This emphasizes, however, that class, in its heuristic usage, is inseparable from the notion of ‘class-struggle’. In my view, far too much theoretical attention (much of it plainly a-historical) has been paid to ‘class’, and far too little to ‘class-struggle’. Indeed, class-struggle is the prior, as well as the more universal, concept. To put it bluntly: classes do not exist as separate entities, look around, find an enemy class, and then start to struggle. On the contrary, people find themselves in a society structured in determinedw ays (crucially, but not exclusively, in productive relations), they experience exploitation (or the need to maintain power over those whom they exploit), they identify points of antagonistic interest, they commence to struggle around these issues and in the process of struggling they discover themselves as classes, they come to know this discovery as class-consciousness. Class and class-consciousness are always the last, not the first, stage in the real historical process.
- E. P. Thompson, Class Struggle Without Classes?