Class warfare...has the battlefield shifted? When? Why?

I’m re-reading a novel where one of the minor themes is talking about Marxist/Socialist thought in the 20’s and 30’s. One thing struck me during one of the character discussions and I realized that it might be interesting to see if there is an answer and what that answer might mean.

Anyway, thoughts then questions. In the book, and in my own recollections of early Communist/Marxist though, the middle class was thought of on the side of the enemy of ‘the people!’…though of course they weren’t the TRUE enemy, just part of the enemy camp I suppose. The People™ weren’t composed of the middle class, they were almost exclusively made up of the workers (and peasants, etc etc).

First, is this a fair assessment of old school Communist/Socialist thought from that time period? Was the ‘middle class’ considered in the enemy camp? Comes the revolution would their backs have been against the wall as well as those rich capitalist pig-dog types? Secondly, assuming that assessment is accurate, has the battlefield shifted in the whole class struggle war? Has the ‘middle class’ somehow shifted sides (at least as far as modern Communist/Socialist thought…at least here in the west)? Are they now considered part of the ‘people’? Finally, if so…why? Why did this come about? When did it come about?

I realize there aren’t to many old school (or even new school) Communist or Socialist types still kicking about, but I’m hoping some 'dopers have some thoughts on this. I have my own thoughts on it, why it happened and what it means, but I’m more interested in hearing what others think on this.

Thanks in advance for any answers!


Ok, the problem here is that the world moved past Marxism. Very quickly, in fact. it’s no secret that the actual Communist revolutions took place in semi-feudal agrarian societies. But even in Marx’s day, his theory of the classes was rapidly becoming obsolete.

The problem is that he thought of the “bourgoisie” as a very small class. He was thinking of factory owners and lawyers and bankers and maybe a few of the wealthier merchants. There was a fading aristocratic class and a rising worker class.

However, the problem was that the modern world wasn’t stable in that sense. The bougoisie expanded into the middle class and upper class. The aristocrats vanished, more or less. The workers either stayed in poverty or ascended into the middle class, and the difference was largely cultural and economic. Personal culture (what do you value) and local economy (as manfacturing faded in favor of information and service). Marx’s theories were built for a changing society and economy which he never really understood.

Asa result, modern marxists, or even Marxists from half a century ago, had to totally redefine their terms to suit. And they continue to do so to this day. Some Marxists have even comfortably distanced themselves from any actual proletariat by claiming that the entire first world is the oppressor class and the third is the real proletariat.

The concept of a middle class didn’t really exist in early Marxism. You had the proletariat, which was made up of the workers, and the bourgeoisie, which owned the means of production.

Originally, the proletariat was considered to be not just workers, but workers who essentially had no assets other than their own labor and that of their children.

There was a subclass of the bourgeoisie which would be closest to today’s middle class - the ‘Petite bourgeoisie’, which consisted of professional classes and shopkeepers and small self-employed people. The other half of the bourgeoisie, the haute bourgeoisie, were the people who owned the means of production, and they were the main enemy of ‘the people’.

I think the problem with these definitions is that one man’s Petite is another man’s Haute. Given the authoritarian nature of Communism, it probably came down to this: Petite bourgeoisie are people who make things you want, and haute bourgeoisie are people who have things you want.

In today’s world, all of these lines are blurred. Workers own means of production through employee stock programs and private investment, and few rich capitalists do not also work. And there’s no bright line between them.

Which is all good. Class warfare is despicable and counter-productive, so the more blurring of the lines we have, the better.

Wow, and to think that I would never have any practical use for my expensive education in Political Science.

I’ll take a crack at this, but fellow Dopers feel free to correct me.

As I remember, the most basic definition of Communism derives from the idea of who is actually doing the work. That is to say, the good guys, the Proletariat, are the ones with their actual hands on the plow or the forge. The bad guys, the Bourgeoisie, were sitting back, all fat and sassy, making money off the labor of the masses.
I’ve forgotten the Marxist/Leninist name for the ‘middle class’, but there was a particular type called “Kulaks”. Kulaks were simple farmers that had enough management skills to run larger-than-average, farms. They could hire some help and benefit from economies of scale. On a per-acre and per-worker basis, their farms produced more. The ruling elite tolerated their existence because of the results they produced. While they violated the ‘hands on’, ‘not making money on the backs of others’; they produced grain and other things the state needed. So, when they were useful, they were used.
When they had ceased being useful, it sucked to be a Kulak. I remember a period under Stalin when the official policy was “De-Kulakization”. So, they got killed, sent off to gulags and such.
In terms of current times, the ‘middle class’ of the Kulaks would be far below what anyone in modern Amerika would consider as middle class. If you’ve hired a babysitter, plumber, pool guy or lawn guy, you are at least, a Kulak.
If you have hired an accountant, lawyer, travel agent, etc. You are disloyal comrade…

I hope this helps.

I tend to agree with most of this post, and with most of Sam Stone’s, following. Marx was attempting to hit a moving target, and mostly missed.

Which is not to say that class warfare is obsolete or unnecessary, as one can note by looking at the incomes of the CEOs and the 7-11 clerks of the world. It’s simply that the target has moved.

I just wanted to drop by and thank everyone so far for their comments. Don’t want anyone to think I dropped the OP then ran…I’m just more interested in others thoughts on this point.


That’s about right. The Kulaks were actually peasants - peasant farmers. However, they were well managed, cooperated, and supported the Tsar. Accordingly, they were given ownership of some of their land. But they become the enemies of the Bolsheviks more because they stood in the way of the collectivization of agriculture and because they generally opposed the revolution (or at least were indifferent), rather than that they were on the wrong side of the class struggle. In fact, when Lenin and his thugs, and later Stalin, ordered the oppression of the Kulaks, they even oppressed the non-owning workers employed by the Kulaks, and a ‘Kulak’ could be defined as anyone who owned a machine with an engine or anyone who traded in goods. They didn’t even have to be land owners. Later on, as famine worsened, a ‘Kulak’ was anyone who had food that you wanted.

Now, the Bolshevik leadership did claim that the Kulaks were rich and that they were bleeding the proletariat, but they did so to instill hatred and motivate the people to rise up against them. But in the end, many of the Kulaks were little more than organized peasant farmers and had little personal wealth (there were exceptions).

Of course, once the Kulaks were murdered or kicked off their farms, the Bolsheviks found out that it took more than just ownership of the land to make it productive, and they didn’t really know how to farm all that well. Starvation ensued.

So only the kulaks had the special farming knowledge? Secret books, written in code, perhaps, that the peasants who worked for the kulaks were not in on? Only the kulaks knew how to farm the single most feritle farmland in the world? A hundred generations of farmers, perhaps more, and somehow this elite group managed to corral all that knowledge, excluding all others?

Rather more complex. Its true that the insanity of Bolshevism is responsible for the great bulk of the tragedy that was the Soviet Union, even an atheist ideology can become as mad as the grimmest theology if men make it so.

Commuinist ideology in its original form demands the supremacy of an industrial state, the only state that can produce the most needful elements: the industrial bougousie and the industrial proletariat. The ruling class are mere parasites, they have no function, they live from the labor of others, and offer nothing in return but chains.

But fundamentalist Communist ideology also has little use for the agricultural, the terms “proletariat” and the “dictatorship of the proletartiat” are key. The revolution cannot happen without them, the agricultural worker is too primitive and backward, the evolution of the new man is impossible from an agricultural base.

(This is the heresy of Maoism. Mao claimed that the peasants were superior in revolutionary potential, that the devlopment of an industrial proletariat was not essential to a true socialist state. And then, of course, the question arises as to how many political commissars can dance on the head of pin. But I digress…)

I have read arguments to the effect that the Leninist insistence on intellectual purity and ruthless rationality caused them to attempt to transform Russia into an industrial state immediately. As a result, they siphoned off the agricultural workers and tried to make an industrial proletariat out of them. (It was already established beyond question that an industrial proletariat must be loyal to the revolutionary cadres, no other situation was deemed possible.) Those that did not survive the transition were of no consequence, they were a doomed class.

The collective farm was not an attempt to bring Communism to the peasants, but to make the peasantry work more effectively, thus making it less necessary for the industrial proletariat to be burdened with a dependance upon them. They would have eliminated them altogether if Marx had only suggested a way to grow wheat and bake bread in a foundry.

It is a singular irony, at least to me, that the ultimate goals of collective farming…mass crops like wheat, produced by mechanical means on huge swaths of single crop land…were not accomplished by socialists like Lenin, but by Archer Daniels Midland. And I regard it with some dark forboding. Remember what the potato blight did to Ireland, don’t even try to imagine what a similar event for American corn might do to us.

I wouldn’t know, becuase Socialist thought doesn’t trade in such absolutes. Maybe if you weren’t such a Republican fascist I could talk to you about it.

First of all, farming is harder than it looks, and it requires more than mere manual labor. I mean, people have been building houses for years, but they still need architects, engineers, stonemasons, carpenters and so forth, right? Likewise, farming needs blacksmiths, leatherworkers, beekeepers, vetinary surgeons and a hundred other types of trained professionals - many of whom are generally richer and more successful than ordinary farmers, and thus were first against the wall when the revolution came.

And second of all, what the Communists failed at was not farming but the logistics of farming. Growing food may or may not be difficult in and of itself, but allocating and maintaining plows, organizing irrigation, buying fertilizer and most of all, bringing food to the market - not to mention deciding which crops to grow - is basically the work of experienced, educated middle management, meaning the Kulaks. With them gone, the fields may grow enough, but who cares - when half the crop is left to rot in the field, and the other half doesn’t provide the population’s nutritional needs.

Exactly. In addition, in primitive agriculture you should never underestimate the value of ‘found knowledge’. Conventions, workarounds, subtle knowledge of the effect of various conditions, etc. Farmers are experts in the farming of their particular land - shoot him and inject someone who may know the technical aspects of farming but not the specific conditions and limitations/benefits of a particular piece of land, and he’s bound to be less efficient.

Plus, there is the inefficiency you get when you politicize any industry. The people chosen to run the farms may not be the best farmers around - they may be the ones with the most political pull or who are owed the biggest favors. When there’s no profit to be had, it’s hard to incentivize people to work hard, to be efficient, and to think.

But the logistical problem is huge - especiallly since the Bolsheviks had big philosophic problems with trade. You can take over the farm, but you can’t get ploughs until you take over the plough factory, too. And absent price signals, how many ploughs do you make? How many hammers? How do you anticipate demand for materials so there’s no shortage when the demand arises?

For these and other reasons, collective farming was an economic and human disaster.

Plus which, bear in mind the crucial distinction between growing stuff, and growing stuff to sell. Real peasants (i.e. illiterate people with no education, no money and no assets) will often switch to subsistence agriculture at the first opportunity because while they do understand how to farm, they are out of their depth in commerce. And switching a nice big commercial wheat or pig farm into subsistence farming may provide a nicer living for the people working it (at least in the short term), it isn’t going to be great for all those people in the steel mills etc. relying on it for their ham/bread.

But to return to the OP - I think it’s already been covered. The working class in the developed world disappeared according to the Marxist definitions, as everything shifted from manufacturing to services. The closest thing to the ‘proletariat’ left is the ‘urban poor’, but in the west they are primarily defined by working poorly paid service jobs or being on welfare rather than slaving in dark satanic mills. Any remaining industrial workers tend to be, if anything, better paid than people toiling in McJobs or call-centres, who would probably be part of the burgeoisie if you applied the old definitions. That inversion, plus massively (unimagineably by 1900 standards) improved social mobility means that nowadays there is more focus on moving up the social ladder rather than smashing it apart.

It’s more complicated than that, though. The Communists made the Kulaks, and then destroyed them. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik takeover, peasants wound up with the land directly, not under a landlord. Well and good. Many of them went ahead and worked it hard and well, growing lots of food (and to be blunt, they were happy to help and pretty patriotic).

This did not make certain people happy. They saw a new class growing up, and didn’t want any such threat. Or whatever. Plus, the Kulaks were a convenient scapegoat for the urban poor. So they purged the Kulaks and stole whatever crops they had gathered. This momentarily eased the hunger in the cities (at the cost of increasing it long-term). Peasants even destroyed their own food and butchered their livestock so as to look poorer than they were.

Someone should like that post into the Why is Communism Scary thread.


Moderator’s Warning: I’m not sure what prompted this or who this is directed towards, but it’s uncalled for in this forum. Don’t do this again.

Really? Because it looks pretty fucking hard to me!

Some consider farming to be be easy because historically, it was performed by uneducated people. What they fail to take into account is that said farmers are only uneducated regarding matters not related to farming.

Plus the common mistake of Communism is to assume productivity.

It’s like the old recipe for rabbit stew - “First, catch a rabbit”. The Communist recipe tends to skip that step. They see kulaks producing grain, and start discussing how to divvy it up, and if the kulaks get stroppy about having their grain taken away, you shoot them. Then next year, nobody is producing grain and things go south. (cite.)


The whole point of educating yourself is to avoid having to do shitty back breaking labor that gets shown on Dirty Jobs each week.