Chapter 1 Summary: Bourgeois and Proletarians
The Communist Manifesto begins with Marx’s famous generalization that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (79). Marx describes these classes in terms of binary oppositions, with one party as oppressor, the other as oppressed. While human societies have traditionally been organized according to complex, multi-member class hierarchies, the demise of feudalism affected by the French Revolution has brought about a simplification of class antagonism. Rather than many classes fighting amongst themselves (e.g. ancient Rome with its patricians, knights, plebeians, and slaves), society is increasingly splitting into only two classes: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. This state of affairs is the result of a long historical process. The discovery and colonization of the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries required new methods of production and exchange. Because of the demand for more efficient, larger scale production, the medieval guild system gave way to new methods of manufacturing, defined by the widespread use of division of labor and, with the advent of industrialization, by steam and machinery. It was the bourgeoisie”modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and the employers of wage labor” (79)who were the agents of these economic revolutions. The new economic powers of the bourgeoisie led to their political empowerment. While the bourgeoisie had originally served the nobility or the monarchy, they had come in the middle of the 19th century to control the representative states of Europe. In fact, as Marx famously notes, “the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (82). With this political empowerment came the destruction of the social fictions on which previous societies were based. Instead of focusing on the relationship of men to ‘natural’ superiors and inferiors, both in this life and the next, or even the indistinct Rights of Man championed in the first half of the 19th century, the bourgeoisie introduced an ethic based on the absolute right to free trade and the rational, egoistic pursuit of profit. It was not enough, though, for the bourgeoisie to radically change all that has preceded it; it must constantly change in the present in order to expand and exploit its markets. As Marx says, “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones” (83). This economic and social dynamism unsettles the boundaries of nations and creates pressure toward globalization, amounting to an economic imperialism that demands that other nations assimilate to bourgeois practice or be cosigned to the economic backwater. In this way, the bourgeoisie “create the world after their own image” (84). Marx uses the above story of the bourgeoisie’s evolution to substantiate his central contention that the forces of production develop faster than the sociopolitical order in which those forces of production arise. The result of this disparity is a radical alteration of the sociopolitical order that allows it to catch up with the forces of production. Marx claims that this is what occurred in the shift from feudalism to bourgeois capitalism. This process, though, has not stopped. The conditions for the existence of the bourgeois order are being undermined by the new forces of production which the bourgeoisie themselves have ushered in. This is evidenced by the many economic crisesresults of an epidemic of overproduction, which Marx sees as a consequence of bourgeois economic developmentthat rocked Europe in the 1830’s and 40’s. In response to these crises, the bourgeoisie scale back their production, find new markets, or more thoroughly exploit old ones. According to Marx, though, all this is for naught as it does not treat the underlying problems that will create more acute crises in the future. Indeed, the underlying problems cannot be suitably treated as capitalism contains within it the seeds of its own demise, seeds which it itself nurtures through the necessary creation and ultimate exploitation of a new class, the proletariat. The proletariat is the workforce of bourgeois enterprise, “a class of laborers who live only so long as they can find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital” (87). The proletarians are themselves commodities and are likewise subject to the vicissitudes of the market. And as with any other commodity, businesses want to minimize their cost of production, in this case, the wage that must be paid in order to make use of the worker’s labor power. According to Marx, this wage is the cost of bare subsistence for the proletariat and his family. Because of the division of labor, the work of the proletariat is assimilated to the great industrial machinery, of which they are no more than cogs. As the division of labor and the mechanization of industry increasesnecessary conditions of efficient productionso does the drudgery of the proletariat’s work. As slaves to their bourgeois masters, the proletariat is in a constant state of antagonism with the bourgeoisie. This antagonism, though, leads to the mass mobilizationhelped by ever improving communication technologiesof the proletariat, increasingly aware of their collective power to effect changes in wages and working conditions. Indeed, the bourgeoisie, who educate the proletariat in order to mobilize the masses of workers in favor of their own political goals, helps the proletariat in this. As the proletariat become more numerous and organized, though, members of the bourgeoisie begin to realize that their class will fall and the proletariat will triumph. These foresighted bourgeoisies, of which Marx is a member, increase class-consciousness among the proletariat and hurry their historically ordained victory. Eventually, the proletariat erupts into rebellion, casting off the shackles that bound them to the bourgeoisie. They condemn all the bourgeois laws, morality, and religions as facades for bourgeois economic interests. They rend society apart, destroying the most fundamental condition of their own bondage, the institution of private property. All this is the necessary result of the rapacious bourgeois appetite for profit that brought the proletariat into existence and continually diminished his welfare. Thus, the bourgeoisie undermine the conditions of their own existence. As Marx concludes, “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (94). Chapter 1 Analysis: Bourgeois and ProletariansThe Communist Manifesto was first published on the eve of the revolutions that rocked Europe in 1848. It was meant as a statement of purpose for Marx’s newly formed Communist League and its straightforward, even prophetic, tone is that of a man confidently explaining to a confused world the reasons for a tumult that had not yet begun. Why this confidence? The answer to this depends on Marx’s deterministic view of history. Marx inherited from Hegel, his philosophical father, the idea of historical progress. Like Hegel, Marx believed that human history unfolds according to a distinct series of historical stages, each necessarily following the other. These stages ultimately lead to a prescribed Utopian endpoint, after which there will be no more change, an end to history. Unlike Hegel, though, Marx thought that these stages could be foretold. This is because there are scientific laws, discoverable by empirical methods, which govern the progress of history. In such a universe, people are but midwifes, facilitating or frustrating the birth of a new historical period, unable to alter the nature of the eventual result. Marx believed that he had discovered these laws and with the certainty of a physicist predicting the trajectory of a projectile, Marx predicted the demise of capitalism and the triumph of communism. According to Marx, the course of human history takes a very specific form, class struggle. The engine of change in history is class antagonism. Historical epochs are defined by the relationship between different classes at different points in time. It is this model that Marx fleshes out in his account of feudalism’s passing in favor of bourgeois capitalism and his prognostication of bourgeois capitalism’s passing in favor of proletarian rule. These changes are not the contingent results of random social, economic, and political events; each follows the other in predictable succession. When he wrote The Manifesto, Marx thought he was sounding the death knell for capitalism months before its demise. It is crucial to note, though, that this antagonism also takes a very specific form, that of the dialectic. According to Marx’s dialectical account of history, which he adapts from Hegel, every class is unstable, fated for ultimate destruction due to its internal contradictions. Out of its ashes rises a new class, which has resolved the contradictions of its predecessor but retains it own, which will cause its eventual passing. In more specific terms, the bourgeoisie must create the proletariat as a condition of their own development, i.e., in order to labor in their burgeoning industries. In doing this, they must treat the proletariat ever worse (by minimizing their production costs) while providing them the means to associate through politics. The necessary consequence of this is that the proletariat gains power and overthrow their oppressors. The inner contradiction is the bourgeois need for proletariat labor; a need which when met creates the conditions of the bourgeoisie’s eradication. The proletariat’s moment in history is unique, though, as the proletariat’s vanquishing of capitalism leads to a classless society. If there are no more classes, there cannot be any class antagonism; and if there is no class antagonism, then on account of Marx’s view of history, there will be no more history. The triumph of the proletariat and the creation of a classless society is, then, the Utopian end of history toward which all previous historical events are directed. More specifically, it is crucial to note the central role that economics plays in Marx’s view. While we might be inclined to view the progress of history-if we believe in progress at all-in terms of revolutionary ideas, i.e. Renaissance humanism, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, etc., Marx viewed the progress of history in decidedly materialistic terms. The grand ideas by which we characterize societies are always the reflection of underlying economic realities. In Marxist language, the superstructure (laws, morality, religion, politics, aesthetics: in short, culture) is always determined by the infrastructure (the methods of economic production and exchange); their social environments always determine peoples thoughts and behaviors. What we think of as cultural revolutions, even great political ones such as the French Revolution, are really the product of deeper economic issues expressed through class antagonism. This may not be immediately apparent as infrastructure always develops faster than superstructure. Every so often, though, the superstructure has to slingshot forward in order to catch up with the infrastructure. It is these great leaps forwards that we commonly misperceive as revolutions in ideas. This, then, sets up Marx’s theory of human history. Needless to say, it has been the target of much criticism. There seems to be three central questions here which need to be evaluated separately: 1) Is history governed by immutable laws? 2) If so, does history have an end? 3) What is the moral value of this end? Marx clearly thought that the answer to the first question is yes. One might corroborate this idea with a metaphysical story about Providence or natural ends. Marx, though, claimed a scientific, empirical status for his views, so he could rely on such abstract justifications. Patterns of historical movement must be inferred from historical data. It is apparent that Marx, at least at this point in his career, has not assembled enough data to warrant the strength of his conclusions. His view of capitalism as a self-defeating enterprise was based almost solely on his exposure to the textile industry in Lancanshire, England. For Marx Lancanshire was capitalism teetering on the edge of the abyss, on the verge of full proletariat revolt. The fact that there were few other areas of such industrial sophistication elsewhere in Europe did not bother Marx. He was certain that Lancanshire was the future and end of capitalism. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Lancanshire was not in anyway the end of capitalism. It was merely an early stage of capitalism, not representative of other industries and quite primitive by today’s industrial standards. Indeed, the revolutions Marx foresaw never happened until the 20th century, in countries, contrary to Marx’s expectation, with capitalist economies in their infancy. Marx greatly underestimated the capacity for human innovation in constructing new, more efficient methods of production which, rather than burdening the worker, eased his labor. This does not demonstrate conclusively that there are not recurring historical patterns or laws, but it does impugn Marx’s claim to scientific objectivity with respect to his own theory. Indeed, it is noteworthy that many later Marxists and other thinkers with Marxist sympathies (many so-called postmodernists, such as Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida) advanced theories emphasizing the social construction of all ideologies, Marx’s included, and called into questions any so-called Grand Narrative theory which sought to reduce human history to a linear progression governed by simply explicable laws. The question of an end to history is centrally related to the question of determinism. It is not, however, clear that determinism requires an end. There is nothing inherent even in Marx’s dialectical history that makes a final resolution of contradictions necessary. One could easily imagine an interminable sequence of conflicts, in which the engine of change is, for instance, biological fitness and not the conflict of classes. In a sense, Marx stacks the deck in favor of an end, declaring that the proletariat, the truly universal class, will abolish all distinctions of class by destroying public property. A classless society cannot be ruled by the rules of class conflict. But why should class be the only engine of change? And is the possession of property the only indicator of social class? Perhaps strength of personality or certain ideologies (religious, political, or otherwise) move people to action against each other more than the possession of goods. In fact this seems borne out, at least in part, by Marx’s theory, for how else could any bourgeoisie, e.g. Marx himself, ever side against his class and with the proletariat? And in the revolutions of 1848 in which Marx predicted proletariat victory, nationalism was a much more powerful force than class conflict. Even if there is an end, though, it does not seem obvious that this end is one of which we should approve. We could be spiraling ineluctably to a fate that we’d rather avoid if we could. Marx does stress that the capitalist is not being particularly selfish when he exploits the proletariat, nor is the proletariat particularly altruistic when he and his brethren rebel against their oppressors. Each party is just responding to the laws of history. In these circumstances, attributions of vice and virtue are not entirely appropriate. Why, then, does Marx welcome the end of history and indeed work to hasten its arrival? From what perspective is Marx’s moral judgment made if not from the perspective of any class? This is an important question, but one which Marx does not address explicitly in The Manifesto. Ultimately, Marx’s answer to this question relies on his theories about human nature and his explication of the moral consequences of capitalism, specifically, his theory of alienation. Without an elaboration of these theories, Marx’s willingness to incite violence in favor of the proletariat is without clear justification. Chapter 2 Summary: Proletarians and CommunistsMarx begins this chapter by declaring that communists have no interests apart from the interests of the working class as a whole. Communists are distinguished from other socialist parties by focusing solely on the common interests of all workers and not the interests of any single national movement. They appreciate the historical forces that compel the progress of their class and help lead the proletariat to fulfill their destiny. As Marx says, “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” (95). Marx then responds to a number of criticisms from an imagined bourgeois interlocutor. He considers the charge that by wishing to abolish private property, the communist is destroying the “ground work of all personal freedom, activity, and independence”(96). Marx responds by saying that wage labor does not properly create any property for the laborer. It only creates capital, a property that works only to augment the exploitation of the worker. This property, this capital, is based on class antagonism. Having linked private property to class antagonism, Marx proceeds to investigate both antagonists with respect to their independence. Marx first notes that capital is a social product, that is, capital only exists within some social system. The result of this is that capital is not a personal but a social power. Making property public then, as the communist wants to do, is not changing the private to the social; it is only modifying its already inherent social character. Returning to the condition of the wage laborer, Marx argues that “the average price of wage labor is the minimum wage, i.e. the quantum of the means of subsistence which is the absolutely requisite to keep the laborer in bare existence as a laborer” (97). The proletariat, then, is absolutely dependent on the capitalist for his very survival. He does not acquire any property because his wage must be given immediately to his own subsistence. Communists want to ensure that the laborer exists for more than merely the increase of bourgeois capital. Labor should not be directed towards the accumulation of wealth on the part of the capitalist. Rather, capital, or property in general, should be directed toward the enrichment of the laborer’s life. Abolition of private property means, then, only the abolition of bourgeoisie property. The freedom that the bourgeois believe is underwritten by private property is a very narrow freedom, one available only to a very small subset of the population. Moreover, this form of property depends on its radically unequal distribution. The ultimate point, as Marx says, is that “communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that is does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation” (99). Marx also considers the criticism that a communist society would promote general idleness. This strikes Marx as laughable considering that in bourgeois society those who work do not acquire anything while those who acquire things do not work. In the end, the force of this charge, as with the force of all these other charges, presupposes the bourgeois system of property. As Marx says, “Don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property…” (100). He accuses the bourgeoisie of elevating to the status of immutable truths values that are only local and contingent. It is selfish conceit that blinds the bourgeoisie to the reality of the historical progress, which Marx here seeks to elucidate. Communists are also accused of desiring to destroy the family. To this Marx pleads guilty, reiterating his oft mentioned contention that the object of destruction is specifically the bourgeois exemplar. To the capitalist, a spouse and children are mere instruments of production, like the machines in his factory. Furthermore, the education he wishes for them simply perpetuates their subordination. A communist society would alter these relations, utilizing the educational system to end the exploitation that women, children, and the vast working classes suffer under capitalism. This is a self-conscious destruction of society, but only as a cleansing of the old in preparation for the new. As for the suggestion that communists wish to abolish countries, Marx responds that this process is already occurring due to bourgeois efforts to expand free trade. Such globalization will continue as class-consciousness develops across the proletariat of all nations. Marx even goes so far as to predict that antagonism between nations will vanish as class antagonisms fade away. Class defines one far more than nationality. While Marx acknowledges that the revolution will be different in different countries, he includes an outline of its likely course in advanced capitalistic nations: (in Marx’s words, 104)1.Abolition of private property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. 2.A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. 3.Abolition of the rights of inheritance. 4.Confiscation of the property of emigrants and rebels. 5.Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 6.Centralization 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 wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan. 8.Equal liability of all labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. 9.Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country. 10.Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc. Marx concludes the chapter by repeating his claim that once the proletariat achieve political power, the eventual result will be a classless society. Abolishing bourgeois modes of production undermines the continued existence of class antagonisms, and without class antagonism, the proletariat will lose their own class character. As Marx famously closes the chapter, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (105). Chapter 2 Analysis: Proletarians and CommunistsThe most important theses advanced in this section relate to Marx’s response to bourgeois criticisms of communism. The first and most important charge Marx entertains is that the abolition of private property destroys the “ground work of all personal freedom, activity, and independence”(96). Marx’s curious first move is to respond that the bourgeois system of property does not provide any property for the worker. It is hard to see how this directly bears on the criticism since its leaves open the obvious suggestion that workers should be compensated more for their work. Inequality in distribution does not, as such, imply that private property need be abolished. The real force of Marx’s charge relies on his assumption that the necessary condition of the existence of bourgeois property is the “non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society” (98). Nowhere in the Manifesto does Marx substantiate this claim. The question then becomes one of how he would even be able to substantiate such a claim. In brief, there are two ways: a priori and a posteriori, that is, judgment independent of experience or judgment from experience. Marx seems genuinely conflicted as to what sort of judgment he wants to make. He claims that his theory of history is based on empirical evidence, but the body of evidence to which he refers is very limited and of a type which, because of the multitude of variables in any social system, makes clear study of causal relations very difficult. Marx’s willingness to proclaim with full faith a certain historical outcome indicates that there is an a priori judgment being made which belies Marx’s scientific pretensions. Necessity in Marx’s political program seems to be secured by the dialectical method he uses, i.e., his belief that the seeds for one classs ruin lie in its inner contradictions, contradictions necessary to its identity as a class. The bourgeois will fail because they must create an exploited class, the proletariat, who must rebel and destroy them. Recall the problematic nature of agency in Marx. Their class defines people and so their actions are simply the realization of their class destiny. While Marx may use historical evidence to justify his economic analyses, the real force of his program, its supposed necessity, is ultimately justified by his philosophical (methodological) assumptions. While evidence may not justify the full predictive force of Marx’s theory, it can certainly repudiate it. Marx could argue for the necessity of any outcome he wished, but if that outcome does not occur as he says, then his theory will be invalidated no matter what he predicted. Let’s see, then, if his claim that capitalism can exist only as long as workers do not accumulate property matches the economic evidence. If we take our contemporary condition as an example, we see at least three relevant departures from a Marxist vision: 1) The first relates to the role of government in the economy. Marx believed that government must either be laissez-faire or in complete control of the economy. We have seen, however, that government can and has intervened in the economy to the benefit of workers and business. Government has implemented a minimum wage to keep workers above the poverty line, created welfare and unemployment aid to struggling workers, and instituted labor regulations to safeguard worker well-being on the job. And while there is still some debate as to the ideal nature of these interventions, there is little doubt that they have actually advanced economic development in the long run by creating and sustaining a secure and healthy workforce, a workforce without which business could not develop. This is especially true, as the physical demands of labor have decreased greatly since Marx’s time. The above changes have occurred without a full-scale socialization of the economy. Improving the lot of workers, then, by allowing them to acquire property has not destroyed capitalism. 2) In times of economic success, the labor market tightens, and workers often are able to choose among many employers. If they do not like the terms of employment offered by one employer, they are free to seek employment elsewhere. While this does not eliminate the possibility of conditions existing across all industries, which are objectionable, it does mean the worker has more power than Marx allowed him or her. As a matter of fact, contrary to Marx, those industries, which are doing the best economically, are usually those with the highest paid employees. 3) Marx assumed that the only way for the capitalists to increase their markets was through imperialism. While this is the way many capitalists preceded in the late 19th century, it ignores another alternative. An economy with well-paid workers creates a potential market for its goods amongst its workers. While this may reduce profit margins in the immediate, it provides a reliable and sustainable market for the future with a workforce eager to work for the ability to consume again. Indeed, as of late, many of these workers possess stock in their employer’s company or in some other investment fund, making them part owners of the company. This kind separation between ownership and control defies Marx’s analysis. Marx’s contention that capital is social is interesting, though does not secure his conclusion. Capital is indeed social in that it relies on a complex nexus of social conventions. If this is all that Marx is saying, though, it does not seem as if the capitalist need in any way object. In reality, Marx seems to be taking issue with the idea that private property is antecedent to society and that society in protecting the right to contract is protecting a pre-social right. While Marx may be correct in criticizing this Lockean view, this does not mean that the social character of capital brings it any closer to full socialization than in the Lockean view. The right to possess property may be an expressly social right, an extension of each individual’s right to determine his own destiny within his social world. Now the Marxist will have much to say to this, but for the present, it suffices to show that the social character of wealth does not make the abolition of private property seem a less radical shift from the status quo. The proposition that labor should be directed to the improvement of the laborer rather than towards the accumulation of capital is more important than Marx indicates here. Indeed, I believe it expresses the heart of Marx’s concern with economics, a concern that transcends the problems of his dialectical methodology. There are two levels at which to understand this improvement. First of all, it can mean that laborer should accumulate his own capital, that is, his wage should be more than what allows for mere survival. As we have seen, the further development of capitalism seems have to addressed this. Marx could, though, mean the criticism on a deeper level, one, which would remain relevant even to societies in which laborers accumulate their own capital. While Marx does not make this so explicit in the Manifesto- he doesn’t need to if he is right about the necessity of laborers not being able to accumulate capital-I believe he actually means to indict any capitalistic or, indeed, any money-based economy. Marx’s fundamental problem with capitalism is moral. He believes that a system of exchange based on money causes us to view our fellow humans as things of value and not as moral beings. As human beings, we are defined by what we do in our lives, by how we labor. When the object of labor is taken from us and we instead receive money for our efforts, we have lost a piece of ourselves; we become, in Marx’s word, alienated from our labor. This undermines our unity as human beings and makes us slaves to the external world. This is not the place for a complete discussion of Marx’s theory of alienation. (see Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1884 for the most interesting treatment of these issues). It is important to realize, though, that this theory underlies all of what is said in the Manifesto and must be evaluated independently to due justice to the complexity of Marx’s view. Marx’s treatment of the charge of idleness is more interesting than his glib answer would indicate. One obvious concern is free riders. If what you receive does not directly depend on your labor, then there is an apparent incentive to do nothing. This is a common criticism of modern welfare systems, for instance. All of this assumes, of course, that there is something objectionable about work. Marx would likely respond that this view of labor is itself the product of capitalism and so the free-rider problem will fade as the vestiges of capitalism fade. Consistent with Marx’s theory of alienation discussed above, labor will become ennobling and people will not avoid it. Ultimately, it is hard to assess this claim since no such society has such existed. One would have to take Marx’s conjecture on faith. Also related, is the idleness charge might be better interpreted as a claim that state monopolization of the economy will reduce the incentive to innovate. This could unfortunately minimize the development of goods and technologies that augment the well being of humankind. In addition, lack of innovation could keep the costs of production unnecessarily high by slowing the creation of more cost-effective production technologies. While we have seen these trends in contemporary capitalist economies, Marx might respond that our idea that people are decisively motivated by competition is itself a product of bourgeois society, and we cannot assume that it would hold once that society is destroyed. Again, this is true, but if we apply evolutionary logic to our psychology, it seems that competitiveness is biological and while society may try to stem its application, it will persist until our biology is altered. Marx’s view that any form of social education prepares one for inclusion in one’s community is quite correct. Education is about separating the chaff from the wheat, the right from the wrong. And while bourgeois education may not have the explicit political character that the communist proposes, it is nevertheless political. It has to be, or else on what ground does it resist the communist alternative? This needn’t imperil the bourgeois opposition, but it will force him to defend his values against Marx. Unfortunately, liberal education has not met this challenge very successfully. As for globalization, it is notable that the most obstinate opponents of globalization during recent history have been trade unions. Trade unionists do not seek to overthrow their employers; they want, first and foremost, job security, and then they want to improve the conditions of their labor, e.g., wages, benefits, etc. Marx would respond that this is only because workers have not developed an appropriate class-consciousness. While this may be true, Marx’s claim that he is speaking on the worker’s behalf becomes suspicious when the worker’s actual desires differ from what Marx says they should desire. Also, Marx’s allying the proletariat cause with globalization is enlightening given the fact that nationalism was a much more powerful ideological force in the revolutions of 1848 than socialism. Indeed, those who did revolt for economic reasons did so for the right to work and not overhaul the entire economic system. Near the end of this chapter, Marx notes somewhat paradoxically that a proletariat victory will lead to a classless society. This is because in destroying the bourgeois methods of productions, the proletariat will have destroyed the conditions for class formation. But why should this be? Why is the bourgeois form of production necessarily the terminus? I have addressed this in the chapter 1 analysis, but it is worth noting again. Also, the proletariat’s ascent to power seems different from the bourgeois ascent centuries before, a difference, which is important because Marx claims that the patterns of class ascendancy repeat themselves. While the bourgeois were nearly in full economic power by the time they gained political power, the proletariat will gain political power before they gain economic power by abolishing private property. It is not clear how Marx would deal with this disanalogy, considering that the only concrete evidence Marx cites of a class revolution is the bourgeois revolution. Challenging Marx’s interpretation of that instance could completely undermine his claims to empiricism. Also, why should it be that economics should be the sole determinate of class? While economics may seem central to our self-conception, it does not seem at all obvious that an economic leveling will eliminate our propensity for dividing into antagonistic ‘us’/’them’ binarisms. Religion, ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality: these are the heart of much conflict in our contemporary world. Arguing that all of these can be reduced to a conflict between economic classes does not seem to do justice to the importance of these characteristics in our lives. Marx’s closes this chapter by famously remarking, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (105). Now for many egalitarian-minded bourgeoisie, such an association sounds like a noble goal even if one doesn’t agree with the communist means to its attainment. There are those, however, for whom this is not such a worthwhile goal. Friedrich Nietzsche is perhaps this most famous opponent of such social leveling. For Nietzsche humanity is measured by its greatest exemplars rather than by its average well being or the condition of its lowest members. If greatness can only be cultivated at the expense of the exploitation of the masses, so be it. A level society reduces us to the lowest common denominator and precludes the achievement of greatness, which, it would seem, relies on distinction. While Marx would likely dismiss this as a bourgeois value he means to eradicate, it is worth considering the costs of true equality to our form of civilization. Chapter 3 Summary: Socialist and Communist LiteratureIn this section Marx explores the evolution of European socialism up to his own day. Not surprisingly, he charges all previous movements with theoretical and practical inadequacy while hailing his own communist alternative as the best expression of a shared concern with the working-class. I. Reactionary SocialismA. Feudal Socialism This was the earliest form of socialism. Aristocrats who were opposed to the social changes brought about by the expanding bourgeoisie developed it. Rather than focusing on their own plight, though, they trumpeted the concerns of working classes. Marx repudiates these feudal socialists for ignoring the fact that they were exploiters too when they were in power. Most importantly, though, they had no appreciation of historical progress. They did not understand that the bourgeoisie were their own offspring as the proletariat are the offspring of the bourgeoisie. Their primary concern was in reinstating the old feudal order, and they thus objected to both the bourgeoisie and proletariat insofar as each threatened to destroy previous social systems. Marx also identifies feudal socialism with Christian socialism, remarking, “Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat” (108). B. Petty-Bourgeois Socialism As Marx has noted in earlier chapters, bourgeois dominance increasingly divides society into two classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat. There still exists a third class, though, which constantly fluctuates between bourgeoisie and proletariat, the petty-bourgeoisie. Increasingly, though, this class in being assimilated into the proletariat as society becomes more urbanized and reliant on industrial production. Petty-bourgeois socialism arises from this class, but holds up the standard of the proletariat, with whom the bourgeoisie are a shared enemy. Marx credits this school of socialism with “dissecting with great acuteness the contradictions in the conditions of modern production,” but ultimately upbraids them for wanting to reinstate old social formations. They do not see that the answer to bourgeois exploitation is to develop the proletariat into a revolutionary class rather than to return the worker to the country and renew a failed feudalism. C. German or ‘True’ Socialism: German Socialism began as a response to French socialist literature. These early socialists, though, did not appreciate that the French ideas grew out of a social environment, which did not exist yet in Germany. Unlike the French bourgeoisie, the German bourgeoisie had barely begun their struggle against feudalism and there was no proletariat to speak of. As socialism lacked practical significance for Germany, German thinkers universalized the French ideas, raising them to the status of immutable laws of human Reason, transcending the narrow concerns of any particular class. Those who championed these ideas in the political area forgot that they were developed for a society different from their own; the result of this premature valorization of socialistic values was a hardening of aristocratic resistance to the bourgeoisie. This has slowed the progress of industrialization and kept Germany less developed economically than France. While the political rhetoric of this movement has earned it many admirers, its lack of class character and its decrying of violent revolution make it weak and ineffectual. II. Conservative, or Bourgeois, Socialism This is the form of socialism practiced by those sections of the bourgeoisie who wish to reform their class rather than destroy it. They want to enjoy the social developments, which their economic and political supremacy has effected, but they do not want to accept the necessary consequences of that development, a suffering and revolutionary proletariat. They beg for social harmonies yet refuse to realize that the exploitation of the masses will not end until their form of society has been vanquished. To this end, they simply prolong the misery of the proletariat and stand in the way of historical progress. III. Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism The first great expositors of Socialism and Communism (Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, etc.) appeared very early in the bourgeois epoch. Accordingly, they did not fully appreciate the character of the proletariat as the revolutionary class, the vehicle of historical action. For them the proletariat was merely the locus of social misery, the class most in need of assistance. Their primary concern was with the well being of society as a whole and they directed their entreaties to those who they thought could effect change, those already in power. Change was to occur peacefully from above rather than violently from below. Their critical faculties, though, extended to all portions of society and have helped the working classes focus their own struggle. The visions of society that they propose, though, are Utopian to the point of being fantastical. Notably, as class antagonism develops, their suggestions become more far-fetched and less inspiring. They want to abolish class conflict without abolishing the conditions for the existence of classes. At the moment of revolution, then, they become reactionary, resisting the inevitable emancipation of the exploited masses for which they originally toiled. Chapter 3 Analysis: Socialist and Communist LiteratureThere are three major criticisms that Marx offers against rival brands of socialism. First, they use the present misery of the working class as a reason to restore older methods of social organization; that is, it is backward looking rather than forward-looking. It is notable that Marx not only thinks that moving backwards is not only unwise, but he thinks it impossible. History moves only in one direction and once the material and economic conditions of one historical epoch are present, one cannot return to past modes of production or, significantly, modes of social existence. According to Marx, economic conditions determine all other aspects of society, and so it is impossible to keep these levels apart for long. It is important to recognize, though, that this criticism does not, on its own, undermine its object. While we may often be seduced by the idea that forward is always better, one must provide a theoretical basis for this; change for change’s sake is not always good. Marx does, of course, provide a justification for this, which we have assessed independently. Without such a justification it is certainly an open question as whether the problems of the present can be solved by looking to the wisdom of one’s predecessors or only by forging a new and unique future. Also, paradoxically enough, Marx’s analysis of the relationship between economics and culture may give fodder to certain reactionary movements, giving them a reason to prevent the inclusion of new technologies because it will inevitably end up changing their social ideologies. One might view the Islamic revolutions of recent history as an example of movements putting this judgment to use in ways opposed to Marx’s own. Marx’s second criticism is that many of his contemporaries look forward to a new society but do not appreciate the extent to which change is needed. The common fault of these people is their reluctance to endorse violence as a method of social change. They might believe that slow and steady reforms are the best way to ameliorate proletariat anxiety, or they might believe that quicker, more radical departures from the past are needed. In either case, though, they still want to suppress the revolutionary element of the proletariat. Again, Marx believes that such a stance challenges the inevitable. Only through blood will the world be cleansed. The problem here is that Marx nowhere justifies his contention that the proletariat revolution need be violent. While the social conditions existing during Marx’s time might have led him to the conclusion that the working-class will not be satisfied until they have tasted the blood of their oppressors, he needs a stronger basis if he wants to substantiate a claim to inevitability. Perhaps he is extrapolating from the transition from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie, which was epitomized in the French Revolution. First, whether this is best explanation of the French Revolution is in doubt. And second, it seems very poor science indeed, what Marx claims to practice, to make a prediction based upon a single past occurrence. In fact it seems as if the transition to bourgeois power in England and Germany happened without similar bloodshed. It seems that in this instance, as in others, Marx is letting his philosophical methodology, the dialectical method, influence his assessment of the empirical facts. The dialectic requires conflict in order to resolve its opposing elements. That Marx interpreted this, as outright revolution is not surprising given the time in which he lived. Marx’s third criticism is that other forms of socialism do not appreciate the truly classist character of the conflict. This is the problem with the philosophized socialism, which elevates the principles of freedom to the point of practical irrelevance, and with bourgeois socialism that beseech the powers that be on behalf of the lower classes. The former deny the significance of class altogether while the latter do not realize that the only significant action must come from the oppressed class itself and not from the benevolent intervention of the bourgeoisie. This is because the proletariat must develop a class-consciousness in order to unite and overthrow their oppressors. Those who deny this class character stand in the way of the development of this consciousness and so perpetuate the enslavement of the masses. Again, Marx does not provide any justification for his belief that reform must come from below beyond his theory of historical progress. Indeed, such reforms seem to have been fairly successful in improving the condition of workers. While there is still considerable suffering in the world, one would be hard-pressed to attribute this entirely to economic development. Indeed, most of the third world’s problems stem from economic underdevelopment. Even in the developed world, the proletariat, insofar as one can claim its exists, is very limited. The middle-class has continued to grow while the lower class has remained relatively small. It is certainly not the social juggernaut, which Marx thought it would be. In any case, it is difficult to maintain that proletariat revolution is inevitable 150 years after an immediate revolution was predicted. There is a notable absence in Marx’s list of contemporary rivals, the anarchists. These followers of the Russian social thinker Mikhail Bakunin were very active in the revolutionary movements of the mid 19th century. Marx does not include them because they are neither socialist nor communist. I bring them up to draw attention to a potentially problematic aspect of Marx’s view, the role of government in effecting social change. As the name might suggest, anarchists desire the destruction of government altogether; a dictatorship of the proletariat is no better than the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. All government shackles humans unnaturally and creates the conditions for all kinds of inequities. If people were left to his or her own devices, the natural goodness of the human nature would reign and government would become irrelevant. The important question this challenge raises for Marx is why government is the best agent to improve society. One doesn’t need to be an anarchist to ask this question; libertarians raise it as well. A Marxist might respond thusly: First of all, the state will wither away after the proletariat succeeds in fully revolutionizing society. It is here to facilitate the transformation to self-control and not to perpetuate itself indefinitely. This step is necessary in order to acclimatize people to a new type of society, to purge them of their previous bourgeois illusions and create a new type of socialist citizen. Remove the tethers now, as the anarchist would have it, and the result would be an egoistic chaos, a Hobbessian war of all against all. How else could one expect people to act having been raised in a selfish, competitive bourgeois culture? Government controls society until it is ready to control itself. This seems a powerful response to the anarchist whose rosy picture of human nature seems implausible–the same has been said about Marxism, but we have discussed that previously. It does not, though, answer the libertarian who would decry Marx as offensively paternalistic, violating people’s rights to determine their own destiny absent government coercion. Marx would respond that it is naive to think that people control their own destiny. Bourgeois freedom is not freedom; economics is destiny. Eliminating explicit government intervention in one’s life does not eliminate the influence of society altogether. Influence is pervasive; communists are just putting it to good use in extricating the conditions of oppression? The libertarian might respond that while social power is pervasive, this does not mean that we should allow government intervention; we should rather work to minimize the more subtle social coercion. People possess rights not to be used for broad social ends without their consent. Even if we agree with Marx’s ideal society, there is value in people’s coming to such a society on their own accord. While forcibly creating this society might benefit future generations, it does not benefit those who have to suffer a loss of autonomy to achieve that end, especially if they are not given the opportunity to dissent. One must provide another argument for such a strong obligation on the present on the behalf of the future. As is clear, this outcome of this debate is far from certain and underlies much of the criticism against contemporary Leftist political parties, descendants of Marx. Chapter 4 Summary: Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition PartiesIn this final chapter Marx recapitulates the immediate political aims of Communism. He identifies allied parties in various European states, noting that while communists support all working-class parties, they always stay focused on the long-term interests of the proletariat as a whole. Importantly, Marx claims that Germany is the chief focus of Communist interest because while the bourgeoisie in Germany have not yet achieved victory over the aristocracy, the proletariat there is more developed than it was when either the French or English bourgeoisie won their independence. The result of this is that the proletariat revolution will arrive first in Germany. Despite this focus, Communists will support any and all revolutionary movements that advocate the abolition of private property and advance the interests of the proletariat. As Marx powerfully concludes, “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” Chapter 4 Analysis: Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition PartiesThe concluding chapter of the Manifesto is very short. It says little new and is meant primarily to forcefully restate the communist’s political purposes. Marx does, though, make an interesting observation in predicting that Germany will be the site of the inaugural proletariat revolt. This is interesting because it indicates that all societies need not progress at the same rate in approaching communist revolution. The ordering remainsfeudalism, capitalism, communismbut the pacing is different. This is also apparent in Marx’s insistence that communists raise the property question always and everywhere. Marx’s willingness to hurry things here might well have influenced later Marxist revolutionaries who did not even await the arrival of fully developed capitalism to liberate the masses. It is these people, Trotsky and Lenin in Russia, Mao Tse-Tung in China, and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Latin America, whom we most associate with communism as they succeeded in bringing it to some one half of the world’s population. As the cold war has ended and the remaining communist states are slowly atrophying, it is tempting to bury Marxism happily, offering only a litany of human atrocities as its ironic eulogy. This, though, ignores the debt we owe Marx for both focusing our attention on the plight of those on whose strength the wheels of industry turn and elaborating the multifarious ways in which we are products of our societies. And despite the sad and bloody legacy of his followers, perhaps the greatest debt we owe Marx is the temporary hope he gave that there might be some radically different and better alternative to our society.
Bourgeoisie: “By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labor” (79). The bourgeoisie developed out of feudalism and will be destroyed by the proletariat, whom they necessary exploit on account of their economic position.
Proletariat: “By proletariat is meant the class of modern-wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live” (79). The proletariat developed as a result of bourgeois capitalism, but their economic condition deteriorates as the bourgeois economic condition improves. This reciprocal relationship will eventually cause the proletariat to rise up and destroy the bourgeoisie.
Dialectic: A process by which one element, the thesis, is contradicted by an opposing element, the antithesis. This contradiction is resolved by a synthesis of the thesis and antithesis. The synthesis then becomes the new thesis and the sequence repeats. This is the process by which Marx believes history proceeds, a dialectic of class antagonism. The proletariat victory will be an end to the dialectic and thus an end to history.
Capital: Money, or the bourgeois form of private property used to produce wealth. Exchange of capital replaces the exchange of commodities in feudal economies. Labor is valued in terms of capital, and workers receive monetary wages in compensation for their work.
Capitalism: An economic system based on the exchange of capital.
Socialism: A social system that favors collective ownership of the means of economic production and distribution.
Communism: A form of socialism proposed by Karl Marx, which intends to effect socialist reforms by advocating a revolution of the proletariat.
o”A specter is haunting Europe: the specter of Communism” (78)
o”The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (79)
o”Society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (80).
o”The executive of the modern state is but a committee for the managing of the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (82).
o”The bourgeoisie is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society” (93).
o”What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (94).
o”The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletariat parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, the overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat” (95).
o”…the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property” (96).
o”Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that is does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation” (99).
o”In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (105).
o”Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” (120).
In 1846 Karl Marx was exiled from Paris on account of his radical politics. He moved to Belgium where he attempted to assemble a ragtag group of exiled German artisans into an unified political organization, the German Working Men’s Association. Marx, aware of the presence of similar organizations in England, called these groups together for a meeting in the winter of 1847. Under Marx’s influence this assemblage of working-class parties took the name “The Communist League,” discussing their grievances with capitalism and potential methods of response. While most of the delegates to this conference advocated universal brotherhood as a solution to their economic problems, Marx preached the fiery rhetoric of class warfare, explaining to the mesmerized workers that revolution was not only the sole answer to their difficulties but was indeed inevitable. The League, completely taken with Marx, commissioned him to write a statement of their collective principles, a statement that became The Communist Manifesto.
After the conference, Marx returned to Brussels, carrying with him a declaration of socialism penned by two delegates, the lone copy of The Communist Journal, the publication of the London branch of the Communist League, and a statement of principles written by Engels. Although Marx followed Engel’s principles very closely, the Manifesto is entirely of his own hand. Marx wrote furiously, but just barely made the deadline the League had set for him. The Manifesto was published in February 1848 and quickly published so as to fan the flames of revolution, which smoldered on the Continent. When revolution broke out in Germany in March 1848, Marx traveled to the Rhineland to put his theory into practice. When this revolution was suppressed, Marx fled to London and the Communist League disbanded, the Manifesto its only legacy to the world.
The Manifesto has lived a long and illustrious life. While it was hardly noticed amongst the crowded field of pamphlets and treatises published in 1848, it has had a more profound effect on the intellectual and political history of the world than any single work in the past 150 years. It has inspired the communist political systems that ruled nearly half the world’s population at its height and defined the chief ideological conflict of the second half of the twentieth century, altering even those countries which stood firmly against communism, e.g. Western European and American Welfare States. Intellectually, Marx’s work has profoundly influenced nearly every field of study from the humanities to the social sciences to the natural sciences. It is hard to imagine an area of serious human inquiry that Marxism has not touched.
But even in the enormous body of work related to Marxism, The Manifesto is undoubtedly unique. Even at its short length (only 23 pages at its first printing), it the only full exposition of his program that Marx wrote. And while Marx developed his views throughout his career, he never departed far from the original principles outlined therein. The Manifesto is, without a doubt, Marx’s most enduring literary legacy, setting in motion a movement that has, although not in exactly the way Marx predicted, radically changed the world. As Marx famously asserted in his Theses on Feuerbach, “The philosophers have interpreted the world in many ways. What matters is changing it.” No one has epitomized this as much as he.
The Communist Manifesto opens with the famous words “The history of all hitherto societies has been the history of class struggles,” and proceeds in the next 41 pages to single-mindedly elaborate this proposition (79). In section 1, “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” Marx delineates his vision of history, focusing on the development and eventual destruction of the bourgeoisie, the dominant class of his day. Before the bourgeoisie rose to prominence, society was organized according to a feudal order run by aristocratic landowners and corporate guilds. With the discovery of America and the subsequent expansion of economic markets, a new class arose, a manufacturing class, which took control of international and domestic trade by producing goods more efficiently than the closed guilds. With their growing economic powers, this class began to gain political power, destroying the vestiges of the old feudal society that sought to restrict their ambition. According to Marx, the French Revolution was the most decisive instance of this form of bourgeois self-determination. Indeed, Marx thought bourgeois control so pervasive that he claimed, “the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (82).
This bourgeois ascendancy has, though, created a new social class that labor in the new bourgeois industries. These classes, the proletariat, “wage-laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live,” are the necessary consequence of bourgeois modes of production (79). As bourgeois industries expand and increase their own capital, the ranks of the proletariat swell as other classes of society, artisans and small business owners, cannot compete with the bourgeois capitalists. Additionally, the development of bourgeois industries causes a proportional deterioration in the condition of the proletariat. This deterioration, which can be slowed but not stopped, creates within the proletariat a revolutionary element that will eventually destroy their bourgeois oppressors. As Marx says, “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (94).
In Chapter 2, “Proletariats and Communists,” Marx elaborates the social changes communists hope to effect on behalf of the proletariat. Marx notes firstly that the interests of communists do not differ from the interests of the proletariat as a class; they seek only to develop a class-consciousness in the proletariat, a necessary condition of eventual proletariat emancipation. The primary objective of communists and the revolutionary proletariat is the abolition of private property, for it is this that keeps them enslaved. Bourgeois economics, i.e., capitalism, requires that the owners of the means of production compensate workers only enough to ensure their mere physical subsistence and reproduction. In other words, the existence of bourgeois property, or capital as Marx calls it, relies on its radically unequal distribution. The only way the proletariat can free itself from bourgeois exploitation is to abolish capitalism. In achieving this goal, the proletariat will destroy all remnants of bourgeois culture which act to perpetuate, if even implicitly, their misery. This includes family organization, religion, morality, jurisprudence, etc. Culture is but the result of specific material/economic conditions and has no life independent of these. The result of this struggle will be “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the development of all” (104).
Chapter 3, “Socialist and Communist Literature,” encompasses Marx’s discussion of the relationship between his movement and previous or contemporaneous socialist movements. In this chapter he repudiates these other movements for not fully understanding the significance of the proletarian struggle. They all suffer from at least one of 3 problems: 1) they look to previous modes of social organization for a solution to present difficulties; 2) they deny the inherent class character of the existing conflict; 3) they do not recognize that violent revolution on the part of the proletariat is the only way to eradicate the conditions of oppression. Only the Marxist communists truly appreciate the historical movement in which the antagonism between the proletariat and bourgeois is the final act.
The final chapter, “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Opposition Parties,” announces the communist intention to “everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (120). The communist contribution to this ongoing revolutionary discourse will be the raising of the property question, for any revolutionary movement that does not address this question cannot successfully rescue people from oppression. As Marx thunders in conclusion, “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” (121).