The capitalist class or bourgeoisie (Fr. bourgeoisie, from Old French borgeis, "of the city") is the ruling class of the economic and political system of capitalism. It is characterized by owning large quantities of capital, and hiring proletarian laborers to produce commodities.
Whereas the proletariat is the subject, exploited, disposed class in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie is the master, exploitative, and possessor class. The bourgeoisie owns the means of production and the means of living in the form of factories, farmland, workshops, offices, and even housing. The proletariat and bourgeoisie stand in direct opposition to one another, and their differences are irreconcilable, resulting in class struggle.
Name and etymology
The terms Fr. bourgeois, Ger. bürgerlich, Sp. burgués etc. all stem ultimately from Proto-Germanic *burgz "fortification; walled city" and referred originally to the distinguished guildsmen and traders who played a major role in medieval urban life. Thus the term is cognate with the modern English term burgher, the more common term for this historical class.
The historical development of the word bourgeoisie reflects the development of the class itself, and in choosing to retain the old term Marx emphasizes the continuity between the medieval "middling sort" and the modern capitalist.
Historically, the bourgeoisie emerged as artisans and petty tradesman during the late stages of feudalism, and from there clashed with their rivals, the landlords of the estates. Feudal states were often physiocratic, preventing the bourgeois from industrializing (Marx details this hypocritical struggle in his second manuscript of his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844), as well as protectionist, preventing the bourgeois from gaining wealth through foreign trade. Bourgeois revolutions throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in Western Europe and the Americas destroyed most of feudalism, ushering in liberal capitalism.