Karl Marx is one of the most influential men in modern history. Marx was born in 1818 in Trier. He studied philosophy and economics in Berlin and after this earned a living as a journalist. Karl Marx is most famous for ‘The Communist Manifesto’ which was written in 1848. “His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to kmarxcontribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. …His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.”

Communism is a political philosophy which argues that men should have equal rights to wealth. Marxism is a way of understanding and analysing the organisation and structure of society. It is also a way of understanding how societies develop and change. Economic determinism, Marx believed, creates alienation. If a commodity that someone needs is sold for a good profit, Marx believed that the purchaser is being exploited by the producer of that commodity. Alienation, Marx believed, leads to a divided society between the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’. He identified the rich as being the ‘haves’ and the poor as being the ‘have not’. 

Contemporary theories of stratification have been influenced by the work of Marx or Webber. Marx saw the divisions from the ownership of wealth and ownership of the means of production whereas Webber placed more emphasis on the property less class, those who did not have own sufficient property to support themselves without working. No class stratification system is fixed and static, the distribution of resources within the class system constantly changes, and the size of the market situation of occupational groups also alters over time.

There are many disagreements about where the boundaries between the middle and working class. Manual jobs are usually regarded for the working class, split into categories of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled manual work. Non manual worker such as routine manual jobs such as clerical and secretarial work, andintermediate non manual includes jobs such as teachers, nurses. The highest class include professionals such as doctors and accountants.

From 1911 to 2000 there has been a long term trend for the proportion of non-manual jobs to increase and manual jobs to decrease. In 2000 49% of all workers had manual jobs whereas in 1911 79% were in manual employment. There have been marked increases in professional, managerial and routine non-manual work. This shift has been caused due to the decline of manufacturing and the growth of services. Coalmining, steel manufacture, shipbuilding and dock work declined, partly due to new technology has increased productivity so that fewer workers are needed to produce the same amount of goods. Also Britain has lost out in competition with business in lower wage economies such as Latin America, Easterner European and Far East. The old working class employed in coalmining etc now are employed in supermarkets, security firms, contract cleaners and fast foods – the new working class (Roberts 2001).

The service sector has grown considerably due to the recent growth in hotels, catering and retailing. The public sector grew from 1940s-1970s but came to a halt and financial and business services grew rapidly from 1960s-80s but the hit of computer technology reduce the work force needed. According to Marx there are two classes – Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. One’s class is dependent upon the ownership or non-ownership of the ‘Means of Production’.

In 1911 the richest 5% of the country owned 87% of the countries personal wealth. By 1930 this had decreased slightly to 84% then by 1954 had decreased even more to 71%. This was a slight increase by 1960 with the richest 5% of the country 75% of the countries personal wealth. In 1911 the richest 1% owned 69% of the countries personal wealth. By 1936 this had gone down to 56% then by 1960 this had decreased to 42% of the countries personal wealth.

Successive governments in Britain have made much less attempt to tax wealth than income. Before 1974 the main tax on wealth was estate duty, paid on the estate of someone who had died. In 1974 the labour government introduced capital transfer tax, which taxed certain gifts given by people who were alive. In 1981 the Conservative government abolished capital transfer tax and replaced it with inheritance tax. The longer people survived after giving assets to someone, the less tax they paid on the gift.

Does class impact education and a child’s chance of success in 2011? Research by the BBC found that:

‘Children from working class backgrounds are more likely to be placed into a lower set due to their class rather than their educational achievement.’

A test at 168 schools suggested that middle class pupils were more likely to be placed into higher sets regardless of their ability. 10,000 pupils were studied, half of which were placed into sets according to their ability. The other half was placed into sets according to their social class or ethnicity. This means that pupil is more likely to obtain lower GCSE results since those in the lower sets are usually entered for a lower exam paper. A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the study it commissioned had only looked at a small number of schools and was not representative of the national picture. Professor Judy Sebba who ran the experiment said that schools were likely to have a “middle class culture as an institution”. She added that “Language and speech as well as parental pressure were also factors”. Middle class parents are thought to understand the schooling system better than lower class parents and are more likely to push for their child to enter higher sets.


 Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex