Professor Olga Bright
17 April 2018
Our textbook The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality by Dennis Gilbert defines capitalism as an economic system based on private ownership of business and controlled by markets in which capital, labor, goods, and services are freely bought and sold. Capitalism requires a free market economy to succeed and distributes goods and services according to the laws of supply and demand. Although there is a general definition of capitalism, there are different theories of it. One of the most popular and controversial is Karl Marx’s theory of capitalism and his concept of alienation.
According to Karl Marx, social classes are defined by their distinctive relationships to the means of production. Marx defined two classes- the capital class and the working class. The capital class, or the bourgeoise, is the class that owns the means of production and the working class, or the proletariat, is the class of those who must sell their labor to the bourgeoise in order to survive. The owners of the means of production (the implements and physical structures that are necessary for production) are also the ruling class as they make the political decisions, laws and oversee the enforcement of those laws. They also shape the type of education system, healthcare and rules about family life. This is also known as the superstructure. Marx saw the manner in which production takes place and the class and property relationships that develop in the course of production are the most fundamental aspects of any society.
Capitalism is about the accumulation of private profit. Profit is maximized by paying as little as possible for labor and raw materials. In order to get the most profit, pay the proletariat the least that you possibly can. Workers are exploited; in minimum wage positions, the workers often do not know how much they are going to make from one week to the next. The bourgeoise maintains the upper hand through ideological control, which is the concept that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling rules.” There is a widely recognized “American Dream” that, for most individuals, is very difficult in their lifetime. Somehow, The American Dream keeps us all conforming to the goals of society. Marx thought eventually the proletariat would change from being a ‘class in itself’ to a ‘class for itself’ and the proletariat would overthrow the bourgeoisie and a classless society would emerge. Perhaps someday, although it’s been over a century since Marx developed this concept.
Marx conceptualized the term ideology: the pervasive ideas that uphold the status quo and sustain the ruling class. Human consciousness is a social product that develops through our experience of cooperating with others to produce and to sustain social life. However, social experience is not created equal; Dave the butcher does not enjoy the...