Class struggle – actuality and need

Image: Lara Mantoanelli


Re-establish class struggle as theory and policy

Class struggle presents itself both as a category of economic analysis, relevant to understanding capitalist dynamics, and as a political instrument for transforming existing social relations into new social relations, free from exploitation and expropriation processes between social subjects.

The theory of class struggle, whether it likes it or not, is present in all formalized economic thought. It is implicitly present in the mercantilists, the physiocrats and the classics. But only in Marx is it formalized both as a theory and as a category of analysis. This is because it necessarily arises at the moment when any form of society produces a surplus. Therefore, the existence of a surplus necessarily produces a process of dispute over its distribution.

The establishment of the class struggle as a key to the analysis of economic processes revealed all its capacity for analysis in the study carried out by Marx on the movement dynamics of the social totality of English capitalism in the XNUMXth century. As a category of analysis, it allows the apprehension of a totality in its multifaceted dynamics; its non-consideration in analytical terms will certainly imply the establishment of a precarious knowledge about the State, politics, parties and political relations established to give vent to economic processes.

The class struggle against capitalism

Why do we forget the importance of the class struggle category? Why don't we use class struggle more broadly as a category of historical and economic analysis? Our thesis is that by making class struggle part of the dynamic process of capital accumulation, that is, by assuming a specific character as an element of social mediation, it has somehow disinterested us as an analytical category. Or, what amounts to the same thing, capitalism camouflaged the class struggle as an instrument of analysis and revolution, by making us believe that civilized struggles take place around wages, the working day and “labor rights”.

The class struggle is very emblematic in the XNUMXth century. At the same time, we witness both its “normalization” by capitalism and the emergence, development and, in some cases, the decline or transformation of its socialist and anti-colonialist revolutions.

A heated debate has recently unfolded in the US over whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Since 2007, the federal minimum wage has been $7,25 an hour. It is estimated that a salary of $15 could lift nearly 1 million Americans out of poverty, raising the wages of up to 27 million, but could also result in the loss of up to 1,4 million jobs. However, in reality, they should be discussing why there is a minimum wage. For, if social needs are equal, nothing is more social than establishing equal monetary income for the population as a whole. However, in the “Critique of the Gotha Program”, Marx had already discovered that “the salary It's not what it appears to be."

“Since the death of Lassalle, the scientific point of view has prevailed in our party that the salary no and what looks to be, that is, the value from work or your price, but only a disguised form of the value ou price of labor power. With that, the entire bourgeois conception of wages up to now was discarded, as well as all the criticism directed at it, and it became clear that the salaried worker is only allowed to work for his own life, that is, for to live, as long as he works for a certain amount of time for free for the capitalist (hence also for those who, together with him, consume surplus value); that the entire system of capitalist production revolves around the increase of this free work thanks to the extension of the working day or the growth of productivity [...] As the social productive forces of labor develop, regardless of whether the worker receives more or less pay […] it should be said that, with the abolition of class differences, all social inequality disappears of itself and policy derived from them” (MARX, 2012a, p. 38-39)

At the same time, in the US, with the election of a Democratic government, we are also witnessing another heated discussion on the viability of a fiscal package to stimulate the economy and, also, to rebuild America's infrastructure. What is expected to happen in two stages. High finance questions both the form of financing (increase in tax on corporate profits) and the possibility of generating speculative bubbles, destabilizing the financial system and inflationary expectations, resulting from faster economic growth. A matter of Financial Times, of February 23, 2021, had the title “When is the stimulus too much for the markets?” Another article, this time from Bloomberg, dated February 22, signed by Rich Miller, is headlined “Yellen and Powell Wary of Financial Foam as They Push Stimulus”. Both articles deal with the same problem. This second article expresses the concern of Fed Chairman Jay Powell and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the dilemma between financial stability and fiscal incentives. In fact, they should be discussing the social function of production, of property, not as instruments for the unbridled accumulation of abstract wealth, but based on its social function, as a means of providing housing, health, education, transport. Finally, productive and social infrastructure for society as a whole. In other words, the State cannot resolve the contradictions of capitalist society because such a contradiction is also characteristic of the State. This aspect was very well punctuated by Marx and Engels when they dealt with “Class struggles in Germany”.

“From a political point of view, the State and organization of society are not two different things. The state is the organization of society. To the extent that the State admits the existence of social anomalies, it seeks to place them within the scope of the laws of nature, which receive no orders from human government, or within the scope of private life, which is independent of it, or still within the impropriety of the administration. Thus, for England, misery is founded on law of nature, according to which the population constantly and necessarily exceeds the means of subsistence. In another perspective, she explains pauperism from the ill will of the poor […] Finally, all States seek the cause of failures casual ou intentional da administration and, for that very reason, in administrative measures the remedy for their ills. Why? Precisely because the administration it is the organizing activity of the State […] The State cannot suppress the contradiction between the purpose and good will of the administration, on the one hand, and its means and capacity, on the other, without suppressing itself, for it is based in this contradiction. It is based on the contradiction between the public life and private life, in the contradiction between the general interests and os private interests […]” (MARX and ENGELS, 2010b, p. 38-39).

If these questions do not concern the class struggle, if these questions cannot be analyzed through the class struggle category, if they do not represent the center of the economic question and, therefore, of economic theory, may I believe in Santa Claus. Not even a global pandemic such as Covid-19, which by February 23, 2021, had claimed 2.476.668 lives and continued on its death march, was able to alter the distribution mechanisms and the modus operandi of capitalism.

Class struggle is in the air, we breathe class struggle, but we don't see it. Responding to Mr. Schumpeter for whom class struggle is an exaggeration; there is no exaggeration or limitation of importance “of the dividing line between the capitalist class, so understood, and the proletarian”, nor such exaggeration and limitation “was only overcome by the exaggeration of the antagonism between them” (SCHUMPETER, 2020, l. 735) . According to him, further

“[…] To any mind not warped by the habit of praying the Marxist rosary, it should be evident that the relation between classes, in normal times, is mainly one of cooperation and that any contrary theory must be based, in large part, on , for verification, in pathological cases […] We are even tempted to say that there is less nonsense in the old point of view of harmony ‒ although also full of nonsense ‒ than in the Marxist constitution of the unbridgeable abyss between the owners of the means of production and those who use them […]” (SCHUMPETER, 2020, l. 739)

How much nonsense does Mr. Schumpeter. He failed to understand what Marx had laid out so clearly between chapters 9 and 23 of Capital. It was through the class struggle that capitalism established itself as the dominant mode of production. In this trajectory, it was the class struggle that established mercantile capital and formed the proletariat. The transformation of merchant capital into industrial capital took place through class struggle, merchant capital against guilds and corporations, then manufacturing capital against merchant capital until the establishment of large-scale industry. Hence the autonomization of capital, establishing the “coercive laws of capitalist competition” and configuring a class struggle between the very fractions of capital in function, resulting in the processes of concentration and centralization of capital. What did Mr. did not realize was that the process of autonomization of capital, by making the labor market always favorable to capital, also made the struggle between capital and labor a “commonplace” factor in capitalist daily life, thus covering up the real meaning of class struggle and its revolutionary character.

Capitalism with financial dominance, new information technologies and class struggles

The 1970th century can be characterized as the short century of transitions. Short in the sense of a specific form of accumulation and short, still, in the sense of the relations between labor and capital. From the point of view of accumulation, we experience the results of the Technical-Scientific-Informational Revolution, from the 1970s to the present, from which the predominant form of accumulation ceased to be industrial and became financial. From the point of view of the relationship between work and capital, we witness the rationalization of production based on Taylorism and Fordism, from which a relationship between wage rate and productivity was established. But, it was only with the welfare state, from the end of the Second World War until the end of the XNUMXs, that we witnessed in the countries of central capitalism, due to the high rates of economic growth and the pressure of the workers, a brief retreat of the process of capitalist exploitation.

Between Fordism and the Technical-Scientific-Information Revolution we had three violent spatial adjustments, the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War. We witness a set of anti-capitalist struggles, from the Russian Revolution (1917), Chinese Revolution (1949) to the Cuban Revolution (1959), to the anti-colonialist struggles for national independence intensified in the 1950s and 1960s.

A fourth spatial adjustment began in the 1970s, when industrial apparatuses in Europe and Asia had already been rebuilt. Capital in crisis appropriates a new colossal force capable of implementing a proportionally colossal transformation in all domains of the social totality. A new era opens in the process of globalization of capital, sweeping away not only anti-capitalist experiences, but subsuming all contents of social, economic, political and ideological life to the designs of capitalist economic imperatives. Resignifies the State, relations between nations, politics, work, until it removes the last vestiges of humanity from human beings. It is the last stage of the alienation process, the fetishization of man himself.

At this stage, the large corporations that operate and develop new information technologies began to condition and determine political and social directions and the very form of our sociability. They began to determine the results of national elections and reduced our mentality to the clash between those who defend right-wing thinking and those who defend left-wing thinking, that is, to a process of extreme individualization.

The State, in this new stage of capitalism, is marked by “[…] the worldwide deepening of economic inequality, the global erosion of social well-being and the planetary penetration of financial industries […]” (APPADURAI, 2010, p. 29) . Regarding its role, for example, Bauman (2019, p. 48), speaks of a “[…] gradual but inexorable deactivation of the institutions of political power […]”, Appadurai (2019, p. 30), of “ democracy fatigue”, and Geiselberger (2019, p. 10), of “[…] 'securitization' (securitization) and post-democratic symbolic politics […]”. In general, for these authors, we now live in a context of political inability to deal with global problems (economic inequality, migration, terrorism, etc.). Context also associated with the transformation of culture into a stage of sovereignty that ends up producing authoritarian populist leaders, since economic sovereignty no longer fits within national sovereignty. These, in turn, “[...] promise the purification of national culture as a means of global political power [...]” (APPADURAI, 2019, p. 25). And yet, we are experiencing the transformation of the democratic political debate into a way out of democracy itself; however, keeping the configuration of State and power unaltered, thus creating a true simulacrum of democracy or a democracy in reverse. Who are the winners and who are the losers of such a process?

“[…] The main winners are extraterritorial financiers, investment funds and commodity traders of all shades of legitimacy; the main losers are economic and social equality, the principles of intra- and inter-state justice, as well as a large part, probably a growing majority, of the world's population. (BAUMAN, 2019, p. 48)


Therefore, the new information technologies act both as the most sophisticated form of capital accumulation and as instruments of a dehumanizing alienation. An interesting approach to the power of control and manipulation of new information technologies can be seen in the 2020 documentary “The Network Dilemma”, directed by Jeff Orlowski and written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe and Vickie Curtis.

In turn, capitalism with financial dominance reframes our standard of wealth. In the 1990s, the financial sector surpassed the manufacturing sector, in the sense that a greater perception about the weight and influence of financial assets in modern economies became generalized. The composition of social wealth, both of families and companies, has undergone an important change with the speed of growth of monetary assets. Movement that resulted from a strong tendency towards financialization and rentism and that is not confined to national borders. From this perspective: “[…] companies, banks and also wealthy families – through institutional investors – began to subordinate their spending, investment and saving decisions to expectations regarding the pace of their respective financial 'enrichment'” (BELLUZZO, 2009, p. 132).

Thus, we can understand that the financialization of the economy was also a movement to recover the profitability of capital outside of directly productive processes, in which the share of income and profits derived from financial investments became more “important” than that derived from productive activity. Marx had already observed that:

[…] since profit here assumes purely the form of interest, such companies are still viable when they merely provide interest, and this is one of the reasons that stop the general rate of profit from falling, since these companies, where constant capital constitutes such a huge proportion in relation to the variable, do not necessarily enter into the equalization of the general rate of profit (MARX, 2017, p. 332).

Marx also showed the consequences of the process described above by its double characteristic. Although it is the driving force of capitalist production, it also limits the number of those who exploit social wealth: “[…] instead of overcoming the antithesis between the social character of wealth and its private appropriation, it only develops it in a new configuration.” (MARX, 2017, p. 334)

This mobility and autonomization of the accumulation process in the face of the different forms of capital existence have a very high political price: the loss of power of the State to discipline and regulate the growth and development of national economies. The State becomes hostage to the logic of capital. Therefore, by becoming a prisoner of the logic of financialization, the State, if it does not completely lose its capacity to make public policies, its political autonomy becomes quite limited.

Given this context, we need to rescue the class struggle as a category of economic analysis. We need to get out of the commonplace that economic growth benefits everyone. More than ever, we need to question the meritocratic and plutocratic nature of capitalism. We need to question the reason for exponentially different monetary remunerations for equal social needs. We need to answer the question of whether the productive and technological conditions allow why we still have housing, health, education, culture, transport for some and not others, whether in national terms or on a planetary level. We need to question why social functions are remunerated so differently, if every form of work is necessary, if every social function represents a form of dignity for those who exercise it. Finally, why do many have to remain without conditions for the minimum satisfaction of their social needs, while others accumulate immeasurable abstract wealth?


Class struggle is more than ever on the agenda. We need to rediscover its strength and use it in favor of a different sociability. Class struggle is present in every environment we experience. It is present in our house, at school, at work, in the restaurant we go to. Finally, in all the social relations experienced because it is the air that capitalism breathes, it is the energy that gives it life, it is its essence, it is its innermost secret. Marx discovered this secret when he also revealed another secret, the secret of the exploitation of wage labor in the production process. We live in a “legal fiction”, we now have to tear that last veil that blinds us to the social world, to elect a Social Value worthy of our human condition.

How can we accomplish such a transformation? There is no single path, it cannot be accomplished by magic. Perhaps the situation demands that we start with the places of our daily life. For our workplace. We can fight, we can demand that in all public departments, in all public powers, monetary remuneration be equalized, regardless of the functions performed.

We can also question within private companies. We can discuss the social function of companies. We can separate operating costs, total costs, revenue, profits, investment fund, the remainder should constitute equal remuneration for all participants. Economic surplus is a social result and should be treated as such.

This will be our last revolution, an economic revolution, which will not result in the scandalous cover-up of the class struggle, as we experienced until this historic period of capitalism. But, finally, liberation from the fate it determined for us, our “human emancipation”, as Marx once formulated it.

Let us re-establish the social logic of economic surplus. Let us re-establish the class struggle as a theory and as a policy. Let us fight for an economic revolution: equal monetary income for equal social needs regardless of social functions.

*José Micaelson Lacerda Morais is a professor in the Department of Economics at URCA.


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