Class (kliasa or klas). A stratum of people in a given society with approximately the same economic, legal, political, and cultural status. The concept of class is a modern sociological concept that is applied to various groups of the population in today's highly complex social structure. There are different sociological theories and definitions of class. Non-Marxist sociologists and political scientists point to historical, cultural, ethno-religious, legal, vocational, and other aspects of social differentiation besides the important economic (property, income, economic function) and political (role and aspirations) aspects. Estates have been replaced by classes as the basic social groupings.

In Europe modern classes arose towards the end of the 18th century, and their development was greatly accelerated by the French and industrial revolutions. The capitalist system, as distinct from feudalism, absolutism, and mercantilism, was built on the class system. According to Marxist theory, the concepts of class and class struggle are indispensable for an understanding of history and for the conducting of an effective political struggle: the class struggle is the moving force of history, and the working class (proletariat) is the only revolutionary agent capable of creating a new political system—the dictatorship of the proletariat—and a new egalitarian, classless, society free of individual exploitation. Class membership, according to Marxism, is defined by one's relation to the means of production. Classes emerged with the social division of labor, private ownership, and exchange of commodities, when one group began to appropriate the labor of others. The primitive communal society was classless. In Marx's words, ‘the history of all societies until now has been the history of class struggle’ (Communist Manifesto).

In Ukraine the development of classes came late because of the endurance of the estate system (see Estates). Vestiges of the estate order remained in the Russian Empire, including Russian-ruled Ukraine, until the Revolution of 1917. Yet, a class structure with an upper class (nobility, landowners, capitalists), middle class (burghers, merchants, tradesmen, and civil servants), peasants (rich, middle, and landless) and working class (skilled and unskilled) emerged in the Russian Empire in the mid-19th century. As the ranks of industrial workers increased and after the serfs were emancipated, the political role of the masses grew. Gradually the majority of the population increased its demands to encompass the political rights and economic advantages enjoyed by the minority. Both the Revolution of 1905 and the Revolution of 1917 in Russia aimed at changing class relations and the social structure.

The Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) had not only a national-political, but also a class-social, nature. While the peasantry played an important role in it, the Ukrainian working class played a lesser role. The intelligentsia, a new social group that was the most active force in the national revolution, tried to subdue class conflicts and to eliminate economic differences between the classes (the Ukrainian National Republic's progressive labor legislation, agrarian reforms, etc.). Certain leaders of the Ukrainian national movement (eg, Mykhailo Hrushevsky) and the majority of politically active Ukrainians of every class held the view that the Ukrainian nation was ‘bourgeoisie-free.’ During the period of the revolution and Ukrainian independence the national struggle against Russia and other foreign powers, as well as the existence of privileged non-Ukrainian classes, added to the complexity of class relations in Ukraine. Hence, even the objective contradictions in class interests were often subordinated to national interests and the goal of an independent state in the course of the struggle. Class conflict was greatest in the cities and industrial regions, where the workers were the most revolutionary force. The majority of workers and of the non-Ukrainian urban middle class supported the champions of a foreign power—the Russian Bolsheviks or the Russian Whites. Consequently class conflict and social unrest in Ukraine during 1917–20 also had a national dimension, which manifested itself in the struggle of the Ukrainian peasantry against the mostly non-Ukrainian landowners and of the Ukrainian national movement, which had its base in the peasantry, against the cities, which were dominated by a middle class and workers who were non-Ukrainian.

Several Ukrainian parties of this period had a class character: the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries was a peasants' party, the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers' party defended the interests of the workers, and the Ukrainian Democratic Agrarian party represented the landowners and rich farmers. However, the leading role in these parties was played by a nationally conscious intelligentsia of varied class origin. The parties of the national minorities were also usually class-based, but they also did not relinquish their national character. The Ukrainian parties in Western Ukraine in 1918–20 and then under Polish rule were only partly class-based: the Ukrainian Social Democratic party claimed to represent the small Ukrainian working class, while the Ukrainian Radical party represented mostly the peasantry. The most powerful legal party—the Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO)—and later the influential underground Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) recruited their members and supporters from various classes. In the 1930s the OUN advocated Mykola Stsiborsky's doctrine of ‘natiocracy’ (natsiokratiia) to counteract conflicting class interests and antagonisms.

Viacheslav Lypynsky attempted to integrate the traditional concept of social estates with the modern concept of class. In his view classes were natural population strata tied to the economic-productive and political-defensive interests of the nation, while the traditional groups—the nobility, landowners, manufacturers, and merchants (who did not have to be ethnic Ukrainians but only residents of Ukraine) along with the farmers, the largest Ukrainian class—had the best-developed political instinct and the highest moral authority for state building. He considered that power in the Ukrainian state must be rooted in this ‘national aristocracy.’ The political system based on this elite would be a ‘classocracy’ (kliasokratia, a term coined by M. Kochubei) in the form of a hereditary monarchy. For Lypynsky the intelligentsia could either be a part of the productive classes or be a déclassé group and hence unable to create a state. Under the cover of liberalism and democracy the intelligentsia only sowed disorder in state affairs. The working class, according to Lypynsky, could play a constructive role in political life, but having been demoralized under the influence of the socialist intelligentsia and being ethnically the least Ukrainian class, it could not at that point make a positive contribution to the building of the Ukrainian state.

Ukrainian Marxists have contributed little that is original to the study of classes in Ukraine: the social democrats (Mykola Porsh, Volodymyr Levynsky) and the Ukrainian national communists (Vasyl Shakhrai, Serhii Mazlakh) emphasized the foreign character of the ruling classes and, while admitting that the peasantry was the source and principal agent of the national movement, evaluated positively the role played by the Ukrainian intelligentsia and petite bourgeoisie in the struggle for national independence. This position was contradicted by the Bolshevik interpretation of class and national relations in Ukraine. In practice and theory the Bolsheviks stressed the role of the working class. The peasants, for example, did not receive fair representation in the Soviets.

In the 1920s certain Russian Bolsheviks in Ukraine (Dmytro Lebid for example) proposed the class-based theory of the ‘struggle between two cultures’—the Ukrainian (peasant) culture and the Russian (proletarian and urban) culture—and predicted the inevitable victory of the latter, which would also solve the Ukrainian national question. When Ukrainian national communists opposed this theory, the Communist party seemingly backed away from it. Yet, the Soviet policy of the ‘rapprochement of nations’ and the creation of a ‘Soviet people,’ that was promulgated from the 1960s to the 1980s, was in fact an extension of this theory.

The goal of government policy in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and in other Communist countries is the creation of a classless society through the dictatorship of the proletariat (the liquidation of ‘exploiting classes’) and ‘Communist construction’ (the voluntaristic creation of all the preconditions—economic, institutional, legal, and ideological—for the disappearance of class differences). Although the existence of a classless society in the USSR and a number of other socialist countries was proclaimed, a stratified social system continued to exist there. The main social groups were the workers, the collective farmers, and a transitional group, the ‘working intelligentsia.’ According to Communist doctrine these groups were no longer classes in the traditional sense, because the means of production had been socialized and exploitation and class antagonisms no longer existed. Social differences were determined by the way of life (urban or rural), which was becoming more uniform, and by the means of production (industry, agriculture, intellectual work). The 1961 Communist Party of the Soviet Union program asserted that the USSR had entered the last phase of so-called advanced Communist construction, during which class differences would completely disappear and a fully classless society would emerge. But in reality Soviet society was not classless or free of exploitation, even by Marx's criteria. New political and economic elites (the Party and economic apparat, military leadership, police, and technocracy) had arisen and constituted unique classes with distinct group interests and even a tendency to the hereditary transfer of privilege and advantage. Since the 1950s the critics of the Communist system as it existed, including Western Marxist revisionists, debated and expanded M. Djilas's concept of a ‘new class’ under communism. The struggle between the ruling class and various disenfranchised and economically exploited groups continued in the USSR, and its more open forms were suppressed by the Party leadership and the police machine.

Until the end of the 1950s a large measure of social mobility helped to diminish class differences in the USSR . The working class grew constantly at the expense of the peasantry, and large numbers of young people from both of these classes entered the nominal third class of the ‘working intelligentsia.’ Consequently the cultural differences and lifestyles that sharply distinguished the traditional classes in the past were gradually disappearing. However, the new working class and intelligentsia often perpetuated elements of the peasant culture. In spite of this, an urban and white-collar culture had formed, and its features had become increasingly discernible. In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a general reduction in social mobility. Soviet society actually acquired a stabilized, mature class structure, often based along national lines, in which the collective farmers occupied the lowest cultural and economic rung and the ‘new class’ of the Party and bureaucratic elite occupied the highest rung. At the same time alienation, which according to Marx is the principal shortcoming of class society, arose in the USSR.

In Soviet society the classes did not have their own organized representation. The CPSU and the mass organizations under its control (trade unions, collective-farm congresses, and professional-intellectual associations) were supposed to function as ‘transmission belts,’ but in reality they represented their constituency in name only. The situation is quite different in the Western democracies, where the trade unions and farm, business, and professional associations are powerful defenders of the class interests of their respective groups, as was the agricultural co-operative movement in Ukraine in the past.

Ukrainians abroad, especially in countries with large Ukrainian communities, are differentiated by class. In Canada and the United States the social differences among Ukrainians correspond more or less to those that prevail in the dominant society. Class status is generally defined by income, occupation, education, and life style (area of residence, values, attitudes, social life), and, for Ukrainians, by the degree of integration with the society at large. In general, 2 to 3 percent of the Ukrainians in North America belong to the upper middle class, about 33 percent to the middle class, and the majority to the lower class. In societies with a high degree of social mobility and flexibility Ukrainian immigrants and their descendants, particularly the second and third generation, usually progress on the social ladder by means of education, occupational change, and accumulation of property.

(For information on relations among and within social groups and classes and on occupational and property distribution, and for statistical data and sociological analysis, see Social stratification.)

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Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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