Bourgeois And Proletarians Essay


After examining the nature and history of the bourgeoisie, the Manifesto now turns to the proletariat. As the bourgeoisie developed, so did the proletariat, and it is the proletariat who will eventually destroy the bourgeoisie. The proletarians live only as long as they can find work, and they can find work only as long as their labor increases capital. They are a commodity, and are vulnerable to all the fluctuations of the market. Due to the development of machines and the division of labor, the proletarian's work has lost all "charm;" the proletarian is simply an appendage of a machine. Furthermore, as his work becomes more repulsive, his wage only decreases. Marx describes the worker as a soldier, and as a slave. Distinctions of age and sex are becoming less important as all people are simply instruments of labor. Furthermore, no sooner does the worker get his wages from his exploitative boss, then he is exploited by other bourgeoisie, such as his landlord.

The lower strata of the middle class, such as tradespeople, gradually sink into the proletariat. This is due to the fact that they lack sufficient capital, and the fact that technology has rendered their specialized skills no longer useful.

The Manifesto then describes the past history of the proletariat. As soon as this class was created it began to struggle with the bourgeoisie. This struggle originally involved the individual laborer, and later groups of workers, rebelling against the bourgeois that directly exploited them. These workers hoped to revive the medieval status of the worker. At this point, the workers were still disorganized, divided by geography and by competition with one another. Furthermore, when they did form unions, they were under the influence of the bourgeois, and actually served to further the objectives of the bourgeoisie.

However, with the modern development of industry, the proletariat increased in number, and became stronger and more concentrated. Furthermore, distinctions among laborers began to dissolve, as all shared equally low wages and equally unsure livelihoods. At this point, workers began to form trade unions and other associations, a process in which they are still engaged at the time of the Manifesto's writing. The proletariat is further helped in its unification by the increased means of communication made possible by modern industry, allowing for the struggles to take on national character. While the organization of the proletariat into a class is continually destroyed by competition among workers, each time it rises again stronger. Furthermore, as other classes try to use the proletarians to forward political their own ends, they give them tools to fight the bourgeoisie.

Marx explains that the only class today that is really revolutionary is the proletariat. All of the other classes that fight the bourgeoisie--such as the shopkeeper--are conservative, fighting to preserve their existence. Among the proletariat, however, the Old Society is already past preservation. "Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests."

Historically, the proletariat are also unique. In the past, when a class got the upper hand, it tried to subject all of society to its own mode of appropriation. However, the proletariat lack any property of their own to retain or expand. Rather, they must destroy all ways of securing private property at all. Another unique characteristic of the proletariat is that, while past movements were started by minorities, the proletariats are a vast majority, and are acting in the interest of that majority.

Chapter 3 in Wadsworth is an essay by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in which they discuss the division of society.  The essay begins, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” (Wadsworth, 2011)  This statement is one of the foundational beliefs of Communism, which includes the theory that society consists of those who have and those who do not.  The former, referred to in the essay as the bourgeois, are the “class of modern capitalists … and employers of wage-labor.” (Wadsworth, 2011)  The latter, or the proletariat, are defined as the “class of modern wage-laborers.” (Wadsworth, 2011)  Marx and Engels go on to describe how industrialization has contributed to an ever-widening gap between the bourgeois and the proletariat, and their predictions as to the fate of these two classes.

The two authors claim that in feudal times, society was much more stratified, with virtually every class having several levels, and that modern-day society has become boiled down to the haves and the have-nots.  The formation of the bourgeois occurred when increased trade contributed to the fall of feudalism, and when growing trade markets continued to expand, the manufacturing system began to dominate the economy.  Those controlling manufacturing were the bourgeois.  The authors state that the bourgeois were egotistical, tossing aside “the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm,” and that they decreased the value of the individual worker, turning those who had previously held positions of prestige into mere wage-earners, simply because the bourgeois cared more about money. (Wadsworth, 2011)  Furthermore, the authors tell us that the bourgeois consume other countries, causing unindustrialized countries to become dependent upon those that are industrialized.  Other evils of the bourgeois included the concentration of property into the hands of a few, shrinking of family size, and destroying and polluting nature.

The proletariats, on the other hand, were in fact created from the oppression of the capitalists.  These laborers were looked at as “appendages” of their machines, paid only enough to sustain themselves. (Wadsworth, 2011)  However, as the development of industry continued the proletariat formed unions, which grew not only in number but in strength.  The most interesting part of the essay is where the authors allude to Conflict Theory.  They state,

“The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle.  At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries.”  (Wadsworth, 2011, pg. 16)

So, not only was the bourgeois in conflict with the proletariat, it was also in conflict within its own population.  The constant struggle between classes led Marx and Engels to suggest that the proletarians’ growing numbers and strength of their movement would lead to the eventual downfall of the upper-class capitalists; that the average laborer would emerge from turmoil and regain a state of equality in society.  They predicted, “… the victory of the proletariat [is] … inevitable.”

In reading this essay, there are a few things worth noting.  First was the mention of man’s colonization and industrialization of nature.  Even today we struggle to find a balance between advancing our economy and maintaining standards for a healthy environment.  The formation of the Green Party is an example of people gathering together to fight pollution, clearing of forests, etc.  However, some technological innovations have become necessary to our modern society.  Power lines, for example, supply energy for heat and lighting to billions of people worldwide; telephone lines provide a method of communication between homes; canals, railroads, and highways ensure safe transportation.  On another note, the authors mention on page fifteen that, “Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class.” (Wadsworth, 2011)  However, due to the issuance of child labor laws, and emerging research into workplace discrimination revealing that on average men are still making more money than women.

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