Group B Seminar: Engels, Marx and the demise of the Bourgeoisie

Essay Topic for discussion Monday October 10th, 2011

The Bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarcely one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together’.…what according to Marx and Engels, were the different manifestations of the power of the bourgeoisie? Given the bourgeoisie’s impressive power, were Marx and Engels justified in their conclusion that ‘its fall and victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable’?

Well one can quickly see this question comes in two parts; it would be a fairly silly mistake to ignore both elements and just answer one. However, that does not necessarily mean you have to give a 50:50 division of your answer to both. Indeed you might want to spend more time on one part over the other.

The first question invites you to consider why and how were the Bourgeoisie as a class powerful, and notice that the question suggest power comes in different varieties…manifestations is this expression used. A common mistake a lot of students will do when faced with the fairly heavy and turgid prose of Engels and Marx is that they will simply paraphrase the text in their own words…without showing that they really understand what is being said.

My advice is to go for the jugular here and try to find and write out the various manifestations of power….that the Bourgeoisie have…and don’t be afraid to tease this out. Don’t also be afraid to tease out whether you think Engels and Marx are logically correct…maybe at time they make sweeping assertions…maybe there are contradictions in their arguments…can you find them?

For example on page 40, Marx and Engels provide a short potted history of how the Bourgeoisie emerged as powerful…or consider a time period when they were less powerful…what was the relationship between the decline of the agrarian feudal system and their rise as a class?

The emergence of a modern state…..which we take for granted, but is a definitive historical invention as distinctive as the ‘steam engine’, has something to do with the rise of the Bourgeoisie….but what is their relationship with the state according to Marx and Engels?

Moreover, why does the state have a special claim on power in a way say that large firms or associations don’t have? What is so special about state power?

On Page 41, they move on to a discussion of the economic power of the Bourgeoisie….what is the nature of this economic power? He even makes  mention of the metaphor their ‘heavy artillery’…..what does he mean here and why?

What is the relationship between the Bourgeoisie and urban and rural areas or population and how would this alter power relationships?

As regards the second question, don’t be misled by the word ‘justified’….perhaps an alternative way of phrasing here might be are they ‘logically plausible’ in their argument that eventually the Bourgeoisie will collapse and the Proletariat take over? Where did they base that claim on…what force is making the rising of the Bourgeoisie unstable?

In particular note his discussion of commercial crises…recessions in our terminology. What according to Marx and Engels is the true political dynamic they unleash?

And notice his discussion of the lower strata of the middle class…what is likely to happen to them and why?

And ultimately as the situation becomes eventually revolutionary and unstable as they predict it, what happens to some of the Bourgeoisie at least as regards their political sympathies?

Finally, scan over some of these arguments made by Marx and Engels and consider to what extent they make sense-might logically different outcomes be possible? We do know for instance, that things turned out a little differently that they suggested…at least so far!

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