- "There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war … and we’re winning."
– Warren Buffett
- "The class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat."
– Karl Marx
Class struggle emerges, at the start, as an intellectual exercise of some philosophers. But, amazingly, in less than 50 years real life gives the concept flesh, and many people around the world recognize the truth of those philosophers. The idea that a small elite is actually in command of wealth, and exploiting the large mass of people to get more wealth quickly becomes obvious at the turn of the 20th century - after all, how can it not be obvious when the grimy, bone-tired workers go to work in their dirty, smoky factories, and return every night to their indistinct, poor homes, filled with stuff they have produced, but their masters have profited from?
Across the developed world, people decide to do something about it. And we see the formation of unions, the first strikes, and the actual struggle these philosophers were talking about, when the police starts beating up and arresting the strikers. In some parts of the world, however, people go further - they embrace the system proposed by these philosophers and make themselves 'proletarian states'. Thus is the third type of modern government born: Communism. And again, new Policies replace outdated ones.
“The history of all hitherto existing society,” wrote Marx in the opening of his 1848 Communist Manifesto, “is the history of class struggle.” In Marx and Engels's interpretation of history, civilized peoples live in a state of tension due to the competing socioeconomic interests between the differing classes. Aristocratic regimes fall to regimes based on property and ownership, which in turn fall based upon people fighting for the value of their own labor. This view that the class struggle provides the impetus for radical change is central to the work of both Marxists and anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin.
As with everything, there are at least two ways to understand the term “class struggle” – each popular with competing theoretical groups. One approach understands it to mean a political movement where one or the other of contending groups considers itself to be a “class” (hence, having a class consciousness) consciously pursuing its interests. In the other, the class struggle inevitably breaks out wherever there is exploitation of one class by another. Thus, the worker who complains about unfair conditions and the boss who punishes him or her are both engaged in a class struggle, even if neither considers themselves to belong to a class. In the latter, the class struggle is a permanent, daily fixture in any industrial society.
This theory rose out of the idea that people follow their economic interests first and foremost. This, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, put different classes of people on an inevitable collision course. In the 19th century, Marx saw a ruling class which owned the means of production – the land and its resources, the workshops and factories, the banks and schools. At the other end of the spectrum were the actual producers of wealth, those who own little but their ability to work hard for minimal wages. It was the inequities between the capitalist class and the working class that fueled the great ideological divide of the 20th Century and so shaped modern civilization.