Reflections on The Communist Manifesto
Communism has deep roots in history, though this is denied by contemporaries.
Some say communism died in 1989, but recent developments suggest otherwise.
During the time of the writing of the Communist Manifesto in late 1847 in London England, Europe was in turmoil. It was initially written in German and soon after, translated into several languages. The Communist Manifesto was published on February 21, 1848. Rebellions and strikes occurred in France, Germany, Belgium, and Britain and in other places over working conditions and poverty. Later, a war was raging between Prussia (Roughly Germany) and France. When the Paris Commune broke out in 1871, the war was temporarily put aside so that the Prussian and French armies could crush the workers who had seized Paris. The Commune was crushed under the attacks by the combined armies. The Paris Commune had been inspired in part by the existence of the Communist Manifesto. Workers had far fewer options then than they do even today despite all the cut backs. There were long, hard working hours, child labor was rampant, few, if any safety provisions, filthy working environments, dangerous conditions and working class housing was largely shanties and hovels constructed by the workers often located near "the Satanic Mills" as referred to by William Blake. We can get a taste of this with factories in Mexico just south of US border where workers live in shanties just outside of the factory walls in similar conditions. This was part of what was behind the rebellions. Business was extremely competitive and refused to make any concessions to the workers.
Marx with the support of a linen factory owner, Engels were both active in writing philosophical journals and newspapers. Marx's press was often raided and smashed and eventually Marx and Engels were both forced to immigrate to Great Britain. As a matter of fact, both Marx and Engels were bourgeois, but saw the limits of capitalism and where it would ultimately go. With considerable foresight, they took a preemptive approach to the problems and solutions of their contemporary society. Most of what they said, commented and wrote still applies today. It seems a contradiction that Engels, a linen factory owner would support a proletarian cause as he himself was thoroughly bourgeois. Yet, Engels supported Marx when Marx fell on hard times. Further, he gave Marx free access to his factory so he could study how things were done and this is what his work Kapital is based upon by experience. We see this in Kapital where he constantly refers to the process of taking raw materials and turning them into linen and then clothing. His analysis of capitalism is based strongly on his experiences and observations of Engels' factory. In his genius ability to understand and clearly describe all the nuances of profit making, he applied this to the capitalist system generally. Out of Kapital came many other works, one of which is the Communist Manifesto.
The Communist Manifesto starts off with a bang, to whit;
"A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies."
This start was a result of the combined factors of a distinct class war between the proletariat and the growing and competing bourgeoisie and the struggle of the workers for better all round conditions. Workers were being driven off the land and into the cities. There was no shortage of labor and few if any standards. The result was bitter struggles often evolving into full shooting wars. Thus we have the statement of the spectre haunting Europe. Today we find similar conditions, especially in off-shore regions and the whole business is simmering again. Now the spectre is haunting the off-shore businesses, Europe again, India and other regions. Many off-shore businesses have a link to businesses in America. So, in a way, the spectre haunts the very seat of capitalism, the US today.
As a result of struggles past and present, two things are acknowledged by Marx.
"1. Communism is already acknowledged by all European (and US) powers to be itself a power.
2. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself."
The second point is what we now have by way of the Manifesto of the Communist Party in the pure sense uncontaminated by followers such as Stalin and Mao. The Communist Manifesto defines two classes that are locked in a bitter class war and that this war has been on since the dawn of written history. Though the classes evolved from aristocracy and peasants and other arrangements of history to bourgeoisie and proletarians, the war is the same. But with just two classed remaining, the struggle becomes much clearer. Every time there was a new development, the bourgeoisie learned from it and tightened its control of world production and capital. The bourgeoisie with the help of peasants and workers overthrew old orders and accrued the power to themselves. They kept this up in a bid to achieve global dominance and monopoly. Everything became reduced to money.
"The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation."
The Communist Manifesto is connected to his work Kapital in the following;
"The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society."
This is one of the central concepts of profit making as defined by Marx in Kapital. The next connection comes with;
"The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country."
We find ourselves in the midst of a consumerist society driven by the need for expansion and profit which draws every nation under its influence. First Nations countries were crushed to make room for the expansion as were and are other third world peoples. The current economic world crash has seen the bourgeois leaders scramble to get the economy driven by consumerism and the need for constant expansion back on track. Even in the face of a collapsing ecosystem under escalating threat is insufficient reason to stop the drive for profit. Working people are collected together in centralized production facilities everywhere to improve efficiency. Sometimes all of these things unfold so rapidly, it gets out of control and one of the results is the anarchy of capitalism where underproduction in one area cannot jive with overproduction in another. Crises can emerge from such conflicts one of which is a surge in unemployment. Traditionally at least in Marx's day, unemployment meant but one thing; the streets! This is once more becoming a fact, especially after the sub-prime inspired economic collapse of 2008.
Marx then goes on to analyze the outcome which is to form one of the main tenants of the Communist Manifesto. This too is an outgrowth of Kapital.
"The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented. The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself. But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class — the proletarians."
Modern production also reduces the skill level needed to labor as Marx identifies both in Kapital and in the Communist Manifesto.
"Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him."
Payment for labor is restricted to the level where the worker can come back to work for the next pay cycle and to raise the next generation of workers; but even this has limits as most workers now find it difficult to make ends meet with their pay and are now forced to take loans and use credit at high interest. Once paid their stipend of a wage, there is a lineup of expenses demanding payment.
"No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc."
We can throw in the banker with credit cards, car loans and mortgage loans today in addition to the ones mentioned in the Manifesto. From here Marx defines what is happening and continues to happen to this day amongst the workers with what has become to be known as factionalism and splitting the of the left.
"This organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves."
Marx defines the role of the petite bourgeoisie such as shop keepers and the like who do not want to be put out of business by the grand bourgeoisie in take-overs and expansion and fall into the laboring class. Thus they want to hold back progress and even return to the "good old days".
"The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history."
And then there are parasites everywhere, some of which Marx called the dangerous class and followers later identified as lumpenproletariat. Under the degeneracy of capitalism, people are thrown out of work to become beggars and petty criminals who focus their attention on the proletariat as they have the least defense. This has been a constant problem, which the bourgeoisie have attempted to resolve this with welfare, unemployment insurance and retraining. But despite all of this, Marx say that the worker would sink lower and lower instead of experiencing improvement.
"Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth."
Marx then proposes a solution:
"In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.... The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat."
And after this, the Communist society will abide by the principles defined in the Communist Manifesto.
"...in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
education for all children in publicschools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c."
Some say that under communism that no one will own anything; that everyone will share the same toothbrush. But if we look closely at bourgeois society, we find that banks own it all until the bills are paid in full and title is achieved, which is rare in today’s world. With foreclosure fever in high gear, placing tens of millions into homelessness (2008-09), we are learning who has the final say in our current society. People are also forced to abandon cars, boats and livestock as income dries up. As a matter of consideration, the proletarian society will share the things produced equally, so that everyone will have their own toothbrush and clothes, a home, freely provided education, universal medical attention according to need and the like. Some of which is produced will be collected as a tax in order to run administration and build and maintain infrastructure. The economy will be a planned one that will avoid crises of overproduction and anarchy prevalent of capitalist production. Further, communism will seek to protect the environment and even work to undo the damage already done. Waste land will come into use and damage done will be repaired in a commonly agreed upon plan. This is done by spreading out production and gradually moving much of the populace back onto the land to become involved in agriculture. Concentrated cities where heavy industry and pollution originate will be replaced by a new order, one that works with nature and not just exploiting it for profit.
Some have taken this move away from mega-cities and applied a misleading hand to the idea. One was Pol Pot who forced the whole country out of the cities and into the countryside to pursue an agrarian life. This was a misguided attempt that lead to the genocide of a third of his subjects in the now named killing fields that were supposed to grow things, not to kill people. Communism in its pure sense is not a return to feudal peasantry, which Marx himself would call reactionary. It is integrating agriculture with modern production, but in the hands of the people as a collective society and not in the form of mismanaged agribusiness that destroys land in a bid to maximize profit from cash crops while people in each locale starve. In a bid to be more environmentally friendly, food will be more in local control and thus reduce our carbon footprint as is done now with mono culture cash crops. In North America, a section of the Manifesto suggests that the First Nations will have a direct hand in managing the lands confiscated from them during the Indian Wars. On the other hand, those who attempt to dodge the consequences of a Communist Revolution by emigrating will have their lands seized and redistributed. The same goes for those who remain and fight against the establishment of Communism as the new order of society managed and run by the proletariat. Should rebellion arise against the newly established Communist society, the dictatorship of the proletariat will handle this as well. Marx never used the term "dictatorship of the proletariat". That came later with the Russian Revolution. Credit problems will be abolished with speculation and fictitious value as the centralized bank will not loan on interest for profit. In its place will be a centrally planned system that will manage surplus value for the benefit of all. This in brief is what the Communist Manifesto is about.
Note: All quotations are from the English translation of the original Communist Manifesto in German, which was published in 1848.
Communist Manifesto, Reflections on Communist Manifesto, Marx and Communism, Kapital and Communism
This work is co-written by myself and W. F, Raymond, who provided the inspiration for this series.