The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was first published in 1848. The introduction in my edition, by Martin Puchner, confirms what I also suspected, that Communism as described by Marx and Engels has been a slow-growing force of ideas and ideals that is undermining old forms. Class distinctions aren’t so clear anymore, even though in the US, at least, there’s the glamorization of pretense, symbolized by Hollywood and the media. Words like “successful,” or “wealthy,” imply ease or comfort but not necessarily happy or fulfilled.
In the Manifesto itself, I was surprised at ideas I’ve thought were my own but also at ideas abhorrent to me. I liked the first part, which discusses the origins of community “from Ireland to India” as “communes” with land held in common. Cities grew from that, and industrialization spread social organization, leading to metropolises, centralized power, and globalization.
The Communist Manifesto describes the “capitalist” as someone who owns the means of production. Adam Smith, the “father of modern capitalism” lived in earlier times and did not define capitalism. In fact, it seems he never used the word in Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. It struck me at the time I read it as odd.
So we have Marx and Engels defining “capitalist,” but Smith getting the acknowledgement. However, the means of production has no value without human effort. The land—unless it produces spontaneously—or machines, do not produce capital. This is the great fallacy in reasoning that no one except me seems to debunk.
Human capital is the driving force behind production, so the ‘ownership” question becomes debatable. In a slave society, you could make a case for the “capitalist” owning the means of production. No wonder labor in the early industrial days grumbled. They felt owned but were just emerging from feudal societies and situations in which they were slaves in every way except terminology.
Marx and Engels disparage private property. To a point, I agree with them. The greedy acquisitiveness of the land grabbers attests to the private property concept run amok, yet it is hard to maintain all that property without organization, including paid or conscripted labor.
Marx and Engels were idealists, for sure, in that they believed the proletariat more noble than the bourgeoisie/capitalist exploiters. They call for abolishing private property and structuring agriculture like the military, but they also call for centralization of power, including a central bank and state ownership of communication and transportation. They call for a heavy progressive income tax. As we saw later, in the USSR, the state became the new aristocracy/bureaucracy. By owning or controlling the “means of production”—the people, according to my definition--it became the exploiter but without the sense of responsibility to insure equal distribution.
Marx and Engels make a case for labor owning the means of production, and that makes sense to me, too. I don’t understand why this isn’t more common. The desire for perpetual expansion may lead industrial decision makers to seek outside investors.
That the banks and stock market attached themselves to the industrial revolution and grew with it renders them integral to the modern concept of what capitalism is. However, both have served in their way to displace labor, or to undercut labor, as their revenues come from skimming unearned income off the top, or encouraging debt on which they collect interest.
The government, at least in the US, has enabled this process from the get-go. This is probably the greatest lie of US history: that government exists for the people. The government exists to fund itself by enslaving the people under the “rule of law.”
Marx and Engels’ explanation regarding the rise of the bourgeoisie (capitalist) class makes sense, as far as it goes. They claim this class undermined the aristocracy and feudal social structure. The proletariat, the laboring class, became necessary to the success of industrialization, and peasants were attracted to cities and factories, believing steady work and income would make for easier, more secure lives. I guess. But it seems they merely traded one form of oppression for another.
It takes a lot of farm to feed a city, as The Land Grabbers so aptly shows. Yet people are still piling into cities, we are told, encouraged by centralized governments, like China’s. In many cases, it is forced migration, as their land is expropriated, war-torn, flooded, poisoned, or increasingly unaffordable. The age of money, which also accompanied industrialization, banks, colonization, global trade, and centralized government, has fostered an atmosphere of dependency on it.
While Marx and Engels claimed class struggle is at the root of all human discord, their solution—for a dictatorship of the proletariat—merely reverses the inherent problem. They make a grand leap of logic by suggesting a “dictatorship of the proletariat” would eliminate social hierarchies. In practical terms, unions assume their own social hierarchies. Power delegated to union bosses carries the same risk as any delegated power and is easily abused.
I’m sure such a proposal was popular with the oppressed laborer, but the call for them to “unite” showed the same idealistic blindness that Marx and Engels criticized in early socialists like Robert Owen
I, too, have noticed the layering of society into ill-defined but distinct classes. The media refers to the 0.1% wealthy, the oligarchs, the disappearing “middle class,” and the “poor.” Marx and Engels talk about the “ruling class,” which was the aristocracy and the clergy, I guess, but they were undermined by capitalism and the bourgeoisie, based on industry, imports and exports, globalization and world-wide markets. The bourgeoisie are united in their common pursuit of money, or capital, but, the authors say, the proletariat, often rural and isolated, is disorganized, not realizing the individual cause is the group’s cause. The proles need to unite.
I do agree that class distinctions create class conflict. Social hierarchies make no sense to me, but they won’t be abolished by decree. Other people either like them or have become habituated to them and don’t imagine a truly egalitarian society. People want “leaders,” someone on a pedestal and in the role of decision-maker for the group. It seems they (people) want to be led.
Marx and Engels downplay the issue of how to accomplish the leveling of society. They call tentatively for violent revolution, which may be why Marx was exiled from Prussia and Paris.
“Money is power” some claim, but I say money is delegated power. Personal power needs no medium of exchange. Marx and Engels seem to take the position that personal power is inconsequential. Workers only have power en masse, so are susceptible to being divided and conquered.
The Communist Manifesto politicizes natural human tendencies. It misplaces emphasis by demeaning the value of individual human capital. Here I come back to my fundamental belief in the individual, so denigrated by the collectivists, politicians, economists, churches, and everyone who believes in delegated power. To practice self-control seems impossible to the control-freaks, so they gang up to control others.