The Communist Manifesto: A Challenge is Placed!

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

So, I wondered over to this morning looking to see if anything interesting was up, and lo and behold, there was!

IN THIS first installment in a series on the classics of the socialist tradition, TODD CHRETIEN offers you a bet about the Communist Manifesto you shouldn’t refuse.

If you’ve ever taken any of those graphed out political spectrum tests on the internet, you might find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with what you’re analyzed as being. The last time I took one, I ended up in the leftist non-authoritarian quadrant…in the corner. My score was like 10, 9.8. I was analysed as being more leftist non-authoritarian than Kucinich and Gandhi! The reason I point this out is that I am not of the Lenninist/Stalinist/Maoist flavor of leftism. I don’t think Marx was either, needless to say, although I don’t think he’s in the non-authoritarian branch (what with the dictatorship of the proletariat and all). With that said, I decided to start reading the Manifesto and see if I agreed with it! I’m writing today from what I’ll call part one, which is the first 12 pages of the pdf, which is available here.

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.

Workers of the world united!  It was a spectre which entrenched interests would be quite interested in seeing quashed.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Gee…this was published in 1848?  We still use Communist as a demonizing term in the US!  The Manifesto then goes on to say that it was high time for Communists from around the world gather together and publish their point-of-view.

The history of all hitherto existing society2 is the history of class struggles.

Note: The footnotes appear in the PDF and won’t be recopied here.  Also, this won’t be a paragraph for paragraph look at what was written.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master3 and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

Bingo.  Economic domination for a period of time by one class has usually ended with the fall of that class.  Sounds somewhat like what’s happening in today’s economy, don’t you think?

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Surprise, surprise!  Now, Marx’s world was of an industrializing Europe.  Our current world is much more industrialized, but also corporatized.  I still think his analogies fit well enough to be understood.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

Capitalist owners and workers, with managers in a somewhat nebulous position on the outskirts of both groups.  Government (at least in the US), for the most part, should be lumped in with the owners (IMHO).  The Manifesto then looks at the growth of the markets and how there was a centralization of production.

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

Today’s globalized economy sits on the same foundation, and we see economic disruption in most of the world.  The numbers in India are always startleing: It has the world’s largest upper and middle class (approx 300 million) with another 800 million living in abject poverty.  The Chinese miracle has yet to spread to the countryside.  Will either manage to even out their income disparities?

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune4: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

I wonder what Marx would think of the description of our political system today?  Two wings of the same party?  I think he’s already written about it.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Again, Marx hits it right on the head.  The war against the social safety net in the US has been about exploitation.  The outsourcing of our manufacturing base (and now, to a good extent, our tech base) is about exploitation.  The neo-liberal approach is about exploitation.  “Free” trade is about exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured 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 labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

Look at US, the great capitalist country.  See if what Marx wrote fits what’s happened and continues to happen.  I think he’s right.

The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

And yet, we’re on the verge of destroying ourselves, whether it be by war or destruction of our environment.  But, this is what the bourgeoisie does.  We shouldn’t expect anything else.

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. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his, real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Man has been laid bare by the capitalists.  Most of us, if we are lucky enough to have a job, are wage slaves. And we do nothing to improve our lot, for the reigns of power are controlled by the bourgeoisie.

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.

Hence, war in Iraq, destabilization in Central and South America, etc., etc.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to  become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

IE, it spreads ‘freedom’ around the globe.  Those who don’t join in the system are demonized and/or removed.  It plays over and over again.

A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for

the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. 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 overproduction. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. 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.

We see such a crisis in our own economy, and the world’s, today.  I don’t see how we can be surprised that it’s happening.

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.

Hence, the never ending war against the working class.  And have no doubt, all of the layoffs and the shifting from an industrialized economy to a service oriented one in the US is part of the war against the working class.

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

This is, for the most part, you!

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, 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. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

If you ever wonder about what the ‘increase in productivity’ measures, this explains it to a T.

Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

If you ever wonder about the ‘Chicago School’ of economics, this decribes their modus operandi to a T.

No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer 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.

It’s a never ending circle, isn’t it?

The lower strata of the middle class – the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants – all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialised skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.

Re-training!  That’s the ticket!  Except, those jobs are being moved out of country, too.  But there’s always McDonald’s!

But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The  increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes

their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (Trades’ Unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots.

Hence, the demonization of unions.

This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the ten hours’ bill in England was carried.

Will it rise up again in the US?  Will the Wal-Marts be set ablaze?

Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the progress of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. 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.

Here’s the thing we should ask ourselves: Should this broken off bit of the bourgeoisie be accepted?  Won’t they just want to return to their former status, while using the proletariat to get back their positions?  Beware the well-to-do populist who’s record points toward him being a former bourgeoisie!  He speaks not truth to power, but truth to regain power, and will drop others as quickly as he can.

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir,  cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.

Fascinating stuff.  I would pose that office workers today are, for the most part, part of the proletariat, just as the McDonald’s worker is, just as the auto workers are, etc.  So, this Part 1 of the Manifesto is clearly relevant to what’s going on today, even though it was written for a pre/industrialized society.

Mr. Chretien looks to be winning his bet!

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  1. All I know is that the most apt label for our system of government today is Plutocracy.

    I say that without exaggeration. There are many cutting labels I could use, but plutocracy is truly the fittest.

  2. …just as much bullshit now as when it was first written, I suppose.  How dare we reach out to “barbarian cultures”?  And this:

    Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman.

    reminds me why so few communists were ever truly found in the working class.  People who have actually worked with their bodies for a living know better than to pretend that hoeing fields as feudal serfs had fucking charm.  Indeed, if I had to describe the problem with communism as a philosophy in a nutshell, it is that it has a fair pulse on the problems of the bourgeois, but not a fucking clue about the proletariat they so romanticized.

  3. My boss is Russian.

    He says now he has lived in two socialist countries.

    In Russian they control by guns, here they control by bullshiting.

  4. The Communist Manifesto was a quick-and-dirty piece of propaganda in the hubris generated around the 1848 uprisings.  Engels’ Principles of Communism, written earlier, is a better piece of rhetoric.

    As Craig Calhoun points out in The Question of Class Struggle, following E. P. Thompson in Making of the English Working Class, as capitalism continued its domination, revolutionary energies were channeled more and more toward reformist outcomes.  It is no accident that the “communist” revolutions all happened in emergent industrial nations, and not “in the most advanced” countries as Marx had hoped.

    The ultimate upshot of this social reality was revealed in the partisan divisions created after the Third International after World War I, when Communist Parties purged their members of non-adherents to the Leninist hard line, and memberships shrunk by about three-quarters.  This is described in detail in vol. 2 of Julius Braunthal’s 3 vol. History of the International.

    Ultimately, it must be reasoned that Marx’s theories of revolution are questionable because Marx did not adequately consider capitalism as a disciplinary system, or what Kees van der Pijl (following Robert Gill) calls “capitalist discipline.”  The Leninists and Maoists merely tacked a “communist” ideology onto what were “contender states” in van der Pijl’s argot.  Contender states were obliged to employ authoritarian catch-up methods in order to compete in the international order with the capitalist lead nations.  Thus “communism” may have abolished certain class inequities, but it did nothing to end capitalist discipline, which is why the Soviet Union and the PRC were ultimately reintegrated into the capitalist world.

    In this process, though, Marxism became the ideology of contender states.  Marxists such as Alex Callinicos (The Revenge of History) once hoped back in 1992 that, because the Soviet Union was abolished, Marxism could itself “go back to the drawing board,” and shed its contender-state allegiances.  Even this has yet to happen.  Ecosocialists like Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster who revere Marx do indeed make a positive contribution to the project of rescuing Marx from Leninism, yet they are not the only type of ecosocialist to have existed.  There is indeed a socialist tradition starting with Gandhi (and perhaps also with one of Gandhi’s most important students, Martin Luther King Jr.) which is also compatible with ecosocialism.

    In the future, revolutionary movements will have to replace capitalist discipline with ecological discipline. We can define ecological discipline as a socially-created form of discipline binding the human-nature metabolism (a concept Marx discussed oh-so-briefly in Capital but then not explored further) to the sustainable management of ecosystem resilience.  This will mean (as a minimal prerequisite) the creation of a society in which ecosystem considerations come first and in which ecological education comes first for all.

  5. The primary health benefits of modernity, accounting for most of the gains, are in sanitation.  Not trashing the rivers and streams can improve community health a lot.  

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