Bourgeoisie and Proletariat Essay

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The Communist Manifesto s powerful imagery has permanently identified Marx with “bourgeoisie,” “proletariat,” and “class struggle” even though, he maintained, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Mill, and J. B. Say, among others, were first to identify the struggles of ”the three great classes -landed property and the capitalist and working classes – as central to political economy.

“Bourgeois” began as a twelfth-century, French, juridical term designating citizens or freemen in a city or burgh. During the late seventeenth century, “bourgeoisie” identified members of the emerging third estate and by 1789 connoted an entrepreneurial class (Thierry 1856). Merging bourgeoisie, the capitalist class, and a particular epoch of industrialization and exploitation into one image, Marx and Engels politicized the term. “Proletarians” originally identified the poorest Roman citizens who had no resources other than their children (proles). In 1762, Rousseau (1966: 157) revived proletaries to describe members of “the lowest social class” – an image that resonated through 1789. By 1830, proletariat was increasingly associated with the industrial, working class and incorporated into German and English vernacular and political writing. In December 1842, Engels (Marx and Engels 1985: 442) noted that industry created wealth along with “absolutely poor people,” who live from hand to mouth – “proletarians.” Marx (Marx and Engels 1982: 181-2) used Engels and Moses Hess s Deutsche-Franzosiche Jahrbiicher contributions and his critique of Hegel s Philosophy of Right to identify the proletariat as a particular ”estate [Stand]of society. Through the formation [Bildung]of a class with radical chains, a class of bourgeois society which is no class of bourgeois society, it was the positive possibility for German emancipation. The Manifesto identified the proletarianization-immiseration and mechanized exploitation – of workers as critical ingredients for social revolution.


  1. Marx,    and   Engels,   F.   (1982) Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (Marx-Engels Complete Works) part 1, vol. 2. Dietz, Berlin.
  2. Marx,    and   Engels,   F.   (1985) Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (Marx-Engels Complete Works) part 1, vol. 3. Dietz, Berlin.
  3. Rousseau, J. J. (1966) [1762] Du contrat social. Garnier-Flammarion, Paris.
  4. Thierry, A. (1856) Essai sur l’histoire de la formation et des progres du tiers etat. Furne, Paris.

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