My approach to The Communist Manifesto was dramatically different, apparently, from that of my like-aged peers. For most of them, it was a compulsory reading at some point during either late high school or collegiate/university years; I escaped this totalitarian enforcement. Rather I was able to come to it in a more natural manner as I seeked it out on my own accord after a considerable amount of study in anecdotal arenas. Those who were compelled to read it have all said one of two things about it, universally the same but articulated differently: they remember reading it but can’t attest to the content or that Marx was a total nut job (none of them knew who Engels was coincidentally). On this topic, what really struck me as horrifying is that I couldn’t cleanly distinguish those who were holding these positions based on legitimate rationale from those who were perhaps rehashing widely accepted views derived solely from social stigmas, i.e., Communism is the enemy of Capitalism. Instead I took the road less travelled and decided to dive into it head-first to see what kind of mischief could be dug up from the depths of the abyss.
Let me start by saying that in reflection, I found the manifesto to be profoundly underwhelming. Perhaps this is due in large part to the historical point at which I’m reading it, or maybe even that I’ve long harboured slight Marxist tendencies, but there was no observation made by Marx and Engels then that when transposed onto modern day society, strikes me as something I wasn’t already aware of. The only difference between the contents of the manifesto and myself, in this regard, is in articulation. The clear distinction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, so defined, I’m sure, mostly to invigorate Marx’s implementation of classical conflict (I’ll touch on here in a minute), isn’t hard to take notice of when considering a society where stratification is a fundamental tenant, as is the case with Capitalism. The precipitous climb from proletariat to bourgeoisie, the consistent efforts of the latter to both maintain their stranglehold on the former and to expand their sphere of influence beyond all borders for the sake of the value of bourgeoisie power, the simultaneously tangible and intangible rifts in society as a direct result of those efforts – these are none of them novel observations in and of themselves. Perhaps they were at the time or, as would be the case if this were written in the atmosphere of modern day, the intent was not to be flamboyantly disruptive but to instead smack the average layperson in the face in an attempt to wake their ignorant asses up. Part of me thinks that this has to be the case since the intended audience feels like it would be the proletariat, mostly.
Further diving into those topics that came as no surprise, Marx and Engels discuss such a wide assortment of actions that individually require further analysis during transposition. Not in an effort to stymie them, instead to the contrary. One has to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of Communism is to raise the proletariat to the social position of the bourgeoisie, militantly if need be (some may say preferably), and amongst them provide all resources and results of production in a commons that is centrally managed (by the state). Within this goal is the semblance of true equality, of which it arguably wouldn’t ever be able to attain or maintain manifestly, and the absolute intolerance of deviation from the agenda of the organization as a whole. Some things that we take for granted now are demolished in these domains including, but not limited to, (rampant) individuality, private property, and artificial valuation of commodities amongst the proletariat. There are some benefits to this but the outlined execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Of particular significant interest, to me, was the way the authors described the cycle in which the bourgeoisie traps the proletariat into becoming a wage slave and, craftily enough, lets the latter propagate this mentality onward of their own accord. It is disheartening when laid bare in this way, but it is also a very powerful aspect to understand:
“In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion as 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.”
It’s not hard to see how this manifests functionally. Who amongst you does not consider first and foremost, above all other things, finding a source of employment? How could you not though? This is what you’re told to do. It’s beaten into your head very early on that this is how the world works and this is what you need to do. With this being the ultimate goal, how then can you not define your life by it? But due to the conditions of the market, how are you also not competing with others for the opportunity to obtain the same position? When in that position, can you ever escape the nagging feeling that you are in fact replaceable? The wage that the employer pays you is the rate at which you’ve agreed to sell your time to them at. The rotating door effect, regardless of the classification of industry, and its consequent cost on the organization are of very little consequence since popping you out and putting another person in there is all too easy. If you feel you need more proof, look exclusively at the tenure of register jockeys in the service industry and how training programs are designed to be efficient. Thus, the result of this is that you define your life by the wage you sell yourself at. Those at the upper echelons of the workers, the managers, are not exempt from this either although it may be slightly more difficult to detect from a cursory inspection. These are the people who, through one means or another, have been able to mask their dependence upon this definition by the implement of credit or by having distributed their share of burden onto their spouse or someone in a position of similar accord. Thus the CEO is, in effect, no more or less a slave to the competition or market fluctuations than a pawn worker on the floor. The difference appears strictly in the scope of domain.
I should make note here too that when I’ve engaged in arguments of this sort with people, a hard line emerges in their track of logic which equates inexorably to the shit or get off the pot type of provocation. In other words, an indictment of this sort against someone in a C-Level position somehow reveals, more concretely than the use of the peon, that participation in the cycle affixes one to their allotted position thus facilitating their own recursive prison, and that the only means of escape would be to forego all assets manifesting as wages. To ones holding this assertion, as I do, a commonly volleyed argument is that doing so would incur the obvious reciprocal which is, cumulatively, loss of private property. Upon reaching this point in debate, it’s unsurprising that I come to hostile resistance of the sort that clearly indicates defence against a personal attack. You can’t possibly imply that you mean for ME to give up MY property!? Look at ALL of those THINGS that I worked so hard for! The problem with this argument is that it is applicable only in the society in which the context for the reciprocal is evidently possible. In other words, the ramifications of loss of money that we understand here in America, and possibly in other capitalist societies where money is treated as the eminent commodity, are only applicable so long as money itself retains its status. Does thought like this threaten the way you live? Most certainly. But you forget that that life style already has been and will continue to be threatened by machinations far more tangible than this conversation; it will only be a matter of time.
Marx had this super focus on the idea of classical conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, with a bit of a comic book style assumption that the former would overthrow the latter out of sheer necessity. It’s debatable as to if one thinks that this has come to in one form or another in different places around the world since its conception, but largely this has not been the case historically. Regardless, the notion of placing two supposedly diametrically opposed groups against each other held greater importance to Marx since, he felt, from it would arise a purer form of representation of the proletariat. In a way, it’s the formation of the diamond; only through tumultuous chaos will a form so eloquent and beautiful emerge. I made reference to this in the preface I wrote for my book Junk Punch, that the fundamental issue with this mentality is the very same thing that would prevent Communism from achieving true equality, even for the proletariat of which it screams so loudly to represent, which is this: the promotion of hostility by virtue of dichotomy to produce cumulatively emergent iterations, each supposedly better than the previous, could only be possible so long as there is something to be hostile against. Plainly, think about what would happen upon the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat. The sane action at this point would be for the proletariat to be content with the result and act in accordance to the Communist agenda, continuing to uphold the established values. Any outwardly sourced aggression to this community should be met with hostility if only to thwart it. For the desire of the Communist, having overthrown the then bourgeoisie, to expand beyond their domain would place them in the realm of the bourgeoisie as dictated by Marx and Engels. If this were the case, it becomes obvious then how the cycle would repeat itself, inside itself. This is stated here:
“The bourgeoisie, through the rapid development of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most backward, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces underdeveloped nations’ 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 what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world in its own image.”
The second part of the manifesto, which outlines largely how Communism as an organized movement should be structured, contains within it still a fair number of ideas that can be considered, but a little more of a discerning eye needs to be used here. One has to keep in mind that Marx was a radical in the purest sense of the word. His dream of seeing a revolution emerge from the proletariat was strictly from the sense that the bourgeoisie would be overthrown, and that from only this would the freedom of the former be realized. From this knowledge, we can then assume that this hostility would bleed out into the rest of his philosophy, at least as it is relative to realizing his goals of the downfall of bourgeoisie dominance. There is a part of me that can’t help but draw parallels to Nietzsche, where in the Genealogy of Morals, he mentions a struggle of the same that Marx makes, except that it is within the domain of the weak versus the strong, the slave versus the master. That it is only from the slave morality that rebellion of this sort would even begin to gestate. I digress – the aspects that should be taken from the second section are of a more direct indictment of society, similar to those found in the first, but are significantly more pointed than before. This is, I feel, a byproduct of the fact that we see here how Marx is outlining Communist policies. Let me run down the few key notions from the second section in much the same that I did in the first above:
“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.”
When considering private property, at least in the context that we have today which is derived mostly from John Locke and Adam Smith, the land that we live on is not truly ours. Furthermore, even the land you paid for is not yours. Worse yet, when considering a parcel purchase to erect a house upon, the house still yet isn’t even yours. For the transactional valuation of social constructs will always keep you in retainer to those who control that valuation medium. This preying upon basic sustenance, that of maintaining adequate shelter for yourself and potentially your family, is truly a horrible idea in both concept and in practise. A communal aspect, in this regard, is truly far better. Steel your mind, however, against the communal that you understand from the modern manifestation, as it is not just a house for those who are cumulatively disenfranchised from the perspective of the transactional valuation system.
“Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation.”
Aside from removing the nod toward Communism, I have a hard time understanding how the reader would not be able to ascertain simply from reading the statement its implication.
“On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie.”
“And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention, direct or indirect, of society, by means of schools, etc? … The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting; the more, by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.”
These are two distinctly different quotes deserving of two equally distinct conversations, yet they are very closely tethered to each other. I shall tread lightly here to make my call out resonate as aptly as possible.
In our modern day society, there is a consistent complaint, no matter where one turns, regarding the apparently obvious evaporation of familial values, especially those that are not osmosed properly to children. While as a generic complaint it is rampant, the concrete implication varies wildly – this can be exposed simply by pressing a complainer of this sort even just a slight bit harder for clarification. Furthermore, this bellyaching is usually followed by an obstinance with millennials as a collective, as if they exclusively are to blame for the former.
It would be very pertinent for these people, and even us millennials, to consider for one moment what I refer to as the Bernay’s Effect. Throughout all stages of life, people are consistently subjected to suggestive imagery that subconsciously compels them to behave in a way that they feel is conducive to the imprints. The way this works is that the manifestation of an end result is broadcast through advertisement in some way. This is the only thing that is displayed, no more and no less. Thus it is left to the enraptured drone as to how to realize this so-called dream. The reason I call this the Bernay’s Effect is because once one reads Propaganda, you understand that the piano salesman doesn’t sell pianos, he sells the music room and the accompanying social placebo effect. That being said, the work is a bit more sinister when it comes to children. People in this stage are far more malleable, far more perceptive, far more subject to suasion of any kind whatsoever. In practise, they are also far more trying to the patience of the parents, far more demanding, and in the wake of these, acquiescence is all but assured. The haste to capitulate leaves very little room for thought outside the immediate reciprocal. If I provide/do X for my child, they’ll stop doing Y. This is a purely reactionary position, and as is the case with nearly all strictly reactionary situations, causality leaves little to no room for pragmatism. Thus it becomes incredibly difficult for the parent to weigh the act of X against the child’s perception at the time of doing it.
There is also a considerable amount of damage that can be done based on the quality of the communication media the child is exposed to, which encapsulates both their education and facilitated environment just to name a few. Our educational system has been shown statistically, countless times, to be lacking behind in most every area relative to those standards in other countries. Let’s set aside for just one brief moment the aspect of competition in education, and instead focus on the obvious failure. For this, we don’t need to look exclusively at the polls operated by supposedly well reputed research organizations. Instead we need look no further than our friends, our family, our neighbours, our children, their friends, and even ourselves to see that there’s something very seriously wrong here. Ours is a society that not only endeavours to keep its constituents stupid but even promote, encourage, and reward ignorance. The only thing that matters is that you remain loyal to the dollar, to the state, and everything else is just detail. Our media, our entertainment, consistently showcases and emboldens those privileged bourgeois who have a so-called barbecue for ten people and prepare for it nothing less of a castle filled with servants of all kinds where they proceed to discuss all matters insignificant outside the bourgeois. This is done even with younger children who all too comfortably relate to those children who see their material successes. Thus the only thing that matters is the material attainment, nothing more. Life ceases to mean anything at this rate other than to attain – to consume. The lack of an education prohibits our children, our peers, us people from seeing anything other than that. We can’t express ourselves properly, we can’t think properly, we can’t write properly, we can’t even read. However, as response to our all too meaningless and ignorant attempt to gain the foot hold over competitive education – what a joke that is – we adhere to a more modern educational system that was not only doomed to not provide an education worth anything from the start, but is driven solely by the one thing that it wants to teach children is only of any importance – money. The false dichotomies, the wholesale convictions that only pluralism will bring meaning back to anything, and the daily reinforcement of material acquisition doesn’t educate us or our children. Instead what we get is a well oiled machine designed to produce only Capitalist Cogs – those that can be replaced in an instant if one fails so that the system maintains its decadence. And you are expected to fall in line, as it is the moral thing to do.
Having said all of that, I still feel as if one should take the time to read the manifesto, even today. You may not derive from it the very same things that I have, but there is bound to be something of interest in there for you, if even in the slightest.
Red Star image used from Wikimedia in the Public Domain – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_star.svg