Peter Herrmann

Class, State and Welfare

Dimensions of defining class


Originally, the term class, though always having had an economic dimension, is strongly linked to questions of division of labor). Adam Smith basically built his entire economic theory on the principle of division of labor, seeing herein the organising feature of economy and society in general. However, the basic approach is geared to the determination of «costs», which is determined by the position of the individual in the process of labor. Thus, the economic position is somewhat derived and the «social dimension» is an indirect one. As Smith wrote:



Karl Marx focused the analysis of class on the centrally socio-economic dimension, consisting of two moments – it is the twofold freedom of


being free of possessing means of production and


being free as person, i.e. not being owned by anybody as slave

which defines which defines the class.

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power. (see quote below)

Though fundamentally economically driven, Marx has in actually a very much sociologically perspective on class. He draws attention to the fact that classes are structurally defined. But this structural dimension is based on the process which takes place between the groups. It is on this basis, that


the position of the individual


the life situation («quality of life»)


the consciousness and not least


the role in «social action»

of proletarians and bourgeois is determined.


A further «sociological shift» had been undertaken by Max Weber, though it has to be emphasised that his foundation of «interpretative sociology» started as well from the economic sphere. However, Weber did not focus on the position of individuals (and the respective foundation of classes) in the sphere of production. Instead his focal point is defined by the position of individuals on the markets. Instead of concentrating on the objective situation people are living in, determined by their relation to the means of production (in terms of «property» and «control»), Weber looked at «life chances» as the opportunity to determine the individuals position on the market(s)



The French Pierre Bourdieu is probably the last sociologist who developed class theory further, in a way it can be said by trying to merge the Marxist class analysis and Weberian approach. For him, classes are

sets of agents who occupy similar positions and who, being placed in similar conditions and submitted to similar types of conditioning, have every chance of having dispositions and interests, and thus of producing similar practices and adopting similar stances.

(Pierrre Bourdieu: The Social Space and the Genesis of Groups. Theiry and Scoeity 14 (6); November 1985: 723-744)

This allows him to apply the concept of «capital» as determinant of classes, however linking this with their location in the sphere of the distribution and with this the «production of life chances». He turns attention to different concepts of capital, namely eeconomic, social, symbolic, cultural capital.

The fundamental problem with this approach can be seen in the fact that Bourdieu argued very much from elaborating the class status as a matter of the position in regard of production, he confused that determination with drawing attention on various productive factors. In other words, instead of acknowledging (a) that surplus-value is fundamentally only produced by the labour force and (b) the social position is determined by the (non-)control over the means of production, he diverted attention to facts that determine the status within the class position rather than the class position itself. This is not to say that Bourdieu’s approach is meaningless. However, it clearly qualifies his approach as one which is not actually concerned with class.

It is worthwhile to mention that this approach is very much based on and linked to the French tradition of social thinking and furthermore that it is closely linked to debates on issues of social positioning rather than on position.


Such a brief account class theory and theory of social structuration of modern societies does not look at the various – and fundamentally superficial – attempts of interpreting society’s social structures by their stratification. What had been understood by this had been different positivist schools of looking at empirically defined social groups. Income, educational status, job/vocational positions are typical examples. Their actual «meaning» had not been further explored but the groupings as such had been considered as socially meaningful.

Emergence and Welfare – Functions of the Welfare State


(a) The way of how the state is defined is fundamentally given by how it is located to the class in the different theories. In Marxist theory, for example, the (capitalist/bourgeois) state is basically seen as the instrument of the ruling class, i.e. of the class which owns and controls the means of production. Though it is strictly speaking seen as an instrument of «suppression» this doe not exclude Marxist’s acknowledgement of the fact that the state is a hugely complex arrangement of negotiation and manipulation. As such, the state is a compound system reflecting the contradictions which are inherent part of capitalist production and expressed in the relationship between the classes.

(b) Max Weber, on the other hand, interprets the state as what we can name «structure of meaning», based on the «meaningful and understandable action of individuals. This includes in particular the elaboration of rationalisation and secularisation of the world the redefinition of the state as a «structure» becoming independent from the individual actors, following the «ratio» of «legitimate oder» rather than the «will and intention of the acting individuals». As such, the state is an instrument of a proposed «anonymous ruling class», alienated and alienating by following the rules of bureaucracy.


Though social policy – and in particular the welfare state – are highly ideological concepts, closely linked to the class theory and the respective theory of the state the following factors can be seen as useful «roles« and «function» of any kind of social policy and the respective welfare states

I.   Protective function


Protection against negative consequences arising from working life; including intervention into the economic system


Protection of the employee to maintain the ability to work

2.  Function of distribution


Determination of income as means or reproduction

3.  Function of productivity


Securing the ability to work and securing against abuse of the workforce (including health, education etc.).


Including as well the provision of societal and social stability (industrial peace)


In this context as well the provision of military forces.

4.  Function of societal politics


social policy – having a socio-political function or being social politics

5.  Function of re-distribution


interpersonal re-distribution


inter-temporal re-distribution

The exploration and debate of these different functions – somewhat complementing, somewhat contradicting – can as well be linked to the classification of the welfare regimes as presented elsewhere (see as well the notes on Welfare Regimes and Administrative Traditions and Welfare States and Welfare Regimes - Analytical Perspectives


Karl Marx

Capital Volume One

Part II:

The Transformation of Money in Capital



The change of value that occurs in the case of money intended to be converted into capital, cannot take place in the money itself, since in its function of means of purchase and of payment, it does no more than realise the price of the commodity it buys or pays for; and, as hard cash, it is value petrified, never varying. [1] Just as little can it originate in the second act of circulation, the re-sale of the commodity, which does no more than transform the article from its bodily form back again into its money-form. The change must, therefore, take place in the commodity bought by the first act, M-C, but not in its value, for equivalents are exchanged, and the commodity is paid for at its full value. We are, therefore, forced to the conclusion that the change originates in the use-value, as such, of the commodity, i.e., in its consumption. In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power.

By labour-power or capacity for labour is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.

But in order that our owner of money may be able to find labour-power offered for sale as a commodity, various conditions must first be fulfilled. The exchange of commodities of itself implies no other relations of dependence than those which, result from its own nature. On this assumption, labour-power can appear upon the market as a commodity, only if, and so far as, its possessor, the individual whose labour-power it is, offers it for sale, or sells it, as a commodity. In order that he may be able to do this, he must have it at his disposal, must be the untrammelled owner of his capacity for labour, i.e., of his person. [2] He and the owner of money meet in the market, and deal with each other as on the basis of equal rights, with this difference alone, that one is buyer, the other seller; both, therefore, equal in the eyes of the law. The continuance of this relation demands that the owner of the labour-power should sell it only for a definite period, for if he were to sell it rump and stump, once for all, he would be selling himself, converting himself from a free man into a slave, from an owner of a commodity into a commodity. He must constantly look upon his labour-power as his own property, his own commodity, and this he can only do by placing it at the disposal of the buyer temporarily, for a definite period of time. By this means alone can he avoid renouncing his rights of ownership over it. [3]

The second essential condition to the owner of money finding labour-power in the market as a commodity is this – that the labourer instead of being in the position to sell commodities in which his labour is incorporated, must be obliged to offer for sale as a commodity that very labour-power, which exists only in his living self.

In order that a man may be able to sell commodities other than labour-power, he must of course have the means of production, as raw material, implements, &c. No boots can be made without leather. He requires also the means of subsistence. Nobody – not even “a musician of the future” – can live upon future products, or upon use-values in an unfinished state; and ever since the first moment of his appearance on the world’s stage, man always has been, and must still be a consumer, both before and while he is producing. In a society where all products assume the form of commodities, these commodities must be sold after they have been produced, it is only after their sale that they can serve in satisfying the requirements of their producer. The time necessary for their sale is superadded to that necessary for their production.

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

The question why this free labourer confronts him in the market, has no interest for the owner of money, who regards the labour-market as a branch of the general market for commodities. And for the present it interests us just as little. We cling to the fact theoretically, as he does practically. One thing, however, is clear – Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

So, too, the economic categories, already discussed by us, bear the stamp of history. Definite historical conditions are necessary that a product may become a commodity. It must not be produced as the immediate means of subsistence of the producer himself. Had we gone further, and inquired under what circumstances all, or even the majority of products take the form of commodities, we should have found that this can only happen with production of a very specific kind, capitalist production. Such an inquiry, however, would have been foreign to the analysis of commodities. Production and circulation of commodities can take place, although the great mass of the objects produced are intended for the immediate requirements of their producers, are not turned into commodities, and consequently social production is not yet by a long way dominated in its length and breadth by exchange-value. The appearance of products as commodities pre-supposes such a development of the social division of labour, that the separation of use-value from exchange-value, a separation which first begins with barter, must already have been completed. But such a degree of development is common to many forms of society, which in other respects present the most varying historical features. On the other hand, if we consider money, its existence implies a definite stage in the exchange of commodities. The particular functions of money which it performs, either as the mere equivalent of commodities, or as means of circulation, or means of payment, as hoard or as universal money, point, according to the extent and relative preponderance of the one function or the other, to very different stages in the process of social production. Yet we know by experience that a circulation of commodities relatively primitive, suffices for the production of all these forms. Otherwise with capital. The historical conditions of its existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It can spring into life, only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour-power. And this one historical condition comprises a world’s history. Capital, therefore, announces from its first appearance a new epoch in the process of social production. [4]

We must now examine more closely this peculiar commodity, labour-power. Like all others it has a value. [5] How is that value determined?

The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. So far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average labour of society incorporated in it. Labour-power exists only as a capacity, or power of the living individual. Its production consequently pre-supposes his existence. Given the individual, the production of labour-power consists in his reproduction of himself or his maintenance. For his maintenance he requires a given quantity of the means of subsistence. Therefore the labour-time requisite for the production of labour-power reduces itself to that necessary for the production of those means of subsistence; in other words, the value of labour-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the labourer. Labour-power, however, becomes a reality only by its exercise; it sets itself in action only by working. But thereby a definite quantity of human muscle, nerve. brain, &c., is wasted, and these require to be restored. This increased expenditure demands a larger income. [6] If the owner of labour-power works to-day, to-morrow he must again be able to repeat the same process in the same conditions as regards health and strength. His means of subsistence must therefore be sufficient to maintain him in his normal state as a labouring individual. His natural wants, such as food, clothing, fuel, and housing, vary according to the climatic and other physical conditions of his country. On the other hand, the number and extent of his so-called necessary wants, as also the modes of satisfying them, are themselves the product of historical development, and depend therefore to a great extent on the degree of civilisation of a country, more particularly on the conditions under which, and consequently on the habits and degree of comfort in which, the class of free labourers has been formed. [7] In contradistinction therefore to the case of other commodities, there enters into the determination of the value of labour-power a historical and moral element. Nevertheless, in a given country, at a given period, the average quantity of the means of subsistence necessary for the labourer is practically known.

The owner of labour-power is mortal. If then his appearance in the market is to be continuous, and the continuous conversion of money into capital assumes this, the seller of labour-power must perpetuate himself, “in the way that every living individual perpetuates himself, by procreation.” [8] The labour-power withdrawn from the market by wear and tear and death, must be continually replaced by, at the very least, an equal amount of fresh labour-power. Hence the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must include the means necessary for the labourer’s substitutes, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its appearance in the market. [9]

In order to modify the human organism, so that it may acquire skill and handiness in a given branch of industry, and become labour-power of a special kind, a special education or training is requisite, and this, on its part, costs an equivalent in commodities of a greater or less amount. This amount varies according to the more or less complicated character of the labour-power. The expenses of this education (excessively small in the case of ordinary labour-power), enter pro tanto into the total value spent in its production.

The value of labour-power resolves itself into the value of a definite quantity of the means of subsistence. It therefore varies with the value of these means or with the quantity of labour requisite for their production.

Some of the means of subsistence, such as food and fuel, are consumed daily, and a fresh supply must be provided daily. Others such as clothes and furniture last for longer periods and require to be replaced only at longer intervals. One article must be bought or paid for daily, another weekly, another quarterly, and so on. But in whatever way the sum total of these outlays may be spread over the year, they must be covered by the average income, taking one day with another. If the total of the commodities required daily for the production of labour-power = A, and those required weekly = B, and those required quarterly = C, and so on, the daily average of these commodities = 365A + 52B + 4C + &c / 365. Suppose that in this mass of commodities requisite for the average day there are embodied 6 hours of social labour, then there is incorporated daily in labour-power half a day’s average social labour, in other words, half a day’s labour is requisite for the daily production of labour-power. This quantity of labour forms the value of a day’s labour-power or the value of the labour-power daily reproduced. If half a day’s average social labour is incorporated in three shillings, then three shillings is the price corresponding to the value of a day’s labour-power. If its owner therefore offers it for sale at three shillings a day, its selling price is equal to its value, and according to our supposition, our friend Moneybags, who is intent upon converting his three shillings into capital, pays this value.

The minimum limit of the value of labour-power is determined by the value of the commodities, without the daily supply of which the labourer cannot renew his vital energy, consequently by the value of those means of subsistence that are physically indispensable. If the price of labour-power fall to this minimum, it falls below its value, since under such circumstances it can be maintained and developed only in a crippled state. But the value of every commodity is determined by the labour-time requisite to turn it out so as to be of normal quality.

It is a very cheap sort of sentimentality which declares this method of determining the value of labour-power, a method prescribed by the very nature of the case, to be a brutal method, and which wails with Rossi that, “To comprehend capacity for labour (puissance de travail) at the same time that we make abstraction from the means of subsistence of the labourers during the process of production, is to comprehend a phantom (être de raison). When we speak of labour, or capacity for labour, we speak at the same time of the labourer and his means of subsistence, of labourer and wages.” [10] When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not speak of labour, any more than when we speak of capacity for digestion, we speak of digestion. The latter process requires something more than a good stomach. When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not abstract from the necessary means of subsistence. On the contrary, their value is expressed in its value. If his capacity for labour remains unsold, the labourer derives no benefit from it, but rather he will feel it to be a cruel nature-imposed necessity that this capacity has cost for its production a definite amount of the means of subsistence and that it will continue to do so for its reproduction. He will then agree with Sismondi: “that capacity for labour ... is nothing unless it is sold.” [11]

One consequence of the peculiar nature of labour-power as a commodity is, that its use-value does not, on the conclusion of the contract between the buyer and seller, immediately pass into the hands of the former. Its value, like that of every other commodity, is already fixed before it goes into circulation, since a definite quantity of social labour has been spent upon it; but its use-value consists in the subsequent exercise of its force. The alienation of labour-power and its actual appropriation by the buyer, its employment as a use-value, are separated by an interval of time. But in those cases in which the formal alienation by sale of the use-value of a commodity, is not simultaneous with its actual delivery to the buyer, the money of the latter usually functions as means of payment. [12] In every country in which the capitalist mode of production reigns, it is the custom not to pay for labour-power before it has been exercised for the period fixed by the contract, as for example, the end of each week. In all cases, therefore, the use-value of the labour-power is advanced to the capitalist: the labourer allows the buyer to consume it before he receives payment of the price; he everywhere gives credit to the capitalist. That this credit is no mere fiction, is shown not only by the occasional loss of wages on the bankruptcy of the capitalist, [13] but also by a series of more enduring consequences. [14] Nevertheless, whether money serves as a means of purchase or as a means of payment, this makes no alteration in the nature of the exchange of commodities. The price of the labour-power is fixed by the contract, although it is not realised till later, like the rent of a house. The labour-power is sold, although it is only paid for at a later period. It will, therefore, be useful, for a clear comprehension of the relation of the parties, to assume provisionally, that the possessor of labour-power, on the occasion of each sale, immediately receives the price stipulated to be paid for it.

We now know how the value paid by the purchaser to the possessor of this peculiar commodity, labour-power, is determined. The use-value which the former gets in exchange, manifests itself only in the actual usufruct, in the consumption of the labour-power. The money-owner buys everything necessary for this purpose, such as raw material, in the market, and pays for it at its full value. The consumption of labour-power is at one and the same time the production of commodities and of surplus-value. The consumption of labour-power is completed, as in the case of every other commodity, outside the limits of the market or of the sphere of circulation. Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face “No admittance except on business.” Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.

This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but – a hiding.


[1] “In the form of money ... capital is productive of no profit.” (Ricardo: “‘Princ. of Pol. Econ.,” p. 267.)

[2] In encyclopaedias of classical antiquities we find such nonsense as this — that in the ancient world capital was fully developed, “except that the free labourer and a system of credit was wanting.” Mommsen also, in his “History of Rome,” commits, in this respect, one blunder after another.

[3] Hence legislation in various countries fixes a maximum for labour-contracts. Wherever free labour is the rule, the laws regulate the mode of terminating this contract. In some States, particularly in Mexico (before the American Civil War, also in the territories taken from Mexico, and also, as a matter of fact, in the Danubian provinces till the revolution effected by Kusa), slavery is hidden under the form of peonage. By means of advances, repayable in labour, which are handed down from generation to generation, not only the individual labourer, but his family, become, de facto, the property of other persons and their families. Juarez abolished peonage. The so-called Emperor Maximilian re-established it by a decree, which, in the House of Representatives at Washington, was aptly denounced as a decree for the re-introduction of slavery into Mexico. “I may make over to another the use, for a limited time, of my particular bodily and mental aptitudes and capabilities; because in consequence of this restriction, they are impressed with a character of alienation with regard to me as a whole. But by the alienation of all my labour-time and the whole of my work, I should be converting the substance itself, in other words, my general activity and reality, my person, into the property of another.” (Hegel, “Philosophie des Rechts.” Berlin, 1840, p. 104, § 67.)

[4] The capitalist epoch is therefore characterised by this, that labour-power takes in the eyes of the labourer himself the form of a commodity which is his property; his labour consequently becomes wage-labour. On the other hand, it is only from this moment that the produce of labour universally becomes a commodity.

[5] “The value or worth of a man, is as of all other things his price — that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power.” (Th. Hobbes: “Leviathan” in Works, Ed. Molesworth. Lond. 1839-44, v. iii. p. 76.)

[6] Hence the Roman Villicus, as overlooker of the agricultural slaves, received “more meagre fare than working slaves, because his work was lighter.” (Th. Mommsen, Röm. Geschichte, 1856, p. 810.)

[7] Compare W. Th. Thornton: “Over-population and its Remedy,” Lond., 1846.

[8] Petty.

[9] “Its (labour’s) natural price ... consists in such a quantity of necessaries and comforts of life, as, from the nature of the climate, and the habits of the country, are necessary to support the labourer, and to enable him to rear such a family as may preserve, in the market, an undiminished supply of labour.” (R. Torrens: “An Essay on the External Corn Trade.” Lond. 1815, p. 62.) The word labour is here wrongly used for labour-power.

[10] Rossi: “Cours d’Econ. Polit.,” Bruxelles, 1842, p. 370.

[11] Sismondi: “Nouv. Princ. etc.,” t. I, p. 112.

[12] “All labour is paid after it has ceased.” (“An Inquiry into those Principles Respecting the Nature of Demand,” &c., p. 104.) Le crédit commercial a dû commencer au moment où l’ouvrier, premier artisan de la production, a pu, au moyen de ses économies, attendre le salaire de son travail jusqu’à la fin de la semaine, de la quinzaine, du mois, du trimestre, &c.” (Ch. Ganilh: “Des Systèmes d’Econ. Polit.” 2éme édit. Paris, 1821, t. II, p. 150.)

[13] “L’ouvrier prête son industrie,” but adds Storch slyly: he “risks nothing” except “de perdre son salaire ... l’ouvrier ne transmet rien de matériel.” (Storch: “Cours d’Econ. Polit.” Pétersbourg, 1815, t. II., p. 37.)

[14] One example. In London there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced,” who sell bread at its full value, and the “undersellers,” who sell it under its value. The latter class comprises more than three-fourths of the total number of bakers. (p. xxxii in the Report of H. S. Tremenheere, commissioner to examine into “the grievances complained of by the journeymen bakers”, &c., Lond. 1862.) The undersellers, almost without exception, sell bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl ashes, chalk, Derbyshire stone-dust, and such like agreeable nourishing and wholesome ingredients. (See the above cited Blue book, as also the report of “the committee of 1855 on the adulteration of bread,” and Dr. Hassall’s “Adulterations Detected,” 2nd Ed. Lond. 1861.) Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855, that “in consequence of these adulterations, the poor man, who lives on two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one fourth part of nourishing matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.” Tremenheere states (l. c., p. xlviii), as the reason, why a very large part of the working-class, although well aware of this adulteration, nevertheless accept the alum, stone-dust, &c., as part of their purchase: that it is for them “a matter of necessity to take from their baker or from the chandler’s shop, such bread as they choose to supply.” As they are not paid their wages before the end of the week, they in their turn are unable “to pay for the bread consumed by their families, during the week, before the end of the week”, and Tremenheere adds on the evidence of witnesses, “it is notorious that bread composed of those mixtures, is made expressly for sale in this manner.” In many English and still more Scotch agricultural districts, wages are paid fortnightly and even monthly; with such long intervals between the payments, the agricultural labourer is obliged to buy on credit.... He must pay higher prices, and is in fact tied to the shop which gives him credit. Thus at Horningham in Wilts, for example, where the wages are monthly, the same flour that he could buy elsewhere at ls 10d per stone, costs him 2s 4d per stone. (“Sixth Report” on “Public Health” by “The Medical Officer of the Privy Council, &c., 1864,” p.264.) “The block printers of Paisley and Kilmarnock enforced, by a strike, fortnightly, instead of monthly payment of wages.” (“Reports of the Inspectors of Factories for 31st Oct., 1853,” p. 34.) As a further pretty result of the credit given by the workmen to the capitalist, we may refer to the method current in many English coal mines, where the labourer is not paid till the end of the month, and in the meantime, receives sums on account from the capitalist, often in goods for which the miner is obliged to pay more than the market price (Truck-system). “It is a common practice with the coal masters to pay once a month, and advance cash to their workmen at the end of each intermediate week. The cash is given in the shop” (i.e., the Tommy shop which belongs to the master); “the men take it on one side and lay it out on the other.” (“Children’s Employment Commission, III. Report,” Lond. 1864, p. 38, n. 192.)

Transcribed by Hinrich Kuhls

Reproduced from the Marx-Internet Archive at





Reproduced from the Marx-Internet Archive at



A group of people sharing common relations to labor and the means of production.

In the process of production, human beings work not only upon nature, but also upon one another. They produce only by working together in a specified manner and reciprocally exchanging their activities. In order to produce, they enter into definite connections and relations to one another, and only within these social connections and relations does their influence upon nature operate — i.e., does production take place.

These social relations between the producers, and the conditions under which they exchange their activities and share in the total act of production, will naturally vary according to the character of the means of production.

(Karl Marx: Wage Labour and Capital, Chpt. 5: The Nature and Growth of Capital)

The notion of class, as it is used by Marxists, differs radically from the notion of class as used in bourgeois social theory. According to modern capitalist thinking, class is an abstract universal defined by the common attributes of its members (i.e., all who make less than $20,000 a year constitute a “lower” class); categories and conceptions that have an existence prior to and independent of the people who make up the class.

For dialectical materialism however, the notion of class includes the development of collective consciousness in a class – arising from the material basis of having in common relations to the labour process and the means of production.

Gender and Race

Gender and race issues are often compared to class, but gender and race struggle have their own material bases in society distinct from class, but exist within the class structure. The existence of the working class is created by the capitalist mode of production – capitalism could not survive without wage labor – therefore the political emancipation of the working class as a whole can only be achieved through revolution. Capitalism can survive, and in fact necessitates the need for completely free labor, with equality between workers of all races and genders; thus women and minorities, through tremendous and painful struggles, slowly gain political emancipation through reformist movements («women’s liberation», «civil rights», etc.). The struggle of gender and race are critical political and social issues, because without these struggles and victories there can be no real unity between workers. Unity is imperative for workers to free all humanity from exploitation, so long as workers are divided, we will continue to be conquered. For further readings see the subject section on Marxism on Women.

Bourgeois Society (or “capitalism”)

Bourgeois Society is the social formation in which the commodity relation – the relation of buying and selling – has spread into every corner of life. The family and the state still exist, but – the family is successively broken down and atomised, more and more resembling a relationship of commercial contract, rather than one genuinely expressing kinship and the care of one generation for the other; the state retains its essential instruments of violence, but more and more comes under the sway of commercial interests, reduced to acting as a buyer and seller of services on behalf of the community.

The ruling class in bourgeois society is the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production as Private Property, despite the fact that the productive forces have become entirely socialised and operate on the scale of the world market.

The producing class in bourgeois society is the proletariat, a class of people who have nothing to sell but their capacity to work; since all the means of production belong to the bourgeoisie, workers have no choice but to offer their labour-power for sale to the bourgeoisie.

This system of buying and selling labour-power is called wage-labour and is characteristic of bourgeois society, though it has been around since the Peasant Revolt of 1381. The classic form of wage labour is payment for work by the hour or week. Nowadays many workers work on the basis of contracts and piece-work but these forms only disguise the underlying relationship, which remains that of wage-labour.

Money and all forms of credit reach their highest development in bourgeois society. As a result, life in bourgeois society “happens” to people in much the same way as the weather happens to people, with money flowing around apparently according to its own laws.

To put this another way, in bourgeois society there is a “fetishism” of commodities;– just as tribal peoples believed that their lives were being determined by trees and animals and natural forces possessing human powers, in bourgeois society, people’s lives are driven by money and other commodities, whose value is determined by extramundane forces; instead of ethics and morality being governed by traditional systems of belief and imagined spiritual forces, there is just the ethic of cash-payment.

NB: The German for “bourgeois society” is bürgerliche Gesellschaft, and this is usually translated into English as “Civil Society”.

See Engels’ discussion of the translation of bürgerliche Gesellschaft in his Letter to Marx, 23rd September 1852.

This phrase was originally meant to refer to that “war of all against all” that grew up outside of both the state and family, governed only by money. Nowadays, “civil society” is frequently used to denote that domain outside of the state and business – voluntary association of various kinds.


The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labour power and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for labour...

How did the proletariat originate?

The Proletariat originated in the industrial revolution... [which was] precipitated by the discovery of the steam engine, various spinning machines, the mechanical loom, and a whole series of other mechanical devices. These machines, which were very expensive and hence could be bought only by big capitalists, altered the whole mode of production and displaced the former workers, because the machines turned out cheaper and better commodities than the workers could produce with their inefficient spinning wheels and handlooms. The machines delivered industry wholly into the hands of the big capitalists and rendered entirely worthless the meager property of the workers (tools, looms, etc.). The result was that the capitalists soon had everything in their hands and nothing remained to the workers....

labour was more and more divided among the individual workers so that the worker who previously had done a complete piece of work now did only a part of that piece. This division of labour made it possible to produce things faster and cheaper. It reduced the activity of the individual worker to simple, endlessly repeated mechanical motions which could be performed not only as well but much better by a machine. In this way, all these industries fell, one after another, under the dominance of steam, machinery, and the factory system, just as spinning and weaving had already done.

(Fredrick Engels: Principles of Communism)

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce.

Karl Marx: Communist Manfesto: Bourgeois and Proletarians

The following features of Marx’s definition of the proletariat should be noted: (1) proletariat is synonymous with “modern working class”, (2) proletarians have no means of support other than selling their labour power, (3) their position makes them dependent upon capital, (4) it is the expansion of capital, as opposed to servicing the personal or administrative needs of capitalists, which is the defining role of the proletariat, (4) proletarians sell themselves as opposed to selling products like the petty-bourgeoisie and capitalists, (5) they sell themselves “piecemeal” as opposed to slaves who may be sold as a whole and become the property of someone else, (6) although the term “labourers” carries the connotation of manual labour, elsewhere Marx makes it clear that the labourer with the head is as much a proletarian as the labourer with the hand, and finally (7) the proletariat is a class.

The proletariat is not a sociological category of people in such-and-such income group and such-and-such occupations, etc., but rather a real, historically developed entity, with its own self-consciousness and means of collective action. The relation between an individual proletarian and the class is not that of non-dialectical sociology, in which an individual with this or that attribute is or is not a member of the class. Rather, individuals are connected to a class by a million threads through which they participate in the general social division of labour and the struggle over the distribution of surplus value.

One issue that needs to be considered in relation to the definition of Proletariat is Wage Labour. Wage labour is the archtypal form in which the proletariat engages in the labour process, that is, by the sale of a worker’s labour-power according to labour-time. Firstly, Marx treats piece-work, in which the worker is paid by output rather than by time, as a form of wage-labour, not essentially different from wage-labour. Secondly, nowadays it is increasingly common that workers are obliged to sell their product as such, by means of contract labour, for example. This raises the question of what is essential in the concept of proletariat. Contract labour does undermine working-class consciousness, but at the same time, the person who lives in a capitalist society, and has no means of support but to work, is a proletarian, even if they are unable to find employment(where workers may become lumpenproletariat if their living conditions are very difficult).

The other important issue in relation to the proletariat is its historical path. As Marx explains in Capital, [Chapter 32], capitalism brings about the “revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself”. The proletariat neither requires nor is able to exploit any other class; they are themselves the producers and capitalism has trained the proletariat in all the skills needed to rationally organise social labour for the benefit of humanity, without the aid of money, religion or any other form of inhuman mysticism.

Thus, the future historical significance of the proletariat is ultimately not that it is oppressed, but rather that it is the only class which is capable of overthrowing bourgeois society and establishing a classless society.


The state is the institution of organised violence which is used by the ruling class of a country to maintain the conditions of its rule. Thus, it is only in a society which is divided between hostile social classes that the state exists:

“The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonism objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.” [Lenin, 1917, The State and Revolution]

Since the objective of socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class and the overthrow of capitalism, the first task of the proletariat is conquest of state power:

“the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.” [Communist Manifesto, Chapter 2]

The machinery of violence that the bourgeoisie has selected, trained and appointed for the purpose of hoodwinking and crushing the workers can hardly be of much use to the working class however:

“the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes. ... The first decree of the Commune, therefore, was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people.” [Marx, Civil War in France]

While the conquest of state power is necessary to prevent the capitalists from restoring capitalism and to create the conditions for a genuinely free association of producers:

“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” [Critique of the Gotha Program, Chapter 4]

The workers’ state is however quite a different kind of thing as compared to the bourgeois state. The whole point is to do away with the exploitation of person by person and do away with class divisions, and do away, therefore, with any need for a state:

“When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not “abolished”. It withers away.” [Frederick Engels Anti-Dühring, Part III, Ch. 2]

Historical Development: In Tribal Society, the division of labour was organised generally around gender and age and family ties, and no special organisation of violence was required to enforce these relations. In tribal society, people produced only just enough to keep themselves and their community, and did not produce any surplus, so there was little room for exploitation.

Increases in the productivity of labour arising from the development of agriculture opened the possibility for slavery. With the influx of outsiders into the ancient cities, or as a result of conquests, large numbers of slaves were acquired. Slaves could be made to work and a surplus extracted form their labour, and this meant that for the first time, a special organisation of violence, a state, was necessary. Thus Slave Society created a state for the purpose of keeping the slaves in check; the slaves lay outside society and had no rights, and were counted as property in just the same way as the livestock.

“The increase of production in all branches — cattle-raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts — gave human labour-power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance. At the same time it increased the daily amount of work to be done by each member of the gens, household community or single family. It was now desirable to bring in new labour forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves. With its increase of the productivity of labour, and therefore of wealth, and its extension of the field of production, the first great social division of labour was bound, in the general historical conditions prevailing, to bring slavery in its train. From the first great social division of labour arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited. [Origin of the Family, Chapter 9]

After the collapse of slave society, Feudal Society grew up in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Here an organisation of violence was needed for defence against outsiders, in just the same way as the tribe had had to defend itself against invaders. However, this organisation for self-defence grew up on the basis of agriculture and a much more developed, class-based division of labour. Feudal society was characterised by an immensely developed class structure built around kinship relations.- Kings, Princes, Barons, Bishops, Monks, Yeomen and Serfs, each had their own, though by no means equal, rights and obligations, including property and well-defined rights of inheritance.

The important thing about feudal society is that the state did not appear to stand above society; feudal society was in a sense one big state, a hierarchy in which everyone had their place, both king and serf; the king and his yeomen were an integral part of the state. The relation of every person to the state was defined through kinship relations just as was their role in the social division of labour.

With the expansion of trade, a class of merchants, with ever increasing wealth, embryonic capital, accumulated outside the feudal system. The introduction of sheep and cattle grazing pushed millions of peasants off their land, to wander the countryside as paupers. Processes of this kind brought about a “bourgeois society” in the midst of feudal society as a realm of economic activity lying outside feudal right, unregulated by the ethics and traditional relations of feudal society, and laid the basis for the Industrial Revolution.

The vast network of kinship relations characteristic of feudal society was shattered; on the one side remained the family, which still survives in the residual nuclear family household of today; on the other, was the political pinnacle of feudal society, the kingly state. This state was successively weakened and undermined by the growth of bourgeois society.

The bourgeoisie had to break the power of the feudal state in order to develop trade and industry and to protect their own class interests, and the first bourgeois revolution was Oliver Cromwell’s English Revolution of 1640; later came the French Revolution of 1789. There was of course nothing democratic or peaceful about these revolutions, by means of which the conditions for capitalist accumulation were created.

Bourgeois theory of the State

The bourgeois theory of the state was developed by Thomas Hobbes, who saw the state as necessary to prevent society descending into “a war of all against all”. For John Locke, the role of the state was to preserve property and personal freedom. Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that the state was based on a social contract binding all members of a society, while Hegel saw the state as an expression of the Universal Will and opposed the idea of the state as a guardian of property, which he saw as the role of Civil Society. Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right, pointed out that the state expressed the conflicts in “civil society”, and its separation from the family and civil society was characteristic of the emergence of modern (i.e. bourgeois) society. For Hegel, the State was the “March of Reason in the World”.

In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the young Marx criticised Hegel’s conception as the “society of mutual reconciliation” and insisted that the conflict between labour and capital could not be reconciled and that the state was therefore necessarily an expression of the dominant forces within bourgeois society — capital.

So under capitalism, a special organisation of violence is required to maintain the conditions of legalised theft on which capitalism is based. This state must give the appearance of standing above the conflicts of bourgeois society.

“In possession of the public power and the right of taxation, the officials now present themselves as organs of society standing above society. The free, willing respect accorded to the organs of the gentile constitution is not enough for them, even if they could have it. Representatives of a power which estranges them from society, they have to be given prestige by means of special decrees, which invest them with a peculiar sanctity and inviolability. The lowest police officer of the civilised state has more “authority” than all the organs of gentile society put together; but the mightiest prince and the greatest statesman or general of civilisation might envy the humblest of the gentile chiefs the unforced and unquestioned respect accorded to him. For the one stands in the midst of society; the other is forced to pose as something outside and above it.” [Frederick Engels Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State]

The state therefore develops into what appears to be genuinely an expression of the will of the whole people:

“political recognition of property differences is, however, by no means essential. On the contrary, it marks a low stage in the development of the state. The highest form of the state, the democratic republic, which in our modern social conditions becomes more and more an unavoidable necessity and is the form of state in which alone the last decisive battle between proletariat and bourgeoisie can be fought out — the democratic republic no longer officially recognises differences of property. Wealth here employs its power indirectly, but all the more surely. It does this in two ways: by plain corruption of officials, of which America is the classic example, and by an alliance between the government and the stock exchange, which is effected all the more easily the higher the state debt mounts and the more the joint-stock companies concentrate in their hands not only transport but also production itself, and themselves have their own center in the stock exchange. ... And lastly the possessing class rules directly by means of universal suffrage. As long as the oppressed class — in our case, therefore, the proletariat — is not yet ripe for its self-liberation, so long will it, in its majority, recognise the existing order of society as the only possible one and remain politically the tail of the capitalist class, its extreme left wing.” [Origins of the Family]

The meaning of the working class “winning the battle of democracy” [Communist Manifesto] is clear then. The working class must be ready for its self-liberation when it overthrows the capitalist state. Once the working class is ready and able to take the power, the parliamentary façade with which the state has surrounded itself will be thrown aside, and workers will face the institution of organised violence which the state has always been from its beginning.

“On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage shows boiling-point among the workers, they as well as the capitalists will know where they stand.” [Origins of the Family]

Postmodern theorists, on the other hand, minimise the significance of the State, generally holding that power has been so decentred by the complexity and freedom of postmodern capitalism that an authoritarian and repressive state is an impossibility. Instead they look to interpersonal relations as the mechanism for oppression (sexism for example, is not enforced so much by a patriarchal state and sexist laws, but by the interpersonal coercion of millions of women by millions of men). This conception is however an illusion possible only for people living in relatively privileged conditions in imperialist countries. The power of the state is obvious to workers having their picket lines busted by police, or Palestinians having their homes blown up by Israeli soldiers.

Marxists refer to this “bourgeois democracy”, in which people vote once every four or five years in huge geographical electorates to elect representatives to sit in a legislature which never has a chance of legislating socialism, as dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Every one has equal rights, but everyone does not have equal power. Bourgeois democracy is a façade masking class dictatorship.

“The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave-owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument for exploiting wage-labour by capital.

“The state has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it, which had no notion of the state or state power. At a definite stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the cleavage of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this cleavage. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity, but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they once arose. The state inevitably falls with them. The society which organises production anew on the basis of free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong — into the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.” [Origins of the Family]


Economy and Society


From: Max Weber: Economy and Society; (Page numbers in brackets)


9. Action in the sense of subjectively understandable orientation of behavior exists only as the behavior of one or more individual human beings. For other cognitive purposes it may be useful or necessary to consider the individual, for instance, as a collection of cells, as a complex of bio-chemical reactions, or to conceive his psychic life as made up of a variety of different elements, however these may be defined. Undoubtedly such procedures yield valuable knowledge of causal relationships. But the behavior of these elements, as expressed in such uniformities, is not subjectively understandable. This is true even of psychic elements because the more precisely they are formulated from a point of view of natural science, the less they are accessible to subjective understanding. This is never the road to interpretation in terms of subjective meaning. On the contrary, both for sociology in the present sense, and for history, the object of cognition is the subjective meaning-complex of action. The behavior of physiological entities such as cells, or of any sort of psychic elements, may at least in principle be observed and an attempt made to derive uniformities from such observations. It is further possible to attempt, with their help, to obtain a causal explanation of individual phe­nomena, that is, to subsume them under uniformities. But the subjective understanding of action takes the same account of this type of fact and uniformity as of any others not capable of subjective interpretation. (This is true, for example, of physical, astronomical, geological, meteorological, geographical, botanical, zoological, and anatomical facts, of those aspects of psycho-pathology which are devoid of subjective meaning, or of the natural conditions of technological processes.)

For still other cognitive purposes-for instance, juristic ones-or for practical ends, it may on the other hand be convenient or even indispensable to treat social collectivities, such as states, associations, business corporations, foundations, as if they were individual persons. Thus they may be treated as the subjects of rights and duties or as the performers of legally significant actions. But for the subjective interpretation of action in sociological work these collectivities must be treated as solely the resultants and modes of organization of the particular acts of individual persons, since these alone can be treated as agents in a course of subjectively understandable action. Nevertheless, the sociologist cannot for his purposes afford to ignore these collective concepts derived from other disciplines. For the subjective interpretation of action has at least three (14) important relations to these concepts. In the first place it is often necessary to employ very similar collective concepts, indeed often using the same terms, in order to obtain an intelligible terminology. Thus both in legal terminology and in everyday speech the term “state” is used both for the legal concept of the state and for the phenomena of social action to which its legal rules are relevant. For sociological purposes, however, the phenomenon “the state” does not consist necessarily or even primarily of the elements which are relevant to legal analysis; and for sociological purposes there is no such thing as a collective personality which “acts.” When reference is made in a sociological context to a state, a nation, a corporation, a family, or an army corps, or to similar collectivities, what is meant is, on the contrary, only a certain kind of development of actual or possible social actions of individual persons. Both because of its precision and because it is established in general usage the juristic con­cept is taken over, but is used in an entirely different meaning.

Secondly, the subjective interpretation of action must Jake account of a fundamentally important fact. These concepts of collective entities which are found both in common sense and in juristic and ‘other technical forms of thought, have a meaning in the minds of individual persons, partly as of something actually existing, partly as something with normative authority. This is true not only of judges and officials, but of ordinary private individuals as well. Actors thus in part orient their action to them, and in this role such ideas have a powerful, often a decisive, causal influence on the course of action of real individuals. This is above all true where the ideas involve normative prescription or pro­hibition. Thus, for instance, one of the important aspects of the existence of a modern state, precisely as a complex of social interaction of individual persons, consists in the fact that the action of various indi­viduals is oriented to the belief that it exists or should exist, thus that its acts and laws are valid in the legal sense. This will be further dis­cussed below. Though extremely pedantic and cumbersome, it would be possible, if purposes of sociological terminology alone were involved, to eliminate such terms entirely, and substitute newly-coined words. This would be possible even though the word “state” is used ordinarily not only to designate the legal concept but also the real process of action. But in the above important connexion, at least, this would naturally be impossible.



11. We have taken for granted that sociology seeks to formulate type concepts and generalized uniformities of empirical process. This distinguishes it from history, which is oriented to the causal analysis and explanation of individual actions, structures, and personalities possessing cultural significance. The empirical material which underlies the concepts of sociology consists to a very large extent, though by no means exclusively, of the same concrete processes of action which are dealt with by historians. An important consideration in the formulation of sociological concepts and generalizations is the contribution that sociology (20) can make toward the casual explanation of some historically and culturally important phenomenon. As in the case of every generalizing science the abstract character of the concepts of sociology is responsible for the fact that, compared with actual historical reality, they are relatively lacking in fullness of concrete content. To compensate for this disadvantage sociological analysis can offer a greater precision of concepts. This precision is obtained by striving for the highest possible degree of adequacy on the level of meaning. It has already been repeatedly stressed that this aim can be realized in a particularly high degree in the case of concepts and generalizations which formulate rational processes. But sociological investigation attempts to include in its scope various irrational phenomena, such as prophetic, mystic, and affectual modes of action, formulated in terms of theoretical concepts which are adequate on the level of meaning. In all cases, rational or irrational sociological analysis both abstracts from reality and at the same time helps us to understand it, in that it shows with what degree of approximation a concrete historical phenomenon can be subsumed under one or more of these concepts. For example, the same historical phenome­non may be in one aspect feudal, in another patrimonial, in another bureaucratic, and in still another charismatic. In order to give a precise meaning to these terms, it is necessary for the sociologist to formulate pure ideal types of the corresponding forms of action which in each case involve the highest possible degree of logical integration by virtue of their complete adequacy on the level of meaning. But precisely because this is true, it is probably seldom if ever that a’ real phenomenon can be found which corresponds exactly to one of these ideally constructed pure types. The case is similar to a physical reaction which has been cal­culated on the assumption of an absolute vacuum. Theoretical differentiation (Kasuistik) is possible in sociology only in terms of ideal or pure types. It goes without saying that in addition it is convenient for the sociologist from time to time to employ average types of an em­pirical statistical character, concepts which do not require methodological discussion. But when reference is made to “typical” cases, the term should always be understood, unless otherwise stated, as meaning ideal types, which may in turn be rational or irrational as the case may be (thus in economic theory they are always rational), but in any case are always constructed with a view to adequacy on the level of meaning.

It is important to realize that in the sociological field as elsewhere, averages, and hence average types, can be formulated with a relative degree of precision only where they are concerned with differences of degree in respect to action which remains qualitatively the same. Such cases do occur, but in the majority of cases of action important to history (21) or sociology the motives which determine it are qualitatively heterogeneous. Then it is quite impossible to speak of an “average” in the true sense. The ideal types of social action which for instance are used in economic theory are thus unrealistic or abstract in that they always ask what course of action would take place if it were purely rational and oriented to economic ends alone. This construction can be used to aid in the under­standing of action not purely economically determined but which in­volves deviations arising from traditional restraints, affects, errors, and the intrusion of other than economic purposes or considerations. This can take place in two ways. First, in analysing the extent to which in the concrete case, or on the average for a class of cases, the action was in part economically determined along with the other factors. Secondly, by throwing the discrepancy between the actual course of events and the ideal type into relief, the analysis of the non-economic motives actually involved is facilitated. The procedure would be very similar in employing an ideal type of mystical orientation, with its appropriate attitude of indifference to worldly things, as a tool -for analysing its consequences for the actor’s relation to ordinary life-for instance, to political or eco­nomic affairs. The more sharply and precisely the ideal type has been constructed, thus the more abstract and unrealistic in this sense it is, the better it is able to perform its functions in formulating terminology, classifications, and hypotheses. In working out a concrete causal explanation of individual events, the procedure of the historian is essentially the same. Thus in attempting to explain the campaign of 1866, it is indispensable both in the case of Moltke and of Benedek to attempt to construct imaginatively how each, given fully adequate knowledge both of his own situation and of that of his opponent, would have acted. Then it is possible to compare with this the actual course of action and to arrive at a causal explanation of the observed deviations, which will be attributed to such factors as misinformation, strategical errors, logical fallacies, personal temperament, or considerations outside the realm of strategy. Here, too, an ideal-typical construction of rational action is actually employed even though it is not made explicit.

The theoretical concepts of sociology are ideal types not only from the objective point of view, but also in their application to subjective processes. In the great majority of cases actual action goes on in a state of inarticulate half-consciousness or actual unconsciousness of its subjective meaning. The actor is more likely to “be aware” of it in a vague sense than he is to “know” what he is doing or be explicitly self-conscious about it. In most cases his action is governed by impulse or habit. Only occasionally and, in the uniform action of large numbers, often only in the case of a few individuals, is the subjective meaning of the action, whether (22) rational or irrational, brought clearly into consciousness. The ideal type of meaningful action where the meaning is fully conscious and explicit is a marginal case. Every sociological or historical investigation, in apply­ing its analysis to the empirical facts, must take this fact into account. But the difficulty need not prevent the sociologist from systematizing his concepts by the classification of possible types of subjectivity meaning. That is, he may reason as if action actually proceeded on the basis of clearly self-conscious meaning. The resulting deviation from the concrete facts must continually be kept in mind whenever it is a question of this level of concreteness, and must be carefully studied with reference both to degree and kind. It is often necessary to choose between terms which are either clear or unclear. Those which are clear will, to be sure, have the abstractness of ideal types, but they are none the less preferable for scientific purposes. (On all these questions see” ‘Objectivity’ in Social  Science and Social Policy.”)


I. Social action, which includes both failure to act and passive acquiescence, may be oriented to the past, present, or expected future behavior of others. Thus it may be motivated by revenge. For a past attack, defence against present, or measures of defence against future aggression. The “others” may be individual persons, and may be known to the actor as such, or may constitute an indefinite plurality and may be entirely unknown as individuals. (Thus, money is a means of ex­change which the actor accepts in payment because he orients his action to the expectation that a large but unknown number of individuals he is personally unacquainted with will be ready to accept it in exchange on some future occasion.)

2. Not every kind of action, even of overt action, is “social” in the sense of the present discussion. Overt action is non-social if it is oriented solely to the behavior of inanimate objects. Subjective attitudes constitute social action only so far as they are oriented to the behavior of others. For example, religious behavior is not social if it is simply a matter of contemplation or of solitary prayer. The economic activity of an individual is social only if it takes account of the behavior of someone else. Thus very generally it becomes social insofar as the actor assumes that others will respect his actual control over economic goods. Concretely it is social, for instance, if in relation to the actor’s own consumption the future wants of others are taken into account and this becomes one considera­tion affecting the actor’s own saving. Or, in another connexion, production may be oriented to the future wants of other people.

(23) 3. Not every type of contact of human beings has a social character; this is rather confined to cases where the actor’s behavior is meaningfully oriented to that of others. For example, a mere collision of two cyclists may be compared to a natural event. On the other hand, their attempt to avoid hitting each other, or whatever insults, blows, or friendly discussion might follow the collision, would constitute “social action.”

4. Social action is not identical either with the similar actions of many persons or with every action influenced by other persons. Thus, if at the beginning of a shower a number of people on the street put up their umbrellas at the same time, this would not ordinarily be a case of action mutually oriented to that of each other, but rather of all reacting in the same way to the like need of protection from the rain. It is well known that the actions of the individual are strongly influenced by the mere fact that he is a member of a crowd confined within a limited space. Thus, the subject matter of studies of “crowd psychology,” such as those of Le Bon, will be called “action conditioned by crowds.” It is also possible for large numbers, though dispersed, to be influenced simultaneously or successively by a source of influence operating similarly on all the individuals, as by means of the press. Here also the behavior of an individual is influenced by his membership in a “mass” and by the fact that he is aware of being a member. Some types of reaction are only made possible by the mere fact that the individual acts as part of a crowd. Others become more difficult under these conditions. Hence it is possible that a particular event or mode of human behavior can give rise to the most diverse kinds of feeling-gaiety, anger, enthusiasm, despair, and passions of all sorts-in a crowd situation which would not occur at all or not nearly so readily if the individual were alone. But for this to happen there need not, at least in many cases, be any meaningful relation between the behavior of the individual and the fact that he is a member of a crowd. It is not proposed in the present sense to call action “social” when it is merely a result of the effect on the individual of the existence of a crowd as such and the action is not oriented to that fact on the level of meaning. At the same time the borderline is naturally highly indefinite. In such cases as that of the influence of the demagogue, there may be a wide variation in the extent to which his mass clientele is affected by a meaningful reaction to the fact of its large numbers; and whatever this relation may be, it is open to varying interpretations.

But furthermore, mere “imitation” of the action of others, such as that on which Tarde has rightly laid emphasis, will not be considered a case of specifically social action if it is purely reactive so that there is no meaningful orientation to the actor imitated. The borderline is, however, so indefinite that it is often hardly possible to discriminate. The mere (24) fact that a person is found to employ some apparently useful procedure which he learned from someone else does not, however, constitute, in the present sense, social action. Action such as this is not oriented to the action of the other person, but the actor has, through observing the other, become acquainted with certain objective facts; and it is these to which his action is oriented. His action is then causally determined by the action of others, but not meaningfully. On the other hand, if the action of others is imitated because it is fashionable or traditional or exemplary, or lends social distinction, or on similar grounds, it is meaningfully oriented either to the behavior of the source of imitation or of third persons or of both. There are of course all manner of transitional cases between the two types of imitation. Both the phenomena discussed above, the behavior of crowds and imitation, stand on the indefinite borderline of social action. The same is true, as will often appear, of traditionalism and charisma. The reason for the indefiniteness of the line in these and other cases lies in the fact that both the orientation to the behavior of others and the meaning which can be imputed by the actor himself, are by no means always capable of clear determination and are often altogether unconscious and seldom fully self-conscious. Mere “influence” and meaningful orientation cannot therefore always be clearly differentiated on the empirical level. But conceptually it is essential to distinguish them, even though merely reactive imitation may well have a degree of sociological importance at least equal to that of the type which can be called social action in the strict sense. Sociology, it goes without saying, is by no means confined to the study of social action; this is only, at least for the kind of sociology being developed here, ‘its central subject matter, that which may be said to be decisive for its status as a science. But this does not imply any judgment on the comparative importance of this and other factors.

2. Types of Social Action

Social action, like all action, may be oriented in four ways. It may be:

(I) instrumentally rational (zweckrational) , that is, determined by expectations as to the behavior of objects in the environment and of other human beings; these expectations are used as “conditions” or “means” for the attainment of the actor’s own rationally pursued and, calculated ends;

(2) value-rational (wertrational), that is, determined by a conscious (25) belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious, or other form of behavior, independently of its prospects of success;

(3) affectual (especially emotional), that is, determined by the actor’s specific affects and feeling states;

(4) traditional, that is, determined by ingrained habituation.

1. Strictly traditional behavior, like the reactive type of imitation discussed above, lies very close to the borderline of what can justifiably be called meaningful oriented action, and indeed often on the other side. For it is very often a matter of almost automatic reaction to habitual stimuli which guide behavior in a course which has been repeatedly followed. The great bulk of all everyday action to which people have become habitually accustomed approaches this type. Hence, its place in a systematic classification is not merely that of a limiting case because, as will be shown later, attachment to habitual forms can be up­held with varying degrees of self-consciousness and in a variety of senses. In this case the type may shade over into value rationality (Wertrationalität).

2. Purely affectual behavior also stands on the borderline of what can be considered “meaningfully” oriented, and often it, too, goes over the line. It. may, for instance, consist in an uncontrolled reaction to some exceptional stimulus. It is a case of sublimation when affectually determined action occurs in the form of conscious release ‘of emotional tension. When this happens it is usually well on the road to rationali­zation in one or the other or both of the above senses.

3. The orientation of value-rational action is distinguished from the affectual type by its clearly self-conscious formulation of the ultimate values governing the action and the consistently planned orientation of its detailed course to these values. At the same time the two types have a common element, namely that the meaning of the action does not lie in the achievement of a result ulterior to it, but in carrying out the speci­fic type of action for its own sake. Action is affectual if it satisfies a need for revenge, sensual gratification, devotion, contemplative bliss, or for working off emotional tensions (irrespective of the level of sublimation).

Examples of pure value-rational orientation would be the actions of persons who, regardless of possible cost to themselves, act to put into practice their convictions of what seems to them to be required by duty, honor, the pursuit of beauty, a religious call, personal loyalty, or the importance of some “cause” no matter in what it consists. In our termi­nology, value-rational action always involves “commands” or “demands” which, in the actor’s opinion, are binding on him. It is only in cases where human action is motivated by the fulfillment of such unconditional demands that it will be called value-rational. This is the case in widely varying degrees, but for the most part only a relatively slight extent.  Nevertheless, it will be shown that the occurrence of this mode of action is important enough to justify its formulation as a distinct type; (26) though it may be remarked that there is no intention here of attempting to formulate in any sense an exhaustive classification of types of action.

4. Action is instrumentally rational (zweckrational) when the end, the means, and the secondary results are all rationally taken into account and weighed. This involves rational consideration of alternative means to the end, of the relations of the end to the secondary consequences, and finally of the relative importance of different possible ends. Determination of action either in affectual or in traditional terms is thus incompatible with this type. Choice between alternative and conflicting ends and results may well be determined in a value-rational manner. In that case, action is instrumentally rational only in respect to the choice of means. On the other hand, the actor may, instead of deciding between alternative and conflicting ends in terms of a rational orientation to a system of values, simply take them as given subjective wants and arrange them in a scale of consciously assessed relative urgency. He may then orient’ his action to this scale in such a way that they are satisfied as far as possible in order ‘of urgency, as formulated in the principle of “marginal utility.” Value-rational action may thus have various different relations to the instrumentally rational action. From the latter point of view, however, value-rationality is always irrational. Indeed, the more the value to which action is oriented is elevated to the status of an absolute value, the more “irrational” in this sense the corresponding action is. For, the more unconditionally the actor devotes himself to this value for its own sake, to pure sentiment or beauty, to absolute goodness or devotion to duty, the less is he influenced by considerations of the consequences of his action. The orientation of action wholly to the rational achievement of ends without relation to funda­mental values is, to be sure, essentially only a limiting case.

5. It would be very unusual to find concrete cases of action, especially of social action, which were oriented only in one or another of these ways. Furthermore, this classification of the modes of orientation of action is in no sense meant t9 exhaust the’ possibilities of the field, but only to formulate in conceptually pure form certain sociologically important types to which actual action is more or less closely approximated or, in much the more common case, which constitute its elements. The usefulness of the classification for the purposes of this investigation can only be judged in terms of its results.

3. The Concept of Social Relationship

The term “social relationship” will be used to denote the behavior of a plurality of actors insofar as, in its meaningful content, the action of each takes account of that of the others and is oriented in these terms. The social relationship thus consists entirely and exclusively in the exist-(27) ence of a probability that there will be a meaningful course of social action  irrespective, for the time being, of the basis for this probability.

I. Thus, as a defining criterion, it is essential that there should be at least a minimum of mutual orientation of the action of each to that of the others. Its content may be of the most varied nature: conflict, hostility, sexual attraction, friendship, loyalty, or economic exchange. It may involve the fulfillment, the evasion, or the violation of the terms of an agreement; economic, erotic, or some other form of “competition”; common membership in status, national or class groups (provided it leads to social action). Hence, the definition does not specify whether the relation of the actors is co-operative or the opposite.

2. The “meaning” relevant in this context is always a case of the meaning imputed to the parties in a given concrete case, on the average, or in a theoretically formulated pure type-it is never a normatively “correct” or a metaphysically “true” meaning. Even in cases of such forms of social organization as a state, church, association, or marriage, the social relationship consists exclusively in the fact that there has ex­isted, exists, or will exist a probability of action in some definite way appropriate to this meaning. It is vital to be continually clear about this in order to avoid the “reification” of those concepts. A. “state,” for example, ceases to exist in a sociologically relevant sense whenever there is no longer a probability that certain kinds of meaningfully oriented social action will take place. This probability may be very high or it may be negligibly low. But in any case it is only in the sense and degree in which it does exist that the corresponding social relationship exists. It is impossible to find any other clear meaning for the statement that, for instance, a given “state” exists or has ceased to exist.

3. The subjective meaning need not necessarily be the same for all the parties who are mutually oriented in a given social relationship; there need not in this sense be “reciprocity.” “Friendship,” “love,” “loyalty,” “fidelity to contracts,” “patriotism,” on one side, may well be faced with an entirely different attitude on the other. In such cases the parties associate different meanings with their actions, and the social relationship is insofar objectively “asymmetrical” from the points of view of the two parties. It may nevertheless be a case of mutual orientation insofar as, even though partly or wholly erroneously, one party pre­sumes a particular attitude toward him on the part of the other and orients his action to this expectation. This can, and usually will, have consequences for the course of action and the form of ‘ the relationship. A relationship is objectively symmetrical only as, according to the typi­cal expectations of the parties, the meaning for one party is the same as that for the other. Thus the actual attitude of a child to its father may be a least approximately that which the father, in the individual case, on the average or typically, has come to expect. A social relationship in which the attitudes are completely and fully corresponding is in reality a limiting case. But the absence of reciprocity will, for terminological (28) purposes, be held to exclude the existence of a social relationship only if it actually results in the absence of a mutual orientation of the action of the parties. Here as elsewhere all sorts of transitional cases are the rule rather than the exception.

4. A social relationship can be of a very fleeting character or of varying degrees of permanence. In the latter case there is a probability of the repeated recurrence of the behavior which corresponds to its sub­jective meaning and hence is expected. In order to avoid fallacious im­pressions, let it be repeated that it is only the existence of the probability that, corresponding to a given subjective meaning, a certain type of action will take place which constitutes the “existence” of the social relationship. Thus that a “friendship” or a “state” exists or has existed means this and only this: that we, the observers, judge that there is or has been a probability that on the basis of certain kinds of known subjective attitude of certain individuals there will result in the average sense a certain specific type of action. For the purposes of legal reasoning it is essential to be able to decide whether a rule of law does or does not carry legal authority, hence whether a legal relationship does or does not “exist.” This type of question is not, however, relevant to sociologi­cal problems.

5. The subjective meaning of a social relationship may change, thus a political relationship once based on solidarity may develop into a conflict of interests. In that case it is only a matter of terminological convenience and of the degree of continuity of the change whether we say that a new relationship has come into existence or that the old one continues but has acquired a new meaning. It is also possible for the meaning to be partly constant, partly changing.

6. The meaningful content which remains relatively constant in a social relationship is capable of formulation in terms of maxims which the parties concerned expect to be adhered to by their partners on the average and approximately. The more rational in relation to values or to given ends the action is, the more is this likely to be the case. There is far less possibility of a rational formulation of subjective meaning in the case of a relation of erotic attraction or of personal loyalty or any other affectual type than, for example, in the case of a business contract.

7. The meaning of a social relationship may be agreed upon by mutual consent. This implies that the parties make promises covering their future behavior, whether toward each other or toward third persons. In such cases each party then normally counts, so far as he acts rationally, in some degree on the fact that the other will orient his action to the meaning of the agreement as he (the first actor) understands it. In part he orients his action rationally (zweckrational) to these expectations as given facts with, to be sure, varying degrees of subjec­tively “loyal” intention of doing his part. But in part also he is motivated value-rationally by a sense of duty, which makes him adhere to the agreement as he understands it. This much may be anticipated. (For a further elaboration, see secs. 9 and 13 below.)



17. Political and Hierocratic Organizations

A “ruling organization” will be called “political” insofar as its existence and order is continuously safeguarded within a given territorial area by the threat and application of physical force on the part of the administrative staff. A compulsory political organization with continuous opera­tions (politischer Anstaltsbetrieb) will be called a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order. Social action, especially organized action, will be spoken of as “politically oriented” if it aims at exerting influence on the government of a political organization; especially at the appropriation, expropriation, redistribution or allocation of the powers of government.

A “hierocratic organization” is an organization which enforces its order through psychic coercion by distributing or denying religious benefits (“hierocratic coercion”). A compulsory hierocratic organization will be called a “church” insofar as its administrative staff claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of hierocratic coercion.

1. It goes without saying that the use of physical force (Gewaltsamkeit) is neither the sole, nor even the most usual, method of administra­tion of political organizations. On the contrary, their heads have employed all conceivable means to bring about their ends. But, at the same time, the threat of force, and in the case of need its actual use, is the method which is specific to political organizations and is always the last resort when others have failed. Conversely, physical force is by no means limited to political groups even as a legitimate method of enforcement. It has been freely used by kinship groups, household groups, consociations and, in the Middle Ages, under certain circumstances by all those entitled to bear arms. In addition to the fact that it uses, among other (55) means, physical force to enforce its system of order, the political organiza­tion is further characterized by the fact that the authority of its administrative staff is claimed as binding within a territorial area and this claim is upheld by force. Whenever organizations which make use of force are also characterized by the claim to territorial jurisdiction, such as village communities or even some household groups, federations of guilds or of workers’ associations (“soviets”), they are by definition to that extent political organizations.

2. It is not possible to define a political organization, including the state, in terms of the end to which its action is devoted. All the way from provision for subsistence to the patronage of art, there is no con­ceivable end which some political association has not at some time pur­sued. And from the protection of personal security to the administration of justice, there is none which all have recognized. Thus it is possible to define the “political” character of an organization only in terms of the means peculiar to it, the use of force. This means is, however, in the above sense specific, and is indispensable to its character. It is even, under certain circumstances, elevated into an end in itself.

This usage does not exactly conform to everyday speech. But the lat­ter is too inconsistent to be used for technical purposes. We speak of the foreign currency policy33 of a central bank, the financial policy of an association, or the educational policy of a local authority, and mean the systematic treatment and conduct of particular affairs. It comes consid­erably closer to the present meaning when we distinguish the “political” aspect or implication of a question. Thus there is the “political” official, the “political” newspaper, the “political” revolution, the “political” club, the “political” party, and the “political” consequences of an action, as distinguished from others such as the economic, cultural, or religious aspect of the persons, affairs or processes in question. In this usage we generally mean by “political,” things that have to do ‘with relations of authority within what is, in the present terminology, a political organization, the state. The reference is to things which are likely to uphold, to change or overthrow, to hinder or promote, these authority relations as distinguished from persons, things, and processes which have nothing to do with it. This usage thus seeks to bring out the common features of domination, the way it is exercised by the state, irrespective of the ends involved. Hence it is legitimate to claim that the definition put forward here is only a more precise formulation of what is meant in everyday usage in that it gives sharp emphasis to what is most characteristic of this means: the actual or threatened use of force. It is, of course, true that everyday usage applies the term “political,” not only to groups which are the direct agents of the legitimate use of force itself, but also to other, often wholly peaceful groups, which at­tempt to influence the activities of the political organization. It seems best for present purposes to distinguish this type of social action, “politically oriented” action, from political action as such, the actual organized action of political groups.

(56) 3. Since the concept of the state has only in modern times reached its full development, it is best to efine it in terms appropriate to the modern type of state, but at the same time, in terms which abstract from the values of the present day, since these are particularly subject to change. The primary formal characteristics of the modem state are as follows: It possesses an administrative and legal order subject to change by legislation, to which the organized activities of the administrative staff, which are also controlled by regulations, are oriented. This sys­tem of order claims binding authority, not only over the members of the state, the citizens, most of whom have obtained membership by birth, but also to a very large extent over all action taking place in the area of its jurisdiction. It is thus a compulsory organization with a territorial basis. Furthermore, today, the use of force is regarded as legiti­mate only so far as it is either permitted by the state or prescribed by it. Thus the right of a father to discipline his children is recognized-a survival of the former independent authority of the head of a household, which in the right to use force has sometimes extended to a power of life and death over children and slaves. The claim of the modern state to monopolize the use of force is as essential to it as its character of compulsory jurisdiction and of continuous operation.

4 In formulating the concept of a hierocratic organization, it is not possible to use the character of the religious benefits it offers, whether worldly or other-worldly, material or spiritual, as the decisive criterion. What is important is rather the fact that its control over these values can form the basis of a system of spiritual domination over human beings. What is most characteristic of the church, even in the common usage of the term, is the fact that it is a rational, compulsory association with continuous operation and that it claims a monopolistic authority. It is normal for a church to strive for complete control on a territorial basis and to attempt to set up the corresponding territorial or parochial or­ganization. So far as this takes place, the means by which this claim to monopoly is upheld will vary from case to case. But historically, its control over territorial areas has not been nearly so essential to the church as to political associations; and this is particularly true today. It is its character as a compulsory association, particularly the fact that one becomes a member of the church by birth, which distinguishes the church from a “sect.” It is characteristic of the latter that it is a voluntary association and admits only persons with specific religious qualifications. (This subject will be further discussed in the Sociology of Religion.)


Unless otherwise noted, all notes in this chapter are by Talcott Parsons. For Parsons’ exposition and critique of Weber’s methodology, see his introduction to The Theory of Social and Economic Organization and his Structure of Social Action.




2. The Three Pure Types of Authority

There are three pure types of legitimate domination. The validity of the claims to legitimacy may be based on:

I. Rational grounds-resting on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (legal authority).

2. Traditional grounds-resting on an established belief in the sanc­tity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them (traditional authority); or finally,

3. Charismatic grounds-resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him (charismatic authority).

In the case of legal authority, obedience is owed to the legally established impersonal order. It extends to the persons exercising the authority (2 I 6) of office under it by virtue of the formal legality of their commands and only within the scope of authority of the office. In the case of traditional authority, obedience is owed to the person of the chief who occupies the traditionally sanctioned position of authority and who is (within its sphere) bound by tradition. But here the obligation of obedience is a matter of personal loyalty within the area of accustomed obligations. In the case of charismatic authority, it is the charismatically qualified leader as such who is obeyed by virtue of personal trust in his revelation, his heroism or his exemplary qualities so far as they fall within the scope of the individual’s belief in his charisma.

1. The usefulness of the above classification can only be judged by its results in promoting systematic analysis. The concept of “charisma” (“the gift of grace”) is taken from the vocabulary of early Christianity. For the Christian hierocracy Rudolf Sohm, in his Kirchenrecht, was the 6.rst to clarify the substance of the concept, even though he did not use the same terminology. Others (for instance, Holl in Enthusiasmus und Bussgewalt) have clarifed certain important consequences of it. It is thus nothing new.

2. The fact that none of these three ideal types, the elucidation of which will occupy the following pages, is usually to be found in historical cases in “pure” form, is naturally not a valid objection to attempting their conceptual formulation in the sharpest possible form. In this respect the present case is no different from many others. Later on (sec. I I ff.) the transformation of pure charisma by the process of routinization will be discussed and thereby the relevance of the concept to the understanding of empirical systems of authority considerably increased. But even so it may be said of every historical phenomenon of authority that it is not likely to be “as an open book.” Analysis in terms of socio­logical types has, after all, as compared with purely empirical historical investigation, certain advantages which should not be minimized. That is, it can in the particular case of a concrete form of authority determine what conforms to or approximates such types as “charisma,” “hereditary charisma,” “the charisma of office,” “patriarchy,” “bureaucracy,” the authority of status groups, and in doing so it can work with relatively unambiguous concepts. But the idea that the whole of concrete historical reality can be exhausted in the conceptual scheme about to be developed is as far from the author’s thoughts as anything could be.


Chapter IV


I. Class Situation and Class Types

1. “Class situation” means the typical probability of

1.  procuring goods 

2.  gaining a position in life and

3.  finding inner satisfactions,

a probability which derives’ from the relative control over goods and skills and from their income-producing uses within a given economic order.

“Class” means all persons in the same class situation.

a)  A “property class” is primarily determined by property differences,

b)  A “commercial class” by the marketability of goods and services,

c)  A “social class” makes up the totality of those class situations within which individual and generational mobility is easy and typical.

Associations of class members - class organizations - may arise on the basis of all three types of classes. However, this does not necessarily hap­pen: “Class situation” and “class” refer only to the same (or similar) interests which an individual shares with others. In principle, the various controls over consumer goods, means of production, assets, resources and skills each constitute a particular class situation. A uniform class situation prevails only when completely unskilled and propertyless persons are dependent on irregular employment. Mobility among, and stability of, class positions differs greatly; hence, the unity of a social class is highly variable.

(303) 2. Property Classes

The primary significance of a positively privileged property class lies in

a)  its exclusive acquisition of high-priced consumers goods,

b)  its sales monopoly and its ability to pursue systematic policies in

this regard,

c)  its monopolization of wealth accumulation out of un consumed


d)  its monopolization of capital formation out of savings, i.e., of the utilization of wealth in the form of loan capital, and its resulting control over executive positions in business,

e) its monopolization of costly (educational) status privileges.

I. Positively privileged property classes are typically rentiers, receiv­ing income from:

a)  men (the case of slave-owners),

b)  land,

c)  mines,

d)  installations (factories and equipment),

e)  ships, .

f)   creditors (of livestock, grain or money),

g)  securities.

II. Negatively privileged property classes are typically

a)  the unfree (see under “Status Group”),

b)  the declassed (the proletarii of Antiquity),

c)  debtors,

d)  the paupers.

In between are the various” middle classes” (M ittelstandsklassen), which make a living from their property or their acquired skills. Some of them may be “commercial classes” (entrepreneurs with mainly posi­tive privileges, proletarians with negative ones). However, not all of them fall into the latter category (witness peasants, craftsmen, officials).

The mere differentiation of property classes is not “dynamic,” that is, it need not result in class struggles and revolutions. The strongly privileged class of slave owners may coexist with the much less privileged peasants or even the declassed, frequently without any class antagonism and sometimes in solidarity (against the unfree). However, the juxtaposition of property classes may lead to revolutionary conflict between

I.   land owners and the declassed or

2.  creditor and debtors (often urban patricians versus rural peasants or small urban craftsmen).

These struggles need not focus on a change of the economic system, (304) but may aim primarily at a redistribution of wealth. In this case we can speak of “property revolutions” (Besitzklassenrevolutionen).

A classic example of the lack of class conflict was the relationship of the “poor white trash” to the plantation owners in the Southern States. The “poor white trash” were far more anti-Negro than the plantation owners, who were often imbued with patriarchal sentiments. The major examples for the struggle of the declassed against the propertied date back to Antiquity, as does the antagonism between creditors and debtors and land owners and the declassed.

3. Commercial Classes

The primary significance of a positively privileged commercial class lies in

a)  the monopolization of entrepreneurial management for the sake of its members and their business interests,

b)  the safeguarding of those interests through influence’ on the economic policy of the political and other organizations.

I. Positively privileged commercial classes are typically entrepreneurs:

a)  merchants,

b)  shipowners,

c)  industrial and

d)  agricultural entrepreneurs,

e)  bankers and financiers, sometimes also

f)   professionals with sought-after expertise or privileged educa­tion (such as lawyers, physicians, artists), or

g)  workers with monopolistic qualifications and skills (natural, or acquired through drill or training).

11. Negatively privileged commercial classes are typically laborers with varying qualifications:

a)  skilled

b)  semi-skilled

c)  unskilled.

In between again are “middle classes”: the self-employed farmers and craftsmen and frequently:

a)  public and private officials.

b)  the last two groups mentioned in the first category [i.e., the “lib­eral professions” and the labor groups with exceptional qualifications].

(305) 4. Social Classes

Social classes are

a)  the working class as a whole-the more so, the more automated the work process becomes,

b)  the petty bourgeoisie,

c)  the propertyless intelligentsia and specialists (technicians, various kinds of white-collar employees, civil servants-possibly with considerable social differences depending on the cost of their training),

d)  the classes privileged through property and education.

The unfinished last part of Karl Marx’s Capital apparently was intended to deal with the issue of class unity in the face of skill dif­ferentials. Crucial for this differentiation is the increasing importance of semi-skilled workers, who can be trained on the job in a relatively short time, over the apprenticed and sometimes also the unskilled workers. Semi-skilled qualification too can often become monopolistic (weavers, for example, sometimes achieve their greatest efficiency after five years). It used to be that every worker aspired to be a self-employed small busi­nessman. However, this is less and less feasible. In the generational sequence, the rise of groups a) and b) into c) (technicians, white-collar workers) is relatively the easiest. Within class d) money increasingly buys everything, at least in the sequence of generations. In banks and corporations, as well as in the higher ranks of the civil service, class c) members have a chance to move up into class d).

Class-conscious organization succeeds most easily

a)  against the immediate economic opponents (workers against entrepreneurs, but not against stockholders, who truly draw “unearned” incomes, and also not in the case of peasants confronting manorial lords);

b)  if large numbers of persons are in the same class situation,

c)  if it is technically easy to organize them, especially if they are concentrated at their place of work (as in a “workshop community”),

d)  if they are led toward readily understood goals, which are imposed and interpreted by men outside their class (intelligentsia).


5. Status and Status Group (Stand)

“Status” (stiindische Lage) shall mean an effective claim to social esteem in terms of positive or negative privileges; it is typicaHy founded on

a)  style of life, hence

b)  formal education, which may be

(306) a)  empirical training or

b)  rational instruction, and the corresponding forms of behavior,

c) hereditary or occupational prestige.

In practice, status expresses itself through

a)  connubium,

b)  cornmensality, possibly

c)  monopolistic appropriation of privileged modes of acquisition or the abhorrence of certain kinds of acquisition,

d)  status conventions (traditions) of other kinds.

Status may rest on class position of a distinct or an ambiguous kind. However, it is not solely determined by it: Money and an entrepreneurial position are not in themselves status qualifications, although they may lead to them; and the lack of property is not in itself a status disqualification, although this may be a reason for it. Conversely, status may influence, if not completely determine, a class position without being identical with it. The class position of an officer, a civil servant or a student may vary greatly according to their wealth and yet not lead to a different status since upbringing and education create a common style of life.

A “status group” means a plurality of persons who, within a larger

     group, successfully claim

a)  a special social esteem, and possibly also

b)  status monopolies.

Status groups may come into being:

a)  in the first instance, by virtue of their own style of life, particularly the type of vocation: “self-styled” or occupational status groups,

b)  in the second instance, through hereditary charisma, by virtue of successful claims to higher-ranking descent: hereditary status groups, or

c)  through monopolistic appropriation of political or hierocratic powers: political or hierocratic status groups.

The development of hereditary status groups is generally a form of the (hereditary) appropriation of privileges by an organization or qualified individuals. Every definite appropriation of political powers and the corresponding economic opportunities tends to result in the rise of status groups, and vice-versa.

Commercial classes arise in a market-oriented economy, but status groups’ arise within the framework of organizations which satisfy their wants through monopolistic liturgies, or in feudal or in ständisch patrimonial fashion. Depending on the prevailing mode of stratification, we shall speak of a “status society” or a “class society”. The status group (307) comes closest to the social class and is most unlike the commercial class. Status groups are often created by property classes.

Every status society lives by conventions, which regulate the style of life, and hence creates economically irrational consumption patterns and fetters the free market through monopolistic appropriations and by curbing the individual’s earning power. More on that separately.


1. For the early formulation of class and status, see Part Two, ch. IX: 6. eR)



(901) Chapter IX


I. Nature and “Legitimacy” of Territorial Political Organizations

The term “political community” shall apply to a community whose social action is aimed at subordinating to orderly domination by the participants a “territory” and the conduct of the persons within it, through readiness to resort to physical force, including normally force of arms. The territory must at any time be in some way determinable, but it need not be constant or definitely limited. The persons are those who are in the territory either permanently or temporarily. Also, the aim of the participants may be to acquire additional territory for themselves. 1

“Political” community in this sense has existed neither everywhere nor always. As a separate community it does not exist wherever the task of armed defense against enemies has been assigned to the household, the neighborhood association, or some association of a different kind and essentially oriented toward economic interests. Nor has po­litical community existed everywhere and at all times in the sense that its conceptual minimum, viz., “forcible maintenance of orderly dominion over a territory and its inhabitants,” be conceived necessarily as the function of one and the same community. The tasks implied in this function have often been distributed among several communities whose actions partly complement and partly overlap each other. For example, “external” violence and defense have often been in the hands partly of kinship groups, partly of neighborhood associations, and partly of warrior consociations established ad hoc. “Internal” domination of the “territory” and the control of intragroup relations have likewise been distributed among various powers, including religious ones; and even in so (900) far as violence has been used it has not necessarily been monopolized by anyone community. Under certain circumstances, “external” violence can even be rejected in principle, as it was, for a while, by the community of the Pennsylvania Quakers; at any rate, organized prepa­ration for its use may be entirely lacking. As a rule, however, readiness to apply violence is associated with domination over a territory.

As a separate structure, a political community can be said to exist only if, and in so far as, a community constitutes more than an “eco­nomic group”; or, in other words, in so far as it possesses value systems ordering matters other than the directly economic disposition of goods and services. The particular content of social action, beyond the forcible domination of territory and inhabitants, is conceptually irrelevant. It may vary greatly according to whether we deal with a “robber state” a “welfare state”, a “constitutional”, or a culture state. Owing to the drastic nature of its means of control, the political association is par­ticularly capable of arrogating to itself all the possible values toward which associational conduct might be oriented; there is probably nothing in the world which at one time or another has not been an object of social action on the part of some political association.

On the other hand, a political community may restrict its social action exclusively to the bare maintenance of its dominion over a territory, and it has in fact done so frequently enough. Even in the exercise of this function, the action of a political community is, in many cases, intermittent, no matter what its general level of development may be in other respects. Such action flares up in response to external threat or to an internal sudden impulse to violence, however motivated; it dies down, yielding factually to a state of “anarchy” during “normal” peaceful times, when coexistence and social action on the part of the inhabitants of the territory take the form of merely factual mutual respect for the accustomed economic spheres, without the availability of any kind of coercion either for external or for internal use.

In our terminology, a separate “political” community is constituted where we find ( I) a “territory”; (2) the availability of physical force for its domination; and (3) social action which is not restricted exclusively to the satisfaction of common economic needs in the frame of a communal economy, but regulates more generally the interrelations of the inhabitants of the territory.

The opponents against whom the possibly violent social action is directed may be located outside or inside the boundaries of the territory in question. Since the political power has become the monopoly of organized, today “institutional,” action, the objects of coercion are to be found primarily among the compulsory members of the organization. (903) For the political community, even more than other institutionally organized communities, is so constituted that it imposes obligations on the individual members which many of them fulfill only because they are aware of the probability of physical coercion backing up such obli­gations. The political community, furthermore, is one of those com­munities whose action includes, at least under normal circumstances, coercion through jeopardy and destruction of life and freedom of movement applying to outsiders as well as to the members themselves. The individual is expected ultimately to face death in the group interest. This gives to the political community its particular pathos and raises its enduring emotional foundations. The community of political destiny, i.e., above all, of common political struggle of life and death, has given rise to groups with joint memories which often have had a deeper impact than the ties of merely cultural, linguistic, or ethnic community. It is this “community of memories” which, as we shall see [see sec. 5 below], constitutes the ultimately decisive element of “national consciousness”.

The political community never has been, nor is it today, the only community in which the renunciation of life is an essential part of the shared obligations. The obligations of other groups may lead to the same extreme consequences. To name but a few: blood vengeance on the part of kinship groups; martyrdom in religious communities; the “code of honor” of status groups; or the demands of a good many athletic associations; of groups like the Camorra2 or, especially, of all groups created for the purpose of violent appropriation of the economic goods of others.

From such groups the political community differs, sociologically, in only one respect, viz., its particularly enduring and manifest existence as a well-established power over a considerable territory of land and possibly also sea expanse. Accordingly, the differentiation between the political community on the one hand and, on the other, the groups enumerated above, becomes less clearly perceptible the further we go back in history. In the minds of the participants the notion that the political community is just one among others turns into the recognition of its qualitatively different character in step with the change of its activities from merely intermittent reaction to active threats into a permanent and institutionalized consociation whose coercive means are both drastic and effective but which also create the possibility of a rationally casuistic order for their application.

The modern position of political associations rests on the prestige bestowed upon them by the belief, held by their members, in a specific consecration: the “legitimacy” of that social action which is ordered (904) and regulated by them. This prestige is particularly powerful where, and in so far as, social action comprises physical coercion, including the power to dispose over life and death. It is on this prestige that the consensus on the specific legitimacy of action is founded.

The belief in the specific legitimacy of political action can, and under modern conditions actually does, increase to a point where only certain political communities, viz., the “states,” are considered to be capable of “legitimizing” by virtue of mandate or permission, the exercise of physical coercion by any other community. For the purpose of threatening and exercising such coercion, the fully matured political community has developed a system of casuistic rules to which that par­ticular “legitimacy” is imputed. This system of rules constitutes the “legal order,” and the political community is regarded as its sole normal creator, since that community has, in modern times, normally usurped the monopoly of the power to compel by physical coercion respect for those rules.

This preeminence of the “legal order” guaranteed by the political power has arisen only in the course of a very gradual development. It was due to the fact that those other groups which once had exercised their own coercive powers lost their grip on the individual. Under the pressure of economic and structural displacements they either disintegrated or subjected themselves to the political community which would then delegate to them their coercive powers, but would simultaneously also reduce them.

The rise to preeminence of the politically guaranteed legal order was also due to the simultaneous development of constantly arising new interests requiring a protection which could not be provided within the earlier autonomous communities. Consequently, a steadily widening sphere of interests, especially economic ones, could find adequate pro­tection only in those rationally regulated guaranties which none but the political community was able to create. The process by which this “nationalization” of all “legal norms” took place, and is still taking place, has been discussed elsewhere. 3

(926) 6. The Distribution of Power Within the Political Community: Class, Status, Party13

A. ECONOMICALLY DETERMINED POWER AND THE STATUS ORDER. The structure of every legal order directly influences the distribution of power, economic or otherwise, within its respective community. This is true of all legal orders and not only that of the state. In general, we understand by “power” the chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will in a social action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action.

“Economically conditioned” power is not, of course, identical with “power” as such. On the contrary, the emergence of economic power may be the consequence of power existing on other grounds. Man does not strive for power only in order to enrich himself economically. Power, including economic power, may be valued for its own sake. Very fre­quently the striving for power is also conditioned by the social honor it entails. Not all power, however, entails social honor: The typical American Boss, as well as the typical big speculator, deliberately re­linquishes social honor. Quite generally, “mere economic” power, and especially “naked” money power, is by no means a recognized basis of social honor. Nor is power the only basis of social honor. Indeed, social honor, or prestige, may even be the basis of economic power, and very frequently has been. Power, as well as honor, may be guaranteed by (927) the legal order, but, at least normally, it is not’ their primary source.  The legal order is rather an additional factor that, enhances the chance to hold power or honor; but it can not always secure them.

The way in which social honor is distributed in a community between typical groups participating in this distribution we call the “status order.” The social order and the economic order are related in a similar manner to the legal order. However, the economic order merely defines the way in which economic goods and services are distributed and used. Of course, the status order is strongly influenced by it, and in turn reacts upon it.

Now classes, status groups, and parties are phenomena of the distribution of power within a community.

B. DETERMINATION OF CLASS SITUATION BY MARKET SITUATION. In our terminology, “classes” are not communities; they merely represent possible, and frequent, bases for social action. We may speak of a “class” when (I) a number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances, insofar as (2) this component is repre­sented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income, and (3) is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labor markets. This is “class situation.”

It is the most elemental economic fact that the way in which the disposition over material property is distributed among a plurality of people, meeting competitively in the market for the purpose of exchange, in itself creates specific life chances. The mode of distribution, in accord with the law of marginal utility, excludes the non-wealthy from competing for highly valued goods; it favors the owners and, in fact, gives to them a monopoly to acquire such goods. Other things being equal, the mode of distribution monopolizes the opportunities for profitable deals for all those who, provided. with goods, do not necessarily have to exchange them. It increases, at least generally, their power in the price struggle with those who, being propertyless, have nothing to offer but their labor or the resulting products, and who are compelled to get rid of these products in order to subsist at all. The mode of distribution gives to the propertied a monopoly on the possibility of transferring property from the sphere of use as “wealth” to the sphere of “capital,” that is, it gives them the entrepreneurial function and all chances to share directly or indirectly in returns on capital. All this holds true within the area in which pure market conditions prevail. “Property” and “lack of property” are, therefore, the basic categories of all class situations. It does not matter whether these two categories become effective in the competitive struggles of the consumers or of the producers.

Within these categories, however, class situations are further dif- (928) ferentiated: on the one hand, according to the kind of property that is usable for returns; and, on the other hand, according to the kind of services that can be offered in the market. Ownership of dwellings; workshops; warehouses; stores; agriculturally usable land in large or small holdings-a quantitative difference with possibly qualitative con­sequences; ownership of mines; cattle; men (slaves); disposition over mobile instruments of production, or capital goods of all sorts, especially money or objects that can easily be exchanged for money; disposition over products of one’s own labor or of others’ labor differing according to their various distances from consumability; disposition over trans­ferable monopolies of any kind-all these distinctions differentiate the class situations of the propertied just as does the “meaning” which they can give to the use of property, especially to property which has money equivalence. Accordingly, the propertied, for instance, may belong to the class of rentiers or to the Class of entrepreneurs.

Those who have no property but who offer services are differentiated just as much according to their kinds of services as according to the way in which they make use of these services, in a continuous or discontinuous relation to a recipient. But always this is the generic connotation of the concept of class: that the kind of chance in the market is the decisive moment which presents a common condition for the individual’s fate. Class situation is, in this sense, ultimately market situation. The effect of naked possession per se, which among cattle breeders gives the non-owning slave or serf into the power of the cattle owner, is only a fore-runner of real “class” formation. However, in the cattle loan and in the naked severity of the law of debts in such communities for the first time mere “possession” as such emerges as decisive for the fate of the individual; this is much in contrast to crop-raising communities, which are based on labor. The creditor-debtor relation becomes the basis of “class situations” first in the cities, where a “credit market,” however primitive, with rates of interest increasing according to the extent of dearth and factual monopolization of lending in the hands of a plutocracy could develop. Therewith “class struggles” begin.

Those men whose fate is not determined by the chance of using goods or services for themselves on the market, e.g., slaves, are not, how­ever, a class in the technical sense of the term. They are, rather, a status group.