Class Consciousness

Class Consciousness
   Classes, according to Karl Marx, inevitably develop their own identity, interests and outlook. Class consciousness is the development of an awareness of belonging to a class, of that class’s interest and its enemy. The proletariat, although defined essentially by its nonownership of the means of production, only becomes a class in the full sense when it gains class consciousness. This class consciousness manifests itself in a sense of solidarity and the formation of separate political organizations based on class identity. With the development of class consciousness the proletariat turns from being a “class in itself,” where class identity is essentially passive, to being a “class for itself,” where class identity is conscious and active. For the proletariat class consciousness means revolutionary consciousness since only through revolution and the overthrow of capitalism can the true interests of the proletariat be achieved.
   For Marx class consciousness develops more or less spontaneously in the course of class conflict. However, later Marxists, notably Karl Kautsky and Vladimir Ilich Lenin, argued that revolutionary class consciousness had to be brought to the workers from the “outside,” that is to say, socialist intellectuals or a vanguard party with a highly developed class consciousness had to educate and guide the proletariat to avoid a lapse into a reformist, “trade union consciousness” that failed to move beyond demands for better pay and conditions to the call for an outright revolution.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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