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Hadeel on Marx’s use of class by Bertell Ollman

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx (1818-1883) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ollman starts his article by describing how Marx’s use of class is vague and often fails fit right in the society. For instance he mentions that there are times when Marx says there are two classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat but there are times when he divides the society into three classes. When he divides the society in three classes, his third class is that of landowners.
The problem comes when Marx describes the bourgeoisie as the ruling, capital class that are owners of the means of production and employers of the labour class. And the proletariat are the labours that have no means of production but to sell their labour power. Ollman asks where do the small businessmen fit in, who do not own lands and do not hire labour and do not even own the means of production. For Ollman, Marx did not tell us where a small businessman turns into a bourgeoise.

Ollman also raises a point, are the rural land workers proletariat too? And if so, why did Marx focus on the industrial labour when the rural land labour was in majority at that time. Ollman suggests that Marx should have chosen two classes, the petty bourgeoisie and the landowners for the advanced capitalist state that he belonged to. His suggestion is supported by the fact that Marx’s proletariat class included low-class businessmen who were indebted to the landowners because they had to pay heavy mortgages on their property, so even though they were hiring labour they were not making any profit. Everything they were working for was going to the landowner class. Hence, Ollman suggests Marx’s class division should have been: petty bourgeoisie and landowners.

Marx also divides labour between those who provide physical labour and those who provide mental labour. However, he puts the doctors, engineers and teachers in the bourgeois class and calls them the ideological representatives and spokesmen of the bourgeoisie class. \

Ollman says that Marx’s use of class is confusing because he actually classifies people into groups on the basis of production and also on social basis. For example, the ideological class of teachers, doctors, writers is a social unit and may contain some proletariat as well as bourgeoisie. Likewise, the ruling class may include landowners and bourgeoise. In this case, however, there is another class “dangerous class” that includes all the criminals, thugs and robbers that do affect the mean of production and are a social unit because they include people from every class.

Ollman says, its not like Marx’s use of class has developed over time and the meanings have changed as he keeps writing, rather the same reading shows different definitions of class and they are too confused to fit the modern era and to apply his text.

Ollman’s solution to the problem is to accept that Marx’s use of the word class, faction, group is loose. They all mean the same thing but he keeps building classes. There is no doubt to the fact that the main classes are only three; landowners, bourgeoisie, proletariat. The other can be called transition classes or subdivision of classes. But then again, the transition class requires a time period. Marx says in an advanced capitalist state there are only two classes, proletariat and bourgeoisie. But after a proletariat revolution even the capitalist class disappears.

In Capital Volume III, Marx gives one incomplete idea to resolve the conflict, the other can be derived from it. He says it is not possible to demarcate classes as they are always in the process of changing. The landowners are becoming capitalists and workers are becoming wage-labourers. The industrial revolution is bringing a fast change between these classes.

Physicians, teachers and engineers are different from capitalists because
1. capitalists have direct operating relationship to the means of production and physicians do not.
2. capitalists have a distinct economic interest e.g. the size of their profit.
Ollman also says that Capitalists know themselves as a distinct class and they know their interests is opposed to the common interest. And physicians may know themselves as a separate class but they do not have opposing interests. Ollman also says that a capitalist can be labelled because of his hostile relation with the workers.

Marx calls class the product of capitalism but then he also speaks of history as full of class struggle.


One comment on “Hadeel on Marx’s use of class by Bertell Ollman

  1. Pingback: America the Land Crony Capitalism | Circus Wagon

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This entry was posted on July 8, 2012 by in Philosophy and tagged , .
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