The Communist Manifesto

From Marx

Part I: Bourgeois and Proletarians

Historical theory M+E advance a theory about the determining factor in the evolution of social organisation throughout all recorded history of human civilization. (the footnote makes reference to a communistic social formation that has not persisted in written history.)

“the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” i.e.  

(i) the determining factor in all modes of social organisation is the prevailing system of economic production and exchange. (ii) all modes of social organisation have figured a hierarchy of classes, and that inequity produced antagonism between those classes.

Rupture But this historical force must come to an end in order for the emancipation of the proletariat to take place. => spectre of communism is the ghost of this system, it signals the death of the current system. Like a ghost returning from the future? The bourgeois social system has prepared the ground for this revolution.

History of the bourgeoisie / Bürgertum The first burghers emerged from the serfs of the Middle Ages. The discovery of America, the age of colonization opens up fresh markets that fueled the development of this class. The more efficient, larger-scale manufacturing system supplants feudal mode of industrial production, monopolized by closed guilds.

Particularities of the bgs The bgs destroys feudal ties built on bloodlines and institutes in its place “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 chilvalrous enthusiasm, of Philistine sentimentalism in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has reslved personal worth into exchange value and, in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedon—free trade. In one word, for exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” (9-10)

Ambiguous endorsement of bgs: desmystifies historical exploitation, yet M+E are horrified by its vulgarity. See Simmel on the homogenizing nature of money – and the rise of money as the dominant medium of social relations.

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” (10).

Bgs’ lifeforce = economic expansion => global capital: the exploitation of the world market. => dissolution of national boundaries: “universal interdependence of nations” both economically and intellectually (11).

Totalization: Through continually sophisticated means of production (and consequently cheaper commodities) and advanced communication methods, capitalism "compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.” (11) Similarly with the rise of urbanization. Concentrates capital in the hands of a few. Petty bgs cannot compete with big capital => proletariat (15). Increasing mechanisation => increasing uniformity in the ranks of the proletariat; all reduced to unskilled labour. (16) Social organization mirrors this tighter distribution of wealth with political centralization. (12) => lumps together classes, nations under one law, one government, one national class interest. (12)

How the bourgeoisie ensure their own liquidation : “not only has the bgs 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.” (13)

1. Crises in the economic system; the self-destructive drive of bourgeois capitalism. => Epidemic of overproduction (13) Occurs when the means of production become an ends, no longer controlled by society to further the conditions of bourgeois property. Solution = (1) destroy supply / mode of production; (2) increase demand / open up new markets

2. Having called upon the proletariat in its struggle against the aristo, then the bgs of foreign countries, the bourgeois have called the proles into the political arena, thus giving them some sort of political training. (17) => that the proles will eventually use in fighting the bgs. The petty bgs who join the proletariat also bring education and training (“fresh elements of enlightenment and progress”) with them.

3. Does not allow the proletariat the means for its own subsistance. (19) The conditions of the working class worsen: “as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases” (14). The work gets increasingly mecanised, the commodity prices decrease and consequently so do wages. Capitalism depends on wage labour. (19)

The proletariat become a large revolutionary class Capitalism’s totalizing tendencies (to concentrate wealth and power) pushes petty bgs into the proletariat. The increased mecanisation and dehumanization of labour makes the proletariat uniform. But what ensures their transformation from class to political party (16)? What creates solidarity? Consciousness of themselves as oppressed by superior classes and having a common cause, i.e. class consciousness.

They own no property; it is easy to distinguish themselves (as a separate and opposed class) from the bgs. They also have nothing to lose; they can destroy all the provisions for private property.

What the revolution will look like : It will begin as a national struggle -- the proletariat of a country against its own bgs (19) – and then the workers of the world will unite.

Part II: Proletarians and Communists

Part III.3: Critical-Utopian Socialism and Capitalism


François-Noël Babeuf: "a French political agitator and journalist of the Revolutionary period. He was executed for his role in the Conspiracy of the Equals. Although the words "socialist" and "communist" did not exist in Babeuf's lifetime, they have both been used to describe his ideas, by later scholars. The conspiracy of equality organised by Babeuf and his followers aimed at provoking an armed uprising of the plebeian masses against the bourgeois regime of the Directory and establishing a revolutionary dictatorship as a transitional stage to “pure democracy” and “egalitarian communism.” The conspiracy was disclosed in May 1796. At the end of May 1797 its leaders were executed." Marx approves of Babeuf (since he believes in violent revolution!) but asserts that Babeuf isn't one of the Utopian Socialists he will be talking about here.

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon: "As a thinker Saint-Simon was not particularly systematic, but his great influence on modern thought is undeniable, both as the historic founder of French socialism and as suggesting much of what was afterwards elaborated into Comtism. Apart from the details of his socialistic teaching, which are vague and unsystematic, we find that the ideas of Saint-Simon as to the reconstruction of society are very simple. One of these ideas is "the Hand of Greed," the image Saint-Simon uses to describe the basic avarice of human beings. In the simplest forms of society, human beings try to survive. All people therefore have the motivation to try to gain a higher place in society, no matter how insignificant the higher statuses at which they aim may be. To create his form of utopian socialism, society must eradicate this way of thinking and behaving over time through education. His opinions were conditioned by the French Revolution and by the feudal and military system still prevalent in France. In opposition to the destructive liberalism of the Revolution he insisted on the necessity of a new and positive reorganization of society. So far was he from advocating fresh social revolt that he appealed to Louis XVIII to begin building the new order."

Charles Fourier: "Fourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in their productivity levels. Workers would be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called "phalanxes". Phalanxes were based around structures called "grand hotels," (or Phalanstère). These buildings were four level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest enjoyed a ground floor residence. Wealth was determined by one's job; jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay. He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a touching concern for the sexually rejected - jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of "fairies" who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people. Fourier's ideas also took root in America starting several branches of what is often called a cult. Fourier's followers started phlanxes throughout America and were responsible for one of the more famous ones, Utopia, Ohio."

Robert Owen: "one-time follower of Jeremy Bentham, but broke with him to seek more socialist solutions. Believed much of the workers’ distress was to be found in the competition of human labor with machinery, and that the only effective remedy was the united action of men, and the subordination of machinery. His proposals for the treatment of poverty were based on these principles. He recommended that communities of about twelve hundred persons each should be settled on quantities of land from 1000 to 1500 acres (4 to 6 km²), all living in one large building in the form of a square, with public kitchen and mess-rooms. Each family should have its own private apartments, and the entire care of the children till the age of three, after which they should be brought up by the community, their parents having access to them at meals and all other proper times. These communities might be established by individuals, by parishes, by counties, or by the state; in every case there should be effective supervision by duly qualified persons. Work, and the enjoyment of its results, should be in common. He considered an association of from 500 to 3000 as the fit number for a good working community. While mainly agricultural, it should possess all the best machinery, should offer every variety of employment, and should, as far as possible, be self-contained. "As these townships" (as he also called them) "should increase in number, unions of them federatively united shall be formed in circles of tens, hundreds and thousands", till they should embrace the whole world in a common interest. Owen himself tried to found such a community in New Harmony, Indiana, though the experiment lasted only 2 years."

Back to the Manifesto:

The proletariat has tried many times before to emancipate themselves, but these efforts were doomed to failure because the economic conditions for their development as a group and their revolution had not yet been produced, and wouldn’t be produced until the bourgeois epoch.

In this “early undeveloped period,” nevertheless, there were certain writers and thinkers who thought about the establishment of Communist and Socialist systems—Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, etc. Since the material conditions for emancipation have not yet been created by history, they invent imaginary conditions, social plans for a future, fantastic history.

At this point they may not even be fully conscious of the proletariat as a class—they think only of that group of people that suffers the most. And because they have this imperfect understanding of class struggle, these early Socialists consider themselves above all class antagonisms: they want to make things better for everyone, every member of society, including those already privileged. They appeal to society at large, and they reject revolutionary action—they want to achieve their goals through peaceful experimentation.

And yet these (somewhat naïve) writings still contain a useful critical element, in that they “attack every principle of existing society,” and can be used to enlighten the working class.

Still, their proposals (abolition of the family, the wage system, State supervised production, etc.) are purely Utopian—they’re a bit too ahead of their time. They propose measures to remove certain class antagonisms, but at this point in time those antagonisms are only just beginning to pop up, and so they are recognized only in an indistinct, undefined form.

“The significance of Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism bears an inverse relation to historical development.” Since the time of Fourier, Owen, Saint-Simon, the modern class struggle has developed far more sharply, taken on a more definite shape. As it develops more and more, these once-revolutionary writings start to “lose all practical value and all theoretical justification.” These writers wanted to stand apart and above from the class struggle, wanted to efface it through their reforms. Marx admits that at the time of their writing, they were “revolutionary,” and he concedes a certain amount of admiration for them, acknowledges their usefulness.

But he finds it untenable to follow their teachings now, when the material situation has changed and the class struggle more developed. Their followers want to “deaden the class struggle and reconcile the class antagonisms.” They establish little colonies, little utopias to act as social experiments (Fourier inspired the founding of the communist community called La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas as well as several other communities within the United States of America, such as North American Phalanx, and one in Utopia, Ohio.) But these experiments must be supported by the purses of the bourgeois, and thus Critical-Utopian Socialists slowly become reactionary conservatives, distinguished only by “their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their science.”

The revolution can't be created in a petri dish; we can't pretend to start from scratch, or attempt to efface class struggle rather than confront it (violently).

What does this mean for Utopian literature today? To what extend is the Marxist project Utopian? The Utopia to end all Utopias?

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