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Karl Marx’s Concept of Class Antagonism

According to Karl Marx society is dynamic. It is ever changing .The motor force of history or change is not to be found in extra human agency. He insists that men make their own history. History is the process through which men change themselves even as they pit themselves against nature to dominate it. Human beings are to be distinguished from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence – means of production. This means of production is central to Marxian analysis. Depending on the modes of production the classes change. When the new needs arise or when the existing modes of production cannot meet the needs of the society, there occurs a change. This change is observed in modes of production and this leads to emergence of new classes. The materialistic interpretation of social change by Marx is historical in nature. It has two characteristics:

  • Society has reached its present stage passing through various periods in history.
  • Economic and material changes have been pushing history from one period of time to the next.

Marx believes that class structure is based on

  • Relations of production
  • Ownership of property
  • Common economic interests and conditions
  • Common life cycle

The classes Karl Marx analysed are generally are oppressor or exploiter and the oppressed or the exploited classes. Oppressor is the owner of the means of production whereas the oppressed are those bereft of these means.In the agrarian system these are landlords and slaves. In the industrial system the two main classes are the capitalist and the labor class. There is always a conflict between the economic interests of these two classes. This conflict and the tensions is the class antagonism. This conflict leads to class struggle. When the struggle reaches the climax there is a revolution and the system is changed. There is always conflict between the classes that bring about change in each mode of production. Change in mode of production leads to different classes. When the oppressed classes gain consciousness, they fight for their share. When there is a revolution in this way there will be a change. It changes the entire society by the emergence of new classes. Now the same thing happens between the new oppressor and oppressed classes. This class antagonism is the essence of Marxian dynamics of social change. There are always two classes in any society with each having their own motive, one exploiting the other. When the exploited class realize about their exploitation there will be a class struggle. This leads to a change and new classes emerge. Ancient society led to feudal society and capitalist society emerged out of feudal society. After the capitalism there will be always continuous class antagonism till there is a class less and stateless society.