I'll break up this opening part of the manifesto into two separate sections.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
Engels defines these two key terms in a footnote accompanying the passage above. 'Bourgeoisie' refers to the 'owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour'. This category includes business owners, of course, but also executives, and also (arguably) the middle management within a firm. Note that the definition has nothing to do with quantity of income, or the 'social status' of one's job. For instance, a self-employed tradesman, or land-owning farmer, or small business owner who makes little money, are both examples of owners of the means of production. (Note also which side of politics some of these social groups have tended to align themselves with throughout modern history).
In the same footnote, that proletariat is defined as 'the class of modern wage labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live'.
Again, this definition says nothing about income or social status. A teacher, nurse or social worker may, by this definition, be members of the proletariat, every bit as much as a factory worker. If there is a distinction between the latter and the former, it is that the factory worker is engaged in material, productive labour, namely, labour that produces a commodity for circulation. The teacher or nurse merely sells their labour power.
Some authors, such as Hardt and Negri, have made much of this distinction between 'material' and 'immaterial' labour, classifying the latter as 'biopolitical labour'. This is defined as 'labour that creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself' (p. 109). Examples of this include, among other things, traditional 'women's work', such as 'kin work, caring labour, and maternal work' (p. 111). Presumably, that which we might term 'Foucauldian' work would fall into this category - doctors, psychologists, prison officers, etc. I won't dwell on Hardt and Negri's point, and I suspect some would take issue with it, but it does suggest some interesting points of intersection between a Marxist theory of the proletariat, on the one hand, and feminism, psychoanalysis, and Foucauldian theories of 'biopolitics', on the other.
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.
The discovery of
The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop.
In other words, there is a shift in the means of production between feudalism and industrial capitalism. By the 18th century, the guild system was in decline, to be ultimately replaced by an industrialism in which the 'division of labour' is contained within one site, one workshop or factory. Marx came back to this point elsewhere, exploring its consequences, notably in Das Kapital, (and also the Grundrisse), as the shift from the 'guild-corporation' to the modern industrial factory brings with it changes in the nature of a worker's relation to means of production.
Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturer no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.
Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of
This is, mutatis mutandis, the situation that remains in the capitalist world today.
We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.
This is an important ideological, as well as historical point. Defenders of the status quo will often attempt all kinds of intellectual tricks to assure us that industrial capitalism is simply the 'natural' order of things, that it flows necessarily from 'human nature' or evolution. In fact, it is, as Marx says, the product of a 'long course of development'. Engels adds in a footnote here than England is 'typical' in terms of the economic development of the bourgeoisie, but that France is typical when it comes to political development.
Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.
This last line is one that I would like to discuss with any willing readers. It isn't that I think it fundamentally wrong - we have all seen collusion between corporate and 'bourgeois' interests and government - but I wonder if things are not somewhat more complicated than this.
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
I think this passage makes clear the link between capitalism and what we might term 'liberalism' (i.e. emphasis on individualism, free trade, etc). This fact is one of the key contradictions of contemporary Anglophone conservatives. They simply cannot, for the life of them, conceive that their beloved 'values' are not, in fact being eroded by 'political correctness', or 'big' governments, but rather, by the capitalist values that they also cherish.
I think that the broader 'left' has forgotten some of these points. All too often, 'freedom' is reduced to the freedom to trade, or the freedom to consume. The language here is Orwellian in that, if Marx is correct, this 'freedom' belies a profound slavery in the process of production. This slippery use of language by capitalists has persisted to the modern day. 'Flexibility' in the workplace means casualisation, and the ability to fire staff unfairly. When the IMF arrives at a developing country to perform a 'structural adjustment', it means its fucking it in the ear.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
In other words, we see a kind of commodification of everyday life. Currencies used to be set to the gold standard; now, the 'sentimental veil' is gauged by way of commodification. (As an aside, it's interesting how recent years have seen the emergence of terms such as 'emotional currency'. One assesses one's romantic affairs in terms of the 'investment' one has in them. It is not for nothing that Freud grasped for economic metaphors in characterising the psyche).
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his, real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
I'll leave it here for now, with the final paragraph above showcasing some of Marx's purple prose. Next time, I'll continue with the remainder of this section on bourgeois and proletarians.