Global and national societies agree that there is a need for improvement in the social-economic system somehow yet they are also most often keen to dismiss and repudiate the ideologies of capitalism’s most famous and ambitious critics, Karl Marx. There is no surprise in that because in application both his party-political and economic thoughts have been used to plan devastating deliberate economies and atrocious autocracies. Nevertheless, Karl Marx should not be repressed quickly, he must be seen as a guide whose diagnosis of capitalism’s ills will help to navigate towards the socialist revolution which will mean the end of the class conflict. In this essay, I will explain Marx’s theory on class conflict, apply this theory to the current South African context marked by an arrangement of revolts against the neoliberal status quo. In relations to the revolutionary action challenging capitalism taking place in post-apartheid South Africa, I will also discuss the famous closing statement in the communist manifesto to show that the class conflict theory Marx used to describe society during the industrial revolution, still relevant today.
According to the communist manifesto, the prevailing mode of economic production, as well as the social organization resulting from it, is the history of the class struggle which is the foundation for the contests between the ruling and oppressive class with the ruled oppressed class (Schmitt, 2018). Marx understood modes of production as stages of history, communism, feudalism, and capitalism are all modes of production states (Althusser, 2014). Modes of production are defined by a combination of forces of production and relations of production. “Tools, factories building material resources and other benefits of the industrial revolution such as technology are examples of forces of production and relations of production define how people organize themselves together explains’ (Althusser, 2014). Karl Marx constructed the conflict theory on the concept of a modern society having two contradictory classes existing which are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie refers to those who own the means of production; the factories, businesses and other tools which are the requirement to produce wealth and the proletariat are the workers which Karl Marx saw as the exploited and oppressed class (Lipset, 2017). According to Marx the owners of production recompense workers only to manage to pay for food and accommodation, and the employees, who are not aware that they are being exploited, a mistaken sense, what Karl Marx referred to as false consciousness that they are well to do and opulent.
The class conflict theory by Karl Marx looked at how power and inequality can drive social change states Donna Mertens (2016, p. 25). Karl Marx was concerned about the freedom of the working class from being marginalized by the ruling, capitalist class. As Mertens (2016, p. 29) explains this conflict theory in terms of feudalism, the noble class that does not worry about where food will come from but you also have the peasantry, representing the working class. They spend most of their time producing food for the nobility, these workers produce more than they need to survive but instead of that surplus being equally distributed the society was organized in such a way that other people did not need to work at all whilst others must work harder. This is no longer a natural constraint but a social one, says (Lipset, 2017). Marxism argues that working together will make human being transcend natural constraints but the way labor is organized leads to massive inequality. The workers in farms around South Africa hardly afford the maize and other forms of food they produce, even though they are the main workers of production, they do not benefit from their own labor, their employers do. So central to the question of freedom for Marx in defining class conflict is the question of labor, how it is organized, whom it benefits and also how this organization changes over time.
Kwesi Botchwey (1977) states that this focus on labor gave rise to a perspective created by Marx and his companion and comrade Frederick Engels known as historical materialism. Botchwey (1977) further explains that historical materialism is historical because it looks at change over time and it is materialism because it’s concerned about these questions of material reality like how production is organized and who has things like food and money and who doesn’t. For example, in the mines in Marikana who digs the gold from the ground and who has enough money to purchase and wear it? The South African society continues to be unbalanced according to the societal class viewpoint. Surprisingly the established order admits that the South African society is split into three classes, the rich, middle class and the poor. These classes mirror the buying muscle of dissimilar classes. The bourgeoisie persists in having a lucrative edge, the middle class are sinking in debt, and the proletariat are imprisoned in destitution. South Africa today as described by Rius (1994, p. 55) “the rich capitalist class which is the bourgeoisie in our society have access to better and quality luxurious houses which offers environmentally free spaces which are giving psychological freedom. Such houses offer recreational facilities as compared to the poor and the marginalized.” The buying control in the hands of the bourgeoisie in today’s society aids them admission to private health care services that grants them excessive advantageous and eminent service in comparison to the working class and the proletariat who only have their right of entry to housing for accommodation, education, and healthcare amenities are on arrears or debts.
It is not that Karl Marx was not interested in other things such as religion and politics but he thought that they were secondary to the production and control of resources. They were not secondary but because he thought to understand those things you had to understand the material reality they were based on first. Joel Samoff (1982, p. 39) explains that in this view the economy, that is the organization of labor, resources and society was the foundation and everything else, politics, culture, family and even religion was what Marx called the superstructure. Majority of poor people continues to be the recipients of public services due to non-affordability of private services which offers a high level of quality due to no congestion. The poor and the lower middle class are subject to NFSAS when entering university levels. The social environment in which I have grown up in the City of Tshwane is one society in which high most inequality exist into a new democratic dispensation. When giving societal analysis on inequalities history must be brought into the picture as it lays a fundamental foundation on the possible causes. Social inequalities exist in various forms which are in class, racial and gender form. When one is rising societal inequalities that are really stemmed in South Africa the issues of colonial and apartheid systems must not be ignored at all costs.
The caring decisive authorities are needed in transforming our community by ensuring that the proper allocation of resources brings betterment to the livelihood of the subjects. The superstructure is built on top of material reality (Samoff, 1982). These are among the arguments that support the relevance of the class conflict theory Marx used to describe society during the industrial revolution, today. The colonial and apartheid systems existed more than 300 years in our community and have left social illnesses of which we are still bearing today. The systems were merely based on racial segregation which compiled unequal distribution amongst different races and has also provided no room for total economic opportunities and political equality. Our community comprises of the black majority which are Africans, Coloured, Indians, and the white powerful minority. The white minority has benefited from previous governments until to current day. The colonial and apartheid systems positioned them as superior to any other race in our community. These have caused high most inequalities amongst racial groups (Mertens, 2016). The white minority in our community command small to large corporations than their black counterparts as a result of the failure of the current government to totally redress the economic conditions of the underprivileged black majority which it has inherited from the previous apartheid government. The blacks remain the subordinates of the white bosses at various firms.
The whites remain the most skilled as a result of their affordability to quality education and have an employable advantage due to the abovementioned reason for business ownership. The facilities that the majority of the whites access to educational services are much of a higher quality than to that of their black counterparts. The public hospitals remain congested as compared to the private healthcare facilities. The major people receiving public healthcare services are poor blacks due to their low purchasing power, and those receiving private services many of them are white rich and middle class in this regard. Majority of the whites in our society resides in well-developed areas whereas the majority of the blacks are residing in townships that still lack much development from clinics, tar roads, to schools. Many housing services in the community are being provided by the government to those qualifying, and such houses only accommodate very few numbers of people and people are complaining about the manner in which they have been designed as they offer little dignity. Power could be what the haves can control the actions of the have nots. This power relation has existed over many centuries and has resulted in political inequality (Althusser, 2014). The rich use the purchasing means to influence the decisions in the legislative bodies, non-governmental bodies, and civil society.
They have an advantage in occupying political leadership positions as it has happened with Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa and current Republican candidate Mr. Trump of the United States of America. Different political parties ought to be representing the views of the poor and the working class but the gap between the rich and the poor widens each day of our life which then question the credibility of those claiming to be pro-poor and working class. This is where the famous statement “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win” (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, 1948, p. 44) finds its relevance. Marx foresaw a workers’ revolution. As the rich grew richer, Marx hypothesized that workers would develop true class consciousness or a sense of shared identity based on their common experience of exploitation by the bourgeoisie. The workers would unite and rise up in a global revolution (Botchwey, 1977). The statement reveals the political agenda of the Communists. Their final goal is always a proletariat revolution and the abolition of private property and class antagonism.
The statement is a rousing uniting cry for working men and women to join in revolt against a social order that keeps them in chains, and then collectively build a better, freer world. Once the dust settled after the revolution, the workers would then own the means of production, and the world would become communist (Lipset, 2017). No one stratum would control the access to wealth. Everything would be owned equally by everyone.