During the LSE talk, I gave a definition of class:
Classes are large groups of people who differ from one another by the place they occupy in the process that society uses to create all the things it needs to carry on — THREE things must be taken into account in determining what this place is:
- ONE: their relationship to the ownership of all the stuff required to keep society going (who OWNS the land, buildings, resources, raw materials, etc.)
- TWO: their role in the organization of the work required (what kind of work are they doing)
- THREE: how much of society’s wealth they have access to and how is it exactly that they can acquire it.
Classes are groups of people where one group can take the labor of another, this is called exploitation, and they can do this simply by the different place they occupy in a definite system of social economy.
This was the original quote I paraphrased from:
“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy.”
- Lenin (1919)
Writing in progress (edit as of September 8, 2020):
The word ‘capitalism’ is often thrown around in news stories, articles, academia, and politics. Many criticize it, and yet, a good number of people have a difficult time accurately defining it. Falsely conflating ‘capitalism’ with ‘consumerism,’ they misplace the weight of social responsibility into the hands of consumers: if only people would buy less, consume less, be less greedy, or increase more ethical purchasing decisions, then maybe our world would be a better place. Such moralistic approaches to ‘capitalism’ make up a popular, but incorrect, way of looking at our world and its problems.
So how should we come to understand what ‘capitalism’ is? As with all complex systems, we should begin with its most fundamental and reduced unit, and then build up from there, passing through each stage of increasing complexity step by step, until we reach the world that we ourselves observe today. If we move in the opposite direction, beginning with society and work towards simpler abstractions, we will potentially be led astray because our logic of progression will be counterintuitive; it would be like telling a story backwards.
To make a parallel metaphor with the natural sciences, in order to understand the physical matter that exists around us—why substances behave the way they do, why they react in certain combinations, and how the particular laws of matter operate—it is necessary to begin such a study with the atom. If we don’t start there, complex chemical phenomena could appear arbitrary and mysterious. But once the structure of the atom is understood, behavior that may have appeared random, actually follows a set of consistent rules, ones that become more and more complex as atoms join together to become molecules, and even more complex once those molecules become proteins, DNA, and eventually living cells. With each stage of complexity, new circumstances arise, but always evolving from the simpler rules of the previous stage.
Thus, in a similar manner, we must examine society using science: a system of knowledge that takes the summation of human experience and through a series of judgments and logical reasoning reflects the material world around us. We will start with the most fundamental unit of capitalism, the commodity, and from there build a world that includes exchange, money, labor-power, profit, etc. In this way, we will develop a firm material grasp on how it is precisely that the capitalist mode of production is an exploitative one, and how such exploitation appears to us while we live inside such a system.