> it's the various marxist supra "classes" of "proleteriat" vs. "capitalist",
> "slave" vs. "master", "worker" vs. "owner", "wage value" vs. surplus value",
> etc. that confound me. e.g., 50% of US citizens are reputed to own company
> stock. what "class" are these mini-owners by marxist definitions?
They're just workers with small pieces of the pie, probably saved out of their retirement (i.e. paid for with their wages). The ownership of shares is immensely concentrated in the US; something like the top 5% owns 50% of all the shares held by individuals (the Wall Street Bubble hasn't significantly changed this). And since 51% of the shares gets you voting control, you can guess who runs Corporate America. What some of the orthodox Marxisms tend to misunderstand, I think, is that the marketplace is very complex, it isn't a simple oligarchy, with money running the show; you have symbolic marketplaces, marketplaces of culture, of identity, of economic and professional credit, etc. (Pierre Bourdieu's "Distinction" has a cool analysis of this).
Even the Eastern bloc elites, though they didn't *formally* own the means of production, had their own specialized political marketplace: the market of power-politics. You'd rise or fall in the hierarchy depending on how well you could curry favor with your boss, raise production at the local plant, just like managers in American biz. 1989 meant that this symbolic capital could finally be reconverted into economic capital -- the creation of *new* markets, denominated in Eurocurrency, and not, as some comrades like to argue, the end of socialism or socialist ideals altogether.