1. Marxist theory of Stratification forms part of his general study of society which is called historical Materialism. According to which it is the material or economic conditions of life which determine the rest of the society including ideology, politics, law and stratification.
2. Thus the strata in society according to Marx are economically determined and he called them classes.
A class is defined by the position of a person in the process of production. There is a class which owns the means of production, the haves and a class which does not own the means of production, they have notes.
Another way of saying this is to define class in terms of the ownership and non ownership of private property as the means by which persons can produce the necessities of life, which must be distinguished from personal property, which cannot be used as a means of production.
3. Thus in Marxist understanding there can be only two classes and the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle between these two. Master and slave in ancient society, lord and serf in feudal society, Guild master and Journey man in the feudal cities and capitalist and worker in capitalist society are all Classes according to Marx. They are characterised by a relationship of exploitation and oppression, so that always what is produced by the worker is appropriated by the dominant class.
4. The classes in a society determine the nature of that society, which means that a class which owns the means of production also holds power in a society makes the law of society and determines the ruling ideas of the society. Thus there is an obvious question about why the ownership of means of production is too important in the society and formation of classes. Marx gave the answer to this question in the form of Four Parts.
(a) Life involves before everything else the production of food, clothing and shelter, i.e., the production of the means of survival. Thus the need for survival leads to the production of material goods and therein lays the importance of the economy.
(b) Once the basic needs are fulfilled by the production of the material condition of life, new needs arise, requiring further production. Initially an individual could produce on his own or with the help of his family but now with the rise of new needs. It is necessary to cooperate with the other individuals to outside of the family.
(c) An individual produces the necessities of life by working on nature. He works on nature with the help of tools and techniques that he develops through experiences. With the arising of new needs it is necessary for the individuals to define these tools and techniques and the products which are called the forces of production.
(d) Working on nature with the help of tools requires cooperation with the other individuals. The relations of production are class relation and they change as society develops from one stage to other. Classes are parts of the forces of production and since production is important for life classes are the basis of all life.
5. Marx says that characteristics such as income and occupation do not provide an indication of class of production. Occupation being the same e.g., it is possible for class position to vary. Thus a carpenter may own his shop and employ other carpenters in which their occupation is the same but the two carpenters will belong to different classes. Class is always determined by the position in the relation of production.
6. The above definition of class is an objective definition, because it can be redefined, observed and defined. Marx also gave a subjective definition of class which cannot be observed and defined objectively, because it is based on the subjective awareness of the member of that class.
Marx says that a class will exist only when members are conscious of their interest develop a sense of solidarity and common identity and are organised for political action thus the distinction between what he says as a class which is objectively defined and class for itself which is subjective and politically defined.
When classes are only objectively defined there is competition between individuals of the same class and it is only when the class becomes organised for the purposes of class struggle that competition between individuals of the same class is replaced by the conflict between classes.
Thus it is only when a class has the capacity for engaging in class conflict that a class in Marxist sense exists. The common position which a group of individuals occupy in the process of production is only the necessary but not the significant condition for the formation of a class.
Marx gives an example of the distinction between class in itself and a class for itself by contrasting the position of the French Peasantry, with that of the French worker. The peasant are scattered in their different village isolated from one another and so there is a similar positions in the economic structure.
It does not lead to a consciousness of common interest, a sense of solidarity and political organisation. They do not form a class in Marxist sense. But the French worker is concentrated in industries is aware of its interest and is organised for class struggle and hence constitute a class.
7. Marx was of the view that the common interest of the workers and their conflict with the capitalist class will lead to a social revolution ushering in a socialist society in which there will be no class. He believed that his own work and his own analysis of class will be contributed towards the organising the workers and for class. His writings, therefore, were not only to be used for understanding society but also changing it. His analysis of class was itself an instrument for political action to bring about what he had predicted future classes of society on the basis of assumption that are also open to question.