by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
After discussing some of Iain M Banks' socialist theories in his Culture novels, a friend of mine commented: "but that's from Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto". I figured it might be good to read the manifesto, so I downloaded and printed it out from the internet. At around 50 pages it's quite short.
Here are some of my random thoughts on the manifesto. They are probably wrong.
Overall I thought there were a lot valid points criticising capitalism in this chapter. However I can't help feeling that the end state of the Communist Manifesto is some sort Utopia in permanent stasis. But this is not realistic, change is the basis of life and trying to oppose the forces of change always fails.
I liked this paragraph as it still seems relevant today:
It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production
I didn't like the idea of the proletariat overthrowing the bourgoisie being the legitimate end game and that only the proletariat class seem to have some god given right to survive. The proletatriat will need leaders, which will attract the power hungry and off we go again.
Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.
Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
This will just "rinse-repeat". Round and round we go. Why should the proletariat be different to the peasants in previous centuries? The premise appears to be that technological progress is the difference between now and then. But I don't buy that. Unless of course thechnology is used to maintain the whole thing by force, as happened in eastern Europe - poorly.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
So the "Communists" will be the better amongst equals, because what, they are better educated? But they are better educated because they come from the upper classes. As invariably always happens, the Communists will end up ruling over the proletariat, not with them...
Again, there are some very good and valid criticism of capitalism, but only poor solutions.
National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.
The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.
In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another will also be put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.
As above, how can action only involving leading civilised countries, be considered "united action"? Who's defining "civilised" here? No mention in this book of Africa for example. Don't they get a say? Again, better among equals...
If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
This is the utopia of communism. It is also wishful thinking.
A tour de table of different types of communism that have or would fail, followed by the assumption that Marx's "communism" will not. Feudal Socialism, Petty Bourgoise Socialism, German or True Socialism.
On the latter:
To preserve this class is to preserve the existing state of things in Germany. The industrial and political supremacy of the bourgeoisie threatens it with certain destruction — on the one hand, from the concentration of capital; on the other, from the rise of a revolutionary proletariat. “True” Socialism appeared to kill these two birds with one stone. It spread like an epidemic.
On Conservative or Bourgoise Socialism:
A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society.
To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems.
I like this description - very good! Fully agree, this is some sort of half way house to keep the rich in power.
They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best
A second, and more practical, but less systematic, form of this Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economical relations, could be of any advantage to them.....but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour, but, at the best, lessen the cost, and simplify the administrative work, of bourgeois government.
Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.
Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working class. Prison Reform: for the benefit of the working class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of bourgeois socialism.
It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois — for the benefit of the working class.
Currently, we seem to be in this form of socialism. The question is: where will it end?
This chapter considers that Germany, at the time, was closest to some half way house to Communism and therefore had quite a small proletariat. They were still fighting the aristocracy. Interesting that less than 100 years later the Nazis were in power.
Later, in the appenices to the docmument, Engels, in "Principles of Communism", considers the revolution will be easiest in England, hardest in Germany, based on the relvative sizes of the proletariat in those countries - larger in England, smaller in Germany.
Overall the manifesto is very open about the probable need for forced / armed revolution:
In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
Of course you have to fight for what you believe is right. Forcing others against their will to believe it will never work. There will always be those who don't believe. Suppressing them doesn't work for long.