The Communist Manifesto

by Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx

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Why are the proletariat considered a "genuinely revolutionary class"?

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The proletariat is called a "genuinely revolutionary class" because it is the only class capable of meaningful revolution. Marxism states that in a capitalist society, the only two tangible classes are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as any middle class is destined to fade into obscurity as the society enters the stages of late capitalism. The proletariat can function as a revolutionary class due to their sheer number and revolution being in their best interest.

In a capitalist society, it will inevitably be the contention of the bourgeoisie that there are no classes and that no issue of class exists. The theories of Marxism as expressed in The Communist Manifesto, among other works, expresses that it is the revolutionary mission of the proletariat to abolish the bourgeoisie and establish a truly classless society.

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As a socioeconomic class, the proletariat has been around for awhile. The word itself comes from Latin and referred to a class of Romans who didn’t own property. While the nature of this class has morphed through time (whether farmers working on someone else’s land, workers in someone else’s factory, etc.), the primary element of the proletariat is unchanged: its members’ only real material value is in their labor. Generally speaking, they own little or no property and work for someone else.

The idea of the proletariat as a “genuinely revolutionary class” comes directly from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. Marx (and his co-author, Friedrich Engels) argued that there were two essential, competing classes in society: the bourgeoisie (who owned the means of production, particularly land) and the proletariat. Any other classes (i.e., the various forms of the middle class) “decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.” Marx considered the middle classes conservative, as they fought to keep their middle-class status and avoid becoming part of the proletariat (a shift Marx considers inevitable in the industrial age).

The proletariat, however, are constantly exploited by the bourgeoisie for their labor but never truly reap the fruits of that labor, as the profit goes to those who own the means of production: the bourgeoisie. There is a real and significant lack of social and economic mobility for the proletariat; generally speaking, proletarians are unable to rise into a higher social or economic class. The proletariat is also the largest class of the population.

Because of these facts, Marx argued, the proletariat are the prime option for revolution. It is crucial for the proletariat to rise up and seize the means of production (the biggest of which was land but which could also be basic property, manufacturing tools, etc.). Only then could they live a life that was not full of exploitation and “pauperism” (poverty). Marx thought that this revolution was both necessary and inevitable, due to the rise in capitalism, industrialization, and automation—similar ideas that persist today with the rise of technology displacing jobs.

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The proletariat are the roots of revolutions throughout modern history and even before that because they are the most routinely exploited and abused peoples of society: slaves, factory workers, field workers, miners - these are professions we think of as dangerous, back breaking and underpaid.

These are the classes of people with the least to lose in a revolt and the most to gain.  It is also almost always the largest class in terms of numbers, and it is through numbers, Marx argued, that the proletariat can find unity, and with unity it can find strength.  Strength enough for a revolution that is, and in many cases they were successful.

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