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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse

Class struggle (2)

A while ago, I analysed the iconic opening of Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’, which essentially models human society as configurations of different civic/sociopolitical groups, which, in modern parlance, are known as ‘class’. Another aspect of Marx’ theory is the idea of ‘struggle’ (hence ‘class struggle’), which is encapsulated in Marx’ description and analysis of the rise of the wealthy Middle Class (the modern day bourgeoisie), who ousted the Medieval feudal hierarchy and revolutionised the world:

‘The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class… Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising… Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.’

Not only did the economic boom of the capitalist Middle Class radically transform world economy, it also radically shook the fabric and structure of human society:

‘Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility… afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility… the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.’

Marx’ model of human evolution can hence be seen as a series of class-based dynamics where the growth and dominance of one class may have a seismic impact on human society, to the extent of challenging pre-existing authorities, as was the case with the earliest and original bourgeoisie against the feudal nobility and monarchy. One may raise objections to the fact that a class-based model of human society is necessarily idealistic and simplistic, since human communal existence can never be neatly divided into separate, albeit mutually complementary, groups, however one chooses to define or label them (whether socially, politically, geographically etc), but in terms of explaining human history, this type of formal reasoning has the advantage of showing clearly who the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ are, and the revolutionaries, in Marx’ vision of human history, (almost) always consist of oppressed groups of society who gain political advantage and defeat their oppressors. What a heroic struggle.

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