Class and Marxism: Some Points for Discussion

Leong Yew, Research Fellow, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore


Although the term, class, has a much longer etymological heritage, it is today virtually inseparable from the embrace of Marxism. At its broadest sense, class refers to divisions or groupings of people that are usually in accordance with some form of ranking or hierarchy. Such a description is too general to mobilize consciousness about the widespread inequality or the social effects resulting from the relations between different classes, particularly after the onset of industrialization in Western societies. As a consequence, Marxist thought pegs class into two senses of historicity: a present phase constituted by an exploitative relationship between the capital-owning class and the proletariat; and a teleology represented by the movement from primitive forms of communalism, to various phases of capitalist modes of production, and on to the final stage of a classless communist society. Class, as Anthony Brewer asserts, is via Marxism more effectively understood as "opposing positions within a structure of social relations" rather than simply "groups of people" (11-12). These oppositions identify the elements at the heart of domination and exploitation, the emergence of interclass conflict when the working class becomes aware of the inequities between classes, and provide for liberation beyond capitalism.

For postcolonial studies, class as a category is important in the operations of colonial and imperial discourse as well as enables different strategies of postcolonial resistance:

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The foregoing discussion represents some of the more general ideas about class, Marxism, and their relationship with imperialism. Much more discussion about different variations of Marxist thought and their views about class are warmly invited. If you would like to make contribution in any form -- essays, notes, lexias, suggestions of other websites -- please contact
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Last Modified: 22 April, 2002