Q. How did Marx and Engels understand the motor of change in human history? How do they view the role of class?
• Marx and Engels understood the motor of change to be one of class struggle between oppressor and oppressed.
• They believed that class was central to human history; in each age the struggle between oppressor and oppressed classes defined society and ultimately provided the motor for systemic change.
Q. What are Marx and Engels’s criticisms of the existing social system? What do they see as its major achievements?
• Marx and Engels criticized the existing social system for reducing all workers into commodities; reducing the family into a mere money relation; removing the skill from the work of the proletariat; and making the work of the proletariat monotonous. The existing social system resulted in the decline of the lower strata of the middle class, and in the bourgeoisie seizing control of government for its own purposes.
• However, Marx and Engels believed that the social system had been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about, surpassing even the greatest accomplishments of the past. The bourgeoisie system improved industrial production and communications; drew all, “even the most barbarian, nations into civilization” (p. 858); “rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life” by creating cities (p. 858); and “during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together” (p. 858).
Q. Why do Marx and Engels believe that the system is doomed?
• They believe that periodic crises of overproduction weaken the system. Also, the system caused the formation of modern working-class proletariats who would ultimately overthrow the bourgeoisie in the course of the natural class conflict between the two.
Q. How does the industrial proletariat differ from the lower class of the preindustrial era? What role do Marx and Engels foresee for the proletariat?
• In the preindustrial world, exploitation was veiled by religious and political illusions of ties between common men and natural superiors.
• The industrial era destroyed these ties and substituted “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” of proletariats by industrial capitalists (p. 857).
• The proletariats were another commodity created by the bourgeois system, but in the future the proletariats will organize and wrest political supremacy from the bourgeoisie.
Q. Which of Marx and Engels’s descriptions and predictions ring true even now? In what respects was their analysis disproved by later developments?