The Communist Manifesto
A flawed pamphlet — but still better than its good reputation today
I. A spectre haunts Europe — love of the Communist Manifesto
If Marx and Engels’ old agitational publication had not turned 150 years old this year, nobody would give a hoot about it. But the critical intellects of free public opinion simply couldn’t resist the fascination of the big round number : a look back was in order, along with a critical assessment of the early work of the “founders of communism.” Their late effects are of course deplored more than ever: since the Soviet power disbanded, its system is increasingly regarded only as a crime. But westerners, as the victors of history, can now find something interesting that until recently they felt threatened by and therefore had to take more seriously than they would have liked:
“But now that there is no longer any Marxism to be taken seriously, one has the opportunity to take an impartial look at those aspects of Marx’s work that turned out to be right.” (Nicholas Piper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, February 21, 1998)
This representative of the absolutely nonpartisan and independent “fourth estate” evidently takes it utterly for granted that thinking must be partisan to serve the state. As long as there was a really existing alternative to the marvelous system of market economy and democracy, the critical expertise residing in western editorial offices had simply no opportunity to analyze the writings of the left without bias. At that time, propaganda against leftist opponents of the system was a dictate of freedom. Now that the nightmare is over, one can first of all sit back and admit this, and secondly take a quite relaxed look at what the “spectre” from the Communist Manifesto might have to say to us today. The answers match the approach.
1. A great work of world literature
If there’s one thing all professional literary critics agree about, it is this: Marx, that man knew how to write! The text that the two socialist agitators put to paper 150 years ago is supposedly of “virtually biblical eloquence”: at least “a masterpiece of world literature” (Umberto Eco), “one of the most exquisite pieces of prose of 19th century German literature” (Marcel Reich-Ranicki). A text like a symphony: “It begins with a blast, like Beethoven’s Fifth” (Umberto Eco again) … This is how one can produce pages and pages of textual analysis, ramble on about the “terse sentences” with their “creative eruptions” and “unforgettable aphorisms” (a spectre haunts!, chains to lose … a world to win!), recommend the text as training material for advertising experts because its compelling power as literature is supposedly irresistible — without being the least bit impressed by what the book is actually saying. And definitely without finding that irresistible. Gushing along the lines of “Oh how beautifully they put it!” is the furthest away one can get from the old agitational publication. After all, Marx and Engels were not out to write a nice poem in those days, but to rouse the workers to a proletarian revolution.
But the authors of the Communist Manifesto are said to have accomplished something magnificent not only by way of literature, but also in the field of economics. Avowed anticommunists discover the Communist Manifesto to be:
2. The best economic prediction the world has ever seen
Marx and Engels allegedly foresaw the future of global capitalism with crystal clarity and were not sparing in their praise for its grandiose deeds. That was supposedly an amazing achievement in view of the fact that
“…industrial capitalism was only at the beginning of its own, extremely dynamic world revolution, which was extolled in the Manifesto … In thirty printed pages, the text correctly predicted the process of economic concentration at the expense of existing middle-sized firms, small industry, craftsmen, and peasants. With the thunder of Old Testament prophets, it predicted globalization 150 years ago.” (Friedjof Meyer, Der Spiegel, Hamburg, March 16, 1998)
“Never was capitalist globalization, though it had barely begun, more grandly sung of than in February, 1848.” (Mathias Greiffrath, Die Zeit, Hamburg, February 5, 1998)
Even the Handelsblatt has to pay tribute to the prognostic power of Marxism:
“… some of its prognoses have been confirmed by developments and can be found today as descriptions of conditions even in the lead articles of bourgeois newspapers.” (Hans Mundorf, Handelsblatt, Düsseldorf, February 25, 1998)
Such people actually see this first inflammatory piece of writing against international capitalism as conveying nothing less than their own talk about globalization with its risks and opportunities for Germany as a site for capital. All the fans of globalization ideology are thrilled to read a passage like:
“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 connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations… In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.” (quoted according to Handelsblatt, ibid., but similarly found in all the other eulogies to Marx, the prognosticator.)
The text in the Handelsblatt continues:
“Could this not have been similarly said by the president of the Federation of German Industry, Hans-Olaf Henkel, in one of his speeches on the German capital site, not as a prophecy, but as a warning to the reactionaries who still cling to the right to free collective bargaining, the welfare state, the nationality of a currency system, economic system and tax system? And who, in this year 1998, would contradict Marx’s statement from 1848 that there is a law of concentration for the economy, ‘that existing middle-sized firms, small industry,’ fall victim to the competition of large-scale enterprises? In place of small- to mid-sized industry steps big industry, controlled by the ‘bosses of entire industrial armies’.”
No, old Marx really need not have it said of him that his text provides excellent material for a speech by today’s capitalist leader. All the modern capital-site speakers and editorial writers invoke a phenomenon called “globalization” that is supposed to be the fate of us all, that nobody — no politician, no businessman, no trade union leader — can escape, and that therefore is always supposed to lead to the fairly unoriginal capitalistic necessities: the terms of business for capital must be improved, wages must be drastically lowered…. In contrast to types like Henkel & Co., the Communist Manifesto, first of all, designates an actor that is reshaping the globe according to its terms. When Marx writes: “the bourgeoisie [chases] over the entire surface of the globe,” the modern fans of the “globalization debate,” evidently only capable of selective reading, perceive: “ ... chases over the globe” = globalization = we’re all caught in the “globalization trap = wages must go down, there you are!” While the modern apologists of international capitalism act as if there is no one instigating and no one benefiting from this mode of production, but only people affected by it, the Communist Manifesto, secondly, explains the necessity for the conflict of interests between capital and the working class. In an era when the capitalist mode of production was being forcefully installed against the feudal interests that still existed, Marx and Engels recognized the nature of the new, irreconcilable conflict of interests that was being established with the victory of the bourgeoisie over the feudal social order. They wanted to rouse the proletariat, the propertyless class of wage laborers that was just being created by the bourgeois revolution, to fight the new ruling class that was in the process of “creating a world after its own image.” For it was clear to them what unprecedented barbarity was being imposed worldwide by the new, progressive mode of production:
“In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly 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. And why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.”
Here, Marx and Engels were not venturing a prognosis and predicting the economic and financial crises of the late 20th century, but rather calling for a struggle against a social order in which the creation of wealth necessarily produces poverty; a mode of production in which poverty is thus no longer the result of scarcity, but the inevitable result of an unbridled accumulation of capitalist wealth. At the time when capitalist private property was being established, they realized the monstrosity of this new production system: it is based on the propertyless masses being continually, systematically excluded from a wealth that grows on an unheard-of scale, which their dependence on earning a wage forces them to create for their factory masters.
With the Communist Manifesto, the authors wanted to alert “proletarians of all countries” to the fact that, with the victory of the bourgeoisie, this new class antagonism was becoming all decisive, that it was making “all that is solid melt into air” and all other social antagonisms and problems secondary. They were calling for the masses, who were involved in all kinds of struggles, not to let themselves be used as a means for the bourgeoisie to win out against the feudal order, but instead to make the transition to all-important class struggle against private property.
It takes a considerable level of interest-based illiteracy to just eliminate Marx’s diagnosis of class antagonism from the old Manifesto, which calls for abolishing private property, for attacking the capitalist relations of production, and instead read it as an accomplished description of the difficult position of our leading industrialists of today with their “worries about their national capital site.”
But it gets even better: the Handelsblatt’s economic expert sighs for a “new Marx” to help him and those like him find their way in the “free play of the markets” — which he and those like him are otherwise always praising for functioning so marvelously without any plan and ultimately corresponding so matchlessly to human nature — or at least give them a few tips on where to make a good investment …
“Marx and Engels understood a lot about the economy of their time. If they were alive today, they would probably not be communists, but [classical] liberals, that is, tenured professors of economics. In this capacity, too, they would certainly achieve more than ceaselessly repeating quotations from Adam Smith. Perhaps they would have the courage to take a look at the future and at least develop a theory of globalization. After all, if production and consumption must become more and more cosmopolitan, if national industries lose the ground under their feet, if all that is solid must melt into air, from national currencies to national wage and social systems: why is there no “General Theory” of such transformations? Why are there no ideas about what could take the place of free collective bargaining in Germany, how social security funds might be financed in the face of sinking wages, which transfer payments will become necessary in Europe when the competition of currencies is done away with? And why must the world always be surprised by monetary crises like those in South America, Mexico, or the Asian tigers? Why is knowledge about the frailty of such governments always available only after the fact and never in time?”
A few lines earlier, the Handelsblatt writer was sure that “Marx and Engels were certainly good diagnosticians, but incompetent therapists” — but never mind: what does that little contradiction on the side matter with a person who thinks nothing of going on record as saying that the economic system he supports one hundred percent goes on working according to laws that none of its actors or ideologists can see through. Someone with such incisive economic expertise therefore takes it completely for granted that a “theory of globalization” can never end up fundamentally criticizing an economy that produces such crazy conditions. No, economic realism is at home at the Handelsblatt, and for this business paper, “theory” is about the same as an idea on how to “lower labor costs in a socially acceptable way” in Germany, or a few great tips for finance capital as to which emerging market will still be one the day after tomorrow… Such ideas are now really available en masse, fabricated by “free market–minded economics professors” and economic research institutes; there is no need to dig out old Marx and grant him academic tenure posthumously! But to tell the truth, the man from Handelsblatt is not longing for either a “theory of globalization” or topical economic policy ideas and prognoses, but rather for an unbeatable strategy for how Germany can succeed as a business site in international competition. Which means he can in future continue moaning incessantly about the fact that “free competition of markets” prevents anyone from knowing where business is profitable and where it isn’t until after the fact. In the improbable case that someday he wants to know why this is, he should perhaps simply study a little Marxist theory …
This would also not hurt another critical thinker, who boasts about having read not only the Manifesto, but also Capital, in order to come to the following realization:
“As now even economists understand, at least Capital is not a program for the abolition of capitalism, but on the contrary a kind of Bible of capitalism, with a high share of Prophetic Books in which the future development of the world and economy is calculated with alarming precision, including globalization and money-market madness. Whereby madness is merely a journalistic slip; Marx himself, cool to his very heart, said this was how it had to be. And didn’t even add the word ‘unfortunately,’ at least not in Capital. The analytic part of the Communist Manifesto doesn’t read at all stupidly either. If only there weren’t this peculiar sentence at the end: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’ Why ever should they, for god’s sake?“ (Rainer Stephan, Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 3, 1998)
Rather stupid in the analytic part. But we will gladly spell out one more time for the illiterates of all countries: the reason for the “peculiar sentence at the end” is this: after the class enemy (the bourgeoisie) is characterized, their necessary victims (the “proletarians of all countries”) are called upon to wage class warfare against the international domination of private property and its political guarantors. We just doubt this explanation will be of any use in view of Mr. Stephan’s considerable intellectual achievement of simply cutting the opposition to private property out of Marx’s writing. Or how else should one get the idea of seeing Capital as a kind of “Bible of capitalism” that “merely” sets forth “coolly” that everything has to be the way it is in capitalism? Really, if the word “unfortunately” had been used at least now and then, one might, as a moral person, perhaps have been able to imagine that Marx had some fundamental objections to capitalist conditions. But the way he wrote it he was “only” analyzing the systematic features of the capitalist mode of production and explaining the necessity for the misery of a whole class. And because he was analyzing these necessities of the system, Marx also knew that the misery of this world is not to be considered heartbreakingly “unfortunate” — he left that to the clerics and the system reformers. After all, it is precisely because capitalism will work the way it simply has to work, as long as it exists, that Marx insisted that this system must not be reformed, but abolished. Mr. Stephan prefers to overlook all that. Instead, he makes a point of remembering: “Capitalism is an amoral system” — but what must be must be, it’s really so unfortunate …
On the other hand, it cannot be stressed often enough that the “regrettable conditions of Manchester capitalism,” which today’s reviewers think the Manifesto was quite right to denounce in those days, have long since been overcome. For if one reads it correctly, the Communist Manifesto is:
3. A social charter long since fulfilled by the social market economy
Indeed, the authors of the Communist Manifesto receive high praise from their modern fans not only for their diagnoses — or rather their alleged prognoses — but also for the remedy they propose. These fans are thrilled to pounce on the ten demands at the end of the second chapter, listed as fitting next steps on the way to the proletarian revolution … a somewhat peculiar hodgepodge of demands. From the expropriation of landed property and the use of ground rent for public expenditures, through the introduction of a progressive tax, to the centralization of credit in the hands of the state and the abolition of the distinction between town and country … this offers quite a bit of material for modern ideologists, if they’re interested: one does not necessarily want to accuse every one of the erudite commentators on the Communist Manifesto of not having read the foreword to its second edition from 1872. But then they would have noticed that quite soon after the appearance of the Manifesto Marx and Engels had thought better of it and dissociated themselves from these ten demands. As far as the reviewers’ reading of the Manifesto itself is concerned, however, one must here, too, identify a pronounced form of text blindness. After all, these demands are characterized there as
“measures … 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 revolutionizing the mode of production.”
The two revolutionaries could thus imagine a “concrete, partial success” on the way to the real aim of proletarian revolution — one of the Manifesto’s worst ideas, but more on that later. So the authors clearly put down in writing that the fulfillment of these demands should not be confused with the final goal of the revolution they wanted to incite. But what can one do if later generations do not want to read, but rather praise themselves?
“The true executors of the Communist Manifesto were those social democrats who conquered universal suffrage and thereby the state … Democratic socialists — even when they didn’t always call themselves that — subordinated property to the welfare of the general public, devoting half of the national product to management by the democratic state. They no longer based wages on the lowest upkeep expenses, but on the performance principle — according to Marx (1875) the distinguishing feature of a socialist social order, while in the later envisaged paradise of a ‘communist social order’ to each was to be allocated according to his needs. This already applies at the lowest level in Germany to the social assistance recipient, an achievement with great appeal. In any case, proletarians have for some time had more to lose than their chains, it is only a question of whether things stay that way. Even if a new brand of Manchester capitalism is trying to turn back the clock again these days, the immediate-action program of the Communist Manifesto has de facto been nearly realized — from the heavy progressive tax to the public, free upbringing of children and the overcoming of the antagonism between town and country.” (Friedjof Meyer, Der Spiegel, March 16, 1998)
What can one say to that? The man confuses Marx’s demand that each be given a share of society’s wealth according to his contribution with performance-based wages, which capital uses as a means to make “jobs” pay off for it — as if this wage form were actually paying for performance! One can’t help asking whether this man, who is presented in Der Spiegel as an authority on the subject, namely, as a “young socialist from 1961,” ever read one line of the chapters on wages in the first volume of Capital. If so, it speaks all the more against his state of mind. Here, Marx explains performance-based wages by no means as a step in the right direction toward a “transitional society” where everyone should be able to have disposal over the wealth of society as a whole “according to his contribution,” but rather as a means of lowering the wage of dependent laborers who are excluded from having disposal over the wealth they produce by the form of wage payment from the start. It is also a comical idea that German social welfare support, with its sumptuous “baskets” (one movie ticket per month, one pair of shoes per season, one pack of cigarettes per week …) should be celebrated as the beginning of the principle of “to each according to his needs” — even if “at the lowest level,” which goes without saying for a man whose horizon of needs will hardly succumb to the “appeal” of the satisfaction of needs by German welfare offices. “To each his own” all right, an enlightened thinker knows what he’s talking about. This is someone who goes into raptures about the fine idea of an association “in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” and puts to paper a few lines farther down that he in any case can only imagine a paradise worth striving for — which, incidentally, was never envisaged in Marx and Engels’ program — as a big social welfare office that “allocates to each” what he is entitled to. This can definitely be had without a socialist revolution, the man has got that right for once.
Deftly equating “communism = paradise = German social policy” has also been mastered by other original commentators:
“The Manifesto describes the paradise of a society after political rule has been taken over by the proletariat and the bourgeoisie has been expropriated, as follows: introduction of a progressive income tax; use of ground rent for public expenditures; abolition of the law of inheritance; centralization of credit by a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly; centralization of transportation in the hands of the state; free and public education for all children, banning of children from factory work.
Progressive income tax, real property tax, inheritance tax, a central or reserve bank, a national railroad, the prohibition of child labor, free education for children and university students: all this is now taken for granted in a democracy with universal suffrage. For these achievements, which were still Utopian for Marx, no communist revolution was necessary.” (Hans Mundorf, Handelsblatt, February 25, 1998)
Let us again disregard the fact that these demands are by no means passed off in the Manifesto as the final goal of the revolution. And we will ignore a few small reinterpretations of the quoted demands by the Handelsblatt writer — e.g., public and free upbringing of all children is a bit different than free instruction in public schools; as far as we know, the burdens of raising the young, including the not insignificant costs of at least “higher” education, are still entirely the private concern of the happy parents; and the abolition of the law of inheritance is definitely, to put it mildly, a somewhat more radical intervention into the operation of private property than the collection of an inheritance tax; in any case, we can vividly imagine the cries of expropriation from the editorial staff of the Handelsblatt if ever a government were to consider abolishing the law of inheritance… But as mentioned above: disregarding all this, we can safely assume that Marx and Engels would today produce guest commentary for the Handelsblatt.
If they were not so busy writing Sunday sermons. For, to top it all, the Communist Manifesto is also revealed to be
4. A valuable publication for moral edification
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has an American philosopher praise the Communist Manifesto along with the New Testament as “documents of hope” that, even today, can contribute enormously to the moral improvement of the young:
“Parents and teachers should encourage young people to read both books. The young will be morally better for having done so. We should raise our children to find it intolerable that we who sit behind desks and punch keyboards are paid ten times as much as people who get their hands dirty cleaning our toilets, and a hundred times as much as those who fabricate our keyboards in the Third World. We should ensure that they worry about the fact that countries which industrialized first have a hundred times the wealth of those which have not yet industrialized. … It is as true as it was in 1848 that the rich will always try to get richer by making the poor poorer, that total commodification of labor will lead to the immiseration of the wage-earners, and that ‘the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’ … It would be best, of course, if we could find a new document to provide the children with inspiration and hope — one which is as free of the defects of the New Testament as those of the Manifesto. It would be good to have a reformist text, one which lacks the apocalyptic character of both books — which did not say that all things must be made new, or that justice ‘can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.’ It would be well to have a document which spells out the details of a this-worldly utopia without assuring us that this utopia will emerge full-blown, and quickly, as soon as some single decisive change has occurred — as soon as private property is abolished, or as soon as we have all taken Jesus into our hearts.” (Richard Rorty, FAZ, February 20, 1998; English version from Philosophy and Social Hope, 1999.)
That’s the way to go: first make children “worry” about the poverty of the world, also indicate that it has something to do with the “common affairs of the bourgeoisie,” just to end up wisely cautioning that nothing could be more fatal than an overthrow of the social conditions that supply so much material for worry. And what do children do then with all their worry? No question: they become deeply concerned moralizers who — if they have the luck to get hold of one of those rare well-paid jobs with a keyboard — share their dreams of a this-worldly utopia with the rest of humankind. For somebody who considers “abolishing private property” to be just about the same thing as “taking Jesus into our hearts,” it is child’s play to turn Marxism back from science into a dream.
If he had not just scoured the Communist Manifesto in search of his inspiration to bless humanity with, perhaps the American professor might even have stumbled across the criticism of certain moral crackpots that two communists already put to paper 150 years ago:
“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems.”
Old Marx: he really still is red hot …
The reviewer put on the Communist Manifesto by Der Zeit on the occasion of its milestone birthday thinks so too: he sees in the document his special system that this form of socialism has been worked out into:
“History is rolling backwards. Policemen drive beggars out of shopping malls, there are demands for a reform back to the three-tier school system, the Chancellor admonishes the churches to worry more about the souls of their flock than about the fairness of markets. The sociologist Ulrich Beck speaks out for the reintroduction of medals of honor for community service, and the Christian Democrat forward thinker, Klaus Haefner, suggests supplying the superfluous third of the population with cheap state-produced products in kind (clothes, meals, housing) rather than with money. Bit by bit, an order is disappearing in which self-fulfillment, security and justice was coupled to the status of worker-citizen.” (Mathias Greiffrath, Der Zeit, February 5, 1998)
Let’s ignore how the former years of West Germany’s “economic miracle capitalism” are being glorified here. Let’s focus on the fact that the man obviously thinks the conditions he cannot bear, and interprets as a “backward roll” of history, are produced by capitalist society. Why does he then say a few lines later that the following Nietzsche quote gets to the heart of the matter?
“But progress ‘is possible’, wrote the skeptic Nietzsche, if a ‘conscious culture’ ‘administer[s] the earth as a whole economically’ and ‘men … set themselves ecumenical goals, embracing the whole earth.’ Today this means politically bringing about unequal development in a democratic world order: in the South a sustainable growth compatible with the survival of our natural basis, and an ecological disarmament of the energy- and material-guzzling North … Today the word ‘proletariat’ is just as worn out as ‘class struggle,’ but the still valid idea of the Manifesto lies in the idea of a global learning movement, not in an earthly utopia: in the postulating of a mankind in which everyone thinks of himself or herself, and feels, as a species-being and also acts as such.” (ibid.)
That’s how simple it is: by merely pointing out that words can be “worn out” (by too frequent use?), one can also eliminate the things they designate. The result: “proletariat” and “class struggle” are out, “learning movement” and “species-being” are in. Who cares if “species-being” expresses just about the opposite of what was specified by proletariat. For “species-being” must mean: “we” (“businessmen” and “workers,” “politicians” and “subjects”) are all ultimately in the same boat (“spaceship earth” or something) and must finally, finally go through the “learning movement” to ecology. … No, Marx was not so stupid. He did already criticize the ruining of the environment — although it wasn’t called that yet — over one hundred years ago. But he always added that it was the business principles of the capitalist economy that were the reason for the growing poverty of the masses and the poisoning of their natural living conditions.
The authors of the Communist Manifesto were not out to call upon “responsible species-beings” to gather, but rather to make clear that the capitalist production of wealth leads to the worldwide pauperization of the workers. They considered this to be an intolerable contradiction that cries out for resolution. A resolution, however, that does not take place inevitably; otherwise, they could have saved themselves the trouble of writing a manifesto. They were convinced of the necessity of a proletarian revolution in the sense that it must be made.
Precisely in this respect, however, the Communist Manifesto is subject to some criticism.
II. The Communist Manifesto — a revolutionary program: badly reasoned, slightly dishonest, and politically rather misleading
Chapter 1: “Bourgeois and proletarians”
a) The characterization of the bourgeoisie
The Manifesto begins with an overview of the social relations that come over the world with the capitalist mode of production. The intention of the authors is clear: to define the class enemy. A new ruling class is in the process of remodeling the world “after its own image.” Its money materialism drives it not only to overturn all traditional relations, but also to constantly revolutionize the relations it itself has created:
“Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”
The power to continuously revolutionize everything is drawn by the bourgeoisie from the ruling state authority, which Marx characterized in the Manifesto as “the committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” The whole thing takes place at the expense of the equally new working class: wage laborers are the necessary victims of a mode of production in which the creation of enormous wealth is based on the poverty of those who produce it. There has thus come into being a class antagonism as has never existed before in this way — an especially “shameless” form of “exploitation.”
So much for the presentation of the facts. But how do the authors of the Manifesto then come up with the idea of explaining these conditions by offering a short trip through the history of mankind, packing all their correct statements about the bourgeoisie in a theory about an allegedly eternal principle of historical development (along the lines of “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”)? Why ever do they declare, “We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.”? Even if it were true that “oppressor and oppressed … stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” — what use is it to refer to what has supposedly always been for explaining the particularities of the new, all-revolutionizing mode of production?
In fact, Marx and Engels’ embedding of the new rule of the bourgeoisie in a universal history of human exploitation does not even fit what they have to say about the matter at hand. It is not just that the capitalistically producing bourgeoisie definitely did not triumph over the old feudal relations through a revolt of the oppressed against their oppressors. What the authors have to tell us about the new class antagonism opened up by the victorious bourgeoisie is also very different from putting it down to a new version of the old story of “freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian,” etc. After all, they denounce a quite new way of sorting rich and poor, rulers and ruled, and a previously unthinkable necessity of poverty:
“In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism … And why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.”
The authors correctly characterize the capitalist absurdity that the production of abundance directly brings forth neediness. So they already knew at the time the new production relations were being established that the worldwide poverty that private property necessarily produces has absolutely nothing to do with the famines of past epochs, with the lack of food. But they subsume this finding under the assertion that this has ultimately always been, and reduce it to the old chestnut:
“At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production”
This conflict supposedly already led to the fall of feudalism; now the same conflict is supposed to be the ultimate reason for the fall of the bourgeoisie:
“The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them… The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.”
For the authors of the Manifesto, the capitalist crises — with overproduction on the one hand and famines on the other — then do not mainly reveal the perverse “logic” by which bourgeois society systematically functions, but rather an historical inevitability according to which the bourgeoisie is already working towards its fall when it is establishing itself.
In his critique of political economy, Marx himself criticizes this idea. In the 15th chapter of volume 3 of Capital, when he analyzes the laws of capitalist crises, there is no more talk of ‘bourgeois conditions becoming too narrow for the wealth created by them.’ There he explains that capitalist wealth is destroyed in periods of over-accumulation in order for the whole circus to start again “under expanded conditions of production, with an expanded market and increased productive forces.” Over-accumulation periodically leads to the devaluation and destruction of productive forces, and that is the condition for the next cycle, for the“conquest of new markets, and … the more thorough exploitation of the old ones,” as the Manifesto already says — but this is not the same as a crisis of capitalism itself, much less the beginning of its inevitable end due to the definitive incompatibility between productive forces and “bourgeois property relations.”
But precisely this idea, that there is an historical inevitability for the bourgeoisie to fail due to their own achievements, is very important to the Manifesto — the Communist Manifesto, of all things, which is out to encourage a proletarian revolution, i.e., somehow does assume that the domination of the capitalist class does not automatically take care of itself. The authors proceed to deny this practical starting point for their efforts in another respect as well: they attribute to the domination of “bourgeois property relations” the magnificent achievement of making it impossible to have a ‘false consciousness’ of it, i.e., an affirmative attitude towards it based on wrong ideas. No one even just taking a look at this society is supposedly able to have any illusions about the main front between exploiters and exploited.
“In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation …. 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 condition of life and his relations with his kind.”
Bourgeois society is said here to have effects in the area of consciousness-forming that are simply not true: capitalism, of all forms of society, is supposed to disclose, in the relation of factory owner and free wage-laborer — or in modern terms: employer and employee — naked and brutal exploitation to everyone and compel a sober assessment! It may be true that the bourgeoisie subjects the whole world to their materialism of money and gives the whole rest of society the status of paid servants. But it can hardly be true that this has banished all ideologies about the relation of production along with its “achieving society” and its “free market economy.” And this is said by the very man who later explained commodity fetishism and says the following in the corresponding chapter of volume 1 of Capital:
“Let us now transport ourselves … to the European middle ages …. Here the particular and natural form of labour, and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time, as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord, is a definite quantity of his own personal labour power. The tithe to be rendered to the priest is more matter of fact than his blessing. No matter, then, what we may think of the parts played by the different classes of people themselves in this society, the social relations between individuals in the performance of their labour, appear at all events as their own mutual personal relations, and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between the products of labour…. Those ancient social organisms of production are, as compared with bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent.”
So the “old” Marx was smarter than the “young” one — but the latter wasn’t completely stupid. So how did he get the idea of claiming that the victory of the bourgeoisie had made “naked, brutal exploitation” as blatantly evident to everyone else as it was to him? Apparently, he and his comrade Engels had realized from the bitter workers’ struggles that the proletariat could simply not survive without taking a stand against the bourgeoisie. Its resistance was the reaction of the just emerging working class to living conditions that even ardent supporters of our modern “social market economy” condemn as “Manchester capitalism.” It was consequently impossible to overlook the fact that the absolute domination of private property left the workers no chance of survival, so that fighting the bourgeoisie was a condition for their survival. From this observation — that workers not only had to see to it that they could survive through their wage labor, but also had to fight for this survival — Marx and Engels drew the bold conclusion that the proletariat, in the state it was in at the time, already constituted a revolutionary movement (in principle). All that was left to do was fill the fighting proletarians in on the real meaning of their struggle and the inevitability of their victory; their triumph was not only in their own interest, but moreover and above all in keeping with the historical trend: the self-destruction of the bourgeoisie.
Well, that is just about the worst way to try and incite an exploited class to make a revolution. So it is not surprising how questionable the next point in the text turns out to be:
b) The characterization of the proletariat
“But not only has the bourgeoisie 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.”
This sort of imagery still compels the united “literary pundits” of all cultured nations, one hundred and fifty years later, to sing hymns of praise about “sweepingly powerful language” and “magnificent prose.” One could ignore the bombastic diction if the message were at least correct — i.e., if what were meant was: ‘All allusions to things like the bourgeoisie necessarily failing due to their self-created contradictions, to an automatic “course of history” leading up to proletarian revolution, are rhetorical gimmicks; what counts is that modern workers, this intrinsic product of the capitalist mode of production, draw the right conclusions from their hopeless situation and defeat the bourgeoisie by refusing the services it needs them for.’ But this is not how the text continues. The observation that the proletariat, the class of wage laborers, is itself the product of the capitalistically operating bourgeoisie is followed by a few comments on the way modern exploitation and the exploited class look, complementary to the worldwide, revolutionizing machinations of the bourgeoisie: that the “modern working class … live only so long as they find work, and … find work only so long as their labor increases capital”; that they are used in the factory as “appendages of the machine”; that the wage paid out to them does not make them rich, but rather a whole bunch of other characters — “the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker” ... etc. But the description of the dependence in which this class exists is single-mindedly twisted into the assertion that they necessarily can not put up with this dependence — as if Marx and Engels did not know that modern wage workers basically have their hands full struggling with the necessities of their dependent existence. In any case, the authors of the Manifesto see absolutely no need — as they do later for instance in the Critique of the Gotha Program of the German Social Democratic Party — to launch a theoretical and agitational attack on the wretched interest, namely in employment and wages, that binds the working class to its exploiters. They make it clear that wages are not even a good means for survival; but they see no reason at all to take the ‘men … called into existence’ by the bourgeoisie — never mind to address them accordingly — as people who, for want of a better means for living, adopt the standpoint of making money by wage labor and thereby make themselves the exploited rank and file of bourgeois society. They regard the fact that the proletariat is a product of the bourgeoisie as directly equivalent to it being the born fighter of the bourgeoisie. And if not really, then all the more in terms of the eloquently invoked historical trend — this rhetorical figure can be used to welcome and justify everything one actually does not agree with:
“The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie.”
The good proletarian “men” simply can’t help rising against the bourgeoisie; being part of capitalist conditions is tantamount to abolishing them. They are the living embodiment of the contradiction that the bourgeoisie prepares its own downfall through the development of all the productive forces: this is the importance that the authors of the Manifesto attach to their insight that the bourgeoisie itself brings forth the modern proletarian. All references to the necessity of the harm the working class suffers in this system serve this one, overriding thought: the proletariat is the executor of the historically inevitable downfall of the bourgeoisie.
Marx and Engels are playing fast and loose with the category of ‘historical necessity’ here. Capitalist society does have automatically acting material constraints — indeed those involved in exploiting a class of wage laborers; but for that very reason there is no material constraint to put an end to them. Instead, there is a practical necessity for proletarian revolution — in the sense that this class will otherwise get nowhere: it can only be rid of its politico-economic role of serving the capitalist bourgeoisie as a dependent, exploited instrument for its enrichment if it terminates wage-labor. The proletarians do not have to do anything — they simply have no other chance: to escape from their exploitation, they have to make the proletarian revolution, overthrow the capitalist mode of production. But this necessity is not enough for the authors of the Manifesto; they want to take the lack of alternative to proletarian existence as meaning that the whole system of capitalist exploitation is therefore inevitably approaching its ‘natural’ end, carrying out its own liquidation, so to speak. Even the sentence emphatically citing the “weapons that the proletarians are to wield” is not talking about weapons the workers should seize, but again means the “contradiction between the productive forces and relations of production”: this is what Marx and Engels are thrusting into the workers’ fighting fists here. Whenever the Communist Manifesto mentions the condition of the working class, it tries to explain a “historical necessity of class struggle” in terms of a mechanism that is allegedly pushing the workers unavoidably onto the revolutionary path. And this mechanism is supposed to be the work of the class enemy, of all things.
It is along these lines that the Manifesto constructs its image of the “necessarily” fighting — and ultimately victorious — working class:
“But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more... the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (trade unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts… The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. It was just this contact that was needed to centralize the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes… This organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently, into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier.”
Modern wage workers cannot live from their work; alongside their work, they first need to fight for capitalists to concede their necessities to them; for that, they have no choice other than to unite in a battlefront — that is the reason for proletarian “combinations” that later led to the trade union movement. This also makes their purpose clear: such organizations are aimed at making it possible to live off wages despite everything. When the existence of wage earners has been perpetuated, they have therefore reached their objective, and the battle ends; until it turns out that the success was only temporary, the need to fight back becomes unavoidable anew, and the whole circus starts all over again. Precisely this is addressed by the Manifesto; but it is yet again not satisfied with this banal truth about the proletarian fighting union. It insists on seeing it as the beginning of the proletarian revolution, the abolition of the wage system. Therefore, it cannot admit that after every defensive struggle, ordinary wage labor just keeps on going: where in reality a wrong struggle has reached its objective, the Manifesto claims that, for whatever reason — in case of doubt, due to “development” itself! — the revolutionary union, spreading like a rampant vine, is “continually being upset,” only to constitute itself all the more mightily again. This makes it unnecessary, of course, to state a few good reasons why proletarians should not just keep fighting merely defensive battles that become necessary over and over again, and forming the limited associations this requires, but rather set themselves an entirely different goal to fight for and join together in the “combination” this would require. Instead, a Communist Manifesto, of all things, maintains that the bourgeoisie, of all things, keeps driving the workers to ever higher levels of revolutionary combination:
“The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie” — in the first part of the chapter this class ranked as a pretty dynamic revolutionary bunch! — “replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition,” — as if this was a question of production technology! — “by the revolutionary combination, due to association” — as if the workers did not first have to decide to do this themselves! “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.”
Yet another application of the “development logic” that Marx and Engels apply as needed to anything they observe in society: here, “the advance of industry” does not ‘develop’ its useful manpower into the bunch of proletarians that actually exist — no, “development” by definition will not rest until the authors have worked their way to their much-cited, “sweepingly powerful” metaphor of the “gravediggers of the bourgeoisie.” And that is the “explanation” the Manifesto authors think it absolutely necessary to tell the workers: their struggle is automatically aiming at the right thing; all it takes to conquer the bourgeoisie is the union of its victims, and that ultimately happens by itself …
Therefore, every workers’ struggle, every success in the struggle to preserve the proletariat can only be another step towards abolishing the bourgeoisie. And success is inevitable if only because the proletarians are the majority:
“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.”
How the bourgeoisie contrives to systematically dominate and exploit this vast majority — to dominate minorities would not be too exciting or profitable anyway … — appears to the two theorists of class struggle to be altogether irrelevant compared to the hopeful finding that fighting conditions seem excellent looking at the numbers. Who would want to ask which limited objectives the proletarians are “raising” themselves up for, and whether anyone is actually aiming to revolt against the whole of “official society”? When the ‘lower,’ quantitatively strong ‘stratum’ ‘rears up,’ then the overlying thinner ‘strata’ are in any case in for a rough time. And the reason why the inevitable will in fact happen is, one more time, “development” — that ominous agent that is driving the proles straight to revolution:
“In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”
In this way, the Manifesto propagates the expectant, revolutionary version of a very modern, self-satisfied, counter-revolutionary mistake: creating and maintaining a useful working class is the same thing as abolishing it. These days, bourgeois ideologists claim to be unable to see any proletariat any more anywhere because now a quite viable work force exists — “Manchester capitalism” is no longer prevalent anywhere, in any case not in the metropolitan centers of capitalism, or at least not in their nicer districts… Conversely, the authors of the Communist Manifesto thought it was out of the question that capital could be forced to respect its own most vital condition for success, that is, forced to maintain a viable working class:
“It [the bourgeoisie] is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.”
… and have in fact been refuted on this point: the bourgeoisie is actually quite good at rule; even if this only takes on the form of the proletariat wringing a few conditions for survival from it, and an order-maintaining welfare-state forcing the proletariat to survive and function on the paid wage. Marx and Engels were in fact not yet faced with such a thing; and in their Manifesto they were simply unwilling to admit that this was the only goal of the proletariat’s struggles. Any survival it would fight for and win, so they thought, just had to coincide with the victory of the working class over its exploiters.
At this point, one just has to say “wrong!” and accuse comrades Marx and Engels not merely of drawing a false conclusion, but of having a complete blackout. The same authors who were continuously confronted with the state power and its machinations in practice, and who were furthermore also well up on state theory (e.g., they knew to differentiate correctly and clearly between “citizen” and “bourgeois” in the disputes with Hegel and Bruno Bauer) — these very authors couldn’t think of anything sensible to say, in the Communist Manifesto of all places, about the political rule of the bourgeoisie. They do mention the modern bourgeois state as a “committee” that has the common affairs of the entire ruling class under control. But they don’t say a word about what this committee achieves, especially in contrast to the narrow-minded bourgeois class interest in private enrichment; about what the mentioned “common affairs” of the ruling class as such actually consist in; about why an all-encompassing power is needed to manage these affairs; about what service the public power performs for maintaining the capitalist system of rule — so that today any Tom, Dick or Harry upholding the welfare state can triumphantly object that everything is splendidly organized in the interests of the workers nowadays. The only thing they think of to say about the political rule of the bourgeoisie is, of all things, the one point that gets them back to their theory of the self-inflicted downfall of bourgeois class rule: the bourgeoisie needed the support of the proletariat for its struggle for state power against the old feudal power relations, as well as for the interests of the new bourgeois polity; therefore, it had to provide the proletariat with all kinds of “elements of political and general education” that then inevitably benefited the proletarians in their class struggle. The fact that the bourgeoisie actually got this support, and without this meaning their rule was in for it, does not shake the authors of the Manifesto in the least. They do not stray from their view that this basically furthered the revolutionary cause pretty well. On the contrary! The fatal fact that the proletariat even did battle for its new bourgeois masters (and not too sparingly at that) — which, by the way, is always part of the job the servile class has to do in a class state — is simply integrated by the authors into their general judgment: the bourgeoisie is working at its own demise.
“Altogether, collisions between the classes of the old society further in many ways the course of development of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all time with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries. In all these battles, it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for help, and thus to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.”
Proles let themselves be used by the bourgeoisie against the nobility; they report for duty as “allies” against the bourgeoisie “of foreign countries” — and the authors of the Communist Manifesto denote this relation as “help”! They even welcome the requisitioning of the workers by the bourgeois state as nationalists, the political service the proletariat performs for the bourgeoisie’s state power, as a ‘ruse of Reason’[*] for strengthening the struggling masses through their class enemy. That is really a rather brutal mix-up of who in this relation is playing the role of the useful idiot for whom. And the authors do not even notice the small contradiction on the side that their claim about the bourgeoisie having absolutely no interest in the sustenance of the proletariat cannot be the whole truth, or at least requires some modification, if the wage-laboring masses are not only important as production and cost factors, but also as a people needed for serving the state. The bourgeoisie is in fact not overly interested in the sustenance of the proletariat; but to the extent that it needs the proles, it provides for its rank and file from the higher viewpoint of the nation’s self-preservation …
So it is not just that the Manifesto lacks a proper theory of the state. It is worse: Marx and Engels know about the proletarians being functionalized for the bourgeoisie’s political rule — and do not want to know anything about it other than the positive effect they hope for in vain: this functionalizing only makes the revolutionary class ever bigger and more powerful …
Marx and Engels maintain these mistakes throughout their Manifesto.
Chapter 2: “Proletarians and communists”
If this is what is happening with society, class struggle, and the proletariat, what do communists want then? The answer of the Manifesto is peculiar: first of all, they supposedly just want what all the other workers’ parties want! If that were really true, they wouldn’t need to start up their own party at all. But how necessary they think that is, and why, i.e., that the fundamental agreement they claim to have with the rest of the labor movement is nothing to write home about, Marx and Engels expressly make clear themselves when they criticize in the third chapter of the Manifesto the leading brains of the other more or less widespread socialist movements of that time.
Their second assurance is even more dubious:
“They [the communists] have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.”
The leading theoreticians of communism are writing a Manifesto, evidently thinking they have something to say for the workers to take to heart, and first thing deny any substantive difference between themselves and the masses they are addressing. Only one difference will they admit to: that communists “always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole” and are altogether ahead of the rest of the crowd by “clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” What kind of nonsense is that? One section is struggling away with more or less no idea of what it’s doing, while the other knows the way — but the main thing is that they basically don’t differ at all?! If communists are needed to represent the “interests of the movement as a whole,” then there can hardly be any “movement as a whole,” and its “interests” definitely do not exist — except in the heads of communists: as their program that they intend to bring home to the workers. What the struggling workers do have is fairly limited concerns — this much the authors know — and those struggling are not conscious of fulfilling their historic mission as a factor and component of a “movement as a whole.” Nevertheless, Marx and Engels insist on reading an interest in an impeccable proletarian revolution into the workers’ struggles taking place before their eyes. At the same time, with their construction of a “common interest” uniting all the limited labor struggles and guarded over by the communists as “practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties,” they admit, on the one hand, that the labor struggles of that time were in fact championing interests in quite different things than a proletarian revolution in their sense. On the other hand, they deny precisely this difference between their standpoint and the goals that workers stand up for when battling “just” for an improvement in their living conditions as wage laborers. They magnanimously overlook the fact that workers want to prove themselves in the competition that capital puts them in, while also bringing nationalistic points of view to bear in their fight for rights, and claim outright that the fight for workers’ rights is actually one battle in the great struggle for the whole deal. With their dubious praise for the fighting workers — who don’t have a clue but are still somehow on the right track — they assume their program conflicts with what the proletariat thinks and wants, while at the same time declaring this conflict to be of no importance.
In the fourth chapter of the Manifesto, which lays out in detail the “position of the communists in relation to the various existing opposition parties” in various countries, the authors put this mistake in a nutshell as follows:
“In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.”
If one must constantly bring to the front the “property question” because it is evidently less “developed” in the various opposition movements, then it would be better to note instead that these movements are preoccupied with other “leading questions” than the abolition of private property. In that case, however, it is rather ridiculous to act as if communists just had to constantly remind all protesters, no matter what they’re fighting for, that the property question is what they’re — ultimately — interested in, too.
How do communists come to so much well-meaning self-denial? Marx and Engels evidently witnessed a lot of working class struggles whose aims they did not share, but whose errors they declared to be rather temporary. They counted on the workers’ experience that wrong struggles were useless so that there was no alternative to the right class struggle. Therefore, they welcomed every worker uprising under the abstraction “class struggle” and made the proletariat the reassuring offer that communists were on top of where the fighting proletariat had to and wanted to go. Instead of agitation and criticism, they resorted to a kind of promotion of trust: communists trust the proletariat to be on the right track all by themselves — conversely, the proletariat can rely on communists to help them find the way. Altogether, this denial of the difference between communists and proles constitutes an act of hypocrisy — and this is how the authors of the Communist Manifesto think they can get the workers enthusiastic about a revolutionary upheaval, by fawning over them like this, and at the same time attesting that they, the workers, have no idea of the aims of the revolution!
The position on the proletariat that Marx and Engels take here shows which “school of thought” the two are just taking leave of. Evidently, they did not, as good communists, merely recognize that the proletarians’ class struggle against their exploitation was a practical necessity for a decent life, but rather, as idealists upholding that humanity was in need of progress, interpreted a deeper meaning into the struggles actually taking place. Only someone on the path “from utopia to science” would then think the following consideration worth communicating:
“The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.”
Anyone who cites reality in this way, professing that it already includes, justifies, and proves his program, is, on the one hand, very modest. He is declaring his entire political agenda to be a mere “expression” of something that is happening anyway. On the other hand, he is very bold with regard to the few thoughts that have occurred to him. They are supposed to be nothing less than the blueprint of what is driving the entire world, including the working class. This is how teleologists of history talk, in their search for a really existing agent to execute their idea — or speaking somewhat more kindly: this is how someone talks who is just working his way forward through The Poverty of Philosophy toward scientific economics. A communist diagnosis that bases its judgments not on philosophic ideas but on the analysis of social reality does not have to make certain it is in touch with reality in any case. The recommendation that wage workers should overturn the wage system because otherwise their material interests have no chance doesn’t need any other, “higher” argument. In the Manifesto, this message is replaced by the claim that proletarians have a mission to fulfill that no one can escape, because this sort of thing is constantly happening in human history anyway and even “the abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism” — as if this reassuring announcement was just what the fighting proletariat was waiting for.
Now that the significance of the current labor struggles for world history has been clarified, the authors devote themselves to rejecting bourgeois accusations against communists. It is unmistakable here that they are dealing with objections that were raised not only by the bourgeoisie, who they directly address polemically. Their answers to the usual anticommunist charges are basically, point by point, nothing but further admissions of how little agreement actually existed between communists and the concerns of the fighting proles — and as many wrong denials. One of these denials relates to an error evidently already in circulation in those days: the equating of communism and theft. For what they think of saying about property is the following:
“The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property … To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power. When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.”
Instead of quite simply pointing out that a communist overthrow does not involve a series of expropriations, but rather the abolition of property; instead of explaining that a communist revolution aims at abolishing the whole legal system that goes along with private property, Marx and Engels insist that this fundamental change will definitely not mean taking away “personal property.” For this purpose they employ a distinction between property in general and its social character, which presents Marxists with an enigma. After all, the essence of property — the exclusive disposal over material wealth, which has general validity thanks only to state decree and is the basis of capitalist relations of production — cannot possibly be what the authors had in mind when claiming there is a difference between virtually everlasting property and a social form of property existing separately from that. Otherwise, when talking about the figure of the capitalist, they would not also have thought of saying there was, of all things, an antithesis between “only a purely personal” and “a social status in production.” The discovery that capitalist property is a “collective product ” and, as a means of production, part of a social process of production may be true. But it does not follow from this finding that proletarians merely need to drive away the capitalists, more or less as if they were unnecessary accessories for a division of labor long since realized throughout society, and at once the ‘true’ social nature of capital would appear and assert itself against its ‘alienation’ through the semblance of a personal relationship between capitalist and production. The “social status” of the capitalist “in production” instead means that he personally has disposal of it, with the power of property protected by law. The fact that production takes place “collectively” does not stand in some — revealing — contrast to the private nature of capital; rather, its private power is what is social about the entire mode of production. And for that reason, communism is also not merely out to modify the “social character of property” when demanding the “abolition of private property,” as announced in the Manifesto: property itself is being combated, because it does not have some “social character” or other, but is the basis for the “character” of the entire society, i.e., its mode of production. So what’s all this back-and-forth in the Manifesto between “abolition of property in general,” which is supposedly not intended, and the “abolition of bourgeois property,” which is supposed to be very much intended? That the social mode of production based on private property should lose its power, thereby making its previously necessary victims richer, can definitely be said in simpler terms. Communists really do not have to use a lot of placating “onlys” to whitewash their goal of capitalists’ power being taken from them. The Manifesto thus denies the widespread view that communists want to take everyone’s “belongings” away in a way that is not only very roundabout but also quite false.
The idea was presumably to reassure all those in a flap about communism being the same thing as expropriation, then as now. Although Marx and Engels were perfectly familiar with the way the power of capital expropriates the workers day after day, they chose not to simply explain that, but to propagate a bad wage theory:
“The average price of wage labor is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the laborer in bare existence as a laborer. What, therefore, the wage laborer appropriates by means of his labor merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence. We by no means intend to abolish this personal appropriation of the products of labor, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labor of others. All that we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the laborer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it…. Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriations.”
This sounds like reassurance again: communists definitely do not want to take anything away from the workers! And for this a wage theory of limited appropriation is employed. The authors would have done better to make up their minds: is the wage an appropriation of the necessities, which communists do not want to take away from the workers — or does wage labor mean that the “laborer lives merely to increase capital” and “is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it”? If the latter, then the wage is the workers’ means of subsistence only in a very cynical sense, i.e., it is not at all their means; then it is instead above all else the means of capital — and in a communist manifesto one need have no qualms about laying on the workers the message that communists are out to abolish the wage as well.
This is also in there somehow; “that there can no longer be any wage labor when there is no longer any capital” the Manifesto calls a “tautology.” But it was only later in his “Critique of Political Economy” that Marx properly explained that the wage does not break down into the permanent normal case of an appropriation of vital necessities by the worker, on the one hand, and a “miserable character of this appropriation,” i.e., the conditions set by the bourgeoisie for acquiring a wage, on the other. The wage is a part of capital, “variable capital”; it presupposes a propertyless condition on the part of the workers and reproduces it. The wage worker appropriates nothing at all from the product of his labor; absolutely nothing of the products he produces belongs to him. Hence, all the nice reassuring “onlys” employed in the text of the Manifesto (also translated as “all that we want to do away with,” “all that it does,” etc.) are wrong: abolishing capital does not mean “only” replacing a “miserable” form of appropriation of products of labor by a better one, it means abolishing a sort of labor that from the start produces nothing but capitalist private property — thus wage labor itself. And that is why it is also incorrect that “communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society” but only “of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriations”: the products of capital are products “of society” precisely in that they are not at all available for anyone to appropriate, but are capitalist private property from the start; production by wage workers and appropriation by capital are one and the same; the “power to subjugate the labor of others” is therefore not something added to a ‘normal’ way of appropriating goods, but is rather the economic essence of the whole appropriation process, the starting point and the end point of all commodity production. So eliminating this power is even less of an “only,” and it also does not leave any traditional way of ‘personally’ appropriating ‘products of society’ in place — it is more like communism creates such a relation for the first time …
The comments in the Manifesto about individuality and freedom are no brilliant achievements of Marxist theory either. We learn that communists supposedly have nothing against these precious goods per se, but rather have in mind only the “abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom.” The authors of the Manifesto obviously did not yet fully realize that it is not only the bourgeoisie that rests on exchange value, but that bourgeois freedom has no content at all other than the unconditional recognition of exchange value, i.e., the commitment of “individuality” to property as its sole means of existence. The second chapter of volume one of Capital says it all the more clearly: the individual is nothing other than the “guardian of commodities,” the agent of the price form; the reciprocal recognition of individuals as private owners is given by the economic relationship that is set in advance for them in virtually material form by the commodity character of wealth:
“The persons exist here for one another only as representatives of commodities, therefore as commodity owners. As we proceed to develop our investigation, we shall find, in general, that the persons’ character masks are mere personifications of the economic relations, as whose carriers they confront each other.”
That is individuality to a tee in bourgeois society: as personifications of the price form, its members are always competing against each other. Everyone acts on the premise that he only exists for himself, trying with his means to make the most of himself and his life. Everyone, including the proletarian, has only a commodity relation to the rest of society — as well to the businessman employing him. Modern individuals are so thoroughly representatives of the price form that they bring it to bear against each other in every situation in life: everything, even their love life, becomes a question of acknowledging and assessing the other esteemed individual — along the lines of: “What do I get from you for what I invest (in you)?” This is how the self-aware members of bourgeois society deal with each other, without being the least aware that they are nothing but “character masks of the economic relations.” Wage workers do not go to the factory to serve capital, but to earn a living. The working class thus exists in capitalism as nothing but free individuals thinking only of themselves. Therefore, communism abolishes not only the “bourgeois individual,” but also the proletarian individual, because all the esteemed persons in bourgeois society act as nothing but “personifications of the economic relations.”
On family: it may be quite nice once in a while to throw the bourgeoisie’s hypocrisy re marital faithfulness and morals back at it, since it acts like the keeper and rescuer of family life. The limit to this sort of polemic becomes apparent when it is no longer entirely clear whether the accuser of hypocrisy is not himself espousing the ideals that the “hypocrites” are continually trampling on. It may be refreshing when the Communist Manifesto speaks out for open, candid polygamy. It is not all right, however, when this is presented along these lines: we communists are ultimately “only” completing the work of destroying morals and decency that the bourgeoisie already started long ago, albeit in secret. This ends up sounding like the bourgeois mind, with its morally denied immorality, is actually model and forerunner for the communist critique of family life.
This pattern of argumentation becomes particularly dire in the polemical treatment of the accusation that “Communists … desire to abolish countries and nationality.” One could just simply say: exactly, that’s what we want, and we have good reasons for it, too … Instead, the Communist Manifesto once again employs the proof that the bourgeoisie itself is already working on — of all things! — the disappearance of nations:
“National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.”
The worldwide leveling of living conditions by capital is one thing; Marx and Engels are right about the “national differences between peoples.” But the “antagonisms between peoples” are another thing altogether: they do not disappear at all “owing to the development of the bourgeoisie”; on the contrary, they are given a solid basis through the growing competition of national states, whose wealth is based on their respective capitalist economies. This is even suggested a few lines further down in the Manifesto:
“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.”
If the abolition of the antagonism between classes within the nation — that is, nothing less than a revolution after all — is needed in order that the hostilities between nations come to an end, then this at least implies that the modern nation is the way that the bourgeoisie rules politically, and that this sort of rule involves all kinds of reasons for dispute between nations. But then it would be better not to claim that communists “only” want to complete an historical tendency the bourgeoisie already started in this matter as well.
Finally, there is the business about “eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc,” which communists are charged with undermining. It really is a most feeble counter to this accusation to protest that new rulers have always cleared away old ideologies, and that the advance of class struggle therefore also merely continues and completes the bourgeoisie’s work of destruction in the realm of feudal ideas. This response is introduced with a rather crude theory of ‘false consciousness’:
“The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”
Taking a look around the world of high-level nonsense, this cannot be the whole truth. The ideas ruling nowadays are in any event often so convoluted that the ruling class has trouble grasping them. But if ruling ideas are really supposed to matter, Marx and Engels would certainly have more to offer in the way of critique — as they proved in other writings — than the sweeping statement “that the social consciousness of past ages … moves within certain common forms.” And explaining the communist aversion to religion and morality by saying this is “no wonder” with people who want “the most radical rupture with traditional property relations” is almost more an apology than a contribution to the struggle against ‘false consciousness’.
“But let us have done with the bourgeois objections to communism” — to get to the last section of the second chapter, in which a list of really concrete, partial demands are put forward:
The first thing we hear is that the proletariat must seize political supremacy. To this one can only say: well, what else! — even if, the way we know modern democracy, we would definitely never equate that with “winning the battle of democracy.” But no matter.
The economic program that follows is significantly less clearly defined. When it says:
“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie …”
then one would beg to insist that “wresting away” and “abolishing” are not quite the same thing. No doubt also that disempowering the bourgeoisie
“of course, … cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production.”
But why in the world should these “measures” then “appear economically insufficient and untenable” and be justified only by the fact that they “outstrip themselves … and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production”? Is the state power seized by the proletariat supposed to start up a self-perpetuating, hands-off economy again, an historical mechanism that leads the goals of the proletarian revolution to success virtually “behind the backs” of its actors? An ultimate goal that nobody wants, the abolition of capitalism, is supposed to be reached by means of one “partial victory” after another that have nothing to do with a communist upheaval but for which one does see some allies, at least in the “most advanced countries.”
This notion underlies the ten demands at the end of the second chapter. It’s really no wonder that today’s ideologues of the “social market economy” cite these so enthusiastically, because they see them fulfilled in modern capitalism, with the necessary “realistic” cross-offs, naturally … For all these demands have a bad aftertaste; all are aim state — that “committee of the bourgeoisie” — asking it to tend to the proletariat too:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state…
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State…
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries…
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.”
Marx and Engels later dissociated themselves from this “emergency program.” When writing the Manifesto, they were convinced that only those demands that attempted to tie into given conditions and make corrections were an adequate start to a total upheaval of society. And however radical the demands may be — some of them extremist even for a modern bourgeois society, and in any case every one of them subversive for conditions in 1848 — they are opportunistic through and through. They agree with existing reform movements, at the same time betting that every bourgeois reform is achieving nothing less than a further step toward the abolition of bourgeois society. A “heavy progressive tax” on capitalist wealth, however, is not even a particularly expedient combative action “to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie”; let alone this being a way to work toward the capitalist mode of production being replaced by a rational social plan — at most, this is a way for the state to grow into the role of the capitalists, which is in fact also the aim of most of the other demands. As if the state, by merely centralizing the wealth of society in its own hands and replacing the capitalists, would be just about what communists are aiming for with their critique of political economy, or at least a good condition for it, and exactly what a triumphant proletariat would have to establish with its conquered power!
In short: what is shown is nothing but paths “outstripping themselves” to proletarian revolution that most certainly do not. For what the whole business should lead to —
“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… 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.” —
this ultimate goal of “development” is just about the only historical step in the world that definitely does not take place as a material constraint “behind the backs” of social character masks, but only when individuals “associate” with a real will and consciousness about what they are planning. If there is anything this applies to, then it is such an association in which the “free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (we’ll let this stand as the communist “answer” to the bourgeois ideal of “freely developed individuality”): it is not to be had as an unconscious “self-surpassing” of an “historical development,” but only as the joint plan of people who know what they are doing.
Chapter 3: “Socialist and communist literature”
Marx and Engels rise to top critical form when dealing with, of all things, the socialist superstructure of their day. In settling up with contemporary “socialist” reactionaries and progressives, they pick their theories to pieces. In this case, they know very well to distinguish between incorporating the working class into bourgeois society as one thing and disempowering the bourgeoisie as another. Unfortunately, they forget all about this criticism once they attend to their fourth chapter:
Chapter 4: “Position of the communists in relation to the various existing opposition parties”
As soon as they start dealing with other socialist parties, they again take an affirmative and opportunistic stance toward every piece of nonsense, discovering allies in one country after the next who can count on the firm support of communists.
That leaves the last paragraph of the text. A bit less theatrics would have done it too, of course; then later representatives of the “ruling ideas” would at least not have been so uplifted by the well-shaped language instead of “trembling at a communist revolution.” But as to what it is saying it is absolutely right, this final commitment to the communist maxim of denying nothing and whitewashing nothing:
“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 communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”
If only the authors had kept to their maxim in the preceding pages of their Manifesto!
P.S.: The career of the errors of the Communist Manifesto in “real socialism”
As far the authors of the Communist Manifesto are concerned, they for the most part corrected the deficiencies and errors of their early writing later, as mentioned several times above.
But, regrettably, not only today’s aesthetes think the Communist Manifesto is really cool. Much worse is that this writing has found so much favor in the last 150 years with all those who have stood up for the “cause of the workers’ movement.” The failings and errors of the Manifesto have unfortunately had a meteoric career as the most popular guideline for all the communist activities in recent decades, even for founding the communist states of the past. For the communist parties invoking Marx and Engels were much more taken by the weaknesses of the Manifesto than by the Critique of Political Economy and the Critique of the Gotha Programme of Social Democracy. They made it their dogma that communism was nothing more than the aggregation, the “most advanced expression,” of all the yearnings of the “dispossessed and oppressed proletariat,” and drew consequences that were radically wrong in all directions.
- … On the one hand, opportunistic to the point of self-denial when joining up with “social movements” that they as communists sought and found in the people, especially the proletariat.
- …Unscrupulous, unprincipled when choosing allies whose objectives they interpreted as nothing but components and precursors of their own program.
- … Hopelessly affirmative when it came to everything — family, traditions, norms and values, fatherland … — that is eroded by capitalism according to all well-meaning critics of “our” culture; following the principle, “Truth, goodness and beauty are actually only possible in socialism.”
- … On the other hand, totally disinterested in the needs and ideas — whether correct or to be criticized — that actually confront communist revolutionaries in capitalist society.
In short: the parties invoking Marx committed a contradiction hardly becoming to such parties. Instead of agitating people by explaining that their miserable situation is a necessity of the capitalist system, agitating by criticizing demands for justice that are firmly fixed within the system, i.e., criticizing the way wage laborers adapt to the the living conditions under the regime of capital, they acknowledged the proletariat in particular and the masses in general in the grim situation communists find them in. The “masses” were congratulated by their “vanguard” — the communists — as being the performing agents of a fictitious mission of history, which they didn’t even need to know because it was supposedly underway and making an impact anyway.
Where they came to power, the communist parties of “really existing” socialism decreed the “indivisible unity” of leaders and people. As “workers’ and peasants’ states” they carried the proletarian cult to the extreme; staged the identity of party and masses with a vengeance, so that every critical comment from the ranks of the beloved masses was suspicious to the comrades at the “levers of power,” being observed as a possible deviation from the “correct party line” and not infrequently prosecuted. Conversely, whatever they found the people interested in — from religion through folkloric customs to nationalism — was anything but consistently opposed by the ruling communist parties; it was instead affirmed as a — perhaps insufficient — expression of a basically correct, masses-friendly tendency that brought nations together.
As far as the economy was concerned, the followers of the Communist Manifesto that came to power did not proceed to bring about a transition to a planned production of use values, but actually installed a system of “economically insufficient and untenable measures” intended to be a radically improved capitalism.
In contrast to the criticism of money and wages provided by Marx and Engels in their later writings, they under no circumstances thought it possible to dispense with these capitalist achievements. On the contrary, they firmly believed that money and wages would only develop their full beauty in socialism, becoming useful “levers for controlling production and consumption.”
In view of this agenda, it was quite clear to them that the “public power” would never be able to lose its “political character”; they eventually announced by political decree that they considered the “transitional society” to be over and that communism was prevailing in their states.
Finally, on a global scale, they thought little of the slogan, “Workers of the world, unite!” They made sure that class struggle was totally replaced by a policy of military confrontation and peacekeeping.
They were at no loss for an “intellectual superstructure” for their revolutionary zeal. For they had fallen deeply in love with the notion that they and their agenda could only ever be the “expression of an historical law.” Accordingly, they founded an entire tradition of leftist epistemology, which — strictly following dialectical and historical materialism — produced ever more complex tractates seeking to anchor the deeply philosophical finding that whatever is (and what the party does) must be, because it corresponds to history.
That leaves the undistinguished followers of the “movement” who “held high the banner of communism” at West German universities in the seventies, for example. They were not afraid to declare every murmur arising from the people and every wage dispute, however compatible with the social state, to be a “social movement” and “a step in the right direction.” They kidded themselves that these were revolutionary activities in order to see themselves as their expression. Any criticism of their target group they firmly warded off, instead issuing messages of greeting to “fighting work forces….” to spearhead the supposed or real discontent among the people.
Some of the old friends of the Communist Manifesto even bade their farewell to communism with the idea that they must have somehow misunderstood the predestined course of world history. They self-critically went on record that they were evidently a few hundred years or so too early — from the perspective of human history — with their “communist experiment.” So one can also present one’s own rejection of communist thinking as an insight into historical necessities.
Those who did not get to the point of conducting a “communist experiment” — the communist factions in the capitalist metropolises — pulled off their rejection of communism in their way. After turning the Manifesto into an instruction manual for a proletarian cult and setting themselves up as the “vanguard” differing in no way from the “real movement,” they were forced to notice at some point that the really existing proletariat had anything but a communist movement in mind. This is when they withdrew their affections from the proletariat they had loved so ardently. They still don’t want to criticize “the masses.” For now they are sure that this whole gang — and especially the prole in his German manifestation — is the “worst human material” the world has ever seen. Such types deserve to be treated with contempt and not agitated for a revolution, according to the disappointed friends of the workers of yesteryear.
None of this is to be blamed on the Communist Manifesto, despite all its shortcomings. In the first place, the writing shows that Marx and Engels wanted to produce a polemic against capitalism. And secondly, this early Marxist work is a “precursor” to much better late works. The friends of “real socialism” took the opposite route: they revised the insights of the old writers in favor of their historico-philosophical beginnings.
[*] Usually translated as ‘cunning of reason,’ the process by which worldly particulars are used by universal Reason for its own purposes. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History.
 That Bertolt Brecht supposedly later actually tried to turn the Communist Manifesto into a poem, as we now hear amidst the universal hymns of praise about the alleged literary quality of the Manifesto, cannot really be blamed on its two authors. At most, it shows that Brecht was forever unwilling to distinguish between artistic edification and political agitation. A mistake that he shared, by the way, with the party leaders of the “real-socialist” bloc of states, for whom entertainment and “proletarian consciousness-raising” likewise represented an “indivisible unity.” Which is why the “cultural worker” Brecht in his East German years is known to have suffered the tragic fate of escaping political harassment by U.S. authorities, who saw him as a “communist agitator cloaked as an artist,” only to be taken care of and controlled by the Workers Party, which occasionally had different ideas about the kind of poems and plays that were “true to the socialist party line” than the “greatest German dramatist of this century,” as he is nowadays acclaimed in Western Germany as well.
 For us, figures such as Hans-Olaf Henkel, Gerhard Schröder, Norbert Blum and associates come vividly to mind at a very different place in the Manifesto:
“Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech. Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working class. Prison Reform: for the benefit of the working class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of bourgeois socialism. It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois — for the benefit of the working class. The current version of this socialism goes Wage cuts and profitable workplaces! for the benefit of the working class!”
 “That passage (on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II) would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. … One thing especially was proved by the [Paris] Commune, viz., that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” (Marx/Engels, Preface to the 1872 German Edition of the Communist Manifesto)
 Even when they later distance themselves from these passages, they are not so much criticizing this opportunistic mistake as rejecting the parties they had picked out as allies in 1848 — because they quite simply no longer existed:
“Further, it is self-evident that the criticism of socialist literature is deficient in relation to the present time, because it comes down only to 1847; also that the remarks on the relation of the Communists to the various opposition parties (Section IV), although, in principle still correct, yet in practice are antiquated, because the political situation has been entirely changed, and the progress of history has swept from off the earth the greater portion of the political parties there enumerated.” (Marx/Engels, Preface to the 1872 German Edition of the Communist Manifesto)
© GegenStandpunkt 2014