Marx famously, in his communist manifesto, said

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master(3) and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

So, then what happens? Could the the oppressed class reconstitute itself, after its revolutionary failure, and the ruin of its oppressors?

Or is it just an inevitable slide into further insanity? What does dialectical materialism say?

1 Answer 1


In each case the outcome is different, and the classes arise again in a different form on a slightly different basis.

For instance, European Feudalism ruined both classes -- when local peace held for too long and war became more commonly national in scale, the truly feudal Lords eventually ended up landed but penniless and the truly feudal serfs wound up without any source of protection. So both were either driven into towns, with that new set of classes (bourgeoisie and proletariat), or folded up into the wider holdings of the mercantile era nobility, with that new set of classes (state taxpayers and tenant farmers). There was no revolution because both other options already existed -- the upper nobility was already mercantile and statist and the town system had always existed to deliver goods. But two things that had been minor contributors came to center stage -- Nations and Cities.

That is the synthesis part: new options become visible through the pressures of incipient failure, to either solve the same problem more broadly or to mine a new vein of temporary options until a broader solution takes hold.

As I see it, it parallels the development of industrial power. We try out each different potential basis and reason for the class division, using up or outgrowing the 'fossil fuel' implicit in that mode of contrast and its associated virtues and moving on to the next form of what we currently model as social capital (but only because we are capitalists), until we find a social organization with a renewable form of 'social energy', or we run out of options and simply succumb to directionless and chaos.

  • i think i nearly understood, but are you saying that everyone with social capital is part of the ruling class? i like the idea of both classes reforming on new terrain, or having been ruined only in some sphere
    – user6917
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:06
  • 1
    No, 'social capital' is spread throughout the culture. It is basically the human traits that the culture is leveraging most efficiently at the moment by rewarding them. But in leveraging them, it creates a 'game' of them and reduces them to something else, which can no longer be used as a basic reference for value. E.g. a faith-based class structure eventually ends up running on hypocrisy, and which point it needs a new basis. A class structure based upon strength ends up running on demonstrations of strength, rather than its deployment for the common good...
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 16:51
  • I am just being fussy about words. To call it 'social capital' (as values theorists from John Dewey to Francis Fukayama do) and not something neutral like 'focal virtue' betrays a given way of looking at the world in the economic terms of our current culture. But it is a post-Marxist idea, so there is no older, more neutral term for it.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 16:59
  • ok sure, i was just confused about the use of "we", i guess i missed the irony. :)
    – user6917
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 17:00

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