Of the many thought provoking and avant-garde ideas contained in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party, the core concept is explicitly stated in the opening line of the document where they wrote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” (126) This concept of class antagonisms is alluded to throughout several portions of the text. They believed that the proletariat would ultimately rise up and unify, dissolving all class distinctions to create a society conducted by a tier-less working class. In the process of developing their argument, Marx and Engels described the implications of the bourgeoisie’s rise to power. In this post I seek to expand on this notion.
Marx and Engels wrote that the bourgeoisie had, “replaced an exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions by exploitation open, unashamed, direct, and brutal.”(127) These statements were in reference to how the industrial revolution had created a system of exploitation in which the owners of capital, the bourgeoisie, exploited the wage-laborers, the proletariat, by enacting exploitative labor practices. They believed that the division of labor created a situation where, “He (the worker) becomes a mere appendage of the machine, of whom only the simplest, most monotonous operations are required,” ultimately creating a situation where “the price of a commodity, and therefore of labor, is equal to the cost of its production.”(131) While it is true that the division of labor drastically improves production, Marx and Engels objected to this practice because it marginalizes the worker to the extent where his labor becomes so simplified and monotonous that they lose all bargaining power and leverage against the firm. Adam Smith, in his work An Inquiry into the Nature and Case of the Wealth of Nations, emphatically promoted this division of labor. He did not recognize the inherent pitfalls that inevitably arise with this boost of productive efficiency. Marx and Engels countered this stance by claiming that the increases in production were nullified by the working class’ horrific existence.
Marx and Engels argued that such an exploitative system could only remain in place for a limited time because “the bourgeoisie has not only forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also produced the men who will wield these weapons – the modern workers, the PROLETARIATS.” (130) It appears as though these “weapons” which they allude to are products of the very industrial system that has subjugated the working class: new technologies. Marx and Engels wrote, “the union, which took centuries for the burghers of the Middle Ages with their wretched highways, to establish, the modern proletariat achieves by means of railways in a few years.” (133) Once the proletariat rises up against its oppressors it is capable of commandeering the new technologies that they created with their own labor, such as the railroads, to help disperse their new ideas and help the revolution materialize at a previously unfathomable pace.
In addition to railroads, what other newly developed technologies and structures created by constantly expanding markets would prove to be valuable for the dispersion of communist ideals?