Class Struggle and the Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto is profoundly marked by the history of class struggle and social inequality throughout history. In fact Marx suggests that history is in essence merely a timeline of class struggle, unchanging apart from the alteration in mode of production. The document is the story of the conflict between the Proletariat and the Bourgeois, the oppressed and the oppressor, the haves and the have nots, etc? However, this is not a new idea and Marx is really not all that radical. In his Politics, Aristotle wrote, ?Those who have too much of the goods of fortune, strength, wealth, friends and the like, are neither willing nor able to submit to authority?On the other hand, the very poor, who are in the opposite extreme, are too degraded.?[i] As Marx states it in the document, modern history is the manifestation of centuries of a system that was and still is built on the delicate balance of inequities. [ii]
For our purposes we will begin this timeline with the 17th century in Europe. It is a time period marked by a hierarchy of ranks and sub ranks. These positions were hereditary and binding for the duration of someone?s life bar any incredible circumstance. These ranks were also marked specifically by wealth. In this time period serfdom, a system in which peasants worked land that was owned by a wealthy member of the nobility was the standard. The very distinction of classes was what the wealthy had; what they wore, where they lived, and how they lived. The countryside was marked by sets of self-reliant villages with the noble?s manor at the center. [iii] According to Marx serfdom was a step above slavery for the people were laboring but not benefiting from the fruits of that labor. Serfs in essence were the property of the landowner. Landtman expresses it well when he says, ?The dependent class?consists of poor free people who attach themselves to the strong man for protection, and in return acknowledge his authority.?[iv]
In Russia in the middle of the 19th century this serfdom was still very much a part of their economy. Stephen Hoch in a study that he conducted on a small Russian village called Petrovskie makes some insightful inferences about the serf system there. In Russia, as well as Europe in the 17th century, the serfs were ?managed? in a way that more closely represented exploitation. Very little was invested in improving the state of the land that they cultivated and instead the emphasis was placed on compelling the serfs to produce more. Meanwhile the landowner merely reaped the benefits and rarely reinvested in the venture. This study is relevant because it was taking place at the same time as the Manifesto was being written.[v] The system led to a series of revolutions because as Hoch deduced, ?Serf behavior and attitudes were in fact an integrated human response to the ecological constraints at work in the society and to the...