I am not extremely familiar with the intricacies of Marxist ideology but many of these articles seem to suggest that classical Communist ideology perceives the bourgeoisie as the 'real enemy of the proletariat', even though these political philosophies evolved when monarchy and the land-owning aristocracy was very much in greater dominance all over Europe including Russia.

The Communist antagonism against the bourgeoisie continues to this day, including in the part of South India where I live [where Communism is a 'religion' for a significant section of the population, Marxist ideological education is widespread for interested individuals at local level, employee and trade unions are predominantly communist, and Communist governments regularly ascend to provincial rule through democratic elections. See 'update' at the end of this question to read what Uncle said.]

Political changes mostly unrelated to communism have admittedly reduced the erstwhile aristocracy, all over the world including in India, to the status of 'rich or very rich citizens still owning substantial land, and having significant traditional influence but no political authority.'

In most modern nations (excluding a few Communist states and dictatorships) the real political power is now wielded by elected representatives of the people, but Communism continues to be strongly antagonistic to the bourgeois class.

The nearest explanation I could get (which does not fully explain the case) comes from the Wikipedia article on Bourgeoisie --

[Bourgeoisie:] a sociologically defined class, especially in contemporary times, referring to people with a certain cultural and financial capital belonging to the middle or upper stratum of the middle class: [...] an affluent and often opulent stratum of the middle class (capitalist class) who stand opposite the proletariat class.

In Marxist philosophy the bourgeoisie is the social class that came to own the means of production during modern industrialization and whose societal concerns are the value of property and the preservation of capital, to ensure the perpetuation of their economic supremacy in society.

Note that between the period of the development of Marxist theory and the Russian Revolution, both the European monarchs and the land-owning aristocrats were still the real powers in society, in that they wielded traditional, political, legal, administrative and military authority, especially in the Russian Empire, while the bourgeoisie has never been more than a (very influential) economic powerhouse, and only relatively recently, since the Industrial revolution.

Considering that classical communist ideology evolved in this political and social atmosphere,

for what stated reasons (not a matter of opinion, remember) does classical communism consider the bourgeoisie -- even more than the aristocacy -- to be the real enemies of the People?

(Note: I am a sociologist, not a political scientist; and 'Classical communism' as used here refers to the original Marxist theory that was put into practice in and after the Russian Revolution, as distinct from various re-interpretations of this ideology that have later been attempted all over the world.)

Update: today I met an 82 year old 'uncle' (very close family friend) who belongs to the land-owning 'administrative upper caste' that used to ruthlessly enforce the traditional authority of the aristocracy in parts of South India right up until major political changes created the first elected Communist (provincial) government 60 years ago. Uncle said:

I was 22 years old at the time and India has come a long way in these 60 years, but Communists, who were responsible for major socio-economic reforms in this region, still tend to accuse me of being bourgeoisie. I tell them that this is a very different world now -- I have no special privileges nor any feeling of caste- or class-superiority: I am no more bourgeoisie than you or OP!

Class conflict will never end till there is capitalism in the world, the uncle said.

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    both the European monarchs and the land-owning aristocrats were the real powers in society, After the 1830-1848 revolutions almost every European country had a Parlamentary monarchy. Aristocrats no longer had power by virtue of being aristocrats (e.g. no special laws for them): those who remained in power were because they were wealthy (inherited properties) and in many cases became bourgeoises themselves (it is easier to invest money if you inherited a ton of money and lands to begin with); additionally many successful businessmen were given nobiliary titles.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 10:51
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    This is a very important point that I strongly suggest you post as an answer, @SJuan76, because any comment can disappear any time, and comments that even look like answers will be deleted. Meanwhile I am temporarily 'storing' this comment under your name (and other useful comments that can be developed by their owners into answers) in a 'deleted answer' for future reference. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 10:57
  • Thank you, but while I have some ideas for an answer I feel that there are more qualified people to write it. If nobody comes forward I could try to do, but for the time being I will wait to see if someone writes the correct, well documented one.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:03
  • Thanks: I feel that your explanatory comment is on the right track, @SJuan and can be developed into a very perceptive answer. Your interest is much appreciated and you can do it if and when you feel like, at your convenience. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:06
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    keyword: historical materialism. In Marx's view, history could be viewed in terms of economical relationships: ancient history (slavery), feudalism (serfdom), capitalism. Marxism was about replacing capitalism, feudalism had already been replaced.
    – ninjalj
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 10:20

3 Answers 3


We can see that classical communism didn't perceive the aristocracy to be a threat or enemy, at least not as much as the bourgeoisie.

The communist manifesto describes the aristocracy in 1848 as "ruined" by the bourgeoisie already:

The feudal aristocracy was not the only class that was ruined by the bourgeoisie, not the only class whose conditions of existence pined and perished in the atmosphere of modern bourgeois society.

We can see this idea in other socialist writings as well. Eduard Bernstein wrote the article The principles of communism 1847:

Second, wherever big industries displaced manufacture, the bourgeoisie developed in wealth and power to the utmost and made itself the first class of the country. The result was that wherever this happened, the bourgeoisie took political power into its own hands and displaced the hitherto ruling classes, the aristocracy, the guildmasters, and their representative, the absolute monarchy.

The bourgeoisie annihilated the power of the aristocracy

Engels wrote in 1844:

It is remarkable how greatly the upper classes of society, such as the Englishman calls “respectable people,” or “the better sort of people,” etc., have intellectually declined and lost their vigour in England. All energy, all activity, all substance are gone; the landed aristocracy goes hunting, the moneyed aristocracy makes entries in the ledger and at best dabbles in literature which is equally empty and insipid.

In conditions of the working class in 1845 Engles states:

This ruling class in England, as in all other civilised countries, is the bourgeoisie

This question focuses on stated reasons as required by the question. Whether or not these are true is not relevant, but might be an interesting question at history.SE

  • Many thanks @tim for a really illuminating answer with solid references. If I understand you right, Marxism has always been more antagonistic to the bourgeoisie because it has effectively replaced the feudal aristocracy as the oppressor of the proletariat. I appreciate and upvote! I have replaced 'hate' with 'antagonistic' in my question title by edit, and you may consider modifying your opening sentence accordingly, if required. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:36
  • @EnglishStudent Thanks, I'll edit my answer as well. And yes, that's more or less how I would summarize it; effectively replaced is an especially good phrasing (as you noted in your question, the aristocracy were still technically in power in some places, but the bourgeoisie was already more relevant to the oppression/exploitation of the proletariat).
    – tim
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 11:47
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    Yes indeed, @tim -- in the Indian context the 'real aristocracy' all over the Subcontinent was replaced in the power equation (during feudal times itself and not as a consequence of the industrial revolution) by land-owning 'administratively intermediate upper caste groups' that ruthlessly enforced traditional authority in the name of the aristocracy, using caste-system as both major tool and religious justification, while acquiring for themselves substantial land, wealth and social status as a consequence: these were precisely the reasons for the development of Communism in South India. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 12:09

You seem to be very focused on Russia in your question, but both Marx and Engels were born in what is now the Westernmost part of Germany and lived most of their lives in countries nearby (Belgium, England, ...).

Belgium for example had gained its independence in 1831, mostly driven by liberals and catholics who wanted to take power away from the aristocratic Dutch king. The United Kingdom had its reform act a year later, giving the middle class more influence on the parliamentary elections.

It's notable that both countries did not have universal suffrage at that time, with voting rights limited to those who were rich enough.

So during the times of Marx and Engels, everything pointed to the rich middle class becoming more and more powerful and the aristocracy becoming less powerful.

  • Thanks for writing this answer and giving the Western Europe perspective, @FrederikVds. I am not concentrating on Russia to the exclusion of other nations, but only emphasising that aristocratic elements were probably more powerful in the relatively more feudal Russian society, yet the Communist architects of the Russian Revolution, applying the classical theory developed by Marx & Engels, considered the bourgeoisie the 'real enemy of the People.' I consider that your argument carries a very good thread of logic and you could expand it into an even more comprehensive answer to my question. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:42
  • As you said, the architects of the Russian Revolution applied the theory developed by Marx and Engels, so a Western European theory. That's why I think the answer probably lies in Western Europe and not Russia. It's very possible that a theory developed entirely in Russia would look different in this regard. I don't know enough about the subject to find evidence for or against that possibility though. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 16:51
  • It is a good point, @FrederikVds -- somebody famous noted something like 'a thoroughly oppressed society will be too ignorant and demoralised to invent revolutionary ideas by themselves without the help of great minds from outside.' Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 18:47

In the first volume of Das Kapital [Chapters 26-32], Marx describes how during the late middle ages / early renaissance, part of the feudal aristocracy in England started to see wealth and money as a measure of their power whereas earlier the power of the feudal lords was measured by the extension of their land and the number of their subjects.

So part of the aristocracy turned into capitalists whose main purpose was the accumulation of wealth. Some feudal lords booted out their subjects from their land in order to breed sheep and produce wool, which was very profitable at the time. This in turn made lots of people (former farmers now without a lord and without land) available as workers for other new industries.

The medieval feudal lord owned both the workers (his subjects) and the means of production (land, tools, raw materials). The workers were a property of their feudal lord and had to work for him a certain number of days every year. In this way, the feudal lord extracted surplus labour from his subjects, but this was used for his own consumption only and was not reinvested as capital.

In the new system, the capitalists own the means of production but the workers are free. Nevertheless, the workers are subject to the command of the capitalists because they do not own the means of production that would allow them to be self-sufficient. In this new form there is still extraction of surplus labour from the workers. Part of this surplus labour forms wealth that is used by the capitalists for their own consumption, while another part of the surplus labour produces wealth that is reinvested in production.

So it was this new class of capitalists that gradually took power in the society: they established a new mode of production based on the production and accumulation of capital. The bourgeoisie is this new class of capitalists that ensure the reproduction of the capitalistic mode of production and, with it, of this form of society.

for what stated reasons (not a matter of opinion, remember) does classical communism consider the bourgeoisie -- even more than the aristocacy -- to be the real enemies of the People?

Since the extraction of surplus labour from the workers is a form of exploitation, the bourgeoisie is the enemy of the working class, because it is the class that established and maintains this relation. According to Marx's analysis, the real conflict is between capital and labour, i.e. between the bourgeoisie that accumulates capital by extracting surplus labour, and the worker class that provides that surplus labour.

In my interpretation, since aristocracy is not directly involved in this exploitative relation, it is not considered the real enemy. I guess that the aristocrats are seen as a continuation of the feudal lords who did not turn into capitalists. While the capitalist class (bourgeoisie) command the production and the circulation of capital, the aristocracy only extracts part of the produced surplus in the form of rent, and therefore they are marginal if compared with the bourgeoisie.

In other words, in this form of society there could exist a bourgeoisie without an aristocracy but not an aristocracy without a bourgeoisie. If the aristocracy did not exist, the production of capital would still continue. But if the bourgeoisie did not exist, the production of capital would stop and aristocrats would not have any source of surplus from which they could extract their wealth. They also could not resort to the old feudal ownership relation and let people work for them because in this form of society you cannot own people. So without the bourgeoisie ensuring the continuation of capitalistic production, modern aristocracy would probably disappear.

[The last two paragraph are my own interpretation]

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    Thank you so much @ Giorgio for a really good and convincing interpretation that makes Marxist theory much clearer to me from a social perspective. This agrees with @tim's answer. In short you're saying that industrialisation empowered the bourgeoisie to 'take over' economic leadership from the aristocracy, and since economic power (as represented by ownership of the means of production) is the base on which the political superstructure depends, the 'new capitalist' bourgeoisie is the "present and future enemy of the Proletariat." Really excellent answer -- I appreciate and upvote! Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 22:34
  • @EnglishStudent: "industrialisation empowered the bourgeoisie to 'take over' economic leadership from the aristocracy": very nice summary, I hadn't thought of such a short way of saying it. On the other hand, I am not sure if the word industrialization is appropriate here. As far as I understand, industry is crucial to the capitalistic mode of production, but there can exist industry without capitalism.
    – Giorgio
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:09
  • In any society, goods must be produced for the society to exist and reproduce itself. On top of that, in capitalism goods assume the commodity form and the labour process (common to all society forms) is also a process in which surplus value is produced (specific to capitalism).
    – Giorgio
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:13
  • "Thank you so much @Giorgio for a really good and convincing interpretation that makes Marxist theory much clearer to me from a social perspective.": Actually there is very little interpretation from my side, apart from the last two paragraphs. I just (hopefully accurately enough) summarized what is explained in "Das Kapital". IMO Das Kapital is a very good reading if you want to understand Marx's critique of political economy. Some good material are David Harvey's lectures: davidharvey.org
    – Giorgio
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:18
  • Thanks again -- if not very much interpretation, as you say -- for a very concise summary of Marx, which clearly explains the class conflict, @Giorgio, and also for the link. I understand the theory-building much better now: It seems they saw the Industrial revolution as the main impetus for the transition of society from feudalism to capitalism, which is why I used the word 'industrialisation' here. It is also apparently historically irreversible, which is why 'aristocracy is no longer the real threat' -- and they were very right! I shall try to read the actual text of Marx soon enough. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 8:18

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