Proletariat vs Bourgeoisie in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “Manifesto of the Communist Party”

Published: 2021-07-04 02:55:05
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Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are the renown 19th-century thinkers, scholars, and writers who extensively worked on the questions of class struggle, the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, and the necessity for the former class to unite, eventually inspiring the ideology of communism. In their famous pamphlet, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” the authors also explore the aforementioned issues. However, this work by Marx and Engels can also provide the reader with an insight into the history and social processes during industrialization and the roles of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in them. Based on the persuasive argument in Marx and Engels’ “Manifesto of the Communist Party” that the bourgeoisie was the driving force of industrialization, while the proletariat was the work force, with the former exploiting the latter, one can make a conclusion that both classes were essential for industrialization and production, but proletarians were easier replaceable.
In “Manifesto,” Marx and Engels write that the bourgeoisie essentially started industrialization by championing innovations in the methods of production and production tools and later became the class that controls production. The authors state, “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part” (Marx & Engels, p. 8). This claim has relation to the revolution in production methods, technology, and the changes in society the bourgeoisie inspired and propelled throughout world history. These changes, however, were the most evident during industrialization. The following excerpt by Marx and Engels develops the idea further: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (pp. 8-9). The authors also state, “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization” (Marx & Engels, p. 9). Despite a somewhat emotional tone of the claims, they are still factual and valid. The known history of industrialization proves that the bourgeoisie actually championed industrialization. Although a number of scientific discoveries led to this revolution in manufacturing processes, the bourgeoisie, or factory owners, started the Industrial Revolution by applying these discoveries in their factories to modernize production. The bourgeoisie did not only start the Industrial Revolution, but also worked towards ensuring that industrialization would continue unhindered. Marx and Engels write, “The bourgeoisie keeps more and more away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property” (p. 9).
Such centralization promoted by the bourgeoisie was necessary for quicker industrialization. As the bourgeoisie was the class that owned the means of production, controlled production, and strived to ensure their leading role in this process through laws and social order, Marx and Engels called the bourgeoisie “the ruling class in society . . . [which imposes] its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law” (p. 13). The authors also write that the proletariat “cannot become masters of the productive forces of society” (Marx & Engels, p. 13), presumably meaning that such contemporary masters were the bourgeoisie. From “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” one can make a conclusion about the crucial role of the bourgeoisie in industrialization and control over production. But most of this work is dedicated to criticizing the bourgeois exploitation of the working people, or the proletariat. Marx and Engels write that the bourgeois exploitation of proletarians was “naked, shameless, direct, brutal” (p. 8). Once again applying emotional tone, the authors still describe the real situation, as the working conditions on the 19th-century plants were horrible. Although being the oppressed party in class struggle, the proletariat still played in essential role in industrialization and production.
Based on “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” one can make a conclusion that the proletariat was the unskilled work force, which, by its labor, made industrialization and production possible. Marx and Engels write about proletarians, “All are instruments of labor, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex” (p. 11). By this sentence, the authors emphasize the contempt and dismissive attitude of the bourgeoisie towards the proletariat, but also point out the importance of working-class people in production – the work cannot be done without an instrument. The writers also note that the workers can be men and women of almost any age. Still, the work done by the proletariat during industrialization is of an unskilled type because of the mechanized nature of the production: “He [the workman] becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack that is required of him” (Marx & Engels, p. 10). As this work does not require much skill, it can be learned easily by almost anyone. This may be one of the reasons why people from various low-income classes start working on factories. Marx and Engels write, “The lower strata of the middle class . . . all these sink gradually into the proletariat” (p. 11). The authors then continue, “Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population” (Marx & Engels, p. 11). This information provided by Marx and Engels makes one think that, although the proletariat played an important role in production and industrialization as this class actually did all the work, proletarians were replaceable in production and industrialization. An assumption can be made that, if all the proletariat of the 19th century had refused to work at a certain point, the new proletariat eager to work would have been soon formed from members of other classes and any people capable of working.
In “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels discuss the history of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as classes, their struggle, and the necessity for the proletariat to unite to win. The historical insights the authors provide into the role of the two classes in production and industrialization confirm the significance of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in these processes. The bourgeoisie started and propelled the Industrial Revolution and controlled the production. The proletariat made production and industrialization possible by contributing their work. However, one can consider proletarians replaceable in industrialization and production as their labor was unskilled and anyone (including people from other classes) could do it. While reading the pamphlet, I was surprised by the fact that some of the issues discussed by Marx and Engels remain pressing challenges today. For example, the problem of overproduction is solved in our society by the culture of consumerism, which is an evil on its own. Exploitation of working people is still urgent in Third World countries, particularly when dealing with transnational corporations. I also have two questions after reading “Manifesto.” I would like to know what personal experience (if any) contributed to Marx and Engels’ negative attitude towards the bourgeoisie and to the authors’ creating their theory about the necessity of proletarian revolution. There is also a passage in the pamphlet that I do not quite understand. I would like to know what Marx and Engels meant by the excerpt “his [the proletarian’s] relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family-relations” (p. 12). Do the authors try to dehumanize either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat by this statement? If yes, I wonder what arguments they could use to explain this claim.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. Manifesto of the communist party. In Kenedy (Ed.), Reading in sociology SOCI1010 (2nd custom ed.) (pp. 7-14).

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