However, these precursors of Marxism influenced sociology primarily through their influence on Marx himself. It was he who formulated the theory of class so powerfully that he defined the terms of the argument for later sociological thinkers. Approaches to the fact of social inequality have differed in the extent to which they emphasize change or stability in social systems. These differences in theoretical orientation have to a considerable extent reflected political differences. Reformists or radicals have seen social inequality and social class differences as sources of social change, which they are inclined to favor.
Theorists with more conservative political tastes have justified aspects of the existing order by trying to show the functions performed by hierarchy in all social systems. Concern with social change has generally been associated with interest in social classes, that is, groups within stratified collectivities that are said to act politically as agents of change.
Those stressing the functional basis of inequality have been interested in social stratification and in the purposes served by differential rewards, particularly in prestige, to various positions in social systems. Those using the concept of social class to interpret the dynamics of social change have assumed that the creation of new occupational or economic roles has often resulted in the emergence of groups that initially were outside the traditional hierarchical system.
As these new groups attempt to stabilize their position within society, they come into conflict with older, privileged strata whose status, economic resources, or power they challenge. The new groups also often develop sets of values, both secular and religious, that enhance their position by undermining the stability of the prior value system and the structure of privilege it justified. Thus historical change is viewed basically as a consequence of the rise of new classes and the downfall of old ones; it is assumed that complex social systems are inherently unstable and that conflicts stemming from inequality cause pressure for changes in the system.
In contrast, functional theorists have assumed that social systems must be treated as if they were in equilibrium. From this point of view, it is necessary to relate the various attributes of the social hierarchy to the conditions for social stability.
The Founders of Sociology
Class, therefore, has been seen by these theorists not as an intervening variable in the process of social change but, rather, as a set of institutions that provide some of the conditions necessary for the operation of a complex society. These conditions, basically, amount to the need for a system of differentiated rewards as a means of institutionalizing the division of labor: differentiation by status and income is posited as a necessary part of the system of motivation required to place individuals in the various positions that must be filled if society is to operate.
The interest of students of social change in why men rebel, why they want change, has led to an emphasis within the tradition of class analysis on the way in which inequality frustrates men and leads them to reject the status quo. Functional analysts, on the other hand, are much more concerned with how the social system gets men to conform, to seek and remain in various positions in society, including ones that are poorly rewarded or require onerous work.
The former, in other words, often ask how systems of stratification are undermined; the latter seek to know how and why they hold together. It is important to note that while any analysis of social class must necessarily deal with social stratification as well, these two terms are not synonymous.
10 - Anthropology
Stratification refers to the entire complex of hierarchical differentiation, whether group-related or not. Although this article is about social class, much of the discussion in it will involve stratification, since it is impossible to account for the way in which social classes are formed, change, and affect other aspects of society without referring to stratification systems as such.
I have distinguished two polar traditions of social thought that do not, of course, occur in pure form in real life. Marx, the foremost student of class and social change and the advocate, par excellence, of instability and revolution, was also aware of the functional aspects of social stratification. Many of his writings attempt to show how ideologies, values, and patterns of behavior—all at different class levels—serve to maintain the stability of the social order. In fact, Marxian analysis is replete with functional propositions.
The functionalists, on the other hand, are of course aware that change and conflict occur and that men not only accept but also reject the given stratification system. Where Marx saw alienation as inherent in social inequality, Durkheim suggested that anomie, or rulelessness, is endemic in all complex social systems. To see the way these concerns with stability and change, with alienation, and with the formation of class sentiments have evolved in modern social thought, it is necessary to turn to an examination of the work of some of the key theorists, particularly Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.
Marxist sociology starts from the premise that the primary function of social organization is the satisfaction of basic human needs—food, clothing, and shelter. Hence, the productive system is the nucleus around which other elements of society are organized. Contemporary sociology has reversed this emphasis by stressing the distribution system, the stratification components of which are status and prestige.
To Marx, however, distribution is a dependent function of production. Stemming from the assumption of the primacy of production is the Marxist definition of class: any aggregate of persons who play the same part in the production mechanism.
Thus, the small businessmen, or petty bourgeoisie , were perceived as a transitional class, a group that will be pressed by economic tendencies inherent in capitalism to bifurcate into those who descend to the working class and those who so improve their circumstances that they become significant capitalists. Although Marx differentiated classes in objective terms, his primary interest was in understanding and facilitating the emergence of class consciousness among the depressed strata.
He wished to see created among them a sense of identical class interests, as a basis for conflict with the dominant class. The fact that a group held a number of objective characteristics in common but did not have the means of reaching organized class consciousness meant for Marx that it could not play the role of a historically significant class.
The small-holding peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions, but without entering into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another, instead of bringing them into mutual interbourse.
In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organization among them, they do not form a class. Marx  , p. Nikolai Bukharin, one of the leading theoreticians of the Russian Communist party, who was more concerned with sociological theory and research than any other major Marxist figure, attempted to formalize the differences among the workers, the peasants, and the lumpenproletariat unattached laborers , making the workers a class and the other two not classes.
His analysis, based on the events of the early decades of the twentieth century, was elaborated beyond that of Marx see Table 1. The working class is exploited by a visible common oppressor, is brought together by conditions of work that encourage the spread of ideas and organization among them, and remains in a structured conflict situation with its employers over wages and working conditions.
Consequently, over time it can become a conscious class. Marx, however, did not really anticipate a high correlation between objective class position and subjective revolutionary class consciousness until the point at which the social system in question broke down: if there was to be total class consciousness in any given society, then by definition it would be in the midst of revolution. In normal times, structural factors press deprived strata to become conscious, but the inherent strength of the ruling class prevents class consciousness.
Marx was not very concerned with analyzing the behavior of the capitalist upper class. Basically, he assumed that the powerful parts of such a class must be self-conscious and that the state as a vehicle of power necessarily serves the interests of the dominant class in the long run.
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But more important to Marx than the sociology of the privileged class was that of the workers; the important question for research and action concerned the factors that would bring about working-class consciousness. The dilemma of the Marxist theory of class is also the dilemma of every other single-variable theory. We can locate a class member objectively, but this may tell us little about the subjective correlates social outlook, attitudes, etc.
Marx never actually said that at any given point in history or for any individual there would necessarily have to be a relationship between class position and the attitudes of class members. He did believe, however, that common conditions of existence create the necessary base for the development of common class attitudes, but that at any point in time, sharp discrepancies may exist between class position and class attitudes or behavior. Marx attempted to deal with this problem by his theory of transitional stages in the development of class. As long as most persons in a lower class think in an sich terms, the behavior of class members will be characterized by intraclass competition in which individual members of the class strive to get ahead of other members.
In such a period, class conflict will be weak. Members of a lower class who do not yet identify with their class are, according to Marx, thinking in terms of values or concepts that are functional for the stability of the position of the dominant class. Any individual, therefore, though objectively a member of the lower class, may subjectively be identified with or may be acting in ways which correspond to the position of another class.
One of the purposes of Marxist analysis is the investigation of this discrepancy. In discussing the rise of the bourgeoisie, Marx suggested that the period during which the bourgeoisie was a class an sich was longer and required greater effort than the period during which it became self-conscious and took political class action to overthrow feudalism and monarchy  , pp.
Implicit in this discussion of the development of the bourgeois class is the idea that the emergence of self-consciousness among the workers will also take a long time. A key element in the Marxist sociology of the exploited is the concept of alienation. Men are distinguished from animals—are, in fact, less animal and more human—insofar as they become increasingly self-conscious about and freely selective of their work and conditions of life.
Insofar as men do not freely choose their work but, rather, do whatever tasks are set before them, simply in order to exist, they remain in a less than human state. If work or leisure is imposed on man, so far from being free, he is objectively exploited and alienated from the truly human, that is, autonomous, condition Marx , pp. Alienation, for Marx, is an objective, not a subjective, condition. It signifies lack of autonomy, of self-control.
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