Marxism: Theory of Proletarian Revolution

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Nov 03, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


According to Karl Marx, society has two classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The proletariat is the working-class members of society that sell their labor to earn wages. In contrast, the bourgeoise is the wealthier members of society who have control over the means of production. 

The bourgeoisie would be the capitalist owners of private property, whereas the proletariat would sell their labor as their only way to survive. The bourgeoisie aims to make as much profit as possible in the marketplace while paying the creators of the product as little as possible to maintain their own wealth. 

Since the proletariat is exploited by the bourgeoisie, according to Marx, this causes class conflict. Tensions between the two classes are thought to increase with the opposing desires of the bourgeoisie wanting bigger profits while the proletariat defends their right to fair pay and working conditions. 

What Is A Proletariat Revolution? 

A proletariat revolution is a social revolution in which working-class laborers attempt to overthrow the capitalist bourgeoisie. In the Communist Manifesto, written in 1848, Marx and Engels proposed that the proletariat revolution was inevitable and would be caused by the continued exploitation of the capitalists. The workers will eventually revolt due to increasingly worse working conditions and low wages. 

Marx argued that a social revolution would mean changing the existing social and political system from a capitalist to a communist society. A communist society means there are no social classes or private property.

Instead, private property will be replaced with collective ownership, meaning that the means of production will come to a common agreement. Under communism, there would be no exploitation of the labor of others. Instead, accumulated labor is a means of widening and enriching the workers’ existence (Marx & Engels, 2019). 

When Marxists talk about the proletarian revolution, they mean the complete solidarity of interest of all the people oppressed and exploited by capitalism. Only by working together against the capitalists does their revolution become successful. 

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels suggest that the proletarian revolution is to be identified with an overthrow of the existing social system by violence. However, looking deeper into the Marxist theory of revolution reveals that Marx and Engels often referred to a peaceful revolution. A revolution is attained because of class struggle, not by violence (Schaff, 1973).

Proletariat revolutions are generally advocated by socialists, communists, and anarchists alike. When Marx wrote about the proletariat revolution in the 1800s, he predicted it would happen soon in Europe, followed by a worldwide occurrence. However, this did not end up being the case. 

Why Did Marx Believe That A Proletariat Revolution Was Necessary? 

Marx believed that a proletariat revolution was necessary so that the workers free themselves from capitalist oppression. Only with a revolution will the workers be able to create a world run by and for the working class.

Marx proposed a theory of historical materialism in which he described stages that societies pass through before eventually reaching communism. He suggested that the current stage that society was in was capitalism and that the only way this could end was with a revolution. He argued that capitalism would break itself down eventually and that a revolution was the inevitable next step for society.  

Marx concluded that ‘at a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or–this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms–with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.’ (Marx, 1911).

The productive forces stand in opposition to the relations of production, which no longer reflect the workers. The new relations of production are thought to triumph only when the old force of power is abolished by force. This is because the bourgeoisie would not voluntarily give up its privileged position (Helemejko, 2012).

A stronger understanding of their rank in society strengthens the proletariat’s class consciousness and can radicalize its attitude, meaning the bourgeoisie does not have any chance to win the revolution (Helemejko, 2012). 

The workers come to accept that the capitalists are not loyal to them. The workers learn that if efficiency demanded it, the capitalists would easily fire or replace them. As the capitalists gradually grind down the loyalty of the workers, the chance of a revolution increases, and the more necessary it becomes. 

Evaluation 

Marx’s ideas about what happens after the revolution can be quite vague. It is not guaranteed that there will be social and economic equality in a communist society.

Despite Marx’s belief in the 1800s that the proletariat revolution would happen soon after, it did not happen in any advanced industrialized society.

Communist ideas have been introduced in some countries and have shown not to fare well. For instance, there was a fall of communism in the former socialist state of the USSR. So, while Marx’s idea of a communist society may sound promising in theory, it may not be fully sustainable in practice.

For many capitalist countries, the economic conditions gradually improved for the working class. Marx did not predict that there would be major reforms in capitalist societies, such as the working class being permitted the right to vote, abolishment of child labor, and the right of workers to join unions. In contrast to Marx’s theory, many workers in capitalist countries are focused on improving their working conditions rather than starting a revolution.  

Marx’s ideas are argued to be a doctrine with little relevance for actual social change. It is said to be ideological for mobilizing political parties and social movements but lacks scientific credibility (Burawoy & Wright, 2001). 

Marx’s ideas are considered important for understanding the issues and possibilities of social change and social reproduction in modern societies. It can help sociologists understand how past revolutions have occurred in capitalist societies.

While not every aspect of Marxism is sustainable, the ideas can be built upon to challenge and transform it (Burawoy & Wright, 2001).

How Does The Bourgeoisie Exploit The Proletariat?

According to Marx, the proletariat is exploited by the wealthy bourgeoisie in several ways.

The bourgeoisie pays the proletariat as little as possible for their labor, often making them work long hours in poor working conditions and keeping the profits from the sales of the products.

The working class makes just about enough money so that they survive but also not enough, so they have no choice but to continue working under the rule of the ruling class.

Why Can’t The Proletariat Succeed In A Capitalist Society?

According to Marx, the proletariat is exploited by the wealthy bourgeoisie in several ways. The bourgeoisie pays the proletariat as little as possible for their labor, often making them work long hours in poor working conditions and keeping the profits from the sales of the products.

The working class makes just about enough money so that they survive but also not enough, so they have no choice but to continue working under the rule of the ruling class.

Why Can’t The Proletariat Succeed In A Capitalist Society?

According to Marx, the proletarians cannot succeed in a capitalist society because they have little value other than their labor. The workers are almost considered machines whose only purpose is to produce products in line with market competition and profit.

The workers have little power in a capitalist society because if they demand higher wages, the bourgeoisie can hire somebody else. If they refuse to work, they earn no money to survive. The proletariat is thus forced to continue their labor under the power of the capitalist.

What Do The Proletariat Stand To Lose In Their Revolution?

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels state, ‘Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win’ (Marx & Engels, 2019).

From this, Marx and Engels can imply that the conditions of the proletariat cannot be made worse by a revolution, but they have everything to gain.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, Nov 03). Marxism: Theory of Proletarian Revolution. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/proletarian-revolutionhtml

References

Burawoy, M., & Wright, E. O. (2001). Sociological marxism. In Handbook of sociological theory (pp. 459-486). Springer, Boston, MA.

Helemejko, T. (2012). The concept of Marxism.

Marx, K. (1911). A contribution to the critique of political economy. CH Kerr.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2019). The communist manifesto. In Ideals and Ideologies (pp. 243-255). Routledge.

Oppenheimer, M. (1972). The proletarianization of the professional. The Sociological Review, 20(1_suppl), 213-227.

Przeworski, A. (1977). Proletariat into a class: The process of class formation from Karl Kautsky's The Class Struggle to recent controversies. Politics & Society, 7(4), 343-401.

Schaff, A. (1973). Marxist theory on revolution and violence. Journal of the History of Ideas, 34(2), 263-270.