The relationship between these two classes is not only one of dominance and subordination but also of ‘exploitation’. The workers produce more wealth in the form of food, manufactured products and services than is necessary to meet their basic needs.
It means they produce ‘surplus wealth’. But they do not enjoy the use of the surplus they have created. On the contrary, those who own the means of production are able to grab this surplus wealth as ‘profit’ for their own use.
The capitalists are a non-producing class. They do not actually produce anything. Still much of the wealth produced by the proletariats is taken away by the capitalists. According to Marx, this kind of exploitation has been the main source of conflict between the two classes throughout history.
Marx believed that the economic base of society influences the general character of all other aspects of culture and social structure, such as law, religion, education, and government,. The dominant class is able to control all of those institutions and to ensure that they protect its own interests. “The laws, therefore, protect the rich, not poor.
The established religion supports the social order as it is, not as it might be. Education teaches the virtues of the existing system, not its vices. Government upholds the status quo rather than undermines it.”—Ian Robertson
Marx was of the opinion that as a result of the exploitation of workers by the capitalists the gap between the two goes on widening. Thus the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. This results in an imbalance in the production and distribution. Goods will be produced and flooded in the market in abundant quantity and there will be only a handful of people to purchase them.
Majority of the people in society who mostly belong to the working class cannot purchase the goods due to their poor purchasing capacity. Marx calls this situation ‘the anarchic character of production’. Hence capitalism suffers from its own internal contradictions. “The seed of destruction of capitalism is ripening in the very womb of capitalism”—Marx said. He has foretold that capitalism would end in failure. “The prophecy of capitalism is a prophecy of doom”—Marx stated emphatically.
Marx believed that the members of the proletariat would eventually realise that they were being exploited and oppressed. They would then join together to overthrow the bourgeoisie either by force or by voting their own representatives into the government. As a champion of the cause of the workers Marx called upon the workers to hasten the process of the destruction of the capitalist system.
Marx and Engles made a fervant appeal to the working class in their Manifesto of the communist Party of 1848 in the following way: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their Chains. They have a world to win working men of all countries unite”.
Marx has even predicted that a historic revolution would mark the end of capitalism and lead to a classless society, after their successful revolution the workers would set up a communist society which means that the forces of production-would be communally owned, that is jointly owned by all members of society. Goods produced would be equally shared and everyone would work for him and for the benefit of society as a whole.
Marx’s views on class are part of his more general theory of the history of society. Some sociologists agree that they are more appropriate to 19th century Europe and have little relevance today.
Marxian definition of class and its interpretation can be misleading in many marginal cases. When Marx wrote, industry was owned and controlled primarily by individual capitalists. But this is no longer the case today. Most industry is now run by large corporations, which are owned by thousands of stockholders but controlled by salary managers.
As a result the ownership and control of the means of production have been largely separated. Executives, technicians, scientists, and other professionals may control the means of production, but they do not own it. They are on the payroll like any other workers. Marx’s definition in this way does not help very much in determining their social class.
Further, Marxian definition of social class does not answer a few of the questions such as— “What is the social class of a dropout, who does not own or control the means of production but does not work either? What is the social class of an impoverished member of the European aristocracy, who enjoys high social prestige because of ancestry rather than any relationship to the means of production? What is the class of a wealthy black surgeon who suffers racial prejudices and discrimination almost every day of his or her life?…….” (Ian Robertson). The Marxian explanation does not handle these ambiguous cases very satisfactorily.