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Why Did Karl Marx Regard the Working Class to Be the only Revolutionary Class Under Capitalism?

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Why did Karl Marx regard the working class to be the only revolutionary class under capitalism?

By Kevin O' Connor

"Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!"- Communist Manifesto Chapter 4 (Ref. 1)

In the communist manifesto, Marx divides society into two main classes, the bourgeoisie, who are the owners of the means of production and employers of wage labourers, and the wage labourers themselves, the proletariat working class. The bourgeoisie, he claims, by their very capitalist nature, exploit the proletariat workers by unfairly controlling the wealth and means of production, thus forcing the proletarians to sell their only real asset, their labour in order to survive. Marx then goes on to argue that the proletarians must revolt against the capitalist society that treats them so unjustly in order to equally distribute the wealth and power. He reinforces this by saying, "Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons-the modern working class-the proletarians." (Ref. 2) and "Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product."(Ref 3) These statements would indicate that Marx regarded the proletarians to be the only revolutionary class under capitalism. But why does Marx regard them in this way? The bourgeoisie, as Marx has described them are not revolutionary simply because it is in their best interest for things to remain as they are. For the workers, both socially and geographically divided; a gap that is constantly fluctuating in modern times, to compete for smaller and smaller wages that are losing their value due to the ever increasing prices on commodities, prices that the bourgeoisie set themselves. This forces workers to work longer hours to earn as much as it would if they were paid a descent wage in order for them to provide for their families. If a revolution were to occur, the bourgeoisie would lose everything they hold dear, their status in society, their power over the proletarians and most importantly; their wealth. One of the first steps towards a revolution against capitalism would be the unionisation of workers; this would not be good for the bourgeoisie because this would probably mean reduced hours for more wages, requiring more money to keep production steady or a loss in productivity for the same cost. The lower middle class, whom Marx regards as part of the proletariat class, are not revolutionary, they are simply caught in a type of limbo between the two main classes and therefore cannot be revolutionary, if revolution were to occur, they would simply do what is in their best interest, about which Marx says; "The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay, more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If, by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests; they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat."(Ref. 4) Apart from the lower middle class, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat class, the only other class mentioned in the manifesto is; "The "dangerous class", the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however,



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