I’ve spent a good part of my life talking about how great it is to live in America and how Communism is bad. I studied sociology and knew that there were different political systems and different economic systems, but I never really ventured to study them in depth. I never contemplated a bigger meaning of it all or how it all fits together. One day, while talking smack about Communism and the Communist Manifesto I was asked “have you ever even read it?” Ah, such a simple question. It was hard to make an argument about something I hadn’t even read. The answer was obviously no; I had not read the Communist Manifesto. Now that I have read it, I’d like to give my take on it.
There is a fundamental flaw in the Communist Manifesto in that it is not a stand alone idea. It is not an idea conjured from a blank sheet of paper. It is born as an “Anti-Capitalist” philosophy. In order to succeed, a philosophy should fundamentally parallel a natural process in some manner and be able to stand alone. This is no different than the evolutionary principles of natural selection in the wild: those which are not best adapted to succeed eventually die off. A sociopolitical philosophy based entirely on unnatural principles while intoxicated with a hatred of Capitalism is one that is destined for failure. It’s not entirely difficult, however, to see the seductiveness of a “new” concept when the discord of the “old” concepts are described so accurately and succinctly. But, the Communist Manifesto does not do much more than describe the struggles of previous ruling class / working class dichotomies. I find weakness in this document in its utopian sales pitch even as I cannot find much argument in the cycle of proletarian uprisings and revolutions that are evidenced within it. My belief is that the struggles and revolutions of all the societies that have gone before us are perhaps better viewed as part of our natural evolution as human beings. An analogy comes to mind to describe what I think I would say to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels if they were alive today: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
The first section of the Communist Manifesto is “Bourgeois and the Proletarians”. This is appropriate because the whole document revolves around the struggle between these two classes. What’s striking at first when reading this section is how accurately the failings of sociopolitical systems of the past are described and how they eventually ended with revolutions. What gives that thought even more fascination is that it was published in 1848 and not much has changed in principle since its publication. The cases used to describe the concept of ruling and working classes throughout recorded history are pretty rock solid and they make sense. It is a little scary to see these same things happening in America today in 2010. What it really says to me, however, is the same thing my parents taught me: those who do not understand their history are condemned to repeat it. This concept is consistent through all facets of life and business. You need to learn from past mistakes. You need to make adjustments. This doesn’t mean that our Capitalist system is junk, it means that it needs people to act ethically in order for every person to prosper to their fullest extent. It means we have to be open to fixing things that are broken. The biggest problems we face as Capitalists are the human sins of greed and the abuse of power. These things need to be corrected with regulations and offsetting controls.
Let’s look at a block of text from the first section of the Communist Manifesto that I think exemplifies the authors’ central thesis of what they see as the problem with every other sociopolitical system.
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 various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; 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. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots.
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. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. Thus, the Ten-Hours Bill in England was carried.
Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by Modern Industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. 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. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years.
Isn’t it fascinating to see how accurately that describes the current class struggles of today? I live in Detroit and have spent my life around the auto industry. That block of text is just as applicable to today’s auto industry as it was to every previous industry when this was published in 1848. I see the struggles between the unions and management on a daily basis and feel the separation between the two classes. I can feel the hushed tone and change of demeanor come over the union workers when I walk from the office to the shop floor. That block of text grabbed my attention. It doesn’t mean, however, that I’m going to drink up the Communist philosophy. What it does point out is that there is an ever-present struggle going on which is as natural in the wild kingdom as it is in an automotive manufacturing plant in Detroit. This is why the union and management meet at the table and in the cafeteria or where ever it may be to find common ground that allows both the proletariat and bourgeois to survive.
Speaking of the Communist philosophy, what is it? You have to look for it in this document because as I have said before it carries on more about the failings of all other systems than it does about what it is. In this document that is a good 1/4 of an inch thick when printed out on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, there are a few paragraphs that actually describe the crux of what the Communist philosophy is. Let’s look at this most concise bit taken from the manifesto itself.
In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
And there you have it… That is the meat of it all. The Communists seek to abolish private property in order to eliminate classes in order to achieve a better society. This to me is nonsense. It reminds me of a lame sales pitch whereby you’re sitting there listening to this person go on and on about all the things that are wrong in your life and how this new product is going to change everything for you. So you wait and wait and your suspicions start to rise and you want to get to that watershed moment where you know what the hell this salesman’s even talking about. And then wham! There it is: abolition of private property. Cue the waning interest and turn on the exit lights – show’s over.
Then, carrying on with the sales pitch analogy, the salesman has some of the responses prepackaged for your waning interest and skepticism. Another quote…
It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property, all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us.
This is funny to me after reading about what happened after the revolution in Cuba. In Cuba you have a situation where the revolution made its declaration that it would embrace Marxist/Leninist ideologies. And yes, there were embargoes against Cuba, but the economic situation went downhill and would have done so regardless of the embargoes. In a short time, unions went from worker representation to become the bullies that would hand down quotas to the workers. Workers were regularly asked to stay on the job 10 hours a day or longer without overtime pay to meet these quotas. Consumer goods quickly started to empty from the store shelves and would never come back. Food rationing was imposed almost immediately as production plummeted. These are the things you never see in the Communist leaflets spread by the recruiters you see in our cities and college campuses. You never hear about rationed bread, or two eggs per week per family, the disappearance of building regulations or any such thing; it’s always a spiel about utopia.
And then for the final installment of the sales pitch analogy, you have the goading…
That culture, the loss of which he laments, is, for the enormous majority, a mere training to act as a machine.
To me, that’s as if to say, you’ve been lied to. All those things you think you hold so dear only seem that way because you’ve been fooled into thinking that way. Like they’re here to wake you from this invisible slavery you’ve been born into so you can join the revolution. This is hogwash because these natural instincts to develop and acquire property to sustain our existence have been reinforced through millions of years of evolution. Further, and perhaps the biggest failing of the Communist philosophy in my opinion, is the killing of motivation. If you remove motivation from the equation, you have fundamentally created something that will never work. This is where you see the iron fist start to come out and the treachery start to become apparant. Remember that this manifesto was written nearly 100 years before Stalin came into power. Do you think he considered himself in the same class as the agrarian worker? Or how about Vladimir Putin holding on to power and changing the rules as he goes just so he can stay in charge. This only reinforces my opinion that the belief in this academic utopia is like a drug: even as the system is failing about them, Communism has showed us how the harshest of rulers will rise to the top and hold fast to the belief that “we just have to stick with this and it will work”. Yet I have not seen the evidence of Communism working. Where is this evidence?
In fact, the evidence for Communistic failure is much easier to find than its success. Communistic societies started to unravel in the late 1980’s. Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev cast Marxist/Leninist orthodoxy aside and embraced free-market principles. The Soviets, who have a great deal of intellectual capital and experience tweaking and learning from their mistakes, just could never get the Communist system to work as proposed. It never did become this utopian state that was in the brochure. Encouraged by Gorbachev’s reforms, citizens across Eastern Europe rose up in the summer and fall of 1989 toppling Communist regimes from Berlin to Bucharest and decisively repudiating this ideology that never materialized as advertised.
So what about China? China is a Communist country and their economy is growing faster than any other country. Why is that? Are they really a Communist country? I would argue differently. I think China is running a type of unregulated Capitalism, the type of Capitalism without any rules like the textile mills in Massachussetts before the proletariat was able to get labor laws on the books. China is just the way our hardcore right-winger authoritarians would like it to be in America today. This is why the Rush Limbaugh / Jack Welch business model types lust so hard to move their labor from the USA to China. The US business leaders flaw in this practice is the fallacy that: their jobs are not also replaceable; they are. These authoritarian politicos believe that wage labor can be done anywhere and should be done for the cheapest possible price. The crucial flaw in this type of thinking is sheer blindness to the fact that their jobs are replaceable as well. The Communist Manifesto is very accurate in its first section titled “Bourgeois and Proletarians” where it describes many of the flaws of our Capitalist system. It is also very accurate in its description of our system being one that is based on capital being owned by the bourgeoisie. Where the Rush Limbaugh/Jack Welch type of business executives have driven our country off the cliff, so to speak, is where they’ve failed to realize that they are sustained by a healthy proletariat class and the ownership of our industrial capital. By dismissing the proletarians, selling out our industrial capital assets to the Chinese, and arrogantly ignoring the fact that they too are replaceable, they have played a deadly game of brinksmanship with our country’s life and longevity. You must give the Chinese credit for milking the assets of our country right out of the hands of these self important executives. I suppose the only good news is that the Chinese are as much beholden to us as we are to them because they own nearly $1 trillion of US backed securities (i.e. if we go down, they don’t get paid). Of course, this logic of “you throw me in the pool and I’ll grab onto you” might not be as safe as we think because when the Chinese have both the capital and the labor, they might have accumulated enough wealth to let lapse the value of their US securities and say “To hell with America”. Let’s hope that’s not the case, but this is one true red-white-and-blue American that will not be the least bit surprised.
I am hard pressed to argue anything about the Chinese system and how their economy has sustained such a large population. They seem to have more intellectual capital than any other country on our planet and seem to be so smart at hiding their ways so well behind the iron curtain. I have never been there or have had a chance to study their country first hand. I have seen TV shows where I see the stereotypical underbelly of the Communist society. When there are government officials around, there is not a single negative word to be heard. Yet, in the security of knowing they have anonymity and a safe-haven to talk honestly, you can hear many a horror story about how things really are.
Over and over I have heard of this utopian system that will be the end all of class struggles. I have yet, however, to see a success story reinforcing what the salesmen are pitching. I hear of abolishing the bourgeois class but all I see is a new label for it: the nomenklatura elite. I hear of camaraderie but I see iron fists. I hear Che Guevara speak of the US imperial octopus out of one side of his mouth. Yet I can quote Che Guevara saying “I belong to those who believe that the solution of the world’s problems lies behind the so-called iron curtain.”
The people who have bought into this philosophy [Communism] are like drug addicts. Communists think they have found the drug that is going to be a cure-all and they steadfastly believe in it. So much so, they keep sticking with what they subconsciously know is fundamentally flawed. Forever in search of this non-existent utopia, Communists will rule with fist and hammer trying to beat into people a philosophy completely inconsistent with millions of years of evolution. Just because the zebra is the distant cousin of the horse and looks so much like a horse doesn’t mean that it can be domesticated in a few short generations. Millions of years of evolution separate the two species such that they are the way they are for a reason. Much the same way that zebras meet domestication with failure, I believe the same principals are analogous to humans and Communism. We must always look to nature for our guidance and stick to principals that fit harmoniously with natural parameters. When there are problems with these systems, we must address them and work to fix them. What everyone needs to realize is that there is always going to be struggle and strife. There is no utopia out there. The challenges we face are there for us to learn from and must be met head on with logic and without fear. Greed must be met with regulation and abuse of power must be met with offsetting controls. If those two human traits are kept in check, Capitalist Democracy is the clear winner in my opinion and relegates the Communist manifesto to a rant.