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Communist Manifesto as an Examination of Economic and Political Sociology

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Communist Manifesto as an Examination of Economic and Political Sociology

 

            Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, co-authors of the Communist Manifesto, were early pioneers in the study of economic and political sociology, and through their work we see that historical analysis can provide us with insight into the future.  This document, relevant in 1848, is relevant even today.  In examining this work it is apparent that much of what Marx and Engels predicted has come to pass.  Does this mean that society today still stands in peril of the predicted revolution?  If the Manifesto is based on the natural order of history, and if the basic undercurrent of class conflict still exists, are we standing on the threshold of a revolution pitting the bourgeoisie (Marx the Donald Trumps and Bill Gates) against the proletariat (Marx blue collar, manual labor)?  In order to know the relevance of the predictions of Marx and Engels, first the Manifesto must be analyzed in order to more thoroughly understand it.

            Chapter one begins with the statement, “history of all hither to existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx  34).   Marx then goes on to describe how the two groups, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are polar opposites.  Unlike in the history of time when there were multiple classes, through the revolution of change, society had been relegated to just the two remaining classes.  This thinning in the number of classes was a result of the need to acquire new methods of production and exchange to meet the demand for larger and more efficient production.  Where once “production was monopolized by closed guilds”(Marx 36) supply and demand found it “no longer suffices for the growing wants of the new markets” (Marx 36).  Having the guild-masters outdated, the manufacturing middle class takes over, but that does not last for long.  In quick succession the manufacturing middle class, with the advent of steam and machinery, became obsolete and this gives rise to modern industry.

            With each new innovation, the new class, the bourgeoisie, also obtain political power controlling the representative states of Europe.  Marx states, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (Marx 37).  With this new political strength and monetary ambition, the bourgeoisie manages to destruct the current structure of society tearing its binds to “religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism”(Marx 37) and thrusting society into the “icy water of egotistical calculation” (Marx 37).  Having stripped society of all the traditions and the natural state it once lived under, turning practitioners of long-honored occupations into laborers, reducing family relations to money relations - still the bourgeoisie is not satisfied.  In order to continue to progress in the free market it must stay in a state of continual change and expansion in order to survive. 

            As the boundaries of the bourgeoisie expands, capitalism becomes more globally necessary as other nations need to either produce or perish.  At first the bourgeoisie destroys the global need for nationalized products making the new industries “a life and death question for all civilized nations” (Marx 39).  Now, rather than countries being self-sufficient, living off their own particular products, they are producing as part of a “universal inter-dependence of nations” (Marx 39).  Marx states that in this way the bourgeoisie is able to “create a world after its own image” (Marx 39).  Now, capitalism is forced upon nations as the only means of survival. 

            The bourgeoisie, in an effort to centralize labor displaces people from the rural areas and centralizes them in cities; thereby, greatly increasing the urban population.  Simultaneously, it is concentrating property into a few hands, giving the greatest power to those individuals.  In doing this the bourgeoisie is able to centralize political power.  “Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, become lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one frontier, and one customs tariff” (Marx 40).  Marx claims that this is the turning point in sociopolitical order.  He contends that the means of production and exchange were first the way of the feudal society; however, when production means and exchanged increased the feudal society went through a metamorphism to the bourgeoisie society.  Just as this evolution process occurred, Marx predicts the industrialized bourgeoisie society would become obsolete in its present state.  He believes that bourgeoisie, ever seeking ways of expansion, creates a condition where it “finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed.  In response to these crises, the bourgeoisie scale back their production, find new markets, exploit old ones” (Marx 42).  According to Marx, though, this does not treat the underlying problems.  He states that the bourgeoisie not only created their own demise commercially; they “forged the weapons that bring death . . . the modern working class -- the proletarians” (Marx 42).

            The proletariat is “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” (Marx 42-43).  The proletarians are dehumanized through this process and considered nothing more than a machine requiring minimal maintenance.  The value of the machine decides the amount of subsistence it receives.  “But the price of a commodity . . . is equal to its cost of production.  In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases” (Marx 43).  This puts the proletariat in a state of antagonism with its “master”.  Marx explains that this antagonism, when first acted upon, does not strike against the bourgeoisie, but lashes out at the machines which it feels will replace their labor, the landowners and shopkeepers who live on the outskirts of both the bourgeoisie society and the proletariat’s society.  Randomly the attacks, without union, will occur scattered across the whole country, but this would not disturb the bourgeoisie as it watches the labor strike out against forces that, although are not competitive, are closer to intellectual threat to the bourgeois.  Due to the development of industry the number of proletariat increases in greater locale density, therefore, it begins to feel empowered.  As their wages begin to fluctuate with the market, and advancements in machinery threatens their positions, their lives are put in a precarious position.  This antagonism forces the proletariat to strike out - and in doing this he gets his first taste of victory.  Seeing the possibilities, and with the advent of better means of communication, the proletariat strengthens its unions and resolve fighting back.  The bourgeoisie begin to educate the proletariat over time in order to utilize the strength of numbers for their own means.  The proletariat become more numerous and organized and the bourgeoisie realize that their class will fall giving way to the proletariat.  “A small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands” (Marx 47).  Those bourgeoisies help further class-consciousness among the proletariat and aid in their victory.  At this the proletariat begins the revolution.  Having suffered under bourgeoisie rule, the proletariat condemns bourgeois laws, morality, and religions as tools designed for bourgeois economic interests.  The proletariat must then abolish private ownership as their new, victorious class owns nothing.  They take from the bourgeoisie the very thing that gave them their power, their private property.  Marx concludes that the bourgeoisie undermine the conditions of their own existence.  “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.  Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (Marx 50).

            Analyzing Marx’s theory on the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in reference to the history proceeding it, on its base, lends to the inference that the bourgeoisie will be, by their own actions, removed from power by the proletariat.  The belief that the oppression, over-exhausting of resources, political misconduct and decline in the quality of life would, naturally, give way to a revolution is based on not only historical precedent, such as the demise of feudalism, but on the understanding of human nature as a whole.  The generalizations of the motivations behind both the bourgeoisie and proletariat classes are not measurable by utilizing economic sociology, as Marx and Engels are, themselves, bourgeoisie, thus, human nature and variables are critical.  As the number of bourgeoisie is only a fraction of the population, it would take only a small percentage of that class to institute change in order to derail the oncoming events.  The error in Marx’s theory, to date, is the variable of inconsistency found in the rebel sub-classes that human nature will produce, such as Marx, Engels and their brethren.  

In today’s society there still exists classes which are oppressed and oppressing.  Any person who is trying to eke out a living without benefit of higher education can tell you of the struggle to make ends meet.  The Multinational Monitor reports that in the United States the top 5 percent own more than half of all wealth.  In 1998, they owned 59 percent of all wealth.  Or to put it another way, the top 5 percent had more wealth than the remaining 95 percent of the population, collectively.  This is similar in ratio to the 1840s, during the time when such a revolution was predicted.  But, as we are now in the 21st century, as little change in economic proportion as there is, we are not, nor have we neared, the bourgeoisie/proletariat civil unrest of Marx’s predictions.  The human factor - the organization of unions, the voice of the people, the creation of social security, disability and worker’s compensation, to name a few, have proven that revolution is not the inevitable outcome of oppression and economic inequality.   Although sociologically Marx was able to envision “an” outcome, the inexact science of applying linear historical date to economic conditions cannot predict, with accuracy, the final resolution.

The Manifesto, in its second chapter, boldly asserts that the communist has no separate interest from the proletariat.  The Communist, Marx believes, “the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others” (Marx 51) distinguished from the proletariat by the fact that its advanced evolution as a class makes it better equipped at, “understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletariat movement” (Marx 51).  Thus, the Communist, although a member of the one, universal class which is being built, is distinguished as a leader.  Marx then goes on to explain, from a historical perspective, the argument for communistic rule over the argument of the bourgeoisie.  He addresses the bourgeoisie ownership of private property as a continuation of class antagonism as the wage earner stands no chance of himself owning property.  Without the abolition of private property the breakdown of the bourgeoisie/proletariat antagonism will continue.  Under capitalism, he continues, means “to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production.  Capital is . . . the united actions of all members of society” (Marx 52-53).  In this way Marx links the owning of capital to social power, and by making property publicly owned it is utilizing its social power for all.

He next takes on the subject of wage labor.  The cycle of wage labor is one of eking out a bare existence, therefore, the current system of minimum wage serves only to keep the laborer alive to further labor.  Under Communism, the accumulation of wealth being taken from the bourgeoisie in the form of abolishing private property allows the societal capital to serve to enrich the laborer’s life.  Marx also considers the criticism that a communist society would promote idleness.  Marx states, “according to this bourgeoisie society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those who acquire anything, do not work” (Marx 55).  He shows that the relation of the worker to the improvement of his standard of living will inspire the worker to better produce.  In the past, under bourgeoisie society, regardless of how hard he worked there would be no improvement in his standard of living.  The standard of living argument then moves from production and labor to the family unit.

Communists are also accused of trying to destroy the family.  Marx admits to this.  He contents that in order to rebuild society as the bourgeoisie has built it, it needs to be torn down from the ground up.  The family unit, thus far, was simply a means of production where even the educational opportunities afforded to it was only that which could increase production.  Under Communism, the family, especially those who were previously exploited, would need to be re-educated in order to create a strong, single, Communist unit.

The Communist is then accused of acting to destroy countries; however, Marx contends that “working men have no country.  We cannot take from them what they have not got” (Marx 58).  Because the proletariat owns nothing, and holds no political power, he has no country to call his own.  Globally we are more united with the advent of communication and through commerce so that other nations also fall under the bourgeoisie society; therefore, the battle to free the labor class is Global.  If the proletariat is no longer exploited, worldwide, than “the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to” (Marx 58).

Marx then goes on to outline the measures necessary in order to accomplish the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.  He believes in destroying the bourgeoisie society would obliterate class antagonisms, and without such the proletariat will no longer maintain their class status.  Marx closes with “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” (Marx 62).

In this chapter Marx lays the groundwork for how the Communistic society can be achieved as well as how it would fair against the bourgeoisie society.  His first order of business would be the abolition of private property ownership.  This argument is based on the fact that the majority of society does not, and cannot, own property; therefore, if private ownership exists, it will always equate to power.  To redistribute power among the majority there cannot exist property owning by a minority.  Marx argues that as long as a minority, the bourgeoisie, continue to own property there will be a continuous class antagonism.  He continues in this chapter to describe how the laborer is unable to pull himself above the quality of life that he currently has, because he is merely a means of production.  That in freeing the laborer from his bare survival, through communal distribution of property which was once held privately, his quality of life would improve.  As Marx goes on he addresses idleness as an offshoot of the worker’s acknowledgement that “this is as good as it gets.”  When the quality of life is improved and capital is distributed to the entire of society, the worker will voluntarily improve in his new found vocation, it being no longer slavery.  Globally Marx believes that the rise of the proletariat would erase many of the boarders and boundaries between nations.  That without the dynamic of competitive capitalistic production and marketing, nations will become equal and indistinct to one another.  Finally, Marx continues to explain how society as it stands under the bourgeoisie would need to be completely rebuilt and re-educated.  Not only on philosophy, but in interpersonal familiar relationships.  All of this might sounds Utopian; however, the theory is not sound.  The answer does not lie in obliterating the rights of property ownership, as we have seen in subsequent economic history.  Property ownership is a right; however, with governmental intervention, it is also a responsibility.  By taking the human element, the needs of society as unique individuals which it consists of, the automation would fail.  Each portion of the machinery of society is different and in turn requires different maintenance.  Rather than a uniform assembly line system of ownership and labor government programs and the checks and balances that have been adopted improve the quality of life of society.  Minimum wage, social security, worker’s compensation, public assistance, union intervention for better conditions and pay, safeguards on the job and the like have all been instituted to meet the needs of the members of society as distinct members with different needs.  Further, the destruction of private property ownership curtails the desire to excel, improve means and methods of production and accumulate what the member of society himself requires to be productive.  The freedom to choose your vocation, and to change life paths are how we learn what we have to offer society.  If in my youth I was delegated to a carpenter, and my neighbor delegated to a doctor; but, I desire the life and belongings of a doctor, and my neighbor longs to work with his hands and therefore becomes an artisan, we each can achieve greatness.  However, should I be forced to remain a carpenter and build table after table, and my friend forced to remain a doctor and see patient after patient, we would perhaps do “well enough” yet never give back to society that one thing we possessed in greatness.

In chapter 2 Marx explores the evolution of socialism up to his own day.  His first analysis is of that of Feudal Socialism.  The Feudal Socialist movement was a result of the aristocracy, in an effort to create upheaval, starts the whispers of revolution to the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.  He uses literature to lampoon the bourgeoisie and to incite the proletariat.  This class; however, is in actuality the original exploiter and now fearing the bourgeoisie rule seek to repudiate it.  Marx, however, states that, “The feudalists forget that they exploited under circumstances and conditions that were quite different and that are now antiquated.  In showing that, under their rule, the modern proletariat never existed, they forget that the modern bourgeoisie is the necessary offspring of their own form of society” (Marx 63).  Marx couples the feud socialism with Clerical Socialism which “As the parson has ever gone hand in hand with the landlord, so has clerical socialism with feudal socialism” (Marx 64).

Marx next addresses the Petty-Bourgeois Socialism.  Here Marx criticizes the “third class” which consisted of the those once held position in society: tradesmen, corporate guilds, burgesses and the small peasant proprietors in society only to be engulfed by production and urbanization.  This class is rapidly becoming assimilated into the proletariat, thus, out of necessity rises the proletariat flag.  This untrustworthy alliance is one of a fight for survival where the petty-bourgeois does not in actuality seek to become part of the proletariat movement but does so as the lesser of two evils.

Marx goes on to describe German Socialism which was a mimic of French socialist literature.  Germany attempted to speak of things which they knew nothing about.  They borrowed from the French as German bourgeoisie was still in its infancy; therefore, their attempts at socialist literature was modeled after a movement which they could not thoroughly understand nor literate.  Sections three covers the Conservative Bourgeois Socialist.  The Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism that Marx next examines is set exposed as the bourgeoisie attempt to maintain their standard of living while giving just enough concessions to derail a proletariat uprising. 

Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism is the last topic covered in this chapter.  Here Marx describes the idealistic, unrealistic methods of those who attack society in its present state but believe that it can be changed minus the revolution.  He states that “The practical measures proposed in them -- such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, and of the wage system . . . proposals point solely to the disappearance of class antagonisms which were, at that time, only just cropping up, and which, in these publications, are recognized in their earliest indistinct and undefined forms.  These proposals, therefore, are of a purely utopian character” (Marx 74).  Little hope is held out for the idealism of this group and Marx dismisses them quickly.

Marx uses this chapter to criticize all other forms of socialism present in society at that time.  He believes that the only way to evolve is through revolution and finds reasoning to denounce other forms of socialism.  He looks at the motivation and strength of the party, relying on the history behind its development.  He believes that their desire to work within the bourgeoisie society.  Marx believes that only through blood will the world be cleansed.  The problem here is that Marx nowhere justifies this stance that the proletariat revolution needs to be violent.  Although, following the French Revolution, Marx's beliefs might have been acceptable, there is no data that justifies this conclusion in a scientific way.

Marx rejects the Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism out of hand as he posits that in order for the proletariat to overthrow their oppressors they must first become class conscious.  If the bourgeoisie gives concessions to the proletariat in order to ease their suffering they can quell an uprising and maintain the status quo.  This would stand in the way of the development .  This has proven inaccurate as history shows that the give and take between the bourgeoisie of today (Marx the minority wealthy) and the proletariat (Marx the working class) has led to social and economic reform.  Middle of the road, rather than violent revolution has brought unions and management together to create a society that can co-labor and co-exist peacefully.

In the final chapter Marx restates the goals and aims of Communism. Interestingly, Marx states that Germany is the chief focus of Communist interest because while the bourgeoisie in Germany have not yet achieved victory over the aristocracy, the proletariat there is more developed.  Because of this, “[t]he Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution that is bound to be carried out under more advanced conditions of European civilization and with a much more developed proletariat” (Marx 77).  He asserts, however, that Communism is everywhere that there is economic and political oppression put on the proletariat.  Marx concludes, “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!” (Marx 77).

The concluding chapter of the Manifesto is very short.  It says little new and is meant primarily to forcefully restate the communist's political purposes.  Marx does, though, make an interesting prediction that Germany will be the site of the proletariat revolt.  This is interesting because it indicates that all societies need not progress at the same rate in approaching the communist revolution.  If history is universally linear than there should be no society more poised for revolution.  Although the historical sociological approach leaned toward Marx’s envisioned revolution, and we owe much in terms of the Manifesto opening our eyes to other forms of societal dependence and interdependence, that full-blown, global revolution never occurred.  This does not mean that Marx, in large part, wasn’t correct.  His use of sociology to create the Manifesto allowed the bourgeoisie to see what path they were looking down.  How much of today’s advancements in economic and labor relations is a result of the ominous threat of the Proletariat Revolution cannot be known; however, it would be na´ve to not acknowledge it’s influence. 


Works Cited

Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Verso, 1998

 


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