What is the relevance of the term “social hierarchy” to the Marxist theory of thought?
I will explore this question using a definition of social hierarchy which states that it is a stratification of prestige and power. In Marxist theory of thought, who has power is defined by who owns the means of the production, meaning the resources, technology and human labour. Although there are many different types of social hierarchies, depending on what kind of power you are looking at (cultural, religious etc), Marxism defines power by economy, and so this is the form of social hierarchy which I will be working with in relation to Marxism.
Since Marx evaluated power according to economic structure, he composed a series of stages, with different economic structures, that all societies go through, and which will eventually lead to Marx’ ideological state; communism, a state with no class distinctions. Which stage a society is in is more specifically based on how the modes of production are organised. Modes of production are how, and by whom, the means of production are distributed, crafted and used. In some of these stages we can see clearly how one might apply an economy based social hierarchy to the society. For instance in capitalism, which is the stage before communism, if one does not count the transitional phase of socialism, a society is to a large extent divided into “workers” (proletariat) and “owners” (bourgeois). Here the bourgeois claim ownership over the land, the resources, the technology and the labour of the proletariat, while accepting any surplus value (value left after subtracting the cost of means of production from the total profit from a product) for personal use. Here we can clearly see that the means of production are wholly owned by a few rich, the capitalists, and this makes for a distinct class difference which is easy to stratify into a hierarchy where the bourgeois are at the top, and the workers at the bottom.
Marx naturally observed...