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Burghers and Globalization

Were Marx and Engels ahead of the anti-globalization movement by a century?

June 29, 2002

Were Marx and Engels ahead of the anti-globalization movement by a century?

Over 150 years ago, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels criticized the prevailing economic trends of their time. Remarkably, they put their criticism in terms that could well describe the feelings of today’s anti-globalization movement.

Take a closer look at these statements from Mr. Marx and Mr. Engels from their famous 1848 work, the Communist Manifesto. And try to fill in the word that belongs in the spot marked “X”:

[X] means “constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the global epoch from all earlier ones.”

[X] “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the same mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become globalized themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

[X] has “reduced personal worth to exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — free trade.”

So what does [X] stand for?

The word that Mr. Marx and Mr. Engels used in this spot is none other than “bourgeoisie.” With this word, the authors of the Communist Manifesto sought to capture the processes of industrialization that swirled around them in the turbulent 1840s — and to identify them with a particular social class.

“Bourgeoisie” nowadays mostly refers to the comfortable middle class. But Marx meant rather the class of relatively well-educated, wealthy urban people who gained from industrialization — professionals, factory owners, engineers.

150 years ago, these people constituted a new, powerful opposition to the traditional aristocracy. What seemed particularly amazing at the time was that this new class of people appeared in many countries at the same time.

And they often seemed to have more in common — culturally and economically — with their counterparts in foreign countries than with their own fellow citizens. But as one can readily see from the excerpts, the word “globalization” would fit in just as well — indeed, even better — in our own day.