On Class

In a given discussion on the topic of Oppression, there is a tendency — initially driven by European 19th century utopian thoughts — to seek a “Root Cause”, or underlying distinct commonality to the way that oppression works.

Often, someone will engage in a form of logical fallacy that relies on the ambiguity of a concept known as Class to conflate the various forms of class with one specific one, and that is social class as it is described in the work of Marx, Lenin, and associated writers.

However, there are many different classes, a partial list of which would include:

  • Mental illness,
  • Physical disabilities,
  • Diseases such as leprosy (see leprosy stigma),
  • Illegitimacy,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Gender identity,
  • Skin tone and Complexion,
  • Education,
  • Nationality,
  • Body morphology (fatness, thinness,etc)
  • Ethnicity,
  • Creed and Ideology
  • Religion (or lack of religion) or
  • Criminality
  • Social Standing
  • Inherited Social Class (socioeconomic class)
  • Economic Class (Wealth)
  • Beauty

Of these, Marx, et al, were mostly concerned with a strong historic challenge that surrounded Inherited Social Class — though it is not necessarily inherited, and by the mid 1800’s could be bought into as the Economic Class began to commingle with the Inherited Social Class.

The most basic core concept around this in terms of general use not directly linked to a particular ideological set is the Noble Classes and the new Rich.

For most of the last thousand years and change, Europe was ruled by what were Nobles. Kings, Queens, Dukes, Duchesses, earls, Lords and Lady’s — the wealthiest of the wealthy, the most powerful of the people, whose wealth and power were inherited and passed down and commingled (the Prince of Wales, for example, has about a dozen other titles to indicate just how many deals were forged in the past).

Now, there is no commonly agreed on strict definition of class, however there is such for the *categorizations* of people into groups — you know, the classification of things, which means, quite literally, the naming of classes of things as a set.

Nor is it uncommon for Marxists and Sociologists to agree on such terminology.

Karl Marx thought “class” was defined by who “made things” — who produced the wealth, thus “means of production.). Looking around him in the 1800’s, he classified them as two classes: the proletariat, those who work but do not own the means of production; and the bourgeoisie, those who invest and live off the surplus generated by the proletariat’s operation of the means of production — that is, those who made stuff but didn’t own what they made, and those who owned the stuff they made as well as the ways it possible to make it. You know, the Rich and the Poor, or the Noble and the Serf. He was much more familiar with the Noble and the Serf, because that was what had broken down somewhat, but not very much when he was alive.

This contrasts with the view of the sociologist Max Weber, who said “class” is determined by economic position (the Wealth thing above), in contrast to “social status” or “Stand” which is determined by social prestige (the Inherited Social Class and Social Standing, above) rather than simply just relations of production.

Now, in Marx’s time, the late 18th century, the term “class” began to replace classifications such as estates, rank and orders (the nobles and their stuff) as the primary means of organizing society into hierarchical divisions, and documents from the Magna Carta through the Constitution were determining the new way societies would be classified and had introduced a concept known by then as human rights.

At the same time, those rights had allowed other people, who were not nobles — specifically the merchant class, artisans, and the somewhat more quick to respond freedmen that had once been serfs — to begin to have more and more wealth of their own, and so move up in society as a whole while also knocking down many of the barriers to belonging to the “good people” that had been traditionally reserved for nobility (think to all the tales of the New rich and their gaudy shit, or even the current issue of a wealthy and ignorant twerp who would be a nobody without money suddenly finding his way to the highest seat in the land while also being ridiculed for having lousy taste and being gaudy as all hell).

Note that the rest of that list of things above is still pretty much untouched by this examination of things — from either perspective. All of this is focused on the establishment of wealth — not on race, not on gender, not on physical capacity, even; you could be a Black man, the grandson of a slave, the author of popular books, and be successful and a member of the new “upper class” — the new nobility of society.

Even today, being of a Noble Family is a rather big thing in Europe, and grants certain expected entitlements and privileges (especially in the United Kingdom, where peerage is a fundamental requirement for the House of Lords).

Nor do these systems account for the manner of wealth creation in our current global capitalist economic system, where one need own only the possibility or a portion of something, and be able to become wealthy simply by picking the right thing to own parts of, or even to just sit back and let those who do effectively own a lot of these pieces make more money for one.

Now, Class, then, can be more than one thing, and a common error that is made is to conflate two of them — for example, to suggest that race is the same as Economic Class or the Proletariat, when the membership in that proletariat is not defined by who owns the means of production but rather by who has the darker skin. Or who is Cis, or who is Straight, or whom is a man.

This conflation means that they will argue things like “address the wealth issue, and the racism goes away”, and fro there they will step into the utopian and overly simplistic idea that economic social class is the root cause of all the harm done to everyone who is oppressed, because they don’t own the means of production.

Except that if that were the case, then the only people who should be supporting that argument are those who are not white, able bodied, straight, cisgender, pretty, legitimate (birthright), well educated, healthy, fit, and otherwise ideal members of society — but that anyone who might have a few of those things should be excluded as well, because by reasoned additive thinking one ha to recognize that white women and men are both behind a large chunk of racism (and women should be excluded from that since they are subject to misogyny, and both gay and trans people can be racist as hell, so they need to be excluded, and…).

You get the picture, yet? Marx, himself, would be a member of the Bourgeois, by that standard, and given the way most folks approach it, that would mean they shouldn’t listen to him because what he wants to do is reinforce the way that system works.

And that’s asinine.

For economic class, the axis of oppression is wealth — if you are poor you are stigmatized, and the closer you get to being poor the higher your degree of stigma. If you are wealthy, the closer you get to the highest levels of wealth, the less stigmatized you are — indeed, you gain privilege and social prestige, so your status in society places you at a higher value, and it does not matter what your other factors are, because wealth is a special kind of class in that greater wealth allows you the capacity to insulate yourself better from harm, the same way that other social bargains do, like wearing makeup or trying to pass or being straight acting.

It allows you to assimilate better because you are perceived to be a better or more potent member of your other classes, your other kinds of oppression triggered characteristics.

But it is not going to give you privilege along those lines. So you can still be a filthy rich Black man and if you are driving down the street in a place you aren’t familiar an there aren’t a lot of black people, you are going to be pulled over and treated like crap just the same.

this wouldn’t be possible if the axis along which racism and wealth were tied to the same root cause, and certainly not to the issue of wealth, because then wealth would protect them, and a string of very high profile cases around men of color being misogynists wouldn’t apply either, since the root cause would still be in effect.

Moreso, the root cause would make it even more visible to the large majority of the population that this was unjust — and they do not. Indeed, the only place those conversations happen is among black folks unless someone thinks they can get more eyeballs on their youtube channel or their Instagram by “raising hell”.

Now, this means that class is not a focus of a root cause — and the same arguments can be made for the idea of the root cause being feminism. Indeed, radical feminism holds, in its most strict formulation, the same fundamental failure by presuming the root cause of all oppression is misogyny.

And all of them ignore the import of the intersectional, sociological analysis which recognizes the root cause is behavioral, which establishes the structures and institutions that perpetuate and drive it. This is also why Stigma and Privilege are key components of understanding oppression and how it manifests — whereas in a marxist praxis, they don’t really mean much.