Friday, June 19, 2015

Reading :: The Communist Manifesto

I read this famous manifesto in the Kindle book Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Collection of 26 Works with analysis and historical background, but it's available in many places, including Obviously I don't expect to be able to do justice to it. But I'll note some passages that connect to later Soviet works, to themes on this blog, and to activity theory.

Marx and Engels indict the bourgeoise for tearing apart bonds, even feudalism's exploitative bonds: "for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation." It, they say, has reduced even venerable occupations to mere "paid wage labourers"; it has "reduced the family relation to a mere money relation." The authors argue that by its composition, the bourgeoise must destroy such relations:
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. 
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.
Readers may recognize this passage as describing the dark side of Schumpeter's "creative destruction." Marx and Engels charge that this state of affairs has spiraled out of control ("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") and has compulsively reproduced ("it creates a world after its own image"). It has also introduced deskilling, separating the laborer from his or her labor:
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.
 But this historical period has created its own antagonists, the proletariat. Marx and Engels argue that although there are other classes, the great fight will be between the proletariat and bourgeoise. The other classes are not candidates for revolution. The lower middle class?
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.
The dangerous class?
The “dangerous class”,  the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.
And here's the famous passage that Krushchev referenced when he said "we will bury you!":
The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable. (my emphasis)
In the second part, the authors allege that the Communists have no factions and represent the proletariat as a whole (cf. Stalin). They also allege that the Communists, with their theoretical grounding, are best situated to lead the revolution (again, cf. Stalin):
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.
The authors argue for the abolition of private property. "Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage labour." After some argument, they allege a theme that shows up again and again in the communist literature:
In bourgeois society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in Communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.
The authors go on to scorn the bourgeois family:
The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.
And the idea of nations:
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.
Here's the root of the Bolshevik vision of the worldwide socialist revolution.

The authors conclude with this ringing cry, which entranced so many socialists over the subsequent years:
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. 
Working Men of All Countries, Unite!  

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