Social Scientist. v 29, no. 328-329 (Sept-Oct 2000) p. 3.


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PRABHAT PATNAIK*

Notes on the Concept of Class1

The concept of class is central to Marxism. But Marxism is not a school of thought in the conventional sense; it purports to be a programme for human liberation. Marx's eleventh thesis on Feurbach ("The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.") drew a distinction not between interpretation and change, as appears at first sight, but between interpretation that is purely speculative and interpretation that constitutes a part of revolutionary praxis. All Marx's concepts, including class therefore, must be seen not as scholastic concepts fitting into an overall scheme of speculative thought but concepts which aid the concrete analysis of concrete conditions as an integral element of praxis.

This has an important methodological implication: the concept of class is used on different occasions at different levels of aggregation, depending upon the requirements of the situation- Sometimes Marxists talk of the class of the "peasantry"; at other times they talk of the "big peasants", the "middle peasants", and the "small peasants" (defined according to certain criteria) as constituting different classes. Mao Zedong in his classic Report on Hunan province distinguished between as many as thirteen different agrarian classes. Similarly, sometimes Marxists talk simply of the "bourgeoisie". Sometimes they talk of the "monopoly" and the "non-monopoly" bourgeoisie. Sometimes, in analysing Fascism for instance, they talk of the "old" and the "new" monopoly bourgeoisie; and so on.

This varying level of aggregation at which the concept of class is used is not an indication of some flaw in theory. Rather it indicates concern for the notion that the conceptual kit should be adequate to the level of concreteness of analysis which is desired. The term class

* Centre for Economic Studies &c Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 9 - 10, Sept.-Oct. 2000



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