Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Communist Manifesto is not a Manifesto for Communism


Earlier I criticised an internet essay for claiming to explore Communism in Star Trek by using the Communist Manifesto and only the Manifesto as its source. One of the many criticisms I had of the essay was that the Manifesto is not really a wise choice for someone wanting to learn about Communism. I know that comes across as pretty strange so its probably for the best that I elaborate.

For the record the version of the manifesto I'm using is an epub format from Project Gutenberg.

Now a lot of confusion revolves around the word Nationalisation. Marx did advocate for Nationalisation of large parts of the economy in the Manifesto, but a lot of people seem to forget Marx's qualifier. Literally in following paragraph after his outlining of Nationalisations he says,

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
The bold parts are the most important parts, though the entire passage makes it clear Marx believed (at that time) that by creating a "workers state" the Proletariat would prepare society to become a Communist one which in Marx's own words has abolished state power and class distinctions. Nationalisation is a means -and only one of the potential means suggested by Marx and Engels- not an end.

Oh and here's another interesting fact that most people aren't aware of. Marx and Engels were not the first Communist's and the Manifesto was not the first document written about Communism. Marx and Engels were very early converts to it and as history has shown its most well known and influential thinkers. Engels was a Communist before he met Marx, and Marx started as a critical philosopher but due to the censorship of the time became a political journalist for Democratic and Republican journals. He didn't start to take an interest in Communism until 1843 when he critiqued the ideas of German exile groups in France (the word communism first appeared in French as Communisme).

"if the Augsburger wanted and could achieve more than slick phrases, it would see that writings such as those by Leroux, Considerant, and above all Proudhon's penetrating work, can only be criticized after long and deep study, not through superficial and passing notions".
Marx's own brand of Communism differed from the others in its means it still had the same end goal of the "Utopians".

Every actual Marxist knows what Communism is, but for some strange reason plenty of people seem content to take the word of non Marxists or reading it for themselves. Nevertheless I know of no genuine Marxist (as opposed to someone called a Marxist by an opponent) who equated state control with Communism. Not even the Bolsheviks the most pro state and authoritarian of Marx's followers, here's a definition of Communism by Nikolai Bukharin
Scientific communism sees the state as the organisation of the ruling class, an instrument of oppression and violence, and it is on these grounds that it does not countenance a “state of the future”. In the future there will be no classes, there will be no class oppression, and thus no instrument of that oppression, no state of violence. The “classless state" - a notion that turns the heads of social democrats -is a contradiction in terms, a nonsense, an abuse of language, and if this notion is the spiritual nourishment of the social democracy it is really no fault of the great revolutionaries Marx and Engels.

The state control of the economy is not Communism, and Marx never said that it was. Marx at this time believed that it was the role of the Communist party to build a workers state to prepare for the transition to Communism, at which point the workers state would be withered away. Now you might notice something the Manifesto and Marx's works in general leave out, and that's a similarly detailed plan for the withering away of that Workers state.

This lack of detail and explanation was the crux of the dispute between Marx and other Revolutionaries most famously his very bitter and public falling out with the Anarchist Bakunin which led to the splitting of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA) of which they were both influential members.

You might find it strange that a document called "The Communist Manifesto" only very briefly describes Communism. This is because Marx genuinely believed Communism couldn't be achieved at the time. Marx believed that for a Communist society to be feasible a territory must first experience advanced Capitalism, then achieve Socialism, and then finally move on to Communism. Since most nations hadn't even fully embraced Capitalism in 1848 going into specifics about Communism would be very premature. So instead it focusses on criticising Capitalism and potential rival schools of thought while given brief explanations of Communism and some practical ideas.

In addition there's another thing to be considered when reading the Manifesto that is when it was written. The Manifesto was written at a very peculiar time in history, 1848 at a time when most of Europe was transitioning from Feudalism into Industrial Capitalism. At the time Marx believed several things where going to happen and these predictions made there way into the Manifesto. For most of the Manifesto the scope is generalised to Europe over all with Communism being addressed as an phenomenon that affects all its nations.

A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.
All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to
exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot,
French Radicals and German police-spies.

There are however two instances where Marx talks specifically about two different groups of Communists, the French and German (spread across several Germanic states) Communists. For each group he very briefly advocates specific policies for both groups to carry out. For the French its allying with the Social Democrats against the French right wing elements. The German's however are to ally with the Bourgeoisie (industrial capitalists and merchants) and assist them in their Revolution against the Feudal aristocracy of Prussia and the other Germanic states. He also talks about a Swiss group and supporting Polish Independence from Russia but is quite vague about them.

  In France the Communists ally themselves with the Social-Democrats, against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phrases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution.
 In Germany they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie.

Both examples were part of his overall predictions. Since France had already had a bourgeois Revolution and destroyed the power of the Feudal families the main threat was a right wing resurgence around the weakened Monarchy so by allying with the Social Democrats they were to prevent a back slide and prepare the ground for what Marx calls a true "Proletarian Revolution".

With the Germanic Communists Marx believed that a Proletarian revolution simply couldn't occur without a modern Capitalist society, which needed to first depose the Feudalists. He also believed the Bourgeoisie would welcome a temporary alliance with the Communists and the Working Class because historically every ruling class had to supplant the one before it in order to protect and expand its own interests.

This turned out to be incorrect. Instead most Bourgeois groups allied with the Feudalists to crush the Workers revolts. And then later the two groups began to merge as Industrialisation weakened the nobility and allowed the newly rich sons and daughters of Industrialists to marry into the nobility. In addition the Peasantry of Europe were also mainly in the ranks of the armies that crushed insurrections.

Because of 1848 Marx lost faith in the Bourgeoisie as a modernising force and the Revolutionary potential of the rural peasantry and instead focussed on the Industrial Proletariat. The town/country divide became another feature of the split between Marx and Bakunin.So in addition the Manifesto is out of date even when Marx was still alive.

Marx was capable of changing his mind when new information became available, after the Paris Commune was formed he even started to question the absolute necessity of a "workers state". So to conclude the Manifesto is not a definitive record of Marxism, though you should still read it first before you make assumptions about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog

#blog-pager { display: block !important; float: none!important; } .blog-pager-older-link, .home-link, .blog-pager-newer-link { background-color: #FFFFFF!important; }