Baked into our society is a fundamental antagonism between the employers and the employees.
What is Class Conflict and Where Does it Come From?
The Haymarket affair was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on May 4th, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It started in support of workers striking for an eight-hour work day, and is now referred to as the origins of May Day.
One of the largest issues stemming from the current capitalist structure of society involves an open (albeit rather subliminal) conflict between the two main classes: the workers and the owners; the employees and the employers; the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
This struggle is not new in society — in fact, it has been one of the most influential driving forces of all human history.
In order to fully understand the antagonisms, let’s imagine you are a worker, and I am your employer-to-be. I want to hire you so you can help me make a profit — if you do not give me the desired profit, I will fire you.
So I, as the employer, perform a calculation to determine how productive a new worker will be, how many products or services you’ll be able to complete within an hour so that I can decide whether or not it will be profitable to add a new worker to my staff. I will also attempt to pay you, the worker, as little as I can get away with in order to ensure I am getting the most bang (profit) for my buck (your wages).
This calculation, in and of itself, is fairly benign depending on your point of view. However the conflict begins once the employee’s interests are factored into the equation.
You, as the worker, want to get paid the most amount possible for the least amount of work. This is common sense, everybody who has had to work for a living has felt this want before. This is one of the fundamental conflicts in our current economy. The business owners seek to pay the least for the most amount of labor from their workers, and the workers want to get paid the most for the least amount of labor. The two classes, fundamentally, are opposed to one another in terms of their class interests.
This clash of desires is at the center of our economic structure. But it is not the only kind of conflicting class interests baked into the core of capitalism.
The whole existence of the capitalist class — those who earn a living from owning a business or stealing surplus value from the workers as opposed to laboring for a wage — is another example of the conflict baked into our society.
Before diving deeper into that rift between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, it is important to discuss how value is created.
In a word, value comes from labor. This is called the Labor Theory of Value, in which thinkers like Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx detailed how value is added onto a product from the labor it takes to produce said product.
This theory makes sense intuitively: The materials used to make a chair generally cheaper than the chair they made and the materials such as lumber, nails, glue, etc. are generally cheaper than the raw materials that were used to create them. Going further, a hand-made chair costs more than a machine-made chair, because the labor time is decreased by machinery.
Recognizing this, it is easy to see how the whole existence of the owner-class, the bourgeoisie, is nothing but parasitic to the workers, the proletarians. It is the workers that turn raw materials into finished products, and this they add more value to the product, yet the factory owner does nothing but extract the surplus value (revenue - cost [including wages, materials, etc.]) and claim it as their own. This is nothing short of exploitation, and it is yet another form of class conflict.
Yet, if you still disregard the Labor Theory of Value, this contradiction is still evident. The total profits of a business will not be changed if the CEO does not show up to work for a week, but if the workers are on strike for a single day the profits are dramatically altered.
How do we combat class conflict?
In order to fight against these conflicting forces, to build true social harmony, we must build what is called class consciousness, that is, raising awareness of these exploitative relationships amongst the working class.
Once people realize the inherent antagonisms built into our society, it is nearly impossible to accept anything short of a reorganization of social structures in order to benefit the overwhelming majority in this country and the world — the workers.
This is only an introduction to these concepts. If you would like to know more about class conflict and consciousness, these are helpful resources to look over.
Class conflict - Wikipedia