The Communist Manifesto begins with Marx's famous generalization that "the
history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"
(79). Marx describes these classes in terms of binary oppositions, with one
party as oppressor, the other as oppressed. While human societies have
traditionally been organized according to complex, multi-membered class
hierarchies, the demise of feudalism effected by the French Revolution has
brought about a simplification of class antagonism. Rather than many
classes fighting amongst themselves (e.g. ancient Rome with its patricians,
knights, plebeians, and slaves), society is increasingly splitting into
only two classes: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
This state of affairs is the result of a long historical process. The
discovery and colonization of the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries
required new methods of production and exchange. Because of the demand for
more efficient, larger scale production, the medieval guild system gave way
to new methods of manufacturing, defined by the widespread use of division
of labor and, with the advent of industrialization, by steam and machinery.
It was the bourgeoisie