What is Class Warfare?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Class warfare is the struggle between classes in a society, often one based on capitalist principles. The term is often used by Marxists to differentiate the proletariat or working class and the bourgeois (upper class). There can actually be many other classes, as evidenced in American society. Blue-collar workers sit at the “bottom” and work manufacturing jobs, while white-collar workers are the secretaries, teachers, and middle management. The upper classes include CEOs, politicians, and people who work in highly specialized careers like doctors.

Manufacturing jobs are considered blue-collar jobs.
Manufacturing jobs are considered blue-collar jobs.

Marx describes class warfare as a constant assault and exploitation of the lowly worker by the bourgeoisie. Wealth is made on the backs of the laborers, according to Marx, who are paid a fraction of the salary that the upper class gets paid. This breeds discontent in society, making it much more likely that the lower class will revolt.

A teacher is an example of a white-collar job.
A teacher is an example of a white-collar job.

Yet the upper class tends to hold so much power, that revolt, even in the forms of organizing or unionizing, is difficult. This is true in many sectors of American society at present. While there are strong unions, there is also much anti-Union sentiment against those groups that have not yet unionized. The mere threat of unionization may be met by a company deciding to organize outside of a country, where they can get cheaper labor and not have to meet the demands of a new union. This outsourcing, in fact, is tied to the continued downgraded position of the American manufacturer. It is true that manufacturing jobs are being lost at a great rate, leaving groups of people with little means to continue working since their job training was so specific to a type of labor.

Doctors are generally considered part of the upper class.
Doctors are generally considered part of the upper class.

Class warfare may be expressed merely as discontent, but many also see crime in society as a product of this conflict, particularly when the wealthy are targeted. Such crime could be gang related “tagging,” or working in illegal fields (such as drug dealing and prostitution). Some view this as the lower class’s attempt to even the field when fewer opportunities are available to them. It should be noted, of course, that most people of the working class have never done an illegal thing in their lives. Warfare may be too strong a term in many cases; class conflict, a society with very different groups of people that feel a certain amount of tension between these groups, may be more accurate.

Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.

In the US, struggle between classes is certainly felt. While there are some who contend that all American citizens are given the same opportunities to succeed and enter the upper class, many more (with various political backgrounds) believe that the middle class is gradually sinking. Teachers for instance, may not be able to afford rent or be able to purchase homes, especially in urban areas. Furthermore, some contend that the same opportunities are not available to all. Differences in schooling, school facilities, crime rates, and et cetera may make it much more difficult for the poor to access the same opportunities for scholastic and financial success.

Class warfare is certainly not only the product of a capitalist society. Huge differences between the leaders of a communist or socialist country and its citizens can cause class conflict to exist. When a leader of a predominantly working class country has access to luxuries unavailable to the working class, then this is not true Marxism. Instead, it divides a country into separate classes, with a good chance that the lower, working classes will resent this division. Many point to the downfall of the Soviet Union as primarily due to the exceptional poverty endured by most in the society, while its leaders continued to live fairly luxurious lives.

A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
A map of the Soviet Union, with the star, sickle, and hammer that appeared on its flag.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Half of the American population does pay tax, just not income tax.


Mutsy-I love to hear about people like that and in reality it is the small business owner that really offers the most opportunities for the lower and middle class.

This is why when the government in previous administrations talked about stimulus tax cuts for all it would essentially help everyone in the entire economy.

I think that providing a stimulus package for small business is smart in a bad economy because these are the people that tend to hire the most workers so providing them with a tax incentive helps them expand and hire additional workers.

This way they actually get to help the middle and lower classes because the best help they can receive is a job.

The upper class usually own businesses and despite the class warfare rhetoric they have a lot of expenses to pay out so even if a business grosses $250,000 a year it does not mean that the business owner will keep all of that.


BrickBack-People need to feel empowered to do their best and causing hatred of people that are more financially successful does not help your cause.

People have to understand that they too can be successful if they make up their mind to. Just because your present circumstances are not promising does not mean your life will always be that way.

Aligning yourself with successful people actually gives you the morale booster that you will need to be successful.

Look at self made people like Oprah Winfrey, Dave Ramsey, and Suze Ormon. These people all grew up poor, but they did not let their poor upbringing limit their potential to dream big.

They made many mistakes along the way, but the difference with these people is that they chose to focus on improving their talent and drive, rather than concentrating on what they were missing which is what the class warfare definition revolves around.

Suze Orman was a waitress at a bakery until age 29, when she took her first brokerage position and Dave Ramsey filed for bankruptcy when he was in his twenties which inspired him to learn about money management.

Often the risks and struggles that we have are great sources of inspiration to improve our life and the lives of others and in turn we can become successful and change our class in social dimensions.


Suntan12-I have to say that I agree with you. In addition, this class struggle is found in most countries but the difference with the United States is that you have a chance to fulfill your dreams here if you are willing to work hard.

No other country in the world offers the opportunities for success that the United States offers. For example, in a communist country like Cuba, you have no future. It does not matter what your dreams are for yourself you are destined to live a miserable life with no choices.

There everyone is poor with the exception of the government leaders. To me that is a real class struggle because there is no way for you to get out of the lower class unless you migrate to another country.

Those who developed the theory of class warfare and use it to force people to have a negative view of a higher social class and is actually harming the initiative of the lower class.


Class warfare is a destructive political ploy that often tries to provide class divisions in society.

It uses inflammatory rhetoric in order to inspire people that have a working class status to despise those that are successful.

It is really counterproductive and leads to envy of the wealthy. Many politicians resort to these tactics in order to get people to sympathize with their political points of view and adopt their social programs.

For example, stating that higher taxes have to be levied upon the wealthy only is a form of class warfare because you are punishing the successful.

In reality the top 10% of American earners pay 96% of all taxes and half of the American population pays no taxes whatsoever so clearly the argument that the rich are greedy and have to pay their share of taxes is really not true.

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