Class Struggle and Autonomy in the Communist Manifesto

1256 Words3 Pages

Class Struggle and Autonomy in the Communist Manifesto

The University of Dayton emphasizes four humanities based themes to describe the essence of the human experience. Autonomy and responsibility, one of these four themes, is defined within the program as, “The individual person has the ability to make choices; with those choices comes a responsibility for the consequences of those choices.”[1] Although this definition fits well in modern American society since widespread autonomy has been granted by the Constitution to all citizens, Frederick Engels and Karl Marx observed quite a different human situation in the 19th century.

The drastic increase in productive development characterized by the industrial revolution of the 19th century brought two major sociopolitical changes to Europe by the middle of the century. First, the industrial revolution gave rise to a middle class that would eventually become the driving political and economic force throughout Europe. Secondly, the industrial revolution demanded productive entities exploit the extensive influx of people into major urban areas in order to maintain competitive advantages and meet rising demand for European goods in domestic and foreign markets; such exploitation created an extensive urban social class that had no political power and little or none economic freedom.

As these developments became more and more noticeable, Marx and Engels were prompted to write their now infamous Communist Manifesto in order to inspire what they believed as the inevitable downfall of capitalism and the bourgeoisie thus giving the proletariat something that both had stolen: their autonomy.

To truly understand this concept an examination of the two major social classes in Europe at the time is critical. However, properly characterizing the bourgeoisie has been rather problematic for scholars. Pierre Proudhon defined the bourgeoisie as a “capitalistic aristocracy” who gained their wealth through little or no work.2 Nevertheless, many scholars like Michel Lhomme assert that the bourgeoisie is simply the social class that exists consisting of numerous facets between the landed aristocracy and the lower, working class. Ultimately, what seems to be true of the bourgeoisie is that it consisted of businessmen, professionals, and state officials that were united in ushering in the emergence of a middleclass 19th century society.3 These groups were connected because they shared a set of values that consisted of ideologies that embraced basic capitalistic ideals of economic expansion, increasing the standard of living, and augmenting the complexity of society as a whole; therefore, they were united in their defiance against the traditional, static society where production was limited to habitual consumption and business organizations remained monotonous.

Open Document