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Generally class struggle-or class conflict- means conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The proletariat is the social class which doesn't have means of production that the bourgeoisie has. Class struggle has existed all the time, but after Karl Marx's explanation in his book The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, this concept became popular.
Class struggle happens when the rich business owners (called bourgeoisie) pay everyday workers (called proletariat), to make things for them to sell. The workers have no say in their pay or what things they make, since they can not live without a job or money.
Karl Marx was mad that the workers were forced to work without any say in the business. He believed that since the workers make the things, they should say where they go and for how much, instead of the rich owners. They had to work hard to earn a living, while making the rich richer just doing simple office work.
Since they had to earn money to buy food, and jobs were the only things that give money, they had no choice but to work for the rich who made the business. The rich became richer while the worker hauled and lifted and did all of that hard manual stuff no one really likes to do.
Karl Marx thought that their labor limited their freedom. He wanted the workers to unite and take over the business, so that they could all be prosperous. He thought that the common man deserved to run the business, and that the rich were not better than the commoner.
When money was created, everyone got their identical share regardless of how much or little they worked. Each person received equal pay, which Karl Marx saw as fair and just.
Class struggle appeared in some forms. First, there is an economic form. The proletariat struggle with the bourgeoisie through their laborer's organization in this form. Second, there is a political form. In this form, the proletariat has their party and, through democracy, they try to change the system. And the last, there is an ideological struggle. In this form, the proletariat try to adapt the old governing system to new social situations. There are other forms of struggle, too. These forms are not exclusive, but exist at the same time.
Class struggle appeared all throughout history. At first, people lived in small communist societies. Then, they took property from the Earth for themselves and started to use slaves. They then had feudalism, which meant one person owned an entire area of land and used soldiers and workers to help them make money, and only gave their workers land, but they had some freedom that slaves didn't. Finally, in Karl Marx's time, people in some countries were becoming workers and bosses during the industrial revolution. The bosses owned the machines that the workers used to make things, but they didn't help using the machines. Instead, they made money by buying the time and energy of the workers to make things. Marx believed that the workers weren't making the money they deserved because the boss would make money from the work they did without helping.
Marx believed that countries would overthrow capitalism and that workplaces would move toward socialism. This roughly means that the workers would control the workplaces. When this has happened everywhere, Marx thought the world will have achieved communism.
The Soviet Union overthrew feudalism. They never reached the point of capitalism, so their society was very corrupt. Many blame them for the bad name of communism, but other workplaces and societies are run democratically by workers, such as the kibbutzim in Israel and the democratic car industry in Japan.
Revolution vs. Evolution
Other people who believe in class struggle, like democratic socialists, think class struggle can be ended by the government and a place can evolve to socialism through voting. Marx believed that the bosses wouldn't give up their machines without a fight and the only way to get them is through violent revolution.
- Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
- Bertell Ollman and Class Struggle Articles on Dialectics
- Communist Manifesto (1848)
- Karl Kautsky - The Class Struggle (Erfurt Program) (1888) (contemporary book)
- The Marxists Internet Archive
- Class Struggle and Articles on Dialectics
- Karl Marx - Wage Labour and Capital
- libcom.org - UK-based class struggle resource
- Karl Marx - Capital, Volume One
- Critical Articles on Class Struggle