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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Global World the Bourgeoisie Made?

Comments on the Analysis of the Bourgeoisie in the Communist Manifesto

“It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production” – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto

Chambi Chachage

The Communist Manifesto provides an analysis of the emergence of the bourgeoisie and its consequent society. It explicitly presents this history, or rather historicization, as having both a universal and a particular applicability. Hence, as a historian who is researching the origins of capitalism and the making of the bourgeoisie in the African country of Tanzania, this text is of particular theoretical and methodological interest.

Building on the Marxian historicism that boldly postulates that the history of the then existing societies had been that of class struggles, the text – issued in 1848 – argues that the myriads of classes that existed prior to the dissolution of feudalism in Europe were giving way to two major antagonist classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat. This then increasingly dichotomization, they explain, was driven by “the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society.” It is European expedition and colonization of – as well as trading with – other areas of the world, they elaborate, that provided the unprecedented market, technological, industrial impulse to this element. As a result the bourgeoisie rose as a group capable of running this new industrial society thus pushing “into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages”.

It is a straightforward account of what led to the great divergence between what the text refers to as the bourgeoisie society, in reference to Europe, and barbaric nations, in reference to countries that had not (yet) experienced the Industrial Revolution. One can thus simply use its explanatory framework to argue that the bourgeoisie in Africa, Asia and elsewhere were simply made by the bourgeoisie in Europe. After all the authors thus categorically states: “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.”

By thus ascribing too much power – in fact omnipotence by claiming that “it creates a world after its own image” – to the European bourgeoisie, the authors thus dismiss the historical agency of people of various classes in the ‘non-western’ world. Indeed the European bourgeoisie “subjected the country to the rule of the towns…. created enormous cities…greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural” but so did the people, whether bourgeois or not, in China, India, Ghana and Turkey.

Without throwing the Communist Manifesto baby with the bathwater of Marxian historicity my challenge, then, is to provide an account of the historical emergence of the bourgeoisie in Africa that may have not necessarily been a byproduct let alone a product of the European bourgeoisie. For sure slavery, colonialism and racism played their major parts in the consolidation of capitalism and the bourgeoisie in and among Africans. But that is not the whole story. To complete it is indeed the work of history.

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