According to Marx, class is a social group whose members share the same relationship to the means of production.
In capitalism two primary classes are present : Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. Bourgeoisie own the means of production and proletariat are the workers who sell their labour to bourgeoisie to earn their wages. The conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat is an example of material contradiction, which can be resolved through social change or revolution. Capitalists try to avert this revolution, but according to Max, they will fail eventually.
But, the people who were living under false consciousness can not bring about the social change. They need to know about the prevalent economic realities to make that happen.
From a ‘class in itself’ to a ‘class for itself’
A class in itself is primarily a social group which share the same relationship with the means of production. They have false class consciousness. A social group becomes a class only when it becomes a class for itself, or, in other words when they gain the true class consciousness and become fully aware of the exploitative nature of a capitalist system. Members of a class identify with each other and become aware of their mutual interests, creating class solidarity.
Towards the revolution
Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.
Three phenomena are needed for the transition from false to true class consciousness, or from a class in itself to a class for itself. These factors will lead to polarization of classes which are different from each other in terms of ownership of the means of production.
Homogenization of the working class :
As the mechanization of labour increases, differences among workers on the basis of their skill sets become less. Marx terms this as homogenization of the working class. As the mechanization further grows, more and more people lose their work and become part of an industrial reserve army. Eventually, society will have two classes, a few capitalists with centralized economic power and huge number of proletariat and industrial reserved army. The shared suffering of proletariat would lead to resistance against capitalism.
Pauperization of the working class:
In a capitalist system, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. It may seem that the real wages of workers increase in a capitalist system, but, they will be poorer in relation to the bourgeoisie. Marx terms this as pauperization of the working class. As the inequality increases, members of working class would come together to resist against capitalists.
Depression of the intermediate strata into the working class:
Capitalist system is characterized by heightened competition. The owners of small businesses whom Marx called as petty bourgeoisie, find it difficult to compete against big and wealthy companies. These intermediate classes would either merge with the proletariat or would be acquired by big companies.
All these factors lead to bi polarization of classes, the bourgeoisie on one side and the proletariat on the other. As the proletariat become fully aware of the economic realities of a capitalist system, they will come together to overthrow capitalism. The proletariat revolution would finally materialize Marx’s Utopian idea of a communist society, where no one owns a private property, there is no capitalist class and hence, no exploitation or alienation of working class.