Marxism 101: The working class and the capitalist class

This post will is the first of tutorial series covering the basics of Marxist theory.

In this tutorial, I will explain what is meant by the working class in Marxist terms. In modern day common parlance, we tend to see the working class in terms of low-paid workers, blue collar workers and so on. However, in Marxist terms the working class refers to something that although would definitely include low paid and blue collar workers, is far more specific.

To be of the working class, in Marxist terms, is anyone who recieves wealth and/or income by selling their labour. A working class person does not recieve any wealth or income through profit gained by owning property. For example, the barista at a coffee shop is a member of the working class, because they do not own the coffee shop. They receive income by selling their labour to the coffee shop owner.

Knowing whether someone belongs to the working class helps us know who belongs to the capitalist class. In contrast to the working class, a member of the capitalist class is someone who gains their wealth and/or income through owning property that creates a profit. Examples of this would be owning a business, shares on the stockmarket, renting out a house/land, and so on. These are examples of gaining profit out of property that you own, not selling your labour.

If you’re interested in the technical jargon, Marxists will often refer to the working class as the ‘Proletariat’ and the capitalist class as the ‘Bourgeoisie’.

This distinction is necessary to have a clear understanding of Marxist thought. For example, many people will conflate working class, or workers, with anyone who is doing any kind of labour in their business. For instance, small business owners may object that they are also workers because they do not merely sit back and enjoy the profits. They work hard to keep the business going as well. However, what places someone in the capitalist or working class (or the bourgeoisie/proletariat) isn’t dependent on how much work they engage in. It is dependent on their relationship to how they recieve their wealth or income. The small business owner’s relationship is based on the business’ profits and the employee’s relationship is based on selling their labour to the small business owner.

TEST QUESTIONS

1. You own a hairdressing salon. Are you of the working class or the capitalist class?

2. You are one of the salon’s hair dressers. Are you of the working class or the capitalist class?

3. You work at a computer company, but you own rent out a house that you inherited. Are you of the working class or the capitalist class? (this one is trickier)

For detailed explanations on Marxism and free access to Marxist literature I highly recommend the website: marxists.org

Published by

Andrew Tulloch

I have a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, with a Political Science minor. I am currently completing my honours degree in Philosophy.

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