Are social crises good for the bourgeoisie, according to Marx?

Clearly social crises can be bad for the working class. For example, the world wars were bad and count as 'social crises', but they may end up being good for the working class, if only because large scale militancy and mass strikes can surely occur in response.

But what about the ruling class? Surely the recent protests and pandemic are "social crises".

  • i think i figured it out already -- potentially good but also destructive. assuming nothing has changed? – user46524 Jun 20 '20 at 0:19
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    Marx did not write on crises in general, the social superstructure for him is tightly linked to the production base, and his crises are the ones reflecting economic busts due to overproduction. I do not think covid qualifies, and racial protests do only to the extent that they reflect the resulting economic impoverishment. But since a crisis is an opportunity for a revolution ("a new revolution is possible only as the result of a new crisis") one would presume that they are generally bad for the ruling class, although some factions may benefit from it. – Conifold Jun 20 '20 at 8:58
  • As Marx predicted, the bourgeoisie is the working class. So a doctor now is relatively more working class and less of a professional because capitalism will eventually cheapen everything. Also, keep in mind the less educated portion of the working class “self-polices” to a great degree. There is the “internal parent” which pulls the worker back at the very point of emancipation. Whereas the upper class and their agents can simply BE the parent. This internal/external parent makes progressive change difficult. – Gordon Jun 20 '20 at 17:46
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    If you want to speed up the chances of a revolution then have the agents (like say, the President) be highly immoral and decadent, because this then gives the worker the “permission” to release and negate the internal parent. The worker stops “self-policing”. Something like this happened in the French Revolution. – Gordon Jun 20 '20 at 18:00
  • Bill Kristol and George Will are absolutely correct in their more true conservative instinct. Decadence, vulgarity and lack of morals at the top begets revolutionary potential at the bottom. – Gordon Jun 20 '20 at 18:04

I can offer only another book, sorry. The book is “Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19 by Sebastian Haffner. This failed revolution in Germany can teach so many lessons. Of course the end of WWI in Germany was a huge crisis. Book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DAN2E1W?tag=duckduckgo-iphone-20&linkCode=osi&th=1&psc=1 The book can usually be found online, PDF, free.

It ended up helping Right because the Left betrayed itself! Remember the internal self policing of the Left, say the workers, this is the Super Ego of Freud (the parent), and Freud directly addressed this issue.

Of course the street element fighting the revolutionaries, the Freikorps, was all external parent.

Later on, the Frankfurt School tried to understand why the Revolution in Germany failed. They incorporated Freud into some of their work. It is often forgotten that Erich Fromm was a fairly early member of the Frankfurt School.

  • yeah i don't understand how the german revolution lost before it started. i guess lack of numbers? fwiw i don't consider social democrats to be left wing, though i understand it could've looked v different then. i shall ask about your book, my historical skills are as bad as my philosophy. – user46524 Jun 22 '20 at 9:00
  • Marxists tend to blame Bernstein, unions, and even Kautsky for gradualism in the Second International and a lack of Leninist activist opportunism. It has been claimed (can't recall the source) that the communists actually had more members and more guns than the Fascists, but the Fascists struck first, more viciously and decisively. The first Nazi concentration camps were built to hold communists. – Nelson Alexander Nov 19 '20 at 1:11

The only social crisis that is unqualifiedly good for the bourgeoisie on Marx's theory of history is that one that brings it to power. The only social crisis that is unqualfiedly bad for it is the proletarian revolution that destroys its power.

Inbetween, there are only contingencies. It may happen that a social crisis involves state restrictions which, despite the bourgeoisie's general control of the state, interferes with its power to exploit and appropriate surplus value from the proletariat. A war might do this through controls on production of particular goods and services. On the other hand, a social crisis may open new opportunities - as, for instance, the environmental crisis (a kind of social crisis) which calls for new technologies and new opportunities of profit for the bourgeoisie by the redeployment of the forces of production. There can be no useful generalisations about the tendency of social crisis to benefit rather than harm the bourgeoisie - except perhaps this one.

I am not writing from a Marxist perspective, simply trying to work out how an orthodox Marxist would respond to your question.


While Conifold is basically correct, Marx did generalize to a certain extent about crises. The dominant class will enter a crisis when the current norms, laws, and ideologies that sustain it place unbearable constraints on technical advances in the mode of production.

This is most evident in the Capitalist phase and the bourgeois revolutions, but is presumably a dialectical conundrum in any age. The laws that sustain the given order and class domination will come to seem more and more "irrational" and intolerable as the improved forces of production advance beyond them. The internal contradictions accumulate to the point of implosion.

This is not, I should add, the sort of technical determinism or "science of history" favored by Engels and, more crudely, the orthodox Bolsheviks. It would take the form, in any given historical moment, of highly complex, unpredictable stresses in the social order, involving conscious reactions, politics, and culture every bit as much as new machines and material overproduction.

Crises like the pandemic or protests simply do not rise to this level, though they could catalyze other forces, who knows? A better example of what Marx suggests would be the stresses on "national" legal-political structures and institutions caused by the computerization and globalization of Capital. Capital can extend the division of labor across national borders, yet still relies on a fiat currency secured by national debt and taxation.

Another would be the inherent contradiction between the advances of commodified digital information and the outmoded laws of ownership, patents, copyright, etc. based on 18th century bourgeois rights to "property," in the form of land or natural resources. Napster, probably more than BLM or Covid-19, presented a true dialectical crisis for the bourgeois that is still playing out. Merely human crises are just market opportunities.

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