Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word,oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on anuninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionaryre-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of societyinto various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians,knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guildmasters, journeymen,apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again subordinate gradations.
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not doneaway 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 distinctive feature: it hassimplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two greathostile 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. Fromthese burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.
The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the risingbourgeoisie. The East-lndian and Chinese markets, the colonization of America, trade with thecolonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave tocommerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to therevolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.
The feudal system of industry, under which industrial production was monopolised by closedguilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturingsystem took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middleclass; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division oflabour in each single workshop.
Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacture no longersufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionized industrial production. The place ofmanufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry, the place of the industrial middle class, byindustrial millionaires, the leaders of whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.
Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved theway. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, tocommunication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry;and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportionthe bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every classhanded down from the Middle Ages.
We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course ofdevelopment, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.
Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding politicaladvance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed andself-governing association in the medieval commune; here independent urban republic (as in Italyand Germany), there taxable "third estate" of the monarchy (as in France), afterwards, in theperiod of manufacture proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as acounterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, thebourgeoisie 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 executiveof the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the wholebourgeoisie.
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 nakedself-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies ofreligious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water ofegotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of thenumberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom -Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it hassubstituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up towith reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man ofscience, into its paid wage-labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the familyrelation to a mere money relation.
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the MiddleAges, which Reactionists so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothfulindolence. It has been the first to show what man's activity can bring about. It has accomplishedwonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it hasconducted 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 firstcondition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production,uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitationdistinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with theirtrain of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed onesbecome antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy isprofaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, andhis relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the wholesurface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexionseverywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan characterto production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it hasdrawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-establishednational industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by newindustries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, byindustries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from theremotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarterof the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find newwants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the oldlocal and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction,universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. Theintellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidednessand narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national andlocal literatures, there arises a world literature.
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immenselyfacilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation.The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinesewalls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. Itcompels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compelsthem to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves.In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormouscities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thusrescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made thecountry dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countriesdependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on theWest.
The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, ofthe means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised means ofproduction, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of thiswas political centralization. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces with separateinterests, laws, governments and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation,with one government, one code of laws, one national classinterest, one frontier and onecustoms-tariff.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and morecolossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature'sforces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation,railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers,whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even a presentiment thatsuch productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisiebuilt itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of thesemeans of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced andexchanged, the feudal organisation of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, thefeudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productiveforces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.
Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitutionadapted to it, and by the economical and political sway of the bourgeois class.
A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. Modern bourgeois society with itsrelations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such giganticmeans of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control thepowers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past thehistory of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forcesagainst modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions forthe existence of the bourgeoisie and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crisesthat by their periodical return put on its trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of theentire bourgeois society. In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also ofthe previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaksout an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity - the epidemic ofover-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; itappears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means ofsubsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too muchcivilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. Theproductive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of theconditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for theseconditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bringdisorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. Theconditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And howdoes the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass ofproductive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thoroughexploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and moredestructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.
The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned againstthe bourgeoisie itself.
But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also calledinto existence the men who are to wield those weapons - the modern working class - theproletarians.
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is theproletariat, the modern working class, developed - a class of labourers, who live only so long asthey find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. Theselabourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article ofcommerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all thefluctuations of the market.
Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of the proletarianshas lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes anappendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easilyacquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted,almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance, and for thepropagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to itscost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wagedecreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, inthe same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the workinghours, by increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of the machinery,etc.
Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factoryof the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised likesoldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfecthierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of thebourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooked and, aboveall, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaimsgain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.
The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labour, in other words, the moremodern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that ofwomen. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the workingclass. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age andsex.
No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, and hereceives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, thelandlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.
The lower strata of the middle class - the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmengenerally, the handicraftsmen and peasants - all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partlybecause their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry iscarried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because theirspecialised skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production. Thus the proletariat isrecruited from all classes of the population.
The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its strugglewith the bourgeoisie. At first the contest is carried on by individual labourers, then by theworkpeople of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade, in one locality, against theindividual bourgeois who directly exploits them. They direct their attacks not against thebourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; theydestroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash to pieces machinery, they setfactories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workman of the MiddleAges.
At this stage the labourers still form an incoherent mass scattered over the whole country, andbroken up by their mutual competition. If anywhere they unite to form more compact bodies,this is not yet the consequence of their own active union, but of the union of the bourgeoisie,which class, in order to attain its own political ends, is compelled to set the whole proletariat inmotion, and is moreover yet, for a time, able to do so. At this stage, therefore, the proletarians donot fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, thelandowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeoisie. Thus the whole historicalmovement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie; every victory so obtained is a victoryfor the bourgeoisie.
But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomesconcentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The variousinterests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised, inproportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduceswages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resultingcommercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The unceasingimprovement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and moreprecarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more andmore the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon the workers begin to formcombinations (Trades' Unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up therate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for theseoccasional revolts. Here and there the contest breaks out into riots.
Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies,not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers. This union is helpedon by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry and that placethe workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that wasneeded to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one nationalstruggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, toattain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries,the modern proletarians, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.
This organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, iscontinually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it everrises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interestsof the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus theten-hours' bill in England was carried.
Altogether collisions between the classes of the old society further, in many ways, the course ofdevelopment of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At firstwith the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests havebecome antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreigncountries. In all these battles it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for itshelp, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies theproletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishesthe proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.
Further, as we have already seen, entire sections of the ruling classes are, by the advance ofindustry, precipitated into the proletariat, or are at least threatened in their conditions ofexistence. These also supply the proletariat with fresh elements of enlightenment and progress.
Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the process of dissolution goingon within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent,glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift and joins therevolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlierperiod, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisiegoes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who haveraised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as awhole.
Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is areally revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of ModernIndustry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all thesefight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middleclass. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, forthey try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance they are revolutionary, they are so only inview of their impending transfer into the proletariat, they thus defend not their present, but theirfuture interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.
The "dangerous class", the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowestlayers of old society may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution;its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionaryintrigue.
In the conditions of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped.The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything incommon with the bourgeois family relations; modern industrial labour, modern subjection tocapital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of everytrace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices,behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.
All the preceding classes that got the upper hand, sought to fortify their already acquired statusby subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. The proletarians cannotbecome masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previousmode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They havenothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for,and insurances of, individual property.
All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities.The proletarian movement is the selfconscious, independent movement of the immense majority,in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our presentsociety, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of officialsociety being sprung into the air.
Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at firsta national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters withits own bourgeoisie.
In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more orless veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out intoopen revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for thesway of the proletariat.
Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism ofoppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must beassured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period ofserfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under theyoke of feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on thecontrary, instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below theconditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops morerapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfitany longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon societyas an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to itsslave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has tofeed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in otherwords, its existence is no longer compatible with society.
The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formationand augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour restsexclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntarypromoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by theirrevolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore,cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriatesproducts. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its falland the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.
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