Introduction to Western Political Thought
Professor Mithilesh Kumar Jha
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Marx– II: State and Class
Hello and welcome everyone. This is the second lecture on Karl Marx. Today, we are
going to focus on his views on the class as a category for social and political analysis.
And his views on the state. Before doing that we will focus briefly on his theory of
alienation and exploitation. How these two led Marx to consider capitalism as something
inherently contradictory and necessarily created condition of unfreedom for the majority
of the population? How it would eventually create the conditions for the next stage of
human history that according to Marx was the final phase of human progress or human
history that could be achieved in communism.
We already had a lecture on Marx, where we discussed his personal life and theory of
historical materialism that how different stages of history were a kind of Hegelian
movement of progress and capitalism was not the final stage of history. It must pave the
way for the next stage of history which according to Marx was communism, where there
would be no private property, and society would be a classless society. There would
prevail in the conditions of freedom for everyone.
In historical materialism, he discussed different stages of history from primitive
communism to feudalism, to capitalism and how it should lead to communism. This we
have discussed in the previous lecture. In the concluding lecture that we will have on
Marx, we will particularly discuss his views on politics and communism. We will also
assess the criticisms against Marx and the relevance of some of his writings or ideas in
the 21st century. It is to understand the periodic cycle of boom and burst in capitalism
and how that can be addressed or resolved. (Refer Slide Time: 03:22)
So, that we will discuss this in the third and concluding lecture on Marx. As we have
discussed in the previous lecture that Marx's writing or philosophy influenced a great
many historical and political events in the 19th and 20th centuries. In that sense, Marx
was one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. His ideas and
theories had influenced many social, political as well as historical events such as the
Russian and Chinese revolutions. These were the two major historical and political events
in the 20th century. But there were many in other countries such as Latin America or
other countries. Marxist ideas shaped the actual practical and historical events in history.
He was often misunderstood as the philosopher of the revolution or transformative
change through violence or a revolution. So, it led to a wide gulf between those who
follow his doctrines and those who saw in his doctrines or philosophy a kind of threat to
their existing status and influence. Marx's philosophy was laid to this kind of division of
the world, where those who followed Marx and his writings saw a kind of redemption,
and inspiration for making the society more emancipator, free for everyone and not just
for few. Whereas for the others, it was a threat to their existence or status.
This led to the adoration of Marx, on the one hand, and contempt on the other. Most of
Marx's writing was not objectively understood. Besides, the historical and political events
derived inspiration from Marx’s writing. So, there was a kind of distinction between Marx and the Marxist or certainly, the historical and political events that derived
inspiration from Marx.
One has to be clear about that distinction as well and as I have discussed in the previous
lecture, Marx was a humanist philosopher and he belonged to that tradition of
enlightenment which believed in human freedom. He was thus a humanist philosopher
who wanted to eradicate the structure of exploitation and alienation that existed in the
social and political spheres of life in the 18th or 19th century.
Marx in that sense was a product of enlightenment. He regarded the bourgeois revolution
or capitalism as the necessary stage in human history. But he also explained or examined
the inherent contradictions or antagonisms that persisted in capitalism. It must pave the
way for the next stage of history which would be more emancipator, free for the majority
of the people. So, he identified alienation or exploitation as something rooted in
economic inequalities. Thus, economic inequalities became the basis for social and
political inequalities in the modern state.
Let us try to understand this historically modern bourgeois or liberal revolution that rose
on the ruins of feudal aristocratic society, where the focus was on productivity,
innovation, and technological development. That was necessary for coming out of the
condition of scarcity. It also increased human productivity and the bourgeois revolution
led to a legislative state, where it was regarded through rights or constitutions and rule of
law that the rights and freedom of every individual would be protected.
Marx developed a critique to that kind of promise of the bourgeois revolution, where
through laws and legislation the rights could be protected in the sphere of politics and
law. But in the social and economic conditions, it could not address the economic
inequality and without addressing them, it would be impossible to create the condition for
the majority of the population.
So, modern state and laws, according to Marx, legitimized these inequalities which
existed in the economic sphere and work in the interest of few against many. Therefore,
few are those who own the property or means of production and state, and institution in modern times, protect those who own the property against those who do not own and
these are in the majority. He wanted to create a rational order that would abolish private
property and create the conditions of freedom for all. In that sense, Marx and his writings
were not necessarily for the violent revolution.
He wanted the structure of the economy or its modes of production should be overthrown
as it was based on economic inequalities, exploitation, and alienation. But the goal was to
achieve larger or greater freedom and emancipation for the majority of the population.
We will discuss this when we well discuss his views on alienation and exploitation.
The major preoccupation of Marx was to understand the economic structure of the
capitalist society. Therefore, there is no consistent theory of state or politics in his
writings. His views on state and politics were spread across his treatises more specifically
in the Communist Manifesto and the German Ideology which he wrote in collaboration
with Engels. His views on state and politics were further developed by later Marxist
scholars who also questioned the economic determinism or base-superstructure model in
Marx and the centrality of class category in Marx’s writings or his class analysis.
(Refer Slide Time: 10:49)
If you look at his theory of alienation and alienation is something that is to be understood
as the condition of unfreedom. That is the absence of human freedom. So, according to Marx, the modern industrial society, its technology, and scientific knowledge had
reduced men's dependence on nature for their sustenance. In that sense, the capitalist
revolution had empowered mankind, whereas they were no longer dependent on nature
for their sustenance as they used to do during feudalism and the earlier modes of
However, this technological industrial or scientific revolution also created the condition
of widespread economic disparities, exploitation, and alienation in the society for the vast
majority. So, what is happening with the modern capitalist industrial revolution is where
production is mechanized and productivity has increased that led to kind of condition of
life, where man is no longer dependent on nature as they used to be in earlier modes of
production. In that sense from the scarcity, there is abundance. However, what
characterized the industrial and technological revolution is also the condition of
unfreedom, economic disparities, exploitation, and alienation for many.
Marx developed this theory of alienation in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscript,
also referred to as the Paris Manuscript. It was derived from the Hegelian idea of ‘self
and other’, ‘master and a slave’, and the Hegelian idea of that spirit or absolute idea. It is
only when it manifests in the real historical conditions of life, not in the thought or
Marx developed his theory of alienation through his engagement with Hegelian ideas
particularly his text, Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel argued that to develop selfconsciousness and individuals must see their image in others. That is why the presence of
others is necessary for individuals to develop their self-image or self-consciousness. He
further argued that in master and slave relations, though the slave was deprived of in
many ways. Yet while working on an external object by using his labor, the slave
developed self-consciousness which the master was deprived of.
So, in that sense, in Hegel, the human labor was necessary for the development of selfconsciousness and this actualization of self or subjective will was through association,
and acting upon one’s will in different sphere of life, starting in the family, property that
one owns, in the civil society, and ultimately in the state. In Hegel, you have this acknowledgment of human labor as something necessary for self-actualization or the
development of self-consciousness.
There is a kind of similar argument or value attached to labor in Marx who considered
human labor as the essence of the human species. Human beings have to realize their
humanness or develop their human faculty or self-consciousness. It is necessary to work
and it is while working, they actualize their self, and realize their faculties or worth. So,
they can labor that distinguishes human beings from other species.
We have discussed many other thinkers, where we have seen that human beings are
rational or moral. This rationality and morality distinguish human beings from other
species. In contrast to that kind of understanding of human beings in Marx, there was a
kind of understanding that the labor distinguished human beings from other species and it
was through labor that human beings, not only developed their self-consciousness or
faculties. But also controlled nature or achieve self-mastery.
So, in Marx, you have a very distinct description of human labor which was the
combination of both mental and physical strength. Labor for Marx was not about the
physical strength of man. It combined both of his physical and mental faculties. By
combining both, men shapes or bend nature, according to one's needs. That is very
characteristic of human labor as the sensuous human act, one wants to do certain things
according to one’s will or need. One does not want to do it under the yoke or control of
others and for the sake of others.
Human labor in that sense is the necessary action to realize one's self-worth, to bend
nature, to save nature, according to one’s need. So, proper physical labor such as
agriculture and craftsmanship, according to Marx, involved both intelligence and
creativity. Human being developed their faculties and strength while working in nature,
when they labor to satisfy their needs or to act according to their needs and not for the
profit of others or under the direction of others.
So, human beings see in the product of their labor done in this manner that they act
according to their will and needs from nature. While the labor is performed in thatmanner, human beings see in the product of the labor extension of their image. However,
in capitalism, what happens is everything including human labor is turned into a
commodity that can be sold and purchased in the market.
Let us understand it this way. So, human labor in Marx was something, essentially a
sensuous human act. While acting upon nature, human beings used to express themselves
and fulfill their needs. But what happens in capitalism, is that everything will be reduced
to a commodity. And commodity is something which one can sell and purchase in the
market. There are use and exchange value of the commodity that disconnect the labor or
those who perform while producing certain acts from the product of their labor.
So, there is a kind of alienation that takes place even let us say, how economic production
is organized in the market economy. One is paid a wage by the capitalist or by one’s
employer. In return, one performs certain labor hours for their industries or factories.
Then the labor power is not a sensuous human activity. But it is a kind of commodity and
in capitalism, everything is reduced to a commodity that can be exchanged or sold and
purchased in the market.
The vast majority of the population is left to sell their labor and in the mechanical modes
of production in large factories, they are also alienated from the object of their labor. In
earlier modes of production, while they are working in the field or working on a certain
craft, they know the final product or outcome of their labor. While they work in the large
big factories producing one cog here and another cog there, they do not see their fruits of
labor in the product they produce. This is a kind of alienation that separates the labor
from the product of their labor.
Thus, they are alienated from the product of their labor and the process of laboring. So,
while performing human labor, human beings realize themselves and actualize their
freedom. But in the large factories, they become an extension of machines or tools in the
factories and it is not necessarily a human sensuous act. It is done mechanically, a kind of
disconnect from the laborers and the labor that is performed, they are also alienated from
their fellow human beings and finally from their species-being, so that is the kind of
alienation that Marx talked about which characterized modern capitalist production.(Refer Slide Time: 21:30)
Labor in the capitalist system is an unfree activity, as activity in the service under the
rule, coercion, and yoke of another man. So, this is not the intimate sensuous activity
when labor is working in the factory, not necessarily, according to their will or according
to their need. But in return for a certain wage. And in return of certain wage, they
perform that labor under the rule of coercion and yoke of another man that is the
condition of labor which he called strange labor or alienated labor.
So, in these modes of production, even the capitalist is not free from alienation, they too
must subject themselves to the existing market rule for survival, and the rules that govern
economic production are not necessarily the human need. But private property and this
accumulation of private property and its maximization is something that drives the
The capitalist is in that sense, not free to produce according to their needs or will. They
are not free to give more wages to the laborers, they must pay them wages, according to
the market rule, exchange, or use-value in the market. So, they are also not free in these
modes of production. Labor for Marx is not a kind of sensuous human activity. But a
commodity that leads to the alienation and alienation from the product of their labor,
from the process of laboring, from their fellow beings, and also from their self. So, this is
a kind of estrangement that happens in the capitalist market economy.Let us move on to his theory of exploitation and like alienation, there was a kind of
distinct explanation of exploitation in Marx which Engels called the scientific theory of
Marx. Marx argued that the capitalist system of production and growth is not only based
on alienation but also exploitation and the workers used to produce all the wealth in the
capitalist system. But they receive a pittance in the form of wages enough for their
survival. So, most of them lived in sub-human conditions.
So, you think, about the large cities and conditions of the working class in that city,
mostly in the slums living on the bare minimum human life with minimal rights and
means of sustenance. And the conditions of the workers without the protection of the
labor are the result of liberal democracy or the rule of law. The condition of the working
class in the 18th and 19th century was even worse.
The workers who produced the wealth in the society do receive a pittance and live almost
a wretched or sub-human life, whereas those who own what is called the means of
production, that is the machines and tools or capital for the production in the capitalist
economy. They exploit their labor to be ahead in the competition or the rival. So, the
logic of capitalism is something based on private property that drives both the capitalists
and the laborers.
In the capitalist mode of economy, workers do not own anything except their labor power
which they must sell for their survival. This exploitation in the capitalist economy is
hidden. It is not a kind of direct exploitation as seen in feudalism or the slave or master
relationship in earlier modes of production. Here, the exploitation is something hidden
and not obvious. That is, it is based on the extraction of surplus value and surplus value is
the difference between the value of the product that labor produces and the ways he
receives. So, the value of the product that labor productivity is always higher than the
wage that he gets in return and the difference. It is the surplus value that goes to the
capitalist as profit.
The logic of the capitalist system is that even the capitalists must compete with their
rivals and constantly, expand, and innovate to remain successful. It inevitably leads to the
flourishing of a strong capitalist while the weak go out of business. Thus, eventually, the capitalist class grows smaller and richer while the proletariat grows larger and more
That is the kind of capitalist mode of exploitation that drives a smaller or weaker
capitalist out of business that does not innovate or compete with their rivals. In other
words, one can think of the monopoly. So, the capitalist economy based on this idea of
free contract or freedom, to act according to one’s own will create a condition or
economic condition, where those who own the means of production controls the labor
and those who have the larger ownership, outperform and drive the weaker and stagnant
petty bourgeoisie out of the business.
In capitalism, exploitation is something hidden. So, there is the promise of freedom and
the idea of a free contract. So, labor is not forced like in feudalism and earlier modes to
perform. One is free to do the work or not to do the work, do the work with this company
or that company. In that sense, formally, or legally, labor is free.
But their economic conditions are such that they must sell their labor and those who own
the means of production, and constantly, innovate and expand to remain in the business,
if they do not do, the other capitalists who are more innovative and stronger, may drive
them out of business.
So, the logic of capitalism is such that both the capitalist or labor is somewhat alienated
from the product of their labor. There is a mechanical overtaking of the understanding of
production or human labor as the intimate sensuous act performed, according to their will
based on the needs drive in the capitalist economy even for the capitalist is the private
property and not necessarily the human need.
(Refer Slide Time: 29:45)Now, we move on to his views on classes based and articulated famously in the
Communist Manifesto or the Manifesto of the Communist Party which begins with this
famous assertion that ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class
struggle’. So, it is not the technology or innovation that drives history. But the class
So, free men and slave, patrician and the plebeians or nobles or commoners, lord, and the
serf in a word, the oppressor and the oppressed stood in constant opposition to one
another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden and open fight. For Marx and Engels,
human history is the result of this class struggle between those who oppress and those
who are oppressed.
This is between those who were free and slaves those who were the patricians or
plebeians, those who are the lord and serf. In other words, those who own the property
and those who do not own the property. So, human history is the fundamental history of
this class struggle between the oppressor and oppressed. There is a centrality to the class
category in Marx's analysis of society and polity.
For Marx, to understand society or polity, it is necessary to understand class formation.
For him, the fundamental division of society in the classes is the two classes of oppressor
and the oppressed. However, one could question such a straightforward categorization ofsociety into the two classes, particularly, if you look at the rise of middle classes or the
petty bourgeoisie or small shopkeepers.
There was no clear division of society into these two net classes of oppressors and
oppressed. However, Marx's analysis gave primacy to the class category in his
explanation or understanding of human society, history, and polity. According to him,
human progress was achieved historically through class struggles and not through
technological or scientific innovation as many bourgeoisie liberal thinkers claimed.
However, this recognition of classes in the Marxist analysis was not based on income or
education, or skills. But in terms of an individual’s relationships to the means of
production. So, this relationship to the means of production is something that determines
the class position of individuals in society. Those who owned or controlled the means of
production are what he called the ruling class. They were always there in other modes of
During feudalism, those who owned or controlled the land were the ruling class and those
who worked on the land were the oppressed class or those who did not exercise control
over the land. That is the basis of production in feudalism. Similarly, in the modern
capitalist economy, factories, tools, machines, and capitals are the means of production.
So, the class which owns these means of production is the ruling class, who is always in a
minority and they are opposed by the vast majority who own nothing or very little except
their labor. The vast majority of the population in the capitalist economy, according to
Marx own nothing or very little except their labor which they must sell in the market for
These two classes were the fundamental classes in any society, where the minority
exploits the majority based on their ownership of means of production. Unlike, the
previous modes of production in capitalism, according to Marx, had these class realities
and exploitations in the name of freedom or free contract.
So, as I have argued that the central theme in a modern capitalist free market economy is
the idea of free-market or freedom or free contract. The individual is free in a legal,political sense to work or not to work, to work with some company, or not to work with
some companies. But their economic and social conditions are such that they must sell
their labor and do not possess anything for their sustenance. Their very sustenance is
dependent while working for others and in the factory.
The worst condition in the capitalist economy for the workers is not to become the
workers. When they become workers by selling their labor power, they are exploited
because the surplus-value is extracted by the capitalist. But worse for those workers who
do not get the opportunity to sell their labor. So, the large army of unemployment is
something that helps the capitalist or industrialist to exploit the labor further.
In that sense in the name of freedom or free contract capitalism hides the real exploitation
of the people. So, workers are considered free. But they must sell their labor for selfsustenance, so they are free to sell their labor and capitalism has reduced the whole
question of freedom in the sense of capacity to purchase or not to purchase, it is no longer
the condition or rights which helps human to achieve the higher stage of living or develop
his personality or develop his skills. It is reduced to a market economy where you are free
to sell or purchase one’s freedom is reduced to choosing the objects in the market.
Similarly, for the laborers, they are not tied to one lord or one land in that sense they are
free. But they must sell themselves, nonetheless for their self-sustenance.
Marx saw the workers or proletariat as the agent of emancipatory change because they
were the oppressor. So, the history of class struggle was moved by those who were
oppressed. Thereby have stuck in overthrowing the regime or structure of the society
which benefitted the oppressor. Marx regarded the workers or proletariat as the agent of
emancipatory change or transformation. This is possible when workers as a class in
themselves became the class for themselves and this is a kind of development of
consciousness among the workers. Thus, the class in itself is something, determined by
the individual relationship with the means of production.
The capitalist and the proletariat are classes in itself is determined by the fact whether
they own the means of production or not. To become the class for itself, they must
necessarily develop the correct consciousness. This is possible when they develop the right consciousness based on their actual material conditions and this you can recall in the
previous lecture, where we discussed Marx’s difference with Hegel.
In Hegelian dialectics, it is the human consciousness that determines the actual real
material living of the individual. Whereas in Marx, it is the real material condition of
existence that determines human consciousness. He wanted the workers to develop
correct or right consciousness based on their material condition, not because of the
promises of the bourgeois ideology such as freedom.
So, when they develop this right consciousness based on their actual material condition
which is undistorted by the prevailing bourgeois ideology and in the ‘German Ideology’,
Marx and Engels regarded ideology as false consciousness that does not allow the
workers to develop the correct consciousness about their existence and aspires or struggle
to overthrow them, to create the condition of emancipation for themselves or their class
Thus, ideology according to Marx is the false consciousness an instrument of class or
prison. The few control the masses through the ideology that is the dominant paradigm in
which one decides about what is correct and incorrect, what is right and wrong, what
should be done and not be done, who should be punished or rewarded.
Marx argued that workers as a class in themselves must become the class for themselves
and that requires training, a kind of development of self-consciousness based on their
material condition. It should be undistorted by the prevailing bourgeois ideology and that
will allow the workers to become the agent of change and revolution.
(Refer Slide Time: 40:31)So, to understand Marx's views on class, we must consider that he was writing in a
context when western societies were deeply divided into two fundamental classes, the
bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. This division of classes was the inevitable outcome of
the industrial growth in 18th and 19th century Europe. This one can connect with another
kind of debate taking place in Europe during those days. Suppose between the romantics
and the enlightenment thinkers. So, the enlightenment thinkers were arguing about the
role of rationality, science, and technology in creating the conditions of freedom and
prosperity for humankind. The romantics were arguing about going back to nature.
Thus, including Rousseau and many other thinkers regarded industrialism as some kind
of alienation, moral, political corruption in the society that is not conducive for human
emancipation. They should go back to the earlier age or pre-industrial age, where Marx
was critical of such kind of romantic understanding of going back to nature where
feudalism was the worst kind of exploitation for Marx.
So, his understanding of a class or two fundamental classes in the society is based on this
historical material condition of the 18th and 19th century Europe which led to a kind of
society, where the small section of society was all-powerful, while the vast majority
becomes the industrial workers. They must sell their labor for survival. These industrial workers had no other position except their labor power, they were
compelled to sell it for their survival. They had no ownership over the product of their
labor. So, it was the capitalist who paid their wages for their labor power. Suppose like
other means of production such as tools, machines, or another kind of technology, the
labor power becomes a kind of commodity which a capitalist or industrialist can purchase
in the labor market by paying what they call the wages. So, for working 8 hours, one will
be paid this much or that much. This now becomes a kind of commodity, not something
that is intimate, sensuous human action performed to realize and develop oneself.
Here, the labor becomes a kind of commodity that can be sold and purchased on certain
wages and the capitalists then exploit the fruits of their labor. So, the workers in the
capitalist system do live a wretched life for the capitalist
Log in to save your progress and obtain a certificate in Alison’s free Great Philosophers – An Introduction to Karl Marx online course
Sign up to save your progress and obtain a certificate in Alison’s free Great Philosophers – An Introduction to Karl Marx online course
Please enter you email address and we will mail you a link to reset your password.