Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Oct 23 10:39:50 MDT 2000

>>> lnp3 at 10/23/00 11:14AM >>>

LP: An interesting post, Charles. As you know, I find the concept of a
bourgeois-democratic revolution poorly theorized within Marxism.


CB: This doesn't necessarily contradict your fuller statement below, but I think one
complicating factor in analyzing bourgeois-democratic revolution is that the
bourgeoisie , especially at the point of the era of bourgeois revolutions, are a
contradictory exploited-oppressed class and exploiting-oppressing ruling class.  The
peasants/yeomen are the cannon fodder/foot troops for the bourgeoisie in all their
revolutions. The Manifesto describes the bourgeoisie in part as follows:

"We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course
of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding
political advance in that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal
nobility, an armed and self-governing association of medieval commune [4]: here
independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable "third estate" of
the monarchy (as in France); afterward, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving
either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the
nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general -- the
bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world
market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative state, exclusive political
sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common
affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. "

CB: You can see right there that Marx and Engels were well aware that the bourgeoisie
were allied with monarchy in general , and therefore the French situation you note was
not unknown to them.

Continuing the Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal,
patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties
that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left no other nexus between people
than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned out the most
heavenly ecstacies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine
sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal
worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered
freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom -- Free Trade. In one word,
for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted
naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

-clip- several paragraphs

We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the
bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in
the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under
which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organization of agriculture
and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no
longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many
fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.

Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political
constitution adapted in it, and the economic and political sway of the bourgeois

CB: I have copied the descriptions of the bourgeoisie that are most specifically
references to bourgeoie democracy. You can see that Marx and Engels are not sucked in
by any Yankee doodle dandy type thinking about bourgeois democracy, no flag waving for
the "constitution". Merely a sober recognition that these changes are revolutionary in
the sense of reflections of a transformation in the mode of production, which does not
mean that the capitalist mode does not remain exploitative and oppressive. They
recognize the contradictory  (and thereby hypocritical) character of bourgeois


Although I
don't have the time nor the scholarly training to do the subject justice, I
would argue that the modern capitalist state in places like Western Europe
preserves the putatively rival classes of the bourgeois democratic
revolution in the main two bourgeois parties. The landed gentry found the
Conservative Party amenable to their class interests, while the industrial
bourgeoisie spoke through the Liberal Party. Ever since 1789 these two
parties have traded places in the executive branch, always making sure that
their separate class interests were tended to. Sometimes rivalries between
the two fractions of the ruling class become quite heated, especially when
the subordinate classes throw in their lot with one or the other party
(generally the Liberals). This can lead to extremely violent conflicts such
as "La Violencia" in Colombia, which finally led to a truce between the two
bourgeois parties based on a power-sharing agreement. All in all, the
two-party system in most of Latin America represents a rapprochement
between "precapitalist" elites and their urban rivals. The theoretical
problem for Marxism has been how to move these societies past
"semifeudalism" into the modern era. For the CP's this has involved
alignment with the liberalizing bourgeoisie which has proven ineffective
for obvious reasons. Although the Trotskyists reject this kind of class
alliance, they lack the ability to transform their theoretical insights
into practical action. The explanation for this is simple. Their "vanguard"
stance puts them outside the mass movement, which they lecture from the


CB: I think your analysis here fits within Marx and Engels general understanding as
outlined in the Manifesto. I would add that the longer capitalism lasts , the more the
oppressive and exploitative aspect of the contradictory bourgeois comes to the fore,
and the greater the dwindling of its revolutionary aspect.  The era of bourgeois
revolution is long gone. Whatever partial "revolutionariness " existed in bourgeois
democracy in the 16 , 17, and 1800's  has dissipated. Extreme anti-democratic
bourgeois forms ,such as Jim Crow,  fascism and the U.S. neo-colonial dictatorships,
are developed. Bourgeois democracy in the U.S. is in degenerating freefall as the
methods of buying and corrupting public opinion and the electoral system are perfected
past mastery,  massses of U.S. workers are convinced to become the stormtroopers of
imperialism in colonial wars on Korea, Viet Nam, Panama, Iraq , etc. , etc.

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