This is the fourth entry of an extended series outlining capitalism, it's history, oppressive nature, and the fundamental problems with modern Western Christianity as its champion. This post covers perhaps the most brilliant and provocative (not to mention misunderstood) thinker of this age: Karl Marx. Cited sources can be found here.
Marx is a major figure in the economic and philosophical thought, and his work as a sociological theorist provided the basis for the Institute of Social Research. According to Marx, society “comprised a moving balance of antithetical forces that generate social change by their tension and struggle” (Coser, 1977, p. 43). He emphasized that struggle was the “engine of progress,” rather than peaceful growth. The manner in which men relate to one another in the “continuous struggle to wrest their livelihood from nature” (Coser, 1977, p. 43) is the motivating drive in human history. In order to satisfy both basic (food, water, shelter) and secondary (property, capital) needs, men engage in “antagonistic cooperation.” This is what forms the basis for the division of labor present in capitalistic society, and that division is what provides antagonism between the classes (Coser, 1977). In a capitalist society, oppression is implemented by the class that controls the means of material production. Control of material production allows for a simultaneous control of the means of mental production, prescribing a role of subjugation for the classes that are oppressed (Coser, 1977).
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels collaborated to author The Communist Manifesto: a blazing propaganda piece directed to the working class (the proletariat) to make them aware of the Communist Party’s platform against the wealthy (the bourgeois). The Communist Manifesto is a call to arms, so to speak for the proletariat to rise up against the bourgeois (Coser, 1977). According to Marx (1848), “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles” (p. 9). He argues that the modern bourgeois society has created “new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 12). Society has split into two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeois, and the bourgeois has maintained a state of oppression over the proletariat. This is done by “constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 46). This has allowed the bourgeois to manufacture a market for products to fulfill their ever-enlarging business structure. This expanse of the capital structure requires independence upon the market that, in turn, continues to expand the market (Marx & Engels, 1848).
According to Marx (1848), “the bourgeois has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population” (p. 65). The bourgeois established a vacuum by creating an urban empire of production. To better afford means of life the rural populations were drawn in. This made them dependent on the production of the bourgeois, maintaining a steady local workforce to supplement growing production facilities. In an attempt to further the avalanche of production, “differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labor, more of less expensive to use, according to their age and sex” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 112). As soon as the worker receives their compensation for labor, they are subject to “other portions of the bourgeois, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 112).
Everywhere the proletariat turns, there are forces of oppression made present and controlled by the ruling class. Meanwhile, the lower and lower-middle class businesses and individuals find themselves in a situation of diminished profit, “partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which modern industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 122). Marx (1848) also contends that the specialized skill of these laborers is rendered useless by the massive productions methods by the bourgeois. Marx (1848) states that “Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 179). This is the basis of Critical Theory. As industry rises from the experience of a free market and a consumerist society, the laborer “sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 179). The proletariat finds itself in a vicious cycle of poverty and oppression that fuels further poverty and oppression. Marx contends that this is the reason the bourgeois is no longer fit to be the “ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law” (Marx & Engels, 1848, p. 188). Marx argued that this continuing state of oppression, coupled with increasing suffering of the proletariat, will lead to revolution and the eventual downfall of the bourgeois. He presented the notion of Communism as the answer to the class conflict presented by the capitalist structure. Communism would remove from the bourgeois the right to the property they use to subjugate others. It also promotes equal liability to labor, expecting equal work from all individuals to progress industry and society in a more equal fashion (Marx & Engels, 1848).