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What is Class Consciousness?

Meaning of Class Consciousness

For Marxism, social classes are expressions of exploitation, domination and inequality imposed by economic relations in the capitalist mode of production.

However, if Marx asks, why don’t the workers rebel against the exploitative condition in which they live?

The answer is given in ideological terms : for Marx, the class that dominates the means of production is also the one that dominates the political and ideological superstructure, making sure that the exploitation it exercises is not perceived as such by the dominated.

When the working class assumes the dominant discourse of the bourgeoisie that social inequality is natural and eternal, it produces a ” false consciousness ” of the class situation.

The dominant ideology would be more effective the greater its ability to hide the origin of social division and class antagonism.

However, the antagonism between classes only acquires political importance when the conflict goes beyond the mere opposition between the worker and the capitalist , or between the workers of a factory and their boss, and becomes a generalized conflict, between all the bourgeoisie and all. the proletariat.

This would only be possible from the conscience of the proletarian class and the consequent political organization of the interests of all those who are in the same dominated position in the productive process.

In the book “ The German Ideology ”, Karl Marx and Friederich Engels state that individuals really form a class only when they realize their condition of exploitation and engage in the common struggle against the ruling class.

Marx and Engels call a class that has achieved this consciousness a “class for its own sake “; on the contrary, when such consciousness does not exist, the workers constitute only a “ class in itself ”, incapable of expressing collective political claims.

The change from “ class in itself ” to “ class by itself ” does not happen automatically. The situation of economic subordination in the production process does not necessarily guarantee the formation of class consciousness; that is, subjective consciousness is not simply a reflection of the objective situation of the class condition.

Therefore, in his analysis, Marx believed that the development of class consciousness among peasants would be much more difficult than among workers in a large capitalist factory.

Since the same dynamics of capital accumulation promoted by the industrial revolution would have required the intense concentration of the exploitation of workers in the factory space, which in turn would offer more favorable conditions for the development of solidarity of class interests and the rise of workers’ organizations such as councils, unions and parties.

The concept of ” class consciousness ” was central to the political action of communist activists in the 20th century to outline their revolutionary strategies.

Lenin, for example, argued that intellectuals should help the working class achieve class consciousness and organize politically through a “ new type of party ”.

Composed of professional revolutionaries, who, being outside the immediate production process , would be better able to understand bourgeois society and its class relations in its entirety.

In contrast to the Leninist conception, Rosa Luxemburg highlighted the role of the daily experience of class struggle in the spontaneous formation of class consciousness.

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