Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
- (MARXISM) within any society or social formation, that class which enjoys cultural, political as well as economic ascendancy (class domination) by virtue of its ownership and control over the MEANS OF PRODUCTION.
- (non-Marxist POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY) ruling class – the minority which, in any society, always forms the political governing class – MOSCA The Ruling Class (1869) (see also ÉLITE AND ÉLITE THEORY).
There are today many Marxists (e.g. see Poulantzas, 1973) who also emphasize that a tendency always exists for the state to possess a RELATIVE AUTONOMY – or even on occasions an absolute autonomy – from underlying economic forces. In this context, a distinction between the political ‘ruling ÉLITE (S)’ and the economically dominant class is one that usually needs to be made. A final problem for Marx ism is that empirically there often exist many difficulties in any actual identification of the ruling or the dominant class, especially in the study of historical forms of society, e.g. in ABSOLUTISM or ASIATIC MODE OF PRODUCTION OR ASIATIC SOCIETY.
For the users of the term ‘ruling class’ in sense 2 , the predominant concern has been different from that of most Marxists. Their goal has been to expose the pretensions of most modern claims to DEMOCRACY, including the claims of Marxists that true democracy might one day be achieved. According to Mosca the rulers will always be drawn from an ‘organized minority’. Using abstract political justifications -which Mosca called political formulae - rulers everywhere seek to legitimize their political rule. In some cases the ‘principles’ which operate in the selection of political leaders and the social origins of such leaders may merit the ‘empirical’ use of such terms as ‘representative democracy’. But even in these circumstances the ‘ruling class’will always consist of, and be drawn from, a cultural and psychological minority of the population equipped to rule. See also PARETO, MILLS, POWER ÉLITE, GRAMSCI, HEGEMONY, DOMINANT IDEOLOGY THESIS.