For Marx, social stratification comes down to the basic concept of economics. To phrase it in the most banal of terms, Marx believes that stratification in capitalist society is predicated upon the idea of those who have wealth controlling or subjugating those who lack it. Marx's conception of dialectical materialism suggests that historical development has passed through the same fundamental idea where those in the position of social, economic, and political power has been based on the idea that those who control the means of production possess overall control. These individuals create a stratification system where they remain in power and all others seek to emulate their own patterns of power recognition. Marx believes that this will change under a socialist system, where the means of production will be owned in a public setting and not a privatized one. In making this public, stratification will presumably disappear.
Social stratification is a form of inequality that occurs due to the inherent differences between human beings and can be determined by race, gender, age, and economic capacity among other distinguishing features. The differentiation is done to mark one group as superior over another which leads to social classes arranged as hierarchies.
According to Marxist theory, social stratification is created by the differing economic capacities among people and their relationships to the means or the factors of production. In a society, two distinct classes can be created which feature those who own the factors or means of production and those who sell their labor in the production chain to those who own the means. This basically creates the employer-employee relation in most societies. Apart from these two distinct groups Marx also recognized two other groups that don’t belong to either but are somehow related to the two large groups:
- The petite bourgeoisie - those who own some of the means of productions but their profit earning power is not enough to earn them a position among the bourgeoisie.
- The underclass - includes those who have no social status such as beggars and the homeless.