How Does Class Conflict Affect Society and What Are Its Consequences?

10 October 2016

s Karl Marx once said: ‘In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class. ’ In this essay we will be discussing the affect class conflict has on society from the 1600’s up until the modern world today. We will be discussing how Karl Marx developed his theory of class conflict and look at the different areas of society and how it effects individuals.

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To define it, class conflict is a tension or strain among individuals in society due to socio-economic interests between different socio classes. In can take on several different forms within society; violence (take for example the war between Iraq and U. S. A, over oil and cheap labour), starvation, poverty, unsafe working conditions or strikes between trade unions and employers. The book ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a perfect example of class conflict. Emily Bronte cleverly shows us the huge rift of classes between the upper and lower people. This book was set in the 1600’s, so one can say that class conflict is not just a recent discovery.

Through this book Bronte shows us how class conflict affects society. The most obvious distinction between upper and lower classes is with the two settings; Thrush cross Grange and Wuthering Heights. The society in Wuthering Heights is that of the working class. Wuthering Heights is a rundown farm that represents hardship; ruthlessness, and difficult working conditions. Life at Wuthering Heights is more domestic yet spiteful revenge and personal struggles envelop the characters that live there. Therefore, even from the 1600’s class conflict was a major and is still a part of everyday lives today.

In relation to class conflict the sociologist thinker, Karl Marx viewed class conflict with a class definition. Marx explains how a class is defined as the ownership of property. With regards property there are three different classes, the bourgeoisie (who own the means of production such as factories and machinery, and whose source of income is profit), landowners (whose income is rent), and the proletariat (who own their labour and sell it for a wage). Therefore one can form the opinion that class is not determined by income or status but by property.

Income and status is determined by the administration and consumption of the property, which in turn reflects the production and power relations of classes and effecting society as a whole. ‘Marxists believe that class conflict plays an important role in the history of class based systems such as capitalism and feudalism. ’ The class conflict within capitalism is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and takes the form of conflict over work hours, salary values, cost of consumer goods, the culture at work, control over parliament or bureaucracy, and inequality within the economy.

Through the development of the labour party, the working class will try and influence the bourgeois political process to allow its bill pass and its own supporters elected. According to Marxist theory, everything else is beyond the control of the working class; inevitably they cannot do much more. It cannot gain control over the bourgeoisie. Marxism is then needed by the working class. ‘When the workers grasp socialist theory they transform it into a living force; only then can they organize a party capable of leading a revolution and overthrowing bourgeois rule. The years of economic downturn and depression with unemployment rising are rarely ones of industrial strife however, they often portray communities who are working hard together in working class communities expressed in strikes, boycotts or struggles against tenant rights. ‘With the formation of the industrial working class or proletariat, workers begin to struggle against their employers, first in the factory then in the trade or locality’. This causes major rifts between the classes; however it allows the working class to work together to from unions to protect oneself from discrimination. They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workmen of the middle ages. ’

The effects of this is that, these classes begin to form unions, which expand and grow powerfully and affect the workers’ salaries and working conditions and lead to mass strikes and boycotts. The workers begin to realize they are not fighting their employers, but the class of employers everywhere. This struggle becomes one of the working class against the bourgeoisie; it becomes a political as well as an economical struggle’ Marx states that a class is formed when its individuals achieve class consciousness and peace. This takes place when a class become aware of each other’s shared interests and identities and realises its exploitations within its society. A common identity within this society will then be formed. A class therefore can take action against others who are taking advantage of the lower classes. Marx believes that classes are ‘authority relationships based on property ownership’.

A class defines groupings of individuals with shared life situations and interests. The evolution of the new lower middle classes in the 1980s has resulted in a group of people who are no longer offered a voice. Traditionally the Labour party, in standing up for the working class, has also, as a result stood up for the impoverished underclass as well. But now that Labour stands for the new middle classes there is no one standing up for the ones Thatcher left behind. There is no conflict today not because everyone is contented but because they have had their voice taken away.

A consequence of class conflict is income inequality. Even though class status is not a casual factor for income, surveys have shown, those in higher classes have higher incomes rather than those in lower classes. This inequality still exists in occupation. Conditions at work vary greatly between classes. The individuals in the upper middle class enjoy a relaxed work environment with a good salary and receive respect from fellow employees and society in general but lower middle class however lack in job satisfaction and tend to feel more alienated. While middle-class workers may “suffer alienating conditions” or “lack of job satisfaction”, blue-collar workers suffer alienating, often routine, work with obvious physical health hazards, injury, and even death’. Class also has an effect on one’s lifestyle which includes leisure activities which reflects the attitude and values of the person. Therefore the way in which a person raises a child depends on their lifestyle. For instance an upper middle class individual will raise their child as an upper middle class person and vice versa. This also can effect a child education, as they are offered more of a variety of schoolings.

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