The Communist Manifesto

by Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx

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How does Marx compare modern society to Rome and the Middle Ages in The Communist Manifesto?

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For Marx and Engels, the fundamentals of class conflict have not changed since Rome and Middle Ages.  Class antagonisms have underscored the progression of human society.  Marx and Engels make clear that settings such as Rome and Middle Ages might have had different vocabulary to describe it, but the reality of the "insiders" and "outsiders" were present:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles....Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

Terms like "Patrician and plebeian" or "lord and serf" are no different than "oppressor and oppressed."  Marx and Engels believes that the constant antagonism and outright dominance between those who have power and those who don't.  Marx and Engels suggests that studying history through the lens of dialectical materialism reveals that little has changed over time.  The rich are able to enjoy realities from which the poor are closed.  This element has remained the same over time.  In terms of what has changed, Marx and Engels would be direct in suggesting that only the language has changed.  The reality of economic oppression has not changed and while different terms might be applied, little else has changed.  Dialectical materialism and the examination of the narrative in which there are people who have power and those who do not remains the same.  This profound similarity underscores being in the world and subsumes any differences, which are cosmetic, at best.  Marx and Engels would concludes that under a system where there is private ownership of wealth, little has really changed. 

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