class polarization(MARXISM) the tendency for the inherently conflicting interests of the two main classes within CAPITALISM to result in an increasing consciousness of these differences, with the two classes eventually becoming opposing camps. According to Marx, this process comes about as the result of the tendency for the proletariat to experience ‘immiseration’ under capitalism, while at the same time also being thrown together in situations which will encourage collective action, e.g. in large factories and towns (see CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS). As part of this polarization, classes which stand in various INTERMEDIATE CLASS locations within capitalism also tend to be drawn into one camp or the other, mostly into the ranks of the proletariat, as tendencies to crisis within capitalism intensify.
It is obvious that Marx's hypothesis has not been borne out, at least in any straightforward way, partly because immiseration has not occurred on the scale Marx expected and also because class interests, and the foundations of class consciousness, are far more complex than he anticipated (see CLASS IMAGERY). On the other hand, a broadly class-based form of politics has become the norm within most Western liberal democracies (see POLITICAL CLEAVAGE, STABLE DEMOCRACY), despite some suggestions that CLASS DEALIGNMENT had removed this, and although the issue is much complicated by the continued existence of ‘intermediate classes’ (see also VOTING BEHAVIOUR).
Polarization, on a world scale, between rich and poor nations, is a further element of class polarization which can either be handled in terms of Marxian conceptions, or seen as involving a fundamental departure from his schemas (see DEPENDENCY THEORY, WALLERSTEIN).