Archive for February 9, 2009
This is a quick read. Even if you read it out loud, very slowly, it should not take longer than two hours. Which means that no one with even the slightest interest in history has any excuse for not reading it.
Within its few pages, the *Manifesto* briefly describes the then-current conception of Communism and Socialism across Europe, trying to correct what Marx and Engels perceived as misconceptions. It then goes on to apply Hegel’s philosophy of history to the idea of struggles between classes (without mentioning Hegel, however), of which the proletariat now have no other choice but to radically overthrow the bourgeois in order to end the oppression and usher in a new era of harmony.
This is a noble idea, but, as we all know, the 20th century has shown where it can lead. And the seeds for the despotism of Communism are already planted in the *Manifesto* itself. Consider this passage:
“We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.
“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
“Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.”
*The Communist Manifesto* remains one of the most important documents of history, but not for the reason Marx and Engels had hoped. It now stands as a dire warning for how even well-intentioned ideas can be extremely dangerous and how, if you justify the means by the end, the envisioned end might never be achieved.
This is not to say that Marx and Engels have nothing worthwhile to say beyond that. They do, especially in the time of economic crisis, but for that, one has to turn to Marx’ other writings.