Marx’s Theory Of Histoy

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
This crucial opening to The Communist Manifesto holds the key to understanding Karl Marx’s conception of history. Marx outlines history as a two dimensional, “linear” chain of events. A constant progression of class divisions being created and overthrown, one after the other, until the result is the utopian endpoint, otherwise known as communism.
Karl Marx, in writing the Communist Manifesto, argued that human history unfolds in a teleological manner; therefore it unfolds according to a distinct series of historical stages, each necessarily following the other. These stages ultimately lead to a given Utopian endpoint, after which there will be no more change, an end to history. Marx thought that these stages can be forecasted, because there are scientific laws, which govern the progress of history. He believed to have discovered these laws and with certainty, predicted the demise of capitalism and the success of communism.
According to Marx, the course of human history takes a very specific form, class struggle. The reason for change in the aforementioned historical stages is class animosity. He states, “Hitherto, every form of society has been based…on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes.” So at any point in time, history can be defined by the relationships between different classes.
Using these models, Marx explains his account of feudalism’s passing in favor of bourgeois capitalism; and his forecast of bourgeois capitalism’s passing in favor of proletarian rule. These changes are not the results of random social, economic, and political events. Each change follows the other in a predictable linear succession.
Marx presents a logical explanation for this “class progressivism” approach to history. According to Marx’s account of history, every class is naturally unsound, and predestined for ultimate destruction due to its internal discrepancies. They will then bring rise to a new class, which has settled the discrepancies of its precursor but retains it own, which will cause its eventual passing.
In more specific terms, Marx sketches the development of the capitalist bourgeoisie society from feudal society.
“From the surfs of the middle ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.” (56)
So Serfs gave rise to burghers who formed the beginnings of the new bourgeois class. The beginnings of European trade with America and the Far East contributed to the rapid development of the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society(56). New markets, which became unable to be supported by the feudal systems’ means of production, caused that system to be replaced by the manufacturing system…. The guild-masters were pushed aside by the manufacturing middle class; division of labor between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labor in a single workshop. (56)
And, so, by an inevitable historical process, the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.(57) And each of these has been accompanied by a corresponding political advance in class.(57) At each new change, whichever class represented and controlled the modes of production were also the city policymakers, organizing the affairs of the state to best suit its conditions. In Marx’s words, the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie. (57)
This idea of the “modes of production” is another recurring element in Marx’s conception of history. The factory process is one mode of production. The guild system as a whole was another, as was feudal slave labor. In bourgeois capitalism, however, there is a definite simplification in the breakdown of the classes – people who produce, and who do the work (the proletariat) and those who own the modes of production and pay them to work (the bourgeoisie). Wage labor, the selling of one’s productive effort for money, will be the driving force of the next, inevitable historical change. The work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and consequently all charm for the workman.(61) Workers divorced from the products they make, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital(61) cannot but become alienated. In fact, Marx noted an increasing tempo of dissatisfaction in the decades immediately preceding the publication of the Communist Manifesto.
The history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule…. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they might overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. (60)
And so, the weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself (60), the very means by which the bourgeois secured themselves created the men who represent their opposite: The proletariat, the modern working class. That the working class is becoming restless indicates the unfitness of the bourgeoisie to continue as a ruling class. This sets the stage for the next, and final stage of this progression: A revolution of the working class. Once they develop a political consciousness and a sense of class cohesion, the working class will overthrow the bourgeois owners who are in fact their masters. Having done so, they will seize the means of production and institute a society in which there will be no class divisions. No one will be forced to sell their labor for the ends of capital accumulation. Property relations being the means by which they are bound to their condition, must be destroyed. Once bourgeois property is no longer the driving force of life, and there forms an association among workers, not a competition between them, the basis for a classless, Communist social order will be formed.
Marx believed that the tables of historical change turn in a constant, linear progression. The formation of new classes, followed by their inevitable, natural demise was the story of the humanity thus far. Fueled by class antagonism, this engine of historical change will continue to run until the communist utopia is reached. The Communist Manifesto then is a teleological writing which argues that the “history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
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