along with groups and

parties is that of organization and groups can rise to parties by organizing themselves.

Examples of parties include trade unions, professional associations, religious institutions

etc (Adams et al). The above discussion shows the importance of status and parties apart

from class to understand the structure of society.

                   Feminists also find Marx’s theory as inadequate when explaining the disparity

that exists between man and woman in terms of social recognition and work. Marxists

argue that the woman job is to take care of house related chores, give birth and bring up

children. They argue that this segregation in duties of women was brought about by

patriarchy. Patriarchy is the superiority of male as head of family and originated on bases

of ownership to the property. Feminists nevertheless, argue that property alone can not

define inequality between men and women. Other crucial areas must also be looked into

to account for such inequality. Another argument put forward by Feminists is that the

vocabulary of Marxist theory and literature consists mainly of economic factors such as

commodities, means of production, exploitation and misses other key areas such as race,

sex, gender etc. Also Marx fails to account for groups based on common identities such

as those based on culture, nationality, region, religion etc. Apart from this, Feminists

have also disagreed with Marx because he failed to capture the invisible labor power of

women at home. According to him, rate of exploitation depends upon value of labor

power to manufacture commodities. However Feminists holds that this idea fails to

capture the labor that is put in by women during reproduction process, which eventually

in form human resource goes on in making a specific commodity. This indirect labor also

includes the work that woman performs in taking care of home and cooking for family.

Furthermore based on the concept of labor power, Marxian model does not account why

women get low wage rates when compared to that for men for same kind of professions

(Wright). Such statements signify how shallow the model of Marx really is and testify

Feminist’s independence in its own way in society.

                  Time has changed and so has the society itself and it appears that, the trail of

Marx’s theory has some what withered and one might not be able to pull back the present

society to that of Marx. Although the concept of class might be applicable in

functionality of social structure to some extent, often in inconspicuous manner, but other

areas however needs to be uncovered by shedding different lights with other theories

such as those of Weber and Feminists. Despite this the future rolls on in ways, unforeseen

by anyone and perhaps the realization of Marx’s theory of revolution of proletariat

against bourgeoisie has yet to come true.

Written By: Khaqan Iftikhar (LUMS)

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