Many of us in the US and UK are taught that today, our nations are post-class, and that class society is a thing of the past. We are told that with hard work, and a bit of luck, anyone can become wealthy, and the wealthy can just as easily through slack and bad luck become poor. Therefore we live in a meritocracy, not a class society.
There are some glaring issues with this line of reasoning. For one, it is idealistic and ignores the fact that statistically, in the US, UK, and most nations, fluidity of income, occupation, and position are actually quite limited for many. Furthermore, many class societies in history, some of which we are taught about in school as youths, argued that there was some meritocratic or rightful logic behind who ends up in what position in their own society. This did not change the stratified or differential nature of status and position in their own societies.
Most importantly, though, this argument relies on a very particular definition of class, which centers on class being defined by a lack of fluidity of occupation and position. This is in fact not a universal understanding of class, but a simplified and particularistic understanding of the feudal class-estate system of europe, in which there was indeed a lack of fluidity of class position and occupation for many, and a greater degree of hereditary position than we have today. Not all systems of class work this way, and even in feudal europe, there were specific tracks of mobility for and between certain estates, classes and subclasses, just as there is now, just markedly less. We do not live in a post-class society, but a post-feudal class society--and even then, this "post-feudal" development is limited in many places.
Class as a concept, in the more general or universal sense, is not defined by fluidity (or a lack thereof), but by the consistent presence of specific roles in society, and relations to political power and production, held in common by many individuals, that persist over some manner of time or some set of conditions. Most class societies throughout history, other than the most oppressive hereditary aristocracies and restrictive casted societies, had some degree of potential class fluidity. Beyond fluidity in the form of mobility for individuals, classes are fluid in their form as a collective, making and remaking themselves over time through action, exercise of power, and alignment/realignment of material interests, conditions and relations.
So in clear words, what is a political-socioeconomic class? A class is a group of people who have common material interests, common political-socioeconomic relations to a shared society, similar political or cultural status or roles, or some common alignment or similar societal position and relation to power that will result in them consistently being treated, acting, surviving, or living in the same way, relative to other members of society who may not share that commonality. The interests and relations which matter in distinguishing one class from another, and the interactions between two classes, must be considered relative to the larger processes and relations at the root and center of the society.
The questions and material conditions that matter for defining class at one time and place, for one set of people, may not matter in others. In the recent history (relative to all known human history) of many places, line of heredity relative to occupation was for centuries a central question for distinguishing class. While in some societies with persistence of systems like caste this continues to be important, in many it no longer matters. What are the characteristics and relations that matter in distinguishing and identifying class today?
We must ask ourselves, what are the main relations, characteristics, and mechanisms of the system we live in today, capitalism? As covered in Intro to Leftist Political Economy, pt 1, capitalism is defined by the preeminence of property relations, and by competitive commodity production organized under the banner of firms, for exchange within these relations, for the benefit of property and firm owning capitalists. This labor is undertaken by dispossessed laborers who lack the means to produce their own survival, and come under the control of the capitalist for wages they use to buy survival. Capitalism is defined by enclosure (often backed by state force) used to facilitate this dispossession and positioning of workers and to convert commons, land, productive relations, and resources into property held by, and manipulable, controllable, or restrictable by the state and firms. It is defined by an all-encompassing and ever expanding global market that seeks to grow and wrap in as much as possible.
If we consider class as the commonality of interests or position related to the core relations of society, based on a summation of the above, within capitalism, we would evaluate class based on one's relation to and power over resources and labor; one's status in regard to legality, informality, or illicitness; one's relation to the process of commodity production for exchange; one's interactions with money and the global market; one's relation to the state, tax and policing structure; and one's relation to the process of capitalist enclosure. These are the criteria by which the rest of this piece will identify, evaluate and categorize class positions. These relations are not mutually exclusive with one another, and manifest in interlinked and sometimes hard to distinguish ways; and as such, we should not look at classes as essential, fixed, and wholly consistent and unified groups, but as dynamic and shifting arrangements of common interests, positions, and aspirations, relative to these social relations. That said, what then are the main classes of modern capitalism?
Worker: Workers are a class of people who lack control over the means of production, sufficient capital, or firms, who sell their labor for the money used to meet most of their basic needs. They own little actively productive property, or at least not enough that they can meet their own basic needs without working. They are hired by others who can only operate by paying workers some degree less than they produce for the firm, allowing the firm to pocket the difference in order to reinvest in production or supply, or take as net profit. The working class has a clear interest to do the least amount of work acceptable or required for steady and reliable employment, under the best conditions, for the most amount of money possible, even if this interest is not always realized and acted on successfully.
Many workers may identify their interests in dropping out of wage labor altogether. They may aim to acquire means and save money to directly self provision use values or afford purchases to meet their own needs long term without wage labor (retiree life or homesteads as common aspirations, for example); or use those funds and means to become capitalists and owners who live off the work of others, or off of rallies of capital. Some workers identify an interest in working harder than necessary for stable employment because they see a long term interest in promotion, and mobility to other positions. Some work harder than necessary for their own direct gain, because they identify an interest in, are concerned with the firm staying solvent and believe they can contribute or affect this. Some do so merely because they are devoted to the occupation or sector of work, and are steadfast in that devotion despite the alienation and exploitation of their labor, and lack of decision-making power in production planning, that comes with the modern capitalist form of wage labor work.
In spite of all this, members of the working class have a long-term objective interest in gaining control over and extracting more benefit from the system of production to which they devote their days and by which they are alienated, lacking control, profit access, or democratic input. They may seek this either through attempting to gain promotion to managerial and executive roles, giving them control over the labor process; attempting to become capitalists themselves as individuals with saving and risk taking; or through the collective path of class-conscious organization around their material conditions and basic interests with their fellow workers: leading to unionization, labor reform and democratic nationalization, collectivization, socialization, or cooperatization of industry, allowing them direct democratic control and input over industry as workers.
Capitalists: Capitalists are a class of people who own or control either state recognized or de facto state-recognized enterprises and firms (meaning either legally incorporated and operating private entities, or state enterprises), or significant capital and assets giving them claim to future capital flows, equity in a firm or financial arrangement, or the ability to regularly make money purely through movement and reallocation of capital and financial assets. This ownership is backed by a degree of state or private enforcement: enforcement both in the sense of crude physical policing, as well as contract and securities enforcement. They earn enough money or control enough resources through the extraction of value from laborers, workers and slaves, or capital flows, that they do not have to engage in wage labor for their own needs to be regularly met.
The capitalist class has a clear interest to operate their firms at the lowest cost possible to maintain proper operation (including labor cost), for the most amount of money possible, to maintain solvency first and foremost, and then to maintain reliable or high profit, even if this interest is not always realized and acted on successfully. Some capitalists identify an interest in paying workers above the average they could feasibly negotiate, because they identify an interest in employee retention and dedication, or they are competing for labor with other firms, or they identify another interest in keeping worker wages high (such as if workers' paychecks stimulate communities that cycle spending and capital back to the firm). Capitalists have long term interest in not just solvency and profit maximization, but also in competition, in seeing the growth of their share of the markets they are engaged in, and ensuring they have a higher rate or margin of profit than the competition.
Lumpen/Underclass: If the working class is a class without significant or meaningful control of private property, firms or means, which sells its labor to capitalists in the legal market to survive, the lumpen is a class without means which consists of communities and individuals who for some combination of reasons (racial, gender, sexual, ableist, ethnic, religious, national, regionalist and caste marginalization, enclosure or exclusion), are unable to sufficiently sell their labor alongside other workers in legal markets (at least to regularly meet their most basic needs, or at conditions considered workable). Thus they must find a way to satiate their needs, be it by getting help from community; finding a way either to employment, self provisioning and getting access to social services, or illicit, underground, or hyper-exploitative (either of self or others) activities such as earning money through informal or illegal markets; conscripting themselves into particular market niches accessible to them (often for purposes of hyper-exploitation); or by taking what they need to survive by force and deception.
This class consists of many different sub groups, occupations, and strata, such as the unemployed, informal sector workers such as sex workers, unlicensed operators (like taxi drivers and dollar cabs), and recreational drug workers, specialized workers, enforcers, and leaders/capitalists of illicit organizations, scammers, smugglers, and money launderers. Often lumpen individuals will move in and out of, or simultaneously occupy a number of these different roles and categories. Some lumpen/underclass individuals routinely go in and out of being workers. The interests of lumpen/underclass communities and individuals are to find stability in lumpen industry, to save money from lumpen industry and become petty merchants or capitalists if possible, to access gainful employment and develop into proletarians, or to develop the capability to self-provision their own needs as individuals or a class.
Slave: While workers are deprived and compelled, into wage labor via enclosure of the means they need to survive, slaves are deprived and compelled into forced labor via enclosure not just of the means to survive, but of their own bodies and agency to freely move, act and associate. The worker has their labor commodified; the slave has their labor and their life and form rendered as commodity. Slaves are for obvious reasons, a profitable choice for many sectors, as labor costs shift from a regular cost, to an irregular, minor or even one-time cost of acquisition or establishing the slave relation. Labor can be reliably accounted for and utilized whenever needed, without major additional per instance cost in a manner similar to some factory equipment, without regard to bargaining for wages, or employment competitiveness.
The problem with this arrangement is that for all the effort put into establishing the slave relation and turning the human into the slave and commodity, the slave will always remain invariably human. They have a clearer and more singular interest than any other class that has ever existed. An interest to assert that undeniable humanity. That is not to say there is not disparity even within the experience of slavery, rather it is to point out that regardless of how they fashion the route to do so, and what status they aim to take afterwards, all slaves invariably have an interest in their social and physical emancipation from the slaver. Many will run, fight, kill and/or die for that interest purely out of experience and/or instinct, without prompting by things like a greater [militant?] ideology or grand vision, which other classes lean on as a crutch for ideological hegemony and class self-realization and actualization.
The slaver, who in the recent past and still today has most often been from or backed and given sanction by the capitalist, military or political classes, has a constant interest to forestall this confrontation, and inhibit the slave's quest for emancipation, such that it becomes a core preoccupation of their lives and the enforcement apparatus they build around their slave system. Thus the slave and the slaver or owner exists in a more acute, constant tension and contradiction than even the worker or lumpenproletarian, and the capitalist. Today, the population of modern slaves includes state and privately incarcerated laborers, victims of sexual slavery, slaves of war, debt slaves, servants, enslaved migrants, victims of caste and ethnic servitude, and victims of gendered servitude, among other groups.
Petty Merchants: Petty Merchants are a class of self-employed people who are not quite capitalists, not quite self-employed workers or worker-owners (workers who have ownership in the firm they work), who sustain themselves via the buying and selling of nonfinancial-nonmoney commodities that they did not self-produce or turn into value added products, but that are not produced by workers of their own firm or traded by any workers under their control/employ. They do not regularly employ or rely on employment of any workers of their own and may self-perform the labor of transportation, packing, and retailing. They do not steadily own property beyond the commodities they sell.
Their interests are to either stay solvent and build up a moat of savings, or to scale up their enterprises and eventually become either true capitalists and make enough to begin employing workers, or to become worker-owners in a larger federated or cooperative structure. They may see the market dually and evenly as a capitalist and as a consumer, by virtue of them relying and worrying about the retail of goods and supplier-side purchase prices and sales in their industry; but also worrying about purchase prices as someone on the consumer end of supply chains, by virtue of not consistently running a wide margin or large gross. Some may go in and out of being workers or lumpen, while others are consistently successful enough that those interests and struggles are foreign to them.
Self Employed Professionalists: This class is similar to workers who are "self employed" and work on contract or part time as needed, except instead of being hired by a capitalist in order to take part in the productive process of an external firm which extracts surplus value from them, they are hired to provide commodities or services directly to the purchaser. They may be professionalists of highly paid fields in which a single individual can manage the productive process; artisans or elite producers of value-added products made from commodities produced or sourced by workers of external firms; or informal sector or small job workers who directly serve clients.
Similar to petty merchants, the self-employed, such as plumbers and painters, see the market dually on the supply and firm demand sides, and as consumers. They must worry about their own survival expenses, but also worry about the costs of equipment, inputs, transportation for the production process, and balancing their own payment against their solvency as a one-person firm (a process of self exploitation to contend with the market).
The upper echelon of this class consists of laborers who earn such levels of income, and who occupy supply chain and productive positions of one-person firms and value-added production that make them hard to distinguish from successful petty merchants, minor capitalists, or worker-owners, who run and own minor firms, stakes in firms, or cooperative share in firms. The lower echelons of this class are hard to distinguish from ordinary workers, except by their comparative lack of long term predictable income. Many of the lower rungs of the self employed, like petty merchants, go in and out of wage labor and lumpenproletarianism, based on their success in the market. Members of this class have an interest in stabilizing their income, securing a reliable market for their services or goods, and scaling up, either by hiring other workers and becoming a capitalist, or by federating, cooperating, cooperatizing, or uniting with other self-employed people, professionalists, and workers as a worker-owner in a workers' cooperative, producers' federation, or network.
Management-Executive: The managerial executive class is a class which may not own any meaningful share of a firm or the firm they work for, but which has internally established hierarchal power over workers or laborers, such as the ability to hire or fire, supervisory responsibility, or the ability to plan production and supply chains. When they do labor, they perform managerial-executive labor, which is labor that has to do with decision-making about the management, evaluation and planning of other's labor processes, rather than labor where the primary component is the laborer directly producing the use-value or directly providing a necessary physical-material component or process step in the production and sale of the use-value.
The highest echelons of the managerial executive class bleed into the capitalist class, being given ludicrous salaries, stock, and stock options, while the lowest bleed into the working class and civil bureaucratic class. They are often relied upon as intermediaries working on behalf of upper management and owners, who communicate the impacts of changes to production, conditions and labor force, to workers. They are usually the first line to facilitate the bargaining with, suppression of, and retaliation against workers demanding better pay and conditions.
The interest of this class is to make or arrange the making of the best decisions relating to the planning of production, and the disciplining and conditioning of the workers, in order to maximize efficiency and efficient exploitation of labor, so that they fulfill the expectations held of them by those above them in the managerial hierarchy, or by owners. This ensures stability in a higher-pay, less strenuous position, promotional advance, and/or access to managerial opportunities at other firms. Lower level managers may see their interests more like a worker (both the hard working and self interested worker), while having their alignment blunted by their obligations. Middle managers become further alienated from other workers and aspire to be or resent upper management, while upper level management co-identifies their interests with those of ownership.
Political Class: The political class consists of office holding and titled politicians and officials, judges and state attorneys, high administrative bureaucrats, diplomats, professional advisors, economists, and political oligarchs. They control some component of state power, high political power, or hierarchical position within legal-bureaucratic processes, and are able to subsist and sustain themselves with money and resources gleaned from their engagement in politics and political decision-making processes. The official state segments of the political class are funded through extraction of value via taxes and corvee, levied on all the other organizations, classes and sectors of society. The political class often holds power in coalition with other classes, namely the capitalist class and the military. They act to advance the power of their own blocs or wings, maintain the larger arrangement of power and society which produces their position, and ensure their allies who help sustain their power are placated by policy and patronage.
Civil-Bureaucratic: these are the laborers who work for state, municipal, or NGO organizations that do not rely on or regularly and directly receive profit or inflows of value and capital towards themselves from their operations, but subsist through some other scheme of funding or resourcing such as public budgeting, or non-solicited, at-will contribution. This excludes many nonprofits whose operations produce reputation and attestation that is then marketed in turn to produce profit and inflows of value from grants and fundraising arms (we can consider nonprofits to be selling the commodity of satiation or reputation from engagement in charity, and nonprofit laborers as being workers extracted from by skimming of the top of donation/grant exchanges, if they do not own the firm and the firm has funds leftover after their payment).
Civil-bureaucratic laborers may include public school teachers, transportation workers (in cases of fully no-profit no-fee public transpo), public infrastructure workers, social services workers, parks workers, campaign workers (uninvolved in fundraising), clerical and administrative workers of state bodies and offices, sanitation workers, and in-house cleaning staff of state-owned buildings and facilities. They are similar to workers in that they must work for a wage to survive, within organizational bodies where they take top down orders and do not have ownership, direct or democratic control; but different in that there is no direct extraction of surplus value happening to them. What workers are to the capitalist class, the civil-bureaucratic labor force is to the political class. In exchange for wages, they perform the actual work behind the decisions that politicians and high administrators make. Instead of having value skimmed from them to produce profit from exchange, they have the credit for their work appropriated from them towards the apparatus they work for, and their superiors in the promotional and management hierarchy. The lowest echelons are largely indistinguishable in status from workers, while the upper echelons bleed into the management-executive class and political class.
Civil-bureaucratic workers have a similar interest to workers in the broader market, to do the least work under the best conditions for as much as possible. Similar to regular workers, there are many reasons why civil-bureaucratic workers may identify an interest counter to this crude baseline interest of high pay for low work, that pushes them to work more without more compensation. A unique factor at play for some civil bureaucratic workers that garners either commitment in the workplace, or commitment to a larger system around the workplace, is the connection between their sector, and its affiliation to their community, state, nationalism, the political class, and the other myriad arrangement of factors that determine the makeup and aim of various forms of civil services. A bureaucrat given their position through patronage, or whose office is the initiative of a specific political wing, may think about their wellbeing relative to persistence of a patronage or political network, the same way any other worker comfortable in their position thinks about their survival and employment relative to the local survival and transition of their sector.
Civil-bureaucratic laborers are often highly engaged in the political process, as for many, shifts in the power arrangement of the political class could mean a rapid and direct shift in the labor economy and conditions of their industry.
Security-Military Class: The security-military class is a class distinguished by its state-sanctioned or de facto capacity to wield and utilize arms and force. It consists of soldiers, police, guards, private security, and intelligence services. They often de facto operate on behalf of other classes such as the capitalist class or political class; and in exchange for protecting and upholding property law, civil law, criminal law, martial order, stability, or consolidation of any other societal arrangement, they are given wages, access to resources, benefits, and/or status. Many will join this class, not necessarily because of the transactional material benefit to themselves as an individual, but because of a material, affiliative or ideological investment in the larger societal arrangement being protected.
Occasionally the security military class will have divisions within itself, or splits over which segments of the ruling classed to back. Sometimes the upper echelons in the security-military class and military hierarchies, will themselves become the ruling class, an arrangement known as securocracy. The lower rungs of the security-military class in some societies may persist in services, despite chronic underpayment, due to other investments in the security apparatus and society, or the ability to use their position in other schemes and sectors to profit, such as illicit work.
(Nonmarket or Heterodox Market) Self Provisioner: Self provisioners are a class of people who primarily meet their need through individual, familial, and/or communal self-provisioning and production resources, outside of the mainstream global capitalist markets, interjoined modern-style formalized markets, or significantly interlinked extra-communal markets and market relations. Self provisioners may engage in use value- focused, directly social labor; indirectly social labor and obligational, gift or particularist economies; or customary/heterodox markets to handle their needs and affairs. Many develop and rely on localized agricultural, fishing, and foraging commons, private plots on communally or community managed land, or cooperative or community industries. Many also engage in sporadic or seasonal wage labor and merchantry within modern capitalist markets, in addition to self provisioning, in order to make ends meet, get money to gain access to technologies from global capitalist supply chains, or source inputs for developing their own provisioning economy. Self provisioning communities may develop their own internal stratification, hierarchy, or class differentiation. Examples include agrarian communes, self provisioning maroon communities, and self provisioning Indigenous Amazonian communities.
Members of this class are often forced into proletarian/working class relations, or lumpenproletarianized by ecological destruction, land siezure, intentional economic sabotage, and the adverse ecological and economic impacts of some development projects, destroying the feasability of their self provisioning systems. Self provisioners have interests as heterogenous as the particular systems they use to survive, however the most consistent of these interests are an interest in maintaining favorable ecological conditions for their own schema of production and survival; an interest maintaining their particular way of survival ensuring that it will have sustainability or longevity against the pressures of the larger market society; and an interest ensuring that the resources, lands, and routes they utilize for survival are not enclosed.
Peasants and Tenant Farmers: Peasants or tenant farmers are agrarian self-provisioners who owe some due of their production, or the cash value of their production, to the state backing their land, a landlord, or a local elite with claim to land and rents. Peasants are a class largely emerging from three sources (among others surely): residual feudal, casted or precapitalist relations often by the same name (peasantry and serfdom); rural enclosure of land or proletarianization in an agrarian landscape with low availability of gainful wage labor; and arrangements between small farmers and product retailers or armed protection outfits.
In the US, a settler nation which did not experience feudal or pre-capitalist peasant relations on the land it resides , the most widespread recent experience with peasantry was sharecropping, in which freed slaves – now landless, propertyless, and thus thrust into proletarian and lumpenproletarian relations, in a rural South with few gainful job opportunities for Black people – turned to a form of tenancy-farming where they were allowed to farm and reside on a portion of land owned by a white farmer, in exchange for the white farmer appropriating a portion of the crop they farmed. Modern peasantry is also present across much of rural and Indigenous latin america, and often plays out on a similarly racialized basis. In some societies, there are "free" peasants who merely owe due in taxes and some licenses despite not privately owning land, or rich peasants who may make enough from sale of their excess to become landlords themselves, gain a stockpile of savings, or employ workers and other peasants in capitalistic wage labor relations.
Peasants have a clear interest in owning the land they reside on with minimal rents or dues to other, maximizing their own productivity within constraints, ensuring the ecology of their surroundings is conducive to agriculture, and making their yields and survival reliable. Many may see an interest not just in ownership, reliable provisioning and luxury, but in becoming petty merchants or agro-capitalists and increasingly devoting their yield to the market, as they produce more and more above their own need while in proximity to a market society.
Nonmarket Enclosed Household and Community Laborers: This class is defined by enclosed reproductive, domestic or community labor, which is often in some degree gendered, racialized, or casted. Nonmarket household laborers provide the labor needed for the upkeep of households, families, and communities within a modern capitalist society--not for a wage as domestic workers do, nor under direct compulsion or threat of force such as a slave, but for direct access to basic use-values such as food, room and board, and/or as part of a role in a familial or customary economic unit. They may perform roles such as cooking, childcare, elder care, cleaning and sanitation, beautification, household maintenance, cultural work, spiritual work and even communicative and relational labor. Members of this class often face obstacles with entering other class positions, either within their community, or the greater society, such as not being able to legally own property, which keeps them enclosed in such a position, and are often made into lumpenproletarians upon exiting the arrangement.
This class is heterogenous and includes categories of unpaid reproductive laborers, categories of non-state, unpaid community laborers and public laborers, categories of unpaid social workers and assistants, and some categories of household subsistence laborers. Sometimes these different forms of nonmarket enclosed household and community laborers may all occupy the same household at the same time, with different positionalities and roles (for example a gender-marginalized wife, in a household with a casted servant who takes orders from her, living in a community with enclosed and lumpenized gender marginalized spiritual workers).
As observed in some analysis of specifically reproductive labor, this class, even when engaged in labor not typically considered reproductive labor, often facilitates larger conditions which, like uncompensated household gendered reproductive labor (one of the most common manifestations of this class), make the extraction of profit, sourcing of wage labor, and functioning of exchange economy all easier. For example, the attempted enclosure of women's labor to nuclear families in british-colonial African holdings, and absence of unmarried women's rights to property or position, was central to colonial plans for getting many African men to leave their home farms, communities, and children to go for wage labor in cities and other communities. It was quite hard to get men to stay for multiple seasons when they were needed at home for childcare or certain harvest seasons, and made easier if the full-time role of women was shifted to residing in her husbands household and taking care of these affairs for him while he worked colonial wage labor.
The interests of enclosed nonmarket reproductive, household, and community laborers, are to free themselves as individuals from the relation altogether and enter new class positions, most likely proletarian or lumpen; to free themselves through collective abolition of their particular enclosing relation; or change the very nature of their previously enclosing relation by wrestling back self-determination over their labor, and garnering monetary, or proper non-monetary compensation for their nonmarket labor.
These categories can be further broken down, worked into composites, and expanded on. However, for now we will focus on these major classes as the main subjects of our inquiry into class. The interplay and contradiction among the interests and survival-advancement strategies of people, manifesting as classes, are among the major driving forces of political, economic, and social change and events within the modern world. Within almost every nation, there is or has been a labor movement, because workers have faced a contradiction in their interests and the interests of firm owners and managers. Within almost every nation and community in the modern capitalist world, where there is significant enclosure, dispossesion and marginalization, combined with exclusion from wage labor or mainstream markets, there is an underclass engaged in informal economic activity, or criminal activity, to get some form of access to the flows of commodities in the mainstream market. In every nation where there has been slavery, there have been slave revolts and escapes, and attempts by slavers to stop these things.
Actions springing from the systems of material interests and material relations of people to each other, their shared society, their shared interaction with the ecological-physical setting, relations around resources or use-values produced or derived from or in that setting, are the driving force of human social history, and the driving force behind the particular manifestation of institutions, ideologies, and ideas. This is what it means to have a historical materialist analysis.
When members of a class become aware of their shared basic and concrete interests, and opt to organize as a collective around these shared basic interests, rather than as individuals around aspirational individual interests, we call this class consciousness.
When workers decide that instead of pining for individual promotion or accommodation, they are going to form a union, or go on strike, they have identified a shared interest in bargaining for more pay, better conditions, or less work, and realized they have more power or chance in negotiations if they bargain and act together with unity as a workforce or class, preventing easy dismissal or competitive undercutting of their demands, and giving them the ability to impose costs via slowdowns and stoppages if their goals are not met. When capitalists decide to form a business association or lobbying campaign and jointly lobby a government for repeal of mandated wage raises, price controls, and labor laws, they have identified a shared interest in deregulation of their sector in order to promote profitability or solvency, and rather than acting independently of one another or even competing for political access, and acted with class consciousness to protect their own bottom lines.
In both cases, actors have identified an alignment between their self interest, and assisting an aligned or identical self-interest of others who hold similar position. It is the identification of self-interest with collective interest, and the class-conscious action of the oppressed, exploited, marginalized, excluded and externalized classes, such as workers, slaves, peasant and lumpenfolk and self provisioners, which will mount the greatest challenge to the absurdities and injustices of the current system and produce the most dramatic processions in the transformation of the material conditions facing the masses of this planet.
In the next entry, "On Class (pt 2)", we will break these established categories down into more in-depth categories, and look at the gamut of subclasses and differential positions within each of these great categories. We will also explore more closely, the relationship between these classes and subclasses, defined by economic relation to commodity production, property and ownership, control and enclosure, markets and money, and other forms of hierarchy and stratification which have equally material, and often interlinked economic impacts, such as imperialism, colonialism, gender marginalization, racial marginalization, caste, and settlerism.