How and why wages define and distinguish bourgeois and proletarians? Do Marx and Engels consider wage improvement a goal for the labor movement?
The bourgeois were the modern capitalists who were not only the owners but also the controllers of the means of production. In addition, they were the employers of wage (paid) labor. Therefore, the bourgeois earned their incomes (wages) from the properties and industries that they owned. This may include profits, dividends, or interests. On the other hand, the proletarians were the wage laborers, those simply employed by the bourgeois. The proletarians did not own the means of production whatsoever; they only sold their labor power to the bourgeois in order for them to survive. As a result, they were only paid for their labor. Marx and Engels compare them to slaves while the bourgeois are the masters. “Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the over-looker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself” (Marx & Engels, 1848).
Although the two authors write that the proletarians should aim for wage improvement by forming trade unions and initiating occasional revolts, this should not be the ultimate goal. In fact, wage improvement is only a short-term victory, a false dawn. “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time” (Chapter 1). On the other hand, the ultimate goal for labor movement is the expansion of trade unions that will rise to form a mightier, firmer, and stronger class struggle against the bourgeois. Due to their sheer numbers and cooperation, the proletarians can cause a revolution that will lead to the overthrow of the minority bourgeois. The ultimate goal for the labor movement is the overthrow of the bourgeois that will make the proletarians the owners and controllers of the means of production.
Why is capitalism its “own gravedigger”?
The necessary conditions for the sway and existence of the bourgeoisie are the augmentation and formation of capital. On the other hand, wage labor is the essential condition for capital. In the same breath, wage labor almost entirely rests on the competition amongst the laborers. Marx and Engels argue that the advancement of industry (exclusively promoted by the bourgeois class) effectively replaces the seclusion of the proletarians, the laborers (because of the competition) by revolutionary combination (as a result of association). Since the bourgeoisie can only thrive on augmentation and formation of capital, which is wholly dependent on wage labor, the consequence of the advancement of industry (replacing the isolation of laborers) “cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products” (Chapter 1). This simply means that by advancing their industries, the capitalists are unknowingly destroying the very foundations on which capitalism is built upon; they are thus digging their own graves. Therefore, the fall of capitalism is almost inevitable.
Are labor unions the same as a Proletarian (Communist) Party? If the workers had to choose, which one would be, in Marx and Engel’s view, their legitimate and consequential representative?
The labor unions and the Proletarian party are similar but not the same. They are similar because they both fight for the same cause – the emancipation of the laborers. In addition, they both have the interests of the proletariat at heart. This simply means that labor unions and the Communist party have the same principles. However, the Communist party differs from the labor unions in two ways. First, unlike the labor unions, the Communist Party (by virtue of the fact that it represents the proletarians of different countries) puts forth the common interests of all laborers regardless of their nationality. And second, in the process of the working class struggle, it “always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole” (Chapter 2). This simply means that the Communists are essentially the most vibrant persons of the labor union parties of every country.
Overthrowing the bourgeoisie requires collective effort of the whole working class. The Communist Party represents the interests of the entire proletarian population, regardless of nationality. In addition, it was very similar to the labor unions only because it was an all-encompassing body of all the labor unions (that is, it was the labor union of labor unions). Therefore, it was perhaps the best representative of the workers’ interests. Marx and Engel seemed convinced that the Communist party had the best chance of instigating a successful revolution. “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat” (Chapter 2).
Was the list of immediate reforms proposed in the Manifesto accepted by modern capitalist society?
The reforms proposed in the Manifesto were the takeover of land for public purposes, introduction of a heavy progressive income tax, confiscation of property of rebels and emigrants, outlawing the rights of inheritance, centralization of transport and communication facilities as well as credit by the state, extending state control of factories and means of production, introducing free education in public schools, combination of manufacturing industries and agriculture, and ensuring equal liability for all laborers.
Many of these reforms have since been implemented and thus accepted by capitalist countries. For instance, progressive income tax has been introduced in many countries; state banks have been established in almost every country; railways and roads and other means of communication have been controlled by the state; many countries have offered free education, and child labor has been outlawed (World Socialism, n.d.). This simply means that even the capitalists have not rejected outright Marx and Engel’s communist views. However, some measures like prohibiting the rights of inheritance have yet to be accepted.