Lesson 5.1 – Social class: value, labor, capital

In this lesson, we continue our study of social class by focusing in greater detail on key aspects of social class: value, means of production, factors of production, commodity, money, surplus value, profit.


WATCH – Intro Video


WATCH – Video 5.1 – Labor and Class Conflict

Watch this video by focusing on what makes class conflict, struggle, a constant feature of our politics:


COMPLETE – Self-assessment exercise

In preparation for our discussion board, take the following practice quiz.


WRITE – Discussion Board 5.1

Head over to Discussion Board 5.1 for a discussion of labor and class:


WATCH – Video 5.2


READ – Reading 5.1 – Pierre Jalee: “Labor Power and Surplus Value”

This reading is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding/important in our two modules on social class. You should read and annotate it carefully. It presents two “formulas” (or diagrams) describing what each social class in a modern capitalist society (such as the US) does in everyday life. Thinking about social class through these diagrams offers a powerful insight on how classes function in our society, and what motivates the thinking, interests, and ideologies of the people in the different social classes:


COMPLETE – Self-assessment exercise 5.1

In preparation for our discussion board, study the following questions, by following the readings closely.

  1. Small-scale commodity production: selling something that you made, in order to buy something that you need can be represented by the following diagram: C-M-C. Study what the letters mean, and what they describe.
  2. Compare small-scale commodity production, with  buying in order to sell: M-C-M’. What is the difference described by the two diagrams?
  3. In M-C-M’, pay close attention to what M’ is. What does it mean? M’ represents surplus value (which we have encountered already), but note how it is described in this reading. M-C-M’ is the general formula of capital.
  4. On p. 24 we have a discussion of labor power (which we already mentioned in the previous video, but now we’ll study it in more detail) and how it makes surplus value (or profits) possible for those who own money/capital.
  5. How is money transformed into capital? This is a key point, because it describes how wealthy people remain wealthy as a class.
  6. Another key point here is that the extraction of profits from the value created by workers, happens through something called surplus labor (review this process which is discussed on p. 26-27)
  7. Pages 28-29 can be read more quickly (skimmed), but make sure you read them!

WRITE – Discussion Board 5.2

Head over to Discussion Board 5.2…

Think about and answer the following questions, as a way of summarizing our discussion in Modules 4 and 5 on social class. You will see some of these questions on our first exam.


Lesson 5.2

Now that we have covered the basics of what social class is, in this lesson we will focus on how social class affects American society.


WATCH – Intro Video


READ – Reading 5.2 – M. Parenti: “Concentration of Capital, Who Owns America?”

Parenti gives a comprehensive and quick overview of how wealth is distributed in the United States. This is important to know in general, but later we will connect it to why the Constitution was designed the way it was, as well as a number of interesting current events in American politics:


COMPLETE – Self-assessment exercise 5.2

In preparation for our discussion board, study the following questions, by following the readings closely.


WRITE – Discussion Board 5.3

Head over to discussion board 5.3:


WRITE – Module 5 Response Paper

  1. If, as Reading 5.1 showed, the capitalist (wealth-owning) class can be described through the M – C – M’ diagram, what would be the diagram that describes the lives of working-class people? Use the same letters: M and C to write a diagram that contains three parts (just like the capitalist diagram). HINT: think about what each letter (M and C) refer to (M = money or capital; C = commodity). Then, think about which letter should you start the diagram for the working class (M or C)? Why?

You must log into your BMCC OpenLab account before you can upload a response paper.


WATCH – Module 5 Summary Video

NOTE: you should watch this video only after you’ve completed all discussion forums and the reading response paper.

READ – notes that go with above summary video:

NOTE: the material discussed in the summary video and the notes below will appear as at least one of the questions on our first exam. Make sure you’ve studied these concepts.

https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/msyxoj3afkp7s3ylsvx9w/Module-5-summary-discussion.paper?dl=0&rlkey=ngozrrxqydsvkz6c3nb02bu90

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