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Bourgeoisie and Proletariat

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In his analysis of Capitalism, Marx distinguished between 2 main social classes: the Bourgeoisie and the proletariat where class membership depended upon ownership (Bourgeoisie) or non-ownership (Proletariat) of the means of production. The relationship between these social classes was based upon exploitation and class conflict. Secondarily the two social classes obviously depended upon each other as a source of employment or as a source of profit

Bourgeoisie

Relationship between Bourgeoisie and Proletariat is based upon exploitation and class conflict

Proletariat

Exploitation of the Proletariat by the Bourgeoisie arose inevitably because in order to make profits the Bourgeoisie paid the proletariat less than the value of what they produced which could be expected to generate class conflict between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat .In relation to class conflict George and Wilding comment,"Protests and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, wage negotiations and strikes, voting at parliamentary and local elections, political debates and so on are all part and parcel of the ongoing class conflict that is inherent in a capitalist society".

 

This is certainly the case in the Marxist approach but others would argue that some of the above list of activities have very little to do with class conflict. It is important to note that Marx and Engels did recognise the existence of conflicts other than class conflict but they argued that whereas other conflicts could be resolved within a capitalist system, the ending of class conflict would be possible only with the ending of the capitalist system. It is far from certain that modern marxist feminists , for example, would support this view.

 

It is important to note that in his historical studies, Marx certainly referred to other social classes. Thus writing about revolution and counter-revolution in Germany, Marx refers to 7 classes: feudal landlords, bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, rich and middle peasants, proletariat, lumpenproletariat and in his later work recognised that the growth of joint stock companies would result in the growth of middle class occupations such that , to some extent, Marx anticipated the theory of the managerial revolution.

The existence of these other social classes could be explained because they were remnants of feudalism which could be expected to decline as capitalism developed or because they were fragments of classes rather than complete classes in their own right. Marx basically argued that the capitalist class structure would gradually be simplified into 2 great social classes, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat as other social classes moved either upwards into the Bourgeoisie or downwards into the Proletariat . This was Marx’s theory of Class Polarisation .

Sometimes , as mentioned class conflict would be limited and this was explained by Marx partly in terms of the false class consciousness of the Proletariat who appeared to be unaware of their exploitation and the source of it i.e the capitalist system and the Bourgeoisie. In this situation, the Proletariat could be described as class in itself but not as a class for itself because it had accepted what Marx called the Ruling Class Ideology.

Such ideas might include the following:

Private enterprise or capitalism is a more efficient system of production than is state socialism. Capitalism is dynamic, flexible and can generate high living standards.

Especially under conditions of late capitalism we have a very democratic political system by comparison with the USSR and Eastern European societies before the fall of Communism.

Capitalism does result in economic inequality but these economic inequalities are diminishing and those which remain can be justified, for example by the Functionalist theory of social stratification.

Also even if there is social inequality, there is also a high degree of equality of opportunity.

In general ,Marx argued that "The ideas of the ruling class are in very age, the ruling ideas: ie the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force".

These "ruling ideas" according to Marx are spread by important parts of the Superstructure The relationship between Economic Base (or Infrastructure) can now be considered.