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Bourgeois Scholars on Classes and Class Struggle

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #20, May 16, 1975, pp. 13-14, and 21.]

IN his March 5, 1852 letter to J. Weydemeyer, Marx I said: “Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes.”

Descriptions by Bourgeois Historians

The bourgeois historians Marx referred to were mainly Guizot, Thierry and Mignet at the time of the Bourbon restoration in France after Napoleon’s overthrow. To meet the needs of the struggle waged by the bourgeoisie against the feudal land-owning class in the early 19th century, they described the historical development of class struggle from a bourgeois slant. While recognizing the existence of class struggle and the right of the third estate to overthrow the feudal aristocracy, they denied the contradictions within the third estate and the necessity for the proletariat to struggle against the bourgeoisie. Among their main works were History of the English Revolution, History of Civilization in Europe and History of Civilization in France by Guizot, Ten Years of Historical Studies, Essay on the History of the Formation and Progress of the Third Estate and History of the Conquest of England by the Normans by Thierry and History of the French Revolution by Mignet.

Guizot, after making a study of the era after the fall of the Roman Empire, declared that agrarian relations were he foundation of history. He said: ”In order to understand political institutions, we must study the various strata existing in society and their mutual relationships. In order to understand these various social strata, we must know the nature and the relations of landed property.” ”The forms of government,” in his view, were determined by the ”civil condition of men” and property rotations were the cause of class struggle. Although he enthusiastically approved of the class struggle by the bourgeoisie against the feudal aristocracy, he was mortally afraid of the class struggle waged by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. After the June Uprising by the Paris proletariat in 1848, Guizot wrote in On Democracy: Domestic peace, peace among the citizenry of the various classes and social peace! This is the most pressing demand in France, this is the voice of salvation! Doing his utmost to prove that all existing classes in France were natural and deeply rooted elements in French society, he aimed at creating a theoretical basis for liquidating the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.

Thierry described the history of the English revolutions as a history of the struggle by the bourgeoisie against the nobility. He said: During the first bourgeois revolution in England in the 17th century, ”the armies were gathering, one in the name of idleness and authority, the other in the name of labour and liberty. All idlers, whatever their origin, all those who sought in life only enjoyment, secured without labour, rallied under the royal banner, defending interests similar to their own interests; and on the contrary, those of the descendants of the former conquerors who were then engaged in industry joined the party of the Commons.” Perceiving that the struggle in England between those belonging to the Presbyterian faith and those belonging to the Catholic faith was a struggle carried out by political parties for the various classes’ interests concerning their property, he wrote: ”On both sides the war was waged for positive interests. Everything else was external or a pretext.”

Similarly, Thierry also opposed the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. As he saw it, the class interests of the proletariat were narrow, while those of the third estate were broad; this was because the third estate embraced the entire nation except the nobility and clergy. He held that the consequences arising from the class struggle of the bourgeoisie were good, while the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie completely wrecked social security. Marx made an excellent exposure and criticism of this viewpoint of Thierry’s when he said in his letter to Engels: “It is remarkable how indignant this gentleman—the father of the ‘class struggle’ in French historiography—waxes in his preface at the ‘new people,’ who now see an antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and who claim to detect traces of this antagonism even in the history of the third estate before 1789. He is at great pains to prove that the third estate includes all social ranks and estates except the nobility and clergy, and that the bourgeoisie plays its part as the representative of all these other elements.”

Analysing the cause of the French Revolution of 1789, Mignet concluded that it lay in the different material interests of the various classes in society. In expounding the fact that the struggles between various kinds of political parties during the revolution gave expression to the contradictions among various class interests, he said: The interests of the aristocracy were opposed to those of the national party. And the nobles and high clergy who made up the Right in the Assembly were always against this party except for a few days of high excitement. He held that the entire history of the French revolutions served to explain the formula of the progress of civilized society—changes attack interests, interests form parties and parties start fighting. Hostile to the revolutionary actions of the Paris Commune, Mignet slandered the struggle of the small handicraftsman, apprentices and workers against the bourgeoisie as reckless actions by the commoners. This fully revealed his bourgeois stand.

Analyses of Classes by Bourgeois Economists

The bourgeois economists referred to by Marx were mainly France’s physiocrat Turgot and Britain’s classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Turgot maintained that agricultural labour alone was the source of all wealth and was the natural basis and pre-condition for the independent pursuit of all other forms of labour. His main work was Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Riches. Smith and Ricardo founded and brought to completion the system of classical political economy in Britain. Adam Snuth, whose main work was An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, for the first time systematically elucidated the essential contents of political economy. David Ricardo dwelt on the main scope of political economy, but he did not have a clear understanding of the dual character of labour, confused value with cost-prices and labour-power with labour and failed to reveal the essence of surplus-value. His main work was The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.

Before Turgot, the founder of physiocracy Quesnay divided classes in society into three categories, namely, the productive class, the class of land-owners and the sterile class. Physiocrats held that agricultural labour was the natural basis and pre-condition for the independent pursuit of all other forms of labour, so agricultural producers alone were of the productive class while industrial producers were not. With a better understanding of the class structure of capitalist society, Turgot accepted and supplemented Quesnay’s viewpoint. He divided the productive class into agricultural workers and agricultural capitalists and the sterile class into workers and industrial capitalists, on the basis of which he explained what a capitalist was and what a wage-worker was. He said that the manufacturing entrepreneurs and master craftsmen, all owners of considerable capital turned it to value by means of advance payments to make others work. He regarded a wage-worker as ”the mere workman who has only his hands and his industry, has nothing unless he succeeds in selling his labour to others.”

Taking a big step forward on the question of class differentiation as compared with the physiocrats, Adam Smith, for the first time in the history of political economy, described in a fairly correct nianner the class structure of capitalist society. He held that, in a civilized society, land-owners, workers and capitalists were the three basic classes making up society. He made a distinction between three kinds of basic income, i.e., rent, wage and profit, which corresponded to the three classes. These three kinds of income made up the total national income, while all other income was eventually derived, from the income of the three basic classes. Adam Smith held that of the three kinds of basic income in capitalist society, wage alone was income from labour. Proceeding from the concept that value was determined by the labour consumed, he held that profit was the value created by wage-workers through unpaid labour. He regarded profit as resulting from the separation of producers directly participating in production from their conditions of labour and resulting from the opposition between the conditions of labour as capital and labourers, and held that the source of profit was the excess of the value created by workers’ labour over and above the part of the value which paid his wage. Hence Marx pointed out: “He [Adam Smith] has recognized the true origin of surplus-value.” (Theories of Surplus-Value.)

Like Smith, Ricardo pointed out that capitalist society was composed of the working class, capitalist class and land-owning class and that wage, profit and rent were the three kinds of basic income. Taking the stand of the bourgeoisie, Ricardo on the one hand regarded capitalist relations as the only rational and eternal natural relations and on the other could not but admit that the capitalist mode of production was based on the confrontation of the various class interests. He dealt with the relations between rent, profit and wage. In his eyes, the lower the rent and wage, the higher the profit; anything that causes a wage increase from labour tends to lower the profit of capital.

Speaking of Ricardo’s making the value of labour the basis for understanding the intrinsic relations in the capitalist mode of production, Marx said: “Closely bound up with this scientific merit is the fact that Ricardo exposes and describes the economic contradiction between the classes—as shown by the intrinsic relations—and that consequently political economy perceives, discovers the root of the historical struggle and development.” (Theories of Surplus-Value.)

Why Could Bourgeois Scholars Recognize Class Struggle?

Towards the end of feudal society and for a period after the birth of capitalist society, the bourgeoisie engaged in prolonged and fierce struggles to destroy the feudal relations of production and the reactionary rule of the feudal land-owning class, suppress the resistance and restorationist activities of the overthrown land-owning class, establish and consolidate the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and develop the capitalist relations of production. Catering to the political needs of the bourgeoisie during this period and expounding the inevitable replacement of feudalism by capitalism and the feudal land-owning class’ rule by the bourgeoisie’s rule, the bourgeois historians described the historical development of class struggle and the bourgeois economists made an economic analysis of the various classes. The theory of class struggle as set forth by these scholars was, in essence, aimed at defending the capitalist system. Therefore, when the contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie became increasingly acute, they invariably negated the inevitability of the contradictions and struggle between the two classes.

Since the bourgeois scholars’ theory of class struggle was based on historical idealism, they did not understand that the existence of classes is a historical phenomenon, which is bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production and is determined by the development of production. They negated the necessity of class struggle in capitalist society and the necessity of the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, and they could not correctly understand that class struggle is the motive force of the historical development of society since the disintegration of primitive society and could not discover the objective law governing the development of class struggle.

Marx said: “No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them.” ”What I did that was new was to prove: 1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” In The State and Revolution, Lenin pointed out: “In these words Marx succeeded in expressing with striking clarity, firstly, the chief and radical difference between his teaching and that of the foremost and most profound thinkers of the bourgeoisie; and, secondly, the essence of his teaching on the state.”

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