By Keith Preston
I think class is real, and that class conflict is real. The Marxists have a lot of insight into that but I don’t agree with them that class is the determining factor in everything. Vilfredo Pareto had a pretty good critique of the Marxist perspective.
“In Pareto’s view, the Marxist emphasis on the historical struggle between the unpropertied working class — the proletariat — and the property-owning capitalist class is skewed and terribly misleading. History is indeed full of conflict, but the proletariat-capitalist struggle is merely one of many and by no means the most historically important. As Pareto explains:
‘The class struggle, to which Marx has specially drawn attention, is a real factor, the tokens of which are to be found on every page of history. But the struggle is not confined only to two classes: the proletariat and the capitalist; it occurs between an infinite number of groups with different interests, and above all between the elites contending for power. The existence of these groups may vary in duration, they may be based on permanent or more or less temporary characteristics. In the most savage peoples, and perhaps in all, sex determines two of these groups. The oppression of which the proletariat complains, or had cause to complain of, is as nothing in comparison with that which the women of the Australian aborigines suffer. Characteristics to a greater or lesser degree real — nationality, religion, race, language, etc. — may give rise to these groups. In our own day [i.e. 1902] the struggle of the Czechs and the Germans in Bohemia is more intense than that of the proletariat and the capitalists in England.’
Marx’s ideology represents merely an attempt, Pareto believes, to supplant one ruling elite with another, despite Marxist promises to the contrary:
‘The socialists of our own day have clearly perceived that the revolution at the end of the eighteenth century led merely to the bourgeoisie’s taking the place of the old elite. They exaggerate a good deal the burden of oppression imposed by the new masters, but they do sincerely believe that a new elite of politicians will stand by their promises better than those which have come and gone up to the present day. All revolutionaries proclaim, in turn, that previous revolutions have ultimately ended up by deceiving the people; it is their revolution alone which is the true revolution. “All previous historical movements” declared the Communist Manifesto of 1848, “were movements of minorities or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” Unfortunately this true revolution, which is to bring men an unmixed happiness, is only a deceptive mirage that never becomes a reality. It is akin to the golden age of the millenarians: forever awaited, it is forever lost in the mists of the future, forever eluding its devotees just when they think they have it.”
The Marxist idea that the working class is a universal monolith, or that the proletariat everywhere has the same interests, is mistaken. Also the “workers vs capitalists” class conflict isn’t the only class conflict. Today, upper-middle class vs upper-class conflict, working-class vs professional class, upper proletariat vs lower proletariat, petite bourgeois vs wage laborers, “respectable poor” vs the lumpenproletariat are all just as common forms of class conflict.