Now the bourgeois was in origin the member of a small and highly specialized class which had grown up within the wall of the mediaeval city commune. Far from being the average European man, he was an exceptional type standing somewhat outside the regular hierarchy of the medieval state, which was primarily an agrarian society consisting of the nobility, the clergy, and the peasantry. His very existence was guaranteed by a charter of privileges which constituted the city-commune as a regime d’exception. Thus there was a sharp division of material interests and social culture between the bourgeois and the countryman, a division which was deepened in Eastern Europe, including Eastern Germany, by the fact that the towns were often islands of German speech and civilization amidst a population that was predominantly Slav. And so while the peasant laboured and the noble fought, the bourgeois was free to lead his own life, to mind his own business and to grow rich within the narrow limits of the mediaeval urban economy.Share
All this seems infinitely remote from the modern world. But we must remember that it was not so remote from the society to which the founders of modern socialism — Lassalle and Marx and Engels — belonged. The German bourgeoisie had only just emerged from a regime of corporate rights and privileges which bound the bourgeois to his corporation, the craftsman to his guild, the peasant to his land, and the Jew to his ghetto. The generation before that of Marx had seen this structure collapse like a house of cards, so that the world was suddenly thrown open to any man who possessed money and enterprise — that is to say to every good bourgeois.
Thus the process which had taken centuries to develop in Western Europe was completed in Central and Eastern Europe within a single lifetime. Whereas in England and the United States, the bourgeois spirit had already become a fluid element that interpenetrated the whole social organism; in Germany, or Austria, or Russia, it was still a new factor in social life and so it was easy for Marx to separate it from the rest of society and regard it as the distinctive mark of a definite limited class. (Read more.)