ABSTRACT

In this chapter, we ascend to a more concrete level of analysis. Here we introduce the concept of class. Class denotes the aspect of agency producing and reproducing the structures of a society based on exploitation; put otherwise, by embodying the structural inequalities of the social order, classes constitute the living reality of these structures. Yet class is still a relatively abstract concept. It manifests itself usually in mediated forms, through all kinds of ‘imagined communities’ (see also Anderson 1983). In chapter 4, we will discuss some of the concrete, transnational forms of class. Here, we shall investigate the structural determinants of capitalist class formation including the ideological universes it has given rise to. Speaking generally, class formation springs from the exploitative social relations through which humanity’s metabolism with nature develops. Every advance in the capacity to create wealth, shapes new opportunities for appropriating unpaid labour; hence a new relationship between exploiters and exploited, which is superimposed on those already in existence. As the exploiters across all historical experience have sought to consolidate their privileged access to society’s wealth by symbolic and material means of power (ultimately concentrated in state power), we may speak of ruling and sub-ordinate classes.1

In this broad sense, all past history is the history of class struggles, as Marx and Engels claimed in the Communist Manifesto (MEW 4: 462; see also de Ste Croix 1985).