Why The 19Th Century Class Structures Are Built To Exploit The Proletariat

The texts, written by the historians, writers, and philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, were published in 1848. The aim was essentially to expose the many flaws in capitalist society. Whilst promoting socialism and degrading capitalist ideology, they allude to what they believe society should be, touching on religion, class systems and politics. However despite their intentions there are many gaps in the arguments that are established and their claims are left reductionist rather than holistic.

The first section is entitled Bourgeois and Proletarians, the bourgeois being the upper echelon of society and the latter the working class. Historical context is fundamental to this text, immediately being brought to light in the first sentence, ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’. One additional term that is briefly touched upon is the ‘burgesses’. This is the term that describes the working class which arose during the Middle ages and is the foundation of the bourgeois according to Marx and Engels.

The next chapter entitled The Fetishlsm of Commodities and the Secret Thereof establishes the ‘mystical character’ of commodity. It is also discussed how commodity fetishism leads to the value of products being taken for granted, without people considering the whole production that has gone into making and valuing the product. Once Marx and Engels have explained how the exploitation the working class whilst they remain ‘unaware’ is a fundamental flaw of capitalist society, they move on to allude to a new mode of society. The example of the story of Robinson Crusoe, who is stranded on his own on a desert island is used to hint toward their vision. This man, having been stranded uses his time ‘accurately between different kinds of work’.

Marx and Engels then use this to propose the benefits of a society with people all taking on various works on a smaller local scale; as opposed to corporations managing people time for them. The fact that society is told when to work and forced to work for what Marx and Engels think are extreme hours, leads them to claim we are robbed of our normal conditions of development. They conclude by asserting that they have never said anything other than that according to their conception of history, the most important determining factor in social relations is production and reproduction. Marx and Engels begin by describing the oppositions separating the proletariat and the bourgeois across history. This is a useful starting point as not only does it introduce two important aspects, class and history, it does so in a way that is direct. Despite this, there is little expansion of the significance of the ‘burgesses’ despite its seeming importance in the elevation of the bourgeois. Though, the oppositions regarding the ‘oppressor and the oppressed’ are explained and expanded, there is little said about the middle class. Furthermore, there is a vast amount description of a 19th century society based on commodity value when in fact the only hint of an alternative is only alluded to through the story of Robinson Crusoe. However, this story is only based loosely on real life; Robinson only provides for himself out of necessity as he is on his own. This means that this man organises his time this way because he is on his own, and is forced by necessity to be independent. There is no evidence to prove that this would work to form a functioning society.

On the other hand, Marx and Engels’ proposals can only be hypothetical as there is no one truly knows what alternative model of society would work and no one in history can remember a time before capital. Despite this, they should’ve used an example from somewhere in the Globe that exists with a less monetarily based society, rather than a fictional text. Concomitantly, the issue of what is the ‘normal’ conditions of life remains vague and undeveloped. Despite its shortcomings, this text manages to reference many phenomena which remain prevalent in the 21st century, for example the growing use of excessive global consumption, and the rise in a globalised world ‘the need for a constantly expanding market’.

These examples show Marx and Engels eye for predicting relevant and significant issues in society. This does not compensate for the lack of detail as to how the proletariat should awaken themselves and seize back control. Whilst this text does well in establishing itself as a revolutionary forward thinking text, it lacks the refinement of a holistic realistic plan of action to implement change in society.

18 May 2020
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