Conflict Theory In American Society Essay

Conflict Theory in US Political System – The Effects on the Middle/Working Class


Class conflict is a concept that frightens Americans, provoking pictures of equipped and furious employees increasing up in a brutal and bloody transformation to overthrow the living communal and financial order. It is a likeness that American conservatives often invoke when they worry too much vigilance and curiousness is being aroused about the genuine circulation of riches and income. It is a method that did well because nearly every individual until lately asserted middle-class status. It did well, too, because of the 40 in addition to years of the Cold War. However, with the drop of the “evil empire,” the redistribution of riches in the past 25 years, and the shrinking middle class, the renunciation of class in America is supposed drop on less receptive ears.

Karl Marx and the Modern Conceptualization

Modern concepts about class conflict arrive mainly from the writings of Karl Marx, whose Das Kapital is an exhaustive investigation and scathing indictment of the golden 19th Century capitalism. The straightforward and most widespread understanding of Marxism rests upon two basic ideas. The first is that the bedrock base of every humanity is economic-how it organizes itself to make and use the items and services absolutely crucial to maintain human existence. Everything else-the scheme of government, lesson and devout concepts and convictions, publications, all the modes people’s behave-are but a superstructure constructed upon a financial (or material) base. The second key concept in Marxism is that of class labor, or class warfare. All annals, Marx accepted, is a labor between two classes-those who own and command the entails by which items and services are made and those without such control. All of annals, Marx said, engage alterations that arrive about because of the labor between categories to own and command the material entails of production.

Capitalism in the 19th Century

In the middle of the 19th century England, when Marx dwelled and composed, the developed transformation was in full sway. Working situation in the new manufacturers of the appearing capitalistic scheme was brutal. Thus, the class labor between an increasing mass of employees and a shrinking number of capitalists was a foremost dynamic going by car capitalism in the direction of class warfare and transformation in which the proletariat would grab power from the capitalist class.

However, one of Marx’s foremost flops did not realize the appearing power of democracy in the 19th century years, along with the proficiency of popular authorities in capitalist societies to tame and weaken the lowest excesses of the capitalism that formed his concepts when he was composing Das Kapital. First, gradually and painfully, popular authorities in Europe and in the United States started to intervene in the finances to defend and advance the rank of workers. Laws regulating progeny work, hours of work, situation of work for women, and even smallest salaries were passed by popular authorities in most Western countries encompassing the United States. Second, popular authorities, with their increasing acknowledgement and support for an array of municipal liberties, for example in the American Bill of Rights, have permitted-and even encouraged-the development of trade unions. Trade unions, particularly in the United States, utilized their power mainly to advance salaries and employed situation for their members.

Finally, and starting in the late nineteenth 100 years, popular authorities in the West have shifted through legislative activity to presuming blame for defending the one-by-one and the individual’s family from exact types of financial misfortune. Among scholars, it was W.E.B. Du Bois (1963) who first called attention to the problem of the white worker. In a 1932 essay, he recounted an incident where white American trade unionists, helped by the Labor Party acting in the name of labor solidarity, drove black workers from jobs building a new British Embassy in Washington.

Review of Related Literature

As a matter of survival, the direct victims of white privilege have always studied it. Black Americans, in particular, have long understood that the white race is not a biological but a social formation, whose existence depends on its members’ willingness to reproduce it through their actions. The 1960s brought a new generation of radicals who, influenced by worldwide movements for national liberation and the high tide of black struggle in the US, sought to address the white problem. After 1967, the idea gained currency within SDS, for better and for worse, that white supremacy constituted the principal internal barrier to revolution in the US and that the struggle against it was the key to revolutionary strategy. But it lost much of its hold in the 1970s, and, moreover, was detached from its class moorings, leaving only a semantic residue among diversity consultants and other debris left on the beach after the revolutionary tide receded. And then, in 1990, Alexander Saxton (1990) published The Rise and fall of the White Republic, and, a year later, David Roediger (1999) published The Wages of Whiteness, which reawakened interest in the white problem. Roediger, in asking why some people wanted to be white, and attempting to identify the historical moment when they became so, captured the imagination of readers (Roediger 1999). Saxton’s (1990) and Roediger’s (1999) studies were followed by one by Theodore Allen, on which he had been working on for many years, and by my own How the Irish Became White.

What these works have in common, and what distinguishes them from some other studies, is that they take the class conflict and their struggles as their starting point, and seek to explain why some members of the working class act in the interests of a group rather than the interests of a class, that is, as whites instead of as proletarians. One might expect labor historians in particular to welcome inquiry along these lines, but such has not proven universally to be the case. Eric Arnesen (2001) dismisses the new scholarship on whiteness, citing as evidence studies showing that ‘self-interest’ has sometimes ‘prompted organized labor to encourage collaboration across the racial divide’.

He misses the point: the issue is not the willingness of white workers to take joint action with others to raise their own wages when they think it is to their advantage to do so; the issue is their clinging to a notion of themselves as a group with distinct interests. What is problematic is the very notion of unitary ‘common working-class interests,’ a notion that most labor historians, excluding whiteness scholars, have themselves jettisoned. . . . The problem is that at least some of Du Bois’s assumptions remain alive and well in the form of a persistent ‘Marxism’ – the expectation that common oppression or common enemies should promote unity, that all workers more or less share class interests regardless of race, and that the working class play the role of agent assigned to it by radical theory (Du Bois 1969).

Arnesen (1998) may reject the notion that the working class is the gravedigger of capitalism, but to label what he is rejecting ‘Marxism’ is to do violence to Marx. ‘The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing’. To Arnesen (2001), it is nothing, a view that supremely equips him to conduct labor history classes for functionaries of US unions. If Arnesen’s labor classes apologetics can be easily disposed of from a revolutionary perspective, there remain serious questions among those who seek to examine the effect of whiteness on the class struggle (Arnesen 2001).

Is there is a simpler explanation for the American color line that does not attribute it to something in the English soul? In both mainland and West Indian colonies, people from Africa made up the slave-labor force, with the result that the black skin became the badge of slavery. The association between skin-color and social status developed more slowly on the mainland than in the islands, because, initially, most mainland laborers were English, serving under temporary indenture, and lines between slavery and ‘freedom’ were indistinct and of little importance. The natural result was a great deal of interaction and solidarity among the laborers. But, as the planters imported more slaves – a decision motivated by purely monetary consideration, having nothing to do with ‘racial’ preference – and codified slavery as a distinct form, the association of the black skin with slavery came to loom large, and, by reflex, all those not of African descent, and therefore not slaves, came to constitute a group – or, in our terms, a race – on whose loyalty depended the stability of the social order.

Meanwhile, the New-Deal compact with the labor unions, which institutionalized the protected status of white labor, has collapsed. As a result, many whites and themselves are living under conditions scarcely different from those of the black poor. There are signs that the US is becoming something like Brazil, where color, instead of being an absolute marker of caste, is one element on a gradient, so that dark skins are to be found disproportionately at the bottom and fair skins at the top, and money whitens.


If white supremacy is the American counterpart of European social democracy, a compact between the ruling class and a portion of the working class – indeed, the US’s ‘historic compromise’ – its collapse is to be welcomed no matter the source. As John Garvey has quipped, maybe we should declare victory and go home. But the blurring of the color line appears alongside growing immiseration and even marginalization of a sector of the black population. Not only are Afro-Americans largely absent from growing areas of the economy, one hundred black men are in prison for everyone who graduates from college – an ominous statistic. The decline of traditional forms of racial oppression, like any popular victory, gives rise to new problems; the question of working-class autonomy becomes even more crucial than in the past.

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