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 consumes 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, 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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