If you ask a modern sociologist how many classes there are, they will answer six, or maybe three, or twelve, or any other number that takes their fancy. Many definitions of ‘class’ are offered. They are usually spurious and unhelpful.
A More Helpful Answer
Our society is split up into two classes. There is one Working Class and one Capitalist Class. The Working Class has to work in order to earn a living, the Capitalist Class has enough wealth to live off. If you wonder what class you are in, just ask yourself whether you could live off your investments if you stopped work tomorrow. There is no question that capitalist society can be split up in this way. There are some people in each class. Of course, most people are in the working class and the capitalist class is only a tiny proportion of the population. Yet, from the point of view of understanding capitalism, they are a very important proportion.
Why This Definition Is Helpful
So what is the reason for there being only two classes? The answer is simple, that’s all you need to understand the way capitalism works. Class explains how we got into the state we are in. It explains how society has developed and changed from slave-society, through feudalism into capitalism. One class with a particular economic interest has taken control over the economic base of society from another class.
But class does not only explain how we got into the mess of capitalism – it also explains how capitalism works. The main fact of most peoples lives is work – work in the home to support a wage-slave or paid work in order to live. Why? It hasn’t always been true. In feudal society serfs spent their time working on the land, producing food that they could then eat. Of course, if produce had to be given to the lord, the feudal serf had big problems, though these were very different problems from the modern wage slave.
Class also explains capitalism’s disasters: war is when we have to fight to protect the interests of the capitalist class, famine is when the capitalist class can’t make profit from feeding us, unemployment is when the capitalist class gets more from leaving us out of work to keep wages down than from giving us jobs, and so on. So there are now two classes because that’s what is needed to explain how we arrived at capitalism and also how capitalism evolved.
The most important reason, however, why there are only two classes is neither of these two reasons. It is the fact that it can explain how we can get out of the mess of capitalism. We the, working class, have an interest in getting rid of the sick capitalist system that we are forced to live in. By recognising that only class conscious activity can establish a classless society, we see the way in which socialism can be established. By combining together as a class we can transform society. Unless we do we will be stuck with capitalism.
Politicians’ claims that we have a ‘classless’ society are obviously misleading and if they were honest they would admit it. The sociologists are wrong because they treat capitalism as if it were here forever and will continue forever. The socialist case, that there are only two classes, remains as correct and important as ever becauseit shows there is no other way in which we can stop war, famine, poverty and unemployment. We need class consciousness and for that we need to be aware that we are the working class and they are the capitalist class. There are the only two classes.
Author: Gidon Cohen
Please email your comments about this article to email@example.com
Back to the Ownership Index
Back to the World Socialist Movement home page