The Class Struggle Is Real

Wednesday, August 10, 2016
By Paul Martin

by Matthew McCaffrey via The Mises Institute,
Aug 9, 2016

Libertarians are often skeptical about the idea of class struggle. This is no surprise, given how closely associated it is with Karl Marx. However, Marx did not originate the theory of class conflict, which was actually developed by the French liberals in the 19th century. In fact, it was classical liberal intellectuals in France, England, and the United States who spearheaded the early development of class theory.

Marx, Engels, and even Lenin were well aware of the origins of class doctrine, and openly acknowledged their bourgeois influences. However, the Marxists developed their own version of the theory that was distinctly inferior to that advanced by the French.

Both sides agreed that society contained exploited and exploiting classes. However, for the liberals, society was not divided between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but between the productive class and the political class. The liberals recognized that there are two ways to organize human productive effort: through peaceful cooperation and trade, or through violence. Each method—peace and power—creates groups of people with distinct, conflicting interests. The former organizes individuals within the division of labor, in which each person contributes willingly to the welfare of others. The second organizes individuals into political groups that claim monopolies over coercion.

Importantly, in this view, class membership isn’t based on economic roles like laborer or entrepreneur, but on sources of income. Some members of society earn wealth through production and trade, while others acquire it through redistribution. The modern state not only institutionalizes redistribution, but creates a network of privileges for the individuals and groups it wants to support. These groups include businesses seeking to protect themselves from market competition, but also the intellectual classes, which the state relies on for support in the court of public opinion.

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