“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” – The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx, in his later works, analysed capitalism in terms of class conflict and exploitation. He defined class in terms of relative economic power. He suggested that classes, rather than individuals, are the chief agents of historical change.
In his teleological theory of historical materialism, Marx suggested that communism could be achieved only after a series of stages, each characterized by its own economic structure, class system and class conflict. He identified four such stages:
1) Primitive Communism, or tribal society: material scarcity is the source of conflict.
2) Slavery: master-slave conflict.
3) Feudalism: land owners-serfs conflict.
4) Capitalism: bourgeoisie-proletariat conflict.
Marx, therefore, argued that human history had been a long struggle between the exploiter and exploited, essentially, the two classes of the society.
With the failure of the Marx’s predictions witnessed through the collapse of Communism, modern thinkers had to move away from the fundamental rigidities of Marxism and evolve alternative ideas.
Neo-Marxists such as Gramsci drew attention to the degrre to which ‘bourgeois hegemony’ upholds the class system, and not simply the economic or political power. Frankfurt School theorists such as Herbert Marcuse looked not to the conventional working class as a revolutionary force, but to groups of students, ethnic minorities, women and workers of the Third World.
Post-Marxists accepted that the central position accorded to the traditional working class were no longer sustainable. Thus, a new space was opened within Marxism for new social movements such as the women’s movements, ecological movement, LGBT movement, and so on.
Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood